Dean threw open the door to the white-washed room and his heart stopped cold in his chest.
Sam's body was rigid with agony, his back arched against the twisted sheets of a gurney. His eyes rolled back to their whites and his jaw was clamped down on something horrid as he was being shocked by God knew how many volts of electricity.
A man in a white coat spun to face the doorway, his eyes black, his expression flaring to anger.
Dean's anger flared far brighter. It burned with a fury reserved solely for those who dared lay a finger on his family. Something close to a snarl escaped his lips and he was on the demon, blade whipping through the air to sink into the demon's chest as he pinned it against a wall; stabbing once, twice, three times, grabbing its head and smashing it against the machine it had been using to hurt Sam.
"Son of a – !"
Inky black escaped the demon's eyes, nose and mouth as it threw its head back and screamed.
Dean let go, letting the empty body crumple to the floor in a mess of dead flesh and bone.
Panicked, he flung himself against the controls and shut off the power to the machine. Sudden silence swelled within the room and the walls seemed to contract.
Sam's body remained twisted, but it relaxed suddenly against the sheets. His face remained tilted towards the ceiling, his neck strained.
Dean was beside him in a heartbeat, praying like all hell that's Sam's heart was indeed still beating.
"Sam… Sammy…" Dean' fingers fumbled with the strap around Sam's forehead. Awkwardly he lifted it free and threw it to the ground. The sound it made against the hard floor masked Castiel's arriving footfalls, and the angel's sharp intake of breath at the sight before him.
Dean cupped Sam's ghostly pale face and tilted rolling green eyes towards his. Sam twitched involuntarily, gathering jerky breaths. "Sammy? You hear me? You're okay now. You're okay…"
Sam's eyes rolled, focused slightly, rolled again. His face twisted weakly away and he groaned.
Castiel stepped up beside Dean.
Sam was shaking, his frame appearing much too small and weak. Too much skin and bone where there should be muscle. Sam wasn't a small guy, yet somehow right now he was much too vulnerable for Dean's liking. With the rough stubble along Sam's jaw scratching Dean's fingers, he tried to tilt his younger brother's gaze back towards his. "Sam, come on now -"
But it was no use. Sam twisted away, a small hopeless sound breaking free of his lips and bursting like a bubble. "You're not real," he moaned.
Dean's brow knotted in confusion and heartache at how broken Sam's voice sounded. "It's okay," he tried. "I'm here now, it's me." His eyes shot to Castiel.
The angel appeared shell-shocked.
"Fix him," Dean ordered. He had no time for sympathy, not for the one who had done this to his brother. "Fix him. Now."
Castiel hesitated a moment.
Dean noticed the tide of emotion that washed over his old friend's face. 'Old friend', he thought bitterly. The fact that they had once been friends made this so much harder to swallow.
Sam twisted and groaned some more, gulping in jagged breaths, his exhausted body screaming for release while his mind continued spinning its nightmares and hallucinations. Dean hadn't fully understood the connection between one's mind and physical self until now; now that he'd witnessed his brother experience the madness of a deteriorating mental state, brought on by the heartless actions of none other than the being who stood beside them.
Castiel swallowed roughly. Taking a deep breath, he placed a hand upon Sam's forehead.
Dean allowed the angel room to work, but no room for hesitation.
Sam's hands pulled and twisted in the sheets as he tried to shy away from the touch against his brow.
"I should never have broken your wall, Sam," Castiel whispered solemnly, letting his eyes drop closed and drawing in a deep breath.
Dean's own breath caught in his throat as he waited, not sure what the angel would do. It was too early to trust Castiel, but far too late for apologies.
A surge of energy lifted through Sam.
And then... it was gone.
Castel removed his hand, his gaze falling upon Sam's broken body.
"What?" Dean demanded, suddenly uneasy. "What just happened?"
Sam's eyes were still rolling. Twitches still travelled through him.
Nothing had changed.
"I'm sorry." Castiel's words were directed to Sam. They fell softly from his lips, defeated. His head shook slowly, almost confused. "I… I can't fix your wall."
It took a moment for Dean to register what the angel had said. "You what?" A rough hand on Castiel's shoulder spun them face to face.
Castiel opened his mouth, but Dean cut him off. "Not an option." Dean's tone could have cut ice. Raising a shaky finger he pointed in the direction of the gurney and Sam's twisted form. "You did this. You did this…" Pieces of his own sanity threatened to unravel. "I have lost everything," his voice broke as he struggled for words. "Don't you dare stand there tell me I have to watch my brother die as well." Shoulders shaking and breath hitching, Dean felt himself teeter on the brink of absolute hopelessness.
Castiel's eyes were glazed. He blinked rapidly, looking from Dean to Sam and then back again. He opened his mouth, and then closed it again.
Tension stretched between them, fraying as it overstretched. Dean's jaw was clenched so tight it sent pain through his skull.
Sam groaned and choked, seeming to sink further into himself.
A hard knot formed in Dean's throat and he pushed past the angel to squeeze Sam's shoulder reassuringly.
Sam flinched at the touch, whimpering.
"I can't fix Sam's wall," Castiel repeated, seeming to speak more to himself than to Dean. "This isn't a problem I can make disappear. But… I might be able to shift it... get Sam back on his feet."
Dean was barely listening. All his attention was focused on Sam. It caught him by surprise when Castiel stepped around the gurney to the opposite side of Sam and pinned them both with a look of determination.
"Sam?" Castiel leaned in close to the younger brother's face.
Sam's eyes swam, trying to focus.
"In case I don't get another chance to tell you," the angel continued, ignoring Dean's demand to know what he was doing, "I am sorry."
Dean felt frustration boil as Castiel placed a hand upon Sam's brow again. "I asked what the hell you-"
"This is going to hurt." Castiel closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath.
Dean stumbled back as a massive surge of energy travelled through Sam, much stronger than before, arching the younger brother's back and pulling a scream from his lips. Red light like fire spread over his eyes and across his cheekbones, rising up out of him and seeming to enter Castiel's outstretched palm.
Dean wanted to pull his brother away, but something held him back.
Suddenly the transfer of angry light finished, and Castiel stumbled back, falling against a wall, hands flying to his head and pressing against his temples.
Dean gaped at him, shocked, but didn't let his attention linger long on the fallen angel. Lost for words he rushed back to Sam's side.
Sam was blinking groggy eyes, groaning and trying to take stock of where he was. His stubble-framed face was still as pale as ever, and washed with confusion.
"Sammy..?" Dean was nearly too afraid to ask, for fear of not being recognised as Sam's eyes tripped across the floor, the walls, and eventually settled on him. He grabbed Sam gently around the shoulders, steadying his sibling as Sam tried, but failed, to sit up.
Sam tried to talk but couldn't. His lips were chapped, his voice a mere croak. His fragile body shook with tremors.
Dean wasn't sure what had just happened, but from what he could gather, Castiel had taken Sam's madness and inflicted it upon himself.
Both brothers' eyes travelled to rest upon the angel who was now huddled in a corner, eyes wide with terror, rocking and twitching.
Dean felt Sam's body go rigid. Sam tried to twist to get a better look at the third man in the room. Finally he found his voice. "Cas…?" Eyes heavy with confusion hit Dean, pleading for answers.
But Dean didn't have answers, or the energy to explain the events of the past twenty four hours. It would have to wait until another time; perhaps not ever. Right now, he had one priority; getting Sam the hell out of here and putting some miles between them and this nightmarish place.
"Come on," he stated, unyielding to Sam's questioning gaze. "We need to go. Now."
Sam was either too confused or too tired to argue. Dean had a feeling it was the latter. Days without sleep had left his younger brother a mere shell of his former self. Barely able to get his legs under him, Sam let Dean take most of his weight as he slid off the gurney. Dean, for his part, hated the fact that there was significantly less weight than there should be upon his shoulders as his sibling leaned on him for support.
Sam groaned and bit his lip, his breaths rough and hitching with every step.
Dean felt terrible for dragging Sam along, but he couldn't shake the sense of urgency that nipped at his heels, willing him to hurry and get them out of there. Meg, plus demons, plus the reappearance of Castiel had left him more shell-shocked than he cared to admit, and every second spent here was a second too many now that Sam was okay.
Sam was okay, wasn't he? "Sammy, you with me?"
Sam's head nodded weakly, his eyes to the floor.
Dean walked them past Castiel, giving the angel a wide berth.
"Dean," Sam whispered, trying to pause. "We can't just leave him here…"
But Dean wasn't so forgiving. He pulled Sam along, and Sam was too weak to do anything to slow them down. "Yes we can," he grunted, choosing not to look at Castiel. "It was his fault you ended up here, and he chose to make things right. This is his way of making things right."
Dean struggled with the words, even as they passed his lips. Right? Castiel would never be able to make up for what he had done. His betrayal had been on a colossal level. So many people had died because of it.
Bobby had died.
Sam had nearly died.
Dean gritted his teeth and quickened his step, pulling Sam as gently as possible. They were going to get as far away from here as possible. These days were memories Dean wanted to not only drown but to salt and burn, and then salt and burn again, over and over until they reduced to ash.
Although, he thought, how often could they go through things like this before they too became ash?
He shook the thought from his mind and focused on the task at hand.
Sam seemed to drift in and out of consciousness, his feet slipping along the floor in an attempt to walk, before dragging limply along. Dean couldn't imagine how tired Sam must be. His struggle to walk and inability to put together coherent sentences was only the tip of the ice berg. "Come on Sammy," Dean coaxed. "Just a little further…"
Slipping through corridors and down a flight of stairs, it seemed grace was on their side as they finally emerged into cold night air and Dean hurried them away from the lights of the building and towards their waiting vehicle. For once, they were able to slip unnoticed into the night, and Dean felt an immense sense of relief as the darkness swallowed them up.
Not letting himself relax too soon, he bundled his brother into the passenger seat. Sam's head lolled against the head rest, but his eyes were still open and he blinked half-mast through the dim light.
Dean caught the gaze. Awkwardly he slipped out of his jacket and wrapped it around Sam, trying to ignore how much his brother was shaking. "You doing okay?" It was a stupid question, but it came out nonetheless. "I'm going to get you some place safe where you can rest up."
Dean barely recognized the voice. It didn't sound like Sam; it was weak, vulnerable and frayed. "You're gonna rest up and get strong again." Trying to convince himself, or Sam? "I can't legitimately kick your ass if you're like this, and that's my God-given right as an older brother." Not really the time to be cracking jokes…
"Dean," Sam said again, this time with a little more insistence.
Dean fell silent, biting his lip. Sam would be okay. This was a close shave – a little too close for Dean's liking – but Sam would be okay. "What is it? You want some water? I've got some, somewhere here…" He leaned into the back, ruffling through some things and eventually producing a bottle of water.
Sam didn't refuse the water, but that wasn't what he'd been trying to communicate.
Chattering teeth formed awkward words, but Dean heard them.
"Thank you." Sam's eyelids drooped. "For… coming back for me."
Dean would have normally shrugged off the comment, moved on quickly. But this time he didn't. He soaked it in, because it was typical 'Sam'. His younger brother was always getting sentimental at ridiculous times. And it was 'Sam' who Dean had missed so very much these past couple of days.
Dean squeezed him reassuringly on the shoulder. "I said I'd find you help, Sammy," he answered, making sure Sam was all inside the car before closing the passenger door. He moved around to the driver's side and deposited himself behind the wheel. "I meant what I said."
Sam didn't answer, but Dean thought he caught the flicker of a smile before his younger brother's eyes closed completely with exhaustion.
A twist of the key in the ignition and the car rumbled to life. Shooting a quick glance back in the direction from which they'd come, Dean's thoughts snagged on Castiel. He felt a sudden wave of sadness, followed quickly by anger, and then by numbness. He shook his head, dislodging his thoughts. His eyes settled back upon his brother.
"Sleep," he ordered, making sure the jacket hadn't fallen away from Sam's shoulders. He adjusted the air vents so that warm air blew over Sam, and studied his younger sibling's expression.
As exhausted as Sam was, Dean couldn't deny that there seemed to be something different about the set of Sam's jaw. There were fewer lines across his brow, less pain in his features; like a great weight had been lifted.
Recognising this, Dean felt a small shift in the weight that travelled within his own self. It wasn't much, but it was something.
"Sleep," he said again, holding on to the feeling and steering them away. "God knows you need it."
Proper rest was something that had eluded not only Sam, but the both of them, for far too long.