Summary: Post Devil's Trap. Dean's falling apart and Sam seeks questionable means to fix him.

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em, will never own 'em . Dang, life is unfair.

Warning: some cursing, 'cause that's the boys!

Sam swore as he walked smack into the makeshift doorbell with brightly painted beads and dangling baubles that even a blind person could not have missed. He continued to scowl in irritation as the bell swung back and forth in melodic greeting; the damn thing was way too cheerful for having just slapped him upside the head. Walking further into the shop, Sam quickly scanned his surroundings; not much to speak of, only some scattered boxes, a few pieces of haphazardly arranged furniture and a multitude of variously shaped bottles residing on every surface and every crevice in sight. He curiously picked up a random jar, trying to decipher the writing etched on the yellowed label.

"I wouldn't do that, if I were you." A quiet voice interrupted his investigation and Sam hastily replaced the jar on the shelf.

"Why?" he asked sarcastically. "Will I turn into a frog?" God, Sam thought. I sound just like Dean.

The woman seemed unfazed by his rudeness and instead stared at Sam in a way that reminded him of his second grade teacher. "No, I doubt that. But the ingredients are rare and expensive." She pointed to a hand lettered sign over a small desk: "You break it, you buy it."

Oh, Sam thought. Awkward much. Feeling the sweat start to collect under the collar of his shirt, Sam suddenly wondered if coming here had been such a smart idea after all.

The resulting silence was suffocating and pervasive and altogether intimidating. Sam was debating if he should walk or run the short distance back to the door (Dean was always been better at those type of decisions) when she spoke again.

"So, a hunter? Most hunters don't come to my establishment. They feel it may compromise their beliefs." Eyes of the palest blue pinned him in place and Sam swallowed nervously.

"I'm not a hunter," he denied vehemently but stopped as she angrily raised her hand.

"Tell me the truth or get out," the woman said, her tone sharp and biting. She walked around to stand in front of him, her skirt rustled in an irritated flurry of wine and evening sky, silk and mystery. Her face remained impassive but Sam realized he had made a critical error.

"You're right, I'm sorry." Sam paused; the woman remained silent but at least she wasn't throwing his ass out. He considered putting on his tried and true persona: puppy dog eyes, imploring voice and face. Looking at the enigmatic figure before him, though, Sam decided against it. He doubted she would take kindly to a charade of sincerity and he resigned himself to telling the truth; a Winchester last resort, he thought wryly.

"Caleb once told me about how you help people." Sam stopped for a moment, remembering his father's friend, and pain twisted his insides. So many good people gone and now Dean was slipping away too. He thought he saw pity in the woman's inscrutable eyes and hoped against it. Please don't pity me, I'll just fucking lose it right here. I have to stay strong. For Dean.

"Caleb was a good man. I am…let's say, cautious…of strangers but for his sake, I will make an exception." She studied Sam's face for a moment and then asked in a softer voice, "So, what brings you here? Something to destroy an evil you hunt? A divination powder to foretell the future? Or perhaps a locator spell to find what is lost?" She gestured towards the bottles around the room, filled with strange powders and translucent liquids that glowed in the afternoon sun. Sam watched as colors of sapphire blue, green of the emerald sea and harvest yellow spun rainbows off otherwise dimly lit walls.

Sam shook his head. "No, none of those. My brother…."he paused, biting his lip. "My brother, he hasn't been himself since, well, since……" Sam stopped and took a deep breath. "He's so unhappy and I don't know how to fix it. He won't talk to me; he practically doesn't talk at all." Sam hated how young and lost his voice sounded, how his voice was breaking on the verge of tears. He ran his fingers unhappily through his hair, trying to focus his words.

Dean's dying inside I don't know what to do what should I do I can't lose him too….

"I just figured that maybe if I knew what would really make him happy, what he wants out of life, I could help him. I mean, I know that there was a time he wanted me around, to be a family. But I'm here now and he's still miserable. I thought we were pretty close but there's still a lot I don't know about him. He's always been closed off, won't talk about himself so he won't tell me what he needs. So I thought there has to be some other way to find out." Embarrassed, Sam finished in a jumbled rush. Oprah moment, Dean, he thought. Thank God you'll never know.

His answer was met with only silence and it was a long moment before Sam had the courage to meet the woman's eyes. Her gaze was inscrutable and when she finally spoke, she seemed to choose her words with great care. "The knowledge of a heart's desire. Yes, I can give you that. But you should think carefully about what you are asking for. Knowing another's innermost longings, if he has not revealed that to you, can be a dangerous thing. Even without conscious intent, such knowledge can be used to control and manipulate another, to bend to your heart's desire. And even if your motivation is pure, are you prepared for what you might find out? Sometimes such things are hidden for a reason."

Sam closed his eyes briefly, trying to resist the overwhelming urge to scream at the woman. How dare this stranger, who didn't know them from jack, imply that he would ever hurt his brother? When he would fucking die for Dean? Did she think Sam was a little boy rushing impulsively into something instead of spending hours upon hours thinking about what few options he had?

But Sam was a pragmatist and angering the woman, who was clearly well meaning, would serve no purpose. And Dean would kill him if she tampered with the potion and his older brother ended up as a llama or some other specimen of the animal kingdom. So Sam gritted his teeth and answered as courteously as he could. "I appreciate your concern and I'll keep all that in mind. But I gotta do this; there's no other choice. Now, will you help me?"

When it was all said and done, the whole process went smoother than Sam had expected. Cash was exchanged for a small corked bottle filled with finely ground blood red powder.

"Mix two teaspoons into some liquid-water, coffee, whatever. There's no taste or smell so that shouldn't be a problem. The effect lasts a few hours; your brother might feel a little tired when it's over but he won't remember what he told you. And it's not exactly a truth potion so don't expect your brother confessing to some long ago misdeed of your youth. All he will tell you is his heart's desire."

Sam thanked the woman, feeling he should explain more and make her understand. But seeing the pity return to those pale eyes set in that too pale face, Sam hurried out before he lost what he still had left of his ever-friggin' mind.

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Sam sat cross legged on the grassy hill, staring out onto the seemingly endless fields of green that stretched out before him. The motel- with its noisy parade of humanity – seemed a world away, rather than just a short distance behind him. Sam turned the small bottle over, watching the powder dance briefly in the wind before disappearing into the twilight. When the bottle was empty, he turned the bottle upright and began to cry, slowly at first and then with big, wet, sloppy tears that dropped heavily on his shirt. Sam covered his face, the tears leaking through his fingers as his shoulders shook in despair.

He couldn't do it. After all that effort, he couldn't go through with it. Sam cursed himself for being a coward and not being strong enough to face whatever Dean kept secret. Of fearing the truth that maybe somewhere along the way, Sam had stopped being enough of a brother for Dean. Of finding out that maybe Dean blamed him, resented him, hated him for the evil that had entered their lives. Or even worse: discovering that Dean yearned for the hunt as his sweet mistress but truly longed for death, his faithful wife. The knowledge that Dean could not be saved from the twisted things his deepest, hidden dreams had become.

And then, finally, realization of the ultimate truth: that if Dean ever found out about this invasion of his soul, of this mind rape, Sam would never be forgiven and Sam would lose Dean all the same. So here Sam sat as his last hope mingled with the sweet fragrances also carried by the wind: wild jasmine and honeysuckle, rosemary and lavender. And he wept for his dead parents and his murdered lover, for friends now gone, and the tears seemed unending.

But most of all, he grieved for Dean: for a child forced into the burdens of adulthood too soon, for dreams forsaken and hopes dashed. For all that Dean had sacrificed to keep Sam safe and happy. And now, at a time when Dean needed him, Sam was floundering and powerless and failing to find the right answers. Sam had nothing to offer Dean to help him find his way home and that bitter knowledge tore at his heart.

"Hey, hey, Sammy, it's okay," Dean's voice was gentle as he drew Sam to his chest. "Shh, it's okay." Dean rocked him softly, as he had when Sam was a child fleeing from thunderstorms and bullies and things that went bump in the night. Sam didn't even question how Dean had found him; that was just Dean.

And although he wasn't conscious of it at first, Sam found himself fearfully clutching Dean's familiar leather jacket in both hands, repeating over and over, "I don't know how to fix you, I'm sorry, don't leave me alone, it's just us now, I'm sorry…."

Sam hated himself at that moment. It was a pitiful irony that Dean, the one who was broken, was again comforting his younger brother. Sam knew he should be strong and pull away, not burdening Dean with his tears and his pain. But Sam was so lonely and tired and the warmth of his brother's arms around him was like a balm to his weary soul. He desperately clung to Dean, superstitiously afraid that his brother would suddenly vanish if he let go.

Dean sighed, a thousand emotions echoing in that single sound, and taking Sam's chin in his hand, stated forcefully, "Look at me, man. Come on, Sam, look at me."

Sam raised red rimmed eyes and in turn, met Dean's haunted gaze. "Sammy, you have nothing to be sorry for. I've told you before and I'll keep repeating it 'til you get it through that thick geek head. Stop blaming yourself for what you can't control. Things are what they are."

Dean closed eyes his briefly before continuing, the dark circles under his eyes accentuated in the fading daylight. "I won't lie and say this hasn't been one hell of a year. That Dad's death didn't almost kill me, that what happened in the cabin didn't matter, that sometimes I don't feel like waking up to face another shitty day. But you're the one thing that's kept me sane and kept me going. And no matter what, even if you leave someday to go back to school or whatever, I'll never forget that you were here when it counted. That you kept me from losing it. Okay?"

At Sam's hesitant nod, Dean added softly, "We'll figure it out, Sammy. It might take awhile and it might hurt like hell in the meantime but we'll figure it out. You and I-we always do, you know."

Sam let out the breath he didn't know he was holding- a mixture of quiet relief and lingering pain- and leaned back into the grass, suddenly exhausted. Dean did the same and they lay there for a long time, watching as night fell and the stars emerged from hiding. Dean finally broke the comfortable silence by saying, "And if you ever tell anyone that I spilled my guts like a little girl, I swear I'll turn you into a llama."

Sam snorted in surprised disbelief before breaking into honest laughter. After a moment, Dean joined in. It might have been a little ragged and a little worn but to Sam's ears, Dean's laughter sounded like the sweetest music.

Maybe, just maybe, given some time, they really could save each other. Maybe that was all that was ever needed: not magic powders and incantations and mystical interventions. Maybe...Sam stopped his musings (he was getting a headache, after all) by punching Dean's arm.

"Ow, what was that for? Bitch." In the darkness, Sam heard rather than saw the familiar grin on Dean's face. Sam just put his hands behind his head and smiled as he continued to stare up into the night sky.