Bobby Singer spent most of the drive from his home in South Dakota to the boys in Averyville, Colorado cursing John Winchester's name.
He'd told John when he'd first met him that he was a fool to keep his kids with him when he hunted. They needed more than a life spent on the road. Deserved more than being stuck alone in some rundown motel room, at the mercy of the cops, or CPS, or whatever damned psycho might happen upon them.
"There's an unlimited supply of monsters out there, John, and every damned one of 'em is gonna try and take your head!" Bobby had said. "What happens to your boys then?"
Winchester had cursed him roundly and left, taking his sons with him and Bobby hadn't heard from him for months. If the stubborn fool hadn't needed information that only the older hunter could give him, Bobby might never have heard from him again.
Bobby'd been careful since then not to criticize John's child-rearing methods. He didn't want to risk John cutting him off for good, because the odds were against the man staying alive until his boys were grown, and able to take care of themselves. Bobby wanted to be there for them.
Bobby sighed. He didn't have any kids of his own. He and his late wife Karen hadn't been blessed in that way. But if he had had children, he'd have wanted them to be just like Dean and Sam - smart, brave, loyal and loving.
He tried to ignore the niggling little voice in the back of his head that said maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if John never came back. That the boys would be better off without him.
Better off or not, the man was their father. Bobby wouldn't wish that grief on them.
What should have been a five hour drive ended up taking just three and a half. Bobby kept pushing the truck way past what was safe, thinking about what would happen if the cops, and the CPS, got to the boys before he could reach them.
When he finally hit Averyville, he took a few precious minutes to go through a McDonald's drive-thru. He bought several bacon cheeseburgers, remembering Dean's fondness for them, along with lots of fries and a couple of chocolate shakes. He didn't know what the boys had been eating, but from the little Dean had said – and from what he hadn't said - it probably hadn't been much.
Mid-afternoon, he parked his truck in front of the boys' motel room. As he went to the door, he saw a woman come out of the manager's office and stand watching him. He nodded to her. Expressionless, she nodded back and continued to stare as he knocked on the door.
A very small voice came from inside. "Who is it?"
"It's me, Dean. Uncle Bobby."
He heard Sam's excited voice and Dean hushing him. After a few seconds, the door opened and Dean looked up at him, trying to smile. "Hey."
Bobby smiled back, trying to hide the fresh wave of anger he felt at the sight of the boy's too-thin face. "Hey, kid. Can I come in?"
Dean nodded wearily and stepped back from the door.
As he came in, Bobby handed Dean the McDonald's bags. "Thought you boys might be hungry."
Nose twitching at the heavenly smells, Dean managed a smile. "Thanks. We could eat."
Bobby looked around the room. "Where's Sam?"
A giggle came from the direction of the bed. Dean's smile got a little more real. "Okay, Sammy. You can come out now."
Sammy peeked out from behind the bed, dark hair falling into his eyes and Bobby grinned, holding out his arms. Sam jumped up and ran to him, taking a flying leap into his arms.
"Uncle Bobby!" He hugged Bobby hard, then, sniffing hungrily, gasped, "What's that smell?" He wriggled down to the floor and followed his nose to the bag in Dean's arms. "McDonald's? Wow!"
"You don't like fries, do you, kid?" Bobby asked teasingly.
"Fries?" Sam's eyes were huge.
Bobby nodded, rubbing an affectionate hand over the little boy's head.
"Do you want to set the table for us, Sam?" Dean asked, his voice carefully light.
"Sure!" The boy ran to the kitchen and set out three plates. Dean set the bags on the table and he and Bobby watched as Sam started laying the food out.
"Did you tell him?" Bobby asked in a low voice.
Dean shook his head, green eyes unhappy. "I don't want him to know. Not until –" he stopped, swallowing hard. "There's no point in worrying him. Dad's okay. He's just late."
Bobby patted Dean's arm supportively. "When you talked to John last, how did he sound?"
"Like he always does," Dean said miserably. "He asked how we were, said he'd be a couple more days. He said he'd be coming to pick us up by the weekend."
"That was last week?" Bobby asked.
Dean nodded. "Thursday."
"You know what he was hunting? Where he was going?"
Dean shook his head. "He doesn't talk about that."
"It's ready, guys!" Sam sang out. "Come on, Dean! Uncle Bobby, you sit next to me!"
As they sat down at the table, Sam dove right into the french fries, stuffing a handful into his mouth with glee. Not wanting his little brother to pick up on the fact that something was wrong, Dean picked up one of the cheeseburgers and tried to eat, but, as hungry as he'd been, he was having a hard time forcing the food past the lump in his throat.
In between mouthfuls, and sometimes in the middle of one, Sam was talking excitedly to Bobby - about their dad being away, about the park he'd been to three times over the last week, about the fight the neighbors had gotten into last night.
Bobby listened carefully, asked the right questions and expressed just the right amount of awe regarding the language the lady next door had used.
When Sam's voracious appetite had slowed a bit and he was busy slurping down his shake, Bobby asked casually, "Would you two like to come to my place and visit for a few days? My dog Sadie's just about due to have pups. Sure could use some help with 'em."
Sam's mouth dropped open. "Puppies?" Incredulous joy lit his face for a moment, then he faltered and looked at Dean. "What about Daddy?"
Dean tried to smile. "We'll leave a message on his voicemail. He'll know where to come get us."
Sam knew his brother very well and could see that something was wrong. "Dean?" His voice was uncertain.
Dropping his eyes, Dean pushed away from the table. "I'll be back in a minute," he mumbled hoarsely. Grabbing his jacket, he hurriedly left the room.
Sam stared after his brother with wide, frightened eyes. Mouth starting to tremble, he looked at Bobby.
Caught in those merciless headlights, Bobby's mouth went dry.
"Uh – did I mention puppies?"
Dean slumped in the chair outside their room, fighting to hold back his tears.
Everything in him said not to leave Averyville, to wait for their father's return, no matter how long it took. Leaving meant his father wasn't coming back. Leaving meant they were giving up on him.
Leaving meant Dad was dead.
A sob broke through and Dean forced it back. No. No tears. Dad was coming back. He was. Going to Bobby's was just a way to keep Sammy safe, and fed. A way to make sure they stayed together.
Dad would be back. He'd show up at Bobby's in a day or two, pissed as hell they hadn't stayed put and waited for him to come home, but once he got over it, he'd understand that Dean hadn't had a choice.
A stray tear escaped and Dean wiped it away angrily. He'd take any dressing down Dad wanted to give him, endure anything, just so long as his father came back.
Thinking of that helped when he went back into the motel room to face his brother. When he stepped inside the room, Sam was still sitting at the table with Bobby, but he'd stopped eating and was fixedly watching the door.
When he saw Dean, Sam ran to him and buried his face against him. "You scared me," he said in a tremulous voice. "Where did you go?"
"Sorry, Sammy." Dean said. "I just needed to go outside for a minute. I'm back now, okay?"
Sam nodded, still a little shaky.
Exchanging a glance with Bobby, Dean said reassuringly, "Listen, Sammy, how about you help me pack so we can get to Bobby's house and check out those puppies?"
Eyes fixed on his brother's face, Sam smiled.