Title: Heroes for Ghosts
Summary:It's a time of change. While Sam had always looked up to Dean as a brother, stand-in father & hunter, Dean has to step up when the school is in financial trouble and Sam needs a different kind of hero: a good student? Dean is just a little out of his element. Set post-After School Special.
First off, thanks for all who read, alerted, favorited and especially all who reviewed the previous chapters of Heroes for Ghosts. The responses were really encouraging and thought-provoking, and thank you for taking the time to share your insights and letting me know how I was doing in terms of characterizations and plot and other writing elements. This fic is officially completed, and I think it's a boat-load of words for a little over a week, haha, but that's all thanks to the fuel your reviews have provided. I hope the quality didn't suffer, and I hope that overall you found Heroes for Ghosts worthy of your time.
As always, c&c's are welcome, and below you will find the conclusion to the story, the afterword which talks about some elements of the fic that might interest you, and lastly, a preview of the new fic that I'm working on called With Blood :) Anyway, without further ado:
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Heroes for Ghosts
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The days flew by.
The clubs were on their last legs, and Sam focused his efforts on those because hopeless as things seemed, he felt he had a better chance of fixing them as opposed to mending his troubled older brother.
Dean had become a lot quieter, a lot more serious about things. He took to the hunt like a starving man hanging on to the last piece of bread he had. He immersed himself, wanting to be better and better, taking larger risks, pushing himself to the very edge.
Dean sank into the life completely and devotedly. He cruised by school with slim to no effort, making enough to pass and then putting all the rest of his time on hunting. He couldn't wait to leave high school and all its drama and all its implications to the rest of his life behind. He was done with this page, wanted to flip over and get to the next one.
Sam and John noted it, but didn't know what to do about it. When Dean borrowed the car saying he had a hot date, Sam knew that John was so relieved to have some semblance of Dean back that he just gave in. He would be gone in the early evening and return past midnight. When he asked again a day later, John allowed the same thing. He did it twice more, before coming home one night with a bleeding cut over his eye.
"Dean, what the hell?" Sam asked, when he saw his brother walk into their house in that sorry state.
"Go back to sleep, Sammy," he said before drifting to the bathroom and closing the door on Sam's face.
Sam knew what the closed door meant, just as he knew that his imploring or his demands would only serve to keep it shut. The only man who could open that was their father. He and Dean had always been close but sometimes, closeness was not the answer. Dean needed a forced re-wiring which Sam did not have the mandate to do especially since his problem wasn't with Sam anyway.
He felt someone stand behind him, and he glanced at his thoughtful-looking father. The disappointment of the hunt for their mother's killer, coupled by Dean's melancholy and Sam's quiet antagonism were resting heavily in his eyes. Though Sam understood full-well that his father made a lot of mistakes, that single look reminded him that this life was not a walk in the park for anybody, and his heart twinged in sympathy for the first time since their father all but forcibly yanked them from school the day of the contest.
"Kids are giving him a hard time in school," Sam said quietly. He was human enough to wish to impart some guilt to his father, but mostly he said it because he needed someone to help Dean where he could not, "He says he doesn't care, but he's just a teenager, dad. How couldn't he?"
John nodded in understanding. He stared at Sam for a long moment. "Is he pissed at me?"
"He never is," Sam replied, adding honestly, "God knows why."
"Fair enough," John murmured, "And you?"
"What about me?"
"Are we over this?"
Sam wondered at what he meant. Over like, it's never gonna happen again? Sam doubted it. Over like, he's learned his lesson and will just accept things as they come? His father must be dreaming. The only way this issue was over is that this was a closed issue for Sam: he now knew what he wanted, and what it could cost to go after them. He'd be sticking to fighting tooth and nail for that from now on.
"I don't know," Sam admitted.
John nodded at him shortly, though neither of them knew what the other really meant. Sam suspected that if they did, it would have been a longer conversation or worse, an argument. Nevertheless, John had other concerns for the moment. He rapped at the bathroom door smartly, and then just let himself in. Sam stayed outside and kept himself out of sight, but lingered nearby to hear whatever would transpire between Dean and their father.
Dean was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, the suture kit sitting on top of the sink. He stared at his reflection, before letting his gaze settle on John.
Wordlessly, John laid his hands on Dean's shoulders, forcing him to sit on top of the closed lid of the toilet bowl. Dean watched him carefully as his father worked to stitch him back together.
"I really am sorry," John said.
"About what?" Dean murmured.
Dean didn't bother to deny it, "I won't let you apologize for wanting to find whoever hurt mom, dad. There's no apologizing for that. It's only right."
John just grimaced, "I'm sorry for the situation."
Dean just frowned, as his father kept working, "So Sam tells me kids in school have been giving you a hard time. Is this from one of 'em?"
"No," Dean replied darkly, "I pissed off someone else this time. I just walked into the wrong bar, I guess. Damn Sam for opening his mouth though. You two haven't been talking much for days and the fricking snitch talks about this. Unbelievable."
The short list of bad words directly cursing Sam assured the youngest Winchester that his brother knew he was listening in.
"He's worried about you," John said, "So am I."
"It'll all be over soon," Dean said, "When I graduate, I won't be seeing any of these people ever again, so it doesn't matter."
"It does," John argued.
"Now you say so?" Dean asked, laughing humorlessly.
"Not as much as the hunt," John admitted, "And I would have done the exact same thing I did, asking you to come with me instead of letting you go. But that doesn't mean I don't care that what happens out there hurts you."
"I'm fine," Dean insisted, "I can look after myself. And tell Sam the same thing."
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Dean was admittedly miserable about the school situation. Who wouldn't? He's supposed to be over all of this petty drama, but he was only seventeen for crying out loud, and the pathetic, juvenile hate-you post-it's people kept slipping into his locker was weirdly hurtful (the geeks didn't go for more outright vandalism of property like writing on it; they were apparently afraid of getting caught). Mrs. Winkler had also stopped talking to him after class and even avoided looking at him. Riot Act had recently written a song about their disappointment, which they practiced during lunchtime. It was so transparently about him that they could have entitled it Dean Winchester is an Asshole instead of the vaguer Curtain Call.
He found solace in the hunt; reading up whatever he could find during the breaks. But when his father started noting the change in him and started easing up on the job, he started feeling antsy, needed to do something else.
He couldn't sleep at night, and figured he might as well use the insomnia and the unhappiness by hustling at pool. The goal was to make ten thousand dollars that he could give to the fundraiser, the ten thousand they might have had if he had just stuck by Riot Act as he promised he would.
He made good money in very good time: he'd win over a thousand dollars each time he went out. Sometimes, he indulged in the daydream of personally handing the money to the fundraising committee, firmly establishing Dean Winchester as a hero. But he knew that it was just a ridiculous, petty fantasy; doing it would just attract more trouble because a kid wasn't supposed to be hustling like that. He can just do this for his own peace of mind, pay off what he owed everybody.
Every night he won money, he'd drive by the corner of Mrs. Winkler's house, get off and drop the dough in her mailbox with a note of where it was supposed to go. He did it four times, eventually earning a total of a little over seven thousand dollars for the fundraiser. He really wouldn't have stopped at seven since he owed ten, except a sore loser got off a lucky, drunken shot and hit Dean on the head. He wasn't on top form the last time he dropped off the money, wasn't as cautious as usual. The teacher, on the other hand, was waiting for him, eager to find out who their mystery donor was.
He stopped his car and dropped off the money, just as he heard the teacher call his name as she ran from her front door. He turned away and jogged back to his car, driving away.
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Mrs. Winkler asked him to stay back from class the next day. Setting his jaws in irritation, he nevertheless did as she asked. She waited for the room to empty out, before turning to him worriedly.
"You all right?" she asked, nodding at the bruised and cut eye.
"I'm always all right," Dean shrugged.
"Some of the money had blood in it," she said boldly, gaging his reaction.
"Well I'm sorry about that," he said, not missing a beat, "I was under the impression that beggars couldn't be choosers, but I guess I was wrong."
"Dean," she said gently, "Where did the money come from?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"I installed a nanny cam outside my door after the first two drops," she told him.
"You're bluffing," he said, quite certain because he was good at reading tells.
She didn't bother to deny it. "Where did the money come from?"
"Let's put it this way," he said, "Heard of any robberies anywhere? Any mugging? Drug busts? Police reports? That money's clean, won fair and square."
"We can't take it," she told him, "Not like this."
"It's not mine," Dean said easily, "It's what I owe."
"You don't owe anybody anything," she insisted, "I admit I was... disappointed with the outcome of things, but I didn't want you making up for what happened like this. And besides, I have a feeling it wasn't your fault, missing the contest when you did."
"It's not," Dean shrugged, "But I'm okay with that. It doesn't have to be your fault for you to be the one to have to pay for stuff. That's how it works in life. Sometimes you just gotta pay."
"No," she insisted, "That's not what life is about, Dean. It doesn't work that way. You pay for your sins, and you get rewarded for your contributions."
He just snickered at that. "And houses are made of candy and chocolate and we can just take a bite anytime we're hungry."
She sighed, looking at him with sadness and that thing he hated the most – pity. He felt crippling annoyance, anger, frustration... they all made his heart thunder in his ears and made him want to cry and pull all his hair out.
"Don't look at me like that," he told her darkly, "Don't you dare. I just wanna be left alone. Don't bring this up with anyone, I'll just deny it all and anyway no one would believe you. Just use the money for what it's supposed to be used and leave me alone."
"Dean, I can't."
"You don't have a choice," he snapped, before gaining more control, "I just wanna finish school and leave all this behind me. Close the damn book, everything finished, just one more face that went by."
"I won't forget you," she said, and her eyes were shining too, with many things. There was the pity she couldn't get rid of, the desire to reach out to him and fix him that all women (those who want to get him laid and those who want to mother him) shared, the curiosity to uncover his story, the helplessness of not being able to, admiration, and even just simple endearment.
He stared at her for a long moment, savoring that look.
I am a hero, he realized by the look in her eyes. He kept the memory somewhere in his heart, buried deep. He'd draw that out, when the days go dark.
"I uh..." he hesitated, "I wanna just be left alone. But... but I'm glad too, that you know all about where the money's from. I admit I wanted someone to, and I'm happy it's you. You really tried with me, Mrs. Winkler. I appreciate that. I didn't want you to think you wasted your time."
"You're a good kid, Dean," she told him quietly, "You're a real good kid."
"I know," he smirked at her, and turned to the door when his younger brother peered in, "Heya Sam."
"Hi Mrs. Winkler," Sam said shyly before looking at Dean, "You ready to go?"
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The brothers walked home as they always did, side by side.
"So I see Mrs. Winkler is talking to you again," Sam said.
"Yeah," Dean replied distractedly.
"I heard what you were talking about," Sam admitted, "I should have guessed you were up to something."
Dean just shrugged, "I just got a little over seven grand. It's not ten, but--"
"But nothing," Sam cut him off, "That's more than enough, Dean. More than enough. I know you weren't really into all this fundraising crap, so that was really good of you."
"I owed people," Dean said simply, "I'm paid up more or less, so I'm good now."
"You never owed anybody anything," Sam pointed out, "Except maybe yourself. I wanted you to do it, Dean. You should have seen it, how good you were. I kept saying so but you never believed it, coming from me. Up on a stage in front of people who weren't me, with people applauding and stuff, you'd have known for sure."
"Well it's all done with now," Dean shrugged, "No big deal."
It was low-hanging fruit, how easy it was to dispute that. But Sam let Dean get away with that one.
"Don't you ever..." Sam hesitated, "Don't you ever wish that people knew what we were doing? Or that we were doing something that people admired?"
"No," Dean lied, "I don't care about what these bastards think, I'm almost gone from here anyway. I really can't wait to graduate, Sammy, I can't wait to just go on with my life. And I know you wanna stay but I'm telling you, I can't wait to get outta this town."
"You used to like it here."
Dean just shrugged.
"I wouldn't mind anymore," Sam said thoughtfully, "If we left, I mean."
"Yeah?" Dean asked, "Why's that?"
"Well you won't be going to school with me anymore," Sam said, "Dad's getting antsy, and I kind of feel like... like this place is too small, you know? That... that there's more out there for me and if I don't bust out, I'm just gonna explode."
"You are a weird one," Dean commented, without venom, "What do you mean too small?"
"I wanna study somewhere we don't have to bust our asses selling chocolate bars just to keep a classroom and a teacher," Sam said, "I wanna go somewhere where the jocks aren't just the ones who are important, where sports isn't the only way to get ahead. A larger town, a city where they have AP classes, college councilors and SAT reviews, things like that."
"You're thinking of going to college?" Dean asked, skeptically.
"Haven't you ever thought of college?" Sam asked.
"Sometimes," Dean admitted, "But you can't hunt while you're in college."
A weighty silence followed, and realization hit Dean like a pound of bricks.
"You can't not hunt, Sammy," Dean said, at a loss as to even imagining how that was possible, "I mean... how... with dad... and the... you just can't not hunt!"
"Maybe I can," Sam retorted, "Maybe I can't. But I want to be in a place where I have a shot. I deserve a shot. You deserve a shot."
"It's too late for me," Dean argued, "This is my life."
"You're miserable!" Sam pointed out.
"I'm miserable 'cos of school," Dean contested, "Not hunting. Once that one's out I'll be perfect."
"School's miserable because of hunting," Sam countered, "You were fine, you were great! You had talent, students liked you, teachers liked you – I don't know why-, you were even doing well in your subjects. It's hunting that's making everything all wrong."
"It's hunting that we have to do," Dean said, "We have to do it or people die. No one said life was supposed to be easy."
"I feel like I'm dying," Sam said, "Why do we have to give up our lives? We need saving, Dean, ever thought about that? We need saving!"
"Sam," Dean hesitated, at a loss for words, "I can't win this argument with you. Hunting feels right to me. It's not easy but it's mine to do, mine to bear. I know you feel different, god, I understand that now more than ever. And you do deserve a shot at what you want. But none of that normal shit is real and sooner or later that'll hit you. You have to be more careful about what you expect from life, or else you're just going to be really disappointed."
"That's not new to me," Sam said, "Anyway this argument is moot. We're leaving when you graduate anyway, and for a little bit, we'll all have what we want: you get to leave school, dad can keep on going with the wanderlusting and as for me... things are changing, and I might as well get a clean slate."
"I guess," Dean conceded, more than a little nervously. They'd all have what they want – but only for a little bit...
... because things are changing.
August 2, 2009
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I. The Story
II. How Heroes for Ghosts Fits In With the Series
III. The Myth of a Light Fic
IV. The Chracaters
V. Massive Thanks and Replies
VI. New Project Preview: With Blood
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I. The Story
The title of course is a particularly catchy line from the Pink Floyd song Wish You Were Here. I'm not at all certain about what the song is supposed to mean, but from how I interpreted it, it's describing a choice and the perspective it was based on. Heroes for Ghosts is my version of how the two Winchester brothers started to look at the world differently, with each one questioning the other's valuation of life.
To Sam, life is hard enough without the hunt. To Dean, life is just a hindrance to the hunt. I imagined the lyrics of the song as things they could ask each other:
So you think you can tell heaven from hell?
Blue skies from pain?
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk-on part in a war for a lead role in a cage?
Who sees the world accurately? Do they understand the things they are giving up for the things they are pursuing? Frankly speaking, I find Sam's pursuit of a normal life in series-verse as 'exchanging a walk-on part in a war for a lead role in a cage,' but then again... Dean and John's detachment from the world was also unhealthy.
II. How HfG Fits in With the Series
Heroes for Ghosts is aimed at highlighting the point where the boys' paths started to diverge, highlighting the fundamental difference of how they looked at life. In season 3, Sam told Dean that when he was a kid, he always wanted to be like him. When did that change? When did he decide he wanted a different path, and realized that he had to burn through it himself?
The catalyst was the events of After School Special, which this fic tags to. When I first saw that episode, I was just simply thrilled that the creators of the show took us there; it was like a spoil, being taken to the world of the teen!chesters. But when I saw it again, I understood that it wasn't just in deference to fandom demand, there were actual turning points in that episode. It was Sam turning from sullen and resigned to the realization that escape is possible. It was Dean realizing his life wasn't all that ideal, but that he was stuck and couldn't let anyone else in.
These realizations were made in Heroes for Ghosts in two sister scenes on Chapters 1 and 3. In both scenes, the brothers were having a late night conversation about why Sam was so snipey with their father. One chapter was from Sam's perspective and the other is from Dean's, but they both realize how different they are both becoming.
Another sister-scene parallelism would be John talking to each of the boys in the waiting room of the hospital in Chapters 2 and 4. In both scenes, he tries to convince them with the same argument relating to the importance of the hunt; Dean buys it, Sam doesn't. With everything held constant, the parallelism highlights the difference between the boys.
III. The Myth of a Light Fic
The fic started out to be a happy one, if you can believe it. I deluded myself that I could write a short, junk-foody fic (light and self-indulgent, haha)... and then it just started to morph into something else. Initially, Heroes for Ghosts was just about Dean joining a band to raise funds for Sam's Latin club. I'm sure you can compare the lightness of the summary to the heaviness of the eventual content. It was supposed to be a guilty pleasure, especially because a lot of Jensen Ackles' fans love hearing him sing. I re-watched After School Special for a scene reference, however, and then Heroes for Ghosts gradually turned more wistful, and then turned honestly quite painful to write. I especially despised writing Chapter 5, but as will be explained below, when the idea hit I found it unfaithful to throw it away.
IV. The Characters
As always, below is an explanation of the character nuances, and some questionable character traits defended:
I am a Dean-girl through and through, but I always say that Sam is a very compelling character to write, and I think it's because his journey is less straightforward than Dean's. He's never walked on the straight and narrow: when they were younger he was fighting against his father to be normal. When he tried normal he was wrenched back to the hunt. And then he's always dancing between good and evil. It's a character that's always on the fence; he always wants to be somewhere else, doing something else. It's so interesting for me to write about someone who has so much fire in the belly, so much hunger and drive. Sam is an interesting character because he is a mover, a shaper of events.
A huge part of his journey in canon is the road to Stanford. In After School Special, we see a sullen teenager who's tired of their lifestyle and just trudges forward. Suddenly he has an idea that escape is possible, and the seed is planted. Heroes for Ghosts is that little seed growing a little bit more: he's starting to question and say no to their father, is becoming angry instead of just unhappy. This is my version of the very first time Sam realized he could be combative and a more active contributor to what happens in his life. These realizations I think, are best exemplified in his elation over saying 'No' to his dad in Chapter 4, and in Chapter 1 when he realizes that he's more afraid of being stuck in his life forever than angering his father.
Another symbolism of the Sam in Heroes for Ghosts as the growing seed version that comes between the Sam of After School Special and the Stanford Sam of the Pilot would be the migraines that he was getting at puberty. That scene was relevant in that it was a part of Sam's adolescent process, and also constructively because it has a sister/parallel scene when Dean gets sick and John employs the same reasoning but the brothers react differently to him. This is a further illustration of the distance beginning to grow between them.
This explanation has been long but the short-version is this: Heroes for Ghosts is the bridge between the Sam of After School Special and the Sam of the Pilot.
The main thesis for the characterization of Dean in this story is to illustrate how his hunter's life maximized his distance from normal life; how it isolated him, detached him from it definitively. I wanted to show how different he felt from everyone else, how he dabbles with stepping back in, and then how 'normal' is irreconcilable with the hunt in the end.
This was such a painful piece to write. It started out as self-indulgent junkfood as I mentioned above, but I was so scared that it would turn cheesy and be just a fic that unthinkingly puts Dean on a paradoxically uncharacteristic pedestal, that I went searching for a deeper meaning and ended up depressing myself, haha. I just wanted to write a story where he was no longer an unsung hero, that people looked up to him because they either knew what he really did, or admired him for a different reason. The singing-for-a-cause would have been that reason, except I also knew that he would have to abandon it, so I started thinking about how.
The first version of Heroes for Ghosts was supposed to end with Dean choosing to sing instead of going on the hunt, and as a result, people die. He accepts the adulation from his classmates, but carries the guilt of those deaths and therefore decides to never choose anything above the hunt ever again. The second version was supposed to end with Dean having gone to the hunt, and then returned to the show on-time to win. I scrapped this, because unfortunately, life isn't Disneyland. The third version had Dean choosing to sing instead of hunting, but his father gets hurt when the hunt pushes through without him and in guilt, he always followed his dad's orders after that. I was going for that third version until the fourth version hit me, which is as you see it in the final, posted Heroes for Ghosts. It hurt me the most, haha... I initially wanted Dean to be adored by his classmates, and then I just reversed it completely. I had a hard time separating what I wanted to see and what felt was more characteristic, but in the end I think I made the right choice. The clincher as to why I picked this particular ending? Dean said he's Batman, haha, and in the best-scripted Batman movie of all time, which was The Dark Knight, they said that Batman can be looked upon as a villain and can be hunted down was because he's what Gotham needed, and because he was tough enough to take it. I think that's the kind of hero Dean is, and this keeps with the rest of the series with the cops hunting them down. He can make the tough and unpopular choices, because they needed to be made. He can take the consequences because he's tough.
Still... I felt it was human for him to want someone to know he wasn't a bad guy. In After School Special, I just itched for Dean to tell everyone why he was a hero, but he didn't. Heroes for Ghosts is kind of like that; I want the readers to feel that same frustration of wanting people to know how great he is, except he couldn't do that if he wanted to keep doing his job, and that was what really made him heroic, the unsung part. But of course, I couldn't resist letting Mrs. Winkler know a little bit of what kind of a hero he was at the end. I hope the characterization was just and fair.
This fic intentionally did not give out John's perspective of the world because I wanted to convey the feeling of uncertainty about him that his sons might have had. However, I hope I left some telling clues to his character. He loves his boys but he is so handicapped in trying to execute it, I think. I didn't want to vilify him, but I wanted to make him very human; flawed, fallible, finite, and that all these are inseparable to the things that make him great. The part that encapsulates his characterization in Heroes for Ghosts is in Chapter 4:
"I can't just be father or hunter at one time and then different in the next, Sam. When you mother died... I've had to be both, all the time. I can't be a good father if I'm not a hunter, because that's how I can protect you from what's out there, and it's how I teach you to do the right thing. You can't have your old man in bits and pieces, picked over."
Life's been unkind to him, and he's doing the best he could. For him, the best way to be a father is also being a hunter, because (1) he protects his sons that way; and (2) it's teaching them to do what is right by protecting others. He doesn't apologize for himself, because he honestly doesn't believe that he's doing anything wrong. But he does hesitate sometimes (in the fic, Sam catches that loneliness in him several times, and Dean certainly carries a lot of his load), and he does feel sorry for his boys and the situation they are in. He is unavoidably both hunter and father for all its good (as described above) but also for all its ills: putting his sons in danger and depriving them of other chances in life.
V. Massive Thanks to Reviewers
Shout out to all who took the time to read the fic, and to all who favorite-d and alert-ed it. I am especially grateful to my reviewers:
adder574, Ani-maniac494, annie200, apieceofcake, badaiwind, deangirl1, Dianne, DrifterFanatic92, Foreverwolf, JackFan2, JustinRockMyBody, Justme, Karialena, Kelcor, kelhome, Marlowe97, masondixon, moira4eku, Nong Pradu, Ophium, PhoenixDragonDreamer, Rhesa, Sophia2007, Star Mage1, staceycj, teenage inuyasha, Von, and VooDoo Doll13.
If I missed anyone, please let me know; everyone who takes such precious time out to share what they think deserves a shout out and lots of love :) I also hope that I answered your queries and comments with the author's notes above, and with the PM's I've sent you individually. If you have other concerns, don't hesitate to get in touch with me :) I always love hearing what you think :)
VI. New Project Preview: With Blood
It might be awhile before this is posted. I'm about two really long chapters into this, but I'm not sure if I want to post this one before another fic which I previewed awhile ago called Open, Shut. Anyway, the unedited, condensed version of Chapter 1 of With Blood, which may or may not be continued, is posted below:
Title: With Blood
Summary:Bobby Singer was just a friend to a widower, not minding the occasional babysitting. But his devotion for the Winchester family truly began when he was struck by a terminal illness and saved only by a sacrifice from Dean. Pre-Series.
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The arrogant rumbling of that goddamn car was unmistakable.
The Impala ate up ground all lordly and gleaming black, and that self-aware, unconscionable purr was her soundtrack. She was a gorgeous piece of work, that beauty, and it was just a little too bad that her arrival inextricably heralded the arrival of stray cats into the Singer Salvage Yard.
Bobby sighed, part in fondness and part in resignation.
Here come the Winchesters... all nine lives of each of the three of them, snarling and licking their wounds.
He looked at his useless lump of black dog lying on its stomach in front of his television, looking unworried and disinterested by the approach.
"You a guard dog or what?" Bobby asked him.
Rumsfeld glanced up at him but didn't otherwise move, not even when Bobby leaned down and sniffed lightly at the fur on his big head.
"At least ya don't stink," he declared.
The junkman trudged to the fridge in his weathered kitchen, grabbed three bottles of cold beer and deftly twisted the caps off. He took a good swig off of each one, and then drew the ever-handy flask of holy water from his pocket and refilled the swigs he had taken. He left the bottles on the counter and gave his pantry a quick scan. Enough to feed an army, as always. Which was good because Dean Winchester was coming.
He checked the first aid kit under the sink, one of many he kept in the house. He was unsurprised but nevertheless happy that it was well-stocked, because every time John and his boys came along, someone always had a hole somewhere that needed fixing.
He hastily put his newest book acquisitions on easy view in the living room too - easier to keep the increasingly impatient and profoundly teenage Sam Winchester occupied that way.
Bobby watched the Impala languidly stop to a park from his window. He wiped his greasy hands uselessly against equally-greasy pants, and then removed his cap and matted his hair down before smartly slipping it back on. Not that there was anyone to look good for, and most of the time the Winchesters came in looking much worse than he did. It was just that there were a very few people in the world who looked happy to see him, and he might as well look a little bit presentable.
He pulled open the door of his home just as John Winchester swung heavy legs off the driver's side of the car and rose to his feet. Bobby gave him a welcoming nod, before turning to the other doors of the car expectantly.
He waited for the latest incarnation of Sam to come bounding out the backseat. He looked different every time Bobby saw him, just getting bigger and bigger. The only thing that didn't change was that he was always stomping-angry or stomping-excited about something.
He waited for the theatric emergence of Dean from the passenger seat, indulgent and suave, dressing more and more in John's hand-me-downs and curiously enough looking more and more like that gorgeous mother of his instead. Hell yeah Bobby knew how the aspirational Mary looked like; the Winchesters have spent enough time at the Yard for John to have drawn out and drunkenly rambled about her photograph from his wallet a few times. Bobby doubted that old man Winchester would even remember any of that, or want to.
Bobby frowned when none of the other car doors opened and John jogged over to the one on the passenger side, its immaculate glass windows shining and hiding what Bobby guessed would be Dean's hunched figure. He walked toward them apprehensively.
"Kid got himself banged up some," replied the other hunter with a grunt. He opened the door and leaned in, reaching for Dean's legs and swinging them over to the ground. Bobby angled his body just-so, looking around John's considerable bulk to find the younger Winchester looking rail-thin and pale as a sheet, green eyes just hollowed out in painkillers even as his tightly-set jaws screamed that he probably wasn't having enough of them. The source of the aggravation was apparently a heavily-casted right leg, mid-thigh down to just below the knee. Stiff, shaky movements, the bruised and scarred left arm folded and wrapped around his chest and the gauzed-up right arm slung over John's shoulders only promised that Bobby could only see the worst of what was actually more hurts.
"Jesus, John," Bobby breathed, wanting to move forward to help, but not knowing quite where to grab or touch... the kid was a mess.
"He'll be all right," came the curt reply.
"I know, Bobby," John growled, "Can it."
"Where's Sam?" Bobby inquired warily, peering into the empty backseat, "He all right?"
"Packed up and went off on his own a couple months back," John said gruffly, "Doing better 'n all of us. Dean-o here," he readjusted his grip as the three men ambled toward the house, "He just has to get used to a bare right side now, huh? Gotta cover that better."
"Not," Dean gasped, surprising Bobby with some semblance of alertness, "Not Sam's fault."
"Never is," John mumbled, stopping by the porch steps of the house and sighing as if he was standing at the foot of a mountain, "Bobby, you wanna make this place handicap accessible?"
The junkman snorted at his guest, and moved over to Dean's other side. "What do you want me to do?"
"Just..." John said, eyes already calculating some form of plan, "Just grab the duffel in the back, would you?"
"You got him?"
"'Course I do."
Bobby shrugged and walked back to the car, tried not to turn around when he heard Dean's gasping whimper of "Dad..." and John's quick and panicky assurances of "I got you, almost there, you're doing good..."
Bobby shook his head and sighed, wondering how things would have been for him if his wife had lived, if... if they had a kid of their own. The thought caused a familiar twist in his gut, and he just leaned over the Impala's backseat, grabbed the duffel and slammed the door shut.
" " "
Bobby returned to his house to find Dean asleep on the couch in his living room, the old brown monstrosity folding around the young hunter in a familiar way, sinking beneath his weight lovingly. Dean's left arm was hanging off of the couch, and Bobby was going to put the limb to rest on Dean's chest until he found that Dean's left hand rested right smack on top of Rumsfeld's big head. The dog laid down on the floor by Dean and looked pleased with himself.
Bobby rolled back his eyes and put the duffel down on the floor quietly, before seeking out John and finding him in the kitchen, staring at the three beer bottles on the counter.
"You're gonna need to start putting out just two now that Sam's up and left," John said to him.
"That's all right," Bobby said carefully, "More for me."
John sat down on one of the battered seats around the dining table and ran his hands through his hair.
"You all right?" Bobby felt compelled to ask.
"Yeah," John winced.
"Kid got too close to the fire for your liking, huh?" Bobby guessed, pushing one of the beer bottles his way. "Go take your drink, Winchester. Dean obviously gets a free pass, this one time. And you look like you need it."
John shrugged and downed a third of the bottle in a gulp, "It's a dangerous gig."
"And he's still your son," Bobby pointed out, "You got rights to be shaky whenever he gets hurt. What the hell happened?"
"The usual shit," John said, looking at Bobby pointedly, "And the hunt ain't done yet."
Bobby frowned. "You want me to send someone up there?"
"I did when I was in the hospital with Dean," John replied, wincing again and drinking again, "But I lost a guy already. Davids, you know him. Good man, dirty fighter? Kids and a goddamn widow up in Stamford, now. Terrain's a tricky bitch too. I've called up some people; it ain't a one-man job. But more and more I know I gotta be there. Terrains a bitch, I said." He looked at Bobby meaningfully.
"You leavin' Dean here?" Bobby asked, though he already knew the answer.
"There's kids out there dying, Bobby. I gotta go back and take care of this."
"You don't need to sell it," Bobby said, "It's just..."
He stared at his old friend, who looked exhausted but as driven as always.
"I like having your runts around, you know that," Bobby said, scratching the back of his neck uneasily, not quite able to find the words to say that he wasn't really in a position to be caring for anyone at the moment, much less a belligerent Dean whom he knew from experience he sometimes had to fight to help.
"Only a couple of days," John promised. He looked sincere and he probably thought he was telling the truth, but Bobby doubted it was how things would turn out because it almost never did, with John. One hunt stretched longer than expected, and one became two or three, the next state became two states over and so on, and with Dean laid up like he was, Bobby was almost sure the younger Winchester wasn't going anywhere with his father until he was much more mobile and functional.
Normally, Dean staying wouldn't be a problem. As a matter of fact, it was almost always a pleasure. But things were a bit different...
How could he tell an old friend that he was in no position to be caring for anyone else but himself right now?
How could he tell an old friend that he was sick? Or – scratch that crap – dying?
But John had to do what he had to do, as always, in a hunt god knows where. And Dean... Dean would have suffered getting dragged to hell and back by his daddy, but tanked up on painkillers on one leg was a little too much to ask, wasn't it? He'd end up passed out alone in a motel or in pain for endless hours on the road, looking as sick and thin as Bobby had just seen him.
Bobby resolved that though he might be ill, these damn bones had some kick to them yet.
"Fine, I got him," Bobby said, "A coupla days, huh?"
Poor, clueless liar.
"Does he know?" Bobby asked, "Your brat hates getting left behind and he turns into a bigger pain in the ass."
"I wanted to get you in first," John said, "I shoulda known you'd say yes."
John smiled a little then, looking as if he hasn't done it in a long time, like it was a crack on his face. "You're a good man, Singer."
" " "
"Hey," father called to son, the older man lightly tapping Dean's uninjured left leg, "Hey, Dean."
The sleep-even breathing hitched, and fever-bright green eyes fluttered open and immediately found his father's face.
"Know where you are?" John asked.
Irritation flashed across Dean's eyes, "Of course I kn--"
"Yeah, yeah," John cut him off, waving his hand around vaguely, "I'm headed out."
Dean took a deep breath and moved to sit up, but his father's hand was already pressed to his chest. He grit his teeth in determination and held his father's wrist in a death grip, trying to get it off of him.
"You listen to me," John said, voice turning unsubtly into the clipped Drill Sergeant version, "You stay here, you get better, all right? I'll be back in a couple of days, you hear? I gotta finish the hunt, but I'll check in, all right?"
"No," Dean said, voice hoarse, sounding and looking like a child for the first time in more than a decade, "Dad, please."
"Aw, come on, kid," Bobby piped in, appearing beside John, "I'm not that bad."
"Now you settle down," John said, "And not give your uncle Bobby any headaches."
"Uncle?" Bobby snorted, "Your boy hasn't shown me any respect in years."
"See?" Dean pointed out, gasping when he tried to shift away from his father and jostled his leg. He grit his teeth and hissed, "He doesn't want me here."
"Aw, hell, Dean," Bobby said, taking pity, "You know I do--"
Dean gave him a small grin, eyes weary but alight for the first time since he was brought in the house, and Bobby knew he'd just been had.
"Nervy bastard," Bobby grumbled, rising to his feet.
John chuckled, patting Dean lightly on the uninjured leg again, "No headaches, I said."
"He's laughing inside," Dean guaranteed as he shifted and winced again.
"You know what else is inside my head?" Bobby asked, "I'm thinking about my hands, wrapped tight around a punk's scrawny neck."
"You two are a riot," John sighed, "I'm heading out. Back in a couple of days, champ."
" " "
Something woke him, deep in the night.
Bobby's eyes snapped open and he stared up at the cracking ceiling of his room, wondering what it is that had woken him because it was so damn quiet. He looked at the time: 3am. He had put Dean to sleep just a few hours ago; the kid was pliant about taking some crackers and his pills, and then went straight to dreamland.
The night was quiet, still. He liked the solitude of his Yard at weird hours, the odd clinks of wind against battered metal, leaves brushing against the wood of his house, the off-key singing of the loose side of his business sign swinging with the breezes.
He sat up, wondered if he had dreamed about something and just forgot what it was. He rubbed at his eyes tiredly and decided that since he was up anyway, he might as well check on his guest.
Quietly, barefoot so as he would not wake the usually sharp-eared younger hunter, he walked to the slightly open door of Dean's room. He peered inside and jumped in spite of himself; Dean's emerald gaze met his squarely.
"Cripes, kid!" Bobby hissed, "Warn an old man, would you?"
Dean closed his eyes, and in the dull light of the moon seeping in the room, Bobby saw the streaks of tears that tracked from his eyes to his cheek and then down to the pillow. Dean's body was practically damn folded in on itself, and his pale face was glistening with a fine sheet of sweat. He was trembling, hands clawed around his casted limb, and his breath came in deep and measured, very carefully controlled. Bobby made to stepped forward in a panic, "Did I get the dosage wr--"
His voice fell flat when Dean's eyes snapped open and pinned him where he was.
They stared at each other for a long moment, Dean inhumanly making absolutely no sound whatsoever, except for his screaming, anguished green eyes. Bobby marveled at his resolve, and his heart felt cold at the idea that this probably wasn't the first time the young hunter laid in bed in a room somewhere, biting his lip against his pain, lying still and unmoving, fearing to bother his father or his brother. Painfully constrained, soundless crying.
"Sorry if I woke you," Dean rasped, breaking the spell.
"What can I do?" Bobby whispered, as if they were going to be waking up anyone else.
Dean took a deep, shaky breath. "No offense, man. But you gotta leave me the fuck alone right now."
"It goes away in the morning," Dean whimpered, "I promise, it goes away. God, Bobby, just... I can't do this right now... Get the hell out..."
Can't face you. Can't pretend. Can't hide. Can't, can't bethis in front of you...
"You know where I'll be," Bobby said, his mouth dry, not knowing what else he could do for the younger man. Wanting to hold him or something and at the same time, wanting to respect him as a man, not understanding if there was some form of middle-ground.
He walked back to his own room, stared at the ceiling and and didn't fall asleep for hours.
" " "
Something woke him midmorning.
The sun was high up in the sky, and the suffering young hunter who looked like death the night before was leaning heavily against his doorframe, hair neatly combed and clothes fresh and changed. His eyes were bright, alert, fully in possession of himself again. He was holding out a steaming cup of coffee.
Appropriately overcompensating, Bobby concluded, which was oxymoron-ic, but also typically Dean. Again, Bobby had a feeling this was not the first time the younger man had dragged himself out of bed in a bid to look like he was fit for the rest of the day.
"You gonna sleep all day?" Dean grinned at him. His eyes were so damn clear that Bobby was tempted to believe he had just dreamed up last night's misery. But the smile shook at the corners as if the kid was losing his nerve, looking at Bobby expectantly, wanting him to join in on the charade. They weren't going to be talking about the night before, apparently.
It goes away in the morning, I promise it goes away?
... he hadn't just been talking about the pain.
"How long you been up?" Bobby asked, scratching the back of his head.
"Not long," Dean said, hobbling over to Bobby's bed. He grabbed at walls and tables and cabinets; it was a long road and the coffee sloshed in the cup but somehow, Bobby's floors were safe from spillage. Rumsfeld was following Dean around attentively.
"Break anything?" Bobby asked, when Dean offered it to him.
"I know how to fricking operate your coffee machine."
"I meant you know," Bobby said as he took a sip; the kid had a good hand with the coffee, "Your neck, your other leg, an arm... anything you got left that isn't busted, going down my stairs?"
"I feel good today."
Bobby looked at him, sidelong, measuring.
"I do!" Dean insisted, "I get all stiff in the car and when I'm in bed, anytime I stay still too long. I took my morning pills, got a bit of exercise in... I'm good."
"No more stairs today," Bobby ordered.
Dean looked like he wanted to argue. He licked his lips and wrestled with himself. He finally just nodded.
"You sure you got your medicines this morning?" Bobby asked.
"Yes, yes," Dean rolled his eyes, "I took 'em. Otherwise I'd be dead from the coffee run. I took 'em."
"Good," Bobby said, approvingly, "Now the hard part."
"You're not thinking of helping bathe me or something, are you?" Dean asked, wide-eyed, "'Cos--"
"I'm not fricking suicidal," Bobby said with a shrug, "I'm gonna have to look for something for you to do."
" " "
Bobby handed him a power tool, some screws, a metal handlebar from god knows where, some polish, and then deposited him on the cold tile of the upstairs bathroom.
"Make yourself a handlebar," the junkman ordered.
"You sure this is for me?" Dean smirked at him, grateful for the absorbing work, "Or for you in your old age?"
"Polish it good too," Bobby snapped, "And for god's sake, be careful with the power tool; tiles are a bitch to drill into."
"I think I can figure it out," Dean said with a sly grin.
"When that's sorted, then you can handle yourself taking a bath," Bobby said, triumphantly, "See? A reason for everything; it all works out."
"Maybe you could also ask the invalid to build you an elevator so you wouldn't need to haul me up the stairs," Dean said, sarcastically, "Build a ramp too, maybe a lift, an escalator, and other forms of inappropriate hard labor."
"What do you think of me, boy?" Bobby snapped, before giving him a wink, "That's for tomorrow."
" " "
Bobby did some repairs on an old Chevy at the yard, periodically checking on his patient/forced laborer every few hours. Dean whined about dying for a cool beer, and Bobby gave him water, crackers and his medicine instead. He pretended to mind, but did as he was told. Bobby cooked them a hearty lunch and fixed up a tray to bring up the stairs, humming absently to himself.
"You're awful quiet up there!" Bobby called out as he was going up the stairs, "I don't hear you working!"
He put the tray down on the floor just outside the bathroom and found Dean off the tiles and on his feet, already making good use of the newly-installed, shining metal handlebars. There was some blood on them; the kid must have nicked himself on something. He was standing by the sink, and the medicine cabinet was open in front of him.
"What the hell is all this?" Dean asked, his voice flat. The lightly-dripping, bloodied hand was forgotten as he stared at Bobby's little pharmacy. Rows and rows of orange prescription bottles stared back and mocked them both.
"They're yers," Bobby growled, shutting the mirrored cabinet, almost hitting the younger hunter's nose, "Got them from yer daddy's care package."
Dean turned to him, accusingly. "Yeah, and they're all probably Viagra, right? Jesus, Bobby. I saw your name on the damned things. Anything you wanna say? What is it, huh? And this shit-ass lying? You're scaring me here."
Bobby averted his eyes, "You know how old men are. There's a supplement for everything, and then there's a blood pressure thing, and one for the sugar and arthritis--"
"Bobby," Dean said, staring him down, "Look at me."
Dean could be so insistent, sometimes. His eyes burned through and through and through...
"What the hell is all this for?" Dean asked.
"You know how old men are," Bobby said, meeting his gaze, smiling sadly, "I'm dying, kid. When it's your time to go, it's just your time to go."
To (maybe) be continued...
Thanks for reading, C&C's as welcome as always, and 'til the next post!