Chapter 1: Riding the Fence - Part One
“No, Dean. You’re staying put this trip.”
John Winchester stepped out the front door onto the wide front porch, slinging his over-sized duffle over his shoulder and stopping on the top stair to wait for the argument he knew was coming.
Immediately behind John, his eldest son, Dean, hobbled through the old oak door, turning sideways to make room for the too short set of crutches he was forced to rely on.
“Dad! I’m fine. I can go.”
It was the same argument that John had heard all morning.
Three weeks prior, while on what should have been a simple salt and burn, Dean had taken a nasty spill down a long, unforgiving stair case. The end result had been a severely twisted ankle and a hairline fractured fibula.
He’d been lucky though. The break was minor, but had hurt like hell at the time. His leg and ankle were now restricted in a boot and he’d been given strict instructions to stay off his feet for at least a month. Apparently the doctor had never dealt with a Winchester.
“It’s not that bad. See, I don’t even need these fuckin’ things.”
Dean slapped the crutches together and forcibly handed them off to Sam who had been closely shadowing his brother ever since the injury. The older boy attempted to put his full weight on the injured leg, but had a terrible time hiding the grimace of pain that crossed his face. Sam was quickly at Dean’s elbow, bracing him, and didn’t flinch at all when Dean tried to shove him away.
“Sammy, give your brother his damn crutches. And you,” John barked, pointing a thick finger into Dean‘s thin chest, “had better watch your mouth around me, boy. Twenty years isn’t too old for a taste of the Irish Spring.”
“Yessir,” Dean grumbled, accepting the crutches from Sam with a low growl.
John cast a look up and over the shoulders of his two boys to the man standing in the doorway and gave him a knowing wink.
Bobby Singer couldn’t help but smirk back. He didn’t always agree with John’s methods, but his intentions were good. John did the best he could to raise his two boys in a very turbulent and dangerous world and Bobby couldn’t begrudge the man for his somewhat harsh treatment of the boys. It was that treatment that kept them disciplined and prepared. Kept them safe.
“Sammy, take the bags down to the car, will ya, kiddo?”
John took the large duffle down from his shoulder and handed it to the lanky sixteen year old. Sam nodded, accepting the bag, and tossed a sympathetic look to his brother who could only narrow his eyes and glare back.
Trying his best to follow Sam’s sympathetic lead, John set a broad hand over each of Dean’s shoulders, squaring them to face him.
Dean angled his face away from his father, trying to hide the disappointment and hurt at being left behind. Sam was the one who got left behind, not Dean. Dean was needed. Dean was essential. Dean was…miserable and more than willing to let everyone around him share in his misery.
“Look, Son. I understand that you wanna go. I want you there too. But you’re hurt and you’re no good to me like this. You need to stay here and get healed up. I’ll only be gone for the week, back by Saturday, I promise, and besides, I’ve got Sammy to keep me company.”
“Sam?!” Dean cried indignantly. “Dad, Sam can’t even blow his nose by himself…”
“That’s enough, Dean," John ground out, his drill instructor voice tinged with disappointment. "Your brother is more than capable of handling himself and you, more than anyone else, should know that. Hell, you trained him, so if he's not ready, that falls on you."
Clapping a rough hand to the back of Dean’s neck, John gave it a quick squeeze before pulling forward and planting a kiss to the crown of Dean’s bowed head.
“He’ll be fine, Dean,” John reassured, gently. “We both will.”
The young man didn’t fight off the show of affection when John then pressed their foreheads together.
“You be a good boy for Bobby, okay?” he asked quietly, looking into Dean's eyes - green like his mother's. And damned if he didn't roll his eyes like her too.
Dean pushed his father away, a light blush creeping up his neck, “What am I, eight?”
“Bobby.” Stepping around Dean, John presented his hand to the older hunter and pressed him with a grateful handshake. “I appreciate this.”
“Don’t worry ‘bout it, John. I’ll keep him busy.” Bobby paused to think about it and then added, "Or he'll keep me busy. We'll work it out, one way or another."
John nodded, giving him a dry smile and turned away from the house, taking the stairs two at a time, his long stride making short work of the walk to the awaiting Impala.
Sam stood on the passenger side of the car, his hands folded together on the roof waiting for his father’s word to climb into the front seat. It wasn’t every day that he got to take shotgun. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been allowed to sit up front with his father and he was excited for the chance. At the same time, guilt washed over him for taking Dean’s appointed spot, for getting to play Dad’s second.
John pulled the driver’s door open but stopped to look at his youngest son, recognizing the pained expression on the boy’s face.
“Better get up there and tell your brother goodbye.”
He didn't need to be told twice. Sam sprinted around the car and up the walk and steps, coming to an abrupt halt in front of big brother.
“See ya in a week?” he offered tentatively, suddenly nervous.
“Yeah,” Dean huffed, his voice tight in his throat. “God, I hate this,” he ground out.
Trying to dodge the pain he could hear in Dean’s voice, Sam looked anywhere but directly at his brother, now feeling even more awkward about the situation.
“I’m sorry you’re hurt, Dean.”
“Not your fault, kid.”
“I know, but I’m still sorry.”
To avoid looking at each other, they both stood staring down at their feet. Dean’s booted foot, barely grazing the floor. Sam’s foot, kicking loosely at peeling paint beneath him. Dean cleared his throat and employed his best Dad voice.
“You, um. You watch out for Dad. Okay?”
“I mean it, Sam. Eyes and ears open at all times. No excuses.”
“I know. I will,” he reiterated.
“And watch out for my car.”
Sam looked up then, lifting a taunting eyebrow at his brother.
“Your car?” he repeated haughtily.
“Yeah, my car. It will be.”
The sarcasm wasn’t missed, but it was ignored.
“Let’s go, Sammy,” John hollered through the driver’s side window. He turned the ignition over and the car rumbled to life.
The boys looked out over the front lawn at the black beauty shining in the sun and their father waiting in the driver’s seat.
“I guess,” Sam sighed, resolving to leave it at that, but before he could step down off the top step, his arm was snagged.
Dean pulled his brother to him, wrapping a lone arm tightly around the back of the kid’s neck, hugging him hard.
“You be careful,” Dean ground out, trying to bury the ever-present emotions that threatened to choke him.
“Yessir.” Sam nodded, wrapping his arms around Dean and hugging him back.
Then a second later, they pushed themselves apart, both blushing with embarrassment at the public display of affection. Dean rubbed absentmindedly at the back of his head and then realized that Sam was still standing there and Dad was still waiting.
“Go!” he said, shooing his brother away.
Sam turned and jumped the entire flight of stairs.
“See ya, Bobby!” he waved before he tore down the walk.
Bobby stepped up beside Dean and waved the two Winchesters away, watching the Impala pull out of the drive.
“He called me sir.”
The whisper was so quiet, that Bobby wasn’t entirely sure he’d heard him right. But he’d definitely heard the meaning. Amidst the awe, there was a bit of amusement in that young voice and something else too. Bobby looked over and found the older boy smirking at the trail of dust left behind by his father and brother. Dean met his gaze and it was then that Bobby recognized that something else. It was pride.
Bobby reached up and mussed the kid’s hair.
“When's the last time you had a haircut?” he asked. Without waiting for an answer, Bobby turned into the house, leaving Dean to watch the taillights fade and dust disperse.
Bobby had gone about his business. He’d taken a few calls, done a bit of research and had drank down three fingers of whiskey upon hearing the news that a fellow hunter had been killed in a raid on a werewolf hunting grounds out east.
It never got easier; this life. And it pained him to think about the Winchester boys being wrapped up in the middle of it. It wasn't as though he had a choice in the matter; they weren’t his kids after all. But he’d watched them grow up from the mop-topped rugrats they’d been the first time John Winchester had darkened his doorway, to the nearly grown men they’d become.
Looking out the window at the boy moping on his front porch, Bobby couldn’t help but feel for the kid. Most boys his age would be jumping for joy at the prospect of a week of freedom. No overbearing father to order him around, no bratty kid brother chasing after his older brother’s shadow, just a week of doctor ordered laziness, stretched out in the early summer sun. But not this boy.
No, this boy had an over-matured sense of duty; a responsibility to his family and their lifestyle. Something his father had not only cursed him with, drilling it into him at an early age, but had also gifted him with. A gift, because Dean’s love and loyalty toward his family were unbreakable and immeasurable. A curse, because Dean’s sense of duty left little room for anything else in his life.
He’d put duty before school, dropping out with less than a few months to go. He’d put duty before any chance of a real life. No plans for college, no hope for a family of his own, no dreams of anything beyond hunting. None of that mattered. The only thing that mattered was his family.
Problem was that Dean didn’t see an overbearing father or a bratty kid brother. He saw a leader and a hero; a man that could do no wrong and would sacrifice all for the greater good. And in Sam he saw a purpose; a reason for being. Without his leader, without his purpose, Bobby realized, the young man was just…lost.
Outside, Dean had slumped down on the front steps, his good leg pulled up tight against his chest, arms wrapped around it. His eyes were trained on the road down which his father had driven away from him.
Bobby sighed, leaning heavily against the window casing, knowing that no matter how badly the kid was hurting right now, it was made all the harder because rather than put the blame where it belonged, Dean blamed himself for his current situation.
“Right, like a twenty year old has any business hunting all the mean and nasty things that go bump in the night,” Bobby huffed in aggravation, pushing away from the window.
Dean didn’t jump when the screen door slapped shut with a bang. He didn’t dread the heavy boot falls approaching across the neglected porch floor. He didn’t even draw in on himself when Bobby came to stand a little too close, invading Dean’s personal space. He did, however, pounce on the brown bottle that was lowered into his line of vision.
“Don’t tell your Daddy,” the older man grumbled, lowering himself down onto the step beside Dean.
In unison, they each cracked open their individual bottles, the sharp metal caps clasped between thumbs and middle fingers.
Dean glanced at Bobby out of the corner of his eye, a funny little half-smile playing on his lips as he held his cap up, prepared to flick it through the air.
“I supplied the beer. I go first,” Bobby commanded. Bringing his hand into position and snapping his fingers, the cap sailed through the air in a long, high arc. Their eyes zeroed in on the clink of metal against concrete and watched as the cap spun in a wide circle, coming to rest about twenty-five feet down the sidewalk.
“Top that,” Bobby crowed, nudging his young charge with a pointed elbow.
Dean shrugged, his head rolling to the side to lock eyes with his friend. He coolly lifted his hand and without bothering to look, snapped his fingers, never breaking eye contact with Bobby.
The bottle cap landed, bouncing once on the far side of Bobby’s throw and then rolled on its edge further and further down the concrete, finally coming to rest in the little tuft of grass that separated the gravel drive and the long side walk.
“I win on a count of you cheatin’,” Bobby scoffed and threw back a swig of his beer.
“Whatever.” Dean smirked from behind the bottle, knocking his shoulder into Bobby’s.
They’d sat there for a while, drinking in companionable silence; neither man wanting to break the spell that had washed over them, leaving them content and comfortable. But with the beer drained and the morning sun creeping higher and higher, Bobby pushed himself to his feet, groaning dramatically through the movement.
“I got some work to do out in the shop. Could use a hand if you’re up to it.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Dean offered, noncommittally. He looked up slowly, feeling the tingle of Bobby’s eyes on him and sure enough, the older man was studying him, a grimace of worry glazing his features.
“You’re not gonna sit up here, hiding and moping all day.”
It was a statement as much as it was a question and Dean fought against the instinct to answer with a prompt, ‘nosir’.
If he was being honest with himself, Dean would admit that he had every intention in the world of spending the day wallowing in self-pity. There was an empty feeling in his gut left by the absence of his father and brother. A hole that did nothing but leave room for the anger and pain that he was feeling to take root in his belly.
Dean’s eyes fluttered closed, his voice was soft and trembling for control when he did finally answer, “I’ll be down in a minute. Just…give me a minute, okay?”
“Okay,” Bobby responded matter-of-factly, turning to walk toward the salvage yard without saying another word. He didn’t need to say anything more. The ‘you’d better’ had been clearly implied.
Watching from beneath lowered eyes, Dean wanted so much to be annoyed with the older hunter and his innate ability to read him, (or anyone for that matter). He wanted to be annoyed with the fact that it was impossible to hide anything from the man. One look and Bobby could not only tell if Dean had done something wrong, but also what he’d done wrong. He wanted to be annoyed that with a single word Bobby could push all the right buttons and get Dean to bend to his every whim. That even now, Dean was fighting the notion to run and catch up with Bobby just to please him. He wanted so much to be annoyed. But how could he? It was Bobby. That’s all there was to it.
Dean leaned back, putting his weight onto his hands, palms down on the porch behind him, and stretching his legs out over the steps. A ghost of pain tingled in his ankle and he scowled down at the offending appendage, fighting the urge to bash the boot, foot and all, onto the concrete below. All the while, a slew of thoughts raced through his head, each thought tightening the emotional band around his chest, constricting his lungs until he could no longer breathe.
Stupid, little hairline crack lays me up; like an infant being left behind; Dad can’t depend on me; can’t watch out for Sammy; is this supposed to hurt this fuckin’ bad? This isn’t where I’m supposed to be…
”Son. Of. A. Bitch!”
Dean flopped back on the porch floor, his head thudding dully against the old wood. He laid there, one arm slung over his eyes, one hand firmly on his chest, trying to slow his breathing, trying like hell to calm his panicked heart. Beneath his arm, he let his eyes flutter closed, sealing them against the burn of unshed tears.
“Th-this isn’t where I’m s-supposed to be,” he stuttered blindly to the sky.
“Dean, get up,” his little brother’s voice, laced with panic, echoed in his head. Sam had shaken him, his too-large-for-his-age hands, plastered to Dean’s face, urging him back into consciousness. “Dean, please!”
His brother had been at his side within seconds of Dean’s less than graceful head over heels decent down the staircase where he’d crashed head first into a plaster wall and slumped motionless to the floor.
He hadn’t been truly unconscious; merely stunned. Coming to, Dean tried to focus, blinking his eyes and straining to hear, but the world around him was moving in slow motion, the sound muffled like some strange dream. But as dreams went, this one wasn’t so bad. Dean was suspended in that weird, floaty feeling that always seemed to accompany dreams. And his brother was there; all floppy hair and hazel-blue eyes staring down at him, tapping him on the face. No, smacking him on the face and that’s when the sound rushed in, the world sped up and the pain ignited in Dean’s leg.
John’s bellowed command forced Sam into action, throwing himself bodily over Dean’s upper body to protect them both from the rain of rock salt that fell all around them.
“Sammy,” John barked. He backed into their space, shouting orders over his shoulder while reloading his double barrel and keeping a watchful eye on their surroundings. “Get him up and moving.”
Sam clambered to his feet and together, one man on each arm, they hauled Dean up, even as he cried out in pain. Sam took the majority of Dean’s weight when his father let go to get off another shot.
“Move, Son. Move!” John gave the boys a shove in the direction of the front door, swooping in behind them, arms full of loaded and ready to fire shotguns.
Sam stumbled under the weight of his brother, cringing every time Dean would grunt or groan in pain. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, “but you gotta work with me here, Dean.”
“Go help Dad. He needs…”
“I’m helping you. Don’t be a stubborn ass, just get your feet under you and let’s go.”
Sam braced him, but when Dean put his full weight onto his left foot, he crumpled in pain, cussing between clenched teeth and clutching onto Sam’s side for support.
“Okay, stop. You’re only makin’ it worse.”
Holding his brother up as much as possible, Sam grabbed Dean’s left wrist.
“What are you…?” Dean’s question was interrupted when Sam bent at the knees and ducked under to press his shoulder into Dean’s gut. He wrapped a long arm around the back of his brother’s far leg and lifted, hoisting him up into a fireman’s carry over Sam’s young shoulders.
“Put me down!” Dean cried indignantly, squawking when Sam bounced and adjusted Dean’s weight across his back.
“Jesus, Dean, don’t struggle or you’ll bring us both down.” Sam quickly crossed the yard to where the Impala was parked. Circling around to the passenger side he lowered Dean to the ground a little harder than he’d intended, wincing sympathetically when Dean grunted in pain and then shoved Sam away.
“What are you, a friggin’ caveman? I’m not some chick you can throw over your shoulder and stomp off to the caves with.”
“First of all,” Sam scoffed, “that analogy is all kinds of messed up.” He reached down to Dean’s boot where he knew he’d find a six inch blade and withdrew it. He slid it carefully between the skin of Dean’s shin and the denim of his jeans and with a quiet apology, sliced through the hem and up the length of Dean’s lower pant leg. Moving quickly and efficiently, Sam unlaced and removed the left boot being extremely careful not to pull on the injured leg.
Inside the house there was another booming shot and Sam bounced to his feet to get a visual on their father. Through the front window, Sam could see John standing confidently; pump action in one hand, can of lighter fluid in the other. “He’s got it,” Sam assured himself and then repeated it again to Dean when he knelt back down to attend to his brother.
Sam took Dean’s foot in hand and rotated the leg to one side so he could get a better look, but the movement caused the older boy to seize up in pain.
Trying like Hell to ride out the hurt, Dean clutched at the grass beneath his fingertips and bounced his head repeatedly against the rear door of the Winchesters’ Impala.
“What’s two?” Dean asked through gritted teeth.
Sam looked up into Dean’s pain-filled face, his eyes glassy and pleading for a distraction. “Two?”
“You said, first of all…” he hissed again when Sam’s finger touched on a sensitive spot. “So, what’s number two?”
“Oh. Well, I was just gonna say that you need to lay off the bacon cheeseburgers, cuz I could barely lift you.”
“Shut up! I am not fat. You’re just a skinny runt who…”
“Who can still manage to lift your fat ass! Gonna be taller than you soon too!”
“That’s a bald-faced lie.”
Dean’s mouth dropped open in mock outrage and was about to spout off again, when he was interrupted by the commanding bellow of their father.
Sam tapped Dean playfully on the side of the head, but the smirk was quickly washed from Sam’s young face when their infuriated father rounded the car.
“Dammit, Dean! What the Hell were you thinking?” John’s anger was searing. He paced in front of his sons, muttering and shaking his head, “You could have gotten yourself killed.”
“Dad, I’m sorry.”
On the ground, Dean was propped up against the rear door of the Impala, his little brother kneeling beside him, pressing careful fingers down the length of Dean’s shin.
“Shit, Sammy,” he hissed in pain. Sam apologized quietly.
“I depend on you to do your job,” John continued.
“Yessir,” the answer an automatic response to John’s military authority.
“Eyes open, ears on, at all times. How are you gonna back me up if you’re not focused?
“Don’t know, Sir.”
“Don’t know.” John hmphed his disapproval. “If I can’t trust you to have your head in the game, then you’re no good to me. If you can’t even protect yourself, how do you expect to look out for your brother?”
“I can take care of myself,” Sam argued, shrugging off Dean’s warning tug on his sleeve.
“You stay out of this,” John barked, pointing a heavy finger at his youngest son.
“No. I won’t stay out of it. I’m not gonna let you do this to him, Dad.”
“Sam, don’t,” Dean warned. He wrapped a hand around his brother’s slim wrist, but Sam pulled free to stand nose to nose with their father. John straightened to his full height which gave him a slight edge over his sixteen year old, but this only made Sam more determined.
“He needs to see a doctor, cuz I’m pretty sure that’s broke,” Sam said, pointing at the swelling leg. “And if you weren’t so busy cussing Dean out for your own mistake; you might actually be doing something to help him!”
“Yeah! Your mistake…”
Father and son turned as one toward the pained groan, the argument instantly forgotten. John dropped to one knee beside his eldest son, pressing a comforting hand onto the back of Dean’s neck, kneading the tense muscles there.
“S’hurt bad, Kiddo?”
A stiff nod accompanied by an ‘mmhmm’ breathed through his nostrils, Dean clamped down on Sam’s proffered hand.
Slowly, Dean relaxed into the warmth of his father’s hands, but the damage had already been done – John’s words set to repeat in Dean’s head. I can’t trust you. You’re no good to me.
And now this morning, those words had been reinforced by John’s decision to leave Dean in Bobby’s care. Dean wasn’t under the illusion that he could actually participate in a true hunt, but he also didn’t expect to find himself discarded like a broken, useless tool. And he didn’t expect to find himself feeling hurt over his father’s abandonment either. He was an adult for Christ’s sake; he shouldn’t need his father’s constant approval. The fact that he seemed to need exactly that was infuriating, and made him feel all of thirteen years old.
Chapter 2: Riding the Fence - Part One
Dean took a deep cleansing breath, straightened his back and held his head high as he approached the shop on his too-short crutches. He was expecting a tongue lashing from Bobby and was prepared to meet it head on. After all, he’d asked for a minute and had taken more than twenty and that just wasn’t acceptable in Dean’s book.
But Bobby didn’t give Dean a hard time. The boy walked in and was greeted with a genuine, ‘Glad you could join me,’ and handed a clipboard with a few simple tasks printed out on invoices in Bobby’s block style writing.
“Everything you need; parts, tools, all of it is on that wall,” Bobby instructed pointing to the inner wall of the shop. “You get these done, call the owners. Use the shop phone. I’ll be in and out, but you need somethin’, holler. Alright?” He didn’t wait for an answer, probably because he knew he wouldn’t get one. Instead he just cuffed Dean lightly on the shoulder before he turned, leaving the young man to it.
It wasn’t as though this was Dean’s first time in Bobby’s shop. He’d been in there plenty over the years, working on the Impala with his father, but this was official, Dean realized. Bobby was assigning him work and responsibility and was expecting results. It was an attempt at keeping Dean’s hands busy and his mind occupied and he was grateful for the effort; however, a few small-time jobs weren’t going to hold Dean’s attention for long. Replacing a few sparkplugs and changing out an air filter was old hat for a young man who had worked beside his father since before he’d been able to read.
John - who was meticulous in the care of his ’67 Impala - had instilled the same thorough attention to detail in Dean, teaching his son everything there was to know about cars. He’d also ingrained the notion of taking your aggressions out in your work, which explained why Dean had quickly stripped out the socket in one of Bobby’s wrenches.
Five cars into the day and working on a particularly care-worn Buick, Dean came across a nut that just wouldn’t be loosened. On the fourth crank, the wrench had slipped and Dean, who was standing on one foot, was caught off balance and propelled forward, catching himself on the headers but not before gouging his right arm painfully on a metal hose clamp. Dean clasped his arm, biting back the cry of pain and frustration; the worthless wrench dropping down through the engine compartment, landing useless and forgotten on the dirt floor beneath the car.
He spun around, knocking into his crutches and toppling them over and out of reach, then hobbled over to the workbench and snatched up a rag, dabbing at the blood trailing down his forearm and applying pressure to stem the bleeding. He scanned the workspace for something to cover the wound, finally deciding to make a makeshift bandage out of blue shop paper towels and a roll of black electrical tape.
And this is how Bobby found him, stripped down to his t-shirt, sweating profusely from the early summer heat and the exertion; frustrated beyond belief by the awkwardness of using his left arm to spool black tape around his right arm multiple times and attempting to tear it off with his teeth. At twenty, Dean was still a skinny kid and without the trademark over shirt to camouflage this fact, Bobby was reminded of how young the boy really was. He stood in the doorway, silently observing, having decided that his interference would not be well received. Until Dean cried out angrily; the bandage having slipped and fallen from the wound for a third time. He whipped the roll of tape across the room where it bounced harmlessly off the side window of the accursed Buick that had started the whole thing. Bobby was in front of Dean so quickly and quietly that it startled the young man into momentary silence.
“Here, let me help,” Bobby offered. The request was gentle, with just a hint of ‘don’t argue with me, boy’. Moving in closer, Bobby took a hold of Dean just above the elbow and directed him carefully backwards onto a stack of car tires and then he began to peel away the paper towels and twisted up, useless tape.
“Don’t need help.” A low growl emanated from within Dean’s chest as he tried to pull out of the older hunter’s firm grasp, but Bobby wasn’t having it.
“I know you don’t, Son,” his voice, soothing and full of understanding, “Just…humor an old man, will ya? That’s a nasty cut you got goin’.” Bobby lifted the boy’s wrist skyward so that he could get a better look at the jagged tear across the lightly freckled skin of Dean’s forearm. He frowned. “Looks like you’ve got a bit of grime in it too. Whadya use to clean it up, a shop rag?”
“I know what the fuck I’m doing,” Dean defended angrily, and again he tried to pull out of Bobby’s strong grip, but Bobby was too fast. He grabbed both of Dean‘s wrists tightly, tweaking them upwards just enough to put a bit of stress on the young man’s wrist and elbow joints and held him there until he had Dean’s full attention.
“You listen to me, boy and you listen good!” the sharp bite of Bobby’s words and his booming voice were reminiscent of John’s bulldog bark. “I ain’t gonna have you cussin’ and pitchin’ a bitch at me, I won’t stand for it! So this is gonna go one of two ways. You can either sit here, like a sensible adult, and let me get this cleaned and bandaged properly, or you can act like a brat, get mad at me and tear out of here on your gimp leg. Course it’ll end the same either way, cuz I’ll follow you out, knock your ass into the dirt and sit on you while I take care of that arm, if that’s what it takes. It all boils down to how much humiliation you’re willing to withstand today.”
Dean gaped at him. He was shocked by Bobby’s no bullshit threat and taken aback by the man’s anger and raised voice.
On the whole, Bobby didn’t often find the need to raise his voice with either him or Sam. Sure, over the years, there had been the rare occasion for Bobby to get after them, but those incidents had been few and far between. Like the time when Sam had snuck out in the early morning only to return with a bucket of big, juicy night crawlers which he’d promptly emptied into Dean’s bed…while Dean was fast asleep inside it. And the time, shortly after, when Dean had cuffed Sam to the basement steps, making him all kinds of horrid promises about what nasty creatures were waiting down there for their supper. It was payback for the night crawlers, Dean had explained later, on the verge of tears as he’d rubbed at the warm mark left on his eleven year old bottom.
Bobby had rubbed at his own hand, the sting of the swat, minor in comparison to the ache in his heart. He was already regretting having lifted a hand against the boy, but he’d acted on instinct when he’d seen the youngest Winchester shaking with sobs and hyperventilating at the bottom of stairs.
Even now, Dean could remember the earth-shaking bellow, the flash of rage in Bobby’s eyes and the hand that had swung out and connected solidly with Dean’s backside as he’d scurried past and down the stairs to unlock his brother. Bobby had been hot on his heels, spitting mad and cussing a mile a minute, and young Sam had reached out and clung to his brother; half in fright from his own ordeal, and half shielding his older brother from the verbal assault Dean was receiving.
"Dammit, boy! Of all the stupid, irresponsible, hurtful things you could do…to your own brother, no less! What possessed you to do that? What in that idjit head of yours told you that this was a good idea? Your little brother!"
And that had been it; the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It was one thing for Dean to get in trouble for something he’d done. It was another thing entirely for him to get in trouble for something he’d done to Sammy, the little brother he was charged to protect at all costs. Dean couldn’t prevent the tears from finally falling. His arms had snaked around Sam’s slim chest and he’d buried his face in Sam’s coconut scented hair, shaking and sobbing whispers of ‘sorry’ over and over into Sam’s neck.
‘Don’t yell at him, Uncle Bobby,” Sam had defended through tears of his own, his arms protectively wrapped around Dean’s shoulders. At all of seven years old, the slight boy was already a force to be reckoned with when it came to protecting his big brother.
Bobby had sunk down onto the staircase, his heart stuttering inside his chest and his lungs clamping down around the emotion choking him as he looked on these two wonderful little boys, who for all the grief they gave one another, were each other’s entire world.
"Com’ere," he’d said, snagging Dean gently by the arm, pulling him free of his little brother’s stranglehold and into Bobby’s own chest, the boy’s head finding home beneath Bobby’s chin, his breath fast and moist against Bobby’s skin. Bobby had wrapped his arms tightly around the young body, a slow, steady rocking motion building over time as he’d shushed and soothed the boy. "I’m so sorry, kiddo," he’d breathed into Dean’s soft blonde hair.
Dean had shaken his head slightly, burrowing further into Bobby’s hold, his fingers woven tightly into Bobby’s over shirt, searching for something to anchor him.
"Com’ere Sam," Bobby had said, opening his other arm for the younger boy. Sam had approached hesitantly at first, but then, overwhelmed by the need to reconnect with his brother, dove into the hug, clinging to both Bobby and Dean like his life depended on it.
"I love you boys…"
"We love you too, Uncle Bobby," Sam was quick to affection as always and Bobby had fought hard not to openly smile at how easy the kid made everything. He’d pulled Sam up onto his knee and pressed a kiss to the boy’s temple which seemed to completely reconcile things between them. Sam had sighed, snuggling further in and laying his head on Bobby’s shoulder.
Bobby had turned his attention back to Dean, running his broad hand down the back of the boy’s head and then up and down his back.
"Dean…what I did…it was inexcusable and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have spanked you; shouldn’t have yelled. I was upset about Sam, but that doesn’t excuse it. It just should never have happened and I’m real sorry, kiddo."
"I’m sorry too," Dean had replied quietly, lifting his tear streaked face from Bobby’s chest. The sight had broken Bobby more than he’d already been and he nearly burst into tears himself.
"For what?" Bobby had said in surprise, wiping at loose tears on Dean’s heavily freckled face with his thumb.
"I didn’t mean to make you mad. You were worried about Sammy. I’m sorry, Sammy.” Green eyes bright and brimming again with tears, he’d reached out blindly for his brother, arms wrapping around the younger boy’s neck, squeezing the life out of him, babbling things like: ‘look out for Sammy’ and ‘my job’ and ‘Dad trusted me’.
"Easy there, son." Bobby had pried some airspace between the boys, giving Sam a chance to breathe at which point Dean had turned and buried himself again into Bobby’s chest.
It was hard being a pre-teen boy, especially one who was being raised to bury his fear and emotions. Not that John was wrong in teaching his boys to be disciplined in this way. It would be life or death important for them to keep their heads while on the job, but Bobby would be damned if he was going to force these boys to be that way while in his home, away from the job. As far as he was concerned, when they were with him, they were ordinary boys, meant to get dirty, meant for playing cowboys and Indians in the dusty salvage lot. No matter how hard John Winchester tried to make them men before their time, Bobby worked doubly hard to keep them children. And if John didn’t notice Bobby’s efforts, all the better. What he didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt him.
"Sam, could you do me a favor? Go upstairs; clear upstairs to the bathroom and fetch me the box of Kleenex there. Would you do that for me?"
"Yessir," Sam had answered assuredly in his high falsetto. He jumped down from Bobby’s lap and climbed, hand over hand up the dirty basement steps. Watching him go Bobby had set a mental reminder to have him wash up good before supper.
Once the young boy was out of ear shot, Bobby had turned back to Dean. He’d laid a kiss to the crown of Dean’s head, the sun kissed hair tickling his lips and nose. He’d squeezed the boy in a hug once and then pushed him back to better see him.
"I know I don’t deserve it after what just happened, but…" Bobby had paused to release a slow concentrated breath. He’d looked down into Dean’s attentive eyes and seen a grown man staring back at him. In that moment, Bobby’s mind had been made up. "I need you to trust me, Dean."
Dean’s brow had furled in confusion and for a brief moment… panic. "Why? What’s the matter?"
"Nothing’s the matter. Don’t get worked up. I just wanted to talk to you…alone, before Sam came back."
"Okay? Is it about…" Dean had looked around him, like he thought someone might be listening in and then leaned in to whisper, "hunting?"
"No. It’s about you…and Sam." Bobby could see the worry building, so before Dean could begin the barrage of questions, Bobby had plowed on, "Your daddy trusts you with a real big responsibility, lookin’ out for Sam and you do a damn fine job at it. But while you’re here, I need you to trust me. Trust me to do that job for you. At least for a little while. That’s all you gotta do, is trust me. Think you can do that? Trust me?"
"To watch out for Sammy?"
"Because," Bobby had paused, trying to quickly decided how to best word his answer so as to gain the boy’s agreement. "Because you only get to be a kid once, but you’re a brother for the rest of your life. So, whadya say? Do we have a deal?"
Dean’s eyebrows had shot up and he’d given Bobby a wary look. "Dad says deals are bad news," he’d said very seriously.
"He’s not wrong, but this one will be okay. So, whadya say? Do you trust me?"
"I trust you, Uncle Bobby."
"Good boy. So…how’s your butt doin?"
"My butt is fine," Dean had answered smartly. "Dad spanks harder than that in his sleep," he scoffed.
Clearly he’d already gotten over the initial shock and heartbreak. Bobby, however, would never live that moment down.
Looking at Dean now, nine years later and seeing that same pained look of betrayal, Bobby’s heart almost gave up beating. But he pulled himself together, settling his nerves and letting go of Dean’s wrists.
“What? You don’t trust me anymore?”
The response was instantaneous. Dean’s entire body relaxed, his face going slack until the mere hint of a smile played across his lips.
“I trust you.”
“Alright then,” Bobby smiled back, “let’s get this cleaned and bandaged proper-like. Cuz, I don’t know about you, but I’m famished.” He knew he’d cottoned onto an idea Dean would whole-heartedly agree to. Hell, he could practically hear Dean’s stomach answer for him, although…
“I could eat,” was Dean’s aloof response.
Rolling his eyes, Bobby shook his head and went to the first cabinet on the left. He pulled down an average looking red toolbox and placed it on the floor beside Dean, then grabbing a bucket to sit on, he plopped himself down in front of the young man.
Bobby rotated Dean’s arm so that the wound was facing up at him and took a moment to really examine the tear.
“Hurts like a bitch, don’t it?” he asked. “That’s cuz of the auto lube you got inside it, dummy.”
“Whatever,” Dean replied. “You gonna fix me up or we gonna sit here chattin’ about your choice in lube?”
Bobby tilted his head back and laughed loudly, the bark of it, reverberating around the room. “Please!” he said laughing, “Let’s don’t pretend that you know anything about lube.”
“What I know, could fill a book!” Dean replied in mock bravado.
“Picture books don’t count, boy. You should know that by now.”
Much to Dean’s chagrin, Bobby opened the tool box to reveal a treasure trove of first aid supplies and began attending to the young man’s wound. A few minutes later, it was clean and well bandaged and they were making their way towards Bobby’s truck, Bobby suggesting a little diner inside town since his fridge wasn‘t stocked for a Winchester boy‘s appetite.
“You wanna drive?”
"Uh. Maybe you didn't notice this big block of plastic they call a boot attached to my foot."
"I noticed, smart ass," Bobby answered gruffly, "Didn't figure you for one of those spoiled brats that would use it as an excuse. Guess I was wrong."
“Just give me the damned keys already,” Dean growled, half playful, half serious. “And for the record…I don’t make excuses for anything, so fuck you.”
“I’ll try to remember that,” Bobby answered stiffly. He snapped the set of keys firmly into Dean’s awaiting hand and reached up with his free hand to cuff the kid, hard, in the back of the head. “And don’t cuss at me, boy, cuz I ain’t your brother and I ain’t a kid or some dick you don’t know. I let you get away with a lotta things, but bein’ disrespectful ain’t one of ‘em.” Where Dean had been playing, Bobby was all serious and Dean could tell immediately.
“I-I didn’t mean… I’m sorry.” With a blush creeping up his neck, Dean did his best to look properly chastised and cast his eyes down and away from Bobby. He didn’t know what had made him cuss at Bobby just then. He certainly hadn’t meant it. It had been a knee-jerk reaction to the teasing. A reaction that he’d been unable to control much like his attitude for most of that morning; all of which would never have been tolerated if his father had been around.
There was an unwritten law in the Winchester family, a rule book if you will, of what was mutually acceptable in terms of cursing in and around and toward one another. And although Bobby had never been given the ‘handbook’, it was obvious to Dean that he was well aware of it. And ‘fuck’ was most certainly off limits except in extreme cases and never to be used on each other. That’s just the way it was.
“S’alright, son,” Bobby assured, setting a firm hand on Dean’s shoulder & squaring up with him. “From here on out, we’re gonna mutually respect one another. Okay?”
“Yessir,” Dean replied apologetically.
When Bobby was satisfied that they were once again on the same wave length, he clapped Dean on the shoulders and gave a resounding, “Okay, then. Let’s get rollin’.”
It took a bit of maneuvering, but after a few minutes, Dean was able to climb his way into the tall cab behind the wheel. Bobby tossed the set of crutches into the truck bed and climbed in on the passenger side. Glancing across the bench seat, he was taken aback by how much the younger Winchester reminded him of John.
His hands were wrapped tightly around the steering wheel, his shoulders drawn up with tension, but it was his eyes that told Bobby everything that he needed to know.
“You have driven a stick before, right, Kid?”
“Um…yeah,” Dean stammered, unsure, not letting his stiff grip on the wheel go. “Couple summers ago, Sam and I stayed a couple of months with Pastor Jim while Dad was down in Texas somewhere, huntin’ a pack of Chupacabra. Pastor Jim had that old Ford Bronco he let me run around in. It’s a stick, or…at least it was.”
“I busted the fly wheel,” he chuckled nervously, “…twice.”
“Maybe you better let me drive.”
“What? You don’t trust me anymore?” Dean echoed Bobby’s earlier statement with a bit more of his usual jocularity. Bobby chuckled and settled down in the seat, resting his head against the headrest.
But then when Dean didn’t immediately turn the engine over, Bobby cast him a glance, frowning when he noticed that just like that, Dean had once again gone into a weird, melancholy headspace.
Pulling himself up, Bobby eased his arm over the back of the bench seat, lightly resting the tips of his fingers along the top of Dean’s shoulders. He couldn’t stop himself when he reached up the nape of Dean’s neck and gave the longer-than-normal hairs there, an affectionate tug, just like he’d always done when the boys were growing up.
Unlike when he was growing up, however, Dean didn’t flinch at all at the hair pull. He just turned stormy, questioning eyes on Bobby.
“Dean, you and I, we made a deal a long time ago, right?” Dean nodded solemnly, his eyes falling down into his lap. “Alright, then. So that deal goes both ways. You trust me…and I…trust you. Ya hear me? No matter what…we trust each other.”
“I do. I trust you, Bobby.” The younger man’s voice cracked ever so slightly.
“That’s good, kiddo. We’re gonna work this out…” Bobby paused, letting the statement hang there for Dean to fill in his own blanks. Bobby turned in his seat to face Dean, pulling his knee up onto the bench seat between them. He leaned over and gripped Dean’s shoulder just like John would do, grounding the boy; keeping him from floating away in his spinning thoughts. “Whatever it is you’re thinkin’; whatever is rolling around in that mixed up head of yours…” He tapped Dean lightly in the temple, “we’ll get it figured out. Okay?”
Bobby sounded so sure. Dean’s mind was racing with questions and echoed voices, but Bobby sounded sure and somewhere in the back of Dean’s mind, that was enough. He swallowed hard and nodded once firmly before meeting Bobby’s eyes.
Dean couldn’t help but smile just a bit when the older man gave him an acknowledging wink.
“I’m sorry. I know you didn’t sign up for this. ”
“Ah, kid, there’s no sign up for who ya care about. It can’t be helped. You and your brother…you’re like the kids I never wanted. Now…can we stow the love fest and get a move on? I’m starvin’ here.”
Chapter 3: Riding the Fence - Part 3
Somewhere between a grin and a grimace, Bobby smiled; glad to see the proof that the casual ‘I could eat’ response had been a complete bluff. Dean was shoveling food in faster than was humanly advisable, not bothering to clear his mouthful when he brought the large glass of milk to his lips and washed it all down in one big gulp. Even while he was doing that, the twenty year old boy was reaching for the ketchup and mustard again, reloading his plate with the condiments. Bobby didn’t say anything to stop him, just watched in abject horror as fry after fry was dipped into the stomach turning combo and then stuffed unceremoniously into his gaping maw.
When he came up for air a short while later, Dean found Bobby watching him with wide eyes and a slack expression. Immediately on the defensive, he swiped at his chin and then scanned his clothes for what he assumed would be a grease stain or a glob of ketchup, but he found nothing.
“How does he do it?”
“D‘wha?” Dean asked around a mouth full of his burger.
“Afford to feed you? I’ve never understood how you could put it away like you do. You must have hollow legs. Your brother too. Don’t think I haven’t noticed the six inches that kid has grown in the last year. Is that all you two do on the road is hunt and eat?”
“Well…” Dean said with a devilish grin and an ornery lilt to his voice, “that’s not all I do.”
Bobby rolled his eyes, “Never mind. I don’t wanna know what you get up to.” He tipped his head back to look over his shoulder and called out to the striking dark blonde behind the counter where she was scratching away at a crossword puzzle. “Josey, honey, could I bother you for a slice of pie for my nephew here?”
Dean’s head shot up, one lone eyebrow peaked, reaching high up his forehead, positive that he’d misheard Bobby.
“Sure, Bobby,” she answered, flashing him a smile. She spun on a dime, her long caramel colored curls swaying across the center of her back, but before sauntering away, she looked over her shoulder and gave Bobby a long, deliberate wink.
Dean leaned across the table. “Honey?” Dean whispered conspiratorially. Bobby pointedly ignored the comment choosing instead to watch Josey’s hips sashay toward the kitchen.
Dean turned to follow Bobby’s line of sight and watch her as well. “Oh…well…” The young man got a little starry-eyed for a moment, his head tilting to the side to take in the well put together figure of the waitress. He cleared his throat and sat back down in his chair, running a hand down his chest, subconsciously straightening his shirt. “She’s pretty hot. If she was a bit younger…”
“Kid, you finish that statement and I’ll put your ass in a sling.”
“Aw, Bobby. Do you have a crush?” Dean asked, grinning broadly.
Any threatening remark that Bobby had been about to make was put to rest the moment Josey reappeared in the doorway.
“Sweetie, do you want ice cream on this?” she called to Dean.
“No, ma’am. Just a bit of whipped cream if you have it.”
The second she ducked down behind the counter to retrieve the whipped topping, Dean whipped his head around to Bobby, grinning like a fool.
“She called me sweetie,” he teased.
“She calls everybody sweetie, ya idjit,” Bobby growled.
“Here ya go!” she sang, carrying a perfectly warmed slice of today’s special with a dollop of Cool Whip on top. Dean’s eyes lit up.
“Is that…p-peach?” his voice breaking, he could hardly contain the excitement. Before she could even set the plate down, he had his fork in hand and was making for the flaky dessert.
“Sure is, sweetie. Gertie’s Pleasin’ Peach; it’s one of our favorites here.”
Dean could only smile and nod enthusiastically around the forkful, whipped cream dangling precariously from the corner of his mouth.
“Josey, this is Dean, my nephew. He’s gonna be staying with me a few days while his daddy is off workin’.”
“It’s good to meet you, Dean,” she said, leaning in to swipe at the whipped cream on his mouth.
Dean looked up, meeting her warm gaze and for an instant he was overwhelmed by the feeling of ‘mother’. Soft, affectionate, blue-green eyes accompanied by a sincere smile, her face, framed out by thick spiral curls with just the hint of grey now that he could see her up close. She was beautiful and personified every dream Dean had ever had of his own mother had she lived to be the same age.
Swallowing thickly around a large bite of pie, he stammered, “G-good to meet you too, ma’am.”
“Josey,” she corrected. “What’s your daddy do that it takes him away from you?”
“Construction,” Bobby filled in automatically.
“Both of us do,” Dean picked up on the con quickly, “’cept I gotta sit out for a while on doctor’s orders.”
“Well you’re in good hands,” she announced, patting Bobby affectionately on the chest.
“Yes ma’am, I mean…Josey.” He smiled, throwing Bobby a knowing wink and then tucked back into his pie. “My God, this pie is to die for!” he cried with an appreciative ‘mm-mmm’.
Bobby slid a friendly arm around Josey’s back, his hand finding her natural waist. She, in turn, laid her arm across his shoulders and leaned into his side; both of them watching Dean inhale his pie.
“You better keep an eye on this one,” she informed him, smiling down on Bobby warmly. “He’s gonna eat you outta house and home.”
“Don’t I know it. He’ll be here the week and I do believe I’m gonna have to stock up.”
“Well I’m always here if you need a reprieve. It’s not like I charge you for your meals, anyway.”
“True, but I’m an excellent tipper,” he winked at her before sliding his chair back and pulling her down into his lap, his arms encircling her waist.
“Yes, you are,” she answered, her eyes lighting up playfully. Josey‘s voice dipped lower and she leaned in to speak quietly, her breath skating across the shell of his ear. “Are we still on for Friday night?”
Bobby cast a quick glance at Dean. It wouldn’t hurt the kid to be alone for one night.
“I think that can be…arranged. Why? You got something in mind?” he asked teasingly.
“Oh, I’ve got a lot of somethings in mind, so you better eat your Wheaties that morning.”
“Is that a promise?” he growled, pulling her tight against his chest so he could steal a quick kiss.
Josey nodded eagerly. “You better believe it,” she replied, snatching a kiss back from him.
“Come on, man!” Dean whined. “Please stop. I can’t watch this. You’re gonna damage my young psyche or something.”
Josey squeaked, burying her blushing face into Bobby’s shoulder, her body shaking with laughter.
“You’re being a little dramatic, don’t ya think? Besides,” Bobby grinned devilishly, “nobody asked you to watch.”
Dean sat back, resting his head against the grey vinyl headrest of the truck’s bench seat, his eyes closed and hand lying complacently across his full belly. Bobby couldn’t hide the smile or the sense of peace he felt with the boy happy and content beside him. In no hurry to get anywhere, he drove at a languid pace, enjoying the cool breeze through the open window and the warm sun on his arm. If life could stay this way for five days, Bobby would be a very happy man.
“Or I could open my big mouth,” Bobby muttered to himself a moment after Dean’s cell phone rang.
Dean pulled himself upright, removing the phone from his shirt pocket, sparing it a quick glance before taking the call.
Bobby could hear John Winchester’s crisp bark from where he was sitting behind the wheel and the man did not sound happy.
“Where the Hell have you been? I’ve been trying to get you for over an hour?”
“We were in…”
“And what? You can’t pick up the damn phone when I call?”
Dean didn’t bother to argue that his phone had not in fact rung – it would only succeed in getting his butt in further trouble.
“Just cause you’re not on the hunt, doesn’t mean you’re not on the job, Dean. I expected better from you.”
“I need you to run a name down for me, so you call me just as soon as you’re done screwin’ off and can get your ass back to Bobby’s.”
Dean snapped his fingers urgently at Bobby, making the universal sign for pen and paper and tucking the slender phone between his ear and shoulder so that his hands would be free.
Bobby lowered the sun visor above the passenger seat and a small steno pad with a pencil tucked into the spirals fell into Dean’s lap.
“Dad, I‘m ready now, so what’s the name?”
“Gotta new vic, name’s…” John paused for a long moment. “Sammy, what the Hell’s that say?” he growled, “Oh…Karen Randall, d-a-l-l.”
“She’s the third vic in two weeks, killed yesterday morning, 43 yrs old, wife and mother of two. Husband’s name is Steven. Need to know more about them, what the connection is between her and the previous vics. Gotta know why they were singled out.”
“You don’t think this is a simple salt’n burn anymore, do you?”
He didn’t need to hear the answer to know the truth. ‘Dammit, he should be there, helping his family, not stuck here, virtually incapacitated.’
“Won’t know for sure ‘til we get there and we’re still eight hours out, but I can’t go in without up-to-date info, either, so you need to step up.”
“I’m being serious, here, Dean.”
“I know, Dad.”
“This whole thing is escalating out of control and I’m too damn far out to do anything about it, so you call me as soon as you have anything and I mean anything.
“Yessir, I…” the call ended abruptly, “will.” Dean frowned, taking the phone from his ear and giving it a stern look as though the phone had been the reason that his father had hung up without even a parting goodbye. Dean flipped the phone shut and tucked it back into his shirt pocket.
“I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it’s not good news.”
“No,” was Dean’s clipped answer.
Bobby glanced over, finding the kid with his head down, burning a hole into the steno pad with hard eyes. Fantastic. One two-minute call from John Winchester had completely unraveled two hours of positive gain and Bobby was once again looking at a young man who was actively fighting off raw hurt.
The truck slowed and Bobby made a right hand turn up the drive of Singer Salvage, pulling to a stop at the front walk and cutting the engine. Neither hunter moved. Neither hunter spoke. Instead, the cab filled with white noise, the sound of the soft tic-tic-tic of the warm engine, the cool summer breeze moving through the open windows and the nearly silent breathing of the two men.
And then the silence was broken by Dean’s shaky inhale. He exhaled slowly through pursed lips as if he was blowing across the top of his hot morning coffee and without lifting his head, raised his eyes to stare through the windshield at the crystalline blue sky and then out across the road, into the long stretching field beyond.
“I should be out there, ya know?” he stated abruptly, his hand rising to gesture at the open and never ending countryside. “Not stuck behind some desk, pushing papers and answering phone calls.”
“Jesus, here we go,” Bobby groaned, rolling his eyes.
“Cuz no matter what he thinks, I’m not useless.”
“No, you’re not useless.”
“That’s what I said.”
“But he thinks I’m useless.”
“He doesn’t think…”
“I feel useless right now.”
“Dean, you’re not…”
“I know I’m not! God!” Dean’s head thudded harshly against the headrest.
“Are you having some kinda psychotic breakdown?” Dean rolled his head to the side to give Bobby a dirty look worthy of Sammy himself. “I mean, it’s okay if you are. I’d just kinda like to know in advance so as I could hide all the lethal weapons and my best whiskey.”
“I’m not gonna go on a bender,” Dean said, exasperated.
“Okay? So what are you gonna do?”
“I’m gonna do my job.”
“Alright. So get your ass inside and let’s get goin’ on it.”
“Okay!” Dean put his shoulder into the passenger door, knocking it open with a loud metal on metal creek and pop, jumped from the truck landing carefully on one foot, lined himself up with and set off for the front door.
Bobby climbed out of the truck, looking over the side of the box at the abandoned set of crutches.
“Hey, Hop-along! Aren’t you forgettin’ something?”
“No, I’m not,” Dean hollered back and waved a disgruntled hand in the air as he unsteadily climbed the stairs.
Bobby shook his head at the kid’s stubbornness, “Idjit.” He reached into the box to retrieve the crutches and then followed Dean inside.
When he entered the library, Bobby found Dean sitting behind the desk, chin in one hand while the fingers of his other hand tapped out a fast, impatient rhythm on the desktop, his eyes glued to the computer that he’d just fired up.
Bobby wasn’t quite able to pick out the song; something between the William Tell Overture and the long-haired crap that Dean called music.
“My God, this computer takes forever to load!” Dean cried out, smacking his open palm down on the oak with a resounding thwack. “You need a new one,” he growled in Bobby’s direction.
“It is a new one,” Bobby retorted, crossing into the kitchen and from the desk there, he gathered a cordless phone and the notepad on which just this morning John had been scratching out the details of the hunt. He snatched a couple of beers from the fridge and then made his way back to Dean.
“Jesus! Dial up? Really?” Dean looked up, scowling at Bobby, the high pitched whistle and whine of the modem connecting filled the room but only partially covered Dean’s complaint. “Where the Hell’s the DSL?”
“Like I’ve got any clue what you’re bitchin’ about. Your brother set this monstrosity up, so you got a problem…take it up with him.”
Bobby firmly set both bottles on the desk, dropping the notebook and phone there as well, before turning to a low shelf to their left. Kneeling down, he flipped through a series of manila folders until he found the one he was looking for, pulling it free with a quiet ‘aha’. He added the folder to the other items he’d set on the desk before circling around to pull up a chair on the other side.
Dean eyed the stack warily, using a pen to flip the dusty folder open as though it was some horrible thing, too disgusting to touch with his bare hands.
“What is all this?”
“This,” Bobby said, stretching over the desk to slide the open folder his direction, “my young man, is how us old dogs do research.”
It wasn’t until Bobby reached for the phone, that Dean finally noticed the beer sitting in front of him. He lifted one in each hand, examining them with a wry smile and then looked to Bobby, asking, “Didn’t you get one for yourself?”
“Haha, smartass,” Bobby groused, snatching one of the bottles from Dean’s hand, twisting the cap free and taking a deep swig. He set the bottle aside, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand and went back to the job at hand, dialing and then pressing the receiver to his ear waiting for the connection to be made.
Dean watched him in mild curiosity, frowning when Bobby spoke into the phone.
“Yeah, I need the number for the Colorado Springs Gazette.”
“What are you up to?” Dean tried to ask, but Bobby cut him off with the raise of his hand and then began scrawling out the numbers he was getting from information.
“One more please, The Colorado Springs Police Department. Thank you.”
“Okay…so what was that all about?” Dean asked when Bobby had hung up the phone.
Bobby cocked his head to the side in confusion. “Research, son. You have done research before, haven’t you?”
“Well yeah,” Dean replied feeling slightly defensive. He had done research. He and Sammy had become fairly proficient with a Yahoo search – something their father hadn’t become familiar with yet - and had spent hours upon hours searching microfiche and local history books in libraries. It was probably his least favorite job but one that he still accepted willingly; anything to help.
Beyond that, Dean’s role in the business had been one of action and inventory. Weapons must be kept clean, ammunition, stocked and loaded, the med kit which had once been his duty, now belonged to Sammy. And of course he was his Dad’s right-hand man on a hunt. At least he liked to think of himself as such. Although more often than not, John had other hunters to fill that role - adults with more experience and a lot more know-how than Dean – like Travis, who was no nonsense like John, or Caleb, who although being not much older than Dean, was a weapons specialist and could procure anything at the drop of a hat, and Martin, the guy who John had said saved his ass more times than he was willing to count. There were others too; guys who Dean had never met or whose names he didn’t remember but who still often times ended up being the go-to persons when John was in a jam, choosing strangers over Dean.
Dean tried not to be resentful in those instances, hearing but not fully understanding John’s ‘gotta keep you boys safe’ speech. Dean was just as capable as anyone else. More so, because he had youth, speed and stamina on his side, but none of that seemed to matter to John. To John, all that was important was being able to trust his partner and not have to keep an eye on him – the one thing he apparently wasn’t able to do with Dean.
“Hello?” Bobby snapped his fingers in front of Dean’s face making the young man startle. “Ya with me, boy?”
“What? Yeah,” Dean stumbled, shaking the cobwebs from his head. “I’m sorry, what d’ya say?”
As the day wore thin, Bobby watched as slowly but surely, Dean became immersed in his work. Together they had used aliases that Bobby had devised to make phone calls to contacts, following each lead out to the end and jotting down all the details no matter how small. Occasionally a fax would come in and Bobby would take it off the machine, bringing it to Dean to sort. And once the computer had fully booted, Dean had used the search engines to gather local history and show Bobby how he could utilize the dusty machine for his own research. Bobby had shaken his head, making a grumbled comment about Sam and his big ideas. Long after the summer sun had set, the pair was still working the leads, building a web of information that Bobby pinned to the wall in a collage of photographs and data strung together by yarn. Little by little the facts began to come together like a jigsaw puzzle, one which was still missing that vital piece.
It was well past three in the morning when Dean leaned back in his chair, draining the last of his fourth beer. He stretched, groaning and with a warm, sleepy feeling clouding his head, he had a look around the darkened room wondering briefly how long he‘d been sitting in one spot. He lifted his hands and rubbed them up his face, dipping his knuckles into the corners of his eyes to sweep the crud clear. Maybe a new beer would freshen him up a bit, he thought, climbing out of the chair. When his atrophied body complained, he leaned heavily against the desk. Or maybe he was just tired and needed to get up and stretch; wake himself up a bit. It wasn’t until he stood up completely, that he noticed Bobby on the couch…asleep.
Bobby had tried like Hell to fight it, but eventually sleep had overtaken him, leaving him snoring softly and sprawled out on the sofa, a book of lore lying face down across his chest and his fingers laced together over the leather binding. Taking special care of his injured foot, Dean made his way around the desk and across the room to the sleeping hunter.
Standing above him, Dean looked down and for possibly the first time in his life, he studied the man, who, for the better part of ten years, Dean had known as Uncle. He leaned over and prised the book free of Bobby’s hands; hands that were strong, well-worked and mature. Dean looked down at his own hands, long and slender in his youth and wondered when in life did a man’s hands change? When did they broaden and his grip become hardened with that ‘old man strength’ that his father was fond of displaying while wrestling with him and Sammy? When did they stop being the hands of a boy and become the hands of a man? Dean closed the book, placing it quietly on the desk.
Next he loosened the ties on Bobby’s boots and pulled them off one at a time and again, Dean found himself analyzing. Bobby‘s boots were worn, the leather torn ragged over the toes and the tread worn thin on the instep from years of use. Dean set the boots aside; within reach, but out of the way.
Lastly, he gingerly took the trucker’s cap off Bobby’s head and laid it on the sofa back where Bobby would be sure to find it upon waking. Bobby looked different without his hat. In some ways he looked younger, his hair tousled and curled around his ears like a boy who’d let his hair grow too long, But in other ways, seeing him vulnerable and exposed in his sleep, made Bobby appear much older than his fifty years. Dean found himself sinking down on the edge of the sofa, wanting to shield him from the world.
Until now, Dean had never noticed the hint of gray creeping in around Bobby’s temples. Until that moment, he’d never realized the extent of the recede in Bobby’s hair line. Until just that second, Dean realized, he’d never seen Bobby without the slight trace of sadness around his eyes and mouth, but there it was. Even in his sleep, when he looked as peaceful as Dean had ever seen him, there was still a thin mask of sadness stretched out over his features. Dean wondered what it was that could possibly mark a man in this way.
“That’s a stupid question,” Dean answered himself softly, realizing that every hunter he had ever encountered wore a similar mask. It was a well-known fact that all hunters entered the business for one reason and one reason only - Loss. But as far back as Dean could remember, he wasn’t able to recollect ever hearing Bobby’s reason; his loss. In fact, now that he really thought about it, Dean couldn’t say that he knew much at all about Bobby, other than he was a hunter. He just took it for granted that the one side of Bobby that he knew, was all there was to know about the man, that he didn’t have a life outside of hunting and helping the Winchesters, but of course there had to be…more.
Dean turned away from the sleeping man, suddenly feeling awkward as though he was intruding where he shouldn’t be. Also, there was an odd ache in his chest, a burning feeling, tightening around the inside of his ribcage that threatened to choke off his air. Dean’s chin tilted down into his chest, breathing slow and purposefully. When he looked up, his eyes met the patchwork puzzle of information that he’d been working on all night and briefly he thought how nice it would be to be able to lay out Bobby’s life on the wall like this; to be able to connect the times and dates and places with a bit of red yarn and find a bit of understanding in the puzzle.
Dean’s head tilted to the side, his eyes narrowing in on a convergence of yarn to one side of the wall and suddenly the adrenaline was pumping. He smacked his hand down squarely over top of Bobby’s folded hands, gripping them tight and shaking him awake. Bobby jolted up, on alert immediately and more than a little surprised to find Dean sitting on the edge of the sofa next to him.
“What? What is it? What’s wrong?” he stuttered in shock, still coming out of his sleep.
“Get Dad on the phone,” the boy announced excitedly, grinning from ear to ear, “I’ve got it.”
Chapter 4: Riding the Fence - Part 4
The morning came too soon, the sun rising and waking Bobby even though he’d had only a couple hours sleep. He’d made his way to bed shortly before five a.m. after having called and woken John, debriefed him on Dean’s findings and agreed to speak again in the morning. So when the sun had flooded his room before seven, Bobby had begrudgingly crawled out of bed and made his way down into the kitchen, setting a pot of coffee on.
As the coffee brewed and a pan of bacon heated, Bobby stepped out onto the porch and retrieved his morning paper, stretching his arms wide and taking in the clean, crisp morning air. It was going to be another cool summer day, a good day for work around the salvage yard, another chance to get Dean out and keep him busy and his mind clear of the concerns and worries that seemed to be plaguing him as of late.
The house was filled with a peaceful quiet, especially the library. Always a favorite of Bobby’s, the room was cool and gray, the morning sun filtering in through the curtains, dust clinging to the soft rays of light that edged through and the atmosphere was steeped in the heady scent of old leather bindings, this morning’s coffee, and - if he concentrated real hard - the bitter undertones of whiskey.
In its most important moments, the room was electric with energy, stimulating its occupants into action and planning. But in its best moments, the ones Bobby loved most, it was like this; serene and full of whispers of past voices. Bobby could sit quietly and listen for hours to the history of this old farm house as friends and loved ones and hunters alike, came and went, some of them never to return. He likened it to being haunted (but in a good way) and although some of the memories drove him to drink, most of them were good and he held onto them all like cherished photographs.
Bobby leaned against the doorway, sipping carefully at the steaming hot coffee in his cup, black as night and as strong as the hooch in his cupboard - perfection. He looked across the room at the desk and sofa where he and Dean has spent the better part of twelve hours bent over books and papers, but he didn’t see last night’s Dean; neck deep in research. Instead he saw a tuft of blonde hair sticking straight up from behind the sofa, the boy attached to that hair, edging his way along the length of the furniture. And beneath the desk a pair of size three sneakers were visible, the little toes inside curling under as if the boy wearing them was trying to make himself smaller and invisible.
But big brother knew better; he could hear the stifled giggles that resounded off the oak and even if the little brother was absolutely silent, the older would still recognize the breaths and the very scent of the younger, because that was his purpose in life - Sammy.
In one fluid motion, Dean jumped the sofa, bouncing once from the cushions, landing nimbly on the desktop scattering papers everywhere, sliding sock footed before dropping catlike to the floor with a loud and triumphant ‘Gotcha!’
The echoes of little Sammy squealing in delight bounced around the room, giggles bubbling out of him, hands and feet swinging wildly in an effort to avoid the tickle monster that was attacking. Dean fell backwards on his butt when the heel of Sammy’s little hand landed squarely on Dean’s mouth, but instead of getting upset or crying out in pain, young Dean crowed loudly, laughing and encouraging his little brother. ‘You did good Sammy. You got me.’ The little boy beamed with pride. ‘It’s just too bad the tickle monster doesn’t go down that easy.’
Dean latched onto his little brother, wrapping him up in long arms and legs, his fingers finding all the especially ticklish spots while his lips blew raspberries all down the side of Sammy’s face and neck, the boy screaming in a girly high pitch, panting and gasping for air and begging for a truce until finally neither could continue and they collapsed against each other, Dean pulling Sammy tight against his lean chest, wrapping skinny arms around the younger boy. ‘Love you Sammy.’
And Sammy smiled happily at that, snuggling further into Dean’s hold. They sat that way for a long minute until Sammy happily announced, ‘My turn!’
‘Oh no,’ Dean shouted, dumping his brother unceremoniously from his lap and stumbling to his feet as the chase picked up again and both boys screeched across the room in a fit of screams and giggles that faded as Bobby came back to himself.
He kind of missed having the boys around. It used to be that John would stop on his way through every couple of months. Maybe they’d be there overnight, maybe he’d leave the boys with Bobby for a week while he was gone on a hunt in the northern states. Once, in late ’89, early ’90, Bobby had even managed to hold on to them for nearly a month, when John had been injured on a hunt in Minnesota.
But ever since Sam had grown to the age that John felt was appropriate, both boys had been accompanying their father on hunting trips and their visits had become few and far between. So injured or not, Bobby was glad to have Dean around.
A pop and sizzle shook Bobby from his thoughts. He turned back into the kitchen, crossing to the stove quickly and turning the heat down underneath a pan of bacon, using an eight inch Bowie knife to turn the slices over in the pan. He glanced at the clock; nearly eight. John would be calling shortly and the scent of the bacon should be wafting upstairs by now, sure to rouse Dean. If he timed it just right, Bobby would have breakfast eaten and John handled by nine and then he could get a few things accomplished today.
Just as Bobby reached into the fridge to pull out a carton of eggs, the phone rang. Setting the eggs back on the shelf and closing the fridge, Bobby grabbed up his coffee, the phone and a notepad with all the important details of the night’s discoveries. He pulled out a chair and made himself comfy before answering the phone.
Their conversation was formal - direct to business as John always seemed to need to be - Bobby relaying names and numbers, events and the dates of said events and how each correlated or conflicted with other events. Dozens of what had at first appeared to be miniscule facts, once combined became enormous clues flashing like neon signs, all pointed at only one possible outcome. It was all very impressive and Bobby was sure to vocally display his pride in John’s eldest son.
John however did not return the sentiment. He kept trudging along through the business end of their phone meeting, not wavering in the least to ask how Dean was feeling or pass on any information on how Sammy had handled the long drive without Dean’s companionship to keep him company. It all left Bobby feeling strangely on edge.
“I’m headed down to the station this morning,” John stated matter-of-factly. “I figure I better get the back-story you used on the cops. Don’t wanna arouse susp…”
“Dean used,” Bobby interrupted, correcting him, that edgy feeling controlling his tongue.
“The back-story…which Dean used. He did all the work.”
“Dean? Don’t you think that’s a little risky? I mean, Hell, Bobby, Dean’s barely stopped squeakin’ when he talks. He’s not ready to be taking the lead like that.”
“For cryin’ out loud,” Bobby groaned, clutching the phone a little tighter in an attempt control the irritation itching just beneath the surface. “Ready or not, Dean does what he needs to do, John; anything to make his ole man see him for what he is.”
“Oh? And what’s that? You think you know my kid so well, you tell me. What is it that I’m supposed to see?”
“For starters? A grown man!” Bobby’s bellow echoed through the house and he slammed his mug down on the table, rising to pace across to the stove, shoving the forgotten pan to the back burner to smoke and cutting off the heat to the burner. Balls! There goes breakfast, he thought, closing his eyes. He pulled in a breath, trying to regain some semblance of composure and when he spoke again, he voice did sound a bit calmer.
“John, he ain’t some little fourteen year old kid anymore. He’s an adult and it’s about time you realized that and maybe start utilizing the skills he has, putting that natural charisma he’s got to use.”
John snorted into the receiver. “Charisma. His charisma is what gets him in trouble eighty percent of the time.”
“Dean is real good with people and he did a damn fine job yesterday. That‘s something you can be proud of,” Bobby soothed, pulling on John’s fatherly instincts.
“Yeah? Well, that may be the case, Bobby, but there‘s been enough times as of late that have caused me to question Dean‘s judgment. Maybe it‘s a phase he‘s going through or maybe, I don‘t know, maybe it‘s a girl thing. But no matter what he‘s got going on in that thick skull of his, it‘s gonna have to sit sidecar to the bigger picture. Surely you can understand that.
“Of course I do, John. All I’m saying is that it wouldn’t hurt for you to say thanks once in a while.”
“Thanks, Bobby. No really, thank you. Without all of this, I’d have been hours behind schedule. So…Thank you. I appreciate this.”
“You can thank your boy. He did all the work. Let me holler at…”
“No. That’s okay. You’ll thank him for me.”
“John, not for nothing, but over the last twenty-four hours that kid has busted his balls for you, just so he can feel like he’s contributing. Not to mention all the work he’s done for me. And you can’t be bothered to give him a proper thank you?”
“Dean knows that I…”
“Trust me, he doesn’t,” Bobby interrupted, “Is there a reason that you’re avoidin’ that boy?”
“I’m not. What the Hell is this, ‘I know your kid better than you do’ day? Why don’t you mind your own damned business?”
“He is my business! You don’t just get to drop those boys off and not expect me to make them my business. That’s just not possible. You’ve got the sweetest, hardest working set of boys that I’ve known…”
“I know what I got, Singer! And I don’t need you to tell me. So if we’re done with this little lecture…” and with that, John abruptly hung up.
Staring down at the receiver in his hand, Bobby was startled by the quiet shift in the floor boards behind him. He spun around to find Dean standing there, leaning against the pocket-door doorframe, arms hugging his waist, eyes burning a hole in the floor.
"Damn, you're getting stealthy on that boot."
"That was Dad, wasn't it?"
"How much did you hear?"
"He said to tell you thank you."
"No he didn't." Dean pushed off the doorframe and stepped into the kitchen, stopping briefly to lay a hand on Bobby's shoulder, giving it a quick squeeze. "Thanks anyway, Bobby," he said with a smile that didn't reach his eyes.
Bobby closed his eyes, trying desperately to block out the hurt look in Dean’s eyes and harder yet to control the surge of anger he felt towards John for having put that look in the kid’s eyes. He sighed deeply and resigned himself to salvaging what was left of the morning. But before he could even turn around to address the issue…
“Aww, Bobby. You fixed me breakfast,” Even in his sleepy husk, Dean’s voice was light and teasing.
“Well,I…I was going to,” Bobby stammered, rubbing a hand up and down the length of his neck bashfully, “til your daddy called and distracted me. I’m afraid that bacon is burnt beyond recognition.”
“But that’s just how I like it,” Dean grinned. “You got eggs to go with this bacon?”
Bobby smiled, knowing that Dean had fixed on the same plan that he’d come up with - Pretend like nothing was wrong and move on. If Dean could do it, Bobby could too.
“Yeah, kid. They’re in the fridge,” Bobby made a beeline for the refrigerator, trying to cut Dean off at the pass, “but here, you let me do that. No use you putting any more stress on that foot. Take a seat and I’ll…”
“Bobby, stop.” Dean placed a firm hand to the older hunter’s chest, effectively stopping him in his tracks. “I got this. You go take a seat. I can fix breakfast. It’s not gonna hurt me one bit, Hell I’ve been doing it for years. You go…sit. Take your coffee with you,” he said, motioning towards Bobby’s cooling cup on the counter, “read your paper, go…do…whatever it is you do in the morning. I’ll corral the eggs for us.
Raising his hands in surrender, Bobby did as he was instructed. He topped off his coffee before sitting back down to his morning paper. While Dean was busy frying their eggs up in the leftover bacon grease, Bobby couldn’t help but watch him. He looked up from behind the newspaper, tucking the corner down to take in the disheveled appearance of the young man before him, his eyes crinkling in amusement.
Dean hobbled unsteadily around the kitchen, wearing only his walking boot, a pair of too big pajama pants that probably belonged to John, and the brass amulet that had hung around his neck for years; a token of love and trust from one brother to another.
Bobby had been surprised the first time he’d seen the necklace on Dean considering the present had been intended for John. But upon thinking it over, he had come to the conclusion that it was always meant to go to Dean.
Sam had been too young at the time to understand, but Bobby knew, even then, that the bond between those boys would be the thing to hold their family together. And maybe, just maybe, it was Dean, who, in the end would come to need the protection offered by the amulet. More so than John, because John had Dean to watch his back. Sam, too, had Dean watching over him.
Who had Dean had at the time? A father, who was so obsessed with revenge that he worked himself to the bone, staying gone for days and weeks at a time, and when he did come up for air, drank himself into a stupor to numb the pain. And an eight year old brother, who until that Christmas Eve, knew nothing whatsoever about the world they really lived in. No, the amulet was definitely meant for Dean. Bobby was sure of it.
Yawning deeply, Dean made his way to the coffee pot, pulling a mug out of the sink, eyeing it suspiciously before pouring himself a cup, then taking a prescription bottle from his pocket, he popped it open and flushed a non-descript white pill down his throat with a deep swill of coffee.
Giving him a good once over, Bobby asked, “You sleep alright?”
“Slept fine ‘til my leg started throbbing.” But then Dean caught the concerned look on Bobby’s face and waved him off, “It’s alright; no big deal.”
“Did I overwork ya yesterday?”
“Maybe a little, but I’m fine. Nothing a little hydrocodone can’t fix.” Dean’s mouth turned up into the smallest of smiles and he shook the pill bottle before stuffing it down into the pocket of his baggy sleep pants.
Another long drink of coffee and his cup was drained; Dean grabbed up the near empty carafe of coffee, filled his cup and raised the pot in Bobby’s direction. The older hunter nodded his approval, so Dean hobbled over and topped off Bobby’s cup as well before setting the empty carafe on the table. He then went back to the stove for the food, plating up a couple eggs for each of them and the nearly burnt bacon, bringing the plates to table as well.
Dean grasped a chair and turned it around, straddling it, careful not to bump his foot, and dropped into the seat. He looped his long slender arms around the back of the chair and hugged it to his bare chest. “So, what’s on the agenda today?”
"I'm glad you asked." Bobby said, taking up his fork and digging into his eggs. "I was wondering if you could do me a...special favor."
"Of course," Dean answered with a self-assured smile that was a welcome improvement over the previous day’s attitude. “Whatever you got, I’m all over it. Just say the word.”
“Alright. You know the place down the road?”
“The yellow house?” Dean asked curiously.
“That’s the one. Belongs to Mrs. Gertrude Thomas and I could really use your help over there.”
When the look of curiosity turned to confusion, Bobby plunged on, “She’s got a yard that needs mowing?”
Dean’s head bobbed up and down a few times in understanding before Bobby’s words had a chance to sink in and then he stopped abruptly; his jaw jutting forward, lips pursing in contemplation. After rolling the words around in his head for a second, he leveled a confused frown at Bobby, “I don’t get it. What’s the punch line?”
“No punch line. Need you to take the mower down to her house and mow her lawn. And do a good job. She’s particular about the trimming.”
“But I thought…” The boy’s voice dropped an octave lower, the edges of his speech painted with disappointment. “You know. I thought I was gonna be helping you - working a job or something.”
“You are helping me.”
Dean’s mouth twitched like he wanted to voice an argument, but Bobby didn’t give him the chance.
“Mrs. Thomas...well, she’s been my neighbor since shortly after I bought this place. And in all that time, she ain’t had but one family member come to see her. Me and the young couple down the road a piece; we do what we can. She’s a sweet ole gal and deserves a lot better than I can offer, but it’s important to me to see that she’s taken care of, you understand. Now under normal circumstances, I’d go down there myself but I’ve got about a hundred things that need taking care of this morning if possible. So, can I count on you to help me out?”
Bobby waited until finally the young man gave him an acknowledging nod, and then continued, "Thanks, Kiddo."
They ate for a while in companionable silence until Bobby spoke again, "Don't go tellin' no one, but it's kinda nice havin’ you around here."
Dean raised an eyebrow, quirking a smile around his fork.
Dean approached the front door cautiously not wanting to frighten Mrs. Thomas; a strange man coming to her door. Of course that idea was a little ridiculous, because who would be frightened of a barely out of his teens boy on crutches rockin’ the John Deere green and yellow of Bobby’s ancient riding lawnmower. Yep, he was scary looking alright.
He raised his hand to knock on the door with its peeling paint, cracked caulking and loose window panes from years of neglect. But before he could bring his closed fist down to rap on the wood, it was yanked open, startling him, as a little bit of nothing with spirited eyes stepped out on to the front stoop in front of him.
“You’re Bobby’s boy.”
It wasn’t a question, more of an affirmation. Dean could tell when he leaned back to get a good look at her that there would be no questioning with this one. She might have the stature of every little old lady he’d even seen, but this was most definitely a smoke screen. Easily in her early seventies, Mrs. Gertrude Thomas had the presence of a woman half her age.
She wore blue jeans, of the too blue nature, rolled and tucked at the ankle where he could just make out the tint of skin toned stockings over her toes which were tucked into a new, red pair of Keds. Her brilliant silver locks, perfectly curled, were pulled up and held in place by a red bandana tied at the crown of her head. And finally she wore what Dean assumed had once been a man’s dress shirt, but which, over time, had seen many years of use. The blue shirt was two sizes too big, so she had the sleeves rolled up to her little round biceps and the bottom of the shirt was tied into a knot at her waist.
In fact, now that Dean thought about it, he was strangely reminded of the babe on the ‘We Can Do It’ posters from World War II - just…fifty years older. And on that note, he was mortified, blushing furiously.
“You are Bobby’s boy, right?”
“Yes. I’m Bobby’s…or uh…I mean…Bobby sent me over,” he answered, tripping over his words in his embarrassment.
She looked at him, gauging and looking him over the same way he’d done to her and when, after a few long seconds, she didn’t say anything, Dean set his crutches aside and stuck his hand out for her to shake and after a moment she accepted it.
“Dean, ma’am. Dean Winchester. I’m Bobby’s nephew,” the lie slipping easily from his lips.
“Gertrude Thomas,” she said giving his hand a warm squeeze, “but you may call me Gert. Let me show you want I need to have done.”
She took a hold of his arm, which Dean accepted with a grace that he didn‘t know he was even capable of. Bending his arm at the elbow for her, he placed his opposite hand over her top of her smaller one and leaving his crutches behind, very carefully stepped down from the stoop and escorted Gertrude out into the yard where she showed him around the small property.
Gertrude - Gert as she insistently demanded he call her - was a talker. They spent most of the morning strolling around the half acreage, her showing him what yard work she needed done and speaking animatedly about the garden she had growing behind the house while investigating what she might be able to persuade him into taking home. She laughed openly when noticing the uncomfortable curl of his lip when she mentioned vegetables.
“Fruit then,” she encouraged. They wandered toward the little grove of trees surrounding the land. She pointed out the peaches that were just ripening and the cherry tree that was stripped bare.
“Damned birds cleaned me out,” she growled, scowling up into the trees, “but thanks to my scatter gun I was able to fend them off long enough to get a few quarts. Little bastards.”
Dean could only nod his agreement while biting down hard on the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing at the image floating around in his head of this feisty little woman, with a gun as tall as her settled on her hip, firing into the sky.
When Gert began spouting off about fresh rhubarb and the strawberries she’d frozen earlier in the season so she could continue to bake throughout the winter, Dean stopped dead in his tracks. Gert turned back to look at him.
“You make pies?” he asked, his voice trembling ever so slightly.
“Yes,” she answered, drawing the word out, her concern growing when the young man appeared to grow pale right before her eyes.
“You…you’re Gertie? As in Gertie’s Pleasin’ Peach?”
“The one and only,” she smiled brightly.
Dean swept forward, a smile stretching wider with each un-even step. He took her hands in his and his chest expanded; his lungs filling with air. There was no stopping him. Not even the inkling of thought in his head begging him to stop could hold him back when he blurted out awkwardly, “Mrs. Gertrude Thomas, I think I love you.”
“Oh my,” she breathed, pulling a hand free and resting it against her suddenly pink cheek.
“You didn’t tell me she made pies!”
The exuberant young man who returned later that afternoon was beyond what Bobby had hoped for. He practically leapt off the lawn mower, bounding up the front steps like a puppy, as much as a puppy could bound when hobbled up with a walking boot and crutches.
“So she fed you? Good. Means I don’t have to fix you lunch.”
“Oh yeah, she fed me.” Dean’s eyes widened, sparkling with delight and there was no hiding the grin that stretched across his face. “Gert - that’s what she wants me to call her - Gert had a plate full of pork roast waiting for me. Roasted potatoes and carrots and onions and oh my God, I’m hungry again, just thinkin’ about it. It was the best home cooked meal in…I-I can’t ever remember having a meal like that before…ever!”
Bobby smirked, leaning against the door frame. He knew before sending Dean over there, that Gert would feed his boy well. It’s what she lived for; being able to cook and bake for others, as he well knew, being the recipient of many a home cooked meal.
They’d been neighbors for what seemed like forever, but it wasn’t until after Bobby was widowed that he’d come to know the motherly woman down the road. A widow herself with no children of her own, she’d pulled into his lot one day with a low tire, a pan of lasagna and an ear to bend. And just like that, they‘d come to an agreement. He’d do little odd jobs for her like mowing her lawn or clearing her drive of snow, and she’d repay the favor by spoiling him with her cooking.
And spoil she did. Casseroles, cookies, pies, nothing was too much for her ‘sweet boy’ as she was fond of calling Bobby. He’d blush and shrug off the affectionate nickname before bowing down to place a peck on the cheek of the now seventy-one year old.
“She asked me to come back tomorrow. That is, if you can spare me for a while. Says there’s a few more things that could be done. Told me she’d bake me a cherry pie. Mmm, cherry pie.” Dean sighed happily. “This woman is out to win my heart.”
“That’s sweet, kid, but she’s about fifty years too old for you.” Bobby teased. “So, Gert’s got more work for ya? Oh, she could find you work for days, but what’s your daddy gonna say when he comes back to find you’ve put on fifty pounds?”
Leaning back against the porch column, Dean thought that over for a moment, finally shrugging at the very real possibility of weight gain under Gert’s watchful eye.
“Nah, kid. That’s fine by me,” Bobby added with a grin.
Chapter 5: Riding the Fence -Part 5
Over the next few days, Dean settled into a routine: breakfast with Bobby, mornings at Gert’s, afternoons doing odd jobs around the salvage yard, supper at the diner and old western movies at night. It was almost comfortable.
In the mornings, it was eggs, toast and coffee over the morning paper and if Dean just happened to find something that was job worthy, well it was only to be expected. After all, it’s not like he could turn the hunter’s instinct off. Not to mention that Bobby was a sneaky bastard. If Dean had ever bothered to ask him, the older hunter would have freely admitted to honing the boy’s research skills by purposefully handing him sections of the paper in which he knew there would be jobs found.
For each job found, Bobby would make a case file, tearing the report from the paper and attaching it to a manila folder along with any notes he deemed appropriate, after which he would sort and file them according to importance and who he thought could take care of the situation the best. On those occasions in which it was determined especially urgent, Bobby would immediately call in a favor from whatever hunter was in the closest proximity to that location.
Dean had asked Bobby once about the hunters he knew and Bobby’s only reply had been to grunt unhappily and change the subject. Yet despite Bobby’s surly attitude, Dean had a sense of the close network of men and sometimes even women who were all woven around Bobby like a web. When Dean was around the house, it was impossible to ignore the goings on. Bobby spent a vast majority of his day on the phone, passing on information to this one, bailing that one out of trouble, providing well needed research to another. Maybe these hunters didn’t all know each other, but the common denominator was that they all knew Bobby. Not only that, but Bobby seemed to be the center, the core of that web, important and necessary. Remove the core and the rest would tear apart in the wind. It made Dean’s chest ache with what he could only attribute as pride and it made Dean want to work that much harder; to give Bobby a reason to be proud in return.
After breakfast Dean would make himself presentable and drive the half mile down to Gert’s house where she would employ him for the entirety of the morning. She discovered fairly quickly that he could be quite handy with a hammer and nails and set about making a list of odd jobs. Mid-morning, she would bring him a glass of sun tea and they’d find a shady spot where he could take a break and they could talk.
Gert had quickly pegged Dean as a young man who’d never had a problem talking to women. Pretty college girls, middle-aged diner waitresses, Gert bet he had them all eating out of his hand. She also bet that he’d never met a woman quite like her before. She was an older woman, had seen a lot in her time, and she wasn’t easily swayed by charm and good looks. Dean Winchester had both in spades, but what appealed to Gert about him was the integrity of his character. He was a good person, she was sure of it. An honest, hardworking, young man, he lived for his family, and he felt better about himself when he was able to help others. Those were admirable traits in any adult; in a man as young as Dean, they were remarkable.
Each day, the ever-inquisitive Gert would carefully probe Dean for details of his life, always aware of the invisible boundary that lay around the boy. For the most part, Dean spoke freely with her about life on the road with his father and brother. She never got a clear picture of why they needed to live such a nomadic existence, and even though she assumed there was something shady about it, she never judged him for his lifestyle. Gert prided herself on being a good judge of character and Dean Winchester may have been a little rough around the edges, he may have been used to living on his wits and operating in shades of gray, but he was an honorable young man none-the-less and Gert liked him. On his third morning with her, she ventured further than she’d dare gone before and asked him in tender tones where his mother was.
Dean took hold of his tea glass with both hands, desperate to anchor himself to something, his thumbs rubbing absentmindedly across the rim of the clear glass, the condensation gathering and trickling down the side and landing like tears in his criss-crossed lap. He swallowed hard and his head tipped forward to stare down at the small, round splotch of water spreading outward on his knee. He tried not to jump when Gert’s soft hand covered that spot.
“We don’t have to talk about it,” she said in an equally soft voice.
Dean’s eyebrows drew tight at the center of his forehead, pulling the smallest hint of age lines around his eyes and for a moment Dean was lost somewhere between childhood and old age. She patted his knee accepting his answer and made to pull herself up from the ground where they were sitting in the shade.
But before she could rise, Dean’s cool damp hand encircled her wrist.
“No, we can talk about her,” he said quietly.
When he did look up and met her concerned gaze, his eyes were heavy with sadness, his lower lip sucked into his mouth where his teeth worried the tender flesh. Once again, she placed a comforting hand on him and that one gesture seemed to greatly soothe Dean’s raw emotion.
“I’d like to,” he added, a slight smile adorning his features. “tell you about my mom.”
There was no further work done that day. They spent the rest of their time together sharing stories, and Gert was saddened but not surprised to hear of the fire that had robbed Dean of his mom when he was just four years old. Not surprised at all in fact, because that little boy who so desperately missed his mother was quite visible beneath the tough exterior that Dean tried so hard to maintain. Still, not all their stories were sad and heartbreaking. Once they got started, Dean and Gert had lots to share, not only about Mary Winchester but also about Mr. Thomas, Gert’s late husband, but where Gert’s stories were vivid memories, Dean’s stories were snippets of a life only remembered through his father’s words. Even so, they were no less important and when Gert had pulled Dean into a hug, expressing her appreciation for sharing his mother with her, Dean was surprised to find himself sinking into the warm embrace, not remembering the last time he’d been on the receiving end of a full-on hug by anyone other than his brother. He was even more surprised to find that this was exactly what he seemed to need most.
After lunch with Gert, Dean would return to the salvage yard, collect his work list from Bobby and get started straight away. His afternoons would be filled with service work, the occasional research job, but more often than not, Dean spent his time perfecting his shot with a bow set he’d found neglected in Bobby’s basement, setting up targets of varying sizes and distances.
John, a marksman in his service to his country, had been sure to train his boys in the many tools of their trade, each of them becoming marksmen in their own right. John had taken care to focus their interests and hone their abilities on the weapons that each boy excelled at. For Sam it had been knives; either in close combat or at a distance, Sam was deadly accurate with any blade in John’s extensive arsenal. Dean, John was proud to say, had a superiorly accurate eye. Any weapon he took into his hand, made him lethal, not to mention more than a little scary.
But an archery bow was not something Dean had picked up in a long time, probably not since he was a young teenager and through the practice, Dean found himself rejuvenated and feeling like a little kid again. It was the almost playful times like these that made Dean think of Sam and wonder how his little brother was getting along on his first one-on-one hunt with their father. He hadn’t heard a thing from them since Tuesday morning when Bobby had last spoke with John. Dean just hoped everything was going alright.
Late Thursday afternoon, Bobby met him out on Dean’s make-shift archery range, a sheet of notebook paper in hand.
“I’ve got a job for you, if you’re interested.”
Dean released the bow string, its arrow flying straight and true even without Dean’s full attention and connected solidly with a spoiled apple that Gert had sent home with him to use as he saw fit. Dean lowered the bow and turned to face the older hunter, definitely interested in whatever he had to offer.
“Yup. Had a hunter friend of mine, by the name of Telly, call a little while ago. He’s makin’ an emergency run into Minnesota and is running low on salt rounds with no time to stock up. So, I need you to run into town for me. Think you can handle that?”
“Course, Bobby.” Dean scoffed as though the older hunter had just asked him if he could tie his shoes.
“Alright.” Bobby pressed the bit of notebook paper into Dean’s hand. On it was scrawled out in Bobby’s block-style hand writing, a list of instructions. “Clive Poole is a friend, owns the sporting goods store just inside of town. He already knows you’re coming. There’ll be a case of shell casings waitin’ for you. But tell him I also need this,” Bobby pointed at the note, “I need a six to eight inch silver blade. I lent my spare out and it hasn’t come home yet. Can’t afford to loan out my good knife. Never know when I might need it. ‘Kay, here’s the address, got all that?”
“Yeah, S’not hard. I was hoping you’d have something a little more challenging for me today.”
“Oh, believe me, it’ll be a challenge. We’ve got about three hours to get all those shells loaded and packed before Telly gets here. So you need to get movin’. Don’t dilly dally, got it?”
“Here, take the Chevelle,” Bobby added, tossing the keys off to the kid.
“Really? Cool. I mean, not as cool as my baby, but…”
“Yeah, yeah. Get going all ready. We can drag race later.”
Dean wasted no time, burning up the poorly paved road between Bobby’s and the small business district that lay just inside town. Sure there were other places in Sioux Falls, better places even, but this small section of the city was as close to true small town living as one could get. Everyone knew everyone and of course that meant they knew everyone’s business. So it came as no surprise to Dean when he walked into the small, outdated sporting goods store, that he was greeted not only by name, but like a long lost friend.
“You must be Dean, good to meet you. How was the drive in? Your Uncle Bobby said you were trussed up a bit, but you don’t look too worse for wear.”
Dean reeled momentarily at the flurry of speech, but only for a moment. Then he rolled into the well-practiced groove of working a stranger. He extended a cordial hand and a sincere smile, his eyes alert and watching; getting a read on the man in front of him.
“You must be Clive. So…you’re a friend of Uncle Bobby. What’s that like?”
Clive Poole was an entire head shorter than the six foot – and still growing – twenty year old. He was a wiry man, slender yet wide in the shoulders with an iron grip that surprised Dean.
The man smiled, his wide mouth framed by the flare of an auburn and orange mustache and set off by wild grey eyes. Dean could see the live wire within, the zest for life and an eye for trouble. Clive was the perfect Yang to Bobby’s Yin.
Clive’s bark of a laugh brought Dean out of his head space.
“I could tell you stories about your uncle,” Clive exclaimed, slapping a hand to his knee. Honest to God, slapped his knee. Dean’s mouth turned up at the corner, struggling to hide the grin in response to the joyful, simplicity of the gesture.
“There was the one time,” Clive choked over his own excitement, pausing to come to grips. He put a hand to the back of Dean’s arm, directing him toward the rear of the store. They could walk and talk at the same time. Good man, Dean thought, keeping us moving.
“Your Uncle Bobby had this pickup,” Clive continued, pushing through a swinging door into the back room, “an old Ford, nothing fancy, but he had a six inch lift on it, just for shits and giggles, you see.”
Clive stopped at a long utility table, flipped open a box cutter and split the packaging tape to reveal a case of boxes full of 12 gauge shell casings. He nodded with satisfaction and closed the box up, all the while still talking away.
“There was this night when he and I and our bud, Ted, took that ole truck out to the River. We lit us a fire out on the sand and cracked a few beers or twelve.”
Clive turned and led Dean back toward the front of the store, stopping to relay the climax of his story. “But about halfway through the second case, Bobby gets this grand plan. He jumps in his truck and comes tearing down the hill toward the river,” the man’s hand soared through the air, representing the Bobby’s decent down into the river. “Planned to ford across it like Louis and Clark or something. Woulda worked too,” he nodded excitably but then switched and shook his head with just as much vigor, “if it hadn’t rained three inches that morning. The trucked splashed into the river, parting it like the Red Sea, rooster tails of water flying up from behind.”
Dean was getting dizzy just watching Bobby’s friend tell the tall tale, but he did his best to keep up.
“It was an amazing sight, until the water came crashing down and flooded into the engine compartment, blowing a head gasket. Your uncle climbed out the window of that truck and into the box and spent the next five minutes entertaining us, cussing to beat the devil. Threw his hat down and everything. Took us the rest of the night, walkin’ across half the county to get Ted’s tractor to haul his ass outta that mud. Had a helluva time explaining to all our wives why we were soaking wet & walking in at dawn. But it was worth it. Best damned night.”
Clive set the large box down on the front counter. “Anything else?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah. I need this.” Dean handed the request for a silver knife over to Clive, who nodded.
“Mira, write all this up for me, will ya? And put it in Bobby Singer’s file. I‘ll be right back.”
Dean’s head spun around to the honey voice belonging to the college-aged girl working behind the front counter. He’d been so distracted by the “Adventures of Bobby and Clive” that he’d failed to notice her. But now that he had, he was kicking himself for not seeing her sooner.
Mira. Rolling the name mentally over his tongue, Dean smiled. He liked that name and from what he could see, he liked this girl.
Mira was Athena personified, a lean, athletic build, poised and graceful in her posture with long golden curls gathered loosely at the neck and trailing down her back. She was beautiful in an effortless way and worldly confident. And she was smiling at him.
Dean couldn’t help the boyish grin and uncharacteristic stammer as he introduced himself.
“I-I’m uh, Dean.” He leaned towards the counter in what he had intended to be a calculated come-on move, but forgot about the crutches, and lurched forward falling hard against the counter, groaning inwardly at the Freshmen mistake.
Mira reached out and caught him by the arms, pushing him upright.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Dean answered, nonchalantly, “I’m fine.”
The soft, sympathetic look she gave him had Dean scrambling for damage control.
“I’m usually much cooler than this,” he blurted out before his mouth could slam shut.
“Of course you are,” Mira reassured, her voice soft, sweet and a touch patronizing. She might as well have patted him lightly on the head, like a puppy.
“Here’s your copy of the invoice.” And with that she turned away and returned to the inventory form she’d been working on at the back counter.
Confused by the not-so-subtle brush off, Dean blinked, wondering what had just happened. She’d shot him down before he’d even had a chance. No opportunity to give her the trademark smile that had won him hearts all over the country. No chance to purse his lips suggestively before the hint of a wink. Not even a moment to catch a glimpse down the open V of her Poole Sporting Goods polo. Even now, Dean was so distracted by her quick dismissal, that he couldn’t properly admire the long legs and back bent over the opposite counter. He blinked again, his pout forming into a full on frown.
“Thank you,” he replied a little too loudly and with the appropriate amount of sarcasm.
“You’re welcome,” she answered with a wave over her shoulder.
He puffed out a quiet ‘huh’ of disbelief and was about to say something more, when Clive returned, holding a small oak clamshell case in his hand.
“Here we go,” he announced, presenting Dean with the box.
The young hunter snapped the case open and let loose a low whistle of amazement. Inside the case, beneath a leather security strap, was a long and tempered blade. It was solid silver, tip to grip, with decorative etchings and trim up the entire length. It was a formidable weapon in the right hands and an expensive one from the looks of it. Not something that Dean could picture Bobby purchasing and definitely not something you’d get at even your higher scale sporting goods stores, let alone a small Mom and Pop store like Poole’s.
“Wow, that was a fast transition, Kid.” Clive laughed.
“I‘m sorry, what?”
“You went from impressed to apprehensive in about point four-five seconds.”
When Dean’s pinched expression didn’t ease, Clive tried to soothe the worry, “I know what you’re thinking, but you don’t need to worry. This isn’t gonna break his bank. Bobby and I have this…arrangement. He saved my life and I requisition special pieces when he needs them. I’ve had this particular Facon on hand for some time.”
“It’s Argentine and very old. Had to call in a few favors to get it, but that’s what ya gotta do to get authentic silver blades. Come on, let’s get you loaded up. Bobby’ll be lookin’ for you if he’s not already.”
Clive lifted the box of shells and followed Dean out to the car, placing them into the passenger seat. He closed the door and leaned in the window as Dean maneuvered himself into the driver’s seat.
Dean slid the keys into the ignition and was about to turn the engine over, but a thought stopped him.
“You said Bobby saved your life. How?”
“That, my young man, is a story better left for another day. Specifically a day well doused in whiskey,” he grinned, patting the interior of the door in farewell. “You tell that uncle of yours, that I’ll be out to see him yet this week.”
Clive ducked out of the window and smacked the roof just as the engine roared to life. Dean lifted a hand, saluting out the windshield and backed out and made his way out of town.
Bobby was indeed waiting when Dean pulled in the drive. Coming down the front walk, the older man's long gait and quick pace was a stern reminder that this was most certainly an experienced hunter and just as capable of break neck speed as Dean's father, who was just five years his junior.
"Took you so long?" he hollered, crossing to the passenger side. Bobby didn't even bother with the door; he just reached through the open window to claim the case of empty shells.
"Well. Don't just sit there," he growled. Not waiting for Dean, Bobby headed for the house with Dean fast on his heels, doing his best to keep up with the fifty year old.
The front room, which Bobby off-handedly referred to as his library, was laid out with all the tools necessary to pack 200 plus shells. His desk had been cleared and an antique-looking reloader set up in the center along with materials needed. Bobby dropped the case of shells unceremoniously onto the desk with a hollow bang and pulled up a chair.
Dean hobbled into the room behind him, drawing the knife case out of his jacket pocket and setting it down on the desk in front of Bobby, who pushed it aside to make room for the box of hulls he pulled out of the case.
Dean settled into a chair across the desk and joined the older hunter in unloading the box. And so began the well-oiled machine of loading the rock salt shells. They did so without speaking, working in a fast-paced yet precise give and take; Bobby setting the primer, powder and wad, while Dean loaded the rock salt load, crimping the hull and stacking the completed shell to be reboxed for transport.
Bobby paused after the sixth box to check his watch. They were making good time. From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of the narrow oak knife case and reached out for it.
Upon inspection, Bobby huffed a derisive snort and rolled his eyes, muttering beneath his breath and snapping the case closed. He glanced up and caught Dean watching him, his young hands working on auto pilot. Bobby huffed again and went back to work, still feeling the warmth of Dean’s ever alert eyes on him.
“You been friends with Clive a long time, huh?”
“A while,” was the curt answer.
Sucking his lower lip in between his teeth, Dean leaned in to survey Bobby’s reaction and clipped reply but backed off quickly when Bobby glowered up at him.
“You got a real question in there? Or do you just think I’m pretty?”
The brisk bark sparked a second’s panic within Dean, but with as much composure as he could muster, Dean leaned back into his chair, sliding into a cocky confidence, his fingers locking together behind his head, “Pshh, Bobby, I think you’re downright adorable.”
The older man’s mouth twitched minutely, fighting the internal battle between annoyance and amusement.
“More work, less flirting.”
Dean couldn’t contain the grin as he leaned back into his work. Bobby, too, went back to tamping the wad down into the hull with a hint of a smile hidden beneath his facial hair. And although he hadn’t really answered Dean’s question, Dean figured he was probably better off letting the subject die…for now.
They worked in companionable silence for ten minutes or so until Bobby noticed the subtle movement on the other side of the desk. At first it was a shift in his seat followed by a soft intake of breath and a long sigh. Then came the shoulder roll and finally the cracking of knuckles. Had it been a solitary occurrence, Bobby might have been able to ignore it, but when he when he looked up, he found the young man squirming in his seat.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“Nuthin’” Dean muttered.
“Your leg botherin’ you? You need more meds?”
“Nah. I’m good.”
“Then knock off the damn fidgeting. You’re giving me a complex,” Bobby growled.
Swallowing down the comment he’d been about to voice, Dean subconsciously held his breath. From beneath the bill of his hat, Bobby watched, knowing instinctively that there was more to come. He’d been around the boy too many years not to recognize the nervous energy building to a climax. It started around his mouth; a twitch of his lips to one side leading to the gasped inhale when Dean’s lungs finally gave in. “It’s too quiet in here. Don’t you think it’s too quiet in here?”
“No! Not with you prattling on. Seriously, are you hopped up on something?”
“No!” Dean defended. “It’s just…all this quiet. It’s driving me nuts. Gives me too much room to think.”
Bobby rolled his eyes.
Dean was silent a moment and then he met Bobby’s eyes, a deep-seated anxiety evident in his own.
“D’ya think he’s alright? Sam, I mean. It’s a big job for a kid his age. Maybe Dad shoulda waited until my leg was better.”
“And let more folk get hurt? No Dean, John’s doing the right thing here. Sam’s well trained, brought up in the life, and he’s smart. He can do this. Besides, you were doin’ tougher jobs than this with your old man when you were years younger than Sam.”
Far from calming Dean down, Bobby’s words of wisdom seemed to get him wound up even tighter.
“But Sam’s always had me watching his back on a hunt,” Dean said urgently, leaning anxiously towards Bobby, “He doesn’t understand how focused Dad gets, doesn’t know what it’s like to have no-one watching your back, looking out for you. Dad just zeros in on the monster, he-”
Dean broke off as Bobby pushed his chair abruptly back from the desk and stood up. Nearly frozen in anxiety, Dean watched Bobby walk into the kitchen and retrieve one of the many phones from the wall. Bobby dialed and waited quietly for the connect, keeping a watchful eye on the young man who continued to twitch in his seat.
“Well hello to you too,” Bobby said in response to the terse greeting he received from the other end of the line.
The concern in Dean ratcheted up a notch and his heart was suddenly hammering in his chest. Dean would recognize that voice on the other end of the phone anywhere. Bobby had called his father on him. Shitshitshit. A flurry of irrational fears raced through Dean’s head, the greatest of which was that Bobby didn’t want his whiney ass here anymore and was going to send him away. Wouldn’t blame him. Just give me a car and I’ll go, he thought.
As if Bobby could read his mind, Dean suddenly found the man standing beside him, with a warm hand on his shoulder, holding him firmly in place.
“No, everything’s fine, John. Just wondered if I could talk at your youngest for a bit.”
Dean sat as still as he possibly could, confused by what was going on around him.
“Heya kiddo…no, no, he’s fine…here, he wants to talk to you.”
The phone slid down into Dean’s line of vision and it was all he could do not to snatch at it like a wild animal. But once in his hand, he gripped it like a lifeline and secured it with two hands to his ear.
The deep sigh that escaped the boy was cleansing, both for him and for Bobby and all the tension seemed to drain from the room as a slew of words came pouring from the young man. Dean clambered out of the chair, hobbling out of the room to the staircase, where he perched, talking a mile a minute, only pausing to breathe and to let his little brother speak.
Back at his desk, Bobby picked up the slack for the both of them, smiling quietly as he watched Dean reassure himself that his baby brother was doing okay. Bobby had never been a parent, but playing uncle to the Winchesters had given him some insight into what it was like, and it was as plain to Bobby as the nose on his face that Dean was just as much a parent to Sam as John was, and had been since the age of four. Watching out for Sam had been Dean’s job, his whole life; more than that, it was kind of who he was. Sitting safe at Bobby’s while Sam risked his life on a hunt went against every fiber in Dean’s being. No wonder he couldn’t sit still in his own skin.
Bobby smiled again and watched Dean listening to his brother, his calm, confident demeanor firmly back in place.
When Dean slipped back into his seat some ten minutes later he was much more relaxed.
“Thanks Bobby,” he said.
“Think we can get a move on with this now? Telly’ll be here soon and we ain’t near done.”
“No problem.” Dean reached for a shell case, his trademark cocky smirk lighting up his face, “Lemme show you how it’s done, old man!”
Bobby raised his eyebrows.
“Think your ass can sit through this without wriggling now? Cuz if it can’t, it’s gonna meet my boot!”
Dean sighed. “It annoys the hell outta Dad and Sam too. They can focus on this boring shit. Me…,” he sighed again, “Can we at least put some music on?”
“Sure. I got me some Kenny Rogers LPs somewhere. You wanna put one on?”
The look of horror on Dean’s face was truly a sight to behold.
“Forget it,” he muttered, “I’ll just hum.”
Chapter 6: Riding the Fence - Part 6
Bobby’s cell phone rang early Friday morning and although he was standing within reach of it, he was hesitant to answer, recognizing the ring tone that Dean, himself, had programmed for that particular caller.
Originally, Bobby had balked at the idea of even a cordless phone, but had since come to rely on them. Portable, they made research on the fly much easier. He’d even spent the extra coin to get the fancier 900 megahertz version so that he could carry the phone out to the shop with him.
At the time, the boys had both laughed, Dean teasing, ‘Bobby, you’re on the verge of the 21st Century. You’re only one step away from getting a cell phone.’
‘What’s a cell phone?’ had been Bobby’s reply, erupting Sam and Dean into a fit of teenage giggles and mocking howls. John had pushed them out of the room, unable to hide his own smirk when Bobby repeated, ‘What’s a cell phone?!’
It had been another five years before Bobby finally caved into the boys’ argument and allowed them to take him into Walmart to purchase his first pre-paid cell phone. ‘Strictly for during hunts,’ he’d said. Three days later he’d used that same cell to call and tear into two teenage boys when he’d received a slew of text messages. It had taken him fifteen minutes to figure out why his phone was beeping at him, another fifteen to access the text and just seconds to realize the boys were sending dirty jokes to him using their Daddy’s phone. Dean laughed it off, citing that Pastor Jim had thought the jokes were hysterical.
After nearly five years of working out of his home, Bobby’s kitchen wall was lined with cordless phones and his cell phone was never far away. It seemed that even a semi-retired hunter needed to be technologically savvy and current with the times and Bobby was proud of himself for that. That was until Sam had arrived one weekend and began drilling Bobby about the importance of computers and something called the internet. Damn kids anyhow.
Hesitantly, Bobby lifted the phone and sure enough, John’s alias flashed like a warning across the screen at him. After a brief internal argument and a deep resolute sigh, Bobby answered the phone.
“Singer,” he answered in an even tone attempting to sound as neutral as possible.
The eldest Winchester sounded absolutely exhausted, his speech loose and sleepy and maybe just a bit sad. Briefly Bobby considered asking when it had been that John had last slept, but then he thought better of it, knowing that John would not appreciate the mother hen routine. Instead, Bobby pretended not to notice.
“What can I do for ya, John?”
“M’kid. How’s he?”
Well that did it. There was no use in Bobby pretending that he didn’t hear the slurred speech and know exactly what was going on. He might as well get it out in the open.
“John? You been drinkin’?”
“Maybe,” was John’s almost child-like answer.
“Well, you sound ‘bout three towns past maybe. So what, you’re just rollin’ in from an all-nighter?”
On the other end of the line, John huffed out non-committal response, but Bobby heard ‘yes’ loud and clear.
“Jesus, John. It’s almost noon. Where’s Sam?”
“Out. Got mad at me for not comin’ home. Bobby, d‘you think I’m outta control?”
Bobby sighed, realizing that John really was in a bad way. For as tough a man as John appeared, a great majority of it was for show. Buried beneath all the hard ass, Marine, ‘cram it with walnuts’ bullshit that John used as armor was a soft underbelly of grief, worry and self-doubt. And just like any man, alcohol had a way of bringing all John’s demons to the front, the worst of them being that a drunken John was a talkative, emotionally messy John.
“No, wait,” John interrupted, his voice panicky, “I got somethin’ I gotta ask ya. Sorry…I. You just gotta. You understand what I mean?”
“I might, if you actually spoke in complete sentences.”
“What about Dean?”
“I need you to…you gotta look out for him for me.”
“I’m not letting him run wild if that’s what you mean.”
“No, s’not what I mean. I mean you have to look out for him. I don’t do such a good job a’that. Since Mary…I dunno, I just kinda forgot ‘bout him. He was just a lil boy, ya know? An I put this…impossible…heavy…thing on him, and I didn’t mean to, I just forgot that he was just a baby himself.”
When the babble paused, Bobby waited patiently; listening to the deep breaths formed around the lip of the beer bottle that he knew John was draining. He didn’t have to wait long, because all too soon, John swallowed hard and gasped a deep breath and was off again.
“He does such a good job, Bobby, at…everything. I never gotta worry ‘bout anything, long as I got Dean there taking care of it; all the lil things I forget all the time. ‘Cept I don’t have him now, do I? Cuz I forgot him. Again!” The last word was punctuated with the tell-tale smack of fist against drywall; just one more thing for Sam to have to clean up when he finally did come back to their motel room.
“Sammy’s right,” John conceded, sadly, “I am outta control. I forgot him, forgot ‘em both, but Dean’s the one who got hurt and it’s my fault. I got this tunnel vision thing and I just get so…focused on the bad guy that I don’t see m’boys. And they’re right there! Growin’ up on me and I’m missin’ it. And I don’ give either of ‘em the credit they deserve. They’re so smart, Bobby, so smart. Sammy’s book smart, like a lil professor or something. That’s what Dean calls him; Professor. And Dean…He didn’t need the books. S’like he looks at the world and it just opens up for him and spills out all its secrets. Bobby, he’s gonna be twice the hunter I could ever hope to be. The best. No thanks to me.”
“No, John. It’s no secret that we don’t see eye to eye on a lot of stuff, yer boys included. But I’ll never fault you for doin’ what you had to do to raise them up. That’s a big, scary crap shoot out there and you gave them the tools to survive it. Dean got hurt, sure, but it ain’t your fault. He’s not a little boy any more. He’s a grown man.”
“I know he’s a grown man, Bobby. But it’s my job to protect him; protect Sammy and I’m failing miserably at it.”
“Teaching them to be responsible for themselves, for each other…that’s not failure, John. That’s parenting. Even I know that. I ain’t never had boys of my own, but if I had…I’d pray they were like yours.”
Dean limped around the front of the old Buick Century and lifted the handle on the passenger door, opening it. He reached down to place a steadying hand beneath Gert’s elbow and helped her to step free of the car and up onto the curb.
“I’ll just be a little bit,” she instructed, tucking her purse beneath her arm, “Would you like me to pick up anything special?”
He didn’t hesitate, just batted his eyelashes at her, smiled sweetly and said, “Chocolate milk?”
“Anything for you, my sweet boy,” she answered, patting his cheek where the faintest shadow of hair was growing at full speed.
Dean closed the car door, leaning back against it to wait while Gert went into the grocery store to pick up a few staples. Arms crossed over his chest, his booted foot crossed lazily over his right ankle, Dean smiled contently letting his head roll back to soak in the warm sun, the light burning bright spots into the retinas hidden behind closed eyelids.
“This is your car?”
Dean’s eyes snapped open and then instantly slammed shut, squinting and watering in the too harsh light. He shaded his vision with his hand and sought out the owner of taunting voice. Slowly his vision cleared.
She stood directly in front of him – Mira, he remembered – looking sassy with one hand on her hip, the other hanging loosely to her side, her fingertips brushing bare skin beneath the hem of shorts much too short for the likes of someone as sophisticated as she had first appeared to him.
Gone was the goddess-like stance that had made him stammer like a teenage boy. Gone were the perfect curls, tied neatly at her neckline. Gone was the indifferent attitude that he’d attributed to her snooty college sorority. What was left was long, supremely tanned legs framed perfectly in short shorts, tank top exposing way too much midriff, begging to be touched, just enough cleavage to peak interest, curly golden hair tied messily on top of her head and a spark of interest in her mahogany eyes that hadn’t been there before.
In fact…Dean was fairly sure she was checking him out too, looking him up and down in all his casual, ‘I don’t give a fuck’ leaned back attitude. Maybe it was the beard growth coming in or the way his freckles lit up across sun-kissed skin or maybe it was the way he looked in torn up work jeans that fit too snugly in the seat and a tight black t-shirt that he was fairly sure belonged to Sammy. Whatever it was, the heat of her gaze had him itching in his skin and the tips of his ears tinging pink because he didn’t want someone reading something into his stance that he hadn’t purposefully put there himself; especially if that someone was the same girl who just a day ago wouldn’t give him the time of day.
“Is this your car?” she repeated, “Dean, right? I’m surprised. I just assumed that with as cool as you claimed to be, that you’d be driving something better than a…what is this? An ‘89 Century?”
He nodded, still not having said a word, more because he didn’t trust his own voice not to crack under her stare, not because he didn’t have anything to say. Oh, he had plenty to say. He just wasn’t entirely sure whether it would be good or bad. But he didn’t need to worry, because as luck would have it, Gert was a quick shopper and was back, leading the store clerk with an arm full of groceries out to her car.
Dean pushed away from the car, thrusting bodily into Mira’s space, startling her and making her pretty face flame at his closeness. With a three inch height advantage, he looked down into her brown eyes that were growing darker by the second and he smiled, his lip curling up in what was no way intended to be a warm smile.
“No,” he said quietly, his voice bottoming out, “it’s not my car and you should never make assumptions about me. You’ll be wrong. Every time.”
He turned and grabbed the handle, opening the car door once again, offering his hand to help Gert down into her seat, bending down to give her a quick kiss to the cheek when she stopped in front of him. Once Gert was safely inside, Dean closed the door and then directed the clerk to place the grocery bags in the back seat before turning back to the now gaping Mira. Only God knew what she was thinking but judging by the look on her face, Dean would bet a hundred that she’d be replaying this scene in her head all day long; Dean and his Sugar Mama. He couldn’t stop the low chuckle that escaped his chest. It was out of character for him to play a dick to a pretty girl, but turnabout was fair play.
“Good talking to you again,” he said brightly, with just a barest hint of sarcasm. With a polite yet somehow still condescending wave, he circled the vehicle.
“Yes!” she agreed, eagerly waving back at him as he climbed in behind the steering wheel and without another look, pulled away.
“A friend of yours?” Gert asked once they were on the road.
Dean cast a surprised glance in her direction and caught sight of the sly smile that she was hiding behind her hand.
“Something like that,” he answered, attempting for nonchalant.
Carefully, Gert turned in her seat, pulling her leg up onto the bench, her back against the door, her side into the seat back with her arm draped over the top. She did these things often and normally they would seem out of character for someone her age, but then again, Gert didn’t exactly act her age. She had the mind and the attitude of a twenty year old, the instinct of a mother in her prime and the wisdom and experience of seventy-one long years on this earth. She was an enigma, a beautiful and loving puzzle that everyone who knew her had tried at one time or another to work out and whom Dean was fairly certain he never would.
“She’s very pretty,” Gert noted.
“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”
Gert reached across the seat and playfully pushed into the shoulder, knocking him sideways.
“Dean, shame on you. Don’t you know you should never bullshit a bullshitter?”
“Gert!” he exclaimed, laughing, “Watch your language young lady or you’ll get paddled.”
“Promises, promises.” she replied and then laughed openly when Dean gasped in shock and the car swerved just a bit.
They drove silently for a few blocks, she watching him and he trying either to process or repress Gert’s bold, teasing statement.
But try as he might, Dean kept coming back to the blonde girl teasing him from the sidewalk.
“She was pretty hot, right?” he finally asked, not ashamed to talk openly in this way with Gert.
Gert nodded and then leaned into the seat further, resting her chin in her hand to look at him, thoughtfully.
“Are you going to see her again?”
Dean chewed that over for a moment and then answered, “Doubt it. Dad’ll be back tomorrow and I’ve got a list of things to do before he does.”
“What things?” Gert asked in mock-outrage, “What’s more important than pretty girls to a young man? Tell me. What’s this list of things to do before your family comes for you?”
“Well, there’s fixing your front door for one.” Dean looked straight ahead, both hands on the wheel, afraid that if he glanced at Gert, his resistance would crumble, because Lord knew, Gert could be persuasive.
“Nonsense. That door is perfectly fine.”
“It’s not. You have a ten mile an hour draft going through the window alone not to mention that horrible paint job.”
“Bobby painted that door,” she defended.
“When?! In the 60’s? It needs to be done again, Gert,” he barked, leaving no room for further argument.
Dean did glance at her then and was impressed to see that the authority voice that he’d picked up after years of hearing it from his father actually worked pretty well on people other than him and Sammy, because Gert was sitting stiffly, arms crossed over her chest and a frown firmly in place. She was absolutely adorable and Dean could feel the twitch of a smile fighting for control of his mouth, but he swallowed it down.
“Besides,” he continued, “I already have plans tonight.”
He reached over and gently pried her slender arm out of the knot it was in, sliding his hand into hers and giving it an affectionate squeeze.
“Whadya say? Wanna be my date tonight?”
The seventy-one year old’s cheeks tinged pink instantaneously, but she didn’t pull her hand away, instead she squeezed his hand right back.
“That’s very sweet of you, dear. Sick and kind of twisted, but sweet.”
“Aw geez, Gert!” Dean cried out in disgust, pulling his own hand free, “I didn’t mean it like that. I just thought it would be nice if, I don’t know…maybe I fixed you dinner tonight for a change.”
“Oh, sweetie. That’s very nice of you to offer, but I’m sure you have other things that you’d rather be doing then spending a Friday night with an old woman.”
“Cut it out, you’re not that old. Besides, it’s perfect. Bobby’s got plans tonight and I don’t, so unless you got a little sumpin’ sumpin’ on the side that I don’t know about…maybe that Mr. Fitz that drives by and waves every day?”
Gert’s hand sailed out to strike at him playfully, but he dodged it easily while still keeping the car on the road and gave her a cocky grin.
“So whadya say? Is it a date?”
“It’s a date,” she submitted, shaking her head at him, “but just so you know…I don’t put out on the first date.”
“Huh,” he laughed, “that’s not what Fitz said.”
This time her hand connected smartly, flat open across his bare arm, leaving four red marks where her fingers had smacked. The rest of the drive home, Dean spent grinning and rubbing at the stinging flesh.
"He's a good kid, ya know?”
Bobby had relented, after many reassurances from Dean that he would be fine and that he did, in fact, have plans for the night, ‘Go! Have fun! Get laid! Just, get the Hell outta here already! I’m tired of lookin’ at ya.’ Bobby had raised his hands in defeat and gotten himself ready for the night out that he and Josey had been planning for a couple of weeks.
A nice dinner, a bit of impromptu dancing in the restaurant and an old drive-in movie theater playing Casablanca; it all made for a very nice evening. Those were the formalities, however, because Bobby and Josey didn’t have a ‘nice’ relationship they had fun. So all throughout dinner, Bobby did his best to keep his composure while Josey’s bare toes crept up his leg, squirming their way into his lap.
And while everyone noticed the happy couple dancing in the middle of the crowded restaurant, no one noticed them disappear into the ladies restroom or the shrieks and giggles that followed.
Later in the evening, they may not have been the oldest couple at the drive-in; they were however the oldest couple not actually watching the show. ‘Hell, do you know how many times I’ve seen this film?’ she asked, tossing her shoes over her shoulder into the front seat.
What they hadn’t planned on in all of this was Bobby’s mouth. Every quiet moment or pregnant pause in the conversation or the action was filled with talk of Dean. ‘The kid’s smart…He brought pie home today…Dean did six oil changes in two hours yesterday…I remember this one time…His leg seems to be healing nicely…It’s gonna be real quiet when he leaves tomorrow…’
"Bobby." Josey's voice was imploring, her warm, moist breath, painting the side of Bobby's neck before she let her lips and teeth softly graze his ear lobe. With one hand entwined in his hair, she pulled gently until he was looking into her eyes. "Look at me, Bobby. Do you think I'm beautiful?"
"Y-yeah," he swallowed thickly, letting his eyes trace over the supple body settled over his lap, his hands grazing down her back until they'd found their natural home at her waist. He found her eyes again and with all the sincerity he could muster, answered, "you're amazingly beautiful."
"What's your favorite of my attributes?"
"Are you a boob man, Bobby? Or an ass man?" Slowly and very purposefully, Josey arched her back. Bobby's hand slid down the curve of her hip, settling at the lower swell of her jean covered bottom. She sucked her lower lip into her mouth, her teeth teasing it gently.
"mmm hmm," she nodded, leaning into the hunter until their chests touched, just barely.
"Your mouth, your lips. Could kiss those lips all night,” he answered huskily.
"Among other things," she teased. Josey lowered her lips to his, meeting his request with a smile, enjoying the soft moan her lips pulled from somewhere deep inside of Bobby‘s chest. She sat back, her hands resting on his shoulders for support. Her long eyelashes beat out a rhythm that matched the thumpthumpthump of his heart, which had relocated somewhere below his waistline.
"And we have a good time, right?" she asked sweetly, resting her forehead against his.
"Great time," he ground out, his vision whiting momentarily, when she rocked her hips in his lap.
"So why are you still talking about that boy?"
She kissed him again, a little more forcefully and pressed him into the bench seat in the back of his Chevelle, her hand working its way between them, cupping against the length of him before going for the button of his jeans.
"What boy?" he breathed between kisses.
It was well past midnight when Bobby steered the Chevelle up the drive through the salvage yard, pulling up behind Josey’s little green grocery-getter. The house looked quiet, the only lights on were those inside the kitchen, just enough to guide a person through the downstairs. He turned off the engine and for a moment there was only the quiet tic-tic of the engine.
Smiling to himself, he climbed out of the car and jogged around to the passenger side, opening the door and offering his hand.
“We‘ve got the house all to ourselves,” Bobby assured Josey, hoping to coax her inside for a night cap and whatever else happened to cross their minds.
She accepted his hand and let him pull her up, wrapping her arms around his shoulders as she came to stand, one hand crawling up his neck into his hair and pulling him down to meet her mouth.
When they nearly toppled back into the car, Bobby caught them deftly, one arm wrapped firmly around Josey’s waist, the other hand braced against the door frame holding them up.
“Woman, you’re gonna be the death of me,” he panted, “but what a way to go.”
She tilted her head back, the rolling laugh that escaped, echoing back from the salvage yard.
Bobby loved listening to her laugh, a hearty sound bubbling from deep inside her chest, brazen and energetic; it enlivened him, made him feel years younger, but then again, Josey had always seemed to have that effect on him. It was just one of the reasons he enjoyed spending time with her, even if they both knew their ‘relationship’ wasn’t going to ever lead to anything more. Two widowed people, set in their ways and comfortable in their lifestyles; neither were looking for more than the companionship and affection they received from one another. And the sex.
Bobby pushed off the side of the car, pulling Josey with him, her body slotted comfortably, warm against his. He walked them backwards toward the house, hands and mouth exploring her skin as they went, stopping only briefly at the bottom of the stairs, to slide his hand into hers and race her up the steps.
At the top, though, Josey slammed to a halt, gasping audibly when a dark shadow moved out of the doorway.
“Out past curfew, aren’t ya?” Dean stepped out onto the porch that was white-washed by the yard light, cocky smirk in place over the mock-authoritative voice.
“Dean, Dammit! Are you trying to give us heart attacks? How long you been standin’ there?”
“Long enough to understand why curiosity killed the cat.” Upon receiving Bobby’s scowl, Dean ducked his head, shrugging, “What? It’s your fault. If you weren’t so…out there…I mean…God, Bobby. I don’t remember ever seeing it, but I imagine this is about as traumatizing as catching Mom and Dad.” The young man shuddered visibly, his eyes rolled up into his head and his gag reflex kicking in.
“Alright!” Bobby snatched Dean by the back of his shirt collar and pulled him roughly out of the way, allowing Josey entry into the house, but she pulled up short.
“He’s right, Bobby. I don’t want to be the reason your nephew needs therapy.”
“Josey, he‘s just joking. For God sakes, tell her you‘re joking.”
“Bobby, it’s okay,” she assured, palming his bearded cheek. Josey leaned in close, her lips ghosting across Bobby’s ear, her voice dropping into a husky whisper, “I had a great time tonight and we’ll have other nights, I promise.”
Pulling away from Bobby, she looked to Dean to be sure that he understood that what she was saying was now for his benefit, “besides, it’s late and I have an early shift in the morning. I hope to see you there for breakfast…one last time before you go.”
“You can count on it,” Dean answered with a genuine smile. “Wait. Do you serve pie for breakfast?”
“For you, sweetie? Anything,” Josey laughed. She looped an arm through Bobby’s. “Walk me to my car?”
“Of course.” He walked her to the edge of the stairs and then thought better of it and turned around to face the young hunter behind them. “I’ll meet you…inside. Don’t let me catch you watchin’ out the window, either.”
“Scout’s promise,” Dean said raising his fingers in a salute that was-Bobby was fairly certain-not correct.
“You were never in scouts. Idjit.”
Dean shrugged, turning back into the house. “Sounded good,” he tossed over his shoulder.
Escorting Josey down the stairs and to her car, Bobby’s mind raced, looking for words of apology, swarming with thoughts of regret and shame and his payback plans for Dean.
“I can hear you thinking,” Josey nudged his shoulder carefully. “Don’t be upset with him. Please?”
They stopped in front of the driver’s side door of Josey’s car but just as Josey went to open the door, Bobby laid his hand across hers.
“How do you do that? Know what I’m gonna say right before I say it? Or what I’m thinking?”
“We are two of a kind, Bobby Singer.”
She smiled and pressed a chaste kiss against his lips just in case Dean stood watching out the front window.
“Good night, handsome.”
Pressing a hand to his chest, to move him from the car door, she opened it and climbed in. She turned the ignition over and rolled down the window.
Bobby pressed the door closed, leaning in for a last kiss, “Night, Jose. Drive careful,” and then pulled out of the car window, placing a hand on the roof.
Josey smiled, gave him a confident wink before putting the car into gear and pulling around and out of the drive.
Bobby waved, watching her taillights disappear down the road before returning to the house. It felt a bit like walking to his execution, trudging up the stairs, knowing there would be a barrage of comments and jokes made at his own expense waiting for him inside those walls. Bobby took a deep breath, doing his best to do as Josey asked and not get upset at the boy. Heart of gold, that kid, but a mouth that got him in trouble more often than Bobby dared to think about.
And sure enough, Dean was waiting inside, leaned up against the hallway wall, arms crossed over his chest, looking surprisingly regretful.
“What’s the matter with you?” Bobby growled, passing the young man by on his way into the library.
“I kinda screwed up your night, huh?” Dean asked frankly, pushing off of the wall to follow Bobby into the next room.
“Since you’re asking, yes, you definitely seem to be able fuck up a wet dream.”
Dean’s eyes dropped to the floor and for a split second, Bobby considered the fact that the kid was actually remorseful, but then he saw the slow, ornery smile split Dean’s face and Bobby braced himself, hearing the internal warning bells going off all around him.
“Wow, Bobby. I’m real sorry,” Dean offered, the sincerity in his voice tinted with humor. “How long’s it been for…ya know?”
“How long’s it…? Boy, I swear to God, if you were a few years younger, I’d take you over my knee. How long’s it been?” Bobby mimicked in a high falsetto, his mouth twisting in annoyance. “About forty-five minutes ago, smart alec,” Bobby all but exploded, “and about three hours before that, but third time’s a charm and happens to be my favorite, so thanks for endin’ my night before the high note.”
Dean’s lips smacked audibly, looking very fish-like when his jaw dropped in shock.
“Smart ass lil prick,” Bobby grumbled, turning away from the flabbergasted kid. He smirked to himself, feeling justified at having knocked the kid down a peg and just for the added benefit of showmanship, he stomped into the kitchen and tore open the fridge to yank out a beer.
“Bobby…” Dean started, his barely out of the teens voice cracking, following quickly on Bobby’s heels.
Behind the swallow of beer, Bobby smiled. It would be good for this too cocky for his own good youngster to be humbled for a bit.
“You, you…” the boy stumbled, looking for his words, “are…the man!”
Bobby hadn’t been exactly sure what he’d expected out of the boy, but it hadn’t been the elation he heard in the young voice. He groaned into his beer and rolled his eyes before turning around to have a good look at the excitement he’d inspired.
“Holy Crap, Bobby! Twice in one night, going on three? That’s like…like…awesome! Wow. I mean, I can jerk off two or three times a day, but I’m young, like a third your age or something and it’s expected…”
“Just how old do you think I am?” was Bobby’s loud argument. “Jesus, Dean, settle down a bit, before you get so excited that you pop a button and injure the both of us. Sit down.”
Bobby pulled a chair away from the table, planting it firmly and loudly on the linoleum for Dean.
“Oh…okay.” Dean submitted only somewhat reluctantly, sinking into the chair, his eyes moving constantly while he continued to process the idea of Bobby as a ladies man and the world as he knew it turned upside down.
The sound of Bobby’s voice caught Dean’s attention and his eyes snapped up. He recognized that tone. It was the ‘I have something important to tell you and you’re not gonna like it’ tone.
“You’re not gonna give me the birds and the bees lecture are you?” Dean asked, warily, leaning away from the older hunter. “Cuz, you know…I’ve already been there and done that and have the stained t-shirt to prove it. And Dad gave me ‘the talk’ a long time ago, like way before I was Sam’s age.”
“Yeah, well your Daddy’s ‘talk’ probably included little gold nuggets like always wear a cover and watch out for jungle rot.”
Dean put a hand over his mouth to hide the laugh because that was indeed what his father had told him.
“Figured as much; typical Marine bullshit. Look, you’re getting to be an adult now, so if you’re gonna run around with cock in hand…and I’m not stupid, I know that you do…”
Dean had the decency to look affronted at that statement but since it also happened to be a true statement, he kept his mouth shut and listened quietly as Bobby doled out fifty years of sage advice.
Chapter 7: Riding the Fence - Part 7
It was well before 5 am when Dean woke with a start and for a moment panicked trying to remember where he was. The bedroom that he and Sam had shared many times throughout their lives was still dark, grayed out by the pre-dawn light, but Dean could just make out the single bed beside him where his brother would normally be sleeping. To see it empty now brought a chill to Dean’s skin and he pulled the comforter up over his shoulders and tried to bury himself back into the warmth of the bed.
Try as he might, sleep seemed to want to evade him and when the morning sun filtered in to the room Dean realized that he had been staring at his brother’s vacant bed for some time. Sam's navy-blue and gray comforter was folded in half and lying at the foot of the bed over top of pale yellow rose sheets worn thin from years of use. As feminine and hideous as they were the boys had never complained about them, always grateful for clean sheets and a real bed. As well as having their own bed, they also had their own pillows. Not the flat uncomfortable pillows that the motel rooms carried. No, these were soft and plush and specifically belonged to each of the boys.
Dean buried his face into his pillow trying to block out the feeling in his gut, a knot that wouldn't go away.
Bobby would tell him later that he was just missing his brother, but Dean knew better. Something was happening and he wasn't sure what that something was but he couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn't good.
All throughout breakfast Dean pushed food around on his plate, never eating more than 3 bites. It did not go unnoticed. Josey sat down at the table next to him, looping an arm around his shoulders and pulled him into her side.
"What’s up, sugar? You’ve hardly touched your food.”
"Not hungry I guess," he answered.
"No such thing," she replied, "care to try again?"
She wasn't giving an inch, not ready to back down without a fight.
"He’s been like this all morning," Bobby stated taking a sip of his coffee, giving Dean a pointed look over his cup.
"Honey, you can talk to us.”
Josey rubbed a warm hand in circles across his back and briefly, Dean felt like he could sink into her embrace for a lifetime, aching for a touch like hers that so resembled his memory of his mother’s touch.
“Is this…about last night?" she asked tentatively.
"What?” Deans eyes widened briefly in panic, “Nooo,” he answered emphatically, nonetheless pulling away from Josey, feeling suddenly very uncomfortable being that close to her.
“It’s about his brother,” Bobby added without looking up from his own breakfast, “thinks he’s got some kind of gut feeling, ESP-type crap when it comes to his brother.”
“Yeah and I’m not wrong too often, am I?” Dean hissed, leaning deep over the table between them.
Bobby likewise, leaned over the table, his hands pressing firmly into the table top like he was about to use it as leverage to launch himself at Dean.
“I didn’t say you were,” he growled in return, “but you haven’t raised a hand to call your Dad yet either, have you?”
“And why haven’t you called him?” Josey accused, choosing to side with Dean.
“Cuz he told me not to.” Bobby raised his hand, gesturing at Dean, who was already shaking his head in disagreement.
“If Dad wanted me to know, he’d have called by now.”
“Oh for goodness sakes.” She turned in her seat to fully face the young man beside her, resting a hand on his shoulder, reestablishing the motherly connection from just moments before. And when after a few seconds, he finally met her eyes, she smiled sadly, giving him the most sincere look of concern that she could muster. “Sweetie, you’ve got to call. It’s obvious that you’re worried about them, but you sitting around worrying isn’t going to do you or them any good. And you just can’t go around all day with that ‘someone kicked my puppy’ look on your face. You’re gonna draw more attention to yourself than normal.”
Dean’s face clouded over in confusion, but the words sunk in a moment later when Josey’s lips lifted into a playful smile and she winked at him. He tried hard not to grin back, instead ducking his head in an uncharacteristically bashful way.
From across the table, Bobby groaned, “Jesus, Josey. Try not to feed his narcissistic personality. I’ve gotta live with him, you know?”
Morning turned into afternoon, there was still no word from John Winchester and despite Bobby’s encouraging, Dean didn’t go to Gert’s that day. Instead he spent the entire time pacing the floor and checking his phone for missed calls and poor reception until shortly after lunch, when his battery wore down to nothing and he gave up in disappointment, realizing that his father was not going to call him. But he’d be damned if he was going to call them first, no matter what Josey had said. So with a huff of annoyance, Dean tucked his phone into his shirt pocket and vowed not to touch it for the rest of the day.
Limping out on to the porch, Dean was surprised to see a pickup sitting in the drive and Bobby leaning against the door talking to its inhabitant. Dean didn’t even need to narrow his eyes to make out who was sitting in the truck: The trademarked windmill-of-arms and exuberant tones floating up the walk gave Clive Poole away immediately. Dean pasted on as genuine a smile as he could manage and made his way down to greet Bobby’s friend.
“Dean!” the man hailed him happily, “I’m surprised to see you still sluffin’ around. I thought your folk were comin’ back this morning.”
“Yeah, me too.” He tried hard not to sound like a petulant child, but judging by Bobby’s reaction, Dean had failed miserably. He felt his ears tinge pink in shame, hating the look of frustration on Bobby’s face and knowing that he’d put it there. So he swallowed the lump stuck in his throat and tried again, “Not that it matters,” he said, coaxing the smile up to his eyes, “Bobby’s not gonna give me up when they get back anyhow. He’d be lost without me.”
He was rewarded with a smile and a hand to the back of his neck where Bobby squeezed him warmly.
“Well, it’s a good damn thing I brought extra, isn’t it?” Clive laughed, producing not one but two bottles of Jack Daniels from the seat beside him.
“Clive, he ain’t legal yet,” Bobby admonished, shaking his head.
“That’s why there’s a case of beer in the back,” he said jovially, thumbing towards the box of the truck, “I was a Boy Scout you know. Always be prepared.” Clive raised three fingers in the scout salute, grinning like a fool.
Bobby’s free hand smacked Dean sharply across the chest. “See. That’s how you make the Boy Scout salute. Two fingers is Girls Scouts, ya idjit.”
“No,” Dean argued, “I messed around with a Girl Scout once and I’m pretty sure it’s three for them too.” Dean thought about that for a moment and then corrected himself, “or maybe that was just her preference…either way it’s definitely three fingers.”
Clive roared with laughter and although Bobby rolled his eyes and did his best to appear disgruntled, soon he was cracking a smile and chuckling.
Pressing the whiskey into Bobby’s hands, Clive climbed from the truck and circled around the hunters, retrieving the case of Old Milwaukee Light before following Bobby out behind the shop building with Dean trailing lazily behind them.
Out back of the shop, beneath a tall Oak, Bobby had a few lounge chairs placed in a circle around an old metal barrel, sawed down and fashioned into a fire ring. On cool afternoons when Bobby was without work, he’d beat a path to this spot, lie out on his favorite lounger and catch a few zzz’s beneath the tree. It was a nice quiet place, Bobby’s own little oasis away from the traffic of the road however sparse that traffic might be. And now it was the perfect spot for three guys to spend the afternoon telling stories and throwing back a few.
“That Big Foot was this fuckin’ tall,” Clive announced, climbing precariously up on top of a thick cut of tree trunk that was lying on its side next to the fire ring. He teetered there for a moment, hips dis-jointed, swaying back and forth trying to regain his balance.
“It wasn’t a Big Foot, moron. We went over this already. Three times. There’s no such thing as a sasquatch” Bobby was at Clive’s side, one hand on his friend’s arm to hold him up; the other hand wrapped around his eighth can of beer. “Get down ‘fore ya fall down. I ain’t paid my insurance in...well…I ain’t never had insurance.”
Dean laughed, rocking back into the natural arch of the old metal rocker he occupied. Far beyond relaxed, Dean sat with one leg dangling over the arm of the chair, head lolled to one side, with a covertly procured bottle of whiskey tilted back and pressed against smiling lips. Lips that sputtered a second later when the whiskey burned and another laugh ignited in his belly as he watched Bobby struggle to contain his lively friend.
Jumping down from the large log, Clive stumbled forward towards the fire and then over compensating, he fumbled in Dean’s direction before finally finding center with Bobby’s help. Clive swatted drunkenly at the hands that were firmly grounding him to earth.
Even in his own light headedness, Bobby was sure that if he let go of Clive right then, either he or Clive would go tumbling into danger, so he held on with an iron grasp as much for his own safety as Clive’s.
“I know, I know,” Clive reiterated, once again pushing Bobby’s hands away. “But big, dumb and ugly looked like a sa-sas…Big Foot.”
“Fugly,” Dean offered, chirping up out of the blue.
“What?” the older men who were still locked together for support, turned as one with vacant eyes and slack expressions.
“Fugly. It’s like…” Dean blanked out for a moment, his eyes dipping closed for a nanosecond, before he shook his head, clearing the cobwebs. “It’s like, fuckin’ ugly.”
“Whatever you say, kid. So yeah, it was fugly. Big, fugly som’bitch with long greasy brown hair all over ‘im and paws the size of dinner plates!”
“There ya go, s’aggeratin’ again.”
“M’not, “Clive argued pushing away from Bobby. He stood up straight, setting his feet a good ways apart and building himself a base on which to stand. And then he reached for his pants and began to unfasten the top button. “Jus’ look what that dumb som’bitch did t’me. Reached right out ‘n wrapped that big ass paw around m’leg and it’s claw bit into m’ass. Here, I’ll show ya.”
Clive dropped trou right there, boxers and all. Even on his unsteady feet, he managed a fairly sound spin to present Bobby and Dean with his pale white posterior. Sure enough, there centered in the middle of his left buttock were four scars, each of them about 3 inches long and faded but most certainly visible.
“Oh for the love of God!” Dean cried out, slapping a hand over his eyes, “I’m scarred for life, now!”
“Ya ain’t alone, kiddo. Dammit Clive, pull your pants up. Nobody wants to see that!”
“What in the Hell is going on here?!”
At once there was a flurry of movement as all three men reacted in their own way to the authoritative, female voice.
Bobby dropped into a defensive stance, hand drawn back ready to hurl his half full beer can at the intruder and then thought better of it and took a swig instead, smiling lazily.
Clive side stepped, catching his foot in the jeans hanging loose around his knees and toppled face first into the dirt, white ass posted high in the air.
While Dean, with the lightning fast reflexes of youth on his side, pitched forward in an attempt to gain his feet and go for the knife in his boot. But in his drunken haze, he forgot to put both feet on the ground before standing and fell from the chair into a heap on the ground. A second later, he hoisted a whiskey bottle high into the air, announcing with triumph, “I saved Jack!”
Five-foot nothing seemed very imposing when accompanied by the commanding voice of Mrs. Gertrude Thomas. The seventy-one year old loomed menacingly over the group. With the sun to her back shadowing her features, her arms crossed tightly over her chest, and her foot tapping out a dangerous rhythm, she looked every inch the worst nightmare of any young man caught taking nips from the ‘special stash’.
Gert marched into Bobby’s sacred circle and much to Dean’s chagrin, snatched the bottle from the young man’s hand, giving him a dark ‘don’t say a word’ look when he squawked in argument.
“Robert. Steven. Singer. What is the meaning of all this?”
She quickly silenced the chorus of ’ooo’s’ that floated up from the ground in response to the use of Bobby’s full name.
“Shush, all of you.” She pointed an accusing finger towards Clive. “I could hear your loud mouth from all the way down the road, Clive Poole.”
Clive had the decency to look properly chastised, ducking his head in shame all the while trying awkwardly to pull his pants back up around his waist.
“And besides the obvious,” she gestured at the underage Winchester with a stern look, “my only question is…” she paused, allowing the tension to build before continuing on, “why didn’t you invite me?” And then she grinned, pressing the mouth of the whiskey bottle to her lips and taking a deep drink.
“Yesss!” Dean hissed through his laughter. He reached his hand up, like a child asking for candy and was rewarded with a smack to the hand and a scowl.
“Nah uh,” Gert reprimanded, “you get no more. You are three sheets to the wind, child. It’s time for you to start sobering up.”
Dean’s lower lip jutted out, puffy and moist from sucking on the bottle all afternoon. His brows drew together, pinching high over his right eye, and his eyes drooped into the closest representation of his little brother’s puppy dog face he could muster. Sammy would have been proud.
But Gert was not to be turned by pouty little boys, no matter how adorable they were.
“You can just put that weapon away,” she warned.
And for a moment, Dean tensed, wondering if he had actually brought his knife out of its sheath. He patted his right boot and breathed an obvious sigh of relief.
“I meant that look.” She pointed a finger at a spot between his eyes, circling it like a bull’s-eye until he went cross-eyed and fell back on to his elbows in the dirt, grinning up at her.
“I am not so easily swayed that your sad eyes will win me over. Neither will your smiles, charming as they may be.”
“Ah, Gert, give the poor kid a break,” Clive pleaded, “S’been a long day for ‘im.”
“Why? What’s happened?” She looked first to Bobby and then at Dean, whose smile had slipped from his face. Gert motioned for a chair and Clive who had finally pulled himself together slid Dean’s own rocking chair into place behind her.
“Here,” she said briskly, passing the Jack Daniels off to Clive, “Take this and get me a beer instead.”
He nodded and answered with a quiet, ‘Ma’am,’ and did as she asked, setting what was left of the case at her feet and cracking a can before placing it in her awaiting hand.
Dean adjusted his seat on the ground, up righting himself and pulling his legs in to protect against the probing looks he was receiving from Gert, feeling suddenly quite uneasy beneath her attention.
“Nothing,” Dean replied quickly, a frown setting in deep over his eyes before looking down and away, trying to hide the wave of hurt and betrayal that once again washed over him.
“John didn’t come back today,” Bobby filled in.
Gert hissed through clenched teeth, silencing Bobby, making it abundantly clear, that she would have the information from Dean himself or not at all. Gert leaned in, placing soft yet weathered hands on top of Dean’s knees and like a moth drawn to the flame, Dean looked up into her concerned face. She spoke in soft tones, a volume only he could hear, but the melody of which caught in the breeze and was carried around the fire to the other men, catching them in a trance.
They each took a seat across the fire, enraptured by the scene before them; a twenty year old man, tucked up like a child listening to the most enchanting bedtime story ever told. It was like magic how Gert’s presence had brought a peace to the group that they didn’t even know they were missing and for one brief moment, Bobby tilted his head and studied the motherly woman that he’d known for years and thought, “Is she a witch?’ But then the moment was over and he laughed the idea off, chalking it up to three shots and a six pack of beer too many. He leaned forward; elbows propped up on his knees and strained to hear what sage wisdom she was bestowing upon his boy.
His boy. Not just the ‘so-called’ nephew or the son of a fellow hunter or his friend. Dean was more than that. He was ‘Family’; the kid Bobby never got the chance to have with his own wife. And he was leaving; going back out into the hunters’ world that was forever dangerous and often deadly. His boy. The thought hit him hard, like a fist to the gut or rather a belt tightened around the chest and he stood up suddenly, agitated. He stutter-stepped first left, then right, bursting the peaceful bubble that surrounded the group.
“Bobby?” Dean looked up from his quiet conversation with Gert.
“No. It’s okay.” Bobby blinked hard, fighting against the stinging sensation behind his eyes. “I just gotta…go…this way for a bit, let loose the hounds… or something…” and he turned on his heel, making a beeline for the shop and leaving his three friends to sit there and stare after him in shock.
Bobby used an old rusted out Chevy to hold himself up while he released what seemed like a gallon’s worth of processed beer into a puddle on the ground. Two shakes and he folded himself back into his blue jeans and zipped up, then turned and grabbed his chest when he nearly collided with Clive.
“Christ Almighty, Clive! What the Hell are you doin’, tryin’ to kill me? My will’s not even in order yet, dammit.”
“Relax, will ya? Ain’t nut’in but that ole colt of yours gonna take you out,” Clive retorted, half joking, half serious.
Bobby’s nose wrinkled and he frowned. “I tell you too fuckin’ much,” he grumbled.
“Yeah, ya do. So tell me now. What’s wrong?”
“Who says anything’s wrong?”
Clive tilted his head, frowning at Bobby, his eyes, hard and unblinking even if there were half-lidded with alcohol.
Bobby tried to argue, but one look at his unconvinced friend and he knew there would be no getting around this conversation.
“It’s these women,” Bobby exclaimed, removing his hat and running a hand back and forth through his hair. “The last few days it seems, every time a woman comes around, all us men go dewey-eyed and feel the urge to start sharin’.”
“Who’s ‘us’? You gotta frog in your pocket? Cuz this guy ain’t dewey-eyed on account a no woman.”
“You’re here, aren’t ya? Askin’ bout my feelin’s. Tell me that’s normal,” Bobby challenged.
“Ok, fine,” Clive rolled his eyes, “but who says it’s the women?”
“What exactly are you tryin’ta say, Clive?” Bobby warned.
“Just…maybe it’s not the women. Bobby, maybe it’s the kid.”
The long walk up the stair case was more difficult than usual. Of course under normal circumstances, Bobby would have stayed the night on the sofa after a long afternoon of drinking, but this wasn’t what Bobby would call ‘normal circumstances’.
Gert had finished her beer and a long private conversation with Dean, that had included a lot of silent agreeing and head nodding on his part, and then she had asked that Clive escort her to her vehicle, where she’d convinced him that it was high time he went home as well and surprisingly, he’d gone without argument.
Getting Dean to submit to calling it a night, however, had been more of a chore and Bobby sorely regretted not confiscating the whiskey from Dean when he’d first noticed the minor with it. But the alcohol had seemed to pull Dean out of the funk he’d been stumping around in all day. He had come to smiling and laughing and even joined in during the inebriated story-telling hour, and overall, the sight had eased Bobby’s conscience.
That was then. Now the nagging little voice in his head was chewing Bobby’s ass for not taking better care of his boy before he’d had to resort to practically carrying the lanky kid up the long flight of stairs.
It may have taken Dean all afternoon to climb to this elevation of inebriation, but it hadn’t taken him very long to come crashing down from the whiskey-induced high. He’d gone from silly to serious to pouty to near tears in the span of about twenty minutes and was now pissed off and fighting against Bobby, threatening to overturn them on the stairs.
“I’m twenty-God-damned-years old,” he argued, “an I don’ havta go up ta bed if I don’ freakin’ want to.”
“Then act like it and accept when enough is enough,” Bobby growled right back, putting his shoulder and all his weight into pushing the young man up the stairs. “I swear to God, if I throw my back out doing this, you’re gonna live to regret it.”
“Ya can’ tell me what t’do, Bobby. I’ma adult.”
With a final push, Bobby had Dean up on the second story landing. It was like a pressure valve had been released, because suddenly they were moving freely down the hall towards the boys’ small bedroom.
“An I’m sooo tired of ever’body tryin’ ta tell me wha I can n’can’ do.”
“I know, kid.”
“N’fact, let ‘em stay gone. Don’ want me ‘round anyhow.”
“Dean...” Bobby started to argue with him, but stopped when he saw the young man’s shoulders sag in defeat. Bobby put his open palms overtop of Dean’s shoulders and giving him a light squeeze, directed him into the room.
“L’fix…whateva I did wrong. I’ll fix it. Promise.”
Instead of falling into his own bed as Bobby had assumed Dean would do, the young man stumbled around to the next bed, climbing up on his hands and knees until he slumped down into Sam’s pillow, wrapping his arms around it and inhaling the faint scent of his little brother, his eyes drifting closed as sleep won out.
Bobby looked up at the ceiling, training his eyes away from the heart wrenching sight. He sat down hard on Dean’s empty bed, his hands braced against his knees to hold him upright, his head set low between hunched shoulders, feeling the weight of the Dean’s pain fall on him.
When he did finally find the courage to look on the sleeping man, Bobby was strongly reminded of all the times throughout the years when John would return from a hunt, stumbling in late into the night, drunk half out of his mind, babbling incoherently and calling out for his wife.
As much as Bobby would have liked to have knocked him over the head to put him down for the night, he couldn’t. John was taller, had more size and strength - even when soused - and he could be an angry drunk with rock solid fists that always seemed to connect. John’s fatal flaw had been that he could never refuse a last drink, so when Bobby heard the Impala coming up the road; he’d taken to fixing a ‘special’ drink for the eldest Winchester - a splash of scotch, a splash of water and a light weight sedative. Sure it was dangerous…so was John.
The pain Bobby now saw etched in Dean’s young face was the same; the desire to have his family close, and it wore on him like time and age, putting wrinkles in his forehead and around his eyes where there previously hadn’t been.
Bobby leaned across the space between the two beds and stroked his thumb up the bridge of Dean’s nose and over his right eye, watching in amazement as Dean’s features softened and relaxed beneath his warm hand.
“I’d give anything to make this easier for you, son, but there’s just no such thing.”
In his sleep, Dean made a quiet, content noise and burrowed himself down into the yellow rose sheets.
Bobby stood and went to the foot of Sam’s bed, turning Dean’s feet and one by one, removing first the walking boot and then Dean’s well-worn work boot. He placed them both on the floor then unfolded the comforter and pulled it up over the sleeping man.
Rounding the bed, Bobby flipped the light off and was just about to leave the room, but he stopped in the doorway and looked back one last time. Light from the single bulb in the hallway, flooded across the little bedroom floor, splashing over Dean’s bed and just the edge of Sam’s, playing sharp contrasts across Dean’s face.
Where just moments before, Bobby had seen the eldest Winchester, he was now looking at the little boy he had first been introduced to so long ago. Curled up beneath the covers, his mouth slightly ajar and snoring lightly, Dean looked just like the little boy he’d once been.
Bobby reached out into the hall and flipped that switch as well. Then he walked back to the empty bed, toed off his boots and lay down, turning to face his boy. For the first time in a long time, he fell asleep quickly.
It wasn’t Dean’s first hang over, but it was his first beneath Bobby’s roof and Dean was unsure how exactly to approach the situation. Luckily for him, the headache wasn’t too awful bad, but he felt as dry as the Sahara and his stomach rolled with every intake of breath. It tried to stop him completely when he came down the stairs to the scent of bacon.
“Good mornin’ sunshine.”
“What is that?” Dean groaned when Bobby turned around and held a glass out to him
“Ancient Chinese secret,” Bobby smiled, “Drink it down.”
Dean looked over the lip of the glass and pulled a face, going a bit green around the edges. The contents of the glass were unrecognizable. It was warm, brownish, semi-liquid and the worst smelling thing that Dean had experienced in very long while…and that was saying something.
“No thanks,” he croaked, swallowing down the bile that burned at the back of his throat.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Bobby pushed the glass into Dean’s hands.
“You gonna talk in catch phrases all day? Cuz I’ll just go back to bed if that’s the case.”
“Shut up and drink it, idjit. It’ll take care of the sea legs.”
Dean carefully sat down at the table, eyed the drink one more time before plugging his nose and taking it all down. Swallowing thickly, Dean’s stomach flipped once and then seemed to almost ease on contact. Whatever the concoction, it seemed to hit the spot and Dean felt instantly better.
“Do I wanna know what was in that?”
“Probably not,” Bobby answered with a smile, avoiding Dean’s eyes. He then traded the glass for a cordless phone. “Next. Time to man up.”
Dean took a deep breath, nodding in acceptance of his decision and before he might change his mind, quickly pressed the numbers into the phone and then waited for the line to connect.
Ring one; Dean sat down on his bed. Ring two; Dean stood up and paced between the two single beds, staring hard at Sam’s empty bed. Ring three; Dean sat down, this time on Sam’s bed, his free hand twisting into the sheets beneath him.
On the fourth ring, the call was answered. Sam’s voice, pensive and rushed, “Yeah?”
“Sam? Thank God.”
“Dean, hey. I, uh…”
“Why are you answering the phone? Where's Dad?”
“Sam, I can hear in your voice that something's wrong. What is it?”
“Sammy. Come here son.”
Dean stilled, his senses suddenly heightened by the distant rumble of his father’s voice. He listened carefully, trying to make out not only the words but the context of what he was saying, but heard nothing further.
“Is that dad? Sam, lemme talk to him.”
“It's not a good time, Dean. I gotta call you back.”
“No. I wanna know what's going on. Why won't you let me talk to Dad? You're fucking scaring me, dude.”
“Look, just...hold on a second, okay?”
“No. I'm not gonna hold on. Sam? Dammit.” But from the sound of it, the phone had already been dropped unceremoniously onto a hard surface.
Dean paced the floor, two hands wrapped around his own receiver as if he was trying to strangle his brother through osmosis. Even away from his ear, Dean could hear the commotion going on at the other end of the line; his Dad’s growly bass breeching the distance and making Dean’s ears perk up in attention.
Dean found the nearest wall and with his back against it, slid down until he was seated on the floor, legs folded up tight against his chest even if it did put a painful strain on his injured leg and ankle.
Slowly, as if he was afraid to hear what was truly going on where his family was, Dean brought the phone to his ear. And if his heart hadn’t been pounding before, it was now, hammering its way out of his chest because through all of the chaos and noise, it was obvious to Dean that the one thing he truly feared was happening right now; his family was hurt and he wasn’t there to do anything about it.
Against his better judgment, Dean strained to listen, wanting desperately to get a good sense of what was going on in that little hotel room 700 miles away. He closed his eyes and let his mind and his ears put the scene together.
There was movement near the phone where it had been tossed aside; a muffled sound of someone rummaging through what Dean could only guess was one the Winchesters’ bags. He could just make out the low muttering of his brother just feet away.
‘Where is it? Where is it?’
But it was the panicked words of his father off in the distance that clamped down on Dean’s chest, stopping his heart.
Dean choked. “Bleeding out? Sammy?”
Dean cupped his hands around his mouth, funneling his voice into the phone.
“Sam! Dammit! Pick up the fuckin’ phone already.”
“Dude. Don’t snap at me. What the Hell is going on?”
“Nothing. Everything’s fine.” But everything did not sound fine. Sam sounded angry, his voice strained with fear and what Dean was pretty sure was pain; the three things Dean dreaded to hear in his baby brother.
“Bull shit. Dad said bleeding out. Who’s bleeding out? Tell me what the fuck is going on!”
“No. I got it under control; nothing you can do about it from there anyway, so just stay out of it.”
“What ‘it’? I’m not gonna agree to stay out of something if I don’t even know what ‘it’ is.”
“I gotta go, Dean.”
“Sam? Don’t you put that phone down again. Sam? Son of a Bitch!”
Dean dropped the phone into his lap when his stomach lurched, acid burning its way up his throat. His feet slid out in front of him, until he was sitting limp like a rag doll, arms and legs all sprawled out, leaning for support against the wall where he thumped his head roughly into the plaster.
Dean didn’t know how long he’d been sitting there, back pressed into the wall and his head occasionally banging against it as he cursed his father, his brother, his leg and his own inability to do his job and protect his family, but if the sharp ache at the back of his head was anything to go by, it had been a while. And to add insult to injury, the young hunter had failed to notice until just then that Bobby was leaning in the doorway keeping watch over him, concern written all over his face.
“How long you been standin’ there?”
“Long enough,” Bobby answered gently. “You alright?”
Dean’s mouth twitched in a million different directions before finally landing on some semblance of a tight, forced smile, but as soon as Dean met Bobby’s eyes, his composure failed. He gasped for breath, sealing his eyes shut against the burn of tears threatening escape and bringing his hands up to hide his distress, he rubbed the heels of his palms manically at the pounding behind his forehead.
Bobby blew a long breath through pursed lips before pushing off of the door frame. He approached cautiously and when not met with argument, he folded himself down onto the floor beside Dean with a grunt, bumping shoulders to commiserate with the kid. They didn’t look at each other, just sat side by side, staring straight down the length of the exposed floor boards.
“How do you deal with it?” Dean asked after a long moment of quiet.
“Deal with what, bud? Other people gettin’ hurt in the line a’duty?”
Bobby felt more than saw Dean nod beside him.
“Copious amounts of alcohol.”
Dean snorted, but seemed to accept the answer, his chin dropping to rest against his chest..
Bobby did turn his head then, letting it roll on his shoulders in Dean’s direction.
“Look, kid. There’s no tried and true method for living this lifestyle. Everybody’s gotta find their own way. Some ways work better than others and the ones that don’t…well, those hunters don’t last too long. I’ve tried it your Daddy’s way and it didn’t work for me. Too many casualties on my watch. This, as hard as it can be to cope with, it works for me. Does it drive me crazy? Absolutely. Does it drive me to drink? You bet. Do I spend nights lying awake worrying about you when you’re out there risking it all? You better fuckin’ believe it.” Dean frowned, his jaw clenching and brow furling deeply over the bridge of his nose.
“But,” he continued, turning away before Dean could look up and see the full strength of emotion that lay behind Bobby’s eyes. “I can’t let my fears and my worries get in the way of my job, or yours for that matter. Cuz the one thing I’ve learned over the years is that I’m a better facilitator than I am a worker and this job, no matter how lonely and isolated it can be, is necessary. Not just to you and your Dad, but to a lot of other people. So yeah, someone gets hurt or God forbid, gets themselves killed…it knocks me down. Hard. But I still got work to do.”
Chapter 8: Riding the Fence - Part 8
“Put that down and come outta here ‘fore you bust that motor mount altogether. I can’t afford to replace the damn thing when it wasn’t broke to begin with.”
“I’m not gonna break it,” Dean growled, hammering angrily and not bothering to peer up out from beneath the hood. He’d been pounding around the shop all morning, tearing cars apart like he wished they were monsters; letting the grease and grime grip his skin like blood had so often in his hunting career. And if he was being truly honest with himself, it did help - this cathartic destruction of vehicles, or ‘salvaging’ as Bobby called it. It was hands-on, strenuous work. If only it could occupy his mind as well as it did his hands.
With every crank came the thought of a knife stroke, every hammer strike, the sound of a gunshot. The silence between was filled with all the arguments had and the things left unsaid and it ate at Dean like acid in his gut, until he could stand it no more and filled the silence with as much noise as he could possibly make.
This was how Bobby had found him, hammering away on a bolt that wouldn’t give, cussing up a storm at the car and his father and the world in general.
Just that morning, they’d had a serious discussion about dealing with the stresses of the job and Bobby had walked away feeling much better about Dean’s headspace. Dean had seemed more at ease as he collected the list of parts needing salvaged, disappearing off to the shop and Bobby had been glad to see him keeping busy. What had changed between then and now was anyone’s guess, but Bobby just couldn’t allow it to go on.
“Son, it ain’t the car’s fault.”
Dean’s shoulders went rigid and he slammed down the wrench he’d been using to loosen the bolt, turning angrily on the older man.
“You know what? I don’t need you to tell me that it ain’t the car’s fault, Bobby. I know it ain’t the car’s fault.”
“Don’t get pissy with me, boy,” the Bobby warned, but it was no use; Dean kept on going, his voice rising higher in volume until he was shouting over Bobby’s lower tones.
“I can blame a lot of people, Bobby!” He raised his hand and began ticking off his fingers, one by one, “It’s Dad’s fault for thinking he’s invincible and trying to take on the whole world with his bare hands. It’s all these idiots’ faults for being so freakin’ blind to what’s going on all around them every goddamn day! It’s Sam’s fault for thinking he can take my spot next to Dad and doin’ a piss poor job at protectin’ Dad’s back.”
“You don’t know that,” Bobby interjected.
“You’re right. I don’t know that. And why?! Cuz Sam won’t freakin’ call me back!” He hurled the wrench across the room in anger, shattering several glass jars, spraying nuts and bolts all over the bench and floor. “They haven’t called and they won’t answer and I’m here! And I know. It’s my fault for getting hurt in the first place! If I’d just done my job, none of this would be happening. So yeah, I can blame a lot of people, but none of that is gonna make this any easier. Nothing’s gonna make the time go any faster or take back whatever might have happened to my family. I’m stranded here, useless as…fuck and I’m freaking out, so if I gotta beat this damned car to death to ease my mind, then you’re just gonna have to deal with it, cuz I got nothin’ else.”
Bobby didn’t let Dean’s outburst back him into a corner. He’d been a hunter far too long to let something as mild as Dean Winchester on a rampage scare him, so he squared his shoulders and puffed out his chest, meeting Dean’s rant like a challenge.
“You wanna beat the tar outta somethin’?” he barked, purposefully stepping into Dean’s space, giving him a fingertip shove. The move was met with equal confrontation.
“Yeah, I do!”
“Then follow me,” Bobby ordered, lowering his voice to dangerous levels. He turned and stalked out of the shop, not bothering to look and see that Dean was trailing him.
Dean did follow, only hesitating for a moment to scratch absently at his head, confused by how easily Bobby had turned the tables and taken control. And in the long, silent walk deeper into the salvage yard, Dean ducked his head; the anger, still simmering in his gut, was joined by the nagging feeling of guilt for unloading his issues on Bobby like he had. Of all the people Dean could possibly blame for his current situation and his anger, Bobby wasn’t among them. Yet he had been on the receiving end of that blunt instrument, always available to Dean whenever the need arose, for whatever purpose…no matter the personal cost to him.
“Crap,” Dean groaned when the guilt hit him full-force, “Bobby, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—”
“No, you shouldn’t have,” Bobby interrupted, glancing over his shoulder at the young man in a walking boot who was barely keeping up his quick pace. “But I don’t want your apologies. What I want is for you to get passed this.”
They approached a small barn; rickety and care-worn with a large sliding door which for all appearances could fall from the track at any moment and crush them beneath its hefty weight. Bobby pressed his shoulder into the edge of the door, pushing against the rusted grip of the bracketed rollers, the wheels groaning in complaint but finally relenting, opening just wide enough for them to squeeze through to the dark interior.
“Um…Bobby?” Dean called out nervously when the hunter disappeared into the darkness of the barn. He narrowed his eyes, straining to see through the shadows, his other senses lighting up and igniting a sense of foreboding. “You’re, uh…what d’ya have planned out here, huh? Bobby?”
Dean waited, hanging on the silence like a lifeline. “Oh that Dean, he’s a real idjit,” Dean grumbled in a horrendous Bobby impression, “Let’s take his ass out to the back shed, kick the crap outta him and leave him for dead. He’ll never see it comin’.”
“I don’t sound like that,” Bobby answered sharply immediately behind Dean. The younger man jumped, spinning around on his would be attacker, smacking Bobby hard in the upper arm.
“You hit like a girl,” Bobby mocked. He reached up the wall and flipped on a light switch. High above in the rafters, several large yard lights sprang to life, blasting the room in a bright gold light. “Is that really what you think of me? That after all this time, I’d get sick of your belly aching and put you outta your misery?”
Not quite certain how or if he should answer that question, Dean just shrugged. There was no denying that he had been a pain in the ass over the last week.
“You do.” Bobby shook his head, his eyes rolling wildly. “Kid, if I wanted you outta the picture, I coulda done it last night when you were passed out drunk. Woulda been a lot easier too,” he scoffed. “No. What I brought you out here for is this…”
When Bobby stepped further into the room, Dean saw where he was heading and quickly moved to follow him. There, hanging from the joists was an 80lb punching bag. Dean stepped up, resting a hand against the leather, worn smooth in the center, the lettering rubbed completely off in some places.
“This yours, Bobby?”
“No, genius. It’s the Pope’s.”
Dean cracked a smile at that. Bobby giving him crap was a good sign that he hadn’t completely screwed up in the shop.
“So what… you box?”
“Your Daddy ain’t the only one who served, ya know.”
“Really?!” Dean’s eyes went wide in shock. He’d never known that Bobby had been in the service; never heard him speak of it once. “I didn’t know.”
“Yeah, well, it was Vietnam. Everybody and their dog was either enlisted or drafted, unless ya skipped out of the country and this man don’t bug out for much of anything.”
“You’re so tough,” Dean teased, sighing and batting his eyelashes like a girl swooning.
“Shut up,” Bobby groused back at him.
“No, so…you really box? Like in the service?”
“Marines, just like your Pop. I was a reservist and yes, I boxed. Pretty damn good, if I say so myself. Champion in the lightweight division my first year, then I went o’erseas. By the time I come back, I’d kinda lost the feel for it.”
“Wow. It’s almost unbelievable,” Dean said, sounding completely impressed. “You were a lightweight. Who’da thunk it.”
“Okay, smartass. You gotta any more wisecracks ‘fore I knock your teeth out?”
“I think I’m done,” Dean grinned. He looked around the large room beneath the open loft and got a strange look on his face. In one corner, lay a ratty old gym mat and on the opposite wall, a bar for pull-ups. Draped over the edge of the hay loft hung a thick corded rope, perfect for climbing.
“No, I’m not done. What is this? Vision Quest?” he scanned the room again with a grin. “You got an old tape player somewhere with ‘Lunatic Fringe’ in it, ready to go?”
“You know…I catch more flak from you for doin’ somethin’ nice…I’m just gonna be an asshole from here on out. Who knows, I might get a bit more respect from ya that way. Lord knows it works for your old man.”
Dean bristled visibly at that remark and as much as Bobby despised the look, it was exactly the reaction he’d been hoping for. He swallowed back the remorse that was bubbling up in his chest. There was only one way to get Dean to deal with the anger and hurt burning in him and that was to face it head on. So if Bobby had to goad Dean a bit, purposefully pick a fight to get the kid moving in the right direction; so be it.
“Don’t talk about my dad like that,” Dean frowned. “He does the best he can.”
“The best? Ha! Son, you and I both know that his ‘best’ don’t amount to squat. But that’s cute; you stickin’ up for your daddy like that. Somebody’s got to. Sam’s already given up on him…”
“That’s not true,” Dean ground out, blanching at the bitterness of Bobby’s words, even though he knew there was some measure of truth to them, after all, things had gotten so out of hand between Sam and their father that Sam had actually run away three summers ago, leaving Dean in a panic and John in a fury with no one to turn his frustrations on but Dean.
Even now the memory of that week gripped Dean’s heart like a vice. His father’s anger, Dean could handle. After all, it was — he knew — his fault. John had gone out on a hunt, leaving Dean in charge and Dean being who he was, could not sit idly by and watch his brother pour over text books all weekend long. So he’d set out for the nearest bar looking to hustle pool and scope out chicks, while Sammy had sat happily scribbling what Dean could only assume were notes for his college thesis; always the over achiever, his brother.
Around four in the morning, after a successful night at pool and a more successful night in the back of Angel Haldeman’s Ford LTD—he’d been in better, but at least it was roomy —Dean snuck his way back into the boys’ shared room, shucked out of his clothes and slid silently into bed without even a squeak from his brother. He’d only been asleep for a couple of hours when a dark shadow appeared over him in bed and his eyes sprung open to find his father, looming like something from his worst nightmare.
“Where’s your brother?” John had asked.
Dean hadn’t even needed to look at the bed next to his to know. Sam was gone; had probably been gone since long before Dean had even considered leaving the bar. Sam was gone and Dean was left holding the bag. And everything his father put on him over the next few days; yeah, he’d had that coming. It was all on him and Dean could accept anything John was willing to dish out. Well, almost anything.
What Dean hadn’t been prepared for—although in hindsight, he should have been— was the mood that John Winchester had fallen into upon the disappearance of his youngest son. John had been angry, sure, but more often he had been panicked and worried and more than anything, heartbroken. Heartbroken and John Winchester just did not get along real well. The result of such a combination was heavy, heavy drinking followed by several days of out and out depression, topped off with a side of belligerence; all of which was up to Dean to shoulder. And shoulder it he did, because he knew…it was his fault.
“I can see you thinking,” Bobby spoke quietly, nothing more than a low murmur, reverberating like a tuning fork off the timber joists and supports. Very slowly, Bobby started to move, one step at a time to the side in a wide arch, moving around him in a circle. “You’re thinkin’ it’s your fault.”
Dean didn’t respond. He didn’t even look up from the floor which he was studying in earnest. But his head did, subconsciously following the sound of Bobby’s voice, turning as the older hunter moved cautiously around him, circling him. Provoking him with words. Pressing buttons. Looking for a reaction. Dick.
“Like you have any control at all over that family of yours,” Bobby continued. “They are always gonna butt heads. Your daddy is always gonna push your brother away and your little brother is always gonna want to run. And there ain’t nothing you can do that’s ever gonna change that.”
“Shut up,” Dean answered quietly, his voice trembling.
“You are always gonna be caught in the middle. The one who gets overlooked cuz you do exactly what you’re told without question. You’re the one who’s expendable; trained to protect your daddy, protect your brother, even at the risk of leaving yourself open. Your daddy and your brother, they got so much goin’ on in those stubborn, prideful heads of theirs that you just get forgotten.”
“Shut up! It ain’t like that.”
“Sure it is. You were left here, weren’t you? And you just went along with it. Too afraid to really stand up to your old man, cuz if you did, he might just hear you.”
“I‘m not afraid of anything” Dean bit out, angry and truly confused by the turn of events and Bobby’s suddenly abrupt and completely out-of-character provocation. “Why are you doing this?”
“Heaven forbid he actually see you. He might see how small you feel, how frightened of being alone you are. Heaven forbid he actually love you like a son rather than just the expendable grunt he puts out on the line.”
“He loves me!”
Bobby had circled completely around, well out of reach of Dean, with enough distance to get out of the way should the boy decide to rush him.
And rush him, he would. Dean had that look in his eyes; that hard, dark gleam that swallowed the pretty forest green of his irises and gave him a disconcertingly, malevolent appearance. And he was seething.
“Fuck you, h-he loves me,” he stuttered over the angry sob that caught in his chest, “Fuck you.”
Dean’s entire body heaved, his hands fisting at his sides and he rocked on his feet as if he was judging the distance between them. Without consideration of the consequences, Dean moved; fist raised, bringing it down to strike out at the man who until just moments ago, had done everything in his power to make the last week bearable.
He brought his fist down and made contact with the heavy bag.
Dean stopped, confused, but Bobby just peered at him cautiously from behind the bag, holding it in place like he knew it had been coming, even though Dean himself hadn’t known it was.
“Come on,” Bobby encouraged, his voice suddenly lighter, warmer than it had been just a second before. “Come on, hit it again.”
Dean drew back and drilled the bag again, right and then left, fist over fist, uppercuts and body shots and elbows, each punctuated with sound, be it grunts of exertion or hard words and curses. All of the anger and hurt and betrayal that he’d felt over the last week—probably longer—he poured into that bag until he had nothing left to give and he slumped boneless against it, clutching on to it like a lifeline.
“Feel any better?” Bobby inquired tentatively, his low voice in the now silent room, shaking Dean alert even as his knees gave out and he slid down the bag to the floor.
Dean’s arms hung limp by his side and his head, low over his chest, seemed to nod with the rise and fall of his breathing.
“No,” he replied, “I don’t think I do.”
Bobby nodded, understanding his meaning.
“Yeah, but you will, kiddo.” He placed a hand to the crown of Dean’s sweat-drenched head, messing the sun-kissed locks and patting him like the family dog. “Getch’er self together and then come up to the house.”
“Yessir,” Dean answered in an obedient tone; one which made Bobby recoil in distaste, but he didn’t say anything.
Instead Bobby left Dean kneeling in the center of the barn and retreated to the quiet solitude of his house, where he collapsed on the couch feeling like he had been the one who had just spent a solid twenty pounding the leather. He removed his hat and ran his hands roughly over his face and through his hair, emotional exhaustion weighing on him.
With his elbows resting on his knees and his head in his hands, Bobby let his eyes fall closed, hoping to block out the image of a hurt and angry Dean burned into his retinas; the image of his betrayal. He’d done what he could, the only thing he’d known how to do, but yet Bobby could not let go of the idea that he’d just done something terribly, terribly bad.
All the hard-earned trust that had taken years to pry out of the boy was, in one fell swoop, gone. His greatest fears and weaknesses had turned back and used against him at his most vulnerable and Bobby was completely ashamed of himself for it.
Slowly he opened his eyes, staring intently at the fifty-year-old throw rug that lay beneath his feet; it's intricate floral patterns, once bold in color were now faded with age and sun. It wasn't a rug that he had picked out. Hell, if he had to guess, it probably came with the house when he and his wife had bought the property so many years before.
His wife. Karen. There was another point of contention in the trust category. She'd loved him. Married him. Trusted him above all others, and yet, when the chips fell, there she lay, dead on the floor and he standing above her with her blood coating his shaking hands. And in that one act, all the love and trust that she had gifted him, came pouring out of her along the edge of a blade.
Bobby would have joined her right quick if it hadn't been for the intervention of a stranger; a hunter. A turn of fate. A new door opened. A door into an ugly world; and once entered, there could be no turning back.
And he hadn't turned back. Bobby had faced his new life head on, burying himself and his pain in the work, covering Karen's blood with that of every ghoul and werewolf or any number of creatures that had the poor luck of finding themselves in his path.
But at the end of the day, he still came home to his empty house, with the blood stained floor and the whispers of betrayal floating around every corner. No wonder he'd taken to drinking as heavily as he had. No wonder he loaded that one special round into the chamber of his colt every night and aimed it at his head. That lonely house and its ghosts were more than any man should have to bear. That was, until a long night of thunderstorms during which a stranger appeared.
If Bobby should happen to luck out and somehow manage to survive this 'life'. If the alcohol didn't poison his liver or the spirit of his wife not claim him. If by some miracle, Robert Steven Singer managed to live to be an old man, well; first it would be a miracle and God, a moron for keeping him around that long. But if it came to pass and that old man was asked, he would say with complete certainty that the night John Winchester showed up on his doorstep was both the best and the worst night to have ever happened.
The morning after that stormy night, the skies had cleared and the house had filled with voices. Not the whispered voices that had haunted Bobby for years, but the voices of children; quiet and polite as they may be. Bobby had never experienced such a sound, and to his credit, he handled the strange intrusion very well. He'd entered his kitchen to find it had been completely taken over.
John Winchester stood at the helm of his new ship, cracking an egg into Bobby's iron skillet, while his two little boys sat patiently at the table, hands folded in their laps, the littlest boy's short legs, swinging freely beneath the table.
"Sorry," John had said. "Don't mean to take over your place, but these boys won't wait ‘til midday to be fed. I'll pay you, of course, whatever the cost."
"Don't worry about it. I'm just a little surprised I actually have eggs, is all."
Smelling fresh coffee, Bobby stepped up to the counter, pulling a cup down from the cupboard and poured himself the strongest cup of black coffee he'd ever had; sputtering at the bitter taste. Then he took a seat, feeling like the house guest at his own table. Across from him sat John's two boys.
"What's your name?" the oldest boy had piped up.
"Bobby," he’d answered. "What's yours?"
"Mine's Dean and that's my little brother, Sammy." Sam's young face had lit up, but he stayed quiet, letting his big brother talk for him.
"Good to meet you both."
Bobby’s life hadn’t been the same since. Over his many years in ‘the life’, he’d known many hunters, a few of them, he’d even known well. But the Winchesters, particularly the boys, had settled into his life as if they'd always belonged there. So for Bobby to have put himself in danger of losing Dean's trust, felt like a weighted brick on his chest, constricting his ability to draw full breath and he was left with only one option; wait the boy out.
Bobby rocked forward, coming to his feet with a deep grunt and rolled his shoulders, twisting at the waist to stretch his back muscles out a bit and with it, the stresses of the day.
“Not a lot you can do about it now,” Bobby said, “’cept wait.” He walked into the kitchen and grabbed out a bottle of beer, cracked it open and poured the cold, crisp liquid down his throat. Bobby never was much good at waiting.
He didn’t have to wait long though. Twenty minutes and two beers later, he heard the tell-tale sound of Dean stumping up the front steps in his walking boot. The front screen door banged; not the expected bang of ‘I’m pissed’, just the ordinary ‘here comes the boys’ bang.
But when after a moment, Dean did not appear in the kitchen doorway, Bobby grabbed another bottle and decided to press his luck and go look for him. He was not surprised in the least bit to find Dean was seated, waiting at the bottom of the oak staircase, long arms wrapped around his bent legs, chin resting on top of his knees.
On the floor at his feet lay the walking boot, cast aside like yesterday’s garbage.
“Whatcha doin’ with that?” Bobby asked, his brow quirking up beneath the line of his hat.
“I’m quitting it. Never did me any good, anyhow,” Dean said quietly, looking up to challenge the man standing in front of him. “Why? You gonna tell me I should leave it on?”
“I ain’t gonna tell you nothin’, kid. You’re your own man. Truth be told, I thought that doc was a nut for prescribin’ it anyway.” Bobby’s mouth twisted up in a sarcastic smirk. “Like a Winchester ever followed doctor’s orders in the history of mankind.”
Bobby handed Dean a beer and sat down beside him. He fidgeted with his cap and stroked at his beard, and turned finally to the young man, who was watching him with a guarded expression.
“You remember our conversation this mornin', 'bout dealin' with the pressures of the job?”
Dean nodded warily.
“I knew a man once, made moonshine usin' a steam still; best rotgut I ever drank,” Bobby smiled briefly, then his expression sobered again. “The thing with a steam still is you gotta be real careful. Too much heat for too long, the pressure builds, and if you don't watch for it, if you don't release that pressure safely soon as you see it buildin' up, then you're gonna have one helluva messy explosion on your hands. You see what I'm sayin' Dean?”
The younger man inclined his head. “That I should stick to a turnip still if I ever wanna go into the bootleggin' business?”
Dean's attempt to keep his expression serious was completely ruined by his dilated pupils and the way his lips were twitching.
Bobby sighed. “Smartass.”
“No, I get it Bobby, I do. I gotta remember to release my pressure valve before I explode, and I gotta do it some way that ain't gonna get me in trouble.”
He clinked his bottle against Bobby's and then watched as a drip of condensation ran down the side of the bottle and onto the porch decking.
“Thank you,” he said, “You know, I really don't know why you put up with my crap.”
Bobby snorted. “You and I? We may not be blood, son, but we’re still family.” He got to his feet and stretched. “Now: we got a motor mount with a stubborn bolt that ain't gonna loosen itself. So whatdya say we get on to that before we both start growin' lady parts?”
Chapter 9: Riding the Fence - Part 9
Dean took a glass down from the cupboard and turned the faucet to cold, letting it run until it was like ice and then filling his glass to the brim. He lifted it to his mouth, relishing the cool cascade that flowed across his tongue and down his throat, instantaneously cooling his core.
Dean had been out in the shop all morning working on a particularly difficult Dodge. Bobby had asked that he run a diagnostic to determine what was and wasn’t mechanically salvageable on the car as he had a possible buyer lined up. Problem was that Bobby didn’t own a diagnostic machine, so Dean had resorted to going through the vehicle piece by piece, verifying that most everything was in working order. No small task made all the more difficult by the sudden rise in summer temperature, but at least Dean could say that he was keeping himself occupied.
If he kept moving, then he wouldn’t have time to think about his family and the fact that 24 hours later, he still hadn’t received a call back from either of them.
Bobby had caught him the night before sitting in the Chevelle attempting to hotwire the car with plans of heading west to Colorado in search of the missing members of his family. Bobby had approached the car and leaned his arms against the open window, dangling the distributor cap from his fingers in front of Dean’s face.
“I thought we talked about this,” Bobby had stated plainly, not able to come down hard on the kid.
“We did,” Dean’d answered solemnly. “Didn’t figure on getting caught.”
“I mighta been born at night, son, but I wasn’t born last night.” Bobby had pulled the door open with one hand and pointed toward the house with the other. “March,” he’d ordered.
Dean had done so with little argument and they’d had another heart-to-heart, sit down conversation.
“For someone who claims that he doesn’t wanna grow lady parts, you sure seem to like to talk,” Dean complained.
“Yeah, well…”Bobby searched for a witty comeback and failed miserably, “just-just go to bed and quit acting like a baby.”
“Tuck me in?” Dean asked with a smirk, leaving the room quickly before Bobby could swat at him.
“And stay in bed, dammit!” Bobby barked after him.
“Yes, Mom!” Dean hollered back, over the stair rail.
Although the conversation had ended humorously, the bulk of it had been a serious discussion about what happens to idjits who take off in the middle of the night. After which they’d agreed that keeping Dean very busy was probably the best, most viable option for keeping his mind on anything other than his father and brother. So busy he had been.
From the moment he’d woken up, he’d been on the move. A sit down plate of eggs and bacon became and an egg sandwich wrapped in a paper towel and a thermos of coffee; black, just how he liked it. He hadn’t even been allowed in the kitchen. Bobby had met him at the bottom of the stairs with a list and shoved breakfast-to-go into his hands. He’d then taken him by the shoulders, directed him towards the door and given him a hearty shove and a warning: “Under no circumstances are you to beat on any of my vehicles today.”
The list was long and the jobs arduous. Where Bobby had managed to scrounge up such a list was anyone’s guess, but the amount of work on the one sheet alone was enough to keep Dean elbow-deep in grease for a week. Not that he minded. It felt good to get dirty, to once again feel useful. He’d been skating by these last few days, doing as little as possible and not really putting his all into what little he had done because he was anticipating his father’s return. That had been a mistake on Dean’s part; to expect his father back when he’d promised. John Winchester never came back when he promised. Dean would remember that next time, not that there was gonna be a next time.
Dean finished off the glass of water and refilled the glass, setting it aside. He reached into the fridge and found a plate of left over ham roast that Gert had brought over a few days before and using a fork, tore himself off a good sized chunk. Forkful of ham in one hand, glass of water in the other, Dean wandered out to the front steps and sat down in the cool shade of the porch.
He turned his back to the post and leaned against it while he ate at the large portion of ham, all the while hearing his brother’s voice griping about his food choices. ‘You know, Dean, all that meat is gonna clog your arteries and stop up your bowels. Do you know how much undigested meat sits in the average man’s intestines?’
“Shaddup,” he chided quietly, unsure whether he was actually talking to himself or the idea of his brother.
Inside the house the phone rang. Dean’s first instinct was to ignore it. Those were Bobby’s phones, several of which were ‘job’ related and Dean knew that he would put both Bobby and the hunter involved at risk if he should pick up the line and answer incorrectly. But another part of him begged for Dean to get involved, get his fingers back in the work, since his leg wasn’t. If Bobby was there, he’d be all over the call, like white on rice and Dean was sure that if it was research related, he would invite Dean to participate.
But Bobby was gone; left on an errand that he said should last him most of the afternoon. Before leaving, they had had a come to Jesus meeting and had broached a compromise. Bobby would trust the younger hunter and Dean would stay his ass put and not break that trust. They’d even shook on it, something Bobby had insisted on.
So Dean was there and Bobby was gone and the phone was still ringing. The muscle beneath Dean’s eye began to twitch as seconds seemed to stretch out into minutes.
7 rings – 8 – 9 – For the love of God! – 10 – 11 – Why in the Hell hasn’t Bobby invested in an answering machine? – 12 – 13 – “Fuck! Okay! Dammit! If I get my ass handed to me for this, you’re gonna rue the day!”
Dean climbed quickly to his feet and jogged, skipping loosely on his injured, but boot free leg to get into and across the house before whatever idiot was waiting on the other end decided to hang up.
16 – 17 – Dean scrounged for the phone, pulling up in confusion, hesitating to answer when he discovered that it wasn’t one of Bobby’s ‘work’ phones, but his actual home line instead. Who would be calling the home line? For a moment, the entire world around him stopped and his senses overloaded with the feel of his heart pounding in his chest, the compressing heat and the trickle of sweat down the back of his neck, and the mantra echoing in his head; It’s Dad. It’s Dad. – 18 – 19 – Dean came out of his head with a start. He tapped the button to answer and pressed the phone cautiously to his ear.
“Dean. Just the young man I was looking for.”
“What took you so long?”
“I need a favor, my sweet boy.”
“Dean, honey, are you alright?”
“What? Yeah. I think so, yeah. Did you call here?”
“Yes, I did. Are you sure you’re alright? You didn’t hit your head again, did you? I told you to be careful of that. Too many hits and you’ll wind up with permanent damage.”
“No. I’m fine. I just…thought…you know what? Never mind what I thought. What’s the favor?”
“I thought maybe you might like to drive me into town.”
“Oh…” Crap, he thought. It would have to be something that required he leave the property. “Bobby’s kinda got me under house arrest.”
“What did you do?” she asked, using the full force of her motherly voice.
Dean cringed a little and then admitted in a small voice, “Tried to steal his car last night.”
“To what? Drive out and look for your family? Honey—”
“I know,” he interrupted, “I heard all about it last night. I’m not gonna try it again. It’s just…this waitin’ around crap is killin’ me.”
“You are not the waiting around type of guy,” she stated, knowingly.
“Well then. Do an old gal a favor and come Drive Miss Daisy into town to get her hair done.”
“What about Bobby? He’ll string me up—”
“I’ll take care of him. I’ll even flip for a cut of your own. Lord knows you need one.”
Subconsciously, Dean reached up to run his fingers through the longer than normal locks. He was beginning to resemble Sammy he needed a cut so badly.
“I don’t know, Gert.”
“Lots of pretty girls at the salon,” she tempted, “They’ll probably even break out into a fight over who gets to run their fingers through your hair.”
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“There’s a good boy.”
“Does this make me a pushover?”
“Yes, darlin’. I’ll see you in ten.”
This was heaven. Dean had never experienced anything quite like this feeling, but he was 100% positive that this was heaven. The girl’s name was Rachel or Amber or Hell, it could have been Mother Theresa for all he knew. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that she had the most perfect hands he had ever had the privilege of coming across. Think, blunt nails that scratched circular patterns into his scalp. Strong, warm hands that smoothed and massaged the most soothing scent of conditioner through his hair, down the back length of his neck, paying special attention to the soft dip behind his ears. Oh, how he loved that spot. His head rolled forward, eyes closed as he completely blissed out at the sensation. His body was so boneless at that point, that it was an effort to remain sitting up. Dean made a mental reminder to get on his knees and kiss Gert’s feet for getting him to agree to this. He would never go back to letting his dad cut his hair again. Ever.
Dean was so busy enjoying the magic fingers of Debbie, or whatever her name was, as she rinsed the conditioner from his hair, that he had paid no mind what-so-ever to the conversation going on around him. The soft rumble that vibrated between himself and his stylist as she spoke was perhaps even more soothing than perhaps the conditioner had been.
“I don’t care what you say. That would scare the holy bejeezus out of me. There’s no way I’d go back there.”
Bejeezus, he thought, smiling to himself. That’s a funny word.
“S’not like I have much choice, Amy.”
Amy! That’s right. Her name was Amy.
“I need this internship to graduate.”
Why does this girl’s voice sound so familiar?
“Besides, I don’t believe in ghosts. It was probably just some deranged serial killer.”
“What did you say?” Dean sat up, pulling out of Amy’s hands and searched for the familiar voice that he’d just heard.
There, leaning on bent elbows across the front counter and talking to his stylist, was the pretty girl from the sporting goods store; Mira, he remembered. She stared at him with a look that could be a combination of attitude and amusement. Mira tilted her head to the side, amused by the sight of him, wet hair plastered to his forehead, water dripping down his face and neck. He hadn’t even received the trim yet, but that no longer mattered, because Dean had a case!
“What did you say?” he repeated slowly and a little more forcefully.
Mira’s eyes widened at his tone, her mouth dropping open a fraction and then snapping shut, her eyes hardening.
“I was just joking about the serial killer.”
“No, the other part,” he stated simply. Dean looked to Amy and asked, “Are we done here?”
Caught off guard, all she could do was nod even though they were far from being done. Dean unsnapped the cape, balling it up & tossed it at the surprised stylist.
“Gert, I’ll be back!”
From beneath her hairdryer, Gert smiled and waved him away.
As he rounded the counter and reached a hand out for her, Mira couldn’t help but shrink back, but Dean had already caught hold of her upper arm and pulled her to him a bit rougher than he had intended. She bumped into his chest, her hands, pressed between them, burned warm prints through his shirt and into his skin and made Dean’s eyes grow visibly darker.
“We gotta talk.”
With no room for debate, Mira was led out the door and around the corner to a narrow gap between buildings.
“Let go,” she snapped, pulling out of his hold, turning to walk away from him, but Dean was faster.
He pressed one hand flat against the brick wall of the salon, blocking Mira’s path and trapping her in that tight space, where they were once again nose to nose. Dean looked down on her with an intense, barely controlled look of excitement and then thought better of it. He took a deep breath, dialing down the intensity and regaining control over the situation. He batted his long, dark lashes and smiled sweetly at her.
“Mira,” he said very slowly, coaxing her with his smile and a light touch of his fingertips down the length of her bare arm, “Tell me about the ghost.”
She shook his hand away from her arm and frowned, not quite sure how to judge the strange look he was giving her, “You’re serious.”
“As a heart attack, sweetheart.”
Having dropped Gert and her car off at home, Dean high-tailed it back to Bobby’s house. He ran up the front steps of the house as fast as his bum leg would carry him. Movement was much easier now that he’d rid himself of the heavy walking boot, but there was still a twinge of pain with every footfall.
He burst through the front door, bellowing like a bull and tearing through the house, slamming to stop in the doorway of the kitchen where Bobby was fixing himself a sandwich.
“Nice of you to come home. You done gettin’ purdy? Think maybe we can get that list done now?”
Bobby turned and seeing the panicked kid, looked him up and down, checking for injuries and finding none.
“I gotta borrow your car,” Dean spewed out, then turned and made a bee-line for the stairs.
Bobby dropped the knife back into the jar of peanut butter and followed him out of the room.
“For what?” he hollered up the stairs.
Dean stopped and leaned over the banister and grinned, “Caught a case,” he grinned and then fled into his room.
“Wait! What kinda case?” The older hunter stomped up the stairs after him and found the young man in his bedroom with a large duffle bag spread out and open on top of the bed and Dean on his belly, digging around underneath.
“What are you doing?”
Dean’s hand appeared from beneath the bed, and slapped a box of preloaded salt shells down in the middle of the floor. Next he brought out a 12 gauge pump action that looked like it hadn’t seen the gun oil in years.
Bobby reached down and retrieved the weapon, turning it over in his hands, “Hey, this is mine. I thought I lost this.”
“You didn’t lose it,” Dean answered; his words mumbled by the mattress, “Sam and I stole it.”
He scooted out from beneath the bed, rose to his feet in one fluid motion and crossed the room to the chest of drawers where he dug into the top drawer.
“Aha!” he exclaimed coming away with a rolled up, dirty-white dishtowel. Dean took it to the bed and unrolled it to reveal all the makings of a cleaning kit. He snatched the gun away from Bobby and grabbed a shell from the box, loading it into the weapon. Dean went and threw open the storm window, leaning way out. He pulled the fore-end and then pushed it back into place to chamber the cartridge, raised the weapon and fired off into the distance.
Bobby growled, pulling his hands down from his ears where he‘d covered them at the last second. “Are you gonna tell me what’s going on? Or I’m I just supposed to guess?”
“You know that girl, Mira? The one that works at Clive’s? She’s got a case.” Dean reloaded the gun, leaning back out the window to fire again, heating the barrel up so best to clean it. That done, he sat down on the bed and readied his supplies, threading a patch onto a shotgun tip and attaching it to the long flexible rod in this kit. He slid the rod down into the barrel and at the muzzle gripped the other end, pulling the patch all the way through.
“And what?” Bobby asked, “You think you can just run off and save the day? By yourself? There’s better ways to go about gettin’ in the girl’s pants, Dean, than by putting yourself at risk when you‘re on the DL.”
“It’s not about the girl, Bobby.” Dean defended, setting the rod aside to look up at his friend.
“Then what is it?”
Dean tilted his head back and forth, taking a moment to actually think about it. Why was it so important for him to take this job? Was he just trying to impress Mira? “I don’t know. Maybe I just wanna get my feet wet again, ya know? I’m itchin’ to get back to it.”
“Itchin’ to get yourself hurt again s’more like it.”
“You said it yourself, man. Hunters get hurt all the time, but I’ve still got work to do.”
Bobby watched in disbelief as Dean went right back to his work and continued to clean, grabbing up the brush and running it through the barrel once to loosen up the crud inside. Taking up the rod again and with a bit of solvent added to a fresh patch, Dean threaded it through the gun, thoroughly cleaning it.
“So genius, you gotta a plan in all this or are you just flying by the seat of your pants?”
“Course I gotta plan, Bobby. I always have a plan.”
He smiled that cocky smile that made Bobby both cringe in fear and want to smack him upside the head. That smile was never a good sign, but what was he gonna do, tell him no?
“Okay,” Bobby sighed.
Dean stopped all movement and looked up a bit surprised, “Okay? That’s it?”
“Were you expecting something different?”
“I don’t know?” Dean shrugged, rubbing absentmindedly at the back of his neck. “An argument, I guess. Dad would’ve been up my ass about this.”
“Son, do I look like your father?”
The look he received from Dean was one of confusion and discomfort, with his eyebrows nearly colliding together high on his forehead and his eyes looking anywhere but at Bobby. But when Dean swallowed hard, Bobby could see the truth, plain as day; guilt.
Bobby turned and sat down on the bed, leaning forward, elbows rested on his knees and for a while they just sat in companionable silence, not looking at one another.
“I’m not trying to be a replacement for your dad, if that’s what you’re thinkin’.”
Dean did look up at that and before he could agree or disagree, Bobby continued, “I care about you a great deal. You and your brother. But I’d never try to persuade you away from you dad. And I’m not out to try and be better than him. John’s your father and sure I do things a might bit different from him, but that doesn’t make me right over him, just makes us different.”
“No, I get that. I don’t think you’re trying to take over for Dad. I don’t know what I’m thinkin’ for sure.” Dean stopped and looked back in the hands in his lap, still fumbling with the barrel brush, his fingers coated in the solvent and grime. “I don’t know,” he repeated, “maybe, it’s just…easier here.”
What Dean meant to say was: ‘You’ve got this life, with people outside of hunting who actually care about you, and you’ve managed to balance it all out somehow. Sometimes, I just wish I could have that too, ya know?’
But what came out was: “You’re not as much of a hard ass as my old man.”
“Easier?” Bobby re-iterated with a look of mock-outrage.
“Oh, no. I don’t mean…easier.”
“But you said easier.”
“I just mean…that…I-”
“Ah, shut up. Ya know I’m just flippin’ ya shit.” Bobby bounced up off of the bed, smacking Dean playfully in the back of the head as he went. “So, what’s the plan, Stan?”
The sun was sinking quickly past the horizon when Dean and Mira pulled up outside of the rather harmless looking building. On the trip across the city, Mira had explained that she only worked at the sporting goods store in the summer; that her real job was attending graduate school and the internship she had at the small local museum. Dean frowned and gave Mira a suspicious look.
“Are you kidding me?”
“I told you, it’s just a story.”
“You told me it was haunted and that a guy died here last week.”
“He did! It was Bob, our night janitor.”
“How? Did he slip and fall on the waxed floors? Mira this place is brand new. There’s no way it’s got any kind of a history. You’re gonna have to give me a little something more to go on.”
“He didn’t fall. He was stabbed. With a really big…“ Mira made a stabbing motion with both her hands to demonstrate the scale of the weapon used, “something. They didn’t find a knife or anything but it had to be huge, cuz the hole it left in his back…” she paused, growing pale before Dean’s eyes.
“I found him, Dean,” she whispered, eyes wide and glancing nervously toward the building. “The doors were locked. All of them. But it was my day to open and when I unlocked the doors and walked in, Bob was lying there, just past the entrance, like he had been trying to run away from who…or whatever was out to get him.”
Dean turned behind the wheel, pulling his leg up and throwing an arm over the back of the seat to face the young woman.
“It’s like I told you,” she continued, “things have been happening all summer; weird things.”
“You said. Voices, smoke, things being misplaced.”
“Or broke,” she added. “It’s a museum. We do a pretty good job securing historical items and yet all summer long we’ve been finding things knocked over or just outright smashed. It’s like…like someone’s let a bull loose in a china shop.”
“But has anyone ever seen anything?”
“Sure,” she replied, “the guy who died. Why are you so interested in this, anyway?”
“Let’s just say, it’s kind of my major.” He flashed a grin before climbing out from behind the steering wheel. Dean circled around to the trunk and pulled out a duffle, slinging it over his shoulder.
“So, how do we do this?” Mira asked, appearing at his side.
“We?” Dean straightened up in surprise. “There’s no we here, honey. I’m going in and you’re staying put.”
The truck lid closed with a bang and Dean turned and walked away, leaving the young woman gaping in disbelief.
Dean knelt down in front of the double glass doors, pulling a pick kit from his front shirt pocket and set to work on the lock, looking up in surprise when a set of keys was lowered down into view.
“Might be easier, my way.”
“Easier, yes,” Dean took the keys from her hands and smirked, “but not as much fun.”
He unlocked the door and made to enter the building, but pulled up short, holding a hand out to block Mira from following.
“I’m going in with you,” she stated matter-of-factly.
“Like Hell you are.”
Dean turned to present an intimidating challenge, but Mira did not back down. She stepped up into his personal space, challenging him right back.
“Those are my keys that got you in.”
“Maybe, but you are only gonna slow me down.”
“Says the man with a limp. I’m going in.”
“You know,” he argued, his lip curling and his words biting, “you’re beginning to get on my nerves.”
“Back at ya.”
They stood, nose to nose, glaring at each other, until Dean couldn’t take it anymore and broke, “Fine,” Dean growled, grabbing her by the arm and dragging her - a little more forcefully than he actually intended - through the doorway. “But,” he said pulling her to a stop just inside of the doors, “if this place really is haunted, then it’s all for one and one for all, you got me? So you best be prepared to do your part.”
He lowered his duffle to the floor and then knelt down to quickly unzip it and removed the shotgun.
“Jesus,” she said under her breath. “If I’d known I was dealing with a criminal, I would have-“
“Hey, you’re the one that wanted to be a part of this. I’d have been much happier with you waiting in the car. Besides, this…” Dean pushed the gun into her hands, “doesn’t make me a criminal. Us breaking in…that makes us criminals. Us; not just me. Welcome to the club.”
“And just what the Hell am I supposed to do with this?”
“You point and shoot. I’d have thought you’d have learned at least that much working in a sporting goods store all summer.”
“I know how to shoot a gun, asshole. But I can’t shoot one off in here. There’s hundreds of thousands of dollars of history in this room alone.”
“First of all, that’s rock salt. You ain’t gonna hurt anything much, except the ghost. Second, if there is a ghost, which I’m still highly doubtful, you are gonna shoot or you’re gonna end up like Shish-ka-Bob.”
“You’re sick,” she spat in disgust.
“I’ve been called worse by girls prettier than you. Let’s go.”
Dean turned on his heel and entered the main room. He was getting a feel for the room, but his attention kept coming back to the girl standing suddenly very still beside him. Dean glanced her direction and found her very pale.
“That’s where he was,” she pointed, her eyes locked on a spot on the floor in front of them. “So much blood on him,” she whispered.
“That’ll happen with a stabbing.”
“Well, I’m sorry, Dean. I’m not as used to blood and death as you are.”
“It takes a bit…wait. What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I know what you are, Dean. I know you’re a hunter.”
He wasn’t able to control the look of shock that washed over his face, his voice cracking when he tried to speak.
“Why do you think I mentioned this place in front of you at the salon? I knew you’d hear and want to investigate.”
“Who the Hell are you?”
“Sh-shhh shh shh shh.”
“Don’t shush me. I’m asking you a question”
“Dean, shut up.” She clamped a hand over his mouth, pushing him bodily into a nearby wall and hissed, “I heard something.”
Something hadn’t settled well with Bobby when Dean had given him the lowdown on the job. If he’d known about it, Dean would’ve call it Spidey sense, but Bobby just called it hunter’s intuition; something was really off about this hunt and Bobby hadn’t wasted any time in finding out. No sooner was Dean out the drive in the Chevelle, than Bobby was out the door and headed for town as well and he knew right where to go.
The sporting goods store was typically quiet for a Monday evening and Clive was easy to spot with his auburn hair and high-spirited speech. Bobby crossed the store quickly to the back counter where Clive was assisting the one and only customer in the store.
The business owner looked up and greeted his friend with a grin and an acknowledging nod but otherwise continued to focus on the customer, forcing Bobby to pull his patience to the front and wait his turn, even though his limbs were tingling with nervousness. His uneasiness did not go unnoticed though. He and Clive had been friends far too long. Reading each other’s body language had become second nature and so Clive was quick to finish the sale and cheerfully escort the customer to the front door.
Seconds later, the door was locked and the sign changed to ‘Closed’. Clive spun around only to find Bobby waiting directly behind him, his entire body, alive with nervous energy.
“So? What’s got you doin’ the Pee Pee Dance in my store, Bobby?”
“My girl? Mira? What’s she done?”
“She’s got my boy on a case?”
“You heard me. I’ve been scratchin’ my brain tryin’ to figure this out. Like how does a case just land in Dean’s lap all trussed up on a silver platter? And why is it that Mira’s the one to bring it to him? Cuz if there was a problem, you surely woulda brought it to my attention, not my nephew’s. So I gotta ask, Clive. Is there somethin’ you wanna tell me, buddy? Like how does Mira even know who Dean really is?
“Run, run, run, run!”
It had taken just moments for the museum to go from quiet and almost serene to chaos.
Mira had shoved Dean up against the wall, one hand firmly over his mouth, the other hand brandishing the weapon at the empty room. The swarm of thoughts that ran through his head at that moment had nothing to do with the case and everything to do with the sudden hotness of the situation he now found himself in.
The “You’re kinda hot, ya know?” he blurted out was muffled by the slender hand that fully covered his mouth.
But he changed gears pretty quickly when the air vibrated with sound; a low, gritty grunt that filled the room and raised all the hairs on the back of Dean‘s neck. His eyes widened dramatically and he reached up to peel Mira’s hand away. The hunter/protector in him kicked in and in one swift motion, he’d disarmed the girl and swept her behind him, pulling the pump handle and chambering this first cartridge.
“What the Hell was that?” Mira squeaked, curling her fingers into the back of Dean’s shirt, shielding herself with his young, broad frame.
“Whatever it is, it’s not good. Okay, okay. Focus Winchester.”
Too dark to see, Dean let his eyes fall closed and reached out with his senses to get a grasp on what it was that he was dealing with. He felt the warmth of Mira behind him, her hands clutching the sides of his back; trembling. He got a sense of how large the room was; the wall of glass cases on one end, the period-dressed mannequins looming directly in front of them and off to the far end was the something else they were looking for.
Dean opened his eyes. He couldn‘t make out what it looked like, but it didn‘t matter; he could hear it. Long, hollow breaths, rasping wet out an endless throat. Whatever it was, it wasn’t even remotely human-like and that made Dean nervous. Humans, even in ghost-form, were predictable. So were humanoid monsters. They moved a certain way, thought a certain way. Animals on the other hand were not predictable. They had two modes: kill or be killed. There was no rational thought process to go along with that; to slow their actions and reactions.
Under normal circumstances, the fact that he was facing an animal of some kind wouldn’t have bothered Dean. He’d faced enough to have gained a well-practiced reaction time. But this time he wasn’t alone. He had another person depending on him; a person that for once in his life wasn’t his little brother.
“What is that?” Mira’s breath was hot and moist against his back, seeping through his shirt and sending chills down his arms. Her grip tightened as the sound grew louder; a loud puff of breath through wide nostrils accompanied by a dull impact of weight against the tiled floor. Whatever is was at the end of the long room was growing agitated by their presence; its grunt resounding around the room.
Quickly, Dean fired up the small Maglite he carried and raised it to shine some light on the situation. Scanning the area, they could see a stack of boxes and items too big or oddly shaped for boxes, in various stages of unpacking and display and behind it a series of glass display cases.
But nestled in one corner lay what appeared to be a diorama straight out of Little House on the Prairie. Tall grasses framed in the scene of a Sioux woman kneeling along a river with a clay jar in her hand. By her side, an infant was wrapped tight against a cradle board and behind them; a wolf sat watching the scene.
Dean couldn’t help but jump as the sight of the animal, but narrowing his eyes, he was able to tell that the animal was stuffed and preserved. He scanned further seeing a six foot long head dress of white feathers trailing nearly to the floor.
“That’s a big boy,” Dean whispered as the light from his flashlight fell on a large Bison positioned next to a prominently displayed Buffalo Hunter’s rifle. “I saw a domestic herd once in Kansas, but it was a long ways off in a field.”
“Dean?” Backing her way down the length of the wall Mira pulled Dean with, her hands shaking against his lower back. “Dean, we don’t have a complete buffalo.”
There was a second of silence before Dean twisted at the waist to level a look of realization at her, his mouth hanging open, eyes wide with panic. Mira shook her head at his questioning look, too frightened to even speak.
They were brought back around, by a loud, aggravated snort. Dean turned the flashlight on it, staring long and hard and taking a defensive step back when the spectral creature blinked out and then back in.
“Ghost buffalo. Huh…that’s new.”
Mira hooked Dean’s left elbow and with both hands wrapped around his upper arm, began tugging him back towards the door, her voice cracking in fear when she spoke.
“Dean, come on. We gotta get out of here.”
“Stopstopstop, don’t move.” He brought that arm around behind him, tucking her safely into his back, while keeping his sights on the animal apparition in front on them. “I’m gonna get you outta here,” he whispered, earnestly, “but you gotta hold still or we’re gonna have a whole mess of trouble stampeding over us.”
He felt Mira nod in agreement, her chin tucked into his shoulder so that she could just see over him. She gasped and buried her face in his shirt when the animal thrashed; the horns that adorned the top of its substantial head, connecting with and shattering the display case beside it. The Indian headdress fluttered to the ground in a spray of glass.
“That’s…umm,” Dean stuttered in shock, “that’s awfully cor-corporeal. I think it’s time to go.”
The beast pawed the tile once and then lifted its head and bellowed, the deafening sound forcing Dean and Mira to cover their ears.
Dean took another step towards the entrance, pushing Mira along with him and drawing the shotgun up into his shoulder; all the while the bull tracked their movements, preparing itself for the charge.
Chapter 10: Riding the Fence - Part 10
The main room of the museum erupted into a cacophony of sound; glass breaking, shouts and screams, bellows and roars, and multiple gun shots echoed repeatedly around the cold, dark room. The salt rounds, while slowing it down, did not buy Dean enough time to both fend off the phantom beast and locate and deal with whatever artifact it may be attached to. He pulled and pushed the fore-end of his rifle, fired and then dove up and over a stack of crates, crashing in a tangle of limbs.
“Nice of you to join me,” Mira quipped, helping him up off his back. She had her hair pulled up in a messy knot to keep it out of her face and in her hand, she wielded a threatening looking crowbar that she was using to pry open the crates around her.
Somewhere in the vast stack of boxes and crates were all the artifacts yet to be put out for the Buffalo Hunters display. She wasn’t entirely sure what she was looking for—it was a pretty bloody time in history as far as the Bison were concerned—and the ghost could be attached to any number of items, which made Mira’s search that much more difficult.
“Any luck?” Dean panted. He reached into his jeans pocket, pulled out a handful of salt rounds and loaded them into the magazine, then chambered the first cartridge and peeked up over the crates.
“No. I’ve got it narrowed down, but I don‘t even know what it is that I‘m looking for. What is this thing?”
“Vengeful spirit, damn vengeful. It’s gotta be attached to something in there. Can’t we just salt and burn it all?” He raised the rifle up over the top crate, leveling it and taking aim on the charging spirit.
“What?!” Mira shouted over the ear-splitting blast of the gun. “No! These are museum pieces. You can’t just burn them all!”
“What did you think was gonna happen?” Dean asked, giving her an incredulous look. When she turned away from him and went back to the crates, he snatched a hold of her wrist, pulling her back around to face him. “No, really. What did you think I was gonna do, strap a pack on my back and shoot it with laser beams? This ain’t the movies, ya know. I‘m not Dan Aykroyd.”
“I know that. You‘re nowhere near as funny,” she snapped back. “Here.”
Mira thrust the crowbar into his hands, relieving him of the shotgun and hip-bumping him out of the way and on to his ass.
“You look,” she commanded, “I’ll hold the fort.”
From his place on the floor, he gazed, completely in awe of the young woman in front of him. Mira climbed up on the crates, one foot higher than the other, allowing her to lean her weight into that leg and balance herself on the uneven crates. The rifle was raised to chest height and ready, she had one finger on the trigger, her other hand on the fore-end and her eyes scanned the room in a steady, confident gaze. In one breathtaking moment, little tendrils of golden curls that were falling down around her face were caught in a non-existent breeze and her silhouette lit up theatrically. With a shot gun in her hands, Mira looked, to him, like Joan of Arc in blue jeans and inwardly Dean’s libido growled approvingly, but the resonating boom of the shotgun firing brought him quickly back into a presence of mind.
He climbed up off of the floor and using the crowbar, began tearing into the yet unopened crates, tossing items haphazardly when they didn’t meet his predetermined criteria. A deafening roar and subsequent gunshot sped up Dean’s search.
“Is it me,” Mira shouted over her shoulder while she ejected the spent cartridge, “or is this thing gaining strength?”
“Do you blame it?” Dean asked dryly.
“What does that mean?”
When she didn’t get an answer, she turned only to find him head first inside a tall crate, his rear end posted high in the air, feet scrambling up the side, trying to find purchase.
“What are you doing?” she laughed.
With his hands on the edge of the crate opening, Dean pressed himself up with intentions of scowling at her, but instead his eyes widened dramatically.
“Look out!” Dean reached his hand out as if he could stop the freight train of an animal barreling at the girl.
Mira brought the gun around but not before the spectral Bison had slammed full force into the crates she was standing on, splintering several of the wooden boxes and sending her flying.
Dean was down and out of his crate just in time to cushion Mira’s fall and they landed together in a tangle of limbs. Cursing, Dean scrambled out from under her, taking the shotgun with him. He climbed out of the rubble, took aim and fired on the ghost that had circled back around for another attack. Then just as quickly, he was back at Mira’s side, pulling her up from the floor and dusting her off.
“You alright?” Dean asked, running his hands over her, checking for injuries.
“Nothing hurt but my pride,” she said, blushing. “Thank you for…ya know…breaking my fall.”
He smiled down at her, gave her a wink and then pulled a bit of wood from her tangle of curls.
“What the Hell is going on in here?!”
They both jumped, Dean spinning around to level the gun across the room at a very surprised man. He was a portly, gray-haired man dressed all in tweed and he raised his hands in surrender at the sight of the gun barrel.
“Mr. Wilson?” Mira called, narrowing her eyes to see through the darkened room. She lifted a hand to push the barrel of dean’s sawed-off down, shook her head and whispered to him, “That’s my boss.”
“Ms. Poole? Is that you?” Mr. Wilson removed his glasses, quickly polishing them clean with a handkerchief and then sliding them back onto his face.
“Ms. Poole?!” Dean cried, his voice cracking and face growing pale in recognition of the name, “As in Clive Poole?”
“Look what you’ve done!” Mr. Wilson cut her off as he stormed across the room, his arms waving wildly and his eyes bouncing from one broken display to the next and finally landing on the heap of destruction where once had stood a stack of shipping crates full of unpacked artifacts.
“All that history! Destroyed! Someone’s gonna have to–“ his tirade was cut short by the ear splitting roar of the Bison rematerializing at the far end of the room.
Without a second thought, Dean handed the gun off to Mira and dashed out into the room to retrieve the man who stood frozen in shock and fear at the sight of the very large and very angry apparition. Dean grabbed him by the arm and gave him a firm yank back towards their once solid fort, even as the Buffalo was steaming towards them.
“Come on, buddy, you gotta move. Mira!”
On cue, the shotgun sounded and rock salt skirted just passed the men as they ran and dove for safety.
“Mr. Wilson, are you okay?”
She knelt next to the older man and cringed when he groaned in pain as she helped him to sit up.
“I’m fine or at least I will be. What the Hell was that?”
“That was a ghost, sir,” she explained.
“Vengeful spirit,” Dean corrected grumpily. Rising to his feet and relieving Mira of the weapon, he discharged the spent cartridge and began loading new shells into the magazine, keeping one eye on the room and one eye on the civilians, who, much to his dismay had multiplied.
“It’s the thing that killed Bob.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No one ever does,” Dean stated flatly. He nudged Mira in the shoulder with his knee to get her attention. “We’ve got a problem.” He raised a hand and displayed five fingers; one for each round he had left.
The seriousness of Dean’s confession sank in and Mira, turned, forcefully grabbing Mr. Wilson by the shoulders and said in the most commanding voice she could manage, “We have no time for this, you have to help us.”
“What do I gotta do?” he asked.
“We’re looking for something that the ghost is attached to. We’ve been through all these, but so far, jack squat.”
“It’s a buffalo.”
“You don’t say,” Dean sniped sarcastically. He rolled his eyes and grumbled something about ‘civilians’ and ‘captain obvious’ before turning his attention back to the large room.
“No no no. It’s a buffalo. These crates here aren’t for the buffalo hunters’ exhibit.” Mr. Wilson turned 360 degrees in one spot, looking specifically for something. “There,” he said excitedly and pointed to the large crates that they had been using as a shield. “Those are the ones we want.”
He began pushing crates and debris down and away from the stack, trying to clear a path to the large crates on the bottom.
Mira saw his intention and joined him, tossing broken bits of crate to the side and shoving whole boxes over and knocking them to the ground. Dean helped where he could, but kept an ever watchful eye on the room, gun raised and knowing that he needed to make every shot count.
“Here!” the museum director shouted, “these two.” He grabbed the crow bar up off of the ground where Dean had dropped it and jammed it beneath the lid, prying it open one nail at a time. Mira grabbed hold of the lid and together the leveraged the lid open completely, and then pulled the packaging back to reveal a buffalo skull.
“Dean?” Mira called out, tugging on his pant leg.
Without looking down, Dean fired off another shot, the echo of the blast and the Bison’s bellow filling the room and above it, Dean yelled, “In my bag. There’s a flask of salt and a can of lighter fluid.”
She quickly crawled to the bag to retrieve the items and then back and looked to him for further instructions.
“Salt it. Like steak. No,” he corrected when she did as he asked. “like my steak,”
“If this can’t really burn, will it even work?” Mr. Wilson asked nervously.
“It’ll work,” Dean said confidently.
Across the room, the Bison flashed back into existence and for a second, it was as if the entire world stopped, all eyes locked on the beast as it sized them up. Having already sprayed the skull with the lighter fluid and without taking her eyes off of the ghost, Mira’s hand snaked up Dean’s far side, patting him down. He couldn’t help the giggle that escaped when her fingers found a particularly ticklish spot.
“Now’s not the time to be playin’ grab ass, much as I appreciate the reach around.”
At that comment, she did scowl at him, “I’m looking for your lighter, you jerk. As if.”
With his sights trained on the ghost, Dean dug into his front pocket, fished out the simple Zippo and pressed it into her awaiting hand, giving her fingers a slight squeeze to let her know that he’d been teasing and smiling when she squeezed back.
As if sensing that it was being threatened, the Buffalo snorted a warning and then charged across the expansive room. Mira was quick to strike the lighter and dropped it into the crate, igniting the fluid and catching the entirety of the skull and crate on fire, but the Bison just kept coming.
“Oh, that’s not good.”
Dean fired into the head of the ghost just as it breached their broken down wall of crates, knocking them all sprawling.
“Now what?” Mr. Wilson asked, climbing to his feet. “You said it would work.”
“Well, obviously, that’s not the thing we’re looking for,” Dean growled, pulling Mira up from the ground. “What else have ya got, Willie?”
Mr. Wilson eyed Dean, suspiciously, “Just how much am I going to have to sacrifice for this little adventure of yours?”
“Adventure? Ha!” Dean threw his head back in a mocking laugh. “This isn’t an adventure for me, pal,” he sneered. “This is life or death. That is dead,” Dean one-handedly pointed the rifle at the rampaging Bison, not even bothering to look as the rock salt dispersed the spirit, “and if you wanna stay alive, then you best get with the program and help us find whatever’s grounding this thing here.”
“Guys, I think I found it!”
While the men had been nose to nose, bickering, Mira had set to work, opening the second large crate. She had its lid pried open just a crack but was struggling to pull it open the remainder of the way.
“How do you know?” Dean asked, bending down to peer inside the crate. It was much too dark to see inside and he couldn’t fit his fingers between the lid and the crate.
“The box says so.”
Sure enough, the crate had been marked with a tag reading ‘Buffalo robe’.
“Why didn’t we see that before?” Dean grinned. “Think you can handle this, Wilson?” Dean asked, handing the shotgun to the director.
“Point and shoot, right?”
“Pretty much. There’s only two rounds left, so don’t waste ‘em.”
Dean dropped to his knees beside Mira and made to take the crow bar from her, but the girl wasn’t having it and suggested in not-so-polite terms that he should find his own. He looked around in the wreckage of what had been the museum; his eyes lighting up when they caught on a familiar shape.
On the floor beneath a shattered case that had been marked Lakota, lay a Tomahawk. He picked it up, weighting it in his hand for balance and smiled.
“I always wanted to do this,” he said before letting loose a full-bodied Indian war cry, bringing the deadly weapon arcing down and smashing through the lid of the crate, shattering one corner and popping the lid free.
“Was that necessary?” Mira asked, pushing the lid up and off.
“Absolutely,” Dean answered with a grin of pure glee. He slid the Tomahawk into his belt and began peeling back the shattered wooden lid.
“I-uh think you better work faster, cuz here it comes,” Mr. Wilson’s warning was shrill with anxiety. He raised the gun to his shoulder and waited until the Bison had come close enough to make the shot count and then smoothly pulled the trigger. “One shot left,” he announced, ejecting the spent cartridge.
Working quickly and together, Dean and Mira salted the 135 year old hide and sprayed it down with lighter fluid.
“What are you waiting for?” Mira asked when instead of lighting it immediately, Dean stood confused, patting himself down. “Oh! It’s in the other crate,” she said, pointing to the skull that was still burning.
“Sweet Jesus! Here it comes again. I hope for all our sakes you got it right this time.”
“Me too,” Dean answered, lifting a piece of flaming wood from the first crate and dropped the torch onto the accelerant soaked hide.
Spraying gravel everywhere, Clive slid his pickup to a halt outside the front entrance of the museum and before the engine was even cut, Bobby was out of the cab and sprinting for the door with Clive only three paces behind him. Just as they reached the concrete steps leading up toward the entry, the doors burst open; Mira and Mr. Wilson came stumbling out together, coughing and hacking in a putrid cloud of smoke. Pale and shaky, the older man bent at the waist, putting hands to knees for support and vomited into the yard.
Clive was there in a heartbeat. As Bobby rushed past them and into the building, Clive took hold of Mr. Wilson’s arm and slung it around his shoulders and helped the man down the steps and to a concrete bench.
“Y’alright, Doug?” he asked, kneeling at his feet and placing a steadying hand to the man’s shoulder.
“I’ll be fine; just got a bit overwhelmed by the smell and the smoke. That’s God awful.”
Clive clapped him sympathetically and left him to gain his senses and clear his lungs in the cool night air.
Clive had her wrapped up in his arms before she even knew he was there and held her up while her body shook with coughs. Pushing the loose hair out of her face, he did a quick once over, checking for injuries and burns, but found none.
“I’m okay,” she persuaded.
He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and swiped at her face, wiping away tears and soot. She gratefully accepted the offered and cleared her nose of the rancid smoke.
“Mira, where’s Dean?”
“He hasn’t come out yet?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he said catching a hold of her as she made to bolt back inside. “You’re not going back in there. Bobby’ll see to him. You just stay right here and catch your breath.”
“But, it’s my—”
“But, nothin’.” He pulled her back into his arms, hugging her tight and pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “What would I have done if you’d gotten hurt in there?”
“I was fine. I had Dean to protect me.”
“Dean?” Clive sighed, feeling the pinch of a headache building behind his eyes, “Mira, I don’t know what it is that you think you know about that boy, or how you’ve come to know it, but you shouldn’t have gone to him. If you needed help, you could’ve come to me and I would’ve gotten you help. But this?” he gestured towards the now silent building. “This was just risky. You being in there with him…honey, you only put the both of you kids in a lot of danger.”
“Yeah, you did.” Bobby’s voice invaded the privacy of their conversation and startled them.
“Dean? Where’s Dean?” Mira asked nervously when the young man didn’t pop out from behind Bobby.
“He’s fine. He’ll be along shortly, but before he does…the three of us need to have a little heart-to-heart.”
Mira cast a sideways glance at Clive only to find that he’d dropped the look of concern and in its place was one of disappointment and in that moment, she truly felt on her own.
“You’re a smart woman,” Bobby gave the compliment matter-of-factly; his tone not carrying the meaning of the words, but he tried to soften it with a smile when he noticed Mira flinch inwardly.
“I’m not gonna fault you for figuring a few things out,” he continued, “like I said, you’re a smart cookie, but I definitely expected a little common sense outta you. Hell, girl, you coulda got yourself killed in there.”
“Could’ve got Dean killed too.” Clive echoed in a harsh, hushed tone.
“Him, I’m not worried about,” Bobby dismissed casually, “the boy can take care of himself, but he should never’ve agreed to take you in with him.”
Mira was already shaking her head, her eyes creased at the corners and looking well scolded. “No,” she choked. “It wasn’t his fault. I didn’t give him a choice.”
“I didn’t figure you did,” Bobby tried hard not to smile. “Kid never could turn down a pretty face, but…he knows better—”
“I just don’t understand,” Clive interrupted, letting the full force of his parental authority take over. “Where’d you get the idea to involve Dean in this in the first place? You have no idea what could’ve happened to the two of you in there.”
“I do know,” she answered quietly. When she looked up with her eyes glassy with unshed tears, Mira found that she had both men’s full attention. “Just because you won’t talk about it with me, doesn’t mean I don’t know. I wasn’t so young that I don’t remember.”
“Mira…” Clive sighed.
Dean chose that moment to appear at Bobby’s side, rubbing at his smoke-scratched throat but otherwise, looking no worse for wear.
“Fire’s out,” he croaked out, grinning. But his grin quickly faded when he felt the edgy tension between the two older men and Mira.
“What’s going on?” he asked uneasily, taking notice of the tearful look on Mira’s face.
“Go sit down, hot shot,” Bobby answered dismissively.
“What?” Dean asked, taken aback by Bobby’s curt rejection.
It may have come out a little harsher than Bobby had intended, but he’d gotten a little madder than he’d intended as well. Mira & Doug Wilson were both civilians after all, and it was his and Dean’s job to protect civilians, not to put them on the front line.
Dean made to step through the pair of men but was stopped when Clive, attempting to defuse the situation, stepped bodily in front of Dean saying, “Bobby and I just need to have a word with Mira, here, in private. Gotta sort a few things out, is all.”
“Well fellas,” Mr. Wilson appeared beside them, wiping his glasses clean as he spoke, “I’m afraid that’ll have to wait. There’s a deputy’s car approaching.”
As one unit, everyone turned to look up the road and sure enough, a deputy’s police cruiser was very purposefully making its way to the museum with its lights flashing.
“Balls,” Bobby groaned.
“Get movin’,” Clive said firmly to Dean and Mira. “We’ll take care of this. You two high-tail it back to Bobby’s and then…you sit your asses still until we get back there. Am I clear?” He looked directly at Mira, who lowered her eyes to the ground, but nodded obediently and grabbed a gob smacked Dean by the arm and pulled him towards the Chevelle.
“Well…which one you suppose we’ll end up with?” Clive gestured toward the approaching squad car.
“Simpson if we’re lucky,” Bobby answered, knocking a bit of greasy protein ash off of his hat.
“I’m friends with Baker,” Mr. Wilson offered.
The two men turned as one to regard him with no small amount of surprise and Bobby was not able to disguise the disbelief in his voice.
“You mean to tell me after the amount of destruction inside your place, you’re still willing to help us out?”
“I’m not a fool Mr. Singer. I’ve got two eyes and a sound mind. I know what I saw in there and I have no doubts that had I faced that alone, I would have joined Bob Lane in the morgue. Those kids, as thoughtless as they might have appeared at first, knew exactly what they were up against. They handled themselves calmly and efficiently and, I am not ashamed to admit, saved this old man’s life. So, yes. I am still willing to help you out.”
When the Deputy’s vehicle pulled to a stop at the edge of the sidewalk and the door swung open, the three men let out a group groan. Deputy Jody Mills stepped out of the vehicle and slid her cover into place over her perfectly French-braided hair.
A pretty young woman in her early thirties, Deputy Mills had only been on the Sioux Falls Police Force for six months, but in that small amount of time, she had built herself a reputation for being a hard ass; a well-deserved reputation, as far as Bobby was concerned.
She tugged on her shirt, pulling it straight and setting her appearance, then placed a hand on her police issue and walked confidently toward the welcoming committee before her.
“Bobby Singer,” she announced haughtily. “Imagine my surprise to find you at the center of this…issue. Well, let’s get this over with. Mr. Wilson, what charges would you like to file?”
The drive back to Bobby’s was a quiet one. Mira sat silently in the passenger seat with her arms wrapped around her torso protectively, her eyes trained, unseeing, out the side window as the landscapes whizzed by.
Even with his hands on 10 and 2, Dean found it very hard to concentrate on the road. His body strummed with unspent adrenaline, but he remained painfully in check by the edgy quiet of the girl beside him. The tension radiating off Mira was tangible and he couldn’t help but worry his lip between his teeth when stealing the occasional glance at her.
Say something, he told himself. Dean looked at her again and noticed how she visibly tensed each time his eyes fell on her. He couldn’t help but wonder why, exactly, she was catching Hell for what had taken place at the museum.
Dean had made Bobby fully aware of the case. Hell, the man had practically given Dean his blessing. But at the museum, Dean had seen Bobby’s eyes, seen the set of his jaw; the man wasn’t happy. He had seen just enough of that look over the years to know when there was about to be trouble. And if there was one thing Dean knew for sure, it was that Bobby didn’t get upset easily and when he did, it was usually because someone he cared about was in danger.
Clive too. Even though Dean had only just met Clive that week, he fully recognized the quiet, parental look of anger and disappointment mixed with ‘Thank God you’re alive’.
So maybe it was a parental thing. Clive had been worried about his daughter, and wow, wasn’t that a shock? And Bobby had been worried about Dean. But if that was the case, why hadn’t Bobby been all up in Dean’s ass about it?
“I can hear you thinking,” Mira said, barely a whisper, her breath fogging the chilled door glass.
“I wasn’t,” he defended automatically.
“You weren’t?” Mira looked, catching his gaze and lifted her eyebrows in disbelief. “Do you mean to tell me that isn’t your pensive and brooding look?”
He just looked at her, his mouth twisting in a mocking frown and kept driving. Dean wasn’t pensive. He thought it was perfectly clear to anyone who actually knew them, that of the Winchesters, Sammy was the pensive one, whereas Dean was cool and aloof. But Mira didn’t know them. Did she?
Dean pulled the car into Bobby’s lot and cut the engine, but neither Dean nor Mira made a move to get out. Instead they just sat there. Dean’s hands clung to the wheel, grounding him and the swirl of thoughts in his head. Maybe he was pensive after all.
Mira, however, sighed. She slid down further into the passenger seat, the round curls of her hair that had been loosely pulled up and knotted were now bunched up above her head against the seat leather, glowing in the harsh yellow yard light like an angel’s halo above her head. She slouched; not too unlike Dean had seen Sammy do so many times over the years, and for a moment he was reminded strongly of his brother; especially when she slid her hands beneath her thighs and stretched her long legs out in front of her.
“I don’t get you,” he said, breaking the silence between them.
“What’s there to get?” she returned, trying hard to come off nonchalant.
“Nah, forget it.”
Following her lead, Dean sunk down into his seat, stretched his legs and noticed for the first time that his injured leg was throbbing. He’d most likely regret this night’s actions come morning, but for now he could only make himself comfortable. Releasing the deep breath he’d been unaware he was holding, Dean let his eyes fall closed. He laid one arm over his chest and tucked it beneath the solid weight of the other and then tried to let his mind go; not that it was going to work. He was in the middle of a post-hunt high and his mind was racing at a million miles an hour. The fact that he was actually sitting still, was a minor miracle. This kind of energy was meant for two things, fighting or fucking, but seeing as neither appeared likely, Dean was left to think.
“So what’s our story gonna be?” he asked finally.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, Bobby and Clive are gonna come back here lookin’ to restart the Spanish Inquisition, so I just figured that it would be good if we’re on the same page.”
“Don’t worry about it, Dean. They’re not after you.”
“And why is that exactly?”
Mira’s head rolled his direction, her rich brown eyes wide and imploring; wanting so badly for him not to ask the questions she could hear floating around in his head.
“What did you do?” Dean asked, the hint of an accusation seeping into his voice, but then he frowned, seeing the answer forming on her lips and watching her fight for control over her own words. Blinking heavily she opened and closed her mouth, swiped her tongue across pink lips that threatened her with treachery and then in the next breath, she had turned and was closing the distance and pressing those same traitorous lips against his.
It wasn’t a nice kiss. Dean had known hundreds of kisses in his lifetime; he knew kisses. Kisses could mean many things; I love you, I want you, I need you, I’m afraid, I’m alone; so many things. This kiss was different, he recognized. It was demanding and forceful and was meant to shut him up, and for one brief moment, Dean felt himself sink into that, surrendering to the loss of control as she attempted to strip it from him completely. He let his lips slip beneath hers, parting them to taste her desire and instead found only desperation.
His eyes sprung open and he squeaked in denial, tried to back away from her kiss, but he was slouched down in the seat, with Mira inching over him, pressing him further into the leather, her hands now grasping at him impatiently.
“Mira,” he spoke against her mouth, “stop.”
He peeled her hands from his shirt, taking hold of her slender wrists and fighting up out of his slouch and to regain some sort of control over the situation, even as she continued to chase the contact.
“Mira,” he said a little more forcefully. Dean sat up, pulling her easily with him and trapping her small hands between them as he wrapped a long arm around her, holding her in place. With his free hand, he pushed the wild curls from her face, only to find her eyes brimming with tears, her features covered with anguish.
“What did you do?” he repeated, quieter this time, without the heat of his earlier accusation.
“I lied to you, Dean.” she choked, angling her eyes away from his.
“Darlin’,” he drawled, pulling her attention back up to his face, “I had that much figured out a long time ago.”
He smiled; that self-assured smile of his with his head leaned back, looking down his slender nose at her and his chin tucked up so that his mouth looked both teasing and pouty all at once; that smile. That was the smile that could get him anything he wanted. And what he wanted right that very moment was for Mira to spill.
“What I don’t understand,” he started, rubbing his thumb up and over the apple of her cheek, wiping away a stray tear, “is why you thought you had to lie; why you had to manipulate me.”
Defensively, Mira freed a hand and knocked Dean’s away from her face. She pushed against Dean’s chest, trying to put some room between them and when Dean obliged and let go completely, she fell backwards off the seat, only just catching herself on the dash before she tumbled onto the floor.
“I’m not proud of it,” she said bitterly, “but I didn’t know what else to do.”
Dean was a world class liar and he’d been around world class liars his whole life. It was a necessary part of his life, but a part which he’d never come to handle well when on the receiving end. He wasn’t used to being the manipulated one.
“You coulda just told me,” Dean offered by way of suggestion.
“Dean, I’m sor—”
“I mean, under normal circumstances…you ain‘t getting in under my radar,” he cut across her, taping his temple with an index finger. “Dean Winchester just doesn’t get taken, ya know. He does the taking, but I can’t even get a read on you, cuz you’re all over the damn map. That’s a little unfair, don’t ya think, Mira?”
He was babbling now, at full speed, and Mira couldn’t tell if he was trying to be funny or if he was being serious and actually upset with her.
“Hell, you claim to know who I am, but I don’t get the same rights? Who are you? You never did answer me that one, Mira…if that is your real name. One minute you’re a stuck up sorority chick who won’t give me the time of day and the next you’re eyeing me up like a piece of meat.”
Dean took a deep, exaggerated breath, found ‘center’ and then leaned in closer saying quite seriously, “And then I find out that you’re none of the above and that you’re Clive’s friggin’ daughter. So, if you really know me, like you say you do, then you had to know that us running off on a goddamn job was gonna cause waves between Bobby and your old man when he found out. No self-respectin’ father is gonna let his kid get put in harm’s way like that.”
“He’s not my father.”
Dean stilled, not sure he’d heard her correctly, she’d spoken so quietly.
“Clive. He’s not my father.”
“Oh God,” Dean groaned, looking like he was truly going to be sick. “Please tell me he’s not your husband or something.”
Mira pulled a face like she too was going to be ill, her nose crinkling at the thought.
“He’s my uncle,” she all but cried out. “That’s so gross, Dean. Why would you even think that?”
“You have the same last name! Shit, I don’t know.”
They both sat in shocked silence until the smallest laugh bubbled up from within Mira’s chest. Once started, it became contagious, Dean following suit until they were laughing so hard they were panting for breath.
“Truce?” Dean asked, offering his hand to her.
Mira nodded her agreement and took his hand. Dean pulled her back onto the seat, where she settled down beside him, resting her head against the seat back and holding her aching tummy.
“Where’s your folks?” Dean nudged the conversation tentatively, but slowed when Mira tensed next to him, “You don’t have to tell me. I was just curious.”
Mira took a deep breath and released it slowly and then let herself slide over until her head met Dean’s shoulder. He looked down, completely unsure and wary of the move, but did nothing to stop her.
“My parents…were killed…when I was a little girl.”
She stopped and tilted her face up to gauge his reaction and was surprised to see that Dean…wasn’t all that surprised.
“My aunt and uncle raised me,” she continued. “They have one son of their own and thought about having others, but I was so messed up when they got me, well…” Mira shook her head sadly, swallowed thickly and looked down into her lap.
“How’d it happen…your parents?”
“Know how I said I knew who you are? What I should have said was; I know what you are. My parents were killed by a…something. I don’t know what exactly. No one would ever talk to me about it, but I do remember things…my mom. She was so pale…gray.”
Sitting up, Mira breathed again, long, deep and shaky and only jumped a little, when she felt Dean’s warm hand slide comfortingly up her back, rubbing large circles through the cotton of her shirt and into her skin.
She spoke so very quietly that Dean had to lean forward just to hear her:
“I remember her eyes, open and empty and how I licked my thumb and wiped away the smear of blood at the corner of her mouth, you know, how moms always do that when you have food on your mouth.” She smiled just a little at the thought of her mother spit washing her face, the way all mothers do, but just as quickly as Mira’s smile had appeared, it faded.
“I remember all that, but I don’t remember the thing that did it to her and my dad. I do, however, remember the men who saved me.”
It turned out that Mira had many very clear memories of the night her parents were murdered and Dean listened intently to how two men, two hunters had come bursting into Mira’s childhood home just in time to sweep the small girl up from her dead mother’s side and dispatch the creature that was obliviously bent over the carcass of the girl’s father.
A tall, dark man had appeared over little Mira and she’d looked up with wide, fearful eyes and whimpered when the man had knelt down next to her.
“It’s goin’ be okay, girlie,” he’d said; just a hint of South in his scratchy voice. He scooped her up and grinned, bright white teeth standing out brilliant against his dark complexion. They turned and bumped into a second man who stood rigid, gun stock held achingly hard against his shoulder.
“You alright?” The first hunter had said to the other man.
“Sure,” he’d answered, shakily.
“Here, take this child. Go outside and wait. Quick-like.”
And Mira had been handed off and hustled out the door to the awaiting pickup. In the street light, little Mira had been able see the man holding her; his pale eyes, wide and looking just as frightened as she had felt. He’d tried to smile, his light mustache, twitching nervously around the ends of his mouth.
“It’s gonna be okay, darlin’,” he tried to reassure, “I promise. Rufus, he’ll just be a little bit and then we’ll get you someplace safe. Okay?”
To little Mira, the hunter’s words had just been noise; a buzzing among all the screams of her parents and the snarls and growls of the thing that had taken them. But the words hadn’t mattered. The tiny girl had curled into the hunter’s chest, clinging tight to his pale blue denim over shirt and feeling safe.
“It was Bobby,” Mira explained. “I don’t have any proof,” she added quickly, seeing the look of shock in Dean’s eyes. “It’s not like my aunt or uncle ever told me. I’ve just somehow always known. Sometimes when he comes into the store, he gives me this look; like he’s remembering. And every once in a while, I catch a bit of his scent; his cologne or maybe his aftershave and it all comes flooding back to me. You’re uncle saved my life, Dean. So, yeah, I kinda know what you are.”
Chapter 11: Riding the Fence - Part 11A
Part Eleven (A):
By the time Bobby and Clive had made their way back to the store to collect Bobby’s pickup and then back to Singer Salvage, it was deep into the night. Deputy Mills had held the three men up for a long while, highly skeptical of Doug Wilson’s assertion that a loose wire on a display had caused the fire. She’d also had deep reservations about his explanation that the fire must have set off one of the many display weapons, thereby causing the reported gunfire, and had argued the point quite strenuously. Mr. Wilson had fought tooth and nail to keep her from going inside and seeing the full extent of the destruction and they had gone around and around on Clive and Bobby’s supposed involvement and subsequent criminal actions, before Doug had firmly put his foot down, going so far as to bump his small round belly into Deputy Mills when she tried to intimidate him.
“These two men saved my life,” he stated flatly, “and the museum will not be making any complaint against them.” Finally the Deputy had no further recourse than to release them all, but she gave them a stern warning that she would most certainly be looking into the matter further, saying, “Momma didn’t raise no fool boys, I know somethin’ hokey’s goin’ on here!”
Bobby and Clive returned to find the house quiet and dark. As they strode as one toward the door, a low sinking feeling settled over Bobby; a feeling of foreboding about what they’d find when they went inside.
“Maybe I should go in alone,” he suggested, turning to block Clive’s path, “suss out the situation.”
His friend pulled up short, just shy of running into him, and cocked his head to the side.
“Who are you trying to protect?” Clive asked, with a humorless laugh.
“Honestly?” Bobby asked. “You. But, no, you’re right. Let’s get this over with.” And with that they continued up the steps and into the darkened house, Bobby leading the way.
He rounded the corner into the library and the room was lit with one single side table lamp, glowing gold and warm over the sleeping forms. Mira lay stretched over the length of the sofa, Dean’s over shirt draped over her shoulders, her bare feet tucked into the cushions where the back of the sofa met the seat. Dean on the other hand, sat sleeping on the floor; his legs crossed at the ankles, boots still on even though the laces had been undone. His arms were crossed, hands tucked in close to his body and his head had fallen back, resting against Mira’s lower legs, mouth slightly ajar and snoring lightly.
They had waited up for Bobby and Clive to return, talking quietly about Moms long ago lost, curled up on the couch together, taking solace in each other’s company and common ground. Dean had laughed heartily when, after he’d leaned down to kiss her softly, Mira had promised she wouldn’t hold it against him later. Instead, she’d leaned into him, slanting her lips across his in a sleepy, languid kiss; one he was quiet happy to chase until she’d sighed and just like that was asleep, completely sapped of energy.
“Am I boring you?” he had chuckled. His voice had rumbled in his chest, waking her slightly and she’d mumbled an apology, but Dean just pulled himself out from beneath her and laid her out on the sofa, draping his shirt over her to keep her warm in the cool house. Then he’d sat down at her feet and slid off the sofa and onto the floor, where he remained until Bobby woke him.
Bobby knelt down beside the sleeping Winchester and placed a hand on the young man’s shoulder, giving him a gentle shake. Dean’s eyes fluttered open and shut a few times before finally focusing on Bobby’s face and then he smiled sleepily.
“Go on up to bed, son.”
Bobby helped the boy to his feet, directed him towards the stairway and smiled when Dean groggily stumbled through the room, rubbing the back of his hand over his chilled nose.
“Next,” Bobby said, turning to Clive and indicating the sleeping girl.
“I guess there’s no use getting into this tonight, is there?” He asked quietly.
Clive repeated the same waking process with Mira, but instead of letting her wander out of the house on her own, he turned and walked with her, keeping within arm’s reach in case the girl lost her balance in her sleepy walk out to Clive’s truck.
Bobby followed them close behind, said he would talk to Clive the next day and waved them off before returning to the house. He shut the door, laid the salt line and checked all the remaining guards and then trudged wearily up the stairs.
He checked in on Dean, minorly impressed that not only had Dean managed to get his boots the rest of the way off, but he’d also managed to skim down to his shorts and was even beneath the covers, sleeping soundly. Bobby smiled and then left Dean, in pursuit of his own bed.
Dean awoke with a start, sitting straight up into the pitch black bedroom; his heart pounding a mile a minute, his senses heightened and on edge, and a feeling at the base of his spine that warned of danger. He held his breath and listened, straining to hear whatever it might have been that had woken him, but all that he heard were the cicadas singing loudly into the night. Maybe he’d dreamt it.
As his heart rate slowed, he laid back into his bed, staring up at the ceiling. He’d already slept too long to go back to sleep but it was much too early to get up. So he just lay there, letting his mind whirl.
There it was again; a metal on metal squeal and click. Sure that it hadn’t been his imagination this time, Dean was up, his legs over the side of the bed and his bare feet moving across the floor before his brain had even caught up with his movement. He didn’t bother to look out the window; he just descended the stairs, rounding the corner and rushing out the front door.
And there it was. His father’s onyx Impala sitting in the drive as though it had always been there. Dean blinked twice, testing his eyesight and then without thought, moved; across the porch and down the steps, moving faster through the yard when he saw a shadow stooped inside the V of the open passenger door, hovering over the second passenger. Sammy; hurt. His heart hammered in his chest and his throat became raw with the need to call out for his brother.
Dean ran. Searing pain raced up his leg, but he paid it no mind, nor did he heed the internal warnings when he used the hood of the car to launch himself and clear the distance between himself and his family. And then the interior light lit the scene and Dean screeched to a halt. Not Sam. Dean released a staggering breath only to suck it back in at the sight of his sickly pale father passed out in the passenger seat.
Dean rounded the car door and braced himself against the opening, leaning over his little brother, who had such complete control over the situation that he really did not seem so little anymore.
The youngest Winchester was on his knees in the doorway, tightening the fresh wrap on his father’s upper right arm. He spared a quick glance up at his older brother who looked pale himself in the dim light, like he might pass out from the sight.
“He’s okay, Dean. Just sedated.” Sam pulled their father’s arm up tight against his belly, securing it in place with a makeshift sling and tying the knot off around his unshaven neck.
“Sedated? What the Hell happened? Why didn’t you call me back? How were you gonna get him inside? Carry his ass? What were you thinking? Are you okay?”
Sam looked up and snorted derisively, “Don’t be such a girl, Dean.”
Dean stepped back, eyes wide with shock at having, what was most likely, his own attitude turned on him, but then his eyes hardened in anger and he grabbed Sam around the arm, pulling him to his feet.
“Three days, Sam,” he hissed, giving his brother a two-handed push against the Impala. “Three fucking days, I’ve been waiting to hear…anything from you. So sue me if I’ve got a few questions.”
“Fine,” Sam hissed right back, his hands spread wide in challenge, “Yes, sedated. He’s in pain and it’s easier for him; easier for me. What happened? The job happened and I didn’t call back because I was a little busy dealing with him,” he thumbed at their sleeping father and rolled his eyes. “He’s hard to handle when he’s not hopped up on pain killers, twice as hard to handle when he is and no, I wasn’t gonna drag his ass into the house. We were gonna camp out here in the car ‘til morning, like we have been for the last three nights.”
“No, you’re not,” Dean said firmly.
“Dean, I am too tired to argue.” Sam sagged against the car, his hands dropping to his side. “I’ve been driving all day and night. I just wanna…”
“I know,” Dean interrupted, patting Sam on the arm. Sometime in the middle of Sam’s rant, realization had sunk into Dean. The kid was spent. He could see it etched plainly on Sam’s face, in every detail—glazed eyes framed by dark circles, a permanent crease above the bridge of his nose, firm, thin set mouth that looked like it hadn’t seen a smile in weeks—and it spoke to Dean’s strength and willpower that he didn’t take his baby brother in his arms and rock him to sleep. “Go up to bed,” he said nodding toward the house, “I’ll stay down here with the old man.”
Sam made to argue, but Dean stopped him with a look.
“Get some sleep, lil brother. We’ll deal with all this in the morning.”
Sam nodded reluctantly. He reached through the open window into the back seat & pulled out his backpack and a blanket, handing the latter to Dean and starting slowly for the house.
“For Dad,” his voice, weak with exhaustion, floated over his shoulder. “There’s another in the backseat for you.”
Sam stopped to look back.
“You okay? Not hurt or nothing?”
“Naw, I’m good.”
“Okay, good. Go get some sleep.”
Dean watched his brother drag his tall frame up into the house and Dean wondered; when had the kid grown up? He hadn’t been that big when he’d left, Dean was sure. But maybe that was the point. Ten days before, Sam had been Dean’s snot-nosed little brother, but he’d returned as their father’s keeper; the one who’d taken up Dean’s mantle of protector. That kind of responsibility could change a person, Dean could attest to that. But it made his chest ache to know that Sam had been forced to take Dean’s place and once again Dean cursed his injured foot which he just now noticed was throbbing to a Samba beat. He’d regret it in the morning, but for now it was the furthest thing from his mind. For now his mind was filled with both the relief of having his family home and the anxiety of having his family home injured.
Dean saw the light in the front bedroom flick on and then a moment later, flick off. It wasn’t until then that Dean felt himself completely relax. At least one member of his small family was tucked safely away in bed and the other would be shortly. He bent down to his father, drawing the blanket up and over his lap and chest, loosely tucking it in behind the man’s back. The summer night was warm, but sleeping in the outside air would bring a chill to anyone, let alone someone who was injured and on sedatives.
Dean rolled up the windows and quietly closed the door, doing the same to the driver’s side, leaving just a crack for ventilation, before finally climbing into the back seat. He found the second blanket as well as Sam’s Jay Hawks sweatshirt. Dean rolled it into a pillow and then lay down, pulling the blanket over himself.
Chapter 12: Riding the Fence - Part 11B
It was the cool rush of air and the finger tracing up his bare foot that woke Dean. He jumped with a hiss, pulling his feet up and away from the attack, tucking them back beneath the warm blanket. Rolling into an upright position, Dean scowled up into the bright morning light and the man shadowed there in the doorway.
“Oh, you are awake,” Bobby teased.
Dean groaned his disagreement and let his head fall against the seat back, eyeing Bobby with only one eye slit open.
“You wanna try helping your old man into the house?”
That woke Dean up. He took a deep breath, yawning and stretching, his blanket falling down around his waist which he instantly regretted. The cool moist morning air rushed across his skin and he shivered visibly before pulling the blanket around his bare torso.
Dean slid across the seat, stepping out of the vehicle and wrapping the blanket around his chilled back. Bobby already had John’s door open and was leaned into the car talking softly.
“Gonna help you up and out, okay? But you’ve gotta walk for us.”
Bobby pulled John’s feet free of the car, turning the eldest Winchester in the process. John seemed to vaguely recognize what was going on and on the count of three, Bobby pulled the man to his feet, wrapping a strong arm around his waist to support him.
Dean joined them, ducking under his father’s uninjured arm and also wrapping his arm around his dad, clasping a hold of Bobby’s arm to solidify the support.
Slowly and very carefully, they walked John up the walk and stairs and into the house. Bobby directed them to the library sofa, cautiously lowering the injured man onto the seat.
John sank into the sofa, letting himself slide down the back until he was lying prone. Dean lifted his father’s feet and with a light tug, had the boots pulled free and John’s legs stretched over the length.
“Here,” he said, handing Bobby the blanket to lay across John. “I’m gonna go check on Sammy.”
Dean hobbled up the stairs, trying to remain as quiet as possible, not wanting to wake either his dad downstairs or his brother upstairs. Opening the door to their shared bedroom, he smiled lazily and trudged to the bed where his not-so-little brother was splayed out on his belly; face buried in Dean’s pillow and feet hanging off the end like he hadn’t managed to climb all the way into it before falling asleep. It wasn’t even his bed, for crying out loud, it was Dean’s, but having done the exact same thing just a couple nights before, Dean understood that subconscious need to reconnect and he silently promised that he wouldn’t even tease Sammy about it. Not much at least.
Dean climbed up into the single bed with his brother, slid up until his back met the wall, and just sat there, watching Sam sleep and doing a visual once over for injuries. Sam had said that he wasn’t hurt, but one could never be too careful with a Winchester. They had all been guilty of hiding injuries at one time or another.
But looking Sam over now was like a shock of cold water. The kid brother who lay sprawled out over the bed wasn’t so much kid as he was man. Lean legs that had grown impossibly long and were still growing. Taut, sinewy arms that carried the light feathering of dark hair that Sam had inherited from their father. A frame that grew broad at lightning speed, threatening to and quite possibly succeeding in overtaking Dean’s own frame by the end of the year and all of this packaged in hand-me-down underclothes that—like magic—had grown two sizes too small for the kid in just a week’s time. When had this happened? Dean wondered, absentmindedly carding his fingers through the overgrowth that Sam called hair.
Sam had always worn his hair a bit long. When they had been much younger, both Sam and Dean had had curls. Natural, soft, round curls; Dean’s had been the color of wheat, where Sam’s had been a rich mahogany and their father had secretly loved their curls, idly running his thick fingers through the spongy tresses while reading to one or both of the boys before bed.
Dean’s curls had grown out and he had grown up, adopting a shorter cut which was utilitarian and simple; one John had favored.
“Now that’s a good haircut,” John would boast, messing the fringe at Dean’s forehead, proudly.
Dean could live on the approval of his father. He could eat it up and sustain himself for weeks on just one ‘good job, son’, but there was always a downside to the praise he received.
“See, Sammy. That’s how you cut hair. Why can’t you be more like your brother?”
Dean didn’t know how or why the rivalry between his father and brother had started; but he knew it had started early on, and that most of the blame could be placed on his father’s shoulders. John had, for as long as Dean could remember, tried to convince Sam to do things his way.
When they were real young it was, ‘Stay here, be quiet, don’t move,’ but as they got older and Sam came to understand what was really going on, John’s instructions changed. They became, ‘Move faster, fight harder, do what I say’. Dean just figured it was John’s way of protecting them. If he did as his father asked, everything would turn out okay, but Sammy didn’t see it that way. Sam had to be different, had to buck their father’s system at every open opportunity and his longest standing ‘screw you, Dad’ was his hair.
“Well, at least this didn’t change while you were gone,” Dean said beneath his breath, still combing through the sleep tangled mess. Dean grinned shamelessly, knowing that his brother would be livid if he was to catch Dean ‘petting’ him, but he didn’t care. “Always gonna be my little brother. No matter how big you get.”
Sam chose that moment to sigh deeply, his chest filling to capacity and then emptying quickly. He adjusted position, turned onto his side and reached out to wrap a long arm around Dean’s still bare lower legs, hugging them to him and burying his face in the warmth between the mattress and the side of Dean’s calf.
“Dude, get off me,” Dean complained, struggling, but only a little, to free his legs. But the scissoring of Dean’s legs, merely encouraged Sam to hold on that much tighter and Dean heard and felt a muffled objection vibrate against his skin.
“Aw, does widdle Sammy wanna snuggle? Ouch!” Dean yipped, his legs jumping under Sam’s touch. “Did you just pinch me?”
“Mmmhmm,” Sam’s chest rumbled. He pushed away from his brother and rolled up into a sitting position, socked feet touching down lightly on the bare floor. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and rubbed a hand roughly through the hair which Dean had just combed out.
“How’s Dad?” Sam remembered suddenly, looking over his shoulder at his brother still sitting against the wall.
“Still sleeping. Bobby and I brought him inside a little while ago.”
“S’good. He needs some real sleep. How’s his arm?”
“Bobby’ll see to it.”
Sam nodded silently, his head dropping until his chin touched the thin cotton of his t-shirt.
“How are you?” Dean asked hesitantly, recognizing the tension that was stretched tight across Sam’s shoulders when he shrugged his reply. Dean knew that feeling; had been in that position plenty of times before. “Whatever happened out there…you know it’s not your fault, don’t you?”
“You sure about that?”
Sam angled his face back toward his brother, but didn’t meet his eyes, choosing instead to glower down at the mattress, picking at the frayed edges of the top sheet and pulling a stray pale yellow thread from the weave.
“You don’t know what happened, Dean. How can you be sure it wasn’t my fault?”
Sam’s words were a challenge. A challenge without bite, but a challenge none the less and Dean understood that feeling too; the overwhelming responsibility of being Dad’s second. Oh yeah, Dean knew that one well. Not bothering to gauge Sam’s body language, Dean slid across the bed until he sat beside his brother and bumped shoulders.
“Cuz I know you, Sammy. Better than anybody. You‘re a pain in the ass most of the time…” Dean couldn’t help but smirk when he felt Sam’s bitchface focus sideways at him, “but you never miss; not when it really counts. S’nobody I’d rather have at my back than you. Not even Dad.”
“He’d have been better off with you there.”
“Well, yeah, Sammy,” he snorted. “Now we’re just stating the obvious.”
“S’not what I mean, Dean. Dad was…”Sam looked back down into his lap, feeling like he was tattling on his father, but it had to be said, “distracted…the whole time; edgy, moodier than normal and drunk almost every night…and once during the day. It sucked and I didn’t make it any better. I could have, but I didn’t. ”
Dean’s eyes dropped into his own lap at Sam’s divulgence, feeling a new wave of guilt wash over him. Just one more way he’d failed his family.
“M’sorry, Sammy. I shoulda been there. It shouldn‘t have had to be you. ”
“What are you talking about?”
Dean looked up to find his little brother staring at him earnestly, his eyebrows tucked together high on his forehead and his hazel eyes looking almost brown, completing the “puppy dog eyes of doom” look that had forever been Dean’s downfall; John’s too, for that matter.
“Dean, you were hurt and you needed to be here, to heal. Man, it’s not your fault that Dad has no coping mechanisms, what-so-ever,” Sam emphasized every syllable, rolling his eyes. “I mean, I missed you too, but you don’t see me stumbling in at nine o’clock in the morning, blitzed out of my mind, do ya?”
“Missed me?” Dean frowned at his brother, blanching at the idea of his father on a week-long bender because he missed his son.
“Yeah, what did you think I meant?”
For a long time, Dean didn’t say anything. He leaned forward, propped himself up against his knees and rolled Sam’s words around in his head.
Sam too, leaned forward again, with his face tilted in Dean’s direction, watching and studying the thought processes played across his brother’s face and in his posturing.
“Stop thinking so hard,” he finally said to his brother and knocked shoulders with him. “You’re gonna hurt yourself.”
“Shut up.” Dean bumped him back. “I just can’t…you know…wrap my head around the idea of Dad missing me. He never actually said that though…did he?”
“Sure. Dad talks about his feelings all the time,” Sam answered sarcastically. “Duh, Dean. Of course he didn’t, but you don’t need to be a mind reader to figure it out. And the drunken mumblings about you were a pretty big clue.”
“He was bad?”
Dean swallowed hard against the lump forming in his throat. Sam wasn’t a little kid anymore, but still, Dean had always tried to make it so his little brother didn’t have to deal with their father when he was blind drunk and sick. It didn’t happen all that often, Dean told himself, just often enough for him to become real good at soothing the loud, boisterous outbursts that always seemed to accompany John home from the bar.
John had trained Dean to always be alert, even in sleep, just in case something came after them and Dean had taken to that training well. He’d lived it; one hand buried beneath his pillow, curled around his weapon of choice, one ear turned towards the room, listening for the slightest noise, be it witch or ghoul, cop or child services, or even John himself.
Those nights that it was John, Dean would rise quickly and quietly so as not to wake his brother and go to his father, talking in low, gentle tones. He’d bring three aspirin and a glass of water, strip the man of his boots and help him to the bathroom and then to bed or sofa, whichever promised the least hassle and chance of waking Sam. It was a job at which Dean excelled; taking care of his family. It was a job which should never have been thrust upon him to begin with and now, in having been injured, Dean had thrust that same responsibility on Sam without even giving the kid a chance to read the operator’s manual. He’d practically set his little brother up for failure and it made Dean’s head and heart hurt to think of what Sam had most likely had to put up with over the last week because of his own absence.
“Hey, don’t get like that,” Sam said, breaking into Dean’s self-deprecating thought process.
“Like what?” Dead stood and limped away from Sam.
His brother had the uncanny knack of being able read him. It was a skill that annoyed Dean to no end. It was bad enough that Sam always wanted to talk out their feelings, but Sam being able to read them put Dean at a serious disadvantage.
“Like you did something wrong. Dad’s an adult, Dean. It shouldn’t be on you or me to take care of him like that. We’re not always gonna be there to pick him up, you know.”
Dean spun around, leaned into the cold plaster wall and crossed his arms over his bare chest, looking sour. “Where is it, that you think I’m gonna be? I haven’t got some geek scheme like you to run off to college. I ain’t never had a job, no real world skills and no intentions of pursuing either. Hell, I couldn’t even manage to take a week off to follow doctor’s orders; I had to go drum up a case on my own. This is the only thing I know; this job and this family. So tell me, Sammy, where am I ever gonna be, if I’m not with Dad? God, don’t look at me like that, Sam.”
Sam had turned and pulled himself up onto the bed, crossed his ankles and wrapped his long arms around his knees, hugging them to his chest. He sat there looking five years younger and worse, he looked ready to cry, his eyes glassy and his forehead, creased in an upside-down V.
“Look, man, I’m sorry. I’m not mad at you or anything, okay? I’m just being realistic. I’ve had a lot of time this week to really think about things. It was kinda like I had a chance to live on the other side, ya know?”
“You did live on the other side, Dean. You had school too, ‘til you dropped out. There were real people there too, ya know. Things…they could’ve been different, Dean.”
“Aw, Sam, come on. I’m glad you like school, I really am. And I’ll even admit that I’m proud of you for being so good at all that math geek stuff, but that’s not me. I was never gonna fit in there and that’s that.”
Sam let out an impatient breath.
“It could’ve been you, if you’d let it. I’ve been following you around my whole life, Dean and I know you. You’re smart; you could’ve gone to college, could’ve done anything, but instead you chose—”
“That’s right, Sammy. I chose. This…hunting…is what I’m gonna be doing for the rest of my life. These last few days…being forced to sit on my ass, waiting to hear back from you, while you were out doin’ my job…it damn near killed me. Then this job dropped into my lap and…it was like I started breathing again.”
Sam huffed irritably. “This is all you know, man, if—”
“It ain’t all I know,” Dean cut him off, “like you say, I’ve done the school thing, I’ve worked dead-end jobs sometimes to make ends meet, and this week…it’s been kinda eye opening. Shown me another option too.”
“This thing,” he circled his finger around the bare bedroom as if it were full of promise, “what Bobby’s got going on here…it works. He gets to do the job; gets to help people but he still has a life at the end of the day. It ain’t for me though. Not yet.”
Dean pushed away from the wall and made his way back to the bed. He sat down on the edge and then flopped back, folding his hands beneath his head as he looked up at the ceiling. “Maybe when I’m old and gray like Bobby,” he said, “but right now, I don’t wanna be tied down. I wanna be on the road…drift in to town, slay the monster, get the girl, ride off into the sunset—”
Sam snorted. “My God, you’re actually a hopeless romantic!”
Dean reached up and smacked the back of Sam’s head. “Shut up, bitch!”
Sam sniggered. “Jerk.”
He kicked his legs out and lay down beside Dean; found a spot on the ceiling to focus on and together the brothers laid in companionable silence for a moment and then Dean said:
“Did you know Bobby’s got a girlfriend?”
“What!?” Sam jerked his head to the side to stare wide-eyed at his brother.
“Josey,” Dean sing-songed with a sly grin and then he sighed. “God, Sam. You should see her. She’s something’; beautiful, funny and she don’t take no shit off Bobby,” he grinned.
“You got a crush on Bobby’s girlfriend?” Sam laughed.
“Nooo,” Dean shook his head, emphatically. “No. No. God no. I just…I don’t know. I don’t really remember a lot about Mom, but I’ve got this feeling of her, ya know? This image in my head of what she was like and Josey just sorta reminds me of her. It’s stupid.”
“I don’t think it’s stupid, Dean.” Sam said, looking at the ceiling once again. “I wish I had even just one memory of Mom.”
“Yeah,” Dean added quietly, “I know you do.”
They were silent again for a moment, both staring up at the ceiling, studying the cracks in the old plaster. Then Dean felt the bed move; the slightest vibration and he looked at his brother to find the kid with a hand over his mouth and his eyes screwed shut tight…laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” Sam said, trying to still his giggles. “It’s just…Bobby’s got a girlfriend?”
“Yeah,” Dean chuckled, “well, that’s not even the best part.”
“What?” Sam asked, turning onto his side, propping an elbow underneath him to look down on his brother.
“I guess…“ Dean said with the straightest face he could muster, “from what I can figure out…Bobby’s some kind of sex God.”
With one look at the horrified expression on Sam’s face, Dean was laughing loudly, clutching his stomach. He raised a hand and held up his fingers and said, “Three times in one night, dude.”
“Bullshit!” Sam said, slapping his hand down on Dean’s chest.
“Ow!” Dean cried, covering the reddening mark on his bare peck. He rocked up off of his back and moved off of the bed and out of Sam’s reach. “I swear to God,” he laughed.
“Crap!” Sam exclaimed. “I can never look at Bobby the same again. Why did you tell me that? I think I’m scarred for life.”
He fell over onto his back, covering his eyes in the crook of his elbow and joined Dean in laughing.
“Hey!” came the bellow from the bottom of the steps and the boys froze at the sound of Bobby’s voice, eyes wide and mouths clamped shut to hold in the peals of laughter. “If you two girls are done giggling,” Bobby called, “you got company.”
Dean ran to the window, pulled back the curtain and looked out on the drive.
“Clive’s truck,” he said and then whispered, “Mira.”
He grabbed up a pair of jeans from the floor and scrambled into them while pulling a day old shirt over his head.
“Who’s Clive?” Sam asked, grabbing a change of clothes from the duffle that had been brought in sometime that morning. “Who’s Mira? Dean?” But Dean was already out the door and on his way down the stairs.
Leaning heavily against the stair rail, Dean hobbled down the steps, but pulled up short when he was met at the bottom by Mira.
“You’re limping,” she stated simply.
“Only just a little.”
“D’you do this yesterday?”
Dean frowned. “Do you even remember the first time we met?”
“Yeah,” she stalled, “of course.”
Dean was about to argue the point with her when she cut him off and rushed into a well-practiced speech:
“Look, I came out here to apologize to you. What I did yesterday…deceiving you and convincing you to help me…it was reckless and inconsiderate of your circumstances.”
“Whoa.” Dean stepped down off the last step, his hands held up in surrender. “That’s way too many big words, too early in the morning for me.”
He set his hands on her shoulders, squared himself up with her and waited for him to look at him before saying, “I thought we got this all sorted out last night.”
“We did, but my uncle insisted I drive out and apologize to you and your uncle.”
“You talked to Bobby?” When she nodded, he continued, “Was he pissed?”
“Not really. He said that it was a lost cause to stop you once you got an idea in your head and I think he called us ‘idiots’.”
“Idjits. We’re good,” he said, breathing a sigh of relief, “If that’s the worst term he can come up with for us, then we’re fine.”
“So.” Dean looped his arms around her back and pulled her toward him, until he was leaned back against the railing. He let his head tip back so that he was looking down on her with lidded eyes and smiled.
“So,” she repeated.
“Was there…I don’t know…anything else you wanted to talk to me about?”
“Not that I can think of,” Mira replied, shaking her head and batting her big brown doe eyes at him.
“Cuz, if you were hoping to…you know…I can tell you that I’m not too banged up to—”
“Not too banged up for what?” Sam interjected, leaning over the rail¸ practically on top of them. He jogged the remainder of the way down the steps and rounded the corner, looking as sweet and innocent as a sixteen year old boy could possibly manage.
“Hi. You must be Mira. I’m Sam.”
“Oh, this is your brother?” Mira asked Dean excitedly. “Dean told me a little about you. It’s nice to meet you.” She reached over Dean’s arm and stuck her hand out for Sam to shake, but Dean beat Sam to the punch.
He snatched ahold of her hand and stammered, “Sam, Mira. Mira, Sam. Let me walk you to your truck.” Then he steered her toward the door, flashing a desperate look over his shoulder at his little brother; a warning not to follow.
Sam crossed his arms over his chest, shook his head and rolled his eyes, grinning after his brother. When the screen door slapped shut, he turned on a dime and headed into the library in search of Bobby and an update on his father.
“Sorry about that,” Dean said quietly as they walked slowly down the walk to where Clive’s truck was parked. “Sammy’s a sharer. If I’d let him get started, you’d be stuck here for days, know all my dirty secrets.”
When they stopped at the truck, Dean stuffed his hands down into his pockets and leaned back against the box. “A man’s gotta have some mysteries…to keep the ladies guessin’.”
“Of course,” she smiled, “I’d hate to find out that you were an easy lay or something.”
“As a matter of fact, I am an easy lay,” Dean laughed.
“Me too,” she said exaggeratedly, placing a hand over her chest and smiled when Dean laughed even louder.
After a minute of laughter, Mira sobered “You’re leaving aren’t you?”
“Probably. Dad’s not one to sit around too long, even if he is hurt.”
“God, we’ve got really lousy timing,” Mira sighed, leaning her hip into the door beside him.
“Pretty much,” Dean answered, but quickly added, “But not yesterday. We made a good team, you and me.”
“Yeah, we did. Let’s never do that again. Okay?”
“I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem. I’m pretty sure my Dad is gonna hand me my ass when he finds out. What we do…it’s pretty much an exclusive club. If people found out…it’d be real bad. They’d take Sammy away from—”
“Hey,” she stepped closer and laid a hand on Dean’s arm to stop the look of panic that flashed in his eyes, “I’m not gonna say anything to anyone about this. I’m so sorry, Dean. Honestly, if I’d known that I was putting your family in danger…all because I…”
Struggling to find the words, Mira faltered. Her hand slipped further up his arm, latched onto his bicep and pulled him toward her.
Oh this is a bad idea, Dean thought. His mind raced, battling between his attraction for the girl and his concern for Bobby and his friendship with Clive; all the while his eyes fought for focus on the pink tongue that swiped across her soft lips. Pushing all rational thought aside, he followed her lead, leaned in and captured her kiss.
John came back to himself late the same morning of his and Sam's return. He awoke slowly, his long, dark eyelashes fluttered and then flew open wide when he realized something important had changed. There was no longer the rumble of his beloved Impala beneath him, or the grumblings of his angst-driven sixteen year old beside him. Sammy!
Jarred awake, John made to push himself up on the sofa but found he wasn't able to move his left arm and in that moment he panicked; a flail of limbs followed immediately by a restrained cry of pain.
"Whoa, whoa, easy there, tiger."
Bobby was there in an instant, soothing with gentle words and coaxing him back down on to the sofa with firm, warm hands and John eased beneath Bobby's insistence.
“You know where you’re at?” he asked the eldest Winchester and then raised his hands, conceding, “Alright, alright,” when John cast him a dark glower.
“Help me up,” John croaked, his voice raw from disuse. He offered his hand and Bobby grabbed hold just past the wrist and pulled him forward until he was sitting up, resting one elbow against his knee. “I feel like Hell,” he admitted, panting lightly.
“You look like it too. What the Hell happened out there?”
Taking a deep breath, John straightened in his seat and then sank into the sofa back, letting his head tip backwards, where the sun cast it’s warmth across his face. He closed his eyes and let out the breath, slow and purposefully, letting it extend into a low, vocalized groan.
“I fucked up, Bobby.” Bringing his good arm up, John shaded his eyes from the bright morning light that tipped off his eyelashes and reflected off his cheeks; too bright and cheery for John’s mood. “I let myself get distracted,” he continued, “Such a rookie mistake. God! I got myself hurt. I almost got Sammy—” his head popped up off of the back of the sofa, “Sammy. Where is Sam? Is he ok?”
“He’s fine, John,” Bobby assured, taking a seat on the arm of the sofa, “I sent the boys into town to scrounge us up some grub. Wasn’t really plannin’ on the two of you poppin’ in at 3am. Ain’t got nothin’ here to feed y’all.”
“Yeah, well, Sam got a bug up his ass and decided he was gonna drive straight through. He’s so damned stubborn; it’s like buttin’ heads with a bull. Dean was never like that,” John complained.
“He did learn from the best,” Bobby replied dryly. “You got everything handled though, right?”
“Yeah,” John huffed, “Sam did. Are we just getting too old for this shit?”
“Who you speakin’ for? Cuz I ain‘t old,” Bobby said, pointing to himself, smirking and shaking his head.
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever you say.” He let his head fall back again and groaned. “Christ, I hurt. S’it too soon for more meds? Somethin’ that’s not gonna knock me out?”
“S’not gonna hurt you to get s’more sleep.”
“I’ve already slept so long, I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck,” John reasoned. And then, as if he’d come to a decision, he sat up and scooted to the edge and made to stand. “I just gotta get up…get movin’. We’ll just get my arm fixed up again and then maybe we’ll head over to Caleb’s place and restock and call Jim and see if he’s—”
“It ain’t just your arm, John.” Bobby jumped up from his spot on the arm of the sofa and stepped in front of the eldest Winchester, successfully blocking his rise. “You’re banged up six ways from Sunday. What you need to do is stay here and get healed up. Ain’t that what you told Dean?”
“You know I just said that to get him off my case about goin’,” John groused.
“Did you now?” Bobby asked, his voice infused with skepticism and the beginnings of anger. “Really? Well,” he huffed, “I’m not about to play games with you, like you did your kid. I’m telling you straight out that you’re gonna sit your stubborn ass still until I’m good and satisfied that you ain’t gonna pass out with infection.”
“What are you, my fuckin’ mother?”
“You want me to be?” Bobby challenged.
“You’re not gonna tell me,” John grunted, trying to rise again, “what to do, Singer.”
“No, but we will.”
Surprised, John and Bobby both turned toward the additional voice, to where Dean and Sam were looming in the doorway of the library. Dean stood, bowlegged as ever, looking like a rebel without a cause with his thumbs tucked into the waistband of his jeans; his not-so-little brother, guarding the rear with his arms crossed sternly over his broadening chest and his head tilted as if to say, ‘just try it, dummy’.
“You’re not goin’ anywhere,” Dean said resolutely.
John couldn’t hide the slight grimace at their unified front, whereas Bobby couldn’t help but smile, a light chuckle puffing through his nostrils. In them, he saw the formidable pair these two young men would one day become. John must have seen it too, because he sat down, frowning but not saying a word as if he were a child that had been scolded.
John felt Dean’s eyes follow him down on to the sofa; a hard, penetrating look that made him want to squirm under their scrutiny, but for whatever reason, John couldn’t bring himself to look into those eyes that we so like Mary’s.
“Ok,” Sam announced brightly, pushing past his brother into the room and bringing with him a plastic bag, stacked high with polystyrene. “We brought food; today’s special: ham roast, new potatoes and three-bean salad.”
Bobby took the bag out of Sam’s hands, popped the lid of the top white clam-shell container and let the scented steam engulf his face.
“And of course Dean had to get pie,” Sam added, shaking his head humorously and rolling his eyes.
Dean shrugged his shoulders and accepted Sam’s teasing jab. He stepped into the room fully and let the unspoken tension between him and his father float away on a scent of honey and brown sugared ham.
“It’s strawberry rhubarb,” Dean remarked, pulling a face, “that’s one too many vegetables if you ask me, but it’s all they had out this morning and it’s Gert’s, so you know it’s awesome.”
Not truly able to trust his equilibrium because of the meds in his system, John was stuck on the sofa and feeling a bit left out of the conversation. There was a small voice in the back of his head that whispered of jealousy while he watched his sons chatter animatedly with Bobby and each other over the bag of food and silently John wished he could have some semblance of the relationship with the boys that Bobby made seem so effortless.
“Who’s Gert?” John interjected suddenly before he even knew what he was saying.
It came out a little rougher than he’d intended, he could tell, because the conversation halted and all attention turned to Dean, who had stiffened at his father’s question.
“Gert?” Dean echoed.
The young man rolled his shoulders back, tipped his chin up and to the side, stretching and cracking his neck, and Bobby and Sam held their breath in anticipation of Dean’s reaction.
A slow smile spread across Dean’s face and when his eyes flicked up to meet Bobby’s, the ornery flash within the jade made the older hunter groan and roll his own eyes.
“Gert’s just a girlfriend, Dad.” Dean turned and flashed his father one of his patented, charismatic smiles.
“A girlfriend?” John repeated in monotone, casting Dean a look of skepticism.
“You’ll love her. She makes a mean peach pie.”
“Pie.” John’s mouth creased around the corners, lost somewhere between annoyance and humor. “Well, of course she does,” he added with the roll of his eyes. He gave Bobby a sideways glance and tried his best to frown, “I thought you were gonna keep him occupied and out of trouble.”
Bobby gave him an exaggerated shrug in return. “He was occupied,” Bobby said, snagging Sam by the shirt sleeve and steering him into the kitchen with the food.
Dean turned to follow them, but was caught up by one sharp command from his father.
“Sit,” John directed and Dean obeyed immediately, sitting next to his father.
“So…a girlfriend, huh?”
Dean couldn’t stop the flush that crept across his face and up and down the length of his neck and into his hair. The idea of referring to sweet, grandmotherly Gert as his girlfriend…Dean wanted to slap himself upside the head for such a stupid idea. He’d only meant the comment as a joke, not to stir some deep seated parental instinct in his father.
“Crap,” he sagged in his seat, “Don’t give me the birds and the bees again. Please?” he begged. “I’ve already heard it once this week from Bobby. It‘s not even true, what I said. I was joking. Bobby, tell him!”
“Tell him, what?” Bobby asked innocently from the other room.
“Tell him I was kidding about Gert,” Dean begged.
“Dean and Gert? They’re adorable together,” Bobby replied and then quickly turned away so he and Sam could have a good laugh at Dean’s expense.
Chapter 13: Riding the Fence - Part 12
“How you feeling?”
Dean wandered out onto the front porch of Bobby’s house to where John had taken to spending the warm afternoons, sitting half in and half out of the sun in a rocking chair that unbeknownst to any of the Winchesters, had once belonged to Bobby’s late wife.
The first day of John’s stay, Bobby had noticed the restlessness that settled over John in the late mornings. At first he’d attributed it to the medications, but as the medications were reduced and John’s restless did not subside, Bobby had another idea. He’d sent Sam up into the attic in search of the old rocking chair and directed the boy to take it out onto the porch.
Then one afternoon when he had the boys detained with work, Bobby had coaxed John out of the house and offered him the chair.
“That’s a bit cliché, don’t you think?” John’d frowned at the rocker. “What’s next? You gonna have me whittle wood, too?”
“I didn’t call you old,” Bobby sniped back, “but now that I think about, you are getting pretty crotchety.”
John had scowled at him and tried to cross his arms, only to wince in pain.
“Just take the damned chair. It gets stifling hot inside during the day and truth be told, I need you out from under me from time to time.”
John had lowered himself into the chair and growled after the other man as he’d retreated inside, “So does that make you the wife in this ‘Odd Couple’ scenario?”
“Shut up!” Bobby’s retort had echoed through the house.
That had been four days ago and every afternoon since; John had made his way out to the porch. When Dean found him out there Friday afternoon, John was quietly reading the paper, making notes in a spiral notebook he’d found on one of Bobby’s shelves.
“There’s a whole system for that, you know?” Dean stated simply. He found a seat on the railing and leaned back against the porch column with a glass in his hand.
“Like a filing system. Bobby’s got this whole method for keeping track of this stuff. Has a folder for each job and all the research to go along—”
“Did you come out here to tell me how to do things? You wanna show me a new way to tie my shoestrings too?”
“I came out here to check on you. Bobby says you’re being a real dick today, but I don’t know man, I just can’t see it,” Dean added sarcastically.
“You and Bobby; like a couple old women, nagging on me. I’d be just fine if the two of you’d just leave me alone.”
“Fine. Here. This is for you.” Dean smacked the tall glass down on the side table next to John’s chair and turned for the stairs.
“What’s this?” John asked, eyeing the drink warily.
“Sun tea. Drink it, don’t drink it. I don’t care. Just let me know when you’re done acting like a three year old.”
Dean halted on the edge of the porch, held there by his father’s voice. In all his twenty years, he’d never been able to refuse his father; not really, not even when John was being a dick and every cell in Dean’s body screamed out for him to tell his father to go to Hell. When his words were softly spoken and his tone was laced with something frighteningly close to despair, Dean couldn’t make himself walk away.
“Please,” John added sincerely.
That certainly caught Dean’s attention. Getting John Winchester to say ‘please’ was about as difficult as pulling the teeth of a werewolf.
John stood up, his chair rocked back and smacked the wood lap siding, knocking a bit of paint loose in the process. He crossed the porch and came to stand beside his eldest son on the top step.
“Sit down with me?”
“Is it that bad?” Dean asked guardedly.
“Is what that bad?”
“Whatever bad news you’re about to break.”
“I haven’t got — would you just sit…please?”
Dean hopped down one step and then plopped down hard on the wood floor. John took a little longer to maneuver down.
Bobby had taken his time giving John the once over upon his and Sam’s return and although Sam had done a fine field dressing, he hadn’t yet mastered the precision stitches of Dean or Bobby’s well-practiced hands. His stitches were a bit too wide and not quite even, but too much time had passed and the wound had already begun to heal.
John’s arm had not been the only injury that Bobby had come across. A deep purple bruise had blossomed on John’s side during the trip from Colorado to South Dakota which was a good indication of a rib injury and sure enough, with a little bit of prodding, Bobby had located the cracked rib.
Dean meanwhile had made an appointment for himself with a local doctor who Bobby had suggested.
“He owes me a favor or two,” Bobby had said, “lot of bad mojo to be had in Kuwait,” was the only explanation he’d given.
The doc had done a full exam on Dean and even though he’d chewed Dean’s ass for not continuing to use either the crutches or the walking boot for the full length of time as prescribed, he’d given Dean a clean bill of health and had warned him to keep the running to a minimum.
“So,” John said after a long quiet moment. “Bobby tells me you’ve been quite busy these last two weeks.”
“Yessir. What exactly did he tell you?” Dean asked nervously, concerned about the details of Dean’s recent hunt coming to light.
“Just that between here and Gert’s you’ve been working twelve hour days.”
John had gotten his chance to meet Gert shortly after supper Tuesday night when she’d wandered into the house carrying not one but two freshly baked pies. Dean was on his feet, scurrying to help her as soon as she was in the door.
“So the wayward father and brother return,” she’d whispered to him and smiled. He tried to smile back, but the look came off nervous and Gert was uncertain why.
“I thought maybe y’all might like some pie to settle in with tonight,” she announced entering the room like she owned it.
“You didn’t have to go to all that trouble,” Dean said, bending down to place a kiss against her soft cheek.
“Thank you though,” Bobby added, rising from his place at the table. “You know we love your pies.”
“Not too much trouble for my sweet boys.”
“So, this is the infamous Mrs. Thomas,” John said inviting her in. He stood unsteadily and offered her his chair at which Dean breathed a sigh of relief. He was glad to see his father slide into his ‘smile and charm’ mode. Gert had been far too sweet and caring toward Dean to deserve anything less from the eldest Winchester.
They’d all sat together around Bobby’s kitchen table, eating pie and swapping stories like old friends until the late hours of the night. And when Gert excused herself, it was Sam who surprisingly beat Dean to the punch and offered to walk her out to her car.
In the privacy of the dimly lit yard, he’d thanked her for watching out for his brother. Gert patted him gently on the cheek and asked for the same in return; ‘take care of him.’
“Twelve hour days? Bobby exaggerates a bit,” Dean insisted.
“I don’t think so. I know you too well, Dean. It’d be impossible to keep you still for long.
A dry chuckle bubbled out of Dean’s chest. “S’not exactly in my blood,” he said by way of explanation.
“No. I suppose not. And in all that…work, you still managed to find time for a girl, huh?”
“Dad,” Dean let out a nervous puff of breath and said, “I told you. I was just joking about Gert. You’ve met her. I’m not exactly her type.”
They paused a moment to let that statement hang in the air and then simultaneously turned to grin at each other.
“You know very well,” John continued, still grinning, “that I’m not talkin’ about Gert. I’m talking about that cute lil blond that’s been sneaking in and out of here the last three nights.”
“Dad, I didn’t—”
“Who you tryin’ to kid? I may be on some pretty strong painkillers, but I still wake up whenever I hear one of you boys moving around in the middle of the night.”
“You do?” Dean wasn’t sure why this thought struck him so odd. Maybe it was because he had come to think of himself as the watchman in their family.
“Course I do.” John brought his hand around to cup the back of Dean’s head and neck; his large, warm hand squeezing lightly and pulling Dean closer to him. “You are my kid, Dean, even though I sometimes forget that.”
“Dad, you don’t have to—”
“Yes, I do. Just…let me get this out, alright? Then we can shake it off and go back to being men who don’t share their feelings.”
Dean got a frightened, wide-eyed look on his face, held his breath and prepared to brave whatever long-winded speech his father had planned.
“I’m sorry, kiddo.”
Dean swallowed hard against the rise of emotion in his throat. Whatever he had been expecting, it hadn’t been ‘I’m sorry’.
“I get so caught up in the job,” John went on, “and doing what needs to be done, that sometimes I forget that you and Sammy are my job; my most important job and I don’t take care of you like I should.”
“You do fine, Dad. We’re not exactly kids anymore, ya know? We can take care of ourselves.”
“Sure you can. Hell, you’ve been taking care of this family for sixteen years, Dean, but that’s my point. You shouldn’t have had to. It’s my job to look after you boys, but you end up looking after me more often than not.”
“I don’t mind,” Dean insisted.
“I know you don’t, kiddo,” John replied a bit sadly, ruffling his hand through Dean’s short hair and noticing the new cut. He smiled to himself and went on, “You’re a real good hunter, Dean. I want you to know that I see that; that I see you. I see how hard you work and I know it’s not easy doin’ what we do and still having to take care of this family, but you do a real good job at both; better than I could ever hope to do. You’re going to be a better hunter, a better father than I’ve ever been.”
Dean so badly wanted to stop him; to stop his father from unloading all these admissions on him as they were threatening to overwhelm him. He did not want to hear his father – his hero – admit to being ‘less than’. Dean’s heart pounded in his chest – breaking —and his throat burned around the emotion that was choking him.
“Why are you saying this?” Dean rasped out.
“Because, when you’ve done something wrong, you should be man enough to apologize for it.
I wanted you safe Dean, wanted to give you time to heal, but I know I came off sounding like you’d let me down, somehow, being injured; that I was leaving you behind because you weren’t good enough to come with me. And for that I’m sorry. I’m not sure what I should’ve done differently,” John continued after a long, pregnant pause, “wait for you to heal or take you with, but I know it didn’t feel right without you there. And you boys are growin’ up so fast that I’m just…I’m glad you’re with me in this. Don’t know what I’d do without either of you.”
John pulled his son in further and firmly held him against his side. For Dean, the open affection was such a foreign feeling, that it was all he could do not to break down. “I’m not goin’ anywhere, Dad,” he whispered. “I promise.”
Bobby leaned over the motor of the Lebaron, peered through the engine compartment and called out to the young man below, “You been workin’ all day. Don’t you think it’s about time you took a break?” He waved a long-neck bottle tantalizingly and smiled when he heard a welcome ‘oh yeah’.
Dean slid the creeper out from beneath the car and sat up, his grease covered hand already outstretched for the ice cold beer. “Can’t say ‘no’ to that,” he said after taking a deep draw.
“So…we gonna talk about why you’ve been hiding out here instead of getting ready to leave?”
“I’m not,” Dean answered, looking up from behind the bottle.
“You’re not leaving? Or we’re not gonna talk about it?”
“Of course I’m leaving. And no, I’ve had my fill of ‘talking’. Besides which, there‘s nothing to talk about.”
Bobby frowned, searching Dean‘s face for the crack in his shell that would open the boy up about all the thoughts swimming around inside his skull.
Dean downed the remainder of his bottle and set the empty on a work bench. “Thanks for the beer, but I still got work to—”
“What happened between you and your old man yesterday?”
“Oh my God! Why are you so freakin’ stubborn? If I say I don’t wanna talk about it, why do you gotta keep pushin’ for me to talk? Dean fired off, trying to sound tough, but failing when his voice broke into a whine, “You’re as bad as Sammy.”
Bobby was quick to return fire. “Why do you have to pretend there’s nothing wrong when clearly there is?”
“Look, the last two weeks…man, it’s been this rollercoaster ride of emotional talk and I’m just done with it. Ok? So…as of today, I’m installing a new rule.”
“Oh, yeah? What’s that?”
“No more of that girly movie talk?”
“Girly movie? Is that a metaphor for porn?”
“No. You know those movies that have a girl and a guy and he says I hate you and she says I hate you more and the next thing you know they’re ripping each other’s clothes off?”
“Yeah, that’s Porn?” Bobby concluded, soundly.
“No, the romantic comedy stuff where they’re all talking and sharing their feelings and it always ends in this totally unrealistic happy ending where the girl gets her man –”
“Oh. Oh!” Nodding sagely, Bobby answered, “You mean chick flicks.”
“I really don’t wanna know how you know what they’re called,” Dean said, giving Bobby an odd look, his eyebrows rising high into his hairline. He shook the feeling off and continued, “Ok. So, new rule: No chick flick moments.”
“You have met your brother, right?”
“Yeah, well, that goes double for him. No. More. Chick. Flick. Moments.”
“I take it your daddy laid it all out there on the table for you.”
“All of it,” Dean sagged like he was exhausted and propped himself up on the fender of the Lebaron. “Heart, soul, blood, guts, the whole nine. Bobby…he…he hugged me and said ‘please’. Hell, he said ‘I’m sorry’. I need another beer.”
Bobby handed him what was left of his own bottle and leaned up against the car beside him, asking, “Isn’t that a good thing?”
Dean choked on his beer and came away from the car, sputtering, “Oh no. Nah uh. You’re not gonna get me to pour my heart out.” He shook his head adamantly and added, “Nope. I told ya, I’m done with this crap. From here on out it’s nothing but work, beer, women a-an-and dick and fart jokes.”
“You’re being a little dramatic don’t ya think?”
“Absolutely. Change the subject.”
Bobby shook his head, resigned to Dean’s demands. “Fine,” he said, resolutely. He maintained his place against the car and folded his arms over his chest, eyeing Dean.
“Fine,” Dean echoed and with a nod, turned and began straightening the parts and tools scattered across the top of the workbench.
Watching Dean work, Bobby was struck by how accustomed to the boy’s presence he’d become over the last two weeks. By having Dean there, Bobby’s days had been filled with a kind of comfortable normality and everything had seemed to flow smoothly; working like a well-oiled machine. Sure there had been rough patches — for Dean anyhow — but they’d got through them with a little gentle prodding. All in all, it had been nice to have the boy there with him to not only share the workload of the shop and the ‘job’, but also to break up the monotony that was normally his life. Now that Dean’s stay was swiftly coming to an end, Bobby was rather sad to see him go.
“You boys taking off tonight?” Bobby asked after a long stretch of silence.
Dean nodded. “Dad wants to leave before sundown.” He looked over his shoulder at the older hunter. “I’m gonna have my hands full with him.”
“Yes you will. He’s not ready to jump back in, so you don’t let him, you hear?”
“If I had my way, you’d all be stayin’ for another week, at least. Give him more time to heal up, but I know he’s itchin’ to get out of here and back on the road.”
“How ‘bout you? You ready to get back on the road?”
Dean shrugged, noncommittally. “I don’t know. A big part of me is dying to get back at it; get off my ass and sink my teeth back into the meat of it.”
“And the other part?”
Dean’s gaze dropped to his worn boots and he dug his toe into the dirt beneath. His leg and ankle only bothered him now in the early morning, but a bit of athletic tape and wrap had given Dean the stability to carry on with his daily duties. The last few days for him had been…almost nice. His family, all under one roof, a newspaper and a well-kept filing system over morning coffee, a job in Bobby’s shop, (he had reluctantly allowed Sam to take over helping Gert, making her promise not to love Sammy more than him) and people whose company he enjoyed and whom he didn’t have to cross state lines to see; life was genuinely good and Dean, content.
This revelation surprised Dean and for a moment he was struck dumb. Of all the things Dean had expected to happen during his stay, contentment had been the furthest thing from his mind. He’d been so overwhelmed by his abandonment, that all thoughts of enjoyment had fled his mind.
He shouldn’t have been surprised though to find that Bobby’d had other ideas. The man had spent every waking hour of the past two weeks attempting to keep Dean occupied. He had opened not only his home to Dean, but his life and Dean had been drawn to it like a moth to flame. There was something lyrical about the complex life that Bobby lived. A seamless balance of the real world and a hunter’s world; the best of both worlds, Dean thought.
Through this balance, Bobby was able to help people, occasionally kill a few things and Lord only knew where all those hunters out there would be without the work that Bobby did to aid them, but he was also able to have some semblance of real life. And in that life, he had this group of people; Clive, Gert…Josey. Good people. People with warm hearts and warmer pie. The kind of people a hunter like Bobby needed to block out the nightmares of the ‘real’ real world; to stave off the loneliness.
For a moment, Dean felt the warm burn of jealousy. Problem was, he couldn’t put a finger on ‘who’ he was jealous of. Bobby, for having friends outside of ‘the life’ or these friends, for having made a permanent place in Bobby’s life; just one more place in which Dean might never truly fit.
Dean was awakened from his thoughts by the warm pressure of Bobby’s hands gripping the tense muscles along the top of his shoulders. He squeezed softly and pressed his thumbs in soothing circles at the base of Dean’s neck.
“You okay, son?”
Nodding, Dean stepped out of Bobby’s grip. He ran a grimy hand over his mouth and jaw, swiping at the moisture that was threatening to flood his eyes. No use getting worked up about something he’d never have. Dean knew his place and it wasn’t here. It was side-by-side with his father; back-to-back with his brother, doing what he’d been raised to do; fight, kill, save.
Bobby leaned into his line of sight, looking concerned.
“There’s a saying,” he said. “I’m sure you’ve heard it. The grass is always greener on the other side.”
“Ye–” Dean cleared his dry throat and tried again, “Yeah.”
“Well there’s another one. It’s called riding the fence. S’when you’re faced with two options and they both look so good that ya can’t make up your mind.”
“You think I wanna stay here? Leave my family?” Dean stepped back, looking slightly appalled, but Bobby was quick to continue, shaking his head.
“Nope. You know right where you’re supposed to be,” he added with a firm nod of his head, “but I think you’ve been sittin’ in between these two options just long enough to let that confuse you.”
Glowering, Dean dropped his eyes back to the floor. He stuffed his hands down into his pockets, letting his shoulders shrug up to protect himself and block out all the confusion that was indeed swamping him, but Bobby wasn’t finished.
“What your Daddy and I do are two very different things cuz we’re two very different men. What works for me, would never work for him and I know sure as shit that what he’s got, doesn’t work for me. And what you need in your life now, may not be what you need in the future, but you can’t go through your days frettin’ ‘bout what’s on that other side. You take it one day at a time and play the cards as they’re dealt to you.”
The older hunter stepped in front of him, and like his father had two weeks prior, Bobby clapped a rough hand to the back of Dean’s neck, forcing Dean to look at him.
“And when you need it, you always have a place here; all of you…even your Dad…as long as he behaves himself. No matter where you are or what you need, I’m here, son. S’what family’s for, ya know?”
Dean closed his eyes and released a slow breath and then careful not to betray the waiver in his voice, he said wagged a finger at Bobby, “I said no chick flick moments.”
“Oh shut up,” Bobby growled and pulled the kid in hard, wrapping his arms firmly across Dean’s back.
With John wrestled into the passenger seat against his will, Bobby shut the door and leaned in through the open window where the oldest Winchester was scowling back at him.
“You rest up. Quit giving these boys so much flack and do what’s gotta be done to heal or Dean’ll bring you right back here.”
“You keep this up,” John scoffed, “and you’ll make someone a real good wife.”
Bobby shook his head and muttered ‘Idjit’ before stepping away from the car and right into a bear hug. Sammy wrapped the older hunter up in his long arms, hugging with the enthusiasm of an eight month old pup.
“Seeya Bobby,” he chirped. “Thanks for everything.”
Sam didn’t need to explain, Bobby got it. He squeezed the kid around the middle and puffed through the mop of hair swarming his face.
“Take care of yourself, sport. Keep up on them books.”
“You know I will,” Sam answered, breaking the hug. He climbed into the backseat, all arms and legs and no room for much else and Bobby was struck by the notion that he might never quit growing and God help them when he fills out. Kid was shaping up to be a mountain of a man.
“Okay, we’re all set,” Dean said, closing the lid on the trunk. He leaned his hip into the black sheen of the Impala and waited for Bobby to round the corner.
“Got everything you need? Got your pie that Gert brought over special for you?”
“Yessir.” Dean looked around suspiciously and whispered, “I gained five pounds on account of that woman.”
“That’ll happen. You said bye to everyone needs hearin’ it? I don’t want a certain young woman showin’ up on my doorstep at three am and findin’ you ain’t here.”
“I did. Stopped in and saw Josey too.”
“S’good, s’good. Okay then. You drive careful and you take care of your Daddy.”
“S’what I’m best at,” Dean said with a grin.
“I trust ya,” Bobby smirked back.
And just like that, Bobby was overtaken by six foot of young man, draped over him in a hug. Those Winchester boys, for all their statements to the contrary, were huggers and that was just fine by Bobby. He clasped the boy firmly, pleased but nonetheless surprised to have been allowed inside Dean’s tough guy armor yet again.
“I trust you too.” Dean’s voice rumbled through Bobby’s chest, his meaning piercing Bobby’s heart and forcing the older man to hang on tighter just to keep his knees from buckling under the weight of it all.
“You best get goin’.” Bobby cleared his voice and when Dean wasn’t looking, he swiped a quick hand beneath his eyes. “Pastor Jim’ll be expecting you in a couple hours.”
Dean climbed in behind the wheel of the Impala, closed the door and leaned his elbow out the open driver’s window.
“Thanks Bobby,” John said, leaning over Dean to look up at their friend, “for everything.”
“Not a problem. S’what I’m best at,” he echoed Dean’s earlier words and patted the roof fondly, stepping back.
“Feels damn good in this seat. Might have to make this a permanent thing,” Dean teased, giving John an ornery look and then shifted the car into gear. He slid his Ray-Bans into place, flashed Bobby a cheeky smile and then pulled away from the walk and out the drive, kicking up gravel and dust as he took the corner a bit too quickly, leaving Bobby and that life on the other side of the fence behind…at least for a while.
I wanted to take a quick moment to say thank you for reading my very first Big Bang! Comments are gold! I'd love to hear what you think. Thank you again to my beautiful zara_zee for walking with me every step of the way and unending gratitude to thruterryseyes for all her hard work and beautiful art. Be sure to leave love for her as well. Thanks again! And see you next year!