Disclaimer: I lay no claim to anything Supernatural except my own love and devotion to the boys, my desire to one day own a '67 Impala (and, no, a '68 is NOT close enough) and the dvds that I have bought and cherished along the way… other than that, all I can do is dream.

What's In Sammy's Closet?

Sammy Winchester had a secret, something no one else knew. Something he would never tell anyone – not even his big brother, Dean, because he knew that Dean would insist on telling Dad and he couldn't let Dad find out! It was a good secret, it made Sammy smile, made him feel special and he didn't want anything to get in the way of that.

And so the secret remained…

SPN

Dean knew that Sammy was up to something, but he couldn't figure it out! His brother was only seven years old, after all, how much trouble could he possibly get into at that age? Dean had long since become a man of eleven, and trouble found him only on the times that… oh yeah, whenever Sammy found himself in trouble.

Like the time he ran away from school because Dad was going away again and he wanted to go too, insisting that he was a big boy and could at least make sure Dad didn't lose his keys – again!

Or the time when he disappeared while Dad was buying groceries – or microwave dinners – because he wanted to find the special lollies that Dean wanted so that he could be surprised after dinner because it was his birthday.

Or the time that Sammy insisted on camping outside under the stars, only to get lost trying to get inside to go to the toilet… how he got lost with Dean and Dad right next to him was still a mystery!

Or the time… Dean sighed, tired of thinking of all the times Sammy had managed to find trouble – or the other way around – and instead had to admit that the younger boy was a magnet for disaster. Maybe he really was up to something, he realised as he watched Sammy make his way quietly from the dinner table, munching on part of a peanut and jelly sandwich he had asked for. He had insisted that he was still hungry and pouted until Dad had made him a sandwich. Why was Sammy barely eating it then, if he was so hungry? Normally there was no stopping the boy if there was food in sight, but now he was nibbling at the crust as he stumbled back to his room with a little smile on his face.

Dean wondered if his father had picked up on the strange behaviour. He must have, Dean thought. Dad doesn't miss anything, he's a hunter! Nothing gets passed him… not even Sammy.

Deciding that, if his father didn't think the behaviour anything to worry about, then neither would Dean… he went to the lounge room to watch TV, pushing his little brother out of his thoughts.

SPN

John Winchester watched his oldest son as he watched his little brother, with confusion in his eyes. He knew there was something bothering Dean, but he had no idea what it was. He had barely taken his eyes off his little brother all through dinner, and now he watched as Sammy stumbled out of the room with a sandwich and a smile.

Maybe he thinks there's something up with Sammy, he thought curiously. He thought a moment, remembering Sammy's appetite at dinner and then his insistence that he was still hungry afterwards. He had eaten everything in sight, had a small helping of seconds and then proceeded to pout for a sandwich. While his appetite wasn't necessarily unusual, nor was his demand for something extra… although it was strange that he would have still been hungry, even after his two helpings of the main meal. Still, John thought, he's only seven and seven year olds grow fast… maybe he's just having a growth spurt, he reasoned. He was fairly certain Sammy was going to be pretty tall one day, and that meant he was going to start shooting up soon. At the moment he was still small and cuddly and liked to climb into his father's lap to watch the news when he was home, but soon the growing would start and before long he could be an obnoxious teenager.

God help me, John thought quietly as he thought ahead to what it would be like for his baby boy to be a grown man. He wasn't looking forward to that, it was a frightening thought that never failed to make him feel two things. One, he felt old… and two, he felt further and further away from Mary as each time Sammy had a birthday it took them another year away from the last time he saw her smile, heard her voice, made her laugh… or held her hand.

John swallowed hard, pushing the thought aside and turning his thoughts over to Dean. Dean had gone through a similar stage just recently, eating everything in sight, devouring each meal and then heading straight for the cupboard. But still, he was eleven, he had a few years head start on Sammy…

Maybe that's it, John realised. Sammy worshipped his big brother, always wanted to be like him so maybe he thinks that Dean's sudden growth spurt had something to do with how much he had been eating not so long ago. Maybe Sammy thought if he ate like that too, he'd be big and strong like Dean!

John had no doubt in his mind that, by the time he tucked Sammy in bed, he'd find that sandwich somewhere in the general area of the little boys bedroom, unfinished. Sammy wouldn't be able to finish it if he hadn't been hungry. Certain he had the answer, John sighed and collected the plates from the table and rinsing them under the tap.

That damned hero worship again…

It would be the death of him, he was sure of it. He couldn't count how many times it had caused no end of troubles, and he just hoped that it wasn't starting up again. Sammy had been hurt before – not to mention Dean – because of his desire to be like his big brother.

Like the time that Dean had climbed a tree, telling Sammy to stay where he was… only for Sammy to climb up after him and falling in the process, breaking his wrist in two places and giving himself a nice concussion to boot!

The time that Dean had been riding his new bike and Sammy had wanted to go with him… John shuddered as he recalled how Sammy had run after his brother and dashed into traffic seconds behind him. A car would have hit him, but Dean had seen what was about to happen and forced himself to crash his bike in the cars path while launching himself at his brother, knocking him to safety. Dean had ended up skinning both knees and taking a good layer or two of skin right up one arm. Dean barely complained about the damage to himself, even after he was sure Sammy was okay. John knew that was because he had protected his little brother and he didn't care that he'd gotten hurt in the process, but Dean had also been particularly careful about explaining to Sammy why it was so dangerous for him to run after Dean like that. Sammy had pouted for an hour, but eventually Dean had talked him down and convinced him that it wasn't because he didn't want to be around his little brother, just that he wanted him to be safe. Sammy had begun to cry when he told Dean how sorry he was and Dean had caved and given the boy a hug that tore John's heart out… how close they had come this time, he thought.

The worst was one day in the park…

SPN

A year ago

John was settled at the front window, his research books sprawled in front of him. He couldn't concentrate much, since he had let Dean take Sammy to the park right across the road from the latest house they'd called home and it wasn't sitting right with John. He knew that they were close, he could be there in a matter of seconds if they needed him, but he had spent the last six years keeping them in one of three conditions: with him, with Jim Murphy, or locked behind a sturdy door with a shotgun. It wasn't in his nature to let them go out alone, even if it was just across the road.

But it had been so important to Dean. He had seen an ice cream truck pull up across the road and broken open the piggy bank he'd been keeping for the last six months, counting out enough money to buy himself an ice cream cone and a special one for Sammy. John looked into hopeful green eyes and, against his better judgement, he'd caved.

Normally it was Sammy who had the magic look that made John cave, but something about Dean's eyes on this occasion just made him melt. He couldn't resist the desperation he saw there, the eagerness Dean had to buy something special for Sammy, to push him on the swing and play with him on the slide… he'd even resisted offering to give them money for the ice cream, quickly realising that the point was for Dean to buy something for Sammy.

He'd watched Dean walk Sammy across the road, looking both ways first of course. John could see Dean's mouth moving and, although he couldn't hear the words, knew that Dean was explaining very carefully how important it was to always make sure there were no cars coming before trying to get across. Dean was so good to Sammy, even on days when he complained about it – not that they came along very often. Dean had always loved his little brother, always been determined to watch out for him, and no matter what else was happening it all came down to that.

Dean was a big brother, before all else.

Now John watched as, covered in ice cream, the boys played on the swings. They were fine, he thought. I'm just being paranoid… nothing's wrong, it's just a hunters' fear, from knowing all the evil sons of bitches that walk the streets at night, knowing they can come out in the day time… all the possibilities…

They're fine.

John turned to his research again, trying to focus a little on the history of an old abandoned mine shaft that was being restored for history's sake. It had started to have strange accidents the minute anyone set foot on the land surrounding it, and now… well, now the body count was climbing and John was starting to think that the man suffering a severe head injury trying to escape was telling the truth about something unnatural living in that mine. The more he read about it, the more convinced he was of that fact.

He had looked up several times, every couple of minutes, and yet the terrified scream that reached him still managed to take him by surprise…

Dean looked up, wondering where his little brother had gotten to. He had been quiet for a few minutes now, and that just wasn't normal Sammy behaviour. There must be something wrong, Dean thought as he glanced around him.

"Sam?" he called, feeling only a modicum of unease. "Sammy?"

No answer.

"Sam!" Dean called, his heart racing a little more now, as he leapt from the swing and desperately started looking around him. "Sammy!!!"

A scream rang out through the park, hitting Dean like a pile of bricks, knocking the air from his lungs. He was running before he even realised he had moved a muscle… and before he could put two thoughts together he found himself leaping through the air, wrapping himself piggy-back style around the man that had his brother. He hit him as hard as he could with his fists, kicking him and yelling at him.

Finally he sank his teeth into the man's neck, tearing at flesh fiercely as he was determined to defend his little brother. He could taste blood and part of him wanted to be sick. Not because it was human blood, but because this man was trying to hurt his brother and he could taste him… the thought of it was sickening!

Suddenly strong arms pulled Dean off the man, dropping him to the ground. Dean managed to keep to his feet and reached automatically for his little brother. Sammy was crying and shaking, pale with wide eyes full of fear…

"He tried to take Sammy!" Dean announced as he watched his father turn on the bastard that dared hurt Dean's little brother. "He tried to hurt him!"

John didn't need to hear Dean's words to understand what had happened. The man, fear written all over his face at suddenly being faced with an adult instead of the child he had been prepared for, raised his hands and tried to back away.

"I… I…"

"You bastard," John growled, grabbing the man by the shirt and pulling his fist back slowly, enjoying the way the man's eyes widened at the realisation that he was going to be hit. When John's fist finally connected with the man's nose, bone crunched and blood spattered, sending a wave of satisfaction through John . The man whimpered, cowering away from John as he moved closer to him. "You scared? You only got the guts to deal with little boys? You can't deal with a man?"

"Please…"

"You some little pissant that is afraid of your own shadow? Why don't you grow some balls and fight, you son of a bitch!" John yelled, pushing the man up against the car. He tried to run, but John grabbed him, twisting his arm behind his back and ramming him against the hood of the car. He struggled at first but soon realised that it only caused him more pain so he calmed down and waited. John pulled out his cell phone and tossed it to Dean. "Dean, call 911."

Dean nodded, dialling quickly. He listened to the operator before speaking.

"Someone just tried to take my brother," Dean announced, quickly explaining where he was. Kidnapping a child being a serious business, John knew that the cops would be on their way soon, and when he heard the sirens in the background he grinned.

He leaned closer to the man that had tried to take his son and whispered carefully in his ear.

"Do you know what they do to people like you in jail?" he growled.

The man whimpered some more.

"You wont last a week… and if you do, I hope it's hell," John told him. The police were surrounding them in seconds, a female officer taking Sam and Dean to a bench nearby to get their statements, leaving John with the other cops to deal with what happened next.

It could have made him sick…

The man was taken from him and put in cuffs, the officers not being particularly gentle with him as they explained to John that there had been a rash of kidnappings a few towns over and they had been on high alert ever since. Still, when they searched the car at least one rookie had to dash to a bush to lose his lunch…

In the trunk was duct tape, a large carving knife and a crowbar that had blood stains on it…

On the backseat were toys, books, movies… including movies that a child should never have to see… and a photo album. One cop checked it over, glancing at John.

"You never have to see this," he assured him, putting it into an evidence bag. John nodded, though he knew that inside that photo album would be photos of other boys… and that Sammy had nearly become one of them.

Soon after giving the cops his statement, John hurried over to his boys, not ever wanting to let them out of his sight. He scooped Sammy into his arms, nodding to the officer his thanks for watching them. He sat down beside Dean and pulled Sammy away to check he was okay.

"You boys want to tell me what happened?" he asked gently, seeing the fear still in Sammy's eyes. He was watching the car that the man had been deposited into carefully, and as it drove passed them John could see the man inside staring at his little boy… Sammy began shaking and quickly hid his face in the safety of his father's chest. John's heart ached, knowing that Sammy didn't understand half of what had happened. He was just afraid because he knew strangers were dangerous and that this one had tried to take him away from his father and Dean… John hoped he would never know what might have happened next.

"Sammy was there one minute and then gone," Dean announced. "I was looking for him and then I heard him scream and…"

John nodded his understanding, knowing that he couldn't offer anything more to what had happened. The only one who could explain further was Sammy… and he wasn't talking.

Sighing deeply, John nodded toward the house.

"Come on, let's go home," he suggested, getting to his feet with Sammy in his arms and taking Dean's hand. Dean didn't protest and John knew immediately that this whole situation had shaken him up more than he would be able to understand.

It was only a few minutes later that John walked into the house behind Dean and herded his oldest son into the living room where he put Sammy gently on the couch. The little boy clung to his shirt a moment longer, unwilling to let go of the safest place he could ever have been, but finally he sat back against the sofa and crossed his arms against his chest. He looked cold, smaller than John remembered him and he wondered how much the little boy actually understood about what had almost happened. Sammy was innocent in ways that frightened the hell out of John, he carried a curiosity with him that he was certain would one day unravel the universe, but in the meantime the combination of the two was giving John a migraine.

John sighed, pacing across in front of his boys. He couldn't sit still, he just had to keep moving, stop himself from thinking about what almost happened. Every time silence filled the room – and there was a lot of it going around right now – his ears filled the gap with the sound of Sammy's terrified scream. He could still see the man with his arms around Sammy as Sammy kicked and screamed for help, Dean launching himself at the man, tearing flesh from his neck and shoulder in his determination to rescue his little brother. Glancing down at Dean now, John realised that he hadn't taken his eyes off Sammy yet, that he was sitting closer to the little boy than usual. Between that and the ferocity of his attack on Sammy's would-be kidnapper, John was left with no doubts about how far the older of the brothers would go to protect his charge. John briefly wondered what that would develop into in later years, but he pushed it to the back of his mind and hoped he'd never have to find out.

Right now he had to focus on keeping Sammy out of trouble from now on…

"Sammy, what were you thinking?" John began, unable to stop himself from using the accusing tone that fell off his tongue so suddenly. "You left your brother when I specifically told you to stay with him! Where did you think you were going?"

Sammy shrugged.

"Sam?" John's voice grew slightly louder. "Do you have any idea what could have happened? What that man could have done to you? If we hadn't reached you…"

"I'm sorry," Sammy whispered, tears welling in his eyes. He didn't look up, he glanced down at his hands that were now balled in his lap in tight fists. "I didn't mean to."

"Where were you going?" John asked again. He noticed that Dean had remained completely silent, that he wasn't offering any words of comfort to the boy, anything to help John find out what had happened and he wondered briefly if this whole thing had effected Dean more than he realised.

"I found a penny," Sammy announced, looking up at his father. "I found a penny and I wanted to get something special for Dean because he got me something special and he's always doing stuff… I just wanted to get him a present."

John's heart pounded loudly in his throat upon hearing Sammy's words. Once again, that hero worship, his determination to be like his brother, how much he loved his older brother had almost gotten Sammy hurt… the bond his boys shared that he knew he would never understand was going to tear them apart, John just knew it.

"You idiot," Dean announced suddenly, tearing Sammy's eyes from his fathers face to his. "You took off to get me a present? I don't need a present, Sammy!"

"I know, but you're always doing stuff for me and I just wanted to be able to get you something…"

Dean shook his head.

"That guy wouldn't just have taken you away from us, Sammy… he would have hurt you, and we nearly didn't get there in time to stop him," Dean told him carefully, making sure his brother heard him before continuing. "Unless you wanted to get me a special heart attack, you shouldn't have left! I don't need any damn present, all I need… all I ever needed was my little brother!"

Sammy looked confused as he waited silently for Dean to continue.

"When mom and dad told me about you, I was so excited that I was going to have a little brother. Mom told me that you would always be my brother no matter what… but if something happened to you, Sammy, you wouldn't be because you wouldn't be here anymore! I nearly lost my present!"

"What present?"

"You, idiot," Dean explained. "Ever since I got you, I never needed anything else… I have everything I need right here. But you have to take care of my present too, because I cant keep it safe if it insists on running away all the time, and if something happens to my present…"

Dean's voice hitched and John glanced at him, curious to see if he was actually going to cry. He saw tears shining in his son's eyes but there was something behind it, some emotion John didn't recognise, that told him the tears wouldn't spill.

At least not yet.

"I'm sorry Dean," Sammy gasped, launching himself into his brother's arms.

"You scared the crap out of me," Dean told him, his voice lower this time as he held his brother tightly as if to make sure that nothing tried to take him away again. "You scared me to death, don't ever do that again!"

"I'm sorry, Dean, I didn't mean to scare you," Sammy insisted. "I just wanted to get you something special."

"I already have something special, you moron," Dean whispered. John wasn't sure if he was supposed to have heard that last comment, but it echoed through his head loudly. "What would I have done if something happened to you? Huh? What would Dad have done?"

Dean's tears finally slipped down his cheek and John knew that he was finished making his point to Sammy.

John fell to his knees in front of his broken family and pulled them into his arms.

"Promise you'll never do that again, Sammy?" John asked gently.

"I promise," Sammy wailed, desperation in his voice. He wanted them to believe him, to trust him, not to hate him… and he wanted them to forgive him more than anything. "I'm sorry!"

"Ssh, now, Sammy," John hushed him, stroking his hair gently. "God, I love you kid, but you're going to send me to an early grave if you keep this up… look at all my grey hairs!"

John had held both the boys in his arms until they'd fallen asleep. It was too early for their normal bed time, they still needed to have dinner, but he decided to let them sleep. They had been through so much today, they all had. He himself felt completely exhausted… but sleep wouldn't come for John, he stayed awake the rest of the night watching his sleeping boys and vowing silently that no one would ever get close enough to either of them to cause them such fear again.

SPN

Present Day

Later that night, John closed the book in front of him and tossed his pen onto the journal in front of him, rubbing his eyes tiredly. It was pretty late and Dean was still in the lounge room with the TV going. John wasn't worried, he never told Dean it was bedtime, he never had to. Dean would take himself off to bed soon and he would even check in on Sammy first. Meanwhile, John was so exhausted that the words on the page in front of him were starting to blur together.

John stumbled to the kitchen bench and went about making himself a coffee. He still had a lot of work to do and he didn't want to go to bed until he'd figured out the punch line of this particular hunt. Still, it wasn't looking promising.

He heard the TV switch off and knew that Dean had decided it was time to go to bed. Seeing his oldest son wave to him from the doorway before heading to his bedroom, John sighed a breath of relief. Somehow it was easier for him in the late hours when he knew the boys were sound asleep in their warm beds. Just knowing where they were for a while was the best feeling he could imagine. During the day he could think they were in the lounge room, walk in there only to find out they were somewhere else entirely.

Those boys had way too much energy…

SPN

Dean was about to walk to his bedroom but as he passed Sammy's room he saw a light under the little boys door. That was unusual since Sammy had stopped sleeping with the light on about four months ago when he'd realised that Dean didn't need a light to be able to sleep, that he was brave enough to deal with whatever scary things came out of the dark. Dean had told him he didn't have to sleep with the light off yet if he didn't want to, but Sammy wanted to be like Dean.

So why was the light on now, he wondered. He pushed the door open carefully so he wouldn't wake Sammy up, and saw the little boy lying on his back on a pile of cushions in front of the closet with a book open in his hands.

"What are you doing, Sammy?" Dean asked, confused.

"Reading," Sammy told him as if the answer should have been obvious.

"Reading to the boogey man?" Dean clarified, smiling at his innocent little brother.

"You told me there was no boogey man," Sammy reminded him, a tinge of fear in his eyes at the possibility that Dean was wrong. Suddenly realising that Dean was teasing him, he smiled. "I'm just reading, Dean."

Dean nodded and rolled his eyes.

"Okay, Sammy," Dean told him. "Lights out now, okay? It's late."

Sammy nodded and closed the book obediently. Dean closed the door and headed up the hall to his bedroom. They had always shared rooms before, but this house had an extra bedroom and it meant that they could have their own rooms. Dean was, at first, excited at the prospect of having his own room, but sometimes he really missed his little brother. And he found it harder to sleep when he wasn't able to quickly glance over at him to make sure he was okay. Still, he had fought for this, convinced his brother that it was a good thing they had their own rooms. Finally Sammy had agreed, though tearfully, and that had been that…

Until tonight, Dean thought. Something wasn't quite right, something wasn't quite normal. Still, he remember how unconcerned his father seemed to be and figured that he was right. If there really was something going on, Dean knew his dad would have been right in there fixing it. So he shook his head and figured he was just used to having Sammy nearby to keep an eye on him.

Everything was fine.

SPN

John had barely finished his coffee when he realised that the caffeine wasn't having the desired effect. Instead he closed the book once again, collected up his things and headed for the bedroom. He quickly dumped them on his bed before heading for Sammy's room to check up on him. He always checked on his boys before he turned in for the night when he was home, and wished he could do it every day. The hunt took him away far too often, he knew. Still, he had no choice.

Sam's door was closed, which had become the custom over recent months because 'big boys slept with their door closed and the lights off, just like Dean'. There was no light under the door, but he was sure he could hear whispering. John reached for the handle of the door, prepared to tell Sammy it was far too late to be up playing, but when he turned the knob it wouldn't budge.

The door was locked – and THAT was unusual.

"Sammy?" John called softly through the door. "Unlock the door, son. We don't lock doors in this family, you know that."

There was no answer.

John sighed and headed up the hall to Dean's room, hoping that he would have some help in getting the door open. Sammy usually listened to John, but he always listened to Dean. He was a good boy, and John didn't want to think about the reason why the door could be locked.

And he hoped that it was locked and that there wasn't something more sinister holding the door shut with his little boy trapped inside.

Not surprising, John found Dean in bed, lying awake staring up at the ceiling. John knew that until Dean knew Sammy was asleep, he wouldn't let himself switch off completely. John admired and appreciated that in Dean, but he would be lying if he said it didn't worry him at all. He was worried about how much responsibility Dean had on his shoulders, but he knew he didn't have another choice. It had to be this way.

"Hey," John greeted Dean as the boy met his eyes. "Is there some reason Sammy's taken to locking his door at night?"

"Huh?" Dean asked, confused.

"I just went to check in on him, and his doors locked."

"I was in there a minute ago and it wasn't locked," Dean told him, climbing out of bed and padding across the floor in his bare feet. "He's up to something."

John didn't say anything, but he was sure that Dean was right. If Dean thought Sammy was acting strangely then he probably was. John might miss something like this, but Dean never would. He knew Sammy's habits, he would have known if there was a legitimate reason for Sammy to lock the door. The fact that Dean seemed genuinely confused by it had John worried.

Swallowing the worry he turned and lead the way back to Sammy's bedroom.

"Sammy, open up," John called, hearing muffled sounds coming from inside. "Sammy, don't make me pick the lock, coz I can you know… open up, kiddo."

"Come on, Sammy," Dean called. "Open the door, I mean it."

John stepped back a little when he heard tiny footsteps on the floor of the other side of the door and waited with his breath in his throat. He would never agree that his fear was anything but rational at that point, considering what he knew could be out there to hurt his family… having a locked door separate him from his little boy instantly raised the question of what condition he'd find his son in when the door opened.

He held his breath until he saw Sam standing before him, safe and sound.

"What are you doing?" John asked, stepping inside passed Sammy. "Why was the door locked?"

Sammy shrugged.

"Sammy, you cant lock the door, you know that," Dean told him as John scanned the room with expert eyes. "What if something had happened?"

"You'd be able to get in," Sammy told them, his eyes wide with innocence. John glanced at Dean and saw something he was sure was disbelief in his eldest son's eyes. Dean wasn't buying Sam's innocent act for a second, so John wouldn't either. "I knew you'd be able to get in."

"So why lock the door?" John asked again. "What are you up to?"

"Nothing," Sammy assured them, sitting on the floor again.

"Sammy…" Dean insisted.

Sammy sighed. John could see indecision in his eyes, but finally he reached behind him and pulled the closet door open. Immediately a fluffy, golden creature leapt out of the cupboard and start running its tongue on Sammy's cheek, eliciting giggles of delight in the young boy. Dean was immediately on his knees beside them, tangling his fingers in the puppies soft, shiny coat.

"Wow," Dean breathed. "This is what you've been hiding?"

Sammy nodded.

"I knew you'd make me tell Daddy, and Daddy would make me give the puppy up because he doesn't think I can take care of a puppy, but I can! See?" Sammy announced, grinning at Dean. "He loves me! He's happy, and he's not sick or hurt or anything, Dean. See?"

"I see that, Sammy," Dean assured him, laughing as the puppy turned its affection onto him, knocking him to sit flat on the ground and insisting on a tummy rub. "He's a great puppy, Sammy."

"I know… you'll let me keep him, wont you Dean?" Sammy pleaded.

"Whoah, hold on a minute," John announced, struggling to keep up with the conversation. "When did Dean become the decision maker around here?"

"I just wanted to know if he liked the puppy too, Daddy," Sammy explained, turning wide eyes on his father. John was confused, very confused. For one thing, where the hell had the puppy come from? And how the hell had Sammy gotten it passed him in the first place? And how long had it been here? "Can we keep the puppy, Daddy?"

John sighed and got to the floor with his boys. The puppy looked over at him right away, with curiosity in its eyes. That look reminded him so much of Sammy that it made his heart ache and he immediately wished his answer could be anything but no. The puppy jumped from Dean's lap and padded across to him, sitting patiently in front of him as if he knew that John was the master of the house and he wanted to prove his obedience.

John reached out instinctively and rubbed the puppy's ear, eliciting a doggy smile. The puppy jumped into his lap with the confidence of knowing he was accepted and safe, and immediately began slathering kisses all over John's face. How a tiny puppy like that could make a grown man want to run away, crawl under the head and hide all the while laughing with delight was beyond John.

Finally he managed to pull the puppy away and sat him between the three of them.

"Sammy," he began gently. "I know you love the puppy, and I can see why. He's a great puppy, he really is, but we can't have a puppy… you know that, don't you?"

"Why not?" Sammy asked. There were no tears in his voice yet, but John knew that was only because Sammy didn't agree with his father yet and therefore hadn't accepted that the puppy couldn't stay. It was going to break John's heart when Sammy finally came to realise the truth.

"Because he's a puppy, he takes a lot of time and energy. We move around a lot, and you boys have school, and I'm not home all the time," John reminded him. "A puppy wouldn't like our life, Sammy. He wouldn't be happy. He wouldn't have a home, he'd be running around the country with us all the time."

"But we don't have a home," Sammy pointed out. "Why is it okay that we don't have a home, but not for the puppy?"

John was stumped. It wasn't okay, it was never okay but it was how it had to be. At least, for now. He hoped that one day they'd be able to have a stable home where the boys could attend one school instead of several a year. He hoped he'd be able to let them run around the back yard with a puppy of their own some day, but in the meantime he was doing the only thing he could. He was hunting everything evil he could, hunting down the thing that had killed their mother, searching for answers. He was trying to keep them safe by killing anything that could hurt them.

"Because we understand why things have to be this way," John told him. "The puppy wont understand that, will he? He'll be sad."

"He wont have to be sad because he'll have me to play with him and stuff," Sammy reminded his father. "Please Daddy? He'll make a great dog! He can help Dean protect me, too! He already follows me everywhere… in here, anyway. And he does as he's told, too! He sat, did you see? He sat right in front of you… I taught him to sit because I knew it would make you happy. He's a good dog, and real easy to train to do stuff!"

"Sammy…"

"But Dad, he is! Honest!" Sammy told him. "He can even play dead already!"

"Sammy…"

"And maybe he can help Dean look out for me so you don't have to worry so much all the time!" Sammy continued, still determined to show his father why this puppy was going to be such a good addition to the family. John knew how Sammy felt, but he just couldn't let this go.

"Sammy, he'd be stuck inside a car for hours on end," John reminded him. "You know how much we move around… you don't like long car trips, do you? You get bored, right? Imagine what it'll be like for a puppy. He wouldn't be able to run around, he wouldn't be able to go to the toilet whenever he wanted, we'd have to pull over and stuff… he'd hate it, Sammy."

"But he'd have me," Sammy insisted, sadly. "I'd make him happy."

"I know you would, Sammy."

Silence filled the space between them for a time and John felt his heart race as Sammy buried his face in the puppy's fur. The puppy merely leaned his head against Sammy's leg and put his paw in Sammy's hand as if to make the little boy feel better. Dean hadn't taken his hand from the puppy's back either, and John knew he was hoping there was some way they could keep the puppy. John just wished he could. He had never felt so awful about the decision he'd made until he saw the crushed look on Dean face and realised that Sammy's would be even harder to bear.

"He has a name," Sammy announced, his voice muffled.

John didn't respond.

"What's his name?" Dean asked.

Sammy looked up.

"Dean."

"Yeah?"

"No, I mean the puppy's name is Dean, just like yours," Sammy explained. Dean looked horrified at having a dog named after him, but Sammy continued before Dean could really respond. "Because the puppy's really special and always making me happy and safe and stuff, and that's just like you. You always try to make things fun, and you make me better when I'm sick, and you make me not afraid after I have a bad dream… you keep the scary things away, and I think the puppy should have a special name. Like you. Dean. Puppy Dean, coz otherwise it would just be confusing."

Dean hesitated, considering everything that Sammy had said and finally he shifted closer to Sammy and the puppy. He didn't mind the puppy being named after him, John realised.

John's heart felt warm at the thought of how much the brother's cared about each other, how much Sammy appreciated Dean for everything he did… but it was also a little sore as he wondered what Sammy thought of him.

Was John just a father who disappeared all the time? Maybe Sammy just figured that he was around for a while and then, when he left, things would get back to normal.

"I'm sorry, Sammy," John told him. "But the puppy has to go. He's probably gotten lost and there's a family out there looking for him. Tomorrow we'll put up posters to find his real family and he can go home."

"But…"

"No, Sam," John interrupted, getting to his feet. "He can't stay here, I'm sorry. This is how it has to be, and you know that. He goes home. Now, it's getting really late. I want everyone in bed in five minutes. Understand?"

"Yes sir," Dean answered immediately.

Sammy just nodded, but by the sadness in his eyes John knew that he wouldn't be getting a verbal response from him.

He left.

As John reached the door he hesitated briefly when he heard Dean's words.

"Sammy?"

"Yeah?"

"Can I sleep in here with you and the puppy tonight?" Dean asked, sounding so uncertain that it broke John's heart. Dean obviously understood where John was coming from, and knew logically that he was right, but he couldn't help but wish it could be different. Dean loved the puppy too, John knew.

He left the room and went to his own bed with one thought: sometimes, life just sucked.

SPN

When John got up the next morning it was with a headache clashing behind his eyes and the smell of burnt toast wafting from the kitchen. He pulled himself out of the bed and padded to the kitchen blindly, in desperate need for coffee. He hadn't slept particularly well since he kept thinking about how sad his boys were going to be when the puppy had to go home. Especially Sammy, since Dean knew the score, he understood how things were… how they had to be. Sammy was forever asking questions that they just couldn't – or weren't ready to – answer. He wished he could give them a normal life, be a normal father. He wished they could have a puppy, that he could go outside with his boys and a baseball and play catch the way he had dreamed of before his family had fallen apart.

Still, he thought. There's no point wishing for what could never be. All he could do was hunt and hope that he would find he thing that had destroyed his family. He could hope that the hunt would be over and they could have some kind of normal life but he was starting to think he would never find that evil… thing.

If he was hoping for anything, it was to finish the hunt before his boys were old enough to join him. If they never had to fire a gun, kill a living creature, get hurt to save someone else… well, he never wanted them to have to do any of those things, but he was starting to think it was inevitable.

Dean was eating burnt toast when John reached the kitchen. That was nothing unusual since their toaster burnt anything that got within its range, but it just added to John's bad mood. Why couldn't his boys have decent toast? Why did everything have to be so damn hard?

Sammy, on the other hand, was carefully preparing the coffee pot for John while getting a bowl of leftovers ready for the puppies breakfast and a bowl of milk too. John knew what he was doing, but he didn't say anything. Sammy was trying to prove that he was old enough and responsible enough to take care of the puppy and while John knew it wasn't going to change his mind he figured there was nothing wrong with the boy showing some initiative and learning some responsibility.

He couldn't change his mind… even as much as he wanted to.

John sat at the able and pinched a piece of toast from Dean, who glared at him with his mouth full. John knew the boy would've said something about how a man needed his food, or something about how food was sacred and never to be shared, but Dean had shoved such a huge bite of honey smothered toast into his mouth John wondered if he could breathe, let alone speak.

Sammy carefully placed the bowls on the floor in front of the puppy, ordered it to sit and wait while he collected his father's coffee and carried it carefully to the table, placing it in front of John. The cup was over full and some of its contents spilled onto the table, but Sammy had brought a cloth with him and quickly mopped up the mess. Then he returned to the bench, collected his own breakfast and carried that carefully to the table. Once again he spilled some of the milk as he'd put in too much, but he quickly cleaned it up and climbed into his seat.

He looked over a the puppy, who was sitting patiently by his bowl.

"Puppy Dean," Sammy announced. The puppy wagged its tail in response. "Eat up."

The puppy dug into its breakfast, careful not to make any mess.

John considered whether he should say anything, like how impressive the puppy was and how Sammy was being a good boy in trying to be so responsible but that he had to accept that there was just no way the Winchester's could have a puppy. For whatever reason, John decided against saying something and instead took a sip of much needed coffee.

Instantly he found himself fighting the desire to spit it back out as the coffee was bitter and way too strong. Instead he forced himself to swallow it and headed for the milk and sugar.

"Don't you like it Daddy?" Sammy asked, his voice sounding hurt as he watched his father heaping sugar into his cup. "I made it special."

"I know you did, Sammy," John told him, forcing himself to smile through the horrible taste left in his mouth. The worst part was, there was a whole pot of the wretched coffee sitting on the bench and he knew there was no way he could get away with not drinking it. "It's great… I just, ah, felt like having my coffee a little different this morning."

Sammy nodded as if understanding and accepting his father's explanation and immediately turned his attention to Dean.

"Do you like your breakfast, Dean?" Sammy asked his brother.

Dean held up his hand in the thumbs up signal as he chewed his way through another huge bite.

John thought there was way too much honey on the toast but knew that Dean wouldn't complain. Dean had a taste for food that went beyond normal, it was… well, there were some things that Dean had come up with that most people wouldn't deem suitable for human consumption. Dean had recently become a master of creating some disgusting sandwiches, especially. Still, Sammy was trying and was obviously hoping that proving he was a big boy would get his father to change his mind about the puppy.

John only wished he could.

The puppy had finished eating and had lapped up all his milk happily and was now positioned underneath Sammy's chair. With any other dog, John would have assumed it was waiting for scraps, but somehow that didn't seem to be the motivation of this particular puppy. It kept a careful eye on Sammy, making sure he wasn't going to go anywhere…

After they had all finished eating, Sammy immediately sprung into action once again. He quickly cleared the plates and bowls and cups and carried them to the sink, rinsing them under the water the way John always did and leaving them to drain.

"Come on, Puppy Dean," Sammy called, heading for the back door. "Time to go to the toilet."

John waited until the door closed behind his little boy before he turned to Dean and sighed.

"He's not going to give up on this, is he?" he asked, wishing he didn't already know the answer. "He really loves that puppy."

Dean nodded.

"Isn't there any way we can keep him?" Dean asked. "I mean, we let Sammy follow us everywhere, why is a puppy any different?"

John chuckled, recognising Dean's attempt to make him feel better about the situation but seeing understanding in the boys eyes just the same. Dean was only eleven, he should be begging and pleading right along with his brother to keep the puppy, but instead he was immediately resigned that the puppy would go home no matter how much they loved it.

Dean was too old for his age, John decided.

"I wish we could keep him," John admitted. "I really do…"

It was an hour later, when the puppy had been fed, taken to the toilet, had some outside exercise for the day and had its morning bath – although John tried to explain to Sammy that dogs don't have baths every day, he let it go when Sammy insisted that he had to have one. All little boys did, he announced and headed off to take care of the bath for the puppy. He'd even used bubbles, though John was sure that wasn't the best thing for the puppy, he figured this once would be okay. Besides, it was too late to go back and change it now.

Finally John had managed to get Sammy to sit down for five minutes and showed him the sign that he'd made up for the puppy. It was simple, nothing major just a notice saying there was a Golden Retriever puppy that had been found in the area and John's phone number for the owners to call. When Sammy saw the poster, however, his face fell and his lower lip trembled.

"Why, Daddy?" Sammy asked in a very young, pained voice. "Don't you like how well trained he is? He's so good, Daddy, he does everything I tell him to! Can't we keep him?"

"Sammy, come on," John pleaded with him. "Our lives just don't go with having a pet, you know that… besides that, this puppy has a family out there who love him and miss him and are probably really worried about him. He could belong to another little boy whose really upset because he doesn't know where his puppy is. You don't want this other family to lose their puppy, do you?"

"If they really loved him, they would've have taken better care of him and wouldn't have lost him! They don't love him! He doesn't love them! And he doesn't miss them! He loves me!" Sammy cried, his eyes filling with tears. "He loves me, he came to find me because he loves me, Daddy! Don't you understand?"

John opened his mouth to speak but before he could, Sammy had run off to his room with the puppy in tow. The door slammed a moment later and there was nothing left but the sound of Sammy's pained sobs muffled by the door and, no doubt, the dogs fur coat.

This was new territory for John, something he'd never had to deal with. A broken-hearted Sammy who was about to lose his best friend…

SPN

It was almost three hours later when John returned from the copy shop with an armload of posters to hang up around the neighbourhood and hand out to people or put in their mail boxes. Dean was sitting on the couch staring at a blank TV screen and John didn't have to ask where Sammy was. He would still be in his room with the puppy, wishing he could go live with the puppy's other family, where people were allowed to have pets and play games like normal people.

"Come on, Dean," John announced. "Let's get your brother and go hand out these posters."

Dean got to his feet silently and followed his father to Sammy's room. John tried the door, half expecting it to be locked but finding it opening easily in his hands. Sammy was sitting quietly on his bed with the puppy in his lap. Tears had dried on his cheeks and the puppy was looking pathetic and dejected. John swallowed hard against the regret he felt, but he forced himself to speak with a strong and steady voice.

"Come on, Sammy," John told him. "We have lots of posters to hand out today."

Sammy hugged the puppy to him tightly before getting to his feet.

"Be good," he instructed the puppy. "I'll be home soon."

The puppy glanced up at Sam and rested his head on the boys pillow, shifting into the warm spot Sam had just vacated. He sniffed his sadness at being left behind. Sammy walked to the door, glancing over his shoulder at his new friend as if it was already the end of their time together, as if they were never going to see each other again if he walked out the door.

Shoulders low, head down and sad, tear-filled eyes averted from his family, Sammy headed for the front door.

SPN

John taped another poster to a light post several blocks from the house they called home. Dean and Sammy were working a little further behind him with posters of their own. Dean had tried to cheer Sammy up a few times, tried to joke with him, entice him into making the whole thing a race but the younger boy wasn't having any of it. He refused to talk, refused o smile, simply went about the business of hanging up the posters his father had given him.

When John turned around to tell the boys he'd run out of posters, but the words caught in his throat when he only saw Dean two light posts away.

Where was Sammy?

John broke into a run toward Dean, panic filling his chest and restricting his throat.

"Where's your brother?" John asked. Dean's eyes widened with fear as he glanced around him. "How the hell did he get passed us? Why does he keep doing this?"

John grabbed Dean and hurried up and down the street, calling over and over for Sammy. Memories from the previous year flooded his mind, leaving him feeling breathless and whatever emotion was beyond panicked.

"Dad, what if that man came back?" Dean asked, echoing his father's thoughts. John stopped in his tracks and looked down at Dean. None of them had discussed it again since that day, as if talking about it would bring it all back and they'd have to relive it only this time they might have been too late… until now, the whole thing had been left in the past and now the all-too-real possibility of someone or something having gotten to Sammy again was leaving John with a feeling that he couldn't even begin to describe.

"The man couldn't come back, Dean," John promised him. "He's gone away for a very long time, remember? He can't get to Sammy anymore."

"But, what if he got out? What if he escaped?"

"Dean, no…" John assured him.

"What if there's someone else out there just like him and they got to Sammy?" Dean asked, his bottom lip quivering. "If there's other people like him, then one of them might have taken Sammy away!"

John wished he could tell Dean that it wasn't possible, that there weren't monsters like that in the world, but he couldn't. Dean already knew what crawled around them, especially in the dark, and there'd be no convincing him that the evil he had seen in the man who had tried to take Sammy wasn't real. Dean knew too much.

Besides, how could John convince Dean of something he didn't believe himself?

"He might have gone home," Dean announced suddenly, hope filling his eyes. "He didn't want to be here, maybe he went to be with the puppy!"

John nodded, hoping that Dean was right and hurrying to find out. He grabbed Dean, lifting him from his feet and carrying him as he ran toward their house. Dean would normally have complained, stating that he was a man and should be allowed to use his own legs, but today Dean just accepted the fact that it was the quickest way for them to get home and didn't say a word about it. John knew then that Dean was more worried than he realised.

When they finally reached the edge of the front yard, Dean squirmed out of his father's grasp and ran the rest of the way to the door. John unlocked it quickly and they rushed inside, each of them calling for Sammy. Dean ran straight to Sammy's room while John checked the rest of the house.

They met in the lounge minutes later. Without a word, John knew that Dean's answer was the same as his own… there was no sign of Sammy anywhere. And no sign of the puppy.

SPN

Sammy huddled in a bush hiding from the cold wind that blew around him. It was getting dark now, and he was starting to get scared. He had never really been away from Dean before and the thought of that was terrifying. Dean was always there to protect him, even when his father wasn't. Now he was out in the real world, fending for himself with a puppy that he was more worried about protecting than anything. His greatest fear right at that point was that something evil would jump out of the bushes at them and the puppy would get hurt protecting him. Sammy would much rather throw himself in the line of fire than let anything happen to the puppy!

Cuddling the puppy close, Sammy pulled his legs to his chest, trying to keep them both as warm as possible. He had grabbed a blanket from the closet to keep the puppy warm, but it wasn't big enough to cover them both. He wrapped the blanket around the puppy and prepared himself for a long, cold night.

SPN

"Mr Winchester, it would really be helpful if you could just take a seat and calm down," Officer Jones told him. She was growing impatient with the man's constant pacing and ranting. She glanced at the little boy sitting quietly on the couch with worry etched on his face. "Why don't we let Dean go into the other room with my partner while we talk about this? I'm sure…"

"No," Dean announced, looking up. "I'm staying here. I'm going to help find Sammy."

"Look, son," Officer Jones began, her tone stern. She immediately realised it was the wrong thing to do as the boys jaw set firmly and his father turned on her with angry eyes.

"Dean doesn't have to go anywhere," John told her. "His brother's missing."

"Okay, but Mr Winchester, we need to find out what happened," Officer Jones told him, no kindness or gentleness in her voice as she spoke.

"I told you what happened. I turned around and Sammy was gone. He's upset because he found this puppy and we aren't in a position to have a puppy and I said that we had to find the puppy's real family," John told her again, his voice edged with barely contained frustration as he laid it all out again. "Now he's taken the puppy and run away."

"And you said he was seven years old?"

"Yes."

"Wearing jeans and a sweatshirt?"

"Yes," John repeated. "Damn it, I cant tell you anything more than that! My son is out there somewhere and you're in here going over the same old crap! The tune isn't changing, sister, so I suggest that you get out there and find my son instead of staying in here where I'm about ready to…"

"Careful, Mr Winchester," she warned him. "Remember, I am an officer and any threats toward me will be taken very seriously."

"All I was going to say, miss, is that I will call your supervisor if you don't march your ass out there in the next five minutes," John insisted. "A child is missing and I was under the impression that you people took that seriously!"

"We do…"

"Then get the hell out of my house and find my son!!!"

Officer Jones hesitated for a moment longer before finally turning on her heal and heading outside. Within ten minutes there were hordes of police officers canvassing the area, searching the grounds of the house and nearby homes in search of a little boy with brown hair, puppy dog eyes wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.

John, on the other hand, was inside feeling completely useless.

SPN

Sammy was getting tired. He'd been missing for hours now, and he knew that his dad and Dean would be really worried about him by now. But he couldn't risk going back, couldn't risk them taking his friend away. He didn't know what kind of family the puppy might have come from, and he seemed so happy with Sammy, how could he make him go away? It didn't seem fair, on him or on the puppy!

"Daddy's gonna be really mad, Puppy Dean," Sammy whispered to the puppy as it snuggled closer to him. "But I had to do what I had to do to keep you safe. I couldn't let them take you away, I just couldn't!"

The puppy reached up and kissed him warmly on the cheek once before nuzzling his neck and reaching one paw from under the blanket to rest on his cheek. Sammy lowered his head and buried his face in the puppy's fur, desperately fighting back tears.

"Dean's gonna hate me too," Sammy continued, trying to distract himself from what he would be losing if he went home. "I broke my promise to him, Puppy. I told him I'd never run away again, that I wouldn't take off… and now I've done it but I had to! I didn't have a choice!"

The puppy let out a soft whine as if in answer to the little boys desperate rant. The sound didn't sound to Sammy much like the agreeing tone he would have expected, it sounded more like the puppy was saying something of comfort. Something soothing, to make him feel better but… there was something else too.

"You think they'll still love me? Do you think they'll let me keep you now?"

The puppy looked up at him with his big brown eyes and cocked his head to one side.

"You think… you think they're mad at me?"

The puppy sneezed.

"I think they would be mad…"

The puppy sneezed.

Sammy began to wonder if the puppy was really answering his questions somehow, that it understood what he was saying and was responding. Like Doctor Doolittle! Wow, Sammy thought. Could I be talking to a dog?

"Are you a puppy?" Sammy asked, testing him.

Head cocked to one side.

"Am I a horse?"

Puppy sneezed. Sammy wondered if he knew what a horse was, but maybe the puppy was simply answering because he knew Sammy was a little boy and that wasn't the same thing as whatever a horse was.

"Am I a cat?"

Sneeze.

Now that seemed more accurate, Sammy thought. He sighed and looked up around him. He had seen flashlights everywhere earlier and now they had disappeared into the darkness somewhere. Sammy glanced down at his watch and hit the light on it. He read he time, it was well passed one in the morning… man, he was going to be in so much trouble!

"You think we should go home, don't you," Sammy stated, looking down at his friend.

The puppy kissed his chin lightly.

"But they'll take you away, they'll make you go home… to another home…" Sammy told him. "Do you want that?"

The puppy sneezed, cocked his head and immediately began kissing Sammy's cheek again.

"Well that's confusing," Sammy muttered. He looked into the puppy's eyes and saw even more confusion there. The puppy didn't want to leave Sammy, he realised. But there was someone out there he loved as well and he wanted to be with them too… the puppy really did have another home, and one that he liked.

There might even be a little boy or girl who was crying right now because of their lost puppy, Sammy thought. Just like Daddy said…

"Okay," Sammy sighed through his tears. "I'll think about it…"

After all, that's what Daddy says about stuff all the time. It's not always a yes or no answer, sometimes it was 'I'll think about it' and it could then go either way. This way Sammy had the chance to make the decision and he could be sure he'd make the right one.

Right now the right decision felt very much like staying put and getting cuddles from his puppy…

SPN

"This is nuts!" John growled suddenly, getting to his feet and beginning to pace across he room again. "What the hell are they doing out there? Sammy's been gone for hours! We looked everywhere for him… and then we did what everyone else would do in this situation… we called the cops, right? And they're supposed to be there to help us find him! They're supposed to protect little boys like Sammy! And what the hell are they doing? He's been gone for… what? Twelve hours? This is nuts!"

The front door opened and Officer Jones stepped inside, tucking her hat under her arm. Her uniform was in pristine condition, she showed no sign of being tired or having even worked. To John she may as well have been having a manicure.

"Have you found him?" John demanded, growing angrier the longer he looked at her.

"No, Mr Winchester, not yet," Officer Jones told him. "Look, cases like this are very different when it's a child. Generally if they're not found in the first few hours, they're long gone… I think we need to call in the feds on this one, he's obviously been picked up by someone."

"No," John shook his head, closed his eyes and tried to stop himself from swaying on the spot. He felt Dean's arms wrap around his waist and immediately put his hand on his son's back. He could feel Dean shaking, fear making the muscles in his body tense as he considered what the police officer was saying. John understood how he felt, it was a physical reaction that threatened to drop him to the floor in a heap. His little boy was out there somewhere, alone and cold… he hadn't eaten in a long time, he would be tired… he was only a little boy! He was so young! He was defenceless! He was… he was too innocent, too sweet for his own good! John fought back tears as he considered what could have happened to him.

A year ago, Sammy had nearly been taken by someone whose favourite pass time was to take advantage of little boys like Sammy… and now Sammy was missing and there was no way of knowing who had him. No sign of anything… Sammy was just… gone.

"Oh god," John whispered, dropping to his knees and pulling Dean to him. He looked up at Officer Jones and actually saw what might amount to compassion in her eyes. "Please… he's just out there somewhere with the puppy… he's just… he doesn't want to lose the puppy, that's all this is… please don't…"

"Mr Winchester, I'm sorry but it's a very real possibility that we have to face right now," she explained in her robotic voice that she seemed to think helped the situation. "We have to face the possibility that someone has him. Now that could be a good thing."

"How the hell is it a good thing?" John demanded, getting to his feet and storming over to her. He fought for composure and struggled to stop himself from losing control of his temper. "How the hell could it be a good thing if some pervert has my little boy?"

"Sir, we don't know if it's a pervert, it could just be someone out for money, which means they'll make contact with you and we'll be able to take it from there…"

John shook his head.

"We don't have any money," John told her. "If they took him to get some quick cash then they got the wrong kid…"

"Mr Winchester, it's important we call the feds in now, the sooner we make the call the better."

"He just wants his puppy," John insisted, his voice sounding weak and strained with tears even to his own ears. He turned back to face Dean and saw the boy standing helplessly in the middle of the room with tears on his cheeks and his hands balled into fists by his side. John opened his mouth to speak when he heard a click at the back door.

He glanced up, fear and hope fighting for top billing in the back of his throat…

"Sammy!" Dean cried, rushing to the little boy shivering in the doorway. Dean pulled him into the kitchen and gave him a hug so tight John wasn't sure he was ever going to let go. But then again, John was on his knees by his sons side holding them both to him with tears streaming down his face before he'd even realised he'd taken a breath.

"Thank God," John whispered. "Thank God, thank God, thank God…"

Dean pulled away and hurried out of the room, returning a second later with a blanket. He took the puppy from Sammy and handed the blanket to his father. John took it and wrapped it around the shivering form of his youngest son before collecting him into his arms and getting to his feet. He carried him into the lounge room where it was warmer and shot a look at the police officer that he hoped would melt her shield before finally taking a seat on the couch and sitting with Sammy on his lap, rocking him gently.

Dean stared at his little brother and reached out and touched him on the back as if to assure himself he was real, that he wasn't going to dissolve into thin air.

"You scared the life out of me, kiddo," John told him. "Don't you ever do that to me again!"

There was no bite to John's words, no anger. Just the raw emotion of having his little boy back home safe and sound, out of harms way. Relief overwhelmed him, filled his heart until he thought it would explode, and finally he just held Sammy even tighter.

All he knew how to do right now was hold his boys…

"Mr Winchester, I'll call off the search and put in my report, and we'll be out of your way," Officer Jones told him, a tiny smile hinting at her lips. John gave her a curt nod in response but didn't look up at her. "I'm glad he's come home, sir. Sometimes these things don't work out quite so well, no matter what we do… I'm glad that this time we can all go home knowing that the little boy is safe."

John watched her retreating back and realised, suddenly, why she was so robotic in her motions. She had dealt with missing children before, and they hadn't always come home. She had seen grieving parents, grieving families, and had had to be the one to deliver bad news. She had fought for the children she searched for, invested herself in them only to be broken-hearted when they were never seen before or their bodies were found… and so she had to go into each situation with a protective layer to her or she would break at seeing the first edges of fear and pain on the families faces.

And his attitude toward her hadn't helped her to deal with this situation, to do her job. He would never be able to feel guilty for being afraid for his missing son, but he could better appreciate how much the woman had had invested in it too.

"Officer Jones?" he called, stopping her just before she left. She turned and waited. John swallowed hard, holding Sammy closer. The emotion he heard in his voice shocked even him, but the smile he saw on her face made it worth it. "Thank you… for… just, thank you…"

Officer Jones swallowed visibly and nodded, smiling.

"You're welcome, Mr Winchester," she replied. "Take care, and good luck. Your boys have energy…"

John nodded.

And she was gone.

"I'm sorry, Daddy," Sammy murmured from where he was still clinging to his fathers shirt. "I'm sorry I ran away! I'm sorry!"

"Oh, Sammy, just…" John shook his head again, unable to continue. He pulled Sammy away enough to get a look at him. "Are you okay? Are you hurt?"

Sammy shook his head.

"I'm fine," he promised. "I'm sorry."

"You idiot!" Dean announced suddenly, getting to his feet with anger in his eyes. "You stupid idiot!"

"Dean," John warned, knowing that Sammy didn't need to hear any anger or accusations right now, but there was no stopping Dean.

"You stupid little idiot! You just took off! You just left! Anything could've happened to you! Anything! Someone could've taken you, could've hurt you! We might never have seen you again! Do you even care what we were doing? What we were thinking this whole time? Do you even care that every cop in the city dropped their donuts and came rushing to find you? Do you even care that they were going to call the FBI and get them to find you because they thought someone had taken you?!?!" Dean yelled. John had never seen Dean like that before, never seen such hurt and anger in his eyes, never heard such tension in his voice. "You scared us! You scared me, I thought… I thought… I thought you were…"

Sammy immediately squirmed out of his father's lap and launched himself at Dean, knocking his big brother back onto the couch and wrapping his arms around him. Sammy's little frame was shaking with his own cries even as he tried to soothe Dean's.

"I'm sorry, Dean, I'm sorry!!!" Sammy said, repeating himself over and over. Soon, Dean ignored the tears running down his cheeks and began rubbing Sammy's back in soothing circles to calm him down.

"It's okay, Sammy, everything's okay now," Dean assured him.

Sammy had scared himself more than anyone else, John realised.

John left the boys alone for a minute while he fetched the three of them some hot chocolate. It seemed the most appropriate drink right then, soothing, comforting and warm. When he came back Sammy was sitting beside his brother looking suitably guilty. John realised that Dean had told him how naughty it had been for him to take off like that, and that once again John wouldn't have to worry about a lecture. John was never one to be afraid of discipline, of setting his boys straight, but Dean seemed to like to protect Sammy from the lectures anyway. Dean seemed to think there was a better way to deal with Sammy, like he was trying to stop John from putting too much responsibility on the boy even though, one day, he was going to need it.

Still, for right now, John was too tired and too damned relieved to have his little boy back to care about lecturing him.

"Who wants hot chocolate?" John asked, handing the cups to Sammy and Dean. He could see Sammy was struggling to stay awake, but he wanted him to get warm before going to bed. He sat down on a seat near his boys. "You want to tell us what happened?"

Sammy sniffed and stroked the puppy as it climbed into his lap.

"I didn't want you to take Puppy Dean away," Sammy whispered, tears slipping down his cheeks.

John nodded, understanding.

"Why did you come home then? We've been looking for you for hours and the police have been looking for you," John pointed out. "Why did you come back?"

"Because I didn't want you and Dean to be mad at me and I didn't want to make you sad like before."

"Before?" John asked.

"Last year when that man tried to take me away from you, I know you were real mad and real scared," Sammy reminded them both. "And I didn't want you to feel like that again."

John didn't want to point out to Sammy that those feelings were unavoidable when he disappeared, that they were always going to be scared that something would happen to him, that he was going to be taken away or hurt. He didn't want to lay that responsibility on the little boys shoulders, and he didn't want Sammy to have to live in fear. He had to learn what the world was about a little at a time, he had to learn to be able to rely on them and on himself rather than being left to feel helpless to deal with the scary things that prowled all around him.

But he couldn't do that.

"We were really scared, Sammy," John told him gently.

"I know, Daddy," Sammy nodded, a wisdom in his eyes that John had never seen before. "Dean told me… all I wanted to do was to protect Puppy Dean the way you guys protected me. But then I realised that I couldn't do that because he wasn't mine. Not really. There's a little boy out there who is really sad because they don't have their Dean. I already have a Dean…"

SPN

It was three days later before the phone call finally came. John answered the call as Sammy was feeding Puppy Dean his dinner. Only real puppy food was on the menu since Sammy had come home. John had gone out and bought the supplies they needed to take care of him while they had him and Sammy was very careful about making sure he was on a healthy diet. They all took the puppy for a walk in the morning and again at night time, and John got an idea of what their lives might have been like if Mary had lived.

And it broke his heart.

By the time the phone rang it was already after six in the evening. John walked into the kitchen with his cell phone in his hands, his heart in his throat and dread in his stomach. He didn't want to see the sadness in Sammy's eyes, he didn't want to see Dean trying to comfort the little boy, and he didn't want…

Hell, he didn't want to give the puppy up! John had had a dog when he was a little boy, and he was his best friend! They went everywhere together, they did everything together, and it had honestly been one of the most precious times in his childhood. He had dreamed of giving his boys a dog the day Dean had been born, he dreamed of seeing Dean running around he back yard and playing with his best friend… but it never happened. And now, so many years later they had a puppy that was just something else all together. This puppy wasn't just any dog, he wasn't just an animal, wasn't just… he was something special.

When John cleared his throat, Sammy and the puppy looked up from the kitchen bench and Dean looked up from the table where he was watching his brother.

John nodded sadly.

"That was Mrs Simpson, she lives several streets from here," John explained. "She bought a puppy for her son and he went missing… it… it looks like they're the family we're looking for."

John waited.

He expected for Sammy to cry and wail and plead for them to be able to keep the puppy, but instead Sammy just pursed his lips tightly together and nodded bravely. He dropped to his knees beside the puppy and pulled him onto his lap.

"You hear that, Puppy Dean?" Sammy spoke to him gently. "You're going home…"

An hour later Mrs Simpson arrived with her son, five year old Brandon. John watched, having promised Sammy that he would let him take care of it. Sammy opened the door and smiled politely in greeting.

"You must be Sammy, the boy whose been taking care of Riley," Mrs Simpson smiled. She offered her hand and Sammy shook it gently. "Thank you so much for taking care of him for us."

She pulled out some money and offered it to him.

"Just a small reward as a thank you," she told him.

Sammy shook his head.

"No thank you," Sammy refused. "I didn't do it for money."

Mrs Simpson nodded in understanding and tucked the money away. Brandon peeked out from behind her and smiled when he saw his puppy. Puppy Dean was sitting beside Sammy, refusing to budge from the little boys side.

"Riley, come on!" Brandon called. "Time to go home!"

The puppy didn't move, he just looked up at Sammy and sneezed.

"It's okay," Sammy told him, tears choking him. "You can go home now."

Puppy sneezed.

Sammy dropped to his knees and the puppy reached up to him and gave him a kiss. Sammy let the tears slip down his cheeks and hugged the puppy tightly.

"I love you, puppy," he whispered. "But you have another little boy to take care of."

One last kiss, one last hug, and the puppy padded obediently over to Brandon and followed him out to the waiting car. John handed Mrs Simpson the supplies he had bought for the puppy and watched as they left.

Sammy stared after the car from the window. Tears slipped down his face freely and John's heart broke watching him. Dean stood beside him, his arm around the smaller boys shoulders.

"He really loved you, Sammy," Dean told him gently as the car turned the corner. "I don't think he'll ever forget being a Winchester."

Sammy nodded his agreement.

"Yeah, but there was another little boy who needed him," Sammy reminded his brother. "I already have a Dean to take care of me."

Dean grinned.

"Yeah you do, little brother."

John smiled and left the room, leaving his boys to watch the now-empty street. Meanwhile, he watched them carefully from the kitchen with a coffee in one hand and the tiny tag that had been on the puppy's collar he'd bought him in the other hand. It was a simple trinket, the shape of a bone, but he thought that Sammy might want it.

Then again, John didn't really want to say good bye to the puppy either and right now the tag made him feel better… until he saw Dean wrestle Sammy to the floor and the boys began play fighting and giggling together.

Their lives were pretty good, he decided. Even with everything they've been through, everything they went through and everything that they had left to go through… they had each other and John knew that was more than he could ever have asked for.

For himself, anyway. For the boys, he hoped for a lot more. He hoped they would always be together, that the boys would never have to be apart and they'd always be able to look out for each other. John couldn't think of anything that Sammy and Dean couldn't face if they faced it together.

With the giggles resounding behind him, John sat at the kitchen table and pulled his journal toward him. The hunt always had to continue, but it was always easier to focus on it when his boys were safe and happy. Even with the heart ache that Sammy was feeling at sending his puppy home with another family, he was the same Sammy who worshipped his big brother…

And John decided there was nothing wrong with that.

SUPERNATURAL

A/N – I know I've had a couple of doggy characters so far and so I'm sure those of you who have read my other stuff knows that I love dogs and think they are the most amazing and loving creatures in the world. The relationship between Sammy and Puppy Dean was modelled a lot after my relationship with my beautiful dog, Itsy. She's my little baby, my best friend, my angel.

The part where Puppy Dean appeared to answer Sammy's question is also modelled on Itsy. She has a particular sneeze that she seems to use when she's saying 'no' or when she's not happy about something that's happened. And when she's saying 'yes' she either gives us a kiss (which usually means she's ecstatic with something) or sort of tilts her head but up against your shoulder or leg or something, like a cuddle. She's so beautiful! I could really rave on about her, and I know that people talk about their dogs, but I just love her to bits!

When I was writing the part where Sammy had to give Puppy Dean up, my heart was breaking because I couldn't help but think about how I would cope with that, even as an adult. It took me ages to write that part because I just really struggled. A huge part of me wanted Sammy to be able to keep the puppy, but that wasn't the point I was making and it wasn't going to work out and so I really struggled to write it.

Anyway, I really hope that you like the story. I actually started writing this over a month ago and I was about 11 pages through it, a whole days work, and lost everything!!! I was so upset! Anyway, I started working on it again later that evening and got to 5pages, and then finally, yesterday, managed to get through the rest of the story. It's ended up being 24 pages and I'm actually happier with it than I was with the original product! Go figure huh?

Hope you've enjoyed the story and my ramblings LoL