Title – Store Bought Cookies

Summary - Dean never thought he'd forget his mother: what she looked like, what she smelled like, her voice, her laugh…

Part of 'The Dark Horse' series

"Store Bought Cookies"

Staring down at the cookies in their store-bought plastic container on the kitchen table, Dean's bottom lip was secured in-between his baby teeth - or what was left of them. John swore he saw tears in the kid's eyes but didn't mention it. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his three-year-old reaching towards the plastic to snatch another cookie. He glanced at his youngest, a stern look crossing his face, which immediately caused the little boy to drop the cookie in hand only to have it break into two. Cringing slightly, he thought about how Sammy had a habit of sucking on his fingers and might as well let the toddler eat the slobber-covered cookie.

"Those are for Dean," he explained gently. "He needs them for school."

"Want one," Sammy pouted fully with his lower lip protruding out.

"You already had one. If there's any left over tomorrow after Dean gets home, you can have another." He held the two containers out of Sam's reach. "Go to bed."

"Not tired," he whined.

A groan escaped John's throat. Dean was the easy child who did everything his father asked of him without question. Sammy, on the other hand, was defiant to the point that John sometimes just wanted to shake him. Though, he'd never let his frustration get the best of him.

"Go to bed or no cookie tomorrow."

John was sure bribing wasn't the best way to deal with a child not following the rules, but Sammy's wide eyes blinking innocently up at him caused him to be softer rather than harsher most times. The toddler gazed at the containers in his father's hand.

"Daaaaddy… "

"No." He stood his ground, pointing in the general direction of the bedroom. "Go to bed. I'll be in to tuck you in soon."

"Deeeeeeeean!"

Sammy's slobbery hand reached out for his older brother, grabbing a fistful of Dean's t-shirt and twisted the fabric. Usually the older boy would be more responsive either pulling his brother into a hug or gently pushing him away. Dean never ignored his brother, which caused Sam to be put off by the whole situation. Sammy let out a high-pitched whimper as he squeaked out his brother's name again. There was no response.

"Sammy, go to bed. Dean's coming. Just give us a minute."

The small child reluctantly let go of his brother's shirt and dragged his feet as he left the kitchen. A loud sniff filled the air before Sammy turned the corner. John listened to his son's rapid footfalls before turning his attention on Dean.

"What's the matter, Dude?"

Green orbs filled with tears trailed up John's body until they rested on the cookies. The seven-year-old leaned back into his chair and looked anywhere but at his father.

"Dean?"

He only shook his head. Then, forcefully, wiped away the tears burning his eyes with his sleeve. John instantly grew concerned. Dean had not cried in years, not since after the fire. He had always been so strong, so stoic, so concerned about Sammy and his dad that he never allowed himself a moment to think about everything that happened and cry.

"What's wrong, Dude?"

John sank down in a chair next to Dean. Reaching out, he lightly brushed a strand of blonde hair away from his son's eyes.

"Adam Fredricks said his mom was gonna help him bake cookies for the party tomorrow."

John looked down at the store bought container of cookies and frowned. If Dean wanted homemade, John could attempt to bake some. How hard could it be?

"Do you want to bake cookies, Dean? We can do that. I mean, we'd have to go to the store and get some supplies but I'm sure we can do it." John hoped he sounded more confident than he felt.

Dean shook his head in the negative and sniffed. Ducking his head, he wiped away more tears that surfaced. John rubbed circles on his back.

"What's wrong then, Dean?"

"I… I can't 'member what Mom looks like," he whispered so softly that John wasn't sure he heard him right.

"What?"

"Mom…" his voice cracked. "I can't 'member what she looks like."

Dean looked up at his father with his large, green orbs filled with buckets of tears. His bottom lip quivered and small whimpers were strangled in his throat. John felt like someone had stabbed him in the gut. Repeatedly. A lump formed in his throat. He tried to swallow it down before he spoke, but the lump remained intact.

"She, uh, was the most beautiful woman in the whole world." John forced a sad smile. "She had long, wavy, gorgeous blonde hair. She had green eyes just like you. She had freckles that covered his nose and cheeks just like you have. You look so much like her, Dude."

"Really?" Dean sniffed and wiped his sleeve over his eyes again.

"Yeah," John said hoarsely.

The topic of Mary was still raw and gaping. Except, he couldn't just deny Dean the answers he so desperately wanted to remember no matter how hard it was. Reaching into his back jeans pocket, he tugged out his wallet. Upon opening the leather, he immediately saw a picture of Dean and Mary.

She had on a yellow sundress. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a messy bun. Stray strands framed her golden, sun-kissed face. When she stayed out in the sun too long, her freckles on her face became dark and large on her usually pale skin. There was a smile on her face, her teeth and gums showing. She was sitting on the grass, looking down at a tiny boy in her arms.

The boy was Dean. He was three. He was dressed in khaki shorts and a green Marines t-shirt. His mouth was opened wide because he had been laughing. There was a tiny ladybug on his finger. The ladybug tickled his finger as it walked around his hand. He had been so excited and amused by the tiny bug. Mary had thought it was the cutest thing she had ever seen.

Taking the picture out of his wallet, he slid it across the table to Dean. He gently took the photo in his hands and studied it. A small smile appeared on his lips. The tears disappeared and his eyes grew brighter. John was sure he was remembering the things he was slowly forgetting.

"You can keep that, Dean."

"Really?"

Dean tore his gaze away from the picture to look up at his dad. John could only nod his head yes. The words could not escape his throat. He feared if he said another word, he would break down and lose it.

"I love you!"

Dean leapt at him. His tiny arms wrapped around his neck and he buried his face into the crook of his father's neck. John wrapped his arms around his midsection and held on tight. John could feel the tears burn the rims of his eyes. He let a few tears fall because he couldn't hold them at bay any longer.

After a long minute or two, Dean pulled away first. He glanced up at his dad and noted the tears. Dean frowned and reached out a hand to brush away the stray tears from his dad's face.

"Why are you crying, Dad?"

John forced a smile on his face and sucked in a deep breath. Placing his hands on either side of Dean's face, he rubbed his cheeks absentmindedly with his thumbs.

"I just miss your mom so much sometimes that it hurts," John admitted.

He pulled Dean's face close to his and kissed him gently on the forehead. Pull it together, Winchester, he silently told himself as he let his hands drop from his son's face. He cleared his throat and leaned back into the wooden kitchen chair.

"I miss her too," whispered Dean. "You can keep the picture if it makes you feel better."

Dean held out the photograph to his father. John merely shook his head in the negative.

"You keep it. I have others. I'll show you sometime if you want."

"Can you?"

"Of course, Dean, it's just… talking about Mom makes me sad. It makes me miss her a lot. Missing her hurts."

Dean nodded as though he fully comprehended what his father was saying. Scarily enough, John believed Dean really did understand. The comprehension of loss and pain should not have been a concept a seven year old should understand.

"Why don't you go to bed? You got school in the morning. Plus, Sammy's probably getting restless without you. He can't sleep unless you're there."

"I know," uttered Dean as he glanced down at the picture of him and his mother again. "I don't mind it though."

"I'm glad, Dean, because Sammy needs you."

The tiny boy looked up at his father with wide eyes. A smile worked its way onto his face. He always prided himself over the fact that he was a good big brother - that Sammy loved and needed him. John thought it was because he was the one who carried Sammy out of the fire. He was the one who saved Sammy's life on that tragic night. Dean lived and breathed his baby brother. If anything ever happened to Sammy, John feared that Dean wouldn't have the will to live any longer.

"'Night, Dad."

Dean waved goodnight as he pushed his chair back.

"Goodnight, Dean," he replied back.

John watched his son walk out of the tiny kitchen, through the living room, and disappear around the corner into the boys' bedroom that they shared. John let out a breath of air and looked up at the ceiling. His fingers found the wedding band and twisted the metal around his finger.

"I love you, Mary," his voice cracked slightly. "I promise I will kill the sonofabitch who killed you."

A few more tears escaped John's eyes. He didn't bother to brush them off. At that moment, the pain seemed too great to even comprehend. He missed Mary so much that he felt as though his heart would shatter into a million pieces. He never knew it was possible to miss and love someone so much.

Author's Notes: I hope you enjoyed the story! It was a little tie-in piece to "Achilles Heel" which is also part of the series. Please leave a review before you leave. They make my day.