How you feel about John Winchester might influence how you feel about this fic. I'm not trying to sway you one way or the other. This is just my take on some things.

Oh, and it's not beta'd so don't look too closely at my commas and such. It was written in the midst of frantic PCA voting, which I must get back to! :)

John honked the horn impatiently. He'd told Sonny to let Dean know he had a job. He'd know what that meant, even if nobody else did, so what was the hold up? They needed to travel 200 miles and he wasn't getting any younger. John sighed and ran a hand over his face.

Ain't that the truth. I feel like I've aged a hundred years since Mary died.

Dean finally appeared on the porch and Sam ran from the car to meet him. Dean gave his brother a one armed hug as he tried to hold onto his bag with his other hand. As he approached the Impala, he gave John a sheepish grin, testing the waters. John tossed him the keys so he could stow his bag in the trunk but didn't return the grin. He wanted Dean to worry a bit longer.

As the boys settled into the backseat, Sam asked, "What happened to you, Dean? Dad says you got lost on a hunt."

John glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Dean's raised eyebrow. He shook his head, just enough for Dean to see and know that he couldn't talk about it to Sam until they got their stories straight.

Dean deftly turned the conversation toward his little brother. "Hey, where'd you get that cool plane?"

And Sam was off and running, telling his older brother all about his two month stay with Uncle Bobby. John caught Dean glancing at him through lowered lashes, trying not to let his father see, while at the same time trying to gauge how much trouble he still might be in. Normally John turned on the radio to block out some of the chatter in the back so he could focus on the next hunt but this time he decided against it. When Sammy finally drifted off to sleep against his brother's shoulder it was only Dean, John, and awkward silence stretching between them.

Hours later when they pulled into a motel parking lot, Dean was still wide awake, waiting for his father to speak.

"Keep an eye on your brother while I get us checked in."

"Yes, sir."

When John returned to the car with the motel keys, he found Sam was also awake. He pulled the car around to the correct room and made the boys wait until he'd checked it out and poured a salt line, then they began to unload their things. John handed a couple of bags to Sam and he headed for the open door of their room.

"I told Sam you got lost on a hunt."

Dean nodded. "Okay, so what do I tell him if he asks me about it?"

"Tell him you thought you had a clue about the rugaru I was hunting, you tried to find me and got lost."

"Rugaru?" Dean looked skeptical. "Did you make that up?"

John couldn't help the grin that spread across his face. "No, I didn't. Just tell Sam you thought you could find me but it didn't work out that way."

Dean closed the trunk and glanced toward the motel where Sam stood in the doorway. "Dad?"


"Why don't you want Sammy to know where I really was?"

Because I don't want him to know what a piss poor excuse of a father I really am. "It's just easier this way."

Dean wrinkled his brow in confusion. "How?"

John sighed. "Look, I shouldn't have left you there, Dean. When the cops called me I had a lead on…..on something I've been looking for. I knew you'd be okay so I took Sam to Bobby's and went to check out the lead. I was pissed but that's no excuse for leaving you there like that."

"Did you find what you were looking for?"

John shook his head. "No, but I did find some info."

"So….you're not mad at me?"

"I was. But I figure I didn't handle things too well myself so can we just call it even?"

"Sure, Dad."

"Why the hell were you shoplifting anyway? I left you plenty of money."

Dean lowered his gaze. "I lost it in a poker game."

John felt the anger building up inside of him again. "Why would you do such a stupid thing, Dean?"

Dean shrugged, still avoiding his father's eyes. "Sammy wanted pizza. We didn't have enough for that and food for the rest of the week. I thought I could make enough money for pizza but I kept losing and then I'd try to win it back but I never could."

John felt a twinge somewhere in the area of his heart. "He used the puppy dog eyes, didn't he?"

Dean laughed. "Yeah, he did. You know it works every time."

"Yeah, I do." John tousled Dean's hair. "But you have to remember, he's your responsibility if I'm not here. You can't get in trouble and not be there for him."

"I know, Dad. I'm really sorry."

When Dean looked at John with eyes that reminded him so much of Mary's, he couldn't stay mad. How could he when Dean was only trying to do what had been ingrained in his mind: Take care of Sammy. Watch out for your little brother.

I'm the one who should be watching out for them both. Dean is still just a kid.

Yeah, but you may not always be here and then what?

They have to be ready to face whatever's ahead.

I have to make sure Dean is strong enough for that.


Sam yelled at them from the motel room door.

"Yeah, Sammy?"

"Can we order a pizza?"

John looked at Dean and they both began to laugh.

"Works every time."

"Yeah, son, it does."

"Hey, Dean?"

Dean grunted and opened one eye. "Why aren't you asleep?"

Sam propped up on his elbow and studied his brother. "I was just wondering how you got lost."

"Now? We have to talk about this now?" Dean covered his face with his arm.

"I was just…..I don't know…..thinking about what would happen if Dad hadn't found you."

Dean sighed loudly. "I'm not going to get lost again if that's what you're worried about."

"But how do you know that?" There was genuine concern in Sam's voice.

"Because I'm the oldest and I know everything."

Sam rolled his eyes. "That's not true or you wouldn't have gotten lost in the first place."

"It's called a learning curve, butt munch. It won't happen again." Dean plopped back onto the pillow. "Now can we get some sleep?"

Through half-closed eyes, John watched this exchange from the other bed. He'd been too hard on Dean. He knew that. But he had to make Dean realize the seriousness of the situation. John hadn't pieced together all of the puzzle yet, but he knew Mary's death had something to do with Sam. He'd gotten bits and pieces of information over the years but he didn't want to tell the boys until he had it figured out. He knew someday this thing that had consumed his life was also probably going to end it and he had to make sure his boys were prepared for what was out there. Sometimes that meant teaching Dean a hard lesson.

John knew what other people said about him, how they criticized his parenting skills. But most of those people had never seen the things he had and even if they did know what was out there, they didn't have kids to raise. They didn't know what it was like to have two small children who didn't understand why their mother suddenly wasn't there anymore and their father couldn't explain it because he didn't understand it himself.

Those who thought he was a horrible father didn't know how much it killed him inside when Sammy said his first words or took his first steps and Mary wasn't there to share it. They didn't know how proud he was of Dean for always looking after his little brother.

John wished those people could put themselves in his shoes and see if they could do any better. On some days John thought, no, they couldn't, but on most days John thought probably all of them could. That still didn't negate the fact that he loved his boys more than anything and he would do whatever was in his power to protect them from the evil that walked this earth even if it never won him a father of the year award.


Sam's voice was a whisper but it jolted John out of this thoughts.

"Whaaat?" groaned Dean.

"I'm glad you're home."

"Me too, Sammy."

A few moments later Dean had slung his arm across his sleeping brother, a habit from when they were small children, and John smiled.

He might not be the perfect dad but he had two boys who loved each other fiercely. If that was the only thing they learned by being his sons, that was good enough for him. That would carry them through.

I haven't written a fic in quite awhile. Please be kind. I feel very rusty!

Comments are welcome!