Title: Time Marches On

Author:NobdyPtclr

Disclaimer:They don't belong to me, just borrowing them.

A/N: This is a bit shorter than usual, but I figured it's better to post now than to let it fall by the wayside again. Thanks again to everyone for the reviews and for sticking with the story in spite of a long delay.

Chapter Seven: Compromise

John threw up his hands in disgust and paced back and forth across the small room. Sam tried not to flinch under the weight of his glare as he turned his attention back to the bed. The glare only lasted a few seconds before it was replaced by an expression so foreign to John Winchester's face that it took Sam a moment to recognize it. His father looked defeated.

"Sammy," John began, "I don't know how it happened, but that's not your brother."

Sam stared at his father for a moment before it dawned on him what had happened. "You saw him in the basement."

It was John's turn to be confused. "You knew? You knew and you didn't call me? You've been riding around with that thing for God knows how long, and you think that's okay?"

Sam snapped. "First of all, that's still Dean. It happened when he was dying and we went to the faith healer. You remember when I left you that message, right? Or did you just delete it? Dean wanted to call you about this, but I wouldn't let him." Sam grinned bitterly, taking a breath before continuing. "I thought you might react badly. Of course, I probably overreacted. I mean, you're, like, Dad of the Year, right? What father wouldn't totally ignore his sons while he takes off on some personal vendetta? What father wouldn't ignore a phone call that his son is dying? What father wouldn't leave one son unconscious and the other impaled on a metal rod so he could go kill a demon?"

John stared at him open-mouthed and Sam thought he saw regret in his father's eyes, but when he didn't speak Sam continued. "If you're so convinced that Dean is a demon, why'd you let him take me last night?"

"I was too far away to stop him. I saw him put you in the car, but by the time I got back to my truck you were gone."

Sam's eyes narrowed. "What were you going to do to him?"

John sighed, shaking his head, and Sam thought fleetingly that his father had aged beyond his years in the course of their conversation. "I wanted to get you someplace safe," John told him, "before I took care of that thing. I couldn't take the chance that you wouldn't believe me." He looked pleadingly at his son. "You know your brother wouldn't want this."

Sam recognized his father's regret and resignation, and his own anger drained away. "I told you, that is Dean. We ran through all the tests. Dean insisted; he needed to be sure he wouldn't hurt me."

"Sam, it's not natural. That can't be your brother. You must have missed something."

"Dammit, Dad, I'm sure! We didn't miss anything, and I know Dean – I know him better than you do. Yes, he can heal quickly from any type of wound, but he's still my brother and he's still your son!"

John seemed to be weighing his options. "If we take him with us, we run all your tests again," he demanded with a strange gleam in his eye.

Sam nodded quickly, relieved. "Sure."

John returned the nod, sitting down in the chair by the bed. "So… any kind of wound?"

Sam relaxed, feeling that the near-crisis had been averted. He eagerly provided John with the details of their visits to the faith healer and the injuries his brother had recovered from. He spoke quickly, tripping over his words in his efforts to make his father fully understand what had happened. They were still talking when Dean returned with the food.

Dean eyed the animated discussion warily, stopping just inside the door.

Sam met his eyes. "He saw last night," he said simply, rushing to reassure. "But it's okay. He just wants to see the tests; to be sure you're you."

Dean shrugged, aiming for indifference and almost making it. "Sure, right after lunch."

"No. Now." John couldn't quite meet his eldest son's eyes, but there was no mistaking the command in his voice.

Dean shrugged again as if the subject was unimportant to him, but he set the bags aside and squared his shoulders. "Yes, sir."

John conducted a battery of tests – some of which Sam had never seen before – but could not find any evidence that Dean had been possessed or replaced. His words of acceptance were hearty and reassuring, but Sam felt a trickle of worry as he noticed that his father still seemed to avoid looking at Dean and, although he was smiling, his smile didn't reach his eyes.

Sam's Journal

Looking back, I've marked that day in my memory as the beginning of the end in more ways than one. Dad's information would ultimately lead us to the demon that we'd been seeking for over twenty years. I was overwhelmed by excitement and relief at the prospect, but I also felt uneasy – not just at the idea of a final battle, but with the way that Dad seemed to be distancing himself from Dean.

Dean must have seen it too, and he was uncharacteristically tentative in his interactions with him. I wasn't used to being the middle-man between them, and I missed the old Dean, recognizing for the first time how hard he worked to hold our family together. It was only a matter of a few days before our relationships were strained practically to the breaking point, and we were all tiptoeing around each other. I think it was hardest on Dean. I still shake my head at the irony that the one of us who valued the family the most was – through circumstances beyond his control – the one who was slowly pulling us apart.

TBC