John Winchester was dead.
Bobby knew it the second he heard Dean's voice on the phone. The thing about owning a salvage yard was that you ended up with a vehicle for every occasion; but as Bobby pulled up to the hospital, he couldn't decide if that was a good or bad thing. His disguise as a funeral director was perfect though, and it was quite easy to obtain the body of one Elroy Mcgillicutty on behalf of his two grieving sons. Really, the only lie was the name and the fact that Bobby was no funeral director.
He had been prepared to help the boys with the burning, but he wasn't surprised when they met him on the road halfway back to his place. Dean tossed him the keys to his own car, and said "Thanks Bobby" and Sam hitched the old duffel bag higher onto his shoulder and glanced off to the right, and Bobby didn't ask where they were going.
They came home at 3am. Bobby stayed on the couch, but feigned sleep, as if he had tried to wait up for them and failed. They smelt like a hunt gone right, and that was all kinds of wrong. He could hear the leftover hitching in Sam's breathing, and didn't have to open his eyes to see the red-rimmed eyes. Sam had practically cried straight since it happened.
Dean, on the other hand, well, Bobby wasn't sure what he was expecting, but it wasn't what he got. Dean was quiet, a hard set to his jaw. As if speaking would break him. It probably would, Bobby thought, but what Bobby didn't understand was the look in his eye. Since John died, Bobby would sometimes catch Dean staring off at nothing, as if his thoughts were traveling too fast for him to follow, and sometimes he looked terrified, and sometimes he looked angry...and sometimes he would look at Sam and for the briefest of moments, Bobby would think that the dam was about to burst, that Dean was going to collapse right then and there, but in a blink of an eye he'd be back to before, jaw clenched, quiet.
The fridge opened, and Bobby recognized the sound of one hand drawing out two bottles.
"Sammy" Dean said, and it wasn't a demand or question, but a gentle statement of fact.
"Thanks" came Sam's reply, his voice a hoarse whisper.
Bobby listened to them drink in silence, save the noise Sam made running a hand over his face, sniffing occasionally.
"I'll be up in a minute," Dean said, when the beers were empty. Bobby heard the sound of Sam's large feet climbing the stairs to the spare room, the fridge door opened again, and Dean's soft steps walked towards Bobby. Then the sound of a beer being placed on the coffee table.
"I know you're awake" Dean said, but didn't wait for Bobby to admit to anything, "I'll watch out for Sammy, you don't need to worry about him."
Bobby opened one eye and looked up at Dean.
"It's not Sam I'm worried about, you idjit" he replied.
Bobby didn't know what he was expecting, but he knew that he wasn't expecting Dean to smile.
Samuel Winchester was dead.
Bobby knew when he was still ten yards away - knew by the way Dean screamed Sam's name. He felt it in his bones, his stomach, his heart. He turned immediately and began jogging back, running back, and he didn't want to admit that part of him was terrified. Dean and Sam, Sam and Dean, Bobby couldn't imagine one without the other, but he was the first to admit that it was easier to picture Sam without Dean than Dean without Sam. Since they were kids, coming by on the odd job with their Dad, Dean had protected Sam with a loyalty Bobby had only ever seen in his best dogs.
Bobby thought he knew, this time, what to expect. Dean had declared it any time anyone laid a finger on Sam. Dean would kill them. He'd kill everything and anything responsible. He would hunt them to the ends of the earth...but that isn't what happened.
Bobby rounded the corner to find Dean and Sam where he had left them, only Dean was sobbing; sobbing into Sam's hair and neck, clutching him as though it might bring him back to life. Bobby stood, helpless, dumbfounded, until the cold wet earth had soaked through Dean's jeans...until there was no denying that Sam was gone.
He went to Dean and told him they had to go regroup. Dean only sobbed. Bobby told him he'd help with Sam, and made to move Sam's body,
"No." Dean said softly between breaths, jerking Sam's body closer to him still, "I've got him. I've got him."
And Bobby backed off. He watched as Dean carefully lifted Sam, picking up the limp 6'4'' man as though he were a child in arms. Dean carried Sam the whole way back to the car, refusing Bobby's help, even though Bobby could tell that Sam's weight was a difficult burden, no matter how much Dean denied it.
When they finally got to the car, Dean didn't just lay him in the backseat, but crawled in there with him. He handed Bobby the keys without words, and Bobby felt his hands shake as he slipped them into the ignition. There in his rearview mirror was Dean, with Sam's head pillowed on lap as though he were only asleep. And Bobby wondered how often in his life John had looked in that same rearview mirror and seen his boys like that.
Bobby stayed with Dean for days, waiting, he thought, for the rage to start - for Dean to stop talking, set his jaw, burn Sam's body, clean the guns, study the maps, hunt down the demon. Dean stopped talking, but that was where what Bobby expected ended. Dean stopped talking, but he also stopped eating, sleeping, he just stopped.
Bobby had picked John up from the hospital, and he had looked at Sam's dead body for days, and he couldn't bare to see Dean waste away in front of him, while the thing that killed Sam, and therefore was killing Dean, was still out there, still planning something. So, he left. He felt horrible about it, but he left. He cursed himself and John Winchester, but he didn't curse Dean. He drove back to his place to regroup and start work. He told himself it was what John would have done, but Bobby never could decide if John had ever done right by those boys, so that was hardly a comforting thought.
And he didn't know what he expected would happen to Dean, but he knew he wasn't expecting to open his door to a smiling Sam and Dean a day and a half later.
"I couldn't. I couldn't let him die, Bobby. I just couldn't. He's my brother" Dean had said, while his eyes repeated I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.
Dean Winchester was dead.
Bobby knew the minute he entered the house. There was no noise except the muffled sobbing. He found them in a backroom. Ruby, or her vessel at least, lay dead on the floor, forgotten. Dean stared glassy-eyed up at nothing, and Sam lay curled around his brother. His face buried in his neck, his hands sliding gently over his shoulders, as though Sam could warm him back to life.
Bobby swore. Sam stilled.
Bobby bent over to close Dean's eyes, but his hand was slapped away. It stung.
"No" Sam said, jaw clenched, a fury in his eyes that pierced through the tears, "I've got him." Sam slid a hand gently over Dean's eyes himself. Then bent down and picked up his big brother, and for the first time Bobby truly realized how much bigger Sam was than Dean.
Sam carried Dean out to the car, and cried fresh tears as he slipped the keys from his pocket. He got into the drivers seat without a word. They took off, Bobby never let the Impala get out of his sight.
Bobby didn't know where they were going, but he didn't expect Sam to pull over in Oklahoma. It was a deserted part of road, but it was still daylight. It wasn't right for a funeral pyre.
But instead of collecting the necessarily supplies from the trunk and getting Bobby to help haul Dean's body out of the backseat. Sam presented him with a list.
"I need you to go get these things for me. Meet me back here." Sam stated in a voice Bobby had only ever heard from John Winchester. Bobby glanced at the list.
"Pine? Sam...what are you planning?" But he knew, "Sam, we need to burn his body. We can't bury it."
"No" Sam said, a hard edge to his voice, "Dean needs his body for when I bring him back. Now I need you to get those things for me, Bobby."
"Bobby!" And Bobby stepped back on reflex, purely on reflex. There were few people that had ever sparked fear in Bobby Singer, and Sam Winchester had not, until that day, been one of them.
"I'll be right back" he said, and felt ashamed for feeling relieved when he was alone again, heading towards the nearest city.
He got back at sunset. Sam had been crying. Bobby thought maybe he had come to his senses, maybe earlier was just the grief talking. But when he tried to bring up the idea of burning Dean, Sam's eyes hardened.
"I said NO!" Sam yelled, but Bobby knew Sam was just upset. Sam was just holding on to false hope. If they hadn't found a way to save him in the year he had, what made Sam think he could save him now. Bobby tried not to think about the way Sam kept flashing from grief-stricken to furious like a switch flipping. He tried to tell himself that this was still the same Sam that had cried for days after his Dad died, that had followed his big brother around like puppy, the same Sam who tried in vain to be a moral compass for his wayward brother and father...the same Sam who hugged Bobby's knees goodbye after the first time he met him, and told him that he liked his house best because he had popsicles. He held that Sam in his mind and tried to explain calmly to Sam that Dean had wanted him to move on, that Dean would have wanted his body salted and burned properly, that Dean wasn't going to come back.
And that was when Sam pulled the gun on him, told him calmly to get in his car and drive away, told him that if he even tried to find where he had buried Dean, that Sam would kill him. Bobby had never seen this Sam before, and he realized, that this was Sam without Dean. He had been wrong the year before, when he thought that he could picture Sam without Dean, because he had never pictured this. Never.
Bobby held his hands up, and backed towards his car, because he was smart enough to recognize when he was in over his head. Sam waited, jaw clenched and eyes hard, until the engine started. Then a little bit of the Sam that Bobby knew bled back into his eyes, tears welled and fell.
"I'm sorry," Sam said, but Sam held the gun on him even as he drove away.
Bobby's dreams for next four months were plagued with images of Sam building his brother's coffin at the side of the road, Sam with hard eyes and a gun raised, saying he was sorry with no meaning behind the words. There were rumours of creatures slaughtered by Sam Winchester. There were newspaper articles of people found murdered - stabbed, Bobby knew they were demons, but he didn't know how Sam managed to find so many. There were a few found on country roads, empty liquor bottles beside the bodies, wounds that indicated torture before death. Bobby tried to find Sam again, but John had taught his boys well, and if a Winchester didn't want to be found, they wouldn't be.
And one night, while Bobby was just about to pass out with a beer on the couch, he thought of everything he had ever learnt about the Winchesters. He thought of the way Dean looked at Sam those first few days after John passed. He thought of the way Dean smiled, when Bobby told him that he wasn't worried about Sam. He thought of Dean's voice saying "I'll watch out for Sammy, you don't need to worry about him," and he thought of the Dean's broken voice saying, "I couldn't. He's my brother," while his eyes pleaded for forgiveness. And it occurred to him that maybe they had been having two different conversations the whole time.
But Lord help him, there was only one person who could watch out for Sam Winchester, and Bobby Singer was not him.
The next day, Dean Winchester called.