Sleep Debt
K Hanna Korossy

Dean was used to the hairpin curves of life. Really. One minute thinking they've won, the next, being torn apart by a hellhound. Dad talking to him all indestructible and healthy and then keeling over dead. Sam being soulless, comatose, dead in one breath, alive and well in the next.

But he was still having trouble wrapping his head around all this.

Twenty-four hours earlier, Cas was dead, Sam was circling the drain, and Dean had no more cards left up his sleeve. Then a tip sent him to the mysterious Emanuel, who turned out to be Cas—amnesiac and married—who said he could fix Sam. Meg came along for the ride, Cas got his memory back, and Sam got freakin' electroshock from a demon. Dean had nearly lost it when Cas rolled his brother in, still twitching and looking half-dead and totally checked out of reality. And that was before Cas said he couldn't fix him after all.

Then he did. Apparently by taking all of Sam's hell damage into himself, while Sam sat there gawping at both of them and asking if Cas was real.

Hey, at that point, Dean couldn't've sworn he himself was real.

He fell back on training, prioritizing. "Let me take a look at you," he said as he sat down on the edge of Sam's bed.

"But—"

"Sam."

Sam's eyes flicked over to Cas, still pressed against the wall. Dean didn't follow his gaze, not able to deal with that, too, at the moment. He watched Sam instead, soaking in the clarity in his brother's eyes, the awareness and the fading terror that had to some extent lurked constantly at the edges of Sam's expression since Cas had broken down his wall.

Sam looked back at him, still clearly confused and concerned, and Dean softened as he also saw the toll the past months and days had taken: the scattered mind and exhausted body, the lank hair and broken fingernails and bruised skin, the swimming eyes. Tank completely empty.

"It's—" Sam swallowed, eyes starting to overflow. "It's quiet." His smile barely got started before it crumpled.

Total exhaustion also messed with your emotions, Dean added to the list as he pulled Sam in for a hard embrace. Which didn't explain the sudden burn in his own eyes but, screw it, Sam had nearly died. Dean himself had almost lost hope, and he knew Sam had.

His brother was trembling, fatigue and fear and weakness piling up exponentially. He sagged heavily into Dean, hands plucking at Dean's jacket like he didn't know what to do.

But he didn't have to anymore. He'd kept fighting this long, and Dean could take it from here.

"I'll explain everything later, okay?" he murmured in Sam's ear. The kid was down at least a dozen pounds, between the toll fatigue had taken and the way Dean had seen hallucinations mess with Sam's meals. "Let's get you out of here."

An especially hard tremor went through the guy, and Dean pretended he didn't hear the sniff. Staring madness in the face earned you a free pass. At least for a little while.

He leaned back, patting Sam on the chest, then kinda holding him up as Sam slumped against his hand. "I'll get you some stuff to wear, okay?"

After a second, Sam nodded, gaze dull. Exhaustion, Dean reminded himself, nothing more. He nodded back, tapping Sam's cheek, then tilting his face up long enough that he could see Sam's eyes, see Sam looking back. It still felt like a miracle. He swallowed another lump in his throat and stood.

Cas had slid down to the floor, huddled against the wall. He wore the same haunted, vacant look Sam had been sporting the last stretch of days, and Dean's chest got even tighter at the sight. Cas had pretty much brought it on himself...but Dean hadn't wanted this. Relief and sorrow, satisfaction and guilt: he himself wasn't sure what he was feeling. Maybe all four were fair enough considering this very screwed-up roller coaster of a day. Dean clasped his old friend's shoulder briefly as he strode out.

He was pretty sure even he couldn't come up with a story to explain why his crazy brother was suddenly sane and another guy was crazy in his place. On the way back into the building, past the burned-out shells of the demon guards, Dean decided he wouldn't even try. Meg said she would keep an eye on Cas, and as creepy and bizarre as that was, he believed her. As for Sam, they would be checking out of Casa Loco the way they usually did from hospitals: without permission or anyone the wiser. Sam had been a voluntary admission; they probably wouldn't even look for him.

Not that Dean wouldn't be as far as humanly possible from this place by then.

He returned to find Sam was, unsurprisingly, flopped over on the bed, dozing. Cas hadn't budged. Dean's brain felt ready to explode, but he focused on one task at a time.

Waking Sam up enough that Dean didn't have to dress him. He'd had enough trauma that day.

Telling him—three times, since Sam's mind wasn't exactly firing on all cylinders—what the plan was.

Cajoling him into drinking down the bottle of water Dean had brought in with him, because dehydration was one of the easiest of Sam's issues to fix.

Regretfully slipping out Castiel's—Emanuel's—wallet, because he'd be safer as a John Doe. Cas didn't even blink.

"You want me to find a wheelchair?" he asked Sam as he tied the kid's shoes. Considering the state of Sam's fingernails, not to mention his total lack of fine motor coordination at the moment, Dean wasn't even going to give him a chance to try.

"What? No." Sam had roused from the activity, even though he still looked like he was coming off a week-long bender. "Just..."

Just turned out to be needing help to stand, then to find his balance, then to be pointed in the right direction. He walked stiffly on his own power, however, with the grim determination of someone who needed to find some measure of control after being helpless for so long. And Dean got that. Embraced it himself, because he could use a little normal in this whacked-out day.

In the hallway, a girl about a fourth of Sam's size appeared out of nowhere. Before Dean was even able to evaluate her as a threat, she nearly knocked Sam over with a quick hug. Dean moved to intervene, but she whispered a thank-you to Sam and hurried off as fast as she'd come.

Dean raised an eyebrow. "Friend of yours?" It just figured that half out of it and locked in a loony bin, Sam would still help somebody.

"Long story," Sam muttered, staring blankly after her until Dean nudged him into movement again.

He argued a little on the way to the car about leaving Cas there and partnering with Meg. But for once, Dean was the one with the sharper brain, and he bowled over Sam's protests. This was what needed to be done. This was, he sent a silent apology to Cas, what he'd hardly dared hope for, and Dean was grabbing it with both hands.

Sam was slumped against the door before Dean even turned over the motor. He was asleep by the time they reached the road.

And...breathe. Dean let out a lungful of air slowly, as if he hadn't been able to for days. It felt like it. Sam was... His gaze ping-ponged between the road and the sleeper. Sam was there, sane, recovering. Out of danger, if Cas did what Dean thought he did. And Cas was alive, and suffering.

A bubble of hysteria rose, and Dean rubbed a hand over his mouth, willing it down. Just another day in the life, right?

Sam sighed in his sleep, a sound of contentment. He was boneless in his seat, and Dean frowned as he considered broken ribs and cold glass. He'd been so focused on getting them away, he'd neglected to make sure they did it right. They weren't fleeing for their lives; he could take the time to make Sam comfortable. God knew the guy had earned it.

He pulled over and dug a blanket and pillow out of the trunk to make up a bed for Sam in the back. Sam was more out of it than in, but he obeyed simple directions: drank some more water, let Dean help him into the back, curled up with a moan and went back to sleep. Dean studied him a minute before getting into the car and driving on.

His brain ran like an overheated motor, from Cas dead to Sam dying to Cas alive and not remembering him to Sam sick but safe. He forced himself to focus with difficulty. Triage: one issue at a time. So, what did they need? A good bed for Sam. Lots of healthy food. Peace and comfort for a few days. Dean wrinkled his nose. A shower for Sam. Dean flipped through all the symptoms of sleep deprivation he'd researched the past week—constipation, memory issues, dizziness, undernourishment and dehydration, skin and nail and hair breakdown—and there wasn't anything he couldn't handle. He'd have to look up electroshock effects, but Sam seemed to have come through okay. And there were the original injuries from being hit by the car, busted ribs and bruises, but nothing outside their sandbox.

Fixable. Things Dean could fix. Ways he could mend his brother. His brother who'd been dying just hours before.

Dean turned the radio on low and focused on the music.

They were through Illinois and into Iowa before he finally took the exit for a small-town B&B. They'd only stopped once for gas and some soup for Sam, which he drank down half asleep before passing out again. While Dean felt safer with a whole state between them and the hospital, his vision was also starting to blur; Sam's sleeplessness had also been, to some extent, shared. It was time for them both to crash for a while.

"George Johnson" paid for the room, and considering the flowery mansion was neither the kind of place they usually frequented, nor in a town Dean had even heard of, he decided they'd be safe enough from Leviathan eyes for a few days. He muttered some story to the proprietor about his reporter buddy getting sick on the way to cover tornado damage in the Midwest, and parked the car under some trees in the back.

"C'mon, Sammy." He tried to peel Sam from the backseat, only to find that sleeping giants were hard to wake, let alone move. "Hey, Sam." He tapped his brother's face. "Wakey, wakey."

"Somnus," Sam muttered, digging himself deeper into the bedding.

Dean snorted. "Yeah, sleep. In a minute. First we gotta get to the beds."

"'M fine. Go'way." Sam pushed at him tiredly and rubbed his face into the pillow.

There were streaks of rusty red on Dean's hand from Sam's destroyed nails. Dean set his jaw. "You're gonna thank me for this later," he said, and dumped half a bottle of water on Sam's face.

Sam spluttered and coughed, swearing at him as he pushed up. He took a swing at Dean that Dean easily ducked, using the momentum to roll Sam out of the car. He was as steady as a two-legged stool, but he was up, still cursing Dean as Dean pointed them toward the room.

"Just a couple of stairs, then you can sleep all you want," he soothed. "Although, now that you're wet, maybe a shower first wouldn't hurt..."

"You suck." Sam had apparently run out of expletives, sounding all of three now, with the coordination to match. For all his combativeness, he was leaning heavily into Dean again, one hand clamped on his brother's arm.

"Yeah, I know." The bed really was awesome; Dean had checked it and turned it down before dumping their stuff in the room and going to get Sam. "You always were Grumpy McGrumperson when you were tired. Dad would make me put you to bed."

Sam muttered something Dean wasn't even sure made sense, but the muffled "jerk" at the end came through.

He eased Sam down on the mattress, onto his non-busted side, then moved down to his feet to pull off his boots. "We back to that, bitch?" he asked mildly, even as emotion ambushed him yet again, making his throat clench.

Sam sighed a "Thanks, 'ean," all apparently forgiven, and started snoring.

Shaking his head with a grin, Dean went back to work. Jeans off. Shirt stayed, but he managed to get Sam's jacket off with only one flinch in his sleep. Dean checked the ribs—taped and stable—and the bruises—plentiful but fading—and the improving dehydration. He debated putting in an IV and decided against it; Sam could be roused to drink, and as long as Dean wasn't trying to move him, he was pretty tractable. They'd just stick to soft foods for a day or two, pick up some Gatorade tomorrow. The B&B lady looked like the mothering kind; maybe she'd make Sam some homemade soup or something.

He cleaned Sam's chewed-up fingernails, and put Vaseline on the ravaged skin and the burn marks on his temples. He still smelled of sweat and his hair was a disaster, but Sam could take care of that himself later. Even Dean had his limits.

His brother cleaned up, tucked in, and comfortably asleep, Dean finally stood and took a deep breath. He was beyond tired himself, and the bed next to Sam's looked like the most comfortable thing ever. But he couldn't seem to move, or stop thinking.

Cas had brought his fate upon himself. As much as it sucked, it had been his choice. He was being looked after and didn't seem to be declining like Sam had been, so Dean would have to accept that as the way things were, at least for now. He'd figure out something to tell Cas's wife...later.

And Sam was...well, still pretty much a mess, but the kind of mess Dean could fix. They were in one of those frou-frou places Sam wouldn't admit he liked, someplace safe and hygienic and quiet. Someplace Sam could rest and eat and clean up and rest some more, until his body healed and his brain put itself back together. Dean had even seen a sign for a pub down the street where he could replenish their funds and do some relaxing of his own.

Sam wrapped an arm around his pillow and pulled it to him like a teddy bear, face twitching. He didn't open his eyes when he abruptly slurred, "Stop watchin' me, perv."

Dean barked a laugh. Then another, and another, until he stepped into the bathroom to keep from disturbing Sam. He laughed until his face was wet and something was loose in his chest and his energy bottomed out.

He wiped his eyes as he shuffled back into the room to sink on the edge of his bed and kick off his boots.

Sam surprised him by lifting his head to squint at him a moment, then dropping back to sleep.

Still his brother, even within a wingspan of crazy. Dean shook his head, no closer to wrapping his head around this than he'd been at the hospital. Maybe they were both flirting with crazy.

Sam snuffled in his sleep, a flicker of a smile passing over his worn features.

And maybe...none of that mattered right now. Not what had happened or what had almost happened or where they were, as long as Sam could sleep, and Dean could watch him sleep, and they'd pick up the pieces and go on, yet again. Maybe that was all he needed to understand right now.

Dean stretched out on the bed, eyes sinking shut. Yeah, okay. It was a plan. And beyond that...

Well, the thought followed him into sleep, if Sam was okay and with him, did it even matter?

The End