Started this what seems like forever ago but school has kept me busy.

No guarantee on quick updates, but I really like to think I know where it's headed.

Hope you guys like.

A slightly (maybe?) AU casefic.

And possibly wincest later. What can I say? I've been pulled to the dark side.

Takes place somewhere between 'Torn and Frayed' and 'LARP and the Real Girl'. An almost interlude to getting things back on track between the two.

Also... I may have a thing for depressed Sam...

It doesn't start on a dark and stormy night. Quite the opposite actually. It starts on a sunny day. Not a cloud in sight and hours before dark. It starts at a house. An old, empty house in the middle of a clearing. Grown over now, but not yet buried by the foliage. It starts with a group of kids. Just hiking through the wilderness.

It starts because of curiosity. One by one they enter the house. Five go in. None come out. The house stands silent. Curiosity doesn't only kill cats.

Ch. 1

"Five people disappeared, Sam! How is that not our thing?"

"Wow, Dean. A group of hikers got lost in the woods. Better alert the media."

Dean looks to Sam with a sigh. "The media has been alerted, Sam. And now more people are going to go into those woods in search of those missing people. Now. You may not want to acknowledge the fact that this is a case, but it is. People have disappeared in these woods before. The pattern is being uncovered by the police. We need to get there before they do."

Sam glares out his window. "Fine. We'll go check it out. But it's probably nothing. And have you forgotten that we have more important things to worry about like maybe the gates of hell? And Crowley?"

"You know as well as I do that we haven't gotten any farther on that front yet. So we're going to do this case. Because that's something that we can actually do right now."

"If there even is a case." He looks to Dean.

"Oh my God! Just let it go! We'll find out soon enough!"

Sam smirks at the rise he got out of his brother, turning back to his window.

They get a hotel near the area that the hikers disappeared, right at the edge of town. It's a remote town. Few people, fewer visitors. The man at the front counter gives them distrusting looks but hands over the key to their room.

"Why have a hotel if you don't like visitors?" Dean asks with a roll of his eyes as they leave the office.

Sam snorts. "Notice it's the only one? We're out in the middle of nowhere. Just be glad they have one."

Dean gives him a glare over his shoulder as he unlocks the room.

It's just like the rest of them, nothing special about the horrendous décor. Ugly wall paper. Ugly bedspread. Ugly carpet. At least this one seems a little more clean. No weird stains on the carpet. Or on the bed. That's always a plus.

"Alright. Talk to the locals for the rest of today, and tomorrow we go check out the woods," Dean mutters as he drops his bags on his bed.

Sam frowns. "You want to go waltzing into the woods where people supposedly disappeared without knowing what's out there?"

Dean waves him off. "We'll be fine. Go in the day."

Sam sits at the table and opens the laptop to the article Dean had open earlier to show him. "Dean, they disappeared during the day."

Dean rolls his eyes. "No, they went into the woods during the day and never returned. If it were a creature or something it would have attacked at night. Usually."

Sam sighs. "Whatever."

Dean watches him out of the corner of his eye as the unpacks his own bag. Goes through his weapons. What he always does when they get to a new place. Just like Sam always sits down with his laptop. Or newspaper articles and research about the case. But today… nothing is really normal. "Are we going to talk about what's going on here?"


And that's something. At least he acknowledged that there is something. The fact that it's Dean asking if they should talk, and Sam saying no… it's a little messed up. Not like their lives are ever not messed up. But he gives up for today. If Sam doesn't want to talk, he's not getting anything out of him.

They ask a few questions around town. Relations to the disappearances. Try to get a feel for how this could have happened and if it's ever happened before. By the end, even Sam is admitting to himself that the chances of all five people, with the supplies and experience they had, disappearing are slim to none. A lot of the locals are already thinking about bear attacks. Or cougars. There's a lot of both.

When they're done with the job, neither of them speak for the rest of the night. Eventually, it goes from strained and angry, to relaxed and tired. When they go to bed, it's Sam that ends up laying on his back, eyes staring at the tiny bit of light from outside on the blank ceiling. He hasn't slept much lately. This is nothing new. But tonight…

It's not because he's psychic. Used to be psychic. He just feels like… there's something ominous going on. Maybe it's the hunt. Maybe it's the tension between him and Dean. Not like either of them are helping in that matter. There's just something that is getting to Sam. Chewing him from the inside out. When he's honest with himself, sometimes he can figure out what the monster that's trying to claw it's way out of him wants.

He can ignore it during the day. When he's too focused on the hunt, sleeping in the car, keeping Dean from reading it on his face. But at night… He hasn't slept more than three hours a night in a very long time. Not that Amelia ever knew that. Not like Dean knows. Of course… who's ever noticed anything about him?

Everyone has always noticed Dean. When they walk into a bar, eyes always land on Dean first. There's just something about him that demands attention. Whether it's sexual or for someone to realize they should be wary of him. But Sam… sure, he gets attention, but not like Dean. And Dean himself has left Sam to his own devices lately, more distant than ever.

Amelia always slept peacefully. And she'd let it go when he answered her questions about the bags under his eyes with excuses. She was just starting to get comfortable with him. But not enough to push her way into his many complications yet. And Dean sleeps like the dead. Even when he doesn't, he never comments on Sam's recent nocturnal behavior. And maybe that's what's eating at him. Dean doesn't… care.

He slips out of the motel room for the millionth time, never having gotten undressed. He goes to sit on the impala, trying to get some air into his lungs that seem to be rebelling recently. He constantly feels like there's a fist around them, squeezing them. It had gotten better when Dean got back. For a little bit. But then it seemed to get worse.

He doesn't eat much either. Never eaten as much as Dean. But recently… he tries not to examine how many times he's skipped meals. Or ordered food for Dean and pushed it over without unburying himself from his research. Not even feeling a rumble in his stomach. Like he doesn't even have the urge to eat. He ate when Dean got back. Felt good enough to. But after that night, the disappointment in Dean's eyes… He hasn't done more than pick at his food.

"Did you look for me Sam?"

There was a lot Sam wanted to reply to that. Almost did. Barely said what was going through his head, and didn't even care anymore when Dean cut him off. He could have kept going. Kept trying to explain. But what good would that do? Dean would never understand. Didn't care to understand.

He thinks back a lot lately to when he got his soul back. How at first, he thought the way Dean stared at him was because he had just come back from hell. How when he could so frequently feel Dean's eyes on him, it was his brother reassuring himself that Sam was really back. When he found out that he'd been back a lot longer, he got confused.

He eventually figured it out though. How Dean would look at him when he did or said certain things. Like he was shocked that he did them. Like he still expected Sam to be that… heartless thing he was before. That's when he started noticing the actual look Dean was giving him when he stared.

What he wouldn't give to have that again. That was the first time since Dean sold his soul for him that he felt that loved. Not that he'd ever call Dean on it. But it was incredible, that feeling. Like he was the center of Dean's universe again. He basked in the glow. Now? Now he wondered how long it would take before Dean ditched his sorry ass. Who wanted a brother who didn't even try to look for them when they disappeared?

"People don't just disappear, Dean. Other people just stop looking for them."

Nausea over takes him. He barely stumbles away from the impala and around the side of the building before he's retching up what little he had picked off his salad during dinner. Sometimes he hates the way his brain dredges up memories at the worst times. Shame bubbles up at the remembrance of his own words from so long ago and he wonders if this is what it feels like to hate oneself completely. Probably.

He's hated himself before. This is completely different. There's no redeeming himself for this. Maybe that's why he can't make that digging feeling go away. Why he feels that eventually, it's all going to come to a head and its not going to end well. Because why would he ever get anything he wants?

Throat still burning, rancid taste in his mouth, he knows right now that he should probably start preparing himself. Dean will eventually leave him. Probably to go find Benny, who still hasn't let Dean down even half the number of times Sam has. And then he'll be alone again.

He wonders sometimes why he doesn't just give up. After all, he's been broken so many times, even Jess wouldn't want him now. She never did know who he really was anyway. If she knew how damaged he was even back then, behind the mask, she'd have left him ages before Dean showed up. But Dean did show up, and Sam wonders how many times Dean regrets that.

"I can't do this alone."

"Yes you can."

"Yeah well, I don't want to."

He wonders if Dean would have said that if he knew what was going to happen because of Sam later. He doubts it.

He never does go back into the motel room.

When Dean wakes up to Sam's empty bed, he ignores it. Sam is a grown man. He can damn well do as he pleases now. Especially if he can live without Dean. The bitter thought makes its way out before he can help it. He shrugs it off. Sure, he's bitter. He figures he has a right to be.

He goes through his morning routine, raising an eyebrow at the still empty room after he gets his shower and is about to go out the door for breakfast. When he walks out to see Sam sitting on the hood of the backed-in impala, he frowns. Then pushes it way. "If you want me to go get breakfast, you're gonna have to move."

Sam snorts, but the humorless edge to it pokes at Dean's brain. He pushes that away too. He watches as Sam gracefully pushes himself off the hood, taking care not to slide or use his shoes too much. He has a mostly empty water bottle in his hand. The wrapper is picked off.

"How long you been out here?" he finally asks.

Sam shrugs. "Not long."

Dean's not sure he believes him. But he nods anyway, climbing into the impala and going off for breakfast.

Sam makes his way back into the hotel room, finishing the last of the water before throwing the bottle away. He brushes his teeth before he showers, making his gums bleed with the vigorous way he tries to get the acidic taste from his mouth. Like washing away the leftover bile would make his realization go away. It doesn't, of course.

In the shower, he stands under the too hot water until his skin is tinged in red. Lets the steaming water loosen his muscles though they refuse to really relax. When he finally motivates himself to get out, he goes through his routine out of habit, not really caring how he looks. Today is going to be one of those days. Good thing they won't be around other people today.

Though some things are better since Dean came back, others are worse. He's starting to fray at the edges with the way things are with them. It's always hurt when Dean is so passive about him. Lately though… Dean doesn't even care. He could tell that Dean didn't believe him that he hadn't been outside too long. But Dean didn't care to ask. Just dismissed it.

It's not like he expects Dean to go all chick-flicky. He knows that's not how his brother works. But Dean usually at least pries. Tries to find out why Sam would say something that wasn't true. It just makes that hopeless feeling come back. That Dean doesn't even care if Sam is falling apart.

Dean comes back with breakfast and starts explaining why he thinks they should go to the woods today. Not wanting to start an argument, Sam doesn't fight it. Just packs his gear and heads out. And if Dean never notices that Sam doesn't eat any of the donuts he brought, well at least it keeps Sam from having to explain why his stomach is so sick.