A/N: I've always had trouble coming to peaceful terms with the sort of father John Winchester panned out to be. Especially once it turned out he had a 'beta' family on the side and never bothered to tell Dean and Sam about it. Much as I *want* to believe John did love his elder sons (especially that goes for Dean), just couldn't figure out a way *how* to love them properly, I now can't keep wondering if Daddy Winchester was, in fact, lounging at the Milligans', taking Adam out for a baseball game, some of the instances Dean and Sam needed him most. Namely, that one time when Dean's heart was severely damaged in 'Faith', season 1, and John couldn't be reached by Sam's desperate voicemails.

Set on the outside margin of 'Jump the Shark', s4, mentions of events through all of prior seasons, specific mention of events in 'Faith', s1.

Disclaimer: None of the characters, plot-points mentioned and/or alluded to belong to me.

Some strange race*

The date is carved into his memory the way he never really bothered to memorize his crossroads deal expiration term. For that was the day he, for all intents and purposes shouldn't have survived, his heart burnt to a crisp, long before Dad gave up his soul and went down to Hell to bide him extra time, long before his own self did the same for Sammy, long before the hellhound ripped him to bloody shards. The date someone else died in his stead, the first time around, is what Dean's always believed should've made it to his headstone.

The same date is glaring at him now, from a bottom left corner of a photo he clutches, as they pour over Adam's belongings, on Sam's insistence, before heading out of Kate Milligan's house. Sammy's tearful, sniffling softly, mourning the little brother he'd, deep down, always wished he had. Dean is just quiet, not much but a distant echo of a thought to register amazement at the back of his mind if he'd, finally, blissfully, cried himself dry. He takes his time to regard the snapshot pensively. A father and son, caught in the moment, smiling. Cheerful. Carefree. Both dead now.

Dean thinks he can see it all. He can picture Dad settling down with Adam's mother, having nailed down Azazel, eventually. He can see Sammy, sheltered securely from the dark by Dad's skill and keen cunning, coming over from college for holidays and summer breaks. He can see Sam and Adam share a beer and stories of school and heart, Sammy the smug and oh so confident older sibling. He can see Dad taking them two out fishing for a weekend. At the long last a proper father to the sons he can be proud of.

He can see the future Sam's never acted on a single droplet of demon blood in, the future the first seal of Luicfer's Trap has never been broken in, the future of no Apocalypse pending, so clearly it burns his eyes. The world would've been such safer a place; the Winchesters would've been such happier a family, had Dean's heart actually stopped that day, all the while back in Reverent Le Grange's tent. It's such a cruel joke Dean should feel dead now anyway, his heart beating anew.

*I felt a funeral in my brain,

And mourners, to and fro,

Kept treading, treading, till it seemed

That sense was breaking through.

And when they all were seated,

A service like a drum

Kept beating, beating, till I thought

My mind was going numb.

And then I heard them lift a box,

And creak across my soul

With those same boots of lead, again.

Then space began to toll

As all the heavens were a bell,

And Being but an ear,

And I and silence some strange race,

Wrecked, solitary, here.

(by Emily Dickinson)