A/N: Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed this story. I've responded individually to the reviewers who have PMs enabled, but I'd like to thank here those I couldn't respond to.
This chapter title is a line from the poem Nettles by Vernon Scannell. It's a really lovely poem about fathers and sons, and written by a former soldier using military imagery, it's especially apt for the Winchesters.
Disclaimer: I can't emphasise enough how much they're not mine and it pains me to say it.
Final chapter, so imagine Kansas kicking in with Carry on my wayward son, there'll be peace when you are done...The road so far:
John and Pastor Jim's research let them down badly when John and the boys went to face the Dothro, a demon living of inner light stolen from humans. John was drained of his light, and with only hours to live, Dean and Sam were short on time to come up with a plan to save him. The plan involved Dean allowing the demon to drain his light, and hoping that a salt sigil would be enough to kill the creature and keep him alive. Sam was not enamoured of the less than foolproof plan and so Dean handcuffed him to the bed to keep him from interfering. Dean saved his father but almost died in the attempt. After lying unconscious for two days, he finally opened his eyes...
He Shines With Your Light
Chapter Six: My son would often feel sharp wounds again
Dean opened his eyes without ceremony. No fluttering of eyelids; he didn't stir or make a sound, just one second he was out and the next he was awake.
He looked at them, blinking as though trying to focus.
"Dean?" John spoke hesitantly. He had Dean's hand grasped in his, squeezing, but Dean didn't squeeze back. John put his other hand on Dean's forehead, stroking back the hair.
"You with me, dude?"
Dean's eyes drifted closed again.
"Dean? Can you hear me?"
"Dean, open your eyes for me, kiddo." He waited but Dean was under again.
"Do you think he's getting better?" Sam asked.
"Sammy, get the Doc."
Sam scrambled off the bed and headed for the room across the hall. Usually he'd have been embarrassed and reluctant to wake up a stranger and make demands. Today it didn't even occur to him to think twice.
Edgely gave Dean the once over and sat back.
"It's too early to say for sure but I think he's starting to generate his own body heat. He's out again, but he's stable. He's breathing a little deeper. He didn't move? Didn't try to speak?"
"No. I'm not even certain he knew us."
"He must've," Sam insisted, "He woke up when I asked him to."
Edgely took a deep breath, "Well, it certainly seems like progress. Can't say it's definitive, but it's a start, right?" Edgely switched the oxygen mask for a nasal cannula and turned to Pastor Jim, "Pastor, you sense anything?"
John and Sam stared at him expectantly and he leaned in to make his own diagnosis.
"His light feels brighter I think. Nowhere near normal, but stronger than it was."
Sam felt like the fist squeezing his heart loosened its grip a little. He was sure Dean would be ok now.
It was lunchtime before Dean opened his eyes again.
"Hey Dean, there you are." Dad spoke softly. Dean still lay heavy on the pillow, still not moving.
"Dean? Can you hear me? It's Dad."
"Dad." Dean's voice was a whisper and he repeated the name without inflection as though trying to recall its meaning.
"Yeah, dude. It's Dad and Sammy."
"Sammy. Little brother."
"That's right Dean."
Dean's eyes slid closed and Sam looked at Dad, scared.
"Dad? Is he...?"
"He'll be ok. He's just getting his bearings." He rubbed Sam's arm in what he hoped was a reassuring gesture.
"Dean? Can you open your eyes for me?"
Dean forced them open. Sam could see it took a lot of effort.
"Dean? How are you feeling, dude?"
Dean didn't answer immediately, considering.
"Tired. Chest hurts."
"I bet. I had to do CPR. You've got a broken rib and you're bruised pretty bad."
"No. Deeper. Like something's torn open inside."
John remembered how it had felt when the Dothro had drained him. Exactly like that. Since he'd woken up he'd felt fine and he'd assumed Dean would too. But Dean hadn't been restored; he'd been drained, used up and left for dead. He was healing through sheer determination. Pain like that, it was so overwhelming, Dean probably didn't even notice the broken rib.
"Doc's gonna give you something for the pain, buddy. Hang on, ok?" He indicated for Edgely to do his thing.
John gave him a break from the questions, just kept stroking his hair, hoping that the repetitive motion would soothe him a little.
Edgely rooted through his bag and pulled out a syringe and vial, "Hey Dean, I'm Dr Edgely, but you can call me Ryan. It's good to see you awake finally. I'm gonna give you some morphine." He pulled the dose into the syringe and administered the morphine through the IV port in Dean's hand.
"You're probably going to feel really sleepy, but this should help with the pain."
"Thanks," It was a whisper on an exhale and Dean was asleep before he finished the word.
Dean woke again a few hours later, when the morphine wore off and the pain dragged him back to awareness.
He felt so weak, he could barely move and the pain made it hard to breathe.
Everything inside was a jumble, like he had to figure out how the pieces fitted together. Dad and Sammy were there. He knew them, had lots of memories featuring them, and he knew that the feelings he had when they were nearby, love and worry and protectiveness and security were because they were family, Dad and little brother, but everything felt detached somehow.
Sammy was stroking his hand back and forth on Dean's forearm. If he just focused on that it helped to keep the pain under control.
Dad was saying something and he made himself listen.
"Dean, did you hear me? How's the pain?"
"Ok dude, Doc'll give you some more painkiller in a little bit, but it'll probably send you to sleep again and we need you to eat something first."
Dean focused on that idea for a moment and realised his mouth was really dry, "Thirsty," he still couldn't speak above a whisper.
He tried to lever himself up, but he just didn't have the strength. Dad put out his hands and lifted him, while Sammy slid some pillows behind him. Dean closed his eyes and clenched his jaw against the pain as his breath came in gasps.
As he opened his eyes, he caught his Dad's expression and there was something there, some emotion that he knew but couldn't quite put together while it hurt so badly. Dad put a steadying hand on his forehead and he felt suddenly comforted and safe, like maybe he wouldn't die from the pain.
As his breathing slowed back to normal, his Dad's expression cleared and he realised what he'd seen. Guilt. Dad was feeling guilty that he was finding it so hard to breathe. How could that be Dad's fault? He said he did CPR. He must have saved Dean's life.
Sammy handed a glass of water to Dad and he lowered it to Dean's lips. Dean tried to lift his hand to take the glass but it shook too much and anyway, he couldn't lift it high enough. The water helped a little though, eased his throat.
God, he was worn out. He just wanted to sleep again, wanted to ease the pain in his chest, but Dad wanted him to eat. He wasn't sure he could. His eyes started to droop; it was hard to keep them open.
"Do you remember what happened?" John asked gently.
"I don't think so."
"What's the last thing you remember?" Dad put his hand back on Dean's forehead and he focused on the touch, trying to stay awake and to ignore the pain, trying to think clearly.
He knew he had to try to do what his Dad wanted. Couldn't disappoint Dad.
Dean frowned and closed his eyes. Everything was so messed up in his head. He wasn't sure which memories happened when.
"I'm sorry Dad, I don't know." He felt tears prick his eyes and tried to blink them back. This should be easy. He felt stupid and weak.
The tears took John by surprise and he felt like an asshole. He was just trying to keep Dean awake until Jim brought in something for him to eat, not put pressure on him, not make him feel like he wasn't trying hard enough.
"Hey, buddy, it's ok. Just relax. There's no hurry. It'll come back to you. You'll remember in your own time." He stroked Dean's hair trying to comfort him. Poor kid was in so much pain and feeling so disorientated would be freaking him out too.
"We're at Pastor Jim's. He's making some lunch. You must be hungry. You've been out for a couple of days."
"Yeah. You had us worried."
He still had John worried. He hadn't had much colour to begin with, but what he had he was losing. His shallow breaths were becoming pants and his eyes were closing even though John could see how hard he was trying to keep them open.
"You ok, dude?"
Dean forced his eyes open, "Dad. Hurts. So tired. I'm sorry."
"Don't you be sorry. Of course you're tired," He looked at Edgely for reassurance. Dean couldn't be expected to stay awake and eat when he was in so much pain, surely?
Edgely stood and put his hand back in his bag. He nodded to John.
"Dean, you just sleep now. The Doc's gonna give you some more painkillers and you can rest up. We'll get you something to eat later."
Even as the morphine entered his vein, Dean's eyes closed and his head drifted to the side, resting in his father's hand.
John watched Dean sleep. Sam was huddled up beside his brother trying not to show how upset he was, but if he felt anything like John did, he was feeling torn up inside.
"Dad? Is he gonna be ok? Really?"
"He just needs some time, Sammy."
"Why's he in so much pain? He's had broken ribs before."
John debated whether to tell Sammy. Usually he worked on a need to know basis, but he wondered if in this case, not knowing was freaking Sam out more than knowing. "It's what it felt like for me when the Dothro drained me. I'm sure the pain will fade."
"You're not in pain? Because the Dothro gave you back your light, right?"
"But Dean...How can you be sure he'll get better?"
"He will, Sammy." John wasn't sure. Not sure at all.
John had to get some air. He left Sammy asleep leaning on Dean's shoulder. Edgely was asleep in his room. He knew he should be keeping watch, but he just needed a minute. He found himself downstairs in the kitchen and figured he might as well put some coffee on.
He heard a noise behind him and swung around, expecting a threat only to meet Pastor Jim's eyes as he came into the room.
"I put the food back in the fridge. It'll keep 'til later. How's he doing?"
"He's sleeping again. Sammy too."
Jim took a seat at the table and gratefully accepted the coffee John handed him.
"He's hurting bad, Jim."
Jim nodded sympathetically.
"When that Dothro attacked me it felt like it was tearing my heart out. It was unbearable. I think I passed out pretty fast. When I woke up, I felt fine. 'Cos I was whole again. How could I have assumed... Jim, he's still hurting like that. And he's so confused, he can't remember what happened. I think he barely remembers us."
"It's early days. He needs rest. He'll get back on his feet."
"What if he doesn't? We don't know. There was so little of him left. What if he can't get it back? What if he never gets any better than this?"
"He's already stronger. I can feel the light getting brighter inside him. Just be patient. I know that's hard for you. It would be for any father, but you need to be patient with him. Don't push him too hard."
John swallowed, ashamed, "I was trying to keep him talking so he'd be awake when you brought the food. I was asking what he remembered and he couldn't get it straight in his head. He was trying so hard and I pushed and he said he was sorry. Jim, he said he was sorry he couldn't remember. He was almost crying." John forced himself to get the words out, needing to confess, to be judged and absolved.
"So now you know not to do that again. You know your boy. You know how strong he is. He'll do everything he can to get better."
"I know that, but what if it's not enough?"
"John it's too soon to be thinking like this. It's only been a couple of days."
"What if he can't get strong enough to hunt again? What do I do with him then?"
Jim regarded him for a moment and John felt like an ant under a magnifying glass. The way he'd put that. God, he'd made it sound like Dean was worth nothing to him if he couldn't be a soldier anymore. But he had to consider the worst case scenario. It was John's deepest fear in this. What if Dean was so damaged he couldn't defend himself anymore? What if he couldn't protect Sammy? How would his boys survive the evil out there? The next attack would come, it always would and what if he didn't have Dean to back him up?
"I know you didn't mean that how it sounded. So I'm not even going to call you on it. You know Dean will always fight as hard as he can for you and Sam, you know that. And if he can't fight as hard as he did before, well you just have to adjust your strategy. Your boys come first. Maybe you have to consider the idea that revenge for Mary isn't as important as making sure Dean and Sam are safe."
"Jim, I can't let that monster go. I can't let Mary die for nothing."
"You think Mary would want you to put her death ahead of her sons' lives?"
"Some days the anger is all that keeps me going."
"I understand that. You know I do. But John, I don't have two beautiful, loving, courageous sons. The anger was all I had until I regained my faith. Don't lose your boys over revenge. Once you have it, I guarantee it won't mean a thing to you if they're gone."
John dropped his head into his hands and neither man spoke for a moment. John broke the silence first, "You're right. It's too soon to be thinking like this. Dean'll get better. Everything will go back to normal."
He stood and as he left the room, Jim let out a sigh of frustration.
Sammy was asleep on his shoulder and that felt nice, kind of familiar. He wanted to put his arm around his little brother, but it felt like too much effort.
Dad had told him he hadn't eaten in a couple of days, but he really didn't feel hungry. It was hard to feel anything but the pain and that aching drag of exhaustion. Maybe it was like the memories; maybe he was disconnected from feeling hungry too.
Dad seemed frustrated. He was trying really hard to eat, but the food tasted like cardboard, and chewing made his jaw tired. That wasn't normal. Nor was his hand shaking from the weight of a soup spoon, for cryin' out loud. How was he supposed to eat soup if he couldn't keep his hand from shaking? Forget Dad, Dean was frustrated.
He really didn't want Dad to have to feed him. It was bad enough he'd nearly cried in front of him earlier. He hated feeling so weak. It was humiliating to need so much help. He was still pretty muddled, but in all his memories, no matter how young he figured he was in them, he'd always coped by himself, he'd never needed help with anything.
He managed half of it before he knew he'd spill it everywhere if he tried one more spoonful. He needed to get the bowl off his lap before he fell asleep in it. He dropped the spoon back in the bowl and looked up.
"Just try a bit more, dude. You need to build up your strength."
"I'm full. I'm tired."
John picked up the spoon.
Dean sighed and let his Dad give him a spoonful. John scooped up another spoonful. As he lifted it, he raised his eyes and stopped. Dean was already asleep.
Sammy woke up suddenly and peered into the half empty bowl.
"Not bad for a first go, right?" He asked. "Is that going spare?"
John nodded and passed the spoon to Sam, who hoovered the rest of the soup as though he was the one who hadn't eaten in days.
Dean woke to find Sam's face inches from his own.
"What are you staring at, freak?"
Sam grinned, "You, loser! How're you feeling? You look better. Do you feel better?"
He was still in pain, but it was getting a little more manageable. He rolled himself on his side without feeling like he was going to pass out, and that felt like progress. "I'm ok."
"Yeah, right. You want some water?"
Sam gave him a hand to pull himself up higher on the pillows, but he didn't need as much help as yesterday, and his hand didn't shake when he took the glass.
"You're sure you're feeling better?"
His head felt more securely attached; memories and feelings falling back into a coherent order. He finally remembered what had happened.
Wow, that plan actually worked! Dad was alive. Thank God, Dad was alive, and he was fine; well getting better.
"The Dothro? Did I kill it?"
"Yeah. Not before it nearly killed you, you moron."
"It was a good plan, Sammy, it worked."
"It was a stupid plan, Dean, and as soon as you're well, I'm gonna get you for cuffing me to that bed."
"I don't think so, Sammy, you better take your best shot now, while I'm still not at my best."
Sam's face became serious and Dean knew a chick flick moment when he saw it coming.
"Sammy, I'm good, really." Well, he wasn't, not even close, but he'd get there.
"I was scared. I almost lost you."
"But you didn't. And we've got Dad back. So it's all good, right? Worth it in the end?"
Sam looked dubious, "Promise me you won't do anything like that again, Dean."
"I can promise you I won't do anything like that today," Dean offered with a lopsided grin. "Look Sammy, for you and Dad? There's nothing I wouldn't do. It's my job to have your back. Sometimes that's gonna be dangerous."
Sam sighed and Dean wished there was something more comforting he could say.
"Breakfast?" Sam asked hopefully.
Dean thought about it, and he actually did feel hungry, "Yeah. Need to take a leak first though. Help me up?"
Sam smirked. "Dude, you've been in bed for three days. You've got a tube in your dick."
Dean was horrified.
Dean managed toast and bacon for breakfast, along with a glass of juice. He didn't have to be force-fed; he actually enjoyed it and John was so relieved that when Dean fell asleep again right afterwards, he took himself out to the backyard and cried for ten minutes.
Dean slept most of the day, but each time he did wake up he was alert and cheerful. Still, Edgely could see that he was still in a lot of pain whenever the morphine wore off and more so than he was admitting.
Dean was keen to get up and about, which was a good sign, so Edgely sent the others out of the room so he could remove the catheter without hurting Dean's dignity too much.
"You're gonna take it easy though, right? Don't go pushing yourself too hard. You're still gonna need a lot of rest."
"Not getting a lot of choice about that. I just fall asleep in the middle of conversations right now."
"Well, keep listening to your body, ok?"
Dean nodded. With his Dad and his brother out of the room he didn't look so buoyant.
"Between you and me. Doctor patient privilege."
"Just wanna stop being tired you know. And the pain makes me feel tired too. Do you think it'll go away soon?"
"It's hard to say. I've never dealt with a Dothro attack before. Your Dad and the Pastor tell me no one's ever survived one before. I should be writing a paper on you." He grinned. "You're feeling better than you were, right? Pain's not as bad? You have more energy than when you first woke up."
"You're getting stronger practically by the hour. Pastor Jim thinks the same about the inner light thing too. I think it won't be too much longer."
"That was a really brave thing you did for your Dad, Dean. And the way you've fought your way back. It's very impressive."
Dean looked at the Doctor and considered whether he dared say it. "Everyone thinks I don't get scared, but that's not true. I feel scared all the time that I'll screw up and Dad or Sammy'll get hurt. I get scared when Dad leaves to hunt and I can't talk to him. I don't know if he's ok and he's always gone longer than he says, and I'm so scared it's because he got killed, and what would I do then? How would I take care of Sammy? I get scared they'll say I'm not good enough and they'll take him away from me and put him with foster parents, and what if they weren't good to him? I have to get better at hunting. I have to be the best so Dad can rely on me to watch his back so that stuff won't happen."
That was why Dean had risked his life to save his father's. Edgely's heart broke for the boy. He was seventeen worrying about things he shouldn't even know about. How long had he been carrying this stuff?
"You have every right to be scared Dean, that's terrifying stuff, but you've got to remember, you do a great job of taking care of your dad and your brother. They both say so. Dean, they were lost without you. I think they need you to look after yourself as much as they need you to look after them."
"Sometimes I can't. Sometimes if I looked after myself it would mean they got hurt or didn't get what they needed. I can't let that happen."
Edgely nodded. There was no point contradicting the kid. He'd seen and heard enough the past few days to know what he said was true. John and Sam were only ok when Dean was pretending to be ok for them, especially John. Dean was just being realistic.
"Well, you take this time to rest up. You can be strong for them, but they know what a close call this was, maybe more than you realise. I'm gonna make sure your Dad knows you need to take it slow, and you don't pretend that you're ok when you're not. Like you said, you look out for them, so you need time to get back on top of your game."
"You wanna try and get up then?"
"God, yeah. Sick of this bed."
"I bet. How about a trip to the bathroom. You can get cleaned up a bit."
Dean felt so much better for the shower that he wondered if Pastor Jim sanctified his water tank. It had to be something supernatural.
He stuffed away a plateful of lasagne, starving now, and wondering how he hadn't felt hungry before. He couldn't help but notice how Dad and Sammy kept stealing glances at him as he ate. He figured they were relieved he wouldn't be needing so much watching anymore.
It wasn't late, but he'd done more in the past couple of hours than he had in days, and he felt the lethargy creeping back over him.
Edgely gave him a top up of morphine and Dean was just about done for the day.
"I'm gonna go, but I'm leaving the painkillers with the Pastor, so when you need them you just let him know. I'll be back tomorrow to check on you."
"Thanks Doc." Dean dropped off and didn't even hear Edgely close the door behind him.
The pain was better again the next day, and Dean felt like he was finally getting back on track. He still felt weak and tired, but he was confident it was just a matter of time before he'd be back to his old self.
The doctor stopped by mid morning with a prescription for oral painkillers, so he was done with the IV too, which meant he could be more mobile.
He could get to the bathroom with minimal support and Dad helped him downstairs after lunch, so he got to drop off on the couch instead of in bed, just for a change.
John asked Pastor Jim for a little space in the afternoon, so he took a protesting Sam off to the store for some supplies. John sat in the easy chair and debated waking Dean up and having to talk or waiting for him to wake naturally and risking missing the opportunity.
Just as he'd plucked up the courage to wake him, Dean shifted on the couch and opened his eyes.
"Hey Dad, what's up?"
"Hey dude, how're you feeling?"
"Would you tell me if you weren't?"
Dean frowned uncertainly, and John knew he was changing the rules on him by asking that question. Dean told him when he absolutely could not function without help. Otherwise, he did what was expected, he sucked it up and got on with whatever John had asked him to, regardless of how he felt.
"Where's Sammy?" John sighed. So Dean wasn't going to answer the question. He guessed that was an answer in itself.
"He's helping Pastor Jim get some groceries."
"You ok?" It was less unusual for Dean to ask John that question, and he was ashamed to say he felt on safer ground.
"Yeah, kiddo, I'm fine."
"No side effects after the Dothro?"
"Nope, woke up all better. Thanks to you. You did good, son. You killed that evil son of a bitch and you saved a lot of people."
Dean looked away, embarrassed.
"I mean it. But you know, seeing you hurt like that? I never wanna go through that again. You sure there was no other way?"
"Not in the time we had."
"If you hadn't had to worry about me?"
"Well then I guess we'd have had three months instead of three hours. Maybe there'd have been another way, I don't know. But it worked, right?"
"It was a big risk to take. And it came really close to not working. It took thirty eight minutes of CPR to get you back. That was the longest thirty eight minutes of my life."
"Trying to come up with that plan, knowing you might die any second? That was the longest three hours of my life."
"You got me there. But, Dean, you've gotta remember, your brother needs you. Maybe more than he needs me."
He could see Dean wanted to say something, suspected what it was, but he couldn't let him say those words, he couldn't let Dean say that he needed his dad even if Sammy didn't.
This wasn't the conversation he'd promised himself he'd have with Dean. It wasn't anywhere close.
"Your job is to watch out for Sammy, you know that. You don't something like that for me again."
And there it was, the implication that Dean was allowed to, even expected to sacrifice himself for Sam. John wanted to take it back but it was already out of his mouth and Dean had heard it and he'd understood it.
Dean nodded and his shoulders dropped as though an extra weight had been added. Why was it so hard for him to just say Dean should look out for himself sometimes because he deserved to have a life and be happy? Why couldn't he say he'd always be there when Dean needed him?
Maybe because John couldn't guarantee either of those things and it would just be cruel to dangle them. Maybe because Dean could take the extra weight and he'd never baulk or complain.
Dean looked away and John could see that he was holding back tears, but Dean was a soldier, and he followed his father's orders, no matter how hard, and no matter how brutal.
John announced at dinner that they'd imposed on Jim long enough, and that now Dean wasn't confined to bed, they'd be heading back to their own place later that evening while the traffic was light.
Dean was quiet following their talk and Pastor Jim suspected that something had been said that afternoon that John didn't want him to know about. Something that had motivated the sudden departure.
Sam looked suspicious too. He'd been looking that way since they'd got back, picking up the vibe from Dean, but knowing he'd get nothing out of either his father or his brother, he mollified himself by sticking close to Dean, and helping him as much as he'd allow.
Jim wanted a chance to talk to Dean, maybe try and do some damage control, but somehow John engineered it so the Pastor was never alone with the boy, and in the end all he had time for was a brief hug and the usual platitudes in front of the others.
"Dean, you call if you need anything, ok? And I mean anything."
"Thanks. Take care of yourself, Pastor Jim."
He smiled, "You too, son. I'm gonna miss you. It'll be quiet around here."
"You'll have your place back to yourself. And we won't be eating you out of house and home."
Jim put his hand on Dean's shoulder, "Well Dean, you know I never mind that."
Dean smiled diffidently, and Jim knew whatever John had said had chipped another piece of the boy's self worth away.
"Dean's tired," Sam announced, putting an arm around him and starting to lead him to the car. Dean almost shrugged him off, but he was pale and obviously drained enough to need the help.
Sam got his hug once Dean was in the car, and Jim was angry enough that his hand shake for John was perfunctory at best, and paired with a hard stare.
"You look after those boys, you hear?"
"Yeah, Jim. Thanks for everything ok?"
"Don't you 'Yeah Jim' me. I mean it. What they've been through this week. They need you right now."
"I know. I'm doing my best."
Dean slept all the way back in the car, and John was ready to carry him into the house, not wanting to disturb him, but as the car rolled to a stop and the engine fell silent, Dean stirred and woke.
Sam dashed out and opened the back door, offering a hand to his older brother, and it was testament to how exhausted and shaky Dean still felt that he didn't bat the hand away, but leaned into the support gratefully. John hovered, ready to offer more if it was required but he could see that Sam needed this contact with Dean and it was good for him to feel useful.
When they got to the stairs, Dean paused, looking daunted and Sam looked at John, knowing Dean would need more support than he could give.
John handed a duffel to Sam and pulled Dean's arm over his shoulder, steadying him with an arm around his waist. Halfway up he took most of Dean's weight as soon as he felt his knees start to buckle.
He sat Dean on the edge of his bed and Sam crouched down to unlace and pull off his boots. John went to help him with his shirt, but Dean lay back and was out like a light as soon as his head touched the bed. He didn't stir as John dragged him up the bed to get his head on the pillow and his feet off the floor, so John didn't bother with his clothes, just smoothed a blanket over him.
"He's gonna be ok now, isn't he Dad?" It was probably the thousandth time Sam had asked him that question over the last few days, but John didn't mind. It helped both of them to reaffirm it, to let the truth of it sink in a little more each time.
"Yeah, he's gonna be ok." John sat next to Sam on his bed where they could both watch over Dean for a while.
Dean mostly just slept, ate and shuffled to the bathroom for the next couple of days. He refused painkillers on Friday, and though John could see he was still hurting and would have given him more for at least the next couple of days, it was a relief that Dean felt the pain wasn't bad enough to warrant them anymore.
John and Sam hovered around him and Dean put up with it with surprising patience. They'd both been so terrified of losing Dean that seeing him up and about, getting a little stronger with each passing hour, seemed like an undeserved gift, one that could perhaps be taken away at any moment. Maybe Dean sensed something of that fear, or maybe he was still feeling vulnerable enough to be grateful for their closeness. Whatever the reason, John knew it wouldn't last, knew that it was right that it wouldn't. Dean would keep getting stronger and they'd all get back to normal, eventually.
On Saturday morning, John answered a knock on the door to find a very pretty girl of about Dean's age on the porch.
"Can I help you?"
"Hi, Mr Winchester. Is Dean home?"
"Who wants to know?" It was probably overly gruff considering the girl was obviously not a threat, but the past week had kept his protective instincts in overdrive and with his boys finally safe in the house, even opening the door seemed like an unnecessary risk.
She stuck her hand out and he found himself shaking it, "I'm Maria. I'm a friend of Dean's. We were supposed to meet up last night but he didn't come and I wanted to check he was ok."
So this was the famous Maria Tucci. He couldn't deny his son had taste.
John remembered Dean saying back before all this started that they were supposed to have another date on Friday, last night. Was the girl pissed she'd been stood up? He felt defensive on Dean's behalf.
Dean had nodded off around five in the afternoon. John had heard him get up and go to the bathroom around two in the morning and he'd checked on him twenty minutes later. Dean had been asleep again and hadn't woken up since. It was nine in the morning now and he wasn't planning on disturbing him. Dean would wake when he was hungry.
"Dean's sick. I guess he forgot he was supposed to meet you. Probably forgot what day it was."
"Yeah, I figured that would be it. Is he ok?" She didn't seem annoyed. Just worried.
"You didn't think he stood you up?" John was intrigued.
"No. Dean wouldn't do that. It's not serious or anything, but he knows how to treat a girl. He'd at least call. Does he have the flu or something? My Dad had that a while back and it laid him out for a week. Can I see him?"
"Yeah, flu. He's sleeping."
"Oh. Well, I don't want to disturb him. Can I leave him a note?"
"Sure, I guess," John looked around half-heartedly, "I don't know where there's any paper."
"That's ok, I've got a notebook." She dug around in her backpack for the paper and pen, then leaned awkwardly on the door frame to write.
John blew out a breath, "You want to come in? You can write at the table," He offered unwillingly.
She made herself comfortable at the table as John went back to making coffee. She looked up longingly and John reluctantly offered her a cup.
"That'd be awesome! Thanks Mr Winchester."
Sam shuffled into the room in his t-shirt and shorts, rubbing his eyes.
"Hey Sam, how's it going?"
Sam stopped short and looked at her, his mouth open. John smirked. Obviously Sammy thought his brother had good taste in girls too.
"Hi," Sam managed, faintly.
"Excellent bed head," Maria observed cheerfully.
Sam smoothed his hair unsuccessfully. "Dean's sick." He offered.
"Your Dad said; flu. Bad luck, huh? I'm just writing him a note. So I haven't seen you guys around this week. You been away?"
"Visiting our uncle."
"Cool. You have fun?" John's eyes caught Sam's in alarm.
Sam just shrugged, non-committal, and took a seat at the table. Maria seemed to accept that as answer enough, and went back to writing.
John handed her the coffee and sat down with his own cup.
Maria scribbled away for a few more moments and then tore off the sheet, folded it carefully and wrote Dean's name on it in curly flowing script.
"Will you give this to him for me when he's up?" She handed the note to Sam and he nodded.
She sipped at her coffee and seemed perfectly comfortable in the silence.
"I like your place," She said after a couple of minutes. "You guys don't bother with all those trinkets and stuff most people have. I feel like I spend my life dusting my Mom's china."
John and Sam both looked at her at a loss. They didn't have china, but they spent their lives cleaning guns and sharpening knives. Sam wondered what Maria would think if she knew what their chores were.
"Well, I better go. I'm going hiking with my family this morning. Thanks for the coffee." She tucked her notebook and pen back in her bag, slung it over her shoulder, took her cup to the sink, rinsed it and put it in the drainer.
"Tell Dean I hope he's feeling better soon and if he wants he can call me when he's up to it."
"Sure," John stood and followed her to the door. He could never get over the confidence of these kids.
She turned and smiled brightly, "Well, I'll see you soon, I guess."
"Yeah." John closed the door and stood for a moment. Nice kid. Friendly, easy going, kind, pretty. Just the sort of girl he'd want for Dean if that was any kind of option. He was almost sorry they'd be back on the road soon.
Dean dragged himself downstairs around eleven, and Sam raced to his side to help him down the last few steps. He slumped into a chair at the table.
"Maria stopped by this morning. She left you a note." Sam held it out to him.
"Maria? What day is it?" Dean took the note and ran his finger over his name.
"Saturday. It's ok, we told her you had the flu, that's why you couldn't make it last night."
"Damn. Was she pissed?"
"Don't think so. She said she hoped you feel better soon and she left you the note. She said you could call if you wanted. She was gonna go hiking today, but I guess she'll be back later. What she write?" Sam prompted.
Dean flipped open the note and his slight smile became a grin as he read. John's heart clenched. That was the first real smile he'd seen on Dean's face in a week.
"Dean, what she write?"
"None of your beeswax, Nosy Mc Snooperson!"
"Come on! Please?"
"She likes your hair," Dean teased, reaching out to mess up Sam's newly combed hair.
Sam almost shoved Dean in retaliation but at the last second remembered the broken rib, the lingering exhaustion and instead he messed Dean's hair in return. It was short so it made little difference, but it was the intention that mattered.
John watched them teasing each other and felt overwhelmed with gratitude. They'd come so close to losing this.
Dean took Maria out again on Wednesday. John was still up when he got back.
"Yeah, Dad, I'm fine. Sammy's asleep?"
"Yeah. You have fun?"
Dean gave him a cocky grin, "Yeah. But no details, right?"
"You didn't wear yourself out too much?"
"'Cos you need to take it easy. You're still getting back on your feet."
"On my feet?" Dean returned suggestively and John snorted a laugh.
"You know what I mean."
"I feel pretty good, Dad." John regarded him critically. He looked pretty good, much better. In fact, if he didn't know what Dean had been through, he wasn't sure he'd have been able to tell. And that light Pastor Jim had been able to sense at its lowest ebb? It was shining bright enough for even John to see tonight. Typical that it would be Dean's libido that kicked it back into high gear.
"Good. You better get some sleep. You know we're leaving tomorrow."
"Maria's ok with that?"
Dean was surprised, "You're worried about Maria?"
"She seemed like a good kid is all."
"Yeah, she's great. She knew we weren't staying long though. She's ok."
John and Sam were loading up the car. Dean had popped out to sort out what he called some unfinished business. They both figured he'd gone to see Maria and say goodbye, so they were cutting him some slack on the packing.
They were still trying to get him to take it easy, so John had offered him a ride, but Dean had declined saying he didn't have far to go and anyway he felt like a walk before the long drive. He'd only been gone half an hour when Sam spotted him walking back down the sidewalk. He hurried to meet him.
"Maria take it ok?"
"You were saying goodbye to Maria, weren't you?"
"No. We said goodbye last night."
"So where were you?"
"Had a lesson to teach."
"What does that mean?"
They'd reached the car and John turned to them, leaning on the open trunk. He frowned.
"What happened to your hand, Dean?"
Sam grabbed the offending hand and examined the bruised knuckles.
"Just making sure that cheating prick Donnie Baker knows to pick on guys his own size from now on."
Sam grinned. It was always tough leaving town and starting up someplace new, but this time he was ok. Better than ok. His big brother was back and nothing could ruin his mood.
Thank you for sticking with this story. I hope it was as much fun for you to read as it was for me to write. Thank you to everyone who set alerts; made it a favourite or posted a comment. I've been thrilled to receive them all.
Any comments on the end, constructive criticism, good or bad are gratefully received. Like Chuck said, "Endings are hard. Any chapped-ass monkey with a keyboard can poop out a beginning," and that's certainly been my experience of writing...