Missouri opened the door, and her jaw dropped. “John—”
“You remember my sons,” he said quickly, before she could say anything that might undo the spell. Dean, his arms full of a half-asleep Sammy, gave her the suspicious, sullen glare that he’d quickly learned to recognize as normal, for Dean and strangers.
John knew no normal child should react like that, but he couldn’t tell if it was the demon blood or Dean’s constructed memories that made him this way. He remembered Mary and remembered losing her (John had asked him, using it as an excuse to construct a code), and God only knew what that would do to a child. Hell, it had been tough enough on him.
Missouri must have read all that in his mind. “Of course I do,” she said smoothly, betraying no sign that she’d never met them before. “Dean loves my cookies, don’t you, Dean?”
John shot a look at Dean. It seemed that for a moment his eyes unfocused, and then they cleared, and he gave Missouri a hesitant smile. John suspected that meant that the memories in Dean’s head were integrating the new knowledge. It didn’t happen with Sammy, but Sammy was so young, he wouldn’t remember this anyway. Hell, John didn’t remember much of anything before he started kindergarten. “Chocolate chip,” John said; he’d learned that one real
quick. “Right, buddy?” he added, giving Dean’s hair the affectionate ruffle he remembered his own father giving him.
“I think I just happen to have some of those,” Missouri said, stepping out of the way. “Come on in to the kitchen.” Dean glanced at John for permission—it scared him, sometimes, just how obedient
this kid was, because he’d seen kids Dean’s age and he didn’t remember them being tiny little soldiers. John nodded, and Dean followed Missouri inside, hitching Sammy’s weight up. “Put Sammy down in the high chair—”
“No, ma’am,” Dean said, politely, protectively. “I’ve got him.”
Missouri shot John a look. “You can’t hold him and eat cookies,” she pointed out, and before Dean could argue, did—something. Sammy came awake, jerking his head up off Dean’s shoulder, and fought to get down. Dean sighed and lowered him to the floor. “Now, me and your daddy need to talk, so why don’t you take the cookie jar—” she pushed it into Dean’s arms “—and your brother and go out in the yard and play. Don’t be scared of ol’ Elvis, he can’t bite. If you can wake him up, he might even play with you some.”
Dean looked at John, utterly confused by this woman issuing orders, but John gave him another nod and he obediently took Sammy’s hand and led him through the big French doors.
“John Edward Winchester, what in God’s name is going on?” Missouri hissed, whirling on him with enough ferocity to scare—well, to scare a Marine. “Did you steal those kids?”
“No! Why would I—”
“I’ve seen men who lost less do more,” she said, “and you did
lose your baby too—”
“I wouldn’t kidnap someone else’s kids!”
“Then where—oh, my.” She must have read something in his brain. He hated when she did that. “I’ll make tea. You talk.”
“Just read it,” he said wearily.
“Some things are better told,” she replied. “Sit down and talk.”
He collapsed into a chair at the kitchen table, and noticed, with a bit of weary satisfaction, that he had automatically taken the chair that gave him the best view of the boys in the backyard, even though it put him with his back to the door. Maybe he was getting the hang of this fatherhood business. “I went to visit Mary’s grave, and when I went to the car, there was a woman in it.” He explained it mechanically, everything that he could remember—the witch named Willow and her concern for the well-being of a raped Slayer (whatever that was) and the necessity of protecting her children.
“Half-demon?” Missouri asked quietly, setting out the tea set as if he were fancy company.
“No sign yet.”
“She may have buried that part of them when she altered their memories.” She began to pour tea. “How on earth did she find you?”
“She said you told her. She was a witch, and she called you ‘Lady’ Missouri—” Her hand jerked, just a bit. “—and she said you were the one who told her about me. Told her that I would raise them the way they needed. Raise them into good men.”
Missouri set the teapot on the tray. Her hand was shaking. “It’s true, I work magic sometimes,” she said finally, looking out the window into the backyard, where Sammy was wrestling with her antique hound under Dean’s watchful eye. “Little rituals, mainly, purifications and protections. It’s not my primary gift. But I don’t know anybody named Willow. Never have.” She flashed him a smile. “Got a cousin named Ivy.”
“There have been witches powerful enough to bend time,” she went on. “I don’t know any. Not now.”
“I—” This was going to sound crazy. “I’m not sure she’s been born yet.”
“You said she had white hair—”
“Not that kind of white. She looked— I don’t think she was more than thirty. If she was that. She was young.”
Missouri studied him. “Instinct is a powerful thing, John. Don’t doubt it.” She shot another glance out the window. “You’re gonna need it with those two.”
“I was afraid of that.”
“You don’t think you can handle them?”
“I don’t know shit about raising kids, Missouri!”
He glared at her. “I’m not a father. Mary and I—we never—” He stopped. “They’re not mine, Missouri. How can I—”
“Oh, don’t give me that love-only-blood nonsense, John Winchester,” she snapped at him. “Love ain’t about biology. My mama raised thirteen kids and only gave birth to three of us, and I’d shoot anybody who said those other ten weren’t my brothers and sisters. You accepted those boys. You named them. They’re yours now, and you’ll learn to love them. You just gotta give it some time.”
He sat there, staring at his tea—God, he hated tea, and she damned well knew
it. “It’s not just them. It’s me. I—” He stopped, searching for words; Missouri remained silent, waiting. “I remember grabbing Sammy out of the crib and putting him in Dean’s arms and ordering Dean to leave the house. I remember the way Dean didn’t speak for months after she died and how Sammy screamed if they got separated. And I know none of it ever happened
“Maybe that was Willow’s gift to you.”
“Gift? Fucking with my head?”
For once she didn’t call him on the profanity. “She may have thought it would be easier for you this way. And it might be. You won’t slip up and say something you’ll regret. And maybe it’ll help you start seeing them as your sons.”
“How do you know I ever will?”
“Because Willow told you so.”
“They wouldn’t be good men if they were raised by a man they thought hated them.” She sipped her tea, and for several moments they sat there watching the boys and the dog. “You’re gonna have to keep them from other hunters, John. Keep them isolated.”
“What?” He was just now starting to make friends, learn people’s names—have somebody to drink with, if nothing else. It wasn’t like having a family, nothing ever would be, but it was human contact, and it made this life easier. “But—”
“Make new contacts, people who don’t know you and Mary didn’t have children. If any hunter finds out what they are— John, they’re not going to see two little boys. They’re not going to see your sons. They’re going to see demons. And hunters kill