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Take your Time

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Sleep deprivation is more than just being tired. Body tremors, hypersensitive nerves, and mood swings are a big part of it. 

S07E16


 

 

It happened a few months ago. He thinks. Sometimes, in moments like these where they’ve parked at a gas station for grub and a pee, and he’s staring out the car window when he remembers – oh yeah. Bobby’s gone. But then he has to think about it. Is he dead? Was that a hallucination too? A bad dream?

But there’s Dean. Uptight, and guilty, and skittering about from job, to job, to tip from Frank that sometimes turns out to be nothing – stiff and flustered and sneaking an extra bottle any chance he gets. Sam doesn’t stop him – not all the time. He gets it.

He remembered Bobby dying, and he hated to admit to himself but Bobby dying was the only piece of reality he could hold on to at that moment. And it was real. He had to remind himself sometimes, that’s all.

More coffee?” Dean asked, crawling back into the driver’s seat. “Better not be one of them… triple red- whatevers you get whenever you do one of those multi-day study crunches.”

It was. Sam just smiled ruefully, taking a long dreg as they pulled out of the Kasey’s gas station and back on the road. The sun was low, and the road was mostly empty. Corn and wheat patterned the land on both sides, interrupted by barns, signs, and trees every couple of miles. Dean passed his brother a couple glances before snatching at his cup.

“Wh- Dean…

“Come on, man – seriously.” Dean said, taking a whiff of it and grimacing. He rolled down the window.

“Dean – ”

And tossed it out. Sam threw his head back with a sigh.

“At least try to sleep. Here – ” Dean said and began to tune the radio. “It’s still a couple hours yet to Franks. I want you to relax,”

“Dean…”

“And take it easy as best you can until we get there.” Dean finally stopped on some soft rock -  Heart’s Alone filling the truck with a soft, soulful beat.

Sam sighed with a grimace on his face, the mere idea churning his stomach. He felt that any minute now, Lucifer was going to pop in with some dreadful comment that’s going to set his teeth on edge. He shifted.

He jerked when something nudged his arm – pulse immediately spiking, but it was just Dean handing him his jacket. He gave a deep sigh and dug a thumb into his fidgety hand.

“Pillow. Sleep.” Dean grunted, shoving it in his lap before twisting to open the small window behind them, rummaging for the blanket that sat in their small tool box in the bed of the truck. Sam rolled the jacket up despite how he was feeling. Maybe just to humor his brother, or maybe because he didn’t know what else to do, but he tucked the jacket between his head and the cold window anyway.

How sweet…” 

There he is. 

I used to give you my jacket when you were cold.” When Sam looked he saw Lucifer in the back, wind tussling his hair as he handed Dean the blanket he’d been reaching for. Sam knew that wasn’t right. But still – when Dean clumsily threw it over him, it felt itchy and tainted anyway. He took a forceful breath.

Well. I’d cover you with my wings. Same gesture. But comparing the wings of an arc angel to a musty, worn jacket? Which do you prefer, Sam?”

Sam squeezed his eyes shut and tried to ignore the tingle that went through his spine. Deep breaths…in and out. In… and out. He just focused on that. The truck rocked gently under him, and though it wasn’t the same as the Impala, it was still soothing. And despite his huge caffeine intake not twenty minutes ago, he felt his brain begin to swim just on the edges of consciousness. It took what felt like forever, but after a while he felt his body, almost as if he were detached from it, begin to loosen up.

It’s rude not to answer, Sammy.”

“Ah!” Sam jumped up, tossing his gaze to the backseat where Lucifer, grin split wide like the Cheshire cat, began to open his mouth wider. Wider. His vision was hazy and his ears began to ring as a dark, hairy mass came out of the angel’s throat like bile and it brayed the sound of a thousand roaring animals – the head of a goat emerged, eyes gold, horns gold, tongue long and dripping –

Sam!”

He choked on a gasp – a hand – Dean’s hand on his chest, no doubt feeling the erratic heartbeat there. Sam swallowed and gasped, tears pricking harshly at his eyes as he looked back one more time. Lucifer was gone… for now, and he shuddered out a breath, the tears falling as he blinked and rubbed furiously at his eyes, hoping Dean didn’t see them.

“…alright. You’re alright, Sammy, just take a breather.” Dean’s voice was low and calm, and Sam tried, but his throat and the space between his shoulder blades were suddenly aching – deeply. Phantom pains. They still happened, and they still sucked.

Dean was still talking at him, rubbing his arm soothingly until Sam nodded at him. Sam cleared his throat and turned his head purposefully towards the window. Dean watched him with that wide-eyed worry on his face, but quickly covered it up when Sam turned back.

“How long was I out?” He asked, voice wavering before he cleared his throat again. Dean glanced at him and shifted, clearing his throat as well. 

“’Bout five minutes.”

Sam busted out a laugh. It was a bit louder and went for a bit longer than was necessary, and Dean looked at him, this time unable to cover his worry as Sam wiped more tears out of his eyes. Laughing tears? Crying tears? Who knew at this point.

He giggled more, desperately, and then sniffed, and suddenly he felt like crying again. Instead he just rubbed a hand over his face and tried to hold himself together. 

“Sorry. Just tired.”

“Yeah I know.” Dean’s voice was thicker, but they both ignored it. They were about to fall into an awkward silence, but as usual – Dean to the rescue. “Listen,” he started. “We get this thing sorted out at Frank’s, then we take it easy at a nice motel.  I’ll get you some sleepin’ pills, some… I dunno. Socks full of rice, or herbal essence, or whatever hippy techniques people use to get you relaxed. Nothin else is happening until we get you at least an hour of sleep.”

Sam looked over at him, tired and hopeless, but grateful. And guilty. Dean shouldn’t have to deal with this.

“Okay?” Dean looked at him expectantly.

“It’s essential oils.” 

Huh?

“Essential oils, not herbal essence. That’s a shampoo.”

Dean snorted. “You would know that.”

They both smiled, though it didn’t last long. They then turned to look out their respective windows and eased into a semi-comfortable silence. Foreigner sang about love and desperation in the background.

 

 Art (C) Mushki

- - - 

 

Finding Frank’s place messed up like that was rough. But after rifling through and finding nothing worth salvaging, they realized there was nothing they could do. It was over. 

Instead of heading for a motel as planned, they took the extra day to retreat back to the safety of Rufus’ cabin. Sam was only able to catch a handful of naps with twenty minutes being the highest record, so by the time they actually made it there, little past two in the morning, they were both a little strung out.

“You could have let me driven some, Dean.” Sam mumbled, throwing the truck door open as soon as they stopped. Dean rolled his eyes and let his forehead fall on the steering wheel, exasperated. The truck rocked when Sam heaved both their duffels from the back and Dean took a long breath before following after him. 

Sam was already opening the door to the cabin when he got out, his movements twitchy and a little off. Dean took another much-needed moment to compose himself, rubbing his red rimmed eyes before grabbing the remaining grocery bags they’d picked up along the way, and heading in.

“Could you settle down a little?” Dean huffed when he saw Sam already unpacking with hasty, clumsy motions. “You’re driving me nuts here.”

Sam finally took a breath and looked at him before gently setting down the shotgun he’d been holding. He rubbed at his ear like he had an itch.

“Sorry.” He said, deliberately pulling out the salt canister and prying the lid open. Dean sighed and started putting their things in Rufus’ grimy refrigerator. When finished, he watched his brother salting windows for a minute, noting that Sam was still scratching at his ears, and jerking his head sometimes like he’d been doing the whole latter half of the trip. He’d already asked him about it on the drive and was assured that it was nothing. Which meant it was something Cage related probably.

He rubbed a hand down his face and doubled back to grab two beers from the refrigerator.

“Here,” Dean held one out for Sam as he moved to begin salting the door.

Sam raised a brow, but made the detour to take it anyway, twisting the cap off and taking a long swig right away. When he looked back at Dean, he was holding some sleeping pills out for him. He choked.

“Dude – ”

“What?”

“I can’t – I can’t have that now.” Sam said raising his beer, to which Dean gave his own raised brow.

“Can’t see why not.”

Sam gave him that signature bitch face.

“Fine! Whatever then. At least drink enough of those to get some sleep tonight – that’s all I care about.” Dean bitched and slammed the pill bottle on the table harshly as he turned away. The noise made Sam flinch, and he had to take a breath.

They were both long overdue for a nap.

Twenty minutes later when they’d both finished unpacking and warding the cabin, Sam was on his third beer and Dean was turning on the small box T.V. in the living room.

“You’re not going to bed?” Sam asked, hovering indecisively by the couch. 

“Just need the noise.” He mumbled back, voice already groggy with fatigue as he turned it to an old black and white rerun and settled on the couch with a blanket. Sam nodded and awkwardly moved to sit at the table. Then stopped, decided he didn’t want to sit, and turned towards the sink instead. He turned on the water to start doing dishes, but thought better of it and turned it back off.

“Sam – please, just…sit down.” Dean grumbled irritably, eyes closed. “Come watch Mister Ed with me.”

“You’re not even watching it.”

“Shh.”

Sam smiled wearily and looked around a bit. Scratching at his ear, he grabbed the half-empty six pack and took it with him to the large armchair by Dean’s feet. His leg wouldn’t stop fidgeting as he sat there.

“Dad used to watch this as a kid. I remember he used to put it on when we were real little.” Dean mumbled. “You were like. Two.”

“Hm.” Sam grunted back, and there was a bout of silence as Sam tried desperately to focus on the show. Ed the talking horse was flapping his lip off at Wilbur Post, but the words weren’t quite reaching Sam. The scratching in his ears hurt so much. It was like small mites were stuffed inside them, wriggling through to his brain. He saw shadows of them crawling on the floor, the ceiling, T.V., felt them on his arms and neck. He felt like his whole brain was made out of bugs.

“You used to like bugs when you were little, Sam.” Lucifer said, sitting on the arm of the couch near Dean’s head. He bit off the head of a cockroach, smacking his lips while the legs on the creature’s thorax flailed wildly. “You’d stuff them in your pockets and let them loose in the impala during one of your prank wars. You remember? You told me yourself – ”

“Hey, Dean.” Sam cut in, a bit loudly. “Did you know that the whole ‘putting peanut butter in Ed’s mouth to make him talk thing’ was a lie made up by the producers?”

Dean finally opened his eyes to give Sam the most tired and bewildered look. Sam continued.

“They used string at first and eventually the horse figured it out on his own and would do it when the actors stopped talking.”

How do you know that?” Dean asked exasperated, and let his head fall back down onto his pillow. Sam shrugged, still fidgeting.

“Dunno. Picked it up somewhere I guess.”

“Hm.”

Silence for about a minute.

“The horse’s real name was Bamboo Harvester.”

 “Sam.” Dean huffed in exhaustion. “Go to sleep, man. Please.”

Sam bit his cheeks and shifted more, bugs nipping at him. Lucifer was leaning over Dean’s head, running a single finger through his hair. Sam pointedly looked at the T.V. and worked on downing his fourth beer. A horse is a horse of course of course he couldn’t make Dean stay up with him. The bugs still scratched around, tearing holes through the wood and upholstery. It was like he was watching the whole house deteriorating.

“Oh, Sam. Sometimes you’re way to literal, even when you’re looking a metaphor straight in the face.” Lucifer said as he leaned over Dean, possessively. Seductively. He was right. But Sam had his eyes affixed to the screen. Had his thoughts directed as far from Lucifer as possible. People yakkity-yak a streak and waste your time of day. Especially Lucifer. Watch Ed the talking horse. Watch Mister Ed with me.

He opened his fifth beer. The credits rolled and another episode played. The holes scratched out by the bugs were oozing blood, falling thick like paint and pooling darkly on the floor. Dean was falling deeper into sleep and Lucifer had finally moved away from him. Moved to Sam. Leaned against his knees and they watched Mister Ed together. Another episode, another theme song with happy, distorted trumpets singing – go right to the source, he’ll give you the answer that you’ll endorse.

Sam opened his sixth. Dean was asleep and couldn’t see the giant red eyes that had come to peer though the holes, twitching and rotating and throbbing like exposed organs. Episode after episode played on loop, the theme song never ending now and Mister Ed’s voice had become a shriek, a high keen of course of course he hurt source the horse endorse the horse steady course to hell to damnation to home his voice is hoarse of course of course he deserved it of course unless the horse-

Sam jumped to his feet, pulling on his hair as he stumbled to the T.V. pawing at it until his hand found the power button, plunging the room in darkness. For a second it was silent, but then the song pushed out from the walls – humming crickets sang the Mister Ed song on ugly legs in ugly tunes shrieking and loud and over and over –

Sam didn’t realize he was out the door until he tripped over a log and fell into a pile of dewy ferns. But he was up in a flash, sprinting deeper into the brush. The air rapidly struck the back of his throat with sharp, dry cold – nearly hyperventilating. The cacophony of shrieking song faded further and further away. Further and further.

He was wheezing and sweating. He was running, and running, and running until he wasn’t. When his vision righted itself, he realized he was kneeling in a patch of thickets. As the ringing in his ears subsided, he realized that he couldn’t hear the song anymore.

He rubbed at his face as he struggled to breathe normally. Looking around, however, he realized he had no idea where he was. His breath hitched as he scrambled back up, looking around.

“Uh oh, Samuel.” Lucifer was leaning against a tree, looking at him as if he were a mouse in a maze.

“No.” Sam breathed. He didn’t recognize anything. He knew the woods around the cabin pretty well – it was protocol when hunkering down for a long amount of time, but what he saw was just a wall of trees – nothing standing out – all of it hemming him in.

“What di - why did I do that?” He knew better. He should know better. Why would he just run off into the woods like that?

"Um, because you’re crazy. Remember?” The devil chortled, picking at his nails and watching him through heavy eyelashes. Sam, legs weak, sat back against a tree. He put his face in his hands.

Breathe. Just breathe, you’ll figure it out. Dean will find me in the morning.

“You really wanna put that on Dean?”

“No,” he said aloud. His head was beginning to pound painfully, and he wasn’t sure if it was from his heart hammering or his hitched breathing.

He stood up, legs jello, and staggered back in the general direction he’d come. He hoped. Twigs snapped as the devil followed him, and he dared not turn around now.

Walking, and walking, and sometimes jogging, he finally came up on something familiar. Not familiar as in he’d seen this exact thing. It wasn’t the cabin or any landmark he recognized. It was a train track.

"All abooooaaaard! Hahahaha!!”

Lucifer started to badly perform an aclapella version Ozzy Ozborn’s Crazy Train, air guitar in full force. Sam just closed his eyes. After a deep breath, he picked up his pace and jogged along the tracks. Just praying that they’d lead him somewhere Dean could find him.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It was strange to suddenly remember a whole millennium of life when you previously only remembered the last few months. It was overwhelming – like filling a snail’s shell with the body of a horse. But he was a celestial entity. The memories pained him, but it was only a mild grievance to expand his mind to where he could remember it all and put every piece in its right time. But Sam.

            Oh, Sam.

            When Castiel pressed his fingers to Sam’s brow he felt the thrashing horror there. Swelling out from Sam’s skull – like a swarm of wasps breaking out of the hive, darkening the sky, never ending. He felt the magnitude of two lifetimes stuffed into one. All of it screaming at him all at the same time, trying to pack millions of hours into one. Nothing was chronological. It was all now.

            It had broken Sam.

            Cas drew back; the very human feeling of his stomach dropping shook him.

            “You’re not real…” Sam said and rolled his head.

            Dread. The feeling was dread.

            It was too much to hope that by saving Sam he could redeem himself to the brothers. With how bad it looked, Sam would likely die in a day or so. And it would be because of Cas. Not just his fault, but because of him. He’d done this to him. He’d kill the man Dean had sworn to protect, and by proxy a man whom Cas had sworn to protect. He’d kill Sam Winchester.

            Cas wondered if there was something else he could do, but his mind had gone completely white. Like an echo, his sin bounded off the far reaches of his mind, filling him with noise. He couldn’t think past his failures anymore. He needed Dean to tell him what to do. He would think of something.

            Dean. What would he tell him? White. Blank. He couldn’t think of any solutions there either.

            All he could do was wheel Sam back to his brother, head low.

            He left the burned-out vessel on the floor of the hospital and pushed Sam’s gurney into a hallway. He would not normally leave a body in a situation like this with so many civilians about. But just before he flew in to see Sam, he had caught the back end of Meg offering to clean up. She would likely buy them enough time to leave the hospital.

            He followed the signs that seemed correct and eventually found himself carting Sam down a long hallway. Nurses swept past him and patients in white looked on from their rooms – the drama of the staff being their only source of entertainment.

            At the end of the hall was Dean and a shorter man in a long white coat. They both jogged over when they spotted him. Dean didn’t look at Cas but went straight for his brother, dropping a hand to Sam’s shoulder.

            “Sam?” Dean shook him eagerly, but Sam rolled his head and hitched his breath, squirming and muttering in distress until Dean drew back. “Sam it’s me…”

            “He can’t see you.” Cas said. Dean glanced at him and he could feel the cold anger there. Cas looked away. The other man, Cas assumed was the doctor, had nudged them both away to look over Sam. The doctor pulled out a pen light and tried to get his patient to look at him but Sam wouldn’t cooperate. He prodded at his pulse and the new marks on his brow from the electroshock machine. Sam began to hyperventilate, kicking and pulling against his restraints.

            “I’ll need to give him a sedative so I can get a better look at him.” The doctor said as he moved to the head of the gurney. “Wait here for a moment. We’ll be back.”

            They both watched as Sam was wheeled away, his head still rocking back and forth, until he rounded a corner and was gone. Cas didn’t look at Dean, but he felt his eyes on him. Finally, Dean huffed and moved down the hall. Cas followed at a distance.

           

They looked at Sam from the doorway. The sedatives didn’t put him to sleep, but they calmed him enough for the doctors to take the restraints off. Sam’s eyes roamed around the room. Cas didn’t know what exactly he was seeing but he could feel the quaking, tired insanity filling the room with a hazy vibration. It’s all waves.

            “So you’re saying there’s nothing?” Dean’s voice was thicker “He’s going to be like this until his candle blows out?”

            “…I’m sorry.” Cas said. “This isn’t a problem I can make disappear. You know that.”

            “But you can’t do anything?” Dean pushed off from the wall and gestured with his arms – jerky, tight. “You can’t…fix anything? You can’t even put him to sleep? Help him feel better?”

            Cas looked down, quiet. Dean breathed in, clenching his fists.

            “You did this to him, Cas.” Dean nearly grabbed him but managed to keep his fists wound in. His voice was a harsh, forced whisper to keep himself from flat out yelling. “You owe it to him to do something. Anything.”

            Dean watched him, and Cas didn’t need to see his trembling shoulders to feel the anger rolling off him. The angel was silent a minute longer before straightening.

            “I can… heal his physical ailments.” Cas said, avoiding Dean’s eyes by looking at Sam. “It’s not a guarantee, but I may be able to put him to sleep. However…” He glanced up at Dean and paused when he saw his eyes.

            “The process you’re suggesting might not work. It might only prolong his suffering...”

            “No.” Dean punched out and Cas just nodded. He was expecting that. Cas himself was partial to the idea of mercy, even if it meant death. But he knew that Dean would never accept that – not for Sam.

            Cas moved to Sam’s bed and sat on the edge of it. Sam flinched at the movement and looked at him, moving closer to the headboard in weary shifting motions.

            “Sam, I know you’re not seeing me right now.” Cas lifted his hand slowly so Sam could see. “I’m going to touch you so I can heal you. Is that alright?”

            Sam didn’t answer but looked at him sidelong like an animal tensing to flee. Dean came over to the other side of the bed watching with those harsh, calculating eyes of his.

            “Just do it, Cas.”

            The angel sighed and reached forward, pressing his fingers to Sam’s chest. The younger Winchester squirmed and moved to shove Cas’ hand away, but stopped as the healing began.

            Human bodies were all different, but they all functioned on the same principals. Healing a body was never an issue. He’d restored Dean’s body after four months of decomposition, pulling his atoms from the worms that had been eating at him. He’d done more impressive things eons past in the times of titans and gods.  

            He drew his hand back having restored Sam’s body completely. His kidneys were functioning again, his blood pressure was back to normal, and he balanced out Sam’s chemicals and hormones – though he could tell that they were already starting to fluctuate again. He’d even strengthened his nails and hair follicles. He took care not to leave anything out.  

            Sam let out a grunt that sounded like a question and started rubbing at his arms. Then his bandaged hand. Digging at it.

            “Alright, Sam.” Cas scooted a bit closer. He felt…nervous. Or perhaps trepidation was the right word. “I’m going to try and put you to sleep now. Please try to relax.”

            With that he reached out his fingers, but Sam immediately slapped his hand away, scrambling up against the headboard.

            “Hey, easy Sammy.” Dean put a hand on his chest, but Sam swiped that away too. “It’s okay. It’s me.” Dean instead went for his wrists, gently this time. It took some wrangling, but Dean eventually got Sam’s wrists pinned down to the bed by his sides. Sam squeezed his eyes shut and breathed heavily through his nose.

            Cas tried again, pressing two fingers to his brow, and from there pressed in with his grace.

            Sam’s mind had always felt like a library to Cas. Vast but modest with vaulted ceilings and wide windows framing the forest view outside. Every wall was lined with books and a variety of old reliefs, paintings, and objects stemming from various cultures. There were cozy alcoves by the windows with plush sofas and emptied coffee mugs. Lush plants in the corners.

             It was a maze of books and various magical charms with the smell of gun oil, leather, and cinnamon. The air hummed soothingly with the sound of old tapes switching between hymnals and something Dean called ‘hair metal’.

            In every corner, something Other lurked like a shadow just out of sight. Cas suspected it had to do with Sam’s psychic abilities judging by the unnerving intelligence in the aura surrounding it. Watching, but not threatening. 

            But it was different now.  Entering Sam’s mind now was like jumping into a whirlwind. It was loud and wild; books flying off shelves, rot and termites tearing at the wood, charms burning, prayers playing on glitched loops in gritty, desperate voices. And all throughout was an ugly growth of some sort hanging from the ceiling, pushing through the floors, clinging to every surface. The growth was sharp and black and dripping, looking vaguely like iron wool soaked in oil and blood. It undulated and pulsed and sometimes thrashed out dangerously. It was Cas’ second time here today, and it still unnerved him

             Cas dodged around it all, moving through to the parts of Sam’s brain that controlled sleep. Putting a human to sleep was much like picking a lock. There were many mechanisms in the human brain that, when activated simultaneously, would cause sleep. Usually it took a fraction of a second to get it done. But all of the pieces of Sam’s mind were flung all over the place, replaced with that wire growth.

            Cas began pushing the wire away in one section but the wire scraped at him. With it came a memory. The image was fleeting but it was of Sam’s arms grappling blindly at bars. Something wet squelched in his ears and with it came a sick feeling of possessiveness and want and hunger – desperation pushed over the edge of sanity with a strangled wail. Cas shook his head and pushed it away, instead pressing his whole hand to Sam’s head. He barely realized that Sam had begun to thrash again, kicking out weakly as Dean held him down.

            He tried to organize the books on the shelves into the correct places, but with every book he’d put in place, two more would shoot back out. No matter what combination he tried, he couldn’t get them all into place at once.

            Moving to and fro only left him with more wounds and with each scratch an image or feeling was thrown into his head. Sam uncoiling his own intestines and leading them down own throat. Wires stretching skin, just the skin, into the shape of a grotesque eagle. A flash of grace so white and cold and powerful it seemed to suck the marrow from his bones, leaving him hollow. Tools thudding wetly on skin. The repetitive thought – he’s coming he’s coming he’s coming fear piled on like stones.

            Despite this Cas spread himself wide over Sam’s mind to reach all the pieces. But it was like trying to unfold his wings while trapped in a net of unbreakable thorns. He wriggled and pushed – images and sensations throbbing through his core, and he felt himself bleed somewhere deep down. But it didn’t matter. If he failed here with Sam… he’d have nothing left.  If he didn’t have the brothers and their forgiveness he didn’t know what he would do. He couldn’t atone for his sins without them.

            He focused his energy and then thrashed out harshly. He heard something snap, felt something break, but the wires surrounding him had loosened. He could reach. And after a bit of concentration, finally, the lock snapped into place.

            He huffed out a heavy breath and dropped his hand from Sam’s head. Sam’s chin fell to his chest and he breathed evenly now. His face was still a little tight but he was asleep.

            Strangely, Cas felt like sleeping too.

 

 

 

Dean watched Cas’ body slump as he took his hand away from Sam. He was shaking and breathing a little heavy. Dean felt a violent twist of vindication in his chest seeing him like that. He knew it was wrong but damn. This was the least Cas deserved.

            Dean put a hand over Sam’s pulse and leaned in to listen to his breathing.

            He was breathing a little shallow, but even. His pulse a little fast, but steady. Five minutes passed without a stir and Dean leaned back with a sigh.

            “Thank God.” He wiped a hand down his face to gear himself up. “Okay.”

            More gentle the he’d been in years probably, Dean slid his hands under Sam to move him. When he looked up, Cas was just sitting there on the bed, staring out the window.

            “Cas. Cas!” He hissed, jolting the angel out of his thoughts. “Get us a gurney, we’re gettin outta here.”

            Cas moved wordlessly and quickly, grabbing the one from the hallway while Dean shifted Sam as slowly as possible. If he accidently woke him up, Dean would be… oh so mad.

            The angel wheeled it over as Dean heaved Sam up, suddenly wobbling when Sam wasn’t as heavy as he expected. Sam’s size alone made him hard to lift but he had still lost a lot of weight, and Dean didn’t like that one bit. Dean moved to lie him out on the gurney.

            “Hey fellas!”

            “Holy FUCKing shit!” Dean hissed, dropping Sam heavier than he’d meant. He steadied Sam; watched him with bated breath. He was still asleep.

            Then he shot a glare at Meg in the doorway.

            “What’s with you guys and popping up like that? Use your damn legs!”

            “Hey, give a girl a break.” She shrugged, giving him that easy, nonchalant smile she always had. “You really wanna wait for me to walk all the way up here to tell you that the cops are coming?”

            Dean closed his eyes and set his jaw.

            “Your job was to – ”

            “I figured you didn’t want me gutting the gal who caught me either. So. Here we are.” She leaned back on her heels. Grinning. Like this was fun. Dean grit his teeth and made hasty movements to get behind Sam’s gurney. Castiel seemed dazed as he nudged him towards the door, and Meg didn’t seem hurried as he waved her out too. God – it was like herding cats.

            “You didn’t knock her out at least?” He hissed, pushing Sam out and looking both ways for Dr. Kandinsky. Seeing that he was gone, he ushered the party towards the main doors.

            “Oh I did,” Meg smiled. “But she’d already dialed the number and hung up, and you know what that means.” Dean huffed a breath out through his nose.

            “Just as long as we get outta here.” Dean grumbled, halting his words as they passed one of the nurses. She was turned and busy so she didn’t bother them, but there were so many people in the psyche ward all the time – even at this late hour. “You guys keep watch for anyone who might wanna stop us.”

            Meg sighed. “Whatever.”

            “Cas?” Dean turned his head to look at the angel who was following. Cas blinked a couple times.

            “Ah. Yes. Of course. I will keep an eye out.”

            “Don’t get too excited, Clarence.” Meg gave Cas a wry smile that could have been described as dazzling compared to her usual twisted and mischievous smirks.

            “I am not – ” Cas stopped himself from finishing, instead wiping a hand at his haggard eyes. Meg tilted her head at him as he moved towards the front, pushing through the security door and looking both ways.

            “Our feathery little friend seems more flighty than normal.” Meg observed with a questioning look towards Dean. The hunter ignored her, instead acting on Cas’ signal that they were clear and moving Sam through the doors towards the elevator. Looking around, he immediately felt better at the lack of staff in this section.

            “So what’re our covers?” Meg continued, winking at Castiel. “Think I can pass as your girlfriend?”

            Castiel made some barely audible, stuttered reply as Dean slapped the down button until the doors finally opened. With everyone inside, the oddly tropical elevator music came on and filled the silence.  They all fidgeted awkwardly, stuffed in there like that for a good five minutes.

            What is it about elevators that automatically made things so awful?

            Finally, the elevator dropped them off near the lobby, but Dean veered the party away from the front door further down the hallway.

            “One of the receptionists gave us a funny look.” Meg muttered as if personally offended. “I could go wipe that self-righteous Judge Judy look right off her plastic face.”

            “You already know you can’t.” Dean grumbled, as he followed the signs towards the ambulance bay where they had come in from. The rest of the trip was mostly silent with Cas at the front, alert but still somehow… off – Dean in the middle and Meg dragging her feet in the rear.

            Cas pulled up abruptly ahead, and Dean nearly knocked him over with Sam’s gurney. Before he could ask, he heard the stern, law-lingo voice of a cop up ahead.

            “When are cops ever that fast?” Dean growled, breaking out in a nervous sweat. He moved away from Sam to peer around the corner. Just outside the large double doors that read Ambulance Bay, three officers and a handful of medical staff chattered. Another cop pushed through the doors, breaking news that they had found five bodies just outside. The doctors stammered wide-eyed and pale while the officers muttered into their radios.

            “Now what?” Cas whispered beside him.

            Before he could answer, a frightened, questioning grunt sounded from behind them. The cops whipped their heads up and at the same time Dean whipped his head towards Sam, seeing him struggling. Meg, who was standing beside Sam, just shrugged.

            “Sam – shh!” Dean scrambled to him and took his shoulders.

            “No!” Sam said, weary but loud enough. Dean slapped his hand over Sam’s mouth, but that just caused him to cry out louder.

            “Dean, they’re coming.” Cas said ducking back behind the wall. “What do we do?”

            “Uhhh – kitchen! They always have a backdoor in the kitchen.” He waved the group back down the corridor. “Cas, help me with him.”

            He gestured for Cas to push while he continued trying to soothe his brother into silence. Though Sam pulled and muffled against his hand, he was for the most part easy to manage as they jogged down the hallway.

            “Meg – so help me, if you don’t start pulling your weight here I’m gonna – ”

            “Oh, shut it.” Meg chided wryly. “Just cause I’m a demon doesn’t mean I’m gonna weigh ya down.”

            “That’s totally what I expect from you based on my experience.” Dean grumbled.

            “Left up ahead.”

            Sure enough, the sign for the kitchen read left, so they took it.

            “It feels so nice to be needed.” She grinned, wiggling her shoulders playfully. Maybe seductively. Dean ignored her as they raced down the hallways, the sound of multiple clapping shoes definitely behind them. Sam was wheezing and shifting weakly. Dean hated to watch him like that. It made him angry.

            After a few more turns they were finally moving through the doors into the kitchen. Literally the only staff they had seen on this whole level was walking out with a late-night snack. Dean didn’t care at this point, but just nudged Cas to push Sam through.

            “Excuse us, sir.” The angel said as they pushed passed, ignoring his bewildered face.

            “Hey!” The male nurse acted just fast enough to grab Meg’s arm as she passed as well. But when the boys glanced back, Meg gave them a wicked smile.

            “Don’t worry boys, I’ll take care of this. Just keep an eye on halo boy for me.” She said. Behind her, beyond the nurse, Dean saw the group of cops finally round the corner towards them. Dean had no reason to argue and took that opportunity to get out.

            The night air struck them like cool water. Maybe it smelled like garbage thanks to the huge refuse bin nearby, but it was still refreshing. Behind them, Dean heard Meg and the cops throwing threats around so he knew they didn’t have much time.

            “Okay, help me get Sam.” Dean said, going for the restraints on his brother’s arms. Cas focused on his legs but just as he got one loose, Sam thrust his shoe right into Cas’ nose. Cas grunted, but was unfazed, grabbing both his legs as he struggled.

            “Sam, stop!” Dean tried, wrestling with Sam’s thrashing arms. He managed to haul Sam up to sit, with Cas holding his kicking legs down to the gurney.

            “No. No! Get off!” Sam yelled loud enough for the cops to hear, surely. They were so screwed. Dean again put his hand over Sam’s mouth, struggling to pin both of Sam’s arms behind his back. Sam was so weak but still so slippery. But he managed to pin Sam’s arms to his side with a forceful embrace, hand still stiff over Sam’s mouth. As he and Cas were moving Sam off the cot, his brother bit down hard on the palm of his hand.

            “Ow! Fuck – ” In his haste to pull away, Dean lost his hold on Sam and he went crashing down – cracking his skull on the pavement below. Then he was suddenly still. Dean winced just looking at him. His powerhouse of a brother, now so weak that a fall could knock him out like that. He hated it. Hated what his stupid memories were doing to him. What Cas had jump-started with his selfish, self-righteous power hunt. Hated it.  

            “Dean, we must hurry.” Cas said, stooping down to pick Sam up. Dean swatted his hands away and reached for Sam instead, pulling him over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry. With Sam situated, they quickly bolted towards the west side of the hospital where the impala was waiting beyond a curtain of thin forestry.

            Just as they got to the line of shrubbery, the back door opened with a loud bang, cops with guns drawn bursting out. Cas and Dean dropped, holding deathly still in the shadowy cover of the leaves. They watched as the cops flung flashlights around. Close behind came Meg, cuffed and being led by an officer outside. His voice was grating and loud as he demanded answers from her.

            Instead of answering, she scanned the tree line until she found them. Meeting Cas’ eyes, she gave him a wink before throwing a kick to the officer’s head, knocking him flat on his ass in a second. The whole back lot turned to chaos at that moment with guns firing and cops being tossed about like playthings.

            Dean bolted for the impala, Cas fast on his heels. They shouldered through the trees. Ran around streetlights through the dark until they met a hill. Scaling up it, they finally made it to the impala. Besides having to shoulder the awkward weight of his brother, the rest of the flight went off without a hitch. Cas opened the back door for Dean, the sounds of fighting still not too far off.

            Just as he tried to slide Sam into the back seat, he jolted awake, wriggling and moaning. Dean struggled to be gentle as he wrangled his weak brother into the car. Sam kicked and swatted the whole way, muttering no’s and don’ts wearily.

            “Take it easy, we’re almost there.” Dean said, his voice and expression tight as he guided Sam’s feet inside. Before he could wriggle out, Dean shut the door behind him. He huffed an exhausted breath.

            “Take care of Sam while I drive, alright?” Dean said, moving to the driver’s side. Cas nodded wordlessly and opened the other back door. He gently slid in, guiding Sam’s upper body up so he could put the hunter’s head in his lap.

            “It’s okay, Sam.” He said, gently stilling Sam’s struggles with strong hands. Then he put his fingers to his brow once more and concentrated, never taking his hand away.

            Under Cas’ influence, Sam slept the whole way home.

 

 

 

Sam woke to a dull pain in the back of his head and over his shoulders. It was cold and the air was humming. Buzzing in a way that made him feel like his surroundings were hollow, and that something outside this room was trying to suck away the last piece of reality that existed.

            Past the ringing there was a low murmuring of voices. He opened his eyes. Instead of the sterile-white ceiling tiles he was expecting, he saw wooden rafters and dust floating in from a window. He squinted his eyes at it, and he tried to backtrack but his head felt thick and watery. If he wasn’t in the hospital, then either Dean had saved him or he had died.

            Please let me be dead.

            But the murmuring came back to him, and it sounded like Dean. Maybe this was his heaven. But he didn’t think it should hurt to be here. Maybe this was his hell. Maybe – then a horrifying thought came to him.

            Maybe he died and went back to the cage.

            His mind suddenly kicked into overdrive – the buzzing intensifying. He turned his head and found the shape of Dean silhouetted by the light in the doorway. He was talking with another shape but Sam’s blurry vision couldn’t make it all out.

            “De…” It wheezed out in a whisper. It was hard to breathe. Sam cleared his throat. “Dean.”

            His brother turned to him and in a second he was by his side.

            “Sam, hey.” He put a hand on his shoulder. Sam’s panic spiked and he shifted back, but reached out for Dean’s jacket at the same time. He was so confused. He just needed Dean – the real Dean.

            “Where am I?” Sam asked, and Dean gave him a tight smile.

            “We’re back at the cabin – ”

            “No, where – ?” He cut off, heaving in a breath. He couldn’t breathe. His brain felt like static.

            “Sam?” Dean shook him, pushing the hair out of his face and trying to catch his eyes. “Sam, look at me!”

            “He’s having a panic attack.” A thick, gravelly voice. Then the second silhouette came up from behind Dean. Finally, he could make out who it was.

            “Cas?” Sam wheezed. Cas had an unfamiliar, haggard look to him, but it was definitely him. Now Sam knew something was wrong. Maybe he was alive and still hallucinating. Maybe he was in hell. But if he was in the cage…

            “Don’t.” Sam said, tears gathering in his eyes. “Don’t. I’m done. I’m done. Just don’t take their faces. Please – ”

            “Sam, it’s me. I promise it’s me, okay?” Dean grabbed his face, making him meet his eyes. “Stone number one, right?”

            Sam blinked, the tears falling against Dean’s palms. He didn’t know. He just didn’t know, and that was the worst part. He squeezed his eyes shut and just tried to breathe. He felt the bed shift as Cas sat down.

            “Sam.” Cas’ voice was full of sorrow, which was strange to Sam, and he didn’t quite know what to make of it. If it was a good sign or not. He didn’t know. The angel grabbed his wrist gently to get his attention.

            “I am so sorry I did this to you, Samuel.” The angel continued, and Sam met his haunted eyes. Dean glanced at Cas, body tense and cold towards him. It was a familiar look on an angry, protective Dean, but Sam was too scared of being tricked to believe it.

            “It was wrong what I did. And I can’t ask for forgiveness. But I’m going to make it right. I’m going to heal you.” The angel finished, gently cupping his hand in both of his. Sam looked at him in disbelief, still shaking and breathing heavily. He tried to move away from everyone touching him. Cas let go but Dean shifted his hands down to his shoulders and held firm.

            “I know you’re not thinking straight, Sammy. And Cas showing up doesn’t help. I thought he was dead too.” Dean’s face was sincere but strong, the same face he put on so many months ago in that warehouse. “But you gotta trust me right now. I’ll fill you in on how I found Cas a bit later. For now, just let us help you. Cas and I worked out a plan, and it’ll take some time, but you’ll get better. Okay?”

            Sam took a deep breath in. He was feeling a bit light headed, but Dean’s voice alone – in that tone he used when he was worried – it soothed him a small amount. He wiped away his tears with shaky hands and glanced between the two, unsure. He didn’t truly know who he was looking at, but he wanted so bad for it to be Dean. But he couldn’t just believe that this was real. Not in the state he was in.

            “No…” Sam’s voice was thick. “I don’t – I don’t know what’s real – ”

            “I know, Sammy. But you just gotta trust me on this one.”

            Sam shook his head. “I can’t – I can’t…” His breathing picked up again, and the dizzy haze in his head grew thicker.

            He was so tired. He just wanted to die. Sleep for a thousand years.

            “Hey – Sam. Sam, you gotta breathe.” Dean shook him gently. Sam’s eyes were rolling to the back of his head, the wind in his throat wheezing. At a loss, Dean looked to Cas.

            Cas met his eyes for a brief moment before nodding and extending his hand.

            “Sleep, Sam.” He said, furrowing his brow as he touched Sam. The youngest wriggled weakly, but after a minute or two, finally became slack under Cas’ bidding.

            The angel groaned, cupping his head with his hand. There were bags beginning to form under his eyes, and his posture had turned frumpy. Dean watched him, not a hint of sympathy on his face, but the worry for his brother still carried.

            “You gonna be able to keep doing that?” He asked. Cas was silent a moment before he nodded, making an effort to straighten into his usual, silently powerful posture.

            “Yes.” He said. “I must. I will be strong enough.”

 

             

Chapter Text

            Dean woke to Sam’s tired muttering. It was soft and far in-between so Dean didn’t feel too guilty for snoozing off his exhaustion instead of immediately going to him. But eventually that nervous hitch found its way into Sam’s voice and the blankets rustled with his shifting, and Dean knew he couldn’t stay in bed any longer.

            With a groan he pulled himself off the couch, looking over the back to see Sam flopping his arms tiredly. Cas was in a chair next to him, torso lain out on the bed nearly on top of Sam. The angel’s hand was over his brow.

            “Go back to sleep, Sam.” Cas muttered, sounding utterly exhausted. Dean knew angels didn’t sleep but Cas looked like he could drop off any second. Baggy eyes, heavy limbs, pale, clammy skin – the whole works.  

            This had been Cas’ practice over the last couple days. He could make Sam sleep, but it never lasted long. Not unless Cas was in constant contact. And Dean saw the drain it had on him.

            Though it felt so grossly right to see Cas working himself to death over this, this process had to stop. Eventually Cas wouldn’t be able to do it anymore, and where would that leave Sam?

            “Cas, it’s fine. Let him wake up.” He said, making it over to the sink to fill a glass of water.

            “He only slept for three hours.”

            “It’s fine. You need to recharge.” There was a pause before Cas finally dragged himself out of his chair and moved to the table. He crossed his arms and laid his head on them while Dean moved towards Sam.

            “This isn’t working.” Dean said, setting the glass of water on the window sill above Sam’s head and looking at him. Sam was shifting his heavy limbs, eyes screwed up tight and brows pinched. Dean frowned and turned back towards Cas. “We need to think of something else.”

            “I know.” Cas said. “I also need to cure his body today. His kidneys are starting to fail. Again.”

            Before Dean could think of what to say, he suddenly heard bare feet hitting the ground. He turned, seeing Sam with that same groggy grimace he had since he was three, standing and moving away from bed.

            “Hey, you don’t need to be up.” Dean gently grabbed his arm to lead him back to bed –

            Sam wrenched his arm away, slamming into the wall in a clumsy stagger. He leaned into it, legs shaking and chest heaving as he shied away from Dean. His face had turned fierce, teeth grinding, but he wouldn’t meet Dean’s eyes past his curtain of unruly hair. Dean held his hands up and frowned; the sight throwing a knife into his gut.

            “It’s just me.” He tried, but Sam didn’t respond. After a short moment of silence, Sam hesitantly slid away from him, watching him with a glare until he wobbled to the bathroom, closing the door behind himself.

            Dean rubbed his hands over his face, huffing out a tight breath. He shoved a chair away from the table with his foot and fell into it heavily.

            “What do we do, Cas?” He asked, holding his head in his palms. “I mean make him sleep, make him eat, sure. But that’s not helping whatever’s going on inside his head. It’s like he’s stuck there and I can’t – ” He cut himself off. He wasn’t going to share his stupid feelings with Cas. Instead, he moved his hands into his lap, picking at the peeling bandage on his palm from when Sam bit him.

            Cas studied him for a while with that open, unsure expression. Dean bristled and gave him a ‘what?’ sort of look. Cas looked away.

            “I have been attempting to talk with Sam in his head.” Cas startd, heaving his body away from the table to grab the med kit off the counter. “But I don’t believe I’m getting through to him. There are many problems we have to tackle, but one larger issue seems to be that his memories are not in the correct order. Probably due to the dichotomy of both his soul and his body being alive at once but separate. Not to mention the sheer amount of memories he has to deal with. Perhaps he would listen if you spoke to him.”

            “You mean, like, in his head? African dream root?” Dean asked, watching Cas riffle through and pick out an overly large band-aid, holding it out for him. Dean had told Cas not to waste his juice on him so he had instead been trying to play doctor. It was annoying, but Dean took the bandage anyway with a glare. He couldn’t help it.

            “Something like that, yes. It may even be safer than taking you to look at Sam’s mind raw, as you’d be entering his subconscious instead.” Cas paused as he put the med kit back and sat down again, his body moving slow and achy like an old man’s. “We can even attempt to work from both sides. I can enter his mind while you enter his subconscious. We can work together to help Sam put all the pieces back in their correct places.”

            Dean nodded as he peeled off the old band-aid and worked on applying the new one. “Let’s give it a shot, then. How do we coordinate something like that?”

            Cas paused to think about it. He rubbed his head tiredly. “Our chief concern is to convince Sam of what is real.”

            “I already tried that. It worked for a while, but…”

            “Then he needs to be reminded.” Said Cas. “It may behoove us to talk with…professionals who specialize in memory. I may be able to see the human mind in a way other humans cannot, but I do not claim to understand completely how they work.”

            Dean bit his cheek as he finished rubbing on the new band-aid.  

            “I don’t think anyone can help, Cas. It’s not like this is a normal thing people go in for, you know?”

            “Correct. But if we understood how the psyche worked, we could plan better.” Dean sighed and scratched a hand through his hair in answer.

            “Fine,” he said. “I’ll… do some research.”

            “I will find some resources for us as well.”

            “Good.” Dean said, shoving off his chair and going to the cupboards, pulling out a ziplock bag of dusty, dried roots. The silence was suddenly awkward.

            “Dean…” Cas started, but the hunter didn’t answer, pointedly pulling out a pot and dropping it under the faucet, punching the water on – shoulders tight as he set to work. Cas continued anyway.

            “Dean, I truly am sorry for – ”

            “Don’t.” He snapped, slamming one of the roots on the table. “If you’re sorry, then save Sam. Like you promised.” He cut into the root violently with one of Rufus’ dull kitchen knives. “I don’t wanna hear it, and I’m sure Sam doesn’t either. You just fucking fix it.”

            Cas watched Dean’s back as he worked, could feel the hate burning off of him. The angel sighed and nodded, dejected. He spoke despite his doubts.

            “I will.”

           

 

 

 

            Sam stepped out of the bathroom feeling a little better. The smell of thick blood and piss that had woken him up this morning left him nauseous, and the fuzzy shadows dancing in his vision hurt his brain. But a gag session over the toilet and a quick wash up somehow did wonders.

            It was still weird to think about though. In the cage, he never had to eat, or shit, or even breathe. He didn’t have a body there. Sometimes Lucifer would make him believe he did – to make him feel like he was starving or suffocating. But it was never real.

            Right now, all this basic human need stuff felt very real. It messed him up – his thoughts ping-ponging between ‘it always felt real in the moment’ and ‘if this is real then I’m being a huge ass to Dean right now’.  

            Stepping out, he found Dean at the stove boiling something with a sour, earthy smell. Cas was at the table holding his head. At his entrance, Dean turned to him and gave him a tight smile.

            “Feeling better?” He asked. Sam didn’t answer him. He hadn’t for the last… however long. Last time he started talking to Lucifer, things went to shit. Instead, he moved towards the front door, his body feeling heavy. He just needed some fresh air.

            “Hey, hey, where you going?” The sound of Dean’s footsteps behind him got his heart racing – his shoulders so tense they hurt. He scrambled for the door – pulling it open, but Dean’s hand reached around him and slammed it shut.

            “Sam – ”

            Sam thrashed, his elbow cracking against something hard, gaining him a brief second of relief for him to go for the door handle again. But Dean’s fists curled around his shirt and wrenched him away from the door, sending him stumbling into the armchair.

            Sam froze, looking between Dean and Cas.

            “Calm down, Sam! Jesus.” Dean grit, one hand out as he pinched the bridge of his bleeding nose. “You can go outside later, okay?” He continued, Sam squinted at him, the feeling of trepidation settling hard in his gut. Dean rubbed some blood off his nose, taking a moment to erase the irritation on his face. He sighed.

            “Listen.” Dean moved towards him, and Sam shifted warily. “I’m making some dream root juice. Gonna get in your head and help you figure this all out. So, I’m gonna need some of your hair, okay?”

            “Dean, don’t crowd him.” Cas’ voice reached Sam through the thundering in his ears. Dean paused and then stepped back, a wave of anger glossing over his features briefly. He still kept his body between Sam and the door. The distance didn’t help. Sam glared at Dean, watching him swallow.  

            “We’re doing this to help you, okay?” Dean said, gesturing slowly with his hands. “You believe that we’re helping you, right?”

            Sam worked his mouth and shook his head. He saw the tell-tale hopelessness flash across his brother’s face. Saw his jaw tightening and his shoulders squaring how they always did when he’s trying to be tough. For a second he swore he was looking at his brother – his real brother. But that was the problem. Lucifer was such a damn good liar.

            “Come on, Sam, don’t make me get the scissors.” Dean tried for levity, his smile weak and not anywhere close to his weary eyes. Sam shook his head firmly.

            “It won’t even hurt.” He said, inching closer. Sam realized the room was pulsing. His heart was thudding so fast he felt the room tilt. Sam tried to heave in a breath, hearing it whistle in his throat.

            “Sam, it’s just hair.” Dean’s voice took on a harsh tone. Sam shook his head again, gritting his teeth at him.

            “Let me play with your hair.”

            “What?” He couldn’t help as it slipped out.

            “Let me have it!” Dean suddenly lunged at him, but Sam got a knee between them and shoved him off.

            “You can’t say no to me.” Dean’s voice growled as the familiar high pitch of enochian struck through it. His lips were curled sharply, teeth bared to the gums – red and yellow and darkening. Everything was getting dark.

            “Don’t! Don’t say that!”

            “You’re my brother. I tell you what to do and you do it!” Dean lunged at him again, shoving him against the wall, but Sam thrashed, kicking wildly until he landed a solid hit on Dean’s shin. He let go – Sam ran – but a hook of an ankle sent him straight to the floor. Sharp floor – grated and suspended.

            Dean was on top of him, a great shadow spreading over him as Dean straddled his waist and tried to wrestle Sam’s wrists under his squeezing knees.

“Mine! My hair – my brother– my bitch – MINE!”

            Suddenly he noticed the things blotting out the light were Lucifer’s horrid black wings – stretching out from Dean’s back, long and ink-heavy and numerous, thrashing more like tentacles than wings. He saw goat horns growing like live vines from Dean’s head, curling over, piercing the back of his skull and shoving back out through his eyes – blood dripping like tears over a wide grin growing wider, unhinging, canines sharpening to long snake-like fangs and suddenly it was his face – his true face. Bright and marred and terrible.

            Lucifer’s other heads brayed and mocked and howled – all mouthing Mine. Mine. Mine, Mine.” like a mantra, like a lover’s whisper, full of pleasure and malice.  

            “No!” Sam begged, ragged. He heard footsteps as he thrashed and kicked, getting nowhere.

            Michael appeared from behind Lucifer. One hand on Lucifer’s shoulder, and the other reaching out towards him. Sam tried not to sob. It was the only time they ever got along was when they were ripping he and Adam to shreds.

            Michael was silent as he touched his brow. A blinding white met him – enochean screaming inside his brain and a bruising pressure building all around him and he hoped to God they weren’t going to touch his soul and he begged and begged and suddenly –

            – blank.

 

           

 

 

            Sam’s dreams were dark, but had dreamt. He could tell by the way he woke up. When he woke up it felt normal, like he had actually rested. Like it was a new day and not the constant moment after moment existence where numbers and constellations didn’t matter. Where dawn and dusk looked the same, day and night felt the same, and everything in-between happened all at once or never at all. He hadn’t had much time for dreaming lately – his body so starved for sleep that it couldn’t bother with complex brain functions.

            A new day.

            He didn’t remember what he dreamt about, but he woke up with an epiphany – a phrase hammered to the forefront of his mind like a beacon:

            He could breathe. Therefore, his body was real.  

            Normal, regular old breathing was definitely never a thing in the cage. Never. Asphyxiation sure was when Lucifer was feeling creative. But this constant normality of just breathing…

            Even when Lucifer was tricking him into hunger or exhaustion, he never got to satisfy those needs. It was just the hunger – never had he actually slept or ate in the cage. He was teased with food and sleep, but never got it. It had frustrated him to no end – knowing he didn’t actually need it but feeling starved anyway. Begging for things he didn’t need…having awful things shoved down his throat instead…it was humiliating.

            But right here, right now – his body was functioning like a normal, living body. More or less functioning anyway.  

            It could be a new development… if he really was in the cage Lucifer would know everything that happened to him topside. Maybe he thought it would be fun to try for real.

            But maybe this was real. Maybe he was alive and okay. Maybe Dean… maybe he had saved him.

            Sam didn’t realize his eyes were open until Dean suddenly filled the space above him.

            “Hey.” He said, voice tight but gentle as he sat on the edge of the bed. “How you doing?”

            Sam just stared. Something was different, but he couldn’t tell what.

            He didn’t realize he’d been crying either until Dean leaned over for a box of tissues, handing a couple over to him. Sam took them slowly, but couldn’t seem to do much else, so Dean took them back and methodically dabbed them away.

            Sam watched as Dean worked. After tossing the tissues away he took Sam’s left wrist, thumbing for a pulse and checking his watch. The bandages that had padded Sam’s arms had disappeared when he first awoke in the cabin. It was another point of confusion for him – the whole idea of Cas being alive. Having found him and healed him. It made the idea that he’d been saved all that much harder to believe.

            Sam raked in a forceful breath. He could breathe. That meant something, right?

            Dean’s hand settled on his chest. “Easy, Sam. Deep breaths.”

            Sam tried, eyes squeezing shut as he focused – throwing violent mental no’s at the encroaching feeling of panic crawling up his lungs. Dean’s thumb rubbed over his sternum.

            Sam opened his eyes and watched Dean with purpose. Watching as Dean scrutinized his pupils, palmed his brow for a temperature, rechecked his pulse at his throat. The way Dean moved methodically, the way he touched him with a firm gentleness, the shape of his eyes, sharp and analytical... Sam managed a deep, shuddering breath.

            “Dean…?” Sam asked and watched his brother’s face light up.

            “Yeah, it’s me.” He said, grinning. He looked like he wanted to ask something, but he cleared his throat instead and pulled a chair up next to his bed. “You, uh… you slept. On your own. For about…forty-five minutes.”

            Sam blinked at him. He knew that was supposed to be good news, but he didn’t feel anything.

            “…I did?” Was the response he landed on by chance. Dean leaned back in his chair, shooting for nonchalance and not quite getting there. His smile was nervous.

            “Yep. Me and Cas pulled some dream root on ya, remember?”

            Sam paused, thinking he might remember if he dug it up, but chose not to and just shook his head. Dean nodded and let the silence linger for a while before propping his feet up on the bed by Sam’s hip. He tapped his fingers on his knee, and Sam could feel his eyes on him, but he couldn’t raise his head to meet them. Sam started to fidget too.  Finally, Dean managed to clear his throat.

            “So, uh. How you doin’? On the whole,” he gestured, “reality scale.”

            Sam didn’t know why but the question made him even more nervous. He swallowed thickly, rubbing at his knuckles, thumb sliding over the faint scar on his hand. He wished the idea of pain as reality still worked for him. He had always needed pain – whether for atonement, or self-punishment, or just to make himself feel better. Pain had always been his go to, even before Lucifer.

            “I don’t…” He started, but saw disappointment ghost over Dean’s features and decided to stop. He didn’t know how to explain it anyway. He didn’t know if anyone could understand – not even his brother. They’d both been to Hell…yet their experiences were so vastly different. There was no one who could understand. He was alone in this.

            “Hey, don’t worry about it.” Dean nudged his hip with his foot. “We’re working on it.” Sam nodded, gazing at the dustlight floating above him. He started to feel trepidation coiling around him when he realized that Lucifer hadn’t shown up yet. And the thought of Dean in his head…

            “Do you remember…?” He asked. Dean furrowed his brows at him.

            “Your dream?” Dean clarified and Sam nodded. Dean scratched his head, pulling his feet back onto the floor. “Yeah. I mean. Not much happened, so.”

            “What did you see?” Sam pushed, suddenly filled with nerves as he propped up facing him. His shoulders started to hurt with the tenseness in them. His legs felt like they needed to run, his throat like it needed to shout. Dean noticed and gave him that look.

            “Like I said, not much. We just talked.”

            “Dean – ”  His stomach hurt.

            “I didn’t see anything crazy, alright? Is that what you’re worried about?”

            Sam glared at him, the tightness in his chest stalling for a moment. Too embarrassed to answer Dean directly, he crossed his legs and looked away. He felt itchy. Everything was wrong.

            “You sure?”

            “Yeah, Sam. I’m sure.”

            Sam took a breath before nodding. He suddenly scratched at his head which had begun to throb. Dean shifted as he watched from his seat.

            “Sam?”

            Sam shook his head, digging his fingers in further and tugging before running his hands down his face. He cleared his throat, about to voice how he was feeling buzzy, but when he rose his head he started, seeing a shadow in the corner.

            Lucifer stood leaning against the far corner of the living room near the T.V., half eclipsed by the sun coming in through the window behind him.  All Sam could see was his outline and the glint of his red eyes – a flash of white in his teeth that marked that quiet, thoughtful smirk of his. Examining. Calculating. Planning. God, he’d been there the whole time. Suddenly, Sam couldn’t breathe.

            He heard Dean’s voice in his ear but it sounded muffled. He tried to turn towards him, but Lucifer snapped, holding his attention. The devil gave him a smile all sugar and teeth when Sam jerked and began to tremble. Lucifer’s silhouette seemed to grow, his body bending like a shadow as it stretched onto the ceiling, coming towards him, arms raised, reaching.

            “My little vessel.” Lucifer’s voice was honey and thorns. “You don’t look so good. Let me help you.” His red eyes came closer, smile flashing in the darkness as the world turned black. “I will fix you. Mold you. Perfect you. All for me, Sammy-boy…”

           

                       

 

            Dean watched Sam’s eyes gloss over as he faded away. Desperate, he took Sam by the shoulders.

            “Hey – stay with me.” At his touch, Sam hissed and squirmed away.

              “Don’t touch me.” He grit out and scooted back towards the headboard, his eyes locked on the corner by the T.V. Dean watched crestfallen as Sam bent his knees up to his chest and turned his head into the corner of the wall, shaking his head no and muttering stop, stop, stop.

            He knew there was nothing he could do. Not for now. Touching only exacerbated Sam’s panic, and his voice wouldn’t reach him no matter how much he shouted. He just had to wait it out – just like all the other times.

            He watched Sam for a moment longer before he was finally able to pull himself away. He sat over at the kitchen table, picking an angle where he could still watch Sam in case he tried to bolt or hurt himself. To distract himself, he pulled Sam’s laptop off the counter and opened it up.

            They had been doing so good. He thought so anyway. He really thought they had gotten somewhere in Sam’s dream. And when he woke up with his eyes clear for the first time in what seemed like a month – his name on his lips so honest and hopeful…

            Dean shook his head. It was progress. It was better than before, and he had to hold on to that. He shouldn’t have expected everything to be fixed with one dream.

            His fingers were still on the keyboard as he stared blankly at the desktop wallpaper – a colorful, geometric looking pattern that was plain but nice. He thought about what he should do in the next dream he and Sam would share.

            Dean hadn’t been completely honest when he told Sam about his dream. He didn’t lie, exactly. He really didn’t see much and the only thing that actually happened was a conversation.

            But he had felt something. Their surroundings were dark and empty and it barely looked like there was any difference between the grassy surface they sat on and the space around them. Despite the emptiness, Dean had felt like there was something there in the darkness watching them. Something… something he couldn’t comprehend. Something grand and all-knowing and so powerful he felt like a speck of dust in its presence.

            For the first time in what felt like forever, he had been truly scared. Dean was tough – he wasn’t afraid of any monster. He had irrational fears. Abstract fears. Like heights and the thought of Sam dying – those where his fears.

            But he never got scared. Tremble like a kitten and piss your pants kind of scared. The kind of fear that turned you into an animal – no thought, to hope – just the primal need to survive the next couple seconds.

            In the context of that fear, Dean really couldn’t blame Sam for acting the way he did. In a way, the dream helped him a small measure too, like it had helped Sam. It gave him an answer for Sam’s behavior. It helped him understand, just a tiny bit.  

            He thought of the next times they would dream together, and he knew what he would work towards.

 

 

            Sam ran his hands through the soft grass he sat on. The world around him had changed over the last few days. Before it was flat and empty. Now there was a divide in the grass where he felt the gritty asphalt of the road, and stalling on the side of it was the impala. Beyond these details it was nothing but darkness for miles. Lucifer was beyond that, watching him always and Sam wondered what he was thinking. What kind of punishments he would come up with based on whatever he and Dean would talk about.

            He didn’t know how many dreams he’d had like this. Especially since he apparently didn’t remember half of them. In the morning Dean would try and remind him of their conversations and sometimes Sam would reciprocate. Sometimes he wasn’t sure who Dean was. Sometimes it would be Lucifer talking. Regardless, the moment Lucifer showed up was the moment he’d lose himself. He couldn’t trust his senses enough to be sure of what happened during those hours. His perceptions and the physical world didn’t seem to match up. Sometimes through the haze, he thought he heard Dean telling him to breathe.

            In a way, his dreams were the safest place for him right now, despite the fear so thick it made him nauseous. But here in these dreams Lucifer ultimately didn’t matter, because he had Dean. The most Dean Dean he’d been around in what seemed like forever.

            Every night, Dean would ask him questions and sometimes he had the strength to answer. He asked him to think about the short amount of time between him getting his soul back and the wall falling. Asked him to think about the difference between the cage and his time up here. It always came back to the simple things, like breathing and focusing on the physical. It was hard to do, but it was helpful.

            Sometimes Dean wouldn’t ask about the cage or anything like that at all. Sometimes they just talked about the good old times. About Vegas is 2003, or fourth of July 1994, or that time when they were teenagers and snuck into the town fair. Snatching tickets when the booth people weren’t looking and going on rides for the first time. The Fireball, and Tilt-o-Whirl, and even the goddamn Ferris Wheel.

            They talked and talked under the shadow of that deep fear encircling them. More often than not they trembled as they spoke, using words as their only defense. Sometimes Sam would reach for his shirt and he’d talk gripping him the whole time. Sometimes Sam was too choked to do anything, and Dean would reach out for him instead, sitting close like when they were little – real little. Like when Dean would read him bedtime stories.

            Tonight was a lot like those nights. He heard the familiar creak of the doors as Dean pushed out of the impala and walked towards him. He sat next to Sam, staring into the darkness with him. He was the only thing in color in a world full of grey – all brown and green and earthy. His scent not much different bar the smoky twinge of gun powder.

            This time, Dean didn’t say anything. Not a single thing. He just sat watching the darkness, watching Sam, shifting warily and rubbing his arms. Leaving Sam to think.

            And he thought. He thought a lot. He thought about Lucifer a lot – it was like he couldn’t help it. Lucifer had been the only thing that mattered for so long. He thought about all the things he did to him, and how during his early days dealing with the hallucinations, he had actually been grateful. He felt like he had atoned for the apocalypse. Like his condition was a mark of his penance.

            It was only when he began to question the reality of Dean did he start to feel resentment. How everything that had happened to him was just so wrong. How it wasn’t fair – but no. Sam knew it was fair. It was what he deserved, but he couldn’t help but hate what happened. Hate himself for letting that happen. How it had turned him into this burden for Dean – how he knew that one day he’d be like one of those human vegetables, doing absolutely nothing but drooling and shitting and he knew that even when he’d reach that point, Dean still wouldn’t let him go.

            He thought of Dean hiding away in Rufu’s cabin forever while the world fell away into chaos. Leviathans mowing down on the major population while Dean stood vigil over his bedside, taking care of him while Dean himself withered, going years unshaved, unbathed – dying.

            The image both of them dead on the same bed, becoming nothing but skeletons that no one would ever find because everyone else would be gone.

            Suddenly Dean’s knee nudged his own, and when he came to himself he realized he was trembling, furious tears dripping off his chin. He grit his teeth and jammed his thumb into his palm. Dean still didn’t say anything. He moved closer and wrapped an arm around his shoulder, just letting him sob into his neck. Sam let himself lose it.

            “Don’t – “ Sam hitched out. “Don’t you dare – remember this tom-morrow.”

            He felt Dean’s chest rumble as he laughed. Sam grinned back, rubbing his snotty nose off on Dean’s shirt. Dean didn’t comment on it. Kept up his vow of silence as Sam cycled between crying and collecting himself. Sometimes in a fit of anger, he’d find gravel rocks and chuck them violently into the void. Still, Dean didn’t do or say anything. He just let Sam feel and think, staying close for when Sam exhausted himself and flopped down beside him.

            And he faded away under the watchful eyes of his brother.

 

 

 

 

Dean checked the clock for the hundredth time that morning. It was three thirty-two. He’d woken up two hours ago with no memory of Sam’s dream. But he had a feeling there was a reason because he woke up weirdly optimistic. For the last two weeks he’d woken up with nothing but worry for Sam and irritation for Cas.

            But by the time he woke up today, Cas had already gone outside to recharge. During the day, he’d usually catch Cas from the window acting strangely. Catching bees and having full on conversations with birds. It was more unsettling than concerning to him. But the concern – damn him – was still somehow there. He did his best to ignore it and focus on Sam. Focus on trying to talk to him in the morning for as long as he could before he faded away again. Worked on feeding him and watching over him from a distance whenever he had one of his episodes.

            He got Sam to shave finally, though. And after that, it seemed like he wanted to shave obsessively – every day, even when he didn’t need it. Dean found other things to help distract him, not likening the idea of Sam alone in the bathroom with a razor. He let Sam help with the cooking and the housework, and he committed himself to each task seriously and silently. The distractions were as good for Sam as they were for Dean – giving him ample opportunity to continue his research while Sam stayed safely in sight.

            He glanced at the clock again. Four sixteen, and Sam was still asleep. Dean had been feeling increasingly giddy as the hours passed by while Sam slept through them. In the meantime, he sat at the kitchen table on Sam’s laptop, scrolling through tabs upon tabs about schizophrenia, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and a slew of other words that just made his head hurt. It had been Castiel’s idea, and he probably wouldn’t be here if not for his insistence.

            He needed to help Sam beyond just his dreams. But his brother wasn’t crazy. He wasn’t schizophrenic. It was so frustrating to know that no one could ever give him sound advice on something like this. Something that’s never happened before.

            And yet here he was. Trying to glean whatever he could to work into their little recovery program. Psychology just wasn’t his thing. This was supposed to be Sam’s thing.

            He was reading up on antipsychotics when he heard Sam call his name. When he looked up, Sam was shifting around, hair wild and sandy eyes squinting at his surroundings.

            Dean checked the clock one more time and balked.  Six in the morning. He grinned and pumped his fist silently, before taking long strides to Sam’s bed.

            “Sam – Sam!” Sam tried to bat him away sleepily, but Dean took his brother’s arm and shook him gently.

            “What?” Sam muttered, giving him half a bitch face and another bat to the arm.

            “Sam, you slept for five hours.”

            Sam stilled as he processed that, his face twisting around ten different emotions. Finally, he pushed himself up and stared at Dean, and he knew that look. His eyes searching and brow crinkled as he tried to find the truth – tried to figure out which reality he was going to believe.

            His breath began to hitch and Dean took a seat next to him and without thinking, put an arm around his shoulder. He nearly took it away, struck by how weird it was and that he would do it at all. They don’t usually touch. But when Sam leaned into it, he really didn’t have a choice in the matter.

            “Breathe, dude. You’re fine.”

            And Sam did, straightening his back and focusing. Dean gave him a pat while he waited for Sam’s breath to even out. It took a couple minutes.

            “Sam?” He asked, and Sam turned towards him with that big old grin, dimples flashing.

            “I slept for five hours.” His breath wheezed even as he said it, but it didn’t matter. Sam’s eyes were clear, his smile was open and honest and it told Dean everything he needed to hear.

            It would be okay.