Our Father's Fate

By: Ridley C. James

Beta: Tidia

A/N: I started this as one in my annual Mother's Day/Father's Day series but it didn't quite make it. Still, I hope you enjoy. This is also for my friend Les, who is always up for some Dean-centric stories, especially if they contain hurt/comfort. ;-)


"We are not called to fight the battles of our fathers with a blind faith. We are called to examine their wars, and moreover to discern whether their actions were sinful or just. We are not bonded to our fathers' fate, but rather called to build on their trespasses or triumphs for a better future."

Cristina Marrero

"Suck it up, Soldier. Stay awake!"

It wasn't so much the familiar words from his youth that jolted Dean Winchester back from the brink of sleep, but the sound of a distinctive voice that threaded through so many of his memories as a boy and young man. . He expected to find himself alone caught in the cruel illusions of a dream or some echo from years past. His father's face, blurred but still tangible, greeted him.

"Dad?" Dean's own voice was coarse to his ears. Weak from screaming for help, cries that were likely a waste of energy considering his location, and the fact the only other man he knew to be in the area was now disemboweled, bloated and bobbing somewhere in the fetid pool at the bottom of the same well where Dean was trapped.

"I'm here." The assurance was accompanied by a strong, warm grip, impossible considering the man before him had been dead a couple of decades. Despite the irrefutable, the touch buoyed Dean, keeping his head above water.

"You look good for a dead guy." The laugh that bubbled from Dean was a little hysterical, choking him along with the mouthful of water he'd inhaled.

"I wish I could say the same for you, Ace."

Dean frowned at his dad. "Am I dead?" This was not what Dean expected from the afterlife. He'd had a glimpse of Heaven, resided in Hell for forty years. Neither place conjured images of dirty pits filled with freezing water.

"No, you're still breathing, Son."

"Good to know." Dean made an effort to move his legs, spurred on by his father's words. He forced a half grin. "Wish I could say the same for you, Dad."

"Still a smart ass, I see." John Winchester's rare grin was like the sunlight Dean could no longer see streaming from the small opening above. Dean basked in its glow. His father shook his head. "I guess I really do have only myself to blame."

"That's always Mac's story." Doctor Mackland Ames might have been John Winchester's best friend, but he was not above pointing out the man's flaws when they served The Brotherhood as Scholar and Knight. Though in the wake of John's passing Mac made it a habit to only recant the best stories. Dean's boys only knew their grandfather as a war hero, practically incapable of wrongdoing.

"Yeah, well, Mackland always did have a knack for calling me on my shit."

"You gave him a lot of opportunity for practice." Dean wasn't sure if it was the fact he knew in his heart and mind that his father was dead that made him brazen, burgeoning on disrespectful, or perhaps the pain and fever that was causing him to talk out of his head. He was almost certain it was his current situation of being on the brim of joining his dad in a departed state that kept John from delivering an expected dressing down for the insubordination.

"I did at that."

"Maybe I am dreaming." Forgiving an instance of mouthing off might be believable, but admitting a weakness was not in the realm of possibility when it came to Dean Winchester's larger-than-life father.

"Was I really that much of a bastard?"

The question caught Dean off guard, like one of the sharp pains that kept knifing across his chest and side whenever he tried to breathe. It had taken Dean a lot of years to see his father clearly, to view him through something more realistic than rose colored glasses. His lack of quick response must have sufficed as an answer.

"Never mind." John shifted his arm, tightening his grip around Dean, keeping him upright in the water. "This isn't about me."

"What is this about, Dad?" Dean hated the tremble in his voice, fought like hell the urge to rest his head against his father's chest. Illusion or not, he was so tired, convinced if he could close his eyes for only a moment that everything would be better.

His father gave him a rough shake. "This is about you staying awake until your brother and Caleb get here."

"Sammy and Damien are coming?" Dean tried to remember if that was part of the plan. His thoughts were hazy, but the last time he'd talked to his brother had been the day before yesterday, before Dean had left on the hunt. Sam had late office hours at the university on Thursdays, was on his way to pick up Mary from Carolyn and Joshua's because The Scholar still hadn't caved to his daughter's pleas to get her driver's license, even though she'd turned sixteen in the spring. Caleb was halfway across the country on another hunt with Ethan.

"They are," his dad assured. "They know you need them."

"They always have my back," Dean muttered. Like most siblings, Dean and Sam had their terrible moments, times when the differences in their personalities and unique perspectives on their shared past caused them to inflict immeasurable grief on one another. Yet, they'd made it through, stronger, more dedicated to each other than ever. Dean had come to see Sam as more than someone he had to protect, sacrifice for, and Sam, Dean liked to believe, had come to respect all those sacrifices Dean had made to protect him and appreciated him in a way that took them beyond the brothers they had been growing up. Caleb and Dean's relationship also had its growing pains through the years, but Dean never doubted Caleb's unflinching loyalty, his devotion to make Dean a priority, always, a lifelong mission he now extended to Dean's sons.

"Pastor Jim would be proud of your Triad," John told him. "I know I am."

The words were nice and Dean wanted to hear more, but the latest wave of pain had him closing his eyes, sending out a desperate plea to the universe for Sam and Caleb to hurry the hell up. He'd been lucky to get a shot off, to keep the Werepanther from getting a hold of him like it had Wilson. Still the bastard had gotten a few licks in before Dean managed to drag himself and the critically injured younger hunter into the only refuge around, a deep abandoned well belonging to a forgotten settlement that time and the thick North Carolina forest had mostly reclaimed. It had seemed a good recourse at the time, but Dean's inability to climb out after Wilson succumbed to his injuries and the panther had given up on its prey proved otherwise. Now, instead of being torn apart by an abomination of nature, Dean would yield to his best friend's worst fear of drowning if he didn't bleed out first.

"Junior will find a way to blame himself if you don't hang on, Kiddo."

"Whose fault is that, Dad?" Dean opened his eyes to glare at his father. He had no doubt that despite the fact Caleb was states away he'd see Dean's death as The Knight's failure. Truth or not, the reminder from his father as a tactic to keep Dean fighting was lowdown, underhanded, and achingly familiar, but it worked. Dean took a deep breath and kicked his legs to stay upright in the water. John Winchester understood motivation, much like he understood weaknesses.

"Guilty as charged." John had the audacity to grin. "I guess I really was one hell of a bastard."

"Death has made you wise, Grasshopper." Dean figured he had earned the right to speak the truth to his father. After all, he was more than a grown man, had lived a few years longer than John had the chance to do.

"I might have been a bastard, but I was a bastard who loved his kids, and their pain in the ass nanny, too." John tightened his hold, leveling his gaze on Dean. "Some things death can't touch, Son."

Dean swallowed hard, fighting the lump that had sprung to his throat. The copper scent of blood, the stench of stagnated water had him regretting the deeper breathing, but he refused to shed tears in front of his dad. He knew his father believed everything he had done had been justified by the one underlying goal of protecting his children from the fate that had taken their mother, but that didn't erase the scars it had left on his sons.

"I know I wasn't always good at showing it to you boys, but…"

"Are you apologizing?" Dean wasn't sure if he was willing to accept it, though Caleb and Sam might feel differently. Having revered and defended his father growing up, in what Dean now recognized as a pathetic desire to hold his family together, Dean found himself harboring a bit of resentment towards the man after his death. A tiny seed of bitterness took root when he and Sam had been left to pick up the pieces and deal with all the secrets, especially the one concerning Sam's connection to Azazeal. That seedling had been nurtured by the sense of abandonment Dean felt during the year leading up to his deal coming due and then the failed apocalypse. It had branched out in the years since as Dean became a father himself, fed by the heartbreaking comprehension that he would never place his sons in the position John Winchester had so often put Dean and his brother.

"Would it make a difference?" John's deep voice softened, the gentle tone sparking a sting behind Dean's eyes. "Could you forgive me?"

"That's a lot to ask." Dean didn't mention that it was also unfair. He was hurting, scared, and more than a little vulnerable. If John was going to appear as a spirit to work on unfinished business, he should have been more of a man about it and confronted Dean on solid ground, literally. Like at the farm, or in his body shop, where he felt more the man he'd battled years to become.

"Then how about I just ask you to hold on a little longer, Ace?"

Dean blinked; too tired to care that one tear escaped his lashes to trail down his cheek. "Because Sammy and Damien are coming."

"Yes and because your family needs you, your sons need you."

"That never really stopped you leaving, now did it?" Dean had learned how to hit below the belt, too. "Not even in the end."

His father didn't falter. "But you're a better man than me, Ace."

"Maybe we're the same." It was a fear of Dean's to be destined to repeat the same mistakes as his father. He'd thought he'd escaped the worst of them by doing things differently with his boys, but here he was bleeding to death on a hunt about to run out on his sons, who ironically were very close to the same ages as he, Sam, and Caleb had been when John went to Hell to save Dean's life. JT was only a year younger than Dean was then, James the same age as Sam. Ben was close to being the thirty five year old Caleb had been, but Dean wondered if his eldest might not take his death the hardest, especially in light of their last conversation. Regrets and things left unsaid were often the collateral damage of an unexpected death.

"You're not the father I was." John shook his head. "After your mom died I had to bust my ass on my best days to be a decent dad. You? You make it look easy."

"Obviously you haven't seen me on one of my off days." Of which there were far too many in Dean's opinion. That very morning was a fine example. Ben had called, surprising Dean with the fact he was in New Haven hoping to catch up with his old man, treat him to breakfast at The Dinner Bell. Ignoring the fact it was the middle of the week, and completely out of the ordinary for his son to be away from the hospital in Louisville, Dean had blown him off to which Ben had joked about his infamous bad timing and the shared calendar that Carolyn had insisted for years that The Guardian needed to keep up with his busy schedule. The joke was well-timed, self-deprecating, and one Dean should have recognized as a tactic he himself might have used when dropped by his dad for a gig. He'd cut his son off mid-sentence, to take another call. It hurt to think that might be the last words Ben remembered.

"I've seen enough to know your sons are lucky to have you."

"This where you tell me you spend your free time these days riding a cloud and keeping an eye on the family?" Dean wanted to believe the people they loved were in a better place, happy and together. He ached for those gone sometimes, and often comforted himself by thinking they were able to glimpse the happy times they were missing.

"Let's just say I've caught some of the highlights."

Dean studied his father's face. In lieu of Dean's current age, they'd pass for brothers, not father and son. Still, being with his dad left Dean feeling much like a boy again. He wondered briefly at what his father would consider monumental in the span of his son's life. For Dean it was easy to recall the most incredible moments. "JT's birth?"

"Definitely one of the best. I'm honored by the name."

"Don't be. I used Sam's and Caleb's middle names." Nostalgic or not, Dean wasn't in the mood to cater to his father or admit he was proud to call his first son Jonathan Winchester.

John nodded. "There's nothing like holding that new person in your arms for the first time, is there?"

"I was terrified I was going to break him." Dean thought back to the wide-eyed baby his middle son had been. When the nurse placed him in Dean's arms, JT had merely stared at his father, calm and serene even then. It was so humbling, like standing in front of the ocean, or facing off with a charging five ton elephant.

"I was shaking so badly when they gave me you, I think Mary was terrified I would drop you." John laughed. "I never understood what love or fear really was until that moment, or realized they were so intricately wrapped together."

"That why you ducked out on Sam's birth?" Dean couldn't resist. It was one of the few stories he remembered his mom telling, maybe because he heard it repeated so many times during Sam's first six months. "Softball game wasn't it?"

"It was a tied game, bottom of the ninth." John frowned. "Besides, she wasn't due for a couple of more weeks. How was I to know your brother would make a surprise entrance?"

"Sam still likes to arrive to everything early."

"If I recall, you don't have a lot of room to talk, Ace. Pastor Jim would call pot and kettle, I believe."

"What are you talking about?"

"I clearly remember your youngest son's birth. Do you?"

Dean narrowed his gaze at his father, wondering if this was yet another tactic by the former Knight to get his son's blood flowing, or if he just thought turn about was fair play. Either way it was working. "How could I forget?"

"That boy's kept you on your toes since day one."

Dean easily recognized the satisfaction and amusement in his father's dark eyes, confirming Caleb's belief that James Murphy Winchester was a grandparent's perfect retribution for everything their own children might have done. John had obviously been privy to Jimmy's finer moments. "It's never been boring, that's for damn sure."


Twenty-one years earlier, somewhere in Arkansas…

"What the hell happened to that dull, routine hunt you promised me, Damien?" Dean jerked at the restraints holding him to the crude stone altar. They refused to give.

"What? You no longer consider a demon worshipping, human sacrificing cult to be ho hum, Deuce? Damn, domesticity has softened you." Caleb was currently shackled to a tree not far away.

"No! Not when I'm about to become their next offering!"

"I still think Merlin's been hanging out in the castle a little too much lately playing house." His tone was joking, but Dean didn't have to look to know his Knight was working himself into a frenzy trying to get free. There was nothing funny about waking up trussed up like a couple of roped calves, nor was the chanting, which was growing louder by the minute, anything to laugh at when they'd seen the eviscerated bodies of this particular cult's previous victims.

"These fucking knots are pissing me off." Dean growled, yanking harder. He'd already brought blood to his wrists and ankles trying to wriggle free. He didn't remember much about the night before, but was quite certain whoever had tied him up might have spent time as a pirate in a former life. "In fact, so are you."

"Pissed off is good when it gets the adrenaline going," Caleb countered. "In my defense, I was trying to do you a favor by giving you a reason to get out of the house."

"Right now midnight runs for salt and vinegar potato chips and Karo syrup are looking pretty damned good." Dean knew he might have complained more than he should have to Caleb about Juliet's bizarre pregnancy cravings. Her strange behavior included having Dean and Ben repaint one wall in their room six different shades of yellow that all looked identical before she settled on something called Spring Chick, but he would take it all back if they made it out of this situation in one piece.

"If it makes any difference, I did think they were human at the time I asked you to tag along."

"What happened to having all the intel before jumping feet first into a situation, Damien?" Dean knew in the past Caleb could be a little gung-ho when it came to any rumblings of demonic cults, but hoped his Knight had grown more cautious over the years, and given up the personal vendetta for anything that might be reminiscent of Noah Seaver's dark deeds. "Dad would be pissed."

"I had reliable intel."

"And by intel you mean disturbing pillow talk with your 'contact with benefits' in the coven, which Josh says should not be named. Don't tell me the fact we're in Arkansas is a coincidence." Dean did not understand why Caleb continued to hook up with Cressida, the witch who had been involved with Reagan Walsh when they'd first encountered their evil counterparts The Trinity. He understood she was hot, power hungry and dangerous, but Caleb could just have easily satisfied his appetite for the darker side with any number of women who fit that bill by visiting a biker bar or some of the PTA meetings in the suburbs of New York.

"She might have mentioned the bizarre deaths, and the fact one of the bodies was dropped near the boundaries of her coven in passing, but she thought they were human, too." Caleb grunted and Dean was hopeful his best friend was using some of his own anger-fueled adrenaline and having better luck than Dean was at escape. "These things are some kind of reanimated creature, like a revenant. It could explain the weird energy signatures I was picking up on at the crime scenes, and the fact I had absolutely no luck in tapping into any psychic link. These bastards are pretty much zombie level when it comes to brain waves. There has to be someone controlling them."

"The big bad with the brains might have been something we should have checked into earlier, but it is the least of our worries right now." Dean could tell by the song-like chanting that the creatures, whatever they might be, were closer now. He could see the flicker of torches. "They're almost here. Any luck getting a line through to Sammy?"

"I keep hitting some kind of interference. Like he's focused completely on another link, or totally freaked out."

"So you're like getting a busy signal or psychic call waiting?"

"You know it's not that literal, man."

"What I know is that I'm about to have my heart and lungs torn out by them!" The cloaked beings were approaching the altar in their shuffling gait, still repeating the strange verse Dean did not understand. Caleb hadn't been far off in his zombie comparison. The decomposing bodies were right on, but these things had glowing red eyes with sharp teeth and claws.

"Don't you touch him!" Caleb was yelling now. "I will tear you all limb from limb! Do you fucking hear me?"

Dean doubted that the shouted threats, no matter how loud, explicit or literal where Caleb was concerned, were going to be very effective in keeping him in one piece. He had not planned on going out this way. As the zombie puppet cultists surrounded him, he could only think of JT and Ben, the baby he had yet to meet, and Sam. Dean had promised his three-year old that they would finish the model car they started the day before he had left with Caleb. Ben had only moved into the farm a month after losing his mother. Now, the fourteen year old was going to lose his father, too, the same father who had promised him he was going to be there, that he was going to take care of everything. Sam would suffer the same fate as Mac, picking up and carrying on as the last member of his Triad, surviving as a surrogate father to Dean's children.


Caleb's shout had him turning towards his best friend. Their eyes locked, Dean hoping the last thoughts he conveyed were ones his best friend could pick up. They'd had a good run, and as much as Dean ached for the things he was going to miss out on; he would never regret the life he'd lived up to this point. The chanting grew in volume, rising to a crescendo and Dean closed his eyes knowing the inevitable was at hand. Deafening silence had him bracing for the worse, expecting a claw-like pain to ignite in his chest any second. The only discomfort that followed was caused by the bright flash of light that penetrated his closed lids.

"Thank God." He heard Caleb say and when Dean lifted his head and opened his eyes. There was indeed a heavenly figure hovering above him.

"Are you alright, Dean?" Castiel was frowning at him, but made no move to help get him off the altar.

"I'd be better if I weren't strapped to this pile of rocks, Cas."

"Of course." Castiel lifted his hand and the ropes holding Dean fell away.

Dean pushed himself up, staring at the ground where the bizarre demon clan lay scattered, smoldering around them. "That was dramatic timing, man, but I wouldn't have complained if you would have been a few minutes earlier."

"Sam only just reached me. I was on assignment."

"Not to knock a ninth inning bases loaded slide into home base, Cas, but with Heaven righted, I figured you'd have more time to keep an eye on your friends." Dean wasn't really complaining. It was his nature to give the angel a hard time, especially since he hadn't seen Castiel in almost a year.

"Hello!" Caleb called. "One friend could still use a rescue over here."

Castiel didn't look The Knight's way, but Dean watched as Caleb's bonds disappeared.

"So Sam must have gotten my message after all." Caleb stepped across a remnant, toeing the corpse over to reveal blackened sockets where the creature's eyes once resided. He came alongside Dean, giving the Guardian a once over scan. The Knight gestured to Castiel, nodding to Dean's bloody wrists. "You want to take care of that, Wings? Save me the time searching for an herbal fix in the middle of this fucked up forest."

"I'm good," Dean tried, but Castiel was already reaching out to touch a hand.

"Sam said nothing about a message from you." The angel informed Caleb. "He did note that he was unable to reach either of you by phone."

"Then his ring let him know we were in trouble." Dean glanced at his healed wrists, then to the hunter's band gleaming on his finger, grateful, not for the first time, for Merlin's ingenuity to allow The Triad a leg up on knowing when one another were in dire straits.

"This ring?" Castiel held up a silver band, which Dean snatched from the angel to study closer. He wasn't sure how, but he could feel that it was his brother's although hunters' bands were identical in outward appearance. "I don't believe Sam was aware you were in trouble," Castiel went on. "On the contrary, he was quite convinced I might find you consuming bird wings and polluted with alcohol in a place called Hooters."

"Sam wouldn't just hand this over to you lightly." Dean put the ring in his pocket. "Is he alright?"

"Sam gave it to me to help with tracking you. The mark I gave the three of you to protect you during Lucifer and Michael's machinations makes it difficult to find you when you are aren't reaching out for me."

"Why was Sam so desperate to find us if he didn't know we were in trouble?" Caleb demanded, and Dean picked up on the undercurrent of worry in The Knight's harsh tone, a similar concern starting to churn in his gut now that the adrenaline from almost being eviscerated was fading.

"Dean's concubine is about to give birth."

"What?" Dean's chest constricted, his heart began to race once more. "Juliet's in labor?"

"What the hell, Deuce?" Caleb shot Dean a disbelieving look as if he had somehow fed his Knight misinformation to go on the hunt when nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, Dean had pointed out Juliet's due date as a tactic to counter his best friend's argument on why Dean should join him on said hunt. "I thought you said her due date wasn't for a few weeks?"

"It's not, Dick Head, but apparently the baby doesn't know that." It was easy to take the anger at himself out on Caleb. Dean pointed a finger. "You on the other hand are a psychic. You couldn't have predicted this?"

"I think it's a good sign that I haven't had a vision!" Caleb shouted back. "Besides Johnny junior was way late, I figured we had plenty of time."

"Obviously, you were wrong." Dean had thought the same thing but wasn't about to admit it. He remembered the long days and even longer nights right up to JT's expected due date. Juliet had tried everything to jump start her labor including spicy Thai food, power walking and wearing a special ruby crystal that Esme promised would do the trick.

"This isn't my fault," Caleb defended. "I was just trying to give you a little time away from all the crazy."

"But as usual, you've brought more crazy instead."

"Time isn't something we have a great deal of," Castiel interrupted their argument. "Not if Dean wishes to be present when his concubine gives birth."

"Will you stop calling her that?" Dean glared at Castiel.

"Do you prefer the more current Baby Momma?"

"No!" Dean snapped, glaring at Caleb when The Knight laughed. "Can we just go?"

"As long as Cas doesn't drop us in the middle of the delivery room," Caleb spoke up. "I don't want to risk seeing anything that would keep me from ever looking Dean's Baby Momma in the eyes again, or might permanently alter my sex life."

"Seriously?" Dean shook his head at his best friend. "That's your first concern here?"

"What? I dodged health class all four years of high school for the exact same reason."

Dean didn't have a chance to respond to Caleb as the next instant he found himself in a small waiting room decorated with paintings of Winnie the Pooh characters. Caleb and Castiel were on either side of him. The only other occupant, a man sitting at the far side of the room staring at his IPhone, didn't seem to notice their sudden presence.

"It just seems like yesterday when we were camped out in here waiting for JT." Caleb gestured to a row of high back cushioned blue chairs. "Sam and I decided we should have crashed the labor and delivery waiting room years ago because this is where they put all the good furniture."

"Where are they, Cas?" Dean didn't remember this particular room because he'd been with Juliet at the time of JT's birth. His presence in the delivery room was not something he had been enthusiastic about in the beginning. In all honesty he was terrified, but Mac had promised him it was something he didn't want to miss because not everyone got the chance to witness their very own miracle. In the end, it was a moment Dean would always remember, an opportunity he'd never been given with Ben, and one he didn't want to lose with this child.

"Deuce," Caleb's tone had him looking away from the angel, searching his best friend's face. The Knight gave a shake of his head, a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "We're a little late."

"Shit. I missed it?" Dean must have looked as disappointed as he felt because Castiel reached out in a rare show of emotion.

"You've missed nothing, Dean. This is only the beginning."

"Cas is right," Caleb agreed. "The kid will never know you weren't in there for the grand entrance."

"I'll know." Dean ran a hand through his hair. "Damn it."

"I have a feeling you won't even care once you meet the newest Winchester." Caleb tilted his head towards the connecting door to the delivery wing. "Sammy knows we're here."

Dean started that way only to draw up short when a nurse opened the door for Sam whose hands were full with a small bundle swaddled in blue.

"Someone said the proud father just arrived." The nurse smiled at Dean and Caleb, then moved her gaze back to The Guardian. "I'm guessing by the expression on your face that would be you."

"Sammy?" Dean ignored the nurse, his eyes locked on his brother, who was grinning like a loon.

"Everything's good, Dean. Juliet's fine. The baby is awesome."

"Where are Ben and JT?"

"With Mac and Esme in the cafeteria."

The nurse cleared her throat. "I'll leave you gentlemen alone if you've got it from here."

"We've got it covered," Caleb told her.

Dean stepped closer to his brother. A spiky swatch of black hair poked up over the blanket Sam was cradling. One tiny fist waved in the air upon Dean's approach. He reached out a finger to touch the red clenched hand no bigger than a walnut. Dean grinned down at the wrinkled face, furrowed brow, then smiled up at his brother.

"That doesn't really look like a Mary or an Emma."

Sam snorted. "His mom said the very same thing. She told the nurses they'd just have to put Baby Winchester for now."

"Sorry, Kiddo." Dean grinned at his son as Sam gently turned over the baby to his father's waiting arms. "Your mom wouldn't let us pick out any boy names. She was afraid it would jinx her getting a girl this time."

"His name is James." Caleb's confident pronouncement had both Sam and Dean looking his way. "James Murphy Winchester."

"The smartass kid from the future?" Dean looked from his best friend to the tiny baby now staring up at him with dark, knowing eyes.

"The future is now," Caleb clasped him on the shoulder, laying a gentle hand on top of the baby's head. "About time you finally showed up, little man."

"You knew all along?" Sam asked with a touch of awe. "That's why you were so gung ho about the rogue body snatcher."

"He let it slip at the Barnwell mansion when Dean was hurt."

"Are you crying?" Sam shook his head.

"No," Caleb snapped, removing his hand from the baby to quickly rub at his eyes. "Castiel nearly fried my retinas with his solar flare move."

Dean narrowed his gaze at Caleb. "Speaking of Cas, maybe I should consider him for godfather considering you kept this a secret from me all these years, Damien."

The three men turned to find the angel had pulled his typical disappearing act during Sam's entrance.

"Too late." Caleb shrugged a shoulder, grinning. "Guess you're stuck with me."

"There's always Josh."

"Or me," Sam piped up. "I did help deliver him."

"A hundred bucks says you stood there in your scrubs, biting your thumb, screaming like a girl on the inside. That's not helping." Caleb turned to Dean, trying to look repentant. "There was the time continuum to consider, Deuce. And I didn't want to freak you out."

"Because James was psychic." Dean pulled his gaze from The Knight, looking once more to the brand new innocent life in his arms-a life he and Juliet had created, a life he was responsible for. He should have known the kid was his from the get go. Not only was he a smart ass and cocky, he was crazy enough to be hooking up with Joshua's daughter on the sly.

"He was born with a caul."

Sam's announcement had Dean whipping his gaze to his brother. "Come again?"

"A membrane of skin covering his face, it looked like a shimmering thin veil and…"

"I know what the hell a caul is, Sam." Dean had even asked his father once if there had been anyway Sam had been born with one, preferring that alternative to the idea that his brother had been tainted by a demon. Caul births were rare, something like one in eight hundred thousand and linked to psychic abilities. "I also know the legends of the Caulberers."

"You didn't let them throw it away, did you?" Caleb asked Sam and Dean glared at him.

The Knight didn't even feign apology. "You just said you understood the legend, Deuce. The veil is part of him. It needs to be preserved and protected."

"Juliet was a little freaked out when I told the doctor we wanted to keep it as a souvenir," Sam said. "I told him we had a whole collection of weird family medical anomalies like your appendix and Caleb's spleen in a jar, but it's taken care of."

"I'll get it to Joshua," Caleb said. "He and Missouri will know what to do."

Dean tightened his hold on his son. "Now I guess we now know the whole medium thing makes sense. Who better to see and hear past the veil but a Caulberer?"

"When he comes into his abilities, I'll help him, Dean." Caleb moved closer to The Guardian. "You have my word."

"Me too," Sam vowed, stepping in beside his brother, closing their small tight knit circle around James. "We'll teach him everything he needs to know to manage."

"Guide him in the ways of the force." Caleb nudged Dean's arm, grinning. "Like our very own little Jedi."

"Why doesn't that comfort me?"

"Probably because we all know the cautionary tale that is Darth Vader."

"He's joking," Sam assured, glaring at The Knight. "James can have a normal life."

"Because we all know so much about normal, Skywalker," Caleb muttered.

"One thing we do know about is family." Dean didn't care if his son was a Caulberer, medium, or even a Yankee's fan. He would do whatever it took to protect him, keep him safe. "Which means I think it's about time we check in on this guy's mommy, and Jimmy needs to meet his big brothers."


North Carolina

"Family is all that matters."

Dean blinked as his father's voice brought him back from the past. It was something they could always agree on, even if they had extremely different ways of showing their commitment to the personal creed.

"James isn't a baby anymore. He'll be graduating college soon."

"He still needs looking after." His dad lifted him higher in the water as Dean felt the cold creep closer up his throat. The pain was almost gone now, replaced by a chilling numbness that radiated from his feet to the tips of his fingers. "I remember what happened when he graduated high school."

Dean kicked his feet, clinging to the flimsy vines on the side of the well. He didn't need a reminder that his youngest son had been kidnapped by a rogue hunter. "The boys are always watched now."

"Security detail isn't the same as a father."

"They're grown, Dad." Dean understood better why his father had been so reluctant to let Sam go off to college. Watching Ben go to college, then JT was hard. Letting James go, maybe because he was the youngest, or maybe because he was so prone to trouble, was one of the most difficult things Dean had done. But the three of them had been fine, even James managed to live in New York on his own with minimal incident. "They don't need me anymore. None of them do."

"Are you kidding?" John shook his head. "Now is when they need you the most."

"They're on their own," Dean slurred. "They make their own decisions, have their own lives."

"Exactly. They're going to make bad choices; their lives are going to take turns they didn't expect. They'll need their anchor, a compass to find their way in the storms they'll weather. That's when they come back home, come back to you. You have to be there."

"They have each other." Dean had made sure his boys were brothers in every sense of the word. They watched out for one another, were loyal to a fault. They shared a relationship much like his, Sam's and Caleb's, a fact of which Dean was extremely proud. "Sammy and Damien will be there, too."

"I've seen the way Mac and Bobby took over for me, Son. They did a great job with you boys and I can never repay them, or thank them enough for being there for you and your children, but I know they could never completely fill my shoes. I know there were times when you and your brother needed me, and I wasn't there. It will be the same for your sons. I have no doubt your brother and Junior would do anything for your boys, but sometimes a man just needs his dad."

Dean took a deep breath, trying to clear his head. He was so tired, and his father's words had him drifting back to a much happier time, a time when JT had come to him with such a decision as his father was describing, a pivotal moment that would forever shape his son's future.

8 years earlier…

"Yo, Boss, you got company," Sal yelled from the front of the garage. Dean looked at the stack of invoices in front of him, and secretly hoped it was Juliet surprising him with an early lunch. He doubted he'd get so lucky, but leaped at the excuse to get away from the paper work side of his small business. He'd made it out the door, and started around the Buick that Sal was currently aligning when JT met him.


"What the hell are you doing here?" Dean didn't mean to sound so gruff, but the sight of his middle son sent a spike of alarm as JT was in his freshman year at LSU. It was mid-semester, spring term and JT had no plans to come home until after baseball season. Dean had a sudden flashback to Juliet coming to the garage all those years ago to tell him she was pregnant with their first child.

"I needed to see you." JT took a step closer, an emotion Dean couldn't quite read in his clear green eyes.

"How'd you get here, Ace?"

"Uncle Caleb arranged it."

"Your uncle didn't call me." Dean's worry was growing. His best friend was prone to indulging Dean's boys to the point that Dean almost had a new appreciation for the aggravation his father endured when Caleb ran interference for him and Sam.

"I asked him not to."

"Of course you did." Dean ran a hand thru his hair. "I thought after that little trip you, Max and the Mathews girls took to Mexico on winter break we had an understanding about travel plans. All flight plans have to be cleared thru me."

"This is nothing like that, Dad. I had something I had to tell you in person."

"Ah, hell, what's your brother done now?" Dean held his breath trying to think of what his fifteen year old had been up to the last few weeks, and if James's behavior was different than usual. Things had been quiet around the farm. Dean knew he shouldn't have grown so complacent. "Do we need a lawyer? Should I call Sam?"

"Jimmy's good, I mean at least he was when I talked to him on the phone the other night."

Another terrifying thought struck Dean. "Sydney's not…"

"No!" JT looked horrified. "Sydney's fine."

"Good, because I'm too young to be a grandfather, and I really don't want to have that conversation with Eli."

"Dad," JT stepped close enough to grip his father's arm. "I got the call."

"The call?" For a moment Dean blanked. He figured that was the way it was when the unthinkable happened. When a dream suddenly materialized right before your eyes. "You mean…"

"The Sox." JT's eyes were watering now, his smile tremulous. "They want to draft me as a free agent for their farm."

"Portland?" Dean's voice cracked. The Maine based Sea Dogs were the Double-A affiliate for the Red Sox and a real possibility considering his son's standout freshman career at LSU so far. JT led his team in RBI's and had a .330 batting average. They were in the running for the national championship.

"Even better." JT's smile widened, and he pulled out a hat from his back pocket. He handed Dean the Navy cap with a bright red P on the front. "They want me in Rhode Island."

"The PawSox?" Dean swallowed the lump in his throat. It was every ball player's minor league fantasy. Triple-A farm league. The Red Sox line-up was full of recruits from their affiliate. He met JT's earnest gaze. "When do you leave?"

"They want me there on Monday." JT's smile faded. "But that's just it, Dad. I'm not sure if I should go."

Dean's first instinct was to shout 'why the hell not?' He would have jumped at the chance if he was in his son's shoes. Of course Dean had never been in such a place, had never been given the opportunity, and he was not JT. "What's on your mind, Ace?"

"I don't know if this is the right move at the right time." JT was cautious. He was thoughtful and much like his Uncle Sam had to process everything, digest it. "What do you think?"

Dean traced his finger over the stitched P, the Sox emblem on the side of the cap and weighed his words carefully. Of all his sons, JT was the one who took conversations to heart, who could be encouraged, or just as easily injured by words. Dean had made a misstep more than once. "I think this is a big opportunity."

"I know, right." JT shifted, crossing his arms over his chest. "It's a one in a million shot. I'm lucky as hell, but I also know how important college is to Grandpa Mac and Uncle Sam. I'd be leaving my team, and my scholarship would be over, then there's hunting. I barely get in many jobs as it is..."

"Hunting isn't your priority," Dean was quick to clarify. His sons had been inducted into The Brotherhood, but he had never pushed it to the forefront of their lives.

"I know, but I don't want to disappoint you or Uncle Caleb."

And there was the whole crux of the issue-Jonathan Thomas Winchester's biggest fear. "Son, I can promise you that no matter what you decide, no one's going to be disappointed in you. This is your life, your choice. I have it on good authority The Guardian and The Knight will understand you slacking off."

"But it's been our dream…"

Dean rubbed the back of his neck, taking a deep breath before cutting off his son. "You know I love baseball, JT. I especially love the Red Sox, and I'd be lying if I said I haven't thought of this day a couple of hundred times since I bought you your first ball and glove."

"When I was two weeks old," JT inserted with a wan smile. Juliet might have retold that story half a million times.

"It's not secret I've loved teaching you the game as you grew up, and I love that you feel about it the way I do, but it has never, ever, not even once been a condition of me loving you. You understand?"

JT's green eyes had brightened, and he gave a quick nod instead of speaking.

"If you want to stay at LSU to finish up your degree, then that's what you should do. I have no doubt that the recruiters will come back around; but if you want to take this shot, I can guarantee you your Grandpa Mac will make sure the whole family has season tickets for the Paws and free airfare to Rhode Island for as long as you're there. We'll support you, no matter what. We're your family."

"You'd fly out for my games?" JT's mouth twitched. "In a plane?"

"New York and Louisiana are not bad drives, no matter what your mom says." Dean rolled his eyes, used to the teasing about his fear of flying, which had grown since his children moved to different states and visits meant packing up the Impala instead of racking up air miles. "But to see you dressed for the Sox as much as possible, I'd probably consider a parachute drop."

JT laughed. "It's not a guarantee I'd ever be picked up for the majors."

"Are you kidding me?" Dean stepped forward, pulling the cap onto his son's head, and tugging it down over his eyes. "I lay money this time next year Jonathan Winchester will be on Boston's roster, hitting them out of the park at Fenway."

JT pushed the bill up on his head, holding Dean's gaze. "Does that mean you think I should do it?"

"That means I have no fucking doubt that you cando it, Kiddo."

"I want it so bad, Dad. It scares the shit out of me how bad I want it."

Dean reached out and cupped a hand around his son's neck, bringing their foreheads close together. "Then I think you have your answer, Son."

"I'm playing for The Sox, Dad," JT whispered, his face breaking out in a wide grin.

"The Sox," Dean echoed.

JT let out a wild whoop as he tore the cap from his head and tossed it in the air. "The Sox!"

Dean was caught off guard when his son let the hat hit the ground, and instead lunged to grip him in a hard hug. "We did it, Dad. We really did it."

"You did it, Ace." Dean returned the fierce embrace, pounding his son on the back. His eyes had begun to sting. He had to swallow hard before he could continue on. "This is all you."

"I have to tell Jimmy and Ben." JT pulled away suddenly. "And Mom."

"Let's not forget Max." Dean cocked a knowing brow, trying hard not to grin when JT looked suddenly stricken with guilt.

"Max already knows." JT dropped his head, scuffed his shoe like he used to when he was a little kid, and thought he'd done something wrong. "But I made him promise not to breathe a word, not until I'd talked to you."

"It's okay. He's your best friend and I happen to know all about those." If anyone would have told Dean Winchester twenty years before that his son would have shared such a bond with Joshua Sawyer's kid he might have punched them. "Speaking of which…" Dean raised his voice. "You can come out now, Damien."

"How'd you know?" JT looked up at his father as Caleb suddenly appeared from the front of the shop where he'd no doubt been eavesdropping.

"Like I said," Dean narrowed his eyes at The Knight. "I know your Uncle."

"In the kid's defense, I insisted on tagging along." Caleb gestured to JT. "After the whole Mexico incident, I try not to lend out the Ames Jet willy-nilly, and I am The Knight so I'm sworn to protect your children, even from you."

"Right." JT snorted. "I think he thought I'd knocked up Sydney, and you were going to kill me."

"When you wouldn't spill the beans under threat of torture and even bribery, what was I supposed to think?" Caleb grinned at JT. "After all, Eagle Scout or not you are still a Winchester."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Dean tried to look offended, but couldn't quite keep the grin off his face.

"Three words for you, Deuce." Caleb crossed his arms over his chest. "Ben Braedon Winchester."

"Speaking of," JT gestured to Dean's office. "Can I use your phone, Dad?"

Dean nodded. "Tell your brother to pull himself away from the hospital and come home this weekend so we can celebrate at the farm."

"I'll send the jet," Caleb called and JT threw up a hand in acknowledgement as he entered the office and closed the door behind him.

"Nanny and travel agent," Dean shook his head at his best friend. "Does your list of skills ever end?"

"Don't hate me because I'm multi-faceted." Caleb bent down and picked up the hat JT had left. "It runs in the family. Just look at my amazing nephew."

"Damn." Dean slid a hand over his mouth, still not quite able to wrap his mind around what had just happened. "Can you believe him?"

"A chip off the old block." Caleb moved forward and jerked the hat onto Dean's head in much the way Dean had done to his son earlier. "It couldn't have happened to a better guy, except for maybe his old man."

Dean pushed the bill of the ball cap up on his forehead and met his best friend's gaze. "I had my shot, Damien."

"Did you?" Caleb folded his arms over his chest, a frown marring his face. "I have no doubt that could have been you if things had gone down differently."

Dean had no doubt Caleb believed that. He remembered how Caleb pushed him to take one of the scholarships from Mississippi or Louisiana, to at least tour their campuses, hear their coaches out. "This is JT, man, and I couldn't be prouder."

"That makes two of us." Caleb's mouth twitched. "But I just can't help to wonder..."

"Don't. I have a great life, Damien," Dean cut him off a little harsher than he meant to so he softened the reprimand with a genuine grin. "Have you forgotten? I'm the Guardian of an ultra secret society sworn to protect the world from all forms of evil. My hunter's band is better than any championship ring. I'm a fucking super hero."

Caleb snorted. "How many times have I told you the goofy shit-eating smile takes away from the illusion?"

Dean resituated the ball cap on his head, straightening his shoulders proudly. "And now my kid is on the roster of the top affiliate team for Red Sox Nation. How fucking cool is that?"

"Pretty cool, I guess." Caleb's grin returned.

"Not to mention my other kid is on his way to becoming a brilliant surgeon of the likes of one Dr. Mackland Ames."

"True." Caleb inclined his head.

"I'm pretty sure James is on his way to either business mogul or possibly diabolical political leader."

"Don't leave out criminal mastermind." Caleb laughed. "At this point, it really could go either way."

"My kid brother is a hotshot attorney." Dean added, choosing not to dwell on the fate of his teenage son. "And my best friend isn't a half bad artist and architect."

"Don't leave out award-winning. Critics say I'm brilliant," Caleb corrected, "And let's not forget your girlfriend, who is not only hot, but the breadwinner in the family."

Dean sighed. "Let's face it, Damien, I may have more bragging rights than any mere mortal deserves."

"Nah," Caleb threw an arm around Dean's shoulder, "I'm pretty sure no one deserves it more than you, Deuce."


North Carolina

"Junior was right. You deserve to be happy."

"Damien's biased when it comes to me." Dean wasn't sure if his father's spiritual state came complete with supernatural telepathic abilities enabling him to read Dean's thoughts, or perhaps he was just as much a figment of Dean's imagination as the memories giving temporary reprieve from the current state of misery. "John Winchester did not hold anyone's happiness as a priority."

"I was wrong about a lot of things."

"That's new too," Dean bit out between chattering teeth. He was freezing, unsure if the culprit was blood loss or the cold water. Maybe he really was hallucinating his father because although the man currently holding him up in the water looked just like Dean remembered, he was not following their usual script. "John Winchester was never wrong."

"Parents make mistakes, Ace. We screw up."

"Some more than others." Dean couldn't resist, realizing he sounded much more like Sam than he did himself. If he lived, he'd have to tell his brother about the barbs he'd gotten in.

"That's the fucking truth, but I'm still your dad," John growled like the man Dean knew. Oddly enough, the grumbling provided an odd sense of comfort. "I'd like to throw out the old adage about showing up being 99 percent of the game, but we both know I wasn't always there."

Dean closed his eyes, recalling all too easily some of the more spectacular times when his dad had not been present, times that fed the flames of Dean's insecurities. But mixed in with the painful memories were also the moments when his father had rallied, had come thru for Dean and Sam. "You were there when it counted."

"I like to think that was mostly right." John once again tightened his grip, lifting Dean higher in the water just as Dean felt the water creep into his ears. "Sometimes I lost my way, chose the wrong path in my pursuit of vengeance."

"I've gone down a few rabbit holes myself." Dean might have some unresolved issues with his father, but he was not a hypocrite. "I've let people down."

"I doubt your sons see it that way."

"Sometimes sons have a hard time seeing and accepting the sins of their fathers." Even with the best of intentions, Dean had not always been there for all his sons' events. He was always met with understanding, which made him feel worse because no matter what he did his sons had him on a pedestal. He was afraid one day that fall would be great.

"Yet, a good father should hope their sons do see the faults, pray that they won't repeat their same failures."

He thought of the times Caleb would get mad at John for not living up to a parental standard, and how Dean tried to defend his father to his detriment. "Is that what you wanted?"

"It's what I want now." Dean understood the clarification. When John Winchester was alive he only wanted one thing from his sons-obedience. "I want you and your brother to do better, even if that means realizing I was a complete bastard. I hope that counts for something."

"It counts, Dad."

"Good, because I don't want you to ever have the kind of regrets I have." John's dark eyes glistened. "One of the biggest being I didn't have the chance to enjoy being a grandfather. I'd give almost anything to have met your sons, to have met Mary. It's like a do-over you know-a chance to be the kind of parent you always wanted to be but couldn't because you were too fucking crazy trying to survive, in my case often literally. But by the time your kids have kids, the weight of responsibility is gone. It frees you up to just give what kids want and need most-your time and your love."

"And money." Dean smirked. "Let's not forget that. Mac doles out a whole hell of a lot of money."

"It's the Ames way." John laughed and Dean felt warmth wash over him. "But you'll blaze your own path."

"I don't know, Dad…I think I might be at the end of trail."

"That's not the Winchester way. Suck it up, soldier. You don't want to miss the best parts."

"The best parts?"

"Missing what I missed."


"You'll see." John gave him a watery smile. "Caleb and Sammy are here."

His father had no sooner said the words than Dean heard his name called from somewhere above. It was faint, but the next time the shout of 'Deuce' was closer. It was so close Dean almost expected to see Caleb's face when he looked up to the opening. Only darkness greeted him and when he lowered his head, he was alone. His father was gone.

"Dad?" Dean called weakly. "Don't go."

With his father no longer holding him, Dean's tenuous grip on the vines slipped. He flailed his arms, a renewed pain rushed fresh across his chest. The pain stole Dean's breath. He tried to muster a last bit of strength, to rally and fight to keep his head above water to reclaim his perilous perch, but his reserves failed him. In those last seconds Dean Winchester wasn't sure what was worse, that he was leaving his family, or disappointing his father.

"Suck it up, Soldier! Stay awake!"

The gruff familiar words were followed by a stinging slap to his cheek. Dean had no choice but to open his eyes.

"Dean!" Sam's blurred face greeted him. "Are you with us?"

"Sammy?" Dean blinked, coughing as he was rolled roughly to his side.

"What the hell, Deuce?" Caleb was scowling at Dean. "You scared the shit out of us."

Dean could only cough and vomit water in response to his best friend's accusation.

"Dad," Dean tried once more when he was rolled onto his back.

"No, Dean, it's me, Sam. Are you with us?"

Dean shook his head, wincing as heard more than felt Caleb tear his shirt open. "In the well…" Dean coughed again. He tried to lift his arm to point, but it wouldn't cooperate because he was shivering. "Dad was there."

"Sorry, Kiddo, but no one was down in that well but you and what was left of Wilson," Caleb said as he pressed something soft to the wound on Dean's side.

"No." Dean shook his head. "He was there."

Dean felt his brother grip his hand. "Dean, you weren't breathing when Caleb got to you. Lack of oxygen combined with blood loss…"

"Not a hallucination," Dean grit out, trying not to scream when Caleb readjusted his hands to cover one of the deeper gouges on Dean's chest.

"No more talking." Caleb leaned over Dean, his face pinched and drawn with concern. A few drops of water from his wet hair splashed onto Dean's cheeks. "Just keep breathing, Deuce."

"He said he was sorry, Damien. I have to tell him…I forgive him." Dean struggled to keep his eyes open, even as exhaustion tugged him towards oblivion once more. "He said he loved us."

Caleb snorted, glancing at Sam. "Now we know it wasn't Johnny."

"Take it easy, Dean." Something warm rested against Dean's forehead, and he couldn't resist the reflex to turn towards his brother's touch. "We're going to get you out of here. You're going to be fine."

"You guys always have my back," Dean muttered, unable to hold his eyes open any longer. The last words he heard were familiar, threaded throughout so many memories of his life.

"That's what families do."


Dean opened his eyes expecting to find a dark sky above him, a spattering of bright stars blinking from the tops of Arkansas pines. Instead, he found a white tiled ceiling and the soft glow of fluorescent bulbs.

"What the hell…" He tried to raise his head, convinced he had been with his brother and Caleb only moments before.

"Dad?" The soft voice had him turning his head to the side. Ben stood quickly, moving from the chair by Dean's bed to the spot directly beside him. "Dad, can you hear me?"

"I hear you." Dean's voice was hoarse. He had to swallow before speaking again. His mouth felt like he'd been snacking on insulation. "What…"

"You had surgery." Ben reached into the pocket of his white coat withdrawing a pen light, which he shined into each of Dean's eyes. "You've been out of recovery for a few hours, but I think the mild hypothermia has made it harder for you to rebound."

"Sam and Caleb…"

"They're downstairs." Ben's touch was warm on Dean's wrist as he gauged his father's pulse, staring up at the monitor by Dean's bed. "I had to threaten to have them banned from your room to get them to go to the cafeteria for something to eat."

"Where are we?"

"Memphis." Ben leaned over Dean. "Are you in any pain?"


Ben frowned at him. "Are you sure?"

"Really, Ace, I'm fine."

"Uncle Caleb says 'fine' is never acceptable as an answer from you."

"Your Uncle is a little biased when it comes to me."

"Biased or not, he's correct. You're not fine, Dad." Ben took a seat on the corner of the bed. "You almost bled to death. You had a laceration in your right kidney, three broken ribs, not to mention a mild concussion and hypothermia. Don't even get me started on the amount of contaminated water you inhaled into your lungs. Pneumonia could be a real possibility."

"Good thing my son's such a great doctor."

"I didn't work on you. I barely made it here in time to scrub up and observe the surgery."

"I bet the doctor in charge loved that. You hover in the background about as well as another surgeon I know."

"I can hold my own with most chiefs of staff." Ben's mouth gave way to a half smile. "Having Mackland Ames as a grandfather helps, and when that doesn't work the Winchester stubbornness pays off."

"Don't I know it."

"You were lucky." Dean looked down as Ben took his hand in his and squeezed it hard. Ben handled chick flick moments like Dean and Caleb with inappropriate humor and sarcasm, a real chip off the old block. The fact he was breaking his self-imposed no handholding unless imminent death is lurking, proved how Dean had frightened him. "I thought I was going to lose you. Seeing you on the table, not knowing how bad the bleed was…it was too much like mom."

"I'm not going anywhere, Kiddo."

"Good." Ben nodded. "That's really good; because I'm not sure I'm up to being a dad."

Dean snorted. "Your brothers are grown men. I think even if something happens to me you're in the clear."

Ben's face changed, his green eyes brightening with some other emotion other than fear. "I'm not talking about James and JT."

Dean tried to push himself up. Ben gave a shake of his head, releasing Dean's hand to fiddle with the remote that would raise the top of the bed. "No big movements; you'll pull your sutures."


Ben met his gaze. "Maya's pregnant."

"Wow." Dean felt a tightness in his chest that had nothing to do with the numerous stitches he was certain it took to sew him up.

"I know we're not even married, and it's sudden, unplanned, but…"

"Do you love her?"

Ben nodded. "I'm crazy about her."

"Then everything will work out."

"I bought her a ring." Ben ducked his head, but not before Dean caught the flash of flush on his cheeks. He stood, starting to move away, "But, we shouldn't be talking about this now. You just woke up from surgery. I'm sorry to lay all this on you. I need to get your doctor in here and then call JT, Jimmy and Juliet."

"That's why you were in New Haven for breakfast." Dean reached out and caught his son's hand, ignoring the diversion. He thought back to the call he'd cut short the day of the hunt, the news he'd almost missed. "You were coming to tell me you were going to be a father."

"I was freaked out." Ben nodded, reclaiming his seat on the bed. "You're the first person that came to my mind. I had to talk to you."

"And I let you down." Dean thought of the day when Juliet told him about JT. The first people on his list to call were Sam and Caleb, but when reality set in, the implications of how his life was about to change, he'd wanted to talk to no one more than John Winchester.

"No." Ben shook his head. "Dad, you were saving lives. No one gets that better than me."

"I know you do, but still…"

"Yes, I was coming to tell you about the baby, but also to ask you something," Ben cut him off, his lopsided grin back in place. "I was hoping you'd be my best man."

"I'd be honored to stand up for you, Ace."

"I knew you'd have my back."

"Always." Dean thought back to what his father said, the regrets he had. "I can't wait to see what a great dad you're going to be."

"I just hope I'm half the father you've been."

Dean's throat threatened to close up, and his eyes stung as he recalled the conversation with John. His dad was right. Parents made mistakes, they were after all only human. In the end, all good parents wanted the same things for their children-more of everything- time, love, patience and happiness.

"Forget that, Kiddo. I have it on good authority than you're going to be a hell of a lot better than me."

Then End...for now.