Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done.

Rating: G

Synopsis: Being a father means you never stop worrying.

The humidity was a killer combined with the lingering heat of the day, but that didn't mean he got to slack off and relax in an air-conditioned motel room somewhere. The creature bounced off the tree he had hurled it against and landed on its stubby little legs again and in essence, it looked like a damned cartoon renegade. Stout, stubby, round like a damned ball, dusty and dirty, it made him think of every damned cartoon his boys had ever watched that contained leprechauns. This one wasn't a leprechaun, but it probably had a lot of stock in the legend about them. It was ugly as sin and it had a vicious bite. But it wasn't a bit more intelligent than a troll. Intelligence, he had learned the hard way, wasn't always what propelled these things. Whether this was some kind of mutant that should have been human or a creature right out of Hell itself, it was responsible for the deaths of several people and John Winchester was not about to let this critter get away.

It raised its stubby little arms and hissed like an angry cat. Its biggest force seemed to be the fact that it rolled at its opponent and with a body like that, it was hard to avoid being barreled over by it, and it was even harder to kill. But kill it he would. His boys were at risk if he didn't get this thing. On top of being vicious like hell, it was also vengeful and would follow them if he didn't put it out of its misery.

He raised the rifle and aimed at the advancing ball of brawn and fired right before it would have hit him. And this time he didn't miss. This time he hit it dead on and it had the desired result. The damned thing blew up, spattering him with gunk. "Son of a bitch," he snapped and ripped an arm up to protect his face. That was one of the downsides of this job, really. "This damned job should come with a clothing budget," he growled and wiped some of the debris off his jacket.


He froze, briefly closed his eyes, then turned around to find both his boys standing not too far from him. Dean had his arms locked around his squirming younger brother and even in the half-light of a partial full moon, he could see the wide eyes. "What are you doing here? I told you to stay in the car," he said. Anger always came first. It wasn't so much because of the disobedience. It was fueled by fear. What if the boys had gotten in the way? What if that nasty little critter had caught the boys' scent and had gone after them instead?

Dean remain silent. At seven he was more adult than any kid John had ever come across and he had seen more in his young life than any kid should have to. Sam kept squirming. He was walking and fast. That kid was way ahead of his age and he sure as hell didn't like being cooped up in the car when he could get out.

With a growl, John wiped more gunk off his jacket and made a face at the stench. He would need to find a dry-cleaner for the leather jacket if it was ever going to be useful again and it was something of a good luck charm to him. Shouldering the rifle, he figured there was no chance in hell that this thing would come back to life – considering the fact that it was spattered all over the place – and decided against salting and burning it. There was no sense in that. Instead he strode over to his boys, pulled Sam out of Dean's arms and positioned him on his hip. "You two are gonna be the death of me," he grumbled. "Why can't you just listen to me, huh? I've told you time and time again that when I tell you to stay in the car, you need to do so without question." A little roughly, he grabbed Dean's arm and hauled the kid along with him back toward the car. Sam was antsy, wouldn't sit still, and Dean remained silent. It still worried him every time Dean failed to reply to his questions that the kid might slip back into that near catatonic state he'd been in right after Mary's death. He had, after all, stopped talking for a good long while there. Not that it had been a big surprise after the obvious trauma the boy had suffered, but John still couldn't shake the fear of it happening again.

Back at the car, John stopped and glanced back toward the forest. For a moment, he just stood there and listened. The normal sounds of the undergrowth had picked up again, telling him that there were no further creatures around; at least not in the immediate area.


With a sigh, John looked back down at Dean. "What?" he asked, lending his tone a little more gruffness than necessary.

"Is it going to come after us?"

For a long moment he didn't know what to say. Dean was usually the one to reassure Sam when he got scared of something, and heaven knew that kid had a lot of hangups, but right now, Dean was the one that was scared and John felt like kicking himself for snapping at the boy in the first place. He hunkered down to get to Dean's level and grabbed his shoulder. "No, kiddo, it's not. It's goo. There's nothing left of it to come after us," he said.

Dean stared at him for a few heartbeats, then glanced back toward the forest. "Are there more of it?"

John too sent another glance in the direction of the forest. "Maybe. But not here. I got the one that hurt those people. It's not going to hurt anyone else," he said. "Now get in the car." With that he rose, opened the rear door and shooed Dean inside. Then he deposited Sam next to him and couldn't stop marveling at the fact that Sam had gone from squirming and almost hyperactive to almost being asleep.

Dean pulled his little brother closer and arranged the blanket around him and not for the first time did John realize that he expected way too much of his seven-year old. But how could he get this job done if he had to pay full-time attention to two kids in the process? Dean was more than willing to fill in and he trusted him to take care of Sam. The boy was cautious to a T and it sometimes bothered John that Dean didn't have any childhood to speak of.

With another heartfelt sigh, he closed the rear door and got behind the wheel. There was nothing in this world he wouldn't do for his boys, nothing at all. Then why the hell couldn't he provide them with a normal childhood? It had been all he had ever wanted to do when Mary had first told him she was pregnant with Dean. All that had mattered to him then had been to be a good father, to provide whatever his family needed and to raise his kids to be decent men with a good sense of moral. Now, all he could focus on was hunting evil and avenging Mary's death. The darkness that had engulfed their little family that night had snug into his heart too. His greatest fear was that this darkness would take his boys away from him and that alone was enough incentive for him to do what he did. He needed to protect them, needed to have them with him when he could and know they were safe when he couldn't. He would not be up for any father-of-the-year awards, but he did everything he could muster and all he could hope was to impart whatever knowledge he gathered along the way to Dean. In the end, it was all about protecting Sam and he would lay down his life to ensure that neither of his boys got hurt in the process.

A quick glance in the rearview mirror proved to him that Sam was in good hands. Dean had his arms locked around his brother, holding him steady and safe, and he never complained. In truth, no father could be prouder. He depended on Dean almost as much as Dean depended on him and the boy had never let him down. "Let's find a motel for the night. We could all use a good night's sleep," he said and glanced briefly back at his boys.

Dean nodded. "Sorry about leaving the car," he muttered.

"Keep in mind, Dean, that when I tell you boys to stay in the car, it's because I want you to be safe, okay? You're too little to hunt just yet and Sam doesn't even know what's going on out there. You need to keep him in the car," John said quietly and made certain his tone was neither gruff nor lecturing.

"I know, dad, but he's worse than a sack of flees sometimes," Dean muttered without looking up.

All John could do was nod in agreement. It would be easier to keep a feral squirrel contained than to keep Sam in one place when he wanted to get out. "You just keep doing what you do, kiddo. Tie a rope around him if you have to. Just keep him in the car," he insisted.

It was about time that he started leaving them at whatever motel they stayed at from now on. Sam was too mobile to stay in the car and Dean had his hands full as it was. It would be easier for him to keep Sam locked up in a room than in the car, after all.

"Tell you what. Tomorrow, we're just gonna sleep in and take a lazy day, okay?" He met his eldest's gaze in the rearview mirror and saw the careful smile in Dean's eyes. "We can rent some movies, grab some junkfood, whatever you guys want."

There wasn't enough time for stuff like that. He wanted nothing more than to hang out with his boys, teach them normal stuff like baseball and riding bikes, but knowing what lurked out there in the darkness had permanently derailed the train of normalcy and most times he felt like they were barreling down a dark track toward sure damnation. Did it make him a bad father that he took his boys with him on that ride? But the mere thought of leaving them behind sent shivers up his spine. Even when he left them at Singer's place or Caleb's place or even Pastor Jim's place, he was raw inside out until he got back to them. Even though he could focus on the job, his boys were never out of his mind and the worst thing he could imagine was to lose them.

Dean didn't answer, but the look in his eyes was answer enough and John focused on the road ahead. What little good times he could give them they deserved tenfold and he once more prayed that this madness was over sooner than later, that he would find what he was after so he could lay his dead wife to rest, but deep down he didn't really believe there was an end in sight. When push came to shove, he had a bad feeling about where this was heading and all he could do was do his best to keep his boys as safe and as prepared as he could.

The End