He didn't really take many hunts anymore.
Every so often he got calls for information or advice, and every so often he'd venture out if something was close. But for the most part – Bobby Singer had finally gotten as retired as he was going to get. Didn't mean that the rest of the hunting community believed it, but he was respected enough that they mostly let him alone.
Except for one question that he kept getting, once every six months or so. The phone would ring and he'd pick it up, pass a few moments in awkward small talk. Then the hunter on the other end would clear his throat and ask, "Hey, are the Winchesters really dead?"
Yeah, he said flatly, every time. Yeah, they were.
He'd gotten the call early on a Sunday morning, a flat voice giving coordinates. It looked like a trap, so he did what any reasonable hunter would do and armed himself before walking into it. He followed the coordinates and found them both: sprawled on the ground, one next to the other.
They'd fought hard, of course. Never did anything less, Winchesters. Didn't keep them from dying, though; it never had, and he didn't think they were sneaking out of this one.
He rubbed his face. After so many times cheating death, he half expected them to do it one more time, but they were dead, had been for a while, beaten and bloody.
Somewhere, no matter his age, Bobby had always known that he'd be the one to salt and burn Sam and Dean.
He built the pyre – one for the two of them – and stayed by until it had burned down to nothing.
And that was when he retired. Not so much because of grief – though there was plenty of that for those boys and their inability to get a break – but because he didn't need to ask what had done it, and it hadn't been a monster to take Sam and Dean down. Just hunters who liked to think they knew what they were doing, so they killed his boys.
On bad days, lonely days (and he'd almost forgotten how that was, to be alone in his house, when it'd been such a refuge for the three of them the past few years) he wondered if he could track down names, learn who had finally finished off the Winchester boys.
But then, Bobby wasn't a Winchester. Revenge didn't fit so well on his shoulders, not anymore.
It was six years after that he started getting the reports.
For some reason, Jared thought to call him. "Hey Singer," he said, "There's some kind of problem in Wisconsin, real nasty one. Riley and I are going to go check it out."
"What're you telling me for?" Bobby asked, paging through a book without really reading it. Jared wasn't a bad hunter, though. At least, pretty even-keeled, which was more than you could say for a lot of hunters.
"Just checking in," Jared said, with a little laugh. "Some people been saying that you're dead."
"Not yet," Bobby snapped, and hung up, but he went to look up what Jared'd been talking about, just for old time's sake. It looked pretty standard, right up until he ran into the crime scene photos. Two guys who'd gone out hunting for pheasants had turned up ripped into very literal bloody shreds – rib cages cracked open, body spread over several feet of ground.
Bobby thought of the Witnesses, and grimaced. He twitched toward the phone to call Jared, but pulled back, not sure what he would say.
Jared called him back a day and a half later, and his voice was a little wobbly. "Riley's dead," he said, "Oh god. He's – it's hunting me, Singer. I'm getting the hell out of here."
Hunters weren't easily scared, and Jared wasn't new to the job. Bobby narrowed his eyes. "Hold on," he said, and Jared cut him off.
"Fuck, I, Bobby, I think I know who it is-"
The line clicked and went dead.
It wasn't rare for hunters to die on the job. Not even necessarily for two to go down in one bad hunt. It was rare for them to be running scared and recognize what they were hunting. There was something nagging at him about Wisconsin that he needed to remember, but he couldn't quite find it.
He decided to let it go, and sent up a thought for Jared and Riley both, but didn't leave the house.
It wasn't until the next week, when Jackson called, that he remembered what it was about Wisconsin. "Singer," the other hunter said, "What do you know about this thing in Wisconsin?"
"Jared and Riley went down hunting it. What, you looking to take care of it?"
"No," said Jackson, his voice curiously toneless. "Not after the death toll's up to six hunters and six civilians and no one's any closer to finding whatever the hell it is, I'm not. Do you know anything?"
Bobby stirred his soup and tried to call up the details. "What's the place's name again? Specifically?"
"Just outside Cascade," he said, "Eastern side of the state. There's a state forest around there that's where things seem to be centered."
That jogged his memory, all right. Shit, he thought, and said, "Shit."
"What?" Jackson said, "You got something?"
"I got something," Bobby said, turning off his stove and staring down at the soup with a feeling of dread centered in his gut. "Tell anyone you know that I'll take care of this one."
"Thought you were-"
"I'll take care of it," Bobby said, a little more harshly, and after a brief silence Jackson said, "Yeah, okay," and hung up. Bobby stared at the phone, bleakly. He felt like an idiot for not making the connection sooner. Maybe he just hadn't wanted to make the connection. The last time he'd been to Cascade had been to salt and burn a pair of bodies.
Apparently there was still something keeping them here. Restless, and then confused, and then angry. And now killing. Hunters. Killing hunters, and just failing to distinguish between the civilian kind and the other kind. Figured that they were good, too. They knew all the tricks.
They were his boys; that made them his to take care of. And maybe there would still be enough Winchester there to listen. Hopefully he would be more Bobby than hunter.
Out of some weird sense of something or other, he drove the Impala, and hoped Dean didn't get pissy about it. Hoped maybe it might – ground them, or some shit.
It took a two day drive to get to Wisconsin. He crossed into the woods outside the tiny village of Cascade and the car stalled. Bobby pulled his hands off the wheel and waited, keeping his eyes out. Nothing but silence, and finally he tried a careful, "Boys?"
He breathed out a cloud of white mist and abruptly looked to his right, and blinked. He shouldn't have been surprised, but it was just – Sam, staring at him, outline slightly fuzzy. He looked slightly surprised, brows drawn together.
For just a second, Bobby felt like he was choking on his own throat. "Sam," he said, or started to say.
"This isn't your car." His voice was different, more hollow and resonant. Ghost voice. He'd heard a thousand of them in his lifetime, but this one still sounded like Sam.
It was then, finally, that it occurred to Bobby that Sam was alone. No Dean, and with this car, he would've expected that boy to come first. "I know," he said, or started to say, and then Sam's jaw shifted in a familiar way that meant he was pissed and he said again, "This isn't your car."
Bobby remembered the crime scene photos and felt a little lurch. He didn't dare to move. Sam just looked at him, fuzzed once. "You shouldn't be here," Sam said finally, and there was something between anger and regret in that strange ghost-voice, and then he was gone.
The car started again but Bobby didn't move right away, just sat very still, almost frozen, wondering what he'd thought he'd been doing taking this on.
There wasn't a motel to speak of in the town of 700 people, not even a bed and breakfast. There was an abandoned cabin out in the woods, which suited Bobby just fine. He half expected to run into Sam walking there along some trails, but the kid didn't come back.
He deliberately didn't lay salt lines at the cabin, just settled in to wait and hope no one came into the woods, hope that Sam was curious and persistent enough to come back. Hope that Sam wouldn't rip him to shreds.
He didn't have to wait long.
Bobby turned, slowly. Now that he could see Sam properly – he wanted to wince. He looked like he had when he died – one arm broken, shirt tattered by knife cuts and covered in blood. At least his face was intact, though the left side of his hair looked matted by blood.
"Sam," Bobby said carefully, "I'm here to help you."
"Help me," he said, and then bared his teeth, face twisting, turning vicious, furious. "Help me. I don't need help. I'm going to kill them all. All of them, all the hunters." The room rattled, suddenly. The tools by the fireplace fell over and a chair rocked violently. Bobby eyed it and Sam warily.
"You need to move on," Bobby tried, and the words sounded trite and cliché the moment he said them. Sam moved in one swift motion, towering over Bobby, too close.
"Move on," he said, and before Bobby could step back Sam's hand was wrist deep in his chest and wrapped around his heart, cold fingers like steel and Bobby's whole body spasmed and jerked, but Sam wasn't squeezing, not yet. "They killed Dean," he snarled. "They made him watch me die and then they killed him. They didn't have to do that. They shouldn't have done that. Now Dean's gone and they're dead."
He let go and flickered away and Bobby caught himself on the table. "Leave," Sam intoned. "There's nothing you can do. You can't save them from me. They'll all die."
Bobby wheezed. He opened his mouth.
Sam looked at him and the papers on the table swept to the floor, scattered into the fireplace. Then he was gone.
He had nothing to bargain with. All he could do was wait, and try to think of some way he could get through to Sam. It was just too bad that he understood.
Sam wasn't pissed about dying. Sam was pissed that his brother had died too. And didn't that just figure.
What he needed, Bobby thought, was Dean. Dean had always been the only one who could talk Sam out of anything. Maybe even out of taking revenge for his death. But while summoning restless spirits was one thing, one that had moved on to wherever (heaven, if the angels knew what was good for them)?
Bobby swore a few times under his breath. Other than that…who knew what was tying Sam down? Maybe nothing; maybe just sheer perverse obstinacy. That would be like Sam.
And he wasn't kidding himself. So far he'd had a break, sure. Sam hadn't decided to kill him yet, but how long would that last? He was a ghost, and if Bobby knew anything about vengeful spirits, one thing they weren't was patient.
A smart hunter would have left, at least until figuring out how to tackle the problem seriously. It just figured, Bobby thought as he started flipping through books of spirit lore, wishing he had his whole library. He'd been spending too much damned time with the Winchesters.
He had an hour of quiet reading before his books fell with a thud to the floor. He left them there, and the one he was reading slammed on his fingers. The fire he'd lit went out and the electric lights flickered violently. Bobby swore under his breath and rubbed his fingers, pushing his chair back. "You think you can chase me out?"
No answer. A statue of a deer on the mantelplace fell to the floor with a resounding thud, and Bobby turned to look at it. Sam was standing there, expression hard, hair all over his eyes. "Why are you still here," he said, almost a snarl. "Leave."
Bobby straightened his shoulders and faced the younger Winchester. There was a bullet wound in his chest, this time, oozing blood, that Bobby remembered cleaning. A bruise framing his left eye. "You gonna kill me for real this time?"
Sam didn't wince, but he didn't move either, just stared coldly at Bobby. The air in the cabin was frigid, Bobby's breath mist in the air. Bobby cleared his throat. "You were like a son. Both of you. You deserve a rest. Real rest."
It took Bobby a moment to recognize the sound, and then he realized he'd never heard a ghost laugh. "You think I'll get any rest where I'm going?" Sam said. His eyes softened, slightly, widened a little into what Dean had always called his puppy-dog eyes. "I need to do this. Put things right."
"You're just killing people," Bobby said, carefully. Sam's eyes turned on him and Bobby's spine crawled. No puppy there now. No, he couldn't forget. No matter what – it was Sam, but it was Sam twisted and lost and angry.
"Get out," Sam said again, hollowly. The whole house shook ominously. Figured Sam would pick up ghost mojo fast.
"Your brother wouldn't-"
Sam hissed and Bobby knew he'd made a mistake before the younger Winchester thrust out his hand and Bobby felt himself lifted off the floor. The wall came up fast and hard. "Don't tell me," Sam snarled. "Dean should be alive. He should be alive!"
For a moment, Bobby thought that was it, thought he was gone. The windows shattered and a wind blasted through the house, thought, and Sam went with it. Bobby held very still, breathing hard.
He was pushing in all the wrong places, but he didn't know the right ones.
Bobby went back to his book and started looking again, something about a summoning of a spirit at rest. He needed this hunt over. It was tearing at wounds he hadn't even realized the depth of, and every time he looked at Sam it ached all over again.
In the end, he decided to just use a slightly more intense version of a regular summoning spell and hope that it worked. It had the advantage of a pretty basic ingredient list that he collected fairly rapidly. He set everything up and stared at it for a few moments before starting to light the candles and read the incantation.
He was only two lines in before the temperature dropped and he heard, "What are you doing," in a tense, almost nervous voice.
Bobby glanced up and didn't let himself pause, the Latin rolling off his tongue. His eyes found Sam's. "What are you doing," the younger Winchester asked again, expression turning downward into a ghostly frown. The candles flickered and Bobby glanced at them worriedly, but they didn't go out.
"Stop it," Sam said, and then took a step forward with that strange, jerky movement of ghosts. The whole table wobbled this time, and Sam's voice rose, plainly pushing toward angry. "Stop-"
He fumbled for the match as he read the last three words and dropped it on the herbs, which went up in a dry whoosh of blue flame. Sam's expression flickered from angry to confused to angry and-
Bobby felt the shift in the air and turned.
It was Dean, and he didn't look dead, looked alive as ever, healthy and vital, and he was looking right through Bobby, head slightly cocked to the side like he was waiting – and glancing back, Bobby saw the moment when Sam forgot there was anyone else in the room. His eyes were huge, suddenly, the anger draining, melting. "Dean?" he said, young and confused all over again, and Dean smiled, cocky as ever.
"Hey, Sammy," Dean said. Sam flickered like he was about to disappear.
Bobby stepped carefully out of the way.
"You look good," said Sam, after a moment. Dean smirked a little more.
"You look like crap."
"You were gone." Sam's expression hardened, chilled. "They killed you. They didn't need to kill you-"
"Sam," Dean cut him off. "It's okay. It's fine. I'm fine."
"You died." Sam's hollow voice still managed to sound miserable.
"And it's not your fault."
Bobby saw Sam's ghostly shoulders wilt and slump. Both of them seemed to have forgotten he was there at all. "Dean," Sam said in a small voice. "I'm sorry."
"I know." Dean took a step nearer now. "You gonna come with me now?"
Sam's eyes somehow went even wider, and he wavered. Bobby held his breath, not daring even to blink. "I can?" Sam said, and Dean nodded, just a little.
"Yeah, you can." Another step nearer, and he held out his hand. "I need you with me, Sammy."
Sam hesitated a moment longer, then reached out, expression full of trust. Ghostly fingers touched Dean's and for a moment, Sam's expression was one of relief, of bliss.
Then he faded in a soft glow of light, and Dean turned his head to look at Bobby. The older hunter's eyes burned. "Thanks," Dean said, after a moment, and was gone. Silence fell, and Bobby cleared his throat, staring at nothing in particular.
"Idjits," he said finally, and swiped a hand across his eyes.
He called Jackson and told him it was done before heading back to Sioux Falls the next day.
He felt drained, exhausted; like grieving all over again. But in spite of all of that, he couldn't help but think that maybe, of everything, this was the thing that had finally gone right.