Supernatural isn't mine.
My friend estei wanted fic about how much Bobby loves the boys, and this is my attempt to oblige. Spoilers up to 2x14. As usual, please do not mention anything you might know about episodes from 2x15 on in the reviews (I'm looking at you, JJaneru :D). Hope you enjoy!
The Hardest Thing You'll Ever Learn
Bobby Singer had always been a practical man, had worked with his hands his whole life, even back in high school, fixing cars, learning the trade he would one day call his own. It wasn't that he didn't think about things, it was just that he didn't see the point in worrying over them too much. Thinking might help come up with the solution, but in the end, it was action that actually did the solving. Later, Bobby found that that credo suited demon-hunting just as well as it suited the scrap metal business, and he made a name for himself, not through showy tricks, but by getting the job done. He didn't suffer fools lightly, in fact, back then, he didn't really suffer anyone lightly, because for all his disdain for flights of fancy, there was anger in him that wouldn't be quenched. He lived alone, though, in the middle of nowhere, and if his dogs were upset by his occasional bouts of rage, well, they didn't show it. It wasn't that he didn't feel. It was just that he was able to control those feelings, keep their intensity from spilling over; it was a necessary skill in a job like his.
Sometimes, he wondered how John Winchester ever made it through a single hunt.
It was well past sunset when Nixon started barking in the yard, and Bobby was alert in an instant. There were wards protecting the property, not just the house but the grounds as well, every symbol Bobby knew, but they wouldn't keep everything out. Bobby had few friends, no family; no-one who might drop by for a surprise visit in the middle of the night. There was the sound of an engine, though, a rumbling roar that belonged to a classic car if Bobby was any judge (and he was), the sound of gravel crunching under tyres, and then footsteps. Bobby checked the line of salt at the door and hefted his shotgun in one hand, then reached for the handle.
He didn't know what he had been expecting – maybe someone he knew, smiling in that disingenuous way that meant possessed – but it hadn't been a solid, dark-haired man in a black overcoat carrying a toddler in his arms and holding an older child by the hand. He gaped for a moment, and the man fixed him with a gaze so intense that Bobby had to fight not to fall back a step and said "Pastor Jim gave me your address. Name's John Winchester, and my boy here's sick."
Bobby was a practical man, and though he didn't like strangers on his property (and definitely didn't like children, sick or otherwise), he knew that turning them away was against everything he stood for. So he stood back silently and let them past, still holding the shotgun ready, watching as they stepped over the salt, the older boy lifting his feet carefully as if he was used to it.
"What's wrong with him?" Bobby asked.
John walked over to the couch, deposited his burden in an easy chair and then said, "OK, sport, you lie down here, I'll be back in a second with some blankets, OK?" The older boy nodded and clambered onto the couch, and then Bobby took in his flushed cheeks and realised to his surprise that it was that one that was sick, not the little one at all.
John turned back to him. "Flu, I think," he said. "I can't afford a doctor." Bobby didn't ask whether John meant he didn't have the money, or something else. "He should be over it in a couple of days," John continued, striding to the kitchen area and opening cupboards without the least apology, finally finding a glass and filling it with water. "I just needed somewhere to hole up. You understand how it is."
Bobby did understand. He'd been an itinerant hunter himself, for a while, immediately after it had happened, and he knew how it could be, alone and bleeding too much to check into a motel, but too little to risk hospital. He'd had others come to his door, before, too. But this was different: he'd never seen one with kids.
John was kneeling by the couch again, brushing the hair back from his older son's forehead and handing him a couple of pills, putting the glass of water to his lips. He was murmuring something, too low for Bobby to hear, but the boy shifted, his eyes at half-mast, and said "'s Sammy OK?"
John murmured something else, and the boy seemed satisfied, eyes slipping closed. After a moment, John stood and turned back to Bobby, holding out a hand.
"Thank you," he said, and Bobby raised his eyebrows, debating. John Winchester was a marked man, of that he was sure; the passion in those dark eyes would translate to recklessness, recklessness to death, and John would leave his children alone in the world. Bobby was a practical man, but even he balked at shaking the hand of a dead man walking.
The younger child stirred and whimpered, and Bobby was saved from awkwardness by John's immediate response. As he watched John go back to his boy, Bobby could only shrug in amazement that somebody would bring children into this life.
It was winter, February, the day after the anniversary of Joanna's death, and Bobby's mood hung as heavy on him as the snow that weighted the trees. Ten years, now, and it felt like both more and less, like his entire life had passed and like it had all happened only an hour ago. It didn't do to wallow, he knew that as well as anyone, but all day he found his mind drifting as he chopped wood and broke the ice on the well, remembering a life before this one. It didn't help his mood when a black muscle car pulled up in his driveway and John Winchester stepped out.
"Bobby," he called, and Bobby laid down his axe and sighed.
"John. Your boys OK?" They were out of the car, too, the little one – Sammy – standing on his own two feet this time, but hiding behind his brother, his eyes wide and shy.
"They're fine," John said. "Listen, Bobby, I'm tracking an ogre down in Nebraska, and it's fast as hell. There's no way I can follow it with these two. Can you take them for me for a week or so?"
Bobby sucked in his breath at the sheer nerve of the man. His eyebrows drew down as he imagined spending a week with two kids in the house and no father this time to keep them out of his hair. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sammy shift slightly further behind his brother, and realised he must be scowling something fierce. Dammit. This was why he didn't want people – kids – around. He wasn't used to having to think about how people saw him any more. Wasn't sure he wanted to get used to it.
"Bobby?" John asked, and Bobby was aware of how cold it was, how both boys were huddling together. He let out his breath in an exasperated sigh.
"Fine," he said. "Bring them in. But," he added, his voice low enough so only John could hear, "you're not back in ten days, they're going to an orphanage, you got me?"
John's mouth twitched, and Bobby knew that his threat had not been taken seriously. Damn.
"Is Daddy leaving us with the scary man?" the little one whispered after Bobby had installed them at the kitchen table. He was still young enough not to be able to gauge the volume of his speech, but Bobby pretended not to have heard.
"Shh, Sammy," the older one whispered back. "You remember Uncle Bobby, don't you? He took care of us that time I was sick."
Bobby turned back from the stove to see two pairs of eyes watching him, one frightened, the other apologetic. "Sorry," the older one – Dean – said. "He's kind of shy around strangers."
"It's a good habit to cultivate," Bobby grunted. "You boys want some coffee?"
The little one's eyes lit up, and the older one frowned. "Dad doesn't..." he started, but the little one cut across him.
"Yes please, Uncle Bobby!"
Bobby felt his mouth twitch in spite of himself, and put a steaming cup in front of the kid. "Not so shy as all that, huh?"
The kid reached eagerly for the cup, but his brother grabbed it a moment before. "It's hot, Sammy," he said sharply. "And anyway, you know we're not allowed coffee."
Bobby sighed. Yeah, obviously, kids as young as these probably weren't supposed to drink coffee. Forget the orphanage, he'd be lucky if he hadn't accidentally killed these boys before their daddy got back. Lord save me from demons, ghouls, and John Winchester, he thought.
"Is my dad gonna be OK?"
Bobby turned, surprised, to see Dean watching him from the doorway. He finished scrubbing the blood off his hands, then swung round fully, crouching automatically to bring himself down to Dean's level, although these days that was barely necessary any more. "I'm not gonna lie to you, Dean," he said. "He's pretty banged up. But he's a tough bastard, you know that. If anyone can make it through, it's John Winchester." Bobby still marvelled at that simple fact. If he'd had to predict, he'd have said John would have been dead within a year of that day he'd first stepped onto Bobby's porch.
"OK," Dean said, and Bobby could tell that he was reassured, but not unburdened. Bobby clapped him on the shoulder.
"Sammy doing OK?"
Dean shrugged. "Yeah. He's scared. Crying like a girl." The last words were said softly, like Dean was trying to muster the force to insult his brother but couldn't quite manage it.
"Ain't no shame in crying," Bobby said, but from the look Dean gave him he could tell the words just bounced right off. "Come on," he said. "Let's see if we can't cheer him up, OK?"
Dean nodded silently, and allowed Bobby to lead him out of the room in search of his brother.
Dean and John had been gone for three days when Sammy – Sam – flung his pencil across the room and growled in frustration. "What the hell is the point of all this crap?"
Bobby raised an eyebrow. "This crap might save your life one day, son."
"Save it?" Sam's voice cracked on the first word, and he flushed a dull red. "If it wasn't for this, my life wouldn't need saving, Bobby!"
"Now I know you don't really think that," Bobby said, calmly retrieving the pencil. "Your momma didn't know any of this stuff, and she sure as hell wasn't saved by being ignorant."
Sam's face shut down at that. "Whatever," he muttered. Bobby wondered when the happy-go-lucky child who used to call him Uncle Bobby had morphed into this sullen, frustrated teenager. As far as Bobby was aware, Dean had never gone through a stage like this, and Bobby didn't know any other kids to compare it to. He supposed it was a normal part of growing up, except that there was nothing normal about Sam Winchester.
"If that's not good enough for you," Bobby said, "then let's just say you have to learn it because your daddy told me to teach it to you."
"He only told you to to get me out of the way while he and Dean run around trying to get themselves killed," Sam ground out. "You don't have to bother, it's not like he's going to test me or anything."
Bobby fixed Sam with a stare that, once upon a time, had had the kid buckling down solemnly to whatever he was asked to do. "Your daddy's only trying to keep you safe."
Sam snorted and rolled his eyes. "He's got a funny way of showing it," he said, and pushed his chair back, stalking out of the room, but not before Bobby saw an intensity in his face that he had once thought meant death for John Winchester.
Bobby heard the car before he saw it, approaching the house at breakneck speed, and he knew something was wrong. Moments later, there they were, and it was worse than he thought, Dean and John both spattered with blood, Sam unconscious in the backseat.
"Bobby," John said, but Bobby didn't need telling once, let alone twice. Between them they hauled Sam into the house, and later Bobby would realise that now he had a hat-trick of sick Winchesters on his couch, but right then he needed all his brain power for other things, to make sure Dean and John were unharmed, to stop the blood that was leaking through Sam's shirt from the slashes in his belly. The minutes were tense, pulled taut with fear, and they turned into hours without Bobby even noticing, even realising that at some point in the last ten years he had become a man with something to lose.
Morning came almost as a surprise, the sunlight wan and washed-out, highlighting the dark bruises under all their eyes. It might have been the second-longest night of Bobby's life, but it was over, and they had survived. They had all survived.
Later, Bobby watched as Dean's hands shook around his coffee mug. He was a practical man, and he had no time for guilt; he kept his own in a locked box at the back of his mind, and only pulled it out on special occasions. All the same, he knew Winchesters well enough to know that it's not your fault didn't do a blind bit of good with them, so instead, he said, "Guess little Sammy's missing out on the coffee again, huh? Wow, that's gonna piss him off."
It wasn't even very funny, but Dean let out a shaky laugh and closed his eyes. "Yeah," he muttered. "Little bitch'll probably whine about it all the way to Minnesota."
Bobby smiled. It had been a long ten years, maybe the longest in his life, but he was still standing.
John and Dean had come looking for answers, and Bobby didn't waste words, had never been a man for pointless gum-flapping. All the same, he couldn't help but say it, as he reached for the Malleus Maleficarum. "So I hear Sam got into Stanford?"
The silence that followed that remark was louder than a bomb-blast. Bobby considered following it up with you must be very proud, because he'd watched Sam over the last few years, watch him pull into himself, until there was less and less left of the happiness that had once shone out of his face. Sam had needed to go, needed to go for years, but Bobby knew John Winchester well enough to know that he hadn't taken it well.
"Here," he said, turning and thrusting the book into John's arms. "You know, that boy's going to do OK. You've got to let him go his own way some time."
Half an hour later, Dean was dragging John out of the house, while Bobby aimed a shotgun at his head. It was the last time Bobby Singer ever saw John Winchester, and it seemed to him that it was a fitting goodbye.
Bobby still didn't have one of those newfangled cell phones. Didn't really see the point: it wasn't like he moved far from home these days, and he didn't particularly want people thinking they could reach him at any hour of the night or day. He was in the kitchen when the phone rang, and as soon as he heard Dean's voice on the other end of the line, he knew something horrible had happened. The bottom fell out of his stomach, though, when he heard Dean's voice break on Sam's name. He'd dealt with a lot of possessions over the years, but this was the first one since Joanna that made his hands tremble.
He sat at the kitchen table for a full minute after Dean hung up, saying he would call back when he was on the road. That was all he allowed himself, though. Normally he wouldn't have even taken that long, but, though he was a practical man, it didn't mean that he didn't feel.
An hour later, he stepped back from the door and gave access to the thing that was pretending to be the boy Bobby had watched grow up. A few hours after that, he set down his needle and thread and pronounced that Dean's shoulder was as patched up as it was going to get. He watched Sam move slowly through the house, as if every step hurt, but he knew Winchesters well enough to know that it's not your fault didn't do a blind bit of good with them, and knew Sam well enough to know that joking wasn't going to help with him, so he said nothing. It had been a long twenty years, and they had lost some folks along the way, but the boys had survived, they were still standing and they had each other. That was the most important thing in practical terms.
And Bobby Singer had always been a practical man.