Author's Note: This was inspired by a Twitter discussion with a friend about Sam's mental state in 7.17 and how he might start to recover. I consider this an extension of the previous tag, "Lay Your Weary Head to Rest," though reading that first isn't necessary.

Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognize.

On the Road to Stockholm

Sam jerks awake, a scream caught in his throat. Lucifer's laughter echoes in his ears and he can still feel the cold bite of steel cutting through skin, muscle, sinew like paper. Blood pounds in his ears and his breath comes in short gasps. His fingers grip the sheets that pool around his waist and his eyes dart around the room.

He looks and he waits for it to start again, his entire body tense in anticipation of the loud crack of a firecracker or an intimate whisper of breath against his ear.

It takes two scans of the darkened motel room for Sam to realize that Lucifer isn't there. He's not lurking in one of the shadowed corners where the moonlight streaming through the partially-closed blinds shines like a pale mockery of a beacon; the Devil's not peering around the bathroom door frame, ready to jump out and call it a surprise party; nor is he sitting on the counter in the kitchenette, twirling knives between his fingers with a casual grace and an easy smile playing at this lips.

It takes a third scan before Sam remembers where he is and what happened. He remembers a hazy world with only Lucifer, an intense burn that fired through every nerve in his body, and then startling clarity, like he had been dunked in boiling water and an ice bath at the same time. He remembers seeing Dean when the fog burned away in the cleansing fire. And he remembers Cas sitting on the edge of his bed, only to back away like a cornered animal.

He remembers checking out of the hospital. He remembers dropping into the passenger seat of the piece of shit car of the week, using one of Dean's spare jackets as a pillow and letting his brother's scent and the feel of the car eating up asphalt beneath him and the sound of soft rock on the radio surround him like a warm cocoon of safety, of real, before falling into a mercifully dreamless sleep. He remembers Dean waking him up just long enough to stumble into some no-tell motel and change into some sweats and a t-shirt before collapsing again into the inviting embrace of sleep.

He has no idea how long he's been sleeping or when the nightmares kicked in. But he can still hear Lucifer's laugh, can feel it echo like a caress down his spine that makes him shudder, though he knows—knows—that the Devil is gone from his mind—if not his soul.

Lucifer and the Cage will never be gone from his soul.

And for the briefest of moments, as Sam looks around the darkened room, he's surprised to realize that he's disappointed.

He can't remember the last time his mind was truly quiet, truly his own. Before Lucifer and Hell, there was Ruby and the demon blood pounding through his veins. Before them were Dean's deal and the accusing reminders that he had damned his brother and that he should do something. There had been the visions before that, and even earlier the grief and nightmares from their father's and Jess' deaths and the overwhelming need for revenge. Even at Stanford his mind was always torn between Jess and Dean, each unknowingly pulling him impossibly thin and leaving no space for Sam to fit into.

As torturous as Lucifer's presence had been, the fallen angel was the only being who seemed to want nothing more than Sam himself no matter how many mistakes or wrong turns he'd made. Even Dean had thrown away the very symbol of their brotherhood in front of Sam's eyes and left him a message telling him in no uncertain terms what he thought of his monstrous blood junkie of a brother.

Sam knew he'd deserved both rejections but that didn't mean they hadn't hurt.

But Lucifer, in his own twisted way, loved—loves—Sam unconditionally for simply being who he is, nothing more and nothing less. Without the Morning Star in his mind, Sam realizes with a painful jolt that he's lonely.

He knows it's screwed up, but Sam's never claimed to be normal.

But when Dean murmurs "Sammy?" sleepily from the other bed, Sam's stomach roils in shame and he swallows against the traitorous bile rising in his throat. "You good?"

"Yeah," he manages to rasp out as he lies back down. He stares up at the water-stained ceiling and reminds himself that peace is a good thing. "I'm good, Dean."

- fin -