It had been a long time since Bobby Singer had any family to call his own. Since the death of his beloved wife, Bobby found it much more prudent to live alone; he didn't seek out relationships with people, and associated with those who, in theory, could take care of themselves. That didn't stop people from coming into his life – folks from town looking for spare parts were easy enough to deal with; hunters pointed in his direction by Pastor Jim, needing a place to crash or a book for research – Bobby could deal with all of them. But then there were the Winchesters.
Bobby was still not quite sure how he ended up as an "uncle" to this family, particularly in light of his fundamental disagreement with John on exactly how a parent should raise his children, but when it came down to it he couldn't disregard those boys; which was how he wound up making cheeseburgers and eggnog on Christmas Eve. The cheeseburgers were for Dean; the eggnog was his own special tradition.
Bobby returned from the kitchen to the room that had once been a cozy living room but over the years had evolved into a cluttered and densely packed library. There were still remnants of the living room – the armchair with its flower-patterned pillow; the couch that Sam was currently residing on – but the rest of the furniture was utilitarian, and covered with books. The crackling fire on the hearth gave the area a warm glow and took the harsh edge off of the impersonal quality of the room.
As Bobby made his way back to the desk that served as his favorite work station, Dean returned to the library as well. He paused beside the couch where Sam was dozing and took the tome that had put Sam to sleep off of the younger boy's lap, but left it on the table within easy reach. Then, Dean laid his hand against his brother's face; his brows didn't crease with concern as they had so often in the past few days, so Bobby assumed Sam's temperature was within whatever range Dean considered acceptable. Finally, Dean grabbed a blanket that was nearby – which Sam had refused to use when he was awake – and threw it over his brother. All of it took less than a minute; Dean barely broke stride, it was such second nature to him.
Dean placed the equipment he had gathered on the far side of Bobby's desk. Before Dean settled himself in the armchair that he had dragged over to the desk to share the light from Bobby's work lamp, Bobby passed him the glass he was holding. Dean accepted the drink and his lips quirked up at Bobby's pragmatic use of jelly jars as serving glasses.
Bobby raised his glass of eggnog to Dean, "Merry Christmas, kid."
Dean reflected the salute, "Merry Christmas, Bobby."
They drank together in silence and Bobby paused to wonder when he started serving alcohol to Dean; it was probably around the same time Dean stopped calling him "uncle". Bobby missed it a little, but he understood – there was a time for childish ways, and Dean had precious little in the way of a boyhood.
"Whew, Bobby! That's got some kick!" Dean exclaimed as he sat down and made himself comfortable in the armchair.
"What the hell, neither one of us is driving tonight." Bobby responded as he took his place as well. "And if Sammy starts giving me a hard time, I'll give him a glass and he won't wake up 'til mornin'."
Dean chuckled softly and glanced at his sleeping brother. "He may already be out 'til morning. What did you give him to read?"
"A History of the World as We Know It." Bobby deadpanned. "Just a little light reading."
Dean laughed out loud, and then dialed it back looking over at the couch, but Sam didn't respond. It looked like he was out for the count. Comfortable in the knowledge that Sam was okay and happy to have a job at hand, Dean settled down to work. Bobby knew that he wouldn't get a better opportunity to put his plan in motion; he felt only the slightest bit of remorse about what he was about to do, but it had been nagging at him and he had to know. If he was going to have the title of "uncle" in this family, it was about time he acted on it before any chance he had of Dean listening to him completely slipped away.
Many years of experience had taught Bobby that different Winchesters needed to be addressed in their own way. The best way to get Sam to talk was to ask him a question – any question – the boy would carry on a mile a minute. The most effective way to get John to talk, sadly, was to get him stinking drunk. Those were not conversations Bobby ever encouraged. But the way to get Dean to open up was not to try to get him talking at all; instead, Dean needed a job to do. Any sort of direct address made Dean defensive and skittish, but a conversation that came up around the workbench was different. Once Dean was absorbed in a task that kept his hands busy, he was more likely to let his mouth run. It simply worked to Bobby's advantage that on this particular night a snug and sleepy Sammy was in plain view, putting Dean's ever-present responsibility to rest, and there was holiday alcohol involved.
Bobby let the silence stretch out comfortably between him and Dean for a few minutes. Dean tinkered with the motor and wires he'd found in the attic while Bobby cross-referenced some books he'd been meaning to organize. Slowly Bobby started chatting, introducing neutral topics – Sam, dogs, work around the salvage yard. Dean responded easily enough, but didn't pursue the conversation on his own. Bobby kept an eye on how much of the spiked eggnog Dean was drinking.
When it seemed like Dean had loosened up enough, Bobby ventured into more volatile areas, though he was careful to skirt around mentioning John; that topic were just too tender to the touch - school was really the subject Bobby was most interested in.
"So I hear you managed to swing your GED." Bobby offered keeping his eyes on his book. "Way to go, kid."
A glance at Dean showed a brief grin of satisfaction before he got back to work. He didn't let himself spend any time basking in Bobby's praise. "Yeah, I got me a piece of paper I can't use because it has my real name on it to prove I got an education I can't use to get a job I don't want."
Bobby's heart sank at Dean's words. They weren't said with any bitterness, just matter-of-factly. Dean surprised Bobby by continuing. "Dad insisted we get it all done. I'll tell you though it was a pain in my ass. I'm glad to be done with it. School was never my thing." Dean turned the motor over in his hands as he inspected his work.
"What about college?" Bobby wasn't pretending not to be interested in the conversation any more. Dean gave a harsh laugh and briefly caught Bobby's eye. Then the younger man immediately looked away.
"College? I can't hunt if I go to college. What am I supposed to do, just leave Dad and Sammy? If some monster doesn't kill them they'd end up killing each other." Bobby's strategy of plying Dean with alcohol was a little more successful than he'd anticipated. He never heard Dean talk before about the growing tension between John and Sam; when it came to family Dean played it very close to the vest.
Dean shook his head as he turned the gadget in his hands over and over. His movement was purposeless and Bobby knew he was losing him. Bobby wanted to get up and shake Dean by the shoulders; yell at him that there was so much more to his life than John Winchester's crusade. He wanted to talk and yell and scream and insist until Dean understood how much potential he had, how much value, how much worth.
Bobby was angry that he hadn't tried to have this conversation with Dean sooner when it might have made a difference; that he hadn't kicked John's ass or insisted the Winchesters make his place a home base; that he hadn't been able to do anything to prevent the young man before him from being stuck into this life he was never meant to have.
Before he could open his mouth to say anything, Dean got up from his chair, and Bobby knew the conversation was over. But Dean surprised Bobby once again – the conversation was finished, but Dean had one last thing to say. Looking back on it later, Bobby was sure Dean never intended to say it out loud.
"What college would even take me?"
By the time Bobby had processed that last bit of information, Dean's back was to him and the moment was totally gone. Dean wedged himself behind a bookcase with the motor and wires he'd been fiddling with. Bobby could hear Dean cursing under his breath and the 'snap' as Dean made the connections to the rest of the mechanics he'd been working on all day. With one last, "Got it!" Dean pulled himself away from the wall and sat back on his knees. In his hand was the switch attached to the motor he'd just finished working on.
With a push of a button, Bobby's library was transformed. Multi-colored lights ringed the room, Christmas music surged out from tinny speakers and a train took off from the station on the tracks surrounding Sam's couch.
"Hey Dean!" Sam called sleepily from his perch. "You did it!"
Dean grinned at Sam, able to hang on a little longer to the pride in this accomplishment because the acknowledgement came from his brother. Bobby was amazed at how youthful Dean looked in his glee under the light display of his making and saddened that he couldn't have so much more. As much as he wanted to continue the conversation, in that moment Bobby didn't want to spoil the Christmas Dean created, so he tipped back in his chair and took a swig of eggnog.
"Merry Christmas to all…" Bobby intoned.
"And to all, a good night!" the boys replied in tandem.
And it was – a very, good night.