K Hanna Korossy
Sam wasn't okay. Maybe he wasn't sure how he was doing, but Dean was.
He didn't know what all had gone down between Sam and Lucifer in that cage before he got there, but Dean knew enough. Like how terrified his brother had been at the thought of facing Lucifer again, let alone being back in a cage with him. Like besides the blood and bruises Sam was sporting by the time Dean arrived, there were signs he'd also been crying. Like the wild look that still lingered in his eyes.
And the way he couldn't stop moving, fingers and leg and jaw tapping, clenching, jittering.
When they finally cleared Kenesaw, the bunker just an hour away and quiet farmland around them, Dean opened his mouth to have the conversation he dreaded but that Sam clearly needed.
He almost threw up into his lap instead.
For the second time that day, Dean jerked the car onto the shoulder so he could vomit. He only got one leg outside this time before he was bent over, hacking and spewing. Would have helped if he'd had a break for lunch that day between the angel-smiting and the visiting Hell, maybe that hot dog he'd ordered in the park but never got a chance to eat. The thought of it made him gag again. Okay, maybe not.
A shadow suddenly loomed over him. Sam, battered face creased in concern as he rested a hand on Dean's back. "Y'all right?"
"Sure," Dean replied, voice nasal. He coughed again, spat. "Just smiting sickness."
"Smiting sickness?" Sam replied, sounding confused and a little bit horrified.
Dean waved vaguely. "Just…got too close to Amara after she'd been, you know, smited." Smote? "It's fine."
Sam snorted. Then chortled. Then outright laughed, except it was the kind of laugh that made the hair on the back of Dean's neck stand up. "Fine. Right. It's fine—we're all fine."
Dean peered up at him, uncertain.
Sam was dragging his hands over his head, and the wild hair went disturbingly well with the crazed eyes. "I gotta…I'm gonna take a walk. I'll be back." Without waiting for a response, he strode off, looking like he was trying not to run.
Dean squeezed his eyes shut. A walk. Right. Totally normal in the middle of nowhere, after a trip to Hell.
He sagged back against the Impala's seat and breathed through his nose. They so should have had that conversation.
Dean still didn't know how they'd gotten to this point. Last time he'd talked to Sam, Rowena had still been trying to figure out how they could reach Lucifer. Dean hadn't answered a call from Sam that had come right when Amara showed up, and he figured his brother had tried his best to reach him before taking the plunge: Dean dug out his phone and wearily confirmed, yup, four missed calls from Sam.
Even so, he knew Sam hadn't planned to actually be in that cage with Lucifer. And from the defiant look in his little brother's eyes, even under the blood and fear, Dean was guessing Lucifer wanted something and wasn't just working Sam over for old times' sake. Dean was missing details, important details because they were about Sam.
One thing he knew, though: his brother had been trapped for some amount of time in a small box with his worst nightmare. It was really no wonder Sam needed some space; Dean was kind of amazed he'd gotten into the car in the first place. Dean was just a little worried about what Sam would do when "a walk" turned out not to be enough to scald his memories clean.
With a groan, Dean leaned forward to snag one of the water bottles they kept under the seat. His skin was prickly, like it'd been sunburned, and a headache was pounding inside his skull. He wanted nothing more than to drop down on his memory mattress and sleep for, like, four days. Instead, Dean rinsed out his mouth, then heaved himself out of the car. He took a moment to find his balance, then set off in the direction Sam had disappeared in.
Twilight was starting to fall. A few crickets were still braving the autumn cold, otherwise the only sound was the rustle of thousands of leaves in the occasional breeze. It was flat farmland all around, some harvested, some with plants almost as tall as Dean. He circled in place, looking for where Sam would've gone, and didn't need to see the path through the mowed greenery to decide it was to the left. An ancient barn hunched there in the shadows, probably uninhabited in their lifetime. Dean headed that way.
There were definitely sasquatch-sized footprints in the dirt under the broken stalks. Some of the stubble had been uprooted in Sam's haste, and Dean didn't like the thought of how blindly Sam would have been rushing to not care where he stepped, what trail he left.
The barn's dark doorway gaped, one door long gone. Dean was pretty sure he could've heard the noise even through closed doors, though, as he got closer.
Crash. Wood on wood. Breaking glass. Metal hitting wood?
Dean sped up, hands itching for his gun, except he was pretty sure there was no external threat here. At the doorway, he stopped, peering into the gloom.
Sam was on the warpath, and it was a sight to see.
There had obviously been some old equipment in the barn. Dean didn't know where it'd been, but probably not where it was now: a scythe buried in the aged-wood walls, an old mallet lying by a new hole in the back, some small machine jammed halfway through a busted window. Even as Dean watched, he saw the shadow of his brother sweep a wooden crate into a stall hard enough that the crate splintered into pieces.
Dean just watched a minute. He knew this kind of anger…or, really, not even anger. Or panic, or fury, or despair, or restlessness. Nobody who'd written a dictionary had ever been in Hell. But Dean remembered that feeling of racing blood and boiling under the skin and need to just…do. Something. Anything to try to free yourself from it, to make it better.
And yet, none of this would make it better.
Sam was running out of things to smash and throw. But enough was enough when Dean saw his brother grab a bale of barbed wire and not even flinch.
His voice was whipcord sharp in the stifling air of the barn, just as he'd intended. It shocked Sam into freezing, bail half-raised to hurl.
"Put it down," Dean added, far more gently.
Sam stared at him like he didn't know who Dean was, chest heaving.
His eyes had gotten used to the dim light; Dean could pick out more details as he ventured closer. The tear in Sam's shirt from God knew what. The blood that was dripping from his hands. The tears dripping down his face. Dean softened his voice even more. "Put it down, dude." He shook his head a little, hand half-raised, approaching slow like with a skittish animal. "It didn't do anything to you."
Sam blinked several times, one eye half-swollen from Lucifer's attack. "Dean…" he said, and he sounded so freakin' young.
Dean knew better. This was the guy who'd spent more time than most people lived, in a Cage with an eternal tormentor. Who'd put himself there willingly, atoning for a mistake he'd made because he'd missed his brother too much. Who had faced that possibility again in order to atone for something else he'd done because he'd loved his brother too much. This was hardly a kid; no SEAL, samurai, or superhero had anything on Sam Winchester.
And yet, Dean talked to him like he had the little rugrat who was afraid of thunderstorms.
"Put it down, Sammy."
Sam dropped the bale. His hands hung at his side, shoulders drooped in defeat.
Dean was near enough now to reach out, and he did, hand curving around Sam's elbow. "It's okay, man. It's over."
"I said no."
He didn't expect the clear, tear-washed words. "What?" Dean grasped Sam's other hand, turning it to see the nicks and raw knuckles.
"He wanted me to say yes. He-he said I'd betrayed you." Sam's voice broke briefly, but he shored it up. "That I needed to be brave again and save the world. That I'd gone soft."
Dean huffed. "Dude, you never betrayed me."
Sam didn't seem to hear him. "But I said no."
Dean cupped Sam's wrists in his hands, flashing for a moment to an old church. I choose you. "You did the right thing. Lucifer was playing you—you know that."
Sam was looking at his torn palms. His voice was hollow. "He said I let you talk me out of finishing the Trials and I-I got the Mark off even though I knew there'd be a price, and…" Sam raised tormented eyes. "That I was too loyal to you, that I didn't care who else it hurt. And I still said no."
"You. Did. The right. Thing," Dean repeated.
Sam's eyes were swimming. "Did I?"
Before Dean could answer, Sam pulled his hands back and reached for the barbed wire bale. Grasping it tight, he lifted it high and threw it against a pile of loose wood in the corner. Everything clattered to the floor with a loud, dusty crash.
"Sam!" Dean said sharply, but this time he didn't have to. Sam was already collapsing in on himself, gasping for breath, pained sounds breaking out of his throat.
Dean didn't hesitate any longer. He lunged forward and grabbed Sam around the arms and chest, trapping his brother against him, holding him together as he broke.
And break Sam did. Not in the cage with his longtime torturer, not when he'd sought any other possibility than facing Lucifer again. But in a decrepit barn, just the two of them, Dean holding him. That was when his legs folded and a guttural cry shook free, followed by sobs so violent, Dean had to tighten his grip.
He eased them down to the floor, Sam between his knees, shaking apart. Then Dean just held him and made sure he didn't.
"I'm glad you said no. You hear me? That bastard told you, what, that you were being selfish? Betraying me and too loyal to me? That doesn't even make sense—that's crap, Sammy, and you knew it. Listen to me. Listen to me, you did the right thing. I'm proud of you for saying no. We got enough problems with Amara without adding Lucifer to the mix. And we're dealing with Amara because of something I did, not you."
Sam actually shook his head a little at that.
Good, he was listening. Dean buried a hand in that shaggy hair, clutched and waggled his brother a little like a scruffed dog. "Point is, we can save the world because we got each other. I can't do this without you. So, yeah, you keep saying no to that son of a bitch. For me, and for the world, and for you, Sam. You hear me? Do you get what I'm saying?"
Sam pressed his wet, snotty face into Dean's throat and cried harder.
Dean's eyes got a little watery, too. But it didn't even occur to him to be embarrassed, not in the face of such raw pain. They'd survived crap no one else in the world ever had. Sam had just gone through Hell—literally—and who knew how many old memories this little visit had brought back. In fact, if Dean knew his little brother, this was even older pain, stored up for God knows how long. Sam had earned the right to a massive ugly cry. And, chick flicks be damned, better a breakdown with someone—Dean—there to put him back together than alone in the shower or under the covers with only his own doubts and memories.
He waited through Sam howling and doubling over with gut-wrenching sobs, and the quieter tears of depletion and exhaustion. Dean had turned his head aside once to heave a little more bile—stupid smiting sickness—but he didn't think Sam even noticed. He waited until his brother was heavy and quiet and spent. And then without any more words, he gathered him up and walked him back to the car and tucked him into the passenger seat, taking the time only to wipe his face and wrap those bloody hands in a clean towel.
Sam didn't say another thing besides a slurred, "'Night, Dean," when Dean decanted him into his bed at home. And Dean knew as he pulled off Sam's shoes and bandaged his cuts and threw a blanket over him, that there would be no thank yous or sorrys in the morning. In fact, he was counting on it. Because Sam would know Dean didn't need them, and Dean still didn't want to talk about it. He knew this wasn't over yet, but at least Sam had vented some of the pressure, and he would talk when he was ready.
"Sleep well, kiddo," Dean said into the quiet of Sam's breathing. It was times like this when Dean wished they were still sharing motel rooms, so he could listen to that background hum and make sure it didn't hitch in nightmares…or stop as in Dean's nightmares.
Then again, as his stomach gave another unhappy twist, maybe separate quarters would be better tonight. Dean hurried out to the bathroom before he could wake Sam with his own misery.
And if his face was more wet afterward than the vomiting accounted for, well, at least Sam wouldn't have to deal with that, too.