Of Guilt and Redemption 1/2

Summary: When Sam pulled the trigger, it had been Ellicott's meddling that made him do it. When Dean ripped his brother's heart to shreds, he had no angry spirit to blame.

A/N: Yet another fic for the SFTCOL(AR)S Secret Santa extravaganza! This one goes out to Sunrize who requested "A post-Asylum fic. Dean's still angry with Sam until he's suddenly faced with the possibility he might lose his little bro." This is what I came up with. Merry Christmas!

Thanks to Gem for the beta, Brenna for the direction, and sendintheclowns for the technical insight. This fic is better because of all of you!

Disclaimer: I own nothing!

Of Guilt and Redemption

Winchester men didn't talk.

They joked, they grunted, they ate, and they certainly drank beer. They might even plan, sometimes managed to communicate, but they rarely talked.

So five miles out from the bus station near Burkitsville, Indiana, found the brothers mostly silent. Their renewed solidarity left a pleasant air between them, but Sam's chick flick moment had nearly exhausted their conversation for many miles to come.

Therefore, the long hours and the endless road lent themselves to only two things: sleeping and thinking.

It was late afternoon--hardly time for sleep just yet--so that left thinking.

Dean gripped the wheel loosely with one hand, sunk back in his seat with his foot to the pedal, following the straight lines of the road through Indiana.

Dean was used to this--the thrum of the car, the feel of the road, and even the silence. It should have felt good, reassuring. After all, he had his car, he had his life, and he had his brother.

Stealing a glance sideways, he found his brother gazing out at the passing landscape.

Looking back at the road, he suppressed the urge to sigh. It did feel good, to have Sam with him, but there were greater doubts that still existed between them. The kind that only psychotic ghosts and missing fathers could bring out. Because Sam was here, for now, but it was still just a means to an end, and it didn't change what they'd already said to each other on the road where Sam had made his stand.

Dean figured someday they'd have to deal with that, that someday surely they'd make peace with what had been said and what hadn't.

But for now, all he wanted something else to hunt. Something else to track down, to get his mind off of his dad, the demon, what Sam had said to him...

He just wanted a distraction.

Normally he wouldn't think twice about that. He'd just drive until he got sleepy then pull off at the first motel he saw, catch the news and skim the paper. However, somehow he didn't think making these decisions solo would be the right choice right now--the events of the last few days still lingered, fresh in his mind. Maybe it would be best to bring Sam in on the process, just to be safe.

After all, nearly having Sam commit fratricide had been overwhelming, but then to have him walk away the same night was really quite enough. Had Sam not gotten over his hissy fit, Dean would have been fodder for some small town to keep having a bountiful harvest. Dean was all about helping people, but he certainly wasn't willing to give up his life for some apple pie.

He shuddered inwardly at the memory and shook it away. No matter how he tried to shrug it away, Sam had saved his life. Hunting was always easier when done in pairs, and he couldn't deny that Sam was back. Now he just had to keep it that way.

Turning to the brother in question, he asked, "Hey, Sam."

There was no answer.

He looked again at Sam, noting that Sam was upright and awake in the seat. "Sam," he said again.

Sam blinked.

"Sam," he said yet again, louder this time.

Looking at his brother, Sam replied easily. "What?"

Dean rolled his eyes, and reigned in his frustration. "Daydreaming, Sammy?"

Sam's forehead scrunched in question. "Huh?"

"Never mind," Dean said shortly.

Sam's eyes were on him, studying him suspiciously for a moment, before he eased back into his seat, trying to resituate his long legs in the cramped compartment. He squinted out at the sky, blinking, still trying to orient himself. "So, where are we going?"

Dean shrugged. "Somewhere west maybe."

"You have any leads?"

"Haven't had time to look," Dean replied. "Been a little busy saving people from a pagan god and all."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Yeah," he added. "Me too."

"Whatever, Sammy," Dean grunted in return. "If you hadn't left me alone in the first place then I wouldn't have needed your help at all."

It was said in jest, but Sam's smile faded and his jaw worked.

Dean swallowed his own smile and felt his stomach twist in regret. He waited a moment before he continued, his voice gentler now. "Figured we could poke around when we settle for the night. You could maybe do your thing on the laptop."

Sam's voice was flat. "Yeah. I can do that."

Watching his brother, Dean searched for some hint of Sam's thoughts. But Sam's face was set in an all-too-familiar brood, so Dean harnessed his own sigh, set his face, and turned back toward the road.


A few hours, a hundred miles. Silence, silence, and an occasional yawn.

Dean was bored.

Not that he didn't like driving aimlessly throughout the back roads of middle America, but he was tired. He hadn't slept much, not since before the asylum—

Speaking of which, his chest hurt. He rubbed unconsciously at his ribs. Getting shot with rocksalt was not high on his list of things to do again.

More than that, the bruising made him sit funny, hunched over, to relieve the strain on his chest, which was increasing the strain on his back. He shifted uncomfortably on the seat, hoping to find a better position.

Unfortunately there only seemed to be two positions in which to sit—up and…more up. He tried adjusting his posture; nothing worked.

Perturbed, he turned his attention away from his chest in an effort to forget the pain. Driving offered few opportunities for entertainment—but then again, that's what little brother's were for.

He glanced briefly at Sam, who was still slouched in the same position in the passenger's seat, eyes staring distantly out the window. It looked peaceful enough, until Dean noticed something funny on his brother's face.

Coming out of his nose, more adequately. "Dude."

Sam looked at him, squinting against the sun that seemed to splinter through his head. It was a little hard to see Dean and Sam waited for his brother to elaborate.

"You're bleeding." Dean's face crinkled in an expression somewhere between concern and disgust.

Sam looked perplexed for a moment, as if his brother were speaking a foreign language.

Dean nodded at Sam, to confirm his initial observation.

Confused, Sam tentatively reached his hand toward the warmth that had suddenly seeped onto his lip. He drew his fingers away bloody, inspecting them in curiosity. "What the...?"

A Kleenex appeared in front of Sam's face. "Plug that before you bleed all over my car."

Numbly, Sam took the tissue, and applied it to his nose, leaning back in the seat in an attempt to slow the bleeding. "It's awfully dry this time of year."

Dean snorted. "You've always got an excuse," he said, relaxing in the seat, settling in for the road ahead. Sam was dabbing at his nose, examining the lessening flow, and Dean grinned and turned up the volume. He had his car and he had his brother. Things were definitely looking up.


They stopped in Illinois, in a small nowhere town outside of Peoria.

Sleep had evaded Sam on the road; the usually soothing jostling of the car had aggravated his mildly aching head into a full on headache that showed no signs of abating.

He waited for Dean to check them in, head pressed to his hand, eyes squeezed shut in an attempt to quell the pain.

Being so intent on making the pain go away, Sam didn't even notice Dean until he was throwing Sam's duffle in his face.

"Dude, you going to spend the night in there?"

Sam fumbled for the door, and climbed out of the car. The process made him dizzy and his vision blurred momentarily.

"Sam, come on," Dean was calling from the doorway.

"Yeah," he called back, willing his voice to sound steadier than he felt. "I'm coming."

Inside, the motel was unimpressive. Two queen beds flanked a single nightstand. There was a table and two chairs, and a dresser with a far too small TV stationed on top of it.

"You need a shower?" Dean asked, dropping his bag heavily at the foot of one of the beds.

Something didn't compute in Sam's head. He stared blankly at his brother for a second before he realized what he was doing. "What?"

Dean eyed Sam skeptically. "A shower, you know--water, soap, shampoo? Smelling good?"

Sam tried to focus. Dean was making perfect sense, he was sure of it; it was just his brain that was behind. "No," he managed to reply. "Go ahead."

Dean gathered his things and nodded his agreement. "Why don't you hop online and see if you can find us something to hunt?"

Sinking to the bed, Sam nodded blandly.

Dean hesitated, seeming to wait, before heading to the bathroom with a sigh.

Once alone, Sam tried to breathe, tried to sort out the fuzziness in his brain. He was just so tired, so achy--he just wanted to sleep.

But he'd promised Dean. He'd promised Dean he'd help. And he had to keep his promises. He had to prove to Dean that he was still here, that he still wanted to be a part of this.

That's why he'd come back. Because he might have lost his brother, and if he lost Dean, he didn't know what he'd do. There were no words to explain how terrified he'd been to find Dean tied to a tree—beyond terrified, really—but so relieved, because Dean was still alive, he could still make things right, he could make things better—

"You're a selfish bastard, you know that."

"You hate me that much."

Sam squeezed his eyes shut, trying to squelch the memories. Maybe he was selfish, but he could change that, he could prove to Dean that he loved him.

But he could never take back pulling the trigger.

It wasn't him. It was Ellicott.

No, it was Ellicott through him.

No, it was him through Ellicott.

Sam fell back against the bed.

It didn't matter who it was; it didn't change that look of hurt on Dean's face when he'd pulled the trigger. It didn't change that look of cold betrayal when Dean had left him on the side of the road.

Opening his eyes, Sam sighed. Research. That's what he could do for now--research.

Standing slowly, he maneuvered his way over to the table, nabbing the laptop as he went. Plugging it in, he flicked it on, heading back to his bed while it powered up. He pulled down the sheets and kicked off his shoes. He could hear the shower running in the background.

Pain flared again in his head and Sam groaned aloud. He had to do something about this headache.

Sloppily, he reached for the first aid kit, rifling through the contents until he found the bottle of pain reliever. Making short work of the childproof lid, he extracted two pills and crashed back to the bed, exhausted.

He would just lie here, just for a minute. Take the pills and just rest before starting his research.

Sam popped the pills dry, and rolled over in the bed. He was asleep before he was even settled.


The bathroom was canary yellow, or at least it had been, and it made Dean's stomach turn. The color seemed to taint everything in the room, and the normally white toilet and sink were a putrid shade of pale yellow that only suggested dinginess, not cheerfulness.

He was feeling anything but cheerful, though—dinginess seemed to be an apt descriptor of his mood. The happiness of reuniting his brother had dwindled in the silent car trip, hampered by the inevitability of the road, and Sam's sudden distracted behavior. For all his talk of sticking it through together, Sam certainly wasn't re-entering the hunt with vigor.

Not that he could expect him to. Sam wanted to find their father, wanted to end this thing; finding a hunt in the meantime probably wasn't high on Sam's list of things to do. He would do it, would stick it through, but Dean knew how much Sam hated following orders.

He winced with the thought, unconsciously rubbing his bruised ribs. A round of rocksalt, four empty discharges--yeah, Dean definitely knew that.

Sure, it hadn't been Sam really, but it'd been something inside of Sam. And sure, Sam came back, but only after he'd walked away.

The peace was definitely a tentative thing.

Dean sighed. He could worry about it in the morning. Right now he just wanted to find something to hunt.

But first he had to do something about these ribs. Lifting his shirt, he felt a stab of pain radiate through his body--they looked agonizingly painful, so it wasn't too surprising that they felt just as bad. Who knew rocksalt could do so much damage?

He knew he should wrap them, but he was tired, and he really did not want to let Sam have a look at them. The last thing he needed was Sam's damn puppy dog eyes making him feel guilty for something that was entirely not his fault.

No, his best course of action was a couple of pain pills and a long night's rest. Sammy could find them a gig and then they could be back on the road again in the morning.

Pulling the shirt gingerly back over his torso, he walked with care back out into the main room, hoping to run his plans by Sam. Sam, however, appeared to have a plan all his own.

Dean found him, sprawled in sleep, when he came out of the bathroom and shook his head with an incredulous grin. "Now you can sleep," he muttered. "So much for research."

With a groan, Dean eased his way onto his own bed. His ribs protested as he settled into the pillows. Grabbing the bottle of pills from the nightstand, he extracted two, and downed them with his glass of water.

He gave one last look at his brother. "You'd better be ready to research in the morning," Dean snipped aloud.

Sam just slept on, and Dean closed his eyes to sleep.


It wasn't the sun that woke Sam, though it was the first thing he noticed.

The glinting rays seemed to catch every surface in the room, multiplying and splintering off in a chaotic array on the walls. The sheer brightness made Sam squint and that's when he felt the throbbing pain in his head. Nothing like a headache to start the day off.

Sam sat up slowly, trying to rub away the pain as he shed the cobwebs of sleep. He was just so tired...

Next thing he knew, Dean was talking to him.

Sam jumped, looking up at his brother in surprise.

Dean was pushing himself out of bed. "...so I was thinking we run the usual searches, buy a paper, and find ourselves a hunt," he said, making it to his feet. Dean's proposal hung in the air, waiting for a response.

Sam didn't respond, didn't even move on the bed.

Dean leaned forward. "Sam, you listening to me?"

Sam's eyes were glazed and distant. Then a minute shudder shook Sam's body before he blinked and looked at his brother. "Huh?"

Dean studied his brother, half way between frustration and worry. "What's up with you?"

"Nothing," Sam replied, but his voice was too quick and somewhat strained, and Dean didn't believe him.

"Yeah, whatever," Dean grumbled.

"It's just a headache," Sam admitted finally. "Just got to get my head together."

Dean just rolled his eyes. "Just take your shower and let's get out of here."


Sam's headache didn't go away.

Sam wouldn't say that, but Dean knew it was true. The way Sam grimaced more, the way his movements were tentative and slow—it was pretty obvious.

That and the nosebleed that had dripped onto Sam's shirt again before Dean had finally pointed it out to the kid.

Dean pushed Sam into the bathroom to clean up. He'd managed to get a good flirt in with the waitress at the diner, before Sam came tripping back out, announcing that the police station was probably open before Dean could even get her number.

After that, though, Sam had been completely useless, lost in his own thoughts so much that he couldn't even hold a coherent conversation. Which made asking around more difficult than usual, and made the day seem interminably longer.

In fact, by late afternoon, they still had no leads, and Dean's chest was killing him, and all Sam could do was follow him in a damned docile way. And not just docile—oblivious. Oblivious to the need to research. Oblivious to being social. Oblivious to the fact that Dean's chest was filled with pain, that as the day wore on, it hurt just to breathe.

But surely Sam had better things to think about than his brother's pain.

They'd retired to the motel before dinner, and Dean flopped on his bed, sulking in an attempt to rally Sam's concerns.

Sam, however, seemed unimpressed.

What more could Dean do? He requested a dose of painkiller, which Sam provided, and Dean made a show of straining as he reached for it, grimacing as he downed the pills.

Sam merely plunked back on his own bed, eyes heavy as he watched the TV.

Dean's glare was wasted on his brother, who rested on the opposite bed, as self-absorbed as ever. With a grunt, he informed Sam that he was going out for a minute. He waited for Sam to ask him where to, but Sam didn't even respond and Dean left in a flurry, closing the door harder than he had to.


As frustrated as Dean was, it turned out the girl who worked the counter at the gas station was an Aquarius and interested—oh, and was pretty certain that there was something up with the weird rash of cats ending up as road kill. He entertained the idea of sticking around to see what else would happen, but he was hungry, and he was still anxious for a hunt.

He picked up a paper at the gas station and perused it as he walked back. There wasn't much—a local bond issue was going through, and a new smoking ordinance—but he did find an interesting obituary about a farmer who had run over himself with a tractor.

Freak accident? Maybe. That was certainly Dean's favorite kind.

Feeling somewhat more chipper, the bounce returned to his step.

Then the pain burst up in his chest and he scowled, slumping again as he slinked into the motel room. Maybe Sam would finally be ready to do some research so they could get back on the road.

The moment he walked in, though, his hopes were dashed.

He found his brother, staring blankly at the wall behind him, with a far-off expression that had been all too common the last few days. "Sam."

There was, not so surprisingly, no response.

"Dude, I think I found a lead," he tried this time, tossing the folded paper at his brother.

Sam just stared.

"Dude, what's up with you?" he asked, snapping his fingers in front of Sam's nose.

Sam's eyes suddenly focused. "Huh?"

Dean glowered. He was used to Sam's sulking, Sam's prodding, but Sam's sudden indifference was a mood swing he just wasn't ready to handle. "What, you too good to talk to me?"

Sam scrunched his nose. "What?"

"I mean, it's like you're hardly even there," Dean said. "I mean, what, you go from wanting to kill me to ignoring me altogether? What more do I have to do to prove myself to you?"

"Dean, I--" Sam's words cut off suddenly as he grimaced, squeezing his eyes shut tight and bringing a hand up to his head. The pain disoriented him, sweeping over him unpleasantly. But it was gone as soon as it came. He blinked, swaying slightly, before raising his eyes to his brother's again.

Dean was still glaring at him, waiting expectantly, the flicker of concern dissipating with Sam's eye contact. "I'm sorry," Sam said, his voice barely a whisper.

Dean grunted. "Yeah. Whatever," he said, sitting on his bed.

"You found something?" Sam asked, his forehead creased as he reached to the paper.

Dean's spirit was gone. "Yeah. Some freak farm accident."

Sam scanned the article. "Malevolent spirit?"

Dean shrugged. "Maybe."

"We can check it out," Sam offered.

Too perturbed to be sated by Sam's halfhearted interest, Dean just kept his eyes on the TV. "Yeah. Maybe."


Dean hadn't meant to, but he had dozed off in front of the TV, his finger still poised to click on the remote. He wavered in a half-dream state, where his thoughts were vivid and surreal, and playing out with a certain clarity of a true hallucination.

He started out in the Impala, in a clear day, with the blue sky stretching before him so far that he felt like he could drive right into.

Instead he drove into a dark corridor, a hallway, and finally a room and he realized that he wasn't driving anymore, but running, walking, standing still.

And Sam. Sam was there, smirking at him, a shotgun in his hand and blood running from his nose. "You're pathetic," his brother said, sneering now, as he raised the gun.

Sam fired and Dean ducked, trying to deny it, but he couldn't get away from it and the impact took him down. But when he looked up, all he saw was Sam fading away from him, leaving him—again. He wanted to call out, but it hurt—his chest hurt and he just couldn't…

He woke up to that pain and feeling oddly out of breath. The sun was fading into the background and the day was spent.

He tried to sit up, but the pain radiated through his chest, and he fell back with a moan.

"Dude, you okay?"

Sam was sitting at the desk, hunched over the laptop in the dimming light.

Dean made a face. "Sure, never better."

Sam looked at him, his eyes directed and concerned. "Dean, let me bandage your chest. It's got to be killing you."

Dean glowered at his brother, sitting up. "I can handle it."

"Why don't you just let me fix it?" Sam said again, his voice laden with a hint of pleading.

"Dude, I'm fine," Dean mumbled. "Things have just been, you know, stressful." With you trying to kill me and run away and all.

Sam didn't seem to get the hint. He was gathering the first aid kit into his hands, and had situated himself on the bed next to Dean. "Let me see."

Hesitating, Dean dropped his arms and didn't flinch when Sam lifted the shirt.

Sam cursed when he saw the damage. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Dean felt oddly satisfied at the guilt in Sam's voice. "Didn't want to bother you with it," he said pointedly.

Reaching for the bandages, Sam motioned for Dean to take of his shirt. "You shouldn't have let it get this way," he said.

"Like I meant to," Dean muttered back.

Sam ignored him, instead beginning the process of wrapping Dean. His motions were smooth and gentle, but Dean hissed in pain anyway. Neither brother said anything as Sam finished.

Dean waited for Sam to apologize—to do something, but his brother just went about his business. Dean's eyes were on him still, even when Sam got him a glass of water and handed him the two pills.

"We'll check them again in the morning," he said quietly before disappearing into the bathroom. Dean waited until he heard the shower running.

Glaring at the bathroom door, he swallowed the pills with a swig of water and lay down to go to sleep. He would deal with Sam in the morning.


There was an elephant stepping on his chest. A herd of elephants—not just an over-zealous circus elephant that took an act too far, but a herd of angry, wild elephants, pounding over him, agonizing each breath he took.

The pain brought him from his sleep. Opening his eyes, he came to realize the elephants were whispers of his unconscious, trying to explain away the pain in his chest.

Sitting up slightly, he caught a glimpse of the ailing part of his body. It looked like it had been trampled by a herd of elephants. Deep bruises covered his chest, peaking out from behind the gauze bound tightly around his torso. Even five days out, it looked and felt as vividly painful as when it had happened.

Groggily, he tried to remember the previous night. He vaguely remembered Sam bundling his chest, and taking the painkillers that had made sleep possible. However, the pills had worn off, and the offending pain woke him with a vengeance.

Stifling a groan, he swung his legs over the side of the bed. Sam was sound asleep in the next bed. His rest looked unusually peaceful and Dean envied Sam's slumber.

Staggering slowly, he made his way to the bathroom. The first aid kit was still open on the counter. He leaned his hands on the porcelain sink and tried to catch his breath. Fire seemed to erupt in his chest. Yes, those ribs were definitely broken--like he could forget.

Dean eyed the bottle of painkiller salaciously. Gently, he reached for it, eager for the relief promised by its contents. The bottle was open, so he turned it into his upturned palm.


Perplexed, he turned the bottle back over and looked inside. It was empty.

But how was that possible? There'd been enough for at least one more dose when he went to bed. He knew Sam had been having headaches, but surely Sam would have thought to replace the pills if he used them.

Except that he didn't.

Dean clenched his teeth, grimacing through the pain in his chest.

That was so like Sam. The same old selfish Sam. Sam who thought only of himself. He knew Sam wasn't being malicious, Dean was certain of that, but he was just being oblivious--so self absorbed in his own pain that he completely neglected to keep Dean's in mind. Sam had been taking advantage of Dean of his entire life, and Dean was tired of getting nothing in return. Especially when it was Sam who had caused him the pain.

Empty pill bottle in his hand, Dean stormed out of the bathroom, his eyes falling again on his sleeping little brother. "Dude," he said, positioned at the foot of Sam's bed, his voice loud. "Sam."

Sam stirred, turning slightly into his pillow.

"Sam," he said again, his voice more insistent.

This time Sam blinked awake.

"Why didn't you go get more painkillers?" Dean asked pointedly, not giving Sam a moment to gather himself.

Sam propped himself up on his elbows, his eyes trying to come fully awake. "What?"

"Painkillers. We're out. Why didn't you go get more?" Dean said, tossing the empty bottle forcefully at his brother.

Sam looked confused. "I didn't realize we were out."

"Didn't realize? You took the last two," Dean snorted.

"I'll go get some this morning," Sam said, plopping back down on his pillow.

"You know we have to keep the supplies stocked, Sammy. In case of emergencies."

Sam flung his arm over his eyes. "You're really not going to let this go?"

"Well, hello, maybe I'm the one who's in a little pain here," Dean snapped.

Sitting up, Sam sighed. "I'm sorry," he said standing. "I should have thought of that."

Dean watched as his brother pulled on a pair of pants discarded on the floor and collected his shoes. "You never think of stuff like that, Sammy. The little details that are needed to keep us all safe and happy."

Sam said nothing and sat down to tie his shoes.

"You're just so selfish," Dean spat.

Sam clenched his teeth. "I said I was sorry," he said evenly.

"Well maybe sorry's not good enough."

"What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to start thinking about someone else for a change. You've always taken for granted that Dad or I will just take care of you. We'll mind all the details so you can run off and do your own thing. One of us had to be the good little soldier, Sammy, and you were never selfless enough to take that role."

Dean expected Sam to lash back. Sam's rebellious nature always asserted itself in conflict. And, truthfully, Dean was almost looking forward to it. Only in anger could they say the words that lingered beneath the surface.

But Sam surprised him. He warily rubbed his forehead. "I'm sorry, Dean. You always were better at all that stuff." He sighed and pushed himself up, grabbing the keys of the nightstand. "I'll be back in a few minutes, okay? I saw a supermarket down the way."

Dean watched him go, too stunned to speak. That certainly wasn't what he had expected. Sam's response had been far too docile, far too accommodating.

Easing down onto the bed, Dean's face was set in a scowl. For once Sam's puppy dog eyes would have no effect on him. The kid was just asking for a controversy, and Dean was tired of playing nice.


The supermarket was quiet. A few mothers with young children strolled the aisles and a few older couples meandered through them. It might have been peaceful really, had he been able to notice.

But Sam couldn't notice much of anything beyond the throbbing of his head.

And the lights. Since when did supermarkets use such ridiculously high wattage bulbs?

He wasn't sure how he found the right aisle, but the next thing he knew, he was standing in front of shelves and shelves of pill boxes. It seemed to stretch as far as Sam could see.

Cold medicine, cough syrup--

No, Dean didn't have a cold. He was in pain.

Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, 200 mg, 500 mg--

The lights were glinting off the floor, the tile floor--how much money did they spend on electricity anyway?

He had to get back. Dean was in pain. Dean was in pain and waiting in the motel room. Dean was in pain because his ribs hurt, his ribs were bruised, and Sam had taken the last of the pills.

Dean was in pain because Sam shot him.

Sam squeezed his eyes shut, tried to breathe through it.

He opened his eyes, grabbed the first bottle that made sense, and headed toward the checkout.


Dean saw the bottle of painkillers before he saw Sam. The bottle landed on the bed near his hand and Dean looked from it to his brother, half curious, half waiting.

Sam plopped down on the bed, sighing. "That's the best stuff I could find without a prescription," he said, laying back on the pillows.

Dean picked up the bottle. For all that it was, it seemed woefully inadequate as a token of apology. "Great," he said flatly. "Thanks."

Sensing his brother simmering anger, Sam sat up. "Did you want something else?"

Dean just stared at Sam in disbelief, a laugh rumbling out of his chest. "Are you serious?"

Confused, Sam shook his head with you. "What's up with you?"

"What's up with me?" Dean was incredulous. "What's up with you?"

"What are you talking about?"

It was one denial too many, one oblivious comment overboard. Dean's self-control snapped. "Is it that hard to figure out, Sammy? Geez, Sammy, it's like you're not even here anymore. After all that crap you told me about it just being you and me, you act like you're in a different world. What about you and me against the world? Huh?"

Sam's face scrunched, perplexed. "I meant what I said, Dean--"

"Yeah, I'm sure you did. Just like you meant what you said down in the asylum. And in the car that night. Just words, right, Sammy? Well, what about actions? Because you've done nothing to prove that you're back in this. But you sure did back it up when you told me that I was pathetic. Four times."

Jaw slack, Sam couldn't find the words.

Dean couldn't stop himself. It was all coming out now, one way or another. Everything he'd been feeling since the asylum, since he found Sam at Stanford, since Sam walked out on them in the first place--he just couldn't stop. "Come on. You wanted to talk, so let's talk. Like let's talk about how stupid you were to let that happen. I'm not sure I can trust you out there anymore, Sam! I mean, I thought you would know better than to go off exploring by yourself and get yourself taken down by some psychotic spirit. What the hell were you thinking? There's a reason I follow orders—because it saves lives. And since you're too busy doing your own thing, you nearly got both of us killed. Seriously, Sam, you would have killed me."

Sam looked hurt, confused. He shook his head. "But he used your voice. That's why I went down—"

"Whatever, Sammy. It doesn't really matter. That's why I went down with an unloaded gun. I was prepared. I knew what we were expecting."

"But," Sam closed his eyes, pressing his fingers against his temples, looking for the words. "I didn't know about Ellicott. About what he did. I didn't know."

"But you sure knew what the hell you were doing when you pulled a gun on me."

Sam opened his eyes and stared, horrified up at his brother. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah, I'll bet you're sorry."

"He—I—I couldn't stop it, Dean. I didn't know how. He got to me."

"He got to me too, and I still managed to waste his ass."

Sam's mouth hung open; his eyes were wet. "I'm sorry--"

Dean's jaw clenched in fury. "Sam, I swear to God, if you say you're sorry again, I'm going to shoot your chest full of rock salt."

Sam's expression wavered and then he winced, letting his hand massage his forehead. "I--"

"You what, Sam? What are you going to say to make this better? Because words, Sammy, don't mean very much to me right now."

Sam winced again--more pronounced this time—and his shoulders curved in pain and his head dropped to his hands.

At first he thought Sam was merely trying to relieve the pressure in his head—again—but when Sam slid off the bed with a thud, Dean knew something was wrong.

By the time Dean got to the other side of the bed where Sam had fallen, his brother was seizing, and Dean knew that he was in over his head.

There was so much of Sam in so little space and the long limbs were flailing and jerking, heedless of impediment. Sam was between the beds, back against one, head moving spasmastically into the nightstand with measured thumps.

Dean gaped, tried to think, but his mind was gone, and there was only Sam.