Title: He Ain't Heavy
Summary: "I had to be a father and I had to be a mother, to keep him safe," Dean said and it was the first time he allowed the words to pass his lips. "And that wasn't fair." Coda to 12x22. Hurt/Comfort.
Warning: Spoilers up to the season 12 finale. Rated K+ for bad language, references to child neglect, bullying, abandonment issues.
Disclaimer: I don't own the show or the art.
Sammy was crying all the time. They said he was going to be fun and that they would play together, but as Dean peered down at his baby brother for the first time, all he could feel was disappointment.
His Mommy placed the squirming bundle into Dean's arms and his Daddy was right there, strong arms bracketing his smaller ones. Sammy was making funny noises and then his eyes started to water, tiny button nose scrunched up in dismay as he began to fuss and kick out his chubby legs.
"He doesn't want me," Dean's voice shook and his own eyes watered as he held Sammy out to his parents, rejection seeping deep into the core of his heart. "He hates me."
Mommy had said that they would play together and be there for each other forever and always because that's what brothers did, but Sammy didn't seem to like him at all.
"He doesn't hate you, Dean," Mommy said with a soft shine in her eyes. "You're his big brother. He'll look up to you all his life and he'll love you more than you'll ever know."
As if on cue, Sammy suddenly stopped his fussing, looking up at Dean with big, round eyes, tears stuck to his tiny lashes.
"He's going to be your best friend for life," Daddy said as he smiled down at them.
Dean's frown deepened. He cautiously unlatched himself from his Daddy's hold and reached out one small hand towards the baby to poke its cheek gently. Sammy smiled up at him and giggled. Tiny fingers came up to latch onto Dean's hand thumb and in that moment, with Sam's fingers curled around his own, wide and curious baby eyes staring up intently, Dean knew that his parents were right. Maybe Sammy wasn't so bad, after all.
Dean had seen Sammy falling before it happened. The little boy was playing out in the backyard of the motel, chasing after a beaten up soccer ball and then his foot caught on a stone and he hit the pavement with his knees. Sam's breath hitched and then his face was torn into a grimace of pain, eyes filling rapidly with tears as he clutched his skinned knee with shaking fingers.
Dean was there in a flash, down on the ground, hovering over his little brother with concern etched into his young features. "Shh… okay, it's okay. Lemme see, Sammy."
Sam sniffed and shook his head but Dean gently shoved his hands away and took a look at the damage. He frowned when he saw the large tear in Sammy's jeans and the raw, chafed skin beneath. A small trickle of blood had smeared and dried on Sammy's skin and Dean swallowed. He hated to see his little brother hurt. "Hey, it's not even that bad. Just a chafe. I'll go get you a Band-Aid and you're gonna be good as knew."
Sam's lips trembled but he bit his bottom lip, trying to be brave. "Can I get the Ninja Turtles one?"
"Sure you can, Sammy," Dean said with a soft smile. He had actually held onto that because it was kinda cool, but then again, he had never been able to deny Sam anything.
Sam hadn't been talking all day, which in on itself was reason enough to worry in Dean's book.
The kid hadn't eaten much either, just picked at his spaggethiOs until they turned cold.
"You okay?" Dean asked tentatively as he grabbed the plate and dumped the leftovers in the trash. "You're quiet."
Sam just shrugged, but there was something in the slump of his shoulders, in the way he kept his eyes downcast that gave him away.
Dean sighed and dumped the plate in the kitchen sink. "You wanna talk about it?"
Sam shrugged again and they were quiet like that for a moment.
Then he got up from his chair and grabbed his backpack from the floor, pulling out a crinkled looking card with glitter on it. It was pink and had an out-of-shape heart cut out in the middle. Dean's heart sank with bitter realization when he saw the words 'Happy mother's day' written in Sammy's scrawled handwriting.
"Ms. Chandler said I had to," Sammy admitted in a shaky voice, looking absolutely miserable and Dean felt an irrational surge of anger for Sammy's preschool teacher.
He the hell forced a kid through something like that, when they damn well knew that Sam didn't have a mom. He swallowed. "Did you tell her—"
Sam nodded and a tear slid from his eyes. He wiped at it angrily; his inability to keep his feelings in check making him even more upset and causing more tears to follow.
"Hey," Dean crouched down to be at Sam's eye level and cupped the side of Sam's face, thumb swiping through the wetness on his cheek. "Who says that it has to be mother's day? You can make cards for me if you want. I promise I won't make fun of them, no matter how girly they are."
Dean ruffled Sam's hair for emphasis, making sure the kid understood that he was just joking and Sam's expression brightened a bit.
"Really?" he sniffed, looking up at Dean with enough hope and gratitude and hero-worship that it made Dean swallow around the lump in his throat. "Yeah, really."
Sammy was six years old and he asked a lot of questions.
'Did she leave because of us?'
'Did she go to heaven?'
'Why didn't she take us with her? Doesn't she love us?'
Dean hated those questions; he hated his little brother for asking them because their dad didn't like it when they talked about her. It made him sad and it made him angry and sometimes it made him get that faraway look in his eyes and then he would leave and not return before late at night or early in the morning, reeking of cigarettes and alcohol.
But most of all, he hated those questions because they were the same questions that kept him up at night, the same questions Dean never got an answer to, no matter how hard he wanted to and it was just easier not to think about it.
"Maybe she left because you were asking so many stupid questions!" Dean burst out, his patience snapping.
Sam sucked in a breath, his hazel eyes widening with shock and hurt.
Dean watched his brother's eyes fill with tears and just like that his anger evaporated, guilt taking its place and nestling deep-deep in his chest. He could feel the kid's hurt- could see the slightest quiver in Sammy's bottom lip before he turned around to run off to the motel bathroom and slam the door shut. "Sammy, I didn't—"
The sound of the rusty pipes coming to life was followed by the slight pitter-patter of water hitting porcelain as the shower was turned on inside the bathroom, barely drowning out the kid's sobs.
Dean tried the lock twice, hammering against the door and calling Sam's name, before he slid down to the floor and drew his legs up against his chest, chin resting on his knee. He listened to Sammy's drowned out hurt and promised himself to never let anger get the better of him where their family was concerned. He couldn't let his own emotions run loose like that.
"Why can't I go?"
"Because I'm your father and I damn well said so, that's why."
The air was thick with tension in the seedy motel room they had chosen for the night and Dean tried his best to busy himself with cleaning guns and checking their supplies so as not to get tangled up in the fight his brother and father were having.
"It's just a damn soccer team! I don't understand why I can't—"
"Sam, I swear to god if you say the word soccer one more time I'll make you run laps til your legs fall off, you understand me?" Dad's voice was sharp like a knife and not leaving any room for further arguments. Dean had no doubt that the threat was as real as they got. Sammy was already in for the mother of all training sessions in boot camp Winchester and if he kept going at it, there would be hell to pay tomorrow morning. "I asked if you understood," John demanded.
Sam squared his shoulders, chin shifting out in that provocative little jut that meant he was about to do something incredibly stupid any moment and Dean couldn't help it. He could already see where things would go from here; Sam would give Dad lip, Dad would make him run five extra miles and Sam- being stubborn as he was, would do it, even though it would kill him. Kid was barely making it through their standard routine in boot camp Winchester.
So when Dean stepped up, straightening up to his full size and subtly placing himself before his little brother, he shot their dad a look that John knew better than to ignore.
"He got it, dad. He's not going to join the damn team, alright? I'll make sure of it."
"What?" Sam squeaked; his voice breaking like it did with all twelve-year-olds at that time.
"Shut up, Sam," Dean didn't look at his brother, keeping his eyes focused on his dad instead because he wanted for the older Winchester to back off, but also because he didn't want to see the look of betrayal on Sammy's face.
He wouldn't understand… he never did.
"He so much as sets a foot on that soccer field and I'll hold you accountable," John threatened, jabbing a finger at Dean's chest.
Dean took a deep breath- crisis averted- and nodded. "Yes, sir."
Dad drove off soon afterward and Dean was left to pick up the pieces.
"Look, Sammy," he sighed and turned around, ready calm the kid down from his teenager-hormone induced temper tantrum, but Sam barged past him, roughly shoving him out of the way. "Save it!"
Sam didn't talk to him for a whole week and Dean would never forget how much that hurt.
"Why aren't you eating?"
Because we don't have money and the last pool hassle went to shit.
Sam was growing like a damn weed and the kid ate a lot. Dean wasn't exaggerating; the kid could eat more than him at this point. Dean knew it was mainly because of his unbalanced metabolism trying to keep up with his rapidly changing body, but that didn't change the fact that dad had left them with thirty fucking bucks… a week ago and Dean only had a couple of scrunched up bills left in his pocket.
"I'm not hungry," Dean said. "I had lunch at school."
Sam frowned and dropped his sandwich back down to his plate. He looked at Dean like he could see straight through the lie; like all Dean's defense mechanisms, all his various poker faces meant nothing to him because he could see right through them all.
"Eat it," Dean bit out because on their way home Sam's stomach had been growling and he hadn't been able to shut up about food the entire drive from the school yard to the diner and Dean knew that it was essential for him, necessary even, for his bones and development and shit.
Dean was going to get them money somehow… he was going to get a job somewhere, wash dishes or work in a car shop somehow. Just to make do until dad was back. But he was not going to let Sam go to bed hungry. "Eat up and let's go home, Sammy. Dad's got research for us to do."
He took a sip from his water. It was his third glass since they got here.
"Wanna share?" Sam offered softly, looking a bit sheepish as he slid the plate across the table towards Dean.
Kid was much too smart for his own good.
"I told you I already had some at school," Dean shook his head and swallowed thickly, willing his stomach to be quiet in the wake of his lies. "Now eat up and let's go."
Sam hesitated for all but a second longer before he hesitantly started eating again.
That night, Sammy slept safe and sound, snoring softly on the mattress next to him and Dean tried not to think about how fucking hungry he was, how much he wished their dad would be here. He tried not to think about how he wasn't going to get a job anywhere because he didn't have insurance or a real address or fucking experience and no auto shop or grocery store or diner in their right mind would take him.
He tried not to think about his dad never coming back- about him lying somewhere in a puddle of his own blood, eyes staring lifelessly into nothingness; never to return.
He tried not to think about how they had spent their last crinkled bills on a sandwich.
Or about how much money he could make if he spent the night in the nearest trash-strewn alleyway.
When Sam was fourteen, he was gangly and shy and awkward nd he was the weird guy with the hand-me-down clothes who never really fit in anywhere.
Dean knew that Sam could hold his own in a fight; John and he had made sure of that. And granted, Sam wasn't the provocative type (unlike Dean himself) and he wasn't quick to pick a battle with anyone (save for their dad) but he knew how to defend himself and he was more than capable to knock someone on their ass if they damn well deserved it.
So when the kid came home from school with a busted nose and black eye, one gangly hand propped up against the doorframe to hold him up, Dean instantly knew that whatever happened couldn't have been a fair fight.
It wasn't until Dean had seen the tears of shame and utter, complete humiliation in his brother's eyes that he realized that something was really wrong, even more so than first suspected.
It took an hour- an entire hour- of careful coaxing and prodding until Sam finally broke down and told Dean everything; from the way they cornered him to the way they took a sharpie and wrote the word 'FREAK' all over his chest.
"They found my spell book," Sam admitted in between tears and hitched breaths, his arms still wrapped protectively around his chest as if to hide the word that was hidden beneath his shirt. "The one with the warding spells that dad wanted me to read. I took it to school and they…" Sam swallowed as another tear spilled from his eyes and Dean was going to kill them. He was going to kill every last one of those sons of bitches slowly and enjoy every fucking moment of it.
But first things first.
"C'mon, let's get that shit off your chest."
On Sam's seventeenth birthday, Dean bought him a pack of condoms and shoved them unceremoniously at his brother's chest, enjoying the way his kid brother sputtered and blushed all the way to his ears.
Sam had been talking about nothing else but this girl- Mindy- from his chemistry class for weeks on end. He had driven both Dean and their father up the fucking walls with his stories of what Mindy said and how smart she was and Dean figured that if the kid was ever going to lose his virginity, it was going to be with that Mindy chick.
It was about damn time, too.
"Look, this is gonna be awkward as hell, so I'll try to make it quick for both of our sake," Dean explained and tried not to chuckle at the increasingly uncomfortable expression on Sam's face. "Sex can be good, and I mean real good, but protection is key. Make sure to always wrap it before you tap it."
"Jesus, Dean" Sam looked mortified and Dean felt a smile tug on the corner of his lips.
He really didn't think he would enjoy this as much as he did, but it was fun to see Sammy get all panicked and embarrassed over something as basic as sex.
"I mean it," Dean insisted. "I'm talking syphilis, AIDS, genital herpes—"
"DEAN," Sam spat his name out in warning, eyes wide and cheeks flaming bright red. "I fucking get it, okay? I'll use protection. Now would you please shut up and never talk about this with me again."
"No, I'm not done yet," Dean said with a hard stare in Sam's direction. "Look, it's either me you're having this conversation with or dad."
Sam looked genuinely horrified at the thought of talking to dad about this, so he stared out of the window, cheeks flaring a bright red as he gave a minute nod of his head.
It was as much compliance as Dean was ever going to get. He sighed, "First couple of times, you're bound to push a little too hard on the gas pedal and stall your engine, alright? Happens to the best of us… so don't freak out. It's going to get better with time."
"Oh god. Please just kill me," Sam buried his face in his hands and Dean chuckled a little, shaking his head in amusement.
"If a girl ever tells you they're on the pill or whatever, that's cool, but you should still always come packin'. STD's aren't fun- trust me I know what I'm talking about…"
Sam's face turned into a grimace.
"But it's a pregnancy you should be most afraid of," Dean ventured on. "Cause Dad will kill you if you ever get some girl knocked up and even I won't be able to save you."
They fell into an awkward silence and when Dean pulled up in the driveway, he turned around, looking intently at Sam across the leather bench of the Impala. "I know I give you a lot of shit, but if you have questions…"
"I get it," Sam cut him off, obviously waiting for the conversation to end. "Can I go now?"
"Yeah," Dean smirked, thinking that they had managed quite well as far as the sex talks went. "Yeah, you can go."
Maybe they hadn't covered every topic they should have, but it was still more than Dean had ever gotten.
When Sam was little he used to crawl into bed with Dean, wrapping his lanky octopus arms around Dean's middle and tucking his face into the place between Dean's shoulder and neck. He would randomly tackle Dean or hug him or smile up at him like he hung the fucking moon or something.
Now, with Sam nearing eighteen, he got less and less affectionate; distancing himself from Dean in physical and emotional ways. Dean knew that it was because he was older now, more self-dependent. But that wasn't all there was to it.
Sam wanted more.
He wanted normal.
He wanted out.
And no matter how hard Dean had tried to ignore all the signs that his little brother was preparing to leave the hunting life, to leave this life, to leave them- all the fake pretense had crumbled when he had found Sam's acceptance letter to Stanford in his back bag one day.
Dean had unfolded it with shaking hands and read it three times. Then he had put it bag in Sam's bag. He had locked himself in the bathroom, slid to the floor and drawn his knees up to his chest and buried his face in his hands and bawled.
Sam was leaving, he was leaving and it had all built up for so many damn years- from the fights with dad to the way he had buried his nose in books and aced all his exams- Sam had been planning this for pretty much all his teenage life and somewhere deep down inside Dean had known. Of course, he had.
He had known that this dimple-faced, floppy-haired kid, his reason to get up in the morning, his only source of hope and happiness in this world was slowly slipping through his fingers and he had been powerless to stop it from happening.
Dean wondered if this was what it felt like for all parents when their kids left for college.
If it felt like their heart was stomped on and torn to shreds and left to die.
He doubted it.
"I had to be more than just a brother," Dean said and it was the first time he allowed the words to pass his lips. " I had to be a father and I had to be a mother, to keep him safe. And that wasn't fair."
All these years, from the moment their mother had burned on that ceiling, to this very day, Dean had been Sam's protector, his caretaker, his role model, and guardian.
He had to sacrifice his own childhood, his own wishes and longings to be able to provide for Sam.
He had to be strong for Sam, even when he was nothing but a frightened kid himself.
He had to be the peacemaker between Sam and their dad, had to play referee in their family's never ending tug of war, even when it tore his heart apart because all he ever wanted was for them to be together, to go back to how things used to be before she died.
He could never just be what he wanted, never be just Dean without having to think of them first.
And none of that- NONE of it- was fair.
And yet it wasn't the loss of his own childhood or innocence that Dean mourned. It wasn't his own hurt and all the terrible things that had happened to him throughout his life that he blamed Mary for but it was Sam's.
It was because of her death that dad went off the rails and ultimately, it was her death that had led to Dean taking responsibility of Sam as a child, to protect his little brother at all costs, to give himself up entirely just to keep the kid safe and happy and innocent for a little while longer…
And Dean had done it gladly.
He wasn't even sure if he would have survived at all if it hadn't been for Sam needing him.
His brother had given him a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning, a will to survive.
And Dean didn't blame Mary for that, for giving him that, he had never thought of Sam as a burden.
What he did blame her for, was for making Sam the center of his world, making him Dean's responsibility- his reason to breathe- and then damning Sam to a life full of misery and hurt and grief and loss. Damning him to be Azazel's chosen one, damning him to die, to get addicted to demon blood, to spend a small eternity locked up in Lucifer's cage because Dean was helpless to protect him from any of that. He was forced to watch it happen. And it was all because of Mary.
"And I couldn't do it," Dean's voice broke. "You wanna know what that was like? They killed the girl he loved. He got possessed by Lucifer. They tortured him in Hell. And he lost his soul. His soul."
Dean rounded on Mary, heart thudding in his chest. "All because of you. All of it was because of you."
Dean didn't care about the shit that he had to give up, all the sacrifices he had had to make, all those years he'd spent on the rack himself because those were prices he had been willing to pay for Sam.
And none of it, not even Alistair or getting turned into a Demon, had hurt as much as losing Sam over and over again, as having to watch him get turned and corrupted by evil- as being forced to stand by and say nothing as the kid he raised doomed himself to an eternity in hell, with Lucifer.
"I hate you," Dean said because she had left them to pick up the pieces. She had left them with a broken man of a father and a demon on their heels and she had left them to fend for themselves in a world full of darkness and evil. "I hate you," Dean's voice broke on the words. "And I love you… cause I can't—I can't help it. You're my mom."
Dean knew what it was like to love so unconditionally- so whole-heartedly that it consumed your every thought and move, that it swallowed every sliver of rationality in your mind. He had been there, where she was, on the ground, cradling his entire world to his chest and thinking of a way to reverse this pain, to make things right again.
Dean understood. He knew what it was like.
"And I understand 'cause I have made deals to save the ones I love more than once."
Family was everything.
Dean regretted none of his choices, no matter the consequences they had brought along. Not when, inevitably, they had brought his brother back to his side.
"I forgive you," Dean said. "I forgive you, for all of it. Everything. On the other side of this, we can start over, okay? You, me, Sam."
They could go back to being a family. The three of them, together.
"We can get it right this time," Dean insisted. "But I need you to fight. Right now, I need you to fight. I need you - I need you to look at me, Mom. I need you to really look at me and see me."
Dean was pleading with her, voice desperate and shaky. Mary's torso was still turned away from him but he knew that she was listening, he could see the tension in her shoulders, could tell that she was hearing him and facing the guilt she had run from all these months. Finally, finally he was breaking through to her and Dean just wanted her to look at him. To see the man he had turned into, scarred and battered but alive and mature enough to mend these age-old wounds. Mature enough to move on.
"Mom, I need you to see me," he rasped out brokenly, tears swimming in his eyes.
All he had ever wanted was for his family to see him.
And then, finally, Mary turned around, raising her eyes to meet his. "Dean?"
"Mom," Dean let out breathlessly, relief making his legs shaky.
Looking at Sam as he hugged their mom against his broad chest, forgiving her so easily- just like he'd done all his life, Dean smiled.
"I'm glad you're back, man," he said and squeezed Sam's shoulder. Their eyes met over their mom's head and Dean tried to convey how proud he was of the man Sam had turned into, of how much he fucking loved the kid. Sam held his gaze, emotion lighting up his eyes and Dean stepped forward, feeling his brother's strong arms snake around him as he joined the hug.
Dean closed his eyes and basked in the moment, feeling the broken pieces of his heart realigning themselves in his chest and slipping back into place.
His kid had come a long way.
And Dean couldn't be more proud of him if he tried.
A/N: Hey guys, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this. As most of you know, I didn't particularly like this season, however, I have to admit that I loved the season finale. Dean's confrontation with Mary was beautiful and I'm glad that the show addressed how Dean had to be Sam's parent in order to raise and protect him. I hope that the show will return to its original roots and focus more on the brotherly bond in the next season. And of course, I also hope you liked the story! Please drop me a note if you did! Reviews are love :)