After that first night, Sam huddled against his leg and nuzzling into the rough fabric of his jeans every once in a while, Dean made a habit of sharing his brother’s bed.
He reasoned that it made sense, really; Sam always slept easier when he was sure that Dean was right there with him, and the huge, soft bed was far more comfortable than a worn-thin roll mat and a sleeping bag on the floor. He compromised with years of habit and left his gun on the nightstand rather than under his pillow, irrationally afraid of Sam’s panicked hands finding it in the middle of the night, and was surprised to find that though his hand still instinctively sought out the reassuring weight of it as he was drifting off, he still slept as soundly as a baby.
By the time that their second week in the cabin was drawing to a close, Dean felt better rested than he had in years, and he figured it probably said a lot about them that it took something like this for the Brothers Winchester to finally take a break. Emotionally, however, he was starting to feel the pressure of the entire situation.
The second week of Sam’s recovery was marked by a huge milestone in his progress: the day that the bandages were removed from his eyes completely.
He’d done his best to ask as many questions about Sam’s recovery schedule as he could before they’d left the hospital, but there was only so much he could ask without raising suspicion, and his questions about what might happen if Sam reacted negatively had been rebuffed with a cheery: don’t worry about that now, son. We’ve got to think positively about this.
He was more than a little afraid that being able to really see for the first time might send Sam into some kind of mental breakdown, finally push his no-doubt damaged psyche past its limits. God knows that all of the doctors had evidently expected it to happen long before now.
Sam had so easily adapted to everything since his rescue – sitting when prompted, eating and drinking far more now that when he’d first graduated to solids, and even allowing most touches without so much as a flinch. It was terrifying to think that, if Dean somehow messed this up, he could bring all of that progress crashing down around his ears.
And that wasn’t even considering the possible physical side-effects to having been kept blind and deaf for the better part of two months.
Dean was so panicked, in fact, that he ended up stalling the entire process by a day. He’d sedated his brother with every intention of removing the bandages and letting him wake up naturally with the ability to see, which was – he’d figured – the best way to go about the whole thing. Only, as soon as his hands had touched the soft fabric, he’d found himself panicking and jerking away.
By the time he finally convinced himself that he was being ridiculous, and that it was going to have to be done at some point, the sedative was beginning to wear off and it was evident that he’d missed his chance. He spent most of the next day alternating between feeling guilty for delaying his brother’s progress and sick at the thought of having to go through with it the next day.
In the end, he resorted to phoning Bobby and explaining the entire situation to him. The older hunter reacted in exactly the same way that Dean had expected him to: he swore, called Dean an idjit, offered to drive up and stay for a while and then informed Dean in no uncertain terms that if the bandages weren’t removed the next morning, he would introduce the eldest Winchester boy to a world of pain.
Dean, having known the man for twenty of his twenty-six years, knew better than to think he was lying. Bizarrely, that helped.
The next morning, Dean injected the sedative with the same efficiency as always and, with shaking hands, gently removed the white bandage from around his brother’s face. There was a faint line across the top of one high cheekbone where the pressure of Sam’s head on the pillow had pressed the material against his face, and even unconscious he wrinkled his nose adorably when the material tickled over the bridge of it.
Other than a fading mark on his cheekbone, he looked no different than he had all those weeks ago, when Dean had reflexively glanced over his shoulder to check on him before heading into the restroom. Somehow, despite having changed those same bandages every day and observed the healing marks on his brother’s face, Dean had expected Sam’s face to look different in some way – a physical marker of just how much this very moment was going to change everything.
Sighing, he discarded the bandages in the waste basket next to the nightstand, and did one last sweep of the room. The curtains were pulled shut, overlapping in the centre to keep even the smallest ray of light from seeping through, but Dean had left the hallway light on – letting just enough light seep through the doorframe so that Sam would be able to make out the contents of the room whilst still hurting his eyes as little as possible.
Finally content that everything was as good as it was going to be, Dean settled back into the now ever-present chair and Sam’s bedside and began the arduous process of waiting out the sedative, eyes trained keenly on Sam’s face for the slightest hint that he was waking up.
Unlike his days back in the hospital, it seemed over the past few weeks that Sam had subconsciously begun to realise that he was somewhere safe. Rather than waking up still and silent, carefully checking himself over for injury, Sam had gone back to waking up the way that he had in motel rooms all across the country and the backseat of the Impala: with a wrinkle of his nose and the tell-tale scrunching of his brow.
The first flutter of his eyelashes had Dean sitting forward in his chair, trying to be at least a little tactful of how close he leant his face to his brother’s – he didn’t expect that Sam would appreciate the first the he saw when he opened his eyes being a super close-up of Dean’s face.
It seemed to take a ridiculously long time before Sam’s eyes finally blinked open, and Dean felt his stomach flip sickeningly when Sam immediately whimpered and slammed them shut again. He kept them closed for a long moment, trembling slightly under the covers, before he attempted it for a second time – they opened slowly, this time, eyelids rapidly blinking in what Dean assumed was an effort to force them to focus.
He watched carefully as Sam squinted up at his face silently, expression unreadable, waiting for some kind of freak out or something. Instead, Sam’s eyes slowly drifted away from his face and around the room, slowly taking in all of the details about where he was, searching in a way that made Dean think he was looking for something.
Sam was still wearing earplugs, had another three days before they were due to come out completely, but Dean was still tempted to say something – perhaps wave his hands to get his brother’s attention and demand to know what he was looking for, if he was okay and he could see alright. He resisted, and Sam’s hand slowly stretched out, palm facing outwards as if searching for resistance.
It took Dean a long moment to recall what the officer had described to him; a large, glass box with holes cut in the side, through which Sam’s captor had presumably delivered food and water and the occasional beating. Sam was looking for the edges, testing to see if he was really free.
Dean thought he could almost hear his heart smashing all over again.
Sam’s breath hitched when his hand met nothing but air, and when his eyes turned back to Dean they were brimming with tears, wide and scared and vulnerable. Dean smiled at him, did his best to look reassuring, and reached out to gently squeeze the younger man’s hand in his own.
“Hey, Sammy.” He offered, squeezing the younger man’s hand again when Sam’s eyes widened at the way Dean’s voice must have sounded through the earphones. It didn’t take a genius to figure out why the distortion was so terrifying. “It’s alright. You’ve got some earplugs in at the moment, to help you get used to all of the noise again. Your ears are fine, buddy.”
Sam blinked up at him, still not saying anything, but at least looking a little calmer. His eyes drifted to their entwined hands and then back to Dean’s face, struggling to process everything at once. It was concerning, of course, but Dean let himself be vaguely reassured by the fact that Sam seemed aware of everything around him, and yet wasn’t freaking out.
“D’n.” Sam croaked after a long moment, twisting his hand suddenly to reverse their positions, grabbing Dean’s fingers tightly. He sounded a little panicked, and his eyes flew around the room desperately, his hand tugging insistently on his brother’s arm. “D’n…”
Dean caught his chin, tilted it up to lock eyes with his brother and ignored the way Sam flinched at the sudden movement. “You’re safe, Sam. Alright? We’re in Caleb’s cabin, just me and you. You understand?”
Sam hesitated for a long moment, and then nodded, letting himself relax into the bed. He looked tired, suddenly, even though he’d just woken up. He settled slowly back into the bed, letting his heavy eyelids sink shut for a long moment, fingers still tangled with his brother’s. For a long moment, Dean thought he might drift back to sleep, and then his eyes jerked open again. He surveyed the room, checking to see if anything had changed, before they began to sink shut once more.
Dean recognised paranoia when he saw it, and heaved a sigh of relief because this was something he could fix. This wasn’t the kind of panic that led to psych evaluations or breathing exercises into a brown paper bag. This was the same thing that he’d been soothing since Sam was an eight-year-old boy who’d just been told that his whole life was a lie and was terrified that he might wake up to Dean and his father gone for good; that he might drift off and wake up somewhere different, captured by monsters or demons or the thing in the closet.
Dean gently nudged his brother over, ignoring the flinches and continued trembling, until Sam was far enough across the bed for Dean to slip in next to him, placing himself between the youngest Winchester and the doorway. Sam didn’t need any prompting to curl in close, tucking himself into a ball against Dean’s chest, head nestled into the safe spot underneath Dean’s chin.
The eldest Winchester wrapped a protective arm around his little brother, held him silently as his trembling ceased and his breathing evened out and it was then, and only then, that he let himself begin to smile. It felt like benediction – the knowledge, for the first time sure and solid, that they were going to pull through this.
They were going to be okay.
Based off the prompt by verucasalt123 for the OhSam comment fic meme. This was due back in Feb, but I got a lot more invested in this one than I expected and so I hope you can forgive the extreme lateness in favour of the fact that it ended up clocking in at more than 13k words... and that there's bound to be more from this little 'verse!
The prompt was as follows: 'Sam is kidnapped and kept in sensory deprivation. It takes Dean a while to find him, and when he does, Sam can't stand to open his eyes, even the smallest sounds hurt to hear, and he won't let anyone touch him. Cue Dean researching all he can on the subject and slowly helping Sam to recover from the damage done to him while he was held captive. Prefer Wincest but gen is ok too.'