Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters, concepts, or anything else remotely connected to Supernatural. The plot to this story, however, is mine.

A/N: Well, here is the first chapter; it's unBeta'd, so please kindly ignore any glaring grammatical or punctuation errors. I have the first ten chapters of this story written, and I will probably end up posting once or twice a week. Bear in mind that this is an AU story; it is also, once it actually begins, a Teen!chesters story - Dean is 20, Sam is 16.

Warnings For: cursing, clichés and/or obvious plot twists, violence, abuse of a minor/a minor getting his butt kicked by supernatural beasties, mildly suggestive situations; to name a few.

Reviews would be more than welcome - they will be rewarded with cookies and milk and ... another chapter.

When Mary died, John wasn't prepared to take care of two young boys, much less a baby. Elizabeth took Sam for the weekend and just … never brought him back.
At the time, John thought it was for the best; sixteen years later, it seems it didn't much matter anyway.


"John? Are you still there?"

John took a deep breath. He had done it again … it was getting harder and harder to focus recently. It didn't help that Mary's favorite ceramic pitcher was sitting on the counter right in front of him; it was the blue one with red flowers running around the rim, trailing down over the handle and wavering in lines around the base. John had never liked that pitcher; Mary found it at a yard sale years ago and was determined to keep it out in plain sight – she thought it was beautiful. It was a sort of game they played, really, her putting it where he'd be sure to see it, him hiding it in the cupboard or on top of the fridge, her finding it, and repeat.

It was one of many things suddenly missing from the house, maybe not as noticeable as the way the silence was empty now without her laugh, or the soft rustle as she turned the pages of one of her books, cuddled up to his chest as Dean played with Sammy on the rug. But it still hurt. Damn but it hurt.

"John?"

John sighed deeply and tore his eyes from the jug. He focused instead on the picture of Sam and Dean above the sink, taken just five days before … "Yes, Elizabeth?"

"I just wanted to be you were doing OK. I know how hard this is for you …"

And just like that, John stopped listening. She had no idea how hard this was for him. She had no idea. Mary was her sister, but she was his … everything. Now that she was gone, there was a hole, a gaping chasm yawning father and father, past where he could conceivably see getting beyond one day. Everyone kept telling he would, that eventually he'd move on, love again. He didn't buy it. No, John would never get over Mary. And, truthfully, he didn't want to.

"John." Elizabeth sounded annoyed now. There was a lot of that going around. It had already been eight weeks, and many people felt that he should start moving on. Not dating again; nobody had been stupid enough to even insinuate anything remotely close to fact that eventually John would have to 'get back out there.' But some people just didn't get why it was taking this long for him to get over the initial shock.

Because he was still in shock over what had happened. He still couldn't quite believe it. It still didn't feel real. The loss, yes – that felt all too real. But not the fact that Mary wasn't there with him. No matter how hard he tried to wrap his head around it, that part still baffled him. Because she couldn't just be gone; that just couldn't be possible … and yet it was.

Or maybe it just felt so surreal because he wasn't really trying to get it at all. He didn't want it to sink in. He didn't want to do anything that would give the terrible truth of her death more power over him, as he knew finally accepting it would.

"– hanging up now," John jerked back to the cheerful kitchen he and Mary used to make pancakes in and the phone in his hand. "I'll see you in five, John."

Before John could protest Elizabeth had hung up and he was sitting once again in that twisted silence. It never used to be silent when Mary was home; even if all she was doing was knitting or reading, she made sure it was never silent.

Mary loved music. She loved to dance to it, or sing along, or just hum quietly as she did whatever it was that she was busy with. Some people might have thought that Mary was afraid of silence, but John never saw it that way; Mary was just so full of life and joy, sitting in silence seemed a waste.

Better to express yourself, she was always telling him; better to express yourself while you can, and not wait until it's too late to say how you really, truly feel.

A knock on the door sounded like cannon fire in the stillness. John heard it, but he didn't get up. Elizabeth would let herself in; she always did.

"John? Are you in here?" Elizabeth's voice floated to him, gentle but with that air of authority she had taken to since Mary died. She sounded a lot like Mary … she had that same ringing laugh, too. Of course, that was nothing compared to how much the sisters looked alike. When John first met Elizabeth, he had asked if she and Mary were twins. The laughing response – twin bells, ringing in harmony though not quite the same note – was that no, Elizabeth was a few years younger.

The girls shared the same golden hair, though Elizabeth wore hers shorter than Mary ever would have. Mary's face was more heart shaped; Elizabeth had a birthmark on her left shoulder that looked like a crescent moon. The differences were subtle, but endless; if one were willing to look.

John forced himself to look now, as what at first glance seemed to be his Mary stood in the kitchen doorway, hands on her hips in just the way she used to hold them when she was well and truly furious at him. John's lips quirked into a small smile, but it quickly faded. This was Elizabeth, not Mary.

Mary was gone.

Mary would not be staring at him with that special tilt to her head that meant she was thinking something naughty. She would not be kissing him chastely as they tucked the kids in at night. She would not be yelling at him because he had forgotten – again – to put the cap back on the toothpaste or had left his shaving gunk in the sink. She would not be laughing at those stupid procedural cop shows she thought were so hopeless but insisted they watch anyway.

Gone … John really hated that word.

"Have the boys eaten yet?" Elizabeth demanded, skipping the pleasantries, as per usual. Since about a week after Mary died, Elizabeth had decided that it was up to her to watch out for the Winchesters. She came over at least four times a week, usually more, making sure they had food and that Sam and Dean were bathed regularly and not completely neglected.

It was just a little insulting that she didn't trust him to take care of his own sons, but John couldn't summon the energy to be truly offended, so he let her do what she wished. But he did look after Sam and Dean; they ate three times a day, went to bed at a reasonable hour, and were never unsupervised for very long. But the thing was, they really didn't need much supervision; Dean seemed to have it covered. About thirty percent of the time it was Dean who reminded John when lunchtime was, or that Sammy needed to be changed regularly.

John nodded. He had fixed macaroni and cheese, straight from the box. Mary would have been appalled; she was an excellent cook, and she despised box mixes with a passion that often left John in fits of laughter … once upon a time.

The evidence of lunch was scattered throughout the kitchen, from the dirty colander in the sink to the empty cardboard boxes that had fallen carelessly to the floor. Elizabeth held back a comment on John's housekeeping skills. He didn't need that right now.

John looked a mess. He hadn't shaved in days, from the look of it, and his eyes were red-rimmed and sporting huge purple bags underneath. It was a wonder he was still functioning, really.

But he wasn't functioning.

John was doing what had to be done; both Dean and Sam were still alive, after all. But anything beyond that seemed to be an alien concept to him. Elizabeth had been getting the impression for over a month now that he didn't think it was worth the effort to try and go back to a normal routine, or anything resembling it.

But that wasn't fair to the boys. Sam and Dean deserved better than a father who was distant on the best of days and nearly catatonic on the worst. It wasn't fair or right to leave them here, but Eliza knew there was no way John would give them up. When she had suggested it weeks ago, just until he could get back on his feet, he had exploded. She thought he was going to hit her; then at least she would have cause to take Sam and Dean. But he didn't, he just ordered her out and hadn't let her back in for two weeks.

But now she had a plan. Elizabeth was determined to help John and his boys – Mary's boys – and she knew just how she could do it. She even thought she could get John to agree, if she phrased it right.

"John," she waited until he looked up at her. His eyes didn't quite focus, and she knew he was seeing Mary. That was the hardest part. Every time she came over, she knew he saw her and thought of Mary. Everyone did, and some days, especially at the beginning, it just about drove her to tears. But now it might work to her advantage. She would use that advantage – for Dean and little Sammy.

"John, we need to talk." John didn't shoot her down right away, which Elizabeth took as a good sign. She sat in the chair across from him and folded her hands on the tabletop. "I know you're doing your best, but I'm not sure it's enough right now, John. I'm not sure it's enough for your boys."

The muscles in John's jaw twitched. His eyes suddenly found hers with a burning intensity she had only seen a few times; when Mary died and he had sworn revenge on whoever was responsible, and the last time she had tried to take Sam and Dean. "No." he said flatly, refusing her before she could even make her case.

"John, just listen to me." Elizabeth squirmed a little under John's furious gaze. This was for Mary's boys … it was worth whatever he could throw at her. "I don't mean that you can't take care of your boys. I know that you can. I'm just saying that maybe it isn't the best thing right now."

"Yes, it is." John was adamant. His tone was no-nonsense and he had slipped into that take-no-prisoners mode Mary used to complain about – lightly, without any heat behind the words. Usually Mary and John's arguments were over petty things – they actually agreed on most of the big issues – but the way they went at it you would never guess. Both were stubborn. Fortunately, that ran in the family.

Elizabeth changed tactics. "Look, you're a mess." John didn't react. Eliza went on. "You need a break. I'm just offering to take the boys for the weekend; give you some time off. You need some time off, John."

"No."

Elizabeth sighed in frustration. "Just Sammy, then; let me take Sam for the weekend so you can get a good night's rest without waking up every twenty minutes with a baby."

Elizabeth didn't hold out much hope that John would cave – although that didn't mean she was ready to give up – so when he paused, gaze shifting to somewhere behind and beyond her, she tensed hopefully.

"Well…" John said slowly, twisting and turning the offer over in his head. It seemed … like a really good idea, actually. He hadn't been sleeping well anyway since Mary died, and it certainly didn't help that as soon as he drifted off Sam would invariably start crying.

It was just for a weekend.

Sam had Mary's exact eyes. It was easy to look at Dean; he resembled John more than Mary, though he had that same indomitable spirit that had first drawn John in when he met his wife. But Sammy … he didn't have much hair, but what little he did have was as blonde as Mary's. And his eyes were the exact same shade of hazel as Mary's.

It hurt. It scorched John's soul to look at his precious, baby boy, and wasn't there something wrong with that? It shouldn't feel like his world was ending every time he saw his son.

Maybe he did need a break.

Slowly, so slowly Elizabeth didn't seem to register it at first, John nodded.

TBC