John Winchester was afraid.

It wasn't something he normally admitted to, nor let show, because if the things he hunted sensed fear, they would gain the upper hand over him. If evil had the upper hand, John would be killed. There was no question about that.

It really wasn't fear that was getting the better of him these days, although it was certainly a side effect. What was getting the better of him was time. He wasn't as fast as he used to be, nor as perceptive. He was growing sentimental and soft. Last night had proven it too. They had walked right into a trap. John had been attacked before he'd even known what was happening, and he should have seen it coming. He'd been distracted by the reconciliation with Sam, and slowed by the simple fact he was no longer a young man. All three of them had nearly lost their lives because of it.

Oh, but Sammy had done him proud, taking over the situation, and saving them all. John was no less proud of his eldest. Dean's sacrifices were well noted. This last had nearly broken John's heart.

"Dad, you can't come with us..."

He'd been right of course, but rightness did not make it any less painful for either of them.

And speaking of pain...

John sighed as he stirred a packet of Goody's Powder into a glass of water. As much as the cuts and bruises left by the Daevas hurt him, his joints were what really bothered him. He didn't spring back from hurts like he had when he was younger. Just a couple of years ago he would have shrugged it all off and gone about his business. Now his joints ached almost all the time. In the mornings he was stiff and sluggish, his fingers swollen so badly he could barely button his shirt. He took some pain relievers - Bayer, Goody's, whatever was handy - and worked out the stiffness. There was no time for infirmity. Weakness would get him killed.

He had to admit though, there was going to be a time when he couldn't keep going, when he was going to slip up, and then it would be all over. Maybe that's why he'd redoubled his efforts to find Mary's killer. He hadn't told the boys, but he knew killing the demon might be the last thing he ever did. If he succeeded in killing the demon, there was no way its "family" would ever let him live and John wasn't sure he'd be able to out run them.

The drink was bitter. He swallowed it down and chased it with a cup of coffee. His stomach protested. He didn't care. Wincing, he sat back in his seat and looked around for his waitress. She had not left him a menu.

It was then that he saw her come in through the front door. She stalked across the room with her eyes fixed on him. John averted his gaze but he saw the faint smile on her face as she registered his discomfort. He concentrated on his coffee for a moment, but unwilling to let her manipulate him, he raised his eyes to hers as she slid into his booth. They faced each other over the table.

"Where are your little shadow puppets?" he asked, and gave her a little smile, simply because he knew it would irritate.

She merely snorted. "Off licking their wounds, like you and your sons. I'm calling this a draw."

"Call it whatever you want, Megan." John sipped his coffee and regarded her over the edge of his cup. The waitress came. Meg ordered tea - incongruously civilized. "That was a beautiful dive you took out the window," he added when the waitress left their table.

"I thought so." She smiled. "It fooled you, but then you still labor under the misconception that I'm human."

John ground his teeth. "You stopped being human the moment It ripped you from your mother's womb."

"Ouch." Meg pouted, mocking him. "Did I hit a sore spot?"

"What do you want, Megan?"

"It's Meg."

"Maybe it should be 'bitch.' "

"Ow. I did hit a sore spot." Chuckling, Meg thanked the waitress for her tea and sat back sipping it. "You had the perfect opportunity to tell the boys about me, why didn't you?"

"You know why."

"Ashamed of me, Dad-dee?"

"Don't push your luck with resurrection, Meg."

"And he threatens me! This is a first. I never thought you'd grow less sentimental in your old age."

He was startled by her reference to his age, and made the mistake of raising his eyes to hers. She'd somehow gotten into his head. She knew how to manipulate him too, what buttons to push. As he gazed into her eyes his breath caught, and his glibness faltered as memories he had fought so hard to suppress came surging into the forefront again. As if she were standing next to him, he could hear Mary's voice and in an echo from the past, his own responding to her.

"So soon? Sammy's still a baby!"

"I know we didn't plan on it, John, but it happens."

"You want a girl."

"Yes. Wouldn't it be nice? A little sister for the boys to coddle and protect."

"Uh-huh, and for you to play dress up with."

"Of course. Dean's knees are too scabby for a frilly dress."

"I hope you're kidding."

"I even have a name picked out. We'll call her Megan, after your mother..."

Born to a surrogate mother, raised by demons, and they'd given her the name just to mock him.

Meg was watching him carefully. A sly grin crossed her face. "Or maybe not," she whispered. "Your sentimentality is going to get you killed, John. It almost killed you last night."

He cleared his throat and regained his composure. "Using the boys as bait was your idea I'm sure."

"Of course. But I have to say, I also wanted to see Sam again." The sly grin broadened. "He's attracted to me. I'm attracted to him.Would it bother you to know he would have fucked me had he gotten the chance?"

John sucked in a breath. His fingers tightened around the handle of his coffee mug. "You stay away from him," he grated. "Or so help me I'll..."

"You'll what, old man?" Meg snapped. Abruptly she put the teacup down and leaned over the table at him. "Tell him the truth? Go ahead. You'll do more harm to him and to yourself than you will me." She regarded him with a look of disgust. "My genes got shaken and stirred by my Father. I'm so much more his than yours."

Looking away, John battled with his conscience. He'd kept the secret of Meg's existence for two years, ever since he became aware of it himself. Once he'd tried to reclaim her only to find her too far gone for redemption. Her analogy was apt. When she'd been taken she had been changed into a creature not quite human, not quite demon, but something in between. Frighteningly, there were more like her. They were everywhere. They blended in as demons could not do and yet possessed powers beyond those of any human. He didn't know how to tell his sons they had a sister, let alone one as warped as Meg had become.

John should have killed her when he first met her.

"I'll ask you one more time," he said hoarsely. "What do you want?"

He should have known it was bad from the way she smiled. Her languid motions as she eased out of the booth betrayed her pleasure in what foul thing she was going to tell him. She was savoring the moment.

"I came to congratulate you," she purred.

"Congratulate me?" John looked up at her, frowning. "For what?"

"Well, while we were all busy last night, you became a grandfather."

He felt the blood drain from his face, and his chest tightened painfully, so painfully he thought for a moment he was having a heart attack. The greatest of his fears had been realized. There was no hiding it from her. She knew it immediately, soaked up his pain like a sponge, and drew strength from his misery as only a demon could do. He grew weaker by a notch, and now, in a brilliant coup, she had gained the upper hand.

"No..." he whispered brokenly. "Oh, God. No."

"A little boy," Megan added, smiling.

John stood up to face her. His voice was low, and menacing. "Where is he?"

"I'm not telling you," she laughed. "But I may tell his father..."

He might have been slower than he'd been in his youth, but John Winchester could still move quite fast for a man past his prime. His hand shot out and wrapped itself around her arm. He jerked her close, ignoring her little squawk of protest. "I'm warning you, Megan. Don't push me."

"What are you going to do?" she whispered. "Stab me through the heart here in public?"

The eyes of several of the cafe's patrons were indeed on them. John let her go quickly and she stepped away, rubbing her arm and grinning. Her eyes remained locked with his as she slowly backed out of the restaurant.

"By the way," she said. "We've named him after his mother."

John closed his eyes and turned away, but he could not escape her. He heard her last words in his mind. They cut him to the bone.

"We're calling him Jessie."