Sam stared at the words written in the flour and couldn't tear his eyes away from them. He swallowed, glanced at Dean and took a step back, shaking his head lightly. "This isn't Dad," he muttered and backed up another step.

Dean's expression changed a little. To people who didn't know him very well, the change would be too subtle to detect, but Sam recognized the caution creeping into his eyes, the first faint shimmer of doubt and despite feeling anything but good about this, Sam had to admit that he was feeling a little pleased that Dean believed him over those words stenciled into the flour.

All it said was 'miss you, son' but that was enough to make Sam doubt severely that this apparition was their father. And it brought him back to what Dad had whispered in his ear in that vision; that little detail he had left out when he had told Dean what Dad had said.

Again he shook his head lightly and glanced at the shimmer. "That's not dad," he repeated, solidifying the belief that he knew what this was.

The response to Sam's claim didn't come from Dean, though. It came from the outline, which solidified into a stranger; a stranger with yellow eyes. "Good call, Sammy," it said and smirked. "You're way more attentive to the little details than your brother," it added and made a sweeping gesture toward Dean, which sent him crashing into the cabinets with enough force to break a cabinet door.

Sam moved forward, intent on helping Dean, but was shoved back hard and slammed into the wall next to the door.

"Ah-ah, Sam. I'm not done talking," the Yellow-Eyed Demon said with a smirk on its lips. "Ah, I've got such plans for you, Sammy," it added in almost reverent tones.

"Get off me," he pressed out through clenched teeth. He knew what this was going to do to Dean, knew how devastated his brother would be when he realized that he had put his faith in the damned demon, and it upped Sam's anger at the creature now standing there in Maryann's kitchen, jeopardizing their option of regaining at least some of what they had lost.

"Not yet, Sammy. Not yet," the Yellow-Eyed Demon tutted. "You will have to be a little patient." It hesitated, eyeing Sam thoughtfully, then opened its mouth to speak again and froze.

A split second later, the front door opened and mere seconds after that, Maryann turned up in the doorway, her expression dark. "What the hell are you doing in my house," she snapped.

The demon tilted its head to one side and smiled at her in a way that made Sam's skin crawl. "Well, well, well, and here I thought only demons had the power to resurrect," it cooed and the smile turned into a vicious grin. "Mary, Mary, Mary," it breathed. "So good to see you back from the dead. Must admit, had a bit of a problem with the burning part, you know."

The corner of her lips twitched, her skin pale with anger. Then she glanced at Sam. "You okay?" she asked quietly. Her eyes were a luminous blue at this moment.

Sam nodded halfheartedly and glanced back over at Dean, who hadn't moved since he'd impacted with the kitchen cabinets.

Maryann glanced that way too, then reached into the pocket of her coat and pulled something out. "Get away from my boys," she snarled at the demon.

"Temper, temper, Mary. I'll get to you soon enough," it said and made a face at her.

"Really?" she asked, her tone dripping with sarcasm. "And do you really think that I came unprepared?" She raised her hand, showing it what she held, and it had a definite effect, because the demon took a step back, its expression suddenly tense.

"Where did you get that?" it snarled.

"That's my little secret, you bastard," Maryann snapped, rushed forward and slammed whatever she was holding into the demon's face. It dissolved into smoke and she proceeded to grab the object at the chain dangling from it and whipping it through the smoke, which made it writhe and twist, then rush for the nearest exit.

The second it was gone, the relentless pressure pushing Sam into the wall disappeared and he stumbled forward a step before catching himself.

Maryann pocketed the object that had the power to repel a demon, and hunkered down next to Dean. She slipped a hand behind his head, feeling for bruising and made a face. "Damn, he's going to have one hell of a headache when he comes to," she said and glanced at Sam when he hunkered down next to her.

"A headache isn't going to be the biggest concern," he said and eyed his brother sadly. "He thought ... the demon was dad."

She nodded. "I know," she agreed, then patted Dean's face lightly. "Dean?"

He jerked, then opened his eyes and stared up at Maryann for a moment. Then he squeezed his lids shut and groaned. "Ow, my head," he muttered.

Sam and Maryann gave him a hand up and helped him sit down on a chair because he was a bit wobbly at first. He glanced around, one hand pressed against the back of his head. "Where'd it go?" he rasped.

Sam glanced at Maryann, who kept her eyes sternly on Dean. "It's gone for now," she said.

Dean blinked, then looked up at her with a look Sam knew only too well. "Gone? How?"

"Yeah, what was that thing?" Sam intoned.

She sighed and hauled the item out of her pocket again. It was a silver pentagram suspended from a silver chain. "Bobby sent it to me," she said and made a face. "He got it off some priest in North Dakota, who in turn got it off the Pope in Rome from what I hear. He said it was thrice-blessed and would repel almost anything." She eyed it for a moment, then handed it over to Sam. "Looks like he was right."

Sam fingered it thoughtfully. It looked old, very old. "Looks like it," he agreed and glanced at Dean, then at Maryann. "How long have you had this?" he asked.

"About three days," she said. "I've had it in my pocket ever since."

"Smart move," Dean said and grimaced when his fingers touched the bump on the back of his head.

"How did you know to use it now?" Sam asked. "Come to think of it ... why are you home already?"

Maryann glanced from one to the other, then sighed lightly and sank down on another chair. "Long story short, it's been an exciting day at the Central Montana Medical Center today," she said. "Your father warned me," she added. "Insisted I should go home right away."

Sam glanced at Dean, who was staring at her with nothing short of confusion and disbelief. "Our father?" he finally asked and focused on Maryann.

"Yes," she agreed."He's kind of been following me around for a bit," she added and frowned lightly. "I've sensed him before, but never as clearly as I did today. And I had just gotten in an hour ago when I knew he was there. I felt him. He tried to communicate, but ... well, it's hard to understand spirits, isn't it?"

"So how did you...?" Sam trailed off, not sure how to ask this question.

"Are you sure it's him? I mean ... that bastard had me fooled for two whole weeks here," Dean inserted in the sudden silence between them.

"Yes, I'm sure. He looks exactly like the photos you showed me, Sam," she countered and smiled knowingly when the brothers glanced at each other, both too dumbfounded for the moment to think of anything to say. "I guess the urgency of this situation lent him the power he needed to become corporeal," she added and sighed. "One second I'm seeing this ... shimmer in the air, the next he's there on the floor. I guess coming back to the land of the living that way wears you out." She made a face and smoothed both hands over her hair. Her eyes were still blue and Sam couldn't help wondering if they would remain that way now. "Anyway, he begged me to get to you two as fast as I could. Dr. Faulkner is taking care of him. His strength was dangerously depleted and he passed out mere seconds before I left."

Sam stared at her for a moment, but had to admit that he had a whole lot less trouble believing this than the fact that the spirit of their farther was following Dean around for two weeks. "But ... why didn't he try to communicate with us before? I mean ..."

"I don't know, Sam," Maryann confessed. "All I know is that he was adamant about me getting here on time. Which I assume I did?"

Dean nodded lightly and grumbled something under his breath before leaning back on his chair. "This has got to be the weirdest two months of my life," he finally said. "I mean ... what are the odds?"

Sam frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"Well, in the alternate reality, Dad turned up in the hospital as well. Apparently, someone had picked him up somewhere and brought him there. But this ... this makes so much more sense."

The frown on Sam's brow deepened. "Are you feeling okay?" he asked.

"Yeah, man, I'm fine," Dean said and grimaced. "A little sore, but I'm fine."

Maryann leaned forward, eyeing him closely. "Still dizzy?" she asked, but Dean shook his head. "Your pupils aren't dilated. That's always a good sign. Headache?"

"Slight," he admitted. "But nothing near a concussion."

She arched an eyebrow. "You would know, wouldn't you?" she asked.

Sam made a face and tried to wrap his mind around what she had just told them, something Dean didn't seem to have any issues with. "Uh ..." he tried and didn't quite know how to put into words what was going through his head right now. In a way it felt fine, but there was still that grain of doubt niggling at the back of his mind.

"If Dr. Faulkner is okay with it, your dad will be released from the hospital tonight. In a few hours, in other words. I suggest that we stay here and wait for him," Maryann said, apparently able to read minds now too. Sam's expression made her smile. "I know that this would be foremost on your mind. So, no, I can't read minds."

***

Dean spent an hour lying down on the couch upon Maryann's insistence, but he was too antsy to lie still for long.

"What I don't get," he confessed to Sam, who was sitting on the big armchair, trying to relax, "is why this keeps happening to us. What the hell is it about us that attracts all the weirdos?"

"It's not us, Dean," Sam corrected him. "It's me. You've said so yourself before. I'm like a damned magnet for anything supernatural."

Dean eyed him for a moment. "I didn't mean it that way, Sam. But this time around has been particularly bad. I mean, how much crap do we have to put up with?"

Sam sighed deeply. "I don't know, man," he muttered. "Do you think it's really Dad?"

"We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?" Dean countered and hid the fear that this might not be what it seemed to be. But obviously whoever had turned up at the hospital couldn't be the Yellow-Eyed Demon, since that one had been with them at the time. He closed his eyes and draped an arm over his face to hide how he felt about being duped into believing that bastard was Dad.

"Dean, it could have happened to anyone," Sam said quietly after a moment.

Dean silently cursed Sam's ability to see right through him. He hated that he couldn't hide how he felt right now. "Yeah, well, it didn't happen to anyone. It happened to me. I should know better. I should have been able to see through it."

"I don't think I would have been able to either, Dean," Sam said.

Dean pulled his arm away from his face and gave Sam a dark look. "But you did. It said all the right things and I believed it like some damned novice. But it couldn't pull one over on you. You knew right away."

"No, Dean, I didn't know right away. And I had my doubts. I guess I'm just a little more paranoid than you are right now. After all that's happened lately," Sam said and grimaced while rubbing a hand over his stomach. "We both want Dad back. I'm just scared that it might not be him, you know?"

"Yeah, I know," Dean agreed quietly and scrubbed both hands over his face. Despite what he had said to Maryann, he did feel a little dizzy and his head hurt like a bitch, but it wasn't something that was going to slow him down. He didn't have a concussion, merely a bruised head. "Don't worry, Sammy. It'll all be okay."

"It most certainly will," Maryann agreed as she stepped back into the livingroom. "I just spoke to Dr. Faulkner. He said that if this isn't your dad, then nobody is," she added. "In other words, he's awake and making one hell of a fuss. He wants out of there and Dr. Faulkner wanted to know if it was okay if he let him loose on the world."

Dean smirked. That sounded like Dad alright. "Fine with me," he said and glanced over at Sam, who shrugged in reply.

"If it really is him," he muttered.

"I'm sure it is," Maryann said. "He felt real to me."

Dean glanced up at her, then returned his attention to Sam, well aware that his brother didn't have the same background info to find truth in her words. "I've been here before, Sammy. And this one ... it's okay."

Obviously still unconvinced, Sam settled for a noncommittal grunt and Dean let it slide. Some part of him wondered how he could keep hanging onto the hope that Dad was back even after all he'd just been through. The fact of the matter was that he'd had his wildest dream come true and had been forced to give it up again to save Sam and he just wanted it all right now. He felt he deserved it after putting up with all this crap. And, apparently, he was in the process of getting it all back. The thought of having that network, of having the emotional buffer to fall back on when things got rough, was exactly what he needed. And, even though Sam might not be aware of it at present, Sam needed it too. It was never too late to enjoy the good side of life and Dean had the distinct impression that they were heading that way.

And then the front door opened. The footfalls following that were old familiar turf and Dean sat up instantly, ignoring dizziness and headaches and all, and felt a lump rise in his throat when Dad cleared the doorway to the livingroom and stepped inside. He stopped and just stood there for a moment, his gaze shifting from Dean to Sam to Maryann and back again, and then he grinned. He looked tired, ten years older than his age, but he was back and alive and that was all that mattered in the end.

His gaze fixed on Dean and the grin turned into a smirk. "Let's try this once more," he said. Dean nodded, unable to speak right now, and Dad glanced over at Sam. "Good to see you, Sammy," he said quietly.

Sam's eyes were bright with tears at this point. "How do I know it's you?" he nearly whispered.

"You'll just have to take your chances, won't you?" Dad countered and that was obviously more than enough to convince Sam of the man's validity.

He rose, his movements still hampered, still slow and measured, but it didn't stop him from stepping forward to hug his father and to Dean, everything was suddenly right with the world.

Maryann, who stood next to the couch, slipped a hand onto his shoulder and gave it a light squeeze, and when he glanced up at her, all he could see was his mother. Now, this was how it was supposed to be, all of them together, fighting the evil of the world, and he couldn't help grinning like an idiot while Dad just kept holding onto Sam and Mom looked happy and teary-eyed at the same time.

***

Mary had realized the moment that she knew her sons were in danger that she was back completely. The emblem that Bobby had sent her had suddenly made a whole lot of sense and she hadn't been able to get back to the house fast enough. John's words had spurred her on and she had known what to do the second she had stepped through the door and felt its presence. Anger had rippled through her, lending her the courage she needed to face the bane of her life and when she had seen Dean unconscious on the floor and Sam pinned to the wall, all remains of fear had fled, leaving behind nothing but anger and the need to punish this creature that had destroyed her life.

Hours after John had turned up, they all sat together in the livingroom. The boys were filling their father in and John listened attentively to them. The look in his eyes had her on the verge of tears. He had clawed his way out of Hell without help, had forced his way back into the land of the living without help, and still he felt like he had been given a gift, like none of this had been his doing.

Dean was nearly manic with joy despite the obvious headache, and he was talking none-stop. Sam had many questions and was still apprehensive about the whole thing. All in all, things were the way they were supposed to be. At least in Mary's humble opinion.

And all through the talking and the listening, John and Mary occasionally exchanged glances that spoke more than words. Whether he remembered what had happened to him or had blissfully forgotten about it, he was back, he was whole and they were a family again; just like it was meant to be.

***

Two months later

Two successful hunts and one less successful one later, Dean was actually happy to be back on the road, back into things he actually understood. Not a day went by when he didn't call Lewistown to check up on Mom's progress and to ask what was new and with every passing day, he could hear only mom in her voice. It made him happy. It sent a thrill through him whenever he heard her voice and he was dying to go back to Montana to see her, to see how Dad was doing, but the hunts came first and the evil things creeping through the shadows of the world had not lain dormant while Sam and he had been out of commission.

Sam was back on track and actually better than ever. He did a lot of workout when time allowed for it, but had taken it slowly and had been careful at first. Once he could kick the shit out of a boxing bag, Dean knew he was fully recovered physically. He had spent some time contemplating the already fading scar on his stomach, but even that had faded after the first month.

The nightmares hadn't stopped, but they had become less frequent. They popped up when Sam was stressed, but other than that he slept through the night and rarely complained about bad dreams any more. Dean at times wondered if it was for his benefit or because it was true.

"Damn those spooks," Dean muttered under his breath and tightened his grip on the steering wheel. A simple salt and burn had gone south and had literally left Sam up a tree and Dean down a well. Sam had bruised ribs from the encounter and Dean had nearly drowned in the foul-smelling water. Sam had saved his bacon and they had eventually managed to find the bones of this malignant spirit, who had terrorized an entire village in the furthest corner of Maine, right up close to the border to Quebec.

"Yeah, but we got him in the end," Sam said and shifted a little, grinding his teeth at his sore chest.

"You okay?" Dean asked, unable to not worry about his little brother.

"Yeah, fine. Just a little sore," Sam countered. "You?" he asked.

"I can't seem to get rid of the taste of that damned water. Man, that was vile. Not even a good shot of Jacks can kill it. I tried to gargle with it and it didn't help," Dean countered and made a face in disgust.

"It's in your head, dude. You think you can still taste it, but it's not really there any more," Sam surmised and grinned.

"Speak for yourself, psychic wonder," Dean countered, but couldn't help grinning too.

A bit of time passed where neither of them spoke. Dean reached for the radio when Sam spoke up, "Dean, we've been on the road for two months straight now."

Dean arched an eyebrow. "Your point being?" he asked and hoped against hope that Sam would mention Lewistown in more than a passing manner.

"Don't you think it's time we checked in on Mom and Dad?" he asked and smirked.

Dean knew he was busted. He had tried to keep Sam's knowledge of him calling her to a minimum, but it seemed Sam was quite aware of how badly he wanted to go back there. "Nah, I think Mom's happy to have us out of her hair. I mean, she's got enough to deal with, having Dad hanging around the house."

Sam chuckled, then winced. "More than enough reason to drop by and give her a hand, don't you think?" he insisted.

Dean glanced at him and considered it for a moment, then sighed, pretending to give in. "Well, okay, if you think it's so important," he said and rolled his eyes.

Sam's grin told Dean clearly that he hadn't fooled his brother. "Yeah, I think it's important," he said and settled himself more comfortably.

"Fine, we're heading back to Montana then. It'll take us a few days, though," Dean said and smirked.

"Whatever, dude. Just get us there," Sam countered, bundled up his jacket behind his head and closed his eyes.

***

Three days later

Sam didn't really know what he had expected when they finally pulled up in front of the house, but whatever it was, it felt like home in a way that not even the apartment he had shared with Jess had managed to feel.

Tired and still a bit sore from the unfortunate encounter with that Maine-based spook, they climbed out of the Impala and headed up the garden path toward the small house. Sam was the first one to notice a considerable change. The name on the doorbell.

He jabbed Dean in the ribs with an elbow and pointed. Dean stared at the sign for a moment, then glanced at Sam, his eyes a little too wide. So this was officially no longer the residence of Maryann Gowers, because it now said Winchester on the doorbell.

The grin on Dean's lips was enough to pull one from Sam as well when the door opened. The woman standing there only bore a slight resemblance to Maryann Gowers now despite the fact that she still had the same height. She had lost weight and her hair was now blonde. Her eye color was a vivid blue and the smile was way more relaxed than Maryann's had been. "Hello, boys," she said.

Dean stepped forward to hug her, still grinning. "Hi Mom," he countered.

Her smile was warm and inviting. "It's no longer awkward, you calling me mom," she countered, then she turned her attention to Sam. "I understand if you have reservations, Sam," she started, but he didn't let her finish. Instead he stepped forward and hugged her too, holding her very close for a little longer than necessary.

"I guess those reservations are out the window," Dean said with a smirk on his lips.

"Totally," Sam agreed and leaned back. "Hi Mom," he added.

"Is Dad here?" Dean asked.

"He's out. He'll be back in a little while," she said and stepped aside to let them in. "Take the rooms upstairs. We've claimed the downstairs bedroom," she said and nodded toward the stairs.

Dean and Sam lugged their duffles upstairs, finding that they now had separate rooms in this house they could call home. Sam dropped his duffle on the bed and glanced around the room, unable to stop smiling. Who ever of his parents had been responsible for the decorating of the room knew him too well despite all his previous misgivings and as such he believed the decorator to be Mom. He still had issues with Dad that needed to be ironed out, but those issues were minor because he had a champion on his side that not even Dad could shoot down.

"You like it?"

He turned around to face this woman he had known as Maryann Gowers, nurse and extraordinary friend, and now his mother in every aspect, and he nodded. "Yeah, it's great," he said. "Makes me think you know me too well despite it all."

"Not me, honey. Your dad. And he does know you pretty well," she said. "We've talked a lot over the past two months. He's told me everything I need to know and a few things I didn't need to know. He's very, very proud of you and he loves you very much."

The mood became a bit somber at her words, but not in a bad way. "Does he ... remember?" he asked quietly.

"If he does, he's not talking about it," Mom replied. "Does he have side-effects? Yes, of course he does. But it's nothing he can't handle. He's had a few bad dreams, but nothing out of the ordinary and nothing I wouldn't have expected. He's come so far that he's itching to go hunting."

Sam made a face. "Are you going to let him?" he asked.

"There's nothing in this world or the one beyond that I can do to stop him. And I wouldn't want to. This is what he wants to do, what he needs to do. I just think the three of you should stick together in the beginning. Everyone needs backup," Mom countered.

Sam nodded. "Yup, that's for sure," he agreed.

"Hey, guys." Dean stepped inside, glanced from one to the other and back again, looking almost a bit timid. "So? What's happening?"

"Not much," Mom said and winked at Sam, then turned her attention to Dean. "I would bet money on that you're hungry," she said and smirked when his eyes lit up.

"Am I ever," he agreed.

She glanced back at Sam, who shook his head lightly. "See you downstairs in a bit," she said and shooed Dean out of the room.

Sam eased down on the edge of the bed and just sat there for a moment, his attention drifting, his eyes on something far away. It took him a moment to realize that he was no longer alone and he looked up to face Dad, who stood in the doorway.

"Sam," he said, nodding lightly.

"Dad," Sam said and rose.

"When did you get here?" Dad asked and stepped inside.

Sam glanced at his watch. "Half an hour ago or something," he said. "We nailed a demon about a month ago," he added. "Wasn't the one we're after, of course, but ..."

"Good job," Dad said. "So, you like the room?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah, I do. It's very me," he agreed and eyed his father thoughtfully. "Mom said you ..."

Dad made a face and pushed the sleeves of his sweatshirt up. "Ah well, she did most of the work here. I just made a few suggestions," he said. "Sam ... I've been meaning to talk to you ... about ..."

Sam eyed him for a moment, then smiled lightly. "It's okay, Dad. It's all in the past. We don't need to get into it."

"At some point we do, Sam. I've made a lot of mistakes and I haven't been the father you needed. But ..." Dad trailed off and shrugged lightly.

"I know," Sam said, stepped forward and hugged his father. "We'll talk about it some day. Right now, I think we should join Mom and Dean before he raids the fridge like there's no tomorrow."

Dad chuckled. "He has always been that way. A talker and an eater. I can still see him as a two year old, stuffing his face while trying to talk at the same time," he said and wrapped an arm around Sam's shoulders. "It's good to have you home, son."

"It's good to be here," Sam countered. Whatever came next, they had each other to lean on and in time Sam knew that his relationship with his father would be just the way he wanted it to be.

The End