Title: Gone (1/2)

Author: Still Waters

Fandom: Supernatural

Disclaimer: I do not own Supernatural. Just playing, with love and respect to those who brought these characters to life.

Summary: "Dude, we've got a hatless Bobby standing out back over a supposed grave neither of us even knew existed. What part of that doesn't freak you out?" Set in late Season 2. Brotherly Sam/Dean, Bobby h/c.

Notes: This piece is set in late Season 2, after 2x17 (Heart) but before 2x21 (All Hell Breaks Loose). According to the episodes, the boys don't see Bobby without a hat until 3x01 (The Magnificent Seven) or know about his wife's possession until 3x10 (Dream a Little Dream of Me) so I stuck with that here. This is my "springboard story" - it was started in April and every time I went to work on it after that, I got an idea for another story and had to write that instead. While I appreciated the inspiration, I really wanted to finish this piece, and even though I got yet another story idea while sitting to finish the draft, I put those notes aside and finally got this one out. I hope I do the characters and emotions justice. Thank you for reading and thank you to those reviewers I am unable to respond to personally via private message. I truly appreciate your support.

"Dammit, Sam, it's like he just freaking…..evaporated!" Dean ran a rough hand through his hair as he paced the front of Bobby's desk, a stressed predator striding through the shadowed bars of late afternoon sun filtering through the old slatted shutters.

"Evaporated?" Sam repeated mildly, leaning around the corner from the other room, eyebrows raised in amusement.

"Truck's outside, nothing's been touched in here….." Dean continued, before suddenly pausing in his systematic path along the desk, as if just hearing Sam's slightly mocking tone. "Yeah, evaporated – like you're so good at doing to me, so shut it, Sam," Dean glared back.

Sam's face fell, eyes liquefying briefly in memory and apology before setting his jaw against the tide.

Dean blew out a breath. "Sorry," he muttered, glancing up to see Sam's nearly imperceptible nod of acceptance, and giving one of his own before moving on. "It's just….Bobby knew we were on our way and….well, he's not here," Dean gave a frustrated sigh, nearly groaning at the realization of how childish that sounded, even as another deep-seated not-so-childish emotion flared. "Sam, he's always here," Dean nearly pleaded, the raw need and dependence on that rare truth filling his eyes. "If nothing took him, then where did he go?" Dean just barely managed to stop the catch in his voice - the one that lay just under the world-weary bravado, betraying a man battered by loss and the very real threat that there weren't many left. His mother was gone over twenty years. His father died on the fringes of Dean's own meeting with mortality. His brother was morphing into some sick reflection of their nightmares, whispers of destiny snatching Sam from him emotionally and sometimes physically with both supernatural and all-too-human hands. So, funny as it may have seemed, Bobby was the most stable support he had right now – and as hard pressed as Dean might be to admit he was freaking out…well, he was freaking out. He needed that stability.

"Maybe he just went out back," Sam offered quietly, gentle and responsive to the underlying emotion yet effortlessly avoiding naming it. A practiced dance.

"Yeah, right," Dean scoffed, scrubbing his hands across his face. At Sam's steady gaze, he frowned. "Wait, what?" he tried again, brain kicking back in beyond adrenaline-fueled response.

Sam nodded toward the room he had just searched.

"You mean…..seriously?" Dean's voice wavered between disbelief, hope, and the unmistakable early strains of irritation.

Sam nodded silently.

"So….he's standing out back," Dean sniffed, tilting his head briefly to the side. "Right." A beat. "Doing what exactly? Communing with nature? 'Cause that's definitely Bobby's style," he snorted.

"Looked like he was standing at a grave," Sam said quietly.

"A grave?" Dean's brow furrowed. "Who would….." he mused before suddenly throwing out a hand. "Wait, go back a minute. 'Looked like.' So you saw him before…." Dean grimaced around a swallow of acknowledgement of his earlier display. "Exactly when did you know where Bobby was?" he finally asked, pointedly.

"Just before you started talking about evaporation," Sam admitted.

Dean's half-smile was far from bright. "Great. Thanks for that, Sammy," he rolled his eyes.

"Dean, I couldn't…." Sam tried to explain, face sinking into the anguished guilt that seemed to be his default setting lately.

"Whatever," Dean shook his head, dismissing the words, but not the underlying need for forgiveness – a need that only seemed to be getting more desperate in Sam, as if he sought atonement for transgressions he hadn't even committed yet. Ones, as far as Dean was concerned, he wouldn't ever commit. He watched Sam weighing the silence. Dammit, he needed to get that look off Sam's face just as much as Sam needed absolution – so Dean offered it, Winchester-style. "Bitch," he sighed, anger and irritation outweighed by the irrepressible fondness of tradition.

Sam's lips quirked. "Jerk," he replied dutifully, mimicking Dean's tone under eyes bright with relief. Apology accepted. "So, you coming to look now or what?" Sam stepped back from the wall and gestured back toward the other room.

"Waitin' on you, smartass," Dean pronounced, sweeping past Sam toward the particle-saturated light filtering through the rear-yard facing window. He peered attentively at the bowed, distant figure along the scattered tree line. "Dude, what the hell is going on?" Dean's voice was hushed. "I mean, it seems all we do is lose people, but Bobby's never said anything about something like this. Only person I can think of that's died here is Meg, and there's no way Bobby's got her buried back there….or that he'd look so…." Dean trailed off, losing the words.

"Small?" Sam supplied, eyes softening in worried sympathy at Bobby's hunched figure. Whether they admitted it or not, Bobby had become something of a larger-than-life font of wisdom and protection – hell, this was the man who had no problem calling the cops with the bloody corpse of a young woman he didn't even know lying under a satanic-looking ceiling. Not exactly someone they were used to seeing as vulnerable in any sort of way.

"Actually, I was gonna say 'hatless'," Dean's joke never reached his eyes. "Man, I swear Bobby actually sleeps in those things – remember the shifts we took with that poltergeist in Bismarck? This whole 'seeing hair on top of Bobby's head' thing is seriously freaking me out more than the fact that we don't know who's in that grave."

"Yeah," Sam shuddered minutely in agreement. "Or who earned that burial," he added, focusing back on Bobby's obvious mourning.

"I don't remember Bobby ever mentioning family," Dean mused aloud, still studying the distant form. "It's always just been him, you know?" he darted a glance at Sam.

"Yeah," Sam nodded. "But you figure all of us have….or had….somebody. A weakness. I mean, demons know we're each other's. Maybe whoever's back there was Bobby's."

Dean's eyes darkened at the truth and resigned experience in Sam's voice before snapping into immediate focus as Sam suddenly moved next to him. "We going somewhere?" Dean asked as Sam stepped away from the window.

"To talk to Bobby," Sam said simply, handing Dean the book they had come to return.

"Whoa, wait a sec," Dean ignored the book and grabbed Sam's arm as his brother began turning away. "What if he needs to be alone? You know, not everyone needs the whole sharing and caring bit."

Sam sighed, ignoring the bait and seeing right through Dean as always. "Look, Dean, I can't just keep standing here watching him like this. If Bobby wants to be alone, I'll leave….but not until I hear it from him." He locked on Dean's eyes and saw a flicker of the wall still entwined with John Winchester's death. "He did the same for us," Sam added softly.

Dean sighed heavily. "Yeah," he agreed, taking the book.

Sam smiled sadly and headed for the door.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Dean grabbed Sam's arm again, transferring the book to his left hand and depositing it on a nearby chair. "You're not goin' anywhere without me," he said firmly, reaching back for his gun.

Sam's eyes widened. "Dean, what the…." he sputtered. "It's just Bobby…..and talking. Talking about…" he swallowed, unsure.

"About what, Sam? Feelings? Death? What it's like to lose family?" Dean countered, fixing Sam with a withering look. "Come on, man, I thought we were past all this – yes, I sucked at dealing with Dad's death…..still do sometimes…"

"Wasn't just you," Sam interrupted quietly.

Dean softened. "Yeah, well, I think we've both moved along the grief continuum or whatever pretty damn well since then. And believe me, I'm not looking to revisit any of that crap, but, like you said, Bobby's been there for us, and it's only right we do the same for him. I mean, that's what family does, right?"

Sam's voice was gentle. "Yeah, but Dean, it's okay – you don't have to….." he swallowed. "I got this one."

Dean nearly choked on the memory of Madison, of his own words to a sobbing Sam just before the flinch of a gunshot's bark. "Yeah, well, if Bobby needs the sharing and caring thing it's all yours Pollyanna, but until I know that, I'm going with you."

"With the gun. On Bobby," Sam said drily, eyes resting on the weapon in Dean's hand.

"Dude, we've got a hatless Bobby standing out back over a supposed grave neither of us even knew existed instead of meeting us on the porch with a beer like he always does when he knows we're coming…." Dean paused in his exasperated rush. "Which he did," he clarified pointedly. "What part of that doesn't freak you out?" he demanded.

"Look, Dean, I'll admit it's weird, and yeah, I'm worried about him, but….." Sam trailed off.

"But what? We shouldn't take precautions? Because it's not like demonic possession never manifests as weird behavior or anything," Dean pressed.

"Wait, you think Bobby's possessed?" Sam exclaimed. "Dean, we're early. He might have just taken a walk…."

Dean didn't waver.

Sam blew out a breath. "You seriously think this is some demon putting on a show...trying to mess with us and lure us out back? Why?" he pushed, disbelievingly.

Dean's voice went quiet and cold. "Yeah, because demons possessing family to manipulate us into giving them what they want is so far out of the realm of possibility for us." He captured Sam's eyes desperately.

Sam instantly deflated, ducking Dean's loaded gaze. He closed his eyes, let out a shaky breath, and pulled in a resolute one before raising his head to meet Dean's unwavering focus with a tight nod. "Yeah," he breathed, swallowing roughly as the memory of John's uncharacteristic praise, and Sam's own shouts for fratricide, welled behind Dean's eyes. "You're right," he added, face tightening as he tried to steady his voice. "Dean, I'm s-"

Dean's eyes narrowed to a glare. "Dude, one more apology in this conversation and I swear…" he pointed threateningly at Sam.

Sam's face softened fractionally at the true meaning there. "Okay," he agreed. "We good?" he couldn't help but seek.

"We're good," Dean confirmed, before adding, mockingly, "'course, I'm always good. You on the other hand…." He made a face.

Sam rolled his eyes with long-suffering practice. "Can we go now?" he sighed.

"Yeah," Dean breathed quickly, moving seamlessly into professional focus, readying his weapon. With an approving nod, he watched Sam do the same, settling in at Dean's back.

Another silent nod, and they were out the door.

The yard was covered quickly. Ten feet between reluctant muzzles and the strained anticipation of violent evil…it happened.

"You boys are early," a rough voice cut the silence.

Sam shot Dean an 'I told you so' look only to be countered with Dean's 'bullshit – I've seen this movie – one creepy line and he turns around and throws us across the freaking yard' glare. Sam's eyes narrowed, freezing halfway to a roll when he recognized that Dean could still be right. He took a step forward despite Dean's intensified glare in his direction. Dean tightened his grip on his weapon as Sam lowered his almost imperceptibly.

"Bobby?" Sam asked, voice struggling between worry, fear, and sheer hope.

A heavy sigh.

Dean shook his head furiously as Sam thought of taking another half-step forward. He craned his head to the right, around Bobby….or notBobby's….still form.

And barely bit back a sharp breath at the inhumanly large charred, meaty bone lying atop the cairn of stones. Silently directing Sam's eyes toward the bone, Dean centered his weapon. "Friend of yours?" he sneered, words tempered with the resignation of yet another impending loss.

Sam's eyes flashed briefly with uncertainty. They had never seen a demon use a host to mourn over another supernatural loss before. But the thought was quickly dismissed as reality's familiar shadow darkened his vision and he dropped into a mirror of Dean's anticipatory grief.

"Yeah, actually, he was," Bobby's sandpaper voice lost its emptiness as angered surprise colored his words.

He whirled around.

Sam sucked in a split-second breath, the Latin already on his lips.

Dean's finger tightened at center mass.

And Bobby's eyes managed, impossibly, to both widen in surprise and narrow in disbelieving irritation. "What the….?" He exclaimed. "Put those damn things away," he growled at the guns. "What the hell has gotten into you two?"

"What's gotten into us?" Dean returned. "Last I checked, Sam and I weren't the ones reminiscing over Meaty the supernatural freak's bones out here!"

"What?" Bobby sputtered. He jerked his head back around, following Dean's brief dart of the eyes….then back to Sam's lips and the familiar incantation forming.

And rolled his eyes.

Dean tensed.

Sam swallowed nervously.

And Bobby…..