This is set sometime after the end of Season 1. While it doesn't break canon to my knowledge, it is definitely AU. John's getting ready to see the boys.

Disclaimer: The Winchester boys aren't mine. The Colt isn't mine. Wish the car was mine. But I can only blame myself for the Circle of Enoch.

Characters: Sam Winchester, John Winchester, Ellen Harvelle

Rating: PG (Angst, mostly.)

Summary: The oldest secrets are the hardest to tell.

Feedback: Absolutely! Concrit is always welcome!

Miscellaneous: As always, this would not have been possible without the brilliance of JMM0001, who helped me ensure that the epilogue was, indeed, the epilogue. Much thanks to wenchpixie, who always manages to make me smile…even when my writing is not. The good parts are because of them. The bad parts are all me.

Epilogue: Carry That Weight

His cell phone buzzed against his hip the moment he picked up the shot glass. "Hello?"

"Hey, Dad." It was Sam. He sounded tired as hell, but nothing like the description Missouri had given him the day before. John tried to picture what his son looked like now – how Sam walked into her house like a veteran, she said, as hollow inside as any soldier who sacrificed everything for his duty. Covered in healing wounds and week-old bruises. A swollen eye that he claimed had been ripped out by a demon. "Are you there?" his little boy asked, and John felt the catch in his throat.

It was always the little boy in Sam's voice that got him.

"Where's Dean?" It was the first question John could think to ask. The last thing he wanted was to fight with the boy.

Sam sucked in a breath, not expecting the question. "He's…in the gas station. Buying some lunch," his youngest son returned, and he wasn't trying to hide something but he wasn't telling the whole truth. Suddenly, Sam sighed. "Dean said you wanted us to call when we got to Nebraska and – " Sam coughed. "There's some stuff I need to talk to you about, Dad."

"Been getting Dean's messages. I know what's going on, son."

"No, Dad. You really don't." And that's when Sam sounded so empty inside, John wished he were standing in front of him – he'd say all the things he should have, before Sam went to Stanford. About the Prophecy. About how much his mother loved him, was willing to sacrifice her friends – some as close as family – so that Sam could be hidden from the Circle. Maybe he'd have stayed if I did.

"It can wait until you get here." John tried to smile. Someone had told him once that you could hear a smile over the phone. "I want you boys to get here before the Roadhouse opens. We need some time to talk before there's a crowd. You tell Dean. No later than 7:30, Sam." His boys didn't need to know why. They'd figure it out soon enough when they got there.

"I will." Sam sighed, and John heard his mouth open. Another intake of breath, like Sam was trying to figure out how to say something else without arguing. "I know this hasn't been easy on you. Keeping Mom's secret." John almost chuckled as Sam coughed nervously – he should have known the boy would put all the pieces together. "I'm the one you should be worried about now; one day, I'm going to wake up and it won't be the demon in my belly. It'll be the other way around."

Sam waited but John couldn't say anything. There was no entry in Dr. Spock about how to talk to your son when he was telling you about the demon inside of him, the one that crawled deep in his bowels while it ate him alive. Not even a paragraph. Even Jim would have been hard pressed to come up with a response to that bald admission. Sam swallowed and added, "But we've got a plan. Dean and I. So the thing won't Ascend."

"A plan?" It was something to focus on that made sense. Winchesters always had a plan.

"The Twelve. We're going to find the rest of them before the Circle of Enoch does." Sam was matter-of-fact – just like when he was explaining to his friends how to fight with a sword. "Charlotte's coming with us. But Ellie…" He could almost see Sam shaking his shaggy hair, wearing that perplexed expression he'd been sporting since the age of two. "We can't take her with us. We want to leave her at this place you've got set up, but we need to know it's safe for her. She's special, Dad." Sam's voice was soft, but it was almost a warning. "They both are."

That was an understatement. Ellie Jenkins was so powerful, Missouri Mosely was scared to have her in the guest room, and Charlotte Anne Webb was Circle-trained – and they were both part of the Twelve. Mothers of Legions. John had read enough to know what that meant. Looking for the rest of them was the dumbest thing he'd ever heard. John coughed. "They'll both be safe here, son. It's hallowed ground."

"This isn't about safe. It never was." Sam's voice was steely, and it got that edge that John remembered so well. "But we're not letting Ellie fight until the end of this thing." John heard voices in the background. Dean. His oldest son sounded like he was singing some song with a bad Japanese accent, and other voices were laughing – which only made Dean sing louder. "So, we'll see you when we get there. Okay?" Sam added.

It was the end of the conversation.

John wouldn't ask to speak to Dean. Even muffled by the distance between himself and Sam's cell phone, the boy sounded happy – John couldn't even remember how long it had been since that had happened. Not since Azazeal attacked them in that shack.

But his oldest son wasn't a fool. "That Dad?" Dean asked. "Let me talk to him!" John knew he couldn't do that, because then he'd have to tell Dean that his mother knew he was Gifted all along. That Dean's Gift was hidden to keep him safe. How many times had John caught Dean crying because he felt someone, some poor kid in the playground but usually Sam with a skinned knee or a lost toy, and John told him it was all in his head?

John Winchester told that lie so well, Dean sealed himself off completely.

John swallowed. "And we'll talk more then, son." He closed the phone and set it on the bar. He didn't even give Sam a chance to say goodbye, heard Dean's angry voice and hung up right when Dean called out 'Dad, wait!'

John slammed the shot of Jack Daniels into the back of his throat, and swallowed. The boys might never forgive him for what he'd done, all the secrets he had kept from them once they knew the truth; probably wouldn't forgive him for what he was going to do – but John Winchester had to know. Two decades of fighting the Circle of Enoch made a man cautious. Those girls were a threat to his boys that he could not ignore.

Jo was getting ready for the night, pulling chairs off tables and wiping them down, and some of the boys were giving her a hard time – watching her as she worked while they finished up their lunch. Colin and Pat liked to give her crap, tell her what they'd do to her if she took them down into the store room. Jo never did; just gave them crap right back. He used to wonder what his sons would make of her; Jo was as much of a con artist as Dean with an attention for detail that rivaled Sam's.

And no self-respecting Winchester could ever turn down a blonde.

John didn't even have to close his eyes to see her, eyes laughing as her hair swirled around her in the wind and the sunshine. Mary would always smile when he called her his angel, brushing his hair backwards as he lay on her stomach – listening to the small heartbeat inside that was his oldest son. He already knew about her, at least what she believed about her family for all that she had left it, and John wasn't about to call the woman he loved a liar regardless. If Mary said she could feel people's emotions, there was nothing she had ever done that showed otherwise.

She took a man broken by war, suffering from the flashbacks and the horror, and turned him into a functional human being again. John Winchester would have loved her for that alone.

When Mary started getting visions – slamming into the ground, arms covering her eyes as her entire body writhed in pain – about a war that was coming, John knew he'd always be at her side. He was a soldier. It's what he was trained to do. He might not have any fancy God-given gift, might not be able to fight with a sword like Michael or inspire people like Aaron, but John Winchester would fight for the woman he loved and the toddler she carried in her arms.

John remembered that night as though it were yesterday, sitting next to Aaron when that KISS song came on – how Aaron thought that was funny, but his laugh was heartbreaking. Aaron knew better than anyone that they'd never speak to each other again, after the bombs tore down the Repository and decimated the Circle's archives. But eight children would be saved, scattered to the winds, with those who were Called and those who were Chosen to protect them until they were strong enough to save the world.

John wasn't Beata. Protecting the world wasn't his sacred duty, a trust passed down for generations, but he stood by their side all the same. For his wife. For his son. And for the boy who was coming.

That never kept him from being Called, all the same.

Except John's Call didn't come from God; it was a scream from Mary. The night those bastards pinned her to the ceiling, gutted and then burned her, was the night the Circle of Enoch Chose John Winchester as the agent of their downfall. He knew exactly who it was; couldn't be anyone else with the children unharmed – even Dean, just as Blessed as Sam with no one the wiser. And Sam could spin the mobile above his crib just by giggling and smiling at it.

He didn't know when Missouri showed up in Lawrence, whether it happened before Mary died or if the Beata had somehow figured out that something was coming. John hadn't tried to call or contact any of them, even though he suspected Aaron was always living at that big old farmhouse of his and Mary made him memorize the number just in case he needed it some day. John was just going down the list of psychics in the phone book, finding someone who would give him a place to start, and he showed up on her white porch with the boys in tow.

Her eyes had widened when she saw him, one hand brushing Sam's forehead the way that Mary always did, and she ushered them all inside – a different name, but the same Eugenia who smacked her brother on the back of the head or argued with Delilah when they were making plans. And they talked. She listened to him ramble and made Dean eat pie, and John started to get a glimmer of hope – not that he could win, but that he would shove his war down the Circle of Enoch's throat anyway.

There was no way in hell they were getting Sam.

So he started running, teaching his boys what he could so they could protect themselves – making contacts across the country, finding like-minded people who knew something was coming and would help him make that stand. Jim. Bobby. Caleb. Bill. And when he learned that Harvelle's Roadhouse was built on consecrated ground, John knew he had his base of operations – a place sanctified against darkness, proof against the demonic things the Circle could throw at them. And when that wasn't enough, there was an army built out of people who lost something, who were willing to lay down their lives for a cause bigger than everything if it saved the world.

And that's exactly what John raised his sons to do, all the while burying the reasons why deep inside – buried under whiskey and the occasional lay – as he watched his boys become men.

He planned on telling them someday, when the prophecy began unfolding. Sam had other plans, and Stanford was part of that. And Stanford was probably how the Circle found him. John always wondered why they waited until last year to strike, except he remembered something Missouri had told him once about discipline being important and how a college education helped with that mindset. But John had a feeling the Circle would move, so he went into hiding – hoping the Circle would think he was deeper on Azazeal's trail than he really was, hoping the Circle would chase him and leave the boy alone.

He'd been played. Days after he went into hiding, Sam became the Circle's target. It was Dean – his smart-mouthed broken son, cursed with a Gift no one could teach him how to use – who managed to keep his family together.

Azazeal didn't throw Dean up on the ceiling when it caught up with his boys, but it sliced into Dean all the same – making his son bleed while the thing taunted him with the voice of his own father. John shuddered, remembering that touch – however briefly – inside him. Like a stone pressing into his chest, the fire burning in his brain. He still felt unclean, oily as all hell. Like years had been taken off his life during those minutes, and not a day went by where he didn't try to scour the stink of brimstone out of his hair.

"Little early to be drinking, Winchester." Ellen picked up the bottle of whiskey and poured another shot in John's glass, and then she slammed another shot glass beside his and poured one of her own. The sound brought him back to himself, and he snorted. "You've barely finished your lunch," she added, inclining her head to the half-eaten sandwich on the plate in front of him.

Her daughter was selecting another song on the jukebox, and Jo certainly had a gift for choosing the one song a man didn't want to hear on the goddamn thing.

Boy, you gotta carry that weight
Carry that weight a long time

"Your daughter is perverse," John said finally, clinking his glass with Ellen's before they both drank them down.

"Takes after her father," Ellen laughed in her husky voice. Blonde hair, darker than Mary's, and eyes that shone all the same. John wondered if she knew why he kept coming back after Bill died, why he never pushed, besides the obvious. But Ellen never asked and he never pressed. "I'm guessing your sons don't fall far from the tree."

"Sam fell farther than Dean," John acknowledged. He looked Ellen in the eyes, sighed. "I should have been the one to tell them, Ellen. They found out about the Circle from a stranger."

"Maybe so," she replied, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear – just like Mary used to when they took Dean to the park. "But they know now." She grinned at him. "And it's not like you've got long to wait to clear the air. They'll be here in a couple hours."

But they weren't coming alone and, no matter how he tried, John couldn't look the other way.

Missouri had warned him that things wouldn't be how he expected, warned him about the girls that his sons had picked up along the way – how the shock of both would cut him to the quick. The little girl who was barely six but glowed with such power, almost as bright as Sam – not that John would see it, but he took Missouri's word. And Charlotte Webb; there was a secret there that even Missouri wouldn't tell. His sons were willingly traveling with the daughter of that woman.

John Winchester would just see about that.

They were going to test them both, make certain they were exactly what they said they were. Missouri believed their story – even if the idea of two of the Twelve walking around like normal people scared the hell out of her – but the Beata had been fooled before. If they were infallible, the Circle would not have fallen and John wouldn't be fighting the damn war in the first place. "We should go over the plan again," he said. "I don't want any mistakes once those girls get here. If they're the threat I think they are, we're all dead."

Ellen's eyes widened. "You actually think a six-year-old is a threat, John?"

"What better way to make us drop our guard than to send a child here?" he retorted. "And don't even get me started on the other one. Circle-trained?" John snorted. "That means she's got a psychic Gift, and years of martial arts training. And they're both part of the Twelve? That's too much of a coincidence, El."

"Doesn't feel right telling those boys this is a safe place, and then setting a trap." Ellen could be damn stubborn, but suddenly she shook her head. "No, you're right." She raised her voice. "Jo, honey, round up the boys and get some beer from the store room." Jo made a face, but started calling out names all the same. Ellen's eyes focused on John's face. "But what if those girls are innocent?"

It was the million dollar question, but he couldn't take their story on face value. He'd do whatever it took to keep his boys safe. No matter how much it would hurt seeing their faces when the plan went down. But if those girls were from the Circle, John would know and he'd deal with them; they wouldn't be the boys' problem anymore. But what if those girls are innocent? John sighed. He'd figure something out. He knew Dean would toe the line; it was the first lesson. The only lesson. Keeping Sam safe was all that mattered.

I'm the one you should be worried about now; one day, I'm going to wake up and it won't be the demon in my belly. It'll be the other way around.

Ellen poured him another shot.


John's reference to Mary healing him was, indeed, meant to be taken as a nod to PTSD. I haven't decided how much of an impact this will have on the overall story.

The title of the chapter is a song by The Beatles.

And because this can never be said enough: This little romp through the world of Apocryphal prophecy would not have been possible without the fabulous J and my brain-twin wenchpixie. I am a much better writer for having met these ladies. I'd also like to thank the folks who took the time to read this; it's a little out there, and I appreciated the time taken to do so.

The next story in the series is called Beneath the Hollow.