Characters: Dean, Bobby, Sam, John, Cas
Rating: PG-13 for language and themes
Spoilers: Season 4, sometime vaguely after 4.20, The Rapture. Spoilers up through Season 4.
Summary: He'd declared that family don't end with blood, and from the moment he'd met them, Bobby had lived that truth. In a search for something to save Sam from his destiny, Dean finds a journal that changes desperation into hope.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. Story name comes from Styx song,Blue Collar Man.
A/N: This story was printed May of 2009 by Gilded Lily Press in the zine Blood Brothers 3. Thanks to Jeanne Gold for the opportunity; it was a pleasure to write for you. A couple of quick notes about this story. I wrote it toward the end of Season 4 when the the Winchester family levee was nigh onto breaking and I really didn't hold out much hope for Bobby's survival. We were watching our boys crumble, their father figure helpless to hold them together, angels and demons playing tug-of-war with their willpower, and this story fell out of that. It's a bit of a speculative story I guess you could say, and is now AU from it's time period. However, I hope those of you who enjoy pure canon-based fics aren't turned away. I'd written a little introspectively about Paster Jim in a previous zine story; this is my exploration of Bobby and how he saw the boys.
It's also a little play on the importance of a name. I'll let you decide whose name I mean.
The place smelled the same.
But it was too quiet.
He walked through the door, his booted feet leaving prints in the dust that covered the floor, and moved to the interior of the house, pausing at the base of the stairs. He hadn't been upstairs since he was a boy. His teenage years had been spent mainly in the car lot, his twenties in the study and the kitchen. And lately….
He shook his head. Best not to think about that. Not now.
He had a job to do, and only this night to do it. He wasn't going to get another shot.
Breathing in, he turned to face the study, taking in the stacks and stacks of books, the trucker hats with Singer's Auto patches on the front, the Carhartt jackets and worn cowboy boots, toes curled up with age and disuse.
A cobweb was visible across the fireplace opening, and old, dried wax hung suspended from the mantel. Glancing to his left, he could see into the kitchen, and a heavy cast iron pan still rested on the stovetop, waiting for warm fingers to curl around its handle. Just to the left of the stove, six individual phones were lined up on the wall, a label as to which line they represented written on yellowing masking tape, the edges rolling up as if to hide their secret.
Squaring his shoulders, he moved into the study, trying not to let the weight of the quiet build in his ears, trying to focus on the task at hand: find the book.
The Key of Solomon. It had been here all this time, hiding in its passages an anagram that supposedly spelled the solution to his current problem. Find it, and he found his way home. His way out.
Several minutes of searching through the stacks of books yielded nothing but dust motes, a bout of sneezing, and dirty hands. He switched his attention to the shelves, rolling his neck to ease the tension of exhaustion. He'd managed to put miles between himself and the darkness dogging his heels. But miles only meant he was more alone.
It didn't mean he was any safer.
Sunlight faded, throwing shadows across the desolate room. He found a light switch. Nothing. Power had been cut long ago. Still, he flipped it twice more, out of habit or desperation, he wasn't sure.
A quick search located two gas-powered lamps under the kitchen sink, six candles lying in a ritual bowl, and four more in a side drawer in the big desk that dominated the study. It wasn't until he'd pulled those four candles out and lit them that he noticed the journal.
Sitting back in the old chair, its joints creaking with his weight and its age, he lifted the journal from the bottom of the drawer, brushing the cover free of dust. It was leather, its pages well-turned and dog-eared. Frowning, he sat forward, resting the journal on the desk so the lantern and candles illuminated the plain, nondescript cover.
"You never told us about any journal," he muttered into the silence, his tone accusatory, longing riding the undertow of his words.
He flipped open to a random page, noticing the tight, neat, blocky writing, the words filling every line on the paper. Scanning, his eyes lit on a paragraph that stole his breath.
I had been listening for him, waiting almost. Sam walked past the front of the house, his head low, the hem of his loose-fitting gray t-shirt balled up in his fists. I saw his shoulders flinch when the sound of glass breaking echoed across my car lot. He didn't stop, though, didn't turn around. He just kept walking. I stepped out onto the porch. Metal-on-metal followed the breaking glass, and I followed the sound, moving away from Sam, toward what, I didn't know. When I saw Dean, my heart broke. Like a dried twig stepped on in the woods. Snap.
It wasn't a journal like his dad's. It wasn't a log of hunting. It wasn't an instructional manual on How To Kill Demons and Influence People. It was the story of a life.
It was Bobby's story.
"Son of a bitch," he breathed, rubbing his worn, scarred fingers over his lips. Sitting back, he looked around the empty room, for one moment seeing the ghostly images of his family standing in the corners, watching him, waiting.
He had only tonight to find the anagram. He had only tonight to return with the solution so he could…could what? Keep fighting? Keep running? Survive? How much longer? How many more losses? He had been around angels long enough by now to know some things aren't chance. That reason follows chaos. That a backbone of purpose held him at his weakest moment.
"You got it, old man." He nodded once. "You win."
Pulling the deepest drawer of the desk open, he reached in and grabbed the neck of the whiskey bottle he knew would be there. He knew, because he'd put it there for a moment of just in case after he'd poured the rest of them down the drain in the kitchen. As he lifted it from the drawer, it clinked against a wide-mouthed shot glass. Retrieving that as well, he wiped the glass on the tail of his shirt, the silver ring on his finger rubbing rhythmically against the rim.
He poured two fingers of whiskey and, with a deep breath and a toss of his head, slammed the amber liquid back, letting it burn his soft palate with its will. Looking at the journal, he poured another shot, then sat back, opening it to the first page.
"Bring it," he rasped, eyes now pinned to the scrawl.
Keeping my eye to the keyhole…
If you're reading this, it's possible I ain't around to stop you.
The plan, as it stands, is to give this to Dean. He's the one who needs the balance. He's the one who needs to be reminded that it all started somewhere, it all has a reason. And he's the one who would care. Plus? There's nothing that boy don't share with his brother.
I'm not sure how this story's going to end.
But I know how it started. And war is worth nothing to history if there isn't someone around to tell the story. If we learn anything from this race to stop Armageddon, it has to be that: tell the story.
Let them know.
Or we're all done for anyway and we may as well bend over for them sonsabitches now.
This is how I saw it. How I remember it. And I remember too damn much.
Everybody gets into hunting somehow. Sometimes it's through books or by accident. But my experience says it's usually when evil takes something away from you. Something you weren't willing to give, something you'd lay down your life for if you only knew it was coming. Happened to many a friend. Happened to the boys. Happened to me.
Her name was Karen.
She liked to wear blue and was a terrible cook. She always smelled like lavender. Her smile devastated me, and I would do just about anything to make her laugh. She waited for me when I went to 'Nam. I remember she said, "No one's gonna steal me away. I wouldn't be much good to them without my heart."
I was just a kid when I went to war the first time.
Nothing much worth telling before that. I lived my life, had a daddy, a mama, lost them both. War twisted things inside of me, turned them to steel. I killed a man when I was nineteen. First time. I watched him die and felt no remorse. My buddy was alive next to me because of it. And even if he did die two days later, at least he'd had those two days.
I was a corporal. Bravo 7-4. I was a good soldier. I saved and I killed and I survived. I was happy to leave it behind, to come home to Karen. To find that niche of normal in this fucked-up world. I had it, too. For almost four years.
And then, while I was sleeping, it entered my home. Entered my wife. I didn't get it at first, but when I did, I was terrified. She wasn't sick, she wasn't crazy—she was gone. My Karen was gone, and in her eyes was a demon.
No one is ever really prepared for the moment they have to kill their loved one to save themselves. To save the world. To save…anyone. Killing the person most important to you on the planet? You may as well kill yourself. She attacked, and out of pure dumb luck, I grabbed a silver blade, stabbing her until she stopped moving. But she screamed. And a black smoke billowed from her mouth and out through the cracked window.
I wanted to burn the house down with her and me in it. I would have, too, if it wasn't for a man named Jim Murphy. He'd been tracking this demon that had taken my Karen, found me with her, and saved my life.
Jim Murphy burned my Karen, pried the bottle of whiskey from my hands, dragged my sorry ass out of bed each morning, and started me on the search for the demon that I hadn't killed when I'd killed Karen. The demon that had escaped through her opened, screaming mouth while I plunged the blade into her chest.
The lessons I learned about hunting weren't easy, and they weren't quick. But they were the only thing that kept me grounded in this life, kept me from using the knife on myself. I built up the auto yard to keep prying eyes away—and afford this lifestyle. And I found hunters. Found them, followed them, learned from them.
There were those who knew weapons, those who knew ghosts and spirits, those who knew about vampires, those who knew the importance of research. I became a goddamn ninja of research, keeping every book I found, even if I didn't know if it was ever going to be useful.
The auto yard became a cemetery of sorts as the vehicles of those who didn't make it came my way. And I kept them. I used them. I hid them.
With Jim's help, I built a safe room in the basement of Karen's house. Devil's trap, iron walls, salt, holy water. It would keep me safe. And it was from there that I survived Karen's demon. It was from there that I found the exorcism. It was from there that I readied myself for battle.
I spent a lot of years backtracking, searching for signs, to the sacrifice of all else in my life. Too many people told me it was hopeless. Finding one demon in a world filled with them at varying intervals was not only impossible; it was madness. But I was determined. Maybe a little obsessed. I found a summoning spell calling for special herbs and some elements I didn't even know existed before this, and I brought it to me.
I stepped from the protection of my iron safe-room to see a girl in front of me, no older than twenty. Her eyes were black, and she smiled Karen's smile. It was strong. I was pinned to the wall almost instantly. But I'd memorized the rite, and before it could kill me, I sent it back to Hell and was left with the shattered shell of the girl lying on the floor of my basement.
But the demon was gone.
I thought my job was done. I'd killed the demon that killed my girl. It had taken me almost twenty years, but I'd done it. And my body showed the scars. My home had become a library of the supernatural. A safe house for the unlucky. A place where secrets stayed quiet.
Then, during the winter of 1990, I met a man who changed my life forever.
He raised his head, taking a breath, a hot shimmy of need slicing through him at his father's name. This was nothing like what he'd expected. This was a peek into a man he thought he'd known, a man who was like a father to him.
And yet, he realized now, he'd never really known him. He never stopped to ask, never bothered to think.
He'd called when he, or his brother, was in trouble. He'd quietly depended on Bobby without registering exactly what he was doing. He had marked this man as family long before he'd lost his own father. Yet, it had taken the dreamroot for him to find out that Bobby had been married. It had taken climbing from Hell to realize the only person other than Sam he needed to see had been Bobby.
He'd never once called just to say hello. Just to see how the old man was doing. He'd never asked what all this Hell, all this fighting, had done to his friend.
And here it was, in black and white, as if Bobby were speaking to him in his gruff voice, facing him but not really looking at him, telling him in as no-nonsense a way as possible that this was just how it was; there was nothing for it.
Licking his lips, he looked around at the halo of light that stretched to the stairway, leaving darkness like a threat at the edge of the illumination. Rubbing his hand across his mouth in what had become a nervous habit over the years, he pulled out his .45 and laid it on the open journal, saving his place.
Grabbing one of the lanterns, he stepped from the stale air of the house to the cold bite of the night, crawling into the backseat of the waiting Impala for the bag of food he'd purchased on his way over.
He was starving.
Food in hand, he re-entered Bobby's house, settling comfortably at the desk, slipping the gun to the side rather than putting it back into the waistband of his jeans. As he unwrapped one of the sandwiches, he looked at his watch. He had roughly eight hours until sunrise.
Tomorrow was for all the marbles. He had to find that book.
And yet…. Bobby was right. If he didn't know why, what was the point? He had fought for so much, lost so much. His entire life had led up to this war. And he couldn't remember why he was fighting so hard. It didn't really mean anything anymore.
Closing his eyes, he pulled in a breath and rolled his lips against his teeth, steadying his suddenly racing heart. When he opened them again, the dark spots that had gathered at the corners of his vision were gone, and he was able to see the room clearly once more.
"So, let's see what you thought about Dad."
Long nights, impossible odds…
Though widespread, the hunting community is tight-knit. There isn't a one of us who wouldn't shelter another. And most of the names are known to someone. People knew about John and his boys, but before John died, the boys knew very little of their own community. Their own family.
John thought he was protecting them. He wasn't.
I met John by accident, but looking back now, I think it was fate. He'd been hunting an incubus, found the damn thing, but it turned the tables on him. Turns out, we were hunting the same thing, only we didn't know it.
I'd tracked it to a small school for girls. It was posing as a teacher there, the bastard. I waited until night, watching the entrance. I had a '72 Charger then, and it was damn cold in that car. I saw someone creep up the front steps. I was sure it was the incubus, though I couldn't figure why it'd left the school in the first place. From what I could find out, it had built its nest there and probably figured it was safe. It dropped to a knee, swiftly picked the lock, and ducked inside.
Grabbing my flask of holy water and the extinction spell, I ran up the stairs behind it, followed it down the hall, then lost it in the dark corridors. Cursing myself, I refocused on the mission and pulled the floor plan from my coat pocket, finding the teacher's lounge. I backtracked, setting up my base of operations in that room, then waited. By all the reports, the hollowed husks of the dead girls had been found in the lounge.
I heard it before I saw it.
The incubus screamed like a lion in heat, the sound echoing down the corridors, shaking the solid wooden door to the lounge and breaking the double-paned windows. I ducked, covering my head. I felt my ears pop with the sound, and I grew suddenly dizzy as warm liquid flowed from my burst eardrums.
I cried out, more from anger than pain, and just about ripped the damn door off its hinges trying to get outside. I wanted to kill that sonuvabitch.
On the other side of the door, two men fought. I was so surprised; I stood and stared as they continued to grapple with each other.
One, I knew, was the incubus. I didn't have a damn clue who the other one was.
"Seen enough?" one of the struggling men yelled to me.
I blinked. His voice was inhumanly loud against my damaged ears.
"Your fuckin' feet glued to the floor or what?"
I moved then, hearing in his growl a familiar plea, an order to step up, stand with him, to fight. I turned and grabbed the holy water, flinging it in an arch toward the man who had not spoken to me, catching him across the face. With a screech of pain that sent both me and the other man to our knees, the incubus backed away, grabbing at its eyes.
"Lost m'gun," the man panted.
"Wouldn't do no good anyway," I yelled back. I held the extinction spell in a trembling hand and began to read.
The incubus writhed, its cry of pain drowning out the sound of my words but not the power of them. The man beside me slipped to the floor, his body bouncing against my legs, but I read to the end. The incubus was smoking, the human shell it inhabited burning before our eyes.
I stopped reading, the effort draining the strength from me. Falling on my ass, I stared as the incubus burst into a blue-white flame, the stench of sulfur overpowering. Breathing shallowly through my mouth, I buried my nose in the crook of my arm and watched until all that was left of it was ash. Turning, I finally looked over at the man lying on the ground beside me.
He was rugged, a shadow of a beard framing his jaw. His dark eyes were both calculating and wounded, and his mouth was firm. He stretched out a hand. It was smeared with blood.
"John Winchester," he said, his voice strangle-me rough. "Damn nice to see you."
"Bobby Singer," I replied. "Where're you hurt?"
He grunted, shifting to his side. I saw a gap in the dark shirt he wore. The exposed flesh was gaping and red, blood slicking his skin and the floor beneath him.
"You tried to stab it?" I asked, incredulous.
"Didn't work out like I'd planned," John confessed.
"You can't stab an incubus," I informed him, getting to my feet and reaching down for him.
"Is that what it was?"
"How long you been doing this?" I asked, frowning at how pale his face got as soon as he was on his feet.
"Since '83," he replied, reaching out for the wall of the corridor to keep himself from falling.
I shook my head and slipped his arm over my shoulder. "Rookie."
He tried to get me to help him to his car, but there was no way he was gonna drive anywhere. I dropped him in the backseat of the Charger and started for my place. That's when he mentioned his boys.
"They're back at the motel, waitin' on me."
"You brought your kids with you?" I was shocked. That was a new one.
"They aren't here, are they?" he replied, his voice tight from pain. He had started to shiver both from the cold and the loss of blood. "I can't leave them there. They got nowhere else to go."
Dean, he said, was his oldest. Said he'd seem easy to read, but don't assume anything. He put a game face on—even at eleven—that could fool anyone. Apparently even his father. Sam was seven, shy, small for his age, and did nothing without his brother.
The way he spoke about them told me all I needed to know about this family. Everything else I learned was just details.
Walking into the motel room with their father bleeding in my arms didn't win me any favors with Dean. His eyes were flinty and I saw the curses die on his lips as he worked to both stand in front of Sam and help me with John.
Sam... Sam just looked scared. Somehow, through all this Hell, I don't think he's ever lost that look.
I got John patched up, got Dean to dial down the fury once I explained about the incubus, and the next morning they were following me to the house in John's '67 Impala. Always did like that car. For a week after that while John healed, the boys slept upstairs, John on the couch, and I opened my library to them.
John soaked up everything I could hand him, healing quickly from his mistake. Sam and Dean spent most of their time in the auto yard playing with my Rot puppy, Cheney, or sleeping. It seemed as though they couldn't sleep enough. Made me wonder how much they slept when John was away.
I watched them once, out in the yard. John was on the couch—I'd just helped him change his bandage. Dean had rigged up a wooden target against a rusted, hollowed-out '74 Mustang that had belonged to a hunter named Cassius Dell. Cash had been good, but the werewolf he'd been after was, unfortunately, better.
I stood in my kitchen, sipping a smooth shot of Jack, and watched the boys. Spread out on the trunk of the Impala was a canvas rollup of knives, varying in size. Dean threw one, hitting the target dead center, the blade twanging and glinting in the cold afternoon sun. I was both impressed and a little afraid. It seemed wrong he was that good at his age.
Then he stood behind his brother, raising Sam's arm, showing him the motion, his lips moving in a constant stream of instruction. When he handed Sam a knife, I tensed. Dean nodded, Sam threw, and the knife embedded itself in the edge of the target.
Sam smiled, dimples I hadn't seen before digging deep into his face. Seeing that smile twisted something in me. I think I knew then that these boys would be part of my life until the end. Dean tipped his head back, saying something obviously obnoxious, and Sam jumped for him. Dean caught him, and in moments the throwing lesson degraded into a half-hearted wrestling match that Cheney was all-too-eager to join in.
They looked like three puppies out there, rolling in the snow: legs, arms, and grins.
John took them away soon after that, heading out for somewhere else. He promised to come back, and he did. They all did. But it was never like that first time. Each time they returned, the boys had seen more, done more, survived more. Their innocence was waning, until one day they showed up and, for Dean, it was gone entirely.
About a year after I met them, I found out what got John into hunting. I heard it from Harvelle, though, not John. Gotta say, it pissed me off to find out secondhand when I had spent so much time with the man. But then again, I hadn't asked. It spooked me a bit to see the similarities in our stories. But the boys…the boys made us different.
They were both his salvation and his damnation.
I'd been free to hunt that little bitch down for twenty years. And John, well, he had four eyes staring at him full of so much false bravado that tragedy was simply an afterimage. But it was there.
I remember the Christmas of '91 when Sam called me. He wanted a gift for his dad, something that would keep him safe. Just so happened I'd come across an amulet. It was Mesopotamian, and I knew it would help fight evil and chaos. The god on the amulet was said to hold the gates of dawn open for the sun god Shamash and support the sun disc. I told Sam it was real special, and that his dad should never take it off.
It came as a surprise when several months later, John and the boys met up with me in Missouri and I saw the amulet around Dean's neck. Sam simply met my eyes and shook his head once. I didn't say a word, and something told me this was where it belonged. Dean was the one who needed the strength to stave off chaos.
While John chased his demons, though, life around here didn't stop. I hope I'm able to tell Dean one day how I figured it out. But so far, the time hasn't been right. Too much has happened to drop this on him now, and I'm too ashamed that I didn't see it sooner for what it was.
When I was in 'Nam, it was sometimes hard to tell the good guys from the bad. North and South Vietnamese sounded the same, looked the same, moved the same. I had to trust, and I don't trust easy. Fighting evil, well, it's not much different. Ghosts and spirits, creatures and demons, they don't always show their true face. And I was fooled a few times.
But I got better.
I got smarter. I read, I collected, I studied up. I took out a ghost in Nebraska that had been terrorizing a family for years. I went to Colorado to meet with Elkins and helped him suss out a nest of vamps, taking them out one at a time. I hooked up with Joshua and Caleb and killed a rakshasa in Texas. Ellen clued me in on some demonic activity in Virginia.
And then, there was the revenant….
Sometime during the summer of '96, I woke up to the sound of the heavy, unmistakable roar of John's Impala.
Shivering suddenly, he sat back, rubbing his eyes. His phone was buzzing in his pocket, and he fished it out, ridiculously hoping it was Sam. Perhaps calling to tell him it had all been a mistake. Everything was okay. He was back now.
It was a text message from a Brooke. He frowned. He didn't remember any Brooke. He scrolled through the message, recognizing sadly familiar lines of You said you'd call, but I thought I'd see if you were around. Here's my number in case you lost it.
He hadn't lost it. He'd never saved it in the first place. He remembered her now: she'd been too thin, her hipbones almost bruising his inner thighs. But her eyes had been soft and her mouth had been willing and he'd needed so badly to escape, even if it was to the dank-smelling darkness of a no-tell motel and the arms of a stranger.
He deleted the text and checked his watch. He'd lost nearly two hours reading, swimming in memories so thick he wanted to brush them away from his face. They made him feel both warm and lonely at the same time. Digging the pads of his finger and thumb across the thin skin of his eyelids, he brought up sparks of light in his vision, blinking them away as he stood and stretched.
He was wasting time. If anyone were still around who gave a damn, they'd be kicking his ass for sitting still, walking down memory lane while he should have been tearing the place apart, finding the book and looking for the anagram. He half-expected the hushed whap of wings to echo in the stillness, heralding the arrival of Castiel or one of his brothers.
Dropping heavily back into the chair, he felt his throat close. Screw the timeline. Screw the anagram. Screw even Cas and his warriors. He wanted to read more. Remember more. Connect with why this whole thing mattered. Remember what it was like to have faith.
Besides, he couldn't remember being at Bobby's the summer of '96.
Give me a chance to survive…
Sam was just about thirteen, but when I stumbled out onto the porch, my boots barely on, my shotgun in my hands, it was him I saw behind the wheel. Some people can step from sleep to awareness with barely a breath. I am not one of those people. It took me several seconds to piece together that if Sam was driving the Impala, it meant that both Dean and John couldn't.
By the time I got down the steps and into the auto yard, Sam was out of the driver's seat and had opened the passenger door. I moved up beside him, questions tangling themselves up in an effort to be the first spoken. They all died on my lips the moment I looked into the backseat.
Dean lay there, still, pale, and bloody. His shirt was off and rolled up into a ball along his waistline. It looked as if he'd been holding it there before he passed out. His face was cut up and his mouth hung open. For one completely terrifying moment, I thought he was dead.
"Dad's back there, Bobby," Sam said, finally giving in to tears now that someone else was there to help. "I had to get Dean out, but Dad's back there."
"Take it easy," I implored. "Is your dad hurt?"
"Yeah." Sam nodded.
"Bad enough," Sam replied, looking nervously at Dean. "Not as bad as Dean, though."
"Okay, son," I said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You did good. Help me get him inside."
"What about Dad?"
"We'll get your dad. Let's take care of your brother first."
Together, we eased Dean's inert body from the back of the Impala and hung him between us. He listed heavily to Sam's side, so I wrapped an arm around his waist to lift him from the ground. I can still remember how cold his skin was, how little his body shuddered with breath.
I wasn't in that hospital when the doctors had to shock him back to life after the accident with the semi-truck. I'm thankful for small mercies. This night was the closest I came to losing Dean without actually seeing him die.
We hauled him inside and laid him on the couch. I pulled the shirt away from his side and my mouth went dry, then flooded with wetness at the sight of the wound.
"What did this?"
"Zombie," Sam said.
"A zombie?" I repeated, surprised.
"Dad called it a reverend, but I think he was wrong."
"Revenant," I whispered, scared. "Get me that big silver flask, Sam. The one on top of the piano."
Sam did as he was told. I instructed him to hold down Dean's shoulders. He obeyed. I told him not to let go, no matter what. He nodded.
I took a breath and started to pour Holy Water on the raw, gaping wound across Dean's belly. Still unconscious, Dean bucked, his back arching, his neck tightening against a scream until his lips tore open and the pain leaped out, to the horror of his little brother. Sam's tears fell on Dean's bloody, sweat-covered forehead unchecked, and still I poured. Steam rose from Dean's belly and still I poured. Dean sagged, spent, limp, his body shaking from shock, and still I poured.
I poured until the flask was empty. As Sam watched his brother shake, his eyes young and bloodshot from emotion, I hurried to the kitchen, filled a pan with warm water, and grabbed a bar of soap from the edge of the sink. It took several minutes to clean the dirt and blood away from the torn flesh. Several minutes of clenched teeth and harsh pants and raw whimpers.
When that was done, I burned the end of a needle to sterilize it and began sewing. Sam slid to the ground, his back against the couch, the side of his face resting against Dean's bare shoulder. As I worked, I questioned Sam, getting details on the hunt, the location, and John's situation. I wrapped Dean's belly in clean white gauze, gave Sam two pain pills should Dean wake, and told him that under no circumstances were they to leave this room.
I was scared.
More than I'd ever been going into a fight. Dealing with a wounded kid—even if it was a seventeen-year-old wise-ass with an eye for ladies and a mouth of sin—never sat well with me. And the hell of it was, I loved this kid. Like he was my own.
He walked through fire for his family, every day, and he never asked for a thing. He put up a front, holding people far enough away that he could keep an eye on them, but he was playing wounded and he was lonely and someone needed to see that one of these days.
Someone like his damn father.
Sam…. Sam was different. I cared about him. I did. I worried for him, and as long as Dean was around, I would do anything for the kid. But there was something about Sam that kept me from anteing up. Something I hadn't ever been able to pinpoint until recently.
But, looking back, it was something I saw in him early on.
I got to the house where Sam said John was holed up. I had rock salt, Holy Water, and a silver-tipped spike. I aimed to stake that bastard into his grave for hurting Dean like he had. I drove the Charger through the walls of the old house, bringing part of the second floor down on the roof of the car and getting out in the middle of dust-filled chaos.
I yelled for John.
"Where is it?"
He didn't sound good when he answered. "Upstairs."
Instinct had me looking over my shoulder as I recalled the ceiling falling in on my now-demolished car. It stood on the roof of my car. I had time to take a quick breath before it launched at me, all red eyes and sharp nails. I dodged the lethal nails, knowing they were what had filleted Dean, and shot it with a double-barrel round of rock salt. It crumpled, but I knew it wasn't down.
"Where's the grave?"
"Outside," John gasped.
"No shit, Sherlock!"
"Out the back door, fifty yards!"
I took off, hearing it behind me. I ran like the devil himself was after me. John, or one of the boys, had dug up the grave. I turned just as I reached it, and the revenant launched itself at me. Momentarily forgetting I wasn't twenty years old anymore, I tried to dodge it. My hip seized up and it caught me, dropping both of us into the bottom of the coffin.
I swore. A lot. I fought with it, keeping its nails away, keeping its saliva from my mouth and eyes, screaming my fuckin' head off for John to get his ass out there and help me.
After what seemed like half of forever, I felt the revenant jerk, then stiffen. I slipped out from underneath it and climbed from the coffin, unable to get free of the grave. John was down there with us, and he used the entire force of his body's weight to lean on the silver-tipped spear, driving it through the creature and pinning it to its coffin, killing it.
Panting, we looked at each other. His head was bleeding, one eye red from it, and his right hand was obviously broken, held close to his chest.
"Hey, Bobby," he wheezed.
"Hey, yourself, ya idjit," I snarled. "Now what?"
By the time we got out of the grave, it was dawn. We unburied the Charger, and it limped back to the auto yard, well on its way to becoming one with the rusted lot. By the time we reached the boys, Dean was burning up with fever, muttering loudly and incoherently. Sam had worn a hole in the carpet from pacing.
Gotta give him credit, though. He hadn't left that room.
I had started working on a late sixties model Chevelle and, while it wasn't pretty, it was running. I piled the Winchesters in the car and drove them to the hospital. Sam and I played word association games in the waiting room while the doctors took care of his father and brother. When Sam was allowed to go back, he made a beeline for Dean, leaving me to wonder why he replied "fiction" when I gave him the word "happy."
I looked in on John, saw him sitting up in bed, his face patched up and his hand wrapped like a boxer's. He nodded to me, and I tipped him a salute, then moved to Dean's room. Sam was standing at the foot of his brother's bed, Dean's amulet in his fist. Dean had taken to wearing a silver ring on his right hand, I'd noticed. I didn't know where it came from or what it meant to him, but Sam held that as well.
Dean was awake, though barely. His eyes looked bruised, his face was pale, his voice weak, but he was grinning at his brother. And Sam smiled back. I stepped away, knowing it was their moment, not wanting to interrupt, but vowing to help them keep that bond for as long as I could.
I almost made it.
When everyone else was stocking up for Y2K, I was reading. About demons and angels. About Heaven and Hell. About why there has to be both. Why we're doomed or destined, depending on how I decided to tilt my head on a given day, to constantly struggle, constantly fight, lose more often than we win. What I lost sight of for a while there was that sometimes we did win.
John reminded me of that.
He showed up one day, without the boys, not long after New Year's Day, 2000. We'd all survived the turn of the millennium, and John Winchester was at my door with a bottle of Jack, two glasses, and a grin. Dean, he said, had found a honey at a bar and had been playing house for three days. He figured one more and the boy would be back. He wasn't worried. Sam was studying for his PSATs, though, according to John, he didn't know why the kid bothered. Everyone knew he was smart. Wasn't that enough?
I decided to switch to safer topics, and we started in about demons. I had to tread lightly when it came to John's boys. I had to remember they weren't mine.
John told me about the pattern of demonic activity he'd been trying to pin down. He spoke slowly, his voice a lazy drawl. After a while, I think he forgot he was talking to me. He was so close, he said. So close to finding the bastard. So close to killing it. He needed to find the Colt, he said, and predict the demon's location, rather than just follow it.
I knew the flavor he was tasting at that moment.
I remembered it. I didn't tell him; he didn't need to know. He was wrapped up in his revenge and seeing the light at the end of his tunnel. There was something that brushed the edges of his words, though. I asked him what he wasn't telling me, and he looked at me for the first time in about an hour.
His eyes were cloudy, far away, drunk.
"I'm running out of time."
I frowned, but I didn't need to prompt him.
"Sammy…he's getting old enough…they're gonna want him."
"Dean'll take care of him. He'll watch over him. He'll do what's right, but…"
"But what, John?" I felt cold listening to him talk about Dean. There was a detachment there, a purposeful separation. As if he needed to think about his eldest as a weapon, something to be triggered, something to be used. As if Sam was somehow more important.
"Dean can't keep all the demons away." John sighed, pouring himself another shot.
I took the bottle from him, waiting for more. But John was done talking about it. He switched to bragging about his boys' success in their latest hunt without him. He'd sent them to northern Montana after reports of a yeti terrorizing a small town, killing young animals and attacking the local sheriff. He had me in tears laughing as he recounted Dean's complete disgust at being asked to go after the Abominable Snowman.
"He tells me," John said, wheezing from laughter, "that we weren't in a fuckin' Scooby-Doo cartoon."
"Damn yeti would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those meddling kids," I cackled.
"They couldn't take the Impala, of course, which just pissed Dean off that much more."
I nodded, wiping my eyes. It had been a long time since I'd laughed that hard. Though, I could sympathize with Dean. Boy was twenty-one. More than capable of finding his own hunts, making his own decisions. John just sent them on that hunt to show Dean he was still in charge, still their general. And ten-to-one, Dean knew that.
Sam had devised a trap; Dean had been the bait. They'd caught it, killed it, disposed of it, and returned home, the small Montana town safe once more and still none the wiser about what had been plaguing it or who had saved it.
When the boys got back, John told them they'd done a good job, but the only thing that improved Dean's mood was the blonde he'd hooked up with in the bar. Sam, though, told him he had a whole new appreciation for the people who swear Bigfoot is real. I smiled, watching my friend think of his boys.
Sometimes we win.
It wasn't long after that, though, that Sam turned everyone's world upside down.
Exhaustion made his eyes burn. He rubbed the heels of his hands into his sockets, trying to generate enough liquid to alleviate the gritty feeling each time he blinked. He checked his phone once more, even though he hadn't heard it ring or felt it vibrate. Nothing.
Rolling his bottom lip against his teeth, he scrolled down to Sam's name, staring at it for a full minute before he closed the phone. Not now. Not until he had something to tell him. Pushing away from the desk, he stood up, rolling his neck. The whiskey had gone through him, and he headed down the hall toward the bathroom, remembering at the last minute that the water had also been shut off.
"Damn," he muttered, zipping up and starting for the back door.
In the dark, he bounced off a door frame and stumbled over a pile of books before he reached the door. Grumbling, he stepped outside and took care of business. As he headed back inside, the moonlight shone through the opened door to illuminate the pile of books he'd tripped over on his way out.
Narrowing his eyes, he peered closer at the spine of one.
"Oh, you gotta be kidding me."
The Key of Solomon.
He hadn't seen this book since dropping it into the trunk of the Impala so long ago, before John drove away to Jefferson City, possession, and, eventually, his death. Bobby had it in a stack of books in his back hall. The book was supposed to hold the solution, according to Castiel, and it was in the middle of a stack of books in the back hall of a house that no one had been inside since Bobby—
He caught his breath, unable to really complete the thought. Bending, he picked up the book and headed back to the desk. Two of the candles had burned down to nothing, dimming the light in the room. He sat slowly, opening the large, ancient volume on top of Bobby's journal.
Whether it was nostalgia from reading about his youth, exhaustion from fighting for days on end, or simply missing his brother, he was struck with a vivid memory of Sam sitting in this same place, doing this same thing years ago.
Before Dad died.
Before demon blood and angels.
He swallowed, rubbing his eyes once more, unable to ease the ache that burned there.
"Okay." He sighed, dropping his hand and lifting his head. "Okay."
Everything stops until we get him back.
He'd said those words, just before coming to Bobby's with Sam for help years ago. It was the first time they'd seen the old man since he'd kicked John out by force. Sam hadn't been there then. Sam had been the reason.
Swallowing, he began to scan the book, the words floating above the pages as if in 3D, meaningless, without order, empty.
"Gotta focus," he chided himself.
The anagram had something to do with numbers. An ancient formula that would halt a demon in its tracks, send it into stasis, and retrieve the soul that rightfully belonged in the body. All he had to do was find it, make it a part of him, and have the balls to say it at the right time.
"Sammy, damn it, where are you when I need you?"
He wanted everything to stop. He wanted to put it all on hold, until he got Sam back. But he didn't have that choice this time.
The book was a strange mixture of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, the signs and symbols familiar but his understanding of them flirting on the edge of his knowledge. Sam would know where to look right away, he was sure.
Rubbing his eyes once more, he resisted the urge to take another shot of whiskey.
He shifted the large book to turn yet another page and thought about Bobby's journal. He knew where the old man was heading next. Sam leaving for Stanford. The decision he'd fought for, stood up to John for. He had wanted Sam to be able to go, even as it hurt to watch him leave.
Looking back, he was willing to bet that was the decision that set the course for their destruction.
Keeping my back to the wall…
I found out by accident, really.
Hadn't seen the Winchesters in several months; had a spirit problem in 'Frisco, and was heading down the 101 through Palo Alto when I stopped for gas. The Chevelle was a powerful car, but she wasn't built for beauty. Stood out a bit in that tricked-out town. I heard my name as I stood at the pump, and looked up with shock.
His grin was sunny, dimples telegraphing loud and clear, but there were shadows in his eyes that I don't know if he'd recognize on his own.
"What the hell you doin' here, kid?"
"Goin' to school," he revealed.
I thought back to that winter a couple of years prior when John had said Sam was studying for his PSATs, and cylinders began to click into place. Sam'd had this planned for a long time.
Sam's smile faltered. "With Dad."
"They're not here?"
He didn't say anything else, but then again, he didn't need to. The shadows told the rest of the story. I bullshitted with him for several minutes, until a leggy blonde with a killer smile and the prettiest eyes I'd seen in seven states came out of the coffee shop next to the gas station. She stepped up to Sam and put her arm around his waist, fitting against him like a missing piece of his puzzle.
He introduced me as Uncle Bobby, and I shook her hand. I knew she was special to him, and my heart hurt for her. There were things that followed Sam, things I wasn't clear on at the time but still had suspicions about. Things that could get those around him—those who loved him—hurt. I told him to take care of himself, not to be a stranger, and headed out.
I hadn't been home for more than a day when John's black truck and the Impala pulled into my lot. The Impala was limping. I knew instinctively that Dean had insisted they come here to fix her if they were anywhere in the vicinity.
I headed out to greet them, recognizing immediately that a storm was brewing between them when John jumped from his truck, slamming the door, and stalked toward the Impala. He lit into Dean like I'd never seen before.
And Dean took it.
I can't really recall what the fight was about, truth be told. Just that John was pissed, Dean was pissed, and when one yelled, the other fumed. I waited until they both took a breath at the same time and broke in.
"Anyone need some coffee?"
John and Dean stared at each other for a full minute before John turned away and pushed past me into the house. I stayed where I was, watching the kid. He didn't move until his father was out of both eye and earshot. Then he seemed to sag in on himself.
"You comin' in?" I asked.
"Need a minute," he said, and his voice was tight.
He looked at me then, and it was as if instead of eyes, someone had cut two raw holes in his face. I felt my heart catch.
"They're all rough now, Bobby," he said.
Without Sam, he meant. They were all rough because they were no longer three. The family balance was broken, and Dean wasn't strong enough to be two people. Ask me, he shouldn't have had to be.
But, no one asked.
"What's wrong with the Impala?"
He told me, and I pointed to where he could find some spare parts. He nodded his thanks and moved away. I noticed he was limping as well, favoring his right leg, but he didn't say a word about it.
I went inside to find John inspecting one of my shotguns. I waited for him to talk to me, tell me about Sam, tell me why he was tearing into his own kid like a drill sergeant with a new recruit. He didn't say anything for the longest time. I stepped up to him and took the shotgun from his hands.
"He's getting sloppy."
"How so?" I asked, feeling strangely defensive on Dean's behalf.
"Not checking his six, not knowing his enemy. You see his leg?" He still wasn't looking at me.
"Saw he was limping."
"Yeah, well, he almost lost it. Couple more hours and he might've."
"That can happen to any of us," I tried.
John looked up then. The skin beneath his eyes was purple from lack of sleep, the lids swollen and red from nights of drinking. His eyes had always been dark, but now they were fathomless. I knew that look, had seen it in the mirror many times in my past.
"You haven't lost him, John," I said. "Sam's out there."
John snarled, his lip curling up. "You don't know what you're talking about."
"I know you got a smart kid in college, and a smart kid beside you, that's what I know."
"Dean isn't the same without his brother," John yelled, pointing toward the window, directly at where Dean stood bent over the open hood of the Impala. "He's weak."
"I find that hard to believe," I replied. "You trained him, John. He's you."
"He's nothing like me," John spat, shaking his head. "This thing goes sideways, Dean's the one who has to pull us through, and he's not fuckin' strong enough."
I didn't know what he was talking about, but I didn't like the direction he was heading.
"Look," I said. "You're tired, you're hurting, and I think you're a little bit drunk. Why don't you sleep it off?" I raised my hand to rest it on his shoulder, but he pushed me away roughly.
"Forget it," he said. "Soon as Dean has what he needs, we're moving on."
"Well, I'm so glad I could be of service," I said, dropping the barrel of the shotgun into the cradle of my arm. "Anything else I can do for you? Ammo, fuel, fake ID, willing woman?"
"You don't get it, Bobby," John said, turning slightly away from me. "There's no room for mistakes in this."
"You're right." I moved toward the door with the intent to give Dean a hand. "I don't get it. You know why? Because you haven't come down off your goddamned high horse long enough to let us little people in on the joke. But you know what I do get?"
John faced me, his eyes dead.
"I get that you're pushing Dean away. That you've been pushing him away since Sam learned the truth about his mom and hunting. That kid would lie down in traffic for you, and you act like you couldn't care less."
"That's right!" John bellowed, angry, hurting, irrational. I knew that, but it still pissed me off. "That's right, and you know why? Because this fuckin' thing is bigger than Dean or me or Sam or you. I can't afford to care."
"He's your son, John!"
"He's a soldier in a war."
"Are you shittin' me?"
"He's a soldier. And soldiers die." John's red-rimmed eyes suddenly swam. "They die, Bobby."
"What, and you just can't live with that?"
"I lived through Mary. I won't live through Dean."
"So you'd rather just use him, huh? Put him on your path and turn your back?"
I knew he was lying, to himself, to me. But I also knew Dean had heard this. I knew because the rhythmic metal-on-metal clicking had stopped. And my heart hurt.
"Get out," I said, my voice low.
"Get the fuck out of my house, John Winchester."
He started to move past me, standing in the open doorway.
"Calm down, Bobby."
I raised the shotgun. "Get the hell out. I don't want to see you again."
I cocked the shotgun, and like magic, Dean appeared on the porch behind his father.
"You get what you need?" John asked, facing me. His chin was lowered, his eyes intent.
"Let's just go."
Dean didn't look at me; his entire focus was on his father. I kept the shotgun up, pointed at John, waiting. John simply looked back, and I'll never forget the look of despair in his eyes.
I'll never forget it because it was the last time I ever saw him alive.
His head was propped in his hands.
His neck coiled with tension and sorrow. John had been pretty messed up when Sam left, for a long time. But he'd come around. Not vocally, maybe, but it had been there in his eyes at the end. He'd heard pride in his father's voice. Seen love in his eyes.
It was the only thing he'd truly believed in before being hauled out of Hell. It was the one constant in his life.
His dad had faith in him.
I'm so proud of you.
His dad had known.
Continued in Part Two, here: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/89950.html