Author: Minx

Prompt: #7 - Safety


Type of Story:

Author's Website: Minx(blog) OR Minx(LJ)

Author's Note
: Disclaimer- I own none of these characters. They are the property of Eric Kripke and the CW. Any characters in this story are used simply for entertainment purposes, and I am not making any money from these stories. **And OMG, HUGE thanks to Nocturnal08 (Sarah) for being the beta-queen and giving me SO much encouragement on this one!** [Definition: SAFETY – (noun): freedom from the occurrence or risk of injury, danger, or loss.]

How You Remind Me

PRESENT DAY:         

Charleston, South Carolina

"Well, that didn't go too good," Dean Winchester casually noted as he checked over the fresh ammo clip in his hand.

He tapped the clip once against the grip of his .45 Colt, one of the superstitious good luck things he always did when loading his weapon, no matter the situation, and then slammed the magazine of bullets into his gun. With a certain grace of economy, Dean racked the slide of his pistol, chambering a round, and frowned over at Sam, who was crouching next to him, busily reloading his shotgun with the rock salt rounds from the pocket of his windbreaker.

Sam shoved the last shell into the breech and then snapped the sawed off shotgun closed with an angry flick of his wrist, glaring at Dean from the corner of his eye. The two battered hunters lay sprawled on the cold, bare ground of the historic Holy Cross Cemetery behind a large, marble tombstone of an angel, her stone wings spread protectively above them. The orange and yellow glow of flames competed with the cool silver moonlight, making dappled shadows dance across their tense features.

"Exactly how do you lose an entire box of matches, Dean?" Sam quietly growled.

The younger Winchester brother swiped at his sooty forehead, pushing his dark, choppy bangs from his eyes in irritation, and succeeded, instead, to smear black grime down onto his left cheek and jaw in a long sweaty streak. Dean shifted slightly on the hard ground, rolling off his stomach so that he was now on his side and facing his brother. His face and clothes were also covered in the gritty residue from the fire, a mixture of embarrassment and frustration plastered across his tired face.

"I didn't lose them..."

"No?" Sam retorted sarcastically, his tone becoming more heated. "Then how come we don't have them anymore, Dean?"

"I did not -" Dean snapped his mouth shut, rolling his tongue around the inside of his jaw, as he took in the expectant, and overly smug look on his brother's face. He sighed heavily. "Look, it was an accident, all right? I didn't know the whole thing would catch on fire like that."

Sam's brows rose in quiet skepticism, but he didn't say a word. He leaned back against the tombstone, regarding Dean with a look of weary disappointment as if to say what did you expect, holding a cardboard box full of matches to an open flame for so long? Dean remained silent. He coughed uncomfortably and peered around the side of their hiding place, totally ignoring the accusatory glower being directed at him.

"Just a simple salt and burn, you said," Sam admonished, shaking his head and running his tongue over his lower lip as he continued to eye Dean, a glimmer of bitchiness creeping into his voice. "God, Dean, this is so –" He stopped, sighing heavily, and gave his brother a long, hard look. "This is just like that time at Bobby's when we were little. You remember?"

"No," Dean replied shortly, still refusing to meet his brother's glare.

Sam chuffed loudly, and Dean rolled his eyes, forcing himself not to comment. Here we go again, he thought. It never failed. They could be in the deepest crap ever, one foot planted in the grave and the other losing ground on the slippery slope of danger, and Sam would somehow find a way to go all emo on him at the worst possible moment.

"You don't remember?" Sam said, shaking his head in disbelief. "Really?"

Sam just stared at him. Dean stared back and shrugged, as if to say what's the big deal? There's lots of stuff he couldn't or preferred not to remember. But Sam wasn't about to let it go. Couldn't cut Dean a break even now, when the two of them were ducking for cover, trying very hard not to get their collective asses kicked by the pissed off revenant that was chasing them. And, of course, this was after their near miss with the unexpected brush fire Dean's little blunder with the matches had caused. A siren wailed in the distance and both men swore.

But Sam was still on a frikkin' trip down memory lane. "You don't remember setting Bobby's front yard on fire when we were kids?" he pressed.

Dean paused in his visual recon of the graveyard to sit back against the tombstone a moment, chewing on his thumbnail in exasperation while he thought, trying hard to remember back to that time, more for Sam's sake than for his own. Because Dean just knew that his anal retentive geek of a brother wasn't going to shut up until he admitted remembering the incident in question. God, Dean thought, if they weren't in such a tight spot right now, he'd consider seriously beating the crap out of Sam just on principle.

Sam waited impatiently in the shadow of the statue and was finally rewarded when Dean's eyes suddenly widened as the particular childhood reminiscence came flooding back to him in all its humiliating glory. Sam let out a small, self-satisfied grin play over his lips as Dean winced uncomfortably, almost as if someone had physically slapped him, and Sam chuckled.

"Oh…that," Dean mumbled quietly. Less of a fire and more of an explosion really, now that he thought of it. He reminded himself to find a suitable way to thank Sam for dredging up that unpleasant memory. Like maybe salting his toothbrush tonight.

"Yeah, Dean, that."

"Dude, I was like eleven years old! Gimme a break!" Dean hissed angrily, feeling the heat of a blush creeping up his neck and face, despite the chill of the evening. His hazel eyes narrowed, glinting with recrimination. "You know, I don't recall you voicing any objections about that little venture until after we got caught, Sam. In fact, I seem to remember you being the one to come up with the idea of burning that cow skull in the first place!"

Sam nodded in mock agreement, lips pursing. "I like your selective memory, Dean. Really must be a great comfort to you in times like these."

Dean now sat up, fixing a wtf? stare on Sam, the knife-wielding phantom and encroaching fire momentarily forgotten. "What the hell are you talking about?" he demanded.

"You're the one that came up with the idea to go on that hunt, Dean," Sam stated, reproach souring his voice. He shot his brother one his classic twitchy, irritated faces. "You're the one that said we had to salt and burn some bones in order to finish it, remember? Not me. I was just following my big brother's orders like always."

A low chuckle of amusement escaped from Dean's lips as he rubbed his jaw, not at all surprised that Sam had shifed the blame fully onto his shoulders for that long ago escapade. Sam seemed to positively wallow in more than his fair share of guilt these days, but his little brother had not been one to eagerly seek or admit to any portion of responsibility for some of the mischief the two of them had gotten into during their childhood. Especially not any of the more reckless stunts that had ended up with them face down over their dad's lap getting the holy hell spanked out of them.

No, in Sam's mind, his culpability tended to end where their dad's firm hand of retribution began. And for the most part, Dean didn't mind taking the heat for the both of them. He was supposed to be watching out for Sam, and that included making sure the kid stayed out of trouble, which was, more often than not, a rather difficult task given that Dean was usually the one that had dragged them into the mess in the first place.

Dean readily agreed with Sam that, at times, their father had been one tough bastard, but he also knew that his old man had been full of unconditional love for the both of them. Admittedly, John Winchester was never one for putting up with anyone's shit in any way, shape or form. He'd never had the time for such niceties. He'd been quick to lose his temper whenever Dean or Sam had sassed him or defied an order and just as quick to assert his authority with a smack or three or twenty to the rear end, too.

And man, did Dad have a hard hand, Dean recalled with chagrin. Didn't matter if it was him or Sam either – John Winchester had never played favorites. It was bare butt, over the knee, and usually with the hand, until you were crying your eyes out and wondering what possessed you to do or say whatever it was that earned you that little ass beating. Even so, Dean reasoned, Dad had never been cruel about it. Once he was done roasting your behind, he was always willing to hold you, all hugs and love, telling you he was sorry he had to do it and all. And to be painfully (no pun intended) honest, Dean thought to himself, yeah, he more than likely deserved each and every spanking he'd ever gotten.

Just the same, Dean was ready to argue the point of blame this time. Sam was being totally pissy, which irritated the hell out of Dean since he'd basically already apologized for the...ahem... 'mishap' with the current fire.

"Funny how you only follow orders when it suits you, Sam," Dean alleged, letting the sarcasm roll easily off his tongue.

"What?" Sam gaped. He turned a confused frown on his brother.

Dean continued, his tone a bit sharper. "See, I figure if you'd actually done what I told you to do this time? Then maybe that ugly ass zombie bitch'd be dust now, and we wouldn't be sitting here waiting her out while the friggin' fire department breathes down our necks!"

Sam was not amused. His jaw dropped open in stunned disbelief at Dean's accusation. Dean's hazel eyes held a glint of satisfaction in knowing he'd managed to push the right buttons with his little brother. He shrugged.

"You wanna play the blame game, Sammy, I'm thinking this one's on you just as much as me," Dean finished, a smug half-smile ghosting over his lips.

"It is not!" Sam contested hotly, sounding more like an angry ten-year-old than the twenty-three-year-old he actually was. He made a face at his older brother, trying for stern but not quite accomplishing it with his boyish looks. "This mess is just as bad as that whole foul up at Bobby's, Dean. And I wasn't responsible for that one, either. I am so not taking the heat for this one!"

"Shut up," Dean muttered unsympathetically. "I got it like a million times worse than you, anyway."

"I was seven!" Sam sputtered.

Dean sighed, realizing he wasn't going to win this argument. Hell, what was he thinking trying to go up against lawyer-boy in the first place? Face softening, he attempted a truce.

"Aw, c'mon, Sammy," Dean gently teased, nudging his brother with his shoulder, "It wasn't that bad. I mean, seriously, dude. That was like our first solo hunt together."


South Dakota - Singer Auto Salvage

"So, whaddya wanna do, Sammy?"

"I dunno, Dean. Whad'you wanna do?"

"I dunno."

Eleven-year-old Dean Winchester dug the toe of his beat up sneaker into the red dirt of Bobby Singer's neglected front yard, hands stuffed absently into the front pockets of his faded blue jeans. He stared out over the vast collection of junked cars and wispy knee-high weeds with mild disinterest, eyes absently roaming over the piles of rusting steel basking in the midday heat like muted, sleeping giants. His father was inside with Bobby, both men pouring over demonology texts, trying to come up with a new lead on an old adversary – the thing that had killed their mother.

Their toys and games had been left in the trunk of the car when the trio had pulled into Bobby's drive late last night, sleep being the only thing really on anyone's mind at that point. Dean had planned to ask their dad about getting out his army guys or Sam's soccer ball right after breakfast this morning, but John had gone straight from his coffee to the study to begin researching, and that was that, until Sam began to whine about there being nothing to do. Well, not exactly true, Dean thought. There were plenty of cool, interesting things in Bobby's house that would have easily kept them both occupied for days. Unfortunately, those were the very same things neither boy was allowed to touch, or even think about touching.

Dean had learned that lesson a few months back. After checking to make sure no one was around, Dean had the brilliant notion to scope out an innocuous-looking brass puzzle box that had been sitting atop the fireplace mantle in Bobby's study. But John's dad-radar, the one that told him instinctively that one of his boys was getting into something they shouldn't, had gone off. He'd appeared out of nowhere, catching Dean in the act, as the boy perched precariously on a stack of thick leather-bound tomes he'd used as a makeshift ladder, one hand stretched out towards the box, fingers just starting to curl around its cool metal sides, and...mission, so NOT accomplished. That little endeavor had earned him a rather painful spanking and a lot of angry lecturing about not touching things that weren't yours by both Dad and Bobby, Dean unhappily recalled. After that, he'd decided not to risk of injury to his posterior even for the brief thrill of satisfying his curiosity about the bizarre assortment of trinkets in Bobby's collection.

So, Dean and Sam spent the better part of this morning trying to amuse themselves by playing fort using the faded cushions off Bobby's living room couch until their loud, boisterous play was cut short by the homeowner's bearish holler from the other room to "keep it the hell down in there". Sam suggested they play 'library' instead, because it would be quieter. Dean just gave his dorky little brother a look of disdain that he usually reserved for Pastor Jim whenever the man tried to get him to eat broccoli. Library…right.

Eleven minutes spent staring at one another in a half-hearted blinking contest finally led to Dean and Sam whining about their their boredom to dad. An ill-advised decision, Dean thought in retrospect, because John had sent his boys scurrying outside with the threat that if they couldn't find something to keep themselves occupied, he would come up with something to keep them busy.

Dad's concept of 'keeping busy' usually entailed Dean and Sam sweating through a rigorous training session or copying and memorizing portions of boring texts in Latin from one of the books in Bobby's study or even doing a load or two of laundry when a washing machine was handy nearby. In other words, Dean concluded to himself, stuff that wasn't fun or relaxing at all. And so, he'd quickly ushered Sam outside to see what they could find to play with there. Not much from looks of it, Dean speculated dryly, as he scanned the small yard once again with little hope.

"Hide n'theek?" Sam offered, the last word coming out in a gentle lisp due to the child's missing front teeth.

Sam had recently lost the second upper baby tooth while they were on a job in Colorado, and Dean couldn't help smirking when Sam tried to pronounce words with "s" in them now because they occasionally came out in a lisp. John had cautioned Dean a number of times about hurting Sam's feelings, but he couldn't help it. His little brother sounded like Daffy Duck and it was just too funny! Sam's big green eyes blinked up at Dean hopefully, awaiting a verdict on the game suggestion.

Dean made a face and shook his head. "Nah, too easy. You always hide in the same place, and the last time we played, you cried when you couldn't find me." Yeah, that went over well with Dad...NOT.

"I din't either cry!" Sam angrily replied, his forehead scrunching up in dismay. "An' I do not hide in the same playth!"

Dean sighed, rolling his eyes, and glanced down at his brother. "Yeah, you do, Professor McObvious. Every time we play, you always hide in the back seat of the car."

"Well, I won't do it this time," Sam persisted, his voice wheedling.

"You always say that, but you go and do it anyway," Dean shot back, grinning. He gave Sam a playful shove. "No hide and seek, Sammy. Let's do something else."

"Like what?"

Dean chewed on his lower lip, pondering what to do when one of Bobby's tamer dogs, a chubby basset hound, came plodding around the corner of the house, dark, wet nose pressed to the ground. It spotted the two boys and wagged its tail politely, its tongue lolling from the side of its mouth in a lazy pant. Sam grinned, his chubby face lighting up. He promptly dropped to his knees down in the dirt, patting the ground in front of him in invitation. The hound readily complied by trotting over and snuffling the young boy's mop of hair, making Sam giggle in delight.

"Lookit, Dean," Sam laughed, throwing both arms around the dog's neck. "He likes me."

Dean smiled and bent down to absently scratch behind the dog's ears, earning a sloppy lick on the back of his hand from the hound. Both he and Sam had asked their father, on more than one occasion, if they could have a dog but John had firmly shot them down every time with the explanation that the back seat of the Impala was no place to raise a dog. Dean had finally retorted the last time that if the back seat was good enough to raise him and Sam, then why not a dog too? That had earned him a rather caustic glare from the front seat and a warning that any further discussion about dogs might very well result in a butt warming. Not being a big risk-taker, Sam had gone the more prudent route. He sat and pouted, casting a petulant scowl at the back of their dad's head for the rest of the trip.

Dean gazed back down at the dog, studying it a moment with newfound interest, his head tilted to one side, wheels turning in his head. "Hey, Sam," Dean said, nodding at their furry friend, "Let's play like we're on a hunt."

Sam frowned. "A hunt? Like what dad does?"

Up until the last year, John had tried very hard to keep his paranormal excursions a bit of a mystery to Sam, hoping to protect his youngest son's innocence for as long as possible. And Dean, for the most part, had gone along with the charade out of a sincere desire to see his little brother grow up with less of a burden than Dean himself had had to carry at that age. That had all sadly come to a screeching halt though with the shtriga incident last year.

After that, Sam had started in with the questions again, only more so. What does Dad do? Where does he go all the time? Why do we have so many guns? Why do we have to lay salt lines down? What are all the strange books dad reads? And a thousand more that the kid persistently barraged Dean with, until Sam slowly wore him down. Sam was too smart for his own good, and saw through any lies Dean attempted to placate him with, so in the end, Dean just finally told Sam the truth.

Sam had taken most of it in stride too, much to Dean's surprise, but there were still some details, like what a hunt actually entailed, that Dean had kept from Sam. He figured this little game today might be a good way to ease his baby brother into that information. It might make him more comfortable knowing exactly what their dad did when he went out on a job.

"Yeah, Sam," Dean replied. "Like what Dad does."

"But Dean, we're too little to go on hunts. Dad said so," Sam stated, a hint of apprehension in his voice.

Dean rolled his eyes at his brother's naiveté. "Not a real hunt, you dope. A pretend one." He reached down to pat the dog once more, eyes narrowed in speculation. "It'd be good training for us, and I'm thinking this guy would make a great hell hound, what'cha think?"

Sam stopped petting the basset and gazed at the animal with a critical eye. "Um, okay," Sam said, hesitation hedging his words, "But what'll we use for weapons? We're not allowed to touch the ones in the trunk."

"It's a game, Sammy, so we use fake weapons," Dean said quickly, because touching real weapons without permission was a sure-fire way to make sure you sat down on a stinging behind for a day or two.

Dean left Sam and the dog and wandered back over to the front porch, scanning the surrounding area for something that would pass as a weapon. He spotted an old broken rake leaning up against the side of the porch and grabbed it, turning it in his hands and nodding appreciatively.

"Hey, found a rifle!" He shouted back over his shoulder to Sam, hoisting the rake up in the air for his brother to see.

Dean turned back towards Bobby's house and spied a green plastic garden hose coiled on the grass in the shade of the porch steps, like a dozing snake. He trudged over to the hose, dragging the rake along behind him, having to yank hard a few times as the tines caught in the sparse grass. Dean picked up the hose and ran a critical eye over the end attached to a metal pistol-grip spray nozzle. He smiled at the nozzle. His creative mind immediately turned the nozzle into a shiny silver-plated hand gun. Dean dropped the rake on the ground beside him and carefully unscrewed the nozzle from the hose, jumping back when a bit of warm water leaked from the now open end of the piece. He wiped the nozzle on his jeans and then bent down to grab up the rake and headed back over to Sam.

The basset hound, having grown bored, had wandered off a few feet away, head bobbing as it tried to follow the dizzy flight path of a butterfly fluttering around its head.

"We got weapons," Dean announced proudly and held up the garden hose nozzle and the rake. "One shotgun and one revolver, perfect for a hunt."

"I call shotgun," Sam gleefully stated, amused by his own wit. It's what Dean usually said whenever they were about to climb into the car, but it worked in this instance as well. He stood up, motioning excitedly for Dean to hand over the rake, but Dean scowled and raised said item out of his little brother's prying reach.

"Nuh, uh, Sammy," Dean balked. "You take the revolver. I'm bigger, so I get the bigger gun."

Sam's lower lip jutted out, his brows crinkling in an unhappy glower. He reached once more for the rake. "You alwayth get to choose, Dean! I wanna have the shotgun, or I'm not playing!"

Dean sighed heavily. It really wouldn't be any fun without Sam playing along, but he felt obligated to at least put up some sort of a fight.

"Rock, paper, scissors?" Dean suggested as a way to settle the disagreement.

Sam readily nodded his acceptance, smirking a little behind a balled up fist because he knew Dean still hadn't figured out that if you never changed your choice, even seven-year-olds, like Sam, could beat you at this game. Sam knew Dean's inclination was to choose scissors practically every single time. And, being a clever child, Sam used that bit of knowledge to his advantage as much as possible. In the past, that tactic had scored him the last doughnut, the right to ride in the front seat of the Impala, and the choice of TV show to watch. Accepting Dean's good-luck handshake with a calm sense of certainty, Sam had no doubt in his mind that he'd be armed with the 'shotgun' in their little hunt today.

Dean lost the match, as Sam predicted, and the seven-year-old triumphantly held out his hand for the rake. In a fit of desperation, Dean attempted to bully his little brother into a rematch, but Sam held fast and, in the end, Dean gave in, reasoning that the last thing he wanted was for Sam to run complaining to Dad that his big brother was being mean to him. Especially when their father was busy, Dean thought. John had made it perfectly clear he and Bobby weren't to be disturbed unless it was important. Interrupting Dad over something this stupid would only result in them getting yelled at and possibly sent to their room for the rest of the day.

"Fine. Here," Dean groused. He reluctantly handed the broken rake over to Sam, but not before letting out a sullen grunt of displeasure at once again having to be the bigger man.

Sam ignored Dean's sore loser attitude, grinning wide in appreciation, the gap from his missing front teeth making him look a bit comical. Kind of like a midget hockey player, Dean thought with a rueful smile. Sam accepted the rake with all the reverence of an actual weapon, carefully tucking it in the crook of his arm, holding it like he'd seen his dad and Dean do with real shotguns.

Dean held up the spray nozzle, sighting down its metal barrel and then pretended to check the ammo clip. He guessed it wasn't so bad after all and the smaller 'gun' would be a lot easier to carry, plus no chance of splinters. He nodded to Sam.

"You check your weapon, Sammy? Safety off? Ammo loaded?"

Sam made as if to break his pretend "shotgun" and check the breech for rounds. "Yup, she'th loaded and ready to go," he chirped with a serious note to his voice. "Got contha-crated iron rounds in mine, how 'bout you?"

"Same here," Dean replied with a note of approval. "But, before we head out to kill the evil demon hound, we should load up on some supplies…holy water, salt and a couple other things."

He tucked his 'pistol' into the waistband of his jeans, squirming a little at how cold the metal was against his skin. He'd seen his father tuck his own weapon into the back of his jeans before, especially when he was trying to sneak up on something or when they were around people and Dad didn't want anyone to get suspicious. Dean patted the spray nozzle reassuringly, feeling somewhat grown up.

He looked over at Sam. "You wait here and gather intel on our devil dog, okay? I'm just gonna run inside and grab the stuff we need, and I'll be right back."

Sam nodded and squinted over to where the basset hound was wandering in lazy circles about the front gate between the yard and Bobby's salvage operations.

"I'll have a full report for you when you get back," Sam assured him.

Dean managed to slip inside the house without drawing attention to himself. He could hear his father's low voice coming from Bobby's study and carefully tiptoed down the hallway toward the darkened kitchen, making sure to avoid the sagging floorboards that might creak and give away his presence. In the kitchen, Dean snagged the salt shaker from the kitchen table, along with a box of matches off the counter.

A brief search through the garbage can near the fridge turned up an empty plastic soda bottle which Dean carried over to the kitchen sink to fill with water. Holding the bottle of water out in front of him, Dean muttered a quick blessing and made the sign of a cross, consecrating the water as he'd seen Pastor Jim do before. He knew it required a bit more than that to actually change the tap water into holy water, but this was just for play, so he wasn't inclined to go the full route of Latin or scrounging up a rosary or holy medallion to drop into the water at this point.

"That you, boys?"

His dad's voice trailed out from the adjacent study, sounding very close by. Dean froze like a deer in the headlights. The boy took a deep, slow breath before recovering his composure enough to answer his father.

"Just getting a drink of water, Dad," Dean lied, crossing his fingers guiltily, and quickly stuffing the salt shaker and matches into his jeans pockets in case Bobby or his father decided to actually come investigate.

"You and Sammy staying out of trouble, kiddo?" John questioned, a note of warning to his tone.

"Uh, yeah," Dean hastily replied. "Just playing a game out in the yard."

He waited a moment longer to be safe, but neither adult ventured into the kitchen to check on him. With a sigh of relief, Dean tucked the bottle of water under his arm and headed for the door once again. On his way out of the kitchen, he noticed a pair of field binoculars hanging from one of the chair backs and snagged them too, threading the strap over his head. Racing back outside, Dean found Sam crouching in the high grass, intently studying something on the ground.

"Whadja find?" he asked, kneeling down next to his little brother.

Sam pointed to the ground in front of him. "Tracks. From the demon dog, and there's sulfur everywhere too."

The hell hound tracks were actually the vague dusty paw prints left behind in the loose soil by the basset hound from earlier. There was no actual sulfur residue, but Dean had to give props to his brother for coming up with that bit of pretend.

"Good eye, Sammy," Dean nodded in approval, and Sam grinned at the compliment.

Dean handed the bottle of water off to his brother, reaching for the binoculars around his neck, bringing them up to his eyes. "Hmm, I'm getting some infrared readings in that direction."

Dean pointed off toward Bobby's dilapidated tool shed a few yards away on the other side of the weathered picket fence, surrounding the front yard. The basset hound was currently busy taking a leak against a bent chrome fender leaning up along the side of the shed.

"There's MMF too," Sam added, trying to sound as knowledgeable as his big brother.

"That's EMF," Dean corrected, frowning down at the object in Sam's hands that was beeping and tootling. "Where'd ya get that?"

Sam was holding an old electronic handheld poker game in his chubby hands, pressing the worn deal button over and over so that the machine would beep continuously.

"It was in the glove-box," Sam replied, pulling the game in close to his chest in case Dean decided it was something he wanted to appropriate for his own use.

"In the car?" Dean asked thoughtfully. "Huh. I thought Dad threw it out."

John had confiscated the game from his two boys several jobs and a few states back, telling them he was trashing it at the next rest stop they hit. He'd bought the silly thing for himself to help hone his poker skills, but Dean and Sam had taken a shine to the game and had nearly driven him mad one long road trip by playing with the noisy, obnoxious toy non-stop for almost 100 miles, despite his stern warnings to put the damn thing away.

"Can I carry it?" Sam asked timidly, his eyes pinning a look of hope onto his brother.

Dean shrugged. "Yeah, sure. I got the binocs, so you got control of the EMF reader this job, 'kay?"

"Yeth!" Sam lisped in triumph, and Dean almost choked to keep from cracking up.

He sincerely hoped his kid brother's new teeth came in quickly because it was just about killing him to hold in the laughter all the time. Jeez, did he sound all girly like that when he was Sammy's age? He hoped not. Dean reached into his waistband, removing the spray nozzle 'gun' and motioned for Sam to grab up his 'shotgun'.

"C'mon, Sammy, we got a hellhound to waste before the full moon rises. I'll take point and you cover me, got it?"

Sam nodded, his bangs flopping into his eyes from the motion, and raised the battered rake to his shoulder, moving off to the left of Dean and falling a few steps behind to cover Dean's back as requested. He easily kept pace with his big brother, despite his shorter legs, as the two boys slowly made their way over to the fence. Two feet from the fence line, Dean raised a hand up to indicate they were stopping, and then made a downward palm motion at Sam before crouching down behind the three foot high structure himself, pistol up and ready. Following suit, Sam dropped to the ground, crawling on hands and knees over to where Dean knelt. He propped the rake against the board fence, trading it for the "EMF meter".

"Can you see him?" Sam whispered, inspecting the machine in his hands as he fiddled with its buttons. "I'm gettin' a bunch of readingth here. He must by close by."

"Oh, he's close, all right," Dean whispered back, eyes glued to the binoculars. "He's – hey! - "

Dean made a face of disgust, dropping the binoculars and flinching away from the big, wet tongue that had suddenly lapped at the side of his ear. He swiveled on one knee, eyes widening in surprise, as he fell back onto his rear end and swatted at the big, brown mastiff that was now looming over him. Where the hell had he come from, Dean wondered? The dog ignored the cursory smack to its nose and dipped its slobbery muzzle down to lick at Dean once more, strings of spittle flecking off its jowls and falling onto the shoulder of Dean's t-shirt.

"Gross! Get off me, you big jerk!" Dean shoved the dog hard in the rib cage with an elbow, doing little more than denting the massive canine's fur a bit. "Sammy, a little help here," he called out in irritation.

But Sam was too busy laughing to be of any assistance. He had fallen backwards into the grass, his sides shaking in a fit of giggles as the dog continued to nuzzle Dean's neck and head, like an amorous lover, oblivious to Dean's yells and attempts to avoid its drooling advances.

"I'll save you, Dean," Sam managed in between snorts of laughter as he picked himself back up, bits of dried grass now stuck to the back of his shirt.

Fierce determination glinting in his young eyes, Sam yanked the soda bottle of water from his belt, unscrewing the lid with a few quick twists. He calmly stalked toward his brother and the dog, bottle held in his outstretched hands. With the most serious frown he could muster, Sam lifted the bottle high and began to recite in Latin.

"Adjure te, spiritus nequissime…" he solemnly intoned, trying his best not to lisp, because he was pretty sure pronunciation counted. "Per Deum omnipotentum…"

Sam shook the open soda bottle hard in front of him several times, hitting both Dean and the dog with sprays of lukewarm water. The mastiff, startled by the assault, backed off a few steps, shaking its soaking head in bewilderment. Dean scrambled up from the ground just as Sam hit him with the water again, and he took the shot full in the face, coughing hard.

"Enough with the water!" Dean spluttered, swiping at his dripping chin in frustration. "Jeez, do I look possessed to you?"

He didn't wait for an answer from Sam, but instead turned to shoo the dog off before it decided to come back for some more one-sided affection. The mastiff had other ideas though. Watching Dean come toward him, he dropped down low, chest to the ground, waggling butt up in the air, showing he wanted to play. He gave a loud woof, the deep, resonant bark making the boys' ears ring.

Although Sam had a fondness for animals, he realized uneasily that this particular beast was almost as tall as he was and at least a hundred pounds heavier. And something in his gut warned him that if the dog wanted to rough house with him and Dean, it wasn't going to hold back just to avoid squashing them into the ground, maybe breaking a bone or two in the process.

"Uh, Dean…." Sammy squeaked, slowly backing up behind his big brother. "Maybe we should go now."

"Yeah," Dean said quietly, not taking his eyes from the dog still squatting in front of him, waiting in anticipation. Offering a fake smile to the mastiff, Dean directed his comment toward Sam. "On three, make for the shed over there." He indicated the tool shed off to their left with a subtle tilt of his head. "One…two…thr - "

Sam didn't wait for the final syllable to be uttered. He was off like a startled deer, scrambling over the fence headfirst in wide-eyed panic, landing on the other side in a tangle of his own arms and legs. He quickly shot up from the weeds surrounding him and bounded off towards the nearby shed as if a real hell hound was on his tail. He didn't risk looking back to see if Dean, or worse, the dog was following him.

With Sam out of immediate danger, Dean took the fence in a one-handed leap, landing smoothly on his feet, like a graceful cat. The boy's sneakers slapped the sun-baked ground hard as he raced towards Sam. He half-turned, slowing down, to watch in amazement as the mastiff sailed neatly over the picket fence behind him, barking crazily as it began to chase after them.

"Crap!" Dean muttered under his breath and poured on the speed, catching up with Sam and giving the younger boy a gentle shove of encouragement in the small of his back. "Dude, haul ass," he urged as he made sure to keep himself in between the dog and his brother. "We get to the shed, get inside. You let me handle Cujo."

The basset hound's head popped up from the weeds around the door of the shed, ears perked up in full alert, its liquid brown eyes locked onto the commotion coming his way. Realizing he was vastly outnumbered, the hound yelped once and then scrambled off into the nearby salvage yard as fast as its stubby legs could carry him. Neither child took notice of its departure.

Sam was moving so fast, he almost slammed into the side of the dilapidated tool shed before remembering to put on the brakes at the last minute. Gasping for air, he reached for the door, but Dean, who was directly behind him, grabbed the handle first. He yanked the door open and shoved Sam none too gently inside the shed and then followed suit. Dean managed to slam the door behind him, just as the mastiff came bounding up, barking its head off.

Dean fell back against the sagging wooden door, using his weight to help keep it closed while the dog jumped up on it from the other side, its wild barking setting off yips and howls from the other nearby dogs. He began laughing.

"Oh man, that was close," Dean said, a huge grin spreading over his face. "You okay, Sammy?"

He crawled over to his brother who was lying on the ground, trying to get his breathing back under control. Sam offered up a wheezy nod by way of a reply.

"Hey, listen," Dean said, cocking an ear toward the door. Both boys listened hard, but only the silence of the spring day met their ears. The barking had stopped, along with the howls from the other dogs out in the salvage yard.

"Guess he got tired and left," Sam suggested, more than a little relieved.

Dean scooted over to the door, spray nozzle still clutched in his right hand, as if it were a real weapon. He peered through one of the larger knotholes in the weathered door, scanning the area directly in front of the shed. No dog. He moved from the door, slowly scouting along the walls where there were gaps between the boards, checking for movement outside as his father had taught him. Always maintain control of your defensive perimeters.

"Anything?" Sam whispered as he joined Dean back at the door again, watching his brother, waiting for orders.

"Nope. No sign of big, bad and barky," Dean commented, returning to the game now that the danger of being mauled had passed. "It was probably just trying to scare us off. Lead us away, you know? Because I think this is the main lair for them."

Sam looked at the dirty, cluttered interior around him with newfound interest. "Really? This is where the hell hounds sleep and live and all?"

Dean nodded as if he knew what he was talking about. He wandered around the shed, admiring the rows of tools hanging from the peg boards on the walls, peering into the various jars and cans lined up on the floor underneath the scarred wooden workbench.

"Looks like a crypt of some sort," Dean noted, tucking his pistol back into his jeans and picking up an oily rag from the workbench. He held it up for Sam to inspect. "They must bring their victims back here and then tear 'em to pieces."

He fluttered the rag in Sam's face for effect, and then grinned when Sam batted his hand away in disgust. "Quit it, Dean!" Sam demanded.

"Hey, where's your shotgun?" Dean asked, throwing the rag back down on the bench and wiping his hand on his jeans. Dean flashed a look of disappointment at Sam. "Dude, did you leave it outside?"

Sam gave Dean one of his despondent puppy dog looks. "I forgot it when I jumped the fence," he mumbled, biting his lower lip. "What am I gonna do now? I don't got a weapon."

Sam looked like he was about to cry which made Dean nervous. Crying Sam was not fun. In fact, crying Sam usually made Dean's stomach hurt and that was not something he wanted to be dealing with right now.

"Hey, it's okay," Dean tried to console the boy, putting his arm around Sam. "Here, take mine." He offered the spray nozzle to his brother. "Cover the door and make sure nothing gets in. I'll see if I can find the bones so we can burn 'em and end this haunting."

Sam smiled up at Dean, the tears forgotten as he eagerly took the spray nozzle and held it up in front of him, excited. "Shoot first and ask questions later, right Dean?" Sam asked.

"That's right, Sammy," Dean replied, nodding. "That's what Dad always says." He headed for the workbench at the back of the shed to see if he could find something that would stand in for some ancient crypt bones.

Dean was still pawing through the car parts and myriad socket wrenches on the dirty work counter when he felt a tentative tap on his shoulder. He turned, glancing down to spy Sam staring upwards and pointing to a spot on the wall a few feet above the workbench.

"What about that?" Sam questioned.

Dean followed Sam's finger upwards to discover an old, dirty cow skull adorning the wall, cobwebbed and hanging slightly askew, its bleached horns pointing at eleven and three.

"Oh, yeah," Dean declared, eyes brightening. "That's perfect."

Sam beamed. Dean climbed on top of the workbench, careful not to step on anything important, and made short work of getting the skull down off the wall. Once in their possession, both boys headed back outside carrying the unwieldy item between them, after first checking to make sure the mastiff hadn't returned. Setting the skull down in a cleared patch of dirt a few yards from the shed, Dean dug into his pockets for the salt shaker and box of matches. He handed the salt off to Sam, forcing the younger boy to shove his makeshift gun into a front pocket of his jeans.

"Go ahead and salt the bones," Dean ordered and Sam complied, shaking the little ceramic container vigorously back and forth over the skull as if he were salting a plate of french-fries.

Dean would have suggested Sam remove the metal screw-top of the shaker and just dump the salt out rather than shake it, but he let it go. He also ignored the fact that the warm afternoon breeze was blowing most of the salt away before it even hit the ground and instead, gave an encouraging nod to his brother. Sam seemed to be having fun, and that's what counted.

"That's good, Sam," Dean said after a minute had passed. "It's salted good now."

Dean now stared at the matches in his hand and then down at the skull, a thoughtful frown creasing his brow. "Ya know what I forgot?" he mumbled, shaking his sandy head with a dissatisfied grunt. "Something to start the fire with."

"What are the matches for?" Sam asked in puzzlement.

"Bones won't burn if you just try to light them with a match," Dean patiently explained. "You gotta soak 'em in something, like lighter fluid…or gasoline, like Dad does."

"Where we gonna get that?" Sam questioned, looking around him as if a can of lighter fluid might somehow materialize from out of nowhere.

Dean rolled his eyes. "Here, hold these." He shoved the box of matches into Sam's hands, heading back for the shed. A minute later, Dean returned, lugging a large, dented metal gas can, its contents sloshing noisily as the can banged against his leg with each step he took.

"Figured there'd be something back in the shed," Dean said.

He set the can down between himself and Sam and bent down to unscrew the cap from the top, stepping back from the acrid fumes as they escaped from the can.

"I wanna help," Sam piped up, reaching for the can as Dean began to lift it.

"No, Sam, you're too little," Dean stated, provoking his brother's anger.

"I am not!" Sam snapped and clamped both arms tightly around the gas can, making Dean groan aloud in frustration. Why did his little brother have to be so stubborn all the time?

"Yes, you are!" Dean snarled, pulling the can toward him, forcing some of the gas to spill over the side of the can. "Now, leggo!"

"No, you big jerk!" Sam spat, dragging the can back towards himself, spilling more gasoline. "Lemme help!"

Dean tugged the can back, using more force than was necessary. "Give it here, you little bitch!"

Sam's mouth dropped open, the gas can momentarily ignored. "Ooooh! I'm telling Dad you said the 'B' word, Dean!"

"Good idea, Sammy. Why don't you go do that right now," Dean sarcastically suggested.

He tried to pry Sam's hands from the side of the can, and only ended up sloshing some more of the liquid contents out onto the ground. "See whatcha did?" Dean accused, his temper flaring, but Sam refused to give up his purchase on the can, glowering at Dean, his jaw jutting out in defiance.

"I can do it!" Sam huffed angrily. "I'm not too little, Dean. Dad says I'm a big boy now, so there."

"Fine," Dean growled. "We'll do it together, then."

Both boys struggled to lift the half full gas can, each fighting to be in control, leading to the gas splashing out onto not only the cow skull, but the surrounding dirt and grass. Shooting dirty looks at one another, they managed to set the can down next to the skull, without toppling it over. They stood back, admiring their handiwork. The yellowed cow skull gleamed in the late afternoon sun, gasoline running off its smooth surface in tiny rivulets.

"Almost done with our first hunt, Sammy," Dean said quietly, a faint smile of satisfaction touching his lips, the fight over the gas can already forgotten. He wondered if his father felt the same sense of accomplishment at the end of a successful job. "Let's light this sucker and burn it to ashes. Send those big dogs back to hell where they belong."

"I thought dad said we weren't th'posed to play with matches," Sam mildly observed as he watched his older brother fumble with the small red and blue box of kitchen matches he'd pilfered from Bobby's kitchen.

Dean offered Sam a sour look. Now, he was getting all paranoid about the rules? Now?

"We're not playin', Sam. We're training, remember? Dad will expect us to know how to do these things in order to help him on hunts when we get a little older. We gotta be able to do a simple salt and burn by ourselves, right? And besides," Dean said as he fished a wooden match out and struck it against the side of the box, "What could go wrong?"

That question was answered by a brilliant flash and the loud hollow-sounding WHUMP of gasoline fumes seemingly igniting the very air in front of the two boys. Dean yelped in astonishment, jumping back and dropping the box of matches as they suddenly caught on fire in his hands. Without thinking, he pivoted and tackled Sam, knocking the boy to ground, and out of the way just as the gas can they'd left next to the skull exploded from the heat of the fire. It soared straight up into the air like a giant bottle rocket before plummeting back down, landing with a clatter several feet away in the salvage yard beyond the tool shed.

Dean got to his feet, half dragging and half carrying his little brother away from the wall of flames that had spouted up where Sam had been standing not too long ago. The spreading fire was now beginning to consume the nearby weeds and ground clutter that had gotten soaked with the gasoline, flames crackling and spitting as a curling grey-white plume of smoke wafted across the yard.

The cow skull was now just an indistinct, charred lump in the middle of the conflagration. Dean stood, slightly mesmerized by the fire as it danced and grew. It was the cacophony of the salvage yard dogs, yelping and howling noisily, their noses alerted to the scent of nearby danger that brought Dean back to his senses.

"Think we may have used too much gasoline," Dean mumbled lamely as he put a protective arm around Sam, his mind trying to come to terms with the disaster in front of him. "Yeah…definitely too much…" his voice trailed off, hazel-green eyes squinting against the haze of smoke blowing in their direction.

"Dean, look," Sam moaned, pointing.

Dean did and his eyes grew wide. "Aw, shit," he swore loudly, not really caring whether or not Sam told Dad he'd said the 'S' word. Because the wind had shifted on them, and the flames were now heading straight for Bobby's tool shed.

"We need water," Dean calmly decided. Sam shoved the mostly empty soda bottle of 'holy water' into Dean's hands, and Dean stared down at it, almost laughing. "Uh, we're gonna need a lot more than this, Francis," he dryly remarked and chucked the bottle into the nearby weeds.

Both boys' heads snapped up at the distant shouts coming from behind them. Dean and Sam turned back towards the house to watch Bobby and their father scrambling down the porch steps, racing towards them. Even from this distance, Dean could see the grim set of his dad's jaw and he winced.

"Well, this just sucks," Dean whispered bitterly as Sam began to cry, more afraid of the look on his daddy's face than of the raging fire a few feet away.

"C'mon Sammy," Dean urged as he grabbed at Sam's shoulders, guiding his brother backwards, away from the flames as they grew higher, eagerly feeding on the dry wood of the shed. "We need to get back, so we don't get burned."

Dean was amazed at how calm he was, as if he were standing outside his own skin and watching the proceedings from some distance away. He knew he should be completely freaked out, or at the very least, scared shitless of what his father and Bobby were going to do to him for this, but he wasn't.

His attention was focused solely on Sam and making sure his baby brother was safe. Safe from the the last time, he thought to himself with an eerie sense of detachment. He had a feeling that might change once things died down, but for right now, his job was clear to him – above all else, protect Sam. Dean grabbed hold of Sam's hand, squeezing tight enough for Sam to whine in protest, and started walking towards the two men running in their direction, dragging Sam behind him.

John reached them first. He knelt down in front of the boys, chest heaving, and quickly flicked his worried eyes over his boys, his hands frantically running over both of them, checking for any obvious signs of injury.

"John! No time for long hellos!" Bobby shouted, pulling up behind the trio, eyes wide with apprehension. "That shed's full of paint thinner and other combustibles. We gotta get the hell outta here, before she goes up like a powder keg!"

John wasted no time in scooping up both children in his muscled arms, throwing Dean over one shoulder while balancing Sam on a hip. He pivoted and sped off back towards the house, following closely behind Bobby. They made it half the distance to the porch steps before they heard the thunderous explosion and then felt its blistering aftershock.

"Hit the deck!" John roared, quickly falling to his knees as he dumped Dean and Sam to the ground. He fell on top of them, pinioning them down and sheltering them with his body.

Bobby didn't have time to comply before he was literally blown off his feet by the wall of air slamming into his back. He grunted as he went down, doing a serious face plant in the dirt. His arms immediately went up, covering his head as debris from the shed rained down around them, like bizarre, oversized pieces of confetti. A few seconds later, an eerie silence fell over Singer Auto Salvage.

"Sweet smokin' Jesus," Bobby swore under his breath as he slowly rose to his knees, swiveling to look behind him, eyes wide in stunned disbelief.

The shed was pretty much gone. There were a few splintered boards, charred and smoking, that stubbornly remained upright as a ghostly reminder of what had been there once, but that was about it. Wood scraps, blackened tools, and twisted car parts littered the ground in a fifty foot radius about the blackened hole marking where the shed used to stand.

"You and the boys okay over there, Johnny?" Bobby rasped as he staggered to his feet and righted the trucker's cap sitting askew atop his grizzled head. "No one hurt?"

"We're good," John replied, his voice tight with restrained emotion as he rolled to a sitting position in the grass and took in the devastation. He was speechless.

"Where'd the shed go?" Sam innocently asked, scrambling to his feet, rubbing at his smoke-irritated eyes.

"Man, it like totally blew up," Dean answered, a touch of awe in his voice, as he too, rose from the trash strewn ground, eyes growing with wonder. "That was...awesome!"

A heavy hand clamped down onto Dean's shoulder, spinning him around. Dean slowly gazed up into his father's angry face.

"Awesome? You think almost getting killed and the destruction of someone's property is awesome?" John's voice was full of shocked rage, and Dean gulped.

"No, sir…I just meant…no, sir," Dean stuttered, realizing it was better to keep his mouth shut at this point.

"What the hell happened out there?" John demanded, his dark eyes flicking from Dean over to Sam, who had started to silently cry in response to John's stern tone and incensed demeanor.

Neither boy wanted to volunteer the requested information, so John reached out and grasped a wrist in each hand, turning and towing Sam and Dean back towards the house. He didn't say a word as he hauled them up the steps and into the house, leaving Bobby to deal with putting out what was left of the fire. Once inside, John stopped in the living room and let go of his sons. They stood silently in front of him, heads bowed, fidgeting in their guilt. Sam's face was streaked with dirty tears as he continued to sob quietly.

"Are either of you hurt or burned?" John questioned them, his anxiety coming out in the tautness of his voice. "Dean? Any injuries?"

"No, sir." Dean shook his head, indicating he was unharmed.

"Sammy?" John queried, bending down to get on eye level with his seven-year-old. "Any owies?"

Sam only sobbed harder. John went over to him and squatted down, reaching a hand up to brush the boy's sweaty bangs away from his sooty forehead, his eyes searching Sam's tear-stained face with a sense of tired sorrow.

"Hey, kiddo, calm down, okay? I need to know if you're hurt, so I can fix it and make it better," John said in a soothing voice as he gently massaged Sam's shoulders. "You banged up at all? Does it hurt anywhere?"

Sam shook his head, not able to get the words out. John nodded, relieved, giving Sam a perfunctory pat on the head as he stood up once more. He took a long, deep breath, letting it out very slowly, trying to calm the rising tide of fury and concern threatening to overwhelm him. They were okay, and that's what mattered most, John kept trying to convince himself, although it didn't stop his heart from hammering against his chest any less, nor did it keep his hands from shaking as he clenched them hard enough to feel his nails digging into his palms.

"I want you both to get your butts upstairs. Now," John ordered in a tone that was composed but full of heat. "Wash up and then march yourselves into my room and take a corner. I'll be up as soon as I check on Bobby."

Dean and Sam both nodded, eyes still pegged to the floor in shame.

"Move out!" John barked and both boys jumped and just about flew up the stairs to the second floor bathroom.

John allowed himself to take another deep, ragged breath once Dean and Sam were out of sight, his eyes blinking back the tears of dread he'd wanted so badly to let fall earlier. Holy God, Mary, he thought shakily, looking up to the ceiling and beyond, swiping a hand across his weary face in abject horror, I almost lost them this time…

Bobby and John had the fire extinguished in a matter of minutes. The explosion had actually helped by instantly consuming all nearby kindling and brush, leaving nothing for the flames to work with. Luckily, all the wildlife, including Bobby's gaggle of half-feral dogs, had been smart enough to run for cover when the fire started, so in the end, the only real fatality was the shed and some of Bobby's tools. It was more than enough for John, though.

He headed for the house, ignoring Bobby's calls to slow down and take a deep breath. He'd taken plenty of deep breaths since this whole incident had started and they hadn't helped any really, so thanks anyway. No, what John really needed, he thought to himself, was to go deal with his two little arsonists. The looks on their faces had told him all he needed to know on that account. There was no doubt in his mind that the fire had been started by his sons. The scorched remains of the skull, impregnated with gas fumes, were more than enough evidence to incriminate them. He only needed to understand the why of it, and that was what he was going to find out right now, one way or the other. There'd be time to sort things out with Bobby and offer apologies afterwards.

Dean and Sam were obediently parked in adjacent corners in John's small bedroom when he strode in, his face a stony mask of conviction. Dean remained at parade rest, feet about ten inches apart, hands lightly clasped behind his back, eyes pasted to the wall directly in front of him. But Sam, being younger and more easily distracted, half-turned from his corner at the sound of his father, emerald eyes growing impossibly big with trepidation. John snapped a finger at him and Sam instantly returned his attention back to the corner, shoulders hunching at being caught out of formation.

"Dean," John said, taking a seat on the edge of the double bed across from the boys. "Front and center."

Dean pivoted on the balls of his feet, eyes downcast, and slowly trudged over to where his dad was. He stopped just far enough away that John ended up reaching out and hooking a finger into the front of his kid's jeans to pull him closer until they were almost knee to knee. Dean fidgeted slightly, unhappy with the proximity of his backside to his dad's hand.

"Look at me," John ordered, and Dean dragged his eyes from the hooked rug underneath his feet, up his dad's broad chest and finally, with a small whimper of regret, up to John's face. "Report, Jonathan Dean," John demanded.

Dean bit his lip, his mind racing, a thousand excuses coming to him, but he discarded each and every one until he finally settled on…the truth. Because, even though he knew it would earn him the mother of all spankings, Dean understood that that's what his dad fully expected of him and that's what Dean had to give. It was as simple as that. He couldn't bear the heavy silence, the stinging disappointment from his dad, not again. Not after last year and the shtriga.

"We were on a hunt," Dean stated, simple and to the point.

"A hunt?"

John's eyebrows shot up in curiosity. Had he and Bobby missed something?

"Well, okay, a pretend hunt," Dean backtracked, face turning red at the admission. "Sammy and me were going after a hell hound, Dad, and we had guns and everything, just like you and Uncle Bobby," Dean rambled, his eyes shining with a glint of excitement as he recounted the tale.

"But they weren't real guns, Daddy," Sam butted in, turning once again to face John. "'Cause you said Dean and me can't touch the ones in the 'pala 'til we're bigger, so we didn't use those ones."

John wanted to smile at that, but knew he needed to maintain a hard line, so he gave his youngest a parental glare. "Nose to the corner, Samuel," John growled, pointing a finger, and Sam complied with a little humph of resignation. "You'll get your turn later."

John turned back to Dean. "So, you were playing a game about hunting down a hell hound, and…?"

Dean sighed deeply, not really wanting to recount the rest, but one look at his father and he knew he had no choice. He explained about using the rake and spray nozzle for weapons and going after the basset hound.

"So, we tracked the hound to its secret crypt in the tool shed," Dean continued, squirming nervously. "And then, we uh –"

"Don't forget about the big dog and the holy water," Sam interrupted once again, and Dean winced.

"Sammy," he hissed, pleading with his brother. "Shut up!"

"Samuel Michael Winchester," John exhorted, his voice now flinty and full of warning. "I'm not going to tell you again. Mouth shut and eyes on that corner. You hear me?"

Sam nodded sullenly, arms going up to cross his chest as he turned to the wall once more, back stiffening with umbrage.

"Lose the attitude right now, Samuel, or you're getting a spanking with the hairbrush," John threatened and Sam immediately loosened up his pose, arms slumping to his sides in defeat.

Sam hadn't been introduced to the dreaded hairbrush yet, but he knew from Dean's description, not to mention the sounds he made on the rare occasion he was punished like that, that it was something to be avoided at all costs. John only used it for the most serious of offenses, and it apparently stung like a bitch kitty, according to Dean. Satisfied his little one was going to stay put this time, John motioned for Dean to continue.

Dean quickly moved on to the rest of the story. "And so, we had to like, you know, salt and burn the bones to get rid of the hell hound, 'cause that's what you do to get rid of the bad spirits and send them back to hell, right?"

John gave a curt nod, surprised and yet, secretly pleased, at how much Dean had managed to pick up about the basics of hunting, just from observation alone. While he had schooled his sons in rudimentary survival skills to keep them safe from anything supernatural, John had as yet to teach either of his boys the deeper, more intimate knowledge he used on most jobs.

"Where did you find bones to burn?" John said, the soldier's blank façade dropping down over his features again, hiding his true emotions.

"There was a cow skull in the shed," Dean mumbled quietly. "We took it off the wall and dragged it outside 'cause we didn't want to, uh…" Dean choked slightly on the next words, a scarlet tinge crawling up his neck and face. "We, um, didn't want to set the shed on fire accidentally…"

"Looks like that part of your plan kind of fell through," John stated dryly as he fixed Dean with an accusatory stare. "Where'd you get the matches and gasoline from?" John asked.

"I found the gas can in the shed," Dean admitted, grimacing in regret.

"And the matches?" John inquired, a little more demanding this time.

Dean didn't answer.

"Jonathan Dean. Where did you get the matches?"

"Got 'em from the kitchen," he whispered, biting his lip.

"When you said you were getting a drink of water?" John quietly asked, his jaw tightening with anger at the realization of what that intimated. "When I asked if you and Sammy were staying out of trouble?"


John sat a moment, trying hard to remain calm, fighting the impulse to just up and throttle Dean. The kid had lied. He'd lied! That didn't sit well with John at all. Lying was something he didn't tolerate, no ifs, ands or buts. And it was going to be Dean's butt paying for it this time, John darkly concluded.

As for the matches, how many times had he warned Dean and Sam about safety and how things, like matches and guns, were not meant for playing around with. How many times? Because it wasn't just the monsters lurking in the shadows that they needed to be aware of, but also the every day common place dangers that could just as easily take their lives. John leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, as he pinned a severe glower on Dean.

"What are the rules about touching dangerous things, Dean?" John sternly demanded. "What have I told you and Sammy about touching things like matches and weapons?"

"We're not s'posed to touch anything without asking permission first and not without you there to watch us," Dean spoke to the floor, shoulders slumping.

"That's right," John replied. "You remember what happened the last time we were here and you touched something you weren't supposed to?" John asked, and Dean cringed.

"Yes, sir," he whispered.

"What happened?" John pressed, his voice hardening.

Dean squirmed, his toes curling inside his sneakers and his hands clenching against the sides of his legs. "I got yelled at and...and you sp – you spanked me…and you said if I ever did it again, I'd," Dean's breath hitched and he swallowed hard, squaring his shoulders before continuing in an almost inaudible whisper. "You said I'd get the hairbrush."

John let Dean chew on that thought for a moment while he got up from the bed and went over to his duffel bag. He rummaged through it, found what he needed and came back to sit down on the bed again. Dean groaned when he saw the wooden hairbrush in his dad's hand. John laid the implement down next to him.

"Samuel, come over here," John ordered.

Sam, who had been listening raptly the entire time Dean and John were talking, now turned around but remained rooted to the spot, a look of fearful desperation on his face.

"Daddy, I wasn't playing with the matches. I was just helping Dean," he said innocently. "I was just doing what Dean told me to."

John's eyes narrowed at that. At seven, Sam had begun to develop a pretty clear sense of right and wrong, and so, John wasn't overly impressed by his youngest child's current line of reasoning that he was only following orders - and bad orders at that. Hell, they'd been using that line of defense in the military without much success for years, and it wasn't going to be given any credence here either.

He crooked a finger for Sam to come closer. Sam hesitated for only a fraction of a second until John made as if to get up off the bed, and then the boy quickly scooted over to stand beside Dean. John placed two fingers underneath Sam's chin, raising it up, forcing Sam to meet his eyes.

"Dean told you to help him steal some matches and gas and set a fire?" John questioned. His tone was dead calm yet thick with the inference of doubt.

He watched with interest as a glimmer of indecision flickered in Sam's jade eyes. Tricky question, he knew. If his son answered no, then Sam would be admitting to a portion of the liability, thereby ensuring certain punishment. But, if Sam answered yes, then John would know he was lying, because although Dean may have performed those naughty acts himself, he most certainly hadn't given his baby brother a direct order to do so. Dean took his responsibility for Sam seriously. He wasn't known for handing down vague or random commands to Sam, especially ones that would involve Sam possibly getting hurt in the deal, and both Sam and John knew this.

"Answer the question, Samuel," John warned.

"I don't want to," Sam quietly confessed, starting to cry.

John grabbed Sam's upper arm, turning him and swatting him once, hard, across his little butt. Sam squawked in indignation, fresh tears cascading down his face as he reached back a hand to block any further blows.

"That wasn't a request, young man," John darkly advised his wailing child.

"Dad, Sammy didn't know about the matches until we were getting ready to burn the skull," Dean interjected, hoping to draw the heat off his brother, if only for a little bit. "He even mentioned that you said we weren't supposed to be messing with them, but I...I wanted to show him..." his voice trailed off.

"You wanted to show him what, Dean?" John inquired, turning his attention back to his oldest.

"I wanted to show him what you he'd know. So he wouldn't be asking questions all the time and getting scared for you. 'Cause he does." Dean realized he was babbling, but he couldn't stop himself as the tears spilled from his shining eyes. "I thought if Sammy knew how stuff worked, he'd feel safer about it all."

John blinked, his heart clenching so hard in his chest, he almost couldn't breathe. The guilt was like a funeral shroud, draping over him, smothering him. The two most precious things in the entire world to him had almost been taken from him today, in part because of a decision he'd made to keep the more lurid details of his work concealed from the boys.

No more, John determined, angry at himself. He wouldn't necessarily immerse Dean and Sam into the hunter's culture just yet, but he sure as hell would make sure they had a full grasp of the essential facts in order to avoid another possible mishap out of misguided ignorance. In the meantime, he still had to deal with the underlying issues of lying, disobedience, disrespect for other people's property, and disregard for their own safety that his children had demonstrated today.

"I realize you two are going to be curious about some things..." John began, squaring his shoulders. His intense countenance darkened, causing scowl lines around his eyes as he flicked his attention between Dean and Sam. "What I do can be scary, I know that. But, I want you both to understand that your old man is one tough dude. He can handle himself."

John put a hand on each boy's shoulder. "When I go off on a hunt, I make sure I'm completely prepared before I even put one foot in the Impala. I research, scout the area, and talk to other experienced hunters like Bobby and Pastor Jim to get their opinions. I train and practice until my actions become automatic, like a reflex." John fixed a heavy gaze on both boys. "And above all, I put safety first and foremost. That's something both of you forgot to do, big time, today."

"I'm sorry, Dad," Dean mumbled, eyes shining with unshed tears. He hated to let his father down.

"M'sorry too," Sam squeaked, eyes fixed on the hairbrush lying on the bed next to John.

John nodded, face set in determination. "Well, I'm glad to hear that, but I think you two need a little reminder about a few things, namely the importance of safety, and of following rules and not lying."

John indicated the corner with a nod of his head. "Dean, hit the corner until I call you back here."

With a heart-heavy exhale of breath, Dean shuffled over to the wall, his entire body drooping in misery. He hated when he had to remain in the room when Sammy got spanked. It tore at him, having to listen to his kid brother's hysterical wails. Even the times when it wasn't his fault for Sammy being in trouble, Dean still felt bad. It didn't help either that Sam tended to be a bit of a drama queen about it. He rested his forehead against the rough plaster of the wall and waited.

John didn't waste any time. He pulled Sam close, unbuttoning and unzipping the seven-year-old's pants, jerking them down around the boy's knees as Sam snuffled louder, launching into major waterworks even before the first smack. John lifted the boy and situated him across his lap, facedown, before snaking Sam's tiny white briefs downwards to bare his clenched bottom.

"Daddy, I'm REALLY sorry," Sam howled in distress, kicking his legs, trying to wriggle off of his dad's lap.

"Gonna be a lot sorrier in a minute," John muttered under his breath as he brought his open palm down solidly onto Sam's right butt cheek, leaving a dark pink handprint on the skin.

Sam yelped, his body stiffening, and John followed up the first smack with a volley of six more in quick succession, alternating between cheeks. He tightened his hold on his squirming child, settling Sam back down and then proceeded to wallop Sam's butt in earnest, his hand tingling from the sharp cracks he was delivering. Sam began to bawl, his cries hoarse and pitiable as the blazing fire built up in his rear end from the hard spanking.

"Ow, Daddy!" Sam squawked in dismay. "It hurts!"

"Maybe next time you'll remember how much it hurts and you won't misbehave," John firmly lectured as he continued to spank Sam's bottom, concentrating the blows on the hump of Sam's round cheeks and in the crease between thigh and butt where it would sting the most.

"Are you going to disobey orders, Samuel?" John inquired.

"Noooo! Nossir!" Sam sobbed hard, flinching now at every single smack that landed, the persistent sting becoming quite intense.

"What are the rules?"

"Don' touch dangerous stuff n'don't lie!" Sam whined in between the cries, the tears streaming down his face to fall in huge splashes onto the rag rug below.

"Good boy," John murmured gently. He paused a moment to reach down for the hairbrush, and Sam, realizing what was about to occur, began to struggle once more.

"Settle down, Sammy," John cautioned, putting pressure on the small of the boy's back for emphasis as he raised the hairbrush in his other hand. "This last is a reminder that safety is always important and not to be taken lightly, ever."

John swatted Sam's blush-stained butt with the hairbrush a total of four times, the loud cracks mixing with Sam's petulant wails. His bottom turned a deeper shade of crimson, the heat radiating off the skin in angry waves, and Sam agreed wholeheartedly with Dean's assessment of how wickedly painful the hairbrush felt.

"Are you going to play with matches anymore, Samuel?" John inquired.

"Nuh uh! No more!" Sam promised loudly, his voice thick with tears.

John delivered a final duet of whacks across Sam's scorched bottom and laid the brush down, soothing his baby boy with gentle words and a soft hand to his back. John waited for the heaviest bit of blubbering to die down before he pulled his son from across his lap, carefully bringing Sam's pants back up to cover his tender behind as Sam sniffled loudly. Once his clothes were situated, Sam buried his shaggy chestnut head into John's midsection, breath still hitching as he stood between his dad's legs. His hands stole back to the seat of his pants, rubbing gently at the painful sting his dad had put there as he sobbed.

John wrapped his arms around Sam, enclosing the boy in a blanket of warmth and security, pulling him up tight against his chest. He bent down to place a tender kiss on top of Sam's head, then moved down to softly whisper words of reassurance into the boy's ear, John's breath tickling the brunette curls of hair nestled against the side of Sam's head.

"Okay, buddy," John gently crooned as he rocked Sam to and fro. "Calm down, it's okay, now. It's over."

"I don't want you to be mad anymore," Sam whimpered. "'Cause I don't like the hairbrush – it really, really hurts and it's stupid!"

"I'm not mad, Sammy," John assured the boy. "Daddy was more scared than mad, kiddo. And you got spanked with the hairbrush because of how bad you scared me today. You could have been seriously hurt out there, and that would have made me very, very sad."

Sam's head shot up, a look of concern wrinkling his forehead. "I don't want you to be sad, Daddy," he said. "I won't do it ever again because I don't want to make you sad anymore."

John offered up a trembling smile, reaching down to brush a few errant tears from Sam's face with his thumb. "This is why it's very important for you and Dean to do exactly what I tell you to do. You follow the rules, you'll stay safe, and I won't have to be sad or mad, got it?"

Sam nodded that he understood, sinking his head back down onto John's shoulder, his breath hot and moist against John's neck.

"You always have a choice, Sam, no matter the situation in life," John quietly stated. "You can choose to use your head and do what you know is the right thing. Or, you can choose to ignore safety and the rules, even when you know it's wrong."

He looked down at the boy cradled in his arms. "You knew what Dean and you were doing was dangerous, and yet you went along with it anyway. You could have said no. You could have come to me or Bobby and told us before things got out of hand, but you didn't. That was a choice you made, buddy, and you'll be the one to suffer the consequences each and every time for that. Do you understand what I'm telling you?"

"Uh huh," Sam replied, wiping his nose on the back of his hand. "Don't listen to Dean when he has stupid ideas 'cause it'll only get me in trouble."

"Something like that," John smiled, patting Sam's back.

Once Sam was calmed down enough, John rose from the bed and walked the child to his bedroom, telling Sam to stay there and think about what had just transpired. Sam nodded, his tear-swollen face contorted into a mopey, if not contrite, pout.

John returned to his room, fetching Dean from the corner and leading him over to the side of the bed with a firm hand to the back of his neck. Not one for ostentatious displays of emotion like his little brother, Dean remained quietly resigned to his fate. As John took a seat on the bed, Dean automatically began to unbutton and unzip his pants. No need for his dad to tell him – he knew the drill inside and out, much as he'd rather not have been so familiar with it. What was that rhyme about curiosity killing the cat? Yeah, he was so the cat...

With one last forlorn glance at the hairbrush of doom, Dean closed his eyes and let himself be pulled down over his dad's knees without a fight. He grabbed onto the side of his father's calf in preparation, knowing he'd need to be hanging onto something when the spanking got under way, because Dean had the distinct impression that this was going to be the butt whipping from hell. Let's face it, he thought, as his felt his underwear sliding down past his cheeks to puddle at his ankles, he'd blown up Bobby's tool shed and set fire to the front yard. That wasn't something that warranted a little slap on the wrist and a finger wag, oh no. That got you an aching, roasted behind that would throb for days every time you tried to sit down.

"Do you understand why you're getting this spanking, Dean?" John asked, glancing down at his son's bared backside as he reached for the hairbrush.

Dean let out a small bitter laugh. "Yes, sir. I disobeyed orders again about not touching stuff I'm not supposed to, and then I sorta forgot to mention about taking the matches from the kitchen. And you know," Dean paused, his face reddening in embarrassment. "I guess I wasn't too careful about using gas to start a fire, and so, I kinda full-on creamed Uncle Bobby's shed."

"And you almost got you and your brother killed," John added with more than a touch of displeasure ringing in his words.

"Yeah, that too," Dean mumbled, wincing guiltily. Can't forget that little point of relevance, he thought miserably.

John decided the lecture portion of the program was over, and he proceeded to apply the little wooden hairbrush to Dean's awaiting butt with thorough precision, the sharp cracks heralding in the stinging heat of the blows. Dean grimaced, clenching his jaw tight to refrain from crying out as John covered the eleven-year-old's bottom with smack after sizzling smack, leaving a trail of scalded rosy skin from Dean's butt crack down to his upper thighs.

Dean began to jerk and squirm uncontrollably on his father's lap, little grunts of suppressed pain escaping from between his lips, as John deposited yet another layer of painful swats on top of the last several he'd delivered. The prickling warmth Dean felt all across his butt was now transmuting into a deep bruising ache that he just couldn't ignore. He could feel his eyes begin to water with tears and knew that soon, whether he liked it or not, he'd be crying.

"Dad!" Dean finally bit out in between hisses of pain, "I – OW! I'm sorry! Mmph! Ow!"

"What are you sorry for, Dean?" John calmly demanded as he continued to spank his son, the hairbrush rising and falling in a methodical manner.

Was he kidding? What was he sorry for? How about the fact that you have a power swing with that freaking hairbrush like Dale Bryan Murphy at bat, Dad? How about that? Jeez, it was a wonder he hadn't broken it already, Dean silently thought – the hairbrush, that is, not his ass he amended to himself. Although, it sure felt like his ass was broken at this point.

Dean knew better than to voice any of that out loud. Instead he offered up a more tactful answer to his dad's question. "I'm sorry for – ouch! - for not listening like I was s'posed to and – unh, man, OW, Dad! - for being stupid about setting a fire and all."

"Then, we're almost done here, Dean," John replied, a grim note of finality to his voice.

Dean stiffened, knowing what that little phrase meant. It was a prelude to the last, and hardest, swats his dad would be giving him. John swept the brush down, in a rapid cadence, a dozen times more, putting some force behind the blows, rekindling the fire that was simmering nicely across Dean's glowing rear end. He was rewarded with a loud sob from Dean. The sob became a ragged indrawn breath, and then Dean went limp over his father's lap, letting his tears flow hard and bitter.

John dropped the hairbrush onto the bed next to him, his heart breaking, and slowly began to massage Dean's shaking back in a gentle, lazy pattern, giving his eldest time to work out his emotions. He absolutely hated spanking his kid with the hairbrush, but he knew it got the message across loud and clear with less chance of there being a repeat performance.

Dean's sobbing gave way to gasping watery hitches and then to slower, calmer breaths. John gathered up his son's jeans and briefs, gently tugging them up and over Dean's raw, hot bottom. Dean moaned and flinched as the fabric scraped over his tender skin. He gingerly pushed himself up from John's lap, his face a mask of anguish, one hand disappearing behind him to try to rub out some of the soreness dwelling in his backside. John carefully pulled Dean in for a hug, aware that at eleven, Dean wasn't always agreeable to such parental displays of affection, but Dean was more than willing to accept his dad's comfort just then.

"Is Uncle Bobby gonna yell at me for the fire and all?" Dean quietly asked, his voice slightly muffled by John's shirtfront.

John shook his head. "I think there's been enough scolding for one day, champ," he replied, his one hand going up to gently knead the back of Dean's neck. "Although I do expect both you and Sammy to apologize to Bobby for what happened, understand?"

"Yes, sir," Dean agreed.

"And I'm thinking it might be a good idea for me to maybe teach you and your brother the proper way to do a salt and burn, what do you think?" John said thoughtfully.

Dean's head shot up, eyes alight with undisguised enthusiasm. "Really?"

"Really," John echoed back, and was pleased to see the corners of Dean's mouth lift into a tiny faint smile. "But for now, buddy boy, I want you to hit your bunk until I call you and Sammy down for dinner. You think about what happened today and what could have happened, all because you decided to scrap the rules of safety and take some stupid risks instead. I set rules for a reason, Dean, so crap like this doesn't happen. You need to follow my orders, without question and without deviation or you're gonna find yourself back over my knee getting your butt warmed again, are we clear?"

Dean gave a vigorous nod and John sent the boy on his way with a wink and a half-hearted swat to the back of his head. Kid was born to be a hunter, John thought with a hint of unease.

Bobby was sitting at the worn kitchen table, an opened bottle of Jack Daniels and two full shot glasses in front of him when John shuffled back downstairs, looking about as beat up as he could possibly be. John dropped into the chair opposite his friend and scrubbed a calloused hand over his face as if to wipe off the weariness, anger and guilt that were splashed over his rugged features. Without a word, Bobby leaned forward to shove one of the shot glasses of whiskey over in front of John. He took it with a faint smile and a nod of thanks. Bobby grabbed the drink in front of him and raised it in a salute.

"To fatherhood," he solemnly stated, with a twinkle in his eye. "May I never have to experience it firsthand myself."

John snorted and downed his shot of Jack, slamming the empty glass down on the table with a satisfied thump. He sighed deeply.

"You think you'll be able to salvage anything out of that mess?" John quietly asked as he stared at the empty shotglass in front of him.

Bobby chuckled, trying to ease the tension he could see in his friend's bearing.

"Hell, Johnny, salvage's my middle name. Don't worry about it. What I can't salvage, I can easily replace. It's those two boys of yours that I'm more worried about." Bobby fixed a knowing look on John. "You looked about ready to skin them both out there, and I don't doubt from the caterwauling I heard not too long ago, that you just about did kill 'em."

John's dark eyes flicked up to Bobby's, narrowing. "Dean and Sam are fine," he firmly stated, as Bobby picked up the bottle of whiskey and poured two more shots for them.

John reached for his drink, fingers curling around the cool glass, pulling it toward him. "Neither one of them's gonna be able to sit down easy any time soon, that's for damn sure," he grunted in resolution. "But if that's the worst that happened to them today, then they should consider themselves lucky."

John gulped down the second shot and grimaced at the fiery burn snaking down his throat to his belly. It didn't go down as smoothly as the first one had.

John continued, haggard eyes fixed on the table top, his tone blanketed in weariness. "I don't know what the hell they were thinking...Jesus, Bobby, if that shed had exploded while they were standing next to it..." John's voice faded off, and he pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation, shaking his head in mild disbelief. "I've taught them how to respect matches…that fire isn't something you play around with. How many times have I told them? Safety first. Always. I don't know, you know, maybe if I'd shown them more about what I do...not hidden so much-"

"Hey, don't go beating yourself up over this, John." Bobby interrupted, reaching over to slap the other man's forearm. "Despite all the training you've managed to drill into them, Dean and Sam are first and foremost, young'uns. And having been one myself once, I know for a fact that kids tend to get a little reckless at times, John. Now, you stir in some natural curiosity that comes from growing up around us hunters and throw in a pinch of that Winchester creativity to boot, and you've pretty much got the recipe for what happened today."

John smiled grimly. "Yeah, well, I have a feeling my boys will think twice before being so 'creative' again," he said. "I so much as catch either of them even looking at a match or lighter without permission, and I'll paddle their little butts so bad, they'll be sore for a good long month."

Bobby chuckled. "Hell, John, good thing I wasn't as strict with you when you were learning the ropes."

John's wry look of disbelief made Bobby grin. "Your memory must be going on you, old man. I never set anything on fire I didn't intend to burn."

"May not have accidentally set anything on fire, Johnny, but I do recall one dark evening when you wasted an entire clip of consecrated silver bullets on a tree stump you thought for sure was a puca," Bobby said thoughtfully. "Hell, you almost shot me in the process too, ya fool."

John covered his stubbled face with his hands, trying hard to hide the smile that had emerged on his lips at remembering that little blunder he'd made on his first hunting foray with Bobby Singer. He couldn't hide the bout of laughter rumbling up from deep within his chest though, and Bobby snorted once upon hearing it, and then joined his friend in a loud satisfied guffaw, breaking the tension that had built up in the little kitchen.

"God, you bastard," John jokingly snickered, giving Bobby a pained look, "Figures you'd remember that fuck up after all this time and then manage to somehow hold it over me."

Bobby almost choked with delight at John's chagrin, slapping the table top in front of him. "Just reminding you of where the boys get it from, Johnny," he gleefully crowed, and then just as quickly sobered up, his eyes catching a flicker of movement near the doorway where the light from the kitchen spilled out into the shadowy hallway. "Speaking of boys..." Bobby muttered under his breath, shooting John a raised eyebrow.

John's instincts told him there was someone behind him almost at the same time that Bobby confirmed the fact. With a frown, John turned in his seat to spy his youngest, yawning sleepily and stomach growling noisily, staring up at him with those huge green eyes of his that reminded John so much of Mary's. Sammy fidgeted under the stare of both hunters, his face still flushed and stained with tears from earlier.

"What are you doing down here, Samuel?" John sternly questioned.

Sam didn't say anything. He just stood, his bottom lip quivering, his eyes going even wider if that were possible. John shot Bobby an apologetic glance and then bent down, opening his arms wide.

"C'mere, Sammy," he gently ordered, and Sam just about flew into his dad's arms, allowing himself to be wrapped in John's warmth, settling quickly onto his lap.

Sam nestled his tousled head into John's chest, squirming a little as his sore bottom protested the contact with John's lap. John immediately re-positioned the boy so that his backside hung off his lap a bit and Sam quieted down, hugging his dad tightly, hands fisting into the man's plaid flannel shirt. His dad smelled of smoke, gun oil and whiskey, a familiar potpourri of scents that comforted the boy. John rubbed lazy circles on Sam's back, holding him gently against his body, knowing it would soothe his baby boy.

Sam had always been the more emotional of the two boys, and there were times, especially after a harsh punishment like he'd received today, that Sammy needed extra reassurance from his daddy. He needed to know that all was absolutely forgiven and that he was safe and that John wasn't angry with him anymore. And John had no problem giving Sam the tenderness and encouragement he desired.

"Dad?" Dean's voice came from the doorway, a sliver of alarm shot through it. "I can't find Sammy. He –"

"He's right here, Dean," John was quick to reassure his oldest, turning slightly in his chair to let Dean view the half asleep boy resting on his lap.

Bobby could see Dean's shoulders visibly relaxing at the news, and shook his head sadly. Poor kid took too much to heart, he reasoned, casting a wary glance at John. Way too damn much.

"Oh." Dean said, ducking his head and turning to go back to his room till dinner like Dad had told him to.

"Dean." John called immediately, motioning the boy over. Dean drew a shaky breath, making a bee-line for John who removed one of his arms from Sam in order to wrap it protectively around Dean's shoulders, drawing the older boy in close. Dean leaned heavily into his dad's side, laying his head onto John's chest, listening to the steady thud of his dad's heart beat.

Another stomach rumble, this time from Dean, broke the silence, and Bobby disappeared from the table momentarily. There was a loud crackling noise and then he returned to the table with a large bowl of potato chips, setting it down directly in front of John and the boys.

"I know they're being punished, but we don't have to starve 'em, do we?" Bobby quipped, grinning when his comment managed to pull a smile out of John. "Dinner won't be for another hour or so, and I don't think these two'll last that long."

John nodded his permission, and Dean and Sam hungrily dug into the bowl, happily feasting on the greasy chips.

"Daddy?" Sam piped up hesitantly, chip crumbs decorating his chin and the front of his dirty t-shirt. His voice sounded tiny and unsure.

"Yeah, kiddo?"

Sam gazed up at John, wide green eyes now fully awake. "When you were naughty and used up all your special bullets 'cause you weren't paying attention and almost shot Uncle Bobby by accident? Did Uncle Bobby spank you?"

A strangled snort came from across the kitchen table, and John raised his eyes to catch sight of his old friend, red-faced and choking back laughter. Yeah, the son of a bitch would find that funny, John thought, glaring. Dean wasn't much better. He had managed, with great difficulty, to remain silent, but the ear splitting grin on his freckled face broadcast his amusement quite clearly to everyone in the room.

"No, Sammy, I didn't get a spanking," John assured his youngest, despite Bobby's chortling as to otherwise. "Bobby just yelled at me and told me never to do something so *ahem* stupid like that again."

"Damn straight," Bobby interjected in merriment, winking at Sam.

John continued, shooting Bobby a stony look as if daring him to comment further. "And he made me spend an entire afternoon digging the slugs out of the tree and then melting down the silver to make more bullets to replace the ones I'd wasted."

"Oh," Sammy said. He was still trying to get his mind around the fact that his dad had done something naughty enough to get into trouble and get yelled at for it.

"Didn't waste anymore expensive ammo again, didja, Johnny?" Bobby purred smugly, tapping the table for emphasis.

"No, I didn't," John quietly admitted, his dark eyes moving up to settle onto the other hunter, a sly grin tipping the corners of his mouth upwards. "But I sure as hell gave serious thought to wasting a few rounds on you after that, Singer."

Both men shared a laugh as Dean and Sam relaxed in the comforting, safe grip of their father.

PRESENT DAY:         

Charleston, South Carolina
Holy Cross Cemetary

"You think Bobby remembers?" Sam pondered out loud, a faint grin playing over his lips at the memory of that day back in South Dakota.

"Yeah, I don't think having part of your yard torched and your workplace blown up is something you easily forget, Francis," Dean shot back sarcastically. "We're lucky that old buzzard likes us."

Sam shrugged, eyes narrowing in speculation. "Well, he likes me anyway. I'm not so sure how Bobby feels about you because, after all, you were the one that lit the match."

"Oh, man, are you starting in on that again?" Dean snorted, shooting a heated glare at Sam. "We've already been over this, Sam. I may have lit the match, but you were the one that insisted on 'helping' with the gas can, and that's what caused the fire to get out of control."

Dean pointed an angry finger at his brother. "If you'da just listened to me and stood back and watched, that wouldn't have happened. I shoulda kicked your ass."

Sam sighed heavily, his only concession to admitting any possible fault. "Whatever," he humphed and turned away from Dean, pretending to check over his shotgun.

"Right back at ya," Dean snapped. "And just for the record, smart ass, if you'd hung back behind the bushes earlier with the spike like I told you to instead of following me over to the grave, Scarlett O'Hara wouldn't be trying to smoke our asses right now!"

Sam gave an exaggerated roll of his eyes to indicate what he thought about that, and Dean's jaw muscle twitched in anger.

"Oh, you don't think so, Sammy?" Dean challenged, his hazel eyes darkening. "All you had to do was wait behind the bushes and nail the bitch with the spike while I got ready to torch her. But, once again, you decided to do your own thing instead of following orders, and now look – pissed off southern belle still running loose and one ginormous bonfire about to turn us into a couple of crispy critters."

Sam opened his mouth to offer a scathing reply, but never had a chance. A shadow fell across Dean's body just then, the hot breeze off the nearby fire wafting in the putrid scent of decay along with it. Dean saw Sam's eyes go wide, the shotgun coming up and around, and Dean threw himself to the ground, rolling as the revenant swung its arm downwards, stabbing at where he'd been sitting only moments before. The bloody butcher knife sliced through empty air, missing Dean by inches. Sam reacted instantly, firing both barrels into the revenant's midsection, the rounds shredding the centuries-old linen of her delicate gown and knocking her back several feet.

Dean scrambled for the iron spike he'd laid down earlier while Sam quickly reloaded his shotgun and rose to his feet almost in the same move. The revenant stood at the edge of the fire line, her outline eerily backlit by the flames that danced behind her and around her open grave. She hissed at the boys, the sound reminding them of a cross between a leaky tire and someone scraping their nails across a blackboard. She brandished the knife, taking a jerky step back toward them.

Dean was on his feet now, the metal rod clutched in his right hand like a javelin, sharp point facing toward the revenant. He ignored the percussive booms of the shotgun as Sam fired on her again, bits of decayed flesh and hair flying as the blasts took away part of her jaw line this time.

Dean reared back, eyes focused, measuring the distance. With a grunt and a curse, he launched the spike he held, putting his entire body into the force of the throw. He watched with a calm sense of satisfaction as the spike sailed through the darkness, impaling the spectral woman dead center. The revenant staggered back a few steps from the force of the blow, but remained standing, her pale pox-scarred face peering down at the rod now sticking out of her belly in what could only be imagined was outraged shock.

"Okay, she's not going down," Dean muttered nervously, pulling his Colt out of his waistband and bringing it up in front of him, eyes never wavering from the creature. "How come she's not going down?"

"Because we have to torch the body to end this," Sam replied, turning a distressed frown towards the noise of sirens as they grew closer. "We have to get her into her grave and burned before those fire trucks get here, Dean."

Dean scratched his head, pondering the dilemma. Sam waited impatiently for a moment and then stalked off towards the revenant, who seemed occupied with trying to remove the metal rod from her mid-section. Dean gazed up, eyes widening, as he caught sight of Sam.

"Sam! No!" Dean roared, frozen in fright.

Sam ignored his brother's warning as he continued on his collision course with the revenant. He flipped the shotgun in his hands, a look of grim determination on his face as he caught the barrel end of the weapon, gripping it like a baseball bat. Sam began to pick up speed, jogging now as he pulled the shotgun back and up behind his right shoulder, preparing to strike.

"Sammy!" Dean's voice boomed out across the graveyard, irate and full of fear. "Get back! You're gonna be too close to the fire!" Dean unfroze his feet and sped towards his brother and the revenant. "Sam, damn it! Stop!"

Sam kept on moving, letting his momentum carry him the last few steps as he swung the shotgun hard in a wide, sweeping arc. The revenant looked up just in time to catch the solid oak stock of the shotgun right in the face. She screeched in rage, wobbling back, one foot balanced on the edge of her grave and the other paused over empty air. His own temper flaring, Sam braced the shotgun in both hands, holding it across his body and shoved, slamming into the woman hard, wanting to finish it once and for all. The revenant flew backwards into her flaming grave, the spike burying itself into the ground, effectively pinning her down as she flailed and screamed, the fire consuming her.

Sam now became cognizant of his proximity to the fire, the blistering heat licking hungrily against his face and hands. His heart flew up into his mouth, realizing too late his rashness, as his feet teetered precariously on the crumbling edge of the hole, hands wind-milling to keep his balance in order to avoid toppling into the grave on top of the revenant. A hand suddenly fisted into the back of Sam's windbreaker, jerking him none too gently off his feet and away from the open grave and the fire.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?!" Dean's loud, angry condemnation nearly split Sam's eardrums, as Dean shook him once by his jacket. "Man, you don't go running hell bent for death like that, you idiot! Didn't you hear me yelling at you to stop?"

Sam yanked himself out of Dean's grasp, glaring at his brother, eyes darkening to a deep shadowy emerald color. "I knew what I was doing, Dean!" Sam snapped back. He straightened his jacket with an angry jerk. "I was fine."

"Fine?" Dean's jaw dropped in astonishment, his nostrils flaring. "You weren't fine, Sam. You were two seconds away from being roasted alive!"

"Look, we don't have time to debate this right now," Sam said, waving a hand towards the sirens that were now at the front gates of the cemetery. "We need to get out of here before we end up having to explain ourselves to the cops."

Dean rubbed at his face, his jaw clenched so tight, he was afraid his teeth might shatter. Sam was right. They needed to shag ass or risk ending up behind bars. Not the preferred alternative, considering the warrants that were out on the both of them these days.

"C'mon then," Dean said with a hint of reluctance. He turned to head for the back entrance to the cemetery where they'd left the Impala, glancing over his shoulder at Sam, the look of fury on his face unmistakable. "This isn't over, Sammy," he growled.

Dean was beyond pissed. That was twice Sam had blown off his orders and twice he'd endangered his life with his blatant disregard for his own safety. It wasn't like Sam hadn't screwed up before, he knew. And okay, sure, maybe Dean needled his brother a bit upon occasion when he goofed up as a mild reproach, but they weren't kids anymore. Sam knew better. And how the hell was Dean supposed to keep Sam safe if the kid kept pressing his luck all the time? Dean mulled all this over as they made their way over to the car, sitting in the shadows of the dogwood trees that lined the perimeter of the cemetery.

Silent, Dean dug into his jeans pocket for the keys and then tossed them over to Sam a little harder than he needed to. They hit Sam in the middle of the chest before falling to the ground, and Sam just glared silently at Dean. With a low growl of irritation, Sam picked up the keys and opened the trunk, bending over to stow the guns inside the lined compartment of the weapons cache. He wasn't expecting what happened next.

Dean didn't think about it, he just did it. He was on Sam in three strides, arm swinging back and then arcing forward to crack hard against Sam's upturned backside.

"Ow! Son of a –!" Sam yelped in shock, his eyes flying wide open as he jumped from the sharp impact of the blow.

The back of his head connected solidly with the lid of the trunk as Sam tried to straighten up too fast. He swore again, bending back down, face grimacing in pain as both hands went up to massage the sore spot on his head. Dean took advantage of Sam's momentary confusion to latch onto his little brother's jacket, holding him in place as he deposited half a dozen thunderous smacks to Sam's exposed rear end.

"Dean, what the hell are you doing?" Sam cried in amazement. "Are you nuts? You're spanking me?"

Sam struggled to break free from his brother, cursing and spluttering under his breath at him. He tried to leverage himself up from the trunk with both hands to no effect. Dean, although the shorter of the two, was solid muscle and had no problem holding Sam down as he spanked him.

"Just reminding you of the importance of safety and following orders," Dean calmly replied, an arrogant smirk breaking over his lips. "'Cause, you know, Dad's not here to do it."

Dean smacked Sam's ass a couple more times and then let him go, backing up warily in case Sam wanted to take a swing at him in revenge. Instead, Sam slowly stood up, careful to duck out from underneath the trunk lid this time, and turned to stare at Dean in silent wonderment. One hand went up to cradle the back of his head where'd he smacked it earlier and the other crept behind him to rub at his stinging butt. Dean snorted, grinning at how funny Sam looked, standing there, gaping, while he nursed his sore body parts.

"You're an asshole, you know that?" Sam angrily hissed, lips pursing. He couldn't believe Dean had actually had the balls to spank him. Spank him. He was twenty-three freaking years old for crying out loud!

"Don't look so surprised, Sammy," Dean chuckled, walking over to pull the keys from the trunk lock where they were still dangling. He slammed the trunk shut and faced Sam. "I told you I'd kick your ass the next time you blew off orders and risked your safety."

"What about you?" Sam sputtered. "You risk your life all the time!"

"Yeah, but I'm older," Dean countered with a casual shrug as he headed toward the driver's side door.

"What's that got to do with anything?" Sam called after him, incredulous.

Dean didn't answer. He slid into the front seat of the Impala, slamming the door behind him and then leaned out the open window to peer at Sam, who still stood at the back of the car, face screwed up in a perturbed mask of annoyance.

"C'mon, let's go," Dean barked at Sam. "The cops'll be here any minute."

Sam stomped over to the passenger side, yanked the creaking door open and folded himself into the car, a dark glower on his face.

"You're such a jerk, Dean," Sam huffed mildly as he settled back into the leather bench seat, shaking his head.

"Yeah, and you're a whiny little bitch, so..." Dean shot back, grinning. He could tell by Sam's relaxed posture that he wasn't as angry as he was pretending to be. "Quit your crying, you big baby. You've been a pain in my ass from day one, so hey, a little payback isn't undue."

Sam just rolled his eyes. He reached down to turn on the radio, preferring to suffer through the bad lyrics and raucous guitar riffs of some mullet rock over the drone of Dean's prosaic lecturing. Zeppelin suddenly blared from the car speakers, singing about "nobody's fault but mine", and Sam choked slightly at the irony. He slowly closed his eyes, letting a defeated sigh slip through his clenched teeth. Great, he concluded tiredly, even the radio had it in for him tonight.

"Shut up," Sam groaned in mock irritation, eyes narrowing upon hearing the quiet snorts of amusement filtering over from the driver's seat.

"Whatever you say, Sammy," Dean snickered. He risked a sidelong glance at his moping brother, and stifled another burst of laughter as he hit the gas, spraying gravel and dirt from the tires as the Impala sped away from the cemetery.

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