A/N: Many thanks and much appreciation to Jedi Sapphire for all her help, support, and suggestions.
Summary: It's been two weeks since Castiel's escalating thirst for power concluded with his absorption of the Purgatory souls. While the brothers and Bobby try to track down the powerful Angel with a God complex to desoul him.
Sam is suffering horrific flashbacks of Hell, with his wall removed. One of Castiel's many victims to ensure his endgame. But Sam is unwilling to let Dean help him through this, pushing him away and growing increasingly distant and Dean intents on finding out why.
Just Out Of Reach
Dean plowed through Bobby's front door, annoyed and muttering under his breath. He had been held up waiting for a lead in their search for Castiel. It hadn't panned out and it had been too much time away from Sam, too soon after the wall fell.
Tossing his jacket onto a chair, Dean spotted his brother seated at the far end of the old sofa in the living room. He was taken aback by how childlike and vulnerable Sam looked curled up on it with his head nestled on its high curved back
Dean was about to check on him when Bobby caught his attention, motioning him into the kitchen.
Curiosity piqued, he entered to find Bobby polishing off a shot of whiskey.
"Well, that's not a good sign," Dean joked a little anxiously.
"Medication," Bobby stated flatly."And by the look on your face I'd say it was a wasted trip."
"That about sums it up. And by the look on your face and the meds," Dean countered, eyeing the half-drained bottle, "I'd say you didn't call me in here to give me good news. What's going on, Bobby?"
"Your brother had a pretty rough afternoon."
"What?" Dean asked loudly. "Why didn't you call me?"
"Sam asked me not to - and before you get all worked up, he's fine."
"Fine?" Dean shouted in disbelief. "In case you haven't noticed, fine is not something my brother's been in a long time!"
Bobby eyed Dean sternly but his words were warm. "You know what I mean and in case you haven't noticed, which is difficult to believe with Sam the size of a redwood, your brother is an adult and I do have to take into account what he wants."
"No you don't," Dean responded quickly before letting out a reluctant sigh. "Okay, maybe we can consider it."
Bobby's look of disapproval had Dean playing defense.
"You know how he is! Sam doesn't always do what's best for Sam!"
"Well then, that makes you and him interchangeable. Both trying to kill me!"
"Sorry," Dean apologized. "I just want my brother to be okay."
Bobby gave Dean's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "I know, kid. Me too."
"So what happened today, Bobby?"
"The flashbacks... they were different."
"Different, how?" Dean asked.
"There were more of them with less time in between, and this time the flashbacks weren't random like they've been these past few weeks," Bobby explained, unable to find a way to soften the news. "There was a string of them today, three to be exact, and Sam would come out of one for a moment only to be pulled into another."
"Jesus, Bobby!" Dean was horrified by the increased number and pace. "Was Sam unconscious? Did he say anything?"
"Both. He was out in the first flashback and as for the others, he was talking to someone I couldn't see. I thought it was Lucifer Hell-bent on getting to your brother. And by Sam's reaction, it was working."
"What did he say?"
"Caught a few words here and there. You're lying and never but I couldn't make out much else and there wasn't always conversation... " Bobby paused and took a deep breath. "If you know what I mean."
Dean shut his eyes. He understood all too well what Bobby meant. The heart-wrenching sounds Sam made if the flashback involved physical torture and the progression of it. From his brother's unheeded cries to stop, to sounding like a wounded animal close to death, to the final, barely audible please before Sam fell silent.
Bobby and Dean had learned from experience that trying to pull Sam out of a flashback didn't work. That what was happening in Sam's head was going to play out no matter what they did. Physical contact used to try to restrain him or for comfort only made things harder for Sam, even when he was totally unaware of their presence.
It left Bobby and Dean unable to do anything other than watch helplessly and feel like they were being tortured right alongside Sam.
"He's exhausted physical and mentally." Bobby broke the silence of their shared horror. "He needs to get some serious rest but the Hell unleashed inside his head won't allow it...Thank's to your Angel buddy."
Dean didn't acknowledge the comment. He had to block out any thought of what Cass did to Sam. He couldn't allow that kind of anger in. Helping Sam came first, dealing with Cass would come when they found him.
"You do know," Bobby began. "If I thought there was a chance he couldn't handle it I would have called you."
Dean nodded. "I know you would. But just so we're clear, if there's a next time you call me. We're dealing with almost two centuries in the cage. There's no telling what can happen and today proved it. Besides, Sam's acting like he doesn't need anyone, especially not me. It's got to stop and that can't happen until I figure out what's behind it"
"Okay," Bobby agreed. "Have it your way. I'm going to get us some dinner. Spaghetti and meatballs is on the menu tonight. See if you can get your brother to eat something - he needs to keep up his strength."
Dean planted himself on the coffee table opposite his brother, who was still curled in the same position on the sofa, his gaze fixed somewhere to his left.
"Sammy," Dean said softly, studying Sam's face, taking in the tired features. He waited patiently for his brother's attention to shift away from whatever faraway place he seemed lost in.
"I'm sorry," Sam apologized. The exhaustion in his voice was clear as he slowly turned to focus on Dean. "I couldn't do the research you wanted."
"Forget that, it's not important. Bobby told me what happened today, are you okay?"
"It wasn't fun, but it's over, " Sam answered with little emotion.
"Sam, why didn't you let Bobby call me?" Dean asked, his face a mixture of confusion, concern, and hurt feelings.
"Dealing with this," Sam began slowly. "What's going on in my head. It's going to be a long haul and I can't go crying to my big brother every time I have an incident!"
"Why not?" Dean asked angrily.
"I'm not going to be a burden Dean, not to you, not to anyone."
"What the Hell Sam?" Dean yelled, louder than he intended. Sam had been distant at times these past couple of weeks. But this was taking it to a new level.
"It's nothing, Dean. I just want to learn to deal with this on my own. It's better that way."
"Better that way!" Dean was stunned. "How can you possibly think that? And for future reference, Sam, you are not and never will be a burden. Got that?"
Sam answered by not answering. "I think I need to lie down a while."
"Okay, but please Sammy just listen to me first. You don't have to go through this alone. And God, if anyone has a right to cry, you do"
"I appreciate you care, Dean. I really do. But I need to handle this on my own and in my own way and crying and feeling sorry for myself isn't going to help."
"Why are you talking like this Sammy?"
"Just facing reality."
"What reality Sam?"
"Don't you mean ours Sammy? Tell me, when in our lives has it ever been more real than when we've had each other's backs. Been there for each other?"
Dean lowered his eyes. Sam's words had stung. But he recouped quickly. He didn't expect things to be easy after what Sam had been through… but there was something else going on. Something that was causing Sam to push him away.
Lifting his head he unexpectedly found himself looking directly into Sam's eyes. Not his adult brother, but the boy he helped raise. Those young and innocent frightened eyes were pleading with his big brother to make things better. A look Dean hadn't seen in years but one he'd never forget.
Surprised at being caught so emotionally exposed Sam stood up to head upstairs and right away Dean reached out to give him a hand, only to have it rebuffed.
"I can walk Dean, my heads messed up not my legs!"
"Okay," Dean raised his hands in surrender and backed off.
But walking proved more difficult then Sam expected. One leg buckled under him and Dean immediately jumped in, grabbing his brother around the waist to hoist him up. Dean then freed one of his own arms to grab one of his brother's and swung it over his shoulder and helped guide Sam towards the stairs.
Dean didn't like seeing his brother in this condition but he had to admit it was nice holding Sam, feeling his warmth, nice to have some kind of connection with his brother when lately there'd been barely any between the two of them, emotionally or physically.
Dean helped seat Sam on the edge of the full sized bed in Bobby's spare room.
"I got it from here Dean. Thank you," Sam said, too politely for Dean.
"Did I say or do something to offend you Sam?"
"What?" Sam asked, looking genuinely surprised "No! Why would you even ask that?"
"No reason. Forget it." Dean said, not liking at all being shut out by Sam and his politeness. But he couldn't be angry with his brother, not with everything he'd been through and with the condition he was in now with the wall down. But also because he had just caught a glimpse of the truth downstairs. He knew how badly Sam needed him and wanted his help but for some reason acted as if he didn't.
"You need anything?" Dean asked Sam.
"I'm good, Dean. Thank you."
"Extra blanket?" Dean asked. Feeling his brother's politeness gave him permission to annoy him just a little.
"No thanks, just need to get some sleep."
"Drink of water?"
"No." Sam's voice was edged with annoyance.
"Extra pillow?" Dean pushed it one step further.
"Dean!" Sam responded loud and irritated and with a hint of bitchface.
Dean smiled. Mission Accomplished! He wanted his brother to get some solid sleep but he needed to hear his Sammy and know he was there and getting a rise out of him did just that.
"Okay! Okay!" Dean said. I'm going. If you need anything just yell."
Sam nodded. "I will."
Exiting the room Dean stood in the doorway for a moment before turning around. "You know you're wrong?"
Sam looked up, his eyes questioning "About what?"
"In thinking you have to handle this on your own," Dean paused, then added deeply, "You have me Sammy. For the long haul. For always."
Downstairs Dean joined Bobby for dinner but with no appetite he sat there nursing a drink and worrying.
"How's he doing?" Bobby asked starting in on his meal.
"Hopefully getting some sleep."
"How are you doing?" Bobby asked not missing what this was doing to Dean. That he was hurting badly, too, although in a different way.
"He's shut me out Bobby!" Dean's barriers fell. "Sam won't let me help him and I don't know why!"
"Any guesses?" Bobby asked giving Dean a much-needed distraction and focus.
"No. But I know Sam wants my help. But feels he can't have it, so he pushes me away."
"For what reason?"
"I don't know. I mean at first I thought it could be something I did."
"Did you ask Sam about that?"
"Yeah and he acted like I was crazy for asking."
"Maybe you're seeing something that just isn't there?"
"Bobby, he acts uncomfortable whenever I'm around him. Me! His own brother! That's not like Sam at all. And you should have seen the way he rushed me out of the room! Like I had cooties or something."
"Well, do you?"
"Do I what?"
"You're a riot Bobby."
Bobby smiled. "Just trying to lighten things up a little." Grabbing a slice of bread he wiped up the tomato sauce left on his dish. "Anything else to back up this theory of yours?"
"Yes," Dean continued. "The way Sam looked at me today."
"What?" Bobby looked up incredulously. You're basing some of this on a look Sam gave you? How can you be sure with the kid suffering Hell literally?"
"I know he's suffering Bobby and it sounds a little crazy but it's true. For a second I saw Sam as a terrified kid pleading with his big brother for help and that's exactly what I'm going to do.
"That must have been some look."
"It was. And it's totally different from those puppy dog eyes Sam uses on people to get them to spill their guts and that they fall for every time."
"I know you fall for them every time Dean."
"Shut up, that's not the point."
"Well then what is the point?"
"Do you have a sleeping bag Bobby?"
Dean dropped the blankets and pillows Bobby had gathered up for him onto the floor next to Sam's bed. He wasn't buying the whole I can handle it on my own crap his brother was trying to sell and he wasn't going to get any sleep tonight unless he kept Sam close by.
Putting together a make shift bed, Dean positioned himself on his back, arms folded behind his head, and closed his eyes. When the night gradually settled around him the only sound left was Sam's gentle breathing. Its soothing sound quickly lulled a weary Dean into a deep sleep.
About an hour past midnight something undistinguishable woke Dean. As his senses clarified he realized it was Sam's voice and that he was talking to someone.
Dean sat up and listened. With the full moon lighting the room enough for Dean to see, he got to his knees and gave the room a thorough once-over and found no one other than Sam. Whose silhouette was on the other side of the bed talking to someone unseen.
Sam was back in Hell.
Dean stayed where he was and continued to watch and listen. This time, instead of the few words Bobby and he had caught here and there, it was more like eavesdropping in on Sam's side of a one-sided conversation.
The conversation was quickly becoming a heated battle of words. Sam's answers and movements indicated he was being double-teamed by both Lucifer and Michael. Sam was getting increasingly upset emotionally while working hard at defending the motives and actions of someone Dean soon knew to be himself.
"You're twisting things!" Sam yelled angrily. "He only did what he thought best to help me!"
"You're wrong! It meant a lot to him! It still does!" Sam shouted loudly, defending the brother he loved, his attention now drawn to his right. "He wasn't himself when he threw it away."
Picking up the pace Lucifer and Michael went into the lightening round of their verbal attack, not allowing Sam much time to answer between each strike.
"No! I was never a burden, he didn't want!" Sam argued defending the relationship he cherished. "That's not true! We made a good team. He said so."
Reacting each time in extreme emotional distress Sam continued to battle the quick barbs fired at him, which cut deeply, trying with all his strength not to let doubt creep in.
But with such low self esteem and his self worth next the nothing Sam could feel himself being beaten and worn down. Which is when Lucifer and Michel hit the hardest and let the words sink in longer.
"You're lying!" Sam was screaming now. "He never wanted to leave me behind at some motel. That he would be better off with out me!
"Stop lying!" Sam screamed again, shifting his attention quickly to the left. "He would never wish I wasn't born. No! Not him! Not my brother! You don't know him like I do. He would never even think that! He loves me. I'm his Sammy and he would never leave me or think any of these terrible things! Never!"
Dean was sick to his stomach and in his heart.
He now knew why Sam had been pushing him away. But the answer was not one Dean was at all prepared to hear.
Lucifer and Michael had used him as a weapon to torture Sam.
The fallen Angel, Lucifer, along with his sidekick, brother Michael didn't spare the physical torture but on Sam the psychological torture would be more effective and the bastard knew it
"Oh God Sammy," Dean whispered. "What did they do to you?"
Dean dropped back down on his makeshift bed, totally overwhelmed. How could he undo close to two centuries of Sam being pummeled with the idea he was a burden, a burden his big brother never wanted and wished he could have rid himself of?
Hearing some movement followed by silence Dean waited a moment before standing up. He then found the lamp on the nightstand next to the bed and switched on the light.
Sam was sitting on the bed backed up against the headboard. His body was curled forward by the way his arms tightly embraced his drawn up knees.
"Why were you sleeping on the floor in here, Dean?" Sam asked staring straight ahead, his eyes reflecting how exhausted and beaten down he was by that flashback.
"I was worried about you." Dean moved closer to Sam.
"You shouldn't worry about me Dean. You should take care of yourself."
"I'm your brother for Christ's sake Sam! Stop talking to me like I'm not! Like you think somehow I don't care because I do. I care about you so much it hurts!" Dean stopped a moment. He didn't expect nor want to be this emotional and angry, not with Sam, not after the horrible blast Hell just gave him. But it was killing Dean the way Sam seemed to be withdrawing more into himself and away from him. The most frightening thought for Dean being one day Sam might be lost to him forever. He could never allow that to happen.
Dean knew he had to be firm and unrelenting and reach Sam somehow. Which looked to be a difficult task with Sam not moving or looking moved at all by Dean's emotional outburst. But that didn't dissuade Dean at all. He was on a mission and he would talk the rest of the night if that's what it took. All Dean wanted was an opening, for Sam to let him in once and then Dean knew things would get better. It wouldn't be easy by any means but they would be in it together and when they were together all things were possible.
"I know now why you've been acting this way Sammy. What Lucifer and Michael did, all these years using me against you to make you doubt what's real. You did a lot of talking in this visit to hell, enough for me to put the pieces together."
Dean watched as Sam lowered his head, hair falling forward to cover his face and felt maybe he was beginning to reach his brother. So Dean kept talking, starting to pace a little around the room as he did.
"That son of a bitch Lucifer did have more ammo to work with these past few years. They've sure been difficult ones for you and me Sammy, to say the least. Each of us spending time in Hell. Angels turning out to be dicks, orchestrating the whole damn apocalypse and using the demons and us to accomplish it. Both of them messing with our heads... and our hearts."
Dean glanced over at Sam pausing for a moment and then continued.
"We've both made mistakes Sammy and we've both done things we regret, the worst hurting each other."
"But underneath it all, there's still us Sammy, our history, being family and what we mean to each other. That is what's real and Lucifer can't destroy that, he can only cause doubt. As what's in our hearts he doesn't get and he never will and that's what makes him weak and us stronger Sammy. Together is how we took Lucifer down when we put him back in his cage."
"Let's you and me take Lucifer down again by together finding a way to remove him from your head and our lives."
Dean moved towards Sam and sat on the bed right beside him, his back up against the headboard.
"I want to help you through this Sammy." Dean said, resting his head gently on Sam's back, his brother still leaning forward curled in a ball. "Please stop pushing me away!"
Sam's voice was childlike, unsteady and his breath hitched as he spoke. "I don't want to push you away anymore, Dean."
Taking the risk, Dean lifted his head and wrapped an arm around Sam's shoulder. Holding his breath, and waiting to be rebuffed Dean got the complete opposite. His brother in his arms, crying gently into his chest and Dean knew as he pulled Sam closer and held him tighter, tenderly pushing the hair away from his face, and telling him things would get better, that they would be okay. There would be plenty of tough days ahead no doubt but they would get through them, together.
Dean held onto Sam until he stopped crying and fell asleep. Until they both did.