John Winchester absently listened to Bobby's favorite war story. It was one he had heard several times before, so it didn't require his undivided attention. Instead, he watched his sons play with their toy cars on the living room carpet. Both boys were constantly brushing the hair out of there eyes. Sighing, John realized it was time for haircuts again. It looked like he would have to buy one less box of ammo next time he was in town - unless Bobby had skills beyond trapping demons,
John had known when he accepted his friend's invitation to stay that the bachelor wouldn't have a crib for two-year-old Sammy. At the time, it hadn't seemed important. It wouldn't be the first time the little boy had slept in his playpen. But the more John thought about it, the more he realized this was the perfect opportunity to transfer Sammy to an adult bed.
First, the room the boys were sharing had twin beds. Second, if Sammy put up a fuss there weren't any neighbors on the other side of paper-thin walls to complain. Last, but not least, Bobby had a couch, a luxury few hotel rooms provided. Another advantage: it had thick cushions. John could lay them on the floor to protect the little boy if he fell out of bed.
Each of the pluses of the plan outweighed the one minus – was Sammy too young? John had tried to recall when he and Mary had weaned Dean from his crib. But no matter how he tried, he couldn't remember. Almost from day one, Dean had been destined to be a big brother. He had done everything earlier than the books predicted. It was as though he wanted to be ready to protect his younger sibling when the time came.
His decision made, John tuned back into Bobby's story. He would let the boys play a little longer, past their usual bedtime. Hopefully, the more tired they were, the less traumatized they would be by the coming events. John knew whatever affected Sammy would be equally – if not more – distressing for Dean.
Bobby was well into another tale when John saw both boys' heads nod. They could barely keep their eyes open. Rising from his chair, he crossed over to them and scooped one up in each arm. Dean instantly snapped awake, while Sammy laid his head on his father's shoulder and grabbed a handful of T-shirt with a grubby fist. The boys had taken baths, brushed their teeth, and changed into their pajamas before sitting down to play. John was dismayed to see they could stand another bath. He hadn't realized Bobby's carpet was so dirty.
"Time for bed," John's voice softly explained to Dean as his eyes said something unfit for small ears to his host.
Fearful of the reaction he was about to receive, John straightened his shoulders as he entered the small bedroom. Turning on the light, he crossed to the bed nearest to the door.
When his father put him down, Dean looked sleepily around the room. Due to the front tooth he had lost the week before, he spoke with a slight lisp. "Where'sth Sammy gonna sleep, Daddy? Should I get the playpen?"
John gently restrained the helpful child. "Sammy's going to sleep there." With a nod of his head, John indicated the bed against the wall.
Dean's eyes grew wide, all signs of sleep disappearing. "All by hisself?"
"He's old enough." John rubbed Sam's back. "Aren't ya, Sammy?"
"Uh-huh," Sam drowsily agreed.
His gaze shifting between his brother and the bed, Dean demanded, "What if he falls out?"
"I'm going to put the couch cushions next to the bed. He won't get hurt."
Tired of the interrogation, John's temper snapped. "That's enough, Dean. Get under the covers and go to sleep. Sammy will be fine."
John crossed to the empty bed. Prying his shirt out of Sam's hand, he gently laid his son on the mattress and pulled the blanket up to his chin. He kissed the small forehead before straightening. His back protested the movement. The weight of carrying two growing boys, coupled with the blow he had received earlier in the day from a pissed off spirit, was making him feel every aching muscle.
He backed away slowly, waiting to see if Sam became alarmed. The boy shifted lower beneath the covers and yawned.
"Goodnight, Sammy," John whispered.
Turning to see if Dean had complied with his orders, John was met with a green glare.
"Don't forget the cushions," reminded Dean.
Uncertain whether he should be exasperated or proud, John held up his hands in defense. "I'm getting them now."
As quickly and quietly as he could, John retrieved the cushions and placed them next to Sam's bed. He was well aware Dean was watching his every move. It was embarrassing to realize he was feeling intimidated by a six-year-old. If he ever planned to have Dean join him on hunts, he was going to have to start putting his foot down on such behavior. Dean had to learn to listen to him without question. Another glance at the stormy face made John decide the lessons could wait until morning.
"Dean, Sammy will be fine. You let him sleep alone. He has to sometime. But if he has a problem, you come get me. You understand?"
John didn't even try to give Dean a kiss. "Goodnight, Dean."
Dad? In less than five minutes he had gone from "Daddy" to "Dad." Once again, John realized this incident could be more upsetting for his older son. However, he couldn't back down now, not only would it be a sign of weakness, it would just make it harder the next time he and Dean disagreed on Sammy's rearing.
Hiding his sadness at the turn of events, John switched off the lights, and walked out the door, closing it behind him.
Unable to sleep, John threw back his covers and sat up, listening for any sound coming from the bedroom across from his own. He had already performed this ritual more times than he could count. Realizing he wouldn't get any sleep at this rate, he swung his legs out of bed and rose quietly to his feet.
Moving carefully across the old wooden floor, he was outside his sons' room before he could change his mind. Eavesdropping outside the door, he didn't hear anything. His concern only slightly nullified, he turned the knob and slowly entered.
Moonlight streamed through the window, giving him enough to light to see. Panic stole the air from his lungs when he saw Dean's bed was empty. He didn't take another breath until he shifted his frantic gaze to the other bed and saw two small heads sharing the same pillow. Holding a hand to his heart, John waited for the frenzied beating to ease before shuffling slowly to the occupied bed.
He was tempted to leave Dean where he was, but he realized that solution would only postpone the crisis of Sam sleeping alone in a real bed to the next night. John knew one thing, his blood pressure couldn't tolerate another night like this one.
Using every ounce of stealth he had learned in the US Marine Corps, he slid his hands under Dean's shoulders and legs. He had barely started to lift the child when Dean turned in his arms. John unconsciously tightened his grip to keep from dropping the small body. There was no opportunity to dodge when a tiny fist sailed up and punched him in the eye. Surprised by the strength of the blow, he was barely able to suppress a cry of pain.
No longer worried about waking his son, John quickly carried Dean to the other bed and laid him down. Shocked, he realized Dean was still deeply asleep. The strike had been instinctive.
Pulling the covers over his eldest son, John realized he would never have to worry about Sam as long as his big brother was around. Dean wouldn't think twice when it came to protecting his little brother.
John stared into the mirror at the bright purple and blue bruises circling his left eye. Gently touching the swollen flesh, he winced. He wasn't looking forward to facing Bobby. How could he possibly confess the shiner had been given to him by his six-year-old son?
"John," Bobby called, loud enough to wake the neighbors two miles down the road, "breakfast's ready."
Shaking his head, John opened the bathroom door. "Coming."
Though he knew the bellow must have awakened his sons, John walked past their closed door to the kitchen. If Dean had crawled back into bed with Sammy, he should be disciplined. To avoid being the bad guy again, John decided what he didn't know couldn't hurt either of them.
John sat at the kitchen table, sniffing hungrily as Bobby set a plate of scrambled eggs, hash browns, and bacon in front of him. Just as he grabbed the cup of coffee Bobby handed him, a yell made him jump, spilling the hot liquid on his hand. Sucking the scorched flesh, he started to rise from his chair, preparing to run to his sons when Sammy barreled into the room. Only then did it register that the scream had been one of excitement, not fear.
"Daddy, Daddy," Sam cried, running straight to his father. "I sleeped in a bed wike Dean's."
"Were you scared?" John worriedly asked, knowing he would never forgive himself if he had caused the little boy distress. There would be enough waiting for him when he got older.
"Nah." Sam patted his father's leg. "Dean was dere."
Looking up, John watched as Dean entered the kitchen in a more sedate manner than his brother. As the boy scrambled up onto the chair he had occupied at dinner the night before, John asked, "How did you sleep, Dean?"
Knowing he couldn't allow the surly tone to continue unchallenged, John growled, "Fine what?"
Though he had been hoping to hear "Daddy," John knew he would have to be happy with the response he received. "I think we should celebrate Sammy's achievement. How about we head into town for some hair cuts and ice cream?"
"Yeah!" Sam jumped up and down, clapping his hands.
Dean stared at the table. "Yes, sir."
"What happened to your eye, John?" asked Bobby, pointing to the bruised face.
When Dean didn't react to the question, John knew the boy didn't remember administering the punch that was causing his father so much embarrassment. Dean wasn't a good liar; he wouldn't be able to hide his guilt. "I bumped into a door." John finally replied.
With a knowing smirk, Bobby bent to take a closer look as he placed a plate of food in front of Dean. "That door packs a heck of a wallop. Might wanna consider takin' it along on hunts."
Not surprised that Bobby had seen through his lie, John said, "Let's eat, boys. Once we get the chores done, we can head into town."
"Yes, Daddy." Sam lifted his arms, asking without words to be placed in his booster seat.
Dean nodded, his only acknowledgement of the plan.
Suppressing a sigh, John realized he would never hear the word Daddy pass through his oldest son's lips again, making him wonder if it had been worth the sacrifice.