Summary: Pre-Series Fluff – 4-year old Sam, 8-year old Dean, Awesome Bobby, Daddy John...and a new addition to the family – It was Christmas, after all. And if now wasn't the time for puppies and surprises, then such a time didn't exist.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
A/N: December has kicked my ass, and in an attempt to regain my feet, I decided to write a two-shot tag of sorts to Pizza Pie (though it's not necessary to read that story before this one). Updates (and completions) to ongoing stories will hopefully be coming in the new year.
A dog may be man's best friend, but a child's best friend is a puppy. ~ Unknown
Whether it was due to the honed skill of a hunter or to the instinct of a surrogate father, Bobby heard the Impala the second she turned off the highway onto the gravel path that led up to his house.
And just like that, Christmas Eve was instantly brighter at Singer Salvage.
Because holiday or not, Sam and Dean always had that effect on the place.
Bobby smiled at the thought; his calloused fingers lingering over the yellowing pages of handwritten Latin as he closed the book in his lap and set it aside before glancing at the other thing that had made things brighter over the past couple of days.
Oblivious to being watched, the new addition to Bobby's household playfully nudged a low-hanging ornament on the tree in the corner with his short snout and cocked his head in fascination as he watched the old faded glass orb sway from the branch.
Bobby chuckled from where he sat in his worn leather chair. "Hey. You break it, you buy it," he warned the dog, remembering his first Christmas with Karen and how she had been so excited when they had decorated their tree with ornaments she had found on sale.
"Can you believe it?" she had asked him, referring to the ornaments and to the deal she had gotten at the local store.
"Sure can't," Bobby had replied, not referring to the ornaments but to her; to the unbelievable wonder of how he had been lucky enough to have ended up with Karen as his wife.
Only now she was gone.
And a part of Bobby had left with her.
Bobby sighed, watching the ornament currently bobbing within inches of the dog's nose and remembering how the delicate glass ball had been among the boxed set Karen had always treasured because they had reminded her of her childhood.
Now Bobby treasured it because it reminded him of her.
"I miss you," Bobby whispered to the silence.
And nothing but silence answered.
Rumsfeld glanced at Bobby as the old hunter sighed and then glanced toward the kitchen at the backdoor; his short, triangle-shaped ears flopping as he tilted his head, listening intently.
Bobby's smile slowly returned, pleased that Rumsfeld seemed to already notice the sound of the approaching car even though the Impala was still closer to the highway than to the house.
"Here they come..." Bobby announced about the Winchesters finally arriving; more excited than he would admit that he was literally seconds away from seeing the two kids who made his life worth it, who helped him keep going instead of giving up and joining Karen on the other side.
The puppy wagged his tail and crossed to Bobby, blinking up at the bearded man he had lived with for the past two days.
Bobby chuckled. "You're cute," he admitted to the dog, leaning forward in his seat and lightly scratching behind Rumsfeld's ears. "But you're about to meet a kid who's gonna give you a run for your money."
Because maybe he was biased but Sam Winchester was the cutest kid Bobby had ever known.
Seven-week old Rumsfeld wagged his tail again, seemingly unworried about a four-year old kid being cuter than him, and then abruptly sat down on the worn rug stretched over the faded hardwood floor of Bobby's living room.
Bobby frowned as the dog rubbed his head against the corner of the ottoman, clearly wanting his newly added accessory off.
Bobby narrowed his eyes at Rumsfeld. "Hey. Cut it out," he admonished even as he wondered if the red bow around the puppy's neck was overkill.
It probably was.
He could see John's disapproving scowl and hear Dean's snarky comments about it even now.
But what the hell...
It was Christmas.
And if Bobby wanted to put a red bow around the neck of his new puppy, then he damn well was going to do it...and the older two Winchesters could get the hell over it.
It wasn't like this puppy – this surprise – was meant for them anyway.
The only reaction Bobby was interested in was from a certain four-year old kid.
And that alone would make any amount of John and Dean's bitching worth it.
Bobby nodded in agreement with himself; his smile once again returning as he anticipated Sam's dimpled grin, wide eyes, and speechless stare when the four-year old came through the door and was greeted by roly-poly Rumsfeld decked out in a red bow that was the size of the puppy's head.
It was going to be awesome.
The kind of memory Bobby would treasure just like he treasured that old ornament and all of those memories of his sweet Karen.
Bobby's smile slipped at the thought of her – sometimes startled by how much he still missed her after all of these years – and sighed as he pushed himself to his feet; wincing as he stretched out his back and limbered up his creaky, aching knees by lifting one leg and then the other.
"Sucks getting old," he told the puppy watching him.
As expected, Rumsfeld wagged his tail in response, seeming to dismiss the complaint with the detached optimism of youth.
Cheer up. It's not so bad.
Bobby snorted. "Well, we'll see about that when you get old..." he grumbled to the dog before giving the decorated tree in the corner of his living room a final once-over and deciding it didn't look too bad for having just been set up barely an hour ago.
"If it wasn't for the last minute, you'd never get anything done," Karen used to tease him.
And like so many other things she had been right about, she was definitely right about that.
Bobby shook his head fondly and glanced again at that old ornament reflecting the colorful stringed lights wound around the tree.
Still seated on the rug, Rumsfeld lifted his hind leg and scratched at the red bow currently serving as his collar.
Bobby frowned and crisply snapped his fingers in nonverbal reprimand.
The puppy instantly stopped.
Bobby nodded his approval.
Rumsfeld wagged his tail.
Bobby rolled his eyes, refusing to be a pushover.
After all, it was bad enough that he was already a pushover with two kids.
He damn well wasn't going to let that happen with this puppy, too.
Not yet, anyway.
A man had to draw the line somewhere, lest he turn into one giant softie.
Bobby chuckled at the tough talk within, knowing it was already too late.
Because when it came to kids and dogs, Bobby was a walking marshmallow.
If only he had realized that – had admitted that – before Karen had died, maybe he could have made her happier; could have given her what she had wanted.
Bobby sighed. "I'm sorry," he told her – as he often did, convinced Karen could still hear him – and then glanced at Rumsfeld still sitting on the rug. "Let's go, mutt..." he called over his shoulder as he headed to the kitchen to stir the soup that had been simmering all afternoon in preparation for dinner.
Four fat feet carrying an equally pudgy body trotted behind him down the hall, more than willing to go wherever Bobby led.
Bobby smiled, surprised by how much he already enjoyed having this dog around; by how much the puppy soothed his persistent sadness and eased the haunting loneliness that had filled the house for too many years.
Outside, the Impala crept closer to the house; her tires crunching the gravel in the driveway.
"'Bout damn time..." Bobby grumbled as he listened to the car's approach; always irritated by John's tendency to be late and to not even have the decency to call.
And at this hour, the boys had to be starving.
Hell, it was already closer to Sam's bedtime than his dinnertime.
Bobby glanced at the clock on the wall.
It was almost 8:30, which meant it was past Sam's bedtime.
And which also meant Dean would be pissed that the kid hadn't eaten yet.
Bobby quirked a smile as he remembered that evening a couple months ago when he had been on the receiving end of the eight-year old's wrath after he had been late in serving Sam dinner.
"It's past 5:30," Dean had coolly informed that night when he had returned to Bobby's house after going on an errand with John.
The big brother had then meaningfully glanced at what he had perceived as a starving little brother and then had pinned Bobby with a hard stare in silent disapproval of his earlier orders having been so blatantly disobeyed.
Bobby had nodded in reluctant agreement with that statement as he had remembered Dean's instructions about taking care of Sam in his absence – dinner at 5:30, bedtime at 7:30.
"Time got away from us," Bobby had offered in explanation.
Dean had arched an eyebrow at the pitiful excuse.
Bobby shook his head fondly at the memory as he stirred the soup and vaguely wondered if maybe the small family had already eaten tonight.
Because it would be just like Dean to bitch about it until Sam was fed...and it would be just like John to forget that Bobby was making dinner and instead do what he usually did – feed his boys fast food from a drive-thru.
Bobby shook his head again, freshly irritated. "Damned idjit," he growled as he thought about all of the ways in which John Winchester pissed him off...and then felt his frustration disperse as reminded himself that his reward for tolerating John was being able to spend time with a certain pair of kids.
A sweet, floppy-haired four-year old and an eight-year old already mature beyond his years who didn't take crap from anybody.
"That's my boys," Bobby whispered affectionately at the descriptions that filtered through his mind and then smiled at the thought of Sam and Dean.
The puppy at his feet grunted.
Bobby glanced in the dog's direction as Rumsfeld plopped down on his plump bottom. "Are you listening?" he asked the puppy.
Because this was a sound Rumsfeld would hear for many years to come and needed to know who to associate with it.
"Listen..." Bobby ordered and nodded his approval as the puppy tilted his head obediently at the command; his ears twitching at the unmistakable rumble of a muscle car's engine as the vehicle entered the salvage yard.
Rumsfeld blinked up at the bearded man.
"That's them," Bobby informed the puppy, briefly leaning away from the stove to glance out the kitchen window above the sink; double-checking that the Impala was indeed the car that had just arrived outside of his house.
As expected, it was.
The classic Chevy's black body was a stark contrast to the thick white snow that blanketed the yard.
Bobby watched for a moment; his gaze tracking the snow that was still floating down from the cloudy evening sky and then focusing on John as the young father exited the driver's side of the car.
In the backseat, Bobby could see the outline of Dean...but not Sam.
The old hunter frowned at the sight, not surprised that the four-year old was not visible because the kid was probably curled up on the seat asleep.
But Dean didn't usually ride in the backseat anymore; the eight-year old proudly riding shotgun next to John instead as his dad's co-pilot and right-hand man.
But Dean was clearly in the backseat now.
Bobby shook his head, unsure of what that meant – if anything – and refocused on the pot now bubbling on the stove; having not spent all afternoon tending to the soup to have it scorch now.
Besides, the kids were probably fine.
Maybe a clingy Sam just wanted his big brother to ride with him in the backseat tonight.
And Dean had agreed.
And that was that.
"Everything's fine," Karen would often soothe him. "You just always assume the worst," she would gently scold and then would kiss him reassuringly.
Bobby missed that.
But if she had lived the life he had – if she had done the things he had done – she would have always assumed the worst, too.
Bobby sighed. "Everything's fine," he quietly told himself – because Karen wasn't there to remind him anymore – and then shrugged. "Hopefully..." he added, his doubt peeking through in his tone.
Because maybe it was ridiculous but something about Dean riding in the backseat of the Impala made Bobby uneasy about the condition of their youngest.
The old hunter sighed once more as he stirred the soup and glanced at the dog sitting patiently on the rug by the stove.
Rumsfeld wagged his tail, seeming to know the people the bearded man had been waiting for had finally arrived...especially the kids he had been waiting for.
Bobby quirked a smile at his smart dog. "That's right," he praised Rumsfeld. "They're here," he confirmed and belatedly hoped this wasn't a mistake.
Because while Bobby knew Sam would be excited about the surprise of a puppy, he was unsure of the reaction from the other two Winchesters...both of whom neither liked surprises nor dogs.
Not that Bobby really cared.
This puppy was for him and Sam...and Dean and John could just suck it up.
It was Christmas, after all.
And if now wasn't the time for puppies and surprises, then such a time didn't exist.
"Damn right," Bobby muttered in agreement with himself, turning off the heat on the stove and tapping the wooden spoon against the edge of the pot before propping it against the pot's handle. "C'mere..." he called to Rumsfeld and nodded his approval as the puppy instantly responded.
Outside, the Impala's backseat door creaked open.
Bobby resisted the urge to once again look out the window and instead reached for his dog. "Good boy," he praised the puppy's obedience, chuckling as he knelt beside the wiggling ball of black and tan fur. "Be still," he lightly scolded while readjusting the ridiculously large, bright red bow around the puppy's neck; wanting the moment of the big reveal to be perfect.
Sensing Bobby's anticipation of Sam and Dean entering the house, Rumsfeld continued to wiggle excitedly and jumped up to lick the bearded man's face.
Bobby dodged the slobbery tongue and pushed the puppy back. "No," he sharply corrected, understanding the dog's exuberance but knowing this was a habit he needed to break.
But Rumsfeld seemed undeterred, once again lunging to give a sloppy puppy kiss to the bearded man's cheek.
"No," Bobby repeated as he stood and shook his head at the dog staring up at him. "No jumping."
Unless, of course, Rumsfeld had a death wish.
Because the dog's life would certainly be shortened if he lunged like that at Sam when the kid came into the house.
Bobby inwardly shuddered at the thought, knowing neither John nor Dean would care if the puppy was only playing with their youngest but would immediately launch a counter attack against the perceived threat to Sam.
Bobby cringed at the unpleasant visual and then pointed a warning finger at the puppy blinking up at him. "No jumping," he reminded Rumsfeld as the Impala's trunk slammed shut.
Seconds later, boots stomped up the steps of the porch.
Both Bobby and Rumsfeld glanced at the kitchen's backdoor in anticipation.
John's footsteps were heavier and more solid as they led the way, followed by a lighter set that was most likely Dean's...but where was Sam?
Bobby frowned at the obvious absence of the four-year old's footsteps, feeling his earlier worry return, and then blinked as the Winchesters suddenly appeared in his doorway, giving him his answer.
Because there Sam was, bundled in a beige coat – the hood of his grey sweatshirt overlapping the coat's collar – and then wrapped in a familiar green blanket as he was held securely in John's arms.
"Is he okay?" Dean was asking about Sam as he entered the house behind John.
"He's fine," John assured, his tone tight and tired, and nodded at the open door.
Dean nodded as well and shouldered the door shut, blocking out the biting wind and blowing snow.
Bobby said nothing but noticed the exchanged glances between father and oldest son before he refocused on Sam.
The kid was trustingly limp in deep sleep as he rested in John's arms; his small chest pressed against his father's; the four-year old completely enveloped in John's protection and strength.
And in that moment, Bobby was reminded that maybe John wasn't that bad of a father after all.
The man certainly wasn't going to win any awards for his parenting skills, but no one who truly knew John Winchester could ever argue that the man didn't love his kids.
Bobby nodded once – the movement imperceptible – and continued to stare at Sam; the kid's pink-cheeked face burrowed into the warmth of John's neck; his beanie-covered head lolling on his dad's snow-dusted shoulder as he slept.
Bobby smiled softly at the sight but felt his frown return as he realized that John looked worried...and so did Dean as the eight-year old stood beside his father.
"What?" the older hunter asked cautiously; his gaze flickering between John and Dean before settling once again on Sam as the kid inhaled a noisy, congested breath and then coughed wetly into John's shoulder.
"Easy, Sammy..." John soothed, readjusting his hold on his youngest as Sam shifted restlessly against him in his sleep.
Like the kid often did when he was sick...
Bobby narrowed his eyes, suddenly realizing why Sam was bundled up...and why he was sleeping so soundly...and why his cheeks were pink – because the kid was sick and feverish.
"Balls..." Bobby muttered at the realization and shook his head.
Because leave it to Sam to get sick at Christmas.
And while Bobby never wanted the kid to be sick at any time of the year, he especially didn't want Sam to be sick now – not this Christmas.
Bobby glanced over his shoulder at Rumsfeld; the puppy watching curiously from where he continued to sit unnoticed on the rug by the stove.
Sam coughed again, rubbing his face against John's shoulder as he sniffled miserably.
John rubbed his son's back in response.
Dean shook his head; his patience instantly gone. "Let me have him," he demanded, dropping the duffels he held – all three of them – and reaching up for his brother.
John cut his eyes at his oldest. "I've got him," he replied evenly, his tone and his expression implying they had already had this discussion more than once on their way across the yard from the Impala to Bobby's front door – Dean wanting to carry Sam...and John refusing.
Dean glared at his father, clearly unhappy at being denied his right to be sole caretaker of Sam, and settled for rubbing the kid's leg in silent comfort.
Sam instantly stilled beneath Dean's touch.
Dean smiled – pleased that his big brother superpowers still worked – and then glanced at John to make sure his father had noticed as well.
John sighed, beyond tired of this battle of wills with Dean that had lasted all day, and redirected his attention to Bobby. "Singer."
"Winchester," Bobby returned and then glanced at John's oldest. "Dean."
Dean nodded in acknowledgement to Bobby but didn't speak, too focused on his sick little brother to bother with pleasantries.
Bobby twitched a smile, proud that Dean always kept his priorities in line – Sam first, everybody else second.
There was a beat of silence.
"Sorry we're late," John offered, fatigue and worry making him uncharacteristically apologetic.
"S'alright," Bobby drawled, not really caring about that now.
"It's been one hell of a day," John continued, the confession an understatement, and once again shifted his four-year old in his arms.
Bobby nodded in understanding. "Just glad you're here," he replied genuinely and waved vaguely at the pot on the stovetop. "Soup's ready, if you're hungry..."
"We already ate," John informed and shrugged another apology at Bobby's scowl.
"Sam didn't," Dean corrected. "He was sleeping."
John didn't reply.
"He's been sleeping all day," Dean continued.
"Except when he's awake..." John added tiredly, his tone implying how much fun those wakeful times were.
Bobby chuckled softly – having been around a sick, clingy, cranky Sam before to feel a twinge of sympathy for John – and then nodded at the four-year old John held. "How bad?"
John shrugged again, feeling Sam's head lift with the motion of his shoulder. "He's okay. Just a cold."
"Or not," Dean countered sharply; his expression and tone implying this topic had been discussed numerous times as well.
Bobby arched an eyebrow.
"Colds don't have fevers," Dean elaborated and glared challengingly at John.
"Sometimes they do," John returned.
"Not like this," Dean replied and then glanced at Bobby. "Sammy started feeling bad yesterday, and then this morning he woke up with a fever that's been getting worse all day."
Bobby nodded at the information. "I've got some children's Tylenol – "
" – we've already got that," John interrupted defensively, once again shifting a sleeping Sam in his arms. "We've been dosing him since breakfast."
"Good," Bobby responded and then glanced at the fridge. "How 'bout we add some liquid antibiotics to the mix and get this kid well?"
"Yes," Dean heartily agreed, having known Bobby would have what they needed. "But I want to see it first."
John chuckled tiredly as Bobby nodded; both hunters knowing Sam would ingest nothing without Dean thoroughly examining it first and making sure it was safe.
Bobby glanced at John.
"You heard him..." John quipped and then smiled at his oldest as Dean stood by his elbow; his earlier annoyance replaced by pride that Dean was always so protective of his little brother. "After you finish, bring up the duffels and help me with Sammy."
"Yes, sir," Dean replied, clearly pleased that he was being allowed back on duty with his caretaking of Sam.
John winked at his oldest and nodded at their plan, rubbing Sam's back soothingly when the four-year old once again coughed into his shoulder.
Dean cringed at the croupy sound and gave his brother's leg a final comforting pat before he and John moved to sidestep Bobby; John headed upstairs with Sam, and Dean headed to the fridge to retrieve the medicine Bobby had mentioned.
But both Winchesters instantly halted at the sight that greeted them behind the older hunter.
In response to finally being noticed by the long-awaited guests, Rumsfeld stood; wagging his tail in polite greeting as he moved from the rug by the stove to the center of the kitchen and blinked at John, then at Dean.