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.
...continued from Part 1...
My God, I'm hardly alive…
There are times when predictions are laughable, and times when you take cover.
During 2004 and 2005, I took cover. I read. A lot. Most of the books I'd gathered were in Latin, Sumerian, or Greek, but there were some that were in Hebrew and even Aramaic. Took me forever to translate those bastards, and I still haven't worked my way through them all. One thing was sure: men have been tempting fate to try to kill each other for a helluva long time. And demons have been walking the earth since before time began.
One major setback in the fight to defeat evil was the burning of Alexandria's Great Library in about 415 B.C. So much history was lost. Some even say the Library held the secret to defeating any demon, better than any weapon. Books upon books mention the Bibliotheca's destruction as the first great victory of Lucifer.
All I know is, Alexandria or no Alexandria, demonic possessions spiked, and spiritual activity was off the charts. Hunters around the country were fighting and dying at a rate unheard of in my lifetime. My friends were dwindling, and I was scared. I kept tabs on those I could, using an information network to find out about the others.
The name that kept coming up, over and over, was Winchester.
I couldn't get details, except that they were popular. And not the kind of popularity that would win them any prizes, either; the kind that would get them killed. I found out about Elkins' death and the Colt. I remembered what John had said about needing to find the Colt, and I knew he had been somehow tangled up in that mess. I was looking through an old text I'd come across years before called the Key of Solomon when the boys knocked at my door.
I wasn't surprised to see them, to be honest. It was as if I'd been waiting for them for the last two years. I was surprised to see them without John, though. And then Dean told me what had happened.
His voice was all bravado when he said he hadn't been sure they should come here, considering how things had been left. I could tell in a glance that Sam didn't know what had happened and that Dean wasn't ready to rehash it. I left it with a simple, "we take care of our own."
And just like that, I was Uncle Bobby again.
Dean filled me in on the last couple of years—travels with John, working hunts on his own, the "hotties" down in New Orleans, and finally, Sam's girlfriend—while Sam stood on a chair and spray-painted a Devil's Trap on my ceiling. There was no way they were far enough ahead of the demon that it wasn't going to get to me. I was sure I could handle myself, but Dean had sounded pretty shaken up when he told me about Caleb and Jim.
I hadn't let that news sink in. I wasn't going to, either. Not until I got their daddy back. I didn't want to lose another friend.
I was shocked as hell when that girl walked through the door. Not that the demon had found the boys so quickly, but that she looked so damn human. It was Karen all over again. She'd killed Rumsfeld on her way in, the bitch. I really loved that damned dog.
She tossed Dean and I across the room like she was swatting a fly, but the Devil's Trap caught her. As Dean worked her over, the barely controlled anger in his voice scared me. He sounded so much like John. Looking back, I realize now what I was seeing: Dean without his family.
John had built himself a warrior, all right. He'd secured a soldier in Dean and called it good. But from where I stood, he'd completely missed the wounded kid bottled up inside. And I realize now that it was that kid who broke in Hell. Not the man who had fought so hard, sacrificed so much.
It kills me, knowing what I do, to look back and see that.
I made sure to salt all the doors and windows, keeping any other demons out as Dean questioned this one on the whereabouts of his father. The more she resisted, baiting him, the angrier Dean became until he was practically shaking.
At one point, he leaned close, screaming at her, "Hey, you think this is a friggin' game? Where is he? What did you do to him?"
"He died screaming. I killed him myself." The blonde smiled wickedly.
I felt my stomach turn as Dean straightened up. When he hit her, I took a step back. It was a sight I'd never thought I'd see: Dean Winchester hitting a woman. But he'd been searching for John for so long that to have found him again only to lose him to the very demons they were hunting…well, it was starting to turn cracks into crevasses inside him.
Still, I knew I had to stop him. I called him over to me.
"She's lying, he's not dead." He said it as though he was trying to convince himself.
"Dean, you've got to be careful with her. Don't hurt her." Any more than she'd already been hurt, anyway. I started to feel lightheaded, seeing Karen's face on the demon, feeling my hand plunge the knife in again.
I had killed countless demons, spirits, and creatures in the years between Karen and now. But in this moment, with Sam's fear saturating the air around us and Dean's fury heating it to a boiling point, all I could think about was my girl and the lust I had for the hunt to get her true killer.
"Because she really is a girl, that's why!"
"What are you talkin' about?" Sam asked, confused.
"She's possessed. That's a human possessed by a demon, can't you tell?"
What the hell had John been teaching them? How could they have gotten this far without being able to recognize the innocent? Did he really ingrain a shoot first, ask questions later mentality into them? I swallowed the burn of bile at the back of my throat as Dean looked back at the blonde with a mixture of disbelief, wonder, and hope.
"You're tryin' to tell me there's an innocent girl trapped somewhere in there?"
I nodded, feeling my heart freeze. Innocence under a demonic façade. Had Karen ever tried to reach out to me? Not for the first time, I found myself watching Dean, trying to seek out what was on his mind, trying to prepare for his next move.
"That's actually good news."
She didn't make it.
Dean's need for his father was so overpowering, so strong, that nothing I would have said would have stopped him. He got the location from the demon, and Sam completed the exorcism. The broken girl the demon left behind died on my floor, and I wished the boys luck as I figured out what I'd say to the cops.
As they left me, Dean looked back, my silver flask of holy water in his hand. There was something in his eyes when he thanked me. Something that made me want to run after them, leave the dead girl to the cops, keep them in my sights. But I didn't. I let them go face the darkness alone, just as John had. Just as everyone in their lives had.
And I regret that choice to this day.
Sam was the one to bring me up to speed a few days later. It's strange when I think about it. I felt for the kid. I'd fight for him, beside him. I'd protect him. But I never really connected with him. Not like Dean, anyway. I guess I kinda thought I didn't need to. Dean's connection to Sam was stronger than anything I could have offered in the wake of his father's death.
I didn't move much in the days between the boys walking away from the house and the phone call I'd been dreading. I wanted to hear John's voice, have him give me hell for being such a softie, have him take the long way around thanking me for helping his boys.
But it was Sam who called.
He needed help towing the Impala back to the auto lot before the people in the impound yard discovered what was in the trunk. Dean was hurt, he said. Real bad. In as few words as possible, he told me about finding the demon—their demon—and it possessing John. He told me about the torture, the bleeding, the utter destruction those few moments in the cabin in Missouri had had on their fragile family.
I agreed to help, hung up the phone, and cried.
The Impala no longer even resembled a car. I knew Sam had been driving, and I was amazed, when I finally saw what was left, that he had walked away, or at least was walking now. The boy should have been dead. The backseat, though, was gone. The mangled bits of vinyl left behind were smeared with the dark stain of blood.
John had said he was a soldier. And soldiers die.
Sam showed up shortly after me, his face battered, his eyes lost. I wanted to hug the kid. He examined the car as if seeing the destruction for the first time.
"Oh, man, Dean is gonna be pissed."
I swallowed. "Look, Sam. This…this just ain't worth a tow. I say we empty the trunk, sell the rest for scrap."
I was already thinking of several cars in my lot that I could give them. They just needed a little spit and polish.
"No." Sam shook his head, his eyes pinned to the mangled car. "Dean would kill me if we did that. When he gets better, he's gonna want to fix this."
Frowning, I shook my head. "There's nothing to fix! The frame's a pretzel, and the engine's ruined. There's barely any parts worth salvaging."
Sam looked up at me then, and I saw his father in his eyes. "Listen to me, Bobby. If there's only one working part, that's enough. We're not just going to give up on…."
I heard the kid I'd first met in his tight voice. The kid who wanted his big brother back, in one piece, alive. I realized this car was more than just a car. It represented Sam's family—the only true home he'd ever known. And in its own way, the car was Dean.
I agreed, humbled by Sam's belief in his brother. In the strength of his brother. Then he handed me a piece of paper, asking if I could get some stuff for John. I looked, the words "oil of Abramelin" catching my eye. Sam told me John wanted it for protection from the demon.
I knew better. I knew because I'd used these exact components to summon Karen's demon. I knew because it was the first time I'd dared such a thing, and I would never forget that strange mix of fear and excitement.
John was going to summon the demon. To kill it…to trap it…to deal with it, I didn't know. But it sure as hell wasn't for protection.
Sam guessed before I could tell him and the betrayal in his eyes turned swiftly to anger. He went through the trunk while I got him the items on the list he'd asked for. I dropped him off at the hospital on my way back to my place, pitying John for the wrath his youngest was about to bring down upon him.
I waited for word, staring at my phones until my eyes burned. Late the next evening, I got another call. It was Sam. John was dead. Dean was healed.
My head spun. I drove back to the hospital with a sick feeling in my stomach. We were on a dangerous road, one that lead to a dead end for some—if not all—of us. The boys didn't speak as they climbed into the car. Dean had a deep cut on his forehead, and his eyes were hollow. Sam was openly crying.
I told them I'd help them get the body from the hospital and asked about John's truck. Dean didn't speak. Sam just shrugged and said as far as he knew, it was back in Jefferson City.
Burning John's body wasn't something I could be a part of. Not because I didn't want to be. But because it was so personal, so very hard. I had to give them time to grieve, to let it out. I decided I'd just be there when they needed me. But I planned on keeping a close eye on them.
Dean's quiet was heavy.
His body may have been miraculously healed, but something much deeper was broken. He was a soldier without a general, without a mission, and he was sinking. Every day, he got up before either of us, and went out to the lot to work on the Impala. The sounds of Bad Company, AC/DC, and Led Zeppelin melded throughout the day with the tinny echo of clashing metal, curses at inanimate objects, and the zing and snap of the blowtorch.
Sam paced, worrying, digging through what little possessions they had left. He was scared and desperate and searching. I tried to think of how he might be feeling, knowing he'd dealt with loss more recent than either Dean or I. But I couldn't find it. I couldn't connect.
One day, a couple weeks after John's death, Sam asked to borrow a car. I had a minivan running and gladly handed over the keys. A hunt was exactly what they needed. Get back on the horse. Start talking to each other again.
I had no idea until they returned—without my minivan—that they'd gone to the Roadhouse and met Ellen and Jo for the first time. There was so much John hadn't told them. But he was gone now…and I'm sure he'd had his reasons.
Dean immediately went back to the Impala. Sam sort of folded in on himself, but I watched him walk out to the lot, his stride purposeful, intent on talking with Dean. I knew when he'd reached his brother: the banging stopped.
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.
He was leaning on the dented trunk of the Impala's shell, breathing hard, his shoulders shaking. I could almost see his world cracking around him. Life is hard enough when you don't have a hero, but I can't imagine the weight that bears down on you when you feel like a hollowed-out shell and are still expected to soldier on.
I said his name, softly, but he recoiled as if I'd yelled.
"Go away, Bobby," he said, raspy.
"You don't have to do this by yourself, you know."
"Please," he said, still not facing me. "I can't. Not right now."
I nodded, though he couldn't see me. Pain like that is a personal thing. It's not something someone can dig you out of—no matter who they are or how much they love you. Pain like that, you want to wrap it around you and bury yourself in it. Pain like that you want to keep close because it's all you've got left after the world has its say.
I'd been there. I knew.
It took Dean another two weeks, but he got the Impala back together, better than she was before, if you ask me. They left then, and while I was sorry to see them go, I was ready to get my space back. I'd lived alone too long to not covet my solitude.
Life tried to return to normal, or as normal as it ever was for a hunter. I kept tabs on the boys. I knew they'd met up with Gordon, thanks to Ellen. I knew they'd gotten themselves arrested, twice, the idjits. I knew Sam broke his hand.
Somewhere in there, something cracked between them. I didn't know what it was or when it happened, but when I saw them next, it was clear.
After all this time, after everything that had happened, after Hell, he thought the weight of John's words, his final order, would have been transparent.
But reading the memory in Bobby's neat handwriting brought it back with dizzying suffocation. He stood up, moving to the window. The moon was bright, casting a silver glow on the empty bodies of dozens of cars.
It was so quiet.
"What the hell am I doing anyway?" He put his back to the window, staring at the desk, another candle dead. "Walking down memory lane?"
He had to finish this. Now.
Closing the journal, he purposefully set it aside, resting his .45 on top of it. Grabbing the Key of Solomon, he continued to scan the pages, words from Bobby's hand teasing him in the silence of the room.
He began to hum, the sound of a slow guitar clear in his head.
The night birds called to one another outside the window, and he felt more alone than ever before. He began to sing.
"Well, I know my baby, if I see her in the dark…I said I know my rider, if I see her in the dark…."
He could almost hear Sam's predicable groaning protest as he sang.
"See my baby, tell her hurry on home. I ain't had, Lord, my right mind, since my rider's been gone…."
He turned another page. Then another. No simple exorcism could help them now. No weapon would save his brother, no deal, no sacrifice. Archangels, guardians, prophets: none of them mattered now. It was down to the wire, and he was left with a renegade angel as his only ally.
What had Castiel said about numbers? They led to an ancient formula that would save Sam from himself.
"A formula that even the angels don't know about?" He shook his head in doubt, not for the first time.
As he turned another page, however, he drew back in surprise. Shoved between the creases of papers was a folded parchment, obviously old, edges brittle. He stood slowly, leaning over the book to get a better look. It didn't feel like paper. More like...dried leather, or animal hide.
He eased it out, opening it up carefully.
It was covered with letters. The same ones, over and over.
Repeating in rows and rows.
Baffled, he leaned one of the lanterns closer. At the bottom of the parchment was a word in Greek: Ἀλεξάνδρεια.
"Alexandria? Why do I know this, why do I know this?" he muttered to himself, flipping back through the Key of Solomon, searching his memory for what he'd read, what he knew, why that mattered.
The only thing he could find was a repeating of one phrase in Greek: Ένα όνομα
"One name…one name…one name what?"
He saw it again, several pages later, only this time in Hebrew: שם אחד
"Arrrggghhh!" He lifted his head, raising his eyes to the ceiling. "Listen! You and me, we gotta come to some understanding here, okay? There's only so much I can do!"
Looking back at the parchment, he shook his head.
"I don't get it…one name…a bunch of letters…." Rubbing the palms of his hands into his burning eyes, he called out to the emptiness. "Seriously! What the hell?"
He needed Sam. He missed Bobby. He was lonely for his father. He wanted to stop. He wanted to fuckin' sleep.
Picking up the bottle of Jack, he unscrewed the cap and took a swig directly from the bottle. He couldn't do this alone.
Where happiness is only a heartbeat away…
I was happy to see him, to be honest. It had been a long time.
But when he smiled at me, there was something in his eyes…a nothingness that hadn't been there before. Could have easily been the hell they'd been through. Could have been time wearing him down. But I put the Holy Water in his beer just to be safe.
It made me sick to hit him. Made me sick to know that thing was inside of him. But I was done with demons taking people I loved. I tied him up under the same Devil's Trap he'd painted and called his brother.
The relief in Dean's voice was palpable. But he was hurting, I could tell. He got here in record time driving the piece of shit car he'd boosted.
We started the exorcism, ready to reclaim our Sam, when the demon inside him laughed. I about bit my tongue mid-word. When I saw the binding link on Sam's arm, my heart plummeted. I'd heard of these, but I hadn't found a way to combat them.
A guy can only read so fast.
The demon in Sam cracked my ceiling, breaking the Devil's Trap, then broke free. Before I could do anything, it tossed me across the room. I was dizzy, disoriented, cloudy, but I could see Sam stand and go after Dean, who was lying on the floor in a heap. It took me too long to get to my feet, too long to gain my balance, too long to think of the fireplace poker.
The demon was beating the hell out of Dean. Its words tore at him from the inside out, and it used Sam's fists to break him on the outside.
"You couldn't save your dad, and deep down, you know that you can't save your brother. They'd have been better off without you."
I heard this, felt my stomach turn, my hackles rise, and saw Sam lift his arm for a killing blow. I grabbed him, pressing the heated iron across the binding link, and prayed to whoever might be listening that this would work.
It did. Sam came around.
And Dean hit him, right before he passed out.
Dean was a mess. A barely patched bullet wound—that a shocked and shaken Sam realized he'd been the cause of—and bruises on top of bruises. I hauled Dean up, dragging him to my couch, Sam following mutely behind.
Midway through stitching up his shoulder, Dean woke up, looking around, and panicked. Sam stepped in close, not speaking, but getting in his eye line. Dean relaxed, and I finished my job. They sat at my desk, Sam icing his burn, Dean icing his face, and stared at each other for a while.
I'd heard about Steve Wandell. I knew it had been the demon in Sam that had killed him, and that Sam would keep that ugly memory. I felt for the kid, I really did. But I was afraid for them both. I gave them charms to ward off possession. We hadn't killed that demon. All we'd done was delay it for a while.
I kept closer tabs on them after that, and it was a good thing I did. Their first run-in with a trickster turned them into a couple of squabbling puppies chewing on each others' ears. As ridiculous a situation as that was, it was good to fight alongside them again, help remind them they are, first and foremost, brothers.
But John was right. They were also soldiers. And soldiers die.
I never again want to hear fear in Dean's voice like I did that fall day when he asked me to meet him halfway and help him find Sam. He told me they'd stopped for pie. That things had been going well. That they'd been really connected lately.
And then, Sam was gone. All that was left were three dead bodies and traces of sulfur. I had a bad feeling. A real bad feeling. The storm that had started so long ago—before our time, really, back with Alexanderia—was picking up speed, and we'd run out of places to find shelter.
We got to the Roadhouse too late to save Ash. I was sick at heart, and Dean…well, he was so tense with worry, he was practically shaking. Losing Sam would kill him.
I knew that then. I know it now.
The vision hit Dean like a tidal wave. His face collapsed in pain, his breath whooshed out, and his knees buckled as he fell across the Impala's hood, holding his head. At first, I couldn't tell what was happening. Neither could he. But it hit him again, then again. Each time he became visibly paler, using the Impala as support, until at last I stepped close, ready to catch him if he went all the way down.
He'd seen a bell with an oak tree on it. I didn't question how or why, just pointed him in the right direction for Cold Oak, South Dakota. I felt time thinning out on us, the devil at our heels. I felt Dean turning to glass on the seat next to me.
We were too late.
Dean's call of his brother's name settled in my gut like a rock as I ran after the kid who'd stabbed Sam. I lost him in the woods at the edge of the small ghost town. By the time I returned, Sam was gone, hanging limp in Dean's arms.
All I could think was no. No no no no no no no….
It wasn't supposed to be like this. Dean couldn't lose everyone. How was that right? How could we keep fighting the good fight when all our reasons to struggle were taken from us? Wordlessly, I helped Dean to his feet, Sam's lanky form clutched tightly against him. He wouldn't let me help him carry Sam indoors. He lifted his brother's dead weight across his shoulders, bowing from the effort, struggling in the mud, legs shaking, eyes devastated, and looked to me for where to go next.
I found an abandoned house near the spot where Sam had died and led Dean in there. He laid his brother on the bed, then sat facing Sam, simply staring at him, his shoulders bowed, his entire being raw.
I watched. I waited. I went outside and paced. I cried. I cursed. I watched some more.
But Dean wouldn't leave Sam. He wouldn't eat. He wouldn't drink. He simply stared at his brother.
I wondered if this was what Jim Murphy had seen when he'd found me with Karen. I wondered how Jim was able save me. I wondered how I could save Dean. I won't ever forget walking away from him that day, or what he said, how he looked.
"Dean...I hate to bring this up, I really do. But don't you think maybe it's time...we bury Sam?"
Jim had burned Karen. He'd done it for me. He'd made sure it was done right.
"We could maybe..."
"What? Torch his corpse?"
His voice was barely audible. "Not yet."
I was losing ground. I couldn't leave him. I couldn't stay. I tried to get him to come with me, but he wouldn't budge. I tried to appeal to the soldier in him, telling him I needed his help, reminding him he's still in this fight. "Somethin' big is going down—end-of-the-world big."
"Then let it end!"
He glared at me, his eyes red-rimmed, his face drawn, pale. I was viciously reminded of the last time I'd seen his father. They could have been mirrors of each other in that moment. Both times because they'd lost their reason for fighting: Sam.
"You don't mean that." I needed him not to mean that. I couldn't lose him, too.
"You don't think so? Huh? You don't think I've given enough? You don't think I've paid enough? I'm done with it. All of it. And if you know what's good for you, turn around, and get the hell out of here."
He pushed me then, yelling at me to go. I wanted to grab him. To hold him. To shake him. I felt tears burning my eyes, and his voice softened.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Please, just go." He was breaking in front of me, and I was helpless to stop it.
I left him there, and part of me was convinced I would never see him again.
He lifted his head with a frown, turning back a few pages.
The storm that had started so long ago—before our time, really, back with Alexanderia—was picking up speed and we'd run out of places to find shelter.
"Well, I'll be a son of a bitch," he breathed. It hadn't been in the Key of Solomon that he'd read about Alexandria; it had been in Bobby's journal.
He looked up. "You can send me angels, but You can't point something like that out?"
The darkness outside seemed to deepen as another candle snuffed. He knew dawn was approaching without looking at the digital read-out on his phone. He would be expected to have answers.
"One name…." He rolled his lips in against his teeth. He looked at the paper again, the letters repeated across the page.
Bobby's journal said the Great Library had burned in 415 B.C. The formula was supposed to be an anagram of some sort. He tilted his head, narrowing his eyes.
"I'll be damned!"
Numbers. Not letters. They were numbers. Roman numerals. He started to search through Bobby's desk for a pencil and paper. He pulled open the slim drawer directly in front of him, and a small wooden box tumbled free, falling into his lap.
Frowning, he picked it up. On the front of the box was a carving exactly like his amulet. He opened it up, but it was empty. Rubbing his thumb over the carving, he thought about that Christmas, Sam giving him the gift originally intended for their father.
He'd only taken it off a few times: in the hospital after the revenant attack, after he'd been electrocuted, after the accident with the semi-truck, and once right before they'd let themselves get arrested so they could help Deacon with his spirit problem. Sam had kept it safe for him while he'd been in Hell.
It wasn't a mystical charm. It wasn't a powerful symbol. Sure, it represented something powerful, but it wasn't a power that was going to deflect evil or save him from death.
It was Sam. Sam and him. Their bond. Their brotherhood.
Setting the box back in the drawer, he found a pencil stub, but no paper. He looked at the Key of Solomon, but Bobby would kick his ass from the great beyond if he doodled in an ancient book. He picked up the journal.
There was one blank page in the back. He tore it out, noticing as he did so that the last entry of the journal was unfinished. He wrote down the series of Roman numerals, and then returned to Bobby.
I close my eyes and maybe I'm already there…
When I opened my door to see them standing there, I couldn't have been more surprised if I woke up with my head stapled to the carpet.
Sam smiled, looking slightly shaken but happy.
Dean…well, he looked guilty, gutted, and worn. As they stepped inside, he stayed close to his brother, managing somehow to keep us both in his sights. He kicked my questions to the curb with a simple, "Sam's better, and we're back, so what now?"
I had to take a minute. It was as if I flipped a switch and downshifted into hunter autopilot, leading them to the map, telling them about the demonic omens, the clear space around central Wyoming. Asking Sam to take a closer look, I managed to get Dean to come with me to the truck outside.
He followed me. I was trembling inside, from fear, from anger, from relief, from a god-awful emotion I couldn't name. He followed, and the image of Dean turning to glass that I'd had a few days prior returned when I rounded on him, accusations firing from me like bullets.
"You stupid ass! What did you do? What did you do?" I pushed him, just as he'd pushed me the day before. Pushing away the truth that was before my eyes. My heart beating a steady cadence of no no no no no…. "You made a deal. For Sam, didn't you? How long did they give you?"
His eyes were leaden, his voice tight, as he replied, "One year."
He was breaking me.
I was so stupid. I'd seen how fragile he was, how on edge. I'd known what John had done. And I walked away without seeing, without realizing. I felt…betrayed. He'd pushed me away, told me to leave. And just as he'd always done, he took it upon himself to fix it.
How can you undo the undoable?
We fought evil, we didn't deal with it. Or at least…we shouldn't. I cursed John Winchester. He couldn't take the time when he was alive to show his boy how much he loved him; he had to give his life for him instead. He had to twist Dean up inside until his only recourse at the loss of his brother was to follow in his father's footsteps.
"Which is why we gotta find this yellow-eyed son of a bitch," Dean continued. "That's why I'm gonna kill him myself. I got nothing to lose now, right?"
Frustrated, angry, helpless, I grabbed him by the jacket, shaking him slightly, my teeth clenched. "I could throttle you!"
I released him, suffocating from the impotent feeling of being too late. Once again, too late. I wanted him to take it back. I wanted him to give it back. He could survive without Sam; I survived without Karen!
"What is it with you Winchesters, huh? You, your dad. You're both just itching to throw yourselves down the Pit."
Suddenly he was a kid again. His voice shook, his eyes pleaded. "That's my point. Dad brought me back, Bobby. I'm not even supposed to be here. At least this way, something good could come out of it, you know? It's like, my life could mean something."
The idiot. I couldn't believe he was that far gone. I refused to. "What? And it didn't before? Have you got that low of an opinion of yourself? Are you that screwed in the head?" I grabbed him again, shaking him harder. He just let me, and I could feel the helpless tremble of his heart beneath my knuckles.
"I couldn't let him die, Bobby," he said, choked. I saw tears of helpless need and complete exhaustion gather in his eyes. "I couldn't. He's m'brother."
"How's your brother gonna feel when he knows you're going to Hell? How'd you feel when you knew your dad went for you?"
Dean looked slightly panicked at that, but he didn't pull away. "You can't tell him. You can take a shot at me. Whatever you gotta do, but please don't tell him."
With a trembling hand, I reached up, gripping his chin. I wanted to hit him. I wanted to beat him. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to hold him. I just wanted it not to be true. I didn't want to live with this loss for a year.
Ellen's miraculous appearance saved Dean from the beating of his life, and anything I felt about his crossroads deal vanished in the wake of the fight of our lives. We made it to the Devil's Gate, but not in time to stop that kid, Jake, from using the Colt to open a door to Hell. Always one step behind, always a minute too late. I could see now why John wanted so badly to predict The Demon's movements.
It's hell being the pick-up man.
I XV VIII XV XXIII VII
IX V V III X V X X III VII
He rubbed his face, his body so tired it tingled, his mind so weary it slushed from one thought to the next. He reached up and rubbed the warm bronze of his amulet as one of the two lanterns joined the rest of the candles in darkness. He had one lantern left.
But the sun was chasing the night across the sky and he knew in a little more than an hour, he'd have someone on the porch, ready for him.
I X V VIII X V X XIII V II
"This is friggin' pointless. Even if I do figure out the order, how do I know what it means?" he asked the quiet house. He looked up, then around. "Huh? C'mon! Do I need a secret decoder ring or something? I mean, did I not get the right fuckin' box of cereal?"
There were only a few pages left in the journal Bobby had written to recount most of his life without telling anyone about it. A journal that might have never seen the light if he hadn't been sent after this seemingly impossible anagram that was really a formula that was really a super-special demon-freezing code.
He stood suddenly, a growl building in his belly, reverberating in his chest, echoing out through his lips as he clenched his fists, shaking them with frustration. "This. Is. Pointless!"
Then let it end!
The sentiment echoed in his brain, in his heart, in his body as he grabbed books from the shelves, ripping pages, flinging them behind him, moving through Bobby's study with reckless abandon, his temper shattering any control he'd fashioned over the last several weeks.
"I'm done!" he yelled, grabbing more books, ripping, shredding, tearing, destroying. "You hear me? Cas! Hey! I'm done! I don't care. I don't care!"
Sam would be lost forever.
Maybe he already was.
Sam would be theirs to toy with.
Maybe he was strong enough to fight.
Sam would never forgive him.
He stopped, gasping for air, looking wildly around the room, his fingers nicked and bleeding from numerous paper cuts.
"I don't care," he panted. "I…I just…I don't…." He sank to his knees in the middle of the destruction. "Please," he whispered. "Please, just…help me."
As if the window to a hurricane had opened, wind tore through Bobby's house, whipping the papers he'd just torn into a cyclone, throwing books into walls, against the ceiling, into him. He tumbled end over end until his back slammed against the wall, breath stolen from shocked lungs.
He raised his hands over his head, covering his face with his arms, trying to pull in air, but it was spinning too quickly. He slipped down the wall until he was lying in a heap, face pressed to the floor, waiting for oblivion or death, not caring which happened first.
And then, it stopped.
The house was quiet once more.
He waited two heartbeats, then slowly lifted his head. The room was annihilated. Every book was destroyed; the shelves were broken, the lanterns shattered. Pushing himself carefully to a sitting position, he realized the window had been broken outward, papers strewn onto the lawn, the coming dawn seeping into the room along with the cool of night.
Rising to his knees, he took a gasping breath, then another, pressing his bloody hand against his chest, feeling the pounding of his own heart as confirmation that he was still here, still alive.
"Okay," he said roughly, clearing his throat. "You got my attention."
Using the wall for support, he stumbled to his feet, staring at the top of the heavy oak desk in amazement. Lying intact and untouched was Bobby's journal, the Key of Solomon, and the paper with the Roman numerals he'd been working on.
"Didn't see that coming," he muttered, stepping closer.
As if settling on the dying wind, a single sheet of torn paper floated down to rest on top of the Key of Solomon. He blinked, reaching for it, leaving a faint pink thumbprint on the paper. He had no idea which book it had come from, but written along the top margin in Bobby's handwriting was the Greek alphabet.
Below it, a series of Roman numerals.
"Oh, you gotta be kidding me," he muttered. Unable to help himself he looked around. "Seriously?"
He could almost hear the old man's voice firing back a sarcastic response.
Huffing out a disbelieving laugh, he dug the chair out of the pile of papers and books, set it upright, and sat down.
Keeping my mind on a better life…
Watching Sam's face as he killed the kid that had killed him was, I know now, a preview of possible outcomes of this fucked-up spiritual war.
He never lost the scared look I'd seen the day I met him, but he learned how to channel it, to mask it, to use it.
Unfortunately, Sam's vengeance was, once again, too late, and the door to Hell was opened, releasing hundreds of demons into a world already plagued with darkness. It took everything Ellen and I had to force the doors even a little bit shut. I couldn't hear anything that night over the roar of the demonic storm, but I saw everything.
I saw Azazel throw Dean into a tombstone, damn near splitting his skull. I saw it pin Sam against a tree. I saw it taunt them both, teasing them with arrogant power. I saw it come close to finishing Dean.
And then I saw John Winchester remind me for the second time in my life that, sometimes, we win.
His spirit had drafted the demons out of the Pit, riding the wave of evil until he was free of the fire and able to wrestle the demon inhabiting the body of a some unwilling victim, weakening its hold on Dean long enough that the kid was able to grab the Colt, aim, fire, and bring his declaration that he was the one who would kill the sonofabitch to life.
The minute Azazel fell, the power pushing against the doors disappeared, and Ellen and I were able to close them. We stood where we were, staring as John's spirit smiled at his sons, tears shining on his face. He reached out, touched Dean's shoulder, and was gone in a blinding burst of pure light.
Vaya con Dios, my friend.
He sketched furiously, dividing his attention between the anagram and the journal, the sun rising steadily, illuminating the room. In the back of his mind, the phrase repeated throughout the Key of Solomon teased him.
"One name, one name…."
With every combination, he had too many consonants, not enough meaning.
"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon…."
All that to be just what I am…
With the exodus from the Devil's Gate, we had a whole new class of criminals.
And for a while, we fought them as a team. The Seven Deadly Sins were…interesting. But we lost a good hunter fighting them off. The boys found my curse boxes when a mercenary named Bela hired a couple of thugs to steal a very unlucky rabbit's foot, putting Sam in a bit of a bind.
They also found John's storage unit that he'd apparently left out of the "need to know" talks when he was alive. I heard from Sam often as we tag-teamed in the search for a way to get Dean out of his crossroads deal. But everything that showed promise ended up with Sam dead, and I knew that was a pointless avenue.
For a while there, Dean had an odd sort of fascination with the freedom of knowing when his time was up. Kid was ready to lay anything with tits and ass, ate enough grease to choke a buzzard, and took chances during hunts that made both me and his brother want to lock him in the trunk of the Impala.
Then I got the hunt in Pittsburgh. And everything changed.
I don't really know what the boys went through, to be honest. I did my thing, covered my tracks, dug into the silene capensis occurrence with Dr. Walter Gregg, went to bed, and woke up trapped in a nightmare.
Karen, in her demonic state, chased me through our house. And no matter what I tried to tell myself, no matter how I tried to reason with her, she kept trying to kill me, all the while asking me why…why I'd let that happen to her, why I'd let her die, why I'd killed her.
Truth is, part of me wanted to die. I wanted it to be over. I was so fuckin' tired of loss, of fighting, of resisting, of trying to save, only to have them slide through my fingers, too late to do anything but mourn.
Trapped in that house, in the nightmare, in that fear, I started to see some sense in Dean's approach to this year, some relief from the life he'd lived.
When Dean showed up in the nightmare, I was half out of my mind with fear. I couldn't believe he'd found me, and then I was sure she was going to kill him. She came at me, came at Dean, and I tried, God knows I tried. I wanted her to see that I paid for killing her. Every day I paid for not being in time, not being fast enough, smart enough. By losing, always losing.
Dean gripped my arms, his eyes solid, his hands strong, demanding that I wake up. "Bobby! This is your dream. And you can wake up. I mean, hell, you can do anything."
I wanted it to be over. I was so damn tired. I wanted her to just kill me already.
Dean's grip was powerful, his eyes intense. His demand, while unbelievable, was undeniable in its ferocity. "You gotta snap out of this now. You gotta snap out of this now! You're not gonna die. I'm not gonna let you die. I'm not gonna let you die. You're like a father to me. You gotta believe me, please."
You're like a father to me.
I held on to that. Held it tight. It had mattered. I had mattered. What I'd given, what I'd shared, what I'd done…it had mattered. I look at that now and I know that however this story ends, whatever happens to the boys, they know. They know without a doubt that I loved them.
Dean saved me that day. And Sam didn't let him do it alone. They were each other's shadows, as they'd always been, and they pulled off the impossible.
And so it kills me to say, to put on paper, that I couldn't save them.
The grit in his eyes brought tears to the corners.
He wiped the moisture away impatiently.
IX V VIII
I E H
XV XXII I
O V A
"Iehovah…?" he whispered, looking up.
The sun crested the horizon. With a soft rustle of wings, Castiel was standing in front of him.
Well, I'm gonna be a blue collar man…
Dean's last day was a race.
Sam and I searched for any way out. We found Lilith, ready to take her down. Dean resisted. At the end, after all the bravado, the posturing, the confession of fear, the fight for survival, it once more came down to sacrifice. What was he willing to give?
And the answer, for him, simply was nothing.
He would not chance sacrificing his brother. He wouldn't budge on that. I saw him playing wounded, his face bearing signs of his fight with the demon Ruby for control of her blade-that-can-kill-demons-if-you-can-ge
And he still tried to protect, to guard, to keep me behind the wall his brother was strong enough to climb over. But Bobby Singer wasn't born yesterday. And one distributor cap later, I was following them to Indiana. If there is anything this journal should show him, show them, it's that family don't end with blood.
I don't much like to think about the fight to get to Lilith, the con to keep the demons surrounding the house she was in at bay. I did my part. I turned the sprinkler system into a Holy Water shower, and I gave the boys their chance. But I was cut off from them. An army of demons stood between me and their fight.
I heard Dean scream. And my heart bled.
When Lilith ran, the demons fled with her, leaving twenty or so very confused people milling around the house. I plowed through them, wanting to be wrong, hoping I hadn't heard what I thought I had. But I found them just as I'd found Dean before. Just as Jim had found me.
Dean…well, he was gone. He was shredded, bloody, broken…gone. Sam held him, cradled his brother's body in his arms, weeping. I stood, unable to speak. Unable to breathe. Unable to cry.
I'd been too late. And I'd lost him. Sam had lost him. The world had lost him. He'd been the best of us, one of the reasons to keep fighting. He'd been a soldier in the righteous army.
And soldiers die.
Sam didn't stop crying until I said his name. He laid his brother down, resting his hand on Dean's cheek, leaving a red, bloody handprint there. His body trembled, his lips quivered, but his tears were gone.
I knelt beside Dean, still unable to cry. I eased his lids closed, feeling a scary sense of permanence with that gesture.
"Sam, we have to—" I couldn't finish the sentence.
"I know where to go."
"I'm so sorry, kid."
And, like his brother, Sam didn't let me help him. He lifted Dean's bloody, torn body over his shoulder, stumbled out of the house, past the shell-shocked family, through the still-running sprinklers, past the confused neighbors, directly to the Impala.
They were both covered with Dean's blood when we reached the car. I opened the back door, my throat tight. I wasn't breathing quite right, but I couldn't seem to steady it. Sam rested Dean's body on the backseat, covering it with John's leather jacket that Dean never seemed to be without. All but his face.
When he backed out, we looked in together. With the exception of the eerie stillness, Dean could have been sleeping.
"Where are you—?"
"Follow me or don't. Up to you," Sam said.
Of course I followed him. I don't know why he picked that spot in Illinois, but I followed him. I helped him carry his brother to the middle of a heavily wooded area, helped him clean the blood from Dean's face, helped him build a box. I helped him remove the horribly tattered shirts from Dean's destroyed body.
"Dean would want…." I started, forced to clear my throat. "He'd want to be salted and burned, Sam. He wouldn't want the chance—"
"No," Sam said, his eyes on Dean. "He's gonna need a body when I get him back home somehow."
"What do you mean?"
But he wouldn't answer. He lifted Dean by himself, laying his brother in the box. After a moment, he eased the amulet from around Dean's neck, settling it over his own head. Just before he nailed the lid shut, he dug Dean's old Zippo from his own pocket and stuffed it into Dean's.
"See ya," he whispered.
We buried Dean together, and then Sam left. My world felt unreal, like I was simply waiting to die now. Like there wasn't much left to fight for. I tried to find Sam, but he was a Winchester. He was raised by a damn good soldier. He didn't want to be found, so I was alone.
And this time, there was no Jim Murphy to pull the whiskey bottle from my hand. And there were no boys to keep tabs on. And there were precious few hunters left. The demons outnumbered us, and for a long time I was numb.
A long time.
And then my phone rang.
There are some things I just took for granted in life. One of them is that when someone has been dead four months—after having been ripped open by hellhounds—they don't use the telephone. I didn't know who this chucklehead thought he was, but I was too old, too tired, and too goddamned pissed to play along.
That one name, the one name that would have meant the world to me, to Sam. He could have picked any other name but that. I threatened to kill him and hung up.
Several hours later, there was a knock at my door. And he was standing there. Looking…like Dean. Like our Dean. I'd seen too much to believe it, and attacked him, but he was real. God damn it, he was real. He cut himself with a silver blade, he spit out Holy Water with an irritated lift of an eyebrow. He was real.
I held him. He felt real. He smelled real. He sounded real. He was Dean. I listened to his escape story, saw the burn mark on his arm, fell so easily into the rhythm of breaking down a hunt with him that I forgot for a moment he'd want to know about Sam.
I went cold at the thought of Sam. Somehow, Dean had been rescued from Hell. And this family was rather skilled in making deals.
Dean knew how to find Sam almost immediately, which made sense. He'd had a hand in raising the kid. We were both tense as we approached the motel room. I think Dean may have actually been bouncing.
When Sam saw his brother, it was as if the air was sucked from the room. He went through the same reaction I had, but I caught him, holding him back—barely. He had a girl with him, but we forgot about her when I finally convinced Sam that it was him. It was his brother.
Sam all-but crushed Dean in a hug, and I had to work to swallow. I didn't know what it meant in the grand scheme to have Dean back in the fight. I didn't know how one man could make a difference one way or another. But I honestly didn't care. He was here. He was back.
The rest of that day was really a blur, which is odd considering it happened the most recent. Something about confirmation of the existence of angels has a way of rattling the brain. We almost lost Pamela, best damn psychic I know, and one fine-looking lady to boot. She got a glimpse at what grabbed Dean by the arm and pulled him from the fire, and it burned her eyes out.
Sam was…well, not himself. Still isn't. He's still fighting his own war. He's manning his own missions. He's his father's son, that's for damn sure. Dean is confused, angry, and more than a little traumatized, but he's still Dean: still fighting, still cocky, still broken. Day after he came back to us, I pulled him from a room filled with shattered glass, his ears bleeding, and he proposed summoning the thing.
Turns out, it was an angel. An angel who put Dean on a mission from God. There are too many secrets, too much mystery, too many "need to know" answers out there. But if it's the last thing I do, I'm gonna get these boys through it.
Besides, we apparently have God on our side. Jehovah himself. As Bishop Augustine said, "Earthly cities are destined to fall, but the city of God will remain forever."
Guess we have more to do than I thought.
"He was a righteous man."
Dean huffed. "He was more than that."
Castiel looked askance, his face impassive. "He led you to the answer."
"That was Bobby?"
With a lift of his trench coat-clad shoulders, Castiel looked back toward the sun. "You asked for help."
"Yeah and, seriously, what the hell, Cas? You needed me to go through all this just to find the name of your God."
"Not just my God, Dean."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Right."
"The name is only as powerful as the belief behind it."
"Had to be in Latin, too, huh? With the I? Couldn't have made it even a little bit easy."
"You wouldn't have appreciated it."
Dean raised an eyebrow. "Don't be too sure."
"Are you ready to go after Sam?"
Chin down, Dean flicked his eyes up to meet Castiel's even gaze. "Save him, you mean."
Cas tilted his head. "If that's what is meant to be in the end."
"Oh, don't worry." Dean's mouth tightened around the words. "That's the only way this is going to end."
Cas nodded, taking a step to the side, inviting Dean to leave with him.
Dean looked around Bobby's ruined study. "What about—?"
In a blink, the books were back on shelves, stacked in corners, papers repaired.
Dean folded his lips down, his eyebrows rising in twin teepees. "Nice trick."
The corner of Castiel's mouth tipped up in the barest hint of a smile.
"Need a favor first," Dean said.
"Yeah, it's when you do something for me 'cause you're such a swell guy."
"I know the meaning of the word, Dean."
With a quick well all right then nod, Dean tucked Bobby's journal in his jacket pocket. "Good. Let's go."
Castiel riding in the Impala—in Sam's seat—was so many levels of wrong. But until Dean set things right, until he saved his brother from whatever crooked path some kind of tricked-out destiny had led him down, this was what he was left with. Dean drove through the early morning, windows down so the fresh air kept him awake, radio on to distract him from the presence of the angel, the pending struggle, the one name waiting in the back of his mind.
The weight of Bobby's journal was like an anvil on his heart. The old man had captured Dean's life, his past, his soul-crushing pain so plainly, so clearly. And he wanted to be done with it. He wanted it over.
He was tired of being too late.
In the end, he hadn't saved Bobby. And Sammy was slipping through his fingers. But he wasn't letting the damn devil have the last word.
Not this time.
Bobby's final, unfinished passage echoed in Dean's head.
As clichéd as it sounds, we all have a hero and a devil in us.
Dean's not light 'cause he was saved by an angel and Sam's not dark 'cause he wasn't. They're just human. They fight and they feel and they try and they fail.
Like I said, I don't know how this story will end, but I do know that it couldn't end any other way. And no matter what the ending, I'm proud of the part I've played. My only regret is that I didn't tell them—all of them: Jim and Caleb, John and the boys, Ash, Gordon, Isaac…Karen. I didn't tell them they were the good guys. That they mattered.
Never really thought about leaving a legacy before now, before Heaven came down and knocked on our door instead of the other way around. But if I did, it would be
Dean didn't need to know what Bobby's next words might have been. He knew the intent: tell the story. Learn from history. Don't repeat it. Don't wallow in it. Don't suffer from it. Don't let it haunt you.
"Where are we?"
Cas looked quizzically at Dean. Or, at least, Dean thought that was his quizzical look. He could have been reciting the Latin alphabet in his head for all Dean knew.
"Follow or don't," he said, repeating his brother's words. "Up to you."
"I will wait for you." Castiel nodded.
Dean stepped from the car, walking through the dense woods to the clearing where a charred pyre still stood, a pyre that had held his father's body…and Bobby's. Here he'd stood with his brother in silence, searching for words. Here he'd stood with his brother in pain, searching for shelter.
"Thanks for the help, Bobby," he said. "You were right on time."
Swallowing, he looked down at the leather book in his hands, running his bloodstained fingers over the cover. There were things he kept because he didn't want to forget, and things he burned because he didn't want to remember. John's journal had been an instruction manual, a record of his journal, a history book of lessons learned.
There hadn't been a shred of regret or hope, not a word of how he'd seen his life.
Bobby's journal had been a narrative of his life, of his heartache and loss, of his triumph and humor. Of his soul.
He opened the front cover once more, letting his eyes hit the words.
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.
"Sometimes we win," he whispered, missing his family intensely in the moment.
His tired, gritty eyes succumbed to emotion, and as he looked up, a tear tumbled from one, sliding down his cheek and tucking into the corner of his mouth.
He reached up and wiped his face. "This is gonna be one of those times."
He'd taken from it what Bobby needed him to, what he'd needed to. And it was time to let it go. Burn the past. Let it end; start from now.
Stepping closer to the pyre, he dug his Zippo from his pocket, opening the journal. After two quick clicks, the flame caught, and he touched it to the pages, setting the book among the ashes of his fathers.
"Family don't end with blood, man."
He watched the journal burn, pressing his lips tightly.
When it was all but gone, he turned, heading back to the Impala and the waiting angel. He dropped into the driver's seat, glancing to his right, needing the person who should be there back where he belonged.
"Let's go get my brother back."
Castiel nodded, and Dean drove west, one name on his lips.
a/n: The title and each journal chapter heading come from the Styx song Blue Collar Man. The lyrics that Dean sings come from Zeppelin's Travelin' Riverside Blues.
Thank you so much for reading; if you're so inclined, I'd appreciate your comments. Those of you who read the zine version, you'll note that I changed the name of Bobby's wife from Sara to Karen. When I wrote this, we hadn't learned his wife's name; I thought it would be best to update appropriately now that we know the truth. It was the only thing I changed, though.
Also, for those keeping score at home, I wanted to let you know that the planned co-write with lovinjackson has been indefinitely postponed. Real life just got the better of us. However, I am working on a Season 5-based fic called Sense that I hope to start posting in the next few weeks. If you choose to read, I will welcome your thoughts. Slainte!