Part Five – Family Should Stay Together

Over the next few days, Dean seems to relax into talking on the phone with his brother and Caleb a little more. Jim knows he's still a little anxious about the questions they might ask that he doesn't want to have to answer. The relief of knowing his brother is safe with not one but two adults looking after him seems to help his peace of mind as well.

He has stayed close by as Jim has spoken with John, surprised to hear John actually seeming to be concerned about the fact that Jim has a lead on his whereabouts. He has to admit to himself that he hadn't expected John to express any interest at all in him, but he's close enough to the phone to hear the relief that Jim knows where he is. To hear John ask if he's okay and to hear his voice break with worry when Jim tells him Dean's been injured but is well on the road to recovery almost has Dean reaching for the phone to stop his Dad from worrying any further.

It isn't a huge surprise when after one call Pastor Jim asks if he can invite John to visit so they can see each other. Dean had heard the real pain of loss in his father's voice, a tone he recognizes from when he speaks of Mary. Now he feels truly guilty for the pain he's caused, but he knows that isn't what the Pastor is wanting from him.

The following night when his Dad calls, they speak. The conversation is awkward, stilted as they try to ask questions to see if the other is really okay while at the same time avoiding any of the dangerous areas that caused the argument.

Dean knows now that school isn't important, it's a life skill that isn't really going to register for him. Family is what counts so before the end of the call, he puts himself out on a limb and says, "Could I see you again? Sometime?"

John's "That would be good, son," is going to stick in his mind as one of the most precious memories ever and he feels so much lighter and at ease as he disconnects the call that Jim is already questioning him about the huge smile he's sporting.

Two days later, John and Sam roll up in the Impala with Caleb just behind in his truck. Sam is out of the car and running up the path to where Dean is standing on the porch waiting. He pauses a moment before flinging his arms round his brother and burying his head into Dean's chest. Dean manages to hold back a grunt of pain and he doesn't flinch despite the discomfort of Sam hitting him so hard, instead he relishes the solid presence of his younger brother, the proof that Sammy is fine.

Dean's arms wrap round, holding Sam just as tightly in return. He feels almost overwhelmed but can't bring himself to let go for even a moment. His hold on Sam wavers for a moment when he takes in the sight of his father looking at him from the far side of the Impala. Sam's head turns to look up at his brother. "Dean? Are you okay? I've really missed you. I'm glad you're here and we're here. I wanted to know where you were. I didn't want to be on my own anymore. I don't like it with just Dad and no you. I mean Caleb's been great and everything but it's not the same without you there. . ."

Dean runs a hand through Sam's bangs brushing them back from his eyes. "This needs cutting, little bro and I've missed you too. I'm sorry for everything I did."

Sam just squeezes him harder and this time he lets out an unintentional grunt of pain. Sam lets go instantly, stepping back with concern. "Dean?"

"'s okay. Just don't squeeze so hard, huh? 'S not like we're girls anyway!" At Sam's look of disbelief, he goes on to explain, "Pastor Jim told you I got hurt – well, 's healing good, don't worry, 's just a bit tender and I've still got to be a bit careful. That's all." He can see the disbelief in Sam's eyes, so he continues, "You can watch later, when the Pastor checks it out. How's that, little vampire?"

Sam relaxes a little, "Just don't want you to be hurt is all. I don't like it."

"Me neither. Believe me, getting hurt is not my idea of a fun way to pass the time." Dean's eyes keep flicking between his brother and his father, trying to work out what John is thinking. He avoids meeting John's eyes, afraid of what he might see there.

John grabs his and Sam's bags from the Impala before crossing over to Caleb's truck to speak to the other man. They approach the house together, Caleb grinning widely at Dean. John is calm but his face gives nothing away and rather than crossing to Dean, he turns to Jim and greets him with a handshake and a few exchanged words. Dean looks away, figuring that his father is saying all he needs to say without words. He moves away leaving the path to the front door open but finds his brother following him, arms still hanging on to Dean.

Dean hears as both Caleb and Pastor Jim mutter something about him to his father. He figures it's probably some sort of guilt trip that they're trying to pressure him with and he doesn't know how to stop them. He can't work out how to tell them that this whole thing has been his fault from start to finish. He knows he's already told them that and they both keep telling him he's got it wrong, but his father doesn't want to speak to him and that's all the proof he needs that he's the one to blame.

He rounds the corner and flops down on to one of the seats there, somehow surprised when Sam follows and pulls the other chair up as close as he can before sitting down. "No chick flicks, Sam!" he warns.

"Dad's an ass! Is that actually a chick flick or just reality?" His younger brother stares intently at him. "I still can't believe he said those things to you, you know. I talked to Pastor Jim and he said Dad didn't mean them. I – I think he might be right. Not that it stops Dad being an ass though." Dean tilts his head to look at his brother, wondering what he's rambling on about now, but too tired and hurt to actually ask.

"Dean, when you left us, Dad was really pissy . . . all the time. I couldn't do anything without him shouting and yelling, even when Caleb was with us." He puts his hand up to forestall his older brother's apology. "It wasn't your fault. I think you did the right thing. Caleb and I talked about it. You deserve to finish school, to be in one school 'til you graduate. All this moving makes it too hard for you to do all the work and Dad expecting you to help on the hunts and look after me. I'm sorry I get in the way so much."

"You don't get in the way of anything," Dean mutters. "Wouldn't want you to be anywhere else or with anyone else. I missed having you around to ramble on and ask questions all the time."

Sam smiles broadly at the backhanded compliment. "Dad was wrong to say you were selfish. You deserve to finish school, to graduate like the other kids. You've worked harder than most of 'em."

"Dad was right, I got my priorities screwed up. Family is more important than anything else ever."

"Yeah, Dean, family is important. Family means all of us so it's not just what makes me and Dad okay – you count too. You're important too, what you need, not just what me and Dad need. Dad needs to listen to us both – about school and about home and stuff like that. He should listen about the hunting too, because you're clever, you know lots of stuff about it n-"

"Don't say that, Sammy, 's not true. I only know the stuff Dad teaches me. No one's as good as he is. He's the best!"

"Even if he's the best it doesn't mean he knows everything or that you don't figure stuff out quicker sometimes. And he should listen to you, when you say you don't want to do something. It's not his choice. It's yours."

"You don't understand everything, Sammy. It's not like that. Dad knows what's best. Dad needs me to follow orders, when I'm told, not when or if I feel like it. I – I shouldn't be such a smart ass! It's no wonder he doesn't want me back."

"'s not true, son," John says quietly. Both boys look up in surprise, not having noticed John round the corner of the house. "I do want you back. I want to be sure you're safe and well. I want you to know everything there is to know about hunting so it'll keep you safe when I can't."

Dean looks up at his father. "Dad!"

Sam gives his father a disgusted look. "That's crap! You shouldn't want him to be hunting. If you were a good father, you'd want him as far away from hunting as you could. You'd want him to have a home and not to need to keep moving round the country. If you were even remotely interested in him as a person and in his future, you'd want him in school, you'd be hounding him to get the best grades he could."

"Sam!" Dean hushes him, desperate to stop the impending argument.

"You know what Sam," John looks straight at his youngest son, "if we lived in an ideal world, you would be right. That's not what we're living in though. Your Mom died, Dean knows that, he knows how important this is, how we need to . . ."

"That's crap! We're not the only people out there. Why should we have to do this? Why should we have to be the ones to live like this?" Sam demands.

"Sam! Please! Just stop this!" Dean shudders as he pleads with his younger brother, skin paling as the torment of the last few weeks alone rolls over him again, the isolation and rejection that he knows he can't live with any longer.

Sam looks at his brother, registers how he has paled even since they arrived. He stops arguing, stands and moves closer to his brother, resting a hand on his forehead as if feeling for a temperature. Quietly he says, "You're not looking so good. Do you need to lie down?"

Dean tries to bat his hand away as he denies feeling bad, only to find Sam's hand brushed aside by a larger palm. "Sam, go say hi to the Pastor. Dean and I need to talk for a while," John says softly, no sign of his earlier anger, just an overwhelming concern that even Sam can recognize.

Sam leaves them to talk alone with a disgruntled mumble. He turns and heads back to the front door of the house as John lets his palm run gently across his eldest's head, feeling as Dean leans into it as if soaking up something that he needs. Reluctantly he lets go and moves to sit in the chair Sam had vacated. "We've missed you."

Dean's head hangs, guilt clear for John to see. "It was a shame you left like that. It's been hard to take care of Sam with all the jobs I had lined up. Would have helped to have had you there."

"Yeah," Dean murmurs in reply. "I . . . I guess I wasn't thinking straight."

"Sammy doesn't do so well, you know, when you're not there to look out for him."

The dejection settles deeper into Dean's soul as he is reminded again of how badly he's messed up looking out for his little brother.

"It's an added worry when I'm out on the hunt. You know that, don't you? Just how important to me you being there, looking out for him, is. You know how important that job is, don't you, Dean? How much we all need to be able to rely on you?" John's hand settles warm and heavy on the back of his son's neck. "There aren't many people that I've ever been able to trust to keep him safe. Not like I know I can trust you."

"I –" Dean's words are choked off. He feels the emotions of the last few lonely, fraught weeks rising within. He's desperate to keep control, to convince his dad that he can be trusted, that he can be allowed to rejoin his family. Tears well unstoppably as John's hand on his neck pulls him closer.

He buries his head on his father's shoulder and lets the tears flow, relishing the warmth and security of John's arms holding him close, the familiarity of his deep voice rumbling beside his ear as John continues to tell him how important he is to Sam, how much it matters that he is with his family, the things they both rely on him to do.

It takes a few minutes for him to pull himself together again, to be ready to lift his head, dragging his hands across his eyes hoping to hide the trace of his tears before he has to face Sammy or anyone else. In that time, John doesn't let up the soothing pass of his hand over Dean's back. When Dean is finally sat up alongside him, eyes dry but still reddened, John runs a hand across Dean's hair and says, "You're getting about ready to have that cut again, son."

Dean smiles hesitantly, his head tilted slightly to look at his Dad. "I guess so," he says quietly, pleased when his Dad smiles back. "I'm sorry, Dad. I'm sorry for everything that happened."

"Jim tells me you got hurt. I'll be wanting to check that later."

Dean's head drops again but the words, "Yes sir," are clearly spoken.

"Jim had a doctor look at it? Made sure you're gonna be okay?" Dean nods in answer to his father's questions. "I'm gonna need you back on form asap, son. There's some hunts coming up that I'm going to need back up for, back up I can trust."

Dean's eyes come up to meet his Dad's, not convinced that he's understood exactly what his Dad is saying until his Dad continues. "I need you to start training, seriously training, son. It's time that you came with me more. We'll be based with Sammy, so I'll still be expecting you to be looking out for him and then I'm going to need you to take on more of the research now. I know you've got the skills you need to be good at this. Now you need to hone those skills, become the expert that I know you can be."

Dean's eyes widen in surprise at all that his Dad is entrusting him with. "This is your chance, Dean, your time. You're going to do the research and present it to me, like those assignments you were doing for school, but this is more important, lives are going to depend on this, on you getting it right! Is that understood? You'll report your findings to me and I will assess how well you're doing. It's your time now, Dean, take it. Learn what you can because one day . . . one day, you're not going to have me to do it for you. One day, everything is going to hinge on how good you are at your job!"

Dean nods as he murmurs another "Yes sir," relieved to see his father smile and his hand reach out to pat Dean's shoulder in support and encouragement.

"Time we went back inside, joined the others. Have you got much to pack up?"

"No sir."

John nodded, "I guess we could head straight out, get on the job. If you ask me, back in the thick of things is where you need to be. We need to put these last few weeks behind us. Sammy needs you, needs some extra stability at home. He's going to need some of your time and attention. The last few weeks have put a lot of stress on him too, you know."

Dean nods, thankful that his Dad is being so accepting, grateful to have this second chance with the people who matter most. It was more than he'd hoped for, so much forgiveness without any real reproach. He'd expected shouting, thought it would take a lot of persuasion on not only his own part, but that of Pastor Jim and Caleb as well, to convince his Dad to give him another chance. He's stunned that his Dad is just caving so easily, so willing to let the past lie as a mistake that they'll all have learnt from.

Dean is certain that he's learnt all the lessons he needs. There's no way he's going to risk his place in his family again. He knows that there is worse out there, worse than a life spent on the road hunting monsters. Dean knows now what it's like to be out there on his own; alone with no one to care whether he lives or dies and he promises himself that he'll never do anything to jeopardize that in the future.

"So how long do you need to pack up?" John asks.

Dean can't help but lean forward into his father's warm embrace again, as he murmurs, "Not long. I didn't really bring anything much with me. I've used old stuff that we left here or stuff that the Pastor let me have."

John's hand on the back of his head is reassuring and for once Dean believes he can feel just how big his father's love for him really is. "I need you to be the best son a man could ever ask for," John says quietly and Dean doesn't hesitate to promise that he will be.

As Dean moves to stand up, John tells him to ask Caleb about his duffle bag. A sudden wave of cold fear runs through him as he thinks that perhaps his dad had been going to get rid of it. He'd been in real danger of losing everything. He decides he doesn't want to know anymore about it, doesn't want to risk reminding his father of those things he said before Dean left, but he can't stop the chilled shiver that runs down his spine at the memory, warmed only by the weight of John's hand on his neck guiding him back to the front of the house.

They have dinner with the Pastor and Caleb, but the conversation is stilted. The looks on both men's faces are grim and Sam's isn't much better. Dean can see the subtle relaxation in his Dad's expression though and right now that's all that matters. He almost wants to bounce in his place like a child at the thought of being accepted back into his family. He knows that he's going to have to make some sacrifices to his own dreams, but they're only small ones in the scheme of things.

They're climbing into the Impala later that evening, everything packed and a route already decided on to their next hunt when Jim stops beside Dean. "Dean, my door is always open for you and I am always here to help if you need me."

"Thank you, sir."

The Pastor smiles affectionately at the teen before him, "Are you sure this is what you really want? You don't have to make all the compromises here."

Dean smiles back as he says, "I'm not making any real compromises, Pastor Jim. I get Dad and Sammy back and I get to be with them because they're the most important things ever to me. This is what I want."

Jim steps back with a nod but Dean can read the regret in his eyes, even as he acknowledges the truth in Dean's words. "Take care of yourself, Dean Winchester," he says solemnly, "And remember that we are here to help you all."

Dean hurries to climb in as he hears his Dad rev the engine again and sees his fingers tapping on the steering wheel. As soon as he shuts his door, John is peeling out of the driveway for the road, Sam is snuggling back into his side and Dean lets go of the last remnant of his wish to finish school and instead reminds himself that he has everything to be thankful for just being accepted back into his place here in his family, for this is the most important thing of all.

Author's Notes : Thanks for reading and to those who have left comments an extra hug. xx