It's around five in the evening, late winter twilight starting to lengthen the days, when the first one shows up. She's driving a '73 Chevelle and trailing two teenage boys who tower over her, but it's clear she's the one in charge.
He opens the door to find the three of them standing on his doorstep, red-cheeked from the cold. They don't seem fazed that he greets them with a shotgun
"You Bobby Singer?" the girl asks, and Bobby's grip tightens on the gun.
"Who wants to know?"
"My name's Hailey Collins and these are my brothers, Ben and Tommy--"
"Whatever. We're here to help."
Bobby takes one hand off the gun long enough to pull out his flask of holy water. "I didn't call the VA or the Visiting Nurse Service," he says.
"We're not from the VA. We're from Blackwater Ridge, Colorado." She says it like it's supposed to mean something to him. When he doesn't respond, she continues, "And okay, technically, we need your help. We've been doing okay with the zombies, but we don't know anything about fighting demons. Everyone says you're the expert."
Bobby should be used to this--he's been hunting damn near thirty years--but still he says, "Zombies?" like he's never heard the word before.
"The walking dead," the younger boy, Ben, says. The duh is implied.
Hailey gives him a quelling look and he shuts up.
Bobby's a little impressed in spite of himself. "I know what zombies are," he says. The you idiot is implied.
"Well, there have been outbreaks from Bangor to Boulder," Hailey says. "Entire graveyards just up and walking away. Some say it's a sign of the end times." Her voice rises in question, obviously seeking reassurance, but Bobby has none to give her. "Like I said, we've been doing okay with them--they're not that hard to kill--but we don't know anything about demons and we passed through Farnam yesterday and it was like the whole town was possessed."
Bobby's already waited too long, but he takes the opportunity now to splash all three of them with holy water. "Christo." They don't even look surprised.
"Took you long enough," Tommy says, blinking water out of his eyes. Which remain clear and bright and human. He reaches into his shirt and pulls out an amulet, the kind Bobby's all too familiar with. "We're okay," he says. "Even if Hailey won't let me get a tattoo." He shoots his sister a dark look and she rolls her eyes like she's seen it a million times before. "But we won't be if we don't get some more information soon."
Bobby heaves a sigh and starts rolling back towards the kitchen. "I guess you'd better come in, then."
Under his supervision, they fry up some bacon cheeseburgers; it's weird having a woman in the kitchen again, especially one young enough to be his daughter. The boys eat like they haven't seen food in days, and Bobby almost feels nostalgic for another pair of boys, but Hailey's dark-eyed, assessing gaze is something new.
He gives them the basics, Demonology 101, and Ben takes notes on a little computer while Hailey peppers him with questions. Tommy listens with a thoughtful look on his face; he occasionally leans over to his younger brother and says something that makes Ben nod and type faster.
After a couple of hours, Hailey leans back and says, "Thanks, Bobby. If you could recommend a motel in the area, we'll get out of your hair."
Bobby frowns at her. "There're blankets and pillows in the hall closet," he says. "You can make up the couch and the living room floor."
"We don't want to put you to any trouble," Hailey says. Bobby gives her a skeptical look. "Any more trouble, then."
"It's no trouble," he says. "Ben and Tom, why don't you go get the blankets?"
They look at him warily but when Hailey nods they head down the hall. Hailey turns to him, eyebrows raised in curiosity.
"You planning on taking that kid into a town full of demons?"
Hailey crosses her arms over her chest. "I'm hoping to avoid demons as much as possible, but he'll need to know this stuff sooner or later."
"It's no life for a kid."
"If what I'm hearing is true, it might be the only life for anyone," she says. "And anyway, we're all we've got. I can't just leave him somewhere. He's my brother."
Bobby can't argue with that.
The Collinses leave in the morning, but they've got Bobby's number programmed into their phones, and they keep in touch, calling him with the latest news on the zombie outbreaks across Big Sky country, helping him coordinate the few hunters who are left.
Rufus sends him people, Missouri sends him people, and Bobby gives all of them as much information and help as he can before he sends them back out to kill as many evil sumbitches as they can. He even gets in touch with those clowns the Ghostfacers, and after a couple go-rounds where they question his expertise and he curses them out but good (he deals strictly with Maggie now; she's the only one of the bunch who has any sense), he helps them put good information on their website so if people stumble over it, they can actually protect themselves.
The world is ending, but until the final confrontation comes, there are battles to be fought all over, every hunter now a soldier, and every town a front. Bobby doesn't know who picked him to be the information clearinghouse now that Ellen's gone, but everyone's got a job, and this is one he's better at than most.
He might have lost his legs, but his brain still works just fine.
He's just let Condi out for her morning run when the sleek, black BMW pulls up into the yard. A tall brunette gets out, her hair tied back in braids, and her eyes hidden by sunglasses. Her brown leather coat is expensive but well-worn, and he can see the white residue of salt on the hem as it sways around her jean-clad calves.
"Are you Bobby Singer?" she asks, taking off her sunglasses and tucking them into an inside pocket. She squints at the bright morning sunlight and keeps her hands in sight and open.
"Depends who's asking."
"My name is Sarah Blake," she says. "I'm a friend of Jo Harvelle's."
Bobby's stomach flips at that; the losses keep coming, but they never get any easier to bear. "Yeah?"
"She hasn't answered her phone in a month," Sarah says, "and I can't get in touch with Ellen. Jo left me your name in case of emergency. Is--is everything okay?" She looks away and swallows, like she already knows there's no good answer to her question.
"No," he says, not bothering to sugarcoat it. "It's not."
Sarah Blake is different from the usual type who gets into hunting, comes from money and doesn't seem to about to give it up (she already has a room booked at the fanciest bed and breakfast in town), but she shows up each morning for the lessons he's willing to teach, takes his criticism with squared shoulders and a tight smile, like she's going to prove him wrong. She's the kind of stubborn that'll keep her alive, if it don't get her killed first.
After another long day bent over books, he says, "Why don't you go back to your gallery--
"It's an auction house."
He waves away the difference. "It's safer than doing this."
"No," she says. "It's not."
Bobby has to acknowledge the truth of that, especially after she tells him about the variety of cursed objects that have come her way over the past couple of years, and the trouble they've caused.
"That's how I met Jo," she says, and he's sure there's a story behind it, but she doesn't tell and he doesn't ask.
He doesn't ask how she found out about cursed objects in the first place, either. Those are never happy stories, and he knows enough sad ones to last a lifetime.
After two weeks, he tells her, "You need a partner."
She nods. "Yeah, okay. That makes sense," which surprises him, but then again, she's been doing that since she showed up.
Maybe this new generation of hunters isn't going to be a bunch of secretive lone wolves like his was. Maybe that will keep them alive until the final battle comes. Maybe--and he doesn't say this to anyone, doesn't even let himself think it most of the time--maybe it'll win that battle, too.
A few days later, Kat, the girl Rufus recommended, gets out of her pickup, shotgun in hand, and clomps up his steps, nice and loud, so he knows she's coming. She's been working with Rufus, so Bobby's not going to take her paranoia personally. She's younger than he expected, can't be more than eighteen or nineteen, which Rufus didn't mention, or maybe he did, but at their age, "girl" could mean anything under the age of forty.
"Your parents know where you are?" he says.
She makes a face but ignores the remark. "Rufus said he told you I was coming."
Bobby nods. "So he did. What's your name again?"
"Kat, meet Sarah." He looks up at Sarah, who's standing behind him, holding a cup of coffee and looking skeptical. "Sarah, meet your new partner, Kat."
"I don't need a babysitter," Kat says, though she holds her shotgun like a security blanket.
"So Rufus said." Bobby wheels into the kitchen and doesn't wait to see if she follows. Rufus had actually been pretty complimentary, for Rufus. Which is doubly surprising now that Bobby's had a look at the girl, but the man does know hunting, and he's usually right about shit like this. "But this ain't like falling off a log, girl. This is the friggin' end times, and if I say everybody buddies up, then everybody buddies up. Maybe it'll keep you all alive long enough to be useful."
Kat's mouth twists in a pout, and he thinks that in a perfect, safe world, she'd be aiming it at some hormone-ridden teenage boy instead of an old geezer like him, but this is the world they've got, and he'll be damned if he lets it go without a fight. Literally, probably. He snorts in amusement. At least he hasn't lost his sense of humor.
She doesn't argue. "You got a job for us?"
"Sit down and have a cup of coffee, and we'll talk about it."
Kat's fine once she realizes he's not going to treat her like a baby, and even though she's almost ten years younger than Sarah, they get along well enough that he feels okay sending them off together. (Kat has no problem moving her weapons stash into the trunk of Sarah's BMW, and as much as Bobby's always bought American, he can't help but feel a pang of envy when the car rolls smoothly out of the yard.)
He doesn't expect the calls from the cop from Baltimore, though, and he ignores them for a while before she mentions things no civilian--and certainly no cop--ought to know. He thaws little, though, after they talk for a few minutes. He likes her her no-nonsense voice and her willingness to cut through bureaucratic bullshit if it will help people.
"At first it was just death omens," she says. "My clearance rate went up; I closed a handful of stone whodunnits, put away a couple of killers before they could kill again. But now, it's crazy. The dead don't stay buried. Some of them don't even stay dead when you shoot 'em."
"You don't want to tangle with the latter," Bobby tells her. "Leave the demons to the professionals."
Bobby ignores that question. "You know how to do a salt and burn?"
"Yeah, I--" She hesitates and he doesn't push.
"Look, I'm not interested in how you found out or even, at this point, who gave you my name." He has his suspicions, but there'll be time to get revenge for that when this is all over. Or they'll all be dead and it won't matter. "But since you called me, I just want to make sure you know how to protect yourself."
"Okay," she says, and he can hear the flipping pages of a notebook, the quick uncapping of a pen, "hit me."
Bobby doesn't know what to do when Andrea Barr shows up on his doorstep. She's got her son in tow; he can't be more than ten, and he's quieter than any ten-year-old Bobby's ever met (not that he's met a lot--he figures Sam and Dean can't be considered representative), and already got that haunted, seen-too-much look in his eyes. So does she, and though Bobby doesn't technically have any kids of his own, he knows that part of what haunts her is that look in her son's eyes.
"It's no life for a kid," he says, rubbing a hand over his eyes. Feels like he's saying that a lot lately, though this one looks even less like a hunter than the other strays who've been washing up on his porch lately.
"I don't really have a choice," she says. She's a skinny little thing, looks like a strong breeze would blow her away, but the fact that she's survived whatever happened to her family, to her boy, and showed up on his doorstep to ask about it is proof enough that there's steel in her somewhere. "Lucas is," she purses her lips, looking for the right word, "sensitive."
Bobby leans back in his chair and waits. This ought to be good.
"Ghosts talk to him. At first, it was just the ghost that killed his father and his grandfather." Bobby raises an eyebrow, but Andrea doesn't seem to notice. She's lost in the story she's telling. "Once he was gone, once we'd moved away from the lake, I thought things would be better. He was doing so well--he'd come out of his shell, even made some friends at school." She shakes her head, like she'd known it was too good to last.
"But ever since last spring, with everything that's going on--" She shivers and crosses her arms over her chest, like she's giving herself a hug, or warding off a chill. "The dead talk to him, and since there are more of them walking around every day, he's overwhelmed. He's stuck in his own head, drawing all the time, these horrible pictures of what happened to them. He's stopped talking again, and I can't help him. He can't spend his life inside a salt circle, and I can't get rid of all of them. There are always more ghosts. They never stop coming." She unfolds her arms, plays with the mug of coffee in front of her, but doesn't take a sip.
Bobby nods. "Let me make a couple of phone calls," he says, using his most reassuring voice, the one he used to use when he'd pose as a priest or a cop on the job. "The house is pretty safe," he says, which is true as far as it goes--he did a little extra ghost-proofing after the rise of the witnesses, so it's as safe as any place that isn't the panic room at this point. No place is really safe, but he figures Andrea already knows that. "Why don't you and Lucas take a rest, and I'll see what I can do." He reaches out, gives her hand an awkward but hopefully comforting squeeze
She gives him a sad smile in return, and he pretends not to see the tears in her eyes.
When she and Lucas are on the couch in the living room, reading a book together, he gets on the phone to Missouri. She's the only one left who's powerful enough to be helpful.
"That poor boy," she says in her soft voice. "You send them straight to me, Bobby Singer, and I'll see what I can do to help him with his gift."
"Thanks, Missouri. I will." He knows better than to argue with her about whether it's a gift or a curse. That's one of the things they'll never see eye to eye on.
He feeds Andrea and Lucas grilled cheese for lunch, and after they've cleared away the dishes, he gives them the directions to Missouri's. "I don't want to get your hopes up," he says, though part of him wishes he could, wishes they all had something to hope for in this mess, "but she thinks she can help."
"Thank you," Andrea says, and she gives him a kiss on the cheek when she leaves. Lucas turns and waves, a strained smile on his face, and Bobby lets himself hope that if they ever meet again, the boy talks his ear off like a normal kid.
The reporter is beautiful, but Bobby hasn't been charmed by a pretty face in years. "I'm sorry," he says, though he's not sorry at all, "but you want to what?"
"Interview you about what's been going on these past few months all around the world."
Bobby takes another sip of his coffee and waves over the waitress for a refill. The only reason he agreed to meet with this woman was the offer of a free lunch. "Look, Miss Robinson--"
"Miss Robinson, I was in an accident a few months ago that left me in this wheelchair. I've spent most of my time since then in physical therapy. You want my opinion on world events? The Democrats would have done better to shove healthcare reform down the throats of the Republicans back before they lost their supermajority. You know what kind of insurance nightmare I've been living in, and I'm a decorated Vietnam veteran?" He throws his used napkin onto his empty plate; he thinks it hits just the right note of righteous indignation. "Ted Kennedy is spinning in his grave."
"But he's not rising from it," she says, and Bobby almost chokes on his mouthful of fresh coffee.
"That'd be something," he allows. Bobby thinks the old man is probably at peace, but he wonders sometimes about whether Bobby and John haunt the family. They both died bloody, after all.
"It would," she says. "And don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about, Mr. Singer. I've got an inside source." She leans forward. "I've spoken with Missouri Mosley, and she said you would be able to help me."
Bobby looks around the diner, sees the faces of neighbors he hasn't spoken to in months, innocent people who'll most likely die in a rain of fire and plague if they don't figure out a different way to save the planet. He nods. "Okay," he says, "but we'll talk at my house."
They sit in his kitchen and he gives her answers to her pointed questions about whether this really is the biblical apocalypse, and though she seems shellshocked by it, he feels like there's still something else she's not saying. She gets up and wanders around a little, finds the little cork-board where he keeps his photos and stops in surprise. She reaches out a hand and then pulls it back.
She reaches out again and this time runs a finger over one of the pictures. Bobby wheels over to see that it's one of John and Dean and Sam leaning against the Impala and squinting into the camera. He'd taken it the summer Sam went off to Stanford. That was the last time he'd seen John. She turns to look at him and there are tears in her eyes and in her voice. "You know Dean?"
Bobby nods, wondering where this is going.
"Is he alive?"
"As far as I know."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"That when I spoke to him a few days ago, he was alive. Missouri should have been able to tell you that much."
Cassie shrugs. "I didn't know to ask." She turns back to the picture. "The next time you talk to him, tell him I said--" She reaches out and touches it again. "Tell him I said not to get his stubborn ass killed."
"I can do that."
"Good." She sits back down at the table then, takes a deep breath and a sip of coffee, and schools her expression to neutrality. She's probably a good reporter, he thinks. She doesn't let him slide by with evasive answers.
"You're not really going to print any of that," he says as she's leaving.
She laughs, and neither of them acknowledges the way it breaks in the middle. "No. I'll do a puff piece on the Ghostfacers, print a link to their website, and hope people learn something useful."
Bobby nods. Even with the dead rising and the world ending, people only believe what they want to believe.
Bobby doesn't think he's ever seen Dean look as broken as he does after they lock Sam in the panic room for the second time. Bobby runs through and discards half a dozen falsely encouraging things he could say in the face of Dean's despair when he comes back into the house. Even before a demon possessed his wife and he killed her, Bobby wasn't much of an optimist. Now, he's generally a "the glass is empty; fill it your damn self" kind of guy. He glances at Castiel, but the angel has his eyes closed. Maybe he's praying. Bobby figures they all offer support in their own ways.
"Listen," he says, pitching his voice low and gruff, "you're not alone in this. We've got your back."
Castiel opens his eyes and nods, giving Bobby an inscrutable look that Bobby chooses to interpret as encouragement. He's not unaware of the irony.
"It doesn't matter," Dean says, his voice as dull as the look in his eyes.
"It does," Bobby insists. "What happened to going down swinging? To that give 'em hell attitude?"
Dean shrugs and scrubs a hand over his face; the dark circles under his eyes look deep enough to drown in. Bobby wonders if this is what the angels are counting on, and anger burns fierce and hot in his chest.
"We're busting our humps out here," he says. "Me and Rufus and Missouri," Dean looks up, surprised, and it's the most animation Bobby's seen on his face since he arrived, "we're making sure the random skirmishes, the zombie outbreaks and the demon infestations and the sudden uptick in ghostly activity are being taken care of. There's a whole lot of people out there, holding things together so that there's still a world worth living in after you and Sam save it."
"I can't do it alone," Dean says.
Bobby leans forward, puts a hand on Dean's shoulder, and gives it a squeeze. "You don't have to," he says, though he knows that's not what Dean means. And because he wants so badly for Dean to believe it, for the moment, Bobby believes it himself.