A/N: Okay, first of all, I have to say that I am completely blown away by everyone's response to this story. You're all so amazing! A special thanks to everyone who took the time to review!
And second, this is the final chapter of this story, although I have been considering a sequel. At the moment, I don't have enough ideas to warrant a full story (suggestions welcome) but do keep an eye out, just in case. I'm already working on another (shorter) story so I hope you guys will check that out too when it's posted.
Finally, I'd like to thank everyone for following along on this journey with me. Virtual hugs and cookies for all! Hope you enjoy this final installment.
The doctor said it was a miracle, that there was no way the cancer could possibly have just disappeared. She tested twice, at Dean's demand, and a third time for herself, shaking her head in wonder each time.
Dean had tried his best to look puzzled but he really couldn't care less about Dr. Harper's concerns. Sam was alive. Not dying. And it wasn't as if he could tell the stunned woman how it had happened.
When she started ordering tests and Dean overheard her on the phone talking about 'further studies' he and Bobby wasted no time in breaking Sam out of the hospital. He wasn't about to let his little brother become a lab rat.
Sam could barely walk but steadfastly refused to be carried, and didn't want to wait for them to track down a wheelchair – apparently Sam was just as eager to leave as Dean was – so, with an arm slung over Dean's shoulder, still wearing hospital scrubs and Dean's hoodie, barefoot, they had made their escape. Sam fell asleep almost as soon as Dean lowered him into the Impala's backseat. He spared a moment to cover his brother with a blanket before climbing into the drivers seat and setting off on the long drive to Bobby's house.
A month on, Sam's hair had started to grow back, although as much as Dean tried to convince him to leave it as a crew cut, he refused. Dean didn't care; too happy that Sam was still here, not throwing up or having poison filtered into him to fight the poison in his blood.
He was still too thin, had spent the first week foggily conscious at best, but now the dark circles under his eyes had faded, along with the sickly gray tinge to his skin.
And today he had reached another milestone; one Dean had feared he'd never see.
Dean was up early, a habit he had gotten into when he had needed every minute of the day for research. He'd be more than happy to pass the early rising and geek-boy routine back to his brother, as soon as Sam was strong enough and he could fully convince himself that Sam would be fine without him watching him all the time.
Dean would never let on how much the sight of his sleeping brother's rising and falling chest reassured him. It was bizarre, he'd spent nearly his whole life seeing Sam breathe naturally but now, after the terrifying time Sam had spent needing a machine to do it for him, it was simply the most amazing, comforting thing he'd ever seen.
And he always made sure not to let Sam catch him watching. That could be… a little awkward.
Sam finally roused, his forehead creasing slightly as he sensed Dean's presence. Today there was no need to hide from Sam, or busy himself pretending he was doing something else. He had plans for this morning.
Sam opened an eye to blearily seek out the alarm clock. He took a moment to focus and then –
"God, Dean, it's not even eight AM. What are you doing up this early?" Apparently, he'd been good at hiding his usual morning hover from Sam.
"Got a surprise for you," Dean grinned, "Come on."
"Thought I was meant to be the early riser," Sam muttered, but dragged himself out of bed anyway. It wasn't strictly true these days, of course. Sam still slept a lot, his body still recovering.
Dean waited, leaning casually against the doorframe as Sam pulled his jeans on, thinking vaguely that maybe they should go shopping for some that actually fit him. All of Sam's jeans were too loose now, but Sam always waved off the suggestion with, "I'm eating now, aren't I? Don't waste your money. I'll fit them soon."
He guessed that Sam didn't want any more reminders. The flash of the pale scar on his chest from the Hickman catheter as Sam pulled a fresh t-shirt, also too big for him, over his head was reminder enough.
Dean waited long enough for Sam to pull on his hoodie, forgoing shoes – Sam didn't need them anyway. Most of the time he sat with Dean on Bobby's couch, watching bad TV, or reading through Bobby's books. He still tired easily and Dean was more than happy for his frail-looking brother to stay indoors, even if he was bored - then dragged the kid out to the front porch.
Sam blinked in the early morning light that sparkled off the windscreens of scrapped cars, still waking up, a process that took a while these days.
"So what's your surprise?" he asked Dean, sleep only slurring his voice a little.
Dean sat down on the step, pulling Sam down next to him – sitting closer than they would have before - then reached into his pocket and revealed –
"More pot, Dean?" Sam raised his eyebrows, "I'm beginning to think you're a secret stoner."
"Only on special occasions."
"I'm not sick anymore."
"So?" Dean grinned cheekily, "Anyway, it's your birthday."
Sam looked stunned, "It is?"
Dean rolled his eyes, "Yes, it is. You really are going senile in your old age."
Sam shoved him lightly – Dean let himself believe that it was intended to be light, not just a sign of how weak Sam still was – and took the joint from Dean's hand. Dean promptly held out a lighter.
Sam lit it obediently and held the smoking joint for a moment, staring out over the salvage yard, "You know, the first time we did this, I was wondering what Dad would have done if he'd walked in on us smoking pot."
Dean got a sudden, hilarious image of John's face and laughed. "No wonder you were giggling so much."
"I don't giggle!" Sam protested.
"Yeah, you do."
"You do when you're stoned."
"Whatever." Sam passed the joint over to Dean, going serious suddenly, "I missed Dad. Miss Dad. But especially when I was sick."
Damn Sam and his chick-flick moments. But it as the kids birthday, so…
"Yeah, me too." Dean sighed, "He would have figured out how to fix it straight away. He would've known what to do."
"You fixed it, Dean," Sam said sincerely, "You were… awesome."
Dean took a puff, clearing his throat. Uh, awkward much, Sam? "Well, I know that." He tried for a smirk but couldn't really pull it off.
Sam's mouth twitched in a half smile, which turned into a grimace when he ran a hand over his head.
Dean nudged him, "Hey, another month or two and I'll be bugging you about getting a hair cut again." Except he wouldn't. Sam could grow his hair to his knees for all he cared.
"Guess I should give your beanie back." Sam paused, looking down at himself, "And your hoodie."
Dean looked at him. Sam didn't seem too keen to part with it. He remembered the way Sam would huddle up in it when he was feeling really bad, like it was a child's favourite blanket. Even now he seemed to take some comfort from it.
"Keep it," Dean said, making up his mind easily, "Consider it a birthday present."
Sam smiled teasingly, "Wow, Dean, pot and your old hoodie. You really spoil me." But Dean could tell he was pleased.
"Yeah, well, I got something else for you, too." He reached into his jacket and pulled out a small newspaper-wrapped parcel, handing it over to Sam.
"What is it?" Sam asked, frowning at the present.
Dean rolled his eyes, "Open it and find out, Samantha."
Sam slowly unwrapped the newspaper, then sat there for a moment, just looking at the object in his hands. Dean waited nervously, not quite sure how this was going to go over.
Finally Sam breathed out and spoke, "I've never seen this photo before. Where did you…?"
"I called Jess's mother. Asked if she could send it," Dean said, trying to act nonchalant, as if this was all no big deal and had nothing to do with what Lee had said right before he'd taken the poison from Sam's body.
Sam's eyes didn't leave the picture. Jess, smiling out at him, bright and alive. She was dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt, her long hair falling in waves down her back and over one shoulder, her eyes sparkling at some joke from the past. She leant against a tree, in Autumn, the red-ish gold hue of the season brightening her already stunning features.
Dean wondered if Sam sometimes regretted his decision not to go with her but he couldn't bring himself to ask. Didn't want to put the thought into Sam's head or didn't want to encourage it if it was already there. And really, if Sam did regret it, Dean didn't think he could handle hearing it. Not when he'd be the one to live with the guilt of bringing Sam back.
The thought was pushed from his head quickly, as he suddenly and unexpectedly found himself crushed in a tight hug. After a moment for the shock to wear off, he returned it, wrapping his arms carefully around Sam's slim form, trying not to feel precisely how thin Sam still was.
"Thanks, Dean," Sam breathed.
Dean gave him an extra squeeze, reveling in the beat of Sam's heart against his chest, the breath brushing past his ear. Sam was alive and that was all that mattered.
Finally, Sam pulled back, photo frame still clutched in his hand.
Dean coughed, surreptitiously clearing the lump from his throat. He took another puff of the joint and handed it to Sam.
"Maybe we could get Bobby to make a cake," he suggested innocently.
Sam choked with laughter on the smoke he was inhaling.
"God, can you imagine Bobby in an apron?"
It was Dean's turn to splutter. "And a chef's hat."
Sam regained control of himself and passed the joint on, looking out over the yard, his gaze far away again.
"I didn't think I was going to get another birthday," he said quietly. "I thought it was all over. But you, Dean… you never gave up. How did you do that?"
Dean stared out over the yard as well, remembering the fear, the dull sense of despair that had built in him as time went past, and the desperation that had taken over everything, and answered as honestly as he could, chick-flick moment or not.
"Because I said I was going to save you, Sam. And no way in Hell was I going to give up on you."
The two brothers sat on the step, in a comfortable silence now, passing their joint back and forth until Bobby came out, in his usual morning bad mood, and gruffly told them to get their 'idjit stoner butts' inside for breakfast.
Dean passed his brother in the doorway, leaning in slightly to whisper, "Apron" in his ear, leaving Sam in near-hysterics on the porch.
"Dean, come on! I can lift a duffel bag!"
Dean couldn't help the grin that spread across his face at the sound of his little brother's complaining. Two weeks since Sam's birthday and he was insisting that he was well enough to hit the road. Dean had acquiesced, easily giving in to Sam, which was why he was now packing up the Impala. Not that he had any intention of finding them a hunt any time soon.
Nope, they were on vacation; a vacation that didn't involve hospitals and hopefully involved bars with good music, hot women, and dumb pool players. Maybe they could stay near a beach or something. Just until Sam got his strength back because, no matter how much the kid protested, he was no where near running at 100 percent and Dean had no intention of letting him hunt until he was.
"What are you grinning about?" Sam asked, exasperated, from his designated seat on Bobby's porch.
"Nothing," Dean answered vaguely, thinking about how great it was to hear Sam bitch at him.
"You boys all packed up?"
Dean turned and Sam swiveled round to look at Bobby as the older man stepped out onto the veranda.
Dean slammed the boot shut, "Yup, all set."
Bobby fingered his beard thoughtfully, "You know you're welcome to stay longer if you want. Give Sam some more time to get his strength back."
Sam huffed. "I'm fine," he insisted.
"A few more home-cooked meals wouldn't do any harm," Bobby tempted, "That muck Dean feeds you barely counts as food."
"Hey, nothing wrong with burgers and pie," Dean defended seriously.
"I'm okay, Bobby, but thanks anyway," Sam said, using the railings to pull himself to his feet.
Dean watched him sway for a moment before catching himself, and reconsidered.
"You know, maybe a few more days…"
Sam scowled at him. "Dean," he warned.
Dean shrugged, holding up his hands in a placating gesture. "Okay, okay. We'll see you round, Bobby."
Bobby followed Sam over to the Impala, stopping him before he got in and pulling him into a quick hug.
"I'm glad you're okay, kid." He released Sam and watched the two brothers climb into the car.
"Now, go on, get!" he ordered gruffly, "And don't bring any more trouble round my way. I've got enough gray hairs."
Dean smirked, gunning the engine. God, it was good to be able to appreciate his baby's grunt-y rumbling again, now that she wasn't being used as a shuttle to and from the hospital.
He paused, leaning over Sam so he could see Bobby through the open window. He cleared his throat uncomfortably.
"Seriously, Bobby. Thanks… for everything." For Sam.
Bobby waved an impatient hand at him, "I told you, don't worry about it."
Dean nodded. Right, enough of that. "See ya, Bobby."
He turned the music up, loud enough for Sam to give a long suffering sigh and roll his eyes at Bobby in a way that clearly said 'See what I have to put up with?' which made Dean grin, and pressed his foot down.
The Impala took off, eating up the road to their next adventure, with Sam in the passenger seat, right where he belonged.
For now, everything was just fine.
Hope you all enjoyed! Reviews are always loved. Thanks you reading.