Disclaimer: See chapter one
A/N: I really appreciate the reviews; I'm glad you've enjoyed this one so far. We've come to the end of this little adventure and I'd love to know what you thought. Thanks to Kelli for proofreading once again.
We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have - Frederick Keonigs
John could follow a trail through anything and, although the Ausländer wasn't making it easy, he was able to track it. As he made his way through the woods, he went through everything they thought they knew about the thing. The information Sam found said it had no telepathic abilities, but clearly it didn't communicate with them verbally. John wondered what else it might be able to do telepathically. He also wondered how it seemed to disappear while it was holding Dean. He had attributed that to speed, but now he wasn't sure.
He realized the creature was making its way back to the cave. Was it because that it was home or was there something there he had missed? Suddenly John was thinking about Dean. It had seemingly been so easy for him to sacrifice himself for his brother. He realized that was exactly what he had trained the boy to do, but seeing it happen – he realized he'd trained Dean a little too well.
Caleb arrived much sooner than Sam expected and there was another car behind him.
"Your arm –" Sam said as soon as Caleb had gotten out of his car.
"It's fine." he pulled the younger boy into a hug. "I'm so sorry, Sammy. I'm so sorry you got taken –"
"It's okay, man. It's one of the dangers of the hunt. Besides, it has Dean now and we have to find him –" he looked at the unfamiliar men coming toward them.
Caleb made quick introductions.
"Any idea where the thing was headed?" Caleb asked.
"Where was its home?"
All eyes turned to the hunter that Caleb had introduced as Ben.
"You know about these things?" Sam asked.
"A little. I ran into a group of them when I was in Ireland a few years ago. There's a home base it will keep going back to –"
"The cave." Sam said.
"Caleb mentioned three of them were killed in a cave –"
"Why will it go back there?" Caleb asked.
Ben shrugged. "I don't know for sure. It might just be because it's familiar."
"So you think it will take Dean to the cave?"
"Probably. And in the process –"
"Lay a trap for my father." Sam said quietly.
Caleb put an arm around his shoulders. "Easy, there, Slick."
"Let's go." Sam said, trying to pull away from his friend.
"Hold up." Caleb kept a hold on his shoulder. "You're staying here."
Sam looked toward the other hunters, then glared at Caleb. "We're talking about my family here."
"I know we are." Caleb said, leading him away from the group as they busied themselves with getting the weapons ready. "But your father told you to call me so I could take you back to town. At the very least –"
"I'm not staying here." Sam said defiantly. "And the longer we argue about it, the more time we waste."
Caleb sighed. Why were all the Winchesters so damn stubborn? He turned back to Ben. "So you know how to kill them when they aren't solid?"
"Shoot them with a stun gun or something similar. That makes them solid for a couple seconds. Take that opportunity to hit them with fire."
John put his hand into his jacket pocket and touched the taser. He thought about the way hitting it with electricity had turned the creature solid briefly. His plan was to electrocute it again and then turn the flame thrower on it. He just hoped he could reach it before it hurt Dean; or did something worse.
He tracked the Ausländer to the cave and stopped short when he saw Dean tied to a tree outside the entrance. His son saw him and cast him a warning look, then nodded toward the cave. John knew that meant the thing was close by. He couldn't help but notice the blood on Dean's face, but he didn't know where it was coming from.
"Can you use a hand?" Caleb asked as he stood next to John.
"What the –" he looked behind his friend and saw Sam, surrounded by a small group of hunters. He recognized them, but only knew one, Raul, by name.
"You were supposed to take Sam back to the motel."
"Yeah, well, I thought a little help might be a better idea."
John glared at him. "How's your arm?"
"Good enough." he nodded toward Ben. "He knows how to kill it."
Ben moved forward as John said, "So do I. You been up against these things before?"
"Once. A few years ago. So you know about electricity?"
John nodded. "Yeah."
Ben looked toward the cave entrance and saw Dean. "Some of us can go in and some of us can untie your boy –"
John looked back at the hunters. "Sammy –"
"Don't ask me to stay behind because I won't do it."
John wasn't entirely surprised by his defiance. There had been hints of it before, but more than that, he knew that his younger son needed to be a part of getting his brother back. John could order him, and Sam might even obey, but he knew it would be better to let him be a part of the rescue.
"Your ankle all right?" John asked.
Sam nodded. "It's good enough."
"Yeah. Like Caleb's arm."
Sam stared at him.
"Let's do this." John said.
The group started forward stealthily, moving in from two different directions. John suspected the creature had been watching them, but he hoped they would be able to get to the cave while it was still inside. Instead, the thing came out and stood next to Dean with one hand on his shoulder. John was holding one taser and Ben another, but both dropped to their sides, afraid if they shot the Ausländer, they would also be shooting Dean.
They could see Dean tense and struggle not to cry out in pain. Standing next to his father, Sam flinched, but he didn't rush forward like John was afraid he would do.
John put a hand on his shoulder and looked at Dean. He tried to convey confidence, but was afraid he fell short. He saw the pain in his son's eyes, but he also saw trust.
"How are we going to get to Dean?" Sam asked. He glanced over at his brother again and saw him grimace. "That thing is hurting him!"
"Sam." John said in warning. He looked at Ben. "So, is there a minimum voltage that will make it become solid?
"I honestly don't know. But even a low voltage could affect to your boy."
"Do you know of any other way to kill it?"
"Not when it isn't solid."
John looked over at Dean. He was now slumped with his chin against his chest. He had no idea what that thing was doing to his son, but he knew he had to stop it soon.
"A low voltage might hurt him, but it won't kill him. And we need to get him away from that damn thing."
Sam wasn't sure he liked the plan, but had no alternative. He looked toward Dean, his body was convulsing slightly and his head was still bowed.
"Dad." Sam whispered.
John looked toward Dean, then looked at Ben. "Ready?"
The two groups started to move again, this time faster and with more of a purpose. John was thankful no one said set phasers on stun. He was annoyed with himself for even thinking it. As soon as they were close enough, John and Ben aimed the stun guns and fired. The Ausländer made a sound like a scream and Dean almost looked like he was having a seizure. The creature fell backward and as soon as his hand was off of Dean's shoulder, Sam rushed forward with one of the other hunters.
It took longer for the creature to become solid using the lower voltage, but as soon as it did, Caleb hit it with the flame thrower. It fell toward Dean with a yell, but Sam and the other hunter got him free of the tree and moved him just in time. Sam couldn't tell if he was conscious or not, but he certainly wasn't moving on his own.
John watched as the Ausländer burned. Once he was sure it wouldn't be moving again, and that the other hunters had the situation under control, he ran to his sons. Dean's head rested on Sam's lap and the younger brother watched as Raul examined him. John knelt at Dean's feet and caught Sam's eye as he put a hand on Dean's leg. The younger boy was shaking slightly and looked away before John could see his tears.
"He needs a hospital, John."
Sam held onto his brother's collar.
"Come on, Sammy." Caleb said coming up behind him. "We've got to carry Dean back to the road."
"Dean –" Sam said, his voice cracking.
John looked pleadingly at Caleb. He put his hand on Sam's shoulder. "Come on, Slick,"
"Sam." John said, having trouble controlling his own voice. His younger boy looked at him and nodded. He carefully put Dean's head on the ground and moved away. Four men, including John, carried Dean back to the road with Caleb and Sam following. Caleb kept his good arm around Sam's shoulders as they walked. He wasn't sure if it was more for Sam's comfort or for his own.
As far as Raul had been able to determine, Dean didn't have any broken bones. He had deep gashes in his shoulders and back and had lost a lot of blood. Before moving him, John and Raul bandaged him a best they could and managed to stop the worst of the bleeding. Dean's heart was beating strong so if any of the voltage got to him, it had apparently done no damage.
John was scared. He'd seen a lot of injuries as a hunter and he'd been injured himself, but it had never been one of his sons. At least not hurt this badly. He was glad Caleb was here because he didn't know how he'd deal with Sam. His son would expect him to be strong and to take care of things like he always did, but John wasn't sure he could do that this time. Dean's recovery would be out of his hands and John wasn't used to not being in control of a situation.
The walk to the car wasn't an easy one, but luckily the terrain was relatively flat. Finally reaching the road, they got Dean settled in the back of the Impala, his head again resting on his younger brother's lap. John sat in front, but Caleb insisted on driving. He gave his keys to Ben and the others followed them to the highway.
The nearest hospital was nearly thirty miles away; it was a quiet and tense drive. Sam kept one hand on his brother's chest and checked the bandages more often than necessary. John sat sideways in the seat, keeping an eye on his sons. Dean was pale from the blood loss and he trembled faintly. Sam didn't look much better.
Sam sat on a couch in the waiting room while John filled out the paperwork. Caleb sat close by, keeping an eye on Sam, but didn't attempt to talk to him. When John walked in, he hesitated at the door. He looked from Sam to Caleb and then back to Sam. He rubbed his face, then hesitantly moved toward his son and sat next to him.
Sam was leaning forward, his hands clasped between his knees. John mirrored his pose for a few minutes before putting his arm around Sam's shoulders and pulling him close. Sam hesitated, then rested his head against his father's chest. It had been a long time since he'd found any comfort from John's touch. When he was little there was a lot of physical contact. He could remember sitting on his father's lap and watching television with him and Dean. When he was older, he would sit between them. Gradually, the contact lessened and these days, it was practically nonexistent. Right now Sam felt much younger than fifteen; he just wanted his daddy to hold him and make everything all right.
John looked toward the voice. Sam was asleep, his head still resting on John's chest. He managed to lay the boy on the couch without waking him and he followed the doctor to the door. Caleb stood between them and Sam.
"I'm Doctor Jenkins. I've been with your son since he was brought in. You said he was attacked by some animal?"
John nodded. "We were hiking. It happened pretty fast – could you just tell me how he is?"
"He lost a lot of blood; we had to transfuse him. Some of the scratches are very deep; the gash on his shoulder required stitches as did the one on his back. They've all been cleaned and he's been started on an intravenous antibiotic to ward off infection."
"Is he awake?"
The doctor shook his head. "No, I'm sorry. I suspect it's from the blood loss because there's no head injury. You mentioned a childhood heart trauma so we checked that as well, just to be safe and didn't find any problems. I honestly don't see why he won't make a full recovery."
John nodded. "Can I see him?"
"He's being settled into a room. Give us about an hour – why don't you go to the cafeteria and get something to eat? A nurse will come for you here when you can see him."
Caleb moved to the couch as Sam sat up. "We're right here, Slick. Your dad's here."
The doctor nodded at John and then left him to deal with his son.
Three hours later Dean was still asleep.
"Why won't he wake up?" Sam whispered as he sat next to his brother's bed. He looked expectantly at his father.
"The doctor said he should be waking up soon, Sammy."
"He's so pale." he said, reaching for Dean's hand, his own shaking.
John was sitting on the other side of the bed, but moved to stand next to Sam. Caleb was in the waiting room with Ben. The other hunters had followed unwritten protocol and left the area.
"Why did he do it, Dad? He stood between me and that thing – he wanted it to take him."
"He was trying to protect you, Sammy. None of this is your fault."
"It should have been me."
"No, Sammy. It should have been neither of you." John put his hand on Sam's shoulder. "But sometimes the hunt doesn't go just like it should. Sometimes it's nobody's fault; things just happen. Maybe we could have been more prepared for this, but it's not your fault."
"Dad –" Sam looked at his father with tears in his eyes.
"He's going to be okay, Sammy. The doctor said there's no reason he won't make a full recovery. Your brother is strong; he's going to be okay."
It was another hour before there was any sign that Dean was waking up. He started to move; first just his fingers and eventually his head would turn to one side and then the other. As the movement increased, Sam grew more anxious. John did, too, but he didn't want to let Sam see that.
Caleb sent Ben on his way and periodically checked on his friends, but mostly gave them time alone to be a family.
"I'll be right back, Sammy." John said, patting his shoulder.
Sam nodded, his eyes not leaving Dean's face.
A moment later Dean turned his head, drew his eyebrows together and moaned.
"Dean? Come on, man." Sam touched his arm. "Wake up, Dean."
Dean moaned again.
"Sammy?" his voice was barely above a whisper.
"Yeah, it's me. Open your eyes, dude."
Dean seemed to struggle, but his eyes partially opened a moment later. Sam smiled at him.
"Sammy – what --?"
"You're in the hospital. The creature is dead and you're gonna be okay."
"Where's Dad?" Dean asked, his voice still low.
"He just stepped outside."
Sam smiled and quickly wiped away a tear. "I'm fine, Dean, don't worry about me."
John walked in a moment later.
"Dad, he's awake." Sam said happily.
"Hey, kid." John smiled at him, putting a hand on the top of his head. "How are you feeling?"
"Weird. Tired. What happened?"
"The Ausländer cut you pretty good and you lost a lot of blood, but the doctor said you were going to be fine."
Dean nodded tiredly then looked toward his brother. Sam looked scared and even feeling as bad as he did, Dean was more concerned for him than for himself.
"Yeah?" he answered quickly and leaned forward.
"It's okay, Sammy."
John glanced at Sam and was about to say something when the doctor walked in. He smiled at Dean. "Good to see you awake. How do you feel?"
"Tired, but okay, I guess."
"You mind if I ask your father and brother to leave so I can examine you?"
Dean nodded, his eyes already slipping closed.
Sam looked at the doctor.
"I'll join you in the waiting room in a few minutes." he smiled reassuringly.
"We'll be back in a little while." John said to his son, patting him on the arm.
Dean forced his eyes open. "Okay."
John led Sam out of the room and down the hall. Caleb stood up as soon as he saw them.
"Dean's awake; the doctor is with him now." John said.
"That's good news." he smiled.
John nodded and sat down on the couch. He rubbed his face, then sat back with a sigh. "This has been one long damn day."
"That is has." Caleb agreed, sitting down next to him. "But it might be tomorrow now, I'm not sure."
John gave him a quick smile.
A few days later, the Winchesters were back at Pastor Jim's house. Dean was recovering well, but got tired more quickly than usual. The doctor had warned them about that when he released Dean, but said if he gradually increased his activity each day, he would be fine. John watched him closely, but Sam watched him even closer.
"Dean?" Sam called from his bed after the lights were out one night.
"Why did you do it?"
Dean sighed to himself. He had hoped to avoid this conversation.
He heard Sam turn onto his side, but didn't look at him. The room was dark, but not so much that he couldn't see at all.
"That thing could have killed you, Dean."
He said nothing.
"And you stood in front of me –"
"Did you forget that I'm the older brother? I'm not going to stand by while some monster goes after you. I didn't let it happen on the playground in elementary school, and I'm not going to let it happen now."
Sam was quiet and Dean thought that was the end of it.
He rolled his eyes. "Yeah?"
"Don't mention it, little brother. That's what I'm here for."
John heard the conversation from the hallway and wondered exactly what Dean meant.
John looked up from the newspaper as Dean came into the kitchen the next morning. "Hey."
"Hey." Dean poured a cup of coffee and joined him at the table. "Anything interesting?"
"Not really." John folded the paper and put it aside. "How are you feeling?"
Dean slumped over the coffee cup. "I wish you and Sammy would stop asking me that. I'm okay."
"Speaking of your brother; is he still asleep?"
"No, he was just getting into the shower when I headed down. Why?"
"I want to talk to you about something."
Dean's face fell.
John put a hand on his arm. "I'm proud of you, Dean."
He couldn't help but look surprised.
"The way you protected Sammy – the way you always protect Sammy; it makes me proud." John squeezed his arm. "But there's something I need you to know."
Dean looked at him.
"I need you to know that you are no less important than your brother and I hope I never made you feel that you were." John watched as Dean thought about his words while staring into his coffee. "And I was wrong to make you feel bad about his ankle. I know there's nothing you wouldn't do for your brother; I've always known that. Even before he was born, I knew you'd be a good brother. And you're a good son."
Dean blinked away tears before looking up. John smiled at him as Sam and Jim walked into the room. An hour later, the men were talking and laughing over a pancake breakfast.
Sam got more involved in the hunts and John tried to temper his reaction to Sam's injuries, but he wasn't always successful. None of them were ever a direct result of Dean not trying his best to keep Sam safe; sometimes things just went wrong. It wasn't always someone's fault and John always tried to tell himself that. Unfortunately, he didn't always tell Dean.
There were a lot of things he didn't tell Dean that he should have….