The sound of his brother's shout, panicked, grief stricken, pulled Sam abruptly from his sleep. He held still, not daring to look over at Dean, he knew what was coming and a second later Dean leaped off the bed and into the bathroom. Sam could hear his brother retching. This had been going on every night for nine long nights. The first two nights Sam had reacted to that shout, now he let it go—let Dean think he wasn't shouting out loud, that Sam stayed quietly asleep while his brother was tortured by nightmares. Sam knew he was going to have to deal with this soon, Dean couldn't keep it up much longer, Sam just wasn't sure how he would handle it.
He had asked Dean that first night when they were back at Bobby's what had happened after he had died. It felt weird saying it "after I died." Dean had looked at him with haunted eyes before masking the emotion with a quick "Nothing, Sammy." But Sam had seen the look, had seen what was there and he knew Dean wasn't ready to talk about it. The nightmare had started that night, the vomiting, Dean staying awake for the rest of the night. He was burning out, not letting himself sleep after the dream, Sam was worried.
Sam tried to open the conversation once or twice, gently, nothing really overt. He knew Dean would eventually talk to him, he just hoped he didn't wait too long. Letting the pain build up to the point he had allowed when their father had died. It tore Sam up to see his brother like this, so calm and cocky—his usual self—during the day, tortured all night. Dean wasn't even enjoying his food as much, Sam had watched as Dean had slowly eliminated favorite foods from his dinner. Burgers without onions, pickles or anything else, fries without ketchup or tartar sauce, milkshakes or beer replaced with water. He knew why Dean was doing it, he also was pretty sure Dean thought he was getting away with it unnoticed.
Sam had started to do little things to hopefully allow his brother to cope. He had started pretending to oversleep, so Dean had to shake him awake, had to make physical contact. Sam let him have the first shower, purposefully chose Dean's favorite tapes for the stereo. And he had taken to sticking an arm or leg out from under the covers at night so Dean could tuck it back in and smooth the covers over Sam. He thought it might be a balm to the nightmare that pulled his brother from his sleep every night.
Sam slid his arm out from under the covers—just in time, he heard the toilet flush and the bathroom door open. It was a little problematic tonight, the room was freezing. After they had checked in they turned the heat on, then discovered the heater had only on and off as options. They heated the room up long enough to take showers then shut it off. His arm was getting pretty cold. Dean had better hurry up and tuck him in.
He heard Dean moving around—getting the ginger ale out of his bag, yet another thing Sam ignored and Dean thought he was getting away with. Dean came over and sat on his bed, Sam knew Dean was watching him, a few moments later he stood and Sam waited for him to tuck his arm back under the covers. Dean gently grabbed his hand—and dropped it. He heard Dean's sharp intake of breath, heard the springs squeak as his brother sat down, hard, on the other bed.
Dean's breath was ragged. Sam lifted his head and looked over, Dean was sitting on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands, he was rocking back and forth like a child lost in tears. Sam sat up, "Dean?" he said quietly. Dean didn't react, just stayed with his head pressed into his hands, rocking, shivering in the cold room. Sam grabbed a blanket and sat down on the bed next to his brother.
"Go away," Dean said, his voice filled with an unending grief. "I don't want to hear it, go away, Bobby."
"You must be cold," he said, gently wrapping the blanket around his brother. He put his arm over Dean's shoulders. "Dean?"
"Go away, Bobby, leave me here. Just leave me." Sam wondered why Dean kept calling him Bobby, kept asking him to leave. Still with his head in hands.
"Dean?" Sam was worried, wondering if he had let it go too long, let it build up to a point that he couldn't recover Dean from. "Dean?"
"Please, leave me alone." Dean said in that tortured voice.
"No, I won't, I can't, not like this. Dean, please." He tightened his arm on Dean's shoulder, pressing the blanket around him. Trying to reach him through that contact. "Dean!"
Dean was trying to pull away from him, trying to break contact. It took all of Sam's strength to hold him there, he was not about to let go. What came next broke his heart. "Take the blanket away. You should put it over Sam, he's so cold, never warm again. I put it on him, he just got colder, I couldn't stop it…I couldn't stop it, I couldn't save him, I promised. I promised. He's so cold."
Sam desperately held on to Dean. Tears had filled Sam's eyes and were running down his face. He had to get through to him, this could only lead to madness. "Dean, please." He shook him gently.
"Go away, just leave me here. I don't want to leave him here."
Sam knew he had to do something, he was losing Dean. He got off the bed and knelt in front of him, grabbing his brother's arms he shook him—hard. "Dean!"
"Go away, let me alone." Dean said through the shaking, through his hands, still pressed to his face.
Blind panic filled Sam, Dean was slipping away. He had to get through to him. He raised his hand and slapped Dean. He shook him again. "Dean, please, please, man," he said. Come on, come back. Dean still didn't react. Sam drew a breath and hit him again, hit him hard. His brother finally looked up. "Dean?" He said, hearing the desperation in his own voice.
"Sammy? Sammy?" Dean whispered.
Sam nodded, he kept his hands on Dean's arms, "Yeah, Dean."
"Sammy…" He drew a ragged breath. "You're alive?"
"What?" Sam looked at him, at a depth of grief he hadn't even guessed could exist and let someone live. "Oh, god, Dean." The tears were falling again. He sat back on the bed and pulled Dean against him. Trying to convey in that touch everything he couldn't say. Let me help him, somehow let me help.
"You're warm, You were so cold, Sammy. I couldn't make you warm. I couldn't stop the cold." Dean said, still lost wherever his grief was taking him.
"It's ok, Dean. It's ok." He kept his arm on Dean, even though Dean was trying to pull away again. He was going to hold on until he was sure Dean wouldn't drown in this, until he was sure Dean was at least on his way back.
The physical contact must have reached him in that dark place. "You're warm," Dean said. He repeated it over and over, like it was an incantation against death. Dean looked up at him, "I'm sorry Sammy, I had to make the deal, you were so cold. You were gone, I couldn't let you be cold. I couldn't bury you, I couldn't let you…" Dean had started to cry. It was terrible to hear. Sam put his other arm around Dean, his brother leaned into him. Sam had never heard him cry like this, in all the years, in all that had happened. He knew Dean needed this, as terrifying as that emotion was, so he held him and said "it's ok" over and over, hoping his voice would reach Dean.
The tears slowly stopped. Dean just leaned against him, silent. After a few minutes he pulled away and looked at Sam, his eyes not quite focused. Sam saw Dean trying to reassert his usual self, it wasn't working. "Sorry about the meltdown, Sammy."
"Don't apologize Dean. I knew something was wrong. I should have done something before this happened."
"What?' Sam saw disbelief in his brother's eyes. Dean had been sure he was getting away with it. Time to quash that.
"Dude, you talk in your sleep, you've woken up the last nine nights screaming my name. You haven't kept one dinner down, you don't sleep once you wake up from the nightmare. You think I haven't known?" Sam looked at him, hoping Dean would understand. "I just didn't know what to say, what to do."
"Sam, I thought it would pass, just go away one night."
"It didn't," Sam said, guilty. "I should have pressed."
Dean sighed and looked at him a little sheepishly, a little embarrassed where the conversation was heading. Sam held his breath, not wanting to stop now that Dean had started. "I thought it was over, you know, except for the dreams. Sometimes it all seemed like a dream, like it never happened. Like you had never…never…" Dean stopped, swallowing, his eyes were filling with tears, "like you had never died. It only happened in my dreams, every night, never ending."
Sam didn't know what to say, "Dean…"
"No, Sam. I tried to convince myself it hadn't happened. It made it worse, the dreams were getting worse." Dean looked at him, the grief open on his face, "You dying in my arms, again and again. Getting cold." He broke off and closed his eyes, Sam reached out and pulled his brother back against him.
"Dean you can't pretend it didn't happen, anymore than I can pretend you didn't make the deal that brought me back." He laughed a little bitterly. "I do try, sometimes, to pretend the deal was never made, but it was Dean." He looked at his brother, and suddenly the bitterness, the anger over Dean's choice drained out of him. He understood. "We have to move on from here," he said gently.
"Yeah," Dean looked away, Sam could sense his embarrassment.
"You had to let all that out, Dean."
"I know, I just didn't want you to have to be around for it." Dean sat up and moved to the head of the bed, leaning against the wall. Sam could see Dean trying to recover himself, the "no chick-flicks" look in his eyes, but not quite. Sam didn't believe it just yet.
"I'm glad I was," he said. "I'm glad I could be here." You needed me big brother. You let me help you through this, you've given your life for me. He slid up beside Dean, still pretty sure Dean wasn't all the way recovered. His brother leaned against him, Sam put his arm around him.
"Yeah, Sammy, me too." There were many layers in that statement. Sam heard them. He sat there with Dean until his brother's breathing evened out into sleep.