Hey again!

I just wanted to thank everyone that has been reading and commenting on this story, I really appreciate the feedback and I hope you enjoy this final chapter. :)

Part Four

Bobby Singer was angry.
No ... scratch that. He was royally pissed.

He told that kid to stay put and given the fact that he had a freakin' broken pelvis one would think that he would have done as he was told, but no … he was just as much a stubborn and pig-headed Winchester as the rest of them.

So to say that he was upset to learn that Sam had somehow snuck out of his room was an understatement. But to learn that he had been found passed out in a wheelchair in one of the offices and may have set back his recovery by another week made him a steamroller of righteous fury.

He took out most of his anger on the staff and chewed out more than one inattentive nurse for not noticing a 6-foot-plus teenager sneaking out of his room. But really, he was mostly still upset about Sam calling him out of the blue after nearly a year of silence from the Winchesters and learning that Sam was in the hospital and that his fool of a father had taken off and left him there. He could throttle John for being such a bastard – that is, after he found him.

After he finished letting the nurses what he thought about their questionable parentage and told them to leave the room, he strode over to Sam's bed and took in the sight of the boy he hadn't seen in so long. He'd grown so much that he hardly recognized him except for his ever-shaggy hair. He couldn't hold back the internal blossom of pride – sure, he wasn't his kid or even his flesh and blood, but he was his family just as much.

But now Sam was hurting and clearly in pain even in his sleep, making Bobby's heart ache as he took a seat beside his bed with a heavy sigh.

Sam's eyes fluttered open the second after Bobby reached out and touched his hand, "Bobby? S'that you?"

"Hey, Sam. How're you doing, boy?"

"M'okay." Sam licked his dry lips, his eyes barely staying open, clearly doped up to the gills.

Bobby poured a glass of water for Sam and handed it off to him. Sam drank a couple of swallows before Bobby took it back again, "So, I hear you've been playing Harry Houdini and escaping your room when you should be staying in bed. You shouldn't be standing, let alone walking around, ya idjit."

"I took a wheelchair." Sam countered with a weak grin.

"Not cute. What were you thinking?"

"I needed a computer. I had to find out where they might have gone and what they might have been hunting."

"You find anything?"

"I tracked a bunch of recent mutilation murders in Oklahoma City and found that they all are clustered in a north-side neighborhood about ten miles from downtown. I think I had it narrowed to a couple of different creatures before I … well… passed out." Sam sighed defeated, turning plaintive eyes on Bobby, "Did you find anything?"

"I called a number of contacts that have worked with your Dad before while I was driving down here, but none of them knew what he was hunting – not surprising since your daddy had a tendency to piss off just about everyone he meets."

Sam nodded silently and wore a helpless expression that tugged at Bobby's heart, "But, I'll find 'em, okay? Now … what do you think they were hunting?"

Sam sighed, "I can't be certain … I mean … the mutilations, the missing hearts, the fact that the police think it was an animal or maybe a rabid dog that attacked them … it all points to a werewolf, but the lunar cycle is all wrong. It's killing people at random times and only one of the attacks occurred during the full moon."

"Hmmmm." Bobby was starting to get an inkling of what this was, "Could be a loup Garou. They're a lot like a werewolf, but more of a shapeshifter, really. They can transform into a full-blooded wolf at will at any time of the month and they retain all of their human intelligence when transformed, so they have complete control over their actions. Most loups are actually pretty benign as far as monsters go and they don't go after humans since most of the time they choose to live in human form. Usually they tend to stay away from people, but this one is living smack dab in the middle of a major metropolitan area."

"What does that mean? Why would he be going after people now?"

"Probably for the same reason serial killers murder their victims; he's some sort of psychopath."

"You mean he's just killing for fun or … pleasure?"

"Could be."

"But even still, Dad and Dean should have taken him out pretty easily and be back already. I mean … loup garous aren't any harder to kill than werewolves, right?"

"Actually … they're easier to kill and whatever kills a human will kill a loup."

Sam shook his head, his face a mix of confusion and fear, "There must be something else going on then. Dad's so thorough … s'not like him to …"

Bobby put a reassuring hand on Sam's shoulder, "I know, kiddo." Thinking of John and his meticulous nature when it came to hunting, Bobby suddenly had an epiphany, "Wait … your daddy … did he take his journal with him?"

Sam furrowed his brows, "Uh … I dunno. But, he usually leaves it in the motel, stuffed under the mattress so it won't get lost when we go out on a hunt.

Bobby grabbed his jacket and stood, "You know which motel your dad and brother were staying?"

Sam nodded, "Starlight Inn, room 118. You think he would have written down where he was going in his journal?"

"I dunno, but it's worth looking into."

ooOooOooOoo

Bobby broke into the motel room easily.

John had taken care not to leave his research lying around where anyone could see it and he had more than likely taken it with him, but one look under the mattress and bobby found that Sam had been right, John had left his journal behind.

Pulling out the leather-bound book filled with scraps of writing and notes, Bobby opened the book and started at the end. John's writing read like a freaking stereo installation manual, it hardly delved into his feelings at all, but still, Bobby felt a little guilty looking into this little piece of John's personal thoughts.

The last entry was dated the same day Sam said he had left on his last hunt and offered only a scant amount of info:

Six victims in Oklahoma City. Looks like the same thing as '85 – same area – Same M.O. Taking Dean with me to check it out. Sam should be fine on his own.

Curious, Bobby flipped back to close to the beginning of the book, looking for anything from 1985 that might give him some clues. He found one entry dated in October of that year that grabbed his attention:

Oct. 18, 1985: Something is killing people in Oklahoma City. So far 3 are dead – all missing hearts. Not a werewolf – lunar dates are off. Called Bobby Singer – he knows his shit and after the hunt he helped out with in Nebraska, I trust him. He thinks it might be a Loup Garou. I need to do more research.

Oct 20, 1985: Bobby offered to watch the boys while I go to Oklahoma – the kids seem to like him enough and they should be safe with him.

Oct 21, 1985: It was definitely a Loup. Caught her in wolf-form before she could kill some poor bastard in an alley on 60th St. One shot to the head and she was dead. The man I saved screamed at me and was crying, not making much sense, but he was probably in shock. I chased him off then salted and burned the body.

That was it – that was all John wrote on that incident, but it gave Bobby an idea of where John was heading and where his own search should start.

OoooOoooOooo

John should have known.

He had followed the clues, recognized the same pattern form years before – the same kind of victims, the same manner of death, the same area, but he had been blinded by his own overconfidence and now all he could do was watch as Dean paid the price for his mistake – all he could do was watch his son slowly deteriorate.

Even though John had bee cautious as he an Dean walked into the alley where the last victim had been found – the same alley he had killed the loup garou years before – he should have seen it all for what it really was; a trap.

Once again John cursed himself for his lack of diligence that night – he should have paid closer attention to the shadows surrounding them – he should have seen the man with the rifle – should have stopped him before he hit Dean with the tranquilizer dart and then was hit himself when he tried to drag his son out of there.

And he should have realized that something like this could happen – that a hunt from his past would one day come back to bite him in the ass.

He should have known …

John's mind went back to his first memories of waking up, sitting on the cold, filthy flood of some dark-damp, and musty-smelling basement:

He was secured tightly to a solid beam made of wood by heavy steel chains wrapped around his shoulders down to his abdomen. With his hands shackled with handcuffs behind his back and legs stretched out before him and equally bound by chains, there was little he could move besides his head. He made several attempts to move, but he was chained too tightly to do much more than bruise his wrists.

There was little light in the dark space of his prison, but when John looked up, he could clearly see Dean sitting across from him, equally trussed up and bound to a support beam.

"Dean?" He called out.

Dean grunted a little as he too started to come around and lifted his head, his eyes glazed until they landed on John, "Dad … wha? … where are we?"

John shook his head, "I don't know. But wherever we are, it's not good."

Dean looked around the bleak interior of their holding area, "Yeah … I kinda picked up on that." He responded with easy sarcasm and for once John was glad to hear it – it meant that Dean was at least unhurt … for now.

"Can you move any?" John asked.

Dean made frustrated noises as he tried his bindings without success. "Nope … I'm locked down tighter than a virgin's –"

A noise from above cut off Dean and they both looked towards the sound. A heavy door from the top of a set of wooden stairs opened and a bright, overhead light suddenly flickered on, momentarily blinding the bound men.

The sound of heavy shoes thumping down the stairs filled the cavernous space until they stopped at the bottom of the stairs. John's vision cleared enough for him to squint at the figure standing there, glaring at him with unmasked hate and contempt.

"Who are you?" John demanded.

"Who do you think I am?"

"How should I know?"

The man bent down, almost nose-to-nose with John, "We met many years ago. You don't recognize me? I certainly know who you are."

John searched his memory, knowing it that this man must have something to do with the case that brought them to Oklahoma City in the first place, he looked familiar, but he came up blank when it came to placing his face.

"Let me refresh your memory … 1985 …. The alley?"

Pieces slid together in John's head and he knew who he was now, "You … I saved you –"

The man's face morphed in to full-on rage as he advanced on John, pulled back his fist and swung, connecting hard with John's jaw. Fireworks exploded in his vision and over the loud ringing in his ears he could hear Dean yelling, "Leave him alone you son of a bitch!"

The man ignored Dean, grabbing John by his throbbing jaw until he was again face to face with him, "You didn't save me that night – you destroyed me!"

"It was attacking you!" John argued back.

"No!" The man shrieked, "I was trying to save her – from you! But you shot her … you shot her before I even had a chance to protect her."

"It was a loup garou and it was killing people!" John shouted.

"Her name was Alison, you piece of shit," The man spat, "And she was my wife."

"What?"

Before John's eyes, the man's body began to morph, shrinking and shifting while smooth skin was replaced with thick, dark fur until all that was left of the man was his empty clothing. Suddenly, a full-blooded wolf growled in John's face, baring its teeth as its hot breath struck his flesh.

John instinctively shrunk away until just as quickly as the man changed into a wolf, he shifted back into a human being. The man casually put his pants back on then approached John again.

"Yes ... my wife killed people, but only because she had to. If you knew anything about us you would know that we don't take pleasure in killing humans. We try to live amongst you as peacefully as possible, but there are times when killing is necessary for us to survive. Mostly we can live on animal meat alone, but there are times when it is not enough. For my Alison, that time came when she had our son."

"Your son?"

"Yes … our son! You think that humans are the only ones that will do anything to protect the lives of their children? She was nursing – she needed the extra nourishment because unlike human babies – you can't just give a loup garou baby formula. Our young can only survive on the milk of their mother and in order to provide that milk, she needed the power that only a human heart can give her. She didn't want to kill – she had to – for our son."

"She killed six people!"

"Six low-life scum, you mean. Two of them were drug dealers, the rest were homeless vagrants that would never be missed. You think she liked killing them? No – she hated it, but she would do anything for our son."

The man paced back and forth, almost frothing at the mouth, "But then you came along. You killed her – and because of that, you killed our son too. He didn't last more than three days without his mother's milk …"

The man stopped, tears in his eyes, pain radiating in his features as his voice choked, "I held him in my arms as he screamed and screamed for her until he became too weak to cry anymore. He died – withered away right in front of my eyes …"

Lips trembling and eyes burning with raw grief and rage the loup garou rounded on John once again, "Do you have any idea what it is like to lose a child like that? To feel so helpless?"

John had a flash of Sam come to his mind, trapped under the rubble of that old house, not knowing if he was going to make it to the hospital in time or not. Yes … John knew what helplessness felt like.

"Why now? All of this happened years ago."

"Why now? I'll tell why now … because my son would be fifteen years old right now if he had lived. The age where he would first be able to shift – the age where he would come into his own, but he never got the chance because of you. And now you will know what it feels like to have everything you love taken from you and before I rip out your throat with my own teeth, you will get the chance to watch your own son wither away just as I did." He turned and pointed at Dean, "How long do you think he can go without water – three – four days?"

John fixed him with a steely, dangerous glare, "You leave him alone."

"Oh don't worry … I will."

With that, the man spit in John's face then turned sharply away and charged up the stairs, slamming the door shut and locking it behind him.

True to his word, the man left Dean alone; he never touched him, nor did he give him any water. He came back every night with water for John, completely ignoring Dean's need for the life-sustaining fluid and when John refused to drink unless Dean was given some as well, the man merely pried John's mouth open before pouring the water down his throat and forcing him to swallow. "You need to be alive to see this." He would say.

At first, Dean would curse the man with every name in the book whenever he came around, questioning his parentage with the kind of colorful language that even John was a little shocked to hear. But each day, Dean's resolve grew a little weaker – his snide remarks less frequent – his sarcasm less biting - until he grew quiet to the point where John was almost begging Dean to speak – to stay with him.

And then delirium set in which scared John even more than his son's quietness.

Dean muttered, unaware of what he was saying, speaking to shadows on the wall – talking to Sam – telling him he was sorry for leaving him. Dean's lucid moments quickly become fewer and farther away, and each time Dean lost touch with reality, John felt his own soul being ripped to shreds.

"D-dad?" John pulled his head up sharply at the sound of Dean's weak voice, hoping that this time around he was actually with him. Dean had been quiet for hours and John had worried that he had slipped into something deeper than sleep and he had strained to listen to his ragged breath, praying that each one would be followed by another.

"Dean?"

"Thirsty …" Dean's head lolled to his shoulder, face pale, lips dried and chapped while his glassy eyes almost seemed to look right through John. Dean trusted him to get them out of this, but this time, his son's faith in him may have been misplaced.

"I know. " He tried to console him, even as his voice threatened to fail him, "Just hang on a little longer, okay?"

Dean's eyes slipped closed, "Tried … m'tired."

"Stay with me, Dean." He begged, "Please … you can do it. Think about Sammy, huh? He's sitting in that hospital bed and you know he's waiting for you to get back. You can't give up … not like this. You hear me?" John voice rose in pitch and volume, hoping desperately that he was getting through to his son.

"M'sorry … Sammy …" Dean whispered, his head rolling forward.

"Dean?" John called out, but received no response. His heart skipped when he couldn't hear him breathing, "Dean!"

The door at the top of the steps opened and a silhouetted figure stood, his shadow casting a long path down staircase.

"Goddammit!" John shouted at the top of his voice, "You fucking bastard! Let him go! He didn't do anything to you!"

The man walked slowly down the stairs and stopped when he was in front of John, "As my son did nothing to you." He bent a knee beside Dean and touched his neck, feeling for a pulse. He looked up and smiled at John wickedly, "Not much longer now. So … how does it feel to watch him die?"

"Go to Hell." John spat.

"Not before you." The man replied coolly.

He stood and stepped away from Dean, starting to cross the space between them when a thunderous explosion reverberated against the walls. The loup garou stopped short in shock, frozen in his tracks as he looked down at his chest, watching in morbid fascination as a bright, red spot began to spread and expand, soaking through his shirt. He turned and looked up the stairs from where the noise had come from then sank to his knees. His mouth opened wordlessly as a fresh trickle of blood escaped from his lips.

It wasn't until the loup garou fell forward, dead before his face connected with the floor that John finally saw the barrel of a rifle slowly being lowered, revealing the man that had come to their rescue.

OoOoOoOoOo

Sam watched the phone on the table beside of his bed as if he could get it to ring through sheer force of will alone.

He just needed something – anything - to ease the overwhelming dread churning in his gut. Bobby hadn't called since he left his room for the motel dad and Dean had been sharing and his anxiousness was growing with each passing hour that he didn't hear from him.

"C'mon, Bobby …" He muttered, chewing his nails down to the quick.

His thoughts drifted to the worst case scenarios as the day passed and darkened further as the sun set and cast the room in shadows. There was still so much he regretted – so much he hadn't said to Dean … to Dad. 'What if's' plagued him and helplessness washed over him, making him curse his injuries all over again as he was forced to just sit there and worry, unable to lend a hand and save the two people that meant the most to him – unable to walk across the room or even stand on his own two feet.

And seemed the longer he waited, the more everything began to ache. His head throbbed, hurting almost as much as his hips, but he turned down any of the pain-killers the nurses offered – he didn't want to fall asleep should Bobby call.

The pain and the anxiety only served to drag his mood down into despair. What if this was it – what if he was going to be alone now? What if this was forever – never to see his brother or father again …

Sam's heart started to pound and sweat popped out on his forehead.

Alone …

God … he couldn't face that.

His breath caught in his chest as his fingers and toes went numb.

What if they're …. no!

Suddenly he couldn't breathe anymore and his chest constricted. His hands shook while his heart galloped faster and faster along with his racing thoughts.

The walls began to close in on him – pushing into his mind – shutting him in like a lid on a coffin and he needed to get out of there – to escape. He needed to find Dean

I need Dean, please … Dean.

Sam was barely aware of hands gripping his shoulders, attempting to keep him in bed and telling him to take deep breaths. None of them were Dean – none of them were who he needed … none of them mattered. No one could help him.

He was alone.

Something sharp pinched the back of his hand and very soon after that, the darkness took him by the collar and dragged him into its depths.

OoOoOoOoOo

"Shouldn't he be waking up sometime soon?" An impatient voice asked, "He's been out for hours."

He knew that voice – better than he knew his own and he could almost reach out and touch it and respond, but everything felt so heavy – he was so tired. His thoughts too were slow in coming and he couldn't recall where he was or what happened.

"Give him a little time, John. Kid's been through a heck of a lot and it's gonna take a while for him to re-hydrate. "

"Don't you think I know that already, Bobby?" He heard his father snap then apologetically sigh, "I'm sorry … I just want make sure he's okay and I won't know that until he's awake."

Rehydrate? What was he, some kind of dried up houseplant that needed watering?

What happened again?

He had flashes of memory, of being tied up by a giant dog – but that couldn't have possible have really happened – that had to be a dream. Mostly, he just remembered being thirsty and wanting water so bad that he'd have happily drunk his own piss.

He figured that was his cue to try and break free from the lethargy pulling him down, but his eyelids were giving him a hard time and refusing to budge, so he let himself float off into the dark again. He had no idea how long he drifted along in that place between sleeping and being awake, but the sound of Bobby's voice broke through the haze and he once again struggled to bring himself out of his funk, especially when he heard his brother's name being mentioned.

"Did you try calling Sam again?"

"Yeah, I called his room, but all I got was a busy signal and when I called the front desk, the idiot there put me on hold for twenty minutes before transferring me to another idiot who didn't know anything."

Now Dean was in an absolute battle with his body to just wake the fuck up. Was Sam in trouble? Shit - why couldn't he move?

"I know you're worried, but I'm sure he's fine, John. Dean should be waking up soon and I'm sure he'll want to go to Sam as soon as he's up."

Damn straight.

"Yeah, I know he will. But still … I should have left him with Sam. Either that or I should have just let this hunt go … "

Bobby snorted, "Right … that'll be the day."

"Sam's hurt and in the fucking hospital … that should have been enough for me to want to stay put. And now Dean is … he could have been killed because I couldn't pass up a chance to hunt something," He felt a heavy presence sink into the mattress beside his legs and heard his father wearily admit something he was sure he'd never said before, "I've let the job take over and my kids are paying the price – they have been all along."

Dean felt like he was listening in on a conversation that was never meant for his ears, but suddenly he was listening intently and he stopped struggling to open his eyes so he could hear every word.

"Well … I can't say I disagree with you." The sound of liquid being poured into a couple of glasses filled his ears and the smell of whiskey near his nose was unmistakable, "but the truth is, your boys are turning into some damn fine men. Both of them are more skilled than half of the numbskulls that call themselves hunters that I know, but would it kill you take a break every now and then, huh? I know you got some kind of complex that drives you to hunt non-stop, but you can't kill every monster out there and you can't save everyone. Maybe it's time you took some time off – let your boys heal – get away from it all for a while."

Right … like that'll happen.

"I just … I don't know how." Dad muttered quietly, almost defeated.

"I think I got an idea." Bobby responded, "You just do it. You find some cabin out in the middle of nowhere – you shut off your phone and you cut yourself and those boys out of the hunting world until you're all standing firm again. Somehow the rest of us will just have to get by without a Winchester around for a while."

Finally, fed up with just listening in on this conversation, Dean forced one eye to open soon to be followed by the other. He was still having trouble processing the whole conversation – was his dad really going to consider taking time off? He doubted it, but the idea of it sounded enticing.

Dean looked up, seeing a stained acoustic ceiling come into focus. He turned his head and took note of a fluid-filled bag hanging from a coat-rack beside him, a long, clear tube snaking from the bottom of it and leading to a needle protruding from the back of his hand.

The pieces clicked together – he had a makeshift IV and he was in a hunter's hospital, i.e. some cheap ass motel.

"Dad?" He heard his voice croak, his mouth dry as the Mojave in summer. He smacked his lips and in the next moment a glass of cool water was being brought to his mouth and he was drinking down in great big, greedy gulps. He didn't think he had ever tasted anything as sweet as the water that hit his tongue, but all too soon it was being taken away and he was trying to grab for more with fingers that wouldn't stop shaking.

"Go slow, Dean." Dad instructed firmly, but gently which made sense since he had started to cough after his last mouthful went down the wrong pipe and caused him to choke. He felt hands lift him up until he was sitting, patting his back to help ease the hacking until he was breathing easier again.

"You okay?" Dad asked, his hand lingering on Dean's back.

He nodded, "M'okay," he assured his father, reaching again for the glass to slake his unending thirst. Dean's hand continued to shake embarrassingly, but Dad showed no sign of being disappointed in his weakness and helped steady the glass for him until he had finished the entire glass.

Dean felt immediately better after the water was gone and even better still after he was offered more. Once the second glass of water was down his throat, Dean felt his hands begin to steady and he finally felt that his thirst had been remedied. He still felt a little on the dizzy side as he sat up in the bed, but his thoughts were firmly entrenched on one thing.

"So … can we go see Sam now?"

OoOoOoOoOo

Sam woke slowly, his awareness returning in tiny increments until he realized sluggishly that his eyes were open and he was staring out the bright, sunny window.

Sunny?

It was night, wasn't it?

They drugged him. Those sons of bitches …

He must have been asleep for hours. What if Bobby had tried to call?

Turning his head, Sam looked towards the phone as it could speak to him and tell him whether Bobby had found his brother and father – if they were safe or not, but the moment his sight hit the receiver sitting off of the hook, he swore out loud.

Someone took the phone off the hook, probably in some kind of well-meaning attempt to keep him from having his sleep disturbed, but dammit – what if Bobby had been trying to call all this time while Sam had been sleeping the night away?

Sam reached for the phone, his limbs heavy as the drugs in his system lingered and he groaned as his shift in position sent a new round of pain from his hips and up his spine. He managed to flip the receiver back onto its cradle before he flopped back into his pillow and bit his lip to keep the pain from making cry.

He wanted to reach again for the phone and call Bobby like he should have the other night before he broke down like a baby and the nurses ended up drugging him, but the pain held him back and he knew it would be several moments before he made another go at moving.

God – he was useless. Couldn't even use the fucking phone …

Frustration overwhelmed him as he slapped his hand against the mattress with an irate grunt that did little to make him feel any less helpless.

"Hey … you trying to break your hand on top of everything else, or what?"

Sam's head shot towards the door where the voice he had wanted to hear the most had come. His mouth dropped open watching as Dean leaned against the doorjamb before he started to saunter across the room. His brother looked pale, tired, and somewhat unsteady on his feet, but Sam was just so freaking grateful to see him, that a goofy, wide smile erupted over his face.

"Dean! Shit … dude …"

Dean stopped by the side of the bed and dropped immediately into the closest chair, wearing his own shit-eating grin, "Eloquent as always, Sammy."

"God … you okay?" Question one on Sam's mind flew out. Questions two through a million would have to wait until he was satisfied with the first.

"I'm fine. Just had a rough couple of days." Dean responded nonchalantly even though the entirety of his body language screamed exhaustion.

"Dad … is he?"

"He's fine – he's with Bobby giving the staff a piece of his mind about not being able to reach you."

"Uh … yeah. Someone put my phone of the hook when I fell asleep." Sam didn't mention how he was pretty much drugged into oblivion and he was embarrassed with himself all over again for the panic attack that made the doctors and nurses fill him so full of drugs that he missed out on finding that Dean and Dad were okay. And he was mad at himself as well for jumping to conclusions and believing the worst had happened when he should have known that his brother and his father were too tough and stubborn to let anything kill them.

"So … what happened?"

"Oh you know, the usual." Dean started out flippantly, "Some pissed-off loopy galoo dude that crossed paths with Dad years ago kidnapped us and tied us up in his basement, ya know … typical Monday."

"That's it? Did he hurt you guys?"

"Well … Dad got a little roughed up, but nothing too serious."

"What about you?"

"Actually the dude never touched me …"

That was a blatant half-truth that Sam could see even through all of the haze in his brain from the drugs and Sam let his face do the necessary work in showing his disbelief, "Dean …"

"Alright … so he forgot that food and water are a couple of the basics that people need to survive. But hell, I'm okay and Dad's okay and the Big-Bad wolf if dead, so … nothing to worry about, right?"

"Of course I worried … I didn't hear from you guys for days."

"Yeah but, I hear from Bobby that you did some pretty impressive work trying to track us down and you know he wouldn't have been able to find us if you hadn't pointed him in the right direction."

Sam looked down and snorted a little at that, "It wasn't much and not nearly as much as I wanted to do." Sam sighed, letting himself open up, "You know … I'm not the most fun to take on hunts and half of the time I really hate it."

"Who … you? Pushaw, Sammy." Dean came back with some light and teasing sarcasm which Sam pretty much ignored.

"But you know, I think what I hate more is not being there to back you guys up. I just … I hate feeling so … helpless."

Dean reached out and ruffled Sam's hair while Sam batted him away good-naturedly, "Jeez, Sam … It's not like you're permanently injured or anything. You'll be back on your feet and helping us take down fuglies in no time."

"Maybe not right away." Again, Sam's head whipped to the door as his father walked in, followed close on his heels by Bobby, "Bobby and I have been talking and I've got an idea that I'd like to run past you guys."

Epilogue

Two months later …

"Gin!" Sam grinned, laying his cards down on the rickety picnic table.

Dean's jaw dropped as he protested the win, "What? No! We just started."

"I can't help it you suck."

"If this was poker you'd be the one sucking, bitch."

"Your fault for letting me pick the game, dumbass." Sam laughed while Dean tossed his cards up and let them fall in a heap.

John watched his boys exchange barbs while they sat together at the picnic table under the shade of an ancient oak tree about 20 yards away from him. He leaned against the railing of the cabin's back porch feeling a tingle of contentment that he hadn't felt in a very long time as he took a long, satisfying gulp of beer.

After Sam left the hospital, he feared what taking time off like this would do to his kids. Would they get soft, complacent, or forget how important hunting really was? And what about the people they could be saving? Who would save them? And what of the thing that killed his Mary – what if he was missing out on a lead that could help him finally kill it? On top of that, he wasn't used to staying in one place for so long – not since Mary died, but he constantly had to remind himself that this break – this summer – wasn't about what he wanted; it was about what his boys needed

All of those thoughts plagued him before they found this place – a little cabin out in the woods of Minnesota next to a small lake that very few people every visited. At first John found it hard, even in this idyllic setting, to stop thinking about what hunt was next or about what they should be doing instead of sitting around an abandoned cabin all summer, but as time passed, he realized that it wasn't just his sons who needed this break – he needed it too. And somehow, during these last few weeks the world kept turning and going on without the Winchesters.

And both of his kids were doing great, he remarked to himself as he watched Dean toss his cards at his little brother. Sam was back on his feet again, maybe he wasn't up for sprinting just yet, but each day he was walking a little bit steadier. Dean had relaxed as well. His smiles came easier and it was like a great weight had been lifted off of his young shoulders. Dean also seemed to bask in his role as Sam's PT instructor as he helped him to get his strength back, taking him for daily walks and going through all of the strengthening and stretching exercises the doctors had recommended.

John knew that this, like all things, would end. Sam would be back in school in a couple of weeks and John could see that Dean was more ready than ever to find whatever hunt came their way now that he had his batteries recharged. But until then, while the summer sun still took its sweet time setting each night, his only concern was looking after his kids. The crushing weight of the world that inevitably would come crashing back down on his shoulders could wait a little bit longer.

The hot August air, damp with humidity, hung over the forest like a misty cloud and he wiped a few beads of sweat that clung to his brow before pushing away from the railing. John watched Sam and Dean rise from the table, finished with their card game for the time being. Dean held out a hand to help Sam up, but he waved him away, determined to make to hike back to the cabin without any assistance and side by side the two marched up the slight incline, each one calling the other names and playfully punching each other on the shoulder.

John took another pull of his beer as a grin played at the corner of his lips.

Yeah … the next hunt could wait a week.

Maybe two …

The End