NOTES: Well, here we are at the end! Thank-you so much for sticking the course and being so kind, I never expected such a fantastic response! I'm toying around with sequel/tag-on material so let me know if there's anything you would like to have seen or would like to see and I'll do my best. Thanks again!!!

CHAPTER FIFTEEN
And Here I Stand
-----------------

"What's the last thing you remember?"

"Uh...knocking you out at the motel," Dean answered, wincing a little. He could still see the fine bruise across Sam's jaw. His mind was still all over the place. What he could draw from his memories disturbed him, but he couldn't make much sense of it. "After that everything's kind of jumbled, you know?"

"A lot happened after you sucker-punched me," Sam said. He couldn't believe how relaxed his whole body was now that Dean was awake and talking to him. All the angst and anguish that had been weighing him down had been washed away in just a few seconds.

"Yeah, I can't believe you fell for that whole sleeping pills thing," Dean told him, trying to shake off the unpleasant memory of having to knock his little brother unconscious. He noticed Sam's sling, and a fleeting memory of wrenching Sam's arm from his socket entered his mind "I do that too?"

"It's no big deal, it's fine," Sam dismissed. He had almost forgotten all about it.

"I was trying to keep you safe. Looks like I did a great job," Dean said miserably. He couldn't quite understand why Sam was still beaming like he'd just won the lottery.

"Yeah, well I appreciate the effort. None of it matters now anyway."

"It matters to me," Dean argued. "I could have killed you."

"But you didn't. Everything's okay. You got your soul back, evil has been smited. Or is it smote...that word is like, archaic," Sam trailed off.

"Dude, would you quit being so freakin' happy and tell me what else happened? I only remember little pieces... Oh jesus, I kicked the crap out of someone, didn't I?"

"Four people, actually," Sam corrected, but rushed to continue when he saw Dean's eyes widen in shock. "But don't worry, they're all fine. Dad checked."

"Dad?!" Dean exclaimed, sitting up quickly and almost ripping his IV out.

Sam backed up a little and looked guilty. "You don't remember dad being here?" he asked hesitantly.

"Why would I remember that, I told you not to call him!" Dean said angrily.

"Dean, he helped me find you and banish the Braken, I couldn't have done it without him," Sam argued, keeping his tone calm. He'd completely forgotten about Dean's aversion to involving their father.

"What did you tell him?" Dean demanded.

"Everything," Sam admitted. "I had to, Dean. Plus he kinda guessed some of it," he added, shrugging, but not very sorry. It had all turned out okay.

"Ugh, I can't believe you Sammy!" Dean rolled his eyes and fell back on the bed. "Where is he?"

"Oh, shit, I should tell him you're awake," Sam suddenly realised. "I'll be right back,"

"Great. That's just great," Dean muttered, watching Sam practically skip out of the room, somehow still happy as a hyena on a coffee high. Which reminded him...

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"He's fine, he doesn't remember a lot of it, but he's talking and got annoyed at me in like, thirty seconds of being awake. So, I'm thinking he's back to normal," Sam grinned, leading John back to Dean's room.

When they arrived, the bed was empty.

"Dean?" Sam called. What the hell was this? Panicked, he looked around the room and checked the en suite bathroom, only to find the place empty.

Dean cleared his throat from the doorway, one hand on his IV stand, the other holding a cup of fresh coffee.

"Hey dad," he said, his voice weighed with guilt and apprehension. His eyes roamed the floor, then lifted to meet John's.

John said nothing, but pulled him into a long-waited embrace.

"I'm sorry," Dean choked out.

"Nothin' to be sorry for," John replied, and eventually pulled away. "But there will be if you don't get back into that bed and rest up."

Sam smiled and everything felt right. He pushed away any notion that it might not last, and just enjoyed the moment. "I'm going to get a doctor, see when we can get out of here," he said after a short while, and left them alone.

"I was checking up on some of the Braken's past victims," John began as Dean walked back over to the bed and sat down. "Some of them are coming out of their comas. It's over," he finished, meeting Dean in the eye.

Dean looked away. "It should have been over two years ago. I should have made sure..."

"It doesn't matter now," John interrupted. He knew Dean had a guilt complex, and how he let it eat away at him. He didn't plan on letting that happen again. "We made it right. All of us. The Braken can't hurt anyone else, and it didn't in those two years. So this job's just taken a little longer than usual, that's all."

"Yeah," Dean said, laughing a little, but there was still a lot of pain in his eyes.

"How much do you remember?" John asked.

"Bits and pieces," Dean replied. "I remember saying some terrible things. To you and Sam."

John shook his head slightly. "Just words," he dismissed. "Besides, did you see Sam? I think he's already forgotten about it."

Dean knew his father was just trying to make himself feel better, and decided to let him, just this once.

"I also need to say thank-you," John added.

Dean furrowed his brow in confusion. "For what?"

"You went above and beyond. You were prepared to sacrifice more than your life for me. Not only that, but you left Sam to protect him getting hurt. Trust me, I know how hard that must have been."

It was true, leaving Sam had gone against everything Dean innately believed, but he had to do it for the greater good. It was a twisted role switch swap-over between the three Winchesters, but Dean had come away from it with a higher understanding of his father's actions. Of course, it didn't mean he had to like it.

"You not staying, are you?" Dean asked outright. He had a feeling he already knew the answer, but he needed to hear it.

John shook his head slowly. Dean looked away.

"I wanted to see this through, make sure you were alright, and I've done that," John told him. "Now I have something else to see through."

"The Demon," Dean stated. It was a foregone conclusion.

"That's right. I know you and Sam want to be there when I find it. But it has to be this way. I can't have you boys there, I can't have you getting hurt."

"I understand," Dean told him. He didn't like it, but he understood. "I didn't get it before...but I do now. So go find it. And if you change your mind about needing help, you've got my number."

John nodded and got up to leave.

"Stay alive, alright?" Dean said when he was at the door.

"You too."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sam returned to Dean's room a few minutes later. "The doctor's gonna be in a minute," he said, stopping when he realised something wasn't right. "Where's dad?"

"He's...uh..."

"Gone," Sam deduced.

"Yeah."

The brothers were silent for a moment, both trying to figure out how exactly they felt about it.

"I thought he'd stay longer," Sam said quietly.

"I told him to go," Dean admitted, his voice still heavy with emotion.

"Why?"

"Honestly? I didn't want to get used to having him around again, and then have him take off," Dean explained, unusually frank. "I'm done with the whole abandonment thing for a while. So, if you wanna go as well, do me a favour and go now. Because I might start getting used to you too."

Sam stared at his brother for a few moments and made a decision. "I'm not going anywhere."

Dean met him in the eye with cautious hope. "You can't promise that," he said, shaking his head.

Sam swallowed. "I can, I did. I meant it. I'm not saying I'll do this until I die, alright, but I'm just telling you that for the time being? You're stuck with me."

The room fell into silence once again.

Dean nodded thoughtfully, then tried to hold back a smirk. "What a horrible thing to say. Jeez, I just went through a traumatic experience, come on. What did I do to deserve your sorry ass?"

Sam let his lips break into a wide grin. "Well, you dislocated my shoulder, for one," he said jokingly.

"Yeah, well, that just proves you have weak girly arms and old man joints," Dean threw back.

"Shut up." Sam shook his head in happy disbelief. Dean was definitely back to normal. Things weren't perfect by a long shot, and the whole missing father issue was still unresolved, but there would be plenty of time to sort that out. Sam had meant what he said when he'd told Dean he wouldn't be leaving any time soon. He owed him that much.

"Thanks," Dean said, turning serious. "I guess I owe you my soul."

"Yeah ya do," Sam said, scoffing. "I'd probably take better care of it too, not go offering it up on a platter to every demon that comes strolling by."

"Oh, so we're joking about it already, huh?" Dean asked incredulously.

"I can joke about whatever I want, dude. I saved your soul."

Both brothers laughed, and it was as if it signified the end of the ordeal. They could start getting back on track, even if that track was long and arduous. It was their track, and it was where they belonged.

"Man, I am starved," Sam said. Now he had the time to listen to what his body had been trying to say, it was screaming that it was hungry.

"You're starved?" Dean repeated. "All I've had is IV fluid for the past...how long have I been out?"

"Uh, I think it's Wednesday," Sam told him.

"K, that doesn't help me."

"Does it really matter?"

"I guess not. I swear. I could eat a hundred truck-stop cheeseburgers right about... Oh my god..."

Sam switched from zero to panicked in a heartbeat, fearing that maybe Dean remembered something terrible, or that the Braken had done something to him before it was banished, or that the doctors had missed something... "What? What is it?"

Dean looked at him, eyes full of alarm.

"I can't remember where I parked the car."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

THE END