To say that Sam's journey up the stairs was laborious would be to make a very accurate statement. Even once begun, he and Dean rested longer between each step than they spent going up each step. Sam was obviously exhausted, completely drained of strength, energy, and bodily fluids. Dean was obviously concerned, protective, and determined to see Sam to the first floor, even if it took the rest of the present millennium.
Though I could determine no valid reason to subject Sam to this prolonged struggle when I could have him anywhere in the house, anywhere in the world, in the blink of an eye, I kept my opinion to myself. Especially since importuning Dean always has the effect opposite of what is wanted.
Well, I thought I was keeping it to myself, but as Sam rested on the middle step of Bobby's basement stairs, Dean turned to me.
"Hey, Grumpy. If you need something to do other than complain, why don't you go put a chair at the top of the steps? Sammy's gonna need to sit and catch his breath when we get there."
I glared at him briefly then removed myself to the kitchen to get the requested chair.
"How're they doing?" Bobby asked me.
"Sam refuses to be moved except by his own power, and Dean refuses to make Sam move other than by his own power."
"You've known these boys how long, and you're still realizing just how stubborn they can be?"
"It would be in Sam's best interest to allow me to place him in his bed or in your shower or even in this chair rather than continue this journey under his own power."
"Trust me - it's in Sam's best interest that he make however long a trip it turns out to be under his own power and with Dean by his side."
As there was no argument to be made against that statement, I started to take the chair that Dean had requested out of the kitchen, but Bobby turned his wheelchair towards me.
"Didn't you say you got into Sam's head last night, worked some mojo on him that helped him get to sleep?"
"Yes, I projected one of his own memories into his conscious mind so that he perceived Dean from a time in his life when he felt -."
My description was cut short by Bobby making a gesture with his hand that I knew indicated that completing the rest of my story was unnecessary.
"So why don't you try the same on Dean? Stick some memory in there that'll get him to want to help Sam a little faster."
As I put the chair into place near the top of the basement stairs, I saw that Dean and Sam had progressed to the third from the top step. At this rate, Sam would be in bed by summer. Any effort would be worth trying if it meant he would be at rest within the current solar cycle.
I projected my will into Dean's subconscious. I could see what Dean saw while still being able to see through my vessel's eyes.
"Dean?" Sam said. Through Dean's eyes I saw that Dean saw his eight year old brother on the stair beside him.
"How're you doing, Sammy?" Dean expressed no surprise, only concern.
"I don't know if I can make it."
"Sure you can. Here. It's just a few more steps." Dean put his arm around Sam's back and with relative ease impelled him up the last two stairs and to the chair I had placed there. "All right, here we go."
Dean sat Sam in the chair, wrapped a blanket around him, and crouched next to him, keeping his arm around Sam's back.
Sam shook his head and bowed himself almost in half in misery. He pulled the blanket closer and rocked himself in his chair.
"Okay. We'll get through this, don't worry. Bobby - Gatorade?"
Bobby handed Dean a bottle of green liquid, the lid of which had already been removed. Dean pulled Sam gently to rest against his chest and offered him the liquid, but Sam shook his head. I saw the full grown Sam Winchester shaking and sweating and refusing refreshment. Dean only saw his small brother Sammy, tucked into his arms, in need of absolute attention and care.
"Just sips, OK?" Dean said it as though Sam had agreed to be thus dosed. "No sense tossing it all back up again."
Sam, both Sams, gave in and took a sip.
Then, to Dean's mind, it was just the two of them. Bobby and I ceased to register in his awareness. For a half hour or more, he sheltered Sam under his arm and continued to ply him with the green liquid. Sam, young Sam to Dean's eyes, took consistent sips and stayed pressed against him, letting himself be rocked and soothed and cared for.
As Sam took more sips, as he gained strength, as his posture righted itself more and more, I could feel within Dean a growing warmth of affection and relief. Sam was gaining and so all in his world at the moment was right.
When all the liquid was gone, Dean set the empty bottle on the floor and addressed Sam.
"What do you think, Sammy? Ready to apply some water to the outside?"
Sam, young Sam, eight year old Sammy, sat fully upright, looked into Dean's eyes, and nodded. I felt the charge of pride rise into Dean's chest.
"Okay. Good. That's good. Let's head down to Bobby's bathroom, see if we can remember where he hides his stash of Mr. Bubble."
"I do not have Mr. Bubble -" Bobby sputtered behind me but Dean was still tuning out any presence but Winchester presence. He helped Sammy stand up, kept his grip around his back, and took each interminable step with him down the hallway to the bathroom. Sam, Sammy, shuffled along and Dean kept up a monologue of the progress they were making and what would happen after they accomplished the shower.
And with every step they took, the warmth and affection grew inside of him.
Once inside the bathroom, Dean released his grip on Sam and pulled the blanket from his shoulders to let it pool onto the floor. He turned the water on in the bathtub and poured a dollop of shampoo into it to bubble up.
"All right, let's get this show on the road."
To my view, as I closed the door behind them, very adult Sam looked down to the top of Dean's head, bent down as he worked the buttons on Sam's shirt. To Dean's view, Sammy stood there quietly and let his brother undress him.
That is, until his shirts were off and his jeans were about to be removed.
"Dean, I can do it." Was Sam's plaintive remark.
"Sammy, you can barely stand on your own two feet. C'mon, I promise - I won't even look."
True to his word, Dean closed his eyes as he helped Sam become fully undressed and kept them closed until he heard Sam deposit himself into the warm water. When Dean opened his eyes again, his brother's posture in the bathtub was much the same as it had been in the chair: huddled, exhausted, and miserable.
"All right, let's get some warm water running through the shower hose." Dean said, as he reached for said hose. Sammy made an effort to lift the bottle of shampoo from the corner of the tub, but it sagged in his fingers, and Dean took it from him. "Thanks."
One might've expected Dean to feel aggravation, anguish, even just his own exhaustion as he continued to take almost total care of his brother, but all I sensed in him was a swell of gentle, affectionate, loving, protective feelings, maternal feelings, as he wet and washed and rinsed Sam's hair for him.
When Dean reached for the washcloth and soap though, Sam stopped him.
"I can do it, Dean."
Dean felt some reluctance, but he also felt the force of the look of determination that he saw on Sam's face.
"All right. I've got your pack out there, I'll bring in your clean clothes."
I met Dean at the bathroom door with Sam's backpack in my hand.
As he pulled a bundle of clothing out and handed the backpack back to me, I asked,
"When Sam has finished showering, please allow me to remove him to his bed instead of making him exert himself again. He can certainly have no energy left for that."
Dean gave me a look, reached in to place the bundle of clothing on the sink in the bathroom, closed the door over again, and then indicated that we should walk farther away from the door, farther away from Sam.
"Look - whatever happens is going to be what Sammy wants to happen. You saw him these past four days - he lost his dignity, his freedom, and practically his sanity. If he decides he wants to walk to Tijuana, I'll walk with him."
Having thusly resolved the matter, Dean released me once again from his awareness, walked back to the bathroom and called in,
"Don't fall asleep in there and drown, Sammy. I couldn't take the irony right now."
He received an answering laugh from behind the bathroom door.
Dean waited outside the bathroom, leaning back against the wall next to the door, until Sammy was washed and clean and dressed in warm clothes and standing in the doorway, looking at his big brother with much the same warm, tired smile with which his big brother was looking at him.
"Looking good, Sammy. Ready for something to eat?"
"I'll give it a try."
"All right then." Dean put his arm around Sam's shoulders, and they progressed to the kitchen at a slightly faster pace than they had managed previously. Once there, Dean pulled out a chair for Sam at the table.
"Thanks, Dean." Sammy said, gracing his brother with a blinding smile.
Dean was practically afire, he was so happy to have Sam doing as well as he seemed to be. I have never felt such an intense sensation. It was intriguing and gratifying to experience such overwhelming, unconditional love.
While Sam waited at the table, Dean filled a glass with milk for him. And then filled it again when Sam immediately drank the first one down. And then waited a few moments to see if the second glass would disappear as quickly as the first. When it didn't, he set the carton of milk on the table.
"All right, Sammy. The Winchester Grille is officially open. What's your pleasure?"
A look of puzzlement creased Sam's face and it was clearly with some effort that he finally decided,
"Peanut butter? Can I have peanut butter like you used to make me?"
"You got it."
Two slices of white bread were toasted and then liberally covered with margarine and peanut butter. They were pressed together, placed on a small plate, cut in half on the diagonal and then one of those halves was cut again into two triangles, and then the whole was quite ceremoniously placed before Sam, which elicited a snigger from him.
"Fancy, Dean. You gonna fluff my napkin, too?"
Dean grinned and leaned back against the sink to watch Sam eat his sandwich, which he did with some fervor. In less than two minutes, he had consumed it entirely.
"Would you make me another one?" Sammy asked Dean, and Dean all but lit up inside with pride and love and affection as he turned to fulfill his brother's request.
Watching Dean from outside his own consciousness never affords one much indication of the depth of his feelings, unless he were to be provoked of course. The view from inside was quite eye opening, even humbling, to find such a bond of unconditional, unbreakable love between these otherwise all-too-flawed brothers.
When the second sandwich and glass of milk had been consumed and Sam declined the offer of more of either, Dean put the milk in the refrigerator and the used dishes in the sink and patted Sammy on the shoulder.
"Think you can make the trek upstairs? Otherwise, the Castiel Express leaves whenever you want."
As willing as I was - as anxious as I was - to place Sam anywhere he wanted to be, I could sense that Dean wanted him to accomplish this final leg of the journey as he had the previous, under his own power. He wanted Sam to want to accomplish it under his own power.
Sam did not - indeed, could not - disappoint Dean.
"I feel better, I can walk upstairs."
The intensity of Dean's pride and relief nearly drove me from his subconsciousness.
Fortunately, the journey up to the second floor was accomplished with more speed and less rest periods than the journey to the first floor had required. Dean kept one step behind Sam up the staircase and down the hallway and into the room they occupied whenever they stayed with Bobby.
By now, as Sam's condition had improved, Dean's own exhaustion had caught up with him. As he pushed Sam toward the one bed, he sat down on the other.
"All right, Sammy. Lights out. Let's get some real shut eye."
Sammy had a slightly different idea in mind.
"You lay down first, Dean."
Dean pondered this a moment until he deciphered - he thought - Sammy's request. He pushed himself into the bed and tiredly patted the mattress.
"All right, c'mon. Hop in."
Sammy stared at him a moment with incredulity tinged with amusement.
"Dude, I'm flattered. Really. You're just not my type. I meant - you need to sleep as much as I do. I'll lay down when you do."
"Nope, you first." Dean said. He pushed himself back off the bed and with a gesture indicated Sam should stand up, which he did, long enough for Dean to pull the blankets back. Then Dean gestured him into the bed and pulled the blankets up over his - Sammy - didn't lay down immediately though.
"No kiss goodnight?" He asked with a definite grin of facetiousness. Dean didn't hesitate however. He put his hands on either side of Sammy's face and kissed him on the top of the head. Sammy laughed and tucked himself under the blankets and closed his eyes. Only then did Dean lay down on his own bed. I removed myself from his consciousness as he succumbed to sleep.
"Well?" Bobby asked when I joined him in the library. "How'd it go?"
"Dean's psyche is a very strenuous place to be."
"Ha. Tell me something that might surprise me." He laughed. "Did you work some mojo on him?"
I deposited myself in a chair to tell my tale. I felt weary. Perhaps Dean's exhaustion had had some influence on me.
"Dean saw Sam, not as he is now, not as we see him, rather he saw him as he was when he was eight years old."
I had given this some thought.
"Sam was eight when he first acquired the truth of their lives. It was the first time his faith in his father was tested and found wanting and therefore it was the beginning of Sam's deeper belief in and reliance on Dean as protector. And though it was only the beginning, I believe it is the time when Dean felt most competent in that role."
"Well, since both boys are upstairs and quiet now, I guess you made a good choice."
"On the contrary, it was not my choice." I told him. "I was merely an observer; I exerted no influence on Dean. He saw Sam as an eight year old because he saw Sam as an eight year old. It would be my conjecture that whenever Sam is ill, injured, or in peril, Dean sets aside his awareness of Sam as an adult and instead perceives him as a young boy in need of - and subject to - his help, protection, and solace."
Bobby, for a moment, was silent.
"Don't that beat all…" He said, with some wonder.
"Yes." I said. Knowing the force and motivation of the passion underneath Dean's perception of his brother, I had to agree with Bobby. "It does beat all…"