A/N: Thank you Ruth for the awesome beta.
This was first posted on livejournal, in case you should find it familiar.
Note: All sixteen chapters have already been written, edited and betad. I'm not just done uploading yet :-)
Long Way Down, Long Way Home
Someone was knocking on the door. Sam – pulled from his sleep – opened his eyes and blinked. There was another knock on the door. Sam turned over and saw that Dean was still fast asleep in his bed, blanket pulled up to his chin. Sam smiled and got to his feet. Rubbing sleep from his eyes he walked over to the door, unlocked and opened it – and faced his father standing outside in the darkness. Sam reckoned he must have slept for some hours at least.
"Dad." Sam said, backing off a little so his father could step in.
His dad entered, hands in his pockets. After Sam had closed the door his father turned around, and for a moment they both just looked at each other in silence. Sam thought that his dad seemed tired, not unlike Dean.
"Don't you... want to say 'Christo' at least, or splash some holy water in my face to make sure I'm not a demon?" Sam finally asked. His dad just grinned and shook his head.
"Don't have to. After Dean's phone call I went to Missouri. I hoped she could help me find him. She told me you were still alive."
The corner of Sam's mouth twisted into a smile. Trust his father to try the practical approach.
"I'm just so glad she was right," his father added quietly before he crossed the distance between himself and Sam and pulled him into a tight hug. He held Sam tightly as if he never wanted to let go again, and Sam returned the embrace.
It now seemed absurd he'd ever considered not telling his family he was still alive. Sam's eyes filled with tears now, and he buried his face in hid father's jacket that smelled like coffee and gunpowder and warmth. A great weight was lifted from Sam's shoulders now that his dad was here, and for once in his life he didn't doubt that his dad would make everything all right. He was no longer alone. He felt like he had given everything he had.
"How's Dean?" his dad finally asked, freeing himself from the embrace. Sam ran his arm over his eyes before he answered: "The fever's gone but..." His voice thickened and he had to concentrate for a moment before he could vocalise what he was trying to say. "I think he ... he was finished, Dad. It was a close call."
Sam nodded. "Yeah."
They both sat down on Sam's bed, facing Dean. Their shoulders were touching and Sam would have liked to rest his head on his father's shoulder, just to feel the solid weight of his dad being right there. But he wasn't sure whether Dad would have allowed it. They both watched Dean in his sleep for a while, until Sam heard his father's voice:
"I tried to find him. I tried to find you, Sammy. But I didn't know where to begin. You gotta understand, Sam, I couldn't just put your photo in the newspapers. There's still cops looking for you and Dean, and it might have gotten you into trouble, and your brother, too. Dean's still wanted for murder and I didn't want to put his life in jeopardy. I called all my contacts, asked them whether you guys had been seen but...it was like both of you had just vanished. I was worried sick."
He paused and took a deep breath. "You can't imagine how relieved I was when I got your phone call. Just..." his voice trailed off.
"Just what?" Sam enquired.
"Just..." He bit his lower lip before answered, "...I can't believe Dean wouldn't talk to me. He was running from me, wasn't he? What kind of a father does that make me?"
Sam shifted uncomfortably. "I don't think he was thinking rationally." he offered.
"I guess the problem is that he was, just like I taught him."
Sam didn't reply, because he couldn't deny that his dad had a point there.
"How did you find him?"
Sam cleared his throat, his hands fumbled for the blanket. He didn't want to make things worse for his dad and knew he had to.
"I had this vision one night. He was in an abandoned motel, and the spirit nearly killed him. Tried to hang Dean. But... I think if the spirit hadn't killed Dean, something else would have soon." Sam said, and his dad nodded.
"He hasn't taken care of himself, has he?" Sam asked. Dad shook his head and ran his right hand through his face.
"No, he hasn't. He's done everything but that."
"His body is covered in bruises, Dad. He looks like he's been through hell."
"I would assume he has, Sam."
Sam watched as Dad wordlessly moved over to Dean's bed. He sat down on the edge there, took off his jacket and threw it onto the floor. His eyes were fixed on Dean for a moment before he carefully put his right hand on Dean's arm. Dean frowned in his sleep but his face relaxed again quickly and he didn't wake.
"I never taught him he could be fine on his own," Sam heard his father mutter, more to himself, and his voice sounded fragile, much like Dean's. Sam remained silent, because what was he supposed to say to that? "It's not your fault, Dad"? It would have been a lie. Even if their Dad had never meant for things to be like this, for years he'd done his best to make Dean believe he only mattered to his father as long as he was taking care of Sam. When Sammy was gone, Sam concluded, Dean must have presumed that Dad wouldn't want to have anything to do with him any more
Sam saw how his father's hand wandered along Dean's arm up to his face. He put the palm of his hand against Dean's cheek, Dean's lips moved as if he wanted to say something. Then their Dad pushed some strands of hair out of Dean's face. Sam held his breath.
For as long as he could think back, their Dad had always treated Dean like a grown-up. Sam had never witnessed his dad being so gentle and careful with Dean, and the scene felt so surreal Sam pinched his arm to make sure he wasn't dreaming.
"Dean." Dad said, and his baritone resounded in the room, "Dean?"
Dean frowned again - and then he blinked, and opened his eyes. His pupils searched for something to fix on, and when they did and Dean saw his father sitting next to him his face lost all the colour it had gained during his sleep. Dean stiffened instantly, his eyes widened and he tried to slide away from his dad but his father wouldn't let him.
"Dean." he said again.
When Dean realised that there was no chance he could escape his father's presence he began to shake with fear, and the only thing he finally managed to say was a barely audible: "I'm so sorry." His breathing was laboured, going in heavy rasps. He sounded like he was about to cry again, desperate and scared, and he tried to pull his arm from his father's grip but his dad held on to his arm firmly.
"What are you sorry for?" he asked, even though Sam was sure he already knew the answer.
"Sam –" Dean stuttered, panicking, " –I'm so sorry...I didn't mean... and I tried to make up for it but... they're so many, too many..."
The helplessness and fear in Dean's voice broke Sam's heart, because everything began to make sense. Everything. He swallowed down some tears, and knelt beside the bed so that Dean could see him.
Dean glanced from Sam to his dad and back to Sam, like he couldn't understand. "I'm dreaming." he whispered. It wasn't a question, it was a conclusion.
"You're not dreaming." Sam said, feeling it was his turn to speak now. He, too, put his hand on Dean's arm to reassure him he was really there. Dean's skin was still warm from his earlier fever, and Sam curled his fingers around Dean's arm, he didn't know why but it seemed important. He wasn't going to let go. "Do you remember earlier? What I told you about the fire?"
Dean stared at Sam, slightly shaking his head, and then he focused his eyes on his father again. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry..." he muttered over and over again.
"Dean." Dad's voice was definite, and Dean fell silent immediately. He seemed to shrink in front of Sam's eyes, the way he pulled his shoulders and legs up. And then there was Dad, who wouldn't avert his eyes, and Dean, who couldn't. Dean gulped and Sam was shocked to find that now his dad looked as if he was about to cry.
"It's me who ought to be sorry, Dean. And I am." He paused, and glanced over to Sam who was nodding encouragingly. Dad turned towards Dean again, his hand now holding onto Dean's. "Do you hear me, Dean? I'm so sorry."
Dean's lips parted in surprise, and he looked at Sam seeking for help. But Sam just smiled, and then their Dad spoke again.
"Don't ever do that again, Dean, okay?" He pressed Dean's hand a little, "Promise. Promise you'll never do that again."
Dean looked as if he couldn't understand what was happening to him. "I promise." he answered quietly.
"Promise me, too." Sam said. A grin flickered across Dean's face and it made Sam's heart jump a little.
Sam laughed quietly with relief, then he noticed how desperately Dean was trying to stay awake. Their Dad saw it too, apparently because he said, "Get some rest, son. Get some sleep."
"I'm not tired." Dean mumbled in weak protest, and was drifting into a peaceful slumber just a few moments later. His breathing evened out and a content expression was on his face that Sam hadn't seen in the day since he'd found Dean. Dad ran his hand through Dean's lank hair gently, so as to not wake him. He seemed to be lost in thought, but suddenly he turned his head to face Sam.
"You should get some sleep, too, Sammy."
Sam shook his head stubbornly. "I'm fine." he lied. He'd never felt so utterly exhausted in his whole life.
"I'm not going anywhere, Sam. And I'll wake you when Dean wakes up, I promise."
Normally he would have put up a fight, but things were different now. Dad was here, he was taking care of Dean. And the prospect of falling asleep not having to worry about Dean was too tempting. So Sam nodded, and crawled into bed. He didn't even bother to change his clothes, he was just so damn tired. He closed his eyes, thinking that, in moments like these, he had the best family in the whole world, and fell asleep to the sound of his dad quietly humming a Johnny Cash song.
Well, what can I say? Thank you to everyone who's stuck with this story, and for the reviews. They mean a whole lot to me :-)