Bobby had his head buried underneath the hood of his current project when he heard the throaty rumble that heralded visitors. Knowing even before he looked who it was, he straightened up wiping his oil covered hands on a rag and dropping it back on the side of the car. As he got his first glimpse he winced at the sight of the massive crack running from one side of the windshield to the other. He winced even more when the occupants jumped out, almost before the car had even stopped moving, yelling at each other loudly enough to be heard three states away as they both rested their hands on opposite sides of the hood.
"For the last time, Dean, it was not my fault!"
"Well you were driving!"
"Yeah, and I'd like to have seen you do any better! You know if it hadn't been for me swerving, that bullet would have been buried in your head instead of sticking in the glass so you could at least show a little appreciation!"
"Appreciation? Dude, if you'd swerved properly it would have missed the car completely! And we wouldn't have had to spend the last 12 hours driving while I stuck my head out the window so I could see – do you have any idea how lucky we were not to pass any cop cars?"
"Well we could have just stopped at a regular garage if you weren't so damned paranoid about people touching your 'baby'."
"I'm not paranoid, I'm careful. Besides, exactly how were you expecting us to explain the crack in the first place? 'Hey, any chance you could fix this for us? How'd it happen? Oh well, it's a funny story – some possessed guy we were trying to chase down and exorcise shot at us. Yes of course we'll sit here while you call the men in white coats.' Would that have worked do ya think?"
Both heads turned to face Bobby, twin looks of guilt flashing across their faces momentarily. He raised one eyebrow. "Ya know most folks generally start out with 'hello'." he said, dryly.
Dean rubbed the back of his neck and looked a little sheepish. "Hey, Bobby. Sorry, we were just discussing what happened."
Sam snorted and got an evil look for his trouble. Ignoring it he glanced over at Bobby instead, giving a quick apologetic smile. "Hi."
Bobby shook his head as he walked across to join them next to the Impala. "Discussing, eh? Remind me to leave the room when you boys really start fighting."
Dean gave a half hearted grin and stood back so Bobby could get a look at the damage, studiously ignoring his brother. "You think you got a spare one of these lying around by any chance?" he said and Bobby nodded. "Yeah, I got one round the back. It's a 65 but it should fit."
"Great, you're a life saver."
Bobby said nothing, studying both of them thoughtfully for a moment. "You said you been driving for 12 hours?" Sam nodded. "Well in that case you could probably use some shut eye about now. You know where everything is, why don't you go get settled and I'll call you in a few hours."
Dean hesitated but only briefly, knowing by the look in Bobby's eye that it wasn't a suggestion. "Ok. Thanks." he said, going round to the trunk to get their bags. He handed Sam his without a word and walked purposefully towards the front door, not even looking to see if Sam was following him.
Bobby turned to face the younger Winchester, hearing the soft sigh as Sam tracked Dean's progress. "Everything ok?" he asked casually and Sam glanced at him, his expression clouded. "Yeah, everything's fine. We're just tired, that's all."
Bobby didn't push it, even though he could have spotted the obvious lie a mile away, instead heading back over to the car he'd been working on before he was interrupted. Sam stood there a second longer then followed his brother into the house.
When he reached the bedroom the curtains were already pulled across and Dean was lying fully clothed on top of the bed nearest the door, his eyes closed. Sam considered saying something then just as quickly decided now was probably not the best time. Instead he dropped his duffle next to the other bed, took off his boots and jacket, and within minutes was asleep. Dean opened one eye and glanced across, not sure whether to feel relieved or disappointed at the reprieve. Taking comfort in the familiar surroundings he tried to loosen his tense muscles and turned over, getting comfortable. By the time Bobby stuck his head round the door ten minutes later, he was asleep as well.
Sam woke to the smell of cooking, blinking disorientedly for a second as he tried to work out where they were. As soon as he got a good look at the room he recognised it and automatically looked across at the other bed, seeing Dean was still asleep. He stood up, stretching, and wandered over to the window. Pushing the curtains aside he saw the sky was beginning to pale and the sun had already set. Looking at his watch he saw with surprise it was a little after 6:00, meaning they'd slept for almost eight hours. Sitting on the edge of the bed he pulled his boots on and watched his brother for a moment, considering waking him. Taking note of the dark circles under his eyes and the lingering tension, even when asleep, he decided to leave him for now. Standing up he went in search of Bobby instead.
The elder hunter was sat at the kitchen table, reading some ancient looking book, when Sam walked in. He glanced up and smiled, pleased to see that Sam was looking better than when they'd arrived. "Coffee should be hot still." he said and Sam made a beeline for the pot.
Pouring one for himself and refilling Bobby's mug, he sat down. "What are you looking at?" he said, curious, as he tried to read upside down. Bobby smirked and closed the book. "Nothing, just a little research. Dean still asleep?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah. I'll wake him in a bit."
"Food's not quite ready, so no rush. He looks tired." said Bobby, nonchalantly, noting the way Sam's hands gripped the mug a little tighter.
"It's been a busy month." he replied, noncommittally.
Bobby had been dealing with all the Winchesters long enough to know that patience was required when it came to getting anything important out of them, so he just nodded and sipped his own coffee.
As it was neither of them had to go wake Dean, since not ten minutes later he wandered into the kitchen by himself. He rubbed his eyes blearily, yawning as he fixed Sam with a glare. "Why didn't you wake me?"
Sam tensed but it was Bobby who answered. "Because you looked like you could use the sleep. Both of you." he said, pointedly. Dean blushed but didn't argue, instead walking across to the coffee pot and filling his own mug.
Leaning back against the counter he looked at Bobby. "Won't be light enough to change that windshield now." he said, staying one step away from an accusing tone since it was Bobby he was dealing with.
"Then we'll do it in the morning. Unless there's some place you gotta be tonight?"
Bobby didn't miss the look that passed between the boys but neither of them voiced an objection, Dean shrugging as if they did indeed have nothing better to be doing. Deciding it might be better to keep the conversation on neutral territory Bobby got up, heading for the oven that sat in the corner of the kitchen. As he opened the door and pulled out the casserole dish he glanced back over his shoulder at Sam. "Something wrong with that wrist of yours?"
Sam ducked his head, not having realised he'd been sitting there rubbing it for the last few minutes. "Not really. I broke it and I got the cast off a few weeks ago. Did it when I fell on a job."
Dean smirked. "Yeah, over his own feet. Got chased by some girl zombie and went and broke his own wrist before she could even touch him."
Sam glared but it was more out of embarrassment this time. "It wasn't my fault, the ground was uneven."
Dean's smirk widened. "Sure, keep telling yourself that, Sasquatch. Had nothing at all to do with those big ass feet of yours."
Bobby chuckled, glad to hear the usual banter without the sharp edge that had accompanied their earlier 'discussion'. Resisting the urge to stick his tongue out at Dean, Sam stood up and went to get plates and bowls without being asked.
Dean mouthed 'suck up' at him but he was already reaching for the cutlery drawer, setting the table for the three of them. He smiled slightly to himself as he did it, thinking how familiar the ritual was in this particular kitchen.
Dinner was a fairly silent affair, mainly because Dean and Sam were inhaling the stew and bread Bobby had set before them as if they hadn't eaten for weeks. Resigning himself to not getting any leftovers out of this particular meal Bobby refilled their bowls and sat back in his chair, already full for his own part. Dean finished first and sighed happily. "That was great, Bobby." he said and Sam nodded, swallowing his last mouthful. "Yeah, it was terrific. Better than the junk we've been living on this last week."
Even Dean didn't argue that one, leaving Bobby to wonder just what they'd been eating. Even as kids the eldest Winchester had been happy to eat pretty much anything. For him to complain, or at least not disagree, said a lot.
Stacking the dishes on the side and waving away the offer to wash them that came from Sam, he herded them into the other room. The fire was already lit, given the cold snap they'd been having, and both of them picked the couch nearest to it. Bobby, pleased to see they weren't fighting badly enough to need distance, settled himself in the old armchair.
"So what was that you were researching before?" said Sam, making himself comfortable. Dean gave Bobby a quizzical look and he shrugged. "Nothing much. Just a job maybe, over in the next town. Probably something and nothing. What about you two? Anything going on I should know about?"
The question was multi layered and Dean glanced at Sam before he answered. "No, not really."
Bobby said nothing but looked at them both long enough for them to shift uncomfortably.
"Just a couple of regular jobs." said Sam, making a poor attempt at lessening the tension.
The look didn't change. Dean tried desperately to think of a way to move onto the next subject, regretting now his decision to only let Bobby fix his baby.
As it turned out it was Bobby who spoke first in the end. "Well I guess that's good then. You can help me get that windshield off the other car tomorrow and we should be able to get 'em swapped over in an hour or so. Then you can get back on the road."
Dean blinked and shared a startled look with his brother. He hadn't expected to get off that easily. It was Sam who recovered first, realising the longer they sat there gaping the more suspicious it looked. "Uh, sounds good, Bobby. You got anything you want me to do, while we're here?" he offered, knowing he wouldn't be helping with the car repairs.
"Maybe. I'll let you know. I'm gonna go take a walk, check around a bit before it gets too dark. You boys know where everything is." Bobby said, getting to his feet.
"You want me to come with you?" offered Dean but Bobby waved him away. "Nah, I got it. It's mostly just an excuse to stretch my legs anyway – been stuck under a car most of the day."
They watched him go, both trying to ignore the increase in tension now it was just the two of them again. Sitting there in silence Dean watched the flames dancing in the fireplace, lost in thought. He jumped slightly when Sam cleared his throat.
"Look, I'm sorry the windshield got broken but I really was doing my best to avoid the bullets. The guy was kinda determined to run us off the road if you remember."
Dean looked at him sideways and shook his head. "Forget it. Once we get the new one in tomorrow it won't matter anyway. But just so you know, I'm doing all the defensive driving from now on."
There was no bite to the words so Sam just shrugged. "Fine by me. It's not exactly the easiest car in the world to manoeuvre at that speed anyway." he said, earning himself an elbow to the ribs.
"Hey! There's nothing wrong with the way my baby handles."
"If you say so."
Silence descended again and Sam felt a stab of irritation. It had been like this for a while now, a noticeable friction between them that seemed to have no real starting point. He'd cast his mind back to see if there was something that had been said, or some sign he'd somehow missed, but if there was he honestly couldn't work out what it was. Now though it was beginning to grate on his nerves and he was finding his own temper was getting shorter the longer it dragged on. At this rate they'd be lucky not to come blows. Coming to a decision he stood up, seeing Dean turn to face him out of the corner of his eye.
"Where are you going?"
Sam felt the irritation flare into anger and couldn't keep it out of his voice as he turned back, halfway to the door. "I wasn't aware I needed permission – you wanna give me a note?"
A look flashed across Dean's face that Sam couldn't quite decipher but there was no mistaking the bitterness in his brother's tone when he replied. "No. You seem to do pretty well leaving without notes, no point changing now."
Sam stared at him. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Dean looked away. "You work it out."
Sam opened his mouth then closed it again abruptly. The sound of the door slamming made Dean flinch and he closed his eyes for a second.
Outside, Sam stood on the porch with his hands on hips as he took deep breaths to try and calm down. If he didn't he was likely to storm back in and say something that couldn't be taken back.
"You break those hinges you're replacing 'em before you leave."
Sam jumped at the sound of Bobby's voice and whirled round, spotting him leaning up against one of the old cars a few feet from the house. Sighing, he made his way down the steps and stopped next to their old friend. "Sorry." he said, quietly.
Bobby sniffed. "Forget it. Always was a habit of yours. I remember your daddy telling me one time he reckoned you could slam a revolving door."
Sam chuckled and gave Bobby a rueful look. "He might have been right. Dean's yelled at me often enough for slamming the doors on the Impala."
At the mention of his brother Sam's face clouded over again, and Bobby decided that maybe he'd given them enough space already. "So what exactly is it that's got you two so riled up? And don't tell me it's about no windshield either."
Sam looked down, making patterns in the loose dirt with the toe of his boot. "I honestly don't know. I musta done something to piss him off but he won't tell me what. And him keep jumping down my throat is making me get pissed right back at him. I just wish I knew what was wrong."
"Have you asked him?"
Sam gave him an incredulous look. "You have met my brother, right? I ask him what's wrong he says 'nothing'. Short of beating it out of him, I'm out of ideas. Although that one is starting to look a little more tempting right about now."
Bobby nudged him with his shoulder. "You can put that thought back where it came from, kid. Won't go helping no one, you two come to blows. Why don't you let me try talking to him?"
Sam wondered if he looked as pathetically grateful as he felt. Judging by Bobby's slightly amused expression, probably. "I'd appreciate it. He just might listen to you."
Bobby shook his head. "I wouldn't go that far." Eyeing the house and steeling himself he glanced back at Sam again. "You coming in?"
Sam shook his head. "No. It's probably best if I stay out here, for now."
Nodding, Bobby patted him on the shoulder as he made his way back up the steps. Opening the door he stepped in and closed it behind him. Dean looked up, his expression falling slightly when he saw it was Bobby although he covered it well. "Hey." he said.
"Hey yourself." said Bobby, reclaiming his armchair. He studied Dean for a moment, taking it the slight wariness in his posture and the carefully blank expression.
Oh yeah. He was John Winchester's boy alright.
"So are you gonna tell me what bug crawled up your ass or should I just hand you two the boxing gloves and let you get it over with right now?"
Dean blinked. As opening statements went, it was effective. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Bobby leant forward, jabbing one finger towards him. "Boy, do not treat me like I came down in the last shower. You think I can't spot the tension between you and your brother from a mile away? Not that I need to mind you, since the yelling at each other every five minutes is a pretty big clue all by itself. Now he reckons he's got no idea what's going on and personally, I believe him. Which leaves you. So – wanna try that one again?"
Dean dropped his head and suddenly all the tension left his body, leaving him looking almost defeated. Bobby felt a flash of concern and his anger faded a little. Whatever this was obviously had Dean pretty upset and so he kept his tone softer when he spoke again. "Dean, I'm just trying to help. If you won't talk to Sam then at least talk to me, would you?"
The silence dragged on so long that Bobby had almost decided he wasn't going to have any luck when Dean finally raised his head. "I don't know what it is. Well, I do, but I don't know why it's making me so mad at him." he said, quietly.
"So you are mad, at Sam?"
"Yes. No. I don't know."
Bobby looked a little exasperated. "Son, you're not giving me much to work with here."
Dean looked a little guilty. "I'm sorry, it's just – I don't really know what it is myself. I guess the date is part of it. A lot of it, maybe."
Bobby frowned. Running the date in his head he tried to remember if it dredged up anything significant. It wasn't the date of the fire, although that was due in a few weeks time. He wondered if it was something else. John's birthday? Mary's? Before he could ask Dean was talking again.
"He took off you know. Last month."
"Sam. We had a – discussion – about something Dad told me, before he died. And Sam, he took it badly. Decided he needed some time alone and took off by himself. Cept that was a bad idea, cos this guy was after him and well.. Let's just say it coulda gone two ways. We got him though, the guy I mean, and Sam said he won't do it again but it's just.. It's just, it's like a pattern you know? One that keeps getting repeated over, and over, and over again. And I'm tired of it."
Bobby tried to work some logical sense out of the jumbled words and something in his head finally clicked. "You're tired of being the one left behind."
Dean gave him a humourless smile. "Pretty much."
"I wasn't doing it to be spiteful."
Dean's head whipped round at the sound of Sam's voice, seeing him standing in the shadow of the doorway that led from the back of the house. "How long have you been there?" he said, accusingly, and Sam shrugged. "Long enough."
Coming into the room fully, Sam sat down on the couch at the opposite end to Dean, his face troubled. "I told you why I had to get away. I thought I was doing the right thing. You said you weren't mad about it, not anymore." he said, softly.
Dean looked away from him. "I thought I wasn't."
Sam waited, feeling his stomach churning slightly when nothing more was forthcoming. "But now you are?"
Dean sighed but he did look back up at him. "Maybe. Or maybe like I said, it's just the wrong time of year."
Sam frowned as he thought about the date. Like Bobby he knew the anniversary of the fire, and their Mom and Jess's deaths, was coming up but it was too early really for that to be a real factor. At least it was when this had all started. Then it hit him and his eyes widened. "Dad. This is when Dad left, isn't it? Before you came and got me."
The flinch told him he was right and Sam was vaguely aware of Bobby muttering a curse that probably didn't speak well of their father. He ignored that though, all his attention focused on his brother. "Dean, I'm sorry. I didn't realise. And for what it's worth I really am sorry I left like I did. You know why I had to, and I'm not making excuses, but it honestly had nothing to do with you."
"And that makes it better? Dad said it had nothing to do with me too. That it was for the best. Well you know what? Keep hearing that doesn't make it any better when you're the one who keeps getting left behind, Sam."
Sam wondered if he looked as sorry as he felt and when Dean's expression softened slightly he had a feeling he did. "I know. Why didn't you tell me though? I knew something was wrong but every time I asked you said it was fine."
Dean sighed. "Because I didn't want to go through all this again. You've said you're sorry before, and I do believe you, I just wish.. I just wish you'd stop repeating your mistakes. And Dad's for that matter."
Sam didn't defend himself, knowing he couldn't really. Whatever his intentions he had walked out on Dean, and more than once. Even though he'd promised the last time to give his brother time to work things out.
It really was a habit he needed to get out of.
Dean was watching him and Sam looked him in the eye, knowing that he'd be able to see how serious he was about what he was about to say. "I can't undo the past, Dean, and I can't make up for Dad's mistakes. But I can make up for my own. I give you my word, right now in front of Bobby as a witness, I won't take off again. Not without talking to you first. Note or no note. I promise."
Dean held his gaze for a moment, seeing the truth in Sam's eyes, and he nodded once, sharply. "Ok." he said.
Sam quirked an eyebrow at the one word answer but he knew better than to call Dean on it. His brother never was one for going overboard with words and perhaps he didn't need to. In that single sentence he was telling Sam that he believed him, that he trusted him to keep his word, and maybe that was enough. The sound of someone clearing their throat reminded them of their 'witness' and they both looked across at Bobby.
"You can send me your cheque in the mail. Now if you're done getting your heads outta your asses, I'm gonna turn in. We'll start on that windshield first thing."
Dean grinned at him, the first genuine smile Bobby had seen from him since they arrived. "You know with that way with words you really should consider a career as a guidance counsellor. I reckon you could go a long way."
Bobby reached out and lightly cuffed him on the back of the head as he walked by. "I got enough trouble keeping you boys on the straight and narrow, thank you very much. Don't go wrecking the place. And don't stay up too late."
"Yes sir." said Sam, getting a glare since Bobby was by then too far away to reach him.
They'd stayed up a little longer, not mentioning the conversation they'd just had of course, but despite the long sleep earlier they still hadn't caught up on the last few days so they turned in not that long after Bobby. When Sam woke the next morning Dean was already up and outside, holding the broken windshield securely while Bobby worked it free. Making coffee in the kitchen after his shower, Sam idly picked up the book Bobby had been looking at the night before and, finding his notes, worked out what it was he might be hunting. Deciding to help a little he wrote out the ritual that would be necessary, if it was the case, and added a few extra notes. Knowing that the car wouldn't take much longer he then made breakfast and with near perfect timing it was ready just as they both came inside.
Swallowing the last of his coffee, Bobby picked up their plates and turned round to regard them with a serious expression that immediately got their attention. "Listen, I know you got everything said that you needed to last night and I for one am glad I didn't have to knock your heads together for you to do it. But you gotta remember something – if you let this stuff build up like that then it's gonna cause real trouble between you. Doing the job we do, you can't afford to be distracted. Or to be pissed at the guy who's watching your back. So just do me a favour and next time try actually talking to each other before it gets this far, would ya?"
Looking contrite they both nodded, Dean knowing he was more to blame on that front than Sam was. "We will. And sorry about dumping all this on you. We appreciate you helping us out, and not just with the car."
Bobby grinned. "You don't have to thank me, Dean, you know that."
Sam smiled at him. "We know, but thanks anyway."
Nodding Bobby turned to rinse his mug out, effectively ending the conversation. A few minutes later they were outside, Sam stowing their bags back in the trunk while Dean wiped an invisible mark off the new windshield.
"You sure you won't take anything for this?" he asked and Bobby shook his head. "I am sure I'm gonna smack you into next week if you ask me that one more time."
Dean smirked. "I'll take that as a 'no' then."
Muttering under his breath Bobby shook hands with both of them and watched as they got in, stepping back so Dean could back the car out. He waved till they were out of sight and turned to go back inside, glancing at the broken windshield that still rested against one of the other cars.
He smiled to himself. Things might get a little broken now and again but it was never anything that couldn't be fixed. You just needed the right tools, a little patience, and the will to do so.
And that was something the Winchester's would always have, in spades.