A/N: I know i haven't written in a while... so this little plot bunny hopped up and I couldn't help it. I tried writing it in a different, 'slice-of-life' style. Unedited, not even proofread. Just me getting it out of my system.
Disclaimer: I own nothing but the freckled nurse June.
The Best Part
The worst part of it wasn't even that Dean was lying on a bed in a South Dakota hospital, catatonic and letting a respirator fill his lungs for him with a soft hiss-and-click. No. The worst part was that Sam sat by his bedside breathing and thinking and living all on his own. In spite of everything, Sam had managed to come out on top. Again.
And why? Because he'd said no. It wasn't all that much. Tell Sam Winchester what you want him to do andhe'll resist like a caged animal. That was where Lucifer had failed. He'd been too straightforward, too honest, and as a result Sam could fight him until the world came crashing down at his feet.
But Dean? He was the opposite. He'd resist subterfuge, too. Where Sam had caved to temptation and killed Lillith in a convent in Maryland, Dean had fought. Didn't matter what method anybody used, Dean would fight them tooth and nail. That was how he'd lasted thirty years in the Pit. He fought and fought and fought… and it only took one moment of giving in, letting Michael fill his skin, and Dean was gone forever.
Leaving Sam all alone.
Sam hung his head, running one hand through his shaggy hair. Damn. Dean was a freaking vegetable and he was still thinking of himself. It was like his brain was wired that way. No fixing it.
A faint knock pulled Sam out of his musings.
June, the pretty day nurse, smiled at him.
"Just popping in to check on him," she explained as she made her way over to Dean's bed.
Sam nodded mutely, hardly breathing until she was gone again.
"You should rest, Sam," a gravelly voice instructed.
Sam whirled around in his chair. Castiel stared at him, his blue eyes awash with immutable sorrow.
"Well?" Sam breathed.
Castiel's eyes turned to Dean's limp form, and he sighed.
"Raphael's vessel will be walking again within the month," he answered, stepping slowly, reverently closer to Dean's side. "Anna's been keeping with him."
"So Dean has you?"
Castiel's eyes flicked briefly back to Sam.
"At this point, he wouldn't even dare stop me."
He laid a hand on Dean's brow, and Sam flinched because his brother didn't.
"I hope you understand the burden this will place on you, Sam," Castiel murmured. "He will not heal overnight. This could very well spell years of rehabilitation. Insanity, Sam. Confusion. Terror. Pain. Total dependence on his loved ones. You."
Sam's stomach squirmed, but he forced himself to nod.
"I get it," he promised.
"I don't think you do."
"Then I will," Sam pleaded. "Please, Cas, just get on with it."
Castiel fixed Sam with those big, sad eyes, and Sam found himself wondering if Castiel had been born sad, and whether the events of the last two years had only accentuated what was already there.
With a small nod, Castiel placed his hands on Dean's temples and closed his eyes.
A week later, Dean hadn't moved. Sam felt like screaming, climbing up the walls, but Castiel warned him to be patient. The damage an archangel could do to a human was severe, and Michael was their most powerful.. Castiel conveyed Michael's preference for Dean't recovery, but both Castiel and Sam knew that the heavenly creature wouldn't know how to shed a tear if Dean died.
Then, eight days after Castiel had healed him, June's eyes bugged wide open.
"I… think he's starting to fight the respirator," she breathed.
Three days later, the tube was removed and Sam wept to see his brother breathing on his own.
Sam worked for Bobby, picking up the slack caused by the old man's wheelchair. He was just putting the finishing touches on a toyota pick-up when Bobby called for him from inside the house. Dean had opened his eyes.
Sam hauled ass to the hospital, not caring that he had alarmed the nursing staff as he burst into Dean's room. But he'd come too late. Dean was asleep again.
He settled into his familiar chair and waited, his gut knotting and clenching with each second.
Somewhere around nine in the evening, Dean's eyes fluttered open, but Sam's heart broke. His brother didn't recognize him.
Interns flocked around Dean while a doctor waxed poetic about Dean's progress and how it was what they called a 'medical miracle'. Dean blinked owlishly up at them; he had no clue what was going on. Probably didn't even wonder. There was nothing going on in his head.
Dean moaned and turned his head away from Sam, his fingers weakly plucking at his bedsheets. When Dean had started moving and making small gurgles in the back of this throat a couple of weeks ago, Sam had praised God in spite of his shattered faith. Now, Sam quietly marveled each sound and jerky movement his brother made, but he also quieted.
Dean liked to hear things. The chatter of the tv, the hum of the music –any music, even country. And his favorite sound was the voice of a person talking right next to him, so Sam happily obliged.
He was still getting the hang of censoring his speech, though. Dean didn't understand two words of what anybody said to him, but he still hated it when Sam's ramblings mentioned hell, demons, or the past apocalypse.
Bobby and Sam spent Christmas in Dean's hospital room. It was … nice. June had set up a little tree in the corner and hung strings of garland on the walls. She was still young, and she'd become easily attached to their little family. Sam gave her a scarf, to thank her for all that she'd done, and obliged her a kiss under the mistletoe. Dean watched, not understanding.
Bobby toasted Dean's recovery with mulled wine, to be replaced by cider after a couple of glasses. Dean watched them, pleasant and calm and happy to hear their voices.
Castiel showed up, and he sat at the head of Dean's bed, an honest-to-God smile on his face.
They watched "It's a Wonderful Life" on the tv, and Castiel frowned when Clarence appeared. Bobby chuckled.
Dean moaned and squirmed on the bed, refusing to still until Castiel placed a hand on his head. His eyes grew heavy, and he drifted off to sleep.
"Come on, man, just one more bite," Sam urged, but Dean turned away, clamping his lips tightly shut. Sam sighed. "Please, Dean. They're gonna put you back on the tube if you don't eat."
But Dean didn't budge. As usual, he'd just checked out after a few minutes. Sam tried to remind himself that he needed to be thankful for the moments that Dean seemed to connect to him, made eye contact for more than a second, seemed to understand at least a little bit of what was being said to him… but it was pretty damn hard.
"All right, Dean," Sam conceded, setting the bowl aside and reaching for the book he'd left on the table. He knew one way to get Dean out of his shell.
"All right, "Fight Club"," he hummed, flipping open the cover. "Chapter one…"
"Sam?" Dean groaned. "Sam? Sam!"
"Dean!" Sam gasped, placing one hand on his brother's forearm. His brother was talking. His brother was talking! His eyes burned and he choked back a sob of relief. "Hey, Dean, it's me. It's Sam, I'm here man."
"No," Dean moaned, squeezing his eyes shut and shaking his head. "No no no no no…"
"No no no, no NO!" Dean cried, jerking suddenly out of Sam's grasp and clutching his head. Trembling, he curled into a ball , whimpering a neverending stream of "no, no, no."
"Dean," Sam gasped, tears slipping from his eyes. What was he supposed to do now?
"Sam," Castiel murmured. "Move aside."
Sam glanced up as the angel edged past him and placed one hand on Dean's trembling frame. Instantly, Dean stilled.
"What happened?" Sam demanded. Castiel fixed him with a stare.
"After all you've seen, are you so uncertain of anything that could elicit such fear in your brother?"
Sam swallowed. Castiel sighed.
"Get used to it, Sam," he cautioned. "This won't be the last time."
Dean squirmed and keened softly, tears leaking out of the corners of his eyes as he bunched his hands in his sheets.
"Hang on, Dean," Sam said soothingly as he punched the call button. Dean whimpered and fumbled to grasp Sam's shirt as the cramps crept up his legs.
Physical therapy didn't agree with Dean.
"It's so good of you, looking after him like this."
"Well, he pretty much sold his soul for me," Sam murmured. "I kinda owe him, y'know?"
June smiled sadly, because there didn't seem to be any other kind of smile as long as Dean was in this hospital.
"Sometime, I'm going to have to hear that story from you. Maybe over dinner? A movie? Or we could just sit here and brood for a while."
That was right. In spite of everything that had happened, he still looked good on the outside. She couldn't see all the scars and darkness inside.
"Maybe sometime," Sam replied.
"Nnn," Dean grunted, twining his fingers in Sam's shirt. The psychiatrist sighed and nodded.
"All right." He jotted down a few notes and turned to Sam. "If you could stop by the pharmacy to pick up his prescription?"
Sam's chest burned, and he wanted nothing more than to knock the psychiatrist upside the head. He wanted to scream that his brother didn't need meds, that his brother wasn't crazy. But he had only to look at Dean's haunted eyes, his hunched shoulders, and his momentary lapse of denial passed.
"Yeah, sure thing," Sam muttered bitterly. The doctor left, and Sam glanced at his brother.
Dean shifted, his eyes flicking briefly to Sam's face before dropping back down the the floor.
"Dean, why didn't you want to talk to the doctor?"
Dean's grip on Sam's shirt tightened, and he shifted, grunting in the back of his throat.
"Dean?" he asked gently. "You wanna talk to me?"
"Mmm…" Dean shook his head and shifted, laying his ear against Sam's chest. His lips twitched in time with the beat of Sam's heart, his hand tightening and loosening as he relaxed.
Sam placed a hand on Dean's head, supporting him as he drifted off to sleep. He'd grown accustomed to Dean's eccentric behavior lately. It was all he could do to wait until Dean calmed, then lay him back on the bed.
"Sammy, where's dad?" Dean whimpered, rocking back and forth in the corner in a tight little ball. Tears streamed down his face as he stared out into nothing with wide, bloodshot eyes. "Where's dad, Sammy?"
"He's not here, Dean," Sam murmured, crouching in front of him.
"Where is he?" Dean whined, knocking his head up against the wall. "I wanna call him, I wanna see him… Please, Sammy, I wanna talk to him. He's supposed to tell me what to do, I dunno… I dunno what to do, Sammy…"
"Ssh, it's okay Dean," Sam said gently, laying one hand on Dean's trembling shoulder.
"That so, boy?"
Dean nodded and continued chattering on about the story Sam had been reading him, giving Bobby a play-by-play of every scene. Bobby chuckled and leaned back in his chair.
"And then he fought the giant and… and he was a Turk, and he wasn't used to fighting just one person, which is why he beat him, because he wasn't used to fighting just one person, but he didn't kill him, see, he just beat him…"
Sam chuckled. Dean certainly enjoyed the action of The Princess Bride, and he'd been having a lot of 'Up' days since Sam had started reading it to him.
"NO!" Dean screeched, swinging out at him. "Get away! Get AWAY!"
"Dean, it's just me! I promise, it's me! It's Sammy!"
It wasn't hard to dodge Dean's rusty, wild blows. But it was certainly hard to keep from knocking his fragile older brother in his attempts.
"Jesus!" the doctors hissed as they rushed in, meds at the ready. Dean caught one sight of them and screamed. Not the funny scream of a man who'd been startled, but the bloody, tortured scream of a man in agony who knew more was coming his way.
"How long is this one going to last?"
Castiel glanced down at Dean's face. Had Dean not been in the habit of walking and talking lately, it might have been easy to assume he'd slipped back into catatonia. With his memories, a bout of depression was enough to do that.
"I can't tell," Castiel replied. "But Raphael's vessel recently moved back into his mother's home, free from medication."
That didn't make Sam feel any better.
Dean rolled over, turning his back to them.
June scrunched up her freckled nose, biting her lip as she played with Sam's hair.
It was wrong. Everything inside Sam screamed that it was wrong. That he would only leave her in the end, that he was cursed and any woman he pursued would be caught up in it as well, that he couldn't truly open himself to any woman as long as he worried for Dean…
But Bobby had encouraged him to accept the nurse's advances. And even Castiel had suggested that Sam seek companionship from someone who wasn't haunted by his past. And damn, if June wasn't just so pretty right now.
So, with his heart breaking and healing all at the same time, Sam leaned in and placed a kiss on June's beautiful freckled nose, adding it to his memories of Madison and Jess…
"You should go on a hunt, Sammy," Dean whispered, his throat hoarse from his screams during the previous night's dreams.
Sam frowned, tugging on Dean's sleeve to lead him through the butterfly garden.
"I don't think that's such a good idea, Dean," Sam answered gently. "Why do you want me to go hunting?"
"It's our job," Dean told him automatically, crossing his arms tightly.
"What about you?" Sam pointed out.
"You gotta do the job, Sammy."
"Sammy," Dean moaned. "No, no, no Sammy no, please, please don't leave me, please don't leave me, please Sammy, please…"
"I won't leave, Dean. I promise."
"Please, Sammy, please stay, please please please, Sammy, please," Dean sobbed, burying his head in the crook of Sam's neck, twining his fingers in Sam's shirt.
"It's okay, Dean. I've got you. I'm not going anywhere."
Dean keened softly, wrapping his arms around Sam's torso and holding him close.
"I love you, Sammy," Dean muttered, glancing up from his bed.
"I mean it." Dean swallowed, glancing up at Sam with wide, frightened eyes. "I just… Sammy, I just wanted to tell you when I'm, y'know, still me…"
"Thanks." Sam smiled, and damned if he wasn't getting a little choked up himself. Dean clenched his jaw and took a shuddering breath. "You know, I love you, too."
"I don't… it's hard, Sam. Some days I just wanna quit trying, y'know? It doesn't feel like it's worth it. But you've been here for me. Even after I know I haven't been easy, you've stuck by me. Thanks, man."
Sam chuckled, his breath hitching as a tear slipped down his cheek.
"Just returning the favor, Dean."
"Leave me alone," Dean snapped, curling up in his corner, fingering his necklace, his face pulled into a tight mask of irritation.
"Dean," Sam sighed, but Dean would have none of it.
"This is my room, not yours. This is my thing, and I want it for me!"
Sam's chest constricted, and he felt a scream building up in his throat. Dean's first relapse in a month… hard to remember that, not so long ago, this was a daily occurrence.
On days like this, Sam wondered if he would ever have his brother back.
'Patience, Sam,' Castiel told him time and time again. 'Dean's making extraordinary progress considering his situation.'
Sam always made sure to remind Castiel that it was the goddamn angels who'd put him in this situation in the first place.
Dean curled up, muttering about how he didn't want to share, that he wanted this room for him and only him. Sam clenched his fists, swallowing down the lump in his throat.
"Fine," he hissed.
"I guess I just wanted to feel like I was doing something useful," June mused. "I wanted to make a difference in the world… even though bodily functions really freaked me out as a kid."
"Is that why you took me out to dinner?" he asked. "Cause I'm somebody you can help?"
"No." June smiled a crooked little smile. "It's cause I'm curious. I want to know your story… but I'm gonna have to wait a little longer on that one, huh?"
"She knows you're my brother right?" Dean asked firmly.
"Yes, Dean, she knows that."
Dean pursed his lips and nodded.
"Okay. Then it's okay."
Sam's stomach clenched as he pulled up to Bobby's house. Beside him, Dean stared wide-eyed out the windows, tugging at the wrinkles in his jeans.
Bobby rolled out onto the porch and waved at them. Dean took a shaky breath and staggered out of the car, his face splitting in a wide grin.
For just a few hours, it felt like they were on holiday. They got through dinner just fine, watched a game on tv, and Sam had to remind Dean to take his meds.
When he woke that night, screeching and uncertain of his location, Sam was ready.
The first hunt didn't go so well. Sure, Dean managed to get through the interviews just fine (And how nice it was for Sam to look after his brother like this, though wasn't it a little unprofessional for a claims investigator to bring his very special brother along?), and he took right to the motel room as though they'd never gotten out of their old habits.
A few things were off from the get-go, though. Dean never made eye contact with anything, and his incessant habit of picking at things made him stand out as just a little odd. Then, of course, he had to check the salt-lines every few hours, and wash his hands regularly, but Sam assumed it was because he was anxious…
In a bar on their second night, Sam found himself flirting with a grad student who'd known the victims, and Dean had about yanked him away the second he thought Sam had all the information he needed.
"What about June?" he demanded the moment they were back in the impala, irritably running his hands over his knee.
"Dean, June and I aren't… we're pretty open," Sam stammered, but Dean scowled. "And, anyway, I wasn't looking to hook up. I was just doing my job, Dean!"
But Dean wouldn't speak to him for the rest of the night and, after spending a few days in close quarters again with his crazy brother after so long, Sam didn't really care.
"I'm gonna get a coke," he grumbled, slamming the door behind him.
When he returned, Dean was curled up in his bed, knees tucked to his chest, but his face was relaxed. Castiel sat at the foot of his bed.
"He's all right," the angel assured Sam. "Just a little antsy to be out again."
A little antsy, though, didn't cover Dean's reaction to the ghost. Once they'd finished the usual salt and burn, he had to guide a wide-eyed, trembling Dean back to the impala and, despite his exhaustion, burned asphalt to get back to Bobby's.
Dean's nightmares didn't end for a week.
"They died, they all died…" Dean growled. "That guy from my heart attack, Dad for my soul, all those people up top and all those souls down in hell…"
"But it's over now, Dean," Sam promised him.
Dean glanced up at him and licked his lips, working it over in his head.
"Yeah," he agreed. "Yeah."
"Cas," Dean grinned, glancing up from under the hood. "How're things up in heaven?"
"Divine," Castiel replied. "And how are you?"
Dean sighed and shrugged.
"Ups and downs… but I'm on an up." He chuckled. "Truth is, I've been on an up for a while now…"
"That's good, Dean. I'm glad."
Sam smiled and pretended not to eavesdrop.
It wasn't always easy. Dean would probably never be the same. But it was better.
Sure, a lot of people still thought him 'special' when they went out on hunts. And some days, the depression was so bad there was no budging him at all. But the dark episodes were waning. Dean was smiling more, joking again. But it was more than that.
Between Sam and Bobby and Castiel's less-than-orthodox visits, Dean was standing straighter. And, most importantly, he was standing on his own.
And that? That was the best part.