Dean had finally crawled into bed just before midnight. Sam had made a beeline for his bedroom as soon as they'd gotten home, but despite his own exhaustion, Dean had been too wired to sleep. He'd checked in with Cas, made a list of supplies he would need to pick up in the morning, and taken a long, hot shower. It was nice to be home, and he was asleep almost as soon as his body sunk into his beloved memory foam.
He was pulled from his rest a few hours later. The feeling of being watched made the hair prickle on the back of his neck. Slitting his eyes barely open, he could see the light streaming into his room from the hallway and Sam's large silhouette framed in the doorway. Rolling over, he rubbed a knuckle into his gritty eyes.
His brother didn't answer, just stood there, a backlit shadow half a step into the room. Dean swung his legs out of bed and sat up, leaving one hand underneath his pillow near the gun he kept there. Sam took another unsteady step closer and Dean's big-brother senses prickled. Sleep had fled entirely and Dean was fully awake now, even slightly alarmed. Was Sam hurt somehow? He leaned over and turned on the bedside lamp. Sam staggered a little closer, squinting and blinking as he steadied himself on the corner of Dean's desk.
"Sorry," he slurred. "Din't mean to wake ya, Jus' checkin'" Sam swayed as he spoke. His brother was completely plastered, as drunk as Dean had ever seen him. He recognized the bottle of whiskey Sam had dangling from his fist. A bottle that as of a few hours ago had been full, and now had only a few swallows left. Dean sighed. Considering everything that had happened and how tightly wound Sam had been, this wasn't completely unexpected.
"Sam," he began in his most empathetic voice, but Sam cut him off.
"Checkin' ta make sure you're not dead." He swallowed down the last of the booze with a wild swing of his arm. Dean's heart sunk, at the despair in his brother's voice. This was not a conversation he wanted to be having with a drunk Sam at 3:12 am, but it looked like a conversation Sammy needed to have.
"I'm still here," Dean affirmed quietly. Sam nodded, leaning back against the desk.
"You're th' only one, well 'cept Cas." he muttered as tears filled his eyes. "Ev'ryone else is dead," Sam huffed mournfully. Dean didn't know what to say, it may not have been one hundred percent true, but it was pretty damn close. For all their losses, it seemed like Sam got the short end of the stick, as if the universe was determined to make his brother suffer.
"Sammy," he said, rising to stand in front of Sam. "C'mon, you need to go sleep this off. You're gonna hate yourself in the morning." Sam flailed a large hand out for balance. Dean let Sam catch his forearm and the younger man gripped it tightly, like a life raft in a turbulent ocean.
"I already hate m'self," Sam whispered, hanging his head. That statement was like a punch to Dean's gut and he stilled. Words failed him, so he just let Sam hold on, and offered what strength he could. Finally Sam lifted his damp eyes. The pain in them broke Dean's heart.
"It works for you," he proclaimed sadly. Dean was confused.
"What works for me?" he asked. Sam hefted the now empty bottle and waved it at Dean.
"This." His declaration was heavy and despondent but Dean understood. It was right out of his playbook. Sometimes drinking was the only way he could stop the pain, to quiet the voices that screamed his failures at him, to blur the memories of so many things he wanted to forget. Dean wasn't proud of it, but alcohol had been his way of coping since he was a teenager. But it wasn't what he wanted for Sammy. Usually his brother found better outlets for his trauma.
"Sam," he sighed again. "I get it. You want to forget, but..." Sam cut him off again with a mighty shake of his head.
"Don't wanna forget. Ever. I wanna remember him. I jus' wan' it to stop hurtin' so bad." With that emphatic confession, Sam's voice broke and his face crumpled. With tears rolling down his cheeks, he looked all of 5 years old. Dean spread his free hand against Sam's neck, rubbing his thumb against Sam's skin to offer comfort.
"I know Sammy, I know," he whispered gruffly. He couldn't take seeing Sam like this and his own eyes started to sting. Stepping closer, he pulled Sam towards him and wrapped his arms around his brother. Sam folded against him easily, tucking his head against the collar of Dean's t-shirt. His ridiculously broad shoulders shook as he cried like a child. Dean just held him, petted Sam's hair and let him sob out his grief.
After a few minutes, when it seemed like Sam had gotten most of it out of his system, Dean stepped back and squeezed his biceps to steady him. The kid was a mess, with a wet, blotchy face and a runny, red nose. Dean had to smile inwardly at his kid. Nearby, his discarded flannel was hanging on the back of the chair, so he grabbed it and used a clean-ish corner to wipe Sammy's face. The booze and the crying must have really expended the last of his reserves because Sam didn't pull away. Patiently, he sat with a sappy expression and just patiently let Dean work.
"You always take care of me," he muttered as Dean finished cleaning him up.
"Well, that's my job, right? Take care of my pain in the ass little brother." He smiled and Sammy gave him a ghost of one back. It was the best thing Dean had seen in days. Sam tilted a little, his eyes beginning to droop.
"Alright. Let's get you to bed, okay?" Sam stood obediently when Dean tugged gently on his arm. Dean plucked the empty bottle from his lax hand and set it on the desk. Wrapping one arm around his brother's waist, he guided them into the hallway. Sam was so wobbly that Dean was half dragging him down the hall. Cas appeared from the other direction. He took an assessing look at the two of them before hurrying forward.
"Is Sam okay?" he asked, already positioning himself under Sam's other arm. Sam's head lolled forward, letting Dean and Cas support his weight.
"Yeah, Cas, he'll be fine," Dean grunted. Sam wasn't exactly a lightweight. "Let's just get him to his bed." Between the two of them, they made it to Sam's bedroom and carefully laid him on top of the rumpled sheets. Dean maneuvered him onto his side and then drew up the blanket. He watched as Sam sunk into sleep, hoping that unconsciousness would bring his brother some peace.
"Can I do anything?" Cas asked quietly, obvious concern in his blue eyes as he looked at Sam's tear streaked face. Dean pulled Sammy's desk chair closer to the bed and sat down. He needed to keep an eye on his brother and wasn't likely to get any more sleep of his own tonight.
"I'm gonna sit with him for awhile. So, maybe you could make some coffee?" Dean asked hopefully with a small smile at their friend.
"Of course," Cas said before he hustled out of the room towards the kitchen. Dean tucked the covers over Sam a little better as his sleeping brother began to snore.
Glancing around the room, Dean found several empty beer cans and a miniature bottle of vodka. "You don't do things halfway, do you Sammy?" Dean said softly to himself. Thank goodness Sam was such a big guy otherwise the kid probably would have given himself alcohol poisoning. He didn't have the same tolerance that Dean had, which was probably a good thing. He went to set the empties on the desk but the space was already covered with a strange variety of things.
The wooden box that sat open on the desktop was familiar to Dean. It was the one Jenny had found in the old family home in Laurence ten years ago. At the time, after seeing Mom's spirit, it had been too painful for Dean to do more than take a quick look and liberate a couple of pictures. After that, Sam had taken possession of the box and Dean seldom saw it again. Now Sam had obviously been going through it because it was sitting open.
Dean may have often teased Sam for being sappy and emo, but in reality he could admit that he was generally the more sentimental of the two of them. Dad certainly hadn't been, and growing up they had learned to travel light through necessity. But apparently Sam was more nostalgic than Dean thought because this box was full of things that his brother had squirreled away over the years.
Of course, there were some photos - a few of which Dean hadn't seen before. After a brief glance, he moved them to one side. Underneath them was a green army man like the ones he and Sam used to play with when the backseat of the Impala had been their playground. Sam had kept the Zippo lighter Dean had given him to commemorate his first official salt and burn. There was also Bobby's empty, old wallet, a baseball, some playing cards, and the wooden amulet from that crazy play Marie and her friends had put on last year. Sitting on top of the open lid was Sebastian, Jonathan's little plush elephant friend.
Dean picked it up. The memory of the first time he'd met his nephew washed over him. The serious little guy who had trusted his special friend to Dean's care during bath time. The sadness that Dean had been suppressing welled up inside of him. He had pushed aside his feelings of loss and sorrow in his worry for Sam, but they were still there. Dean found himself wishing that Sam had left some of that whiskey. He dashed a couple of tears out of his eyes with his thumb and forefinger and then set the floppy elephant back where he had found him. Just then Cas returned with a steaming mug in his hands.
"Hey Dean," he said as he passed Dean the cup, coming to stand by his shoulder. The only illumination in the room was from the desk lamp. It left the room very dim, but acted like a spotlight on the desk. Cas reached out to stroke the stuffie with one finger.
"Did this belong to Sam's son?" Swallowing his emotions down with a sip of coffee, Dean just nodded. He felt Cas' gaze move to his face, but he ignored the angel as he stared into the black depths of his mug.
"The child was an innocent," Cas said tentatively, as if unwilling to interrupt Dean's contemplations. "I am confident that he is at peace in Heaven." Dean snorted lightly. Cold comfort that was. Jonathan should have had his whole life ahead of him, instead he was stuck reliving his 5five short years in a fantasy land built by some angel dicks. There wasn't even a guarantee that he was with his mother - not really. Still, that wasn't Cas' fault. He patted his friend's arm.
"Yeah, I know. Look, I've got this," he said gesturing towards the bed where Sam was sleeping. "Why don't you go back to what you were doing." He appreciated Cas' concern, but he wasn't ready to look for silver linings just yet. Understanding his request for the dismissal it was Cas just nodded and turned to leave. He stopped at the door.
"I'll, uh, come check on you in a few hours." Then with a sad smile, he backed out of the room, closing the door behind him. Dean pulled the hard desk chair closer to the bed and sat down, propping his sock feet on the edge of the mattress. Slowly sipping his coffee, he watched the rise and fall of Sam's chest. Tension slipped from his shoulders as he kept his vigil. Despite everything that had happened, he found himself strangely content. Sure, he wished he could take away Sam's pain, but for now, he was right where he was supposed to be. Watching over his little brother, keeping him safe.