Darkness Falls.

Sam loses something precious and the Winchesters are stumped.

They can't figure out the 'how' but, worse than that, they can't figure out the 'cure'.

Warning: Involves permanent blindness, ultimate cuteness and, eventually, a dog.

For MysteryMadchen, as promised.

Sam aged 14, Dean aged 18

Hurt Sam, Protective Dean, Fatherly John.

Awesome Bobby, and Kindly Pastor Jim.

Many thanks to Phx and Devon99 for the advice. Always appreciated, ladies!

"Y'know, Sammy, if the wind changes ya face'll stay like that," remarked Dean, casually, and grinned when his little brother huffed.

Sam turned his furious glare on the poor, unsuspecting countryside speeding along outside the window, and refused to answer. In truth, he was too damned angry to answer. Reaching up to scratch the back of his neck, Sam grimaced when his hand touched on something slimy.

Ewwwww.

But his frown let up just one notch when an idea sprang to mind. Making sure Dean's attention was fully on the road, he wiped the slimy stuff off his fingers, leaving a wet brown streak on the trim just below the passenger window. Grinning with a little self-justified spite, Sam felt his mood lighten.

Serves him right!

Currently, the brothers were up to Winchester Prank War Two. Prank War One had been brutal and with no end in sight, until Dean, as usual, took things a little beyond the pale and sabotaged Sam's shampoo.

Sam spent several long, cold winter months with a beanie pulled down over his ears to preserve body heat, and made good and sure to hide any and all toiletries from his older brother. As a result, John became sick of hearing Sam whine about the cold, on top of Dean's ridiculous 'baldy' jokes, and an armistice was declared.

The first war ground to a halt.

Barely six months on, Sam's hair had grown back, but Dean hadn't learned his lesson.

The absolute worst thing? The prank hadn't even been that clever.

Just a "Hey! Sam! Come take a look at this!" yelled from the top of a haunted hayloft, followed by a hard shove, and Sam quite literally falling for the oldest trick in the book... and into a large pile of... mud.

Sam shuddered. It was cold, brown and smelly. Definitely mud, and not something that came out the back of a cow.

At first, Sam believed it was the ghost, but one glance up into the grinning face of his big brother told him the truth.

Because Dean had known something Sam hadn't at the time.

Typical.

John Winchester had already despatched the annoying witch-spirit after a surprising discovery in the dearly departed's bedroom. As soon as he grabbed hold of the hand sewn, silk and lace handkerchief lying on the nightstand, the angry ghost had shown up and promptly tried to bash his brains in with a coal shovel. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, John threw the handkerchief into the fireplace and made use of some salt and gasoline seasoning. Job done, he'd taken care to pass that information on to Dean half an hour before the boys climbed up the barn's only ladder in order to complete the next – and completely unnecessary - phase of their search.

Dean, pocketing his cell phone and somehow keeping a straight face, had gestured to Sam and followed him up the ladder anyway. What followed was fait accompli.

Dean had one last final laugh when he hosed Sam down and threw a towel in the kid's face, steadfastly refusing him entry to the Impala until he'd dried off.

Sam scowled. Just thinking about it got him all worked up again. Not even the sheen of cow turd staining his brother's baby was keeping his temper down now.

"C'mon dude," Dean broke into Sam's internal, angry tirade and glanced over at him. "It was just a joke."

"Just a joke?" Sam growled and spun away from the window to face him. "You pushed me off the hayloft! I coulda been killed, Dean!"

"Geeze, Sam, drama queen much?" Dean was still bearing that annoying, smug grin that made Sam's blood boil. "Ya had a soft landing. Wouldn't have pushed you otherwise," but he softened his voice and added more seriously. "You know I wouldn't, little bro."

Sam bit his lip, torn between the need for revenge and the subtle reassurance that Dean would rather die a painful and horrifying death than intentionally cause him any harm. In fact, Sam correctly guessed that Dean had thoroughly checked out his soft landing, before executing the prank.

Allowing that comfort, and believing in his big brother, Sam offered a small smile and nodded.

"Yeah, I know," he whispered.

Eventually, lulled by the deep rumble of the engine, Sam fell fast asleep in the passenger seat. Some distant part of his mind registered the gentle sweep of a warm hand over his hair before completely shutting down.

Two hours later, Sam woke up feeling that tightening of the gut, the kind that warns something other than a late night beef madras is very wrong. Unfortunately, his gut refused to fill him in on the details and it was left to Sam's tired brain to figure that part out for himself.

"Dean, what time is it?" he blinked sleepily, trying to clear his blurry vision.

Dean glanced across at him, lips turned up into a fond smirk. "What? Your wrist watch broken or something?

"Or something," Sam muttered and pinched the bridge of his nose. It was dark outside. He must have slept right through the day. "Seriously, what time is it? How long we been on the road? I thought we were gonna stop at the motel so I can clean up?" he grumbled. "Could've woke me up instead of driving into the night."

"Sam..." Dean sounded worried, and though Sam couldn't see his face in the night gloom he was pretty sure his older brother had dropped the smirk in exchange for a frown. "Dude, it's daytime, coming up for eleven am. Motel's just around the block... Sammy?"

Dean nearly drove the Impala into a ditch when Sam started screaming.

Practically standing on the brakes, Dean brought the car to a screeching halt, leapt across the bench seat and grasped hold of Sam's upper arms.

"Sammy, what the hell?" He searched Sam's terrified face and realized the kid was staring right through him.

Now Sam could figure out what was wrong. Even at night, he should've been able to see the dashboard lights, the headlamps reflected off the road, his reflection in the passenger window... something.

"Dean," he rasped out, panicked breath caught in his throat. "Can't see... can't see..."

Dean was all set to get on board for the panicking, until a sudden thought struck home, and his eyes narrowed with suspicion.

"Ooookay. Yeah, Sam," he drawled, dripping sarcasm. "That's a little sick even by my standards."

"No!" Sam was frantically shaking his head and hands grasping blindly for Dean when his brother pulled away from him. "It's not a prank, Dean, I swear! Pl-please... help me... I can't see, dammit!"

Dean paused to take in the tears rolling down Sammy's cheeks and the wide, terrified look on his face. Dean's own eyes widened with shock when belief finally set in.

His little brother was reaching out, desperate for comfort and all Dean could do was sit there and stare at him. This was no prank. He should have known Sam would never stoop that low.

His kid brother, somehow, someway, had lost his sight.

Oh... Shit!

Dean finally pulled himself together, grabbed the frightened boy and tucked him against his side.

"S'alright, kiddo," Dean crooned, rocking the kid gently to and fro. "I'm gonna call Dad. He'll know what to do, ok? Sammy? Dad'll find the answer. You'll see."

Sam's face was buried in the crook of Dean's neck, sobbing his heart out and soaking his big brother's shirt with wet, salty tears. Dean waited until he'd quietened down a little, before fumbling in a jacket pocket for his cell phone.

He started talking as soon as the call was picked up.

"Dad, we gotta BIG freakin' problem..."


There was literally nothing they could do. After weeks of tests, second opinions, examinations, third opinions, checkups, much prodding and poking, the Winchester family was resigned. Sam's optical nerve was missing, like, stolen right out of his head, or something.

Unsurprisingly, this had never been heard of, and it seemed that Sam had set a new precedence in the field of ophthalmology.

Yay me, he'd uttered somewhat dolefully.

The moment he was declared the 'medical anti-miracle' the Winchesters hightailed it out of the state, amidst protests from doctors eager to further study, poke and prod the youngster into a panic attack. All in the name of 'research', AKA making their way on to the Who's Who list of medical jerks. There was no way in hell Sam would've had the patience for that.

Speaking of… Dean shook his head, surreptitiously watching Sam out the corner of his eye. Blind the kid might have been, but stupid he wasn't, and he could sense when Dean was staring at him. There'd been more than a few bust-ups between the brothers as a result of Dean's over-protective streak.

Now they sat in silence at the grungy diner table, John chewing distractedly on steak and mash potato, Dean toying with his burger, and Sam... well, Sam just wasn't eating. He slowly pulled his chicken sandwich to pieces, leaving debris strewn across the plate, but he didn't take even one bite.

"C'mon Sammy," Dean tried again, keeping his voice soft. "Try to eat something, huh? We're worried about you, kiddo."

"M'fine," was muttered just as softly.

John glanced at Dean and gave a small shake of the head. Not now, he mouthed.

Dean frowned deeply. He needs to eat!

John widened his eyes pointedly. Later. Leave him alone for now.

By later, he meant at Blue Earth. Bobby Singer was due to meet up at Pastor Jim's and together they would figure out a way of restoring Sam's vision. John understood Dean was worried about Sam's failing appetite – he'd lost way too much weight in the last few weeks - but hounding the poor kid wasn't working. If anything, Sam withdrew all the more.

"Stop that," Sam growled angrily. "I know what you're doing, I can hear you."

John almost laughed when Dean's jaw dropped in amazement.

"What!" But the older brother sounded just a little too innocent, even to John's ears. "I'm just eating here."

"Dean, you sound like a cow chewing the cud when you eat," announced Sam with a resigned huff, completely unaware of his brother's growing ire. "So I know for a fact that you haven't taken a bite in over five minutes."

Dean scowled and tried to defend himself. "I so do NOT..."

"And judging by the fading smell of fried animal grease," Sam continued, a little smugly in John's opinion but he wasn't going to complain, not now Sam was finally talking, "your burger's probably gone cold."

Dean spluttered incoherently for a few seconds, then took a hasty gulp of his soda.

"Smartass," he grumbled good-naturedly. His heart, having been heavy as lead for the last few weeks, suddenly lightened when his little brother's lips curled up in something resembling a smile.


Blue Earth was a quiet bolt hole for hunters, parishioners, and sinners alike. Pastor Jim was famous for his compassion, wisdom, and scarily accurate knife throwing skills.

As the Winchesters stepped out of the Impala, Sam grudgingly accepting of his brother's assistance, the Pastor smiled sadly and approached the rather solemn family.

"John." Jim grasped the young father's hand firmly. "Great to see you all again."

John nodded and managed a small smile of his own. "Wish it was under better circumstances."

"Too true," Jim answered quietly. "Too true, indeed."

Of course, it was on the tip of Sam's rebellious tongue to point out that they never saw the Pastor under better circumstances, but Dean, with his astute big brother instincts, nudged the youngster into silence.

"Boys," as if sensing Sam's understandable petulance, Jim turned to John's children. "You must be tired and hungry. Why don't you head up to your usual rooms and get settled. I'll call you when dinner's ready. I'm making chicken pasta bake with lots of cheese, and it shouldn't be long now."

Dean put on his best cheerful voice. "Sounds great, Pastor Jim," he gently bumped his little brother's shoulder. "Hey Sam? That's your favourite, right?"

"Sure," Sam whispered and hung his head. He knew what this meant. His family would start taking a harder line from now on: no more skipping meals or leaving his plate half empty. In fact, it was pretty likely, he reflected privately, that they wouldn't hesitate to force feed him, and given that he wouldn't see it coming, there was little he could do to stop them.

He sighed inwardly.

Life sucked.

"Sam? It's just me, ok? Nothing to be scared of."

Sam jerked his head back up at the sound of the Pastor's voice. He felt a hand rest gently on his shoulder and give a light squeeze.

"Yes sir," he whispered and nodded.

He felt the heavy weight of the kindly priest's stare but said nothing.

"Sam," Jim's voice came again, but even more gently this time. "I can't make you any promises, save this." Another shoulder squeeze. "We will do everything, and I mean everything within our power to find out what happened. And we'll never stop searching for a way to restore your sight."

Sam swallowed hard and nodded again. "Thank you sir," he whispered.

While Sam pondered the Pastor's reassurances, Dean, John and Jim glanced at each other, worriedly. All three men were thinking the same thing.

I sure hope we come through for the poor kid.

The brothers shuffled off towards the main house, with the two adults watching their progress.

John pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. Sensing John's need to compose himself, the Pastor gave the guy a moment's silence before speaking again.

"Come on," Jim gently nudged him. "Why don't you get washed up, maybe catch ten minutes shut-eye? You look tired, son."

John nodded but didn't say a word. Shooting the priest a grateful smile, he ambled off after the boys, surreptitiously wiping the moisture from his face.

Jim shook his head and pursed his lips.

Like this family hasn't suffered enough.

Giving them a little more time to get settled, the Pastor pottered around the rose bushes at the front of his garden, checking for greenfly, and making sure the soil was nice and moist. He used a small trowel to dig up a couple of weeds, and thought hard about what lay ahead.

It would be tough going, that was for sure.


Dinner was a quiet affair, the only sounds the gentle clink of cutlery against china, and the odd muttered appreciation for the delicious food. Just for once, no one objected to the Pastor's insistence on a Prayer of thanks, each person quietly hoping it wouldn't go unanswered.

Jim smiled when he spotted the brothers, heads bent, eyes firmly shut, mouthing the words. It never mattered to Jim if people said the prayer aloud, or whispered it quietly to themselves, but to witness Dean, a self-confessed atheist, embrace the meal time tradition without protest, was a testament to just how desperate he was for his brother's recovery.

It made Jim almost wish for the usual good natured bickering and religious debates he'd come to expect from the older brother over the years.

It was just as Dean and John were clearing the table that Bobby Singer finally put in an appearance.

"Got caught in traffic," the grizzled hunter explained, eyes pinched with fatigue, as Jim lead him into the dinning room. "Nasty road traffic collision on the way through. 'Bout ten, maybe twelve car pile-up…" he trailed off when he spied the Winchesters, and scowled.

"Lemme guess," Bobby grumbled. "Not a one of ya's been eating properly…"

"Until they came here," Pastor Jim finished for him, then tilted his head; a silent warning to drop it.

Bobby immediately understood and reluctantly complied. If the priest had managed to get some food inside the small family, then halleluiah to that!

'Cos I seen skeletons with more meat on 'em!

"Hey Bobby," Dean offered a weak grin. "I guess we were just waiting on Pastor Jim's famous pasta."

Bobby patted Dean on the back and smiled at the bad pun. "That's good to hear."

John was already out of his seat and offering a hand to the older hunter.

"Thanks for coming, Bobby," said John, voice warm but in control, not even a quiver.

But his hands were cold, that was the first thing Bobby noticed. The second thing he noticed were the blood shot eyes. Yeah. John was hiding it well, but the poor guy was at the end of his tether, and Bobby wondered how much more he could take.

He glanced at Sam, now tucked against his big brother, Dean's arm slung round his thin shoulders.

"We'll figure something out, John," Bobby promised, quietly so the kids couldn't hear. "I swear it."

Just for a moment John's composure wavered, but he gamely pulled himself back together with a grateful nod.

"I know," he answered in a low voice.

Like father, like son, Dean held himself well as always. In spite of the anxiety he had to be feeling, the older Winchester brother was determined to be strong for his family.

Sam, however, was still way too young to pull off that kind of act, and his sightless, sorrowful gaze struck something deep inside Bobby Singer. A kind of heart ache he hadn't felt in years.

Unknowingly following Pastor Jim's earlier move, Bobby reached out and squeezed the kid's shoulder.

"Howdy kid," he said, softly. "How you holding up?"

Sam gave a half shrug. "Ok, I guess," he replied, voice equally soft.

"That's ma boy," Bobby grinned, then pulled himself up to his full height. "Now. You boys go get some sleep. Me and Jim have some things to discuss."

Dean and Sam didn't even argue, something else that made Jim frown, and just said their goodnights. The last view the three hunters had of their boys was Dean half-dragging, half-carrying a tired Sammy up the stairs.

Bobby glared pointedly at the senior Winchester when John made a move to sit back down at the table. "That includes you, boy."

John's eyes widened at being referred to as 'boy'. "No way…"

"Yes, way!" growled Bobby, and Jim merely crossed his arms in agreement. "You need sleep just as much as your kids, now git! We'll talk in the morning!"

"But…" John spluttered, trying to remember the last time he'd been ordered to bed. It stung a little, given that Bobby was only a few years older.

"No buts," Jim spoke this time, voice firm but kind. "We're here to help you, John." He shrugged. "So just let us. Families are meant to shoulder each other's burdens when they become too heavy for us to carry. If only for a little while."

John hung his head for a moment then shook it. But when he looked up again, his tired eyes were full to the brim.

"I don't know what to say," the young father whispered, sadly. "But thank you."

And with that, he slowly got to his feet and left the room.

Bobby watched him go, heard his weary footsteps on the stairwell before commenting.

"There goes a man with too damn much on his shoulders," he shook his head. "Ain't never seen him like this before."

Jim nodded. "He's scared. Scared he can't protect his boys. Especially Sam, now that he's… well." He just couldn't bring himself to finish that sentence.

"Yep," replied Bobby, thoughtfully. "He loses Sam, he loses them both."

"You think we'll find anything?" asked Jim, candidly.

Bobby turned honest eyes on the Pastor and shrugged helplessly.


The days at Blue Earth seemed to shoot by. The days turned into weeks and finally months. By the time winter rolled around, Sam was getting used to his new way of life.

And he certainly hadn't rested on his laurels.

Even though constantly buoyed by his family's reassurances that he would one day see again, Sam had insisted on learning brail, begged, bullied and harassed his family into setting tests for his sense of smell and hearing, and trained his new laptop – bought for him by Pastor Jim and Bobby Singer as a birthday present - for voice recognition.

As for everyone else, Bobby had travelled far and wide, from Alaska to Quay West, searching out witches, warlocks, shamans, voodoo practitioners, everyone he could think of that might be able to help. Pastor Jim called in old favours from across the Atlantic, the Pacific, and even spoke to someone high up in the Vatican – though he refused to say who. Dean claimed to have overheard part of that late night phone conversation, and swore on his own life that Jim had muttered "Of course, Your Holiness" once or twice, but Sam couldn't decide if his brother was teasing him or not. Would -could a simple village Pastor and hunter of evil, have a direct line to the Pope?

Meanwhile, Jim had also instructed John to go over and over that last hunt in his mind, and try to remember if something odd had happened or gone wrong.

And that, it seemed, was the key. With the combination of John's recollection of the ghost, and Bobby's conversation with a voodoo witch in New Orleans, it emerged that the ghost had parted with one last curse before John sent her across the veil for good.

He recalled the ugly bitch hovering a few feet above the floor in front of him, coal shovel at the ready, pale face twisted with rage, cold, pinched eyes flickering between John and the lace handkerchief he held.

That doesn't belong to you! She had screeched angrily, then swooped forward intent on rescuing her only tie to the living world.

There followed a fight of almost epic proportions as man and witch scrabbled for the old hand-stitched piece of lace. John's goal: the fireplace for a safe disposal... and not having his head caved in.

There were too many flammable antiques to risk just setting light to the damn handkerchief in the middle of the carpet. Last thing he needed was getting trapped in a burning building twice in one lifetime.

And so the skirmish raged on.

Furniture had been thrown, delicate ornaments shattered, bed clothes strewn across the room, goose down pillows and quilts torn to shreds, leaving John sneezing on the feathers.

He'd won, in the end, by a narrow margin, finally reaching the fireplace with the ghost-witch tugging on his ankles, trying to wrench him away. But in that last second, just as he flicked his Zippo open with practiced ease, something changed.

The ghost-witch had let go, grinned at John, clicked her fingers, and announced that he would "never see things clearly. Not as long as you live."

He'd toasted her seconds later, shaking his head in bewilderment. Now, however, her last words were beginning to make sense.

The handkerchief had been specially made by her long dead grandmother, a lady who had been a talented seamstress and witch in her youth, despite being blind since birth.

According to Bobby's voodoo friend, such a curse had left a signature in the ethereal plane, one that was gradually fading after so many months. But the intention was obvious. It would leave the victim blind. Permanently.

However, for such a powerful curse to be misdirected – in that it missed John, and went on to hit his youngest son – suggested that Sam had attracted the curse in some way. And when John heard that, he was reminded of a strange conversation with a young psychic down in Lawrence, Kansas, many years before. Missouri Moseley had taken one look at a young Sammy, snuggled in John's arms, and told him that his baby boy was in danger. That Sam would spend his whole life being hunted by both good and evil because of his powers.

John was angry and incredulous at the time. Moseley hadn't been able to discern just what powers Sam might have, only that they were there, waiting to be tapped. It wasn't comforting to say the least. But now… well, it certainly might have explained why the ghost's curse sailed right on by John and caught Sam instead.

And wasn't that a real kick in the ass? Power corrupts, but apparently it also attracts.

"Aw, Sammy," John buried his face in his hands. "M'sorry, kiddo."

"Sorry for what, Dad?"

John looked up to find his youngest son clutching the doorframe, blank eyes futilely seeking him out. Sighing heavily, John got up from his seat at Pastor Jim's desk and crossed the study to stand in front of Sam.

"I think we need to talk, son," John told him gently, and grasped both the boy's hands in his, carefully pulling him onto a soft leather armchair by the fireplace. "Come and sit down, and I'll go get Dean. He needs to hear this, too."

Sam cocked his head to one side and blinked, but didn't argue.

The young father was dreading this. Bobby's voodoo witch had been blunt and to the point. There was no way of reversing Sam's affliction, because it seemed that the ghost had laid some kind of claim to Sam's sight. Once the curse came into full effect, the optic nerve followed her into the unknown.

And so John was about to break the hearts of the two people he loved most in the whole world.


John resisted the urge to pace. He wasn't a nervous person, couldn't afford to be in his line of work, but today? Ohhh yeah, he was nervous alright. There was no telling how Sam was going to take this, but Dean seemed pretty confident the kid would love the idea.

John cast his mind back a few months to a certain conversation in Pastor Jim's study. It hadn't gone well.

Dean had been angry, furious even, but Sam… his reaction was perhaps the most tragic of all. He'd held his head high, stubbornly refused to let his tears fall and, with great dignity, excused himself quietly from the room.

Dean had followed him out the door, and that was the last John saw of either of them that day. Next morning, they came down to breakfast as though nothing had happened.

Nobody talked about it again, until a little while ago, when Dean and Bobby Singer came up with this insane plan…

"Mr Winchester?" a pleasant, feminine voice called out, distracting John from his thoughts. "He's ready for you now."

Jemima Faulkner was an odd looking lady in her mid fifties, plump, with a big hooked nose and rather large ears. But she was a kindly soul who took her job very seriously. Sam already liked her, and though she lacked the kind of attributes Dean normally sought in the female of the species, the older brother had to admit that he was also rather fond of her. She'd been friendly and reassuring right from the get go, and had welcomed the Winchesters with cups of hot chocolate and gooey chocolate chip cookies… always guaranteed to win over Dean Winchester.

John grinned back at the lady. "Thank you Ms Faulkner. We'll be right there."

He turned to his boys, and placed Sam's hand on his elbow. "Ready kiddo?"

Sam nodded uncertainly. "If only I knew what I'm supposed to be ready for…"

Dean laughed out loud. "You'll soon find out."

Sam counted twenty six paces, heard the creak of a wooden door opening, a weird metallic rattle - like a gate being opened? Sam wondered.

And then...

"Here ya go, Sammy," Dean suddenly murmured, gently squeezing his little brother's shoulder. "Just hold out your hand and let him smell you."

"Wh-what?" the kid stammered, nervously. "Let what smell me? What the hell…?"

Dean leaned down and whispered in Sam's ear. "Just trust me, kiddo. You won't regret it."

Sam's eyes were wide and unsure, but a small smile worked its way on to his face when he felt a wet snout gently licking and snuffling at his fingers.

"I think he likes you," Sam turned his head in the direction of John Winchester's deep voice, and nodded.

"So, what dya say, Sammy?" asked Dean, watching his brother's face. "Think you could let the mutt take care of you?"

Instantly the smile disappeared from Sam's face.

"Wh-what? Take care of me? Why?" Sam was beginning to panic. His breathing picked up speed, heart racing.

This is it, thought Sam. They're going to leave me... I just knew it.

"Calm down, kiddo," John's voice sounded closer, and Sam felt a hand rubbing soothing circles on his back. "I didn't mean to upset you, son. We just thought you'd prefer a guide dog to a white cane."

"Plus, puppy here makes an awesome belated birthday gift," Sam heard amusement in Dean's voice but failed to see – ha! – anything funny about this at all.

"But..." despite the fear and anger, Sam's voice came out pitifully small and childlike, much to his disgust. "I've got you guys, right?" he swallowed, feeling hot tears burning his now useless eyes. "Right?"

Please... please say yes... please say yes... But the significant pause told Sam everything he needed to know.

Or so he thought. Sam backed away, blindly reaching out behind him for something to lean against. Finally, his back hit the kennel wall and he slid down to a crouch, the tears now rolling down his face.

John and Dean exchanged confused glances.

"Sammy, what's wrong?" Dean took a step towards his brother but stopped when Sam flinched. "C'mon, dude. Talk to us."

The young dog, who'd sat silently by with his head quirked to the side, fixed worried eyes on his new master. With a soft whine, he scrambled forward and pressed his furry snout to the boy's hand, gently nipping at the pads of Sam's fingers.

"You've found a hunt," Sam sniffed, letting his other hand run through the dog's soft fur. "And you're leaving me with Pastor Jim... and a dog." He shook his head, morosely, unaware of the growing looks of apprehension and heart break on the faces of his family. "I knew it wouldn't last. I knew you couldn't stay off the road for long... I should never have expected you to do that for me..."

"Sam, no..." Dean took the remaining steps, sank to his knees and wrapped his arms tightly around his kid brother. "I'd never leave you. I swear it, Sam, never."

John blinked a few times, willing away his own tears and took a deep breath. Now he understood. Sam had been quiet and withdrawn over the last month or so of his recovery at Blue Earth, and now he knew why.

Crouching down by his children, John pulled them both into his embrace.

"I won't lie to you, Sam," he said, softly. "There is a hunt. Three infants have died so far and we need to put a stop to it, but we didn't intend to leave you behind, kiddo. Just the opposite. We need your scary huge brain for research. And no one else knows how to operate that damn laptop!"

Sam raised his head from where it was smushed against his brother's chest. "Really?" he sniffed, hopefully.

"Really." John smiled and carried on rubbing the kid's back, wishing like hell his baby boy could see him. "But the dog was Dean's idea."

"Bobby's first," Dean corrected. "But I picked the mutt for ya."

Sam felt the rumble of laughter run through Dean, just before the family hug dissipated into gentle pats and manly back slaps.

"Thanks Dean," Sam sniffed, and rubbed gently at the dog's chest. "He's perfect."

The dog swiped his tongue up Sam's face and appeared to doggy-grin happily, grumbling his approval.

"Yeah, thought he might help you get back a little independence, ya know?" Dean ruffled Sam's hair, earning a half hearted, watery snort. "Just so you stop moping around like a moody teenage girl."

Sam swatted at Dean's head with surprising accuracy. "I do not mope."

"But you agree you are a moody teenage girl?" Dean smirked when his little brother cast a scowl more or less his way, and decided to get the subject back on track. "So, are we ready for a canine Winchester, Sammy?"

Sam reached out again, fingers searching for silky soft fur, and was rewarded with another gentle lick. Smile reborn, Sam nodded, and welcomed a warm, furry body into his arms.

"Yeah, I think so," then he bit his lip thoughtfully. "Uh... what's his name and breed?"

John's sigh of relief was kept quiet with difficulty. "His name's Parker, and he's an eighteen month old Golden Labrador." He smiled, fondly at the dog. "He's been through an awful lot just to finally meet you, kiddo."

Sam's smile grew. "Really?"

"Yeah," Dean regarded the young dog with affection. "He kinda looks like Marley."

John's eyes widened with horror. "He'd damned well better not behave like 'im!"

"Relax, Dad," Dean chuckled. "Parker's a fully trained guide dog, been through the whole program. He won't chew up the Impala, I promise."

Sam was busy scratching behind Parker's ears, hearing the soft breathy panting and giggling when the dog sniffed enthusiastically at Sam's face.

"So, what happens now?" he asked, hope and love shining in his beautiful, sightless eyes.

Technically, there were a few more potential guide dogs for Sam to meet, but Dean had known from the very first moment he laid eyes on Parker that he was Sam's dog. It was nothing he could put his finger on, just a gut feeling that somehow the dog already knew Sam.

As if sensing the scrutiny, Parker stopped showering Sam's face with excited, gentle kisses and gazed knowingly up at Dean, brown eyes big and wide.

This wasn't just about Sam's independence. It was also about protection. Like it or not, Sam was more vulnerable now, and whilst there was no way Dean and John could leave him behind on a hunt, they also couldn't, in good conscience, leave him locked in the car or motel room all alone either. And Sam wouldn't tolerate Dean staying to babysit, letting their father go off without backup.

Parker blinked, soft brown eyes filled with understanding.

Yeah, the dog knew.

Dean gave a slight nod in answer to that enquiring doggy glance, somewhat in awe of the animal.

"C'mon, Sammy," John gently grasped Sam's hand and wrapped it round his elbow. "Sooner we fill out all the paperwork, the sooner Parker can come home with us."

Parker watched and waited, nose and ears twitching, as the oldest Winchester guided the youngest to his feet, then with a small wuff of approval trotted calmly in front of his new family, proudly leading the way.

The End

A/N:

Yeah. Me and my love of dogs, eh? I bet you're all getting fed up with it!

Hee! Don't care! I love dogs!

Dogs rule! Get over it!

NB: I'm aware that Parker should be referred to as a Yellow Labrador. As I understand it, once upon a time, he would have been called Golden, but the British Kennel Club decided in their infinite wisdom that 'Gold' wasn't a colour, and therefore ruled it out. However, they didn't for the Golden Retriever, so I thought "Bollocks to it. I prefer to call them Golden Labradors – it's much nicer!"

I'm a dog snob, but in a different way – I prefer to make up the rules!

Cheers,

ST xxx