Odds and Ends:

Number 1:

Sam 6 months, Dean 4.

John Winchester gently lifted the screaming six-month-old from the cot.

"Hush now, Sammy," he automatically murmured soothingly, as he made his way over to the double bed, cradling the baby against his shoulder. Dean glanced up at his father with haunted eyes, as he sat down next to him on the bed with his baby brother.

John was still in shock – he couldn't believe that he wouldn't just wake up any moment and find that it had all been a terrible nightmare. His Mary couldn't be gone, she just couldn't be!

A quiet knock at the door physically made him jump, his nerves stretched to their limit.

"I heard Sam crying. Do you want to try again?" Jeanette Sanderson stood in the doorway, offering a baby bottle full of warmed formula milk.

John nodded, not trusting himself to speak. What he would have done if it hadn't been for Michael and Jeanette, he had no idea. After the horrific events of the night before, Michael (a friend and work colleague of John's) and Jeanette (who had been a good friend of Mary's) had immediately stepped in and taken control of the situation – they had offered John and his sons a place to stay (for as long as they needed), as well as taking care of the two children while John had to endure the traumatic experience of explaining what had happened to the police. John knew that the police did not believe his statement, but they had simply put it down to post-traumatic stress, as the fire department certified that the house fire was an accident and that no foul-play was involved.

On top of everything else, baby Sam now wouldn't drink anything. Mary had insisted on breastfeeding both of her children. As a result, Sam wouldn't accept the baby bottle that Jeanette had procured for him. When John had tried giving it to him, the baby had screamed and persistently turned his head away from the teat. Jeanette had tried too, with the same result. John was now extremely worried, as Sam hadn't had anything at all to drink since the evening before when Mary had put him to bed and it was now late afternoon on the next day.

John took the bottle and repositioned the baby in his arms. Sam had ceased screaming and was now whimpering softly. John couldn't stop the tears from falling as he looked down at his youngest, suddenly overwhelmed by an image of Mary laughing up at him as she nursed Sam. How could that have only happened yesterday morning? Mary had adored being a mother. Her boys had meant everything to her. How could my life have been torn to shreds in less than an hour? How am I to carry on without her?

John placed the teat in Sam's small mouth, praying that this time it would be different. The baby however pushed the bottle away with small clenched fists. When John tried again, the baby's whimpering quickly escalated to screaming.

"I'm sure he'll take it when he gets thirsty enough," said Jeanette, trying to reassure the broken man she saw before her. She softly closed the door behind her as she returned downstairs.

"What's wrong with, Sammy?" asked Dean sideling up closer to his father and leaning into him for comfort. John looked down at the four-year-old and brushed his tears away with the back of his hand. He had to keep things together for Dean.

"He's not used to a bottle. He doesn't like it. And the milk tastes different from what your Mommy made."

"Can I try?" asked Dean hesitantly, reaching out and stroking the side of Sam's face. The gentle touch soothed the infant and his screaming quietened to hiccupping sobs.

"Sure, Tiger," replied John moving up the bed, so that he was leaning against the headrest, "but don't be upset if he doesn't take it."

John sat Dean in his lap and then placed the baby in Dean's arms. Dean didn't take the bottle that John held out at first. Instead, he continued to stroke Sam's face and started to speak softly to his baby brother. What Dean said nearly broke his father's heart.

"I know you miss Mommy, Sammy. I do too. But Daddy says she's in heaven with the angels now and that she's happy. He said she's watching us and loving us. Mommy would want you to drink from the bottle, Sammy. I know she would. You want to grow big and strong like me don't you? Then you need this milk. Mommy said milk makes strong, healthy teeth and bones. So please try it, Sammy, for me."

John was glad that Dean couldn't see him from his position in his lap, as the tears had started to flow again and this time, John was unable to stem the tide. Luckily, Dean didn't look up, as he took the bottle from his father's hand, all of his attention focussed on his baby brother.

He placed the teat in Sam's mouth, making nonsense soothing noises to the baby, just as his mother used to. This time, Sam sucked hungrily on the teat for a few seconds. John held his breath, only to let it out in despair when the baby turned his head and started to cry. Dean immediately removed the bottle and balanced it on the bed, before resuming the gentle stroking.

"You did good, Sammy. Mommy would be so proud of you. Just a little bit more, hey?"

When the baby stilled under Dean's touch, the boy again picked up the bottle and inserted it in his mouth. Sam again sucked on the teat, this time for a few seconds longer before beginning to cry. Yet again, Dean removed the bottle and recommenced stroking and talking soothingly to his baby brother. After this pattern had been repeated several times, Sam at last stopped fighting the teat and drank the milk hungrily. When the bottle was nearly empty, the baby fell asleep.

Throughout the process, John had battled to get himself under control. He had been mesmerized, watching Dean's patience and care towards the infant. Eventually, he had succeeded in halting the flood of tears. This was helped in part by the fact that his youngest had finally drunk something. "You did good, Dean. Sammy's lucky to have a big brother like you. Hopefully he's realised that being bottle fed isn't that bad. Let's put Sammy in his cot shall we?"

John moved to pick up the baby, but was stopped by Dean's small, broken request. "Can I please hold him, Daddy? I miss Mommy so much and I know Sammy does too. I wish she didn't have to go away."

Tears spilled over Dean's eyelids and made rivulets down his cheeks.

John simply wrapped his arms tightly around both Dean and the baby he held. "Course you can hold him, Dean. For as long as you want."

Number 2:

Dean 9, Sam 5

"You, mustn't scratch them, Sammy," instructed Dean, pulling his baby brother's hand away for the third time in fifteen minutes.

"But they itch," sniffed the cranky five-year-old, his hazel eyes filled with unshed tears, "make it stop, please Dean."

Dean reached out and pulled Sam into his lap. "I wish I could, Tiger. But they'll go away soon on their own, I promise."

Sam snuggled into his brother's chest and unconsciously slipped his thumb into his mouth. He only ever sucked his thumb these days if he was ill. Under other circumstances, Dean would tease him for this, as he was now a 'big boy'. However, Sam had been so miserable and out of sorts since coming down with chicken pox two days earlier, that he was glad of anything that gave comfort to the little boy.

John Winchester stood in the doorway watching Dean cuddle Sam in his lap – the intensity of the depth of protection that his eldest showed his youngest both relieved and troubled him. He knew that not many nine-year-olds would willingly choose to nurse a sick sibling, especially a grumpy one. John was comforted, as he knew that Dean would give his all to protect his brother without a second thought. When John had offered to watch Sam, so that he could play for a while, Dean had immediately refused – in case Sammy needs me. On the other hand, John couldn't help feeling a pang of remorse – Dean should be just a kid, not shouldering the responsibility of parenting a child, when he was just a child himself.

John took the thermometer out of its case and quietly entered the room. Dean had had chicken pox when he was four, but it had affected him completely differently than his baby brother. Dean had been covered from head to toe in the itchy spots, but had been perfectly fine in himself. He had had no fever and had been his usual bundle of energy. It had been a couple of weeks after his fourth birthday and Mary had been six months pregnant with Sam at the time. Mary had gone out of her way to play with and amuse Dean in order to distract him from the itching. She had also come up with a unique solution for bedtime when she was not present to supervise and prevent him from scratching. The baby of the family however was having a really hard time with the virus – he had been running a high temperature consistently, was completely lethargic and had been complaining of aches and pains in his limbs, as well as a constant headache.

"How's he doing, Ace?"

Dean looked up as his father entered. "He's still really warm, Dad. He's missed his nap too, even though he's really tired, 'cause he won't go down."

Sam took his thumb out of his mouth long enough to say "Daddy" and lifted his arms out to John, silently asking to be picked up.

"Hey, Baby, how're you feeling?" asked John, stooping and lifting the youngster from Dean's lap into his arms.

"Not good, Daddy," whimpered Sam, burying his tousled chestnut head into his father's neck, "I don't like chicken pox, they should have stayed on the chickens!"

Dean had to smother a snort of laughter at that, the last thing Sam needed was to think that the big brother he idolised was laughing at him.

John headed up the stairs, holding his precious bundle close, calling over his shoulder for Dean to please fetch Sam's medicine from the kitchen.

When Sam realised where he was going, he immediately tried to push away from his father. "Noooo, Daddy! I don't want a nap. I's not tired."

"We're not going for a nap, Sammy," soothed John, holding tightly to the squirming boy, "we're going for a story."

"Oh, that's okay," murmured Sam, settling down, sticking his thumb back in his mouth and dropping his head on John's shoulder.

John smiled, kids were so easily manipulated at this age – it was a pity that the Dean could no longer be tricked so easily!

When Dean reached the bedroom that he shared with his brother, he found Sam tucked up in bed, propped up on his pillows with the thermometer sticking out of his mouth. His Dad was sitting next to him, leaning on the headboard and reading some story about a cat that Sam had taken out of the library.

John paused in his reading to take the proffered medicine from Dean and to remove the thermometer from Sam's mouth.

"Any change?" asked Dean.

John shook his head. "He's still running a high fever, but at least it's no worse. Here you are, kiddo, this'll help you feel better." John offered a spoonful of strawberry flavoured medicine to the five-year-old.

Sam obediently drank it and settled back on his pillows. "Keep reading Daddy. I wanna know if Sooty finds her way home."

Dean perched himself on the edge of the bed, while John picked up the book and continued the tale.

"Hey, no scratching," instructed Dean quietly, so as to not interrupt the story, pulling his brother's hand away from his arm, "you'll end up covered in horrible scars if you do."

Sam squinted sleepily up at Dean, his eyelids were already beginning to droop. "You don't have no horrible scars."

That's 'cause I didn't scratch, Squirt."

Hearing this exchange between his sons, John paused in his reading and remembering, pulled something from his pocket. He just hoped that the solution that Mary had used successfully on Dean would work on Sam too.

"Hey, buddy, I've got some magic gloves here. If you wear them, they make the chicken pox go away quicker. You want that don't you?"

Sam nodded and reached eagerly for the pair of purple, stripy, woolly socks that John was holding out.

"Help me put them on, Dean," he instructed, arousing Dean from his stupor – he had been gawping at the hideous things.

"Sure, Sammy," replied Dean, quickly easing the monstrosities over each of Sam's hands. Dean admired his Dad's ingenuity – now even if Sam attempted to scratch, he wouldn't be able to do himself any harm.

Ten minutes later, Sam was fast asleep and John and Dean tiptoed carefully from the room. As they descended the stairs, Dean voiced his burning question. "Dad, where on earth did you get those socks?"

Number 3:

Dean 10, Sam 6

"Dean! Dean!"

"Go back to sleep, Sammy." Dean groaned and burrowed deeper under the covers, hoping that his younger sibling would take the hint. No such luck. Dean felt the bed move as Sam clambered onto it.

"It came out, Dean!"

Came out? What came out? What on earth? Dean cracked open an eyelid, hoping his brother hadn't broken anything else. Only yesterday the kid had somehow managed to break the washing machine when he had tried to be a 'big boy' and help by doing some laundry. Then in the evening, he managed to knock a gigantic, ornate vase off the small table by the front door when he walked past (Dean had thought that the vase was hideous anyway, but as they were renting the apartment furnished, their Dad would now have to pay for the breakage. Sam had been heartbroken, until their Dad had soothed away the tears by cuddling Sam in his lap and assuring him that it didn't matter, because it had been an accident). And the day before that, the kid fell off his bike and broke the pedal, smashed a cup when he was helping Dean to wash up and got a video tape stuck in the VCR.

What Dean saw upon opening his eyes, was a smiling Sam. That reassured him that nothing else had been broken at least. "What's up?" he asked with a yawn.

Sam's grin widened and he just held up something for Dean to see. Whatever it was, it was so small that Dean had to sit up and lean in to get a closer look.

Understanding flooded through him. "Wow, your tooth finally came out, Sam". The small boy nodded, proud as punch, because he had lost his first tooth. The tooth had been incredibly wobbly for three days now, which had made chewing hard foods like apples impossible.

"Shall I put it under my pillow now? Or wait till bedtime?"

"I think you should show it to Dad and then put it under your pillow tonight. Tooth fairies only come when you're fast asleep anyways."

"Good idea, Dean." Sam immediately bounded off the bed, left their room and bounced into their father's.

"Daddy! It came out!" Dean heard Sam exclaim excitedly, as he snuggled back under the covers with a grin, congratulating himself on offloading his exuberant little brother onto their father, so that he could go back to sleep.

I'll have to remind Dad to play tooth fairy tonight he thought as his eyes slid closed.

Number 4:

Dean 10, Sam 6

"Daddy! It came out!"

John opened his eyes as his baby came bounding into the room and flung himself onto the bed.

"Are you okay, Sam?" he asked. Usually if the boys awoke before he did, they would go down and watch cartoons.

"Yeah, look!"

John found something thrust in front of his face. It took a moment for his still sleep-muddled brain to process what he was seeing, then he realised that it was Sam's tooth.

"So it finally came out did it?" he asked the smiling boy before him. He ruffled Sam's hair affectionately and opened his arms. His baby was growing up – he had just lost his first tooth.

Sam snuggled into his father's embrace, still clutching his tooth tightly.

"Dean said you'd want to see it. I woke him up to show him"

"Oh, he did, did he?" replied John dryly, realising immediately what his eldest's plan had been. Dean certainly wasn't stupid - John had no doubts that the boy would now be once again sleeping peacefully.

"Daddy, what do tooth fairies do with people's teeth?"

John thought quickly. Sam's constant questions definitely kept himself and Dean on their toes! "Umm, their houses and furniture are made of them. In fact everything they have is made from teeth." John wondered briefly if Dean could have come up with a better answer.

"Oh." Sam seemed to ponder this. "I suppose they always need some for repairs then? I hope my tooth gets made into a car, that'd be cool! Dean says I must put it under my pillow tonight."

"Sounds like good advice, kiddo. You still tired?"

Sam nodded and put his tooth down carefully on the nightstand, before snuggling down in the bed with a yawn.

John draped one arm protectively around his youngest, holding him close, while he gently carded his other hand through Sam's hair until the boy fell asleep. John himself fell back asleep shortly afterwards, comforted by the small warm body pressed against his own.

That was how Dean found them an hour and a half later when he popped his head around the bedroom door, after having finally awoken. He grinned at the sight of his baby brother curled up contentedly against his father's chest, before making his way quietly downstairs to turn on the TV.

Number 5:

Dean 11, Sam 7.

Dean heard the almighty crash and splintering of glass and sprinted into the sitting room of the apartment, wondering what on earth was happening.

"Sammy! Are you okay? What…." The words died on his lips as he took in the sight before him. Sam was standing in the middle of the room looking completely distraught, tears already beginning to slide down his face, as he stared at the fallen mirror which had obviously landed on top of the glass-topped coffee table. There was glass everywhere!

Dean flew to his brother. "Are you hurt? Did any of the glass hit you?"

Sam didn't reply except for a small, broken sob. Dean had already given his brother a quick visual once-over and seeing no immediate evidence of injury, put his fingers under the boy's chin and tilted his head up, forcing him to look at him.

"Sammy?" Dean's voice was gentle, worried, "What happened, Tiger?"

Sam didn't exactly reply to Dean's question, but what he did say was very telling.

"Daddy's gonna kill me!"

Dean turned back and surveyed the chaos with a trainee hunter's eye. His eyes quickly came to rest on the soccer ball nestled amid the destruction.

Dean turned back to his distraught little brother, with an eyebrow raised enquiringly. "You played ball indoors." It was a statement, not a question.

Sam nodded miserably before throwing himself at Dean and burying his head into Dean's chest. "I'll never do it again!" he wailed.

Dean's arms automatically slid around his baby brother, even while he scolded, "You know the rules, Sammy, no playing ball inside." He knew his kid brother would definitely be in trouble when their Dad got home.

Dean held Sam until the boy had calmed down. Eventually Sam pulled away with a final sniffle. Dean looked down at his t-shirt with a grimace. Great, it was covered in tears and snot!

His little brother always came first however, so Dean led him into the kitchen, made him a cheese sandwich and told him to stay put while he cleaned up the glass. There was no way that Dean would risk Sam cutting himself by trying to help. When that task was finally completed, he changed into a fresh t-shirt and re-entered the kitchen. He found a very forlorn-looking Sam sitting at the table fiddling anxiously with the table cloth. Taking one look at the kid's miserable, downcast demeanour, Dean came to a decision. It was not a decision he chose to share with Sam however, knowing that his sibling would not allow it and would object strongly.

"Come on, midget, let's go watch some TV. Don't worry about Dad, I'll smooth things over. He won't punish you, I promise."

Sam looked up at Dean hopefully. "Really?" He trusted his brother implicitly - Dean would keep his promise.

When Dean heard the Impala pull up two hours later, he immediately jumped off the sofa and ran to meet his father at the door, knowing that he had get there before Sam.

John was startled to find his eldest right behind the front door when he opened it. Before he could say anything however, Dean jumped right in. "I'm really sorry, Dad. I broke the rule of no playing ball in the house. I won't do it again."

John quickly moved from the hall and into the sitting room, scanning for damage. He knew full well that Dean would not have owned up if there had been no evidence. His eyes lit on the empty frame at the exact same time that Dean continued: "the ball accidently knocked the mirror off the wall and it landed on the coffee table and broke that too."

"Were you or Sammy hurt?" questioned John urgently, swinging round to scrutinize Dean.

"No, Dad," he was quick to reassure, "none of the glass hit us."

Sam, having remained in the armchair, had not heard the beginning of the conversation. He watched his father apprehensively. How was Dean going to get him out of trouble? Their Dad sure didn't look very impressed!

John had his attention focussed solely on his eldest and did not notice the anxiety of his youngest.

"You know the rules, Dean. Yet you deliberately disobeyed them. Have you anything to say for yourself?"

"The mirror was hideous?" offered Dean, not quite meeting his father's eyes.

John shook his head and gave an exasperated sigh at the audacity of his firstborn.

"You leave me no choice but to spank you, Dean."

Dean looked down at his feet, he had been hoping to be grounded or sent to bed early, anything but the dreaded spanking. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders – better him than Sammy.

Sam had finally realised what was going on and jumped up. "No, Daddy, it was me, not Dean!"

"What, Sammy?" asked John, puzzled, turning his attention to his youngest.

Dean butted in and addressed his brother, "No Sam, I won't let you take the blame for me." He turned back to his father. "He doesn't want me to be punished, but I won't let him get punished in my place. I knew better than to play with the ball, but did it anyway."

John paused and looked from one son to the other – he had no way of telling for certain which one was telling the truth. Sam was obviously genuinely upset, but he would be upset if Dean was being spanked whether or not his older brother deserved it, as he hated seeing his brother hurting. On the other hand, John had no doubt that Dean would willingly take a punishment for Sam and suspected that the younger would readily do the same for his older sibling. He thought for a moment and then realised that his present course of action would successfully discipline the perpetrator regardless of which one had broken the rule – if Dean was responsible, then the tanned hide would be suitable chastisement, but if Sam was responsible, then the guilt of having Dean suffer on his behalf would be a punishment in itself.

Dean waited on tenterhooks. Who would Dad believe? He let out a silent sigh of relief when their father barked, "Come here, Dean!"

John seated himself on the sofa and pulled Dean across his lap, securing the boy in place with his left hand, before raising his right, palm extended.

Sam watched, horrified.

"Daddy, please no…" he murmured, as the first slap connected painfully with his brother's buttocks.

John answered his youngest, without skipping a beat in the spanking he was giving his eldest.

"Sammy, I know you hate seeing your brother hurting, but Dean has to learn that all of our actions and choices have consequences."

Dean didn't know why he was bothering to fight the tears as the fire in his backside intensified with each smack. He knew full well that his father would spank him until he cried. But he stubbornly fought the tears anyway, not prepared to just give in. Eventually though, despite his best efforts, the floodgates opened and a choked sob escaped him.

On hearing the sob, John administered four more solid smacks for good measure, before lifting the boy back onto his feet.

As soon as he was released, Dean fled into the bedroom and threw himself face-down onto his bed. Sam followed slowly, choking inwardly on guilt, not sure if Dean wanted to be alone or not. Dean hated people seeing him cry.

"Dean?" he asked hesitantly.

"I'm o-okay, S-sammy," reassured Dean, the hitches in his voice indicating the opposite.

"You shouldn't have done that, Dean. I should have been spanked, not you," whispered Sam forlornly.

"Yeah? W-well I prefer things th-this way, little brother," muttered Dean, his head still buried in his pillow in an effort to hide his tears from his sibling.

Sam hesitated a moment longer, before going over to his brother's bed and sitting down on the edge. He wanted to comfort Dean, like Dean always did whenever he was upset. Sam cocked his head on one side, considering. When he was upset, Dean would either card his fingers gently through his hair or rub soothing circles on his back. Not knowing which Dean would prefer, Sam decided to do both at the same time.

Dean couldn't help but smile through his tears when he felt one of Sam's small hands gently rubbing his back and the other stroking his hair.

Number 6:

Dean 12, Sam 7.

Dean jerked awake. His father's training making him immediately scan the area for any danger. It took only a split second for Dean to realise what had awoken him. Sam was whimpering softly from his bed. Dean sat up slowly, watching his brother carefully through the gloom. The light filtering through the apartment window from the streetlights outside provided just enough illumination to see by. It was obvious to Dean that Sam was having a nightmare. He quickly scrambled out of bed and went over to his brother. Dean reached out and gently smoothed Sam's bangs back from his forehead.

"It's okay, Tiger, everything's cool, I've gotcha," he murmured soothingly, hoping to head off the nightmare before it got any worse.

Instead of settling however, Sam's moans became more frequent and he started to thrash around on the bed. Dean had just decided that it might be better to wake Sam up, when the boy sat bolt upright with a scream.

He immediately began to sob and Dean pulled him into a tight hug.

"It's okay, Sammy, it was just a nightmare, it wasn't real," he murmured soothingly into Sam's chestnut hair, that was tucked against his chest. He could feel Sam's whole body shaking with motion and transferred one hand to rub soothing circles on his sweat-soaked back. Sam in turn, clung to Dean like a lifeline.

"Wanna talk about it?" asked Dean.

He felt Sam shudder, and had to lean in to hear the kid's response as his face was buried in the t-shirt that he slept in.

"You and Daddy were burning in a fire, 'cept it was upside down 'cause you were on the ceiling."

Dean stiffened. Luckily the youngest Winchester was too distraught to notice. Sam didn't know about the demon or about hunting. Their father had chosen to protect him and give him as normal a childhood as possible. Dean agreed fully with John on this – he wanted to keep his brother ignorant of the nightmare world they inhabited for as long as possible. However, Sam had been present on that fateful night, and along with his father, they were the sole witnesses to Mary Winchester's horrific, macabre death. There was no doubt that baby Sam had been wide awake during the ordeal – he had been crying when John had thrust him into Dean's arms with orders to leave the house - but Dean had always assumed (just as John had) that his six-month-old brain had fortunately been too underdeveloped to process what had happened. Sam certainly had no conscious memory of his mother, but it looked like at least some images had been retained by his subconscious mind. Dean felt tears welling in his eyes at the thought of his mother and valiantly fought them back. Sam needed him! He took a deep breath, fighting to keep his voice steady. "You know it was just a dream, right? Nothing to worry about. I won't ever let anything bad happen to you."

It took a long time for the younger boy to calm down. When at last his little brother's sniffles had stopped and his breathing had evened out once more, Dean carefully disentangled himself from the clinging Sam.

"Come on, kiddo, I know just what the doctor ordered…..hot chocolate with squirty cream and marshmallows on the top!"

Sam willingly followed his brother to the small kitchenette that the motel room was equipped with.

Fifteen minutes later, Sam stifled a yawn as he finished the last of his hot chocolate.

"Okay, kiddo, back to bed," said Dean, standing up and stretching, before moving over to his bed, which was closest to the door. He turned back when he realised that Sam had remained at the table.

"What's up?" asked Dean, noticing Sam's hesitancy and the fact that he wouldn't meet his eyes.

Sam looked down at his hands, but didn't answer.

"Come on, Tiger, you can tell me anything, you know that. Are you scared you'll have another nightmare?"

Sam nodded, then he glanced fretfully up at Dean. "I know I'm not a baby, but could I…would you mind if…..well…..if I slept in your bed?"

"Sure thing, kiddo, but how about we both sleep in your bed, hey?"

Sam readily agreed, not caring which bed they slept in, as long as he was with his big brother. Dean however, still wanted Sam as far away from the door as possible, just in case.

After checking the salt lines, Dean climbed into Sam's bed and smiled when the younger boy immediately snuggled into his chest. Dean laid an arm protectively over him.

"Goodnight, midget."

"Goodnight, Dean."

Number 7:

Dean 17, Sam 12.

Bobby knocked on the motel room door and it was immediately cracked open a fraction as John Winchester peered out. Bobby knew that a shotgun was strategically placed behind the door, ready to blow him away should he have proven to be a threat. On seeing who it was, John swung open the door with a welcoming smile.

"You got here fast…wasn't expecting you for another hour and a half at least."

Bobby shrugged. "What can I say? Roads were quiet…..and there were no cops around to catch me speeding! Anyway, I wasn't expecting you at all. Weren't you and Dean checking out a possible poltergeist and Sam was gonna let me in?"

"Hmm…there was an unexpected change of plan," replied John, moving aside.

Bobby stepped into the room, looking immediately for Sam and Dean. Although he would never admit it, he had a real soft spot for those boys. He spotted Dean immediately, sitting at the small table, conscientiously cleaning the small arsenal laid out in front of him.

"Hi, Bobby! How's things?" A boyish, lop-sided grin lit up his face as he greeted the older hunter.

"I'm good, thanks." Bobby appraised the youth before him. He knew from John that the boy was turning out to be a bit of a heart-breaker where the ladies were concerned. With his roguish charm, smart-mouth and smooth-talking, this came as no surprise. He had only turned seventeen two weeks ago, but after a recent growth spurt, he was already nearly six foot. As yet, his frame was still slender, although with all the training imposed on him by his father as well as the extra that he imposed on himself, Bobby was sure that the boy would soon bulk up. Sam on the other hand was small for his age, which made him look a lot younger than his twelve years.

Thinking of Sam, Bobby surveyed the room. Where was he? Sam was usually all over Bobby, chattering away at nineteen to the dozen. Bobby quickly noticed the hump under the covers in one of the beds, with the trademark tousled brown hair sticking out the top. Was the boy ill? It was only 7 o clock, so there was no way the youngster would have gone to bed. If the boy wasn't well, that would certainly explain John and Dean's sudden change of plans. A moment later the small, quiet sound that had been present ever since Bobby had entered the room, finally impacted on his consciousness. Sam was most definitely crying!

For a moment Bobby couldn't make sense of that fact – if Sam was upset, then John and Dean would both be hovering like mother hens, willing to do anything for the baby of the family. This was completely out of character. Why were they ignoring the child instead of comforting him?

John saw the direction of Bobby's gaze and guessed his question. "Spanked, then sent to bed," he supplied.

"Uh huh? What'd the little blighter do?" Bobby knew that for John to have spanked the boy, his misdemeanour must have been serious.

It was Dean who answered, deliberately raising his voice so that his little brother would hear "The little idiot took himself off that's what. He was supposed to stay here until me and Dad got back and to let you in of course. Sam knows he's not allowed out without permission. He knows what kind of neighbourhood this is…it isn't safe! But the daft moron still chose to walk all the way into town to play in the games arcade…."

His big brother's insults had gotten Sam's attention. Sam unburied his face from his pillow and glared angrily at Dean. Bobby had to hide a smile – the kid looked anything but menacing with tears running down his cheeks. Dean steadfastly ignored his baby brother and continued with his explanation. "He stupidly thought he'd never get caught 'cause he'd be back well before he was missed. Unfortunately little Sammy didn't realise that Dad had left the cell phone behind on the table and we decided to turn around and come back for it, just in case the little twerp needed anything while we were out. Which he did as it turns out, he needed rescuing."

"Did not!" interrupted Sam.

Dean continued as if he hadn't heard the interruption. "Yeah, he needed rescuing from his ridiculous, immature decision that could have gotten him killed!"

"Hmph!" Sam let out an infuriated breath. "I'm not a baby. I can take care of myself!"

"Sure you can," said Dean sarcastically, "maybe if you didn't make such stupid choices I'd believe you."

John decided to step in and put an end to the argument that was clearly brewing. He knew that Dean was giving Sam such a hard time, because his kid brother's escapade had frightened the life out of him. Dean had been frantic when they arrived back at the hotel, only to find Sam missing. On finding the salt lines intact and no evidence of a struggle, John had quickly concluded that the youngster had most likely left of his own volition and that nothing supernatural was involved. Dean wasn't comforted by his father's reassuring words however - there was no way he could, or would relax until they had Sam back safe and sound. He had been worried sick.

"Dean! Stop deliberately aggravating your brother. He's been punished, he's learned his lesson, so let it drop."

Sam wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and smirked at hearing Dean getting told off. John however wasn't letting his youngest off either. "And Sam, you've been sent to bed, so you're supposed to be going to sleep. Or perhaps you want another smack?"

"No, sir," muttered Sam with a sniffle, casting another glare at Dean, before dropping his head back into his pillow.

It was Dean's turn to smirk.

John turned to Bobby and took up the tale. "I guessed that Sam had sneaked out, but of course Dean's right about this neighbourhood and I was worried and didn't want the kid wandering around, so I sent Dean out to look for him and I stayed here in case he came back in the meantime."

Bobby understood fully why John had sent Dean out while he stayed behind – a worried Dean was like a caged tiger, ready to explode. Better to have the kid active, feeling like he was doing something useful.

Dean entered the conversation again, with a wicked grin. "I looked all over for him. You should have seen Sam's face though when he saw me come into the arcade, it was a right picture. He knew he was in big trouble." Dean glanced at his brother to see if his words had any effect. There, I didn't outright insult him this time, so Dad can't say anything. Sam however did not show any indication that he had heard. He was determined not to give Dean the satisfaction, as well as not being prepared to risk his father making good on his threat of another smack to his already painful, burning posterior.

John completed the tale. " Dean only arrived back here with a very subdued Sam in tow about fifteen minutes before you came, Bobby. I verbally tore a strip off the kid, then told him he had exactly five minutes to get into his pjs and ready for bed and then when he had changed, I tipped him over my knee and tanned his behind good and proper."

"Which is exactly what he deserved!" muttered Dean.

Bobby could have sworn he heard a muffled "Hmph!" from the bed. John obviously heard it too, because he cast a glance at his youngest before replying grimly, "Yes it was, Dean, and now young Sammy knows exactly what the consequences will be if he makes the same choices in future!"

It was nearing 9 o' clock, when there was a rustling from the bed, as Sam turned over. He'd been lying on his stomach ever since Bobby had gotten there, which wasn't surprising considering that John Winchester's spankings were very thorough! Bobby looked across at the youngster and smiled fondly. "Finally, sleeping like a babe."

"He's been asleep for just over forty minutes now," put in Dean casually, quickly reassembling the last weapon after cleaning and checking it. It never ceased to amaze Bobby, just how attuned Dean was to his younger brother. In the safety of the motel room, with John present, there was no need whatsoever for Dean to keep such a close watch on Sam that he would be aware of when the youngster's breathing patterns had slowed and deepened, indicating he was asleep.

Dean glanced across at Sam, noting that when the child had turned, his blankets had slipped down, leaving his top-half completely uncovered. He immediately stood up, went over to the bed and replaced the covers gently, careful not to wake him. He then paused and ran his hand tenderly through the sleeping boy's hair. Sam did not stir – it was a familiar touch, one that he had experienced and welcomed since babyhood.

"Night, Sammy, sleep well," whispered Dean.

Bobby felt a lump form in his throat, witnessing the undeniable love and devotion of the eldest towards the youngest.

"So you've forgiven him for the heart attack he gave you earlier then?" asked John dryly.

"I didn't have a heart attack! I was just a bit worried that's all."

"Sure you were, Ace," teased John with a grin, "Me and Bobby are gonna get off now. Caleb should be on his way. You okay to hold down the fort?"

Dean nodded.

"And take…"

"I know, and take care of, Sammy," Dean interrupted, "Always!"