Characters: Dean, Sam, Castiel
Word Count: 2,600
Summary: It figures that now, even at the end of everything, he’d be taking care of Sam. It makes a sort of existential sense. The End 'verse AU.
Notes: Thank you to shescheeky and embroiderama for the read-throughs and the help!
"'Let the wild rumpus begin,'" Dean reads.
In the beginning it was that hardest fucking thing he had ever done in his life. Harder than saving the world.
It was supposed to be gone, all of that weight, all of that responsibility, but here was something else, lying in the mud and howling, something else that needed taking care of. And for the shortest, smallest, briefest moment – Dean had contemplated it. He’d thought it – he’d thought about leaving. About just getting up and walking away and pretending that Sam wasn’t wailing behind him. That was enough to start him walking. That was enough to push his feet towards Sam, to go to his knees at his brother’s side, his hands hovering. He didn’t know what to do or where to touch.
"Hey," he said, for starters. "Hey, shh, hey."
Sam froze, just like that. Completely still. Dean thought, Okay, okay, this is good, this is better, because maybe Sam wasn’t as bad off as he seemed, maybe it was just shock, not – not what was supposed to happen to vessels, their host leaving and taking everything with them – everything. Maybe Sam would shake it off and get up and – and – tell Dean what the fuck he was thinking and take care of himself and leave.
But then he touched Sam, just a hand on his shoulder – still in that fucking white suit – and the illusion broke. Sam inhaled, sharp and long, through his nose, cords in his neck standing out. He gasped like he was coming up for air.
"Sam," said Dean, and it was familiar, even though he’d only used it a handful of time over the past six years, only said it when he had no other choice.
Sam wasn’t listening, was still gasping like he couldn’t get enough air – wasn’t getting enough air because of it.
"Sam!" he said, more forcefully this time and Sam jerked. Jerked and stopped making noise, just like that, switch flipped. His eyes stared up at the sky, never leaving it.
Dean sat there, for a minute, five, ten, just waiting for Sam to do something more, but he didn’t. Just lay there, silent, breathing becoming a little steadier, but still fast, still scared.
In the end, he’d taken Sam’s hand and pulled him up a little, so he was sitting. Sam didn’t flinch, and when Dean let his hand go, he started falling right back to the earth. His eyes didn’t move, like he was blinded.
Dean waited again, thinking Sam needed time to – to reboot, maybe. But it wasn’t until half-an-hour later, when Castiel and Risa approached from behind, Risa breathing, "Fuck," into the drizzle that had begun ten minutes ago, that Dean began to realize.
They tried to get Sam to his feet. They tried to get him walking. They snapped fingers in his face, clapped. His eyes flittered slightly, but that was it.
"It’s the possession," said Castiel. "He’s forgotten how to use his body. His mind doesn’t know what to do anymore."
"We have the truck," said Risa. Dean nodded.
Between the three of them, they managed to carry Sam to the truck. He barely twitched. It was like carrying a corpse.
"This is good for you," Castiel says.
Dean straightens up, sets a handful of picture books on a half-burnt table close by. He waits, but there’s nothing more forthcoming. "You gonna start talking in riddles again?" he says eventually. "Because I’d like a warning."
He bends again, lifts up the blackened remains of a bookshelf.
"It wasn’t a riddle," Castiel says mildly. And then, "Playing dumb really doesn’t suit you. But you do it a lot."
"Oh, you’re being obvious today," Dean mutters, crouching. "Great."
He picks up another book, dusts it off; half the cover's been torn off or eaten off or something. All that's left is "Where the Wild—" Dean stands up and adds it to the stack.
"I still say this is good for you," Castiel says. He’s standing next to the table, flipping through a mangy old copy of The Lord of the Rings. Not being the slightest bit helpful. As usual.
"Uh-huh," says Dean, picking up the books. "You done?"
Castiel gives the book he’s holding a critical once-over, before tucking it under his arm. "Yes."
Dean scrapes the bottom of the bowl, fills one last spoon with applesauce.
"So," he says. "You said yes to Lucifer. You ever gonna explain that one to me?"
Sam notices the spoon coming toward him; he leans forward a little and opens his mouth.
"Yeah," says Dean. "Didn’t think so."
He watches Sam lick stray sauce off his lips.
There’s no internet anymore. Most of the libraries have been reduced to dust, and if they haven’t, there’s just not a lot left. People are working on it, of course. Set back a hundred thousand years, but there’s optimism floating around. They’re alive, which is more than you can say for most.
Dean feels like he’s missing a limb, which is weird, considering he never much enjoyed research. But it was always there, the knowledge that there was something, somewhere that would tell him what he needed to know.
He’s winging it, with Sam. He should be counting calories and making sure Sam eats a perfect diet, but there’s just no way to do that anymore. Food’s still harder to come by than it used to be, and simply giving Sam something is the best Dean can do. He figures it’ll be okay, though. There are a couple of hospice nurses in his camp who help out. One, Marlena, has taken to Sam particularly well, which is great, considering he’s pretty much the reason the world’s in the state it is. She brushes his hair each morning, something Sam seems to enjoy. She’d probably bathe Sam too, if Dean let her, but he doesn’t. Paranoia’s become a good friend, lately, and it would be really easy to off Sam behind the privacy of a shower curtain. Dean’s perfectly capable of helping his brother out, anyway, and when he’s too pissed off, he’s got Castiel and Chuck and Risa, all of whom he trusts explicitly, and none of whom think Sam’s a burden.
Castiel reads to Sam from The Lord of the Rings every night.
He catches Dean watching one night, and says, "He was – he is my friend. I wronged him, when I left him alone. And this is the only thing I can think of to make it up."
Dean looks at his feet and nods. He thinks of all the things he might say, cruel, horrible things about Castiel and how "wronged" might not have been the right word for it, and how there was only ever one person around for Sam and that was him, always him, and Sam doesn't even need fucking Cas. Sam doesn't need anything Castiel could give. But Dean doesn't say a word and Castiel walks past him, out of the cabin. Sam rolls in the bed and catches sight of Dean. He smiles and Dean moves forward.
"Hey kiddo," he says quietly, and he slips into the too-small bed with his too-big brother.
Dean remembers when it was just him and Sam. For the past few years, it's been just him and Cas. He doesn't have the slightest clue what to feel any longer. Most days it hardly matters that he can't figure out his own head. Most days all he wants is to run away, find some place quiet and warm to sleep, sleep until all the mind-squeezing, bone-breaking pressure dissipates, and then come back to the world to find everything unchanged, ready for him to pick up exactly where he left off.
A warm hand touches his chest and Dean turns his face to Sam. They're practically nose-to-nose.
Sam watches him carefully, eyes never leaving his face, like he’s looking for answers or secrets or someone he used to know.
See, this is what happens:
There’s a gun. There’s a bullet. There’s the devil in his brother’s body.
Dean shoots, Dean hits, and God knows how (really, God knows) five seconds later, Lucifer is dead, dust, out-of-existence, and Sam is… left behind.
Dean will never understand it and no one he knows has any answers. There was no black smoke, there was no sign of Lucifer leaving Sam’s body. There was no reason for Sam to be alive, afterwards. Not with a bullet right through his heart and another one through his brain.
But when the lightning sank back into the earth and silence settled over everything, there was Sam, lying on the earth and crying.
Not quiet crying, but that embarrassing, ugly, loud crying; sobs and howls and harsh grief, like he’d been holding this sound in for years, and had to get it out now that he could.
And maybe he had. Maybe those raw cries were the equivalent of Sam’s final breath, and maybe they’d been stolen away from him when he agreed to give his body to Satan. Dean doesn’t know, really and he never will.
It’s one of the few sounds Sam can make – crying. Laughter is another. Sometimes he screams. His voice has been reduced to meaningless sound. Language escapes him; at least the sort that Dean is capable of understating. Sam doesn’t speak.
Dean hopes that he will, someday, of course. But after all these years, and all this time, and what they’ve gone through already? He’s not holding his breath.
It figures that now, even at the end of everything, he’d be taking care of Sam. It makes some sort of… existential sense. It’s better than existing so that the angels can use your body.
It’s a little comforting, he guesses, how things don’t change, how there’s this one constant in his life.
But sometimes… sometimes it also makes him want to take a gun to his head.
Sam’s on his best behavior today. His hands are folded carefully on his lap. His eyes are on Dean and only Dean.
He can hear the distant sound of life in the camp, filtering in through his open door. It's spitting rain today, but that doesn't stop people from getting out. Spirits are high. Lucifer is gone. The Croat population is diminishing and the uncertainty that they've been plagued with for the last few years – live another day, lose another loved one – is leaving with them. It's time to begin anew. A fresh start. Slate wiped clean.
Dean stares at Sam, who gazes right back at him. The iciness of Lucifer is gone, leaving only Sam's soft eyes and pleasant expressions, but Dean almost wishes he was staring at Lucifer, because looking at his brother and hating him so fiercely is just – too – much.
He thrusts the bowl of oatmeal he'd brought into Sam's hands. There's a moment when Sam almost drops it, but his hands are large as ever and he can cup the bowl well enough in one palm. A trembling hand reaches for the spoon, digs out some honey-covered meal. By the time he gets to his mouth, most of the oatmeal has fallen from the spoon and the rest ends up spread on the corner of Sam's mouth.
Dean watches this for a minute and then gets up and leaves.
When he comes back, a few hours later, having given up on getting work done because he couldn't fucking concentrate – always thinking about Sam, Sam, Sam – he finds his brother exactly how he left him. Trying his very best to feed himself. The food must be rock-hard and cold, but Sam is still digging in, lifting a wobbling spoon to his mouth, and nibbling whatever falls into his mouth. When he spots Dean, he beams. There's oatmeal in his hair.
A sickly heat spreads over Dean, and his head pounds. He goes over to Sam, gently takes the bowl from him and presses his lips to Sam's forehead. Sam's eyes close with the gesture and he sighs.
The bowl is still full. Dean looks down at it and blinks until he can see clearly again. "I'll get you something warmer, Sammy," he says.
Sam doesn't open his eyes.
Dean knows he spends a lot of time angry at Sam.
It’s kind of easy when Sam’s fighting him tooth and nail, when he’s screaming his lungs off and trying to wrench out of Dean’s grasp and run, when he’s throwing a tantrum because he had a peach yesterday and wants one today too, even though there aren’t any left. It’s easy to be angry when you’re exhausted after a lunch that lasted four and a half hours and you’ve got a black eye and scratches down your arm from your brother’s nails.
Then there are times when Sam sobs long into the night, when nothing Dean does or says can quiet him. He sobs and hiccups and gasps for air and gags, but he just keeps right on crying, and eventually, Dean can only sit by and force him to drink water when his breathing’s slow enough. Dean can see shadows moving around the tent, grumbles as Sam wakes others, can see their irritated glances and eye-rolls the next morning. Dean doesn’t know if he’s angry at Sam on those days, but he sure as hell is angry, and Sam seems like the best person to direct that towards, really.
What it comes down to is this: Sam did this to himself. He said yes. And Dean will never know why. Dean’ll never be able to understand. But here he is, trying to pick up pieces he can’t even see and put them back together, blind and with his hands tied behind his back.
Here he is, cleaning up Sam’s mess.
"I want to hate you," Dean tells Sam matter-of-factly. Sam nods, like he understands, hair falling forward with the movement.
"I think I do," he adds. More nodding. A shiver crawls up Sam's right arm, and he grabs at his wrist with his left. He glares down at his arm, making noises in his throat that make Dean think of a mother scolding her petulant child.
"It wouldn't kill you to be nicer," Castiel says. He's lying on Dean's bed, ankles crossed, arms folded beneath his head.
"He made his choices," Dean says. "He can deal with the consequences."
"What do you know about his choices?" Cas asks, suddenly bitter, turning his head to look at Dean. For a moment, his gaze is all angel. "Or why he had to make them? Or how much of this is his fault and how much was done to him?"
There's a surge of heat in his chest that spreads to his cheeks like fire. Like Cas knows any better. Like anyone on this fucking planet knows any better, aside from Sam, who is so fucked up he will never be to tell them. Silence coats the air for a long moment. Dean catches Castiel's eyes on him, an unfathomable expression in their depths. Dean's lips twitch a little then. "You hate me, Cas?" he asks, not entirely lightly.
Cas looks back at the ceiling. "No," he responds. "I'm not like you."
"'And Max, the king of all the wild things'," he reads to Sam, "'was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.'"