Title: Lovely, Dark and Deep

Author: Philote

Rating: PG

Characters/Pairing: John, wee!Dean and a little bit of Sammy (gen)

Disclaimer: The characters and situations of Supernatural do not belong to me. I make no money from this story. Please don't sue.

Author's Notes: Written for my spn25 table, prompt #23: silence. Title and inspiration from Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." This is just a little ficlet, intended to help get neglected creative juices flowing again.

Summary: John's had enough of all the Christmas lights and cheer.

oOo

Somewhere along the lonely stretch of highway, a Chevy Impala sits just off to the side. The trees encroach, having barely left room for it to pull off the road. Were another car to come along, it would be hard to pick out of the darkness.

The car doors are closed, holding a modicum of warmth inside. Two small bodies are curled up on the backseat, wrapped in a blanket and each other.

The one large figure is out of the warmth, lean form balanced against the front bumper. The snow is beginning to coat the tall pines and the ground. It isn't enough that travel is difficult, nor is there anything wrong with the car. John Winchester stopped and left his sleeping children in the backseat so he could stand out in the cold for another reason.

There's a silence to this dark, lonely scene. The absence of life flows around him, helping him fortify defenses.

He's still got Christmas carols running through his head. He couldn't get them out, no matter what he'd put on the tape deck before the boys fell asleep.

He hadn't planned to drive tonight at all. He'd planned to stay in the little hotel room in the quaint little town at least through tomorrow; at least long enough for the boys to have a semblance of a Christmas. But he couldn't take it. The whole town breathed Christmas. He'd thought it would be better than the big cities with their decorations and Santa's and Christmas sales, but it was worse. This was earnest, goodwill-to-all Christmas spirit.

Mary had loved Christmas.

He'd driven until they were out of reach of the lights. Once it was dark and boring outside, the boys had drifted off pretty easily. And now here he is, watching flakes float down around him, staring into the darkness of the thick woods.

There's something enchanting about them. He's seized by a perverse desire to go in; to just keep walking and let the trees close around him. In fact, at this moment, he's not entirely sure why he isn't moving yet.

He knows what sort of things reside in the woods. Things that hide in its untamed darkness; things that need its solitude for unspeakable habits; things that want its protective cloak to keep the normal world out.

So what does that make John?

He sighs, watching his breath escape clenched teeth and blow towards the pines like smoke. He closes his eyes and holds himself still, letting the cold and the quiet pervade him.

A few long minutes later the car's door creaks as it opens, alerting John before the voice comes.

"Dad?" It's cautious, asking if there's a threat nearby.

John tries to swallow his emotions as he turns toward the boy. "It's okay, Dean. Just…stopped to watch the snow for a bit." Lame answer, but it should suffice for an eight-year-old.

Except that this is his eight-year-old. Dean hesitates, possibly unwilling to leave the warmth of the car, more likely reluctant to step away from the still-sleeping Sammy. But he does, closing the door softly and stepping towards him. The snow surprises him and he slips. John reaches out and grasps his elbow, reeling him in. Dean looks a bit sheepish as he fastens his coat. John releases the steadying hand, his attention drifting back towards the trees. Dean stands silently at his side for long moments.

"Are you looking for something?"

Yes. But he knows he can't have it. "No. I just…needed a break."

Dean nods as if he understands. Maybe he does. John looks at him then; really looks at him. He's shivering steadily, his lips quivering even though he's trying to mash them together. John moves on instinct, pulling his coat open long enough to tug Dean inside and wrap him in what is left of his own body heat. Dean snuffles against his chest as he tucks himself close.

John remains in the position, directing his attention back to the trees. But the snowy maze now seems more foreboding, having lost some of its magic when it caused the trembling in the little body he holds. He can feel the faint but steady beat of Dean's heart against him. He squeezes the boy for a moment, perhaps too tight, hanging on to the thing that keeps him from wandering into that darkness.

"Dad?" Dean sounds concerned again.

John's lips tighten as he loosens his hold, raising a hand to run through Dean's hair. "Everything's fine."

It's not, and Dean probably knows it. But the boy doesn't say anything; he just gazes up at him solemnly and nods.

"Come on. We'd better get moving."

Dean has to move Sammy, who mumbles a protest but snuggles right back against his brother without ever fully waking. Dean slouches back against the seat watching John through half-lidded eyes. He seems half-asleep again already, but his gaze is measuring John carefully. John tries to smile for him. It's easier than he thought it would be.

Sammy starts to shiver then, unconsciously pressing closer to his brother's warmth, and John is quick to get back into the driver's seat and close out the cold.

As he drives on, dark woods on either side stretching long in front of him, he angles the rear-view mirror so he can see his boys. He hangs onto the steering wheel. And he hangs onto himself.

When the sun rises a few hours later the horizon opens up before him, bright with fresh-fallen snow.

oOoHHe He