AN: Thank you so much for taking the time to read. If you haven't already, I would love to hear what you think. Reviews are the bread and butter of a writer's world; the water of life, the gold in our pockets; the warmth in our hearts. Please feed the monster (carefully).
"How you feeling?"
Dean wandered out onto the front porch of Bobby's house to where John had taken to spending the warm afternoons, sitting half in and half out of the sun in a rocking chair that unbeknownst to any of the Winchesters, had once belonged to Bobby's late wife.
The first day of John's stay, Bobby had noticed the restlessness that settled over John in the late mornings. At first he'd attributed it to the medications, but as the medications were reduced and John's restless did not subside, Bobby had another idea. He'd sent Sam up into the attic in search of the old rocking chair and directed the boy to take it out onto the porch.
Then one afternoon when he had the boys detained with work, Bobby had coaxed John out of the house and offered him the chair.
"That's a bit cliché, don't you think?" John'd frowned at the rocker. "What's next? You gonna have me whittle wood, too?"
"I didn't call you old," Bobby sniped back, "but now that I think about, you are getting pretty crotchety."
John had scowled at him and tried to cross his arms, only to wince in pain.
"Just take the damned chair. It gets stifling hot inside during the day and truth be told, I need you out from under me from time to time."
John had lowered himself into the chair and growled after the other man as he'd retreated inside, "So does that make you the wife in this 'Odd Couple' scenario?"
"Shut up!" Bobby's retort had echoed through the house.
That had been four days ago and every afternoon since; John had made his way out to the porch. When Dean found him out there Friday afternoon, John was quietly reading the paper, making notes in a spiral notebook he'd found on one of Bobby's shelves.
"There's a whole system for that, you know?" Dean stated simply. He found a seat on the railing and leaned back against the porch column with a glass in his hand.
"Like a filing system. Bobby's got this whole method for keeping track of this stuff. Has a folder for each job and all the research to go along—"
"Did you come out here to tell me how to do things? You wanna show me a new way to tie my shoestrings too?"
"I came out here to check on you. Bobby says you're being a real dick today, but I don't know man, I just can't see it," Dean added sarcastically.
"You and Bobby; like a couple old women, nagging on me. I'd be just fine if the two of you'd just leave me alone."
"Fine. Here. This is for you." Dean smacked the tall glass down on the side table next to John's chair and turned for the stairs.
"What's this?" John asked, eyeing the drink warily.
"Sun tea. Drink it, don't drink it. I don't care. Just let me know when you're done acting like a three year old."
Dean halted on the edge of the porch, held there by his father's voice. In all his twenty years, he'd never been able to refuse his father; not really, not even when John was being a dick and every cell in Dean's body screamed out for him to tell his father to go to Hell. When his words were softly spoken and his tone was laced with something frighteningly close to despair, Dean couldn't make himself walk away.
"Please," John added sincerely.
That certainly caught Dean's attention. Getting John Winchester to say 'please' was about as difficult as pulling the teeth of a werewolf.
John stood up, his chair rocked back and smacked the wood lap siding, knocking a bit of paint loose in the process. He crossed the porch and came to stand beside his eldest son on the top step.
"Sit down with me?"
"Is it that bad?" Dean asked guardedly.
"Is what that bad?"
"Whatever bad news you're about to break."
"I haven't got — would you just sit…please?"
Dean hopped down one step and then plopped down hard on the wood floor. John took a little longer to maneuver down.
Bobby had taken his time giving John the once over upon his and Sam's return and although Sam had done a fine field dressing, he hadn't yet mastered the precision stitches of Dean or Bobby's well-practiced hands. His stitches were a bit too wide and not quite even, but too much time had passed and the wound had already begun to heal.
John's arm had not been the only injury that Bobby had come across. A deep purple bruise had blossomed on John's side during the trip from Colorado to South Dakota which was a good indication of a rib injury and sure enough, with a little bit of prodding, Bobby had located the cracked rib.
Dean meanwhile had made an appointment for himself with a local doctor who Bobby had suggested.
"He owes me a favor or two," Bobby had said, "lot of bad mojo to be had in Kuwait," was the only explanation he'd given.
The doc had done a full exam on Dean and even though he'd chewed Dean's ass for not continuing to use either the crutches or the walking boot for the full length of time as prescribed, he'd given Dean a clean bill of health and had warned him to keep the running to a minimum.
"So," John said after a long quiet moment. "Bobby tells me you've been quite busy these last two weeks."
"Yessir. What exactly did he tell you?" Dean asked nervously, concerned about the details of Dean's recent hunt coming to light.
"Just that between here and Gert's you've been working twelve hour days."
John had gotten his chance to meet Gert shortly after supper Tuesday night when she'd wandered into the house carrying not one but two freshly baked pies. Dean was on his feet, scurrying to help her as soon as she was in the door.
"So the wayward father and brother return," she'd whispered to him and smiled. He tried to smile back, but the look came off nervous and Gert was uncertain why.
"I thought maybe y'all might like some pie to settle in with tonight," she announced entering the room like she owned it.
"You didn't have to go to all that trouble," Dean said, bending down to place a kiss against her soft cheek.
"Thank you though," Bobby added, rising from his place at the table. "You know we love your pies."
"Not too much trouble for my sweet boys."
"So, this is the infamous Mrs. Thomas," John said inviting her in. He stood unsteadily and offered her his chair at which Dean breathed a sigh of relief. He was glad to see his father slide into his 'smile and charm' mode. Gert had been far too sweet and caring toward Dean to deserve anything less from the eldest Winchester.
They'd all sat together around Bobby's kitchen table, eating pie and swapping stories like old friends until the late hours of the night. And when Gert excused herself, it was Sam who surprisingly beat Dean to the punch and offered to walk her out to her car.
In the privacy of the dimly lit yard, he'd thanked her for watching out for his brother. Gert patted him gently on the cheek and asked for the same in return; 'take care of him.'
"Twelve hour days? Bobby exaggerates a bit," Dean insisted.
"I don't think so. I know you too well, Dean. It'd be impossible to keep you still for long.
A dry chuckle bubbled out of Dean's chest. "S'not exactly in my blood," he said by way of explanation.
"No. I suppose not. And in all that…work, you still managed to find time for a girl, huh?"
"Dad," Dean let out a nervous puff of breath and said, "I told you. I was just joking about Gert. You've met her. I'm not exactly her type."
They paused a moment to let that statement hang in the air and then simultaneously turned to grin at each other.
"You know very well," John continued, still grinning, "that I'm not talkin' about Gert. I'm talking about that cute lil blond that's been sneaking in and out of here the last three nights."
"Dad, I didn't—"
"Who you tryin' to kid? I may be on some pretty strong painkillers, but I still wake up whenever I hear one of you boys moving around in the middle of the night."
"You do?" Dean wasn't sure why this thought struck him so odd. Maybe it was because he had come to think of himself as the watchman in their family.
"Course I do." John brought his hand around to cup the back of Dean's head and neck; his large, warm hand squeezing lightly and pulling Dean closer to him. "You are my kid, Dean, even though I sometimes forget that."
"Dad, you don't have to—"
"Yes, I do. Just…let me get this out, alright? Then we can shake it off and go back to being men who don't share their feelings."
Dean got a frightened, wide-eyed look on his face, held his breath and prepared to brave whatever long-winded speech his father had planned.
"I'm sorry, kiddo."
Dean swallowed hard against the rise of emotion in his throat. Whatever he had been expecting, it hadn't been 'I'm sorry'.
"I get so caught up in the job," John went on, "and doing what needs to be done, that sometimes I forget that you and Sammy are my job; my most important job and I don't take care of you like I should."
"You do fine, Dad. We're not exactly kids anymore, ya know? We can take care of ourselves."
"Sure you can. Hell, you've been taking care of this family for sixteen years, Dean, but that's my point. You shouldn't have had to. It's my job to look after you boys, but you end up looking after me more often than not."
"I don't mind," Dean insisted.
"I know you don't, kiddo," John replied a bit sadly, ruffling his hand through Dean's short hair and noticing the new cut. He smiled to himself and went on, "You're a real good hunter, Dean. I want you to know that I see that; that I see you. I see how hard you work and I know it's not easy doin' what we do and still having to take care of this family, but you do a real good job at both; better than I could ever hope to do. You're going to be a better hunter, a better father than I've ever been."
Dean so badly wanted to stop him; to stop his father from unloading all these admissions on him as they were threatening to overwhelm him. He did not want to hear his father – his hero – admit to being 'less than'. Dean's heart pounded in his chest – breaking —and his throat burned around the emotion that was choking him.
"Why are you saying this?" Dean rasped out.
"Because, when you've done something wrong, you should be man enough to apologize for it.
I wanted you safe Dean, wanted to give you time to heal, but I know I came off sounding like you'd let me down, somehow, being injured; that I was leaving you behind because you weren't good enough to come with me. And for that I'm sorry. I'm not sure what I should've done differently," John continued after a long, pregnant pause, "wait for you to heal or take you with, but I know it didn't feel right without you there. And you boys are growin' up so fast that I'm just…I'm glad you're with me in this. Don't know what I'd do without either of you."
John pulled his son in further and firmly held him against his side. For Dean, the open affection was such a foreign feeling, that it was all he could do not to break down. "I'm not goin' anywhere, Dad," he whispered. "I promise."
Bobby leaned over the motor of the Lebaron, peered through the engine compartment and called out to the young man below, "You been workin' all day. Don't you think it's about time you took a break?" He waved a long-neck bottle tantalizingly and smiled when he heard a welcome 'oh yeah'.
Dean slid the creeper out from beneath the car and sat up, his grease covered hand already outstretched for the ice cold beer. "Can't say 'no' to that," he said after taking a deep draw.
"So…we gonna talk about why you've been hiding out here instead of getting ready to leave?"
"I'm not," Dean answered, looking up from behind the bottle.
"You're not leaving? Or we're not gonna talk about it?"
"Of course I'm leaving. And no, I've had my fill of 'talking'. Besides which, there's nothing to talk about."
Bobby frowned, searching Dean's face for the crack in his shell that would open the boy up about all the thoughts swimming around inside his skull.
Dean downed the remainder of his bottle and set the empty on a work bench. "Thanks for the beer, but I still got work to—"
"What happened between you and your old man yesterday?"
"Oh my God! Why are you so freakin' stubborn? If I say I don't wanna talk about it, why do you gotta keep pushin' for me to talk? Dean fired off, trying to sound tough, but failing when his voice broke into a whine, "You're as bad as Sammy."
Bobby was quick to return fire. "Why do you have to pretend there's nothing wrong when clearly there is?"
"Look, the last two weeks…man, it's been this rollercoaster ride of emotional talk and I'm just done with it. Ok? So…as of today, I'm installing a new rule."
"Oh, yeah? What's that?"
"No more of that girly movie talk?"
"Girly movie? Is that a metaphor for porn?"
"No. You know those movies that have a girl and a guy and he says I hate you and she says I hate you more and the next thing you know they're ripping each other's clothes off?"
"Yeah, that's Porn?" Bobby concluded, soundly.
"No, the romantic comedy stuff where they're all talking and sharing their feelings and it always ends in this totally unrealistic happy ending where the girl gets her man –"
"Oh. Oh!" Nodding sagely, Bobby answered, "You mean chick flicks."
"I really don't wanna know how you know what they're called," Dean said, giving Bobby an odd look, his eyebrows rising high into his hairline. He shook the feeling off and continued, "Ok. So, new rule: No chick flick moments."
"You have met your brother, right?"
"Yeah, well, that goes double for him. No. More. Chick. Flick. Moments."
"I take it your daddy laid it all out there on the table for you."
"All of it," Dean sagged like he was exhausted and propped himself up on the fender of the Lebaron. "Heart, soul, blood, guts, the whole nine. Bobby…he…he hugged me and said 'please'. Hell, he said 'I'm sorry'. I need another beer."
Bobby handed him what was left of his own bottle and leaned up against the car beside him, asking, "Isn't that a good thing?"
Dean choked on his beer and came away from the car, sputtering, "Oh no. Nah uh. You're not gonna get me to pour my heart out." He shook his head adamantly and added, "Nope. I told ya, I'm done with this crap. From here on out it's nothing but work, beer, women a-an-and dick and fart jokes."
"You're being a little dramatic don't ya think?"
"Absolutely. Change the subject."
Bobby shook his head, resigned to Dean's demands. "Fine," he said, resolutely. He maintained his place against the car and folded his arms over his chest, eyeing Dean.
"Fine," Dean echoed and with a nod, turned and began straightening the parts and tools scattered across the top of the workbench.
Watching Dean work, Bobby was struck by how accustomed to the boy's presence he'd become over the last two weeks. By having Dean there, Bobby's days had been filled with a kind of comfortable normality and everything had seemed to flow smoothly; working like a well-oiled machine. Sure there had been rough patches — for Dean anyhow — but they'd got through them with a little gentle prodding. All in all, it had been nice to have the boy there with him to not only share the workload of the shop and the 'job', but also to break up the monotony that was normally his life. Now that Dean's stay was swiftly coming to an end, Bobby was rather sad to see him go.
"You boys taking off tonight?" Bobby asked after a long stretch of silence.
Dean nodded. "Dad wants to leave before sundown." He looked over his shoulder at the older hunter. "I'm gonna have my hands full with him."
"Yes you will. He's not ready to jump back in, so you don't let him, you hear?"
"If I had my way, you'd all be stayin' for another week, at least. Give him more time to heal up, but I know he's itchin' to get out of here and back on the road."
"How 'bout you? You ready to get back on the road?"
Dean shrugged, noncommittally. "I don't know. A big part of me is dying to get back at it; get off my ass and sink my teeth back into the meat of it."
"And the other part?"
Dean's gaze dropped to his worn boots and he dug his toe into the dirt beneath. His leg and ankle only bothered him now in the early morning, but a bit of athletic tape and wrap had given Dean the stability to carry on with his daily duties. The last few days for him had been…almost nice. His family, all under one roof, a newspaper and a well-kept filing system over morning coffee, a job in Bobby's shop, (he had reluctantly allowed Sam to take over helping Gert, making her promise not to love Sammy more than him) and people whose company he enjoyed and whom he didn't have to cross state lines to see; life was genuinely good and Dean, content.
This revelation surprised Dean and for a moment he was struck dumb. Of all the things Dean had expected to happen during his stay, contentment had been the furthest thing from his mind. He'd been so overwhelmed by his abandonment, that all thoughts of enjoyment had fled his mind.
He shouldn't have been surprised though to find that Bobby'd had other ideas. The man had spent every waking hour of the past two weeks attempting to keep Dean occupied. He had opened not only his home to Dean, but his life and Dean had been drawn to it like a moth to flame. There was something lyrical about the complex life that Bobby lived. A seamless balance of the real world and a hunter's world; the best of both worlds, Dean thought.
Through this balance, Bobby was able to help people, occasionally kill a few things and Lord only knew where all those hunters out there would be without the work that Bobby did to aid them, but he was also able to have some semblance of real life. And in that life, he had this group of people; Clive, Gert…Josey. Good people. People with warm hearts and warmer pie. The kind of people a hunter like Bobby needed to block out the nightmares of the 'real' real world; to stave off the loneliness.
For a moment, Dean felt the warm burn of jealousy. Problem was, he couldn't put a finger on 'who' he was jealous of. Bobby, for having friends outside of 'the life' or these friends, for having made a permanent place in Bobby's life; just one more place in which Dean might never truly fit.
Dean was awakened from his thoughts by the warm pressure of Bobby's hands gripping the tense muscles along the top of his shoulders. He squeezed softly and pressed his thumbs in soothing circles at the base of Dean's neck.
"You okay, son?"
Nodding, Dean stepped out of Bobby's grip. He ran a grimy hand over his mouth and jaw, swiping at the moisture that was threatening to flood his eyes. No use getting worked up about something he'd never have. Dean knew his place and it wasn't here. It was side-by-side with his father; back-to-back with his brother, doing what he'd been raised to do; fight, kill, save.
Bobby leaned into his line of sight, looking concerned.
"There's a saying," he said. "I'm sure you've heard it. The grass is always greener on the other side."
"Ye–" Dean cleared his dry throat and tried again, "Yeah."
"Well there's another one. It's called riding the fence. S'when you're faced with two options and they both look so good that ya can't make up your mind."
"You think I wanna stay here? Leave my family?" Dean stepped back, looking slightly appalled, but Bobby was quick to continue, shaking his head.
"Nope. You know right where you're supposed to be," he added with a firm nod of his head, "but I think you've been sittin' in between these two options just long enough to let that confuse you."
Glowering, Dean dropped his eyes back to the floor. He stuffed his hands down into his pockets, letting his shoulders shrug up to protect himself and block out all the confusion that was indeed swamping him, but Bobby wasn't finished.
"What your Daddy and I do are two very different things cuz we're two very different men. What works for me, would never work for him and I know sure as shit that what he's got, doesn't work for me. And what you need in your life now, may not be what you need in the future, but you can't go through your days frettin' 'bout what's on that other side. You take it one day at a time and play the cards as they're dealt to you."
The older hunter stepped in front of him, and like his father had two weeks prior, Bobby clapped a rough hand to the back of Dean's neck, forcing Dean to look at him.
"And when you need it, you always have a place here; all of you…even your Dad…as long as he behaves himself. No matter where you are or what you need, I'm here, son. S'what family's for, ya know?"
Dean closed his eyes and released a slow breath and then careful not to betray the waiver in his voice, he said wagged a finger at Bobby, "I said no chick flick moments."
"Oh shut up," Bobby growled and pulled the kid in hard, wrapping his arms firmly across Dean's back.
With John wrestled into the passenger seat against his will, Bobby shut the door and leaned in through the open window where the oldest Winchester was scowling back at him.
"You rest up. Quit giving these boys so much flack and do what's gotta be done to heal or Dean'll bring you right back here."
"You keep this up," John scoffed, "and you'll make someone a real good wife."
Bobby shook his head and muttered 'Idjit' before stepping away from the car and right into a bear hug. Sammy wrapped the older hunter up in his long arms, hugging with the enthusiasm of an eight month old pup.
"Seeya Bobby," he chirped. "Thanks for everything."
Sam didn't need to explain, Bobby got it. He squeezed the kid around the middle and puffed through the mop of hair swarming his face.
"Take care of yourself, sport. Keep up on them books."
"You know I will," Sam answered, breaking the hug. He climbed into the backseat, all arms and legs and no room for much else and Bobby was struck by the notion that he might never quit growing and God help them when he fills out. Kid was shaping up to be a mountain of a man.
"Okay, we're all set," Dean said, closing the lid on the trunk. He leaned his hip into the black sheen of the Impala and waited for Bobby to round the corner.
"Got everything you need? Got your pie that Gert brought over special for you?"
"Yessir." Dean looked around suspiciously and whispered, "I gained five pounds on account of that woman."
"That'll happen. You said bye to everyone needs hearin' it? I don't want a certain young woman showin' up on my doorstep at three am and findin' you ain't here."
"I did. Stopped in and saw Josey too."
"S'good, s'good. Okay then. You drive careful and you take care of your Daddy."
"S'what I'm best at," Dean said with a grin.
"I trust ya," Bobby smirked back.
And just like that, Bobby was overtaken by six foot of young man, draped over him in a hug. Those Winchester boys, for all their statements to the contrary, were huggers and that was just fine by Bobby. He clasped the boy firmly, pleased but nonetheless surprised to have been allowed inside Dean's tough guy armor yet again.
"I trust you too." Dean's voice rumbled through Bobby's chest, his meaning piercing Bobby's heart and forcing the older man to hang on tighter just to keep his knees from buckling under the weight of it all.
"You best get goin'." Bobby cleared his voice and when Dean wasn't looking, he swiped a quick hand beneath his eyes. "Pastor Jim'll be expecting you in a couple hours."
Dean climbed in behind the wheel of the Impala, closed the door and leaned his elbow out the open driver's window.
"Thanks Bobby," John said, leaning over Dean to look up at their friend, "for everything."
"Not a problem. S'what I'm best at," he echoed Dean's earlier words and patted the roof fondly, stepping back.
"Feels damn good in this seat. Might have to make this a permanent thing," Dean teased, giving John an ornery look and then shifted the car into gear. He slid his Ray-Bans into place, flashed Bobby a cheeky smile and then pulled away from the walk and out the drive, kicking up gravel and dust as he took the corner a bit too quickly, leaving Bobby and that life on the other side of the fence behind…at least for a while.