Set after "Meet the New Boss" (7.01), right before the opening scene of "Hello, Cruel World (7.02)." Angst. Stream-of-consciousness, like this one. Not Beta'd. Dean POV (there's a shocker).

Next to the couch was a recliner that smelled like Wild Turkey and Aspercreme. When Sam slumped into a sleepy heap on the couch, Dean took up residence in the chair, put it back and stared at Sam's open-mouthed profile for a few minutes, like he was waiting for something.

About an hour later, he snapped out of a doze, checking immediately for Sam. They both had blankets on them that weren't there before, a thick blue and red patchwork quilt for Dean and some kind of rougher, thinner Army blanket on Sam. When Sam gave a little shiver in his sleep, Dean switched their blankets quickly.

In his head, he was shuffling the cards they'd been dealt. Bye, Cas¸ he thought bitterly. Hello, hallucinations. Hello, potential end to the world. Again.

He sat there for a long time, blinking in the dark until the moon from outside the big windows was the only thing lighting up Sam's features. What do I do?

Dean stayed like that for a long time until the loop had turned into something that sounded like a Walkman running out of juice, the sound of it in his head slow, slurring, menacing, a record with a deep scratch and the needle riding it.

Reaching down into the recliner's cushion, he found what he stowed. The bottle of something cheap and amber-colored he'd found in Bobby's cupboard, and the orange prescription bottle that rattled reassuringly, but less than it rattled yesterday. He knew what this particular combination would do in terms of side effects. It'd happened three times before. Now he wondered if he cared so much, if it mattered at all, if he was starting to enjoy it.

He broke the seal on the bottle with his thumbnail, chasing down the pills in his palm. He slept when Sam slept, whenever he could manage it. He didn't shake out all the pills. Not this time. He wasn't stupid. There was work to do. But he felt for the shapes of the ones he wanted. And when the sludge came into his thoughts, it was okay. It was a relief, to slow them down, to shut them up.

Sam stirred next to him, re-situating himself, but breathing slow, calmly. For now. Dean fell asleep looking at him, thinking – ridiculously, in a voice younger than the one he had now – it's a school night, Sammy. You have a test tomorrow.

You're back again, said the voice. This voice was more precise than his own in many ways. He wondered about that sometimes.

The imagery hadn't shook out yet. It never did at first. Dean suspected it was his lack of imagination about these things. His brain could only work with what he gave it and maybe he didn't give it enough. It was a bar though. It was always a bar. So much for metaphors.

The rest of the bar except for Dean was a blur of colors, like that one painting Sam had showed him once, where the closer you got to it, the less you could see faces and features. A bunch of dots and smudges. The voice was a blur too, for now. That was fine, he didn't care so much about that.

"You're not anything," Dean said wearily, draining the glass out of habit, even though it would never empty. "You're two Percosets, a Soma, a bunch of Oxycontin and –" he tilted his glass curiously. "And whatever's in the bottle."

What you're drinking here is nicer than what's in that bottle.

Dean smirked. "Well, I would hope so. If you can't dream up better hooch, why bother?"

Why bother? Asking yourself that a lot lately, aren't you?

"That's your big revelation? That I want to drink myself to death? Better interrupt the primetime programming for that one."

Thought I'd start soft.

"Right."

You should really find someone else to talk to.

"I suppose."

What do you want to dig into today? You're like a buffet of failure. The challenge is in where I should start?

Dean looked down into the glass, waiting.

We'll treat it like a performance review, huh? Not that you know what one is, really. Not like you've ever held a real job. Maybe you've seen someone get one in a movie? Maybe we can call on that.

He shrugged, frowning.

It doesn't look good, Winchester.

"It never does."

See, you sound so resigned, but you're smug under that. Always so smug. Like you actually expect to win, after all this time.

"You just gotta broaden what you call 'winning.'" He downed the drink again, snarling at the burn in his throat. "Living to fight another day? Winning. Dying fast? Winning. It's all good."

Should've kept Veritas alive for awhile longer, said the voice, with deep regret.

Well, he hadn't expected that. "What?"

The two of you could've had a nice long chat about what's really going on in your skull. Like, have you thought recently about what there is about you to even like?

"Not really."

You're not very smart.

"I know what I need to know."

Do you? Do you even know that much?

His fingers tightened on the glass.

You don't. Sure, you survive, I guess. Like a cockroach.

Like the first three times, he got to the point where he just absorbed. Like right now.

You're a babysitter.

His spine stiffened and his shoulders squared.

You can call it what you want. Big brother, protector, bodyguard, Sam's Secret Service… but you're a babysitter for a baby who's surpassed you in every single way.

Smarter than you. Stronger than you. Better than you. Even with his gourd blown open, he's still the better man here. You've gotta be wondering… when he's free and clear of this, if he'll even put up with your shit anymore.

Dean flinched before he could stop it.

Yeah, you heard me. And you know why you talk to me. Who else is there to talk to, right? Bobby's gonna tell you to put on your big boy pants and quit bitching. Sam's got enough of his own problems without you on top of it. I have to tell you, I don't even know what you're good at.

"I'm one of the best hunters –" Dean began.

You're not even the best Winchester.

He felt his eyes go damp and hated himself for it.

Dad outlasted you in Hell by 60 years, and he'd be lasting down there today and you know it, if the gate hadn't opened. Mom only loved you because she didn't live long enough for you to be the biggest fucking disappointment of her life. And Sam? God, who knows what's going on in his head anymore? Personally, I think he feels sorry for you, or he's just waiting to feel like he paid back his debt. For some reason he thinks he owes you that much.

Dean turned to glare at the voice, which was starting to take form. He didn't look away. "You know what, I didn't do a bad job. I'm not sayin' I was the best parent in the world, or even the best brother, but I put him first. Always. Every time."

Not every time. Remember?

Again, he flinched.

What does he owe you anyway, that someone else couldn't have done?

"I took care of him," Dean growled, saying each word like he was biting it off. "I fed him. I — I protected him."

Bang-up job, really. Maybe the real question is why you keep hanging on to him. It's not like you can confide in him, huh? What are you going to talk about? Near-death experiences? That's fun. You could talk to him about Hell, I guess. Except, you know, he's been down there now, and his tour of duty down there makes yours look like a desk job. Impressive, huh? Might go into territory you don't want, though, right? Like how you say you went for him, but you went for you. Like how you went for you, and he went so the world wouldn't blow up. Like how you've always liked inflicting some pain, you've always gotten off on it and if someone told you how great it would be, to rack up all those souls and fuck 'em with knives, you would've caved in on day one.

"I wouldn't have. I wouldn't."

Whatever helps you sleep at night.

The voice's face was fully formed now, and this is the part where Dean wouldn't look.

My suggestion? Keep him in the car as long as you can. He's gonna get better, because he always gets better. He always comes out cleaner and stronger than you, no matter what. And one day? He's gonna look up and realize that you're just a pain in the ass, and he will full-on leave. Maybe you should just put the gun in your mouth now, huh? And by "gun in your mouth", I mean you should walk right up to Cas and let the fucker smite you where you stand. Knowing you, you could make it look like recklessness and not pathetic. While Sam still likes you enough to miss you.

Because ten years from now, after he's shaken you off (and he will), when you're living in some backwater and they find you face down in your own puke, smelling like a brewery? It'll just be sad, and embarrassing, but it's not gonna shake him to the core or anything. I take it back: if you care about him, you'll stay alive long enough for him to stop giving a shit. That'd be merciful. If you care about that. I don't even know why you haven't done it yet. Even with hallucinations and the wall coming down? He'd be fine without you.

Dean turned to look into his own face, angrier, stronger, less wounded, but still his own. Like some alternate galaxy version of himself that was managing to hold it together. "I love him."

Yeah, and for now, he loves you. Enjoy his confusion while it lasts.

He was done now, done with this. He stood up.

What're you gonna do, Dean? You gonna go shoot something? You gonna go out there all tough? Maybe you'll fuck it away, huh? All this pain? That is, if you remember h —

Bobby was shaking him awake.

Dean glanced over at Sam, first thing. Like always. He always woke up with that fast heartbeat, that panicked "Sam" playing in his mind, until he saw him and his pulse slowed down.

"Looks like you both got a full eight hours," Bobby said, eyes falling over the almost-empty bottle tucked against Dean's side in the chair. "There's one for the books. You gonna wake up Sam? Maybe I can scare up some breakfast."

He rubbed at his face, looking over, trying not to shake. "Nah, let him sleep."

"What about you, kid?" Bobby asked expression ready to call bullshit no matter what Dean said. "You doing okay?"

Dean nodded, but didn't take his eyes off Sam. "Sure. Well-rested. Ready to go."