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I Fear No Fate, For You Are My Fate

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“i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)

i am never without it (anywhere i go you go, my dear;

and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling)

i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet)

i want no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you” - e.e. cummings

 

 ::..::

 

 

There’s a clock on the wall. It’s an ordinary clock: simple, round, and made of cheap black plastic with half the number eight scratched off so that it looks like a backwards three. There’s nothing particularly special about it except that with every tick that leaps from the thin red hand, it feels like a countdown to something monumental, something so earth-shattering that it deserves a far better instrument than this old thing purchased at a thrift shop with a crumpled five-dollar bill. Regardless, there it sits, dropping seconds like grenades to the floor. It’s just about to drive Sam Campbell insane.

Sam lets out a long, slow sigh and sits back in his chair, the hand holding his weighted pen dropping to rest on his knee. This persistent headache he’s had for the last three weeks is only getting worse, now a sharp pointed lance directly behind his right eye, not dulled by the four extra-strength Tylenol he popped when he woke up this morning or by the two cups of coffee he guzzled on his way into work. He’s trying to keep it together, he really is, but everything feels so off today, tilted and a little hazy around the edges, like when he first got reading glasses in his second year at Stanford, and his eyes fought to adjust for weeks. And then there’s that goddamn ticking.

The point is that this isn’t about him or his skull-splitting migraine. Sam has one rule, just one, and he’s breaking it: It’s about the patient.

“So,” he croaks, eyebrows rising slightly at the catch in his voice, before he clears his throat and tries again. “So. Ben. We were talking about your dream the last time you were here.”

Sam tries to make a point to avoid saying ‘session.’ All it does is serve to remind them, those who are lucid enough anyway, why they’re here. It shuts them down, makes them dig in their heels and zone out, staring at the toe of their shoes digging into the concrete colored saxony carpet lining his office floor. The whole point of this, of Sam even working here, is to have them open up and give him just a peek into the matrix of wires crossing through their heads.

“The monster.” Ben nods and slumps lower in his chair, his fingers twisting anxiously in his lap. He looks small in the bloated leather cushions of the armchair directly in front of Sam’s desk.

Only twenty-one years old, and he’s in here. Sam wants to shake his head in disbelief but refrains. This kid shouldn’t be in Sam’s shoebox office or popping four different kinds of brightly colored pills every day. He should be out on a university campus throwing a frisbee like they do in typical teen movies.

Biting back another sigh that tries to rise from his chest, Sam slides his yellow-paged notebook closer and lets his pen drift to the top line.

“The monster that took your older brother,” Sam clarifies, the memory of their last appointment squirming its way to the front of his brain, but only after kicking that spot behind his eye hard enough that he winces.

“Yeah.” Ben pauses for a moment before continuing haltingly. “Well. First, it took my brother. Then my sister and I, we – there were these guys. And we went looking for Tommy—that’s my brother—but then it took Haley too.”

Sam meets Ben’s dark-eyed stare and does his best to give him an encouraging smile. “Then what happened?”

“We followed this trail one of the guys – yeah, he was taken, too, with Haley. He left this trail of M&M’s that led us to an old mine entrance that was all blocked up.” Ben’s voice starts shaking, and his gaze is back on his hands resting against his thighs. “It was so dark, and I just wanted Haley and Tommy to be okay, y’know? And we went in, and I just remember that we fell through the floor at some point. But it was okay, because it led us to where the wendigo had them all strung up.”

Sam lets his brow furrow, his pen already gliding across his notepad, something sparking in the back of his head, a memory he can’t place. “Wendigo?”

“That’s what the guys called it, I think. Anyway, we got them all down and were trying to find the exit, but it got confusing with all the different tunnels. I didn’t know where we were anymore, but those guys… they protected us. They got us out.” Ben sucks in a quiet breath before saying with an edge of reverence, “They killed it.”

“Killed the wendigo?” The memory that had eluded him comes flooding back for a moment: Sam in Jess’s apartment, running his fingertips along the books lining the shelves in her living room. He’d picked one at random, North American Folklore, had let the pages fall open where they wanted as he bent back the cover. There had been a crude drawing on the left page, something tall and terrifying with long, curved claws and sharp teeth, and a small box of text just off to the side translating the Cree Indian name given to the monster: “Evil that devours.” The train of thought leaves a bad taste in his mouth and makes his head throb just a little harder.

“Yeah. The older one shot him with a flare gun.”

Sam’s eyebrows hike up, and he fights a smile at the mental image produced. “A flare gun? That’s dramatic.”

“They were both pretty weird. But it worked, so…” Ben falls silent, lifting his thumb to his mouth to chew on his nail.

Sam sits back a bit in his chair, gently tapping the nib of his pen in the corner of his notepad as he considers the boy before him. “And how long has this been a recurring dream for you?”

Ben keeps his thumb in his mouth and his eyes on the floor, teeth and lips working furiously in tandem as he gnaws. His movements produce soft, spit-slick noises that reach Sam’s ears as he continues to suck and struggle with his thumbnail, and combined. Combined with the nauseating jackhammer drilling into the back of Sam’s eye, he can’t take it. There’s a loud smack that makes both of them jump, and it’s only after Sam feels a sharp spray of tingling pain along the width of his palm that he realizes he slammed his hand down on the desk.

“I–” Sam halts, staring down at the hand he’s now curling into a loose fist as if he’s never seen it before. Looking up, he can see fear and doubt begin curl around the edges of the boy’s eyes, that wall rising back up after Sam has spent so long trying to break it down. So he lies. “I’m sorry, Ben. There was a bug on my desk.” Sam makes a conscious effort to force a sheepish smile onto his face. “Been driving me crazy all morning.”

Ben pauses then nods slowly, his hand, mercifully, dropping back into his lap. “Oh. That’s okay.”

“Your, uh,” Sam can’t keep his hands still now, can only watch as they flutter over his desk to straighten his pen holder and move a stack of files further from his elbow, just desperate to move. “Your dream?”

“Right.” As soon as Ben relaxes back into his chair, Sam can too, that tight thing in his chest loosening enough so that it isn’t painful anymore. “Four years now, or just about that.”

“Always the same one? There’s never an alternate ending or any new characters?”

Ben tenses, his fingers inching together to start twisting aimlessly together in apparent agitation. “No, because–” he stops himself, a worried flush turning his face bright pink. He looks like he’s fighting with the words that are trying to leave his throat.

Sam chances a softer smile, leaning forward and taking care to keep his chest open and arms uncrossed to seem less threatening as his too-large body had a natural tendency to do. “It’s okay, Ben. You can tell me.”

“Can’t,” he mutters, now resorting to pinching the outside of his thigh over and over like a nervous tic. “You won’t believe me and you’ll make a new note in my file and I’ll just get more meds that make my throat hurt. I can’t.”

It’s during times like this that Sam wishes there was something more he could do. If what Ben has to say is in any way continuing to feed into his delusions or implies harmful or regressive thoughts, Sam has to report it. He has to give his truthful assessment, and that could very well end up with a new set of prescriptions added to his already impressive pile.

Taking a deep breath in through his nose, Sam stands up and shoves his hands into his pants pockets. He moves forward, positioning himself right in front of Ben before leaning back against his desk, trying to be as relaxed as he can.

“Tell you what. If you be honest with me now and tell me what it is, then I’ll be honest with you about something too. Anything you want to know.” Almost anything. Even he has boundaries. But judging by the interested quirk of Ben’s eyebrows, Sam has caught his attention.

“You promise?” Ben asks quietly, slowly bringing his fidgeting hands to a stop.

“Cross my heart.” Sam smiles as reassuringly as his pounding headache allows.

There’s a few heartbeats of silence where the air gets a little closer and Sam becomes aware of the line of sweat slipping down his spine. It breaks when Ben shifts forward in his seat like he’s about to tell Sam a secret. Sam can’t help but lean towards his patient as well, allowing Ben to envelop them both into his bubble.

“The dream never changes because it’s real, okay?” Ben whispers, fingers tight on his knees covered by the thin material of the standard uniform all patients wear. Sam schools his face into a neutral expression and tries to reel his stomach back up from where it dropped to his feet. “It doesn’t change because it’s a memory and I can’t forget something like that. How could anyone, y’know? It really happened, Dr. Campbell, I swear.”

“Okay, Ben,” Sam nods, letting his body shift back against his desk so that the fragile spell around them is broken. “I hear you.”

The boy’s face sank immediately. “You don’t believe me.”

“It’s not that–” Sam starts, but his words are quickly cut off by the sound of the main doors just outside of his office slamming open with a force he’s never heard before.

Sam has always had an innate sense of curiosity, one that has permeated his life to the point that he put all of his dedication into the field of psychology for the last six years of his life to better understand the human mind. Usually he’s able to rein it in for more appropriate times, and while sitting in his office mid-session with a patient, giving in to the overwhelming surge of curiosity about what is going on outside of his door definitely calls for such a response. And yet his body is moving on its own volition, taking padded steps to his door, his hand already on the doorknob before his mind catches up to his actions.

Opening the door enough that he can step out into the hall, Sam comes face-to-face with a scene of chaos. There is a group of orderlies, at least five or six, who are struggling to capture the flailing arms of a tall leather-clad man that is spouting off more swear words than a seasoned sailor. Based off of the bloody nose one orderly is sporting and the pale grimaces most others have etched onto their faces, this fight has been going on well before they made it through the main doors.

“Sir, if you’ll just let us help you–” The head orderly, Tom, tries to say as he dodges a punch aimed for the side of his head.

“The only thing I’ll need help with is removing my fist from your throat if any of you fuckers try to touch me again!” The eloquently snarled response comes from the man, who is a tall, vibrating bundle of rage that has successfully kept all of the orderlies at bay thus far. He shifts and turns so his back is never exposed for too long, lashing out to hold the workers at bay as he looks around for any path of escape. Sam can’t see his face, not with him moving so fast, but from watching the man’s movements even he can tell that something is off about his balance. Like he knows how to be in these kinds of fights but isn’t used to not having his back watched for him by another.

Mouth slightly agape, Sam moves to help just as two additional orderlies step up behind the man while he’s distracted, starched white straitjacket open and ready. Swift, unspoken communication passes among the attendants; those who are standing in front of the soon-to-be patient move as one to herd him closer to the restraints he is unaware of. Red-faced and swearing, the man dances away from their advances, nearly into the arms of the men holding the jacket. At the last moment he turns his head to look over his shoulder, finally sensing the danger at his back, but his entire body freezes when his eyes land on Sam.

A hot, heavy weight settles in the middle of Sam’s chest, arresting his breath in the suspended seconds while their eye contact holds. Time stops long enough for Sam to memorize the startling green of the stranger’s eyes, even from ten feet away, and to watch a light flare up in their depths before the moment is shattered by a single word.

“Sammy?”

The nickname—one that hasn’t been used since he was a toddler in the arms of his mother—jars Sam into taking a step backwards. Confusion pours slick and hot through his veins, and combined with the frenzied throb of his headache, it all leaves Sam reeling. Caught in the penetrating stare of this person who somehow knows his name and is gazing at him as if he holds the entire world in his palms, Sam can’t look away, not even when the spell breaks and the orderlies shove the man’s lax arms into the straitjacket before cinching it tight. He doesn’t even resist. His eyes stay on Sam, wide and full of relief for a reason Sam can’t begin to decipher.

“Sammy,” the stranger says again, a brilliant and beautiful smile crossing his face, as if he’s just seen the light of day for the first time. “Jesus. Thank God you’re okay.”

It takes six sets of alarmed looks from the orderlies surrounding the man to get Sam’s mouth working. The words leave him in a punch, scraping his throat on the way out with their urgency.

“I–I don’t know him.”

The guy’s head snaps back as if Sam had just punched him in the face, his lips half-parted as he stares at Sam in disbelief.

“You sure?” Tom asks, eyebrows raised as his head turns between the man he has a grip on and Sam by his office door. “He seems to know you.”

“I don’t know him,” Sam whispers again as a shiver races down his spine, his fingers trembling where they’re pressed against his thighs, elbows locked.

“C’mon, Sam, cut the crap!” the guy barks, the lines in his face returning, his smile dropped. Something aches behind Sam’s ribs when he realizes that was because of him, sending his mind reeling again. “You gonna get me out of this thing or what?”

Swallowing hard, Sam shakes his head and takes a step back, then another. His lungs feel too small, his breath leaving him in short bursts that do nothing except make the pounding in his head even worse. It feels like his world has been uprooted and thrown onto its side, everything around him shaking from some invisible earthquake no one else seems to be experiencing. Someone is talking again, maybe another orderly, maybe the stranger, the man who knows his name and is looking at him like his heart is breaking. Sam can’t understand a word of it.

With a sharp gasp, Sam turns on his heel and stumbles back into his office, the door shutting behind him with a bone-rattling slam. There’s a high-pitched buzzing in his ears, drowning out any thoughts he may have had before this whole scenario unfolded. After a moment, he blinks himself back to reality and finds that he’s leaning against the wall by the door, the heels of both hands pressed tightly to his forehead and his bewildered patient staring at him from the chair in front of his desk.

“Ben,” Sam croaks, one hand slipping down to rub over his mouth before he pushes himself upright. “I’m so sorry. I think–I think it’s best if we reschedule your appointment for a later date.”

The boy’s face, still twisted with confusion, manages to fall. “But you never told me your honest thing after I told you mine!”

“Next time,” Sam says shortly, barely managing to keep his feet under him as he makes his way behind his desk. He sinks gratefully into his chair, both hands rising to cover his face as he silently begs the world to stop spinning. “Next time, I promise.”

Ben agrees with a mutter and waits patiently as Sam dials the code into his intercom to page the front desk. “Brianna, can you send someone in to take Ben back to his room?”

“Already?” comes the chipper, feminine reply.

“I have some things I need to look after. Please.”

“Sure. Someone’ll be right in. Everything all right, hon?”

Sam cut off the speaker with the click of a button and tried to smile at Ben. It was weak at best. “Again, I’m sorry.”

Ben doesn’t reply until there are three sharp raps on Sam’s door and Chris, one of the head attendants, peeks in to wave him over. The boy stands and shoves his fingers into the baggy pockets of his uniform pants before tilting his head to give Sam a curious look.

“It’s rude to hang up on people, you know.”

Sam can’t bring himself to reply until his office is empty, his head on his desk, encircled by his arms.

“Feels like I don’t know anything anymore.”

 

 

It would be accurate to say that Dean’s life has sufficiently gone to shit.

The straitjacket that is currently a part of his new wardrobe may have something to do with that, but it’s not the only reason. No, it’s more along the lines of the past three weeks being his own personal hell, leaving him lost, confused and entirely brotherless with no idea as to how or why he ended up that way and no clues pointing to where Sam could have gone.

Now Dean’s finally found him, stumbled onto him in this nuthouse by complete accident. Some might consider it a stroke of luck. Nope. Not Dean. Because when he had called out Sam’s name, all he got in return was a terrified, deer-in-the-headlights look from his little brother, as if Sam had never seen Dean before in his life and isn’t that just fan-fucking-tastic?

Strong hands guide Dean by his shoulders to the left and down a long pale yellow hall. His muscles ache from how tightly his arms are twisted around his front, so he voices his irritation in the best way he knows how.

“So what’s with the puke-colored decor?” he asks with a smarmy grin, jerking his chin at the walls he and his posse of guards are passing. “Budget too tight to hire an interior decorator?”

The guy to his left, his hand tight on Dean’s elbow, rolls his eyes. “It’s a calming color, used for its effects.” With a haughty sniff, the man gives Dean a condescending look from the corner of his eye. “Not that you care, but it’s been proven to have a notably positive impact on patients.”

“No kidding? It’s just making me want to blow chunks,” Dean drawls, letting his eyes roam his surroundings. He’s projecting casual confidence, but the unsettling pressure that has been crushing his chest ever since he heard the words I don’t know him leave his brother’s mouth is making his skin crawl.

There’s no discernible escape route as far as he can tell besides backtracking to the main doors these guards are leading him further and further away from. There are doors spaced out evenly on his left and right, each with a swipe slot for a keycard and number pad beside them for access. Seeing as his arms are bound, pocketing any of the cards that are swinging from the breast pockets of the orderlies’ shirts is out of the question for now. As far as he can tell, all of these rooms are individual sleeping quarters for each of the nutcases and he’s about to get one of his own.

Sighing harshly through his nose, Dean glowers as one of the orderlies steps in front of the keypad, blocking his view of the code. Five beeps fill his ears right before the door is opened and he is unceremoniously shoved inside, straitjacket still on.

“Hey!” he yelps, turning around just in time to have the door slammed in his face.

Yeah. All in all, this is a certified crap show.

“You aren’t even gonna let me out of this thing?” Dean bellows. His voice merely bounces back at him, dulled by the thick walls enclosing the room. Kicking the door with the toe of his boot only results in a new slew of cursing and an aching foot, which he hobbles on to get over to the twin bed sitting sideways against the wall facing the door.

From where he sits on the mattress, Dean can see a nightstand at the head of the bed with a black lamp that looks more suited for a desk than a rickety side table. On his left is a worn down armchair against the wall next to a short, barren two-shelf bookcase. There’s a door to Dean’s right, which he guesses is his own personal bathroom. Afternoon light spills of the one window in the room that sits above his head, turning the floor a pale yellow that mimics the horrible walls he was marched by not too long ago. Straight ahead of him, next to the now locked door barring him from freedom, sits one of those stupid inspirational posters that has a slogan in bold black and white letters: IN THE HARDEST TIMES, WE GROW THE MOST.

“Thanks, Dr. Phil,” Dean mutters, rolling his eyes before turning his scowl to the front of his chest where the jacket restrains his crossed arms. He can almost hear Bobby’s voice echoing in the back of his head, something about this being a pickle if there ever was one. Well, he isn’t wrong.

Grunting, Dean scoots further back on the mattress until he’s propped up against the wall the bed is shoved against. It’s cold along his back, bleeding through the multiple layers he’s wearing to eat down the knobs of his spine, leaving him even more tense and uncomfortable than he already is. He doesn’t move away. The feeling forces his mind to focus, to sit up straight and take stock of everything he knows about the situation.

Sam is here. The very thought bleeds relief through Dean’s veins, allows his eyes to close and his muscles to relax just an inch as he slowly counts the thumps of his heartbeat in his neck. Sam is here. He’s safe. And he doesn’t remember Dean. That ugly thought is crammed back into the box it crawled out of to be dealt with at another time. Taking a slow, deep breath, Dean keeps his eyes shut, letting his thoughts run along the backs of them like a slideshow, each word drifting across his blackened vision.

They are in Guthrie, Montana. That much Dean knows for sure, seeing as he’d been living in the one motel in the area for nearly a month. How he came to end up in his room alone with just his duffle bag and an empty bed to his right was still one giant-ass question mark.

That had been the scariest part: waking up by himself with a headache that rivalled his worst hangovers and a phantom ache in his chest that told him something was deeply wrong and, to top it all off, no memory as to how he got there. Actually, he had no memory at all.

Memories had started to come back to him in random bursts: his name first, that the ‘67 Chevy in the motel parking lot was his, all that stuff. But it wasn’t until three days later that Sam’s face appeared in his mind as he was eating at the only diner in town and noticed that his waitress had hazel eyes.

Except he hadn’t known that it was Sam then, just that the face was familiar and that it made the gaping wound in Dean’s chest hurt so much that he had to put a hand on the spot to make sure he didn’t actually have a hole there. He had remembered who Sam was early one morning exactly a week later (and by morning, he means 2 a.m., and by remembered, he means that he woke himself up from a dark, twisted nightmare by screaming out Sam’s name).

Pieces came flooding in along with the damp silver moonlight spilling in through the window facing the parking lot, adding an eerie hue to Dean’s trembling hands as he had stared at them and begged the lines of his palms to give him answers.

He remembered Sam, that he was Dean’s little brother, that they had a pretty unusual job. It wasn’t everything, not nearly all the details he needed to flesh out the full picture of their lives and all that they had been through together, but it was enough. The most important thing was that Sam wasn’t there. They were always together except for now, why not now?

Dean hadn’t known where to even start to look. There were names that would randomly pop into his head, ones that he knew would probably be able to help if he could just figure out who they actually were and how to scrounge up a goddamn phone number for them, but no such luck. Dean’s motel room was full of zip, zero, and zilch – no cell phone, no laptop, and no way of even remembering his password to anything if he was going try to find a library to use their computers. Thanks for nothing, brain, and a giant fuck you, too.

The only consistent thing besides Dean’s hazy amnesia was that headache. Going outside was hard; even on the cloudiest of days, the sunlight hurt his eyes. He functioned by living in his wraparound sunglasses on his trips to get take-out from the diner and keeping the curtains pulled tight around the clock.

It was on one of those diner pit stops that Dean overheard a conversation that made him pause as he pulled out his wallet to pay for the plastic bags holding his lunch that were sitting on the counter. Something about a murder, passed between two women over their morning coffee in hushed tones, as if even speaking about the tragedy would bring similar bad luck upon them. Dean took a little longer than necessary to check, double-check and triple-check that everything he ordered was in the bags before requesting additional ketchup packets from the waitress with a fake smile, anything in order to get the most out of the conversation he was eavesdropping on.

The victim was a local girl, Holly McCarthy, barely a woman at age 22. To make it worse, she’d been pregnant. Found dead in her home by her husband after he returned from work, stumbled onto her mutilated body in their living room and apparently passed out. And that was before he saw the bite marks. Official cause of death: blood loss. Unofficially: cannibalism. Cannibalism, one of the women had whispered in horror, her face a mix of disgust and fascination. Here in Guthrie? Unheard of.

That was the most Dean heard before he had to leave. He’d run out of excuses to loiter and the head waitress was giving him the stink eye for holding up the line at the register, so he hightailed it out of there, only stopping to grab a copy of that morning’s newspaper off the wire rack by the door.

Back in the privacy and blessed darkness of his hotel room, Dean scoured the newspaper front to back for the rest of the evening, straining to find any additional information. There was a small niggle of doubt in the back of his mind behind the persistent ache, one that whispered how he was probably seeing things that weren’t there, that he was just desperate for something tangible that he could hang on to in order to keep his sanity. Sometimes humanity is just that fucked up. But his hunter’s instinct was stronger, a thrum of certainty guiding his hands along the crisp pages and lines of text until his fingertips were black with smudged ink and the entire room smelled like a printing press.

He closed the newspaper when his vision started to blur, but it was with a sense of satisfaction. Dean knew that this was a hunt, and while he couldn’t figure out for the life of him where his most recent memories that belonged in that black space in his head had gone, he sure as fuck could figure out what was hiding in this town that was determined to make a meal out of a mother-to-be.

The following morning consisted of two large black coffees and three extra-strength ibuprofens in an attempt to curb his persistent migraine. Dean only stopped for a minute at the door on his way out to stare at the untouched, perfectly made bed beside his own. Any longer than that and the hole in his chest would consume him.

The coroner’s office was his first stop, and it only took a little bit of persuasion with an award-winning smile and the promise of a midnight romp to get Shelley, the kind and oh-so attractive blonde assistant, to relent and make him promise only five minutes in the morgue, just five. It was more than enough.

Dean strode out of the office with Shelley’s number in his pocket, nothing more than a scrap of paper as far as he was concerned, and a grim set to his mouth. Seeing the mutilated body of a girl that young couldn’t help but strike a nerve and the slight bump of her abdomen underneath the starched white sheet left a hard ball in his throat.

He then spent the rest of the afternoon at the diner, alone in the corner except for a guy two booths over with his hood up who was hunched over a cup of coffee. By the time he was done people-watching, Dean’s plate of food had gone cold, much to the dismay of Clarissa, the middle-aged server who’d taken a liking to him. Her brightly-rouged lips pouted when Dean politely declined her offer of pecan pie. It would be too hard to explain that eating it would feel a bit like betrayal, and even harder to say that he barely understood it himself.

Clarissa was just sliding his bill across the cheap laminate when a young boy burst through the doors of the diner with a shout, causing every soul inside to stop and turn their heads. Another attack, another pregnant girl, but this one survived, she’s on her way to the hospital now and holy shit. Dean was the first person to blink out of his shock but Clarissa was the first to move, pushing for more, who and where and when. The boy panted back answers: Trisha, the one who lived on Elm Street, not even half an hour ago, he’d watched the ambulance come and get her himself.

All at once the diner exploded into noise, silverware clattering onto china plates, people getting on their phones to call their families, voices raised in panic because why here, why now, how could something like this happen here of all places?

Dean used the opportunity to slap a twenty on his table and slip out unnoticed by the bustling diner. He had a hospital to get to.

A flash of a badge later and he was practically handed Trisha’s file by a chatty nurse who was all too happy to answer any question he asked. Trisha had been paralyzed somehow by her attacker, leaving her entirely vulnerable. They had sent blood samples to the lab in order to find out what drug was used in hopes of tracing it back to its original seller. She had multiple lacerations, a twisted ankle that they assumed was from her escape attempt, and a sizeable chunk missing from her arm, the shape of the mouth that bit her clearly not human.

Dean found out that last detail after waiting for the frantic doctors and nurses to stabilize the girl before slipping into her room to lift the bandage himself. There were teeth marks around the wound on her upper arm, right below her shoulder - thin, close together and razor sharp. Dean managed to slip back out before anyone noticed he was in the room and he swore the entire walk back to his car, frustration getting the better of him. There was something familiar about each aspect of these attacks, something he could’ve sworn he read in a book somewhere, or maybe a journal.

It was when his ass hit the driver’s seat that it came rushing back to him in rattling pieces, forcing a gasp from his chest at the memories that suddenly flooded his mind. He and John, seven years back, Sammy gone to school, leaving Dean with a hole in his chest not unlike the one he had now. It was an old Cheyenne settlement in Minnesota where a series of deaths was ignored by local police until one of John’s old contacts called him, pleading for help. They went together, found a trail of bodies that ranged from men to women to children, but the most common victims were pregnant women.

Dean had to close his eyes and grip the wheel in front of him at the image of John drinking himself sick every night they were there, muttering about Mary and Sammy when he was still inside of her, cursing himself, cursing this monster for ever taking the lives of the children yet to be born and the mothers that never got to be. There was a flash of a library, rotting books with cracked spines and torn, yellowing pages, the echo of a wise man’s voice whispering the story of the Two-Face. Human, except for the second face on the back of its head that has a taste for human flesh. Their victims are paralyzed if they look into the second face, making them easier prey.

The hunt was hard, and the Two-Face’s trail was confusing, weaving in and out of the surrounding woods, no nest to be found until they figured out that it must be living among the townspeople. They were forced to stay one more night, and Dean blearily remembers being dragged out of bed at three in the morning, a machete shoved into his hands.

John had pulled him through the dim alleys between houses and stopped them right before the back of the last house on that lane. It was then that Dean heard the unmistakable sound of teeth rending flesh and bone, the spatter of blood on dry ground. The nauseating chewing was the final straw for his stomach. He was immediately on his knees, silently heaving as stomach acid burned the length of his throat, until a hand gripped the collar of his shirt and hauled him upright. John’s eyes were bloodshot, wild and angry and desperate to avenge, to kill another monster in place of the one that took his wife. A moment later, they turned the corner together.

The Two-Face had been described as grotesque by every account Dean had read, but to actually see it was something entirely different. The face that they could see was human enough: a girl with long dark hair and hollow eyes that seemed to be doing a back-bend, like the ones Dean remembered watching girls do in high school. Except this was a twisted version, its arms disjointed and wrong, popped out of place and turned in their sockets in order to work as proper hands for the second face on the back of the girl’s head. That same face looked up from devouring its victim’s shoulder just in time to find two hunters and a pair of machetes only a few feet away.

By the time John shouted for Dean to close his eyes, it was too late. Stunned by the sickening angles of the monster’s body, Dean looked into the Two-Face’s eyes—rookie mistake—and saw scarlet irises right before it let out an inhuman shriek, exposing thin, needle-like teeth. His entire body locked up and gravity drove him to the ground. He could do nothing but watch as John bolted behind the Two-Face to stay out of its line of sight, teeth gritted tight in frustration.

The monster let out another shrill noise, spinning in a crab-like scuttle to paralyze John, but he was faster. He managed to hook his foot under its ribs to flip it over so the second face was hidden in the earth before driving his machete into the base of its neck. Dean watched the blood spray across John’s neck and shirt as he hacked the head free from its girlish body before turning the regular face towards him. With the skill of a veteran hunter, John cut the skull in half and took the second face by whatever strands of long, bloody hair was left into the woods.

A few minutes later, Dean knew it was done when he felt his muscles tremble and sag, finally released from what was tied to the Two-Face’s magic. John returned with soot on his brow, smelling heavily of smoke. Later, he told Dean, three whiskies in, that he’d burned and buried the face before dousing the earth with holy water to be safe. Dean knew it was because he didn’t want to talk about the last victim they hadn’t been able to save in time: a young, lanky boy with dark hair that fell into his eyes.

The image of that boy’s mangled body had been enough to wrench Dean out of those throbbing memories and back to where he sat in his car. Unfortunately, it was accompanied by the sudden urge to vomit. He slammed the car door open before collapsing on the asphalt to empty his stomach contents. His head pounded a vicious rhythm that his heartbeat matched, overwhelmed by the memory overload. Taking several deep breaths, Dean gathered himself up off the ground and wiped his mouth off on his sleeve, grimacing at the gross trail of spit it left behind. Throwing his jacket into the backseat, Dean got back into the car and gunned it back to the motel. He knew what he had to do.

The next day, cornering Clarissa was harder than expected. The diner was full of patrons by the time Dean got there in the morning, and he couldn’t help but scowl when he had to be seated on one of the counter stools. The frazzled wait staff brought trays of coffees around to appease the customers while the cooks worked frantically. By the time Dean asked to speak to Clarissa privately, she leveled him with a well delivered You’ve gotta be kidding me look. Only after he swore up and down about how important it was did she finally sigh and call out to her manager that she needed a bathroom break. After leading Dean out one of the back doors, they were finally alone enough for him to try and bring her on board.

It’s never easy trying to ease a civilian into understanding that most supernatural things are real. Clarissa’s eyes were wide and full of fear, her hands shaking violently where Dean had pressed them both between his palms. This is important, Dean had reassured her, you could know something, maybe saw someone a little odd around lately, someone new who tried to keep a low-profile in hats or hoods, anything, Clarissa, please. It took a few minutes but she finally nodded jerkily, said she might know someone like that, could tell him when she gets off her shift at four. She recited an address out of town, a safe place that she would meet him, and Dean thought he finally had some luck.

That was until he pulled onto a two-lane road curving away from town towards a lone gray building in the distance that the hairs on the back of his neck started to rise, the sign advertising “Rockwood Clinic” blowing by. That was until he parked next to Clarissa’s beat-up VW bug and stepped out to see her gesturing at four uniformed men coming down the front steps of the building, her finger pointing right at him. That was until Dean learned that these people had invested in long-range tasers.

So here Dean is, trussed up in a straitjacket with an ache in his shoulder from where 50,000 volts entered his body, in a psych ward with an amnesiac little brother, and half of his own memories still missing.

How the fuck did that happen?

 

 

If there’s one thing Sam Campbell knows how to do, it’s use his puppy dog eyes. Disgusting that he even resorts to it at all, some weak form of manipulation with a pout and his brows drawn together, but this is an emergency.

“It’s just for the night, Brianna,” Sam begs again, his arms tightening over the manila folder he has sealed against his chest. “You know I’m good for it.”

The secretary narrows her stare on him, her lips pursing as she taps her manicured nail on her desk in quick staccato. The moment the tension leaves the line of her shoulders, he knows he’s won.

Fine.” Brianna scowls with no heat behind it as she crosses her arms and leans back in her chair. Sam grins in response and loosens his hold on the file so he can adjust the strap of his bag from where it was slipping off his shoulder.

“I owe you one,” Sam all but gushes, his cheeks flaring hot as he offers her a quick wave. His feet are already starting to carry him down the darkened hall to the main doors, eager to get out into the parking lot and on his way back home. “Thanks again!”

“Hey!” Brianna calls, stopping Sam in his tracks. He turns to look over his shoulder with his teeth gritted sheepishly, praying she didn’t change her mind. She’s standing up now, a curious but playful look in her eye as she regards his hunched figure. “What’s so important about that file anyway?”

Sam clears his throat and straightens up a little, shrugging jerkily. “Just, um… Just trying to get a better read on a patient, that’s all.”

He can see the mischievous light fill Brianna’s eyes from where he stands and he sighs internally, knowing what’s coming.

“Here’s the deal, Campbell,” Brianna stage-whispers, leaning onto the raised counter above her desk conspiratorially. Sam steps closer, knowing he won’t be able to make his escape until he indulges her. “I’m letting you take a patient folder home. You and I both know that that’s against our policy. So to make up for it, how about you tell me whose file it is? It’s only fair.”

Goddammit.

He could lie. He could totally, totally lie. But Brianna is really trusting him here, is letting him break the rules because he was lucky enough to be born with a smile that could melt anyone’s heart. Telling her is the least he could do.

“It’s Dean Doe’s file,” Sam relents, watching the change in her face cautiously.

“Ohhh.” Brianna nods sagely and taps her nails against the counter a couple times. Bad habit, it seems. “The new one.”

“Yeah.” Sam clears his throat again and jerks his thumb over his shoulder. “I’m gonna–”

“The pretty one,” Brianna adds, her gaze going far-off and dreamy somewhere to Sam’s left. “I don’t blame you.”

“It’s – It’s not like that–” Sam sputters, but Brianna waves his words away with a little smile as she takes her seat again.

“Tomorrow,” she says, staring meaningfully at the folder Sam’s still holding before looking into his eyes. “I’m holding you to it.”

“Tomorrow,” Sam promises, throwing her a quick smile as he backs away, before turning and pushing his way through the double doors to head out into the rain.

In truth, this mist can barely be called rain. It’s the kind that clings to Sam’s eyelashes and clothes like a chill and tries to seep into his bones. He swears lightly under his breath before lifting the flap of his messenger bag to slide the folder inside, clicking the magnets together to keep it shut. He hikes the collar of his jacket up to cover his neck before trudging ahead into the dimly lit parking lot.

The night smells humid, like hot pavement that cooled too fast from the sudden precipitation, something that Sam has always associated with summertime, highways, and the burnt horizon. There’s no moon tonight, leaving the wispy gray clouds to sweep across the black canvas overhead in streaks that remind him of skeletal fingers. It’s going to storm, Sam decides. He can sense it in the cool gusts of wind that blow his hair into his eyes. Something bigger is brewing in the distance.

The thought quickens Sam’s steps until he’s standing at his car. His vehicle is… definitely a work in progress. The Honda Civic’s faded red paint is chipped in some places and rusted off in others, his left side mirror is connected only by the sheer will of the duct tape that anchors it to the car, and there’s a spider web crack in the corner of the windshield. Sam calls it character. Everyone else calls it junk.

“But we don’t listen to ‘em, do we, baby?” Sam coos, patting the roof of the car with one hand as the other digs around in his jacket pocket until he gets his keys in hand. The remote that is supposed to unlock his car is busted, so he’s forced to jam his key into the lock and perfectly time a sharp twist of his wrist with a kick to the bottom of the door. It’s a well-practiced routine and he and his car both perform it beautifully, the lock popping up with a chick! that leaves a smile on Sam’s face. He opens the door and slides into the worn seat with a sigh, tossing his bag onto the seat beside him as he cranks the engine.

It isn’t a long of drive to Sam’s apartment from the ward, especially not at eight o’clock when there’s no traffic because the entire town is already tucked away for the night. That’s the thing about small places like Guthrie. They abide by the same rules and traditions that they were brought up to follow and rarely ever deviate from their norm. Dinner by five thirty, in bed by eight, maybe nine at the latest, and up at seven thirty the next morning. It makes Sam’s skin itch to even think about it and he reflexively clenches and unclenches his hands on the wheel to get rid of some of the prickling energy.

Sticking to any form of societal routine has never been his strong suit, but since moving here, he’s tried. Really tried. But something about it doesn’t feel right, just like being behind the wheel of his car doesn’t feel right, and neither does eating alone at Marie’s Diner or drinking a beer in front of the TV when The Three Stooges reruns are on.

Shaking the uneasy thoughts from his head, Sam flicks on his turn signal and eases his way into the communal parking behind his building. As usual, someone has taken his designated parking space, which leads to him banging his head on the wheel for a good minute before sighing and pulling into the nearest 24-hour visitor spot for the night.

Sam’s messenger bag weighs a thousand pounds as he eases it onto his shoulder before stepping out of the car and locking it behind him. It has to be a mental thing, Sam thinks as he uses his back to push open the main doors of his apartment building.

The lobby is flooded with artificial white light that gleams off the slick tiles leading to the main staircase. Sam squints and does his best to blink away the brightness as he goes to the far wall and scans the mailboxes for the one assigned to apartment 303. He unlocks it and pulls out a handful of thin envelopes before closing and locking the little metal door. Flipping through the pile as he starts up the stairs, Sam barely even registers when his feet hit the third floor landing a couple minutes later.

Sam all but falls against the door of his apartment, sorting his keys half-heartedly until he finds the right one to let himself in. He’s immediately assaulted by the smell of ripe peaches and pastry, of all things. Fumbling to his left, Sam finally finds the light switches and shoves them all on, the door swinging shut behind him with a click.

A pie waits for him on his kitchen counter, a delicate, pretty thing with a braided crust. The smell of it makes his mouth water, and he has to force himself to swallow it away.

Part of him wants to be alarmed that someone broke into his apartment to leave him a fruit-filled pastry, but the other, much more tired part is just grateful that something fresh and already made is at his disposal. It seems harmless enough. He crosses through the short hallway and into the kitchen, already shrugging off his bag and jacket to set them both on one of the stools that sits behind the island that separates the kitchen from the living room.

Now that he’s closer, he can see a note on the other side of the still-steaming pie, a cream colored card with his name scrawled across the front in large loopy letters. Sam’s heart gives one last echoing throb before it stops in his chest. He knows that script. That’s Jess’s handwriting.

The once-appetizing smell of the peach pie is now nauseating, making Sam lurch away from the counter, his hand clamped over his mouth. His spine feels like it’s melting down his back, loosening every joint and bone in his body until he slides to the floor. Deep breath in, slow breath out, Sam tells himself amidst the buzzing in his mind, deep breath in, slow breath out. The hurt is still too fresh, the month-old scabs covering the raw wound in his heart now torn off just from seeing the way the ‘m’ in his name swoops up in that little spiral she did with a flourish.

Hazy memories overtake his senses, forcing his eyes shut as it all comes rushing back. His best friend and his girlfriend. Biggest cliché in the book, right? All met at the same university, lived in the same dorm, breathed the same dusty air in the library after three coffees left their fingers shaking and their hearts beating too fast. They grew up in different ways after that, but they grew up together. Sam would have had to have been deaf, blind, and dumb to not see the changes in their behavior, the way Brady stared too long and Jess blushed under his attention. Willful ignorance is always strongest when it comes to the matters closest to our hearts. That one Sam learned the hard way.

This feels like a low blow, walking into the apartment he had barely managed to scrounge up money for as an escape after walking in on them together, to find something she’d made for him. He wants to find the nearest trash can and a book of matches and watch the note burn, taking away any apology or scribbled plea for forgiveness. He wants to punch Brady over and over until his knuckles are a mottled rainbow of purple and red.

He wants a lot of things.

Sam lets his eyes slip open enough to stare at his feet on the tile. The memories of that day are blurred in his mind, as if it’s all unfolding behind a pane of frosted glass. He can feel the clench of his heart, the wall of the tears behind his eyes that is threatening to burst forth, and he shakes his head hard. No. Jesus, no, he can’t do this anymore.

“You’re wallowing on your kitchen floor, for fuck’s sake!” Sam says out loud in the hope that he’ll snap out of it, sending a scowl down to the toes of his boots. Enough with the self-pity. Sam sucks in a lungful of air through his nose and runs his fingers through his hair to push back the strands nearly falling into his eyes. He has other things he needs to do right now.

After floundering his hand above his head for a moment, Sam gets a good grip on the lip of the countertop and uses it to help himself to his feet. Shoving the pie and the accompanying note as far away from him as he can manage, Sam scoops up his bag and makes a beeline for the too-small couch facing his crap TV.

Once he’s sitting down, the bag a comforting weight in his lap, Sam suddenly finds himself reluctant to get out the file he worked so hard to pull from the office. His fingers twitch against the metal clasp of the bag, ready to make the move but lacking the initiative Sam wishes they would take right about now.

This is everything they know about Dean stapled into a pile and tucked neatly away, all clinical, no feelings allowed. Except that there’s this cavern in Sam’s chest, one that’s been weighing down his every step lately, and somehow this patient, Dean, came in and everything changed. Even just thinking about him makes it a little easier for Sam to breathe, and fuck if that isn’t confusing. A man Sam knows nothing about, except that he seems pretty adamant that the two of them know each other. On what level, Sam still isn’t sure, but the concern and relief that bled into Dean’s eyes after he saw Sam in the main hall is undeniable. They mean something to each other, in Dean’s mind, at least.

That’s part of the reason Sam knew he had to see Dean’s file. He’s just preparing himself for their first one-on-one consultation. It’s better to have all of the facts instead of going in blind, right?

Before he even realizes it, the flap of his bag is open, and he can feel the cool, slightly damp manila folder against his fingertips. He draws it out slowly, almost reverently. Pushing the bag off of his lap, Sam turns on the couch until his back is against one arm and his feet are propped up on the other, forcing his knees into an upside down v. Settling in, Sam rests the folder against his thighs and traces the small tab that juts from the side of the folder where Dean’s name is scrawled in nearly illegible handwriting.

“Dean,” he says quietly, just to taste it. He’s immediately struck by how natural it feels for it to roll off his tongue, as if this name has been embedded into his very tastebuds. Swallowing hard, Sam hooks his shaking fingertips under the top part of the file and opens it with a soft rush of rustling papers.

There isn’t much in here, which doesn’t shock Sam. Most patient files are fairly sparse until they start having their sessions with him. From there, he can get a better read on them and what kind of general anxieties or delusions they suffer from in order to give the ward’s pharmacist an idea of the medication they’ll require, and the pages will subsequently grow. The ones here are merely a small collection from Dean’s first evaluation.

Sam skims through the outlined boxes on the forms stapled to the left side of the folder, noting that more than half are empty. No last name, birthdate, hometown, known relatives… It’s like half of the man’s life has been wiped away. That, or he just refuses to give up anything that could lead to them being able to contact someone he knows. Could be pride, could be embarrassment. Dean seems like the kind of guy to have a bit of an ego, no matter how sane he is.

Sam turns his attention to the sparse notes on the right side of the file, where observations of his behavior are recorded, including both solitary and group interactions that he has with other patients or caretakers. Aggressive tendencies, the first line reads. Sam gets a brief flash of the swings he was taking at the orderlies earlier today. Yeah, no surprise there. Coherent enough to recognize immediate surroundings. It’s the next line that makes Sam pause, his heart swooping low into his stomach before climbing back up again. Claims to know Sam Campbell, psychologist. Spoke familiarly with Dr. Campbell when they came across each other in the main hall. Dr. Campbell claimed to have never met the patient - noted to discuss with Dr. Campbell at another time.

Jesus.

Scrubbing a hand over his face, Sam turns to the window and watches the way the water on the pane slides down in tiny rivulets. Is it possible he’s met Dean before? He doesn’t know how much time he loses trying to think back to his college days or even before that, seeking some sort of recognition. Dean’s face is one that would certainly be hard to forget. But Sam’s memories refuse to work with him, merely coming up Dean-less and hazy like a half-remembered dream and not helpful in the least.

Bringing his attention back down to the file in his lap, Sam takes a deep breath before lifting the previous notes out of the way to find the eyewitness testimony, taken by Tom, that brought Dean to them in the first place. The sentences are more like bullet points, sharp and to the point: Patient made claims of a monster hurting town members - “Two-Face”? Enlisted help of one Clarissa Adams, waitress, who grew concerned at his talk about this fictional monster. Convinced patient to meet her here in order to assist him in “hunting” it, which allowed us to bring him in safely. Clear evidence of complete disconnect with reality. Psychosis to be determined.

“Fuck,” Sam mutters, rubbing his eyes in tight circles until all he can see is starbursts of colors on the backs of his eyelids. Monsters? Jesus. Sam sighs through his nose and tries to take comfort in the blackness of his vision. He’s tired and emotionally drained. Who would’ve thought a fucking pie and a patient file could leave him feeling like he was just hit by a train?

A sharp ringing makes Sam jump, panic flaring through his body until he realizes it’s just his cell phone. He pats himself down quickly, disoriented, before remembering he had it in his jacket pocket. Sam crosses over to the stool where his jacket sits and fumbles his phone out of the pocket. His thumb moves to the accept button on autopilot, ready to press down, until he catches the caller i.d.

Brady.

Scoffing in disgust, Sam tosses his phone away and is only partially disappointed to hear it bounce against the cushions of his couch instead of shatter against the far wall like he hoped it would. He needs this day to be over right the fuck now.

Heart pounding hard enough to bruise his ribcage, Sam starts yanking at his clothes on his way to his room to get away from the still ringing phone, barely getting the buttons of his shirt out of their holes before ripping it off. There’s still so much resentment running hot in his veins along with the confusion of coming home to Jess’s… whatever that was. Christ, how did she even get in? It’s not like she has a key.

Kicking his way out of his pants, Sam enters his bathroom and flips the fan on. It chokes out a dangerous sounding cough before rattling its way into working form. The water in the shower only takes another minute to warm up enough to be bearable before Sam steps out of his boxers and into the too-small shower cubicle. There’s barely enough room for him to stick his elbows out let alone try his entire arm span, so it’s never exactly been a place where he can be comfortable. That’s what he gets when he needed an apartment in a quick fix. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Maybe it was Mrs. Johnson next door, Sam muses as he pours shampoo into his hand before scrubbing it into his hair. She always leaves notes taped to his door inviting him over for dinner, fretting that he spends all his time alone. If Mrs. Johnson happened to see Jess outside his door, she probably offered to use the spare key he gave her for emergencies to let Jess leave the pie here, thinking she was doing him a favor.

Sam sighs and drops his head, letting the hot water pound at the tense muscles at the base of his neck until his shoulders relax and it doesn’t twinge when he raises his head again. Unfortunately, that’s the most he gets out of the water heater before the shower head starts spitting out lukewarm water, encouraging Sam to finish scrubbing suds out of his hair and quickly pass a soapy washcloth over his body to rid himself of the day before rinsing off. He steps out just before the water turns cold and cranks the shower off, shivering until he gets a towel wrapped around himself. Shoving his toothbrush in his mouth, he brushes as he moves into his room and digs around in his bottom drawer for a pair of boxers to sleep in. Sam manages to struggle into them one-handed just fine and only drips one glob of toothpaste onto his shirt, okay, one, before standing in front of his fogged up mirror for a final vigorous round of brushing.

He doesn’t know what makes him do it, just that his hand is reaching forward on its own accord to place itself palm-first on the mirror before sweeping to his right, cutting a water-streaked path through the steam that clings to the pane. Sam can see a blurry reflection of himself in the space he made in the mirror, his eyes narrowed, mouth set, brow furrowed, with the stick of his toothbrush still hanging from his lips. His eyes drift to the far side of the streak he made where his hand is still resting on the edge of the mirror and his stomach sinks when he realizes he’s looking for a familiar face to be there beside him. Even worse, it wasn’t Jess’s face that he had been looking for.

The thought causes his stomach to clench, the sandwich and half a garden salad he’d had for an early dinner rising dangerously high in his throat before he forces them back down again. Lurching forward, Sam spits foam into the bowl of the sink and turns the faucet on blast to rinse his mouth, and then, on second thought, shoves most of his face under the frigid tap water to wipe his mind clean. After sputtering through the stream for a good minute, Sam shoves his face into his towel, nearly gasping for breath through the fabric. What is wrong with him?

Bed, Sam thinks numbly, bed, now. I need today to be over. He stumbles into his room, blindly seeking his bed in the dark until he hits the mattress with his knees and topples forward with a thump. Burying his face in the nearest pillow helps muffle the outside world, leaving Sam to drown in the buzzing of his mind. Sleep would be a merciful relief, but his thoughts clearly have another plan, twisting and carving and seeping into every crevice of his brain until his ever-present headache reaches an unbearable level, and Sam has to dry-swallow two extra-strength ibuprofen just to be able to close his eyes without wanting to cry.

Sam tries not to look at his bedside clock, knowing that the bright red numbers will do nothing but wake him up more or possibly laser themselves into the backs of his eyelids. Either scenario is not ideal, so he turns away and slaps the pillow from the other side of his bed over his head so he’s sandwiched between two piles of down feathers.

It just seems like something to do, more than some sort of magical sleep remedy, but apparently it works for him. A little too well, it seems, because the next thing Sam knows, he’s blinking awake out of the last wisps of a dream to muted pale light peeking in through the spaces where the pillow over his face doesn’t quite meet the mattress. With a soft noise of confusion, Sam paws it away until the sunlight is sharp in his eyes and he has to squint around to gather his bearings. It shouldn’t be this bright. Not at seven thirty in the morning.

It only takes a moment for that feeling of dread to pool low in Sam’s stomach before he whips around to look at his clock, nearly pulling a muscle in the process. It’s nearly noon. Noon.

“Jesus fucking–” Sam swears loudly, scrambling to free his legs from the covers that are twisted around him like vines determined to keep him anchored to the bed. How did he forget to reset his alarm last night? It’s the one consistent thing he’s had going for him in his life these past few weeks, Christ, he can’t even do that right.

Hopping into the living room one-footed as he kicks off the last of the sheets around his ankle, Sam makes it to the couch where his phone still lies. Speed dial is a godsend. He jams his phone between his ear and his shoulder as he runs back into his room and yanks out his last pair of clean pants.

“Hello, this is Rockwood Clinic. Brianna speaking. How may I help you?”

“Brianna!” Sam pants, stepping into his bathroom. He shoves his fingers through his hair in an attempt to tame the strands that are currently defying gravity only to get them stuck in knots he never knew existed on his scalp. “Shit–”

“Um… hello?”

“I’m so sorry. Hey, it’s Sam.” He gives up and extracts his hands from his gnarled strands in favor of going to pull one of his collared shirts from his closet. Sam tosses the phone onto his mattress as he wriggles out of his t-shirt and shoves his arms into the crisp long sleeves of the light blue shirt he’d had enough sense to iron and hang the morning before. “I’m, uh, running a little late here.”

He hears a faint response and tucks the phone back against his ear in time to catch Brianna mid-sentence. “–and Tom was asking where you were so I had to lie to cover your ass, Campbell. I told him you got food poisoning, and you’re damn lucky I took so many drama classes in college. Not many people would’ve been able to pull that off the way I did.”

“I’m really, really sorry, Brianna,” Sam says again, buttoning up his shirt in record time before tucking it in at the waist. “I’m about to leave my place, okay? I’ll be there shortly.”

“Hey!” Brianna barks sharply, making Sam stop in his tracks, heart beating off-rhythm. There’s a moment of loaded silence before she asks, “Do you look like you’ve been up all night puking?”

Sam smiles and shakes his head before peeking into the bathroom to get a good look at himself. Bloodshot eyes and dark bags underneath, a rat’s nest for hair, and cheeks flushed and sweaty.

“Definitely.”

“Good. See you in fifteen. Pick up a coffee for me, by the way. Black, two sugars.”

“You got it. Hey. Thanks.”

Sam can hear her smile through the line. “You owe me big time, Campbell.” The line disconnects and Sam punches the end button, shoving his phone in his back pocket in order to get his feet into the socks he wore yesterday before getting into his shoes. He carefully sorts Dean’s file into pristine order before slipping it back into his messenger bag, double-checking that he has his wallet and keys in hand before stepping out into the hall to lock the door behind him.

On his way to the lobby, Sam nearly trips down one of the flights and then proceeds to slip and fall on his ass the moment his feet touch the tile near the front doors. It is then, sitting on the cool linoleum, that Sam understands this is going to be a very bad day.

 

 

Sam doesn’t need to be here. Not really. But his skin has been itching ever since he got in, passed off the coffee to Brianna, and sat in his office only to stare at Dean’s file instead of actually doing any work. The walls of his room eventually felt like they were closing in on him and he needed to get out before he lost his mind. So now here he is, settled into the armchair in the corner of the patient day room with a book in his lap. He doesn’t even know which one it is, just grabbed it off his bookshelf on his way out without thinking. Sam glances down, now curious about the text resting against his thigh. Exploring the Semantics of Subconscious Emotions. Right. Of course the universe would choose today of all days to be an ironic asshole.

Sighing through his nose, Sam lets his eyes stray back up to scan the room again. A new group of patients is filtering in, all looking so much alike in their light blue uniforms, only distinguishable from this far away by the color of their hair and their body build to show they are male or female. And yet Sam finds himself drawn to the tallest in the group, the one with the dirty blonde hair and a now sparkling smile that is, oh fuck, directed at him.

Dean’s grinning like he won the lottery, like finding Sam staring at him from across the room is the highlight of his day. A wave of fire floods Sam’s cheeks, so hot that it leaves his eyes watering and his head ducked so he can stare awkwardly at his hands twisting in his laps. Jesus, when did he become a teenage girl?

Instead of just sitting there like a blushing idiot in an armchair who just had his cover blown, Sam turns his attention to opening his book to a random page so he becomes a blushing idiot in an armchair who just had his cover blown and is now casually reading. He thinks it’s working, that Dean got bored and meandered off to stare out the window or something, until a loud scraping reaches his ears.

Looking up, he finds Dean dragging a chair behind him that used to be at the chess table a few meters away as he heads straight for Sam. Dean’s still smiling, this half-smirk, easy-going kind of thing that for some reason drags up a confusingly familiar urge to say something snarky to knock it away. Swallowing the inappropriate and, frankly, unfounded feeling away, Sam allows himself a moment to admire the way that smile softens Dean’s face and makes him look younger and more vibrant. Then the chair clunks down onto all fours and Dean spins it around backwards before plopping down into the seat.

“Heya, Sammy!”

“It’s Dr. Campbell,” Sam corrects automatically, watching as Dean’s smile unhinges just the slightest bit at his words. He blinks and narrows his eyes slightly as he tries to understand why exactly that kind of correction made Dean’s face fall.

This is part of what Sam is certain will make interacting with Dean so difficult for him – for whatever reason, there’s this deep pull in Sam’s heart every time their eyes meet, as if there’s an invisible tether linking them, and it makes a trainwreck out of his thoughts. It’s terrifying. Sam’s never experienced this before, not even with Jess. This is something more, like it’s been woven into every fiber of his being, like his body has been designed to tilt towards Dean in order to absorb every inch of his heat and every spark in his eyes. Almost as if Dean was the sun and Sam was nothing more than a flower designed to bend to follow his light.

Sam hates it because he doesn’t understand it. How can he feel this way about someone he’s certain he has never met before, though Dean seems to know him? And why are all of these other feelings so familiar, like the one he just had to say something to throw Dean off his game all because of that smirk?

The clearing of a throat makes Sam blink and another second passes before he feels his cheeks turn pink again from embarrassment as he hears, “Earth to Dr. Campbell.” Dean says it with particular emphasis on his name, making it clear that he’s seen the line Sam drew in the sand. Message received. Easing an awkward smile into place, Sam closes the book in his hands and lets his full attention settle on the man in front of him.

“Sorry about that.” Sam bites the inside of his cheek for a second before relenting. “You can just call me Sam.”

The answering grin Dean gives him tells Sam that he made the right decision. He can almost sense one of the many barriers that Dean has around him falling away. They’re one step closer to building some trust between them.

“Well, I can see you’ve been cooperating. No more straitjacket, huh?”

“Yup,” Dean pops the ‘p’ and pats his stomach. “Been eating the food and throwing back pills just like I’m told. I should get a gold star or somethin’.”

“I’ll look into that for you,” Sam says, quirking an eyebrow.

Dean studies him for a moment before leaning forward over the back of his chair, a playful smile on his face. “So you’re not a fan of ‘Sammy,’ huh?” His tone is teasing but Sam can hear an echo of repressed emotion in his words. Nostalgia? Maybe he had a similar conversation like this with someone from his past, one that he misses or regrets.

“Not particularly,” Sam says, snorting a little as he shakes his head and sets his book on the window ledge to his left, the sun catching the engraved letters so that they shine in the afternoon light. “Sammy is a chubby twelve-year-old. Sam is fine.”

It happens so fast that Sam would have missed it if he wasn’t already watching Dean. A soft noise leaves Dean’s slightly parted mouth that’s lost all trace of a smile, like someone just elbowed him in the stomach. His entire face tightens before he turns into his shoulder, completely hiding himself. Sam leans forward slightly, about to ask if he’s all right, before Dean starts coughing. Once he’s recovered, he turns back to Sam and all evidence of whatever just happened is gone, replaced with that secret smile of his.

“Sorry. Tickle in my throat. Hate those things.”

“Right,” Sam says dumbly, unable to stop his eyebrows from furrowing slightly.

Dean doesn’t seem to notice. “So what brings you out here with all of us common folk?”

It’s not like Sam’s about to tell a patient that he hasn’t been able to think straight since they first met or that he’s been questioning his very existence as a result. That wouldn’t exactly be professional. “Got tired of sitting on my throne. You know how it is. Stiff backs and all.”

Dean’s smile widens, sending Sam’s heartbeat into an irregular pattern that probably isn’t healthy. “That so?”

“Unfortunately. You’re more than welcome to try it out when you come in tomorrow. You’ll see what I mean.”

“Tomorrow?” Dean asks as he props an elbow up on the back of the chair so he can rest his chin in his palm.

“No one told you?” Sam asks, unable to stop himself from scanning the room to find the nearest attendant. There are three other orderlies in the room: two of them are constantly scanning the room, and then there’s Tom off to the side talking to Josie, who is currently brandishing the one remote control in the room like a sword.

Sam gets that twinge of annoyance again and knows that Tom deliberately didn’t discuss this with Dean. It’s one of his duties as the head orderly, but for whatever reason, Tom’s been blowing him off lately and it’s really started to get on Sam’s nerves.

“Told me what?”

Sam turns his attention back to Dean and is struck by how… normal he seems. There’s nothing tense about him, no nervous jittering or wringing hands or flickering eyes. He is the image of calm, his shoulders slumped in relaxation and his face free of any trace of fear or hidden anger. If Sam didn’t know any better, he would wonder why Dean was even here. But he does know better. The eye witness transcript that was tucked into Dean’s file floats to the forefront of Sam’s mind. Right. Some of the most dangerous and unstable people can portray the most perfect exteriors.

“I have to do an evaluation on all new patients. It shouldn’t take too long, but you’re scheduled to come see me in my office tomorrow in the morning. You get a front row seat to my throne and everything.”

“Lucky me,” Dean laughs a little before dropping his hand away from his chin. “Evaluation, huh? I’ll have to check my schedule. What’s that include? Got some creepy alien probes hidden on your bookshelves you’re gonna use on me?”

“No probes,” Sam promises with a smirk. He can feel his lungs start to seize up when he sees Dean’s gaze drop to his mouth for a second before meeting his eyes again, his own smile growing even bigger to match Sam’s. As if seeing Sam happy made him happy. Those better not be fucking butterflies in his stomach right now.

“Then I guess I can move my other appointments around,” Dean shrugs, turning to look out the window. Somehow Sam knows that Dean’s still watching him out of the corner of his eye. “Y’know, my schedule’s pretty packed. Sleeping on a bed that’s probably made out of cement ‘til 9. Checkers at 12 with Bonkers Barry. Can’t forget the I Love Lucy re-run marathon at 1:30.”

Sam settles back into his armchair, feeling more relaxed than he has in ages even though he knows he shouldn’t be. There’s just… something about Dean. “Sounds like you’re booked. You sure you can make time?”

Dean tilts his head and looks directly at Sam now, considering him from head to toe in such a calculated way that Sam can’t help but tense up. After a moment, Dean smiles again. Jesus, that thing is deadly. “I guess I can make an exception.”

Sam snorts to alleviate the building pressure in his chest that feels like helium. Or maybe laughing gas. It’s making him giddy, which just makes him confused, which means he needs to get the hell out of here before he suffocates from this. “I’m flattered. Thanks.”

“Anytime,” Dean says breezily, stretching his arms above his head.

There’s a strip of Dean’s skin that appears as his shirt rises up and, of course, the sun chooses right then to brighten even further so that Sam can see the faint trail of hair on his lower abdomen that is usually hidden by his uniform. Sam’s heart punches hard against his ribs and he averts his eyes quickly, trying his best to swallow as his fingers fumble to pick up his book from the window ledge.

“I should get going.”

Dean drops his arms, frowning as he watches Sam stand up. Sam takes a deep breath and readies himself to launch into some piss-poor excuse for needing to vacate the day room right until Dean stands up with him. Sam has to pause then, because he had never realized just how big Dean is. Sure, Sam’s the tallest person in the building and probably the entire state of Montana, but Dean’s only a few inches shorter than him and is broad. His shoulders are wide and thick, his arms are corded, and his chest may taper from wide to narrow down at his hips, but that doesn’t make him any less intimidating. Dean has power on his side, and Sam remembers from the way he was moving when the orderlies first had to corner him two days ago that he knows how to use it.

Clearing his throat, Sam tries his best to be casual as he steps away, putting more distance between himself and Dean. “Paperwork, y’know. Never ends.”

“Paperwork,” Dean echoes, soundly entirely unconvinced. “Right.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Dean.” Sam offers one last smile before turning around, beginning to weave his way between the few patients who are drifting aimlessly around the room with a dazed look in their eyes.

When he reaches the door to the hall, Sam can’t help but look back over his shoulder. Dean has taken over the armchair Sam was just in and has his knees tucked underneath him, making him look years younger. He’s staring out the window with a frown and the fingers of his left hand are dragging back and forth aimlessly on the arm of the chair like an afterthought.

The sunlight coming in through the window has caught him just right with the sharp line of his nose, the plush curves of his mouth and the strong line of his chin and jaw all illuminated in a way that steals the breath right out of Sam’s lungs. That thing that is rooted too deep in Sam’s chest tightens so hard that it hurts and he has to force himself to look away.

If he spends the rest of his lunch hour with his head in his hands, then no one else has to know.

 

 

After Sam walks away, Dean is left more confused than he ever was before. He takes over the chair that Sam abandoned, his skin tingling when Sam’s leftover body heat starts to seep in through his clothes. Turning to stare out the window, Dean starts rubbing at the arm of the chair, the rhythmic movement and the slide of the material under his fingertips lulling him in an oddly comforting way.

So Sam still doesn’t recognize him. He hasn’t shown it in any way, not even when Dean threw in his favorite nickname that Sam loves to hate just to see how he’d take it. His reaction, the way he responded… It was nearly identical to that night Dean first visited Stanford—the first that Sam knew of anyway—and it’d hit Dean hard. Whatever he’d been expecting Sam to say, it hadn’t been that. There was an ease with which he said it that held none of that reluctant resentment that Dean always used to hear lacing Sam’s words when he’d nag about that babyish nickname. Just from that alone, there’s no way this is some façade or late April Fool’s prank. It was too genuine for it to be fake. On top of that, Sam said his last name was Campbell. Why would he be using Mom’s maiden name? It just doesn’t make sense.

Dean lifts his hand and scrubs lightly at his jaw, his gaze loosely focused on the enclosed field that makes up the ward’s outdoor space. He can see some flowers growing along the fence, smatterings of bright blues and yellows that contrast the green around them. It’s been just over a day since he was last outside but damn if he doesn’t miss fresh air.

Grumbling low in his throat, Dean turns away from the window and rubs at his eyes. His head is fucking killing him, that dull throb sharpened to a dagger in his skull from looking at the light for too long.

“Hey.”

Dean blinks and looks up to find a guy standing in front of his chair, his face twisted with pain and confusion. He looks a little familiar, but when Dean tries to concentrate on the thought, his head just hurts more.

“Can I help you?” Dean snaps, already put on edge by his headache and the fact that he’s now being approached by people who probably think he’s out to get them. He has bigger things to worry about right now.

“I – You’re that guy,” the young man stammers, his voice trembling as he points at Dean. “The flare gun guy. You saved my brother and sister. ”

The words jar something loose in Dean’s brain, flooding his ears with the phantom sound of a bag of M&M’s crinkling in his hands followed by the image of Dad’s journal spread open in Sam’s hands. He remembers hiking out into the woods with two siblings and a trigger-happy tracker who got himself killed for pissing off a seriously nasty beast. A wendigo. Ben and Haley.

“You’re Ben,” Dean says slowly, standing from his chair. “From that time at Blackwater Ridge. Wait, you – what the hell are you doin’ in here? Where’s Haley?”

“They told me it’s just a dream,” Ben says even louder, as if he’s talking to himself, his arms curling into his chest as if to protect himself. His face is growing paler by the second. “They told me it was fake, but if it’s fake then how are you real? How are you here if you’re not real?”

“Hey, hey, hey, buddy, c’mon now. Don’t freak out.” Dean looks around frantically, praying that none of the orderlies have noticed Ben’s increasingly shrill accusations. He reaches to take Ben’s arms. “Here, c’mon, sit down and we’ll talk, okay? We’ll talk, just don’t–”

The moment Dean’s hands touch Ben’s shoulders, a ragged scream erupts from his throat, and he launches himself onto Dean. All Dean can do is shout before getting slammed into the armchair, a hundred and fifty pounds of shrieking muscle mass crushing him into the cushions. Ben claws at Dean’s arms, scratching long red tracks from elbow to wrist as he tries to get to Dean’s face, all the while spewing incoherently, “You’re wrong, this is wrong, not real, go away, GO AWAY!

Then the weight on his chest and the nails on his skin are gone, the boy hauled off by three orderlies. One of them brandishes a needle and jabs it straight into Ben’s neck, thumb shoving the plunger down. Ben’s struggles immediately lessen before giving up entirely, his pinpoint pupils rolling into the back of his head as he slumps in the arms of the attendants. They start to lead him off, one calling for a gurney on a walkie-talkie as the others drag the boy towards the door.

“Wait,” Dean gasps, breathing hard as he stumbles out of the chair to grab the arm of the orderly who isn’t holding Ben. “Wait, what’s gonna happen to him? Is he gonna be okay?”

The next thing Dean knows, a sharp elbow comes down on the soft inside of his arm, making him release his hold on the man and forcing him on the ground with a grunt. The tile is cold and hard, leaving Dean’s knees aching as he tries to get his feet back under him. The man that caught him off guard squats down and gets right in Dean’s face, his fingers shoving harshly enough into the soft place below Dean’s collarbone that it’ll probably leave a bruise.

“Listen good, kid.” Dean can see now that the man is older, given away by the wrinkles by his eyes and his slicked-back hair tinged with gray. His breath is hot and dry in Dean’s nose, tinged with a layer of spearmint gum that doesn’t work in covering the faint smell of stale cigarette smoke. “You’re gonna know me as Clinton. I’m the Warden of this here clinic, and you’d do well to remember my name. Now I don’t know who you think you are, but you’ve barely been here twenty-four hours and you’ve already created quite the ruckus. If I were you, I’d keep my goddamn head down, ‘cause I’m about to get angry. And I only get angry when there’s disorder in my ward.” Clinton shifts on the balls of his feet to push closer to Dean, his joints cracking with his movements. “This is your first warning, bud. I’m only gonna give you two. And trust me, you don’t want to know what happens after I have to give you two. Are we clear?”

Everything in Dean wants to make him push to his feet, get to his full height and break out into his best maniacal grin, just to set this guy off. But something deeper tells him he needs to back the fuck down and wait this out. Escalating the situation will only make things worse, and if he gets taken out for bad behavior then he won’t be able to get to Sam anymore.

Swallowing hard, Dean grits out a “Yes, sir,” and drops his eyes to his feet, as much as it feels like giving up when he forces himself to break eye contact. The warden stands up with a snort, the shiny polished toes of his boots right in front of Dean’s face. He wants to spit on them.

“Take this patient back to his room for the day,” Clinton barks to the pair that were holding Ben earlier as they walk back into the room, relieved of the duty of transporting the frenzied boy. “Regular food and water, but keep him in isolation. We don’t want any more upset for today.”

Swearing loudly, Dean tries to scramble backwards, but he’s already being lifted up by two pairs of hands under his arms. His muscles tense, the fight part of his fight-or-flight response kicking in and pumping him full of adrenaline in order to prepare to break a nose or two. Then he catches Clinton’s eye, a cold, cruel circle of blue that promises something far more dangerous than anything he’s done already. Dean forces his body to relax, letting out a long and shaky breath as he lets himself be taken away. Order is clearly the one and only thing on Clinton’s mind as warden and if Dean continues to resist, there’s no way it can end well. Risking anything like that would end up with Dean thrown into some solitary room for all he knows, and there’s no way he can afford that right now, not when he needs to figure out just what the hell is going on.

With a harsh tug forward, Dean is unceremoniously led out of the day room, leaving behind a wake of confused patients that Dean can hear Clinton trying to calm down as they move farther down the hallway. The orderlies that are marching him back to his room don’t speak a word, to him or to each other.

By the time they reach his room, Dean’s so on edge that he feels like he’s going to scream just so he can hear something other than the slap of their boots against the tile of the hallway. With a careless shove, Dean stumbles into his room, the snick of the door locking shut echoing behind him like a death sentence not a moment later.

The anger seeps back into him the moment he’s alone, forcing his hands into fists as he spins around, looking for something, anything, to put a hole through. God, what is happening? Why would Ben be here? Shouldn’t he be back with Haley and Tommy? How could he be so stupid to trust some waitress he’d known for barely two weeks? How can Sam not remember him? There’s too many questions and everything is so fucked up and he still doesn’t know how he ended up losing his memory in the first place. There are no leads, not a single trail that could point him in the right direction.

Dean storms over to his bed and throws himself down on the thin mattress, turning angrily on his side with his arms crossed, blood pounding loud and hot in his ears. After a moment or two of breathing hard in an attempt to curb his rage, Dean lets out a soundless yell before punching the wall before him until his entire arm is tingling and numb, his knuckles red. Burying his face into the pillow, Dean lets his emotions take over, fear making his hands clench in his sheets and anger fueling him to bite into the pillowcase and rend it between his teeth.

He doesn’t know how they’re going to get out of this. He doesn’t have a single fucking clue.

 

 

Dean must have fallen asleep. The last thing he remembers was staring at the cracks in the wall and now his eyes are fluttering open to the smell of cooling food hanging in the air. He feels like he slept like the dead, his eyes stinging whenever he blinks. It feels like morning. Did he really sleep through the whole afternoon and night?

Turning his head, he sees a tray sitting on the nightstand above his pillow with a now-stale white roll, a bowl of some sort of stew with chunks of potato that are way too large to fit on the wimpy plastic spoon they supplied and a wilted spinach salad. His stomach feels hollow, but even the thought of putting any of that into his body makes his head throb.

Groaning, Dean rolls away and winces as he flexes his right hand in front of his face, watching how the tendons and muscles stretch over bone, marred now by muted purple bruises and slightly ragged skin, all courtesy of his stupidity from punching the wall before.

A sharp rap on his door makes him swing his legs over the side of the bed, just in case he needs to be prepared to be dragged out into the hall again. The door opens not a moment later to reveal Tom, who Dean has come to understand is second-in-command under the warden.

“You eat your food?” Tom asks, even though he’s clearly staring at the tray that is still full of last night’s dinner.

“Sure did,” Dean quips, standing up to take the clean uniform that Tom is holding out for him. He changes right there, hoping to make Tom as uncomfortable as possible. Once he stands up and finishes pulling the new shirt over his head, he grins at the orderly who is pointedly glaring up at the corner of the ceiling. “Ready whenever you are.”

Ignoring him, Tom extends his arm towards Dean. Pinched between his fingers is a tiny paper cup with three brightly colored pills.

Dean grimaces. “Silly me. How could I forget?” He walks over as slow as he can before he takes the cup from Tom, staring down at them blankly. The last few times he was given meds before meals, he’d been able to do a sleight of hand to avoid taking them. But now, with Tom watching him like he’s a pot waiting to boil, Dean doesn’t have a lot of leeway here. Bracing himself, Dean tosses the meds to the back of his throat and washes them down with a huge gulp of water from the plastic cup sitting on his tray just so he can walk past Tom and belch in his face. That ends with Tom strong-arming Dean down the hall through violent shoves in retaliation, which only fuels Dean’s stupid smile to burn brighter.

By the time they reach the main lobby, Dean’s confused about where they’re supposed to be going. They’re not going outside, are they? Instinct turns his head from side to side, evaluating the number of staff in the area that may be able to stop him if he tried to get through the double doors. There’s the secretary at her desk with the phone tucked between her shoulder and her ear scribbling something on a notepad and a pair of security guards talking over their morning coffees, thumbs tucked into their belts in the classic wannabe-cop way. One of them, a mousy blonde, keeps making eyes at the girl behind the desk, who is entirely oblivious.

Simply because he’s in that kind of mood, Dean stops and leans forward over the counter. “Psst!”

The secretary jumps, one hand flying to her heart as she turns the phone away. Dean widens his smile and jerks his chin at the guard who had been staring at her.

“He’s got a thing for you, y’know,” Dean gets out just before a hand clamps down on the back of his neck and yanks him away. Tom hisses threats into his ear as Dean grins at the look of horror on the guard’s face followed by his sputtering denial. Dean is led away soon after that, but it doesn’t stop him from laughing when he hears the girl’s indignant squawk about moving on, Shane, it was one time.

Next thing Dean knows, he’s being shoved through a door that looks familiar, the floor turning to carpet beneath his feet instead of cool tile.

“Hey, watch the goods,” Dean snaps at Tom, who levels a murderous stare at him before shutting the door firmly behind him. Rolling his eyes, Dean spins on his heel to take in the bookcase on his left, the gag-worthy artsy-fartsy abstract paintings that line the wall to his right and the comfortable looking armchair in the middle of the room before his eyes land on the person sitting behind the dark wooden desk. Sammy.

“Hi again, Dean.” Sam’s smiling that careful smile as he stands, the one that always makes Dean want to pry his head open to try and figure out where all those cogs and wheels line up, what kind of thoughts they churn out because sometimes he just doesn’t get his little brother.

“Doc,” Dean says carefully. It takes a second, but it all finally clicks. “Ahh, right. My evaluation.” Dean wiggles his fingers around dramatically. “Alien probes.”

“I promised no probes,” Sam laughs, moving around to lean against the corner of his desk. Dean sniffs a little and looks Sam up and down, that built-in habit of always making sure Sam’s okay getting the better of him. For the most part, Sam looks… good. Healthy. He’s in a long sleeved white shirt that’s unbuttoned at the collar and black pants that are miraculously long enough for his six-mile legs. He’s still smiling pleasantly but Dean knows he’s nervous because of the way Sam keeps wiggling his foot where it’s crossed over the ankle of his other leg.

“You also promised I’d get a front row seat to your throne. That it there?” Dean sticks his hands in his pockets and strides over to the chair Sam was just in. It’s a high back leather one with those cushy things on the arms and a neck rest to boot. Dean whistles low like he’s appreciating a nice car. “She’s a beaut.”

“Take her for a spin,” Sam offers, settling into the armchair that sits directly in front of his desk, smiling with his lips pressed together like he doesn’t want to give away how much he’s amused by Dean.

Dean, of course, has always been one to appreciate having his little brother’s eyes on him, watching his every move. So he preens, making a show of stroking the back, arms and the seat before sinking into the cushions with an overly dramatic sigh of pleasure, closing his eyes for effect. A few heartbeats later, Dean cracks his left eye open to fix on Sam, who’s leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, just watching Dean.

“I guess she’s all right.”

“Just all right?” Sam’s eyebrows do that thing where they nearly reach his hairline.

Dean shrugs nonchalantly before relenting a moment later, wiggling himself further into the cloud-like embrace of the chair. “Maybe a little more than all right.”

Sam snorts and pushes to his feet. Dean opens both eyes to watch as Sam rounds the side of his desk to lean against it, their eye contact holding in such a way that Dean’s left feeling like he’s under a microscope.

“So,” Sam starts, crossing his arms as he looks down at Dean in his chair. “Dean.”

“Sam,” Dean counters back, eyebrows twitching up slightly.

“You know this is an incredibly unusual way of conducting an evaluation, right?”

“Well, who ever said I was usual?”

There’s a look that passes over Sam’s face that hints at wanting to smile again, but he seems to force his face to remain passive, even clinical, now that he’s begun.

“Do you know why you’re here, Dean?”

Jaw clenching tightly, Dean uses his toes to spin himself in a circle before Sam’s ginormous hand grabs the neck rest, jerking him to a halt.

“Dean.”

“I’m aware, thanks,” Dean says coolly before propping his chin up with his fist, fixing Sam with a stare. “How about you, Sammy? You know how you got here?”

Sam blinks at him. “I asked why, not how. Let’s try not to change the subject.” Dean scowls at him, but Sam keeps going, tilting his head as he speaks. “You’re clearly still upset over being tricked into coming here.”

“Yeah, I guess having my trust broken really put me over the edge,” Dean drawls, rolling his eyes.

Sam goes quiet for a moment before crossing his ankles again, narrowing his eyes as he looks Dean’s slouched form up and down.

“What?” Dean asks, suddenly self-conscious. “You got that dumb pensive look goin’ on.”

The corner of Sam’s mouth jerks up. “Dumb pensive look, huh?”

Huffing out a breath, Dean looks away. Sam doesn’t need to make it sound affectionate.

“There’s actually something I’ve been meaning to ask you, Dean.”

Oh, shit.

“The first day you came in… You said you recognized me.”

“I got the wrong person,” Dean grinds out, refusing to meet Sam’s gaze. “Must’ve been friends with your doppelganger or somethin’.”

“One that has the same name as me too? Chances of that are pretty low.”

“What, you got a directory of every guy in the world out there named Sam?” Dean widens his eyes in challenge, waiting for Sam to take the bait.

He doesn’t, the fucker.

“Not at all,” Sam shrugs one shoulder and tilts his head to the side. “Hopefully with time you’re more willing to open up to me about this, though.”

“Fat chance,” Dean mutters under his breath. A short laugh finally draws Dean’s eyes back to Sam’s, which aren’t angry like he assumed they’d be. Sam looks amused.

“Y’know, there’s just…” Sam’s nostrils flare a bit before a wry smile tugs up the corners of his mouth, his eyes still half-narrowed as he pins Dean to the chair cushions with his stare. “There’s just something about you that I can’t put my finger on.”

Dean slouches further into Sam’s office chair, tapping out a rhythm absentmindedly on the arms as he smirks. “Bet that drives you up the wall, doesn’t it? Not being able to figure me out as easy as the rest of ‘em.” Dean jerks his chin towards the office door at the mention of the other patients, all locked up in their rooms, probably having three different conversations with themselves. They’re out there while he’s in here, finally able to be with his brother again, to let this incessant itch that lives beneath his skin be washed away by Sam’s very presence, his reassuring air, the knowledge that Sam’s okay.

It’s not like he can say any of this, though. Never would, not while he still had a breath in his lungs. But he thinks it, lets it roll around in his head without looking too much into how much of himself is tied to his little brother, because that’s a whole can of worms that Dean plans to pretend doesn’t exist.

There’s a strain in his heart, one that pulls tighter every time Dean remembers that he can’t tell Sam that they’re related, that they do know each other, that he isn’t delusional in recognizing there’s something palpable between them. This new relationship is still fragile, still too new to risk by dropping that big of a bomb. He needs to build up to it, get Sam to trust him again and to use those weird new psychologist mindfuck powers to finally figure out that Dean’s the sanest person in this joint.

Sam breaks the brief pause with a soft chuckle, his hands tightening and loosening on the edge of his desk unconsciously. He tilts his head again and looks down at Dean sitting in his office chair, something brewing in the blue-green of his eyes that Dean has never seen before. It leaves him stumped because he knows this kid like the back of his hand, has been privy to nearly every emotion Sam’s ever had, so not knowing something about him throws his gears out of line.

“You’re right,” Sam relents with a shrug, his gaze never leaving Dean’s. If anything, it grows more intense in the way that Sam’s eyes are flicking between both of Dean’s, lingering long and hard before switching back and forth again. “You’re a bit of an enigma, Dean.”

Dean has to grin at that, to cut through the tension pressing down on the back of his neck or to throw Sam off, he doesn’t know. Turns out it’s unnecessary when the gentle chime on Sam’s phone shatters the delicate bubble they were living in, reminding him of whatever appointment he has up next.

Pushing out of the chair with a satisfied noise, Dean crosses his arms loosely across his chest and raises his eyebrows at Sam a couple of times, easy smile still in place. “Looks like you’ll have to stew over just how to crack my noggin ‘til our next appointment, Doc.”

Sam doesn’t reply. He didn’t even look at his phone when it went off, still fixed on Dean’s face like it’s the goddamn Mona Lisa, and it’s really starting to throw Dean for a loop. Sam’s looking at Dean like one of the world’s greatest secrets lies under his skin, a curious light shining in his eyes as they roam Dean’s face and gradually soften. Dean is considering snapping his fingers in front of Sam’s nose when Sam finally moves. He still seems like he’s caught in a trance, his gaze never leaving Dean when he stands up from where he was leaning back on his desk.

The usual twinge of annoyance that his little brother has at least three inches on him sings its way down Dean’s spine as per usual, but the low twist in his gut that is roiling there now is new. He finally takes note of the foot or so of space hanging between their chests and the way that Sam is chewing the inside of his cheek. He has that same look he always gets when he’s about to blurt out something that’ll probably piss Dean off, so Dean quirks an eyebrow in his best attempt to silently say Spit it out.

Sam doesn’t say anything, though. He just lifts his right hand up from his side until it is hovering between their chests, fingers twitching as if they want to reach for Dean, which makes his stomach contort itself into some painful shape. There’s a breath of hesitation as Sam seems to lean forward and then sway back again, blinking twice as if trying to see Dean clearly, as if he hasn’t had his eyes trained on Dean for the last few minutes. Then his hand seems to make up its mind, moving forward until Dean can feel the heat from Sam’s palm bleeding into his skin where it cups his jaw.

At this point, Dean should have figured it out and stopped Sam before anything happened. And yet all of the wires in his brain chose the same moment to simultaneously disconnect, floating free to leave him frozen as he watches Sam’s eyes flutter shut before he leans in, tilting his head just slightly until his lips are molded against Dean’s.

Sam doesn’t push, doesn’t demand or take or insist. He just is, just exists here in this space with his breath leaving his nose to gust across Dean’s right cheek in oddly comforting puffs. An electrical thrum is building where their mouths are pressed together in a soft but tight line, neither of them moving. Dean’s eyes are still open and all he can see is the slightly blurry charcoal sweep of Sam’s thick lashes along the tops of his cheekbones, the movement of his eyes beneath his lids. All he can hear is the rush of his heartbeat in his ears, a deafening drumming that makes his head feel too light as if he’s living in a dream. Maybe it’s the drugs kicking in, turning his brain to mush. Maybe he’s even hallucinating.

But he’s not. This is real.

This is Sam with his hand on Dean’s cheek, kissing him. Kissing Dean.

He should do something. Definitely do something. Like plant his hands on Sam’s chest and shove him away. Wipe his mouth, fight down nausea, get out of this suffocating room. All of these thoughts sound valid, the echo of brother painting the inside of his skull in response to a shift in the kiss, Sam pushing forward a bit harder and parting his lips ever so slightly against Dean’s. It would make sense for Dean to react that way. The rational way.

It’s just that he doesn’t want to. Maybe that’s what scares him the most.

The feeling of Sam’s fingers sliding gently down his jaw automatically loosens the tension in Dean’s body, letting new waves of shivering electricity whorl their way under every inch of his skin when he feels his bottom lip slip into the small space between both of Sam’s. He wishes he could say it’s against his will but there’s no point in lying to himself anymore when he realizes he’s started kissing Sam back.

A soft sigh leaves Sam the moment Dean hesitantly nudges into him, sweet and humid breath mixing with Dean’s shocked exhale before their lips are sealed together once more, harder this time, not a single breadth of space to spare. Dean can feel Sam step closer, practically loom over him as his body presses forward tight against Dean’s chest. Sam’s using both of his hands, long fingers that Dean’s seen clean guns and wash dishes and scratch at brown teenage skin through the holes of worn-out jeans now seeking the back of his head to pull him even deeper into their kiss. Dean’s hands are itching to move, to curl around the back of Sam’s neck and yank him down, to force him to open up, to find out just exactly what the inside of his little brother’s mouth tastes like.

An involuntary jerk from Dean breaks them apart, that last thought shocking him back to reality as a soft wet sound rises in the space between them when their mouths separate. The tips of their noses are brushing and Dean’s gaze is fixed on Sam’s lips, stuck on the way they’re shining in the light, slightly parted and oh so pink as they blow sweet breaths back onto his skin. He shivers then, drawing further away as those connections in his head start stirring, tiny tendrils seeking their other parts to get pathways reconnected so they can stream all the rhyme and reason that should have stopped Dean from letting this happen in the first place through his mind.

He watches as Sam’s eyes fly open, first staring hazily with an edge of wonder back at Dean before they widen and the rest of his face pales, a harsh contrast to the endearing patches of red staining his cheeks. Sam shuffles backwards, tripping over his shoes so that he falls back against his desk, one massive hand rising to cover his mouth as he drops his gaze, looking as mortified as Dean feels.

“Oh my God,” Sam mutters against his palm, staring hard at the wheels under his chair like they have some sort of explanation as to why he just ended up macking on one of his patients in the middle of his office.

“Um,” is apparently the best response that Dean has in his arsenal. Ironic, considering he’s the one who usually saves them from these particular moments where one of them wants to crawl into a hole and die. Then again, they’ve never quite been in this kind of situation before. And they’re both in the same boat, because Dean kissed back.

The world tilts for a moment, forcing Dean’s arms to finally uncross so he can reach out and get a grip on the windowsill that’s directly behind Sam’s desk, anything to keep him on his feet because his knees aren’t exactly feeling reliable right now with how hard they’re shaking.

“Dean, I’m sorry.”

Sam’s voice sounds muffled behind the deafening thunder of Dean’s heartbeat in his ears, each pound wrenching something painful deep in his chest, wrongwrongwrongyoufuckedupwrong. Sam doesn’t know. Sam doesn’t know about them. But Dean does. And he let it happen. He wanted it.

There’s a scorching heat rising in the back of Dean’s throat, bile or perhaps what’s left of his soul trying to escape his tainted body, one last chance to escape this shell with a rotten core. Not the place, not here, so he swallows it down, forces himself to stand up straight and meets his little brother’s terrified eyes.

Sam has his hands in his hair, pushing it off his face to leave it pale and exposed. The color in his cheeks is fading, leaving only his lips to stand out in their shade of red from where he’s been rubbing them together in his anxiousness. Dean determinedly doesn’t look away from Sam’s stare and offers a shaky smile and a one shouldered shrug.

“It’s fine, Sam. Really.”

The look on Sam’s face tells Dean it is absolutely not fine.

“No, I shouldn’t have–” Sam scrubs his face with his hands before taking a deep breath and standing to his full height. As he drops his arms back to his sides, Dean can see the weight settling on his brother’s shoulders, forcing them down into a heavy slump. “I crossed a line here, Dean. And I can’t apologize enough. I don’t know what came over me–”

Dean screws his crooked smile into his cheeks, glues it right there so Sam can look into his face and see that Dean’s not scarred for life or about to run off and tell the head orderly that he was mouth-molested in his psychologist’s office. Sure, his stomach is in knots and his hands won’t stop shaking and he’s probably going to keel over the moment his feet pass the threshold of his room, but right now, he’s fine. He’s fucking perfect. Because Dean knows Sam, knows that he’s going to turn this around and around in that thick head of his until it becomes something worse than it actually is. Sam’s the kind to wallow in misplaced guilt and stew over it for an eternity and a half unless he’s snapped out of it, which is exactly what Dean’s about to do.

The sounds of Sam’s trembling breaths gusting out of his mouth in his building panic are loud now that Dean’s forced his heart back to some sense of normalcy. Stepping forward, Dean tentatively lays a hand on Sam’s shoulder, clapping it there twice in some skewed and awkward sense of camaraderie, the best he can manage at this time.

“Sam,” Dean says sternly, ducking his head to try and catch Sam’s eye. “Seriously, dude. I’m good. We’re good. Promise.”

Sam’s biting his lip when he finally meets Dean’s gaze, looking nine again and so uncomfortable in his own skin that Dean feels the phantom ache of his own thirteen year old growing pains echoing in his bones where he stands.

“You’re gonna be late for your next appointment or somethin’ so, uh, why don’t you buzz me outta here and we call it a day?” Tucking both hands into his pants pockets, Dean forces himself to move around the desk to slump into the plush armchair in the middle of the room as he waits for his escort. It takes Sam a few moments but he starts moving too, mechanically checking his cell phone before pressing the intercom button and asking for someone to come take Dean back to his room.

The tense minutes that permeate the air while they wait sets Dean’s teeth on edge. Sam is still so clearly messed up over this, his eyes taking on this glazed look as he shuffles papers that don’t need shuffling and tidies up his desk until there’s nothing left for his fidgety fingers to mess with. It makes Dean take notice of his own tense muscles, the ache in his shoulders and neck that has settled into him just from watching Sam stress out. With a sigh, he shakes himself loose and allows himself to droop down into the cushions. Maybe the next time Sam sneaks a hurried glance at him out of the corner of his eye, he’ll see that Dean’s calm and not having some sort of crisis. He’s saving that for when he’s alone.

A sharp knock makes both of their heads jerk up to look at the office door. Sam is striding over to it by the time Dean unfolds himself from his chair, hands still stuck in his pockets as he follows in Sam’s footsteps. Sam’s hand is curled around the door handle and he’s staring at it blankly until Dean steps up beside him. He raises his head and their eyes meet again, a shock of electricity shooting down Dean’s spine at the mix of emotions brewing in the ever-changing kaleidoscope of Sam’s irises. Offering his most reassuring smile, Dean nudges his shoulder against Sam’s and tilts his head at the door with a little eyebrow raise, anything to try and lighten the mood.

It works. Kind of. Sam finally gives in with a tentative smile accompanied by a stain of bright pink across the tops of his cheeks. He clears his throat quickly and opens the door, stepping back to give Dean room to leave.

“See you next time, Dean,” Sam says as Dean walks out of the office to meet his escort, their eye contact still holding. Throwing on his best smirk, Dean turns around and starts walking backwards down the hall, something hot sparking deep in his stomach as he sees Sam half-step out of his office to watch them go. He catches the ghost of a real smile on his brother’s face and his own brightens in response.

Jerking his chin in his version of a goodbye before turning on his heel, Dean calls out, “See ya around, doc!” before he and his orderly take the corner to start down the main hallway.

He thought that being out of Sam’s line of sight would get rid of the incessant buzzing under his skin, the one that’s making Dean want to claw his way out of his body and leave nothing but this bag of bones behind, but no dice. It’s as if Sam’s infected him with something as simple as his touch.

Dean is so wrapped up in his own head thinking about everything that just happened that he doesn’t answer when the orderly asks him a question, doesn’t even register that he had even been spoken to until he’s in his room and the door is locked with a definite snick behind him.

Now that Dean is finally alone, it all barrels into him at once, smacking him face first into the cement wall of reality. Doubling over with his hands on his knees, Dean screws his eyes shut as he feels his stomach start to revolt. Oh, fuck.

Dean stumbles forward blindly, not stopping until the harsh metal bed frame slams into his shins and forces him to fall onto the bed. Burying his face into his pillow, Dean lets out a muffled, drawn-out yell, his entire body seizing up with how hard he’s forcing the wordless sound out of his throat. Then he takes a moment to pull back and punch the mattress until his wrists ache and his knuckles are rubbed raw from dragging against the material of the rough sheets. Turning onto his back, Dean clenches his jaw, stares blankly at the ceiling above him and tries his best not to suffocate under the two-ton weight of guilt that is currently crushing his ribcage.

Sam doesn’t know any better. Doesn’t have a clue that they know each other, let alone that they’re goddamn related, so this isn’t on him. Dean’s just some guy. Yeah, a patient, but first and foremost, he’s just another dude.

That gives Dean pause as he mulls this over before he feels himself stiffen in confusion, chills racing down his arms as something finally slides into place now that he’s really thinking about it.

Since when did Sam like guys?

The thought pushes Dean up into a seated position, his fingers gripping the sheets tightly as he squints down at his feet and mentally flicks through all of the stories Sam has ever mentioned over the years, everything he has stored about Sam’s dates, kisses, third bases or just plain fucking, searching for any hints or slip ups that he might have been too blind to see in the past. Coming up blank, Dean sinks back down into his pillow, one hand pressed to his forehead which is now throbbing viciously. What the fuck?

“What the fuck, Sammy?” Dean has to say it out loud before dragging his palm down the length of his face. How has he kept something like this from Dean for so long? Unless this is some new thing that’s come along with whatever it was that’s caused him to forget Dean and everything about their lives. But that kind of thing doesn’t happen that way. Does it? Could it have happened at Stanford, before Jess?

Groaning, Dean rolls over and smothers himself in his pillow again. His stomach is a mosh pit, shooting spikes of nervous electricity all through his abdomen at the flash of memory of the way Sam’s mouth felt slipping against his own. How did he even let it go that far? Why didn’t he stop Sam? Christ, why didn’t he want to?

Panic closes Dean’s throat and tightens his lungs, leaving him panting and very nearly hyperventilating into the stale-smelling pillowcase he currently has a death grip on. It was never supposed to go down this way. He was willing to do these sessions in order to get closer to Sam, to build up trust between them and maybe, in some small and sickly hopeful place in Dean’s heart, maybe he’d been hoping that Sam would end up remembering who they both were. But this has ruined everything. Because now if, when, Sam’s memory does come back, he’s going to find out that his older brother is one sick fuck.

He is so royally screwed.

 

 

Dean can officially say from personal experience that it is difficult, no, damn near impossible to avoid someone when you’re stuck in a goddamn mental hospital with them. Psych ward. What-the fuck-ever. It’s hard, okay? It’s as if Sam has suddenly made it his job to be in Dean’s direct line of sight whenever he’s outside of his room, which is for most of the day, every day.

Cafeteria? Sam’s two tables down, smiling at that petite female orderly who was petting his arm the other day as she tells him some story. He looks bored out of his mind, but it’s Sam, so of course he’s nodding and adding little affirmations in here and there to let her know that he’s still listening even though he’s clearly not. Dean may snap his plastic spoon in half when she reaches over and pulls on a strand of Sam’s hair.

Walking down the hall? Not without seeing Sam stumble out of one of the offices with an armful of papers and files, his cheeks flushing as he mutters an apology to the line of patients passing by him on their way to the art room to paint some more of their fucking feelings. Sam’s eyes meet his as Dean goes by, and his little brother’s face turns bright red before he offers a nervous, smile. Dean barely manages to send one back before he’s ushered on. Not until Mr. Palmer starts cooing about the remarkable use of “love tones” does Dean snap out of his trance and realize that his canvas is smeared with soft pinks and reds that look a little too familiar. The art room is soon filled with the frantic wails of Mr. Palmer after Dean slaps his biggest paintbrush into the tub of black acrylic and smears it across his canvas.

Outside time? Dean can see Sam through his window, blinds pulled up and chair turned sideways so he can use the sunlight pouring in as light for reading the book in his lap. He has a small, absent smile on his face and Dean finds it hard to breathe.

Rec room? Sam apparently decides to join Josie in putting together a 100-piece puzzle, speaking to her in gentle tones and politely telling her no when she asks him if he’s here to kill her. Dean tries to stop himself from looking over every few seconds by changing the channels on the TV but he flips through them so fast in his agitation that some of the other less stable patients start screaming and Dean is banned from using the remote for the next month.

Dean isn’t even safe in his own bed with the door locked and the lights turned out. He doesn’t have any room in his head that isn’t filled up with Sam and Sam and Sam, all him, all the time: the careful way he tilts his head when listening to another person speak; the wide spread of his fingers over pages of paper before they move to flick through the stack to find the one he needs; the dimples that carve themselves into his cheeks when he’s genuinely happy.

It’s Sam and he’s made a home for himself in every inch of Dean’s brain, plastering himself onto every wall and into every crevice until he’s the only thing Dean can see, think, hear, breathe. It’s suffocating him but the more Dean lies back and lets all of these thoughts and feelings washing through him and over him, the more he’s certain that he’d be okay with drowning in it.

When Dean wakes up nearly a week after what he calls ‘the incident’—there’s no way in hell he can call it what it actually was because that would mean he’s made his peace with it, and he sure as fuck hasn’t—he finds himself asking the orderly assigned to escort him for the day, who also looks like he has a stick up his ass, if he can see the psychologist that morning. So that’s how he ends up pushing open the door to Sam’s office minutes later with a sheepish look on his face and a tremble in his fingers.

“Dean?” Sam rises from his chair, his brows furrowing as he glances from Dean to the orderly who is now stepping away to do his other duties until he’s called to come get Dean again.

“I’m good,” Dean says quickly, shutting the door behind him before wiping his sweaty palms off on the thighs of his uniform pants. Christ, what is he doing? “Sorry, I guess I should’ve booked an appointment or whatever–”

“No, no, it’s fine,” Sam reassures him, something that looks like relief crossing his face. He’s wearing a dark blue collared shirt today and it pulls tight across his shoulders as he gestures at the armchair that sits in front of his desk. “Please, sit.”

Dean bites his bottom lip and shifts back and forth on his feet for a moment as he tries to figure out whether he really has lost his mind here.

“…Dean?” Sam repeats tentatively, looking like he’s about to come over. Dean shakes his head and takes a deep breath in through his nose before turning to look at the bookshelf that takes up most of the wall to his left. It takes him a moment to realize it, but he can’t help smiling when he sees that Sam’s organized all of the books alphabetically. Typical.

Dean runs his fingers across the spines of the books at eye level. Most of them have names too complicated or boring for him to even try reading them, so he doesn’t bother, just relishes the curves bumping along his fingertips as he runs his eyes over the other full shelves. Sam always did have a stupidly large brain.

A soft scuffing noise turns Dean’s head. Sam’s standing right there with his hands in the pockets of his slacks, his eyes curious as they meet Dean’s. There’s a loose strand of hair brushing his cheek that drifted from where it was once behind his ear and Dean’s fingers itch with how much he wants to tuck it back there again. He drops his hand from the books and lets it fall back to his side before clenching it into a fist.

“Are you sure everything’s okay?” Sam’s tone is coaxing and gentle, the practice of many years of plucking valuable information out of oblivious witnesses coming into play. It makes Dean want to smile, but he can’t. There’s no room for smiling right now. Dean knows this tone of voice, knows it so well that he can imitate it perfectly on those too-hot days on the highway when he’s bored and mocking Sam is the only entertaining thing for the next hundred-mile stretch. But especially now that he’s on the receiving end of it, that ache in Dean’s chest is growing wider, begging to be heard and understood and finally be voiced out loud.

“I don’t know,” Dean says. That’s the truth.

“What can I do?” Sam asks, earnestness leaking into his eyes that pins Dean where he stands. There’s worry in the ever-changing hazel irises, worry and almost a hint of desperation. He really wants to help Dean, looks like he’d be willing to do anything to find out what’s wrong and how he can fix it. But Sam will never be able to mend what has shattered inside of Dean, this glass case of thoughts and feelings and emotions that has fractured his rib cage and wormed their way into his veins. Dean’s infected with it now, as dirty and tainted as he always feared he would become. There’s nothing Sam can do.

“Just don’t hate me,” Dean whispers hoarsely.

Sam’s face contorts slightly in confusion and then his gaze drops down to the front of his shirt where Dean’s right hand is suddenly tangled in the fabric, dragging him closer. There’s a moment of suspended silence before Sam’s soft gasp of understanding breaks it. It’s barely finished leaving his lungs when Dean pushes up onto his tiptoes and fits his mouth against Sam’s with just a slow tilt of his head.

All of Dean’s nerves light on fire when he feels the shape Sam’s lips on his own. He’s once again struck by how it’s unlike any mouth that he has ever kissed before. This is one belongs to a guy. To Sam. His lips aren’t as soft as all the women scribbled on the too-full list spilling out of Dean’s back pocket and his chest is too wide, too flat, too firm from where Dean can feel it against the hand still trapped in Sam’s shirt. And yet all of this sends spikes of heat, of want, racing to the pit of Dean’s stomach, twisting in deep and hard enough to force his eyes to fall shut.

There’s no way to mistake it anymore. No way to avoid it when it’s right there, supercharging Dean’s skin with the need to get his hands in Sam’s hair, on his neck, under his shirt, to touch and feel and map out the valleys and hills of muscle and bone that Dean helped build from the ground up. Maybe he wove too much of himself into Sammy in those too-short summers of growing pains and sparring sessions. He must’ve fucked up somewhere along the way. All Dean knows is that, in this moment, he is selfish. Right now, he just wants. So he shoves these roiling thoughts on the back burner of his mind and lets his hand move to cup the side of Sam’s neck.

The touch makes Sam pull away, gusting a hot breath over Dean’s mouth that forces his eyes to flutter open. Sam stares down at him in wonder, his face more open than Dean has seen in too long. Dean settles back down on his heels and tries not to be distracted by the warmth of Sam’s skin under his palm and the fact that he can feel the deep, fast thrum of Sam’s pulse against his fingers. For a moment, Dean feels a slick sense of dread start to drown the heat building in his abdomen, because what if that was a one-time thing? Just a mutual fuck-up? What if Sam doesn’t want this?

The sudden grip of Sam’s hands on both of Dean’s cheeks stops those thoughts in their tracks because not a second later is Sam diving forward to kiss Dean so hard that he stumbles back in order to stay upright. His shoulders hit the bookshelf behind him, the wood digging uncomfortably into his back, but then he feels the hot swipe of tongue against the seam of his lips and everything else doesn’t matter.

Sam kisses Dean like all of the air has been sucked out of the room and Dean is the only source of oxygen. It’s intense, overwhelming to the point that Dean’s head is spinning and it’s all he can do to anchor himself through his grip on Sam’s neck and try to match the fervor with which Sam is attacking his lips. Sam’s making these noises in the back of his throat, these not-quite whimpers when he pulls back for half a second to let them breathe before going in again. He kisses Dean with his entire body, fingers tight on Dean’s face and his chest and hips pressing in, as if trying to meld the two of them together.

Sam is all hard lines and firm muscles, tensing and untensing with his movements as he drops one hand to settle on Dean’s hip with a squeeze. Dean’s mouth drops open at that, unable to completely stop the moan that catches his breath. Sam takes the opportunity to angle his head just right and duck in, his tongue slipping between Dean’s lips like it was meant to be there. It makes Dean shiver, feeling their tongues tangling together as they both strive to seek out each other’s forbidden corners, like every inch of the inside of their mouths is branded with the word taboo and they can’t get enough.

Dean hears a deep strangled groan rumble out of Sam and it’s only then that he comes back to himself enough to realize that he’s sucking on Sam’s tongue, hard. Dean releases him in a daze, panting heavily as he blinks up at the ceiling and tries to remember what it was like when the world wasn’t spinning. Sam still remains close, his face hidden from Dean when he moves down to tuck into the space between Dean’s shoulder and neck like he’s five and embarrassed all over again. All Dean can hear is the steady thumping of his blood in his ears and the too-quick breaths leaving both of their mouths, Sam’s blowing hot and humid into Dean’s skin.

“Well.” Dean hears the word get muffled into his shoulder, feels his shirt move as Sam speaks. His lips are tingling, almost throbbing. Belatedly, he wonders if his mouth is going to bruise, his entire body flushing hot at the thought of him looking in the mirror to find the dark blotches under the skin of his lips, all from Sam. His Sam.

“Yeah,” Dean huffs out, still unable to take his eyes off the ceiling. The world isn’t spinning as much now, slowly easing down to a less mind-bending speed as his heart rate starts to settle back into some form of normalcy. He can feel Sam shift a little, those huge hands of his now both on Dean’s hips, bleeding warmth into Dean’s already overheated body.

“Where did that come from?” Sam mumbles, barely loud enough for Dean to hear. He flexes his hands against Sam’s neck, some place in the back of his head loving the feel of Sam’s thrumming pulse, this reinforcement that Dean isn’t alone in feeling this way.

Dean tries to shrug in response, not exactly trusting his words right now when I don’t think I know how to live without you is carved heavily in the walls of his skull, but the weight of Sam’s head on his shoulder keeps it from moving. Sam doesn’t say anything else, just continues to smother Dean in his entirety like he’s content to stay here against Dean’s body for the rest of his life.

The silence soon begins to tug on Dean’s nerves and it’s only when he comes to notice that their breaths have synced up to inhale and exhale at the same time that he has to move Sam away from him. Sam lifts his face from Dean’s shoulder and takes a step back, cool air rushing to meet the too-hot skin where his face had been buried. Sam’s eyes are unreadable. He hasn’t pulled his hands from Dean’s waist and it makes Dean want to squirm when he feels the absent circles Sam’s thumbs are swirling into his hips.

“It’s hard to explain,” Dean says lamely, his voice sounding too thick to his own ears.

“Try me,” Sam replies, not a beat later.

Dean drops his hands from Sam’s neck and looks away.

“I just – I thought it was just me,” Sam tries again, moving his head to try and catch Dean’s eye. “When it first happened, it sort of – I didn’t know how you, y’know… felt. About it.”

Dean swallows hard and feels flayed open, naked. “It’s hard to explain.”

Sam lets out a sigh, sounding so much like the little brother he knows inside and out that Dean has to turn to look at him.

“I don’t do this with everyone,” Sam says softly before blushing furiously as he fumbles over his next words in his desperation to correct himself. “Anyone, anyone, I don’t – I don’t do this with anyone. Not my patients. Haven’t, ever. So it’s… not like this a regular thing, I swear. There’s just–”

“–somethin’ about me,” Dean cuts in, remembering the words Sam said to him a week ago when this whole thing first went down.

A dull sense of horror seeps into his bones when he thinks about the fact that that feeling probably has something to do with the whole ‘related’ thing. Deep down somewhere, Sam feels that same pull, the one that has kept them connected through all of the shit life has thrown at them.

Even now, Dean knows he’s still missing his most recent memories, the ultimate reason why they were here in the first place and how they got separated, why they both have some sort of mental block even though Sam’s is worse than his. Despite that, despite all of it, there’s just no way to look past that connection. It’s built into them so deep that nothing can carve it out, not even whatever put them in this twisted mindfuck of a situation.

“Yeah,” Sam admits quietly, his eyes dropping to watch his hands which are now drifting up Dean’s chest, fingertips ghosting over the fabric of Dean’s shirt until they reach his collar. He doesn’t even seem aware of it, just that he’s following some invisible thread that leads him back to skin-on-skin contact, his palms settling hot on either side of Dean’s neck. “There’s something about you.”

This kiss is gentle, less frantic and desperate. Like they have time now, time to figure this out and explore all the soft spaces of one another with no reason to rush. Sam’s lips are a warm comfort and his breaths are a lullaby. Their mouths move as one, noses brushing when Sam’s thumbs tilt Dean’s head to a new angle and they meet again.

Dean loses track of time, loses himself in his little brother who doesn’t know who he is, who either of them are, loses himself in the terrifying whirlpool of emotions that has snagged his soul and dragged him deep into the bottom of an ocean where it’s too dark to see anything but Sam.

 

 

The sharp sting of teeth on Dean’s lip makes his entire body flush hot, his hands flying to Sam’s waist, fingers fumbling until they find his belt loops to jerk him closer. Sam makes a noise then, something beautiful that catches in the back of his throat, but then he puts his palms to Dean’s shoulder and tries to bow away from him, breaking their mouths apart in the process. Dean makes a noise of protest, eyes fluttering open just enough to catch the look on Sam’s face when Dean tries to pull him forward again.

“Dean, stop, I–” Sam’s panting, still keeping his body away, his face flushed pink like he’s embarrassed or too hot or—oh.

Oh.

Dean’s gaze falls past the line of Sam’s throat to the broadness of his chest, down to the taper of his hips where a noticeable bulge strains against the front of Sam’s pants. Dean’s world tilts for a moment, his heartbeat thudding in his ears as he just stares, the scattered pieces of his brain whirling to try and understand that Sam… is hard for him. His little brother is turned on just from kissing Dean. Shouldn’t that be terrifying instead of mind-blowingly hot? Shouldn’t there be disgust pooling low in his gut instead of that familiar tingle at the base of his spine?

As if mesmerized, Dean shrugs away the hands that are trying to hold him at bay and steps closer until he can feel Sam’s breath breaking against his face in sharp pants. Flicking his eyes up to meet Sam’s, Dean holds his stare as his left fingers slip out of the belt loops they had snared and slowly skates them down the top of Sam’s thigh until they are brushing the hard line of Sam’s erection.

There’s that noise again that Sam’s biting back, like it would be the worst thing in the world to let it slip off his tongue. But Dean wants to hear it, needs to, lets this insane desire to possess and own the body in front of him push his face forward until his teeth find the side of Sam’s neck. He bites down on overheated skin at the same time he tightens his grip, the smell of clean sweat and faint aftershave biting his nose from being so close to Sam. There it is finally, a moan so gorgeous it raises goosebumps on Dean’s forearms.

Dean only has a moment of breathing Sam in before he’s slammed back into the bookcase, forcing out a grunt at the sharp crack of wooden shelves digging into his spine that’s then smothered back into his mouth when Sam leans in to kiss him breathless.

There’s nothing soft about this anymore, not in the way Sam has draped himself against Dean’s body or how his lips are devouring everything Dean has to give. His tongue is hungry, slipping in deep and exploring before turning sweet-slick to draw Dean’s tongue into his mouth so he can suck on it in a way that makes Dean want to cry, and just like that he’s blindingly hard.

They’re hip to hip now, Dean’s hand still on Sam’s thigh and crushed between them, his wrist starts to ache from the awkward position. But he doesn’t think about it, can’t think about it when he feels Sam start to rock his hips, jolting little rolls like he’s trying to hold back but can’t anymore. Dean lets out a huff at the feeling of Sam’s other thigh dragging against his clothed dick, the barely-there friction making his head spin, making his lungs feel too small for his body, but it’s still not enough.

Before he knows what he’s doing, his other hand is on Sam’s ass, yanking him forward until they’re completely flush together, not a sliver of air between them except for the humid breaths they push into each other’s mouths.

“C’mon, Sammy,” Dean hears himself say, his words sounding distorted to his own ears, spoken in a tone he didn’t think he’d ever be using on his little brother. “C’mon.”

Sam buries a sound into Dean’s neck, spit-slick lips skimming down Dean’s throat that sigh out a moan when he rolls his hips up and gets that perfect pressure against both of their cocks. The hand that isn’t learning the curve of Sam’s ass flies up into his hair, latching onto the strands like an anchor. Dean turns his face into Sam’s sweat-damp temple, licks at it to feel the rough slide of hair against the flat of his tongue and to taste his little brother as he continues to hump into Dean’s hipbone.

Looking down Sam’s back, Dean watches, mesmerized by the fluid arch and thrust of Sam’s spine, his waist, all one long sensual wave that makes his head spin and his blood catch on fire. He squeezes Sam’s ass tighter, jerks him closer and breathes Sam in. In return, Sam bites down on Dean’s collarbone, his forearms braced against the bookcase on either side of Dean’s head as leverage as they move together, build together, shake together until it’s hard for either of them to stay on their feet.

Dean can feel the white hot mess swirling deep in his gut flare bright, a warning. Judging by the increasingly ragged movements of Sam’s hips, he’s just as close. It’s an effort to pull his hand away from Sam’s ass but Dean manages, a new plan unfolding in his mind. Sam makes a noise of protest, and Dean grins before nudging him away. He gets enough space between them for him to get his shirt up and over his head so it won’t get ruined, dropping it to the floor before his knees hit the carpet. He can hear Sam make some sort of choked moan the moment Dean’s fingers find the zipper of Sam’s pants.

If Dean really sat back and thought about the way that he’s touching his little brother right now, it would probably trigger something close to a mental breakdown alongside the confusing barrage of emotions he’s already walled off in his head. But Sam’s so close, so overwhelming, his scent buried in Dean’s nose, clean and sharp and everything Dean knows as home, body heat pouring off him in waves to soak into Dean’s skin, all of it blurring Dean’s thoughts until the doubts hedging into the corners of his mind are gone.

The next few moments are a rush of fingers moving, bodies bowing and curved flesh meeting the hot skin of Dean’s hands. He feels like his throat’s closing up, unable to give him the oxygen he needs so he doesn’t drown in Sam’s scent that’s thickening the air around him now, musky but clean. Dean leans forward and fastens his teeth into the cliff of Sam’s hipbone, burying himself into his brother as he lets his hand move on autopilot, fingers curled tight around the up and down slide on Sam’s cock, pre-come slicking the way. The sounds of Sam fucking into his fist are getting to Dean, beading sweat on his hairline and forcing his other hand down to get a hand on his dick out before he cries.

The bookshelves creak with the strain of holding up Sam’s body, who still has his forearms braced against the wood, his head hanging down between his shoulders to spew a litany of moans and hitched breaths down to Dean’s ears. Releasing the heated skin of Sam’s hip from between his teeth, Dean slumps back, lets his head hit the bookshelf as he turns his gaze upwards to meet Sam’s eyes.

Apparently that’s all it takes, hot lines spurting forward to paint Dean’s chin, neck, and chest in white. Dean’s eyes snap shut when his own orgasm hits, back arching as his come hits his chest, slipping down to join the stripes Sam had left there moments before. They’re both breathing hard, flushed and sweating, and Dean can feel his hand shaking after he dazedly tucks both Sam and himself away before his arms fall to his sides.

Sam shuffles back a moment later. Dean’s eyes sting a bit when he forces them open to see Sam pulling tissues from the box on his desk. Dean feels his breath slowly start to return to a normal rhythm and watches as Sam hesitates and stares down at his feet, undoubtedly smacked in the face with the reality of their current situation. His own mix of feelings are currently sitting in the back of his mind, ready and waiting to let loose, but Dean refuses to let them start to worm their way in just yet. He wants to enjoy this while he can.

Sam’s turning around now, walking back over before all but throwing himself down onto the floor, propped up against the bookcase just like Dean is. He leans forward, half bent over Dean as he starts wiping down his chest with the tissues, slow, caring strokes. Dean pretends he can’t feel the way that Sam’s fingers are trembling.

“God.” Sam’s voice reaches Dean’s ears, barely louder than the loud thumping of his heartbeat that’s shaking his head. “That was…”

“Yeah,” Dean huffs out for a second time. Sam pulls away and slumps against the shelves at their backs. There’s not exactly a handbook full of conversation starters for people who just jerked off their younger brothers, so he just shuts his mouth and tries to wipe his mind clean.

The silence stretches out between them like a highway, the hum of tires on a road replaced with the incessant buzzing of the lights above their heads.

Sam’s the first to talk. “We should probably, uh…” With a light popping of his knees, he stands, then stoops over to pick up Dean’s shirt from where he dropped it before. Extending his hand down, Sam finally meets Dean’s eyes. He looks sheepish, embarrassed, but not ashamed. Not guilty. “Before anyone comes in, I mean.”

Dean just nods, takes Sam’s hand and lets himself be lifted back to his feet. He wordlessly takes his shirt back and pulls it over his head, the material slipping past his eyes just in time for him to catch Sam staring at his chest with a light blush on his cheeks before he glances up to see Dean watching him. That makes Sam blush even harder.

It’s the fascination with the way Sam’s face colors that brings Dean forward, unable to help the way that his body moves on auto-pilot. He shifts back into Sam’s space, his lips tingling as his eyes find Sam’s mouth again, tracing the lines and soft curves that only moments ago had been on his skin. They only just separated and yet Dean is still wanting, missing the heat that blankets him when Sam is just this side of too close, missing how big Sam’s hands felt on his body, as if they were going to swallow him up.

“Dean.” It’s a whisper, Sam’s voice catching right at the end. Dean can hear it now; Sam feels the same way.

“You gonna just stand there or what?” Dean whispers back, letting his hands drift forward until they’ve settled again on Sam’s hips.

They both unconsciously tilt forward at the same time, foreheads brushing as each of them settle into the opposite space of the other. Dean can feel Sam’s breath, choppy and harsh in anticipation. He’s done this to Sam, made him feel this way, all shaky and weak, and when it finally sinks in that Sam is even half as desperate as Dean to kiss him again, Dean can’t help but smile just a bit.

“You’re bad for business,” Sam says softly, one of his palms skimming down the side of Dean’s neck to leave a wave of goosebumps behind. “You know that?”

The smile turns into a full-on grin. Closing his eyes, Dean touches his lips against Sam’s and murmurs, “Good.”

Somewhere between Sam’s right hand sliding under his shirt and his fingers finding Sam’s belt loops, the hairs on the back of Dean’s neck rise at the same time tingles shoot down his spine. For a moment, he thinks it’s because of the way Sam’s left thumb is settling into the hollow of his throat. It’s when another round of sharper warning sparks fly down that same path of his spine, tinged with greater strength and urgency, that Dean finds his eyes flying open and automatically shifting to look over Sam’s shoulder to the corner of the room.

There’s a woman standing there, her hair long enough to fold over her shoulders in waves of ash gray. Her skin is so pale that it’s unnatural, taking on the tone of the corpses Dean used to see through splintered coffins, and her face, while hauntingly beautiful, is frozen into a mask of permanent sadness. Her eyes, the same eerie washed-out color as the tresses brushing her hips, are fixated on him and Sam, entirely unwavering even now as Dean meets her stare.

Dean feels his blood freeze in his veins and his next heartbeat echoes like a bass drum in his ears, shaking his entire body hard enough that he has to break away from Sam to catch his breath. He can hear Sam say something in a chuckle, his voice muffled as if Dean’s underwater, but Dean is already pushing away, stumbling forward a few steps closer to the woman. He can’t speak, can’t look away from where he’s caught in her gaze, couldn’t if he wanted to. It’s as if a blanket has descended on his mind, wrapping him in a haze no matter how hard he strains to clear it away, leaving his head throbbing with a migraine of epic proportions.

This woman has an aura of power around her, despite her slight frame and the way she cradles herself with her arms hugging her chest. It’s visible in the way it seems to dampen everything around her, leeching all color from the carpet where she stands to the wall at her back until she’s surrounded by washed out grays.

Dense weights latch onto every muscle in Dean’s body, making him feel heavier and heavier the longer he holds the strange woman’s stare, desperate to drag him down, down, down, but to where, he doesn’t know. All he does know is that lead seems to be pouring into his lungs, making it hard to breathe, but even still, Dean struggles to find his voice, fighting against it all to ask: “Who are you?” It leaves him in a gasp, sweat building at his temples to slide down his cheeks as a huge throb wracks his head and he swears his skull is splitting open.

Hands on his back, on his shoulders, a worried voice saying words Dean can’t understand through the fog he’s stuck in and he still can’t look away from that powerful gaze that manages to be filled with so much in their empty depths. The woman tilts her head slightly to the side, considering, before she unfurls her arms, palms open towards Dean as if she’s trying to tell him something with the gesture. Dean just shakes his head slightly, panting hard and trying to shrug off the hands that keep tugging on him, trying to make him turn away, God, he can’t, there’s something important here and–

Dean!

Clammy palms on his cheeks wrench Dean’s face away and the moment the woman is torn from Dean’s sight, everything clears. He can see Sam’s face in vivid clarity, panic etched into the lines at the corners of his mouth and by his eyes that are dancing between both of Dean’s, desperate and scared.

“I’m–” Dean fights for breath now that the weights have been lifted off his chest, his lungs expanding gratefully as he sucks in as much air as he can in his best attempt to calm down. “You didn’t see her?”

If possible, Sam’s already wide eyes grow even wider and his hands drop away from Dean’s face, hovering in the air between them both as his brow furrows.

“Her?” Sam’s tone is confused and Dean can detect the note of incredulity bleeding into that single word, feels it like a stab in his heart as if it’s an accusation. Like Dean’s insane. Like he actually belongs here with the rest of these psychos who think that the fly on the wall is plotting their deaths.

“You’re kidding me, right?” Dean can’t help it. He can’t. This has rattled him to the bone and Sam’s still looking at him in that way, fuck that look, always hated it when Sam turned his eyes on him this way, as if there’s something loose in Dean’s head and he’s deserving of pity or help or something, fuck you very much, no thanks. “You didn’t see her? In the corner just now?”

Sam’s eyes narrow as they flick to the corner Dean is pointing at, spending less than a second there before moving back to Dean’s frantic gaze. “Are you feeling all right?” Sam asks tentatively, his features schooling into concerned therapist, all semblance of what just went down between them wiped off the map as if it never even happened in the first place.

Dean has never felt less all right in his life. “Oh yeah, I’m fuckin’ peachy.”

“Dean,” Sam scolds, making Dean feel like he’s three years old and in daycare again. Dean seals his lips in a tight line and glares at his little brother, narrowing his eyes even further when the usual bout of frustration that Sam doesn’t even know that they’re brothers hits him again.

“What, Sam?” he goads, spreading his arms wide in invitation, welcoming a shove or another round of those looks Sam loves handing out.

“Don’t be like that,” Sam says softly. “I’m just worried, okay?” His words come across as concern, but Dean knows his little brother, knows when he’s holding back and putting up a front.

“Bullshit. You think I’m a fucking whack job, seein’ shit that isn’t there!” Dean snaps, backing away when Sam reaches a hand out to take his elbow.

Sam’s face spasms slightly, shock mixing with the guilt of being called out, because Dean is right. Of course he’s right. Dean’s in a fucking psych ward and Sam thinks he’s insane. Rage eats its way through Dean’s veins, overtaking his tongue and his hands until it’s all he can do to watch his body move on its own accord, hands planting on Sam’s chest to shove him backwards as razor wire accusations spill out of his mouth.

“You used to fucking know it, Sam. You tellin’ me that you forgot that too? That instinct that’s built into us, the one that’s always told us when something was wrong? C’mon, Sammy. You’re one of the smartest ones out there, I know you know something’s up. Just listen to me! Just drop the act and fuckin’ do something!”

Dean’s left panting by the end of it, his hands still on Sam’s chest, twisted in the collar of his otherwise pristine shirt. There’s a hard set to Sam’s jaw and his eyes are shuttered closed, entirely unreadable. Iron fingers close around the bones in Dean’s wrists, pulling until he’s forced to let go of Sam’s collar, and just like that, Dean knows he’s lost him.

“What I know,” Sam says, slowly and deliberately. “Is that I have never met you before the day you came into this ward.” His voice trembles with suppressed emotion, and Dean’s throat closes up in sympathy. “What I know is that you’re suffering from delusions.” Sam finally lifts his eyes up to meet Dean’s ever-widening ones. Fear tightens the muscles in Dean’s chest, so hard and fast that he feels like he’s about to pass out. “What I know,” Sam whispers. “Is that I let this go too far.”

“Sam–” Dean tries to reach for him because this isn’t what he meant, but–

“No.” Sam backs away, as if even the air next to Dean is too toxic, some diseased thing he needs to distance himself from. “I’m sorry, Dean. This falls on my shoulders. I allowed myself to get too attached and too emotional. I… I let myself think that everything was normal. The fact of the matter is that it isn’t. You’re here for a reason, Dean, and this…” Sam turns his face to the window. Hiding. “This can’t happen again.”

“Goddamnit, Sam, why won’t you listen to me?” Dean roars, slamming his fist into the side of the armchair on his right, tilting it onto two legs precariously before falling back to the floor with a heavy thump.

Everything goes hazy at the edges of his vision as he watches Sam press a button on his intercom, the words he speaks reaching Dean’s ears as distorted and wrong. He tries to move forward again, to get his hands on his brother to shake some sense into him, but there’s something holding him back. He looks down to see hands on his arms, pulling him backwards out of the room.

Dean knows he was asking for it with his behavior; he can’t blame Sam, not for this. That doesn’t stop him from trying to pull away from the tight grips forcing him back, pleas slipping out of his mouth as he tries to reason with Sam, to tell him that it doesn’t have to be like this, Sammy. His words fall on deaf ears, the tense line of Sam’s back speaking volumes.

Then he feels a sharp jab in the meat of his neck, a bite that jolts him as fire spreads through his veins and makes his muscles useless. Dean’s vision starts to darken and blur, but he turns his head just in time to see Tom’s sneering face before it goes completely black.

 

 

Waking up is like Dean trying to swim to the surface from the deepest part of a lake with his hands tied behind his back. Everything is syrupy-slow and clings to the edge of his conscious, but he keeps pushing, clawing his way up, knowing his eyes need to open because something important happened, something big, and if he could just–

A sharp slap to the face breaks a gasp from Dean’s lungs, his eyes flying open in a panic to find two faces hovering over his own. Dean coughs hard, his chest still feeling too tight from being woken so violently, before he’s able to really sit up and focus.

Tom is there again, the bastard, and beside him is Clinton, the warden. Both have matching looks of disdain where they’re watching him struggle to push himself up so he can lean against the wall behind him for support.

“You awake, then?” Clinton barks, his already creased brow furrowing even more.

“No, I’m sleep-talking,” Dean croaks back, rubbing the prickling spot on his cheek that’s no doubt getting redder by the second. It wasn’t a gentle wake-up call.

Out of the corner of his eye, Dean can see Clinton swinging his arm back again, readying for another backhand when Tom holds up a hand in front of Dean to stop him.

“One was enough, sir. We don’t want to be leaving any noticeable marks if we can help it.”

Clinton scowls at Tom but lowers his arm to rest on his hip where a taser is holstered on his belt. He turns his attention back to Dean, looking him up and down.

Dean,” he spits, as if saying Dean’s name is like tasting poison. “Just what did I say about getting that second strike?”

Dean clenches his teeth and looks over Clinton’s shoulder to fix on that stupid motivational poster he so desperately wants to rip off the wall.

“Suppose you can’t help it, eh?” Clinton continues, rock-hewn voice dragging down Dean’s spine like flint on stone. “Bein’ batshit crazy, seeing shit that isn’t there. Seeing those monsters that you need to hunt.”

A muscle in Dean’s jaw twitches, exposing his barely contained anger. He knows that Clinton saw it, can tell by the slimey, crooked grin that pulls up his weathered face.

“You got quite the noble job there, Dean-o!” Clinton squats down in front of Dean, staring at him until Dean’s eyes flick down to meet his. “Saving people. Being the hero. Bet you think you’re quite the hero, don’tcha?”

Dean clenches his hands into fists at his side. After a tense moment, Clinton shakes his head and stands back up, thumbs digging into his front pockets.

“I guess getting hit with a healthy dose of Thorazine has knocked the smart-ass out of him for now. Seems docile and stable enough at the moment.” Clinton nods his head at the door before strolling towards it, easy-as-you-please. “Tom, take him to the rec room to play with some dolls or somethin’. Tell one of the current attendants to keep a special eye on him in case he has another episode.”

“Yessir,” Tom replies, scooping a hand under Dean’s armpit to heft him to his feet, as if Dean couldn’t have done it himself. Dean curls his lips into a snarl and jerks away from him, his skin crawling where he can still feel the ghost of Tom’s fingers.

Tom rolls his eyes and turns on his heel, following in the warden’s footsteps before hovering by the door until Dean grudgingly joins him so he can be led from the room. The hallway stretches infinitely ahead of him, making his head spin and his stomach lurch dangerously, so Dean ducks his head and watches the slow shuffle of his feet, trusting Tom to direct him if he needs to turn or something.

Dean is handed off to the orderlies on shift in the day room, hands on his back urging him to find a spot free amongst the rest of the patients who are lounging around, talking rapidly to themselves, or staring off into the distance. Crossing his arms across his chest makes him feel better, so Dean hunches his shoulders and makes his way to the seat at one of the free tables with a three hundred piece puzzle.

It’s one of those landscape ones, this one of a farm with a large red barn taking up most of the right side of the picture on the box and a tractor to the left along with bales of hay and a group of horses in the distance. The puzzle’s about a third done, the rest of the pieces scattered haphazardly around the edges, some even fallen onto the floor. Dean bends over and picks them up, flipping them so the painted side is face-up.

Making sense of a mess has always been Dean’s strength. Staring at this puzzle now, he decides he can start with the small stuff, get used to wrapping his mind around this before his already persistent headache gets worse from thinking about the shit that’s currently out of his control. So he begins to organize the detached pieces of the puzzle, going into autopilot as he arranges the remaining corners to the their corresponding sides before finding the edge pieces and sorting through those. It’s mindless work, just something for his fingers to do, and it helps.

After about ten minutes of focusing acutely on the puzzle, he’s got the outer shape of the puzzle connected and is starting to work his way inwards. His temples aren’t throbbing quite as hard, so Dean slowly lets his thoughts extricate themselves from the task at hand to wander into the part of his brain that holds what he’s been trying so hard to avoid.

The woman in the room. Sam shutting him down. The moment where he lost it, started spewing shit that made Sam’s face contort in confusion, that flushed all the trust they had started to build between them right down the goddamn toilet.

Taking a deep breath, Dean tries to calm down. His fingers are trembling as they slide pieces around, trying to find where one side connects with its perfect other.

That woman—spirit, ghost, apparition, whatever—she’s important. Dean knows it as certain as he knows the Earth is round and that Sam’s eyes have never quite decided what shade of green they want to be. She has something to tell him, maybe both of them. She has power; that much was obvious just by looking at her. But Sam didn’t see her, had no clue she was there until Dean started freaking out.

His heart kicks violently in his chest before speeding up, the once reassuring thump against his ribs now becoming panicky-fast. Dean didn’t imagine her. He didn’t. He’s a goddamn hunter. He knows when some big bad is around, can feel it in the deepest recesses of his bones when there’s a job, just like he knew when something was going on in town.

That doesn’t stop a cold trickle of doubt from seeping down his spine.

No. No, he will not let the whole ‘locked up in a mental institution when he’s perfectly fucking sane’ thing to get the better of him here. He is not crazy.

Dean’s lungs are working a little too hard, dragging jagged breaths in and pushing them back out at an unsettling rate so he stops, closes his eyes. Focuses on slowing his breathing, tells his heart to calm down, tries to pull up anything reassuring that he can remember to help. The way the leather curve of the Impala’s steering wheel fits his palms perfectly, the smell of lavender fields in the summer when he’s driving down abandoned backroads at a hundred miles an hour, the silky feeling of Sam’s hair slipping against the webs between his fingers.

Dean’s eyes spring open.

At least his hands aren’t shaking anymore.

Dean blinks down at the puzzle and picks up another piece, hovering above the half-finished picture as he tries to find a place for it.

Okay. So there’s this woman floating around the clinic and Dean’s the only one who can see her. Sounds insane, but he knows it’s true. That’s fine. At least no one can really question why he’s in there now. Also, Sam’s made it clear that he doesn’t believe Dean. Can’t blame him for that one though, not after he watched Dean have an ‘episode’ right there in his office. That’s wiped their slate clean, all the camaraderie and trust that they’ve spent building up these past couple of weeks now gone. It’s put a bit of a dent in his plans to convince Sam he’s actually not crazy and that they need to get the hell out of here, not to mention, hey, we both have amnesia and you may have no clue who I am but surprise! We’re brothers!

His hands are shaking again.

Swearing under his breath, Dean puts his palms flat to the table and focuses on the way the ridges of each puzzle piece feels digging into his skin. Okay. Time for a topic change.

There’s a scuffling behind Dean that makes him look over his shoulder, drawn to the noise. Another patient is being taken from the room, pulled away from the mess she made after ripping out half the pages of a book so she could crumple them up and try to shove them down the throat of the patient sitting next to her. Watching the way she’s manhandled out of the room, protesting the hands on her arms with indiscernible grunts, brings back the image of Ben being dragged off after he attacked Dean. Dean’s stomach tightens, concern spiking through his veins.

Ben. God, is the kid okay?

Dean quickly scans the day room, desperately seeking the dark haired boy. He isn’t here. Turning back to his puzzle, Dean absently starts chewing on his lower lip, his fingers moving back over the pieces as he finds a few that fit their required spots. Maybe he’s in his room, locked away where Clinton can make sure he won’t disturb the peace. But thinking about it now, Dean realizes that he hasn’t seen the boy all week. He’d been so wrapped up in his own head, in everything surrounding Sam, that he didn’t even give the kid a second thought. Christ. What if he’s in solitary?

Guilt settles heavy in Dean’s gut, a swirling hot mess that weighs down his muscles and makes him cringe. He let his feelings cloud his judgment, blind him from everything else going on around him. This is exactly what Dad had taught him when he first started hunting; being distracted gets you killed. Even in here, that advice still stands. If Dean doesn’t pull his head out of his ass and focus on how to get both him and Sam outta here, things are going to get a hell of a lot worse.

First, though, he needs to check on Ben somehow, see if he’s doing all right. Dean can’t help but feel like somehow this is his fault, Ben being here, and it’s the least he can do. No one deserves to be stuck in a place like this.

Dean makes a point to finish the puzzle over the next hour. He can see one of the orderlies keeping an eye on him, so he figures if he acts dopey and distracted by fitting pieces of cardboard together then hopefully they’ll be a little more relaxed around him. Maybe just enough so that if he asks a question about Ben, they won’t shoot him down right off the bat.

He’s just pushing the last piece into place when the attendants start to round up all the patients to move to the cafeteria for lunch. Dean stands slowly, ducks his head, and hunches his shoulders in to make himself look smaller, anything to keep up the illusion of placidity.

Falling into step at the end of the line that’s forming at the door, Dean is led out with the rest of the group to the sterile white room that smells of bleach and burnt rice, a nearly nauseating combination. Said rice is slapped onto Dean’s plate as he shuffles down the buffet-style line before it is doused with steamed vegetables a moment later. An unseasoned chicken breast and two slices of bread are handed to him at the end of the line before he’s pointed to one of the many tables in the cafeteria. Dean feels like he’s in high school again, handed a tray of revolting food and told to find a seat amongst people he’d much rather avoid.

Dean scans the cafeteria warily, standing awkwardly near the line as he tries to figure out the best place he can plant his ass so he doesn’t have to interact with anyone more than absolutely necessary. There’s a two-seater table near the door that is newly unoccupied so he starts over immediately, desperate to sit before anyone else gets the same idea as him. He makes it no problem, slaps his tray down and kicks his feet up onto the other chair to prevent unwanted visitors as he picks up his cutlery—plastic, of course—and starts sawing into the overcooked chicken.

There’s the usual noises of cups clattering, metal spoons hitting the food trays behind the counter where the employees are dishing out this meal to whoever slides in front of them, the incessant buzzing of the fluorescent lights above Dean’s head. He wishes he could find comfort in it, to find comfort in anything here so that his mind could calm down, but that just isn’t happening. It’s still swirling dangerously, making his headache pound harder at his temples and slow his movements when he brings food up to his mouth.

Dean is so focused on trying to lift his fork without his hands shaking from the terrible thumping in his head that matches every beat of his heart that he nearly misses it. Him.

Sam.

Dean had blocked out his surroundings, for his own sanity more than anything, but at the sound of Sam speaking, his head shoots up. He tunes back in now, listening intently so he can find his brother by his voice, the same one Dean has tied himself to for as long as he can remember, hook line, and sinker. He would drown in Sam’s voice if he could, would gladly drop the anchor and step off the plank to be swallowed by the lilt of words that roll off Sam’s tongue and the harsh bite of his teeth when he’s really mad. Dean’s head is wobbling again, reminding him that he needs to focus, and finally he finds Sam standing about ten feet away, speaking to one of the guards.

“And where is he now, then?” Sam’s asking, his face dark with frustration and what seems like worry. “I haven’t seen this patient in nearly two weeks. I think I have the right to know.”

“Take it up with Tom,” the guard says back with a roll of his eyes. “It’s not any of my business.”

Sam takes a threatening step forward, his shoulders rolling back to make him look even bigger and more intimidating than he already is at six foot four. “Trust me. I’m about to make it your business.”

The guard blanches, his fingers fumbling at his belt for a moment before he apparently comes to his senses and remembers he can’t pull out his taser on the resident psychologist. He straightens, tries to puff himself up too, but soon withers under Sam’s constant glare.

“Okay, okay, Jesus. Fine. I’ll ask him, all right?”

Sam narrows his eyes but he takes a step back, hands shoved into his pants pockets. “Thank you,” he grits out before spinning on his heel. His eyes scan the room quickly, a seemingly cursory search, before landing on Dean, who’s been staring right at him for the past few minutes.

Dean feels his body move on its own, rising from his seat with his palms flat on the table as his mouth opens, spilling Sam’s name off his tongue before he can shut it the fuck down.

Sam freezes, eyes wide as they hold Dean’s gaze. It seems like he can’t decide whether to turn away or run over, an internal battle raging in the twitches of his shoulders and the set of his jaw. Dean can read him like a book, always could, so relief floods his system when he watches Sam give in by the slight tilt of his head. He’s walking over now, thank God he’s coming over, but there’s no mistaking the carefully crafted walls shuttering down over his eyes. He’s worried. Cautious. Because of Dean.

Ignoring the growing pit in his stomach, Dean sits down quickly and places his hands in his lap, twisting them together so they don’t do something stupid like reach over to touch Sam’s arm. Then Sam is there, standing at the edge of his table, chewing on his lip for a moment before clearing his throat.

“Dean.”

“Hey,” Dean rasps, his voice catching a bit. He can feel his cheeks heat up. “Uh… How are you?”

Sam squints at him for a moment before looking away, scanning the room again. Avoiding Dean’s stare. “Fine. Good. I’m…” He can see Sam’s tongue prodding the inside of his cheek before he turns his head back to look at Dean once again. “Are you… doing okay?”

“Aces.” Dean plasters on a fake smile, grinning as wide as he can.

Sam nods jerkily. Dean knows his time is running out, that Sam’s a minute away from excusing himself and getting away from Dean as soon as he can. A little thought niggles its way to the front of Dean’s brain, bypassing the obnoxious headache until it is plastered in big letters across the inside of his skull, impossible to ignore.

“Were you asking Rent-A-Cop over there about Ben?”

Sam pauses, confusion spilling across his features. “How did you – ?”

“I’ve been lookin’ for him too,” Dean cuts in. The rest of the lie flows smoothly off his tongue. “I, uh, try to keep an eye out for him around here, y’know? But he hasn’t exactly been around lately.”

“Yeah,” Sam says absently, looking around one last time before pulling out the seat across from Dean to sit down, his arms crossing on the table. Dean blatantly ignores the warmth sprouting in the middle of his chest. Not the time. “Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve had him in my office too. I’ve been worried.”

Okay. Mutual interest, mutual topic of discussion that is still in the safe zone. Dean’s in the clear for now. “Haven’t known him for too long, but he’s a nice kid.” He can’t fuck this up. “You, uh, you know how he got here? His story and all that?”

Sam’s eyes flicker up to meet Dean’s as an odd expression crosses his face. “He never told you when you guys talked?”

Don’t fuck this up. “We tried not to talk about stuff like that. ‘S usually triggering or something for them.” Sam squints at him again. Shit. He fucked it up. “Us,” Dean corrects quickly, but the damage was done. “Usually triggering for us.”

“Riiiiight,” says Sam slowly, drawing out the word so long that Dean feels his skin crawl. Sam doesn’t believe him. “You know I can’t talk about it.”

Dean blinks at him.

“Doctor-patient confidentiality,” Sam reminds him with a slight tilt of his head, the ghost of a smile gracing his lips.

“Obviously,” Dean says immediately, scoffing to try and hide his embarrassment. It clearly isn’t working. “Yeah, I just mean, like, y’know. Where his brother and sister are in all of this. Why the kid’s goin’ through this alone. Stuff like that.”

Judging by the concern etched into the line between Sam’s eyebrows, he’d followed this same line of questioning before, but his lips remain pressed together nonetheless.

“All right, I get it,” Dean relents, holding up his hands in surrender. “Doctor-patient confidentiality. Message received.”

Sam pats the table gently with his hand before pushing to his feet, his eyes still trained on Dean’s face. “Maybe try reaching out to him the next time you see him. It could be good for both of you to have someone in here.”

“I already have my someone.”

That makes Sam stop. It makes Dean’s heart stop too. That wasn’t supposed to leave his head. That was not supposed to leave his head.

Sam’s cheeks are growing pink, his mouth parted a little open in what Dean can only assume is surprise, and while it is endearing to watch, Dean wants to crawl into a hole and die. Sucking in a deep breath, Sam opens his mouth wider, looks like he’s about to say something, and then Dean feels it.

The chills again, eating their way down his spine. The bass drum beat of his heart in his temples, nearly blinding him from how painful the throbbing is. The haze settling over his mind, blanketing his entire body so it feels like he’s swimming through a bog, barely able to keep afloat in the muck.

The woman is standing beside Sam and just like last time, she leaches the color from everything around her. Time seems to slow to a stop when Dean meets her eyes, two hauntingly ashy irises that are filled with eons of sadness so overwhelming that, for a moment, Dean’s breaths stutter to a halt. He can feel Sam looking at him, noticing something’s wrong, but damn if he can’t look away from the woman, caught in her trance.

He knows Sam’s just said his name, can see the blurry outline of Sam’s mouth moving from the corner of his eye. Christ, this can’t be happening again. With every ounce of strength left in his body, Dean grits his teeth and forces his eyes to start to turn back to Sam. Maybe if he has an anchor, someone or something to ground him so he can focus–

Green, tinged with a hint of blue and a spray of gold, wide with concern and apprehension.

Sam.

Sucking in a deep breath, Dean blinks a couple of times and really tries to focus on his brother’s face; the cut of his cheekbones, the sharp line of his nose, the tiny mole right beside it that he’s always hated but Dean’s always loved. All real. All Sam.

“Dean?”

Hearing Sam’s voice brushes away the traces of the fog that was just creeping through Dean’s mind. Dean latches onto it and lets it drag him completely free, feels his very bones get lighter the more he watches Sam watching him. Dean knows he only has a few more seconds before Sam alerts someone that he’s having another attack, so Dean breaks out his automatic ‘it’s all good’ smile until he can get his bearings.

“Yeah?”

Sam’s face is tight with about a million emotions, none of them positive. “Is… Are you having another episode?”

Fear gnaws into Dean’s stomach, making him shake his head slowly. “No, no, ‘s not it at all. I just, uh…” Dean trails off, the entrance of Tom by the main doors leading out of the cafeteria catching his eye. He instead nods at Tom, making Sam look over too, before continuing. “Just got smacked around a little, that’s all. Sorry for spacing out on you.”

The woman is still there, just out of Dean’s line of sight. He can feel her dreadful eyes boring into his skull like lasers. It’s almost as if she’s taunting him with her presence, a reminder that things are far more convoluted and twisted than he once imagined.

“They fucking hit you?” Sam asks incredulously, his eyes flashing dangerously as he turns to give Tom the full blunt of his glare.

Christ. Maybe saying that wasn’t a good idea. But Dean thought it was okay, figured that Sam wouldn’t care, not after what he said in his office before Dean was taken away. “Sam, no–”

But Sam isn’t listening. His hands are balled into fists so tight that his knuckles are bone-white, leeched of blood, and the muscles in his jaw are scarily prominent from how hard he is clenching his teeth. “If they ever touch you again, I swear to God–”

“It wasn’t their fault,” Dean tries again, only to be silenced by a firm grip on his chin jerking his head to the side. Not even his words can hide the bright red, nearly purpling mark that Clinton had left across his cheek. Dean hears the audible whoosh of breath leaving Sam’s lungs in his disbelief.

“Fucking tyrannical bastards,” he’s hissing now. “Fucking power-hungry egotistical dickheads!”

Dean swallows hard. “Well, you’re not wrong,” he says meekly, flinching when Sam turns his steel gaze onto him. The anger in Sam’s face softens at that, ebbs away like a sudden low tide until his eyes are imploring and worried.

“I’m sorry, Dean.”

Dean’s heart is beating pathetically loud in his chest. There’s so much hidden in the way Sam is looking at him now, so much showing that no matter what Dean thought, Sam still feels this undeniable connection between them, so strong it’s damn near tangible. “Wasn’t your fault.”

“Yeah, well,” Sam mutters quietly. “It kind of was.”

Sam’s hand is still holding Dean’s chin, more gently cupping than gripping tight. It’s comforting, and Dean finds himself leaning into Sam’s touch, craving the feel of Sam’s palm against his neck again, like when it was just the two of them in Sam’s office and they were sharing breaths. His cheeks turn hot at the memory, his mind starting to slip back into the last place it needs to be right now.

Clearing his throat, Dean sits back, slowly extracting himself from Sam’s hand. He watches Sam’s fingers hover there for a moment before falling back down into his lap. Sam looks sad, turned inside out with whatever is eating away at him on the inside. Dean hates it, has never been able to stand to see Sam like this, and it’s all he can do to stop himself from leaning over the table to tilt his little brother’s chin up so he can kiss him breathless.

“I don’t blame you, Sammy,” Dean says. “I don’t. You gotta know that.”

For a few moments, Sam doesn’t respond. Finally, he lifts his head to meet Dean’s eyes. His irises are clouded with emotions too hazy to identify, but that’s all Dean can see before Sam is standing up and stepping away from his table, out of reach.

“I should get back to work.”

“Okay,” Dean says softly.

Sam looks at him for another few seconds before nodding jerkily. He’s just turning around when Dean has to open his big fat mouth again.

“I meant it, y’know.”

Time slides like molasses down his spine, slow and sticky until Sam’s eyes find his once more. He’s already dug his grave. May as well lie in it too. “About having my… my someone. I meant it.”

“Dean.” Sam sounds like he’s pleading. For him to stop? Keep going? It’s hard to tell when Sam’s gaze keeps flicking down to his mouth like he’s one second away from covering the space between them to get back in between Dean’s lips.

“Just…” Dean clears his throat and ducks his head. “I just wanted you to know, that’s all.”

Sam doesn’t say anything before he walks away. The next time Dean lifts his head, he finds only the broad sweep of Sam’s shoulders facing him, getting further and further away. It leaves a pit in Dean’s stomach, his own miniature black hole that sits in his gut and slowly consumes him from the inside out.

He can’t help but feel like he’s just ruined everything.

 

 

Just beyond the cafeteria doors, out of sight of both patients and guards alike, Sam has his hands braced against the wall with his head hanging below his shoulders. He’s sucking in deep, calming breaths that are actually doing nothing to calm him, nothing at all, isn’t that fucking great?

God, he never thought this would happen again, not after Jess. But he can see it now, clear as day in the way his fingers are shaking against the cool wall and the tightness in his chest. It hurts to be away from Dean, especially after he said that, why did Dean have to say that?

Sam was trying to make it a clean break. He was gonna restrict seeing Dean to only the necessary sessions, to make sure their paths never crossed by accident so he wouldn’t get drawn back in by that special smile Sam somehow knows Dean saves just for him. It’s like a goddamn drug, that smile, how wide Dean’s lips pull and the light in his eyes when he sees Sam looking right back at him. Sam’s heart is already beating staccato against his ribs at the memory of it, the pathetic thing that it is.

He thought he had all of this under control. That maybe what had happened between the two of them was some kind of phase, a write-off, nothing more than an appreciation of another person’s hands on their bodies.

No. That isn’t right.

Sam never thought of it that way. It has never been about the physical, because Sam never expected it to ever go that far. That first kiss was… It shouldn’t have happened. But, oh God, it did, and Sam still gets goosebumps remembering how Dean’s lips slid against his until they finally fit together. It’d been in that moment that Sam had felt his world shift on its axis, throwing him off an edge he hadn’t even known he’d been standing on.

He should’ve stopped it then, should’ve put an end to it and prevented anything else from happening, because that was the right thing to do. But his heart had swayed him, allowed him to be swept up in this man with sharp green eyes and words that are just as cutting. Sam let himself to fall deeper into the mystery that is Dean and ignored all the red flags along the way, even when it culminated in the two of them pressed against the bookcase in the office in ways they were never meant to touch.

But now they’re here, standing on two different sides, doctor and patient, the way it always should have been, and Sam’s the one who finally drew the line in the sand. He finally did the right thing after letting his emotions take the wheel for too long, and yet… And yet. If it’s the right thing, if insisting that they can never do that again is the right fucking thing, then how can it feel so wrong?

A hot wave of tears slams into the backs of Sam’s eyes, driving a soft gasp out of his lungs as he presses the top of his head against the wall. Not here, Christ, not here.

“Campbell?”

Shit.

“Everything okay over here?” Tom’s voice grates along the already sensitive nerves on Sam’s skin.

“Fine,” Sam bites out, still not lifting his head. The tears that were threatening to fall are still there, ready to breach the precipice of his bottom lid to slide treacherously down his cheek, and there’s no way in hell Sam would give Tom the satisfaction of seeing him cry. “You wanna give me a minute here?”

Sam can feel Tom hovering right behind him, just knows that he’s thisclose to spinning Sam around and demanding what happened, so Sam tightens his shoulders and curls his hands into fists where they’re pressed to the wall. Tom obviously gets the message because Sam can hear him take a few steps back, his boots echoing off the tiles as he moves away.

“I’ll be by your office later to check up on you.”

“Not necessary,” Sam says through clenched teeth. That’s the last fucking thing he needs is Tom coming in like some overgrown babysitter. Tom’s answer is the sound of him walking down the hall and around the corner until his footsteps fade away.

Knowing he’s alone again sets Sam into motion, his own feet moving on autopilot to get him back to his office as quickly as he can without being seen by anyone else. He keeps his head low, eyes on the toes of his shoes until he reaches his door. Pulling out his keys from his back pocket, Sam shoves the right one into the hole with a grate of metal on metal before using his shoulder to push his way inside. He locks the door behind him and lets himself slump back against the wood with his eyes closed. That headache of his is creeping back in along the edges of his skull, curling up toward his temples insistently, and it makes those tears flash back up behind his eyes in a second.

Everything hits Sam all at once, knocking the breath right out of him. Sam moves away from the door and gently lowers himself onto the carpet until he’s lying flat on his back with his arms at his sides, his eyes closed. Better that he keeps them shut since his eyelids feel like someone’s tied fifty ton weights to the ends of them anyway.

There’s too much going on in his body right now; his heart's still beating unevenly, his lungs aren’t working right, and his head is slowly building up enough pressure so it feels like it’s on the verge of exploding. He wants to try and reconcile everything that’s running through his head but all of his thoughts keep short-circuiting and fizzling out each time they run into this one spot in his mind, the one thing Sam knows but is too afraid to finally accept. But it’s inevitable; Sam knows it down to his very bones. So he lets his thoughts trickle away, slipping down into the crevices of his mind until there’s only one left, a big red pulsing mass completely twisted and wrapped around one word. A name.

Dean.

Sam loves Dean.

The moment he thinks it, Sam can feel the tripwire-beat of his heart against his ribcage and the hot rush of blood to his face.

Oh, God.

He’s in love with a goddamn mental patient.

It drives a laugh out of his chest, sudden and loud and, for some reason, exactly what Sam needs. He laughs and he laughs, this incredulous, disbelieving thing that loosens the knot in his heart and eases the ache in his head. He laughs until it turns into sobs, choked and thick in his throat.

Pressing a closed fist to his forehead, Sam opens his eyes and stares up at the ceiling, his vision blurry and thick. “Fuck,” Sam whispers to himself, hitching out a shaky breath. “Fuck.”

And that just about sums it up.

 

 

It takes a while for the tears to stop coming, but eventually Sam opens his eyes and finds his cheeks to be mostly dry. He feels wrung out and exhausted, a used towel tossed into the corner of the room and forgotten. His muscles are achy and stiff from lying on the floor, which isn’t something he’s trying to make a habit of, but at least his headache has gone for now.

With a long groan, Sam gets to his feet and shuffles his way to his office chair, sitting down in a slump. Work. He knows he should do it, knows that the pile of papers scattered across his desk need to be reviewed and stamped and organized and filed and other mind-blowingly boring things, but every time his eyes run over the pages, his mind goes blank. Great. He feels bad for the people on payroll. Picking up one of the pens on his desk, he rolls it between his fingers and idly wonders if they know they’re forking money to a guy who is spending his time pining over one of his patients instead of doing his actual job. Now there’s a thought.

Heaving out another sigh, Sam puts the pen back in its cup and forces his hands to start organizing the files scattered everywhere. Maybe if he cleans up his space, it’ll help him focus. It only takes a couple of minutes to make sure each patient file has all the right papers in the right order before they’re stacked neatly to the side, ready and waiting to be opened properly and reviewed for possible patient check-ups. All Sam can do is stare at them blankly as something tickles the back of his mind. He pokes at it until it finally unfolds, and suddenly it all comes rushing back to him.

Suddenly he’s fumbling through the files and making a mess all over again, desperately looking for one specific name on the tab jutting from the back of each manila folder. Not here. Sam stands abruptly, hands flat on the desk as he tries to curb the franticness that’s begun to seep into his veins. He doesn’t know why this is so important to him, but he can’t get it off of his mind. That’s got to mean something.

Next thing Sam knows, he’s out of his office and leaning over the counter to speak to Brianna, pulling out the dimples in full-force. After a few minutes of playful teasing, he has the file he wants in his hands and wastes no time spinning on his heel to march right back into his office, door locked behind him. By the time Sam sits down again, his fingers are already moving on their own accord to flip the folder open. Ben Collins’s photograph sits in the top right-hand corner of the first page. Sam knows this information, has read it over each time before he and Ben had their weekly appointments, but he still can’t stop himself from skimming over everything again.

Ben Collins, age 21. Referred to Rockwood Clinic by college therapist; Collins attended University of Montana from 2007-2009. U of M patient file read that Collins suffered frequent recurring nightmares (same one?) and made claims about monsters being real - evidence supported by multiple roommates requesting to switch rooms; eventually sent to school therapist who made a preliminary psych eval. Recommended Collins take the semester off due to stress and poor school performance; transfer request sent and accepted 03/14/09. Patient transferred to Rockwood Clinic on 03/17/09.

Biting the thumbnail on his right hand, Sam flips the first page back to look at the next one, skimming down the list of medicines that the pharmacist has prescribed Ben with the dosages next to them. Since Ben was admitted nearly a month ago, the amounts have risen significantly. Shaking his head, Sam flips to the next page to find it full of his own notes from the sessions the two of them have had. The last one was the appointment Sam had ended early because of Dean’s not-so-subtle arrival.

Rubbing one of his temples, Sam stares down at his looping scrawl, tracing over words like disconnected and insistence of monsters in reality. Why does that sound so familiar? In a split second, it smacks him in the face. Dean. This is nearly the same thing in Dean’s file that he was admitted for too.

Sam continues to stare at his notes, eyes narrowed but unfocused as a million trains of thought run through his mind. Could this be why Dean was so interested in the boy? Because they share some sick version of reality where Ben was the hunted and Dean the hunter? Perhaps they found solace in one another, a comfort in knowing, or thinking, that someone else had a similar experience. That they really aren’t crazy like everyone says. Is that why Dean was that persistent when asking Sam all those questions about Ben?

After staring at the piece of paper long enough to bring back his headache, Sam finally sits back in his chair with a huff. It’s then that he sees another page beneath the one he just bored holes into with his eyes, one he hadn’t thought would be there since it wasn’t there the last time he had the file. Cautiously, Sam lifts the page and freezes. The heading of the page reads SOLITARY in large bold letters, and right below it is a note listing the date of confinement. It was the day after Dean came into Rockwood Clinic. And as of this moment, there has been no date of release.

“Solitary,” Sam says out loud, dumb and slow with disbelief. “Solitary?”

A harsh three knocks to his office door jolts a gasp out of Sam’s mouth and skyrockets his pulse like he’s just been electrified. Placing a hand over his thumping heart, Sam stands and goes over to his door to unlock it, dropping his hand from his chest before opening it to see who is in the hallway.

“Tom,” Sam says blankly, not bothering to hold back his disdain. He gets a brief mental image of the discolored mark he saw on Dean’s cheek and his grip on the door knob tightens. “What do you want?”

The head orderly levels Sam with a bored look, his arms crossed tightly across his chest. “Told you I’d come check up on you, didn’t I?”

“I don’t need checking up on, but thanks,” Sam grits out.

Tom raises his eyebrows. “Really? I coulda sworn you looked somethin’ terrible not too long ago. Possibly even a little upset.”

Don’t lose it, don’t lose it, don’t lose it. “It’s this migraine I’ve got. Gets a little hard to work around sometimes.”

Tom smirks, this coy, nasty thing smearing across his lower face. “You should get that checked out by a doc, Doc.”

Sam tries not to punch Tom in the face for making a joke that stupid.

“Unless there’s some other reason behind you getting all overwhelmed, of course,” Tom adds in. His tone is light, but there’s something hidden beneath his words. A threat.

“I’m pretty sure this is a standard headache,” Sam starts to reply, but Tom cuts him off.

“Couldn’t have anything to do with our feisty new patient, could it?”

Sam’s stomach drops like a stone.

“I don’t think I like what you’re implying here.” Sam’s voice is deadly calm despite how hard his heart is crashing into his ribcage. Dread freezes his blood in his veins, the fear of being caught stiffening his muscles so much that his entire body begins to ache.

“Just the input of a casual observer.” Tom grins. “Could be wrong, though.”

“I would certainly say so,” Sam says coolly. “Now, do you actually have something of import to talk to me about or can I get back to my work?”

“What’re you working on? Maybe I can help you out.”

Sam leans against the doorjamb and stares down his nose at Tom with as much venom as he’ll allow while they’re both still at work. “You’re right. Maybe you can. I’m sure you’d be the one who can tell me exactly why Ben Collins has been in solitary confinement for the past week.”

Tom pauses for a moment, clearly not expecting that sentence to leave Sam’s mouth. He recovers quickly enough, dropping his arms so he can hook his thumbs into his belt and throw another insincere smile Sam’s way.

“Sure, Dr. Campbell. Just about a week ago, Ben Collins was sent into an aggressive state after an interaction with another patient, bad enough that he had to be sedated and removed from the area. Ever since, the patient hasn’t been lucid. He is living in his delusions, claiming they’re all real and we are the ones trying to hide the truth. His behavior has been irrational and dangerous to both himself and those around him. Naturally, you can understand why we chose to keep him confined. Our number one concern is the health and safety of everyone on our premises, as you well know.”

If Sam grips the doorknob any tighter, it may shatter. “And why did nobody see fit to inform me of this, or even properly update his file?”

Tom shrugs one shoulder, that infuriatingly smug look crossing his face once more. “Well I certainly thought you would have known by now. After all, it seems like you’ve taken a particular interest in the patient that set him off as of late.”

Sam blinks at Tom, his brain churning desperately to filter those words through his mind so he can understand them. “What – ?”

“You mean Dean didn’t tell you?” Tom mock-gasps. “How odd. And here I was thinking you two had been getting so close!”

“What are you talking about?” Sam snaps, but Tom just waves his words away.

“You’d be better off asking him than me, don’t you think? Would you like me to get him for you?”

Sam can feel his face going red, in embarrassment or frustration, he doesn’t know, but he has just enough grace left in him to bite out a “Yes, thank you,” before shutting the door firmly in Tom’s face.

Dean? Dean was the one Ben attacked? But from what he said in the cafeteria, it was as if he and Ben were friends. So why…?

Sam mashes the heels of his hands against his forehead, struggling to breathe in and out as calmly as he can. This doesn’t make any sense and this goddamn headache is getting worse and he can barely process anything right now with the jumbled mess that’s going on between his skull plates. Sitting down helps only a little because at least he won’t crumple to the floor, but Sam still ends up with his head in his hands, wondering where everything took a turn for the worse.

 

 

Dean was making a friendship bracelet in one of his group sessions when Tom came to get him. Friendship bracelet? Dean? Ironic, right? As if he had anyone he could actually give it to. Sam’s name most definitely did not cross his mind as he was making it, no it did not, because if it did then that would mean Dean is turning into a typical prissy lovesick little girl and Dean is not that at all, fuck you very much.

“So, are you gonna tell me where you’re dragging me off to or should I start playing 20 Questions?” Dean drawls as he and Tom turn the next corner of one of the many bland hallways that line the inside of the clinic. He can practically hear Tom rolling his eyes and grins in response. If he can’t punch the guy’s lights out, then the next best thing is annoying the shit out of him. What Dean didn’t expect was Tom’s counter.

“You mean to tell me you don’t know everything? You’ve certainly been acting that way!”

Dean bites down hard on his back teeth and turns so he’s staring straight ahead. God, he hates Tom.

“We’re seeing Dr. Campbell today, as per his request,” Tom continues, oblivious to Dean’s anger. “I think he wants to have a little chat with you.”

“Great,” Dean says. “Could you have said that any creepier?”

Tom just shakes his head and shoves at Dean’s shoulder to make him turn another corner. Another minute and they’re there, standing in front of Sam’s office. Tom opens the door with a flourish and an ugly smile. “I’ll just be outside!”

Dean makes sure to give him the one fingered salute as he walks by before turning to shut the door in his face. It takes a moment for everything to catch up with Dean and remind him that he’s just closed himself off in the same room that so many things, both great and not-so-great, happened between him and Sam. It takes another moment for Dean to gather himself enough to face the center of the room and finally meet Sam’s eyes.

Sam is sitting behind his desk, not standing like he usually is, and his fingers are steepled together and pressed to his mouth, elbows on the desk. He looks tense enough that if Dean breathes the wrong way, Sam might shatter. Sam’s cheeks are flushed and his hair is messy and sticking up in some places, like he hasn’t been able to stop running his fingers through it. He does that when he’s nervous or upset, Dean remembers. But what could have happened to make him that upset?

Biting his bottom lip, Dean steps forward tentatively until he’s in front of the patient’s chair that is directly across from Sam’s seat. He eases down onto the plush cushion, cringing a bit as it creaks from his weight, before finally clearing his throat.

“Um. Hi.”

Sam stares him down for a good three minutes before responding with a quiet, “Hi.”

Dean’s skin is crawling from how uncomfortable he is, forcing him to twist his fingers in his lap to get rid of the anxious feeling as he tries to figure out what he’s doing here. It’s a fascinating contradiction to the unsettled beat of his heart from being in Sam’s presence again. “You… wanted to see me?”

Sam takes a deep breath in through his nose and closes his eyes, lowering his hands to rest on a plain beige folder that’s in front of him. Dean’s jaw clenches. He’s waiting for something to happen, something bad, because Sam is acting seriously weird and there’s just no way any of this can be good.

“You were asking me about Ben Collins earlier,” Sam begins, his eyes opening as he speaks. Two rings of harsh green bore into Dean’s head. “You said you were his friend.”

Dean’s hands freeze in his lap. Ben? This is about Ben? “Right,” Dean responds slowly. “Yeah, I am. Sam, what does this–”

“You made it sound,” Sam continues, cutting Dean off abruptly. “Like you two were close. Like you were looking out for him somehow.”

Dean lets out a weak laugh. “Well, yeah, I–”

“Stop,” Sam snaps, and the ice lacing his words cuts into Dean’s chest deep enough that his voice dies in his throat. “Stop lying to me.”

The accusation is enough to get his tongue working again. “I’m not lying!”

“You haven’t known Ben Collins long enough to do anything for him, Dean,” Sam says, slow and deliberate. “The fact is that you barely knew him. You barely knew him, you were barely here a day, and yet somehow you managed to set him off so badly that he had to be sedated and put into solitary confinement. Where he has been ever since, by the way.”

It feels like the air in the room has dropped by several degrees. Dean’s arms are riddled with goosebumps and his chest hurts, and all he can whisper is, “What?”

“Solitary,” Sam repeats, as if saying it once wasn’t enough. “And he has yet to break out of this episode. He hasn’t been lucid for a week, Dean.”

“Oh, God.” Dean drops his head into his hands, the warning ache of his oncoming migraine growing in his left temple. “Fuck.”

He can hear Sam’s chair push backwards, can feel the heavy steps his brother takes as he moves closer. “Why were you asking all of those questions about him, Dean? Why did you want to know? Why did he attack you? What did you say to him? What did you say?”

No, no, no, no, no. This isn’t supposed to be happening. He thought Ben was okay, didn’t even think of solitary as a possibility. God, the poor kid. And it’s not like he can tell Sam that he knew Ben from five years ago when the two of them saved him and his family’s lives. Christ, why did Ben recognize Dean but not Sam? He was Ben’s goddamn therapist and he didn’t remember him? Dean grips his head harder, his blood pounding in his ears, drowning everything out but his thoughts. What if it’s that woman Dean’s been seeing? Could she have done this? What kind of monster out there could fuck with so many people’s memories like this? It would take power, a lot of it, but what’s to gain out of all of this happening? What’s the connection here? Why?

“Dean!” Sam’s shaking him hard, both hands gripping his shoulders. “I need you to answer me!”

Dean looks up into Sam’s eyes and what he sees makes his lungs tighten. Sam wants to believe him. Sam wants to hear Dean explain it away, some rational thing that will make everything okay. Dean wishes it was that simple. He wishes it could be as easy as unravelling their story right here in this office, how the two of them are brothers and save people as a living, how they met Ben after reuniting all those years ago after Sam had left. He wishes he could explain that something is wrong even now, that they aren’t meant to be here and some Big Bad out there has fucked with their heads and left them both spinning.

But he can’t. Dean’s been labelled mentally unstable. He’s insane in their books, lost touch with reality and sees things that don’t exist. Anything he says, anything that is actually true will be disregarded as delusional. If he tells Sam, then everything goes down the drain. He’ll probably be shipped off somewhere and locked in a padded cell for the rest of his life, never to see Sam again. There’s no way to do this. There’s nothing Dean can do.

“I can’t,” Dean finally croaks out, his hands still cradling his head. “Sammy, I can’t.”

Dean watches his little brother’s face collapse. “Why? Dean, why can’t you tell me? I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I,” Dean whispers, burying his face into his palms.

“That isn’t good enough.” The next thing Dean knows, he’s being dragged to his feet. Sam’s towering over him, his fingers still painfully tight on the tops of Dean’s arms as he shakes Dean again. “That isn’t good enough, Dean. Answer me.”

“I can’t, Sam!” Dean twists, trying to get loose, but Sam’s grip is crushing.

“Why not?!”

“Because you won’t believe me!” Dean finally shouts, fighting free of Sam’s hands. He stumbles backward, using the chair to his right to catch himself. “Christ, Sam, you won’t fucking believe me! It’ll ruin everything, and I don’t–” Dean’s throat closes around his next words, his body trying to tell him not to say them, but he doesn’t listen. “I don’t want to lose you.”

“Dean.” Sam’s fighting to stay calm, he can see it. But his chest is moving too fast and his eyes are wild, all signs that this is going nowhere good. “You aren’t making any sense.”

“I can’t lie to you,” Dean says desperately, holding out his hands in supplication. “Sammy, I can’t. But I can’t tell you what you want to hear. I’m sorry.”

“Why?” Sam begs, and fuck if those aren’t tears in Sam’s eyes. “Dean, please. I don’t understand.”

All Dean can do is shake his head and step backwards towards the door. He can hear it being opened now, the faint creak of the hinges and the fall of Tom’s boot onto the carpet as he asks if everything’s all right in here. He’s about to turn and tell Tom to take him back to his room when his headache suddenly slams into him full force. Dean winces and goes to lift a hand to his head, but it’s hard. Harder than it should be to move, and now to breathe, his entire body feeling like it’s resisting something. Then the chills come, and he knows. Turning his eyes back to Sam, he sees her.

There.

Standing right beside his brother is the ghostly woman, her sad eyes pinning Dean where he stands. For a moment, Dean can only stare back in disbelief that she’s here again. Then her gaze moves, turning to fix on Sam. No.

Dean’s instincts kick into overdrive, yanking his body into movement. Whatever she is, she’s dangerous, he needs to keep her away from Sam, anything to keep him safe, Sam.

“No! You get away from him, you bitch!” The words scrape their way out of Dean’s throat and his muscles scream as he tries to lurch forward against whatever power she’s emitting. He stumbles forward three steps before something else latches onto him, hauling him backwards. It’s human hands that are pulling him away, not the woman’s powers, a pair of orderlies that Tom must have called as backup when he heard him and Sam arguing. The woman’s eyes slowly track back to meet Dean’s glare, her face remaining expressionless as she lifts her hand and starts to reach towards the side of Sam’s head.

“Don’t you touch him!” Gritting his teeth, Dean yanks himself free from one of the orderlies to charge forward, anything to stay in the office and get her away from Sam, even if it means getting her to come after him instead. Sam looks stunned and confused as he watches Dean struggle before finally following where Dean is staring to look at the space next to him.

Seconds drag on like minutes around Dean and everything feels like it’s going in slow motion as he watches the transformation on Sam’s face move from shock to one of complete horror. He sees her, Dean thinks, sagging in relief against the multiple hands grabbing at his clothes and arms, he finally sees her. Sam jerks into motion, stumbling away and tripping over his feet in order to get as far from the spirit as possible, his mouth flapping uselessly as words fail him.

The relief of Sam finally seeing the woman Dean was starting to fear he was imagining is short lived. He feels the attendants jostle him harshly towards the door, undoubtedly where a stretcher is waiting to strap him down and cart him into solitary, so he digs in and fights. His elbow connects with someone’s jaw, leaving his left arm free to swing around and clock another orderly in the side of the head hard enough that the man drops like a stone. Getting the last man off of him is a bit harder, but after knocking the wind out of him and fracturing his wrist, Dean is able to step away.

Finally, Dean spins back around to see Sam backed up against the wall near his window, his face terribly pale as the woman moves closer to him, her hand still outstretched. Dean steps forward, opening his mouth in preparation to draw the woman’s attention back to him instead of his brother, but his throat closes in fear when he watches her head spin around to freeze him on the spot. Her ashen eyes turn Dean’s body to stone, and all he can do is watch as she slowly melts from the shape of a young woman into a thick, formless fog. It spills towards him like a rushing river, tumbling and swirling with surprising speed before it takes her previous shape once more right in front of him.

One of the woman’s thin fingers reaches out for Dean, and the last thing he sees is her sad, colorless eyes before the words, “It’s time,” echo in his ears and her fingertip touches his forehead.

Everything starts to fade, but he thinks he can hear someone screaming his name just before it all goes black.

 

 

 

Somewhere in the darkness, there is a soft pulsing light. Dean can see it where he stands amongst the black, thinks that it looks almost like a heartbeat. He begins to walk towards it, curiosity getting the better of him. He would look around to try and understand where exactly he is right now except that the landscape never changes. Above him is black, below him is black, behind him is black. The only thing there is that isn’t a gaping maw is the light in front of him, the one that’s drawing him in.

It’s being in a place like this that finally allows Dean to understand how time is merely a concept. Every step he takes feels like one he took a century ago and yet he’s drawing closer to the flashing light that’s all but calling his name. He should be more disoriented, he knows he should, but at the same time this empty space feels familiar, and isn’t that just confusing. Dean pushes ahead, determined to figure out the source of the light, and suddenly he’s there.

Before him floats an orb no bigger than a soccer ball. It’s white but opaque, and is laced with swirls and lines of shimmering blue. Dean can’t help but stare in awe before the strange desire to touch it takes over. He lifts his hand, fingers splayed wide. The closer his hand moves to the orb, the brighter it glows, bathing him in a cascade of light until it’s almost too much to look at. Finally his fingers connect, slipping against something that defies sensory explanation before the entire world explodes.

 

 

The next time Dean opens his eyes, all of his surroundings have a dull gray hue, bleeding into everything he sees and his hearing is shaken by a deafening roar. Blinking and confused, Dean turn on the spot to try and orient himself.

He’s in a cavern, a huge domed one that has a ceiling so high that he can’t see where the curved rock walls meet at the top. There’s a river to his right, the source of the noise that is bombarding his sense, one that gushes from an enormous mouth in the jagged face of a wall and out through an identical exit on the opposite side of the cave. The river is massive; the waters are dark and clouded, whirlpools appearing here and there along the length of it from the force with which it thunders through the cavern. The shores are black sand laced with a silver sheen, and from where Dean stands, he can see that no one has approached them in a very long time.

Where is he? And how did he get here, wherever ‘here’ is? It only takes another pass of the sand he’s on and the barren opposite shore for him to realize that he’s alone. Dean moves farther away from the river, closer to the wall to his left. There’s something terribly ominous about it and the way that a thin mist hangs over the water. Like it could swallow him and everything he is if he gets too close.

Something odd strikes him then as he takes his last step towards the wall, and it takes him a minute to realize that he hasn’t felt the sand give out from under his feet. Turning to look at the path of footprints that should have been left from his short walk, Dean feels a dull sense of confusion when he sees that the sand that was once under his feet is completely undisturbed. It’s then that he looks down at himself. His body is entirely transparent, a mere outline of what he once was and as tangible as a cloud. He can feel the faint urge to panic starting to build, something deep inside of him twisting hot because of how wrong this is, but by the time he looks up again, it’s wiped away.

A sound has drawn Dean’s attention to a set of stairs a few yards ahead of him that he hadn’t noticed before. The roughly hewn steps are carved right into the face of the wall, leading upwards in a jagged zigzag until they reach a door-shaped opening far above his head. On those steps are three hooded figures, gingerly making their way down. It’s another moment until they reach a part of the stair close enough to Dean for him to hear that they’re talking with one another. It’s in a language Dean’s never heard before, something that sounds just as harsh as his surroundings, but by the severe tones that echo down to him, Dean can tell that this is clearly some form of argument.

One of the figures, all of them hunched old women from what Dean can now see in the dim light, keeps trying to start back up the stairs again only to have the other two grab her robes and pull her back down. The closer they get to the bottom step, the louder their voices get, resounding off the rock face they are descending. Something crackles in Dean’s ear, almost like the white noise in radios while tuning between stations, before the strange language suddenly warps and he can understand it all.

“You know we are not to meddle with the affairs of mortals, sisters!” The one who is being dragged along wails, her cloak caught by the gnarled hands of the other two.

“Hush, Clotho!” One of them growls, taking the last turn to descend the final flight before reaching the black sand below. “We made an agreement and the agreement we shall keep. Come. We must not linger.”

Clotho is the last to step foot on the sand. In her hands is a bundle of pure golden string, tangled into one large knot that she fretfully picks at while trailing behind her sisters. Dean freezes as he watched them trudge towards the shore, certain that one will sense his presence, but they seem not to notice him at all.

This is a memory, Dean suddenly thinks, watching the way the sand shifts beneath the women’s feet as they grow nearer and nearer to the shoreline and the way their gray-tinted cloaks shift with their steps. I’m watching a memory.

A raspy voice draws Dean back to the scene before him. “Goddess of Oblivion, we invoke thee. Pray you hear the Fates’ call, for our need of you is great. Come forth, Lethe, spirit of the Underworld.”

One of the whirlpools within the river widens and begins to spin faster before surging forth from the torrent below to create a bridge from water to shore, droplets showering down on the sand as far as Dean’s feet. From the river emerges a figure as gray as the waters she came from. Her hair is long and colorless and her body slim, but she seems entirely unconcerned by the seething current below the bridge she is descending. The moment her feet hit the sand, the river sucks the whirlpool back into its depths and rages forth into the darkness on the other end of the cave.

The woman standing before the three crones, the Fates from ancient Greece, Dean now realizes, must be Lethe. Goddess of Forgetfulness, tied to the river Lethe that leads into Hades. When she lifts her face in the dim light, Dean feels stomach sink to his feet. She’s the same spirit from Sam’s office. The one who sent him here in the first place.

“I have answered your call,” Lethe says, her voice as musical as it is sad. She slowly looks between each of the women before her. “Why do you summon me?”

One of the Fates steps forward. “Goddess, we were sent to ask for your aide in the matter of an entwined destiny we have been unable to understand.”

“Lachesis,” Lethe turns to the one Fate who had yet to speak. “Have their lives not yet been determined?”

“It is not so simple, Goddess,” Lachesis says with a voice like gravel dragging over stone. “The length of these two mortals’ lives has been taken into hands even greater than mine. Atropos has cut each of their threads herself, but the string continues to remake itself, even without Clotho’s hands.”

“Then what do you ask of me?” Lethe says, twining her hands together. There’s a beat as the three crones exchange a look before Lethe speaks again, sharper this time. “Speak.”

“The bond between these mortals is strong, Goddess,” Atropos tells her. “Stronger than even the destinies of old that we have seen in our time. There is something even deeper that runs through them both that will bind them together, but neither will unlock it for fear of the consequences. But a power has been unleashed, Goddess; one that will end the world. Surely you have felt it, even in the deep.”

Lethe ducks her head and presses her hands to her face in despair, looking more like a scared child than an ancient goddess.

“There is hope,” Lachesis jumps in, seeming desperate to reassure the slight woman before her. “These mortals have the power to stop this evil and save us all.” The Fate pauses and looks over her shoulder at her two sisters before continuing. “But they are on the wrong path.”

“My sisters want to change their destinies, Goddess!” Clotho cries, desperately pulling at the tangled threads from the huge knot in her hands, as if it’s a nervous tic. “They wish for you to erase their memories so that we may alter their minds and their world in order to lead them to this new path. But we mustn’t! We are not meant to delve into the affairs of mortals anymore!”

“Quiet, fool!” Atropos hisses. Turning back to Lethe, Atropos spreads her hands before her in supplication. “Goddess, we ask you to aide the brothers Winchester in finding their true, destined path. Too much has convoluted their journey and tarnished their bond. They must remain together, remain strong, and find the piece of themselves in the other in order to save us all from destruction. We ask this of you. Will you help us?”

The entire cave seems to hum, a hazy light filtering in at the edges of Dean’s vision as he tries to wrap his mind about what he just heard. Dean steps forward, squinting to see as a goblet appears in Lethe’s hand. She kneels to dip the cup into the river, rising again when it is filled to the brim with murky water that soon clears. The humming in his ears grows even louder, the entire scene beginning to wash out into white, but before it all goes blank, Dean hears Lethe’s musical voice say, “I will.”

 

 

The sound of ceramic shattering on tile pulls Dean’s eyes open to see a waitress throwing her hands up in the air before storming off to find a broom, the remains of a Western omelette and homefries scattered beneath the broken dish on the floor. Blinking slowly, Dean looks around to find himself in a diner. Everything around him has that same washed out hue from the last scene. Another memory.

Moving around the ruined food, Dean takes in his surroundings more carefully this time, trying to find what he’s meant to be seeing here. It’s a familiar voice that ends up turning his head to the corner booth to his right, one that catches Dean’s heart in a fist and squeezes tight. Sam. And across from Sam is him. Dean.

“It’s for the best,” Sam is saying, so quiet that Dean needs to move closer to hear him over the chatter of the diner. Dean watches himself, Memory Dean, lean back into the booth, away from Sam.

Both of them look troubled. Sam is ducking his head, but when he steps forward, Dean can see the emotions of his brother’s face as plain as day; there’s guilt there, guilt and shame and fear, his hands reflecting his inner turmoil as they twist together nervously on the tabletop. Memory Dean’s face is harder to read, so blank and withdrawn, as if he’d rather be anywhere than here. There’s a thrum of recognition that hits Dean then and suddenly he just knows. He remembers it all and the feelings that wash over him, the same ones he now knows are roiling inside of his memory self, are very, very real.

It hits him so hard that Dean has to turn away, pushing his hand into his chest as if rubbing at this aching spot is going to relieve any of the pain clawing its way through his ribcage. There’s anger. A lot of it. Betrayal. Resentment. Sadness. All of it thrown into a cesspool that twists his heart and drags it down to his stomach. Dean wants to puke, to get rid of this roiling acid in his body, but he doesn’t know if this form could even manage it.

“Yeah. Yeah, maybe you should take a break, Sam.”

It’s the cold edge to Memory Dean’s tone that forces Dean to spin back around. His memory self is tapping his fingers against the rim of his mug, staring down at it instead of at Sam, who raised his face at those words. The look there shatters something in Dean. He knows that look. That’s the one Sam gets when every single fiber of his being was silently begging for Dean to say no, to fight back and prove him wrong on whatever thing he was saying or had been led to believe was right. But Memory Dean said yes. He, Dean, had said yes.

“You’re too unstable right now,” Memory Dean is plowing ahead, still refusing to meet Sam’s wide eyes. But someone needs to be watching him, watching out of Sam even as he’s being torn down by one of the only people he has left. So Dean stands there and watches his brother’s heart break right in front of him. “I can’t trust you to watch my back right now, let alone trust that you’d be okay watching your own. And I can’t… I can’t afford that, Sammy. Not with all of this that’s going on right now. Havin’ to take care of both of us because I can’t be sure that I won’t turn around and find you–” Memory Dean cuts himself off abruptly, his lips pursing as if tasting something bitter.

“Say it, Dean.” Sam is still so quiet. No, Dean thinks, no. Don’t.

Memory Dean’s gaze flashes up to finally meet Sam’s, his bottom and top lashes nearly knitting together from how hard he’s narrowed his eyes. “Because I can’t be sure that I won’t turn around and find you draining a goddamn demon, Sam. That what you want to hear?” He all but spits the words in Sam’s pale face before his elbows are on the table, hands covering his face and any emotion it may betray.

Dean remembers that feeling too. Shame. From failing himself, from failing the world. From failing Sam.

“I can’t trust you, Sammy,” Memory Dean is speaking through his hands, blind to the tears that are now brimming in Sam’s eyes and threatening to fall. “Not after you chose a demon over me. I can’t see past that right now, man.” Dean watches his memory self’s fingers clench on his forehead, as if wishing he could dig into his skull if he just pushed hard enough. “I want to, Christ, don’t you fucking know I want to? But I can’t. Not right now. So maybe… Maybe you’re right. Maybe this is for the best.”

Shaking, Dean slowly turns his head to watch as Sam scrunches up a napkin and rubs quickly at his eyes before tossing it onto his untouched plate of food. They both watch as the loose ball slowly unfolds out of its shape to cover his sausage links.

“Yeah, Dean. Yeah, I get it.”

Memory Dean sighs and rubs at his eyes harshly before dropping his hands in his lap. He’s opening his mouth to speak again when Dean feels someone pass through him to stop at the side of their table. It’s their waitress, who is placing two tall clear glasses in front of each of them before tucking her hands into the front pocket of her small apron.

“I brought you more waters,” the woman says in a familiar lilting tone.

Lethe.

Sam’s hand is on the glass and bringing it to his lips immediately, like he’s been sucked dry from hearing his brother give up on him and he needs to drink this to live. Dean jerks forward with a wordless cry, his transparent fingers passing through Sam’s arm in a useless attempt to knock it away, unable to do anything but watch as Sam starts to take huge gulps. He always did this as a kid, found that the best way to stifle his tears after his umpteenth fight with Dad was to drink glassfuls of water until they stopped. Dean curses it now, curses everything as he sees the river’s water immediately take effect. Sam’s eyes glaze over, the hand holding the glass pulling back to hover in front of his chest as his entire body goes lax, his mouth parting open in a look of dazed confusion. Cursing, Dean turns to his memory self and sees that he had begun to drink it too, but not as much, stopping once he had registered that something was wrong with Sam.

“Sammy?” slurs Memory Dean, his glass thumping on the table before his fingers start to fumble to reach for his brother, the river’s effect making him clumsy and slow. Looking at their glasses, Dean can see that only a sip or two is gone from his while Sam’s is nearly half gone. Sam’s bigger memory gap in the present makes so much more sense now. Dean pulls his mind to the scene in front of him to watch as his memory self turns to Lethe, eyes narrowed in suspicion as he tries to stand up from his seat, jostling the table with a clatter when he loses his balance. “What’d – What’d you do t’ my brother?”

Lethe frowns slightly at him as if he’s an annoying fly buzzing at her before reaching forward to tap him on his forehead. He collapses down onto his seat in a sprawl, unconscious. Turning to Sam, Lethe’s delicate features transform back into her usual melancholy state as she regards his prone form. There’s a movement that draws Dean’s eye to something she’s pulling from her apron; a long clear vial that’s filled with a white substance that seems to float within the glass. Once she unstoppers the vial and coaxes it out onto her pointer and middle fingertips, he can see that it shifts between pulsing a dull white to cloudy gray.

Leaning forward, Lethe brings her fingers holding the light to the side of Sam’s head. It moves on its own accord, brushing Sam’s temple before it submerges itself into his skull. The skin around the area stays illuminated by the light for only a moment before it fades away back to normal, as if it never happened at all. Sam’s eyes slip shut and his head lolls onto his shoulder, completely unconscious now. His loosened grip on the glass in his hand makes it slip free, falling and exploding on the tile floor just like the plate of food from earlier.

Dean is so startled by the sound that he jerks around to look behind him, expecting all eyes to suddenly be on him, even with him being invisible. Many patrons of the diner are indeed looking in his direction, but not at him at all. Turning back around, he finds that his memory self, Sam, and Lethe have all disappeared. Before him are now three old hags, the very same from the first memory he was made privy to. Joining hands together, they all bow their heads and begin to chant. Power surrounds them, something so ancient that Dean stumbles away for fear of being too close, though it’s still just a memory. He can see the magic around them, building and beginning to spread from their self-made circle in waves that pulse out with stronger and stronger force.

The humming is back, higher in pitch this time as the scene begins to white out. Dean turns back to the seat where his little brother once was, committing that empty booth to memory before closing his eyes to allow himself to be pulled away once more.

 

 

Dean is back in the empty space where this all began, but instead of an orb in front of him this time, it’s Lethe. Her arms are crossed as if hugging herself, as if watching Dean face those scenes was painful for her to witness.

“I have shown you what you needed to see, Dean Winchester,” she tells him gently, and for a moment, Dean nearly drowns in the overwhelming sadness in her eyes. “And your memories have been returned. You have a path to follow, but you are not meant to walk it alone.”

“I don’t understand,” Dean whispers. He feels like he hasn’t spoken in eons, his throat as dry as sandpaper. “Why me? Why us?”

Lethe tilts her head and studies him, considering. “I wish I could tell you the answers you seek. What you must trust is that your destiny has been laid before you since the day you first drew breath. To diverge from this path is dangerous and will lead to the most dire of consequences and change the fate of all.”

“You’re telling me that this–” Dean’s throat closes up at the very thought of voicing what she seems to be trying to say. “Sam and I are meant to be like this?” To be together like this? he silently asks.

It’s as if Lethe can read his mind. For the first time, Dean sees a small smile pull up the corners of the goddess’s mouth before she leans forward to take both of his hands in hers.

“Neither of you are one without the other.” Lethe squeezes his hands gently. “Follow your heart, Dean Winchester. You already know where it lies.”

It’s the last thing he hears before he feels something invisible hook into his gut and pull him backwards, out into a world of white.

 

 

There’s nothing quite like waking up to being strapped down to a hospital bed. Except maybe waking up in a motel room with unexplained memory loss and a missing brother, but Dean’s already had that experience, so sue him for adding another to his list.

Metal clinks on metal as Dean tries to raise his hands to rub at his eyes, stopping his arms with a harsh bite into his wrists. He’s in cuffs. Kicking out his legs, he hears the rattle there too along with the restriction at his ankles. Goddamnit. Dean lets out a long groan and tries to roll his head to see anything beyond a generic white speckled ceiling above him only to find out that a padded strap is running across his forehead, leaving him entirely immobilized.

“Son of a bitch,” Dean mutters. Gritting his teeth, he yanks at his handcuffs over and over until the inside of his wrists are rubbed raw, some futile attempt of getting loose. He knows it’s hopeless. There’s no way of him being able to reach the counter he can just barely see out of the corner of his eye, and there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that there would even be a file just sitting there with a spare paperclip he could use to get free.

Dean is just about to give in and start yelling for someone when he hears five rapid beeps echo through the room. The sound of a door unlocking and being opened makes Dean tense up, his heart climbing into his throat. He can’t see the door, so it must be on the other end of the room, damn this thing pinning him to the table like he’s a goddamn science experiment. He’s completely vulnerable here, exposed and laid out like a sack of meat about to be dissected and cut up into a billion miserable pieces. He’s going to die on this table. They’re gonna give him a lobotomy or something, take a handsaw to his skull and–

“Dean?”

Relief surges through Dean so fast that he gets dizzy lying down, oh God, “Sammy?”

There’s the high-pitched squeaking of boots slipping on tile and then Sam is suddenly there, taking over Dean’s entire vision as he stoops over where Dean’s strapped down.

“Dean!” Sam breathes out shakily. Even with Sam’s head obscuring the overhead light, Dean can see that his eyes are shiny with unshed tears as he stumbles over his words. “Hey, hey, you’re okay. Did you just wake up? Jesus, thank God you’re okay.”

“How long was I out?” Dean asks. His tongue feels too big for his mouth so he runs it back and forth along his teeth until he feels he can talk without biting it off. “What the hell happened?”

Much of the color in Sam’s face drains fast, leaving his lips and the apples of his cheeks bright pink from worry. “You don’t remember?”

Dean tries to shake his head no but the strap clamping his head to the table stops it. In a brief fit of rage, Dean kicks out and strains his arms make the cuffs rattle because damn these things.  Then Sam smacks his chest for him to stop and hangs a ring of keys from his pocket in front of Dean’s face so he can see them. “Calm down, okay? I nicked them off Tom, who was in charge of bringing you into isolation, but I don’t know which one’s the right key. Bear with me and try not to throw another tantrum, this is gonna take a minute.”

“Wait,” Dean asks incredulously. “You’re breaking me out?” Sam rolls his eyes and moves away. He can hear the jingle of the keys and the cuff on his left hand move around as Sam sorts through them to find the right one that fit the lock.

He can feel the handcuff jostling, hears it clinking as the key Sam tries won’t budge, the scrape of teeth as he pulls it back out, and then, quietly, “You had a seizure, Dean.”

Dean blinks up at the ceiling a few times, digesting this information.

Sam continues slowly. “You had a seizure and then you collapsed right there in the orderlies’ arms. They took you here. You were practically in a coma, but there were times here where you’d lash out while still unconscious, like you were trying to fight something or protect yourself or… I don’t know what. Just that they used that as an excuse to strap you down. It was pretty fucking scary to watch.”

Dean would nod if he had any semblance of control over his neck. “How long have I been out?”

“A few hours. Ah, got it!” There’s a metallic zipping noise as Sam frees Dean’s hand from the first cuff. He moves on to Dean’s left foot. “Clinton demanded you be brought to solitary and restrained for your own safety.” Another zip, another freed limb. Sam’s voice drops low again. “I didn’t want you to be brought here. Just for the record.”

Dean has to close his eyes to be able to focus on shoving down the huge ball of emotions struggling to fight its way out of his throat. Not now, not now. “Thanks, Sammy.”

Using his free hand, Dean starts to paw at the padded strap on his forehead until he finds the catch to release it. Groaning, he finally sits up a bit and watches as Sam moves on to his next foot. Sam’s quiet until Dean’s third limb is free.

“I saw her. The woman you were – you’d been trying to tell me about before you–”

“Sam,” Dean says, waiting until him to look up before shaking his head. “We can talk about this later. Right now, we need to get the hell out of here.”

The vulnerable look in Sam’s eyes vanishes as he senses Dean’s urgency. He nods quickly before bending over to finish the last restraint. Another five seconds and Dean is free, the last cuff zipping off of his wrist and falling away with a clang. Swinging himself off the gurney, Dean’s feet hit the floor. The impact jars his knees, making them go stupidly wobbly for a second. Dean stumbles forward with a curse, hands out to catch himself in case he goes down, except now there’s a hand on his chest and one on his back, steadying him and keeping him upright. Dean swallows hard before looking up at Sam. His breath catches at the way Sam’s eyes are too big right now out of fear and concern, how his cheeks are flushed and his hair is in disarray as if he’d been pulling at it before he came into the room, how beautiful he is even when he’s worried. Even now, there’s the barest hint of a smile tugging at his lips when he notices the way Dean is staring at him.

“Let’s get you out of here.”

Sam insists on being the one to check the hall first, making sure that there’s no one else around before he reaches in to grab Dean by the wrist to drag him outside. They set off at a jog until they’re sure Dean can take it and then move into a run as Dean blearily tries to figure out where they are. The air is cooler here and the walls are made of thick gray cement. Basement? Probably the best way to isolate the screamers and problematic patients whose pretty little pills aren’t enough to keep them docile.

Dean is jerked out of his thoughts when Sam yanks them to a halt and backs Dean into a dark, musty room, the door shutting them into complete darkness. Blood rushes loud in Dean’s ears, his entire body buzzing as he blinks to try and adjust to the pitch black around him, his hearing automatically picking up Sam’s labored breaths nearby. Dean’s own lungs stutter as he hears Sam start to move around; towards him? Jesus, it’s dark. It’s dark and Sam’s rustling around and Dean’s skin feels too tight as his mind wander into even darker places, right up until he hears Sam fumbling against the wall. The light switch flicks on, the overhead lamp buzzing for a good five seconds before lights floods the space they’re in, and Dean guiltily feels his face grow hot, cursing himself internally for being such an idiot.

It seems like they’re in a storage room, clear Tupperwares filled with random contents stacked on rows upon rows of metal shelving. Dean just stands there while Sam moves two aisles over. There’s the crack and pop of the lid leaving the Tupperware and a rustle of a bag, and then Sam is there in front of him, holding the most important objects in the world in his palms. Dean’s leather jacket, the clothes he came in with, all folded haphazardly together along with his amulet, his gun, and his car keys.

“Thank you,” he whispers, barely realizing that he even said it as he pulls the amulet over his head, touching it briefly as it settles back on his sternum before he puts the rings on his fingers. The clothes are for another time, so he takes the pile and tucks it under his arms, but not before taking his car keys into his palm. Turning to Sam, Dean beams, his chest hurting with how much his heart seems to be growing, pressing against the backs of his ribs. Everything is finally falling into place.

“Seems like we better hit the road, Sammy.”

The stairs to the parking garage are just around the corner and they both take the steps two at a time. Slamming the door open with both palms, Sam looks left and right before grabbing Dean’s arm again to lead them to the spaces reserved for patient vehicles that were retained. Dean’s heart practically leaps out of his chest at the sight of the Impala, his feet pounding the pavement even harder so he can get to the driver’s seat as fast as he can. Skidding to a halt, Dean shoves the key into the lock and pops his door open before sliding right in to reach across and do the same for Sam’s. God, does it feel like home.

“Sammy, c’mon, we gotta go, man,” Dean barks, shoving his key into the ignition. He’s ready to crank the engine on, but seeing Sam’s still form out of the corner of his eye makes him hesitant. Sam’s hovering just outside of the passenger door, one hand on the handle like he’s internally warring with himself about truly committing himself to be a part of a patient getaway. Sucking in air through his nose, Dean tries to keep calm, watching his brother until he can see Sam’s chest expand with a deep breath. Then the door is creaking open and he’s on the seat next to Dean where he belongs, a nervous but sure smile on his face as he meets Dean’s eyes and gives him a curt nod.

The shrill ringing of alarms erupts around them, loud even where they’re inside the car, and red lights start flashing in the garage. Cussing, Dean turns the engine over, ready to throw the car into reverse when a guttural clanking noise makes Dean turn in his seat. The steel security gate is lowering over the exit too fast, already halfway shut by the time Dean even gets the thought in him to back out of the spot, let alone try to make the desperate attempt to get out under the heavily descending gate. Dread pours through Dean’s veins hot and slick, making his entire body shake as he watches daylight slowly disappear, the gate eating away at the last remaining feet until it hits the asphalt with a clang. They’re sealed in.

Sam’s hand is suddenly on Dean’s arm, clamping down tight and tugging him forward, forcing Dean to look at him.

“Dean,” Sam croaks, his throat working hard as his eyes dart between both of Dean’s. He looks so sad, as if he let Dean down by doing everything he could to save him. The ache in Dean’s chest grows, swallowing him up. “I’m sorry. I tried.”

Whispered words echo in Dean’s ears, ones that make his lungs fold in on themselves, his breaths coming short and harsh as he hears them again in his mind. Follow your heart, Dean Winchester. You already know where it lies.

Dean closes his eyes, lets all of the air out of his lungs, and then opens them again. Certainty has overtaken him, seeping into his muscles and moving his hands forward to take Sam’s face between his palms, pulling him forward until their mouths meet.

This kiss is hot and desperate, no room or time to be gentle when everything is falling apart around them. It’s dirty, all tilted angles and tongues slipping together in tangles and humid breaths panted in the air between each other’s mouths before diving in to get even deeper. This is shared between them and them only, their raw and undeniable connection bursting forth in the desperate noises rising in the backs of their throats and the way they’re holding onto each other too tightly, nails biting into skin and teeth nipping at jaws, just in case this is the last kiss they ever share.

It’s everything Dean has always wanted but never had the courage to ask for, not from the one person he’s always needed too much for his own good. This is all he’s ever needed and now that he has it, he won’t let it be ripped away. This is them, finally becoming what they were always meant to be to each other, crossing that final line into truly becoming each other’s everything, in every way they could be.

For him, it’s over too soon. He wants to live in the space behind Sam’s teeth, bury himself in the soft skin where Sam’s jaw and neck meet, but Dean knows he needs to pull away. He opens his eyes when he breaks the kiss to find Sam staring at him, his cheeks flushed and his lips bitten red and parted, soft pants leaving him to paint Dean’s mouth with puffs of air.

Dean takes a moment to look at Sam, to look at his brother and really see him for all that he is and for everything that he means to Dean. His heart swells so big in his chest that he can feel it pressing against his ribs, this huge thing that’s filled with his little brother and everything Dean’s ever felt for him. Dean looks at Sam and sees his entire world, everything he’d fight and die for, and everything he isn’t willing to give up because of another set of unfathomable and unordinary circumstances that were thrown their way.

He looks at Sam and sees the brother he went to hell for, the brother he’d do it for all over again. He sees the boy he helped raised in the wide eyes staring back at him and the man he’s grown into etched in the lines by his eyes. Dean looks at Sam and sees the one person he wants by his side when he faces the world, even if the end of days is nipping at their heels. He wouldn’t trade Sam for anything or anyone, and he knows he can’t do this alone.

Dean can feel it when the air changes, not just in the car but all around them. The alarms have stopped, gone completely silent and left Dean’s ears ringing with the phantom clangs that had been rattling Dean to the core. The flashing lights are gone and, instead, daylight is now pouring in to sweep across the dashboard in a soft yellow. Where a cement garage and entire ward once surrounded them, a small green meadow dotted with blue now lies ahead and a ring of trees encircles it all.

They’re back in their reality. He doesn’t know how and he doesn’t know what or why, but he knows it down to the very cells in his body. They’re back.

Dean wants to sigh, wants to sink back into the seat and maybe cry just a little bit from the overwhelming wave of relief that just washed through his bones, but Sam’s fingers tightening around his wrist brings his attention back to his brother.

Sam is crying.

“Sammy…” Dean whispers, reaching for his face, but Sam shakes his head and bites his lip.

“It all came back. I remember everything, Dean.”

Dean doesn’t mean to make that choking noise, he doesn’t, but his throat is closing up, irrational fear shooting through his veins because what if Sam, the real Sam, won’t want this? Want him? And how can Dean move back from this, back to being the big brother who shoves everything down and away and refuses to think about the sweat sliding down his little brother’s temple or the way he unconsciously licks each side of his mouth after taking a big bite of food with the tip of his tongue? How can he pretend he doesn’t know what Sam’s mouth tastes like, or worse, that he doesn’t want to find out what the wing of his hipbone tastes like too, or the dip of his spine? Panic seizes him, makes him jerk away, his breaths coming out too fast and his heart drilling rapid-fire against his chest.

And just like that, Sam knows. He leans forward and gets his palms on Dean’s cheeks, brings his face around so their eyes can meet again, his fingers tightening when Dean tries to pull away.

“Dean. Dean, listen to me, okay? I don’t know exactly how all of this happened and I don’t know what did it either, but…” Sam shakes his head just a little, almost in disbelief, before going on. “But I knew something was wrong. Wherever we were, my memories never felt right. They were all so blurry and fucked up, no matter how recent the thing was that I was trying to think of, and even… even there, I didn’t have Jess.” Sam’s voice broke on her name, this soft thing that makes Dean close his eyes so he won’t have to see the pain building in the hazel irises that refuse to leave his face. “It was in a different way, but still, none of it ever felt right.”

Dean nods but doesn’t open his eyes until he feels Sam’s lips brushing his own. It’s brief but it’s enough to make Dean look at Sam again, to see the certainty on his little brother’s face that Dean isn’t alone in this. Sam, his Sam, wants this too.

“Okay,” Dean whispers, his hands finding the front of Sam’s shirt, using it as an anchor to reassure himself that this is all real. “Okay, Sammy.”

A genuine smile breaks across Sam’s face, wiping away any other traces of the emotions left over from the last time they were together in reality. The image of that empty diner booth has carved itself into the back of Dean’s eyelids, a way to remember that it can never get this way again. They can never get this way again, so far from themselves and everything they have woven into one another. They’re in this together, for better or for worse, no matter what it takes. And Dean can see that Sam knows this now in the set of his shoulders and the smile that won’t disappear that makes him look thirteen again and ready for anything that comes his way, but it doesn’t seem like it’s enough to Dean.

Dean reluctantly forces his fingers to release Sam’s shirt before nodding his head towards the door. “C’mon.”

Two squeaking doors open to let them step out onto the dirt road the Impala is sitting on, small puffs of it rising when Dean scuffs his boots on his way to meet Sam, who’s leaning back against the hood of the car. Unsurprisingly, he sees that he’s back in normal clothes, jeans, his jacket and a black shirt beneath it with no trace of the thin uniform that had become his daily wardrobe for the past few weeks. He sends up a silent thanks to whoever might be listening for that one before settling in beside his brother.

Sam’s looking at him expectantly but with an air of patience that Dean’s never seen in anyone other than him. Clearing his throat, Dean shoves his hands into his jacket pockets and squints out at the small field in front of them, his fingers tracing the inner lining of the pockets almost absently.

“Before all of this,” Dean starts hesitantly, his brow furrowing as he scans their surroundings. “You remember where we were, right? What we were talking about?”

Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Sam’s face fall. “Yeah… Yeah, I do.”

Dean closes his eyes, not wanting to see the heartbreak shimmering in Sam’s eyes again. Living through it the first time and then seeing that memory had been more than enough. “That woman, the one from your office. Her name is Lethe.” Dean pauses there, letting Sam’s mind catch on and filter through all those little files in his head until he places the name.

“Lethe?” Sam asks slowly, like he’s still processing it all. “Greek goddess Lethe?”

“Greek goddess Lethe,” Dean confirms, opening his eyes to look over at his brother. “Goddess of the river of Forgetfulness Lethe.”

Sam lets out a long breath. “Oh my god. But how–”

“She showed me.” Dean wrinkles his nose a bit. “It sounds weird, I know, but… When she came after me in your office, that’s what happened when I was out. She showed me everything: how she took our memories away, how she teamed up with the Fates to put us in some alternate reality to change the path we were on… All of it.”

“The Fates?” Sam’s tone is laced with a mix of shock and awe. “The Fates? But why? Dean, we’re just… we’re just us!”

“It’s the end of the times, Sammy.” Dean laughs wryly. “With Lucifer out, all hell’s broken loose. I guess they think we’re the world’s last hope.”

“Right,” Sam says faintly, his eyelids fluttering as he turns and stares at the ground. “Right.” After a moment, he looks up again, worrying at his bottom lip. “And Ben?”

“Is fine, I’m sure. Probably sitting in some dorm like a grade-A nerd, getting on the Dean’s List or somethin’. He was messed up in that reality, but in this one, the real one, I’d bet my life to say he’s fine.” Sam nods jerkily but doesn’t look entirely convinced. Dean smiles. “You wanna see if we can call him on our way outta town?”

Relief eases the worry lines that were pulling across Sam’s forehead, and Dean can’t help the squeeze in his heart as he watches Sam’s lips pull up into a small smile. “Yeah. I’d like that.”

Dean nods once before turning back to the meadow in front of him. The blue flowers that are blooming out from the base of nearly all the trees look familiar, niggling at the back of his head until he places them as the same ones he saw when he was staring out the window in the day room after the first time he really talked to Sam.

Pushing off of the car, Dean walks over to the nearest tree to his left and squats down to get a closer look. He hears Sam call his name in question and he holds up his fingers in acknowledgement before leaning down to cup his palms around a small bunch of them. He really can’t believe he’s doing this—him, Dean Winchester, picking fucking flowers—but he finds a stem that holds a good cluster of them before breaking it off from the rest.

He moves back to sit next to Sam on the hood again, unable to tear his eyes from the brightly colored bundle in his hands. Each one has five petals that are a unique light blue and with a yellow center and a black dot in the middle. Five small white parts fan out from the middle, kind of like a star, and it’s then that Dean remembers what they’re called. Dean nods to himself before turning to look at Sam, who’s been staring at him silently this whole time, a mix of curiosity and confusion furrowing his brow.

“Need to tell you somethin’, Sammy,” Dean says, letting his cupped hands rest on his thighs. “And I need you to know I mean it.”

Sam sucks in a quiet breath through his nose as if gathering strength before nodding his go-ahead. At that, Dean gives his little brother his softest smile and says, “I’m not gonna leave you. Not ever. You hear me?” He can see Sam’s throat working to swallow, the tremble in his fingers. Dean pushes on. “What we gotta face out there? There’s no way we can do it if we go at it alone. The only way we’re ever gonna beat the devil, hell, beat anything, is if we stick together. I think we both know that.”

Sam bites his lip, tears brimming in his eyes as he nods again. There’s relief in the sag of his shoulders, like the weight of the world has finally been lifted away. Dean looks down at his hands and takes the thick stem between his fingers, twirling it back and forth so it becomes a blur of blue and yellow. After a moment of that, Dean chuckles and brings it to a halt, staring at it one more time before reaching over to tuck the stem behind Sam’s left ear.

“And you better not forget me again,” Dean says, his tone low and rough as he traces the curve of Sam’s ear before pulling away. Sam’s lips part, a question evident in his eyes until they widen with realization.

“Forget-me-nots,” Sam whispers, his hand lifting to touch the flowers nestled against his hair as Dean grins. Closing his eyes, Dean lets his head fall back over his shoulders, soaking in the sunlight and the sound of wind in the leaves around them and the soft breaths of his brother beside him. It’s all new, this part of themselves that they’ve finally dared to find in each other. It’ll take time. Who knows how long they have, what with the apocalypse starting and all, but they’re gonna figure this out. He and Sam always do.

The Impala creaks, jumping up a little under Dean as Sam stands up. Seems like it’s time to get back to reality.  Dean’s just barely opened his eyes when he feels something warm slide between his legs and two hands on his neck urge his head up again. Sam’s standing right there in the space between his thighs, this soft, vulnerable look on his face as his fingers slide up to cup Dean’s jaw almost reverently.

“I promise,” Sam murmurs, his left thumb lifting to trace along Dean’s bottom lip before he ducks down to replace it with his mouth. Dean can feel Sam’s lips shape his next words against his own, as if he’s breathing them into Dean’s body for him to keep. “Never again.”

Dean’s hands are slipping into the hair at the nape of Sam’s neck, silken strands running along the webs between his fingers until he tightens his grip, earning a soft noise from Sam that makes his entire body tingle. Pulling Sam in even closer, Dean savors it all; the heat of Sam’s body, the quick breaths breaking against his mouth, the tickle of the forget-me-nots still tucked behind Sam’s ear from where they’re brushing the top of his cheek. They’re finally where they’re meant to be.

“Good,” Dean says back just as softly before leaning in to seal their lips together in a promise.

 

::..::

 

Somewhere in the meadow, there’s a soft sigh of contentment that carries on the wind that rustles the flowers and grass alike. If either Sam or Dean had their eyes open, they would have seen a lone figure standing there watching them, her long hair catching in the breeze. They would have seen her smile for the first time in her existence—a small one, but a smile nonetheless.

She disappeared with the next cloud that passed in front of the sun, leaving the two alone with one another. Of course, she knew their destinies now. The Fates had spoken to her and shared their true path, the one they both must follow in order to save the world, and with her help, they succeeded.

She will let them alone. Their remaining time together is limited as it is before four rings and a pit tears them apart.

 

 

FIN