Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural. I'm also not a doctor.
Dean's glad he's sitting as he feels the world tilt and spin, shifting around him while he's certain that he isn't in motion. He's going to throw up, and squeezing his eyes shut doesn't take away the feeling of being on a spinning amusement park ride. For so long he thought that… that…
He doesn't know how to process this new information from Sam.
Sam blinks once.
"You said 'yes' because he threatened me?"
Sam blinks once again.
Dean runs a hand through his hair. He stands, almost paces, then sits back down once he realizes his legs are too weak from his shock to support him.
"He, what? Threatened to kill me or something?"
Sam blinks once. Then, after a pause, he blinks twice.
"Either he did or he didn't. You can't answer with both."
He can almost imagine the face that Sam would make before this mess. The disbelieving, bitchy pout with a hint of 'you're kidding' added in.
And he blinks. Yes. Yes, Lucifer did threaten to kill Dean to make Sam crack.
"Was that… the only threat he made against me?"
Two blinks. No. No?
"It's not like he could do much worse than kill me," Dean says.
What would be worse than killing him?
"What was he going to do? Torture me? I've already been to…"
And it clicks as Sam turns his head away.
"He was going to send me back to Hell," Dean says.
It's not a question, but Sam blinks once, not bothering to open his eyes again.
All this time, he thought Sam said 'yes' for selfish reasons or out of spite or weakness or any number of petty things. It never crossed his mind that the real reason would be selfless.
But of course, if he ever paused to think about it, he would've realized that Sam is a good person. He's the kind of person who never wanted to hurt others. He always wanted to bring home stray animals and keep them as his own, too often having to lead them to the nearest shelter and grill the workers over whether it was a kill shelter or not. He could never stand seeing someone else in pain, and it made hunting that much harder on him. The weight on his shoulders from the things they witnessed and the creatures they killed was that much heavier.
Sam didn't end the world for his own reasons. He ended it to keep Dean out of Hell. He ended it to save Dean from reliving the worst months of his life (and he still can't get those forty years out of his head). It's overwhelming to feel so…
He's glad that Sam isn't looking at him, not when he feels tears pooling behind his eyes, bringing with them a sting he hasn't felt in years. There's too much to process, especially when so much of what he's learning goes directly against the beliefs he's drilled into his own head for years.
He takes a deep breath and bottles his emotions, shoves them back into the lead box within him to deal with later. It's easier that way. Had he not agreed (for whatever reason) to be Sam's caretaker, he could have left and taken the time to sort through this revelation on his own. But now, he's stuck.
He's stuck feeling like the scum of the earth. Like something spat out and forgotten on the side of the road. A piece of trash tossed out of the window because properly disposing of garbage is too difficult for some people.
He felt like the less-than-human thing he'd been treating Sam as, and he doesn't know where to go from here. As if he ever knew where to go from the moment Cas led him to an unconscious Sam in a town in which he had no reason to be.
Dean doesn't know what to say, and Sam doesn't bother looking at him.
"Chamomile has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb. It was used as a relaxant and to treat digestive upset. Before modern medicine, we had to rely on nature to take care of our ailments, and it's amazing how capable nature can be in helping us. And now, it's more important than ever that we understand the healing properties of plants, because it might be all we have."
"Fascinating," Dean says.
It isn't often that he has to go and interact with the gardeners in the village, even if they are primarily responsible for providing a reasonable amount of food for the village (more like farmers than gardeners these days).
However, one of the gentlemen who took to gardening after retirement was once a history professor at whatever university (Dean can't remember the name, but he can't say he paid much attention to it in the first place). Courtesy of Dean's luck, that man is always the first person he runs into when he ventures this way.
He can really go without the history lesson.
"Quite," the man says, not picking up on Dean's sarcasm.
Dean rolls his eyes. He can't remember the man's name, but he feels like it's something as plain and boring as the man to whom it belongs.
"It might be useful to you because of those relaxant properties."
"Great. What do I do with it?"
"I'll dry some and bring it over to your cabin. You can make some tea out of it."
Dean claps the man on the shoulder and turns to leave after saying, "Thanks."
He shoves his hands into his pockets, as if that helps keep the chill of the autumn air away. Guilt leaves a bitter taste in his mouth, especially once he thinks back to the way he's been treating Sam. All because he thought that the world they live in was due to Sam making selfish choices.
They weren't selfish. They were for Dean. This wasteland… it's his fault that they have to live in it, not Sam's.
And Dean's been throwing that back into his face without realizing the truth.
There have been a lot of times where he's missed the availability of alcohol in the post-Apocalypse world, and this is one of them. Still, he keeps his path from veering towards Rooster and his moonshine. He has responsibilities that require sobriety.
He will never be able to take back the things he's said to Sam, and he struggles to wrap his head around the fact that it was threats towards Dean that broke him. But he can do small things. He can start fixing everything broken between them somewhere. There has to be something salvageable onto which they can grasp.
Well, Sam has already shown he wants some semblance of family back. It's Dean who's struggling. It's Dean who's keeping Sam an arm's length away. No, emotionally, he's keeping Sam a football field's length away. Several football fields.
The chamomile is a start, he thinks. A possible remedy for Sam's nightmares. A way to help calm him.
But will tea be enough to keep away nightmares of a sort that Dean can only imagine? Lucifer is not known for kindness. If he stooped to threatening to toss Dean back into Hell, what tactics did he exhaust beforehand?
It's not something that he wants to think about, but once the thought plants itself in his mind, he can't shake it.
"Thanks for staying with him, Cas," Dean says.
Sam is right there, and they're talking about him like he's not there at all. Young Sam hated that.
"You're sure your father can't be here instead?" the principal asks.
Dean's used to sitting in the principal's office, but he isn't used to Sam being in the chair beside him. Hell, he's graduated, so he thought that would be the end of dealing with annoyed adults. Yet, here he is.
"I told you, he's on a business trip. Besides, I'm Sam's legal guardian," Dean says.
The principal sighs, and Dean thinks that he's being melodramatic. It isn't like sighing is going to make their dad magically appear, and it's not like their dad would care any more about whatever the issue is than Dean will.
"Very well. I asked you here today because one of Sam's assignments contained some very disturbing material."
Dean glances at Sam. Disturbing material? Their entire lives have been shit shows, but Sam knows better than to draw attention to himself by letting it slip into his work.
The principal hands several papers stapled together across the desk to Dean, and Dean glances over the words written on them, recognizing Sam's penmanship immediately.
"Kids have overactive imaginations," Dean says. Sam's written out one hunt in explicit detail, and Dean feels like he's reliving it as he reads. While his brother might have some talent in the English area, what the fuck was he thinking to write about a hunt?
"Not like this."
"I can explain, Dean," Sam says. "I'm sitting right here."
Dean fights to avoid rolling his eyes. Sam's voice is full of bitchiness and frustration, the same tone that Dean hears too often when John is explaining the details of a hunt, but Sam found research that contradicts what John found. Research that John doesn't want to hear because it ruins his plan. It means they have to waste more time.
"Fine. Explain it, Sammy."
"It was a creative writing assignment," Sam says, enunciating each word to an unnecessary extent. "Miss Bowers told us to write outside of our comfort zone."
Dean looks back at the principal, and sees the truth of Sam's words as his face turns red. As if he would've doubted Sam's words in the first place.
"I still believe that this material is extreme and warrants further evaluation," the principal says.
"Well, I believe that you're wasting our time."
Dean pulls Sam up by his upper arm and leads him out of the principal's office, and ultimately out of the school.
The thought almost draws a smile to Dean's lips, but the knowledge that Sam is so different from that child who used to cry out to be acknowledged, to be heard, keeps it back.
Does Sam still care that he's being talked about as though he isn't there? Is his mind just as intact as it was when they went their separate ways, or has it been as damaged as his body?
That idea scares Dean more than he expected. Sam's freaky brain frustrated and irritated him on more than one occasion, but it saved his and his father's lives countless times.
"I'm happy to help," Cas says. "I'm glad that Sam seems to be doing well."
Yeah, he's doing… well. Other than his violent nightmares, mobility impairing injuries, and continued lack of speech. Not to mention who knows what Lucifer did to him or what he witnessed while possessed. Add in the fact that Dean has, without doubt, made him feel like the world's biggest piece of shit for ending the world, when he did it to save him from being thrown back into Hell, and they've created a combination that can never be described as 'doing well'.
He's breathing. He's aware. He's responsive. Right now, that's probably the most they can ask for.
Yet, he doesn't want to tell Cas how bad things really are. A week ago, he wouldn't have given it a second thought and would list off everything that has been going wrong with Sam there, awake and listening. But now, he can't bring himself to do that. He never thought that Sam would survive long once they brought him back to Camp Chitaqua, much less that Dean would find himself slipping into old habits and feelings that he thought died inside of him years ago.
"There's still a long way to go," Dean says.
"Of course. Recovering from being possessed by Lucifer is no easy task," Cas says. "I'm actually impressed that Sam is as coherent as he is. A lesser man would be locked within himself to the point that he would never regain any semblance of recovery."
Dean nods. He gets it. He gets that this isn't easy on Sam. It's far from easy on him as well.
Cas puts his hand on Dean's shoulder for a moment before he leaves, but neither of them have anything more to say.
And Dean finds himself alone with Sam, which is so often the case now.
Dean stands and fidgets for a moment or two before he takes a seat on the edge of the bed, all too aware that Sam is watching him. Sam is always watching him when he's in the same room.
Dean runs one hand down his face, wishing that it was enough to wipe away the bone-deep weariness he felt.
"I think I found something that might help with the nightmares. One of the villagers is going to dry some chamomile for tea that you can drink. It's relaxing, I guess."
Sam blinks once. Yes, chamomile is a relaxant.
"You'd get along with the guy, I think. He's a wealth of knowledge that wasn't useful until the world ended," Dean says.
Sam's mouth twists into a pathetic half-smile that looks like it takes far too much effort for him, and Dean's heart twists at the sight of it. He remembers when Sam was strong and independent.
This feels like an insult to those memories. How could they have fallen so far?
"I don't have it right now, but I'll have some soon."
Dean doesn't remember the last time he felt this inept. He's not able to comfort Sam like the old days, and he's not sure how much that would help. He's not able to fix the things that are wrong with Sam, because the things that are wrong with him are beyond fixing.
"I'm sorry," Dean says.
Sam blinks once, but Dean doesn't know what he means by it, and he doesn't ask.
To be fair, Dean doesn't know what he's apologizing for. Nothing? Everything? That Sam is there, or that Sam is in a state that can't be easily fixed with their lack of modern medical technology? That Dean isn't able to be the brother he once was? The list is endless, and it makes his head throb just thinking about it.
Dean bows his head, resting it in his hands, and says again, "I'm sorry."
The night proves to be restless once again, and Dean finds that the noises—the strangled, tortured noises—that come from Sam disturb him the most. Sam's always had nightmares, just not like this. Never this bad.
He gets up and shakes Sam's left shoulder until he wakes up.
Sam's eyes open as wide as they can, and he looks around in a panic until he realizes where he is. Until he realizes that he's no longer in the place his mind transports him to in his sleep.
"You were having a nightmare," Dean says.
Sam blinks once, but it's something they both know. Why bother trying to deny it?
Dean lights some of the candles in the room. Neither of them are going to be sleeping again that night. The sounds that Sam made echo in his head, and he imagines that the events Sam was reliving in his dreams haven't faded from his mind yet either.
Dean takes a deep breath. Now probably isn't the best time to bring it up, but he still says, "You make noises while you sleep."
The way Sam furrows his brow and the way his eyes narrow remind him so much of the Sam he used to know, even if the expression is a little off given the limitations of movement imposed upon him by his scarring. The soft play of light in the room gives his confusion a haunted hue, like the idea of making sounds scares him. The message is clear, though. He has no idea that he makes sounds in his sleep.
"Yeah, I was surprised, too."
It's like riding a bike, reading Sam's body language. Dean kept creating Sam as a stranger in his own mind to make it easier to get up every morning and face the mess of the world, but none of that is true. None of the stories he told himself for years were true. Sam hasn't changed, not really.
Seeing the remnants of the Sam he gave up his own childhood to raise hurts. It pushes him to the edge of breaking, and it's only his willpower that keeps him together. Sam doesn't need a broken man. He's broken enough for the both of them.
So, Dean shoves his nostalgia, anger, guilt, sorrow, and regret into that lead box within himself. The one that's close to overflowing. He locks it and tells himself that he'll deal with it later, knowing how unlikely that is to happen.
"Do you think… Do you think that you—I don't know—are stopping yourself while awake? I mean, if you can make sounds while sleeping, then you should be able to make sounds while awake. It only makes sense."
Sam doesn't respond in any meaningful way, but it isn't something that a 'yes' or a 'no' is sufficient enough for.
"You'd think that David or Annette would've heard you or at least let me know that you could make sounds, even if it was only while you slept."
Sam blinks, but Dean is fairly certain that it isn't as a response, or that it's more for the sake of placating Dean.
"I'll talk to them tomorrow about it," Dean says. "See if they have any ideas or theories."
Sam blinks once. Yes, do that in the morning. Figure it out.
"We'll get you fixed up somehow," Dean says.
Sam almost manages to pull out a genuine smile. One that doesn't look so, so broken.
"Well, he didn't make sounds in his sleep while he was here," David says. He's mopping the floor of one of the infirmary's rooms, having told Dean that one of the cooks had a bit of an accident and left a trail of blood that he wishes he could properly clean and sanitize, but he just doesn't have the tools to do so anymore. "At least, not that either of us heard."
"Okay, what does that mean?" Dean asks. "It's a new thing?"
He has Cas with Sam, and he knows that Cas is capable of taking care of him. He stayed with Sam in the infirmary when Dean was unwilling to be there. That just isn't enough to quell the anxiety pooling in his stomach. The itch beneath his skin that tells him to get back to Sam. That tells him he has to be there for him.
"I don't know. Maybe it's the change of setting or his body healing in its own way. Maybe the lack of sound while he's awake is selective mutism or a psychosomatic disorder."
"Basically, his mind might be making him mute, despite there being no physical reason for it."
"I thought you were just a paramedic. How do you know all this shit?" Dean asks.
David smiles a bit, but it quickly fades. "I dreamed about being a doctor for a long time. Read everything remotely medical that I could get my hands on. I just… never got the chance to go through with it, you know? Life always had other plans, and now here we are."
"Yeah, I get that," Dean says. "Believe me, I really do."
"What was the dream of yours that got crushed?" David asks.
Dean almost doesn't answer, but he feels an obligation to. Only because it's David, and he's helped take care of Sam so much since they brought him back to the village.
"I just wanted my family."
"Well, you have your brother," David says. "That's more than some of the others here. Finding someone they lost would be their current dream."
"I know," Dean says.
But he can't explain the situation in any way that David would understand. He can't say how it was him and Sam who crushed his dream of being a doctor, along with the dreams of so many others. He can't say that every death to a Croat is on their shoulders.
He can't say that none of this would've happened if he hadn't uprooted Sam from his college life. If he hadn't brought Sam back from the dead after all his talk about how the dead should stay dead. If he hadn't broken after thirty years of being tortured in Hell while his dad was able to withstand over one hundred years of torture without breaking.
As strong as he tries to be, he often feels like the weakest link of his family. He knows that he relies on them more than they rely on him (although, that may no longer be the case with Sam's current state). All he ever wanted was his family, hunting, and the open road. He never meant to lead them down this path. Who would purposely try to start the Apocalypse?
And to find out that it was for his sake that Sam said 'yes' to Lucifer? To find out that Sam allowed himself to be possessed by The Devil just to keep him safe, and he blamed Sam for ending the world and acted like a complete ass?
If he could do it all again…
He doesn't say goodbye to David. He turns and leaves without a word, and David lets him.
"It might just be in your head," Dean says. "Like, you're stopping yourself from making noise."
He waits until Cas has left to bring it up. He's not sure that it's something Sam wants the world to know. Even if it is just Cas, who already knows the worst parts of their story.
Sam blinks twice.
"I mean, if it's bad enough that you physically can't make sounds when conscious, then of course you aren't going to believe it's just in your head," Dean says. "It feels real, doesn't it?"
Sam blinks once.
"And it's gonna be hard," Dean says. "It's so hard to fight your own mind and tell yourself that something isn't real when it feels real."
He spends most of his nights staring at himself in the mirror instead of sleeping. Half the time, he sees black eyes staring at him. The other half, he sees a broken man. A man who still feels tendrils of hellfire licking at him, leaving scorched trails in their path. He's so accustomed to burning that alcohol doesn't faze him in the slightest anymore. He'd drink himself to death if he hadn't been able to track down Sam.
Sam moved on without him, and he can't show just how broken is time in Hell left him. He can't show Sam how much he needs his presence right now, if only to remind him that the nightmares aren't real. That he isn't still in Hell.
He needs Sam to remind him he's human, not a demon, during hunts when he has the urge to be a little more brutal than necessary with the creature they're hunting.
He's not the same man he used to be, but he's trying to function. He's trying to survive, because that feels like all he can do some days. Most days.
"But we can fix this," Dean says. "We can find a way and work through it, because we've always found a way."
Sam blinks twice, and Dean can almost hear him saying that he can't do it. That it's too much, and maybe it's time to just let it go. He's done fighting. He wanted to be done fighting when he was fourteen and each kill took away another notch of normalcy.
"Hey, you can't give up now. Not after everything," Dean says. "And I'm here now. I'm gonna help you, Sam."
He doesn't understand why Sam looks at him like that. Like he's grown a second head. Like Sam's on the verge of breaking down into tears. Then, it dawns on him.
For the first time since he's found Sam, he's said his name out loud.
A/N: Please leave a review!