A/N: I posted two chapters at once so make sure you read the last chapter also :-)

A HUGE thank-you to everyone who read and alerted and reviewed this story – I really enjoyed hearing what you all thought and each and every one meant a lot to me. You guys have been so encouraging and I hope you all have the best year EVER in 2012!

EPILOGUE

It was thirty hours before Sam awoke without screaming and two and a half days before he managed to stay awake for more than a few minutes. On the first night, after Dean received a black eye trying to shake him out of a particularly violent flashback dream, Bobby suggested they put the tormented hunter in the panic room until they could be sure he wasn't going to wake up completely "FUBAR". Dean had barely left his brother's bedside for the three days since and now found himself sitting in Bobby's uncomfortable desk chair in the underground bunker with Adam slouched in the old leather armchair nearby.

He was touched by the level of concern Adam was showing for Sam. The kid hovered over him almost as much as Dean did and whenever he wasn't with Laney, he was usually down here. Dean took the opportunity to get to know his youngest brother better and decided he was a good kid. The eldest Winchester had been sharing some of his wisdom on the art of picking up women and was enjoying the look of adulation he was getting at the recounting of some of his more outrageous exploits when Sam suddenly grew restless in his sleep. Before Dean could approach the bed, however, Adam was at Sam's side, his hand on his shoulder speaking soothing words of comfort. Dean sat back and watched, not sure if he was pleased or a little jealous.

"You guys spend a lot of time together down there?" he asked quietly when Sam had settled down.

Adam shook his head. "No actually. None at all. But..." he swallowed. "Sometimes Michael would be in one of his moods and would storm off somewhere and Lucifer would start in on me." He bit his lip and looked down at Sam, who was once again sleeping soundly. "Sam would mouth off to him and goad him until Lucifer turned his wrath back on him. He protected me every time. Even though he had it so much worse, he..." He let the sentence trail off, his point clearly made.

Dean nodded, full of understanding for Sam's actions. "That's what big brother's do, kid," he smiled. A soft clomp of boots that Dean recognized as Laney's sounded on the stairs. "And big sisters," he added with a grin as she appeared in the doorway.

Laney gave each of them a smile as she entered the panic room and Dean couldn't help think how incredibly pretty she was when she smiled. He had also noticed she had been doing a lot more of that the past three days. He had barely spent five minutes alone with her since their trip to hell but if he was being honest, he hadn't made any serious effort to do so either. He had avoided any serious conversation with her about them, or even if there was a them. At first it had been because he had been concentrating on Sam and then because he wasn't sure how to approach the subject. After all, he had just left Lisa a few days ago. Then there was the fact that he was just plain chickenshit. When Laney had been sent to hell, Dean had realized just how much he was in love with her and it scared him to death because loving that hard and that completely had always brought him pain in the past and he kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Six months ago he had lost everything and now Lucifer was gone, the world was fine, his brother was back, his other brother was back, and he and Laney were here with no secrets and nothing standing in their way ... things just didn't get this good for Dean Winchester.

Did they?

Well if they didn't, the people he cared about were making a damn good effort at convincing him they did. Laney settled in on the end of Sam's bed and within two hours, Adam finally agreed to let Bobby acquire a fake name and fake transcripts for him and start attending the Pre-med program at the University of Iowa in January. Laney figured the money she had left over from the sale of the Milligan house would pay for a chunk of it and she swore she would come up with the rest since she had spent the rest of Adam's inheritance, even if some of it had been in desperate attempts to get him out of hell.

Adam had wanted to be a doctor before the ghouls had killed him and Dean was surprised, relieved, and overjoyed all at once that he still wanted to follow that dream after all he had been through. He had half expected the kid would want to take up hunting and throw away any chance he had at normalcy. Laney agreed they would teach him the basics of hunting, just enough to protect himself, and Adam joked that having a doctor in a family of hunters could prove to be useful. He even requested that his new name be Adam Winchester and Dean finally understood without a doubt why his father had kept Adam hidden from this life and from them. Watching his new brother plan his normal, safe future was like being given a second chance to do things right, like they were all getting a do-over through Adam.

As if that wasn't a pleasant enough turn of events, Sam awoke peacefully and sat up, lucid enough to join the conversation and he quickly offered his little brother his Dodge Charger.

"Won't you be using it?" Adam asked, slack-jawed and squirming in his seat with excitement. Bobby had towed it back from the ditch Cas had left it in and had deemed it fixable.

Sam shook his head. "Nah, I'll be riding with Dean," he said. "In the Impala."

Dean grinned and cracked another beer, a pleasant warmth spreading through his insides.

Yeah, things were looking pretty damn good for Dean Winchester. He glanced over at Laney, who caught his eye and smiled back at him. Almost perfect, in fact.

~x~x~x~x~x~

~x~x~x~x~x~

By the fourth day, Sam was on his feet and even joined everyone upstairs for a pizza lunch. He was quiet and tense but Dean's subtle scrutiny didn't reveal anything too alarming – nothing more than could be expected anyway – and Dean finally allowed himself to relax enough to head out and check on the Impala. He was in the process of doing a complete inventory of the trunk, polishing and cleaning each weapon for the first time in months, when Cas showed up behind him.

"How is Sam?" was the angel's deep-voiced greeting.

Dean jumped and spun around. "Jeez, Cas! Still with the creeping up on people?"

"My apologies."

The hunter relaxed and smiled at his old friend as he gave him a friendly thump on the shoulder. "S'alright." The angel had left soon after bringing everyone back from hell and hadn't made an appearance since and Dean had begun to get worried. "Dude, its good to see you. I owe you the biggest thanks, uh...ever."

Cas just nodded.

"No, seriously," Dean stressed. "Thank-you. If it wasn't for you I'd be screwed and..." he gestured towards the house, "They'd all be screwed."

"You're welcome," Cas acknowledged. "I am pleased you are all safe. How is Sam?" He repeated his opening question.

"Souled-up and ... " Dean searched for the right word. "Coping."

Cas nodded but stayed silent and Dean couldn't help but think he looked stressed. He leaned back on the rim of the Impala's trunk and folded his arms across his chest. "You know who guided us back to the gate?" he asked, fishing for a reaction. "Crowley."

"I am aware."

The hunter raised a curious eyebrow. "You wanna fill me in, Cas?"

Cas let out a deep sigh. "I need your advice, Dean. I have made a deal and I am not sure it was a wise one."

"Damnit Cas," Dean swore. "I already don't like the sound of this. Okay, spill."

Four days ago...

When soulless Sam had scoffed that Dean wouldn't make it back to the gate with both Sam and Adam in tow, Cas had known he was right. Fortunately, he just happened to have a convenient, albeit aggravating, relationship with the one demon who could help. He winged himself out of the car and found Crowley within two minutes.

"I need your help," he stated bluntly. "Go and get the Winchesters out of hell."

Crowley's grin was even more smug than usual and Cas knew the demon had figured out he held all the cards. "Hold on there, Zippy," he smirked. "Getting out of hell is a little difficult. If it was easy, we'd all be topside."

"I don't have time for your games," Cas barked. "You were but a simple crossroads demon and now you're the king of hell. You don't become that without having an advantage. You come and go from hell as you please so it stands to reason you have your own gate, one only you are privvy to. It's how you managed to take over. Now you will use it and go help Dean Winchester."

"Not unless there's something in it for me, lovey."

The angel practically snarled at him. "Fine. I will help you find purgatory."

"I hate to say I told you so but I knew you'd agree eventually," the demon gloated, nodding his head in acceptance.

"Just go get them quickly," Cas said and was about to leave when Crowley held up a hand to stop him.

"Nuh-unh, Hot Wings," he said, wrapping his fist in the front of Cas's shirt. ""You gotta seal a deal." With that, he pulled the angel in for a kiss, crashing their lips together with surprising force. Cas's eyes widened and he was stunned into compliance for what seemed like a very long and uncomfortable moment. Before he could pull away, however, Crowley broke the kiss and stepped back with a cocky grin.

"I am an angel," Cas stammered. "I have no soul to trade and you need my vessel's permission to lay claim to his and he did not give it. There was no need for ... that."

Crowley winked at him and laughed. "I know," he said bluntly. "Can't blame a bloke for wanting a little taste now, can you?" He raised a lewd eyebrow. "And speaking of, Casanova, you need to work on your skills. It's a tongue, not a fly swatter."

The demon disappeared, leaving Cas flustered and uncomfortable as he winged himself back into Sam's car.

Present...

Cas explained the current situation in heaven to Dean. He explained that he was losing the war to Raphael and that the Apocalypse would surely be set in motion all over again if he didn't stop the far-more-powerful archangel. He explained the offer Crowley had made and that he had refused the demon until four days ago when he had accepted the deal in exchange for Crowley's help getting the Winchesters out of hell. He left out the part about the kiss.

"Crap, Cas," Dean grimaced, not liking the idea of tampering with monster souls in Purgatory. "Can an angel be bound by a crossroads deal?"

The angel shook his head but Dean didn't miss the averted eyes and shuffling of his feet.

"You sure?" he pressed. "There's no contract?"

"No," Cas assured him. "I have no soul to trade."

"Good," Dean breathed. "Coz you're not keeping that deal."

"And how then do I stop Raphael?" Cas demanded wearily.

"I dunno yet," Dean admitted. "But we'll figure something out. Trust me, Cas. Pugatory and demon deals is not the way to go. We've taken down Lucifer and Michael and some other pretty big fish when the odds were more than stacked against us. We can figure something out, just please, trust me."

Cas pursed his lips and frowned as he held the hunter's gaze. Finally he nodded, still worried but thankful to have his friend back. He would trust Dean.

"Just give me a couple of days to get things in order," Dean continued. "I wanna teach Adam a few things and I gotta keep an eye on Sam, make sure he's alright."

Cas nodded in agreement but gave Dean a curious look. "And Laney?"

Dean rubbed the back of his neck and let out a groan, knowing exactly what Cas was referring to. "Yeah, I know," he sighed. "I know but I'm just not sure..."

"Not sure of what?" Cas pressed. "You've had strong feelings for her most of your life. I don't understand how you are still not romantically involved. You are not known to be cautious or hesitant around women."

The hunter arched a surprised eyebrow at his friend's boldness and chuckled. "It's complicated," he shared, for once allowing the personal intrusion. "You know, Cas, I've been with a lot of women but with every one of them there was always something missing. Even with the ones that weren't just random hookups or one night stands. I think a lot of that is because of her…because they weren't her."

Cas cocked his head and gave him a confused look. "Then why didn't you just be with her?"

"There's always been something in the way," Dean explained. "First Lilith had my contract and it seemed cruel to make something of it if I was going to die. Next time I saw her we were a couple of weeks away from letting Lucifer out of the cage and I didn't want to drag her into that. Then she disappeared off the map and I couldn't find her when Sam died and…well then I was with Lisa."

"So what's in your way now?"

Dean snorted. "Nothing. I'm a coward is what it is." He gave Cas a sheepish look. "You were right. What you said before about me and being happy. I still don't know if I deserve it or not but I'll be honest, it scares me. I'm scared it'll all get ripped away."

"I think you should at least try," Cas said solemnly. "I for one would like to see you happy, Dean."

Dean pushed himself off the Impala, feeling a little awkward at the turn the conversation had taken and at Cas's open admission. "Thanks, dude," he managed, knowing the angel was being sincere. "And you know what? You're right."

"Well here's your chance," Cas announced, "For she is coming now. I shall take my leave."

He disappeared before Dean could say goodbye and the hunter looked past where the angel had been standing to see Laney approaching from the house.

"Here goes nothing," he mumbled under his breath, then added "I can't believe I'm taking advice on women from a virgin."

Laney smiled as she came to stand next to him, peering into the Impala's trunk. "Feel good to have your baby back on the road?"

"Yes. Definitely yes," Dean answered truthfully. There was a silence that extended just a heartbeat past comfortable as they both stood there staring at each other. "Uhh, how's Sam doing?" he asked a little nervously.

"He's good. Him and Bobby are teaching Adam the basics of exorcisms."

"And you? How are you doing?"

She smiled and leaned back against the car. "You need to stop asking me that."

"What? Can't a guy worry?"

"What I mean is you need to stop thinking of me as your responsibility." She was still smiling but her expression was serious.

"Uh, not sure what you're getting at."

She bit her lower lip for a second before answering. "It's something you said in hell. You said you needed to take care of me. That you didn't before and that for once you needed to."

Dean nodded, remembering the conversation vividly. "I was just trying to get you to stop being so damn stubborn and go with Cas," he grinned.

A chuckle rolled through her shoulders before she reached out and touched his arm "You don't still think you failed me in some way back when we were kids, do you?" she asked more quietly.

Dean let out an uncomfortable breath. "I did," he admitted. "Until that moment, I did. See, usually I like to save the beautiful maiden but with you, I never seem..."

"You think you never saved me?" She gave him a look of incredulity. "Dean, all you've ever done is save me! Again and again. It's actually kind of embarrassing. I'm like a chronic damsel in distress around you. And I don't do the damsel in distress thing…"

He cut her off by pressing his lips against hers, his hands coming up to cup her face. He had always been able to express himself better through actions than words. He waited until he got a reaction before moving his mouth on hers and deepening the kiss. "I like damsels in distress," he breathed, finally withdrawing for air. "They're usually grateful."

"Oh yeah?" she giggled between her returned kisses. "And how would one of these damsels express her gratitude?"

His eyebrow waggled at her lewdly. "Well you're off to a good start," he assured her before dipping in for another lengthy kiss, his hands gliding down to her waist and lifting her onto the trunk of the car. Within seconds he felt her arms slide around him and before he knew it, he was being drawn up into the same all-encompassing intimacy that he had felt that one night they had spent together, the night he had never forgotten.

"You know what's weird?" she whispered breathlessly when he broke the kiss to catch his own breath.

"What's that?" he asked, moving to nibble on her ear.

"I feel like I know you better than I know anyone else in the world, except maybe Adam," she told him, "But in fact, I really don't know anything about you."

Dean laughed. It was true. He felt the same way. They hadn't spent a lot of time together in the two decades they had known each other, but he realized he was looking forward to discovering all the little things about Laney he didn't yet know. Her quirks and her secrets and even her flaws.

"Well I'm an Aquarius," he said, kissing her neck and enjoying the quivering sensation of her laugh on his lips. "I like classic rock, classic cars, and cheeseburgers." He moved to her collarbone, brushing her shirt gently to the side. "I hate doing laundry. I usually avoid politics but would have voted for Obama if I had been legally alive at the time…" He moved back up to her lips and his voice grew husky. "Oh, and I like porn."

She laughed into his mouth and the hand on the back of his neck pulled him closer. "What do you say we leave some things open for discovery?"

He let his own hands slide up her thighs as he pressed himself against her and kissed her again. He could hardly believe this was happening and could feel himself getting swept away in the moment. It was as if he couldn't get enough of her. The fading light of dusk and the cool air in Bobby's yard melted away around him and she filled his every sense. Damn – this felt so right.

"Laney, I love you," he blurted without warning, pulling back to rest their foreheads together and lock his eyes on hers.

There – he had said it. For the first time in his life, he had completely put his heart on the table, opened himself up to the possibility of true happiness.

Laney's heart literally skipped a beat at the sound of those words coming from Dean's mouth. Had she just heard that right? Could this really be happening?

She opened her eyes to connect with his and was floored by what she saw. There he was - her protector, her saviour, looking so vulnerable and scared, his heart now held entirely in her hands. She had never heard those words spoken to her before and to hear them now, coming from Dean, her Dean, was overwhelming. She struggled for the right words but none came.

Dean kept his eyes locked on hers for what seemed like a long time, his heartbeat thumping loudly in his chest, before he finally let out an uncomfortable huff of chuckle.

"I was kinda hoping for a response..." he smiled nervously.

Laney snapped out of it and managed a laugh. She tilted her head and leaned towards him, her mouth finding his for a long, slow kiss before pulling away to whisper in his ear. "Dean, I've loved you since I was ten years old." Her hand instinctively reached for the locket around her neck, tugging it out of her shirt and her fingers wapping around it. His eyes followed hers as she glanced down to look at the inscription. "Forever yours, remember?" she smiled tenderly, giving him a look that unmistakably told him how she felt.

His reply was another kiss but this one was anything but light or gentle. His fingers wrapped themselves in her hair behind her neck and his mouth practically devoured hers as he pulled her towards him. She was startled by his sudden vigor but the passion behind his kiss wiped away any coherent thoughts.

"I have a confession to make," she panted when his hand slid inside her jacket up under the hem of her shirt.

"What's that?" he answered without stopping what he was doing with his mouth nor his hands.

She arched upwards slightly towards him and hooked her legs behind him. "I like porn too," she whispered in his ear.

~x~x~x~x~x~

Bobby grinned across the table at the latest addition to his brood. Adam was a quick learner and was picking up the Latin as quickly as Sam had as a child. Dean's strong suit had always been the weaponry and the fighting but Adam was more like the taller of his brothers and had a knack for the lore and the languages.

The older man glanced over at Sam, who was sitting at the kitchen table with them but hadn't joined in the lesson. He had been quiet the whole time, sitting watching them with a far away look in his eye, his jaw clenched tight with restraint of something. Bobby had to admit the young hunter was doing well with all things considered, but he was clearly struggling with some inner turmoil and the older man's heart bled for him as he watched the struggle played out on Sam's face. He wished there was something more he could do for him.

"You want another coffee?" he offered, feeling utterly helpless.

"I'll get it," Adam offered quickly, springing to his feet and heading to the stove where the pot was still brewing, its contents likely nothing more than a black sludge by now.

Bobby grunted his approval. The kid sure did seem concerned about Sam. He was a bit of a complainer, griping constantly about Bobby not having an X-box or even a Playstation in the house, but that was exactly like Dean when he was seventeen. Actually, it was exactly like Dean now, Bobby realized with a silent chuckle.

"Ewww!" came a startled cry from the window at the back of the kitchen where Adam was standing, staring at something outside. "I think I'm gonna hurl!"

Both Bobby and Sam jerked their heads up and came over quickly. "What is it?" Bobby asked, his hunter's instincts kicking in and his shoulders tensing.

"My brother's out there making out with my sister!" was the disgusted reply.

They all directed their gazes out the window to see Dean standing behind the Impala with Laney perched on the trunk, one leg on either side of him and their lips locked together in what appeared to be quite the passionate kiss. Bobby couldn't help but grin. "'Bout time," he muttered, pulling his eyes away to glance over at Sam.

Sam was smiling. It was a weary smile but genuine, and it was the first smile Bobby had seen on the kid's face since getting his soul stuffed back inside. It was a fond smile, peaceful and full of love for his big brother.

He glanced back out the window just in time to catch Dean's hand slip inside the girl's jacket, clearly heading for a breast and all the onlookers quickly turned away, jerking their heads back round towards the kitchen. Sam cleared his throat but kept smiling and headed slowly back to his chair.

Adam wrinkled up his nose but grinned as he spoke. "Now that is just so wrong!" he griped to Bobby.

Bobby chuckled and gave the teenager a friendly slap on the back.

"Something tells me you'd better get used to it, kid."

The End

~x~x~x~x~x~

A/N: So that was my attempt at a love story :-) I left it open-ended so you can use your imagination to decide how they deal with Raphael and Crowley etc... After all, there's never a happily-ever-after for a Winchester! :-)

Please review to let me know if you enjoyed it! :-)