A/N: Sam is 5, Dean is 9
Summary: John races to save his boys, but finds them quite safe. He tries not to look at his youngest any different.
John ran blind, tears already in his eyes because he knew no one could survive against that thing. Especially not two little boys under 10. He was cursing and denying and swearing to Mary that he was so sorry…
John didn't stop. The voice of his oldest registering, flooding him with relief, but not changing his intended destination. Practically leaping over the body of the ghoul, he fell to his knees and wrapped his boys up tight in his arms. So snug against his chest that no evil could ever touch them again.
The second breathless call made him loosen his hold just a bit, quickly clearing his eyes of tears and smiling down at his sons in joy and relief.
Bright green eyes stared back at him, scuffed up, but alright; alive and cradling his five-year-old brother to him in the same protective embrace that John had them both in. Maybe a somewhat better one since John could hardly see his youngest.
"You're okay?" Dean nodded and John checked him over quickly. "Let me see your brother."
Dean hesitated for a minute, John trying to assure him that it was alright once again. He had to use one of their code words before Dean relented, loosening his grip and revealing his brother.
Sam had a cut on his forehead and his nose was bleeding, but he looked fine otherwise. Bleary eyes focused on John and the man noted he'd have to watch both of them carefully in case of concussions.
"You with me Sammy?"
Sam stared for a moment and John's worry of head injuries rose. Finally, Sam smiled sleepily at John, already snuggling back against his brother's chest.
"It's okay daddy. Safe now."
John huffed a laugh, suddenly boneless with relief.
"Alright. You okay to walk Dean?"
His oldest nodded and started to stand with Sam in his arms. John moved to take Sam and was startled when Dean resisted.
"It's alright Dean. Danger's past now. You did good, son." The boy slowly relented and John picked Sam up carefully, his baby's head lolling over his shoulder contentedly. Kid was exhausted. Dean watched him the whole time and John felt, irrationally he told himself, that he was being judged in his ability to care for Sam.
The hunter ushered them all in the direction of the Impala, making sure Dean stayed close to his side. The pre-teen clenched his fingers in the fabric on the edge of John's coat. They were all feeling a bit clingy after this one.
John Winchester was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but he was also not one to let things go unexplained for too long.
"Dean," he started, getting the boy's attention. "How did you bring that ghoul down?"
Dean yawned and shook his head.
"I didn't." John cut his eyes to look at him. "No rounds left in the gun. I forgot what you said about hitting their head and I…kinda panicked. It was too close to Sam and I was just shooting to keep it away. Sorry, dad…"
The sleepy tone couldn't cover up the remorse or fear of disappointment and it wasn't enough to stop John's heart beat from picking up either.
"You did fine, Dean." And he had. The kids were too young for this. John still didn't know how the thing had found his boys to begin with…
But now he had other concerns stamping around in his gut. With Sam drooling on his shoulder, John cleared his throat and used his calmest tone.
"Dean, if you didn't kill the ghoul, what did?"
Small shoulders shrugged.
"I dunno. Sammy was really freaked out. I was holding him and he kept squirming and saying it was bad and trying to hurt us. I tried to stay between them, but it kept getting closer and Sam yelled for me really loud. Then it just…dropped."
Much like John's stomach. Memories surfaced in John's mind unbidden.
Music played from the carousel over Sam's crib when he was sure he and Mary hadn't turned it on.
He had forgotten to get Sam's bottle once soon after the fire and had gone to the baby's side feeling horrible only to find Sam happily sucking away on the bottle that had been on the nightstand. A quick search had revealed Dean to still be sleeping.
Finally, a phone call from a babysitter telling him that Sam wouldn't stop crying out for John to 'get Dean', 'check Dean'. The call from school telling him that Dean was sick and needed to be picked up came not even a moment after she'd hung up.
And there were so many more small things that John was suddenly thinking of without meaning to; things he had dismissed over the years, first out of ignorance, then out of stubborn denial. Just as quickly as they came, he was assuring himself that he was just weary and sleep-deprived and making something out of nothing once again, remembering things incorrectly.
He had to be.
Dean suddenly perked up, looking up at John and smiling.
"Hey, you think maybe it listened?" Dean looked up at Sam, smiling. "Maybe we have a monster tamer on our hands." Dean spoke in a happy, almost proud, manner; like it was normal for a vicious killer of a creature to just drop dead in front of you because your little brother screamed.
John attempted a smile back, but couldn't quite pull it off. He just kept walking, reminding himself to drill into Dean later about how important it was to never ever say anything like that about his little brother around other people.
A few feet later and Dean stumbled, just as exhausted as his brother. John reacted immediately to steady him and hoisted the older boy up with his other arm and over his shoulder; all the while ignoring protests on how he was 'too old for this' and he should hold Sammy more carefully, with both arms.
The words died off quickly and Dean was as gone as his brother into (hopefully) peaceful dreams.
The hunter banished all thoughts about the strange happenings in his family from his mind along with the question of what had really happened to that ghoul tonight. They were all alive and everything was fine. He decided to believe, just this once, that Mary had been right and angels really were looking out for them.
It was easier to believe it was angels then…
Continuing on toward the Impala, John wondered if it was just coincidence that both his boy's heads were turned toward each other. And he vehemently hoped that when the sibling's hands swayed close together, the jolt of power he felt up the back of his neck was only static electricity.