Title: Sweet Dreams and Flying Machines
Summary: Sequel to the season finale and my story 'When A Cold Wind Blows'. Probably need to read the latter for this to make sense. Summary intentionally left blank to avoid spoiling anyone.
Disclaimer: The boys don't belong to me. They are probably glad about this.
Author's Notes: Title taken from James Taylor's Fire and Rain. Reviews as always appreciated. Beta'd by the awesome TraSan who helped me get into Sam's head!
Sam would like to say that the first thing he did after storming the gates of hell to get his brother back was to return his brother back to his body.
The truth is that the first thing Sam does is fall over.
The witch had warned him that the sustenance spell would wear off as soon as Sam cleared the doorway to hell but she didn't warn him that it would feel like waking up after a week-long fever, kitten weak and stomach trying to consume itself. He reaches an already shaking hand to the food he'd stacked before his sojourn into hell.
Where the stack of apples was, there is now an apple tree. True, it's a mere sapling, barely the height of Sam's knee if he was standing but it's enough to make Sam double-take. Fortunately he didn't risk everything on decomposable foods and next he reaches for the plastic covering, tugging it off to reveal the pyramid of energy bars beneath. His fingers twitch and fumble as he unwraps one of the bars, sulphur-yellow wrapper faded, and shoves it into his mouth.
He chews as fast as he can, fingers shredding the wrapper off the next bar even as his dry throat works to swallow its current mouthful. One hand reaches for the Gatorade bottles stacked nearby. The plastic of the lid cuts into his hand and he tries to twist the lid open. It doesn't work, his fingers are too sweat slick and he reaches for the stack of clothes, grabbing the t-shirt and using it to provide much needed friction. That succeeds.
The liquid inside is flat and warm but that doesn't stop Sam from tipping the bottle back and gulping it all down. The next bottle is easier to open, its contents joining the sugar swarm settled in Sam's stomach. The third bottle proves impossible to open and Sam tries to toss it against a tree in frustration. It lands a few mere feet from where Sam is sprawled out in the long grass.
Sam levers onto his side, trying to make the preparations that will allow him to stand up. His body is moving slower and slower, lassitude settling into the muscles like a thick blanket. His mind slows to molasses and he reaches for another energy bar, the few brain waves still sparking devoted to the fact he needs to eat if he wants to wake up again.
Two more energy bars meet their demise in sharp teeth before Sam succumbs to sleep.
Sam wakes up to the incongruity of bird song. He rolls onto his back and immediately hisses as intolerable pain shoots through the left side of his torso and down the side of his leg. Instinct kicks in and he rolls onto his right side, curling up in the foetal position to try and wait out the pain. He can taste copper where he's bitten into his lip.
It takes another minute before he's willing to risk moving again. He tries to open up his eyes but they feel crusted over and refuse to open. He can't manoeuvre his right arm to rub at them and he doesn't dare to move his left side again until he discovers the source of the pain.
It takes some fancy balancing to angle his body enough to free up his right arm without any weight or movement to the left. It feels like Sam is rubbing years worth of sleep away from his eyes but eventually he manages to open them up to narrow slits. The sunlight stabs at sensitive eyes, sending shockwave prickles of pain into his brain. He resists the temptation to close them again, to curl up and go back to sleep.
He turns his head, ignoring the stinging protest of his neck and surveys the damage. His entire left side is lobster red, speckled with blisters, some of which had burst and were oozing pus. Sam feels nausea coiling his stomach and the previously threatening headache burst into technicolour splendour behind his eyes.
Sam heaves but there is nothing left in his stomach to make its way up so he just spits saliva and bile out onto the ground. It just figures that in all Sam's preparations for this moment, he never thought he might need Aloe Vera.
The sunburn will only get worse if he lies here so he reaches for the t-shirt, braces himself and tugs the fabric on over the burns. He bites his lip to keep from screaming. Standing is agony, pulling on boxers and jeans is worse. Fortunately his feet seem to have escaped the worst and he pulls on socks and boots without much issue. The remainder of his food stockpile is stuffed into the duffel, after another Gatorade bottle and two more energy bars have been consumed.
That means it is time for Sam to turn his attention to the whole reason for all this. The silvery sack lies on the ground not far from Sam. The material is unlike anything Sam had ever seen before and the witch who had located it for him had suggested it was spun from the hope left in Pandora's box. Sam can't help but chortle about what Dean might remark on his current location.
The sack was lying too still. Sam reaches out, ignoring the screams of his body and pulls the sack towards him, stroking a hand down its length to feel for any movement. In an instant, the sack comes to life, surging and bucking against his hand.
Sam leans back and begins to giggle, the noise bubbling up past his throat and into the air around. Once started, it is unstoppable, not that Sam is even trying. It is just ridiculous, here was Sam worrying that all he'd done was for nothing, his brother's essence had withered away while Sam was hibernating and Dean… Dean was having a fucking nap!
The sack almost seems to be laughing along with him as it spirals and twists around. Sam pats a hand to where he thinks Dean's 'head' is, as if a funnel of smoke has a head. "Settle down, Dean. Let's go see Bobby."
It isn't until Sam turns the Impala onto the road heading towards Bobby's junkyard that he forces himself to face the reason he hasn't been back to Bobby's for six years since Dean died. The reason greets him at the door, standing there like it'd been expecting him.
Sam gets out of the car awkwardly, trying to favour his injured side and cradling the silver bag to his chest.
"Hey Sam, long time no see. I was beginning to think you didn't like me anymore." 'Dean' stands there in a way utterly unlike Dean, half-slouched with one hip cocked upwards towards Sam.
"Get out of my way, Ruby," Sam shoulders past his brother's body, glancing around for Bobby.
"Now, now, Sammy, watch the meat sack," Ruby chided him, her girlish intonation sounding wrong in Dean's voice.
Sam's fist curls, the urge to punch Ruby stronger than ever. He doesn't really want to have to explain the bruise to Dean afterwards though. Even if he was fairly sure his brother would think it justified. "Bobby!" Sam hollers.
"Sam," The man appears from behind one of the man-sized towers of books, a smudge of grease on his cheek and ink staining his fingers. "Damn it, boy. I was beginning to think we'd lost you too." Sam didn't even have a moment to formulate a response before he was being wrapped in a back-slapping hug.
He waits for Bobby to pull back then holds up the sack like it is the best trophy ever won. "I did it, Bobby."
"Well, damn," Bobby says, rocking back on his heels and surveying the sack. "You Winchesters are jus' crazy sons of bitches, ain't ya? So, that's Dean in there?"
Sam nods his head, wincing as the movement scrapes raw skin again. "It's Dean. Just need to get ready then we can put him back where he belongs."
Bobby lifts his head, runs a hand back through increasingly grey hair and replaces the cap. "You sure you know what you're doing, Sam?"
Sam turns his gaze onto Bobby, barely believing the older hunter is actually questioning this. "Nah, I marched into hell on whim and a fairytale. I checked this out, Bobby. I double-checked, triple-checked, I went to the mountain and I consulted the crystal ball, I spent so much time in the library that I think my blood is ninety percent dust. I'm sure, Bobby."
"Yes would have sufficed," Bobby says, keeping a straight face right up until the moment he can't and broke into a large grin. "Well, lets get started on getting that idjit of a brother back."
Despite Sam's impatient hovering, it takes a while to set up everything. Sam leaves the majority of it to Bobby, keeping guard on both Dean's essence and his body. The body, still currently occupied by Ruby to keep the meat fresh as Sam wished she'd never put it, is seated cross-legged in the centre of a nearly complete Devil's trap. Sam is nearly one hundred percent sure that it is Dean he pulled out of there but he isn't going to risk losing Dean's body to chance.
Bobby emerges into the room, sweat beading his brow and the supplies in his hand. "You sure you don't want me to do that?" he motions to the supplies.
Sam nods firmly, "Yes, it needs to be me, you finish the devil's trap. Okay, I'm ready." He turns to Dean's body, regarding him for the last time with alien gestures, "Ruby, out."
Dean's lips briefly form a pout and then his head tilts back, a cloud of black smoke erupting out and spiralling up towards the ceiling. Bobby immediately crouches with the spray can to finish the trap. Sam knows there isn't much time to waste so he brings the sack up to Dean's open mouth, pushing at the fabric. It takes a few nudges before the contents of the sack roll down Dean's throat and Sam holds his hand out for Bobby's supplies.
The tip of the poker is glowing red hot. The smell of burning flesh fills the air as Sam traces out the same design from his arm onto Dean's, leaving out the breaking mark. Fortunately the hellhounds had already done the work of mashing Dean's anti-possession tattoo beyond recognition. Fortunate because if they hadn't, Dean's body would have been beyond use by the time enough of the tattoo was lasered off so Ruby could take up occupancy. Dean doesn't so much as twitch, even as Sam douses the poker into the water, steam hissing upwards.
"Did it work?" He hears Bobby's voice but it seems distant, unimportant as his focus narrows to Dean.
He tilts Dean's head up, inspecting the features for any sign of life within. There's nothing and Sam feels the edge of panic jangling across his nerves. Just as the last thread of hope is unwinding, Dean's eyes flash charcoal grey and his chest starts hitching up and down. Sam presses a shaking hand to his jugular, feeling the regular beat of a pulse beneath. "It worked. Dean's back."
Sam cups Dean's face, tilting his head up. "Hey Dean. It's okay, you're back. No more hell. Come on, say something."
Dean says nothing. His lips remain slightly parted, allowing air to be sucked in and expelled but there's no flicker of life.
"Come on," Sam pleads. "I got you out of there, you just need to wake up."
Sam feels the heavy weight of Bobby's hand on his shoulder. "You did good, kid. You need to give your brother time though, what he's been through… That ain't gonna be got over like a low fence."
Sam hears the wisdom in the words but he doesn't want to believe them. He just wants Dean back now! He marched into hell, surely Dean can manage the next step. "Maybe he needs a drink, he's probably thirsty. Can you get him a glass of water?" Sam turns his attention back to Dean, "You thirsty? Is that it?"
Bobby returns with a glass of water which he hands down to Sam. Sam can see the disapproving look on Bobby's face but he turns his head away.
Sam pushes down Dean's jaw with careful fingers and presses the glass to his lips. "Here you go." He tilts the glass, letting the liquid flow into Dean's mouth, "Just gulp it down for you." Dean's throat convulsively swallows the liquid down and Sam is nearly relieved until Dean's jaw drops a little lower and steam comes billowing out.
Sam pulls the glass away like it's burning him instead of his brother then throws it against the wall. "Bobby, what the hell do you think you were doing?" Sam stands and cradles his brother against him, little wisps of smoke escaping from parted lips. "Sorry, Dean. God, it's okay." His brother still shows no sign of discomfort but Sam feels the need to comfort him anyway.
Bobby is silent for a long while then starts up a stream of curses to colour the air blue. "Damn it, I honestly didn't think it'd affect him. I bless my water tank as a matter of course." He reaches a hand towards Dean then obviously thinks better of it and pulls back, "You know I'd never do anything to hurt Dean."
Sam carries on soothing his brother who isn't showing any sign of distress. "Sorry, it's just… Why hasn't he said anything yet?"
Bobby crouches down and looks across to the brothers, "I don't know, Sam. Maybe it'll take him a while to get used to have a body again or maybe… Sam, you saw his eyes."
Sam defensively curls an arm across his brother's shoulders, tugging him close in a sideways hug. "He's not a demon! His eyes went grey, not black."
Bobby nods as if Sam has just proved his point. "Exactly, we don't know if Dean has whatever it is allows demons to take over another body. He might be in there without being able to reach out." Bobby's gaze turns to Dean, watching the complete passivity, "You might have to face that you've got your brother back so you can let him go."
"I'm not ready to face that yet," Sam says without hesitation.
"I know," Bobby straightens up, his knees clicking loudly and one hand resting on his back. "I'm going to head down the market and pick up some water that isn't blessed. You want anything else?"
"Get some M&Ms?"
The next few days continue with no further signs of anything happening in Dean's head. He drinks when Sam pours water into his mouth but just chokes on food. He sleeps if Sam put him in bed and pulls the covers up but gives no indication of being tired. He sits with a rigidity that makes Sam's back ache but never moves on his own.
Sam has consigned himself to be Dean's nursemaid for the foreseeable future, ferrying his brother about. He wakes up earlier than he needs to and lifts Dean out of his bed into the bath. After a quick wash, he brushes Dean's teeth, shaves off the stubble and dresses him in fresh clothing. He carries Dean out to the living room and sits him in front of the TV, switching the channel to the most Dean-ish one he could find.
Sam leaves him there while he researches everything he can find on waking comas and disassociation from the world. Lunchtime is soup which is about the only thing Sam can get Dean to swallow but Sam has to be careful to avoid soups with too many bits in after a choking incident. More TV and an awkward trip to the toilet leads to supper which is once again… soup. Sam half-hopes that just the repetitive diet of soup would be enough to bring his brother back to himself.
Bobby had got hold of some old person drink called Ensure for Dean. Sam had tried it in order to decide whether it was suitable for Dean. It tasted like the day after a long night drinking with a touch of strawberry. Sam had vetoed that drink as too cruel to Dean even if his taste buds weren't quite functioning.
"You can't keep doing this, Sam," Bobby emerges out of the yard after more maintenance on the Impala. Sam figures the older hunter copes in his own way. "You can't just pick him up and pose him like some gimmick in vacation photos. Here's Dean in bed, here's Dean at the TV, here's Dean at the dinner table."
"I know," Sam says, deliberately moving a little away from Dean on the couch so it doesn't look like he's hovering. "But I don't know what else to do. There's no book on this, I know I've looked. There's no precedent, nothing to tell me how to get Dean back so forgive me if I try everything."
Bobby takes a seat next to Sam, angling his body to face him. "Sam… Wait, is that a Cinderella sippy cup?"
Sam plucks the offending item off the table, incongruous amongst the research notes. "I said I was trying everything." He looks up expecting another admonition from Bobby but instead finds the older man barely suppressing a laugh. The laugh catches the edge of Sam's mouth and the corner twitches upwards, breaking into its own smile. "You know Dad used to have this photo of Dean at a little girl's tea party, right in the middle of pouring a cup of tea."
Bobby splutters, cheeks flushing red as he attempted not to break out into laughter. "How old was he?"
Never let it be said that Sam doesn't know how to tell a joke as he smoothes his face to absolute innocence and taps a finger on his jaw, "Seventeen."
That did it for Bobby as he lets out a loud guffaw and then near doubles over, laughter puffing out of him. "Oh God, Seventeen?"
Sam nods, "We were on a hunt, a bunch of men had gone missing in a small town in Minnesota. Dad was trying to interview the wife but she was too shaken up, wasn't saying much and what she said wasn't coherent enough to have an idea what she saw. Her two daughters were playing in the garden or, rather, they had been playing until we arrived. After that, they just stared at Dean the whole time, it was kinda creepy."
Sam has to hold back a laugh as the memory soars back into his mind, "So Dad decides that Dean should go see if the kids saw anything and that's how ten minutes later, Dean is pouring tea for Samantha Jean, Emily Rose, Miss Kitty and Miss Manglenolia." When Bobby looks about to explode from laughter, Sam waves a hand, trying to stall his laughter for long enough to get words out, "That's not even the worst bit. That was the first time Dad ever got Dean to solo an interview and he was trying so hard to do it right. So he turns to one of the girls, asking what she saw. She shakes her head and says she didn't see anything," Sam almost hiccups as he tries to hold back the laughter enough to breathe and possibly even speak. "But…" he coughs, trying to reach the punchline before he runs out of oxygen, "But Miss Manglenolia saw everything."
Bobby groans, looking like he's already guessed what's coming next.
"So Dean turns to this hideous blonde-haired doll and in this incredibly serious voice asks 'What did you see, Miss Manglenolia?'"
That's it for Sam and Bobby as they burst into unstoppable laughter, wheezing for breath in the short moments that the laughter lets up. Finally red-faced and panting, they fell back against the back of the couch. "Dad kept that photo of it too, used to threaten Dean with it to do chores. Dean tried and tried to find it every time Dad wasn't in the room but he never did."
Sam glances back to his brother whose face has remained impassive throughout, even when it looked like Bobby and Sam were out to pass out from laughing too hard. "He's gotta be in there, Bobby."
"I wish I could promise you he was, I really do."
Another week passes and Sam begins to reach the limit of things he hasn't tried yet. He's tried impersonating Dad at his sternest, at his angriest and finally, in desperation, at his gentlest. He's tried insulting Dean's favourite bands, his taste in women, his fashion choices, his hair. He's tried dropping ice down Dean's neck, sticking his feet in cold water, itchy powder on his t-shirt which Sam immediately felt guilty for and spent the whole day in a dark mood. Nothing has raised a sign of Dean being in there.
It's just after Sam has poured himself a steaming mug of hot coffee and is waiting for it to cool that he gets his next idea. It's not like he actually plans to go through with it, it's just a test. The books he's read, stacking up in fragile jenga towers around the room, have lectured enough about keeping the trust of the person and Sam would never do anything to harm his brother. He just wants to see those instincts kick in.
He holds the mug up to Dean's mouth, not touching but close enough that the heat can be felt. There's no reaction so he edges it closer and closer until the lip of the mug rests against flesh. He tips the mug slightly, not nearly enough for any liquid to escape but enough that the steam curls a direct path up Dean's nose. He waits for moments, feeling the tick-tock of Bobby's grandfather clock like a heartbeat.
He tilts the mug more and more until the black liquid laps against the lip of the mug. He searches Dean's face for any sign of reaction either to the coffee or to the danger of the heat. Years ago, before Cold Oak, Sam would've sworn the merest tang of caffeine in the air could've pulled Dean out of a sleep deep enough to put Sleeping Beauty to shame. Now Sam is left just wishing that was true.
That's when it goes to hell.
There's a bang at the door as Bobby stomps in, clanging the door shut with him. He takes one look at the scene and jumps straight to the wrong conclusion, "Sam! What the hell do you think you are doing?"
The bellow is enough to startle Sam's tense nerves and the mug tremors, black coffee slopping outwards and into Dean's mouth. Sam pulls the mug away as fast as possible and checks the damage. Most of the coffee missed the mouth and there's reddening skin showing in its wake. The little that Dean drunk doesn't seem to have done any harm and Sam thanks God for watching out for careless little brothers.
"I asked you a question," Bobby bellows again, his face purple as he stares down at Sam.
"I wasn't," Sam begins his argument in the middle. "I mean, I wouldn't. It was just… I just wanted to see if he'd react."
Pity briefly replaces anger in Bobby's expression and Sam honestly isn't sure which is worse. "Get out."
The words cut right to the heart of Sam and he shrinks backwards. He knows he's got no argument in response. Bobby has pulled out all stops to look after them and all Sam has done is return it in moping and dirty dishes. Sam catalogues how much of the Winchester belongings have spread around the small house. "We'll be out in an hour," he promises.
Bobby shakes his head and for a second he fears that Bobby means sooner, possessions tossed out the door. The truth when it comes is worse. "Not both of you, just you."
Sam may be willing to concede that Bobby has a right to be mad but it'll be a cold day in hell before Sam ever leaves his brother behind again. "No, Dean stays with me."
"I'm not going to take part in a tug of war with you over your brother, Sam. He's staying here, you know it's better for him."
Sam shakes his head, summoning all his stubbornness to the fore-front, "He's better off with me. I'll just pack up our stuff and we'll get out of your way."
"Pack up…" Bobby's face runs through five levels of perplexed until he starts cursing a blue streak. "Winchesters!" Somehow that seems the worst curse of the lot. "Sam," Bobby says, leaning across to rest a hand on his shoulder, "You're an idjit."
"What?" Sam asks, unsure what he's done to deserve being kicked out and called an idjit in such a short space of time.
"You're an idjit," Bobby repeats as if he's waiting for the words to sink in before he's willing to continue. "I'm not kicking you out, I'm telling you to get out… Just for a night. You've been cooped up in here for weeks and God only knows what you've been up to the last few years 'cos it sure as hell wasn't answering any of my damn phone calls."
"What?" Sam asks again.
Bobby rolls his eyes. "I'm telling you to get out of the house for a bit, just go down to a bar, have a few drinks, talk to some people that answer you then come back with your head on straight again." Bobby draws his hand back and uses it to rub his temple, "Honest to God, if you thinking I'd turf you and your brother out ain't a sign that your head's messed up then I don't know what is." Sam thinks Bobby sounds hurt but he's sure that must be his imagination.
Sam doesn't really want to go out but then that's not the point. The point is that he hasn't left the house once since he got here with Dean, not even to step outside and breathe in air that wasn't clouded with book dust. He'd thought about it but the idea of doing anything that wasn't directly helping Dean always came with a guilt-edged tang and sent him scurrying back to the books.
The fact that he's got to go out for a while is irrefutable but there's nothing to say how long he has to be out. Sam figures he can head down to the nearest bar, quick bottle of beer and be back before his seat on the sofa has become cold.
"I'll just grab my jacket," Sam stands from the sofa and slumps towards the door into his and Dean's shared room, head ducked down to avoid any eye contact with Bobby.
"Sam!" Bobby calls after him and Sam half-turns into the doorway, glancing back. "This isn't a punishment, okay? Go out, get some fresh air and try to have fun."
By the time Sam reaches the nearest bar, he's fuming. It was easy to see Bobby's reasoning sitting guilty on a coffee-stained couch, it's much harder in the dusk light. The bar looks like it's heaving, carbon copies of Bobby stumbling in and out of the door at regular intervals. From the noise spilling outside, there's either a live band or someone has the jukebox cranked way too high. The thought of losing himself in a few bottles of beer is briefly appetising but he's got to drive back afterwards.
He parks the Impala in a shady spot, enough distance from the bar to be in little danger of getting puked on, then he sets off on foot in the opposite direction. The town around him doesn't look like it's changed much since the pioneer days. Sure, the road has been tarmac'd and the shop fronts proclaim that 'Yes, they do have WiiThrii in stock' but most of the shops are still wooden sporting horse posts on the outside.
It didn't seem to figure that Bobby would settle so close to a place like this, filled to the brim with ghosts of its own even if those ghosts just manifest as a ramshackle closed-down store front. It's the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else and invites them over for peach pie and ice tea and gossip on rocking chairs out the front. Not the kind of place to live when you want no-one realising you hunt the things which go bump in the night.
Sam realises his thoughts are rambling about three buildings down from the bar. His feet slap into the packed dirt sidewalk, stirring up little puffs of dust in his wake. If Dean never did get better, would Sam stay here too? Would he settle on a life of going to a diner, being greeted by people who had no idea who he really was before returning home to a blank slate brother?
Sam stretches his pace, kicking out-of-practice muscles into gear. He let his mind blank for moments, let his feet eat up the ground, breaking into a light jog and feeling the first beading of sweat on his forehead. His sunburn has mostly healed but the remaining sensitive strips begin to protest the salty sting. Sam welcomes the respite of pain.
It isn't long before he clears the main street and Sam turns off left, following a dirt path through greenery more arid than lush. Sam had joined the running club on one of the mile long list of high schools attended, back before he'd shot up inches overnight and had a stride long enough to leave his brother in the dirt. He could remember the coach's voice in his ear, the pep talks about focus and dedication that even then had seemed slightly ludicrous compared to what was out there.
Sam knows that this run isn't what Bobby intended but Sam wasted a year trying to save Dean by becoming Dean, he isn't about to make the same mistake twice. This is how Sam thinks, on his feet, the ground subject below him. Back in the dark days just after Dean's deal had come due, Sam had had more muscle strains than meals.
His legs settle into a rhythm, leaving his mind unfettered to think. That isn't entirely a good thing. In all the years Sam spent trying to save his brother, it always had a goal, a finish line. Sam got Dean out of hell. Dean thanked him and they got back to saving people, hunting things. That is, if Sam couldn't persuade his brother to take a well-earned retirement.
Sam hadn't entirely worn rose-coloured glasses. He'd expected some amount of trauma, some coaxing Dean back to himself. What he had never expected was reality, an empty shell with a familiar face.
Sam's pace falters and he nearly trips, steadying himself on a nearby tree. Sam is a little out of breath but nothing that explains the sudden tightness squeezing his chest. He sinks down resting the palms of his hands on his jeans and sucks in deep breaths. It's not working and each sucked in breath comes with its own hitch. It takes a moment for Sam to realise the moisture flowing down his face is tears and when he does, he sinks down to the ground, wraps his arms around his knees and sobs.
He isn't sure how much time he spends, sitting out in the middle of nowhere watering the ground, but when he runs out of tears, his throat is constricted and he can feel the press of a headache. He brings his watch up to blurry eyes and sees almost two hours have passed since he left Bobby's. He staggers up to unsteady feet, swipes the remaining wetness from his face and heads back the way he came.
The bar is quiet now, just the burble of conversation coming from the closed doors. Sam slumps into the Impala and rests his head against the steering wheel, pressing back the emotions that spilled over. He twists the key in the ignition and the Impala's faithful engine bursts into its rumbling purr, an echo of a voice Sam misses.
The roads are dark now and Sam drives slower than he usually would, headlamps lighting the road battling against tired eyes. It takes almost forty minutes to get all the way back and Sam is ready to fall asleep for a decade. The lights are off in the small house apart from the porch light and Sam slips the spare key in the lock, twisting the front door quietly open. The room is dark but Sam knows it well enough to navigate in the dark.
Which is why he is so surprised to trip over a foot. Sam picks himself up from his sprawl and reaches for the light switch. The room erupts into hazy yellow light and Sam's eyes take a while to de-squint enough to see the figure sitting upright on the couch.
Dean shows no sign of acknowledging Sam and Sam sighs, feeling the need to collapse. That or bitch out Bobby for not getting his brother settled into bed. Instead Sam stands by his brother and coaxes him up to his feet, chivvying him towards the bedroom.
Obviously Sam isn't being quiet enough as Bobby appears in the door of his bedroom, regarding the scene with a sour expression below the ubiquitous cap, "What the hell are you doing? D'you have any idea of the time?"
Sam wasn't going to go looking for an argument but seeing as Bobby is here… "What am I doing?! What are you doing? I thought you said you would take care of Dean, not leave him on the sofa all fucking night."
Bobby takes a step back and looks at Dean with fresh eyes, a frown crinkling his forehead. "Sam, I put your brother into bed two hours ago."
It feels like a giant hoover sucked all the air out of Sam's lungs and he spins to face his brother, desperately searching for any flicker of Dean in the blank mask. There's nothing there, just empty green eyes looking back at him. "Did you miss me, Dean? Is that why you came out?"
Dean says nothing and Sam feels like crying all over again. He isn't about to break down in the middle of Bobby's living room.
Bobby takes pity on him, "Why don't you get some sleep? Things always make more sense in the morning."
Sam doesn't relinquish his grip on Dean, guiding him back into bed and pulling the duvet up. Sam slips into his own bed opposite and turns to watch the moonlight shadow of his brother. "I know you are in there, Dean, and I'm not giving up on you."
It gets easier after that, now that Sam knows there's something of Dean in there even if it's only a little bit of his soul trying to inflate itself to fill the space. He tries to cajole Dean into repeating the feat, to move without Sam guiding his footsteps but nothing happens. At least nothing happens until the day Sam leaves early to get groceries and comes back to Dean sitting in that same spot on the sofa once again.
Sam stops doing everything for Dean after that. It takes a day of Dean spending the entire time in bed—though that's nothing unusual, his brother could be a slug—before Dean emerges on his own to sit on the sofa. It's no great leap, Dean only seems to follow the pattern that Sam has laid out in days before. He'll get up, get dressed, go to the bathroom, come out, pour himself a glass of water but it's all with robotic motions.
Sam thinks more in those days about letting Dean go, pressing a hot poker to the symbol sealing Dean in and letting him progress to whatever is next. He thinks if he was sure that Dean would follow their father, go up in the sparkly white light or whatever, then he would have let Dean go. It's the uncertainty. Is Dean too demon to go to heaven or too human to be sent back to hell? Would he just float forever in the world, a lost grey stream?
Sam isn't quite sure what wakes him at midnight, whether it is just being attuned for movement or just another night of disturbed sleep. He blinks open sleepy eyes, instantly alert to the figure crouched at the end of his bed and the glint of curtain-filtered moonlight off his knife. He reaches under his pillow to his own gun, only to meet empty air. He'd moved the guns to safety as soon as he reached Bobby's, too afraid of an accident.
Sam twists and flicks on the switch of his bedside lamp, angling the light at the unknown. Green eyes squint in the sudden brightness and the knife wielding hand comes up to block a face.
"Dean?" Sam asks, his voice barely a whisper in case this is a dream he doesn't want to wake.
Dean makes a noise in his throat, subvocal and barely human, but it's the best thing he's heard for years.
Sam turns the light away so it just illuminates the room in yellow and scrambles up to his brother, taking the knife away from unresisting fingers. "Dean?"
Eyes stare back but for the first time, it is confusion rather than blankness in them. "Sammy?" The word is more growled than said but Sam will take what he can.
"Yeah, it's okay, Dean. I'm here." He unfolds his brother in a hug, not even caring that Dean isn't returning it. "You're gonna be okay."