Strong Enough to Carry Us All
Sam gasped as his eyes flew open. Darting around, he realized he was back in Bobby's spare room, and the old hunter was hovering anxiously over him, a look of panic on his face.
"Sam?" Bobby demanded.
"Yeah. How's Dean?" Sam croaked, shaking his head to force away the images lingering there.
Bobby frowned. "Not good. He was in convulsions just before you woke up. I was getting ready to call an ambulance, your opinion be damned, when they just stopped. He hasn't woken up yet. You?"
Sam closed his eyes, his breath hitching trying to stop the sob in his throat even as his stomach churned, all he had learned resting there in a knot. "Oh god, Bobby. I didn't know. All he's done, been through... I didn't know."
Bobby sighed and nodded sagely, his own eyes shimmering. "I don't think any of us ever really did. I think we just took it for granted that he was strong enough to carry us all."
Sam looked at him in confusion, a question in his eyes. Had Bobby seen what he had? Had he been connected too? Bobby smirked.
"I watched him grow up, Sam. I watched what your father did to him, watched you both take as much as you could. Seeing your reaction just now, I can well imagine it was a bit of a wake up call. You should get some rest."
Sam shook his head. "Not until he wakes up. Where's Sarah?"
"She left after she made sure you were in. It was out of her hands from there and she didn't want to watch it all go South. Didn't have as much faith in you boys as a team as I did. We've done all we can. Time's up. Either this worked, or it didn't. We won't know for a while yet. In the meantime, he'd rip us both a new one if you're not looked after. And right now you need some rest," Bobby insisted. "Sam, don't blame yourself for whatever happened in there. And don't blame Dean, either. He did what he had to do."
Sam rolled away from their old friend without answering. Maybe more than rest, he needed time to work through had he had seen, and what to do with the information now that he had. Blame himself? Most definitely. Blame Dean? It wasn't possible. But he knew who did share a large part of the blame, and for the first time since their father had died, Sam wished the man was still around to fight with. He was pretty sure he'd kill him.
Bobby walked away from Sam's bed, sitting in a chair beside Dean's. He had watched the boys grow up. They were as close as he would ever come to having sons. Watching Dean put himself last had near driven him insane, and he had tried, as much as he could, to offer what the boys father wouldn't. Unfortunately, Dean could never accept it. Not from him. It wasn't needed from him.
John Winchester had been a rat bastard for putting all he had onto his eldest, and he suspected his own knowledge barely skimmed the surface of what Dean had truly endured. On some level, he understood this had the potential to make or break the brothers close relationship. Dean had kept a lot of secrets over the years, had hidden what he'd judged the others didn't need to deal with, and had taken it all on himself.
Would he retreat again now that Sam knew? Or would he allow himself to see the second chance he had been given? Bobby ran a tired hand over his weathered face. Only time would tell.
Sam turned around, stunned to find himself in a room filled with an opaque light. Were they still in Dean's head? No, he remembered talking to Bobby. So what was going on? Was he dreaming?
He turned, stunned to see his father standing in front of him. "Dad?"
"Yeah, it's me. And yes, you're dreaming."
John shrugged. "I'm not sure. Maybe you reached out to me, to someone who knows your brother and can help explain what you can't. I wish I could help you, Sammy, but I can't. I think the only one who really knows Dean is Dean. And even that I'm not willing to bet on. Or maybe you had something you wanted to say to me. I really don't know, but I'm here now. "
"Why didn't you tell me? How could you put something like that on his shoulders? How could you ask him to carry it alone?" Sam accused.
"I knew he wouldn't. Not for long. I knew when the time was right, he would tell you. He's a strong man, but you're the only thing he won't risk, Sammy. Keeping you in the dark about it would have been dangerous, but you weren't ready to hear it, not then, and not from me. It had to be him."
"Do you know what's happening to Dean?" Sam demanded, shying away from his own reaction when Dean had told him those whispered last words from their father. If he had reacted like that from his brother, a man he knew could make it all better, how would he have reacted hearing those words from his father?
"I know everything you know. Sam, you have to remember, that for everything you saw, there was so much you didn't."
Sam nodded and swallowed. "I know. I think that's what scares me."
John shook his head. "What I did to him, it was wrong. I wish I could take it all back, but I can't. And I'm sorry I can't help you now. I needed Dean to protect you, because on some level, even then, I knew I couldn't do it. That my obsession would always come first. In turning him into that soldier, I forgot, along the way, that he was my son." John sighed. "I could see it happening. I could see the power he had over you, and I hated it. I couldn't give you an order without you questioning it, but Dean, he could find a way to make peace with us both. For all that I needed it, I hated it."
"You gave him that power!" Sam growled.
"Yeah, I did. I taught- trained- him to protect you at all costs. I just never expected it to backfire on me."
Anger flooded through Sam as he realized what his father was admitting to. "My god. You thought he betrayed you when that training kicked in, even if it meant protecting me from you."
"It was the only times Dean ever disobeyed me," John admitted quietly. "Sammy, that night we took on the Vampires in Colorado, and he pushed us apart, turned to me and said 'that means you, too', it was one of the proudest and worst moments of my life. The look in his eyes- I knew in that instant that he'd kill me if he felt I was a threat to you. He'd make that choice without hesitation. If it came down to you or me, you'd win, hands down, every time, even if he destroyed himself in the process. And I did that. I did that to my boy, and I had to live with that. I never claimed to be perfect."
Sam closed his eyes, hearing the regret in his father's voice, but was unable to rid himself of the anger toward the man that had taken his brother's free will and sense of self-worth from him. He knew John was right, had sensed it the same moment he had. For all his own grievances against him, Sam knew this sin against his brother would forever be the worst.
"The day you died, it was so much easier for Dean to believe you might be possessed again than to believe you actually told him you were proud of him. Perfect, Dad? We never asked for perfect," Sam choked.
"Dean never asked for anything," John pointed out in his own defense.
"You can't seriously be trying to blame that on Dean? His life has been a living hell. He lost himself to follow you! To take up your quest!" Sam cried out in angry frustration. Then he quieted. "And to protect me. He deserved better than that. Better than what we took from him."
And he understood now. It wasn't that Dean had never asked. He had, a hundred times, he had asked for but one small thing, for a family, his family. But they hadn't been listening, hadn't been paying attention to the soft outcry of a young boy who had kept only one small desire burning in his loyal heart, delicately feeding the dying flame every ounce of hope he could scrape from the disaster that was their lives.
John opened his hands. "What man can call himself a hero if he doesn't bleed from his own heart? If he doesn't know the cost of sacrifice, then how can he claim its right? Sometimes, Sammy, we have to sacrifice what we are for what we will become. Just sometimes, things have to be broken before they can be molded into something stronger."
"But it's too much," Sam whispered miserably.
John nodded sadly. "It's supposed to be. Dean can't become strong enough to make it through the coming war without it."
"He's not a damn weapon! He's a human being!" Sam hissed viciously.
"In a war, Sam, there's no difference. Dean understands that, maybe even more than I ever did. More than you ever could. He knows the true definition of sacrifice, knows it's about more than losing someone you love. When the time comes, he'll do the right thing. He always does. And you need to be prepared for that."
"He's only got a year," Sam sighed. "The deal he made to give me back my life- and if I can't figure out how to save him, it won't matter. Will all this have been worth it then? When he's rotting in hell?"
"Sam, you have to have faith that Dean's suffering wasn't in vain, that there are bigger plans for him. If nothing else, trust in your brother, as you always have. He's never let you down before," John replied. He turned to look at something Sam couldn't see, and smiled. "You have to go now, he's awake. He'll need to make sure you're okay."
John smiled at his youngest. "There's nothing more to say. We've all done the best we could with what we had. It has to be enough. Watch out for yourself, Sammy, and keep your faith in Dean. I know it's a lot to ask, especially at a time like this, but he needs you. For all your psychic visions, he sees more than either of us could even begin to understand."
Sam woke to voices, one tinged with frustration, the other weak but clearly determined. Dean and Bobby. Blinking back the images from his dream, he threw back the covers and quickly made his way to his brother's side.
"It's okay, Dean. I'm here, I'm okay," he soothed, laying a hand on the bare shoulder, surprised and relieved not to feel the heat that had been radiating dangerously from it only hours ago. Dean stopped struggling instantly, instead trying to sit up enough to inspect Sam, those barely alert eyes scanning his own for any signs of damage, physical or otherwise. "Take it easy, I swear I'm okay. Get some rest."
Dean slowly nodded and allowed the exhaustion he had been feeling overtake him. Without ever having said a word to Sam, but making his concerns clear nonetheless, Dean relaxed into sleep. Sam looked up to find Bobby shaking his head.
"I don't think I'll ever get over seeing that in action," he grinned. "His fever broke about an hour ago. It worked, whatever you did in there, it worked. I've already managed to get some water into him, and it stayed down. I won't call him out of the danger zone yet, but he's on the right track."
Sam smiled in relief, having desperately needed to hear that from the more experienced hunter. "It was pretty close for a while. He's going to be weak. Do you mind if we hang around for a bit?"
Bobby immediately reached out and cuffed him.
Sam scowled. "What was that for?" But he knew. It was a celebration. They had won a victory here today, even if neither truly understood what it was they had defeated. And it really didn't matter. For today, Dean was alive and on the mend. They would look after tomorrow when it came.
"For askin', you idgit."