Hello my lovelies! Here's another pre-series one-shot for a hoodie_time prompt. The hurt/comfort prompt required a sick Dean at Bobby's place, throwing up and unable to stop. I took the idea and kind of ran away with it. lol. Hope you enjoy it!


There were many times, since walking down the aisle with Karen all those years ago, when Robert Stephen Singer lamented the fact that he'd never had any children. It'd been their dream once upon a long ago. Couple rug rats to toss a ball around with, teach how to fix a carburetor, maybe even walk Daddy's little girl down the aisle. But then there'd been eyes black as onyx and smoke and bloodbloodblood, and all those dreams (and the rug rats with 'em) went up in swirling flakes of ash.

So he'd lamented their loss along with the loss of his wife. It was like a bitter pill he swallowed on occasion – holidays spent alone without anyone to share them with, or staring down a lifetime by himself and leaving no legacy behind – and Bobby would be overcome with deep, deep regret. He'd always wanted kids.

Not so now.

"Damnit, boy! What the hell are you doin'?" he groused.

That sneaky idjit bastard Winchester had dropped his spawn off at the Salvage Yard without so much as a 'how'dyedo?' and then spun off in that pretty black car of his. That was three days ago, and Bobby'd been ready to tear his damned hair out ever since.

Not that he minded having Dean and Sam around, generally speaking. They were good boys. Smart and capable and deeply devoted to each other. And they were courteous and tidy and careful of Bobby's things. Dean was always handy to have around to help clean the weapons or hand over the socket wrench when things needed fixing. And Sam was great company for discussing good books or going over Latin rituals with.

But they were a handful all the same, being sixteen and twelve and growing like weeds, the pair of 'em. Too boisterous and full of piss and vinegar, fighting with each other good naturedly (most of the time), teasing incessantly (all of the time) and generally being pains in the ass with the constant, unending, unyielding goddamned bickering.

'Dad said you're not allowed to go into town by yourself!' 'I'm telling Dad!' 'Dad's gonna kick your ass, Dean!' 'I'm telling!'

That, of course, was Sam. Sam who hero-worshipped his big brother. Sam who didn't have much interest in reading through Bobby's library of lore on ghosts and goblins ('Do you have any books that are… you know… normal?'). Sam who didn't want his big brother to head into town, thus leaving him alone with nothing better to do but hang around with his Daddy's boring old hunter friend.

'Go ahead and nark on me, Samantha.' 'While you're at it, make sure to tell Bobby to get you some tampons now that you've hit puberty and started getting your monthly visitor.' 'Maybe he'll even spring for some of that girly, fruity shampoo you like.'

And that, of course was Dean. Dean who'd studied the same How-to-be-a-Caveman manual as his Daddy. Dean who could easily amuse himself with just about anything, especially if it involved teasing his kid brother in some way. Dean who'd gone from being a shrimpy, gangly, weird-looking freckly thing to being this man-sized pretty-boy heartthrob with a libido to beat Don Juan's. It'd be embarrassing if the kid weren't so damned shameless when it came to the fairer sex.

Now being a prime example.

Bobby should have known, by the excessive amount of primping the teen had been doing earlier in front of the warped mirror in the upstairs bathroom, that the young Casanova had more than just sight-seeing on his mind when he'd hopped the bus into Sioux Falls earlier in the evening. Christ, the cologne bath and the hair gel were like perfectly marked landmarks on a treasure map. But Bobby was naïve enough to think that Winchester's eldest was more swagger than balls.

Which was why he'd damned near swallowed his own tongue choking on it when he walked past the spare bedroom on a midnight sojourn to the bathroom and heard what were clearly sex noises coming from within. For one hysterical moment he'd thought it was the boys doing something biblically awful with each other on the inside, until he heard a distinctly feminine trill of laughter, followed by a wanton gasp that made him blush to the tips of his ears.

Then he just got plum pissed at the gall of that kid bringin' some tramp back to his house to do things Bobby was fair sure Dean's daddy wouldn't approve of. Especially when Sam was supposed to be sharin' that bed with Dean.

Without further warning or ado, Bobby twisted the knob and yanked the door open. The startled gasps and subsequent naked scramble for covers were kinda priceless, Bobby had to admit. Turned out Dean had shame enough when he was in the middle of wettin' his noodle with a pretty girl, with his Daddy's hunter friend as an audience member.

"Jesus, Bobby!" Dean cried out breathlessly, his back facing the door as he attempted to shield the pretty brunette who was holding the covers over her bare flesh while at the same time pawing at the comforter to ensure his bare ass was getting sufficient coverage. "You ever heard'a knocking?"

"You ever heard'a get the hell outta that bed before I brain ya?" Bobby retorted. "And if that's you Jenny Plumber – " he pointed at the girl, "you might wanna think about getting' dressed and getting' on home 'fore I call your daddy."

He turned his back to the door, leaving them enough privacy to dress themselves, but didn't close it. He didn't want them getting any ideas about resuming their activities. Whispered apologies and a quiet kiss goodbye signaled the end of that tryst, and then Jenny Plumber was slinking past Bobby in a mad rush to get home.

"She got a way home?" Bobby asked curtly as Dean walked sheepishly towards him, head bowed and scratching at the back of his scalp nervously.

"Yeah, she's got her dad's car," Dean replied.

Bobby grunted and made his way quickly downstairs to lock the door behind her as the young girl left. Then he peered into the living room and took in the sight of Sam's sprawled form huddled on the couch, arms and legs in a tangle with a threadbare sleeping bag that ought to have been retired some time back in the 80s.

"I'm sorry, Bobby," Dean whispered behind him.

Damn the kid was like a ninja sometimes, all soft-footed and stealthy. Bobby tried to hide his start by rounding on the teenager, his best practiced scowl in place as he eyed the boy through narrowed eyes.

"I got no call you tell you what to do in your spare time," Bobby growled as quietly as he could. "Lord knows your Daddy lets you run half wild when he ain't got you fettered to his side like a danged dog."

It was a low blow, the sting of which showed on the poor kid's face, but Bobby was both tired and cranky, and he'd expected more respect from Dean than he'd shown tonight.

"But you got some nerve bringin' a stranger back to my place, boy," Bobby went on. "There's things she coulda seen here that ain't for civilian eyes. And while it may be well and good for you to go lettin' the cat outta the bag at whatever fleabag motel you're crashin' at in this or that town, I'm not just passin' through. I live here and I gotta deal with the fallout of whatever that girl decides to blab to her parents."

"Shit, Bobby," Dean hissed, genuine remorse pleading through his wide green eyes. "I'm sorry, man. I wasn't even thinking…"

"That much is obvious," Bobby retorted.

There was an awkward silence while the two of them stood, each contemplating the situation from his own perspective. Then Bobby lead Dean away from the living room and into the kitchen, where he quickly flicked on the overhead stove light and poured himself a glass of water from the tap. The water was tepid and not particularly refreshing – whiskey'd be better, that was for damned sure – but Bobby was going for effect, anyway. He gulped the water down in one long draw and then clunked the empty glass onto the counter for added emphasis. Dean watched like a scolded puppy, his eyes wide and innocent-looking (and wasn't that the kicker, considering what he'd just been caught doing?).

"I've a right mind to call your Daddy," Bobby threatened at length. "Bringing that girl back here was damned foolish. Damned foolish."

It should be illegal to have eyes that big, Bobby decided. 'Cos Dean Winchester went from scolded puppy to deer in the headlights in the span of a heartbeat. Big and green, with girly long lashes that Sam was especially fond of making fun of these days, looking at Bobby like he'd just announced that the Impala had been sold for scrap metal. And then the kid went ahead and gulped, his chest rising and falling with heavy breaths.

And just as quickly it was gone.

Dean licked his lips and wiped it all away with a half-hearted smile that was meant to cover up the real terror Bobby'd just seen. Nothing made Dean Winchester more terrified than his Daddy thinking ill of him, unless maybe it was his Daddy himself. The man could look at the kid and make him stare in wide-eyed terror and awe. It made Bobby secretly hate his friend just a little bit more every time he saw it. And yet Dean hero-worshipped the man, emulating him in every way that he could: listened to the same music, wore the same clothes, trained to be bigger and better and faster so that he could be everything John needed him to be.

"You're not gonna call my dad," Dean whispered good-naturedly, trying for bravado he didn't quite pull off as smoothly as his father. There was the faintest twitch in his cheek, right next to his nostril, that gave it away, though. His mouth, too, was too tight, not drawn into a lazy smile the way it would be if Dean were at all confident that what he was saying was true.

"You're gonna tear me a new one," he assured Bobby. "But you're not gonna call him."

And it was true, damnit. Bobby wasn't going to call John. He'd got a lead on the thing that'd killed his wife, and it was looking more and more like a demon was behind it. No way would he come back from something that important over something so mundane as disciplining his kids. Besides, Bobby'd rather deal with it himself, if only because he thought John was way too hard on his boys, especially his eldest. He'd seen the man tear a strip off of the kid so many times, it was a wonder there was anything left of Dean.

"We'll see," Bobby hedged instead. "I might do, if you don't get your act together and start thinkin' with your head instead of your…"

And he really didn't want to finish that sentence, so he left it hanging.

"Jesus, Dean. You're sixteen! Ain't you a little young for… that?"

This time the kid's smirk was genuine, cocky, and playful. Proof positive that Winchester's eldest kid was a living, walking compilation of many contradictions. How a kid could be so smug and self-assured, and at the same time so vulnerable and worthless in his own eyes, was a great mystery to the gruff old hunter. At times Dean was so competent and responsible that he seemed more mature and grown-up than his old man; at others he could be wide-eyed and innocent like the six year-old boy Bobby'd met a decade ago. It was disconcerting and confusing, is what it was, keeping Bobby on his toes and feeling like he was walking an emotional minefield whenever he had any serious dealings with the boy.

"I've been old enough for that for a while, Bobby," Dean announced smugly, giving a meaningful tug at his own belt as if to readjust his manhood.

"Yeah, well, not under my roof," Bobby muttered. "Now get your dumbass self back to bed and git some sleep. I'm gonna put you to work bright and early fixin' up as many junkers as I can throw at ya. See if I can't tire you out and return the favour for wakin' me up in the middle of the night with your…" he coughed uncomfortably and left the end of that sentence hanging.

"With my what?" Dean teased as he followed the old man up the stairs. "With my wild monkey sex?"

"Can it, kid." Bobby refused to acknowledge the blush rising to his cheeks. Damned cocky Winchester brat!

"You know, Bobby," Dean whispered behind him with mock seriousness. "It's a natural thing. When you live this kind of life, it's actually healthy to, you know… relieve some of the tension?"

Bobby ignored him as he stomped up the last step and made his way towards his bedroom at the end of the hall.

"If you're having trouble with the ladies, I could give you some pointers," Dean teased. "And don't worry about the age thing. You might not look like much, but I bet you've still got some tricks up your sleeve. The key is confidence."

His bedroom door was so close. If he could just…

"That and being a good listener," and here Dean tapped at his own temple and nodded significantly. "You know, paying attention. 'Cos all girls are different, and they don't all like the same thing. So you've gotta be sure to listen real close to every sound they make, paying attention to the way they move – 'cos not all girls are comfortable saying what they want, y'know?

"Like this one chick, Andrea? She liked it when I – "

Bobby slammed the door in the kid's face as soon as he'd crossed the threshold into his room, sighing in exasperation when he heard the boy's triumphant cackling on the other side.

Damned Winchesters!

888

The following day passed without any further embarrassment. True to his word, Bobby woke Dean before the sun had made its daily climb above the horizon and sent him out into the early morning chill to work on fixing up an old Ford that was most likely unsalvageable, but that would be enough to keep the kid busy most of the day. Sam kept himself busy both inside and outside the house, pestering his brother when he got bored with being cooped up inside, and entertaining Bobby with his constant prattle when he felt more talkative.

"Did you know that space is like a vacuum?"

Bobby chuckled at the utter randomness of the youngest Winchester's non sequiturs.

"So there wouldn't be any sound in space – which means that George Lucas has got it totally wrong with Star Wars."

"You think?" Bobby teased gruffly.

"Not just with the aliens and stuff," Sam huffed with an eye roll, as if to say, 'duh!' "But, like, with the star cruisers and blasters and stuff. They wouldn't make a sound while they're zipping around in space. It'd just be… silent."

"You don't say."

"But I s'pose they had to do it for the movies, y'know… to make it more interesting, I guess. Like how they make punches sound louder than they are, or how they use music to make things more suspenseful."

"It's called sound effects, kid."

"Dean and I were watching a movie once and I swear the sound the guys made during the fighting scenes was just like breaking celery. Did you know that they have people in movies and TV whose job it is to make sounds for all those everyday things? They're called Foley Artists. I looked it up."

Aye-yay-yay! No wonder John was forever skippin' out on his kids chasin' after this or that hunt. They'd try the patience of Mother Theresa.

"Hey Sam, I need to make a trip into town to get some supplies. You wanna come with, maybe pop into the bookstore, see if you can find something you like?"

Please, Jesus, say yes. Find a book and shove your nose under it.

"Thanks, Uncle Bobby!" Sam leapt from his seat at the kitchen table and bounced on the heels of his feet in undisguised excitement. If he weren't twelve and self-conscious of the fact that he was too big for such open displays of affection, Bobby was fair certain the kid would have hugged him.

And didn't that make him feel ten kinds of guilty for his lack of patience with the boy? He really was a good kid – if a bit of a know-it-all chatterbox – and he was only trying to keep himself occupied. His endless prattle certainly wasn't hurting anyone (though it wasn't helping the sleep-deprived headache building behind Bobby's eyes).

They left Dean up to his elbows in grease under the Ford, with dire warnings of death and recrimination should he get into any more trouble, and then settled into Bobby's old Camaro to head into town. It was a pleasant drive, and Bobby had to admit that, in spite of all his bellyaching, it was nice to have the boys' company. Sure, it could be trying on his nerves at times, but they were good kids (mostly). And it wasn't often that the gruff old hunter had someone to share his space with, someone to eat up the miles of asphalt in the seat beside him, someone to eat breakfast with in the morning and say goodnight to before he went to bed.

Winchester's kids weren't so bad.

They were at least an hour and a half in town. Bobby went to the grocery store for some staple items (milk, bread, cheese, cereal), and then to an old apothecary's disguised as a New Aged Wiccan store for some select herbs he'd need for summoning rituals and the like. He'd left Sam with a sawbuck and sent him to the used bookstore across the street from the pharmacy. Then, when he'd crossed all the necessary items off his shopping list, Bobby made his way into the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for painkillers (every hunter's best friend) and restock on his medical supplies. He was just making his way to the check-out when he noticed a familiar face behind the counter.

"Jennifer Plumber," he drawled.

In the light of day he could see that the girl was pale, kinda green looking behind the heavy veil of her long, dark hair, even as she flushed with embarrassment at seeing him. He bet she hadn't counted on having her nekkid bits seen by the old town crackpot when she hooked up with the smooth-talkin', pretty-faced Dean Winchester.

"Mr. Singer," she stammered, awkwardly running the items of the customer in front of Bobby through the scanner.

"Well I'd hardly recognize you," Bobby went on with forced joviality and crowing with satisfied glee when the girl's face drained of all remaining colour in utter mortification. "You look so different, you know…" with your clothes on (which he didn't say). "…all grown up and outta those pigtails."

Her discomfort made him very, very happy. In fact, he chortled merrily off-and-on for the entirety of the journey home. It brightened his mood so much that he was excited for Sam as the boy rambled a mile a minute about the books he'd bought (he'd amassed an armload), and even offered up his opinion on which ones, among the ones that he'd read, were his favourite.

When they got back to the house, he even gave Dean a reprieve from repair duty and let the kid come inside to watch some television. The three of them ended up kind of squashed together on the couch, Dean dozing off and on, Sam with his nose lost firmly amidst the pages of Arabian Nights, while Bobby flicked aimlessly and cast the occasional furtive glance in the boys' direction. He figured, all things considered, it wouldn't have been so bad to have had boys like these ones. Wouldn't have been so bad at all.

888

Later that evening, Bobby retired to the library (which used to be a dining room back when Karen was still alive) and lost himself for a few hours in research. Dean cleaned up the dinner dishes and tidied up a bit while Sam continued with his voracious reading. Then the boys went out for a run, at Dean's insistence, and Bobby settled back onto the couch with a glass of bourbon and a copy of David Copperfield he'd swiped from Sam (what? Old men have lots of layers).

By the time the boys had settled off to bed up in the spare bedroom, Bobby was feeling pretty darned content. He read for a little while longer and then retired for the night into his own bed. It'd been a good day and his old bones settled into the mattress like one coming home after a long journey at sea. Sleep hit him like a sledgehammer, dragging him under its murky depths in dreamless oblivion.

He'd have slept clean through the night if the pool of drool under his chin hadn't soaked through his pillowcase so badly as to wake him. And then, of course, he noticed the persistent nagging of his full bladder and decided he might as well answer it, since he was up. If he hadn't been, he probably never would have noticed the damned moaning sounds coming from the spare bedroom. Again.

"Goddamnit, Dean!" he muttered grumpily as he stomped towards the spare room and latched onto the door handle. "I thought I told you…"

Only when he yanked the door open, it wasn't to find a repeat of the scene from last night. There were no naked teens scrambling for cover in the throws of interrupted passion. There was only Sam Winchester, perched on the mattress on his knobby knees as he hovered over the slumped form of his big brother. Big hazel eyes snapped in Bobby's direction, wide and earnest and grateful.

"Dean's sick," Sam whispered, half-frantic, half-relieved, and rubbing soothing circles along the curve of Dean's bowed back.

Bobby took a few tentative steps into the room, rounding the bottom of the bed to get a better look at the boys. Dean was sitting on the edge of the bed with his legs slung over the side and his whole body bent almost in half as he clutched at his middle. He was clad only in a dark pair of boxers and a ratty old wifebeater, but the skin underneath it was white as a sheet in the stark light given off by the small bedside lamp. The teen looked to be a scant few seconds away from tossing his cookies, his nostrils flared wide as he breathed deeply through his nose, his brow furrowed with pain.

Sam, who hadn't outgrown the need for real PJs, hopped nervously in place on his knees in his baseball themed two-piece ensemble, looking small and scared as he tried to soothe his big brother. He continued rubbing Dean's back, but by the way he was looking at Bobby it was clear he thought the old man was going to take it from here. What the hell that meant, Bobby wasn't really sure.

What did you do when you had a sick kid, anyway?

"Hey there, Don Juan," Bobby said lightly as he crouched to his knees directly in front of Dean. "Not feelin' so good, huh?"

Dean shook his head and then moaned, curling inward as a spasm of pain tore through his guts.

"Hurts," he grunted, his blonde head dropping to his knees as he squeezed himself into a pretzel.

"Come on now, my cooking ain't that bad," Bobby attempted at brevity, but it was rather lame. The kid didn't need jokes right now. He needed someone who had some kind of clue of what the hell they were doing.

"You need something for your belly, kid? Some Pepto or Alka Seltzer?"

Dean's head rose as his breathing sped up, his hands fisting air as he struggled with nausea. Bobby watched as the kid's pale face went from white to a sickly shade of green in a matter of seconds.

"'m," Dean gulped. "'m gonna…"

That was all the warning Bobby got before the kid was hurling into his lap. The old hunter ducked out of the way as best he could, but he was well within reach of the vomit shower and caught most of it on his flannel-clad legs. The second wave hit only moments after, though Bobby had thankfully dodged by that time.

It was pretty intense, as far as puking went. Full-bodied, loud, hacking, and disgusting. Over a decade of seeing bodies in various stages of decomposition, among other puke-inducing horrors, had really helped Bobby to suppress his gag reflex, but this, right here, was enough to test it. Bobby had to blink a few times and breathe through his nose, long and slow, to settle himself so he wouldn't be horking up his supper along with Dean.

Sam wasn't faring much better, poor kid. He'd turned his face away, staring determinedly at the door as he continued to rub his brother's heaving back, and gagged a few times in sympathy at the sounds and smell of Dean's retching. Bobby really couldn't blame him. Really disgusting.

At last the puking seemed to relent, Dean's tensed muscles relaxing as he heaved out a last, steadying breath. He wiped a trembling hand across his mouth and shuddered.

"Come on, then," Bobby whispered as he took the teen by the shoulder and helped to ease him to his feet. "Let's get you to the bathroom and get you cleaned up, huh?"

And hopefully you can aim for the toilet next time.

"Sorry, Bobby," Dean mumbled. "My stomach hurt, but I didn't think…"

"Don't you worry about it, Dean. Happens to the best of us."

They hobbled like old men towards the bathroom, Sam on their heels. It was an awkward shuffle, like trying to run a two-legged race with one person barely able to hold himself up. Dean hadn't regained any colour since being sick, and if anything he looked worse, his green eyes glassy and red-rimmed.

"We'll getcha fixed up," Bobby assured him as they stumbled into the bathroom. "You just settle yourself down there."

Dean fell to his knees before the toilet and flipped up the lid without preamble. He wasn't puking again yet, but he looked close to it. His freckles stood out like dark specks of gold on his white skin and his lips were bloodless and chapped. He closed his eyes and resumed breathing deeply through his nose as the nausea returned with a vengeance.

"Watch him for a minute will ya?" Bobby asked Sam as he hovered by the door. "I'm just gonna clean up the mess in the bedroom and get changed real quick. We'll let Dean finish up in here and then get him set up back in bed with a bucket if it doesn't look like this is gonna let up."

Sam nodded and took Bobby's place by Dean's side while Bobby went about the business of mopping up the big pile of sick next to the boys' bed. If he was honest with himself, he'd have preferred dealing with horny underaged teenagers. At least then he could bluster and threaten and be intimidating, 'stead of having to get on his hands and knees for puke-scrubbing duty. He cursed John Winchester and his impeccable timing, the lucky bastard. It'd serve him right to have his eldest horking his guts up in that sleek beauty of a car of his. Wouldn't that have been fun to clean up?

Bitterness and grossness aside, though, Bobby was especially regretful that a boy he was (secretly) awfully fond of was feeling so shitty. Seein' the poor kid sick, his handsome face all twisted up with pain, felt a bit like being stabbed in the gut. Sure, they weren't his boys, but Bobby'd grown awfully fond of them. And it hurt more than Bobby ever thought it would to see one of them hurting.

By the time he was finished cleaning up the sick in the bedroom and had returned to the bathroom, Dean had resumed vomiting. It was painful to watch him writhe and heave with the force of his retching, but writhe and heave he did. Looked like he was trying to puke up a couple of vital organs, and by the choking sounds the poor kid was making, it probably felt like it, too. He shook and moaned, his eyes watering so badly that his long lashes teepeed in glossy tents along his puffy eyelids. His whole body trembled as he clung tightly to the white porcelain bowl of the toilet.

"Here you go," Bobby whispered with an extended hand when the latest bout of sick spasms had abated, a cold wet facecloth in hand. "Let's get you cleaned up a bit."

Dean nodded wordlessly and wiped at his mouth and nose with the wet cloth. Then he spared a weak, grateful smile when the old hunter offered a glass of water to rinse his mouth out with.

"Looks like you caught a nasty bug from that girlfriend of yours," Bobby teased lightly. "Saw her earlier today and thought she looked mighty green – though at the time I figured it was 'cos she was embarrassed to see me after last night."

"What happened last night?" Sam, ever watchful and inquisitive.

"She's not my girlfriend," Dean replied tiredly as he eased himself onto his ass and leaned against the cool tiles of the wall behind his back.

And there wasn't much Bobby could say to that that wouldn't be snarky or judgmental, so he let it lie. He let it lie even though it made his heart feel heavy to think of someone as young as Dean Winchester being so casual about his relations with people – especially his intimate relations – as if he were already a seasoned veteran on the playing field of courtship. He was too damned young to be having sex, let alone being so casual about it. Then again, he was too damned young to be doing a lot of the things he did: looking after his brother and father as though he were the responsible adult in the family; handling and maintaining firearms with such proficiency he'd put most sharpshooters to shame; chasing down and killing the kind of monsters that were the regular traffic of most peoples' nightmares. Hell, Dean being experienced as the love 'em and leave 'em, promiscuous type was small fry compared to most of the stuff he was too young for but did on an everyday basis.

Dean took a few deep breaths, relaxing against the coldness of the wall at his back, before stretching forward to snag some toilet paper from the roll, where he promptly blew his nose several times before tossing the used tissue into the toilet with a grimace.

"Got some in your nose, did you?" Bobby teased again.

Dean's grimace grew as he nodded. "I don't think I'm done yet, either."

"Probably not," Bobby conceded. "Come on, let's get you settled back in the bedroom with a bucket. Maybe you can try and sleep some of this off."

888

It turned out that staying up into the wee hours of the morning with a sick kid was strangely intimate, and a whole lotta disgusting. Sam had been sent off to bed in Bobby's room, away from the regular intervals of upchucking, so that at least someone in the house could get some sleep. And the old hunter...? Well he just didn't have it in him to leave Dean by himself when he was looking and feeling so miserable.

So he sat on the bed with the kid, back propped against the headboard, dozing when he could, offering comfort and a cold, wet washcloth when either was needed. There was nothing left in the poor boy's stomach, but his body seemed to have missed that memo and went about trying to empty itself in violent, twisting heaves about every half-hour or so. Dean lay sprawled bonelessly on his side, his head hanging over the side of the bed when it came time to gag and spit up more stringy streams of spit-soaked bile, groaning piteously and breathing like a prize horse that'd just been put through its paces. Then he would sink back into the mattress, limbs heavy and lifeless, skin so white it was transparent.

And if Bobby caught this bug from the boy, he was gonna take the kid out back and shoot him. And then he'd shoot John Winchester just as a matter of principle, for saddlin' him with the kid to begin with.

Except that Dean chose that moment to roll slightly onto his back, his head tilted back as he gulped for clean air through tightly flared nostrils, and Bobby saw that the kid's eyelashes were clumped together again into teepeed points from tears. He looked like hell, if Bobby was honest; more vulnerable and lookin' like a little boy than he had in the last five years.

"Bobby?" Dean whispered, his voice wrecked. "Where's Sam?"

"Sleeping."

Dean seemed to consider it a moment, eyes closed, before licking his lips to continue. "He okay?"

"Sam's fine," Bobby assured him. "Pretty grossed out, but fine."

"'Kay," the boy sighed, easing up now that he knew his little brother was okay. Then he cracked one eye open and peered up at his gruff companion in confusion. "What're you doin' in here?"

Bobby shrugged.

"Well it ain't admiring the view of your scrawny ass."

Dean groaned/growled and rolled fully onto his back so as to spare his backside any further scrutiny or insult.

"Does my Dad know he left us alone with a pervert?" the kid deadpanned breathlessly, the ghost of a grin sneaking up from the corners of his mouth.

"Beggars can't be choosers, boy." Then, because he felt it necessary to do something, he added. "You need anything? Glass of water or... I don't know, some dry toast or something?"

Dean lifted a listless hand to his face and let it drop onto his brow with a heavy sigh.

"No food," he moaned. "Water maybe?"

Water was good. Bobby could get water. Whether Dean could actually keep said water down without spewing his guts out was another matter.

"Sure thing, kiddo."

He pulled his tired limbs away from the bed, knees creaking with the effort after so long sitting in the same position, and made his way out into the hallway. It was still dark outside, but the sun would be making its daily climb up the horizon within the hour. Another sleepless night.

The stairs creaked as he eased himself down to the main floor, the house eerily quiet but for the occasional clicks and taps that seem to make up the soundtrack of all old houses. Bobby went straight to the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee for himself (he was definitely going to need it if he was going to make it through another day with the Winchester boys), and then poured a glass of water for Dean from the Brita in the fridge (and ol' Johnny boy and his little blonde clone could go throw themselves in the river for all he cared – filtered water was sure as shit better than the rust- and chemical-laced slop that ran through his pipes!). He leaned against the counter and listened to the coffee percolating, running a weary hand down his chin and stretching his face until it looked like it melted, before yawning wide enough to make his jaw pop.

Damnit, he was too old to be playin' nursemaid to a grown-up rugrat. Except, of course, for the part where he really liked the boy. And the part where said boy was lyin' in his own misery, feeling awful and with no one to look out for him while his daddy was off hunting demons. And the other part – the part he'd deny probably 'til his dying day – where he felt warmed to his core havin' the kid lean on him for support, saying, "Thanks, Bobby," in his lazy, sick, drawled whisper when Bobby wiped the back of his sweating neck with a cold, wet cloth, or handed him some water to rinse his mouth out with.

'Nough of that, Bobby thought. He sniffed and poured himself a cup of extra-strong coffee and climbed hastily up the stairs, hot beverage for himself in one hand, cold beverage for the invalid in the other. Dean was still lying on his back, hand resting over his brow to block his eyes from the light of the bedside lamp. Looked as though he hadn't moved since Bobby left him.

"Here," Bobby said quietly as he handed the glass of water, sweaty with condensation, towards the prone figure on the bed. "Sit up a bit and then take small, slow sips."

Dean flopped around like a fish on a riverbank, trying to get up, and then went limp with a pitiful moan.

"Not makin' it under your own steam, huh?" Bobby eyed him critically for a moment before laying both drinks on the bedside table. "Don't worry. I gotcha."

Kneeling on the bed, Bobby shimmied himself to the headboard once again, closer to Dean's side of the bed this time, and then propped a pillow against his knees. Then, without warning, he wedged his strong hands under Dean's shoulders and hefted him up under the armpits so that the boy's shoulders were propped up against the pillow on Bobby's knees. Dean groaned at the movement, eyes going wide and bleary-looking (clearly out of focus), before fluttering shut with a hitched sigh.

Licking his lips, Dean only barely managed to croak, "Please don't do that again."

"Sorry," Bobby shrugged. "Had to be done. Now open up."

He nabbed the glass of water from the table with only minimal jostling and eased it to the boy's parched lips. Slow, small sips, as instructed, as cool, quenching water made its way past bloodless lips. Dean seemed to become more aware of himself as he drank, the water trickling down his gullet serving to remind him of how empty and thirsty he was.

"Easy, easy," Bobby coaxed as Dean grasped the cup two-handed and began to drink in earnest. He could hear the kid gulping in his extreme thirst, which was a cryin' shame. More likely than not it'd be coming back up again, and soon.

Which it did. Exactly three minutes later.

The boy's pupils dilated, his breathing quickening, hands fluttering at his sides as waves of hot-cold rushed through his fingers, flushed his cheeks even as the colour receded to bleached white at the edges of his face. And then Dean was twisting onto his side, face over that damned bucket again, as the water, in a much less crisp, clean or refreshing state, came back up with a wet splatter into hollow plastic. Bobby knew the kid's guts must be twisting something fierce by the way Dean's knees drew up to his chest, his whole upper body contorting with the violence of dry heaves that followed. His hands shook like paper in the wind, knuckles white gripping the sheets beneath him as he tried to ride through the spasms as he retched.

And once again Bobby really, really hoped he didn't catch it.

888

Things got a little bit easier once Sam woke up. There were two of them now to play Nurse Ratched to the pathetic pile of bones in Bobby's spare bedroom, a fact the hunter was grateful for beyond description, especially because Sam took to the mother-hen role far more naturally than Bobby ever could; and their familial relation meant that Dean could accept his brother's help without it being gay. Damned kid was stubborn as a mule even when he was half-dead from puking.

Sam tended to Dean while Bobby took a quick shower and then drove into town to get some Gravol and ginger ale. He was surprised to see that Jenny Plumber was back at work behind the cash register when he entered the Pharmacy. She was well enough today to work her minimum-wage job, if a little pale and tired-looking. He'd thought for sure she'd have been home worshiping the porcelain god as Dean had been doing steadily for the last eleven hours.

"Didn't expect to see you in today," Bobby said conversationally as he slapped the Gravol down and then more carefully placed the soda onto the counter. "Figured you'd be at home nursin' that flu."

The girl's cheeks flushed bright red, her pretty face drawn into a frown of complete and utter confusion.

"What?"

Bobby rolled his eyes and reached for his wallet in his back jeans pocket.

"The flu," he repeated. "You were in here yesterday lookin' ten shades of green, an' now Dean's home horkin' his guts out with whatever virus you guys traded when you were..." He waved vaguely in the air between her and the counter and then cleared his throat.

Jenny's blush deepened, her eyes darkening in teenaged disdain.

"I don't have the flu," she hissed through clenched teeth. Then, donning the most bored and put-upon expression her sour young face could muster, drawled. "That'll be $6.75."

Bobby paused and gave her the stink eye.

"Don't piss in my ear and tell me it's rainin' kid," he said coldly. "I saw you yesterday. You looked about ready to puke all over this fancy counter-top right here. You got some kind of stomach bug, and you gave it to Dean. No sense lyin' about it."

Idjit.

If it was possible, Jenny's cheeks went even redder, purpling at the apples of her cheeks.

"I'm on my period!" she ground out at length, mortified and enraged. "I get nauseous on the first day of my rag, okay? I don't have the flu!"

Bobby wondered, idly, if it was possible for that moment to become any more awkward. He supposed he could be naked and talking to some angry hormonal teenaged girl about her period. That'd be worse, if only fractionally. Still, on a list of things he'd never, ever wanted to do before he died, talking to an angry hormonal teenaged girl about her period would probably be somewhere near the top.

"That'll be $6.75," she repeated, scowling with humiliation.

Bobby threw some bills at her and removed himself from the Pharmacy as fast as his old legs would carry him.

888

So obviously PMSing Jenny wasn't Dean's flu howler monkey. Heck, he'd probably picked up the thing days before he met the girl in town. There was a certain incubation period to these things, after all. Probably picked it up before he even got to Sioux Falls. (And here Bobby allowed himself the fantasy of John Winchester, who he enjoyed imagining had caught the bug as well, doubled over the toilet in some No-Tell Motel, projectile vomiting. There'd be a certain justice to it, if he was, though knowing Winchester he was probably feeling fit as a fiddle – the stubborn, healthy bastard!)

As soon as Bobby entered the house, he headed straight for the kitchen and unscrewed the cap from the ginger ale. He'd let it sit for a few hours so it could go flat before he'd serve it up to Dean and his volatile stomach. Then he grabbed a clean glass and filled it with more fresh water and made his way quietly up the stairs.

The boys were pretty much where he'd left them. Dean was lying on his side, lifeless and white as a sheet, eyes closed and breathing through his nose. Sam was sitting on the bed beside him, resting against a host of pillows that he'd stolen from Bobby's bed and propped up behind his back, a copy of Treasure Island open on his lap. He read aloud in a quiet voice, as a mother might use for a small child, and Dean, for all his resemblance to a freshly-fallen corpse, would grin weakly at the rise and fall of his baby brother's voice as he read out the dialogue between the various characters.

It looked so domestic Bobby wished he had a camera.

"Awww," he drawled instead. "Well ain't you two cute?"

Dean spared enough energy to fire a one-finger salute in his benefactor's direction.

"Got you some Gravol," Bobby said as he tossed the box of pills towards the bed. "Should help with the nausea, providin' you can keep it down."

Sam reached for the package of pills but was, surprisingly, overtaken by his big brother, who snatched it up one-handed before turning back onto his side to wrestle it open. Dean looked about as pissy as a hen with her ass on fire as he struggled with the stubborn box. His fingers shook so badly he couldn't get a proper hold on the top tab to pull it open, and in his growing frustration at his inability to force his way inside he looked about three seconds away from bursting into tears. It was such a strange departure from Dean's usual happy-go-lucky, brave-faced bravado that Bobby felt momentarily weak-kneed.

"Hold up," Bobby ordered quietly. He snatched the slim package from Dean's trembling fingers and pried the plastic-sealed tabs of cardboard apart to reveal the neat rows of foil-sealed pills inside. He punched one through its wrapping and carefully placed it in Dean's open palm, the fresh glass of water now resting within easy reach on the bedside table.

"Take this and get your stupid ass back to sleep," he groused good-naturedly.

Dean spared him a grateful grin before tossing the tiny pill into his mouth, chasing it quickly with a cool mouthful of water. He shifted in place on the bed, trying to find a comfortable position while still facing the now much-hated bucket, before going limp with an irritated huff.

"You eaten anything yet?" Bobby asked.

Dean's negative headshake was so minute it might as well have been non-existent.

"Think you can stomach some dry toast?"

"After the Gravol," Sam offered helpfully. "If it helps settle him, then he can have some toast. If he eats before it gets into his system, he'll just end up puking it all up."

Sam Winchester might have been some kind of prophet, or else he was just an expert on his brother's puking habits. It turned out Dean wasn't ready for food yet, just as he wasn't ready for Gravol, it seemed. Within minutes of seeking remedy to his distress, Dean was horking up his guts into the bucket, water and Gravol coming back the way they'd come. He panted and moaned desperately, convulsing with whole-body heaves as he gagged and spat out long strings of sickly saliva. It was painful to watch, and probably infinitely more painful to endure.

"Jesus, kid!" Bobby sighed wearily. "You gotta stop pukin'."

Dean couldn't even muster a reply, too busy panting and gagging into the bucket. He twisted in on himself, curling his knees up towards his chest and moaned piteously.

"He says his stomach hurts," Sam whispered in a terrified voice.

"Sam..." A warning, forceful in spite of the lack of voice behind it, growled out between tight, white lips. "'M'fine."

Sam folded his arms across his chest and threw himself back against the pillow-piled headboard with an angry huff. He scowled at his trembling big brother, looking every bit the pissed-off pre-pubescent twelve year-old that he was.

"Fine," he grumped. "You're fine. So go on and be fine puking your guts up – see if I care. Just don't complain to me when you rupture something and die, you stubborn ass!"

And the thing was – marvel of all marvels – the stubborn sonofabitch actually grinned at that, his pasty white face flashing back to some semblance of the heartbreaker he'd grown up to be. Dean looked pleased with himself, as if driving his brother nuts were his mission in life and he'd just accomplished a job well done. Anything to get a rise out of his little brother.

Unfortunately, the smile didn't last long. Dean's stomach decided it wasn't quite finished rebelling and he was soon hovering over the bedside bucket, getting reacquainted with his own spit and stomach bile. His guts twisted and Dean heaved, gagging for a full three minutes and then panting like a woman in labour until he finally collapsed with exhaustion.

The situation did not improve with time. When Bobby and Sam retired to the kitchen later that evening to share a quiet meal, Dean was still agonizing over a bucket in his sickbed, cursing them their ability to eat when he was feeling so wretched. The sick spells came pretty regularly, every twenty-minutes to half-hour mostly, occasionally breaking for an hour (during which time Dean caught some much-needed sleep). They tried keeping him hydrated with water and flat ginger ale, but it all came back up again within minutes.

By the time the following morning came around, with Dean shivering and gagging and spitting up bile every twenty minutes like clockwork, Bobby had really begun to worry. John Winchester would probably kill him for it, but he was thinking Dean might need a doctor. Dehydration was going to be a serious issue if they didn't get some fluids into the kid.

"It lasted four days the last time," Sam said solemnly as he eyed his brother from the doorway to the spare bedroom.

"Last time?"

Sam nodded and cast a worried glance at his father's old hunting buddy.

"He got sick about three months ago, right after we left Flagstaff."

"Last time?"

Long, slender fingers gripped the doorframe tightly as Sam's dark, hazel eyes roamed back to his brother on the bed.

"He says it's nothing, just a stomach bug, but even Dean's not so unlucky that he'd get four stomach bugs in a row."

"I'm gonna ask this one more time," Bobby ground out through the heat of sudden, budding rage. "Last time?"

It was as though someone had given the boy a rough shake, snapping him out of his frightened reverie. Sam blinked up at Bobby in surprise, gulping with worry before sucking his bottom lip into his mouth to give it a good chew.

"Dean's had this before – at least three times that I know of," Sam explained guiltily. "He gets real nauseous, with stomach cramps and stuff, and then won't stop throwing up. First time it was for a day and a half, but the last few times have been... longer."

"And you didn't think to tell me about this before?" Bobby demanded incredulously. "Jesus Christ, Sam! I've half a mind to take you over my knee and tan your ass!"

"He told me not to tell anyone!" Sam defended weakly, his eyes so big and round it was clear he didn't particularly buy into his own defence.

"Great job on that," came a garbled, disdainful voice from the bed. "Traitor!"

"I might just tan yours, too!" Bobby threatened as he pointed a finger at the invalid in warning. "What the hell were you thinking, Dean?" He pulled off his trucker's cap and swept a hand through his thinning mess of hair.

"One time – sure. Flu, stomach bug, bad burrito... You brush your teeth and call it a bad day. But when you reach puking marathon number four, it's danged past time to tell someone about it and get it looked at!"

"Dean told me not to tell anyone!" Sam repeated stubbornly, petulantly, his chin thrust out in imitation of his old man.

"Well Dean's an idjit!" Bobby bellowed.

The room fell into an awkward silence as Bobby's voice rang out through the empty spaces of the house. Sam stared at Bobby with wide, frightened eyes, and the hunter felt a momentary pang of guilt for having frightened him. It was fleeting, however, scurrying away like a dried leaf on a gust of wind when Dean moaned and started gagging over the bucket again.

"Right," Bobby said gruffly. "Get your brother's shit together and help 'im get dressed. We're leavin' in five minutes."

"I'm fine!" Dean grumbled between dry heaves. "Just..." gag "Need to..." gag "...sleep it off."

"And how's that working for ya?" Bobby snapped.

Dean replied with another shaky, one-fingered salute.

888

"You shoulda told me," Bobby admonished quietly as he and Sam sat in the less-than-comfortable chairs in the waiting room at the ER.

The hospital staff had taken Dean in to see someone after a thirty-minute wait in chairs that ended in the boy passing out cold in the middle of gagging up strings of drool and bile into a kidney-shaped basin on his lap. He'd been shaking so bad his fingers couldn't grasp the cold steel rim any longer and it was only his little brother's quick reflexes that saved the basin from spilling onto the floor. Dean, unfortunately, wasn't so lucky and went down like a stone in a pond. Then there'd been a flurry of activity, nurses checking his pulse and driving their knuckles into his sternum to try and rouse him. Dean's eyelashes had fluttered, his brow scrunching up tight before he groaned and began heaving up nothing. Strings of spit dripped from his lips and chin as he turned himself inside out, but there was nothing left in him to expel.

Then the hospital staff had really snapped to, rushing in with a gurney and wheeling Dean away to run a battery of tests and get some fluids into him.

That left Bobby and Sam alone to contemplate the seriousness of their situation.

"Shoulda told me," Bobby repeated tiredly. "This is serious, Sam. Your brother... something could be seriously wrong with him, and you just kept this secret for him."

Young Sammy Winchester hung his head in shame, his eyes glistening with unshed tears as he stared mournfully at his ratty old sneakers.

"Why the hell hasn't your Daddy done anything about this?" Then, thinking better of it. "Does he even know?"

Sam shook his head and wiped the back of his hand across his eyes. He sniffed derisively and cast Bobby a sideways glance.

"Course he doesn't," Sam whispered bitterly. "Dad's never home to see it happen, and even if he was…? He only sees what he wants to see – unless of course I'm around. Then he only ever sees the things that I do wrong."

"Sam..." Bobby tried tiredly.

"But Dean... he's the perfect soldier," Sam went on. "He's the strongest, fastest, bestest son ever. And he never gets sick – oh no! 'Stick a bandaid on it, Dean! You'll be fine!' 'Suck it up, soldier! Don't be a pussy!' Dean would rather die of the plague than let Dad know he's not 'operating at 100%.'" And at the end he dipped his voice low in imitation of John Winchester.

"I tried convincing Dean to tell Dad, or the school nurse, honest Bobby. I did." Sam's pleading puppy eyes looked up at the old hunter with something that looked half-desperate apology, and half remorse. The boy was strung so tight, and yet so bone tired, he looked about ready to crack from all the jagged edges forming at the tiny fissures of his naturally gentle soul. He sniffled and turned his gaze away to stare at his feet dejectedly.

"I tried," he repeated in a whisper. "But Dean said that it was nothing – and I knew it wasn't nothing, but he said that Dad couldn't do his job if he was worrying about Dean and his stupid, weak stomach, and that people could die – Dad could die – if he was distracted."

"Yeah, well…" Bobby allowed tiredly. "You meant well, I 'spose. But you've gotta see that keeping something like this a secret was damned stupid, Sam. Your brother may be tough, but he's not invincible. And you goin' and ignorin' somethin' like this means that Dean could die."

Sam's eyes widened to two glossy-wet, round orbs, but the kid kept it together well enough. His nostrils flared as he swallowed back his tears, and he cleared his throat before returning his gaze to the floor. It was a shitty lesson to learn, but Sam needed to learn it. There had to be at least one Winchester with enough common sense to deal with crap like this when it came like a rational human being. Christ knew John and Dean'd both been beat one time too many with a stupid stick to do anything other than point a gun at a problem and grunt until it went away.

So the old hunter and the young hunter sat together in the silence of a crowded ER and waited.

888

Bobby'd always said that Winchesters were stubborn, and in this Dean didn't disappoint. Three days in the hospital – three days of constant puking – before his mysterious illness finally cleared up. The doctors had him on a steady drip of fluids to keep him hydrated, and tried a whole host of anti-nauseants and sedatives to keep the kid from barfing himself to death, but in the end the thing seemed to run its course and end on its own. At least, that's the way the doctors were telling it.

Sam gave the docs the full run-down of Dean's past illnesses so they could work out what was behind it, but the doctors were pretty stumped. The kid's blood counts were all normal, his organs were all functioning the way they were supposed to, and from the multitude of tests they'd run in an attempt at finding a diagnosis, they'd been unable to uncover a single known medical reason for Dean's illness. That is, until a nurse got desperate and consulted the latest medical journals and came up with a surprising and extremely rare diagnosis.

"Cyclic vomiting syndrome?" Bobby asked blankly when the doctor-in-charge finally let everyone in on the what's-what of Dean's illness.

"We think so, yes," the doc, Pauley, said. "It's a pretty rare disorder, and we don't know a whole lot about it, but the symptoms fit."

When both Bobby and Sam continued to stare at him blankly, the doctor went on to explain.

"CVS is triggered by stress," he said. "No one really knows yet what causes it, but in people with CVS, extreme stress triggers periods of excessive vomiting. Now Sam, you said that your father has been away every time your brother got sick, yes? That Dean was in charge?"

Sam nodded, and Bobby felt his own stomach curdle, knowing where this was going, hating what this all meant about poor Dean, John's brave little soldier.

"That's a lot of responsibility," the doctor explained in his know-it-all voice. "And for someone your brother's age, that responsibility can be too much."

Sam's face fell, his colour draining, and Bobby would have chuckled at the kicked-puppy look the kid had going it if weren't for the fact that his own heart was pretty much breaking at this awful revelation. Goddamn John Winchester and his crusade. Goddamn him to Hell for doing this to his kids – for abandoning them all the time and leaving one to raise the other. Goddamn him for expecting too much from his eldest, for expecting him to always take care of everything perfectly, to always be the responsible one when he was still just a kid.

"The last time Dean got sick was after we left Flagstaff," Sam whispered. His head was bowed down, his ears flushed, and Bobby was sure, by the way the kid's shoulders slumped, by the way he shuffled his feet, that he was feeling guilty about something.

"I ran away, Bobby," Sam looked up, tears glistening in his eyes and then tumbling down his cheeks. "In Flagstaff. Dad was off on business again, and Dean was at home while I went to the library. I… I'd packed a bag and stole some money from our emergency stash and I just—left."

His eyes were round and pleading as he looked up at Bobby, shame colouring Sam's pale face in a blotchy blush.

"I didn't even think," Sam admitted. "I wasn't even thinking about Dean, I just… I just was so excited to get away."

He wiped the tears off his face and sniffed loudly, trying to collect himself.

"Anyway, by the time Dad found me Dean seemed fine. Dad dropped us off at Pastor Jim's because he still had to finish the h—his business. And that's when Dean got sick. God, he was puking for four days and… and that was because of me. Because I stressed him out so bad. I triggered it. I did that."

And Bobby didn't even know how to respond to that. He wanted to tell Sam that it wasn't his fault, that he couldn't have known his big brother had a rare puking disease. But puking disease or not, he had to have known that him running away on Dean's watch would have worried his big brother sick. So he didn't offer up any platitudes, didn't try to make the kid feel better. His best compromise was to hold himself back from throttling the kid.

"This isn't your fault," Dr. Pauley supplied in Bobby's stead. "This is a very rare condition your brother has. And there's no way you could have known."

"Though I'd think you'd have to realize your brother'd be worried sick about you runnin' away," Bobby couldn't help but amend. "Good God, kid, what were you thinking?"

Sam hung his head in shame and continued to cry quietly to himself, and Bobby let him. It'd be good for the boy to have a sense of his own actions, that they sometimes had consequences. Hard as John was on his boys, Bobby knew that Dean bore the brunt of the responsibility. He'd seen it with his own eyes when Sam screwed up and it somehow translated into being Dean's fault in John's eyes.

"So what's the prognosis, then?" Bobby asked after clearing his throat. "How do we treat this cyclic vomiting crap?"

"As of yet there's no treatment, really," the doctor admitted. "In some patients the cycles happen frequently, during heavy periods of stress. But there are also calm periods where there are no flare-ups. The important thing is to provide Dean an environment that has minimal stress. Perhaps staying with this Pastor Jim when your father's away," Dr. Pauley suggested. "Or with you, Mr. Singer," he said, directly to Bobby.

"Of course," Bobby agreed with a tight and forced grin. "Boys're always welcome to stay with me."

Even as he said it his insides curdled with dread. John Winchester was going to hit the roof.

888

As far as fights went, this was probably the biggest John and Bobby had ever had. Winchester Sr. eventually came storming back, after having ignored countless voicemail messages urgently urging him to get his stubborn ass home with his sick, hospitalized, eldest son, and ranted and raged at Bobby like it was his damned fault that the kid was sick in the first place. And he really didn't take kindly to Bobby butting his nose in about how he should be raising his kids. Got downright livid when Bobby turned the tables and suggested that it was John's shitty parenting skills that'd landed Dean in this situation.

"And if you've got even a single parenting gene in you," Bobby intoned dangerously, "you'll put that boy first and your crusade second. Because droppin' him off at Jim's is only gonna make him feel like you don't want him around, like he's a burden to you."

"Don't act like you know my kid better than I do, Singer!" John snarled. "You don't got kids, so stop acting like you know what's best for mine."

And it only went downhill from there.

The Winchester patriarch did not like his parenting skills to be questioned. He did not want his friend's advice, even if it coincided with the doctor's orders. He had his soldiers to raise, and his mission to accomplish, and Bobby could go right to Hell with his holier-than-thou, sanctimonious bullshit.

In the end, Bobby knew John's mind was already made up. The man was so bull-headed once he got his mind set on something, had tunnel-vision so precise he was blind to everything else around him. And in his mind he was the only one who could keep his boys safe – which meant keeping them on the road, keeping them on the move. It also meant chasing down and killing the thing that killed Mary, because, "It'll come for them next, Bobby. And Dean'll thank me for it later when he's not watching his baby brother gutted and bleeding on the ceiling while he pukes his guts up because he's too 'stressed out.'"

Not the best parting of ways, all things considered. Bobby threatened to shoot John full of buckshot – cocked the shotgun and everything – and Dean hastily dragged his father out to the car to avoid any bloodshed. Bobby never even got to say goodbye to the boys, though he could see from their long faces and furtive, warm-eyed looks in his direction that they were sorry to be leaving on such bad terms.

He didn't say, "You boys come on back here if you ever need anything." Didn't need to, he figured. When they got older, got out from underneath John's thumb a bit, maybe they'd drag themselves over to Singers Salvage Yard of their own volition.

He prayed they would.

~Fin~

A/N: Thanks for trudging through this beast with me! *smooches and apologies for all the unfinished fics still pending!*