Title: Arrangements

Author: Philote

Rating: PG (K+)

Summary: After Jim's death, John makes a phone call to extract a certain promise from Bobby.

Disclaimer: The characters and situations of Supernatural do not belong to me. I make no money from this story. Please don't sue.

Author's Note: Written for my spn25 table, prompt #13: plea. This takes place during "Salvation," so first season spoilers, as well as some foreshadowy stuff for season 2.

oOo

He's been two states away for fifteen days. The hunt was difficult; he's exhausted and covered in grime. He barely even has the energy to greet the dogs. He wants a shower and a good meal and his bed; not necessarily in that order.

So when he walks in the door to the sound of the phone ringing, he is less than thrilled.

He wants to ignore it. He even starts to walk past. But something makes him turn and pick it up, even as he heaves an annoyed sigh. "What?" he barks into the receiver.

There's a pause, long enough that he almost hangs up. But then a deep, familiar voice speaks one simple word. "Bobby."

He goes still. "John."

"Look, I don't have a lot of time, so I'm just gonna cut to the chase. Jim's dead."

He should be used to it by now, but every one still feels like a punch in the gut. He has the presence of mind to back up and sit down. "How?"

"Demon. Caleb, too."

He shuts his eyes briefly. While John was probably closer to them, Bobby had been acquainted with both. "I'm sorry."

"I'm taking care of it, but…you should be careful."

He lets the implications of that sink in for a moment. "I'm always careful."

John makes a half-aborted sound that might be a chuckle. "Yeah, I know you are."

An awkward silence descends. Bobby catches a brief earful of background noise on the other end. "Are you on the road?"

"Yeah."

He nods to himself. "Have you bothered to speak to your boys lately?" There's a bit too much venom in the words, especially given the circumstances. But he thinks of Dean's phone calls over the past year, ranging from curious to downright fearful, and he doesn't take them back.

"I just left them, actually. Both of them."

"Good. That's good. They were concerned." They weren't the only ones, but he's not going to say that. "John…"

"The thing is, Jim and I have always had an arrangement."

It clicks then, and Bobby realizes what this conversation is about. He draws in a sharp breath, but just waits.

John continues, "He was going to take care of the boys. You know, if anything should happen to me."

"I remember." His voice is raspy, so he clears his throat. "They're not kids anymore."

"No. No…they're good men. I'm not quite sure when that happened."

"While you weren't looking," Bobby throws in. He regrets it a little, and he tries to remind himself that it isn't his place, but he doesn't take this back either.

John is quiet for a long moment. "It doesn't make them any less my boys."

"No. I don't suppose it does."

"Bobby…"

He knows what the question is going to be. He could let John off the hook here. He doesn't. "Yeah?"

"I know we've had our differences. But there's still no one I would trust more to have my back. I…I need to know that if something happens to me, someone I trust will be there for Dean and Sammy." It almost sounds like a plea. It can't be, because John Winchester does not plead. That would be showing weakness. But there's a desperate note in his voice, along with a touch of resignation.

The man honestly believes he is about to die. And that shakes Bobby more than he might have expected.

He doesn't draw it out any farther, because John needs to know that he has no qualms here. "You know I will. You didn't even have to ask."

He can hear the smile in John's reply. It's brief and small, but it's there. And it's relieved. "Yeah, well…I appreciate it. Just consider this fair notice that you might be needed soon."

"John…is this it? Is this the thing that killed Mary?"

"We're closing in on it. Feels like all hell's breaking loose."

He doesn't miss the 'we.' Something in his chest twists painfully, and he wonders if there will be anything left for him to look after. He'd offer his help, but he knows what the answer would be, especially in the wake of Jim's death. These men have spent the last twenty-two years preparing for this, and he knows better than to interfere.

His chest still feels tight.

He frowns at himself, shaking his head in bewilderment. How the hell did he get so attached to the Winchesters?

With a muffled 'hmph' he says gruffly, "Well don't take this as license to go off all reckless. I can be there for them, but I can't be their father."

"That's all right. Some days I'm not sure I can, either." It's an honest confession, and Bobby's still taken aback when John continues. "For the most part all they need is each other. But no matter how self-sufficient they may think they are, there's some stuff coming that they aren't prepared for. Dean's gonna need to watch out for Sam, and he might need some help with that."

Dean's done that all his life, and he's pretty sure the boy doesn't need help with it now. But there seems to be something more going on, something John's not quite willing to say. "Okay…"

"I can trust that you'll try to do what's best for them, right?"

He's starting to wonder what he's gotten himself into, but he doesn't hesitate. "Of course you can."

"Thanks, Bobby."

"Will you do something for me?" he asks impulsively.

"If I can."

"You're not a dead man walking. Stop thinking like one."

"Yeah, sure. Listen, I've got to go." John's answer is distracted. He's settled the issue that was on his mind, and now he's mentally moved on to the fight ahead.

Bobby sighs, shaking his head. He's been hunting for most of his life; he knows when he's fighting a losing battle. He doesn't bother with another caution. "Good luck, John."

"You too, Bobby. You too."

The click signifies the end of the conversation. Bobby stares at the phone for some time, wishing it didn't feel like the end of much more.

oOo

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