We've reached the end! Thank you for taking this journey with me ...
It was late into the evening by the time Tom and Sam got back from the hospital with Dean.
The doctor had been adamant that he still wanted Dean checked over, despite his apparent recovery. The elder Winchester had managed to argue quite vocally, considering his weakened and addled state, against being dragged to the hospital against his will; but the argument had turned rather moot in the end when Sam had simply flung him over his shoulder and carried him out to Tom's waiting truck.
Sam still had the bruises from Dean's fists on his back to prove it.
"He's fine," Tom announced brightly, as Bobby heaved himself up out of the easy chair he was dozing in to greet them; "they gave him a really thorough check-up," he added.
"And… " Bobby prompted.
Dean cringed; "you don't wanna know, I've had needles and freakin' wires attached to places I didn't even know I had."
Tom flicked a sideways glance at Sam and rolled his eyes with a smile. "Extreme exhaustion," he stated matter-of-factly, noticing how Bobby visibly wilted with relief; "he got a lecture from the doctor about looking after himself and a prescription for complete rest and relaxation for at least a week."
"Yep, and we're gonna see to it that he gets that rest," added Sam glaring pointedly at his brother, and ignoring the bird which was flipped in his direction.
"D'y know," Tom turned to Bobby, suddenly sounding very solemn; "I was looking through some of the notes and files that you and Sam brought back from that laboratory while we were waiting for Dean to have all his, well you know …"
"Don't remind me," grumbled Dean ingraciously.
"What I read indicated that something had happened in the transfer of the DNA," he explained; "the 'integrity' of Dean's DNA had been compromised in the transfer process and It meant that Jimmy's body was never going to be strong enough to hold together and carry out all the functions that it needed to do to keep him alive for any length of time."
Bobby and the Winchesters glanced past Tom at each other.
"Now, I don't know squat about creating clones, so I couldn't tell you what went wrong, but what I can tell you is that damage like that is way beyond what any kind of current medical science can deal with." He paused in thought for a moment; "that poor kid had no chance. He was brought into the world just to die."
"Well, it's a good job you found that incantation then," Dean replied; "although I hope I haven't got any more freakin' clones appearing outta the woodwork; wouldn't wanna go through that again!"
"Heck, I wouldn't put you through it again," Tom snorted; "if you acquire any more clones, we'd have to find some other way to fix them."
"Sam," Dean mouthed, pointing sneakily to his oblivious brother.
"Speaking of clones, how is he now?" Dean asked the question as he settled into the easy chair that Bobby had just vacated, looking decidedly weary despite his protestations.
"That's a point," Tom added, scanning the cluttered space of his cosy living room; "where is he? Is he okay?"
Bobby smiled; "he's fine, better than fine in fact."
"See for yourself," he added.
"JIMMY?" He called through to the kitchen; "you got a moment? Tom and the boys are back."
Almost immediately, Jimmy emerged from the kitchen, answering Bobby's call, and the three men turned to greet him.
It wasn't the lively sparkle in his eyes, nor the healthy warmth of his complexion that the three men noticed first, but the fat white ball of fluff, feet and ears cradled in his arms.
"Dean!" He gently deposited the fluffball on the ground and dashed toward Dean, practically pulling him up out of his seat into a fierce hug.
"Thank goodness," he gasped; "I'm so glad you're alright."
Bobby, Sam and Tom stood and grinned at Dean's bemused face, peering bug-eyed over his clone's shoulder, his arms twitching awkwardly in a faintly embarrassed reciprocation of the hug.
Eventually, Sam reluctantly decided he needed to rescue his brother before Jimmy accidentally smothered him; "Hey Jimmy," he grinned; "put him down, you don't know where he's been!"
Jimmy obediently obliged, letting go of Dean and stepping back; "thank you," he whispered; "Bobby told me what you did, I don't know what I can ever do to thank you."
"Well, you can start by never squeezing me like that again," Dean groaned, a wry smile playing on his face as he rubbed his crushed ribcage.
Jimmy smiled shyly, then turned back to face Sam and Bobby; "and thank you both too – you found Sam – I never thought I'd see him again."
"We're gonna have to give that damn rabbit another name," huffed Sam grouchily, trying to ignore the sniggers around him.
"I was just making Sam a nest under the kitchen table, Tom," Jimmy explained apologetically, crouching down to ruffle the rabbit's ears; "I found an old cardboard box out back, I hope you don't mind …"
Sam's eyes narrowed dangerously as he glanced across the room to see Dean, Bobby and Tom all shaking with barely concealed laughter.
"Yeah, and you remember those carrots you had in the refrigerator, Tom?" Bobby added with a grin; "well you need to replace them – soon." He nodded down to the ball of white fur sitting at Jimmy's feet; "that thing's hungry."
Jimmy watched with a smile as the fluffy white lump lolloped across the room to sit at the feet of his namesake.
"Hey Sam, he likes you," Dean snorted with a grin; "I can definitely see the resemblance."
Now it was Sam's turn to flip him the bird.
The night drew on peacefuly; both man and rabbit enjoying the convivial company and the relief of an ordeal that was finally over. The added entertainment of watching Dean unsuccessfully fighting the pull of sleep whilst Sam flicked peanuts at him just added to the atmosphere.
"I'm sorry I lost it with you," Sam smiled toward Tom, keeping his voice soft to avoid waking his dozing brother.
Tom shrugged; "You had every right to;" he replied. "I acted rashly and unprofessionally. I let my personal feelings for a patient get in the way of my judgement; I took a chance with your brother's life.”
Sam nodded, "yeah maybe, but Dean told me how you argued against it and how he shouted you down. Bobby's right you know, that stubborn dick won't be talked out of anything."
"Y' know I heard that?" mumbled Dean, cracking one eye open with effort.
"Good," snorted Sam.
"An' now you and Tom have undone the damage those morons did at the lab, you know you're gonna have to get used to having an identical twin permanently now," Sam grinned, watching as Jimmy, oblivious to the conversation around him, sat on the floor feeding Sam the voracious rabbit with the last of Tom's carrots.
"Yeah," Dean replied, sleepily stifling a yawn; "well, it's better'n havin' an identical rabbit."
Sam shook his head with a smile.
"I'll tell you something else I know," Dean mumbled before he finally surrendered to his much-needed sleep.
"I know that next time we're broke, I'm sendin' your ass straight downtown so you can go an' get that frickin' job!"
An uneventful week passed during which life settled into a peaceful routine.
Staying over at the chaotic jumble of rooms adjoining Tom's little clinic, Dean grudgingly took the rest that he had been advised by the doctor to take, while Sam busied himself fussing over Dean and routinely getting nothing but grumbling abuse for his troubles.
Tom and Bobby finally managed to grab some long-awaited downtime, and even managed to enjoy one of their much-loved John Wayne movies, despite the fact that Dean sat crunching popcorn all the way through it.
Jimmy for his part was relishing every moment of his new life; caring for his rabbit, sitting for hours while Sam and Bobby showed him how to read, learning how to cook, listening to music and discovering the joys of movies and bad daytime TV, although, despite Dean's protestations that it was 'educational', Sam drew the line at exposing him to online porn.
Jimmy learned voraciously and, although being far from worldly-wise, his capacity and enthusiasm for learning was formidable. It was a joy to watch him grow and develop day after day, becoming more comfortable and confident.
The day that he beat Dean at Poker prompted, as well as much hilarity amongst onlookers, the most spectacular sulk that Sam had been privileged to witness since Dean's teenage years.
But despite the general air of relief and good feeling that pervaded Tom's modest accommodation, there was one massive, unspoken question hanging in the air.
Now Jimmy finally had a long term future, what was he going to do with it?
It was at breakfast on the eighth day, that Tom spoke up on the subject.
He was well aware that Dean's recovery was all but complete and as a result, the elder Winchester was starting to get itchy feet. The hunt was calling; and calling loudly.
Tom, for his part, couldn't blame him. Tom's place wasn't tiny, but it wasn't huge either and with only two aging beds and one bathroom, accommodating five grown men at the same time was proving demanding in the extreme.
Sitting at the head of the breakfast table, he took a long draught of his coffee before he addressed the assembled company.
"I've been thinking," he began.
"Dean glanced up; "do we need to call the fire department?" he mumbled through a mouth stuffed with chewed bacon.
He was rightfully ignored.
"I've been thinking," Tom repeated, with extra emphasis for easily distracted ears; "if there's one thing this whole caper has taught me, it's that I'm not getting any younger."
Sam, Bobby and Jimmy shot him quizzical looks; Dean was still far too engrossed with his breakfast to tear his eyes away from his burgeoning plate.
Tom smiled; "I know it's difficult to believe, looking at this Adonis-like physique," he patted his barrelesque midriff and grinned; "but there's more years gone than there are left to go, and hell, I must've aged ten freakin' years when we were doing that damned incantation."
"Don' worry Tom," snorted Dean; "you'll still be a hundred years younger than Bobby."
He received a slap upsides the head for his trouble and nearly choked on a mushroom.
"But Tom, you're fine," Jimmy smiled, pausing momentarily before the smile fell into a look of fear so abject it was heartbreaking; "you are, aren't you?"
"I'm fine son," Tom smiled as he gave the clone's arm a reassuring pat; "but I gotta face facts that in ten, maybe fifteen years, I'm gonna start getting to an age where I ain't gonna be fit enough to do the things I do now." He glanced pointedly at Dean; "like hauling heavy-assed unconscious hunters around."
"So, what ya sayin'," Bobby asked, his brow furrowing in concern; "you givin' it up?"
Tom shook his head firmly; "no Bobby, not at all, the opposite in fact."
"See, the thing is, when I was in the police department, I know it's a cliché, but I really was married to the job. Never found me the time to meet a nice Mrs Mathews. I got no children," he paused; "or none that I know of anyway," he added with a wink, "and lately I been getting to thinking that without a kid to hand my little empire down to, who's gonna be taking care of our hunters when I'm too antique to do it?"
Bobby's face softened into a knowing smile; suddenly he knew where Tom was going with this.
"Tom, you need an apprentice," he prompted.
Dean finally found the attention to look up from his scrambled egg.
"I do," Tom smiled with a slow nod. He turned to Jimmy whose saucer-wide eyes clearly indicated that he had some notion of what was being discussed; "job's yours if you want it, son."
"M-me?" Jimmy stammered, looking around the table to see if anyone was laughing at a prank being played. He saw nothing but supportive smiles.
"Why not?" Tom encouraged quietly; "you're young, you're strong, you're clearly smart, and the one thing that makes me believe you'll be an amazing doctor is that you've got a well of compassion in you so deep, I can't even begin to imagine where it ends."
Jimmy's mouth dropped into a shocked gape, as he looked around the table.
"I think you'd be awesome," Sam grinned, slapping him on the back; "and you couldn't have a better teacher."
"You couldn't have better DNA either," Dean added with a wry grin; "'course you're smart – you got my brain."
"Yeah, only he chooses to use it," grunted Bobby, ignoring Dean's outraged pout.
Jimmy turned back to Tom; "I can stay here?"
Tom nodded; "yeah. It ain't a big place, but there's only me rattling around in it; I can spare a couple of rooms to give you your own space."
A loaded silence fell across the table as Jimmy stared in stunned silence at the figures around him; his family. The expression on his shocked face suggested he was either going to laugh or cry.
Leaping up out of his chair, he pulled the first person he could reach, who happened to be Sam, into a bear hug.
"I'm going to be a doctor," he gasped, as if Sam hadn't just been sitting beside him for the whole of the conversation.
Delighted enough to momentarily abandon his breakfast, Dean reached across the table to shake Jimmy's hand," well done, dude," he smiled; "you gonna make the rabbit your nurse?"
"Oh," Jimmy's laughter ceased abruptly as he turned to Tom; "Please can Sam stay too?"
Tom grinned; "well not that Sam," he clarified pointing to the tall, wild-haired hunter standing beside Jimmy; "he's got work to do, but the other Sam can; I might need to ask for a few extra donations to keep the greedy little lump in carrots though."
Sam rolled his eyes as he heard Dean snigger behind him.
He was never gonna live that damn rabbit down.
Three hours later, the Impala was finally on the road. Dean sighed as he sat back, relishing the caress of his baby's leather steering wheel moving through his fingers as he toed the gas pedal. She purred her approval in response.
Sam was relaxing, sitting sprawled across the passenger seat with his eyes closed and his head lolling limply on the back of the seat, and the quiet time gave Dean a chance to reflect as he watched Tom's little clinic recede into the distance through the rear-view mirror.
It had certainly been a roller-coaster.
He'd been duped and violated in the most ridiculous way possible, and everyone had suffered as a result, not least of all poor Jimmy. But through all the ups and downs of the whole fiasco, Dean knew that thanks to his misfortune, the hunting fraternity was now going to be in safe hands for very many years to come.
And d'you know what? That was a pretty darn good feeling.