A/N: And now we've reached the end! As always, thank you all so much for the comments and support. Without you all, this would just be nowhere near as much fun.
And without Faye and Brenna, this wouldn't even exist. You girls are the best!
John was nearly silent as he turned his key in the lock and opened the door. Even so, Dean's eyes were on him as he pushed his way inside, dropping two large grocery bags on the sodden carpet.
"How is he?"
"Still has a fever, but he was awake." Dean swung off the bed, rising slowly so the mattress didn't rock.
"Good." John shrugged off his jacket but left his boots on, Dean sitting next to him as he pulled out an atlas and some notes.
"I paid for a week on the room, bought you boys some supplies." He motioned to the bags. "It'll take me a day to get there, with the roads the way they are, but I should be back by Sunday."
His eyes were on his notes, cross-referencing some of the information he'd gathered from his contact. Dean braced a hand on the table, shocked and disbelieving.
"Wait – you don't mean you're going anyway? You can't just leave Sam here like – "
"I'm not leaving Sam. You're going to be with him." John flipped the atlas open, plotting out his course.
"Dad, anything could happen! What if Sam gets worse? What if you get hurt?"
"Then you call Caleb or Pastor Jim and you get help." His eyes focused on Dean, now, his tone fierce. "You know the drill, Dean. God knows, we've been over it enough times."
And damn him, the hurt look in Dean's eyes felt like a wound on his soul. He tried to soften things, knowing Dean was trying to look out for his brother, knowing it was what he'd taught him – raised him – to do. And grateful – so grateful for what his oldest was willing to do for his brother. For the family.
He needed him more now than ever, if he was really going to end this. Nothing less than single-minded focus would bring this evil to its knees and give them their lives back again. He hated the thought of leaving Sam like this, of leaving the boys on their own at all. But there was no other way.
"Look, son, your brother's going to be fine. He lost some blood, and he's going to be sore for a while. But it didn't hit any organs and he's already been awake. The fever's not that high. Rest and Tylenol. That's all he needs. He'll be good to go by the time I get back."
"I can go now, Dad."
They both turned, shocked to see Sam upright, leaning against the night stand. It was pretty obvious he was using it to hold himself up. But then he let go, walking toward them with halting steps.
"I'm . . . okay. We can . . . go together." Dean was beside him in an instant, latching on to Sam's arm and leading him back to the bed.
"Sammy, you're not going anywhere." His point was well made when Sam sat heavily, more a function of his legs giving out than him making a conscious choice.
John watched him grit his teeth, closing his eyes against the onslaught of fresh pain. He crossed the space between them in long strides, dropping to his knees as he placed a hand on Sam's shoulder. "Your brother's right, Sammy. You need to heal up. And I won't be gone that long."
"Please, Dad. We need – " Sam drew a tremulous breath. "We should stay together."
John narrowed his eyes, taking stock of his son. Sam's eyes were still too bright and there was a faint flush along his cheekbones. He looked drawn and pale and more than a little unsteady.
But the lure of Portsmouth, of clues, of a lead – it was powerful. And Sam could rest in the car, sleep in the motel when they arrived. Dean could keep an eye on him. It wouldn't be much different from what they were doing now.
There was a niggling voice in the back of his head that, if he listened to it, might have sounded a bit like Mary's. Maybe sounded a lot like Dean's. It was saying that Sam needed time, to be nursed back slowly, not to be hauled along on what could easily be another wild goose chase as though he were a piece of luggage.
Then, there was the other voice – the one that said it would be easier to have the boys along, since he didn't know where the trail was going to take him. Easier to not have to worry about a time limit or making sure he retraced his steps in order to pick the boys up. Easier having Dean along as a back-up, if he needed it.
John gave in, barely even thinking about it, an unconscious look of pride crossing his face. "That's my boy."
He squeezed Sam's shoulder lightly as he stood. He pulled his coat back on and headed out to the car, intent on clearing the back seat so there'd be room for Sam to stretch out.
As the door closed, Sam hung his head, wrapping an arm around his side and letting his chin fall to his chest.
Dean eased down beside him, laying a warm hand on the back of Sam's neck.
"Sammy, what are you thinking?"
He sounded so disappointed and Sam's eyes welled up. He kept his head ducked, not wanting Dean to see. "He'll leave us . . . behind, Dean."
Dean felt the shuddering breath as Sam tried to hold back tears, felt the faint shivers that raced beneath Sam's skin as his body objected to being upright for so long.
He knew Sam was talking about more than just this one gig.
"He wouldn't do that." But he doubted his own words.
Sam turned toward him, his face so ashen that Dean was afraid for a moment he'd pass out. He swayed, and Dean grabbed him and pulled him in, Sam's soft hair beneath his chin. He was still shaking, and Dean reached behind him, tugging one of the blankets free and hugging it over Sam's shoulders.
"You wouldn't do, that . . . would you, Dean?" Sam's voice was faint, muffled against his chest.
It was so unlike Sam – to let himself be cuddled anymore, even when he was sick, to ask little-boy questions about people staying forever and never leaving him.
But Dean needed to answer as much as Sam needed to hear it. "I'm not going anywhere, kiddo. You're stuck with me."
A sigh went through his brother and he felt Sam's weight sink into him a little more. It felt like relief.
He knew the feeling.
He heard his father at the door and let Sam linger a few more seconds before gently pushing him away. "How about you lay down while we finish packing?"
Sam didn't argue as Dean lowered him carefully to the bed, still wrapped in the blanket.
"Want a little more water?"
Sam nodded, but by the time Dean grabbed a fresh bottle, Sam was asleep. He watched over him, feeling his father moving in behind him.
"We can wait a couple more hours." It was a concession Dean hadn't expected, and it made him more grateful than he could say.
John didn't seem to expect a response. He stepped away, gathering clothes as he moved around the room.
Dean watched Sam sleeping again, still sick with the knowledge of what had almost happened – and fear of what might come. The thrill of the hunt was one thing. The prospect of losing his brother was something completely different. And there was nothing to guarantee it would never happen again.
And now he knew – they both knew – what choice their father would make, if there needed to be one.
He hesitated a moment longer, then picked up his own bag and started to pack.Fin