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Cognitive Realignment

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It hits Sam suddenly the day after Christmas when he sits with his brother watching The Karate Kid that the amulet wasn't really meant for Dad in the first place. He was never around, always off doing something else - hunting monsters, apparently - and in general just Wherever "here" happened to be at any given time. Odds are he doesn't even know the holiday had come and pass. But Dean's here. Dean's always here, making sure he's fed and does all his school work and races him around the block because he really likes running. That's more than either can say for their dad, anyway.

So his brother raised him. He's always been aware of that, even when he was a baby, he thinks. Doesn't that make Dean a little - what's the word? - parental too. Or something like that.

Kind of like that book Mrs. Clavel assigned in his third school last year, where this was this older sister who was more a mom to her little brother and little sister than whoever they were shoved with that week, except that Sam and Dean do have Dad as a constant. Most of the time, he hates moving around so much, but sometimes he hears a story like that and remembers that it could be worse; they could have different parents every other month or he could be separated from his brother by other people who don't get it. Now he understands a little too, that there really are nightmares out there that people, including his family, are fighting, but everyone else is still in the dark so Sam still wishes they were in one place, but at least he knows why now. 

And besides, he has Dean and that's all he'll ever need anyway. 

Mr. Miyagi just killed a fly. His brother asks, "You okay, Sammy?"

He blinks and tilts his head to his side as Dean slips an arm around his shoulders. He says he is. The dull color of the amulet catches the crappy lighting of the motel ceiling lamp. Outside, the wind lashes snow against the window. Sorting that out in his own head makes him feel better. 

With a small sigh, he wiggles closer and tucks his body against his brother's side. 



Dean's old enough to get into bars without anyone closely inspecting his ID, so he's been out more and more - with Dad, with girls, with Caleb who swings by for a week. Sam's made a few friends here too because he might still be the weird new kid in the ratty clothes, but he isn't as short and gawky anymore. Katie Acker from third block AP English even asks him out one night. His brother gives him tips, but his smile's tight around the edges and Sam's not happy about it either. For the first the time, he seriously wonders if getting lost in Flagstaff with even more pointless than he thought.

Then he remembers he's the freak, not his brother, and flops backwards on the bed. His date's in four hours.

He calls Katie and says he can't make it.

Sometime around midnight, Dean comes back. He's not drunk and he looks miffed, so presumably he didn't get laid either. He freezes when he sees that Sam is home. "I thought the movie wasn't over until one," he says, peeling off his jacket and tossing it on the chair. His button down comes next. After living inside each other's pockets their whole lives, his brother's not exactly shy about stripping down to his boxers in front of him. Sometimes Sam wishes he just changed in the bathroom.

"I don't feel well," he lies and twists so he's starting up at the ceiling. There's a water stain that looks like a lipstick kiss. "My stomach hurts."

By now Dean's changed, shirtless and in sweatpants. Yeah, definitely hadn't gotten laid. "Dude," he says, "ever think it's because you're hungry? All you've had today is coffee and that salad at like three."

"I've felt nauseous all day." Even though he knows his brother's worried, he just couldn't muster the appetite to stomach anything earlier. He tries to tell himself it has nothing to do with Dean having his own date too. "How was Sydney?"

His face transforms from concerned to irritated. "Turns out I was revenge on her ex," he says. "He was there and fuck if she thinks I was getting involved in that bullshit just so she could get back together with her boyfriend."

"That sucks, man." It's even harder, apparently, to pretend he isn't a little relieved. "Anyway, I think I'm going to crash. I'm really tired."

"Fine. But I'm getting you breakfast in the morning."

He nods, not really caring, and slips under the covers. A few minutes later Dean's phone rings and from his voice, Sam knows he's talking to one of those Fifteen Minute Friends, something he didn't start making until recently. They've been spending less and less time together. And Sam knows it's unfair to want to hold on to his brother for himself, but he can't help it; he's afraid he's being replaced. 

Then Dean says his kid brother doesn't feel good (feel well, Dean, not feel good), so he has to stay home. And it's dark but Sam can still make out the shape of the amulet on his chest. No matter how many girls he sleeps with or how drunk he gets, that's always there.

He tells himself it's all in his head.



"Who's this?"

Even though Sam hadn't meant for Jess to see anything relating to his family, he knew it was bound to happen eventually. He just really wished it was in pretty much any other than way than the picture of Dean in his wallet. 

He answers, "That's my brother," and resists the urge to snag it back. The picture's of the two of them, taken barely four years ago, and Dean's got that smile that melts anyone into a pile of mush. It was ninety in Florida and the last job they worked with Bobby before the man shoved a shotgun in Dad's face. Neither has a jacket on and his brother looks even better than usual, wrapped up in short sleeves and jeans, leaning against the hood of the car with his arms crossed. Sam's sitting behind him, caught mid-laugh and is awkward in comparison. "Dean. Why?"

"Nothing," she says quickly, still inspecting the picture. "You just look nothing alike."

It takes him a moment to process what she means. "Jess," he tells her, "I'm straight."

Her faces goes red and she quickly changes the subject with, "What's that?"

She's pointing to the amulet, which is obvious in the sunshine. "A Christmas present," he says and is saved by the waiter coming over with their food. He quickly takes the picture away, to slip it back into his wallet and try to forget his girlfriend ever saw it, or what she thought it meant.

Because he doesn't like guys - except Dean. Dean who doesn't count, who's always the exception. 



Once he's calmed down, denial and anger slipping towards something resembling acceptance, he's woken up by another nightmare. Or more specifically, Dean wakes him up from another nightmare. Sam's eyes are level with his chest, directly in line with the amulet. He's reminded almost abruptly of who he is and what he is and that maybe he's a freak who got his girlfriend killed by passing off dreams like they were just past-related and meaningless, but his brother's in this with him. That's what this whole thing means, isn't it? That no matter how far apart they are - emotionally, physically - they'll always be in this forever. He glances up.

Dean's eyebrows are knit with concern. "Hey, kiddo," he says, folding his arms so they rest on the edge of the bed. Sam wishes, way too early, that he was actually lying under the covers too because he falls asleep easier knowing someone else is right next to him. "Another nightmare?"

He says yes and turns slightly, burying his face in the pillow. He wishes he had Dean, he wishes he had Jess, he wishes he wasn't here. Even though he didn't light that fire or use that knife, he got his girlfriend killed. He's been hurting his brother nonstop too, ever since he was a little kid. He ruins everything he touches. He closes his eyes and never wants to open them again.

He's used to disappointment.



The day after Meg gets inside his head, Sam has a nightmare about Heaven.

Except that it's not really upstairs, he thinks, because he doubts he would relive Flagstaff in Heaven. Dean's there too, looking at Sam like he stabbed him, wearing a shirt that reads I Wuv Hugs. And he knows his mind is a kind of fucked up place, but this is pushing it. 

Then, from behind him, "There's no point in pretending you don't understand, Sammy."

He turns. The Yellow-Eyed Demon is there, smiling. Even in a dream, he's too tired to so much as throw a punch, though his brother looks like he wants to hit something. Probably him. He wonders what he did this time because he fucks up a lot. "I really don't," he answers with a frown. "I'm not coming here anyway. Why are you in my head?"

"Coming with me is a good decision for you," the demon says, picking some lint off his sleeve. A dog barks. And this is Flagstaff, so he knows exactly which dog it is. "You'll never belong here, and your brother knows this. This is a vision, not just a dream, and Dean will betray you."

Though he tries not to believe it, his eyes flick to his brother anything and Wow, Dean says, this is the worst day of my life. When Sam tries to look back at Yellow-Eyes to say that there was no way this could be true, the demon is already gone. The room's changed too, suddenly a hotel room like one they've been in a thousand times before, except with beds stained red with blood and torn through with bullet holes. It smells vaguely like sulfur, like a demon had been here a few days ago but the blood looks too fresh for then. Then he remembers that, oh, this is mine because dreams bring through a bout of physical honesty his normal life lacks. 

Dean should just kill him. It would be easier for everyone. 

There's a thunk coming from by the door and suddenly his brother's gone but the small, metal trashcan is right there. Sam heads over and checks what he dropped, finding his distorted reflection has black, black eyes. The amulet is at the bottom where his hairline would be and it's metal gaze suddenly feels accusatory - I see you and this is what you'll become.

He wakes up with a shout, tears streaming down his face. Dean pulls him down and holds him and he pretends he doesn't remember.



Before he buries his brother, he takes the amulet off his neck. It feels like the right thing to do.



Three months and twenty-nine days later, Dean is suddenly back. They sit on the same bed in Bobby's upstairs room together, pressed close because his brother initiated the contact, and Sam buried his head in the space between neck and shoulder, their hands tangled together on his lap. The amulet is back where it belongs too, and his pocket feels lighter with the emotional baggage lifted.

"I missed you," Dean says softly as if he'd gone on vacation to Alaska for four months, not Hell, but neither are very good at "expressing" themselves. 

"Yeah," he says and gives his brother's hand a light squeeze. "I love you too."



So Sam starts the Apocalypse and Dean gives the amulet to Cas for a chance to find God. At least his brother was reluctant, he figures.

Now it's three months later, and a whole two months since they got back together, and his brother is pissed. He tries to figure out what he did this time, but other than save his brother's ass via the world's most intense poker game, he really can't think of anything. And he's really pretty sure that Dean wasn't too hot on the idea of dying of old age when he's thirty, so that can't be it.

To his surprise, his brother says, "Anything you've neglected to tell me about, Sammy?"

Okay. Sammy. So he's not mad, apparently. Just concerned. "Not that I can think of," he answers, confused. "What happened?"

"Well, I just got a call from Ellen," he says, "and she told me that she heard through the hunter grapevine that a couple of hunters tried to kill you."

Oh, he thinks. Oh. "Didn't feel important enough to tell you," he mumbles. "A demon told them after it killed their friend. Just wanted some retribution, I guess."

"Jesus Christ, Sam. Not important? That's pretty fucking important." He looks down at his hands, which are folded in his lap. Dean adds, "Anything else you feel isn't 'important?'" Sam shrugs, not wanting to talk about this and what happened to bottling it up because no chick-flick moments? His brother takes a rolled up newspaper out of his back pocket and reads off, "'Pictures of the crime scene reveal the bathroom saturated in blood that showed signs of undisclosed poisoning.'" He lowers the newspaper, full on glaring. "Why the fuck do you consider practically bleeding you out to not be important? This newspaper is also dated two weeks after we met up which means you didn't tell me even when you were injured."

It takes a moment, but eventually he gets out, "They attacked me in the bar after hours, not my room." Dean's face scrunches up in confusion. "I'd just found out I was Lucifer's vessel and kind of...freaked, you know? Said I'd kill myself before I did that, but he said he'd bring me back."

The more he talks, the more color drains from his brother's face and he feels so, so fucking bad. "So what you're trying to say is that you tested that?" He nods. "How many times? That's a lot of fucking blood for it to just be once."

"Dean, don't do this to yourself."



His brother gives him The Look and he sighs before answers, "I think six."

Dean legitimately groans before crossing his arms and saying, "Who were the hunters?"

"What'll you do?"

"Just give me the names."

He recognizes pretty quickly that this is his brother's No I Will Not Give Up face. "Tim and Steve. Reggie is the one who died."

Making something at least resembling eye contact is officially too hard and his gaze drops, level with his brother’s bare chest, the amulet still somewhere with Cas. He thinks back to that dream he had ages ago where his brother threw it away. Yellow-Eyes said it was a vision. Now he's starting to think it was a metaphor for his life. 

Neither possibility is particularly comforting.



Sometimes demons tell the truth because the truth hurts more than lies. It wasn't a metaphor. At the age of twenty-six, he's already learned what heartbreak meant but this a new low. And for him, that's really saying something. From outside, Dean yells for him to hurry up and it's a split-second decision when he reaches down and picks it up. He catches sight of his eyes in the dull reflection of the metal bottom and they're dark blue surrounded by white with his pupils blown wide from the dark, but definitely not solid black. He slips it in his jacket pocket and leaves. 



In Wisconsin, they'd been shot dead. In Minnesota, Dean pulls to the side of the road and slams on his breaks so hard his baby must hate him. Sam finds it a little weird that this is his first thought. 

He asks what's wrong because his brother's nearly hyperventilating, suddenly scrambling out of the car. "I'm such a fucking idiot," he says as Sam follows, shutting the door behind him and walking around the front so their next to each other. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, I'm so sorry."

"Wha -"

"For the amulet, Sam!" he snaps before he can finish. "They fucking manipulated what you saw, didn't they? Because now I'm thinking straight and you told me like two years ago that Flagstaff was an accident and you had a damn panic attack that Thanksgiving and I don't know why Stanford would be bad but -"

"You left me," he says quietly, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "In the rain, I mean. Dad had just yelled at me that he never wanted to see me again, then you kissed me and just walked away. I just - yeah, I don't even know why I was up there in the first place. But, it's okay, Dean. That and - well, everything, all right?"

Dean doesn't answer, instead taking his hand out his pocket and holding it in his. Normally they aren't the holding hand types, but Sam lets him rub his thumb in circles over the scars on his wrist anyway, like his brother's trying to make sure he's really here. For a moment he debates on handing back the amulet but decides against it, figuring that this might be a spur of the moment apology and a week from now something will happen to make the action obsolete. 

They stay like this for a while, quiet and connected at the hands, before Dean gives him a kiss and tells him to get in the car.



Before he jumps, he slips the amulet under the rug in the backseat because they use the area so rare that Dean usually doesn't clean all that thoroughly. Maybe he one day he will, but that'll be after Sam's locked away. If this works. If he doesn't end the world in his effort to save it. 

Which is a legitimate possibility considering that, well, this is him. Sam Winchester, boy with the demon blood, so impure that he's Lucifer's vessel and Castiel is the only angel willing to touch him. Dean and Michael should've let him stay dead during their trip to '78 because he can't be resurrected in the past. Probably. Still, as long as there's a three percent chance this might work, he needs to go for it. So he hides the amulet and hopes that Dean finds it eventually.



First day back and he's already fought off a dragon. The moment he's alone in the Impala, he checks and finds the amulet still there. 

He isn't sure if he should be disappointed or relieved. 



After Cas has Balthazar fix the world again, Sam retreats upstairs and leaves Bobby and Dean to drink their livers away in piece. He curls up in bed and looks at his duffle in the corner of the room, where the amulet he picked up almost two years ago is stuffed at the way, way bottom of one of the side patches. In Titanic World (as he's come to call it in his head), he never picked it up. He can't figure out why he wouldn't pick it up.

He knows he shouldn't be so distressed about this - Dean probably hasn't thought about the thing in a year at least and Sam knows he probably won't give it back - but he can't help it. Maybe it has something to do with what's behind the Wall. He knows, objectively, that Lucifer must've tortured him down in the Cage and not all torture is physical. And he knows his weakness, which is his brother and anything to do with his brother and even though Dean apologized, throwing away the amulet is still a sore spot for him. He wishes he could remember but at the same time is so profoundly happy that he can't and hopes to keep it that way. He doesn't like the idea of going crazy. 

Or, crazier than he is already, anyway. He wonders how long it took him to break. If it took Dean thirty, then it probably took him about ten. If breaking was even an option. He can't imagine what that would entail in a space filled only two angels and a human (possibly too, but Adam wasn't the true vessel so something tells Sam he hadn't been down there). Maybe he should stop thinking about this. It would be the smart thing to do. But he's an idiot, and this is a known fact. 

So why the fuck didn't Titanic Sam pick it up?



Sometimes Sam gets a little confused. It's not his fault, really. Lucifer is just a dick.

Dean's patient with him, more so than he deserves, but there's not much either of them can do about this. It happens during the mornings usually, when he's a little disoriented - he'll forget how to button a shirt, or stop understanding plain English, and there's that one time he burned himself because he put the water as hot as it could go and freaked out when he realized what was actually happening. His brother is there through it all, even when he says really stupid stuff things or forgets where he is. Bobby's been sticking around a lot more too, because he's worried and wants to help "keep an eye on Sam." Originally he was indignant and slightly offended, but it turns out to be a good thing; Lucifer impersonates Dean more than once and Bobby helps him figure out which one is real. Makes working a lot less dangerous too.

At one point his brother suggests maybe taking a break, but they scrap the idea quickly. The Leviathan invasion is their responsibility because Cas was their friend and people are dying more by the day. He can tell that Dean's really starting to hate all this pressure shoved onto them, has ever since Sam came back (occasionally he'll regret it, but then he remembers what he went through and he can be a little selfish sometimes), but they’re trapped into this. Maybe once all this is done (if it's ever done) they can stop. He's not sure Dean will like that either but if they narrow it down to the simpler, less saving-the-world monsters and demons, it could work. Possibly. Sam doesn't know, but he also doesn't really know how long he can last. Not with Lucifer trying to mind fuck him unless he hurts himself. 

What all of this boils down to is the one morning Dean shakes him awake from a nightmare, and he's still only about half awake, but his eyes are level with his brother's chest. He's got a shirt and sweater on but something's wrong. He blinks, looks up, and says, "Where is it?"

"Where's what?" Dean asks, absentmindedly running his fingers through Sam's hair. It's one of those little things that calms him down and he's always slightly relieved when his brother remembers. When he doesn't answer right away, he continues, "Sam? Sammy? You hearing me?"

This gets him to snap out of it and he gets a flash of metal thudding against metal, a series of oh fuck's and apologies, and slipping it into the side pocket of his duffle. "It's nothing," he answers, rolling over onto his back and trying not to think about Lucifer singing Christmas carols. "I'm better."

"Are you right now?" He nods. "Want to try to get some sleep or are you up for the rest of the day?"

He thinks on it before making a decision because sometimes he'll say he can do something only to figure out that he can't. It's just the way his life works now. "I'm up," he says. "I'm gonna go take a shower, okay?"

Dean still looks a little doubtful. "Hey, Sam," he says when he pulls himself out of the sleeping bag of the most recent abandoned house, "what was missing?"

"It's nothing," he repeats. "Just got confused for a second. But I'm fine now."

He can see it, that moment Dean figures it out. Before his brother can say anything, he disappears into the working bathroom and colloquially thanks an absent God that this place still has hot water. 



Dean's gone. Then he's back. Sam is very, very confused.

Two weeks later, they're in Ypsilanti, Michigan. His brother keeps sending him these little looks until one day he finally asks, "What is it?"

"What's what?" Dean says immediately, looking away. It's been two weeks and he's already starting to loosen up from his Purgatory-hardened exterior.

"You're acting weird," he answers. "Why do you keep staring at me?"

"It's nothing," his brother says. "Just thinking about the last time we were here." He looks back blankly. "You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"

He tries to think back on it, because Dean wouldn't mention it without reason and he keeps coming up with nothing. Ever since the djinn cracked Cas' new Wall, Hell had come flooding back in, which meant his memory went a little sideways. Lucifer played around a lot with his head, and he has trouble figuring out what actually happened and what the Cage made - Oh, he'd forgotten about that. "No," he says quickly. "We were - Christmas, o' Eight, right?"

Dean smiles, obviously pleased. "Yeah. We got to stab two gods with their own tree."

"And I put way too much alcohol in the eggnog."

"Can't forget singing 'Silent Night' to stoner Santa."

His own smile slides off his face. As a kid, Sam had hated most holidays, but Christmas 1991 had always been something of an exception, even after Dean threw away the amulet. Then Lucifer got his hands on the memory. "Yeah," he says, but it comes out as more of a mumble than he means it to. "We should find those bones quickly on the off chance someone recognizes us."

Something must show on his face because Dean quickly agrees and they gather their things in silence.



Even after they don’t go through with the third trial and forsake the world like idiots, Sam's recovery is slow going. At the same time, though, the break is awesome, even they also need to worry about Cas adjusting to being human and Kevin is reading their lives in terribly written books. He hadn't even known his brother knew about it too until Dean forces him to sit down on the bed after coming home and assured him over the phone that he wasn't angry. Honestly, though, Sam's starting to doubt otherwise. 

"Phone, Sam," Dean says, holding out his hand and, even more confused than before, he gives it over and asks what's going on. His brother explains, "I just have to see if you actually did what I really hoped you didn't.”

Though he should be used to this, he seriously hates when Dean does the thing where he acts like Sam should know what he's talking about without even giving context clues. Still, the thinks he's starting to figure it out when his brother presses the button on the side, turning the volume low enough that he won't be able to hear it, and hits a button before putting it to his ear. Apparently Kevin is a tattle-tale. Why isn't he surprised?

He sits quietly, letting his brother listen and catching it clumsily when it starts flying in the direction of the wall. Joy. Dean swears loudly before saying, "That wasn't me."

Fucking Kevin. There's no other reason Dean should know he still has it saved. "It was your voice," he says. "And, it's not like you were wrong."

"Sam, the message I sent you said we were still brothers and I wasn't like Dad. I apologized."

"You don't need -"

"Look, I can pull up those books online and show you if I have to," Dean tells him. "I - Zachariah or Ruby did something to it. I should've known he wouldn't let me call without reason. He said he'd 'give you a push in the right direction' or something. But the bigger question is why the fuck did you keep it?"

He doesn't - he can't - say anything at first, trying to get through his head that he's had a fake on his phone for about five years. He knows Dean well enough to be able to tell that nothing he's saying is a lie and he still isn't hallucinating bad enough to get confused like this anymore. His brother's staring down at him, arms crossed, and Sam's just trying to struggle to find something to say. Eventually he settles with, "Couldn't delete it. Don't know why. I just couldn't," even though that's a lie and he knows exactly why he couldn't. Whether it was fucked with or not, nothing about it was wrong. 

Looking completely spent, Dean takes a seat next to him on the bed. "Why didn't you talk to me about it?" he asks. 

"Because you never brought it up," he answers. 

Dean nods and looks away, but Sam catches the way the light reflects a wetness to his eyes anyway. "Great," he says. "This just explained five years in a three minute conversation." When Sam tries to apologize, his brother shuts him up with a look and snatches the phone away again. He adds, "Anything else you're hiding from me?" as he deletes the message. Sam's too tired to argue.

For a moment, he goes to say that no, he doesn't, before he finally hits him that why not? This time's as good as any.

Without saying anything, he gets up and goes over to his duffle, still stuck in between the wall and the dresser with Dean's below it. These bedrooms have a lot of awesome things, but closets are not one of them. His brother asks what he's doing as he pulls the amulet out of his bag, closing it in his fist and heads back over. As he drops it into Dean's outstretched hand, he says, "I grabbed it. I - back before we killed Azazel, I had a nightmare or vision or something of exactly what happened and I couldn't just let it be, you know?"

Dean's staring down at it in shock. "I went back to that hotel that night to get it," he says. "Why didn't you give it back to me? I thought I made it pretty clear that I felt like the world's biggest jackass."

"Yeah, you did, I got that," he says, taking his seat back, "but something always stopped me from giving it to you again. I can't really explain it."

After a moment, his brother slips it over his head and it isn't as disorienting as Sam thought it would be to see it there after four years. He wishes he'd given it back earlier and he wishes he'd brought up the voicemail instead of listening to it so many times he has tone of voice memorized on every word and that they just fixed all of this years ago. They been thrown around by just about everyone and the realization that they screwed over themselves too isn't a good thing. He should've known that wasn't his brother. God, how couldn't he have seen through -


It isn't until Dean says his name that he realizes he's actually crying. He reaches up and brushes away his tears, and he knows that if he still wasn't in a constant state of suffering from blood loss, he'd probably be blushing too. "Sorry," he mumbles, quirking up one corner of his mouth into something resembling a smile. "This is just a lot to take in and -"

"You're completely exhausted." He doesn't need to say anything in confirmation for Dean to get it. "Okay, how 'bout this? You crash for as long as you can and figure this out tomorrow. You're right about this being a lot to take in."

Before he actually agrees, he tugs on his brother's arm and says, "Stay?" because his tired mind is trying to process that he spent five years of wondering when Dean would finally be fed up enough to kill him only to find out the actually voicemail was an apology. 

Dean smiles and runs his fingers through Sam's hair. "Sure," he answers. "Just, we should get into something more comfortable, right?"

They do, though he struggles with the buttons on his shirt, shaking too hard from mental overexertion, and his brother has to help him get a few undone. "Thanks," he says a few minutes before crawling into bed, pulling the covers up. It's only about midnight and he knows Dean won't be tired yet, but sudden changes or realizations always leave him a It's not his fault or Dean's or Cas' or anybody's really; it's just that Lucifer, as both a hallucination and in the Cage, used the memories of the voicemail and throwing out the amulet a lot and it's going to take a while to know for sure that this is real. And that's always easier with his brother around. He blinks, sleepy, and Dean slips in next to him and wraps his arms around his waist. His eyes drift down to the amulet and he smiles. 

It isn't long before he falls asleep.