His Boys

Summary: John's POV from IMTOD. Sitting by Dean's bedside while Sam went to meet with Bobby, John was thinking about more than just how he was going to save his son.

Disclaimer: Don't own anything, yadda yadda. It all belongs to Kripke and the CW. The song is Let Them Be Little by Billy Dean.

AN: This is for Maxandkiz's bunny on the SFTCOL(AR)S Forum. Don't know if this was what you had in mind hun, but I hope you like it! It's a little sad and depressing, but it's what came to mind when I heard the song.

And huge thanks to Ames! Most awesome beta there is. Any mistakes you see are definitely mine, 'cause despite her telling me not to go crazy with the tweaking I'm sure I managed to change a few more things.

I can remember when you fit in the palm of my hand.
You felt so good in it; no bigger than a minute.
How it amazes me you're changin' with every blink.
Faster than a flower blooms, they grow up all too soon.

He's rolled into the hospital room, and he takes in the bare white walls, the multitude of sounds coming from all the different machines, the busy halls, and the bustling nurses station. The antiseptic scent that he's never quite gotten used to over the years assaults his nose, and his eyes take in every detail of the room before he finally forces himself to focus on the still figure in the bed. His gaze travels the length of the bed, from the lump in the blankets where his oldest son's feet lay, up to his sandy colored spikes and dark lashes that stand out against his pale skin.

His breath catches in his throat at the sight, but it's like watching the headlights of that semi getting closer and closer, knowing it's about to hit and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it but stare as the lights get brighter and the roar of the engine gets louder, drowning out everything else.

The nurse rolls him further into the room, and he spots an uncomfortable looking chair beside the bed. He doesn't doubt it's the spot where his youngest son has taken up vigil. She pushes it aside to make room for his wheelchair, making a loud screeching noise on the tiled floor, and he watches to see if the obnoxious noise garners a response from his son. It doesn't. Dean doesn't even twitch, and his heart sinks a little more.

She's talking, asking him questions, but he doesn't listen, doesn't take the time to respond. He's too focused on his broken little boy in the hospital bed to pay any attention to the nurse.

Eventually she leaves the room, and he's left with nothing to keep his mind from wandering down a dark road.

He's seen his sons hurt before, more than he's ever cared to witness, but this time is different. This time there isn't a quick fix in a rundown motel with a few stitches and a couple pain pills. He's heard the doctors, seen the truth – the sympathy, pity – in their eyes, and he knows this time is unlike any of the others over the years.

He's been thinking since he found out, since he heard how serious Dean's injuries were, and there's only one way he sees this playing out. Only one way that he'll accept because his son dying is not an option.

He had watched Sam walk off down the hallway before he made his way to the room. Watched his youngest son walk away as if the weight of the world rested on his shoulders and thinking about it, it probably did – Sam's world anyway.

Remembering the defeated slump to his youngest son's shoulders, the absolutely lost and desolate look he had caught a quick glimpse of reflected in the shiny hazel eyes, sent a pang through his chest. A twisted, gnawing ache had taken up residence there and he knew it wouldn't go away until Dean opened his eyes, told his little brother to stop acting like a girl, and looked a little more like the strong and capable hunter he had raised them both to be.

So let them be little,
'Cause they're only that way for a while.
Give 'em hope, give them praise,
Give them love every day.
Let 'em cry, let 'em giggle,
Let 'em sleep in the middle,
Oh, but let them be little.

He had thought about it a million times; berated himself for the life he had chosen for them, for the way he raised them, and for the hard ass that he had become. Most times he couldn't decide who it was harder for. If it was worse that Dean could remember what it had been like before, or for Sammy who had been too young to even remember what his own mother looked like. He wouldn't know at all if it weren't for the pictures that had been spared from the flames.

Most times he figured it sucked either way, and congratulated himself for making things that much worse.

He too had the blessing and the curse of remembering. It seemed every time he closed his eyes he could see the little blonde haired boy, running and jumping into his arms after a long day at work, calling him daddy, and telling him all about his day. Could see clearly the little baby boy, kicking his feet and smiling away in his crib or in his mother's arms. He could see his wife's happy and beautiful face only moments before it all turned to smoke and heat and fire.

He hated the way he had raised his boys – even if heknew that it had been necessary. It was the only way he knew to keep his boys safe, alive. But looking at the tube protruding from his son's mouth and attached to the machine that had to do the breathing for him, he could only see the damage his crusade 

had caused. Imagining all of the bruises, broken bones, and lost blood that he couldn't see hidden beneath the bright white hospital sheet he wasn't so sure any of it was worth it anymore.

He couldn't help but wonder if he had been wrong all along.

I never felt so much in one little tender touch.
I live for those kisses, your prayers an' your wishes.
An' now you're teachin' me how only a child can see.
Tonight, while we're on our knees, all I ask is…

The unsteady bleep on the heart monitor drones on as he thinks back to all the blood spilled over the years, to all the times he had been scared of losing one – if not both – of his boys, and the times that he had been silently grateful just to have them with him at all.

Unlike other parents – along with the memories of his boys' first step and their first word – he had the first time they fired a gun, their first broken bone, the first time they needed stitches, their first kill.

Pride and sadness always butted heads when he thought about those firsts.

After the fire, Dean didn't call him daddy anymore, but for a little while Sammy would greet him with an excited squeal and little arms wrapped around his neck, happy to see his old man. Pain and happiness would war inside him and he couldn't decide how the welcome made him feel. His attention would be drawn to the quiet little boy just a few feet away. Dean's too old eyes often giving him pause. He could see in the depths of that green gaze just how grateful Dean was to have his dad back in one piece.

They didn't complain at first, but he knew it wasn't the same staying with the nice pastor they had just met or the rough looking guy with all the old rusted cars in his back yard.

It hadn't been easy, but it also hadn't been as tough when they were younger. Tucked as safely as they could be in a motel, or sleeping in the spare room at Bobby's or Jim's, he knew what to expect when he came back to them. Knew they'd be sleeping, comforted by each other's presence, when he came trudging back through the door from yet another hunt.

It was when they got older – when Dean started hitting targets better than some grown men before he even reached his teen years and Sammy became a better researcher than some of the veteran hunters he had met – that his world became more complex, more complicated, more terrifying.

Two little boys should have been playing with cars, throwing around a football, and spending the afternoon running all over the local playground and mastering the jungle gym. Not practicing how to clean, load and shoot a shotgun, or learning a long dead language, and definitely not how to get rid of the monsters lurking in the dark.

He and Mary had wanted what was best for their boys. He hated to think what she would say to him now.

Please, let them be little,
'Cause they're only that way for a while.
Give them hope, give them praise,
Give them love every day.
Let 'em cry, let 'em giggle,
Let 'em sleep in the middle,
Oh, but let them be little.

For a few years, Sam had had that look in his eyes, that wonder in his voice when he would look at and talk about his old man. It had never quite left Dean, but Sammy always was too smart for his own good, too quick to pick up on things, to see the little details and blow them up into something more. The eagerness to be just like his daddy and big brother didn't last long.

Well, the being like him anyway.

Even now he could still see the way Sam looked at his big brother, the way he looked at Dean and saw his hero, his infallible big brother that would never do him any wrong. He couldn't help the quick spike of jealousy, but he also couldn't deny that his oldest son deserved it; he couldn't deny that Dean deserved his little brother's hero worship and then some. He may not have been the best father, but he wasn't completely blind. He knew who had really raised Sam, and it hadn't been him.

That truth wasn't lost on his youngest son either. Sam had fought him every step of the way once he was old enough to realize that his dad wasn't superman and that he was a far cry from perfect. He owed Dean a lot more than he could ever repay for being the buffer between the two of them. He often wondered if Mary would have done the same if the demon hadn't taken her away. If she would have been the calm in their crazy little family, and given Dean a break in cooling down his stubborn and pig-headed little brother and father.

He wondered if he'd even get the chance to start repaying his oldest son, maybe even tell him how grateful he really was.

Right now it wasn't looking too likely, and he couldn't bring himself to say the words anyway. Simply being in the quiet room with a son that was never quiet was too much to bear. The oppressive lack of conversation was suffocating, but he couldn't bring himself to leave either.

He had one little boy that was well on his way to becoming lost, while the other was fading before his eyes.

He had never felt so helpless.

He had never wished for his wife so deeply before.

The thought of losing Dean was inconceivable. The idea that he'd lose both if he lost one nearly brought him to his knees.

The so innocent, precious soul
You turn around, an' it's time to let them go.

He'd watched his youngest son walk away once before. Stood there red faced, angry, and scared shitless as his little boy walked out the door, slamming it behind him. His own words rang loudly in his ears, and he once again hated himself for what he had done. For putting that defeated and hurt look in Sam's eyes, and the utterly broken one in Dean's. He had known better than to give his boy an ultimatum, and yet he had done it anyway. Driven him away, and successfully cut all ties between them when he made Sam chose – his family or his happiness. Hindsight's 20/20 but to this day he still couldn't fully understand why he'd been so blind before.

Only part of it had been fear, the rest hurt too much to think about.

Their loving family of four had so quickly become three. When it suddenly became two, the rest just fell apart.

For eighteen years they had been hanging on by a thread and when Sam left the last line had been broken. Sam was their light, the glue that held them together. Stanford had driven a wedge between them, and they were still struggling to remove it; still struggling to keep their family from drowning.

Leaving Dean behind, Sam losing his girlfriend... again and again their family, his boys, were suffering the consequences of that night so long ago. Suffering the consequences of being touched by darkness, and marked by the evil bastard that had set their family on a path of pain and despair.

His boys had been through so much, felt so much pain, and been witness to more death than most people twice their age had ever seen. He still asked himself how it came to this. How his family could be dragged through this never ending cycle of challenge after challenge, and ever hope to remain on the winning side.

He just wanted them to be boys. Just wanted them to be brothers, have families of their own, stable homes, kids…

He wondered if he'd ever be a grandfather.

If it was even possible for the three of them to go on together, be a family again.

He could only hope that his boys could go on. That they could fulfill the dreams he had for them; the dreams that he and Mary had both had for their sons.

He could remember the happier times before the fire. He could see it clearly when he closed his eyes.

The memories of Dean's breathless laughter as his mother tickled him and Mary's wide smile as she held her healthy baby boy, her Sammy. The memories were bittersweet. They twisted, faded, and were slowly replaced by the image of a silent little blonde haired boy and a baby that would never get to know his mother.

He held onto the good memories, the ones that could still bring a small, sad smile to his face. The rare moments when they were just his little boys. Not soldiers, not hunters. Just two little boys that liked to laugh and play, oblivious to the dangers in the world.

He'd give anything to go back to those times. To see that semi before it was too late, to come up with a better plan before the demons got the upper hand, to go back and do something, anything to change how the story played out. To maybe give the Winchesters a happy ending.

So let them be little,
'Cause they're only that way for a while.
Give them hope, give 'em praise,
Give them love every day.
Let 'em cry, let 'em giggle,
Let them sleep in the middle,
Oh, but let them be little.

He shifts in his chair, sore and stiff muscles protesting the movement. He uses his good arm to roll the chair just a little closer, directly beside the bed and lifts his hand so it hovers just above Dean's brow.

His son is too quiet, too still. He's always been full of life, always on the go, itching to do something. That energy had allowed him to keep up with his equally, if not more, active little brother. Sammy had given Dean a run for his money more times than not, still did if he knew his boys.

He finally rests his callused palm on his oldest son's forehead, careful of the broken skin and stitches beneath his hand, and leans forward to whisper words of comfort in Dean's ear.

Comfort wasn't given in abundance in their family. He had taken on the role of their sergeant, their commanding officer, and pushed aside his role of just being Dad. That decision had landed them here; he figured it was about time to change tactics. It was time to stop thinking like a marine, and more like the father that he should have been.

It was time to be Daddy again, and maybe take on his role of superman one last time. He was pretty sure his boys wouldn't see it his way, but they'd be together. They'd have each other, and they'd be alright.

He couldn't go back and fix things, couldn't give them back their mother or their childhood, but he could let them keep being brothers.

His boys never did well when they were separated. They were stronger as a family, but it didn't need to be the three of them.

Even when he had been around it had always been Sam and Dean, Dean and Sam. There was never one without the other, and he was going to make sure it stayed that way.

He had a few things he needed to get settled, a few things he would need first, but he'd made his decision. He just had to wait for the right time.

He wasn't under any illusions that his decision would be easy on his boys, but he was confident that as long as they were together they would get through it.

They were Winchesters and, like it or not, they were his soldiers.

He could only pray that they'd still get a chance to be boys, to be brothers.

Let them be little.