Title: Eyes Wide Open

Summary: After a difficult hunt, Dean is forced to face one of his little brother's secrets and gets a whole lot more than he bargained for.

A/N 1: I'm having a hard time prefacing this piece so as to appropriately preempt some of the ire I suspect I'll elicit. As simply as I can, I don't believe either boy is perfect. I don't believe either boy is the "victim" while the other is the "instigator." I believe that both boys are screwed up, messed up, emotionally damaged to the extent that they don't even know how to help each other. Just as so many fics post Sex and Violence are designed to show Sam the error of his ways, this fic is designed to open Dean's eyes up a bit to where Sam is coming from. If that's not your thing, my suggestion is not to read. My intent is not to demonize Dean and glorify Sam. My intent is to help Dean see where Sam's coming from. Just because I have focused on that does not mean that I think Sam is guilt-free in the entire ordeal.

A/N 2: Beta'ed by geminigrl11. A secondary look by sendintheclowns. And a reassuring once over by a certain lurker who has been so much fun to rant with. Also, this will be a two-shot only because I got too wordy for it to stay a one-shot. Part two will be posted in a day or so.

Disclaimer: Really, not mine.


I didn't ask

They shouldn't have told me

At first I'd laugh, but now

It's sinking in fast

Whatever they've sold me

Well baby I don't want to take advice from fools

I'll just figure everything is cool

Until I hear it from you

-from "Til I Hear it From You" by the Gin Blossoms

-o-

Dean didn't like this place.

The house itself was bland, a cookie cutter shape with generic tan siding on a street full of countless other houses with generic tan siding. This one had green shutters, though, and a red front door, which Dean figured was supposed to make it stand out. Instead, it just kind of made it look like a bad attempt at Christmas cheer.

"You're kidding me, right?" he asked, and he so did not care about the whine in his voice at this point.

Sam didn't even look at him, just furrowed his brow and flattened his lips as he ducked his head to look up at the house from under the Impala's front window.

It just seemed conspicuous, was all. The suburbs, where all the places looked so much alike and nothing unusual ever happened. People would notice stuff. Like them.

"Come on, we can stitch it up in the motel," Dean said.

At this, Sam glanced at him. "You told me we were doing this right," Sam said as a matter of fact. "That you didn't want me poking around down there."

Dean shifted uncomfortably, all too aware of the injury that had them in front of this house. It wasn't serious necessarily, at least not with treatment, but it was low and deep and well--a little closer to the family jewels than he cared to talk about. Even before hell, he would have been loathe to let Sam anywhere near that area.

On top of that, he didn't trust Sam anymore--not really. Not since the whole showdown with the siren. Sam could claim he didn't mean what he'd said all day long, but Dean knew what it meant. And hell, if Sam hadn't been his responsibility, he might have given the kid what Sam thought he wanted and ditched him with Ruby.

But Sam was his responsibility and so they had to keep hunting together or Sam might end up a demon or dust or a dusted demon. Even so, staying together and hunting together was one thing. Trusting Sam was entirely another. Sam had used all of that up when he started taking walks by himself again, when he started talking to Ruby in the bathroom when he thought Dean wasn't listening, when he told Dean that he was weak and holding Sam back and then boo-hoo'ed Dean's torment.

So nope. Not trusting Sam.

Which was why he was sitting in the passenger's seat with a wad of gauze pressed firmly against the inside of his leg and why he'd been humming Metallica the last fifty miles.

"Yeah, I was thinking a clinic or something," Dean snapped. "A hospital, maybe. Not a less attractive version of Wisteria Lane." Although if there was a Eva Longoria look-alike in there, he might just change his tune.

Sam didn't show much expression, not that that was unusual. Not even a flicker of humor. Instead, Sam looked back at the house. "If we don't get you looked at, the blood loss could get bad," Sam said. "We're here and you need the help."

"But where are we exactly? Who do we expect to find here?"

Face set, Sam just looked down the street for a second, looking jumpy, edgy. Then he looked at Dean again. "I don't suppose asking you to trust me will really do much good?"

Dean snorted.

Sam looked down, pushing open his car door. "Either you can walk yourself to the door, or we'll be out to get you with a wheelchair," he said. "Your choice."

The car door shut and Dean felt indignant.

Shifting, he glanced down at his leg, pulling away the gauze slightly. He was still in the ripped jeans, which were thoroughly soaked around the crotch. The bleeding had slowed, but it hadn't stopped, and pressing the gauze down again, he hissed in pain.

Beggars couldn't be choosers, apparently. And bleeding out from the crotch seemed like a crappy way to die.

Mumbling a curse, he pushed open his own door and ambled out behind his brother.

By the time he got to the porch, the door was opening. It was a woman, probably in her late thirties. Tired blonde hair and jeans and a t-shirt. She looked at Dean first, hobbling as he was, before turning confused eyes to Sam.

The confusion gave way to recognition and surprise. "Sam?"

Sam smile awkwardly. "We need your help."

She raised her eyebrows and looked toward Dean again. "And who exactly is we?"

Sam seemed to twitch a little, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "Dean. That's--Dean. My brother Dean."

Her eyes widened again, looking from Dean to Sam to Dean again. She looked like she wanted to say something, a lot of somethings, but instead she pursed her lips, clenched her jaw and opened the door all the way. "First bedroom on the right," she said. "I'll be there with my stuff in five minutes."

With that, she disappeared inside and Sam looked back at him. "You need a hand?"

Dean had a feeling he was going to need a whole lot more than that before they left here.

-o-

The house was equally as drab on the inside as it was on the outside. Sam led him through a nondescript living room with a handful of pathetic-looking pieces of furniture. There were some books on the coffee table, a few pictures on an end table, but nothing personal enough to get a sense of who the hell this woman was.

First door on the right, just like she'd said, and Sam steered him inside and to the twin sized bed. It didn't look like much--a bed, matching dresser, and a desk--and Dean was suddenly not sure what to do. Sitting would be nice, but he was still bleeding, and as impersonal as the place seemed, he wasn't so keen on bleeding on other people's things.

The shades on the window were pulled shut, but the room was bright anyway. There was a neutral print of some seaside view framed above the bed and a small collection of lotion bottles organized on the dresser. There were more books on the shelf above the desk--titles Dean didn't recognize, except a textbook or two of the medical variety which actually made him feel a little better.

A little, but not a lot. He scowled at his brother, who was standing with his hands in his pockets, looking at the carpet.

"This is your brilliant plan?" Dean accused.

Sam just shrugged. "It was the best I could think of."

"Who is she, anyway?" Dean whispered, trying to reposition the wad of gauze to stem the flow without feeling like he was going to fall over. "And how do you know her? And why exactly is she qualified to do this?"

"She's a doctor," Sam said. "I met her on a hunt."

There was a lot of that story missing, though, which wasn't much of a surprise. So little truth came out of his brother's mouth these days and what little that was true was never the whole story. "So, she--knows?"

Sam looked up at that, steady and detached. "Yeah," he said. "She knows."

How much, though, Dean wasn't exactly sure, but there was no time to ask as their doctor in residence came through the door.

Her hair was pulled back now, and she carried a bag that she promptly set on the dresser. "You should probably sit," she said. "And getting undressed will probably help."

Dean bristled. "Look, lady, it just needs a few stitches."

She looked at him, glancing down to where Dean was still putting pressure. "If those stitches need to be where I think they do, trust me, you'll want me to be able to see what I'm doing."

Dean reddened a little at that.

"I'll be in the living room," Sam said shortly.

Dean wasn't sure if he wanted his brother to stay or to leave. After all, he still didn't know this woman and if she had met Sam during their time apart, then he wasn't sure he could trust her at all. Sam said she knew, but what exactly did she know? Ruby looked normal enough from the outside, but that was a demon wearing a corpse who liked to sex up his little brother. What was this? Another one-night stand? Another demon in disguise?

But Sam was gone before Dean could decide to ask him to stay.

The woman was pulling items out of the bag--dressings and sutures and some vials of medicine, among other things.

Licking his lips, Dean forced a smile. "I don't suppose you mind me saying Christo, do you?"

She didn't flinch, but her face went pale and she stiffened, looking at him coldly. "Is that supposed to be some kind of joke?" she said.

Not the reaction he'd been expecting, and not exactly a good one. "Why would it be?"

"Look, I'm doing this for Sam," she said, resuming her organizing. "I owe him this much. But I don't owe you anything. So, if you'd like me to fix things up down there with no lingering side effects, I suggest you stop trying to be cute and let me get to work."

Dean wasn't cowed by a lot of things, but his groin hurt and he was tired and his jeans were stiff with drying blood. She wasn't a demon, it seemed, and Sam's word wasn't worth much these days, but desperate times called for desperate measures. "I'll need a minute to get my pants off."

She just rolled her eyes, turning to him, fully gloved now and pushing him to the bed. "And I can barely contain my excitement," she muttered. "You have thirty seconds or I cut them off myself."

She turned back to the dresser and Dean muttered a curse under his breath again as he fumbled with his belt. He was pulling at his jeans when suddenly the world got fuzzy and he felt himself tipping. It was sort of an odd sensation, light and airy and heavy and wrong all at once, and he heard her swear a second before steady hands were pushing him up and rolling him onto his back.

When his vision cleared, he realized he'd almost passed out and she was scowling down at him. "You really are his brother, aren't you?"

Dean's brow crinkled and he was vaguely aware that she was wielding scissors and making short work of his boxers. "And how do you figure?"

"Idiocy in the face of injury," she said. "Must be a family trait. I just hope you're not quite as suicidal as he is."

He'd just been insulted and mocked and now Sam was suicidal? Since when was Sam anything but a cold-hearted SOB?

But she was holding a needle now--a big one and she was moving in on areas where needles just did not belong.

"You are a doctor, right?" he asked, because suddenly that seemed very, very important.

She looked genuinely amused. "Plus or minus a few malpractice suits."

Dean opened his mouth to protest and she just grinned. "Don't worry, you won't feel a thing."

"That's kind of what I'm worried about," he muttered.

"Take it easy," she soothed. "Just a simple injection to numb the site and you can just relax. When you wake up, you'll be as good as new. Trust me."

He couldn't trust her more than he could trust Sam, but it wasn't like there was anything he could do about it now. Humming Enter Sandman, he tried not to think about the pressure down there or about more of Sam's secrets or about how close he'd come to giving Sam a sister.

-o-

It was a blur of action and feeling. Even with the painkiller, it still felt wrong and he lay ramrod straight through the entire ordeal. The woman--doctor?--didn't talk much, just muttered occasionally, things Dean couldn't hear (didn't want to hear). When he startled in surprise and pain a few times, though, her touch was surprisingly gentle and her smile oddly warm before she got back to the task at hand.

He felt spent when she was finished, even though he hadn't done any of the work. She offered him a mirror to see the results, which he sheepishly accepted.

Giving him some pills and a glass of water, which she watched him drink, she smiled at him. To the point, she told him where the bathroom was, granted him free range of anything in the fridge, and said what he needed was sleep.

He thought maybe a shower would be nice, a beer, too, all once he made sure that Dean Jr. was going to be just fine.

When he woke up, though, he realized just how right she'd been.

The haze cleared completely--the drugs, he supposed, could only last so long--and it came to him that he was hungry.

Cautiously, he looked down, trying to remember if he'd covered himself with that blanket before falling asleep or not. A little tentative, he peaked under it, glad to find that at least whoever had covered him up hadn't humiliated him even more by attempting to dress his bottom half.

In the light, he could see the wound for what it was: long and ugly and unpleasant. But the line of stitches was neat and clean, tight and as discreet as it could be.

Satisfied, he pushed himself up in the bed, wincing at the jolt of pain that washed through his body. Some more painkillers were going to be a must to make it through the day.

To that end, he squinted at the window, which was awash with sunlight. Even brighter than yesterday. Like it was morning.

Dean glanced at the digital clock on the bedside. 10:34. He'd just slept for nearly eighteen hours.

But hey, eighteen dream-free hours. Maybe he needed to try pain-induced sleep more often. He could do without the nightmares. The private room was kind of nice, too. That way when Sam snuck out, Dean didn't have to think about it.

The thought of his brother made Dean remember where he was. And more than that, who else was here. Sam, as always, and Sam's friend.

Last night, he hadn't had the chance to question or protest or probe. Now, he did. He was tired of being blindsided by his kid brother's secrets.

That was enough motivation to push past the pain to a standing position. His duffel was on the floor by the closet, but a pair of pants and boxers were laid out on the desk. He had to give the lady some credit. She'd tried to make this part as easy on him as she could while leaving him what little remained of his dignity that morning.

Bending, at the moment, made him a little nauseous, and getting dressed was a slow process. By the time that he was covered, he sort of wanted to just curl right back up and go back to bed.

But he couldn't. No matter where the wound was, he couldn't let another secret slip by. The smarter brother was back and he was going to make Sam regret ever thinking otherwise.

Dean wasn't sure what hurt the most about it all. The fact that Sam confirmed every growing doubt Dean had had since coming back from hell or that Sam had been stupid enough to lie about it afterward. Saying that he hadn't meant it. Dean knew better; the siren knew how to amplify things, how to make its victims obsess and fixate, but it didn't create the emotion. Sam thought he was weak, stupid, whiny--under all that little brotherly facade of caring and sharing, Sam resented him and skanked around with Ruby instead.

Weak and stupid, my ass. Dean wasn't the one being led around the nose by a demonic bitch. It all came down to saving Sam or stopping him, and Dean was going to do that with or without Sam's help, little brother's pride and privacy be damned.

He'd tried being pissed. He'd tried punching. When Sam didn't respond to that, he'd tried a softer route. He'd tried listening. He'd tried encouraging. Hell, he'd even tried not talking about it. And where was it getting him? Nowhere. Sam didn't respect him enough to tell him much of anything, and the siren's venom was probably the best thing that had happened to Dean in months. At least this way, he knew where they stood. He had no reason to sit around and let Sam dupe him anymore. If Sam wanted to play with fire, Dean was just going to have to hide all the matches before his dumb-ass kid brother got himself torched alive.

Those thoughts fueled enough adrenaline in him to get him out the bedroom door and moving gingerly toward the kitchen.

He only made it to the living room before he saw Sam.

Sam was seated on the couch, hunched forward with a pen in his hand, focusing intently on a book splayed over the coffee table.

Sam saw him immediately, straightening and blinking. "Dean. Hi. You're up," he said, fast and his face flushed. He blinked again, rapidly and harder, like maybe he thought Dean was some kind of mirage. Then, Sam seemed to remember himself and hurried to his feet. He took a tentative step toward Dean but stopped short, arms falling limply to his sides with a sheepish grin. "You feeling okay?"

The words seemed well-intentioned enough, but Dean didn't really want to give Sam the benefit of the doubt. "I've got stitches where the sun don't shine," he groused. "How do you think I feel?"

Sam's smiled wavered and fell. "Yeah," he said. "You, um. Should heal fine, though."

As if that was supposed to make Dean feel better about it all. The stitches, this house, that woman--more of Sam's lies, more of Sam's hidden secrets. Dean had bared his soul to his little brother, and all Sam did was hide away one thing after another and it was taking more than a small toll on both of them. The hunt had been Dean's idea, a spirit in Nebraska--and Sam had acquiesced without any ado. Without any comment. Without much of anything. Half the time since the siren, it was like Sam was letting Dean win arguments, as if that changed anything.

All it did was piss Dean off and made them both sloppy.

Sam looked twitchy. He licked his lips and rubbed at the back of his head. "I. Uh. I'll let you eat," he said, motioning his head toward the kitchen. "I was just, uh. Reading."

As if Dean couldn't see that. Leave it to Sam to state the obvious and ignore the freakin' elephant in the room. This place was making Sam act weird--weirder than the normal weird of late. Sam was nervous and jumpy. He couldn't even finish a damn sentence. Not that Sam was overly talkative these days (hell, no, he saved that for being under the supernatural influence when it let him be a jackass) but this behavior was damn unnerving.

"I think I'll go lay down," Sam said. "But, you know, if you need something, I can--"

Dean didn't really have the stamina for this kind of stuff. He could only handle so much irritation, and since those stitches sure weren't going anywhere, he wasn't sure what he'd do to Sam. "I'm fine, Sam." Though, if Sam had really been concerned, he might try to show it. Sitting around reading while Dean's most precious cargo was on the line? And then going to bed as soon as Dean was awake? A bit of a low blow, even for this new Sam he seemed to be living with.

Sam flashed him a weak smile before brushing past him. Dean heard a door close down the hall and he was left alone in some stranger's living room and a rising list of questions of just what the hell they were doing here and what secrets Sam was trying to keep in the process

Which was exactly what this had to be--a secret. Coming to this house, knowing this woman--another one of Sam's one night stands? Another psychic maybe, someone to help him track demons? Or some other kind of supernatural evil personified for Sam to screw around with?

Whatever it was, if Sam thought he could drag Dean here and not talk about it, Sam was wrong.

Half-wrong anyway. There wasn't much point in talking to Sam. Dean was basically through with that. He still had his father's orders hanging over his head and he still had Cas's warning. Save him or kill him. Stop him or we will. He'd always counted on trusting Sam to be part of the winning arrangement, but if that ship was sailed, Dean would still live up to his responsibility. He had no intention of putting a bullet in his brother, not after all this, but he would save Sam's sorry ass whether Sam wanted it or not. Forty years in hell, he put up with a lot for that kid. He'd gone willingly. Almost without regret. And now that he was back? He had been tortured and the torturer. If Sam thought him weak, then clearly Sam was still underestimating him.

Most of all, he was tired of Sam's crap. He was tired of a Sam he didn't recognize. A Sam who was a stranger to him. He was tired of Sam's mysterious contacts and the hunts Sam went on when he was dead. Dean was dead and Sam was living life, drinking and watching movies and sleeping around and killing things and using his powers. The best of all worlds, it seemed.

But Dean was back. He still didn't really know why (still didn't want to know why) but damn it. He'd played nice with Sam all his life. Now he just wanted answers.

And something to drink. Maybe some food. His stomach was grumbling. At least, if he couldn't figure out what to do with Sam, he could probably remedy the emptiness of his stomach.

Shuffling past the living room, he found the doctor in the kitchen. She was wearing a different sweatshirt today, but it was equally ratty. Seated at the table, she appeared to be highlighting an article in the magazine in front of her.

She smiled at him when he came in. "You're looking better," she said. "But you need to eat. Some juice. Get your strength up. The blood loss wasn't terrible and your BP was okay last night, but I don't really want to take any chances."

"Yeah," Dean said, feeling suddenly awkward. Without the pressing need of an injury, it became acutely apparent to him that he really needed to figure her out.

She was pushing out of her seat, moving to a cabinet and pulling out a glass. "You may as well sit," she said. "Do you like eggs? They're about the only thing I make well."

He watched as she opened the fridge and took out a carton of orange juice. "Yeah," he said again, sitting carefully. "That'd be fine."

She shook her head, pouring a glass and putting it in front of him. "And here I thought you'd be the talkative one," she said. "I've been sitting in here with Sam all morning and he hasn't said more than two words to me. Makes a girl feel kind of lonely."

Friendly enough. No hint what her angle was. It made him uncomfortable--even more uncomfortable than the line of stitches creeping through his nether regions. He couldn't be sloppy. Not now. Not with Sam heading in as precarious a direction as he was.

"Right," she said, then turned back to her cabinets. Rustling around, she came up with a pan. "Do your stitches feel like crap?"

"What?"

She looked at him over her shoulder as she pulled butter and eggs out. "Your stitches," she said. "Must be bothering the hell out of you right now."

Dean felt himself blush despite himself. "Well--"

She just laughed a little. "Come on, I put them in," she said. "Stitches feel like crap in the best of locations and that is definitely not the best of locations."

She could say that again, Dean thought, shifting.

"Some Ibuprofen will help," she said. "I'd remind you how to take care of them, but if you're really Sam's brother, I doubt you'll need much of a reminder."

"And why's that?" Dean asked, finally seeing an opening in her friendly chatter.

She glanced at him, eyebrows raised. "What do you mean?"

"Why would me being Sam's brother make any difference?" It came out like an accusation, and Dean didn't care. It basically was one.

She frowned a little. "Well, let's just say you're not the first Winchester who's showed up on my doorstep bleeding," she said.

"So, that's how you know Sam?"

Something sizzled on the stove and she cracked an egg. She gave a one-shouldered shrug. "More or less."

"More or less?" he asked, the demand for more laden in his voice.

She narrowed her eyes at him over her shoulder. "I take it back," she said, cracking another egg onto the skillet. "You're not the talkative one, you're the jackass who wants to look a gift horse in the mouth."

"Look, lady--"

"Bethany."

"What?"

"My name is Bethany," she said again, taking a spatula to the skillet. "Bethany Dedrichson. And I really am an MD, but I wasn't kidding about the malpractice suits. It happens to the best of us."

Wait? Malpractice? With his greatest assets?

She rolled her eyes. "Even Sam fell for that one."

The joke did nothing to allay his suspicion. "Look, Bethany, it's great that Sam trusts you and all, but I don't know you."

"But I sure know you," she quipped with a suggestive waggle of her eyebrow.

"This isn't funny."

She sighed, turning and crossing her arms over her chest. "Yeah, well, sometimes laughing is the only way you get through the day without screaming," she said. "Call it a coping mechanism. As far as they go, this one's pretty healthy. Which is more than I can say about you two."

"You don't even know me," Dean said.

"And you don't even know me," she said evenly. "You let me stitch you up, but you're acting like I've done something wrong."

"Well, excuse me, but people have to earn my trust."

"Sam trusts me."

Dean scoffed at that. "You're assuming that carries much weight with me."

She cocked her head and looked genuinely perplexed. "You don't trust him?"

"Like I said, you don't know me, and you clearly don't know him very well."

"Well, the way you talk, I'm beginning to wonder if you do, either."

"What?"

Her gaze narrowed. "You heard me. He drags your ass here, has me save your life, and you wake up the next morning questioning his trustworthiness? Acting like you couldn't care less if he's around?"

He wasn't up for advice, especially not when it came to Sam. And where did this woman get off, anyway? Dean was too tired for this crap--too tired, too sore, too hungry, and too everything. And this chick? She didn't know. She didn't know. And she had no right.

Being with Sam was impossible. The lies. The secrets. The demons. The powers. And Dean had sat through it all, stuck with Sam through it all. He'd even spent most of his life defending the kid, protecting him, believing in him. And for what? To be told he was weak? To be told that Sam didn't care about what he thought at all? To tell his brother he wanted him back with one breath and that he was holding him back in the next?

Dean should have dumped Sam's ass right then and there. But that wasn't Dean. Not his style. Dean had responsibilities, and Hell or no Hell, trustworthy little brother or not, Sam was still his. Sam didn't deserve it at all but Dean was still here. "You know nothing," he seethed. "You haven't been with him day in and day out for the last six months."

"No," she agreed. "And where were you this summer when Sam was nearly getting himself killed left and right?"

Dean just rolled his eyes. It was a sob story he didn't need to hear. Sam had pulled it on him, puppy dog eyes and all, but the proof was in the pudding. Sam had changed, but he wasn't broken. Just stupid and defiant and damned blind. "So he drank a little beer and went on a few hunts. Got busted up a few time. It happens. And obviously Sam's emotional state was nothing that a little love from a warm body didn't cure."

She scoffed. "Is that really what you think?"

"Lady, I don't think, I know."

Her face went dark before she turned purposefully back toward the stove. She poked the skillet. "You think you know," she said softly, not looking at him. "But you weren't here."

Yeah, well, excuse him for being a little too busy being in Hell.

She moved the skillet off the burner, turning it off before turning back around. "It's never been any of my business, but Sam's the one who keeps showing up here and laying out his damned emotional baggage all over my spare room. And I always had to wonder, you know? What made people like you do what you do."

"People like us?"

"Hunters, or whatever the hell you call yourselves," she said. "I mean, everyone has a reason to throw their lives away like that, don't they? Some kind of psychological trauma to get them there?"

"What, you think nice sane boys can't grow up to hunt demons?"

She snorted a little, moving to the table, and sitting across from him. "Well, given Sam's textbook denial tactics and your perpetual chip on the shoulder, I think I'm pretty confident in that assertion, even if it has been nearly ten years since my Psych rotation."

"Yeah, well, you can leave the psycho babble for Sam," Dean said. "I don't need it."

She just rolled her eyes. "Of course not," she said. "And Sam's just fine and dandy by your brilliant estimation."

And why shouldn't he be? Not that Dean didn't appreciate that Sam had gone through something while Dean was gone, but relatively speaking, Sam didn't know crap about suffering. Dean was the one who died, the one who had gone to hell, and Sam just wanted to say boo hoo? Twenty-five years and it had all been about Sam. That was more than enough.

Dean shook his head. "Look, a lot of stuff has gone on in the last year for us, some crazy stuff and both Sam and I have been through our ups and downs. But trust me, Sam's fine. A pain in the ass and a liar in the extreme, but when it comes to self-confidence, my brother's more sure of himself than he should be."

"You think so?"

"I know so."

"I still don't see it," she said, with a flippant shrug. "He seems sober now, at least--"

Dean groaned. He'd heard Sam's story. How he'd been drinking and popping pills and chasing dangerous demons until Saint Ruby showed up. "A few beers does not make a guy an AA candidate."

"No, but raiding a stranger's fridge when you can barely stand up on your own two feet to avoid getting clean, yeah, that kind of does."

"You would deprive a guy of pain relief?"

She looked a little dumbfounded. "He was drunk off his ass the first time he showed up here," she said, matter-of-fact. "Didn't stop drinking throughout the entire damn thing. Scary good, though, which is why I figure he's still alive at all. I mean, I guess you have to be a certain kind of crazy to do this, anyway, but Sam--I've never seen someone drink so much and still be functioning, and that's in ten years of emergency medicine work. Of course, I also hadn't seen anyone quite so methodically suicidal."

Drunk, he might believe. After all, Winchesters had a penchant for alcohol and with no one there to hold Sam back, apparently Sam knew nothing of self-control. Thinking about Ruby and the powers, a little alcohol seemed like the least of Sam's issues.

But suicidal? He knew Ruby had saved Sam's life, but a wayward charge to get Lilith hardly made a guy a case for the psych ward.

Damn woman was a quack. Malpractice was the least of her worries. "My brother's not suicidal."

She clenched her jaw. "I'm not sure what else you'd call it. Sam came here by himself. Hunting demons. Wielded a knife, memorized exorcisms. Drew markings and symbols all over the place without even using a book. I know I don't know much about this kind of stuff, but I'm going to take a guess and say that usually you guys like to cross your t's and dot your i's. You know, be prepared. Not leave the knives and holy water out of arm's reach. Not chug alcohol while you're trying to recite Latin from memory. Everything he did, he seemed to know what he was doing, but it was completely reckless."

"That's not Sam," Dean said without thinking. Because it wasn't. Not the cold and calculated Sam he'd seen when he'd come back. Not the one who could lie to his brother's face about his dying wishes. And, sure as Hell, not the Sam that told him that he had killed more demons in four months than they had together in years. It wasn't.

The doctor just raised her eyebrows. "Remember how you weren't there?" she said.

"Yeah, well, remember how you don't know my brother?"

"Yeah, well, maybe you don't either."

"Look, lady--"

"Bethany."

He didn't give her the satisfaction. "A lot has happened between me and my brother in the last year and, trust me, you couldn't possibly know the half of it. And I do. And Sam? Is fine. Had a rough time, but hey, big brother's back in town so all is well in who-ville for little Sammy."

She snorted. "It looked like more than a tough time to me."

Dean bristled. "Hunting is dangerous. He may have flown by the seat of his pants, but we're not talking hard core suicidal tendencies here. I would have seen some kind of evidence of that when I got back, don't you think?"

"Suicide doesn't just mean slitting your wrists and downing a bottle of pills," she said. "Sam just seemed--I don't know. Like he wanted to die so badly but was refusing to do it himself. Like there was something holding him back. I always figured it was all tied together, what made him like that, what kept him falling apart and hanging on all at once."

Something like pride. Something like Dean's last wishes.

That might make sense. It might. That was the kind of desperation that seemed to define the Winchesters. That had pushed his mother to bargain for his dad's life. That had pushed his father to trade his soul for Dean's life. That had pushed Dean right to the crossroads himself instead of facing Sam's corpse.

The thought of it, of Sam being as desperate as the rest of his family had been--that Sam had wanted him back that badly--was oddly reassuring. Something Dean hadn't realized how badly he'd wanted to hear until the words were rolling around in his head.

But, if it was true, then, why? If Sam cared about him so much, if Sam had wanted to live up to the family legacy, then why had he lied about everything, from the very beginning? Why had he barely acted like he cared that Dean was back at all? Why Ruby and why the powers and why?

"You mean you really don't know all this?" Bethany asked. She sat back, quirking an eyebrow.

Dean's flattened his expression, and he bit back a curse. "I know enough."

"Yeah, I'm seeing that," she said.

Enough games. If there was something to this, then it was time to get it out on the table. "Well, why don't you enlighten me, since you know my brother so well."

She didn't rise to the sarcasm in his voice. "The details aren't pretty."

"And our lives seem so damn picturesque?"

She inclined her head. "Just don't say I didn't warn you."

-o-

It's June and Lincoln is hot. Children spend their days running through sprinklers and jumping in pools. Mothers sit with their babies under shade trees and awnings, sipping bottled water and talking about who-said-what around town.

That's where the rumors start. That something's not right on Redmond Lane.

A doctor lives there who works at the hospital. She has a handsome husband, too; good woman with a good man. A teacher--high school math and he coaches junior high basketball in the winter. They've tried, God knows, to have kids, and it's a little sad, but they're getting by.

At least they were. But something's funny now. Something about that house. Lights on all night. And the smell. Like there's something rank in the garbage, but it just never goes away. Then loud noises at the most random times. The pretty little flower bed by the driveway all shriveled up.

They stop coming out together. No more baseball games, no more twilight walks. They see her leave for work and come home again, but he hasn't been seen in nearly a month.

And what is with this weather lately? The craziest freak storms you ever saw. Global warming--maybe Al Gore is right.

It's gossip to them, odd tidbits and noteworthy morsels, but it's something more. When a '67 Chevy rolls into town, no one notices but the kid down the street who's in to muscle cars. No one even looks twice at the guy who flashes his CDC badge door to door, asking about anything weird, anything at all.

It's not the badge or the case he mentions that they remember; it's the smell on his breath--too minty fresh to be real--and those bags under his eyes--poor boy looks worked half to death.

When he finally knocks on the door 2717 Redmond Lane, though, it's a different story entirely. The rest of the neighbors were curious and perplexed, but that doctor and her husband were a whole lot more than that.

Because it's not the doctor or her husband. It's two demons, straight from Hell, powerful and bent on mayhem. So when he goes to that door, it's a fight both sides are ready for.

To the rest of the neighbors, though, it's just another random development. There's the sizzle of holy water and the screech of the other world but the kids next door just turn the TV up higher and wonder what kind of kinky stuff is going on.

The struggle inside is brief, because the man knows what he's doing. He can barely walk straight, but he's focused; undeterred. Subduing them is the hard part, because knocking out a demon is no easy feat, and it takes almost more holy water than he has, especially since his aim's not very good these days.

The holy water subdues them enough; there's no point in tying them for now. Without the symbols on the floor, the demons could break any bond, anyway, so he just needs to get his ass in gear.

He drinks hard and fast from a flask in his pocket (which he always holds near) and the taste of whiskey is the most alive he can feel at all.

The house is already a mess, with furniture overturned and pictures askew and the collection of glass stemware in the china cabinet has seen better days. He takes spray paint to the floors and pours salt liberally at the door and doesn't think twice because, even if he were sober, he would know it has to be this way.

Luckily he knows how to make the sigils in his sleep, so doing it while drunk is not that much harder. The lines bend and curve with his unsteady hand, but crude or not, they'll do the trick.

He makes two--a his and hers--and drags the bodies into the center of each. Pulling in two chairs from the kitchen, he props one body up in each and ties them down, because it makes it a little easier when they can't move at all.

When he's done, he trips backwards into a chair and gropes through his pocket for the flask. Another drink and his vision blurs, and he wishes he were someplace else.

He's staring, almost sleeping, when the first one stirs. He spares a second for one more drink before he lumbers to his feet.

The woman in the chair looks confused at first, then annoyed as she looks at Sam. Her eyes flash demon black and her smile is vile. "Sam Winchester," the demon coos.

Sam offers a half-hearted grin and starts the exorcism. He knows it by heart, because there is nothing else for him to do with his time.

She grimaces. "What, no interrogation?" she asks. "No demands? No, tell me what I want to know or I'll send you back to hell?"

"It doesn't matter," he says. "I'm sending you back anyway." And keeps the litany going.

She trembles, and pain escapes in a grunt. She stares up at him through blonde hair that isn't hers. "You disappoint me," she says. "They said you'd gone off the deep end, but I figured you'd at least try a little harder."

He doesn't even respond to that one, just keeps going.

Her head snaps back and she lets out a holler. "Narrow minded!" she yells and her head drops down to look at him. "So blinded by your grief that you don't see an opportunity looking you in the face."

"You're not Lilith," he tells her simply. "There's nothing you can offer me."

"Are you so sure?" she asks, panting now.

He thinks back to the line of demons who have tried to barter with him. He thinks to the ones that have tried to kill him. He thinks about the crossroads demon and how his soul is useless.

He can't help it. He laughs. "Yes," he says and he keeps chanting.

Because he knows that the demons have what they want. Sam thinks maybe he was a ploy all along, that maybe the entire damn universe is just setting him up for failure. The Yellow Eyed Demon, the Trickster, Lilith--all using him, using the people around him to get him alone, to get him vulnerable, to make him hurt and ache.

Maybe it's about Dean. Maybe it's about him. Maybe it's about neither of them and both of them and maybe life just sucks.

Sam doesn't care. He has his flask of whiskey and a memorized exorcism and two demons to kill. The demons never needed a reason, and now he doesn't either. It doesn't bring Dean back (it never brings Dean back) and it doesn't make him feel any better (nothing makes him feel better), but it's one more thing to do that doesn't involve swallowing his own gun.

She's screaming now, fast and incoherent, there's begging and some pleading and, then, it's over with a retch of smoke and a shudder that rocks the house.

The woman's body goes limp in the chair, held up by the ropes, and Sam doesn't bother to check her as he turns his attention to the man.

And that's when he realizes the mistake.

Well, there have been lots of mistakes. But this one may just cost him what little he has left.

Because the man's black eyes look up at him, awake and alert. He cocks his head to the side and grins. "Took you long enough," he said. "Funny. I heard you were better than that. Oh, wait. That was before. With Dean. Dean always was the better half of you, wasn't he?"

Sam just stares, feeling blank. He should probably panic, maybe start reciting, maybe do something, but it's a hard thing because they always talked about how demons lied, but really, in the end, they more often just told the truth.

A hiss of Latin and a tilt of the head and the floor shakes and cracks just enough to ruin the entire thing. The trap is broken, the seal undone, and Sam's got nothing but an exorcism and a flask to defend himself.

The knife is over in the bag. So is the rest of the holy water. His lunge in that direction is meager to say the least.

He hits a wall before he makes it two feet and he falls to the ground in a rain of plaster. Staggering, he rolls to his front, making it to his knees before he's flying again. He smashes into an end table this time, taking a lamp hard in the kidney, and when he opens his eyes, he's looking at the small man stalking toward him.

"The great Sam Winchester," the demon says. "Immune to so much." His smile widens. "But not to the simple stuff."

A flick of the wrist and Sam hits the ceiling, but doesn't fall, flies instead to a far wall where breaking through the plaster rattles his brain. There's not a second of reprieve before he smashes into something glass this time, raining shards in his hair, and he falls face first into a sea of it.

For a second, he can't move. His body aches and his chest feels tight. His head throbs and his vision is dark around the edges. He's screwed. He's got no back up and there's a demon on the loose and he couldn't walk a straight line even before this all began.

"Lilith is a genius," the man's voice says. "A true capitalist. Lobbies the marketplace to get what she wants for the best price possible. You Americans should revere her. She sees your poor little soul rotting in the afterlife and sees Dean Winchester bending over backwards to get you out. And why not? Dean's soul is pure and good--well, was pure and good. The things he's up to these days--that's another story entirely."

That's the part that pushes him over the edge and he's crying and he can't stop and he doesn't care. "Shut up," he spits out, and blood runs down his chin.

The demon cocks his head with mock sympathy. "But you haven't heard the best part, Sam," he says.

Sam doesn't want to. He really doesn't want to. But the demon saunters closer, too close. There's no force holding Sam back this time, but he still can't move.

The demon licks the lips of its host and its gaze seems to bore into Sam's skull. "The best part, the kicker that makes Lilith damn near perfect, is that she got your brother to sell his soul for you. Your soul? Isn't worth anything. What does Hell want with another tarnished soul? You're already ours. We don't need to trade for you. We don't need to worry about whatever good deeds you try to tell yourself you're doing on earth. Your eternal torment was planned from the day old Azazel bled in your mouth. And yet, by having you up here, we got something so much more. Dean threw his soul away for you, so you could live. Well, now, isn't that funny. Here you are. But I wouldn't really call this pathetic existence living, would you?"

No, Sam wouldn't. It was nothing like living, it was everything like dying and Sam just wants it to be over.

This is the moment, though. Sam's been here so many times. That last chance. The final escape. Demons are prone to monologuing, to laying it all out on the table, and that's where they get sloppy. Where they let their guard down. Sam should be plotting, should be eyeing the bag with the knife and the holy water and be ready to make that one last leap to save himself.

This is the moment, and Sam's knows it.

He lets it pass.

The demon smirks. "And you roll over and play dead," he says. "Once and future king. Killing you doesn't change anything, but damn. It'll make me feel good."

And Sam just closes his eyes, swallows blood, and prays one last time for this to end.

-o-

"Sam wouldn't give up," Dean said before he could even think anything else.

"It was pretty hard to miss."

Dean shook his head. He knew Sam, and that wasn't his brother. That wasn't the younger brother who defied everything and ran off to Stanford. That wasn't the Sam who had stood up to their dad up to the very end. That wasn't the Sam who could cold-heartedly summon a demon just to blow it and its host away. That wasn't the Sam who could lie to Dean's face without a flicker of remorse.

No, Sam was a fighter. For better or worse, always a fighter. "Well, seeing as you were possessed, I'm not sure you are the most reliable witness."

Her face hardened. "I was awake for all of it," she told him. "The demons in my house, using me and my husband. I was awake when that demon took me on my rounds and prescribed the wrong meds and let some guy bleed out just for kicks. And by the time Sam rolled over and played dead? I was awake and in charge of my own body and scared out of my mind."

Dean still couldn't buy it. "So you caught the tail end of a fight," Dean said. "The hunt's hard. It happens."

"Sam nearly died that night," she said. "The demon nearly killed him."

"Nearly being the operative word," Dean insisted stiffly.

Her face turned with a flicker of disgust. "And just where were you exactly while Sam was getting himself nearly killed?"

Dean blanched in spite of himself. "None of your damn business."

"Well, then don't tell me how it was," she said. "Sam was a walking disaster and didn't have a single person to back him up, and now I learn he's got a big brother around? Doesn't add up. Seems to me that wherever you were, you left the kid out to dry, so don't sit there and act like you know how it was."

"I didn't leave by choice," he told her harshly.

Her gaze didn't soften. "So where were you?"

"You do not want to know."

"I figured you were dead," she blurted.

Dean's expression turned guarded. "Did Sam tell you that?"

"Sam didn't tell me crap," she said. "All I knew was that there was a Dean and that he wasn't around. And I couldn't figure why anyone would leave a kid in the state Sam was in without being dead."

Dean offered her a half-hearted smile. "Do I look dead to you?"

She seemed to consider that. "So that still doesn't tell me where you were."

"And I'll keep telling you it is none of your damn business."

She didn't look amused. "Fine. But you wanted the details," she told him indignantly. "So I'm telling you the details so don't start questioning them."

"No, I wanted the truth," he said. "Not some overly-dramatic version of it."

"No, you want the truth that makes your life easier," she snapped back. "You want to think that Sam was a-okay for some reason. I don't know why you think that."

Dean leaned forward, a surge of anger moving through him. "I don't want to think that. I just have to make sense of it. Because Sam's been able to hunt just fine since I've been back. He's been his usually bitchy self, only on a whole new level. I'm not seeing any suicidal tendencies. No drinking binges. Not even alcohol hiding in the car. No, my brother's doing just fine. His tendency to be a jackass is just who he is now."

"Wait," she said, a disbelieving smile on her face. "Are you pissed because you think your brother is stronger than that or are you pissed because you don't think he missed you enough during whatever summer vacation you were on?"

Dean wanted to scoff, to deny, but her question hit him harder than he would have expected. It was that niggling doubt that had hit him the minute he found a girl in Sam's motel room. That pain in knowing that, of all the things Sam had failed to follow through on, his ability to move on after Dean's death wasn't one of them.

"You don't think he missed you," she said, gaping a little. "Dean, you've got it all wrong. When I tell you Sam wanted to die, I mean he wanted to die. And if he ever was the person you seem to think he was, then there was a pretty big reason for it. I don't know where you were or why you two weren't together, but whatever went down, I'm guessing it changed your brother. He didn't even try to defend himself against that demon, and it gave him every chance. I can't imagine that's exactly called good hunting. When I tried to get him to go to the hospital, he flat out refused."

Dean gave a small shrug, his face guarded. Still didn't add up. Still didn't explain Sam's lies. "We're not big into hospitals."

"A few stitches, sure," she agreed. "Sam was bleeding out. How he didn't shatter half the bones in his face, I'm still not sure. He almost died right there in that bedroom you slept in."

"If he was so bad off, why didn't you call for help?"

Her gaze was penetrating. "My house looked like a war zone and that didn't even begin to describe the weird drawings all over the place. I just--didn't want to deal with it. I don't think I was ready to admit it to myself. I mean--I still don't even know how to wrap my mind around what happened to me."

"So you decided to just play doctor at home?"

"I had the skills and enough equipment," she said, shrugging slightly. "Couldn't swing a blood transfusion but I could pump him full of fluids to help him ride it out. Seemed like the thing to do at the time. I may know a thing or two about coping mechanisms myself. Avoidance is a personal favorite. At least it's not quite as self destructive as drinking and sloppy exorcisms."

"Hey, I'm not saying Sam didn't go through something," Dean said, because, okay, yeah. He would have to suspect as much. Watching your brother get killed right in front of you was no picnic. Dean knew that from experience. But life sucks. Sam moved on. That much Dean had seen. "But he got over. By the time I got back, he was stone cold sober and getting some action."

And, if he were honest with himself, that hurt. Seeing Sam shacking up with a girl while he was pulling himself out of a grave had been difficult enough. Finding out that it'd been Ruby--a demon and that his brother had continued to hunt with her even after Dean had gotten back? Was yet more evidence of the depth of Sam's betrayal.

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, and no one ever uses sex as an escape."

Well, fine. Maybe. But it had been a damn fine coping mechanism. And it didn't change the fact that it wasn't the sex that bothered him. It was Ruby. She was a demon who had lied to Sam up until the very end--well, Dean's end.

Funny how he always thought of it like that. That his death was the end. Time had stopped for Dean, but it hadn't for Sam. Sam had kept living and kept breathing and he'd told Sam to move on, to remember what he'd been taught, and what did Sam do? He'd blown it. Squandered it. Thrown it away like garbage. Dean had made a deal, but he hadn't gone against every moral fiber and teaching he'd ever been told. He hadn't compromised all his standards. He'd lived up to his responsibilities. He'd saved Sam. And knowing that Sam hadn't--didn't make him feel any sorrier for the kid.

"But there was some girl," she continued with a shrug. She glanced over her shoulder, as if worried Sam might hear. "Some brunette."

"Ruby," Dean muttered, sinking low in his seat.

Bethany gave a noncommittal tilt of her head. "I barely met her. But she was the one who dragged Sam here the second time."

"Ruby brought Sam here?"

"Apparently, Sam refused a hospital," Bethany deadpanned back. "Can't imagine that."

"We get banged up," Dean said.

"Yeah, well, Sam nearly died--again."

He wanted to deny it, to say she was wrong, or at least exaggerating. But he didn't know. He had no idea. Sam had never said anything.

Well, and Dean had never asked.

"And Ruby brought him?"

Bethany nodded. "Yet another story you don't know?" she asked.

"You said it yourself, Sam's not very talkative."

"I know, but did you even ask?"

"Like Sam would have told me the truth."

She laughed a little. "Best damn excuse ever," she said. "Absolves you and puts all the blame back on him."

"You going to lecture me or tell me about it?"

She sighed. "Fine," she said. "But this one's no prettier than the first."