Dean was standing on one side of the riverbank, the same river that he had almost died in two weeks ago. He was desperately trying to see the figure standing on the other side but the mid-day sun was really bright in the sky and it hurt his eyes to look.
Shielding his face with his hand, Dean squinted. The sun was so bright he could barely make out the figure standing, hands in pockets, on the other side of the riverbank. He couldn't really see his face too well, but Dean knew it was him. He knew it was his Father.
"Dad… Please. Come back." He begged, his voice breaking. Although he couldn't really see him, Dean heard John Winchester sigh. The other bank of the river was far away but he could hear his Dad's voice as clearly as if he were standing next to him over the bubbling of the fast moving water.
"I can't, Kiddo. I'm sorry."
Dean narrowed his eyes in the sunlight and turned his face away. He desperately wanted to see his Dad's face. Needed to see him. He wanted to dive right on into the water and swim over, but the current was so strong, he knew he wouldn't make it. Dean began to pace back and forth but there was no way he could safely get over, there were no places to cross.
"Don't try it, Dean. You need to stay where you are. You can't come with me. You don't belong here, Son." John told him, holding his hand out in a warning.
Dean closed his eyes and clapped his hands over them. The bright white sunlight was warm on his face, on his hands. He sat down, suddenly weary, and rested his head on his knees, hiding his face from the light. He looked like a small lost child, which is exactly how he felt.
John's voice carried clearly over the river again, it sounded like he was right next to him, speaking his ear. Dean tried to open his eyes, but couldn't. The light was blinding, even through his closed eyes, through his hands. So bright it almost hurt.
"Listen to me, Son." His father's voice said. "You can't follow me; it's not your time - Dean, you have to give up trying."
"But it should have been me… It was my time." Dean yelled into his knees in frustration.
He knew he should have died in that hospital bed all those month ago. The injuries that he'd sustained in the crash, let alone the vicious attack by the Demon were almost impossible to recover from. The invisible butchering, the Demon wearing his Dad's face somehow slicing through his tortured flesh like a knife through butter and then his body smashed and broken like an unwanted doll by the impact of the truck. And even if by some miracle he hadn't died, he'd be in a coma still, a vegetable. No part of him alive apart from his slowly crumbling body.
His Dad's voice carried on, so warm, so familiar. It made his heart ache to hear it again. "You were hurt because of me. It was always because of me."
John sighed and hesitated for a moment before carrying on, his voice thick with emotion. "It was my fault that you and your brother were in that situation. You are my sons, my boys, not my soldiers. Sometimes I forgot that, Dean. Sometimes I was so blind to what I was doing to you both."
"No… Dad…" Dean began, but his John hushed him and Dean fell silent.
"In the hospital… It was my choice to do what I did, Dean. It was my choice and I'd do it again, without a second thought. Sam needs you more than he needs me. He always has."
Dean shook his head, hot tears escaping from under his hands and onto his cheeks. Such a painful longing eating him away. "But I needed you, Dad. I need you. I don't know what to do - I don't think I can carry on, it's too hard… The job… Everything. And I miss you. God, I miss you so much."
"Miss you too, Kiddo." John replied, his hard voice mellowed, all the years of anger and wrath replaced by something Dean couldn't quite place. Something he'd not heard in his father's voice since he was a child. Was it stillness? Peace? - He sounded sad, but the bitterness and hurt that Dean was so used to was gone.
"You need to be strong now." John continued. "You need to be strong for Sam, but most of all you need to be strong for yourself. I know you feel like all the weight is on your shoulders now, Son. I know you feel like giving up. And I know how that feels. It's hard on you and it's unfair and it's not going to get any easier, but you need to be strong."
Dean took a deep, shuddering breath and wiped the tears from his face. "I'm not strong, Dad. I don't think I can do this - I feel like everything is falling apart, I feel like I'm going under -"
His Dad's voice, kind but stern spoke again and Dean could almost feel his breath on his cheek. "I know you're strong. You're strong because you're a Winchester; you're strong because you're a part of me... And I'm a part of you, Dean, always will. I'll always be with you, Kiddo. I promise."
And with those words, Dean opened his eyes to see his brother's worried looking face staring down at him.
"It was just a dream." Dean told his brother as he followed him down the corridor of the hospital. Doctor Miller had just officially discharged him and it felt to Dean like he was just being released from a long jail sentence. "You know, all those pain meds they had me on. Being in this place has been like one big, messed up trip."
"But -" Sam began but quickly shut up when Dean gave him the look. The one he gave him when he began clucking around him like a mother hen.
"Stop your fretting, Sam." Dean continued. He almost wished that he hadn't told Sam about what he'd seen, what he had heard in the hallucination, the vision, whatever the hell it had been. "It was just a dream and I swear, you're driving me freakin' nuts."
Sam looked from his brother to Dr Miller who was walking with them out to the car park to see them off, but she just shrugged and looked at Sam as if to say, Hey, don't ask me, I'm a physician, not a psychic. She had seen some freaky things over the past week, but who was she to comment on whether something was a dream, a hallucination or a vision.
Either way, Dean seemed to have gained some inner peace because of it and for that she was glad. Glad for both of them. God only knew how much that boy needed it.
She was going to miss the Winchester boys. They had certainly livened up her life for the past few weeks. Like she had told them, it was a small town and she knew practically everyone who lived there and the Winchesters had blustered into town like a whirlwind and blown all the cobwebs out from her brain. It had certainly been a long time since she'd shot anything, especially a Demon of all things. It had woken up a small part of herself that she'd put into hibernation years ago, and if she was honest with herself, it felt kind of good. She wasn't going to start packing the pistol again or anything, but she wasn't going to go back to sleep again in a hurry. There was evil out there and she would never let herself forget that again. Her eyes were wide open.
"So where are you boys heading off to?" Miller asked as they walked through the car park and came to Dean's car.
"We're going to find a nice motel for a few days or so, kick back with some movies and some burgers then we're going to have a vacation." Sam replied, fishing the Impala's keys from his pocket.
Dean frowned and looked at his brother. "A vacation?"
"Sounds like a good idea." Miller agreed. "You still need to rest, Dean. Don't think that because I discharged you that you're good as new. You've almost died twice in the last two weeks and hunter or not, you're only human. I don't want to see Sam rushing you back in here in two days time because you've pushed yourself too hard. Your lung could collapse; you could develop pneumonia, an infection -"
"Yeah, I get the picture, Doc." Dean replied, nodding and smiled at her. Despite his natural defensiveness, Dean was incredibly grateful for all she had done for them, for him. She had saved their lives, more than once, and he would never forget it.
"Don't worry, Doctor Miller. I'm going to make sure he takes care of himself." Sam told her, grinning at his brother. "He's not going out of my sight."
Dean groaned and rolled his eyes at the thought of Sam fussing around and taking care of him. "Oh God, kill me now."
Miller smiled and patted Sam on the shoulder, nodding to his wrist. "Please, it's Lucy. And you need to look after yourself too, Sam. No more swimming with that cast on, okay?"
Sam nodded, and looked away, blushing slightly and Dean grinned. His little brother so had a crush on her.
"So, I guess this is goodbye, then." Miller said, smiling sadly. And she held out a hand to shake Dean's, which he took politely, then gave up the politeness and pulled her into a hug, which she returned whole heartedly. "Thank you." He whispered quietly in her ear, as he let her go. "For everything."
Miller nodded in reply, giving his hand a squeeze and then turned to hug Sam, whose blush became even deeper.
"If you ever find yourselves in these parts again don't forget to stop by and say hi." Miller said, stepping back as they climbed into the Impala.
"We will, Doc." Dean replied and gave her little wave as Sam started the engine.
Miller gave him a little two fingered wave back. "Nice car, by the way." She yelled over the rumble of the engine as Sam reversed Dean's baby out of the parking spot.
"My Dad gave me a '71 Malibu."
Sam and Dean looked at each other, and then back at the doctor as they drove slowly out of the car park of the hospital.
"Do you think we have a long lost sister that no-one told us about?" Dean said shaking his head in mild amazement.
"Damn, I hope not!" Sam replied, still blushing and feeling Dean's eyes boring into him. And he pulled the car onto the road.
"Pervert!" Dean replied, grinning. And fishing one of his beloved cassette tapes out of the glove and sticking it in the deck, he settled back into the seat and closed his eyes as the gentle lilt of Metallica filled the car.
Cracking open the window, Dean let the warm midday air ruffle through his hair. Despite everything they had gone through the past two weeks, Dean felt peaceful. Part of it was getting out of the hospital, but that wasn't all. Part of it was what Miller had said to him and part of it was the dream – vision… Whatever the hell it had been? He hadn't let on to Sam exactly what he had seen, what he had heard, but he was sure that their Dad had come to him when he had really needed him and somehow it made him feel a little less alone. Although he had Sam, would always have Sam, his little brother was his responsibility and since their Dad had gone, Dean had really had no one in his corner. But now maybe, just maybe, he still did.
"So this vacation, Sam? Where are we headed?" Dean asked his brother.
"It's a surprise." Sam replied, smiling. Glad to see Dean look happy for once. He missed that look on his brother's face.
"Aw, Sammy. You know I don't like surprises."
A/N: Well, that's it guys. Hope you enjoyed this story the second time around. Thanks for reading! xxx