Disclaimer: Standard stuff. I still don't own them, but wouldn't mind renting them for a while.
A/N: Well here we are; the end of the tale. The story came out pretty much the way I've been thinking about it all these months, even though some of the details weren't used. I appreciate everyone's indulging me in this and I'm glad Kristine and Patrick were well received. Patrick is new to me as well, but Kristine has been with me in one form or another since I was in high school. Your feedback has been most welcome and I hope you'll share another Winchester adventure with me soon.
Special thanks to Lara and Faye; they have no idea how much their simple words of encouragement mean to me. Thanks, as always, to Kelli. She knows how much I appreciate her!
"I must be dreaming." Dean said later when he opened his eyes and saw John sitting next to his bed. "Dad?"
"It's really me, Son."
"Where's Sam? Is he okay?" Dean asked as he sat up.
"He's asleep in the other room. It's almost three in the morning."
"What are you doing here?"
"Kristine left a message on my cell. She said you were sick and Sam wasn't doing well. She insulted me in a few different ways, then told me I needed to get here."
Dean couldn't help but smile. John let Kristine get away with quite a bit.
"I was surprised you didn't call when Sam got into trouble." John said quietly.
Dean said nothing and John decided to let it go. "How are you feeling? The fever went down."
"I feel okay." Dean said, sounding almost surprised. "I'm hungry."
"Kristine brought some food earlier. I'll nuke something for you."
"I can't believe you're here." Dean said. "Are you okay? Where have you been –"
"We can talk about all that later."
Dean threw the covers aside. He went into the bathroom and then went to check on his brother. Sam was tangled in the sheets on his bed, but sleeping peacefully. Dean watched him for a few minutes before going back to his father. John put a serving of soup on the table and got a bottle of water from the small refrigerator.
"I'm proud of you." he said when Dean sat at the table.
Dean looked at him surprised. "What for?"
"Bringing your brother here. That was a good idea."
"How much do you know?"
"Sam told me some things and, after he fell asleep, Kristine filled me in on the rest. Must not have been too easy on you."
Dean ate some of the soup, saying nothing. John watched him.
"And things with Kristine? They're okay?"
"You know how that goes, Dad." Dean opened the bottle of water. "God, I still can't believe you're here."
"Yeah, well, my boys are in trouble. I should be here."
"You want me to stay?" Dean asked, surprised.
"I know you want to stay. I can handle this job on my own and we'll go from there." John put the last of his clothes into a duffle bag.
"I should go with you – watch your back."
"I'll be fine. You stay with Kristine. Have a little fun."
Dean looked uncertain.
"Kristine lost her mother not that long ago. She needs a friend – someone she can be totally honest with. You need to be that person for her."
Kristine stood in the doorway. "Dean, can I talk to your father for a second?"
Dean looked from one to the other. "I'll take your bag out to the car, Dad."
"Thanks, Son." once he was gone, John turned his attention to Kristine.
She pulled an envelope from her back pocket. I talked to my mother's lawyer last night and he had something for you."
Kristine nodded. "This was something Mom asked him to set up before – "
John took the envelope from her. He looked at her surprised, seeing what was in it.
"There's one for Dean, too"
John held up a credit card. "I can't take this."
"Yeah, you can. Mom wanted to do something to help the fight and this was what she figured out. The cards are legitimate, but won't easily trace back to us. Uh, me. You can use it for whatever you need to and the payments will be taken care of."
"Kristine –" he shook his head.
"It's what my mother wanted to do. She trusted that you'd do the right thing with the money."
John hesitated. He didn't feel right about this, but he couldn't deny Julia something she'd wanted. "Thank you."
"You don't have to thank me. I'm glad Mom thought to do it."
John put his arms around Kristine. "I'm really glad we met, Kristine."
"I am, too."
"Take care of my boy while I'm gone."
Kristine nodded against his chest. "I will."
Sam and his father had long conversations about love and revenge over the next few days. Sam and Kristine had long conversations about guilt. She was well on the way to making him understand that despite the dreams, there was nothing he could have done to protect Jessica. She wanted him to tell Dean about the dreams, but Sam wasn't ready to do that. He was still afraid they would make Dean treat him differently and he didn't think he could handle that right now. But he promised Kristine that he would tell him soon. Sam and Patrick spent time together talking about the women they loved. The dreams didn't stop, but they didn't come as often.
Dean woke up one night to find Sam sitting in his room.
"Did I wake you?" Sam asked quietly.
Dean sat up. "No. What's going on?"
"I woke up and –"
"Did you have a nightmare?"
"No. I just needed to be close to you."
Dean looked at him, concerned, but Sam waved his hand. "I'm okay, really. I just – " he shook his head.
Tossing the covers aside, Dean padded across the room and sat down across from Sam. "I know. I feel that way sometimes, too."
Sam smiled at him.
"You're leaving again, aren't you?" Dean asked John one morning a couple of weeks later.
John looked at him. They were walking around the main house, checking the symbols and other methods of protection Kristine had arranged for during the remodel after the fire. In a late night conversation, she told Dean that she rarely went to the main house, but allowed wayward hunters and others in the business to use it when they needed a safe place to stay. Some of the Winchesters' contacts had already taken advantage of the safe house.
"I have to, Dean."
"Let us go with you."
"Not yet. I'm close to it, Son, but it's not time to bring you and your brother in."
"We can help –"
"And you will help. When it's time."
Dean knew better than to argue with his father.
"Will you at least keep in touch this time?"
"Better than I did." John promised. "You know Sam isn't out of the woods yet. Not completely."
Dean nodded. "I know. We'll stick around here for a little longer."
John looked at his son. "And you'll be able to spend more time with Kristine."
"For all the good that will do." Dean muttered.
"You know," John put his hand on Dean's shoulder. "I've learned a lot in the last twenty years or so, but not as much as I learned from your brother in the last few days."
"What do you mean?"
"What we do is important. We help people; we save lives. But we're entitled to our own lives, too. Kristine is important to you and you're important to her. Don't take that lightly."
"Hey, Son." John said as he sat down next to Sam. His younger son was reading one of the books Kristine had recommended.
"Dean said you were leaving."
John nodded. "In the morning."
"I wish you wouldn't."
"I have to, Sam. For now."
Sam looked uncomfortable. "Dad – thank you."
"I know I haven't been the best father all these years, but I hope you and Dean realize –"
Sam nodded. "We know, Dad."
"You all set?" Kristine asked as she joined John at his truck the next morning.
John nodded. "Yeah."
"Are you sure it has to be this way?"
He nodded again. "Yeah, for now, it does."
Kristine wondered why, but knew John wouldn't answer if she asked. "Is there anything you need?"
"No, but thank you." he put his arm around her shoulders. "I still have the credit card."
"You don't use it very much."
"When I need to. You know you're doing a good thing here."
"I do what I can." she grinned. "Since someone won't let me play with the guns and knives."
John laughed. He saw his sons walking toward them and hugged Kristine. "Take care of my boys."
"I will, John. Be careful."
Kristine stood on the porch outside her house with Patrick as the Winchester brothers packed the car. John had been gone for over two weeks, Sam was doing much better and it was time for them to get back to work.
Sam squeezed Dean's shoulder, then traded places with Kristine. She and Dean walked to the side of the house, holding hands.
"Keep the lines of communication open with Sam." she said.
"And with me." she said, her voice catching.
"It's okay, I know you have to go." she smiled at him sadly. "But I don't know how many more times I can say goodbye to you."
He caressed her cheek. "It's not forever. It's never forever."
Kristine let Dean wrap her in his arms.
"I adore you, Dean Winchester." she whispered.
"What's not to adore?"
Kristine pulled away and hit him playfully. "Jackass."
Dean smiled, then looked at her intently. She smiled and touched his cheek.
"You okay, man?" Sam asked as they pulled away from Kristine's house.
Dean nodded. "Yeah." He looked at his brother. "You?"
They waved at Kristine and Patrick as Dean pulled away from the curb. He watched in the rearview mirror until a curve blocked the house from his view. He felt his chest tighten, but he knew this was the way it had to be.
He glanced over at Sam. The color was back in his face and the light in his eyes made occasional appearances. He knew there was still work to be done, but they had talked a lot and Dean knew it would continue because he would make sure of it. It was Sam's idea to get on the road; he was beginning to feel restless and wanted to feel like they were making progress in finding Jessica's killer. They elicited the promise of a weekly phone call from their father and, while they both wanted more, had to be content with what John felt was safe. In the meantime, they would hunt things and help people.
"Hell of a couple months, huh?"
Sam nodded in agreement. "Hell of a couple months."