Title: When Our Minds Betray Us
By: Mary, the Contrary One
Pairing: gen
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: mild language (nothing worse than you'd see on the show), some graphic violence, themes some may consider overdone
Timeline: takes place a few months after Asylum, because that's when I started writing this. None of the following episodes ever happened, so you'll have to forget everything you've learned.
Disclaimer: Supernatural and all of its characters do not belong to me.
Summary: Eight months after Jessica's death, Sam finds himself back at Stanford. His friends say he suffered a nervous breakdown.
AN: I've been sitting on this story for awhile now. This is a rambling story - I always love a story that's good and long, and this meets at least one of those qualifications.


When Sam woke, he woke gasping from a nightmare, an intimately familiar one that he wished he would never experience again but knew he absolutely would.

But the act of waking up – now that, that felt strangely unfamiliar. He had never woken up like this before, although he couldn't explain what was so unusual about it. It just felt different this time, like something was missing. And he swore that this time, this awakening was worse somehow, the jerk to consciousness more severe, the tremble of fear and horror more pronounced. The nightmare had been the same – Jessica, her beautiful face gaping with shock, pinned above him like a collected butterfly before those hellish flames swarmed over her and swallowed her whole – but he awoke with a new, unexplainable alarm.

He struggled against the covers, pushing himself into a sitting position so he could look at his surroundings, so he could see where he was and think.

The room he lay in was dim, but enough light filtered through the closed curtains that he could tell it was daytime, and it gave him just enough light to see. He was surrounded by unfamiliar but un-frightening objects – frilly curtains, an antique desk and bureau set, a bookshelf half-filled with both books and trinkets. The bed underneath him was thick, almost too soft, and the blankets that covered him were definitely more fluffy than what he was used to.

The room itself was far from disturbing, but the fact he didn't recognize it was very much so.

He glanced at the bedside table, hoping to find a clock. Not only was that successful – 4:35 greeted him in glowing red – but he also found a handy, helpful clue in the form of a picture frame, complete with color photograph. Sam immediately grabbed it and brought it closer so he could see.

A family portrait—and to his immense relief, it was a family he recognized. Zach Warren and his sister Rebecca, smiling politely into the camera. They were two close friends from college, and he had seen enough photos to recognize their parents standing behind them. Sam let himself relax slightly. He was with at least one of the Warrens, most likely, and since he didn't recognize the room as either Rebecca's dorm or Zach's apartment, he could only assume he was at their family home.

But how the hell did he end up there?

Sam groaned and stared hard at the pattern of the bedspread. But no matter how hard he tried to concentrate, he could not pull up any memories of the day before.

His efforts were interrupted when the door to the bedroom creaked open and a blonde head peaked in. Rebecca. She turned her head towards the bed, and when she saw Sam staring back at her, her eyes widened almost comically. The next instant, the door was flung open and she rushed into the room, although somehow managing to keep a cautious, gentle step at the same time.

"Sam, you're awake! Oh, thank God, I thought for sure-"

She snapped her mouth shut suddenly and then smiled happily at him, and Sam was so grateful for the warmth behind that gesture he almost felt like crying. That smile he knew, and the relief that followed almost pushed him over the edge. But his confusion was enough to keep him focused.

"Rebecca," he greeted softly, trying to return the smile but failing.

"How are you feeling?" she asked him as she came closer, her voice filled with soft concern.

He wanted to tell her he was fine, but he couldn't. "Weird," he said instead. He licked his lips, unsure of how to continue. "Hey, uh, no offense, but...where am I, and why am I here?"

She nodded at him, apparently expecting his question. "This is the guest room of my new apartment," she explained with a half-smile, waving her arm in demonstration. Sam followed her arm with his eyes, secretly impressed with the large space and nice furniture. But then again, he always heard Becky came from a wealthy family.

He turned back to her for the second answer, which she gave him with eyebrows raised in sympathy. "And, well, you kinda showed up at our doorstep. You needed a place to crash for a while."

To his disappointment, her answer didn't trigger a rush of memory like he thought it would. He frowned, bursting with even more questions. "But...What about before that? What happened? How'd I get here?"

She bit her lip. "You honestly don't remember?" she asked him. He shook his head mutely. "What was the last thing you do remember?" she continued hesitantly. It almost seemed as if she feared his answer.

Sam thought for a moment and the answer came to him almost immediately. Before he could speak, he had to swallow a sudden lump that grew in his throat.

"I remember Jessica..."

He stopped himself, unable to finish that thought. A sad look passed over Rebecca's face, and he knew she understood. "But," he continued, frustrated, forcing out words one right after the other, "I know that was months ago. I mean, it feels like it was just yesterday—but I also know I've had that feeling every day since it happened. I know time has passed. The thing is, I don't know what happened—I can't remember anything about those days. I can't remember anything that's happened in the past..." He didn't know the end to that sentence, and his frantic stream finally trailed off.

Rebecca filled in for him, looking rather devastated. "Eight months. It's been over eight months, Sam," she told him sadly.

Sam let out a long breath, but strangely, he was more surprised by his lack of surprise. Eight months of lost memory was a horrifyingly large amount, but the timing felt right to him. The pain of losing Jessica felt eight-months dull – but not nearly dull enough.

"What happened in those eight months?" he asked, still feeling lost. "What have I been doing?"

She shook her head and shifted uncomfortably while he waited impatiently. After a moment of hesitation, she sat down on the edge of the bed, causing the mattress to dip slightly. "I don't know exactly...You disappeared right after Jess's funeral," she told him.

She looked down at her lap and started to play with her hands. "You had a nervous breakdown, Sam, or something." As she paused, Sam concentrated on the far wall, trying to force that information into his mind.

A breakdown. A breakdown.

It took his breath away, the thought that he'd gone crazy. How could have that happen? Was he really that unstable? But as much as he wanted to deny it, he felt so off balance, so strange that it made sense. He knew Jessica's death hit him hard, he still felt that.

But to lose his memory...

Rebecca tore him from his thoughts, rubbing her hand along the blanket over his knee. "Then two days ago, you suddenly showed up here," she continued. "You've been asleep ever since."

Sam blinked several times, processing her words. None of it seemed to hit a target in his mind, but at the same time he couldn't refute it. He still had questions, and he fumbled for a simple one, one Rebecca may know the answer to. "How did I even know where you live? I've never been here before."

Or have I? He'd thought that'd be a safe question, but it hit him how much he was unaware of. He was lost, and he hated that feeling. Or rather, he hated all these feelings, every single emotion that clashed inside his mind and chest.

"No, but we did keep in contact. Cell phones and email and such," she explained. "And even though I never knew where you were, I made sure you always knew where you could find me." Her soft words made him almost feel ashamed. It sounded as if she had been the one to keep in contact.

"What did I say when I showed up?"

"I don't know," she told him with a slight wince. "You were pretty out of it."

"Oh," he said lamely. He ran a hand through his hair. "I don't remember any of this."

She patted his knee, still covered by the bedspread. "I'm sorry, Sam," she told him, the sincerity in her voice giving Sam a little bit of comfort. "Everything will be okay now."

Sam could only hope she was right.

She flashed him a smile again, this time broad and open. "Let me get Zach," she said, sounding cheerful again. "I know he'll be happy you're awake."

Sam was extremely grateful for another familiar sight: Zach with his thick, dark hair and wide smile.

But he was caught off-guard when he was slapped with a sudden memory. Instead of waiting for Rebecca to return with Zach, he had followed her out of the bedroom and into the living room where they found her older brother.

The moment he saw Zach's face, the memory tore into his mind, making him blanch. Zach's girlfriend had been killed, mere weeks after Jessica. He didn't know the details, only that she had been murdered out in St. Louis. Something told him it had been especially gruesome.

It was his only memory from those missing eight months. He was appalled that it was such a tragic one.

When he saw Zach's deeply-lined face, he felt sick to his stomach. Zach had shaved his goatee, which should have given him a younger appearance. Yet he looked like he aged years since the last time he saw him, even though he was only a few months older than Sam. Sam shouldn't have been surprised, but it sent a twinge through him.

It was impossible to imagine a pain worse than losing a loved one, and he knew Zach felt that same, gut-wrenching pain he did.

After Zach greeted him with a quick handshake-hug combination and a few brief words Sam barely heard, Sam asked if he could use their shower. He wanted to stop feeling so overwhelmed, or at least feel it in privacy.

Besides, according to Rebecca he had been out for two days, and he definitely felt like it.

In the safety of the bathroom, as he stripped out of his grimy clothes, he felt something pull on his back. Reaching back and angling in front of the mirror, Sam discovered a large, square bandage near his shoulder blade. Startled, Sam couldn't stop himself from peeling it away.

Underneath was a nasty looking cut, a zagged, angry line of red. Sam examined it in the mirror, but he could not figure out where it had come from. He soon gave up, quickly losing energy. It had already started to heal, so he tossed the bloodied bandage away and left it along.

He surveyed the rest of his body and found several bruises and other, smaller cuts dotting his skin. His hands started shaking as he fingered them, a flash of fear and nervousness and something else overtaking him.

It scared him. What had he been doing over the past eight months?

Sam forced them from his mind, not wanting to deal with it just yet. Instead, he cranked up the hot water in the shower and stepped under the spray. He didn't get out until the heat started to fade from the water.

As he dried himself, he found someone had left a clean set of clothes laying on the counter. Relieved, he quickly pulled them on, trying to ignore the fact that he didn't recognize them even though they were his size.

After he came out of the bathroom, the three of them sat around the small kitchen table so the Warrens could fill Sam in on their lives since he had left. Even though the shower had woken him up, Sam still felt detached, disjointed from everything, but he was interested in the updates from his friends, and grateful for the distraction it provided.

After Emily's murder, Zach, unable to bear living alone in St. Louis, had moved back to Stanford with his sister. He planned on staying just until he could get his feet underneath him again – which, he admitted dryly, would take a while. He found a temporary office job nearby, and between that and their parents' money, he had enough to support himself and Rebecca.

Rebecca, meanwhile, planned on finishing school, although she had to wait to return until the fall since they hadn't moved back in time for the spring semester. Together the siblings shared their three-bedroom, two-bath apartment, and Sam, they quickly offered, was more than welcomed to stay with them.

In fact, they insisted on sharing the apartment with him. They even managed to make it sound as if Sam would be doing them a favor if he stayed. It would be a lot more fun to have an extra roommate, and maybe he could help ease the inevitable bickering between two siblings.

Besides, as Rebecca pointed out, he was in the same situation as she was, college-wise, since they both had dropped out the first semester of their senior year. She suggested that it would be so much easier to return if they did it together. Sam had to admit she was right, although the thought of school hadn't crossed his mind until just then.

And since he had nowhere else to go, he accepted their offer.

He was given in their spare bedroom, the one he had woken up in. His only belongings fit inside a duffel bag he didn't remember bringing, but the Warrens were quick to offer him the use the bedroom's furniture (which Zach teased Rebecca about being old, earning him a quick slap) and anything else he needed. What's theirs is his, they told him without hesitation.

Once those decisions were made, Sam was left to dwell on his thoughts and his strange, new surroundings.

The following days melted into a mass of confusion and stress as the Warrens continued their daily lives, leaving Sam dazed and alone. As hard as he tried, he could not bring up any memories of the past months, not even flashes or impressions or images. He gave himself headaches, trying to force them out, but there wasn't even a string of thought he could tug on.

Rebecca asked if he wanted to see a doctor, but he refused. In his mind, he knew a psychiatrist or counselor could be a big help in recovering his memories. But his pride held him back, along with some other elusive feeling. Fear, maybe.

He couldn't uncover anything even as concrete as a feeling or hunch-but he sensed something. He didn't know how to describe. It just felt...wrong.

The Warrens, though, were better companions than he could have asked for. They gave him space, but also remained within easy reach, and though they didn't seem to know how to act around him, they managed to find the right balance. Sam had been good friends with them, but now he felt a connection he had never felt with them before.

Their calm presence proved to be a huge blessing for Sam, especially when he thought he was going completely insane. There were times when he felt on the verge of tearing his own brain out, just so he could spread it in front of him and see what lay there. Even though he knew didn't work that way, it would have been such a relief just to get rid of those jumbled thoughts that buzzed relentlessly through his brain. Rebecca and Zach, though, they kept him anchored.

But soon, he settled into somewhat of a routine, and even found a kind of refuge in front of the television or in a book, where for long moments he didn't have to think about his own life. A week after he "woke up" for the first time, he and Rebecca registered for classes, going to the library so they could do that side-by-side. They even found a couple of electives they could take together, which made the return to school a little less daunting.

Although, to be honest, Sam wondered if he would suffer some sort of panic attack before then. As much as he always to enjoy school, his life still felt way too unhinged for him to even think about a thing like college. He felt that the slightest jolt could topple everything over so that it all crashed around him into a million jagged pieces.

But he forced his mind onto other things, simple, less scary things. Sam needed a job because however he spent the past six months had seriously depleted his bank account, which had never been large to begin with. However, the only job he could find on such short notice that offered flexibility he'd need when classes started was at a grocery store. All the coffee shop jobs had already been taken by freshmen and sophomores, and he didn't want to try for anything more, like an internship. Not yet. So he took the fulltime job as half-cashier, half-assistant manager.

It was strange how much and how quickly a routine helped him find some peace and balance. Parts of his mind still felt foggy, and his stomach still twisted whenever he tried and failed to dig out those hidden pieces, but his wild panic had been pushed down to a level he could manage. Between his newfound job and his two new roommates, he had found some semblance of a normal life. Weeks went by, and the ground underneath him grew more and more stable.

Yet the nightmares still came.

And every time he had one, he still woke up with a gasp, alarm squeezing at his chest, his mind screaming with panic. It was during those frenzied first moments - when he wasn't completely awake or aware yet - when he felt the most vulnerable. He felt open and defenseless, even though he knew he was completely alone in the room.

The feeling confused him. He knew there was nothing he should be afraid of. But it was almost like...he felt vulnerable because he was alone.

Three weeks into his new job, and Sam had already lost himself in the monotony of swiping barcodes and stocking canned vegetables. It was a Sunday night, and Mrs. Joan Haney was writing a check for her $8.87 worth of purchases. Sam had already memorized her name; after all, this was the fourth time she'd gone through his lane in those three weeks he'd been there, and she wrote a check every time.

Sam let his eyes drift upwards, away from the conveyor belt and cash register and the upright stacks of bags, and looked out across the store. It was neither busy nor slow; a handful of customers coasted from one aisle to another, and a couple of them roamed the ends of the checkout lanes, looking for the shortest line.

Mrs. Haney was still scrawling on the check with her slow, steady hand, and had only started to write "eight dollars and..." Sam looked back up, his eyes going to the lane two down from his. He had only meant to see how Monica's line compared to his, but his eyes caught on the customer she was handling.

In a dizzying instant, everything rushed away from Sam until it was only him and the other man. His breath caught in his throat, Sam couldn't move, didn't even think about moving.

He had never before seen the guy, who dropped a six-pack of beer and a tube of toothpaste onto the belt, and there was nothing unusual about him. Scruffy jacket, worn jeans, hair cut short and eyes alert and bright, he looked rougher, much less polished than the townspeople Sam had grown to know. Though he was only a few years older than Sam, he seemed aged somehow. Maybe that's what caught Sam's eye.

Suddenly the man looked up and met Sam's eye. His gaze, deep and penetrating, burned through him. Sam felt heat coloring his cheeks, realizing he'd been caught staring at a complete stranger, and he immediately looked away. His heart wasn't racing, but it pounded against his chest. That look—those eyes—it was as if the stranger could read him and all his secrets.

Sam jerked back to Mrs. Haney, who was holding the check out to him expectantly. The air felt thicker as he watched himself reach out to take it from her. He flashed her a quick, polite smile and quickly turned around so he could thread the piece of paper through the machine.

He risked a glance out the corner of his eye, but the guy was gone from the lane. Looking around, Sam found his broad back just as he stepped through the automatic door.

As Mrs. Haney left, Sam settled back against the partition that blocked him in. He wiped his dry mouth with the back of his hand, a nervous gesture more than anything. What had gotten into him?

He didn't have to time to figure it out because the next customer had already barreled herself forward, dumping an armful of groceries onto the belt. Sam took advantage of the distraction, letting himself forget about the stranger that didn't belong.


That Friday, Zach took him out for a couple of beers, just the two of them. After a week of working long hours, Zach had crashed the moment he got home from his job, and three hours later, he'd woken up in a sweat and stumbled into the living room. He made the offer the instant he saw Sam staring at the television he saw his ashen face, Sam almost declined, having a sinking suspicion that he knew what the topic of the evening would be.

But then he realized that if he found a way to release his pain from Jessica's death in those missing eight months, he didn't remember it. That pain still felt fresh, locked up in his mind where it was slowly fermenting.

So maybe they would both benefit from a two-person sorrow party.

"What do you remember?" Zach eventually asked him through the dull roar of speaker music. They were three beers into the evening, and it was the first time he broached the subject.

It felt strange, uncomfortable to Sam. He and Zach were good friends, had been since Sam was a sophomore and Zach a junior. But they were never that close. Yet, here they were, sharing intimately horrifying experiences. It created an automatic link, one that no one else would, or should, ever have.

But Sam couldn't get past the fact that he was nothing more than a friend. His mind insisted on forcing that distinction.

Sam guzzled the rest of his beer, about three mouthfuls worth, before he answered. Zach's question was vague, but Sam knew what he meant. "I don't," he finally admitted. "I mean, my mind is so messed up, I don't—I can't tell what was real and what's just a nightmare. I know Jess...I know she was trapped somehow, and I couldn't get to her. I keep imagining her on the ceiling, but I know that's just—I mean, no wonder I had a mental breakdown."

He snorted miserably. He didn't want to continue, but he couldn't force himself to stop. "The fire, it almost...exploded somehow. And then she was gone."

Zach nodded, picking at the label of his empty bottle. The waitress rolled by, and he indicated another round. Sam wanted something a stronger, but figured that would only make things worse.

"Do you remember how you got out?" Zach asked, failing to keep the curiosity from his voice.

Sam shook his head. "Barely. I kept screaming at Jessica, that was all I could do. I think someone came in and dragged me out, but I wasn't really paying attention, you know?" He frowned at the memory. "I probably didn't even thank him. Or her," he added, drawing a blank on his rescuer's face or even body shape.

Zach grabbed one of the fresh bottles the waitress set on their table. Sam took the other one, and brought it to his lips without taking a sip. "What about you? I mean, like, what did you see?" Once he got that out, he took a gulp.

"I was the one who found her," Zach replied darkly. "Man, I can still see it, every time I close my eyes. Tied to a chair, covered in blood, her eyes half-open but completely dead." He shuddered, barely able to finish before his voice cracked.

Sam shuddered with he learned some of the horrific details from Rebecca, he was left wondering why Zach hadn't been the one to lose it. He had more right to than Sam. Sam lost his loved one to an apartment fire – that was enough to scar anybody - but Zach saw his loved one tortured and slashed to death. Sam couldn't even imagine that horror.

Zach's deep voice tore him from his thoughts. "We shouldn't have to be dealing with this, Sam. That shouldn't have happened to them," he said thickly.

Sam nodded in agreement, feeling a weight press into his shoulders, a pressure wrap around his heart. He felt eyes on him, and he looked up to find Zach studying him, looking as if he wanted to say something. He waited, not sure if he wanted to hear whatever he had to say.

Zach finally sighed. "You know, I never got the chance to thank someone for saving my life, either."

Sam looked at him, startled. That was not what he had expected to hear. "You almost died?"

"No, not exactly. But..." He shook his head slowly. "I was this close to spending the rest of my life locked up for murder. So yeah, my life was saved."

Sam's eyes widened.

"I—I remember hearing that! What the hell happened?" He hadn't remembered until just now that Zach had been a suspect in Emily's death. It stunned him that he knew the beginning of his story but not the end. Was that a memory he forgotten, or had he been so far gone he hadn't bothered with it? Sam sincerely hoped it was the former. He could deal with a faulty mind, but not with being a lousy person.

A moment passed before Zach answered. "They caught the real killer." It was an abrupt explanation, and Sam could tell there was something more to the story. But if Zach didn't want to explain, Sam didn't have the energy to press him.

"Good. Glad to hear that," Sam replied lamely, unsure of what to say. He blinked a couple of times and then squinted his eyes. His head felt dull and his stomach churned.

"God, this sucks." Here they were, two friends sharing a few bears and wallowing in their misery, suffering from a pair of losses no one should have to endure. Meanwhile the world continued on, yanking them along with it, when Sam wasn't ready for it. "This all sucks."

After a pause, Zach gave himself a visible shake. He met Sam's eye and raised his bottle towards him. "Here's to their memory. We will never forget." Sam clinked his bottle with his.


Sam finally came up with a word for the wrongness he felt whenever he tried to think back to the time he had lost. It wasn't the perfect term, but it was the closest he could come to describing the feeling. Darkness. Whenever he tried to dig into the back of his mind, all he could sense was darkness.

So he hadn't press too hard, afraid of what he would find hidden there. Afraid of what he had done in those eight months that had been so horrible his mind repressed the memories. He hesitated, not wanting to explore that blackness.

But after his life had started to settle, he started to grow brave, and curious.

He finally felt he was ready to ask questions, starting with the night he showed up at the Warrens' door. It turned out Zach had been away when Sam arrived so Sam had to wait until Rebecca came home. A few restless hours later, he was finally able to corner her in the kitchen. As they sat at the table, she reluctantly agreed to help him, but she warned him there wasn't much to tell.

His first question was a basic one. "How did I get here?" he asked her.

Unfortunately, he didn't get an answer. Rebecca shook her head and shrugged. "I couldn't tell you."

Sam frowned, disgruntled. "You don't have any idea? The bus station is on the other side of town-did I look like I walked the entire way?"

"Not really..." she said, looking sheepishly unsure.

"You didn't see a taxi?" She shook her head in answer.

"Well, I didn't drive here, right?" If he had, a car would have been parked outside somewhere.

"No, you didn't."

Sam bit his lip. Would he have hitchhiked? That seemed awfully dangerous to him, but who knows what frame of mind he had been in. He was just about to ask when Rebecca stopped him. "I wish I could help you, but I didn't see how you got here."

Suppressing a sigh, he tried another angle. "Okay, how did I explain the cut on my back? Or was I already passed out when you treated it?"

Rebecca started at that. "What cut?" she asked, her eyebrows furrowing together.

"When I woke up, there was a big bandage on my back." His eyes widened and he tilted his head. "You mean you didn't put that there?"

"No," she said. "Uh, maybe you did."

Sam dismissed that with a shake of his head. "No, it was on my shoulder blade—I doubt I could have reached that and made it so neat." He looked at her. "So who did then?"

She looked away. "Sam, I...I just don't havethose answers for you." The frustration in her voice was enough to warn him not to continue.

"All right," he relented with a sigh. "You said I was out of it. I wasn't drunk, was I?"

"No," she replied.

This was getting ridiculous. Sam felt like he was a panelist on an old gameshow, one who had to ask the right questions to come up with the mystery answer.

"Well, did I act like I was drugged? Sick? Crazy?" He pushed forward, undeterred. "Was I confused? Could you tell if I was-"

Rebecca shook her head again, her movements growing more jerky, restless. "No, no! Nothing like that." She shifted in her seat, pushing herself back against the chair as she brushed her hair off of her forehead.

Sam leaned forward in retaliation. "What did I say? What were my exact words?"

"I don't know!" she burst out.

Stunned, Sam stared at her, gritting his teeth, wondering what had just happened. Rebecca was almost near tears, and Sam had rarely felt so frustrated.

He knew was getting nowhere. "Is there anything, anything at all you can tell me about that night?" he finally asked, forcing his voice to be soft.

"I'm sorry, Sam," she replied, looking down.

After that, Sam stopped asking.


As it turned out, instead of panicking, he found himself looking forward to the start school. Though butterflies swarmed inside his stomach throughout the first day, the classes actually gave him a sort of comfort rather than take away the stability he was afraid of losing.

From the very start, Sam dove headfirst into schoolwork, relishing the distraction it gave him. It gave him a new sense of purpose, and that felt somewhat incredible to him.

It started out fairly easy, since most of his classes were repeats of the ones he left halfway last year. Yet, even though it wasn't needed, he immersed himself with the task of learning everything he could, making sure he understood everything the professors taught him, and doing theextra research and study when he didn't.

He tried not to think about how maybe he didn't want to be a lawyer anymore.

It was a relief, though, to find that despite his wobbly world view, he at least hadn't lost the academic part of his mind. He liked the focus that studying required of him, and he enjoyed analyzing problems and documents. Lectures soaked through his brain, and he eagerly absorbed whatever the professors threw at him.

But more than anything, he loved doing the research.

Research gave him a special kind of comfort, and the library became his second home, his second sanctuary. Every time he made a trip there, he could almost imagine a warm glow settling around him as he pulled out piles of thick, dusty tomes or typed out a string of searches on the internet. The librarian on duty would try to offer his or her assistance, but Sam found he didn't need it. After only a few days, he knew his way around as well as those who worked there. Maybe even better.

In the weeks that followed the start of school, he divided almost all of his free time between classes, the library, and his job. If he found himself with any extra time, he stayed home. He knew his social life was a pale version of what it used to be. In fact, Rebecca and Zach were pretty much the extent of his social circle. Most of his friends had graduated the year before, and of the few that remained, Sam put no more effort than exchanging a few words as he passed by.

But that was fine with him. Once, he tried picturing a night out with all of his old friends, but he couldn't, not without Jessica. He couldn't even imagine his friends before her, though he knew he had them.

Fortunately, Rebecca and Zach were the only two who knew of Sam's breakdown. As far as anybody else knew, Sam had only left for a roadtrip to clear his mind after Jessica's death. It made things a lot easier, a lot less awkward than it could have been.

His lack of friends was matched by Zach, who made as much effort as Sam when it came to going out and having a good time. Rebecca didn't fail to notice, and she didn't completely approve. Every now and then, whenever she felt they needed to see some fresh faces, she would drag the two of them out with her to meet her own group of werea small, intimate group, an easy bunch, andSam really did appreciate the break, the human contact. But if he was honest with himself, he was relieved these outings were few and far between.

Once, they went to the same bar where Sam had celebrated his last night with Jessica. After Sam mentioned that to Rebecca, they never went there again. Sam was grateful, although he couldn't bring himself to admit it.

When they did go out, he accepted the chance to let himself go. He drank enough to get a nice buzz, and his laughs come out often and easily. Sometimes he even interjected his own remarks into the conversation, but mostly he sat back with a smile on his face and let the words and laughter wash over him. In a way, he felt the same as he did when he first came to Stanford, too uncertain of himself to come out far from his shell. The difference is that this time it wasn't self-esteem that held him back.

One of these nights, he, Rebecca, and three others went out to celebrate the end of particularly rough midterms. Sam really didn't need the release; he savored the challenge those tests had presented and he felt confident in his scores. But he didn't need a reason to go out and have a good time, and he couldn't escape the relieved energy that filled the air. Soon his mood was matching the cheerfulness of those around him.

They sat at a tall round table near the bar, and they were never without a drink in front of each of them. Sam nursed his slowly, pacing himself, as he listened to the chatter around him.

At one point, Rebecca turned to him. "And I bet you did amazing on your tests," she said with a smile.

He shrugged and grinned. "Maybe." She laughed and slapped him lightly on the shoulder.

"Are you going to schedule an interview now?"

Sam took a drink and shrugged again. She had been encouraging him to apply to Stanford's law school again, but he never got around to it. "Yeah, I guess I should," he admitted.

"Oh, Sam..." she said, simply. He didn't know how to respond to that, so he just gave her a half-hearted smile. She grinned back at him and nudged him playfully with her shoulder.

"Oh, God," a junior named Matilda suddenly groaned. "My parents are going to kill me."

"Aw, come on, I'm sure you didn't do that bad," Jim, a psych major, assured her.

"I'm sure too," Matilda shot back. "But I didn't do great, either. You know, I can just hear my mom now. 'Well, your brother earned a 4.0 every semester. Why can't you? He finished at the top of his class. Why can't you? He cured cancer and made ten billion dollars and brought about world peace. Why can't you?'"

Sam laughed politely along with everyone else as Matilda took a long gulp of her mixed drink. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Rebecca staring at him. He turned to her, confused, and she studied his face for a moment before looking away.

"Ah, so your parents play favorites, too?" the fifth member of their group, Oliver, jumped in. Sam knew Oliver from before. He had been a year behind Sam in the same pre-Law program, but after Sam's leave of absence they were now even. "My dad's the same way. It's actually kinda pathetic how we would all compete with each other just to be the 'golden child' of our family. I finally gave up."

Rebecca's eyes were on him again, watching him. Sam couldn't figure out why. Heshot her a confused look, but she turned away.

"Hey," she suddenly interrupted. "What the heck was wrong with Stennis? I swear, it looked like she was crying!" Sam didn't know who she was talking about, but Matilda and Jim did, and the conversation immediately shifted from family pressure to gossip. Sam laughed at all the right moments and made comments when they came to him. He even teased Matilda when she spotted and ducked from the "hottie" she knew from her class project group.

He went through all the motions expected of him.

They stayed for another hour before the long hours of studying caught up with them. He, Rebecca, and her friends made their way to the door together, but as soon as the cool night air of outside hit them, they parted, going their separate ways.

Rebecca and Sam said goodbye to the other three and started towards their apartment together, walking side by side. Sam had a small smile on his face, not exactly happy, but feeling in good spirits. Rebecca seemed to notice, and she gave him a friendly grin.

Movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he turned to see. A young man was bent over slightly, his forehead resting against the side of the building. Sam watched, wincing as he suddenly heaved.

"God dammit," the man muttered angrily, wiping his mouth. He pushed himself away from the building, his body waving unsteadily.

Sam was about to step forward to assist him, but there was a sudden sharp tug on his arm as Rebecca beside him stumbled backwards, falling to the ground and almost pulling him down with her. Startled and worried, Sam dropped into a crouch beside her, and she looked up at him sheepishly.

"Are you all right?" he asked her, reaching out a hand.

She nodded and pulled herself up, using his arm for leverage. "Yeah, I'm fine," she gasped as she came up, brushing dirt from her backside. "God, I'm sorry. I'm such a klutz!"

"No problem," Sam replied with an easy smile.

He looked back towards the other man, only to find that he was gone.

Sam was surprised that someone as drunk as he appeared would, or even could, move so quickly. Well, at least he wouldn't have to deal with some drunk and possibly belligerent heshouldn't have started to help anyway, not with Rebecca with him. He hoped the man would be okay.

He turned back to Rebecca to double-check that she was fine. To his surprise, she was looking around, just as he had. Strange. He didn't think she had noticed the guy.


A week later, he once again woke up with his breath caught in his throat and his heart skipping a beat. There was a wild sense of disorientation when for a moment he couldn't remember where he was. He surged up into a sitting position as memories from both his nightmare and the real world came together.

Waking to a racing heart was a familiar feeling, but the nightmare that caused it – that, incredibly, was different.

Sam had to sit for a moment just to think, his mind trying to recall and interpret the images, the sounds that had assaulted his subconscious. It had been so vivid, so real. The strange thing, the part that threw him off, was the fact that he didn't recognize anybody in his dream.

The dream itself was also very strange, but then again, dreams always were. He didn't know what it meant, if anything, but it had been a scary rush, and he shuddered at some of the more horrifying moments now etched in his mind.

He ran a shaky hand through his bed-mussed hair and then forced himself out from underneath the blankets. After pulling on a pair of pants, he stumbled into the kitchen, where he found Rebecca and a fresh pot of coffee. She looked up at him, and the worried look that passed over her face told him he wasn't very good at hiding anything.

"Rough night?" she asked him. "You didn't drink that much last night, did you?"

He shook his head and then said, "No. I—" He hesitated, afraid of sounding stupid. Wanting to look casual, he took out a mug and fixed himself a cup of coffee. "I had a nightmare," he confessed as he spooned sugar into his cup. He turned around, wrapping his hand around his warm mug.

Immediately, a glow of sympathy came to her eyes. "I'm sorry, Sam. Jessica?" she asked gently.

"No, actually. That's the funny part," he told her, quickly wanting to avoid that uncomfortable topic. "It was so weird. It was like I wasn't even in it."

Now Rebecca looked intrigued, and she pulled out a chair from the table, offering him a seat. Sam took it, and she sat on the opposite side. "What was it about?" she asked

Sam started to shake his head, not believing he was actually going to talk about this. But something told him he needed to, even if only to rid his mind of it. "There was this family. I think so anyway, it looked like a father with his son and daughter...But I've never seen them before – well, as far as I know. Anyway, they were camping along a beach somewhere, just hanging out, having a nice time. And then..."

He swallowed and licked his suddenly dry lips. "Suddenly this pair of werewolves attack. Just ripped them apart."

It seemed to him that Rebecca paled, but she didn't say anything. Sam rushed to explain himself. " I know it sounds silly, like a bad horror movie. I know. But it was just so...real. So graphic and..." He drew in a shaky breath. The girl hadn't been any older than ten, and the werewolves savagely tore her into pieces.

He looked up at Rebecca, who was watching him with a stricken expression. "What kind of sick mind would imagine something like that?" he asked her. His voice scratched roughly against his throat.

"What...what else do you remember?" she finally said.

Sam jerked his head back, startled by her question. "What do you mean?"

"Do you remember anything else from your dream?"

"Why?" Sam was still confused. "You really wanna hear all the grisly details?"

"No, no, it's not that," she replied quickly. "I just—Sometimes, details can help you figure out what your subconscious is telling you. You know what I mean?" She said it in a rush, sounding a little embarrassed but wanting to press forward. "The little details are in your dream for a reason, right? And the more you remember about a dream, the better you can, I don't know, interpret it."

Sam was still a little dubious, but she did touch on an interesting point. He could remember very specific details, things that should have been blurry or vague, too insignificant to be given defined lines and colors. The fact that they were clear could be clues. Sam frowned thoughtfully.

"The father figure was wearing a gray Tulane sweatshirt. And I remember he also had thinning blonde hair. The girl was also blonde, and the boy had darker hair."

Rebecca blinked at him. "Oh! Good, what else?" she asked enthusiastically.

"In the background, there was a black and white lighthouse with a red top. Um...the boy called his sister 'Penny' and..." Actually, the boy had screamed her name, his voice still echoed in his head, but Sam left that part out. As he talked, Rebecca began rummaging around, eventually pulling out a pen and a pad of paper. "You're writing this down?"

She nodded. "Maybe if we can see everything listed, it might provide a better picture."

Sam shrugged. "Alright," he agreed indifferently. "Um, the moon was full, which of course fits. There was a campfire and a dark green tent. The werewolves were, uh, definitely a male and a female. When they rushed in, they attacked the dad first, using their claws to slash-"

Rebecca held up a hand, interrupting him. "Okay, I think that's good enough," she said quickly.

Sam let out a relieved snort. He'd rather not relive that part of his dream. "So, what does all that tell me?"

"No idea."

He gaped at her. "Huh?" She looked at him and shrugged, giving him an apologetic smile. "But..." he protested, trailing off.

"It's a start, isn't it? Maybe we can look up one of those dream dictionaries. Or we'll do this again the next time you have a dream, and we can compare, see what kind of, uh, themes emerge."

Sam sighed with frustration. If he had known that's all their conversation would lead to, he wouldn't have bothered. Rebecca pushed herself from the table. "I'm sorry, Sam, I gotta run. I have a ton of errands today." A moment later, he heard the door to her bedroom close.

Sam slumped back into his chair, swirling the coffee around in his mug. He thought voicing his nightmare would help exorcise the images from his mind, but it only left him feeling cold. Helpless.


On November 2nd, Sam borrowed Zach's car so he could visit Jessica.

The last time he had been there was a few days after her funeral - his last complete memory from that patchy week before everything went blank. Back then he had taken a small bouquet of flowers; this time he brought with him a bouquet of flowers and a teddy bear. He knew they were useless, even unnecessary, but he needed to do this for her, however small of a gesture it would be.

On their first Valentine's Day, he had gotten her a dozen roses and a small teddy bear. It had been the first Valentine's Day he'd ever shared with anyone, and he was nervous and anxious and excited, and he did what he thought he was supposed to do. But as soon as he saw the look on her face, he knew he had disappointed her. Immediately he stammered out an apology, trying to explain that he didn't know what he was doing, and feeling like a complete idiot the entire time. But as he stumbled over his words, Jessica must have seen the stricken look on his face because she quickly grinned and grabbed the gifts from him, and hushed him with a kiss and told him how much she loved them.

Now, he once again had no idea what he was doing, had no idea how to tell her he loved her. Maybe Jessica would appreciate this attempt like she had before. Wherever she was.

As he bent down to place the flowers on her grave, he had the sudden, quick flash of a hand shooting up through the dirt. It was so vivid and clear, it made him cry out and drop the teddy bear.

Blinking furiously, he tried to shake the image from his mind, but he found himself checking anyway. The ground, of course, remained undisturbed, covered in grass that had grown in since they had buried her.

A deep feeling of despair overcame him. Feeling cold and numb, Sam let himself fall to his knees in front of her stone. There he sat, staring at the small portrait of his first and only love. Tears stung his eyes, but didn't fall.

He should have been here sooner. He owed her more than that. Did she miss him? Was she disappointed in him, in the way he handled losing her?

What would I do without you?

Mm, crash and burn.

He should have gotten home sooner. He should have been there with her.

And now Jessica was gone, and there was nothing he could do about it.

He felt like pounding something, just to keep himself from crying. He wanted anger to replace that suffocating sadness. But there was no one to blame for her death. So instead, he stayed there where he was, tracing the oval of Jessica's picture until his eyes became unfocused and his mind went blank.


Life had a funny way of rushing by even when it seemed to stand still. Sam did nothing but work and study, and yet before he knew it, finals were approaching.

He surrounded himself with his notes and books, and even when he didn't have them within reach, they filled his thoughts. That was one advantage of his job – he only needed half of his mind to function, which freed the other half to go over everything he needed to study.

So he spent entire days focused solely on school, thinking of nothing else but his professors' lectures and textbook readings. He worked out the different ways each topic related to each other, he made lists upon lists of similarities and differences for the inevitable compare and contrast questions, and he even tried to memorize dates, just in case. When he had free time, he spent it at a quiet corner in the library or locked up inside his bedroom. Studying forced thoughts of Jessica out of his mind, and gave him excuses to stay in rather than go out with Rebecca and her friends.

The last day of official classes ended with little fanfare, and Sam barely noticed, his mind was so consumed. He hadn't even walked out the door of his last class and his thoughts were already focused on the upcoming finals. He was eager to get back to the apartment where he could bunker down and study.

Which was why it so strange that, as he passed the greens opposite his classroom building, something pulled him from his thoughts, and for the first time that week, he actually got distracted. It shouldn't have been possible, not even during that short time between school and studying.

Yet, even as he was running possible essay questions through his mind, he glanced to his right to the figure that was sitting at the bench. For some reason, it had caught his eye, and he couldn't help but turn.

It was a man a couple of years older than himself, with sandy hair cropped shorter than the typical Stanford student and a hard, angular face. With a start, he realized he recognized him, but it took him a moment to figure out why. When he finally remembered him from the grocery store, he wondered why he could recall something so insignificant from so long ago.

The man wasn't looking at him. In fact, he didn't seem to be doing much of anything. Just sitting there, gazing across street. His posture suggested he belonged there, a confident stiffness to his spine, but his demeanor suggested the opposite. He had a small cut on his cheek, Sam noticed, and a bruise along his temple.

It really wasn't anything out of the ordinary, this guy sitting on a park bench, so Sam peeled his gaze away and continued down the sidewalk. But suddenly he couldn't concentrate on anything else.


After that first sighting in the park, Sam spotted the man several times around town over the next week. Once, on his way to grab lunch, he saw him walking past on the sidewalk outside his apartment building. Another time, he found him tucked away in a corner at the library. He was reading some book with folklore inits title, his body casually stretched out in a cushioned armchair. He seemed oblivious to how much he contrasted with the students who were bent at hard angles over books spread across table tops.

The mystery of the stranger gave Sam just enough of a distraction that his mind didn't implode from studying. In the midst of going over theories in his mind, he would pause to think of possible scenarios to explain the guy who didn't fit. His wild hypothesizing ran from a private investigator tracking someone down, to a spurned lover stalking an ex-girlfriend, all the way down to a Rudy-like guy whoobsessed over making it to college. Of course, the reasonable side of his mind figured he was merely seeing a regular around town. It just so happened he noticed this one guy more than all the other strangers he's come across.

The last time he saw him, the man was leaning against a tree, gazing at the college building just as Sam arrived to take his first final. Just as Sam was about to go inside, he glanced over his shoulder and caught the man's eyes trained on his back.


Right after he finished his last final, Sam didn't get very far. He had only made it halfway down the hall when it hit him that, for now, he had no more school. The upcoming month suddenly loomed ahead of him in a yawning void, one heto his deep disturbancehadn't noticed until then. And after that, only one semester remained before he was forced to continue his life.

The realization shoved him down onto a bench that lined the side of the hallway. For a moment he was frozen. Then, with a shake, he stretched his legs in front of him and let his head hang back until it came to rest against the wall. Letting his eyes slip close, he tried his hardest not to think.

Several minutes later, he heard a couple more students file out from the classroom. "Hey, Sam!" one of them greeted. Sam recognized the voice of Amanda, a girl he knew only casually from class.

Sam quickly opened his eyes and saw her and Oliver walking towards him. "Hi, guys. How'd you do?"

"Alright, I guess," Amanda replied brightly. Oliver nodded and shrugged at the same time. "I'm just glad it's over!" she went on, dropping next to Sam on the bench.

"Ugh, yes," Oliver agreed. Sam cracked a polite smile, even though he didn't agree.

"Thank God," Amanda added, her back slumping against the wall. "So are you guys staying here or going home for the holidays?"

"Home," replied Oliver with a sigh.

"This is my home," Sam said.

Amanda rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Well okay then, are you staying home," she corrected with emphasis,"or going somewhere?"

"I'm staying."

"I wish I were," Oliver added. "As soon as I get back, my mom's dragging all of us across the state to visit my aunt. I'd much rather be here, but she's too good with the guilt trip."

"Really? I can't wait to go home," Amanda said. "I know it's kinda silly, but it'll be good to see everyone again. Plus I won't have to rely on my own cooking! 'Cause I suck," she added in a conspiratory whisper. Then she swiveled around to face Sam, tilting her head. "Won't you miss your family on Christmas?"

Sam stared at her, and he felt his eyebrow twitch.

She grew flustered when he didn't answer right away, a blush coloring her face. "I'm sorry, I know that was a personal question, I didn't mean—"

Oliver stepped in, mercifully stopping her ramblings. "Sam doesn't talk about his family," he explained. Sam looked up at him sharply. "I don't think they're on friendly terms."

Sam ducked his head, his mind reeling. His family...

Oh, God...

Since that day he had woken up in the Warrens' apartment, he had not thought of his family, not even once. He never even considered them.

The tile floor swam in front of his eyes.

He could not remember his family.

His entire childhood-everything up to the day he started college-was a complete blank. He suddenly realized he didn't just lose eight months, he lost an entire part of his life.

Even worse, he hadn't even noticed.

He tried to figure out how the hell that could havehappened. His only memories were of his life at Stanford, and his thoughts had never drifted past that. And now that it finally, finally occurred to him that he would have a family, a past, it only made him realize just how much he had lost. It was like a light switch had been flicked on, but it revealed an empty room.

Amanda mumbled a worried apology and Oliver quickly changed the subject to his aunt. Sam distantly heard them through the blood rushing in his ears.

He tried to grasp onto something, any scrap of memory, but though he could remember the past three years clearly, everything before then was gone. Wiped out. His life had been reduced to his college existence – and he didn't. even. notice. Even when all of his friends talked about their own families and hometowns, he realized his mind had always shied away from the subject. It took a direct question for Sam to even think about his.

How could he have forgotten?

What the HELL is wrong with me?

Sam finally looked up at Oliver. He'd known him since his sophomore year, when the freshman had been given the dorm room next to his. "Have I ever mentioned my family to you?" he asked him, trying to keep his voice steady, unaffected.

"No, man, nothing. You always avoid referring to them," Oliver told him. He raised his eyebrows curiously, almost eagerly. "Are they really that bad?"

"Um...It's been a long time since I've seen them," Sam stammered, his mind racing. Were they that bad? He blinked hard, furiously, desperately needing to get away.

"Ah," Oliver replied. Sam ran a hand through his hair, and realized he was shaking. He bit down on his cheek and shoved his trembling hands into his lap, hoping the other two wouldn't see.

And then Oliver cocked his head. "What about the guy sitting next to you at the funeral? I kinda assumed he was your brother."

"What?" Sam gasped. He straightened at the thought, his heart jumping into his throat. But as his mind leapt to that memory, he frowned and slowly shook his head. "No," he replied, hoping they didn't hear the dejection in his voice.

He remember the funeral, vividly. It was one of the very few pieces he had from that week. Of course, he remembered it as he saw it, through a daze that had clouded his mind following her death, but the memory was there. He had been seated in between an older woman and a young man, neither of whom he'd paid much attention to. He remembered the former as a shapeless, faceless woman with a squeaky sob, and the man as a vague form beside him, fidgety but silent. He could remember the entire funeral, every long minute of it, and he knew he spoke to neither of them.

The man had clapped a hand to Sam's shoulder at one point, but it was a quick, awkward move. Too awkward to have been anyone he knew very well.

"It might have been Jessica's cousin," he said. "But it wasn't my brother."


"Zach," Sam said. He waited until the other man looked up from the newspaper.

"Yeah?" Zach asked, and Sam took that cue to walk in from the kitchen doorway.

"I don't remember my family."

Zach gave a little jerk. "Oh."

Sam raised his eyebrows at his simple response, and he came forward, taking a seat at the table. "Yeah. Do...Do you know anything about them?"

"You never really talked about them," Zach replied after clearing his throat. Sam noticed he didn't exactly answer his question. "Um, maybe you should ask Rebecca," Zach added when he pressed him.

"Yeah, I will, when she gets home," Sam replied. "But...You have to know something about them."

Zach looked at him then, making sure their eyes met. "Sam. In the three years we've been in school together, you never mentioned them once."

His heart sinking, Sam leaned forward, not ready to give up. "Can't you tell me anything?" But the older Warren shook his head, breaking eye contact.

"No, Sam, I'm sorry."

Sam's reaction was instant. "But I don't even know who I am!" he cried. Zach flinched at his outburst, and Sam immediately regretted it. He had meant to keep that thought private, meant to keep it shoved down where he couldn't feel it.

They fell into silence, and after a moment, Zach shifted in his seat. "Look, Sam...They've always been a taboo subject for you, and now your mind wiped their memory away. Maybe—maybe it's best that you forgot."

"My own family?"

Zach sighed. "I know. I just...I don't know what to tell you. I don't think I should be the one to-to get involved."

Sam narrowed his eyes, suddenly positive that Zach knew more than he let on. "What do you mean?" But Zach only shook his head and went back to reading the paper. When Sam pressed him, he flatly ignored his questions.

Rebecca wasn't any better. In fact, when he cornered her, she appeared just as uncomfortable – as nervous, Sam suddenly realized – as Zach.

"I don't want you to get hurt," was all she would tell him.


Zach and Rebecca invited him along with them to visit their parents over the holidays, but he declined. He didn't feel comfortable spending Christmas as an outsider, and he had no desire to leave his sanctuary of familiar comfortto go to St. Louis.

More importantly, though, he had a new mission, one that he kept from the Warrens, one that already occupied all of his thoughts and all of his free time.

He was going to look for his family.

Suddenly he had a reason to look forward to the holidays - it gave him a month's worth of free time, and he planned on devoting all of it on his newfound pursuit. Once again, the library had become a haven for him. Because of the holidays, hours were shorter, but the library was also less crowded. Every day he went, hunting for a free computer tucked away in a corner where he could find the most privacy. There he tackled their online newspaper database, typing and clicking through search after search.

The work kept him busy, kept him from dwelling too much. But more than that, it gave him hope.

He knew he shouldn't put too much on that glimpse of hope. In the dull moments while he waited for web pages to load, he thought about the missing family who hadn't contacted him. Not since he woke up, and as far as he knew, not since he'd come to Stanford. He could remember all the holidays, remembered which ones he spent on campus and which ones with Jessica's family. There wasn't a single holiday missing from his memory from those three years. He hadn't even gone home for the summer.

But still, he had that hope. Hope that there was a good explanation. Hope they were still out there. Hope they would offer him something he was missing.

And that hope forced his guilt away.

And so he searched, even though he knew he was setting himself up for disappointment. Every hit from the search engine offered him a piece of hope, even though he knew few of them – if any – related to him in any way.

Unfortunately, Winchester was a common name that produced near a million results, and he didn't have a starting point to whittle them down. Or maybe that was fortunate – at least it would take a while before his hope would be extinguished.

He didn't even know where he was from. According to his student profile, the address he had put on his application was an apartment in Brisbane, Missouri. But when a search for Winchesters in Brisbane and the surrounding area pulled up nothing, he could only hope that had only been a temporary homeand thathis family and that they would show up elsewhere.

So he waded through article after article of every Winchester who had ever made the papers, unsure whether any one of them held a connection to him or not. After a while, he decided to start with his own name, hoping that would narrow the results.

It did, but the results still numbered high in thousands. To make matter worse, Sam couldn't use his name as an exact phrase because that would exclude entries such as "John and Mary Winchester gave birth to a baby boy, Sam." And that was exactly the kind of entry he was hoping to find - knowing his parents' names would be a great start. But performing such a search meant Sam had to wade through numerous articles in which "Sam" and "Winchester" were both mentioned, many times unconnected. That was in addition to all the ones about Sam Winchesters who weren't him.

Sam would spend hours at the library and still would go home each day no closer to finding his family than he had been. And he would be back the very next day, picking up where he left off.


The holidays quicklypassed andclasses started again. Sam knew he didn't need to focus as hard on schoolwork, now that the end was in sight. But he did anyway. He was afraid of what would happen to his mind if he didn't. He continued scoring high grades, and he soaked up everything the professors threw at him until his mind had little room for anything else.

A few weeks into the semester, he received his acceptance into Stanford Law,where hewas awarded a full scholarship. He put it aside, slipping it into his desk drawer.

The occasional nights out with Rebecca's friends continued, and he grew to know them as well as he had anyone other than Jessica and the Warrens. Yet Samkept referring tothem, even Oliver, as Rebecca's friends. He figured that was a good indication he wasn't adjusting all that well to life without Jessica, but he didn't mind. He had good times with them,but he was happy with the distance he kept from them. For him, it was the perfect balance.

Matilda eventually started to hit on him. As far as group dynamics went, it was almost inevitable. But she backed off when it became clear she wasn't make any progress.

Over the semester, he saw the strange man two more times, once at the grocery store again, buying beer and snacks, and another in a parking lot downtown. The sightings were only two days apart, after eight or nine weeks of nothing. After those two times, he didn't see him again in the weeks that followed. The coincidence struck him as a little strange, but only in passing.

He had more important things to think about.

Even with classes and his job, Sam still found time to continue his search for his family. In fact, he squeezed as much time as he could, stopping in even when he only had a short break between classes. He was at the library so often, the librarians had taken to calling him by name.

One had even tried to flirt with him. But, like Matilda, she soon gave up.

Every day, Sam weeded through article after article. His eyes ached from the strain, but he never grew tired of looking. Each article he looked at, he wondered if he were reading about a relative of his. He told himself, somewhat wryly, that by the time he finished, he could write an entire book on the Winchesters of America.

That, of course, lead to the frightening thought that he might be from another country. But he wasn't even going to worry about that possibility yet.

Then, at the end of February, he found a twenty-three-year-old article from Kansas.

It wasn't a birth announcement, like he had counted on. In fact, this one gave him more information than a birth announcement ever would. He wished he had found the announcement instead.

House Fire Claims Life of Wife, Mother.

Sam read the story with a growing sickening feeling in his stomach. There was a strange sort of detachment too, as if he were reading about strangers, even though he knew this time he wasn't. That detachment made him even more ill.

On November 2, 1983, Mary Winchester, 30, lost her life in a fire. Investigators were unable to determine the cause of the blaze, which quickly destroyed the bedroom where it started, killing Mary almost instantly. She left behind her husband John, and their two kids, Dean, 4, and Sam, 6 months.

Sam sat back in his chair, letting out a long breath. His mother was killed in a fire. The thought made him nauseas, and the date sent a cold shudder through him.

Just like Jessica.

Was that why he lost it?

Another, more frustrating side to his discovery was that Sam had hoped that, once he found his family's names, it would open a floodgate of memories. Yet that part of his mind remained closed off to him.

Sam tried not to think about his discovery. He briefly wondered if this was the reason the Warrens tried to discourage his search.

He didn't even know if this was the right family. His family. But the coincidences were too great. It was all he had to go on.


Sam went to bed that night dwelling on a fire that happened twenty-three years ago. When he woke up the next morning, he was sweating from thoughts of another fire.

He found Rebecca on the couch, reading a textbook. She looked up at his entrance and smiled. "G'morning, Sam," she told him cheerfully.

"Morning," he returned with a smile. "Hey, uh..." He debated telling her about his latest nightmare, especially since it had been so long since his last non-Jessica one, but once again, he felt a strong urge to share it with someone.

Fortunately, she seemed to read his mind. "Another nightmare?" she asked, suddenly straightening. He nodded, and she immediately grabbed a pad and paper and led him to the table.

"Well, give it to me," she told him as they took a seat, and he could tell she was trying to keep her voice bright for his sake.

"Okay. Well." He cleared his throat, which still had a little bit of morning phlegm. "This one was like that werewolf one, at least in that I wasn't actually there. But this time it was a ghost."

"A ghost?" Rebecca repeated, writing on her pad.

"Heh, yeah, I know. It was the ghost of a teenaged girl. She was on a bridge just outside of Boston – I could see the skyline of the city in the background." He briefly wondered if he had even been to Boston. Somehow he had recognized the skyline, but he wasn't sure if he had seen it personally, or in photographs. "It must have been St. Patrick's Day, because there was this small group of people all dressed in green. One of the girls had a shamrock headband and a guy had a 'Kiss Me, I'm Irish' shirt on." As he related his nightmare, Rebecca wrote furiously, listing all the details he gave her.

Sam tried to detach himself from his words as he continued. "The ghost just...appears in front of them suddenly. The people, four of them, stop in their tracks, and this, this ghost raises her arm at them." Sam demonstrated with his own arm. "And she points. And in the next instant, the four of them burst into flames."

Rebecca, her face now pale, continued to record the information. "Did...did they die?" she asked.

Sam nodded. Even now, he could see their faces screaming with pain, could see how their skin blistered and melted. He refused to say that out loud.

Rebecca quickly composed herself. "All right, so we have the ghost of a teenaged girl, a Boston bridge, St. Patrick's Day, a group of four partiers, including a girl with a shamrock headband and a guy with a 'Kiss Me, I'm Irish' shirt, and um, fire."

"Yeah, pretty much."

"What did the bridge look like? Was it a footbridge?"

"No, it had both cars and a pedestrian walk. I think it was kinda old. Not one of those modern-looking ones, at least." Rebecca nodded as she made a note. "So, see anything at can help me?" he asked her. "Anything that explains why my mind is so screwed up and twisted?"

Rebecca looked up at him sharply. "You're not screwed up," she told him seriously.

Sam snorted. "Whatever."

"You're not," she insisted, her eyes going wide. "There's a reason your mind is giving you these dreams."

Sam almost mentioned that he had been thinking of fire the entire day before...but hewasn't ready forRebecca to confirm that the family in that article really was his. Not yet.

"Look, we just need to interpret what your mind is trying to tell you."

"Yeah, it's telling me I have a fetish for the supernatural," he snorted derisively.

She gave him a long, silent look that made him shift in his seat. "Maybe you do."

Sam drew his eyebrows together. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing." Then a sigh. "I don't know."

Sam had no idea how he was supposed to respond to that. Finally, he leaned back in his chair and folded his arms over his chest. "Any idea why I'm dreaming about strangers?" Rebecca shook her head in reply. "They say you only dream of people you've seen before. I wonder if these are people I met while...I was gone," he mused out loud.

"Maybe," Rebecca said, although it sounded as if she didn't think so. They sat in silence for a few moments before she stood up, clearing her throat. "Well, I better get ready. Don't want to be late."

Sam looked up at her, surprised. "I thought you didn't have class until 11."

"Right, but I gotta run some errands first," she replied just as she ducked out of the kitchen.

Sam stared after her as she made her retreat. After being so compelled to tell her his dream, he couldn't help but feel lost. Images of people bursting into flames still haunted him.


Fifteen minutes later, Rebecca emerged from the bathroom. She rushed past Sam, who had migrated to the couch in effort to kill time before his own classes started. "Need anything from the store?" she asked over her shoulder as she headed for the door.

"No thanks," he called back. Working five days a week at a grocery story meant his supplies were pretty well stocked.

As soon as she was out the door, his stomach growled, and he decided to grab a bowl of cereal. He was just about to pour when he saw Rebecca's purse sitting on the counter. He didn't know if she needed it, but if he hurried, he should be able to catch her just in case she did.

He slipped out the door, the purse clutched in his hand. To his surprise, Rebecca hadn't gone very far at all. In fact, she was leaning against the side of the apartment building, her back turned to him at an angle. A cell phone was pressed against her ear.

Sam debated whether he should interrupt or wait. Rebecca's stance was a little tense, and he felt he should give her privacy. But at the same time, he couldn't stand there and not eavesdrop, and he might miss her if he went back inside.

He had just decided to tap her on the shoulder when his ears caught the tail end of her sentence.

"...Shamrock headband."

Sam froze in place, stunned, as a coldness washed over him. Then a flash of white caught his attention. His eyes drifted down, following the movement of her arm as she lowered it, and he saw that she was holding the list they had just made.

Suddenly he felt rage well inside him, and this time he didn't hesitate to tap her on the shoulder. "What the hell is going on?" he demanded.

"Sam!" Rebecca exclaimed, spinning around. She quickly snapped her cell phone closed.

"Who were you talking to?"

He had obviously put her off-balance. "Jim," she said after a reluctant pause. "Just Jim."

"Jim? But-" His eyes widened as he was struck witha sudden thought. "Wait, am I some sort of class project for him? Has he been analyzing my dreams like some Freud wannabe?"

"No! Well..." She paused to consider her answer. "Kinda. Yeah," she finally admitted, cringing.

Her sheepishness did nothing to mollify Sam. "Why are you two sneaking behind my back? Why didn't you just tell me?" he angrily demanded.

She bit her lip worriedly. "I thought...I didn't want you to take it the wrong way."

"You mean, you didn't want to tell me that I'm crazy?" Sam interjected. "A nutjob?"

Her eyes widened and a stricken look came to her face. "No! Sam-!" she started, reaching out to him.

He lifted a hand, pushing her arm aside. "No, Rebecca, stop it," he told her bitterly. "I don't want to hear it." With that, he spun around and stormed back inside, letting the door slam behind him.


Midterms hit almost immediately after Sam found the article about the Kansas house fire, effectively putting his search on hold. Instead of being frustrated, Sam realized he was relieved more than anything. He was afraid of what else he would find out.

Rebecca apologized profusely the next time she saw him, and Sam figured he should forgive her. It was one of the disadvantages of living with someone who also happened to be one of your only two friends. He couldn't afford not to forgive her.

And after he decided that, he realized he truly had forgiven her. Even though he had felt betrayed, the reasoning behind it was harmless, aclass project, and Rebecca's intentions were good. At least by providing Jim with material, his dreams would be put to some use.

That matter was quickly forgotten. So once he put that along with his family search out of his mind, he had nothing to distract him from his studies.

Yet, after each class when he should have been immediately focusing on everything he learned, he found himself glancing at the park benches he passed on his way home.

Despite everything else, he couldn't help noticing the pattern of his life. Just like last time, he studied for his midterms, flew through the tests, and then celebrated afterwards with Rebecca and her friends at the bar.

He wondered what would happen once he graduated.

This time only differed from the last midterm celebration in the way they departed. Instead of leaving as a group, Oliver bade goodbye first, and then Matilda and a girl named Sadie. When Rebecca excused herself to the restroom, Sam found himself alone with Jim.

Sam finished off his beer before he forced up enough courage to speak to him. "Hey, Jim," he started, resting his forearms on the table. "Did you, uh..." He coughed and started again. "Becky mentioned that she's been telling you about my dreams. Did you ever-"

Jim cut him off. "What's that? She's never mentioned your dreams to me."

"Oh." Sam blinked, immediately feeling blood rush to his cheeks. If he hadn't been embarrassed enough before, he was now. "Huh."

"Are you sure she said it was me?" Jim went on.

"Um, no," Sam replied shortly, wanting to drop it as quickly as he could. "Sorry."

Jim leaned forward. "Did you want to talk to me about your dreams?" he asked gently.

"Oh, no," Sam quickly said. God, no. "Must have been a misunderstanding." He sat back and took a long sip from his empty beer bottle, his mind racing.


Sam wanted to confront Rebecca, but he never did. The embarrassment was still too fresh. They were just dreams—he knew that—but the dreams had haunted him so much that he didn't even want to acknowledge them again. He didn't want to place any importance on them, lest he actually started to believe they were.

Fortunately, he could force that mystery into the backseat and focus on another pressing concern – his family.


After the midterms, he found himself with extra free time again, and after the two week break since he found out about his mother, his mood had changed drastically. Now he was impatient to find more about his family, and he itched to try his new leads.

He had names now, three of them – although he already knew where his mother ended up. The names echoed in his head and he ran his mind over them, even whispering them out loud when he was alone, just to hear how they sounded. John, Mary, Dean.

He needed to find them. He needed to know where he came from.

The fear was still there. He started to think, almost seriously, that his family may be cursed. Both his mother and his girlfriend had died young, tragically, and he was afraid the rest of his missing family met similar fates. But even if his father and brother were also now gone, he'd rather know that than wonder for the rest of his life.

If his father was alive, he'd be in his fifties now. His brother would be 27, maybe 28. Sam wondered what they were like, if they were like him in any way. He wondered if his brother was as tall as he was, or what kind of job his father had. He wondered if he would ever know.

Spring break gave him a week-long chance to search almost full-time. When he wasn't working at the supermarket, he was seated in front of a computer for as long as the library was open.

Unfortunately, he hit a brick wall right away. After the house fire, he couldn't find anything in the Kansas papers about the Winchesters, nor were they in the local phone books. He then did a nationwide search for John, Dean, Sam, and Winchester, but nothing came from that, either.

So he had to search individually, just as he had done with his own name.

He started with his brother, simply because his name was slightly less common than John. The results still numbered in the thousands though, and Sam knew he had another long search ahead of him.


It occurred to him midway through spring break that he spent his time almost exclusively indoors, and the lack of sun and fresh air finally got to him. He gathered his things from the library – namely, a notebook and pen, to record any clues he found – and decided to walk downtown to a small cafe for lunch.

The walk was a little longer than his typical daily routes, but he felt good about that. The weather was mild and the sun was out, giving him the perfect opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. He took his time, taking detours through the various parks and campus greens. The sidewalks were mostly quiet and bare. Most students had left to celebrate spring break somewhere else, and Sam only encountered a handful of people along his way.

The cafe was also almost empty, for which Sam was grateful. He ordered a soup and sandwich, a bit of a splurge for him on his grocery store wages, but he felt the day called for a bit of indulgence.

Yeah, whatever, Samantha. He smirked to himself, taking comfort in his extra-large Coke.

After his finished his lunch, Sam wasn't quite ready to head back to the library. The strain from staring at the computer screen hadn't faded from his eyes yet. So instead, he decided to stroll around downtown, past the row of shops and cafes and unopened bars.

He hadn't planned on going into any of them, but when he passed an occult shop, his feet paused without him telling them to. It was a dark and frilly place called Dragon's Mist, a name written in gold Celtic lettering. Sam looked through the store's window, and his mind said there was no reason for him to go inside. Yet in the next instant he heard bells jangle as he pulled open the door and stepped inside.

Immediately, thick scents assaulted his nose, and his mind set about identifying and cataloguing each smell. Lavender, sandalwood, frankincense, dragon's blood, he recognized each one. He realized distantly that he probably shouldn't have.

He wandered the store, fingering the various supplies. He ignored the figurines of dragons and fairies, and he skipped the stand carrying homemade lotions and bathing products. Instead, he ran down the labels on the cabinets holding herbs, and he picked up candles designed for rituals and protection, and he studied the various weapons, mostly swords and knives, hanging along the walls.

He was thumbing through a dictionary of supernatural creatures and occurrences when the shopkeeper, a thin, older woman whose hair was larger than body, approached him. "Is there anything I can help you with?" she asked, and her voice - though courteous - held a hint of suspicion.

Sam closed the book and looked at her. An immediate change came over the woman and her demeanor lost the hesitant politeness. Her eyebrows shut up into her forehead and she held up a hand. "Whoa," she stammered.

Sam frowned. "Pardon me?"

"Wow..." she whispered, shaking her head. "Something...is wrong."

"No, actually, I'm fine," he replied, somewhat irritably. "Thank you, though."

"No, no...I feel there's a part of your mind that's off-balanced."

Sam had to hold back a sigh. Maybe it had been a mistake to come in here. "Yeah, I guess," he replied with an exasperated shrug. "Stress and all that." School. Mental breakdown. Lost memories.

"Hm, yes, I suppose you could say that," she replied, sounding distracted as she studied him. Her shoulders suddenly twitched. "You have some ability, don't you?"

"Ability," he echoed dully.

"Yes!" she said with more confidence, taking a step closer. "You have some powerful psychic ability, I can feel it."

"Do I?" Sam glanced around the store, wondering which of the merchandise she would try to sell to him.

"You do. You really do. You..." She leveled her gaze at him. "You could do a lot of good with it."

Sam remained silent for a moment. "Look, I think I'm all set," he told her, picking up one of the protection candles he had looked at. "I'll just get this for now. All right?" He hadn't meant to purchase it, but he would if it helped him get out of the store.

She nodded mutely and led him back to the counter where the register sat. As she typed in the price, she looked at him again. "You'll be back, won't you? I'd really hate for your power to go to waste."

"Yeah, sure," Sam replied.

"No, I'm serious," she insisted. "You really have something, and you need to harness it, put it to good use." She wrapped the candle in brown paper and set it inside a bag. "Please, promise me you'll at least think about it. Seriously think about it." She stared at him as she handed him the bag. Sam agreed, eager to escape her gaze.

He didn't pay her words any heed while she was spouting them, but when he stepped back out into the sunshine, he was overcome with dizziness.

In the four years he spent at Stanford, he had never once stepped inside Dragon's Mist.

But now that he looked back, he wondered if he had been actively avoiding it.


Thoughts of blades and magical herbs were quickly forgotten, replaced with more practical matters when spring break ended and classes started up again. It marked the beginning of the last half of his final semester as an undergraduate.

Sam tried not to think about that.

His fellow seniors seemed to buzz around him, exuding energy and excitement that Sam didn't feel. Rebecca somehow sensed that, and she kept any impatience she felt towards graduation to herself, wordlessly offering Sam support.

Zach, on the other hand, didn't keep quiet. Instead, he took him out for drinks again, bought several rounds of shots, and commiserated with him. After all, Zach still hadn't looked for a better, higher-paying, permanent job. He understood Sam's reluctance.

He had another strange dream at the end of the week, though it wasn't a nightmare. All that he recalled was Zach telling him he didn't want Sam to waste his life. Or lose it. Sam couldn't really remember which. Sam told him to stop being such a pain in the ass.

Rebecca wasn't up yet when he stumbled into the kitchen. That didn't matter though, because he didn't plan on telling her any more of his dreams. He may have forgiven her, but he hadn't forgotten the feeling of betrayal. More importantly, he didn't like exposing himself like that, especially for no good reason.

Even as he was thinking that, he caught sight of her purse sitting on the counter.

Sam froze, suddenly feeling very devious.

He told himself, if it wasn't in there, he won't look for it again. So with that thought, and one last glance towards Rebecca's closed door, he snuck up to her purse as if it were a trap of some kind. It certainly lured him like one.

Trying to be as quiet as he could – not only so he wouldn't wake anyone up, but also so he could hear if someone did – he started to rummage through her purse. He ignored her, ahem, more feminine items, and he couldn't help but feel guilty as he looked through her personal things.

But then his hand closed around the small, hard object, and he immediately forgot any dirty feelings.

Rebecca's cell phone was a different model than his, so it took him a few, too-long moments to figure it out. But eventually he made it to her memory list. He scrolled through the log of calls she had made, almost certain that the call he was looking for would have been erased already.

Then he found it. February 28, 8:15 am. The number didn't have a name attached to it, and it wasn't one he recognized, especially with an out-of-town area code. He suddenly felt confused and angry. Who could Rebecca have called to discuss Sam's personal matters?

Sam stared at it, debating for a good five minutes. He was lucky no one came out during that time. Of course, it was only 6:30, he realized with a start, and both Rebecca and Zach slept in on Saturdays until at least 9.

With a sudden rush of energy, Sam pressed the dial button. His hand almost shook from adrenaline as he lifted the phone to his ear. For a moment, he was afraid he wouldn't be able to hear over the rushing of blood in his ears.

It rang three time.

"Rebecca? What is it?" The voice that answered was rough but alert.

Sam didn't reply right away, suddenly unsure of himself. "This isn't Rebecca. I'm Sam."

"Sammy?" the voice stammered, startled.

"Sam," he corrected. "It's just Sam. Who's this?"

"Wh—uh..." The man coughed, but Sam could tell it was only an attempt to stall. "What...Why'd you call me?"

"Who are you?" Sam tried again, ignoring his deflection.

There was another long pause, and Sam waited impatiently. "I'm just a friend," he finally heard. He sounded almost resigned, which only frustrated Sam. Why didn't he just tell him who he was instead of dragging it out?

He was starting to regret ever making the call and decided to get to the point. "Look. I know Rebecca has been calling you, for whatever reason." Sam took a deep breath. He wasn't used to being forceful, but he managed to keep his voice stern. "And I'd appreciate it if you two didn't talk about me and my personal matters behind my back. Whoever you are, it's none of your damn business."

"But, no, Sammy, it's not—"

He cut him off. "I told you, it's just Sam." Sam hesitated a second longer, and then snapped the cell phone shut. For some reason, his heart was pounding.

Drawing in a long breath to calm his nerves, he tried to convince himself it was no big deal. Whatever had just happened, it wasn't a big deal.

Out of curiosity, just to get his mind of that gruff voice, he scrolled through Rebecca's call list, keeping his eyes trained for the same number. He only found it on the list one other time. Rebecca had called the number again two hours after Sam had caught her. A surge of betrayal and anger flooded deep his chest. Even after he yelled at her, she had to nerve to call again, that very same day.

Strangely, that day was the only day she had contacted the man on the other end of that number, at least in recent memory. Sam was tempted to call right back and demand an explanation.

Instead, he slipped the phone back into her purse and then slumped against the counter.

Ever since he had woken up in the Warrens' apartment last summer, his whole life seemed to be surrounded by a thick fog, and everything he needed was hidden from him. And after all of his searching, all the questions he asked, he didn't feel any closer to uncovering those answers.


Three weeks later, he found an article on Dean Winchester, 26.

He had gone to the library after his last class on Thursday, getting there around five in the afternoon. He was only going to spend an hour there before he went home for dinner, but once he started going through the search results, he had a hard time resisting the temptation just one more. There was always one more.

He skimmed an announcement about a Dean Winchester graduating with honors from Cornell University, but he had been 22 in 1998. Another Dean Winchester married a Brittany Hanby in Youngstown, OH, but his parents' names were Thomas and Jane. Then there was Dean Winchester, a 73-year-old fireman. Definitely not his brother.

Sam had gotten so used to clicking on link after link, he hadn't even read the headline as he clicked on the 35th search result. So when the article popped up in full view, the bold, black letters slammed intoSam without warning. It drove the air from the lungs, and at the same time he gasped, his breath caught in his throat, leaving him choking.

Murder Suspect Slain in Victim's Home.

As Sam read those words, the world rushed away from him with sickening speed.

Dean Winchester, 26, had been fatally shot in the home of a woman he had kidnapped and almost killed. The police found evidence implicating him in the death of another woman, Emily Norton, a discovery that released her boyfriend, a suspect who had been wrongly charged with her murder.

Sam knew that even though the age fit, that didn't necessarily prove that the Dean Winchester in the article was his brother. The name of his victims, however, removed all doubt.

Sam's brother had killed Zach's girlfriend. He almost killed Rebecca.

Now he knew who his brother was.

Sam raced to the restroom and threw up.


He didn't know how he made it home. He certainly didn't remember getting there. He was aware of being at the library one moment, and then he was sitting on his bed back at the apartment.

Everything made sense now, in a revolting, nauseating way. He now knew why his family never contacted him, he now knew why he never talked about his family, he now knew why the Warrens discouraged his search.

His thoughts were racing, and Sam had to take a moment to sort it out, to figure out what it all meant.

Sam's brother had been a sick, twisted, horrible man.

Sam's brother had been a sick, twisted, horrible man who, within weeks of Jessica's death, had tortured and killed the girlfriend of Sam's best friend, a murder for which Zach had been blamed. Then he had gone after Rebecca, another of Sam's close friends, tied her to a chair, and would have tortured and killed her as well if the police hadn't arrived in time.

Sam hadn't even known Rebecca had been—well, involved was an understatement. It disturbed him that he could only remember Zach's half of the horrible situation, which was tragic enough for any family. Yet Rebecca had gone through something nearly as traumatic, and definitely more terrifying, and Sam couldn't even remember that.

As if that weren't enough, he also had to accept that his brother was dead – and that that was a good thing. All those things he had wondered about his brother – what he looked like, what kind of man he was, his talents and flaws, his likes and dislikes – none of that mattered now. Sam couldn't care about that anymore.

Sam's world was whirling, and he almost wished he hadn't tried to search through the fog. His mother died in a fire when he was a baby. Jessica, the only girl he had ever loved, was killed in a fire. And now he knew his brother, a murderer, was dead. After all that, Sam didn't think he could handle discovering his father's fate.

He was truly alone.

The only two people he had left in the world...Oh, God. Did he even have them, his surrogate family, anymore? How could they accept him after that?

He tried to take some comfort that the Warrens didn't seem to blame him.

No, instead they offered him shelter and care when Sam – out of the three of them, Sam – suffered a nervous breakdown.

Sam would have thrown up again, but there wasn't anything left in his stomach.

How could they even face him, after what his brother did to them?

Sam had known Rebecca and Zach were keeping something from him, and now he realized they were shielding him. The sympathetic looks they shot him whenever someone brought up family, their discouragement of his search - it made sense now.

He couldn't believe how much they had done for him.

And Zach was right. His mind had erased all memory of his family for a reason. Sam now wished he had never learned what that reason was.


Sam mentioned that maybe it was time for him to move out, find his own place. "Haven't I overstayed my welcome?" he asked with a friendly smirk, hoping to hide behind forced levity.

But Rebecca and Zach refused to let him leave. He was their roommate now, they insisted. There was no reason for him to go, and every reason for him to stay. When he could afford to live on his own, then he could leave if he truly wanted to, but for as long as he needed to share an apartment, he was going to share with them. He was family.

Sam was relieved to hear that because he really wasn't ready for a change, wasn't ready to leave them, and couldn't afford much more than the low rent he paid them. But was he really family, though? That didn't seem to be the right word.

Sam was too much of a coward to tell them he knew about his brother. He didn't want their relationship, as unusual as it was, to change. The bond between them wasn't so strong that Sam thought they could survive the discomfort – and wasn't that an extremely inadequate word? – that would come from telling.

But even so, Sam couldn't stop himself from picking at the issue. He didn't want to know anything about his brother, yet he was compelled to find out more.

"The guy who, uh, caught your girlfriend's killer," Sam began one day, when he found himself in the living room with Zach. "What happened? Who was he?"

Zach looked at him sharply, and Sam couldn't blame him for his surprise. The question had popped out of his mouth with no warning. Sam waited patiently while he tried to come up with an answer, knowing he was figuring a way to keep key details – namely, Sam's brother - out.

"He, um...Well, I wasn't there. I just heard about it." Zach cleared his throat. "I guess he was some kind of bounty hunter, and he tracked him down. But when he caught him, the-the guy was trying to strangle someone, and so the bounty hunter was forced to shoot him.

"He got there, just in time, Sam." Zach gave him a half smile."Pretty much a hero, you know?"

Sam nodded and fell silent.

Zach had just praised the man who killed his brother. Sam would too, but it still made him uncomfortable. He also noticed how Zach was careful not to mention the bounty hunter's name. That upset him - it wasn't like Sam would try to track the guy down in some sort of twisted revenge.

His mouth started moving again before Sam could stop it. "The guy...tried to kill someone else?" he found himself asking. "Who?" He didn't mean to ask the first question, but he instantly regretted asking that second. Now that he had, he wondered if Zach would actually tell him that it was his sister.

But Zach's answer surprised him. "A close friend of mine," he replied after a long moment. "A friend who was looking for my sister, to protect her from him. He found the killer instead - but instead of running, he tried to fight him, and he held him off until help arrived."

"Oh." Sam frowned, thrown off-guard by the story. So there were at least three people Dean attacked. Questions ran through his mind, and he tried to focus on one – and if he wanted to keep up pretenses, he knew which one he needed to ask. "The killer went after your sister?"

"Yeah," Zach replied, his voice suddenly uneven. "Dammit, yeah. He even had her, tied up and everything, just like..." He stopped himself for a moment and then continued. "The cops found her in time, thank God, but the guy escaped." He drew in a shaky breath and looked away. "I was stuck in jail, so I...I couldn't protect her. This guy was out there running around, and I couldn't do anything."

Sam didn't know how to respond to that. "But he was stopped," he said.

"Yeah. He was. If...God, those two guys saved us in more ways than one."

Sam shook his head, trying to comprehend it all. "How did you even get through that?"

"You pretty much have to."

Sam nodded in understanding. He knew that feeling.

For a brief moment, Sam wondered if he was that close friend who went looking for Rebecca. In his gut, he kinda wished he had been – even if it meant his own brother had tried to kill him. He didn't remember ever being in St. Louis, but he couldn't remember being anywhere, so it wasn't out of the question.

But he knew he wasn't the fighting type. He wouldn't even know how to.

"Why...why do you ask?" Zach asked after a minute. "About all this?"

Sam thought furiously to explain. "I remembered that you said a man had saved your life. I was just curious how he did that."

But Zach wasn't satisfied with his answer. "Why were you curious?" he pressed.

Sam shrugged and looked away. "I don't know. Something about saving lives—it just sounds...noble."

Zach was silent for a moment. "Like something you'd like to do?" he then asked him.

Startled, Sam turned to him with a frown. It was an odd question. He opened his mouth to respond, but he didn't know what to say. After a moment, Zach let out an almost-soundless sigh and turned back to the TV.


As the school year spiraled towards the end, Sam went on autopilot. Like always, he studied long and hard, and he tackled his final papers with even more—well, not enthusiasm, but maybe devotion—than he had with his previous assignments.

This time, though, he only went to the library when he absolutely needed to. Now he did all of his studying and writing at home, restricting the library to research only, and even then, only when the internet from his laptop wasn't enough.

Sam couldn't remember studying or reading or writing. He would sit down at his desk around four in the afternoon, and the next thing he knew, it'd be ten o'clock, and he would have ten new pages of handwritten notes or three typed pages of his paper finished, on top of a mind full with memorized details.

Sam still hadn't accepted the full ride to law school.

At night, he had vague dreams of yielding shotguns as he stalked through dark, twisting halls, or of swinging swords against horrible, flesh-eating monsters. He would wake up to a few seconds of confused panic because he was alone and unarmed. Then would come faint tinges of unexplainable disappointment.

His supervisor at the grocery story, after praising his work ethic and efficiency, asked him why he still worked there. Sam didn't have an answer. To himself, he admitted he couldn't think of another job, or even career, he'd rather have.

But a lawyer – that was a good profession. A profession he could be proud of. A goal he would have earned. As a lawyer, he could reach his full potential, earn lots of money, be successful.

That's what he told himself, at least. That's what had driven him through those first three years of college and those thoughts still made logical sense.

"You're not happy, are you, Sam?" Rebecca asked him suddenly, a week before graduation.

"No. No, I'm not," Sam replied after a moment.

Rebecca nodded. "I'm sorry."

Sam's eyes widened, and guilt flooded his stomach. "No, Becky, you've done so much for me," he told her earnestly. "More than I'm sure I know."

She sighed and gave him a small smile. "Yeah," she said under her breath.


Sam wished he paid more attention to his graduation. He knew, sitting in that folding chair, that this marked a very important milestone in his life. A proud moment, a lifelong memory. But still he drifted out during the speeches, still he shared only half-hearted grins with his classmates, still he bounced his leg, wishing it would just end.

No one was up there in the stands, trying to pick his head out from the crowd. No one was there just for him.

Fortunately, when they started handing out the individual diplomas, 90 percent of the audience did as they were advised and held their applause until the end of the ceremony. Because of that, no one would know he didn't have anyone there to cheer for him, and even he could pretend. He'd never been so grateful for a procedural guidelines before.

Strangely, when his name was called, he thought he heard someone clapping, a hard, furious burst of solo applause. Then again, they went through the names so fast it could have been for the girl announced before him.

Afterwards, Sam went outside to wait for Rebecca and her family, who were at her college's graduation held in a separate building. When he finally met up with them again on the college green, Rebecca raced up to him and hugged him, and he warmly hugged her back. Then Zach shook his hand, but that also quickly turned into an strong embrace as he thumped him on the back. Standing back, Mr. and Mrs. Warren gave him their own congratulations, complete with wide, easy smiles. Sam thanked them and agreed to photograph their family with the camera they handed him. Then Mrs. Warren snapped his picture with Rebecca and Zach and promised him a copy.

They spent an hour hugging and shaking the hands of classmates and friends and relatives, and Sam was surrounded by laughter and happiness and noise. His face hurt after smiling so much and his shoulders hurt after holding them tense for an entire hour.

Afterwards, he left with the Warrens, climbing into the backseat of their car beside Rebecca, and they headed towards a local park, where Rebecca's parents had rented a pavilion for her graduation party. Rebecca, with Zach's help and against Sam's objections, had persuaded them into making it a dual party for her and Sam.

Their cook-out became a central gathering for many of her friends who stopped by with their families from out-of-town. It wasn't a fancy party by any means, held on picnic tables with plenty of cold beer and grilled hot dogs. The older Warrens could have afford more, and in fact had suggested just that - but Rebecca wanted to keep it simple.

A few people gathered in loose groups on the lawn, but most of them sat at the tables inside the open shelter. Sam, with a beer in his hand, stood at the edge where the concrete ground met grass.

He wasn't alone though. A steady stream of friends and acquaintances came up to him and exchanged congratulations and other pleasantries. In the past year, Sam had become a master of small talk, and he wasn't short on friendly conversation. And then there were those sisters and friends of friends who wanted a chance to talk with the deceptively-eligible, single guy. Sam smiled and nodded with them, toeing the line of flirting but never crossing over.

Mr. Warren had just left Sam after promising him a list of lawyer contacts when a figure caught the corner of his eye. Sam turned his head and saw a man standing at the edge of a grove of trees.

He stood there alone, unmoving. He seemed to be watching them.

Sam tore his gaze away and stared intensely at the ground in front of him. It was that guy again, the stranger from the grocery store, the one he kept seeing around town. And now he was there, watching their party from his position far away. Almost spying on them. Sam didn't know why he would be there, didn't know who he was watching.

So far he wasn't doing anything, and Sam tried to ignore him. Still, as Oliver came up to him to chat, Sam kept the figure in the corner of his eye, making sure he never lost sight of the stranger.

But the man never moved.

Sam wondered why he had considered him to be a stocky, sturdy-looking man, because now he looked less than solid. Thinner than Sam remembered. A deep cut along his temple made him look vulnerable.

But even so, there was a dangerous edge to his stance, power underneath his jacket. Even from the distance, Sam could see the hard eyes, striking against the dark rings that lined them. They seemed to penetrate him, and Sam couldn't shake that feeling, even though he couldn't tell which person the man was focusing that intense gaze on.

The man had been standing there for five minutes when Sam happened to glance at Rebecca. She was standing in a small group surrounded by several other chattering people, but she was largely ignoring the conversation going on around her. Instead, to Sam's surprise, her head was turned slightly, her gaze directed out to the trees where the stranger stood.

But when she caught Sam watching her, she ducked her head and refused to meet his gaze.

Sam frowned, his questions doubling. He wanted to go over and ask her about it, but he waited until she stepped away from her group before he cornered her.

"Do you know that guy?" he asked her, coming up behind her when she grabbed another beer from the cooler.

"What guy?" she asked. Sam just stared at her and waited, refusing to play along.

She straightened up, and her gaze shifted from Sam to the man by the trees and back again.

"Yeah," she finally admitted. "I do."

Sam's eyes widened. "You do?" he asked. "Who is he? What's he doing here?"

"He's just...this guy. A friend."

Sam tried to bite back his frustration. "Well, why doesn't he come over here?"

"I—I don't think that would be a good idea," she replied.

"Why not?" Sam pressed. "Who is he?"

She looked away, and Sam suddenly thought of all the times he had encountered the man outside their apartment and around campus. "Wait, Becky-has he been giving you trouble?" he demanded, grabbing her arm.

"What? No!" she replied. "What makes you think that?"

"He's been following us." She gave him a strange look and he hastened to explain. "No, really, I've been seeing him hanging around! Becky, is he stalking you?" he asked dangerously. "If he is—"

She quickly interrupted him. "No, Sam, he's not. Just...forget about him, okay?"


"Hey, guys, what's going on?" Startled, Sam and Rebecca turned towards Zach who had stepped between them. He twisted the cap off of his beer and took a quick sip. "Is something wrong?" he went on, cocking an eyebrow.

"Yes," Sam jumped in,desperate for support. "Some guy's been stalking Rebecca."

"What?" Zach exclaimed with alarm, and Rebecca shot an exasperated look at Sam. "Becky, who?" her brother demanded, instantly slipping into the protector mode Sam had counted on.

Rebecca smirked at her older brother, crossing her arms over her chest. "That guy over there," she said, indicating him with a dip of her head.

His eyes instantly darkening, Zach spun to look at him. But as soon as he caught sight of the young man, his eyebrows shot up and he let out a noisy breath. "Oh," he said, his head rolling back slightly. "Oh, boy..."

"What? What is it?" Sam demanded. "You know him too?"

"Kinda, yeah."

Sam shot him an exasperated look, but Zach just shrugged. "Well? Don't you think he's acting a little creepy?" The two Warrens refused to answer, so Sam went on desperately. "I'm telling you, he's been tracking us."

"No, Sam, it's not like that," Rebecca replied, her eyebrows twisted with emotion. "I think he's just been...looking out for us."

"You think?" Sam echoed, incredulously. He held up his hands. "Hey, all I'm saying is that we should talk to him. See what he's up to. He looks like he could be dangerous."

Zach looked away. "Sam, just forget about him," he ground out. "Okay?"

Sam shook his head in exasperation. "Why do you guys keep saying that? Look, I seriously think there's something going on here, and unless you know what that is, and tell me-"

He snapped his mouth shut when Rebecca turned to him, and he was stunned to see tears in her eyes. "Rebecca..." he whispered.

Rebecca pressed her lips together and her face hardened. "No, Sam, you're right. I can't stand this anymore."

"Becky...?" Zach asked.

"This isn't right," she said. Her brother shook his head but didn't say anything.

"What the hell is going on here?" Sam cut in. He had put up with their secrets for way too long, and he was exhausted.

Rebecca turned to him, but refused to look him in the eye. "I can't tell you."

Sam threw up his arms. With all of these maddening non-answers,he wondered if he would have another meltdown. "I'm going over there," he warned.

"It's too late," Rebecca said with a shake of her head, not moving her gaze from his chest. "He's gone by now." The corner of her jaw twitched.

Sam spun around. To his surprise, he saw she was right. He looked around the entire park, doing a complete turn, but the stranger had disappeared.

"But Sam, next time you see him," she added, her voice taking on a steel edge. "Confront him."

Sam stared at her for a long moment, stunned by the sudden change but still frustrated by her vague statements. "With what?" he exclaimed, jutting his head forward. "Who is he?"

Rebecca turned her gaze out towards the trees again, even though the man was no longer there. She set her jaw and then answered. "He's the guy who helped save my life."


Since that day, wherever Sam went, he looked for the strange man. He'd sweep his eyes along both sides of the street, he'd constantly check the lanes at the supermarket, he'd even stare out his bedroom window. But the man never appeared again.

Rebecca and Zach refused to give him the stranger's name. "He goes by so many," Rebecca said in explanation. It was a rather poor one, Sam thought irritably. He figured they held back because they didn't want him to track the man down. Maybe they wanted him to wait until he saw him again, figuring a public confrontation would be better, or at least safer. Either that, or Rebecca was already backtracking, regretting that she ever told Sam to confront him.

Their reluctance made sense though. The risk of Sam finding out about his brother would be too great if he were to ever speak with this guy, and they didn't know how Sam would react if he came face-to-face with his brother's killer.

The killer of his estranged, homicidal brother who he didn't even remember. Sam didn't know how he would react either.

Especially when said man had followed the Warrens all the way from St. Louis and now seemed to be spying on them. It disturbed him, and made him angry. Just because Rebecca owed her life to him didn't mean she should let him get away with stalking her. Sam tried to tell her that once, but she refused to admit he was doing anything wrong. He didn't believe her, especially since she had already told him to confront him. This isn't right, she had admitted.

Sam thought about telling them he knew about his brother, but he kept putting it off. Maybe someday he would come up with an adequate apology, one that would make up for all the horrors his brother put them through. But until he did, he wouldn't-couldn't-bring up the subject.

The atmosphere in the apartment was tense, although no one would admit it. Sam couldn't have a conversation with either of the Warrens without wanting to press them for more answers, answers they refused to give. Even once he gave up asking, it was all he could think about. And he could tell both Zach and Rebecca were avoiding conversations with him, afraid of where it would inevitably lead to.

He hated it. He wanted things to be normal again.

He finally decided to say yes to his acceptance into law school. Without the Warrens as an anchor, the loss of classes had thrown him off balance and left him drifting. Graduate school would at least fix that, give him something to hold on to, something else to focus on. If nothing else, it would give him four years to find a way to fix himself before he had to enter the real world. Maybe he would even find that piece that was missing.

But law school was still an entire summer away.

Neither did he have the library, which no longer held the appeal it used to. Without school, there was nothing there for him.

Sam did visit once, briefly. He sat at his regular computer, pulled up the newspaper archives, and searched the St. Louis newspaper for the days and weeks following the death of Zach's girlfriend. He even searched websites devoted to true crime, filled with information not published in the papers. But there was very little mention of the man who killed Dean Winchester. In fact, no one seemed to be aware of his name, or of the chain of events that led to the wanted man's death.

But Sam did find a picture of his brother's gravestone. It was a cheap, government issued one, and he only stumbled across it because one of the web sites had a morbid fascination with such things.

After that, Sam found no reason to set foot inside the library again.

The daze that had followed him ever since the summer before came into sharp focus, becoming a thick gray blanket that obscured his mind, and the only thing that could penetrate were thoughts of the man with the piercing gaze. The only man who could give him answers. A man so dangerous he's killed before.

Sam wondered when his life had turned into a movie. "My name is Samuel Winchester. You killed my brother. Prepare to die."

That was how surreal his life had become. Sam snorted derisively. He was supposed to be a mild-mannered law student, not some hunter or fighter searching for revenge. Besides, he didn't feel any anger towards the stranger. He didn't feel anything at all, really.

He just wanted some answers.

Hell, he should be grateful towards the bounty hunter who kept a psychopath from killing again andsaved the lives of Sam's closest two friends (and wasn't that a sentence he never thought he would say?). He just wished he knew what was going on.

But as hard and as often as he looked, the man never showed up.

Maybe they scared him off. Sam knew that had to be for the better. He didn't know the man's motives, and he couldn't imagine his presence causing anything but trouble. It was just creepy.

But deep inside his chest, he couldn't shake the feeling of disappointment and - though he shied away from thinking about it; he didn't like considering this guy as his last connection to his brother – a sense of heavy sadness.

Just forget him, just forget him, just forget him.

The more he started agreeing with the Warrens' advice, the harder it became to forget him. Or maybe it was the opposite: the more he thought about him, themore he realized it would be better if he could forget him.

But Sam figured he had already forgotten too much of his life already.

Two weeks after graduation, Sam was jerked awake at three in the morning. The light fixture on his ceiling had exploded, showering a hundred shards of glass onto Sam's bed.


"It must have been a surge," Sam said with a shrug the next morning as he poured coffee into his mug. "Weird, but no big deal."

"But the left side of your face is all scratched," Rebecca protested. Her face had paled considerably when Sam came out with red streaks across his cheek, and had gone completely white when he told her why.

"Well it kinda stings, but I'm fine," Sam shook off her concern. The cuts on his face were shallow, some of them even invisible once he had washed the blood away.

"Do...do you want to switch rooms?" she asked him, her eyebrows pushing her forehead into a worried bunch.

"Huh? Why?"

"It sounds like your room might be dangerous."

"It was a one time thing," Sam said, somewhat bewildered by her fear. "And even if it were dangerous, I'm certainly not going to let you stay there instead."

"Yeah, but..." Rebecca trailed off, never finishing her thought. She looked away, frustration clearly written on her face.


A week later, Sam was sitting at the desk in his bedroom, playing solitaire on his laptop. He knew he needed a hobby, but he couldn't conjure up enough desire or energy to find one. Playing solitaire gave him something to do, though, and it became a kind of hobby by default, one he participated in during the long hours he sat next to his bedroom window. However, he paid more attention to the ground outside his window than he did the computer screen.

He was gazing out of the window, waiting as the game he won finished bouncing around the screen, when suddenly the back of his chair was yanked backwards.

The chair instantly toppled down, pulling Sam with it, slamming him hard against the ground. His head struck the hardwood floor, and pain exploded through his skull. Sam laid there for a long, dazed moment, the wind knocked out of him, trying to figure out what just happened.

He rolled his head backwards, wincing as it throbbed, to see who had pulled his chair. But his room was empty, the door still closed. "What the hell?" he muttered, pushing himself up from the floor. He straightened up painfully, grimacing as he felt new bruises protest against the movement.

Sam found Rebecca in her bedroom, flipping through a magazine. She looked up curiously at his entrance. "Did someone just come into my room?" he asked her.

"No, I've been in here, and Zach's out," she replied. "Why?"

"I could've sworn..." he mumbled, shaking his head slowly. "Alright, thanks."

"What happened?" she asked, stopping him before he could leave.

Sam flushed. "I-I fell over in my chair," he told her, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. She cocked her head, a crease in between her eyebrows, and Sam was forced to explain. "I just thought...It kinda felt like someone pulled it backwards."

Rebecca jumped to her feet. "Really? Are you sure?" she pressed, her eyes going wide.

Sam took an awkward step backwards. "Um, no, I just imagined it. It's nothing. No one could have snuck in there and out," he rushed to assure her when she didn't look convinced. "I can check the apartment though, if you're scared..."

"No, no, it's not that," she replied. "I just..." She hesitated and bit her lip. "Maybe it was a ghost or something."

Sam gaped at her. "A ghost?" he echoed with a low snort. "Oh come on, that's—" He cut himself off when he saw the look on her face. He sighed, feeling that he had insulted her. "Even if ghosts existed, this is a brand new building," he reasoned with her more gently.

"I know, but—" She drew in a deep breath. "It just seems like something might be going on. I mean, that's the second weird thing to happen in a week."

"Well, even if it is a ghost, I think I can put up with it," Sam replied with an easy smirk. She nodded, although she still looked uncertain. "I'll let you know if anything else happens, okay?" he reassured her.

"You promise?" Rebecca asked earnestly.

"Yeah, sure," Sam replied as he stepped out of her room.

He made his way back to his bedroom, wondering how long Rebecca had believed in ghost stories.


Sam had made a promise, and he would never break it. He just never thought he'd have to act on that promise.

But three days later when Sam was walking towards his closet, something grabbed his foot and pulled it out from underneath him. In the next instant Sam's backside was slamming against the floor, and his mind was racing.

This time, he knew there was no one in his room. And he knew he didn't just lose his balance.

Sam felt his heart beating in rapid rhythm. The logical part of his mind refused to work, and the illogical part told him maybe Rebecca had a point. He could think of no other explanation.

"Um..." he said hesitantly, coming back out of his room. He had just bade Rebecca and Zach goodnight, and they looked up with curiosity as he came back into the living room. "Hey, Rebecca...Remember our little chat from the other day?"

Rebecca thought for a moment before realization came over her face. "What happened?" she demanded instantly, getting to her feet.

"Something, um, grabbed my leg. Made me fall."

Her eyes widened. "Oh, man..." she whispered. "I was hoping it wasn't..." She shot a glance over her shoulder at her brother.

"So, what, you still think it's a ghost?" Sam asked her.

"Yeah. Or something. I don't know, I'm not the expert."

Her wording gave him pause. "Who is?" he asked her, confused. She ignored him.

"Becky..." Zach started. "What's going on?"

Rebecca looked between him and Sam. "I-I don't know. Let me think about it."


After a few days, Sam wasn't sure if she was stilling thinking or had forgotten about it – whatever "it" was. In any case, she said nothing to him, and nothing else really happened - after all, it was probably just vibrations from a large truck that knockedthe alarm clock off his stand , Sam was doubting anything strange had actually happened to begin with, and he quickly forgot about it.

That Friday, Rebecca cornered him and Zach and told them they were coming with her and a couple of friends for some drinks. "We haven't gone out since graduation," she complained. Zach agreed right away, and she ignored Sam when he tried to decline.

As it turned out, only the three of them and Matilda ended up at their usual bar. It was a subdued gathering, filled with casual conversation and long stretches in which they sat back and listened to the music.

Rebecca had arranged the get-together, but she was the most quiet out of the four, talking even less than Sam. Normally she had an easy laugh, but that night she missed almost half of the jokes. When she did catch one, she laughed a little too hard and a little too long.

Sam wasn't the only one to notice that Rebecca was distracted. "Is something wrong?" Matilda asked her after an hour. "You seem off."

"Oh! No," she said, breaking into a sheepish smile. "I'm fine."

"Are you sure?" Sam asked, sharing a look with Matilda.

"Yes, of course. But, you know, actually...I think I'm going to go home," she confessed.

Sam frowned, worried that she was acting so unlike herself. "But why? It's still early," Matilda protested.

Rebecca ducked her head, a wry grin spreading across her face. "I know. It's really silly," she started to explain with a embarrassed laugh. "I forgot to set TiVo to record Leno tonight."

Zach groaned and rolled his eyes. "Oh, Lord, who's on?"

Rebecca grinned widely. "Wentworth Miller," she announced, wagging her eyebrows.

Zach and Sam exchanged knowing, half-exasperated glances. "Aw, you're leaving me for a bald guy?" Matilda whined.

"Yes," Rebecca said simply. "I am. And he's not bald."

At that, Matilda twisted her face into an exaggerated pout. "Ah, c'mon Becky, stay. He'll be on again."

But Rebecca obstinately shook her head. "Sorry, but nope. I'm just running home to set it, though. I'll be right back." Matilda reluctantly accepted her answer.

"Girls," Zach muttered, taking a swig from his beer. He liked to tease Rebecca about her celebrity crushes with an ease that came from decades of practice. Sam had always been a little jealous of their banter.

Rebecca gave Zach her best mock glare – probably another decade-long custom – before she turned to Sam. "Will you walk me back?" she asked, lifting her shoulders sheepishly.

"Sure, of course," Sam replied, unsurprised by her request. He would have offered if she hadn't asked. She grinned with relief and started to stand. "Actually," Sam said, stopping her with a hand. "I'll just go. I can set it for you."

She immediately started to protest. "Oh, no, Sam, you don't need-"

"There's no reason for the both of us to go," he said, cutting her off.

"Yeah, but it's my show," she pointed out. "You shouldn't have to do that."

"It's no problem," he assured her smoothly, smiling to let her know he was sincere. And he was sincere – in fact, he was already looking forward to a break from the constant noise and thick air of the bar. Rebecca still looked uncertain, however, as she thought it over. "Leno, right?" he went on quickly, before her guilt could overcome her.

She nodded, finally relenting. "Thanks, Sam." He smiled at her and turned to go, but before he could leave, she grabbed his arm.

Her eyes searched his. "Call me if you need to. Okay?"

Matilda snorted loudly. "You're obsessed." Without looking, Rebecca slapped her on the arm.

Sam chuckled. "I know how to work TiVo," he said. "I don't think there'll be any problem."

"I know," she replied, sounding uncertain. "But still."

"If I need anything, I'll call," Sam assured her, before nodding at the three of them in goodbye. "See you in a few," he said as he turned around.

"You're really going to let him go?" he heard Zach ask as he walked away.

"I offered to go with him," Rebecca defended herself. She went on to say more, but by then, Sam was out of earshot.

Their apartment stood only a few blocks from the bar, and Sam made it there in quick time without the slightest mishap. The air was warm but light, and the people he passed along the way seemed to be in good spirits. Sam found his mood lifting with them.

As he walked, helet himselfwonder about Rebecca's strange mood. He highly doubted she was worrying over a Leno guest, and he couldn't help but suspect she was hiding something from them. But her desire to see Wentworth Miller certainly fit with what he knew of her, so even if that wasn't what was bothering her, he saw no reason to turn her down. He would ask her about her mood later, when they were home together.

Once he reached the apartment, it didn't take him long to set the TV for Rebecca. After it was set, he tossed the remote back onto the couch and was turning to leave when the hallway caught his eye.

His bedroom door was shut, but a shaft of light shone from underneath it.

Sam instantly froze, his heart jumping into his throat. He knew he hadn't left his light on. In fact, he specifically remembered almost forgetting his wallet and feeling for it in the dark.

Sam thought about calling the cops, but his pride wouldn't let him until he checked it out himself. Adrenaline making his heart pound, he quietly grabbed a steak knife from the kitchen and made sure his cell phone was within easy reach inside his pocket.

He tiptoed to his room, pausing at the door to gather his nerves. He drew himself up against the wall, and then with a sudden burst, threw open the door and rushed inside, brandishing his knife.

He was unprepared for the sight that greeted him. His bedside lamp lay on the floor, broken into a dozen pieces. Along the opposite wall, a short, three-shelf bookcase had toppled onto its front. Some of its contents had spilled out around it, but other books had ended up in a haphazard pattern all across the room, somehow reaching to all four corners, almost as if they were thrown one by one.

And in the middle of the mess, a man with sandy brown hair lay on his back, his usually penetrating eyes now closed and a bloody gash torn across his forehead.


Sam, his eyes fixed on the man lying before him, took a couplecautious steps into the room. He came to a stop and swallowed, letting the knife fall from his hand and onto the mattress of his bed. Then he spun around and left.

He only paused for a moment in the hallway before he hurried into the bathroom, fumbling for the first aid kit they kept in the closet. He'd never used it before, but he'd always been aware of its location. His fingers quickly closed around it and he yanked it out, toppling a pile of washcloths in the process. He grabbed one that teetered on the edge and ran it under the faucet.

Belatedly, he realized that maybe he shouldn't have left his knife behind, but two seconds later he was back in the bedroom and the man was still out.

The phrase what the hell? kept repeating itself in his mind.

Sam knelt carefully beside the man after clearing a space on the floor with his foot. He immediately went into first aid mode, an automatic setting that required no thinking. In fact, it let him push aside all of his thoughts, let him ignore anything that tried to distract him. As he tended the man's wounds, checking his body for other injuries, thousands of thoughts ran through his head, all of them starting with why or how or who, and all of them left unfinished, questions not fully formed.

His hands ghosted over limbs and chest, feeling for breaks and blood. He poked and prodded, his fingers searching and gentle, as he trained his ears to the steady rhythm of the man's breathing. To his relief, other than the ones visible on his face, he found no further injuries. The man was simply unconscious.

He did find a wallet, though, which he pulled out but didn't look at.

He also found two blades and a small knife. Sam took those away, too, with a weird feeling in the pit of his stomach.

The man flinched as Sam started to clean the gash on his forehead. Sam wondered if he should tie him up, call the police, or even just call Rebecca, but without exactly knowing why, he decided against each option. Instead, he wiped away the blood that had dried along the side of his face, using the wet washcloth to gently scrub it clean. Underneath the blood, he found the healing remains of another, older cut, reminding him of the sight of him at graduation.

He quickly and thoroughly disinfected the new wound and pressed a bandage against it. Within only a few minutes, he had finished treating the cut on his forehead as well as the split in his lip. He considered dragging the man onto his bed, but it was easier just to leave him on the floor. As an afterthought, Sam tucked a pillow underneath his head.

Sam stood up, distantly feeling his knees crack, and blinked his eyes at the floor.

He thought about sweeping up the broken pieces of the lamp, but he would need a garbage bag and broom from the kitchen, and he wasn't about to risk leaving again. Instead, he stepped over the bits of glass, shooing some of them out of the way with his sneaker, and went up to the fallen bookcase, which he quickly righted.

He then went about gathering all the books and other items strewn across the room. These he just stacked into loose piles around the base of the bookcase, rather than rearranging them upright in the shelves. He could do that later. Some of the little trinkets and figurines he put on top of the books, including the small mesh bags of herbs or potpourri he never noticed before. Anything broken, he left where they lay.

Once he finished, Sam clambered backwards on the floor until he met the side of his bed. There he settled, sitting cross-legged on the floor with his back resting against the bedframe. It wasn't very comfortable, but he didn't notice.

He didn't know how long he waited, staring at the man's face for signs of movement. It couldn't have been very long, just minutes, but it lasted too long and yet not long enough for Sam.

Eventually he picked up the stranger's wallet and played with it in his hand, turning it over back and forth, weighing it. He ran his fingers over the leather and stared at it for a long moment, his mind refusing to tell him what to do.

Then, with a burst of courage and nerve, he flipped it open, ready to see what it would tell him.

It was stuffed with cards. Credit cards, ID cards, business cards, all packed tightly into each pocket. Each card displayed a different name.

Sam felt a small twinge of relief, an insignificant comfort, that his friends hadn't lied to him, at least not about his use of multiple names. Billy K. Bonney, John Ford, Robert Plant – he counted fifteen different identities before he gave up.

Discouraged, he squeezed the cards back into the wallet and then tossed it onto the floor. He rolled his head backwards until it rested against the mattress and closed his eyes, pressing his eyelids against his eyeballs. The wallet told him nothing except the guy before him knew how to lie.

Then Sam let out a deep sigh and straightened back up so he could keep an eye on the man on the floor.

The man wore casual clothes, worn jeans with a long-sleeved, dark green shirt – the same kind of clothes Sam had seen him wear all those times he spotted him around town. The long sleeves were a strange choice for the summer, but it was made from a thin, cool material. While checking for injuries, he had felt muscles underneath the fabric, and he knew he had strength.

The skin around his eyes looked a little dark, and his cheeks a little hollow – not alarmingly so, just enough to tell Sam he hadn't been eating or sleeping quite as well as he should, at least not recently. Other than that, he seemed to be a healthy, regular guy.

Who snuck into Sam's room armed with three knives.

Just then, the man groaned and rocked his head. Sam's heart skipped a beat and he had to clench his jeans to stay calm. He leaned forward anxiously, waiting and watching.

The man's arm moved first, coming up off the floor to touch his head. Sam leaned even closer, sitting up off his haunches until his head hovered over the man's face. The man's eyes blinked open slowly and slid back shut with a groan.

And then his eyes jumped open wide.

He immediately started flailing, his arms and legs scrambling as he pushed himself upwards into a sitting position. "Oh, shit!" he said in a panic, scuttling backwards with his elbows. His wide eyes traveled wildly over Sam's face.

Sam stared back, waiting, his own heart calming in the face of the other guy's panic. "I bandaged your head," he informed him after a moment.

It took a few seconds before his words sunk in. Without taking his eyes off Sam, the man slowly raised his arm to confirm it, his fingers hesitantly touching the pad Sam had affixed there. "Uh, thanks..." he replied uncertainly, his eyebrows furrowing. He looked away, blinking at the books Sam had piled on the ground.

Sam kept his eyes on him. The man seemed to be in no rush to explain himself, and Sam couldn't decide which question to go with first. But he was too impatient to wait.

"What the hell happened?" Sam asked, his voice amazingly level. "What are you doing here?"

The stranger's eyes flicked towards him. "And what do you want with me?" Sam went on, meeting his gaze.

"I—I don't..." He stopped and cleared his throat. "I was walking by, and I heard some strange noises coming from your room. So I-"

Sam cut him off with a wave of his arm. "Don't start." The man was about to protest, but Sam wouldn't let him. "What are you trying to do? What do you want with me?" he repeated, slow and even and dark.


"I find you my room with a couple of nasty-looking knives. You go through, tear up all my things...and you expect me to believe that?"

An angry, frustrated look came over the other man's face, and he started talking more earnestly. "I told you, I just happened by-"

"Stop it!" Sam finally cried. The man looked up at him, startled, worried. "I know you know who I am."

The man scoffed at that, tried to brush him off with a toss of his head and skeptical twist of his lips. "How would-"

"And I know who you are," Sam continued flatly, cutting him off.

The man paled instantly. "You...You do," he grunted after a moment, sounding as if he were trying to keep his voice under control.

Sam nodded and raised his chin and eyebrows defiantly. "Yeah. I do."

The other man turned his head slightly so that he was looking at Sam through the corner of his eye. "Who am I, then?" he asked, cautiously.

Sam swallowed and tried not to show any weakness. "You're the one who killed my brother."


Next part of When Our Minds Betray Us.