This was a life constructed of rock music and leather seats, of bloodshed and screaming. It was a life built on obsession and revenge, on cheap motels and endless roads. It was a life without roots or friends or the certainty that you would live to see tomorrow.

But he had made his choice, set his course. No looking back.

Not even if it drained the life from him, day by day by day.

He was slipping.

Sam knew it. He could feel it happening every day. It was harder to get up every morning, harder to make himself run the miles. Just – harder.

You're going to get yourself killed, Sam thought, Or worse, someone else. Pull it together.

He was just so tired. And it was…

Sometimes it felt like too much.

Dean and John watched him. Sam could feel it, one of them keeping an eye on him almost all the time. He wasn't sure if they expected him to snap or to break. Their gazes prickled on the back of his neck until he wanted to scream.

He swallowed it and went onward.

"Sam," said Dean, "We need to talk to you."

Sam felt a frission of dread curl up from his stomach and sat down carefully, holding still, perfectly still, as though to move might be dangerous. He wanted to run. "Now?"

"Yeah," said Dean, too gently. "Now." John shifted by the kitchenette. Sam didn't look at him.

"What is it?" Sam asked, even though he knew, could almost feel the corner at his back. Dean leaned forward across the table, his eyes intent.

"We're worried about you," he said, clear and deliberate.

Sam shrugged like he could shake that off. "I'm fine." His heart beat twice fast, thudthud. Dean's mouth thinned.

"You've lost weight," he said. "You don't talk. You sleep all the time, and don't do anything else. Except hunting," he said before Sam could correct him. "And that doesn't…"

"What your brother's trying to say," said John, his voice gruff, "Is that you're not taking care of yourself. Sam, that puts all of us at risk."

Dean shot their father a look of frustration. "If you're not…feeling well, we can take a break," he said slowly. "Just for a little-"

"No," said Sam. I'm not going to fail. "It's fine. I'll be more careful."

Dean's expression twisted angrily. "That's not the-"

"Dean." John cut him off, looking at Sam. His expression was strange. "You've said your piece. Sam says he's fine." His older brother jerked to his feet, fists clenching.

"You think he even knows what fine is?" Dean growled. "This is your fault. Your goddamn fault. I should just drag him to California whatever either of you says."

"Dean," said John again, tensing, his tone a warning. Sam sat still and felt very far away.

There was a man in his dreams with yellow eyes. "What do you owe them?" he asked. They were in a nursery. Sam supposed it must be his. He shrugged.

"It doesn't matter."

"You know you're special. Meant for great things."

Sam could still laugh in his dreams, and did. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, sure."

He woke with his skin crawling.

"I need you to talk," Dean pleaded. "Please, Sam, talk to me, yell at me, I don't care. Just stop shutting me out. I'm scared, okay? Scared. For you. What are you going to do?"

"There is," Sam said plainly. "nothing to say."

"Kill them," the man with the yellow eyes suggested, and the suggestion wormed into his thoughts and wouldn't leave. He went out to a field with his handgun. Sam smoothed a hand over the grip, stroked the metal. The muzzle nestled comfortably under his jaw.

Sam stayed like that, waiting. The evening was quiet and cool, with a soft breathing breeze. No one cried out, no one came to stop him. It was, he thought, a good night to die.

He pulled the gun away and tucked it back in his pants, then turned to walk back.

Dean lit into him as soon as he came through the door. "Where were you?" he demanded, almost shrill. "Shit, Sam, don't just wander off like that."

"I'm fine," Sam said dully, not even pausing. He could see a flash of anger on Dean's face, but that was better than worry, than fear.

"Sam-"

"I just went for a walk," he said.

The yellow-eyed man wasn't in his dreams that night. He shot himself out in the field and a pair of crows pecked out his eyes.

The next morning Dean greeted him with the acceptance letter, dug out of his duffel and placed on the table like a gauntlet. Sam looked at it and stopped without approaching. "I can't go back," he said, after a moment. "That's not me anymore."

That's not some talisman you can use to make everything better. Nothing ever gets better. His back was twinging again, pain along the lines of the scars.

"I just want you to think about it," said Dean. There were hollows around his eyes, and Sam wondered if he'd stayed up just to watch him sleep. "Maybe…"

"There's no maybe," said Sam. His head hurt. "I'm done with that." He crossed the kitchen and picked up the paper, refolded it along the lines. "And you're done with this."

Sam dreamed of Dean pinned to the ceiling like a butterfly, fire spreading out from his center. He woke up screaming. Air burned through his throat and Dean was there, hopeful, needing, "What is it, Sam, what is it-" and he could feel the metal of the gun under his hand and the warm blood on his back and see the look in Dean's eyes on that night-

John had come, was lurking in the doorway like a shadow, hovering wary and uncertain, and Sam lashed out. Kicked Dean off and screamed at them both, "Get away from me, get the fuck away from me," in a voice he didn't know, and he needed to

Run.

He bolted for the door, shoved past John and into the main room, out the door into the parking lot if you walk out that door don't you ever come back and he was running. Going nowhere, just needing to move to get away and his legs carried him across the road and he kept running.

Until the air in his lungs burned.

Until his head ached with the cold.

Until his legs cramped.

Until he couldn't breathe and finally had to crumple, in surrender, to the sidewalk.

"Breathe with me," Dean said, "Come on, Sam, you need to breathe."

Sam choked in one breath. Then two. His lungs felt too tight. His whole body was shaking, adrenaline still pumping through him. And Dean, Dean who couldn't leave anything alone. "You didn't have to run," Dean was saying. "You didn't have to. I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry."

Sam felt like he was choking on his own throat. Dean made a strangled sound, and his voice dropped another octave. "Whatever I did, I'm sorry. I just – I want to fix it. I want to – Jesus Christ, Sam, do you even know what it's like? I know you, I know you better than anyone, and I'm just watching you waste away and sometimes I think you don't even notice…"

His chest still hurt. He coughed, weakly. Dean's arms, paradoxically, tightened. "Just tell me what to do, Sammy," Dean said, and there was desperation and panic and fear and determination all wrapped up in his voice, let me fix it, let me make it better. "Just tell me what to do."

Too much. It was too much. "You can't," Sam choked, "You can't," but there were tears, real tears, streaming down his face, and he couldn't stop them now.