Warnings: Off screen violence, and, um, did I mention dark? Bad things perpetrated by children. How's that for a warning?
Spoilers: General for seasons one and two
Author's note: Right, so. bhoney requested that I post some of my Supernatural fic over here, and it's been awhile since I've used this site, but I figured sure, why not? (The But Deadly 'verse, what she requested specifically, may or may not get held off until the 'verse is completed, which should be fairly soon.) Beta-ed by Squish, who may or may not have an account.

Be sure to check out the lighter-sided companion piece (not a sequel, just an alternate AU): Afternoons and Coffeespoons


Don't say a word
my head ain't feeling right
stay where you belong inside

-- "War on Sound", Moonbabies

A couple of months after his eleventh birthday, Sam started having nightly nightmares. They started in mid-August, usually occurred between midnight and three am, and Sam always refused to tell either John or Dean what they were about.

Or, at least, if Sam ever told Dean what they were about, Dean wasn't telling John.

The first week of September, according to Dean, Sam became obsessed with the idea that, one day, John would go out on a hunt and never come back for them.

John figured it was a delayed reaction to finding out the truth about the world a few years before. He stepped up both boys' training, figuring that Sam would feel better if he knew more about how to defend himself.

At the end of September, Sam came home from school with light pink lipstick marks on his cheek and a slightly used Scooby Doo notebook, and John wondered if maybe the nightmares weren't tied to something else entirely. Dean had been a bit of a late bloomer -- physically, at least -- but that didn't mean Sam would be, too. John told Dean to take Sam aside for the Talk, and sat down to check over the weapons and listen in.

"Hey Sam. Wanna talk to you 'bout somethin'."

"Now?"

"Yeah, now,"

"But I'm reading."

"Read later. Jesus."

There was a sound of shuffling and a few muffled protests from Sam. John smiled down at the knife he was sharpening. Ah, boys.

"So I notice you got junk on your cheek, Sammy,"

"Do not."

"Do too. And you got a new notebook."

"Do you want it?"

"Hell no. Scooby Doo is for geekazoids like you."

"I'm not a geekazoid. Dean --"

"Dude, stop interrupting me."

"But I have a question."

"'Kay, shoot."

"What do you do if you got a present, but you didn't want it?"

John's lips quirked again as he wiped his knife on a rag and reached for the next one. So Sammy had suitors, but didn't want 'em, huh? Well, he would soon enough.

"You mean what would I do, or what would you do?"

"Doesn't matter."

"Sure it does. You'd throw a fit like a girl and go cry in a corner."

The sound of flesh hitting flesh then. Sam had smacked Dean. Dean had it coming . . . and knew it, judging by the way he was laughing.

"Ow! Fine, fine. If you know where they got it from, you take it back and switch it for something better."

"That makes sense."

"'Course it does. I'm your big brother, I know everything. Now, come on, I really gotta talk to you."

"About what?"

"Girls."

"I don't wanna talk about girls."

"Too bad, Dad says we gotta."

"But I wanna read my book!"

Another thwack. "Stop bitching!"

"Ow! I'm not bitching!" And another.

"Ow!"

And the Talk dissolved into a wrestling match that, by the sound of it, brought both participants off the bed and onto the floor.

*Clunk*

And into a table. John sighed and set the knife, whetstone, and rag down. "Boys! You break it, you bought it!"

A chorus of completely unrepentant "sorry!"s echoed from the other room and John rolled his eyes.

Ah. Boys.

A week later, the nightmares seemed to stop completely.

* * *

In October, they stayed in a one room, crap apartment in Lincoln, Nebraska, while John took time to regroup and get some research done. Three days after Halloween, the day after the anniversary of the fire, he came in from a trip to the post office for new credit cards to find Sam sitting on the couch reading Where the Red Fern Grows, Dean stretched out on his bed staring at the ceiling, and a pile of dirty dishes in the sink starting to attract flies.

"Dean, I thought I told you to do the dishes today." John smacked the stack of envelopes in his hand against the edge of the counter to emphasize his point. Dean, who had his feet on the floor, one arm bent up over his head, and one draped lazily across his stomach, didn't respond. John grit his teeth. "Dean. Dishes."

Sam turned a page of his book, but Dean still didn't move.

"Dammit, Dean, you're too old for this! Look at me when I'm talking to you!"

John saw Sam peek up over the back of the couch, but Dean didn't so much as blink. A slow chill brushed its way across John's shoulder blades as he stomped forward. Dean knew better than to ignore his father.

A fly, having wandered away from the sink, flew in a circle over Dean's face, then landed on his forehead and Dean. Didn't. Move.

John crossed the rest of the distance at a dead run.

Dead run. Dead. Wrong phrase, when Dean wasn't moving. Hell, couldn't tell if he was even breathing, but he still had his color, maybe there was time, maybe he wasn't -- "Dean!" John grabbed his son's shoulders -- still warm, he was still warm, there was time, he'd be okay, he'd -- and Dean's head lolled bonelessly to the side and his eyelids drooped in a lazy blink. John grabbed his chin and turned his face to him, but Dean wouldn't focus, just kept staring blankly ahead, even as John lifted him off the bed to shake him roughly. "Dean, answer me!"

The fly buzzed, and John could hear Dean breathing, a slow, unconcerned rhythm, like he didn't have a care in the world. Like his father wasn't panicking in front of him and probably giving him whiplash trying to get him to answer.

John sat Dean up and balanced him like a rag doll, running his hands through Dean's hair, searching for cuts or bumps. He cast a glance at Sam, who was still peering over the edge of the couch, eyes wide, face blank. "What happened, Sam? How long has he been like this?"

Sam tilted his head a few degrees and eyed Dean. "I was reading. He took my book."

John frowned. "He doesn't have your book now, Sam, what the hell happened? Did something get in here?"

Sam's eyes twitched toward the door and John's gaze followed. The salt line was a little scattered at the edges, but it was unbroken.

John's fingers tightened on the back of Dean's neck, hard enough that the skin around them went white, but Dean still didn't react.

There were things that could get past a salt-line.

"Grab your things, Sam. We're leaving."

"But I have --"

He didn't have time for this. "Your brother is sick, Sam, and whatever did it to him could come back. Pack your things now."

Sam nodded hurriedly and slipped off the couch, then paused. "Should I get Dean's stuff, too?"

"Does it look like Dean's gonna be able to get his own goddamn things, Sam?!"

"N-no, sir,"

John tried to hold Dean up with one hand while groping for the phone with the other. "Then I'd say the answer is yes. Now move."

Sam moved.

* * *

The drive from Lincoln to Lawrence was the longest of John's life, though he managed it in just over three hours.

Three hours of Dean sitting, passive, silent, and far too still, in the passenger seat, not reacting in the slightest to rumble of the engine or the music or any of the things that he normally couldn't shut up about. Three hours of Sam in the back seat, clutching that book of his and staring at the back of Dean's head, doing his best to imitate his catatonic older brother.

Doing so well at it, in fact, that John found himself regularly shouting orders and questions at Sam, just to get a reaction from him. To make sure that what had happened to Dean wasn't . . . spreading, somehow. By the time they got to Missouri's house, John was hoarse, Sam was twitching, and Dean was . . . Dean was nothing at all.

He could walk well enough as long as someone was guiding him, a mechanical, halting stride that was painful to watch. John tried to send Sam ahead to ring the bell, but Sam refused to leave Dean's side. Not that it mattered -- Missouri was standing on the porch before the three of them had even made it halfway up the walk.

"John Winchester." The way she said his name always sounded like a reprimand, and John winced. "What on Earth have you been doing to these boys?"

"Nothing." John adjusted his grip on Dean's arm when his son's dragging feet caught on a crack in the sidewalk. "We don't know what happened. He's -- look at him, Missouri. I don't know if he's even in there."

Missouri did look, her brows furrowed together and her mouth a grim line. She looked until they'd managed to maneuver themselves into her parlor and John settled Dean down on the couch. She crouched down in front of him, then, more gracefully than John had expected, and placed her palm over Dean's hands where they rested in his lap.

"He is," she said simply, and John felt a bit of the tension flow out of his shoulders. He'd been dreading having to search for Dean if something had taken him out of his body. Missouri lifted her hand to Dean's forehead, and the tension came back when Dean didn't shy away from the touch like he normally would. "He's in deep, though." She turned her head and stared at Sam, who shrank back. "Someone stuck him there."

John looked to Sam as well, met wide, frightened eyes, and swallowed before turning back to Missouri. "Can you get him out?"

Missouri rose to her feet, hands folded over her stomach. "No."

John felt sick.

"My powers are passive, John. I can sense things, but I can't change them. Not without a lot of ritual and herbs, you know that." She took a breath and brushed the tips of her fingers through Dean's hair. "I think I know who can, though,"

John shoved his hands deep into his pockets to keep from grabbing Missouri and shaking her like he had Dean. "Stop dicking around and tell me what to do!"

Missouri looked at him again, a look so reminiscent of John's mother when he was Sam's age that he felt like he was shrinking. "Nothing you can do, John, 'cept sit down and calm down before you worry your children sick." She nodded to a chair and John sat, running his hands through his hair and over the stubble on his jaw.

"Please, Missouri. I can't lose him." He looked over at Sam, who was still staring at him with that wide gaze. "I can't lose either of them."

"Sam."

"What?" John and Sam both said it at the same time, with such similar inflection that John might have laughed if he didn't feel so much like screaming. Missouri was crouching again, this time in front of Sam. She reached out, palm upward, and Sam put his hand in hers.

"Tell your father what happened, Sam,"

Sam swallowed, eyes flicking back and forth between his brother, his father, and Missouri. Then he shook his head. John's hands clenched on his knees.

"Tell him."

Another head shake.

"He won't be mad," Missouri shot a warning look at John and he had to bite down a sarcastic response. "He's just worried. Tell him."

"I --" Sam looked down, and John saw that he was still clutching Where the Red Fern Grows in his free hand. "He took my book. He wouldn't give it back. S-so I pushed him."

John frowned. "They push each other all the time, how --"

"Not now, John," Missouri snapped and John ground his teeth again. "Tell him, Samuel."

"I didn't mean to. I thought -- I wanted him to stop, so I pushed him. With my mind."

John felt faint.

"I thought he was just playing! O-or ignoring me, so I ignored him back and then Dad came home and he ignored him too and I just wanted my book back!"

John leaned forward in his seat, pressing his palms into his eyes. "Sam --" It was too close to a sob and he had to choke it back, take a few breaths before he could continue. "Can you fix it?"

The room was silent for too long, and when Sam finally spoke, his voice seemed to barely move the heavy air.

"I don't know how."

John choked again, keeping his hands pressed to his face while he struggled to hold back the tears that were prickling at the corners of his eyes. He listened to Missouri's quiet murmuring and encouragements, but couldn't make out the words, his mind too full of Oh my god, don't take him from me and Mary, I'm sorry to let anything else in. He had no idea how long he sat there before the room went silent and cold and morbid curiosity finally forced him to lift his head.

Missouri was holding Sam's left hand in both of hers, and Sam had his right pressed over top of Dean's, his eyes squinched shut in concentration. Everything seemed to have stopped and the air was heavier than ever, pressing in on John from all sides, sucking out his breath.

Then something snapped and Dean jerked violently, wrenching his hands away from Sam's, his eyes flying wide open and focusing for the first time in -- well, in far, far too long.

"What -- What the --"

Dean never finished the question, which was just as well -- Missouri had no patience for cursing in her house. John was in front of Dean in an instant, pulling him forward into his arms and holding on like one of them might vanish at any moment. He pressed Dean's head into his shoulder, hands running over his spine and through his hair, refusing to let Dean push him away. "Oh god. Oh god, Dean,"

"It's okay," Dean mumbled into his shoulder, relaxing into his arms, his voice confused but reassuring, like John was the one who'd gone away. He lifted his head a little and tensed again. "Um, Dad, there's a creepy woman staring at us,"

Missouri's hand reached out and cuffed Dean on the back of the head, even as John barked out a short laugh.

When he finally let Dean go, Sam was nowhere to be seen.

* * *

According to Dean, it had seemed to him like no time had passed between wrestling with Sam in Nebraska and waking up on Missouri's couch in Kansas. They'd found Sam in Missouri's kitchen, curled in a chair at the table with his nose buried in the book, and Dean had ruffled his hair and called him a geek and didn't complain when Sam burst into tears and refused to let go of him for two hours.

They stayed there for a week, Sam getting lessons in focusing his mind and controlling his powers from Missouri while Dean and John looked for hunts in the neighboring towns. John refused to let Dean out of his sight and though he didn't completely understand what had happened, Dean didn't complain. But at the end of the week, they were both too twitchy and restless to stay in Lawrence any longer, and the three Winchesters packed themselves into the Impala again and headed out, this time aiming for Blue Earth. They spent most of November there, Sam sticking close to Pastor Jim while John raided the Church's library and Dean took a part time job at a convenience store in town. While John spoke to Jim and Caleb and Bobby about Sam's abilities and what they might mean, every time he tried to bring it up with Sam himself, he found himself stumbling over the words and just holding onto his son until Sam started to complain that he had other things to do.

John never told Sam not to use his powers on Dean again. He didn't think he had to.

Still, a hunter's work was never finished and the Monday before Thanksgiving, he told his boys that they'd be leaving after the holiday to chase down another lead.

That night, the arguments began.

On Wednesday night, Sam refused to leave his room to come down for dinner, and John sent Dean after him, making sure to stay within ear shot just in case the boys got out of hand. He expected there would be shouting, but the boys kept their voices down, Sam's dark, urgent, and cracking, Dean's low and reassuring. It was a conversation John knew they'd had several times -- Sam saying he didn't want to leave, Dean explaining why they didn't have a choice, Sam asking if Dean had ever thought about what it would be like to have a normal life.

"Don't you ever want to try it? Don't you ever want to just -- just leave and find something of your own?"

John groaned softly under his breath and waited for Dean's response, that normal didn't matter, family mattered, that what they were doing was good and important and they had to stick together.

Instead what he heard was a faint "yes" and the sound of the door to the boys' room closing softly.

John had just gotten his heart back down from his throat when he heard the front door close and it climbed right back up again. He tried to stay casual as he went to knock on the boys' door. Sam answered it.

"What?"

"Where's your brother?"

Sam shrugged and stormed back to his bed. "He went out."

"Where?"

"Didn't say."

"He probably just wanted some air, huh?"

Another belligerent shrug, and John gave up, heading back downstairs and trying to reassure himself that Dean probably had just wanted some air, after having to deal with Sam's stubbornness.

That worked for almost an hour before John headed out into the biting cold to go after him.

He found Dean walking by the side of the road three miles away without even a jacket, his hands buried deep in his pockets. He looked up when he heard the rumble of the Impala, and John could see the way his whole body drooped when he pulled up along side of him.

John leaned over and opened the passenger side door. "Get your ass in here, Dean."

Dean shuddered hard and climbed stiffly into the passenger seat. His nose was red and running, his cheeks were chapped, his eyes were bloodshot, and he curled in on himself as he sank into the leather seat, staring out the front windshield.

"Where the hell did you think you were going?" John demanded, and Dean shook his head, his jaw clenched too tight to speak. John waited for the shivers to die down before he tried again. "Dean, answer me."

Dean turned to look at him then, and John nearly cursed out loud at the fear he saw in his boy's face.

"I don't," Dean said fervently, his teeth still chattering gently. "I don't, Dad, I swear I don't."

John reigned in his own anger and fear as he pulled the car back onto the road. "Don't what?"

"Want normal."

John stomped on the brake, momentum jerking them both forward. "I heard you --"

"I don't know why I said that," Dean was practically babbling, his hands pressing into his armpits as he started shuddering again, though when John reached out to rest his hand on the back of Dean's neck, the skin there had warmed up. Dean leaned into John's grip, then jerked one hand up to brush at his eyes. "I don't know why I left. I wanted to go back, I wanted to so bad, but I just kept -- I just kept walking. . . ."

John rubbed small circles on the back of Dean's neck and continued to stare out into the Minnesota night.

And wondered if the boy back at Pastor Jim's could really be his Sammy.

* * *

The week after Thanksgiving, they didn't leave. Sam and Dean returned to the same school district they'd attended on and off for most of their lives, though Dean stayed out sick on Monday, fighting off a severe cold. John kept researching and promised himself that as soon as he was certain that Dean was well enough, they'd get back on the road.

November turned into December, but they still didn't leave. Something always came up -- Sam caught Dean's cold, the Impala needed a tune up, there might be more books at Jim's that could be useful. And John didn't question it.

He stopped talking to Jim, Caleb, and Bobby about Sam's abilities, and eventually stopped talking about the thing that took Mary, as well. It wasn't until he brought up the idea of finding his own place in town, big enough for the boys to have their own rooms, that the look on Jim's face finally registered.

"What?"

"It's not that I disagree with you, John," Jim said. "But . . . are you feeling alright?"

John frowned, not understanding what Jim was asking. "I'm perfectly healthy, Jim. Haven't even gotten injured, lately."

"That's because you haven't been hunting."

John blinked. "Taking a break. It's good for the boys."

"Was that your idea?" Jim asked carefully. "Or was it Sam's?"

It hit like a punch in the gut.

The next day, over a chorus of shouted complaints from Sam and mumbled agreements and shrugs from Dean, John slowly packed them up and got them ready to leave. It was a process that they'd perfected over the years, one that used to be accomplished in minutes but this time took hours, as John continuously found himself distracted or second guessing his decisions -- usually just after talking with Sam.

The fifteenth time he turned around to make sure that they all had their toothbrushes, John finally rounded on his youngest.

"Stop it, Sam!"

Sam opened his mouth to object.

"Don't think I don't know what you're doing! You stop right this instant or you're riding to our next stop in the trunk, do you hear me?"

Sam fell silent, his expression dark and petulant.

Five minutes later, they made their goodbyes and were on the road.

* * *

Two days after that, they were back in Blue Earth, and John was placing another phone call to Missouri.

"A changeling, maybe? Or a shapeshifter?"

"John Winchester, what in God's blessed name are you going on about?"

"That's not my son, Missouri. That thing is not my son! Tell me what he is!"

"He's an eleven year old boy! And a scared one at that!"

"He's got me and Dean to look after him, what the hell does he have to be scared of?!"

"Are you going to hush up and listen to me, or are you calling just to yell, because I will hang up this phone --"

A sigh. "Right. I'm sorry. Just, please. . . ."

"He didn't tell you about the dreams, did he."

"Dreams?" John frowned, peering up to make sure that neither Sam or Dean had come home from school, yet. "He's mind controlling me, Missouri, what's that got to do with dreams?"

"You should be asking your son."

John bit back a growl. "I'm asking you." He rubbed his forehead. "What dreams -- the nightmares? The ones he had this summer?"

"Those nightmares came true, John. That's what he told me. On more than one occasion."

"What --"

"And some of them haven't, yet. He dreamed of you dying. Several times."

"Are you telling me my son has prophetic dreams?"

"Had. He doesn't, any more, near as I can tell."

"This isn't making any sense."

"He tell you about the yellow eyed man?"

"I think it's safe to say," John bit out, "That he hasn't told me about anything."

"Bet that's 'cause you didn't ask. Ask him, John. Your son needs you."

And he was going to.

But something always seemed to come up.

* * *

On December 15th, they were still in Blue Earth, and Sam and Dean were fighting.

Really fighting. Fighting in a way that they hadn't fought since November 3rd.

They could be heard through out the rectory, and John could only be thankful that Jim wouldn't be home for a while longer, as he knew from experience that they were both likely to get violent before it was over. Hopefully, they'd have time to clean everything up before the pastor returned.

It was even a familiar argument, though John suspected it had gotten a slightly different kick off, this time. It could practically be scripted: Sam yells that he hates hunting, Dean yells that they save people, Sam says he doesn't care about other people, Dean says Sam's selfish, Sam says it's not fair, Dean calls him a whiny bitch, Sam says he hates Dean, and then they wrestle around until they're both too tired to continue and they go off to separate corners of whatever place they happen to be in and refuse to talk to each other for awhile. Then one of them, usually Sam, breaks down and apologizes, they call each other names a bit more, and things go back to normal.

John learned quickly that his best bet when the boys got like this was to just sit back and make sure they didn't break anything that would be too expensive to fix, but otherwise just let them hash it out between them.

The words were a little different this time, but the theme was the same.

Dean was trying to tell Sam that he had to start letting John hunt. John felt a wash of shame and pride in equal measures at the fact that his fifteen year old son was trying to defend him. Sam refused to budge, though -- he had friends here and good grades and they were all safe. And they went back and forth and back and forth on it, until finally Dean lay down the line: they were hunters, that was their lives, and that was that.

"That's not living!" Sam was screaming now, and John couldn't help but wince. "You live like that, you might as well be dead!" His voice cracked into a shrill shriek on the last syllable, and a moment later, John heard something heavy hit the floor above him. He waited for the sound of the return hit, but it never came. He started counting in his head as time seemed to slow around him.

By the time he got to five, he was running up the stairs.

He burst into the room to find Sam on the floor, kneeling over Dean, who was crumpled into a twisted heap in front of the closet, his eyes closed and his knees bent like he'd collapsed in the midst of trying to get away from something. John dropped to his knees on the opposite side of Dean from Sam, his hands hovering for a second before landing on Dean's shoulders.

Warm, he's still warm, maybe Sam just pushed him, maybe it's only what he did before. . . . But even as he slid his hand up to Dean's neck to search out a pulse, he knew he wasn't going to find one. Dean wasn't breathing, and Sam was looking too desperately scared.

"What did you do?" John couldn't look at his younger son. His hands were shaking as he pushed Dean's head back to clear his airway and lifted his chin. "Sam, what did you do?"

"I didn't mean it!" He could hear the tears hanging on the back of Sam's words. "I just wanted to scare him! So he'd see!"

John didn't answer him. He was too busy breathing for Dean.

Two breaths, lifting the jaw and pinching the nose. Then shift over, find the end of the sternum, hands-breadth up from there, palms flat, one hand over the other. Arms straight for the compressions. One, two, three. . . .

Something cracked in Dean's chest and John choked, but forced himself to keep going.

Sam scrambled over to try to help.

John and Dean had taken the training class, but Sam hadn't, not yet. John cursed under his breath and pushed Sam out of the way when it was time for the breaths again. Then back to Dean's chest, one, two, three, four. . . .

It wasn't working. John knew he should be sending Sam to call for an ambulance. He knew that he'd wasted precious seconds already just in getting up the stairs.

He knew that whatever he did, it wasn't enough.

Dean was dead. And Sam had killed him.

"Undo it." He said it low between compressions nine and ten. Sam stared up at him, his entire body trembling.

"Dad --"

"Undo it."

"I can't --"

"Yes you can!" Sam flinched, but John couldn't bring himself to reign in the fury in his tone. "You did this to him, Sam, you can undo it! For godssake, he's dead!"

The tears started flowing then, from both of them, as John frantically continued the compressions. Saying it aloud had made it undeniable, and John wished he could take it all back.

"I don't know how."

"Yes, you do."

Sam shook his head. "He didn't show me that part! He only showed me how to hurt people!"

"He tell you about the yellow eyed man?" John closed his eyes, his arms seizing up, and he faltered. He was running out of breath.

Dean wasn't breathing at all.

"You're a smart kid, Sam. You can figure it out. Undo it." He opened his eyes and caught Sam's gaze, for once showing his youngest all the pain and fear he usually kept deeply buried around his children. "Please,"

Sam swallowed, then nodded. He closed his eyes, squinching them shut as he grabbed onto Dean's hand, just like he had back in Lawrence. John held his breath.

He could feel the pressure building in the room around them, pushing in on his eyes and ears as Sam started to shake harder. John felt frozen, his arms locked over Dean's chest. He'd lost count of the compressions, knew he had to do the breaths soon -- now -- but he couldn't move. Sam lifted his head slowly, his eyes opening, both his pupils blown wide. John tried to suck in a breath, but couldn't. Sam was staring up at something over Dean's head, his entire body shaking with the effort to do . . . John couldn't begin to fathom what Sam was doing.

When Sam spoke, he sounded like someone twice his age.

"Put him back."

The pressure built until John thought his head might cave in. Sam continued to stare, his eyes narrowed in a look that promised terrible things for whoever he was talking to. John wondered if that was what he looked like, when he was up against a spirit. It was a horrible expression, made even more so by the fact that the face wearing it was still pudged with baby fat.

"Do it." Sam's voice took on an echo that rattled the air like gelatin. "Now."

Then the pressure broke, Sam collapsed, and Dean took a breath, all at the same time.

* * *

Time seemed to skip a step.

John had Dean in his arms, suddenly, the teenager letting out sharp coughing whimpers at the broken rib -- broken sternum, maybe -- from the CPR, but John couldn't care. Dean was breathing, he was awake and responding and alive and that was all John could think about. Sam was sitting up, blood running from both his nostrils, pain crinkling the corners of his eyes, and he was staring at Dean and John with an expression John couldn't begin to read. He pressed his lips to the top of Dean's head and stared at his younger son.

He's an eleven year old boy. And he's scared. John gripped Dean harder, and Dean gasped and dug his fingers into John's shirt. He's not the only one.

"Thank you."

Sam blinked up at him and nodded shortly.

"You can't do this, Sam." John's fingers clenched involuntarily on the side of Dean's head and Dean let out a confused sound. "Never again."

Sam nodded again, and when he spoke, John was relieved to note that his voice had returned to normal. "I'll take it back. Like the dreams. I'll take it back and get something better, I promise,"

"If you know where they got it from, you take it back and switch it for something better."

"He tell you about the yellow eyed man?"

"No. You're done. No more dreams, no more mind control, no more damned powers, Sam."

Something shifted behind Sam's eyes and he sat up straighter.

"I brought him back."

"You killed him in the first place!"

Sam looked at Dean, whose face was turned into John's shirt as he continued to struggle to catch his breath.

"I don't want to hunt any more."

John's blood froze.

". . . What?"

"No more hunting. For any of us." Sam swallowed and stared hard at John. "We're going to be normal."

"Sam, you can't --"

"I don't want to hunt any more."

Dean groaned into John's chest, his fingers wrapping even tighter into his shirt.

Was it his imagination, or was Dean trying to inch away from Sam?

"Your mom --"

"I don't care, Dad. No more hunting!"

John took a shaky breath. He could feel the heat of Dean's body through his tshirt. Dean's hair smelled of motor oil and soap.

Mary's killer was still out there. His wife was still unavenged. It could be killing others, ruining other families.

But Mary's sons were alive. John shifted his hand to Dean's neck, felt the rush of Dean's blood beating against his fingertips. Sam stared up at him, the blood on his face and hard look in his eyes hiding the baby Mary had held and sung to and loved eleven years before.

". . . Okay."

Sam's expression melted into a broad, bright grin and John buried his face into Dean's hair to hide a sob.

"No more hunting."

* * *

On December 22nd, Sam didn't meet John and Dean after school like he was supposed to. They were a few minutes late -- Dean was still moving slowly thanks to the broken sternum, and would be for awhile. They arrived in time to watch the last bus pull away, and John waited in the parking lot for half an hour before the fire department showed up.

Sam's last period teacher had been found dead in her classroom, blood pooling on her desk, traces of sulfur on the window sill.

There was no sign of Sam.

John gave his statement and a copy of Sam's most recent photo to the police on the scene and was told that they'd do everything they could to find his son. John simply nodded and headed back out to the car, where Dean sat in the front seat, his arms wrapped loosely over his chest, watching the crowd of angry parents and frightened students gathered by the fire engines. John slid into the driver's seat and started the engine, then turned to look at Dean.

Dean, who hadn't said a single word since his death and subsequent resurrection, just looked back.

John looked forward again and pulled slowly out of the parking lot, running the options over in his head. Jim would help, of course. Ellen would be willing to put feelers out at the Roadhouse. And sulfur meant demons, and when it came to demons, no one knew more than Bobby Singer. They could find the yellow eyed man, kill him, get Sam back.

But for the life of him, John didn't know if he wanted to.

Hey! It will be alright
I just found myself in ways I couldn't help
It will be alright
Just find a state where everything's passing by
I just found myself in ways I couldn't help

-- "War on Sound", Moonbabies