In the Heat of the Moment
K Hanna Korossy

Sam was acting weird.

Which was, in a way, normal for Sam, granted. And Dean could usually deal with whatever new level of weird Sam discovered, from wearing his Spider-man pajamas for a month straight when he was three, to liking Green Day when he was twenty-three. Because, seriously, Green Day? Nobody could say Dean wasn't adaptable.

But this was…worrying kind of weird.

"You wanna tell me what's going on?"

Sam would need dental surgery at this rate, he was grinding his teeth so hard. "What do you mean?"

"What do I mean? How about the fact that you've been watching me ever since you woke up? Including in the bathroom, dude, which is just so wrong. Or that you've been acting like an overprotective mom ever since we left the room. For your information, I saw that car—"

Sam muttered something. Almost sounded like this time, but that didn't make sense, right? Then again, this wasn't one of Sam's better making-sense days.

"Sam—"

His brother reeled on him and started yelling, right there in the middle of Main-frickin'-whatever Street. "You're gonna die today, okay, Dean? That's what's going on."

Dean blinked. But the visions—

Sam's face did a neat origami fold. "It's like…some kind of loop. I wake up, we make it through a few hours at the most, and you die."

Normally, this would be where a good brother would call the nearest shrink for an emergency appointment. Considering they weren't even on speaking terms with normal, Dean instead started automatically flipping through possibilities: shapeshifter-Sam, possessed-Sam, haunted-Sam, influenced-Sam…

Sam's face managed to crumple a little more. "I'm not making this up and I'm not crazy, Dean."

"Okay," he soothed automatically. It would be, really. He'd make it be. But for the moment, Dean was quietly a little freaked. "So, uh…why do I die every day?"

Sam's eyes were filling. Crap. "I don't know. I thought it was the Mystery Spot, but now…I don't know. Every time I try to figure it out or we're following up a lead…"

"…I die."

Sam shrugged helplessly.

He believed it, Dean realized abruptly. This was the real-deal Sam, and he was falling apart because he believed Dean had died. Repeatedly. And was going to again.

Dean reached out a hand, felt the fine tremors running down Sam's arm. "All right, okay, uh…" He frowned, twisting his lip. "We'll figure it out, okay?" Sam had been under such strain from the whole deal; Dean had never thought it might be too much. His thumb rubbed the pulse point inside Sam's wrist. "We'll figure it out," he repeated helplessly, mind churning, stomach falling somewhere into the pit of his shoes.

Sam's face twisted from grief to despair. "You don't believe me."

"No, I—"

Sam's laugh was kind of awful. "Just…forget it." He turned away, started stalking down the street.

"I didn't say that." Although, yeah, he might as well have. Sam might be losing it, but he could still read his brother like a book. Dean made a face and hurried after him, reaching out again. "Sammy—"

Sam whirled back, shoving him away.

Dean hadn't even noticed the storefront window before he was crashing through it, a surprise flash of pain against his back, arms. He saw Sam's face make one final slide from shocked to shattered.

Barely felt the sharp-hot explosion of pain in the back of his head, distracted by the flickering split-second download of a lifetime of memories in a skewered brain.

Crap, Sam had been telling the truth.

00000

Sam was acting weird.

Or maybe a little unhinged. Dean was still trying to decide that, and how much he should be worried.

"So, tell me again why we need the axe?"

"The answer's in there," Sam said tersely, indicating the Mystery Spot museum that they were just coming up on, the building lit in obnoxious green light against the darkening sky.

"You mean the missing guy, uh, Hasselback? What, you think he's holed up in the wall or something?"

Sam didn't even bother answering, just stared ahead and kept up that fast long-legged gait that always had Dean stumbling a little bit to keep up. Darn it.

"Dude, you're not going to do something I'm gonna regret, are you?"

Sam's stride faltered at that, and his eyes finally slipped sideways to Dean. Right, the blown-pupil look didn't scare him at all.

Sam started marching again. Dean scrambled to keep up. Again. "Sam—"

"Just…follow my lead, all right? Trust me."

"C'mon, man, you gotta give me a little more than—"

Sam wheeled on him so abruptly, Dean almost slammed into him. "Trust me, Dean," he begged.

Begged. Dean cringed. "You know I do, I—"

Sam was walking again.

He knelt at the door, thankfully using his lockpick set to get in, not the axe, although he didn't seem worried about being seen. Dean was the one who kept careful lookout and pulled the door shut after them.

Standard MO of a job like this was to avoid any residents and head straight for whatever the two of them had come for. Dean had no idea what they were there for, however, and probably should have been more surprised than he was when Sam immediately made a beeline for the main office, where a strip of light shone from under the door. Terrific. Resigned, Dean followed his brother, intent now only on making sure Sam didn't get himself shot or something.

The Mystery Spot museum's owner was a horse-faced, nervous man. Dean couldn't really blame him on the latter part considering Sam was towering over the dude holding an axe. "Come on." Sam grabbed the guy, pulling him inexorably behind like a mom a recalcitrant toddler, and if Dean wasn't sure his brother had gone around the bend, that kind of tore it.

"Dude—" They couldn't use names if there was any hope still of getting out of this.

"Shut up, Dean." And…so much for that rule. Dean rolled his eyes, following his loco bro because what else was he going to do, leave Sam there with a hostage and an axe? Confront him with a hostage and an axe?

Sam dragged a chair to the middle of the room and produced a roll of duct tape from somewhere. Even as Dean's eyes widened, he watched Sam efficiently tape the guy to the chair and gag him. "Sam? Maybe we should discuss this."

"It never does any good," Sam said tersely and totally cryptically. This from Mr. Sensitive who always wanted to share?

"Dude, what are you talking about?" Dean burst out.

Sam, surprisingly, paused at that, face contorting as he seemed to fight a battle within himself. Dean waited, not knowing what might set the kid off again.

"Sammy?" he asked gently instead.

Sam turned to look at him, and for a second he looked so anguished, something tore inside Dean, too. "Just…trust me, please, all right? The answer's gotta be in here, and if I don't…if I can't find it, you're gonna die, and I can't…" He swallowed. "Please, Dean."

It had to be about the deal, although Dean didn't get it. But, really, what could he say to that? He nodded slowly. "Yeah. Okay." If Sam had to try this, Dean could deal with a little short-term insanity.

So he crouched by owner dude, trying to keep him not terrified of the axe-wielding maniac formerly known as Dean's brother. Watched Sam tear the place, and himself, apart. Finally had enough, Sam way past the point of humoring now, and stood to talk him down from whatever frenzy he was in.

Stared, dumbfounded, at the axe blade he got buried in his chest for his troubles, then at his horrified little brother. Unable to believe even as he fell that he'd let it get this far, that Sam had actually done this.

Crap, Sam had been telling the truth, too.

00000

Sam was acting weird.

More like falling apart, actually. As much as Dean teased him about being all emo, his brother actually sucked up an awful lot—losses, endless nightmares, freaky powers, and a job just made for PTSD—and kept going. So when he woke up that morning, took one look at Dean, and started sobbing…

Yeah, Dean was gonna go with weird for now. Beat the heck out of broken or mental.

"Sam…," he murmured helplessly again, patting a heaving back, his shirt already wet and cold with his brother's tears. Dean was well aware this was a colossal girl moment, but with Sam falling apart next to him, screw the usual rules. Dean was far more worried about what had brought this on in the first place and how he could fix it.

But Sam seemed pretty much beyond talking at the moment, only the comfort of his brother's presence registering, so Dean gave him that, at least. The guy clung to him like that time Dad had taken them to that hunter's bar—the Roadhouse, maybe? He could barely remember—and toddler Sammy had been totally freaked out by all the unfamiliar, cold faces. Huh, Dean had forgotten about that. Had to write it down in the notebook…

If Sam ever stopped the waterworks. Because, frankly, Dean was the one starting to get scared here.

But he'd never been able to rush the kid, and Sam kept going until he apparently ran dry, heavy and exhausted against Dean. His hands were wound so tightly in Dean's shirt, he was pretty sure he'd need a pry bar to get them loose, but Sam's eyes were dull and distant, only the occasional silent tear still spilling over.

"Hey." Dean shrugged a shoulder gently under him. "The flood over yet?"

There was a pause, then Sam's head rubbed against him, a slight up and down.

Dean hesitated. "Is this…about Jessica?" Because he'd only seen Sam cry like this out of grief. For their dad some, but mostly for the sister-in-law Dean would never have.

Sam sorta laughed, which should have been reassuring but really wasn't. He pulled away slowly, and Dean let him, until he was curled up against the end of the bed and the wall, small and still looking scarily broken. Gaze about a few thousand miles away, he started talking.

It was…quite the story. Okay, frankly, Dean wasn't sure he believed a word of it; c'mon, he'd died forty-eight times? You'd think he'd have remembered at least one or two of them. And even in their freaky world, time loops were science-fiction, or Bill Murray territory—not Ghostbusters, either—not reality.

Except…Sam was bleeding out right in front of him, worn down to white knuckles and clinging fingernails. He hadn't been this spent even after months of nightmares. In fact, Dean had never seen him this bad before. This was a lot more than just one night's bad dreams. In fact, if what Sam said was true, he hadn't slept in weeks, and had gone through his own personal nightmare four dozen times. It was insane and ridiculous…and Dean was starting to believe him. Or at least believe that Sam believed it, which was enough.

Sam needed rest. Dean had already given his life for him; surely he could manage not to die for a few hours for him, too.

"Listen, Sam, I'm just gonna sit right here, okay?" Dean promised, indicating his bed. "I won't go anywhere, won't even move, all right? No getting myself killed until you get up."

Sammy laughed again, and it sounded more like stressed Sam Winchester this time and less like a circling-the-drain Jack Torrance, so major points for that.

He tucked Sam in, promised him they'd figure it out. Sam whispered an I know that was full of trust and made Dean's chest warm. He fully intended to keep that promise, whether it was to break a time loop…or help Sam find reality again. Dean patted his brother's back, Sam already dozing off, and stood, grabbing the laptop before he settled on his own bed. And took a deep breath.

He was supposed to cash in his chips in just a couple of months now. Was this how Sam would deal with his departure? Because this wasn't what Dean had brought him back for. But he'd never imagined this level of grief and despair, never once had thought anything but that Sam had been okay before without him and would be again. Heck, it hadn't been that long ago that Sam had talked about going back to school.

But that had been before destinies and demon wars, Dad and Madison and Azazel and Jake.

Dean stripped his damp shirt off and booted up the computer, and started writing a letter.

It was a few hours later he absently rose to get a soda, caught his foot in the blankets, and fell back. There was a blinding flash of white agony as his head connected with the nightstand. Consciousness—life—drained away in a moment, just like that.

Sorry, Sammy was his first thought. And, crap, he was telling the truth was the last.

00000

Sam was acting weird.

No, the stranger who was playing his brother's role—badly—was acting weird. Because while Dean had pretty much ruled out every supernatural fake and influence, this Sam still wasn't the Sam he knew.

Like, overnight, Sam had lost the clumsy uncertainty that had always exasperated their dad and made Dean secretly grin. He moved like a predator now—like Dad had—silent and intense and kinda scary.

Then there was the hovering. Sam hadn't said a word, but Dean saw him stare down everyone they came across, noticed he walked between Dean and the edge of the sidewalk, let him sit closer to the door in the diner. He'd rarely seen Sam take full advantage of his height, but he was positively looming. Sometime between the night before and that morning, someone had died and made Sam his big brother's bodyguard, and the thought was so disturbing, so not the natural order of things, that it left Dean seriously disconcerted.

And that was before Sam looked him in the eye—cold, flat, no hint of the soft chocolate puppy eyes he'd carried into his twenties—and told him one of the most unbelievable stories Dean had ever heard. Which, in his world, was saying something.

"So…I keep dying. Over and over, different ways, and then you wake up and it starts over."

Sam's jaw twitched, but he nodded.

Dean blinked. "And you have no idea why it keeps happening or why it's just me?"

A shake of the head.

"Huh. So, something keeps shutting off my power, and you're the one who gets the restart?"

Something flickered in Sam's eyes. "You don't have to believe me."

Right. Because clearly it didn't matter at all to Sam.

Dean reluctantly pitched in on the research—Sam's theory, at least this day, seemed to be that the whole thing had to do with the missing Hasselback guy—half-expecting a meteor to come crashing down on him at any moment, or a car to drive through the wall, or an escaped tiger attack. Sam, he noticed, flinched at every sudden sound and motion, too, and never strayed more than a few feet from Dean's side.

It took half the day for Dean to realize Sam kept slipping a hand into his jacket to check his gun.

The story was crazy. The situation was ridiculous. But this Sam…Dean finally realized he recognized him. This was Dad after the fire: singularly focused, hard, shut down against unbearable pain. Changed.

This was Sam alone, even with Dean right there next to him.

He tried. Went from It'll be okay to Maybe you should just let me go to You can handle this. Watched Sam get icier and more lethal with every attempt.

And found he was scared of something else more than he was of death and Hell.

They were walking home from the library, cutting through the empty lot next to their motel. Sam was still visually sweeping the area like a professional bodyguard, which any other day would have amused Dean to no end, but this day—damned Tuesday—filled him with a sick kind of despair. It was dusk, and he didn't see the woman—the waitress from the diner?—until it was too late.

You'd think the bow she held would've been more noticeable.

He had about a third of a second to react, no chance to think about it, although Dean had no doubt he would've done the same thing no matter what. Just enough time to shove Sam out of the way.

The next moment, he was looking up at the twilight sky, dazed, his chest oddly numb.

He blinked, and Sam was bent over him, hair a dark halo around his head. He pressed his hands over Dean's heart, voice ragged. "Dean…"

He couldn't seem to talk; opening his mouth just produced an odd wheeze, and the pressure in his chest kept growing until he was pretty sure it wasn't just from Sam. But he could and did move, one hand drifting up to press against Sam's cheek. Eyes saying what his mouth couldn't; it had always been enough.

And even though everything was fading, he could still see the toughness, the lack of emotion fall away as if it had never been there. There you are. There was hope yet, because this was his Sam, tears spilling over, hands shaking as they held Dean, and face so full of love that even if he'd ever doubted how Sam felt, he didn't anymore.

"I'm going to save you," Sam choked.

Dean believed he was telling the truth…then was gone.

The End