"And you're sure this will work."
Castiel looks over to Dean, eyes hiding everything that Dean's seeking out. "You know as well as I, Dean, that this is our only shot at saving your brother."
What's left of him, anyway, Dean thinks.
Sam's still waiting in the other room – Dean can see the shadow on the wall when he glances in the doorway, and the sight of his brother's silhouette unnerves him. It looks so much like him. It looks so much like Sam.
But Sam wouldn't be sitting so straight – would have that barely-there slouch in his shoulders like he's trying to hide his height. He's been doing that for years, ever since he shot up past Dean and felt bad about it.
God. Dean wants him to feel again.
"Okay," Dean breathes, his guarded eyes locking with Castiel's. "Let's do it."
Castiel nods, walking into the room with purpose. Dean hears him start to explain the process to Sam, and he takes a breath to calm the nerves running through him.
There's a moment where Dean wants to pray – wants to ask God for a safe return for his brother's soul, wherever the hell it's ended up. He laughs to himself instead, shaking his head and pushing away the ache behind his eyes.
Scrubbing a hand over his mouth, Dean opens his eyes and walks inside.
The moment he's inside the room, Sam looks over to him. A small smile plays across Sam's lips, and Dean knows he's only trying to help settle the nerves in Dean's stomach.
Sam's not scared, anyway. Dean can see that. But the fact that he's still trying to keep Dean from feeling too much –
It makes Dean ache – makes him feel even more. He wants Sam back – not this carbon copy that's only going through the motions 'cause it's a practiced habit.
"Dean, I'm going to start reading the incantation," Castiel says, though he and Dean have gone through this multiple times. "You have to stay outside the circle until it's over, or else Sam's soul could enter the wrong body."
Dean snorts. "Outside the circle. Got it."
Sam's eyes find Dean's again as Dean leans against the wall, and he says, "Be here when I come to?"
It's a stupid question, and they both know it – but Dean sees hope in Sam's eyes. For the first time in a long time, he feels that age-old desire to protect his little brother swell in his chest.
"I got your back, Sammy," Dean whispers, throat closing up. "Always have."
Sam nods, corner of his mouth pulling up into a smirk, and then he looks over to Castiel.
"Alright. Get this show on the road."
Castiel nods, shutting his eyes. He starts the incantation and Sam looks over to Dean.
Dean watches him, right up until the moment Sam shuts his eyes in pain and starts screaming.
He leaves the room, then, tears burning in his eyes. Sam keeps screaming, Castiel keeps speaking, and Dean keeps breaking.
They've all been through this too many times.
The process takes hours, and Sam won't quit yelling. He screams himself hoarse, eventually just letting out soundless pleas for it all to stop. When Castiel's voice starts slowing down, quieting to a soft whisper, Dean walks into the room.
Sam's unconscious on the floor, but he's still sobbing – still grappling for something that isn't there. Dean watches Castiel as he walks around the circle, still quietly murmuring something as he does, and he takes a cautious step forward.
Castiel stops him with a look, and Dean takes the hint. Sam sobs again, body shaking as Castiel finishes the incantation and closes his fist with the final word. He breathes out a sigh, walking over to Dean. Dean's eyes stay on Sam.
"Did it work?" Dean whispers, clenching his fists together.
Castiel nods, saying, "His soul is intact. I have to warn you, though, Sam will not have a pleasant time readjusting. The places his soul has been…"
"But he's Sam again, right?" Dean cuts in, only then looking to the angel in front of him. "Right?"
Castiel sighs. "Yes. But he's still broken, Dean. You have to realize…"
"I know, Cas," Dean interrupts again, looking back down to his brother. "I just…"
Castiel almost smiles, giving Dean a short nod. "He's broken, Dean. But the pieces are all there."
Dean takes a breath, letting it out slowly. "Thanks, Cas."
And with a flutter of wings, he's gone.
Dean kneels to the floor, careful not to get too close yet. Sam's arms are stretching out, hands opening and closing, and he's still whispering too quiet for Dean to hear.
As Dean inches closer, he realizes that most of what Sam is saying is unintelligible – half-words strewn together with broken sobs. But then he hears the one word that Sam keeps repeating, and his heart starts racing.
"I'm right here, Sammy," Dean breathes, moving closer to his brother. "M'right here."
Dean knows the moment that Sam hears him. Sam's arms stretch even farther, repeating Dean's name over and over. When Dean grabs one of Sam's hands, Sam moves fast. He's pulling Dean to him, sobbing even louder as he clambers to his brother.
Sam's eyes are still closed, and Dean's desperate for him to open them – knows he'll have his answers as soon as that happens. But he lets Sam hang onto him, trying to comfort him the only way he knows how.
"I've got you," he whispers, strong arms wrapping around his brother's shoulders. "I'm not goin' anywhere, alright? I've got your back."
Dean doesn't know how much longer they sit there, but Sam eventually stops crying. Dean takes a breath, whispering, "Sam, you in there?"
Sam moves, pulling back from the hold Dean has on him. Dean doesn't move, doesn't even breathe when Sam's eyes open.
There's so much there – so much pain, anguish, sorrow, love – and Dean's never been so happy to see it.
"I think so," Sam whispers, voice still wrecked.
Dean smiles, ignoring the tears in his eyes. "Welcome back, bitch."
A smile stutters on Sam's lips, laughter bubbling its way out of his aching throat. "You're such a jerk."
Dean laughs, knocking shoulders with his brother. He knows they have a long road ahead of them – Sam's still in pieces, and he's not that much better off. But Sam's there, through and through, and Dean feels his own soul piecing itself back together.
His brother's back.