:: Welcome back to Winchester Ranch! I took some time off to have a proper winter break, but now I'm getting back into the swing of things. This is 'Vulnerable', which follows directly after 'Wayward' in our Winchester Ranch series. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. Thanks for coming along on this adventure! I hope you enjoy and would love to hear what you think!

Love and internetty hugs,

TheGirlWithTheDinosaurTattoo::

...

Chapter 1

Dean

As I wandered through my giant house, I let my hand slide down the banister to feel the age of the wood beneath my fingers. The finest grain of sandpaper would never be able to produce the silk of the wood I felt…nothing but time could do something like that. As I got to the bottom of the step, my hand landed in something sticky on the top of the banister and pulled my hand away, making a face.

Only kids could make that kind of sticky.

I should know; I had four of them, now.

Wiping my hand on my shirt, I headed towards the refrigerator and opened the door, letting the dark kitchen floor flood with light. Staring at the contents inside, I shook my head, knowing that I wasn't actually hungry, just kind of bored. It's what came from having such a happy, regular, domestic home life, I suppose. It had taken awhile to get back into the happy home life routine after what happened with Ouriel and the damned demon spell, but I was making it work.

Or at least, trying to.

Hearing a creak from the steps, I turned slowly to see my oldest daughter standing at the base of the stairs, watching me silently. "Hey, Meatloaf," I greeted quietly. "What's up?" She continued to stare at me and I wondered momentarily if she was sleepwalking. "Lib?" I asked. "You okay?"

Liberty stepped forward towards me and glanced at the windows. "It's still dark," she observed. "Is it time to get up?"

I shook my head, "No, baby," I whispered, laughing. "It's late. You should be asleep. Everyone else is."

"Why aren't you?"

Sitting on the couch behind me, I opened my arms and she approached me silently, climbing up into my lap. "I do this a lot, kiddo," I began, shrugging. "I can't usually sleep through the night. I get up and check on you and your sisters, usually tripping on your brother laying on the floor in the baby's room in the process, and then make my way down here for a bit."

Lib seemed to understand. She nodded slowly and looked up at me with those big green eyes: my green eyes. "Momma is asleep," she stated simply after a minute or two.

I nodded. "Yeah, Momma is still asleep."

"Are you going to leave again?"

Those six words were like a knife sliding between my ribs. It was yet another painful reminder of the demon spell that had held me captive for weeks on end: almost half of my wife's latest pregnancy. Grace had forgiven me for the awful things I had done, but I still hadn't forgiven myself.

"I'll never leave you again, Lib," I whispered into her hair as I held her close. "Not like that."

Liberty leaned back, listening to something that I couldn't hear. I knew she had inherited some of her mother's half-angel psychic abilities, but I had no idea how powerful she was. She blinked slowly and tilted her head, asking, "Who are those girls?"

"What girls?"

"The girls that are in your mind," she replied quietly. "You kissed one."

I looked away from my five-year-old daughter, fighting the emotions that were rising in my throat like bile. Liberty had just seen the women that I had been with while under the influence of the demon spell.

The women that I had slept with.

The women that I had killed.

The women that weren't Grace.

I took a deep breath and struggled to stare at Lib, my eyes finally finding hers in the dim. "Baby," I began, shifting my position slightly. "That's a really hard conversation to have and when you're older, we can talk about it again."

"But you won't leave us for them?"

"No, kiddo," I said, sighing. "You're stuck with me."

Libby smiled. My answers seemed to have appeased her, so I carried her back to her bedroom and she climbed back into bed. "Go back to sleep, Meatloaf," I whispered, tucking her back in. Her eyes were heavy and she gave into unconsciousness quickly. I lingered in her doorway, watching her breathe, and vowed to keep my promises.

I crept back to our bedroom and pulled the covers back. Grace turned automatically towards my warmth, but didn't wake. I watched her sleep and was forever grateful that my wife was an angel/human hybrid. She was able to see and hear my thoughts and feelings and knew that I was completely and utterly dedicated to her and only her. If she had been more like her sister, I had a feeling that she wouldn't have been so quick to forgive me, and the mistakes that I made while hopped up on the demon spell.

Grace's sister, Serendipity, was on me constantly, eyeing me suspiciously when she thought I wasn't watching and always the first to ask where I was going. I was eternally patient, knowing that if I pissed Serra off, I could pretty much count on a bullet between the ears. She would come around eventually, I knew, but it was Grace's opinion that mattered more to me.

Right after our youngest daughter was born, almost three weeks ago, Grace and I sat up late one night, talking about what had happened while I was gone. She had pressed with questions that begged the truth and I had answered as willingly as I could, finding the words and thoughts necessary to explain what I remembered. Grace had listened eagerly and we had come to the conclusion that we would close that chapter of our lives and do what we could to move on without harping on it. I was relieved.

I had spent the following weeks being at Grace's beck and call, doing everything I could to reiterate that I was a husband and a father first; never wanting Grace to feel as abandoned as she had felt while I was gone.

Eventually, I let sleep take me once more, but it was restless. I tossed and turned every hour or so and I finally gave up around six and got up, ready to deal with the day.

Glory joined me first, tiptoeing down the steps and trying to sneak up on me in the dining room. My middle daughter was three and beginning to be a bit of a firecracker. I continued to drink my coffee, acting as if I didn't hear or see her. She got to the corner of the island and crept right up to my leg and tapped me.

"Whoa!" I gasped, feigning surprise. "Man, Glory-Bee. You're gettin' pretty ninja. You got me good."

She grinned up at me shaking her head lightly. "No, Daddy," Glory said quietly. "You tricking me."

I picked her up from the floor and touched her forehead to mine gently. There it was: more proof that she was a psychic as well, inheriting more than I bargained for from her mother. "One of these days, Glory Girl," I said, smiling gently, "you'll get me. You'll be a better ninja than me."

She hugged me fiercely and I closed my eyes, drinking it in. Glory lifted her head and watched as her twin brother made his way down the steps as well, rubbing his face and looking more like me every day. Our features were pretty close to identical, right down to the freckles that were scattered across his nose. The only quality that he inherited from Grace was his eyes. They were the pure blue.

"Hi brudder," Glory greeted from her position on my hip.

He said nothing, as per usual, but he acknowledged her with a glance and a small smile. Everett was mostly silent, saving most of his communication for when he really needed something. Usually the something he needed was the new baby: Faith.

Everett and Faith were connected in a way that probably only I was able to understand. He carried the same Mark of Cain that I did, and his emotions were in pretty constant turmoil while separated from his mother or sisters. Faith was more than half angel: she was conceived while Castiel used Grace as a vessel to make sure that she would be able to absorb Everett's Mark the same way Grace absorbed mine. It was all much more complicated than I wanted it to be, but Everett was safe and Faith was an easy baby, so it had all been worth it.

I put Glory down and she and Ev headed to their snack drawer in the kitchen and each pulled out a box of raisins and a granola bar. I opened both boxes and wrappers and they plopped down in the middle of the kitchen floor to eat together in silence. I sat at the kitchen table near them and opened my laptop, scrolling through the latest headlines and emails that had piled up over night.

Grace, Liberty, and Faith followed about an hour later, joining us at the kitchen table with sleepy eyes and pajamas.

"Good morning, sunshine," I greeted as my wife sat down next to me, holding our infant.

"Mmhmm," Grace replied, yawning widely.

I glanced back at my computer screen and closed it with a snap and stood to get her a cup of coffee. "Creamer or black?" I asked, lifting my eyebrows.

"Black," Grace replied, yawning again.

I nodded and turned back towards the coffee pot knowing that she must be tired if she didn't even want the new fancy creamer that Serra brought home a few days ago. "Faith wasn't up too much last night, was she?" I asked, handing her the mug. "I didn't hear her."

Grace shook her head. "No," she began, sighing and taking a sip of coffee. "It took me awhile to fall asleep and then my subconscious seemed to be interlaced with theirs," she said, gesturing to Liberty and Glory. "It's like they're communicating in their sleep."

"Is that something that happens a lot?" I asked, sitting back down.

"Not that I've noticed before. I'm hoping it's a fluke."

I nodded and stared down at Faith who was watching me with interest. "She's so aware," I muttered, reaching for the baby. "None of them were so alert at three weeks." I glanced up at Grace. "Right?"

Grace nodded and smiled lightly. "Yeah," she agreed, "she's weird. Reminds me of Cas."

I chuckled and stared down at the baby in my arms. "But she's mine, right?" I asked, grinning.

"That's still to be determined," Grace replied, not hesitating in the slightest.

She smiled and took another sip of her coffee as Everett climbed up into her lap, trying to get closer to Faith. He stared down at her face and touched her softly with the palm of his hand. She turned to his touch immediately and I was reassured that we had done the right thing for Everett. Having a fourth to save the third was completely worth it in the end. They would take care of each other.

The morning moved quickly. Grace got dressed and helped the kids all find what they needed for their school day and I showered at got ready for my day at the shop. As I was getting dressed, Grace leaned into our bedroom, asking, "Are you going in at eight or nine?"

"Nine," I replied, rolling the sleeves to my flannel up to my elbows. "Why?"

"I wanna leave Faith with you so I don't have to load the stroller."

Nodding, I glanced at the clock. "Yeah, sure," I replied. She came in and laid Faith in the middle of the bed. The baby stared at me with her stormy blue eyes following me around the room. "Hey there, Pot Roast," I greeted, leaning over my daughter and smiling. "You stuck with me?" She narrowed her eyes and reached for the edge of my flannel and I shook my head in disbelief. "You are so different than the others," I repeated again, "Try not to be smarter than your mother. I won't be able to keep up."

Faith cooed at me, wrapping her tiny fingers around my own and I could feel the same electrified tingle in my Marked arm that I felt when Grace made physical contact with me. I smiled at her again and shook my head. "Yeah," I agreed to her noises. "You're gonna be a handful."