Dean decided to open his eyes. He'd opened them before, briefly, when he was still on the breathing tube, and when they took the tube out, and a couple of time since then. When Sam took a rare bathroom break and Cas paid a visit, Dean opened his eyes then. Other than that, he only opened his eyes briefly, just briefly. Because other than Cas's visit, other than the occasional bathroom break, Sam was always there with a guilty expression and a cup of ice chips and Dean wasn't in the mood for any of them.
When he first started waking up, the first thing Dean was aware of was Sam. Even half-unconscious and half-blind with swollen eyes, Dean knew Sam was there. He could feel his hand on his forehead, rough and gentle, fingers curling into his hair and against his scalp, his thumb rubbing across his forehead. He could hear Sam's voice, deep with restrained anger and blatant panic, badgering the doctors and nurses for their interpretation of Dean's every mutter and twitch and groan. And even when Sam wasn't making physical contact, when he was just sitting in the chair, Dean could feel him in the room.
That was the usual way of their hospital stays - one Winchester down, one Winchester standing guard. No matter what else was going on, how bad the fights or hard the feelings between any of them - one Winchester down meant one Winchester on guard, staying on guard until the danger was over. And Sam was here with him now. Guarding him.
Sometimes, when the low buzz of noise meant no one else was around, sometimes Dean heard the wet sniffles of Sam crying and felt the huge calloused fingers fumble around his own to hold on in a desperate, damp, grip.
When that happened, when that used to happen, normally, usually, even half-unconscious Dean would've pulled himself awake and comforted Sam. But now, Dean preferred to keep his eyes closed, not let on that he knew Sam was upset, preferred to just feel Sam's hand on his and leave it at that. The sooner he really woke up, the sooner he'd either have to tell Sam that when he broke in hell he'd broken the first seal, or he'd have to put that information in the package that he carried with him of all the things he didn't tell Sam about.
It was easier to keep his eyes closed and stay on the outside track just a little bit longer.
Finally though Dean decided to open his eyes. He was thirsty and the nasal cannula was blowing holes through his sinuses, and he felt so miserable he didn't even care if any of the nurses were hot or not.
Sam was in his chair, one hand holding the cup of ice and the other supporting his head, shielding his eyes. He looked like Dad doing that. But Dean didn't want to - couldn't - think about Dad right now.
"Hey." He tried. It didn't sound like more than a breath, even to himself, but Sam heard it. His head snapped up and he exploded to his feet, hitting the railing so hard the bed shook.
Here came the chick flick moment Dean had been expecting and hoping to avoid. He took a deep breath and braced himself for the tenderness and affection, the apologies and self-recriminations.
The anger surprised him.
"About damn time." Sam snapped. "Damn angels. Damn useless angels. Who the hell do they think they are? Where the hell do they get off -." He broke off, probably because Dean was looking at him like he was growing an extra head. Sam was dissing angels?
"You want some ice chips?" He dug in the cup like he was digging for China and pushed it at Dean before Dean said yes or no.
"Angels pissing you off?" Dean asked. His voice was soft and his throat was sore. He was going to accept the ice but Sam pulled his hand - and the spoon - away.
"They took you." Sam said, apparently explaining his delay in finding Dean, obviously reliving his panic. His anger had given way to guilt and fear. "I had no idea where you were. I got there as fast as I could. You were - I thought -." He started to shake and Dean pulled a leaden hand off the bed to take Sam's wrist before he accidentally dumped the spoon, and he pulled Sam's hand close enough to take the ice. Sam didn't even seem to notice.
"You were - you were just - lying there. Bloody. All bloody and I thought - all I could see - all I could think -." Sam was attacking the ice again, so desperately Dean thought he'd put the spoon through the bottom of the Styrofoam cup.
"Hellhound." Sam spat out. "All I could think - all I could remember - it's only been ten months - and the blood and the smell -."
He offered Dean another shaky spoonful and Dean held his wrist again as he took it so he didn't end up wearing the ice.
"Sam -." He started to say but melting ice overran his lip and down his chin.
"You were so - I couldn't even tell if you were breathing -." Sam apparently noticed the drip and looked around, probably for a napkin. He kept talking while he looked. "I had to carry you out of there. I couldn't have the paramedics see - see all the -." He gave up on the napkin, pulled his shirt cuff over his fingers and wiped the water off of Dean's chin with it.
"You almost suffocated. Your throat was swelling up, they had to put that tube in. Just like - after the car accident - you had a tube then. Only this time they said you'd recover but you wouldn't wake up and your damn angel couldn't do a damn thing to help you and - and - I just - I needed you to wake up."
Sam stopped talking but he was still shaking and Dean still had hold of his wrist.
"How long?" Dean asked, shaking Sam's wrist a little to get him to look at him.
"How long? Two days. Two and a half days. They kept you really sedated the first twenty-four hours, because of your throat and the tube."
"Did you -." Dean was going to ask if Sam ate or slept but Sam cut him off.
"I thought you were dead. You were still and bloody and I can't lose you anymore Dean. I can't. I just can't."
He squeezed his eyes shut, forcing tears down his face. He was shaking so hard Dean was afraid he would collapse, and if he collapsed, for sure he was going to take out the bed and Dean along with it.
"Sit." It was all Dean could get out with his sore throat and his crappy mood. Sam turned but all he did was set the cup and spoon on the overbed table next to the bed. Then he turned back to Dean. He put his hand on Dean's forehead.
"Y'okay? What do you need? You need anything? You must be hungry. I think they might got you on liquids, I could check. Y'okay? Dean?"
Bobby asked Dean once what he thought it was like being the youngest Winchester and right now Dean really knew. He recognized his own actions in what Sam was doing, making physical contact, forcing eye contact, demanding immediate if not instant answers, and not for the first time in the six months he'd been back, Dean saw how much Sam had changed, how much older he'd gotten, how much he'd grown into his age and experience and the needs of what his life had been without Dean.
For the first time in those six months, for the first time Dean didn't care that Sam was taking charge. It didn't feel wrong for Sam to be the older brother, the stronger brother looking out for the weaker.
Dean had been in charge twenty-five years, since he first took care of a drooly, wobbly, soggy baby Sam. Then he learned to take care of Dad, learned to bear the responsibilities of family and home, until finally today he learned that he bore the responsibility of dooming and saving the whole world.
It was enough. It was too much. He couldn't do it anymore. He didn't care who did do it, as long as it wasn't him.
"Dean? You with me man? Hunh? You hungry?"
More tears ran down Sam's face and he wiped them away and Dean almost smiled thinking that sometimes it seemed like he still had the care of a soggy Sammy.
"You're gonna be okay. Okay?" Sam wrapped both hands around Dean's hand. He was asking for Dean's agreement even more than he was offering assurance. "You're gonna be okay."
Dean didn't say anything. Sam had no way of knowing yet that Dean would never be okay again.
"He's dead." Sam said.
Dean thought for a second that he should care who Sam was talking about, but he didn't. Sam wasn't dead and so Dean didn't care who was.
"Dean? Alistair's dead."
What did he want? A thank you? Congratulations? Dean's opinion that he'd done the right thing the right way?
"Oh. Yeah, uh - yeah. You want some more ice?"
Sam spooned some more up and Dean took it.
"I'm gonna take care of you Dean. Okay? Angels, demons - I don't care. I don't care what it takes, I don't care what I have to do or who I have to kill. I'm taking care of you."
For the first time in six months, for the first time in twenty-five years, Dean didn't automatically push back against the thought of being taken care of. He could fall and Sam was more than big enough to catch him. Just let him sleep. Just let him hide. Just let him not be responsible anymore.
"I just – I just -."
"What?" Sam leaned down closer, tugging the blanket a little higher and letting his hand rest on Dean's chest.
Honestly, Dean didn't know. He lifted his hand and laid it against Sam's face, and Sam leaned even closer, looking hard into Dean's eyes.
"Dean - what?"
What Dean did know was that Sam was there, with him. Exhausted, scared, he probably hadn't eaten in those two and half days. But he was right there. Standing guard. It was enough. Dean looked into Sam's eyes and nodded.
"You sleep Dean, okay?" Sam put his hand over Dean's for a minute, then brought it down to tuck under the blanket. "You know I'll be here. You know I'm not going anywhere. Okay? You go back to sleep."
Dean nodded and closed his eyes and Sam stayed standing next to the bed. Standing guard.
It was more than enough. It was all Dean ever had.