Hi, so, I know it's been a year but I finally updated. I've got poison ivy for those of you that probably cursed me so you can put down those shotguns. As a small recap, Dean watched his brother run out into the midst of a disaster on wheels right before he tried once again at contacting his dad. Warnings: Slight swearing in this chapter. No offense intended to anyone.

XX-XX

Time seemed to freeze as Dean watched the large utility vehicle crush the Ion, shattering the windshield into tiny bits of glass that sprayed a fine mist around his feet. He felt a rush of panic followed by the awful thud of his heart beating wildly against his chest as a thousand grotesque images flashed through his mind. He barely registered the screams from the crowd that had gathered near the pumps as he hightailed it over to the collision, boots crunching over stray pieces of broken glass.

The foul stench of burnt rubber and smoke filled the air as he approached the wreckage. His heart nearly stopped at the sight of blood smeared against the front bender of what was left of the damaged car, and he felt ill at the thought of his little brother trapped somewhere underneath. Or worse yet, dead. Fear of the unknown only clouded his judgment and he tried to push away those thoughts as he frantically cried Sam's name over and over again. He stepped closer but felt strong hands grip the back of his arms and pull him away from the area.

"Sammy, hold on!" he bellowed, fighting against the arms that bound him. The paramedics had arrived, and a few of them were trying to restrain the older Winchester from nearing the accident, unaware of his purpose.

"Sir, we're going to need you to calm down.." one soothed, ready with a tranquilizer if push came to shove.

"I am calm," Dean grunted out, struggling against their surprisingly strong hold with a fierce determination in his emerald eyes. "You guys are just pissing me off!"

"Everyone needs to clear the area," the same man spoke urgently, rushing him in the opposite direction away from the site while motioning to his teammates to spread out. "It's not safe to be around here!"

Sirens shrieked in the distance and a division of squad cars sped into the gas station behind the ambulances. A crowd had gathered in front of the double decker bus and Dean saw that he wasn't the only one being ushered back to safety. A girl, maybe a little older than him and on the verge of hysterics, was being dragged away from the smashed remains of the car and over to the ambulance, screaming something incoherent about her boyfriend. He would've felt remorse for her if his own mind wasn't screaming a mantra in his head repeatedly. Sam. Sam. Sam. God, please, Sam.

It felt as if his ears would start to bleed if the pounding in his skull didn't subside as panic shot through him like 10,000 volts of electricity, and that earlier feeling of suffocation was making itself known again. Fed up with being manhandled by the men in white, Dean allowed his elbow to connect with the side of the man's face and used his free hand to deliver a swift blow to just below the other guy's kidneys before they both released him.

Dean then ran into the crowd, screaming his brother's name at the top of his lungs as the store came into view. He kicked aside a stray chunk of metal blocking the entrance to the sliding doors and forced them open manually. Smoke fumes radiating off of the truck filled the small store and his lungs, but he rushed in regardless. "Sammy! S-Sam answer me!" he spluttered, coughing, stumbling his way around the aisles.

Other than the commotion from outside, the little store was silent. No signs of curly locks of brown hair or dewy, puppy dog eyes anywhere, and the older hunter was close to a breakdown. Please be ok. I'm going to have a full head of gray hair before I turn 30 if this keeps happening! Sam..

His head snapped up at the sound of whimpering, and he followed the noise to the very back of the store.

The whimpering, closer now, turned to sniffles and he rounded the corner to be met with the shivering, soot-covered face of his younger brother. Relief spread through him like wildfire and diminished into concern when the shaking bundle of nerves remained catatonic. He crouched down next to the boy and cupped a hand on his cheek, brushing away flecks of ash under his eyelids. "Sammy?" he questioned softly, frowning at the unresponsiveness. "Come on, man, we have to get going. Now is not a good time to go AWOL on your big brother."

He felt the boy tremble under his touch causing worry to twinge his insides further, but he had to get Sam out of the store before the smoke permeated the air in his lungs.

And in mine, he added as an afterthought, terrified to even think about what would happen to his vulnerable brother if he was gone. Clearing those ideas out of his head, Dean pulled his little brother into his arms and used his jacket to shield him from the carborator fumes as he hauled ass out of the shop. Once they were in the clear, he avoided the flurry of people assembling around the wreckage and headed toward one of the remaining emergency vehicles once he spotted a medic that wasn't being harassed for information from the herd of reports now fretting about the scene like buzzards preying on dead livestock.

Sam, rendered motionless until he saw the medic, laid his head against his brother's shoulder and sagged into him, whether for support or comfort, Dean didn't know. He wouldn't say a word, and only seemed capable of staring off into the distance with an unreadable expression set on his dirty but unusually pale face and freaking his older brother out to no end. He couldn't find any traces of blood on Sam, but the silence sent shivers of unease down his spine from his normally talkative little brother. The man in uniform, now close enough to spot the unmoving toddler in the hunter's arms, rushed over to the duo and pulled out his kit. "Do you folks need some help over here?" he stipulated, noting the grime and various scrapes that mainly covered the boy.

"My brother...I-I think he's shell-shocked..." Dean explained wearily, a bead of sweat rolling down his cheek, "...will you check him over?"

"Bring him over to the back, sir," the man directed in a surprisingly firm and confident voice, albiet his lanky frame and soft blue eyes suggested otherwise. Dean hurried to comply, shifting his precious cargo onto his left hip and joining the paramedic into the back of his van.

"Sammy, hey kiddo, this guy isn't going to hurt you. He's going to help you, ok?" Dean soothed him in that voice reserved only to comfort little brothers as he handed Sam over to the medic reluctantly, wishing more than anything the kid would speak.

And it was like a light switch had gone off in Sam's brain as soon as he was placed into the stranger's arms. He reacted as if he'd been zapped with a cattle prod and awareness sparked in his hazel eyes. All at once tears were streaming down his face, arms reaching out for his brother, calling out for him to save him, make all the bad things go away and put the fear of God into those that tried to hurt him. To say that the older hunter was shocked was an understatement, and the poor man holding the now flailing child almost dropped him in surprise. "Dean, no! I-I want Dean!" he wailed, struggling against the arms that bound him away from his desired object.

"Whoa! Sammy, calm down," he ordered, taking the kid away from the blonde-haired man before the poor shmuck got himself a tiny tennis shoe to the face, "I'm right here. I gotcha."

Sam wrapped his arms tightly around his brother's neck and clung to him like a leech, breathing heavily into his shoulder. Dean masked his confusion with concern as he held him for a moment until the sobs quieted down into sniffles. Definitely not normal brooding Sam behavior, more like clingy, adorable little brother Sam behavior I used to know, he decided, linking this somehow with the shritga.

"Uh, I think it's safe to say the little guy is fine. Maybe a bit dirty, but nothing soap and water can't fix," the medic reported ineptly, scratching his head awkwardly. "I think the best diagnosis I can give is to get him out of here. Being around the accident is probably scaring him."

Really? Why would you think that? is what Dean wanted to say, but he bit his tongue and thanked the paramedic instead.

Once the boys were safely out of earshot from the medic and heading in the direction of the Impala, Dean forced his brother to face him, tears or not.

"What the hell was that all about?" he asked, seeing the fear in the kid's eyes ignite again. They glistened with a batch of fresh new ones, and sure enough started to leak down his face. Concerned but not wanting to unleash the waterworks again, Dean softly asked, "Sammy, what's wrong? You know you can tell me, little bro."

Wiping his wet nose with the sleeve of his brother's jacket, Sam looked just as young as he felt when he answered, "I forgot your peanut M&Ms.."

A long stretch of silence passed between the two as the older Winchester tried to think of a suitable response for that.

"Sam," Dean began sheepishly, smiling, "it's alright, buddy. I'm just glad that you're alive." He brushed the sooty tears away with his thumb, expecting a smile or at least an eye roll from the kid, but frowned when neither happened.

Sighing, he opened the back door to the Impala and prepared to strap his brother into the carseat. To his astonishment, Sam gave not a word of protest and sat quietly while he buckled him in; he was starting to wonder if the crash had done more damage than it appeared. The older brother was worried, nonetheless. With a final glance at his sullen brother, Dean shut the door and pulled his baby out of the crowded gas station, thankful they weren't being blocked in by all the emergency vehicles.

"So you're awful chatty back there," Dean jibed, hoping to get a rise out of him before they arrived at Bobby's place. Sure, he was grateful that he didn't have to listen to him complain, but it killed him to see the kid so upset and to boot after his narrow escape from death. He didn't want his brother to shut down again after he was still healing from Jessica's death, which he refused to speak about even now.

Sam lifted his head up in acknowledgement, features taut, but he didn't comment. The boy really knew how to pull at his heartstrings.

"Sam, seriously, what's up with you? I can only take the whole brooding bitch boy routine for so long. Did something else happen back there?"

"No," he answered a little too quick, raising Dean's suspicion further.

"Nothing else to add?" He was going to press for as much information as he could get out of his brother before he had a chance to spiral downwards. Setting the cruise control since they were back on the interstate, he turned to face the curly mess of brown hair and bright hazel eyes with a frown. "You're going to spill your guts one way or another, kid." he said in a more severe and orderly voice.

"I'm sorry, alright!" Sam shrieked, feeling the heat creep up the back of his neck from embarrassment because someone his age, his real age, shouldn't sound like Mickey Mouse.

Dean kept a straight face in spite of the outburst, but he could see the guilt in his brother's eyes.

"I panicked, Dean..." the distraught child continued with a moan, "My head was telling me to move out of the way, all the years of training with dad, I don't know...it was like someone stuck me in the middle of a war movie and I couldn't dodge the bullet in time."

"-But you did."

Sam shook his head stubbornly, curling in on himself. "That's not important. I hesitated and there was all that blood. Y-you didn't hear that girl screaming..."

"And what, Sam," Dean pushed relentlessly, dropping to a more serious pitch, "you think that's your fault? The crash? You didn't cause it! You were damn near crushed by it but that's way out of your control. Now I know that it freaked you out, hell I was, but it's not your burden to bare this time," he softened his tone at the bleary eyes blinking back at him, "you have to let that go, Sammy." You have to let her go.

Sam peered up at his brother through a haze of pain and tears, understanding the words unspoken. He ached for affection now, feeling cold and alone in the plastic prison, but whisked away the childish idea of climbing onto his older brother's lap and snuggling against him like an amorous kitten. That would be inappropriate for someone his age, and he wasn't one to go against protocol. Suck it up, a gruff, little voice that sounded oddly similar to his dad's, directed him. You're a Winchester. There's no room for weakness in this family.

"Sammy, you alright now?" Dean asked fearfully, noticing the blank look on the boy's tear-stained mug, fearing that he was relapsing back into his stupor.

"M'fine, Dean," he answered, the slightest bit of hesitation wavering in his tone. He refused to meet those emerald eyes again, afraid of the anger he knew was lurking there.

Disbelief was written all over Dean's face as he hurriedly switched lanes to catch their exit. Checking to make sure that traffic was all clear, he turned back around to face his brother, horrified to see that he was crying once again. This kid is going to have me bawling in a second if he doesn't stop. "Hey, what's all this now? You're going to flood my backseats, dude. Add that to the damage to the front seat and you're going to be spending a whole week making repairs for her," he teased, smiling, despite the lump in his throat from not being able to soothe his little brother.

Sam didn't find humor in his remark, instead ducking his head down in alarm. "I promised I'd fix it, Dean," he murmured, wiping away the wetness on his round cheeks. "Just please don't..." he paused, unable to formulate the right words.

"Don't what?" Dean repeated, urging his brother to finish his thoughts.

"You know...about earlier..." Sam found sudden interest in the threading of the carseat, weaving his finger in and out of the gold lining; he still wasn't used to the idea of discussing this with his brother, no matter how many times he had endured it as a child. He felt his face flush red from the indecency of it all and another wave of wetness welled in his eyes. Stupid hormones!

"Ah, Sammy, a lot of things happened earlier. If this is about the peanut M&Ms, man, I can just stop and get more. It's really no big deal," he reassured him.

A surge of relief passed over the younger Winchester, but he needed one more issue resolved before he could relax. "So, um, you're not going to spank me then?"

"Christ Sam, no! What, do you think I'm some kind of abusive asshole?" Dean demanded, thrown for a loop by the sudden subject change.

"No, but it seems to be your latest trend now since I changed," he explained carefully, "and you can't deny that!"

"Oh no! Don't make me look like the bad guy here! You totally deserved those. I wouldn't just beat your ass if I didn't think you needed it, come on. You're old enough to know right from wrong."

"I know right from wrong," Sam huffed, crossing his arms over his chest. "If anyone doesn't, it's you."

Dean rolled his eyes, turning back around to face the highway. They were only a few more miles away from Singer Salvage and he did not want to spend them arguing with a four year old.

Cool, autumn air sauntered it's way into the slightly cracked windows as rows and rows of wheat fields rolled by welcoming them into South Dakota. Sam stared, transfixed, at the way they seemed to blend into one stream of endless gold and found himself falling victim to their alluring motion of harmonic rhythm. Soon his eyes were drooping and it was getting difficult to keep his head from swaying against the side of the cushioned plastic. Every time he felt the cool substance connect with his skin, he jolted awake as if shocked by an electric eel, much to the amusement of his older brother. Dean snickered when he saw the kid jerk awake for the third time since they had gotten onto the main drag. "Actually getting some sleep is not going to kill you dude." he announced from the front seat, startling the toddler.

"I'm not tired," Sam replied, bordering on a whine, "I think I may just be suffering from highway hypnosis."

"No, I think you're just a freak," Dean shot back. He grinned at the irritated groan that followed next, relishing those moments when he could annoy the hell out of his younger brother. "Besides, it's he who drives the car that gets the hypnosis. You're just a backseat bitch, no scratch that, a bitter backseat bitch stuck in a bitty body. Try saying that one five times fast."

It was like dangling a worm in front of a hungry fish; Sam took the bait easily. "That's sad coming from you," he goaded, grinning, "I've heard better from Carrot Top."

"Don't you ever compare me to that misfit ginger. Ever." Dean groused, eyes ablaze with hatred for the red-haired comedian. "You know how I feel about that guy."

"How can you hate someone that you've never met?" Sam mused, satisfied that for once he had the upperhand.

"Why don't you tell me, clown boy."

And with that remark, the older brother regained his place as the victor.

"That's a low blow! And especially for someone my size. You should feel ashamed," he admonished, shaking his head in disappointment. "Picking on a kid...that's sick, Dean."

Dean scoffed. "You're 22, goofball. Remember?"

The younger Winchester remembered, it was hard for a person not to forget when they could no longer reach the top cuboard, sit in a seat that wasn't boosted, or have constant supervision wherever he or she went, but sometimes it just slipped his mind. It was better not to think about such things, and he had to laugh at them or else he would cry, and that wasn't acceptable. He had enough crying for one year, thank you very much. With a long suffering sigh, Sam let his mind drift away from those depressing thoughts and back into reality. "How much farther until Bobby's?" he asked, shifting his small body to the left to get more comfortable.

"'Bout three miles exactly," He stretched his legs out, trying to work the kinks out of his knees from sitting in that position for so long. "I hope the old man cooked us up a meal. I'm freaking starving, my brother. I haven't eaten since, well, this morning." And just to prove his point, his stomach gave a loud rumble in protest.

"I could eat," Sam agreed, clutching his own grumbling tummy.

The rest of the drive to Singer Salvage was spent with the brothers chatting back and forth about various foods such as spaghetti and meatballs, Bobby's famous spicy chili, and even the homemade apple pie that his neighbor across the street sometimes dropped off as a special treat for the boys when they were around. Dean pulled into the gravel driveway a little too eagerly with the thought of a home cooked meal in mind. Sam had dozed off a mile back, and they both failed to notice the rusty old pick-up truck parked off to the side near the auto yard. Dean drove over to an empty space next to Rumsfield's kennel, whom was barking to alert his owner of their arrival.

He damn near hopped out of the car, dragging Sam and the duffles along with him as they approached their surrogate uncle's house. Sam opened his eyes sleepily at the wonderful aroma of pan fried deliciousness, only groaning a little once he realized he was once again in Dean's arms. "I am capable of walking, " he explained without malice this time, but ditched the hope of being put down at the look in Dean's eyes. "Fine, but only because I'm food deprived," he conceded.

"Yeah and Rumsfield would use you as his pillow if I set you down."

Dean laughed at the image of his brother being squashed by the 45 pound Rottweiler, but the laughter ceased once the door swung open in front of them.

Expecting the bearded, base-ball cap wearing figure of the salvage owner, they were at a loss for words instead upon finding the calloused face of John Winchester smiling back at them. The bewildered silence seemed to drag on forever before he spoke, even Rumsfield had stopped barking.

"Boys," he greeted in that same gruff tone he used the last time he had surprised them. "I was wondering when you were going to get here."

"Dad, what?" Dean stammered, completely blown away by his presence. He almost forgot about the 3 foot bundle in his arms, and nearly dropped poor Sam in astonishment.

"Dad, you're alive..." Sam babbled, bringing wide hazel eyes to meet the dark brown ones staring down at him in wonder.

"Sammy, god, what happened to you?" John breathed, taking in the sight of his former 22 year old son with affection. He hadn't seen those curls in a long time, not since their home in Lawrence, and memories of his kids, young and innocent, came flooding back to him. He analyzed both of his children, taking in their tired eyes and dirty faces with concern.

"I think this has to be the third shock of my life today. Jeez, it's good to see you, dad. Where have you been? Why didn't you answer any of my calls?" Dean suddenly found his voice again after regaining his composure, getting a firmer grip around his brother to keep him from sliding off his hip.

"I think I should be asking you the same thing. In fact, Bobby's been trying to reach you boys for the past 3 hours." he answered, furrowing his brow at his oldest. "Care to explain that?"

"Uh, well," he started, shooting a look down at Sam who refused to meet his eyes, before bringing his gaze back up to meet his old man's. "It's complicated." was the best he could do.

John looked like he wanted to add on, but was interrupted by another voice from behind. "If you idgits are done with your reunion, dinner's ready...and Dean, shut the door. Were you raised in a barn?"

Dean quickly stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind him, never one to disobey an order. A million questions were streaming through his mind, he could only imagine what his little brother must be thinking, but the scrutinizing glares from both the older men rendered him speechless. Confused as to why they looked so pissed at him, he decided that would be his first question. The mystery of why his dad suddenly showed up at the old man's house after being threatened with an ass-full of buckshot, what kind of information he had gathered about the demon, and if Bobby found any shred of news about Sam's condition could all wait until later, maybe after they ate too.

"Sam," Bobby said, eyes clouding over with emotion at the talkative little boy he hadn't seen in years. "You, boy, you're covered in filth! Please tell me your idiot brother didn't do this to you."

"Whoa, wait a minute!" Dean protested, tired of being the bad guy. He was silenced with a sharp look from Bobby, but that didn't stop him from mumbling furiously under his breath.

"No, this isn't Dean's fault," Sam told them, but didn't say much more on the matter.

"Well, this isn't exactly the warm welcome I was expecting." Dean griped, setting his much younger brother along with their duffle bags down on the floor next to him. "Doesn't anybody greet with a nice hey, how are you doing anymore?"

"Who the hell's house do you think you're at, boy? This ain't the Cleavers. Do I look like Martha to you?" Bobby snarked, resting his hands on his hips.

Thankfully, John intervened before any smartass comment could leave his oldest's lips. "Dean, you go upstairs and take a shower. I'll clean Sammy up and then you both can eat. Afterwards, we'll all explain later." he commanded, putting emphasis on the last word to indicate they would be in store for a nice long talk after dinner.

Dean nodded begrudgingly, giving the kid a pat on the head and hauling his bag over his shoulder before making his way up the rickety, ancient staircase. Once they could no longer hear the clompy footfalls of his boots on the hardwood, John turned to face his youngest, feeling that familar pang every time he looked into the hazel eyes. "What have you and Dean been into, kiddo?"

"Just the usual," Sam answered him with as much bravado as he could muster, but the guilt in his eyes must've been a dead give away because John tilted his tiny head back knowingly.

"Hmph, ashes it looks like," he mumbled, confirming it with Bobby who nodded in agreement. Next, he scooped his child into his arms, much to Sam's dismay, and carried him into the kitchen towards the sink. Sam squirmed a little at first in his grasp, but it felt nice to see his dad again, and he didn't mind so much when the man wrapped him into his warm embrace, smelling of old cologne and leather. He returned the hug and let himself settle into the strong arms, forgetting that he was older once again. After a few moments passed, with the help of Bobby's gruff reminder that he wasn't getting any younger, John placed his son onto the marble countertop and started the warm water in the sink. Bobby rifled through one of the many drawers next to the fridge and handed his friend a wash cloth and towel to use on the boy. "Thanks, Bobby. I really appreciate this, you know."

"I heard it already, John. No more apologizing. Or else, I might change my mind about what I said earlier if I have to hear more ass kissing from you," he said, rolling his eyes with just a hint of a smile forming at the corner of his lips. It left Sam in wonder of what was exchanged earlier between the two old friends, but his curiosity would have to wait.

"Don't have to worry about that, Singer."

Sam didn't trust the tones in their voices, but who was he to try to unveal the secrets of stubborn old hunters? Instead, he focused on the wet, soapy rag heading his way, mortified at the prospect of his dad wiping his face off in front of Bobby and in the middle of where they ate! "Dad, wait, what are you doing?" he moaned, ducking under the offending object and having it miss the top of his head by inches. "God, you're as bad as Dean! I can do it myself," he offered, holding his small hand out expectantly.

He heard the barely contained chuckles of his uncle behind John and scowled when nothing happened.

"Look, Sam, it's not that you can't..." John reasoned, resting his firm gaze on his youngest. "I just think it would go much faster if I did it. Hows about it, sport?"

Sam shook his head adamantly, but it seemed like he didn't have a choice in the matter when his dad brought the sudsy rag down onto his face anyways. He scrubbed the soot off his son's forehead, and went for the mop of dark curls next. "Close your eyes," he commanded gently, not wanting to get soap in them. When the hazel eyes remained opened, John patiently covered the kid's eyes with his hand and poured the cup of warm water offered by Bobby onto his baby's head. Sam shivered now that he was drenched with soapy water, and wasn't prepared for what happened next.

His dad actually had the nerve to pull his shirt off without so much as a warning. "Dad!" he protested, balling his hands into fists. "What the hell?"

"Hey, watch the tone, Sam and calm down. Did Dean get clothes for you?" he asked, but found that pointless. Of course he did. The kid was always prepared when it came to his brother, and sure enough, Bobby pulled out a t-shirt, pajama pants, and boxers Sammy-sized from the duffle bag at his feet.

"I can put them on, Bobby." Sam assured him, wrapping the towel around his chest. "I still know how to do that, I swear."

"Yeah, but you always got the shirt stuck on your head," John chuckled, remembering a disoriented Sammy crying for him to stop the clothes monster from eating his head.

"When I was actually four!" he yelled back, agitated. "Which was about, oh, say, 18 years ago!"

John sighed, forgetting how stubborn his child could be when he wanted to do things his way. He smiled; he could relate. He ignored the yelling for now, and removed the towel from around Sam to dry his hair first. Once that was completed, he went to work pulling on the clean shirt and managed to shuck off the dirty jeans next. Sam felt his cheeks flush in embarassment as he was half naked in the middle of the kitchen. "We couldn't at least move this to the bedroom, dad?" he groaned, yelping when his dad reached for his boxers next. "No, No. Freaking. Way." he enunciated each word forcefully, scrambling off of the counter and out of both John and Bobby's reach.

He made a mad dash for the living room, but collided right into Dean after being so close to freedom. "Whoa, where do you think you're going there, speedy?" his older brother grinned, snatching him from under the armpits before he could escape. He took in the pouty expression and loss of pants, and ruffled the damp hair sympathetically. "Awuh, cheer up, Sam I am, it could be worse. You could be entirely naked."

Sam sniffed as he was carried back into the kitchen. "At least you got to use the shower and put your clothes on by yourself. This sucks."

Dean rubbed his back as he listened to his baby brother sulk. "I'm sorry, kiddo. What if I convince them to let you do the rest yourself? I'm almost 100% sure you can handle that."

Thank God for understanding older brothers. Sam never looked so happy to hear that, and coming from Dean of all people! He glanced up at him, skeptical. "Really?"

"Yeah, really. I know I can be overbearing sometimes, but there are just some things you need to do by yourself. I'm not even sure if dad knows what privacy is."

Dean stopped short at the bristling hunters and carefully lowered Sam to the floor before presenting his case. "Look you two hard heads, let the kid put his own clothes on. Do you want to scar him for life? Well, besides the whole monsters under your bed are real, but honestly, that's a little much. He's not going to hurt himself with this! How long has he been doing this without you now?" he scolded.

Bobby traded looks with his friend before handing Dean the clothing. "Alright, alright, you made your point, son. Now hurry up before dinner gets cold!"

The younger hunter didn't bother to hide his triumphant smirk as he traded the clothes off to Sam, who was staring up at him in admiration. "Can you say best brother in the world?"

"You're a saint, Dean," Sam gushed, holding the clothes like they were treasures, "I take back all the bad things I've ever said about you."

"What things?" he badgered, but the child had already scampered away into the next room to get changed. Little bitch. Last time I ever do something nice for him.

"Dean," John called, taking a seat at the kitchen table. "Grab a plate and sit down. Bobby worked hard on this meal."

"So if you leave anything on your plate, I'll be offended," the old man told him, grabbing three beers from the fridge. "Here. How about a peace offering?"

Dean perked up at the smell and offer of food. He gratefully accepted the cold bottle of Jack Daniels and eyed the steak, green beans, mashed potatoes, and onion rings lustfully. "Thanks, old timer. You really know how to please a man."

"Shut up and eat, kid." Bobby rolled his eyes at the smartass and took a swig of his beer. "We've got some things to discuss about your brother."

"There's always something to discuss. Can I eat first?" Dean asked half-way through a mouthful of mashed potatoes and gravy. He really needed to work on his table manners, but then again, it wasn't one of his top priorities.

"Don't forget to swallow, Ace." John reminded him, smirking at his oldest. "It can wait until after you're done. Just don't choke."

Sam took that moment to stride into the room, fully dressed and looking much happier than his dour mood earlier. He climbed onto a chair next to his older brother, while Bobby settled a full plate of food in front of him. He returned the gesture with a sugary smile to his uncle, dimples and all, and thanked him for his efforts. The gruff salvage owner ruffled the shaggy mess of hair fondly before pouring his knephew a glass of apple juice to go along with his meal.

"Thanks Bobby! This looks great," he complimented, scooting his chair closer to the table and digging his fork into the green beans.

"Well ain't he just a bucket o' sunshine," Bobby teased, leaning against the counter to get a good look at all the Winchesters. This was as close to a family as he ever had since the death of his wife some years ago, before hunting was just a silly, unreal idea to him. Now, books on every mythical, magical and evil creature and spell possible littered his household along with an assortment of charms, knives, and weapons that he kept hidden away in case of emergencies. He hardly ever got the chance to cook for someone other than himself, unless one of his regular customers dropped in to visit, or Mrs. Gladys from across the street stopped by to deliver him a nice assortment of treats since she too had no one to care for.

"If you give a pig a pancake, well, you've read the book, right?" Dean added, working at his onion rings next. "Because I haven't. I don't trust those swine. You know some poor shmuck was attacked by a pig a few weeks ago? It bit off part of his leg and sent him to the hospital. People and their crazy ass pets. What's wrong with a nice labradoodle?" he ranted on, feeling a little bubbly from the alcohol.

"Have you been reading the tabloids again?" Sam asked, rolling his eyes. "Or are you just drunk?"

"Maybe a bit of both?"

John listened to his boys babble on about the dynamics and dangers of alcohol, what kind of animals were suitable as pets, and why it was outrageous that car companies didn't manufacture indestructable leather seats, whatever the hell that meant. He was just happy to see his kids again after the hell and loads of searching he did just to get a lead on the yellow-eyed demon. And finding out the latest news about his youngest son from Bobby only added to the growing paternal worry in his gut now that his baby was practically a baby again. He was vulnerable in his small body and would have a harder time protecting himself if something were to to come after him, and that was a big if, because he would be right there kicking it's evil ass into next week.

"Dad?" the youthful voice of said son broke him from his thoughts. He took one last pull of his beer before turning to face his kids. "Hmm?"

"Dean passed out...I think he was more tired than we thought..." he explained nervously, stealing one more glance at the light snores coming from his big brother's plate. He had managed to fall face first into his mashed potatoes, just narrowly avoiding a fork to his eye by mere centimeters. Bobby was currently trying to rouse him from sleep, muttering curses under his breath along the lines of 'idgits' and 'damn Winchesters that never sleep when they're supposed to.' John got up from his seat and helped Bobby pull his oldest off the food while Sam retrieved the soapy rag they had used to clean him.

"Poor Dean," Sam commiserated sadly, wiping the mashed potato from his forehead, "He drove almost the whole night trying to get here. He deserves some sleep."

"Both of you should get some rest," John agreed, wrapping one arm around the unconcious young man before hauling him up from his seat. "I'll take him up to the spare bedroom before he starts to drool. Sammy, help Bobby clean up the kitchen and then you can join your brother. You look like you could use a nap too."

Sam nodded wearily, stifling a yawn with the washcloth he still held in his hand. He gagged at the awful taste of soap on his tongue before discarding it into the sink. Once the dishes were all cleared and washed, the toddler hugged Bobby good night and sleepily made his way up to the spare bedroom he shared with Dean when they happened to stay the night. He watched his dad carefully work off the boots and jeans from his slumbering brother before he climbed in next to him. Now, John Winchester was far from an affectionate man, but he had his moments where his family was concerned. On the hunt, he was agile and alert, prepared to face any monster that came at him with a full armory of salt, fire and shotguns. As a father, he knew how to care for his children and tuck them into bed, which at his defense, he hadn't done in several years, but never forgot how to do nonetheless.

He pulled the blankets over both of his boys and smoothed the sheets down so that they weren't going to suffocate. Sam was already snuggled into Dean's side, fast asleep, and he couldn't help but linger a moment longer to watch the peaceful scene. He wasn't sure how he was going to deliver the news to his boys when they woke up in the morning, but right now he was just glad they were safe. Tossing those thoughts aside, John leaned down and kissed both of his kids lightly on the forehead before shutting out the lights and making his way over to the door.

"Goodnight, boys," he whispered quietly, leaving the door open a crack and heading down the long hallway to get some sleep himself.

Tomorrow was going to be a stressful day.


TBC. Any thoughts? Good, bad, too much schmoop? What's John hiding up his sleeve? Hopefully ya'll enjoyed this! Took me a while to write, mind you. Thanks for reading!