Diagnostic
K Hanna Korossy

He noticed, because he always noticed Sam. But there'd been so much crap going on already, his trying to deal with all the memories of Hell stuffed into his head, Sam and his friggin' secrets and sidekick she-witch and magical mystical demon exorcising hand, not to mention the angels and their own agenda. And the clues had been so small and incremental, they'd kinda crept up on him.

Until even he, distracted and dense, couldn't miss them.

Dean just didn't know what it meant. And was terrified of the possibilities.

00000

"Dean."

He didn't sleep as deeply as he once had, and Sam's low, strained voice had him awake faster than the shake of his shoulder. "What?" Dean pushed up in the bed. "What's wrong?"

"Jimmy." Sam stepped back, his eyes shuffling to the empty bed beside him. "He's gone."

"Seriously?" Dean sat up, glancing around the small room as if Castiel's former vessel had been overlooked in some corner. Eyebrows drawing together, he stared back at Sam. "I thought you were keeping an eye on him."

"I was." Sam sounded torn between defensive and belligerent. Kinda the norm for him these days. "I just stepped out for a minute."

"Great," Dean sighed, swinging his legs over and reaching for his boots. "Just great, Sam. Remind me not to leave you on watch next time."

Sam didn't say anything. And Dean tried not to think about what could have distracted his brother so much that he'd missed their guest sneaking out of one little room.

00000

"Sam. You seem…different."

Anna's words lingered in his mind long after the ex-angel was gone. Sam had tried to blow them off with some crap comment about a haircut, but Anna hadn't been dissuaded. She thought something was different.

When Dean took a good, hard look, he could see it, too. And it wasn't a good change.

00000

"Who was that?" Dean asked as Sam walked out to join him, his shoulders still as tense and his movements as jerky as when he'd been hissing into his cell.

Sam did a really lame double take. "Who was what?"

Dean kept his bland smile. "On the phone, Sammy. Who were you talking to?"

Sam's mouth moved silently as he tried to find a quick lie.

Dean's spirits took another dip. "Bobby?" he offered casually.

"Right! Right, it was Bobby. He, uh, he hadn't heard anything about an angel showdown. Or Cas, or Jimmy."

"Uh-huh." Dean nodded, then straightened and moved around to the driver's side of the car. "Next time you talk to him, ask him how he managed to call when he said he'd be in the mountains and out of cell range today."

The scary part was, Sam didn't even try to explain.

00000

His hands were shaking.

Dean didn't look fully over, but he watched from the corner of his eye as Sam tried to ball his fists to keep his hands still. Didn't work.

Risking a quick glance up revealed that he looked even more haggard than he had that morning. Dean couldn't remember the last time he'd seen the kid eat, come to think of it, and his clothes were starting to look a little loose. Maybe that was why he stumbled getting out of the car at the next rest stop, and weaved a little making his way inside. Or why Dean surreptitiously twisted the top off his Coke for him after he got tired of watching Sam struggle with it.

But when Sam came back from the john shakier and paler than ever and with a little blood staining his lower lip, Dean kinda doubted it.

00000

"You can never be with your family," Sam said flatly to Jimmy. "So you either get as far away from them as possible, or you put a bullet in your head, and that's how you keep your family safe. But there's no getting out and there's no going home."

An eerie echo of what Sam had told Adam not too long ago. Dean had winced then, too.

The angels thought Sam might go evil someday. Azazel had seemed sure Sam would sign up for their team. Dean had counted on his brother's reason and compassion and good heart to steer him right even if Dean was out of the picture, but what if Lilith out-lawyered Sam and got his reason all twisted around, had him thinking he could do more good on her side?

"You're putting your family in danger," Sam repeated stonily.

Irony, meet Sam Winchester.

00000

It was hard to know if he should be glad or worried when Sam couldn't manage to exorcise the demon chick at Jimmy's place.

Sam had looked taken aback at the failure but not as shocked as Dean felt, and that definitely wasn't encouraging. He hadn't resisted when Dean had dragged him out of there, hadn't argued too much when Dean asked him what happened. Just said he got a little dizzy.

Dean shook his head, deliberately not asking if maybe he hadn't wanted to exorcise the woman. "You're scaring me, man."

Sam sounded more honest than he had in days. "I'm scaring myself," he quietly admitted.

Yeah, that wasn't reason to worry at all.

00000

It had been a good plan, until Sam.

They were walking into a trap, of course. The demons had never expected Jimmy to come alone. But Dean knew that, and he'd picked off the demon sentries that were supposed to keep an eye out for the Winchesters. It should've been a piece of cake for them to avoid getting caught.

Then Sam had tripped over those gigantic feet of his, like he hadn't even been trying for stealth. Next thing Dean knew, they were disarmed and being hauled down to where Jimmy and his black-eyed lady friend waited.

He didn't look at Sam, afraid of what he'd see if he did.

00000

Sam was bent strangely over the demon-possessed woman. Too long and at too weird an angle for a kill. Almost like…

Sam sat up and whirled around. His chin was covered with blood, matching the red-stained bite mark on the demon's neck.

For a second, Dean thought he'd become a vampire or rugaru or something else non-human, and recoiled when Sam thrust a hand up toward them. But then his brother exorcised Claire Novak sneaking up behind them, and it all clicked.

Withdrawal, not illness. Confusion, not conspiracy. Shame, not guile. Influenced, not altered.

Sam wasn't dying, or evil, or rejecting him. He was addicted.

It was revolting and horrifying and frightening. But…it was something Dean could fight. Something they could fix.

Sam was still Sam.

And despite how utterly screwed up everything was at that moment, what Dean felt most of all was…relief.

The End