When Bobby finally began to wake up the smell of antiseptic was the first thing he noticed. Opening his eyes he shut them again quickly when the light sent a stabbing pain shooting through his skull. Trying again he opened them more slowly this time and the stabbing reduced itself to a dull throb.
Looking to his right he recognised straight away that he was in a hospital. He frowned for a moment then it all came flooding back to him. As the last few days replayed on fast forward in his brain he became aware of a soft snoring sound to his left. Turning his head a smile spread across his face as he saw Dean and Sam sitting next to his bed. Both of them were asleep, Dean leaning to his right with his head actually resting on Sam's shoulder.
"The times you don't have a camera." said Bobby softly to himself.
He watched them for a moment, taking in the shadow of a bruise here and there on their faces and the fact that Sam winced in his sleep as he shifted slightly. They'd obviously been in a pretty big fight with something and he found himself wondering if it was from their last job or because they'd encountered the same creature he had. He had a dim memory of waking up in the dark, tied up and unable to move, and he was keen to know how they'd found him.
And what had happened to the shifter/werewolf.
It almost seemed a shame to wake them though. Bobby realised they both looked so much younger when they were asleep, the weight they usually carried on their shoulders disappearing and allowing them to relax. He wished sometimes that they could both find a way out of this life, to get a chance at normal lives where danger wasn't a constant companion.
But he knew even if they had the chance, they wouldn't take it. Dean especially considered it his duty to protect the innocent, to fight evil, whatever it cost him. And Sam seemed to have developed the same trait, although Bobby wondered how much of that was borne from a need to protect his brother rather than a genuine love of the hunt. Sam had always struggled with this life, had tried to break away from it in the past, but Bobby had always known that somehow he'd end up coming back to it.
If for no other reason than the fact he needed to be near his brother.
Bobby smiled fondly to himself as images of the boys as children came to mind. The closeness between the two of them hadn't changed even as they'd grown into adults, not even when Dean had been caught in the crossfire between Sam's need for a normal life and John's obsession with the hunt. As badly as he'd felt that Sam had lost the girl he loved Bobby had been glad to see the two of them working together again when they'd shown up at his place, despite the circumstances.
It'd been tough afterwards, watching them struggle with John's death, and Bobby had been as frustrated as Sam at times with the way Dean had shut them all out. But they'd weathered that storm just as they had all those before it, and when he spoke to them on the phone now and then it had sounded as if they were doing a lot better.
Deciding he really did need to know what had happened, and dragging himself from his thoughts before he started getting too maudlin, Bobby reached out and managed to nudge Sam's knee lightly with his hand.
His voice was croaky but it was enough to make the younger Winchester stir. Sam opened his eyes slowly, blinking, and as Bobby's face came into view he grinned widely. Sitting up straighter he realised Dean was resting on his shoulder and shook him gently.
"Dean, wake up."
Dean mumbled something and sat up, looking at Sam blearily.
"What?" he said, grumpily, and Sam inclined his head towards the bed.
"Look who's awake."
Dean turned his head and when he saw Bobby watching them with an amused look, he smiled.
"Well it's about time. We were starting to think you were gonna sleep forever." he said, relief clear in his voice.
"Hey, I'm the one who's been watching you drool on your brother's shoulder for the last five minutes." said Bobby dryly, and Sam looked at his jacket with a grimace.
Dean saw and elbowed him.
"I do not drool." he said, addressing both of them, and Bobby smirked.
"Sure you don't, kid."
Grinning slightly at Dean's indignant look Sam quickly stepped in.
"So how are you feeling? The doctor says you have a pretty nasty concussion but other than that you were lucky." he said and Bobby shook his head, carefully.
"That's easy for him to say, he's not got someone with a hammer trying to break out of his skull."
"Do you want us to get the nurse?" said Dean, concerned, and Bobby held his hand up.
"No, I'm fine. What I really want to know is what the hell happened – you boys obviously found out what I was hunting I take it?"
Dean raised one eyebrow.
"Oh yeah. Nice job on that by the way, finding a shifter that spends it's spare time as a werewolf."
"I like the interesting stuff. So exactly how did you find it? I never had a chance to explain on the phone what it was before it overpowered me."
"Actually it found us." said Sam. "We thought at first it was two different creatures working together."
"Since Sam worked out the connection with the deaths and the robberies." interrupted Dean, looking proud.
Sam blushed slightly and continued.
"Uh, yeah, so we realised the connection but we never thought it might be the same thing. I only guessed once I noticed the pattern with the full moon, which unfortunately was the same moment it followed Dean home."
"It attacked you?" said Bobby, looking worried, and Dean nodded.
"We were lucky, it didn't get a good shot at us since we were right next to the motel room."
Sam raised his eyebrows.
"Although it made a good attempt when it clawed his back."
Dean glared at Sam for mentioning that and Bobby fixed Dean with a look that said he wanted the truth.
"It's fine, honestly. Didn't even need stitches." he said and Bobby looked relieved.
"Go on." he said and Sam picked up the story again.
"So, after we'd realised it was shifting into human and werewolf form we worked out it was probably going to hit the bank next then move on. We broke in and watched the video footage to see who it was mimicking then headed on over to their house hoping to find you. As we were getting you out it showed up and we managed to kill it. Dean called the cops as we left so they're probably there now, trying to work out what the hell happened."
Bobby frowned at the fact he was sure there was a large portion of the story missing.
"You managed to kill it? You make it sound easy." he said and Dean glanced at Sam, both of them trying to look innocent.
"I wouldn't say easy but we got the job done." Dean said and Bobby stared at him. Dean held out for about thirty seconds then sighed.
"Alright, fine – it threw us about a little. But we're ok. Really."
Bobby gave both of them an appraising look and decided they were probably telling the truth. Certainly he'd seen them look a lot worse.
"Well, looks like I owe you one." he said and Dean shook his head.
"Forget it. Not like you haven't saved our asses plenty of times. Just call it returning a favour." he said and Sam nodded his agreement.
Bobby gave them a fond smile.
"I still appreciate it anyway. You boys did good on this one. Took me a hell of a lot longer to realise what I was dealing with than you did, and I know for a fact how strong that thing was. You should be proud of yourselves."
Both of them ducked their heads, Sam blushing and Dean looking uncomfortable. Bobby felt slightly exasperated, wishing they could both recognise their strengths instead of always being so hard on themselves. Sometimes he still had the urge to smack John upside the head, however hard he'd tried to do the right thing when raising them.
Clearing his throat Dean looked up again.
"Anyway, since you're awake I guess it'd be alright if we went back to the motel? We could do with getting ourselves cleaned up properly." he said and Bobby nodded.
"Course it's alright. And I want you to get some sleep too, you look like you've been awake for a week. I'll be just fine. I don't want to see you boys back here till morning, you hear me?"
"Yes sir." said Dean with a grin and Sam nodded.
Back at the motel they took turns in the shower, half asleep, and Dean insisted afterwards on cleaning the gashes on Sam's shoulder while Sam insisted on re-bandaging the cuts on Dean's back. Aside from a few extra bruises and a headache each there was no major damage and once they were clean and patched up they'd both fallen asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows.
They were still asleep seven hours later when Bobby arrived by taxi at the motel, having been discharged. He'd let himself in, seen to his satisfaction they were both ok, and gone to his own room to shower and change. Feeling a lot better he'd then gone to the diner to fetch what was going to be a cross between breakfast and lunch, and let himself into their room again. He grinned to himself when he saw they were still asleep.
It was the smell of real coffee that roused Dean and he lifted his head off the pillow, turning round and seeing to his surprise that Sam was still in his own bed. Confused now as to where the coffee had come from he sat up properly, which was when he noticed Bobby in the kitchen area. He picked up his watch from the bedside cabinet and saw it was almost 11:30.
"And you said I could sleep." said Bobby, dryly, and Dean turned to look at him again
"Hey, we were just waiting on the room service." he said with a grin and Bobby narrowed his gaze.
"Keep that up and you'll be wearing this coffee, boy." he said, making Dean grin even more.
Getting up Dean shook Sam awake as he walked past his bed and Sam sat up, rubbing a hand over his face and accepting a mug of coffee from Bobby gratefully.
"Thanks." he said, taking a long sip.
Bobby busied himself setting the food out on the table and when Dean came out of the bathroom, Sam took his place. By the time they were both dressed and awake properly, everything was ready.
They both ate hungrily, their appetites back in full force now the danger had passed. Bobby watched them, amused, and finished his own food before sitting back with his second cup of coffee.
"Better?" he said with a raised eyebrow and Dean grinned.
"Much, thanks. So what did the doctor say this morning?"
"That I got a hard head. I'm supposed to take it easy for a few days but other than that I got a clean bill of health."
"That's great. We were really worried."
"Sam was worried. I knew you'd be ok." said Dean and Sam kicked him under the table.
Bobby of course wasn't taken in at all. He'd seen the look on Dean's face when he'd woken up at the hospital.
Moving his legs out of the way as Dean tried to kick Sam back, Bobby stood up.
"What about you two?" he said, his tone conveying that he wanted the truth, and Sam glanced at Dean before answering.
"We're ok. Bruised, but ok. We didn't even need any stitches this time." he said and Bobby looked satisfied.
"Glad to hear it. So what are you going to do next?" he said, taking the empty food containers over to the bin, and Dean shrugged.
"Not sure. Head back the way we were going, maybe. We'd just finished a job when we got your message so we got nothing pressing."
Bobby leant against the counter.
"You could come back with me, if you want. Take a few days to let those bruises heal up."
Sam brightened up at the idea and gave Dean a hopeful look. Dean rolled his eyes at the puppy dog expression but nodded.
"Yeah, alright. Sounds good." he said, as keen as Sam was to spend a little time with Bobby, if he was honest.
In the end they stayed at Bobby's four days, helping him out with a few jobs around the yard and enjoying the chance to relax. The cuts on Dean's back were healing nicely, barely even bothering him anymore, and it was the same with the ones on Sam's shoulder. Even the bruises were staring to fade, most of them changing already from dark blue to faded yellows and greens.
Bobby knew when they came down to breakfast on the fifth day that they'd be hitting the road again. He'd recognised the look in Dean's eye the night before and even Sam was getting a little restless. It was the way things had to be, but it didn't make it any easier to see them go. If Bobby was honest he'd loved to have been able to keep them there, safe, forever.
As it was he'd simply nodded when they announced their intention to head off and had made them some sandwiches and fresh coffee for the road. Now the Impala was loaded and they were both resting against it as they said their goodbyes.
"You should probably wait another couple of days before you take on another job." said Dean, indicating the bruise that still stood out on Bobby's head.
"Son, it's been a long time since I needed someone to wipe my ass for me." said Bobby, but there was no sting in the words and Dean just smirked.
"Hey, I wasn't offering. Just saying you should be careful, that's all. Especially since you're on your own."
"It's what I'm used to. I work better that way." he said and Dean glanced at Sam.
"Yeah, well I don't know how you do it. Not sure I could." he said softly and Bobby saw Sam move slightly nearer to his brother, probably without even thinking about it.
"Me neither." Sam said and Dean gave him a quick smile, looking like he appreciated the confirmation that Sam needed him around just as much.
Bobby's expression softened, feeling a surge of affection for the two young men in front of him.
"It's different for me. I never had a brother I was as close to as you are. Reckon if I had I might have felt the same. I do alright though, no need for you to go worrying about me."
"Who said anything about worrying?" said Dean and Sam shared a long suffering look with Bobby.
"Right, cos he never worries." he said and Dean shrugged.
"Life's too short. Anyway, we should get out of your hair. What's left of it that is." he said, ducking as Bobby swatted at his head.
"Do me a favour, Sam, and whack your brother for me when he's not looking would ya?" Bobby said and Sam grinned.
"No problem." he said and Dean narrowed his gaze at him.
"Don't even think about it, Sammy, unless you want to walk to the next job."
Sam kept his mouth shut but winked at Bobby and the elder hunter winked back. He watched as they both climbed into the Impala and stepped back as Dean turned her round, waving until the car was out of sight.
As they headed for the highway Dean fiddled with the radio, pushing in the tape when he couldn't get a signal. Sam got comfortable in his seat and looked in his mirror, watching as Bobby's house disappeared into the distance.
"You think he'll be ok?" he said and Dean glanced over at him.
"Course he will. You know Bobby. He was just unlucky on this one, that's all."
Sam nodded, feeling slightly better but still making a silent wish that Bobby's luck would hold.
This job had been an unwelcome reminder of the fragility of their profession and he knew he wouldn't be the only one feeling the need to check in a little more regularly with their old friend.
Dean saw Sam's thoughtful look and knew his brother was thinking about the lucky escape they'd had this time. He had to admit it had been frightening, thinking that Bobby might be dead, and he still felt a lingering concern that next time they might lose him for real.
It was thought he couldn't even bear to contemplate really.
As he drove he also thought about what Bobby had said though, and smiled to himself. Bobby was right, he and Sam were lucky to have each other.
However much they might occasionally tick each other off.
The truth was, Dean knew he'd never be able to do what Bobby did. The idea of being alone like that scared him more than he'd ever admit. But as he glanced at Sam beside him, he relaxed.
It really wasn't worth worrying about. Because in the end it didn't matter if both of them thought they wouldn't be able to do this alone.
Because, hopefully, they'd never have to find out.