Moving on

Disclaimer: Supernatural doesn't belong to me, nor do Dean, Sam, or the other characters you recognise. I am making no money so please don't come looking for me.

Warning: some violence as the story progresses

Spoilers - post-end of Series 1 Devil's Trap so some passing mention of events in Season episodes such as Faith, Home, Devil's Trap etc.

Author's Note: Depending which episode I have watched most recently, my feelings about John Winchester vary. If you are a fan of JW - don't read and flame - this story for reasons best known to itself was not kind to him - if that is going to upset you, please don't read on. This story continues the events in the story "There's a Way Through to the Other Side"

Chapter 1 - Settling in

They're a handful these boys, 23 and 27 and in different circumstances old enough to know better. I sometimes wonder what I've let myself in for, bringing them here.

Right now, you don't see how strong they really are. The best and worst way to find out is to threaten one and watch the other react. I've always known it of Dean, from the first time I met them. He was barely seven and so fiercely protective of his brother. Sam, at the time, was happily oblivious to it all and in some respects that continued until these last few months. Sam began to fight back out of his unhappy lot when he reached his teen years. He never realised that he could do that because of the protection of his brother. I wonder sometimes what Sam would have been like without Dean's protection or even what he would have been like had he realised it was there.

I don't know everything these boys have seen and experienced as children and since. They rarely share any information on the subject. Sam, always the more vocal of the two, is adamant now that he will only talk about the good things in front of Dean, rebuilding his brother's strength. Talk he does, on and on when his brother, too tired to move, can barely keep his eyes open. He talks until Dean, exhausted, whispers, "Enough, Sam. It's fine, enough." Sam falls silent, but he doesn't leave immediately, just watches Dean sleep for a while.

So broken, I know Sam sees it now, just how broken his brother really is. I watch him and see him wonder how he missed it for so long. How did Dean hold on for so long? What held him together?

I don't know how to help them. I've offered shelter and food. These boys are so self-reliant; they find it difficult to accept even that, though Sam is more willing than Dean. Dean is finding this so hard and I don't know how to put his mind at rest, that I expect nothing in return. This is my apology for not acting when they were children and Jim, Caleb and I first saw what was happening. We talked about it, talked about taking them in, finding them somewhere safe but John was a strong man and Missouri had faith in him to do the right thing. We were all wrong. We share the blame but not equally. For the shell of a boy in front of me, I lay the blame at his father's door.

He stands there, determined to finish the meal he is preparing despite exhaustion. Dean, each day, sets himself a number of tasks he must complete. It is his way of paying for what I have offered freely. He asks daily if it's okay for them to stay another day, the rest of the week, a little longer. Each day, I see him hoping he will be stronger, better, be himself. Each day, I watch him head to bed, disappointed by his weakness, by his need to rely on others. Each day, he sees how he has failed, while Sam and I see how much he has achieved. Sam and I look for the merest whisper that Dean is coming back and we find it every time we look at him. We see it when he is awake longer, he smiled unforced, he answered back, he made a decision alone, he was left alone for longer. Dean sees only the failure of what he hasn't done and didn't manage.

I wonder if that is too much a part of him for him to be able to let it go. If this is the Dean we've always known, just without the covering act in place. Stronger he is. I can see it in the growing arguments with Sam.

Sam sees life in black and white, right and wrong, Dean and John. Dean wins hands down in Sam's eyes.

Dean sees life in shades of grey. He sees not what's right or wrong but how close he can get to keeping everyone else happy and safe.

Black and white is surprisingly easier to deal with because Sam's happy enough with it. The problem is with Dean's particular shades of grey. Dean aims for black and white and grey is never close enough to either for him to succeed, so Dean always fails.

Over the weeks, Dean's strength has gradually returned and although he is not yet himself, he is much improved. Each morning, he is up with Sam, watching as he leaves for work, having checked and re-checked numerous times what time Sam will be back, but each day he lets him go without a murmur of complaint or coercion to stay. Each day, I watch him wait, clockwatching, from somewhere as the time approaches for Sam's return. As he is never in the same place twice, I wonder if either of them have realised what he's doing.

He is driven. The more he recovers the more his maturity shows. The impression he has given for years of being carefree, off-hand and a joker are masks. In reality, he is deeply sensitive and caring, aware of how bad the world can really be and of his own need to protect others from that.

I watch as Dean fights to balance the knowledge that his brother has grown now with the desire to protect Sam at all costs as he has done since they were children.

John's name is barely mentioned after some early arguments. Sam is resolute that he will not discuss his father. Dean tried at first to portray some of John's actions in a favourable light but has never once suggested any kind of contact and now does not mention him at all.

Dean's walls of self-protection are going back up but it is a slow process and they are shaky and tenuous, lacking the underlying foundation they had before. Now it is Sam who damages them easiest and most. His actions are thoughtless and the damage unintentional. Sam is used to Dean acting strong so he forgets how precarious the shield now is. They fight and Sam doesn't always remember to hold back