Author's Note: I'm going to be using this story to collect S6-related one-shots and tags. They'll probably all, or nearly all, feature Sam and Dean, but they won't be connected in any other way.
Thanks, as usual, go to Cheryl for helpful suggestions and for thinking up a title for this story.
Disclaimer: Don't own the boys.
Summary: Dean pushes just a little too hard in asking Sam what happened when he was in the Cage. Not quite a tag; set a few weeks after the episode.
Bobby heaved a sigh of contentment as he laid the third plate on the kitchen table. This was a situation that he had never imagined being in again: him, Dean and Sam sitting down to dinner together. It gave him an odd sense of peace, of satisfaction, that he would never have admitted to aloud. It just felt right.
He heard voices from the front room, Sam and Dean engaged in a good-natured argument about something to do with salt and holy water and salt in holy water. As far as Bobby could tell, Dean was claiming that the two cancelled each other out when consumed together, and so the stuff Sam had drunk to prove that he wasn't a demon didn't count, so he had to do it again. Sam seemed to be telling Dean that he would do that after Dean had performed a contortion Bobby was certain was physically impossible.
The old hunter suppressed a chuckle. It was almost like having the old Sam back.
He'd be lying if he said he didn't miss the old Sam. Sure, the new one was smarter and faster and a better hunter, but the old one had been Sam. He'd made mistakes and atoned for them, done stupid things because he had more compassion that Bobby had ever seen in any human being before or since, and been the voice of conscience for Dean and Bobby – and, although the man had never admitted it, for John Winchester as well.
Dean came close to it, now – living with Lisa and Ben had mellowed him. But it wasn't the same, because nobody, not even Sammy's brother, could quite be Sammy.
Bobby sighed again, this time sadly. Sam had given up so much to save the world... Who'd have thought that the thing whose loss Bobby would mourn the most would be the impulsive, trusting innocence that had caused half the problems in the first place? He felt like it had been too high a price to pay, partly for Sam but also for Dean, who clearly missed his baby brother even more than Bobby did.
"Boys!" Bobby yelled. "Dinner! You can settle it later."
They came in together, still bickering. Bobby rolled his eyes, trying not to smirk when Sam whacked Dean on the arm with a ladle. Dean made a face, but before he could retaliate Bobby pulled his secret weapon out of the oven.
"Pie!" Dean said, looking as thrilled as a six-year-old on Christmas morning.
"Seems to be the only way to keep the peace around here," Bobby grunted, setting it on the table. "Not till you've eaten some actual food, Dean!" He batted Dean's hand away from the pie. "Honestly, boy, nobody would believe you're an adult!"
A smile flickered across Sam's face, there and gone almost sooner than Bobby could spot it. All Sam's smiles were like that now: fleeting, no dimples, and with none of the brightness that had characterized baby Sam and toddler Sam and preteen Sam and teenager Sam (when he had bothered to smile) and even adult Sam until the jump and the Cage.
Dean had seen it as well, and he grinned to himself as he busied himself with his plate, making Bobby wonder how many of Dean's antics now had the sole and express purpose of eliciting a response from his brother.
The doorbell rang, startling Bobby out of his thoughts. Sam leapt to his feet. "I'll get it!"
He was out of the room on the word, leaving Bobby and Dean to exchange glances. That had been eager but brusque, Sam and not-Sam, just as everything he did now seemed Sam and not-Sam.
"What was the argument about?" Bobby asked, sitting down at the table. "You don't really think he's a demon?"
"Hell, no!" Dean looked appalled at the thought. "I was just trying to get him to talk. He's not said anything about what happened to him downstairs, Bobby. Nothing. That can't be good for him. And – and he won't even talk to me. It's not like him. I know what it's like – well, I probably don't, because nothing could be like the Cage, but I have a better idea than anyone else – and he won't let me help him!"
"You listen to me, boy," Bobby hissed, leaning forward. "You leave that alone. Believe me, you don't want to go there. Sam's managing. It's not ideal, but it's all we've got."
The sudden crease between Dean's brows said that a new and unpleasant thought had occurred to him.
"You know something I don't?" the younger hunter demanded, suddenly belligerent. "Sam told you anything? Is there something else the two of you have decided I'd be better off not knowing?"
"Calm down," Bobby said gruffly. "Sam's not told me anything. But he came to me first, after he'd seen that you were happy where you were and decided not to bother you – Oh, stop glaring! You going to be pissed at us about that forever? Anyway, Sam came to me. You – you should be glad you didn't see him then, Dean. He was – well, for a few weeks I honestly thought he'd lost his sanity down there. He was starting at noises – any noises, even crickets. Couldn't keep a thing down, for a while I was afraid he was going to starve because he brought up everything he ate. He'd get lost in his own head sometimes, wouldn't respond to anyone or anything. And the nightmares... I don't know what he saw, he never told me, but night after night he woke up screaming. Screaming for you, usually."
"And you never called me."
"He begged me not to! And he was right. You were happy."
"Happy? What, the two of you think I'm some kind of psycho or something? Or that I hate my brother? How did you imagine I'd be happy –"
"That's not the point. We did. Maybe we were wrong, but we thought we were acting for the best. Hell, every time I suggested calling you, Sam practically had a panic attack. He was falling to pieces, I think he was actually losing his mind. Then your granddaddy came by and had a chat with him. Sorted him out a bit, settled him down, but it also made him... well, this."
"You should've called me," Dean insisted. "If I'd made him talk then, none of this might have happened."
"You might have made it worse. You didn't see him, Dean. I've never seen anyone like that – anyone. Whatever Lucifer did to him down there, it messed with him in a way I can't even begin to imagine. Don't think you can, either. But I saw him, and I'm telling you, this is a can of worms you don't want to open. Just let it go. Sam's holding himself together. That's what's important."
"Oh, you call this holding himself together?"
"Dean, you have to remember – Sam! Who was it?"
"Some friend of yours." Sam came into the room, giving no indication of how much of their conversation he'd overheard or even whether he'd heard anything at all. "Something about a woman he's got in a Devil's Trap. He says he lives a couple of miles down the road. I can go sort it out for you if you –"
"No, I'll do it myself. Must be Tom. You've got enough to handle right now, and it's been a while since I've done anything useful. He still around?" Sam nodded. "OK, I'll go deal with it. Shouldn't take me too long. You boys finish your dinner."
With another soft sigh, because however little he wanted to admit it he had been looking forward to his first dinner with his boys in years, Bobby got to his feet and left the room.
Sam was aware of Dean's sidelong glance as he sat down. He tried to ignore it. He had ignored Bobby's meaningful looks and well-intentioned hints, ignored his grandfather's probing questions, ignored his cousins' occasional prods.
It was bloody difficult to ignore Dean. Dean was Dean, the big brother he'd idolized and looked up to all his life, the big brother he still adored and would do anything for.
And right now, he reminded himself firmly, the best thing for Dean was for Sam not to think about it. Things were going to hell again, maybe even worse than before because now they didn't know exactly what they were dealing with and this time there was one single source of evil that they could concentrate on fighting. Dean needed a hunter, a partner, not the quivering wreck that Sam knew he would turn into if he let himself think about it.
Fire burning pain screaming –
NO. Sam suppressed the memory firmly, buried it deep. It wasn't easy, especially with Dean giving him a look that was all but begging him to spill.
It was ironic, really. All his life he'd been the one to beg Dean to talk, to bully, threaten or cajole him into telling Sam how he felt and what he feared. Now, when Dean was finally willing and eager and actually prepared to voluntarily initiate serious conversations, Sam couldn't.
There was no point, in any case. He wished he could explain that to Dean without thinking about it, because then Dean might stop asking. This wasn't something that could be fixed by talking. The only way to deal with it was not –
Agony burning freezing –
Fire torture Dean please –
Sam forced the memories down, away, to the same dark corner of his mind where he'd pushed the urge to run to the aid of people who were past help.
Dean had given up looking at him and was now concentrating on his dinner. Thank God. His big brother seemed eager to get to that pie. Sam shook his head the tiniest bit as he reached for his own fork. He wasn't particularly hungry – he seldom was, now – but he knew Dean would make a fuss if he tried to skip dinner.
"That's my boy," Dean said, in the same casually encouraging tone he had used when he had cheered for Sam's first kiss.
The memory brought a sudden lump to Sam's throat. He hastily put a forkful of beef in his mouth and chewed, hoping his brother hadn't noticed anything. Nothing tasted good anymore, and Bobby's casserole, which Dean was inhaling with the enthusiasm of a starving man seeing food for the first time in weeks, tasted like ashes –
Ashes fire fire ashes hot –
NO. No no no no no. Why the hell was this so goddamned difficult? He'd been managing friggin' fine until Dean had decided to turn into a new-age self-help guru and keep encouraging Sam to share.
Sam huddled in on himself, seeing Dean's hurt look out of the corner of his eye but too tired to do anything about it. He was bone-weary, although he couldn't admit it to anyone. It was exhausting to suppress memories that were clamouring to fill his mind, exhausting to spend day after day pretending he was all right. Having Dean around made it worse; it had been laughably easy to fool Samuel and his cousins and not too difficult to persuade Bobby to stop asking questions. Dean wouldn't be fooled and wouldn't back off.
Dean's concern made it infinitely worse. There were times when there was nothing Sam wanted to do more than to tell Dean everything, let his big brother hold him and comfort him and tell him everything would be all right. And Sam knew that if Dean said so, it would make him feel better, because years of blind trust couldn't be erased.
But that would only be shifting the burden from his shoulders to his brother's. Sam couldn't do that. Dean had suffered too much. Sam wasn't going to add to it.
"Come on, Sam, eat," Dean said suddenly. "Brood later. It'll taste even worse if you let it get cold."
Taste even worse?
How could Dean know that everything tasted the same to Sam now, like burnt-out cinders?
Dean's eyes met his, gentle and compassionate. A light hand rested on his knee, squeezed, and was gone.
And Sam pushed another forkful into his mouth, because he knew seeing him eat would let Dean enjoy his pie in peace.
"Apple?" Sam asked as Dean cut himself a slice.
"Yeah. Bobby knows I hate cherry."
Their eyes met over the table. Dean hadn't always hated cherry pie; he'd loved it until he'd walked into a diner to see a bunch of dead people, no Sam, and a lone piece of cherry pie on the counter. Was that when their lives had started to go to hell?
"You can have mine."
"Don't be an idiot," Dean said around a mouthful of pie. "You need to eat something. All that muscle you're always working on building up has to come from somewhere, genius."
"I don't think apple pie helps you build muscle."
Dean gave him an eloquent look, all disbelief and raised eyebrows and When did you turn into such a wet blanket? Then he went back to his pie, devouring it with a dedicated enthusiasm that made Sam think of all the times they'd eaten pie together before.
Sam managed two more forkfuls before Dean finished his pie and cut himself a second slice.
"Not yours," he said cheerfully. "Bobby's. People go off to exorcise demon bitches instead of hanging around for dinner, they don't get pie."
Sam grinned. He couldn't help it. That was so ridiculous and so typical and so Dean. He felt a surge of affection for his brother, who, despite everything, was the reason he managed to stay sane. He couldn't have done it for Bobby or his family or even for himself. He didn't know if he could have done it for Jessica. But he could do it for Dean, because Dean needed him.
"Lisa call?" he asked.
"Yeah, last night. She's OK – Ben's adjusted well, making friends in the new school. She's having fun living with her sister."
"C'mon, Sammy." Dean's voice was persuasive and concerned, with just enough pleading to make Sam feel like a bastard for refusing to talk. "You're the one who likes to talk. You really think this is the best way to deal with it?"
"Dean, I said no."
"At least tell me why it bothers you so much."
"Did he do something to Adam? Is that it?"
"No." Sam swallowed, trying to turn away from the vast dark burning emptiness that was filling his mind. No no no no no. "No. He didn't do anything to Adam."
"Was Adam there?" Dean sounded like he thought he was on the verge of a major breakthrough. Sam couldn't imagine why, and he wished Dean would stop because he couldn't keep the memories down with his brother trying so hard to dredge them up. "Did you see him?"
"No." Why was Sam's throat so dry? He reached out blindly, felt a glass pushed into his hand, and drank the contents so quickly he nearly choked. "I didn't – he wasn't there." No Adam. Just the darkness, burning and freezing at the same time, endless and boundless and empty. And the pain and –
Sam flinched, scrubbing at his face. Stop thinking stop thinking stop thinking –
"Sammy?" Sam could feel himself shaking with the horror of it, of living it all again, of enduring more of Lucifer's inventive cruelty. "Sammy, are you OK?" There were hands on his shoulders, warm and solid and familiar, but it was too late. It was filling his brain, now, and he could hear Lucifer laughing over Sam's own gut-wrenching sobs, the sobs that came when he was too hoarse to scream any more. "Sam, talk to me." Sam couldn't talk, didn't remember how to talk. His throat had seized up. "Sammy, please. What did that bastard do to you?"
As though the last word had opened a floodgate, Sam's head was suddenly full, too full, full of Lucifer and tortures that human beings couldn't imagine – shouldn't have to imagine – and the memory of being trapped inside his own head, of Lucifer's revenge –
Sam tried to ask for his brother. What came out was a choked sob. He could feel himself getting light-headed and he couldn't imagine why. Someone was shaking him so hard it hurt, shouting something that sounded like his name, and the voice was so familiar, so comforting, and so agonizingly far away.
Sam knew he wasn't breathing. He could feel the tightness in his chest. He tried to, but he couldn't seem to remember how. He couldn't think. The pain was too great, filling every particle of his being, Lucifer's voice promising to double it every day until the end of an eternity whose scale Sam couldn't begin to comprehend. The darkness was too thick, too heavy, too oppressive, and the silence when Lucifer stopped talking and Sam was too exhausted to scream was –
"Sam, breathe! Breathe!" Dean shook his brother, knowing it probably wasn't helping but not knowing what else he could do. He had been expecting Sam to refuse, maybe snap at him. He hadn't been prepared for this.
Sam was on his knees, deadweight in Dean's arms, his lips slowly turning blue as he struggled for breath.
Idiot! Bobby warned you not to push. Actually, screw Bobby, couldn't you tell that you shouldn't be pushing? Don't you know the kid well enough by now?
"Come on, Sammy," he said desperately. "You can breathe. I know you can. Just – here." He made a grab for Sam's hand and held it to his chest, so that Sam could feel the rise and fall of his lungs. "Just breathe with me, Sam. Can you do that?" Sam didn't respond, didn't give any sign that he'd even heard, and Dean felt like the ground was falling out from under him. "Please, Sam."
Sam choked on a breath, wheezed, and maybe he got about an ounce of air from that but it wasn't enough for a great big Sasquatch like him. Dean held him closer, and was reaching for his phone when the door opened and Bobby stood in the doorway.
"Dean, what –?"
"Start the car. He needs a hospital."
Dean didn't remember much of the ride; it was a blur of Bobby honking angrily at passersby, people shaking fists as he narrowly avoided running them over and Sam unresponsive in Dean's arms in the backseat, managing only the occasional gasping breath. It seemed to take forever, but Sam was still there when Bobby pulled up outside the emergency room door, and Dean held him closer for just a moment before relinquishing him to the paramedics who hurried up with a gurney.
Dean ran in after them and was stopped by an efficient-looking nurse who asked him questions he'd answered a hundred times.
No known allergies. No history of cardiac trouble. No, ma'am, he doesn't smoke. Drinking in moderation. No, ma'am, he is NOT an alcoholic. Of course there's a need to get upset! My brother can't breathe and you're standing around asking me stupid questions!
The wait was mercifully short. The doctor who came to speak to them was about fifty and had the kind of calming presence that Dean liked to see in a hospital. No need to increase chances of demonic possession in a place that already had plenty of scope for supernatural activity.
"Yes, he's physically fine," he said, in answer to Dean's imploring look. "I have him on oxygen for now, just to be safe. He seems a little skittish. Did something happen to upset him?"
"Umm... Yeah. Yeah, he got a bit of a fright. Thought he saw something in the cellar," Dean mumbled, not meeting Bobby's eyes.
"Oh." The doctor frowned at Dean, not quite in disbelief, but not really buying it, either. "He thought he saw something in the cellar. I see. Do you have any idea just what he thought he saw and why it upset him so much?"
"I..." Dean was irritated to feel himself flush. He'd never had trouble talking his way through hospital visits, and he didn't know where this doctor got off almost disbelieving him on the subject of Sam. "I'm not sure. He wasn't very... coherent... And we were in a hurry to get him to the hospital. I'll check it out later, maybe once I've had a chance to talk to Sam about it. Is he... Can I see him? How is he?"
"As I said, I have him on oxygen, but that's just a precaution. He's breathing on his own. What worries me is that he's unresponsive. He didn't answer any of my questions, not even his name. But when I tried to get near him with a stethoscope he got so scared he nearly had a second attack. I don't know if it's a good idea for you to talk to him now. I'm sure you mean well, but you could wind up upsetting him more. It might bring on another attack."
"I won't upset him." At the doctor's sceptical look, Dean added, "Look, I know you're just trying to do your job, but Sam's my brother. Let me talk to him. I can help."
The doctor frowned, thinking, and finally nodded. "You can see him, but only in my presence. If he starts to get upset or looks like he's going to have a panic attack, you leave him alone and get out of the room, and then you don't go in again until I tell you it's OK."
"Fine," Dean said promptly. "I won't upset him, I promise."
"All right. Make sure you don't. And by the way, you might want to get rid of the thing in your basement. Once might be an accident, but I don't want to see him back here because of it a second time." There was a pause, and a hard edge to the doctor's voice when he spoke again. "I hope we understand one another."
"We do," Bobby put in quickly, before Dean could say something regrettable. "Can we take him home now?"
"I wouldn't recommend it. You were lucky the first time. If it happens again, he may not survive the trip to the hospital. It's best to let us keep him for observation overnight."
Dean had a sudden vision of Sam, alone in a dark hospital room, surrounded by beeping instruments, with nobody to wake him up if he had a nightmare, nobody to sit on the edge of his bed and talk to him until he dozed off again.
"No." He was not leaving his baby brother in the hands of strangers, however well qualified they were. "We're taking him home. I'll make sure it doesn't happen again."
"Dean," Bobby began warningly, but Dean cut in.
"We are not leaving him here. You heard the doctor. He's physically fine. He'll be better off at home."
Bobby's resigned expression was acquiescence. The doctor glanced from one of them to the other and shook his head.
"I won't stop you, but if you do take him, it'll be against medical advice. Also... Well, you may have a problem getting him to go with you. As I said, he isn't reacting well to physical contact."
"I'll handle that."
The doctor led them into the examination room. Sam was sitting on the edge of the bed – unsupported, which was a good sign – fumbling at the oxygen mask that covered his nose and mouth. A nurse hovered in the background, not near enough to be threatening, but ready to help if he needed it.
"Let me talk to him," Bobby muttered to Dean. Dean rolled his eyes, but stayed back as Bobby approached the bed. "Sam. You OK?" Sam looked at Bobby, eyes going wide. Bobby stopped short, waited a minute to give Sam time to get used to him, and then took a step forward. Sam scrambled back. "Sam?" Bobby waited, but when Sam didn't respond he shrugged and turned to Dean. "Maybe we should just let him spend the night here."
"Like hell we will." Dean ignored the doctor's protest and Bobby's warning arm and closed the distance between himself and Sam in two strides. Sam looked at him, as terrified as a lost child, and Dean realized that that was exactly what his brother was. Lost. "It's OK, Sam. I'm here."
Sam slid further back. Dean reached out and grabbed his arms to stop him. For a moment Sam stared at him, eyes like saucers above the mask, and Dean was sure he had screwed up and made it worse –
And then he was staggering under Sam's weight, struggling to breathe with long arms wrapped around his neck, trying to keep Sam from strangling himself with his own oxygen tube as he burrowed into Dean's arms.
"Shh," Dean soothed, pushing Sam firmly onto the bed and arranging him so that his spine could rest in the curve of Dean's arm and his head comfortably on Dean's shoulder. "Shh, it's OK. You're OK. I'm here." He could feel Sam trembling, and he rubbed his back lightly. "Can I take the mask off?" he asked the doctor.
"As long as you can keep him from panicking."
Dean nodded, tugging Sam's hand off the mask. "I'm going to take this off you, Sam, but you need to keep breathing, OK? Can you do that for me?"
There was a mumbled sound that might have been anything, but Sam settled more comfortably against him and that was all the answer Dean needed. He eased the mask off, watching Sam carefully, heaving a sigh of relief when Sam didn't start getting short of breath, grinning when his reaction made his little brother smile.
"That's it," Dean said, not loosening his grip. "That's it, Sammy. We're OK. We're going home. You ready to go?" Stiffness to the set of Sam's head, and Dean understood. "We don't have to talk, Sammy. I won't ask you anything. You don't have to tell me anything until you're ready. I promise. We'll do it the way you want, as slowly as you like. OK?"
A nod, and then Sam was burrowing himself even closer. Dean sighed, murmuring soft words of comfort and meeting Bobby's eyes over the top of his brother's head.
He wouldn't ask. He couldn't risk Sam dying on him just because Dean was a clumsy idiot when it came to getting people to talk. He couldn't help thinking that Sam would have done better. If their roles had been reversed, Sam would have known how to get Dean talking without scaring him so badly that he wound up in the emergency room.
Sam muttered something into his jacket, Dean responded automatically, and then he was helping Sam up, supporting him to the wheelchair that the doctor insisted they use ("Hospital policy. We don't want to get sued.") and settling him into the backseat of Bobby's car.
Dean climbed in next to his brother, knowing that the next morning they would be pretending that this had never happened, realizing for the first time that he might never really be able to understand what Sam had gone through in the Cage. He had seen the torment in his brother's eyes, seen the evidence of Lucifer's malice, seen a desolation that made him want to open the Cage again just so he could have the pleasure of sending Lucifer back to it.
But he would be with Sam, he promised himself silently. He might not be able to understand, but he would give Sam whatever he could, and maybe it would be enough.
What did you think? Good? Bad? I should stop writing tags? Please review!
Also, I hope everyone has fun with Episode 2!