As week six with the boys ended, the South Dakota summer came in full force. It was unusual, this warm heat coming so early in the season, melting the last remaining snow in under an hour then drying out the puddles left behind. Bobby started opening the windows around the house which did little to dispel the humidity but a lot to stir the copious amounts of dust in the air.
It turned out Sam had allergies. He would wake up in the middle of the night, eyes and nose streaming. The first time it happened, Dean had been frantic. He'd burst into Bobby's bedroom around midnight and shaken the Hunter awake.
"Uncle Bobby, wake up! Wake! Up!" Bobby was up before Dean could get all the words out. The heat hung around him like vapor as his bare feet hit the hardwood. Dean was dressed only in a pair of white underwear, his skin sticky with sweat.
"What's wrong?" Bobby asked, turning on the bedside lamp.
"Sam!" Dean gasped out, tugging on Bobby's wrist with both hands. "He's dying!" Bobby swung Dean up into his arms in a well practiced maneuver so the boy was sitting on his hips. Once he had Dean secure, he reached for the silver knife under his pillow.
"Hurry," Dean whispered into his ear. As soon as Bobby stepped into the hallway, he could make out the sound of Sam's high pitched whine interspersed with choking sobs. What he found was not anything of the supernatural sort, no werewolf or vampire looming over the toddler, but a crying Sam sitting up in bed. At first, Bobby couldn't understand what was wrong. There was no blood on the boy or on the bed. He dropped Dean onto the bed beside his brother and flicked on the overhead light.
Sam's eyes were swollen almost completely shut and snot was running down his nose and into his mouth.
"Balls," Bobby cursed under his breath, letting the mattress sink under his weight as he sat down beside the boys. Sam seemed frozen in place, hands curled into fists that clutched at the blankets.
"Is he dying?" Dean asked. His face was turned not toward his brother but tilted up at Bobby, a look somewhere between desperation and reverence shining out. Bobby heard the question for what is was:
Can you save him?
It was the first but not the last time that Dean Winchester would look at him like that. When he was fourteen, he would call Bobby about an injured Sam while John was out on a hunt. A compound fracture to the leg from falling off his skateboard while Dean wasn't looking. When Dean was seventeen, he would call in the middle of the night, the same sense of urgency flooding through telephone on the other end. Bobby would calmly look up directions to the nearest hospital with his own heart thudding under the St. Christopher medal Sam had gotten him for Christmas the year before.
Dean would call after the terrible car accident, the one that should have taken his life but hadn't. The one where John Winchester disappeared from the boys' lives altogether. Dean would dial the phone while Sam was in the shower, in the gas station, hustling pool. He would breathe into the phone and Bobby would utter placating words to the mistrustful six year old who still lived deep in Dean.
"He ain't dying," Bobby said and Dean's eyes said he believed the Hunter. Bobby gently took Sam's hands in his own and hauled the crying toddler onto his lap, feeling wetness sink into his sleep shorts. A quick inspection of the sheets confirmed his suspicion: Sam had wet the bed again.
Dean stuck as close as possible to Bobby's heels as the group traversed down the hall to the bathroom.
"It's okay," Bobby murmured over and over to Sam as he started the bathwater. Without being told, Dean slid off his own underwear and into the tepid water, waiting for Bobby to hand over Sam. The older boy held the younger as Bobby ran a cool washcloth over his face. At first, Sam pushed it away.
"No!" he wailed. "Nonononono." The top lids of his eyes had swollen to three times their size and Bobby could see gunk into between the delicate eyelashes, gathering in the corners. Sam turned his his head into Dean's chest.
"Sammy," Dean crooned. "Sammy, it's okay. You're just sick, that's all." Sam started to cry again but Bobby could hear the exhaustion behind the tears. "You gotta let Uncle Bobby help. He'll make you all better." Dean's gaze dared Bobby to contradict him. Sam sniffled.
"Yeah," Dean said, still in the same melodic tone. "All better."
It was almost too easy then. Dean held tight onto his brother as Bobby washed him, scraping at the crusty snot under his nose just so more could come flooding out. The cool water seemed to help Sam's eyes and by the end of the bath, he could squint out of them though the whites of his eyes were streaked with red.
He cried again in discomfort as Bobby dressed him; Dean knelt over his brother, tucking the same lock of hair behind his ear again and again. In the end, Bobby didn't have the heart to leave Sam in bed and picked him up, cradling the small body in his strong arms. Though they were both eating well, Sam was still so tiny. It felt like holding a porcelain figurine, or a baby bird. Something breakable.
Dean followed them downstairs, holding onto Bobby's hand in his sleepiness and curled up on the couch as Bobby paced the downstairs with a squirming Sam.
"You just gotta sleep," Bobby said near two in the morning. Dean was passed out on the couch and Bobby was making a pot of coffee despite the hour. Sam was crying on and off, sucking on a cold washcloth in his quiet moments. He was sweaty again in no time and Bobby took him on the back deck, let him cling to his legs as Bobby sipped coffee in the dark.
"That's me," Bobby agreed. "You sleepy yet?"
"No tired," Sam said sinking to his butt and reaching for a tie-dye bouncy ball that Dean had begged for in the supermarket. Bobby batted the boy's hands away when they went to rub his eyes.
"No," Bobby said. Sam's head swung around as an owl hooted somewhere from beyond the scrapyard boundaries. Half moon crescents dug into Bobby's calf as Sam scooted closer, the ball rolling away and bouncing down the deck steps. It disappeared into the night.
"Just an owl, Sam my man." There was a moment when Sam and Bobby met eyes, a moment where Bobby could practically see the long-legged fierce Hunter the toddler would grow into. Sam's face was uncharacteristically blank, a slate for Bobby to wish for things that would never be. A normal life for the Winchester brothers. A long life for the Winchester brothers. A good life, at the very least.
Then Sam reached up to tug at his left ear and the sobbing started all over again.
It was close to four in the morning by the time Bobby made the decision to call Carolyn. After the silent moment on the deck, he had been crying almost nonstop despite Bobby's numerous pleas.
Dean had woken up around three, reaching for his brother, trying to snuggle him into complacency. Sam wanted nothing to do with it or with his brother, the first of very few instances Bobby would witness like this. Dean seemed shocked too.
"Sammy? Sam, come here." But Sam curled into a ball on the floor until Bobby picked him up again and draped him over his shoulder.
Sam was chewing through a wet washcloth when Bobby made the call. The two were pacing around the dining room because Sam refused to be set down. Rummy glared at them from his bed near the woodstove.
"Oh hush, you big grump," Bobby scolded him as Carolyn's line rang. Rummy licked his lips and went to lie next to Dean on the couch.
"Carolyn, it's Bobby Singer here."
"How do you know something's wrong? Maybe I'm calling to have a chat." An exhausted snort came through the line.
"Bobby, in all the years I've known you, you've never called for a chat. And it's four am."
"It's Sam," Bobby said, shifting the toddler to his other arm. Sam whimpered and threw the washcloth on the floor. It clung to dirt and dog hair and cookie crumbs.
"The little one?"
"Yeah, he's been crying on and off since midnight. Has some wicked allergies, I think."
"Did you give him any Benedryl?" Bobby's heart sank. Why hadn't he thought of that?
"N-no. I've been washing his eyes and nose out, but haven't given him any meds." How stupid he was, not to realize that he could have eased Sam's suffering hours ago.
"I'll be right over."
"Nah, you don't have to-,"
"I'll be right over," Carolyn repeated. "I have meds with me. I have to be at the hospital in an hour anywhere. My alarm was about to go off." Bobby could tell she was lying but as Sam laid his forehead against Bobby's shoulder, he was grateful.
He opened the door before she could hit the front step.
"He just fell asleep," Bobby whispered as she crossed the threshold. Carolyn couldn't help herself; she swept a hand through Sam's hair, frowning as he coughed against Bobby's chest. "It's been near four and a half hours since he woke," Bobby said. "Do ya think I should take him in? Should I call for an ambulance."
Carolyn smirked just a little.
"Look at you, Papa Bear," she teased, setting her bag down on the kitchen table. "You're adorable when you're worried." Bobby started to protest but just let a red blush cover his cheeks instead. "Coffee?" Carolyn asked hopefully and Bobby brought her a cup, the steam curling into the air.
"It's gonna be near 100 later today," she said. "How are the boys holding up in the heat?"
"Just fine," Bobby said. "Sweatier and smellier than usual but that's alright. We're doing alright."
"Kids love sprinklers," Carolyn commented. "It's good sprinkler weather."
"Mmm," Bobby said noncommitedly. Sam's hair was sticking to his forehead; the morning heat was creeping in.
"I brought Children's Benedryl," Carolyn said, keeping one hand wrapped around her coffee as she dug through her bag. She pulled out a bottle of purple liquid and a dropper. She put a hand on Sam's small knee and shook gently.
"Sam? Sam, can you wake up?" The hazel eyes blinked open and instinctively curled tighter into Bobby in the presence of a stranger. His lips turned down.
"It's okay," Bobby said. "Carolyn brought you special medicine."
"It's yummy," she said. "Do you like grape-flavor?" Sam's eyes narrowed and he reached up to pull at his ear again. Carolyn watched closely. "Sam, does your ear hurt?" When he didn't answer, she glanced up at Bobby. "Ear infections can get nasty in toddlers. It could be what's bothering him so much." She nudged the bottle of Benedryl at Bobby.
"One tablespoon," she said.
"I can't do that," Bobby said.
"Of course you can. He's gonna need it at least twice a day for a while. I'm not running over here every time."
"What if I mess up?" Carolyn rolled her eyes. Bobby was acting just like every other brand-new parent she saw in the hospital. The sooner he got it through his head that children weren't breakable, the better.
"You won't. Worst that will happen is that he'll spit it out." She stood up and stretched, already her feet were sweating in their sneakers. She opened the door and quickly shut it again. "It must be nearly 80 already," she complained. Bobby was eyeing the bottle of Benadryl as though it was a rattlesnake. She was about to make another remark but then she saw him take a deep breath and reach for it. He withdrew one tablespoon into the dropper and cringed when Sam turned his face away.
"Should I try it first?" Bobby asked after a moment, his voice softer than Carolyn had ever heard it. Sam watched out of the corner of his eye as Bobby pinched a drop of purple onto his tongue and smacked his lips. "This is so good," Bobby said. "Almost as good as a chocolate chip brownie. Too bad you don't want any."
"Want!" Sam said, pulling at the hand that held the dropper. "Sam want!"
"I don't know," Bobby said, shrugging.
"Pwease," Sam said, throwing his arms around Bobby's neck. He had learned recently that if he offered Bobby a hug, he was much more likely to get what he wanted.
"I guess," Bobby said. "Open up." Sam did as he was told and Bobby squirted the dropper into his mouth. "Don't spit it out," he warned. But Sam just swallowed and then gave Carolyn a shy smile as if to say look what a good boy I am.
The effect of the meds was clear within ten minutes. Sam dropped off to sleep in Bobby's lap, head lolling backwards in total unconsciousness.
"Definitely the start of an ear infection," Carolyn said when she got close enough to check Sam's left ear. "I'll leave you with some low dose antibiotics that should clear it up soon. If he's not better in forty-eight hours, give me a call."
"Thank you," Bobby said as he settled Sam next on the couch next to Dean.
"How's Dean doing?" Carolyn asked, nursing the last of her coffee.
"He's alright," Bobby said. "We have our troubles here and there, but he's a good kid. They both are."
"Any idea when their father is coming back?" Bobby's lips thinned as he shook his head. Rummy came to nudge his owner's hand and Bobby complied, scratching the Rottweiler as he gazed at his young charges.
"Do you want him to?"
Bobby looked at her sharply enough to make Carolyn hold up a hand in defense.
"Of course I do. They ain't my kids, Caro. I can't—I'm not—," he broke off.
"You're a natural," Carolyn said as she set down her coffee cup. Dean sighed in his sleep and Bobby's heart turned over.
"They aren't mine," he repeated.
"I know," she said, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek before opening the door to leave. "Call me and let me know how Sam is doing. I'll have my phone on me all day."
"Thanks again. I appreciate it."
Bobby locked the front door and moved back into the living room, almost collapsing into the recliner next to the boys. Before he shut his eyes, he couldn't help the traitorous thought that slipped through his mind:
They aren't mine but I wish they were.
A/N: Just a little drabble that I thought you might like. I'm toying with the idea of a camping/Rufus/Hunt scenario but I'm still working through it. Hope everyone is having a good summer!