I thought this story was complete with the viewpoints of the three Winchesters, but I was wrong. This is a tag to AHBL2 when, in my mind, Bobby cemented his role as part of the family. If we can't have John around as much as we would like, then let us have Uncle Bobby.

Chapter Four – Bobby

Bobby had been waiting seventeen years to finally see Dean sacrifice his life for his brother. All the signs had been there from the start; hell, a blind man could've seen it coming. Still, John never saw it, not really. John encouraged it, demanded it even, but never really believed it would ever come to pass, but Bobby knew. Knew his family was all Dean lived for, all he ever cared about, all he had. John focused on the Demon and revenge and Dean went along, for his dad…. for his mom…, but his heart was never really in it. Dean's heart was captured from the beginning in soft, chubby hands. His kid brother gripping his heart tight in a vise hold, Dean's whole existence wrapped around one tiny finger.

As the boys grew up, nothing much changed except the hands holding Dean's heart were now strong and firm, skilled in fighting and proficient in killing evil. Bobby watched and waited. Dean's love still held firm by his brother's ever loosening grasp, now tentative at best. Another man might have slipped from the open hand, surrendered to the freedom and pursued his own needs when Sam's grip released him, never fully realizing the power he wielded over his older brother. Even when Sam left his family, deserted his destiny, and tried living a normal life, he still held his brother's life in his hands. He just never knew it, but Bobby did.

The first time Bobby ever laid eyes on Dean, he held a gun in his trembling hands and warned the seasoned hunter to "hold it right there, you son of a bitch". Under different circumstances, in another time or place, with another child behind the sight, Bobby might have found the situation amusing, even downright comical; but given the steely look of determination in the eyes of the young boy and the rough tone of his voice, he held firm waiting for the slide of this boy's finger on the trigger. He stopped dead in his tracks and waited for reason to temper the young boy's fury. He waited for fate to intervene and spare him. Staring death in the face that cold November night, he searched his mind for the right words to stave off his execution and release him from the grips of this formidable child.

Bobby Singer at the mercy of a ten year old boy. Damn….that was embarrassing.

Reason prevailed and he lived, thanks to his own calm response and Dean's innate humanity, the boy not yet possessing the will to kill. Bobby wondered when all that changed, when Dean became the killing machine he now was, brutal and lethal when circumstances demanded, or if it meant saving either his brother or his dad. Evil's worst nightmare, prepared to do whatever it took to protect his family. He knew Dean worried about it, feared what he was capable of, what he was becoming, but Bobby never worried about that….he only worried about Dean…. and the price he was willing to pay for his brother, for his family. He should have known a deal like this was inevitable. John should have seen the precedence he was setting. Sam, of all people, should at least understand….finally.

Dean would do anything for his family and most especially Sammy….his Sammy….his responsibility….the one he valued above all else….above his own life. What else could he be expected to do when the last of his family was finally torn from his grip by the forces of evil? He certainly wasn't going to bury his brother and simply walk away. That wasn't an option for Dean Winchester, not when he knew an alternative. Not when there was a way to reverse this travesty, regardless of the cost. No price was too high to save his brother, to save his Sammy. He promised Dad he'd save him, he promised Mom he'd protect him, he promised himself all those years ago that nothing would ever hurt his brother….nothing. He sure as hell wasn't going to let his failure cost his brother his life. It was his job to take care of him, the one true focus in his life, and he'd made too many promises to fail him now. Dean didn't break promises. His word was his bond, so he did what needed to be done. Like always.

No regrets. No excuses. It had to be done. At least in Dean's mind.

Over the years Dean had stood alongside his dad in John's battles and pledged to fight evil, to protect the innocents, to save the world. He'd already spent his entire life fulfilling that solemn vow. A storm was brewing, had been for some time, but the omens had gotten worse. Hell, ain't that an understatement? Not just bad…. end of the world bad. Dean needed to get back in the fight. He needed to bury his brother and move on. Harsh, but that was their reality…. the reality of the hero.

And for the first time since Dean took up arms against the evil of this world he said no. No more promises to give.

"Dean, I could use your help."

"You don't think I've given enough? You don't think I've paid enough? I'm done with it. All of it."

Yeah son, you have. You have now. You had before you made that godforsaken deal. What the hell were you thinking?

Dean deserved some peace in his lifetime, some imitation of happiness. A chance at a normal, routine existence far from the war he had participated in since he was a child. Bobby had waited all these years to see him shed the life of a hunter and find some measure of a life, some small, insignificant piece of the American Dream. Dean never asked for much, probably never even dreamed of more, but he certainly deserved it. He deserved something good….for once. He certainly never deserved this. He never deserved an eternity in Hell after spending his short life here on earth embedded in a living hell.

To unknowing eyes Dean appeared content, cocky and in control. There was no denying Dean was confident and strong, comfortable taking on any man or beast, cool and collected with the ladies, level-headed and formidable under the most treacherous circumstances, yet his opinion of himself always centered around how well he took care of his family. If they were safe and happy and protected, then he had worth. If not….

Bobby waited for Dean to acknowledge his own worth, his intrinsic value beyond family; to recognize his own inherent goodness and purpose in this world, a destiny beyond protecting his family. He waited for Dean to finally admit to and embrace his own desires. He waited for Dean to see he mattered. Bobby was still waiting.

"What's wrong with you? Have you got that low an opinion of yourself? Are you that screwed in the head?" Anguish consumed Bobby's features as tears welled in his eyes, his anger and love battling across his face. I guess so.

He supposed it had something to do with Dean's horrible childhood, or lack thereof. Somehow Dean had bypassed the me phase most teenagers go through; taking on the role of protector and never allowing himself to be protected, to show any trace of vulnerability. Most young men have to learn to put others' needs before their own. Dean wasn't most young men. Dean was always his own man, except of course when he was blindly following his dad or stubbornly dismissing his own wants and needs for the benefit of his younger brother. Come to think of it, that left little time for him to be his own man. No wonder he had no practice, no experience, no drive to take care of himself. What is it the goddamn shrinks say? He needed to practice self-care? Like that was ever going to happen.

The young boy who held Bobby Singer in his sight that first day was already a protector; his kid brother huddled behind him, hands tightly gripping the tails of his big brother's shirt, eyes wide with fear. A fear that seemed to pass as soon as the older boy spoke, his voice soothing, full of confidence; comforting the younger and instilling a peaceful calm and faith that no harm would come to them. Bobby saw the strength that came over Dean when he assumed the role of front man, when he stepped between danger and his brother; the act of protecting his brother giving him the courage to face his own fears, unable and unwilling to show weakness in front of his kid brother.

In no time at all Dean had mastered the game of war, but somehow all his training never prepared him to survive the game of life. He never had a life to preserve, aside from his role within the family, apart from his job. Dean was the protector of John and Sammy, the cement that held his family together. That was all he had and all he ever wanted. All he ever allowed himself to hope for.

Bobby quickly learned Dean was single-minded and determined in his pursuit to kill evil; a pit bull snarling and posturing for a fight, the anticipation for the hunt fueling his passion, driving him forward, eager to strike. Dean knew evil was stalking his family and a first strike was the best defense. And he knew he was at war, never able to forget that lesson he learned at the tender age of four. Remnants of war.

When he'd first become acquainted with the Winchesters, Bobby had marveled at the strength of this young boy, his aptitude with weapons and fighting, and his unfailing courage at facing down evil. He had known many hunters over the years, but never one so adept at learning and so focused on fighting, so determined to do the right thing. A natural born hunter, but what had become of the boy?

Bobby didn't have long to ponder that question as the boy seemed to vanish overnight as Dean breathed in his dad's training, assuming his new role with ease. Within a few years Dean was a frightful warrior against the forces of evil, proving himself a man while still a boy. John's training turning a teen who should have been worried about pimples and prom dates into a formidable soldier ready and willing to take up arms to slay evil and protect his brother. Willing to surrender every piece of himself, including his life, for his brother, and no one stepped in to halt the insanity; John only condoning the behavior, praising his son for his dedication, inadvertently hastening his firstborn's descent into Hell.

Bobby always thought the end would come in battle, in a frightful maelstrom where Dean would throw himself between his brother and some encroaching evil. He always thought Dean would die a swift and brutal death protecting his brother with his last gasp for breath: a hero's death, a noble sacrifice, some bold action that would surrender his life so his brother could be miraculously saved against all odds. He never imagined this, never foresaw this.

Under the circumstances, after living with the repercussions from John's unholy deal one would think Dean would never….

Desperate times, desperate actions.

Hell…, Dean had been shattered by John's actions, tormented with the knowledge he lived because his dad died for him. And not just died, walked into Hell where countless enemies were sure to inflict their wrath on him, aside from the whole fire and brimstone locale. Bobby never considered Dean would turn around and inflict the same pain on Sam, but Dean didn't see it that way. He couldn't. He could only see his own unbearable pain, and he could see only one way out.

"Bobby, don't you see?" His voice breaking, the unbearable alternative still enacting a painful reminder of what might have been, what would have been without this deal. "I'm not even supposed to be here. At least this way, my life can mean something." Dean's eyes pleading for understanding, for acceptance, for approval….

Too bad John's not around to kick his butt. Guess I'll have to do….

Bobby should have known Dean would have offered up anything to save his brother, unable to face a life alone with no one, unable to accept he had failed in his duty. Dean had never been alone, never been without his family, and he had never failed to complete a mission. It shouldn't be such a great surprise he now offered up his soul. Bobby should have seen it coming. Hell, he had seen it coming all these years, been waiting for it. Why the hell did I leave him alone? Why the hell didn't I stay and stop him?

Over the course of all these years, Bobby had watched and waited for destiny to inflict its final wrath on Dean Winchester. He knew it was predetermined from his first glimpse into Dean's eyes. Eyes resolved to do anything necessary for his brother. Years of care and worry over Dean's fate still couldn't temper the shock when the truth was revealed. Years of guiding the young hunter, mentoring him, and hoping for the best, culminating in the realization the time had finally come. He should have foreseen this; he shouldn't have left Dean alone with the body like he did. He should have….

Damn it all! What is it with you Winchesters? So willing to throw yourselves down into the pit. So willing to sacrifice yourselves for each other… for the world… for mankind… for any innocent who happens into the path of some evil son of a bitch. Well, life's a bitch… and for Dean, that was an understatement. The deal was done; the only thing left now was to wait for the devil to collect his due.

One year. One year of life. Had Dean ever even had that before? Had he ever allowed himself to actually live? For himself?

Even now, Dean's focus was on the job, the business of killing this yellow-eyed Demon. His only concern protecting his kid brother, leaving the small matter of his eternal soul insignificant, inconsequential, irrelevant.

"Bobby, I've got nothing to lose now. Right? We've got to find this yellow-eyed son of a bitch. That's why I'm going to kill him myself. I've got one year to make sure Sammy's safe. One year to give him back his normal life. One year."

You stupid ass! You really think Sam would just go back to school after his only living kin, his only brother, goes off to burn in Hell? You don't know your brother at all, do you? Well, I guess that's typical with you Winchesters 'cause he never knew you, never realized the lengths you'd go to to save him, never saw the stupid, fucking lack of self-worth. Damn it, Dean!

If Bobby thought John was an aggravating bastard, what was he supposed to think of Dean? Like father, like son? Dean was like a son to him, a comfort and remembrance of his own son lost so many years before in a war that had no meaning. Dean claimed he wanted his life to mean something. He had looked Bobby straight in the eye and said this deal at least gave him a purpose, a reason for being. Like saving hundreds of innocents and killing every evil son of a bitch he ever encountered didn't make his life valuable?

Damn that boy! Can't he see how much he's already done? What is it with his failure to see his own worth? John…. look what you've done to your son. I know why you did it. On more than one occasion, over way too many drinks, you anguished over Dean's role in all this. How he had to be strong enough to protect Sammy. How the Shtriga incident could never again happen, and it wouldn't 'cause Dean had stepped up and focused on his training and you knew his pride would never let him fail you again. How Sammy was special, desired by the Demon, and how he needed to be protected at all cost.

Even this cost? John, how could you let one son sacrifice himself for the other? Who was there to protect Dean? How's Sam going to feel about all this? How's Sam gonna live with this?

"You can't tell him, Bobby. You take a shot at me, whatever you gotta do. But please don't tell him."

Secrets. Lies. Sacrifice.

The Winchester Creed.

What was wrong with Dean? He'd already asked the question, why couldn't he hear the answer?

"Haven't I given enough? Haven't I paid enough? How much more do you expect? Huh?"

I never expected this, Dean. Nobody ever expected you to die for your brother, least of all Sam.

So now Bobby waits as the seconds tick away, months turning into weeks and finally days. Dean's life coming to an end. He waits for Dean to die and fulfill his last promise, surrender his soul, and descend into Hell as his bill comes due.

Dean's not worried whatever the outcome. Sammy's alive. That's all that matters. On that fateful first day Sam had sworn he'd find a way to save his ass and that had made Dean smile, the burden of salvation finally shifting off his strong but weary shoulders, his job complete. Sammy was saved. Three hundred and sixty-three days later, Dean has now found faith in Sam, just like Sammy had always placed his faith in Dean.

After years of battles and struggles, and seemingly insurmountable odds the Winchesters were still hanging on, fighting the good fight and like in the beginning Sam holds Dean's life in his hands, only this time he's not letting go.

Dean waits for Sam to find a loophole, some way out to save him, and Bobby hopes he can because Dean deserves to live, even if he can't see it. Especially since he can't see it.

Every book and scrap of knowledge Bobby can pull together is scoured through looking for a means to sway the outcome of this God awful deal. Bobby waits for Sam to stand up to the plate and save his brother and he prays his swing is true 'cause the Winchesters have given enough and they've only got one shot at this.

Bobby's buried too many friends and evil has enacted too high a toll in this war. For once they need to slay this dragon and win. So he waits for a miracle and hopes the powers that be intercede for Dean. Dean's cheated death before; he needs to do it one more time. Just one more time.

More demons are out there and the war is still being fought. They need Dean in this battle; the world is depending on him. And once all those demons are vanquished then maybe the world will be safe. Maybe there's a chance for peace in their lifetimes, in Dean's normal, long lifetime. A lifetime that should come to a natural close with a fragile, old man still cocky and bold recalling his days of glory with a smirk on his lips and a glint in his eye; reminiscing about his exploits alongside his brother back when they saved the world.

After all, Dean's waited his entire life for a chance to live free of the pain and maybe now there's a glimmer of hope with the yellow-eyed Demon dead; a hope for the Winchesters and the world.

The End

"In the end there are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love." - Paul the Apostle, 1 Corinthians 13:13

bjxmas May, 2007

All standard disclaimers apply. Thanks to Kripke and company for these amazing characters. Huge thanks to the four J's who bring their roles to vivid life. They are the true inspiration for all my stories.