Author's Note:

Here it is… the final chapter. Thank you all so much for following along. I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.

Without further adieu…

Chapter Nineteen

They slept through the thunderstorms that rocked the house, oblivious to the raucous thunder and heavy winds. Lightning flashed and lit up the night to make it look like day, performing intricate dances across the sky to an audience of no one.

When Erika woke up it was still dark, the sun barely a glow at the edge of the horizon. Settling into the warmth of the blankets, it took her a minute to remember that someone had shared the night with her. She rolled over and found Dean curled against her, frowning even in his sleep.

Giving into silly sentimentality, she traced a finger along the furrows in his brow and down along his jaw. Her touch wandered along the smooth skin of his lips, soon to be followed by the soft touch of her own. Dean stirred slightly at the contact and deepened the frown, making Erika laugh at the sour expression he'd managed to pull his face into. The sound woke him and he opened his eyes to find Erika's bemused smile.

"Good morning," he said groggily, blinking the sleep from his eyes and pulling her against him.

She drew him into a deep kiss that surprised them both with its urgency.

"Good morning."

Gently pushing him onto his back, she climbed on top of him and leaned forward to rest her hands on the muscles of his chest. She sighed as he slipped into her, admiring the warm glow spreading across his skin as the sun started streaming through the windows. His green eyes flashed and burned, stirring something in her chest she couldn't quite name. Moving her hips against him, she reached for his hands and gripped them tightly in her own. She kept them there while she rocked, awash in the tide of their passion. Her climax seemed to pull from the tips of her toes, settling over her in a heavy blanket that left her breathless and violently alive. She fell back on top of him as he emptied himself deep inside her, his harsh gasps filling the air.

Dean wrapped his arms around her and kept her close, committing to memory every touch and sigh, knowing that they would be their last. Erika pressed her lips against the thumping in his chest and he sighed, resigning himself to the inevitable as his heart fell helplessly at her feet.

--

Erika slipped out of bed after she was certain Dean had fallen back to sleep. She liked the sight of him spread out on her bed, her blanket pulled barely up to his waist. His bronzed skin contrasted the sapphire blue of the material beautifully, and she had the off-handed thought that she should take a picture. Knowing Dean, however, he wouldn't be too thrilled with the idea. Rather than test his temper, she climbed in the shower to save herself from the temptation.

She turned the water up as hot as it would go, knowing that the hottest shower in the world wouldn't take away the weight on her shoulders. She made the decision right then to call into work that day, needing the solace the rest of the day would offer her.

"Dean's leaving," she told herself, listening to her voice echo off the empty walls of the shower. "There's nothing you can do about that, so cheer up. You have other things to think about."

Like picking Maddy's room, she thought idly. She would go through the house after… later that afternoon, and pick out which one she thought would be the best for a little girl. She thought about the bedroom three doors down from her own; the one she'd lived in for the first eighteen years of her life. Before Maddy came to live there permanently, she would give it a fresh coat of paint and a new set of bedroom furniture.

No, Erika thought. She and Maddy would paint it together.

The plans distracted her until the water ran cold and she was forced to get out. She wrapped a towel around herself and walked into the closet, looking for something she would be comfortable wearing around the house. Settling for a pair of denim shorts and a baggy sweater she'd had since college, she towel-dried her hair and walked back out into the room to find Dean still sleeping.

She smiled at him at walked from the room, intending to go down to the kitchen and cook until she felt better. Running through every recipe in her head, she thought of at least five that would be complicated enough to distract her from their impending farewell. At the very least, the Winchester brothers would have more than enough food to last them on their trip to South Dakota.

The house was completely still in the early morning sun. She should enjoy it while it lasted, she thought. Once there was a child in the house again it would be complete chaos and she would hardly have the time or energy to keep it so immaculate. Smiling at the thought, Erika worked her way back to the kitchen to begin a marathon of baking that would—hopefully—relieve some of the sadness that was building up in her chest.

--

Dean woke to realize that he was alone. Where Erika had been beside him, there was now just a rumple in the sheets. He frowned and looked around the room before letting his head fall back down to the pillows. The clock told him it was barely seven and he thought he could either go back to sleep for a little while, or find Erika and call her back to bed.

Instead he crawled out of bed, squinting at the sunlight that seemed to have overtaken the storm. He stared at the view outside the balcony windows, rejuvenated by the sight of life just outside the glass. For some reason it felt strange; like the world was trying to remind him that life went on. The thought made him feel ridiculous. Turning from the window, he sought out the bathroom. He showered and dressed in a matter of minutes, wondering where Erika had run off to.

He found her exactly where he knew she would be; in the kitchen. He stood back for a few moments, watching her move competently through the motions. Knowing why she was working so hard didn't lessen his joy of simply being able to watch her. He said nothing when she stopped and leaned her hands against the kitchen counter, or when she took in a deep breath to release it harshly. Continuing his silence, he turned and walked away before she noticed he was there. She needed the time, he thought. Just like he did.

He headed back up to the room he'd spent the last few nights in, taking a seat on the bed and looking around. It was strange for him to consider that it was the last time he would see those walls. Shaking his head, he drove off the sentimentality from his thoughts. Feelings were Sam's area, not his. He should be saying "good riddance" with a cocky smile and loading up the Impala, not brooding over the fact that in an hour or so he would be telling Erika goodbye.

In the short time he sat there, though, he realized that he didn't regret a single thing about his time there. He didn't feel bitter or foolish; only content and the closest to happy he'd been in a long time. For him, that was enough to make the entire trip completely worth it. On the wings of an epiphany, Dean realized that Erika was more than what he'd wanted. She was right; she wasn't his forever. He supposed, though, that she was exactly what he needed.

He got up from the bed to start packing his things, only to be interrupted by a knock at the door.

"Yeah," he said; his version of "come in".

Sam poked his head through the door and walked in when he saw that Dean was alone. He shut the door behind him and shoved his hands in his pocket.

"I guess we're leaving," Sam said.

"Yeah," Dean answered, shoving a shirt into his duffle. "I was thinking we could head Bobby's direction. Spend some time with him."

"Sure," Sam said, watching his brother pack his things with a curious look on his face. He offered, "We could always do that later."

Dean answered without looking up. "What do you mean?"

"We can stay for a little while," Sam said, remembering every other time Dean had offered to let him stay. Sam was never able to; maybe Dean could.

"We can," Dean said simply. "But we shouldn't."

"Why not?"

"We finished what we came to do, Sammy," Dean said, looking up to give him a small smile. "It's time we left. We should let Erika get back to her life."

"She means something to you, doesn't she?" Sam asked, reading his brother like an open book. Knowing the answer already, he asked, "Do you love her?"

Dean said nothing.

"You do, don't you?" Sam said, a smile turning up the corners of his mouth. "Is that why you won't stay?"

"Stay for what, Sam?" Dean said, sending his brother a stern look.

"I don't know," Sam said, shrugging noncommittally. "I bet you could find a few reasons if you wanted to."

"I'm not doing that to her," he said. "She's had to watch everybody else in her life die. She's not watching me, too."

"I doubt she'll see it like that," Sam reasoned.

"But I will," he said and smiled quickly, sending the blaring signal that the serious portion of their conversation had ended. "Stop trying to get rid of me. And besides, I can't let you hunt alone." He smirked. "You'd get yourself killed in a week."

"Oh, right," Sam said. "Who saved your ass yesterday, exactly?"

"I told you, I had it covered," Dean defended.

"Sure you did. She shot you with your own gun because you had it covered," he said sarcastically. "Admit it, you need me."

Dean scoffed. "Like I hell I do."

"Jerk."

"Bitch."

--

Dean finished loading the last of their things into the back of the Impala and watched Sam and Erika share a hug on the front steps of the porch. He stood silently by as she kissed Sam's cheek, ruffling his hair and handing him a giant thermos and a covered plate of whatever it was she'd been making that morning. Sam walked away, waving, and came to stand next to him.

"Your turn," he told Dean, watching his brother's face carefully.

"Yeah," Dean said, somber. "I know."

He walked to meet her on the steps, leaving Sam standing idly beside the car. Sam turned away, wanting to give his brother some privacy. Leaning against the car, he sipped the coffee Erika had given him and stared out of the expanse of trees on the other side of the road. He silently wished his brother luck, knowing that while Dean was good at saying goodbye, it was different this time.

Dean walked to the bottom of the front steps and stared up at Erika, who regarded him with kind eyes and a slow smile.

"Here we are," Erika said, taking a long look at the man in front of her. Her heart ached for him, too naïve to do otherwise.

"Here we are," Dean repeated. He didn't know what he was supposed to say to her; what he could say to make a difference to either of them. He wasn't even sure the words existed. Rather than speaking, he took the last few steps up to meet her and kissed her lightly.

"I'm really going to miss you," he said honestly, feeling an ache in his chest he knew wouldn't go away as quickly as it had come. "But you know I can't come back."

Erika nodded her head. "Yeah. I know," she said. "If you change your mind, you know I'm here."

"Can you do me a favor?" Dean asked, leaning his forehead against hers.

"Anything, sugar," Erika said, closing her eyes to savor the feeling of his skin against hers for just a moment longer.

"Don't forget me," he said and felt ridiculous almost instantly. "I know it sounds stupid."

"No," Erika said, shaking her head. "No, it doesn't." She took a moment to look up at him, certain that he was listening to her carefully. "That's not a favor you have to ask from me. It's already done."

He kissed her again. "Goodbye, Erika."

"Goodbye, Dean," she said, squeezing his hand and watching him turn from her. Before she could forget, she called out, "You might want to take the first turn driving."

"I was planning to," Dean said. "Why?"

"Sam's thermos is full of decaf," she said and smiled mischievously. "He's going to be passed out in an hour or two. You'll have the road to yourself for at least twelve hours."

Dean laughed despite himself. "You really are something."

"Don't I know it," she said, watching him walk away.

Laughter trapped the tears threatening to start as she watched Dean tap Sam on the shoulder and order him around to the passenger seat. She waved to the both of them and listened to the Impala's engine turn over with a roar. The car began its crawl out of the parking spot and down the driveway, music already blaring out its windows. She watched the road until the Impala's cloud of dust disappeared before turning and going back in the house, where the rest of her life was waiting for her.

--

Dean watched Sam pour coffee down his throat with a bemused smile on his face, waiting for the moment Sam passed out beside him. Until that moment, he contented himself with a Led Zeppelin cassette tape and the brownies Erika had sent them with.

"I liked her," Sam said suddenly, taking his eyes away from the window.

"Me too," Dean said honestly. He bit into a brownie and groaned. "God, maybe I should have stayed. These are freaking great."

Sam laughed. "She's adopting Maddy, you know."

Dean turned suddenly to stare at Sam. "She told you that?"

"Yeah, last night," Sam said. "She sounded pretty certain."

"I didn't see that one coming," Dean said and tried picturing Erika as a mother. "I like the idea. Maddy's foster parents sucked."

"Yeah, they did," Sam said. "Did you see the way they practically shoved her in the car when they came to get her from the school?"

"I wanted to deck the freaking dad," Dean said. "I would have, too, if Maddy hadn't been watching."

"I bet that would have thrilled Erika," Sam said, laughing.

"You never know," Dean said, shrugging. "She might have backed me up. She wasn't too happy with the guy, either."

"I can't say I blame her," Sam said.

"Do you think they'll let her?" Dean asked. "I mean, she'd be a single parent and all. Don't they frown on that kind of thing?"

"Yeah, but Erika's a single parent with a family fortune and an army of lawyers in her corner," Sam observed. "And money aside, Erika is trained to help kids like Maddy. She can give her the extra attention she needs." Sam paused. "Not many foster parents are willing to go the extra mile. Erika will and then some."

Dean nodded, knowing it was completely true.

Sam smiled out the window. "I think they'll be happy together."

"Yeah," Dean said, staring at the open road ahead of them. "Yeah, me too."

THE END