Dean looked down at that chubby little face, where every emotion could be read just as soon as it was felt, looked at the little hands that even at three and a half had eagerly reached out to save wayward insects, the arms that always reached so easily for hugs and 'ups' from Dean and Dad.
"You think I'm afraid of you?"
Sammy's face scrunched up like he had to think about the question.
"Not 'fraid - scared." He clarified and Dean had to shake his head. Yep, even at three and a half, Sammy could be so precise with words and meanings.
"What's the difference?"
The scrunched face opened into wide eyes and another downturned pout.
"Scared is bigger."
Dean pulled him closer, scooping him up in his arms like he did when Sammy was a baby. He could feel the shudders running all through the warm, chubby, little body as Sammy turned towards him, pressing against him.
"Why do you think I'm scared of you?"
Dean thought he might get the 'I dunno' answer again. But Sammy looked over his shoulder at Sam.
"Sammy, listen to me." Dean put his hand on Sammy's cheek to turn his face back. When the little eyes were fixed on his, he said, "I have never, ever, been scared of you. Not at any time, not at any size, not for any reason. How could I be scared of the best kid in the whole world?"
"Nuh unh." Sammy insisted. "Nuh unh. You look, you scared." He gestured over to sleeping Sam. His voice became insistent, verging on tears of panic. "You scared. You scared."
Dean shushed him and held him tight. As Sammy's hands clung around his neck and his heartbeat quivered against Dean's chest, Dean looked at Sam.
Scared of him? Scared of Sam? Never. Scared for him, sure, every second of every day of every lifetime Dean had ever lived. But even at Sam's worst, even at his most incensed, blood-filled, violent, or even soulless self, Dean had never feared Sam. Been aggravated at him, pissed, fed up, clueless, and pragmatic about him.
If Sammy thought that Dean was scared of Sam, did it mean Sam thought it too?
"Sammy?" Dean shifted a little to get Sammy to look up at him. "Do you know what he's thinking?" He gestured with his head over to Big Sam. "Does he think I'm scared of him?"
Again, the little eyebrows pulled together because the oversized-even-at-that-age brain had to think about it before answering. Sammy looked over at Sam and he thought, and the harder he thought, the faster his breath came, as though thinking was as taxing as running. Huge tears filled the little eyes again.
"What? What is it, Sammy? Do you know what he's thinking?"
"Uh hunh." Sammy nodded.
"What? What's he thinking?"
"He sorry, Dean. He sorry." He said it desperately, like he had to make Dean believe it or else.
"Sorry? Sorry for what?"
Sammy looked over at Sam again, his breath kept coming fast and agonized and his body shook like he was freezing. It felt to Dean like he was gearing up for either a blow up or a melt-down and he stood up and started pacing again, hoping to get Sammy's mind on something else.
"You know what? Never mind. Stupid question anyway. What doesn't Sam feel sorry for, hunh? Never mind."
He paced and rubbed Sammy's back and held him close. This time though, Sammy wasn't as easy to soothe. He snuffled and sobbed and clung to Dean by arms and legs.
"Hey, hey, Tiger. It's okay, it's okay." Dean tried. "We're fine. We're okay. Everybody here is okay."
"Nuh unh, nuh unh, nuh - nuh -."
Sammy clung tighter and cried harder, wearing out, Dean knew from experience. He had to get him to go to sleep or he'd have an all-out melt-down.
"Okay, Sammy, okay. Shh, shhhh. Come on. You gotta calm down. You gotta get some sleep or you'll wake yourself up. Shh. Come on."
It didn't work though. Little Sammy sobbed and shook, until his voice started sounding hoarse. Time for the big guns.
Dean sat on the edge of the bed with Sammy in his arms to rock him back and forth.
And he sang.
"Hey, Dude, don't make Dad mad
It's not a bad song,
but the Beatles sing it better.
Remember not to put the horse before the cart
Then you can start
To make it better…"
It actually started to work, Sammy started to calm down, coughing instead of sobbing, twitching instead of shaking.
"Hey, Dude, you know jeans fade
They were made to
Wear out in washing
Remember to suture each layer of skin
Then you'll begin
to make it better…"
Sammy was quiet then, dozing, so Dean skipped to quietly humming, 'na na na na…' until he was sure his little Little Brother was finally fully asleep.
Which apparently meant that it was time for his big Little Brother to wake up.
"Dean?" Sam asked, not lifting his head or looking back.
"How come everything is always so effed up?"
Risking crossing the streams, Dean took his bundle of Sammy and moved to sit on the edge of Sam's bed.
"Because we keep fighting long after any sane person would call it quits."
"Why do we keep fighting?"
"Damned if I know."
Sam was quiet after that, though Dean could see his eyes were open.
"Head still bad?"
"Yeah." Sam nodded. He gave a fast glance over his shoulder to Dean, and he stared a minute, at Dean and at Little Sammy, a puzzled look on his face. "Those drugs have a really long after-burn, don't they?" He asked, then settled back into his pillow and made no other comment. He didn't close his eyes.
Dean set Little Sammy on his bed, pulled the bedspread over him and boxed him in with his two pillows. Then he grabbed a bottle of less-effective painkillers and a glass of water and brought them to the far side of Sam's bed.
"Hey." He sat down on the mattress. "Here, take a couple of these. Take the edge off of your sludge."
"Mmmm…" Sam pushed himself up on his elbow and took the pills and the water. He handed the glass back and laid down again. "Thanks."
"Sure…" Dean gave a glance over to Little Sammy, safe and sound and sound asleep in his bed. He thought about what Little Sammy had said. "Hey, Sam – look – you know that none of this is your fault, right? You shouldn't be blaming yourself for anything that happened or is happening or might happen. Okay?"
Sam looked up at Dean for two –fifths of a second then looked anywhere else.
"Yeah, I know." He said. But it didn't sound like he was telling the truth. More like he was only saying it because he knew it was what Dean wanted to hear.
"But you still feel guilty – don't you?"
Well, that got Dean absolutely no answer out of Sam. "Okay. That's a big yes." He sighed and drank the water left in the glass. "So – Sam –" He made sure to use the tone that used to always get him Sam's rapt attention. And sure enough, even after one hundred and eighty years of hell – or maybe because of it, Dean thought – that tone still got Sam to focus everything on Dean.
And the everything that Sam focused on him – the interest, the concern, the trust – almost stopped Dean in his tracks. But he had to tell Sam this, he had to know that Sam knew.
"Sammy, I am not now - nor have I ever been – afraid of you." He waited a few beats but Sam didn't say anything. "You know that, right?"
Sam pushed himself up to sitting. He looked puzzled, and concerned, and baffled. And tired and rumpled and half-hung-over from the drugs.
"Yeah, Dean. Yeah. Of course I know that." He said it quietly and emphatically and Dean knew that this time Sam was telling the truth. "Why are you asking me that?" Then his concern and puzzlement cleared into panic. "Did I do something? Dean? When I was out of it? Did I – did I say something or do something or –"
"No – no, Sammy." Dean said fast. "No, you didn't do anything but snore and drool." He smiled and Sam scowled. "I just – Sam, I just wanted us to be clear on that. Okay? I'm not afraid of you." He gave another glance over to Little Sammy. "I'm not scared of you, either. Okay?"
And Sam blinked and nodded and blinked again.
"Yeah. Okay. Not afraid and not scared either. Okay. I got it." He wavered a little where he sat and looked a lot like his Little Sammy self when he asked Dean, "Can I go back to sleep now?"
Dean only barely managed to squash a laugh.
"Yeah. Yeah, Sam. You go back to sleep now. C'mon, lay down. Get covered up." Dean stood up and made sure the blankets were all in place as Sam laid down again. "You let me know if you need anything, right?"
"Yeah, okay. I will."
He settled in and closed his eyes and was gone with a sigh.
Dean looked over at his bed.
Little Sammy slept on.
(To be continued…)