Title: Family Ties

Rating: teen

Summary: Joan of Arcadia/Supernatural crossover. Will and Helen Girardi take in two boys as foster children.

The crime scene was gruesome, one of the worst he'd seen, and Will had to force the coffee in his stomach to remain there. The victim was a man close to his own age, dark-haired and with a day's worth of stubble shadowing his jaw, and he had not died easy. There had been a bloody struggle up and down the alley before whoever he'd been fighting had ripped open the man's abdomen with a knife multiple times, the wounds left behind looking almost like they were made by claws. Even after that fatal blow, there was evidence that the man had tried to crawl toward the street, one hand trying and failing to hold in his guts. Thank God it was still early in the morning and hadn't gotten too warm yet, because the scene stank as it was.

The rookie with him when they were called to the scene had lost it early on, booting in the pitiful gravel 'landscaping' on the scene's periphery, and Will couldn't blame him. The young man had recovered by the time the forensics crew had arrived and had even pointed out his mess so that it wouldn't get collected as evidence.

The coroner and his assistant were careful as they moved the body, one doing the main part of the lifting while the other tried his best to keep the pieces together. Once they had it on the gurney, the coroner handed over an evidence bag. "No ID on the body, but he did have two sets of keys in his pocket. I'll get right on the autopsy."

Will looked at the keys while they loaded the body into the van and drove away. One set likely belonged to a car, probably parked somewhere in the vicinity. The other key was attached to a keychain with the name and address of a motel on the other side of town.

It was a place to start. The detective collected the rookie and headed out.


His job had taken him to all parts of the city, so of course he'd been to this section before. It was fairly well-known, honestly, though more infamous than famous. There was a certain type of clientele that lingered along the street corners of the surrounding area, making it clear what kind of business this particular motel usually catered to.

The owner started to sweat as soon as he saw the badges and was only too happy to open up the book and point out the resident of room four and giving them a description that matched their John Doe, minus the disembowelment. With the man's permission, Will and the rookie (and he really should make an effort to address the man by his name more often, but he had a feeling that this guy wasn't going to make it) were down the hall and opening up the room registered to John Winchester.

There was a rustle inside the room as the key slid into the lock, and Will tensed and brought up his weapon. It had been damned stupid of him not to have it up in the first place. The rookie had stopped moving at the noise, the key in place but unturned, and Will nodded for him to continue.

They nudged the door open slowly, both men standing out of the way until it was fully opened.

What Will saw as he glanced into the room made his insides clench painfully. There were two boys in the room. The smaller (and probably younger) one was tucked behind the older. The taller one, likely no older than ten, had a sawed-off shotgun nearly as big as he was in his arms.

"Where's my dad?" There was a squeaky growl in the boy's voice that would no doubt be intimidating in a few years. He had freckles and big green eyes and a scowl that belonged to a grown man.

Christ, this was the worst part of the job. There was no doubt in his mind that the boy's father was his John Doe, but he couldn't say anything for sure until there was a positive ID. Hopefully he wouldn't need to bring the kid in and have him identify the remains.

Will took a gamble on the goodness of the older child. He put his own handgun away. "Hey there. We're not here to hurt you. My name's Will."

"Where's my dad?" the boy repeated.

"What's your dad's name?" Will tried a different track.

The little boy behind tugged on his brother's shirt. "He has Dad's keys."

"Will you please put the gun down?" Will requested. "We don't want to hurt you."

"Where's my dad?" the boy's tone turned even fiercer. This time it was clearly a demand rather than a request.

"We're not sure. Do you have a picture of your father somewhere around?"

"Yep," the younger one chirped.

"Where is it?"

The little boy moved as if to show them, only to get shoved back by his older brother. With one arm occupied, the gun dipped. Will took advantage, snatched it out of the child's hands and removed the shells while carefully not thinking of everything that could have happened. He handed everything to the rookie and then, as an afterthought, he handed the rookie his own gun. Then he squatted on the ground near the boys, very carefully giving them a safety bubble.

"Let's try this again. My name is Will, what's yours?"

He got stubborn silence. Now the little one was fully hiding behind his brother.

"Where's the picture of your father?"

Nothing. Even the chatty younger brother (and Will could tell that these two were siblings) had buttoned up now. Will didn't take his eyes off the two boys in front of him, but he did address the rookie. "Spencer, take a look around. See if you can find anything that might help."

"You mean like this?" The younger man nudged a book with the toe of his boot. It had been hastily shoved under the edge of the bed but hadn't made it all the way.

"Don't touch that!" The older boy's silence was broken abruptly, that laser glare transferred from Will to Spencer. "That's my dad's journal, you can't touch it!"

"All right," Will soothed. "We won't touch it. But you have to help us out here. Something bad happened to a man earlier today. We need a picture so we can rule out your father."

"How bad?"

"Very bad."

"Then it can't be my dad," the boy said with bravado that Will had no problems seeing through. "He's a hero, and he always comes home."

Spencer chose that moment to interject. "There's a picture in the mirror, Will. Looks like those two and a guy." He raised his eyebrows, expression solemn, and Will knew that the photograph matched their John Doe. He turned back to the older boy and saw that he had caught and interpreted the expression as well.

It was like flicking a switch. All the fierceness melted away and Will's opponent melted into a ten-year-old boy. The first-grader, still tucked away behind his apparent brother, wrapped his arms around the older boy's waist, obviously picking up on the undercurrent in the room. "Dean," he wailed. "Something's wrong, Dean."

Dean looked torn, reluctant to turn his back on Will but clearly wanting to turn around and cling to his younger brother. Will stood up and stepped away from both of them, giving them the illusion of privacy while he stepped over to talk with the rookie. "Call Social Services, let them know the situation. We're going to have to do a search of the room, see if we can find something a little more positive than a family snapshot."

"And if we don't?" Spencer had clearly picked up on the same thing as Will; this was a family that lived on the fringes of society. There was a possibility that there was no real, legitimate identification in the room.

Will sighed. "The older boy will need to I.D. the body if the prints aren't in the system. Really don't want to do that. When the social worker shows up, I'll stay with the boys. You go ahead and pull this room apart."

It ended up going exactly the way Will had feared it would. Spencer was unable to find any type of photo I.D., other than one rather well-made forgery of an FBI badge. They did find birth certificates tucked away in the journal that Dean had kept away from them earlier, but nothing that could be used to confirm the identity of the John Doe in the morgue. This meant that Will escorted Dean down and supported the boy while he stoically looked at the body and said, "Yes, that's my dad. That's John Winchester." Then Dean turned away and Will watched the strong fa├žade crumble and break. He clutched the photo from the motel mirror of how his family used to be.

Will hustled the boy back upstairs and to his brother, who started sobbing the instant he saw Dean's face. He stayed with the two of them while the social worker took care of the immediate paperwork and called Helen to let her know what was coming.

It made life easier on the force if there were officers registered as foster parents. Sometimes when children were involved in an incident and needed to be removed to safety it happened at strange hours of the night and no one wanted to wait for Family Services at 3 a.m. Since Will already had children at home he'd gotten qualified some time ago, so the mechanics of moving the apparently orphaned (and freshly traumatized) children to his home for at least a night or two wouldn't be difficult. The hard part would probably be getting Helen to let go of them. He had a feeling the Winchesters would be staying with them for a while.

It took Will about a month to relax and let his guard down around the Winchester boys. The case concerning their father had no new clues. Will never did find John Winchester's car and he had to have a car. Eventually the case was relegated Cold, all the personal effects boxed up and stored for the boys to go through at a later date. Will concentrated on new cases and Dean and Sammy. They were good kids and they'd managed to help wean Joan away from her imaginary friend by providing both playmates and a distraction, but he had a hard time putting aside the image of the boy with a weapon pointed toward him.

That mental picture gradually faded, however, and memories of that same boy patiently playing with his preschool-age daughter and helping Kevin and Sam build a solid, functional treehouse fort slowly began to replace it. He was even good with Luke, keeping the baby entertained and out of trouble while also playing with toddler Joan.

Sam and Kevin got along surprisingly well. The were only a year apart and after some initial posturing about sharing Dean as a big brother the two became partners in crime. Will and Helen had quickly learned that the younger Winchester was very, very creative when it came to exploring things around him.

Going from three children to five practically overnight sounded like a big change, especially when one added in the recommended weekly sessions with a therapist, but Dean was good at keeping the younger children in line. Helen figured out early on that Dean did best when he was kept busy. Her initial impulse was to let him play rather than give him chores or expect him to watch over the others, especially Joan and Luke, but Dean could find trouble in ten minutes or less when left to his own devices. He had to have a task to focus on or he would quickly become bored. School wasn't enough to keep him occupied, and they couldn't really afford after-school classes. Eventually Helen gave in to the inevitable and started giving him more work and responsibility.

When summer ended and it was time for school, Helen took the two boys in for placement tests. They weren't terribly worried about Sam; the kid was already way too smart for his own good. Six years old going on thirty, some of the time. Dean, though, was a little harder to puzzle out. Will suspected he was much smarter than he let on, given how well he'd designed the treehouse out back, but he didn't really like to read and he was scornful of school being able to teach him anything useful.

He didn't need to worry. Dean came through the testing with flying colors, scoring so high in math and science that it was a surprise to all of them. His reading comprehension came in lower, but they were still surprisingly satisfactory for a child who didn't really care for reading. Dean would have no problems whatsoever with fifth grade, at least academically.

Sam was entering first grade, though he probably could have skipped it and gone straight to second if Helen hadn't been worried about socialization. Kevin, of course, was ready for second grade and even seemed a little excited about returning to school. Will chalked that up to having two brothers in the school now. He'd really taken to having an older brother, though Will suspected that Dean might be teaching his son some of the rudimentary fighting skills the boy's own father had apparently seen fit to impart on his elementary-age son. Kevin was a very physical boy and he was no doubt salivating at the opportunity to learn new skills.

They should have been expecting something when all three of them started the new school year, but the smooth transition so far had lulled them all into a sense of security. Dean made it almost a week before Helen got the phone call and bundled up Joan and Luke and headed over to the school.

He was sitting in the so-called 'seat of shame,' the one that faced the secretary desk and was right next to the principal's private office. Joan broke away from her mother the moment they got into the office and ran to her new favorite brother. Dean looked up when she attempted to scramble up into his lap and Helen gasped at the bruise on her boy's cheek.

"What happened?"

He didn't try to smile or charm her; they'd already gotten past that early on. Helen's father had been full of that good-natured charm and she was immune to its pull. "Pretty sure they're going to want to be the ones to talk to you."

Joan tugged on his arm. "I want to sit with you," she insisted, and Dean gave in to the inevitable and allowed her up into his lap. She perched there and studied his face intently. "What happened?"

Dean did laugh at that question, and probably at the fierce little frown his little sister was giving him, but the joy was gone pretty quickly. "Don't worry about it, kiddo. Did you have fun with your Mom today?"

Joan was still frowning and was reaching one little hand to poke at his cheek, so Helen intervened. "Joan, why don't you sit here with Luke and play with your toys while Dean and I talk, all right?"

"No." It wasn't shouted out and her normally sunny-natured toddler was not throwing a rare temper tantrum. She was simply refusing to move and Dean was letting her poke at the bruise without any sign of pain. Luke was squirming and clearly wanting to get down and move around, and between the two of them and the situation Helen wanted to tear her hair out. This was why people put their children into day care and went to work. No office job could possibly be as stressful as dealing with two headstrong toddlers and their three older brothers.

Dean picked up on her mood and shifted Joan to one side so he could take Luke as well. "I got in a fight," he admitted quietly, his eyes focused on Joan as she alternated her attention between Dean's face and Luke. She kept touching it with her small, chubby hand and Dean didn't stop her.

"How did it get started?" Helen knew that Dean had promised Will that he would behave in school, and he wasn't the kind of kid that went back on those promises. Whatever had prompted this fight was something worth exploring.

His mouth clamped shut in a sadly familiar way and Helen sighed. There would be no further explanations from Dean, at least for the moment. She'd learned that much about him over the past few months. For someone who loved to talk, when he clammed up it took concentrated, gentle effort to get him to open back up, especially to adults. He was better with the kids, especially Sammy and Joan, but even with those two Helen had seen him go completely quiet.

The principal here was a woman, maybe ten years older than Helen, and while she looked at the two small children with a frown when she ushered them into the office she didn't make any kind of suggestion about leaving Joan and Luke outside. That was good. It meant that Helen could save the energy that argument would waste and use it to protect Dean. She faced the woman, sitting behind the desk, and waited for the woman to speak.

A tall, lean young man slipped into the room and Principal Sullivan smiled. "This is Mr. Murphy, our school counselor. He witnessed the altercation and I thought he would provide valuable input to our discussion."

"Can someone please tell me what happened?" Helen asked, a little fed up with the run around she was getting.

"Jason Kilgore pushed Dean into the support for the swings after a verbal argument," Murphy said matter-of-factly. "Neither one of the boys are willing to talk about the argument, and Dean is not in much trouble."

Helen wanted to ask if Dean had fought back, but she didn't want to open that particular can of worms just yet. Instead she turned to the ten-year-old next to her. "What was the argument about?"

Dean was silent, his lips thin with the effort to keep his mouth shut, and Helen sighed. She didn't want to push him. It typically didn't work well with Dean. He needed to be coaxed rather than forced. Fortunately, some part of his brain apparently pointed out that Helen was on his side. "He called me foster trash."


"And I told him he was a shithead and an asshole who was going to end up pumping gas for a living," he said wearily. He glanced down at the two little kids playing on the floor. "Sorry."

All of their efforts to get Dean to clean up his language had entirely failed at this point. The only concession he seemed to make was to try not to curse around Joan or Luke. "What happened to make him push you?"

"Nothing after that." His eyes lit up a little with anger. "I started to walk away and that jackass got in a sucker shot." There was another look at the little ones. "Sorry."

Helen sighed, because while he still didn't watch his language around adults he was at least trying with the kids. "It's all right, Dean. Did you go after Jason before he called you that name?"

"Never said a word to him," Dean said. "It's pretty obvious he's a jerk. I don't need that kind of hassle."

She nodded and turned to the principal. "Are you punishing the other student?"

"Jason will be serving in-school suspension. We're still trying to decide what to do with Dean."

Helen felt her back straighten. "Excuse me? You're going to punish my son for something that he didn't start?"

"He used inappropriate language," the principal began, and Helen cut him off.

"And we will handle that punishment. Dean's been working on that and he'll continue working on curbing his language. What matters here is that Jason is the one who called my son a name with no provocation and Jason is the one who pushed him. You will not be punishing my child for defending himself against one of your students." She stood up, leaning down to scoop up Luke because he wasn't terribly steady on his feet just yet, and Dean did the same for Joan without prompting. "I'll be keeping him home from school for the rest of the week while he heals. I assume you'll allow him to collect his homework?"

"Of course," the principal said, her face a mask of understanding. Helen nodded and marched out of the office, Dean following in her wake. The expression of frank admiration he was giving her made her feel a little warmer inside. Dean was the hardest of her children to read and she sometimes felt like she didn't understand him at all, but she had fallen in love with both him and Sam just like she loved Kevin and Joan and Luke.

They stopped at his homeroom and picked up his backpack, speaking with the teacher to get his assignments for the rest of the week, and were out of the building in ten minutes. "That was awesome," Dean breathed out once they were safely away from the school, his smile incandescent in the fall sunshine.

"Glad you appreciated it," Helen said, huffing a little as she carried Luke into the car. He was getting a little too heavy and solid for her to easily carry him, but letting him walk would take too much time. They needed to do something for lunch and then get back to the school to pick up Kevin and Sam. Without Dean on the school bus they would get a little confused and she wanted to avoid that if at all possible. "You'll be writing an essay on why foul language is a sign of poor intelligence and a lack of creativity when we get home, and helping me with the laundry in addition to your regular chores. But I'm really proud that you walked away from the confrontation. I know that was hard for you."

Dean shrugged. "Kid was a jerk. That's no reason to get in trouble for decking him. I managed to get in trouble anyway."

She bucked Luke into his car seat while Dean did the same for Joan on the other side of the car. "Someday you'll learn to watch your language. Until then, you'll get some practice at those essays. It'll come in handy when you're applying for college."


The therapist that Sam and Dean had been seeing had suggested some sort of activity to help give Dean focus, which Helen thought was a good suggestion even if the last thing Dean really needed was focus. Dean had such complete tunnel vision sometimes that it was almost frightening. A class to help him burn some of his excess energy, though, or to give him a little structure in his life, would definitely be appreciated.

Dean acted indifferent to the proposal, but she could see the underlying excitement when she mentioned the possibility of a tae kwon do class. That had actually been the man's first suggestion, followed by team sports to help him learn how to work with other children, which for Dean meant baseball.

Sam had received the same recommendation and had immediately latched onto the prospect of playing soccer and taking martial arts classes, and for the ease of things she enrolled Kevin alongside him. It meant she spent more time than she really wanted driving around to practices and classes, but Sam beamed at her with that smile when he climbed in all sweaty from soccer practice and Kevin followed behind with a bright grin and she couldn't regret it at all.

The martial arts classes seemed to settle something in Dean, who was always the most tumultuous of her kids. He tolerated baseball, enjoying the physical exertion but not really bonding with the other boys who played, but tae kwon do was apparently exactly what he'd been needing since he'd showed up on her doorstep. Kevin and Sam stayed pretty much level with each other in class rank, but Dean was apparently picking up what he learned pretty quickly. So quickly, in fact, that one afternoon she walked into the family room and found Dean trying to teach three-year-old Joan some very basic moves.

Tae Kwon Do very nearly vanished after that incident, but her oldest boy managed to make a compelling case and Helen relented. She didn't even put up a fuss when he continued to teach her daughter what he was learning, with conditional success. Joan never used what she was being taught against Luke or any of the kids her age that she had contact with and Helen was aware that she couldn't really ask for more.

Dean settled into school once he started taking classes and Helen was grateful for that. The discipline seemed to be exactly what he needed. He wasn't at the top of his class, but he wasn't far from it, and when semester reports came out in January Dean had nothing lower than a B. There was a note about his occasionally disrespectful attitude, but they were working on that and it wasn't something that she worried about.

Sam had straight A's across the board and seemed to be universally adored by his teachers, something Helen could understand. He'd adjusted to their family and the new school so well that she sometimes had difficulty remembering that the Winchesters had only been with them since the summer before. Will had shared the meager file that CPS had managed to dredge up with her and it made her doubly determined to watch out for the two of them. Someone had to, after all.


Will had been having nightmares about something like this from the instant he became a father. It was the reason he'd invested in a sturdy gun safe and the reason that he never wore his weapon in the house. He'd just seen too many bad things happen with unsecured weapons to even consider doing anything else.

Unfortunately, Spencer the rookie didn't have children and ten years of experience under his belt. The two of them had crashed at the Girardi house after working a double shift and for some reason Will hadn't even considered offering his gun safe for the man's weapon. It hadn't occurred to Spencer either, who apparently slept with his gun under his pillow when at his own apartment. Will's heart was pounding as he watched his three-year-old son turn the weapon over in his hands despite the fact that it was almost too heavy for him, no doubt trying to figure out how it worked. Luke was a curious kid. His small fingers were close enough to the trigger that Will didn't dare make any sudden moves. He didn't trust his own temper not to go off right now if he got close; his nerves were tight as piano wire. Any loud sounds would probably have startled Luke into pulling the trigger.

Dean was the one who approached him, sliding gradually into Luke's line of sight and staying on the floor. "Where'd you get that, buddy?"

"Found it." Luke looked up, grateful as always that someone was paying attention to him. Will squashed the pang of guilt back and focused on the situation. He would think about how badly he ignored Luke later.

"If you give it to me, I'll show you how it works later."

Will gritted his teeth at the softly spoken promise. The last thing he wanted, ever again, was Luke getting within ten feet of a gun. He was aware that he'd have to change professions to make that happen, but that didn't stop the impulse.

Luke seemed to be considering it, taking one last longing look at the device in his hands before handing it to Dean. Dean took it smoothly, gently, continuing to not make any quick movements. He stood up and turned to Spencer, who had gone ghost-white, and removed the clip and the bullet in the pipe with sure movements before handing it over. "Maybe you should take better care of your things," he said neutrally. He was gone up the stairs before anyone else could say a word.

Will scooped up his youngest into a tight hug, the images of what could have happened still stark when he closed his eyes. Luke squirmed, unsure of what was prompting all of this. From his point of view he had probably only been doing what he always did: exploring his surroundings.

He turned toward Helen, not yet ready to face Spencer without saying a million things that he didn't want his kids to hear and that he wasn't entirely sure the man deserved. She had Joan held tightly in her arms, Kevin and Sam at her feet. Sam had his small, slim hands on Kevin's shoulders, no doubt to keep him from doing something impulsive, and for one odd moment Will was grateful for the strange way John Winchester had raised his sons. Dean (and Sam, probably) had saved Luke's life today. There was simply no way his curious son wouldn't have pulled the trigger in his exploration of the gun.

Once he'd dragged Spencer outside for a few scathing words and sent the man on his way, Will headed upstairs and into the small bedroom that Dean called his own. Dean was sitting on the floor with a comic book, flipping through the pages but clearly not getting terribly involved in the storyline. He didn't abandon the book when Will came into the room, instead keeping his eyes firmly fixed on it as Will sighed and sat down on the bed. "We've never talked about this," he said.

Dean still refused to look up. "What's to talk about? You knew you were getting some weird skill sets when you took us in."

"Your father taught you how to handle a gun." He stated it as fact, rather than a question. It was fairly obvious that the boy knew how to disarm a gun like it was second nature and Will had certainly never taught him that.

Dean shifted his shoulders and finally set the comic book aside. "What do you really want to know, Will?"

"We could start with the truth."

The kid snorted out a laugh. He stood up from the floor and headed to his desk chair. "Yeah, Dad taught me how to shoot. He took me out to an empty field when I was six and handed me a Raven .25 automatic. I shot down every can he set up before he would let me leave."

"Jesus," Will said, scrubbing his hand over his face. "I thought you were just bluffing with the shotgun when we met."

"By the time I was seven, one of my chores was cleaning my dad's guns. He was training me on the Colt 1911 and the shotgun when I was nine."

"Jesus," Will repeated. He thought of every statistic he'd ever seen involving guns and children. "Why would he do that?"

"I needed to be able to take care of Sammy," Dean said, shrugging. "I was going to ask you if I could get one when you were a little more used to us."

"Ask again when you're sixteen and it's a little more legal," Will returned.

Dean nodded thoughtfully and Will realized that he would need to be resigned to the idea of purchasing Dean something when the boy was exactly sixteen. Hopefully if he allowed that Dean wouldn't sneak around behind his back and pick up something illegally. "And thank you for getting the gun away from Luke. Please don't use the real thing when you're explaining it to him later."

"Do you think he'll be able to understand it?"

Will was a little surprised that Dean evidently understood it, but for all he knew that was part of gun safety under John Winchester. "I wouldn't put it past him. We all know Luke's way too smart for his own good."

"Him and Sammy," Dean agreed. "Sam was always asking too many questions about what Dad did for a living."

Will was curious about that as well, since he'd never gotten a definitive answer, but it was clear from Dean's expression that the boy had already decided he'd said too much. He wouldn't be getting anything else from him today.


School was over for the summer before any of them were really prepared and Dean fell into his familiar role as caretaker with the added distraction of baseball and tae kwon do. Things were a little easier here and it was starting to hurt a little less that his dad was gone. Sometimes it made him feel guilty, how happy he was here. It was nice, having a houseful of people to call family, and he wouldn't have any of it if his dad hadn't died. He'd never done this well in school before now, either, and Sammy had a lot more people to help watch out for him. Dean felt safe here and he wanted to return the favor, so he did the only things his father had taught him: he watched out for the littler kids (all four of them) and he kept an eye on the salt lines. That second one was a little trickier since Helen actually seemed to like sweeping the house, but he'd figured out ways to lay things out in a more permanent fashion with the help of some duct tape.

Kevin and Sammy spent most of their free time in the tree house they'd built last summer, scrambling up the tree trunk every morning and staying up there until lunch time at the very least. It would be nice to feel that free, but Dean couldn't shake the responsibilities he'd picked up and he settled for watching out for Joan and Luke. Those two were surprising fun to play with and most of the time he didn't miss the company of kids his own age. Joan would drag anyone into her games, regardless of what they actually wanted, and was adorable enough to get away with it most of the time. Luke was overshadowed by his sister's energy, but he usually went along with her games and play-acting. He ended up playing the villain a little more often than Dean, mostly because it meant he could jump on his sister and laugh his version of an evil laugh. To Joan's credit, she never used the fighting skills Dean had started to teach her earlier in the year even though he knew she remembered them. She did give as good as she got, though, and it left Dean being the responsible one a little more often than he liked.

When it rained Sam and Kevin let the two littler kids play 'the floor is lava' with them, a game that was entirely uncomplicated and way too much fun for an eleven-year-old to be having. Sammy was the best at it of all of them, nimble and quick and good at balancing on the arm of a couch. That made Dean's chest swell with pride.

Helen packed them all up in a station wagon and trundled them to the public library once a week. They all had library cards in their own names and every single one of them was expected to get out at least three books a week to read on his own. It should have been Dean's least favorite part of the week, but even this was more enjoyable than Dean had expected. He'd never liked reading all that much, but apparently that was because the books they made him read at school were boring. The children's librarian at the library they visited had good suggestions and managed to find books that were fun.

The summer flew past in a haze of games and reading and martial arts classes and playing with his younger siblings. It was probably the most fun Dean had ever had and he was sorry to see it go when school started up and he entered sixth grade.

It turned out that sixth grade wasn't much different from fifth grade, with the exception that he was now in a different school from Sammy and Kevin. The different school buildings made it a little harder to keep an eye out for his little brothers, but he mostly managed by wrangling out reports from each one about the other. Kevin would never have brought his problems to Dean, but he had absolutely no problem talking about Sam's issues, and Sam was pretty much the same to Kevin. It wasn't a perfect system, since the two of them were a grade apart, but it was better than nothing.

He didn't even want to consider what it would be like next year when Joan started kindergarten. He couldn't imagine anyone having any sort of difficulties with his sweetheart of a baby sister, but some people were bound to misunderstand her. Dean hoped she could handle the female side of things, since he wouldn't be able to defend her against four-year-old girls. Sam would be on tap to take care of the boys, and Dean would be there to intimidate them all if she needed him. It would have to be enough. There was more than enough to worry him without needing to battle preschoolers as well.

For one thing, Joan's imaginary friend had reappeared and apparently changed from a little girl to something a little harder to pin down. Just the idea of it made Dean nervous. Sam had never had an imaginary friend and Dean could see all of the ways that a restless spirit could get to a kid like Joan in just such a way. The variable appearance made him feel a little better, actually, because that wasn't typical ghost behavior. It was probably just Joan being creative, exactly like Helen said, but Dean probably wouldn't rest easily until this particular phase was safely over.

His school classes and fun classes kept him pretty busy, especially when paired with the added burden of keeping his new family safe from things that none of them believed in. Dean didn't really have a break until school closed for Christmas and then he was caught up in the whirlwind of planning that Christmas with the Girardi family required.

He was in the middle of assembling a model car that he was planning on giving to Sam when Helen knocked on the door to his small room. She waited for him to give her permission before she slipped into the room, closing the door behind her and sitting down on the bed. "I wanted to talk to you," she said.

Dean frantically combed back over the past day or so. He didn't think he'd done anything majorly wrong, though he was fairly sure that the salt lines would irritate Helen if she caught him refreshing them. "Is everything all right?" he asked, trying his best to be cautious.

"Everything's fine," she replied. "Will and I have been talking and we were wondering what would you think if we decided to adopt you and Sam."

For a moment the entire world froze. Dean couldn't breathe because his mind needed even that small amount of energy to process what she'd just told him. Sam was already calling Helen and Will Mom and Dad, but Dean couldn't quite make that step. It was different for him, in a lot of ways. For him, 'Mom' would always be a blond woman who'd loved him and fed him pie and played matchbox cars with him, and 'Dad' was forever and always John Winchester. He didn't think he could give that up.

At the same time, though, the idea of leaving Kevin and Joan and Luke made his heart clench. Sam was so happy here. Hell, he was happy here. Will didn't let him keep a weapon on hand, but he was probably going to get him a gun at some point down the line. Helen made awesome pie and didn't try to push him into being some little perfect suburban clown. And of course, he had a houseful of siblings to watch over and protect. Who would do that for them if he was gone?

Something in his expression must have clued her in, because Helen's hopeful look fell. "It's all right," she said, reaching out and pulling him into a hug. He allowed it, even welcomed it a little. "I won't make you let them go, Dean. And you and Sam won't have to leave." There was a watery smile and a second, tighter hug that he returned. "Just as long as you know you'll always be my boy."

Dean clutched at her for a second more before relaxing. "Thanks," he mumbled into her neck.

The topic was never brought up again.