"The Born-Again Identity" was one of the best episodes of Supernatural ever made, so this probably won't be my last tag. I never believed that Dean would let Sam suffer with insomnia without trying to help. So here's my answer to that. Please let me know what you think!
The Brother Cure
The cures started with the fancy, froo-froo herbal soap.
Because Sam was suffering. He zoned out of conversations, didn't trust himself to drive, and yawned more than breathed. Dean had researched a few ways to cure insomnia, so he started with the easiest…and girliest, like Sam would have.
A day after slipping it into his shaving kit, Dean entered the motel room, smothering a smile as he caught Sam sleeping sitting up, chin-to-chest, snoring thunderously. His wet hair was slicked back, and the room, close with humidity, smelled vaguely flowery.
The smirk died a quick death when his brother jerked as if a bomb had went off and tumbled to the floor, too tired to stop himself. He whipped his head to the right, glaring at a spot on the wall so furiously that Dean could almost see Lucifer crouched on the rickety desk chair. What worried him even more is that Sam didn't get up, didn't press his thumb against the scar on his hand, didn't push back the way he always had. He just let his head thump against the nasty carpet and stayed there. Surrendering or weakening, Dean wouldn't stand for either one.
He kicked the door shut as hard as he could, relieved when Sam's gaze met his and he climbed to his feet.
"Pack your shit, let's go."
It was time to get drastic, Dean thought as Sam robotically shoved clothes into the bag.
The bare trees jutted upwards towards the overcast sky in spindles of rain-soaked wood. Over the caw of crows, the lazy rush of a river could be heard and the fresh smell of white water hung in the air. It was a picturesque day for Winchesters, at least, who didn't melt when the sun shined, tulips bloomed or bunnies romped.
Sam shuffled over to stand beside him at the railing, and watch the clear water rush over the rocks, tendrils of snow sprinkling white along the banks. "So what now, Dali Yoda?" The tone was patronizing, the dimples encouraging. "You didn't forget the incense, did ya?"
He was trying.
Trying not to feel like some hemp-weaving, tree-hugging tool, Dean sat down, and pretzeled up Indian style. Sam did the same, crouching to the ground in more a controlled fall as the insomnia had sapped his normal grace. He mirrored Dean's position with the grimace that told him his entire body ached from lack of rest.
He studied the ornate cards the clerk at the bookstore found for him, and read carefully. "First step to meditation: deep cleansing breaths." He sat the cards down and shifted uncomfortably in on the hard ground.
Closing his eyes, Dean breathed in and out, reassured when he heard his brother do the same. The cloud-muffled sun pressed lightly against his face and the catcalls of the birds became higher, more defined, as did the flow of the water behind him.
Sam and Dean breathed together, in unison. His mind was never quiet these days, not after Bobby and certainly not when Sam was pushing hour sixty-four without more than a minute or two of sleep, but it blunted some of the anxiety. He cracked open an eye, addressing his cards again. "Second Step: Purify your mind of all negative karma," his eyes bulged, "by repeating this following blessing three times: 'From the hearts of all the holy beings/streams of light and nectar flow down/granting blessings and purifying.'"
Dean was stilled by something far more common than the force of Buddha. He bit the inside of his cheek, ignoring the clench of his stomach muscles and the tug in his mind. He would not break. He didn't have to, because Sam did, exploding with laughter so intense, it flew out of him like bubbles. It echoed out over the lake, and spooked the birds. They lifted into the air, ambling away with the flapping of wings. "'The hearts of holy beings'? Guess they don't know that angels are soulless dicks, huh?"
Dean shattered into delirious laughter that was far too close to giggling for comfort. "The cashier at the store had award-winning cleavage, man. She said it worked."
Sam wiped his eyes, grinning even though he looked unkempt and ill. "Read another one."
He obliged, flipping through the cards. "I and all sentient beings, until we achieve enlightenment/Go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha."
His flopped over in the dirt, howling with laughter. And Dean nearly joined him, grateful that Sam was doing something besides mainlining triple red-eyes and staring into space. When they recovered from their fits, wet-eyed and slap-happy, Sam snatched the cards and hurled them into the river.
ambien and massage
"It's not workin'," Sam muttered, half of his face mashed into the pillow. "And dis is weird, man."
Dean pinched his eyes closed, imagining Jessica Alba's svelte body undulating silkenly in "Into The Blue" or maybe Christina Aguilera in those assless chaps before she became a bitchy Paula Abdul. "I changed your nasty ass diapers. I patched you up after that farmer shot you in the ass. And changed the bandages twice a day for a week. This isn't that weird." Dean grumped, even though his eyes were closed and his stomach wavered with a squicky feeling of wrong. "And it'll work, give it time."
He cracked on eye open, catching a glimpse of pale skin and scar-mottled sinew of his brother's back, and groaned before marshaling his resolve. "At least I can say the devil made me do it," he deadpanned.
Grinning, he spread the oil on his hands and dove in, attacking the shoulders with the gusto Martha Stewart reserved for a pile of bread dough. Sam's trapezius was harder than a boulder and peppered with stony knots of tension. He hissed before smacking Sam's bare side. "I'm not molestin' you, man, relax."
"I am," Sam groaned.
But he wasn't, even though he was sprawled across the bed, shirtless, clutching the edge of the bedspread, his back was a slab of bunched muscle, the speed of Sam's breathing was just shy of panting, and his pulse visibly throbbed in his neck—a side-effect of all of the damn caffeine pills Sam pounded like Tic-Tacs. At least the double-shot of Ambien would counter-act that. The drug had knocked Dean on his ass for a good sixteen hours when he had struggled with hunting-induced insomnia, so he hoped Sam could get a few even with the devil-shortened half-life.
Dean dug his fingers into the muscle, massaging out the stress and fear. He worked his way down and to the right, feeling a bit of encouragement when Sam arched a bit and hissed with relief.
"I dated a massage therapist once after I screwed up my back pretty bad. She fixed me right up," Dean mused.
Sam grunted when Dean touched a healing bruise over his right kidney. "If she could make Lucifer shut up so I could sleep, I'd thank her any way she wanted. Twice."
"You're kinky when you're sleep-deprived."
His eyes rolled behind closed lids, and Sam fell silent. Dean kept rubbing, even though his arms were starting to cramp and his knees ached from where they were tucked up underneath him.
"Dean," Sam slurred twenty minutes later. "It's workin'. Feel fuzzzzy."
"Just let it down it's thang, Sammy. Relax."
Sammy actually dropped off, breathing slowly a bit, body loosening, sinking deep into the mattress, arm flopping over the side of the bed. He breathed with a congested chuff that Dean instantly recognized as deep Sammy sleep the kind that meant Dean could move him to the bed as a child or slip out of the room for a smoke as a teenager. Dean opened his eyes, relieved. "'Bout time, man."
He sat back, shaking out his aching hands and moved to stand up. When Dean glanced down and didn't see the placid face of his sufficiently sedated brother. Sam's eyes were open wide, flickering back and forth, jaw tight with pain. Dean leaned close, hands still slick with oil. "Hey, Sammy?"
When Sam lurched and then gurgled, Dean swore, he snatched the trashcan, and heaved Sam's shoulders off the bed. His head flopped down as he vomited, bringing up all of the soup Dean had practically force fed him and along with two pristine pills of Ambien.
Dean rarely ignored his gut. Those hard-honed instincts had saved his ass more times than he could count. But when he found thousands of testimonials of gratefully cured insomniac praising the mystical magic of acupuncture, he was hopeful enough to suggest it to Sam despite the flashing warning lights flickering in his mind. For the common man, being poked with tiny needles was probably a little unnerving, but for two guys who had survived the flaying blades and disemboweling beasts of hell, it could easily trigger violent flashbacks.
Sam, wet-eyed and weak, agreed with a dumb nod of his head, and Dean was worried enough to bribe his way into an appointment that very day. He sat in the abandoned waiting room, watching the tropical fish meander around their aquarium and the housekeepers sweep and vacuum the lobby, pretending he wasn't a wrecked with nerves. He took a cleansing breath, remembering their foray into meditation with a smile and checked his watch. It had already been twenty minutes, which meant the needles were in, and Sam seemed to be okay. He twiddled his thumbs before perusing through the recently stacked and mostly current magazines. He'd just tucked into an lovely article about the best celebrity asses when he heard it—the twinkling of glass and the muted thump of a tussle. As he got to his feet, something delicate and stubborn and hopefully died within him, giving way to the malignant black dread that assured him Sam might not survive this one, that four days without sleep was just the beginning.
By the he hurried down the darkened hall, the acupuncturist was tearing around the corner, clutching his sleeve and dragging him towards the room. She wasn't a small woman, and had an air about her that told Dean she wasn't easily spooked, but she looked terrified. "What happened?" he asked even though he had no desire to know.
"He's panicking. I got the needles in fine, and he was relaxing and then he just…um, he…"
"It's okay," Dean said as she flailed to describe what she had just witnessed. It wouldn't be explained or quantified in simple words, he knew. He patted her shoulder and offered what he hoped was a calming smile, but felt like a distraught grimace. "Stay here, okay. No matter what."
She nodded, rooting her feet to the floor as she wrung her hands. "He seems so sweet…I-I didn't get a chance to thank him for his service."
Dean patted her shoulder and closed the door behind him. The damage to the room wasn't that bad, a few jars of shattered, glass sparkling in the carpet like jagged stars. There was an upended lamp in the corner casting orange light to the exam room. Sam was on the floor, on the other side of the exam table, huddled and gasping for air like a hooked trout. Dean lunged for him, ready to grip his arms before the eerie light glinted off the thin needles embedded in his forehead, ears, hands and wrists. The scene was bizarre, heart-breaking and stomach-turning. "Sammy, come on, kid, relax. These needles are harmless."
He plucked three needles out of Sam's hand and leaned over to press his scar hard enough to bruise bone all while Sam wheezed and choked, hyperventilating so violently, it was almost silent. "C'mon, Sammy. I know you're tired, but you can do this…fight him. He's not here. You're topside and you're safe, I promise." Dean squeezed again, other hand cupping Sam's face as his skin flushed from red to purple and his eyes glazed over.
It was more painful than hell's worst torture to watch his brother suffer. He'd rather go at himself with a knife than listen to Sam gag for air and watch his rock shake and tremble with the Lucifer-induced horror. But witnessing Sam's deterioration over those last few days had been even worse. And Dean was seized with a horrible thought—one that he was desperate enough to put into action.
He let go of Sam's hand. He stopped offering him solace and relied on nature. He'd seen Sam panic before, had witnessed attacks so intense that even Dean couldn't stop them. He'd seen Sam throttled to unconsciousness and had memorized every painful detail. Within a minute, Sam would pass out from the lack of oxygen, and he'd stay under for at least a few minutes, but because he was so depleted from exhaustion, it might be even more.
So Dean, enduring torture of his own, did nothing while Sam hyperventilated. He closed his eyes and counted his head, ignoring the sounds of Sam's scrabbling feet or the chuffing pants of rapid-fire breathe. He almost caved when Sam's hand bumped his knee, reaching out for his brother as he had done since birth. But as Dean reached out, pulling another needle from his chin, Sam's eyes rolled back and he slumped sideways in a dead faint. Dean caught him deftly, brushing Sam's stringy hair out of his face, and pressing his own quivering hands to his brother's sweaty neck, relieved to feel his pulse decrease to frenetic gallop. He adjusted the long, weakened body of his brother so it was pillowed on his lap, and he started in on the needles, removing them out gently and tossing them in a nearby trashcan. "I'm sorry, Sammy. So sorry."
In the end, he wasn't.
Because on the floor of the acupuncturist's office, Sam slept for two glorious hours and thirteen precious minutes.
Dean jerked out of a haze, blinking exhaustedly into the glare of the television. "Jus' watchin' TV," he yelled, wiping the drool from his mouth.
"No, you were sleepin'. You've been up for forty hours, and I appreciate it, man, but give it up."
The man slumped on the bedside him wasn't his brother. It was a husked-out, sunken-eyed shell of Sam Winchester. Someone who was so sleep-deprived that his body shook with anxiety and his muddied blue eyes rolled like marbles, unable to focus. He slurred when he talked, like he'd come off the world's best bender, and spoke in spastic jumble.
With the Ambien didn't work, and the acupuncture sent Sam spiraling into a Lucifer-sponsored anxiety attack, Dean vowed to stay up with him so he wouldn't have to watch him sleep and wouldn't be left alone with Lucifer's wicked games, but he was already so tired, his bones hurt. He couldn't imagine how Sam felt.
He crawled across the bed, reaching for his Big Gulp of coffee spiked with Red Bull. "I'm good. You wanna hit up a…" his mind shorted out as he groped for the word, "movie theater or…a diner or somethin'?"
"Or you could choke me out again?"
Guilt cinched Dean's chest as he thought of those long hours crouched on the floor of the acupuncturist's office. Since then, Sam had had begged to be knocked out just for the reprieve, but Dean couldn't bare it, not yet when there were other safer methods to try.
"No, I'd rather hack my arm off, man. Bobby's workin' on something. A hunter-friendly doc owes him a favor. He'll be able to sedate you, put you completely out like you were having surgery. It's the safer than…" Dean's mind fuzzed out, words fading as the room streaked around him.
The next thing he knew Sam was inches away from his face, frowning as he caught the cup Dean nearly dropped. The bags under his eyes were a lovely shade of purple and his lips were dry, cracking from him licking them in agitation. Stubble darkened his jaw and his hair that stuck out at odd angles like a crumpled halo. But he stood up, shuffling over to Dean and taking the cup with trembling hands. "I'll drink this, you sleep. We both can't be off-guard. Don't make me force you."
Dean laughed mirthlessly. "You could try, even on your best day, you'd lose. And right now, you look like the corpse of a junkie."
With a lift of the eyebrows, Sam pressed a hand to Dean's chest, groping his collar when Dean drunkenly tried to bolt. They grappled with the grace of drunken Rhinos and without an inkling of the skill John had jammed into their DNA. It ended with Dean's face smashed into the musty mattress, his humiliation compounded when Sam sat on him. Making good on his promise. "Sleep, jerk, and have good dreams for me."
Even with two hundred and forty pounds of determined little brother crushing his liver, Dean felt sleep tugging his lids down, his body numbing. "Jus' a few hours…dream of Ghandi and hot lady lawyers, promise, bitch." He muttered and drifted off.
His body absorbed the rest like desert soil did water.
When he woke up to the trill of his cell phone and the glare of sunlight, Sam was gone.
The days after Sam was sprung from the hospital, apparently healed by Castiel of all beings, were nothing but a blur of sinkings and surfacing, lights and darks, degrees of pain. When he opened his eyes could keep them open without a Herculean effort, Sam grimaced at the pain in his ribs, back and knees, and the smell wafting off of him.
Per the note, Dean was gone, the salt lines thick and deliberate, anti-angel sigils joining the wards.
Sam shuffled to the bathroom, still exhausted, but he had enough energy to clean himself up before going back to sleep.
It wasn't until he turned off the faucet, and heard the water slapping against the tile with a pronounced snap that Sam noticed the difference, the subtle changes added up to something delicate and profound. When he shaved the jut his chin, he could hear the blades snick and scrape over his skin. He wiped his face, applying his cooling after-shave with one hand, the other pressed tightly against his ribs. The gel in the bottle bubbled with a comical pop.
Startled, Sam studied the bathroom. The wallpaper was a shocking gold and turquoise damask. The gold glinted brightly, sparkling in the lights. Sam winced, touching the too-bright walls.
Outside of the small port-hole window to his left, the snow fell in a leisurely haze, wafting about before settling to the ground.
There was a stillness and a clarity Sam had forgotten existed. He felt his awareness expanded, filling in the ruts and holes Lucifer and his torture had once occupied.
The razor clattered in the sink.
"It's quiet," he gasped.
Dean ran his errands with a knuckle-tapping impatience. He filled up the car, stocked up on some lighter foods for Sam's iffy stomach, replenished the first aid kit, had their clothes laundered.
Relief unspooled in his belly as he turned into the lot of the secluded motel, but immediately knotted again, when he noticed a tall figure, huddled in on itself, shivering in the snow a fewt feet outside of their room. It was good that Sam was upright and conscious after nearly four days of horizontal and snoring, but there was something about the hang of his head that had Dean trudging through the Colorado snow, laundry, bandages and food forgotten.
Sam's shoulders heaved, nose and eyes red, cheeks shining with icy silver. He gazed up at Dean, crying without shame.
His little brother shook his head, smearing tears across his face with a swipe of his hand. "It's quiet. In my head. I can hear things…and feel things…and…" he jerked, shaking his head. "It's so clear…it wasn't before. It was all fuddled and smeared, and I missed it." He ranted, picking at the bandages on his shredded nails.
Dean clutched his hands, if only to still them, and knelt down in front of Sam, lifting his quivering chin with his other hand. "What are you talkin' 'about? Give a guy a clue here."
His eyes were pristine blue, and shone with bewildered grief, but it was the quivering chin that gutted Dean. "Bobby's gone. We burned him. Lucifer was screamin' so loud…I was always distracted, and it felt too distant. I s-struck the match…and I burned him. Dean." He twisted Dean's shirt, dropping his head.
Dean's own tears were instant, the way they hadn't been at Bobby's pyre or the wretched days afterward. "Aww, Sammy." He tugged him gruffly into his arms, holding him as tight as he could. "Yeah, Sam, he's gone."
"Did I say goodbye?"
"You did it right, kid. You did it when I couldn't."
"D-dying didn't hurt as much…as this. Lucifer didn't either." Sam sobbed. "I miss him."
He wasn't sure if Sam meant Lucifer or Bobby, and he didn't want to know. Dean pressed his forehead to Sam's, grateful to have his brother back and just now understanding how concentration it had taken him to function with Lucifer riding shotgun. "I miss him too, kid. Come on, Sam, let's get you out of the snow. I gotcha, Sammy. I'm still here."
Sam allowed Dean to bundle him in his coat and lead him through the snow towards the hotel. Sam and Dean sat on the bed together, pressed against the headboard, talking and finally grieving as brothers. Sleep came easily for both of them and they hunkered down in their beds, exhausted by loss and illness and ever-deepening isolation.
As they slept, the temperature in the motel room plummeted and the motel room key vibrated as if being shaken by invisible hands.