Like a gift from the heavens, it was easy to tell,
It was love from above, that could save me from hell.
-"Into the Night" by Santana feat. Chad Kroeger
He noticed it really about three weeks after Dean was pulled out of Hell. For the most part, Dean was gaining his feet back, standing on his own in more than one way, and managing just fine. Loud noises didn't bother him, music didn't deter him, and food didn't unsettle him. Hell, he didn't even seem to be bothered by the fact that his brother had all sorts of magic tricks he could do now. At least, Sam hoped he didn't.
It was the tinier things, the things that Sam had never considered would've been a problem, that were causing the most grief.
Like storms. The thunder didn't bug Dean, but the lightning...the lightning did. Sam'd found out the hard way on that one, when they'd been driving through a little bit of rain and then lightning had flashed on the horizon. Even before the thunder clap had followed Dean had slammed on the brakes, staring straight ahead with this look of pure panic and fear that made Sam's throat close up and his newfound protective rage surge forward to destroy whatever it was that had put that look there.
He couldn't really destroy lightning, though. Sort of a key element.
Dean had pulled over at Sam's insistence, and as soon as he had he'd started shaking, even as he'd tried so hard not to. For all their talks, Dean still felt as if he had to be one hundred percent okay again, even after everything he'd been through. It probably wasn't just for Sam that he was doing it, but for himself as well.
And dogs. They'd had a golden retriever bark at them from across the road, a random "I see people" sort of thing, but Dean had tensed up and frozen right there in the middle of the sidewalk, and Sam had been afraid he'd stop breathing, too. He'd caught Dean around the waist, and after a slow, murmuring conversation that had nothing to do with dogs or whatever they'd been discussing and everything to do with making Dean laugh, making Dean focus on something else, Dean had unfrozen and would've fallen if Sam hadn't held him up. There'd been tears in his eyes, and self loathing, and Sam hadn't been allowed to help with either.
He had an idea of why each of them terrified Dean, but other things, he had no clue about. Like when Dean had tripped and landed on the grass during a hunt, looked straight up at the bright blue sky as a result, and stared in fear before he'd passed out. Or why he skipped straight over the exorcisms in Dad's journal, wouldn't even read or look at the Latin anymore. Or when he'd gotten his sleeve caught on a hook in the trunk and freaked out so much he'd nearly hyperventilated. Sam still remembered the desperation on his face, the way he'd bit his lip so as not to scream in terror even as Sam had gotten him free.
Honestly, Sam didn't want to know why Dean was acting the way he was. At all.
Dean was his brother, though, and what Hell had done to him, Sam couldn't change. He could only go forward, and he planned on doing exactly that.
All Dean needed were...reminders. Good reminders, of how cool life could be. Of how the kick ass guy who'd lived life to the fullest was still in there and could be out twenty four-seven, not just for the most part when things were okay by Dean's standards.
Things were always going to be okay by Dean's standards from here on out. With this in mind, Sam started to plan.
The kid was thinking. That wasn't generally always a good thing. Well, okay, it really was; he'd gotten Dean out of Hell with that brain of his, and yeah, Dean knew about just how he'd used that brain. Sam had been reluctant to talk about it, and Dean knew he was secretly worried about Dean's reaction to it.
If anything, Dean was grateful that Sam had something more than a 9 mil to back him up on stuff now. He'd insisted on not using the powers on the hunts unless he needed to, which again was probably for Dean's benefit.
Dean was honestly more than okay with it. It meant there was something to not back just Sam up, but Dean too. Dean needed all the backup he could get.
He was falling apart.
It wasn't the big stuff that should've bothered him, either. Just little reminders, and it drove him nuts that those were the things that were scaring him. Dogs, lightning, the vastness of the sky, hell, black licorice. Sam had bought him some the other day, and Dean had focused on breathing even while he'd dumped it in the trash the minute Sam had looked away.
Everything reminded him of the void he'd been left in. Everything. And it wouldn't. Ever. Stop.
He kept telling himself to be Dean, to be the guy who wasn't scared of a demon, let alone candy. The more he tried, though, the more he panicked. Like when he'd gotten his arm stuck in the trunk. He'd tried to be the Dean he remembered being, who would've rolled his eyes then jerked as hard as he could to free himself. Except it hadn't worked, and Dean had finally resorted to frantic tugging, tears burning in his desperation to get out, to be free, to not be hanging there, caught in the void-
Dean closed his eyes, thankful he wasn't driving. He wasn't sure Sam was ever going to let him drive again, actually. Not after the stunt he'd pulled when he'd seen lightning.
He just wanted to be Dean again, not be afraid of everything all the time. The nightmares still came, but not as intense anymore, and Sam was right there to make sure they both got a good night's sleep. "You might as well move over, because I know you don't want me to stay up all night and watch to make sure you're okay," Sam had told him a week ago, the second time Dean had called hesitantly for his brother.
Kid probably had mind-reading on his list of things he could do now. Then again, reading Dean had always been what he was good at.
It was only fair; Dean could guess what Sam would do before Sam even thought of doing it.
So he was a little surprised when Sam gently eased the Impala off the road and onto grass. "Sammy?" he couldn't help but ask, and Sam's voice was as calming as the hand he placed on Dean's shoulder.
"Just trust me, dude. You'll like this."
Right. Out in the middle of nowhere at night. Fantastic.
The car finally stopped, and Dean glanced out at the waist high grass that was blowing gently in the night breeze. "My car's in a field, Sam," he protested, and heard Sam chuckle behind him even as he removed his hand.
"Deal with it. Come on out with me for a minute."
Dean heaved a sigh but opened the door, stepping out into the night air. Sam moved around to meet him, and Dean raised his eyebrow, pushing down the edges of panic. Sam was here, they'd be fine. He could hear the quiet symphony of crickets beyond him in the field, but that was it.
"Hood," Sam said, and he'd gotten around Dean somehow to grab their heavy duty blanket out of the back seat. He headed for the front and laid it across the hood, then climbed up onto the front of the car. Dean made a face at Sam climbing on his baby like a jungle gym, but followed Sam up onto the car.
"Close your eyes for a second, okay?" Sam asked once they were seated. The nerves were causing everything to tighten again, and Dean closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. Hands took his shoulders and guided him down against the cool windshield, his legs laid out on the warmth of the hood filtering through the blanket.
"Now look with me."
Dean opened his eyes and froze. Panic stole the breath from his lungs, left him staring in shock and fear at the dark night sky. There was nothing between him and it, no buildings to see and cling to, nothing but the black sky, with tiny pinpricks of light where the stars were laid out. It was endless, a void that was dark and cold and endless, and the day time sky had caused him to feel dizzy enough that he'd passed out, but-
Hands tightened on his shoulders, and he could feel Sam's arm behind his back, holding him and cradling him all at once. Suddenly there was a hand in his vision, pointing to one of the tiny points of light. "That's the North Star," Sam said softly. "Used by navigators for years. It's not always the same star, but for right now, it's Polaris. Because it's in line with our North Pole, so Polaris, Pole, it's sort of easy to remember."
Dean only nodded, and Sam's hand moved casually and quietly across the midnight black sky. Only his arm tightened at Dean's continuing distress.
"It's not the brightest star: that would be Sirius, that one right there."
"Is there a Goofius or something?" Dean managed to get out, and was rewarded with a laugh from Sam.
"No, it's actually part of the constellation Canis Major, which was the Great Dog, so Sirius is known as the Dog Star. Again, relation; the Greeks were pretty smart like that."
Dean nodded, before he frowned. "I thought Canis Major was the bear."
"You're thinking of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor," Sam said, pointing to another group of stars. This one Dean did recognize: Big Dipper and Little Dipper. "That's the bear constellations. Canis is dog."
Sam kept pointing out stars and constellations, with Dean throwing a few comments or questions here and there, and realized twenty minutes later that not only was he breathing just fine, but he was relaxed, he was warm from the car hood, he was staring at the sky without fear, and he was still safe with his big-little brother there with him.
Dean still kept declining to drive, even in the best of weather, so Sam finally had to resort to desperate measures.
It was sunny and hot, the windows were rolled down, and Sam casually put in a cassette he'd recorded a few days before. Dean didn't even notice, his gaze locked firmly ahead.
That was, until the opening notes with a certain someone's voice began to play.
Dean stared at him in horror for a completely different reason. Sam kept his face as nonchalant as he could. "What's the matter?" he asked. "Is it too loud?"
"Britney Spears," Dean said through gritted teeth, as if that in itself explained everything. Well, it sort of did, considering how well Sam knew Dean.
Sam shrugged. "I just felt like a change in music, that's all. Her stuff's not all bad, you know."
Dean's eyes were going to pop out of his sockets, Sam was pretty sure of it. Through the speakers, Britney continued crooning about a girl named Lucky. Sam himself was trying pretty damn hard to not crack up, because Dean's face was priceless.
Dean finally turned to the stereo to eject the tape, and Sam shook his finger at him. "Ah, ah, ahhh..." he scolded. "Driver picks the music. You made the rule, dude." Time to go for it. "Of course, if you wanted to have control of the music, you could drive...?"
Lips were pinched, a shake of the head was given, and Dean sat back in the seat, glaring at the stereo. Sam couldn't stop the grin from blossoming, and thank god Dean's attention was fixated on the stereo. The laughs were held back at bay, but frankly, it was starting to hurt his chest. C'mon big brother; you can't hold out for much longer. I know you.
He also knew how stubborn Dean could be, so had prepped several more songs to follow Britney. The song ended, and with it came a sigh of relief from Dean. There was a pause of maybe five seconds or so. Long enough for a false sense of security.
"Hey, hey, you, you, I don't like your girlfriend-"
Dean stared at the stereo. "You've gotta be kidding me, Sam," he said. "Seriously; Avril Lavigne?"
"Oh, so you know the song, too," Sam couldn't help but state with glee, and Dean groaned and buried his face in his hand at having been set up.
"That's it. Pull over. If you're gonna defile my baby's speakers with that bubble-gum noise, you're not allowed to drive anymore. I mean it, Sam, so stop the car, get out, and stop laughing!"
Sam slid the car into park and exited for the passenger side, arm wrapped around his middle as he wheezed and laughed. He took his passenger seat, wiping away tears of mirth, then glanced over at Dean, who still looked extremely annoyed about it all.
But there was a grudging grin slowly starting on his face.
The tape was ejected with great force, then tossed out the window. "When I said driver picks music, I meant for the driver to pick music," Dean continued to gripe, before putting in a random cassette. There was no fear in his movements or his gaze, only the decisiveness that Sam knew was all his big brother.
Thin Lizzy's guitar riffs started up with the drums, and Dean waited a full twenty seconds before he nodded in satisfaction and pulled off the side of the road.
And really, The Boys Are Back In Town was a better choice for them than Girlfriend considering everything. And if Dean hadn't cracked, Sam would've, because he didn't like the song anymore than Dean did. Still, when Thin Lizzy slid into Ozzy Osbourne, and continued down the line from there, with Dean still at the wheel...well, maybe the popstar song wasn't so bad, after all.
Sam was on the phone when Dean came out of the shower. "I've got something we should check out," he said, and Dean nodded. When Sam continued to look expectantly at him, Dean frowned.
"You mean like right now?"
"Right now," Sam repeated firmly. "Grab your stuff; it's only a twenty minute drive."
"Fifteen, because I drive faster than you, and no, you're not driving," Dean said, giving his brother a look. Sam was smart enough to squash the smirk before it started, but Dean could tell by the entire way his face changed that he was still laughing on the inside.
Dean sighed and went for his duffel bag, hearing Sam's snort of amusement behind him. Sam's stunt with the girly music had been two days ago, and Dean still hadn't surrendered the wheel. Wasn't planning on it anytime soon, either.
Even if he did know the exact reason Sam had done it. His brother was crafty, Dean had to give him that. It had rained a little yesterday, but when Sam had mentioned having another tape for Dean to listen to, they'd started a light-hearted argument about what classified as 'music'. Their discussion had lasted until they were clear of the rainclouds and the fear that had started in Dean's chest.
God, he didn't know what he'd do without Sam.
He was dressed and out in the car before Sam was ready, the girl. Sam came out after the second horn blast, giving Dean a look as he slid into the passenger side. He peered up at the sky, though, before he shut the door. "I don't think the rain caught up with us," he said.
Dean leaned forward to estimate for himself, glancing at the cloudless sky. "Probably went north," he agreed, then leaned back and started the car. "Where we going?"
When Sam didn't reply, he glanced over, and found his little brother staring at him with something akin to awe and joy. When he realized Dean's gaze was on him, he cleared his throat and looked down at the sheet of paper in his hands. "It's, uh, just up the road. When it dead ends, we need to take a right and follow the street down until the third light."
"Right, right, third light," Dean repeated. "Got it. Give me more when we get that far."
He knew the reason Sam was looking at him like that, though. Dean wasn't blind: the star gazing and the tapes had all been for one reason. Sam was slowly but surely pulling him back to safety, showing him that Hell was below him and nowhere close by.
And slowly, Dean felt stronger and more capable as each day progressed.
They got to the house sixteen minutes after they'd left the hotel, and Dean frowned at the bright blue house with white trim. "She's got something we need to look into," Sam said solemnly, and Dean took a deep breath before exiting the car. If Sam thought it was serious, it probably was.
A pleasant looking woman with short black hair answered the door. "Oh please, come in," she said cheerfully. "Did you have any problem finding us?"
"None at all," Sam replied with an easy smile, and Dean felt left out of the loop. Seriously left out of the loop. If this was a job, it was the oddest start to one he'd ever known.
"It's just right in there," she continued, pointing down a hallway. Sam stepped down until he stopped outside a room, and with each step his smile grew. When Dean made to follow, however, Sam merely held up his hand, before stepping inside.
Dean turned to the woman and gave her a hesitant smile. "It's, uh, a nice color choice. On the house, I mean," he stammered, heat rising in his cheeks. Dammit, Sammy, what the hell are you doing?
"I wanted something bright and cheery, considering my business," she said, still smiling. "I think it does the trick."
Dean turned back around to Sam, only to stare face to face with teeth and a wet nose. Dean stepped back instantly with wide eyes, Sam followed gently, and Dean flinched when the tiny, cool nose brushed against his cheek.
Right before a tongue started licking.
"You can hold him, it's all right," the woman said, and Sam brought Dean's hands up to cradle the tiny face cleaner. Dean turned his face the other way to escape it, and felt a tiny little tail wag in his hands, right before the tongue licking started in on his other cheek. It was light and tickling his skin, and Dean let out a helpless chuckle.
He pulled his head further up to get a good look at his cheerful attacker, who immediately stood on little hind legs and pressed littler front paws against Dean's shirt, panting happily as it licked his chin.
It was a dachshund. A dachshund puppy, at that, with big brown eyes to match its smooth, chocolate coat.
The tickling sensation was too much, and Dean found himself out and out laughing as the puppy cheerfully licked every inch of Dean's face it could get to. "Whoa, whoa, easy champ," Dean managed between laughs, with the puppy nearly jumping to try and get higher. "You're gonna fall, you keep doing that."
The puppy gave a tiny little bark and continued panting with looked like the happiest grin on its face as it jumped again. Dean glanced behind him before taking a seat in a wicker chair, if just to give the puppy less height to fall from.
It finally drifted off to sleep, nose nestled in against Dean's neck, and Dean glanced up and around the room with a smile still on his face. Sam was in the next room, easy to see, speaking with the woman at her kitchen counter. The clock to Dean's right chimed off the hour, and Dean suddenly realized they'd been there for almost thirty minutes.
He stood slowly, the puppy cradled in his arms, and made his way to the kitchen. "Bath duties were officially complete, so he assigned himself a nap next," Dean said by way of greeting. The woman grinned, and between the two of them managed to transfer the puppy from his arms to hers.
"He's probably my most voracious little one right now," she agreed, shaking her head in fond amusement. "They're all sweet, but I've been breeding for ten years now, and he's the most energetic little thing I've had, I swear."
"We appreciate this, Mrs. Gallen," Sam said, and the woman shook her head.
"It was no trouble at all; I'm always happy for guests. You two have a good day."
They said their goodbyes and headed out into the sunshine. "My face feels weird," Dean complained once they were back at the car, and Sam chuckled.
"I don't doubt it; it's covered in puppy slobber."
"Shut up," Dean told him, rolling his eyes. Sam grinned and opened his door, and right before he slid in, Dean added, "You were the one who arranged for me to play with him, after all."
Sam stopped, then slowly straightened and glanced over the top of the car. "And the tapes, and before that, the astronomy lesson," Dean continued casually.
Sam gave a small, sheepish smile. "Wondered when you'd notice," he said quietly.
"Sammy, I had it figured out after we got off the hood of the car that night," Dean said. "And I know why you're doing it, too."
"You're still you," Sam said simply. "You always will be. I just...wish you'd quit beating yourself up because you're not a-okay with everything right now. Or that you'd give yourself some time to let yourself adjust to what happened."
The top of the car shone brightly in the sunlight, but Dean still kept his gaze attached to it. "You're still Dean," Sam continued softly. "Nothing you do or say will ever convince me that you're not. And if you weren't freaked out by stuff, I'd be saying 'Christo' and lacing your coffee with holy water."
Dean snorted but didn't lift his gaze. "Just...try and let yourself take it easy for a little bit, all right? It's okay to not be fine about stuff."
"I am fine with stuff," Dean replied, and felt more than heard Sam's sigh. He glanced up at Sam and saw the frustration he was trying so hard to keep off his face. "Least, I am now."
The frustration melted away, and Sam's lips parted in surprise before he began to smile. Dean gave him a small grin back, then slid into the driver's seat. After a moment, Sam slid in beside him, and Dean started up the car.
There were bound to be nightmares and other flinch-worthy reactions that would pop over the next couple of weeks. Sam was making an impressive honorary big brother, though, with his subtle messages that eased the fear and brought assurance instead. He'd taken on Dean's unspoken fear of an eternal void, driving, and even the hell hounds, and made things seem right again.
He'd thought he couldn't love the kid anymore than he did, but at that moment, right then and there, he proved himself wrong again.
The car pulled onto the road, onward to wherever and whatever would face them, and Dean knew he'd be facing it back with a shotgun, a smirk, and Sam at his side.