The Spirit of Jack McCaine

Sleep lifted reluctantly and heavily from Dean. He slowly opened his eyes, wondering what had awoken him. It was almost pitch black, except for a single beam of light from a nearby streetlight that filtered through the dingy motel curtains. The urgent, hushed whisper came again.

"Dean! Wake up!"

As Dean's eyes adjusted to the lack of illumination, he was just able to make out his father crouched by the side of his bed.

"I've just had a call from Pastor Jim. There's a rather nasty haunting that has come to his attention. Jim can't sort it….long story. So, I've gotta go, the family are in real danger… should be back in two or three days. Take care of Sammy."

John Winchester leaned forward and kissed the top of Dean's tousled head, before turning away. He picked up a large rucksack and hoisted it onto his shoulder.

The fog of sleep finally lifted enough from Dean's mind for the boy to realise what was happening.

"Dad! Wait!" he urged, sitting bolt upright.

"Hush!" admonished John, putting a finger to his lips, "You'll wake your brother."

John came back to the side of the bed and looked down curiously at his fourteen-year-old son.

"What is it, Dean?"

"Can't we come with you?" pleaded Dean, remembering to drop his voice to a whisper, "Please….."

John started to shake his head and then hesitated. Seizing the opportunity to take advantage of his father's momentary unexpected indecision, Dean jumped in.

"It's summer break, so we won't miss any school…and it's not like we need to hide the truth from Sam anymore."

John's face clouded and took on a troubled look.

"I still can't believe he found out like that. How could I be so careless?" He shook his head in self-recrimination and continued with a sigh, "Me and Bobby never thought for a minute that we'd be overheard… especially at 2am! Sam was supposed to be tucked up safely in bed. I wish I'd been able to protect him from all this for a few years longer."

Dean said nothing. Their father thought that Sam had found out about hunting only a few months earlier, when he had awoken thirsty one night while they were staying at Bobby's and had come downstairs for a drink. Sam had overheard his father and Bobby planning to hunt down and destroy a banshee that was terrorising a local village. Dean however, knew the truth – Sam had known for a year and a half, ever since that fateful Christmas Eve. Sam had read their father's journal and confronted Dean about its contents. Dean had often wondered if he had done the right thing in confessing to his young brother, especially considering the nightmares that had then plagued the youngster for months afterwards. He fingered the amulet around his neck unconsciously as he remembered back to that night. Sam had pretended that he was cool with the idea of their dad being a 'super hero' as Dean had phrased it, but Dean knew his baby brother too well. Sam had refused to meet his eyes afterwards and had pleaded tiredness. Dean had sat on the edge of Sam's bed and watched helplessly as Sam lay down and turned his back, effectively shutting him out. Dean had known full well that Sam had begun to cry. He desperately wanted to comfort his little brother, but knew that that was not what Sam wanted. Sam didn't want his big brother to know that he was upset. He wanted Dean to think that he was strong and brave, not totally freaked out by the stuff that he had read in the journal. Dean had waited until Sam had cried himself to sleep and then he had taken the cover off his own bed and gently covered him with it.

"It'll be okay, Sammy. I promise," whispered Dean, looking down protectively at his younger brother.

Sam had looked so young and vulnerable with the tear tracks still wet on his cheeks. Dean had then left the motel, determined to give his brother a proper Christmas.

Hiding the fact that Sam knew the truth from their father had weighed heavily on Dean's conscience and he knew that it was only a matter of time before one of them would slip up. He had known how much deep trouble they would both be in if Dad ever found out – Sam for reading the journal and Dean for confirming the truth of its contents. So, between them, Sam and Dean had come up with a plan whereby Sam could 'accidentally' find out. Dean of course, had known about the proposed hunt for the banshee and he and Sam had taken turns to stay awake in order to catch their father in the act. Things had certainly been easier since Dad had sat Sam on his lap that night and proceeded to tell him – in as comforting a way as possible – that the stuff of nightmares was real. There were no more lies about where John was going and why, no more fabrications about the numerous minor injuries he came home with (John always dealt with any major injuries at Bobby's, Jim's or Caleb's, so as not to panic the boys) and John was also keen to explain the real reasons behind all of the training he had been giving his boys, rather than the vague excuse of 'self-defence' that he had been plying Sam with previously.

All this flashed through Dean's mind in the few seconds it took before John spoke again.

"Are you sure you want to come? 'Cause it'll be boring waiting in the car…"

Dean didn't hesitate. He hated being separated from his father. "Yeah, I'm sure."

"Okay, I'll pack up the Impala. Get Sammy up will you?"

John Winchester contemplated his son for a moment, before turning towards the door. Inside he was torn – he wanted his boys with him, he always felt safer when he was there to keep an eye on them, but taking them on a hunt went against his very nature. Sure, John knew that Dean was ready to take to the field any day now (under his watchful eye of course), but Sammy was way too young and inexperienced. John gave himself a mental shake as he left the motel room. His children wouldn't be in any danger. Jim's research had confirmed that the spirit was tied to the house, so the boys would be safe outside in the car. He unlocked the Impala, threw his rucksack onto the back seat and then moved around to check the weapons stash in the trunk.

"Sam, wake up!" urged Dean, climbing out of bed and moving to switch on the overhead light.

Sam groaned and buried his head under the covers to escape the glare.

"Sam! Wake up will you!" repeated Dean.

"Go away, Dean," came the mumbled reply.

Dean sighed, strode over to his brother's bed and unceremoniously yanked the covers off onto the floor.

"Hey!" protested Sam indignantly, sitting up. "What'd you do that for?"

"We're leaving….now! We're going with Dad. Hurry up and get dressed."

Sam didn't move.

"Where are we going and why in the middle of the night?" he asked, running his hand through his sleep-mussed hair and yawning.

Dean shook his head – why did the kid always insist on asking so many questions?

"We're going on a hunt. Pastor Jim called Dad. It's a vengeful spirit I reckon. Now hurry up!"

"Dad's taking us hunting?" asked Sam in disbelief, still not moving, "But every time you ask he's always saying it's too dangerous."

"Yeah, well, we're supposed to be staying in the car….but maybe….." Dean didn't finish his sentence.

"Maybe what?" asked Sam, raising his eyebrows.

Dean ignored the question, pulling off the sweat pants he slept in and hurriedly replacing them with jeans. He then turned to look at Sam, who had still not moved.

"If you're not up by the time I'm dressed, Squirt, I swear I'm gonna drag you out of that bed."

Sam pulled a face, but clambered quickly out of bed with an exaggerated groan, knowing that Dean would make good on his threat.

Fifteen minutes later, the Winchesters were all finally settled in the Impala and John put his foot down on the gas.

"How long will it take us to get there, Dad?" asked Dean.

"It's about a six hour drive and we'll have to make a quick stop at Pastor Jim's on the way. I just hope we're not too late!"

Dean waited expectantly for more details and after taking a look at the eagerness on his eldest son's face, John Winchester obliged.

"In the past, the place was rumoured to have had a curse on it, because so many of its occupants met with unfortunate, gruesome, untimely ends. Of course most people didn't take the idea of a curse seriously, especially as the deaths looked like accidents. With one thing and another, it's luckily been empty for the last twelve years, but naturally, someone has now decided to buy and renovate the place…."

"….and now they're in danger," finished Dean.

His father nodded. "The spirit tends to play with its victims first, so fingers crossed we get there in time".

"Do you have any idea who the spirit is and where the bones are buried?"

John shook his head sadly at the matter-of-fact way that Dean had said this. Dean would make an outstanding hunter one day, he was certain, but this was never the life he would have chosen for his children.

John glanced over his shoulder at Sam, who was listening to his walkman through his headphones and staring out of the window at the dark scenery flashing past. He definitely wasn't paying any attention to their conversation. John was careful to always tone down the gory details if his youngest son was listening.

He turned back to Dean. "Yeah, Pastor Jim did his homework. We're pretty sure that the spirit is Jack McCaine. His wife ran off with another man and Jack couldn't handle it, so he took his shotgun and went and killed them both. He then went home and took his own life with the same shotgun."

John paused to glance over at Dean, to see how the boy was dealing with this information. Dean didn't appear disturbed, just interested.

"So can you dust him?"

John gave a noncommittal shrug. "I hope so, but he was cremated, so there must be some other remains somewhere or some important object tying him to the house. My priority is getting the family to safety first and then I'll take it from there."

Three hours later, the Impala was continuing to hurtle down the highway. It was still dark, although a slight redness on the horizon signalled that dawn was slowly approaching. John Winchester shot a quick glance in the rear-view mirror. Sam was sprawled across the back seat, fast asleep. Dean was out for the count too, his head resting against the window, his mouth slightly ajar, snoring softly. John felt his chest tighten with a sudden eruption of emotion. How he loved those boys! He felt anguish gradually building up inside, especially when he thought of Dean. He had attempted at least to protect Sam from the truth and give him some semblance of a normal childhood – telling him that he sold specialist equipment and that that was why they had to move around so much. Dean however, had received no such mollycoddling. John had been too distraught at losing his beloved Mary and because of the grief, had not been thinking clearly in the months immediately following her death. As a result, he had not had the presence of mind to hide the truth from his four-year-old son. Dean had grown up knowing that something supernatural had killed his mother and that the stuff of nightmares was real. By the time Sam was old enough to understand, John had come to his senses and had made Dean promise to keep everything secret from his baby brother. Dean had always been naturally protective of Sam and had readily taken the silence about the truth as another way of protecting him. John mentally cringed when he thought of the burdens he had placed on his young son's shoulders. Dean should have been hanging out with friends, carefree, like other teenagers, not discussing the intricacies of a hunt and definitely not having to be a surrogate parent to Sammy. Not that Dean would ever view taking care of his brother as a burden. Ever since that fateful night, when Dean had fled from the burning house with his baby brother in his arms, he had viewed Sam as his responsibility. Whenever John considered the bond between the two brothers, he felt both humbled and awed by its strength and intensity.

Both boys were still asleep when they arrived at Pastor Jim's.

John leaned over and shook Dean gently. "Wake up, Ace. We're here."

Dean sat up groggily and blinked towards the rectory that would always be a second home to him. Before John had considered Dean old enough and responsible enough to be trusted to care for his younger brother overnight, they had frequently stayed over at Pastor Jim's. Even now, John wouldn't leave them alone for more than three nights in a row at the most and so they still often stayed over if John was going to be away for longer periods.

Pastor Jim greeted them at the door. "My, Dean, how you've grown," he said, pulling the boy into an affectionate hug.

"Have I grown too?" asked a sleepy Sam, as the pastor released his older brother and enveloped him instead.

"Of course you have! You'll catch up with that brother of yours soon if he's not careful," he replied with a twinkle in his eye that John didn't miss – Sam hadn't grown at all in the 6 months since Jim had seen him last!

Dean snorted. "Yeah, right, there's no way the midget will ever be as tall as me!" He easily dodged the punch that Sam threw his way.

Jim turned, leading the way into the house. "I hope you're hungry, boys, because breakfast's on the table."

While the Winchester's tucked heartily in to a full cooked breakfast, Jim began to brief John on all the details that he knew of the hunt so far. Dean listened intently, but pretended to be focussed on the food before him. John finished his meal quickly and the two men left the table, moving into the study, still deep in discussion.

Dean banged his fist on the table in frustration and Sam looked up at him in surprise.

"You okay, Dean?"

Dean sighed in irritation. "I wanted to know everything about this hunt."

"Why?" Sam contemplated his older brother with his eyebrows raised questioningly. He didn't understand Dean's fascination with hunts, all he cared about was that his Dad returned from them in one piece.

"Because I wanna know all the details about what could be my first proper hunt!"

"But, Dean, you're not going on this hunt," Sam pointed out, watching his brother with growing concern. Dean was up to something, he could tell.

Their father had started taking Dean on routine salt and burns when he had turned thirteen, but only in cases where the spirit was undeniably confined to a particular area and there was no risk whatsoever of it turning up at the graveyard in question. On these occasions, Sam had been left behind in the care of Pastor Jim, Uncle Bobby or Caleb. Sam knew that Dean was itching to go hunting and was getting fed up of him bragging about how his father kept saying that he was nearly ready.

"I want Dad to take me with him while you wait in the car. He's gotta take me with him sometime…it might as well be now."

A look of horror slowly dawned on Sam's young face as he realised what Dean was suggesting.

"Sam, please," Dean looked at his brother beseechingly, "I really wanna do this!"

Sam hesitated and looked down. He had no desire to be left on his own in the car while his father and brother went hunting. In fact, he shuddered at the thought. Yeah, sure, Sam was used to his Dad, going off on hunting trips and leaving him, but he was never left alone, he always had Dean. Worrying about his Dad was bad enough, but to have to worry about Dean too?

For himself, Sam wanted to say no, but for Dean he had to say yes. Even though he was so young, Sam realised on a basic level just how much Dean gave up on account of looking after him – Dean couldn't just hang out with friends unless there was someone to babysit Sam; Dean had to walk Sam to and from school on most days; Dean always made sure he had his lunch money; when he was younger, Dean had been responsible for feeding him and even now that he was older, his older brother still made most of the meals when their father was off hunting; Dean soothed his nightmares away; Dean had always stepped in immediately in the past when Sam had been bullied or threatened in any way; although Dean tended to keep his own problems to himself, he always had a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on for Sam; Dean offered Sam encouragement when their Dad's training exercises seemed too much to bear; Dean gave up his time to take Sam to the library, to the shopping mall, for a walk in the park and any other places that Sam desired to go to; Dean gave of himself selflessly for Sam again and again and again….

All of this flashed through Sam's mind in a few seconds, before he looked back up and met his brother's hopeful gaze.

"Okay," he consented, "I'll agree to wait in the car."

Now that Dean had got what he so desperately wanted, it was his turn to hesitate. No matter what, Sam came first! "Are you sure? You'll be okay? I can stay in the car if you really need me to…"

Sam forced a laugh, trying to alleviate his brother's fears. "'Course I'll be fine…I'm not five you know!"

"Thanks, Sammy, you're the best!" Dean grinned like a Cheshire cat and leaned over to ruffle the younger boy's hair.

"Hey, stop that" protested Sam, ducking away from Dean's hand. Then he smirked. "Now you owe me big time, big brother."

John Winchester immediately noticed a change in his boys' demeanour when he returned to the kitchen. Sam seemed somewhat subdued while, his eldest seemed the opposite, appearing even more animated than usual. John was distracted however, concentrating fully on the upcoming hunt, otherwise he would have guessed that Dean was up to something. He simply put Sam's unusual quietness down to tiredness resulting from his broken night's sleep.

"So….errr….Dad I was thinking…" began Dean.

John glanced quickly at his eldest, before returning his eyes to the road. The boy sounded serious and John wondered what was coming. "Yes, Dean?"

"Well, you know you said I was just about ready to start hunting?... I was thinking, maybe….maybe I could hunt with you today?"

John glanced back at Dean, taking in the boy's hopeful expression, but his response was automatic. "You have to look after your brother, Dean."

Sam in the backseat, knew that this was his cue, but he found himself swallowing nervously before delivering the lines that would in effect leave him abandoned for the first time in his life. For Dean, he would do it.

"I can stay in the car, Dad, while Dean goes with you."

"No, Sammy, you're too young."

"I'm not a baby!" pouted Sam indignantly, "I'm old enough to take care of myself."

John smiled inwardly - Sam thought he was oh so grown up at the tender age of just turned 10. He studied Sam for a moment in the rear view mirror – in spite of Sam's assertion, Sam would always be John's baby, just as Dean would always be his big boy.

John tried a different tack, not wanting to offend his youngest further. "You'd be lonely and bored in the car by yourself, so it's better for Dean to keep you company."

"I don't need Dean." Sam didn't think he'd ever told a bigger lie. Of course I need Dean! What would I do if anything ever happened to him?

Dean listened silently to the conversation, knowing that the outcome would depend on his baby brother's performance.

John paused, momentarily lost for a reply – Sam's statement was the last thing that he had expected.

Sam took advantage of his Dad's hesitation and jumped in.

"If it's safe for me and Dean to stay in the car, why wouldn't it be safe for me to stay on my own?"

Dean struggled to hide a grin – darn, the kid was good!

John couldn't argue with the logic, he just knew he felt better when Sam was safely in Dean's care. On the other hand, he did want to get Dean hunting, and soon, but he had envisioned leaving his youngest in the care of a responsible adult such as Bobby or Pastor Jim, definitely not left on his own.

"I'll think about it," said John gruffly, his mind working overtime, trying to work out the pros and the cons.

Dean finally dared to hope that he would actually get his wish, as he witnessed the uncertainty that was flashing across his father's face.

He wanted to give his brother a thumbs-up in order to congratulate the kid on a job well done, but knew better than to risk tipping his dad off. If John Winchester knew that his sons had conspired against him and deliberately planned this, he would make Dean stay in the car on principle alone.

John turned the Impala off the road and into a wide, tree-lined driveway. Dean sneaked an anxious glance sideways at his father, trying to determine what he was thinking. Will he say yes?

After telling Dean that he would think about it, John Winchester had said nothing further on the subject. He had talked to his boys of course, but about general things, like what they would like to do over the summer.

Now, as they neared their destination, Sam craned his head, trying to see the house through the trees. As the car rounded the final bend, the property finally came into view.

It was large enough to be called a small manor house and had evidently been striking in its heyday. It was built of grey stone and had ivy growing over a large proportion of the stonework, giving it a wild, unkempt look. Scaffolding, which was attached to the left-hand side, marred the image further.

John stopped the car and turned to his eldest. Dean straightened unconsciously in his seat and met his father's gaze steadily.

Sam held his breath, hating himself for hoping against hope that their Dad would say no.

John contemplated Dean for a moment, before turning to Sam. He knew that there was no point in asking Dean if he had changed his mind – his eldest had been begging to be allowed to hunt since he was twelve – but he wanted to make sure that his youngest wasn't regretting his decision.

"Are you sure about this, Sammy? About waiting in the car by yourself? You don't have to do this if you don't want. Dean can stay with you."

Sam had to swallow down the sudden lump in his throat before replying. "Yes," it came out quiet and strained. He took a quick look at his older brother's hopeful expression and forcefully pushed back his own fears. He would do this for Dean!

Sam cleared his throat and spoke again, this time his voice was stronger and he managed to inflect it with a confidence that he did not feel. "Yes, I'm sure, Dad, I'll be fine. Dean should go with you."

"Alright then, let's get this show on the road." John ruffled Sam's hair affectionately before exiting the car and moving to open the trunk.

As soon as John had left, Dean leaned over the front seats and searched Sam's face worriedly. "You sure you're okay with this?"

"Not a baby, Dean!" snorted Sam, covering his anxiety with an eye-roll and punching his older brother on the arm.

"Knock it off, Squirt," he replied, making a half-hearted attempt to swat his little brother who easily dodged. Dean was now grinning from ear to ear. He couldn't believe that after all this time, his greatest wish was finally being fulfilled.

Five minutes later, John had unpacked all the supplies and weapons that he had chosen to take with them.

He turned to Dean, his face deadly serious. "I will only take you in with me on the condition that you agree to follow all orders given without question."

Dean nodded without hesitation. "I will, Dad."

"I want your word, Dean. You must do as I say even if I ask you to do something you don't want to, like leave me and get yourself to safety."

Dean swallowed nervously, he hoped it would never come to that. "You have my word, sir."

John nodded, satisfied. He then proceeded to pour a circle of salt around the entire Impala. Even though the evidence suggested that the spirit couldn't leave the house, he wasn't taking any chances with the safety of his youngest.

"Now, Sam, make sure you stay in the car! We'll get the family out first and then find a way to lay Jack McCaine to rest." John pulled Sam into a quick hug and kissed his cheek as he released him.

"Don't worry, Squirt, we'll be fine," reassured Dean, giving his brother a thumbs-up sign, knowing how much Sam worried when their Dad was away hunting. He was surprised to find his arms suddenly full of baby brother, Sam's arms wrapped tightly around his waist, hugging fiercely. "Be careful!" he whispered.

Dean returned the hug. "Will do," he murmured softly into Sam's floppy chestnut hair.

Sam looked at his watch anxiously for about the hundredth time, then back at the house. What was happening inside? What was taking so long? Are Dad and Dean okay?

Numerous possibilities played themselves out in Sam's head – none of them good. It had been well over an hour since they had emerged with the Blackwell family safe and sound and Sam was certain that even if they hadn't yet succeeded in eliminating the ghost, they would surely have come out to let him know how things were progressing before now. Unless they couldn't. Something's wrong he thought. Finally, he could bear it no longer. He climbed out of the back seat, shut the door behind him and made his way around the car to open the trunk.

Sam surveyed his father's personal armoury, trying to recall everything that he had learned about ghosts. Eventually, he armed himself with a large tub a table salt, a flask of holy water (he was pretty sure that it was demons that were affected by holy water and not ghosts, but figured it wouldn't do any harm either) and an iron crowbar.

Then he made his way cautiously up the wooden porch steps and pushed open the heavy front door, which was held ajar by a length of iron piping, that his father had placed there. It was there that he hesitated, listening intently for any sounds from inside. Silence greeted him. Sam could feel his heart hammering in his chest like a caged wild bird trying to escape. His concern for his father and brother overcame his fear and after taking a few deep breaths to calm himself, he entered the house.

To his relief, he found Dean, apparently unharmed, in the kitchen, pouring kerosene from a large container onto the floor.

"Sammy?" exclaimed Dean, a look of complete horror on his face at the sight of his younger brother. "You can't be in here!"

"Where's Dad?" asked Sam, stepping over a puddle of the flammable liquid.

"The spirit separated us. Dad's trapped upstairs in the main bedroom. He's inside a circle of salt though, so he's safe for now."

Sam heaved a sigh of relief, but then realised the implications – the plan was obviously to burn the whole place down, but that would mean needing to free their father first. How on earth were they to do that?

"I'll help," said Sam, picking up another container of kerosene from the table.

"No! You've gotta go back to the car. Now! It's not safe in here."

Sam snorted. "Then it's not safe for you either. Anyway, you got a plan for rescuing Dad? 'Cause if not, you might need my help."

"Sammy…"

Sam cut him off. "No, Dean, I'm staying!"

Dean gave in. He didn't have time for this - Sam was incredibly stubborn and Dean knew that the only way to get the kid out now would be to forcibly remove him. "Okay Sam, but you've gotta promise to stay close to me and do as I say. That a deal?"

"I promise," Sam agreed easily. He never felt safer than when he was at his big brother's side.

The boys laid a trail of kerosene down the hall and into the sitting room. Dean shivered at the sudden drop in temperature. All his senses screamed at him and he looked around frantically for the threat, knowing that the spirit was near. He opened his mouth to warn Sam, who was on the other side of the room, but his voice died in his throat. A couple of feet behind his younger brother, the spirit was quickly materialising out of thin air. Sam was facing the other way, totally oblivious to the danger. Close to panic, Dean dropped the kerosene and hoisted the shotgun off his shoulder in a single fluid movement. The spirit of Jack McCaine lunged for Sam, just as Dean squeezed the trigger. Dean grunted involuntarily at the recoil of the gun into his shoulder. The spirit vanished in an explosion of rock salt. Sam turned wide-eyed to look at his brother, then behind himself, to where Dean had obviously aimed.

"Was it…?" He didn't finish his sentence.

Dean nodded, not trusting himself to speak. He was completely shaken up – what would he have done if the spirit had hurt Sammy?

Dean picked up the kerosene container, which amazingly had landed upright, and made his way over to his brother on the other side of the room. He was determined to stick to Sam's side like glue, there would be no more separating, even if they were in the same room.

They finished downstairs and proceeded up the stairs, leaving a liquid trail behind them.

"Dad's in there," said Dean, nodding to a closed wooden door at the end of the long hallway, "we think that it was his and his wife's bedroom."

Sam immediately started towards the room, but Dean grabbed his arm and held him back. Sam tried to shake him off, but Dean's grip just tightened.

"We've gotta get Dad!"

"Soon," placated Dean. "Jack won't let anyone near the door." He paused for a moment and sighed. "Trust me on this, kiddo, I tried".

Sam stopped struggling and visibly blanched. "Then how….?"

"Don't worry, I'll think of something." Now that Dean was certain that his sibling wouldn't try charging off to the rescue, he released his hold on him. "If we finish doing the other rooms on this floor first, then once we've figured out how to free Dad, we'll be able to just get the hell outa here."

Sam agreed, worriedly casting another look at the door which held his father prisoner.

They left a trail of kerosene in the bathroom and what was evidently a nursery without incident. It was when they stepped back into the hallway that Dean noticed the temperature drop suddenly again. Dean cursed, a word which, if his father had been present to hear it, would have most certainly earned him a sharp slap to the back of the head. Sam was immediately on the alert. After quickly scanning the area and perceiving no obvious threat, he cast a puzzled look at his older brother.

"Dean?" he questioned.

"Can you feel the temperature, Sammy?" asked Dean, his posture tense and alert. Sam nodded. "That means the spirit's here, even though we can't see it, so we gotta be careful."

"Can it still manipulate things if it's invisible? Poltergeists can"

Dean paused, momentarily sidetracked by his little brother's choice of vocabulary. Manipulate? What kind of 10 year old used the word 'manipulate'? Had the kid swallowed a dictionary for breakfast?

Dean realised that Sam was looking at him expectantly and gave himself a mental shake. "Unfortunately yeah, lil bro, some ex-human beings can move things without needing to materialise first. Of course, that makes our job a whole lot harder…."

They moved on to the bedrooms next, leaving a trail of kerosene in the first one without anything out of the ordinary occurring. The temperature however, remained unnaturally low and Dean's nerves were stretched taught as he constantly surveyed their surroundings. They had just entered the second bedroom when suddenly, out of nowhere, Jack appeared and lunged for Sam. Dean didn't think, he just reacted and threw himself between Sam and the reaching spirit. Dean felt the spirit grip his upper arms with bruising strength and the next moment, he was flung hard against the bedroom wall. He fell to the floor, dazed and in pain, dimly aware that Jack was now advancing on him. He fumbled to get his shotgun up, but realised with sickening dread that he'd never manage it in time. The next moment, with an anguished shriek, the spirit vanished and Dean found himself sprinkled with salt. Sam was standing, white-faced, with another handful of salt ready in one hand and the tub he'd poured it from in the other.

"You okay, Dean?"

Dean slowly pushed himself up to a sitting position, biting back a groan. The left side of his body which had collided with the wall, felt like someone had pounded it with a hammer. He wasn't about to let his brother know that however. Dean had heard the tremor in Sam's voice and was quick to reassure him.

"I'm fine. You did good, kid".

Sam watched his brother sceptically – Dean said he was alright, but he noted with concern the flash of pain which registered briefly in Dean's eyes as he stood.

"Come on, kiddo, the quicker we do this, the quicker we can get out of here." Dean did his best to sound confident and nonchalant, when the truth of the matter was that he had no idea how to go about rescuing their father.

The next room that they entered was evidently a study. A beautiful oak antique bookcase lined one wall, while a large desk and filing cabinet took up the space by the window. The two boys began to leave a trail of kerosene, as they had in the other rooms.

Out of the corner of his eye, Dean caught a movement. It took a fraction of a second for his brain to compute the significance and then he reacted instinctively, the long, arduous hours of training under his father's watchful eye coming thankfully to the fore. Dean bodily flung himself at Sam, throwing them both to the floor, just as the solid oak bookcase crashed to the ground where they had both been standing only a moment ago. Dean's body protectively covered his little brother's. He had tensed, worried that he had not moved quickly or decisively enough and half-expected the bookcase to crash down on top of them. Heaving a sigh of relief at their lucky escape, Dean pushed himself up on his elbows, preparing to roll off his younger sibling.

"Sam, you okay?" he queried.

When there was no response, Dean looked down worriedly at his brother's face. Sam had his eyes squeezed tightly shut and he was taking shallow, quick breaths.

Dean felt the panic rise in his throat. "Sammy! Where are you hurt?"

On hearing the fear in his brother's voice, Sam's warm, hazel eyes popped open and he looked up at the scared face of his older brother.

"N-n-not…..h-h-hurt…just….w-winded," he managed to gasp.

Sam struggled to sit up and Dean helped him, leaning the younger boy's now heaving frame against his side while the 10-year-old struggled to regulate his breathing. Satisfied that Sam wasn't seriously injured, Dean immediately reverted to hunter mode, all senses alert. He brought the shotgun up, ready to defend their vulnerable position on the floor if necessary.

A few minutes later Sam piped up. "I'm good now, Dean."

To Dean, his brother still sounded slightly breathless and he cast a quick apologetic look at him. "Yeah, Sammy, I'm really sorry about that."

"It's not your fault…and anyway, it sure beats being squashed by a bookcase!"

"Really? I thought you liked books, kiddo," Dean teased, as usual hiding his anxiety behind humour.

Sam rolled his eyes.

The boys re-entered the hallway minus their kerosene cans – one was now entombed beneath the bookcase and the other lying on its side in the study with its contents all over the floor.

Dean paused, gazing down the corridor to the closed door at the end.

"How are we going to get Dad?" asked Sam in a small voice.

"I'm thinking, Tiger. Casper has set up some kind of freakin' barrier that I can't get through. He's good at blocking doors and stuff…that's why Dad had to prop both the front and back doors open with iron…"

"So you think iron could get through?" questioned Sam, staring at his crowbar thoughtfully.

"I suppose so. Hey, you aren't really some kind of freaky iron robot are you? That'd be useful!"

"Ha ha, very funny, Dean"

"I thought it was," he smirked, "well, I'm right on one count 'cause you're definitely a freak."

Dean moved cautiously up the hallway keeping one hand outstretched in front of him. He remained constantly vigilant and ensured that he was aware of Sam's position beside him at all times. Three quarters of the way along the corridor, Dean halted.

"It's here, Sammy. Can you feel it?"

The younger boy tentatively reached out and jerked his hand back in shock when his fingers hit an invisible wall.

"How's it doing that?" he questioned, hesitantly reaching out again.

Dean shook his head in amusement – only Sammy would be curious about the whys and hows in a situation such as this. A moment later, Dean's amusement vanished as the reality of their predicament surfaced in his mind once more. How the heck were they going to free their father when they couldn't get anywhere near him?

A movement from Sam caught Dean's attention. His little brother had lifted his crowbar and was preparing to try and move it through the invisible barrier.

Dean held his breath – what would happen? The iron rod slid straight through, like a hot knife through butter, but as soon as Sam's hand reached the barrier, the boy's movement was abruptly halted.

"You were right, Dean, iron can go through. It's a pity we really can't cover ourselves with iron."

Dean sighed inwardly and didn't reply. He was at a total loss of what to do. He contemplated Sam's pale, anxious face for a moment. The kid was looking at him in anticipation, obviously expecting his trusted big brother to come up with a solution to the problem. Sam was his responsibility dammit! But in this instance, Dean felt he was destined to let him down and their father as well.

Think Winchester! He admonished himself, glancing down for a moment in defeat. His eye caught the flask hanging off Sam's shoulder and the wheels in Dean's head suddenly started to turn. They couldn't cover themselves in iron, but maybe they could cover themselves in something that might be just as effective?

"Err….Sammy, why exactly did you bring the flask of holy water? You do realise that we're hunting a spirit not a demon, right?" he teased, reaching out and snagging the flask's strap off the kid's shoulder.

Sam blushed and looked down sheepishly. "I just wasn't a hundred per cent sure," he mumbled.

Dean placed two fingers under the small boy's chin and tilted his head up to make him look at him. Sam was taken aback by the unexpected grin on his older brother's face.

"You are brilliant, little brother!" Dean clapped him on the back. "Your forethought might have just saved the day!"

Sam stared at his brother uncomprehendingly. Okaaaaaay, Dean had finally lost it!

Dean held out his hand. "Salt." When Sam didn't move, Dean simply reached over and removed the tub of table salt from his jacket pocket.

Taking a look at his bemused sibling as he began to unscrew the lid of the flask, Dean began to explain, "We can't cover ourselves in iron, but salt works against spirits too. I know salt won't stick, but if we mix it with water…."

"Wow, Dean, you're so clever!" interrupted Sam, the big brother hero worship lighting up his eyes.

"Don't thank me yet, kiddo, it mightn't even work and if it does, it'll be thanks to you for bringing the stuff, not me," replied Dean, finally succeeding in uncapping the flask and tipping the entire contents of the salt container into it.

"I hope it does work," murmured Sam, unconsciously hugging himself. The little boy was terrified that their attempts would be thwarted and that they wouldn't be able to rescue their dad.

Dean shook the flask violently, trying to make the salt dissolve faster.

"It might be saturated," suggested Sam, when two minutes later there were still salt particles evident in the solution.

Saturated? Huh? Thought Dean and then dimly remembered science lessons slowly surfaced. Oh, yeah, I remember what that means, but how the heck does Sam know?

"Maybe," conceded Dean, "It'll have to do. Ready for your shower, Squirt?"

"Not really," muttered Sam.

"Close your eyes," instructed Dean, not wanting to get the solution in the kid's eyes, although he wasn't sure if it would do any harm or not - tears had salt in them didn't they?

"Don't you need me to keep watch?"

"Uh-uh." Dean shook his head. "I got it covered."

Sam obediently closed his eyes while his brother liberally doused his hair and splashed the salt water on his clothes, with one hand, keeping his shotgun up with the other. Unbeknownst to Sam, Dean used three quarters of the solution on his younger brother, saving only a quarter for himself, wanting the youngster to have the strongest protection possible. If this ridiculous plan even works that is.

"Right, you're all done," said Dean, beginning to pour the solution on himself.

Sam opened his eyes and pushed his dripping bangs back out of his face, before he realised what Dean was doing.

"Hey, let me help. You might get it in your eyes."

"Nah, I'm good," replied Dean, sidestepping neatly out of the way when Sam made a grab for the flask. There was no way Dean was going to close his eyes for even a second and risk something happening to his brother.

Dean hung the now empty flask over his shoulder and looked at his brother.

"You ready?"

Sam just nodded.

Dean tentatively stepped forward, testing the invisible barrier that had held him back before. He sighed in relief when he was able to move past it freely. His relief was short-lived however, as an ear-splitting shriek echoed through the house. Jack obviously wasn't impressed with this turn of events! A second later, the spirit appeared behind Sam. Dean shifted his shotgun around and opened his mouth to warn his brother. The warning proved unnecessary, as Sam spotted the danger and swung his crowbar in a wide arc, slicing the spirit right through its torso. Jack vanished immediately. The spirit didn't give them time to recover however, as it reappeared almost immediately, so close to the boys, that it was almost touching them.

Panic rose in Dean's throat, as he realised that from this angle, he couldn't shoot the spirit without shooting his brother full of rock salt. Sam found himself in the same predicament – if he swung at the spirit with his crowbar, he would most certainly end up clobbering Dean with it as well. That hesitation was all it took and Jack reached quickly for Dean, who he perceived to be the greater threat. Sam screamed, watching helplessly, before making a decision. The youngster lifted his crowbar – hoping that he was right and that if he was careful, the crowbar would inflict less damage on his brother than the angered spirit. Before he could swing it however, Jack's hands made contact with Dean's neck, circling it tightly. As soon as the spirit connected with Dean's damp skin, it shrieked as if in pain and disappeared. This time, it did not reappear.

"I guess the salt water works, huh?" Dean turned towards his younger brother, taking in his pale, drawn face. Sam was also biting his lower lip, a sure sign that he was trying hard not to cry.

"It's okay, kiddo," murmured Dean gently.

"I thought….I thought you were…." Sam paused, unable to continue. He took a deep breath, held it and counted slowly as he released it. He repeated the exercise a few times. It was a calming technique that their father had taught them to control their emotions.

"You can't get rid of me that easily you know." Dean was desperate to reassure his shaken brother.

Sam nodded and tried to smile, searching his brother's face with his stricken hazel eyes, while continuing his deliberate slow breathing.

"Dean is that you? Are you all right?" came John Winchester's panicked voice. He had heard the scream and it had made his heart stop.

"Yeah, we're fine, Dad. Don't worry. We've found a way to get to the bedroom".

John's heart started up again. Thank heaven Dean was okay! Then it hit him – Dean had said we. John shook his head in denial. No! It couldn't be! He couldn't bear the thought of both of his sons in danger.

"Dean, is Sam with you?" John silently prayed the reply would be negative.

"Uh…yeah."

"Keep him with you!"

"I will." Dean couldn't help rolling his eyes. As if I wouldn't. Looking after Sam had been second nature to him since he was four. "Jack's pretty active, but we've covered ourselves in salt water which seems to be holding him off."

Salt water? John paused, impressed with the ingenuity of it. Then John turned back and surveyed the door. Dean had found a way to solve his problem and now John was more determined than ever to solve his own.

He shook his head and tested the door handle once more – the door still wouldn't budge. He sighed in frustration. His boys needed him and right now he was as useful as a peashooter against an elephant!

John's mind wandered to the events of the day that had led up to this point as he pondered the problem:

Jim had warned him that this spirit liked to trap its victims, keeping them prisoner so that it could toy with them first. So upon reaching the property, he had been surprised to find the front door unlocked. He had knocked loudly, but had gotten no response.

"Anyone here?" he had called loudly and from somewhere inside, he had heard an answering scream that sounded like "Help us!"

Ordering Dean to stay close, he had entered the house, freeing up their escape route by holding the door ajar with a piece of iron piping.

They had quickly found the petrified Blackwell family in one of the sitting rooms. The spirit was actually standing, blocking the doorway, seemingly enjoying and feeding off the terror that it was inducing. John had merely disintegrated it by shooting it full of rock-salt.

A few hurried explanations later and he had successfully managed to herd the shocked family out to their car and had heaved a sigh of relief as they drove safely away. Dean had of course waved to Sam in the backseat of the Impala before they had re-entered the house.

They had searched the ground floor fruitlessly. The property had obviously been totally gutted when it was refurbished and very few of the original features remained. They then cautiously climbed the stairs to the first floor. John felt that as downstairs had been a bust, their next best bet would be the dead couple's bedroom. On reaching the landing, the temperature had immediately dropped and the spirit had materialised a few seconds later behind them at the top of the staircase. It was John's shot that dispersed the spirit, but Dean's shot had echoed only a fraction of a second later than his own. John had scrutinised his eldest with concern to determine what effect the hunt was having o the boy. He was relieved to see that Dean appeared totally focussed on the task at hand, but also calm.

They had made a perfunctionary quick check of each room that they came to in order to ascertain if it could be the master bedroom. John ensured that he entered each room first, in case there was any danger lurking inside and it had been this protective gesture that had been his undoing. As soon as he had stepped through the doorway of what was evidently the main bedroom (typically the last one they came to at the end of the long hallway), the door had slammed shut behind him, leaving Dean behind in the corridor.

Dean had banged frantically on the closed door until John had ordered him to stay sharp. The youngster had then taken up a position with his back to the wall, where he could see danger approaching from all angles. John had then tried firing at the lock and karate kicking the door repeatedly just above the handle, all to no avail.

John cursed himself. How could he have let this happen? Dean was now alone and unprotected.

Dean, slightly panicked at this turn of events, but trusting that his father would find a way out of this situation, had felt a sudden overwhelming urge to check on Sammy. Whenever they had entered a room which had a window that faced the driveway, he had surreptitiously checked on the kid. So Dean had slipped guardedly a short way down the hallway, keeping his back to the wall and his senses alert, until he reached a window. A quick look out reassured him that his brother was still safe and sound in the backseat. It was then, when Dean had attempted to return to the bedroom door, that he had found that an invisible barrier had been put up behind him, blocking the way.

On learning of this new turn of events, John had quickly come up with a new plan. He had surmised that keeping the door shut and maintaining the barrier outside would weaken the spirit considerably, preventing it from physically materialising. With this in mind, he had ordered Dean to implement Plan B, which was to destroy the whole house, by placing kerosene in all the rooms. John was sure that he would find a way out of this mess before Dean completed his task. He was careful however to instruct Dean to use his common sense and to leave the property if the need should arise.

When a short while later, John had heard the shotgun go off, he had been frantic. He knew immediately that he had miscalculated and that the spirit must be phenomenally strong – Dean wouldn't fire at nothing! John had called for his son, but as the shot had come from downstairs, he doubted that Dean could hear him. Then a short while later he had heard an almighty crash from somewhere on this level. John had silently offered up a prayer that Dean was okay.

"Come on. We get Dad and then we get outa here." Dean shoved his brother in front of him and continued moving towards the door that held their father prisoner.

Suddenly, something hard hit Dean in the back. Dean whirled, bringing his shotgun around in one seamless movement. He was immediately struck again, this time in the chest.

"Freaking great!" muttered Dean, looking down at the two books that had hit him.

"What?" asked Sam, panicked, trying to move around Dean to see what was happening. Dean shoved Sam back behind him, none too gently, just as another book came sailing through the air towards them. It fell short.

"Casper's now having a temper tantrum and has started throwing things," he explained, blocking an oncoming pencil-case with his forearm. Jack was evidently emptying the contents of the study. "We keep going."

Dean turned back, making sure that Sam's body was completely shielded by his own from the flying missiles and started determinedly down the corridor again. Luckily, the spirit's aim didn't appear that good and the majority of objects did not make contact with their intended target.

Sam, hearing another muffled grunt of pain as one of the objects did make contact, looked up at his brother. "You need a break, let me go at the back for a bit."

Dean looked down at Sam's earnest upturned face in disbelief. "Not gonna happen, little brother."

"But…"

"No buts!"

Sam recognised Dean's tone and gave in, knowing it was futile to argue. Instead, he winced in sympathy as yet another object found its mark.

When they finally reached the solid wooden bedroom door, the onslaught ceased.

"Bet he realised his tactics weren't working. It takes more than a few flying books to stop a Winchester!" muttered Dean, smiling grimly and giving his brother a thumbs up sign.

Sam looked worriedly up at Dean, knowing that his brother had received a number of hits from the hurled objects. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, Sammy, I'm good." Dean reached out and thumped on the door with his fist. "We're outside now, Dad. What do you want us to do?"

"Dean, I'm going to shoot the hinges. It's worth a try. Maybe the spirit is focussing on the locking mechanism. Get yourself and your brother safe!"

Dean immediately pushed Sam back against the opposite wall, stepped quickly to stand next to him and braced the younger boy by placing his arm across his chest.

Sam pushed against his brother's restraint. "You don't have to do that. I'm not stupid you know. I'm not gonna stand in the line of fire."

Dean ignored Sam's protests and continued to pin his brother against the wall.

"Okay, Dad," he called.

Inside the room, John raised his gun and fired two shots in rapid succession at each hinge. Then he pulled back and kicked the door with all his strength, this time at the other side from his fruitless previous attempts. The door creaked in protest and then gave way under the onslaught, falling outwards into the hallway.

Dean and Sam rushed into the room, scrambling frantically across the fallen door. Sam threw his arms around his father's middle, hugging tightly. John placed a reassuring arm around his youngest's shoulders, keeping his shotgun at the ready with his other and anxiously searched his eldest's face, seeking reassurance himself that Dean had been telling the truth when he had said that they were unhurt. What he saw there, encouraged John as to the physical well-being of his children, but as to their psychological well-being after the events of this day, he was extremely concerned.

"Report, Dean."

Dean immediately slipped into soldier mode. "We've put kerosene in most of the rooms, sir. Jack kept popping up though, and he can materialise really fast."

John nodded, knowing that he needed to get them all out of there and quickly! He gently pushed Sam away from him and studied his face for a moment, taking in his bedraggled appearance. Sam's longish, brown hair was plastered to his head in some places and clumped together in large tangles in others as a result of the dousing with salt water. Dean's hair, being shorter, simply looked wet. His eyes fell on the iron crowbar gripped tightly in Sam's hand and he nodded in approval.

"We move out now!" John ordered, contradicting his own words by pausing to pull Dean into a brief one-armed hug, before quickly releasing him and starting to move towards the doorway. Dean was taken by surprise, not because his father had hugged him, but because he had done so now, in light of the danger of their present predicament.

John held his shotgun at the ready with one arm and took hold of Sam's hand with the other. "Stay with me and stay alert!" he ordered, before cautiously entering the hallway, towing his youngest with him.

He looked at all the debris lying around and turned to Dean, who was following closely behind, with raised eyebrows.

"Err….Yeah, Jack wasn't too impressed that he couldn't get us 'cause of the salt water, so he hurled a few things at us instead."

John shook his head – it was a miracle that his boys weren't seriously hurt, though he now suspected that they were most likely sporting some horrific bruises. He desperately needed to get them safely out of there.

They made it to the top of the stairs without incident. John paused, knowing that the steps put them in an extremely vulnerable position – their footing could easily be compromised, resulting in a tumble head-first down the stairwell. However, there was no other way to get out.

"Stay sharp, Dean" ordered John unnecessarily, as all of Dean's senses were already on high alert.

They were only a quarter of the way down, when Jack materialised at the foot of the stairs. John immediately fired his shotgun, his aim immaculate, even one-handed. The spirit had learned from its previous encounters however and immediately dematerialised, causing the salt from the shotgun to harmlessly pepper and ruin the newly-laid wallpaper. Jack re-materialised almost immediately a couple of feet to the left. After firing two more shots unsuccessfully, John ceased firing – all he was succeeding in doing was wasting precious ammo. The spirit, not prepared to be caught unawares, continued its spectral dance of constantly appearing and vanishing at different points at the base of the stairway.

John considered his options. To get to safety, they had to descend the stairs, which would mean having to move towards the spirit. He briefly considered continuing to shoot at random, hoping that by some chance he would aim at the same spot that the ghost chose to materialise in. He quickly dismissed this idea, considering the odds too high.

"Dad?" came a small, scared voice from behind him. John ignored Sam and continued to ponder various courses of action, keeping his eyes glued to the threat at the bottom of the stairs.

Dean however, immediately, moved to reassure his brother. "Shhh, Sammy, it's okay. Dad'll get us outa here." From Dean's position, a few steps higher up than his father, he was able to see over his father's broad shoulder and watch Jack's antics. Although he risked an occasional glance at what was occurring below, Dean remained focussed on the top of the stairway, knowing that his duty was as rearguard. A loud, scraping noise suddenly caught his attention.

"Dean?" John had heard the sound too, but didn't take his eyes of the spirit below, fearing it was a deliberate distraction technique.

"Bookcase coming!" yelled Dean, incredulously taking in the oak bookcase that had nearly flattened him and Sam earlier, which was now sailing quickly through the air. The scraping noise had obviously been caused as it emerged through the study doorway.

John glanced back, taking in the situation and its repercussions in an instant. "Run!" he urged taking off at a sprint down the rest of the stairway. There was a slim chance that they could avoid the spirit at the bottom, but there would be no avoiding the bookcase if they stayed where they were. John still held Sam's hand and the boy would have fallen at the speed forced upon him, if his father hadn't physically yanked him back upright. Upon nearing the bottom, he fired three shots in quick succession, varying his aim slightly each time, hoping to at least distract the spirit. As soon as his feet hit the hallway floor, John threw himself to the side, yanking Sam with him, twisting his body mid-air, so that he would cushion the boy's fall. A second later an explosive splintering sound echoed through the building as the bookcase crashed to the ground floor.

Dean! John's heart screamed. Oh please, God, let him be okay. His plea was also a prayer. How far had he been behind them? He had to have made it! He just had to! John frantically tried to sit up to check for his eldest, which was no easy feat with Sam sprawled across his chest. Time seemed to be running in slow motion.

"Dean?" John urgently called, managing to finally sit up, his movements having relocated Sam to lying across his lap. His hunter instincts were automatic, as he already had the shotgun returned to firing position.

"Here, Dad," came the most welcome voice in the world, "You and Sammy okay?"

John finally located his eldest on the other side of the wreckage – Dean was also struggling to sit up, having thrown himself in the opposite direction from his father and brother. "Yeah, we're fine. You?" Dean nodded.

Abruptly, the spirit of Jack McCaine appeared and incorrectly assuming that their fallen position on the floor rendered the Winchesters effectively neutered, advanced towards John. Two rounds of rock salt hit at the same moment.

"Take that you moron!" muttered Dean furiously, "Thought you'd have another go seeing as you failed to crush us the first time did you? No Winchester is getting taken out with a bookcase!"

John paled inwardly. Failed to crush us the first time? Just what had the spirit done to his boys while he was locked, powerless to help, in that damn room?

Sam finally gained a sitting position himself, his previous attempts having been unintentionally thwarted by his father's frantic movements beneath him.

John was up and standing in a split second, hauling his youngest with him. Dean was only a fraction of a second slower at scrambling to his feet. They immediately took up a fighting stance, with Sam sandwiched securely between them. John weighed up the options – front door or back door? To get to the front, they would have to go through some kind of fancy parlour and enter another hallway before getting to the door. The back door was much closer, but it would mean going through the kitchen, which would undoubtedly contain numerous sharp implements that could easily be hurled in their direction. Deciding that the kitchen was too risky, John made his choice. "We head for the front door. Dean, you keep tabs on the rear again."

"What should I do?" asked Sam, looking up at his father expectantly, his expressive, scared eyes twisting twin daggers into John's heart.

You stay safe! thought John. He took Sam's hand again and began cautiously heading towards the parlour. "You help me keep watch on what's ahead okay, Sammy?" No point in having the kid trying to keep watch both ways and ending up tripping over his own feet. John knew that holding Sam's hand would not logically improve his safety in any way, he just felt better feeling the warm, small hand nestled in his own.

As soon as they entered the parlour, the temperature dropped. John braced himself against the inevitable – it had been too much to hope for that the rest of their escape would be unhindered. He watched in horror, as an ornate chest of drawers lunged at them. John's hunter brain calculated the distance and speed of the object in a split second and he knew instantly that there was no time to avoid it. The best he could do, was save his youngest. John physically picked the kid up and threw him to the side, just as the chest of drawers made bone-jarring contact with him and Dean. A second later, the piece of furniture slammed them both into the wall. Sam landed hard on his hands and knees with a yelp of pain, but had no thoughts for himself, quickly scrambling to his feet, intending to go to the aid of his father and brother.

John and Dean had both been winded by the impact. Dean, being considerably shorter than his father, had also taken the brunt of the blow to his ribcage, making the effort of trying to regain his breath painful. John turned his head from his pinned position in order to check on his eldest. Dean saw his concern and managed to gasp out, "I'm good, just b-bruised my ribs a l-l-little, that's all. You okay, Dad?"

John ignored the query about his own health and turned to Sam, who had grabbed hold of the corner of the chest of drawers and was trying unsuccessfully to pull it back.

"Sam, leave it! Keep alert!"

Sam nodded and turned around to survey the room, realising that his family were sitting ducks, pinned as they were, crowbar at the ready.

A moment later, Dean appeared at his side, shotgun in position. Out of the corner of his eye, Sam could see Dean's chest heaving painfully as he tried to recover from the winding.

Dean had found that he had been able to slide out from behind the chest of drawers, as his slim fourteen-year-old frame was a lot narrower than his father's adult, muscular one. John however, remained firmly trapped, although he had managed to manoeuvre his shotgun into a makeshift firing position. Using brute force had proved useless. Even with John's immense strength, the chest of drawers did not move even an inch. While John's marine-trained brain analytically considered the options, he remained constantly vigilant, fearing for the safety of his sons should the spirit choose to appear.

"Dean!" yelled Sam suddenly, pointing towards the parlour window. He had noticed the shimmering in the air indicative of a materialising spirit. Without hesitation, Dean swung his shotgun round and fired. His aim was true and the blast of rock salt dispersed the spirit, before it had a chance to fully form. John too had striven to fire his weapon, but his movements were severely hampered by his pinned position and he managed to get his shotgun round, just as Dean pulled the trigger. John was constantly amazed by Dean's accuracy during target practice training exercises, especially as he excelled with a wide variety of firearms, not just a particular one.

"Good shooting, Son!"

Dean felt warmed by his father's praise despite the dire situation that they were in.

A possible solution came to John, but he was reluctant to try it, as it would mean his son's would be unprotected for a couple of seconds. A couple of seconds which could result in serious injury or even loss of life. John surmised that if the chest of drawers could be tipped over, he would be free to climb over it. However, he himself did not have any leverage, pinned to the wall, as he was, so he would need the boys to help. He would also need to put down his shotgun in order to use both hands.

Seeing no other solution, John quickly explained the plan, emphasizing that they would probably only get one shot and needed to make the most of it by exerting the force at the same time. John synchronised the exercise by counting. On 1 the boys turned and took hold of a corner each. On two, John dropped his shotgun, immediately hating the vulnerability this placed on them. On 3, they exerted pressure – Sam and Dean pulling with all their strength and John pushing, able only to use a limited amount of his immense strength due to the limitations of movement imposed on his arms.

They were rewarded by the loud crash as the heavy chest of drawers toppled over. Both boys had jumped safely to the side as their father had instructed, as soon as they felt the furniture give way.

"Sam! Down!"

Sam dropped into an immediate crouch – a manoeuvre practiced many times during training sessions – as his father fired at something that he couldn't see. Had Sam still been standing, he would have gotten a face full of rock salt. Dean looked at his Dad, a look akin to awe on his face, as John quickly climbed over the fallen, conquered obstacle. How had he managed to get his gun up that quickly? And still aim that accurately? His Dad never ceased to amaze him. Dean just hoped that one day he would be even half as good a hunter as his father.

They safely made it into the entrance hall, before Jack made one last ditch attempt to prevent them from leaving. A large, ornate metal coat-stand came flying at them. John quickly positioned himself protectively in front of his children. He grunted in pain as it collided with him, knocking him off his feet and pinning him beneath it. A moment later Jack materialised a few feet away.

Dean fired on the spirit, dispersing it, while Sam started immediately towards their fallen father.

"Dean! Get yourself and Sam out of here now!" It was an order.

Dean grabbed Sam's hand and started towing him unceremoniously towards the front door. The youngster resisted, pulling back sharply. "We can't leave Dad…"

Dean tightened his grip. "Sam Winchester! Move your backside now, before I kick it!"

After a moment's hesitation, Sam gave in and meekly followed. He was no match for his brother's strength and he knew it. Dean could easily drag him forcibly from the house and would no doubt even physically carry him out if necessary. Dean would never disobey their father.

This time, Sam's protest was a wretched plea. "But Dean….Dad?"

Dean's heart wrenched at the raw emotion in Sam's voice, but he didn't release his vice-like grip on his little brother's hand, not prepared to chance his wilful sibling breaking free and running back to their father, although the fight seemed to have gone out of him.

"It's okay, Sammy. Trust me. Dad can take care of himself. He'll be fine."

Sam wished he had the unwavering faith in their father that Dean had. Now that Sam knew about the world of hunting, he experienced real fear every time their Dad was away. Fear that something would happen to him. It wasn't that Sam doubted their father's strength, knowledge or abilities in any way - he just felt that Dean underestimated the threat of the things that John Winchester faced.

Once safely out on the lawn, Dean turned back, anxiously scanning the front door. He kept tight hold of Sam's hand, in case the kid got any hare-brained ideas about rushing back in. He glanced down at Sam, noting the way the boy was chewing his bottom lip and the tears shining in his eyes.

"It's gonna be okay, Sammy, I promise. You trust your big brother don't you?"

Sam nodded without hesitation. "Course I trust you, Dean, just what if…"

The rest of what Sam was going to say was lost as John Winchester stumbled through the doorway and down the porch steps.

"Dad!" yelled Dean and both boys flew to him, flinging their arms around him. John returned the hug, holding them close and never wanting to let them go.

Now that John was finally certain of his family's safety, he felt the relief wash over him. He couldn't help but feel that in some way he had failed. Dean's first hunt was supposed to have been an easy, non-threatening affair. Dean was supposed to have remained safely by John's side throughout and under his guidance at all times, not left to fend for himself in a haunted house with a spirit that turned out to be a helluva lot stronger than anticipated! John glanced down at his eldest at his side to gauge how the kid was coping. He was both surprised and pleased at how well the youngster had handled himself in a crisis situation. Dean was watching the house burn, with his hands deep in his pockets and a thoughtful expression on his face, but appeared calm. John had half-expected the kid to be a tearful, shaking wreck in the aftermath of what had happened. He glanced to his other side and focussed on Sam. John felt a knot form in his stomach at the thought of his baby having been at the mercy of Jack McCaine. Sam was evidently not coping as well as his older brother. The kid looked visibly shook up. Pale-faced, he was standing with his arms wrapped protectively around himself, his expressive hazel eyes were wide and watery, as he too watched the flames dancing through the windows. John silently sighed before turning to his youngest, wishing the rebuke could wait until the boy was more emotionally stable.

"Samuel Winchester!" he barked.

The tone of his father's voice as well as the use of his full name made Sam turn startled, towards the man. Dean too turned and looked questioningly at his father's face. The stern frown he saw there, told Dean that his kid brother was most definitely in trouble.

"Dad…" Dean began.

"Quiet, Dean!" Dean subsided immediately, recognising an order when he heard it.

John turned back to Sam, put his hands on the young boy's shoulders and gave him a sharp shake. "You were told to stay in the car!"

"I'm sorry," mumbled Sam, "I was worried…"

John administered a solitary, sharp, stinging slap to the boy's buttocks.

"I don't care how worried you were. When I give you an order, you obey it – straight away and without question! Understood? If I give an order it's for a darn good reason. What you did was reckless! I've taught you better than that! You've let me down. You could have gotten yourself seriously hurt. And what about Dean? He could have ended up needing to rescue two people, not one, which could have put him in even more danger."

Sam's breath hitched and the tears that he had been fighting finally won and overflowed. He had survived the fear of the last couple of hours and survived the overwhelming concern for the welfare of his family, only to have his father's sound scolding be the straw that broke the camel's back. Sam was too young to understand the effects of an adrenaline rush and now that it was fading from his system, the youngster had been left emotionally and physically drained.

Sam looked down at his feet, one small hand rubbing his stinging backside, his shoulders shaking slightly. The sight of his youngest crying, melted John's heart. It took all of his strength not to cave and take the boy into his arms to comfort him. He gave himself a mental shake and admonished himself. No, this is a lesson that Sammy needs to learn. He could have been killed today! The unimaginable horror of losing his baby clawed and tore at his insides, causing John to unconsciously clench his fists and grit his teeth at the intensity of it. He took a few deep breaths to get his emotions under control, before completing the reprimand.

"Sam, look at me," John's voice was stern. It was an order, not a request. He gave the boy another sharp shake.

Sam raised his head, fresh tears spilling down his cheeks and his lower lip trembling.

"You're incredibly lucky that I'm not giving you a good spanking this time, but if you ever disobey a direct order again, you will go straight over my knee. Understood?"

Sam nodded. "Yes, sir" came the sniffled response.

Dean glanced at Sam huddled in the back seat of the Impala and then back at his father.

"Dad, Sam did real good in there. I know he's only a little kid, but he kept his head and remembered everything you've taught him. I'm sure you'd have been dead proud if you'd seen him."

"I am proud of him, Dean. Immensely so."

"But…." Dean stopped, confused, thinking of the severe telling off and smack that his sibling had just been given. "I don't understand."

John sighed and wearily passed his hand over his eyes, before trying to explain. "Okay Dean, answer me this…was it safe for Sammy to be in that house?"

"No, I wanted him to go back to the car, but he wouldn't listen."

John nodded. "And could Sammy have gotten hurt by being there?"

It was Dean's turn to nod. "Yeah, he could've been. He could even have been…" Dean stopped, unable to even voice the horrific possibility.

John saw the conflicting emotions on his eldest son's face and reached out to squeeze his shoulder reassuringly. "Thank heaven you're both okay! But it's my job to keep you safe and I can only do that if you follow my orders. And Sam didn't do as he was told and we both know what the worst case scenario could have been. I have to make sure that next time your brother will follow my orders without question. Understand now?"

Dean considered his father's words and slowly nodded, before glancing again towards the car. "Yeah, I do, but I can't help still feeling bad for him."

John smiled. "Well, you have a very privileged position."

"Huh?"

"I unfortunately am the Dad, so I get to dole out the discipline. You, on the other hand, are lucky. You're the brother, so you get to dole out the comfort."

Understanding flooded Dean's face. "So I can…?" He looked expectantly at his father.

John nodded, warmed and reassured by the commitment of his eldest towards his youngest. "Yeah, you can go to your brother."

John smiled as Dean immediately took off across the driveway, determined to comfort a distraught Sam.

Dean slid into the back seat of the Impala and leaned across to his brother. Sam was curled in on himself, with his arms resting on the window and his head buried in his arms, sniffling quietly.

"Hey," he said softly, putting his hand on Sam's shoulder and giving a gentle, reassuring squeeze.

That was all it took – the events of the day totally overwhelmed the young boy, and Sam turned instinctively to his big brother and buried his face in Dean's chest, no longer trying to stop the tears from falling. Dean's arms slid around him, holding him tight and Sam felt Dean's hushed assurances wash over him.

"It's okay, Sammy. I've got you. Everyone's safe. There's nothing to worry about..."

John slid into the driver's seat and met Dean's eyes in the rear view mirror. He gave his eldest a nod of approval, before stepping on the gas.

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