Welcome back, Dean.
He'd never uttered any words with as much relief as what was carried in those. Saying them was like taking that first deep breath without realizing you had been holding it in the first place. On the one hand, it was awful. The same moment that Sam saw remembrance, guilt, and shame creep into his brother's face was the very moment he was almost overwhelmed with that relief and, very simply, joy. While he had been completely focused on the task of finding and saving his brother from himself, the endgame had been so uncertain and laced with the fear that he would have to do the unthinkable… It took everything in him not to throw himself at Dean while he was still tied to that damned chair. It was another pain entirely to see how broken Dean looked after his eyes had cleared and his memories obviously started to come back to him, but as far as Sam was concerned that was a broken they could fix. They would fix it, and they'd do it together. But right now, having his brother back was the only thing that mattered. It was the only thing his heart had room for.
Sam had refrained from squeezing the newly-returned life out of his big brother by getting down on his knees to gently untie the ropes around his ankles and wrists, and undo the handcuffs. Dean was completely worn out, and from the moment Sam had welcomed him back, he wouldn't meet his eyes. He let his head hang to the side, his eyes closed, panting with the exhaustion that was settling in as a result of the blood cure and God only knows what else. Castiel helped Sam get Dean up and out of the chair. Sam was still so happy to have his brother back he didn't blink at how lax Dean was, how easily he let them slide his arms over their shoulders and practically carry him that way back to his room.
They sat Dean down on the edge of his bed, Cas taking a thoughtful step back to give the Winchesters some space. Sam crouched down before his brother, whose hands were clasped together and languid between his knees. His face was still downturned. Sam steadied himself and reached out for his brother by resting the hand of his unslung arm on Dean's knee. Dean was quiet. Sam gave him a moment, and when he continued to say and do nothing, Sam gave Cas a weighty glance. Cas nodded curtly, understanding, and in a blink was gone. Sam turned his attention back to Dean.
"Hey, big brother," he barely breathed it. He let it sit there in the silence that followed, deep and loud throughout the halls of their stoney home, tried to let it say everything else that he wouldn't. Dean didn't show any signs of response except the telltale clench of the muscles in his jaw. "Dean, please…"
That particular plea in Sam's voice still trumped most everything. Dean let out small sigh and, resigned, looked at his brother. It was agony. Sam was looking up at him with those damned puppy dog eyes, saying nothing but shouting at him with concern and a multitude of other emotions of which Dean felt immeasurably unworthy.
"Sam, I… uh, look…" his voice cracked as he spoke, rough with weariness. "I know, uh… We have some catching up to do. But, uh, I can't… Any chance… we could do that a little later?"
Sam was wrestling internally with all his excitement at his brother's return and all the things he knew to be true, including that Dean needed rest, and probably some time to work through things on his own.
"Yeah, Dean, I-"
Sam was interrupted by a demanding, hollow growl that originated from Dean's stomach. The sound persisted, lengthening into something surprising, and Sam was looking at his brother with eyebrows raised. When it finally settled, Dean blinked back at Sam, equally surprised.
"I'm, I'm starving," he stated, startled. His hunger hit him hard and seemingly out of nowhere. It was as though all that time his soul was riding around in his body, twisted and inhuman, he'd never taken in anything worthwhile and suddenly his stomach, really alive again, was clawing at him with an emptiness he'd never felt before. "Sam, I'm starving."
"Yeah, all right," Sam smiled gladly at his brother as he stood. "Sit tight. I'll be right back."
Castiel was musing over the books on the table in the library when Sam was coming through.
"How's he doing?" Cas turned to Sam.
"He's, uh … He's still a little out of it, but better, I think. I mean, I think this whole thing—the blood cure, and the … all of it—really wrecked him, you know?"
"Yeah." Cas did know. With his grace restored he could see into Dean in ways a human like Sam could not conceive. He could see the damage.
"On the plus side, he's hungry again, so I'm just going to go pick him up a big ol' bag of crap food and stuff it in his face myself." Cas couldn't help but lift his lips in a smile at the sight of Sam then, grinning at the thought of force-feeding his brother burgers or pie or both, just glad to be together again. "You mind keeping an eye?"
"Yeah." Cas nodded, and Sam grabbed his coat from the back of his chair. "Sam?"
"You realize one problem is solved, but one still remains. Dean is no longer a demon, that's true. But the Mark of Cain… that, he still has. And sooner or later, that's going to be an issue." In his usual way, Cas did not hesitate to continue gravely. Sam didn't roll eyes as he might've been inclined to do, because of course Cas was right, but he did sigh before responding.
"You know what, Cas? I'm beat, man. One battle at a time, you know? So I'm just gonna go grab my brother some cholesterol. And then, I'm gonna get drunk." He nodded his eyes seriously at Cas and, with his one arm tucked close to his body in its sling, awkwardly slid into his jacket and walked pass the angel on his way out.
Sam was glad for the hardiness of the plastic bags by the time he got back to Dean's room. The strength of the handles was certainly being tested as the contents weighed them down considerably. Sam knew his brother, knew all of the things that he liked, and after everything wanted to give him lots to choose from and more than enough to fill him. He'd stopped and grabbed a few burgers covered with cheese, bacon and onions, onion rings, french fries, a variety of soft drinks, a sizeable pizza with all Dean's favourite toppings, and last but not least, a pie. Not just a slice from the convenience store either. There'd been a bakery on the main strip with a host of whole, freshly baked pies sitting in plain view in the window, and Sam couldn't resist. It was even still warm from the oven, steam forming condensation on the inside of the plastic container it was resting in.
Sam was balancing the drink tray precariously in his good hand, the same arm that was slung with the various plastic bags filled with food. He bent his knees to get his other hand down to the doorknob but then thought better of it, and paused with the rustle of the plastic bags coming to rest. He leaned in to the door and rapped the knuckles of his bad hand on the door.
"Dean?" He was clear but tentative, wondering if maybe in his absence his brother had succumbed to his exhaustion and fallen asleep. Instead, Sam was surprised by the door swinging open from the inside, and had to catch himself as he had more or less been leaning on it.
Dean was standing behind the door and, having shed his layers and denim in the interim, was now clad in his black t-shirt, boxers, and the Men of Letters housecoat he had claimed for his own what seemed like ages ago. He looked so haggard Sam couldn't help but furrow his brow as he took in the sight of him but Dean's face lit up like the 4th of July when his eyes fell on the bags his brother carried.
"Sammy! Thank god. I didn't think I was gonna make it," he enthusiastically grabbed the tray from Sam and shut the door behind his brother. Dean set the drinks down on his desk and Sam followed suit with the bags, awkwardly trying to slide them down and untangle the handles with just his good arm. Dean instinctively reached over to help him, holding his elbow still and taking the bags off his brother's arm with relative ease. Except that as he went to put the bags down, Dean faltered. A wave of fatigue and weakness hit him like punch to the gut and his left knee buckled, making him list over and slam his hand to the table to stop from falling, barely missing crushing the bag's contents underneath his palm.
"Woah, Dean," Sam grabbed at his brother with both hands. With his one arm restrained by the sling it meant he had stepped right up behind him, and was bracing his brother against his chest. "Let's get you sitting back down, okay?"
Dean started a groan as if in protest but his head was still swimming so it was cut short as he acquiesced, letting his younger, giant of a brother lean into him and steer him to his bed. Despite the sling, Sam had a strong grip on Dean and let him down as gently as he could. Dean was almost dead weight as he sat on the edge of the bed, still listing a little to the left.
"Hey, hey, hey, hold on," Sam nudged his leg against his brother's and supported him against his side with the sling, reaching with his free arm for the pillow on the far side of the bed so he could stack them and better prop Dean up on the headboard. Having placed the pillows as best he could singlehandedly, he returned all his attention to his brother. Dean didn't seem particularly conscious, swaying against his brother uneasily, his face tipped forward and his forehead resting on Sam's hip.
"Dean? Hey, c'mon," Sam was doing his best but with his one arm tied, it was pretty difficult to manhandle his big brother back on the bed without practically climbing on top of him. "Dean, you gotta help me out, buddy. C'mon."
Dean drowsily came to, lifting his head and trying to look at Sam through heavy eyelids. He groaned as he put his fists down into the mattress and pushed himself back, letting Sam's good arm help pull him, too. He tried to drag his legs up with him as he sat back, his head falling listlessly onto the pillow, eyes closing with the work, but they didn't seem to want to cooperate. Sam grabbed the corners of the robe one at a time with his free hand and used it to lift both of Dean's legs up onto the bed.
"Sammy, don't. I can manage…" He trailed off, unable to finish protesting, not seeming to realize the help was already past given and Sam was back at the desk, rummaging through the bags and pulling out the variety of sustenance from within.
"Dean, stay with me, buddy," Sam called over to him, still working to unpack the food. "What do you feel like, huh? Burger, pizza, pie? C'mon, pick something."
Dean peeked over at his brother with half-opened eyes, the aroma of the food in the room getting stronger as Sam freed it from the confines of its packaging and making it a little easier for him to stay awake.
"Did you say pie?" Dean smiled weakly and, waking somewhat, adjusted himself so he was seated more comfortably. Sam turned back to his brother, grinning wildly.
"Coming right up!"
Sam grabbed a butter knife off the table and roughly cut a frankly huge piece of the still-warm mixed berry pie. He scooped it pathetically onto a plate and it looked like more of a pie-crumble with all the broken pieces of crust jutting in every direction and the richly coloured filling oozing out, unrestrained. Of course, it didn't matter at all. It would be just what Dean needed.
Sam stood at his brother's side holding the plate of pie. Dean's eyes had closed again, his face was relaxed, his mouth parted slightly.
"Hey, Dean, c'mon," Sam sat on the edge of the bed, settling in facing his brother. Part of him wanted to let Dean sleep, but if those earlier growls were any indication, Dean would be in a bad way when he eventually woke up if he didn't at least try to eat something now.
"Sam?" Dean's eyes flicked open and it seemed like he had to take the moment to remind himself where he was. He saw the pie his brother was holding and the corner of his mouth curled up a little. "I'm sorry, Sam, I just… I'm uh, so tired, I don't know."
"It's okay, Dean. Just. You gotta eat, man. You gotta try. You'll be really in for it later if you dont." Sam held the plate and fork out to his brother patiently, looking between Dean's face, struggling to come to some semblance of alertness, and his hands, which still lay at his side, the fingers moving weakly. Sam didn't need to see Dean try and fail to know he wasn't present enough to do this. He pursed his lips and thought for only a second before making up his mind. Dean would be horrified but it had to be done. Besides, it's not like he could stop him…
Sam placed the plate of pie down on his own lap and, taking the fork in his good hand, managed to scrape up a conservative mouthful. He took a deep breath before lifting the fork and clearing his throat loudly.
"Dean? Dean… Open up, huh?" Sam waited with the forkful just in front of Dean's mouth, watching as his brother's eyes flashed open and found the offering there.
"Oh god, no. Nope, not happening. Give me the damn fork," he said it earnestly, so Sam waited. Dean did manage to lift his arm up almost all the way, but his hand was shaking pretty violently with the effort. He seemed to note it himself, because he looked at the pie, then back to Sam, and sighing, put his arm back down in absolute defeat. "If you tell anyone…"
Sam chuckled. "And who would I tell Dean? Just, shut up and eat."
Even though he was irritated at having to let Sam feed him, that first mouthful prompted such a satisfied groan from the elder Winchester that Sam had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.
"Sammy..." he mumbled as he ate. "This is good pie…" He could barely keep his mouth closed for the grin that was plastered on his face.
Sam beamed back at him, feeling better knowing he was getting some nourishment into his big brother. They sat together in silence after that. Dean kept his eyes closed, despite being obviously awake. Sam wasn't sure if it was on account of his being so tired or not wanting to have to watch Sam lift the fork to his lips, or both. It didn't matter. He wasn't putting up a fight. Sam wasn't sure if he was just so desperate that he was imagining it, but he could swear there was a little colour coming back to his brother's cheeks as the plate got closer and closer to empty.
As Sam sat with Dean, he couldn't help but think of all the times when they were growing up, and if he was being honest, even somewhat recently while he undertook the trials, when Dean had cared for him just the same. While it hadn't progressed to spoon feeding during the trials, Sam could easily think of half a dozen times when he was racked with some fever or flu and Dean, always fiercely protective, had tucked him in tightly, arms and all, and sitting on the bed just like this, fed him chicken soup. Sam gave Dean the last of the pie and set his arm back down in his lap, the fork on the well-cleaned plate. He watched his brother chew it slowly and down it, his head sinking a little deeper into the pillow. Sam let himself linger just a moment, holding onto those memories of him and Dean while he sat there, thinking of way back, when he was still so small that Dean would take away the empty bowl of soup but not before leaving an innocent kiss on his baby brother's forehead. Even though they'd been so young, Dean had always been so loving and attentive.
Dean felt the bed shift as his brother stood up. His eyes were still closed and he was far from being awake but he felt stronger already with a full stomach and the sweet taste of pie that lingered in his mouth.
"Thanks, Sammy..." he wasn't sure if he actually managed to say it aloud, or if he just thought he did. Then a moment or a lifetime later, he couldn't be sure, he felt the gentle pressure of lips pressed quickly to his temple, but he couldn't be sure if he dreamt that, too.