When Our Minds Betray Us
by Sweet as the Punch

Warnings: mild language (nothing worse than you'd see on the show), some graphic violence, themes some may consider overdone
Timeline: takes place a few months after Asylum, because that's when I started writing this. None of the following episodes ever happened, so you'll have to forget everything you've learned.
Disclaimer: Supernatural and all of its characters do not belong to me.

Summary: Eight months after Jessica's death, Sam finds himself back at Stanford. His friends say he suffered a nervous breakdown.

AN: I've been sitting on this story for awhile now, and it's finally almost finished. This is a rambling story - I always love a story that's good and long, and this meets at least one of those qualifications. With all the great writers on here, I was almost too intimidated to post this--but as long as one person is reading, I'll keep updating!

When Sam woke, he woke gasping from a nightmare, an intimately familiar one that he wished he would never experience again but knew he absolutely would.

But the act of waking up – now that, that felt strangely unfamiliar. He had never woken up like this before, although he couldn't explain what was so unusual about it. It just felt different this time, like something was missing. And he swore that this time, this awakening was worse somehow, the jerk to consciousness more severe, the tremble of fear and horror more pronounced. The nightmare had been the same – Jessica, her beautiful face gaping with shock, pinned above him like a collected butterfly before those hellish flames swarmed over her and swallowed her whole – but he awoke with a new, unexplainable alarm.

He struggled against the covers, pushing himself into a sitting position so he could look at his surroundings, so he could see where he was and think.

The room he lay in was dim, but enough light filtered through the closed curtains that he could tell it was daytime, and it gave him just enough light to see. He was surrounded by unfamiliar but un-frightening objects – frilly curtains, an antique desk and bureau set, a bookshelf half-filled with both books and trinkets. The bed underneath him was thick, almost too soft, and the blankets that covered him were definitely more fluffy than what he was used to.

The room itself was far from disturbing, but the fact he didn't recognize it was very much so.

He glanced at the bedside table, hoping to find a clock. Not only was that successful – 4:35 greeted him in glowing red – but he also found a handy, helpful clue in the form of a picture frame, complete with color photograph. Sam immediately grabbed it and brought it closer so he could see.

A family portrait—and to his immense relief, it was a family he recognized. Zach Warren and his sister Rebecca, smiling politely into the camera. They were two close friends from college, and he had seen enough photos to recognize their parents standing behind them. Sam let himself relax slightly. He was with at least one of the Warrens, most likely, and since he didn't recognize the room as either Rebecca's dorm or Zach's apartment, he could only assume he was at their family home.

But how the hell did he end up there?

Sam groaned and stared hard at the pattern of the bedspread. But no matter how hard he tried to concentrate, he could not pull up any memories of the day before.

His efforts were interrupted when the door to the bedroom creaked open and a blonde head peaked in. Rebecca. She turned her head towards the bed, and when she saw Sam staring back at her, her eyes widened almost comically. The next instant, the door was flung open and she rushed into the room, although somehow managing to keep a cautious, gentle step at the same time.

"Sam, you're awake! Oh, thank God, I thought for sure-"

She snapped her mouth shut suddenly and then smiled happily at him, and Sam was so grateful for the warmth behind that gesture he almost felt like crying. That smile he knew, and the relief that followed almost pushed him over the edge. But his confusion was enough to keep him focused.

"Rebecca," he greeted softly, trying to return the smile but failing.

"How are you feeling?" she asked him as she came closer, her voice filled with soft concern.

He wanted to tell her he was fine, but he couldn't. "Weird," he said instead. He licked his lips, unsure of how to continue. "Hey, uh, no offense, but...where am I, and why am I here?"

She nodded at him, apparently expecting his question. "This is the guest room of my new apartment," she explained with a half-smile, waving her arm in demonstration. Sam followed her arm with his eyes, secretly impressed with the large space and nice furniture. But then again, he always heard Becky came from a wealthy family.

He turned back to her for the second answer, which she gave him with eyebrows raised in sympathy. "And, well, you kinda showed up at our doorstep. You needed a place to crash for a while."

To his disappointment, her answer didn't trigger a rush of memory like he thought it would. He frowned, bursting with even more questions. "But...What about before that? What happened? How'd I get here?"

She bit her lip. "You honestly don't remember?" she asked him. He shook his head mutely. "What was the last thing you do remember?" she continued hesitantly. It almost seemed as if she feared his answer.

Sam thought for a moment and the answer came to him almost immediately. Before he could speak, he had to swallow a sudden lump that grew in his throat.

"I remember Jessica..."

He stopped himself, unable to finish that thought. A sad look passed over Rebecca's face, and he knew she understood. "But," he continued, frustrated, forcing out words one right after the other, "I know that was months ago. I mean, it feels like it was just yesterday—but I also know I've had that feeling every day since it happened. I know time has passed. The thing is, I don't know what happened—I can't remember anything about those days. I can't remember anything that's happened in the past..." He didn't know the end to that sentence, and his frantic stream finally trailed off.

Rebecca filled in for him, looking rather devastated. "Eight months. It's been over eight months, Sam," she told him sadly.

Sam let out a long breath, but strangely, he was more surprised by his lack of surprise. Eight months of lost memory was a horrifyingly large amount, but the timing felt right to him. The pain of losing Jessica felt eight-months dull – but not nearly dull enough.

"What happened in those eight months?" he asked, still feeling lost. "What have I been doing?"

She shook her head and shifted uncomfortably while he waited impatiently. After a moment of hesitation, she sat down on the edge of the bed, causing the mattress to dip slightly. "I don't know exactly...You disappeared right after Jess's funeral," she told him.

She looked down at her lap and started to play with her hands. "You had a nervous breakdown, Sam, or something." As she paused, Sam concentrated on the far wall, trying to force that information into his mind.

A breakdown. A breakdown.

It took his breath away, the thought that he'd gone crazy. How could have that happen? Was he really that unstable? But as much as he wanted to deny it, he felt so off balance, so strange that it made sense. He knew Jessica's death hit him hard, he still felt that.

But to lose his memory...

Rebecca tore him from his thoughts, rubbing her hand along the blanket over his knee. "Then two days ago, you suddenly showed up here," she continued. "You've been asleep ever since."

Sam blinked several times, processing her words. None of it seemed to hit a target in his mind, but at the same time he couldn't refute it. He still had questions, and he fumbled for a simple one, one Rebecca may know the answer to. "How did I even know where you live? I've never been here before."

Or have I? He'd thought that'd be a safe question, but it hit him how much he was unaware of. He was lost, and he hated that feeling. Or rather, he hated all these feelings, every single emotion that clashed inside his mind and chest.

"No, but we did keep in contact. Cell phones and email and such," she explained. "And even though I never knew where you were, I made sure you always knew where you could find me." Her soft words made him almost feel ashamed. It sounded as if she had been the one to keep in contact.

"What did I say when I showed up?"

"I don't know," she told him with a slight wince. "You were pretty out of it."

"Oh," he said lamely. He ran a hand through his hair. "I don't remember any of this."

She patted his knee, still covered by the bedspread. "I'm sorry, Sam," she told him, the sincerity in her voice giving Sam a little bit of comfort. "Everything will be okay now."

Sam could only hope she was right.

She flashed him a smile again, this time broad and open. "Let me get Zach," she said, sounding cheerful again. "I know he'll be happy you're awake."

Sam was extremely grateful for another familiar sight: Zach with his thick, dark hair and wide smile.

But he was caught off-guard when he was slapped with a sudden memory. Instead of waiting for Rebecca to return with Zach, he had followed her out of the bedroom and into the living room where they found her older brother.

The moment he saw Zach's face, the memory tore into his mind, making him blanch. Zach's girlfriend had been killed, mere weeks after Jessica. He didn't know the details, only that she had been murdered out in St. Louis. Something told him it had been especially gruesome.

It was his only memory from those missing eight months. He was appalled that it was such a tragic one.

When he saw Zach's deeply-lined face, he felt sick to his stomach. Zach had shaved his goatee, which should have given him a younger appearance. Yet he looked like he aged years since the last time he saw him, even though he was only a few months older than Sam. Sam shouldn't have been surprised, but it sent a twinge through him.

It was impossible to imagine a pain worse than losing a loved one, and he knew Zach felt that same, gut-wrenching pain he did.

After Zach greeted him with a quick handshake-hug combination and a few brief words Sam barely heard, Sam asked if he could use their shower. He wanted to stop feeling so overwhelmed, or at least feel it in privacy.

Besides, according to Rebecca he had been out for two days, and he definitely felt like it.

In the safety of the bathroom, as he stripped out of his grimy clothes, he felt something pull on his back. Reaching back and angling in front of the mirror, Sam discovered a large, square bandage near his shoulder blade. Startled, Sam couldn't stop himself from peeling it away.

Underneath was a nasty looking cut, a zagged, angry line of red. Sam examined it in the mirror, but he could not figure out where it had come from. He soon gave up, quickly losing energy. It had already started to heal, so he tossed the bloodied bandage away and left it along.

He surveyed the rest of his body and found several bruises and other, smaller cuts dotting his skin. His hands started shaking as he fingered them, a flash of fear and nervousness and something else overtaking him.

It scared him. What had he been doing over the past eight months?

Sam forced them from his mind, not wanting to deal with it just yet. Instead, he cranked up the hot water in the shower and stepped under the spray. He didn't get out until the heat started to fade from the water.

As he dried himself, he found someone had left a clean set of clothes laying on the counter. Relieved, he quickly pulled them on, trying to ignore the fact that he didn't recognize them even though they were his size.

After he came out of the bathroom, the three of them sat around the small kitchen table so the Warrens could fill Sam in on their lives since he had left. Even though the shower had woken him up, Sam still felt detached, disjointed from everything, but he was interested in the updates from his friends, and grateful for the distraction it provided.

After Emily's murder, Zach, unable to bear living alone in St. Louis, had moved back to Stanford with his sister. He planned on staying just until he could get his feet underneath him again – which, he admitted dryly, would take a while. He found a temporary office job nearby, and between that and their parents' money, he had enough to support himself and Rebecca.

Rebecca, meanwhile, planned on finishing school, although she had to wait to return until the fall since they hadn't moved back in time for the spring semester. Together the siblings shared their three-bedroom, two-bath apartment, and Sam, they quickly offered, was more than welcomed to stay with them.

In fact, they insisted on sharing the apartment with him. They even managed to make it sound as if Sam would be doing them a favor if he stayed. It would be a lot more fun to have an extra roommate, and maybe he could help ease the inevitable bickering between two siblings.

Besides, as Rebecca pointed out, he was in the same situation as she was, college-wise, since they both had dropped out the first semester of their senior year. She suggested that it would be so much easier to return if they did it together. Sam had to admit she was right, although the thought of school hadn't crossed his mind until just then.

And since he had nowhere else to go, he accepted their offer.

He was given in their spare bedroom, the one he had woken up in. His only belongings fit inside a duffel bag he didn't remember bringing, but the Warrens were quick to offer him the use the bedroom's furniture (which Zach teased Rebecca about being old, earning him a quick slap) and anything else he needed. What's theirs is his, they told him without hesitation.

Once those decisions were made, Sam was left to dwell on his thoughts and his strange, new surroundings.

The following days melted into a mass of confusion and stress as the Warrens continued their daily lives, leaving Sam dazed and alone. As hard as he tried, he could not bring up any memories of the past months, not even flashes or impressions or images. He gave himself headaches, trying to force them out, but there wasn't even a string of thought he could tug on.

Rebecca asked if he wanted to see a doctor, but he refused. In his mind, he knew a psychiatrist or counselor could be a big help in recovering his memories. But his pride held him back, along with some other elusive feeling. Fear, maybe.

He couldn't uncover anything even as concrete as a feeling or hunch--but he sensed something. He didn't know how to describe. It just felt...wrong.

The Warrens, though, were better companions than he could have asked for. They gave him space, but also remained within easy reach, and though they didn't seem to know how to act around him, they managed to find the right balance. Sam had been good friends with them, but now he felt a connection he had never felt with them before.

Their calm presence proved to be a huge blessing for Sam, especially when he thought he was going completely insane. There were times when he felt on the verge of tearing his own brain out, just so he could spread it in front of him and see what lay there. Even though he knew didn't work that way, it would have been such a relief just to get rid of those jumbled thoughts that buzzed relentlessly through his brain. Rebecca and Zach, though, they kept him anchored.

But soon, he settled into somewhat of a routine, and even found a kind of refuge in front of the television or in a book, where for long moments he didn't have to think about his own life. A week after he "woke up" for the first time, he and Rebecca registered for classes, going to the library so they could do that side-by-side. They even found a couple of electives they could take together, which made the return to school a little less daunting.

Although, to be honest, Sam wondered if he would suffer some sort of panic attack before then. As much as he always to enjoy school, his life still felt way too unhinged for him to even think about a thing like college. He felt that the slightest jolt could topple everything over so that it all crashed around him into a million jagged pieces.

But he forced his mind onto other things, simple, less scary things. Sam needed a job because however he spent the past six months had seriously depleted his bank account, which had never been large to begin with. However, the only job he could find on such short notice that offered flexibility he'd need when classes started was at a grocery store. All the coffee shop jobs had already been taken by freshmen and sophomores, and he didn't want to try for anything more, like an internship. Not yet. So he took the fulltime job as half-cashier, half-assistant manager.

It was strange how much and how quickly a routine helped him find some peace and balance. Parts of his mind still felt foggy, and his stomach still twisted whenever he tried and failed to dig out those hidden pieces, but his wild panic had been pushed down to a level he could manage. Between his newfound job and his two new roommates, he had found some semblance of a normal life. Weeks went by, and the ground underneath him grew more and more stable.

Yet the nightmares still came.

And every time he had one, he still woke up with a gasp, alarm squeezing at his chest, his mind screaming with panic. It was during those frenzied first moments - when he wasn't completely awake or aware yet - when he felt the most vulnerable. He felt open and defenseless, even though he knew he was completely alone in the room.

The feeling confused him. He knew there was nothing he should be afraid of. But it was almost like...he felt vulnerable because he was alone.

Three weeks into his new job, and Sam had already lost himself in the monotony of swiping barcodes and stocking canned vegetables. It was a Sunday night, and Mrs. Joan Haney was writing a check for her $8.87 worth of purchases. Sam had already memorized her name; after all, this was the fourth time she'd gone through his lane in those three weeks he'd been there, and she wrote a check every time.

Sam let his eyes drift upwards, away from the conveyor belt and cash register and the upright stacks of bags, and looked out across the store. It was neither busy nor slow; a handful of customers coasted from one aisle to another, and a couple of them roamed the ends of the checkout lanes, looking for the shortest line.

Mrs. Haney was still scrawling on the check with her slow, steady hand, and had only started to write "eight dollars and..." Sam looked back up, his eyes going to the lane two down from his. He had only meant to see how Monica's line compared to his, but his eyes caught on the customer she was handling.

In a dizzying instant, everything rushed away from Sam until it was only him and the other man. His breath caught in his throat, Sam couldn't move, didn't even think about moving.

He had never before seen the guy, who dropped a six-pack of beer and a tube of toothpaste onto the belt, and there was nothing unusual about him. Scruffy jacket, worn jeans, hair cut short and eyes alert and bright, he looked rougher, much less polished than the townspeople Sam had grown to know. Though he was only a few years older than Sam, he seemed aged somehow. Maybe that's what caught Sam's eye.

Suddenly the man looked up and met Sam's eye. His gaze, deep and penetrating, burned through him. Sam felt heat coloring his cheeks, realizing he'd been caught staring at a complete stranger, and he immediately looked away. His heart wasn't racing, but it pounded against his chest. That look—those eyes—it was as if the stranger could read him and all his secrets.

Sam jerked back to Mrs. Haney, who was holding the check out to him expectantly. The air felt thicker as he watched himself reach out to take it from her. He flashed her a quick, polite smile and quickly turned around so he could thread the piece of paper through the machine.

He risked a glance out the corner of his eye, but the guy was gone from the lane. Looking around, Sam found his broad back just as he stepped through the automatic door.

As Mrs. Haney left, Sam settled back against the partition that blocked him in. He wiped his dry mouth with the back of his hand, a nervous gesture more than anything. What had gotten into him?

He didn't have to time to figure it out because the next customer had already barreled herself forward, dumping an armful of groceries onto the belt. Sam took advantage of the distraction, letting himself forget about the stranger that didn't belong.

Please review! Posting on this site is one of the most nerve-racking, embarrassing things I've ever done. When I posted my last story, my face was beet red that entire day before I got my first review.