It was mid-March when John finally gave in and went back to Lawrence to begin at the beginning and look for some clue he may have missed as to the identity of the demon that killed his wife; he knew the thing was active again, but he kept losing his leads and needed something more solid to go on. As usual, he hadn't told anyone where he was or who he wanted to see. But no sooner had he parked his truck someplace inconspicuous than his door was yanked open by an irate Missouri Mosely, who smacked him upside the head for good measure.

"John Winchester! What in the world do you think you're doing, hiding your fool self like this? You've got half the hunters in the Midwest out lookin' for you!"

John's eyes went wide. "What? Why?"

"Dean. Poor boy got himself blown up in Iraq, nearly died."


"Didn't he tell you he was joinin' the Marines?"

"No... yes, he threatened to, but I didn't... no wonder I could never find him..."

"They're in San Antonio, Dean and Sam and Sam's wife. You'd best get down there, John. The answers you're lookin' for ain't here. You want to find them, you start with your boys."

John nodded numbly. "Can... can you..."

"Call Bobby Singer. He'll tell you all about it and call off the bloodhounds."

"Okay. Thanks, Missouri."

"Don't thank me yet," Missouri shot back and slammed the door shut before stalking away.

John took a moment to steel himself before pulling out his cell phone to call Bobby. He was in the middle of scrolling through his phone book when something finally registered.

Sam's girl... he'd seen her a few times when he'd slipped down to Stanford to check on the one son he could still find. But Missouri had called her his wife.

Just how much had he missed in his sons' lives the last two years?

Tamping down the guilt, he found Bobby's number and pressed Call.

Bobby either had Caller ID or was psychic himself, because he didn't even wait for John to identify himself before yelling, "Where the hell have you been, Winchester?"

John winced but replied, "Missed you, too, Bobby." After Bobby had yelled at him for another minute, he interrupted, "Yes, I'm an idiot and probably a damned fool. Now, what about my boys?"

After two sentences, John was glad he wasn't driving. After two minutes, he began to think he had been a fool and might be damned to boot.

"They haven't told me what all they're up to," Bobby confessed as he wound down the story. "But they've got Ash trackin' kids whose mothers died in nursery fires in '83, got me and Jim Murphy keepin' an eye out for omens in places I ain't even heard of before. And they said something to Daniel Elkins that's got him spooked like I never saw a sane hunter look."

John blinked. "Elkins? When the hell did you see Elkins?"

"Last month. Called me and Gordon Walker to help him take out a nest of vampires that was headed to Manning. Walker's got a burr under his saddle about Sam, by the way."

"Thanks for the heads-up. Never thought Walker was all there anyway."

"Wasn't till Walker left that Elkins told me he'd gotten the lead from your boys. Then he gave me a package, told me to guard it with my life until I could get it to Dean."

John's heart was already pounding, but now it sped up even more. "What was it?"

"He didn't say, I didn't look, and Dean didn't open it while I was there. But I can guess."

"The Colt."

"The Colt."

John exhaled slowly. He'd never told the boys about the Colt because he hadn't been sure it was real. Now somehow they not only knew about it but apparently knew what to say to Elkins to get him not only to admit he had it, which was more than he'd do for John, but to actually let go of the thing. And it seemed they had a purpose for it, too. "What the hell is goin' on, Bobby?"

"Hell if I know, John. Why don't you ask 'em yourself?"

John audibly sighed this time. "Yeah. I'll do that. Thanks, Bobby."

John fretted all the way to Tulsa, where he stopped for the night. He tossed and turned and barely got enough sleep to be safe driving the rest of the way to San Antonio. By the time he got to Fort Worth, he'd begun to wonder how much of Bobby's story was actually true.

The doubt was enough for him to stop in West for kolaches and coffee and a good hard look at what he was doing. Bobby wasn't likely to be possessed—not unless they were up against a demon that didn't play by the rules or was too powerful to be stopped by even Bobby's wards—but nobody was above being manipulated, and Bobby might just be willing to do some manipulating of his own if he had a good reason. Their last fight had been about Sam, after all, and about John's inability to find Dean.

Not that John hadn't tried. He'd tracked every fake ID he knew Dean to have and as many possible aliases from rock bands and movies as John could remember either boy having even remarked on. None of them had been used since Dean had stormed out of that motel room in Connecticut. But John had taught his sons how to disappear, and that included not using their real names or SSNs, so he hadn't searched for those. And he hadn't thought Dean actually meant he was going to join the Marines. Every so often, another hunter would say Dean had been spotted in San Diego, but John was never able to trace him when he got there, and hanging around the places Dean had been seen never succeeded, either. Nor did keeping an eye on Sam, the only logical reason Dean might have for being in California so regularly—or so John had thought. Dean clearly wasn't hunting.

But every time John had nearly convinced himself to break into Sam's apartment and confront him, another hunt called him away, sometimes for months. And eventually John decided to let sleeping dogs lie, wherever they were. He missed Dean and worried about him, but if he'd reconnected with Sam, and especially if he'd gotten out of hunting and yet remained safe... well, they were good kids and grown men, capable of taking care of themselves. And he had a demon to kill.

Bobby's story did fill in some blanks, like why Sam hadn't been in Palo Alto when the omens kicked up. All "Agent Fogelberg" had managed to learn from the school was that Sam and his girl had taken off on Halloween morning pleading a family emergency and hadn't yet returned. But John didn't want to believe that he could have been so wrong... and really, he had only Bobby's word, indirectly backed by Missouri, for what happened.

Supposing it was a trap, then, or even just a well-meaning attempt to get John to reconnect with his sons even if it would put all three of them in danger. Did he turn around now and go back to digging for elusive leads elsewhere? Or did he go on to the Alamo City in the hope of at least catching a glimpse of his sons, which was more than he'd had for months?

Every so often, John's instincts as a father trumped his instincts as a hunter. Perhaps this was an occasion to let that happen.

When John pulled out of the parking lot of the Czech Stop, he got back on I-35... heading south.

By the time he got to New Braunfels, he had his plan of attack fully formulated. It wasn't hard to find the apartment complex where Bobby said the boys lived or to locate a good observation post across the street; the boys' place was gated, too, and a quick inspection showed that someone had run iron wire along the fence and under the gate track. That was encouraging. But the Impala wasn't in the parking lot, and it was mid-day, so John settled in to watch and wait.

He also called Ash to check Dean's record and was shocked at what he heard: Corporal, Echo 2/1, Expert Rifleman, Bronze Star twice over, Purple Heart. Two tours in Iraq, one in Fallujah, one in Karabilah. Couple of disciplinary actions for insubordination and exceeding orders, but Ash thought the latter sounded like Dean had taken out an ifrit that the insurgents had somehow been using in lieu of conventional explosives. John still wasn't sure whether he hoped it was true or not, but if it was... damn, he was proud of that boy.

The Impala showed up after he'd been there for a couple of hours. At least John thought it was the right Impala. Both boys were in the front seat, it looked like, but the car had Texas "Classic Auto" license plates and a disability placard, and the figure that looked like Sam was driving. John barely had time to adjust the zoom on his monocular to check their faces, though, before the gate opened and the car drove through, then disappeared behind one of the buildings. Ten minutes or so later, the car came back to the gate and drove away in another direction, but Sam—and from this angle, John was reasonably sure it was Sam, despite the bureaucrat suit—was alone in the front seat.

John struggled for a moment over what to do next. Dean, or whoever or whatever looked like Dean, would probably be alone in the apartment, and if Bobby had told him the truth, that disability placard wasn't for show. Did he take a chance now, or did he wait for nightfall, when he could get past the security system and (presumably) catch both of his boys and Sam's girl all together?

He hated second-guessing himself.

Eventually he decided to wait until after dark and watched as first Sam's girl, then Sam, returned after 5:00. That implied that they'd been at work. Either they, whoever they were, were extremely good, or Bobby had been telling the truth.

By 7:15, it was fully dark, and the boys showed no sign of going out for supper. So John abandoned his post and went back to the truck to stow his monocular before going to the apartment.

But there were three young men with obvious attitudes waiting for him beside the truck, two Hispanic, one Caucasian. John wasn't an expert at reading tattoos, but the way they were dressed and the way they stood suggested that they were gang members.

"Hola, señor," said the Hispanic kid on the right, jerking his chin upward. "¿Que pasa?"

"Is there a problem?" John replied.

The white kid shrugged. "Probably not. We just want to know why you been starin' at that apartment complex all day." The cadence of his speech was odd, as if the Latino edge to his accent was practiced, deliberate, rather than the natural result of having bilingual friends.

"What's it to you?" John really, really did not need to get crosswise with a gang right now, so he kept his tone as neutral as he could.

"Dean Winchester lives there."

John blinked. "You know him?"

The white kid laughed. "Dude, everybody knows about Winchester. Guy gets blown up in Iraq and comes back with an angel on a leash, word gets around. They say he's only got one hand and still can't walk good, but I ain't messin' with him."

"Angel? The blonde girl?"

They all looked at him like he was crazy. "Naw, man," said the second Hispanic guy. "That's his sister-in-law."

"El ángel lleva una trinchera," added the first one, gesturing with both hands to indicate wearing a long coat. "He wears the... the... ¿como se dice?"

"Trenchcoat," supplied the white kid. "I've only seen him once, but he scared the hell out of me. Shot him in the face four times when he walked in on a deal, and he didn't even blink. Just said he wanted us to go straight and keep an eye on Winchester."

Well, any number of supernatural creatures could survive four headshots, especially if they were regular rounds rather than silver or consecrated iron, so the story didn't really tell John anything about what he was about to face. But it did explain the gang members' interest in him, and if they really thought they were under orders from an angel, there weren't many convincing lies he could tell that would get them to leave him alone.

"So," the white kid continued, "why you been starin' at Winchester's apartment all day, old man?"

John had two choices: risk being jumped by three street-hardened twenty-somethings at once, or tell the truth. But he really didn't need to attract police attention with a fight, even if he won. So he sighed resignedly. "He's my son."

The three gang members blinked and looked at each other. "So why don't you just go talk to him?" asked the one on the left.

"I'm going to, but... it's complicated."

That provoked a flurry of Spanish between the two Hispanic kids while the white kid gave John a long, searching once-over. John couldn't keep up with the conversation, but he did catch a word here and there, especially brujo. That was disconcerting.

After staring at John for about thirty seconds, though, the white kid cut the others off with a sharp "¡Cállate!" Then he nodded to John. "I think you'd better go see your son, Mr. Winchester. This is a pretty nice neighborhood, but no place is completely safe after dark."

John nodded back, and the three guys backed away from the truck. But they didn't leave, instead watching to make sure he actually drove across the street. That would be fine, except for the minor detail that John didn't have the code to the gate. Both Sam and his girl had used remotes, and John had been planning to find a less conspicuous way in anyway.

But Bobby had been there before, right? Bobby would know. So John called.

"Sam's got some memory tag," Bobby replied. "Uh... the year Jane Eyre was published?"

"Oh, like I know that."

"Creation of the Walker Colt? I think that was Dean's."

"... That works. Thanks, Bobby."

Bobby grumbled something in reply and hung up.

Still feeling the gang members staring at him, John drove across the street, punched "1847" on the keypad, and felt slightly surprised when the gate actually opened. He waited until the gate was closing behind him to look back, but the kids had vanished—in a cloud of candy wrappers, which seemed... odd.

He got turned around in the parking lot a couple of times, but eventually he did find the Impala and parked next to it. As he walked toward the building, John couldn't shake the feeling of eyes following his every move. If it wasn't a trap, his boys must have good neighbors.

"The problem with the revolver," Dean was saying as John quietly approached the apartment, "is that it doesn't have a safety. Trigger gets hooked on somethin' in your purse, you're in trouble."

"But Sgt. Reyes said..." objected a woman's voice.

"Due respect to Sgt. Reyes, Sis, but me and Sam, we been doin' this a lot longer than he has."

"Dean's right, Jess," said Sam. "You'll be better off with the Glock. Easier to switch ammo, too."

So they were getting Sam's girl a handgun to carry concealed and making sure she had a license for it? And Dean was calling her Sis? This was feeling less and less like a trap all the time. No less awkward, however, and even as he neared the door, John couldn't figure out how to make his entrance.

Then he apparently tripped some kind of silent alarm, because the voices inside stopped, and John could barely hear the shuffle of the boys taking up defensive positions. He was bracing himself to knock when the door flew open, and John found himself with a very familiar Colt M1911 and an equally familiar Taurus PT-92 pointed at him.

"Boys," he said quietly.

"Dad?" they chorused, stunned.

"Hey. It's... it's good to see you again. Both of you. It's been a long time."

"Too long," whispered Sam, and suddenly John was being pulled across the threshold and into Sammy's arms. And when he let go, Dean pulled John into another rough hug—and John could feel that the pressure from the left arm ended short of where Dean's fist should be.

Bobby had told him the truth. John felt about two feet tall.

"Dad, where the hell have you been?" Dean demanded as he released John. "Every hunter west of Cleveland's been on the lookout for you since the day I was injured."

John couldn't hold back the tears. "I'm so sorry, Dean. You... Sammy... I've been wrong about a lot of things. I thought... going after the demon alone, I thought you'd be out of the crossfire, wherever you were."

"And you couldn't touch base with Bobby or Ellen or someone? Dammit, Dad—what if I'd died out there? Hell, what if you'd died? Do you have any idea..."

"That's enough, Dean. I've already been chewed out by Bobby and had my head slapped by Missouri to boot. I don't need to hear it from you, too."

Dean sighed. "Yes, sir. I'm sorry, it's just... we've been so worried about you."

That just about killed John. Dean had lost a limb and spent his time worrying about John. Oh, Mary, our boys...

Sam cleared his throat then, and how had John failed to hear the girl come in from wherever she'd been hiding? But there she was, at Sam's side, and now he could see the simple gold bands on their left hands. Dammit, they should have had—but no, Mary's wedding ring hadn't survived the fire, and the engagement ring had gone for a rare book over a decade ago. A book he'd added to Bobby's library when the case was finished and hadn't looked at since.

The car, their guns, and their training... were those really the only heirlooms he was leaving his boys?

"Dad," Sam said, "this is my wife, Jess. We got married back at the end of October. Jess, my dad, John Winchester."

"Glad to meet you," she nodded, offering her hand. "Dean's right; we've been awfully worried."

"Jess." He'd known all along that she had a real name, but he'd been calling her Sam's girl for so long that he almost didn't know what to do with Jess and wife and Sis and daughter-in-law, never mind actually speaking to her, shaking hands with her.

He wasn't sure, but this whole thing just might be even more disorienting than finding out about Adam.

When he turned back to Dean, the boy had a cane in his hand—black and chrome, just like the Impala—and was limping wearily toward the black leather recliner, the adrenaline crash leaving him pale and drawn. "Sorry, Dad, I gotta sit down. PT today was pretty grueling."

"You look beat to hell," John replied. "I'm sorry if I made things worse."

Dean gestured vaguely with his stump, which probably meant he was waving it off.

"Can I get you some coffee, Mr. Winchester?" Jess asked.

John looked back at her and swallowed hard to force the lump out of his throat. "Yes, please, and call me John."

Jess nodded and ducked into the kitchen, and Sam offered John a seat in the other easy chair before settling onto the couch. Dean dropped stiffly into the recliner and propped his cane against the wheeled tray table that stood beside it.

"You mind if we eat in here tonight, Jess?" Dean called. "I dunno if I'll be able to get up again."

"That's fine," Jess called back.

Dean nodded once and flipped up the footrest, settling back into the chair with a sigh of relief.

Sam must have noticed John's concerned expression, because he said, "Believe it or not, Dad, Dean's doing a lot better. It's just taking a while to rebuild his stamina."

"Didn't take a nap today, either," Dean confessed. "Wanted to see if I could make it through a whole day without one."


"Shut up, Sam. I almost made it."

John cleared his throat and decided to attempt small talk. "That's a nice cane you've got there, son."

Dean smiled. "Thanks. Christmas present from the guys."

"Is it... does it have any... special features?"

Dean looked at him oddly. "Dad, how'm I gonna use a sword stick with one hand?"

John ducked his head and rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment.

"Bobby's trying to find him a rifle cane, though," Sam offered. "If he can't, Caleb thinks maybe he can make one from the old Remington diagrams. Maybe give it an iron handle, too, so Dean can use it as a club against ghosts."

John nodded and rubbed at his left wrist as he tried to phrase his next question more carefully. "Are they planning... um..." Dammit, this was awkward.

"I've got a prosthetic," Dean shrugged. "I can't get used to it, though, can't make the fingers work right. Dr. Salazar thinks maybe it's because of the TBI. So I'm thinkin' if I can't get it pretty soon, maybe I'll ask for just a hook or somethin'—somethin' that'll let me pull up my pants and steady a shotgun, but not somethin' I have to try to maneuver much."

John nodded, then paused. "Shotgun. You're accepting the discharge? Coming back to hunting?"

"Yeah. I know a lot of guys would shrug this off, try to downplay the symptoms to get back to the unit, but I gotta be honest—I've still got a long way to go before they'd let me deploy again, and a desk job or even recruiting would drive me up the wall. And as important as the mission in Iraq is, our family's got a mission here that's even more important. This is the unit I need to be with."

Jess came back before John could formulate a response to that. "The coffee will be ready in a few minutes," she said, sitting down beside Sam. "I'd just put chicken in the oven before you arrived, too—I was planning for three, but I think we can make it stretch."

"It's okay," Sam shrugged. "Dad can have mi—" He broke off in mid-word, then cried out in pain as his hands flew to his head and he buckled forward under what looked like a terrible migraine.

Jess and Dean were instantly alert, Jess gently rubbing a hand across Sam's back and watching him closely, Dean chanting something under his breath. And suddenly there was a... not a man in a trenchcoat (El ángel lleva una trinchera, the kid outside had said, but everyone knew there was no such thing) standing in the middle of the living room.

"Hello, John," it said with an acknowledging nod before turning its attention to Sam.

The headache passed as swiftly as it had hit, and Sam collapsed against Jess, gasping for breath. Jess began gingerly massaging Sam's temples even as Sam locked eyes with the thing Dean had apparently summoned.

"Cas," Sam huffed.

"Sam?" Dean asked.

But the Cas-thing looked hard at Sam for a moment longer before releasing his gaze with a single nod and turning to Dean. "A spirit is threatening the new owners of your house in Lawrence," it reported. "If it is not Azazel himself, it may be some other kind of fire spirit. I will look into it."

"Thanks, Cas," Dean nodded, and the Cas-thing vanished.

Sam closed his eyes and leaned into Jess's touch, groaning as the pain apparently eased, and his breathing slowed.

Dean took a deep breath and let it out again. "See what I mean?" he asked John.

"What the..." John finally managed.

"Wait a sec, Dad. We'll explain when Cas gets back."

"What is Cas?"

"He's an angel. His name's Castiel, but... we're friends."


"Killed Mom."

Well, that was something to go on, at least, or something to come back to. "What's wrong with Sam?"

"Vision," Sam said thickly. "Think Azazel's tauntin' me, tryin' to draw me out. 'Snot gonna work, though. We got a plan."

"Plan? What—"

John's question was cut off by Castiel's return. "It was a poltergeist," it reported to Dean, "a particularly strong one. Your mother's spirit had also been trapped there. I have freed her and banished the poltergeist. She is at rest."

Dean sighed and gestured to the couch, and Castiel sat stiffly on the other side of Jess. "We gotta be careful, Cas," said Dean. "We let you handle too many more of these, Azazel's gonna get wise."

"Yes. I believe we should enact our plan within the next few days, now that your father has returned—the equinox should be ideal."

"I'm right here," John growled. "And I don't want you boys going after that demon, especially not with Dean in the condition he's in and with... whatever this is that's happening to Sam. Your mother's death almost killed me. I can't watch you die, too. I won't."

Castiel turned piercing, unblinking blue eyes to John. "If Dean had died in Karabilah, or if Jessica had died in Palo Alto, when would you have learned of it?"

John quailed but shot back, "That's beside the point."

"No, Dad," said Dean, "that is exactly the point. With respect, you're here because you can't catch up to Azazel, and you can't catch up because you always want to do this alone. You go off without a word, don't let people help you, don't let anyone talk to you. Hell, getting you on the phone—I've got a better chance of winning the lottery. But we're stronger together, and we have the information you need, plus a plan to end this once and for all in a way that won't get any of us killed. And all this, it's bigger than you know. If we act now and we do it right, then we won't just have avenged Mom. We'll have saved the world."

"Then tell me what I need to know and give me the damn Colt. But you are not coming with me. That's an order."

Dean smirked. "You don't get to pull rank anymore, Corporal. Not with me."

John swallowed hard again and forced himself to return the smirk. "I've still got more time in grade."

Sam groaned into Jess's shoulder.

"Enough," Jess said sternly but quietly. "John, we're not children. At least listen to our plan before you dismiss it."

And that sounded so much like Mary that it took him a good fifteen seconds to respond, especially since he suddenly had music from Fiddler on the Roof running through his head:

When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he get to be so tall?
Wasn't it yesterday when they were small?

"Okay," he choked out. "Okay, you're right. I'll listen."

Jess nodded and eased Sam back against the back of the couch. "The coffee should be ready by now. Would you like some, Sam?"

"Little," Sam mumbled. "Lots of cream. Don't think I can eat, though. Sorry."

Jess kissed his temple and looked over at Dean.

"Black," Dean said. "Same for Dad. Cas?"

"No, thank you," Castiel replied. "I believe my explanation would be more efficient than yours."

Dean snorted in amusement while Sam chuckled weakly, and John felt his eyebrows heading for his hairline. Jess just nodded and went into the kitchen.

"You're on, Cas," Dean declared.

Castiel turned those unsettling eyes back to John. "You would not have heard of this, John, but in October of 1972, the demon Azazel possessed the priest who served a tiny convent in Ilchester, Maryland..."

The moon had just begun to rise when John finished the last of the preparations for the summoning in the old abandoned warehouse in Schertz. This much he had insisted on doing himself; even Castiel had agreed that it would work best this way. John couldn't deny that he felt a bit nervous about his role in the plan, but the kids had timed their parts to the second and convinced Castiel to do... something that would give them extra protection even though he had to stay away, and they, at least, had a better-than-even chance of coming out of this alive. So he took a deep breath, let it out again, and began the ritual.

No sooner had he finished than an icy, sulfurous gust of wind threatened to blow out the candles he'd lit, and John looked up at a man who would have been thoroughly unremarkable were it not for his feral grin and yellow eyes.

"Howdy, John," he said. "This is a surprise."

"Azazel," John returned. That was Jess's cue.

"I took you for a lot of things, but suicidally reckless isn't one of them."


"Conjuring a demon as powerful as me, out here alone, unarmed and unwarded? I'd say that's pretty reckless. Do you really think you can trap me, send me back to Hell?"

"No. I want to make a deal." That was Sammy's cue, and John fancied he heard the click of the last piece falling into place.

Azazel looked intrigued. "Do tell."

"The Colt for Dean's health."

The demon laughed. "You don't have the Colt, John. Trust me, I'd have heard if you did."

"I can get it, though. Loaded with all five remaining bullets. Just... let Dean go back to his unit. It's killing him to be stuck on the sidelines, depending on Sam and Jess for everything. He's a Marine."

"And there's no such thing as an ex-Marine." Azazel was sneering now. "The Corps looks after its own. Semper Fi."

John let his genuine guilt surface—Semper Fidelis was the motto of the Corps, but when it came to his flesh-and-blood family, he hadn't been living up to it very well lately. "He's my son."

"Why, John, you're a sentimentalist. If only your boys knew how much their daddy loves them."

"It's a good deal. I know you care a lot more about that gun than you do about Dean."

"Don't be too sure. He and his little angel friend have interfered with my plans for Sammy. But you're right, he's not much of a threat."

"That's what you think," Dean replied, emerging from the shadows, Colt in hand.

Azazel turned to run, but he couldn't move—after his arrival, Jess had closed a salt circle around the outside of the building, and Sam had closed a cast-iron devil's trap that Castiel had helped them design and suspend from the warehouse's beams. But before the demon could vacate its host, Dean cocked the hammer of the gun that was said to kill anything and fired.

And with hellfire sparking inside his host's bones, Azazel fell and died.

John was barely aware of Dean walking up to him, of Sam and Jess joining them, of Castiel appearing in the doorway. For twenty-two years, they had waited for this day. Their war was over.

"So this means no Apocalypse, right, Cas?" Dean finally asked.

"I cannot guarantee that no one will attempt to break the seals," Castiel replied carefully. "There are still many children whom Azazel tainted with demon blood; Lilith's subordinates may yet attempt to influence them, though their potential powers will not manifest themselves if they are left alone. But you will at least have some time to recover and to relearn what it means to be a family."

"You stickin' around? I imagine Zach and Uriel won't be too happy with you, either."

"True. I must... go to ground, as you might say; I think I will attempt to find Gabriel again. But you may summon me when you please."

"You are always welcome in our home, Cas," Jess stated, and Sam nodded his agreement. "You don't have to wait for us to call."

"Just be sure you knock," Dean added with a wink.

Castiel actually smiled. "I will remember. Fare you well." And he was gone.

John ran a hand over his face. "Boys... Jess... I know I don't say this often enough, but I am so damn proud of you. And I know Mary would be, too."

Dean hugged him first, then Sam, and Jess last of all. He still couldn't quite believe that he'd survived, that he was still here to hold his daughter-in-law, maybe even—mercy!—see his grandkids someday.

"C'mon, Dad," Dean said gently. "Let's get out of here."

John nodded. The police were probably already en route, so they couldn't hang around much longer; they'd put the Kansas plates back on the Impala for the time being, but there was no way he'd jeopardize Dean's honorable discharge. Not even for this.

The Corps looks after its own.

"So what now?" Sam asked as they piled back into the Impala.

"I'm not sure," John confessed. "But I understand the Hill Country's lovely this time of year... think you kids can get off work tomorrow so we can go for a drive?"

Sam and Jess grinned at each other. "Sure, Dad," Jess replied, and John's heart skipped a beat. "I think we can arrange that."

John knew he'd go back to hunting, probably sooner than later. So would Dean, once he was well, and maybe Sam and Jess, too. But for now, with the Impala growling down the highway, Aerosmith on the radio, Dean in the front seat chattering away about the rumors of great fudge and awesome pie to be had in Fredericksburg, and Sam and Jess laughing at him from the back, John Winchester... was content.


- Yes, that was Gabriel. And I have distinct memories of white wannabe-gangsta guys, some of whom were probably actually in gangs, in my very nice, reasonably diverse San Antonio neighborhood in the early '90s who deliberately spoke with a Latino accent, presumably in order to sound more tough and cool. (I'm sure things are better now.)
- The discussion about guns is based on an actual discussion my parents had recently.
- I'm not planning to continue this 'verse, as I have several others yet to play in... but you never can tell with bees—or Winchesters!