Dean stared up at the ceiling, willing himself to fall asleep, knowing it wasn't going to happen. He rolled over and punched at his pillow. He knew he should be elated or some other emotion that slightly resembled happiness but all he felt was anxious….and worried….and somewhat nauseous. Smiting sickness…who the hell knew that was even a thing? Ah, hell, he should have known. There was always a thing. Story of his life.
He untangled himself from the covers and kicked them to the foot of the bed. His body ached from the cage match with Lucifer but his brain had jumped into high gear and wouldn't allow his exhaustion to win out. With a groan, Dean tumbled out of bed and shuffled down the hall to make himself a pot of coffee.
He'd almost made it to the kitchen when his stomach lurched and he raced back toward the bathroom. He fell to his knees in front of the toilet just before the late supper he'd ate forced its way back up his throat.
Apparently, Dean wasn't the only one having trouble sleeping because almost immediately there was a knock at the door and then he heard Sam's voice: "Dean, are you okay?"
Dean tried to reply but all he could manage was a low moan. Sam must have taken that as his cue to enter because he was suddenly kneeling by his side.
Dean raised his head and managed a grin. "Smiting sickness…..the gift that keeps on giving."
"I thought you were okay," said Sam with a worried frown.
"Me too. I mean, I was for a while but after I went to bed and got to thinking about things...it just….." Dean broke off, avoiding his brother's eyes. What was he supposed to say? He didn't want to think about it, let alone talk about it. He'd already said too much. Sam would never let it slide.
"It's Hell, isn't it?" asked Sam softly.
Dean sighed and closed his eyes. Nope, never gonna let it slide.
"I'm sorry, Dean."
"Why are you apologizing?" Dean reached for the edge of the sink and pulled himself up. He wanted to leave this conversation behind but his legs failed him and he stumbled. Sam grabbed him before he could face plant into the sink.
"Come on. I got you."
"I'm fine, Sam." He tried to push his brother away but Sam gripped his arm tightly. Dean gave up resisting and shuffled toward his room, Sam never relinquishing his grip.
"Do you need anything?" Sam asked as Dean sunk down on the edge of his bed.
"Actually a beer would be great." Dean grimaced. "It tastes like something died inside my mouth."
"I'll be right back." Sam exited the room and Dean lay back on the bed, hoping Sam would forget all about Hell by the time he came back. Dean snorted…..as if either one of them could ever forget.
There were days when Dean could almost put Hell out of his mind, almost forget what had happened there…..the key word being almost. The things he'd endured…..the things he'd done…they were always there, just beneath the surface, no matter what he might tell anyone to the contrary. How could you ever forget ripping someone else's soul apart to spare yourself a moment of pain? And the kicker of it all, the thing that still gave him nightmares….he'd enjoyed it…..every single second.
A tear leaked from his eye and he wiped it away. He wasn't going to cry, not for himself, not after the things he'd done….he was ashamed for being so weak. His Dad had endured the torture of Hell much longer than he had, yet he never broke. His baby brother had faced the devil but when he finally gave himself over to Satan, it wasn't to save his own skin…..it was to save the world.
Dean felt the mattress shift beneath him as Sam sat down beside him. He opened one eye and glanced up at his brother.
"Still want this beer?" asked Sam.
"God, yes." Dean sat up and took the bottle his brother offered him. He sipped slowly, testing it against the churning still going on in his stomach.
"You want to talk about it?" Sam's face was filled with concern.
Dean sighed. "Do I ever want to talk about it?"
"No." Sam was silent for a few moments. "I'm sorry I let you walk in there alone, Dean."
"I know what that place was like for you, Dean. I should have been there with you but I was so caught up in the visions and what they might mean that I just didn't think and I'm sorry." Sam gave him a miserable look and as always, Dean wondered how Sam could stand to look at him at all, knowing what a coward he was and how he'd surrendered so easily to Alastair's wishes.
Dean took a long swig from his bottle. "It's not the same Hell as before."
"What do you mean?"
"It's not the same Hell I remember. At least not the part we were in."
"Crowley said it was called Limbo, a sort of time-out place for souls…..whatever that means."
Dean forced a laugh. "Yeah, with Crowley, who knows what that means. Look, Sam, if anyone needs to be apologizing right now, it should be me. You ended up back in the cage because of me."
Sam held up his hand in protest. "Dean, that blame doesn't fall on anyone but Rowena. She played me and I let her. I'm fine, okay. Was I terrified? Hell, yes. But I knew you'd be there to get me out. I knew that, Dean. I had faith. But you know what terrifies me more than being in Lucifer's cage? Letting you down."
"You didn't let me down." It pained Dean that Sam would even think that.
"Dean, you've been to Hell for me twice but I could have at least been there for you this time and I wasn't. What kind of brother am I?"
"The kind I'd die for, Sammy."
Sam fell silent again, the guilt he felt was evident on his face.
"Look, Sammy. We went to Hell but we made it out. I'm okay. You're okay. Let's just try to forget about it."
"If you're okay, why were you in the bathroom puking your guts out?" asked Sam.
"You can never just let it go, can you, Sam?" Dean finished his beer and tossed the bottle into the trashcan. "You were right. It was Hell. The smiting sickness….god, I feel so stupid even saying that…..it was still hanging on, making me nauseous but I figured a good night's sleep would take care of it."
"Except you couldn't sleep."
"Apparently you couldn't either." Dean sighed. "Anyway, after everything that happened tonight, I started thinking about things…..things I wish I could just forget…..horrible things, Sammy."
Dean rubbed his hand across his face, wishing he had the words to explain how those things made him feel, while at the same time never wanting his brother to know those horrors. Tears pricked his eyes once again and he turned away.
"I can never forget the smell, Sammy." Dean choked back the tears. "You know how you think burning flesh is the worst smell in the world? It's not. Souls burning in Hell…..souls that I set fire to, souls that I carved apart and tossed into the flames….that's the worst. And I can't ever forget."
"You never told me that," said Sam softly, tears in his own eyes.
"It wasn't my finest hour, baby brother." Dean managed a small smile. "Not something I really wanted you to know. Now, who let who down?"
"You've never let me down, Dean."
"Really?" Dean's eyes twinkled. "What about the time I broke your favorite magic wand?"
Sam gave him an exasperated look. "Shut up."
"I mean, you were going to be quite the magician until I did that."
They both laughed at the memory and then Sam nudged his brother's shoulder with his own. "You're a good brother, Dean. Don't ever doubt it."
"Right back at ya, Sammy." Dean yawned. "Now can we get some sleep or would you like me to braid your hair? I'm starting to feel like I'm at a freaking slumber party."
Sam didn't quite meet his eyes. "Could we watch a movie instead?"
Dean knew immediately that Sam wasn't quite over his confrontation with Lucifer. "Sure, Sammy." He reached for the remote and turned on the TV. "Got a preference?"
"Nothing with the word Hell in the title."
Dean smiled. "You got it."
Sam settled against the headboard, his arm just slightly touching Dean's as if he needed reassurance that he wasn't still locked in the cage with Lucifer…..that his big brother was right there beside him.
"You okay, Sammy?"
"Yeah, Dean, I'm fine." He gave his brother an almost convincing smile before turning his attention back to the TV.
Lucifer's never going to hurt you again, Sammy. Not as long as I'm around. I promise.
Wow. It's been a while and like Castiel's people skills, my writing skills are rusty. :) Thanks for reading! Comments are always welcome!