Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters.

Summary: John was always a good soldier, but rarely a good dad. Luckily for him, he had Dean to pick up the slack. John reflects back on five instances where Dean proved to be the better parent of the two of them.

Tag to Dead Man's Blood but no actual spoilers.

John sat in silent vigil over his boys as they slept, knowing they would need the rest more than he would for their upcoming face-off with the vampires. The silence of the night stretched on, broken only by the occasional soft snores emanating from the beds.

He couldn't get over how quickly the boys had grown. It seemed like just yesterday they were bickering in the back seat and playing with army men. He had missed so much over the last twenty-two years, and he knew he only had himself to blame.

After Mary died, John was absent in more ways than one when it came to his children. He needed the time to pull himself back together again without the crying, nagging, and constant questions centering around when mommy would be coming back.

So when the pressure of being a father got to be too much, he would pawn his boys off to the nearest hunter he could trust and hit the road, looking for the biggest local baddie he could vent his frustrations on.

What he didn't realize at the time was that Dean had taken up his role as guardian and protector of little Sammy, even at the tender age of four. It was a weight he never should have dropped on his eldest, but the boy never complained. Not even once.

On the nights when John stumbled home after a late night at the bar, Dean would have fed his little brother, changed him, and had him sleeping peacefully in a cocoon of pillows on one of the motel room beds.

If John's stumbling about woke the baby, Dean would immediately be by his side, rocking Sammy in his skinny little arms and singing "Hey, Jude" to him until he fell back to sleep, just like Mary used to do.

As the boys aged, Dean would be the one to take Sam to school, to pack his lunch with the meager contents John had left for them, and to help Sam do his homework before dinner.

John taught Sam how to hold a rifle properly when he was of age; Dean taught him about girls. John made him memorize how to salt and burn a corpse, but Dean helped him learn to read and write. Hell, Sam's first word was "Deanie."

Sam was quickly becoming more dependent on his older brother as time passed and John encouraged it, knowing Dean would always be there for the kid even if John couldn't be. It was years later before John realized how dependent Dean was becoming on his little brother in return, not letting him out of his sight wherever possible and always rushing to his aid the second Sammy gave him that puppy dog look.

John knew his eldest would do or give anything to keep his little brother happy and healthy, including his own life. It took twenty-two years for him to realize that by placing that bundle of blankets into Dean's small arms the night Mary died, he had practically signed Dean's death sentence.

The demons would never stop going after Sammy, and Dean would never stop putting himself in the middle. It was second nature to the kid. He even protected Sam from John when the situation called for it. John could already tell Sam still had the ability to get his blood pressure up by questioning authority and pushing his buttons, and he knew poor Dean would be forced to play mediator again soon enough.

As much as he loved his boys and wanted to keep them safe, John knew he wouldn't always be there to protect them and that if it came down to the world or his sons, he would be forced to put the world first. The fate of the many, as the saying goes. That was the job. But Dean, that boy would gladly watch the world burn so long as Sammy was by his side and all three Winchesters knew it.

Now that his boys were all grown up and the small family was reunited under the same motel roof for the first time in years, John began to reflect back on the slap-in-the-face moments where he realized Dean was a better father to Sam than John could ever have aspired to be.

The first instance that came to mind was when Sammy was five and had a terrible nightmare. Dean had stepped out to hit the vending machines so John moved in to wake his youngest up.

"Hey, Sammy," he said softly, jostling Sam's shoulder gently. "Wake up, kiddo."

Sam came awake with a yell and nearly toppled off the other side of the bed. John instinctively reached out and grasped his boy's arm to prevent him from falling, but the kid threw a hissy fit at the unexpected contact.

"Lemme go! Want Deanie!"

"Calm down, Sam. Dean went out to get some food but he'll be right back."

Far from calming the child's nerves, Sam's panic skyrocketed when he realized that his brother wasn't even in the room anymore. His struggling increased exponentially.

"Lemme go! Lemme go! Lemme go! Want Deanie!"

"Sam, stop it! You're gonna hurt yourself!" How long has Dean been gone? He must be on his way back by now, right?

John felt himself starting to panic. He had no idea how to control his child in this state. Dean never caused such a fuss and listened to orders immediately, but Sam… Sam was a different story all together.

He was just debating on giving his eldest a call so Sam could at least hear his voice when Sam wrenched his arm free and tumbled to the floor with a yelp. Crap!

"Sam! Sam, you alright?"

Big tears were starting to make their way down the little boy's cheeks as he glared accusingly up at his father. "You're mean! I want my brother!"

Decision made, John pulled his cell from his back pocket and hit speed dial one. Though the phone only rang twice, it felt like an eternity before Dean picked it up as Sam began wailing on the floor, loud enough to draw attention if anyone walked by.

"Dad?"

"Dean! Finally! You need to get back to the room, now."

Dean could clearly hear the anxiety and frustration in his father's voice, not to mention his brother screaming bloody murder in the background. "What's goin' on?" he demanded.

"Your brother had a nightmare…"

"You didn't touch him, did you? You have to talk him back to consciousness, Dad. Any contact will just spook 'im."

Now you tell me… John thought to himself in exasperation.

"Yeah, I've noticed. Too late to take it back now though. Sam's pitchin' a fit and no doubt drawin' a crowd. I can't get the kid to calm down!"

Dean sighed. "Give him some space or you'll just make it worse. Put him on the phone."

John immediately held the phone out to his youngest, desperate enough to try anything at this point. "Dean's on the phone, Sam. Take it."

Sam's arm snapped up and had the phone before John could blink twice. Damn, the kid had amazing reflexes when he wanted them… "Deanie?"

"Hey, kiddo. You alright?"

"I had a b-bad d-dream," Sam sniffled, his breath hitching as he tried to calm himself enough to talk.

"Okay, buddy. I need you to calm down and be a big boy for Daddy, alright? Can you do that for me?"

Sam glanced up at John through his floppy bangs, considering his brother's request, then he wiped his face dry on his sleeve and nodded. "Yeah."

"That's my boy. I'm on my way back now and I've got some Twizzlers for you. Will that make it all better?"

Sam nodded again as if Dean could see him through the phone and whimpered out another pitiful sounding, "Yeah."

John's jaw literally dropped in awe at the power his eldest commanded. He would be a terrific leader when he was older and no mistake.

"Sit tight and I'll see you in a sec."

Sam silently held the phone out to John who took it tentatively, afraid his youngest would start balling again once the connection had ended. But to his utter amazement, Sam pushed himself to his feet, sat on the edge of his bed, and waited patiently for the door to open.

When it did, Sam bounded off the bed and practically tackled his brother around the waist.

"Oof! Hey, kiddo…" Dean managed to keep his feet but dropped the candy on the floor in favor of returning his brother's hug, though not quite at the same bone-crushing intensity. "You alright?" he asked softly, rubbing his hand in soothing circles over Sam's back.

"I dreamed that a mean man with lellowy eyes was tryin' to take me away."

Dean locked gazes with John, a moment of understanding passing between them in silence. "That one again, huh?" Dean asked, then eased his brother away till they were at arm's length so he could crouch down to Sam's height. "What did I tell you last time? Do you remember?"

Sam nodded. "I 'member. You said Deanie would never let that happen and that you'd give him two black eyes instead of lellow if he even tried."

John snorted and felt himself relaxing as the tension drained from the air.

Dean smirked, ruffling Sammy's already messy hair. "Damn straight, little brother. And don't you forget it."

Sam pushed Dean's hand away from his hair with a giggle and as his head tilted down, his eyes caught sight of the snacks on the floor. He dove for the Twizzlers and held them expectantly in front of him.

John thought he was just holding it up as a trophy but Dean took the package without a word, opened it, and gave his brother one piece of licorice. Oh… Didn't think of that.

"Aww, Dean…" Sam whined, gazing wistfully at the rest of the package that remained in Dean's hand.

"Just one for tonight, buddy. You know you're a Tasmanian Devil when you have sugar, and it's way past your bed time."

"O-kay…"

Half an hour later and Sam was curled up next to his brother on their bed, breathing deeply as Dean flipped through the TV channels, looking for something interesting. Sam's little hands were curled around Dean's elbow to make sure he didn't leave again and Dean seemed perfectly content where he was.

John knew deep down that Dean would always be his perfect little soldier, but had he realized then that Sam was going to slip through his fingers, he would have held on a bit tighter.

TBC

A/N: Hey everyone! I've been posting some stories for other shows lately to expand my repertoire a bit, but I have to admit I've been missing the awesome Supernatural fandom! This idea occurred to me earlier today and I figured I'd post it simultaneously with my Dark Angel fic. This is part one of five, and if you're enjoying it so far, please review! Thanks!