IN A WINCHESTER MINUTE

By: Karen B.

Summary: Season six warning. Tag to 6-13.

Disclaimer: Not the owner.

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~/

Sam's POV:

One minute I was talking to Dean. The next, I just dropped, landing on my back. Slammed into total darkness and launched down a narrow, black chute that twisted and turned. Was like swirling down a grungy sink drain.

I struggled to breathe. To escape. To connect with something. Desperate to grab hold of anything, but there was nothing to hold on to. No rope. No solid ground. No familiar, warm hand.

Where was Dean?

I felt dead. Tried to concentrate. My eyes were open, but I couldn't see. And I couldn't hear. But I was aware enough to know… I was caught between two worlds. An outside world and an inside world.

This was the inside world. Full of chaos and grotesque, scary things. It was loud. It was painful. It was heartache and disease. I was in a desert, blood-red sand sticking to my skin. Flooding my nose. My mouth. I gagged. Was sinking. Drowning in hazy darkness. Trapped. Barricaded. There was something rotting in my gut. Loneliness? Fear? No. Something worse. Something sucking out my soul.

Suddenly the darkness ignited into flames, burning people screamed and pleaded for mercy. Quickly I realized it wasn't burning people screaming, and pleading. It was me. I was the one on fire - burning and screaming. The stench of my smoldering flesh and the crackle of the inferno spread through every inch of me.

"Ahhh!" I cried out, knowing exactly where I was, but unable to put a name to the place.

My mind was stripped of intellect and movement. Clarity about as clear as a weed infested, forgotten cemetery on a moonless night.

There was a heavy guttural weight of pain upon my upper body and I swore my lungs had collapsed. My teeth gnashed. Fists clenched. Heart racing and breath wheezing.

Everything began to reel round and round. I couldn't orient myself. Was I still flat on my back. Sitting? Standing? Fire spun around me. Or was that a room. There was a multitude of color. A face. Pale and looking as scared as I was. The flames engulfed me and the face disappeared. I was sick. Nauseous. My stomach - contents and all - coming up my throat. My body twitched and rolled. I panted and huffed, making a futile attempt to stop. To escape the burning, but I couldn't find my way out.

"Nnnnnaaaa," I cried out, needing to find my way out.

Suddenly the burning stopped. The fire was doused and I was numb. A trusting warmth slipped into my freezing cold hand. Squeezed tight. Wouldn't let go. Something penetrated this world from the outside in. Beckoned me. A gentleness lifting me. My heart going back to beating normally. Panicked gasps calming.

"Sammy." A tender muffled sound came to my deaf ears.

I struggled to listen. To digest what was being said to me.

"Sam."

I knew that voice. That word. My confusing world slowly clarified. Desperately, I tried to zoom in on the male voice. My lips moved to answer, but only a raspy sigh came out.

"Follow my voice. Let it carry you back. Come on, dude," the man called.

I couldn't call back, shivering violently. How could I be burning one minute and ice-cold the next?

There was an unexpected flurry of motion that confused me more. Things become so hay- wired, and the trusting warmth had left my hand. 'Come back.' I wanted to tell it, but my brain couldn't find its way out my mouth. I was slipping backward within the darkness. Afraid the burning would start up again.

Something warm and heavy was laid over my chest. Thick and itchy. Then came a slow, tight squeezing of my arm. Light flooded into the darkness - brighter than the sun - blinding me.

Everything hurt. Even the roots of my teeth. "Nuh," I groaned miserably.

"Easy! Easy, Sammy." That voice. So worried. So soft.

The tone suggested something known, something safe and comforting. I reached desperately for this person. Clambering. Using what little courage, and strength my shattered will could muster.

"Mmm," I moaned, sounding more like a whining child, then the adult I knew I was.

"Listen to me, Sam. See me. I'm right here. Talk to me, man. Say something."

My eyes were open. I could feel them rolling up and down. Color bled into the dark, mixed with bone and ash and swirling black smoke. But I couldn't see the person calling me. Begging me to jump through hoops.

"Please, Sammy. Oh, God, please."

Something moved over me. A hovering shadow. Unrecognizable and dancing before my half-seeing eyes.

"Come on!" The man demanded more. "Stop being a bitch. You need to try and help. I need your help," he sobbed.

The swirling gusts of black smoke finally cleared, revealing green eyes and a pale face; peering down at me. The great mystery become somewhat clearer. I knew those eyes. Knew that face. I waited, staring half-aware. Awaiting all the answers. Awaiting the clues to fall into place. To knock me upside my muddled head.

My sight was back, but I was still blind to the truth. My hearing there, yet my awareness still out of reach.

"Hey? You back?" He gave a weak smile, the skin around his green eyes crinkling. "You're gonna be okay."

I frowned. Grasped and tangled and fought with the word skipping around me.

I needed to expand my understanding. Closed my eyes tight, trying to grapple at the things dancing around in my head. Anxious to recognize what had happened to me.

"No...no...no." The voice boomed with terror. "Keep awake. Keep with me. You hearing me? Sam! Can you tell me that you're hearing me. Please."

The man was so scared. I wanted to jump through the hoops he offered, but couldn't. I was groggy, couldn't get my bearings. My eyes wouldn't open. Glued shut. I was having trouble breathing. Like a heavy, moldy potato sack had been shoved over my head and tied with a thick rope around my neck, constricting.

"Stay with me. Here. Now." The warmth of that hand came to my brow, urgently trying to take away the edge of darkness.

"I'm here. Remember? I'm here." He spoke with a quiver.

Remember...remember...remember.

I tried to remember. To focus. Was impossible. There was only blackness before me. A dark shadowy shape. It grew and grew. Tall and wide and thick. A wall.

I didn't know much. Just knew I needed to stay away from the wall. I did just that, stepping back deftly and shivering in fear. Crap. The wall followed. Coming at me fast and hard. I couldn't jump or scale or go under or through - the thing was too thick. Too big. I backpedaled away, finding myself pinned into a corner. My shoulders were slammed there and held in place - boxing me in a small space.

I tried to push forward. Break through. But was thrown back. Glancing around, all I saw was darkness.

Shadows.

Where did the voice go?

I needed the voice. The man.

For a second I thought I heard him. Calling to me. For a second a name came to mind and I opened my mouth.

The name was everything and everything hinged on the name.

I tried to call out. If I could just say the name maybe I could be saved, but the name wouldn't come and the voice was gone again.

I begged for the voice to come back.

But all I got was the wall.

The dark shape before me just kept pushing. I threw both hands up and pushed back. No go. Couldn't stop it. The wall didn't budge. It was strong and steady.

I half turned, it was about all I could manage in my precarious position. To my left, just within reach, I noticed an opening. A one-inch round hole in the dividing wall. A flaming electric-orange glow emitting from the breech - a weakness, a flaw in my prison.

I shouldn't have been afraid of that. Meant the wall could come down. I could escape. But I was afraid of what lay on the other side of freedom. I didn't understand much. I understood I was scared. Scared to death of the tiny light in all the darkness. I didn't want to look at the hole. The light. Something told me to stuff a rag in the break or plug it with a finger. But I knew I shouldn't get that close. I needed to stay away. Far away. Yet, the hole in the wall drew me to it. A moth knowing it would die the instant it flew into the flame - but dumbly flying into it anyway.

I wiggled and waggled against the barrier, until on hand was free and reached out toward the perforation. My fingertips were just barely able to scratch at the surface of the wall and I picked at it, trying to widen the opening. As I did so, something leaked out. A warm sticky liquid. Blood. I stopped picking. Bit down on my lower lip.

Why was I here? What was happening? Before I could even try to recall, something hit me in the side of the head. Backhanded me like nobody's business. My head flew back, cracking against something bone-hard and my hand fell, flopping useless at my side.

I was paralyzed. No longer able to defend myself. Not that I was doing such a terrific job of it. There came another attack. Whatever hit me this time went deep, cut through like a knife. The sharp pain steadily increasing.

The momentum knocked me into an even blacker place - deaf, dumb, mute and blind. The light - gone. The hole - gone. The shadowy wall - gone.

I remembered nothing.

/~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~/

Dean POV:

One minute I was bustling to pack and trying to sooth a guilty, emo, upright brother. The next there was a thud and when I rounded the corner…there was Sam. Flat on his back beside the ratty bed. Trembling and twitching. Sweaty and gasping. Flopping erratically on the filthy floorboards.

"Sam" I was only a few steps away, but couldn't get to him fast enough.

"Sammy." I crouched beside him, unsure of what to do. Of what was going on. Where to touch him. "Sammy, talk to me." I reached out and got a hold of a quivering bicep.

Sam struggled upward, gasping, but couldn't answer. In obvious pain, he flopped back to the floor, body bucking.

Normally, I don't panic, but right now panicking was exactly what I was doing. "Shit. Sammy!" I screeched, beyond scared. "Okay. Okay. Okay," I chanted brainlessly to myself, taking in a breath each time, just barely clinging to control. I leaned further over Sam. "It's okay, little brother."

With one hand on his chest, I held him down. Quickly checked his heart rate - too fast. His respiration - too shallow. Lips blue. Skin clammy. Pupils - dilated.

"What the hell?"

Hell.

I gagged. Nearly vomited.

Stupid, Dean.

This wasn't some freak epileptic seizure. Nothing ibuprofen or a trip to the ER could fix. I knew what it was. So desperate to deny it, but couldn't. The wall wasn't functioning as it was supposed to. Crap it had slipped. How bad? I didn't know. A pinprick. A crack. A hole. The entire thing come tumbling down.

Still gasping, every one of Sam's muscles was uncoordinated. Straining and quivering as he gaped right at me without even blinking.

"It's okay. It's okay, Sam," I choked out. How many times was I going to say that? Every thing was far from okay. "Not letting you go back. I won't let you go back," I murmured. "I was stupid to listen to you. Let you remember. Damn it, Sam. I won't lose you again." Suddenly angry, I cursed Death, "You son of a bitching asshole."

Seventy-five percent. Ha. The wall hadn't even lasted a month. Sam was remembering hell. Fucking remembering. He was living, breathing, eating, feeling, burning in hell and I couldn't stop it. Any of it.

I shivered hard. One split second of hell - was forever - full of unthinkable, agonizing pain and tormented horror.

I had to bring Sam back here to me. "Sam." I grasped his face roughly between my hands. He fought, his head twisting away from me, but I held tighter. "Sammy," I yelled as loud as I could, trying to get him to focus. "Sammy."

Sam whimpered.

His skin was freezing cold. Body still trembling and weakly spasaming up and down on the hard floor. Eyes still open wide, but I knew he couldn't see me. Couldn't hear me. First thing was first. I had to get him warm. Took everything in me to leave him lying there on the floor like a landed fish. Getting up, I Stumbled across the room in a panic searching for a blanket.

Finding one, I dropped back to Sam's flailing side on my knees and draped the heavy wool over his chest. Tucking in the edges and thinking if Sam was with it, he'd be complaining that it itched.

I cringed. Itching was what got us into this spot in the first damn place. I shouldn't have let him remember a friggin' thing. I was in grave danger of losing him. "Idiot," I berated myself.

Sam still flayed about on the floor - winded and gasping. I kept holding him down. Kid was strong. Never did anything half-way. "Damn overachiever." I winced, seeing the pain. Right there. Ignited on his face. Shining in his terrified, unblinking eyes. I could damn near hear the sizzling flames of hell. Smell the burning flesh. "Follow my voice, little brother," I croaked out. "Let it carry you back. Come on, dude."

"Nnnnaaaaauh," Sam groaned, thrashing, convulsing, gritting his teeth.

"Easy!" Holding the big lug down wasn't working. I swiveled around him. "Easy, Sammy. Take it easy." I lifted his shoulders and wiggled in behind him. Hauling Sam up into my lap. Nabbing his flailing arms, I crossed them over his chest and locked a hand around his wrists to hold him steady.

"Uh." Sam's back stretched and arched as he continued to shake all over.

For a second I closed my eyes against his pain. Wishing I could crawl inside his head and fight off whatever it was that was beating his soul into the dirt again.

"Listen to me, Sam." I reopened my eyes, bent far over him. "See me," I ordered, rocking us back and forth. "I'm right here. Talk to me, man. Say something." I stayed close, staring into his eyes. He still wasn't seeing me. "Please, Sam."

Sam pitched and moaned.

"Oh, God, please," I softly begged. My brother was suffering. I could feel the horrid pain flowing through his tense body and I couldn't do a damn thing to stop it. "Come on!" I demanded, fear once again turning to anger. "Stop being such a bitch. You need to try and help. I need your help," I choked out, giving him a good, hard, 'I so fucking mean it, dude' shake.

Sam suddenly went rigid, and I swore he blinked. Was as if I'd knocked something back into place. Some color came back to his lips and they moved. I could sense Sam fighting to come back. Swore he might have even tried to say my name.

"Hey? That you?" I tried to smile, knowing it was half-assed. "You're gonna be okay." The lame words tumbled out my mouth.

Sam blinked again and again.

I held my breath. Scared to death the seizure would start up again and I'd lose him all together. "Stay with me, now." I ran my hand over his forehead, swiping away the gathering beads of sweat. "I'm here, Sam. Remember? I'm here." I winced at my own quivering voice.

Remember...remember...remember. What a two way street. A fucking glitch in his system. Remember this Sam, but don't remember that. We were so screwed.

Sam's eyes suddenly rolled, showing only their whites, then fell shut. His head lolling to one side.

"No...no...no," I screeched. Terror booming through me. "Keep awake. Keep with me," I whispered, cradling his head. Tapping his cheek. Running a hand through his limp, damp hair. "Bro!" I shouted.

He gurgled and bucked a time or two and I almost purged my heart. "No. No. Not again." I shook him harder. "Damn you, not again! Stay here with me."

Sam's eyes snapped open abruptly and he shot up to sitting. Twisting around, he stared right at me. Fully aware. Head tilted to one side. Pupils normal. Breathing normal. He looked exhausted, a little unsteady, face white and dark circles under his eyes, but otherwise fine. "S-Sam?" I stuttered. "You-you okay?"

"Actually," Sam spoke right up. "I'm starving," he said, in a happy-go-lucky voice that scared me even more than the seizures I'd just witnessed.

Hungry. Sam was hungry. Again? What was with the hungry act? Some sort of Death thing. Guy did like his food.

Before I could gather my wits, Sam was on his feet and packing his bag as if nothing had happened. As if the racking seizures never took place.

I could barely get to my feet. My legs numb, hands quivering. Adrenalin and fear speeding my heart right out of my chest. "Sam…Sammy?" I stood staring, dumbfounded.

"It's, Sam, remember." Sam slung his pack over his shoulder. "Dean, hurry up. I'll meet you in the car. Diner two miles down the road." And then he left the room.

This was so not happening. Sam was slipping away. In a Winchester minute. And he didn't even know it. If I didn't see it with my own eyes… I wouldn't even have known it.

I went to my stuff and rifled madly through my pack. Finding my cell, I flipped it open and hit 2.

"Hello."

"Bobby, we got a huge problem."

"Yeah think?" Bobby grumbled in a 'your village just called and they're missing an idiot' tone.

My heads-up was obviously expected. Should have known Bobby was right.

My shoulders sagged. "Where do we go from here?" I barely spoke the words.

"Firstly, you get that boy back here to me," Bobby said calmly. "We're not giving up on Sam, Dean. Smack the hell out of him if we have to. Fight monsters in the dark with a stick. He's not going down again. You got me?"

I swallowed hard. Couldn't answer. How? How were we going to stop this. Everything was inside Sam's head. An unreachable place even during the best of times.

The car horn beeped. Long and loud and irritating.

I wanted to cry, but sucked it up.

"Dean. You got me, boy?" Bobby practically shouted in my ear.

"I got you." I flipped the phone shut, gathered myself and the rest of my stuff and headed out the door.

Sam laid on the horn again just as I crawled in behind the wheel. "Impatient bitch," I muttered, still fighting back my tears and trying to hide my shaky hands.

"Annoying jerk." Sam smiled, leaning back against the seat all relaxed and normal and hungry looking.

I shook my head and started the car, heading us down the road - slowly - not wanting to jostle Sam's brain. The wall.

"Dude." Sam eyeballed me strangely. "Said I was starving. Why are you driving like an old man?" Sam chuckled.

I gave him a sidelong look. "'Cause the aliens forget to remove your anal probe. Wouldn't want to hit a pothole," I laughed a laugh deserving of some naked gold-guy statue.

"Just drive." Sam stared out the window.

I flicked the radio on - nice and loud. "Just stop scratching that wall," I said under my breath.

The end.