Sorry this is late. Last chapter. Thanks to one and all who read and reviewed. Hope this ending does it for you!

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Dean made Sam eat a bowl of soup and some toast, though the boy was half asleep for most of it. Then the two of them fell asleep on the bed in Bobby's spare room and slept through the rest of the day and most of the night as well.

When Dean woke in the early hours of the morning, he knew immediately that Sam was awake as well.

"You okay, Sammy?" he murmured sleepily.

"I'm fine."

Dean stretched, yawned. "You hungry?"

"Not really," Sam said quietly. "Thanks."

"I am. Freaking starving." He rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "I'm gonna go make some eggs."

"Okay."

Dean got up, paused uncertainly at the door. "Sam?"

Sam turned his head, looked at his brother. "Yeah?"

"I know it doesn't feel like it right now, but this - it's gonna get easier."

Sam went back to staring up at the ceiling. "Yeah. Well. Maybe it shouldn't."

Sighing, Dean left the bedroom, feeling helpless. Three days since they'd brought Sam to Bobby's place from the hospital. Three days. Sam had spent most of it in bed - sleeping, not sleeping, who the hell knew.

All Dean knew was that the kid wasn't talking. Not to him or Bobby. This thing with Joey was eating his heart out and Dean didn't know how to help him.

Yeah, sure, he'd told his brother that bullshit about time making things better, but just how much time? How long before Sam didn't feel like he'd personally thrown Joey off that building? How long before he stopped flinching at every goddamned sound? And just how damn long before their father showed up?

Dean knew, he knew that was part of what was bugging Sam. The kid could deny it all he wanted, but he knew Sam as well as he knew himself - better. He knew the way his brain worked. He was working himself around to believing that either Dad was dead, or that he hadn't come because he was pissed at Sam about what had happened.

Probably some weird Sammy combo of both.

Dean continued down the stairs to the kitchen. Screw it. For now, he'd just hang in, be there for his brother, whatever he needed.

But he knew one thing. Sooner or later, Sam would talk. Dean would make damned sure of it.

Downstairs, late, or early, as it was, Bobby was already up. Dean found him in the kitchen, starting a pot of coffee.

"Hey, Bobby."

"Hey, kid."

"Thought I'd make some eggs," Dean said. "You want some?"

"Yeah, sure." Bobby sat down at the kitchen table to wait out the coffee. He watched as Dean busied himself pulling out the big cast iron skillet, threw in a pound of bacon and set it to cook on the big gas stove. Then he started breaking eggs into a mixing bowl.

"Gonna make someone a great wife one day, boy."

Dean grinned at the eggs. "Bite me, old man."

"How's your brother?"

Dean shrugged.

"Hell of a thing," Bobby mused. "Hard on the boy."

Dean grunted, picking a stray piece of shell out of the eggs.

"Hard on you," Bobby continued.

The teen shrugged. "Sam's back. I'm good. I just want to get things back to normal for him. " He pulled a whisk out of a drawer, started beating hell out of the eggs.

Bobby sighed. Damned Winchesters. Close-mouthed as ticks, all of 'em. He heaved himself up, took a look at the sizzling bacon, started turning it over with a fork. When the last of it was done and draining, Dean dumped the bowl of eggs into the pan.

When the eggs were almost done, Sam appeared in the doorway, hollow-eyed and pale.

"Morning, Sam," Bobby said, carefully casual.

Dean looked over his shoulder, smiled. "Hey, you change your mind about breakfast?"

Sam yawned. "Smelled the bacon all the way upstairs. Did you make enough for three?"

Bobby snorted. "You kidding? Your brother eats enough for three, so he cooks enough for six!" He motioned to the bacon. "Help yourself."

That earned a mock scowl out of Dean; a wan smile from Sam.

Sam ate more than he'd thought he would, less than they were hoping. When they'd finished eating, the three cleaned up together. Once the kitchen was clean, Sam said, yawning, "I'm going back to bed."

"Already?" Dean cursed himself as Sam flushed and turned away. "Uh, want me to come up with you?"

"No, thanks, I'm good." Sam left the kitchen, Dean following as far as the door. He watched his brother climb the stairs and go into their room, head down and feet dragging.

Bobby watched him sympathetically. "He's gonna be okay. Just give him time."

Dean nodded, still staring after Sam. "I know. I just - where the hell is Dad?"

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Two hours later, sitting on the front porch with Bobby, Sam still asleep upstairs, Dean watched nervously as his father's truck pulled up the drive and parked in front of the house.

He rose from his chair, a quiver in his stomach, watching as his father climbed laboriously out of the truck, hanging onto the truck door with one hand and a cane with the other.

Careful not to run, not to scream at him, Dean went to his father, noting the shadowed eyes, the thin face. "Dad. Good to see you. You all right?"

John's dark eyes were impenetrable. "Did you find Sam?"

Dean flushed. "He's inside."

"Then I'm all right."

John started to limp toward the house, cane digging into the hard-scrabble earth. After a few steps, Dean put an arm around him and helped him into the house. John let him; a clear testament to just how crappy the man felt.

Once he was settled on the couch, John took the glass of whiskey that Bobby thrust at him with a nod of thanks. He drained it, sighed and closed his eyes, leaning his head back. After a couple of minutes, he looked up at his eldest son.

"What the hell happened, Dean?"

Concisely, precisely, Dean went over the last week for his father. He left nothing out, said nothing to downplay his responsibility, or Sam's. The whole truth and nothing but.

John didn't speak throughout the monologue, didn't even move, except for the occasional twitch. Once it was over, he gave a huge sigh. "Okay."

He turned to Bobby, who was standing nearby, watching. "Thanks for stepping in. I owe you."

"So what the hell else is new?" Bobby filled John's glass again.

John offered up a tired smile in thanks. "Anything to eat?"

"I expect I can dig something up." Bobby stomped off toward the kitchen, muttering something about plagues of locusts and Winchesters.

John swallowed half the second glass of whiskey, slumped further down onto the couch. After a minute, the intense stare being directed at him became too difficult to ignore. He looked up at Dean. "What is it, son?"

"Dad - what the hell?"

"What?" John asked in a tone of mild surprise.

"I thought you'd have your foot halfway up my ass by now, and all you've got to say is 'Okay'?"

John smiled faintly. "Do you want my foot up your ass?"

Dean goggled at him. "No, but - "

"You screwed up," said John tiredly. "So did Sam. But I'm too beat to rip you a new one right now. Maybe later, after I've had something to eat and a few hours sleep." He held out a hand. "Help me up?"

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The window slid open silently. The intruder waited a long moment, watching the sleeper.

When the boy didn't move, the man slid easily through the window, in spite of his size. He crept across the room and stood over the bed, staring down at the huddled form with hot, covetous eyes.

"Told you I'd be back, wildcat," Mitch whispered, and bent over the bed.

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Sam screamed.

"Oh, crap!" Heart leaping in his chest, Dean yanked his father up from the couch, then deserted him, running for the stairs. Ignoring his cane, and the pain in his leg, the older man ran after him; Bobby appearing from the kitchen, following close behind.

Sam screamed again as his older brother reached the top of the stairs, the sound trailing off into a series of incoherent sobs and moans. Dean burst through the bedroom door to see him sitting up in bed, hands clamped over his mouth, staring at the window with terror-stricken eyes. He was alone.

"Sammy!" Dean ran to his brother, touching his thin shoulder. With a harsh cry of protest the boy struck out, landing a hard blow to Dean's mouth, sending him sprawling backward off the bed.

"Sam, stop!" Limping heavily, John came through the door and took Sam firmly by the shoulders. At the feel of his big hands, Sam stiffened, crumpled and fell limply into his father's arms.

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Sam opened his eyes.

"Hey, Sammy, 'bout time you woke up."

At the familiar gruff voice, Sam's eyes flew to his father, sitting next to him on the bed. "Dad?" Tears starting to his eyes, he threw himself into his father's arms. "Dad!"

John hugged him. "Sam," he murmured. "Son." Feeling the violent tremors running through his son, he murmured comfortingly, "It's okay, Sam. I'm here."

Dean and Bobby watched the reunion with relief. After a minute, feeling a little fourth-wheelish, Bobby muttered something to Dean about fixing dinner and left the three Winchesters alone.

Sam settled down after a few minutes and pulled back from his father, a little embarrassed. "Are you okay, Dad?"

John smiled. "My leg's a little banged up but I'm good." He looked at Sam, knew well enough what he was wondering, what Dean hadn't dared to asked.

"I'm sorry, Sam, that I wasn't here sooner. I was in a pretty isolated area and my cell reception wasn't good. I didn't get Dean's messages until last night. Got here as fast as I could."

Sam grinned. None of that mattered now. Their father was home. Alive. Safe.

"It's okay, Dad. We knew you'd come." He looked happily at Dean, then froze, his big brother's split lip drawing his immediate attention. "Dean? What happened?"

"You happened, Samantha," Dean said teasingly. "You pack quite a punch for a girl."

"Me?" Sam stared at him, confused. "What are you talking about?"

"Don't worry about it, Sammy," Dean said lightly. "You were having a nightmare and I got in the way."

Sam gazed at his brother, hazel eyes wide with distress.

"Seriously, man, no big deal," Dean repeated gently. After a minute, Sam accepted that, though not happily and turned back to his father.

"I stopped in Evanston and talked with Detective Portillo and his partner," John said to his youngest. "They've got a few leads on the people who took you. Portillo said he'd call ifthey make any arrests."

Sam's shoulders hunched and he lowered his eyes to the bed.

Dean took up the slack for his silent brother. "You think they're going to find anyone?"

"I doubt they're waiting around. They've probably moved on to a new hunting ground." John reached out a hand and ruffled his son's dark hair. "I'm sorry about your friend, son."

Sam pulled away and climbed off the bed. "I'm glad you're back, Dad. I'm gonna take a shower, okay?"

As the two men watched with concern, Sam gathered up his jeans and a sweatshirt and headed for the bathroom.

After a minute, with a muffled curse, Dean got up to follow him.

"Let him go, Dean. Give him a little space."

"I've been giving him space, Dad," Dean protested. He touched his lip, wincing, but sat down reluctantly on the bed. "Look what that got me."

John chose his next words with care.

"I know it's hard, but Sam's going to have to work his own way through this on his own, if he can."

Dean glared at him in outrage and John laughed. "Dean, calm down. I'm not saying you can't be there for him. I'm just saying - it's going to be up to him, ultimately."

Seeing that Dean wasn't getting it, John went on. "Sam may never get over this, not completely. You know what he's like. Compassionate. Thin-skinned. He feels everything, and much too strongly for his own good."

Dean bristled at the perceived insult and John gave him a stern look. "It's a weakness in our line of work, Dean. Sam has always left himself wide open, to everyone and everything. He's got to learn.

"Learn what?" Dean asked.

"That aside from family, everyone is an enemy."

Dean gaped at him in astonishment. "Jesus, Dad!"

"Dean -" John sighed with exasperation. "This is something I never had to teach you. You learned, when your Mom died, that there are monsters everywhere." He waited until Dean gave him an understanding nod, then continued.

"They're always looking for prey - stalking their next victim, waiting for them to drop their guard. And sometimes, the monsters -" John shrugged - "they're not human."

"Sam has to learn that when he leaves the house in the morning, he's in enemy territory. He has to watch both for what's there and what's not there."

"When a stranger asks for directions, he has to look beyond their words. What do they really want? Are they going to hurt me? There are millions of ways for Sam to screw up and get hurt or killed. He has to learn this lesson or he'll never make it."

"The lesson is family, Dean. That's all we can count on. Everyone else is either an enemy or a cipher."

Dean hardly knew what to say. "Dad, that's so fucked up."

"No, Dean," John said firmly. "That's just life."

There was a small sound at the door and they looked to see Sam standing there, unshowered, head hanging down, looking up at them from underneath his shaggy dark bangs.

"You heard all that?" John asked sternly.

"Yes sir," Sam mumbled.

"Good. I meant every word of it. I want you to think about it and remember it, because it's the most important thing I'll ever teach you." He sighed. "Come here, son."

Sam came forward and looked into his father's face.

"I never wanted this for you, Sam. The thought of you being in the hands of people like that - it's enough to make any father go insane. I try to protect you, we try to protect you - hell, your brother guards you like a rabid dog - " Dean scoffed - but this one got past us.'

"I know you're having a hard time with what happened to your friend - " Sam tried to pull away, but John held firm - "Sam, listen: I want you to try to look at this as a lesson that life decided to teach you. You were lucky enough to live through it. Joey lost his life learning it. In a way, you're living his life along with your own. You make damned sure you don't waste it."

After a moment, Sam nodded reluctantly. "I understand, Dad. I'll try." He looked at the two of them, then said reluctantly. "I have to tell you guys something."

"What?" Dean said suspiciously.

"I didn't tell you everything that happened before," Sam said, shamefaced.

"What didn't you tell me, Sam?" Dean didn't even try to hide the anger in his voice.

"Mitch," Sam whispered, just the name bringing the bitter taste of terror to his mouth.

"What, Sam?" Dean bit off.

Sam took a breath. "After Joey - Mitch tried to pull me in off the ledge, he wanted me to go with them. I wouldn't go in to him, I wouldn't let him open the window -"

Dean frowned. "How could you stop him?"

Sam looked away guiltily.

"Oh hell, no! You threatened to jump, didn't you? Damn it!"

"Don't be mad at me, Dean," Sam begged him. "Please, don't be mad. Mitch is, he's so, I was so scared -" he stopped, eyes filling with bright tears.

John put a hand on Dean's shoulder. "Son."

Dean subsided and John nodded at Sam. "Go ahead."

Sam stared at his brother worriedly.

"Sam."

The boy's eyes flew to his father.

"Whatever it is, we'll handle it." John said firmly.

Sam's lip trembled.

"Sam, just say it!" Dean said, patience ebbing. "What the hell could be so bad?"

That did it.

"Dean, he's coming back for me," Sam blurted out and burst into tears. "He doesn't want to sell me, he wants me, he wants to keep me. He's coming back and he wants - he wants - he's going to -"

Sam's voice was rising, the words tumbling out of his mouth, terror on his face as he remembered Mitch's eyes, his hands, his face when he looked at Sam.

"Oh, Sammy." Heart breaking, Dean pulled his weeping brother into his arms and hugged him. "He's not getting anywhere near you, not ever again, I promise."

Sam burrowed into his brother's arms. "Salt won't keep him out," he whispered desperately. "Wards won't keep him out. He's human. I don't know what to do."

"He can die, same as anything else," Dean snapped. "He comes near you, he's fucking dead."

John rubbed a comforting hand on Sam's back, relieved that Sam's confession hadn't been about something more - physical.

"He'll never be able to find you, Sam," he assured the frightened boy. "We're off the grid, on the road all the time. No fixed address. There's no way for him to find you."

"What - what if - the police catch him?" Sam said, trying to choke back his sobs. "What if I have to go to court? I don't want to see him again, I don't want to, ever, ever!"

"Don't worry, Sam," John said. "I'll make sure you never have to go to court."

He looked at Dean, knew they were thinking the same thing. Sam appearing in open court would be a disaster. Any halfway decent defense attorney would put a microscope on the Winchester family. That microscope would bring up stuff that would practically guarantee Sam's being taken away from them.

So, no court. Period.

"If he's arrested," John said carefully, "We'll take care of him ourselves."

Sam looked at him, face wet with tears, eyes pleading. "You promise? You swear?"

John raised his right hand, looked into his son's eyes and swore.

"On your mother's grave."

THE END

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Mitch and his hellbitch mother will be making a reappearance in my sequel to The Fledgling. It will pick up 4 years in the future, when Dean is 20, and Sam 16. Won't be writing it for a few months, though, 'cause I've got a couple other things cooking.

Thanks for hanging in and reading, guys!

Reviews are GREATLY appreciated.