Welcome to the Machine

By Carol M

Summary: Now it's Sam's turn to take care of Dean…post The Born Identity Again tag…spoilers

Spoilers: Season 7

Disclaimer: Don't own them, only love them

Enjoy!

Sam wasn't sure what had awakened him but as he opened his eyes to stare lazily up at the motel's grungy ceilings, he didn't much care. He was cocooned in the scratchy blankets of his bed, basking in the silence of his Lucifer-free brain, boneless against the lack of needing to resist the devil's mental ministrations. It was just him in there now. Just Sam. And that was fine by him. He stretched his torso, the lingering rib pain a mere itch compared to the agony of the devil. He reveled in the pops and cracks, the loosening of his joints and muscles easing him even further, his body sighing into the lumpy mattress as his eyes closed again, content to drift back to sleep. He felt more comfortable than he could ever remember feeling, rejoicing in the ambrosial peace of his mind, body and spirit.

His soul was at ease. Finally.

He was about to go under again when he heard a bitten off sob coming from the bed next to him. He suddenly knew with certainty what had woken him and his new found inner peace was now tempered with worry.

His eyes snapped open and he bolted upright, glancing over at his brother's bed and cursing at the emotional wreckage that greeted him. Dean lay diagonal across the bed, passed out in his T-shirt and jeans, no blanket, his body shivering against the cold air in the room. An empty bottle of Jack lay next to his head on the pillow and a can of beer rested partially in his hand and half-tipped over against his side, the contents spilling out with each successive dip of Dean's sternum as he panted in terror against an obviously horrific nightmare. Dean moaned, his head rolling back and forth on the pillow, clanging soflty against the bottle of booze on the pillow, his forehead shiny with sweat. "Sammy… no, no, no …can't," his brother muttered, swallowing down a sob, a single tear falling from closed eyes. "Not you too."

Dean cried out then, his body convulsing as another tear dripped down his cheek, the beer in his hand tipping fully over on the bed, soaking the bed spread. Sam was at his brother's side in a second, removing the beer can and moving Dean away from the mess. He tossed the whiskey bottle aside as well and pulled the blankets out from under Dean, wrapping them protectively around his brother.

The scenario itself was not entirely unfamiliar to Sam. In fact, it had pretty much become a staple of Dean's existence ever since Cas had... gone away, had gotten progressively worse since Bobby had died, and he reached its peak in agony since he himself had found it easier to have a conversation with Lucifer than with his own brother. But Sam hadn't fully registered it. Not really. Not with Lucifer drumming away at his head.

But now that all that was gone, he could really see his brother for the first time in months and realized how much of a toll things had taken out of him. Dean was wrecked. Thin, exhausted, weary. Like the life had been squeezed out of him. Sam couldn't remember the last time he had seen his brother's face light up with a genuine carefree smile that went all the way up to his eyes. His brother's spirit was gone. Sam might've been the one being tormented by Lucifer all those months, but his brother had been tormented by life.

And there was no easy way to transfer that burden over to someone else rent free so Dean could feel his own peace.

Dean's body tensed then, a horrible moan escaping from dry, cracked lips.

"Shhhhh," Sam soothed, resting one hand on Dean's chest, the other wrapping protectively around his brother's shoulder. "It's just a dream, Dean. You're okay. Everything's fine."

Dean's eyes fluttered open, his look raw and out of it, half-drunk, half-asleep and fully broken inside. Sam wondered how he could've missed all this pain that had been radiating off his brother for all these months. He moved his hand from Dean's shoulder to his cheek, trying to will the peace and calm that he felt inside to his brother.

Dean grabbed at Sam's hand, clutching at it like he was a child, staring up at Sam dream-like, his gaze wild and terrified. "Can't lose you too. Can't. I'll have nothing left. Sammy, please."

Another tear fell down Dean's cheek and Sam wiped it away. "You didn't lose me, Dean. I'm here. I'm back. I'm not going anywhere. Swear it."

Dean's eyes cleared and it was like he was really seeing Sam, really believing he was there. "Sam?" he whispered, his eyes huge and vulnerable, reminding Sam of when Dean had been a little boy. If there ever had been such a time. To him, Dean had always been a man.

"Yeah, Dean. I'm here. All here. You saved me, bro. Like you always do."

"You're okay?"

"Yeah, yeah. I'm fine. Everything's okay. Cas cured me."

"Cas," Dean repeated, his hand tightening around Sam's arm hard enough to hurt. "We left Cas, Sam. I left him. I shoulda…"

"No, no, no, no," said Sam, easing Dean's hand from his arm and tucking it under the blanket. "Cas is okay, Dean. He can take it for now. We'll find a way to make it better for him. We'll find a way to make everything better. Promise."

Dean's eyes sparkled with doubt. "But we…"

"Hey," interrupted Sam, giving Dean a firm shake. "Promise."

For a split second, a glint of the old Dean sparked in his brother's eyes. "K, Sammy. If you say so."

"Good," said Sam, patting Dean's chest before bringing the blankets all the way up to his brother's neck. "Go back to sleep, man. No worries. I'm back."

"Mmmm." Dean's eyes drifted shut and he settled back into the bed, his body finally relaxing. Within minutes, Sam heard the sounds of soft peaceful snores puffing out of his brother's lips. He watched his brother for a few more moments, ensuring he was okay. Then he got up and grabbed his laptop, crawling in bed next Dean, not wanting to leave him, just in case his brother needed him.

He was there.

That's All Folks!