Set after 6.01. Spoilers for anything up to and including that episode. This story goes completely AU after that because, well, I need my happy ending a lot more than Sera G does right now, lol! Thank you Alaina and Sheila for the beta and support - you girls rock! I hope you enjoy the story.

The Walking Dead

Chapter 1

Sam tried not to think too much anymore.

It wasn't the easiest (or healthiest) way to deal with things but it was the only way he could.

It didn't always work for him though, and on those days when memories and emotions clashed and threatened to bring him to his knees… or make his skull explode, Sam would find somewhere quiet along side the road to stop. He'd change worn jeans and boots for track pants and a pair of sneakers… and he'd run.

He'd run until his heart pounded too hard.

Until his lungs burned for something that he just couldn't have.

And until he felt like he was ready to go back to pretending that everything was okay.

But usually before he reached that platitude of deluded denial and careful compartmentalization, he'd have to admit to himself just how screwed up he was.

It was laughable really, he'd think in those moments of unbridled honesty, that of all the Winchesters, he was the most messed up; he was so far from normal, his skin itched at the very word.

And that was how Sam found himself running now, along an overgrown and wooded trail on a chilly October morning.

He'd been thinking too much all night. Motel room pushups instead of a bed had kept him from putting a gun in his mouth until finally he'd fled in dawn's early light; thrown his bag into the trunk of the car and peeled out of the parking lot, desperate to get away.

To run.

It had been weeks since he'd walked away from Dean, leaving his brother to keep safe in his normal life with his normal family.

It hurt to be replaced but Sam tried not to let himself think too much about it. Be kinda hypocritical to begrudge his brother that life since it was Sam himself who had driven him into their arms.

And he didn't regret it at all.

He didn't.

Even now, it was barely a year later and Dean looked good. Refreshed, recharged. Happy.

Okay, maybe 'happy' might be stretching things when Sam was honest with himself however, but he had to believe it was for the best.

He had to.

And it was the right thing to do.

Just look at Dean.

Look. At. Him.

Oh God.

Things were easier when he didn't think about them. Hunting for sure. He blew into town, did his job, packed up and moved on.

It had gotten a bit more complicated after he'd hooked up with the Campbells. Grandpa was a bit of a control freak and while he trusted them, he didn't trust them, not like he did Dean, but since they weren't exactly much on the caring and sharing front, it worked. They backed each other and got things done… but that was it. Conversation wasn't a requirement and the few times when Sam was expected to make nice, he'd do what he'd done all his life.

Hide behind Dean.

It was easy to talk about his brother, so he did. Dean this and Dean that. That was Sam's conversation and that was all he needed. Talking about Dean helped –


Sam's long legs stretched out, chewing up the gravel path.

It always came back to Dean.

The smell of rain hung heavy in the air and Sam breathed it in hard, panting softly now and focusing on the scent of dirt and rot. Leaves, reds, browns and oranges, crunched under his sneakers as around him the breeze picked up and new leaves started to fall.

Sam found himself fixated on one. Slowing down he watched as it languidly, gracefully, fell from a tall maple in front of him. It was scarlet red and by the time it finished its silent descent, he was completely stopped and staring at it, the world around him a blur in the background even as his chest heaved from the exertion of his run.

Hell had no color. It was all muted shades of grey and agony. Even the blood that ran in rivulets from the very floors of the cage itself was black.

Everything was black.

Mesmerized, Sam cocked his head to the side and just stared at the leaf. Uncrinkled, un-bug-bitten, unsoiled. It was absolutely perfect, beautiful, as it rested on a bed of yellows and oranges; a flash of blood on a pretty autumn palette.

Sam crouched down and reached out to pick it up. His fingers, more comfortable curled around a trigger or the blade of a knife, were hesitant and he flexed them impatiently before finally touching the leaf, momentarily surprised by how cool and smooth it was against his palm. He had forgotten.

How long ago had it been since he'd done something so trivial, so undamning, as picking up a leaf? Sam didn't know although a brief flash of memory of spreading glue on a beer bottle and his brother's perplexed look when it stuck to Dean's hand plucked dimly at his mind. It had been too long. Abruptly he shook the remembrance off and stood, still holding the leaf.

Breathing almost normally now, Sam began to walk. He had no idea what he was going to do with the leaf and he didn't know why, but he wanted to keep it.

A slight smile twisted his lips as he wondered what Dean would say the next time he was in Sam's car and saw the leaf tucked away safely in the visor. Sam snorted and shook his head not once wondering what made him so sure there would be a next time.

The first slap of rain on his face had Sam looking up. Time to go back, he decided, not eager to get wet and already starting to shiver as the temperature dropped and his sweat soaked t-shirt clung to his back. Holding the leaf carefully so it didn't bend or get broken, he started in a slow jog back to the car.

The trail he was running on was really just a slip of gravel that ran from the side of the highway into the woods, definitely not on the tourist guide map of the area and probably only known to some of the locals. If he hadn't known what to look for when he was driving, he'd have totally missed it but after a year of frequent needs to escape Sam had become good at finding old trailheads. And given the overgrowth and obvious lack of maintenance, it'd be safe to bet he'd been the first person who'd been along this way in a while.

Normally that didn't bother Sam. In fact when he needed to escape what was going on in his head, he preferred it to be someplace isolated and unpopular. But this time, when the gravel under him suddenly gave way, the whole side of the trail collapsing, sending Sam slipping and sliding, wrapped in the throes of a landslide, he had one fleeting thought: if he got badly hurt and couldn't get out of here himself, he was screwed…

And then as his body was twisted, turned, scraped and hurled, his head hit something sharp and the world blinked out with a flash of pain.

By the time the earth stopped moving, Sam was pinned face down and wedged tightly under a large boulder, the weight of the trail resting hard on his back. One arm was pinned under him, the other flung forward like he was reaching for something; his position a macabre caricature of someone sleeping on their stomach.

His free hand still held the leaf but it was no longer un-crinkled and perfect.

Just red.

Blood red.