Sam was worried about his brother.
Of course, he was always worried about Dean for one reason or another. As hunters they led lives more hazardous than most; abductions, injuries and even mortal wounds were par for the course. It did not help that Dean could be both alarmingly reckless and distressingly self-sacrificial, risking his life with no thought of the consequences. Given the number of times Sam had watched his brother die or come too close for comfort, Sam thought his almost-paranoid concern for Dean's wellbeing was justified.
But at the moment Dean was not in any physical danger, as far as Sam knew, although chronic sleep deprivation and over-consumption of alcohol would definitely take a toll on his body if they persisted.
Physical health notwithstanding, there was definitely something wrong with Dean. It had been going on for months. In the beginning, Sam may have been too caught up in his own hell-related issues to notice Dean's silent suffering, but there was no ignoring it now, even if the man himself wanted him to.
Dean wasn't sleeping. He got little enough rest as it was normally, catching maybe 4 or 5 hours of shut-eye every few days in between hunting and driving. But recently he had been avoiding sleep altogether, functioning on a cocktail of coffee, adrenaline and pure pig-headed stubbornness until exhaustion overwhelmed him and his body crashed.
When Dean did sleep, he had nightmares. Dean had never really been as prone to nightmares as Sam was, although he did suffer from night terrors as a child. Dean was under the impression that his subconscious felt no need to stalk his dreams with monsters because he saw his quota while he was awake. It was as good an explanation as any, Sam supposed. But 40 years in hell had apparently broken the dam of Dean's dreams, flooding his mind with the memories he tried so hard to suppress during the day. Sam could relate all too well now.
Sam knew hell dreams when he saw them, though, and the nightmares Dean was having lately were not the same. Something else was bothering him.
Dean wouldn't talk about it. He bottled everything up inside and cracked open bottles of alcohol instead, as though booze could drown his sorrows or solve his problems.
He was on a road to self-destruction, and it was killing Sam to watch.
He had tried asking what was wrong. Dean had fed him some line about feeling troubled by lying to him about Amy. But the truth was out, the brothers had reconciled, and Dean wasn't any better.
Of course, Dean insisted he was fine. He always said he was fine, even when he was bleeding out all over the floor. It was his way of telling Sam to butt out and stop worrying.
But Sam couldn't help it. He wanted, no, needed to find a way to help his brother. Unfortunately, he didn't even know where to begin. It was virtually impossible to treat the symptoms without knowing the cause, and Dean wasn't sharing. Sam felt helpless.
The revelation came when Sam was least expecting it.
Squatting in run-down, abandoned houses instead of staying in motels had the necessary advantage of hiding the Winchesters from the police. It also meant that the two brothers were able to have their own rooms for once, but regrettably beds and mattresses were not included in the deal. Sam had never been fond of camping, and sleeping bags were no more comfortable when used indoors.
Sam was tossing and turning one night, too worried about Dean and not tired enough to just crash. He gave it up as a lost cause after an hour or so, dragging himself out of the makeshift bed to grab a bottle of water from downstairs and maybe his laptop, figuring that if he wasn't going to sleep he might as well get some research done.
He padded quietly down the hall, but as he passed Dean's room he froze.
The door was open a crack.
"…no…please, god no, don't let this happen, not again… I can't, please…"
Sam's heart clenched as he listened to the muffled whimpers of distress coming from his brother. He wanted to go in there and wake him, but a part of him knew that this might be his only chance to find out what was going on with Dean. So he waited.
"…no, don't leave me… please, I'm sorry, I'll do anything… please don't go… come back, I'm begging you… you can't die, please, please no… CAS!"
Sam gasped. Belatedly he clapped a hand over his mouth, taking a hasty step back from the doorway and none too soon; just before he plastered himself against the wall, he caught a glimpse of Dean jerking bolt upright.
For a moment, Sam was sure he would be discovered. Dean would be furious if he knew Sam had been eavesdropping.
But there was no sound of movement from the room, only ragged breathing and… sobs?
Sam was stunned. It took a lot to make his brother cry. On the rare occasion when Dean was unable to hold his emotions in check, he would only ever allow a few stray tears to escape. Not this. Never this.
This was the raw, agonising, gut-wrenching baring of a soul. A soul torn, broken… grieving.
The sound of a shuddering breath, dragging the sobs back under control. The shuffle of movement.
Sam drew back, but Dean did not leave his room, and Sam finally dared to peek inside.
Dean was on his knees, head bowed, shoulders shaking. His hands were pressed together, as though in supplication or –
"God, please…" Dean whispered. A tear slipped down his cheek.
Sam's eyes widened. His brother was not religious. Despite knowing for a fact that God, heaven and the angels really did exist, Dean was a far cry from being a devout believer in the divine. He was about as irreverent as a man could be, and he used prayer as though it were just a long-distance radio to call Castiel down to earth. But here, now… Dean was praying.
"I know I don't deserve it. I know I'm a sinner. In fact, I am about as bad as they come, with all the booze and women and swearing and stealing and cheating. I've killed people, I've killed angels, and I royally screwed with your plans."
It was practically a confession. Since when did Dean feel guilty for any of those things, done in the line of duty or in the pursuit of pleasure?
"I know that what I want is probably even more sinful that any of that. I shouldn't even be asking. But God, please… please bring him back to me. I'm begging you."
For a moment, Sam thought he was talking about their father. But John's death was an old wound, one that still ached but that they had learned to live with.
"You've brought him back before. He died but you brought him back to life, and I don't know why or how, and I know I never thanked you, but please… I'm asking for another miracle. Please."
Dean was begging on bended knee, the ultimate gesture of submission. Dean had never bowed to anyone before.
"I just… I can't do this. I need-"
A broken sob, escaping the confines of his control, stealing his words.
He tried again. "I need him. Please, God, I need him. There's this hole inside me, yawning and aching and empty, and I can't fill it with anything else. I've tried but I can't… I can't even breathe. I took him for granted and now he's gone, he's dead and it's killing me.
"I didn't realise who he was. What he meant to me. I've never, I mean, I don't usually… so I didn't think… But I know now. And it's too late to tell him.
"He wanted my forgiveness. He only did what he did because he thought he had no other choice, and maybe he didn't. You certainly didn't give him one. He wanted to stop Raphael, he wanted to save the world, and I know… I know he wanted to do it for me. Because it was what I asked for: no paradise, no hell, just more of the same. He was just doing what he thought I wanted, but I shoved his good intentions back in his face and I turned on him. I was so cruel, the things I said, the way I looked at him…
"And now he's gone. I can't tell him I'm sorry. I can't tell him I understand. I can't tell him I forgive him. I can't…"
Tears choked him. Every word was a struggle fought against the grief that, given its way, would have had him bawling on the floor.
"God, please. I'm unworthy, I know I am. And he blasphemed against you. You have every right to be angry with us, and this is probably a punishment we deserve, but please forgive us. Please give us one more chance. Please… please bring him back to me."
His voice softened to barely a whisper. "I'm asking again. I'll never stop asking. Because maybe it's wrong and maybe I'm crazy… but I'm in love with Castiel."
Sam sagged against the wall.
The admission should have been a shock, but instead everything just fell into place. There had always been a connection between Dean and his angel. Over time, threads of trust, salvation, admiration, dependence, friendship and affection were woven into a special bond. Dean loved his brother and he considered Bobby to be family, but he had never cared for anyone the way he cared for Castiel.
Sam should have seen it. It was there in his body language, in his expressions, in the poorly hidden smiles that tugged at his lips, in the way he didn't mind the intrusion into his personal space, in his patience, in his gentle guidance, in his passionate support and his unwavering faith, in his disappointment when the angel wasn't there, in his devastation when they found out that Castiel had betrayed them.
Just as the angel had fallen for him, Dean had fallen for Castiel.
It was unconventional, atypical, impractical and possibly even dangerous, but none of that mattered.
At long last, Dean had found someone to love.
But Castiel was dead.
The Leviathan had taken over his body and then ripped him to shreds. And in the process, they had ripped Dean's heart to shreds, too.
All Dean had left was Castiel's trench coat, bitter memories, regret, and hollow grief.
"So please, God, save him," Dean pleaded. "Bring him back to me. I've tried to be strong, but I- I don't think I can go on without him. I need him here with me. Please…"
Sam's eyes fluttered shut. Heart heavy with grief for his brother, he offered up a silent prayer of his own.
Please God, answer Dean's prayer. He has given everything – his entire life – to fighting evil and helping others, with no thought of reward. He has lost so much already. Surely, for anything he has done wrong he has already suffered enough. He doesn't deserve to be alone. He finally has a chance to be happy; don't take that from him now. Please, let Dean be happy. Heal him of this wound before it breaks him completely and we are left with jagged pieces that can never be made whole.
He loves Castiel. I can see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. I know you can read it in his heart. And I'm sure that Cas loved him, too.
So please, God, have mercy. Save my brother. Bring Castiel back to life. Please.
Sam slowly opened his eyes, hoping to see a miracle. But all he saw was his brother, kneeling, helpless, lonely, grieving.
Dean dropped his head into his hands, juddering sobs wracking his frame. Full sentences were beyond him now, broken phrases spilling from his lips as he cried. "…please… I need him… I love him… I love him… Cas, please…"
Sam couldn't bear seeing his brother like this, broken and hurting.
He started to take a step forward.
There was a faint rustle of wings.
Sam could only stare in shock as a familiar figure, dressed in his usual suit and backwards tie but missing the iconic trench coat, reached out a hand and placed it gently on Dean's shoulder.
Dean's head shot up at the touch, green eyes blowing wide and then filling with a volatile mix of raw emotion at the sight of his angel. The look they exchanged was intense, burning, private.
Sam knew he had no right to witness this. He backed away hurriedly.
"Hello, Dean," a low voice rumbled.
Dean's response was an exhalation of relief, joy, warmth, and love. "Cas..."
Sam didn't stay to find out if there were more words spoken between them. He left them alone, retreating to his room and slipping into his sleeping bag.
This time, he was able to fall asleep quickly, with a weight lifted from his heart and a smile on his lips.
He knew Dean was okay.