If You Can't Remember a Better Time
So basically, Dean was fucked. He had fifty-seven dollars in his pocket, a half tank of gas in a shitty stolen car, and his basket case of a baby brother sitting in the passenger's seat. The lack of money he could deal with; money could be procured in a variety of unsavory ways. Not like he gave a flying fuck about how he came by funds (he was providing a goddamn public service, wasn't he? He deserved payment, and how he chose to come about it was no one's business but his own.) The crap car was unfortunate, but his baby was too noticeable (beautiful) to drive when there were Leviathans running around playing Citizen Kane all over the place. It sucked, but he could handle it. What he could not handle, however, was Sam.
Sam. Six feet six inches of crazy currently pretending to be just peachy ('I'm fine, Dean') and not doing a very convincing job of it. He would stare into space for long stretches, flinching occasionally. Dean hated it because he knew that every time his brother zoned out he was back in the cage. It didn't matter where they were really, and it didn't matter that it wasn't real. It was real enough for Sam.
For a while things had been all right, they'd been more than all right. Once Sam figured out how to ground himself using his hand he'd pretty much been golden. But now something had changed. Dean had been watching him, and something was definitely not right. He had been spacing out way more, and the hand thing didn't seem to help much.
Of course the normal, reasonable thing to do would be to talk to his brother about it. But Dean was a Winchester, they were both Winchesters, and Winchesters never had the common sense to do the normal, reasonable thing. So Sam put on a brave (bitch)face and Dean tried not to notice that Sam was starting to come apart at the seams.
Dean drove carefully, and a little slower than usual. Sam stared into space. A split second too late he noticed a pothole in the road. He swore mentally and braced himself. Sam had been pretty jumpy for the last few days, and this wasn't going to help. True to form, Sam jumped on impact and pushed himself into the back corner of his seat, furthest away from Dean. He looked around frantically, and Dean knew that he wasn't seeing what was real. He made a soft noise in his throat, a whimper. Dean bit his lip and gripped the steering wheel, hard. His brother, a fully-grown man, was whimpering. This was Not Okay. Not okay at all.
Dean pulled over and cut the engine. "Hey, Sam.." He said softly. There was no response. He tried again, putting his hand on his brother's knee. "Sammy." He startled a little, but Dean was rewarded when, after a second or two, he looked up at him.
"You with me?"
"I think so." Sam responded shakily. "Yeah."
"We alone?" Sam looked down at his hands. Dean sighed. "Lucifer still riding shotgun?"
"Yeah." He stared at him for a long moment then flinched.
"What, did he just stab me through the heart?" Dean took a brief moment to wonder how the hell they had come to this place, where this was a perfectly logical line of questioning.
"He just cut off your head." And, fuck, how was Dean supposed to respond to that?
"It's getting worse, isn't it." It wasn't a question. It was a statement of fact. Sam looked around, looked everywhere that wasn't Dean's face.
"You were fine. You were dealing with it. What happened?"
"I don't know." He wrung his hands.
"There's something you're not telling me." Sam wrung his hands some more.
"I…I kind of…let him in."
"What? You let him in? What were you thinking, Sam!" He shouted.
"I couldn't help it. He was helping me, Dean. I figured out the last case."
"Helping? Helping? Who are you? Stockholm Sammy? Do you even know what you're saying? You don't just let Lucifer into your grapefruit and invite him in for tea! That's a slippery slope to batshit crazy."
"I know, I know. That's abundantly clear now." He ran a hand through his hair, and he looked so worn and resigned and scared, that Dean found himself forgiving him.
"Alright. We can deal with this. New rule: no talking to Lucifer, okay?"
"Dean, he's not like some girl who keeps calling you after a one night stand. He's in my head, I can't hit ignore." He paused. "And he's here to stay. I can't make him go away anymore." Dean's mind raced as he did a mental search for possible solutions and came up empty.
Suddenly, Sam flinched again, and he was back to squeezing himself up against the window. This wasn't going to work. This piece of shit car was not the appropriate place for a Lucifer-induced meltdown. Even though he was sitting right next to him, Dean felt too far away. He needed to make this better, and he sure as hell couldn't do in on a roadside in Bumblefuck, Idaho.
"Hold on, Sammy. We're getting out of here." He said as he started the car. He drove until he reached the nearest exit, where he booked them a room in the first motel he could find. It wasn't until he cut the engine and opened the door that Sam seemed to recognize that they had moved.
"We're stopping?" He asked, bewildered.
"Yup. You're in no condition to drive. We need to figure this out."
"What's to figure out, Dean? Lucifer's here to stay. He's not going anywhere, and there's nothing I can do about it." He sounded tired and resigned.
A few minutes later Sam was seated on one of the beds, while Dean paced up and down the room. "So the hand thing doesn't work at all?"
"No. It worked because I was ignoring him. When I let him in, I acknowledged him, and now he won't get out of my head."
"So he's just…there?"
"He's making funny faces at you." He said wearily. He suddenly flinched, and Dean got the distinct impression that the Devil had just killed him in some sort of creative way. He watched as his brother's face contorted in fear. He scrambled backwards on the bed until he was pressed up against the headboard, knees to his chest, looking like a scared six-year-old. Fuck. This was not allowed to happen. Not to his kid brother. Not to Sam.
Dean felt an ache somewhere beneath his ribcage, in the place where a heart might be in a normal person. Hunters had to be stoic and brave. They couldn't let emotions cloud their judgment. So Dean had grown accustomed to not having a heart, or at least ignoring it. But now, faced with a scene right out of "A Beautiful Mind" he was feeling things, emotions, and that would not do. He had to fix Sammy.
But in a deeper place than his gone-rogue heart was his gut, and he knew in his gut that he couldn't fix his brother. Not really. Lucifer had ripped his soul to shreds, and there was no recovering from something like that.
And it was his fault. He had been so bent on getting his brother back, his real brother, not RoboSam, that he had simply refused to consider the possibility that the wall could fall.
This was his mess. His alone. And, fuck, he was going to do something about it. Maybe he couldn't make Sam better, but he would find a way to make this work. He had to find a way.
He was pulled back into the moment by Sam making that noise again. The noise that Dean refused to acknowledge as a whimper because, fuck, that made his heart (which was an actual Real Thing, even if he spent his life rationalizing it away) break into thousands of tiny Sam-shaped pieces. Dean sat on the edge of the bed. "Sam?" He said quietly. No response. "Sammy, you have to ignore him. Fight him off." Sam stared blankly into space.
Dean sighed. He put a hand on his brother's shoulder. "Come on, Sammy." To his surprise, Sam startled, they looked at him, and actually seemed to recognize his surroundings. "Hey there. You with me?"
"Yeah." They stared at each other for a long moment. "What are we going to do, Dean? I'm a total space cadet, I can't seem to stay focused on the present, on what's real."
"We'll figure something out."
"Really? When? Because Lucifer is hitting golf balls at your head."
"Tell him he's being a dick, will you?"
"Lucifer, you're being a dick." Sam said, deadpan and weary, to the air behind Dean. Dean smiled (because what the hell else was he supposed to do?) and put a brotherly hand on Sam's knee. After a second, his face changed into an unreadable expression (which was Not Okay; he was supposed to read that kid like a book, remember?)
"What's going on, Sam?" His brother stared at him for a moment.
"He shut up."
"Yeah. He's just…I mean, he's there, but not really."
"What do you mean, 'there but not really?"
"It's like he's just there in my peripheral vision, but not saying anything and not doing anything."
"What changed?" Dean stood up and started to pace again. He thought better on his feet.
"Spoke too soon."
"Wait a minute." Sam did that thing with his face that indicated he was thinking about something. He stood up and faced Dean. "Ok, I'm going to do something, and you're going to think I'm a girl, but you're not going to say anything, because you're my brother." Before Dean had a chance to respond, Sam lurched forward and pulled him into a tight hug. Dean staggered back a step, caught off guard. They were brothers, not a pair of teenaged lesbians; they only hugged after near-death (or actual-death) experiences.
"Whoa, Nelly. Want to tell me what's going on?" Sam squeezed him a little tighter, and Dean felt his brother relax in his arms.
"He's gone." Sam sounded so relieved, so calm, that Dean couldn't bring himself to give him a hard time, even if he was a total girl.
"Yeah." Sam sighed blissfully.
"I hate to be a dick when you're having your moment, but what now? We can't hug forever."
"I know. Just give me a minute."
"Take as long as you need, Sammy." Dean meant it. After a minute or so, Sam stepped back and looked around.
"He's still gone."
"Well that's convenient. Now what the hell just happened?" Sam shifted awkwardly.
"We're going into Chick Flick territory, and you're going to grow a pair and not give me a hard time, got it?"
"Got it." Dean said seriously.
"He…he used to be you. He used to be you a lot. And he did things when he was you." Dean swallowed hard. "But no matter how much he looked like you, sounded like you, he never really felt like you, and he never quite smelled like you. I know it's stupid and girly, but you hugging me…it's like the ultimate reality check. It doesn't solve the problem, he'll be back, but it helps."
"We were looking for a way to deal with this; it looks like we found it."
"And you don't mind existing in a perpetual state of girliness?" Dean ran a hand through his hair and fixed his brother with a firm look.
"Let's get this straight. You saved the world, Sammy. You've been to Hell and back, literally. You paid a price no one should ever have to pay. Now you're stuck with Lucifer on your shoulder. If hugs from me are going to keep you sane and functioning, then I will hold you in my arms for the rest of our lives, and I mean that, Sam. If acting like a girl is what gets you there, then bring on the knee sock and hair ribbons." Dean pulled his brother (his almostsane brother) into his arms. It wasn't so bad; it was maybe the best thing in the world.