Title: An Old Man's Winter Night

Summary: 'I told Sammy you were possessed.' John learns that Dean wouldn't have allowed them to have Max's childhood. Like father, like son.

Rating: PG-13


John had never considered alcohol to be one of his vices. Obstinacy was, according to many. And obsession, according to even more, but he had never once considered himself an alcoholic. Never had he felt in danger of becoming one.

At least not until he woke one morning, his head on fire, and bound to the kitchen chair with his own handcuffs. Dean, eleven, and just as stubborn as his old man, glaring like a wildcat from across the room. There was a bruise blossoming across one sharp cheekbone. It promised to be spectacular in an hour or two, and must have hurt like a bitch.

"Dean?"

Sweet Christ, what did he drink last night?

John blinked, and when he opened his eyes again, Dean was closer, his arms crossed across his chest making him look far more intimidating than any eleven year old should have the right to.

"Dean, what the hell happened here?" He glanced around the kitchen, noting the over turned table and the shattered dishes. "Where's your brother? Who hit you, and why the hell am I tied to a chair?"

Dean's stern glare wavered slightly, whether in fear, or in anger, John couldn't tell. He tugged again at the constricting metal around his wrists. Dean made no move to help him. That both angered and frightened John. Dean was his son. His little buddy. He was the closest thing John had to back up. Dean kept his grounded. Dean kept him sane. The betrayal stung, far more than it should have.

"Dean!" John barked. He was tired of the sudden silence from his eldest. His head hurt like a son of a bitch, and goddamnit why was he still tied to a chair?

"I told Sammy you were possessed." Dean said suddenly. His voice did not waver, but there was the distinct gleam of tears in his eyes, and that did far more to shock John out of his anger than the boy's tone.

"I…you what?" John asked, not sure he heard right. Something was ringing in his ears, obscuring sound. It was possible.

Dean's eyes suddenly grew cold. "I told him you were possessed." He repeated firmly. "And if you ever, ever lay a finger on either of us again, I'll tell him the truth." The words were words of a much older man, and for a moment, the defiance in the voice of a child who only ever did as he was ordered blind sighted him.

"Protect your brother, Dean."

John blinked. His skin went cold.

Truth? What truth?

The bruise on his son's cheek mocked him, and reality lurched up to kick plant a sucker punch right between the eyes.

He had done that?

No…

He would not.

He could not…

"Dean?" His voice wasn't so firm now. Nor was it harsh. It was scared. John hadn't been so terrified since he had seen his beloved wife in the clutches of evil.

Could he really have hurt the only people he had left in the world?

Was he about to loose his sons? His very reasons for living?

Sammy might forgive him. Sammy forgave everyone. It was a fault John was trying to break in his youngest.

Dean though, Dean could almost be called spiteful in the way he kept his grudges.

Learned that from his old man.

"Oh god…"

The cuffs around his wrists loosened, and Dean was back at the other side of the room within seconds.

Out of arms reach.

Between John and the door.

Between John and Sam.

John didn't even try to stand. He slid off the chair and to his knees, catching himself on knuckles that were split and bloody.

No. no. no. no.

"Dad?" Dean was suddenly by his side, the soldier leaving no trace of its former coldness in Dean's bright eyes. John's eldest looked worried, scared. Not because John might hurt him. Not this time. But because his hero was crying.

"Dad…its ok, Dad." One small hand lay down on his shoulder. A typical Dean show of support and love, and it made John sick.

As if aware of his father's ragged emotions and at odds with himself over how he should react, Dean fell back into his familiar pattern of copping with a problem beyond his ability to handle.

"You know," John was gifted with a small, wry smile that must have hurt but made John's heart start beating again. "Sammy wanted to do a full on exorcisms. Said Pastor Jim taught him the words. Hell, he got the holy water out, and everything."

John winced, despite Dean's attempt at levity.

"Did I…?" He couldn't say the words.

Did I hurt both of you?

Dean shook his head quickly. "Nah, the frying pan got in your way."

Frying pan?

Well that explained a thing or two…

Gingerly, John felt the rising bump on the side of his head. His fingers came away damp with the salve he used after a hunt.

"You hit me with a frying pan?"

The great hunter felled by a frying pan? Irony was a bitch.

Dean shrugged. "Improvisation. I couldn't exactly ask you to hold still whilst I got out the crowbar." That smile blossomed into a full on smirk. "You should be thankful I couldn't reach the shotgun."

"That's my boy." John whispered, pulling Dean close before the child could protest. Surprisingly, Dean said nothing. He simply allowed himself to sink into his father's arms.

The embrace lasted far longer than John expected Dean to allow it. Neither of them were the type to indulge in gratuitous physical shows of affection. John had never been the type, and he strongly suspected that Dean associated hugging with a time when his world was safe and warm, and thus avoided the painful memories at all costs.

When they finally did untangle themselves, John pushed back the waves of chemical induced nausea, suddenly finding his stomach so much more settled now the fear had worn off. John would never forget this. Nor would Dean, but perhaps this was the wake up call he needed. Perhaps this was proof that it would take a hell of a lot more than pain to drive his children away.

Like the obedient son he was, Dean allowed John to dab tenderly at his bruise with a cotton bud soaked in arnica.

"Dad?" Dean asked tentatively, peering up from behind dark blond hair that was in desperate need of trimming.

"Yeah, Kiddo?"

"Do you think Sammy believed me?"

John thought about that for a moment, then decided on the truth. "Dean, you could tell that boy that the sky was pink and that ducks are trying to take over the world, and he would believe it."

Dean sniggered, and then yawned. John wondered just how long Dean had been playing guard, and made a note to make sure the kid got an early night. John was supposed to be on a hunt tonight, leaving Dean in charge. Somehow, he knew that if he went, Dean would stay awake until he stumbled back home, just in case.

The hunt could wait for one night, he supposed, so long as no one knew.

"Hey champ?"

"Hmm?"

"You talk to me in that tone again; I'll ground you for a month."

"Yes, sir."

"Dean?"

"Hmm?"

"…Thank you."