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Supernatural fic ("Thanatopsis") for the Back to School Challenge!
dean believes his victory is pyrrhic
innie_darling
Hello again!

Here's the second fic I wrote for the marvelous Back to School Challenge. It's based on one of my own prompts (79. A supernatural creature kills a person. The next day at school, Dean sees or bumps into the person's sibling/child.), but I futzed with the prompt slightly.

Wandering POV: each of the seven characters in the story (the three Winchester men and four OCs) gets a single section.

Once again, I owe thanks to monkiedude for coming up with this challenge and to janissa11 for doing such thoughtful and enthusiastic beta work.


The older boy slides in next to the little one, pulls a box of crayons from his bag, and hands it over. The younger boy gets to work coloring one of the paper placemats she designed, carefully tracing the words "Sage Diner" and going over the design of the Corinthian columns at the edges of the sheet. The tip of his tongue is sticking out between two unevenly gapped rows of baby teeth. The older boy digs in his pocket for a crumpled dollar bill and some coins and sinks into the bench, waiting for someone to come by and take their daily milkshake order. His eyes travel in a fixed sweep between the door and his little brother.

Rhea heads over to the boys' table. Always sitting at this same table, always sitting on the same bench like their father needed the room across from them even when he wasn't there. He was hardly ever there, and she'd said to Orrin more than once that it was a disgrace, the way that man used their diner as a free babysitting service, the way he came and went at all hours, but Orrin protested. "Those boys are good boys, Rhea," he always said. "Quiet, no trouble. And they worship the ground he walks on." She'd snort her disbelief; the older one, poor thing, he clearly idolized his good-for-nothing father, but she had a suspicion that the little one only needed his brother. "Man tries his best," Orrin would say, burying his face in her neck; "I would not be doing any better without you." The thought of having to leave her Orrin, leaving Alexander and Ianthé to the care of random women, always made her fall silent, and she'd kiss her husband with a soft, sweet mouth.

Rhea wears rubber-soled shoes instead of high heels because the last thing she needs is problems with her feet and back, but the older one turns his head as she approaches silently. He nods politely at her and nudges his brother gently. "Nilla, please," the little one says, smiling at her, and she goes back to the kitchen to scoop the ice cream herself. She puts two cherries on top of the whipped cream. She already knows the older boy will only pretend to drink today; he hates whipped cream and only half-likes vanilla. His face should be rounder, fuller, and the little one has a face that should be chubby but hovers unsettlingly near bony. They look like stray cats. She brings the milkshake to their table, accepting the money the older boy immediately holds out to her; she looks at his fine features, set and serious and tired-looking, and wonders if he got his green eyes from his mother. He looks back at her, waiting, so she pretends to count the coins and then nods briskly, and he relaxes and pushes the glass closer to his brother. The little one's already got whipped cream on his nose and eyebrows, and he chokes a little and says, "Deeeeeeeeaaaan," so she hands the older one a stack of napkins and turns away as he wipes his brother's face.

Dean. It's a good name, a strong name. She had always wanted to name her son Dionysius, for merriment and revelry, for the grapes her grandfather grew, but when she did get pregnant, she got so sick that merriment was the last thing on her mind and Orrin had to cancel their flight for America, and then the plane crashed and she named her boy Alexander, "protector," for he had kept his parents safe, and he was merry anyway, with his laughing black eyes and wide, gummy smile.

***

Ianthé steps around the puddles carefully, tugging the bow from her tangled hair. Alexander should be by soon, and she can get out of her poofy pink dress and patent-leather shoes the second she's home. She hates picture day, the way Mama shops for weeks to find the most hideous outfit, and then insists that she write a message to her grandparents on the back of the photo they send in the mail. But they don't speak English so she ends up writing short little baby sentences that say absolutely nothing. Hello. How are you? I am fine. I am ten years old. I enjoy school. Love, Ianthé. They must think she's stupid. Alexander's the one who knows a little Greek, just enough to get his cheeks pinched, and that's reason enough for her to steer clear and hide behind him like she's shy. She asked Mama once why she'd only met her grandparents three times, when all of her classmates got birthday cards, Christmas cards, Easter baskets full of money from theirs, and Mama went off on one of her long explanations, half the words in Greek, something about plane tickets and the economy and needing a new waitress, all without taking a breath. Mama is exhausting sometimes.

Even now, as they walk into the diner, Mama is talking, her words a steady stream, and Papa looks like he's heard all of them before. Alexander hurries up the stairs to put away his books and fetch his apron, but Ianthé stands in the kitchen and listens as Mama chops parsley and coriander and says something about "That Man." Ianthé's figured out by now that it's the new boy's father who's got Mama all worked up. "Eyes dark as a Turk's," Mama mutters furiously as the knife flashes. "No responsibility." Papa leaves his tomato sauce, puts his hands on Mama's shoulders, and whispers something. He's so close to her that the black curls in front of her ear flutter with his breath, and Mama stops to listen and then sags against him. Mama looks up, her eyes wet, and Ianthé's sure she'll get in trouble for dawdling when there are ketchup bottles to fill and napkin dispensers to stuff. But Mama breaks into a big, watery grin and pulls her forward with spicy-scented hands, clucking over how pretty she looks in her dress, how this year's picture will be the best ever, how it will sit on the mantelpiece next to Alexander's senior portrait, and Papa grins at her and motions for her to break free and go upstairs to change.

***

John knows that Mary probably wouldn't recognize her sons in the half-starved urchins who dress in soft cotton clothes from Goodwill, eat free school lunches, and train hard for hours every single day. But she might recognize them like this, their faces flushed and soft in sleep, Dean curled protectively around Sammy. They smell like baby shampoo and Dove soap and they have calluses on their fingers.

He knows the rosy futures he and Mary planned out for their children are illusory now, but he's certain he's done right by them. His sons are not weak, will not be easy prey; they are disciplined and true.

He wonders, sometimes, if she'd recognize him.

***

Alexander slips through the greedy hands of three defensive backs, twisting like the wrestler his father had hoped he'd become. He eases into the end zone on dancing feet that barely touch the ground, the dreamy haze of triumph cut short by the piercing shriek of the ref's whistle. Suddenly he can hear the delirious screams of the crowd, the cheerleaders whipping them up to a frenzy with their smooth thighs and flirtatious eyes. He watches Wallace line up for the extra point and feels the crowd hush. He can hear the beat of his heart as the ball soars high, higher, through the yellow goalposts. He hoists his helmet in the air, exultation in his face, and Bryan from the school paper snaps a picture as he roars in triumph.

***

He remembers helping Mom put a picnic basket and blankets in the trunk once, but he can't remember the picnic itself. There must have been food and sunshine and Mom laughing and Dad tickling him. But no Sammy. That part he remembers.

He watches as Dad loads up the trunk with weapons edged in silver. Dad never has to tell him to be careful, to handle the knives with ready hands and a firm grip and no fear, but tonight he's not allowed to touch them. He's got a blister almost as big as Dad's from practicing with the scimitar, and it hurts when he presses it to the ribbed handle of a gun, but Dad says that's what working through the pain is all about. "Ready, Dean?" Dad asks and he nods, climbing into his father's arms. He blushes as he realizes he must look like a baby, the way Dad's cradling him, and Dad grins down at him, one corner of his mouth pulling tight because his arm still isn't fully healed, and says, "Now you can even fake a flush on command? How about a fever?" Dean shakes his head and tries not to fidget and jostle Dad's arm, and Dad calls for Sammy. The three of them go two doors down to Miss Greenaway's room and Dean buries his face in Dad's warm shoulder while Dad asks her to look after Sammy - "he'll be no trouble, ma'am" - while he takes Dean to the hospital. She presses a hand to her heart, then coos and clucks as Sammy shows off his dimples. Sammy's so busy charming his way into her cookie-scented kitchen that he forgets to say goodbye.

He gets sick if he tries to read in the car, but closing his eyes and picturing Dad's careful notes is okay. "Hellhounds," it says at the top of the page, and then there's a drawing of a beast with red eyes and jagged-looking fur and a dripping, nasty mouth full of huge yellow teeth, and then Dad's writing gets too squiggly, but he remembers reading "young flesh" and "decapitation" and "remove the heart." Dad knows what he's doing and leaves him alone, doesn't butt in with questions about nerves or quizzes about the differences between true hellhounds and Black Dogs. The car stops and he opens his eyes to the dark.

Dad's eyes are dark too, looking at him like he wishes things were different. But Dean knows Dad won't let anything happen to him, and if he's the bait for Dad's trap, that's okay. He walks in Dad's shadow as they lock down the area; Dad said this is the area in the park furthest from running water, and where the hellhound is most likely to prowl. Dad won't let him help scatter the weapons in strategic spots because he can't touch the silver. He waits for Dad to hide the last one - the scimitar - near the car's left rear wheel and his slow nod as he disappears to the other side of the car, then starts doing jumping jacks, trying to get his blood pumping so it calls out to the hellhound.

He hears a slick rustle, like when the sleeves of his and Sammy's windbreakers rub against each other, and he stops jumping, feels his heartbeat strong and fast, and turns to see it slinking toward him with blood and saliva dripping from its mouth. That means they've already lost tonight. It stops moving when he looks right at it and he can hear Dad moving quietly closer. But it can hear Dad too, and it moves to the side, its red eyes shining like pools of blood, and comes at him from an angle, keeping him between itself and Dad. Now they're circling around him, slowly, slowly, like they're playing monkey-in-the-middle, and he breathes out, his breath curling like smoke in the dark, cold night. He keeps his body loose, ready to drop if Dad thinks he can kill it with his throwing knives, ready to run if it charges.

But it's in no rush, and it keeps moving like it's too lazy to bother with a real threat, licking some of the blood off its snout with a long black tongue. He hears Dad inching closer, and it growls, so loud he can't hear his heartbeat, and Dad stops, still several feet behind him. It puts one paw slowly forward like it's testing the ground, and he knows he's out of time. He drops and rolls until he can see the car almost above him, can feel his hands curling around the scimitar's handle, and he jumps to his feet just as it leaps for him. Its snout hits his chest with a thump. His wrists bend back painfully, but the blade keeps going, slicing through its thick neck, pushed forward by its own momentum. He can hear the thunder of Dad's roar and the heavy pounding of his feet as he races over, dropping to his knee to cut out the hellhound's heart with five deep slashes.

Dean drops the scimitar, and its blade shines in the dark grass where the hellhound's body used to be. There are bloodstains on his shirt. "Dad," he says, "Dad. Did it get me?" Dad looks up and his face is white and scared. Dad's shaky, bloody hand reaches out to cover his chest and then Dad grabs him and rocks him, almost like he did with Sammy, that time in Wisconsin.

"Dean, Dean," Dad keeps saying and he tries to answer, but his voice won't work right, so he just holds on tight to Dad.

He's helping Dad retrieve the blades scattered in a rough circle when he sees a large dark lump on the ground. Dad comes up behind him so he just points and they move over together. He watches Dad put his fingers on it and shake his head and suddenly he recognizes the face on the lump. It's that man who works at the diner, who usually makes his milkshake. His name is Alexander. He's Ianthé's brother, he picks her up from school and takes her to the diner every day. His blood is still warm; it's the last thing Dean feels before Dad picks him up and buckles him into the front seat of the car.

***

Everyone in town knows not to talk about the game in front of him until after he's gotten the full story from Alexander, but Orrin can always tell if the Titans have won or lost. Not so much by the mood or the tone of their voices, the things people can disguise, but from their orders. Full plates for losses, things to hunch over and consume mostly in silence, and appetizers for victories, smaller plates that can be passed from friend to friend with laughter. Onion rings and fries are beating turkey platters and salads handily, so he's prepared for good news. He whistles as he scrubs down the counters, clears the empty tables, wipes the grease from the salt and pepper shakers.

"Ianthé," he calls up the stairs; the crowd is bigger than the usual Friday-nighters, and two more hands to fetch and carry would make things easier. "Ianthé," he calls again and she appears at the top of the stairs. "Come, sweetheart," he says and she runs down the stairs toward him. With Ianthé keeping an eye on everyone, he's free to do some of the cooking, make things easier for Rhea.

He doesn't realize how late it is until the regulars start leaving in anticipation of closing time. It's not like Alexander not to come home after the game, even if it's only to drop off his stuff before he heads back out. But maybe he got carried away with the excitement of this victory, maybe there were college scouts in the crowd, maybe right now he is saying "yes, sir," to someone who can offer him an education past what his parents have. He has to buy a proper American suit for Alexander's graduation; Rhea keeps reminding him but where is the time for that?

The bell over the door jingles, and he comes out from the kitchen to find two police officers with their hats in their hands.

***

Daddy says Dean doesn't have to go to school, but Dean just shrugs and Daddy pulls his old sweatshirt from the top shelf of the closet and hands it to him. Dean always makes him walk in front when they go to school, but when Sammy lags behind to fix the Velcro on his sneaker, he can see that from the back Dean looks like he's wearing a dress cause Daddy's sweatshirt is so big on him. But when he catches up with him Dean still looks sad, so Sammy doesn't say anything about it.

He tells Miss Lucy he doesn't want to make any more construction-paper pumpkins because he has a better idea. But she won't give him red and blue construction paper or magic markers unless he tells her his idea, and he knows he's never ever supposed to talk about Hunting, even if that's why Dean looks like he needs a Happy Fun Day card. So he makes three more pumpkins and practices his writing with Miss Catherine and waits for school to be over.

Dean doesn't look any better after school, so when he's putting on his jacket and Dean's doing up the snaps, he says, "You can pick the milkshake today, Dean." Dean just shakes his head and they go home instead of to the diner. Daddy's left a note and some money on the kitchen counter and Dean tightens his lips like he does when Daddy's stitching him up. "Dean?" he asks when Dean dumps his backpack and heads to the front door again, and Dean turns toward him and opens the door.

There's a sign that says "CLOSED" on the door of the diner, and Dean looks at it for a long time, long enough for Sammy to think about all the words he could make from those letters. Then Dean steps back and looks up, so he looks up too and he sees that the sky is close to getting dark and pink and there are clouds that look like gauze bandages floating around up there. Dean says they're full of water, so water in the sky must not be heavy and blue. It's light and white and soft. But that doesn't explain rain. Dean is kicking at the small rocks near the curb now, so he misses it when the girl comes to the door and looks out. But Dean must sense her like a good hunter, because he looks up and she looks back at him, and then she's opening the door, slowly like she's not sure.

Dean makes him go in first, so he ends up standing between them. No one else is around and he's never been inside the diner when it's dark before. The red benches look like blood when the lights are off and he tugs at Dean's sweatshirt to tell him but Dean clears his throat like he has Something Important to say. The girl's not looking at them anymore, just kind of rocking on her feet and holding her arms tightly around herself. When she finally looks back at Dean, Dean says, "I'm sorry about your brother."

She makes this sound that startles him so bad he flinches, and Dean looks at him and holds out his arm. He stands behind Dean, peeking out at her, one fist wrapped tight in Dean's sweatshirt. Maybe if he's very still she'll forget all about him.

She's shaking now, and he can see tears and snot running down her face but she doesn't seem to care. She's looking at Dean instead of wiping it away. Dean's back is stiff when Sammy presses his face against it. "I saw him," Dean says, "looking out for you."

"Mama and Papa said he had to," she whispers, and Dean nods, staring back at her just as hard. Sammy can see her take a deep breath and the shaking stops. She fishes a tissue out of her pocket and cleans her face. "He pulls my hair all the time," she says. "And this one time he showed me how to do a rain dance." She looks around and gets a napkin and blows her nose. "He says he can get the ketchup to pour faster than anyone else."

"He can make the roundest scoops of ice cream," Dean says.

"He always lets me put the cherries on top," she says, and she sounds normal again, so he edges out from behind Dean and stands at his side.

Dean looks surprised to see him. "We have to go," Dean says after a minute, but she's looking at him instead of Dean and he feels squirmy inside again.

"Go," she says to him. "Big brothers are always right. You have to go." Her voice has gone all stretchy and high again. He turns to the door and sees the sign says "OPEN" on this side. He wants to be on the CLOSED side again and he leads Dean out the door, running for home.


As always, I'd love to hear what you think.

*cries* Oh man, that was so sad. You know, a lot of times I get caught up in the adrenaline of their lives and their crazy hunts and whatever, and I forget that ordinary people are having their lives completely shattered by these things. No wonder Dean is so dead-set on continuing to hunt. How could he not be, knowing that he could prevent people from going through this? I loved the OCs (most of the diners I go to are operated by Greeks, so I was glad to see that touch of realism in there), and I really liked the feel of your hunt scene... just that quick and that brutal and it's over. Really, really good stuff. Loved it!

I do think these are the scenes that Dean can never forget. And in this case, knowing that Sammy could someday be where Ianthe is now - that just makes him all the more determined to say something to her.

Glad you liked the OCs; I was very fond of them too.

And that hunt scene gave me all sorts of problems - the choppy language you'd expect from a kid Dean's age but with the skill and knowledge no child should have. Thank you for saying that it worked for you.

Thanks so much!

Loved every single detail of this. It was beautiful and sad. I felt bad for the boys, and for the Greeks. Wonderful. Thanks for sharing this.

Oh, thank you so much! I'm so glad it worked for you!

Oh...this was lovely. I love how much detail you put into the other family's POV - the mom in particular got to me. I loved that she was so mad at "THAT MAN" and her husband responded with gratitude for his own family. It was so much more painful when that family was shattered.

Don't get me wrong, because I'm usually onboard the John train, but this...:
"Ready, Dean?" Dad asks and he nods, climbing into his father's arms. He blushes as he realizes he must look like a baby, the way Dad's cradling him, and Dad grins down at him, one corner of his mouth pulling tight because his arm still isn't fully healed, and says, "Now you can even fake a flush on command? How about a fever?" Dean shakes his head and tries not to fidget and jostle Dad's arm, and Dad calls for Sammy. The three of them go two doors down to Miss Greenaway's room and Dean buries his face in Dad's warm shoulder while Dad asks her to look after Sammy - "he'll be no trouble, ma'am" - while he takes Dean to the hospital.
...just had me yelling "Bastard!" at my computer. Dean as bait? Dammit! I understand why, I get it. But he's still a son-of-a-bitch!

Then I read this....:
There are bloodstains on his shirt. "Dad," he says, "Dad. Did it get me?" Dad looks up and his face is white and scared. Dad's shaky, bloody hand reaches out to cover his chest and then Dad grabs him and rocks him, almost like he did with Sammy, that time in Wisconsin.

...and get back on board.

The mental image of Dean in John's too large sweatshirt kills me. This was such a great fic!


the mom in particular got to me. I loved that she was so mad at "THAT MAN" I am very very fond of Rhea myself. Her voice was pretty clear; I think she stole a lot of it from my mom.

And I can't quite make up my mind about John. There are times when I think he did the best he could, and the fact that Dean and Sam turned out to be such good men reflects quite well on him. And then there are times when I believe Dean raised himself and his brother and John had no right to turn their lives upside-down. So, you know, I'm a leeeetle confused. So I guess it's no surprise anyone reading my John would be confused too!

Thank you so much for the kind words!

Also, I looked up "Thanatopsis" - what a perfect title!

I thank my lovely beta for that - she insisted that this piece should have a Greek title, so I came up with "Thanatopsis."

Oh, wow. This is just terribly sad, from everybody's viewpoint, but it feels realistic, and I love it.

Thank you very much! I'm glad it worked for you!

This is lovely, subtle work. I enjoyed the way you've done the POVs; all the characters were distinct but clearly living the same story, with that wistful tone and the looming devastation.

He wonders, sometimes, if she'd recognize him.

Don't be going making me feel bad for John, now! I'm not used to it *g*.

What a grave little boy Dean is here. I felt awful for him taking so much responsibility on himself, That means they've already lost tonight. and taking care of Sammy; it makes an interesting contrast to 'Field Trip' Dean, older and more secure in himself and confident enough to have a little fun with his brother and the hunting.

Your OCs really came alive, and it was very clear how the family they relied on would be terribly torn apart. I loved Rhea in particular, so near to trying to mother the boys but respecting Dean's aloofness, the fixed centre that's missing from the Winchester family (though not for Dean's want of trying).

But she won't give him red and blue construction paper or magic markers unless he tells her his idea, and he knows he's never ever supposed to talk about Hunting, even if that's why Dean looks like he needs a Happy Fun Day card.

Aww! I like Sammy's perspective of hunting, that it's a big thing but at this point something that binds him to his family instead of being what separates him from everybody else. And I love his curiosity (and willingness to believe that yes, being the older brother *does* mean Dean is always right. How things change *g*).

"I saw him," Dean says, "looking out for you."

Oh, Dean in the unofficial Association of Big Brothers. All the things he must be thinking about here, about the parents and Mary and his family, and how if things had gone slightly worse with that hellhound, Sammy could be this girl right now.

This is a wonderful response to the prompt; it could so easily be OTT angsty but instead it's just heartwrenchingly *right*.

I love everything about this comment! Thank you so much!

wistful tone and the looming devastation Wow, you are giving me a lot of credit. Um, I'll take it!

Don't be going making me feel bad for John, now! I'm not used to it *g*. Like I said above to weesta, I don't even know how I feel about John, so trust me when I say I'm not out to convert anyone to a cause.

What a grave little boy Dean is here. . . . That means they've already lost tonight. . . . it makes an interesting contrast to 'Field Trip' Dean, older and more secure in himself and confident enough to have a little fun with his brother and the hunting. I think it's really Sammy's youth that makes the difference. He's young enough that Dean can wipe his face, do up his coat, etc., without being pushed away. So Dean thinks he HAS to do all of these things for his brother. But once Sammy's old enough to assert his independence, then Dean can have a playmate instead of just a treasure to protect. But I like your reading of it too.

I loved Rhea in particular, so near to trying to mother the boys but respecting Dean's aloofness, the fixed centre that's missing from the Winchester family (though not for Dean's want of trying). ME TOO! Rhea sees so much and she'd just LOVE to have John Winchester sitting across from her for five minutes while she gave him a piece of her mind. And oh, DEAN!

I like Sammy's perspective of hunting, that it's a big thing but at this point something that binds him to his family instead of being what separates him from everybody else. That is really nicely put. And again, it goes back to Sammy's age, I think.

Oh, Dean in the unofficial Association of Big Brothers. All the things he must be thinking about here, about the parents and Mary and his family, and how if things had gone slightly worse with that hellhound, Sammy could be this girl right now. Dean is the KING of the ABB! Hee! And YES, exactly, Dean knows that someday Sammy might have to be where Ianthe is now.

Your comments always make me THINK and they make me so HAPPY! Thank you so very very much!

This is a wonderful response to the prompt; it could so easily be OTT angsty but instead it's just heartwrenchingly *right*.

Beautifully detailed - you've done a great job of creating original characters that we can visualise and care about.

Thank you very much! That's lovely to hear!

Ah gosh, this isn't how I imagined you'd tackle the prompt, but how lovely - the wandering POV worked v. well.
This whole paragraph:

But she might recognize them like this, their faces flushed and soft in sleep, Dean curled protectively around Sammy. They smell like baby shampoo and Dove soap and they have calluses on their fingers.

He knows the rosy futures he and Mary planned out for their children are illusory now, but he's certain he's done right by them. His sons are not weak, will not be easy prey; they are disciplined and true.

He wonders, sometimes, if she'd recognize him.
Was my favourite I think, cause I have mixed John Emotions, and they came over here -his reasoning, his *knowing* perhaps he's become something Mary wouldn't like, that he doesn't like. But knowing he has to.

And Sam He stands behind Dean, peeking out at her, one fist wrapped tight in Dean's sweatshirt. I can SO see this.

Lovely!

Well, now I'm curious about how you thought this fic would play out! Share!

The John section was very easy to write, for some reason. I think because I didn't try to resolve my own confusion about him and just let it show. Hmmm.

Sammy is so LITTLE that he needs this protection! Aww, Sammy!

Thank you very much!

My throat is all closed up right now. God, real tears. This is so so good. The way the kids were talking about Alexander using the present tense at the end is what really got me. Also, having Sam mimic Ianthe's behavior (hiding behind his big brother when he's nervous) was a wonderful touch. I just loved everything about this. You wove in such good details, like Sam thinking Dean looked like he was wearing a dress because his dad's sweatshirt was so big on him and Dean needing a Happy Fun Day card. *sniff*

And John, who I truly dislike, believing so strongly that he's doing the right thing, even though he sees the effect he's having on his children (too skinny, using Dean as bait, etc.), was brilliantly characterized. The biggest gripe I have with his character on the show is that he is so damn singleminded that he seems completely oblivious to his children...well, Dean, anyway. I think you've put a realistic spin on him.

Again, fantastic job.

Oh, I'm sorry! Don't cry! Here, have a Happy Fun Day card!

The way the kids were talking about Alexander using the present tense at the end is what really got me. Embarrassingly, when I first conceived this story and wrote the prompt, I was planning on having Dean deliver a eulogy and it would be clear that he was very much casting Alexander as Just Like Him. But that would have been unrealistic and, frankly, atrocious, and Dean strikes me as someone who would want to celebrate those little details that make a person (and the loss of him) more individual.

Also, having Sam mimic Ianthe's behavior (hiding behind his big brother when he's nervous) was a wonderful touch. Ha! I don't think I even noticed that! I don't write anything unless I can *picture* it clearly in my head, and I guess my brain decided to give me parallel scenes without letting me in on the connection. Stupid brain.

And John, who I truly dislike, believing so strongly that he's doing the right thing, even though he sees the effect he's having on his children (too skinny, using Dean as bait, etc.), was brilliantly characterized. You're too kind! I think my own ambivalence about his character finally came out to play, and I just wrote it the way I saw it.

Thank you so very much for the kind words!

Oh, yeah. It *would* be hard to see someone, after... And Dean seeing the blood and thinking they've already lost.
*sniffle*

Dean takes too much on himself, you know? But that's just how he's wired, and he knows that someday, maybe soon, Sammy might want to hear someone say something kind about his dead big brother, so he decides to give it a shot for someone else.

You made me cry. I think this foreshadows Dean's "saving people, hunting things" speech in season 1, I kept thinking this is why he does this.
*sniffles*

Your OC's were terrific, so vivid and believable. You made me care about them, and Alexander's death had the right impact, and my heart ached for Dean--and John too--that they hadn't gotten the hell hound sooner.

The descriptions were wonderful, things like Rhea's POV on the boys in the booth at the beginning, and especially Dean's POV during the hell hound hunt, which was terrifying. I'm not sure John would have used Dean as bait when he was so young--it's not that he *never* would later. However, it worked in this story. I believed it, and John's reactions, via Dean's POV, were spot-on.

Beautiful, beautiful work.

I LOVE that icon!

I'm glad the OCs worked for you - I'm always worried that people will not really read those sections and just want to get to the good stuff.

About John using Dean as bait at this point. I don't know if I believe it either, but I don't disbelieve it. Does that make sense? Even in the John POV section, Sam and Dean go from "Mary's" to "their" to "his" - they are completely his boys by this point. And I *know* Dean would never refuse his father. Even if John didn't ask him to do this, Dean's read the hellhound journal entry and would remember the "young flesh" thing. And Dean trusts John completely to keep him safe.

Thank you so very much for another wonderful comment!

a. i love your oc's - they're very three-dimensional.

b. i love wee!sammy's narrative voice. he sounds like a little kid, his thought processes and his language, and the image of him standing behind dean in the diner with his hand fisted in dean's sweatshirt is really cute but still kind of painful.

c. i love john's section, with his insistence that his boys are tough and his worry that mary might not recognize him now. and i love his reaction to dean's "did it get me?" after he, uh, de-hearts the black dog, how terrified he looks and the way he grabs dean and hugs him.

d. the pacing and the structure of this are fabulous.

e. and i love the parallels between the two sets of sibs - "i saw him looking out for you." "mama and papa said he had to." and ianthe no doubt thinking about the boys' relationship when she sees sam.

the whole thing is just really beautifully done. really sad, but well told.

Wow, you are *organized*!

I'm glad you liked the OCs - they can be tedious, so thank you for giving mine a shot. And Sammy hiding behind Dean is indeed an adorable image, but sad too because Dean doesn't get to hide behind anybody ever. John's section was very easy to write, perhaps because I finally decided to let my own ambivalence about him come out to play. And I'm so glad the parallels worked for you and weren't too heavy-handed.

Thank you so very much for the kind words!

So, I was reading this, right? And I just kept melting faster and faster until this:

They smell like baby shampoo and Dove soap and they have calluses on their fingers.

And then I was a little whimpering puddle. This is so quiet and lovely and awful and I love it.

I have particular love for that line too.

This is so quiet and lovely and awful and I love it. Thank you very much! I really appreciate the time you take with your comments.

Oh god. This gutted me. Painful and real and so so sad. The ending was just so beautifully aching. Wonderful work.

Oh, wow! I'm so glad it made such an impact! Thank you very much for the lovely comment.

Oh, darling. Sigh. This is even lovelier than I'd expected from the little you'd told me about. And Dean playing bait so willingly and unquestioningly is just -- I understand it, and it works for the story, but it still makes my head and heart heart. Oh, Dean.

So wonderful, just like you. Thanks for doing such an amazing job with BOTH your prompts, dearest.

This is even lovelier than I'd expected from the little you'd told me about. I think I still want to take a crack at the story as I originally pitched it to you, but not right away. I'm very happy that you liked this version, though.

And Dean playing bait so willingly and unquestioningly is just -- I understand it, and it works for the story, but it still makes my head and heart heart. It makes me hurt too. But when is Dean ever going to refuse his father anything? And at this point, before Sammy's grown up enough to be a little more independent, I really do feel like Dean would take on the weight of not just his own family, but everyone else's too.

And let me thank you once again. I never would have thought up this story without your challenge. We all owe YOU.