Family Matters

A/N: 2448 words.

Fire, and screaming. Get out, save her, help. All safety gone, in my home, I'll kill you, you bastard, no, no, no...

"Daddy, Daddy!"

John jerked out of the nightmare; gasped once, harsh. Beside him, Mary opened her arms and hugged Dean tightly as he leaped onto their bed, growling at him because it made him giggle. She glanced over at him, and he read it in her eyes: nightmare again, baby. It's all right. He smiled shakily at her, and at their son squirming in her arms, shrieking with laughter. As he watched them, he felt his heart begin to slow back to a normal pace, felt the adrenaline start to slip back out of his system.

In the next room, the baby woke up and started to cry.

Mary and John traded sons with a glance, a smile - John took Dean by the shoulders and rolled with him, tickling him and sending him into fresh giggle fits, while Mary got out of bed, laughing at them as she went to get little Sammy from his crib.

"Hey, buddy," John said to the little boy, ruffling his soft, sandy hair. "You're up early."

Dean's eyes widened in excitement. "We're going to the candy place, Daddy! Remember? You promised!"

"I sure did," John grinned at him. He'd promised Dean all week that when Saturday came, he'd take them to the drug store that opened up on the corner. Dean had seen the candy display as they drove to school one morning and hadn't stopped talking about it since. Mary walked in on the little scene with Sammy yawning in the crook of her arm. John smiled at her, at his family. "You and Sammy coming with us?"

Dean twisted around as only a four-year-old can, bending himself nearly in half for no apparent reason, to look at her. "Mom, come on!"

Mary laughed at them and sat down on the bed, settling the baby on her stomach, where he clapped happily, watching his hands. "Yeah, we're comin'. You think me and Sammy want to miss out on all that sweet stuff?"

Dean wriggled around to look at the baby, just watching him for a minute. Mary and John watched as he reached out and put one of his fingers in Sammy's hand, watched him smile when Sammy held on tight. "Okay," the little boy decided, if grudgingly. "But I still get the candy, right? He's too little."

Mary burst out laughing, which made Sammy laugh, and John picked Dean up bodily and flew him around the room, tickling him mercilessly until he promised to share with his brother.

"Dean, Dad said to stay in the car..." Sammy trailed after his brother, looking over his shoulder, nervous as a spooked cat.

"So go back to the car, if you're scared," Dean told him, his pistol at the ready. He was getting good with it - he could hit cans off fences at a hundred paces without wasting a shot.

Sammy set his jaw and got low down to the ground, like Dad had told them. "I'm not scared," he muttered. Dean shushed him.

Together, they snuck around the side of the house. Dean had the idea that Dad could probably use some backup on this job. They'd just seen Amityville the night before, as research. Dad liked them to watch horror movies, so they could get used to seeing creepy things and not panic. He would sit on the bed with them and point out what was real and what wasn't, what they might see and what was dumb Hollywood stuff. Dean had just turned thirteen, so he'd got to pick the movie.

Sam wished he had a gun. Dad said he wasn't allowed to carry one on a job until he was older, and Dean wasn't supposed to either, but Dean had his right now. Sam thought it was only fair.

They snuck up the side of the house, careful where they put their feet. They made not a sound, but the chilly night air pressed in on them, made them watch the shadows nervously for any motion. Around back the weeds got thicker, pulled at their clothes and shoelaces. Sammy misstepped, and a dry branch cracked under his sneaker; Dean jumped and spun around, pointing his gun at the big, empty yard.

"That was me," Sammy whispered.

"Sam?" Dean glared at him, man, I never should have brought my kid brother all over his face.

Sam glared back. "What? You woulda stepped on it, too."

"Would not," Dean shot back, hushed and indignant.

"Would too!"

"Shut up!"

"You shut up!"

Dean was opening his mouth to hiss back at Sam when the ghost came at them, a big, shambling, disgusting pile of sores and loose teeth and dirty hair falling off its skull, like its skin. "Shit!" Dean yelled, and the thing grabbed Sammy by the hair and roared at him. Sammy swung at it, his teeth bared in hate, and he made contact, but the thing shrugged him off. "Dad!" Dean called, loud as he could. He couldn't risk a shot while the thing had Sam, and there were real bullets in this thing, not rock salt. "Dad!"

The house stayed silent and Dean was freaking out, pointing the gun and lowering it, trying to decide what in the hell to do, tears in his eyes. If Sammy got hurt, Dad would kill him. If Sammy died...

And then Sammy just went limp in the thing's grip. Dean could see him wince as it pulled at his hair, but he went down like a sack of potatos as the thing stumbled off balance, and Dean tightened his grip, raised his gun and shot the fucking thing full of holes.

The ghost dissolved in mist, and Dean sprinted forward, helped Sammy up and the two of them took off like a shot, back to the car and safety.

Off the property, they pulled back the passenger seat and climbed into the rear seat. Dean tucked his gun in his jacket and checked Sammy over for cuts and scrapes - he had a few, but nothing serious. Sammy sat quiet and let him.

"Thanks for getting it off me," he said, quiet and almost shy.

Dean paused and looked at him, a little surprised. "You're my brother," he said, all the explanation in the world. "And hey, you didn't do too bad yourself with that drop you pulled. He spun round like a chicken with his head cut off."

Sammy laughed quietly, and Dean smiled, kind of proud of himself. "When we get back, we'll get you a band-aid, okay?"

Sam leaned his head against Dean's shoulder and sighed. "Okay."

Dean paused again, just a little surprised. Sammy'd never shown him this much affection, not even when they were training together. He was kind of a weird kid, but... hunting made bonds, he guessed. Like Dad said - you see battle with a man, you're like his brother. I guess it works for real brothers, too.

He put his arm around Sammy and leaned his head against Sammy's hair, and breathed in his brother's scent. When John returned from the house he smiled to see them in the rearview, dead asleep, just like that.

Dean eased himself wincingly into the Impala, one arm wrapped around his midsection. His ribs were killing him. "Friggin poltergeists. Why do they always gotta throw you into walls?"

In the driver's seat, Sam nodded wryly, wiping blood off his face with the hem of his t-shirt. When he was done, he started the car, and they drove back to the motel in an awkward silence. About halfway there, Dean couldn't stand it anymore.

"Look, man. I'm sorry you didn't get to go to prom, or whatever."


"Yeah, right. But you know we needed..."

Sam waved his hand dismissively, smiled a little in the direction of the road. "Dean, don't worry about it. Just a bunch of hanging around in robes, speaking in Latin and looking like an idiot." Sam cast a sidelong, impish glance at his brother. "I get enough of that at home."

Dean laughed, and then winced as his ribs twinged.

Sam steered them into the parking lot of the dingy motel and helped Dean up the stairs. John's car was already there - the brothers had been left behind to mop up, metaphysically speaking. By the time they got to the room, they were already bickering, and the door swung open on their You should've passed it! I did pass it! You liar.

Sam unloaded his brother onto one of the beds, where Dean quickly divested himself of boots and jacket and made for the bathroom. Sam rolled his eyes - nobody was a bigger fan of showers than Dean Winchester, even when he wasn't particularly dirty. Someone else might have thought Dean was fastidious, or covering for feelings of shame, but his brother knew he was just a big freakin' ego case who couldn't stand having crap in his hair. Sam couldn't help but smile after him, all the same.

John was sitting at the little table, poring over old texts and newspapers for clues and suspicious murders. Another Thursday night with the Winchesters. "Sam," he called. "C'mere for a second."

Sam moved over to him and looked over his shoulder to see what he was supposed to be looking at, but John shook his head and guided him around to the facing chair. Sam sat, a little surprised. They didn't usually... talk. "What's up, Dad?"

John reached down beside his chair and brought up a shoebox. Looking a little embarrassed, he extended it to his son. "Didn't have time to wrap it."

Sam took the box. He held it on his lap for a second, just savoring it, before taking the top off. Inside he found a paperback novel and a Desert Eagle, both in excellent condition. The gun was heavy and chrome, his preferred make, and the book was about a lawyer who makes a deal with the Devil.

"Congratulations, Sammy," said John, and when Sam looked up, there were tears in his eyes.

Sam swallowed heavily. "I didn't think you knew."

John looked at him quizzically, surprised. "Of course I did. Course I did, Sammy." John smiled, a brave, necessary kind of smile, and then leaned forward and tousled Sam's hair. Sam smiled automatically, moving his head away from John's hand, pure habit. John looked at him for a minute more, just looking, with this wistful sort of look on his face.

And then he composed back into Sam's hardass ex-marine ghost-slaying father, and leaned over his books. "I better get back at this. Go see if your brother's drowned, okay? We need some supper."

"Sure, Dad." Sam grinned, got up and went to go bang hard on the bathroom door, and shouted through it that maybe when Dean was done primping, they could go pick him up some new eyeliner at the makeup counter. John laughed and Dean said something bitchy, but Sam couldn't hear him over the spray.

"He made his choice, Dean." John paused in oiling the .45, head down.

Dean paced in his father's shabby hotel room, glaring at the wallpaper. "I just don't get why he has to be such a prick. I mean, if he wants to turn his back on his family and hunting and go dick around at school as if they're gonna teach him anything important, fine, but..."

John goes back to rubbing the soft cloth over the bullet chamber, his voice strong and level. "It's not fine. I'm not saying it's fine."

"Well, what are you saying, then, Dad? 'Cause from where I'm standing, it looks like he abandoned us, and I..." Dean trails off, can't finish it. They pause there, letting the pregnant moment pass by so they can talk again without that pressure in their throats, in their chests. They don't talk about it, but they know it's there.

When Dean finally speaks again, most of the anger's gone. "I just don't see why he can't write. Or call, or something. Wouldn't kill him."

John keeps oiling the gun. Dean finally heads for the door, and he's got it open when John's voice stops him.

"He needs some time. Give it to him." John sighs and sets down the piece. He still won't look at Dean, and his voice has the haunted edge do it that Dean's heard more and more in the last few months. Dean hates that edge. John picks up the next gun on the table, a Glock. "He might need that time... sometime soon."

Dean's mouth presses into a thin line. He says nothing, just heads out into the rain - to the Impala, to the road, and to New Orleans.

The five cracks off the eight ball like a shot, and that's all she wrote. Dean stands up with a smile, slides the cash off the brown leather and pockets it. The jewel-like light from the stained glass overheads glance off the faces of three very grumpy neanderthals, and Dean mentally calculates the distance to the door.

"Rough luck," Dean tries, the smile sliding off his face. The neanderthals are unimpressed. One crosses his arms, and the others glower. "Well," Dean says, clapping his hands together and rubbing them. "Guess I'll see you boys around, huh?"

He takes one, single step toward the door at a normal pace, and then the chase is on. "Sammytimetogo!" He's headed for the back as Sam jumps up and boots it for the front. Dean skids out the red-lit emergency exit and races up the alley, pulls a genuine Dukes of Hazzard slide over the hood that almost works until something catches wrong and he goes spinning into the dirt. Sam's rolling his eyes when Dean drags himself into the car, and they're peeling out of the lot just in time to spray the rednecks with bits of gravel. They won't follow - Dean made sure they drank their fair share.

He drags air into his lungs, feels it burn out the smoke and fear. He rolls his head on the headrest and looks at his brother - just in time to make out the twitching of his lips. Dean grins. "When was the last time you fishtailed out of a roadhouse?"

Sammy laughs, and tells him it's been about since he left for Stanford, and Dean laughs along with him, even as he winces and picks rocks out of his hand.

No matter how they might fight, Dean thinks, it's good to have his brother back.