The sun had only barely let go of the horizon when Sam, always the early riser, stepped outside to grab the newspaper. At times it surprised him how normal everything still was despite the disaster which had eradicated half the human population on the planet. But, then again, this was what humans did best, wasn't it? Once the immediate threat was over, they fell back into routine and went on with life.

He eyed the horizon, the misty sun shedding its light over the quiet neighborhood and he could honestly say that this, right here, was bliss. This was what he had always wanted. Of course, the dream hadn't included him still hunting, but the hunts they went on was something he could live with. Trolls mostly, the occasional ghost, a few odd disturbances and that was it. Yeah, he could live like this.

And then he realized he wasn't the only one up this early. He almost dropped the newspaper when he spotted his brother, sitting on the porch steps of the neighboring house, a mug in one hand, his eyes on the horizon. "Uh-oh," he muttered. Dean being up this early could only mean trouble.

Dropping the newspaper back onto the welcoming mat in front of the door, he stepped off his own porch and walked straight over. "Who died?" he asked.

Dean, who uncommonly hadn't noticed him, glanced up at him. "Nobody," he countered.

Sam glanced off toward the horizon. "Then why are you out here at this hour?" he queried.

"Because I couldn't sleep. Besides ... that's one hell of a sun rise," Dean said and gave him a smirk.

Dean was never chipper in the morning unless they had gone past nine. He hated getting up early, he got grumpy if he had to. Unsettled and expecting some kind of disastrous news his brother hadn't gotten around to yet, Sam settled down next to him. "Are you sick?" he asked, not sure what to expect.

Dean chuckled. "Nah, I've just ..." He paused and took a sip of his coffee. "She's pregnant," he said and glanced at Sam, his expression hard to read right now. "Chell, that is."

"Yeah, I kinda figured you meant Michelle," Sam countered. "Pregnant, huh?"

A quiet sigh, a nod, and then nothing. Dean just sat there and eyed the rising sun as if he'd never seen anything like it before. Sam waited, because he knew his brother would start talking at some point. "Puts things in perspective," he finally said.

Sam couldn't help a smile at that one. In part he wasn't surprised. In part he was surprised it hadn't happened sooner. "Yeah, I bet it does," he agreed. "How do you feel about it, though?"

It took Dean a moment to reply to that one. He just sat and stared, then dropped his gaze to the ground in front of the lower step. "I don't know. Good, I guess," he said. "Prophecy or not, this is ... big."

Yeah, that's what Sam had thought he would say. "Well, you're good with kids, Dean. And you really like Michelle too. I haven't heard you two fight even once and that's got to meant something."

To his immediate surprise, Dean laughed at that. And that laugh send a thrill through Sam, because his brother sounded so ... free. Like this was just the kind of thing he'd needed to convince him that this was good, this was the future for them. "We get along just fine, yeah," Dean agreed with a chuckle. "But, man, the way she told me ... I thought she was dumping me or something."

Sam could imagine Michelle taking the long road to telling Dean about that. But that girl had a lot of guts, she was tough, and in Sam's opinion was just the thing Dean needed. "So ... a kid, huh?" He couldn't help grinning at the idea. He was going to be an uncle. Dad's wish for Dean had actually come true.

"Yeah, a kid," Dean agreed with a smirk still on his lips. "This is big," he repeated. "I like it."

"Well, good. Cause once the kid's here, things are gonna change," Sam said and clapped a hand onto his shoulder. "For one, you probably won't get a lot of sleep. And there's gonna be diapers and bottles and ..."

Dean slapped his hand off his shoulder and gave him a crooked grin. "What do you know about it? I've already raised one kid. And that turned out just fine, didn't it?"

Grinning ruefully, Sam had agree to that one. "Yeah, I guess it did. In the end."

***

Eight Months Later

The baby was born on schedule and all of them, including Bobby and Grace, were present for the birth. Dean was a mess because of the screaming and the blood and the cursing, all coming from Michelle, who alternated between yelling her head off at him and begging him never to leave her.

But once the nurse placed the squirming bundle in Dean's arms, the room fell quiet. He just stood there with the wrapped infant in his arms and stared down at the tiny face. In part he had been convinced that this would be no different than it had been to be responsible for Sam's every move, but this was different. This was, in his own words, big. And the thought that this tiny little being was his, that he was not only responsible for her, but had actually caused her to come into existence, staggered him in more ways than he could handle right now.

When Sam grabbed his shoulder and leaned in to take a closer look at his niece, Dean once more felt grounded and he could breathe again. "Holy crap," he muttered.

"She looks like you," Sam stated with a smirk on his lips.

Dean gave him a brief look, then turned his attention to the exhausted, but radiantly beautiful Michelle. "She's ..." He couldn't think of a word that fit. His mind had stalled and hadn't really caught up yet. Instead of searching for something that wasn't there right now, he placed the bundle in her arms and she just sat there and looked down at her daughter with that maternal glow that made him go all gooey inside.

"Perfect," she completed his sentence and glanced up at him with a smile. "She's perfect."

"Okay, let's vacate the room before we get smothered in mushiness," Bobby suggested and shoved Sam, Grace and Isabel out of the room.

Dean settled down on the bed with Michelle and just stared for a moment. "We did this. Actually ... you did this," he finally said, leaned in and kissed her brow.

"We did this," she corrected him. "She's just ... so tiny."

"Well, I should hope so. Any bigger and ..."

"Don't go there," Michelle warned a little sternly. "I've had quite enough goo for one day, thank you very much."

He couldn't help grinning at her tone, which contained equal amounts of disgust and exhaustion. "So ... what do we call her?"

Michelle considered it for a moment. They hadn't actually talked about names, but Dean had the distinct impression that she knew what she wanted. "Lynne after my mom," she said, then looked up to meet his eyes. "Mary after yours. Mary Lynne. I think that's an appropriate name, don't you? Mary Lynne Winchester."

"Yeah," he agreed. He could definitely live with that. "ML," he added and smirked.

Michelle eyed him closely for a moment. "What is it with you and always having to abbreviate everybody's names?" she asked. "Apart from Sam, who you insist on calling Sammy," she amended.

"I don't know," he admitted. "And I don't really call Sam that any more, do I?"

"No, just about all the time," Michelle said, shifted a little and grimaced. "I could use some sleep," she added.

"Yeah, I bet," he agreed, leaned in and kissed her briefly, then took the baby from her. "Get some rest."

"This is going to be one spoiled little brat, isn't it?" she asked sleepily and smiled.

"You better believe it," he agreed, his mind already churning with all the things this kid would have. Most of all, she would have both her parents while growing up. And that meant he would have to dial down the risky hunts. But that was okay.

***

Six months later

The day Mary Lynne turned six months was a grueling experience for Dean. Apart from her being a very lively and active and progressive infant, Dean couldn't dial down the nervousness. He knew that the risk of anything happening to her was nil as long as the gates to Hell were still sealed shut, but he still couldn't subdue the fear.

He knew that once this night was over, he would be able to relax. This was a critical moment in his daughter's life and the very thought that she could end up in the same position as he and Sam had been made his skin crawl. So he sat up with her, in her nursery, all night. And shortly after midnight, Sam turned up.

"Hey," he said quietly, pulled up a chair and sat down. "She okay?"

"Sleeping soundly," Dean agreed just as quietly. "Chell's sleeping soundly too," he added.

Sam didn't ask why he was up. He was up for the same reason. If the day came when Sam and Isabel decided to take this step, Dean was convinced that Sam would have equal issues on this same night. And, obviously, he would be there for his brother when that day came. "She still looks like you," Sam said after eying the sleeping baby for a moment.

"Well, I should hope so," Dean muttered and couldn't help a grin. But he was still nervous. He wouldn't be calm until the sun started to rise. Obviously, for some reason the six month birthday was critical in turning the kids, he figured, and he would be damned if he would let any demon near his kid.

Despite the fact that Michelle knew what they did for a living, there were things he had kept from her. Like the markings on the door frame into the nursery. And the similar markings on the window frames. Or the heavy protection carved into the front doors of both houses. Both of them had done their damndest to keep their little families safe. Any demon would be hard pressed to get past the protection they'd set up. But despite that, he was still nervous.

"She'll be fine," Sam tried, but he didn't sound all that convinced. Then he focused on Dean. "Oh ... and Isabel ... she copies Michelle on everything," he added and managed a tentative smile.

Dean eyed him. "What are you saying?" he asked. He had an idea, but needed Sam to confirm it before he responded.

The blush that crept into his brother's cheeks was almost cute. "She wants a kid. She told me before we went to bed."

Dean grinned. "That's great news, man."

Sam seemed to consider it for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, it is. She's really excited about it too. She claims she knows it's going to be a boy."

"What is she? Psychic? She isn't even pregnant yet," Dean countered with a chuckle. Mary Lynne moved a little and he glanced down only to realize she was awake. "Hey, you're supposed to be asleep, you little troll."

The kid gave him a wide, toothless grin. Michelle worried that the kid hadn't started teething yet, but Dean couldn't care less. Mary Lynne was healthy and happy and full of energy. That was all that mattered.

"Don't call her that," Sam chastised.

"She has no idea what a troll is, Sammy," Dean countered and lightly thumped the tip of her nose, which the kid thought was hilarious. She had a laugh like nobody's business and she giggled delightedly. "Do you? Huh? You don't care what I call you, do you? Because you have no frigging clue what I'm talking about yet."

Sam shook his head. "Poor kid. She's gonna grow up with self-esteem issues like Hell if you compare her to trolls."

"Well, I for one am going to do my utmost to make sure she never has to meet one," Dean said, suddenly serious again. He looked up to meet Sam's eyes. "I am so not raising her to be a hunter, Sam."

"She needs to know what's out there," Sam disagreed.

"She will, but she won't have to get involved. Not if I can help it," Dean countered.

The frown furrowing Sam's brow indicated what might be going through his mind. "Is this because she's a girl?" he asked, to which Dean snorted. "Dean, if you want to make sure her life is different, she needs to know, she needs to be prepared. I don't care whether Izzie has a boy or a girl. Doesn't make any difference. No kid of mine is going to grow up oblivious to the dangers out there."

"Really?" Dean eyed him darkly. "Isn't this a bit of a turn for you? I mean, you've spent most of your life whining about how dad should have let you remain in the illusion that there were no monsters. Now you wanna do the same thing to your own kid?"

"The way dad did it was wrong, Dean. He should have been more open about it, telling us more about what was out there. Instead we found out the hard way. Or I did, at least," Sam countered a little tensely.

Dean stared at him for a moment. "Oh, that wasn't dad's idea, Sam. That was mine," he finally said.

Sam stared at him for a second. "What?" he asked.

"Yeah, dad was all for telling you everything, but I didn't think it was a good idea. And since I spent way more time with you than he did ... he left it up to me to decide. And I figured you'd be better off not knowing." He glanced down at his daughter. She was following their exchange with what could only be called a worried expression. He smoothed a thumb over her brow and gave her a vague smile. "I guess I didn't do a good job of that, though. She'll know what's out there. I'll just make sure she doesn't have to go up against it."

When he looked up again, Sam just sat there and stared at Mary Lynne. "She should know," he finally said. "It's better if she does. Just don't give her a gun if she's afraid of a monster under the bed," he added and smirked lightly. "She might end up shooting you in the foot or something."

"If she's even got half my genes, she'll be able to shoot straight without ever having held a gun before," Dean countered. "She'll do fine."

Sam nodded, but refrained from answering that.

For the rest of the night, they watched over Mary Lynne together, and when the sun came up and nothing untoward had happened, both of them went to their respective beds and slept the sleep of the righteous.

***

One year and seven months later

It took time for Isabel to get pregnant, but eventually John David was born one week late and was a humdinger of a baby. He was huge and was born with a serious disposition. Most of the time, he viewed the world with a frown on his tiny brow and pursed lips and Dean kept insisting that the kid was a true copy of Sam. When Isabel held him, he looked huge. When Sam held him, he nearly disappeared.

Grace was happy as a clam and insisted on being called grammy when the kids were old enough to start speaking. Bobby promised Dean a butt full of buckshot if he even considered the same honor for him.

As it turned out, Sam had a natural knack for kids and took to his son like he'd done this a million times before. Dean had all the trouble he could handle with controlling his daughter, who was all over the place. The moment she started crawling, she beat any comparison to her uncle and was frustrating the hell out of her dad.

Since Michelle was working again and daycare was hard to come by, Dean took care of the kid until Michelle got home from work. His earlier free lifestyle was hampered by the kid, but he found he didn't really care. Mary Lynne's health and happiness was always foremost on his mind. Trolls just had to be trolls until he had time to deal with them.

Sam had about the same attitude and with JD – Dean's urge to abbreviate names had won this time around – it wasn't hard to uphold. JD was an easy kid. He didn't cry much and when he did, he did it for a reason. He had a habit of watching Dean intently whenever they were around each other and Dean started feeling like he could see dad in the boy, a fact Sam agreed with.

***

Six months later

The pile of letters on the floor inside the door made entering without stepping on them a bit of a task, but Sam somehow managed anyway. He pushed the door shut and picked the letters up, then balanced them to hang up his jacket and muttered under his breath at the stupidity that he hadn't done that first. Two of the envelopes sailed to the floor again and he sighed, leaned down to pick them up again and managed to spill the majority of the others back onto the floor. "Crap," he growled, piled them together and picked them up again. "Izzie?" he then called, a little surprised at the fact that she hadn't dealt with them. JD had to be keeping her busy.

At that moment it hit him that the house was far too quiet. Usually, she would be playing some kind of music while she was bustling around, doing whatever she did when he wasn't home. Right now, there wasn't a sound to be heard, though, and it sent a nervous jitter through him. Routine, he had found, was something he adhered to like nobodies business. He liked things to be predictable and this change wasn't. And it was JD's six month birthday today.

Then he almost groaned under his breath. She was probably next door with JD, gabbing about whatever with Chell. "Stupid, paranoid ..." He sighed, dropped the mail on the hall table and stepped into the livingroom. Like always, the house was pristine. Izzie put a lot of pride into keeping it this way and he couldn't say he minded. Having lived with Dean and dad for that many years, it was a refreshing breath to share his life with someone who was almost as much of a neat freak as he himself was.

With a quiet huff, he sank down on the couch and glanced around the livingroom. The house was a different thing than her apartment had been. Most of what she had owned she had thrown out when they had moved. What the house contained was theirs, she kept insisting. He kept thinking of it as hers, seeing as she was the one paying for everything.

Before he could submerge himself in this line of destructive thinking, the phone rang. He stared at it for a moment, considered leaving it for the answering machine, then sighed, rose and picked up. Old habits died hard and most of the time he had to think twice before he said his name, so most times he didn't.

"Yup," he said instead and eased back down on the couch.

"I'm calling from Mercy Hospital. I was hoping to reach Isabel Webster," a woman said.

Sam frowned. "Uh ... she's not home right now. Can I give her a message?"

For a moment, there was nothing but low-key static on the line. "May I ask who you are?"

Whether it was her tone or this odd request for information, it sent a shiver up his spine and formed a pit in his stomach. "I'm ..." He hesitated, not really sure what he was. They were together, had a kid together, lived together. "... her boyfriend," he finished and grimaced. It sounded so odd, saying it like that. "Her partner," he amended and almost flinched. That sounded even worse.

"You're JD's dad?" the woman asked.

"Yeah. What is this about?" he pressed. The concern intensified like ghostly fingers skipping over his skin.

"Dr. Brandon asked me to call and give Isabel the results as soon as possible," the woman said.

Results? What results? He almost sneered, decided in a split second to pretend he knew, morbid curiosity and growing concern getting the better of him. "Right. Well ... you can tell me and I'll let her know."

Again she hesitated, obviously uncertain about what to do now. "Well, I guess that would be okay," she said, almost as if speaking to herself. "The tests are, unfortunately, positive. It's cancer. She should come in as soon as possible so we can start her on the treatment."

Tunnel-vision wasn't something he had experienced before, not while sober at least, but hearing those words made him suddenly see the livingroom as a long, drawn-out, smeared painting that stretched away into infinity. "Positive?" he heard himself say and a part of him marveled at the fact that he was able to string two letters together in any coherent manner.

"Yes, I'm afraid so," the nurse confirmed – somewhere along the line he had decided she had to be a nurse.

"Uh ... okay. Thanks. I'll ... tell her," he managed, not sure how else to respond. What the hell was going on?

"Just tell her to call for an appointment as soon as possible. The sooner she gets started on the treatment, the sooner it's over with," the nurse said. She sounded concerned, sympathetic, something along those lines.

"I will. Thanks," he repeated and hung up on her without further ado. He put the handset down on the coffee table and stared at it for a second, seeing nothing but evil intent from the gadget right now.

Just then, the front door clicked open. "Sam? You home?" Izzie's voice rang from the hallway.

It took some doing, but he managed to pull himself together enough to answer her. "In here," he called back.

The front door clicked shut again and a second later, Izzie stepped through with JD in her arms. "Hi, I ..." She stopped short, her otherwise happy smile fading while a fine line appeared between her brows when they drew together a little. "Sam, is something wrong?"

He stared at her, tried to imagine what 'the treatment' would do to this frail-looking creature, and knew at the same time that she was anything but frail. But cancer? She looked vibrant, alive, healthy. How the hell could she have cancer? People like her didn't get cancer. "Uh ..." He had no idea how to approach this subject, had no clue how to convey to her what he had learned. At the same time he was outraged that she hadn't told him about the tests, that she had kept him in the dark about the potential for this disastrous information. "There was a ... call."

The line between her brows deepened. "Has something happened to Grace or Bobby?" She sounded a little jittery now, afraid even.

"No, the call came from Mercy Hospital. From ... Dr. Brandon's office," he countered and rose. "Izzie, what ... tests?"

The line leveled out, replaced by furrows on her brow when her eyebrows arched a little. For a moment she held his gaze, then hers skipped away and he knew he'd caught her in a lie. Before he could say anything else, she turned around and took JD upstairs.

He just stood there and stared at the open door to the hallway beyond and couldn't think of anything to say. Instead he followed her on legs that were now oddly wobbly beneath him.

Izzie was putting JD down for a nap when he stepped into the nursery and she was cooing to him and smiling like nothing in the world was wrong. He watched her, knew she knew he was there, and tried not to start yelling at her. He had never yelled at her, had no intention of ever yelling at her, but right now he felt like yelling. Not at her so much as at the situation.

Once JD was settled and tugged in, she turned around and left the nursery again and headed back downstairs. He followed her, unsettled by her silence, unsure of how to approach her right now.

She stopped in the middle of the livingroom, just stopped and stood there, her back to him. Then she turned around. "What did they say?" She looked unfazed, like she expected him to say it was nothing.

He realized then that she had wanted JD out of the way before they talked about it. It still didn't make it okay. Not by a long shot. "Positive," he said. "Cancer."

She eyed him and somehow managed to not look upset. How could she not look upset? He just didn't understand how she could look so calm in the face of such disaster. "It's nothing." This ended in a smile, one that was supposed to comfort and console. "It's treatable. It's not dangerous."

"Not ... Izzie, what ..." He couldn't find the words. He felt so off kilter that it was almost laughable. Had he been doused with some drug that was messing with his mind right now? He shook his head, mentally backtracked. No, the hunt had gone well, the troll had been small and easily dealt with. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Nothing. Except that damned call. "Cancer is not nothing. They want you to call for an appointment. As soon as possible. They want to start the treatment right now." Words, once recovered, staggered over each other in an attempt to make up for lost time. "What kind of cancer is this?"

"It's gastric cancer. And I'm not going to start any treatment until JD is weaned. Chemotherapy will mess with the milk-production and he needs this right now. Besides, it's nothing big. It can wait a month or two before I start the treatment," she countered.

"Gastric ... no, you have to start treatment now. JD will be fine. You need ..." he started, but she stopped him by raising a hand and taking a step toward him.

"No, Sam. It's not advanced. It's tiny. It will keep a month or two. Trust me," she insisted. "It was caught early. I'll be fine."

"But ... it's cancer," he tried, not sure what to believe right now. Part of him wanted to force her to start treatments while another – dominant at this point – wanted to believe she was right. "Does Michelle know?"

"No, she doesn't and she doesn't need to know, Sam." She stepped up to him, a relaxed smile on her lips. "She worries so easily. And there's nothing to tell her. Please. Just ... let's keep this between us. In a month, I'll start the treatment and in no time, it'll be gone. And nobody else has to know about it and worry about it. Okay?"

He would worry about it. Every damned second of every day he would worry about it. But how could he deny her this request? She wasn't refusing treatment, she was just postponing it. And not because she was afraid or in denial, but because she had their son's best interest at heart. "But ... isn't it better to get it done now?"

"Sam, this is a critical time for JD. He needs the immunity the breast-milk offers him. He needs it at least for one more month. After that, I will start treatment. I promise. I'll call the doctor tomorrow and talk this through with him, but I'm sure he'll agree," she persisted.

And he let himself be convinced by her smile and the relaxed tone of her voice. She wasn't worried, so why should he be? They had caught it early, after all. There was still time. And JD needed the immunity.

***