Set after Lazarus Rising.
Dean awakens with a jolt, eyes shooting open, breath caught in his throat. It takes him a moment to get his bearings, for the fear to abate and the realization that he's lying on a bed and not suspended by hooks and chains to sink in. It's then, when his heart begins to even back out, that he feels a set of eyes on him in the dark motel room. He already knows who they belong to and it gives him a sense of calming security, and of reality in which his dream was just that. He lifts his head from his pillow towards the shadowed corner.
Dean knows it is his younger brother. He had caught notice of Sam watching him or casting glances at him a lot in the past week and a half, while he slept or when he thought Dean wasn't looking, so Dean knew this wasn't the first occasion. When Dean would look back at Sam, it was as if Sam would have to consciously make himself look away. The guy wasn't exactly sneaky about it. He also knows its Sam because he would know his brother's presence anywhere.
At the sound of his name, Sam attentively shifts himself upright in the chair, realizing that Dean knows he had been watching him. Dean reaches over and switches on the small lamp between his bed and the other, which he notes from the still unwrinkled sheets that Sam has not yet occupied. Dean glances at the digital clock on the nightstand before looking back towards Sam.
"It's three in the morning, man. Don't you think you should get some sleep?"
"I'm not really tired," Sam replies looking away, shoulders giving a small shrug. Dean didn't need to hear the weary tone that Sam tried to hide to know that was a lie.
"So are you just gonna watch me sleep all night? 'Cause, dude, I gotta tell ya, that's a little creepy," Dean half-heartily jokes.
"Sorry," came Sam's soft reply, still not meeting Dean's eyes.
Dean lets out a small sigh at the un-called for apology and sits upright, swinging his legs over the edge of his bed. He rubs the sleep away from his eyes with the heel of his hand and looks back over to Sam. His brother looks like shit. Even in the dim light Dean can see dark circles beginning to form under Sam's eyes, and he looks depleted. Dean's mind flashes back to after Sam had just lost Jessica. Sam had been emotionally exhausted from the trauma, from denying himself sleep, afraid of what he'd see if he did, but somehow kept himself going anyway. He had had the same worn-out look to his features and body language as he did now.
"Go to bed, Sammy," Dean orders gently.
"No, you're not," Dean informs. Leave it to his brother to downplay something wrong with himself if he thinks it will spare Dean. Not that Dean would do different.
Sam raises his head to look at Dean. Trying to hide anything from each other never worked. They simply knew one another too well. Dean had just come back from the dead, from HELL. He had enough to deal with without Sam having a breakdown on him. He needed to stay strong for Dean's sake if not his own.
Dean got it, he really did. The way Sam couldn't seem to let Dean out of his sight, the almost constant sideways glances Sam gave him. Dean had to remind himself he was really back too sometimes. He knew he'd being doing the same if the situation was reversed. Hell, he had.
"I'm not going anywhere, Sammy."
He says it soft, but his tone is firm. He needs to assure Sam. Maybe he needs to assure himself too. Deep down, he only hopes it's not a lie. But there is no way he is leaving his brother again, especially not with how Sam is looking at him right now.
Sam's head droops with a single small nod, hiding his face from Dean, and squeezes his eyes shut against the moisture he's sure his brother has already seen.
"I know," he says, but his tone doesn't sound as sure as the words. He takes a breath and stands then paces a few steps around himself. He's trying to keep it together.
"Sam?" Dean inquires somewhat worriedly as he watches his brother.
"It's just-" he stops as he looks at Dean. Dean is looking up at him. There is nothing but patience and love and above all, worry in his brother's eyes. Worry for Sam. Sam walks over to the bed next to Dean's and sits across from him. Dean searches for an answer in his little brother's face.
"I just I need to make sure you're really here, to know that it's real and not just a dream, you know?"
Dean nods. He does know.
Sam averts his eyes downward as they begin to tear. Dean doesn't say anything, willing him to continue. Sam needed this. Maybe they both did.
After you died.
Sam can't bring himself to say it. It still hurt too much. It was still too real.
"I woke up every morning and had to realize over and over again that you weren't here, you were really gone and you weren't coming back," Sam confesses. His voice feels tight as he tries to get it past the knot forming in his throat.
"I feel like if I close my eyes, you're gonna disappear." Sam looks back up at Dean, eyes wet with tears.
Dean's chest becomes tight and he swears he can literally feel his heart aching for his little brother. When he had lost Sam, he had to wake up to the same reality. He had to wake up with knowing that his brother, the most important person in his life, was dead. It had been Hell. That had only been two days. He couldn't imagine having to live with that for any longer, but Sammy had. He had lived with it for months.
Dean's felt his own eyes well at the thought, and how his brother had suffered. Dean had been in Hell, but so had Sam.
"Well I am back. I'm really here, Sam, and like I said, I'm not going anywhere."
"I didn't get you out." Sam's voice cracks. "I tried. I did everything I could think of but I couldn't get you out."
Sam's voice is laced with remorse. He thinks he should have been able to save his brother, especially when Dean has always managed to save him, but he couldn't. For that, he hasn't forgiven himself. Dean hadn't realized the guilt he carried for that.
"Sam," Dean says, reaching across the space between them and grasping Sam's shoulders. His brother continues to look down, tears now freely falling. "Look at me."
"SAM," he says more sternly. This time Sam obeys, meeting his eyes.
"You listen to me," Dean orders through his own tears. "I know you tried, Sam. I know you did everything you could. No one could've asked for more. I couldn't have asked for more. You did everything I would've if it was the other way around."
It wasn't your fault, little brother.
Sam's eyes squeeze shut. His whole life he has looked up to his big brother, even when they had been at each other's throats, figuratively and literally. The love and admiration he felt for Dean was as much a part of who he was as Dean's need to protect Sam was a part of him. It felt like he had failed Dean by not being able to save him, because Dean would have found a way. He had found a way. He'd been able to bring Sam back when he died. But here he is, telling Sam he had done everything he would have.
"It doesn't matter how I got out. All that matters is that I am, and I'm not leaving you again, Sammy."
Sam brings his head up and the brothers hold each other's gaze. Sam's emotions are beginning to pour out of him. There's so much he wants to tell his brother; how much he missed him, how he got through those months, the things he did, how much he loves him - because he hadn't even told Dean that before he died. But he doesn't. Partly because he can't find the words and because saying what you really feel was never really the Winchester way.
Sam reaches out and grabs Dean's shoulders. It's desperate, needing. Dean lets one hand slide down from Sam's shoulder and wrap around his forearm while he takes the side of Sam's face with the other.
Sam is finally breaking down, the past few months of denied grief and desperation catching up to him. He squeezes his eyes shut again as more tears fall and lets out a sob. He looks about ready to fall off the bed and Dean, not letting go of him, slides across to the other bed so that he is sitting next to Sam. He wraps strong arms around his little brother's shoulders and after barely a moment, Sam leans into them, his head resting on Dean's shoulder. Dean can feel Sam's body shaking as quiet sobs wrack his frame and Dean protectively wraps his arms around him a little tighter.
Truth is Sam never had to say how much he missed his brother or how much he loved him. Dean knew. He knew without anything ever having to be said, because that was their Winchester way. This had been a long time coming, for both of them.
"Its okay, Sam" Dean almost whispers into his brother's hair, "I gotcha."
Those were two words that Dean had said to him many times throughout their lives, words that gave him comfort and security, that meant that his big brother was there. And in those words, in those arms, Sam heard the 'I love you, too.' The response to the words he never actually had to say.
Sam really had his brother back.