Dean takes a sharp right turn, driving about twenty miles faster than he probably should be, but it’s okay. The Impala knows that she’s Dean’s baby but Sam always comes first, so her tires don’t squeal or protest at the abuse even though she rightfully should be.
“C’mon, c’mon,” Dean is muttering, one hand gripping the sleeve of his brother’s shirt so hard his fingers ache. They’re in the ass-end of nowhere, about thirty miles from civilization, and although Sam’s stopped yelling, he’s gone inhumanly still and silent. Dean’s ears strain to hear the soft cadence of Sam’s shallow breaths above the sound of the Impala taking them down the road, and Dean tackles another bend erratically, using only his left hand to control the wheel.
“Fucking Michigan,” he snarls, flooring it in an effort to get back to the tiny motel they’re staying at as quickly as humanly possible without driving them off of the road.
This wasn’t even supposed to be a tough gig--just some stupid teenage girls praying to Satan for who-the-fuck-knows-what, conjuring small-time curses and remedies. Hell, Sam wouldn’t even have caught wind of it weren’t for their untimely decision to cause the entire cheerleading team to come down with the flu the night before state finals. Had they not already been in the area, they would’ve missed it completely, and before he made the drive, Dean already thought that it was a waste of time.
If it hadn’t been for one of the bitches getting wind of what Dean and Sam were looking for, it would have been as easy as any hunting job could get--just a routine lecture and confiscation of how-to-become-Hell’s-whore manuals, and they would’ve been good to go. Except Bitch A told Bitch B and before Sam and Dean knew it, they’d walked into an archaic demon-summoning ritual, sheep’s blood, pewter chalice, the whole shebang.
Okay, so that might’ve proven to be a little snafu, but by this time, Sam and Dean are pretty well-versed in the habit of kicking demonic ass. Out of the group of five, three girls ended up being possessed by what seemed like low-grade demon scum, but Dean had the knife, and Sam had a shotgun full of rock salt, so when the demons scattered, so did they, darting off in opposite directions into the woods.
Dean hadn’t been worried, especially since he ganked the first one in a little under five minutes. One clean stab between the ribs, and the demon was dead, along with its host. Dean felt a jolt of guilt, but she brought it upon herself, the stupid kid, so he ran along after the other one, following the noises it made as it crashed through the underbrush.
Looking back, Dean realizes he was being kind of retarded. Since when did demons run first without even using a minute (or sixty) to try and fuck with them? But the adrenaline of the chase had caught up with him, and he didn’t register much beyond the wind against his face and his footing on the ground, sure and steady as he kept her pace.
When he caught up to her finally, she feinted to the right, and he almost lost his balance, stumbling into a tree with a bitten off curse. She smiled widely, her eyes dark and vacant, but then she didn’t do anything but look at him, crazed and evil.
“You know, you should really keep a better eye on that brother of yours,” she said baldly right before Sam’s voice pierced the air, low and keening and hurt.
“Fuck,” Dean swore, his stomach twisting unpleasantly as his heart tried its best to break his sternum in half. He didn’t take time to think or plan but instead plunged the knife into the girl’s chest, yanking it out and running before she even had time to finish falling to the ground. Sam was still yelling, and it was setting Dean’s teeth on edge because he’d never heard anything like that from his brother. The sound echoed around, and Dean broke into a dead sprint in the direction he thought Sam went when they’d first gotten separated.. The other girls had vanished from the clearing, but Dean literally could not give a shit.
It took him almost fifteen nerve-wracking minutes to find Sam, and even though his voice had gone hoarse, he was still making that sound. Possibilities were running wildly through Dean’s mind (ambush, maybe, or Alistair-style torturing) but when he literally tripped over Sam, Sam was utterly alone, shaking on the forest floor as though he was having a seizure. The demon’s gone--skipped out--and the girl’s lying in the brush too, but right then, Dean didn’t give a flying fuck about the meatsuit or the girl who’d been stupid enough to give up her body for a demon.
Sliding to his knees, Dean grabbed both of Sam’s shoulders, having some difficulty getting a good grip on his shirt due to the way that Sam’s entire body wa jerking. “Sam,” Dean said loudly, and then more desperately, “Sam, what the fuck is it?” But Sam’s eyes had rolled back into his head, the whites showing unnervingly, and even though he was making noise, there was no doubt that he was unconscious.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” Dean muttered, looking around at the trees as though they’d tell him what happened or what he should do next. He tried to shake Sam himself, even though that wasn’t the brightest idea, considering how much Sam is twitching all on his own, and when that didn’t work, he tries yelling in Sam’s ear. Nothing.
Dean tried to quickly catalogue the condition of Sam’s body and found nothing wrong that he could see apart from the obvious, and he was more confused than ever. He chanced slapping Sam across the face to try and wake him, but nothing happened apart from Sam’s cheek reddening from the blow.
Eventually, Dean had no other choice than to try and get his brother out of the woods and to the relative safety of their motel room where he could try and get a handle on what the fuck just happened. Sam’s too big to sling over his shoulder, so Dean steeled himself, took a hold of Sam’s wrists and started pulling, apologizing silently because Sam’s going to be scratched to hell and sore if he ever wakes up. It was slow work, dragging Sam across the uneven ground back to the Impala, and Dean spent the time alternating between berating Sam and asking the air for Castiel.
Sam never woke and Castiel never appeared, and by the time Dean got to the Impala, his nerves were shot.
It takes some difficult maneuvering, especially since they’re not the motel’s only guests, but eventually, Dean manages to get Sam on one of the double beds. He’s sweaty and desperate and his arms and legs are shaking from overexertion, but Sam is still not moving, and that’s the only thing that matters right now. Without taking his eyes from his brother’s face, Dean locates his phone and thumbs through the contacts until he gets to Bobby’s name.
It’s late, maybe two in the morning, so when Bobby answers on the fifth ring, he sounds sleepy and grumpy.
“It’s me,” Dean says, the introduction rendered unnecessary due to the sheer number of times Dean has had to call Bobby in a panic.
“This better be damn good, boy,” Bobby grumbles. “What have you gotten yourself into this time?” It’s the same thing he always says whenever Dean calls at an ungodly hour, but the normality of their routine isn’t as soothing as it normally is.
“It’s Sam,” Dean says, and then his throat closes up on him. He takes a few deep, steadying breaths, and then says, “I don’t know what happened. We split up after a few low-level demons and when I found him again he was--Jesus, Bobby, he was screaming and he wouldn’t stop.”
Bobby’s silent for several seconds. “Only you two idjits would muck up a simple demon hunt. Let me talk to him.”
“You can’t,” Dean says, his voice low and gruff, “because he’s not waking up.”
Bobby lets the quiet linger again, heavy and crackling along the phone’s connection, maybe waiting for an elaboration. “That’s all?” he asks. “You call me and tell me that Sam’s gotten himself cursed or whatnot by a demon, but the only detail you have is that he was yellin’ like a stuck pig? Nothing else?”
“No!” Dean explodes. “There was nothing there. The demon was gone, and he was fucking screaming his head off like he was burning alive. And now he won’t fucking wake up!”
“Stop cursing at me, boy,” Bobby says sharply. “I’m trying to help here.”
“There’s nothing,” Dean says desperately. “There’s nothing else wrong with him, no marks or runes or anything. He’s just not moving.”
“Was it the demons you were hunting or something else?”
“Just a stupid satanist coven,” Dean says. “When we found them, they summoned a couple of demons. Nothing that’s not normal though. Same black-eyed sons of bitches as always.”
Distantly, Dean can hear Bobby flipping the pages of a book. “So he was screaming?” Bobby confirms. “And now he’s not moving or nothing?”
“For the millionth time, no,” Dean says. “It was like he was having a seizure and now--now he’s just lying there and he’s barely breathing. It’s like he’s in a coma.”
“I’ll see what I can find,” Bobby says distractedly, “but you’re not giving me much to go on. Where are you? I’ll be down as soon as possible.”
Dean relays the motel’s address, hangs up, and sits on the other bed, facing Sam’s prone body. For a moment, he puts his head in his hands as his mind works furiously as to what could’ve happened to make his brother like this. It’s only been one year since he got his soul back, but trust fate to go ahead and fuck them over.
After ten minutes, Dean manages to put himself straight. Panicking isn’t going to help anyone, especially not Sam, and he’s not entirely out of options. His voice shaking with anger, he looks up to the pocked ceiling and begins to speak.
“Castiel, if you don’t get your winged ass down here, the next time I see you, I’m going to shoot you so full of rock salt, you’ll be picking it out of your teeth for weeks. I don’t care if it doesn’t hurt. Would you fucking come already?”
He doesn’t expect it to work, especially since he spent at least a half an hour in the forest dragging Sam coming up with more and more inventive ways of trying to force Castiel to get his celestial ass into the game, but there’s a quiet whoosh of noise, and Dean knows that Cas has finally decided to pay attention to him.
“You know,” the angel says drily, clearly annoyed, “I am not your servant. It is not my place to come at your every beck and call.”
“I don’t fucking care,” Dean grinds out. “Something is wrong with Sam, and you’re the only one I know who could probably figure out what, so stop being so fucking high-handed and help me out here!”
Castiel shoots Dean a withering glance. “I come when I can, Dean. I do not deliberately ignore you. I implore you to stop thinking that my only reason to exist is to assist you in your every need.” That said, Castiel straightens his shoulders and walks over to Sam anyways; for all of his pretended coldness, Dean knows that Cas wouldn’t actually leave Sam to whatever hell he’s in. Dean doesn’t offer up an explanation, because chances are Castiel won’t need it, and Dean doesn’t think he has the strength tonight to recount the tale another time.
“Oh,” says Castiel, very quietly.
“What?” Dean demands. “What is it?”
“Something has broken down the wall,” Castiel says, placing one hand on Sam’s cheek and the other on his breastbone.
“What are you talking about?” Dean says, standing up to stand behind Cas, but he thinks he already knows the answer.
“The wall that was erected in his mind to keep him from his memories of hell,” Castiel explains softly. “It has been destroyed.”
Dean feels his stomach sink to his toes, because to think it is one thing; to hear it confirmed is in another fucking ballpark. “How is that possible? Fix it,” he says stiltedly.
“I do not know what happened, but I cannot,” Castiel says. “I am not as strong as Death, and by this time, your brother has entered a profound state of psychic agony. It would be impossible to separate the memories from his psyche.” He steps away from Sam and haltingly places a hand on Dean’s shoulder, something he must have picked up somewhere else, because Dean thinks it’s meant to be comforting. It isn’t.
“There has to be something,” Dean snaps.
“If there is, I do not have the power for it,” Castiel says gloomily. “Even if I were to try and kill him only to resurrect him, there is a definite chance that his soul would scatter into an infinite number of pieces and never be able to be put whole again.”
Castiel’s words swim in Dean’s mind, and he has to sit down on the bed before he falls down. “What are you trying to tell me, Cas?” he asks.
Castiel removes his hands from Sam and turns so that he can look at Dean properly. “I cannot save your brother, Dean. He is lost.”
Dean only allows Castiel to leave after eliciting a promise from him that he’ll exhaust every measure he has to try and bring Sam back. Castiel keeps telling Dean that there’s not much he thinks can be done, but Dean doesn’t like this answer. Dean’s built his life on making bad decisions to keep Sam alive, and there’s always been a point where he thought he could go no further only to be proven wrong. It’s the only thing he can hold onto right now, and he finds himself making bargains with a God that disappeared a long time ago for some sort of miracle.
Bobby’s waylaid by a snowstorm, and after a terse conversation on the phone, Dean tells him flat-out not to try and drive through it. With their luck, Bobby would end up upside-down in a ditch, and he isn’t much use anyways. He just doesn’t have the cure-all that Dean needs at this point.
Dean thought he’d gotten used to hopelessness by now, but apparently not.
He spends the night running through every possible solution he can think of in his head but nothing comes close. Short of finding an unfindable God and trying to force him into fixing Sam, he has nothing. He’s very tempted to look for Death again and try to strike another deal, but even though Death may be powerful enough for such a task, Dean highly doubts that he’ll be generous enough to help him out again. Once was enough, and Death has made it clear that he’s no one’s play thing.
Dean can feel the desperation under his skin, and once, in a pique of rage, he whips the lamp off of the weathered nightstand between his and Sam’s bed. The crash is loud and jarring, and Dean chances a look to see if maybe it’s managed to rouse his brother and Sam will sit up, saying, “Jesus, Dean, what’s your problem?” But Sam is as still as ever, and Dean has to resist the urge to get up and break something else.
Bobby calls sometime around seven in the morning to let Dean know that he’s on the road again. “You haven’t done anything stupid, have you?” he asks, worriedly, and Dean can faintly hear the uneasy sound of Bobby’s truck struggling through a thick layer of snow.
“No,” Dean answers shortly.
“Well don’t,” Bobby warns, but Dean knows that Bobby’s not under the impression that Dean will keep this particular promise.
“I won’t,” Dean lies. Bobby’s silence speaks louder than any words he could say, and Dean clenches the phone tightly in his hands.
“I’ll be there soon, as long as no damn-fool idiot crashes their car and causes a back-up,” Bob by says finally. Dean doesn’t say goodbye as he shuts the phone. He wants Bobby here now, to share in the awful situation, but at the same time, he wants him to stay away because Dean’s not sure he can deal.
He’s not paying attention and starts when someone’s hand rests on his shoulder. Whipping around, managing to grab his knife from where he left it next to him on the bedspread, he just barely manages to keep from stabbing Castiel in the throat. Castiel acts like he hasn’t noticed, as unruffled as always, and steps away to set an old jar and an even older book on the table.
“Tell me you found something,” Dean says flatly. He doesn’t want any platitudes, and if that’s what Cas is here for, he can take his ass somewhere else.
“It’s possible,” Castiel says, “but very risky. I am unsure of whether it will work or not.”
Immediately, Dean’s heart soars, and he can feel a tiny bit of tension leave his shoulders. “What is it?” he asks. “Risky how?”
Castiel pauses for a second, staring at Dean in a way that makes him feel uncomfortable, almost as though Castiel can see straight through him. “It is a ritual,” he says finally. “I did not remember its existence, but one of my garrison is well-versed in such areas.”
“What kind of ritual?” Dean’s aching for more information, even though he’s already pretty sure that he’s going to go through with it, consequences be damned. At least this way when Sam blows a gasket, he can truthfully say that he got the details before going through with another half-formed plan.
“An angelic one,” Castiel retorts. Dean resists the urge to scoff and snap at that answer and instead, he stands up and darts over to the table where Cas is currently flipping through the book, which seems to be written entirely in Enochian.
Castiel seems to find what he’s looking for because he stops turning pages and presses his fingers down to keep the book from closing. He then turns and uncaps the jar that Dean is pretty sure is filled with holy water.
“C’mon, man,” Dean says, “Spill.”
Castiel is quiet before he answers, one of those full-bodied silences that Dean absolutely hates because they almost never mean something good.
“Sam’s soul,” Castiel says slowly, “is too damaged to survive on its own. It has been tainted by its time down in the pit and is mangled with the damage Lucifer has rendered on it.”
“Yeah, I know,” Dean says. “Get to the new information already.”
Tilting his head slightly, Castiel continues. “Even though Sam’s soul is next to useless, there is a possibility he can survive. This ritual--it results in the bondage of two souls for eternity. Where one is damaged, the other can feel the empty spaces and make it whole. In theory.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Dean says, holding up a hand. “Are you trying to tell me that I have to bind my soul to Sam? Is that what I’m getting here? I’m not making this shit up, am I?”
“If you are a compatible match, then yes, that is how it would work. But I am not sure that this is a veritable solution, Dean. This ritual has not been used in over a millennia, and never on someone purely human.”
The suggestion crashes over him like a well-placed blow to the head--dizzying and all-encompassing. He has to take a moment to get a grip, cover his options. What Cas is talking about--Dean doesn’t even know all the details, but it sounds like it would be an absolutely awful idea. Not to mention that it sounds like Sam will commit fratricide when he wakes up.
For just a second, Dean flirts with the idea of not going through with it. But as he darts a look to Sam, resolve blooms in his stomach, stubborn and heavy. No matter what it does to Dean, no matter how it fucks Sam up, there’s no way Dean can leave his brother comatose in that bed. The thought of it is enough to spin Dean into an web of panic. His mind was made up the moment Castiel said he had a possible solution.
“I don’t care,” Dean says, meeting Cas’ gaze. “What do I have to do?” His answer hangs in the air for several seconds as Castiel looks at him in a way that makes Dean’s skin crawl. Almost as if Cas is testing his resolve. Dean doesn’t let himself look away.
“It is very complicated,” Castiel says warningly. “And there is a chance that it will render your soul useless as well.”
“I. Don’t. Care,” Dean says again. “It might work, right? I can’t just sit here and watch him die.”
“There is a chance,” Castiel agrees reluctantly. “However slight it may be. If you are willing.”
“I am,” says Dean, steel in his voice. “Unless you have another option, stop trying to convince me not to go through with it.”
Castiel blinks slowly and then turns his head so he can read the book, presumably refreshing himself on the steps to whatever ritual he’s suggesting here. Hope has burgeoned in Dean’s stomach, thready and weak but there, and Dean ignores the twinge of uncertainty as he readies himself to hear the consequences.
“It involves several invocations of ritualistic chanting,” Castiel says, following along a line in the book with one of his fingers. “You must paint sigils on your body in holy oil. That is merely for preparation for the binding. After that, you must share your blood with that of your brother.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad,” says Dean, thinking back to blood-letting that he and Sam had to do before in numerous hunts to draw evil to them.
“That’s only the beginning,” Castiel continues. “I must then open a psychic channel between your minds. What once was his will be your’s and vice versa. This connection will remain with you even into the afterlife.”
“What, like Sam’s gonna be able to read my thoughts?” Dean asks skeptically. It looks like they’ve finally hit the sacrificing part of this whole shebang, but it isn’t enough to make Dean reconsider yet.
“Not precisely,” Castiel corrects. “You will be forever tied, but you won’t get more than surface thoughts, impressions, perhaps feelings.”
“Well, okay then.” Dean runs a hand through his hair. “Is that all?”
“Not in the least. You will find separation to be very difficult, almost painful. You will lose all sense of self and instead know only the sensation of being bound. When he is tired, you will want to sleep, and when you are hungry, he will want to eat. It will not matter if you have slept for twelve hours; as long as Sam is exhausted, he will pass that onto you.
“That is only what I know to be fact,” Castiel says. “There are several other possible side effects, but as I said before, this ritual has never been attempted on someone who was purely human. I cannot say for certain.”
“So that means that some of this stuff might not happen at all?” asks Dean, feeling relieved.
“On the contrary,” Castiel says. “If the ritual is successful, there is no doubt in my mind that you will suffer these effects. Furthermore, since humans are decidedly weaker than the divine, I suspect that you will see a greater change than even I can anticipate.”
Dean is silent for several moments, but then he looks at Sam and feels his resolve tightening. “I don’t care,” he says for a third time.
Castiel looks up from his book, completely unsurprised, and pulls the stopper from the bottle of holy oil. “I had a feeling you wouldn’t.”
Castiel helps Dean move Sam to the ground and then does something to make the beds disappear so that that have enough room to work. Dean hopes that he can get them back in relatively okay condition so he doesn’t max out Steven Tyler’s credit card, but it’s a worry that’s at the back of his mind right now.
“No way,” he says flatly.
“Dean,” says Cas impatiently, “this ritual will not work if either of you are clothed.”
“It’s just a little weird, Cas, okay?” Dean says. “Now if you were in the body of some hot chick, maybe then I’d be alright doing it.”
“Fine,” Castiel says, huffing. “If you do not want my help, I will go back. In case you have forgotten, I am in the middle of a war. You are lucky I ever deigned to come down and help you.”
“Don’t get your panties in a twist,” Dean says, grabbing at Castiel’s arm so if he poofs away, Dean will likely be transported with him.
“Then you must cooperate!” Castiel is so incensed his nostrils are flaring, and under normal circumstances, Dean would find it funny. However, he feels that if he were to laugh now, Castiel might disappear and refuse to answer another summons for a month. Cas is petty like that sometimes. Sighing, Dean goes to work on the buttons of his shirt.
“You owe me so big for this,” he says to his brother’s body. Predictably, Sam doesn’t respond. Satisfied at Dean’s compliance, Castiel goes about placing a number of candles that he got out of nowhere into a large circle. He lights them all at once without even blinking and Dean sighs again as he pulls his undershirt free from the waistband of his jeans and chucks it somewhere near the bathroom.
“This looks like it’s the beginning of a bad porno,” he tells Castiel, and the angel pauses from where he’s rereading the ritual for the umpteenth time to give Dean a puzzled look.
“But there is no pizza man,” he says uncomprehendingly. “I do not understand.”
“Never mind,” says Dean, trying not to think about the fact that he’s about to take off his pants. When he’s finally naked, he resists the urge to cup his hands in front of his dick and instead sinks into a sitting position on the floor, legs crossed to try and provide him with at least a little bit of modesty. Thankfully, Cas still hasn’t looked up from whatever he’s doing.
Cas starts to sprinkle stuff in an circle inside of the candles, forming another ring of what looks to be crumbled herbs. It smells slightly spicy, almost like incense, but Castiel doesn’t explain what he’s doing, and Dean doesn’t care enough to waste energy by asking. When that task’s done, Castiel approaches Sam and touches one of his shoulders. Without so much as a how-do-you-do, Sam’s clothes vanish, leaving him as naked as the day he was born. Dean would defend his brother’s privacy, but it’s the only thing amusing that’s happened to Dean in twelve hours, so he can’t quite muster up a rebuke.
“Once I start, I will not be able to stop the ritual completely,” Castiel warned. “If we are interrupted, you will still feel the bonding to some extent. Considering Sam’s current mental state, if we do not finish the ritual within a certain timeframe, there is a possibility that your soul will become as damaged as his and you will go insane from the pain.”
Dean set his jaw. “Make sure we aren’t interrupted, then,” he said.
Castiel furrowed his brow and stepped out of the circle to grab the bottle of holy oil. “I cannot ensure anything,” he said, “but I will try.”
“Okay,” replied Dean, feeling a rush of nervousness and anticipation run through his entire body. “Let’s get this over with. What first?”
“It will be easiest for me if you lie down next to your brother.” It’s on the tip of Dean’s tongue to refuse because he doesn’t exactly want to lie naked next to his brother for Christ’s sake, especially in front of an angel. He hopes Castiel enjoys the peep show.
Grumbling to himself, he gets on his knees and scoots over to where Sam is lying, arranging himself carefully that he’s in the same position as his brother but not close enough to be touching any part of his body to Sam’s. Resisting the urge to cover himself with his hands, he forces himself to stay still.
“The sigils are first,” Castiel says from somewhere to his right. Dean can’t see him, which is making him slightly uneasy. “Then the invocation and then I shall open your minds. This will not be pleasant, Dean. I expect it to hurt a great deal.”
“Okay,” says Dean. “Whatever. Let’s just get this show on the road.”
Castiel sighs deeply, and Dean can hear him sloshing the oil onto his fingertips. Suddenly, Dean feels Cas next to him, and his body tenses as Castiel starts tracing symbols onto Dean’s skin with an oil-wet finger.
This is so gay he thinks, but he doesn’t say it aloud in case talking would fuck everything up and like, switch his and Sam’s bodies or something. Castiel’s movements are lightning quick, and the oil burns into Dean’s body unpleasantly. First his chest is covered, and then his upper thighs and calves, and Dean comes close to kicking at Castiel when his pelvis is practically violated.
Finally, Cas traces a final sigil onto his forehead and then moves onto Sam. Dean closes his eyes and feels the power begin to thrum around him. He feels uneasy, like his mind is buzzing, and the oil isn’t cooling but instead getting hotter, burning like heated wax or scalding water. He opens his mouth to ask Cas if this is normal, if it should feel like this, but nothing comes out.
Castiel seizes Dean’s hand but he barely feels it through the warmth of his skin. Absently, there’s the brief sting of a blade and then something cool under his hand as Castiel moves his fingers around something--Sam’s hand? Maybe? It feels like something is seeping through his flesh, into his blood. Castiel’s grip loosens, but Dean doesn’t let go of Sam, needing that connection.
Castiel’s voice fills the air, rising and falling as he speaks in a foreign language Dean assumes to be Enochian. His voice is soothing and disarming, lulling Dean into lightness before making the hairs on his arms stand up. It goes on for a long time, and Dean feels something heavy press down against him, making him unable to even twitch a finger. Something is clutching his head in a vise, and Dean is almost scared that his skull is going to explode like an overripe watermelon.
As soon as Dean is sure that he can’t take anymore, it keeps coming. The chanting has turned the oil from liquid fire into a chilling cold that Dean can almost feel in his bones. He wonders if it has seared tattoos into his flesh, but the thought is fleeting, chased away by the pain that has seized his entire body. The air around him is overheated and heavy and practically vibrating with the force behind Castiel’s words.
Suddenly, Castiel’s voice stops, but the pain doesn’t, intensifying even though there are no more words to draw the power out. Faintly, Dean can feel someone’s hand on his head, burning through the cold there, but he doesn’t register it until he feels something twinge in his mind and sharply break open.
The pain is intense. He can feel the onslaught of memories that aren’t his own, the flaying of flesh and twisting of bones. It doesn’t stop, never will, and he can hear a honeyed voice whispering accusations and benedictions into his ear, telling him that he was never loved. Enumerating how he was a burden on everyone who ever knew him. Hissing how he killed everyone he’d ever cared for.
Dean thinks he might be screaming, but he can’t hear anything besides the rush of pain and those cold, harsh words. He feels dark despair, and a desperate hungry want for something that he can’t have, and it’s so intense, so all-consuming, that for a moment, Dean can’t remember who he is or what he’s doing.
The slew of memories keeps barraging at his head, turning from the silver-tongued serpent to someone tall and scolding that Dean thinks he should recognize but can’t, yelling at a small boy that Dean wants to protect. Sammy, he thinks, the only coherency he’s’ been able to pinpoint since his brain broke, but he can’t figure out what that word means or why it makes him feel the way that he does, desperation and longing and love and overbearing, but everything floods his chest until he thinks he could drown in it.
And he’s feeling something else, something foreign, emotions that are coming from someone outside of him, directed inside. Adoration, frustration, and a fierce connection pierce him down to his marrow, and he wants to get away from the intensity of it, run until he doesn’t feel anything that’s not his own. There’s this abstraction, this feeling of something wrapping around his brain and taking hold, making itself permanent, and then the same thing imbeds itself into his chest, his stomach, situating itself so that it’ll never be apart from Dean. He tries to rip it out, force it away, but it’s persistent, clinging, and besides, now that Dean has had a second to get used to it, he feels like it’s appropriate. Like it should be there. Like it always has been.
With a white flash, everything goes still again. There’s pain, but Dean is finally aware of himself, of his back arching against the grimy hotel carpet. He can feel Castiel’s presence above him and knows that he has a question he needs to ask, but his mind is fumbling, pain-fogged and fighting against what just transpired, and for the life of him, he can’t remember what it was.
His eyes shoot open, focusing on the uneven stucco of the ceiling above him before everything goes blurry again. A dark shadow drops across his vision and he blinks several times, but it’s no use. He feels a cool hand against his forehead, calming him, and then Castiel’s voice comes, as though from a million miles away, faint and almost indistinct.
“Sleep,” he says. “When you wake, it will be better.”
Dean wants to ignore him, disobey his command, but his eyelids are so heavy and his head is beginning to ache fiercely, and sleep sounds so good, so welcoming. He lets his eyes flutter shut again and doesn’t have time for another thought before he feels the heavy weight of unconsciousness pulling him under.
When Dean wakes again, he doesn’t feel that much better than he had before, despite Castiel’s assurances. His limbs are leaden, his skin is too sensitive, and there’s this tickling, alien sensation at the back of his mind that doesn’t go away, growing stronger the longer he prods at it. Mentally, he feels exhausted with the burden of something that he can’t decipher yet, but he has the strangest feeling that he’s experiencing a reaction to something that never happened to him. Groaning, he shifts, feeling the drag of sheets against his skin, and with a great effort, he manages to pull both of his hands up to cover his face, blocking out the world in a hazy, pink glow.
“It will not help,” says someone at the foot of the bed, and Dean starts. He recognizes Castiel’s voice but hadn’t realized that he was still there in the room. Things are coming back in bits and pieces now that he’s had a chance to gather his thoughts, and when he finally remembers what happened, what he’d done, he bolts upright in the bed, not able to keep his punched exhale of pain silent.
“Did it work?” he asks, his words clumsy in his mouth, as the room comes into focus. Castiel is sitting at the little table near the window, running his fingers over the pages of his book idly.
“It did,” Castiel says drily, finally looking up to meet Dean’s gaze. “Although, I am astonished that the effort of it did not damage you beyond repair.”
Dean’s heart soars in his chest, because everything, all the pain and the wrenching feeling of invasion, that was all worth it if it’s made everything right again. “Sammy?” he says groggily. “Sam? Is he awake?”
“Not yet,” Castiel responds, looking over to the opposite bed. “But that is to be expected. He came into the ritual quite a bit more damaged than you. He needs a longer time to heal.”
“But you’re sure?” Dean asks desperately. “His soul’s okay? It’s not fucked up anymore?”
“I did check,” Castiel says, sounding irritated. “His soul is still not entirely whole, but through the ritual, your soul bind has managed to make it so he can function. He will be the brother you have known your entire life.”
Dean would whoop if he didn’t feel so sore. He rotates his shoulders once, trying to alleviate the pain in the small of his back, and slumps back against the headboard.
“I could eat a horse,” he says as his stomach grumbles demandingly.
Castiel looks puzzled for a second and stands up. “I did not know that horse was a normal part of the American diet,” he says thoughtfully. “I thought it mostly revolved around beef and chicken.”
“Never mind,” says Dean. “Just, I need some food.”
“In a minute,” Castiel says absently. “You have not told me how it feels yet.”
“Um, what?” says Dean, non-plussed. “How what feels?”
“Your bond. I must know that it has not affected your mental ability to deal with the physical world. You are not feeling depressed or overwhelmed? Perhaps inundated with too many memories that are not your own?”
“No,” says Dean. “Nah, just I can feel something at the back of my head. Like there’s a hole there that wasn’t there before. But I’m not gonna off myself here. Everything worked--it’s fine.”
Castiel’s forehead furrows and he seizes Dean’s head in both of his hands in a singular motion.
“W-wait,” Dean splutters. “Personal space, dude. Jesus!”
“It has not fully settled yet,” Castiel says, releasing Dean abruptly. “When Sam regains consciousness, you will get a flood of his memories. It will likely be hugely incapacitating. I will have to stay to ensure that you both do not have a psychotic breakdown.”
“Thanks,” says Dean humorlessly, rubbing at his temple where Castiel gripped a little too hard. “Glad to know you care so much.”
“I should never have agreed to help,” Castiel says lowly. “I am wasting valuable time. Raphael has redoubled his efforts and it has been very difficult to hold our ground.”
“Don’t even fucking start,” Dean warns. “I helped you with your fucking apocalypse. It’s your turn.”
Castiel sighs deeply and starts mumbling in Enochian, but Dean doesn’t care enough to tell him off. Shifting his legs from under the covers, Dean plants them on the floor. He feels oddly weak but he’s craving a burger like no other and he’s gotten up under worse circumstances than this. Castiel is ignoring him again, so he doesn’t notice when Dean stands up, gripping the side of the nightstand for balance, too engrossed in whatever he’s doing with his book.
The first few steps are hard but not impossible, and Dean manages to get over to the dresser without much effort, grabbing his coat from where he slung it, thankful that Cas had at least had the forethought to reclothe him before putting him into bed. He feels the dig of his keys in his pocket, and he’s just about to turn the knob to the door to their motel room when something throbs within him, stopping him as effectively as a brick wall.
No, something tells him, and a fissure of pain rips down through his entire body. He feels his knees buckle and he falls to the rough carpet, breathing deeply through his nose until he feels like he can look up and not vomit.
“What the fuck,” he mutters, pressing his palm to his forehead and he regains his composure.
“I warned you,” says Castiel from somewhere behind him.
“About what?” Dean says crossly, because he’s pretty positive that Cas never told him that he’d be in pain if he tried to leave the room for some fucking dinner.
“Separation between the two of you will be incredibly painful,” Castiel says long-sufferingly. “If you work at it, it may be possible to leave each other’s presence for a short amount of time, but it will take practice and you must both be conscious before you’ll be able to do it.”
“Fuck,” Dean mutters. “I’m fucking hungry.”
“Use your phone,” Castiel suggests. “I believe it can contact certain establishments that would be willing to deliver sustenance to the door.”
“Smartass,” Dean says under his breath but he digs his cell from the pocket of his coat, and then, after a moment of thought, locates Sam’s laptop in the duffel that Dean thankfully had the foresight to bring inside before he went and tethered himself to his brother.
By the time Bobby arrives at the motel, Dean is systematically working his way through some kind of vegetable stir fry. It was a far cry from the burger that he’d thought he wanted, but it assuaged some part inside of him, and he barely stopped shoveling it into his mouth to greet Bobby after Castiel let him inside. Vaguely, he wondered if this was another side effect of the binding, craving Sam’s stupid rabbit food, but in any case, it was fucking good.
“I see you’re feeling better,” Bobby says cautiously, taking off his coat and throwing it onto Dean’s unmade bed.
“Yup,” Dean says through a mouthful of rice.
Bobby spends a few seconds staring at him, looking between Dean and the bed that Sam is still asleep in before he sighs deeply. “What damn fool thing did you do now, boy?” he growls.
Dean takes the time to swallow his food before he answers. “Hey,” he protests. “Who says that I did anything?”
“Because I know you,” Bobby says, matter-of-fact. “And you have this expression on your face that tells me you went and did something you shouldn’t have without thinking it through.”
“I’m not going to hell again, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Dean defends. “I didn’t make a deal.”
“Thank God for small favors,” Bobby says and then narrows his eyes. “If you didn’t make a deal with a demon, then what did you do, exactly?”
“Nothing,” Dean lies, but his resolve falls under the dirty glare Bobby sends his way. “Well, maybe I did do something.”
“And?” Bobby asks menacingly.
“He used an ancient evangelical ritual that enabled me to bind his soul to Sam’s and thus repair the damage that occurred while Sam was in hell,” Castiel butts in, a casual bystander to the conversation.
“You did what?” Bobby explodes, taking a step closer to Dean almost as though he’s about to clock Dean in the face.
“Calm down,” Dean says quickly. “It worked, didn’t it?”
“What does this entail exactly?” Bobby says, directing his question towards Cas in a deliberate snub. Castiel relays the information emotionlessly, telling Bobby everything he told Dean.
“Is it reversible?” Bobby asks resignedly, rubbing at his face with his hand.
“Almost certainly not,” Castiel responds. “This is quite permanent.”
“Of course,” Bobby mutters and then whirls on Dean again.
“I swear, boy,” he growls. “I can’t leave you alone for one second, can I?”
“It wasn’t a bad idea,” Dean says defensively, his food abandoned and growing cold by his right elbow.
“You’re right,” Bobby concedes. “It was a terrible idea. Sam is going to kill you when he wakes up.”
“If I hadn’t done it, Sam wouldn’t be waking up at all,” Dean points out.
“Think about it,” Bobby continues. “Just spend one damn second thinking about what you’ve done. You and your brother are going to be connected in a way that you’re never going to be able to escape. You’ve made yourself vulnerable in a way I don’t think you understand.”
“I’m not stupid, Bobby,” Dean snaps. “I get what I did. And I don’t care. You understand? I don’t fucking care”
“You will someday,” Bobby says darkly before whirling on Cas. “And you! What got into your fool head, anyways, telling him about this thing in the first place.”
“He had a right to know that I’d found something useful,” Castiel says. “I am not his keeper. I merely gave him the knowledge that I had and trusted that he had enough sense to know which was the right decision.”
“Obviously not,” says Bobby.
“I am right here,” Dean says angrily. “Stop talking about me like I can’t hear you.” Bobby sighs deeply but gives up complaining, instead taking a seat heavily on the remaining empty chair.
“I hope for your sake things work out, Dean,” he says instead. “God knows you deserve it after all this time.”
“It’ll be fine,” Dean says, mostly to reassure himself rather than Bobby. “Everything will work out. You’ll see.”
When Sam wakes up, Dean almost can’t take the influx of emotions and memories and he very nearly falls unconscious himself. He can feel Sam’s pain through their link, hopes that he isn’t sending his own memories of Hell through that connection, but he can’t concentrate from everything he’s trying to process.
Sam and Lucifer and Michael and Adam, in the cage.
Lucifer flaying the skin from Sam’s bones with a white-hot, dulled butter knife.
Michael forcing Sam to watch Adam being dismembered again and again before moving onto disembowelment, Adam’s intestines spilling wetly over the darkened, blood-stained floor of the cage.
It’s all coming at him in rushes, the memories of Sam’s time in the pit, and before. He feels resentment towards their father, and a thirst to get revenge on the things that hurt him most. He feels the most desperate, aching hurt and this dark, dark hunger for blood.
It’s entirely overwhelming, and by the time he comes back to himself, he’s sobbing tearlessly, every breath wrenched from his throat with tearing force.
“What happened?” he hears Sam say hoarsely from the other bed. “What’s going on? Dean?”
It takes an inhuman amount of effort to pull himself up against the headboard of his bed, but Dean does it, his head lolling so that he can properly see Sam, who’s pale and drawn but awake and alive, looking as though he’d just traveled about a thousand miles to get back to Dean.
“How are you feeling?” asks Castiel, all business from Sam’s side of the room. Bobby looks on, concerned and interested, from his place at the table.
“Like shit,” Sam says promptly. “I feel--I don’t even know how I feel. Like there’s something scratching at the back of my head? What happened?”
“What do remember about before?” Castiel presses, standing closer to Sam and pressing his hand to Sam’s chest.
“Um,” Sam stalls, closing his eyes briefly before opening them again. “There were some demons? In the woods? I chased after one and she spouted something about how I should know everything I went through and then she touched me.” He blinks once or twice and then comprehension dawns on his face.
“Did she break down the wall?” he demands, looking from Dean to Cas to Bobby and then back to Dean again. “Did she? She said that’s what she was going to do.”
“Yes,” says Castiel when no one else answers. “Dean found you in a state of incredible psychic pain. It seems that she was more powerful than you realized.”
“But how am I awake?” Sam asks, still looking at everyone in the room in turn. “Was it just not as bad as everyone thought it would be?”
“No,” Castiel says as Dean struggles to find words to answers his brother’s questions. “It was exactly as bad as I feared. You are incredibly lucky to be conscious. It took a great deal of effort to restore your soul to a working condition.”
“How did you do it?” Sam asked, immediately suspicious. “Before you said you didn’t even know where to begin. How did you know how to fix it now?”
“There was a ritual,” Castiel says slowly, looking over to Dean as though asking for assistance. Dean is still struggling with words and can only open his mouth like a fish.
“What kind of ritual?” Sam says cautiously. “What did you do to me?”
Castiel is silent, and Dean feels his throat unstick. “We had to bind your soul,” he says roughly. “It was the only thing that would work.”
“Bind my soul?” Sam says, his voice booming. “You bound my soul? To what?”
“To mine,” Dean admits, looking down at the nondescript yellow of the comforter on his bed rather than meet Sam’s accusing stare. Dean can tell without looking that Sam has his most offended bitch face on, the one he only uses when Dean has really Fucked Up.
“Dean, what the fuck?” Sam says quietly, deadly calm. “Why would you do something like this? Bobby, why didn’t you stop him?”
“Wasn’t here,” Bobby says promptly, and Dean gives him a sharp glare at his lack of help. Stupid bastard. “I would’ve stopped him if I coulda.”
Sam turns his attention back to Dean, and Dean forces himself to meet his brother’s gaze head-on.
“What does this mean?” Sam demands. “What happens now?”
Dean repeats the side effects woodenly, having memorized them after hearing them about fifty times in the past day. Sam’s face grows paler as each one is listed off, and by the end, his hands are fisted so hard in his sheets that Dean’s surprised they don’t rip.
“You stupid asshole!” Sam yells. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“You were gone, Sam,” Dean shoots back. “Nothing was ever gonna wake you up and if you died, your soul was gonna scatter to fuck knows where. I did what I had to.”
“You always say that!” Sam yells. “You didn’t have to do anything! You should’ve just let me go! Jesus!”
“Would you have let me go?” Dean points out, breathing harshly. “Tell me that you wouldn’t have done the exact same thing in my shoes.” Sam’s face contorts in on itself and he presses one hand over his eyes.
“Oh, fuck you, Dean,” Sam snaps, and he shoves the blankets away from him, getting up in an unstable way that reminds Dean of a colt. He’s not wearing anything besides the ratty t-shirt and jeans, but he immediately makes a beeline for the door, shoes or no shoes. Dean can feel his fury--would be able to, even without the soul bind seeing as Sam’s radiating with it--but before Sam can even get to the door, he feels the same pang that he was incapacitated with when he tried to leave before. Sam looses his balance and stumbles sideways into the wall. It’s an effort for Dean to even remain in an upright position, and pain is radiating up his spine and piercing his skull.
As soon as Sam takes two steps backwards, aided by the wall, the sensation disappears. “What the fuck did I just tell you?” Dean snaps. “Can’t too far away from me now, Sam.”
When Sam turns around, his eyes are blazing. Bobby and Castiel are watching with muted interest, though Bobby’s pretending he’s not listening.
“And once again,” Sam hisses, “you’ve made a decision for me that fucks everything up. Thanks for that, Dean.”
“Anytime, Sammy,” Dean says wearily, and Sam proceeds to ignore him for the rest of the night.