The Job is Never Done

The Job is Never Done

Chapter 1

Disclaimer: I don't own them; I just like to borrow them once in a while.

A/N: I wrote a story called Tested a while back and introduced two little boys named Alex and Nicholas. In this story, they cross paths with the Winchesters again, but Dean's history from Tested isn't rehashed here. You don't have to read the first story to understand what's going on; I've given enough history so that the reader will understand.

I hope you like this one – it's probably the longest thing I've written to date, so settle in and get comfy. As usual, I'm just about finished writing, so the updates will come quickly.

Feel free to tell me what you think; I always love hearing from you.

oooOOOooo

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. "Pooh!" he whispered.

"Yes, Piglet?"

"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. "I just wanted to be sure of you."

A.A. Milne

oooOOOooo

"What were you thinking, Dean?" Sam asked, not for the first time, as he cleaned the knife wound in his brother's shoulder. "You're lucky that blade missed anything important."

Dean took another swig from the tequila bottle as Sam applied pressure to stop the bleeding that had started again.

"You gotta stop take chances like that, man," Sam said.

"Stop being such a mother hen, Sammy," Dean said, his words slightly slurred by the alcohol.

Dean probably didn't need to drink as much of it as he was, but Sam wasn't about to take the bottle away from him. His shoulder was going to hurt like hell; may as well put it off for as long as possible.

"That's pretty ironic coming from you," Sam scoffed as he reached for the sterile pad and tape. Once the wound was bandaged, Sam helped Dean settle in the nearest bed and went about putting away the first aid supplies. "I don't think it needs stitches, but I'll keep an eye on it."

He knew that Dean was watching him through half-closed eyes, but Sam ignored him. Now that he was sure Dean would be okay, Sam was giving in to his anger. Dean had always taken chances with his life, especially if he was protecting his little brother in the process, but it was getting worse and Sam didn't like it. It was hard enough to get out of bed knowing that every day was one day closer to the last one Dean would have, but him getting more reckless made it that much harder.

Dean had sold his soul to give Sam his life back; he was going to die in a matter of months and the cavalier way in which he'd chosen to deal with it was making Sam crazy. At first, Sam had given in to every "dying wish" Dean had, but it hadn't been long before Sam realized what he was really doing. Everything Dean did, every woman he had sex with, it was all just Dean's way of ignoring what was going to happen.

They'd had a few arguments about Dean's actions and his lack of interest in saving himself, but the last thing Sam wanted to do was argue with his brother. Not with so little time with him left….but he also didn't want Dean to take unnecessary chances that could end his life even sooner.

From the corner of his eye as he was packing the first aid kit into his duffle bag, Sam saw Dean reach for the bottle of tequila.

"You might want to slow down," Sam cautioned.

"I won't regret it until tomorrow. And maybe the hangover will keep me from thinking about how much my shoulder hurts."

"You want something to eat?"

"I don't want to kill my buzz," Dean took a swig from the bottle. "And I probably won't be awake in fifteen minutes. What are you going to do?"

Sam looked at him. "I don't know."

"I do. You'll research….You really need to get out once in a while, Sammy."

"I get out enough," Sam protested quietly as he sat on the edge of his bed.

"You should at least go get yourself something to eat."

"I'm fine; don't worry about me," Sam said as he reached for the bottle before it fell from Dean's hand.

"That damn knife better not have left a scar," Dean grumbled as he burrowed under the blanket, lying on his uninjured side.

Sam smiled and put the tequila on the bedside table. Dean was snoring contentedly a few minutes later. Sam watched him, his smile fading and the sadness that he felt coming through. He wiped a hand over his face, then went into the bathroom.

He knew what it was going to be like without Dean. He'd seen it; he'd lived it for six long months. Stuck in a time loop, Tuesday after Tuesday he'd watched his brother die, but he'd always be okay when Sam woke up. But then he died on Wednesday….

Sam had withdrawn from Bobby and hunted with a fervor he'd never known before. He'd become obsessed and hell bent to destroy anything and everything evil. He'd even killed a few things that were only questionable because he was in so much pain and just didn't care….But then he finally found the Trickster, the thing who had started it all, and begged him to reset time. Sam still didn't understand why the Trickster had done it, but he had his brother back and that was good enough for him.

In the shower Sam let the tears fall that he couldn't allow at any other time. He didn't want his brother to die, but he was powerless to stop it. Dean was becoming less casual about his fate, but he still wouldn't agree to help Sam find a way to stop it. The Crossroads Demon had put a clause in the deal – if Dean snuck out of it in any way, Sam would die. Dean refused to let that happen. That's why he'd made the deal in the first place.

Dean was still fast asleep when Sam went back into the bedroom. He set up his laptop and did exactly what Dean said he would – he researched. He was determined to find a way out of the deal his brother had made; with or without Dean's cooperation.

--

When Sam woke up the next morning, he heard water running in the bathroom. He glanced at Dean's bed, knowing it would be empty, and sat up. He could smell the fresh coffee brewing and when it was finished a few minutes later, he poured himself a cup and stood in front of the window. Dean came out of the bathroom as Sam was staring at the slow-moving traffic on the highway.

"Did you keep the wound dry?" he asked without turning around, still feeling frustrated from the night before.

"Sort of."

"I'll redress it before we go. How do you feel?"

"The hangover isn't bad enough to make me forget about my shoulder."

Sam finally turned back to the room. Dean was pouring himself a cup of coffee and though he was moving rather slow, he didn't seem too much the worse for wear. Sam knew if he drank as much as his brother had the night before, his condition would be in considerably worse shape.

"What time did you get to sleep last night?" Dean asked.

"I'm not sure; not too late. You up for something to eat before we hit the road?"

"Oh, I don't know about that," Dean said as he sat at the table and pushed the cup of coffee away.

Sam set his own cup on top of the television and grabbed the first aid kit out of his bag. "Let me take a look at your shoulder."

"Are you still mad at me?" Dean asked.

Sam didn't respond.

"Come on, man. There wasn't any other way."

"You don't have to jump in front of every bullet, Dean."

"It was a knife, Sammy." Dean flinched when Sam applied the antibiotic cream a little more roughly than he needed to. "Hey!"

"Don't be a smartass."

"Okay, you are still mad at me. Sam, come on. I'm really not up to fighting this morning."

Sam sighed and bandaged his brother's arm, working more gently than he had been. "Neither am I."

"That's mine," Dean said a moment later when he heard his cell phone ring tone. "Where is it?"

"I'll get it," Sam said and unplugged it from the charger. He handed it to Dean, who straightened up when he looked at the caller ID display. "Hey."

Sam suspected he knew who was calling and took some clothes into the bathroom where he could get dressed and give Dean some privacy.

"Sammy!" he heard a few minutes later. "We gotta go."

Sam opened the door to see his brother busily throwing the few items left out into his duffle bag. He seemed to have completely recovered from his hangover.

"Go where?" Sam asked as he made a final check of the room and picked up his bag to follow Dean.

"North Carolina," Dean said as he opened the trunk. "Then maybe Atlanta."

They stowed their gear and Dean headed for the driver's side of the car.

"You want me to drive?"

Dean looked almost longingly into his car, then tossed the keys to Sam. "Yeah."

"So, what's going on?" Sam asked once they were on the road. "Was that Kristine? Is something going own with Alex and Nicholas?"

"Yeah. They're back with her. Something must have happened in Atlanta, but the kids aren't talking."

"How'd they get back to North Carolina?"

"She said they just showed up this morning." Dean almost growled. "Alone."

Sam looked at him. "What? How did two little boys get from Atlanta to Mountain Ridge?"

"I don't know. Alex should have called me….or Kristine. Damnit, I just talked to him a week ago."

"Don't blame yourself for this, Dean."

"I let him down, Sam."

"No you didn't. Come on, man. We'll be there in a few hours…."

"Drive faster."

"Dean, in case you haven't noticed, there's a lot of traffic."

The older man grumbled and reached for the map in the glove compartment. "Take the next exit; we'll make better time on the back roads."

"You sure?"

"Yeah," Dean said. He didn't really need to consult the map; he almost always knew how to get where they needed to be.

--

It had been quite a while since the brothers had visited Mountain Ridge, North Carolina. Dean didn't want to tell Kristine about the deal he'd made and it was much easier not to talk about it on the telephone than it would be in person.

Another hunter had shown up at the estate the last time they'd been there. He had two boys with him whose parents had been killed by vampires and they'd reminded Dean of himself and Sam.

Alex was ten and his head was full of what his dad had taught him about cars. He felt the same responsibility toward four-year old Nicholas that Dean felt for Sam. They had no other family and no one to take them in. With their safe world shattered, Dean knew what kind of life awaited them.

Kristine had found a children's home in Atlanta set up to care for the orphaned children of hunters and others affected by the supernatural. At Dean's insistence, he and Sam had taken the boys there, stopping at a zoo along the way. Dean had made sure that they both had his and Sam's cell phone numbers as well as Kristine's. The three of them were on file as emergency contacts for the boys and Dean called at least once a week to talk to them.

Despite his concern, Dean was impressed with Alex's skill. Getting himself and Nicholas to Mountain Ridge couldn't have been easy, but he hated that they'd done it. It was only a four-hour drive to Atlanta from Mountain View and Kristine wouldn't have hesitated to go to them if they'd only called. She may have even been able to get one of her contacts to them more quickly to take care of them until she got there.

--

Feeling better later, Dean took over driving when Sam stopped for gas. He was frustrated at how long it was taking to get to North Carolina, but it seemed like every route they tried was undergoing massive road construction.

"How are things there?" Sam asked a couple hours later after Dean ended a call with Kristine.

"Kids still aren't talking," Dean said. "Nicholas has been asleep….Kristine brought a doctor in to check them out; they don't have any injuries."

"Has she talked to anyone at the home?"

"No one is answering the phone, but she asked some guys she knows to go down there and see what's going on."

"You don't want to just head to Atlanta?" Sam asked.

"I want to see the kids; see if I can get Alex to talk."

Dean knew what it was like not to want to talk. Even though he'd only been four when his mother died, he remembered not feeling like talking for a long time. That was still one of his defenses even now.

"Hey, Sam?" Dean asked after a few minutes of silence. He cleared his throat. "I, uh, I haven't told Kristine about….well, you know."

"Can't say that surprises me," Sam said, the disapproval evident in his tone.

"Sam…."

"You have to tell her, Dean."

"How am I supposed to do that, huh? Hey, Kristine, great to see you. Oh yeah, and by the way…."

"So what am I supposed to do when….if we can't figure a way out of this? Am I supposed to lie to her and tell her you died on a job?"

Dean glanced at him. "That's exactly what you're supposed to tell her."

Sam shook his head and turned away. "That's not fair, man. To her or to me."

"Can we please not do this now? Let's just get there and see what we can do to help those kids."

"Fine."

"Fine," Dean said, chancing another glance at his brother. He hated to see pain on Sam's face; especially knowing he was the cause of it.

--

Dean turned onto the half-mile driveway that led to the main house on the Ryan estate. Kristine's family had been ruined by the same demon that had killed Mary Winchester and as the surviving member, Kristine was determined to do whatever she could for the hunting community. She'd turned the estate house into a place where they could come to rest and relax; there was medical help available and pretty much any other service they might need. As a trained counselor, Kristine split her time between patients in an Asheville clinic and hunters who needed someone to talk to.

Dean parked in back of the large Victorian house and Sam followed him through the kitchen door. Ross Greenfield, the de factor manager of the estate, was filling the dishwasher.

"Hey, guys, Kristine told me you were on the way," he smiled when he saw the brothers.

"Where is she?"

"Last time I saw her she was upstairs with the boys. She settled them in the last room on the left."

Dean nodded to Sam and headed toward the stairs in the living room. The door to the boys' room was open and Dean peeked in. He was stunned by the warmth he felt seeing Kristine in a large rocking chair with a sleeping Nicholas on her lap. He found it difficult to look away from her, but when he did, he saw Alex curled up under a blanket on the bed.

He took a step inside the room and when Kristine saw him, her eyes brightened. She put a finger to her lips and stood up with the little boy in her arms. She laid him next to his brother and rubbed his back until he had settled back down. After covering him with the same blanket that Alex was using, she walked out of the room with Dean.

Without a word, Kristine slipped her arms around his waist and rested her head against his chest. Dean put his arms around her and gently kissed the top of her head. No one had ever made him feel the way that Kristine did and even though he was not particularly faithful to her, he knew that if there could ever be one woman for him, it would be Kristine.

"Hey," she whispered after a moment, looking up at his face.

"Hey," he returned her smile, content for the moment just to look into her eyes.

Kristine led him to the end of the hall. They sat in the wing-back chairs that were situated under a round window set high in the wall.

"Where's Sam?" she asked.

"Downstairs with Ross. Have you been able to find out anything?"

"The group home is gone."

"Gone?" Dean asked confused. "What do you mean gone?"

"It burned; right down to the foundation. I've got a couple guys in Atlanta poking around. At last report the fire investigators weren't sure if it was arson or not. It started late last night. I haven't been able to get in touch with any of the people who ran it. I've got some cell phone numbers, but so far I've only gotten voice mail."

"What about the other kids who lived there?"

Kristine shook her head. "There were some casualties."

Dean ran a hand over his face. "Like those kids hadn't been through enough."

Kristine reached for his hand.

"Has Alex said anything yet?" he asked.

"Not really. And Nicholas has slept almost since they got here. He woke up a little while ago, but didn't show a real interest in staying awake. It might have been better if he'd stayed up for a little while, but I don't want to force too much on either one of them quite yet.'

"How did they get here?" Dean asked; he was unaware that he was rubbing Kristine's hand with his thumb. "Any idea?"

She shook her head. "None. Alex hasn't said and all I know is that Ross called me before I left for work this morning saying the boys had just shown up. I'm glad you were relatively close by."

"We would have come no matter where we were," Dean said. His eyes turned toward the open door. "Did they have anything with them?"

"Just the clothes on their backs."

"Jesus…."

"You've been keeping yourself pretty scarce lately," Kristine said after a few moments.

Dean glanced at her, but quickly turned his eyes back to the boys' room. "It's been busy; you know, Hell Gate…."

"I know. I just…I've missed you."

Dean had never made any promises to Kristine and she never placed any demands on him. She'd never asked him for an exclusive arrangement and he'd never offered her one. She knew what he was; not just as a hunter, but the ways he chose to wind down after a job. He assumed she saw other men when he wasn't around, but it wasn't something they really ever talked about.

"Have you been okay?" he asked.

Ever since Kristine's older sister had died at the hands of what they now knew was a demon when Kristine was a teenager, she had suffered through bouts of extreme depression. She occasionally engaged in very reckless behavior and Dean happened into town during a particularly dark period for her. She'd told him about her stays in various psychiatric hospitals, but until he saw her at rock bottom himself, they had just been stories.

After taking her to yet another hospital in Colorado, Dean had vowed to keep in better touch with her. He knew that it wasn't his job to save her, but in the rare times when he was completely honest with himself, he knew that he loved her.

"Yeah," Kristine said, glancing away. "I'm fine."

Dean squeezed her hand. He wasn't sure if she'd looked away because she was still embarrassed by what he'd seen or if she was hiding something. Neither prospect made him happy, so he decided to go back to talking about the kids.

"So, you think Alex and Nicholas left Atlanta after the fire?"

Kristine shrugged. "That would make sense, but maybe not. I mean, it's a pretty short drive, but I doubt Alex hotwired a car."

Dean couldn't help but laugh. "I bet he knows how to do it."

Kristine smiled. "You're probably right, but he didn't pull up here in a car. A bus would have taken longer and the thought of those two little guys hitchhiking…."

"How long has Alex been asleep?"

"Not long. He passed out while I was rocking Nicholas."

"You looked pretty cute rocking him, by the way."

"Oh, shut up," Kristine rolled her eyes. "You want to sit with them for a while?"

"Would you mind?"

"Of course not," Kristine stood up. "I'll be downstairs."

They paused just before the boys' bedroom and Dean put his hand on Kristine's cheek.

"I've missed you, too," he said gently, leaning down to kiss her.

--

Dean sat down in the rocking chair and kept his eyes on the little boys sleeping in the oversized bed. They'd moved close together and Alex's arm was draped over his little brother's back. Dean remembered waking up more than a few times tangled up with Sam in one dingy place or another when they were kids. Even though they weren't necessarily happy memories, Dean didn't entirely regret those times.

Half an hour later, Alex began to stir. He carefully moved away from Nicholas before sitting up. When he saw Dean in the chair near the bed, his eyes widened in surprise.

Dean smiled at him. "Hey, kid."

Without hesitating, Alex jumped out of bed and threw himself into Dean's arms. The wound in Dean's shoulder began to throb with the sudden force of contact, but he ignored the pain.

"It's okay," Dean whispered into his ear as he held the boy securely. "You're safe, Alex. I promise."

Once he was calmer, Alex pulled away from Dean slightly, but kept physical contact.

"You want to tell me what happened?" Dean asked. "How did you get here?"

Alex glanced at his little brother, now curled up on the bed with his thumb in his mouth.

"I don't want to wake Nicky."

"Come on," Dean stood up. "We'll go right outside."

Alex hesitated, looking uncertain.

"It's okay," Dean promised him as he stood up.

With a hand on Alex's shoulder, he led the boy into the hallway. The chairs that were only steps away seemed too far from the bedroom, so Dean settled on the floor with Alex. His back was against the wall, but Alex sat facing the still open door.

"Kristine called you?" Alex asked, his eyes planted firmly on the floor.

Dean noticed his hands were clasped between his legs and he seemed anything but relaxed.

"Yeah, I hope that's okay."

Alex nodded.

"She said you and Nicholas just showed up here early this morning. When did you leave Atlanta?" Dean asked, trying to keep his tone neutral. He wasn't sure if Alex knew about the fire at the group home and didn't want to give anything away accidentally.

Alex said nothing, but if possible, he seemed more uncomfortable.

"You're not going to be in any trouble, Alex. I just want to find out what happened. You were supposed to be safe in Atlanta."

Alex glanced at Dean, his face pale. "I'm not supposed to say anything."

"Who told you that?"

The boy fidgeted, looking back at the floor.

Dean sighed to himself. "Okay…You're not supposed to tell anyone about leaving Atlanta?"

Alex nodded.

"Can you tell me about living in the group home?"

Alex looked at Dean, his eyes hopeful.

"I just talked to you last week and you said everything was fine. Was that the truth?"

Alex nodded.

"Did something happen between then and when you left?"

"No. Something was going to happen."

"What do you mean?" Dean asked, an uneasy feeling creeping into his stomach.

Alex hesitated, glancing into the bedroom.

"How did you know something was going to happen?" Dean asked gently. "Did someone tell you?"

Alex's eyes darted to the bedroom again.

"Nicholas knew?" Dean guessed.

Alex nodded.

"Alex," he said, leaning closer to the boy. "How did Nicholas know?"

"He…He just knew. He saw it."

"Like in a dream?"

Alex nodded.

"When did he see it?"

"The night before we left."

"What did he see, Alex?"

"Vampires. The same ones that killed our mom and dad. They were going to come back for us and...and it was going to be bad." Alex stopped speaking as his lower lip began to tremble and tears threatened to fall.

Dean could see how hard Alex was fighting to stay in control, but he knew the boy wouldn't win the battle. He was torn between pulling the kid into his arms and letting him try to regain his composure. Dean thought back to himself at that age – there were so many times he would have welcomed the secure feeling of strong arms around him, though he'd never acted that way. After only a brief hesitation, Dean put a hand on Alex's arm. The boy moved closer to him and within moments, was practically in Dean's lap, clinging to him tightly.

Dean caressed his hair as he whispered into his ear. He didn't think Alex was actually hearing anything he said, but hoped the sound of his voice would at least be somewhat soothing. It took a while for Alex to stop crying, but when he did he moved to a position next to Dean. Dean kept an arm around the boy's shoulder.

"You know you can trust me, right?" he asked once Alex was back in control of his emotions.

"I know."

"I can't help you if I don't know all the facts."

"I'm not supposed to tell," Alex whispered.

"Who told you that?"

"I can't tell you."

"Did someone threaten you?"

"Nicholas."

"Someone threatened Nicholas?"

Alex nodded.

"Did someone bring you here or did you get here by yourselves?"

"Someone drove us. He left us at the road, near the driveway and said to walk to the house."

"Was this the same person who told you not to say anything?"

Alex nodded.

"But this person didn't tell you something was going to happen at the group home?"

Alex shook his head.

"Nicholas saw that in a dream?"

"Yeah."

"Has Nicholas dreamed other things that have come true?"

Alex looked away.

"He has, hasn't he?" Dean asked, his tone sympathetic.

Alex nodded.

"It started a few weeks ago."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Alex shrugged. "I don't know."

"Did you tell anyone else?"

"No. Nicholas didn't want me to. He didn't like the dreams, even though they weren't about anything important. They was like what was gonna be for breakfast or that someone was going to skin their knee on the playground. He still didn't like them."

"Alex," Dean pulled the boy closer. "You have to tell me who brought you here. You know I can keep Nicholas safe, but I have to know what's going on to do that."

"You can't always be around, Dean," Alex said miserably. "I have to protect my little brother. I'm all he has."

Dean knew that feeling all too well. Even now that Sam was more than capable of taking care of himself, Dean still put himself in danger to protect him. That's why he'd made the deal to bring Sam back and why he'd jumped in front of the knife the telekinetic witch had aimed toward Sam in the fight the night before. Dean knew how much Alex was like him and knew how hard it would be to get the information out of him.

The hunter was also concerned that Nicholas had started to have prophetic dreams. The yellow-eyed demon was dead, but was it possible some other demon was carrying on his legacy? They still didn't know what had triggered Sam's visions, or the powers of the other psychic kids. It could have been something the demon had given them or something it had been attracted to, but there was no way to know for sure. Nicholas' dreams were probably a normal, non-demon related psychic power, but it would still make him different than other kids. Even more different than surviving a vampire attack.

Dean's thoughts were interrupted by the piercing scream that came from the bedroom. Alex was already at his brother's side before Dean had even gotten fully into the room. He was sitting on the bed, an arm around Nicholas and rocking him gently. Nicholas held onto his brother, crying softly. Dean stopped in his tracks when Alex shot him a warning glance. It was clear he intended to calm his little brother and Dean was expected to stay out of it until he was invited. Again, Dean knew that feeling well.

He quickly turned when he heard footsteps behind him. Sam and Ross appeared in the doorway, Kristine right behind them. Dean held up his hand and joined them in the hallway. The adults moved to the end of the hall and Dean quickly told him what he knew. Kristine asked some questions, but Dean didn't have the answers.

"I'm gonna go check on them," Dean said. He paused before going back into the bedroom. "Why don't you guys go back downstairs?"

"Get them to come down," Kristine said as she walked past him. "They haven't been out of this room all day and they've barely eaten."

He nodded and disappeared inside the large room.

--

Once they were downstairs, Ross began making coffee.

"Sam, have you eaten?" he asked.

"I'm not hungry; thanks."

Kristine leaned against the counter with her arms crossed.

"Nicholas has prophetic dreams," she shook her head. "No offense Sam, but that's gonna suck for him."

"Hey, don't tell me what I already know," he sat down at the round table. "We should get someone to help him with this. You have any psychics in your rolodex?"

Kristine grinned at him. "My rolodex?"

"It's just an expression," Sam shrugged.

"I haven't seen Missouri in a while."

"Yeah, how is she doing?"

"She was fine a couple weeks ago when she called. She asks about you guys; you should call or visit her sometime."

"It wouldn't be easy to get Dean back to Lawrence," Sam said.

Kristine nodded. "Probably not."

"It seems quiet. Is there anyone else here?" Sam asked.

The estate could house up to 20 hunters if need be, but there was rarely more than five or six at the house at any one time. Sometimes they knew people were coming, but most often they just showed up.

"A couple guys left this morning and we're empty for the time being. Except for the boys, of course."

They continued talking and once the coffee was done, Ross poured a cup for each of them. They were sitting around the table when Dean came in with the kids several minutes later. He was carrying Nicholas; the little boy's arms were around his neck and his head rested on Dean's injured shoulder. Sam could see the pain in Dean's eyes and made a mental note to get him some medication and to check the wound.

Alex sat down at the table, his eyes downcast, and Dean settled next to him.

"Hey, guys," Kristine said warmly. "Are you thirsty or hungry?"

Nicholas looked at Dean.

"We were wondering if there might be some ice cream in the freezer," Dean said conspiratorially.

"There sure is." Ross stood up and walked to the large commercial freezer. He named the three flavors of ice cream he'd gone out to purchase after the boys' arrival and Nicholas decided on chocolate.

"What about you, Alex?"

Dean laid a hand on his shoulder when he didn't answer.

"Chocolate, please," he said, though he didn't sound interested.

Kristine helped Ross and once everyone had been served, they sat back down. At first conversation was stilted, but primarily because of the boy's attachment to Dean and his efforts, it didn't take long before things became more comfortable. Kristine watched the boys closely, knowing that things would be difficult for them. She was going to have to find another place for them to live once they'd figured out what had caused them to leave the group home in Atlanta. Until then, they'd be safe at the estate, but it certainly wasn't a long-term solution.

Nicholas attacked his ice cream with vigor, seemingly completely recovered from his dream. Alex was less enthusiastic, but he finished what had been given to him. As soon as his brother was done, Alex quietly stood up and took their dishes to the sink. Ross took care of the others and the group moved to the den. Kristine wanted to find out what Nicholas had told Dean about the dream, but neither boy seemed willing to let him out of their sight.

It wasn't often that there were children at the estate, but Kristine had stocked up on a few toys the last time the boys had been there and after one round of a board game based on the cartoon, Cars, Nicholas was yawning. Alex's eyes had been drooping for a while, but Kristine knew he wouldn't go to bed until his brother was ready. It wasn't all that late and they'd been sleeping most of the day, but Kristine had no way of knowing how much stress they'd been under and was willing to let them sleep as much as they wanted for now. She'd get them involved in some activities the next day, knowing it would be easier with Dean's help.

Dean took them back upstairs, again carrying Nicholas. Kristine couldn't help but think about how he'd be with children of his own, but she quickly pushed that from her mind. She noticed an odd expression on Sam's face as he watched his brother walk out of the room with the boys, but when she asked him about it, he denied that anything was wrong. She didn't press.

"I have a feeling Dean is going to be staying with the boys tonight," Kristine said once Ross had retreated to his suite for the night. "You may as well pick a room and settle in."

"Are you going back to your place?" Sam asked, speaking of the cottage at the edge of the property that Kristine had been living in since her mother's death a few years before.

"I think I'll stay here. I doubt my services will be needed since the boys probably won't let Dean out of their sight, but I'd feel better being close."

Sam nodded. He sat back on the couch and glanced around the room. He liked the estate; the acres of forested land and the house itself. He also liked the town and could see himself settling down in a place like it some day. He used to think about Dean finally admitting his feelings for Kristine and deciding to stay for longer periods; Sam would be content to live in one of the small houses in town. And even though Jessica had been dead for over three years, he could still picture her in Mountain Ridge.

He pushed those thoughts away. None of that was going to happen and there was no use thinking about it. Jessica was dead and Dean soon would be unless they could find a way out of it. He had considered going against Dean's wishes and telling Kristine about the deal; Bobby was helping to find a solution, but Kristine had a lot of contacts and access to information that even Bobby didn't always have. But too many people knowing about Dean's fate could be dangerous; all hunters weren't exactly on the same side and the Winchesters had their share of human enemies. Besides, Sam knew he could never betray Dean. It was up to him to tell Kristine or not and no matter how Sam felt about Dean's decision, it was his to make.

Kristine had made a lot of changes to the house after deciding to open it up to hunters. In addition to a physical remodel that gave the guests as much privacy as possible, she'd taken out her family's heirlooms. The house was still decorated nicely, but Sam didn't think anything in it had come from her family. He had no idea where everything had gone; Kristine's cottage certainly wasn't stocked with antiques and ornate furniture.

"You okay, Sam?" he heard Kristine ask. He wasn't sure how long he'd been lost in thought.

"Yeah," he only glanced at her. "I guess I'm just worried about those boys and the effect they might have on Dean."

"What do you mean?" she asked, sitting down next to him on the couch.

"I wouldn't have guessed it a couple years ago," Sam began. "But Dean is really good with kids. And I think he really likes them. I just don't want to see him get too attached."

"Dean doesn't let himself get too attached," she said.

Sam still didn't look at her, but he heard the almost melancholy tone of her voice. The few times he'd talked with her about her relationship with Dean, she'd insisted she didn't want any more than he was willing to give. She had a lot of issues of her own to work through and didn't know if she'd ever be ready for a steady relationship with anyone. He'd always wondered how much of her attitude was because she knew Dean would never commit.

"What do you think about Nicholas' dream," Sam began. "The one Alex told Dean about?"

"That the vampires would come back for them?" Kristine turned and folded one leg under herself so she could look at Sam straight on. "I'm not a vampire expert, but isn't it true that once they have your scent, they have it forever?"

Sam nodded. "But why go after the boys? There's plenty of other food around."

"I don't know," Kristine admitted. "And who the hell brought the boys here? Do they even know about the fire? None of this makes sense."

"We'll get to the bottom of it," Sam promised her. "Alex trusts Dean; he'll open up soon."

"I'd like to get them on a regular schedule. I don't know how long they're going to be here, but it's not good for them to stay cooped up in that room all day. Especially not with the nice weather and that big pool outside."

Sam smiled at the thought of his tough brother splashing around in a pool with two little boys. Actually, he decided, it might not be a bad thing for Dean. He was just going to be sure to have a camera ready.

--

Dean's shoulder hurt like hell. He knew there were probably some mild painkillers in the bathroom down the hall, but even the thought of the slight movement it would take to get there made him hurt more. Besides, he was afraid to leave the boys with no one else upstairs. Sam would probably check on him eventually, anyway.

He shifted slightly in the rocking chair and fresh pain slammed through him. He didn't notice the slight sheen of perspiration that had broken out on his face, though it probably wouldn't have surprised him. The last thing he needed was for that damn knife wound to get infected. At least they'd taken care of the witch….

Nicholas moved just enough to catch Dean's attention and he watched as the little boy burrowed under the covers. Dean was less worried about him than he was about Alex, even though it was Nicholas who was having the dreams. He was probably still young enough to learn to cope with them if they continued; Dean thought maybe Sam could help him with that. Alex had so much on his young shoulders and Dean knew exactly how that felt.

He didn't regret anything he'd ever done to protect Sam or make sure he was taken care of, but that didn't mean Dean had wanted the childhood he'd been handed. He didn't want that for Alex and Nicholas, but he didn't see any way around it.

Dean moved in the chair again, hoping to find a position that didn't send shooting pain through his shoulder but he gave up after a couple of attempts. He needed to lie down and he needed drugs.

"Hey." Sam's quiet voice came from the doorway.

"Hey," Dean whispered. "You think you can get me something for my shoulder?"

"I can see from here it's bleeding. You need to let me take a look at it."

"Later," Dean shook his head.

"Now," Sam insisted. "They're sleeping and we'll be right down the hall."

Dean knew Sam was right, but he still hesitated.

"Dean," Sam prompted, his voice still low.

Dean nodded and stood up.

In the bathroom a few doors away, it was easy enough to slip out of the plaid button-up shirt that Dean wore, but getting the t-shirt off proved much more painful and difficult. He couldn't believe a little knife wound could hurt so much.

Sam carefully removed the bandage and Dean saw him grimace.

"Oh, come on, Sammy. It's just a little blood."

"It's a lot of blood; it went through the bandage and two shirts. And there's a lot of bruising," Sam added. "There might even be some swelling."

Dean backed away when Sam's hand landed on his forehead. "Dude!"

"You're sweating; you might have a fever. Dean, you don't want this infected."

"It's fine."

Sam shook his head and pulled what he needed from the medicine cabinet above the sink.

"Sit down," he told his brother.

Dean sat on the closed lid of the toilet and tried not to think about the throbbing or the mild nausea he was beginning to feel.

"Are there any pain killers in there?" he asked as Sam was still browsing through the supplies.

"Just the over the counter kind," Sam said. He held out a bottle of ibuprofen.

Dean shook his head. "Do we have anything in the car?"

"That bad?" Sam asked, concern evident on his face.

"Nicholas hit it a few times when I was holding him," Dean said nonchalantly.

"Let me clean it up and get it bandaged again, then I'll bring our stuff in. I could ask Krist--"

"No," Dean said.

Sam didn't argue, but set about doing what needed to be done and Dean tried to pretend that every touch wasn't agony for him. They didn't talk; Dean was in too much pain to start a conversation and he assumed Sam must have guessed that.

It seemed to take forever, but finally Sam was finished.

"You should go to bed," Sam said. "Use the room next to the boys; you'll be able to hear if they wake up. I'll be right back with some pills and our bags."

Dean looked at his brother gratefully, but only nodded as he walked out of the bathroom.

TBC