It was Sam who made the arrangements. He smoothed over Dean's dark mutterings about haunted kidneys with a clarification that organ donation was against their uncle's religious beliefs. Then he used legal mumbo jumbo to explain their right to take Bobby themselves instead of having a mortuary pick him up.
It was Dean who picked the spot in the forest to salt, burn and bury him. "He had good memories here. Tramping around, shooting at things that don't try to kill you back."
The moon hung high over the trees by the time they stopped walking, and the forest air was crisp and cold in Sam's lungs. A skull lay on the ground at the foot of one of the trees. Some hapless deer whose body had long since been carried off by predators. They would have to dig deep to ensure that Bobby's bones weren't similarly carried off. As Sam picked up his shovel, he saw the skull wink at him and made a note to avoid looking around. It had been many years since Sam had feared the dark, but his eyes played enough tricks on him these days without bringing moon-cast shadows into the mix. "Yeah, it's a good spot, Dean. No one will disturb him here." Sam put his shovel to the earth, remembered doing this once by himself, alone, for Dean. Whatever else that had happened in those years, all the choices Sam regretted, at least this time he had Dean by his side. Dean's face was a grim mask in the lantern's glow as he set to digging. Sam wished he knew some magical phrase that would make this more bearable for his brother, but there wasn't anything.
The ground was partially frozen and hard to break into. It had been awhile since they had to dig an old-fashioned grave, and Sam knew it was only the extra exercise he'd been doing and the muscle mass his soulless self had built up that was keeping him going. He wondered how Dean, side-lined for six weeks after his broken leg, and still trying to build back up his stamina and strength was keeping up. With Bobby's death, Dean really had become Sam's whole world, and it terrified him. It hadn't escaped Sam's notice that Dean himself had changed in the last few years. Become more cynical, less able to shrug off every blow. Sam himself had contributed to that, he knew, but he had no idea how to fix it. Bobby was the only person left in the world that Dean looked up to, and Bobby was gone.
And Sam, Sam couldn't figure out a way to help Dean, and that meant he was darn near useless to his brother.
As the grave got deeper, it became too narrow for them to continue working side-by-side, and they had to start taking turns. The beam of the flashlight Dean was holding down into the grave swung away as Dean habitually checked the surrounding area. Sam paused his digging and stood his shovel on end. It reached just below the wall of dirt that made the sides. "How far down do you think we should go?" he called up to his brother. There was no answer. "Dean?"
The lantern clicked off, plunging Sam into darkness except for the thin beam of Dean's flashlight. "Shh," he heard Dean say. "Grab the guns." Sam brought his hand up to his mouth and bit down. The pain was real. Everything was still dark.
One night, Sam thought. Couldn't the universe have given Dean one night off? Sam lifted himself out of the grave, groping for the guns they'd left lying next to the dig site. Sam found his gun and Dean's and went to stand next to his brother. "What is it?" he whispered, staring away from the flashlight, trying to get his eyes to adjust to the dark.
"Deer," Dean said.
For a moment, Sam thought Dean meant to try to shoot the deer, some last wild way of honoring Bobby's memory. Then he got sight of what was showing in the glow of the flashlight. Five of them. Staring back at Dean and now Sam, frozen and still. Sam didn't know a lot about deer, but there was a buck, two doe and a couple of younger ones he guessed must have been born last spring. "They're beautiful," Sam said, lowering his gun. "They must think we have food."
As they watched another young deer walked over to the others and then turned to stare at Sam and Dean. "Or they think we are food." Sam made a noise of disgust that echoed loudly in the forest. He hadn't realized until then just how quietly everything had gotten. "I've never seen deer act like that before."
"Dean, the only times we've seen deer are when Dad or Bobby or someone took us hunting. After the first shot, they were mostly dead or running. They're frozen because you're scaring them with that light," Sam said.
"That's what I thought at first, too. But look—" A seventh deer joined the others. "This is some kind of Hitchcock birds thing."
Even Sam had to blink when an eighth deer walked up. He thought of the skull he'd seen winking earlier. He should have paid more attention. He wished he and Dean had gotten rifles out of the car instead of their normal hand guns. Rock salt bullets weren't going to do much to a deer's skull he didn't think, and this was looking shadier all the time. It was still winter, and the sun set early. The deer should be bedded down for the night, but they were quiet, still standing, joined by more and more every few minutes. Sam picked up another flashlight and turned his back to Dean's. There were more deer standing in the trees that way, at least another ten staring at Sam and Dean. He put the flashlight on the ground, so he could get a good grip on his gun. "Maybe we should come back tomorrow," Sam said, already running possible search terms through his mind. He'd never heard anything like this, and he bet Dean hadn't either.
"You don't really want to leave your friend here, do you?" a voice said from near to the ground. Sam knew without even looking what it would be. Sam watched as the deer he could see took a step back and bent their front legs in something approximating a human bow. He felt pretty confident they weren't bowing to him.
"Say something," Dean hissed.
"Tell them we come in peace."
"We come in peace," Sam repeated with dry sarcasm.
Dean elbowed him in the side. "Louder."
"They're thirsty," the voice continued. This time Dean swung his flashlight around and the two of them watched as the deer skull Sam had noted earlier began to rise and stretch, until it became a small deer. It was smaller than the others, but sported a large set of antlers on its head. It snorted and stamped its feet, and then it began to stretch again until there was something like a man standing before them. "They've been afraid to drink the water. The streams carry stories of strange monsters."
Dean scoffed. All trace of fear or respect gone from his voice. "Great," he said. "Is that what this is about? Another supernatural lecture about how it's our responsibility to save the freaking world? We can't get one damn day off to bury—" Dean kicked the ground at his feet.
"This is my forest," the deer-man said coldly. "I am the only one who hunts here, and the deer answer to me."
"Respectfully, hunters have always come to this forest," Sam said. "That's why we picked it. Our friend here —"
"Yes, I know your friend. He has hunted many of my charges, for years upon years, since before any of my deer now living were born. Now quiet." He turned back to Dean. "Do you think I talk to a lot of humans, young hunter? Do you think I have nothing better to do than to offer them advice?"
Dean didn't seem impressed. "Why are you here then? Cut to the chase."
"As I said, this forest is mine. Your friend has never been to this part of it. No hunter save me has."
"Bobby's been all over this forest."
"No hunter may trespass in this clearing."
"Why did you bring us here then?"
"I didn't. You were able to cross my boundaries, because you are prey now. Someone is hunting you, young hunters."
"We're aren't deer. We know how to fight back," Dean said. "We're always being hunted."
"At this very moment," the man said. "Whether you know it or not, you're in danger of losing. The whole world is waiting for the mighty Winchesters to save this planet and what are you really? A sot and a lunatic. I should just kill you know and put you out of your misery. Maybe the universe has a back-up plan."
Dean's laugh was bitter. "Is that supposed to be some kind of threat? Yeah, well, maybe you'd be doing us a favor."
"Shut up, Sam."
"It could work," the man said. "Sam knows about that, don't you, Sam? The only way to save the world was to give in to Lucifer. If only temporarily. Sometimes the only way for the herd to survive the predator is for the weak one to fall behind and give everyone else a chance to escape."
"We're not giving in to the leviathan," Dean snapped. "We're not weak; Sam's not weak."
Sam turned and looked at his brother. That had been the strongest statement with strength and fight behind it that Sam had heard from his brother in a long time. Maybe his brother was better off than Sam gave him credit or maybe Bobby was right, as he so often was, and the both of them needed to learn to look after themselves before they tried to look after each other. "Neither are you, Dean," Sam said.
The man laughed. "I just wanted to make sure you remembered that."
"Why do you care?"
"The leviathans talk a big game, I know, with their plans to raise their own farm-fresh humans. But you and I both know that there hunger is unquenchable, and they'll never be able to keep from eating the lot of you, and when you're gone, they'll eat everything else. Eat this planet right down to it's core." He bared his teeth. "And then where would I hunt?" He looked at the two of them for a long moment, and then he began to shrink. "Figure it out," the skull said, all that was left of the man who'd been standing there only moments before. "Because you won't be leaving here until you do."
"Fuck," Dean shouted, throwing his flashlight to the ground. "Why does this stuff keep happening to us?"
"We'll figure it out. Whatever lesson it is he wants to learn. We'll finish with Bobby and then we'll get out of here and—"
"Will we? Geez, Sam, look at you. Talking to air half the day, and so damn dependent on me that even when you want to leave — like when you found out about Amy — you can't bring yourself to do it."
"Dean, I didn't want to leave you. I just needed some time. I just —"
"Don't sugarcoat it, Sam. I should have never come to you at Stanford. Or I should have kept that yellow-eyed ass from stealing you to Cold Oak. I've made so many damn mistakes, Sam."
"That's everyone's life, Dean. Not just yours. Everyone has regrets, things they wished they'd done in hindsight. You know I've got them. You would have been better off if I'd never been born."
Dean froze. "No. No, that's not what I —"
"You know it's the truth, Dean."
"No, it isn't. Sam, how can you not know? I never would have made it through any of this without you to keep me going."
"If it weren't for me, there would have been nothing for you to get through."
"Oh, right, because my life would have been perfect. Come on, Sam, you can't really believe that. You think the angels would have left me alone? That Mary Campbell Winchester, daughter of hunters, would have lived to a ripe old age? Hell, even Dad. They were already fighting before that, Sammy. They would have split up, and Dad probably would've drank himself to sleep every night anyway. But without saving people's lives during the day. Thirty years is a long time, Sam. It wouldn't have been all rosy."
"Thirty years is a long time, and you can't know it wouldn't have been better, Dean."
"Yes, I can. Any world without you in it is going to suck compared to this one."
Sam smiled. "You're the best big sister ever, Dean."
"I think that's deep enough," Dean called down.
"What?" Sam blinked to clear his eyes. He was back in the grave, and the lantern was back on. There was no one around that he could see except Dean. The sky was lightening some, going grayish. The sun wouldn't be far off. It was easy to lose track of time while doing something mindless like digging, but Sam didn't feel like he had zoned out.
"The deer …" Sam said.
"Nevermind," Sam said. "I guess it was just a trick of the light." Another hallucination, he thought. Except he remembered biting down on his hand. Remembered checking. It had to have to have been real. Unless the memory of biting down on his hand was fake, too. I think therefore I am, Sam thought. Start with brick one. Dean is real, and Dean loves me.
Sam crawled out. There really was a skull on the ground a ways away under a tree. But it was still and quiet, just a skull. Maybe the incident was real, and Dean had been whammied to forget once Sam had figured out what the deer-man's pep talk was trying to remind him of. Maybe it was fake, and Sam's subconscious was trying to tell him something. It didn't really matter, because Sam knew what to say now. Sam knew what he needed to say to put Dean in the right mood to reassure the deer or anyone else who was paying attention not to give up on the Winchesters.
"Dean, what do you want to be when you grow up?"
"What? Sam, focus. It's 2012."
Sam pursed his lips. "I know that. I just meant every day is a new one, you know? After today, what do you want to do with your life?"
"We're hunters, Sam. It's a little too late to start a rock-n-roll band."
He lifted up one end of Bobby's body and let Dean grab the other. It was the last time they'd ever see him. "Bobby was a hunter; Ellen was a hunter. It changes you, yeah, but it doesn't have to ruin you."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying we have a choice. Find a way to make it work for us."
"What's that, Sam? What has ever worked for us? What in our fantastic lives has gone the way we want it to?" Dean jumped into the grave, so Sam could lower Bobby down to him. They weren't going to just drop him.
Sam swallowed. "Being together," Sam said. "Working together. That seems to have worked for us here and there." Dean climbed out again, and struck his Zippo.
Sam began to pour the salt. "I went to my first birthday party, because of Bobby," Sam said, hoarsely. "You remember, Dean? There was that girl who'd just moved in down the road, and school hadn't started yet, so she hadn't met anyone. She asked me if I wanted to come over, but I thought she'd want a gift. I don't remember how he found out, but he ended up giving me something to give to her. I do remember going over to her house with the gift, though. We didn't do much, just had some cake and watched videos. She said summer birthdays sucked, but I told her it was the best birthday party I'd ever been to. It still is, I guess."
There was a long silence. "We played catch." Dean's flicked the Zippo in his hand. "I remember. After we dropped you off at the party, Bobby took me out. I hadn't—" Dean's voice broke off for a second. "I hadn't done that with anyone in a long time."
"That's where you got me that glove for Christmas, isn't it?"
"Yeah, didn't know you were going to be a soccer dork then." Dean said, and his voice was the nearest thing to light-hearted that Sam had heard all week.
"I liked soccer better," Sam said. "But I liked, like knowing both. I like knowing both, Dean. If Bobby could do that, could keep it in him to do that for two boys who weren't anything to him, then I guess we can keep going too."
Dean looked at Sam across the grave as they filled the dirt back in, but he didn't say anything. When they were done, he grabbed a couple of beer bottles and tossed one to Sam. As one, the two of them upended the contents over the dirt.
Sam peeked at his brother over the stream of alcohol. "All right, Sam," Dean said. "All right. I guess we're still kicking at that." He took a deep breath and looked up. Streaks of pink and purple were visible in the sky as the sun began to rise. Dean looked back over at Sam and cracked a smile. "But don't expect me to play catch with you."
"I'll survive," Sam said.
"Yeah," Dean said. He started picking everything up for the hike back to the car, tapping his shovel against Sam's leg to get him moving. "We'll survive."