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Fic: Family Ties 2/4



The day after Dean’s eighteenth birthday, Will went to work. He had been catching up on paperwork when Spencer stopped at his desk.

“So the kid’s going to solve his father’s case when we couldn’t?” he started the conversation.

Will looked at his former rookie and blinked. “What?”

“Your oldest foster kid, he turned eighteen.”

“Yesterday.”

“Well, he came in here with his driver’s license today and insisted on all his father’s personal affects,” Spencer said. “He got the run-around from Evidence, but he managed to walk out of here with everything.”

“Thanks for letting me know.” Will should have seen it coming. It made perfect sense. Will should have submitted the paperwork last week. That would have made it easier for Dean, smoothed the way with Evidence. The boy hadn’t even stopped by Will’s desk to say hi. Dean had to know that the gossip would get to him before the day was out. Will didn’t think Dean was being defiant or sneaky; he simply wanted the connection to his father. The box of evidence would have made for a decent birthday present for a kid who rarely asked for anything for himself. Helen would have vetoed it as a gift to give at the party, because of the emotional ramifications, but they could have given it to Dean later. Dean would have liked that.

Too late for that now.

Will would have to sit down and talk with Dean. He didn’t think he wanted to include Helen initially. He would definitely inform her before bed that night. This was not something he wanted to discuss over the phone, so Will buckled down and concentrated on his paperwork. He left as soon as he was able.

Will caught the faint smell of turpentine as he walked in the door to home. Helen was painting in the garage so he would have a few moments with Dean. Will went straight the room claimed by his foster sons. The door was firmly shut and Will knocked and announced himself.

There was no response.

“Dean,” he called softly. “We have to talk, now.”

“Yeah,” Dean answered.

Will took that to mean ‘permission granted’ and opened the door. Dean was on his bed with the evidence box beside him. He was systematically separating out the contents. The journal was already on Dean’s bedside table, right next to the family photo Will had handed him a day after his father’s murder. John Winchester’s brown leather jacket was hanging on the edge of the bed. In Dean’s hands was a silver knife.

Will immediately stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. The slight movement out of the corner of his eye drew his attention to Sam. At fourteen, he was all angles and hormones. He was perched in the furthest corner of his bed ‘doing homework.’ He looked like he wanted to be anywhere but here.

Will nodded toward the door, but Sam, ever perverse, shook his head. “I should be here.” Will recognized that jut of his chin; Sam had made his choice and was not going to change his mind. Will accepted that and sat on the edge of Sam’s bed, close enough that he could place a hand on Sam’s shoulder. It was correct gesture as Sam’s posture relaxed.

Dean was not as easy. He would accept physical demonstrations from Helen and the kids, but he was stiff with Will.

“I would have helped you,” Will said to Dean. “I just honestly didn’t think about it.”

Dean shrugged and set aside the knife. He dug around the box for a moment. Will wondered what he remembered when he saw the contents. What did Sam remember? Will remembered packing that box eight years ago, more than any other box he packed that year, but still the contents were hazy.

He remembered… “Dean, where’s the shotgun?”

“Gun?” Dean echoed innocently.

Will had had all of his children try to lie to him over the years and had a look just for the occasion. Dean considered repeating the lie, but respected Will too much. “It’s secure.”

Will would bet that it wasn’t secure in the house gun safe. Dean’s ideas of secure sometimes exceeded Will’s, but they were in no means conventional. “Okay, two rules: one, Helen doesn’t find out. Two, I want to see for myself that it is secure.”

Dean scooted to the edge of his bed and held out his hand like a man, “Deal.”

Will shook Dean’s hand and sighed with relief. He looked around the room. “So where is it?”

“In the car.”

“In the car?” Dean had scraped up the money from his after school job for the beater, but he kept it running better than most used cars. On several occasions, when the family car had broken down, Dean’s car was always available for use. It also meant that his younger siblings were often in that car.

Dean grinned, showing a little pride in his solution. “Someone could steal my car and make it their own and never find the gun.”

In spite of himself, Will was intrigued. He glanced at his watch. “Can you show me before we need to start dinner?” Since Will was home slightly early, he really should get dinner going and give Helen more time with her paints.

Dean nodded and stood up. He followed Will to the door, pausing only to ask, “Sammy?”

Will waited to witness Sam’s refusal. Sam looked as conflicted over Dean’s actions as Will was. That decided, Will and Dean tromped outside. Dean had backed into his parking space. Like a cop, Dean’s parking jobs always ensure a quick start to the emergency. In this case, it meant that the trunk was up against the house and no one would be able to see the contents without looking directly over Dean’s shoulder. Dean unlocked the trunk and stood back. Will could see no gun and no alterations to the trunk indicating a secret compartment. He searched as methodically as a cop and still didn’t find it.

“I’m impressed,” he admitted.

Dean opened his wallet and took out a flat metal… tool. It had been cut to this specific shape. He inserted it into a hole in the underside of the trunk hood and twisted. Will heard a ‘click’ and the fabric covering dropped down. The shotgun was nestled firmly in the foam.

Dean immediately pushed the fabric into place and locked it. He put the homemade key –that didn’t look anything like a conventional key- into his wallet and closed the trunk.

“It’s smaller than I remember,” Will mused. It had seemed so big in the child’s hands. It represented the distrust that Dean had had for Will, but now Dean was family and he had made no motions to moving out now that he was eighteen. He was family for life.

Dean smirked at him sideways. “That was my first impression too.”

Will clapped Dean on the shoulder, like he would any of his other boys and Dean didn’t stiffen with rejection. “Come on, we’ve got to get the sauce started.”

Dean nodded and let Will lead him into the house. Will just had to figure out a way to tell Helen about everything but the gun.

xxx

It was one o’clock in the afternoon the day after her oldest adoptive son had graduated from high school. Helen knew that he had partied well after the adults had gone to bed, but still, Dean was the responsible sort. He knew that he had chores that he had to do before he left for his part-time job in a couple of hours.

Helen glanced up the stairs again and shook her head. He was an adult. She would wake him twenty minutes before he had to be at work. Sam came in from outside and caught her looking upstairs again.

“What’s wrong?” Sam asked. Sam exhibited the male stereotype that if there was a problem then he would fix it now. Dean was even worse; he went looking for his family’s problems so that they could be fixed before maximum damage could occur.

Helen smiled. “Your brother is just being lazy.”

“Dean?” Sam asked.

Helen nodded and started walking away.

“You don’t know…” Sam’s voice dropped off hesitantly and a sliver of fear chilled her bones. She turned back to face her younger foster son. He straightened and lifted his chin somewhat defensively. As much love and loyalty as they gave the family, Sam and Dean still didn’t expect an equal measure of love and loyalty in return. Dean was worse than Sam.

“Samuel,” Helen said. “Where is Dean?”

“Gone.”

Helen knew that all the blood drained from her face. “Where? Why?”

Sam shrugged a little. He didn’t entirely understand it either. “He went looking for Dad’s friends.”

Helen was sitting. She didn’t know when she had reached out for a chair. “Why would he do that?” Dean and Sam rarely mentioned their biological father.

Another shrug. “He wants answers.”

“He couldn’t do that over the phone from here?”

“He said he couldn’t.”

Helen wanted to ask why Dean hadn’t told them (asked them) about his plans. They wouldn’t have let Dean go off by himself. “What about his job?” she asked. It wasn’t the question she wanted to ask. She didn’t want to know if Dean was coming home or if Sam would join him out in the middle of the country doing God knows what when he graduated.

“Mr. Anton said that if Dean got back into for his annual Fourth of July Family reunion, Dean would get a dollar an hour raise and as many hours as he could work around college.”

Helen breathed out a huge sigh of relief. “So he is coming back.”

“Of course. Though he’s not sure if he’ll be back by July. It’s going to be close.”

“Okay…. Okay.” Helen would have an emotional blow up later and with Will. “Is he going to stay in touch?”

“It would have been easier if Dean had a cell phone,” Sam chided.

Helen didn’t wince but didn’t glare as effectively as she wished either. Yes, she had been the one to veto the cell phone as an unnecessary expense when Dean had broached the subject at Christmas, but she hadn’t guessed that one of her kids would just run off the day after graduation. She didn’t pretend that this hadn’t been the plan for months. Dean had flatly refused any graduation party later in the month. The plan could have even in the works for years. Every part of this reminded Helen of how Dean had went about getting his father’s personal effects. He could have asked Will for assistance, but instead had done it all on his own. Helen hadn’t found out until after the fact. The more Helen thought about it, the more she realized that this trip was just a belated fallout from whatever Dean had found in the police box. Dean didn’t talk about his father much and his mother not at all, but Helen knew that he remembered both. Dean would still need the clues from the personal effects to find his father’s friends. Sam barely remembered his biological dad and had never known his mother, but he would support Dean in almost any endeavor.

“When Dean does call, please keep him on the phone until I can talk to him?” She asked Sam.

Sam shrugged; the fourteen year old wasn’t sure why she was putting up a fuss.

“He’s going to eat horribly on the road,” Helen murmured more to herself.

Now Sam grinned. He knew his brother’s horrible eating habits as well as she did. “You can fill him up with greens when he gets back.”

“Don’t think that I won’t.”

“He’ll be fine,” Sam offered. “He took his gun.”

That didn’t reassure Helen in the least. She’d never been terribly comfortable with the idea of her son owning a gun, even if it spent the majority of its time in the gun safe. “Why would he take the gun?”

“He didn’t tell me. He said it was just in case.”

“Just in case of what?” Helen questioned and then realized that she was interrogating the wrong son. “I am having words with that boy as soon as he returns.”

Sam looked hesitant. “He is a man now,” he finally said.

“He may be a man to the rest of the world, but he will always be my boy,” Helen retorted.

“You might want to start your yelling at Dean with that fact,” Sam advised drily.

Helen relaxed, which had probably been Sam’s goal. “I’m sure it will come up.” She sighed, “I should have taken him to the therapist more often.”

“It wouldn’t have helped,” Sam was quick to tell her. “If they had kept on asking him questions, he would have shut down completely and never let any of us back in. He told me once that he stopped talking for a year after Mom died. I think the shrinks would have made him fall back on his familiar coping mechanism.”

Helen stared at Sam. Why did Dean have to leave before she learned all this about her oldest adopted son? She’d always known that Dean kept his mouth shut about things that mattered, but she didn’t know how long he’d been going with that particular habit.

Sam reached a hand out and covered hers. “Dean will be okay. He’s looking for Uncle Bobby and Pastor Jim. Knowing Dean, he’ll find them. I know he will.”

Sam had such earnest eyes. Helen found herself trusting him. She finally breathed deep and relaxed. Sam smiled. Helen pointed her free hand at her boy. “This does not mean that Dean is off the hook. At all. He still should have talked about this and… and… told us that he wanted to find out about his father. Will could have helped him.”

Sam was still smiling but now he was hiding secrets. For some reason, they didn’t want to involve Will. “Dean will be fine.”

“Sam! Sam!” Luke was yelling just outside the door. “Are you coming?”

“I’m coming,” Sam called back. He reached over to the table and grabbed the binoculars. He paused at the doorway. “Dean will be just fine. He knows how to take care of himself.” Then he was gone.

“That’s what I’m worried about,” Helen said to the empty room.

xxx

Rumsfeld was barking.

Robert Singer didn’t hear the car engine until a second later. He grabbed his shotgun. If it was a customer, they could forgive him. If it was a Hunter, they’d understand. If it was evil, they had better run for the hills. That noisy dog was given the run of the junk yard so that Bobby would have a dependable early warning system. He and the dog were waiting on the porch when the older Chrysler braked in front of them. The dog quietly waited for further instruction.

No screeching brakes, no squealing engine. Chances were good that this was not a client. The car wasn’t a classic, but it was well-cared for. A man –no, he was just a kid despite his height- stepped out of the car. Bobby’s first impression was pretty boy. He was wearing durable, dirty clothes. Either a mechanic looking for something for a client, or a hunter. Something evil was always a possibility. He was young for a hunter on his own. The kid was looking around. He was either cataloguing the car parts available, or a hunter looking for the various demon traps scattered through the property.

Finally, the kid met Bobby’s eyes. Bobby was surprised by the wistfulness he saw there. If he was evil, he was damn good at looking not.

“What do you want?” he barked.

“Uncle Bobby?”

Bobby blinked. Then he cocked his gun. “Who the hell are you?”

Dimples flashed as the kid raised his hands half-way. He was so damn cock-sure of himself. He almost didn’t need to say his name. “Dean Winchester.”

Bobby’s eyes flicked to a certain tarped car in the shadows of the barn. Dean’s eyes followed.

Dean was quick to recognize the shape. He brightened immediately. “Yes! You kept her.”

Bobby was ninety-percent sure that Dean was who he said he was from that alone. “ID,” he commanded.

Dean rolled his eyes but reached into his back pocket for his wallet. He pulled out two photo IDs: his driver’s license and a community college ID and stepped forward to hand them to Bobby. Both IDs were issued in Maryland. That was where Bobby had found the car. He had been stonewalled by child services in that state too while looking for the boys. It had taken a little B&E at the state office to find their location, a cop’s house. Seeing that they were together and not abused, Bobby had decided to leave them there. They had a chance to grow up without worrying about things in the dark. The last thing he had expected was for a Winchester boy to show up on his porch.

“Where’s Sam?” Bobby asked gruffly.

Dean’s eyes dimmed. “He’s fine, but he didn’t want to come. He’s still mad at Dad. And Helen would have thrown a fit.”

Bobby finally uncocked the gun and jerked his head at John’s boy to follow. Dean did and made sure to stomp his boots outside the door so as not to track any dirt. Some woman –probably Helen, if he remembered correctly- had trained him well. Bobby waited until the boy had tossed back a shot glass of holy water before returning Dean’s IDs. “Why are you here?”

“I haven’t forgotten about what my dad did,” Dean pronounced. “I just haven’t had the opportunity to learn what I need to protect my family. Dad always thought that the thing that killed Mom was more interested in Sam than in Mom. I need to read his journal and see how far he got.” Those green eyes met Bobby’s hopefully. “Unless someone else got the son of a bitch?”

Bobby shook his head. “I don’t think so.” He could have lied, but Dean would have insisted on proof. And if Sam did get killed by supernatural means, well, hell hath no fury like a Winchester betrayed. Dean reminded Bobby of John, only without all the jagged edges. He had a feeling that not disturbing the two of them eight years ago had been the right choice.

Dean nodded decisively. “I need everything you can teach me about monsters. Oh and I need Pastor Jim’s address. Finding a Robert that owned a big junk yard in South Dakota was easier than finding a James that’s a pastor in Minnesota. I don’t know if I’d have been able to do it if I hadn’t had Dad’s journal.”

Yep, that was pure Winchester cussedness right there. Dean had taken a child’s memories and had found him. He was not about to stop in his mission. Either Bobby would kick the boy off his property with a butt full of buckshot, or he would do as Dean asked.

Well, he always did have a soft spot for John’s boys. He glared at Dean. “Idjit. This ain’t no college that you can apply to.” Although apparently the kid had gotten into at least community college. John probably wouldn’t have approved, but John had been an ass ninety-five percent of the time.

“Nope.” The boy just leaned back in his chair and grinned. “There’s no pretty co-eds.”

Bobby picked up the heaviest book on the table and threw it at Dean. “Read that.”

Dean caught the book –nothing wrong with the boy’s reflexes- and opened it to the first page. He started reading.

Bobby had mixed feelings about this, but he knew that he couldn’t chase Dean off. Maybe he missed being called Uncle Bobby. Maybe he missed little boys with big, worried eyes. And maybe he was just soft.

The boy read everything he was handed that day while Bobby fielded calls for his legitimate business and about six different hunters. He didn’t see the point in drilling Dean on the physical aspects; it was obvious that John had taken care of that at the foundation and Dean would handle that on his own. Bobby was a book guy, so if Dean had come to him for help that was what Bobby would offer.

He hadn’t considered that the matter of where Dean would be sleeping was even up for debate until the teenager was standing at his elbow, asking if he could bunk down on the couch for the night. “There’s a room upstairs. It’s probably dusty, but it should be fine for sleeping.”

Dean shrugged. “Couch is fine. I drove straight here from Chicago this morning, though and I need a few hours of sleep.”

“You want some food first?” It was probably close to dinner time now and Bobby could probably scrounge something edible to feed the kid.

“Food would be awesome,” he said, audibly cracking his neck. “I didn’t really stop for much more than gas and McDonald’s on the way here. Too worried you’d picked up stakes or something before I got here.”

“Not going anywhere,” Bobby assured him. “It would be way too much trouble to reroute all of those phone lines.”

“Yeah, what’s up with those?” Dean was looking at the handsets with their masking tape labels with an expression of deep interest.

“I mostly work as a home base for other hunters these days, running interference between them and local authorities and such. Getting a little too slow for the job nowadays.” That wasn’t his only reason, of course, but it was the only one Dean was getting. “Why don’t you tell me how Sam’s doing these days while I see about pulling together something to eat?”

Dean grinned. “He’s doing great. Top of his class every single time, and his soccer team made Regional championship this year.”

Bobby took in the observation as he poked through the cabinet and freezer trying to find something he could feed a hungry teenage boy. “Spaghetti all right?”

“I’ll make it,” the boy volunteered immediately. “Think you could give me a few hunting pointers while I cook?”

“I could,” Bobby said, looking Dean over, “but I’m more interested in hearing what you’ve been up to.”

There was a shrug from broad shoulders. “Graduated from high school two days ago.”

“That’s good to know. You planning on college?” Bobby had avoided Vietnam by the skin of his teeth and gone to a trade school rather than anything a little more formal. Most of the time he didn’t really mind, but every once in a while he regretted not having that chance.

“Probably,” Dean said. “I scraped together a few scholarships that should help me get into a state school. I figure if I go for Criminal Justice I should be able to work in the occasional hunt. There’s no way that won’t be useful.”

“You’re planning on becoming a cop?” That was a bit of a surprise in some ways, but it fit with this new image of Dean that was starting to form. John would have pitched a fit, but Bobby trusted the kid to find a way to have the best of both worlds. And having him as a contact wherever he settled down couldn’t hurt.

“Some kind of law enforcement, anyway. It makes Helen and Will happy and was pretty much the only normal career that wasn’t going to bore me to tears.”

“And it gives you access to the kind of databases you’ll need as a hunter,” Bobby pointed out.

Dean flashed him a smile as he turned from chopping onions and garlic on a wooden cutting board. “Like I said, it’ll be useful. I figure once I’m in something a little more stable you and I can share information.”

“Sounds like a good plan to me.”

The spaghetti turned out to be amazing. Dean had surprised him when the boy had bypassed the jar of spaghetti sauce and went for the canned tomatoes instead, but the finished product was better than any meal he’d had in years. Even if he hadn’t had any kind of fond memories of Dean as a kid, Bobby would have been willing to put up with him and all of his questions as long as the kid cooked at least once a day.

Dean talked about his family while they ate, telling Bobby not only about Sam, but his foster parents and their three children. Reading between the lines, Bobby was sure that the kid loved this second family just as much as his first. Probably in his mind there wasn’t any real difference between the two. So he ate two plates of pasta with homemade meat sauce and three slices of grilled garlic bread and listened as Dean talked about how smart Sam was and how well he was doing with soccer, and about Kevin and baseball and Joan and her tae kwon do classes and Luke’s science experiments. He volunteered to clean up afterwards, since Dean had done all of the cooking, and Dean headed for the couch, practically face-planting there and asleep before the dishes were done.

They fell into a comfortable rhythm soon enough, Dean beating him awake most mornings and making a pot of coffee that was almost too strong for even him. Bobby sorted out a stack of books that Dean was slowly working his way through, taking notes in a thick spiral-bound notebook. He was looking for a basic primer for hunting, background information on almost any creature that Bobby had ever heard of and some that he hadn’t, along with protection symbols and wards and other things to keep people safe. It should have been years of work, but Dean had an uncanny ability to skim through a text and write down the pertinent information without getting lost in rabbit trails. The method wasn’t perfect; he wouldn’t always have the details he would need to identify something from what he’d written down, for one, and sometimes the behavior of these things could only be determined through trial and error. What he had would be enough to point him in the right direction, though, and he could always do more in-depth research later.

He left after three weeks, promising to call to catch up now that he had the number, and Bobby watched as the Impala turned out of the packed dirt that was his driveway with a lump in his throat that he would deny until the day he died. Then he went back inside to his empty house.

xxx

Jim hadn’t thought of the Winchesters in a very long time. He’d heard from Bobby Singer when John had died, as well as confirmation that the boys were safe and well and had managed to find a good foster home. Over the years he’d prayed for them when they came to his mind, but that tapered off with time and the unspoken reassurance he’d felt when he’d prayed had eventually led to a lack of worry where Dean and Sam were concerned. Other, more immediate concerns came to the forefront of his mind and the memory of the Winchester boys faded into the background.

Despite this state of forgetfulness, he recognized the rumble of that particular car engine before he had a chance to see it. John’s Impala pulled into the driveway while he was sitting at his desk near the front door and idled a moment before the engine cut off. The hinges on the door creaked open and then the heavy steel of the door slammed closed. Then footfalls approached the door, not as heavy as John’s had been but substantial and real, and there was a firm, sure knock on the door.

Jim was already standing by the time the person knocked, his hand on the doorknob. He didn’t bother to check to see who was waiting on his front porch; a demon would be caught in the devil’s trap he’d painted on the underside of the floorboards and he could handle a normal person without any sort of worry. God would keep him safe.

The young man standing there was unfamiliar. There was a beat-up leather jacket on his shoulders despite the heat of the day and he was dressed in jeans, boots, and a plain t-shirt. There was a smile on his face and he kept his hands in plain sight. “Pastor Jim?”

He had been a hunter for most of his life, basically raised in the life by a mother who had been similarly been brought up as a hunter, and he’d learned to read people in both that life and in the ministry that he’d been called into when he was young. He knew how to put two and two together. “Dean Winchester,” he sighed. Somehow it made perfect sense that the boy had managed to track him down after eight years. “It’s good to see you.” He rested one hand on the boy’s shoulder and was surprised when Dean moved in for brief hug.

“Good to see you too,” Dean said. There was a smile on his face as he looked around. Jim knew that this was one of the few places where Dean had stayed more than once.

“What brings you here?” Singer had tracked them to Maryland, which was obviously a little more than a spur of the moment journey away. This was something Dean had planned.

“I turned eighteen and graduated high school,” Dean said, as if that explained everything. Jim waited. People didn’t like silence and if you gave them enough of it they tended to fill it. “I decided to track down some people, find out what I could about how to keep my family safe. Just spent three weeks out in South Dakota with Bobby. He gave me pretty much all I need to get started, but I still wanted to check in and see you.”

“Of course. How have things been for you? Bobby checked back when your father died and he said your foster family seemed like a good fit.” Jim led the tall young man through the house into the kitchen, trying to shake the image of that little boy with the big eyes and a death grip on his brother. Obviously Dean was comfortable letting his brother go nowadays, since he was here in Minnesota without Sam. He poured a cup of coffee from the pot he’d left setting since that morning for himself and, after a nod, one for Dean. They sat down at the table and Dean started talking.

“They’re not bad,” Dean allowed, an edge of a proud smile on his face. “Sam loves it there, of course. Helen and Will let him play soccer and he’s gone to the same school every single year, and Kevin’s just a year older so they hang out a lot. They wanted to adopt the two of us a few years back.”

“Why didn’t they?”

The smile slid off of his face. “Helen could tell that it made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to lose my name, and I can’t call them Mom and Dad no matter how much I try. It’s different for Sammy, he doesn’t really remember either one of them, but she didn’t want to risk splitting us up.”

“And everything is all right? Nothing . . .strange?” He didn’t dare speak about John’s half-formed theories and concerns. There had never been any solid evidence to support them, after all.

“I pretty much put down solid, permanent salt lines in the house the day I moved in, but I haven’t seen anything around them. That doesn’t mean that something won’t come after them, though, and I wanted to know better ways to protect them than just salt lines.”

He took another, longer look at Dean. “Oh Dean,” he said. “You’ve still got the hunting bug, don’t you?”

“I’m planning on hunting at some point, yeah. I’m going to college first, though, and then get on as law enforcement somewhere. How did you know?”

“I was raised in it, same as you,” Jim said easily, as though that hadn’t caused him unbelievable pain at several points in his life. He’d made his peace with it a long time ago, even though he didn’t do much more than shelter and teach other hunters and their families nowadays. “I know what it looks like when someone can’t let the idea go.”

“People are getting hurt and I can stop it,” Dean said, simply. “There’s never going to be a time when I won’t want to hunt in some way or another. Besides, the thing that killed my mom is still out there somewhere.”

“You know this life eats away at you,” Jim couldn’t help but point out. “There aren’t many old, happy hunters out there.”

Dean set his jaw in an uncomfortably familiar way and despite how little he actually resembled John Winchester there was little doubt that he was currently looking at John’s son. “If I wasn’t going to hunt, I’d still be in law enforcement or the military. One way or another, this is what I am going to do.”

Jim accepted his defeat graciously and changed the subject. It wasn’t like any normal person could change a Winchester’s mind anyway. The rest of the conversation was a little stilted, the almost-argument from earlier hanging over the two of them in a cloud. “You know you’re always welcome here, Dean,” Jim told him as the young man was getting up to leave. “You should probably stay the night, anyway.”

“I need to get back,” Dean explained. “I have a job waiting for me and a little sister that will be upset if I miss the fireworks.”

“Keep in mind what I told you,” the man cautioned as they stood on the porch. “Hunting’s a hard life. One way or another, something might reach out for your family some day.” Jim pictured the light in Dean’s eyes slowly dying until Dean started to resemble John or Rufus Turner or any one of the hard-bitten, bitter hunters he’d met over the years. It wasn’t an image he cared for in the least.

“And I’ll protect them if that happens,” Dean answered. He gave one last embrace, this one a little more awkward than the one they’d exchanged earlier, and walked to his car. The Impala’s engine roared to life a moment or two later and Dean backed down the short asphalt driveway and pointed the car towards the east.

xxx

Sam knew he’d never be able to admit it to his brother without being relentlessly mocked, but he’d been worried. Whatever John Winchester had been involved with in life, it had gotten the man killed and if someone asked Sam there really wasn’t a good reason to revisit any of that. Things were good now. He had a second older brother and two little siblings and a load of things that he probably wouldn’t have been able to do before they came to the Girardis. He loved his current family and he loved his life and he didn’t want anything to mess it up.

If Dean hadn’t been able to hold onto a handful of family pictures, Sam wouldn’t have known what John and Mary Winchester looked like. Whenever he tried to think of his father he came up with a mental picture of a tall, gruff man that smelled like smoke and whiskey, with the face from Dean’s pictures pasted on top. He had been gone so much that Sam didn’t really miss him, and he couldn’t feel bad about that. Helen and Will were his mom and dad now, the only ones he really remembered. That was that, as far as Sam was concerned. The only concession he was willing to make was to keep his last name, more for Dean’s sake than anything else.

He didn’t want his brother to turn into John Winchester’s shadow, gone more than he was around and not really present when he was physically there. Dean deserved to be happy, and to have an awesome life.

The worry was still there, even though Dean had pulled into the driveway a minute ago and was climbing out of the car. Sam remembered that big, black car. He’d spent a lot of time sleeping in that car when he was little, enough that the sound of the engine and the road under its tires was the only lullaby he could remember hearing.

Mom was out the door before Dean managed to get inside, wrapping him up in one of her hugs. Sam always thought she gave the best hugs, with Dean in second place and little Joan in third. His sister had been playing in the sprinkler in the backyard, decked out in her bright pink bathing suit, and Sam watched through the window as she ran up and gave Dean a soaking wet hug as well. He closed his book and headed downstairs to get in on the action.

Later, when the rest of the family was caught up in other tasks, Sam pulled his brother aside. Dean went easily, the smile he’d been wearing since he got back still in place. “Did you find out what you wanted to know?” Sam actually didn’t know what Dean had been looking for, specifically, beyond finding Uncle Bobby and Pastor Jim. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know.

“Spent three weeks with Uncle Bobby,” Dean answered. He looked a little calmer than before, more settled. “Tracked down Pastor Jim too. He’d like it if you could call him, I think. I’m not going to have time, between work and school in the fall, but we both know you’ll be acing your classes without any trouble.”

One of his worried dissolved at his brother’s offhand mention of school. If Dean was planning on college, he probably wasn’t getting ready to take off and live on the road like John Winchester. “I might be willing to do that,” he said. He had some vague memories of Pastor Jim, probably more of that man then his biological father. He seemed to remember staying there for several long stretches just before he started kindergarten.

“Good,” Dean said, giving Sam a pat on the back. “And Sam? Just because I’m talking to Uncle Bobby and Pastor Jim doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere. There’s no way you’re getting rid of me anytime soon.”

College was on the horizon for his brother. Dean was planning on commuting for now, forgoing the dorms to stay with the Girardi’s for at least the first year, but he’d probably move out soon. Sam knew that after this year he’d never be as close to his brother as he was now. Somehow, though, his brother’s offhand promise that he would be there was enough for him. Dean was not John Winchester. Sam was going to have him around for a very long time.


Part 3