Yeah, so, it's not Christmas anymore...and I have fifty-eleven other things I should be doing right now. But see, I'm madly in love with this story 'The Bringer' by Ultimate Raisin on this site. And in her latest chapter, Ultimate Raisin set loose a little plot bunny...a challenge to write a 'scene' she briefly described in the chapter.

And I should know better than to pet strange plot bunnies by now...but what can you do? So I took that little scene...and it kinda mutated into an actual freakin' story. And I don't know whether I want to smack Ultimate Raisin, or hug her, 'cause I've really been wanting to write in this fandom, but haven't really gotten any good plots in my head.

Any road, here I present a tag of sorts to chapter 14 of The Bringer. (which you should totally read, it's in the M section!) Please note, the rating is for disturbing content that will be happening in future chapters (I'm thinking this'll be about a four-parter).

Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with the rightful owners of Supernatural, or any publicly recognizable trademarks thereof. This is just for fun and no money is exchanging hands. Please don't sue, okay?

John Winchester was a patient man. He could sit for days on a stakeout, and never lose his laser-like focus. He could negotiate with his various munitions dealers for hours on end, until they gave him the price he wanted just to get him to go away. He had successfully mediated hundred of arguments over bedtimes, bath times, and whether or not Lion-O could kick Optimus Prime's metallic butt.

He had learned how to change a diaper one-handed while simultaneously making sure the neon yellow, processed cheese-food was reaching just the right level of gooiness in a grilled cheese sandwich, and never batted an eye. He was a patient man.

But everyone had their breaking point, and he was going to kill his older son when they finally stopped for the night.

"All I wan' for CrissMAS is my two fron' teefs! My two fron' teefs! My two fron' teefs! All I wan' for CrissMAS is my two fron' teefs, my two fron' teefs, my two fron' teefs!"

The strains of what could be called a song only in the loosest sense of the term (as the high-pitched voice carrying the words had crossed the line that separated singing from just rhythmically yelling about thirty miles back) had been their soundtrack for the past hour, and John's head had begun to throb in time with the tune within the first ten minutes. He looked longingly at the buttons that would turn on the radio, filling the car with something other than the not-so-dulcet tones of his baby boy.

"You couldn't have at least taught him the rest of the song?" he whispered out of the corner of his mouth. Beside him, Dean merely slouched guiltily, tugging the brim of his worn baseball cap lower over his eyes.

"I didn't think he'd like it this much," the boy murmured back.

"Daddy, is I singing good?"

John tightened his hands on the Impala's steering wheel and forced himself to smile brightly at his younger child in the rear-view mirror. "Am I," he corrected automatically, the smile easing into something less forced as the three year old giggled, covering his face with his small, chubby hands.

"Am I, Daddy?" the little boy said finally, enunciating with unusual clarity. John chuckled to himself, shaking his head. No doubt his younger son would have that particular intricacy of the English language mastered before New Year's. Sammy loved words the way other kids loved candy…there had been no stopping the kid after he started talking in actual sentences.

This, John could already tell, was going to be a very mixed blessing. When picking up new Christmas carols from older brothers, for instance. Nonetheless, John managed to inject a note of enthusiasm into his voice when he replied.

"Very good, Sammy. You're very good at that song. But, uh, how about we listen to the radio now, okay? Your voice must be getting tired."

In the passenger seat, Dean perked up a little, glancing hopefully over the seat at his brother. Sammy, however, merely grinned, shaking his head so forcefully his shaggy mop of brown hair flew in all directions.

"Not tired, Daddy. I can sing all day! All I wan' for CrissMAS is my two fron' teefs, my two fron' teefs, my two fron' teefs! All I wan' for CrissMAS is my two fron' teefs, my two fron' teefs, my two fron' teefs!"

With a muffled groan, Dean turned around again and resumed his slouched position in the seat. "I told you not to let him have that Coke with his Happy Meal," the seven-year-old muttered accusingly, nonetheless pitching his voice too low for his brother to hear. "He'll be up for hours, now."

Despite himself, John snorted, an amused smirk twitching his lips. "Sorry, dude, but this one's all on you," he shot back, just as quietly.

"All I wan' for CrissMAS is my two fron' teefs!"

It was sundown before the reached their destination…yet another rundown motel on the side of the highway just outside of San Jose, California. Mercifully, despite his older son's dire prediction, Sammy had actually nodded off somewhere in Nevada and slept all the way through to California. Even more mercifully, when he'd woken, the little boy had been far more interested in dinner than Christmas carols.

John was still popping aspirin like it was candy, though. He didn't remember Dean having quite that lung capacity when he was Sammy's age.

Sighing, John surveyed the little room that would likely be their home this Christmas. The remains of their Chinese takeout dinner were spread out over the small table in one corner of the room, their luggage piled onto one of the two sagging beds. A cracked and stained Formica counter ran along the wall beside the door, boasting a microwave oven that was probably only a little younger than the Impala and a dingy porcelain sink. With judicious use of Dean's best hopeful smile and Sammy's best puppy-eyes (and John thought he should probably feel sorry for the population at large when his small son learned how to turn those things on at will), he had managed to finagle a large picnic cooler out of the motel operator, which would hold a few perishables he planned to pick up tomorrow from the local grocery.

All in all, not the worst place they had ever stayed.

Still, it was a far, far cry from anything he'd ever imagined sharing with his family on Christmas.

Then again, most of his life these days consisted of things he'd never imagined sharing with his family. Things he didn't want to share with his boys. They deserved better than this.

But John knew from bitter experience that such thoughts would get him nowhere. Their life was what it was. There was no turning back for him, not until he'd found whatever had taken his Mary from him, from their children. And damned if he was going to leave his boys behind.

However, John couldn't help questioning his decision to take this particular job. Part of him had wanted to refuse when Bobby had called him about it…they had an open invitation to stay at Pastor Jim's for the holidays, and it was all but guaranteed that this hunt would keep them in California until after Christmas. Part of him had ached to give his sons something close to what they had lost when Mary died…to see Sammy, finally old enough to really understand what all the fuss was about, crawling around under Jim's huge Christmas tree, to see some of the perpetual guardedness lift from Dean's face in the presence of lights and toys and cookies. All the things that it just wasn't practical to try to have on the road. In the end, though, he couldn't do it. He couldn't turn away from this job.

Sighing softly, and pressing one hand to his temple, John again picked up the newspaper article that had brought them here.

"City in Panic as Body of Seventh Missing Child Discovered," the headline proclaimed grimly. John had memorized the article days ago, but scanned it again anyway, moving to cradle his chin in one hand.

It was every parent's worst nightmare. Since the beginning of December, ten children, all under the age of eight, had disappeared from the same business district in San Jose. All had been out on a Christmas shopping trip with a parent or other guardian. All had simply vanished without a trace…the attendant adults had all claimed that the child had disappeared when their backs were turned for not more than a few seconds.

So far, seven had been found—dead. Their throats slit, their bodies mutilated in some way, though the police were keeping those details strictly under wraps. Some of Bobby's contacts were working on laying hands on the crime scene photos, but as it turned out, John really didn't think he'd need them.

To the casual observer, there was nothing about the deaths that might have raised a hunter's instincts. Just another psycho stalking the most innocent and helpless of victims.

John Winchester was not the casual observer.

And while Bobby might have made the connection between the ten missing children this year, and the six that had died in similar fashion in the area in the sixties, John had found the eight that had been killed in 1942.

And the ten that had died in 1915.

And the twelve that had died in 1878.

And the seven that had died in 1840.

Going back all the way to 1810…no cyclical pattern that John could discern in the years that it happened, but there was surely enough to point to a supernatural occurrence otherwise. All the victims had vanished between December first and December twenty fourth, with the final victim always left on Christmas Eve. All the children had vanished without a trace, without even a single clue left behind. Seemingly random children, from all walks of life…but all had disappeared in the same area as the current group of victims, and all had been left to be discovered by searchers…their throats slit, their eyes and tongues cut out.

Newspapers from the 1800's were not nearly as secretive about sensational details as their modern counterparts, it turned out.

John rubbed the back of his neck wearily, shoving the article and various bits of information and evidence he'd gathered back into the folder. He wasn't sure just what he was dealing with, yet, but he was determined that the latest body would be the last. He couldn't turn away from this job…but he couldn't help but wonder if it had really been the best thing to drag his sons along on this one. Danger aside, he knew that he'd be spending long hours on this one…hours away from Dean and Sammy. He'd been leaving Sammy in Dean's care more and more lately, had even gotten to the point where he felt comfortable leaving the boys alone for a couple of days at a time…but this was different. His sons shouldn't have to spend Christmas holed up in a motel room waiting for the 'secret knock.'

Pastor Jim had offered to keep the boys for him while he went to San Jose, and though the older man hadn't said a word about it, John knew that there was an implicit offer to make sure some of the church's Christmas charity fell on his children. John couldn't make himself do that, though, anymore than he could make himself turn down the hunt, even though a part of him had whispered chidingly that his children deserved some taste of normalcy, damn it.

The sounds of splashing water and Sammy's delighted squeals drifted out of the bathroom, startling John from his thoughts.

"No tickle! No tickle, Dean!" Sammy called out between gales of helpless laughter.

"Too late, kiddo! Shoulda let me wash behind your ears."

"Daddy! Daddy, save me!" There was another loud splash and John chuckled softly.

"What was that Sammy? I can't hear you over the splashing!"

"Help! Help, Daddy! Dean, no tickle! No tickle!" Sammy's voice raised another decibel or two, his laughter mixing with his brother's as the two played out one of their favorite games.

"What was that? You want Dean to tickle you? Well okay, buddy, but just let me know if you want him to stop."


"Try not to drown your brother, Dean," John cautioned with mock-severity. "And don't get all the towels wet," he added, more seriously.

"Yes, sir!" Dean's voice floated out of the bathroom, and the splashing eased off some. Sammy's giggles died down into a low murmur as the little one no doubt careened off on some tangent or another.

A few moments later, the boys emerged, clad in their pajamas. Sammy immediately dashed over to the bed John was sitting on, leaping up without preamble and scrambling onto John's lap. Dean moved at a more sedate pace, stopping by the bed he and his brother would share and carefully moving their bags onto the floor by the door. John's weapons bag, though, was left on the floor in between the two beds, zipped up against small, curious fingers, but within easy reach. John nodded approvingly.

"Daddy?" Sammy squirmed slightly on his lap, twisting around so that the boy was looking up at him. Sammy's dark hair was still damp from his bath, drying into wavy little curls on his forehead and neck. Absently, John noted that he would need a haircut soon. The little-boy smell of Johnson's baby shampoo (one of the few name-brand indulgences John allowed, as it was the only soap Dean would allow within a foot of Sammy's eyes) and minty toothpaste wafted up to John's face and he couldn't help tightening his arms around his younger son.

"Yeah, Sammy?"

"Are we gonna get a Christmas tree?" the boy asked quietly. "I sawed one in th'office when you were gettin' the room. It was really pretty." Sammy's voice was hopeful, his small fists bunching and un-bunching in the fabric of John's shirt. Out of the corner of his eye, John saw his other son stiffen slightly where he was turning down the other bed.

"Yeah, it was really pretty," John agreed carefully, still watching Dean. The older boy appeared to be holding his breath, and John could almost hear the wheels turning in the sandy-blond head. Sammy was silent in his lap, still staring up at him with wide, hopeful eyes. A Christmas tree…such an innocuous, normal thing…something his boys shouldn't even have to ask for.

John knew he should be firm. The sooner they understood that some things just didn't fit into their lifestyle, the better. Dean was starting to come to that conclusion, and the older boy seemed okay with it, most of the time. Sammy, though, Sammy was a different story…and John knew he should probably start disabusing his younger son of certain notions as soon as possible. He tried to make holidays special for the boys…but there were certain things that just didn't work.

But, the owner of the house that last poltergeist had been haunting had been rather grateful. For once, they had some money on hand.

They were stocked up pretty well on ammunition and supplies. There had been no major maintenance emergencies with the Impala. He'd already bought Dean some much-needed clothes for the coming year before they headed out to the poltergeist job, and Sammy had been wearing Dean's hand-me-downs since he'd gotten out of diapers. The practical hunter in him knew he should save as much extra cash as he could, that he'd already splurged a little on the two packages carefully hidden in the Impala's trunk—a new pair of boots for Dean and a stack of coloring books and crayons for Sammy. Their resources shouldn't be wasted on frivolous things.

Sammy's eyes were starting to darken with resignation, his lower lip trembling a little, even as he tried to hide it. Beside the other bed, John thought he heard his other son sigh a little, a soft, regretful sound.

Screw it.

"Yeah, Sammy, we can get a tree." Almost before he'd finished the sentence, his small son's whole face had lit up.

"Really?" And suddenly, John's air supply was being cut off as Sammy latched onto his neck in a stranglehold of a hug. Glancing over at Dean over top of Sammy's head, John's heart swelled a little at the excited grin that had burst over his other son's face, the true happiness gleaming in his eyes—so like Mary's.

"Just a little one, though, okay?" Quickly, John tried to regain control of the situation. "And you know there's nowhere we can put ornaments in the car, so—"

"It's okay, Daddy! Dean told me they made popcorn strings an' paper or…or-ma-nents at his old school…he can show me and we'll make 'em! Thank you, Daddy!"

John smiled a little, winking at Dean, who merely let his grin widen a little. "That sounds great, Sammy. We'll get everything when we go grocery shopping tomorrow."

Sammy shrieked in delight, reaching up to plant a smacking kiss on John's stubbled cheek before squirming down out of his lap and over to the other bed. Still grinning, Dean lifted the little boy onto the mattress, hustling him over onto the side closest to the wall before climbing in himself and pulling the blankets up around them.

John cast one final look at the folder before picking it up and tossing it onto the table by the takeout boxes. Cracking his neck from side to side, he reached over and turned the bedside lamp off, leaving the room lit only by the parking lot lights pouring in through the small window over the sink. He turned back to his boys, to find Sammy already curled closely against his brother's side, eyelids drooping as his thumb slowly found its way to his mouth.

"What was that about not letting the kid have a Coke?" John couldn't resist teasing his older child, to which Dean simply rolled his eyes. John made his way softly over to the side of their bed, reaching down to run his hand gently over Sammy's head before laying it soundly on Dean's shoulder. "I'm gonna grab a shower…you want the TV on, dude?"

Dean shook his head. "Nah, it's okay…we turned it on while you were getting the food…reception sucks here."

"I'll see if I can fix it in the morning." John pulled his outer shirt off, laying it on the corner of his bed, before turning to again head towards the small bathroom.

"Okay," Dean muttered sleepily. "Hey Dad?"

John paused, glancing over his shoulder at his son. "Yeah?"

Dean's eyes darted to his brother, assuring himself that Sammy was well and truly asleep. "The tree and stuff…are you sure we can afford it?" he whispered softly. "'Cause I could talk Sammy out of it…or something."

There were moments when John hated the thing that had stolen Mary from them with such ferocity it took his breath away.

"You—" he cleared his throat roughly, something clenching inside of him. "You let me worry about what we can afford, okay? You worry about showing Sammy how to string popcorn."

Dean's brow furrowed for a moment, but finally he seemed to accept John's answer. There was a flash of white teeth in the dimness and then Dean settled further underneath the blankets. John stood there a few seconds more, just watching his boys, before turning away to head for the bathroom.

All right, maybe they would have had a bigger tree with Pastor Jim…maybe there would have been more presents, and John was certainly under no illusions that takeout pizza could beat the full turkey dinner one of the church-goers would surely have provided. In some ways, maybe Dean and Sammy would have been safer if John had left them with his friend.

But then they wouldn't have been with him.

And being together was a damn sight more important than trees and presents and turkey.

There was light, but it was dim and diffused, sputtering down from a single industrial bulb. The thing flickered periodically, by turns throwing the small space into pitch-darkness, or tossing horrible, mangled shadows up on the rough brick walls. There was a constant drip of water from somewhere in the distance, as well as other, less easily identifiable sounds…the chitterings of rodents, the dim hum of traffic.

There was crying, too, of course.

Soft, hiccupping sobs echoed off the walls as three small bodies huddled together on the floor of their filthy prison. There had been more, earlier…but the others had disappeared, one by one, dragged out of the tiny room by their nightmare, never to be seen again.

Those left behind heard them, though. Heard the rough voice of the thing that had taken them from their mommies and daddies, and the chilling screams of the others that had been in here with them…screams that always abruptly choked off into a silence that was somehow worse than the screaming. There were only three of them left, now, shivering together on the floor.

"I-I wanna go home," one of the captives finally choked out around the tears that hadn't stopped flowing in what seemed like days. There was no answer to the child's shaky declaration…there was none the others could give. They all wanted to go home. They had all screamed for their parents 'til they were hoarse, prayed to whatever gods and saints they had been raised to believe looked after good little children until the words blurred in their frightened minds, and no help came.

They were starting to think no help was going to come.

"I wanna go home," the child repeated again, the last word catching on a fresh sob. Tiny, dirty hands covered an even dirtier face, and the tears came anew, shaking the small body.

Above them the light bulb flickered maddeningly, before winking out.

It did not come back on.


Author's notes: Ugh, I can't believe I did author's notes...but at least I put them at the end. Yes, I'm actually basing Wee!Sam's bits off of a particularly precocious three-year-old I had the pleasure of babysitting for several years (yeah, well, not that she stayed three the whole time I was babysitting). It is possible for three year olds to be that coherent...and I figured Sam was a smarty-pants from the get-go.

Also, I'm a little...iffy...on John's character. I know he's nowhere near as gruff and austere as he was presented in the series, but I'm kind of going on the theory that the whole "raised like warriors" thing was a progression...John DID seem softer in "Something Wicked" yes? If anyone has any suggestions, I'd be happy to hear them...I welcome constructive criticism with open arms.