a/n: Some of the events of this final chapter refer back to the end/beginning of chapters 9 and 10.
With that announcement, tempers, worries and fears were put aside and the Winchester men shared a rare moment of togetherness over the meal provided. It felt good to be together as a family, however fleeting it might be, and they cherished it.
"Hey, Son, how're you feeling?"
John Winchester stood in the doorway, looking down at his elder son. Briefly, John had a flash of the last time Dean had occupied that same chair – reared back in agony, limbs going stiff, bloodied nose and his face mangled with pain. It still caused his face to drain, heart lurching painfully. He shook the memory off and smiled at his son.
"I'm good. How 'bout you? That leg doing okay?" Dean's eyes held John's, refusing to let them escape.
"Yeah…yeah, it's fine. I'm fine." The sentence trailed off and hung awkwardly.
Dean was trying hard to ignore his dad's duffle sitting on the floor, packed and ready to go. But the time for denials had passed and he knew it. This was goodbye.
"So," Dean started, "when's Jay supposed to be here?"
Rubbing the back of his neck as he checked his watch, John answered, "Any minute now. I wanted a chance to talk to you before I go." John's face was a mixture of sadness and some other emotion that Dean couldn't identify.
"Listen, Son, I'm gonna do everything I can to make this right. Okay? I'll be careful and Jay'll have my back, so no worries."
Eyes flicking to his hands as they rested in his lap, Dean responded with a whispered, "Yeah, I know. It's just…I just wanted us to be a family again. You know?" He lifted his eyes back up to his dad's only to be shocked to find his father's rich brown eyes swimming in an ocean of unshed tears.
"Yeah, me, too. Look, Dean…I just wanted to say…I know I've let you and your brother down. I haven't been there for you like I should've been. But, I want you to know how proud of you I am."
John's voice hitched with emotion as he said, "You've done everything for this family – taken care of me and Sammy, watched our backs all these years. It was a lot to ask of anyone, but you were always willing to give of yourself. I couldn't be more proud to call you my son."
Uncomfortable, Dean shifted his eyes back to his lap, lifting one shoulder to indicate it was no big deal.
"No, Son, it means a lot. Thank you for doing that. Thank you for being there for Sam when I wasn't. Thank you for forgiving me despite all the times I've screwed up."
"Dad," Dean protested, "you did the best you could."
John walked over and squatted next to Dean's chair, laying one hand on the young man's forearm.
"Yeah, I did, but I know I've demanded too much from you. I just didn't see any other way at the time…maybe I just didn't see it at all, but I see it now."
Meeting his dad's warm, love-filled gaze, Dean asked, "Dad, why are you saying this stuff?"
Smiling at the innocence of his son – innocent because he couldn't see his own worth, couldn't see what he'd done for all of them – and he said, "Because there are no guarantees, Dean. There are no guarantees in life and I want you to know how I feel. I want you to know that you've made a difference in all our lives."
Dean didn't know what to say. Couldn't have said anything if he'd had the words, his throat was constricted too tight and it was taking all of his concentration to keep the tears from spilling over.
John squeezed his son's arm affectionately before standing.
"You take care of yourself, Son. I want you and Sammy to stay safe above all else. You hear me?"
"Yeah, okay. You, too. Don't take any unnecessary risks, Dad. Just…just come back." Dean's voice trembled.
"I will, Son." John stood, sniffing loudly and brushing at one of his stray tears. "Goodbye, Dean."
Dean could only nod as his father snatched the duffle and stepped out the door, anticipating the second blast from Jay's car horn before it sounded from the driveway. The door clicked shut and Dean felt his heart rend in half. His throat convulsed and his hands shook from the effort of stifling the tide of emotion. One choked half-sob was all he allowed himself in response to his father's words and sudden absence. Never had he loved and feared for his father more than at this very moment.
Standing behind him, unseen, Sam felt his own heart wrench. Sam could take a lot of things, had taken a lot of things, but this was hard to swallow. He knew the ripples of pain burning at the edge of his senses were only a fraction of what Dean must be feeling. Their connection was still birthing itself, still too new for much more than that. Still, it was enough to motivate him into action even though he knew Dean would slap on the stoic face as soon as he made his presence known. It didn't matter, he couldn't take this.
"You okay," Sam asked, finally finding his voice.
His brother's head jerked up in surprise, and for a moment their liquid eyes met.
Clearing his voice, Dean answered, "Yeah. You?"
In that single word, Sam knew that his brother was really asking if their dad had said a proper goodbye to him as well.
"Yeah. I'm good. Dad and I talked earlier, before he came in here." Sam laughed softly, humorlessly. "Told me he was proud of me, can you believe that?"
Dean gave his sibling a shaky smile and nodded his head, saying, "Yeah."
Coming the rest of the way into the room, Sam plopped down onto the couch opposite Dean.
"I'm gonna miss him, man." A harsh chuckle followed the statement. "Hard to believe, I know."
"Not really. You and Dad, you're just too much alike is all."
Sam pressed his lips together and blocked the surge of feelings, but he couldn't stop the tremble in his chin and looked away. After a few minutes of hard swallowing and hasty sniffles that were passed off as 'must be getting a cold or something', the boys looked at each other with easy smiles in their eyes and on their lips. Reassuring each other that things were fine – they were fine – in those simple looks, both knowing what the other was feeling in that moment.
As promised, John had waited long enough to bring Dean home to Missouri's, making sure he was settled in and doing well before saying goodbye to them two days later. Even though it had only been six days since he'd told the boys goodbye, it had felt like an eternity. They had agreed to keep contact limited for safety purposes, but the not knowing what was happening made the hours and days drag by slowly. It didn't help that the boys had little to fill their days and nights with.
They had tried to settle into a routine, but it was difficult. Both itched to be doing something, anything to get their minds off of their father. Dean wasn't well enough to hunt yet and Sam's remote research yielded very little on the demon. Finally, they resigned themselves to scouring the internet for possible future jobs, taking the time to catalogue them by perceived urgency and location.
During this time, Sam's concern for his older brother only increased, despite Dean's gains in physical health. The elder Winchester had become oddly reserved, quiet and thoughtful. Often Sam would catch him staring off into the distance, lost to the world, face pulled tight. Naturally, if asked, Dean would laugh and smirk his way through it, resisting every ploy Sam used to get him to open up. Exasperated, Sam was determined to get to the bottom of it and had decided on the direct route the very next time the opportunity presented itself.
Before he was able to launch his attack, however, a new problem took precedence over all other concerns. Dean began having nightmares again. Although they were obviously not demon spawned this time, they were enough to garner Sam's attentive wariness, much to Dean's displeasure.
At first, Dean wasn't even aware that he was having the dreams; a vague awareness of having not slept well was his only clue. Then, Sam began complaining about his brother's nocturnal tossing and turning – always with a prodding tone and concerned furrows between his brows indicating that little brother was beginning to get worried.
Soon, the dreams began to manifest themselves in more alarming ways, causing Dean to awaken suddenly – breathlessly – but not remembering why. Some nights he'd jerk awake and find himself covered in sweat and left with a lingering pervasive sadness that he couldn't seem to shake – not even with the light of day.
One week to the day of the first one's occurrence, Dean got his first clear picture of what the dream had been holding back. It seared his memory so he'd not soon forget. It started out as the blessed nothingness of a sound sleep, which was always a good thing in Dean's book, but then he drifted into a gradual awareness of his surroundings – surroundings that were all too familiar.
He recognized the same empty streets from his dream at the hospital, just after the car accident. This time, however, it was acutely different in that, not only was he cognizant of the fact that he was dreaming, but he remembered it from before and knew it was so much more than just a dream. He knew exactly which building he was looking for, which hallway the blue door was located in and he knew there was a golden-haired spirit waiting for him there.
As he moved down the darkened hallway toward the halo of light spilling out onto the hideous carpeting, he felt no fear of what lay beyond, just a subtle tugging of longing and need. But, not his. It was hers. Her longing, her need. Her sadness weighed heavily on him, becoming his sadness just the same as if the feelings were his.
Reaching for the doorknob, he pulled the door the rest of the way open and allowed himself to become swathed in the rich, brilliant light that momentarily left him blinded. Stepping inside, he squinted at the lone figure at the window as she turned toward him, the folds of her dress whispering secrets to the air.
Raising one hand, beckoning him, she said, "Dean, you've come back."
"Who are you? What do you want?" he asked, closing the distance between them.
"Your help. You are the only one that can help me," she said, the light dimming and the mists clearing to reveal her identity.
All Dean could do was gape and stutter, shock making his body rigid and frozen to the spot.
"J-jessica!" he finally managed to gasp, his throat seizing on the single word.
Moving quickly to his side, she lay what was meant to be a comforting hand on his arm, seeking to calm him. With that contact, the floor suddenly pitched under his feet as crippling pain exploded behind his eyes, causing his legs to crumple from beneath him.
Catching him under his armpits, Jessica fell to the floor with him, unable to support his weight with her tiny frame. Dean was aware of his name being screamed repeatedly as blood began to drip from his nose, marring the pristine white of her gown, then his vision faded to black.
Awakened by the sounds of his brother thrashing against his bed sheets and moaning softly, Sam sat up and draped his long legs over the side of the bed. Scrubbing his hands over his face and through his hair, he forced his eyes open. How he longed for a complete night's rest.
"Who are you? What do you want?"
Dean's voice startled him momentarily, jarring him fully into wakefulness. Looking over at the other man, Sam could see his brother's features grimacing in the moonlight. He stood and walked the couple of steps to his brother's bed, intending to shake him awake.
Just as he bent to touch Dean's shoulder, his brother whispered, "J-jessica!"
The younger Winchester's face drained and his body trembled as if blasted by a cold winter wind. Before he could recover, the elder man jack-knifed into a sitting position, chest heaving and hands fisted in his short brown hair, pained moans bubbling up from his chest.
As soon as the younger man gripped his brother's wrists, the cries ceased and Dean weakly fell forward into his sibling's arms. Sam steadied him, and then eased his brother back onto the pillows, mounding them up as he went and then turned to flip on the bedside lamp. Feeling warm wetness oozing from his nose, Dean dabbed at his face with his hand.
"Dean, you're bleeding," Sam yelped, seeing the blood for the first time. "Here."
Grabbing a tissue from the nightstand, Sam handed it to his brother and then began examining the other man's face.
"Are you all right?"
Still feeling woozy and light headed, Dean only nodded.
"What was that, Dean? And, why were you saying Jess's name?"
Sighing, Dean replied, "I-I don't know."
"Was that the same dream you've been having? What happened? Was it a dream or something else?" Sam fired back.
"Dude, one question at a time," Dean snapped. He still felt agitated, off-center, and Sam's grilling only heightened the sensation.
Taking in his brother's sallow features and unsteady hands, Sam stilled his panic at hearing Jessica's name and forced himself to back off – at least a little bit.
"Dean, we have to talk about this."
Peering at his brother with one open eye, Dean said, "No, we really don't." Reading Sam's body language loud and clear, he continued, "Look, there's really nothing to talk about. I had a dream and Jessica was in it. I don't know anything else."
"But, why would you start having nightmares about Jess? This is why you haven't been sleeping, isn't it?"
Dean raised his head from his pillows – tossed the tissue aside – and said, "Aw, Sam, why can't you just let it go. I don't know. It's possible. Honestly, I. Don't. Know."
"I think this is more than just a simple dream. You had a similar reaction when Dad touched you before he was cleansed by the smudging…and, now that I think of it, you had this exact same response in the hospital after the accident. Is Jess the ghost girl, Dean? Is she trying to talk to you? Answer me, man, this is important."
As his brother's voice droned on, the older man's head began to fill up with fuzziness and he could feel tension coiling inside, building along with the buzzing in his ears. His senses were doing double time and overloading to the point of being excruciatingly painful.
With each word assaulting his ears, Dean could feel the strong emotions radiating off of his brother, combining with his own supersensitive state and making it sickening in its aftermath. The world had become too vivid, its sounds too loud, its colors too bright and his skin was too thin to withstand it. His brain and spinal cord practically hummed with sensations.
Before he could answer any more questions, he felt his stomach wretch with spasms – sending Dean scrambling away from his bed and his bewildered brother. When Sam caught up to him, he found his brother doubled over the toilet coughing and gagging. Finally, Dean sat back on his haunches, his limbs shaking uncontrollably, rendering him helpless.
Crouching in front of his sagging brother, Sam felt the elder man's forehead and then, finding it surprisingly cool, asked, "Dean, what is it? Talk to me."
His voice quivering with the shakes, Dean answered, "Just can't take the questions right now, Sammy. Sorry."
Waving a hand limply in front of him, he continued with a smirk, "Everything is…too loud, too bright. Kinda feels like a hang over without the perks."
Nodding, but not really comprehending, Sam grabbed Dean's upper arms, saying, "Okay, let's get you back to bed."
Dean settled into his bed with a grunt then turned weary eyes to Sam. "I don't know what's going on, Sam, but one thing I do know – we'll figure this out. I promise, okay. I'll make this right."
As much as Sam wanted – needed – to know about Jessica, he wanted his brother to be okay more. And Dean looked beat, really beat. His brother's face was stricken and blotchy and the shaking hadn't ceased or eased at all. The younger man decided to let it go, at least for now. Making sure Dean was okay was more important.
"Yeah, okay. Whatever it is, I trust you, Dean. Are you sure you're okay? Should I wake Missouri?" Sam asked, knowing the answer as he did.
"No, I'll be fine…just need to sleep. So tired…"
And, surprisingly, he was. Despite all the shaking and sensory perceptions, Dean was exhausted beyond belief. All he wanted to do was close his eyes and just lay still.
"We'll talk in the morning, then. Get some sleep…just yell if you need me."
Sam didn't get a response, nor was he expecting one, but as he clicked off the light, he really wished Dean had looked a little steadier or had provided another reassuring word before nodding off so fast.
The younger Winchester climbed back into his own bed, his heart thundering and his mind racing and knowing he wouldn't sleep another wink that night. Taking one last look at his brother across from him, now less visible in the moonlit room when compared to the glaring lights of a few seconds before, he shook his head at the darkness and then flung one arm over his eyes, concentrating all his attention on listening.
Hearing Dean's uneven breathing, he wondered how concerned he should really be. Then, feeling almost traitorous, he thought of Jess and how she died. A million thoughts circled through his mind. What if it was really her? What if she was in trouble? Was she haunting them or just attracted to Dean's newfound abilities.
Maybe she was trying to send them a message. Or, worse, maybe it wasn't her at all, but something posing as her, setting a clever trap. More importantly, what was this doing to his brother? He had looked so wasted afterward. His nose hadn't bled much, but that was little consolation given the fact it had bled at all. That couldn't be a good sign. Suddenly, Dean's voice broke through Sam's thoughts.
"I'm fine, go to sleep."
Pressing his eyelids shut against the whirring of his mind, Sam replied, "Yeah. You, too."
But it was several hours later before rest finally came to him. After all this time, could it really be her? he wondered.
The next morning, Sam caught sight of Dean sitting on the front porch. He was wrapped up tightly in his familiar leather coat – a thousand yard stare planted on his face – still as death. Grabbing his own coat, the young man opened the door and stepped outside. Though the sun was shining brightly, the winter air was nippy, the wind sharp and cutting and he shivered against it. Taking a place beside his brother on the top step, Sam leaned his arms against his knees, hands clasped in the middle. A mirror image of his brother.
Arms grazing lightly, they sat in silence for a moment before the younger finally spoke, asking, "Feeling better?"
Dean blinked as if startled to find someone sitting next to him and then glanced at Sam, his emerald irises glinting in the sun, and answered, "Much." Then, after a pause, continued with, "Is that what you really came to ask?"
Shooting his brother an offended glare, Sam demanded, "What's that supposed to mean?"
Looking down, Dean murmured, "I just figure you've got more important things on your mind then my well-being. Things like Jessica."
Annoyed, but surprised at how easy his brother was making this, Sam answered, "Sure, it's on my mind, but I'm more concerned about how you're doing, Dean. You didn't look so good last night. Your damn nose was bleeding, man. Normal dreams don't make someone sick. But, it wasn't a normal dream, was it?"
"No, I guess not." Shaking his head, Dean smiled a little, hoping to dispel the tension between them. "But normal isn't the Winchester way, right?"
Chuckling a little, Sam agreed, "Yeah, that'd be too much to ask."
"Damn straight." Staring out ahead, Dean went on saying, "But I know you've been thinking about it. I know I would be." Then, looking at Sam, he said, "The problem is, little brother, I don't have any answers for you."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, I still don't know what it's all about. I don't know why I'm having these dreams of Jessica. This is all new for me, man, and I don't know what to think."
Figuring as much, Sam nodded and said, "Okay. Just start by telling me what you remember."
"There's not much to tell or remember. It happens just like I described back at the hospital. Running, hallway, blue door, ghost girl. Except, now I know the girl is Jessica."
"Did she say anything?"
Pausing to think, Dean spoke almost as if to himself, "She seemed to know who I was. She knew my name and she said I had come back to help her."
"Help her how?" Sam straightened, going alert and becoming tense once again.
"That's just it. I don't know how. She told me I was the only one who could help and then she touched me. That's when all hell broke loose and I woke up."
Quickly picking up on the connection, Sam asked, "So, you didn't experience any physical symptoms until she touched you?"
"Huh. That is interesting."
"Yeah, well, sorry, but that's a new one on me." Sam let the sentence trail off as his brain processed Dean's words. Unable to reach any solid conclusions, he looked back to his older brother and asked, "What now? I mean, how do we find out what she wants? Or even if it's really her?"
"We just do what we always do. Investigate, research, wait and see."
"You've gotta tell Missouri about this, Dean. Maybe she can help."
"No, Sam. I'm not ready to let someone go poking around in my head willy nilly."
"Not a chance, not even for you. At least, not until we've exhausted all of our options."
"Yeah, okay. But, if we can't find a way to help her – to figure this out – promise me you'll let Missouri try. Promise me, Dean."
"All right, fine, I promise. Now, are we done talking about this?"
Seeing his younger brother nod slightly, Dean turned back to the coloring sky. He hadn't missed the way his sibling's eyes had glistened in the light. He knew how important this was to Sam; he only hoped he wouldn't disappoint him.
Sam paused, then said, "Just one thing is bothering me."
Quirking an eyebrow, Dean asked, "Do I want to know?"
"Probably not, but I'm gonna tell you anyway," Sam said with a brief grin. "You were acting strange well before the dreaming began."
Rolling his eyes, Dean said, "Oh, here we go. Sam, I told you, I'm f-".
"Yeah, your fine, I get it." Sam paused, and then said, "But Dean, you're not fine. You've got something else on your mind, I know it. Let me help…please."
Dean swallowed and looked down toward his boots, a frown between his eyes. He wasn't up to doing this battle today. His brother could be so tenacious and despite his own protests that he was fine, he knew that he really wasn't. Last night had left him feeling weakened and uncertain.
His voice whispered, "Sorry, little brother, but I don't think you can."
"Why not?" Then, seeing Dean start to shake his head no, Sam intervened, saying, "At least let me try, Dean. Give me that much, please."
For a long minute, Dean sat frozen, deciding on something. Sucking in his breath, he lifted his eyes to the horizon and asked, "Do you know what the demon is after, Sam? Do you understand what it wants from us…because I do – at least some of it."
Confused, Sam turned completely toward his sibling, his words tumbling out, "What? I don't understand, Dean. What does this have to do with anything?"
Visibly bracing himself, Dean answered, eyes cast down quickly before returning Sam's gaze, "You, Sam. It wants you, to use you somehow…turn you. I don't know what that means, exactly, but I know that's its intention. And, I know it'll stop at nothing to get what it wants."
"What?" Sam practically squeaked. "Dean, how do you know?" Sam asked, shaking his head side to side, eyes imploring his brother to deny it.
"Well, for one, it told me. For another, I could feel its desire to have you. It craves you with a hunger that, quite honestly, scares the hell out of me. Especially when I could be the vehicle used to get what it wants from you."
Speechless, the younger brother sat agape, unsure of how to respond.
"What if I can't stop it, Sam? What if I can't keep you safe from this?" Dean asked, unable to meet his little brother's gaze. He stared at his thumbs as they gestured, hands still clasped, arms resting on his knees.
He couldn't believe he was telling Sam this. But, it had been eating his insides out, making it difficult to think about much else. Maybe Sam deserved to hear the truth. His little brother deserved to know that he might not be able to keep him safe – especially now, with this nightmare stuff depleting his already weakened condition. His body was healing, but those nightmares took so much from him. It scared him to think he might not be able to protect Sam. And worse, it terrified him to think he could be used to cause Sam's downfall.
Unaccustomed to his brother giving in so easily and sharing his inner fears with him, Sam thought his answer through carefully, leaving a space of silence hanging in the air between them.
Starting with the practical, Sam argued, "But Dean, that wasn't a powerful demon, it couldn't even possess you. Hell, I'm not even sure what it was exactly, but I know it certainly wasn't our demon."
"Yeah, Sam, I know that, too. I do. But…something just tells me that this…thing…was a harbinger of things to come. Maybe even a messenger. It knows the score. And, look at the damage it was able to cause, not even a full-fledged demon – acting more like an infection – but nearly enough to do the job and now…"
"But it didn't," Sam stated, confidence making his voice firm. "Together, we can do this. You and me. You've just got to have a little faith."
Something flickered across Dean's face. Faith. Sam's words reminded him of his time in Heaven. Faith, restored faith was what he needed – what he'd been given. Even so, he couldn't help the worrisome thoughts that had plagued him since coming back. It was so much easier to believe everything was going to be okay when he was there. Things were tougher when faith was all you had to get you by.
Suddenly, he wanted to share his experience with Sam, to tell him that they weren't alone in this fight against evil, but it was too personal to share. It had touched Dean in a place he wasn't willing to give away or share, not even with his brother – at least not yet.
Sitting up to stretch his back, Dean said, "Yeah, I guess you're right. Still, I'll feel a whole lot better if Dad and Jay find a way to weaken the demon, and maybe a strong protection ritual or something."
This faith stuff was going to take some practice. Rubbing at his aching chest and wincing, the elder brother fell back into silence once again. Catching the unconscious gesture and noting his older brother's still-too pale face, Sam decided it was time to go in.
Shivering on cue, he remarked suggestively, "You ready to go back inside, yet? It's frigid out here and I think Missouri just made a fresh pot of hot coffee."
Sniffling a little at the cold as if he just realized it was the dead of winter, Dean answered, "Yeah, I could use a cup about right now. Come on princess, let's get you warmed up."
When Dean moved to rise, he grimaced and touched his chest again, letting himself fall back down to the step.
"Damn, all that puking must've pulled my stitches," Dean sputtered, embarrassed at his weakness.
Out of his peripheral vision, he could see Sam's long, slender hand extended out to him, an offering of help. Grateful, Dean clasped his brother's hand and allowed himself to be pulled up, one hand held protectively over his chest. Together, they walked, shoulders brushing, back into the warmth of the house – moving in sync with one another as if they were of the same mind and body. Brothers, soldiers, and friends working as a single unit, moving with a single purpose toward whatever future awaited them and knowing that it was going to be okay as long as they had each other to lean on.
a/n#2: Special thanks to Mady Bay, Tidia, Claire Kennedy, Thru Terry's Eyes, Kohadril, Stony Angel and all the others who gave me their time and expertise in writing these chapters. Without them, this would've been complete rubbish and I'm indebted to each of them for teaching me many valuable lessons along the way. If you saw improvement as we went along, it's because these kind folks were patient enough to work with me through e-mails to teach me some of what their talented minds already knew. All mistakes and bad judgment calls are on me.
Recently, I've been going back over my earlier chapters, reading through them and updating them for posting at a new fan fic site, Supernaturalville, and I've got to say that you all have been very generous to me with your reviews. No way have I deserved to reach the six hundreds, though I'm flattered and grateful that I have. I was especially abhorred of the first four chapters, eeks! I mention this because, as I go through the story, I've been making subtle changes to make it a little better. I don't have time for a complete rewrite, but for those of you who like to re-read stuff, hopefully it reads just a tiny bit better than it did.
To my readers, whether you be a lurker or a reviewer, thank you so much for reading this whole thing. I realize in hindsight that I'd been better off splitting this in half and making two stories out of the one, but you live and you learn. I hope the ending was just right for you and not too overly done (yes, I know I was really pushing the hurt!Dean envelope by the end, but I HAD to set us up properly for the sequel, didn't I?) or in any way disappointing. I may take a brief detour before getting on to the sequel, but I do have plans on doing the Jessica thing as soon as I can.
Here we are 92,858 hits, 667 reviews, 191 alerts, and 148 favorites later! What a journey it was…and I have all of you to thank, so…
To all of the following, thank you so much for your reviews, they mean so much to me and were vital in keeping me going. When I had doubts and thought I should quit because I was convinced I sucked WAY out loud, one of you would save me with some kind words or supportive pep talk. Also, thank you to any of you who have recommended my story at some point in time whether I knew about it or not. Again, thanks to each of you (and if I missed anyone or got you down twice, my most sincere apologies). Please drop me one final line as you pass by on your way out – not because I deserve it, but because I'd like to hear your parting thoughts – and I hope to see you next time around:
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