First appeared in Hunting Trips 6 (2012), from Neon Rainbow Press

Non Compos Mentis
K Hanna Korossy

He feels heavy. Not his body, which he can't even sense, but his thoughts, his mind, his being. Thick and blurred and so weighed down, he can't move. Can't think. He sinks without a trace.


He feels his heartbeat, sluggish and slow.

He hears sounds so muffled and distant, they seem to be on the other side of a thick wall. Sometimes a pounding siren, other times just the softest whisper of movement, they draw him even as they retreat when he reaches out. He stops trying and they die away.


He feels his taut skin, pulling over sinew and bone almost uncomfortably. Fingers and toes curling as he draws them inward, knees and elbows flexing, everything tight, clumsy with disuse, weak.

He hears the soft pants of his breath, speeding up whenever he becomes aware of them. They steady when he focuses, fall into a pattern he almost recognizes.

He tastes the dust on his tongue, dry and sticky. Wonders idly when he last used it, until it all fades again.


He feels soft creases against his skin, the gentle give of a pillow. Fabric riding up his belly as he shifts, and the edge of the surface he's lying on as his fingers slide searchingly over it.

He hears the silence around him, the emptiness, the absence of…something that was there before. He's not sure what, but he still misses it.

He tastes something chemical, far back on his tongue. It doesn't go away no matter how much he swallows.

He smells sweat and stale air and the roiling odor of human neglect, and doesn't know how he recognizes that. Even as it slips away, he still thinks about it.


He feels his stomach tighten in hunger, and his full bladder press against it. His head throbs and his muscles ache.

He hears his groan, his whisper before he even realizes he's talking, and the lack of response that follows.

He tastes blood as he nips his tongue, and the metallic tang, the sharp taste, clear some of the fog.

He smells no aftershave, gun oil, or sulfur, and starts to realize why he expects to.

He opens his eyes and sees…gray. Diffused gray, focusing into a leaden ceiling, walls, floor. And nothing else.

Suddenly, the last of the confusion parts, and he remembers.

And starts to shake.


The pieces of conversation float around in his head.

"Dean, my head hurts."

"I know, Sammy. Just relax. Everything's gonna be fine."

A sharp nip in his arm. Perception blurring, fading.

"Dean? Where'm… I can't think."

"Your head's a little screwed up right now—it'll get better, just hang on."

Another sting. The world falling away again.

"I can't…somethin'…somethin's wrong, Dean."

"Shh, you're okay, Sam. I'll take care of you."

Dean wrapping something around his arm, then the oblivion-inducing pinch again.

Dean had done this.

Sam—he was Sam, Sam Winchester, son of John, brother of friggin' Dean—made it to his feet after several tries and stumbled around the room, bumping into walls and sometimes sagging to one knee as he forced his body to wake up and his mind to clear. Fury fueled him. He was here, in this smelly, tiny, empty little room, because of Dean, because Dean had locked him up and left him there. But not for long.

Sam flexed his fingers, feeling the stiffness of joints too long unused. How long had he even been there? His face only had light stubble, two-three days of growth, and his stomach clenched with hunger, but that didn't mean much. In that dirty room with its boarded-up window and locked door and foul air, the mattress and bedding he'd lain on were relatively clean. Dean had obviously been caring for him. Which, Sam fumed, wouldn't have been necessary if his brother hadn't put him there in the first place.

He could remember the last day he'd been himself. They'd found another of Sam's fellow special kids, this one with a dad who'd burned over his crib, but they'd been too late. The girl had died in a mysterious conflagration that had taken a whole bus full of tourists with it. Right, "mysterious." Sam had gone down to the local watering hole that evening and gotten completely trashed. He was pretty sure he'd rambled on about his fate and ending himself before he went evil, but it was nothing he hadn't said before. Sam hadn't tasted anything funny in that last drink, just remembered the parking lot drifting out of focus…and then Dean was easing him into the Impala while whispering sorry, I'm sorry, Sammy. That was the last thing Sam had known until now, here.

That bastard had been so terrified of what Sam might do, he'd drugged him out of his mind and locked him up instead. Didn't even ask him, just lied calmly to his face when Sam, confused and scared, had trusted him to help. Seriously, with brothers like that, who needed enemies?

Sam banged his fist against the wall in frustration, yelling another "Dean!" even if the last ten hadn't done any good at all. And, what, Dean had left him here now to die? How did that make sense?

Then again, how did any of this make sense?

Finally feeling a little steadier on his feet and with the room no longer spinning—more or less—Sam set his jaw. Fine. He'd gotten out of harder places than this. The boards on the window were gapped, allowing in enough light for Sam to see by, and the hinges on the door were on the inside. If Dean thought this room would keep him prisoner…

But it wasn't just walls his brother had used to trap him. Sam's face crumpled a moment as he rubbed at his arm, but he pushed away the weakness just as fast. Not now. At the moment, all he needed to concentrate on was getting out of there before this cage drove him nuts.

There was a tin cup of water by the bed, the only thing in the room besides the mattress, and Sam drained it thirstily before using the edge to pry the hinges free on the door. He found himself working as quietly as possible, as if it mattered. Dean had gotten the drop on him before because Sam had trusted him. He wasn't making that same mistake again.

The last hinge gave way, and Sam set it aside, then pried the door free. His body was weak from too many days of inactivity, and the heavy door almost knocked him over. He just managed to find his balance and slide the wood to one side.

He was out. And he was livid.

"Dean," Sam lurched out of the room, "you son of…"

Empty. The outer room was empty.

Well, empty of Dean, anyway. There was a table in front of Sam piled haphazardly with papers, laptop, Dad's journal, other stuff. Next to it sat a chair with their weapons bag on it, deflated and half-empty. Dean's duffel was stuffed underneath, spilling clothing onto the filthy floor. There was a kitchenette in the back corner that looked like it had at least been partially cleaned, and several unlit candles of various lengths littered an end table. A sleeping bag was messily rolled in one corner, and a dark open doorway across the room revealed the outlines of a toilet that Sam could smell from there.

He frowned, blinking at the empty room. Really, Dean thought this was better? Not like Sam had been aware enough to care, but the empty beer bottles and fast food detritus ringing the table spoke of at least several days' stay, and this was where Dean had set up camp? Had locked them both up?

And so where was he now?

Rage retreating only a little, just until he found out what was going on, Sam crossed to the table. Dad's journal hit his eye first, opened to a page on…cockatrices? He bent lower, curious despite himself, and poked through the papers.

A map of trails around Seattle, an area on it circled. Several copied newspaper clippings about mysterious poisoning deaths. Scrawls of Dean's notes about bird sightings and search grids and poisons. Sam absently started to stuff a page about antidotes into his pocket, only to realize he was in flannel pajama bottoms and a t-shirt. Right, easy-to-care clothes, he sneered, and shucked the t-shirt without a second thought, yanking a button-down from the duffel, even if it was Dean's. He wanted out: of the clothes, of these rooms, of his brother's influence. He'd trusted Dean his whole life, with his life. And—

His eyes fell on what he'd thought were just some toiletries on the table, and Sam realized with a jolt what he was really looking at. One vacuum-seal bottle was almost empty, but the other two were full and unopened, and a pile of sterile syringes sat beside it. Sam's left hand automatically returned to the inside of his elbow and the small ladder of marks there as he numbly picked up a bottle with his right. He recognized it as one of the strongest meds they kept in their stash, the one they only used in extreme cases because it was so incapacitating. Which would account for everything: the fuzziness, the lethargy, the weakness of inactivity.

The full weight of what Dean had done slammed into him. His beloved older brother had turned on Sam, drugged him and locked him away like some kind of lunatic. Shot him up with powerful drugs that had left him badly disoriented, unable to think, and too weak to get up: completely powerless.

The thought was blinding, tilting Sam's world on its axis. With Jess and Dad gone, school only a distant dream, and the knowledge that he was tainted pumping through him every day, the one constant he'd always been able to rely on had been Dean. His brother was the only one Sam could always trust, who was always there.

And Dean had taken advantage of that trust, twisted it against him and abused it in the worst possible way. Sam's chest squeezed so tight, he could barely breathe. God, he'd rather Dean have just shot him point-blank than…than this. This betrayal.

With a wordless howl, Sam threw the bottle across the room, unsatisfied as it shattered against the wall, followed by the other two. Chest heaving, he rested both hands on the table and tried to think.

Okay, so Dean had drugged him. Sam cursed under his breath again but let it go for the moment. Clearly his brother had been taking care of him, though, probably giving him regular injections to keep him from surfacing. So what had changed? As much as the world had swung upside-down and the one person he could always rely on had turned on him, Sam couldn't quite believe Dean had left him there for dead. But he'd been gone long enough for the drug to wear off, so…

Wait. A shapeshifter had taken Dean's form the year before. Maybe it hadn't really been Dean who'd done this to him. Or maybe it had been Dean but not in control. Sam had fallen under crazy Dr. Ellicott's influence once, and it hadn't been that long since Meg had ridden him for a week. He'd shot Dean both times, but as his brother had kept saying it wasn't his fault if he wasn't in control. So maybe Sam's jailer wasn't really Dean.

Except, he remembered.

"'M I…? I can't… Am I sick?"

"Yeah, kiddo. You're sick. But I'll fix this, I will, I promise."

A conversation repeated over and over again. And every single time, comforted and satisfied with his brother's promise, Sam had surrendered back to the drug.

That had been Dean. Maybe, possibly tricked somehow, deluded into thinking he was helping Sam. But it was definitely Dean.

Sam's eyes stung with an unexpected sense of loss. He'd believed Dean, trusted him, loved him.

Loved him still, damn him.

"Where are you?" he muttered angrily at the table, and started sorting through the papers again, more carefully this time. Five suspicious deaths, all apparently poisoning cases, toxins unknown. Two strange bird sightings in an area all five vics had hiked in. It definitely pointed to a cockatrice, with its poisonous breath and rooster-like appearance. The method of killing was also easy: just hold a mirror up to it. Preferably without letting it breathe on you.

A hollow horror filled Sam at the realization, and he sank into the empty chair by the table. Dean had gone out on a hunt, alone, expecting to be back in time for Sam's next…treatment. And he hadn't returned.

Sam sat still, the edge of the table biting into his palms. He didn't want to care about this. Dean obviously wasn't expecting back-up, not with the way he'd doped up his partner. He deserved it if he got into something over his head as a result.

But…while cockatrice poison wasn't always fatal, it often was. Or Dean could be injured and needing help.

And he was still Sam's brother.

Sam ground his teeth. He didn't want to care, for God's sake. He wanted Dean to suffer for this. To die for it, though? He winced. No. Sam's wounded heart couldn't bear that blow, too. He'd rescue the jerk and then he'd walk out on him. Leave Dean with a little taste of what he'd put Sam through.

Eyes dead, mind numb, body cold, Sam got dressed and geared up. Time to go to work.

He'd been lying around in the dark long enough.


Dean had practically left him a map of where to go. Okay, so the area marked was a good half-mile square starting just past the bar and the edge of town, but it still was a lot more than Sam usually had to go on.

Of course, it would've helped if night hadn't fallen on his way out of town in a borrowed pick-up, or if the rain hadn't started a slow, cold drizzle.

Sam's prison, it had turned out, was in a condemned apartment building across the city from the cockatrice attacks. Good for keeping someone captive without anyone noticing, Sam had to admit. His brother was nothing if not pragmatic.

He skirted the hunting grounds until he found the Impala, nicely hidden out of sight from anyone not looking for it. He knew Dean almost as well as his brother knew him, however, and Sam had an idea where to look. He parked the truck in another secluded spot a hundred yards or so down the road, wiped it clean, then headed in after Dean.

Even a powerful flashlight could only do so much against rain, total darkness, and woods. Dean's phone was off—Sam had found his own tucked into Dean's duffel and given it a reluctant try earlier—and the marked trail was only one jagged line through the territory circled on the map. It was still a lot of ground to cover.

But he did know his brother—or at least this much of his brother—so Sam started where the last bird sighting had been and worked his way outward in a spiral from there. That was what their dad would've done and so that was what Dean would do, and like it or not, Sam had to have faith in his brother's habits one more time.

It was almost an hour before he nearly fell over Dean.

In the dark, his brother's body was just another shadow on the uneven ground. It was the weak cough that drew Sam to him, and the way shivers coursed through the fallen figure that froze Sam in a moment of instinctive dismay before he dropped into a crouch beside the figure.

"Dean? Hey." Even in the wan beam of the flashlight, he could see the flush of color in Dean's face and the blue tint to his lips. Raindrops beaded his eyelashes as they lay against his cheeks and plastered down his hair. He was lying on his side in a puddle, tremors of cold shaking his body, one arm curled against his chest while the other stretched above his head. Something glinted just past his outflung hand, and as Sam directed the light that way, he saw a smashed mirror. There was no sign of injury, nothing but the fever and the fact that Dean had been lying there unconscious for God knew how long.

Sam shut his eyes, just for a moment, swallowing. Then he opened them and started moving.

"Dean, c'mon, we're getting out of here." Flashlight stowed in his pocket, Sam eased Dean's arm down to his side, then lifted him upright.

Dean's head lolled even as his brow creased faintly, lips parting and then closing again. His eyelids fluttered before stilling.

"No, no, man, you come back to me." Sam held him by one shoulder and lifted his chin, craning down to see into Dean's face. "You owe me a major explanation here and a chance to kick your ass for what you did."

Dean's eyes finally cracked open, but there was no awareness in them, nothing but dull bewilderment and fear.

Sam's throat constricted. He imagined that was how his eyes had looked, too, every time he'd woken up in his drugged haze.

"Why, Dean?" he couldn't help but murmur. He'd reviewed his last memories in the truck on the way out there, remembered Dean repeating to him before Sam left for the bar that Sam wasn't going to turn evil. He'd been sleeping poorly, as he had been for a while now, and they'd argued again, as they had been pretty much since Dean had told Sam about Dad's final words. But that wasn't anything new, either. If Dean had lost faith in him, given up on him, why not just take off, leave Sam behind instead of turning him into some mindless, drooling inmate?

Dean didn't answer, just as Sam hadn't expected him to. With a sigh, he let his brother's head dip back to his chest, then heaved Dean's deadweight over his shoulder and headed back to the car. There was nothing else to be found out there.

Sam was badly winded by the time they reached the Impala, muscles quivering with fatigue. Amazing how lying in bed for a few days could make you so weak. It was a serious relief to finally lean Dean against the car while digging out his keys, then wrestling him none-too-gently into the back seat. Another time he might've wanted Dean up front where he could keep an eye on him, but right now Sam needed the distance. Needed to think.

Didn't stop his eyes from going to the rear view mirror again and again on the way back, searching his brother's feverish, lax face for some sign of what he'd been thinking, how he could've done what he did.

Sam hadn't thought to gather their stuff from the abandoned apartment, but he couldn't make himself go back there just now, certainly not to stay. So he headed for the first decent motel outside town. A room secured with one of the credit cards in Dean's wallet, Sam manhandled them both inside, then dropped Dean on the nearest bed, panting with the exertion.

There, Sam straightened up, he'd done his duty. Dean was stable and he was strong; if he'd made it so far, he'd survive the poison even without the antidote. Sam didn't need to stay. This was all he'd agreed to do for the jerk.

But Dean was lying shaking and wet along the foot of his bed, feet tangled on the floor, and…maybe his brother didn't deserve it, but Sam couldn't bring himself to leave him like that. He remembered what it was like to be a brother, even if Dean didn't.

He peeled off the wet clothes one piece at a time, wincing at the chill of Dean's skin underneath. In the light of the room, the other symptoms of the cockatrice poisoning became apparent: the stain of vomit on Dean's shoes, the tiny pinprick pupils, the purple stain along his gums. His heart beat too fast under Sam's fingers, and his breathing was raspy in the quiet of the room.

"Idiot," Sam muttered, rubbing a towel briskly over goosepimpled flesh, then wrestling him into Sam's hoodie and a pair of sweatpants from the duffel Sam had found in the trunk. He activated and settled chemical heat packs against Dean's armpits and groin and neck, then rolled him under the extra covers Sam had requested when checking them in.

Dean's teeth chattered faintly against the pillow, face drawn.

No, not drawn. Gaunt. He was more unshaven than Sam, and it didn't look like he'd eaten much in the last few days, either. Sam hadn't expected his brother to sit feasting while he was lying drugged out of his mind next door, but still, this level of self-neglect disturbed him, muddying his anger with doubt. What had happened that last week, to both of them? How had they ended up here?

With a deep, unhappy sigh, Sam pushed up to his feet and went to mix the antidote.

It was pretty simple, actually, a combination of cleansing and healing herbs. They had all the necessities in the trunk. The harder part by far was getting it into Dean.

"Hey, Dean, c'mon, I need you to drink this." Sam tried lifting his head, but Dean's teeth were clenched against his shivering and he wasn't aware enough to sip anything.

Making a face, Sam switched tactics and sat behind Dean, pulling his brother up just enough that Sam could prop him against his chest and use both hands. This time he was able to force Dean's mouth open enough to take the liquid, and relief loosened his chest when Dean swallowed.

"Yeah, good. All right, that should do it. Just need to ride this out and then you'll be fine." He laid Dean down on the bed, covered him back up, and stood.

And looked at the door.

A part of him still really wanted to go. Walk out and not look back. He'd done it before for less reason: wanting school, wanting Dad, wanting answers. This time, all he wanted was to forget what Dean had done and the fear of it happening again. He wanted to not have that conversation, not hear Dean's excuses. He wanted to go somewhere alone and safe, where only he had the key to the door, and sleep and forget.

He wanted back the big brother he thought he'd had two weeks before, and the faith and stability he'd lost since then.

But Winchesters rarely got what they wanted, Sam had learned long ago, and no matter what he wanted now, what he had was one sick brother and a lot of unanswered questions. Fixing the one would maybe fix the other, and then he could decide where to go from there. Besides, he owed Dean that much, didn't he, the chance to explain? Twenty-three years had surely bought that.

Sam chewed his knuckle, watching Dean's restless sleep. Remembering all the times it had been him in the bed, Dean hovering worriedly, patiently, gently beside him. Sam rubbed his wet eyes and sniffed. Crap, that was why it hurt so bad, because it was Dean, the last person he'd have expected this from.

Okay. He didn't understand, and Sam wasn't sure he could forgive, but…he would stay. He would give Dean a chance. Then he'd figure out what to do.

And maybe it was a weakness, but he couldn't help hope that Dean would somehow find a way to fix this.


If Sam had thought he'd been tired before, he hadn't seen anything yet.

The antidote took the worst edge off the poison, but it had been working on Dean for hours before Sam had come along, as had the cold and rain. They'd taken their toll. Dean drifted in and out of feverish delirium, holding long, rambling arguments with their dad, with people inside his head, even with a Sam who wasn't really there, insisting on points that made sense only to him. Pain pulled him one way, exhaustion another, and Dean writhed restlessly in the middle, frowning up at Sam as he tried to cool his brother's skin or make him drink. Ironically, the drugs Sam had left splattered all over the abandoned apartment's walls would have helped ease Dean's misery, but that was a moot point now. When the shakes got bad, Sam just crawled into bed with him and held him through the worst of it. It was easier to weather the knocks of Dean's head against his chin and the jabs of elbows in his ribs than it was to listen to the stream of fearful gibberish pouring out of Dean's mouth.

God, he hoped all this fear and pain inside his brother was just the fever talking.

It melted something in Sam, though, the long hours of Dean's suffering. Anger faded into regret, betrayal into hurt. He still wanted his answers, but he was willing to listen to them and to try to understand.

What Dean did…it was still awful. More than Sam could really wrap his head around. Dean knew how afraid Sam was of losing control, and to take it away from him like that, take away his freedom and his ability to think and his right to make decisions: he couldn't even imagine an explanation for that. But maybe it wasn't unforgivable.

"Shh, calm down," he interrupted Dean's ramblings. "I'm here, all right? Everything's gonna be fine."

He didn't even realize until later that he'd been echoing Dean.


Sam opened the door quietly to not wake the sleeper. Dean had finally succumbed to real rest that afternoon, all his vitals stable, his fever almost completely gone, and Sam had eventually decided it was safe enough to go back to the apartment and get their stuff. He was mildly surprised to find it all still there, but then, considering the poor shape of the building, maybe not so much. He hadn't even run across a single squatter. Dean always had known how to pick 'em.

He was just pocketing the keys when the quiet, hoarse voice jerked his head up.

"Didn't think you'd come after me." Dean was half pushed up against the headboard, face still pale and sunken, but his eyes clear and sharp on Sam.

Sam stared back at him coolly, some of the anger sifting back now that worry wasn't there to squeeze it out. "What, and miss out on another chance for you to drug me again?" He tossed Dean's duffel to the floor at the foot of his bed, sliding off the weapons bag and his computer satchel onto a chair. Then he turned back to Dean, hands on his hips, and waited.

Dean stared at him impassively, eyes still a little fuzzy, saying nothing.

Sam huffed impatiently. "Cockatrice dead?"

"Stone cold." Dean's voice was low. "Breathed on me first."

"Yeah, I figured you weren't just taking a nap in the rain."

Dean shrugged.

Sam's patience ran out. "Oh, come on." His arms rose, then dropped to his side. "No 'I was doing it for you,' or 'big brother knows best'? I was expecting at least a 'screw you'—oh, wait. You did that already."

A muscle jumped in Dean's jaw. "It's not like I was expecting to get taken down, dude."

Sam took a step forward, knees brushing the bed. "Right, because that's the worst thing about all this, you leaving me like that? Nice, man. Not even an apology for the rest? I mean, I kinda think I deserve something here, don't you?"

"I'm sorry," Dean said quietly. Defeatedly.

Sam's face tightened. He wanted a fight, an argument, and Dean wasn't cooperating. It always had to be by his rules, didn't it? Well, not this time. "You don't get to not talk about this, Dean." Sam pointed at his brother. "If you don't give me some kind of explanation here, I'm walking out that door and I'm not coming back."

Dean flinched bodily, pressing back against the headboard like a cornered dog, but he didn't say anything.

Sam nodded shortly, anger draining, just…tired. "Fine. Whatever. I'm done." He grabbed his duffel and reached for his laptop, trying not to acknowledge the cold fear coiling in his gut that this was it.

"It moved too fast."

He almost missed Dean's whisper in the pounding of his own heart in his ears. As it was, Sam tried to figure out if he'd heard right as he stopped and half-turned back. "What?"

"It got you before I could get around the car. Couldn't even get my gun out in time."

A whole other kind of chill prickled over his skin. Sam faced him all the way, feeling the dizzying drop of blood pressure as the blood drained from his face. "What're you—?"

Dean still wasn't looking at him, his stare fixed on the blankets in his lap. "I was so ticked off at you." He almost smiled, the look incredibly sad. "The way you were talking, about how you'd turn evil like firestarter-girl, how maybe you should end it first, eat your gun." His voice wavered, and he glanced up at Sam long enough for the shine of his eyes to be visible, then his head dropped again. "Nothing I said was getting through, and you were just getting more and more drunk. I couldn't take it anymore and walked out on you." His voice trailed off into an anguished whisper. "I should've been watching your back."

Sam licked his lips, not at all sure what they were talking about anymore. "What happened, Dean?"

Dean shrugged. "You know. Cockatrice came out of nowhere, did the whole breath of doom thing on you, took off before I could stop it. By the time I got you back to the room, you were screaming."

Oh, God. Sam sank to the foot of the bed, swallowing. He searched his memory, coming up blank on anything but a swaying parking lot and Dean's apologies. "There-there's an antidote," he said numbly.

"Didn't matter, it still sent you on a bad trip. I mean, Timothy Leary-bad. You must have some kind of sensitivity to it or something—I don't know. I was gonna tie you down but I was afraid you'd break or dislocate something. I had to drug you just to keep you from banging your head against the wall."

The drugs. The room away from everything. The locked door. Dean's exhaustion. The pieces were falling into place to form a very different picture, one that filled Sam with mute horror. "I thought…" he whispered. "God, Dean, I thought…"

"What?" A shadow of his brother's usual smirk. "That I'd walked out on ya?"

He wished. Sam gave him a weak smile and tried to pull his head back together. "You shouldn't've gone out after it yourself." It was lame, but his mind was reeling.

Dean scrubbed a hand wearily through his hair, grimacing at the dried mud he encountered. "Yeah, well, beat sitting there watching you ramble in your sleep. I waited until you were over the worst part." His eyes still shied guiltily away from Sam. "It was my fault—I should've been watching out for you."

Sam stared at him, mind casting back. He had been scared that night. Terrified, actually. A girl like him had killed a bunch of people. Meg had almost used him to kill Dean, and Dean still hadn't taken Sam out. The powers Sam felt growing inside him, the pull toward darkness, the others who'd already succumbed before him: it had become so huge and overwhelming. He'd almost drowned in it.

He certainly hadn't been thinking about how much of a toll his fears and depression also took on Dean. He should've seen it, the burden he'd placed on his brother, how scared Dean was too, how hopeless and trapped he'd felt. But Sam had been too busy trying to keep himself together to notice.

To think that Dean was blaming himself now—thought Sam blamed him—for letting Sam's despair get to him and taking his eyes off him for a second… Didn't he know it was his faith in Sam, Dean's utter certainty that he would save him, that kept Sam from losing himself completely to despair at all?

Thank God he didn't even know what his little brother had really thought of him.

Sam felt sick. Suffocating. "I'm just…" He gestured vaguely at the door. "I'm gonna…"

He fled.


He walked until his feet hurt, then started back home. It gave him some time to think, but Sam knew he'd left his brother in an agony of limbo, and he hurried his steps back to share what he'd realized.

Turned out he didn't have as far to go as he thought. Dean was sitting on the steps in front of their door in a t-shirt and jeans, his feet bare but seemingly unaffected by the cold. His shoulders were folded over, bowed under a weight Sam hadn't fully comprehended until that day.

He eased himself down on the chilled cement next to his brother, and while he felt all of Dean's attention immediately zero in on him, not a single muscle moved. Dean was braced for the hammer to fall.

Sam dropped it. "You're a moron," he said gently.

Dean twitched, then looked up at him sideways, brows drawn. "What?"

"You're an idiot, Dean. I swear, man, only you would think me getting drunk and letting my guard down was your fault. Seriously, did you run this brilliant theory past Bobby?"

Dean blinked at him in bewilderment.

"I mean, I know you think you're responsible for everything that happens to me, but this one takes the cake, dude." That wasn't exactly true; Dean didn't usually go around blaming himself for Sam's every stubbed toe. But neither of them were exactly at their best or strongest right now. That and the lingering cockatrice poison were the excuses Sam clung to for why he'd jumped to the worst conclusions himself.


He locked eyes with his brother. "I don't think you let me down. Okay? We weren't even on a hunt, man, but I shouldn't've let myself get that out of control. What happened after that was on me, not you."

Not that he was sure Dean was incapable of what Sam had feared. If he truly became convinced there was no other way to keep Sam safe, if he was certain Sam was a threat to himself or others, there wasn't anything Dean wouldn't do, including drugging his sibling into complicity. It wasn't a comfortable thought.

But Sam also still remembered the tenderness of Dean's reassurances in his drugged haze, and the desolation in Dean's own unconscious ramblings. If Dean ever did come to that, it would be from desperation born out of love. The notion that his brother would actually rather take him that way, a shell of a person, unable to take care of himself, knowing Sam would probably hate him if he were aware, than see him dead, was both a horrifying and humbling thought.

Sam would just have to make sure he never gave his brother cause to feel it had come to that.

Dean was still staring at him, mouth a little open, and Sam bumped his shoulder. "You okay, man? It's pretty cold out here—you should be in bed."

Dean finally cleared his throat, blinking a few more times. "I'm hungry," he said roughly. "You bring back some donuts?"

It was Sam's turn to blink. "Donuts," he repeated dumbly.

Dean shrugged one shouldered. "Or pie. Pie would be awesome."

Sam looked at him through narrowed eyes. Dean looked back with a mix of contrition and sly humor that only he ever managed to pull off. "Right," Sam drawled. "Pie. Any particular kind?"

"Dude, you have to ask?" Dean grabbed onto the stair railing and used it to pull himself up. Sam saw how much effort it took, and considered how much farther Dean would've come after him if he'd been able. Probably all the way. Neither of them acknowledged it when Sam hooked an arm under Dean's and took some of his weight as he steered him back into the room.

"I would never eat my gun," Sam blurted out as they crossed the threshold. He felt Dean stiffen next to him. "That was just the alcohol talking, you know. No matter how bad it gets, I wouldn't do that to you. Any more than I'd…" He almost faltered here, bowed by the weight of guilt. But he couldn't tell Dean what he'd thought. Not because he was trying to protect himself, but because it would break Dean's heart. That would be Sam's burden alone. "…believe you'd walk out on me."

After a moment, Dean started moving again. Like an old man, he made his way slowly back to bed and let Sam ease him down, pulling the blankets back around himself. "You go for pie, I'll pay," he offered, his voice soft.

Sam looked him in the eye and liked what he saw in the dark green depths, windows to him where they were mirrors for everyone else. He just had to remember to look a little more often.

"Deal," he said.

The End