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This started as a reply to comments on the story Therapy by ficwriter1966  (a look at Sam during Asylum in the doctor's office, when he was asked about his brother) and turned into something far too long for a comment and the first of what I'm sure will be many rambling posts about the Brothers Winchester.

I liked this fic - S1 relationship between the brothers feels so simple these days. ficwriter's writing is very engaging, but more than that it's doing what I love, which is make me think more about these characters and whether I agree with how they're being drawn, and why. This is my main reason for reading fic, and a lot of my problems with it too, often. It's only the last year or so that I've been able to read SPN fic, but that's a topic for another day.

The comments that got me thinking were to the effect that Dean would feel betrayed if Sam talked about him to Dr Ellicott, because Sam's opinion means "everything" to him. In this case, I don't know that I agree with Sam's opinion meaning everything to Dean – although that might also be an issue of hyperbole and context. "Everything" can mean a lot of different things, and it wasn't clear. But taken at face value – Sam's opinion of Dean being something that means a lot to him – I have to say I don't entirely agree.

Under the cut is
So, to start with the scene, imagined in the fic itself, I'm pretty sure Sam was spent that time venting to Ellicott Jr, a lot about Dean and probably some about John. It's been a while since I last watched the ep, but given the arguments the boys had been having about hunting vs finding Dad – and now brought to a head by following John's co-ordinates to hunt in the asylum – that's pretty much all I see Sam doing. Venting about everything that he finds frustrating about Dean's decisions and casting vote in the relationship. About all the things he finds annoying about his brother that he was being reminded of, having to live with him, day in, day out, after however many years away from the madness. And that Dean won't see things his way, which is a major part of S1 Sam, transference of his anger at (absent) John's refusal to see things his way. And I think that's why he looked a little guilty when he walked out of the doctor's office. Not because he was worried about Dean's feelings of betrayal about it, or even aware that that's how Dean might have felt, had he known.

Don't get me wrong, Sam definitely needed someone to talk to at that point, someone to vent to. Sam's a talker, he needs to get this stuff out. As was
also said in the comments, he'd grown up used to expressing himself. He had obviously grown up with the understanding that expressing a need, or even a frustration, was a safe thing to do. He doesn't get why Dean feels differently. I say this with all love for both flawed and broken boys, I do not think Sam's at a point where he can analyse Dean yet. He knows him ("I've grown up watching you my whole life!"), but he doesn't understand him, or really see him at this point. That takes a very long time, both to get past his grief and rage about Jess, and readjust to the hunting life.

And at this point I really don't think that he understands that revealling his problems with Dean to someone else would feel like a betrayal to Dean – because to Sam, it isn't. People need to talk about problems to trusted outsiders. That's normal. I am sure he wasn't disrespectful to Dean in how he went about it, he just didn't get that doing it at all would be a major disrespect from Dean's point of view.

I agree with the comments that it would piss Dean off big time. But not because of what it indicates of Sam's opinion of him. I think, for Dean, Sam's opinion of him takes a back seat to a bunch of other things: family loyalty, love, getting the job done, looking after Sammy ... all these things make up too much of Dean's identity for Sam's opinion to have much impact. Sam's actions, such as shooting Dean with rocksalt, yes. But Dean is too used to Sam expressing negative opinions – bitching – about everything, including Dean himself, for it to factor much into his identity. In fact, the fact that Sam is safe to do that affirms, at least subconsciously, that Dean has been successful in nurturing him. He hates me enough to shoot me is very, very different to he's bitching about me again, which in normal circumstances tends to produce a kind of tolerant amusement.

So the damage done by Sam bitching to someone else would be in the perceived violation of family loyalty, not that Sam has negative opinions of him or what he does. Dean was rock-solid in why he did what he did, and that it was the right thing to do; Sam's bitching about it and about him was just part and parcel of how that always went. (Which naturally pisses Sam off even more.) So this might seem like splitting hairs just a little to some, but what would make Dean feel betrayed (if he'd known) is being talked about like that at all, not the opinions that are expressed. Being discussed with someone he doesn't know or trust.

That would be huge to him, especially back then; these days he's a whole lot more used to being in the spotlight. Because while Sam grew up knowing that expressing a need, etc, was safe – as it ought to be – Dean knew the opposite. Dean knew that if his problems were being made known, he was failing at who he needed to be.

Again, don't get me wrong: this is not something John consciously laid on him, or ever would have wanted him to think. In Shadow, Sam tells John he doesn't have to worry about them, and John says something like, "Of course I do. I'm your father." (And Dean subtly distances himself from the emotion and looks across at Sam, automatically refusing to receive the sentiment and recontextualizing it to be about Sam.) But Dean saw and felt John's burdens and pain in a very immediate way, and the the most fundamental thing he could do to help was not put any more on him, either his own issues or his brother's. The first goal was to reduce the amount of any kind of attention he demanded from John, good or bad; to be silent and utterly reliable. And then provide every other support he could. ("You'd put your hand on my shoulder and say everything was going to be okay. You shouldn't have had to say that to me, I should have been saying that to you." Paraphrased from John in In My Time of Dying, but clearly showing that that kind of comfort and reassurance had been mostly one-way.)

And I don't blame John for not picking it up, or Sam; Dean is very, very good at his cocky, give-'em-hell attitude, and even better at giving the impression he's thoroughly on top of things. Not only that, but a lot of the time he is. It's an act, but it's backed up by 97% reality; his persona is still him, so it's extremely hard to spot. John had so, so much to deal with, and he was away so much, and Dean had earned his confidence so throughly, that it just slid by. We all only have so much grease, and Dean is expert at being just about the least squeaky wheel in existence. And as for Sam, that's just how things were. It takes a long time, and some particular stressors, to crack Dean open and realize there's more going on than he thought.

A significant part of Dean's success or failure at his primary function and identity is contingent on controlling the flow of information about himself. Not so that nothing is expressed, but that what is expressed, and how, is done in a way that serves his goals of supporting John and caring for Sam. No matter what was expressed, even the highest praise, taking that control out of his hands violates him, and would make him feel betrayed. (Being affirmed in what he does is similarly problematic, and he generally deflects it when it does happen.) It may present similarly to being sensitive to Sam criticizing him, and to how normal people should react, but ... Dean's not normal.

Phew, that little moment pulled out a fairly major character dynamic, there. Also, much typing. This does not bode well for my time management attempts.

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