October 19, 1989

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Jim had told Bobby to meet up with the hunter at 10:00 AM. Bobby, accustomed to hunters having a begrudging relationship with things like schedules, pulled out the book he brought along to kill time.

At 9:50 AM, the car he was expecting rumbled up to the truck stop and parked. Bobby looked at his watch, impressed.

Even if he hadn't been told about the black slab of Detroit iron the man drove, Bobby would've known John was a hunter just by the typical uniform of thick, nondescript work clothes, heavy work boots and the obvious gun inside his big leather jacket. Bobby shoved the book back into the pocket of his vest and waited.

John Winchester got out of his car and stood in front of it. He was waiting, too.

Each stared across the lot at the other.

"Great day for a pissing match," Bobby muttered to himself, heading over.

If even half of the stories about John were true, Bobby didn't think it was worth it to have a dick-swinging contest just to prove a point. His best bet was to hand over the information, make his usual disclaimers and be on his way.

"As a hunter, he makes a pretty good Marine," Rufus told him when he asked about John. "Man's got a death wish. He keeps poking at it, it's gonna come true."

And given the list in Bobby's hand, John was more than poking at it.

Once Bobby was about five paces away, John approached, hand extended. His handshake was predictably painful. "John Winchester."

"Bobby Singer."

John's eyes swept over the truck stop behind him, with its flashing "open 24 hours" sign, its attached overnight rest area and the dubious promise of home cooking. "Jim said you own a junk yard out this way. We could've met there."

"Yeah, I live in it. No offense, Jim knows ya, but I don't. I don't bring people to my house I don't know."

John shrugged. "Fair enough."

Bobby noticed the car shaking back and forth and put his hand instinctively inside his vest to touch the gun he carried. But it was just a couple of kids in the backseat, young ones by the looks of it, both boys. The younger of the two was bouncing around and giggling loudly enough to be heard outside the car. It looked like the older boy was trying to sit on him.

John followed Bobby's gaze and turned around. He slapped his hand down hard on the hood and, in a voice like a bullhorn, yelled, "Settle down!"

All movement inside the car abruptly ceased, the sound driving each of them to opposite sides of the backseat. John turned back to face Bobby. "You brought me the list?"

Bobby was used to fathers hunting with their sons. Hell, these days he wasn't even surprised to see the teenage daughters along for the ride. But never kids as small as these two. "Hey, John? You gonna make some stops before you drive on to Albuquerque?"

John's palm was still out for the list. "What?"

"You're basically about to drive your car to a demon hoedown. Tell me those two aren't going to be in the back when you do." Bobby searched John's face for signs of outrage, but found nothing. "Their mom? An uncle? Someone?"

Bobby didn't think it was possible for John's face to close off more than it already was. "I don't think that's any of your business. Do you have the list or not?"

Shooting another glance at the two boys, on their best behavior, Bobby reached into his pocket. "There are certain — look, the stuff on this paper, I can't really state plain enough what a bad idea this is."

John smiled crookedly, hand out. "I'll have my lawyers look it over."

"I don't think you understand me." Bobby grabbed John's arm. "I didn't even want to bring you the damn thing, I didn't even want to give it to Jim, as many hunters as he talks to. But no one knows the big picture effects of this yet. I need to know that there aren't going to be a bunch of hunters treating this like their all-purpose A-bomb before it even leaves my hand, am I making myself clear?"

"If this works," John said, "It won't matter. I'll be out of the game for good."

"Do you know how many hunters I've heard say that? I've seen men three times your size ripped apart by these things, like it was fun. And most of them didn't die when it happened, if you get my meaning. So tell me you're not taking these kids to New Mexico."

John's voice went low and threatening. "Let go of my arm."

Bobby turned him loose. "If you need me to find you some of the stuff on that list – "

"Got my own people," John said tersely. "Is there a pay phone around here?"

"You're gonna read it to someone? Hope you speak Latin."

John raised his eyebrows. "I'll sound it out for them, if I have to. Pay phone?"

"Around the side, by the restrooms."

John walked around the side of the car. He slapped the window next to the older boy and stared intently at him for a few seconds too long. "Dean."

Apparently this was the only statement he needed to make. Dean sat straighter, at attention, with no further instruction, as John walked toward the truck stop.

As soon as John had moved about 20 steps into the distance, Bobby expected the activity in the back to resume where it left off. But both boys were as still as could be.

The older boy, when John had disappeared around the side of the building, cranked down the window. "Mister?"

Bobby took a few steps closer to the car. "Yeah?"

He spoke talking in a half-whisper, and it took Bobby a second to realize that it was his little brother he was trying to talk around. "You're a monster expert?"

"Dean, is it?" Bobby asked, and when the boy nodded, he answered the way he would answer any kid this young: "No such thing as monsters."

Dean dismissed this answer as if he didn't even hear it. "What do you know about Shtrigas?"

Bobby gaped at him, moving a step closer to the car. "What do you know about Shtrigas?"

"Just what's in my book," Dean answered. "There's two books about 'em though. The other one's really hard to find."

"Well, one of them's in Albanian, kid, so I'm assuming you've got the other one. You got it with you?"

Dean nervously licked his lips, craning to see if his father was out in the open again. "Yeah, but… are you gonna tell him?"

"He doesn't know you have the book?"

"He knows I got the book. I'm... I'm supposed to be able to figure it out on my own."

The younger picked this second to decide that he couldn't be still any longer. He pushed himself off his side of the backseat with his feet, theatrically falling across his brother's lap so that he was grinning upside down at Bobby, all big eyes, floppy dark hair and a scratch-n-sniff sticker on one cheek. "Did you know they have blueberry syrup for pancakes sometimes? Blueberry and strawberry and normal and —" He furrowed his brow. "There was another one."

Dean pushed him up and away. "Sammy, knock it off, I need to talk now."

"Where's your book, kid?"

Dean reached under the seat. The book had certainly seen better days. The cover was falling off and several pages were loose, but the wear on page corners was fresh, from recent reading and re-reading. Dean had put strips of notebook paper inside with important stuff on them, to hold his place. Iron rounds, telltale signs to look for, all scribbled out in big capital letters. He had put a couple of plain rubber bands around the whole thing to keep it in one piece

"You care if I write on one of these note papers?" Bobby asked.

Dean shook his head.

Bobby carefully slid the rubber bands off and, taking a well-chewed ballpoint pen out of his pocket, quickly thumbed through it. The inside page had a faded ink stamp: JAMES MURPHY, BLUE EARTH MN. "You read okay, kid?"

"I read fine," Dean said, bristling.

"All right, all right, I was just asking." After he'd flipped through to the back, he put the book and paper down on the hood of the car and scrawled page numbers on it. He quickly handed both over, keeping his eyes half in John's direction as he did.

Dean looked over it. "These are the important pages?"

"Those are the pages you can ignore. They're complete bull. There's more information in the Albanian one, but it's all summoning spells, you understand? I'm not gonna write 'em down."

"Summoning spells?" Dean got excited and pulled himself up onto one knee, hooking his elbows over the side of the door. "That's what I need though, to get it."

"To get it?" Bobby repeated, blinking at him. "Are you insane? You want to bring the Shtrigas to you?"

"Just one," he said quietly, casting a cautious look back at his little brother, who was singing a little song to himself about pancakes.

"And what are you going to do then, besides get yourself killed?"

Dean raised his eyebrows like Bobby had asked a stupid question. He opened his too-big black jacket and showed Bobby a 12-gauge sawed-off. "I'm gonna kill it."

Bobby took about five steps back, feeling like his guts had dropped into his legs. The shotgun was rigged together of parts in such a way that would make it easier for a kid Dean's size to carry, use and conceal. Bobby felt sick. "Why in the hell do you —? Does your daddy know you have that?"

"He gave it to me." Dean carefully situated the gun at his side. The pistol grip fit perfectly into his underarm. He looked up at Bobby and his face went closed just like his father's. "It's not loaded. I'm not stupid." He put his hand in one pocket and brought up shells, some with red casings, some with blue. They looked huge in his palm.

"Look," he said proudly. "I can load it in under a minute now." He glanced at his own big wristwatch. When he picked up the gun, pointing the muzzle down and away, his hands started to shake hard enough to make Bobby nervous, but the safety was on and Dean's fingers stayed clear of the trigger. Bobby had to admit that Dean was focused as he broke it open and loaded all five shells into it. He checked the watch again. "52 seconds, but I've done it in 45 before."

"Why are your hands shaking like that, kid?"

"Oh, I can do it in 30 seconds if my hands are steady," Dean mumbled dismissively, hands now going still as he carefully removed the shells and put them back in his pocket. "But I figure, I'm coming up against something, my hands are probably gonna be shaking. So I practice like it's the real thing. I mean, anyone can be fast with their hands steady." Dean looked up at Bobby earnestly. "But if I can get fast with my hands shaking, I'll be fast no matter what, right?"

All at once, it hit Bobby: the blankets and pillows pushed between Dean and the door from sleeping in the car all night, the empty kid's meal containers that were all carefully collected in the floorboard on Dean's side of the car, the stale odor of French fries and sweat confined to a small space. All while his little brother babbled happily to himself in the background, drawing little patterns in his breath on the window.

Dean was a big-eyed, slack-jawed kid with freckles who, if there was any justice in the world, would be sitting in front of the television watching Scooby-Doo, not calmly loading a shotgun and asking Bobby how to summon creatures that could suck his life-force out of his face.

"So, see?" Dean re-holstered the gun. "If you taught me a spell to call one, I could try to find the one I need. I think I know where it is. And I can get it, no problem. I've been practicing for months. And then everything would be —"

Dean's face had gone guarded then, his mouth closing.

"Kid, no one with any sense is gonna give you a summoning spell, not for a Shtriga or anything else."

"I'll be eleven in January."

Bobby felt like he needed a drink. "Call me in about seven or eight Januaries, kid, and I'll think about it, but right now, this is all I'm giving you."

Dean slumped back down into the seat, looking helpless.

Bobby reached into wallet, still watching out for John. "Listen, I'm guessing you stay on your own. You take care of your brother? When your dad takes a job?"

He didn't answer.

"You don't really need to say." Bobby passed him a plain white card that said Singer Salvage on it, with an address and two phone numbers. "Look, you ever run into anything, give me a call. Don't know what I can do from a phone in Sioux Falls, but… it can't hurt. Don't call the number on the back unless the other two don't go through, okay?"

Dean looked at the card warily for a few seconds before he reached out to take it.

John Winchester came around the side of the building. When he saw Bobby standing next to the car, his pace got quicker. Well, there was no way out of it now. "Your daddy ever teach you any warding symbols?"

Dean blinked at him, deer in the headlights. "Those like spells?"

"You draw 'em on the floor. He ever draw anything on the floor, or on the wall?"

He shook his head.

Bobby grunted. "He might not trust 'em. Wouldn't be the only hunter who doesn't. Quick, give me some of that paper."

Dean tore a piece of notebook paper in half and passed it to him. Bobby put the page down on the trunk of the Impala, pen moving deftly over the paper, aware that John was getting closer and closer.

"Why're you talking to my boys, Bobby?"

He had a couple of stories ready to go, but he wasn't in the mood now to lie. "I asked your son what warding symbols he knows. Turns out, he don't know any, 'cause you don't use any."

Bobby pushed the piece of paper into John's hand. Between the three symbols sketched on it, if John used all three, it'd cover about 60 percent of what was out there. The remaining 40 percent was horrible, but it beat nothing.

"Listen," Bobby said, palms out. "You're right. It ain't none of my business how you're raising up these two. God knows, if I'd had kids with my wife before all this, I'd be at a loss myself. But if you're seriously going to leave this boy" - Bobby could see Dean's brow furrow, offended, from the corner of his eye - "in charge of the home fires while you're off trying to get yourself killed, maybe you should stop half-assing your way around it and tell him everything he needs to know."

"Last I heard, these don't even work." John crumpled it up and dropped it on the ground, walking back to the car.

"The one at the top would've kept out a Shtriga."

John turned back to him so quickly that Bobby thought he was going to throw a punch. Instead, he grabbed Bobby's arm and hauled him away from the car and out of earshot of the boys, giving Sammy a little half-smile of reassurance that only a little boy would've taken seriously. "What would you know about that?"

"I know your older boy's got a book on them, 'cause he's been reading it like his life depends on it. Now, I wonder why you got him reading it. Is he your researcher or your hired gun? 'Cause I gotta tell you, it's hard to be both. It's even harder when you're ten. So I assume you're punishing him for a symbol you didn't paint on the floor under a rug, or under the bed. Or anywhere."

"Go to hell," John said, coming closer, looming over Bobby. "He had one job to do, and he left his brother alone."

Bobby nodded. "Okay, but what if he hadn't? What if just went to the bathroom? He sleeps, don't he? What if something else happened to him and it came for your younger boy anyway? He'd be just as dead, whether your boy was at his post or not."

Now John really did look like he wanted to take a shot at him. Bobby braced himself.

"Goddamn hunters," Bobby spat, not backing down. "You're the most superstitious, hard-headed, misinformed bunch of jackasses who ever carried an arsenal around. If it looks strange or it's in a language you don't understand, you think you're gonna accidentally summon the devil or something. But you don't mind driving for 20 hours straight to pick up Satan's grocery list."

John looked down at the folded paper in his hand, the edges worn like he'd been fidgeting with it. "I don't think I'll be able to source everything on the list anyway." He unfolded and carefully folded it back, but each motion was tightly controlled. He suddenly looked tired, like the wind had been knocked out of him. "I guess this is just another one of those... find the supplies and get ready for next time things."

Dean was leaning half out the window (holding his brother back from doing the same), reaching for the list, eyes wide and determined. "I could probably read up and find some stuff. Last summer I found us the right kind of bones and a special plant we needed to -"

"Sitdown,Dean! If you really want to help me, maybe you can get Sammy to shut up so I can think for a fucking second!"

Like a button being pushed, Dean straightened, face suddenly closed, eyes hard. "Yes, sir."

For the briefest second, Bobby thought he saw something flicker across John's face, but it was gone too soon to tell. He didn't believe for a second that John would actually just gather materials and lie low. The man standing in front of him was going to drive for 20 more hours to the next place and pound on doors, call in favors... hell, make threats, if he had to. What was going down in Albuquerque was still six days away, and Bobby could hear the gears grinding in the man's head.

He was going to drive off in that car, and take those boys with him. Bobby didn't even like kids, but he couldn't bear the thought of it.

"I have everything on the list," he heard himself say, like it was happening somewhere else.

John looked up at him, the same roped-off look that was on his son's face moments before. "Jim said you only had the list."

"All Jim made me promise to give you was the list, idjit. If I could... if I could've gotten out of not giving you any of it, that's what I would've done."

"So why are you doing it now?"

He glanced at the two in the car. Dean was still being a sentry, eyes straight ahead, fists clenched on his hips. Sammy was poking his brother in the forearm every few seconds, with a shrill booping sound, like a tourist trying to get a reaction out of a Buckingham Palace guard.

Bobby turned back to John. "Because I'm a damned fool."

"What's it going to cost me?" John asked wearily. They both knew that this world didn't have much in the way of paper currency. What it had was favors, bad ones usually, that could be called in at any time.

"You come out to the salvage yard, I give you everything on the list. But when you drive off, these two stay put. With me." Bobby looked him right in the eye. He wasn't going to back down from this either. "When you're done, you swing back and get them. But this time... just this time, I'm asking you to leave 'em."

Dean shifted, obviously eavesdropping. All talk of pancakes was suddenly muffled, probably by Dean's hand.

John looked as pleased about this plan as Bobby expected. "Or what? No deal?"

"Or you take your chance with whatever your people can get for you. And if they can't - and I'm telling you now they can't - you get benched until the next demon contra dance fires up."

John laughed incredulously. "A minute ago you were telling me this was a bad idea."

"Oh, it's a horrible plan," Bobby said. "But I'm not working under the notion that me or anyone else can talk you out of it."

John looked over at the boys, gears still grinding.

"If you don't trust me, you can call Jim, you can find someone else. There's other hunters in the area if there's someone you like more, but -"

But he wanted them to stay with him. He just did.

John dragged his hand down his face. "Might be for a couple of weeks, give or take."

Bobby shrugged in agreement. It was as good an endorsement as he was going to get.

John jingled the keys in his pocket as Dean cautiously propped himself up on the door frame again. "So what are we gonna do up at your place? I can help out. I'm good with guns, I know how to change the oil in most cars now, well, American ones, and I can -"

Dean kept rattling off the list of things he knew how to do, like he was trying out for the team, but Bobby shut him out and decided right then and there: These two boys weren't going to do a damn thing.

They were going to watch television and read comic books and run around outside. He was going to make pancakes to shut up Sammy and put together a nice, reliable collection of warding symbols for Dean, whether John liked it or not.

If they ran around the salvage yard for any amount of time at all, they might end up needing tetanus boosters. But it sure as hell beat demons.