Dean landed with a bone-jarring thud in Bobby's den. Sam took the brunt of the impact, his teeth rattling audibly and curled in on his side in obvious pain.
"Shit," Dean muttered under his breath, ignoring his own physical discomfort at the sudden arrival and crouched protectively over his brother's prone form.
Bobby groaned unhappily and stood, hovering over both Winchesters while attempting to regain his bearings.
Sam trembled uncontrollably. Dean reached out and took his brother's hand, frowning at how pale and clammy his brother's skin was.
He's in shock, Dean realized and he began to panic when blood trickled from the corner of Sam's mouth and down his chin.
"Cas!" Dean shouted, not sure why the angel was not there, "Help him!"
The angel came into Dean's line of sight and crouched down. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his hand shook slightly as he reached out to the injured young man.
Sam flinched when Cas pressed his fingers against his temple, as if he expect the angel to hurt him, and then stilled when the celestial being's healing power flowed through him.
Dean glanced down at his brother and smiled gratefully; the blood had vanished and the wounds had healed. Sam blinked owlishly like a man waking up from a long sleep.
Sitting up on his elbows, Sam stared warily at his brother; not the expression Dean was expecting.
"Sammy-" Dean began but his brother snapped at him.
"Don't call me Sammy!" he nearly shouted and scooted away from Dean.
"Sam, son," Bobby didn't move from his stop but called out imploringly to the younger man, "It's alright. You're safe."
Sam shook his head, tears in his green eyes, "I'm nuh-not falling for your tricks so you can just stop! St-stop!"
"It's really me, Sammy," Dean stood but Sam only backed away even more. His movement was impeded by the couch so he sidled along the piece of furniture until he was at the edge and then curled into the space between the side of the sofa and the wall.
"Dean's dead! I saw him die!" Sam cried and squeezed his eyes shut.
"I'm not dead, Sam! Zach brought me back!" Dean nearly yelled and looked around for Cas in his frustration.
The angel had disappeared and Dean swore.
"I'm not sa-saying it so you can just for-forget it!" Sam said but he sounded more weary than angry.
"Son, this ain't one of Lucifer's tricks," Bobby said gently, hoping to calm down the young man.
"Yeah, why would he make you think you were back here?" Dean asked frantically. He knew to expect some psychological trauma after rescuing his brother but he couldn't handle this.
Sam narrowed his eyes. Lucifer was taunting him, he knew; showing him what he could never have again because of his continued refusal to comply.
"Fuck you! I don't have to answer you!" Sam snarled and Dean actually took a step back, stunned at the ferocity in his brother.
Sam curled in on himself and began to cry. He just wanted this to end. He didn't care if he woke up in that chilly farmhouse basement; he couldn't look at his brother and Bobby and know that he would never see the real ones again.
Dean looked helplessly at Bobby. The older man put a calloused hand on Dean's shoulder and shook his head.
"You look like you could use a drink," Bobby said and Dean looked at his friend in disbelief.
"Give 'im some space, Dean," the veteran hunter suggested, "If you pressure Sam you'll only make it worse."
Dean shoved Bobby's hand off his shoulder, "I'll drink once I know Sam's okay."
Instead of following his friend's advice, Dean approached his brother and crouched down in front of him. Sam was hemmed-in by his brother and for a moment Dean thought his sibling was going to attack him but Sam didn't. Sam froze and stared at him like a wounded animal in a trap, waiting for whatever was to come next.
Dean reached out and Sam flinched but the older brother didn't stop. He wrapped his arms around his brother and pulled him close.
Sam remained rigid in his brother's arms for a long moment before finally going limp. Dean wasn't sure if his brother actually believed he was who he said he was or if Sam was just too exhausted to continue fighting. Although Cas had healed Sam's injuries, Dean had seen the dark circles under his brother's bloodshot eyes and wondered when the young man had slept last.
Dean startled when his brother began to tremble in his arms, his muffled sobs breaking the older Winchester's heart.
"Hey, it's okay Sam," Dean soothed but Sam shook his head, his cheek against Dean's shoulder.
"No, it's not," Sam whispered sadly and Dean felt a lump for in his throat.
"Why?" Dean asked. Sam pushed himself out of Dean's grasp and wrapped his arms around his middle as though preventing himself from falling apart.
"I know you're nuh-not the real De-Dean," Sam muttered, eyes downcast.
Dean closed his eyes for a moment, trying to rein in his own emotions, "I am real, Sam. It's really me. Cas and Bobby and I, we saved you… we rescued you."
Sam just shook his head, "Dean's in H-Hell and it's all my fau-fault."
"Sammy," Dean tried again but frowned when his brother flinched at the name, "You've gotta believe me."
"Leave me alone, please," Sam begged and Dean backed off.
Standing, Dean didn't immediately give his brother space, worried that in his terror, Sam might try and flee Bobby's house but Sam only curled in on himself again, his back to the den as he pressed himself into the corner created by the couch and the wall.
The eldest Winchester stepped away and cast Bobby a pleading look.
The veteran hunter shook his head and gestured to Dean to follow him to the kitchen.
Dean took a seat at the table and watched numbly as Bobby pulled down a half-bottle of Jim Beam and two shot glasses.
Dean drank the alcohol when Bobby poured it for him, relishing the feel of the bourbon as it burned down his throat.
"Where's Cas when we need him?" he asked rhetorically and pushed his shot glass closer to Bobby, indicating that he wanted more.
"Dean," Bobby obliged the young man but knew he had to keep an eye on the eldest Winchester's consumption, "We both knew that Sam wasn't gonna come out of this clean."
Dean nodded and swallowed the second shot, "He doesn't think we're real. He doesn't think I'm real."
Bobby raised an eyebrow, "Well, we didn't give the boy much time to adjust to that fact that yer not dead and we'd come to rescue him."
Dean sucked in a breath that was more of a sob, "What did that bastard do to him?"
Bobby took his baseball cap off and ran his fingers through his thinning hair, "I dunno. Maybe Sam will tell us when he's ready. For now, I suggest we keep an' eye on him. He's a smart kid, he'll realize that we ain't gonna hurt him on his own."
Dean nodded. Bobby was right. Sam had just had a major shock and he needed time to process it. Dean was sure he'd react the same if their positions had been reversed.
He just hated the idea of his brother being scared of him. Sam should never be frightened of his older brother.
Bobby stood abruptly, startling Dean from his thoughts. The older hunter gathered up the bottle and shot glasses.
"I don't know about you but I'm starvin'," Bobby said in a casual manner as he put the glasses in the sink and the bottle of bourbon back in the cupboard, "And I'm sure yer brother could eat a horse."
Dean smiled a little. A peace offering of food would help Sam warm to the idea that this wasn't just some delusion or trick of Lucifer's.
Bobby gave the eldest Winchester a knowing wink and pulled out a box of Lipton chicken noodle soup.
"Why don't you start us some grilled cheese sandwiches while I make this up?" Bobby asked and Dean nodded, grateful to have something to do instead of sitting at the kitchen table, drinking too much alcohol for his own good.
Dean set the grilled cheese sandwich and bowl of soup on the coffee table in front of Sam's curled up frame, his brother's green eyes remaining fixed on the floor. The sight was unnerving to Dean as well as saddening, but he forced himself to focus on much more important matters at hand, like the fact that Sammy probably hadn't eaten much in the past few weeks during his time as Lucifer's captive.
That thought still made Dean shudder.
He knelt across from his baby brother who was scrunched up in the fetal position on the couch, hazel orbs staring quietly into mossy green eyes; eyes that used to be so expressive once, but wet now completely impassive and vacant Every fibre in the older brother's being wanted to remove that look from Sam's face; wanted to do something, anything, to make his brother look back into his own eyes and smile, showing those deep, loveable dimples of his, and call him 'Dean'.
But there was nothing Dean could do, nothing that he knew of, other than wait patiently, for his brother to come around and realize everything on his own; realize that everything he wasn't believing in right now, was all real; that Dean was real, that Bobby was real, that he was no longer in that basement, no longer with Lucifer, Meg and Ruby.
And as badly as Dean desired to make that process quicker, he knew he couldn't do anything about it. He felt so helpless, trapped, with this hollow darkness weighing on the pit of his stomach, churning his gut sickeningly.
But what he could do was take care of his brother. He could make sure Sam ate and slept, if nothing else. Dean doubted that, especially after all that he must have gone through- and Sammy's current state was evidence enough that he wouldn't be okay- not for a long time. And maybe sometimes it would become overwhelming for Sam and he'd feel trapped, and he'd be wary of what was reality and what wasn't. But that was okay, because Dean would be there for him during all of those times. He'd be his anchor, something to hold on to when everything became too tough for him.
"C'mon, Sammy," Dean said softly, pushing the plate closer to the edge of the coffee table, nearer to his brother. "You need to get your strength up. You almost look like a skeleton."
Other than a small shake of his head, Dean received no verbal response.
Depressing silence filled the living room before the older Winchester's voice penetrated through it. "Sammy, you need to eat something. Please." He whispered quietly, his voice gentle and sad. The unveiled concern could easily be heard, but Dean wasn't worried about a possible 'chick-flick' moment. Sam needed to know that he cared, that he wasn't Lucifer, that he wouldn't hurt him.
As was the case before, he received no response. This time, not even a small nod. Just complete silence.
Dean sighed heavily, standing up from where he was kneeling on the carpet. He walked towards the kitchen, leaving the food tray sitting on the table in the hopes that maybe Sam will eat once he was alone.
"How's he doing?" Bobby asked as soon as he saw his surrogate oldest enter the kitchen.
"Not good," Dean answered, and sighed deeply as he plopped down on the chair, running a hand through his blonde chopped hair as he leaned back. "He's not eating. He's not talking. He's not doing anything except sitting and staring and . . . " He trailed off, swallowing as he closed his hazel eyes. "And I'm scared." He whispered.
"Bobby, I'm scared." He repeated, tears welling up in his eyes.
"He's a strong kid, Dean, he's gonna be alright. He always bounces back."
"But what if this time's different?" Dean questioned as his face crumpled helplessly, tears streaming down his cheeks. "What if this time, he doesn't?"
Bobby's heart crumbled at the sight of tears on Dean's face and at the despair in his broken voice. Dean was not one to cry easily and for him to do so was a clear indication of how much he was hurting.
"Just give him some time, kid. He'll come around." Bobby reassured gently, hoping that he was right.
An entire week elapsed, so fast that they barely noticed. Both Dean and Bobby decided it would be best to leave the youngest Winchester to his own devices, in the hopes that he'll realize the truth and begin to trust the reality that surrounded him. Besides leaving food and drink and clean clothes out for Sam, the two older men did not engage him, hoping that if they continually posed no threat, treated him with a benign indifference, that he would realize that they were not hallucinations or shadows conjured up by Lucifer or Sam's own traumatized mind. It hurt Dean to blatantly ignore his brother but he knew that if he pushed, if he tried to force Sam into believing he was real, his brother would only retreat further away from him.
The entire house was shadowed by the dark night; tiny specks of illuminating stars painting the black sky.
Dean was just walking down to the kitchen to grab a glass of water when he heard it.
A tiny whimper, in the voice that was all too familiar, even to his still-sleep-addled mind. And the haze immediately cleared away at the sound and all thoughts of his urgent thirst disappeared as he hastily headed towards the room his brother was currently occupying. His steps stuttered in hesitance as he reached the doorway, uncertain if this would be the right thing to do. Would he scare his brother even more by going in there?
But then a gasping sob snapped him straight into action; and he didn't even bother to give any further attention to such thoughts as he rushed inside the room.
His run slowed to a walk as he neared the couch, silently watching his brother.
Another whimper escaped from his younger brother's lips, his curled up body shivering under the blankets as he was enthralled by cruel nightmares. Sam's head thrashed violently from left to right, his long hair flopping all over his tear-streaked face as he sobbed at the horror in his dreams.
Dean crouched down beside him on the floor, placing a calloused hand lightly on his brother's shoulder. "Sammy?"
The young man let out a cry of fear ; a sound that would haunt the elder brother's memories forever.
"Sammy?" Dean called again, his voice slightly louder as he shook his sibling's shoulder.
But he didn't hear Dean, apparently, as he continued to struggle against the monster in his head.
"Sammy!" Dean yelled frantically, shaking him harder. "Sammy, wake up! It's just a dream!"
"No...pl-please..." He whimpered softly.
Dean's heart crumbled at the plea, his chest throbbing at the sight of his younger sibling.
He swallowed down the lump in his throat and, without really thinking, sat down on the edge of the couch. He grabbed his brother's thin shoulders and pulled him straight into his arms, his brother's face buried into his shoulder.
"Shh, it's okay. It's just a dream, Sammy... It's just a dream." He chanted softly into his ear.
He felt a slight jerk against his chest; and he knew his brother was awake now. And just as soon, he felt Sam grow completely still in his embrace, as though he was trying to figure out what his next move should be. For a moment, Dean thought his brother would shove him away; the thought that he scared him even more than Sam's nightmare. But instead, he felt a warm weight wrap around his back.
Dean smiled, gripping his brother even tighter.
"You're real?" Sam whispered softly.
"Yeah, Sammy," Dean said, just as quietly, "It's really me."
Dean could almost hear the gears turning in his brother's head as Sam grew silent once more but that was okay. Sam wasn't fighting him and that was good. Dean kept quiet and allowed Sam to sort things out on his own.
"L-Lucifer would n-never…" Sam mumbled against Dean's shoulder, "Even if its not him… if you were a vision… y-you'd never… never do this…"
Dean frowned as Sam's voice became thick and he realized that Sam was starting to cry.
What had Lucifer made him see?
Before he could stop himself, the question was flew out of Dean's mouth and he cringed, hoping his brother wouldn't withdraw again.
"What did I do?"
Sam sucked in a deep breath but didn't say anything for a long moment.
Good going Winchester, Dean chastised himself for his stupidity, just when you were getting somewhere you had to open your big mouth.
"Y-you were d-dead," Sam answered, his voice wavering, "I'm s-sorry… I sh-should have protected you… I kb-know it was m-my fault R-Ruby killed you…"
Dean's heart dropped down to his stomach.
"No, Sam," he almost snarled, "It wasn't your fault. You didn't do anything wrong."
Sam shook his head agains Dean's shoulder, "I eh-should have ran when you told me too. I should have ii-killed her back at St. M-Mary's…"
Gritting his teeth, Dean held his brother at arm's length, "Sam. Look at me."
Reluctantly, Sam raised his hurt green eyes up to Dean's hazel ones, "I don't know what you saw or what Lucifer told you but I don't blame you for my death. Okay? If you want to blame someone, blame Ruby."
Sam's eyes narrowed, "Did Zach really b-bring you back?"
Dean smiled slightly, "Yeah. Not my first choice but, hey, I'm not complaining."
Sam winced in sympathy at the idea of Dean waking up to Zachariah's ugly face and fell back against his brother's chest.
"I'm so tired," he mumbled.
"I know you are, Sammy," Dean said, "Why don't you close your eyes?"
"…I'm scared," Sam admitted.
"If you have a nightmare I'll be right here, okay?" Dean assured him, "I'll stay here all night if you want me to."
"It's not that…" Sam whispered.
"What is it?" Dean frowned, his nerves returning.
"I'm afraid that this is a dream and I'll wake up and Lucifer will be here," Sam answered fearfully, "He'll hurt me if I don't say yes."
Grabbing his brother's arms, Dean pushed Sam away from him a little too forcibly.
His brother's green eyes widened in fear but Dean ignored that, "Sam, you didn't… you'd never say yes to that bastard, would you?"
Although Dean was only afraid for his brother, his question sounded more angry than concerned.
Sam's face crumpled, "Y-you were dead… They'd never let me go… Lucifer kept hurting me… You were gone…"
Dean didn't know how to respond. He wondered just how close Sam had come to letting the Devil in. The thought made him sick to his stomach.
God damn it! Sam had almost given in! He'd almost played right into the angels' plans.
What would you have done if your positions were reversed? Hmmm? Would you have been able to hold out? Would you have lasted longer than Sam? I think not.
Dean's eyes welled with tears, suddenly ashamed of himself for being angry at his brother.
If he had been captured by Michael and tortured, Dean was sure he would have given in. His history was against him. Sure, he might be able to withstand it for a little while but just like in Hell, he'd cave.
But Sam, he may have come close but by God he hadn't actually given that son of a bitch consent. Sam had been held as Lucifer's prisoner- and tortured- for nearly a month and had refused him the entire time.
Dean was ashamed of how low of an opinion he had of Sam.
"Sam," Dean said and put his hands on either side of his brother's face, raising his head so that his sibling was looking at him, "Sammy, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that."
Sam avoided his brother's gaze, "I know I'm not as strong as you-"
"Shut up," Dean growled and his brother looked startled, "You don't get to do that. You don't get to call yourself weak."
Sam opened his mouth to protest but Dean shook his head, "You didn't give in, Sammy. You didn't give those flying monkeys what they wanted."
"I fucked up though," Sam continued as if Dean hadn't spoken, "I released Lucifer… I got you killed… I almost said yes…"
Dean shook his head again, "None of that matters. You're here. Now. Safe with me and Bobby. Sam, you're my little brother and no matter how many mistakes you make nothing will change that. I was being an idiot. I know that now. I should be blaming the angels for stringing us along this entire time, not you. If you hadn't killed Lilith… I don't know… some bad shit would have gone down… but forget about that. Lucifer's out of the box… so what? So we find a way to put him back. You and me. Together."
Sam blinked up at Dean, "Now I know this is real. Lucifer would never say anything like that."
Dean smiled and hugged his brother again.
This wasn't over. Far from it. But as long as he had Sammy by his side, Dean was ready for anything the Apocalypse could throw at him.
1. Thanks to nupinoop296, reannablue, Sivadkristal1447, BranchSuper, SPN Mum, and L.A.H.H for reviewing.
2. Thanks to everyone who followed, favourited or alerted this fanfic.
3. So, this is the end. AlxM and I hope you enjoyed this story and look forward to reading your final thoughts.