Disclaimer: They don't belong to me. *sigh*
Beta'd: By Muffy Morrigan. Thank you, girl! I played after she beta'd so any and all mistakes are my own!
Special Thanks: To Phx, Carocali, Geminigrl11, Muffy, and Charlie Girl 79 for feedback and support not only with this story, but with truly everything this past week. You guys rock!
Time Line: Tag to Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. Spoilers abound!
Dedicated: To my father-in-law: March 13, 1926 – March 27, 2010. We love you.
The air inside the Impala had passed chilly an hour ago and was headed straight for 'freeze your tongue to the flagpole' cold. February had been unseasonably free of snow, the normally rock-solid frozen ground merely hard, not impenetrable, allowing zombies to dig themselves out of their graves. Dean suspected now it was due somehow to Lucifer and Death rather than global warming because giant snowflakes were silently falling to the earth, blanketing the cars and hard-packed dirt outside Bobby's house.
The grizzled hunter hadn't turned them out, or away, but he'd made it pretty clear he didn't want the Winchesters bumping around in his house, at least not yet. Dean had been ready to give the man the space he obviously wanted now that the danger had passed, but his ever emotionally unpredictable brother had quietly, but stubbornly, insisted that they stay.
However, when Dean agreed, he hadn't realized Sam meant simply staying where they could see Bobby yet not intrude. So, here they sat, out in the car while the world around them grew dark and the temperature dropped far enough to freeze the balls off a – well, something.
It wouldn't have been so bad if Sam was halfway decent company. He'd flipped off the radio without sparing Dean a glance, hadn't said a word in over an hour, hell, and wasn't even looking in Dean's direction, just staring at Bobby's house.
Sam didn't move from his sentinel position, not a twitch of recognition or acknowledgment that Dean had even spoken to him.
He expected a sigh of long suffering, or one of Sam's looks that communicated his disdain far better than words ever could. It surprised him when what he received was a response so quiet he nearly missed it.
"How long we gonna sit here?" Dean asked, slapping Sam lightly on the arm. "Bobby doesn't want company and I think we should respect that."
"We are," Sam said simply, then fell silent once more.
Dean resisted the urge to sigh, his attempt to steer his brother away from a pointless vigil fruitless. Maybe he could appeal to Sam's sense of privacy because no one stowed away personal pain better than a Winchester. Who better to understand Bobby needed time alone? Dean pulled his flask out of his jacket and unscrewed the lid, knocking back a swig of burning fortitude. He opened his mouth to try another tack when Sam cleared his throat.
"The guy in town called Bobby the town drunk," Sam said, swiveling in his seat to face Dean for the first time in over an hour. "That's what they see when they look at him. A drunk."
"He does drink a lot," Dean said, screwing the lid onto the silver flask and tilting it in Sam's direction, who dismissed the offer with a quick headshake. Irony was a bitch. "Kind of comes with the territory."
"Yeah, it kind of does," Sam agreed, picking at what must have been a stray piece of invisible lint on his jacket.
"'Sides, they don't know how many lives he's saved or the war he's fighting," Dean continued, slipping the flask into his coat. "To them, he's just an old guy who couldn't cope with life."
Sam nodded in agreement, turning around to face the house again. The car fell silent and Dean scanned the salvage yard, watching as fat, wet snowflakes continued falling all around. When the view out the windshield became completely obscured by snow, he flipped on the wipers briefly to clear it. He didn't miss the muscle tic in Sam's jaw at the unexpected noise.
Dean shivered, reaching around to pull the quilt from the backseat and spread it across them both.
"Thanks," Sam said.
"Sure," Dean replied, taking in Sam's bowed shoulders and how the younger man kept tugging on his pursed lips. It was amazing how Sam could look so sorrowful when Dean couldn't see his face.
It hit Dean then, how his brother must know exactly what Bobby was going through right now. While Dean had been in love with Cassie, he hadn't been consumed by her or felt she was his soulmate. His experiences with love started and ended with family. Love that inspired devotion, sparked protectiveness and loyalty, and engendered fondness and caring, but never that Romeo and Juliet kind of love.
Sure, he'd pictured a life with Lisa, fantasized about it even, and he probably could have fallen in love with her given a little more time. Although, watching what the pain of loss had done to his Dad, and Sam, and now Bobby, it was enough to turn Dean away from romantic love altogether.
"He's hurting," Sam said, quickly glancing towards the house then back to Dean.
"Course he is," Dean said, a catch in his throat. "He just lost his wife…again."
"Not just because of that."
Sam didn't explain further, but Dean didn't really need him to. In an instant, Dean realized everything his brother wasn't saying. He could summon the feelings as easily as if it had happened yesterday: that crazed, desperate, utter sense of loss and emptiness he felt when Sam died. It was bad enough to lose someone you love, but to feel responsible for it? Yeah, that was a special kind of pain as Dean remembered all too well.
The fire in his gut knowing his Dad had sacrificed his life for him had burned hot for months. He'd watched Sam self-destruct after Jessica, and no one could convince Dean that part of Sam's desperate actions two summers ago, after he'd died, weren't at least partially fueled by guilt. Unfortunately, if Dean was reading it right Bobby's most recent loss was weighing on his brother, too.
"It's not your fault, you know," Dean said, tapping Sam's knee.
"I know," Sam replied with a nod.
Dean couldn't stop his eyebrows from climbing into his hairline or the note of incredulousness that lined his tone. "You do?"
A wan smile graced Sam's face before quickly disappearing. "Yeah, I do, just like it won't be your fault if Michael hurts someone to get to you. We can't control angels, Dean, fallen or heavenly." Sam's forehead curled with conveyed empathy.
"Doesn't make it hurt any less though, does it?" Dean asked, knowingly.
Liquid hazels darted to the side and Sam swallowed hard, Adam's apple bobbing. "No, it doesn't," Sam admitted, quietly. "I know it isn't my fault, but I can't help feeling responsible for Bobby and what he's going through."
"Yeah, me too." Dean scooted closer to his brother, pulling the quilt tighter around them. Condensation fogged the windows and Sam used his jacket sleeve to clear the glass, peering out into the darkness towards Bobby's house.
"He's smart, Sam," Dean said, no longer trying to convince his brother to leave, but offer solace. "I'm sure he's okay, that he's safe."
"I wouldn't have doubted that forty-eight hours ago," Sam replied, without looking in his direction. "But after what went down here, he's not thinking at his best right now."
"So, we'll stay right here and keep an eye on him," Dean said, letting Sam know he understood. "I'll wait until you give the word."
Sam turned his head, a sad smile playing across his face. "Thanks."
Dean smiled and nudged his brother's shoulder with his own. After a few minutes of silence, his stomach rumbled.
Sam shook his head, puffing a small laugh. "Really?"
"Hey, this is your stakeout, Hutch," Dean said, raising his hands in supplication, "making it your job to supply the coffee and doughnuts."
"Sorry," Sam apologized, his tone suggesting amusement more than repentance.
"Yeah well, next time you're planning an all-nighter in the winter, bring the coffee." Dean leaned back against the seat, crossing his arms over his chest and closing his eyes.
"You got it."
Dean heard the rustle of fabric as his brother turned towards the window. Knowing Sam wouldn't sleep, he decided to catch a few hours while he could. Someone would have to be awake to drive tomorrow.
As the first rays of sun broke through the gray clouds, Dean awoke, lifting his head from where it had rested on Sam's shoulder. "What time is it?"
"Nearly six," Sam replied, his voice thick with emotion and exhaustion. Dean mentally swore. He never should have left his brother alone with his own thoughts all night.
The front door of Bobby's house opened and the broken hunter emerged, immediately noticing the Impala and the brothers sitting inside. His face was no longer guarded, but openly displaying grief in every line, pain radiating from his eyes. Dean didn't have to see to know Sam's face reflected Bobby's expression perfectly. Bobby nodded once, then turned and wheeled back inside.
"Now we can go," Sam said, his voice barely above a whisper. Dean didn't say a word, just twisted the key in the ignition and pulled slowly out of the salvage yard, feeling the delicate fabric of his family unravel just a little bit more with every passing mile.
AN: This verse was sent to me by my dear friend, Phx, today. It seemed appropriate.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
Mary Elizabeth Frye - 1932