hello everyone. this story is dedicated to friend and fellow writer Angela (danrac), who's been in the hospital for a few month after a serious accident. keep fighting Angela, you are in my thoughts and prayers, i hope you enjoy this little story.

THE X FACTOR

John Winchester was so engrossed in his hunt he didn't hear the front door of their ramshackle apartment open. No, he wasn't pulled away from his research until his youngest son came into the room, the eight year old huffing as he threw down his backpack and took a seat at the kitchen table. The young boy never failed to amaze his father— what could happen in the daily life of an eight year old to get such a reaction? It was funny, John's mind was locked in the world of the supernatural, trained on hunting, while Sam's mind was still locked in the apparently tumultuous life of second grade.

"Something bothering you, Sam?"

Sam just huffed, crossing his arms as he let out an overly exaggerated sigh. "No, nothing."

John looked down for a moment, twirling a pen in his hands, breathing slowly though his rising temper. He knew Sam wasn't trying to cause trouble, knew this was his own way of showing the world he'd had a bad day, but that didn't mean John had to like it. Dean had never been moody when he was younger, had never felt the need to go into all the details about his hard, hard life as a little kid. And that had given the hunter a false interpretation of fatherhood.

"Are you sure nothing happened, Sam?"

Sam just sighed, rolling his eyes before pulling out his homework. John couldn't help but smile when his young son laid out some print out about phonics, a smiling little cat now laying beside the headline "Crazed, half-human devours local tourist". John just shook his head, turning back to the paperwork about his latest hunt— Sam would talk to him when he wanted to, it was just his way.

The pair sat in silence for a few hours, Sam kicking his legs slightly as he chewed the end of his pencil, trying to decide just what 57 minus 36 actually was. John was equally lost in his work, staring over a map of the latest attacks, trying to find the pattern the creature he was after was following. It was a peaceful few hours, even though Sam huffed and stewed every once in a while, he still had yet to open up about his day at school.

"Where's your brother?" John asked, finally noticing Dean's absence. He knew Dean wasn't home, but until that moment, the question of 'why' hadn't crossed his mind. It was spring, had he missed another game?

"Being' a jerk." Sam huffed, throwing down his pencil and resting his arms on his workbook. And it was obvious now what had Sam riled up, Dean.

John should have known. The boys could push each other's buttons worse than any pair John had ever seen. People would always just comment on brothers, and 'boys will be boys' but John always hoped they'd grow out of it, and sooner rather than later.

"That's no very specific, Sam."

"He's watching the girls' softball game." Sam said the word 'girls' like he was talking about an alien species that just climbed up out of a drainpipe.

"And he wouldn't let you go?" John asked surprised. Even though his boys fought and instigated each other on an hourly basis, they never separated.

"No, I didn't wanna go. So I got on the bus and came home and he stayed there being a jerk."

"Sam, stop calling your brother a jerk."

"It's the truth. And you told me I shouldn't lie."

John wanted to smack himself, Sam was way smarter than the average eight year old, and he always knew when to throw John's rules right back at him.

"I also told you not to call your brother names."

"You need to pick one rule and stick with it, Dad."

"I'll try to remember that, Sam. So, how come you didn't wanna go?"

As far as John was concerned it was an innocent question, but the look Sam gave him made him doubt himself. Hell, based on the look on the kid's face, John would have thought he's asked him if he wanted worms for dinner.

"Dad, it's the girls team." Sam answered slowly, like he was trying to teach a toddler something. "Have you ever tried to hang out with a girl?"

John smiled, his mind drifting back through time, drifting back to Mary. She'd played softball for their high school team and John could remember sitting through game after game— and loving every minute of it. He pulled himself out of the memories, knowing it was a slippery slope he couldn't help but fight. He had to be there for his boys now, that was paramount.

"Yes, Sam, I've hung out with them before."

"On purpose?"

"Yes, on purpose."

"You and Dean are so weird." Sam mumbled, picking up his pencil and getting back to work.

"Shouldn't the game be over by now?" John asked, looking up at the clock. It was now a little past 5 p.m.

"It's a double header, Dean said he'd get dinner at the park."

"And why is Dean so interested in little league softball?"

"Angela. She plays second base, she's in his class."

Reality finally dawned on John, his heartbeat racing a bit more at his young son's statement. Dean was out with a girl— but Dean was twelve, was he even supposed to like girls that young? John sighed, closing the folder in front of him, he really wished kids came with instruction manuals.

"Come on, let's meet him there."

"What? Why?" Sam asked, fear flashing through he eyes. John laughed, Sammy looked like he'd just been asked to swim with sharks— and really, in the world of women, it was probably a good comparison.

"'Cause it'll be fun. It's a beautiful day, Sam, you can't be stuck inside all day."

"But, Dad." Sam whined, kicking his legs as he pouted.

"Sam, I'm sure Dean and Angela will leave you alone."

"It's not them."

"Then what?"

"Christie Turner." Sam whispered, eyeing the back door like something was about to break through. And John's heart rate increased again— Sam, his eight year old son, had a girlfriend, too? Monsters, demons, ghosts, those were things John could handle. His boys and girls, that was definitely getting into enemy territory.

"She cute?"

"Ew, she's a girl. She's got cooties and she tried to give them to me today."

"Huh?"

"She kissed me on the bus, everyone was laughing, Dad."

John laughed despite himself, knowing it wasn't what his young son needed to hear— but at least he had a few years left before Sam needed the dreaded 'birds and bees' speech.

"It's not funny. I had to wash my face when I came home— twice."

"Sam, girls don't have cooties."

"Yeah, Dean said they have kids, which is even worse. Why do girls kiss kids if they already have their own?"

John was at a loss for an answer, his dark eyes locked on Sam, his blood pressure rising by the second. He really needed to find Dean, and then he needed to have a long talk with the pre-teen.

6666666666666

John pulled the Impala into a parking spot a few minutes later, thankful the park was only a short drive away. Up until that day, his boys had still been his little boys— playing with action figures, wanting to be just like their dad. But now, John was faced with the reality that his boys were growing up, and much faster than he would have liked. He spied the softball field, a few dozen people scattered around the bleachers, the field full of about eleven young girls in hand-me-down looking uniforms.

Dean was easy to spot, the blonde separated from the group of spectators. He was sitting at the top of the bleachers, a wall against his back, his sharp green eyes scanning the surroundings. To anyone else, Dean looking like a kid enjoying a softball game, but John saw the underlying purpose of his eldest's actions. Dean was looking for potential threats, and planning an escape route incase the unforeseen happened.

His eyes lingered on John and Sam for a moment, the kid smiling and waving before turning his attention back to the field. John followed the gaze to a young girl standing guard over second base. She was pretty, with long dark hair, dark eyes and pale skin, her full attention turned to the pitcher and batter, even while other girls gossiped and giggled behind her. John just sighed, he really, really needed to have a talk with his son.

"Hi, Sam." A sugar sweet voice pulled John back into the moment, the hunter looking through the floor of the bleachers. A young girl, probably no more than seven was beneath the metal structure, her blue eyes turned intently toward a now sulking Sam, her curly brown hair hidden beneath a backwards baseball cap. Apparently, Sam's girlfriend was a ball player too, for the t-ball team.

"Go away." Sam huffed, intent on running the rest of the way to his brother, but John stopped him. He would not have his child being disrespectful.

"Sam, don't be rude."

Sam huffed before turning back to the little girl, "hi Christie."

"You said you weren't gonna come today."

"I wasn't."

"You missed my game, I got a home run." Christie smiled enthusiastically.

"That's wonderful, Christie."

"Thank you, Mr. Winchester. You wanna get some ice cream, Sam?"

"No."

"Sammy, get some ice cream." John broke in, handing his young son a twenty, "and it's only polite to treat a lady to dinner."

"Dad." Sam moaned, eyeing the little girl beneath the bleachers as he talked. "I don't wanna."

"Here's your first lesson on women, Sammy, they always win the argument." John winked, pushing Sam toward the end of the bleachers.

He smiled when he watched Sam jump down to the ground, laughing when the little boy tried to shrug away from Christie as she grabbed his hand. But the little girl held on tight, leading Sam to the concession stand on the other side of the field. Content that he could watch Sam's every move from the bleachers John turned back toward Dean.

"That was mean." Dean smiled, his eyes still on Angela.

"The kid's gotta learn sometime." John smiled back. "Speaking of learning, did you tell Sam that girls had kids?"

"They do, don't they?" Dean asked, finally turning to his dad. "That's what they said in science last week."

Great, John thought, his kid was learning about biology in well, biology. "Technically. But there's more to it than that."

"Oh, I know about all that."

"You do?"

"Yeah, girls lay eggs and they turn into kids." Dean answered matter of factly.

John rubbed his forehead, trying to figure out where he'd start. At least Dean didn't think kids came from the cabbage patch. "That's kind of true."

"How old does a girl have to be to lay eggs? Snakes it was all the time."

"Old, much older than you."

"Oh. Where's the guy come in?"

"Uh."

"Do you need to have one?"

"Yeah, he plays a role. It's complicated."

"Is he there for the kissing?"

'Oh god' John thought, he was really losing control of this conversation. He sighed, trying to figure out an appropriate answer, swearing he could hear Mary's sweet laughter ringing in his ears. "Yeah."

"But kissing doesn't make kids, right?" Dean asked, and John could hear a waver in his voice.

"No, kissing doesn't make kids."

"Oh, good." Dean sighed, relief evident in his voice. John wanted to ask why he'd been so worried about it, but thought better of it. At that moment, he just wanted to bail out of the whole conversation.

"So, have you been hanging out with Angela for a long time?"

"Gosh, Dad, I'm just watching a game, we're not hanging out." Dean rolled his eyes.

"Oh, ok."

"She's not crazy like Christie."

"Christie's crazy?" John asked, his worried eyes drifting to Sam— maybe the girl he'd sent the eight year old off with was possessed.

"Yeah, she wants Sam to marry her. She said they could use her parents' backyard. She even made a cake."

"She made a cake?"

"Yeah, she's got one of those easy bake ovens. Sam's a goner." Dean nodded to his little brother, Christie clearly visible— her arm draped over Sam's shoulder as they spoke to a concerned looking man. And John had to smile, based on the guy's close cut brown hair and blue eyes, John figured Christie was explaining her wedding to her father— and John couldn't help but feel for the guy.