Title: Endings & Beginnings Chapter 7 of 7
Author: Gillian Middleton
Characters: Sam & Dean
Total word count: 6100
Warning: A baby story. Angst.
Summary: Alternate universe story - Dean & Sam search for help against the coming demon.
Author's note: Parts 1-4 were from Sam's point of view and parts 5-6 were from Dean's. In this final part I alternate viewpoints.
But All Endings Are Also Beginnings
By Gillian Middleton
"Sam! Don't you freeze up on me now, son, I need you. Dean needs you."
Sam came back to himself, coughing a little against the smoke in the room. He automatically cuddled Maddy closer, patting her back to soothe her. Above him the ceiling was crackled and black, but the bright orange tongue of flame was gone. Dean was laying across his legs, head lolling over the side of the bed, blood seeping into the mattress and through Sam's jeans. Dean's back...
Sam choked on a sob, carefully pulling his legs out from underneath his brother and groping for a pulse with his free hand.
"Please, god," Sam muttered, then closed his eyes on a wave of relief as the thready pulse fluttered under his fingers. "He's alive."
"Sam?" Mamaw's hands took Dean's shoulder and she tried to turn him on his side. "Help me, son, I need to see that belly wound."
Head spinning, shock slowing his limbs, Sam fumbled to help her. Maddy's screams had died to miserable sobs but he could do no more than hold her close with one arm as he gripped Dean's shoulder and turned him to his side. The sleeves of Dean's t-shirt hung from his shoulders, blackened edges dangling. The fabric was burnt away and the skin of Dean's back was scorched and swollen.
Mamaw had a towel in her hand and she pressed it against Dean's stomach, then pulled it away to peer at the wound.
"How is it?" Sam demanded. "Mamaw?"
"It's deep," Mamaw said, pressing the towel back again. "But it's not mortal. Sam?" she said firmly, meeting his eyes. "It's not mortal."
The calm certainty in her eyes went a long way to calming Sam's own panic and he took a deep breath. "What do you want me to do?"
"You need to go out and get some snow, fill a pan from the kitchen. We've got to cool that burn down and we can't move him into the shower with this belly wound."
Sam stood on shaking legs, pressing a kiss to Maddy's head. The last thing he wanted to do was put her down, but she was as safe as he could make her now, it was Dean who needed his help. Hardening his heart to her plaintive sobs, he laid her down on the bed. "Shh, baby," he soothed. "I'll be right back."
The cold outside the kitchen door hit him like a blast and Sam felt it waking him out of his shocked stupor, sharpening his mind. He carried the pan back through the kitchen, grabbing more towels from the cupboard in the hall on his way.
"My medicine bag," Mamaw said, taking the pan off him. "It's in the parlor behind my rocker. Go fetch it."
Sam spared a quick glance at Maddy who was still sobbing, and Dean, who still lay so still he barely appeared to be breathing. He ran to obey.
When he came back Mamaw was smoothing handfuls of snow onto Dean's scorched skin, and wordlessly Sam took over, hardly feeling the tears well in his eyes and roll down his cheeks as he worked. He could feel the heat radiating from the terrible burns, but he could also see that Dean's skin hadn't blistered in more the a few places, and that layers of skin hadn't burned away. The skin under the cooling snow was swollen and terribly wounded. But it was alive.
"Sam?" Mamaw said gently and Sam looked up at her, eyes still blurred with tears. "The bleeding has stopped. I'm gonna need to sew up this wound, but I need your help."
Sam nodded and wiped at his eyes. "I'll do it," he said, but Mamaw shook her head.
"Not with that hand," she pointed out, and Sam frowned and looked down. His left hand was red and blistered and he vaguely remembered beating out the flames on Dean's back.
"I'm right handed," he told her. "I can do it." He quirked a humorless smile. "It's not the first time I've sewn him up."
Mamaw studied his determined face and then nodded. "Let me bandage that hand of yours first, then I'll give Dean a shot of morphine before we close up that wound."
Sam sat by the bed, patting Maddy comfortingly with his right hand while Mamaw smoothed ointment on his left and bound it up. Then he helped her straighten Dean up on the bed, laying towels over the blood stains and propping his brother carefully so that he could get to the wound to stitch it up, but not put pressure on his back. Finally he lifted Maddy and laid her down against her father's chest. The baby's sobs tapered off and she cuddled against Dean, her tear-damp cheek nuzzling against his breast. The cessation of her weak cries was an enormous relief and Sam felt himself steady even further.
It was time to sew his brother up.
Pain. Throbbing pain, radiating from his back, spiking across his belly. It burned, and Dean dimly remembered burning, and wondered if he was dead.
If this was dead, it totally sucked.
"Ow," he said thickly.
"Dean?" Sam's voice sounded thick too, clogged with tears and Dean cracked his eyelids and Sam's face swam into focus. Yeah, he'd been crying all right, his eyes were red and swollen, his skin was blotched and puffy.
"You look like shit," was what Dean wanted to say.
"Ow," he managed.
"He's in pain," Sam said.
"Morphine's wearing off. I'll give him another shot."
"Sam?" Dean said, trying to put a face to that drawling voice. Why was everything swimming like this, why was his brain so fuzzy?
"I'm here, Dean," Sam said. "Mamaw, please hurry."
Mamaw Morgan. The mountain. The demon.
Dean's eyes flew open. "Maddy!" he said, trying to lift his head. Agony lanced through him and he gasped, tears springing to his eyes.
"Stay still, Dean," Sam said soothingly. A hand touched his chin, angled his head. "She's right here next to you."
Tension left him in a rush. Maddy was nestled close to his bare chest, a tiny quilt tucked around her, swollen eyes closed.
"She's been crying," Dean said, his momentary burst of energy and pain draining him. His hand felt heavy when he lifted it and laid it over his daughter's vulnerable little body.
"She wouldn't stop crying until we laid her down next to you," Sam said, and a hand stroked Dean's brow, cool against the warmth of his skin.
"Shot's ready," Mamaw said, and Dean didn't feel the pinprick but he did feel the utter bliss as the pain released him from its claws.
Sam was snoring and Dean snuffled awake, ready to lean over and jab him in the side. It never failed. "Roll over, Sam," he'd say, and after all these years he had his brother so well trained that Sam wouldn't even wake up, he'd just snort and roll over, burying his face in the pillow.
Dean barely moved before the pain hit him, and this time it cleared his mind instead of fogging it. He opened his eyes and found himself inches away from Sam, who was laying on his back, snoring through his nose. Despite the pain and the horrifying memories, Dean actually found himself smiling at the sight.
He didn't worry about Maddy this time, over the rumble of Sam's snores he could hear Mamaw crooning and Maddy's delighted squeals of laughter. Dean closed his eyes at the sound of her chuckles. He could barely believe it, even now. Sam was next to him, Maddy was safe. And he was alive, although right now, parts of him wished they weren't.
With a cautious roll of his head he glanced up at the ceiling above him.
"You're in my spare room, Dean," Mamaw said. "Me and Sam shifted you in here after we sewed you up." Dean looked past his brother's nose and focused on the old lady. Maddy was perched on her arm, big eyes blinking and focusing on him. His little girl smiled and held out her arms, cooing happily at him.
"No, sweetheart," Mamaw said, patting her back. "Daddy ain't up to a cuddle right now."
Sam blinked and snorted awake, glancing from Mamaw to Dean. "How you feeling?" he asked, yawning widely.
"You tell me," Dean said, testing the rest of his body for the first time. His toes wiggled, his legs felt fine. He didn't want to shift too much, aware of that pain ready to blossom to life on his back. There was a dull ache across his belly and he remembered his blood on Sam's face.
"The burns aren't as bad as they could have been," Sam said, pulling his long legs up and sitting cross legged on the bed. Dean envied him his easy movement, then noticed the white bandage on his left hand. A dim memory of Sam beating out the flames on his back came back to him.
"How about your hand?"
Sam looked down at his bandaged hand and shrugged. "Like I said. It could have been worse."
Mamaw sat down next to the bed on a wooden chair, Maddy sitting on her lap. "Burns are painful," she said. "No doubt about that. But it was that gash across your belly that had us the most worried. Bled like a stuck pig."
Dean gingerly explored the tight wrapping of bandages across his middle.
"It wasn't as deep as it looked," Sam said hoarsely. "It kind of... closed up. After... After the demon was exorcised."
"Fire kind of went out too," Mamaw added. "Just as well, or we'd be sittin' out in the snow right now."
Dean caught Sam's eyes. "Is it really gone?"
Sam nodded, the corner of his mouth quirking up in an reassuring smile. "It really is."
Dean closed his eyes again, feeling the drag of exhaustion in his limbs. "It's gone," he repeated, trying to make himself believe it.
Sam spooned mashed apple into Maddy's mouth, unable to help a smile at the eager way she swallowed it down and parted her lips for more.
"Is that good?" he asked her, and she reached for the spoon with a wavering hand. Mamaw was resting her eyes in the parlor, which Sam took to mean that the old lady was grabbing some well deserved rest. It was morning outside and the blizzard was gone, leaving mounds of snow piled up against the house. The wood stove radiated heat and Sam blinked against the exhaustion settling in his limbs.
It was hard to believe that only a couple of days had passed since they arrived here. That only a few days ago the nightmare had still been ahead of him, and, frightening as it all seemed, he could look over and see the calm strength in his brother's eyes whenever he needed to.
Now, every time Sam closed his eyes all he could see was Dean pressed against the ceiling, his face blue from lack of oxygen, his eyes wide with horror and disbelief.
Maddy slapped at the spoon again, this time knocking it from Sam's hand and onto the floor.
"Dadadada!" she objected, opening and closing her mouth like a baby bird.
"Sorry, Maddy," Sam said, fetching a clean spoon. "Am I falling down on the job?" He concentrated on feeding her the rest of the bowl, then warmed her a half a bottle of milk and held her in the crook of his arm to feed her. She'd recovered better than any of them, waking against her father and patting his bare skin with her soft little hand as if trying to wake him up as well. Sam had checked her over thoroughly, worried that she might have been bruised when they had landed in a tangle on the bed. But she was unmarked, her wide hazel-green eyes merely curious as Sam smoothed his hands over her plump little limbs, then held her close and kissed her fair curls gratefully.
He couldn't have faced Dean if she'd been hurt. How was he going to face him anyway, when he'd let him down so badly? Dean had asked one thing of him, and one thing only. Get Maddy to safety.
And Sam had done the opposite.
The back door opened with a flurry of snow and Sam jumped to his feet, hand pulling the gun from the waistband of his jeans and pointing it at the newcomer.
"Easy, son," a gruff voice said, and Sam relaxed his stance as the man unwound a scarf from his neck and pulled a black knitted cap off. "That's a cold welcome for a man who's slogged all the way here in the snow to check on his mama."
The newcomer was about sixty, with grizzled brown hair and beard. There was no mistake who's kin he was, he had Mamaw's dark, birdlike eyes and that habit of tilting his head to one side.
"Sorry," Sam said, sliding the safety on with his thumb and pushing the weapon back in his waistband. "I'm still a little spooked." Maddy was protesting the loss of her bottle and Sam picked it up and pressed the teat back to her lips.
"I'm Trace Morgan." Trace held out a hand and Sam shook it. "You must be one of the Winchesters, Ma told me before the phones went down that you'd arrived."
"I'm Sam Winchester."
"Pleased to meet you." Trace stamped the snow off his boots and hung his coat by the door. "Ma said you was looking for help with a demon? Mean sonuva bitch from the sound of it."
Sam nodded wearily. "It was," he confirmed, and Trace stopped in his tracks and stared at him. "It came night before last," Sam told him, watching alarm flare in the man's eyes. "Your mother's fine, she's napping in the parlor. She saved our lives," he finished.
Trace put down the coffee pot he'd been lifting and hurried out of the room. Sam followed him down the hall and stood for a moment in the doorway as the big man knelt by his mother's rocking chair. The old lady opened her eyes and blinked at him sleepily.
"Is the blizzard over?" she yawned.
Her son nodded his head, then lifted her out of the rocker and hugged her fiercely.
Feeling like an intruder, Sam made his way back to the kitchen and sat at the old wooden table that was scarred from years of family use. There was a dull ache in his chest that he recognized of old. He'd felt it now and then, since he left home, since his father died. That feeling of being on the outside looking in. Of being separated from his family. Maddy wriggled in his arms and smiled up at him, and the ache faded a bit. Sam wasn't alone. Maddy and Dean were his family, and they were both here with him.
There was still a pang of guilt in his heart though. He'd broken his promise to Dean. It had all turned out okay, but it didn't change what he'd done.
Next time Dean woke up he was alone, and he again tested his body, feeling the edges of the morphine dulling the roar of pain. Setting his jaw in determination, Dean pushed down against the mattress and forced himself into a sitting position. The skin on his back stretched and he stifled a groan, drawing his legs up and leaning forward as the wave of agony passed. After a few moments he inched gingerly to the side of the bed and slid his legs over. Finally he stopped, panting with pain, sweat on his brow and running down into his eyes.
"Dean!" Sam pushed open the door and hurried to the bed. "What the hell are you doing?"
"I need to pee," Dean said grumpily. Sam leaned under the bed and produced a porcelain pot, decorated with a spray of pink roses. Dean looked at it. Sam looked at it.
"Christ," Dean muttered.
When he'd taken care of business Sam carried the pot out and Dean slumped, wanting to lay back down but too exhausted to try. A moment later Sam was back, and without a word he wrapped his hands around Dean's upper arms and lowered him back onto his side.
"Is your hand okay?" Dean mumbled, feeling the pain in his back subside a little.
Sam flexed it under the bandages and sat down on the floor by the side of the bed, in the line of Dean's sight. "It's fine. You need another shot yet?"
"I don't want any more morphine. We've got some pain pills in the kit, haven't we?"
Sam nodded. "You sure? That's about twenty percent of your body burnt back there, man. It's gonna hurt like hell for a while."
"I want to keep a clear head," Dean returned. "Besides, last thing we need is me getting hooked on happy juice." Dean shifted a little on the mattress and rubbed his face. "How's Maddy?"
"She's just fine," Sam assured him, then he bit at the corner of his lip. "Listen, Dean," he began slowly. "I'm sorry."
Dean studied his guilty face. "Don't," he ordered.
"I broke my promise," Sam said doggedly. "I promised to get Maddy away and I didn't."
"Forget it, Sam," Dean said firmly. "It was a stupid promise and I never should have asked you to make it."
"I meant to keep it," Sam said. "I did, Dean. But when I looked up..." He turned his head away, the memory of that horror still fresh on his face. "When I saw you up there. Like Jessica..." He looked back at Dean, eyes damp. "I just couldn't leave you. I let you and Maddy down, and I'm sorry."
"Sam, will you just listen to me for one second?" Dean insisted. "I shouldn't have asked you to make that promise, okay? It wasn't fair of me. I wouldn't have been able to keep it either."
Sam searched his eyes. "When Jessica died," he said softly. "It all happened so quickly. My nightmare, rushing by, and it was all I could do to get myself out of there before I burned to death as well."
Dean shivered at the thought of arriving at Stanford in time for his brother's funeral.
"But when I saw you up there, and Mamaw was keeping the demon busy... I knew I could do it, Dean. I knew I could get you down from there. I had to try..." he finished miserably.
"Sam?" Dean said, and Sam met his eyes. "You saved my life. You protected Maddy. You did good, okay? If you hadn't pulled me down when you did... I don't think all the morphine in the world would have been of help to me right now."
Sam's tears spilled and he bent his head, fingers gripping the covers on the side of the bed.
"It's okay, Sam," Dean repeated, as his little brother's shoulders shook. "We're okay."
Dean spent the next few days in bed for the most part, allowed up only to use the bathroom and eat. Sam was always there to help him, strong hands carefully lifting him to his feet and holding him up while the world steadied around him. In the afternoons Sam would bring Maddy in and sit with her on the wide bed, propping her up against him in the circle of his crossed legs, so Dean could spend some time with his daughter. Maddy didn't care that he couldn't sit up for long periods of time, she just wanted to see her father and smile and coo at him when he played with her.
Dean felt as if he were existing in some kind of limbo. Dazed from the pain meds and his body's efforts to heal. Hardly able to grasp the idea that the first, major battle with the demon was over.
Worried about how long a reprieve they had until the next battle.
Mamaw visited with him on the second day after Dean was hurt and told him what she knew.
"It was old," she told him. "And evil, but I don't have to tell you that. I take comfort in the fact that as soon as I saw it, I knew how to see it off."
"How long do we have before it comes back?"
Mamaw parted the room's thick curtains and looked out at the thick snow on the window sills. "Years," she said softly. "I wish I could tell you more than that."
Dean rubbed the tight bandage around his belly. "I wonder if Sam will know when it's back," he mused.
"Well, he'll be better prepared next time," Mamaw said briskly, dropping the curtain and crossing to the bed. "Even if you can't find a way to kill it between now and then, he'll know all I know about sending it back to hell. The boy's taken to the rites like a duck to water."
"He always was better at Latin than me," Dean said absently.
"Time to change the dressing on your back," Mamaw said. "I'll call Sam."
The old lady stopped and turned a birdlike look on him.
"Thank you," Dean said sincerely. "Did I remember to say that yet?"
"I wish I could have done more," Mamaw said. "This demon, son, it ain't finished with your family yet. And when it does come back, well, it's gonna be mighty pissed."
"We'll deal with it," Dean said, more confident than he really felt. "You bought us some time. Sam and me, we'll handle it from here."
Mamaw's eyes twinkled. "I believe you will."
Dean began pulling at the clips holding his bandages in place, letting the material fall away from his skin. Sam came in with the first aid kit and sat down behind him without a word, taking up the slack end of the bandage and carefully unwinding it.
"Mamaw's got her in one of those swing things she can sit in. Trace brought it up this morning and I hung it in the kitchen. Maddy's having a ball."
"Trace?" Dean winced as Sam pulled the thick pad of gauze away from his back. The salve had dried a little in places.
"Sorry," Sam said, sounding like he was wincing too. "Trace is Mamaw's least child, that's her youngest to us outsiders. He's about sixty and built like a bear."
"Oh, that's good," Dean sighed as Sam smoothed the thick white ointment on his back. He sat still under the gentle motions, letting the cool antiseptic salve work its magic on him. Sam worked in silence, his big hands gentle as he carefully traced the damaged skin. "Sam?" Dean asked a little apprehensively. He knew he could trust Sam to tell him the truth, but part of him wasn't even sure he wanted the whole truth right now. A sugar coated lie would be easier to swallow. "The burn... How does it look? And please don't say it could have been worse, okay? I don't want to know how it could have been, I want to know how it is."
Sam wiped his hands on a towel and lifted a square of fresh gauze. "Dean, you have first degree burns, okay? Which wouldn't be too bad except for the sheer amount of skin involved." Sam carefully pressed the gauze to his back and it clung to the thick ointment while Sam started to wind the bandage back around him. "It's red, it's swollen, and I don't have to tell you how much it hurts. You were wearing a t-shirt which luckily pretty much burned away, so nothing melted onto your skin. And I won't say it could have been worse if you don't want me too, but the fact is we're damn lucky. If these burns had been deeper you could have gone into shock before we got you down off this mountain in the middle of a blizzard. If they'd been deeper you'd be looking at skin grafts and months of healing."
Dean listened, lifting his arms so Sam could reach around and wrap the bandage snugly.
"It'll scar a little, but again, not as badly as it would have if it had been deeper." Sam fastened the clips back on and Dean tilted his head to glance at him. His younger brother's face was serious. "It could have been worse," he said softly.
And Dean acknowledged that with a nod.
Dean graduated to sweatpants and one of Sam's soft, baggy hoodies, and was finally allowed out of the bedroom. Sam carried in an old rocker from the parlor and Dean allowed himself to be settled in it, feeling like an old lady but bending to the pressure from Sam and Mamaw. He refused the patchwork blanket for his lap though. A man had to make a stand somewhere.
Maddy was bouncing in her swing, little pointed toes flexing happily in soft, woolen booties. She wore white stockings and a thick corduroy dress, and her happy squeaks brought a smile to Dean's face. She really was having a ball. He wrapped his hands around a warm mug of coffee and enjoyed being out of the bedroom for a while. The world felt more real here in Mamaw's kitchen, with good things cooking on the stove, and Sam sitting at the table bent earnestly over a book. He was listening to Mamaw as she recited words at him, then copying them down in his strong sloping hand.
For the first time since Sam had told him about his vision, Dean allowed himself to think about the future. Years. They had years to search for a way to end this threat once and for all. A way to kill a demon. They had Dad's journal and everything he'd taught them their whole life.
Dean looked at his daughter, who was industrially shaking a rubber ring and then jamming it in her mouth. So much had changed in his life since she'd been born. She'd helped fill the empty place inside him left by Sam's departure from his life, and his father's death. She'd given him a hope in the future, then left him racked with guilt when he found out about Sam's girlfriend. When he'd added the date and the fire together in his head, and realized that now Maddy was caught up in this as well.
Not that it would have changed anything if he had known before Jessica died. Maddy would still have been born, and wrapped herself around his heart. He still would have been here, worried about the kind of future he was going to be able to give her. Right now it was easy. All the baby needed he and Sam could give her. As she grew older she was going to need more, she deserved more. But he and Sam were committed to this search now, they had no choice, it was life and death.
Maddy flung her rubber ring, then looked surprised as it rolled across the room. Sam handed her a slice of apple and she immediately stuck it into her mouth and gummed at it. Sam shaved off another slice and offered it on the end of the knife. Dean took it and chewed on the floury winter apple.
"I'm fine, Sam," Dean said, a little more shortly than he'd intended. He hated being fussed over, he always had. He shot his brother an apologetic look, and Sam shook his head and sliced himself some apple.
"You shouldn't sit too long, this first time," Mamaw said, lifting Maddy from her swing and kissing her round, sticky cheek. "Time for you and daddy to nap, hey, sweetheart?"
Rolling his eyes at being included in the napping order with his 5 month old daughter, Dean let Sam help him up and hover next to him as he walked back down the hall. The bed did feel welcome and Dean leaned carefully against the soft pillows as Sam dealt with Maddy's diaper and wiped the apple juice from her chin.
"You want me to stay?" he said as he laid Maddy down next to his brother and blocked the baby in with pillows. She wasn't rolling much yet, but she was trying, and the pillows would make sure she didn't roll right off the bed while Dean slept.
"No, Sam," Dean said sarcastically. "I'm sure the baby and I can somehow manage to nap without you."
"Now I know you're feeling better." Sam smirked. "Call if you need anything."
"What a wonderful wife he'll make someday," Dean muttered and Maddy kicked her legs, spotted the pink ribbon on her booty, and began pulling at it. Dean pulled the booties off and tossed them away, them pulled off the little white tights Sam had just put back on over her diaper. "You just wanna play with your toes, don't you?" Dean said, and Maddy kicked her legs happily, pink toes wriggling.
"This little piggy," Dean said, stroking her big toe. "Went to market. This little piggy stayed at home." Maddy grabbed for her father's hands and Dean wiggled her next toe. "This little piggy had roast beef. And this little piggy had none. And this little piggy went weeee," He traced a finger up her belly and chucked her under her chin. "All the way home!"
Maddy arched her back in excitement, loving the attention even if she didn't understand the whole piggy reference. Dean chuckled, for a moment seeing little Sammy, back home in his nursery, gurgling happily as their mom played This Little Piggy with him, tickling his little pink toes until he squealed with excitement.
Dean repeated the game and Maddy watched big-eyed as he counted off her toes, then squirmed when he tickled under her chin.
"She's supposed to be napping."
Dean looked up to see his brother framed in the doorway, arms crossed, a wide grin on his face.
"I'm wearing her out," Dean told him.
Maddy had succeeded in stuffing her toes in her mouth and was gumming them happily. "Yeah, it looks like it," Sam said dryly.
"Mom used to play that game with you," Dean said, refusing to be embarrassed at being caught playing with his daughter, even if it was This Little Piggy.
"Yeah?" Sam tossed the pillows aside and sat down on the bed, lifting Maddy up into his lap. Deprived of her toes she settled for grabbing her uncle's hand and gnawing on one of his knuckles. "You remember that?"
"Yep." Dean caught one of Maddy's little pink feet and smoothed his thumb over the delicate arch. Sometimes he thought he'd never get over how tiny her toes were, how soft her skin was. "Sam? You don't remember anything, do you? About Mom? About that night?"
"Course not. I wasn't much older than Maddy..." Sam broke off and Dean felt perceptive eyes on him. "Maddy won't remember anything, Dean," Sam said gently. "She really is fine."
"Yeah." Dean nodded. "And she's gonna stay fine. But that means we have a search in front of us, Sam. And it's gonna be a long, hard one."
"I know," Sam acknowledged.
"That means you won't be going back to school any time soon."
"I know that too," Sam said softly. "Somehow school doesn't seem so important any more." He met Dean's eyes. "We've lost so much, Dean. All we have is each other, the three of us. Whatever we have to do to keep our family safe and together, we'll do it."
"Yeah," Dean agreed. "But, hey. It's not gonna be forever. We survived this battle, we'll win the next one. And then you can go back to school and have a brilliant career and support me and Maddy in the style to which we would like to become accustomed."
"Uh huh," Sam said, a smile breaking out. "How come I get to support you two?"
"I'll do my share," Dean assured him. "I'll er, cook. Or something."
"Your idea of cooking is to open a can."
"Uh, yeah," Dean said, as if it were obvious. "Food comes in a can. That's cooking."
"I don't know, Maddy," Sam said to his niece. "I think your lazy-ass father should get a job, what do you think?"
"Don't say ass in front of the baby. Bitch."
"Don't say bitch in front of the baby. Jerk."
"Go on, Maddy," Dean urged. "Bite him."
Maddy was still happily gumming away at her uncle's knuckle and Sam looked down at his drool covered finger and raised a brow.
"Take that," Dean told him, and Sam threw back his head and laughed.
They left on a sunny day at the beginning of February, with the snow still piled in drifts along the side of the road. The car had been towed down to the garage once the blizzard was over and thawed out. She sat now, loaded with presents from the Morgan clan, including a suitcase full of hand-me-down clothes and a box of preserves from Mamaw's larder.
A few members of the family stood on the porch as Sam and Dean made their farewells. Mamaw was cuddling Maddy one last time, kissing her apple cheeks and fussing with the pink bonnet she'd knitted for her. "You better bring that little girl back to see me now and then," she ordered, wiping away a stray tear with one work worn hand as she handed the baby back to her father.
"We will," Dean promised, patting Maddy's back through the thick snowsuit as she fussed a little.
"I know folks say don't be a stranger, but I mean it," Mamaw continued firmly. "You boys are welcome here any time. And not just when a demon is on your trail neither."
"Thank you," Sam said sincerely, leaning over and pressing a kiss to her lined cheek.
"For everything," Dean said, kissing her other cheek and meeting her bright, birdlike eyes. She nodded. "You take care of this family of yours," she said softly. "Reckon I don't have to tell you that they're the most important thing in life."
"No, ma'am. You don't."
They climbed into the car and waved a few more times as Dean started her up and let her growl to life. He couldn't sit for too long, but he'd wanted to be the one to drive down off this mountain and put her back on the open road. They drove slowly down the rutted drive, turned onto the freshly ploughed road, and the house and the Morgan family disappeared from view.
They didn't talk much as they drove down the mountain. Dean honked the horn as they passed the garage, and Mamaw's great grandson waved at them from the pumps. Then they were on the blacktop, heading east.
"Tell me when you want me to take over," Sam said and Dean nodded. Sam turned back to the view and looked out as the snowy trees rushed by. He would never say this to Dean, but he'd felt a little nervous leaving Mamaw's house. For a while it had almost been like being a kid again, leaving the big decisions in the hands of someone else. Letting the grown-ups protect him and fight his battles for him.
The nervous feeling was fading now though, with the road stretching out in front of them. They'd gotten lucky this time, and found someone to help them. That might not always be the case. They would have to fight their own battles next time, and that was okay. Sam wanted to, and he knew Dean did too. Until this threat was no longer hanging over their heads they would never truly be free to live their own lives and make their own decisions.
Sam cast his brother a glance, noting the good color of his skin, the clear brightness of his eyes. He would never forget how close he'd come to losing Dean. Jessica was gone, and his grief for her was still a sharp pain inside him. But Sam wasn't alone any more, and, no matter what decisions he made in the future, he would never be alone again. He'd learned the lesson that Dean had always seemed to know.
That family was everything.
Dean glanced at him. "Okay, Sammy?"
Sam smiled. "Okay."
"Dadada!" Maddy said in the back seat and Sam's smile widened to a grin. "Maddy's okay as well."
"Then let's get this show on the road." Dean said. And then laughed joyfully as he sped up and they headed into the future.