A/N: So, this is the resolution. Knowledge of Gilmore Girls is probably most beneficial for this chapter, but I think you'll catch the general drift of it without. As I close this out, I first want to thank Tyranusfan for the beta, and letting me rant about the injustice done to Dean F. Also thanks to sendintheclowns who is like the little devil on my shoulder saying write, write! And thanks to you who have read and reviewed. It's a cheesy sort of fic idea, but I had a blast with it, and I'm glad some of you did, too.


CHAPTER EIGHT

They were getting ready to run.

Sam knew all the signs. The way his father's knee jiggled as he sat perched at Sam's bedside. The way his brother's jacket was still on. The careful way his father perused Sam's chart at the end of the bed. All preparation for a fast and quiet-as-possible exit. Hospitals, after all, were not so fond of patients that didn't have insurance and were even less fond of those who tried to pawn of the insurance of others.

More than that, the doctor had joked on his last rounds. Had told Sam that he was fine, that he was going to be sore and have a headache and wear the cast and all that wind down stuff, so they were out of reasons to stay. It wasn't that Sam wanted to go, but just that he didn't know what else to expect. They'd been pulling this same trick whenever things got tough, whenever teachers started asking questions, whenever landlords started to grow weary. Whenever they ended up in the hospital. Because apparently Winchesters were as hard to track as the ghosts they hunted, which had always been part of Sam's problem.

The lack of roots. The lack of identity. The lack of finishing out anything except a hunt. Those were the things Sam had never even had enough of to know fully what he missed.

His father had been mostly silent, which wasn't totally unusual. John Winchester was many things, but sociable wasn't one of them. But Sam had to admit, he was still surprised. Not for the lack of chitchat but for the lack of discussion.

Sam was okay now. He was clearly on the mend. The injuries were mostly superficial and with some fluids and rest and warmth, Sam was on his way to a full recovery, the cast on his wrist notwithstanding. So where was the discourse on Sam's failures? Where was the promised talk about how to prevent this from happening again? Where were the reprimands for getting caught, for getting hurt, for being reckless and stupid and all of that?

Now that Sam was warm and hydrated, he was expected it more than ever. Almost wanted it. To get it over with, to know what the price of all this was once and for all. The waiting for it was almost worse than getting it, almost worse than getting taken in the first place.

And how messed up was that? Only a Winchester would dread getting rescued more than getting taken. Luckily for him, he'd been too out of it while on the run to appropriately dread it. So this sojourn in the hospital--well, he was making up for lost time.

Dean was out, to ready the car or something else, Sam wasn't sure, so this seemed like the perfect time. His father had sat there and listened to the litany of Sam's injuries, had watched him sleep and rest for hours now, and hadn't said a word about any of it. Not about the kidnapping, about the rescue, about ending up in the hospital.

It was creepy, that's what it was. Creepy and unnerving and there was going to be consequences, and Sam just wanted to get it over and done with.

Sam swallowed. His dad always told him to own up to things like a man, so maybe that was what his dad was waiting for.

Pushing himself up on the bed, he shifted gently, trying not to disrupt his ribs. His wrist still throbbed a little, and the stitches itched, and his head was thick. Things were clearer now, of course, but the world was still a little too bright and a little too loud, but it was his ribs that bothered him most. Tight and achy, suffocating if he moved wrong--they would be the hardest part to recover from, even more cumbersome than the cast on his wrist.

Clearing his throat, he looked at his father.

Looking up from his journal, his father eyed him lightly.

"So," Sam said. "I, uh--I'm feeling better."

His father stared at him a moment before nodding. "The doctor says you're doing very well."

Sam nodded shortly. "So, we'll be going soon."

"No reason to stay," his father agreed. "You know we need to head before they catch on to anything."

Sam nodded again, looking down at his hands. A pause lapsed before Sam found his courage again. "I'm sorry," he blurted finally.

His father looked up at him, eyebrows raised. "You're sorry?"

Sam shrugged nervously. "For getting caught," he said. "I knew better than that. I did. I mean, they were human, and I let myself get taken and then that rescue--I just, even with my head being the mess that it was, I should have thought that through better, like you always tell me. I'll just, I mean, I know I need to not be so stupid--"

His father sighed, shaking his head. "I'm not mad about that."

"But you tell me, don't go in without backup. Don't go in when you're hurt. And now I screwed it up. I mean, a hospital visit? Doctors and the cops? And my wrist--"

"Sam, I'm not mad that you got hurt."

"But you always warn me, tell me that I should train so I don't get hurt."

Something hardened in his father's countenance. "You think that's why I have you train?"

Swallowing, Sam tried to find the trick to that question. "To make sure we can defend ourselves and--"

His father's laugh was breathy and incredulous. "This isn't some glorified self defense regimen."

Sam didn't know what to say, didn't have a clue.

His father leveled him with a stare. "This training--it's not just training. It's a life, Sam. A life we have to live--completely. It has to be everything you are at all times, no distractions."

The condemnation was harsh and swift. "I'll focus on it more--"

"Damn it, Sammy, that's not what this is about. This is about the fact that you escaped, you escaped, came back and saved your brother when you were beat to hell."

"I wasn't thinking straight," Sam stammered out softly in defense. "I was--cold and it hurt and--"

"And you're still apologizing for the wrong thing," his father ground out. "What you pulled off was nothing short of amazing. When you put your mind to something, you're unstoppable. So I've been sitting here wondering why you can never do it in training. Why you're never this good on the hunt."

Sam chest hurt, his head felt like it was going to explode because he knew the answer. He knew it and he knew why his dad was so mad.

"You're sixteen, Sam. You're sixteen and you're still acting like hunting is some kind of damn extra-curricular. Helpful, but not in the long run, right? Just like that debate tournament you snuck off to or that play you talked Dean into seeing you in. But hunting isn't debate. It's not a play. And I keep waiting for you to grow up, Sam, and I don't know what it'll take to make you do that."

He was right. For the second time in a week, Sam knew his dad was right. Hunting was never his thing. He didn't love it, didn't crave it like Dean. At best, it was a necessary inconvenience for Sam. At worst, it reminded him of how tenuous life was, how lonely. Everything else--the school, the clubs, the sports--had always been his necessary counterbalance to keep himself feeling sane, normal, and safe. That the world wasn't all evil and death. That there was purpose and meaning.

His father was watching him. "It has to stop. The studying, the clubs. It's too much of a distraction."

Sam's eyes went wide, his heart stilling. "No," he said, aware of the frantic tone of his voice. "I can do both, Dad. I can. I really can. You'll see. Just give me a chance."

His father's mouth was set, though. "I'm sorry, Sam."

But that wasn't what Sam wanted to hear. Because his dad was sorry that Sam hadn't figured it out on his own. His dad was sorry that Sam couldn't fall in line with a smile. His dad was sorry that Sam had to give things up, but he was sorry in the way that a mother is sorry for yelling at her toddler for trying to touch a hot stove.

His dad wasn't sorry for how much it hurt. He wasn't sorry that asking Sam to give up school and the clubs and all of that was like asking Sam to stop breathing.

Apparently Sam wasn't the only one who was sorry for all the wrong things.

Just like that, the pains felt worse. His throbbing head threatened to darken his vision and the tightness in his chest made him feel like he was dying.

There were arguments he could make, of course. Lots of them. Fruitless arguments, no matter their validity. But today, after everything, he just couldn't do it. He'd fought for his way out of all of it, and he was too tired to fight his way out of this. The bitterness, the hurt--were fights for another day.

He slumped, rolling away a little bit. In all of it, when he was tied to a chair or locked in a room or running through the woods--he'd never felt as trapped as he did right then.

His father stood, hovering for a second, before saying, "I'm going to go make sure we have everything in order. Be ready to move when we get back."

Sam didn't look up. He didn't have to.

He didn't move until the sound of his father's footsteps faded away.

In the absence, Sam unclenched, releasing the tension in his body he didn't realize he'd been holding. It was a bittersweet thing, his family. To be so protected, so watched after, and yet feel like no on was taking care of him at all. To know without a doubt that they were coming, but to have to accept they'd never meet him halfway.

There was a knock at the door, a short rap, and Sam startled, rolling over to look at the doorway.

In it a girl was framed. About his age, long brain hair, and wide blue eyes. "Dean!" she said, sounding breathless and surprised and relieved all at once.

She was a little young for Dean. "Dean's not here," he muttered.

Her brows stitched together and she frowned a little. "No, I mean. You're--you're not." Realization settled over her features. "You look just like him."

It was a rare comment. Most people didn't think he looked anything like his brother, and it was something his brother loved to rub in when the girls were fawning all over him. "Uh. Thanks?"

"No, I mean, you look like Dean."

It was just plain getting wearisome now. He was tired, he was miserable, and he just wanted to sleep and this girl just would not leave him alone. "How do you even know Dean?" Hitting up girls in the hospital was not beyond the realm of possibility for his brother, but they hadn't even been there twenty-four hours. And this girl looked no more than sixteen. Maybe his concussion wasn't as healed as he'd thought.

"He's my boyfriend," she explained. "And you look just like him. Like creepy like him. Not that you look creepy or that he looks creepy but that the similarity is creepy."

So she wasn't talking about Dean. Not his Dean, anyway. Some other Dean, some Dean who had the misfortune to look like him.

She was still standing there and still staring, a little awestruck, a little shell-shocked.

"Are you okay?" he asked because he had enough problems without crazy girls who thought he was their boyfriend.

"Oh. Yeah," she said. "I mean. Wow. You just have no idea how creepy this is. I mean, the entire idea of being here is creepy enough since, well, it's a hospital and my boyfriend is in it. And not just in it, but he had surgery and he was shot and he was kidnapped and all of that--"

In the long monologue, that much triggered. "Wait, your boyfriend was kidnapped?"

She blinked. "Yeah."

So that was the other kid. The not Sam. The not-Sam and the not-Dean. Which was now too much for his brain to handle.

"Do you--know him?"

"No," he said. He's seen the kid, yes. But they had apparently alternated awareness enough that there had never been any interaction between them.

"Oh," she said. Then she paused, studying him again. "I'm sorry. I know this is like ultra-freaky but normally I'm not nearly this stalkerish. It's just--wow. Have you ever heard the theory that everyone in the world has a double, someone who looks just like them?"

He scrunched his nose, and regretted it--the scabbing cuts on his face tugged painfully and his bruised eye ached. "No."

"I didn't believe it," she said. "Not until now. Like, seriously, they should write a case study about this. About the odds of two kids, who look so much alike, being in the same hospital. You have his nose--from profile anyway. And his chin. You totally have his chin."

He fought the urge to glare at her for reasons he couldn't quite fathom. She wasn't trying to be mean or annoying, but somehow he felt both hurt and annoyed. But glaring--it would give him too much of a headache. "It's my chin," he said. "And the odds of having a genetic double are slim."

"I know, but not nil," she said. "Seriously, if I were going to go into biology, I would totally get your number. To call you. Not for a date, because I obviously have a boyfriend, but to complete some kind of DNA analysis. You two would make a good thesis, I think. And for interviews, if you'd be up for that. Because I wonder about the similarities between the genetic code and other aspects of your lives beyond the physical."

"Like personality traits?" he asked before he could stop himself. There was no need encouraging her, since she clearly didn't need it, and her chatter wasn't helping his headache any. But the way she went on, the curious trail of her thoughts, he almost couldn't help himself.

"Right," she said, brighter now. "Like, do you like cars? Or maybe hockey? He's also got a really good work ethic."

Cars--that was Dean's thing. Hockey--too costly to even pretend like it was an option. Work ethic--yeah, as long as she didn't ask his dad. "No. I--I've got a lot of chores at home." Chores, training--tomato, tomah-to, and Sam was too tired to care.

She looked disappointed with that. "Oh. Of course. I mean, lots of people do. It would still be interesting, though."

Interesting. To compare how normal her boyfriend was and how not normal he was. To drive home just how much Sam didn't get to do. How Sam would never have time for hobbies like that, how he would never get to stay on a team or play two seasons in a row. How he could never have a girlfriend--or any friend--who looked for him.

The kid may have gotten kidnapped and shot, but Sam just hoped he realized how lucky he was.

"Yeah," he agreed. "Interesting."

"Well, um. Sorry for disturbing you. This has been--surreal. In a nice way."

"Surreal," he said.

She flashed one more grin, ducking her head awkwardly and tucking her hair behind her ear, before walking out the door.

Sam wasn't sure why that hurt quite as much as it did.

Curling onto his side, he closed his eyes and waited for his dad to come back and sort of wished he didn't have to.

-o-

Dean had never seen so many people in his life. Doctors with their stethoscopes. Nurses with BP cuffs. Policemen with notebooks. By the time his parents saw him, he was too exhausted to talk to them at all. His mother had fretted over him, smoothly his sheets and fluffing his blankets like that somehow made some kind of difference. She fluttered around so much that it sort of made him dizzy and he closed his eyes just to make it all stop.

Each time he awoke, there was someone there. His mother, red eyes and Kleenex in hand. His father, steady and tired in the chair. Once, even Rory, trying to smile and talking but Dean couldn't quite make out what she was saying before he fell asleep again.

Always someone. He half expected to see Ryan or Kenny or first coming at him.

Sleep was a vague time, hazy impressions and distant sensations. It never seemed peaceful, always a soft veil of awareness that denied him true reprieve. And sometimes, Dean couldn't help but long for the pure oblivion afforded to him by Kenny's meaty fist.

That was masochistic, Dean knew. Even a little wrong. Rory would tell him about Stockholm Syndrome or Post Traumatic Stress and that really what he was experiencing was all quite normal. His mother would call for every doctor in the city to come check him out, to fix him. And Taylor would just want to know if this meant Dean was missing any more work.

Hence the reason he didn't want to deal with any of them. Maybe ever. At least not until his brain learned how to forget.

A classic case of denial. Could be a great case study. Not too complicated, very classic, broad appeal and easily accessible to a wide audience. Easy to get funding for, even easier to get approved. Could even make BookTV on CSPAN if it got published.

He needed to get Rory out of his head. Before he started making a pro/con list about whether or not to wake up.

Unfortunately, not even his body seemed to listen to him, and sleep was fading into awareness without his consent. His eyes were open before he was even aware that he was awake.

The room was filled with soft sunlight from behind the shaded window. It was warm, buzzing with machines, and it was quieter than he remember.

No parents. No Rory.

Just a figure in the chair at the foot of his bed.

At first, Dean didn't recognize him. He looked too young to be any kind of doctor or nurse and a little too laid back and bedraggled to be any kind of cop. He would hope they wouldn't let reporters in.

Then his eyes focused, straining through the swelling, and saw something familiar.

The guy from the cabin. Not Kenny or Ryan but the guy who came for him--or for the other kid.

"You're awake," the guy observed.

"Yeah."

The guy nodded, sitting forward a bit. "So how are you feeling?"

Typical question. One he'd been asked too many times before. So why he wanted to tell this guy the truth, he wasn't sure. "Foggy," Dean admitted. "But, still I feel like crap."

"Gunshots will do that to you."

Dean didn't have the energy to argue. He didn't have the energy for anything. Ropes and gags or IVs and monitors--they were all the same: constricting, limiting. "I guess."

"So," he continued. "Crazy couple of days, huh?"

As if that wasn't an understatement. Dean didn't know what was. And speaking of crazy: "Why are you here?"

The guy raised his eyebrows. "What, a guy can look out for his fellow Dean?"

"I thought I imagined that." At least part of him wished he had, along with everything else.

"I know I'm dreamy, but usually it's girls who do the dreaming."

Dean supposed that was supposed to be funny, but he didn't feel like laughing. "You still didn't tell me why you were here."

The other Dean sighed, leaning back in his seat. "Sure I did," he said. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

That would have meant something if he knew anything about who this guy was. "Well," he said. "The doctors say I should recover."

"Yeah, I know," the other Dean said. "You're a pretty tough kid. It's all in the name."

But Dean could remember crying. He could remember the fear and the helplessness. "Whatever."

"Huh, you may have the name like me, but you've got that emo brooding thing like my kid brother."

As if that was supposed to mean anything. He was tired of listening to other people ramble to make themselves feel better. His mother, his father, Rory. Random Deans who showed up when he got shot.

The guy shifted, licking his lips. "Look, I just wanted to say I'm sorry," he said finally. "I mean, I sort of got you shot."

Dean had wanted to forget that part. "You didn't have the gun."

"No, but I thought I could take that guy. I mean, I just wanted to get you out."

Nice thought, but Dean could remember the truth. That it wasn't personal. That he was a stand-in. "Did you find your brother?" he asked, more pointedly than he intended.

It wasn't lost on Dean. He raised his eyebrows, shifting again. "Yeah," he said. "He's fine, too. Looks like we're all going to walk away."

Gee. Lucky them.

The other Dean sighed. "Look, kid--"

"Dean," he said. "My name is Dean."

"Dean," he said slowly. "I know it's all pretty confusing for you right now. I mean, the kidnapping and the gunshot. That's not the way life usually goes. Not the way it should be. And I hate that you had to go through that. I mean, kids like you, you should be going to school and playing football, not worrying about psychos and look-a-likes."

He would have agreed with that two days ago. But now--now Dean didn't know what to think.

"Those guys are going away for a long time, you can be sure of that."

It didn't make him feel better. He wanted it too, but it didn't mean anything.

"Not that it means a lot, I'm sure," the other Dean continued. "And if I could have protected you from that, I would have. I mean, that's what I do. For Sammy, I mean. My kid brother. And seeing you like that, being there with you--I felt responsible for you, too."

Dean looked at his hands and wondered if he was expected to say something.

The other Dean rubbed his hands on his pants. "Anyway, we're leaving soon, my brother and my dad and me, and I just wanted to check in with you before we left."

Dean swallowed hard and fought the inexplicable urge to cry. The things this guy had seen, the time he'd seen him through. It was something Dean didn't want to remember and couldn't deny.

Pushing to his feet, the other Dean moved to the door. "Anyway, take care," he said. "You've got the whole town looking out for you. I mean, the things they did for you? Most people would give anything to be loved like that. So you'll be in good hands."

They hadn't told him that. About what had happened back home. Everyone had been so worried about what had happened to him that they hadn't taken the time to tell him about what they'd been through.

Somehow it made a difference.

"Wait," Dean said, surprised by the certainty in his own voice

The guy paused in the doorway, turning to look at him.

Dean moistened his lips, trying to figure out why he'd asked him to stay. "They looked for me?"

The guy just cocked his head. "You really have to ask?"

The look on Dean's face answered the other's Dean's question for him.

The other Dean sighed, a little. "Yeah, they looked for you," he said. "Entire search parties. Fliers and news bulletins. The whole works. They weren't the ones who found you, but that doesn't mean they weren't looking."

That had been his fear. Of dying alone. Of being forgotten.

He took a steadying breath, looking the other Dean straight in the eyes. "You seem to know about this kind of thing."

"I know more than my share."

Dean swallowed. "So, uh. Does it get better?"

The other Dean cocked his head. "Does what get better?"

Dean licked his lips, looking down and shrugging. "The way it feels right now." He glanced up at the guy, almost afraid to know.

The guy was quiet for a minute, thoughts flitting through his eyes, before he finally looked at Dean. "You'll find something--something that will make it easier. Something to look forward to. Never perfect. But better--hell, yeah."

Not quite as reassuring as he'd hoped, but more believable than everything else. Because he didn't know how to make sense of what happened, didn't know how to understand it, much less move beyond it. It seemed like the most real thing that had ever happened to him and yet no more substantial than a dream or passing fantasy.

"I was wrong before," the guy added. "Back in the cabin. Those guys may not have been after you, but it's always personal. And I know my rescue wasn't exactly ideal, but there were lots of others, you know. Looking for you. So just because it wasn't personal for them or even me, it was for a lot of other people."

So if he had died or if his body had never been found, people would have cared. Being Rory's boyfriend, Clara's big brother, the bag boy at the market--maybe those things mattered. They weren't a lack of identity maybe, but the evidence of connection. A testament of love.

He took an uneasy breath, offering the guy the closest thing to a smile he had to offer. "Thanks."

The guy just shrugged. "Anytime."

And just like that, he was gone.

The room was silent again, warm and empty all at once. He sighed, letting his eyes close, but did not reach for sleep this time. Something had happened to him, something more than just being kidnapped. It wasn't the act itself that bothered him, it was that loss of control, that loss of identity. As much as he wanted to deny it, to ignore what happened, the after effects were still there. The cold feeling of fear in his stomach. The raw inevitability in his mind. The dread that he would be gone and no one would care resounding through every synapse of his body.

But people did care. Even if they didn't get it, they cared. They had to.

"Dean! You're up!"

He didn't even have to look to recognize that voice. Bright and airy. Soft and cutting.

"Up-up, I mean," she clarified. "You were sort of up before but I think you were still mostly sleeping, which is totally cool. I would sleep, too, if I were you. I might sleep for a month and I don't even like to sleep that much."

He looked at her finally, the brightness of her smile, the light of her eyes. Her hair was up, pulled into a ponytail and her clothes were rumpled. He noticed for the first time that she looked tired and worn. She'd been worried about him. "Yeah, I'm up," he said, trying to muster a reassuring tone.

She made her way inside, a cup of coffee and a bottle of juice in her hand. "I went to get you coffee, but then I realized that maybe coffee wasn't the best thing for you. And, on top of that, if you were still sleeping, you might not wake up in time for it to be any good. So coffee was a pretty silly idea. And I didn't want to just get water because you can get water in the room so I thought maybe I'd try some juice, since milk sometimes doesn't agree with you." She held out the bottle. "I should have checked with your doctor first. About the fluids."

He reached out and took the bottle. It was apple cherry. "It looks great," he said. "Thanks."

She looked uncertain, a little nervous, and she seated herself, sitting purposefully on her hands. "I know you like apple cider and cherry is your favorite flavor for, like, everything, so I figured maybe apple cherry was the way to go," she explained. "If you don't like it, I can get you something else. They had apple juice and fruit punch and lemonade--"

"No," he said. "This is great. Really."

She pressed her lips together, smiling. "Good. I'm glad. About the juice. And that you're okay. You are okay, right? I mean, do you feel okay?"

"They've got me on the good stuff, I think," he said. "I can't really feel too much. It's all kind of soft around the edges."

"Well, soft around the edges can't be too bad," Rory said. She paused, fidgeting a little. "You probably don't want to talk about it. Do you?"

She was looking up at him hesitantly, her shoulders pulled back a little tentatively.

He could never deny her anything, he never had. He'd been hers since the moment he saw her. He'd spent the last year and a half devoted to her, putting her first, planning his life around her. What Rory wanted, he did his best to make sure Rory got. It felt weird to say no to her.

But this wasn't Rory's for the taking. Everything else, yes. And this, maybe someday. But today--for today he just wanted to look at her and believe in something beautiful and good. To see her smile and remember love and safety, not fear and dread.

He gave a lopsided smile. "Not really," he said.

She nodded knowingly. "I totally understand," she said. "I just wanted you to know, if you ever, you know, need to talk or anything, I'm here. For you."

He thought about her, worrying about him. She would have, he realized suddenly. She would have made lists or organized phone calls. There was something going on with Jess, he couldn't be so stupid not to see, but she still had picked him, this time. She was still here. She still knew his favorite kind of juice or what he meant when he said not really and that had to count for something.

He needed it to count for something. Maybe not for always, but for today.

"Thanks," he said, wishing for the first time in days that this moment could last just a little bit longer. It didn't change what had happened. It didn't make the whole thing less terrifying, less emasculating. He had been powerless to stop it all then. He couldn't save himself. But he wasn't powerless now. He could save himself from the aftermath.

Her face lit up again, brighter now, more sure. "So, I have to know. Are hospital gowns as scandalous as my mother says they are?"

He raised his eyebrows, or tried, but with his swollen features, he wasn't sure how successful he was. "And then some. I'll try not to roll over in the presence of a lady."

Rory's smile took on a mischievous lilt and Dean let himself forget and remember in equal parts, the ones that mattered, as Rory rambled his doubts away.

-o-

With a life so up in the air as theirs, Dean was sort of glad to know that there were some things he could always count on. There would always be something to hunt, there would always be the Impala and the open road ahead of her, and his dad would always be pushing them out the door while Sam was hanging on for all it was worth. The push and pull, stressful as it could be, left Dean right where he wanted to be: in the middle of the only two people who really mattered to him in this world.

So he was relieved when he found his father with Sam's bag already back, scuttling around the hospital room, snapping curt orders at Sam.

"We're leaving in ten minutes, Sam," he said. "I know you probably want to pick a fight about that, too, but save it for the road. You know why we have to book it."

Indeed, they all did. Because the cops would be wanting to ask a few more questions soon, because the two yahoos in lockup would probably start saying some pretty weird things right about now, and they needed to be long gone before the cops thought to make them stay and before the hospital figured out that the DeAngelo family was not quite legit.

Sam mumbled something, pushing himself up off the bed slowly.

Their father spared Sam a glanced and a sigh. "It wouldn't be so bad if you didn't make it out to be," he said. When Sam didn't even look up, their father shook his head, and turned to Dean. "Make sure he's out at the car in ten minutes."

"Ten minutes," Dean affirmed. "Will do."

One more disparaging look at the youngest member of their intrepid clan, and their father was out the door.

Dean raised his eyebrows. "You sure didn't take long to piss him off."

Sam just rolled his eyes. "He's a jackass."

"And you're so stellar," Dean said. "The guy went nuts looking for you."

Sam looked at him with bland incredulity. "Nuts, huh? I'm sure he was beside himself."

So there hadn't been tears and gnashing of teeth. But the cold calculation of their dad's pursuit had suggested terror all the same. "You know what I mean."

Sam grunted, shifting his weight to his feet experimentally. "Yeah, well, his concern lasted long enough to tell me just how much I suck."

"He doesn't think you suck."

"So he's telling me to drop all my school activities why?"

And therein was the heart of Sam's mopey-ness. "You really are a girl, aren't you? The hospital switched babies on us--gave us a little girl."

Sam shook his head, ignoring the meager attempt at levity. "You're just like him."

"Dude, he just wants you to be safe."

"And I said I would train more."

"You're easily distracted."

"I still saved your ass," Sam snapped.

"Exactly," Dean said. "That's what Dad sees. Your potential. You can excel at anything."

"But you two only want me to excel at hunting."

Dean just sighed. "I'm not getting into this with you," he said. "You know how Dad is. He'll push you harder, but it's not like you can't still do your stuff."

"I don't know," Sam said. "He seemed pretty sure that I shouldn't have time for it at all anymore."

"So you give up one geeky activity a week," Dean cajoled, moving forward to nudge Sam's good arm. "Trust me, you could use a little less geekery in your life."

Exasperated, Sam looked at him from under his bangs. "You don't get it."

"No, I get it better than you think. Dad got freaked. You were gone and it messed with his head. He needs to take steps to prevent that from happening again."

"Like it wasn't freaky for me!"

"You're the one who jumped out a window and charged back in unarmed," Dean said with a smirk. "Doesn't sound freaked to me."

Sam's shoulders tightened a little, defensive. "I had a concussion."

"Well, concussion boy, you impressed me, too."

Sam hesitated, then looked at Dean again. "Really?"

"Pretty tough crap, man," Dean said.

A small smile crept across his brother's face. "You know, I thought about what you would do," he admitted. "And you wouldn't have kept running through the woods."

"Damn straight I wouldn't."

Sam seemed to sigh, his body relaxing a little, defusing the sulky expression on his bruised features. "I knew you'd come for me."

"You are a girl," Dean said, tousling Sam's hair. "Now you ready to blow this joint?"

"Yeah," Sam agreed. "I'd like to put Connecticut behind us for awhile."

Dean thought about the kid, the wee Dean, and figured that was probably best for all of them.

Sam was moving on his own, though with a guarded gait, and Dean walked close, but let the kid do it on his own.

They were just about out the building when they turned a corner and nearly ran right into two girls.

Or rather, one girl and one woman.

The brunette from the waiting room. Seeing her standing, the curves of her body were all the more noticeable, as was the long line of her legs.

"Sorry!" the girl was saying. "We weren't even looking--"

"Well, not at you, anyway," the older added.

"It's the coffee," the younger tried to explain.

"It's hard to focus when there's coffee."

The back and forth. The daughter. This was the daughter, the perfect compliment to her mother.

Sam, for his part, looked a little confused, perhaps a little scared. Of the coffee or the talking or the girls themselves, Dean couldn't quite be sure.

"Funny running into you again," Dean said.

The older one looked at him, a smile of recognition on her face. "Oh, hey!" she said. "You're still here. I mean, of course you're still here." She looked from him to Sam and back and then back at Sam again. "Oh--wow. That's--wow."

"You're the look-a-like!" the younger said. "Mom, this is the guy I was telling you about."

Mouth agape, the older was looking at Sam, who seemed cowed by the entire display. "You said he looked like him, but you didn't say he was like the long lost twin!"

"I said it looked like a cloning experiment gone right."

"And you weren't kidding."

"I never kid about cloning."

"So...you've met my brother?" Dean interjected.

The girls looked at him. "Briefly," the younger one said. "I mean, I stumbled into his room looking for my boyfriend."

"The other Dean," her mother interjected.

"Wait, that's the other Dean?" the daughter asked.

"I know," the mother said. "We have the Dean look-a-like and the other Dean and the real Dean."

"All made even weirder by the fact that there are two Lorelais."

Her mother's eyes widened. "That is weird."

They didn't really have time for this. Their dad had said ten minutes, which really meant five minutes, but Dean couldn't resist. "Two Lorelais?"

"Me and her," the mother clarified. "We're both named Lorelai. Which, I know, a little weird, but I was lying there in the hospital thinking about how guys name kids after themselves all the time and I was-- you know, not really the point. Three Deans and two Lorelais."

"But, my name's Sam," his kid brother interjected, far too petulantly.

"Well, and they call me Rory."

Her mother held up her hand. "Stop. No splitting hairs here. Two Lorelais, two Deans, and a Sam."

"But that's kind of sad for Sam, don't you think," Rory pointed out.

Dean gave Sam's hair a good tousle again, and the kid blushed as he shied away. "Lots of things are kind of sad for Sam," he said.

"I'm glad to see you're feeling better," Lorelai offered. "Your brother was a little worried about you."

Sam glared at him, before offering a wan smile to Lorelai. "Definitely on the mend."

"Dean's getting better, too," Rory said brightly.

"Not you, Dean, our Dean. The cute Dean. Not that you aren't cute, but, you know, he's got that boyish-dimpled-first-boyfriend cute thing going on. Hence cute Dean. Wow. Just too many Deans."

"A rare problem," Rory agreed.

"Certainly not one I'm going to complain about, though. All these Deans, all these boys who look like Deans--it really is going to make quite the story someday."

"One they'll be retelling for years."

"Just wait till Miss Patty hears--she'll be envious."

"She'll retell it with more Deans."

"As if two aren't remarkable enough."

"You know Patty, always over the top."

It was amusing, watching them. Back and forth with the intensity of a tennis match. If Dean could stick around, maybe going after the mother would be worth it after all.

But Sam--well, the kid looked like the repartee was giving him a headache. Or a worse headache. And Dean had one responsibility--that one thing that he clung to to make his life better. Not to mention his dad would kick his ass if he were late. "There are some Deans you just can't top, ladies," he said with a grin. "And I would love to stay and prove my point but my brother here still needs his rest."

"Yes, yes, of course," Lorelai said quickly. "We already have one Dean to keep us company, vying for two would just be selfish of us."

"Hey, you think I'm sharing my Dean?" Rory said, her brow furrowed.

"Oh, honey, you already do," her mother said, putting her arm around her and pulling her close. "He kills my spiders."

"He kills mine, too."

"Yes, but he changes my water bottle."

"Which I also use."

"I asked him out first."

"He made me a car."

Lorelai smiled at him, neatly ignoring her daughter. "Kids. You give them the world, they won't even share their boyfriends."

Dean grinned. "It was a pleasure meeting you, ladies," he said. "I only wish it were under better circumstances."

"Yeah, next time you're in town, you can just say hello. You don't even have to rescue anyone and we'll still like you."

"I'll definitely keep that in mind," he said. Then he turned to Sam, who looked paler than before and listing a little. "If you two will excuse us, I'm going to get Sammy here to the car."

"I'll let you know about that case study," Rory offered, looking at Sam.

He smiled half-heartedly. "I can't wait to read it."

"You two take care, okay?" Lorelai said.

Dean flashed her one more smile, broad and toothy and as sure as ever. "We always do."

With that, he nudged Sam, turning them down the hall. Over his shoulder he could still hear the two women, going back and forth about case studies and the unique qualities of the name Dean.

His brother was moving slowly, but Dean figured the kid was due. With all the injuries and stress of the last few days, Dean wouldn't begrudge him that.

Didn't mean that he'd spare his brother from his outstanding conversational skills. "Can you imagine two Deans?" he asked.

Sam snorted. "I'd rather not."

"Double the skill. Double the good looks. There wouldn't be anything we couldn't hunt and no woman we couldn't woo."

Sam crinkled his nose. "Stop putting two of yourself in a three-way. That's just--weird."

"That'd be one lucky lady."

"Are you trying to make me sick?"

Dean laughed, relieved to hear the humor creeping back into his brother's voice. "Only with jealousy."

"You wish," Sam said, pushing him slightly.

He chuckled softly. "Bitch."

Sam scowled, ducking his head, his hair obscuring the dark bruises on his face as he hugged his bad arm close to his body. He wasn't better, not yet, but he would be. "Jerk."

It was a little sulky, a bit petulant, and just so very little brother. So Sam. After everything, after kidnappings and not-Sams, after half-baked rescues and gunshot wounds, after his father's staunch ire and innocent boys caught in the crossfire, this was still Sam. Still Sam and him, still brothers. When the rest of the world was crazy or in disarray, Dean could always trust in that.

end