So there have been several schizophrenic!Dean fics written to date, and when I got some kind of crazy urge to write one too, I figured I'd better try to tackle it in a manner that hasn't already been done repeatedly. Hence the 1st person POV and all the other things which differ pretty drastically from those stories which have gone before.

At Bay

"Knowing that you're crazy doesn't make the crazy things stop happening."
Mark Vonnegut

The morning is quiet.

It's the stillness that wakes me, most mornings. The quiet of it. It's a rare time, something that lasts only an hour or two, something you can't really get back for the rest of the day. Even sunsets, nighttimes, tend to be noisy, in their way. Full of the static of the day, the edges of oncoming dreams creeping around, nosing at your waking self.

Mornings are for banishing, for tracing back threads to yourself, your life, your world. Sometimes dreams follow, but usually there's time. For the silence.

Sam's awake already, in the kitchen. I can hear him clattering around the coffee machine, the cupboards. He's not much of a cook—breakfast is usually cereal, or toast or fruit or something. I'm not picky, though. Sam makes a mean bowl of cornflakes.

Rolling out of bed and planting my feet on the floor, I get the first wooziness of the day, that moment when everything tilts and tries to run to the side, like meltwater down the slope of a hill. It's no fun, but I'm pretty used to it. I run my hands over my face and squint my eyes against the cotton heaviness in my skull. There's nothing much I can do about it, really, and coffee and cereal will at least give me something else to focus on. And the meds should take care of the last vestiges of…whatever it was that I dreamed.

I don't really try to remember my dreams anymore. Or talk about them. They used to seem so important, but…I know better now.

Opening the door is a little victory. There was a time Sam locked me in at night. He didn't want to. He wished so much he didn't have to. But it was more for my safety than anything else. That was a while ago, though. Things have changed a lot since then. Still, getting a grip on the knob is always a little bit of a challenge, first thing. By the afternoon it won't be so much trouble, but right now I lean one heavy hand on the wall and fumble around some before I manage to get the thing to turn, and shoving open the door I stumble out into the day, the hallway full of sunlight like melted butter, the floors ablaze in the light.

"Sammy?" I come down the hall knuckling at my eyes, failing to stifle a yawn. In the kitchen my little brother—God, so much bigger than me now—tosses a smile at me from behind his coffee cup. "How ya doin', kiddo?" I ask, slumping in the chair across from him, feeling loose. I resist the urge to head straight for the coffeemaker. Not until I'm sure I can handle pouring, and won't spill it all over myself, or something equally stupid. I'd like to keep all my skin attached to my body, if at all possible.

"Fine. Awake, mostly. There's cornflakes and Lucky Charms, if you want, or some of the Meuslix stuff if you're feeling adventurous."

That doesn't really seem to call for a response, so I just browse quietly through the available options and settle on the old standby, little yellow flakes in a great big bowl. The milk sloshes some as I pour, spattering on the table in tiny white drops, each one like a tear, or a sudden fall of rain. I draw an idle finger through the mess and lick it absently, before glancing up and catching Sam's eye.

"How late you work today?"

"Four-thirty. Five if they need me to stay." He uses his own napkin to wipe up the smeary spill, rising to his feet as I settle down—scales, or a see-saw. He tosses the napkin. "Coffee?"

"Mm." Caffeine would go down easy right now, and Sam wouldn't offer if it was too hot. And he draws a glass of water for the meds and the freakin' horse pill he insists on calling a 'vitamin'—I could get away with dry swallowing the rest if it wasn't for that thing.

"Eat already, before it gets soggy," Sam snarks as he sets the mug—and glass—down gently in front of me. How someone so large can be so soft is beyond me. But my brother manages it, does it every day. "I'm going to take a shower," he adds over his shoulder, heading back into the hallway and stifling a yawn.

"Save me some hot water!" I call, and remember to add, "bitch!" after only a second's hesitation. His reply is standard, and full of good humor. I let a smile play around my face as I eat.

I have a job. I've had the same job for almost six months now, and it's been eight months since things got really settled, when the Doc and Sam really started pushing for vocational rehab, and stuff like that. When I was younger, when I was—before, I mean, I used to help out at my Dad's garage. Our Dad's. Sam did too, but we always knew Sam was going to college. Me, I was supposed to take over the family business. I think it was probably pretty hard on Dad when he finally had to accept that it just wasn't gonna happen. Because I have—because I'm schizophrenic. I am. I had to go to the hospital for it, a little while ago. A couple times.

I still remember everything about the job. I could probably handle it, I think, except the anti-psychotics play hell with my coordination, and with that and all the other stuff it's just too risky. For me, and for the people around me. I know Sam thought about it, for a while. Thinking I could go to work with him, be where he could keep an eye on me.

It's probably better we have some distance from each other.

After showers and everything, Sam drops me off at work. I admit I miss driving. I think Sam kind of misses me driving too. Neither of us would've chosen things to work out this way. If nothing else I think Sam'd kind of like a smaller car. Something that uses less gas.

My supervisor, Becks, she's sweet. She's hired a couple people from the Assistance Center over the years, and has a lot of experience working with people—like us, like me. And she doesn't treat me like I'm stupid, which I appreciate, and I know Sam does too. He likes her, and I tease him about it sometimes, but she's about twenty years too old to get me anything more for my teasing than a sharp smack upside the head—sometimes from both of them.

Today, something seems a little off in her greeting, though, but I can't say for sure what it is, and I give her my customary smile in response to her standard "Hiya Dean." She sends me off with reams of records to scan and it's pretty much just me, the scanner and computer, and the iPod Sam gave me when I started here, for the rest of the morning. There are worse ways to start the day than with hours of music that would have my brother climbing the walls if he had to listen to it at home. Metallica and Led Zeppelin keep me company until twelve-thirty, and Sam stops by with lunch as usual.

"You've got grease under your nails," I note, pointing a fry, and he barks a laugh—startled, pleased.

When he leaves, I notice Becks watching me on my way back inside. Do I have food on my face? I check it out in the restroom, but there's nothing.

When Sam picks me up at ten after five, his fingernails are the cleanest I've ever seen them

It's a quiet night. Sam's girlfriend is off running around somewhere in Oregon, for reasons I didn't bother to listen to, and we sack out in front of the tv. Sam's asleep before me, for a change, though I don't know how long because I don't actually notice until he starts snoring, the freak, through that ridiculous schnoz of his. Sinuses maybe. Or maybe just weariness.

He lets me get an arm around him and haul him up, comes partially awake enough to make it possible to half-drag his giant self to his room, get his shoes off, and let him sprawl more or less across the bed, one arm hanging halfway over the side. I guess my thumb lingers for a little while on his forehead. Smoothing out some of the lines. Trying to ease some of the worry on his shoulders.

I never wanted this for him.

My own room is quiet. Deep and quiet. The window has a lock that I can't open but I sit for a while on the edge of the bed, looking out through the glass at the smeary radiance of the streetlights, the black asphalt of the road, the neighbor's lawn lying soft under the weight of the night.

And this is my life.

A few days go by, more or less the same. Something's up with Becks, I think, but I can't really be sure. I just get these looks sometimes. I don't say anything to Sam—don't wanna worry him. The training and job placement and everything were kind of involved processes, and I don't want to make a big deal now and make Sam think we'll have to hassle with all that again. Kid's gonna worry himself into an ulcer before he's twenty-five.

The day Sam picks me up early we grab dinner at the expensive steak place that I know makes his salad-loving little heart seize up purely on principle, he tells me Veronica's coming back from freakin' Oregon—and gives me that shy little boy smile, tells me he'd like us to meet. Wants to bring her by the house, for coffee or something.

I know my mouth works a little bit at that. It's not like we aren't aware of each other's existence, her and me, or like I'm some kind of secret Sam's ashamed of. It's just that, with what happened last time, and how slow he's been taking things with her because of all the other stuff that's gone on since then…well, I guess I was kind of resigned to him keeping these two parts of his life separate. I never brought it up. I figured he was entitled to his little bit of happiness. Little bit of freedom.

And he's looking at me now like he thinks he said something wrong, like he's setting himself up to be crushed a little bit inside, like he's got to prepare himself because there are still times when he just can't predict how I'm going to react to new information.

So I find a smile, one of my best, the clear bright one that reminds him—reminds me—of the ways things might have turned out, if the world had been different. If everything had been different. And I say, "That sounds like a really good idea, Sammy," and watch a little bit of the frost fall off his shoulders, watch the way his spine sags infinitesimally with relief. And I keep the other, secret smile, on the inside. Keep it to myself.

It's the silence that wakes me, that night. The silence, and the weight of the dark. It wasn't a dream, a nightmare, anything like that, but I sit up in bed, hands blind on the mattress, staring around the room. Out the window, nothing but streetlights and stars. I manage a gulping breath and pass a hand over my face, and when I open my eyes Castiel is standing in front of the closet door.

The silence grabs me, then, claps a hand over my open mouth, and no words come. Not a sound. I guess it got Cas too, because he's got his hands cupped around his mouth and looks like he's shouting something, mouth moving, wide open, but I can't hear anything besides the noise of my own heart. I can't even hear my breath, because I've stopped breathing.

I can't hear you, Cas.

I haven't seen the guy for eight, nine months. Sam was pretty sure, and the doctor…but no, because that's definitely him, trench coat and all. Looking scraggly and the worse for wear as usual, poor bastard. But I can't hear whatever he's trying to tell me. It might be important but….

I blink at him a couple of times, and spread my hands. It's too late anyway. He's already gone. I flop back down on the bed, but have trouble getting back to sleep after that. I figure it's probably four o'clock, or later, before I finally drop off.

But he doesn't show up again that day, or the next, so I guess whatever he had to tell me wasn't that important. I'm supposed to let Sam know the minute anything like this happens, and normally I would but…it's just Cas. It's not worth sounding the alarm for something like Castiel showing up, being cryptic, and disappearing again. That's probably, like, a sign the world is working the way it's supposed to. All the pieces in place where they belong. Sam wouldn't get that.

But I'm going to have to do something about the job, I think. Becks is…yeah, she's been off, lately. I can tell it's something to do with me, except I'm still not sure what. It's something that's going to spell trouble in the near future, though—I'm pretty sure of that. I'm not exactly essential personnel, after all. I don't know what she's up to. I don't want to know. I keep my head down and just do the job. Just me and my scanner, and the music. I'm not dealing with this, not with these people. No way. I don't get paid enough for that.

I've got a day off today, anyway. I only work three days a week, so that gives me some time at home, time to decompress. The problem is at this moment I'm sitting in the kitchen and Sam is futzing around with the coffee maker, and Castiel is wandering around the room, picking things up and inspecting them, raising his eyebrows at our strange earthly contraptions for heating bread and irradiating leftovers, occasionally shooting me that look like he's decided to compete with Sam for the title in the World Sad-Eyes Heavyweight Championship. It's kind of distracting.

He picks up the saltshaker and waves it in my face without a word, then sets it down and pokes distractedly at the pepper grinder. Sam's saying something, but I can't really tell if he's talking to me or himself, and I resist the urge to reach out and grab at Cas's coat, yank him down into a seat, just so I can concentrate on what my brother's talking about.

"Knock it off," I hiss at the angel, and there's a noise from my brother, sudden and bright.

Sam's dropped the coffee pot in the sink.


He turns around and fixes me with wide, scared eyes. My stomach drops.

"Dean?" he whispers, and I can't help it. I look down. Give myself away, just like that.

"…sorry, Sammy."

He makes another noise, some breathless murmur that sounds like Oh Jesus, no, and hurries to sit down across from me.

"Dean? Is there—" he breaks off, swallows like he's fighting nausea, "Is there someone…else here, in the room, right now?"

I can't help it, my gaze goes almost instantly to Cas, standing near the dishwasher, arms at his side. He looks back impassively, head slightly cocked. I flick back to my brother and catch him in the moment before he schools his features to calm, to controlled. Catch the edge of devastation in his eyes.

"It's just Cas, Sam," I try to make my voice soothing, because: Cas, but it comes out almost pleading. "He's a pretty decent guy. Maybe, y'know—maybe that's all…this is. All it's going to be."

"Dean." Sam leans low across the table, catching my eyes, and I sit back with a sharp inhalation, "Come on. It's never 'just Cas,' you know that."

I've been around other…people…like me. I know what it's like, to watch someone stare at empty space. Talk to it, carry on whole conversations. I know Cas isn't real. Not really real, not like Sammy, or Becks, or even Veronica who I've never met. I know, in my head. But he's standing right there, washed in the sunlight pouring through the kitchen window, in his beat-up old trench coat, with that five o'clock shadow and messy hair and that generically woeful expression of his, and…what am I supposed to do with that?

"He's not a bad guy," I mumble, one hand on the back of my neck, rubbing at the bristles there.

"Dean," the angel says, from across the room, voice deep and stern and heavy, "Dean, you need to take care of the salt lines."

I'm not going back to work. And Sam isn't either—not today, anyway. I don't know what his boss has to say about it. Didn't ask. It wasn't all that important, I guess, it's more Sam's worry than mine.

He made an appointment with Dr. Holzbauer. I heard him on the phone a while ago, voice tight, as he paced restlessly in the living room. Six steps, two steps, then another six back. A little circuit around the sofa and coffee table. I'm sitting on the sofa now, and Castiel isn't anywhere I can see. Sam's trying to impress something pretty serious on me.

"Dean, listen. I want you to do something for me. Okay?"

"Anything, Sam. You know that."

He takes a deep breath, holds it for a moment, eyes shut. He's perched in front of me on the coffee table so that I have to look at him, but I could have told him not to bother. There's no one here but us.

"If…Castiel…asks you, or tells you, to do…anything….I want you to promise me you won't. Won't do anything he asks."

Well, I'm not so sure about that. The guy's got a lot of good information. Y'know, for being what he is. Or isn't. Whatever. I know, okay? But…

"But what about—"

"Dean! Promise me! I know that…that he just wants to…help. And that you want to make sure it's safe. For me. For—well. I know that. But promise me that you won't do what he says. Anything he says. Because…just, because I'm asking you to. I need you to make this promise, okay? For me."

I blink at him, a little bit. A couple of times. I've never really understood Sam's problem with Cas. The others? Sure, I get that—those guys are bad news. But Cas doesn't make trouble. Not usually. Not unless I really, really piss him off.

"Sure, Sam. Okay. Sure."

"You promise?"

"Swear. Scout's honor."

He gives me a wry little smile. "Jerk. You were never a scout."

"But I have the heart of a boyscout." I pause. "In a jar in the closet."

He rolls his eyes. "Jesus, Dean. But you promise, right? Swear?"

"Swear. Whatever Cas says, it's not happening."

I mean, why not? Sam's pretty safe here. We both are. We've been fine for months, for almost a year. What could possibly happen?

"The appointment's tomorrow." My brother settles down next to me, and I know he's resisting an urge to, like, run a hand over my hair or pat my shoulder or something, some kind of touchy-feely crap that he picked up when he went off to college. Sometimes I let him but I'm not feeling it right now, and I shift a little bit away, just slightly, even though I know it probably bugs him. Whatever. He can deal with a couple inches of space between us.

"Dean, we just need to keep it together, keep everything together. One day, and we'll see if we can change your meds, or do…whatever we need to. Something's not working anymore, or not working enough." He leaves out the word again, but I hear it anyway. It's not the first time we've had to do this.

"Eight months, Sammy." I cover my eyes with one hand, squeezing them shut. When I feel Sam rest a large palm on the back of my neck, against the curve of my spine, I don't shake him off.

"I know, Dean."

It's not fair. Not fair to Sam, who never asked for any of this. And Cas—I mean, I like Cas, I guess, but not more than my brother. So yeah, if the angel went away, I mean for good, forever, I guess…that would be a good thing, probably? I'd be okay with it, I think…but on the other hand, would we be safe? I don't know the things Cas does. And most of the time, he's only trying to help. He's just got a crummy way of going about it, sometimes.


Like the fact that he never bothers with silly human niceties like greetings. Saying my name is his greeting, for some reason. Even demons have better manners than that.

"Dean." It's practically a growl this time. I can't believe Sam can't hear that. "Dean. What are you going to do about the salt lines?"

If I don't open my eyes, if I don't look at him. Maybe he'll take off, back to wherever he disappears to. I cover my face with both hands, and beside me, Sam shifts a little.

"Dean, if you don't do something about it, it'll be your fault if a demon gets in. Is that what you want?" He pauses; I can hear his coat moving as he paces the room. The sound of his footsteps on the carpet. "Are you prepared for that responsibility? What if something happens to Sam?"

What is something happens to Sam? This is happening to Sam, right now. And okay, maybe there is a reason for Castiel's concern, maybe he's usually right about stuff like this, but…I don't know. I just can't be sure. We've made it this far okay. Nothing too terrible has happened.

"Something's going to get in, Dean."

Okay, that's enough. I drop my hands to meet his eyes, but I don't want to say anything in front of Sam. It's tough to hide the whole, y'know, staring-at-an-invisible-angel-in-a-trench-coat thing, though. His hand slips from my neck.

"Is it…" I hear him swallow, "Dean, is it Castiel?"

"Yeah." My voice is soft.

"Dean, the salt."

"What's he want?" Sam asks quietly.

"He—the salt, Sammy. He wants…you know." I wave a hand vaguely. Sam knows about the salt. What it's for. For ages I was pretty sure there wasn't even any salt in the whole house, except I know he was using it on those rare occasions when he cooked—only because I could taste it. So it was sort of incredible, the morning I walked into the kitchen and found a full saltshaker on the table in the kitchen. Sam never mentioned it, but I knew that he was proud.

"You promised, Dean," Sam says, shifting closer, one hand closing on my arm, above my wrist. So tight, as if he can hold onto things that way. Hold onto the past eight months.

"I know. I did. I promised." The last is directed at Castiel, with a sharp little glare. I know what he is, what he could do to me, but Sam's here now. Maybe it's false bravado, but it kind of feels good to challenge him. To stand up to an angel, even one so relatively mild.

I can tell Cas isn't impressed, but his face closes down into a dark look, and with a noise like a flock of birds taking off, he's gone. I can't help myself; I turn my head and bury my face against Sam's shoulder. He starts at the gesture, a bit, but recovers enough to rest a hand lightly on my head. I can feel him trembling, just a little. I think it's him. I can't be sure.

"Shh," he murmurs. "Shh. It's all right now."

Of course, it's not all right. I know Sam's counting down the hours until the appointment. Change in the meds. Again. But Sam really, really doesn't want me to go back to the hospital, and neither do I, so I've got to try. I've got to make an effort. It's just incredibly tough because Cas will not shut up about the goddamned salt already.

I'm trying to watch tv, and Sam's trying to read. He likes to read the paper, says it reminds him about, like, slowing down. Or something. Something about slowness, about, about how everything doesn't have to be on the computer. Doesn't have…to be so fast and God it's really hard to concentrate with Castiel sitting right next to me, yammering about the salt.

"Cas," I hiss, finally, when I can't take it anymore, "Cas shut up."

I hear the rustle of newspaper at the words. Sam doesn't say anything, though. He's being good too. Being so good.

"Dean, listen, I know you want to do what your brother's asked, but you're the only one who can keep him safe. Really safe. You know what's out there. You know if you don't do it, no one will."

I grab the remote and turn up the tv. Try not to look over at Sam.

"Go. Away." Quietly. Under the noise of the tv. As if that makes a difference. As if Sam wouldn't know.

"Dean, please." Cas has never really grasped the whole idea of 'human personal space,' and right now he's sitting so close that our legs are practically touching. I can feel him, the electricity of his presence, leaking out through the body of his vessel. It's making the hair on my neck stand on end.

"Cas, I said no. The answer is no. It's fine. Everything's going to be fine." I don't know if I'm trying to convince him, or myself. Because the angel wouldn't be here if he didn't have a reason.

In the chair, Sam slowly lowers the paper. He's not pretending not to watch me. Not anymore.

"It's not fine, Dean," Cas says, and with a frustrated growl I round on him, jabbing a finger at his chest, not caring what it looks like to Sam.

"It's fine because I say it is! You want the salt so goddamn bad then go and get it yourself!"

If he's bothered at all by the anger in my voice, he doesn't show it. Just blinks slowly at me, and says, "That's not my job. You know that."

"It's fine," I grind out.

"You know what's out there."

"Jesus Christ!" Both my hands rub at my face, my eyes, and push back over my hair. The problem is that he's not wrong, not about this. Whose job is it, if not mine? Cas knows it, and I know it, and somewhere deep down inside even Sam knows it, though I doubt I'd ever get him to admit it.

"Dean." That's Sam. He approaching slowly, settling down behind me, resting a hand on my shoulder. I jerk out of his grasp and leap to my feet—no way I'm gonna be pinned between him and the angel, without any room to even breathe. I look away from both of them, toward the kitchen, where the lights are off. "Dean, you need to calm down."

"I am calm!" I just need to breathe. And for Cas to leave me alone—stop talking about the things I've managed to almost forget. The sight of him, sitting on the sofa next to my brother, impassive and mild, hands folded quietly in his lap—I gasp a breath, sudden and high, and back up a couple of steps.

At least he doesn't get up. Doesn't follow me.

"Dean," Cas says again. "The salt."

"Sammy," I say, "Gimme the salt."

"Dean, no."

"Just—just that, okay? Just let me have—he won't shut up, Sam. And he's not asking for anything else. Just the salt. Just—gimme the salt, Sam." And yeah, it'll be safer. I'll feel safer. Because now I can't forget, because I do know what's out there. And it would be so, so much easier if Sam knew it, too.

"It's not just salt, Dean. Jesus, it's not ever going to be just salt. It's not going to be 'just' anything. It never is!"

Oh God. He's standing up. He's bigger than me. My hands are shaking—when did that happen? I push one over my face, shuffle back another step or two.

"Sam, Sam don't, please…."

"Dean…" and now he looks…ashamed? Something, yeah, he's mad at himself. Christ. Thanks a lot, Cas.

"He's your little brother, Dean. And he's done so much for you. You've got to take care of this."

"Just—the salt, Sammy." My voice sounds small. "Please?"

He's silent for a long time. Thankfully, Cas is too. He's watching us both with that look that says he finds the whole thing distantly fascinating. Glad we could be so entertaining for you, you dick.

Finally Sam shuts his eyes, bites his lip. Seems to sway a little, though that could just be my imagination. And he says, "All right, Dean. Okay. Just—just the salt, okay? That's all we're going to do. Just until tomorrow."

And Castiel doesn't smile, not with his mouth, but his whole being seems to lift with that, and I know it's reflected on my face. All that relief, all that it'llbeokaythings'llbebetternow.

"Yeah, Sammy, yeah. Okay."

Until tomorrow.

He watches me put the lines down. He's seen me do it enough times he could probably manage it himself, but what Cas said is true—it's my job. Mine. If I don't do it, how could I be sure? It's not that I don't trust Sam. Sam's great at lots of things—but not this. This thing, it's my job. My responsibility.

Take care of Sammy.


Sam makes dinner, and insists on eating in the kitchen. Like we always do. The salt's disappeared somewhere again, along with a lot of the other kitchen-things that would usually be scattered around, or in drawers and generally available. I don't know where Sam keeps all this stuff when he doesn't want it around me—I have this idea about a wall safe or some hidden compartment under his bed, or some kind of pocket universe tucked away in the linen closet or something. (That last one is a joke, actually.) I don't know when he had time to go around gathering up all these things—he hasn't left me alone, I swear, for more than two minutes since this morning. It's freaking exhausting, is what it is. I don't know how he keeps it up.

"Cas," I say tiredly, when the angel's made his third circuit around the kitchen since we sat down, "Why don't you, like, perch somewhere, or go watch tv or something? You're makin' me dizzy, man."

Across from me, Sam hunches his shoulders a little more, but keeps his eyes on his mac n'cheese. He doesn't seem to have much of an appetite. I guess I can understand that.

"Sammy," I try, leaning a little across the table, "You need to eat—"

"Dean." He looks up, meets my eyes, lips drawn tight. He's all sparking pain. "Don't."

I sit back. Truth is I'm not that hungry either, especially not for something that came out of a box. I let my fork drop and get up, follow Castiel out of the kitchen, into my bedroom. Shut the door, but don't lock it—it only locks from the outside. Lean my head on the cold painted wood.

"Is the salt going to be enough?" I ask, eyes closed. Behind me, I hear Castiel move toward the window. Probably staring out with that inscrutable expression on his face.

"I don't know. Maybe."

"Is it because of Becks?" I do look around this time, and meet his eyes. He blinks back at me, impassively. "I mean was she—is she…something bad?"

He cocks his head a little. Stares at me a bit longer than is comfortable. Finally says, "Yes. But not just her."

I slump against the door, and Cas spreads his hands, almost apologetically. "The world's full of demons, Dean."

"And monsters. I know. It's just—why us? Why can't they just leave us alone?"

Another gesture, almost helpless. I smirk, a little.

"Lot of help you are."

Sam knocks on the door—soft, tentative.

"C'mon—Dean? You can't hide in there all night. Come out and finish your dinner. Please?"

He doesn't have to knock. He's making an effort, here.

"I'm…really not all that hungry, Sam."

"Well then, just—will you just come out? Come sit in the living room? Or outsi—"

"Not going outside, Sam." Across the room, Castiel nods approval. Too many things out there, even under the sun. You can't salt the whole damn world.

"Okay." Keeps his voice soft. "Then come into the living room. We'll…watch a movie or something."

Cas apparently doesn't have an opinion on that one way or another. So after a few moments I crack the door, and meet Sam's gaze. He gives me a hesitant, wavery smile.

"Becks is a demon," I tell him. His smile freezes, just for an instant.

"Okay," is all he says, though. "Okay."

But following him down the hall, I can feel that something's wrong. Really wrong, here. It's like being on the sofa all over again, two powerful presences—one in front, one behind. I freeze in the doorway, standing under the arch, and Sam walks into the living room all unawares.

And Uriel smiles.

"Sam," I hiss, and, "Sammy!"

"What—" he turns, "Dude, what?"

Jesus. Oh Jesus. Salt won't keep out the angels. And Uriel hates Sam, has threatened him more than once. And that smile, that smug superiority of his, it makes my skin crawl. Makes my fists itch.

"Dean?" Sam's coming back, reaching out, gently grasping my arm, but I'm stuck in place, frozen.

"Don't hurt him," I whisper, and Sam follows my gaze, eyes passing right over the angel.

"Dean, c'mon. Come sit down. Please. For me."

"Oh God…" but I let him pull me, let him lower me onto the sofa. And Uriel goes on smiling, smiling, and it's wider now, broader, because Sam sitting on the sofa is closer, and Uriel didn't even have to do anything and now he could just reach out and touch him, touch my brother, grab him and snap his neck if he wanted to—

"Sam. Sam. You've got to go. Get out of here, go now. He won't hurt me, not like he'll hurt you. Please go, Sammy."

He's looking at me with that hard face, the resolute one. The one that looks like stone. Says, "No. No Dean. I'm not going anywhere. Nothing's going to happen. Not to either of us."

That's Sam, being brave. Stupid, but brave.

"Sam, it's Uriel." That name's got to mean something, right?

"I don't care. It's my house. Our house. I'm not running from…from Uriel…or from anyone else."

"That's right," and Uriel leans in, now, so close that I find myself leaning back without really being aware of it. Sam's still got his hand on my arm, but all my attention zeroes in on the big angel, on his smile, on the hardness of his eyes. "Sam won't run. He's full of darkness, he's crawling with sin. Pride is a sin, Dean. His arrogance is enormous."

"Don't you hurt him," I manage, though my lips are stiff, the back of my neck cold and crawling.

"Hurt him? Dean Winchester, I'll do more than hurt your precious baby brother. He's evil. I won't suffer an evil thing to live."

"Don't—" I try again, useless, but at that moment I hear the sound of sharp, determined footsteps and Castiel strides into the room and around the side of the sofa, and he's got a knife in his hand, small and sharp, gleaming like a tooth. He shoves his sleeve up and before I can make even the smallest noise he slashes his own arm open, the wound bright and red, gaping like a mouth, and begins slapping blood all over the wall, making some kind of—some kind of—

"Dean," Sam's trying to turn my head, palm on my cheek, the other on the back of my skull. I bat at his hands, frustrated—he's blocking my line of sight, and this is important.

"Castiel, what are you doing?" Uriel demands, turning away from Sam, thank God awayfromSam, starting to move toward the other angel. But Castiel finishes with swift, deft strokes, and without a word slaps his still-bloody palm smack in the center of the sign, and with a cry and a burst of light and shadow, Uriel blasts backwards and vanishes.

"Oh." I stop trying to wrestle Sam off of me. "Oh, wow."

Castiel is looking about the smuggest I've ever seen him, but right now I'll totally give him that one. Sam jerks me around to face him.

"Dean?" his voice is urgent. "Dean, what just happened?

"Cas—Castiel. He just—he got rid of Uriel."

Sam sits back, mouth dropping open a little.

"What? Why? How?"

"It's like, a sign," I peer around my brother and when Castiel corrects me with A sigil I repeat to Sam, "A sigil, sorry. And I guess it…has, like powers or something, because it just blasted Uriel right the hell out of the room."

"But he'll be back," Cas warns. "He's gone away, but he'll be back. It's only a matter of time." But I'm smiling at him, and I really don't care, because right now Castiel is my most favorite person in the whole goddamn world.

After Sam, of course.

Sam makes it pretty clear that I basically have two choices for the night—either my brother is going to sleep in the room with me, or I'm going to put up with the sleeping pills. I hate those things, so much, but it's a better option than lying awake knowing Sam's doing the same thing a few feet away, neither of us getting any sleep and me listening to Castiel, or whoever else decides to show up and make the night a little more exciting, bouncing off the walls and muttering about all the monsters out there under the stars.

So the next morning I feel like crap and I don't want to take the meds because I'm already having trouble staying upright and the damn things aren't working anyway. Sam is adamant.

"You have to take them, Dean, we don't know what's working and what's not, and you can't just—just stop, okay? You're body can't handle cold turkey like that. Take them."

"Goddammit Sam…"

"I'm not backing down on this, Dean. You've taken them every morning and evening for the past year, there's no good reason to stop now. Just for today. We'll probably be doing something else tomorrow anyway."

And I'm just thrilled to death about that, because God knows how long it'll take to find another combination that works, and I don't think even He knows how long it'll last, this time.

Castiel is sitting at the kitchen table, idly tracing the space where the saltshaker used to be with his long fingers. He looks up when he feels my gaze on him.

"Don't look at Castiel. You don't need his permission, not for this. This is between you and me, Dean. There's no good reason not to take them."

"I don't like them." My voice is sullen, petulant, a little slurred. It's really hard to control my tongue this morning. I look at Sam through my eyelashes. His face is hard, thunderous. But instead of pressing his point, shouting or moving closer or slamming his hand on the table or any of the things I'm expecting, he sways back suddenly, actually takes a step back and half-turns, so that he's staring at the coffee maker, with its dented metal pot.

"Okay then," he says softly, "I guess I just didn't realize how badly you wanted to go back to the hospital. You must really like injections, huh?"

A beat. Castiel gives me a humorless smile from across the table.

"Oh, you bastard," I growl, and palm all three meds and the damn vitamin and manage to get most (most, dammit) of the water in my mouth instead of spilling all down my chin. Sam gives me a weary little smile and uses a paper towel to mop up the mess on my face and chest, because right now I couldn't even hold a cereal spoon without fumbling it. He gives me a protein shake with a straw in it, and that's about the best I'm going to get this morning. God, I feel like absolute shit.

Sam needs to take a shower, get dressed. He isn't thrilled to leave me alone even for the time it takes to do that, but come on. "I promise not to do anything, alright?" I try, but I guess after yesterday my promise doesn't have as much weight, because he takes his shower with the bathroom door hanging open, steam spilling out into the hall, making the whole house smell like soap.

"Listen, Dean, I think I'd better show you how to make the sigil, in case Uriel comes back."

I'm sort of drooping on the sofa, eyes half open, swamped by the aftereffects of all the damn meds and shit that's been dumped down my throat. Christ. But Castiel's making an effort, trying to give me some important information. The sigil's still on the wall from yesterday, dried to brown now, but I know the wound is long gone from Castiel's arm. As if it was never there. Lucky jerk. I've still got all my scars, and marks from injections, and everything. It's not fair, at all.

"I can see it fine," I mutter, waving a hand vaguely at the sign, "'S right there. I can just…copy that, right?"

"And what if you're not home? What if you're at the doctor's, or what if you have to go back to the hospital? Or if Uriel gets hold of Sam, takes him somewhere? You need to be prepared, Dean, you need to know it by heart. I'm trying to help you out, here."

"Okay. Okay." I blink slowly at him. He's right, or course. He usually is. "What do I need?"

"Get a pen and paper."

And he shows me how the mark is made. The ones I draw don't have any power, because they're just ink on paper. But I need Cas to understand something important.

"Look, Sam—he won't let me have…I mean there's nothing sharp around here, that I can get to. If I need to make this sign, I won't be able to…I mean, does it absolutely need blood? Does it have to be blood?"

"You'll just have to improvise."

Improvise. That's a great word, and it makes me smile. When Sam comes out of the shower, buttoning up his shirt, he finds me still practicing the sigil, papers scattered over the floor and table. Castiel is leaning over my shoulder, and I'm struggling to control my sloppy muscles, my loose, uncooperative hands.

"The meds, man," I tell my brother, when he starts gathering up the sheets, folding them crisply down the middle. The words sound thick, drunken. "This would be a hell of a lot easier without 'em."

"Yeah," Sam says, lips pursed. "I know it would."

The doctor practices out of a nice, single-level office with bushes and trees and stuff out front. Cas ditched me about halfway through the car ride—angels hate cars, I guess—so it's just me and Sam walking into the building, and then just me sitting in an overly cushy chair, watching Sam chat with the receptionist, doing the insurance dance.

Then it's just the two of us, sitting side-by-side in the ridiculous chairs, breathing bitingly cold, conditioned air, and listening to each other shift around. So I'm not too surprised when Sam pulls the folded sheets of paper out of a pocket and opens them, holds them up so we can both see. Man, my drawing sucks.

"Is this—are these what Cas…used?" and I ignore the way he stutters on the shorter name. "Yesterday? To get rid of Uriel?"

"Well, yeah, only, y'know, he does it a lot better'n me. I mean it would help if I wasn't—" I wave a hand through the air, miming the heaviness of my body, the clumsiness.

"But they work? Is that—is it why Castiel left?"

"Hm? Oh, no, no, I think he just got sick of bein' in th'car. Just, y'know. It's small in there."

"Hmm." He looks down at them again, then shakes his shaggy head, tucking them back in his pocket. I'm not gonna say a word about it needing to be written in blood. I have a feeling that probably won't go over too well. Even if it's for a really good reason.

Improvise. Right.

"Y'know," I say quietly, "He did it for you, Sam. To protect you. I don't know why you can't be a little more appreciative of the guy."

Sam doesn't say anything, but he gives me this look, which honestly I can't decipher. And then they call our name, and it's time to talk to Dr. Holzbauer.

Sam does most of the talking. The doctor has some questions for me—is Castiel here now? Uriel? Any of the others?—and Sam talks about laying the salt yesterday, and apologizes for feeding my delusions, or whatever, and about Becks being a demon (poor Becks, I really liked her), and he pulls out the practice sigils and the doctor inspects them and makes little thoughtful noises like "hm," and "I see." And he's asking how long, and Sam's saying he's not sure, it seemed to come on so suddenly, but maybe that's not right, maybe it's been going on longer than either of us realized, only I can't be sure. It's hard to know. I wish Cas were here. He'd know.

"But Castiel left, isn't that right?" says a smile, and there's a tall thin figure behind the doctor, draped over the man's shoulder, and smiling smiling at me. And oh, it's a smile I'd never wanted to see again. Smile like being cut open, smile like tearing the skin. Smile like that, like that, just there.


I hear the noise come out of my mouth, the sudden animal squeal, and I jerk in the chair, kicking my legs up, slamming a palm against the arm-rest. Sam says something, asks something, sharp and worried and so far away.

"He left you, all alone. Right here. With me." Alastair smiles. So wide and bright like a star, and Sam's reaching out, but he hesitates, doesn't touch me. Oh God no. Not him. With his long fingers on the doctor's face, and tracing the line of his jaw, and there are holes in the man's skin, holes holes in his face. Where his eye should be, and something is squirming inside, something sick and awful. In the hole. In his face. And Alastair just grins at me and says, "I've been waiting, so long, for you to come back to me."

I'm trying to press back, bodily, into the chair, and Sam's there, grabbing my shoulders as the whole thing tips backward, and he's holding me up, on my knees, keeping us both upright. I grab his shirt, claw at his arms, but Sam can't help me, can't protect any of us. Where's Cas? He could help. He can do what Sam can't.

"Castiel," I gasp, grabbing Sam's face in both hands, shaking him a little, "You've got to find him. Find Cas. Get him here! Please, Sam!"

"I don't—Dean, I don't know where—I mean I can't—"

"Cas, oh God Cas, please. Where's Cas? I want Cas. Castiel. Please. "

There's another voice, the doctor's voice, but Alastair goddamn him is singing, fucking singing, Christ, warbly and grating and he means it all for me, singing about heaven, taunting me about Cas's absence.

"I don't know," Sam's saying, "It could be Uriel, he really upset Dean yesterday. Or it could be one of the others—Ruby or Alastair or Lilith. Those are the ones that—that scare him the most."

I can't help it. I need to hide. I shouldn't but the singing is awful, and the maggots are spilling out of the doctor's face and Alastair's got his straight razor and is twiddling it between his fingers. I just bury my head against Sam's chest and cover my ears and he wraps his arms around me, holding on tight. So tight.

"Where'd you go, for so long?" Alastair sneaks closer, his footsteps so soft, his voice so gentle. His fingers brush the back of my neck and I shudder, huddle against Sammy, Sammy help me, please, and wish and wish and wish for Cas.

"But he's not coming," Alastair murmurs, tracing the razor cold over my skin, the flat edge scraping. "No. No one's here to help you. No one at all."

And it hurts, it hurts, nothing should hurt like this but it does, and I burn hot tears, just for him, and I plead like he wants me to, I beg him but no, because I'm giving him what he wants, I'm giving him what he wants and I always do, in the end, because nobody's stronger than Alastair, I know in my heart even Cas can't save me, can't make it stop, can't make it go away just go away

But then, after a while, it does. I'm not sure why. I come back to myself gasping aloud, and it's not what I was expecting, not at all.

I'm in my room, lying on the bed. I grope at the back of my neck, sit up and clumsily check my arms, hands, feet. There's no blood. There's nothing, not even a scrape or a scratch. My skin's so clean. That bastard Alastair. What he did to me—and wouldn't even leave me a mark to show for it. To prove that it was true. To Sam. To everyone.

But it doesn't hurt, and the world is quiet. Stillness hangs in the air, soft as steam, and pale. I push through and out into the hall, where the evening sun is distant and strange on the floor, leaping in muffled radiance like the spray of water in a heavy rainfall. I slosh down the hall, through the light, the water, and my brother's sitting at the kitchen table, with his face in his hands. The phone is next to him, and he looks up when he sees me.

"This isn't the hospital," I say, and the words are distant, the way they are when you're sick with the flu. Sam blinks at me. There are salt tracks on his face, and his nose is red.

"You're my brother," he says, and the words are heavy, and tired, but so so strong. I lean against the doorjamb because the world is tilting, a little, pitching away from me, sliding down a hill. He gets up and takes my arm, and my shoulder, says, "Let's go sit on the sofa," and I let myself by guided into the stillness of the living room. On the sofa I cover my face with my hands, loose and sloppy bones, let them trail down the sides of my throat and fall heavily in my lap.

"This is something else," I say, and Sam nods.

"Something stronger. A real strong sedative. I'm sorry, Dean, but I was afraid—you were in pain. And we didn't want you to hurt yourself."

I nod, let my gaze drift away. There's other things I should be asking, things that are probably important, but I can't remember what they are. They'll come back to me, later.

"Alastair," I say, instead, as Sam settles beside me.

"Is that what—?"


"God, Dean."

He pulls me in, and there's no way I can resist. Everything tilts, and I laugh once, sharply, at the sudden dizziness, and Sam wraps both arms around my shoulders and just hangs on, burying his head against my shoulder. I find my hand, at the end of my arm, and manage to land a couple of loose pats in the general vicinity of his elbow.

"You're my brother," he says again, muffled.

I think he might be crying some more.

I wake up because Castiel is yelling in my ear. The whole house is swallowed in darkness, like a hand plunged into deep water, and Cas is right in my face, shouting my name. Sam's curled up with his head in my lap and I've got drool, like, halfway down my neck. I wipe it off hastily and Cas is shouting, "Dean! Dean!"

"Jesus," I breathe, "Shh shut up, you'll wake him—" But that's wrong, isn't it? Still, we should be quiet. It's got to be after ten o'clock, at least. My neck is killing me from lying all weird on the couch.

"Dean, get up! You've got to get up right now, and don't wake your brother!"

Sam's all cried out. It's the only reason I can think that he would've fallen asleep curled up on the couch, one arm pinned behind my back, the other draped across my thighs. It must've been hours because I'm feeling a lot clearer than I have in a long time, and Sam would never, ever have left the lights off and the windows wide open in the middle of the night like this unless he'd really just passed out completely.

Shuffling his head off my lap is tough, but when he murmurs and shifts I stroke his hair, just a little, and whisper, "Hush, Sammy, s'alright. Go back to sleep." And I hope his dreams are good. I hope his dreams are wonderful.

"Dean, come on."

Cas is all banked fury and stark intensity. His eyes are wide enough that I can see the whites, and he yanks me down the hall toward my room, where we can at least talk.

"Where the hell were you earlier?" I demand, and he makes a fierce, impatient gesture.

"We don't have time for that! Listen, Dean, I tracked down Uriel. He's on his way here right now."

"What?" I clap both hands over my mouth at the noise I make, and hesitate a second, listening for Sam. "What?" I whisper, turning to watch the angel pace the length of the room and back, shoulders hunched, vibrating with tension.

"He's going to kill your brother. He's gonna kill Sam. And I don't know if I'm strong enough to stop him."

"Jesus Christ, Cas."

"I know. And I know it's a lot to ask, but you're going to have to look out for Sam on this one. I—" He presses his lips together, and looks away for a minute, "I can try to hold him off. Buy you some time. Dean, do you remember how to make the sigil, the one I showed you before?"

"Of course I do. But I told you—"

"And I told you, you'll have to improvise. Blood is the only thing that'll work. Blood from a body, a living human body. Mine. Yours."

"But what about—"

"Dean! He's almost here. I'm going to try to protect Sam, but you've got to get close enough for the sigil to work. Understand? Get out in the hallway, near your brother, where Uriel won't see. And do it quickly. I can probably only keep him busy for a couple of minutes." I realize he's got a weapon in his hand, something long and shining and silver, just for an instant, before the room is full of rushing wings and darkness, and then I'm alone.

Everything's sped up. I don't have time. There was never any time. Alastair has only ever been interested in me, but it's Uriel who's the biggest threat. Uriel, who's tried more than once to get at Sam. Get around Cas, get around me. And now he's waited until we're both vulnerable, Sam from exhaustion, me from the drugs, and the only thing standing between him and my brother are Castiel, and whatever sharp thing I can find in the next thirty seconds.

But I already know there's nothing sharp. Even at the best times, Sam doesn't exactly leave razors and knives and shit just lying around the place. And my room is full of soft edges, filed down and sometimes fitted with rubber guards, or pieces of material, or whatever he glued on to make sure, make extra sure, that I'd be safe. God, Sam. I owe him everything. I have to do this. I have to make it work.

I flinch at a crash from the living room. Castiel's shouting, and Uriel snaps something in response. Doesn't matter what. I'm almost out of time. I just hope they're busy posturing at each other and neither one has tried to take a swing, because at that point I think my time'll pretty much be up.

Sam's door is unlocked and opens soundlessly. His room is swamped in darkness. There's probably tons of stuff in here I'm not supposed to be touch, but there's no time to go digging around for secret passages or lockboxes or whatever, and besides, I've suddenly got a really good idea.

A few months ago my brother changed out most of the lightbulbs in the house for those swirly kinds, the ones that don't use as much electricity and last for years and years. But there's a lamp on the table that I guess he never got around to switching, and lightbulbs are made of glass.

If the crash wakes him, I'll find out soon enough. In the hallway the noise of the fight is louder, and I hear Cas grunt in pain and the unmistakable sound of a fist striking flesh. Uriel. What a fucking dick.

Cutting my arm open hurts worse than anything I've felt in a while, and that includes what Alastair did to me. I swallow my curse down until it twists into a strangled hiss, and go to work on the wall, barely able to see what I'm doing in the dark. There's a crash of something slamming into the coffee table, and shit I didn't cut deep enough because there's not enough blood, and I dig the sliver of glass a lot deeper and just tear it straight through like a knife slicing a piece of meat, which I guess is pretty accurate.

Almost done, now. Castiel screams, an awful noise, suddenly choked off, and I know, I know, my time's run out. Sam. I can imagine Uriel stalking closer to the sofa. My brother sleeping, dead to the world, looking about twelve years old. When he was a kid I'd pick him up, carry him to bed, tuck him in, kiss him goodnight. Before he started school he'd usually ask for a story, sometimes a song. Something Mom used to sing to us, even though he couldn't remember. I always remembered. I never forgot those songs. Never forgot the stories.

Never forgot to take care of Sammy.

My palm slaps the center of the sigil with a wet, squelching noise, and there's a burst of light, a shriek, and the darkness wraps gently around the house again, and the silence leaves my ears ringing.

God, I'm bleeding so much. I try to hold onto the cuts on my arm but I guess I was running mostly on adrenaline because I'm already woozy, already having trouble standing. But I've got to check on Sam. I lean on the wall as much as possible to get into the living room, and then forget myself and walk one bloody hand along the sofa until I'm in front of him again, the way he was before, between the couch and coffee table. I can't really make my legs cooperate and I hit my knees and reach out, grabbing his face, shaking him awake.

"Sam? Sammy? Hey, are you okay? Wake up, you okay? He hurt you?"

His eyes flicker, just for an instant, and then he's gasping and sitting up and grabbing at me, saying, "What—Dean, what—ohJesusfuckingChristDEAN!"

I'm not really sure what he's so upset about. My hands are slipping off his face—I can't seem to keep them up anymore, or feel them very well, really. And my head feels hollowed out. All of me is hollowed out. My arms are tingling. There's slickness, and something pooling where they've fallen, on the sofa and across Sam's lap. And my eyes are heavy. It's got dark. Darker. But Sam's okay. He's got me. He's got hold of me, and he's shouting something and he sounds really upset but I know he's just worrying over nothing. Sam's fine. He's fine.

Everything's gonna be fine.

Winter, spring, summer, fall. Fall brings the cold, the clear sky and the smell of burning leaves. Winter just clutches at the land, at the whole world, grabs it in both hands and squeezes and squeezes and doesn't let go for anything. The whole world on lockdown, bitter, dark, and tight.

Sam comes to see me. Every day, which I think is a little excessive, but I guess he got used to having me around or something. He still goes to work and he still checks in with Becks, every now and then, and if I forget myself and ask if she's better, if the demon is gone, he doesn't get upset with me and he just waits, so patiently, until things are a little bit settled and I remember why he can't really answer that question. Why he shouldn't.

So I've been back in the hospital for a little while. Longer than Sam's happy with, I'm pretty sure, but the Doc has final say on this one, and I think it's a good idea to listen to him. I've told Sam that a couple of times. I've mentioned it to Castiel, too, but his only reply is an enigmatic little smile and a shrug, and there's not much I can say to that.

Uriel didn't kill him. Thank God.

Right now there's a dusting of snow on the ground, so we're relegated to the visiting area, which isn't really too bad. It's that point in the year where the world is turning toward the spring, but right now that just means worse cold and nastier weather that never seems to end, the kind of weather that makes you just sure you can't survive another day of endless grey and monochrome walls and creeping claustrophobia without going completely out of your skull, and around here that really means something—and then all of a sudden, you know, you wake up one morning and the snow melts for good, and the winter birds are maybe a little louder. And in a little while, it'll be time to go outside, and there'll be new buds, and shoots of grass pushing through the mud, and migratory birds come flocking back, filling the sky with noise.

It's still a ways off, though. So Sam's got a stupid hat on and snow melting on his shoulders, and the cuffs of his pants are soaked. He lets me brush some of the snow off him and grins and shies away when I snatch at his hat.

"No way, man. You gave me this hat."

"I—what? Why would I give you something that looks that dumb?"

"Dude, I don't know. Your idea of what constitutes acceptable clothing is something I've never tried to understand."

Ooh, fightin' words, Sammy. And I tell him so, and we've got this kind of easy flow of conversation back, which I'd been missing for a long time. Because it's been hard. I won't lie. Some of the things that come out of my mouth…and I can't blame it all on the drugs, either, or on Cas. It's not really his fault. Dr. Holzbauer keeps reminding me that it's not really my fault, either, and I guess it's not. But if it would just—if I could just…hold on…to what I know….

I take a breath, realize I've lost the thread of the conversation. Sam's smile has softened, a little. He looks older than the last time I saw him. A little quieter, on the inside.

I've got to tell him now.

"Listen, Sam," I take another breath, shift a little, resist the urge to reach out. No touchy-feely crap, not now. I don't think I'd ever be able let go. "Listen, if you…I wanted to tell you something. Something kind of. Kind of important."

"Sure, Dean." And I know he's bracing himself internally, because half the stuff I've told him that was 'important' in the past I can't even remember anymore, and there's about a fifty percent chance that anything I say will be something Castiel told me, which Sam really doesn't give a damn about.

"Sam, listen, you've got…a nice house. And a good job, and a nice girl. I mean, I guess she's nice, if she puts up with you." There. He's smiling a little wider. That's good. I love that smile. But there's something at the edge of it. Something that worries. Thinks, maybe he's not gonna like what I've got to say.

"I just want you to…think about it. About what you have. Because maybe…you could get Veronica to move in with you. You know? Maybe you could, like, stay together. In…in the house. You could…y'know, you could find a place…for me. Someplace I could stay, where there'd be—where you could visit. And I'd stay. There. And you could maybe, you know. Have a family. Raise a family. Get married and…everything."

Everything you deserve. Everything you used to want.

"Dean…" Oh, the smile's gone now. Gone completely. And I was wrong, he doesn't look older, he looks like about fifteen years have just dropped right off of him, and I think his lower lip is trembling. Jesus.

"Sam." I meant it, when I said it was important. "Sam. Listen to me. I'm serious here."

"Serious?" His voice rises incredulously; a couple of other patients glance over, but otherwise don't really react. "How can you—"

"Listen, Sam. Listen. How many times have I been in here, now? In the hospital, just like this?"

"I don't—"

"How many times, Sam?"

He's silent for a moment, looking down at his hands, clasped so tight in his lap his knuckles are bleached.

"Sam." Softly.

His voice is a whisper, broken. "Three."

I nod, though it makes me a little sick to hear it out loud. "Three times. Three. The first time, it was a big deal, but we thought that was it, right?"


"And the second time? We should have been on the alert after that one, and you know it, because Sam, this is three times now and that makes this a pattern. And you know what a pattern like this means. You know what it means, Sam."

He does. I can see it in every line of his body. And I'm sorry for hurting him, but it's my job. Someone has to tell him the truth, because Dad's not around to do it anymore, and there's no one else but me. Take care of Sam. 'Cause dammit he's all grown up now. He deserves more than this. Sam. Not Sammy. Not my Sammy. Not anymore.

His shoulders are slumped. I watch the snow melt on his jacket. When he swallows, it's audible in the silence between us.

"Dean," he says, finally, shaking himself a little, drawing my attention back to his face. "Dean, no."

"Sam—!" I start, but he forestalls me, holds up a hand, raises his head. He swallows a couple more times, makes sure his voice is steady.

"I…I understand what you're saying. And I know—maybe it's the best answer. Maybe it's…the logical answer. Because you're my brother, and you want what's best for me."

I nod. He's right about that, at least.

"But Dean, I could never forgive myself if I…locked you up somewhere—"

"Sam, for Christ's sake, it's not gonna be like in the movies."

"It might be!" he says fiercely, "How could I trust someone else to take care of you, really take care of you? And even if—even if we found, like, the perfect place, some wonderful place where I knew you'd be…okay…I couldn't do it. Dean I just…I couldn't. I couldn't marry Vee and have kids in that house and do the nine-to-five thing and be a husband and a dad, because I'd spend the whole time expecting to see you, man, out of the corner of my eye, coming down the hall or sitting on the couch or drinking coffee or, or, I don't know. Just, being there. God, man, I couldn't do it."

"So get a different house."

"I don't want a different house. Dean! You're not hearing me. I'm not doing it. It's not open for discussion. Okay? You're my brother. All right? That's the beginning and the end of it. I love Vee, I do, but I don't—I'm not just going to throw you away. I won't. I won't do it. You can't make me." And God he sounds so much like he did when he was about five and throwing a tantrum about not wanting to take a bath or go to bed or whatever that I can't help but smile, even though I know I'm not getting through to him, that I'm failing completely to make him listen. I cover my mouth and look away, out the window, where light soft flakes are falling.

"Dammit," Sam says, sliding forward in his chair, until his knee bumps gently into mine. "I've heard everything you've said. And I know you're not wrong. Not about…you know, that it'll probably happen again. But we've got to try, I'm not just gonna give up on you, man. I'm not gonna walk away. Just—so don't ask me again. Don't even ask me that again. Because we have time, man. We've got so much time, to work, to get it right. We'll just keep trying, until we get it right. That's what time is for."

I'm still watching the snow, without looking at him. Watching it fall. It's quiet. It's so quiet.

I shut my eyes.

Everything's so quiet.


Other notes:

So obviously this plays kind of fast and loose with real schizophrenia, and with the source material as well. This was just one of those stories really bugging me to be written, so...yeah.

I haven't really thought much about the backstory for this, so there really isn't one. I will say that I'm pretty sure John is dead, here; either that or just up and took off, unable to deal with the pressures of caring for a mentally ill adult child. It's possible, I suppose, but I kind of tend to think it's more likely that he's dead.

I will say that I (obviously) didn't spend a huge amount of time editing this or anything, so if there are issues with the pacing or whatever, sorry for that. I wanted to write it, but I didn't want to spend weeks and weeks tweaking and perfecting it. Hope it was a fun read, anyway!