It turns out that it takes more than a catnap to recover from two weeks' worth of life-threatening insomnia, coupled with hallucinations of the Devil in every corner, hefty doses of street drugs followed by prescription drugs, and topped off with poorly-administered electroconvulsive therapy. It's not that Dean didn't know this, of course, he's not stupid or anything. It's just... well, he thought maybe Cas had fixed all of Sam when he—shifted— the crazy out of Sam's brain. The way he used to: two fingers and suddenly cuts would close up, bruises would fade away, bones would knit together.
This time, though, Sam's still a mess when they get out of the hospital. He puts on a brave face—same old Sammy, always lying when it won't do anyone any good at all—and puts on his clothes with fingers that tremble a little too hard for him to manage buttons or even zippers all that well, follows Dean out through the winding hallways. He even manages to protest about leaving Cas there—and fuck if that doesn't make Dean want to put his hand through the nearest wall, because he doesn't want to leave Cas there, either. It fucking figures—he gets Cas back only to lose him again, and this time he doesn't even have his stupid trench coat to serve as a reminder of him, always present in the back of the car, comforting in the same way that Bobby's flask weighs as heavily in his pocket as if it was filled with lead. He shuts Sam down with a few well-rehearsed excuses, bullies him back to the car, and wishes not for the first time that he still had something, anything at all, left of his old life.
Sam wisely doesn't volunteer to drive, even if, now that he's gotten rid of the crazy, his gaze flicks questioningly at the flask in Dean's pocket before flicking away again. He sinks into the passenger seat, doesn't voice even a token protest when Dean reaches over and tilts the seat back as far as it will go, not that it's that far. He pulls off his jacket, balls it up between his head and shoulder, slumps against the window... and doesn't sleep. Dean bites his lip, puts in a tape and ejects it almost as fast when Sam flinches visibly at the beginning notes of 'Stairway to Heaven.' Fucking Lucifer, ruining everything good they've ever had. He fiddles with the radio, eventually comes across a country station playing something soft that even he can't really find fault with, hits the gas a little harder. About four miles in, Sam's breathing evens out, the last lines of tension leaving his face, and Dean breathes a sigh of relief.
It's never that easy, though. It only takes a handful of hours for him to start shifting uncomfortably in his seat, even though he's still asleep. Dean glances over, sees the flush that's already starting to rise in his cheeks, and swears under his breath. Sam starts a little when he reaches over and presses the back of his fingers to Sam's forehead.
"Go back to sleep, Sam."
Sam just squirms a little, twisting to look at him better. "What're you doing?"
"Checking if your brain is boiling in your head. How you feeling?"
Sam stops to consider that. "Okay, I think."
Dean snorts. "Define 'okay.'"
"Uh... I don't know," Sam confesses, scrubbing at one eye with a knuckle. "I can't figure it. I mean, I should feel bad, right? I have a broken rib, and it should hurt, even if it's been a week. And—and it does hurt. I can feel it does, but it doesn't hurt all that much, you know? I can't tell if it's just that it doesn't hurt, or if I'm like that idiot in the story who would hit himself over the head with a hammer because it felt good when he stopped."
Dean isn't sure he's following Sam's logic. "What?"
"I don't know," Sam groans, sliding back down in his seat. "Can't think straight."
"That's because you have a fever, genius. The minute we can, we're stopping."
He expects Sam to say something, but when he looks over, his brother's fast asleep again, eyes moving restlessly under his lids. Good, he thinks. The only thing better than a Sam who's alive to argue is a Sam who's alive but won't argue, even if it's because he's exhausted and sick. There's yet another cabin on the seemingly endless list of hidey-holes Bobby provided, back in the day, and thankfully it's only a couple of hours away.
It's not a complete shithole, either, Dean is pleased to see when he pulls up in front. According to the quick notes Bobby scribbled down, it even has a generator and functional plumbing. Dean glances at Sam, but he's still out for the count, just breathing a little hard because of the fever, so there's plenty of time to go and check the fuel levels in the generator—not great, but it'll do for a couple of days, more if they're careful and supplement a little from the car's tank if they get really desperate. Of course, he could just go and buy gas, but if he's honest with himself he doesn't like the idea of leaving Sam anymore than he's already had to in the last few days. It feels like they're always leaving each other, lately.
He does leave Sam asleep in the car while he opens up the cabin, airs it out, makes sure the battered mattress on the floor isn't covered in dust that'll screw up Sam's breathing. It's not perfect, but it'll do, and it's definitely better than where Sam's been staying up until now. Dean pulls open the car door, careful not to jostle his brother too badly, shakes him by the shoulder.
"C'mon, Sleeping Beauty. I need you to get up now. Just long enough to go in, and then you can lie right back down and sleep, I promise."
Sam rouses after a few seconds, blinks sleepily at him, then nods and pulls himself laboriously out of the car. Dean has to catch him and hold him up when his knees buckle, but after a minute or so Sam gets himself together enough to stumble right into the cabin where Dean steers him to the mattress that's shoved up against the wall and sits him down. It's a practical decision—it's easier for Sam to sit up against the wall, less likely that he'll roll clear out of the bed if he has a nightmare, not that there's far to go. His fingernails are a broken, lacerated mess, black and bloody and ragged. He's courting more infection this way, so Dean pulls out the first aid kit, props Sam up against the wall, ignoring the way his head lolls to the side with exhaustion. Some of it isn't too bad, but he has to bite on the inside of his at Sam's whimpers when he's forced to yank the worst-looking nails right out of their beds.
"Sorry," he mutters. "Have to do it. You know that, right?"
Sam nods weakly. "I know. It's fine."
Dean finishes wrapping up his fingers, grabs the Tylenol out of the first aid kit, and tilts out twice the recommended dose into the palm of Sam's hand. "Bottom's up. We just got your brain fixed, I'm not letting you toast it less than 24 hours after, you go it?"
Sam's already listing against the wall, and it takes less than a minute for him to settle back down on the mattress, eyes slipping shut. At least he's asleep, Dean consoles himself, even if he is feverish and out of it. He's not delirious, or talking to Lucifer, or crazy in any way that Dean can tell, so that's a bonus. He tugs off Sam's jacket, pulls the sheet up over his shoulders, brushes his fingers against his face, stubble rough on his skin. The Tylenol won't take effect for a while, but there's exactly nothing he wants to do except sit right here and wait all of this out. He pulls Bobby's flask out of his pocket, sits against the wall and rests one hand on Sam's shoulder, fingers brushing against the skin of his neck. There's a TV on the floor a few feet away, and after a bit of fiddling he comes across Enciende Mi Passión, and a smile spreads over his face. The last time he watched this, he and Sam and Bobby were all still together in Montana.
Raul is about to declare his undying love for Estrellita while holding Andres at gunpoint when there's a sudden crash from outside. Sam stirs next to him with a quiet moan but doesn't wake fully, subsides again when Dean smooths a hand over his forehead. Dean scrambles to his feet just as the door to the cabin bursts open and the television shuts off in a burst of sparks, reaching for his gun, but he drops his hand almost immediately when he sees exactly who it is silhouetted in the doorway, his heart leaping into his throat.
"Oh my God, Cas!"
Cas is back in his filthy trench coat over the ridiculous grey pants and fuzzy sweater-thing that Dean doesn't even know the name for. He looks bad, pale and drawn, but his eyes are clear when he looks at Dean. Dean's over at his side in a flash, patting him down in an almost instinctive search for hidden injuries. Cas grins at him, the effect a little odd in the now-dark cabin. Dean doesn't remember the last time he saw the angel actually smile, and his chest aches at the thought.
"What the hell, Cas? Why aren't you at the hospital?"
"I left," Cas staggers a bit, grabs hold of Dean's shoulder a little painfully until he regains his balance.
"I can see that, jackass. Why did you leave?"
"There were demons there, Dean," Cas tells him earnestly. "Meg... and others. They were everywhere. I couldn't stay. And... and I wanted to see you."
The declaration shouldn't warm him the way it does. Dean finishes his pat-down, surveys the angel critically. "You don't seem nearly as crazy as when we left."
Cas glances away, looking uncomfortable for the first time. "Lucifer has no hold over me the way he does over Sam. I don't require food or sleep, so his—games—have little effect. It's not truly Lucifer, you understand. It was simply a manifestation of some of Sam's trauma. I can... put it aside, so to speak. It's not perfect, but I can handle it better than he can. Mostly," he adds, looking ruefully at the smoking remains of the television.
"You blew out the power." Dean doesn't intend it as a question, but Cas takes it as one anyway.
"I apologise. I'm still getting used to the additional strain. I attempted to fly here, and misjudged, well, everything."
Dean looks over his shoulder, but he can't make out Sam's shape amid the shadows anymore. "Yeah, okay. Um. Look, take that off," he tugs at the coat. "It's filthy and, no offense, it smells bad. We'll get it dry-cleaned later or something, okay? Come inside, and at least shut the door before we all die of hypothermia."
"I don't feel the cold," Cas informs him even as he closes the door and sheds his coat. He looks odd without it, dressed in Emmanuel's old clothes. Dean wonders with a small pang of guilt if Cas even bothered to go back to Emmanuel's wife, explain things to her, or if she's still in the dark, still thinks her husband is going to come home at the end of all this.
"I know, I know," Dean rolls his eyes, but he can't help the smile that he feels spreading over his face at the evidence that Cas hasn't changed all that much after all. He eases himself back down onto the mattress to check on Sam, who hasn't so much as twitched the whole time.
Cas comes to kneel beside them both. "How is he?" he asks softly.
Dean shakes his head. "Sick. He spent ten days without sleeping, it's not something you really bounce back from in a day."
"I am sorry."
Dean bites his lip. "Yeah, I know you are. I don't suppose you can..."
Cas shakes his head. "I blew out all the electricity in this cabin just by landing nearby. I can't risk something as delicate as healing before I have more control. I'd probably kill him," he adds sadly, and Dean has to bite back the eight nasty things that pop unbidden into his head at that.
"What are you going to do now?"
"I don't know. I can't stay while I'm not in control—there's no telling what might happen. Maybe I'll go back to Heaven. It hasn't been so long. Maybe there's healing to be had, there." He doesn't sound convinced, like he's simply saying the words to reassure them all, himself included, but Dean nods anyway.
"Do you have to leave right now?"
"No. Not right now. I don't have to leave at all, if I don't want to. The beauty of free will..."
Sam shudders under Dean's hand, rouses a little when Dean smooths his hair away from his face, eyelashes fluttering. "Dean, what... Cas?" He tries to push himself upright, only to lose track of which arm is supposed to be doing what, and ends up simply turning over onto his back to look up at them both. "'s happening?"
"Cas is visiting," is what Dean settles on after a moment's reflection. "How you feeling, Sammy?"
"Cold. Why's Cas here? Why're you here?" Sam sounds bewildered, like the whole world has suddenly stopped making sense.
"It's all right, I won't be here long," Cas misinterprets what Sam is saying, as usual, and Sam's face crumples a bit.
"Is it me? Did I do something?" he turns to look at Dean for reassurance, for explanations. The more things change... Dean pats his arm.
"No, Sammy, you're fine. Cas is going to spend the night, aren't you, Cas? Seeing as how you blew out the power, the least you can do is stay here and help us keep warm."
Cas looks like he's hesitating, like he's planning to just poof away like he always does, but then his gaze lands on Sam, who looks like it's his birthday and Christmas come all at once, and Dean can see the moment in which his resolve falters.
"You stayin', Cas?" Sam murmurs. "Like before?"
'Before' feels like a thousand years ago. Before Sam went to Hell, before he lost his soul, before everyone they knew and loved was dead. 'Before' was when they all still had something, found something in each other they hadn't even realised was missing. Dean finds himself holding his breath, watching Cas.
Cas nods, but he doesn't move. So Dean reaches over with the hand that's not still resting on Sam's arm and pulls Cas over by his elbow. "C'mon, Cas. You promised."
Cas promised no such thing, but it's immaterial now. Besides, Cas owes them about a million times over, and so he lets Dean tip him over onto the bed even though he could easily have resisted. He puts out a hand to break his fall, lies down on Sam's other side, knowing better than to get between Dean and his brother right now. Sam moves back a little, settles against him with a small sigh, and for a second Dean is pretty sure that he's going to fly apart into a million tiny pieces because it's simply not possible for a single human be this happy and sad and terrified and elated all at once. Sam shivers, and that serves to snap him out of it.
"Gettin' there... cold, though." Sam's voice is soft, and he looks more relaxed now, maybe the fever receding a bit, or maybe it's just the effect of Cas' presence. To Dean's surprise, Sam reaches out with a bandaged hand to grasp his arm. "Don't leave."
Dean snorts. "You kidding? We just got here."
But he gets it. Sam hasn't been alone with his own thoughts for a long time, and it's hard to get used to the quiet, at first. He inches down on the mattress until they're lying side by side, feels the smile that hasn't left his face grow wider when Sam pulls at him insistently, and shoves himself right up against Sam, until he can feel the rise and fall of his ribcage. When he moves his arm up to wrap around Sam's waist, Cas has beaten him to the punch, and laces their fingers together, his skin soft under Dean's calloused palm.
"You sleeping yet, Cas?"
"I don't sleep."
Dean huffs a laugh, grateful that it's still warm in the cabin. "I don't think I'll ever get used to that."
"You should get some sleep as well," Cas tells him. "You must be exhausted."
"Sure. In a minute."
He doesn't sleep, though. Instead he lies back, relaxed and warm, listening to the sound of Sam and Cas breathing softly together in the dark, and keeps right on smiling.