This is it! The last chapter!
It had been six weeks since the incident in Tennessee. Dean had almost fully recovered from his injuries although he was still favoring his right leg. He had begun his own kind of personal therapy after returning to Bobby's. He rose early every morning, going for a slow jog around the yard, zigzagging between cars as he went. This was followed by a few sets of crunches, push-ups and a little target practice. He didn't want to get soft just because he was out of commission for awhile. There was still an apocalypse going on.
Sam had been fussing over him like a mother hen, Bobby had been stuffing him full of home cooking and Castiel was continually dropping in to check on his progress. Dean appreciated all the attention but quite honestly, he was starting to feel smothered. He was ready for a job. Something a couple of months ago, he would have never thought possible.
Sam was doing much better than he had been a few weeks ago but Dean knew his brother would always be haunted by the fact he was Lucifer's vessel. At least the dreamcatcher still worked. As long as Sam didn't drift off to sleep away from it, his dreams were Satan free. Castiel had told Dean what saved his life. Dean, as usual, was hard-pressed to believe it but Sam's faith appeared to be renewed although nothing seemed able to take the guilt from his eyes.
As Dean was returning from one of his jogs, loading up his gun to shoot a few rounds he heard Sam calling for him from the house. He tucked the gun into the waistband of his jeans, limping up the back porch stairs.
Damn leg. When was it going to quit that?
He peered around the edge of the back door.
The house seemed unnaturally quiet.
Dammit, where'd they go?
He stepped cautiously into the kitchen, placing his fingers on the handle of his gun, just in case. Slowly he made his way toward the den. He could see the shadow of a person stretching across the floor but there were still no sounds. As he pulled his gun, ready to fire, Sam poked his head around the corner, threw a handful of confetti at him and blew a noisemaker in his face.
"Holy crap, Sam! I almost blew your head off!" Dean leaned weakly against the wall, stowing the gun away.
Sam shrugged, handing Dean a party hat. "Wouldn't matter. I can't die."
"Not funny." Dean stared at the hat in his hand. "What the hell is this?"
"A party hat."
"Thank you Captain Obvious. I meant, what's it for?"
Sam motioned for Dean to follow him into the den. He entered the room to a chorus of "Surprise!"
Dean gaped at the scene before him, stunned into silence. A huge cake with the words "Happy Birthday Dean", along with a five gallon bucket of his favorite ice cream, was laid out on Bobby's desk. But the most astonishing thing was Castiel, standing there with a party hat strapped crookedly to his head, holding a noisemaker in his hand.
In that one moment everything Dean had been repressing for months came crashing down around him and he fled from the room.
Dean knew it was only a matter of time until Sam came hunting for him. He slumped on Bobby's work bench, his face buried in his hands. It was just too much. Why should he be celebrating a birthday when so many people had died? It wasn't fair.
He felt a shift on the bench and then a warm shoulder was pressed up close to his. He began to tremble uncontrollably, struggling to hold back the tears.
God, Sammy, go away. If you give me those puppy dog eyes, I'll totally lose it.
"Dude, you okay?"
Sam's voice was soft, tentative and despite his best efforts a choked sob escaped Dean's throat.
"Dean, I'm sorry."
Dean felt Sam's arms around him and for a moment he leaned into the embrace, giving himself over wholly to the sorrow he had felt ever since the night Jo and Ellen had sacrificed themselves. Then he gently shrugged his brother away.
"You have to stop it, Sam."
"Stop what?" Confusion was written across Sam's face.
"The apologizing for everything, the guilt trip you've been taking. Not everything is your fault, Sammy. You've got to give yourself a break."
Sam shook his head. "I can't, Dean. I can't forget what I've done."
"Dammit, Sam, I'm not asking you to forget anything. How the hell are we supposed to forget this? I just want you to forgive yourself."
Dean cut him off. "Not what? Not worthy? Is that what you think? Cas told me about your little prayer session in the hospital. Can you tell me why God would answer the prayers of an unworthy soul?"
Sam's brow furrowed. "I never thought of it that way."
"Yeah, well, that's why I'm the big brother."
"So, I've got a question for you."
"How the hell did you talk Cas into wearing a party hat?"
Sam laughed and Dean knew the moment was over but there was something in Sam's eyes Dean hadn't seen there in a long time. Something called hope.
A/N: I really want to thank everyone who has stuck with this story and to everyone who has favorited it, put it on alert and most especially to those of you who have reviewed. I appreciate all the encouraging words. I must admit I got a bit emotional finishing this one. This is the longest story I've ever finished in my entire life (and I'm old, peeps). Thanks to Supernatural I am fulfilling a childhood dream: writing for other people's enjoyment (well, and mine too). Okay, chick flick moment over. Thanks guys!