The first night at home without Dean, John had managed a half hour of sleep before he heard padded steps creep into his room. Instantly alert but not giving up his pretense of sleep, the man's hand tightened on the handle of his gun before he felt the mattress sag on the empty side. He felt a small hand reach under the pillow and lay the cold steel of a .45 near his own gun. John held his breath as his youngest son snuggled his way under his father's arm and curled up there. His heart broke as he could feel the trembling body that now sought his protection.

On one hand, John's heart soared as he knew now for sure that the bond he had worked so hard to form between his boys was solid. He knew that Dean must be taking care of Sam's nightmares every night, and he was proud of his oldest son. If something were ever to happen, he mused, Dean would be able to take care of Sam. On the other hand, his heart dropped below his stomach as he thought of the terror his youngest must be hiding from him at having to deal with everything that was thrown at him. Dean had had his own nightmares for a few years after Mary had died, but he had grown out of them and hardened into a cold killer. John was afraid that he was never going to succeed with that in his youngest boy; Sam was too much like his mother. John feared that that was going to be his son's undoing. Not knowing what else to do, the father simply tightened his grip on his son and lightly kissed the top of his head before falling into a light sleep.

The second night at home without Dean, John hadn't made it to his room yet when he heard his son's cries in the night. Rushing into his room, he took in the sight of his boy thrashing around in his bed. He stood, transfixed, for a moment as he watched Sam's arms flail, but when the boy started to cry, John acted on instinct. He rushed over to his son's bed and pulled him up into his arms; sitting back on Dean's bed and rocking the boy until he quieted. "Dean's coming home tomorrow, Sammy. Then everything will be all right again." He just kept mumbling that to his son until Sam was sleeping again. John spent the night there, protecting his son from whatever haunted his dreams.

John followed his oldest son out to the car, breathing a mental sigh of relief now that his family was whole again. He had feared for the oldest boy, vulnerable as he was in that hospital. He watched as Dean climbed slowly into the backseat and let his baby brother give him a quick hug. How anyone could think of separating the small family was beyond him.

"Dean, what happened out there? You know you aren't supposed to be going out on hunts by yourself. You should have told me what was going on."

"It was just supposed to be a water sprite, Dad. Nothing major. You said yourself that I could take Sammy out after those. It was only going after small dogs and cats. Whatever attacked us, it wasn't what we were going after."

"What was it?"

"I don't even know. I swear to you, Dad, it looked like one of those tree shepherd things that Sammy's reading about in the Lord of the Rings. I know they don't exist, but I swear that's what it was."

"Well that's why I caught Sammy burning that book the day I brought him home, then. He wouldn't tell me what happened out there."

"He burned a book? Voluntarily? Let me guess, he's reading another one already?"

Dean laughed when his father nodded, and finally told him what happened. "We were at the lake out near his school. We had just finished banishing the thing when I heard Sammy whimper. I couldn't have done anything, Dad. By the time I turned around, the thing had grabbed Sammy by the arm and had lifted him clear off the ground. I didn't have anything but my little pocketknife, but I went after it. It had to let go of Sammy. I don't really remember anything after that. I guess Sammy got us away from it somehow, the nurses said he carried me in from wherever we'd gotten hurt at. I didn't think he was that strong, and I'm pretty sure he couldn't have killed whatever it was."

"I'll go find it tonight. We won't have to worry about it much longer. I doubt Sammy killed it either, but your brother's growing up, I'm sure he's getting a lot stronger too. Plus he was worried about you, don't forget that. He idolizes you, Dean. Make sure you watch out for him."

"Always. Damn, I want to find that thing and kill it for hurting Sammy."

"It sure did a number on you too, though. Three broken ribs and a concussion so bad they kept you under observation for three days. You got lucky, son. You or your brother could have been hurt so much worse. I'm just glad you're okay. I want you to keep something more than a pocketknife on you from now on though. Do you understand?"

Dean nodded and watched as Sam scampered in from school. The neighbor had picked him up so Dean could take a few more days off to rest. He smiled as his baby brother waved his report card in his father's face, bragging about how he had gotten all A pluses again. He was jumping from foot to foot and grinning like the Cheshire cat. Dean hoped that his father wouldn't crush his brother's excitement; he could never bear the look on Sam's face when their father did. Dean was pleased when John gave his son a quick hug and put the report card on the fridge. Dean idly wished that his report card ever made it there. Then the two boys went upstairs to melt some more silver and John stayed downstairs, researching tree demons. Life went back to 'normal' for the Winchester family.