Disclaimer: If I owned the boys… Oh, you know the rest!

Author's Note: So… What do you think of the sneak peek? Did anyone else see a strong hint of protective big brother in there? (And other stuff I'm not putting down here in case anyone wants to stay spoiler-free.)

This is (probably) going to be the last post before S7 starts. As long as the first episode turns out halfway decent, you can probably expect an S7 tag series to begin along with it.

Summary: A little angsty fluff to make the last week of waiting easier.

Edge of Reason

It's been a rough week.

Sam pretty much shut himself off after we fled Kansas and the New and Improved God. Not like he's mad at me, thank God. I wouldn't blame Sam if he were mad at me considering what I let Cas do to him – considering how completely I screwed up at taking care of him after swearing that I wouldn't let anything happen to him – but it would kill me to know he was. He's Sammy, though, so he's not.

He's not mad at me – I can tell that much from the dimpled half-smiles and the little sideways glances when he thinks I'm not looking.

He's not mad, which means that he's shut himself off because he thinks he's doing me a favour.

That makes me mad.

I'm not saying it would be the most fun thing in the world to be woken up five times a night because Sam had had nightmares or Sam was feeling sick. It would suck, not so much because of the missed sleep (I'm used to that) as because it always sucks to see Sam suffering.

But you know what sucks even more? Waking up to see light under the bathroom door and knowing Sam deliberately chose not to wake me.

Sam doesn't lie about it – he knows that would be no good and would just annoy me more. If I ask him, he usually says something like, "Yeah, I didn't sleep very well. But there wasn't any point waking you, Dean. At least one of us can be well-rested."

Yeah, well, screw that.

I can tell that Sam is about to break – I know him better than he knows himself, and I know his defences aren't going to last much longer. He's at the end of his rope. There's going to be a meltdown.

And the thought that scares me more than anything else is that Sam might have that meltdown when I'm not there. If we get separated on a hunt, or if something grabs him, or if I go to get us some freaking breakfast, and Sam breaks when he's alone and defenceless –

Not happening. Not on my watch.

It's time for tough love.

The next time I wake up to the sound of Sam having a nightmare, I don't do a thing about it. I don't wake him. I don't sit on the edge of his bed and put my hand on his shoulder. I don't even move. I just lie there in the dark listening to him beg in his sleep.

I hate having to do this. It's about a hundred times worse for me than it could possibly be for Sam. Every single choked breath, every sob I can hear from the other bed, is like an accusation. You did this. You made this happen. You let Sam go to Hell and it took you a year and a half even to think of asking for Death's help. And, worst of all, If you'd gone to Death right away instead of having barbecues while your brother, the brother you swore to protect, was being tortured by two Archangels, he wouldn't be suffering now. But you were too busy having fun and trying to be normal. You must be the worst big brother in human history.

I know it's not what Sammy would say. If I ever asked him, he would go girly on me, big wet eyes and shy smile and, "You're the best big brother ever, Dean."

Sam's always been a bit biased where I'm concerned.

Sam whimpers, and it takes every ounce of self-control I have not to shoot out of bed and grab him, fold him into my arms where it's safe and I can look after him and anything that wants to hurt him will have to go through me first.

I have to wait. I have to, no matter how much it kills me, no matter how much the voice in my head is sneering at me for being an insensitive jerk. I have to let Sam break because I know he's going to, soon.

Soon it'll be too much and he won't be able to pretend he can handle it. Soon he won't be able to keep it clamped down, and since I can't be with him every second and Winchester luck is what it is, that'll probably happen when I'm not there to put him back together.

That's why I have to lie in bed, gritting my teeth, listening to Sam's muffled cries and wishing he would just give in so I can comfort him like every last nerve is aching to do.

But Sam's a stubborn son of a bitch.

Sam wakes up. I think finally and brace myself for the two hundred and twenty pounds of uber-hunter that I know is going to slam into my chest –

Sam looks at me and then heads off in the direction of the bathroom.

What the hell?

This isn't the way it's supposed to go. We've done this before. Sam decides he can get on perfectly well by himself, I leave him alone for a couple of days, the nightmares get bad, and he comes to me. That's how it works.

But Sam isn't himself now, not thinking straight, and maybe it was a mistake not to go to him right away.

I hear Sam throwing up, and I feel like a negligent parent. I should be with him.

I'm about to get up and go to him, but I decide to give it a few more minutes. This is about Sam, not about making myself feel like less of a failure. I have to let Sam break now so that he doesn't break when he's by himself.

I hear the flush. A few moments later Sam comes out of the bathroom, shaking, wiping his face.

I resist the urge to grab him. Sam needs to come to me – or at least to ask me to go to him.

Sam walks unsteadily to his bed and sinks down on it. I open my eyes – he'll know by my breathing that I'm awake; there's no point pretending – and watch him. He's got his head buried in his hands, his shoulders are shaking, and this is killing me. I have to clench my fists around handfuls of my sweats to keep myself from jumping out of bed.

Sam lifts his head and looks around the room, like he's not sure which shadow is suddenly going to morph into a hellhound.

Please let me in, Sammy. Let me help you.

Sam's head goes down again. This is it. This is too much. I can't sit by and watch him suffer. Screw this. I'm going to –


I push myself up on one elbow. "Yeah, Sammy?"

"Is this real?"

"Is this… God, Sammy," I breathe, getting up. "Sam, yes." There are tears glimmering in his eyes; I can see that even in the darkness. "Talk to me, kiddo."

"They always made me think it was real," Sam says, voice shaking. "They'd make me think I was with you and I was safe and then they just took it away and God, Dean, I didn't know – I couldn't – Dean."

"Right here." I wrap my arms around him, pulling him in close so his head is resting on my sternum. "I'm right here, Sam."

"It was all I had," Sam says in a choked whisper. "Remembering you. It was all I had. And they took that away too." He's pressing himself closer to me, like he's trying to hide in my arms, like the world is too cruel for him to deal with and I'm the only one who makes him feel safe. "I kept telling myself you were happy and it didn't matter what they were doing to me if you were happy."

It gets me right in the gut whenever Sam says something like that. I've always known that Sam thought – and still thinks, although he'd never admit it – that I'm a superhero. But to know that Sam feels just as protective of me as I do of him…

I don't bother to point out that I could never have been anything close to happy while he was in Hell. He knows.

Instead I rub his head, silently encouraging him to go on.

"All my life you've been the only one I could trust," Sam says softly. "And now I never know if anything is real. I don't know if you're real or if I'm going to wake up and find myself back there. I don't –" He breaks off with a sob. "Even now I don't know if this is real… I always felt safe with you. It was all I had and they took it."

I am going to kill every last angel in creation.

"And in the beginning I could always tell it wasn't really you," Sam goes on. "But then they got better – and by the time we were thirty or forty years in I couldn't – they knew me too well. They knew what I'd look for."

"I'm sure they knew you well, Sammy," I say, sitting on the bed. "But there's no way they knew you as well as I know you."

"But –"

"I know. I know they spent almost two hundred years exploiting all your weaknesses and finding ones you didn't even know you had. I know they hurt you." I shift Sam around so he's resting easily in my arms, his head tucked under my chin. "They'd know you feel like nothing can hurt you while I'm here and the only thing you're scared of is that one day I won't be. I'm sure they'd know that. But would they know how sleepy it makes you when I rub your back?"

I run my fingers lightly down Sam's spine. He snuggles closer.

"Would the Dean they conjured for you have known how to do that?" I ask quietly. "If I weren't the real Dean, would I know you like your coffee with cinnamon and hazelnuts but no chocolate? Would I know that you woke up wanting me to sit with you but you were afraid to ask in case I thought you were a girl? Would I know that right now you really want a drink of water, but you're not saying anything because you don't want me to leave you even for the ten seconds it'll take to fill a glass?"

Sam grabs a handful of my shirt. "Dean."

"Yeah, kiddo."

"It's really you."

"Yeah, it is. Now how about that water?" Sam's grip on my shirt tightens. "Not talking about leaving you, Sammy. How about we go together? Get you some water and clean you up?"

Sam sighs and buries his face in my shirt, girl that he is. I let him be. Sam's finally letting me in; I really don't want to ruin this moment, and it won't kill him to be thirsty for a few more minutes.



"You're awesome."

I can't help laughing. "I know, Sammy."

I hope anyone wasn't looking for a plot or anything. ;-)

What did you think? Please review!

Enjoy the season opener, everyone! I hope you get all the things you want to see.