"Beth, it's over. Stop, Beth, it's over," Sam said as he reached out and gripped Beth's hand forcing her to stop. He'd realized it as soon as he'd tossed the last book in the fireplace. That book, unlike the others, had seemed to burn hotter, the flames licking up the cover were blue rather than the red. As soon as the fire had charred more than three-quarters of the book, the heavy oppression that had filled the room lifted, leaving Sam feeling almost lighthearted.

"Over?" Beth questioned in confusion.

Sam wasn't surprised by Beth's response. The girl had been working in a trance ever since she'd watched her aunt getting drug down the hallway. Sam couldn't say that he blamed her. The sight of his brother in hot pursuit would feature in his own nightmares for a long time to come, of that he was certain.

The only thing that had stopped Beth from running after the two had been Sam's tackle. He'd hit the girl low and hard just like Dean had taught him. The force of the hit had sent them both sprawling across the living room floor. It had worked though, he'd managed to make Beth understand that the only way she could help would be to find the book.

"Come on," Sam said, grabbing the older girl by the arm. He was worried about Beth's slow response but he didn't have the time to coax her around. The urge to find his brother was quickly replacing all other thoughts in his head. Down the hall Sam went, still gripping Beth's arm. It was only as he reached the bedroom door that he paused.

He suddenly realized he was terrified. Terrified that they hadn't been on time, terrified of what they would find when he pushed open the door. The low moan he heard from the other side of the door got him moving again. At first sight, Sam couldn't see anyone. In fact, the only sign that his brother or Caroline had even entered the room was the broken door and the smear of blood that ran from in front of the closet to the far side of the bed.

Sam walked forward cautiously, his heart hammering so hard he felt sure he was going to be the first eleven year old to have a heart attack. As he moved across the room he began picking up his speed. He was suddenly certain that his brother was still alive but would bleed out before he could reach him.

Sam came to a complete stop as he rounded the bed. There Caroline sat, hunched over the older boy a wad of bedding held against Dean's side. Sam dropped to his knees beside Dean and insinuated himself between his brother and Caroline. Brushing her hands out of the way, he took over keeping the pressure on Dean's side.

"He said to put pressure on it," Caroline rasped as she got shakily to her feet. "I'm gonna call 911."

"No," Sam without hesitation.

He could feel both Caroline and Beth watching him as he pressed harder on Dean's wound. "You can't. They won't understand this. They'll take Dean and me away."

Caroline reached out and touched Beth's shoulder before turning to face Sam, the phone in her hand. "Sam, your brother needs help."

Suddenly, Sam couldn't stand the tone of her voice. She was speaking to him as if he didn't understand. As if he was too young to really grasp just how grave the situation was. That was a load of crap, his hands were becoming soaked with his brother's blood. If anyone understood the situation, it was Sam. For that one moment, he found himself wishing for his father. He wanted, no needed, John to come swooping in, all growls, and barking orders. He needed to stop Caroline and he needed to do it before she called the cops.

"They'll take Beth from you," Sam spat out barely even considering his words.

Caroline dropped the phone. "What?" she asked the blood draining from her face causing the dark red fingerprints that encircled her throat to become more vivid.

"They won't believe anything you say, and they'll take Beth. They'll find you unfit to raise her," Sam's voice cracked a bit as he bent back over his brother.

"What are we supposed to do then? I mean we can't just let Dean die on my bedroom floor."

Sam was fairly certain that Caroline was nearing hysteria. Apparently, the day's events were beginning to overwhelm her. Sam really couldn't blame her, after all, he was beginning to panic and this was really nothing new to him. "We'll call my father."

"Your father?" Beth questioned, as she pulled her hand from her Aunt's grasp and knelt at Sam's side.

Sam nodded, not bothering to look up. "Yeah my Dad can fix Dean," Sam put as much conviction as he could into his words. His father could fix Dean, of that he had no doubt. The only trouble was Sam was unsure if he could get here on time.

Just then, the doorbell rang. Sam panicked as he considered the copious amounts of smoke that Caroline's fireplace was probably still sending up, not to mention the shotgun blasts. A glance at Caroline showed that the woman would never pass muster. Beth on the other hand still looked okay, a bit smutty, but okay.

"Beth, go see who's at the door. If it's the fire department, explain away the fireplace and send them on their way. If it's the police, don't open the door. Tell them that you'll get your Aunt and get back in here."

Caroline and Beth both studied Sam in silent surprise as the young boy rattled off the surprisingly well thought out plans. Turning to her aunt, Beth shrugged and headed for the bedroom door.

"Caroline, if it is the police I need to get Dean out of here," Sam knew he had only one chance to convince the older woman to let them leave.

"Sam, you can't leave. Dean's unconscious, he's bleeding, he needs help. Now, I don't want to put you boys or Beth at risk but I really don't see that we have a choice."

"'m fine," Dean whispered, as his eyelids fluttered. Finally, he seemed to give up the struggle and he let them close. His hand however, came down on top of Sam's and he asked, "You okay?"

Sam couldn't help the tears that slipped down his cheeks as he nodded. "Yeah I'm okay."

"Help me up, we gotta get before the cops show," Dean said, as he struggled to lift his head.

Sam placed his hand on Dean's chest and pushed his brother flat, eliciting a gasp of pain from the older boy. Unsure of what was wrong, Sam removed his hand and settled for gripping Dean's arm. "Stop, we're not even sure the cops are coming."

"You shot up the neighborhood, Sammy. Of course they're on their way."

Sam cried out at the deep voice that sounded from the doorway. Up on his feet in a flash, he flew across the floor and landed safely in the strong arms of his father. At first, he was unable to say anything, he just stood there and hugged his dad, relief surging through him.

"Sammy, you gotta let go, kid. I need to see to Dean," John's gruff voice was a balm to Sam's soul.

Releasing his father, he stepped back and wiped his sleeve across his face. "Yes, sir."

888

John frowned at his youngest as he swiped ineffectually at the blood, tears, and snot that masked the kid's face. Reaching out once again, he pulled Sam toward him. This time his embrace wasn't a hug so much as a headlock. John held Sam's head still and ruffled his fingers through the boy's hair. He didn't stop until Sam cried out in pain.

"Looks like you got banged up as well, Sammy," John said, as he probed the cut that he had found near Sam's temple.

Sam struggled to pull away and said, "I'm okay. Dean's not."

John knew his oldest wasn't 'okay', and only his need to ensure that Sam was safe was stopping him from blazing a path to his son. "I know, Sam."

John released his son and began to bark orders, taking comfort from the tasks at hand. He knew from experience that the more he could treat this like a job the easier it would be. Emotions wouldn't keep his boys safe, they would only get in his way. "Sam the car's about a block south, get the first aid kit and get back here now."

Sam darted away without a word. John could hear his footsteps as he pounded down the hall. Once the boy was out of the room, John dropped to his knees beside his oldest and reached out a hand to touch his forehead. Dean's eyes fluttered open and John found himself looking down into his wife's bright green gaze. "Damn, kid, what the hell happened?"

A ghost of a smile lit Dean's face as his eyes sagged shut again. "Would you buy that we stole some liquor and had a party?"

"If that's true then where's the band and the keg," John quipped, glad that Dean still had the energy to mouth off. Carefully, John reached out and pulled back the sheet that was pressed against his son's side.

Dean's hiss of breath told John that the sheet was probably stuck to the wound. "I need warm water and a wash cloth."

John didn't address anyone specifically, he just assumed one of the woman that stood behind him would obey. When neither one moved, he barked, "Now."

John heard the younger woman jump as she let out a squeak. She got moving though, in fact she practically ran from the room. Ignoring the older woman, John began to assess the damage that had been done to his son. Other than numerous bruises, the only other injury he found was what appeared to be a broken collarbone.

"Who are you?"

John let out a low growl and turned to face the woman that addressed him. With his hand resting lightly on Dean's chest he in turn asked, "Who the hell are you? And what the hell happened to my kids?"

"Your kids? You're John Winchester?"

John turned from the woman, already dismissing her as a flake and muttered, "You were expecting someone else?"

"Actually, I was, after all, near as I can tell you're never around."

John barely registered Dean's hiss of anger, he turned and stood before the younger woman in the blink of an eye. "I'm never there," he demanded. "Lady, you wanna compare notes on parenting, cause near as I can tell my son nearly died to help you."

"I didn't, I mean we never asked…" the woman's voice trailed off when faced with John's glare.

John snorted and dropped back to Dean's side. "Didn't ask. Oh, I have no doubt you didn't ask for help. In fact you probably did your damndest to stop the boys from helping you."

"Dad?" Dean asked, his voice laced with pain.

"Sam's coming, Dean. Just hang in there. He's fine." John had no doubt that Dean was mentally counting off the seconds until Sam returned.

Just then, the young girl returned, a bowl of water in her hand, and a washcloth over her shoulder. As she dropped down next to him, he noted the look of concern on her face. "You must be, Beth," he said as he began to cut the clothes away from the gash in Dean's side.

At last, the only thing left was the blood-soaked sheet that had been used to apply pressure to the wound. The good news was the wound had stopped bleeding, the bad news was the once white sheet was stuck to the injury and John needed to work it free. Not wanting to re-start the bleeding, he took the washcloth from the young girl and wet it thoroughly. As he began to wet the sheet, he spoke to the girl in hopes of learning what had happened.

"You wanna tell me what's going on?"

The girl turned even paler if that was possible at the sight of the now red cloth John held in his hands and swallowed hard. "Um, there was a—" Her next words were cut off as Sam dashed back into the room, a duffle in his hands.

"Here, Dad, and no cops yet."

"Good work, Son. I'm gonna need a hand here." John held out a hand and accepted the bag. He began to gather the supplies he'd need. One look at his youngest and John found himself wishing he could send the boy away. As much as Sam could use the experience and John could use the help, Sam was too close to his brother to deal clinically with him.

Ready at last to remove the caked-on sheet, John looked up at Sam and frowned. "If you can't handle this then you need to tell me know, Sam."

Sam swallowed audibly and reassured his father, "I'm okay, sir. I can help."

John nodded and gently began to pull the sheet. When necessary he used the warm water to help loosen the stuck material. He knew first hand just how bad he was probably hurting his oldest and he wished Dean would give in and pass out. Though, the others were probably attributing Dean's closed eyes to the fact that he was out, John could tell by his son's every flinch that the boy was faking it.

At last, the sheet was free and John exposed the wound for the first time. A thorough examination showed that the injury wasn't as dire as the blood had led him to believe. Dean had been stabbed on the right side of his belly about an inch above his hipbone. Though the wound was jagged, things could have been much worse. John released a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding and began to clean the wound.

Ignoring Dean's occasional flinch, he questioned his youngest while he worked. He knew as he began to drag the truth out of Sam, that Dean was probably cursing a blue streak behind his clenched teeth. After all, Dean had two options, open his eyes and answer John's questions, allowing the strangers in the room a glimpse of his pain, or he could allow Sam to blurt out the truth. Even though it would never happen, John would have liked to see his son's bright green eyes sparkle as he wove his tail of bullshit. After this was all over and both boys had been properly punished, John had to remember to listen to Dean's version, it was bound to be good for a smile.

"So then we knew it was a spirit. Dean came up with a plan and here we are," Sam finished his hand reaching out to clench Dean's shirt.

"Dean came up with a plan, why am I not surprised. And why exactly didn't you wait for me, or oh, I don't know, call me for help?" John asked. He knew he was growling, but he couldn't help but remember the fear that clenched his heart when he had walked into the apartment and found his boys and a large part of his weapons gone. It had been sheer luck that he'd decided to check this house first.

"We didn't want to bother you," Sam said both hands now gripping Dean like a lifeline.

"You mean your brother didn't want to bother me. Damn kid thinks he's all grown up."

888

Sam ducked his head careful not show just how hurt he was by his father's words. Dean had suggested that they contact John, but Sam had deterred him by reminding his brother that their father was most likely days away and wouldn't be able to get back in time. The truth was, Sam hadn't wanted Dean to call on John only to have his father tell them to stay out of it. Dean was always willing to break the unspoken rules. In fact, he did it with glee, but Sam knew that if John said outright not to hunt the ghost his brother would obey.

So Sam had made sure John was never consulted. Now, here they were with Dean bleeding all over Caroline's rug and Sam regretting that he'd manipulated his brother. As John began stitching up the jagged edges of the wound Sam leaned in close and called softly to his brother, "Dean." The older boy's pale face and closed eyes had Sam fearing the worst. He needed his brother to answer him more than he'd ever needed anything.

"Please, Dean," Sam pleaded, his voice cracking as tears began to run down his cheeks. Despite his father's assurances, he couldn't shake the sudden feeling that Dean was worse than John let on.

Dean's softly spoken, "Sammy," nearly broke Sam's heart.

"You okay?" Sam asked as he watched his brother struggle to open his eyes.

"'m fine, Sam. You okay, you got knocked down?"

Dean's voice was hoarse with pain and unshed tears. Sam knowing his brother wouldn't want Beth and Caroline to see how bad off he was shifted so he blocked their view. The two woman had been surprisingly quiet through the whole ordeal. Sam could only imagine they were still playing catch up.

"I'm fine, just bumped my head," Sam answered his brother. "Dad already checked me out," Sam reassured his brother anticipating his next words.

"Good, I'm gonna close my eyes now, kid, but I'm okay. It barely hurts."

Sam sniffed at his brother's blatant lie and said, "K, Dean."

Sam spared a glance toward where his father was finishing the last of the stitches and blanched at the jagged wound that graced his brother's side. That was one scar that wasn't going anywhere.

"Sam,"

Sam turned his attention toward his brother and waited for him to continue.

"Did you have to tell him everything?"

Dean's faint smile was enough to ease the pressure in Sam's chest. "At least I didn't mention cutting school."

The groan that rose from his brother was the first that had escaped him all night. Sam couldn't help but wince as he turned and met his father's livid stare.

"You two knuckleheads did what?" John's voice was only slightly less than a roar.

"We didn't have any choice, Dad," Sam said stumbling over his words in his haste to get them said.

"Clean up, we've got to go." John's tone made it clear the subject wasn't dropped only shelved for the moment.

"Wait, what do you mean you have to go. You can't move him, for God's sake," Caroline said.

Caroline and Beth had been so quiet that Sam had almost forgotten they were there. Now as Caro questioned John's orders he couldn't help but wince in sympathy. The older woman was about to get the lesson of a lifetime.

"Sam, I gave you an order," John barked. Gaining his feet in one swift motion, he then stood and faced Caroline with murder in his eyes. "I don't know why you think you have the right to interfere but you'd better back off now. That is my son and I'll decide what's best for him."

If anything, Caroline's gaze flared hotter as she took a step forward and snapped right back, "What gives me the right is that I care about him, and I for one don't want him to die."

Sam, bag packed and ready to go, settled himself at his brother's side and watched the exchange with wide eyes. No one ever stood up to John, the only one that even came close was John's good friend Bobby Singer and even he had learned long ago that direct confrontation never worked.

"Are you insinuating that I'd put my boy at risk?"

"Are you kidding me, he came here with a loaded weapon and shot a ghost. I'm not insinuating anything, I'm saying it right out."

"How dare you talk about my son as if you know anything about him or our lives," John said using his index finger to jab the air between him and Caroline.

Sam looked down to see his brother's eyes moving back and forth as he watched the exchange.

Caroline actually took a step forward, her toes now nearly touching John's boots and folded her arms across her chest. "Don't you snap at me, Dean showed up at the door tonight with bruises. How about you tell me how he got those?"

Sam winced as John turned on a dime and dropped to the ground beside Dean. Reaching out with one hand, he carefully turned Dean's face so he could better see the split lip and the shiner Dean was sporting. With a growl, he stood up once more and turned to face Caro. "We're leaving, you can call the cops on me if you want, but you really don't need to bother. We'll be out of town in an hour."

All the fight seemed to sag out of Caroline at John's words. "Wait, please, I'm sorry."

At John's incredulous look, she held up her hand and said, "Really I am sorry. I know you don't abuse your boys. It's just that tonight's been…" Caroline's words trailed off before she finally added, "weird."

Sam heard Dean snort at the word weird. Then the next thing he knew, Dean was clutching him, using his grasp on Sam to pull himself up. Sam moved to support Dean, at last getting him on his feet. The older boy swayed a bit, but stayed upright a slight smile on his face. "Come on, Sammy, let's go," he said as he gingerly moved toward the door.

"Listen, why don't you let the boys stay here, if you're so determined to leave you can go gather everything up and then come back for them. At least that way they'd get a few hours sleep."

Sam could see that Caroline was trying to offer an olive branch but he was sure his father would be too suspicious to take it.

"No, Caro, we have to go," Dean said his voice sounding surprisingly strong.

Sam watched as Beth and Dean traded glances, at last, Dean tugged on Sam's shoulder and said, "Come on, kiddo. Help me outside."

"Take care of yourselves boys, and thank you," Caroline said, her tone suggesting she meant the words for John as much as for the boys.

It wasn't until he followed his father out the door that John's words really sank in. Though, Sam had told himself it would come to this, now that he was faced with leaving Fall River he couldn't help the tears that flooded his eyes. It was the heavy weight of his brother's hand that helped hold back the flow. They had saved Caroline's life and had given Beth back her sanity, if the only penalty for that was having to leave the town they'd found happiness in, then so be it. After all, if there was one thing Sam had learned it was that nothing was forever.

888

It took everything Beth had to hold back the tears that threatened to fall. The entire night was a blur of confusion and horror interspersed with true terror. From the moment that the spirit had showed itself to the moment when Sam had assured her it was gone Beth had been moving on autopilot. Now that clarity had returned, she found she was incapable of sorting through all the emotions that were coursing through her.

In fact, at the moment the only thought she could truly understand was that Dean was leaving. They were in the process of packing now and most likely by morning they would be long gone. The boy that had saved her in everyway it was possible to save someone was leaving. Beth blinked back the tears.

If there was one thing the young girl had learned since all this had begun it was that control was an illusion. An illusion that Beth didn't have time for. Dean would leave regardless of what she said or did. Beth had no control over it, and from the few minutes she'd spent in Mr. Winchester's presence she was sure that Dean had even less. So that left her only a couple hours to make sure that Dean realized just what he'd done for her.

As she stood in bathroom, the hot flow of the shower cascading down her aching limbs she felt a lightening in her soul. She wasn't sure if it was physical or mental but she actually felt better than she had in a long time. At last, she was free. Free from her past and free to live her future. Despite the fact that no one would ever stand trial for her parent's murder she could finally let go of all her anger. Finally, she could remember her mother's smile or her father's deep voice and take joy from the memories rather than wallow in despair.

As Beth shut off the water, she took a deep breath and began to plan just what she would say to him. Thank you would never be enough but it was the most she had to offer, and god knew it would be heartfelt. She only hoped they hadn't left yet.

Finally, Beth squeaky clean and dressed in an old pair of sweats, she quickly combed through her hair. She felt as if a clock was ticking counting down the seconds until he was out of her life forever and she was determined to get to him in time. She was also a bit scared. Maybe it was the fact that she now realized she'd never really knew him that made her fret. It made her feel childish to think she had been so sure that she was the most important thing in his life. It was obvious to her, now that she'd gotten a glimmer of what his life must be like, that he was far beyond her in many ways.

Ready as she'd ever be, Beth left the warm, moist air of the bathroom and headed toward the living room. Though, it was nearing four thirty in the morning she felt wide awake. She figured she was still running her adrenaline high and would most likely crash soon, until then though she intended to enjoy her last sleepless night.

888

Dean reclined on his bed, the pain in his side and his shoulder had been reduced to a dull throb by the pain relievers John had given him. His father had left him here with instructions not to move. John had still been growling about 'dumb kids' and 'stubborn woman' so Dean had complied. He knew when to push his Dad and when to fall back. Right now retreat was his best option. While he lay, Sammy and John were packing up the apartment both taking their time and ensuring nothing was left behind. Dean figured at some point one of them would be back to get him before they left.

Though he was exhausted, he found he wasn't able to sleep, his mind was racing with too many thoughts for him to relax. First and foremost was Beth. He hadn't gotten the chance to say goodbye to her and he couldn't imagine what she must be thinking, about him, his family and most of all what had happened tonight.

His thoughts came to a sudden and complete halt when he heard Sam's high-pitched voice greet someone. It was nearly five in the morning so he was surprised to say the least when Beth walked into his bedroom. Followed by Sam, the young girl walked a straight line to him and dropped down on the end of the bed. Her long hair was wet and her sweats looked as if they'd seen better days, but Dean didn't think she'd ever looked better. She glowed. There was no other word to describe her. He couldn't help but think that this is what she must have looked like before her parents died. Despite the circles under her eyes she looked happy, the shadows that had been so much part of her gaze were gone. She even stood straighter, as if the weight of the world had been lifted off her narrow shoulders.

It was in that moment that Dean understood just what it meant to be a hunter. He had done this. He'd given this girl her life back. Suddenly, he found it didn't matter what she thought of him or his family. Hell, it didn't matter that tomorrow he'd be back in the Impala heading for the next nameless town. All that mattered was he had the power to help people, to make their lives better, to keep them safe. What more could anyone ask for, his own family might be broken but that didn't mean anyone else's had to be.

"How are you feeling, Dean?" Beth asked as she made herself comfortable.

Dean smiled, every last bit of tension leaving his body. "Not bad, a little sore."

"A little sore," Beth snorted, as she broke into another bright smile. "I'd think you were a little sore since you took on a ghost single handedly"

Dean noticed the slight tremor in her voice at the word ghost, and he found he really couldn't blame her. He'd been aware of the supernatural nearly all his life and sometimes he still had trouble dealing with it. "Well, not single-handed. You and Sammy did pretty good getting that book burned."

Beth's eyes widened slightly as she nodded. "I still can't believe it was a haunted book. Does this kind of, uh, thing happen a lot to you guys?"

Sam's snort of laughter was answer enough. Dean shrugged and grinned, "It happens enough."

Just then, John appeared in the doorway. "We're ready to go, boys. Say your goodbyes." On that note, he turned and headed out the door.

Dean threw his legs over the side of the bed and eased his feet to the floor. He could honestly say that the knife wound wasn't nearly as painful as his shoulder. Despite the sling John had found, every movement caused Dean pain. This was the first time he'd ever broken anything other than his nose and he was seriously hoping it would be the last. At least for a while.

"Sam, give me a hand," Dean said as he moved to stand.

"Dean, I just wanted the chance to thank you. You and Sam, you guys you don't know what you've done for me." Beth's large expressive eyes filled with tears.

Dean shrugged in embarrassment and took a step away from Sam. As Beth stood, he wrapped his good arm around her and held on tight. He barely managed to stifle the cry when she enthusiastically hugged him back. Dean figured it was worth the pain though to feel her in his arms once more.

"Take care of yourself and your Aunt. Everything's going to be fine now, Beth."

"Thank you, Dean. I won't ever forget you," Beth whispered as she pressed her lips to his.

Lost in Beth's embrace, Dean pulled back suddenly when he heard his Dad yell, "Dude, stow the hormones and get a move on."

With a laugh, he leaned toward Beth once more and dropped a kiss on her now bright red cheek. "Bye." Carefully, Dean turned and made his way around Beth. Calling out to his brother, "Come on, Sam."

Dean turned at the door expecting to see Sam right behind him. Instead, his little brother was having the stuffing hugged out of him by Beth. With a smirk, Dean watched as Beth pulled away at last and planted a noisy kiss on Sam's cheek.

As Beth walked past Dean, she reached out and gently squeezed his hand. The smile she sent him was bright enough to light up the night. Then she was gone. Out of the bedroom and through the living room she never paused as she descended the steps outside. Dean sighed as he watched her walk out of his life.

"Come on, Romeo. No point in pissing Dad off anymore than we have to." Dean turned to hobble carefully out of his room, his grin broadening as he heard Sam trip over his own feet in his haste to follow.

888

An hour later found Dean settled into the front seat of the Impala. Sam had graciously given over both his pillow and his blanket and Dean was finding it difficult to stay awake. As he began to drift off, the faint sound of the engine a lullaby in his ears, he realized that at this moment, he felt more at home than he ever had in the tiny apartment in Fall River. With a last glance at his family, Dean settled more deeply on the black leather seat and sighed in contentment.

The end.

Chapter End Notes:

Well guys a big thanks to all of you that stuck around till the end and an especially big thank you to those of you that took the time to review. It's always so cool to hear your thoughts about my stories. Hope you enjoyed Fall River and as always, Thanks for reading - Kel