Bobby had left the boys sitting on his couch in front of the TV watching whatever brain-melting crap was on the kids' channel after a morning tossing a ball in the yard, while he went into the kitchen to make them some lunch.
It had been a long morning with both kids fractious as hell until Bobby had kicked them out into his yard with a dollar store baseball bat and ball in an attempt to get them working off some energy.
But he knew exactly why they were fractious.
As he stood watching the scarlet depths of the tomato soup simmer on his ancient stove, he couldn't help reflecting on his two visitors.
Sam, a painfully shy seven-year-old was withdrawn to the point of being sullen, and Bobby knew from bitter experience he could be recalcitrant and wilful.
It had taken three visits before Bobby had been able to coax a word out of the little shrimp, and when his sterling efforts had finally been rewarded with a mumbled 'thank you', it had seemed like a hard-fought victory, but a worthwhile one nevertheless.
He didn't have to see the brothers right now to know that Sam would be sitting in there clinging like a limpet to his brother; the only person he trusted.
Of course the kid was a handful, Bobby reflected; he was rootless, confused and deeply unhappy. Bobby could relate; oh hell, could he relate, and his heart bled for the boy.
As he stood, stirring the soup, his thoughts strayed to Dean. Eleven years old, sandy-haired and freckle-faced, he was on the threshold of adolescence and desperately waiting for his growth spurt. Like his brother he was reticent and quiet, but unlike his brother, he was unswervingly obedient to his father. However, despite that, Bobby could see, hiding behind the mask, a hint of daring and defiance that he liked and admired.
And that he maybe secretly encouraged.
It hurt Bobby so much to think that at his stage of life, Dean should have been out building a life for himself. He should have been discovering the world around him, discovering music and sport and friendships. He should have been discovering girls.
He should have been discovering Dean Winchester.
Instead he was here, sitting on Bobby's overstuffed shitsack of a couch, aged before his years; blindly idolising an absent and misguided father, and haunted by responsibilities that no shoulders so young and so narrow should ever have to bear.
Lifting the pan off the stove, Bobby poured the soup into two bowls on the kitchen table, next to a plate containing to two slices of thickly buttered bread.
He scratched his head as he thought how he'd have to do a supply run later. 'Be back Tuesday' John had stated glibly after he'd dropped the boys off; 'it's only a poltergeist, simple job,' he'd added. Yeah, well now it was Friday and Bobby had been feeding John's boys for three days longer than planned. Not that he begrudged a thing; in fact, he rather enjoyed having the little tykes to stay, but – three days? What sort of father goes off and leaves his kids behind without a word of explanation for three fucking days?
Bobby knew John was okay, he'd called in to let Bobby know, and to make sure Dean was keeping up his shooting and bowhunting practice. Bobby had assured him faithfully that Dean was hard at work, honing that hunter's eye in the yard. He'd ruffled the boy's head as he talked, winking at Dean who sat alongside Sam at the kitchen table, sharing a comic book and a slice of cherry pie. He thought about how Dean had looked up at him, eyes shining with fearful excitement at being party to the lie to his father.
He also knew that John's extended absence had nothing to do with the 'simple' poltergeist, if indeed there ever had been a poltergeist. He was after the goddamn thing that killed Mary again. Did he really think Bobby was that stupid?
Bobby placed some cookies on a plate for the boys and sighed. If anyone could understand the nightmare of losing a loved one to a demonic force, Bobby could. After the horrific events that culminated in him losing Karen, he'd lost himself in the same black pit of despair and hatred for years. In truth, he'd never really gotten out of it. His quest for revenge had become an all-consuming crusade which embittered and hardened the mild-mannered scrap dealer he'd once been. His nights were tortured with memories so painful that they could only be numbed by peering into the bottom of a glass of the hardest stuff he could find, and his days were consumed with anger and bile and a thirst for retribution that chipped away at his humanity and would never, ever be slaked.
But throughout all that horror, the one consolation was that Bobby had never had a child whose life would be blighted by his obsession. Although he had refrained from having children for different reasons, and the guilt of breaking Karen's heart with his decision had never stopped tormenting him, he knew that the only life he would destroy with his tailspin into darkness was his own. And he was completely at peace with that.
But John? John had those two rugrats in there. Two kids who deserved a chance at life; Sam with his intimidating intelligence and sensitive nature and Dean, bright as a button; not particularly academic, but inquisitive, whip smart and resourceful. Both could go onto great things, just as Mary had wanted them to do. They deserved so much more than to end up as the same broken, embittered men that Bobby and their father were, and yet they were already well down that path. Maybe Dean was already too far down it to find his way back …
And it hurt Bobby like hell to think about it.
The boys had mopped up their soup and were attacking the cookies with gusto, watching some migraine-inducing cartoon when the familiar rumble of a car engine sounded outside. The engine idled for a moment before switching off and Bobby watched as Dean perked up, turning round to peer over the back of the couch with a curious mixture of relief, delight and apprehension on his face.
Bobby was already on his way to the door when the knock sounded.
He opened the door and John stepped through it. "Hey Bobby," he muttered wearily.
Bobby nodded in response; "John," he replied gruffly.
Without waiting for Bobby's invitation, John walked through into the lounge. "Hey boys," he announced, and Bobby wasn't the only one to note the tone of disapproval in his voice.
"Hey Dad," Dean replied, leaping to his feet, dragging Sam with him. "Me an' Sam were only watching cartoons while we ate our lunch, honestly," he explained hastily; "I was gonna go back out and practice with the shotgun later, wasn't I Sam?" He looked to his brother for affirmation, and then to Bobby; "wasn't I Bobby?"
"S'okay kid," Bobby smiled; "you're allowed to watch cartoons."
"I'll say what they're allowed to do," John retorted, reaching across and switching the cartoons off. "I hope they haven't spent the whole time lounging around here; I know what a soft touch you are."
"You'll say what they're allowed to do huh?" Bobby replied, his voice rising with anger; "gotta be here with them to do that."
The brothers' heads swivelled nervously between the two men as the atmosphere between them escalated.
"Got something to say, Bobby?" John challenged; "then say it."
"Dad …" Dean began.
"Not now," John snapped; "outside, get in the car both of you."
Sam looked to Bobby, then to Dean and Dean nodded sadly. Placing the half-eaten cookie he hadn't realised he was still holding back on the plate, Sam allowed Dean to take his hand ready to lead him to the door.
Dean paused briefly and turned; "bye Bobby," he sighed.
"Thank you, Uncle Bobby," Sam added hesitantly.
Bobby forced a smile onto his face; "see ya boys, you take care huh? An' be good for ya daddy."
Dean nodded, and guided Sam out toward the yard.
The two men stood and waited until they heard the creak of the Impala's door being opened, the atmosphere crackling with tension between them.
"Don't you ever tell my kids what they are and aren't allowed to do again," John snapped; "that's down to me and me alone. I'm their father."
"Really?" Bobby snorted, anger roughening the edge of his words; "could have fooled me. They're kids John; they need to be allowed to be kids from time to time."
"They need a father," he added; "not a fucking drill sergeant, so step up to the plate and be one for them. Think of something other than your goddamn vendetta for once."
John's dark eyes gleamed in fury.
"Of all people, I'd have thought you'd be the last one to judge me for going after the thing that killed Mary," John growled.
"I don't judge you for going after the thing that killed Mary," Bobby snapped; "I judge you for laying your goddamn issues on your kids, and messing up their lives too."
"Yeah, well until you have kids, you don't get to judge me on how I raise mine," John spat.
The words stung Bobby like a rattlesnake, hitting a sore spot that would never heal.
"Get outta my house," Bobby snarled.
He turned and reached for the shotgun which was leaning against the wall beside him.
"Get outta my goddamn fucking house, before I blast you full of buckshot," he yelled, aggressively cocking the weapon.
Dean's diminutive shape came hurtling through the door and lunged for him, dragging him away.
"No, don't shoot Dad, please Bobby," he begged tearfully, don't shoot Dad; "it's not his fault, it's mine. I should have done all the things he said. I should have done what Dad told me and not sat watching stupid cartoons."
Bobby felt his anger subside, only to be replaced by intense sadness.
Placing the gun onto the floor beside him, he turned away and scraped a hand over his face. In that one sentence, Dean had just proven everything Bobby had said.
He stood, leaning on the fireplace and taking long shuddering breaths, trying to control his emotions. That's when he heard the door slam, and seconds later, the Impala's engine fire up.
He stood in the middle of his empty house, Dean's desperate words ringing in his ears, and gradually fading into silence.
The anger and sadness was replaced by intense regret as he realised that he didn't know when or even if he was going to see those boys again after that fiasco.
He took another deep breath, and reached for a glass.