When Sam gets his soul back, everything changes.
He remembers it all. More importantly, he feels. And what he didn't feel during his time without a soul, he feels now. He and Dean both thank God that Sam sleeps through most of the first few days after his re-souling because otherwise, he might've lost his mind. Where once there was a dark and silent void, now an immeasurable explosion of feeling tears through Sam: guilt and shame and fear and wonder. Most of all, pain. Pain as he has never felt before, sharp and fresh as if it is the first time. He almost doesn't recognize it for what it is.
Dean just sort of looks at him during the first week, at once relieved and afraid and worried out of his mind. Sam doesn't look any different on the outside-except for a sincerity, a quality that makes him innately Sam, in his eyes that knocks the breath right out of his brother and gives him the urge to cry in a different way than he has all this time the real Sam was missing. He sits by Sam's bed and watches him because he doesn't know what else to do, and Sam sleeps twelve, fifteen, eighteen hours at a time.
The first three nights, it is the sweet, black sleep of a brain overcome with exhaustion. Dean silently says thanks for that. The fourth night, Sam begins to dream and drink and Dean wears that expression of naked fear and worry for his brother, totally sober now. As the dreams continue and Sam spends more time awake, Dean begins to see what he always dreaded while he waited for Sam to get his soul back: the wreckage of his brother, the mournful face that is finally all Sam, full of devastation, speechless and yet the most clear and honest communication Dean's had with anyone since before Sam threw himself in the Cage.
Sam can't say he's sorry. He can't say anything at all. After a year and a half of flowing lies like water out of a fish's mouth, words are the most useless things in the universe to him. How he feels, what he's seen, what he did, what he said, what he didn't feel-how is he supposed to speak it?
And Dean-fuck him sideways-feels guilty. He looks at his brother, the man who's really his brother, looks at him asleep and drunk awake and always on the verge of tears he never cries in front of Dean that first week, looks at him as he barely eats what Bobby cooks and as he drags his massive body around the house like the embodied emotions Dean felt when Sam died at Cold Oak, and Dean wants to apologize for putting Sam's soul back. Wonders if it would've been better to just shoot his brother's soulless body and let him go for once. Then, immediately feels sick at the thought.
Dean doesn't even try to start a conversation with Sam about what his brother's going through. He skirts around it like careful fingers around an open wound, instead doing the things he knows how to do that feel safe. Bring the alcohol. Food. Stay with him.
Bring the alcohol.
Until on the seventh day, Dean walks into the bedroom where Sam's been sleeping and finds his brother sitting on the bed, leaning with his elbows on his knees and Dean's Colt in his hands.
Their eyes meet and Dean can't grasp his own voice to ask what Sam's doing. He knows anyway.
"I can't," Sam says. "I can't do it. Dean. It's too much. You need to let me go."
"Please. You know how this feels. You know how it felt when you came back. But I'm worse. I'm-I'm a monster."
"Why didn't you do it? Why didn't you just shoot me as soon as you knew I was wrong? God, I wish you had."
Fat tears quiver in Sam's eyes but stay put. Dean's begin to fall, whites of his eyes pink. He doesn't know what feels worse: hearing Sam say this shit or knowing that a big part of him had wanted to kill his brother before.
"Sammy. Please. Don't do this now. Not after everything. Please."
Sam looks up at him again, voice coming out in a hoarse almost-whisper.
"How am I supposed to live with this, Dean? How am I supposed to just get up and go back to being myself like the last year and half didn't happen? Like Hell never happened? I can't. I can't stand this anymore. It hurts. It's never hurt like this before."
"I know," says Dean, nodding his head. "I know it does. But you gotta keep going. Sammy, you gotta get through it-or I won't make it either. All this time... I waited for you. I waited to get you back, and now you're here and... If I have to lose you all over again, I'll just, I'll die."
The first of Sam's tears begin to drop, his face reddening, and he's still holding onto the gun with a firm hand, the only thing that keeps him centered.
"I know it's hard," Dean says. "You know I do. But you can get through it. We can get through it together. One day at time, just-God, trust me, man. Just give me a chance."
Sam looks up at the ceiling, leaning back off his knees, crying openly. He sucks in a breath and clenches his eyes shut. He's in so much pain, he can't imagine feeling it any longer than the next moment, but Dean... He can't hurt Dean. Not again.
He sets the gun down on the bed next to him and leans his head down into his hands, breath quickening as he feels the panic of being stuck in his agony surge through him. Dean swoops over to him, sits on his left side, wraps his arms around Sam's shoulders, and Sam lets himself sag against his big brother, shuddering against Dean's body. He remembers beating this body, remembers the sight of Dean's broken face, crushed on his fists, and he doesn't understand how Dean could want him alive.
"I've got you," Dean says. "I'm here. I'm here."
Sam moans like a dying animal, his pain so wrenching that it reverberates through Dean's chest, and Dean grips him tighter, just as desperate as his brother. He is filled with an overpowering urge to envelop Sam completely, to absorb Sam's pain, to heal him through sheer will alone. And all Sam can think is: I need you, but you shouldn't be here. Neither should I.
"How do I help you?"
Dean pulls away enough to take Sam's slick face in both his hands and look at him. Sam closes his eyes, reaches up and rests his hand over one of Dean's.
"I don't know."
He pushes against his brother again, limp on Dean's shoulder, and Dean just holds him with palms flat on Sam's back, crying into Sam's shoulder as Sam cries into his. What else can he do?
They sit together like that on the bed, with the gray light of a cloudy afternoon coming in through the window and Dean's gun forgotten behind Sam. They don't speak for a long time, until most of the tears and sobs are drained out of them and they're one hot, damp, snotty, swollen mass.
Sam pulls away but they don't let go of each other completely, their hands on each other's shoulders in a kind of long distance embrace.
"It'll be okay again," Dean says.
"How can this ever be okay? The things I did-"
"It wasn't you."
"Yeah. It was. And you knew it. You should've-"
"No. I was wrong. I was wrong to be so angry, I-don't blame you. Sam, I'm not mad at you. You have to believe me."
"You should be. You should be."
"I'm just glad to have you back."
Sam shakes his head, closes his eyes, opens them again, but doesn't let go.
"I don't know if I can ever be all right," he says. "I don't know if I can be who you want me to be."
"You're Sam. You're my brother. You're exactly who I want you to be."
Sam drops his hands down to Dean's elbows, and Dean mimics him, tears drying on his jaw and down his cheeks.
"I'm not who I was the last time we were together," Sam says.
Dean purses his mouth.
"Neither am I."
Sam hangs his head, thinking how Dean's too stubborn to see what he means, to see what he is.
"But I still love you," Dean says. Sam looks up at him, eye to eye. "Isn't that enough? Can't that be enough?"
Sam stares at him without answering, and Dean secretly hopes to God that it is because it's all he's got.
"The last thing you should do," Sam says, "is love me. Dean-I hurt you. In more ways than I can count. I killed people and I... had Lucifer inside of me. I'm the last person anyone should-"
"Sam. I love you. The you who saved the world. The you who I loved my whole life before you said yes to anything. The you who's sitting here right now telling me I shouldn't because you feel like crap about the things you did when you couldn't do any better. It doesn't matter what you did. Loving you's the only thing I know how to do."
Sam pulls away, gets up from the bed, his long legs sore from sitting in the same awkward position for too long. He stands a few feet away from the bed, his back to Dean, and Dean watches him. Sam doesn't say anything for a minute or two, doesn't face his brother, a million thoughts running through his head. When he does turn around, Dean's afraid of what he'll say.
"I want you to be happy," Sam says. "I want you to be free-from me, from this life, everything. I told you to go to Lisa for a reason. I meant it. And now, more than ever, that's what you should do. Walk away and don't look back."
Dean rises to his feet, steps up to Sam.
"You want me to be happy? You mean it?"
Sam looks at him, bewildered, and nods.
"Then listen to me. Listen to me when I say that all I want, all I need now to-be happy is for you to get better and stay with me and for us to live our lives without anything hanging over us except another hunt. That's what I want. That's who I am. Sam-you and I belong together whether we like it or not. And it took me this long to see that what's right... is everything we've got when we aren't fighting over stupid crap or dealing with the freakin' Apocalypse."
"You always wanted-"
"Don't. Don't tell me what I want. I'm telling you right now. It's not because taking care of you is my job anymore. It's not because I'm afraid of screwing it up in normal land. I want to stay with you because whenever we're on the road... and things aren't all screwed up... when it's just me and you and the car and the World's Biggest Tourist Trap-"
Sam barely scoffs.
"That's when everything fits. Okay? Sam-we finally have a chance at peace. Together. Don't take that away from me."
His brother stands there looking at him, about ready to keel over from pain and exhaustion, and Dean doesn't know if it's defeat or surrender in Sam's face. It occurs to him that he's being selfish again, that he should care more about helping Sam out of his misery than he does about preventing his own, but he can't let go. Especially not after waiting so long to get the real Sam back.
"I'll never have peace," Sam says, the fight gone from his voice.
"Yeah, you will. It'll take some time, but I know you'll feel all right again."
Sam combs his fingers back through his hair, clasps his hands over the back of his head, and doesn't know what to say anymore. He's tired of arguing and he can't say no but he doesn't want to say yes either. He just wants to stop feeling. And he can't imagine how he could ever make Dean happy again. He can't imagine ever moving on from where he is right now: an agonized and guilty mess of a man.
"How do you figure on that happening?" he says.
"One moment at a time," says Dean, almost phrasing it as a hopeful question. "Ease up on the booze. Eat a little more. Go for a drive."
Sam drops his arms to his side and hangs his head, closes his eyes and breathes, trying to remain calm. Tries to accept that he's going to live. Dean watches him, doesn't know what else to offer, won't make promises he can't be sure of.
He moves forward, takes his brother in a gentle embrace this time, met with no resistance. Their legs are weak beneath them as they feel the quiet wave of comfort to have each other's warm, solid body to hang onto, to know the other is real. Sam smells of tears and sweat, the most human of smells, and Dean smells like Dean. They don't have to say anymore. They know they won't abandon what has come to bud as they stand here together.