Author's note: I'm sorry it's taken me a while to update this story, but I've been so busy, busy, busy (oh, and did I mention I've been busy?). Anyway, thank you for all the support and love you've shown this story. I can't begin to express how grateful I am for all the lovely reviews. However, let me at least show you my gratitude by finally adding the last chapter - hopefully you'll enjoy it!
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The Impala had always been a home for the Winchesters. That was why it wasn't really a big surprise when Sam was able to sleep calmly in his curled up position on the backseat of the car while Dean watched over him. And that was how they spent the next few nights - whenever Dean was able to force Sam into catching some sleep at least, which wasn't exactly an easy task - even though Sam was more than exhausted by each passing day.
But Dean watched over his little brother while he slept; studied him, trying to figure out what was so different about the car compared to the beds and couch – or if what Sam was going through had nothing to do with where he slept at all. Maybe it would only be a matter of time before the younger brother had one of his episodes in the car as well, and Dean braced himself for that possibility. Sam would definitely not handle it very well if the one place he considered to be a safe haven wasn't a safe place for him either.
And as Dean predicted, that was exactly what happened.
After another day of studying old lore books, searching through internet pages, making calls to different people and reading through their father's journal for God only knows which time, Sam was fighting hard to keep his eyes open. Dean looked at his younger brother from behind the screen of the laptop, let out a sigh as Sam blinked rapidly to stop his eyelids from falling shut, and then closed the lid of the laptop.
"Sam, sleep, now." Dean ordered which made Sam snap his drooping eyes open.
"No." Sam said in a rusty voice and cleared his throat. "I'm good."
"Like hell you are." Dean said and stood up.
He hadn't missed the deep furrows underneath Sam's eyes that kept getting worse and which was a clear testimony to just how little sleep Sam was getting these days. It worried Dean more than he cared to admit; he hadn't seen his brother this worn out since the hallucinations of Lucifer were messing with his head, and Dean did not want to go down that road again! It had been bad enough the first time around and, thinking back to how fragile and broken Sam had been when he'd been committed to that psych ward, Dean would do anything in his power to avoid a similar situation.
So Dean hooked a hand under Sam's upper arm and pulled the younger man to his feet, ignoring Sam's protests as he did so. The older brother shoved a blanket into his brother's arms and nudged him towards the door leading outside since Sam still refused to sleep anywhere else than in the car.
"Dean, stop pushing me! I can walk on my own." Sam complained as Dean kept nudging him towards the car.
"Yeah, you said the same thing when you were four." Dean huffed. "And you're still a pain in the ass during bedtime."
Sam glared at his older brother but Dean remained unaffected by the action. As they reached the Impala, Sam's hand hesitated on the door handle of the car and he let out a heavy breath that left little white clouds in the chilly air.
"It just.. It scares me, ya know? Not being able to move while someone tries to hurt you – not even being able to call for help." Sam said without looking at his brother. "And I know it's far from hell but.. somehow it still reminds me of it."
Sam turned his head in Dean's direction, caught his big brother's eyes for a moment before looking down again, and he then opened up the car door and got inside. Dean remained where he was for a couple of seconds; affected by the helplessness that he knew Sam was feeling, but swearing that he would find a way to save his brother from whatever it was Sam was dealing with. The kid had been through enough. They both had.
When Dean entered the Impala, Sam had already positioned himself on the backseat of the car; lying on his back with his arms folded behind his neck, blanket casually tossed over his body. Since he wasn't able to stretch his legs out all the way, they were awkwardly folded between the bench seat and the floorboard, but Sam was too tired to curl into a more comfortable position. It had been way easier fitting into the backseat when he'd been a kid.
Low tunes of soft rock soon reached his ears and Sam realized that Dean had turned on the radio – another one of his older brother's tricks to ease Sam into sleep and, as it almost always did, it soon lulled the youngest Winchester brother to sleep.
The scream of a passing seagull.
Laughing kids running around in sand; splashing water at each other in the line of the ocean.
Sam felt the warm sunbeams on his skin as he turned another page in his book and enjoyed doing something normal for once; something that wasn't related to the world of the supernatural.
"Hey Sammy! Check it out!"
Sam looked up from his book to see his big brother juggle some stones in the air, expertly throwing one of them under his thigh and easily catching it in the air again.
"Cool huh?" Dean grinned and Sam shook his head with a wry smile before moving his attention back to his book.
Everything was nice and quiet – idyllic even, if you like – and Sam could have stayed this way forever. There were no worries, no cases, and no creatures needing to be put down for once. It was just Sam and Dean having a normal day among normal people doing normal stuff.
But then the wind suddenly picked up; flipping the pages in Sam's book with rapid speed, and the youngest Winchester brother's forehead wrinkled as a sudden uneasiness settled in his stomach. Sam's breathing then picked up as he looked up from his book only to discover that Dean had disappeared. The day had turned to night – no moon and no stars lighting up the black sky above him. The ocean had turned wild and into a crimson color; waves crashing against the rocks with a dangerous force.
"Dean?" Sam called, his book discarded and forgotten as he jumped to his feet with a hammering heart. "Dean!"
Lightning split the sky and a booming thunder followed in its wake while Sam ran up and down the now deserted beach in his search for his big brother. Raindrops started falling from the sky – big and heavy – rhythmically drumming as they hit the surface of the ocean; color deeply red and reminding Sam of blood.
"Dean!" He called once more and shivered as he suddenly felt cold all over.
Besides the heavy drumming of the rain Sam could also hear distant music – rock music of the kind Dean liked to hear - and he tried to get closer to it.
The Impala. Why did he suddenly think of the Impala?
Sam stopped up and sniffed the air. The bloody raindrops smelled like the car somehow, Sam realized, and the panic he was feeling got mixed with confusion.
The Impala.. Distant rock music.. The smell of home..
Sam suddenly discovered that he was no longer walking on the beach but lying down on it. The ground underneath him didn't feel like sand though; it actually felt like some sort of.. couch? No, it felt like a car seat – leather upholstered.
The youngest Winchester brother gasped when he realized three things at once; one: He had to be dreaming, two: He was in the Impala, and three: He could no longer move his limps. Despair filled Sam's heart as he realized he was having one of his episodes – trapped somewhere between his dream state and awareness. He could feel the upholstery of the backseat of the Impala, hear the music from its radio and smell the scent that only the Impala had. But all he saw before his eyes were the blood-red drops of rain that still fell from the black sky above him while the waves of the ocean crashed, and the thunder and lightning kept ravaging.
Sam wanted to call for his brother yet again but Dean's name wouldn't form on his lips. He was paralyzed and mute, choking on the numerous of raindrops that hit his face and made a metallic taste fill his mouth.
The young hunter knew that Dean was there with him inside the Impala but it wasn't Dean's presence that he could suddenly sense. It was someone else; something that came closer with threatening steps. Sam wasn't able to turn his head but, from the corner of his eye, he saw a set of boots coming to a stop beside him, and the next moment a figure was hovering above him.
Sam swallowed hard as the figure bent down and, as another lightning lighted up the darkness around him, Sam was shocked when he recognized the person above him.
"Dad?" Sam wanted to ask although no sound left his lips. His throat felt too tight and the lack of air made him feel dizzy and slow.
The older man smiled down at Sam. He then leaned closer to Sam's face and the youngest Winchester brother's eyes widened in horror as the color of his father's eyes turned yellow. Sam's breath caught in his throat and his heart was beating so rapidly that his chest began to ache. The creature looking like John Winchester drew out a long jagged knife from his jacket and held the handle with both hands as he raised it above his head. His father's face smiled evilly down at Sam before his face morphed into Lucifer's.
"You can never escape me, Sam!" Lucifer laughed at him and then forcefully stabbed the knife into Sam's guts.
"Dean!" Sam screamed as he shot up from the backseat of the car – not realizing that his brother was already there, grasping his shoulders.
"Sam, I'm here. I'm here." Dean soothed and tried to catch Sam's darting eyes.
When Sam's eyes finally settled on Dean's, the younger man buried his face in his hands and started crying.
"Jesus, kid." Dean mumbled, grabbed the back of Sam's neck with one hand and pulled him into a hug.
"I can't.. do this.. anymore." Sam sobbed into Dean's shirt. "I'm not.. safe.. anywhere."
"Yes, you are." Dean protested. "I've been right here with you all the time. You were never 'not safe', you hear me?"
Sam nodded against Dean's shirt although he disagreed with his older brother. Yes, Dean had been with him but Sam hadn't been safe – not from the invisible force that had yet again invaded his dreams and had left him unable to do anything but take what was coming at him. The Impala was supposed to be his safety zone. What was he gonna do now?
"Look at me." Dean said and pushed Sam back so that he could get a good look at his frightened younger brother. "You're okay."
Sam nodded once more and swallowed hard. He knew he should have been embarrassed for breaking down in front of his big brother like this, but right now he didn't give a damn about it; he was too freaked out to care.
Sam then discovered that rain was drumming on the roof of the Impala which was probably why the sound had invaded his dream (and the reason why Dean's jacket was damp since the older brother had run from the front of the car to the back). But Sam discovered something else as well; a metallic taste in his mouth.. Blood.
Dean saw the change in his little brother's face and watched as Sam touched his lips – the fingers coming back bloody while terror filled Sam's eyes.
"Dean." Sam said in a barely audible voice - his breath hitching as angst closed its icy hand around his heart. Oh God, it was real; the bloody raindrops from his dream had been real!
Before Sam could panic any further, Dean grabbed his brother's chin to check out the source of the blood with a face pinched in a mix of worry and concentration.
"You just bit your tongue." Dean said and let out a relieved sigh as let go of Sam's chin.
"Thank God." Sam muttered, let go of a relieved sigh of his own and wiped at his stinging eyes.
Man, Sam felt tired - so unbelievable tired – but he couldn't go back to sleep. Not after this. Not before this thing was over for good.. if it would ever truly be over, that is. Dean seemed to sense Sam's thoughts and gave his little brother a reassuring squeeze on his shoulder, but before Dean could open his mouth to say anything, Sam beat his brother to it.
"I'm not so sure anymore that we're dealing with anything supernatural." Sam said in a low voice.
"What makes you think that?" Dean wanted to know.
Sam shook his head and washed both hands down his face.
"We've already been through everything we could think of." Sam answered with down-casted eyes. "And.. I don't know, it just feels like whatever is going on, it's happening inside my head."
"Hell?" Dean dared to ask – holding his breath as he waited for the answer.
"No. It still doesn't feel like it did when I was having hallucinations." Sam said while Dean let out the breath he'd been holding. "I did see Lucifer just before I was snapped out of it though, but whatever this is, it definitely isn't the same as last time."
"That's at least a good thing." Dean remarked with a nod of his head.
"Yeah.." Sam agreed. "But.. I think I need help, Dean."
Sam looked back up at Dean and the brothers stared at each other in silence – the only sound to be heard was the continued drumming of the raindrops against the roof of the Impala.
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"So.. PTSD?" Dean asked as they drove back towards the cabin in Montana.
"Yeah, that's what he said." Sam mumbled – tired eyes looking straight ahead at the road in front of them.
It had always been the Winchester way to deal with things on their own, but Dean realized how much they'd both matured over the years. It had been a big step for the both of them to seek professional help for Sam's episodes – for Sam to admit that he needed help, and for Dean to let someone else help out on the job that he'd always preferred to do alone; to watch out for Sam, to protect his little brother, to keep him safe.
The brothers had sought help from one of Bobby's old friends; a Larry Havers who – aside from patching up hunters – also happened to be a functioning psychiatrist. Dean had called the guy after Sam's cry for help and explained the situation for him, and Mr. Havers had agreed to meet up with Sam for a session the following day.
"He gives you any crap, let me know and I'll kick his ass!" Dean had said to Sam before the session began which had earned him a wry smile from his worn out little brother.
Sam's session with Larry Havers had come and gone, and the verdict had been PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – which really wasn't a surprise considered all the crap Sam had been through over the years. Heck, Dean was pretty sure he too had his fair share of the disorder!
"And he thinks that's what's causing your episodes of not being able to move?" Dean asked, having heard the overall conclusion but needing the details as well.
Sam's forehead wrinkled a bit.
"He said that it's a normal thing for people dealing with PTSD to have nightmares and relive some of the terrible things they've been through which causes sleep trouble." Sam said.
"Mmm-hmm." Dean said as an encouragement for Sam to continue while he kept his eyes on the road ahead.
"He thinks that I'm maybe reliving some stuff from the cage and therefore am too paralyzed of fear to be able to move." Sam said and hesitated a bit.
"And what do you think, Sammy?" Dean wanted to know and glanced at Sam, sensing his brother's hesitation.
"I don't know." Sam sighed. "I guess it makes sense that I've got some PTSD after the cage but.."
".. the things you see when you're having one of your episodes aren't stuff from the cage." Dean finished his brother's sentence and Sam nodded.
"Exactly." Sam agreed with an expression on his face that reminded Dean of a kicked puppy. "So I still don't think we've really come to the bottom of this."
A little bit of silence fell upon them for a while until Sam eventually broke it.
"Larry said that he wanted me to keep coming to his clinic for psychotherapy." Sam said. "He also mentioned the use of antidepressant drugs."
"Whoa, hold on a minute here.." Dean said and looked at Sam with disbelieve. "So now you're depressed too?"
"Antidepressants are used as treatment for a lot of conditions, Dean. It's not a bad thing." Sam said and returned Dean's look. "Besides, who knows what's going on inside my head anymore? To be honest, after all that has happened, is it really so hard to believe that I might have finally started to lose my marbles?"
"No, that's not even an option, Sam." Dean stubbornly disagreed. "We've been there before and we're not going down that road again, you understand me?"
Sam didn't say anything so Dean reached over and threw a punch at Sam's shoulder.
"Ow, Dean!" Sam exclaimed and rubbed at his sore shoulder while scowling at Dean. "What the hell did you do that for?"
"That was for calling my little brother nuts!" Dean said and grinned as Sam kept scowling at him. "Seriously Sammy, you're not riding the crazy-train, okay? I would know if you did."
"How?" Sam asked.
"Because I know you better than anyone." Dean said. "You might have followed me around since you were four, but I've been watching over you since you were born. I would know."
A smile tugged at the corner of Sam's mouth – mirroring the expression that was currently set on Dean's face.
"I'm not going back there." Sam said and Dean knew he wasn't just talking about Larry Havers' clinic. "If I need someone to talk to about anything.. I'll talk to you."
"Damn straight you will." Dean agreed as the Impala kept racing down the never-ending North-American highways.
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Despite his huge efforts to stay awake, Sam ended up passing out on the couch of the old cabin in Whitefish, Montana, after losing his battle against the much needed sleep. Dean was sitting in a chair with Sam's laptop positioned on his thighs, determined to once and for all figure out what the hell Sam was going through.
Dean had previously that evening read a whole lot about PTSD, and he could see why the doctor would pin that disorder on Sam. That didn't mean the older brother agreed with the doctor though – at least not with the sleep thing, and especially not with the suggestion of antidepressant drugs!
Since the brothers had more or less ruled out the option of anything supernatural being the course of Sam's episodes – and since Dean ruled out any suggestions of craziness – the older Winchester brother decided to take the research in a different direction. Without knowing what exactly he was looking for, Dean typed in "sleep" and "unable to move" in the online search bar on the laptop and raised his eyebrows when he saw all the links that showed up on the screen. They all had the same headline; Sleep Paralysis.
Dean then clicked on the first link and started reading the description of the symptoms.
"Son of a bitch." Dean mumbled as he realized it fit - it all fit.
"Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which people, either when falling asleep or wakening, temporarily experience an inability to move. It can occur at sleep onset or upon awakening, and it is often associated with terrifying visions (e.g. an intruder in the room), to which one is unable to react due to paralysis." Dean read. "The paralysis can last from several seconds to several minutes, with some rare cases being hours, by which the individual may experience panic symptoms."
The webpage also mentioned the inability to speak, the feeling of suffocating, and something Dean in particular noticed; the course of it. Psychological stress, PTSD, panic attacks, fatigue, irregular life patterns and sleep deprivation were all factors of Sleep Paralysis – all of which Sam had some kind of history of.
What Dean was interested the most in knowing though, was how to prevent the incident from happening. He scrolled down the page until he found the treatment-and-prevention-section, glanced at Sam as the younger man shifted a bit in his sleep, and then refocused on the computer screen. There were a few ways to prevent the sleep paralysis for happening and some of them involved the position Sam slept in, healthier sleeping habits, and the need to avoid too much stress and physical fatigue.
"We can do this. We can fix this." Dean muttered to himself and almost sobbed in relief now that he knew there was a way to help his little brother. Finally!
First things first though..
Dean put the laptop aside and closed the distance to the couch. Sam was sleeping on his back and, according to the research Dean had done, that was the worst position for Sam to sleep in since he was more vulnerable to run into one of the sleep paralysis episodes that way. So, as careful as possible as to not wake up his brother, Dean turned Sam over on his side, and realized just how worn out Sam was when the younger man only stirred a tiny bit.
The oldest Winchester brother readjusted the blanket covering Sam, and let his hand linger on Sam's chest for a moment – willing any bad dreams to leave his brother alone for once. Dean then returned to his chair – determined to read as much as possible about the Sleep Paralysis phenomenon before talking to Sam about it.
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After a peaceful night's sleep, Sam woke up to a cup of coffee being shoved into his hands.
"Morning." Dean smiled.
"Morning." Sam returned in a rusty voice and yawned before clearing his throat. "You seem cheerful this morning?"
"Well that's because I am." Dean said and took a sip of his coffee. "I have something to tell you, and I don't want you to interrupt me before I'm done talking. Deal?"
"Deal." Sam agreed and raised an eyebrow as he waited for Dean to start talking.
Sam's cup of coffee turned cold as he listened to his big brother present all the research he'd done while Sam had been asleep. As he'd promised, Sam didn't interrupt Dean while he talked and the more he listened to the older brother's words, the more calm he felt on the inside for finally getting some answers.
"It's normal, Sammy." Dean added when he was done talking. "It's something so many people from all over the world have experienced and are dealing with. You're not the only one. It's normal – you're normal, not crazy."
Tears of relief welled in Sam's eyes and the younger hunter blinked a few times to prevent them from spilling. Dean saw the emotion on Sam's face but chose not to comment on it.
"But it means we gotta work on your sleeping habits." Dean said instead. "And that means that when I tell you to go to bed, you go to bed!"
"Always so bossy." Sam snorted.
"Always such a pain in the ass!" Dean retorted. "When you were a kid, I at least had the benefit of being able to carry you to bed. That's not so easy anymore, Gigantor, but don't think I won't haul your sorry ass to bed if I have to!"
Sam laughed a little and then sent his brother a grateful look.
"Thanks Dean." Sam said with sincerity.
"Don't mention it." Dean said and walked to the kitchen. "Breakfast?"
"I can handle it." Sam said in a soft voice, walked to the kitchen area as well and gave Dean's back a pat. "You get some rest."
"Alright." Dean said, put his coffee cup into the sink and sent Sam a bright smile before flopping down on the couch.
"Couch better than bed?" Sam asked as he rinsed out his cold coffee.
"I just figured I would annoy you with some snoring for once." Dean said with his eyes closed.
"I still don't snore, Dean!" Sam protested.
"Whatever you say, Samantha." Dean said, then smiled as Sam let out a few curse words.
Yeah, things were finally beginning to look bright again for the Winchester brothers - as long as Sam was safe and sound, Dean had no trouble sleeping at all. They would get through this situation like they'd done with so many other situations before it; they would get through this together.
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