And so all good things must come to an end. A HUGE Thank-You to everyone who has followed this and those of you who have been so gracious with your continued support and encouragement. (That includes you too, Mom.) Thanks again to you all!

Chapter 20: Conclusion

Sam found it a little odd that all of his teachers walked by him slowly, checking the bruises on his face, without asking about them. Maybe Principal Jones had kept his promise about talking to them all first. Strange, but it was a relief. He didn't have to come up with a cover story, or tell the truth and let the teacher think he was a liar or neglected child seeking attention. As if. With Dean around, he probably received more attention than all of his classmates combined. There were days he wished he could duck attention.

When Sam walked into his English classroom, he was curious to see if Justin Reynolds would be there. Justin's seat was empty. Wondering if the moron had finally managed to get himself expelled (and, regardless of how much money his father had, a fist fight with the principal ought to do it), Sam slid into his seat.

"Psst! Sam!" Gerald Walker waved a hand at him. Sam turned to see what he wanted. "Did ya hear about Einstein?" He motioned to the empty seat behind Sam.

Sam shook his head.

"Expelled!" Walker chuckled, his eyes dancing as he leaned over the empty desk between them. "About time, too!"

"About time for class?" Mister Moore interrupted. "Yes, I think it is. Mister Walker, please keep your gossip confined to the hallways."

Walker shrank back with a shrug to take his English book out of his bag. Another student ran in to sit in the empty desk between Sam and Walker as the bell rang.

"I'd like you all to appreciate the fact that I spent the weekend grading your papers." Mister Moore pulled a thick sheaf out of his desk. "But I know you don't. However, I will say that overall I was quite impressed. Most of you took this assignment seriously, and a few of you humorously. One or two of you will be rewriting it." He started walking up and down the rows of desks, returning the graded papers. "I actually enjoyed seeing the comparisons you all made within your families."

Mister Moore paused by Sam's desk as he held out the graded paper. "I really hope you're planning on letting your brother read this."

Sam nodded seriously. "After I fix the corrections."

Mister Moore did not release it. "Don't," he said. "Just give it to him like this." Sam opened his mouth to argue but his teacher shook his head. "Trust me, Sam. Let him see it with the red ink. He'll appreciate it more if it's the version you turned in."

Sam took his paper from his teacher's hand. Mister Moore passed out the rest, making a comment here and there, but Sam wasn't listening. He was busy checking the few English corrections and Mister Moore's comment after his conclusion: I sure could use one. Where can I find my own Dean?

Sam chuckled and folded his paper in half, leaving the big red 'A' on the outside. If he decided to give it to Dean like this, warts and all, he wanted his grade to be the first thing his brother saw. While Mister Moore taught the rest of class, Sam pondered on whether or not to give his paper to Dean as is.

When class was over, Sam packed his things slowly, intentionally trying to be the last person out the door. He paused by Mister Moore's desk.

"Yes, Sam?" Mister Moore asked, looking up at him.

Sam held up his paper. "I kind of promised my dad a copy too. I was going to just recopy it twice-"

"Copy? Sure, no problem." Mister Moore jumped up. "Follow me."

Sam hurried to keep up as Mister Moore charged through the halls, pressing between students in a rush to leave.

"I'm glad you're going to give it to him like this," his English teacher was saying over the dull roar of teen voices. "Now he won't think you changed it to take out things he won't like."

Oh. Sam hadn't really thought of that. Dean already thought he was being kept from reading the paper, so he probably would think Sam had made a 'clean' version. Mister Moore had just saved him from a whole lot of grief, not to mention the effort of recopying his paper twice.

They stepped out of the noisy hall into an office area Sam had not been in before. There were two copiers. "How many copies do you want?" Mister Moore asked.

"Oh, uh, just one." Sam held it out. "For Dad."

Mister Moore nodded as he laid Sam's paper on the copier. "Principal Jones mentioned that your brother has custody, but you didn't put that in your paper." He glanced over at Sam as he flipped to the second page. "May I ask why not?"

Sam weighed the question as the room filled with the noise of the copier working. "Dad thought I should, but I didn't think Dean would appreciate it."

Mister Moore nodded as he scooped up the copies. He held them out to Sam. "There you are, Sam. I don't know your brother, but I can pretty much guarantee he'll like this."

"Thanks, Mister Moore," Sam replied as he accepted the papers. He stuffed them inside his bag before settling it on his shoulder.

"See you tomorrow?" the English teacher asked. Sam gave him a quizzical look. "According to your paper, you move a lot."

Sam chuckled. He had forgotten mentioning their nomadic lifestyle. "Yeah. I might even be here until summer. Dean doesn't want to move all my records before school starts in the fall."

"Good." Mister Moore clapped him on the shoulder as they exited into the hall. "I'm looking forward to your next paper. I'm thinking of assigning a persuasive paper on the best or worst holiday."

Sam shook his head, already knowing his would be on Halloween if it was worst holiday. "Bye, Mister Moore."

"Tomorrow, Sam!" he called out.

Sam dumped the books he didn't need off at his locker and double-checked he had what he needed for homework. His first mathlete meeting was this afternoon, in about five minutes. Sam slung his bag back over his shoulder before threading his way through the after school stragglers for the math department.

Dean stretched out in the backseat, waiting on Sam. The geeky math club meeting was today. On the one hand he hoped it would be too dorky for Sam to keep going, but on the other hand, it would be kind of cool to watch Sam stomp kids from other schools, even if it was in math.

He allowed his eyes to slip shut, planning on napping while waiting on Sam. Sure, he knew when the geek-fest was supposed to be over and could have come later, but that meant hanging out with Dad and Caleb. Normally the prospect would have Dean practically slobbering, but right now he really did not feel like it. He wasn't sure if it was his busted collarbone, the meds Dad kept shoving down his throat, or the weird truce between Dad and Sam. Caleb had been treating him differently too, like their friend had to walk on eggshells. And Dad? That man was a piece of work. Dad seemed to be going out of his freaking way not to say or do anything to annoy Dean, and it was driving him nuts.

Whatever. Wasn't his fault everyone was acting like a weirdo. He had actually been relieved to go to work today, to get an escape from it. At work the customers bitched and complained and were freaking normal. At least the sling was still working, tips had been good. His manager had made a comment about all of them needing slings. Dean had offered to trade collarbones on the spot. His manager made a strange face before spotting something behind the bar that needed attention.

Dean was still totaling up all the ways his family had been freaking weird since Dad and Caleb showed up when he heard a knocking on the window. He cracked his eyes open to find Sam peering down at him. What the hell? Why wasn't he at the mathlete thing? Dean sat slowly to unlock the passenger door. Sam opened the door with a frown.

"Dean? What're you doing back there?" He tossed his school bag into the front floorboard.

"Relaxing," Dean snapped. "You're supposed to be at the geek-fest. What happened?"

Sam shrugged. "It's over, Dean."

"Huh?" Dean looked down at his watch. "Damn. Is that the time?"

Sam laughed at him. "Yeah, man, that's the time. Can I drive home?"

Dean started to argue, but it wasn't a bad idea. Besides, the kid could use some practice. "Keys are in the ignition. You put a scratch on my baby, you die." He laid back down.

"Really?" He could hear Sam sliding into the driver's seat. "Dean?"

Dean opened his eyes to look up into Sam's worried face. "What?" he snapped. He had been learning to really hate that worried look.

"Are you feeling okay? I mean, you don't usually give in this fast on letting me drive," Sam said.

"Fine." Dean grabbed the back of the front seat to pull himself up. "I can drive if you don't-"

"No! No, it's fine." Sam spun around in the driver's seat to start the car. "I got it."

Dean smiled to himself as he relaxed in the back seat. Now he had a personal chauffeur. Maybe Sam would fetch supper tonight too.

"Oh, hey, Dean." He cracked his eyes open. Sam was hanging over the back of the seat again. "Here. You said you wanted to read it."

Dean frowned as he took the folded paper from Sam's hand. A large red 'A' was printed on it. "What's this?" he demanded.

"My paper," Sam replied. Dean felt the Impala shift into reverse. He waited until after Sam had backed out and the car was in drive before sitting up.

"Which one?" he asked as he settled against the side, his legs stretched out on the seat.

"What do you mean, which one?" Sam demanded, sounding like his usual whiny-ass self. Thank God.

Dean opened the folded paper. He might not have enough time to read the whole thing before they made it home. Still unsure if he actually wanted to read it, Dean folded it back up. "So what did you say?"

"Just read it, Dean," Sam insisted. "You said you wanted to. I even made a copy for Dad."

Dean's gaze shifted to look at Sam in the rearview mirror. Sam seemed serious. "Really?"

"He asked for a copy. Besides, he kind of helped out with my notes," Sam replied.

"Dad helped with your homework?" Dean asked in disbelief. "When the hell did that happen?"

Sam tossed him a grin. "I couldn't sleep on that damn camp bed and went outside for some air. Dad followed me."

"You took your homework with you?" Sammy was way too serious about freaking school. "Seriously?"

Sam nodded at him. "Seriously. Go ahead and read it. My teacher talked me out of recopying it and correcting the mistakes. He said you'd like this version better."

"Your teacher thinks I'll like it?" Dean stared at the paper in his hand, still not convinced he would like anything it had to say. Why would he want to see how he stacked up against Dad? It was pretty clear who the winner would be, especially considering how Sam had freaked over the whole custody thing.

"Yeah." Sam turned to hang over the seat. "Are you going to read it or what?"

Dean glanced around. They were in the motel parking lot. That was quick. He started to stuff it in his jacket pocket. "Maybe later."

Sam's bitchface came out in full force. "Dude, you were giving me grief the whole freaking time I was working on it. Now read it."

"You're gonna sit there and watch me read it?" Dean demanded.

"Well, uh..." Sam appeared indecisive for a moment, then his features steeled. "Yes. Now read it."

Taking a deep breath to fortify his resolve, Dean opened the paper again. The first paragraph puzzled him. Yin and yang? No wonder Sam was a frigging mathlete, he was a total geek. A snort burst out when he read the part about him being the balance in the family. Yeah, right. How out of whack would that make them, if he was the freaking balance? The next part compared him and Dad physically.

"You think I'll look more like Dad than you?" he asked as his eyes dropped to the third paragraph.

"Yeah," Sam said. "Probably."

Dean kept reading. He had been ready to ask a whole bunch of questions, until he hit Sam's conclusion.

In conclusion, the balance in our family is my brother Dean. Although my Dad is the one who makes all the decisions and I am the one who has all the demands, it is Dean who exerts the control and finds a balance between us. Dad orders us to move; Dean pulls my school records, packs us up, enrolls me in the new school, buys our clothes (mine and Dad's), does the grocery shopping, and generally makes sure everything is the way it needs to be. Dean says Dad and I are too much alike and that's why we tend to argue, so it is Dean who mediates and makes sure our arguments do not spin out of control. All families may find a balance, if they're lucky, but not all families have a Dean. Too bad for them.

Underneath it in red was some comment from his teacher about finding a Dean for his family.

Lucky? To have him? Honestly, it had never occurred to Dean before that they might really need him. Well, yeah, they needed him, to hold down a job and pay for the rooms, move Sam's school records, but ...

"Well?" Sam asked anxiously. "Too chick-flick?"

Too bad for them.

Hastily Dean flipped the top page back and folded the paper up. He shrugged with his good shoulder as he moved to exit the car. "Let's go. Dad's probably waiting on us. Any homework?"

It took some effort to keep his voice steady. Unflinching, Dean met Sam's anxious gaze. "Well?" he said in his most demanding tone.

"Uh, a little," Sam stammered. "Um, just history. No big deal." His brow furrowed deeply.

"Good." Dean stepped out of the car. "So you want to eat out tonight?"

"On a Monday?" Sam asked as he locked up the car. "Really?"

"Did I stutter?" Dean demanded. "Yes or no, answer the damn question."

"Yeah, sure," Sam replied with a grin spreading across his face. "Does this mean you liked my paper?"

"Shut up and see if Dad wants to go with us," Dean snapped.

Sam paused before knocking on the door next to their room. "You do know what Dad'll say if he hears you talking like that?"

Dean rolled his eyes. "'Take a pain pill, take a pain pill.' He's turning into a freaking broken record."

"I know," Sam replied. "It's good to hear." Dean shot his brother the nastiest look he could muster. "It means he cares, Dean. That's all I meant."

"Such a girl," Dean scoffed. He would have to sneak out of the room late tonight, so he could hide Sam's paper in the trunk. No way was he giving this sucker up; there was no telling if any member of his family would actually express any kind of appreciation again.

A few years later...

Dean sighed as he removed Sam's old English paper from the trunk for the third time this week. He missed that kid, but it was okay as long as Sam was safe at school and happy. At least, he hoped Sam was happy.

Carrying the paper to his motel room, Dean crashed on the bed to read it over again. When he reached the part comparing him with Dad physically, Dean couldn't help looking in the mirror. Maybe if he left just a little facial hair, to give himself the rugged look, he would look more like Dad. His cell went off before he could read the best part, at the end.

"Yeah?" he asked as he held the phone to his ear.

"Dean, how'd the hunt go?" Dad demanded. "You are done?"

"Yeah, Dad," Dean sighed, dropping the paper so he could run a hand down his face. "Just a salt-n-burn. No problem."

"No problems?" Dad sounded worried. "You sure? You're not hurt or anything?"

"I'm sure," Dean assured his father as he reached for Sam's paper. "No sweat."

Dad sighed long and loud. "You're reading it again, aren't you?"

Dean stopped to look around the room for hidden cameras. "How do you do that?"

A dark chuckle sounded through the phone. "I can hear it in your voice. Listen son, let's meet up. I could use some back-up on a new hunt anyway."

Dean nodded his head even though Dad couldn't see him (he hoped). "Sure, Dad. Sounds good. Where?"

"Do you remember that burger joint with the hot waitresses and peanut shells on the floor?" Dad asked.

Dean's spine stiffened. "Yeah. Why?"

"Well, according to my calendar, it's pretty damn close to someone's birthday."

Dean chuckled. "Is it January?"

"Yeah, Dean. It's January. We'll take a couple days off and get good and plowed before tackling the next hunt. How's that sound?"

Actually, it did sound pretty good. "Sure, Dad. Uh, Dad? Afterwards, can we...?"

"Sure, Dean," Dad replied without hesitation. "It's time to check on Sammy too. See you in a day or two?"

"Yeah, great. See you, Dad." Dean closed his cell to drop it with a clatter on the nightstand. Wait a minute. Had Dad said it was time to check on Sammy "too"? As in Dad was checking up on him? Well, that was a switch.

Dean, still covered in sweat and dirt from the salt and burn, stretched out on the motel bed. He decided to read Sam's paper from the beginning, hopefully without interruptions this time.

Sam stared at his cell phone, wondering if it would ring. It was almost Dean's birthday. Surely his brother would call then.

"Sam?" Jessica's voice startled him. "Are you all right? You're just staring, not studying."

"Oh, uh, yeah." Sam's head bobbed. "No problem. I was, uh, thinking."

Jessica slid into the seat across from him at the kitchen table. "About?" When Sam did not answer right away, her warm soft hand slipped into his and squeezed. "What's bothering you, Sam?"

Sam forced a smile on his face. "I was just wondering what to get you for your birthday."

"You're a terrible liar, Sam," Jessica chided.

Oh, if only she knew how good he really was. Sam ducked his head as if he had been caught in a huge lie. "I was just thinking about my brother, Dean."

"What about him?" she asked with a quizzical look.

Sam shrugged. "Just wondering where he might be," he lied, though that thought had crossed his mind almost weekly since arriving at Stanford.

"So he moves around a lot?" Jessica asked. It was a dangerous line of questioning he could see coming.

"You know, I was thinking about taking a family law class in the fall. What do you think?" he asked.

Jessica rolled her eyes and laughed at him. "Okay, Mister Secretive, you win. No more family talk. Have you bought that prep book for the LSAT yet?"

Sam shook his head. "I can't really afford it. I'm waiting for that guy Jim in my class this semester, I told you about him, to sign up for the prep class. He'll buy the prep book and I'm sure he'll let me borrow it."

"What makes you so sure?" Jessica demanded.

"Because I'll talk him into it," Sam replied with a grin.

"You silver-tongued devil you." Jessica chuckled as she leaned over to kiss him. If she ever met the real silver-tongued devils, as in the rest of his family, Sam would undoubtedly lose his title.

John lined up his shot. "How much longer?" he asked his son conversationally.

Dean checked his watch. "He has an early class tomorrow, so knowing geek-boy, he'll be in bed by ten. We should be able to see him in the apartment for sure in about an hour."

John nodded before pulling his cue back. Snapping it forward, he knocked two balls into their respective pockets. It was nice to play against Dean, who was probably better than he was, because it meant John did not need to hold back. They could play for the sheer joy of the game, which Dean enjoyed far more than he did. For John pool, poker and darts were merely a means of financial support. Dean liked playing all of them. Once John caught his son engaged in a game for the pure pleasure of it, no attempt at hustling. When he had asked about it, Dean had replied with a shrug and a grin that he had enough spending money for now.

Well, Dean had never had a real childhood, why shouldn't he enjoy a little play time now that he was not responsible for anyone else? John tried a nasty trick shot, which refused to go in.

"Rats," he sighed. He gestured to a chair. "Should I sit down now?"

Dean laughed at him, his body language relaxed and easy. Even the boy's face reflected the weight no longer on his shoulders. "Well, if you're just gonna give up."

John found himself returning the grin as he stood out of the way to admire the way Dean played. Such easy grace and obnoxious style were not a common combination. Dean was certainly one of a kind. He noticed they attracted some attention with their game and Dean's cocky attitude as they teased each other, but nothing came of it. A few girls took to walking by regularly, and John was certain one of them slipped Dean her number, but he could not prove it. Not without wrestling Dean to the ground and forcibly taking the slip of paper, which was not worth it. Besides, Dean just might be able to take him now.

Sam had been right about one thing in that paper of his from four or so years ago, not every family had a Dean, and the Winchesters were damned lucky to have this one. Too bad Sam still felt the need to shut Dean out of his college life. Surely Sam would come to realize his mistake and call his brother. Surely. In the meantime John and Dean were reduced to stalking the stubborn-ass kid at college to be sure he was safe. Well, it was not an entirely bad compromise Dean had arranged; it put both their minds at ease. The only problem was Sam. John felt certain Sam's life was unbalanced without his brother, and he had no idea how to fix it. He hoped one day the situation might fix itself.