By The Pricking Of My Thumbs

Dean had to admit it was nice getting out of the hospital room; it was hard being cooped up like that.

Sam dozed in the heat of the car and Dean couldn't help but think his little brother had been released too soon. The kid could barely cross the length of his hospital room with the aid of the walker and now the doctors were turning him loose on the outside world? Dean vowed to himself that he would be extra vigilant in caring for Sam, and would do everything in his power to keep him from experiencing a relapse or hurting himself in a rush to do things on his own.

Wheeling the Impala into the driveway of the small rented house, Dean realized they'd have to find somewhere else to live in a couple of weeks – their dad had only paid up through the end of the month.

Dad. Somewhere in Minnesota doing God knows what, but whatever it was, it had to involve saving a huge number of lives. There's no way their dad would flake out on them when Sam, and Dean, needed him most.

Finding somewhere else to stay was easier to contemplate than his dad's absence, but nothing took priority over Sam. Right now he was concentrating on the little brother he'd almost lost – first to college and then to the shtriga.

Placing his hand on Sam's shoulder, he squeezed gently. "Sammy, we're home."

His brother's eyes popped open and he straightened from where he'd been leaning against the car's passenger window. "We're here already?"

Sam's voice was groggy and his eyes bleary. After a moment they focused, alert, roaming from the weed infested lawn to the cracked and peeling siding to the ramshackle porch whose floor was tilting precariously. Disappointment at his surroundings colored a gentle sigh as Sam frowned before opening the heavy car door.

His little brother hated this place but at least it was a roof over their heads. Focusing on the positive, Dean made it to the passenger door before Sam had managed to finish turning in the seat and sliding his legs out into the warm summer air. Between his injuries and the shtriga, Sam was barely functioning and couldn't make it without lots of help, help that Dean planned on providing.

Offering his hands, Dean tugged Sam off the passenger seat to an awkward standing position. He quickly slid an arm behind Sam's waist and latched on to the belt-loop of the jeans that were threatening to slide off dangerously thin hips at any moment. Sam threw an arm around Dean's neck, his weight naturally curling into Dean's side.

As worried as Dean was about Sam's condition, he couldn't prevent the frisson of contentment from snaking down his spine; his little brother was relying on Dean to take care of him and that was the role Dean relished most – big brother. And Sam needed to be by his side, it was the only way Dean could protect him. The bus accident and Sam's kidnapping had definitely driven home that point. He knew Sam didn't want to hear it but the facts were the facts.

They slowly made their way down the sidewalk and then up the rickety porch stairs, more of Sam's weight leaning against Dean with each step.

Dean knew his brother was still out of it because he wasn't asking for his walker – the walker they couldn't afford. Hopefully the bus company's insurance would pick up most of the tab on Sam's hospital stay but it hadn't come through yet. That meant cutting corners where possible. Sam's medications were a must so the walker had been left behind. Sam was going to have to let Dean help him get around. It wasn't ideal, especially not for his self sufficient brother, but they'd have to make it work.

By the time they got inside and down the hallway to the bedroom they shared, Sam was visibly drooping, head hanging low on his neck, legs tangling with one another as he stumbled forward. Dean made sure Sam's descent was slow as he lowered him to the soft surface of the single bed, careful to minimize jostling. Despite his best efforts, Sam still grimaced and Dean winced in sympathy.

Sam gazed up at Dean, eyes huge and exhausted. It was difficult but Dean reined in the impulse to reach out and tousle Sam's already messy bangs. "I think it's time for your meds. Why don't you kick back and relax? I'll get your stuff from the car."

His brother caught his shirt sleeve as he walked past. "I'd really like a shower. I feel gross. If you grab my walker I think I can manage."

Not even out of the hospital an hour and Sam was already over doing things. "I don't think that's such a hot idea, Sammy. I was thinking more along the lines of taking your meds and a nap. I'll help you with a shower tomorrow."

Dean high tailed it out of the room before Sam could voice his protests. A quick trip to the car netted the bag with the meds. Dean stopped in the kitchen to dig up a glass and fill it with water before opening the bottles and spilling one from each into his hand – a muscle relaxant and pain pill. He stowed the bottles in the cupboard before picking up the water and heading back to his brother.

Sam was sitting in the same position as when Dean had left, legs hanging over the side of the bed, back hunched uncomfortably, clutching a prize in his hand – his new cell phone. Dean had left the replacement for the cell phone wrecked in the bus accident on the nightstand as a surprise. He thought his brother would ooh and ah over it and then leave it alone until later, when he was feeling better. Much later. But his brother's head was down, punching in numbers.

From his vantage point across the room, Dean could see the stoop in Sam's shoulders and the effort it took for him to keep his head from bobbing on his neck. Sam was coming down off the adrenaline high of leaving the hospital, crashing hard, but he couldn't or wouldn't recognize it.

If Sam didn't slow down, he was going to run himself right into the ground, undo all of his progress. It was Dean's job to take care of his brother, had been for almost eighteen years, and he'd see to it that the kid got his rest. By hook or by crook.

Dean darted forward and set the glass and pills down before Sam even looked up. He nabbed the cell phone right out of Sam's hand, turning it off and pocketing it. "You look exhausted, kiddo. How about you make your call later."

It came out more as an order than a question. And orders and Sam didn't coexist peacefully. Tough. This was one argument Dean was going to win; Sam's health was at stake.

Lips were set in a mutinous line as Sam turned a challenging face toward Dean, nostrils flaring. "There's one call that can't wait. It'll just take a minute."

Sam put his hand out for the cell phone but Dean ignored him, instead picking up the glass of water and pills. "You heard what the doctor said. You need to take it easy, listen to your body, or you won't get any better. Just take your pills and get some rest, okay?"

Stunned was a good description for the look on his brother's face – eyes wide and mouth open in disbelief.

Dean took advantage of the open mouth, popping the pills in.

Sam didn't protest as Dean firmly held the glass to his brother's lips and tilted it so that the water flowed freely. It took a moment but in the end Sam swallowed down the pills and water. Intermittent coughing resulted.

Dean felt a moment of remorse at having imposed his will on to Sam – no one valued being in control quite like his brother – but the kid had to take it easy. Didn't he realize that he had almost died? That Dean had almost lost him?

When the coughing didn't let up, Dean set the glass down and sunk onto the mattress next to his brother. It was common for kids attacked by the shtriga to fall sick with pneumonia and Sam had managed to escape that, dehydration and his other injuries forcing the need for medical attention. Dean just hoped the water hadn't gone down the wrong pipe, giving Sam a new set of problems.

Curling an arm behind Sam's back, Dean tried to support his brother as he gasped and wheezed but his brother wasn't having any of it, instead drawing as far away as he could without physically standing up and moving. But as the coughs tapered down, Sam's head hung low between his shoulders and he allowed Dean to touch him.

At last the lingering tickle dissipated and Dean was left with a thoroughly exhausted and medicated Sam resting his head on Dean's shoulder, hands resting limply in his own lap. "Come on, Sammy, let's get you stretched out and comfortable."

Sam rested his face in the crook of Dean's neck; the sensation of moisture on his skin alerted him to his brother's distress. Easing Sam off his shoulder so he could look at his face, Dean saw tears staining pale cheeks. "Hey, Sam, what is it? Do you hurt?"

Huge hazel eyes blinked slowly at Dean, vulnerable in their blankness. No other response was forthcoming. Sam allowed himself to be pulled back into Dean's arms without a sound.

Warning bells were going off in Dean's head. No matter how sick or injured or even pissed off Sam had been in the past, he was always active. Trying to do too much, too quickly. Mr. Independence.

This incarnation of his little brother draped passively against Dean, completely without fight, was freaking him out.

As Dean bent his head to nestle against Sam's in a gesture of comfort, he heard his brother whisper, "I give up. You win."

Dean didn't take his baby brother's words seriously. Sam always bounced back and he always forgave Dean. His heart was too big to do anything else.


Sam woke up to find Dean's hand on his shoulder, face hovering above his. "Come on, Sam, time to wake up. You need to take your pills."

He allowed himself to be manhandled into a sitting position, Dean's arm braced along his back to keep him upright.

Physically Sam wasn't in discomfort and he didn't need the pills, at least at the moment. But mustering the energy to explain it to Dean wasn't worth it and anyway, the pills took the edge off of everything.

Softened things. Made them more bearable.

Two pills were placed in his hand and Sam let his hand be guided to his mouth, dutifully placing one blue pill and one white pill into his dry mouth. Next his hand was curled around a glass and he gratefully lifted it and slugged down water.

Still propped against Dean's arm, Sam blinked his eyes, trying to clear the sleep from them. There was something he was going to do today but he couldn't remember what.

Dean's voice, gentle with concern, was right there to remind. "You said you wanted to take a shower. How about it? I'll help you in there and stay just outside the door in case you need something. I know you like your privacy but I don't want to go too far in case…"

His brother kept talking, his pitch rising and falling in rhythm. Cadence. That's the word Sam was looking for. Even without listening to the words, Sam would be able to identify Dean's voice just by his cadence.

His musings were brought up short when Dean smoothed the hair away from his face. Sam hated when his dad or brother did that; it was some sort of Winchester shorthand for Sam needing a haircut. Although maybe it was time Sam got his haircut. Maybe something like Dean's. Less time in the shower, less shampoo and it would dry more quickly.

"Sam, are you listening to me? Do you want to take a shower or not?" Impatience tinged his brother's question.

Normally Sam would have loved a shower – the need to be clean was a deep one. He hated feeling dirty. But the act of getting up, moving around, was beyond him right now. Maybe he'd just close his eyes. Just for a little while.

And Dean would be happy. Dean wanted him to rest. "I'm really tired. Do you mind if I take a nap?"

Dean frowned heavily, the grooves around his mouth and the furrows in his forehead deep. "But you just woke up! Don't you at least want something to eat?"

The last time Dean had forced the pills on Sam, telling him he needed to rest. Apparently Sam had given the wrong answer this time. But how was he supposed to know what to say, or do? He was all out of sync. With his brother. With the universe.

Tears collected in his eyes and he closed them, willing them to stop. They leaked out anyway, dampening his cheeks. Even his body wouldn't listen to him.

His brother lowered him to his back, hand sliding through his hair again. "Sure, Sam. Take a nap. Whatever you want. It's okay. You can shower later. I'll be here when you wake up."

Whatever you want.

As long as Sam could figure out what Dean wanted him to want, which he'd always sucked at, it would be okay.


Dean hovered above his brother. Now that Sam was asleep, Dean couldn't wait for him to wake up again. Instead Dean settled for pulling the comforter up higher on Sam's chest and stared at his sibling. Sam's face was pale and damp with tears but his breathing was slow and even.

What a cluster.

Sam had wanted a shower last night, pouting mightily when Dean wouldn't help him. This morning his brother had taken the pills without a fight, declined the shower, and promptly fallen back to sleep.

Dean was tempted to call the hospital and talk to Sam's doctor; something wasn't right. Sure, he knew Sam would need lots of rest – hell, Dean had thought he might have to tie the damn kid down to make him take it easy – but this…this wanting to sleep all of the time was beyond what Dean had expected. Hadn't Sam slept enough in the hospital?

And then there were the tears. Sam never cried. At least not in front of anyone and on those few occasions that he had, it had been when he was young. His feelings had been easily bruised back then but he'd grown out of it. Thank God. Neither he nor his dad were into outward displays of emotion, except maybe anger, and neither one knew what to say. Maybe Sam was in pain and didn't want to admit it. It's a good thing Dean was keeping track of when to dole out the medications. He couldn't stand to see his little brother in pain.

The weight of caring for his brother settled across Dean's shoulders like his leather jacket. Taking a deep breath, he straightened those shoulders. With his dad away on business, Dean would just have to step it up a notch. He absolutely hated seeing Sam in this state – weak and hurting – but it kind of seemed like fate, Sam not making it out of Wisconsin.

Dean drifted out of the bedroom and toward the kitchen. Sam might not be hungry, but Dean sure as hell was. And after a while he'd wake Sam up and make him eat something. The kid had lost a lot of weight but no more, not on Dean's watch.


One week out of the hospital and every day had a sameness to it that Sam found comforting.

Dean pushed his pills on him, nagged him into showering, cajoled him into eating. When Sam gave in to these things, it seemed to make his brother happy.

Sam wasn't even sure he needed the pills anymore but they kept him loose and relaxed and he slept a lot which was nice. Always before he was borderline insomniac, unless the Impala was lulling him to sleep, and now he realized what he'd been missing out on it. What possibly ever teen everywhere else knew – that huge quantities of sleep were the absolute best thing ever.

Sam could have done without showering so much – the effort it took to move to the bathroom left him exhausted – but he'd shortened his routine so that he now was in and out in a minute or two. And really, it didn't matter if he was clean or not. He didn't go anywhere and just laying around didn't make him sweat.

Once the shower was out of the way, Dean fixed Sam breakfast. Pancakes, omelets, even Lucky Charms. Whatever he wanted. Sam tried, he really did, but everything he put in his mouth tasted the same. The sharp metallic tang of blood. Or sometimes decaying leaves. Not conducive to eating. But if he didn't at least force some food down, Dean looked apoplectic with worry.

The rest of the day was spent in leisure and Sam had free rein to do as he liked. Watch whatever he wanted on TV. Read books unimpeded and Dean had even offered to go the library and pick some up. Surf the internet at will. And sleep whenever the mood took him. And it took him a lot.

Of course sometimes Sam had to aid the sleep, and that required helping himself to the pills. He knew exactly where Dean kept them in the cupboard and when his brother stepped outside, or into the shower, Sam would spill some out of the bottles and hide them. Just to have on hand. It was nice to know they were there if he needed them, and he didn't have to bother his brother for them either. Dean worried too much about him as it was.

Lately when his brother looked at him Sam thought he detected sadness in Dean's eyes. Lurking just behind the strain of taking care of Sam. Like he was right now after Dean had asked him if he wanted to go get a bite to eat and he'd declined.

Crossing his arms and then uncrossing them, Dean stared balefully at him and Sam knew he'd given the wrong answer. Sighing, Sam tried to reason out what Dean wanted him to do but he'd had his extra quota of pills not long ago and his head felt thick. "You don't have to stay here with me, Dean. Why don't you see if one of your girlfriends is available for lunch?"

Glowering now, Dean pursed his lips. "No, Sam, that's not…Sammy, you need to move around, get stronger. I'm worried about you."

Mirroring Dean's movements, Sam pursed his lips. He tried to follow Dean's logic. Going to a restaurant did mean moving around but after that, he was lost. Did Dean want him to get out, mingle with more people? Always before that was frowned upon. Sam was only supposed to talk to his family. Strangers couldn't be trusted and friends only tied you down.

Worse yet, his brother had Sammy'd him. Dean only did that when he was trying to put Sam in his place, remind him that he was the little brother. But what had he done wrong?

Sam was content to stay in the house but that's not what Dean wanted. "Sure, Dean, we can go out if you want to."

Instead of smiling, Dean frowned again. Shit. Sam's head was too fuzzy and he couldn't figure out what he was supposed to do.


Every day was the same with no improvement on his brother's part. If anything, the kid was worse off now than when Dean had brought him home.

Dean didn't know what to do. Sam, his genius little brother, gaped at him blankly whenever Dean asked him a question. This was a kid who had gotten into Stanford on a full ride scholarship? Shit, Sam didn't remember how to tie his shoelaces some days, not that he ever wore shoes now, content to shuffle through the house barefoot. He seemed happy to do nothing all day, every day. That wasn't his Sammy and he wondered if the hospital had fucked up. Maybe Sam had a more serious brain injury that they'd missed.

Dean was alone. No dad to bounce ideas off of; he was still off, not deigning to take Dean's calls. And Sam was incapable of helping. His brother wore an expression ranging from mild bafflement to outright confusion as often as he wore Dean's ratty AC/DC sweatshirt – every minute of every day.

At first having Sam completely dependent upon him was everything Dean could have wished for. Dean lived to take care of Sam. But as his once bright brother drifted from day to day, unwilling or unable to take care of himself, Dean's dreams crashed and burned. Sam was supposed to be his hunting partner and side-by-side they would show the supernatural world who was boss. But his little brother wasn't getting any better and there was no way Dean could contemplate taking him on a hunt. Hell, Dean didn't even trust Sam enough to let him stay home alone while Dean stepped out for groceries, afraid that he'd fall and hurt himself, or even wander off and forget where he lived, or even his name.

Dean had always tried to stay on the sidelines when his dad and brother fought but he was beginning to understand what his dad had gone through. Sam wanted to be independent but what he really needed was his family.

For a moment, when Dean had asked Sam to lunch and then tried to talk him into it, it seemed as though Sam were poised to argue. Dean could see the kid didn't want to leave the house. That would take effort and Sam doled that out sparingly. For a moment, that old sparkle, that Sam who would sometimes take the opposite side of an argument just for the sheer love of debate, seemed ready to make an appearance. But that sparkle quickly faded, replaced by a vacant and hollow stare, and Dean was left watching as Sam caved in to Dean's wishes, again.

Forget lunch. Dean decided it was time to visit the doctor. Sam wasn't getting better and it was up to Dean to take care of him.

Dean loaded his brother up in the Impala, helping him shuffle slowly to the car, folding him carefully into the passenger seat. Sam acquiesced without argument and didn't even ask where they were going.

Sam still didn't say anything when he parked the Impala in the hospital's large lot, and helped Sam out into the hot, humid air. While they slowly made their way inside, Sam leaning heavily on him as he occasionally stumbled and bumped along, his little brother finally broke his silence. "We're eating in the hospital cafeteria?"

The old Sam would have said it sarcastically and teased Dean about eating just about anything, and Dean would have smacked him on the back of the head and called him a smartass. But this Sam, he didn't know what was going on. He didn't understand that Dean was taking him to a doctor and even if Dean bothered to explain, he wasn't sure Sam would get it.

Dean stepped up to the first nurse's station he found and asked to have Dr. Sepeda paged. He didn't know what to do anymore and hoped the good doctor would have some answers. Seeing to his brother wasn't easy but it was his job and Dean was determined to it well.


Sam didn't understand why they were at the hospital. Dean had said they were going out for lunch and now they were here. Where people in scrubs zoomed here and there and sometimes came too close and made Sam's head ache. He rubbed the back of his head and then his eyes, wishing he could lay down.

A strong hand wrapped around his arm and Sam struggled to lurch along. He tried to keep pace but he kept tripping and Dean turned and scowled at him which made Sam want to sit down and cry. Sam hated feeling weepy. He'd rather be numb. Maybe he could have some more pills.

He tugged on Dean's sleeve, intent on asking for the blue and white pills, and when his brother rounded on him, Sam forgot what he was going to ask. His brother looked disappointed and Sam tried to remember what he'd done wrong – he always did something wrong – but his mind was a blank.

A huge, gaping hole.

Sam couldn't cope anymore, his legs sliding out from under him, his brain sliding, too. His vision grayed out and he gave in to it gratefully.

Sam had gotten used to not getting what he wanted so he was a little surprised when the numbness he craved finally arrived.


Dean didn't understand what was happening. One moment he was towing Sam along slowly, and the next his brother was grasping at his arm and then fainting. Dean barely had enough warning to pull Sam close and then swing him into his arms. His brother's face was pale where the greasy dark strands of hair didn't obscure it, and the way Sam hung limply in his arms made Dean's heart hammer in his chest.

At least Sam passing out like that got them some attention. Instead of being redirected to the ER, suddenly the doctor could see them. Sam was gently removed from Dean's arms and placed on a gurney and wheeled down the hallway, Dean trailing along behind.

Dr. Sepeda was exactly as Dean remembered him. Short and thin with an open expression on his face. Ready to take on the world. A lot like Sam used to look. Before. But Dean no longer knew if before meant leaving the family for Stanford or getting injured followed by falling prey to the shtriga.

It was hard to see Sam like this and imagine the kid ever going out into the world on his own. At least now the kid would see the sense in staying. He needed Dean's help. And Dean wouldn't begrudge him it. This was his little brother. His Sammy.

The doctor snapped out a bunch of questions and Dean did his best to answer. How was Sam eating? Not very well; a finicky eater at the best of times, the kid barely picked at his food now. How was Sam sleeping? Very well; as often as he could for as long as Dean let him.

The short doctor frowned in response to that answer. "How often does he take the Diazepam and the Tylenol No. 3 with Codeine?"

Dean reached into his pocket and retrieved both bottles, handing them over. He'd remembered to grab them on their way out. He could have sworn Sam eyed them with extra interest but once they'd been tucked away, Sam's attention had scattered. Dean's eyes momentarily strayed to where his brother was stretched out on the gurney, a nurse taking his blood pressure. "I give him one of each, every twelve hours. Just like the instructions say."

Dr. Sepeda rattled a bottle, opened it up and spilled pills into his hand. "Are you sure about that? It looks to me like he's had a pill every six or eight hours, not twelve. I gave you a thirty day supply and you've only got another ten or so days left."

Both Dean's and the doctor's eyes swung toward Sam who was rolling his head on the gurney, blinking sluggishly. "De'n?"

The nurse, brown doe eyes soft with concern, handed a clipboard to the doctor. "Pinpoint pupils, BP is 80/50, shallow breathing."

The doctor's eyes scanned the information in front of him. "Let's hang a bag of normal saline and make sure the kidneys are still functioning. I'm not sure about the flumazenil but let's have it at the ready."

The clipboard was slid into a pocket on the inside of the door and then the doctor walked over to Sam. "It's Dr. Sepeda, Sam. Do you remember me?"

Dazed eyes slid past the doctor and latched on to Dean. "Dean?"

Dean couldn't just stand there ignoring his brother any longer. Moving to the side opposite of the doctor, he grabbed Sam's hand, his thumb rubbing absently at the clammy skin. "Right here, bro. The doc has some questions for you. Do you think you can answer them?"

Pinpoint pupils. Dean could see it from where he stood. Sam's pupils were so constricted, virtually all that could be seen were flecks of brown and green and gold.

Sam's eyes tracked back toward the doctor, face set in grave concentration. The doctor leaned over so that Sam had a better view of him. "Sam, can you tell me if you've taken more medication than your brother has given you?"

Scrunching his face up, Sam appeared to be thinking hard. "Sometimes. It helps me sleep."

The doctor nodded sagely. "How about today, Sam? Do you know how many pills you've had?"

His brother lay there for so long without answering that Dean thought he wasn't going to respond. But then his lips moved silently and Dean realized Sam was counting. "Three times."

"Three times or three pills?" Dean tried to reel in the anger but he couldn't believe how stupid his brother had been. Or how stupid he'd been for not realizing what Sam was doing. But his brother was such a straight shooter who didn't touch drugs or alcohol so it hadn't even occurred to Dean that it might be a problem.

Sam didn't need an older brother, he needed a full time keeper.

Cringing away from Dean, his brother blinked those unnatural eyes slowly. "Times."

Dr. Sepeda patted Sam's arm gently. "Sounds like a total of six pills. Cynthia is going to get an IV going in your arm and then if you're feeling better later, we'll see about letting you go home."

Sam quit trying to hold his tired eyelids up and let them sink down on his pale cheeks. Not being able to see Sam's eyes was like having a lifeline severed and Dean turned to the doctor. Frustration at what Sam had done to his own body warred with deep concern and the concern won out. "Is he going to be okay?"

The doctor made eye contact. "Sam appears to be developing a dependency on the medications so we're going to taper him off of them. I don't think he's done any permanent harm with the excess doses but we'll monitor him here for a while. I think the main question we need to address now is why Sam wants to sleep so badly."

Dean dropped his eyes away from those of the searching doctor.

Sam had seemed pretty lively when Dean had first gotten him home. Wanted to shower and talk on the phone.

He tried to pinpoint when that had changed but was coming up snake eyes. The only thing he knew was that Sam needed him now more than ever.


Sam's head pounded with the exertion of movement but no matter how hard he tried to open the door, it wouldn't budge. He was trapped.

The air cracked and sizzled with heat, his skin uncomfortably warming.

Suddenly Dean and his dad were there. His breathing was harsh in his ears, his voice strangled. "We need to get out!"

Both Dean and his dad shook their heads no, slowly. Arms crossed in front of their chests and legs spread at shoulder's width, they formed an implacable wall. He couldn't even see the door anymore. Somehow Sam knew he wasn't getting out.

"Don't worry, Sammy, we'll take care of you."

Head spinning from heat and panic, Sam weaved on his feet. The dizziness intensified and he pitched headlong into the darkness, his breath and will strangled…

Gasping for breath, Sam bolted upright. It took a moment but his eyes finally adjusted to the darkness of the room. He was at home. He was fine. It was just a nightmare.

He could hear the hum of Dean's voice on the other side of the door but couldn't make out any words.

Instead of feeling comforted by Dean's presence in the other room, Sam found himself on edge. Relaxing his tense jaw, he reminded himself to breathe through the lingering effects of his dream.

Sam's headaches had been a constant companion since Dean had brought him home and his dreams had been intense. Despite the pain and interrupted sleep, his mind was clear. It was the first time in a long time he could say that. And his body was shaping up, too. He could move around, albeit more slowly than before the accident, all on his own.

Now that he was well and truly on the mend, his thoughts were turning to the future.

The turning point had been his last trip to the hospital. Dean had gotten him the help he needed and Dr. Sepeda had been incredibly kind to him. Sam felt lucky that he wasn't being sent to some rehab center or locked in a psych ward. Abusing medications wasn't something he ever thought he'd do but it had been far easier than he could have imagined. The pills had calmed him down, helped him cope. And almost killed him.

When the doctor had sent Dean out of the room and asked him why he was so unhappy, Sam hadn't known how to answer. The patented Winchester reply of 'I'm fine' had been on the tip of his tongue but then the kindly voice had asked him where he'd been going when the bus had flipped over.

Sam had cracked.

Words had tumbled out in a rush and Sam couldn't shut up. Stanford and learning and being out on his own…all taken away from him.

Fortunately Dean hadn't been in the room. He knew his brother wouldn't agree. Sam's place was with the family; his job, the family business.

Sam had never doubted his dad's or brother's love for him, but in many ways he found it smothering.

The remnants of the dream reared its ugly head. Trapped. Suffocating.

Sam knew what he had to do. He didn't look forward to breaking the news to his brother again. Dean had tracked him down, saved him from the shtriga and taken care of him.

Throwing his feet over the side of the bed, Sam steeled himself for the upcoming conversation. He could only hope that this time the outcome would be different.


Dean's head pounded with excitement. His dad was coming home in a week. John Winchester had said he was proud of Dean for handling the shtriga and taking care of Sam.

All those years of wondering and worrying about the shtriga and Dean had put it to rest. And earned his dad's trust back.

Soon his dad would be home. They would be a family again. Sure, Sam would resist falling back into line but after what had happened, Dean knew his brother would come around. His little brother had firmly been put in his place, by the stupid shtriga no less. But at least Sam was back where he belonged.

Sam had been subdued since Dean had brought him home from the hospital but that could be caused by pain. Or embarrassment. Dean kept the pills on his person at all times so that his brother couldn't sneak them and he had to admit that he himself was embarrassed that Sammy had been filching pills on his watch. But the kid was finally getting better. That was the important thing.

Sensing he was no longer alone, Dean turned to find the object of his thoughts leaning against the bedroom door frame. Sam's face was in partial shadow so it was hard to read his expression but Dean was bursting with his news and couldn't contain himself any longer. "I just got off the phone with Dad. He'll be home in a week. He said he's thankful you're okay and he's going to help you with your training so that you're back up to speed in no time. Sam…?"

His brother had pushed away from the wall and was now in the full light of the living room lamp. Forget subdued. The kid looked downright nauseous. Swallowing audibly, Sam moved the rest of the way across the room until he touched Dean's arm lightly. His little brother had always been touchy-feely like that. "Dean, I know this is really bad timing but I have to tell you that I'm…"

Dean shook Sam's hand off his arm and shut down. Sam kept speaking, his eyes so soft and earnest. But Dean was no longer listening.

Sam thought he was still going to Stanford.

Sam, who had been gravely injured by a bus accident and then kidnapped by a supernatural witch.

Sam, who had almost downed so many pills that he very nearly needed his stomach pumped or worse.

The same Sam who had been dependent on Dean for everything these last few weeks.

The kid couldn't cut it on his own. He was an accident waiting to happen.

His dad had been right – Sam was self centered and delusional.

All those feelings of abandonment from Sam's first attempt to fly the coop bubbled to the surface and channeling his best John Winchester, Dean laid down the law. "If you walk out that door again, don't you ever come back."


Sam stepped off the bus and inhaled the damp sea air. He'd finally made it.

His family wasn't talking to him but what had he expected?

Eventually he would have to make peace with his dad's attitude but right now he couldn't even think about it. He balled those feelings up tight and stuck them away. Later.

His brother was another story. Dean had been furious, nostrils flaring, skin draining of color when Sam had told him. A reaction born of deep hurt. So much so that Sam had almost been on the verge of changing his mind, or at least taking more time to make it up.

But then Dean had laid down his edict and Sam had struggled draw to air into his lungs. That smothering sensation from his dream was back full bore and Sam had to get out.

Seagulls screeched in the distance, recalling Sam to the present. Two girls walked by, deeply tanned and surfer girl beautiful. Dean would have appreciated the local sights.

God, he missed his brother. His snarky sense of humor. His lousy taste in music.

Sam hitched his bag higher on his shoulder and looked around to get his bearings. When in doubt bro, follow the hot babes.

Sending up a quick prayer that his dad and brother would stay safe, Sam forced his legs into action, following the girls walking down the sidewalk.

Dean might not be there in person but his presence was still deeply felt.

The End

A/N: I hope the birthday girl enjoyed this little fic. Thanks again to Floralia, Faye Dartmouth, BlueEyedDemonLiz and Gigetgal9…this story is much better for all of their help. And thank you for reading the story.