A/N: Here's what almost all of you great people asked for. The epilogue and a small peak at my take on Pastor Jim's character. Hope you enjoy the final bit of this fic. Thanks again for all the phenomenal reviews, pushing another of my stories over the 100 mark. You people rock! Enjoy!
Epilogue: Four weeks later.
Dean looked up in time to see a sign flash by along the road as the rumbling engine of the Impala comforted him with a feeling of home. He still was troubled by nightmares of losing Sam. Four weeks after the beast had hurt him, Three weeks, five days and eleven hours after Sam had died, only to be healed by Grace, Dean still woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, feeling his brother's rapidly cooling body in his arms. More often than not for the first week Dean remained awake for the rest of the night watching his brother sleep in the hospital bed. After that John had insisted that Dean go home at night to sleep. The nightmares had gotten worse for Dean then until John relented and let him stay with Sam for the entire day, dropping him off as soon as visiting hours started, staying for an hour or so with his youngest before heading out by himself on a local hunt or an odd job to get some money for the promised trip to Blue Earth, Minnesota and Pastor Jim's house. They were almost there now. The sign "Welcome to Blue Earth" was a calming sight for Dean.
He turned around in the seat to look at his brother. Sam had slept for most of the trip from Louisiana, waking only for meals and the frequent pit stops that John made on the trip. Sam was stretched out on the seat, the Superman Teddy bear tucked under his arm and Dean's jacket over his sweat clad legs. The hood of his sweatshirt was pulled up over his head and shadowed the young face that Dean knew still sported a look of fatigue and pain if he moved wrong or too fast. Sam was sleeping, one arm wrapped loosely over his abdomen. Dean knew he still had pain. He probably should have stayed in the hospital, but he was beginning to climb the walls. Dean reached back and touched Sam, relishing the warmth of his baby brother's face as he brushed the hoodie and his hair back. Sam stirred and opened his hazel eyes, looking at his big brother.
"Blue Earth, Sammy."
"Pastor Jim's?" Sam asked quietly.
"'Bout twenty minutes kiddo. How you feelin'?"
"Tired. A little sore. But I'm okay, I guess."
"Alright, Sammy. We'll get to Jim's and get settled in. You can sleep there." John said, looking at his son's dark shadowed eyes in the rearview mirror.
"I wanna spend some time with Pastor Jim, Dad." Sam said quietly.
John smiled. "You will kiddo. We're not gonna leave for a couple weeks." John said as he negotiated the turn onto the gravel drive that led to Jim's parsonage.
Jim heard the rumble of an engine that even after a year he still easily recognized. He stood and went to his front door. A familiar big black car was pulling to a stop just to the left of the front porch in the parking area next to Jim's own pickup. Dean waved through the windshield as they stopped, a smile lighting his face. Jim walked out onto the porch, pulling his casual flannel tighter about his frame, his longish dark brown hair, touched with a hint of gray at the temples, fluttered in the October Minnesota wind. John killed the engine and opened his door with its ever-present squeak as Jim stepped down off the porch and walked up to him, catching his forearm in a hunter's handshake. "John, what are you guys doing in this neck of the woods. You know it's been over a year?"
"Yeah, Jim. I know. Listen, I know I didn't call and I'm sorry if it's a little abrupt but you mind if we stay here for a couple weeks?" John asked, casting his eyes at the ground.
Something about John's gestures and quiet tone scared Jim. "John, what's goin' on?" Dean had gotten out of the car and opened the rear passenger door. He reached in and helped Sam sit up as John pulled Jim aside. Jim looked at the boys, Dean's tired features and Sam's slow movements clueing him in that something bad had happened even as John spoke quietly.
"Jim, a month ago, we went on a hunt in the Bayou. I made Sammy go, thought it would be good for him. He got jumped by the beast we were hunting. Turned out it was a witch's familiar and she turned it on him again while Dean and I were out lookin' for it. It nearly killed him then and there. We got him to a hospital but infection had set in. Jim… Sammy died. A healer that was working at the hospital saved my son. She was the witch's sister. She said she was Wicca. Jim…" John's voice broke and his hands shook.
"Okay. Let's get the boys settled. They look like they've been through hell. Then you and I can talk."
John ran a hand over his tired eyes and smiled wanly at Jim. "Thanks." They turned towards the car to see Dean helping Sam stand. Sam had a grimace on his face and an arm wrapped loosely around his middle. Jim started at how bad Sam looked. He'd lost weight and had dark smudges under his eyes. He leaned heavily on Dean. Jim walked quickly to Sam and crouched down, getting a little lower than eye level with the boy he thought of as a son. Images of the first time he'd met Sammy Winchester flitted through his mind. Four year old Dean had stood huddled next to his father's side on Jim's doorstep. Sam had been in his dad's arms, staring sleepily at the man who'd come to the door at the knock. Now Jim looked at that baby, forced to grow up before his time. He had that same tired, staring look on his face as he met Jim's eyes. His eyes shifted to Dean, looking like he was eighty instead of eighteen. Oh Lord, these boys have been through too much.
"Sam, Dean, go on inside. Your bedroom is always ready for you both."
"Thanks Jim." The boys said in unison with subdued voices. Dean got a tighter hold on his sagging brother and walked him slowly inside. Jim walked back up to John who had moved to the trunk of the Impala. John was loading down his arms with bags. Jim took half, stopping to meet John's brown eyes.
"John, Sammy asked to come here, didn't he?"
"Yeah." John said, crestfallen.
"Let's go inside. I have coffee." Jim held his half of the bags and led John into the house.
Dean helped Sam sit down on his bed. Sam managed to hold back a cry, what little escaped sounded like a sob. "Okay Sammy. You're hurtin', that's obvious. What isn't, is why you're hurtin. Let me see." Dean lifted Sam's feet gently and helped him lay flat on his back in the bed. Sam was silent as Dean lifted his shirt to look at the wounds that had been so bad so few weeks ago. They were mostly healed, leaving eight long red scars that had tightened the growing muscles of Sam's abdomen by forming scar tissue. There was bruising around each of the healed gashes and small scabs where the stitches had been removed three days ago.
"It's okay Dean. It just pulls when I move. It'll get better."
"Yeah, okay. Get some sleep, Sammy." Dean pulled of Sam's shoes and covered him up with the blanket that lay folded at the bottom of the twin bed.
"Okay." Sam pushed deeper into the pillow and closed his eyes, soon sound asleep. Dean sat and watched his brother sleep, thankful that the stillness he saw in Sam for those weeks was beginning to turn back into his normal nonstop movement. He felt his head drop to his chest where he sat and he snapped awake. Moving to the other bed Dean flopped out on top of the covers and, facing his baby brother so he could see him, fell fast into the first dreamless sleep he'd had in four weeks.
"John, what happened?" Jim said as he put a cup of black coffee in front of John where he sat at the wooden kitchen table. Jim picked up another cup and moved to sit opposite.
"We fought. Sam wanted to stay home to study for a test at school and I called him on it. I ordered him to go on the hunt. We got into the Bayou and the thing, I don't even know what it was, attacked us. It caught us all, Jim. Anyhow, Sammy got the worst and it fell into a bog with him. Dean reached in and found him under the water… Jim, he almost drowned. My little boy almost drowned in swamp water." John sipped the coffee in front of him and continued, scrubbing a hand over his haggard features. "He didn't tell us that he was hurt, that the thing had clawed him. He was tired of us telling him he'd screwed up again."
"You tell Samuel that?" Jim asked in a neutral tone, un-accusing.
"Yeah. I did, Dean did. We did it too much. Hell, Jim, once is too much. Sammy never screwed up a hunt. He took to the lessons and the hunts just like his school work except he doesn't want to do this forever. Jim I don't want him to. Or Dean. I want my boys to be safe, happy. I just …. I don't know how to give them that anymore. I have to find the thing that killed Mary. I can't stop."
"John, this is the first time I've heard you talk to me like this. What went on after Samuel fell into the water?"
"We pulled him out and as usual I let him have it for letting that thing get the drop on him. The boy only had a knife to begin with. I wouldn't let him have a rifle. Dean reamed me out and said he was takin' Sam home if I made them go to the car, which was what I was going to do. Dean…" John smiled a little. "You know he's ripped me a new ass on more than on occasion recently. Anyway we went back to the house we were renting and cleaned up. Sammy kept the fact that he was hurt from us because we were asses. I wanted nothing more than to go back out and finish the hunt. We salted everything and Dean went with me. Sammy woke up a couple hours later sick. Infection. To make a long story short the beast and the witch broke into the house and nearly gutted my boy. Dean killed the thing and we got Sammy to a hospital. Sepsis set in and he was dying. Hell, he did die Jim. Dean and I…. we lost him." John choked off and wiped tears fro his tired eyes, memories making them hazy. "There was a woman there, a nurse. Her name is Grace. She is Wicca and a healer. She saved my boy while I was back at the house getting rid of the bodies of the thing and the witch. I left because I had to finish the hunt, always finish the hunt, and Sammy got worse. I came back in time to hear Dean screaming for help. Sammy died. My little boy was gone and Dean was so…broken. Grace gave him back to us. I swear Jim, I deserved to lose him. I did."
"No one deserves to lose a child John. It happens, and it may be God's will regardless of how awful it seems, but everything happens for a reason. There was a lesson you needed to learn here. Have you?"
"Oh yeah. I learned I need to be a father instead of a Drill Sergeant. I'm going to go see my boys. I need to be with my boys." John picked up his remaining coffee and headed down the hall to the small room the boys shared. Seeing them sleeping, he quietly moved into the room and watched them for a minute. He moved forward and removed Dean's boots, pulling the blanket carefully out from under his legs. He covered Dean as best he could and ran a hand gently over his golden brown spikes.
Moving to the other bed John tucked Sam in and leaned into brush his little boy's hair out of his dark smudged, closed eyes. My strong little boy. I owe you so much. I'm so sorry. John let a tear trickle down his cheek and turned from the room, going into the small room he used. He shut the door and for the first time in fourteen years cried himself to sleep over something other than the loss of his wife.
Early the next morning found Pastor Jim Murphy at the chapel. The sun streamed brightly through the stained glass windows and added to the sense of peace that pervaded the room. He sat in the front pew, thinking over what John had said. He'd watched John last night with the boys, listened to him cry behind closed doors and longed to patch up the family he'd come to care for. He was asking for help doing that when the door opened softly and a head of wavy brown hair peeked around silently. Jim saw the shadow on the floor and smiled. He knew Sam would wait for his invitation.
"Samuel." The stern sounding name came out a happy tone as Jim called to the boy he loved like a son. Sam had won his heart completely as a three year old boy, curious about everything, when he'd climbed up into Jim's lap and asked "Who's God?"
The boy, who at fourteen was so reminiscent to Jim of that tiny child, came forward and sat silently beside Jim in the pew, just barely touching shoulders with the older man.
"Sam." Jim said, turning to look at the boy who had so many emotions flickering over his features he looked like a slide show on rapid play.
"I'm not okay Pastor Jim." Sam said, wise beyond his few years.
"I know you're not." Jim responded.
"I remember dying. Dean and dad didn't tell me, but I remember. I saw Grace. I'd never met her but I saw her and Dean was right when he told me I'd like her. I hurt him." Sam said in a rush.
"Who?" Knowing who he meant but needing to hear him say it. Sam needed to say it.
"Dean. I saw him holding me tight. I couldn't feel it but I saw. He died with me. That's the only way I can say how he looked to me. I hurt him and he still hurts and I can't make him better like he does me. I want to but I don't know how. Jim, I hear him at night. He watches me sleep and he tells me that…"
"I'm never gonna lose you like that again." Dean finished for Sam as he walked into the chapel and came up to their side. They both had jumped at the sound of his voice and Sam fell silent, his eyes shifting to stare at the burgundy carpet. "It's the truth Sammy. No matter what, I'm not losin' you again. Not like that. Not ever. It's just not an option."
"Dean, everyone dies." Sam said quietly.
"Sam, I know that. What I meant was I'm never letting you die alone like that. I'll never let you alone." Dean moved forward and crouched down, pulling his baby brother into his arms for a fierce bit gentle hug. "You'll never be alone." Sam returned the hug and Pastor Jim watched on. Dean slid onto the pew touching shoulders with his little brother and the three of them watched the sun shine through the stained glass windows, the color and light seeping into their souls to begin the healing that they needed.
A/N: Hope you all liked it and will remember to hit that little button. I'm working more slowly on the sequel to Escaping Fate that was promised next, but it is coming along. I've also accepted another challenge and have a start on it. You'll see me again soon. Thanks again for reading.