Stars Shine in the Dark

Chapter 5

oooOOOooo

To be a star, you must shine your own light, follow your own path, and don't worry about the darkness, for that is when the stars shine brightest

Unknown

oooOOOooo

"Kyle's got a good lead on the vampire," Bobby said as he joined Sam and Dean at poolside. Sam had finished a physical therapy session in the pool a few minutes before, and when he was done, the kids insisted it was their turn.

Several days had passed since his conversation with Kristine, but Sam still hadn't been able to tell Dean what really happened with the demon and vampire. He'd been working hard, though, could now reliably move his legs while lying down. He'd also managed to stand and take a few faltering steps with the help of a set of parallel bars.

"How good?" Dean asked after a glance at Sam.

"Friend of Kyle's saw him last night."

"I'd say that's pretty good," Dean said. "Where?"

"Memphis. He's been feeding in nearby towns, and it looks like the witch is still with him."

"Memphis? That's only 7 or 8 hours from here."

Bobby nodded. "He's on his way and should be there tonight. I'd told him I'd meet him there."

"I'm going, too."

"Thought you might. How soon can you be ready?"

"Ten minutes," Dean said with a reluctant glance toward the pool.

"How about half an hour?" Bobby suggested.

"Yeah. Sounds good." Dean watched Bobby walk away, then looked at Sam. His expression was neutral, but Dean could see behind it. "You okay with this?"

"I'd be more okay if I could go."

Dean leaned forward. "I'm sorry, Sam, but it's just too dangerous….The chair --"

Sam nodded, staring into the distance. "I know."

"Look, uh, I'm gonna go talk to the boys. Why don't you hang out with me while I pack?"

Sam nodded again. "I'll meet you there."

-----

Sam wheeled himself to his room. He knew that Dean was spending time with Kristine once everyone else was asleep, but every morning when Sam woke up, his brother was asleep across the room from him. He looked at the bed that would be empty tomorrow and felt more regret than he thought he would.

Sam maneuvered to the closet and pulled out Dean's duffel bag. A lot of his stuff was still in it, but he was also using the bureau that had been moved into the room. Sam grabbed a few t-shirts and pairs of jeans, tossing them onto the bed.

"What are you doing?" Dean asked when he came into the room a few minutes later.

"Helping," Sam said as he rolled up the last pair of jeans and stuffed them into the bag.

"Thanks. You–"

"I need to talk to you before you go," Sam said quickly as he turned the chair around to face Dean. "I should have told you this before, but I didn't. You can be pissed at me if you want, but it won't change anything."

"What are you talking about?"

Sam had to struggle against changing his mind, and knew the only way to get it out was to say it. "I lied to you. I know what happened at the house." Sam told the same story he'd told Kristine, but he spoke quickly, trying not to see the disappointment on his brother's face. "I know I promised, Dean, but –"

"Your life was in danger," Dean said, his voice sounding hollow. "I guess I can't fault you for using your power, but why did you lie?"

"I didn't want to disappoint you." That was the truth, at least part of it, but Sam hadn't known he was going to use those words. He looked at Dean, feeling somewhat desperate.

"Sam…." Dean sat down on the small couch. "Why are you telling me this now?"

"I should have told you before, I know, but I just couldn't. And now….You're leaving to go after the vampire. I – I just didn't want that lie between us." Sam saw several emotions pass over Dean's face. "I'm sorry I lied to you."

Dean looked at him, then after a moment, he nodded. "It's okay. Just….Sam, you don't have to worry about disappointing me, okay? I'll always have your back."

Sam felt his tears, but he ignored them. He appreciated that Dean would always be there, but he wished Dean could say he'd never be disappointed. He decided not pursue it. "I don't like you going off without me, but I get it."

-----

After Dean and Bobby were gone, Millie fed Nicholas and Alex, but a couple of hours later they were back in the pool. Sam sat outside keeping an eye on them while he tried to focus on a book he'd gotten from the estate library.

"Hey, guys," Kristine called as she came toward the pool.

The boys yelled from the water, and she sat down near Sam. "Have you heard from Dean yet?"

"I don't think he'll call until they get to Memphis."

"I imagine you don't like being here while Dean's on a hunt."

Sam closed the book and set it on the nearby table. "It is what it is."

Kristine glanced at the pool. "I think I'm gonna change, then come back out and play."

Sam watched as she walked away, and considered calling out an apology. He'd already decided against it when he heard Nicholas screaming from the pool. He seemed to be floundering, and Alex was swimming toward him, yelling his name. Without hesitating, Sam jumped out of the chair and ran toward the water. He dived in, close to Nicholas, and dragged him to poolside.

Nicholas was nearly hysterical, crying as he sat on the cement and holding on to Sam's neck. Alex tried to calm him, but Nicholas didn't seem to hear. Sam saw that Kristine rushed outside, followed by Millie and Ellen, but he didn't see their surprise mixed with fear and concern as he comforted Nicholas.

"You have to help Dean!" Nicholas finally managed to say.

"Why? What's wrong?" Sam asked, trying not to panic.

"I saw it!"

"Calm down, Nicholas," Sam soothed. He wasn't as good with the boys as Dean was, and he was feeling very inadequate. "It's okay. I can't do anything until I know what's going on. Can you tell me what you saw?"

Nicholas took a few heaving breaths, and Sam saw Alex rubbing his brother's back. "I saw a lady with a gun. She shot Dean, then the vampire came and got him on the neck."

Sam felt cold. "You're sure? Did you see Bobby?"

"Uh-huh," Nicholas said with a shake of his head.

"Okay," Sam said as Kristine sat down next to Nicholas. He asked a few more questions, trying to get more detail. When it was clear he had learned all he would, Sam smiled at the little boy. "Thank you, Nicholas. Will you go with Kristine now?"

"You have to help Dean!" the little boy insisted.

"I know, and I will. Just stay with Kristine."

Nicholas nodded, and Kristine hefted him onto her lap. Without thinking, Sam pushed himself out of the pool. He was having no trouble making his legs work.

"Sam!" Alex called. "You're walking!"

Sam didn't respond, and he didn't stop moving because he was afraid if he did, he'd never start again.

-----

Sam was pacing in his room with his cell phone to his ear when Kristine found him. Before she could say anything, he dropped the phone on his bed, and started throwing some clothes into the duffle bag she hadn't seen sitting on the couch.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Dean isn't answering his phone. Neither is Bobby," Sam zipped the bag closed. "Can I borrow a car?"

"Sam, I –"

"You heard Nicholas. I left messages for him and Bobby, but –"

"Ten minutes ago you were in a wheelchair. I can't let you go off –"

"I'm fine," Sam insisted.

"Sam, you –"

"Nicholas told me days ago that I was okay. He agreed with you about it being all in my head. That's not exactly what he said, but….We've always trusted Nicholas' premonitions. This time shouldn't be any different."

Kristine looked at him, uncertainty swelling up inside her. "But –"

"One way or another, I'm going to Memphis," Sam said firmly.

Kristine saw the determination on his face, and she knew she didn't have a choice. Reluctantly, she nodded. "All right, but I'm going with you."

"No way," Sam shook his head.

"I can be every bit as stubborn as you," she said, staring at him.

"What about the boys?"

"Ellen and Millie are here."

Sam didn't want Kristine to go, but he didn't see a way around it. He knew she wouldn't give him the keys until she was ready to leave, but….He nodded. "I'll be at the car."

Kristine headed toward the door, calling over her shoulder. "You hotwire my car and I'll kick your ass."

-----

Sam didn't hotwire Kristine's car, but he was a mile down the road in the van before his cell phone rang. He didn't have to look at the caller ID display to know it was Kristine, and he when he answered it, he heard her angry voice on the other end. "I can't believe you!"

"It's better that you're not with me," Sam said.

"I can report that van stolen, you know."

"I can't stop you if that's what you want to do.'

"Damnit, Sam! You know that's not what I want to do. What if I get in my car and follow you?"

"I can't stop you from doing that, either."

"Stop being so reasonable!"

"Let me handle this," Sam said. "Please?"

"I don't know, Sam. What if your legs stop working again?"

"They won't."

"How do you know that?"

"I just know. Please, Kristine."

"I'd better not regret this," she muttered.

oooOOOooo

"You're sure that's where he's been staying?" Dean asked as he, Bobby and Kyle looked at a small house from the Impala.

"Yep. I assume he's already out and about for the evening, but I don't know that for sure."

"Any idea where he usually hangs out?"

"He's been seen in a couple places along with the witch."

Dean nodded thoughtfully. "We could try to find him tonight, or just wait for him to come back here."

"It would be dangerous to go after him tonight," Bobby pointed out.

"Yeah, damnit." Dean agreed with a sigh. He and Bobby had gotten into town a couple hours before, but it had taken Kyle a little longer to get there than he'd anticipated. His contact, the man who had seen Emerson and Joanne in town, had had to leave to handle an emergency, and it had taken Kyle a while to get in touch with him to get the pertinent information.

He and Bobby had been in and out of coverage areas for hours, but Dean had managed a call Sam's phone, leaving a message when he got voicemail.

"Let's grab some food, see if we can get a little sleep," Bobby suggested. "Well hit him in the morning when we're fresh."

"And he's not," Dean said. "Yeah. And I wanna see if I can get in touch with…." He hesitated when his cell phone rang. He looked at the caller ID display, then flipped the phone open. "Speak of the devil. Hey, Darlin'."

"Have you heard from Sam?" Kristine demanded.

"What? No, what's wrong?" Dean listened as Kristine quickly explained everything that had happened. He couldn't have gotten a word in, even if he'd tried, so waited until she stopped speaking. "I can't believe this! He's not answering your calls?"

"I keep getting his voicemail."

"There's spotty coverage around here," Dean said, trying to calm Kristine as much as himself. "Look, tell me again what Nicholas saw. Everything. Actually, let me talk to him."

"Aw, hell," Bobby muttered, causing Dean to look at him.

"Yeah, Nicholas saw something," Dean said. "And get this – Sam can walk."

"What?"

Dean heard the amazement in his friend's voice. "Not only that, he stole a van from the estate and is headed our way. He's about three hours behind us."

"Holy hell."

"Not in my experience," Dean said under his breath. He turned his attention back to the phone when he heard Nicholas' voice.

-----

"I don't think this is a great idea," Bobby said as Dean pulled into a spot Kyle's motel room. "Let me go with you."

"Look, I'm just gonna backtrack a little, and see if I can find Sam. He's still not answering his phone, and –"

"I know all that, boy," Bobby said. "I been sitting in the car next to you for a while."

"Bobby….look, I'll be fine, okay? But at least one of us is going to have to be awake enough tomorrow to go after that vamp."

"Yeah, like I'm gonna get any sleep with you gallivanting around…."

"Bobby, please." Dean looked at his friend, silently pleading.

"Fine," Bobby grunted. "And I suppose I can't talk you into taking Kyle with you either, huh?"

"We're wasting time."

A few minutes later, Bobby and Kyle were out of the car, watching Dean drive away. As he headed toward the highway, Dean dialed Sam's number again, but growled in frustration when he got voicemail again.

"Sam, damnit, you'd better not be hurt on the side of the road. I swear if you….Look, I'm on the road and I'm coming toward you. Call me when you get this." Dean slipped the phone back into his pocket and continued to drive. He kept an eye on the other side of the highway, hoping for some sign of his brother.

-----

Sam was irritated by the lack of cell phone coverage. It wasn't like he was in the middle of nowhere, after all. He couldn't get in touch with Dean or Kristine, but he hoped they'd at least been able to make contact. He glanced at the van's dashboard, and saw he was low on gas, so he took the next exit and pulled into a gas station.

As the gas tank filled, Sam leaned against the van and looked around. It was dark, and he hoped Dean and the others had decided to wait until morning to go after the vampire. From the corner of his eye, he saw a pay phone near the door of the gas station's market. He found some coins in the ash tray of the van, and walked across the lot.

Sam stood with his back toward the building as he listened to Dean's cell phone ring. He thought it was going to go to voicemail like the others, when he heard is brother's voice. The connection was bad, though, and there was a lot of static on the line.

"Dean, it's me," Sam said, enunciating more than usual to compensate for all the noise. "Can you hear me?"

"Where the hell are you?" came Dean's angry reply.

"I'm at a gas station…" Sam had to pull the phone away from his ear hearing a piercing whistle. Once the noise ended, he called Dean's name, but heard only static in response. Sam was immediately apprehensive. Suddenly he was sure the problem with phone reception was more than a simple coverage issue. "Dean? Dean, can you hear me?"

He heard his brother's voice through the crackling on the line, but not clearly enough to understand what he was saying.

-----

Dean could barely make out Sam's voice through the interference on the line, but was almost positive he'd said an exit number. Dean wasn't far from the same exit, and figured it wouldn't hurt to check it out.

When he reached the end of the exit, Dean looked around; there was a gas station to the left and a diner to the right. He decided to try the diner first.

The parking lot was full, but fairly small. Dean drove through it without seeing the van, and had just pulled back onto the road when the Impala stalled. He managed to maneuver it to the narrow shoulder.

"What the hell?" Dean tried to start the car, but the engine only sputtered. The car was in perfect working order, and Dean suspected there was something supernatural involved. After slipping a handgun into the waistband of his pants, Dean opened the hood nonetheless. He checked the obvious things quickly, but found no problems.

He looked toward the gas station, and even though he didn't think it would do any good, he tried to call Sam. He wasn't surprised to get voicemail. Taking a shotgun from the trunk, and concealing it as best he could, Dean took off on foot.

-----

The road was empty of cars, and things were very quiet. Sam was almost positive he'd heard the familiar growl of the Impala not long ago, even over the light rain that had begun to fall, but hadn't seen anything. He walked to the edge of the gas station property, looking toward the diner on the other side of the exit. It appeared busy, but was too far away to see any detail of the cars in the lot.

Sam knew the chances were slim that Dean had heard him say where he was, but he couldn't shake the feeling that his brother was nearby. He went back to the van, intending to get back on the road, but instead he only moved it away from the pumps. He tried to call Dean again, but was irritated to find he had no service.

Sam tapped on the steering wheel as he tried to decide what to do. He was nervous unable to stop thinking about what Nicholas had told him. He assumed the woman in the premonition was the witch, and even though Nicholas had seen the events take place in a house, that didn't mean the details couldn't change. Sometimes he misinterpreted what he'd seen, and sometimes the end result was the same even though events leading up to it might change.

Not able to sit still in the van, Sam stepped out onto the pavement. He couldn't shake the feeling that Dean was close, and he walked to the edge of the parking lot again. "Dean," he muttered quietly when he saw the Impala coming toward him. It wasn't long before he saw the car pull off the road, and watched as Dean got out and opened the hood. "No…."

He'd taken off on foot, then remembered the van. The Impala wasn't that far away, but even driving fast, Sam couldn't reach his brother before the silver sedan did. He yelled as Dean was pulled into the car, despite his struggle. Sam punched the gas pedal to the floor, aiming for the sedan. It didn't occur to him that the Impala would no doubt also be damaged by a collision, but he wouldn't have cared even if he'd thought about it. All that mattered was getting to Dean.

The sedan had started to move in the opposite direction, and the van was no match for the horsepower of the Infiniti. The sedan, and his brother with it, was gone leaving Sam angry and afraid.

Sam tried to follow the other car, but once he realized it was headed for the freeway, he knew he was out of luck. He followed it for as long as he could, but there was no way he could keep up, and quickly lost sight of it.

oooOOOooo

"I don't like this," Bobby grumbled dropping his useless phone onto the bed. "I don't know why I let that idjit go off on his own."

"I have a car," Kyle reminded him. "We know more or less where he was headed."

Bobby considered it for only a moment. "Let's go."

They were on the highway quickly, and it didn't take long to leave the city behind. Kyle drove quickly in the rain, and both men kept their eyes peeled for the van or the Impala. Bobby was worried, but he split his time between that and mentally kicking himself for splitting up. He'd known it was a stupid idea with the spotty cell phone coverage, but he'd let Dean talk him out of what he'd known was right.

-----

Sam stopped at a strip mall, looking for a pay phone. He saw one, and ran through the increasingly hard rain, immediately dialing Kristine's cell phone number. He had considered trying the house phone, but he knew that calls were often allowed to go to voicemail if none of the small staff had time to deal with them. He was afraid Kristine's phone would be under the control of whatever was going on, and was almost shocked to hear her voice.

"Kristine, it's Sam. I'm calling from a pay phone. Have you heard from Dean or Bobby?"

"I talked to Dean right after you left."

"Have you tried since then?"

"No, why?"

Sam quickly told her about the cell phone situation and his suspicions, but he didn't mention having seen Dean dragged off. "Can you try to call Bobby? If you get through, tell him I'm at a strip mall on Barkley right off of I-240. I'll call you back in a few minutes to see if you got through."

Kristine agreed, and Sam was grateful that she didn't question his request to call Bobby and not Dean. He paced near the phone for five minutes, hoping he'd given her enough time. She answered quickly, confirming that she'd gotten in touch with Bobby.

Again, she didn't ask about Dean, and Sam had the feeling that she knew something had happened. He wanted to tell her not to worry, but he knew she would anyway.

"Bobby said his best guess is that they're maybe 15-20 minutes out," Kristine said. "Are you doing okay?"

"Are my legs still working you mean? Yeah." Sam hoped he hadn't come across sounding angry because that hadn't been his intention at all. "Look, Kristine, I'm sorry. I—"

"Sorry for what?"

"I…I thought I might have sounded pissed."

"Oh. No, you didn't. Look, just take care of yourself, okay? Remember where you were just a few hours ago."

-----

Bobby knew that Sam was walking, but seeing him out of that wheelchair brought tears to his eyes. He blinked them away quickly as Kyle pulled up to the curb where Sam was standing.

"Get in," Bobby said through the open window. "You happen to run into your brother?"

Sam explained what he'd seen, and saw the look that passed between Bobby and Kyle. "What?"

"It was probably the vampire and the witch," Bobby said as Kyle steered toward the road. "We know where they've been staying. We were gonna hit it in the morning, but…."

"If it was them, they probably took Dean somewhere familiar," Sam agreed.

Bobby turned partially in the seat, and looked at Sam. "Good to see you on your feet, boy."

"Thanks," Sam said quietly.

"This is Kyle, by the way. He's been helping with this for a while."

"Thanks for everything you've done, Kyle."

"Thank me when it's done," Kyle said softly.

It took almost half an hour to get to the house where the vampire and witch had been staying, but it seemed like an eternity to Sam. He knew that Dean might already be dead, but he refused to think about that. If they'd intended to kill him, the vampire could have done it on the deserted roadside. Sam suspected that they might actually be using him as bait to get the rest of the hunters to the house, and he assumed Bobby and Kyle thought the same thing. They couldn't leave Dean alone with them, though. No matter what, sooner or later there would be a confrontation.

"We have a plan?" Kyle asked when he pulled up next to the curb near the house. The Infiniti was parked in the driveway.

"Nope," Bobby said.

"It's almost dawn."

"We can't wait for dawn," Sam said.

"Yeah," Kyle sighed. "I've got dead man's blood in the trunk. It's been on ice for a few hours, but should still be fresh enough. Got a stash of silver bullets, guns. Enough for a suicide mission."

"You don't have to do this," Sam pointed out, keeping his voice neutral.

"Let's go." Kyle opened his door.

It didn't take them long to arm themselves with anything that might be useful.

"There's a light on in the living room," Kyle said. "Looks like the curtains are kinda thin. I'll go check it out."

He didn't wait for a response from the others before he started skulking toward the house. Sam watched anxiously as Kyle did the reconnaissance. He bolted forward when Kyle headed back toward them. "I didn't see Dean, but I saw the witch. She's in the living room, and it looks like she's putting some kind of spell together. The vampire might already be sleeping somewhere."

Sam looked eastward, and shook his head. "Maybe, but I doubt it. We've still got a good half hour until the sun's up. Remember they don't have to sleep in the daytime, they just prefer it."

Kyle nodded. "So, two in the front and one in the back?"

"Yeah," Sam agreed. Bobby nodded at him when he glanced over. "I'll take the front."

"I'll go with you," Bobby said. He looked at Kyle. "You've got the back. Go in quiet."

"Story of my life," Kyle muttered, and they moved toward the house.

Sam paused to look into the living room window. The witch was still in there, and she seemed to be assembling hex bags. "On three," he whispered to Bobby when he got up on the porch. He quietly counted, and when he got to three, Sam kicked open the front door. The frame splintered as the door flew open, and in only seconds he and Bobby were inside with shotguns pointed at the witch.

She turned around to face them, seeming unconcerned.

"Where's my brother?" Sam demanded, taking a step closer and aiming the gun at her face.

Joanne didn't answer, and Sam called out Dean's name. He got no answer, and a cold ball formed in his stomach. He saw Kyle slip behind Joanne and head down the hallway.

"Who are the hex bags for?"

"A girl's gotta make a living," she smiled.

"And your vampire friend? Where's he?"

"You're so full of questions."

"And you'd better start answering them."

Sam remained facing the woman even though heard a loud crash from somewhere behind him. He glanced at Bobby. "I got this."

Bobby turned away, and a moment later, Sam was knocked off balance. He stumbled, but managed to stay upright. When he looked around, he saw Bobby lying on the floor. With only a brief hesitation, Sam rushed forward and knocked the butt of the gun against the witch's head. She crumpled to the floor, and Sam paused only for a moment to check Bobby's pulse. He felt it was strong and steady, then headed down the hall behind him.

He saw Kyle on the floor, and paused. He was awake, but obviously groggy.

"Go," Kyle croaked. "Dean's in there." He struggled to point at a room only a few feet away. "Vampire."

Sam understood him, and carefully walked toward the open door. He was expecting the worst, but seeing the vampire leaning over his brother still stunned him. It took only a second for him to recover, and he fired a shot into the vampire's back. Emerson stood up, and Sam fired again. The bullets were silver, and Sam knew they'd only be a deterrent. They wouldn't completely stop the creature, but he had something that would.

In a single moment, he pulled a knife from its sheath and rushed forward. It was difficult to throw a knife and have it go blade-first, into the target, but he knew he wouldn't miss up close. While the vampire was still stunned, Sam plunged the blade that had been dipped in dead man's blood into his chest. The vampire cried out, and Sam pushed the knife deeper until the long blade had all but disappeared.

The dead man's blood was like poison to vampire, and it was fairly quick-acting. As the monster fell to the floor, Sam looked at his brother. He saw the blood on his neck, and when he was closer, he saw the puncture wounds.

"No," Sam whispered through his tears. "Dean? Dean, can you hear me?"

Sam pulled at the ropes that held his brother to the bed. He barely noticed as Kyle slowly came up behind him, but said. "Bobby might need help. And I only knocked the witch out."

"Do you –"

"Go help Bobby!" Sam said. He used the bed sheet to wipe some of the blood away from Dean's neck, and examined him more closely. In addition to the bite marks on his neck, there were some on his arms. It looked like the vampire had fed on him more than once.

"Dean…." Sam wavered only a moment before rushing into the bathroom. He returned with wet wash cloths and towels. Once he had wiped most of the blood away from the wounds, Sam could see they weren't bleeding much at all. He pressed a towel to his brother's neck, where the bleeding was most prevalent, calling his name.

"Sam…." Dean's voice was strained.

"I'm right here."

Dean's eyes slowly opened, and he immediately tried to sit up. Sam held him down gently. "Hold on, take it slow. Do you know what happened?"

Dean's hand moved to his neck, and his eyes widened at the blood on his arm.

"It's okay," Sam soothed as he set about wiping the blood away. "Did you…?"

"No," Dean said, hardly above a whisper.

"You're sure? He didn't try to turn you?"

"I'm sure."

Bobby was in the room a few moments later, with Kyle right behind him.

"Where's the witch?" Sam asked, as he continued to clean his brother's wounds.

"Still out," Bobby said. "How hard did you hit her?"

"If she's still breathing, not hard enough."

Dean put a hand around Sam's wrist, forcing him to stop his machinations. "I'm okay."

"Some of the wounds are still bleeding."

Dean squeezed Sam's arm; Sam looked at his face. "I'm okay."

Sam stared into his eyes for a moment, then nodded and helped him to sit up. The vampire groaned before turning onto his side, and Sam didn't skip a beat. He slipped the bone cleaver from the bad he'd slung over his back outside, and held it to the vampire's throat.

"You should have killed me when you had the chance," Sam said in a dangerous whisper. Worried about his brother, and with adrenaline still coursing through him, it was an easy task to decapitate the vampire. His anger still not dispelled, and as the others watched in horrified fascination that he didn't notice, Sam kicked the vampire's head across the room. "And you should have stayed away from my brother."

Sam stared at the body and felt a hand on his back. When he looked to his side, he saw Dean next to him. He appeared weak and about ready to pass out. Sam put an arm around his shoulders. "Time to get you out of here."

"We're not far from the motel," Kyle said. "Take my car, and I'll clean this up."

"I'll help," Bobby said.

"You okay?" Sam asked with a concerned look at his friend.

"Just a little headache," Bobby assured him. "Get your brother out of here."

Kyle held out the keys. "We'll take the sedan when we're done here. There's a first aid kit in the trunk of my car. Use what you need."

Sam took the keys and nodded. "Thank you.'

oooOOOooo

While Dean showered, Sam looked through the first aid kit he'd retrieved from Kyle's car. It just had the basics, but that's all Sam needed. He figured Dean had lost quite a bit of blood, but he'd already seemed stronger by the time they got to the motel, so a hospital wasn't necessary.

Sam knew that Kristine would be waiting for a call, and he was relieved to find his cell phone in perfect working order. The conversation was short; Sam left out all the details except for Dean being in the shower, and Kristine seemed perfectly content just knowing that they were all okay.

Dean's clothes were still in the Impala, so he was forced to wear one of Sam's t-shirts, which was clearly too big for him. He wanted to retrieve his car, but Sam told him he'd talked to Bobby, who had agreed to bring it to the motel when they were done at the house.

Sam wanted to tend to Dean's more serious wounds, and the older man had no choice but to let him. They didn't speak while Sam worked, but there was really no need to.

"So, you're walking," Dean said once Sam had finished.

Sam looked down, feeling somewhat self-conscious, and then nodded. "Yeah."

"That's great, Sam, but I don't understand."

Sam shrugged, facing his brother again. "I don't either. Not really, anyway. Nicholas has been telling me for a while that I could walk, but I figured it was something he'd seen in a dream. I thought he meant I'd walk again, not that I could already."

"Kristine told me a little bit when she called. She's pissed at you, by the way."

Sam chuckled. "I know. I called her while you were in the shower to let her know you were okay. I had to call her before to see if she could get in touch with Bobby for me. I didn't get into specifics, and she didn't ask, but…."

"I'll call her," Dean nodded. "So, Nicholas was in the pool, and just freaked out?"

"Yeah. I was in the wheelchair, reading and keeping an eye on the kids, and at first I thought he was drowning. I didn't even think about it, man, I was up and in the pool without even realizing what I was doing."

Dean shook his head. "You had no idea you could walk? And the physical therapist…?"

"Kristine and I talked about it before. She thought it might be psychosomatic. I'd told her about what happened with the demon, that I remembered trying to use my power. She said not being able to walk could be a physical symptom of the guilt I felt."

"You felt guilty?" Dean asked quietly.

"For lying to you, yeah." Sam was afraid Dean was going to say something that would turn their discussion into an argument, but Dean only nodded. He reached for the bottle of water that Sam had gotten for him, and took a few sips.

"Are you hungry?" Sam asked. "You should probably eat something. I can go get us some burgers from the place down the street."

"I could eat," Dean said.

"I'll be right back."

"I don't know what happened to my phone," Dean said as Sam started for the door.

Sam grabbed his from the table near the window and tossed it toward him. "Any special requests?"

"You know what I like."

-----

When Sam pulled into the parking lot less than half an hour later, he saw the Impala parked near Kyle's room, and knew he and Bobby were back. He imagined Dean had already inspected it as best he could in the dark.

Sam opened the door and saw the three men were seated throughout the room. He'd gotten enough for everyone, and they were happy to have some food. Sam noticed Dean looked almost back to his normal self, the most notable exception being the large bandage on his neck.

"We took the vampire's body out to the woods," Bobby said when the conversation turned. "Burned it and scattered the ashes in a lake."

"And the witch?" Sam asked.

Bobby cleared his throat, suddenly seeming uncomfortable. "We hadn't figured out what to do with her yet, and had her in the car while we took care of the vampire. She, uh, she threw herself on the pyre."

Sam saw Dean wince, but he felt nothing at hearing her fate. "So, it's over."

"Looks that way," Bobby agreed. "Figured we could head out in the morning, after a few hours of sleep."

Sam announced he'd rented a second room, and after a few more minutes of conversation, he and Dean headed for it. Sam hadn't mentioned that the only room left had just one queen bed, and he enjoyed Dean's expression when he saw it.

"Just stay on your own side," Dean warned when they got under the covers. "No spooning."

oooOOOooo

Kyle had a few things to take care of before leaving town, so Bobby drove the van while Sam and Dean rode together in the Impala. As it should be, Sam thought as he stared out of the passenger side window. He'd offered to drive, but Dean insisted he was fine, and had snagged the keys before Sam could protest.

Sam thought about a lot of things as they headed toward the estate. He still wondered where Ruby was, but what concerned him more was the idea that he'd been so guilt-ridden about lying to Dean that he hadn't been able to walk. He hadn't felt particularly guilty, but maybe if he had, it wouldn't have manifested physically. And he was still technically lying to Dean because he hadn't told him the whole truth about his powers and Ruby's role in his life.

"You're quiet," Dean said after a prolonged silence. "You okay?"

Sam turned to look at him. "Yeah, just thinking. It's been a weird few weeks."

"You're telling me."

"You remember anything about the vampire…."

"Having me for dinner?" Dean finished with a wry grin before shaking his head. "Some of it. Hell was worse, so don't worry about me."

Sam was quiet for a few moments. "So, what's the plan now? You want to get back to work, or…?

"I'd like to stay at least until the boys are back with the Raines. You okay with that?"

"Yeah, of course." Sam said honestly. "It's only a couple more days, though. You want to stick around longer?"

He saw Dean's glance. "You playing matchmaker again?"

"What if I am?"

Dean shrugged, saying nothing.

"To tell you the truth," Sam said after a moment. "I think I'd like some time off. You know, without being in a wheelchair."

"Then let's take some time off."

"Maybe after the boys have gone home….I was thinking I could go off somewhere for a few days to give you and Kristine some time alone."

"You know you don't have to do that."

"I know," Sam said quickly. He was serious about wanting Kristine and his brother to have some time to themselves, but he also thought it might do him some good to be on his own to think about things. He hadn't much liked being alone when Dean was in Hell, but that was something entirely different.

Dean suddenly laughed. "I don't think Kristine's gonna let you use one of the estate vehicles, though. You'll probably have to take the Impala."

Sam joined in the laughter, then asked. "You'd be okay with that?"

"Just don't douche her up."

Sam shot his brother a dirty look.

-----

Nicholas and Alex came out of the house at a run when Dean parked the Impala pulled. Almost before Sam and Dean were out of the car, the younger boys had thrown themselves at them. Kristine watched from the back porch, a little surprised to see the display of emotion from the usually stoic Alex.

She saw Dean's somewhat stiff movements, but overall he appeared okay. And seeing him get out of the driver's side of the car gave her a lot of comfort. Dean was stubborn, but if he'd never endanger his car unnecessarily, and Sam could be every bit as obstinate as his brother.

Sam seemed to be fine as he came toward the house with Nicholas at his side. Kristine had talked to Michael about the unexpected recovery, and he'd passed along the information to the neurologist. Neither had been particularly surprised that it had happened, though they hadn't expected something so dramatic.

It didn't look like Alex was more than inches away from Dean as they walked up the porch steps, and he stuck close when the group assembled around the large dining room table. Millie had set out a buffet, and was adding the final touches as everyone took their seats. Even though Kristine had been there for the preparation, the amount of food surprised her. She knew there were four hunters on the way, though, and it would no doubt all be consumed.

If anyone had been paying attention, they would have noticed the lack of communication between Dean and Kristine. She'd let the kids have first crack at him, and they weren't willing to let go. They were sitting on either side of him, with Nicholas between Dean and Sam. Kristine was sitting across the table, next to Bobby. She hadn't participated in the conversation, not that it was easy to get a word in with Nicholas dominating the room.

Sam sat back in his chair, feeling more full than he could remember. He normally ate just enough, but Millie's cooking was much better than any greasy diner. He'd also been caught up in the celebratory atmosphere. Now, he was tired, and just wanted to vegetate in front of his computer. He glanced across the table, and was drawn to Kristine's face. She was laughing at something Nicholas had said, but he couldn't help but notice the look in her eyes. He saw her look toward Dean, and though he wasn't sure, he didn't think he'd seen as much as a pat on the arm between them in the two hours since he and his brother arrived.

Things were obviously different when Sam and Dean were alone. They had a rhythm and worked well together. There was an unspoken communication, and things almost always ran smoothly. He was used to Dean's occasional reversion to an insensitive teenager, and Sam knew he had his own less than stellar moments.

He was happy to move aside when they visited the estate so that Dean could spend more time with Kristine. He liked the idea of Dean being happy; he knew how rare it was for his brother to be completely at ease. He also liked the maturity he saw when Dean was with Kristine.

When Nicholas and Alex were around, there was even more of a change. The boys came first, in the same way that Sam remembered always coming first when they were kids. Dean always made sure Sam had what he needed before he thought about himself, and he did the same with Nicholas and Alex. And then when other people were involved….It was almost like Dean and Kristine were the leaders of a large clan.

Sam suddenly realized he let Dean take on all the responsibility because that's what he was used to doing. He'd been fighting for his brother to see him as an equal, and even though Dean would always be the big brother, he had learned to treat Sam like an adult. Sam decided it was time he act like an adult at the estate, too.

"Anyone interested in going outside with me?" Sam asked. "Alex? Nicholas?"

"Can we go in the pool?"

Sam glanced at Kristine, but Ellen answered first. "I'm surprised you waited so long to ask. Go change."

Sam left the dining room with the boys, and when the three of them got outside, he saw Ellen and Bobby sitting at one of the nearby tables. He hadn't asked Bobby about it, but Sam was sure there was something going on between the two of them. He'd gotten that feeling before, but clearly, it was something Bobby didn't want to discuss.

-----

"Hi," Kristine smiled at Dean once they were alone. They'd helped Millie clean up as much as she would allow, and Kristine was now leaning back against the counter.

He returned the smile, and Kristine was struck by how it lit up his eyes. "Hey."

"Are you okay? Really?"

"Yeah." He touched the bandage on his neck. "This made Sam feel better, so…."

Kristine nodded, pretending to believe him. "Right. So, you wanna take a walk?"

"A walk?"

"To the cottage." She took a few steps toward him.

"Oh….the cottage." Dean said with a small smile.

"We can lock the door…." She took a few more steps.

"Yeah?"

Kristine wrapped her arms around his waist. "Yeah." She felt Dean's arms settle around her and his head rest on her shoulder. She rubbed his back gently. "You sure you're okay?"

"I'm okay," he said quietly. "It's just been a hell of a few weeks."

"It has," Kristine agreed. "But Sam's okay, you're okay. The vampire is dead….It's over."

Dean pulled away slightly, but kept an arm around Kristine. "This is over, but there are still things to deal with."

"One thing at a time, Dean. And you have to take time to celebrate the victories, or they'll become meaningless."

He looked at her with a grin. "That's very profound for so late in the afternoon."

Kristine smiled at him, but she noticed he his expression had turned serious again. "What is it?"

"Maybe I'm just being paranoid, but I'm worried about Sam. He told me about the demon and trying to exorcise it. And he said his not walking could have been because he felt guilty about lying to me. But…Kristine, he's been lying to me for months. There's something going on with him, and…." He pulled away and shook his head. "And, believe it or not, I've tried to talk to him about it, but he just shrugs it off or makes something else up."

"I don't think you're being paranoid," Kristine said softly. "Sam probably is going through something. He was on his own for a while, and we know that wasn't easy for him. Maybe he's just trying to find his way again. As much as he loves you, having you back isn't without consequences."

"Consequences?"

"He was making all his own decisions before. Good or bad, they were all his. But his big brother is back. The same big brother who is used to taking charge. And besides all that, he has this power to deal with. You tell him it's bad, but he's been killing demons. Is that really so wrong?"

"I don't know," Dean admitted. "But I tell you one thing. I don't trust Ruby, and he seems to be in her back pocket. I don't like it."

"Yeah, I agree with you on that one."

"I don't want to think about it any more right now," Dean said after a moment. He pulled Kristine back into his arms and kissed her tenderly.

She smiled. "I adore you, Dean Winchester."

"Let's go to the cottage."

oooOOOooo

Sam moved into one of the bedrooms, and Kristine had all of the medical equipment removed. More than once, Dean had tried to convince Sam to undergo a complete examination, but Sam fought him on it. He'd not experienced any problems, nor was there even a hint of a relapse. Sam knew Dean was concerned, but he'd had enough medical tests in the last few weeks to last him a lifetime.

Keith and Angelica came for the boys two days later. Even though there were hunters at the estate, not to mention Kyle, Bobby and the Winchesters, Kristine was struck by how empty the house felt without the children.

Kyle and Bobby left together the next morning. Kyle had enjoyed a few days off, and was happy to have experienced the hospitality at the estate he'd heard so much about. Bobby seemed to be reluctant to leave, but he had things to get back to, and his car was still at Kyle's house.

As much as Dean enjoyed being in North Carolina and being with Kristine, he'd spent practically his entire life on the road and was never comfortable in one place for too long. He knew that Sam would let him make the decision about when it was time to leave, but a few days after Nicholas and Alex left, he could see the restlessness in his brother. He had to admit that it mirrored his own.

"You have any prospects on a job for us?" Dean asked. It was afternoon, and Kristine was due home from work in a couple of hours.

Sam glanced away from his computer when Dean walked into the bedroom he'd been using. "A few. You know how this place is when there are hunters around."

"Yeah," Dean sighed as he sat on the edge of Sam's bed. "I've heard quite a few stories I wouldn't mind checking out."

"I'm ready when you are, but I can wait."

Dean glanced around the room, not really seeing anything. "I gotta admit, I'm getting a little antsy."

Sam nodded noncommittally.

"I guess I'll never be comfortable with normal."

"Since when do you want normal?" Sam laughed.

Dean shrugged. "I sometimes think it might be nice. Then I miss the job."

"No one said normal had to mean giving up hunting completely and living behind a white picket fence," Sam said. "I used to think that's what it meant, but there are all kinds of normal."

"I guess."

"It's all what you make it. No reason you can't make this a home base and spend time here between jobs."

"What about you?"

Sam only shrugged, then turned to Dean after a moment. "Were you really willing to give up hunting if I hadn't been able to walk again?"

"Sam, no matter what, we're a team," Dean said with no hesitation. "You're my brother, and that's that. Now find us some work to do."