Title: That's Why I'm Here
Author: Still Waters
Disclaimer: Not mine. Just playing, with love and respect to those who brought these characters to life.
Summary: In the wake of the events of 5x01, Bobby muses on psychology, identity, and what really matters. Because paralysis ain't death, and he sure as hell isn't going through some neatly packaged stages of grief. No way.
Notes: The idea for this story stemmed from something in Jim Beaver's performance in 5x10 (Abandon All Hope) – the way he talked to Dean over the radio after Jo was attacked, particularly the way he said "it's okay, boy, that's why I'm here", always struck me. I felt so much of his character and his relationship with the Winchesters in that delivery. I then saw the beautiful moments in 5x07 (The Curious Case of Dean Winchester) where Bobby breaks down, calls himself useless, admits to thoughts of suicide, and gets a supportive lecture on his importance from Dean. I wanted to explore more of Bobby's journey in adjusting to his paralysis, from his point of view. Once I started reviewing those episodes, his voice just came out, and this piece was born. I hope I do him justice. Thank you for reading.
Bobby Singer was, despite all appearances, a well-rounded, largely self-educated man. From mechanics to obscure supernatural lore, he had built a respected knowledge base through a combination of observation and research; and Bobby was no idiot when it came to research – he made damn sure his sources were well-founded, the studies properly supported and cross-referenced. Like most hunters, he had a rudimentary basis in psychology – useful in understanding, supporting, and manipulating the people they came across in their work. Even with its uses, hell, even with the sheer amount he unconsciously used in dealing with the Winchester family alone, he still felt like most of it was crap - particularly, that grief continuum and identity loss baloney. Bobby had lost friends and family, and had supported others through the same, enough times to know that no one went through some damn orderly list of emotion, and no one ever forgot who they were at the end – a hunter - because it was usually that identity that had led to the loss in the first place. Kübler-Ross may have meant well, but Bobby's first-hand research, subjective and anecdotal as it may have been, pointed to a load of bullshit.
Until he stabbed himself in the gut in order to kill a demon that had the balls to try and get him to kill Dean with his own….well, possessed…hands. Not that those boys couldn't piss him off, but if he ever gave in to the urge to throttle either of them, it was going to be his choice and with his own two hands, thank you very much.
It said something about his life that those events were more acceptable than what came next.
Bobby: "Unlikely to walk again? Wait'll I get out of this bed – I'll use my game leg to kick your friggin' ass! You believe that yahoo?"
Dean: "Screw him, you'll be fine."
Denial, his ass. How was he supposed to react to that barely-old-enough-to-shave kid with a nervous stammer, spewing medical jargon? In his line of work, you didn't just take crap like that lying down – you fought, tooth and nail, with everything you had to make damn sure it didn't go down that way. Most people didn't know the real-deal Apocalypse was brewing – but those, like him, who did, were fighting like hell to stop it because they wouldn't accept that there was no other alternative. In this room alone, Sam and Dean had died in that fight. And came back to do it again.
It wasn't denial - it was the spirit that kept hunters moving when all else said they should have been down for good.
Besides, with the Winchesters and their freaking frequent dyer miles, Bobby was no stranger to grief. He hadn't gone through some neatly packaged stages.
Anyway, her book was "On Death and Dying." He knew he wasn't dead, and pretty sure he wasn't dyin'. At least not from this.
This wasn't grief.
It was just his legs.
Yeah, he had yelled at that kid doc. But with that attitude, he deserved it.
Cas took his sweet time showing up, spouting some crap about not being able to find Sam and Dean. Probably had something to do with the x-rays Dean was showing Sam as the two idjits loitered in the doorway and figured that just because Bobby wasn't joining in the conversation, it meant he couldn't hear them jabbering. That he didn't hear them talking about him.
Dean: "It's been like three days now? We gotta cheer him up."
Sam: "Look, we might have to wrap our heads around the idea that Bobby might not just bounce back this time."
Well, thanks Sam, for that vote of confidence. So, it was the third day and he hadn't risen yet. He wasn't friggin' Jesus. He was "Mr. Singer, the T12 SCI" to Mike from occupational therapy who came in that morning to teach him how to transfer from the bed to the chair.
But Cas was here, in all his awkward, divine glory. The angel who pulled Dean out of hell. Zapping Bobby's legs into working order would be nothing compared to that trip. So, he broke their little private-but-right-in-the-middle-of-a-hospital-hallway conversation and laid it out.
Bobby: "Get over here and lay your damn hands on. Get healing - now!"
Cas: "I can't."
Bobby had heard a lot of bull in his day, but this…Cas just happens to lose his mojo when Bobby was looking down the final fight for humanity from a wheelchair? He wouldn't even be stuck in this damn hospital, or this damn excuse for movement, if Cas's angels and Meg's demons would just keep humans out of their never-ending issues. So….what? Sam and Dean die and come back to fight while Bobby gets possessed, wrestles control back, which was no small feat, though he'd never admit it, and stabs himself in the gut to save Dean so the younger hunter could kill even more demons…..only to be flat on his ass as Lucifer walks the Earth? How in the hell was that fair? Not that life was fair of course, they were all proof of that but….
Sam dies, from a severed spinal cord no less, because of some demon's plans, and comes back because his idiot brother made a deal with another demon. Dean dies because of that demonic deal and is pulled from hell by an angel. Bobby's possessed by a demon, kills it himself, survives the injury….. and gets a newly de-angeled angel.
Bobby watched both his boys die and be reborn. He got 'em back – he couldn't fault life for that.
But now, he was gonna watch them die, unable to back them up when they got in a mess – now, at the ultimate mess - the biblical end of all things.
For that, life was a cold-hearted bitch.
So yeah, he's pissed. Pissed at God, Lucifer, angels, demons, the Apocalypse, being possessed, his faulty aim, his faith in Cas. Because, sure, Cas was responding to Sam and Dean's prayers now, but he was off to find God. He had a war of his own to fight. And even with angel mojo, he couldn't pull Sam and Dean out of half the crap those boys found themselves in. Cas knew a lot of the lore, but knew it academically. Bobby knew it practically. He could improvise. He could impersonate. He could fight. But most of all, he knew those boys. Knew what they were up against. And knew they were now down a man. Then Rufus called through the sound of gunfire and demonic destruction and Bobby had to play arm….wheelchair general and send Sam and Dean into a danger they all should have shared, to help out a fellow hunter drowning in the flood of prophecy.
So when he tells Cas to have God send legs, he's not being cute.
But he's got a dozen reasons to be spittin' mad. It's justified anger, not some step along a psychological continuum. And yeah, he was feelin' sort of down when the boys were talking about him, but who wouldn't be depressed sittin' with useless legs while the Apocalypse burned? So what if it turned out that Kübler-Ross lady's model wasn't just for death and dying – that it tossed around words like "coping", "tragedy", "life changing event"?
He didn't need to "cope" with some "loss." He was still freaking here. People he cared about were, for the time being at least, also still here. And the life changing event was currently underway in towns he couldn't reach, building for a horrific culmination they couldn't predict.
Lucifer ending the world, now that would be a tragedy. And until they were all dead, they would each grieve for those gone before.
That was grief.
This was his legs.
Along with the impending destruction of Earth.
And Bobby was angry.
See? Crap. How the hell was Bobby supposed to bargain for use of his legs? Couldn't exactly get to a crossroad, the one angel who might be interested in helping couldn't do squat, and it wasn't like he could sweet-talk medicine into advancing God knows how many years. So, this stage didn't and couldn't happen, hence…..nonsense. All of it.
The only bargaining he did was human, with the intention of getting people to leave him the hell alone. Got Sam and Dean to back up his statement that he wouldn't be home alone to avoid rehab. Boys even found time between budding apocalyptic events to build a ramp and arrange the first floor so it only made the home health nurse gasp at the lack of safety, rather than pass right out. Did his own research on living with spinal cord injury in order to bargain his way into fewer home health and home rehab visits.
He wasn't bargaining for his life to return to normal as he "should" have at this "stage."
He was manipulating people who called him "Robert" and taught him how to shift onto the john, give himself suppositories, and manage urinary catheter bags.
It's not like he was wagering years of his life in a high stakes card game to go back to his walking days.
Until he did.
Sam: "You'll die if you lose, Bobby."
Bobby: "So what if I do, huh? What exactly am I living for, huh? The damn Apocalypse? Watching men die bloody while I sit in this chair and can't take a step to help 'em?...I'm old and broke down….and I can't….I ain't a hunter no more."
Well, he had somethin' there - no hunter in his right mind would have done something as stupid as play a supernaturally stacked game in an emotional fog. But "Mr. Singer, the T12 SCI" apparently did. "Robert", who manually stimulated his own bowels, did.
Bobby: "I'm useless, and if I wasn't such a coward I'd a stuck a gun in my mouth day I got home from the hospital."
Definitely not a hunter. Shooting yourself in the head was a perfectly acceptable, warrior's death when faced with imminent death…..or when about to be the cause of a loved one's imminent death. Hell, if Bobby, the possessed hunter, had gotten the angle right, he'd have killed himself, thereby saving Dean's life, killing that demon, and ensuring none of the black-eyed bastards could ever possess his body again all in one knife thrust. That wouldn't have been cowardice – it would have been the right damn thing to do.
But this voice, coming from a broken body, talking about offing himself now?
This wasn't demonic possession. It wasn't the threat of ending the world. It wasn't holding a knife to a son's neck.
It was just his legs.
And the words of a depressed man.
Okay, so talking about offing yourself outside of a few cardinal rules was probably the mark of a depressed man. And sure, it was technically the next stage in this cycle, but he had been down about the whole mess since the first day in the hospital, as anyone would have been. That didn't follow the order, so it was just coincidence that he went through some of the other ones.
So what if the pamphlet they gave him on adjusting to spinal injury stressed that the stages weren't chronological? That steps could be completely skipped, experienced in different orders, re-visited more than once, or that people could get stuck in one alone? He had been depressed on and off since it happened – stabbing yourself in the gut and getting stuck in a wheelchair was a depressing chain of events for most people.
Dean: "It's been like three days now? We gotta cheer him up."
As Bobby sat silently staring out the hospital window.
"Well, I ain't runnin' any marathons, but I'll live."
Before Sam hangs up on him, glancing around the gloomy study and down to his sock-clad feet. No point puttin' shoes on feet that ain't gonna use 'em.
"Oh, you mean my legs – well, I'm just weepin' in my Häagen-Dazs. Idjit."
To Dean's awkward question as he sits, once again, surrounded by reminders of a past life and looks down at booted feet that, just this morning, were guided through strengthening exercises for a nonexistent future.
Stages or no stages, some depression here was normal, when every day brought new reminders of just how much things had changed, and just how boned you were.
Sometimes it was so depressing it was almost funny, like when the home health nurse came to change his Foley catheter to decrease the risk of infection.
The damn Apocalypse was underway and they were worried about a UTI.
Sometimes he could laugh, almost like he used to. When Dean aged after the card game, it felt like one of their old comedy routines – just him, Sam, and Dean, keeping it light while doing a job. But when it was all over, Sam had bluffed an impossible game, Dean was back to the crazy, messed-up, but mobile, state that passed for normal for him, and Bobby was left in that damned wheelchair in the wake of a half-choked desperate, verbal suicide note.
The world was going to hell, literally. Bobby felt he was already lower than that.
Until Dean came in, waves of hesitation and fear pouring off each movement, his face filled with an expression Bobby had, unfortunately, seen numerous times – an expression that only meant one thing – that he had lost, or was in danger of losing, Sam.
But Sam was fine.
Dean turned the expression on Bobby.
And held it.
Dean: "You're not useless Bobby. You don't stop being a soldier 'cause you got wounded in battle, okay - no matter what shape you're in, bottom line is, you're family. I don't know if you've noticed, but me and Sam, we don't have much left. I can't do this without you. I can't. So don't you dare think about checking out."
Bobby hated that look – it brought him back to Dean in the wake of Cold Oak, to seeing the same expression on Sam's face as the kid flinched at the sound of a dog fight the evening after they buried Dean. To know he put that look on Dean's face depressed the hell out of him…..but it also kinda pissed him off too, that he could do something bad enough to make Dean look at him like that, to sit and say those words, with the same shattered eyes that had once held vigil over Sam's corpse.
Bobby thanked Dean quietly, sincerely, before moving seamlessly into sarcastic chick-flick jokes, as much a personal defense mechanism as a familiar way to ease Dean after heavy conversation. As Dean walked out, Bobby paused, on the edge of stubborn tears, and looked up – an odd gesture in the man's rather obvious absence, but a natural one nonetheless. He wasn't sure what he was looking for, but he knew he had just made a promise.
And he may have slipped back to anger from depression today, but he also felt something shift into a place Kübler-Ross hadn't named.
He couldn't quite name it either, but it almost felt like, even in the wake of crushing depression and hopelessness….
Bobby got home to a message for "Rob Singer" to reschedule the day's missed OT appointment.
He grabbed a beer and went out to Rumsfeld's old favorite spot in the salvage yard.
And looked up at the night sky.
Not down at his legs.
Cas: "Bobby's right. Tomorrow we hunt the devil. This is our last night on Earth."
Bobby had, mostly, gotten over Cas's inability to heal him, but that didn't mean the angel got a free pass on ruining Bobby's photo. Who the hell says something like that right before the camera clicks? Oh, that's right, literal-minded angelic morons. Bobby had enough memories of his friends looking serious, resigned, and worried. The whole point of taking the picture, after letting them raid his alcohol supply, was to get something a little more upbeat. But Mr. "millennia of existence and still can't learn sarcasm" had to go and screw it up.
What a dick.
So now Bobby had a newly developed photo of his closest family looking just like you'd expect a group going to find and kill Lucifer to look. Peachy. As if Bobby wasn't mirroring those looks himself right now – and he couldn't even pace in this damn chair. Rolling back and forth just wasn't the same.
It'd been too long – they should have checked in. And even though Bobby knew how this was most likely going to end, he couldn't resign himself to that fact. The panic and frustration still punctuated his sighed, "dammit boys!" as he attempted to call and got no response.
He should be there.
But then the radio jostled to life and Bobby cursed himself for overlooking the likelihood of there being no cell reception in a demonic wasteland like Carthage. He'd gotten good with the chair – maneuvered around the decidedly not wheelchair-friendly house quickly, grabbed the mike, and confirmed his call sign with breathless anticipation.
"Bobby, it's Dean – we've got problems."
Bobby closed his eyes, relief sweeping through him, and looked up, still not believing anyone was there, especially in light of current events, but feeling a primal pull toward sending up a quick thank-you just in case. Dean was on the verge of tears, completely freaked out, desperate for help in yet another situation no one should have to deal with…..but he was still alive.
And looking to a man who couldn't stand at his side, but the one he immediately found a way to call, regardless of physical proximity or prowess.
Looking to Bobby.
"It's okay boy, that's why I'm here."
And that was it.
Suddenly, it didn't matter if Bobby was going through grieving stages, or if they existed at all. It didn't matter what he thought of psychology, or Kübler-Ross, or spinal cord injuries. It didn't matter that strangers had clouded his identity, because he wasn't "Mr. Singer, the T12 SCI", "Robert", or "Rob Singer."
And he may have been in some serious denial, pissed beyond belief, tried to make a stupid bargain, and depressed out of his mind. This moment might even be acceptance, if he had anything to accept.
But none of that crap mattered. None of it.
It wasn't who he was. It wasn't why he was still here.
When Dean's voice shook over a crappy radio connection, desperately seeking comfort and answers, those two syllables, and everything unspoken behind them, that's who he was.
Dean wasn't looking to Bobby's ability to walk as his world fell apart, he was looking to Bobby Singer – experienced hunter, lore scholar…..
"No matter what shape you're in, bottom line is, you're family. I don't know if you've noticed, but me and Sam, we don't have much left. I can't do this without you. I can't."
Meg: "You know, your surrogate daddy's still awake…."
…..and chosen family.
That's why he was here.
Bobby couldn't and wouldn't ever take John's place, but hell if he hadn't earned some rights with those boys by now.
So he began asking questions in order to do what he did best – calm and focus a Winchester.
Dean was barely holding on. "Bobby, I don't think she's…."
Bobby closed his eyes at the thought of losing Jo…..because somewhere he knew that no one would be coming back anymore. He tucked Dean's despair into that aching corner of his heart and steadied them both.
"I said, what do we do next Dean?"
Not with John's militaristic bite, but with Bobby Singer's firm, focused understanding.
Dean took a moment. Bobby heard him compose himself over the world's ending.
He gave him the time. Began mentally pulling the books he'd need once Dean filled him in.
A shaky, but clearer voice. "Right, okay, right."
And, even as much as none of this could ever, possibly be okay…
…. It was.
Bobby nodded. "Now, tell me whatcha got."
Bobby listened, researched, supported.
And life, no matter how changed or how short, moved on.
- Italicized episode quotes are from the following episodes, in order of appearance in the story: 5x01 (Sympathy for the Devil), 5x02 (Good God Y'All), 5x07 (The Curious Case of Dean Winchester), 5x01, 5x03 (Free To Be You And Me), 5x07, 5x07, 5x10 (Abandon All Hope), 5x10, 5x10, 5x07, 5x01, 5x10 (through the last quote).
- Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss-born psychiatrist who developed the Kübler-Ross Model (also known as the Five Stages of Dying, or the Five Stages of Grief), first seen in her 1969 book "On Death and Dying." The five stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
- SCI = spinal cord injury. I chose injury at the level of the 12th thoracic vertebrae (T12) for Bobby's injury based on his functional status in later episodes. I have no idea if that is exactly where/how he was injured, but it worked well enough to get some more details in this piece :)
- Foley catheter = a urinary catheter that is kept in place in the bladder, draining continuously into a collection bag. I am assuming bladder and bowel dysfunction occurred with the level of Bobby's injury, as would often occur.
- UTI = urinary tract infection. All urinary catheters lead to a high risk of bacteria migrating up the catheter and into the body.
- OT = occupational therapy