Author's Note: So this wasn't what I had in mind for the fic that was to be next up, but the one I was planning has hit a little snag with three chapters to go, and the sequel to Dies Felices is taking longer than expected, so… Enjoy this plot-free bit of fun in the meantime.

Thanks, as always, to Cheryl, purveyor of awesome story prompts.

Summary: Sam's having a hard time coping with the wall coming down, but he's managing. Dean, as always, is awesome. And then the boys meet some old friends. Two-shot.

Illusion

Part I: Sam

It wasn't that I didn't appreciate everything Dean was doing for me. I did – I still do. I know it's not easy for him; not because he resents having to watch out for me that extra bit, but because he cares about me so much that it physically hurts him when I have an 'episode' and he can't do anything about it. I didn't think it would take long for Dean's instincts for self-preservation to win out even over protect Sam.

I obviously underestimated Dean's protectiveness.

But it was starting to get difficult for both of us. (No, Dean, you didn't make me feel like I was a burden.) I needed a break from being coddled, and Dean needed a break from coddling me. We'd had a series of difficult nights. In the immediate aftermath of the wall coming down my sense of time and space was shot to hell. The only concepts I could grasp were with Dean and away from Dean, and God help anyone who tried to keep me away from Dean when I wanted to be with Dean.

So we pretty much stuck to one shady motel room after another. We had enough credit cards to keep us going, and Dean was optimistic that in a few weeks I'd be ready to hit the pool tables again.

When I was coherent, I was up to doing research. Dean wouldn't let me go to the library without him, and the one time he came with me he got us thrown out by propositioning the librarian, so I did most of it over the Internet.

That was how I found the case in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

The name sounded vaguely familiar when I read it. It took me a moment to figure out why: we'd lived there once. Not long – I think it was a grand total of two and a half weeks. We were there just long enough for Dean to date two cheerleaders and have them find out about each other. One of the cheerleaders had a cousin who was in my class, a nice girl – Elizabeth, I think she was called. It's hard to remember names now.

Anyway, nothing weird happened while we were in Parkersburg. Dad left us there while he chased down a poltergeist one state over. That was why I'd assumed it would be safe for us to go back. Hunters never hit the same place twice, but we'd technically never hit Parkersburg.

Dean had been willing, on the condition that I didn't push myself more than I could handle and listened to my awesome big brother when he told me to do something that was good for me instead of arguing with him all the time like a little bitch.

We got into the town around eight, after driving all day. It had been a good day, and normally after a good day we went to a diner together. But we'd had a long drive, and Dean decided I was tired, so the long and short of it was that he pulled in at the first motel that looked like it didn't have rats big enough to eat us and got us a room. The clerk swiped the card Dean held out to her, flicked it back at him, and pushed two keycards across the table.

We were just leaving when we came face-to-face with a girl, mid-to-late twenties, blonde hair falling around her face in what looked like natural curls. She looked me over without too much interest and turned to Dean. Her eyes widened with recognition.

"Dean Winchester?" she asked.

Dean flushed and glanced over his shoulder, because his credit card had said 'Angus Young'. He took the girl's elbow and led her outside. I followed.

"You are Dean Winchester?" the girl demanded.

"Depends on who's asking. Now what do you want?"

"And – wait a second. You're Sam?"

She was staring at me now. She looked like she couldn't believe what she was seeing. I didn't blame her. When we'd lived in Parkersburg I'd been even shorter than Dean.

"Yeah," I said, trying to study her without appearing rude. I knew that blonde hair, I knew those blue eyes –

And then it clicked.

"Liz?" I asked. "Elizabeth Peters?"

"You two know each other?" Dean said. I heard the unspoken question: Is she freaking you out? Do you want me standing between you and the potential threat?

"Yeah, we were in school together," I said. "Liz – well, you clearly do remember my brother Dean."

"You're taller," she responded. Then, seeming to remember her manners, she held out her hand to Dean. "Dean. Nice to see you again. I see you still have the Impala."

"She's my baby," Dean said, grinning.

Elizabeth gave him a token smile before speaking to me. "Sam – it's been so long! I never thought I'd see you again!"

She looked pointedly at Dean. Dean stood his ground, stubbornly refusing to take the hint. Earlier, maybe even a couple of months ago, he would've muttered something about needing to get gas and disappeared for an hour or two. He doesn't do that anymore. It's too big a risk.

But Dean needed some space, and I knew that better than anyone.

"Yeah," I said. "We really should catch up."

Dean grinned awkwardly and stepped closer to me, "Sam?" Do you really want to spend time with her? Do you remember her or are you just being polite? What are the odds that she might try to hurt you, or hurt you without trying? I really don't want to harm a woman, Sam, but if I go away and she breaks you while I'm gone, I'm going to have to.

"Dean."I'll be fine.

He nodded slowly. "I… You want to hang out here with Elizabeth, Sammy? I've got to go get some parts for the Impala."

"Sure, Dean." I didn't particularly want to hang out with Elizabeth – I didn't think I was ever going to be able to look a relative stranger in the eye again – but I did think Dean needed some time to himself, and he'd never leave me unless he thought it was something I wanted.

"Yeah, OK." Dean still looked reluctant. Elizabeth cleared her throat. Dean shook his head, shucked off his jacket, and wrapped it around my shoulders. "Keep that. It's a cold night."

"It's June."

"Sam."

I sighed. "Yes, Dean."

"Don't worry," Elizabeth said wryly. "I promise to bring him home before ten o'clock."

"You're not going anywhere," Dean replied flatly. "No, I mean it, Sam. You can make the eyes all you want, but I mean it. You stay here. You can sit outside, you can go inside, you can do whatever, but you do not leave the motel. You hear me? I'll be back in two hours."

I knew it would be useless to argue. "Yes, Dean."

"Sam?"

"Yes, Dean. I'll stay here."

"That's my boy. And you call me if you need anything. Anything at all."

"Yes, Dean."


"So…" Elizabeth said when Dean had driven away.

I nodded. "So. What are you doing here, anyway?"

"My parents bought this place a few years ago… The last owners were moving out of town. Mom and Dad spent their honeymoon in this motel – it was a nicer place thirty years ago – and they didn't want to see it torn down."

"And you run it?"

"Not exactly. I just come by every now and then to see if everything's OK. What are you doing here, Sam? You left town in… kind of a hurry."

I shrugged. "Something came up with my dad's job. There wasn't really time to say any goodbyes. Dean and I are on a road trip right now. We were passing through the area so we figured we'd come here and see how much the town had changed."

"So… You and Dean still hang out together, huh?"

"Yeah," I said, a little puzzled by the question. "Why not?"

"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. You practically worshipped him. But somehow I thought you would've… grown up by now."

I was even more puzzled. "You mean I can't be on a road trip with my brother?" Because, come on, even normal people, even people with regular jobs and regular families and no demon blood in their veins, even they go on road trips with their brothers, right?

"Sure you can," Elizabeth said. "But this is more than that. Most kids outgrow their hero-worship of their older siblings."

Yeah, well, most kids don't have Dean for a big brother.

I shrugged. There really wasn't any point trying to explain it. Dean was Dean; that was all there was to it, and it was more than anyone else would ever be able to understand.

"It's great to see you again," Elizabeth said after an awkward pause. "Umm… You want to go inside? I don't want Dean to blame me if you catch a cold."

I grinned and led the way to the motel room.


Half an hour later, I was feeling more relaxed than I would have believed possible. Elizabeth was fun – and it was nice to talk to someone who didn't know anything about me, who didn't look either like she thought I was the anti-Christ or like she was wondering when I was going to have a seizure.

Dean hadn't brought our stuff in before he left, but I had my laptop, and I was doing some background research while I spoke to her. And, yeah, I know that isn't the smoothest – or the politest – thing to do when you have a pretty girl in your motel room. But I was sure nothing was going to happen. I couldn't have done that; I can't let any unsuspecting girl get mixed up in the tangled mess that is my life. And I did have to finish that research.

I knew Dean would kill me if he found out. I'm not supposed to do research when he's not around, in case reading about fires and murders and all the other cheerful stuff that makes up a hunter's homework triggers an attack of Hell-memories. Elizabeth wasn't going to tell him, though, so I thought I was safe.

I was – until I found the first useful article.

The case, incidentally, was a suspected black dog. How the hell one of those got into a crowded urban area I couldn't imagine (and neither could Dean), but the hunter who called it in to Bobby seemed pretty certain.

I was trawling the Internet, talking to Elizabeth –

And then up came the first victim photo.

Dean had done a lot of the research for this himself – he'd made me sit opposite him, so I couldn't see the screen, and talk him through hacking into the local PD's servers. My protests had been met with, "Shut up, Sam. You don't want to see this."

When I saw the photo, I knew why. Black dogs are messy killers, and this one…

Oh, God.

I needed Dean. I needed him freaking yesterday.


So, of course, there was a storm that took cell phone reception out.

This isn't as ridiculous a coincidence as it sounds. I know even Murphy's Law isn't that bad, but right now cell phone reception is gone more often than it's there. We get an incredible number of electrical storms. Scientists and weathermen and trying to explain it away as freak sunspot activity, but… Dean and I don't talk about it, but we both know what's causing the weirdness – Castiel, doing whatever the hell he's doing to "severely punish" the angels who opposed him.

I looked up from frantically dialling Dean's number for the fourth time. "I can't get through."

"What do you need, Sam?" Elizabeth asked. "I'll get it for you."

That was sweet of her, but…

"I need Dean."

She sighed. "OK. Come on. I'll drive you there."

"You don't have to –"

"I know I don't. But I did promise Dean I'd watch out for you. He said he needed parts for the Impala, right? There's a twenty-four-hour auto repair shop half a mile away. He's probably there. Let's go check it out."

Elizabeth drove – she had a blue Maserati that Dean would have hated. We went to the auto repair shop. It was empty except for a kid in an orange Hawaiian-print shirt and denim shorts lounging at a desk smoking a cigarette. Yes, he said, a tall guy (it gave me a start to hear Elizabeth describe Dean as "a tall guy") had come by wanting parts for a V8. Sure, he'd asked about bars nearby, and Hawaiian dude had recommended one just half a mile down.

Elizabeth drove some more.

The bar was loud and smoky and smelled of cheap liquor, just like most bars Dean and I have been in. Elizabeth wrinkled her nose as we stepped through the door, but when I asked her if she wanted to leave she shook her head firmly.

"Something's obviously wrong with you, Sam," she said. Normally that would have upset me. I hate it when people shoot sideways glances at me and ask Dean – as they do way too often now – if his brother is "special". (Dean hates it even more. Last time some smartass did that Dean stuck a pistol in his face and said smoothly, "Yeah, my brother is special. Special enough to have gone to Stanford on a full ride. Any other questions?") But Elizabeth didn't sound mocking or disgusted; she sounded genuinely concerned. "I promised your brother I'd take care of you," she went on. "Now, come on. Let's find him."

Almost before the words were out of her mouth, Dean was in front of us. He was holding a pool cue – he'd obviously been trying to replenish our cash supplies – and there was a vaguely familiar-looking blonde trailing after him.

God knows how Dean spotted us – the pool tables were all the way at the other end of the bar, and the place was so smoky you could barely see two feet. (Fine, Dean. The Big Brother Radar is the best thing ever. Dean Winchester is awesome. Can I go on now?)

"Sammy?" Dean asked. "What is it?" I was suddenly tongue-tied. Words wouldn't come, and my silence alarmed Dean even more. "Sammy?"

"He was getting a bit… upset," Elizabeth said. "And there's something wrong with the phones."

"I'll bet there is," Dean muttered, whipping out his cell phone and looking at it. He scowled at the screen and went into a long whispered rant, of which I only caught the words "keeping Sam from contacting me", "bloody angel", and "going to sell his wings to Colonel Sanders".

"Hey!" A tall guy – and I mean tall; even I had to look up at him – pushed through the crowd. He was holding a pool cue, too. "You finishing the game or what?"

"No… You know what, you keep the money. I've kind of got some stuff to do."

"The hell you have! I don't need your money, kid. Now come back and finish the game."

Dean glared at the tall guy. "Dude –"

"Dean," Elizabeth whispered sharply. "Just finish the game. I'll stay with Sam."

Dean turned to scowl at her. Completely unimpressed, she gestured meaningfully at three or four of the tall guy's tall friends, who were watching from across the room.

I could practically hear the cogs in Dean's head. If it had been a good night for me, he and I could have taken the guys on, outnumbered or not… But if it had been a good night for me, I wouldn't have had to come running to my big brother to begin with.

Dean shot an anxious glance at me. I tried to smile reassuringly through the litany of, "See? You're always making things difficult for him," in Lucifer's voice in my head.

Dean didn't look convinced, but there weren't a lot of options.

"Fine," he said. "We'll finish the game. Elizabeth, I'll be quick."

"I wouldn't count on it," the blonde purred, running a hand down Dean's arm. "I've got plans for us… Liz might have to keep your friend occupied a little longer."

Liz? They knew each other?

"My brother," Dean said distractedly, already making his way back to the pool table. He obviously wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible.

"Your brother?" the blonde asked, staring after Dean's retreating back. "You're…" She looked at me. "You're Sam Winchester?"

"Umm… Yeah," I said uncomfortably.

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

I felt myself flush. Was it that obvious that I was messed up? Was it so obvious that even some random stranger could tell, just by looking at me, that I was wrong?

"Shut up, Cindy," Elizabeth said sharply.

Cindy? The name rang a bell.

And then – of course. The other cheerleader, the one who was Elizabeth's cousin. That was why she looked familiar. It figured: I ran into an old friend in Parkersburg, and in school Dean had made a lot more lady friends than I had.

"I'm just saying," Cindy said, dragging my attention back to the present. "Look at him. He's the size of a caribou, and he still runs to his big brother when he gets a paper-cut? Come on, Liz! Dean deserves to have a life – he shouldn't have to put everything he wants to do on hold just because his little brother is afraid of the dark."

"Cindy –"

"You're selfish, you know that?" Cindy said to me, ignoring Elizabeth. "You keep on like this and your brother is never going to be happy."

This had to be the Cage. That had to be it. Dean had explained it to me. When people I only half-remembered showed up and started telling me about how he didn't want me or I disappointed him, it wasn't real. It was Lucifer talking through the screwed-up memories he'd left in my head.

"Sam?" Elizabeth said anxiously. It sounded like she was talking from a long way away.

Dimly I heard snatches of Cindy's voice.

"… exactly what I mean…"

"… ridiculous drama…"

"… freaking helpless child…"

Not real. That had to be it. I sat down in the nearest chair, lowered my head to my knees and shut my eyes. This wasn't real. Not real not real notrealnotrealnotreal.

"Sam!"

I felt a hand on my head, but I ignored it. Time passed – I think it was about ten minutes, though I can never be sure of time when the Hell-memories start.

Then the hand went away, there were anxious voices, and another hand descended to my shoulder – harder, this one, rougher and more anxious.

"Sammy?" That was Dean's voice. "What's wrong, kiddo?" A moment, and then, "Sam! Look at me!"

I looked up. Dean was crouched in front of me, eyes wide – scared.

"Dean?"

"Yeah, kiddo. I'm here."

I looked around. We were still in the bar – still noisy, still smoky, still reeking.

But that couldn't be. If the woman – Cindy – had been a hallucination, then the bar had to be a hallucination, too. And Dean was back, so if the bar was a hallucination, then so was Dean, and –

And if Dean was real, so was everything else.

"Dean," I said helplessly.

"Right here, Sammy."

"Is it real?" Dean looked surprised, and I asked again, more urgently. "Dean, please – I have to know. Is this real?"

Dean squeezed my shoulder. "Yeah, Sammy. This is real."

I felt my heart break. Because if this was real – if Cindy had been real – then everything she'd said had been real, too.

"I'm sorry," I mumbled. "I'm so sorry, Dean."

And then, because I couldn't stand to sit there and look at Dean's worried, bewildered face and think about how if it hadn't been for me he'd have been having a good time with Cindy, I got up, pushed past him and Elizabeth, and left the bar.


So… The second (and final) part should be up in a few days, and along with that a preview of coming attractions. ;-)

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