Sam finds him in the bathroom. He's gotten so deeply distracted by his never ending search for answers to help Dean, and trusting that his brother was asleep that he's late by thirty minutes to check on him. When all he finds is an empty bed, he panics for a second before remembering that Dean couldn't have gone too far. If Sam has any comfort these days, it's that Dean isn't interested in wondering outside the bunker; so far.
He hears the sound of water and rushes down the hall only to find Dean, standing under the running shower, t-shirt and sweats drenched to the core. Sam steps in to close the tap, and then turns to Dean, who's staring blankly at the walls.
“You forgot to take your clothes off, dude.” Sam says, the joking tone falling flat in the silence between them. Dean doesn't react, doesn't even blink or look at him like he normally does.
Sam tries to not let it get to him. He fears that Dean is getting worse and saddens him that he can’t seem to find a way to get him out of this crap, and that shakes every fiber of his being. He takes a deep composing breath. “Okay. Let's get you into some dry clothes before you catch a cold.” Sam grabs him by the shoulders, Dean's like a puppet, lets himself be manhandled out of the shower and stands unmoving while Sam dries him up.
It's all so damn wrong. Dean is supposed to be movement and noise, not static and silence. Even in the past months leading up to this, Sam could see his brother changing under the influence of the Mark of Cain, he could still see Dean underneath it. Now, all that's left is a shell Sam's not sure he'll find a way to fill it again.
When Dean woke up as demon, it took Sam seconds to realize that the thing working with Crowley wasn't his brother. And he made the decision right there and then, to find a way to get the real Dean back. With Castiel's help, they came to the conclusion that trying out the demon cure was their best chance.
It worked, for the most part. Dean wasn't a demon anymore, but he wasn't himself either. Somewhere in between his brother got stuck and now it's Sam's job to pull him back.
He's not going to fail Dean again.
Sam pushes the hot bowl of tomato rice soup towards Dean. Dean looks down at the plate, then glances back up to him. Whatever happened in the shower is hopefully a one time episode.
“C'mon dude, just eat a little.” Sam urges, offering him the spoon and urgin him to take it.
Dean lets go of the spoon, and turns slowly to look at the wall.
Sam sighs. “Dean, you gotta eat.”
Dean pointedly ignores him.
“Just a couple of bites, that's it, promise.” Sam negotiates, trying to find a way to convince him.
If Sam can categorize the problems with Dean after the cure, he would say that this is the biggest one. He can deal with everything else, and knows that in time things will start to get better but Dean's lack of appetite is something serious. He has lost a few pounds already, and the last thing Sam wants is to lose his brother because he couldn't get him to eat.
Sam has tried to bribe him with cheeseburgers, every single kind of pie he could find, and even just sweets. But nothing, Dean just stares at the food as if he doesn't know what to do with it, and goes back to staring into space. Sam has tried to have patience, but it's been almost two weeks, and if Dean doesn't start eating soon...
Dean turns to look at him curiously, when Sam takes the spoon and deeps it in the soup. Sam brings the spoon to Dean's mouth. “One bite, that's all I am asking.” Dean frowns, and if Sam didn't know better, he'd think he's offended by being fed. Sam is running out of options here, so he taps the spoon against his brother's tight lipped mouth, coaxing him. Dean turns his head defiantly.
Sam's patience is running short. “Will you stop being a baby, and eat the fucking soup?” He feels bad as soon he says it but the guilt changes quickly to some sort of hope. Dean turns and with one smooth movement, sweeps the bowl off of the table angrily. The soup splashing all over the table and onto floor before the bowl smashes into pieces.
Sam's staring surprised at his brother, who stands up and marches out of the kitchen.
It's the most reaction Dean's had since they turned him back into a human.
Something pulls him out of sleep and Sam blinks at his clock with confusion. It's barely three in the morning and he's bone tired, he doesn’t want to be awake until the morning. Suddenly he hears it; Dean is screaming.
He's shoots out of the bed, and runs to Dean's room, crashing the door open. Dean is thrashing around on his bed, sheets tangling around his limbs as he fights whatever is the protagonist of his nightmare.
“Shit,” Sam huffs out as he approaches trying to avoid getting hit by the flying limbs. “Dean, wake up.”
Dean doesn't hear him, and Sam against his own instincts to stay back to not getting punched, takes hold of his arms to stop him. “Dean, you're having a nightmare. Wake up.” He orders this time, before kneeling on the bed to be closer.
Dean twitches, fighting Sam's hold. “Wake up buddy, you can do it.” Sam coaxes, over and over until Dean gasps, and he's blinking dazed and confused. “Alright, it's over now.”
Dean pants, sweat running down his face and neck, eyes still a bit unfocused. His deadly grip on Sam's shirt hasn't let up yet.
“Hey, it was just a nightmare, okay?” Sam assures with all the confidence he can muster to make Dean feel safe. “You're fine.”
Dean slowly comes back to reality. Sam can tell by the way he's more aware and his body starts relaxing completely. He stares at Sam with such clarity, that Sam's chest tightens with anticipation.
“Sammy,” Dean whispers.
“Hey,” Sam whispers back, hope blossoming in his soul.
And then it's gone. Whatever break through Dean just had, disappears like it was an illusion. Dean's hold goes limp, and he blinks blankly at Sam.
Sam exhales, defeated. He climbs to the other side of the bed, and gathers Dean into his arms. There is no way he's going to fall sleep in his own room worried that Dean might have another nightmare. As much Sam wants to avoid more pain for Dean, he can't help but think that the nightmares, the angry outburst, and then the clarity in which Dean said his name are clear signs of his brother getting better.
Dean is fighting through the fog to come back, and Sam will be there to pull him out.
After that night, Dean seems more aware. He walks around the bunker moving stuff aimlessly, and sometimes sits silently next to Sam while he does research. Sam finds him sleeping inside the Impala one afternoon, soft rock music coming out of the speakers. At night Dean drags Sam to his room. A clear sign that he doesn't want to sleep alone. Sam stops sleeping in his own bed after that and moves into Dean's room.
Dean has more nightmares, they come every single night now, and all Sam can do is to keep Dean from hurting himself while bringing him back to reality.
Which brings another problem that Sam didn't think he would have to worry about, until he finds Dean semiconscious, with an empty bottle of Jack spilled out on to the floor. Sam immediately worries about alcohol poisoning, along with the fact that Dean hasn't had any food in a while and freaks out. If his brother stupidly manages to accidentally snuff himself while Sam isn't looking, he's going to be fucking pissed.
They spend the night with Dean puking his guts out in the toilet, while Sam presses warm towels to the back of his neck, so his temperature won’t drop.
After that, Sam gets rid of every drop of alcohol he finds in the bunker while Dean is sleeping off the hangover.
Dean's clothes are hanging loose on him. Whenever Sam touches him, he can feel ribs and back bones under his fingers. As much progress he's made in the past few days, Dean's still not eating. And Sam is starting to really panic.
He doesn't get why Dean won't eat. Why he can now shower and change his clothes himself, but refuses to take one single bite of food.
It's fucking frustrating.
If Dean doesn't eat soon, Sam doesn't know what's he's going to do.
He watches apprehensively as Dean just stares at the cup of chicken broth in front of him.
“Dean, please.” Sam is not past begging at this point. The inability to save Dean is waring him to the bone. “A sip, I'm friggin' begging you here. Can you please just— I promise it tastes good.”
Dean blinks, but doesn't move.
Sam feels his resolve to be patient and caring teetering on the edge. Anger overflows inside of him, all the stress, sleepless nights and fear smashing together until he explodes. “Why are you doing this?” He bites out, colder than he should be, he's vibrating in his skin now. Dean's self-destructive behavior too much to bear. He stands up, and walks away because the urge to punch him, to shake Dean until that blank stare disappears is too strong and he doesn't want to hurt his brother. Dean has been hurt enough. “It's just a damn broth, why won't you eat it?” Dean doesn't even look at him. Sam bangs his hands on the stable, startling Dean. “Answer me goddammit!” He wants Dean to talk to him. He wants to hear his voice, his snarky comments and shit that Sam can never decide if he wants to smack him on the head for or laugh at. He misses his brother.
Dean's now looking at him, eyes big and sorta scared. It should make Sam stop his tirade, but he can't. The lid is open, and everything is just too much. He didn't go through trapping Dean and killing Crowley, then the painful demon curing process for this. He did it all because he wanted Dean back. Made sure that of all the times he had failed to save Dean in the past, this time was different. That when he got Dean back, he could proudly look him in the eyes because he go to be Dean's savior, not an angel, or vampire. But all Sam.
“I just don't know what to do here, Dean.” He paces. “What do you want me to do?”
Dean looks down, his shoulders drawn down. Defeat; that's all Sam has seen since Dean has been back. He thought Dean was fighting, but the reality is that Dean doesn't seem to have the strength to fight anymore. He has given up. He doesn't want to be here.
That realization is like a sucker punch to Sam's stomach. Because Dean has never been the one to give up. Even when Dean felt like there was no choice, he came back swinging. Sam could always count on that. He admired and when things were hard, took his strength from it.
“You want to die. Is that it?”
Dean still won't look at him.
Sam laughs humorlessly, carding his finger through his hair. He swallows down the tears knotting in his throat, and shakes his head. “Well, too bad.” Sam bends over the table. “I'm not letting you die. You hear me?” He rounds the table and sits down in front of Dean. “All that crap I said before about not saving you. About not giving up everything to keep you here with me, was a lie. I was angry, and I wanted— I don't know what I wanted anymore. But you need to believe me when I say I don't want to lose you.” Sam grabs Dean's shoulders. “Dean, look at me, please.”
Dean looks up reluctantly. “Whatever you did while you were a demon, we can fix it.” Dean swallows, his breath stuttering, and Sam knows he's starting to get to the core of the issue. “We can get pass it, Dean. Together. That's what we do right?” Dean closes his eyes, and when they open again they are shinning. “I need you to fight. I need you to not give up on me yet. I need you here. I'm begging you to do this for me. I can't do this without you.” Sam moves his hand to Dean's neck, just like he held him before he felt Dean's heart stop beating in that warehouse no many months ago. “Every time I had to keep going and you were gone nearly killed me. So please, please don't leave me again.”
Dean grabs Sam's wrists tightly, a tear falling from his eye. Sam gives him a quivery smile, and then drags him into a hug. He lets his own tears flow, as they hold each other, letting out everything that has been chocking the life out of him for over a year.
Sam starts to think for the first time in weeks, that they are going to be fine.
Sam tries to act nonchalant and not stare at Dean when he puts the bowl of soup in front of his brother, nestled in between the open books and magazines. He said his peace, gave Dean a choice, and now the ball is on his court. Sam tells himself that if Dean decides not to fight, he will respect that choice. That he won't do exactly what Dean did to him and what he tried to get Dean to understand so hard. Truly, he's not just going to sit down and take it, and man, that makes him the biggest hypocrite. But he can live it with it, as long Dean stays alive.
Dean stops flipping through the magazine, and stares pointedly at the soup. He glances up to Sam, who's keeping his own eyes on his book, but is coyly watching him. Sam doesn't move a muscle, doesn't dare to even breathe, when Dean takes the spoon and slowly, painfully slowly, takes a bite of soup. Sam almost bursts into tears, but he controls himself, and doesn't make a big deal out of it to not spook Dean.
Dean takes another bite, and another, until he's had five bites and puts the spoon down, pushing the bowl away. It's not nearly enough, but it's a start and Sam has coaxed enough. Sam takes the bowl back to the kitchen, and when he comes back he grabs Dean's face and kisses him right on the lips.
“Thank you,” it's all he says, before sitting back on his chair and start reading again.
He doesn't miss Dean's responding soft grin.
It's a long process to get your body back to liking food. The first couple of days, anything Dean eats ends up in the toilet. His stomach cramps so painfully, it has him whining and sweating on the bathroom floor, and Sam wincing in sympathy. But he keeps eating, until it doesn't hurt anymore. Until he isn't so tired all he can do is sleep or sit on a chair. Until his muscles start to fill out again.
Dean still doesn't say much—just Sam's name and monosyllables, but Sam is okay with that. The biggest battle has been won, and he can wait until Dean comes back to being completely himself. But even if he doesn't, if this is the brother Sam gets to keep, he's just glad that Dean is alive and with him.