I'm so sorry for not finishing this sooner. Truth is I completely forgot that I had promised you guys an epilogue! I for some reason thought the story was over, so thank you so much for the reminders. Thanks to Gabi to beta'ing this even though she was really busy. And thank you all for sticking with the story and for your support! I hope you'll enjoy the last installment of this story.

For the first time in years Sam felt like he could finally breathe freely without that constant pressure in his chest. After years of inner struggle to discover what he really wanted.... he truly felt happy for the first time as he walked side by side with his brother out of the rehab center.

To say Dean's smile was blinding was an understatement. Sam looked at the man he was with now and compared him to the man he found months back in a dirty alley and could not see how those two people were ever the same. Dean was healthy, he was fit for the most part, still skinny but his skin had a golden glow to it from sun and he was starting to develop some muscle back from exercise. His teeth were white and his body fresh; he wore jeans and a t-shirt that finally fit his new size correctly. His hair had grown a little bit and Dean now took to wearing a bit of stubble over his face, just the beginnings of a beard. The hair was light and didn't distract from his face, it looked good on him.

But the biggest difference of them all was that Dean looked happy. No, he didn't just look happy but he truly was happy. It was hard to see at times when Dean drew back and became more reserved than usual but Dean's quieter behavior was just something that was a part of him now. But Dean was finally happy with life, he wanted to live and he wanted to fight, he looked forward to each day that came.

Sam watched Dean as they said good-bye to the last of the patients and the doctors that they had become friends with. His brother's steps were shorter, more timid, his eyes would search the room back and forth every few steps. Not to mention the way Dean didn't try to hide how close he was walking next to Sam, not ashamed of his need to have his brother close, for assurance just as much as protection.

No, Dean wasn't the same brother Sam had left when he went away to college but that's okay. Sam loved him even more anyway.

Rehab didn't bring understanding to just Dean but to Sam as well. Because Dean was more dependant now it really brought on Sam's protective side. He had begun to understand just how his brother had felt watching over Sam his whole life. The constant feel of the whole world on your shoulders, the worry that something might happen to your brother if you look away for one second, and it would be all your fault. It was a tough load to carry, and not many people could do it which is was why Sam didn't understand how his brother could do it at just four years old. It was amazing and just proved how strong Dean really was, it made Sam admire him even more and feel that much worse about leaving for college. No wonder Dean had been so upset, not knowing what could have happened to Sam while he was gone; feeling like all those years of hard work had gone down the drain. Dean had turned Sam into the man he was and yet Sam had blown Dean off, hadn't realized that Dean was the reason he was able to go to college in the first place. He had left without even a thank you. And Sam knew that if Dean took off right now without a word, it would break his heart after all he had done for his brother.

Dean should do that right now for redemption. Just run away from Sam and never look back. But Dean was better than that, he was a better man. He understood.

Dean's grin lengthened when the Impala came into view. He picked up speed, practically leaving Sam in the dust. After months of being sober the center had allowed Dean to go for practice drives with Sam and a doctor in the car, Dean had driven great and was all set to get behind the wheel again now that he was back in the real world.

"Oh baby, how I've missed you." Dean purred quietly to the object of his affection. He rested his cheek against the roof and moved his hand against the cool glass of the window. Sam let him stay like that for a while letting Dean sort out his thoughts and not wanting to rush him. After a few moments Dean opened his eyes and looked toward Sam, still smiling.

"You ready to get the hell outta this town Sammy?"

Sam smiled back and hurried to get into the passenger seat, the familiar feel of the engine rumbling making him feel at home.

"You don't have to ask twice."

Sam woke up to the sound of his brother gasping for air. Sam sat up in bed and turned to face Dean's bed. From the glow of the small night-light in the room Sam could see Dean curled into a tight ball facing him, shaking and sweating. No matter how many times it happened Sam couldn't get used to it and the sight broke Sam's heart just as much each time. No matter ho much better Dean got, he couldn't seem to shake off the nightmares, though they were happening less frequently as of late. Even though they were staying in a cabin, they had to move two beds into the same room, motel style. There was just no way Dean would sleep alone in a room.

Sam learned not to ask any questions and let Dean sort it out by himself, even though he wanted nothing more than to sit by his brother's bedside the whole night. It was something Dean really appreciated. So Sam just got up and poured a glass of water from the sink like he did on nights like these. He walked back and handed the glass to his brother who was noticeably calmer, but still looked shaken up. Squeezing his shoulder Sam repeated the words that calmed his brother every time.

"It's okay Dean. I'm right here."

Dean would fall asleep after that with surprising ease. Turned onto his side with his knees up to his chest and buried in blankets. He faced his brother and offered a smile before he closed his eyes.

There were a lot of changes in Dean's nighttime routine. He hated sleeping in complete darkness and needed some form of light in the room, hence the nightlight. If it was because the dark reminded him of the event or because with the light he could see his little brother whenever he woke...Sam wasn't sure and didn't really care. He also no longer slept on his stomach all sprawled out without any blankets like he always used to. Sam figured he felt safer on his side facing Sam, felt protected the smaller he was in bed and under the blankets.

But Dean was doing better than Sam ever thought he could at night. He was proud of his brother.

Sam had been cooking dinner and Dean was doing sit-ups in the other room when it had happened. It was a month and a half since Dean had gotten out of rehab and much longer than that since Sam got the message from their father. Sam had informed Dean of the message and of John's apology but Dean had just shrugged and said if John couldn't say it to his face, it meant nothing. Neither of them have spoken to him nor heard anything on his whereabouts.

"Sammy, your phone is ringing!" Dean called out.

Sam sighed and turned off the stove burner before running into the main room. "You couldn't have picked it up for me?"

Dean grunted as he did another sit-up. "I'm busy. And besides, what if it was some chick calling you back or something? Awkward..."

Sam was going to shoot back some remark about how he doesn't give girls his phone number when the world seemed to stop spinning as he looked at the display.

"Shit!" He cursed, thinking only of getting the hell away from Dean when he answered the phone. Sam rushed out of the front door of the cabin, not hearing Dean's yells in his panicked state. Once he was sure Dean was out of earshot he answered the phone.

"Dad? What the hell do you want?"

"You never called me back Sam. How am I supposed to visit you boys if you don't let me know where you are?" John's voice sounded sad, tired and drained. If Sam wasn't so furious with his father he would have been worried.

"I'm not telling you where we are." Sam said stubbornly. Not now, maybe sometime later Dad, if you truly want to gain Dean's trust back. But he's too fragile right now...he's finally getting better....

"I know you won't. That's why I called Bobby."

Sam's mouth dropped. Bobby had promised him not to tell John where they were! He swore he wouldn't!

"Before you get mad at him Sam, listen. He refused to tell me for the longest time. Why do you think I waited so long to call you again? I had to regain Bobby's trust Sam. I had to show him that I wanted to see you boys for the right reasons, that I wanted to help Dean.

Sam had finally cooled off enough to the point where his father's voice wasn't the only thing he could hear. He spun around as his brother's frightful voice echoed through his brain.

Dean was standing in the doorway, his face a reflection of horror and worry. He seemed caught between running out to Sam or staying in the safety of the cabin. Shit, shit, shit! Dean had never said it out loud but it was obvious that he feared being left alone with a vengeance. It was evident in the way he walked close to Sam and always needed him in either eyesight or earshot. If Sam ventured too far away Dean would follow, making up a lame excuse on why he needed to do so. Now that Dean was out in the real world and not in the security of the rehab center, he didn't feel safe anymore.

Keep Dean out of the dark and stay with him at all times. Those were the two things Sam had told himself Dean needed. Two simple things Sam had to do for Dean and he couldn't even do those right. What a piece of crap brother he was.

Sam didn't even bother replying to John as he sprinted back to the cabin and up to his shaking brother, placing his hands on Dean's shoulders. Up close, Dean looked even more terrified and Sam realized that he had been close to going into a panic attack. With Sam just running out like that, who knew what Dean had thought?

"Dean." Sam tried to keep his voice light and calm, something the rehab center had told him to do in times like these. It was hard to do with John's voice coming frantically from the phone, but Sam did his best to ignore it. "Hey, it's okay. I'm right here Dean. I'm not going anywhere. I'm sorry."

Dean looked up at Sam with wide, hurt eyes and Sam pulled him into a hug, not expecting Dean to hug him back, but needing to comfort his brother nonetheless. He was shocked by his brother once again though when Dean hugged him back after a moment, tight. Very tight.

"Don't." Dean whispered and while it was quiet, it sure was powerful.

"Don't what?"

"Don't you leave me."

Both brothers pulled away at the same time. Dean was staring into Sam's eyes, looking for any sign that he might be lying.

"I wasn't leaving you Dean. God, not even close. I'm sorry I ran out like that, I wasn't thinking straight after I saw who called me."

Dean's eyes widened as he took a step back, understanding as he rubbed the back of his neck, his cheeks turning red with embarrassment. "That makes sense then. Why you took out like a bat outta Hell, didn't want me to know, eh?"

"I was going to tell you. I just wanted to know what he wanted first. I didn't want you to be stressed out."

Dean looked at him expectantly, and if Sam didn't witness it himself he never would have guessed Dean had been so shaken up just a minute before. His brother had always been an array of ever changing emotions.

"So...what did he want?"

Sam's mind went blank for a while until he remembered he never finished talking to John. "Crap, I left him on the phone. I'll see if he's still on." This time Sam walked over to the old bench swing on the porch and motioned for Dean to sit next to him. "I shouldn't hide anything from you. If he wants to talk, he can talk to the both of us."

Dean nodded and sat down; he agreed but seemed slightly scared of what John had to say. Sam didn't blame him, John was completely unpredictable.

Sam took a deep breath, spared a quick glance with Dean before turning the phone on speaker.

"Dad, Dean's with me. Whatever you need to say you can say it to him too."

Sam took a deep breath, spared a quick glance with Dean before turning the phone on speaker.

"Dad, Dean's with me. Whatever you need to say you can say it to him too."

"What just happened? Why did you stop talking?" John seemed concerned but Sam wasn't about to tell him the truth.

"Nothing, I was just talking to Dean...." He started when he was interrupted by his brother.

"I had a panic attack." Dean stated simply, his voice sounding strong and didn't waver. Sam stared back at him with bug-like eyes, silently asking Dean why the hell he would admit that to John of all people.

Dean just looked back with a smirk. Telling Sam with just that simple smile alone that he wasn't going to let anything John said affect him anymore, that he was able to stand up for himself this time around. When John kicked Dean out that day, it really struck a cord within his brother, broke that once untouchable bond he had with their father. It really opened up Dean's eyes and showed him that their father wasn't the man he thought he was.

"You...Dean..." John seemed shocked to hear his eldest son's voice, his voice cracking at the end. "Dean....it's so good to hear your voice son. I...what happened? Why did you get a panic attack?"

Dean glanced at Sam and sat back in the swing, letting the whole truth come out. "I don't like being left alone. I freak out. Sam left the room when he answered the phone and I panicked."

Both brothers heard John sigh at the other end. He knew very that he had caused so much pain to his eldest when he locked him out and refused to let Dean travel with him. Basically he left Dean to rot just because he was broken, just because he needed some extra help.

"Dean, I'm so sorry...."

"Stop." Dean said in a stubborn tone, sitting up straight now. "Don't you dare apologize over the phone. If anything you at least owe me the satisfaction of saying it to my face. That is...if you really mean it."


"You know I can never forgive you for what you did to me, right? I'm your son, not just some piece of junk you can throw out with the garbage when I don't work right anymore. Do you have any idea how lost and scared I was? I needed you Dad...the only time I ever needed something from you and you fucking disown me."

"I didn't disown you, I..."

"You kicked me out and told me not to come back until I had my head on straight! How is that not disowning me? Dad, I was raped! And you just....abandoned me..." Dean sighed then, suddenly seeming tired and turned away from the phone.

"Dean, I'll never be able to forgive myself for what I did to you either. I was selfish, automatically thinking you were drinking to escape from the hunt. But you know what, who cares if you did that? It shouldn't matter what you do at all, I should be there to help and support you. I was...I am too obsessed with catching this demon that I have been pushing my sons away...for what reason I don't know. I was becoming a different person and I almost lost myself. I never imagined I could be so cruel. But Dean, I have changed. I really have and I'm so sorry son, and I will say it to your face. I...I love you Dean, I love both of you."

Sam took a deep breath and looked over at his brother. Dean was running a hand down his face and over his stubble, eyes shut tight. Sam could just imagine how confusing all this would be. He put a hand on his brother's shoulder and gently rubbed it.

"Dad, how about you just get here, and then we can talk."

Sam heard John swallow. "Okay, okay. I'll see you boys soon."

That night Sam woke up screaming, convinced that Ashley's hands were still around his neck, hearing her threats to rape and torture him echo in his head. He opened his eyes but the room seemed to spin around him. Suddenly feeling sick, he stumbled out of bed, only making it a few feet before he crashed to the ground.

Or at least he thought so. Something was holding him up that prevented him from landing face first on the wooden floor. Sam swallowed; trying to calm his nausea until Ashley's voice finally faded and was replaced by Dean's.

"It's alright Sammy, I've got you. You're safe."

Immediately Sam felt himself calm down at the comforting and familiar sound of his big brother.

"Dean?" Sam croaked out as he was helped back onto his bed.

"No, it's Santa Claus. Who else would it be?" Dean said with a smile in his voice and then patted Sam's shoulder. "You sound like crap. I'll be right back; I'm going to get you a glass of water."

Sam followed Dean's form as he walked into the kitchen. He smiled, no matter how different Dean might be, being a big brother still came first and that would never change.

The next day the brothers stood side by side, waiting for John to meet them in about five minutes. Sam had expected Dean to be a nervous jittery mess since the moment he got up, but that hadn't been the case at all. Dean had woken up, asked Sam to cut his hair for him (he claimed it was getting too much on the girly side for his liking). Yet Dean kept the stubble on his face, the reason for that Sam had learned just a few days ago. Sam had finally gained the courage to ask Dean about it and his brother just shrugged. He said he wanted a bit of a change, and he didn't want to look like the same person that had been the victim of the attacks. Dean had said something about wanting a complete fresh new start. Sam thought maybe Dean was re-inventing himself, becoming the person he was always meant to be, not John's soldier and loyal son.

All this thinking caused Sam to ask a question.

"So I'm curious. After he apologizes, and if he's genuine about it...you're not going to forgive him...are you?"

Dean turned to face him with wide, confused eyes. "Of course I'm going to forgive him, why wouldn't I?"

"Dean, you said it yourself! He left you to rot! I can't believe you'd..."

"Sammy." Dean cut him off with a stern look. "I'm not happy with him, and I'm never going to be okay with what he did. But if he's truly sorry then of course I'll forgive him. We're family and you can't keep pushing family away or then you're left with nothing. That's something you've got to realize, kiddo."

"Don't call me kiddo." Sam grunted in response. But he realized Dean was right. He had to learn to face his problems and solve them like Dean always did instead of running away. It was hard though when so many questions lay unanswered; it was so much easier to run away than to face the truth. Like how would John react? How well would Dean be able to handle hunting again? How would he deal when he was around alcohol?

But as John pulled up the path, Sam spared another glance at his big brother, standing tall and confident at his side, and knew that no matter what, they could get through anything together.