Both of the boys frowned in confusion as they watched their father gingerly make his way over to the passenger side of the truck. John seemed to be moving silently and stealthily, leaving his slightly confused and questioning offspring to grow more inquisitive about the mysterious occupant.

Opening the large door, wincing at the low toned creak the aged metal of the hinges made, John leaned in and carefully and slowly scooped up a small sleeping boy into his arms, oblivious to the two pairs of disbelieving eyes blinking owlishly at him as he extracted the boy.

Dean, as usual, recovered first. Primarily because his confusion and curiosity were overruled by his concern for his father's welfare. Knowing that his dad was most likely sporting a rib injury from the way he had held them and moved around, Dean's first reaction was to assist his old man in anyway possible. Explanations be damned.

"Dad, give 'em to me," he insisted softly but firmly, holding out his arms to relieve John of his burden.

John hesitated a fraction of a second. A miniscule throwback to a time when he considered himself a good father, he briefly considered the trauma that Adam might experience if he woke in the arms of a complete stranger, in the dark, at a house he didn't know. The boy had already been through so much.

Of course, it wasn't as if Adam knew him very well either. Thanks to a few scattered photographs that Kate had managed to take of John during their short few weeks together, the little boy had grown up knowing that the man in the pictures was his father. But their actual in person encounter had been fleetingly brief and under the most horrendous of circumstances.

His ribs already howling in protest of the slight weight in his arms, coupled with the more convincing fact that it was Dean who would be the recipient of his newest son, made up his mind for him and he willingly, albeit reluctantly, relinquished his small bundle to his rock steady eldest.

Dean easily hefted the small boy into his arms. To him, it didn't seem like it had been all that long ago that he had carried Sammy like this and he smiled softly in remembrance.

He would fiercely deny it to anyone that had the audacity to suggest such a thing, but he had fond memories of the few years after his own growth spurt rendered him a giant to Sam's small form. Short sweet years of being a true big brother with the stature and willingness to pluck a tired grumpy Sammy from the backseat of the Impala and tote him into their home du jour. Sam's large eyes drooping with exhaustion from being kept out into the wee hours of the morning, and a subconscious that had him sleepily clinging to his big brother's flannel overshirt as he was gently deposited into his bed.

The strange boy stirred a little during the gentle transfer, but easily enough Dean's practiced hands had cradled the small body gently against his own without disturbing the soft deep breathing of a child's slumber.

"Dad? Who is this?" Sam finally asked, patience at an end.

His voice was a bit louder than it should have been given the caution that his father and brother had exercised to keep the child sleeping, and he was immediately shushed by both of the older Winchesters. In response, John merely put his arm around Sam and gently propelled him in the direction of the house.

"Inside, Sam," he responded quietly. "I'll tell you everything inside."

John and Sam made their way up to the house slowly in deference to John's injuries. Dean followed behind them, keeping watch, ever vigilant, even as he held the little boy protectively against his chest.

Bobby waited for them on the porch, a shotgun in his hands. He had watched everything from a comfortable distance, allowing John and his boys to have their reunion in private, but still standing guard He gave John an affectionate clap on the shoulder as he and Sam made their way onto the porch and then waited quietly as Dean navigated the short steps with the slumbering child.

"This him, Johnny?" he asked quietly.

"Yeah," John answered tiredly, unaware of the apparent sadness in his voice as he uttered the single word. The response did not go unnoticed by either of Mary's boys.

Bobby just nodded, silent and contemplative. He didn't waste any time, simply ushered them all into the house. Jerking his chin in the direction of the recently abandoned sofa, he turned to Dean.

"Put him over there, Dean. He can sleep well enough, I reckon. I'll grab a blanket out of the hall closet.

Dean nodded and obeyed, easily striding across the room and lowering the little boy down onto the cushions slowly and gently. Bobby returned with a crocheted throw that Dean recognized as one that his late wife had made, but didn't remark on it as they covered the sleeping child who burrowed into the newly found warmth but still did not awaken.

By unanimous silent agreement, Bobby and his house guests padded softly into the kitchen where Bobby eased the ancient pocket doors halfway closed in an attempt to drown out some of the sound that he knew they would be making.

"When was the late time you ate something, Johnny?" he asked, noticing the pale skin and dark circles under the eyes of the eldest Winchester. John smiled tiredly and let out a little snort.

"A while ago. Yesterday, I think," he admitted as Bobby shook his head.

"Mm hmm," he stated knowingly. "That's what I thought. How bout a beer and a couple of cold meatloaf sandwiches?"

John's stomach suddenly made itself known again and the rumble it emitted was clearly heard by everyone. Bobby was already making his way over to the refrigerator and pulling out a glass baking dish.

"Your boys didn't eat too much either while you were gone," he stated, a little annoyed. "I'd like to make them a couple too if you wouldn't mind ensuring that they ate a little."

John frowned and took in the sad pale faces of his boys. Sam and Dean looked so miserable that he didn't have the heart to scold them for not eating in his absence.

"We'd all love some sandwiches, Bobby," he said firmly. "Thanks."

John cocked his head in the direction of the chairs around the kitchen table and, with his patented paternal glare, he indicated that the boys should sit down. Sheepish, they immediately obeyed as their father shuffled over to the refrigerator. While Bobby assembled sandwiches, John pulled out the jug of milk he found inside and then reached for two glasses. He made his way slowly back to the table and poured the milk, placing a full glass of the cold creamy liquid in front of both of his sons.

Dean smirked at the offering, pushing the glass a couple of inches back.

"Um, I don't do the milk thing anymore, Dad. How about a beer?" he asked cockily, his green eyes flashing bravado.

John didn't answer his foolishly smug eldest. He merely smirked, his left eyebrow raising slightly and gently pushed the glass back. Dean wasn't brash enough to ignore the unspoken threat on his father's misleadingly pleasant face. Reaching over, he grabbed the glass and raised it to his mouth.

"How about I just shut my hole and drink the milk?" he grumbled, much to his father's amusement.

Sam snorted as he partially drained his own glass. He never enjoyed seeing his big brother get into any real trouble, but Dean could be so bossy at times that the younger boy still took pleasure from seeing him get taken down a peg or two by their father at times.

In just a short couple of minutes, Bobby was bringing over plates laden with thick sandwiches and a pile of potato chips. With their father home safe, the boys were suddenly ravenous and they tore into their food, Dean closing his eyes and practically grunting with pleasure. As much as the older boy didn't want to admit it, the milk tasted perfectly with the food and he pretended to not notice the twinkle in his father's eye as John refilled the boys' glasses.

They ate in silence, except for the occasional muted burp. John expected his boys to show good manners at the dinner table. But it wasn't long before the tired hunter sensed his younger son getting restless and the companionable quiet they had enjoyed over the snack was certainly coming to an end soon.

Determined to preempt what the potential beginning to a huge blow up, John wiped his mouth with a napkin and leaned back into his chair.

"His name is Adam," he said softly. "And a few years ago, I knew his mother."

Dean put down the crust remainder of his sandwich and shoved the plate away, giving his father his full attention. Sam continued to nibble on, his forehead crinkled in thought as was his way, listening to his father's words and processing them.

John took in a deep breath and slowly released it. Under ordinary circumstances, he would have just matter of factly explained the situation and then moved on, expecting his sons to snap to and accept it. But this wasn't an ordinary circumstance by any means and he was a little out of his depth.

"I met Kate in Minnesota when I caught wind of a hunt there. Do you boys remember the winter when you spent some weeks at Jim's place right after Christmas?"

Sam frowned, thinking, but Dean recalled it right away.

"Yeah. Blue Earth was having that snow carnival. Sammy wanted to enter the snowman competition. But it was a couple of days long."

Now Sam was nodding his head. It was a good memory. One of the few times he remembered their father allowing them a little normalcy.

"That's right. Dean talked you into letting us stay with Pastor Jim while you went on the hunt," he added with a little smile. "He made an entire snowman rock band and we ended up winning the junior competition."

Dean chuckled softly before his face clouded over.

"Yep, it was awesome. But that was the winter you got really hurt and were gone for such a long time."

John smiled sadly at his now sadder boys, hurt that even their few happy memories were tainted with sorrow.

"It was a ghoul hunt. A pretty bad one. I got the son of a bitch, but it almost got me too. Luckily I made it close enough to a main road to be found. I woke up a few days later in the hospital there. Kate was my nurse."

John stopped for a moment, taking a deep breath as he tried to gather his strength. He gratefully accepted the the small tumbler of Hunter's Helper that Bobby placed in front of him. Taking a long swig, he closed his eyes for a second as the burning liquid seared down his throat.

"She was a good woman, an excellent nurse. Took real good care of me. She was the one that called Jim and told him what was going on so you boys wouldn't worry about me not coming right back. Doctors said it was a bear attack."

Dean snorted. The average uneducated civilian would convince themselves that suspicious injuries and happenings were anything else just to be able to sleep in denial at night.

"Kate never asked, but I could tell that she knew the official story was bullshit. She was a real smart lady. The few days I was there, we talked and became friendly. I didn't plan on staying in the hospital as long as I did. Knew the card would be declined pretty soon. She caught me trying to sneak out one night. Almost passed out right in front of her. Told her I had to go."

John smiled wistfully and took another swallow. The boys were silent, just listening to him reminisce. Clearing his throat, he continued,.

"She told me I was being a foolish idiot. That I was still too injured to go off on my own and wouldn't take no for an answer. Finally I had to tell her that I couldn't pay to stay anymore and she understood. Didn't just let me go though. Insisted I stay with her for a while until I was back on my feet. I couldn't even think clear enough to drive, so I just gave in. She took me home and I spent the next two weeks at her house."

Sam's contemplative face became a frown as the memories of missing and worrying about his father returned from that time. It had been the longest that John had ever left his sons.

"So, some woman from your past calls you and you just ditch us to go running back to her?" he demanded, hurt from all of the days of worry this time brought. "Do you see her a lot?"

"No, Sammy," John soothed, keeping his temper in check. "It wasn't like that at all."

"Well, what was it, Dad?" Dean asked quietly. He wasn't sure where this was heading, but his senses told him that he wasn't going to like it.

"It wasn't Kate that called me. When we were in Memphis, I got a call saying that Kate was being held hostage. That it was payback for the ghoul that I killed. They said that if I didn't come and face them myself, Kate was going to die."

Now Dean was seriously fuming. "Dad, why didn't you let us go with you? We could have helped. We've done it before. Do you know how scared we were? You FUBAR'd us, Dad!"

John leaned over and placed a restraining hand on Dean's knee. Part comfort and part warning to lower his voice.

"The caller also said that if I didn't come alone, my son would die too," he stated quietly. "I couldn't take the chance, kiddo. I had to make sure that you boys were safe before anything else. There was more than one this time. Last time I barely got out alive. I didn't think I would make it back, son. I'm sorry."

Placated for a moment, Dean fell silent and Sammy slightly shivered. John reached over to Sam and cupped the back of his neck, giving the boy an encouraging smile.

"S'okay, Sammy. It's over."

They didn't speak for a few seconds, just comforted by the fact that they were still all well and together. Dean's anger had immediately evaporated and, with his father's warm hand on his neck, Sam took a quick shuddering breath and relaxed.

"While we were driving I called Bobby and told him what was going on. He helped me gather a few more men together. Jim and Caleb were the closest to Kate, so they agreed to meet me there. Then Bobby got a hold of Jefferson and Martin to make a perimeter here. Once I knew you boys were safe, we went in."

Dean took a deep breath and gave his father a crooked smile. "Joke's on them, huh Dad? Did they really think that you would just bring us to them?"

John smiled at his son sadly, and shook his head

"No, Dean. They didn't."

He paused, gathering his strength for the reveal, trying to ignore the hurt confused looks on his sons' faces.

"I hadn't spoken to Kate since the day I left her house all those years ago. I gave her my emergency number in case she ever needed me, but she never called. And, frankly, I never called her either. She was just a good memory from a bad time. And once I knew that the family of the ghoul I killed had her, looking for revenge on me, all I could think about, my only thought was to keep you boys safe."

John reached over and drained the scotch glass dry, clearing his throat. It was time.

"I was so scared for you boys that I didn't even really think about what the ghoul was saying to me on the phone. That they were going to kill my son. Not sons but son. I didn't know what it was talking about until I got to Windom and found Adam."

John let out a deep breath, waiting for the inevitable fallout. Bobby was quiet. He knew the story already. Jim had called him immediately and explained everything just in case John didn't make it out. Sam was chewing on a thumbnail, a scowl on his face as he assimilated his father's words, and Dean went from confused to fuming in two short seconds.

"Adam is my son, boys. He's your half-brother."

Dean sat at his end of the table, shaking his head in disbelief, his temper starting to flare dangerously.

"No. No way. This is a trick or something. No way would you have another kid and not tell us," he stated emphatically, wanting with everything he had to force his father to deny his previous words.

"I didn't know about him, Dean. Not until I went up there and saw him. Kate never told me," John soothed, willing his son to believe him. He had expected this reaction from Sam. To have to defend himself against Dean was a scenario he had not imagined during the drive from Minnesota.

But Dean was not going to be calmed easily. Anyone in the room could clearly see that. The boy's hands clenched and unclenched. His green eyes burning wild with fire.

"So, some chick you met years ago has a kid and never calls you? She just waits until the kid is in danger from some filthy ghouls and then decides that it's time for you to be Daddy? Where is she anyway? Off screwing around with another hunter while we babysit her brat?"

John's eyes flashed dangerously and he reached out a restraining hand against Dean's chest in warning. It was a messed up situation, but there was only just so much insubordination that he would allow from his son.

"Hey! Knock it off, Dean," he growled. John took a deep breath, determined to be calmer and quieter as to not wake his littlest boy. Besides which, the crushing guilt and sadness was threatening to undo him.

"I didn't make it in time to help Kate," he admitted shamefully. "She was already dead when I got there. And that boy," John tilted his head towards the sofa, "was forced to watch as his mother was eaten. So you watch your mouth until you know the whole story."

Dean backed down a bit. He wasn't a cruel person and just because he wasn't overly enamored with the idea of a new little brother, it didn't mean that he could just blow off the horrific event the small boy had suffered.

But he wasn't ready to let John off the hook either. Sammy was only seven when John was hurt on that hunt. That meant that it had only been less than seven years since their mom had been killed. In Dean's eyes, that was still too short of a time for his father to have been with another woman and fathered a child with her. Their mother was the reason they lived the way they did and did the things that they did. How could his father just forget her like that?

A purple haze of rage started to edge into the corners of his eyes. He remembered how scared he had been for his father's safety during that first hunt. How Sammy had clung to him at night before bed wondering where their dad was and when he was coming back. Sam didn't know about the supernatural that time. All he knew was that Daddy had gone away for a while.

It wasn't so much different from these past few days. The same fear, the same worry. The same little brother scared that his father wasn't coming home. And again it was up to Dean to hold down the fort. Keep things okay. Sometimes the responsibility was just too much. And now there was another little brother who would rely on him for everything and Dean didn't know if he could take care of two.

"Any other little Winchesters out there that we should know about?" he asked testily, already fearing the added responsibility.

"Dean.." John began, holding his hands up in surrender.

"No, Dad. I'm serious. How many women have you hooked up with since Mom was killed? I just want to know how many more kids I have to take care of. How many other Florence Nightingale whores have you knocked up?"

The resounding slap that followed echoed around the small kitchen with the rapport of a gunshot. John shook with unbridled anger, clenching his hands into fists to avoid striking his son again. He watched the red bloom of color spread across Dean's cheek and tried not to feel sick about being the one to have caused it.

Dean reached up and palmed his cheek, shaking with emotion. While he had been on the receiving end of countless spankings growing up, John had never slapped him before.

"Kate was a good person who deserves more respect than that, boy. And I didn't raise you to talk about a lady that way." John's voice was deathly soft and hard as he stared at his son.

The pit of Dean's stomach was a swirling mass of hurt, confusion, anger, remorse and self-righteousness as they warred their way to his brain. In the end, it was the sadness, longing and faithfulness to his mother's memory that caused him to lash out at his father.

"You didn't raise me to do much of anything," he spat at his father, the meaning behind his words perfectly clear. "And I'm not going to be the one that gets stuck raising another one of your sons."

The foul hateful words were out of Dean's mouth before he realized that he had said them. Instantly he wished he could take them back. Even without seeing his father's face go white and then red with anger. Even before he heard the sharp gasp coming out of Sammy's mouth.

Remembering that his younger brother was still in the room a little too late, Dean turned around just in time to see Sam's eyes tear over and the wounded boy bolt towards the stairs and up to their room. John was glaring at him with a shame inducing look that drilled right through his brain, and Bobby just stood in the background shaking his head sadly.

It was too much.

Dean grabbed his car keys from the table and fled out the door and into the night. The throaty rumble of the Impala's engine roaring to life as it tore down the driveway.

"Well, that went well," Bobby snarked as John reached for the scotch bottle.

"Shut up, Singer," John growled, in no mood to be censured over his parenting.

He reached into the freezer and pulled out half a tray of freezer burned ice cubes. He pried a couple loose and plunked them into the tumbler, filling it with the scotch and then pressing the cold glass against his head. Already at his physical and mental limit, he could feel a mother of a headache coming on.

The two men sat in silence for a couple of minutes while John self-medicated and took stock of the current status of his offspring.

One tiny son still amazingly asleep on the couch, most likely having nightmarish dreams of his mother's murder. Check.

One adolescent holed up in his room, brooding and hurting over his brother's careless words. Check.

One young adult, recklessly driving, most likely in search of cheap booze and cheaper women, still majorly pissed off. Check, check and triple check.

It's the Winchester Trifecta Johnny boy. Well done.

"He didn't mean what he said, Johnny," Bobby ventured quietly in the silence of the late evening.

John took a long swallow of the scotch, leaning back in his chair, his eyes drooping in exhausted protest.

"Yeah, he did. On some level, he definitely meant it."

And Dean deserved to. John knew that. If anyone knew how much pressure he put on his oldest son, it was John. Not a day went by that he didn't regret it, but it didn't stop him from continuing either. Dean was a natural hunter and a born protector. And he shared John's devotion to the cause. Always had, even from a young age. But John could only expect just so much understanding from the boy.

John exhaled deeply, wanting badly to change the subject. He drained the glass and set it down on the table with a dull thunk, a ghost of a smile on his lips.

"So, what did Sammy do to get his ass handed to him while I was gone?"

Bobby started for a second and then realized who he was talking to. Of course John knew his boys well enough to sense that there had been some drama in the house.

"Threw a little tantrum. You know how he gets."

John nodded. Oh boy did he know.

"They were worried, Johnny. Near out of their minds. Dean just shut down and that left Sam to stew. Came to a head yesterday."

John tiredly rubbed his face and stretched in the chair.

"I'm gonna go up and check on him. I don't want to get into it with him tonight, all things considered. But, I'm sorry he acted up. Tomorrow I'll have him over my knee for a little reminder that he needs to keep off of yours."

As John stood up, preparing to go and comfort his boy, Bobby stopped him.

"Wasn't me, Johnny. Sam got the business end of a belt alright. But Dean was the one that handed it out."

Now John felt as if he had been slapped.

"What? You telling me that Dean, the same Dean that makes me feel like a murderer of small puppies every time I raise a hand to Sammy, gave his brother a whipping? Were you here? What happened?"

Bobby removed his hat to rub nervously at his scalp. The whole thing still wasn't sitting well with him.

"I was here alright. Wish I hadn't been. I could have gone comfortably to my reward without ever watching them go through that. Dean was scared, John. He thought you weren't coming back. And you made him Sam's guardian, ya idjit. Didn't it occur to you that he would follow your orders and take the responsibility seriously?"

Shattered and heartsick, John flopped back into the chair and put his head in his hands. Bobby felt sympathy for the man, but he felt more for the boys. John had to know how it affected them.

"It almost broke the both of them," he continued. "But they love each other fiercely and they were frightened. They came out of it okay, but I don't know about now."

John raised his head and took in the older man's words.

"I need to check on Sammy," he stated quietly as he rose from the chair. "Will you watch over Adam for me for a few minutes?"

"Course."

SPNSPNSPNSPNSPN

Loose gravel flew under the tires of the Impala as Dean sped his way towards town. He had completely fucked up and he knew it. Sure he was mad at his father, but he never ever had disrespected him like that. And he didn't mean it.

John was a lot of things, had been the bearer of many disappointments in his sons' lives, but he tried to be a good father. He didn't always succeed, but there had never been a moment in Dean's life when he wasn't sure of his father's love. John just had a hard time showing it.

And yeah, he was away a lot. But he had also taught Dean everything he knew from how to tie a shoelace to how to hold a pistol. Dean's attack had been hurtful and immature and unwarranted. And, for good measure, he had decimated his little brother in the process.

Well done, Winchester. Well done.

He was too ashamed to go back to Bobby's. His father was probably furious with him and as for Sam, well he wasn't sure that his brother would ever speak to him again. After the couple of rough days they had just been through, he didn't know where he stood with his brother right now.

He pulled into the cracked paved parking lot of the first bar he saw. Just a handful of other cars. It was small and run down, probably a rougher trade than he might normally go for. But Dean didn't care. He just wanted a drink or two or twenty.

Inside it was just as he surmised. The rickety tables were empty, probably due to the state of filth accumulated on them. Old cheap seventies d├ęcor that probably hadn't been adequately sponged down since they were put in new. There were a couple of broken down men and women that matched the furniture scattered around the bar on the mismatched stools, hunched over their beverages of choice. They paid him no attention as he swaggered in and took a stool of his own at the very end.

The bartender was a brunette, most likely in her late thirties, but it was hard to really tell. She had probably been attractive once, but time and life had eaten away at any residual beauty she might have possessed. She gave him an appreciative glance as he sat, answering his request for a beer with a draft in a fairly clean pint glass and didn't bother checking his ID.

SPNSPNSPNSPNSPN

John slipped quietly into the boys' bedroom. Sam was lying on his stomach, his face pressed into the pillow. He was feigning sleep, but John knew his boy better than that.

The pain of his ribs was down to a dull ache thanks to the scotch, so it wasn't terribly uncomfortable to lower himself to sit on the side of Sam's bed. He didn't say anything for a minute, just reached over and gently rubbed Sam's back. Sam stiffened for a minute, but then he allowed himself to relax under his father's touch. For which, John was exceedingly grateful.

"You mad at me too?"

Sam took a deep breath, holding it for a couple of seconds before letting it out slowly. His trademark tell for deep contemplation.

"No," he answered quietly after a bit. "Not really."

Sam fidgeted a little, pushing off his father's hand as gently as he could, but clearly wanting it gone. When John got the hint, Sam turned around to face him.

"You really didn't know, right?" he asked, his big hazel eyes pleading for the truth.

"No, Sammy. I didn't. I swear."

Sam stared at him long and hard. Under other circumstances, he might have been inclined to fight with his father a little more about the carelessness of unprotected sex. After all, John had given both Dean and Sam "the talk" and had made it more than clear that they were to always carry and use protection. Sam knew that Dean kept a box in his duffel and one in his wallet at all times.

Sam had one in his wallet too, but it was just for show. They never stayed anywhere long enough to have a girlfriend and Sam didn't prescribe to his brother's cavalier attitude toward the fairer sex.

But Sam was just too relieved to see his father home safe and in one piece. Too guilty over the way he had acted the last time they were together. Maybe it was because his mother was just a pretty woman in a photograph.

He didn't have Dean's memories of her and talking about her was practically taboo in their messed up little family. It was hard to have a single minded devotion to a woman that he had never known. Whose death and memory was the catalyst to all of the instability and unhappiness in his life.

Sam couldn't fault his father for finding some momentary happiness with another woman. He acknowledged the tragedy that was his mother's death and keenly felt the guilt that she had died in flames over his crib. He genuinely loved the idea of his mother, but he didn't remember her touch, or her voice or her pretty face. Sam wasn't so sure that he wouldn't be able to love another maternal figure in his life if presented with the opportunity. And his father was still a man with needs.

He didn't say anything as he mulled this over in his mind.

"I heard there was problem while I was gone," John stated quietly.

Sammy squirmed and blushed, partially hiding his face in the pillow. He looked as miserable as John felt. John reached over and ran his fingers through Sam's thick chestnut hair, Sammy leaning into the touch. It never failed to amaze the boy that a hand that could so painfully wield a stinging strap could be so gentle and soothing too.

"It's my fault, Sammy. I put too much pressure on Dean. It's me he's mad at, not you."

Sam huffed disbelievingly, his facing morphing into one of pain and hurt. John stilled his hand and took Sam by the chin, forcing the boy to look into his eyes and believe his words.

"Your brother loves you more than anything in the whole world, kiddo. He would die for you in a heartbeat and he would kill anyone, myself including, for harming you. He didn't mean what he said. He was angry and hurt and betrayed."

Sam looked at his father as long as he could before becoming uncomfortable. He wanted to hold on to his anger and hurt at his brother. Keep it and cuddle it like a precious pet. Dean's words hurt ten times more than his belt had and Sam's emotions were still as raw as the welts on his behind. Deep down, he knew his father was right. For all of the teasing and tormenting and sternness on his brother's part, Sam knew that Dean loved him.

He didn't say anything further to his father. Relief at having the man home bled out the tension that his body had been existing on for the last few days, and Sam found himself growing sleepy as John resumed rubbing his back.

SPNSPNSPNSPNSPN

Dean sat at the bar, the last patron left in dingy semi-darkness. In front of him was an assortment of pint and shot glasses. His stomach was queasy, but his brain was thankfully going numb. A quick glance at the clock on the wall told him that it was creeping up on closing time. Very soon he would have to find another means of delaying his return to the salvage yard. He wasn't quite ready to go back and slink inside.

With the alcohol swirling around in his head, he paid a little more attention to the formerly comely barmaid and surprisingly found his body responding with bit of interest. Probably because it had been too long since his last hook up, and more than likely encouraged by his desire to stay out a little longer.

It didn't take much to sweet talk her out of the bar and then out of her panties. Before he knew it, they were down the street at the small cape style house she rented. Groping and fumbling on the lumpy bed with the floral distinctively girlie smelling sheets and a curious Siamese cat that insisted on watching.

Less than an hour later, he gave her an excuse and a fake phone number and stumbled out to his car where he promptly threw up the majority of the booze he had consumed. His head already beginning to throb even as waves of drunkenness still blurred his vision, he foolishly got into the car and turned towards the salvage yard before his courage left him.

Even in his inebriated state, it didn't take long to make his way back to the house. The sky was overcast and pitch black. The perimeter lights were on, deterring anything stupidly human or demonically evil from approaching further.

Dean slowed the Impala down and then parked further down the drive than he normally would have. The house looked dark and he didn't want to risk waking anyone up with the rumble of her powerful engine. Nor was he quite ready to face his father.

He exited the car slowly, careful to minimize the squeak of the door hinges. He swung the door closed gently, sealing it by pushing against it with his hip until he heard the click of the lock catching. Long ago his father had taught him the art of silent breaking and entering. Just one more talent in the Winchester arsenal and one more thing that he had learned at John's side. His earlier words came back to haunt him and he felt his stomach roll over in guilt.

He was silent and sure footed as he made his way up the porch stairs, gently easing open the front door and slipping inside into the darkness of the interior.

In retrospect, he shouldn't have been surprised when the reading lamp on Bobby's desk snapped on. His father always caught him when he was trying to sneak into the house. It didn't stop him on the rare occasions when he had broken his curfew.

Caught, he turned around to face his father, wincing internally at the obvious pain and exhaustion on the man's face. John should be in bed, catching up on much needed sleep and allowing his injuries a chance to start healing. He shouldn't have to be waiting up for his selfish insolent son to stumble home after a bender and a cheap hook up.

Dean didn't say anything, the shame too strong to verbalize. The apology he wanted to give dying on his lips before he could force himself to utter a sound. He couldn't meet his father's eyes, instead glancing over to the sofa where the little sleeping lump of his newest brother reminded him of his harsh words.

He stood now staring at the threadbare carpet as his father walked over to him. The uneven gait of the man's steps serving as another cold reminder of his father's injuries.

John's heart threatened to break over the obvious guilt and remorse on his boy's face. But, upon closer inspection, he took in a breath of the combined scent of smoke, scotch and sex permeating Dean's clothes. It wasn't altogether unexpected. But he had also clearly heard the Impala come up the driveway and Dean was certainly in no condition to have been driving it safely.

"You've been drinking," he stated, his voice low and rumbling.

Dean took in a shaking breath and kept his eyes glued to the floor.

"Yes, sir."

"And you still thought it was a good idea to drive yourself home?"

Now Dean closed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest, his head hanging lower in submission.

"Yes, sir."

John growled low in his throat. His disappointment in his son obvious. He was too tired for this crap and didn't have the energy to further discuss anything at this point. He hadn't been able to make himself sleep until he knew that his oldest boy was back safe and sound, brushing aside Singer's offer to wait for him himself. All he wanted now was to hole up in the recliner next to the sofa where he could stretch out, catch some shut-eye, and still keep an ear out for sounds of Adam waking.

Reaching over, he grabbed Dean by a belt loop and held him still while he pulled the keyring for the Impala out of the boy's front pocket and placed them in his own.

"These are mine until you show me that you'll stop acting foolish with them," he scolded sternly. "Whether you think it or not, I did raise you better than that. Whatever you may think of me right now, I will not stand for you endangering yourself like that. Not ever."

The censure cut deep and Dean winced from the heat of the words. He felt his father tug further on the belt loop and he was forcefully jerked to the side a second before John's hand cracked smartly across his behind.

"Get your ass upstairs and into the shower. I don't want you sharing your brother's bed smelling like a whorehouse. We'll talk about this tomorrow.

Dean felt his face flush and tears threatened to spill. He knew how badly he messed up.

"Yes, sir," he muttered quietly before obediently heading for the stairs.

Upstairs Dean crept down the hall to the bathroom. He flipped on the light and took a good look at himself in the mirror. His eyes were bloodshot from the booze and smoke of the bar. He shed his clothes and jumped into the shower, letting the scalding hot water wash away the filth he felt caked in. The steady stream of water began to counteract the booze and he felt himself sobering slightly, the guilt still weighing heavily around his neck as he shut the shower off and exited in a cloud of steam.

Wearing just a towel wrapped around his hips, he tiptoed into the room that he shared with Sammy and saw his little brother asleep, the blankets bunched up in a heap around his knees. Sammy had always been a restless sleeper. He deposited his soiled clothes in the duffel that held his dirty laundry and then pulled a pair of clean sleep pants out of the dresser.

Donning them quickly and hanging his damp towel on the doorknob, he quietly padded over to the bed, reaching down and easing the snagged bed linens away from Sam's legs. Straightening them, he covered Sam again before slipping underneath himself.

Sam was facing away from him on his side. He could tell from the way the boy's breathing changed that his little brother was awake now. Even though he kept his eyes shut, Sammy had never been able to fool him, had never been able to win any bedtime fights to stay up later than he was allowed.

In the darkness of the room, Dean reached over and wrapped his arm around the boy, gently tugging Sam against his chest and holding him tight.

"'m sorry, Sammy," he muttered, the tears and misery clear in his voice. "'m so so sorry."

He heard Sam's breath hitch and choke, the slight body held against his shudder briefly and then fall still again. He was about to give up and turn away, hurt, when he heard Sam's quiet voice.

"Jerk."

The single word warmed him with the strength of the sun and he could barely contain his emotions, but he knew that if he gave in to the chick flick moment, he wouldn't recover. So he did what he always did in uncomfortable times.

"Bitch."

SPNSPNSPNSPNSPN

Dean slept fitfully for a few hours until the sun rose, only to be woken by the sounds of a small commotion going on downstairs. He glanced at Sam quickly, assuring himself that the younger boy was still sleeping soundly, safe and secure. He eased himself out of the bed to avoid waking his little brother and quickly pulled on a clean shirt before grabbing his pistol out of the duffel and making his way stealthily down the stairs.

"Adam, please come out."

Hearing his father's tired, but calm voice, Dean dropped his guard and lowered the gun. Although still feeling immense guilt from his earlier actions, he continued on into the living room, pausing in the doorway where Bobby was standing. His Dad was standing next to the arm of the couch where it meet the arm of Bobby's recliner.

When they were younger and smaller, Dean and Sam had often taken that precious corner space and used Bobby's older blankets and sheets to cover it, making a fort where no adults were allowed. Stepping closer, Dean could just make out the small body of his newest sibling, now inhabiting his old hideout.

The frustration and exhaustion was etched deeply into every line on his father's face. John didn't look like he had managed much sleep and he clearly wasn't up to the task of soothing a traumatized eight year old in his current condition.

Acting instinctively, Dean ducked his head and slipped past Bobby and then his father as he made his way over to the corner space. He raised his head briefly to silently ask for his father's consent to intervene. John hesitated for a quick second and then nodded, allowing it.

Smiling slightly, Dean dropped to the floor and stretched out next to the leg of the chair.

"You know," he began quietly, "when I was your age, I used to like that place too. It always made me feel safe. Like nothing could hurt me when I was in there. It's a special place, you know. Just the right size. Big enough to sit in, but too small to let the bad things inside. You're protected in there."

When he heard a little whimper, Dean frowned in sympathy and turned to catch a peek of the tiny blond child inside.

"It's okay," he said quietly. "You're safe here. I promise I won't let anything hurt you. You just have to trust me a little, okay?"

Dean didn't push. He let Adam take his time, slowly processing his words and surroundings. As he patiently sat there, pulling at a loose thread on his sleep pants, his father and Bobby keeping their distance, he waited until he heard a tiny voice come from the corner.

"Okay."

A smile spread across Dean's face and he turned towards Adam again.

"My name is Dean. What's yours?"

He could see Adam shifting slightly closer to the small opening made by the touching arms of the sofa and chair.

"Adam."

"Well, Adam. I was thinking about having some chocolate milk. Do you like chocolate milk?"

There was a short unsure pause and Dean worried briefly that he might be pushing too hard, when he heard the small voice again.

"Yes, please."

Smiling again, Dean raised himself off the floor and headed towards the kitchen. When he reached where his father was standing, he had to force himself to look up at John.

John had watched the scene unfold in front of him, not at all surprised by the outcome. Dean had always had such a gentle way with kids. It belied his tough exterior, but John's eldest son had a kindhearted nature about him. Always talking to children and not down to them. They responded to Dean and it was what had always made him such a good guardian for Sam.

Now as Dean stood before him, wounded and contrite, John didn't have the heart to further chastise his eldest over his earlier behavior or words. When Dean finally lifted his face, John saw the naked pleading in his boy's eyes for forgiveness and the normally gruff man tenderly reached out and pulled his son in for a hug.

John heard Dean mutter a quiet "I'm sorry" as he pressed his face into his father's shoulder. He didn't respond, just held Dean close for a moment and then pressed a kiss on top of the spiked hair. Dean soaked up the comfort for a moment and then pulled away, not wanting to keep Adam waiting.

His father tiredly watched him make two large glasses of chocolate milk, Dean carrying them carefully over to the little hiding place. He heard Dean ask for permission to join Adam inside, promising to show the little boy a neat trick.

Standing in the middle of the corner space, Dean handed Adam both glasses of milk and then reached over and grabbed the blanket that Adam had been sleeping under. With deft and practiced moves, Dean tugged it over them, using the furniture to make a tent over the hiding place.

John remembered this from his boys' childhood. They would spend hours in their fort together, safe from prying eyes and the things that go bump in the night.

Sitting inside the little tent, Dean tucked his long legs underneath himself, trying to get comfortable despite his tall height. Adam slowly sipped at his milk, the frown on his face eerily similar to Sammy's. On closer inspection, Dean could see several similarities between Adam, Sam and himself. But the worst one of all was the haunted look in the little boy's eyes.

Dean clearly remembered seeing that exact look in the mirror for many years after his mother's death.

"Is he really my dad?" Adam asked, his tiny voice shaking and unsure, breaking Dean's heart just a little more.

"Yep," Dean answered. "He's my Dad too. We're lucky Adam. Our dad is a hero."

Adam raised large trusting eyes and Dean gently cupped his chin.

"And I'm your big brother. And I promise that nothing will harm you as long as I'm around.