A/N: Spoilers for AHBL and NRFTW. Absolutely spoiler free for fourth season.
Summary: Bobby loves both the Winchester boys. He could never pick between them.
"Of Wrath and Desperation"
The truth is, Bobby's closer to Dean.
He loves them both, of course. Could never pick between 'em, never say which one was his favorite or which one meant more to him. They're his kin, his kids, the nephews he never got to have. Sam and Dean, they're his family, and he could never pick between them.
But Bobby's closer to Dean, can read him in a way that he can't read Sam.
Wasn't always that way, of course. Dean was the most skittish kid he'd ever met. You had to breathe careful around that boy—one wrong word, and he'd be off like a shot, barricading himself in something small, something defendable, with a shotgun too big for him and little Sammy always behind. Sam was much easier to deal with as a child—open, inquisitive, constantly touching stuff. Sam liked to get into anything and everything. Dean wouldn't open his mouth unless his daddy stopped and ordered him to.
But they both changed as they got older, some for the better, some for the worse. Dean opened up more—well, he seemed to open up more, but all that smart talk and shit-starting, it was just a more complicated version of the mask he'd adorned as a child. And Bobby liked the kid, and he was pretty sure the kid liked him, if for just backing off and not pushing the way John did, but they weren't so close because Dean wouldn't allow it—and maybe Bobby was a part of that too. Bobby hadn't always been the man he was now. He'd wanted children once. He'd had a wife once.
The boys were his surrogate family, and that terrified him almost as much as he was grateful.
Sam changed after he found out what his daddy was really up to. He was still as bright as ever, curious and funny with an innocence that Bobby'd never really seen in his brother, but he was angry too. You could see it, like it was something just under his skin, ready to burst out. He hated the unfairness of it all. He hated the fear, he hated the fact that monsters didn't fit into the rational world that he'd made for himself. Even as a child, Sam had been big on logic and order. He liked everything in neat boxes, classified, tucked away and ready. Monsters didn't work for that order. Monsters screwed everything up. You could see that Sam was angry about it. You could see that he blamed everyone.
Dean was never like that. Bobby never saw him as angry.
Funny thing, that. Once, when the Winchesters were over, Lord, maybe fifteen, sixteen years ago now, he and John had been talking while getting ready for a hunt. God knows where the boys were, sleeping or dicking around or maybe even at school, but he and John were talking, Bobby remembers that. And John was complaining about Dean, attracting attention by beating up anybody who even looked at Sam wrong, and saying that some counselor thought Dean had anger management issues, needed therapy, the like. And Bobby, he didn't say much, but he remembers what he thought, because his thoughts on Dean Winchester haven't changed much over the years.
He thought: Dean's not the son I'd be worried about going postal, John. Because Dean had an irritable streak in him a damn mile wide, bigger than his daddy's, maybe, certainly bigger than his brother's, and that boy, well, he was a scary sumbitch when he got angry enough, but the thing was, he only really got angry when something threatened his father or little brother. Dean got annoyed at stupid shit, sure, stuff that didn't fit into the life he'd made (and here, he wasn't that different from Sam, making boxes of things he could deal with, except while Sam understood normal and school and safety, Dean understood duty and family and mullet rock) but he didn't have that rage in him that he saw brewing in Sam. Even at ten years old, there was something in Sam that worried Bobby a little—something that was going to explode if he was stuck in this life. Bobby knew that Sam would never be happy as a hunter.
That's why, when he learned that Sam had run away to college eight years later (and calling it running away wasn't really fair; it was more of a declaration, a statement, a calling that he had to answer, that, and also a fuck you to the old man) Bobby was pretty pleased about it, figured it was only for the best. Sooner or later, Sam's unhappiness and hatred of his situation was only going to make him sloppy, get him hurt or get him dead . . . and the boy deserved more than that. He wanted an education, and he was bright enough to go get one—Bobby was glad Sam left. He just didn't like how he left.
And he didn't much care for what happened to Dean afterwards.
Because the boy closed down again, not mute like when he was a kid, but different, harder, a smile on his face as sharp as razor blades. And when John Winchester decided that no sons were better than one, Dean was left to hunt by himself—and it wasn't a pretty picture. Not that you couldn't be a solitary hunter, hell, most hunters were, and Dean was a damn fine hunter to boot, but, when it came down to it, he wasn't a solitary man.
Sam, Sam was different. Sam was the youngest son in a fucked up family—Sam was loved, protected, smothered, sheltered, and caged all at the same time. It was no surprise that he needed some independence, that he decided to make a break for it on his own. Wasn't even a surprise that he was good at it—Sam was good at most things he put his hand to. But Dean, Dean was different. Dean was the oldest son, the one who had to be on watch, look out for his daddy when he was hurt or drunk or beat down, look out for Sammy when he was sick or tired or needed some food. Sam wanted to define himself as his own person, outside his family, but Dean couldn't do that, didn't know how and didn't want to do that. Without Sam or his dad, Dean was lost.
He started acting reckless.
He'd go into hunts half-cocked, not enough information or no information, acting like he was Bruce Lee or Batman or whoever it was he liked, impenetrable to bullets, impervious to harm, a shotgun and a smirk all the shield that he needed. Bobby knew about it, because Dean would drop by on occasion, just to chat and get sewn up, since he only came by these days when he was bleeding. Bobby tried to get the kid to stay, tried to let him join in on the hunts, but Dean wouldn't let him, even though you could see he wanted to. Anybody could see it—the pain in that too-sharp smile, the vulnerability etched into his skin—Dean needed somebody to be there for him and was too much his father's son to accept someone else's help. He needed his father there for him. He needed his brother there for him.
But they weren't, so he swung by Bobby's on occasion, allowing himself a taste of family without the opportunity for abandonment or disappointment
Bobby was getting damn near ready to handcuff the boy to the wall.
Things came to a head probably a couple of years after Sam left. Bobby was home, doing some research that John, the bastard, had asked him to look into, when he heard the unmistakable sound of the Winchester's car pulling up. Bobby sighed and got up—he loved Dean like nothin, but he wasn't in the mood to deal with the boy's self-destructive behavior, not when he couldn't fix it. He opened up the door to find Dean stumbling forward, bleeding from the head and the gut, falling to his knees.
Bobby dropped the shotgun in his hands and ran to the boy, tilting his head up so he could assess. "Hey, Bobby," Dean slurred, and it took Bobby a few frantic minutes of examining to realize that the kid wasn't really hurt that bad. The cut on his head was barely a scratch, nothing likely to cause a concussion, and the gash on his stomach was ugly but treatable . . . the slur and the unsteadiness were mostly from the whiskey on his breath.
"Jesus, Dean," Bobby said as he helped the kid to his feet. "Scared the shit out of me, boy." And Dean seemed to think that was pretty funny, laughed as he slowly made his way into the house. "Sorry," Dean said, not sounding particularly sorry at all. "It's sumthin I'm pretty good at."
Bobby had him sit on the couch and got the first aid kit out so that he could clean up the cut on Dean's stomach. "Fight in the bar?" Bobby drawled, not without a certain amount of disapproval. Dean had always had a healthy thirst, maybe almost as much as his daddy did, but he'd always been careful about it before, keeping himself at the having fun level instead of getting-shitfaced-and-getting-himself-into-a-world-of-trouble level. But then, that was before, when Dean seemed to feel that he had some sense of purpose, that he had something left to live for. Now, half the time Dean called, he was at least half-sloshed, and Bobby had to say he was getting pretty damn sick of it.
Dean laughed again. "Nah," he said. "Not that. Just some poltergeist, man. Dumb thing. Had to save Carol Anne." He smirked, and then raised his eyebrows when Bobby didn't laugh. "You know, Carol Anne? Poltergeist? Man, don't tell me you've never seen that movie."
Bobby didn't answer. He felt like he'd gone completely still, like something cold had flown into him an immobilized him for half a minute. He set the needle back down on the table. "Tell me something, Dean," he said, his voice sounding even, steady. Calm. "When you did you start chugging that whiskey—before or after you met up with that poltergeist?"
Dean was either too drunk to notice that Bobby's calmness was not a good sign, or he just didn't give a damn. Either option was pretty valid. "Aw, you know," he said, and Bobby did know, of course. He nodded even as Dean rolled his eyes and had to steady himself on the bed afterwards. "Not a big deal, Bobby. Was just lookin to have a little fun, s'all. You gonna stitch me up or what? Got, like, things I could be doing."
"Lay back," Bobby said quietly, and Dean did so without protest, still oblivious to the charged atmosphere in the room. He blinked heavily a few times once he was lying down, and then he was out in minutes after slurring something about going back out and finding someone to lie down with. Bobby set the needle back down again, and then went into the other room to get his own shot of whiskey. He poured it back, slammed the glass down, and let himself think for a few minutes.
Then, he went back into the room and got to work.
When Dean woke up the next morning, he found that he was patched up, had a bitch of a hangover, and was handcuffed to the bed. Bobby was sitting on a chair in front of him. "You and me," he said, "are gonna have a talk."
"Geez, Bobby. I know, I'm good lookin and all, but really, I didn't figure you for a handcuffs kind of guy."
Bobby told him to shut up. He then told him that this was basically an intervention, or whatever those friends of addicts called it, when they cornered their loved one who was fucking up his life and sat him down to tell it straight. Dean rolled his eyes at this, said he didn't have a problem, and Bobby said that, yeah, he kind of did. Not with the drinking—Bobby thought that Dean drank a little more than he oughta, but that kind of came with the territory, and anyway, not what he was worried about. But this recklessness that Bobby'd been dealing with, this very slow form of suicide that Dean had been sporting for the last two years, it was done. Bobby was finishing it. Dean could either live here for awhile, go on hunts with him, and act like somebody who still wanted to live, or he could stay here on this bed, and Bobby would get him food to eat and a bottle to pee in for the rest of his damn life. Dean balked, of course, thought Bobby was bluffing, but when he was still handcuffed by the end of the day, he called uncle. And then they spent some time talking.
And because Bobby understood Dean, a little more than he'd ever understood his brother, Bobby knew not to press Dean too much, didn't try to wring some kind of revelation out of him like Sam surely would have. Hell, maybe Sam would've been able too—they were brothers, after all, and Sam had a way of connecting to Dean that nobody else did. But Bobby wasn't blood—he was family, but he wasn't blood—and he knew not to push too much, to let Dean talk when he was ready, if he was ready. All he had to do was be there and keep the damn kid out of trouble. Keep his loneliness and desperation in check.
Because that was the difference between Dean and Sam, the big one, anyway, the one that actually mattered. Yeah, Sam was big into college and book smarts, and Bobby was lucky if he could get Dean to crack open a book, and Dean liked his loud 80's rock, while Sam . . . well, actually, Bobby didn't have the slightest idea what kind of music Sam liked . . . but while Sam got angry, Dean only really got desperate. He didn't know how to be angry at his brother for leaving, anymore than at his daddy for taking off or his momma for dying. He didn't get angry, he just . . . got lost . . . and maybe Bobby understood that because he was the same way. Accepting things as they come and just trying to make do with what he had . . . a grim sort of practicality, something that Bobby was known for.
So yeah, Bobby got Dean, maybe better than he ever got Sam, but he loved both those boys like hell, and nothing would ever change that.
So having to see them both dead—Sam in Cold Oak and Dean a year later—Bobby didn't know how to be angry. He just knew that he was lost.
But Sam . . . Sam knew how to be angry, and his wrath was a thing to behold.
And Bobby could only hope that, on the other side of it, was a way to save them all.