Bobby did a double-take when he saw the amulet around Dean's neck. He'd meant it for John – given it to Sam specifically so that he would give it to his father.
Crushing Dean in a bear-hug, he looked at Sam over the older brother's shoulder. Sam grinned happily back at him, not noticing the slight frown buried among the ingrained lines of Bobby's forehead.
"C'mon Bobby, can't breathe here!"
"You're a wuss Dean! Just like your father!" John sent him a semi-disgusted, semi-amused look, accompanied by a wry shake of his head.
"Here Sammy, show your brother what a real hug looks like!"
Sam ran, beaming, into Bobby's arms. Bobby swung him up into the air and around in the cluttered space he called a kitchen. Sam's feet only barely missed knocking precariously balanced pots, dishes, car parts and dusty books over.
"Don't you think he's a little old for that Bobby?"
"Oh I don't know. Sammy, you're all of what, 6?"
"I'm 8 Bobby!"
"Ah, Sammy, I know y'are! Are you too old to have a swing around the room by your uncle Bobby?"
Sam glanced nervously at his father and back to Bobby. Unusually stuck for words, he said nothing and wandered over to Dean who was inspecting an oily lump of metal sitting on sheets of newspaper on the kitchen table. He sat up on the chair next to his brother, not remotely interested in the piece of engine Dean found so engrossing, but feeling a need to be away from the adults all of a sudden.
"What's that Dean?"
Dean knew perfectly well that Sammy had no interest, but also that his little brother was sensitive to the rapid changes in atmosphere that occurred whenever Bobby and their father were in a room together. If things went the way they normally did, soon he and Sam would be shuffled off to bed and then there would be raised voices, followed by the violent slamming of doors, and the squealing of tyres announcing that their father had left them again.
"It's a piston Sammy." Dean barely spoke above a whisper. His shoulder blades were knitted together as he waited for the inevitable.
"Boys, it's time for bed."
And there it was. Dean stood obediently and said goodnight to Bobby, who nodded his acknowledgement.
"Dad, how long will you be gone?"
"I don't know exactly son. Maybe a week."
"But dad, I…"
"Dean! You know how this works! Bobby will look after you boys til I get done. Look after your brother and don't give Bobby a hard time, okay?"
Bobby watched the exchange in silence, a deep sadness filling him as it always did when he saw these two supposedly talking to each other.
Dean and Sam made their way to the room Bobby had set up several years ago for them. Two beds, a bedside table in between them, and a lamp. The rest of the small room was piled up with books and auto magazines. The bare window was a problem. Sam was scared not to have it covered and Dean went into autopilot, piling magazines against the lower part and doing his best to cover the top with his jacket. It wasn't perfect, but it was the best he could do. A line of salt finished the job and Sam seemed okay with the arrangements.
"S'alright Sammy. Goodnight."
Dean switched off the lamp and settled onto the narrow bed. It was hard and lumpy but it did at least feel like it was his. He could barely remember having his own bed.
"Am I too old for Bobby to swing me around?"
Aw Christ! Dean was stuck. Telling Sam it was okay would be going against his father. But it didn't seem like it was such a big deal if Sam loved it.
"Sammy, if Bobby wants to swing you around you should let him. Ya know, just to be polite, yeah?"
"Okay. G'night Dean."
Dean curled up on his side under the covers. Another potential problem averted. He listened for the steady, quiet snoring that told him his brother was asleep. Then he too drifted off.
In the morning, as always, their father was gone.