Characters: Sam, OC, mentions of Dean, Victor Henriksen
Warning: mentions of off-camera OC suicide, questionable drug use, depression
Prompts: Written for an art prompt by the wonderful liliaeth for the spn_reversebang; "sensory deprivation" square for hc_bingo.
A/N: Even though Sam's visions begin to affect him earlier, this mostly fits with canon. Very minor spoilers for the first three seasons.

A Monster in the Dark

Death makes him think of his family. He hears a report ("…with one fatality…") on the radio, sees a newspaper opened to the obituaries, passes a cemetery on one of his rare trips out of the well-fortified bubble that now encompasses his life, and he thinks of them. Sam is certain this isn't how the normal people of the world experience homesickness, so he keeps the observation to himself, but the woman in front of him, with her bad perm and her double chin jiggling as she rolls her jaw in thought, continues to stare, as if she already knows.

"So," he draws out, "I've got class."

She smiles chidingly. "At two. I remember."

He realizes he's on the edge of his seat, ready for this to end, and scoots back a bit, the picture of patience.

"Sam, I'd like to make a recommendation," she—did she introduce herself as Martha?—finally says. Her tone suggests she just now came to the decision, but Sam's seen the hint of an idea behind her eyes for the last twenty minutes. Did everyone else down his hall take this long when they went to see the grief counselor? Did anyone else actually go besides the guy's roommate? Sam refuses to be the one to ask.

"Because," she picks up, breathing out as if she's winded, "I think this is about more than Justin's accident. In fact, I don't think what you're feeling right now has anything to do with Justin."

Sam tenses but stops himself from jumping on that last bit. Instead, the name Justin is circling over his mind like a buzzard—Justin, he reminds himself, is not a name Dean would ever pick to use, even in a short con. Justin is not Dean. But—

Sam only learned the guy's last name when he died, but he'd spoke to him enough times to know he was an engineering major, a junior instead of a freshman like Sam, cussed like a sailor when discussing baseball, and thought cold sausage pizza was the breakfast of champions. Justin Abernathy lived two doors down from Sam, and they weren't friends, not really.

So, there is no reason he should be visiting a grief counselor in the first place, paid for by the university or not. Except Justin looks—looked—like Dean.

Not exactly—there wasn't some freaky doppelganger thing going on. He wasn't filled out as much as Dean, and he highlighted his hair—which might as well be Winchester sin—but there was something about his easy, wide smile, his expressive green eyes…Sam stopped in the middle of the hallway sometimes, when Justin trudged back up with pizza boxes or grocery bags, and simply stared like some creepy stalker. For half a second, Sam might allow himself to think, "This should be Dean." The fantasy, never fully formed, was always followed by a stomach-pitting moment of sadness, as he reminded himself: Dean never tried to escape, Dean never tried living in a dorm room, Dean never joined me here.

Justin, unlike Dean, is dead now, yet Sam still sees his brother. Because death reminds him of his family.

He pulls himself back down to earth. "A recommendation?"

Martha leans forward, her voice even softer. "Dr. Meridian is a very good therapist and new to the community—he's looking for younger patients who fit a certain criteria to take part in a study on stress in college students. Particularly those considered 'at-risk' due to their backgrounds, and I think—"

Sam sits up straighter. "At risk?"

"Oh, that's not meant to offend you. I'm simply referring to statistics on students more likely to drop their studies because of personal factors." She pats his hand gently. "Honestly, I don't have that worry for you, Sam. You're a persistence young man, and from what you've told me, your situation hasn't had an effect on your grades yet, but I think we both know that something besides Justin's death is troubling you."

Sam freezes, wondering if it's showing on his face. Is there a sign that says "freak from a freak family" on his forehead? But he stops himself from reacting to her comments with anything more than a tight grin of thanks.

Martha nods, pleased, and pulls a card out from inside her desk. "Dr. Meridian can help, Sam, and I can fill out the formwork to make sure your sessions with him are covered by the school. And, if he approves you for his study, then you'll even be compensated for your time as well." She holds his gaze, gifting him with a wink. "It's a win-win. I hope you'll consider it."

Don't talk about it. The firm rule is still in place in his head, and he can practically hear John Winchester's voice there, reminding him. On this, at least, he agrees with his father and brother—talking about personal matters isn't a good idea, not when the things that go bump in the night are involved. Not that he'd admit that to them. Not that they'd believe he was following the rule for any reason other than embarrassment.

But this isn't about monsters. This is about not falling apart. This is about not failing, not losing what he's spent so long trying to find: a life of his own. And, he feels it slipping through his fingers when he wakes up at night in a cold sweat. It's the end of his second semester as a freshmen—other students are starting to feel the itch to see their families over the summer, starting to miss their homes. Sam refuses to believe he's one of them.

Still, he takes the card.

The gasp in the night is alarming, and Sam props up on his shoulders, staring at the shadows of the room, before he realizes the noise came from his own throat. He shivers, despite the fact that the AC is crap on his floor, leaving the air stale with heat and body odor, and glimpses over, out of habit. His roommate, Mark, is an idiot who looks down his nose at Sam's scholarship and ragged clothes and makes a comment at least once a week about how he's going to get a single room in a different Hall next semester, but, fortunately, Mark spends most nights with his girlfriend. Mark hasn't let Sam down tonight—his bed is empty, thank God.

Sam shifts, planting his feet on the cold tile floor beneath and catching a breath he can't remember losing. A bad dream, he knows, is what awoke him, but he can't remember it, not fully. That isn't stopping his head from spinning. He doesn't get them all the time, but occasionally, when he has one of those odd nightmares, there isn't enough aspirin in the world to help the throbbing at his temples.

He wishes he could remember what it was he saw in his sleep. He wishes he wasn't haunted by the idea that it had something to do with Dean and blood and violence—it would be easier to blame the lingering thought on Justin, but these dreams have been with him since before he ever left for school.

They've gotten worse. The little voice speaking in his mind is a betrayer, and he hates it.

Sam snorts. "Probably shouldn't mention that to Dr. Meridian."

His appointment, for tomorrow afternoon, has his stomach in knots, and sleep is, not for the first time this week, going to evade him, he's sure. So, he walks across the room, pulling a half-empty bottle of water along with him, and perches next to the broken pre-provided plastic blinds against his slender window. With one finger, he lifts a few of the slats, staring out—from his floor he can see the lawn, the front drive. The sky is gray, promising a gorgeous dawn if only he waits a few more minutes, and it casts a dim light over the campus cop car slowly driving past.

It's a more familiar sight since Justin was found, even though his body was discovered off campus, in his car—a classic, Christ, just like Dean—and even though everyone was told it was either a suicide or an accidental overdose, one too many stolen pills mixed with one too many shots. Nothing about this situation explains why the police are questioning students about him. Sam's been a part of enough "investigations" to recognize one, but he pushes down his curiosity—nothing about this screams monster to him. There's no reason to panic, no reason to think his past is sneaking in the back door.

It's horrible to think that a human might have hurt Justin—the Dean Who-Could-Have-Been—but it comforts Sam, nevertheless, leaving his eyes heavy again, drowsy.

Sam has visited big houses before, but usually they're filled with ghosts and spider webs. This one isn't large enough to be called a mansion, but it's massive to a college kid, especially compared to his tiny jail cell, aka dorm room. He's instantly intimidated and enthralled when a prim 30-something answers his ring of the doorbell in her pencil skirt and button up.

"Sam Winchester," she says in greeting, a tight grin on her face. "Welcome."

Sam blinks, surprised, even though he knows he shouldn't be; he has an appointment, after all. After a split second observation, he notes the strap at the crook of her arm, the handbag at her fingertips, but she steps back to invite him inside. It's late afternoon, past his last class, and he wonders if maybe he got the time wrong somehow—what's the protocol for doctors with home offices, anyhow? Sam stands just past the doorway awkwardly, preparing to take another step back.

"I'm Cherry, Dr. Meridian's secretary. He's waiting for you in his office, first door on the left."

Sam opens his mouth, but she's already dashing past him, closing the door as she leaves. He blinks again, confused at the dismissal, then shuffles his feet. He's two seconds away from disappearing in that silent way he's been raised to perfect, when a figure appears in the hallway up ahead.

It's a man, just gracing middle-aged territory, in a red polo shirt and khaki slacks, and he's clean shaven, his white Californian smile shining, his short dark hair receding but styled, his skin too golden and smooth for his age. He raises a brow, waiting for something.

"Well, you coming or not, Sam?"

"Dr. Meridian?" Sam chides himself. Who else would it be? "Uh—sorry…" He finds himself moving forward quickly, and suddenly regresses back two years to when his legs were just starting to lengthen out, leaving him with all the grace of a giraffe on stilts. "I wasn't sure if—"

Dr. Meridian waves a hand dismissively. "Call me Neal. Cherry should have shown you back personally, but she has a six o'clock Pilates class—I hope you won't hold it against her."

Sam doesn't get a chance to answer as he's ushered into the next room. It's a library. Or at least, that's what Sam would classify it as upon first glance. Second glance tells him it's a large study. For some reason, he was expecting something more modern, less cluttered. More white nothingness, fewer broken book spines.

There is a fainting sofa in front of one stack of shelves. That makes him smile, because isn't that you're supposed to see at a therapist's? But Dr. Meridian directs him to one of two comfortable looking chairs facing one another.

Sam takes one as his own, easing down, and the seat feels too short, his knees too high and in the way—and his hands seem to be in on it too, as he has absolutely no place to put them. He starts to cross them over his chest and realizes the move looks like he's holding something back—Dean always said not to pull that one if you're going to need to lie. He presses his palms against his knees instead, hoping it doesn't look like he's wiping the sweat off. Which he is.

Why the hell he's suddenly so nervous, he's not sure. This was his choice, coming here. This was his choice.

Neal circles the room, pulling a small leather journal off the shelf and a pen off the lamp table beside his chair before he drops down into his seat and crosses one leg over the other. The pen clicks. Ready. And then he stares.

Sam's a live wire waiting to tap metal. He eases down his breathing, refuses to let his eyes roam the room, even though he's mentally mapping out the exits. Why the hell did he agree to this?

"I know what your problem is."

Sam almost jumps at the sound of the man's voice. "That was fast," he recovers.

Neal-Dr.-Meridian leans back in his chair, eyes trained on Sam a moment longer. "Your problem, Sam, is that you really need to loosen up."


The chuckle is unexpected, but not teasing. "Sam, you're here because of stress. Loosening up is a given, in my professional opinion."

Sam nods, realizes he's sitting stiffer than ever and relaxes his shoulders, forcing this polite smile to 'loosen'. "I'll, uh, try to work on that…"

Dr. Meridian skips the basics, simply shrugging off the comment. "Well, that's all I can ask for, right?" He lets a breath out through his nose, the journal on his lap still closed, and clicks the pen again. "Okay, so, Sam, what should we talk about today?"

Sam's bangs are tickling his brow, making him blink too much. "Aren't you supposed to tell me?"

The man simply smiles back. "Well, Martha only told me the bare details about you, Sam, but I can guess as why you're here, because so many others suffer from the same basic problems when faced with your situation. A young man your age, in a school far from home, far from your family, worried about school, money, the future…But we both know that there's more to it, or else half of the university would be visiting my office. Now, tell me, Sam—what should we be talking about today?"

His hands are wet again, and cold, but Sam only keeps them in place, tight against his knees. "A guy in my dormitory…He killed himself. I knew him."

Dr. Meridian's face darkens slightly, but he cocks his head, curious. "And?"

Sam's brow furrows in thought. The words slip out before he can stop them. "My brother, Dean…The guy who died, he reminded me of my brother…"

"You don't remember her at all?"

"No. But it's like I should, even though I wasn't…They treat me like I should, but I can't."

"And your brother does? Remember her, I mean. You said he was only four when she died."

"He does—but I don't know how much of it is real and how much of it is stuff Dad told him. That's if he told him anything at all. Dad—for someone who obsessed over her so much, he never spoke to us about her. Dean told me everything I know."

"So Dean did tell you about her?"

"When we were kids before I—" Sam shook his head. "When I was a kid, I once said I didn't love her. Because I didn't know her. I meant it differently than it came out…Dean blew up. After that he didn't mention her much anymore, but she was always there, in everything we did."

"How can you love someone who you don't know?"

"I don't know. But I guess maybe I do, on faith…Maybe I love her and hate her a little, too. The way other people love God."

"That's an interesting comparison."

Sam rubs his chest, soothing away an ache, but, despite the pain, it feels good, having someone listening. Knowing nothing he says is going to make them angry. So, he says what's always wanted to say. "We're not very into Churches, my family, but we're—they're faithful. To her. She's their religion, their Mother Mary."

"But she's not yours?"

"She was my mother."

Bitter, their taste stays on his tongue throughout the day, throughout the week. The pills are there, in his mouth, long after he swallows, and he's fairly certain other people can see the look on his face and recognize that bitterness.

"...But you've been taking them, right, Sam?" Dr. Meridian asks during their second meeting, one brow lowered, as if he's searching out the truth. "Minor side effects are to be expected. I told you that last time."

Sam lets out a shaky breath.

"Yes." Mostly, is closer to the truth, but he doesn't want to sound like he's not trying. After all, Dr. Meridian's given him samples from his own office, knowing Sam can't afford the medication. Trying was the least he could do, he thinks, even if he doesn't quite understand how feelings that were leading to headaches and sleep problems and a missing appetite can be cured by a remedy that does the exact same. "I just…I'm so drowsy afterward. And my stomach's in knots and—" He drops it.

Dr. Meridian is in robin's egg blue today, a color which makes Sam's vision blurry, and the man's eyes are too bright. He clicks his pen once. Then again, but doesn't write. Sam asked about it during their first meeting, and Dr. Meridian explained that he does most of his recording afterward. He has a good memory. But, the pen stays with him, nevertheless.

The man leans forward, voice low, as if they might be overheard. "We talked about honesty last time, Sam. Now I want you to put that into practice. Honestly—do you think the medicine actually has anything to do with you being tired or nauseous? Weren't you already feeling those things before we began treatment?"

Sam swallows. "You're right," he admits.

Dr. Meridian falls back against his chair again, a small, sad smile on his face. "Don't resist it, Sam. Sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. Now…last time, we were discussing your sleeping habits. Things still keeping you up at night?"


"Not much change then?" Dr. Meridian taps his thumb against his chin in thought when Sam nods. "And the dreams?"

Panic tastes like bile at the back of his throat. It's the same reaction Sam has every time Dr. Meridian asks him about his family. It's a fear of saying too much. Sam doesn't know why the dreams make him think of his family, but for the part where the dreams seem to be about death these days.

"I can't remember most of them," Sam admits. "But I think they're about Justin."

Dean, he mentally corrects. They're maybe about Dean.

"About what he did to himself?"

About what he's going to do to himself. Sam winces, unsure where the thought came from and squashing it down. Justin is no longer on his mind at all. "I…think my dreams are violent."

Dr. Meridian is silent a moment, and Sam thinks he's waiting for him to tell the truth. Finally, he puts his pen back down onto the lamp table.

"Sam, I want to make a suggestion."

Aren't those the words that put him here? But his therapist can't hear his thoughts, and continues, "There's a treatment that's proven very successful in relieving stress. It's considered alternative medicine, of course, but I think it might be beneficial in your particular situation, even if it is frowned upon by some of my peers."

"I don't want to go under hypnosis."

Dr. Meridian chuckles, shaking his head. "No, that's not what I had in mind. And I don't think hypnosis would be entirely helpful. After all, remembering your dreams isn't necessary to what we're trying to achieve here…And as for life," he pauses, eyes narrow, and something about expression reminds Sam of a cat, "I don't there's anything to uncover. No—this would be for stress and anxiety relief. What do you know about sensory deprivation?"

It looks like some sort of alien pod and is about the size of a twin-sized bed, its mouth open and ready to swallow him up. This room is small, covered in white tiles and more white tiles, and there's a shower stall in the corner across from the isolation tank, where he's supposed to rinse off first.

"…Usually patients have to go special facilities to use flotation tanks, but they're not impossible to purchase. The Epson salt in the water means a face mask is unnecessary in modern designs and…"

Dr. Meridian is still talking, but Sam barely hears him.

Sam thought the idea of hypnosis was bad enough, but this…Every muscle in his body is tense with the idea of being left in that small pod. Alone. Vulnerable. Naked, he adds to the list, remembering that he's down to his shorts and shivering.

A warm hand presses against the center of his back, easing him forward, and Dr. Meridian is right behind him.

"Did you hear me, Sam?"

Sam clears his throat. "I took my medicine today."

Dr. Meridian pulls away, then circles in front of him holding two small paper cups, one full of water. A red capsule sits at the bottom of the other. "No, I said," he picks up, "I'd like you take something to help ease you into a relaxed state. Our first session will only be an hour and a half, so it's important that your body unwinds quickly, so your brain can take full advantage of your time inside."

Sam nods along numbly, swallowing the capsule and following it up with the drink. He swears it's already going to work, bursting at the back of his throat—bitter, just like the rest, but this one has a slight sweetness to it, as well. Sam thinks maybe that's just in his mind.

"And, Sam?" Dr. Meridian catches his eyes, drawing him in with a smile. "Remember, you're in complete control inside. You can open the door any time, and you can't drown. You're in control and safe."

Sam isn't sure why he's still nervous but that's fading, and fast, his body tingling from his shoulders to his finger tips, the rest promising to follow. The room is white, but it's more vivid, as if the colors are swimming to surface.

"I'll be right here if you need me, Sam."

He's inside, ears filled with water, eyes open to blackness, when he realizes he heard Dr. Meridian's last words in Dean's voice—"I'm always right here, Sammy"—and the statement suddenly feels like a threat for some reason.

Sam dreams of monsters.

The shadows press in from all sides, leaving his vision tunneled. At the end, instead of light, there's clarity of a different sort: a dimly lit room occupied by two. Dean and the girl tied to the chair are staring at one another. The gag keeps her from talking but not quiet, and she screams through the cloth when Dean lifts a gleaming blade to eye level, studying it with a cruel grin on his face.

Sam wants to tell him to stop, but he's not there. He's somewhere cold.

Sam feels. Himself.



And a hand lays over his own, pressing his fingertips into ink and then onto paper. The sounds around him are a low hum of chatter and ringing phones and the police officer beside him, telling him which finger needs printed next and what they'll do after they're finished booking him. And his brother.

He's numb but feels dampness under his body, hugging his flank, holding him up, and he knows he's not there, in that place, so it must be a memory. But Sam can't recall any such moment. Can't recall Dean wearing such a smile in his entire life. Can't recall the cops ever—

The waves swell and crash into him, and Sam isn't swimming to surface, just waiting to be pulled up again.

Their feet are hitting the ground at a run. Heavy, fast thuds, as if they're trying to race one another, like they did when they were kids and Dean would try to convince him they were playing instead of training. Today, there's no such game, but there's excitement coursing through both of them.

Despite his height, Sam feels himself falling behind as Dean surges ahead, face aglow with exhilaration. For the first time, Sam realizes his brother is holding a long, crude blade in one hand, a machete. Sam's eyes flicker down and his own weapon catches the moonlight. It's a short scythe he recognizes from the trunk of the Impala.

The darkness in front of them opens up, the night suddenly bright enough to see by, and their prey has fallen and is casting wide, frighten eyes up at them as she tries to scramble to her feet.

Dean is ahead and says nothing when he slides to a near stop and swings his arm. The blade skirts through air, then hits. Blood sprays Dean's face, and when he blinks his eyes open again, the white around the irises looks even starker surrounded by a mask of red.

"I'll let you have the next one, Sammy." He smiles like he's promising they'll race again, and next time he'll let Sam win. Not like there's a decapitated head at his boots, staring up at them in terror.

Sam stares out his dorm window again, sleepless again, alone again. He holds the appointment card between two fingers, tapping it lightly against his jeans, and considering whether or not he should toss it into the garbage can.

Twice a week, for six weeks. That is how long Dr. Meridian-Call-Me-Neal wants to schedule visits to his isolation tank.

Sam doesn't plan on making the next appointment, much less completing therapy.

But he does, return.

"…not entirely uncommon, but I think—Sam?"

Thumb and index finger pinching the bridge of his nose, Sam leans forward in his chair, warding off the headache and leaving his eyes stinging. He lets out a slow breath and his ears clear.

"Sorry, Dr. Meridian," Sam bites.

"Neal," is the curt correction, and it's followed by the man's fingers gripping Sam's shoulder. "A bad one?"

"I think they're getting worse."

When he looks up, Sam sees Dr. Meridian's gaze narrowed again, studying him. The slight curve of his lips is almost chastising. "Now, Sam, I want you to think hard before you settle on that conclusion. Are your headaches really getting worse? Weren't they this bad before you ever came to me?"

Sam winces, but the pressure in his head releases. Fading. "I—" He doesn't remember. Were they bad? Were they the reason he chose to come see Dr. Meridian? The last few weeks are a blur, so Sam isn't sure, but he thinks there was another reason he ended up visiting this house.

"Cherry wasn't here today," Sam says, instead of answering. And now that he's brought it up, he can't remember seeing her since his first appointment, which makes sense, since he only comes in the early evening, when she's supposed to be leaving. The distraction, though, seems relevant.

Dr. Meridian's expression darkens slightly, but he manages to keep his pleasantly polite tone of voice. "She doesn't work here anymore," he answers, softly, "but that's not relevant, Sam, and you know it. If you don't want to talk about the headaches, then perhaps we should go ahead and get you prepped for the tank—I think you could use a bit of a stress reliever, don't you?"

Sirens sound in the background to the tempo of their shoes slapping blacktop. Suddenly the noise is too close, and they dive off the road, into the woods, waiting for the cops and ambulance to pass. Sam can taste his heart in his throat when he gets a glimpse of his fists, stained in blood.

Dean's breath comes out in puffs, and he leans into a tree, bracing his left arm with his right hand, as if something is wrong with the shoulder.

"Frickin' humans," he says.

And Sam feels hate swell inside him, along with a wish he doesn't understand, to be able go back and make sure 'they're' all dead. Only he doesn't know who "they" are or why he's so angry.

What he does know is that Dean said "humans," and Sam didn't question it then.

But he does now. He does, and it nearly wakes him—he sloshes around, taking in a mouthful of salt water and choking on it. His fingers grasp onto the door, and he pushes out, but it doesn't budge.

More images, more flashes, cross his eyes like strikes of lightning. They're not enough to form a story, but the details…the small details are what frighten him, because they're not memories or—

He's watching, from afar, as two men speak. Their clothes, their manner, the guns on them—they're cops. No, the cops are the ones avoiding the men. Feds, his mind supplies, and Sam thinks he knows one of them, the dark-skinned one with the fierce expression.

"…You don't know Dean Winchester. You think you're dealing with a con artist, a God-damned grave desecrating bastard? Well, that's the least of what he's done," the man says. Growls. Means every word. "You don't understand what kind of monster he is. If you'd seen the bodies of those women he butchered—"


Sam recognizes the cry as his own, but the arms around him, pulling at him, are not as familiar. He struggles to open his eyes, and the lids are heavy and the light too bright.

"You're okay, Sam. I've got you. You were having a nightmare."

It takes him another minute, but the pieces fall into place. He's on the floor, covered in a towel and dripping water onto the tile. Another person is down beside him, on his knees. Dr. Meridian's frown is deep with worry, but he's not panicking, so Sam guesses there's no need for it.

"The door—the door was locked," Sam said, out of breath for some reason. His throat burns.

Dr. Meridian shakes his head. "No, Sam. It wasn't. You were asleep inside. You were screaming."

Sam feels dazed. Numb, again. Still asleep. But he can recall now what he'd been shouting, as if the memory was on the tip of his tongue. "Dean."

Dr. Meridian pats his shoulder. "Don't worry. This kind of thing happens all the time. It's perfectly normal."

Sam misses his next appointment and his next tank session. He cuts contact for a week, and when he sees Dr. Meridian next, it's midday, and he's not on the schedule, but that doesn't seem to faze either of them in the least.

Sam notices, though: they're not interrupted by any other patients. The door is not answered by a new secretary. And Sam suddenly feels it, a creeping sensation up his neck. It crawls under his scalp, nesting in his brain and refusing to leave.

He visited the library a few times since his isolation session, looking up tanks and stress therapy and medications on the computer, and, really, he should be more surprised than he is about what he learned.

Their voices are clear in his head, even though he hasn't spoken to either of them in months, even though he doesn't expect to see either of them for years. Maybe longer. Their voices are still clear. Dean saying, "Don't go back there without me, Sammy." Dad saying, "Clean up your mess, Sam."

Sam plans on listening to his dad for once.

"And is Dean prone to violent behavior?"

Sam tries not to look him in the eye and fails. "No—I mean, he gets in fights, and he can protect himself. But he's not violent…Not like he was in my dreams. He wouldn't do those things."

Not to humans. Sam keeps that last part to himself. It's surprisingly easy, painting a picture of his family without the monsters in it, and he's done it many times before. Dr. Meridian cocks his head to the side, an almost unnoticeable twitch at the corner of his mouth, as if he's biting down a smile, and something about that expression worries Sam.

Dr. Meridian finally sighs. "Do you really believe that, Sam?"

Sam feels the heat in his face, and it's odd because it's been so absent of late. He remembers, as if from a dream, discussing so much about his family with Dr. Meridian and feeling nothing, no shame or guilt or protectiveness, and now Sam wonders how that was even possible.

The pill bottles, untouched for the last few weeks, in his dorm-room desk seem like a likely answer.

Sam keeps his voice trained; knows the man will expect nothing to be different between them. "Yeah, I do. I…Dean's always been able to control his anger. He doesn't blow up, doesn't get vicious."

"Like your father?" Dr. Meridian clicks his pen. "Like you?"

Sam's ears are on fire, but he simply shrugs, as if those last two words don't feel entirely on the mark. "Do you think they mean anything, the dreams?"

Dr. Meridian's face betrays nothing, but he taps his journal once. "Do you?"


"Then they probably do. You haven't seen your brother in nearly a year, but he was older in your dream. You were older. They were set in the future?"

Sam nods, eyes darting to the journal and back again. "I guess."

"Hmm…Interesting." Dr. Meridian sits up a bit straighter. "It would be easy, writing them off as a fear of returning to your family. After all, you're young. Used to being close to them, especially your brother. And now you've chosen to run from them and from the life they wanted you to live." His voice comes out sharp, as if he doesn't like the thought. "The nightmares could be a result of your fear of being forced to return to them."

Sam's brow wrinkles with confusion. "But?"

"But." The man smiles, his eyes narrowing with the gesture, and there's something manic about the tightness of his lips. "What if that's not the case, Sam? What if you're not afraid of returning to them? What if what you're really afraid of is what they're going to become without you?"

Sam's mouth is too dry, but it doesn't matter. Dr. Meridian is already leaning forward, too close, that tight smile still in place, and not giving him a second to answer. "Sam, what if something happens to your family while you're away? What if nothing happens to them, but they change anyhow?"

His breath smells strong, his breakfast still hanging to his mouth, and Sam pushes back in his seat, away from him. He doesn't stop.

"Sam, it sounds to me like a little part of you thinks Dean's going to become a monster while you're away."

Sam can't move. He's not sure if he's actually trying to, though, or if he's simple chosen to freeze in place. He doesn't like this; his new life shouldn't involve the word monster, and this man uses it too easily. "I don't think that," he says, voice barely loud enough to hear.

Dr. Meridian clicks his pen. "Well, if you're so certain, perhaps you should go into the tank again." For the first time, Sam realizes that polite smile is more of a smirk and not very nice at all. "Prove me wrong, see what your subconscious is really trying to tell you."

The moment of silence between them gathers like a cloud, making the air thick and electric. Finally, Sam nods again. "Okay."

"Okay," the man echoes and stands, clapping his hands once. "I'll go prep the tank for you, then. Take off your clothes—oh, and, Sam? When you finish up, there's a new medication I want to talk to you about. Something a bit stronger."

Sam stands, unbuttoning his over-shirt while he watches Dr. Meridian grab the keys to his tank room and disappear out the door of his study, the fresh whistle at his lips following him down the hall. Sam's fingers pause in their movement, and he listens closely a second longer before he darts across the room, snatching up the leather journal.

There's no hesitation, even though he understands there's a possibility of consequences. If he's caught. If he's reported. If he's wrong about there being something wrong with Dr. Meridian.

Sam reaches a file cabinet behind the desk he's never actually seen the doctor sitting behind and pulls the lock-pick out of his pocket. Old habits die hard, and he's thankful for it. While Dr. Meridian was pulling information on his family out of him, Sam was noticing the details of the study, like the lack of a computer. Dr. Meridian was old school in his note-taking. Pen and paper.

Which is why Sam's confused when he pops the drawer loose, flips through it, and finds his folder. It's empty.

His name is across the top, but there's not a single document inside. No notes, no paperwork from the university. No evidence Sam was here.

Sam feels a chill run down his spine, and he pulls the journal out from under his arm. The same one Dr. Meridian picked up during their first meeting. The same one the therapist taps every time they meet.

The pages inside are blank.

Sam drops it back onto the desk, backing away, and he can hear the whistle again. Closer.

Sam wants to know: what's going on, why can't he find Dr. Meridian on the internet, why is no paperwork being kept on him. He wants to know, but won't ask. As soon as the decision to run is made, the whistling breaks off and there's a crash at the front door.

Sam feels like he's just taken one of the caplets Dr. Meridian gives him before his tank sessions. He's numb and moving through air made of sludge as people filter into the study, carrying weapons, wearing uniforms, shouting things at him and around him.

Badges and jackets announce them. Police. FBI. And a familiar dark face wearing a familiar dark expression as he moves past the room with Sam inside, giving him a glance, which clearly says he's there, hunting for a monster in human form.

Sam sits in his chair, the one he always sits in when he's in this room, but it's not Dr. Meridian sitting across from him but an agent from the California Bureau of Investigation, taking his statement there instead of hauling him off: "No, this is my first visit with Dr. Meridian." Lie. "No, I didn't notice anything strange about him." Lie. "…Yes, I knew Justin Abernathy."

"I think that's all we need from you right now, Mr. Winchester," she finally says, long after he's spotted his therapist being led out the front door in handcuffs.

Sam swallows but can't get the knot in his throat to go down. "What—" He breaks off, because they've already told him once that they can't discuss the case, other than to say Dr. Meridian is being arrested on suspicion of murder. Only, the 'suspicion' part seems a bit overused, because he's well past simple suspicion if the feds and the state agents are both breaking down his door. "What did he do?" Sam asks, anyway.

She gives him a look he knows well from his childhood as a kid in hand-me-downs with a grubby-faced big brother, pity with a side of annoyance. She doesn't get a chance to answer when a fresh face comes back into the room, standing out from the handful of people searching through Dr. Meridian's things.

Sam's body tenses as the man looks down at him. The man from his dream inside the tank. The man who called his brother a monster.

"Agent Henriksen," the CBI agent says, "this is Sam—"

"Winchester," he finishes for her, and his pointed look has her standing and walking off, relinquishing the chair to the agent.

Henriksen plants himself in it as if he's just finished a hard day's work, and he looks more like he's taking a load off than interrogating, but Sam doesn't feel any of the stiffness leave his muscles.

"The paperwork on this one's going to be a bitch."

The bluntness is enough to rattle Sam from his frozen state. All other questions abandon him, save one. "Can I leave?"

Henriksen's heavy-lidded gaze runs over him again before he gives a one-shouldered shrug. "Sure, kid. We've got your info if we need anything else." But something about his expression keeps Sam grounded long enough for him to go on.

"You know, you're lucky this guy didn't have time to choose you as one of his regulars. We've got him linked to at least four suicides that are starting to look a bit less like suicides. And all his victims are about your age, too. College guys without any local family. Best we can tell, the good doctor wore each of them down, drugging them, confusing them…Then there's his last listed employee, Cherry Tucker. No one's spoken to her in two weeks, and the bastard has the balls to say he can't remember her. Can't remember any of them. Hell, he says he can't even remember you."

The air has left the room, but Sam's trying to suck it in through his teeth, in shallow gulps, hoping the fed won't notice. "Justin Abernathy."

Henriksen frowns, then gives a curt nod. "Another one he can't remember…That one was his mistake—kid had a mother who refused to believe he'd killed himself. Wouldn't have been an investigation without her," he says, quietly, then snaps back out of the moment, voice louder. "You can hear the rest on the news, kid. You need a ride somewhere? Need us to call anyone for you?"

Sam shakes his head, standing on shaky legs. "No, thanks."

Henriksen watches him with keen eyes. "Hey, Sam?" When he turns, the agent is wearing a grim smile. "You can sleep easy. We caught the monster."

The dreams are not real.

They're a lie. One made of guilt over leaving his brother to bear the weight of the Winchester Army.

They're made of his fear of being pulled back into the family business.

They're his subconscious processing Justin's death, the police wandering the school, the investigation into the suicides—there's even a good explanation for the FBI agent. Sam's seen him before, in the dormitory, speaking to Justin's roommate. He just hadn't realized it.

The visions are not visions. They're dreams, hallucinations from drugs that are still giving him the shakes, weeks later.

Sam repeats the mantra of reasoning every time he has a moment to think about Dr. Meridian's tank. When he goes to work, left alone to file away books for far too long, when he's in a particularly boring class, the memory of his sessions come back to him, and he stomps them down viciously, making it a personal goal to block it all. If he does it well enough, he knows that, by the time he graduates, he'll have forgotten most of it, and those fragmented, self-fulfilling prophecies will be left unfulfilled.

He also tells himself that the best way to keep from recalling what the FBI agent called Dean is to not speak to Dean. Out of sight, out of mind—or, in this case, out of ear-range, as the phone has been his only means of communicating with his brother since the Fall semester started.

Sam refuses to believe the reason why he's ignoring Dean's check-ins in favor of a short text message is because he's afraid that his brother's voice will give something away, will trigger a chain of events.

Which will lead to two brothers on the run, away from normalcy.

Sam won't allow that to happen. Not ever. And he can't see a reason why he'd ever be foolish enough to pick up hunting again. Because Dean Winchester will never be a monster, and neither will he.


End Notes:

*While this is in no way a crossover, Dr. Meridian is named after a serial killing psychiatrist in Dexter, season 1. My apologies to any therapists or other professionals in the field offended by my hinky therapist in this story.

*I've never been to Stanford, so any details are entirely from my imagination (or my own college experience).