Johnston, Iowa

May 2, 2006

The morning dawned bright and sunny, with a cloudless blue sky.

He knew that the boys were fine, that they'd woken up without a problem and even talked for a while. He also knew that they'd both fallen asleep not long after and had slept peacefully for the rest of the night. He figured it was their exhaustion that kept the nightmares at bay, but even if it was only for that one night, it was enough.

He'd spent the whole night awake, both awed that they had killed a demon and trying to figure out exactly how they'd done it. Some of the things he'd heard in the abbreviated reports he'd been given worried him, but he wasn't going to dwell on them. Taking control of the dreamworld because of a lack of fear seemed to be a rational explanation for it, and it was the only one either of them could really give. None of them knew what Sam was really capable of, not even Sam, so there was no reason to be worried.

But he felt no small amount of pride that he'd been right about them needing to be together, and that knowledge alone was almost worth what they'd been through. They looked out for each other, kept each other sane, and protected each other from the monsters. Wasn't that the way it was supposed to be, though? Wasn't that what brothers were supposed to do? Wasn't that exactly what they'd been raised to do?

He heard the people in the next room moving around, gathering their things and getting ready to check out. It had been an exciting couple of days for everyone in those two motel rooms, even if it had been the kind of excitement that his heart could do without.

He heard a door close, followed by voices growing louder then fading away as they passed his window and door. He stood up from his chair, walked to the window, and pulled the curtain back just an inch or two. Just enough to see them.

He just needed to see them.

They were laughing, all of them, and he couldn't help but smile. He'd overheard them talking in their room earlier, something about chili dogs and cheese fries and maybe catching a movie together before they split up again. They had a victory to celebrate, and a birthday. Families should be together for things like that, he knew, and he was grateful that they had each other even as he wished he could be a real part of it again. He wanted nothing more than to go to them, go with them, but he knew he couldn't.

He had to protect them, even if they didn't understand why. Everything he'd fought for, everything he cared about, everything he loved in the world would be lost if he couldn't keep them safe.

The well-loved, shiny black car backed out of its parking space and pulled out of the lot, leaving the man in the baseball cap standing next to his car.

Staring directly at his window.

He pulled the curtain open wider, safe in the knowledge that the boys couldn't see him, and waved. Bobby nodded his head once, climbed into his car, and drove away, following Sam and Dean to wherever they were going.

John Winchester was still smiling as he turned away.