“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.