A/N: I didn't watch the show on Friday night, but based on reports from several people, I downloaded it to my Ipod and gave it a watch. It was a good episode. (If it'd been the season premier, it would've been an amazing episode.) I'm not ready to say that the brothers "are back" permanently. There's still 10 episodes to go wrong. I'll still be taking the show one episode at a time, watching if people tell me an episode is worth watching. I make no promises for a lot (if more than 1) S6 canon-based fics. This one occurred to me last night. It may be the only one.


How long was this going to take? Dean wanted Cas to tell him if Sam's soul was back in place, not stick around in there to redecorate or whatever it was he was doing that was taking so damn long.

Sam at least wasn't reacting, wasn't arching up and screaming himself hoarse at the intrusion. He was only still just laying there, arms folded across himself like he always used to do when he was sleeping comfortably.

That was something anyway, wasn't it? That Sam wasn't in pain, that he seemed to be comfortable. Yeah, Sam being awake would be better for Dean, but sleeping peacefully maybe was better for Sam.

Just how damn long was it going to take Cas to let him know what was going on?

SPN*SPN*SPN

Cas approached his task delicately. Not only to spare Sam as much discomfort as possible, but to spare himself from Dean's fury if he did hurt Sam while confirming the status of his soul.

Truthfully, Cas wasn't sure what he hoped his efforts would reveal. If anyone deserved to come back from hell safe and sound and sane, surely it was Sam Winchester. But if anyone had less chance of it, surely it was Sam Winchester. If no trace of Sam's soul were to be found, Cas would be relieved.

But Dean would be shattered.

Not that that mattered to Cas. Well, it wasn't his number one priority. Or even his number one millionth priority. Yes, it would be nice if a 'happy ending' could be chiseled out of the granite mass of 'Winchester Luck', but Cas hadn't believed in happy endings for anyone in a long time.

He rolled up his sleeve, took a deep breath, and plunged his hand into Sam's chest. And felt -

...pain, fear, confusion, agony, isolation, dreadful longing, and a lone voice continually screaming one thing, 'DeanDeanDean'…

Cas pulled back in surprise and horror. It was worse than even he had imagined, and he knew what horrors hell could wreak. Sam's soul was flayed and burned and tortured - and completely unaware that it had been rescued. The pain was so monstrous, so unrelenting, so deep, that for all intents and purposes, his soul was still in hell.

What was the point of risking unleashing that on an unprepared mind?

He began to fully remove his hand and prepared his responses to the questions he knew Dean would assail him with. As if civil war in Heaven were not enough to overtax his fortitude, Cas had to deal with Big Brother Dean, who never took 'stop trying' for an answer.

Just as his hand was nearly removed though, Cas felt a sensation, a touch, a tug from deep within Sam's chest. From his soul. Sam's soul had somehow recognized him as a friend, or at least as not a torturer, and had touched back. Not in fear, not in anger or hatred or revenge. But in grateful recognition.

Cas eased his hand in again, steeling himself against the misery and anguish. He found Sam's soul pressed desperately against Death's Wall. It knew the horrors that were attempting to battle their way through and over and around that Wall, but it was too far gone to realize it could go forward away from the Wall into reality and safety.

He knew he couldn't heal Sam or his soul, even touching Sam's soul caused it more pain than any human soul could be expected to bear, but Cas kept his hand there, and felt Sam's soul touch him again. Grateful, again. It didn't even question why Cas wasn't pulling it free from hell, it only touched Cas' hand and offered thanks that it hadn't been entirely forgotten in hell.

Even believing itself still in hell, Sam's soul could be grateful.

Cas had to close his eyes and will back the churning feelings of regret and shame and injustice and unquenchable anger he always experienced when he faced his own participation – or lack thereof – in the heavenly plan to bring about the Apocalypse. Sam Winchester's soul was in hell for many reasons, not the least of which was because Cas had known Zachariah's plan in its entirety and had done nothing to spare Sam or Dean their unwilling participation in it. At least not until it was too late to do enough.

And now Sam's soul had been brutalized past the point of any restoration, and though Cas would willingly do all in his power to heal it, there was nothing in his power he could do.

Except perhaps –

He curled his hand around Sam's soul, cushioning it from the hard Wall.

Sleep, he projected into the soul. Hell is over and all else is only memory. Dean is here and Dean will keep watch. Sleep.

And when he felt Sam's soul relaxed and asleep, Cas removed his hand and prepared to face Dean.

SPN*SPN*SPN

Dean. Sleep. Two things that had been too long missing. While the soul was awake, the body slept, and while the horrors raged, the soul was awake. But sleep and Dean were so close, and hell was only a memory. Cas had promised. And it wasn't a lie. The soul could tell. While Dean kept watch, the soul could sleep. Two things that had been too long missing.

While the soul was awake, the body slept.

And then the soul went into sleep.

The End