Part Seven

Dean slept through his dad's first phone call, the day after they arrive in Sioux Falls, but it was just as well. For the first two days, he was feverish and miserable, too groggy from the painkillers and nauseous from the antibiotics to be able to really carry on an actual conversation. Or not one he could remember later, anyway.

Sam filled him in on the third day, when he was sitting up and eating his first real meal, a grilled cheese sandwich and soup, off a tray in Bobby's spare bedroom. Dean wolfed down the food, ravenous, trying to ignore the way Sam's eyes were tracking his every movement. It was a little creepy, but Dean figured he'd be doing the same if their situations were reversed: checking for a wince when he shifted his position, or a grimace hidden under a cocky smile. Making sure Dean's "I'm fine, Sammy" was for real.

It was understandable, maybe even reasonable, but it still bothered him. He couldn't avoid the implication: that Sam didn't accept what he said at face value anymore. That he couldn't trust Dean the way he once had. Maybe the whole incident had convinced him that Dean wasn't the strong, competent big brother he'd thought he was. If Sam had decided he needed to make up his own mind from now on, draw his own conclusions, who could blame him?

But it felt off, and Dean couldn't help wondering whether something had changed irrevocably in his brother, as if he'd experienced a fundamental loss of faith in his family.

"Dad called last night," Sam told him, interrupting his brooding thoughts. "You were asleep."

"Did you talk to him?" He could only hope that Sam hadn't tried out his new attitude on their father. Not yet, at least.

Sam's lips quirked up. "Well, Bobby talked to him first. He wouldn't let me stay in the room while they were talking, but he was yelling loud enough that I could hear everything from the hallway. Called him an irresponsible jackass and said he ought to be ashamed of himself."

"Ashamed of himself? Why? Dad never meant for any of this to happen." If anyone needed to be ashamed of himself, it was Dean.

"What do you mean, why?" Sam was looking at him like the fever had left him bereft of a few critical brain cells. "It's obvious why."

"Well, it's not obvious to me," he said, annoyed. "I'm not blaming Dad for my decisions. It's my own fault I got hurt. I was the one who decided we should stay."

"That might be true, but it's Dad who left us without anyone to turn to!" Sam bit out, with a bitterness and anger Dean had never heard from him. "I heard Bobby telling him that, and it's true! He should've made arrangements in case anything happened to him, but he didn't, and-"

"Come on, you know he did. Pastor Jim and Caleb…"

"But he didn't even know Pastor Jim was out of the country, so what kind of a useless arrangement was that? And when was the last time he talked to Caleb?"

"Then maybe we should have tried harder to call Dad, Sam, or left him an address where he could get a letter to us!" he blurted. It was a thought he hadn't really allowed himself to voice until now, but it had been lurking there, just under the surface, for weeks, worrying at him. "We didn't even try calling the prison. We just assumed that we couldn't. Maybe if we'd been able to talk to Dad, he'd have told us what to do. Where to go."

His answer just seemed to infuriate his brother. "Stop excusing him! We're just kids, we're not supposed to have to find out how to contact our father in prison without anybody knowing where we are! We were homeless, Dean. We should have been in school, not living in an abandoned shack in the woods, or some stupid shelter for runaways…" His voice cracked, and Dean could see the edges of his mouth quiver. For a second he thought his brother's control was going to crack, but then he sucked in a harsh breath and his mouth turned down into a scowl. "We should never have had to go to a place like that."

It was the first time Sam had said anything about what had happened at Harbor House, and it hit him like a slap. He'd been naively hoping that Sam had forgotten about it, or at least had been able to put it behind him, but… no.

If he'd thought about it at all, he'd have realized that Sam wouldn't let something like that go. He'd analyze it and brood about it, and come to his own conclusions about what led to it and whose fault it was. He was hurting, and Dean should have seen that the only outlet for his feelings was anger and resentment.

"I'm sorry for that, Sammy," he said quietly. "I'm so sorry, you have no idea. I should have gotten you out of there sooner. You told me you wanted to leave, but I didn't listen."

"No!" Sam snapped. "Stop taking all of this on yourself. I don't blame you, I blame Dad. He's our father, and he should have had a better back-up plan than calling two people who weren't even around!"

Dean sighed. He didn't really disagree with Sam—God knows he'd had these thoughts himself—but what was the point of dredging this all up now, when it was all over and they were safe? "It was just bad timing, Sam. And bad luck."

Sam huffed. "Well, Bobby told Dad it was bad judgment. Which it was. He asked him why we didn't have his number to call too." He paused. "I don't know what Dad told him, but Bobby said, 'Yeah, I guess I meant it at the time, but that was years ago.'"

"I guess they had some kind of fight."

Sam nodded. "Then, uh, you're not gonna like this part… He said we were lucky to be alive and Dad should have taught us better than to try to take on a waheela by ourselves."

Dean winced. "That's what Bobby said?"

Sam's cheeks reddened. "Actually, he said, 'John, what kind of idiots are you raising who think they can take on a full-fledged hunt armed with stupidity and a couple of silver bullets?'"

"Oh." Crap.

"And he told Dad all about what happened to you and, you know… the holy water."

Dean swallowed against the lump in his throat, then looked away. Of course Bobby would have had to tell Dad everything, he knew that, and getting clawed up isn't something he could have tried to hide, but still, he hated the idea of his father imagining him so damaged. Bad enough that his little brother had to carry those memories.

"Did you talk to him?" he asked again.

Sam nodded. "Yeah, just for a minute, but he sounds okay. Bossy, like usual. 'Watch over your brother and mind Bobby, even if he is a cranky old bastard.' He asked about you. He said he can call again tomorrow night."

Terrific, he thought. Something to look forward to all day tomorrow. What the hell could he possibly say that would explain the long chain of fuck-ups that he was responsible for?

And yet… God, he needed to hear his Dad again.

They were in Bobby's kitchen the next evening when the phone rang. His palm was sweaty as he took the receiver from Bobby. "Hey, Dad."

"Dean." His father's voice, deep and familiar, sent his heart racing in his chest. "It's good to hear you, son."

"You too."

"Bobby told me all about your run-in with the Beast. You feeling all right?"

"I'm okay."

"Dean." Just one word, stern and impatient. An order.

"Fever's down," he said promptly. "Uh… I'm still pretty sore. My side, leg, and shoulder, mostly. Bobby won't let me move around much yet."

"He knows what he's doing. I need you healed up right, so you listen to him, son."

"Yes, sir."

There was a pause on the line, and when his father spoke again, his tone was harsh. "We're going to have a long talk about what happened back there, Dean. Not now. But don't think for a minute that I approve of what you did. You could have gotten yourself and your brother killed."

"I know I made a mistake," he said quickly. "I'm sorry, I thought I could handle it, I shouldn't have—"

"You sure as hell shouldn't have gone after that thing by yourselves. You're not ready to take on something like that, and what happened to you just proves it." John's voice was rough and unforgiving. He clenched his jaw, too aware of Bobby watching him surreptitiously from the kitchen, but he knew his hurt must be written all over his face. "You're just lucky your brother said what he did in that letter, or I'd never have known where you were or what you were doing. It sounds like Bobby got there just in time."

"I know I screwed up, but Dad, it wasn't like you think, we did the research and we—"

"Not now." His father's tone was final. "I've been worried sick about the two of you. You have no idea."

Dean bit his lip and said nothing.

The answering silence on the other end told him everything he needed to know. He pressed his lips together, waiting. What was there to say? It hadn't taken his father more than twenty seconds to put him right back into the role of the fuck-up kid who never got it right.

"Dean…" His father said finally, and sighed. "I'm sorry. That wasn't what I meant to say to you. Not at all."

It's what I deserve, he thought. "It's okay, Dad," he said, straining to get the words out while his throat was swelling up and choking him. "You're right."

"No, that wasn't fair. You made some mistakes, but I never intended you to be living on your own. Believe me, I didn't know Pastor Jim was out of the country. I spoke to that other priest, what's his name…"

"Father Davis."

"He told me there'd been some trouble at the shelter where he sent you, and the two of you left without talking to him."

Dean gave a cynical laugh. Some trouble, that was a nice way of putting it. "We couldn't stay there, Dad. And they wanted to put Sammy in foster care. We had to leave."

"You did the right thing, son."

He relaxed, just a bit. "We lived out of the car for a while, and then we found that shack."

"Jesus." There was a pause. "What did you do for money? I left you a bit, but I know it wasn't much…"

"I got your pay from the auto shop."

"And that was enough?"

He could feel sweat breaking out on the back of his neck. "I did a few odd jobs, here and there," he said casually. "And we ate a lot of peanut butter. Tried to make it last."

"All right, put Bobby on again. I've got a few things to square with him."

He wasn't sure whether to feel relieved or let down.

Dean was flipping through one of Bobby's old auto magazines two days later ("Muscle Car Review's Top 30 Resto Tips PLUS What You Need to Know Before You Get Your Muscle Car Painted") when Bobby sat down on the couch next to him. He had a pile of books and old manuscripts clutched in his arms.

"Put down the comic books, kid," he told Dean, plunking the books down between them. "Got some serious work for you."

A waft of dust billowed up from the couch and Dean gave a little cough. "You need to get a vacuum cleaner, Bobby. Even your dirt has a layer of dust."

Bobby smiled. "There's one in the hall closet, as a matter of fact. And that's a good project for tomorrow, seeing as how you're feeling well enough to cast aspersions on the pristine cleanliness of my home."

"Hey, no offense," Dean said hastily. "I like the lived-in look." He did, in fact, enjoy puttering around, exploring Bobby's cluttered rooms and overstuffed bookshelves. The only other real home he'd stayed in for any period of time had been Pastor Jim's rectory, which was always tidy and plain, with only a smattering of personal items. Bobby had pictures on the walls, photo albums, a stocked-to-the-brim tool shed, even a basement filled with boxes of unlabeled junk. It was about as different as he could imagine from the motel rooms and barely-furnished rental dumps where he'd spent most of his life.

"Well, I'm tickled you approve of my décor," Bobby told him coolly. "But don't think it gets you out of cleaning duty."

He sighed. "Didn't figure it would." He wasn't really objected to the cleaning. Especially since it had the weight of his father's orders behind it.

"Your daddy says he's likely to come up for early parole," Bobby had informed them after speaking to John again that first week. "Prisons are overcrowded. He'll probably be out in another two months or so, so you kids'll be staying here with me until he's released. And before you say anything about not wanting to be a bother," he added, giving Dean a pre-emptive glare, "I've already worked it out with John that you two're gonna help me out around the yard and stuff. Earn your keep."

"We can stay here?" Sam had asked, as if not daring to believe it. He'd already installed himself in Bobby's study as semi-permanent fixture, poring over his lore books day and night. "I don't mind helping out."

"Wait a minute. What's 'and stuff'?" Dean had asked, a little suspiciously. "Like, be your maid, cook and clean?" It was a token protest, though, not more than that. They owed Bobby a huge debt, and besides, they still had nowhere else to go until their dad got out.

"It's whatever I think it is, wise-ass. You two get room and board, and in return you'll make yourselves useful and help me with whatever I need you to do. And now that you mention it," he'd added with a quirk of his lips, "having a maid doesn't sound half-bad…"

Now, Bobby was nodding in satisfaction. "Okay, then. I thought, since you're feeling better, it was time we had what you might call a debriefing. Talk about what went down back there in the woods."

Great. "Look, I've already had that conversation with Dad," Dean said glumly. "He ripped me up one side and down the other. Just so you know."

Bobby chuckled. "Well, knowing John, I'm not surprised, but… that's not exactly what I had in mind." He pointed to the stack of books. "First of all, from what your brother told me, you've got some holes in your research."

"But we figured out what the creature was," he protested. "And how to kill it."

"That part was a lucky guess. I don't deny you managed to figure out what you were dealing with, which isn't bad, for a pair of amateurs. But you missed the biggest clue of all." He took a piece of folded notebook paper out of the back pocket of his jeans, smoothed it out, and placed it on top of the books. It was a copy of the symbols and sigils painted on the walls of their shack. "This is where you kids should have started your research, if you were so determined to figure out what it was."

Dean had heard his father, more than once, talking to Pastor Jim about runes and sigils he'd stumbled on in his hunts, but John had never shown much interest in them himself. "Dad doesn't know much about that kind of thing," he said, a little defensively. "If he's got a question, he calls a friend of his, but—"

"But Jim Murphy's out of the country," Bobby finished. "I know." He shook his head in exasperation at Dean's raised eyebrows. "Don't look so surprised. Hunters are a pretty small community and I know most of 'em. Not everybody's a loner like your dad."

"Guess not."

Over the past few days, from his perch on the couch, he'd had an opportunity to watch Bobby. His phone rang almost constantly, and in between calls about spare parts for old Corvettes, Buicks, and Oldsmobiles, he'd overheard him fielding at least a dozen calls from hunters.

"I'll get back to you in a few hours. Yes, of course I have to look it up, I'm not a walking grimoire, ya know."

"Well it ain't a rakshasa if it got in without an invite, Steve. Could be a regular shapeshifter. Did you get a picture of it? Yep, that's a dead giveaway… Decapitation. Use a silver knife if you want to be on the safe side."

"I'm not saying it's your fault," Bobby told him. "But as long as you're in my home, you might as well learn something. Who knows, maybe you'll come to appreciate the intellectual side of the job."

Dean eyed the books doubtfully. "Don't hold your breath."

Bobby laughed. "Yeah, John was always more of a slash-and-burn kind of guy too."

Bobby gave him three hours, and by the end, he still hadn't been able to identify half the symbols. He'd made notes all over the page, with arrows and scribbled phrases in the odd language of the books.

"All right, I get the picture," he announced when Bobby came back accompanied by Sam, their arms full of groceries. "Most of these signs are about conjuring spirits and, uh, talking to them, or something."

Bobby looked pleased. "Well, that's close enough, I suppose." He directed Sam to put away the food and came to join Dean on the couch. "Show me what you've managed to find."

He pointed to one of the symbols, a pentagram star inside a circle, with odd markings within each triangular space. "Uh, it says this is the pentagram of Solomon, 'which is to preserve thee from danger, and also to command the Spirits by,'" he quoted. "And these squiggles over here are part of the generation seal—"

"The moloch familiarium. Right. And those are runes, you blockhead, not squiggles."

Dean grinned. "It's supposed to make spirits obedient in 'all services,' whatever that means."He showed Bobby the rest, with the information he'd copied from the books. Bobby nodded as he spoke, looking grim.

"Listen closely, kid. They're part of a summoning ritual called the Solomonic Convocation. Whoever painted those sigils on the wall apparently was trying to conjure a powerful spirit they thought they could control. This one here," he added, pointing to a symbol that looked, to Dean, like a meaningless combination of arrows, curves, and angled lines, "that's the key."

"I couldn't find that one in any of the books."

"That's because it's not in these books. I had to make some calls, do a little research myself. It's the seal of a pretty nasty demonic spirit that's supposed to be able to tell of things both past and future. It likes to take the form of a wolf."

Christ, he thought. A demonic fortune teller. What kind of idiots would conjure up something like that? "What happened to the guys who did it, then? The, uh, summoners?"

Bobby shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine, but I'm betting they weren't able to control the spirit as well as they thought they could."

Dean shuddered, remembering the feeling of the waheela's claws pulling at his skin and dragging him over the rough ground, its teeth bared and ready to rip out his jugular. "Probably not."

Sam had finished with the groceries and perched himself on the edge of the couch, listening.

"It's a powerful ritual, and the symbols were probably what kept drawing it back to the shack. When you two laid the salt lines, it must have sensed some kind of barrier and that triggered its attack."

"Oh." He swallowed. "So you mean we…"

"I mean you two ignoramuses set up camp in just about the most dangerous place you could have found. Those sigils should've sent alarm bells ringing, but you didn't give them a moment's thought."

He felt nauseous. God, Bobby was right. He'd gotten so used to the markings on the wall that he'd begun to think of them as a sort of gruesome wallpaper. It had never occurred to them that they had any particular meaning. What a fool he he'd been.

Sam spoke up hesitantly, echoing Dean's thoughts. "But Bobby… Dad didn't think they were all that important. We didn't know. We'd never have stayed there if we'd known."

"We're sorry," Dean breathed. "It was stupid." The word reverberated inside him, stupid stupid stupid, a castigating throb that made his insides clench. A blunder that nearly got both of them killed, and who knows, maybe Bobby as well, if he'd shown up any earlier.

Bobby shook his head. "I didn't tell you because I want you to apologize. I'm just pointing out there's a lot to this business that you need to know, more than being able to shoot straight or dig up a damn grave. Your father never saw eye to eye with me on this, but I figure you kids are still young and you can learn. Next time, don't pull the trigger before you know what you're dealing with."

"I don't want to learn it," Sam muttered, glancing away. "There's not gonna be a next time."

Dean rolled his eyes. "Course there will, Sammy. You'll get over this, and Dad's not going to suddenly change his mind about everything. We just need to be more careful so this kind of thing doesn't happen."

"I'm not suggesting you need to know everything I do, or Jim Murphy does," Bobby said. "But you might want to learn some Latin and read up on some of the more common rituals. I'll give John a nudge in that direction."

"I wouldn't mind learning Latin," Sam admitted. "It's actually supposed to help you understand the roots of English vocabulary and grammar better."

Geek. "Count me out," Dean said quickly. The last thing he wanted was a course in classic languages during his summer vacation. "One of my guidance counselors told me I'm not really, uh, linguistically-oriented." She'd actually said that if he broadened his vocabulary he might not feel the need to swear so much, but he'd gotten the message.

"Well, your daddy says you're pretty good with your hands," Bobby said, after a pause. "There's plenty of work around the salvage yard you can help me with, now that you're feeling better. You can earn your keep that way."

Dean grinned. "Sounds good to me."

"Come on out from under that hood and take a break," Bobby called to him one morning in late August. He was raising a pitcher of water in invitation, and Dean nodded tiredly. He'd been trying to change the spark plugs on the old Mustang, and the last one had been a bitch to remove. He was covered in sweat and grease.

He jogged back from the salvage yard to the porch, frowning at the slight twinge in his hip that didn't seem to want to go away. Bobby was still insisting that he couldn't train yet, not until his leg healed a little more and the cuts on his side closed up. They'd been the worst infected and the healing process was slow and uncomfortable.

Most of the other wounds had already healed. Bobby still made him smear Vaseline over the deeper cuts every day to keep them moist, over his loud protests—it was disgusting and it smelled—but the scars had turned out to be a lot smaller than he thought they'd be, so maybe Bobby knew what he was doing.

"Thanks, Bobby," he said, accepting the glass of water from him. He leaned back against one of the porch pillars and chugged it down, then filled another.

"Give that Ford a rest for a while," Bobby told him. "I've got a project I'd like you to help me with."

"Can't you get Sam to do it? It wouldn't kill him to get his nose out of those books for once."

"Your brother's busy enough. Got him tracking down some information on a voodoo charm for a hunt in Louisiana." Bobby grinned. "Kid's a natural researcher."

Great. As if Sam wasn't enough of a geek already. "Fine," he agreed grudgingly. "What do you need me to do?"

"Thought I'd fix up the back porch, and I could use your help. Some of those floor boards are rotted through and the whole thing's warped."

"Aw, come on, Bobby, I don't have the first clue how to put in a porch."

Bobby raised an eyebrow. "Don't try to get off the hook, kid. You can wield a hammer, can't you? Use a saw?"

"Course I can," he scoffed. Nothing to it, right?

"We'll see how it goes, then. Don't push yourself too hard. The new boards are stacked along the side of the house. I'll get the tools and we'll meet out back."

By the time he brought all the wood to the back of the house, Bobby had already started removing the old floorboards. He handed Dean a pry bar, and together they pulled up the rest of the damaged boards from the porch.

He felt awkward and uncertain with the carpentry tools, although he tried to hide it. Give him a grease-spattered engine and a wrench and he felt at home, but working with wood was completely different. The fact was, John had never bothered to do much home repair. If something was broken, they mostly just ignored it until they moved on to the next place.

Bobby's movements were sure and smooth, and he seemed to assume that Dean could follow his lead without too many explanations. But when it was time to start fitting the new boards into place, he started having trouble. He was supposed to drill through the top of each board into the joist, and he worked slowly, trying to get it right. Don't drill too deep, Bobby instructed, and keep the hole centered. But despite his efforts, the bit slipped away from him more than once.

"Watch it, Dean!" Bobby sounded exasperated after the second time. "Make a pilot hole first to guide the bit."

"Sorry," he said. "Never done this before."

Bobby's eyebrows rose in surprise, but all he said was, "Well, I'm telling you now how to do it, so get with it, boy."

Later, when Bobby set him to nailing down the edging along the sides, Dean ruined so many nails with glancing blows that bent the nails into pretzels, Bobby had to come over and coach him on how to hold the hammer. He looked a little perplexed with Dean's lack of basic skills, but didn't say anything.

Once they finally got the floorboards in place, Bobby gave him the jigsaw and told him to trim the excess length off the boards along the edge of the porch. He watched Dean carefully at first, presumably to make sure he didn't start carving curlicues into the wood, then moved off to start sanding down the planks.

He started off slowly, making sure to keep a straight line and not draw attention to the fact that it was his first time using the tool, but it really wasn't that hard. He picked up speed and confidence, moving smoothly along. Piece of cake.

Bobby's hollered "Dean!" startled him out of his absorption and he looked up to see him frowning at him and shaking his head.

He stopped the saw. "What?"

"You're moving forward too fast. Can't you hear the strain on the blade? Slow down!"

"Oh," he said, embarrassed. "Sorry. Wasn't really paying attention."

"Yeah, I can see that," Bobby said peevishly. "Well, let's take a break. We've been working for a couple of hours straight. Go get us something to drink."

When he came back with a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses, Bobby was staring down at the new floor. To Dean's eye, it looked fine, straight and level, but Bobby's expression was pensive and unhappy.

"Have a seat, kid." He patted the new floor beside him. "We need to talk a bit."

Dean poured himself a glass, then settled down beside Bobby, grinning sheepishly. "I guess my skills are kind of rusty, huh?"

"They ain't rusty," Bobby told him flatly. "Don't flatter yourself. They're nonexistent. It's a miracle you didn't smash your thumb with the hammer or slice off a limb with the jigsaw."

Ouch. He hadn't actually been that useless, had he? "Dad's never shown me how to do any of this stuff," he said, embarrassed. "He doesn't even own a saw."

Bobby nodded, then took a long drink. He was quiet long enough that Dean was fairly sure he was gearing up to say something really unpleasant.

He didn't disappoint. "The thing is," he said slowly, as if he was trying to figure something out, "Sam told me you worked on construction for three days up in Milwaukee. Says you got paid really well too."

Damn Sam and his big mouth."That's right, but… I wasn't working carpentry. I did drywall."

Bobby met his gaze. "And you never had to use a drill or a saw?" he asked pointedly. "Or a hammer?"

"I helped with other things. Uh…" Shit, what did drywallers do exactly? "Painting and stuff."

There was a long pause while Bobby considered this. "Well, I guess that would make sense," he said slowly. "Except I've been reading there's a lot of unemployment in the cities. Situation's getting so bad, it's hard for skilled workers to find jobs, let alone a sixteen-year-old kid with no experience and no papers."

Dean scowled at the sarcastic tone, turning away to hide the blush on his cheeks. "What's the matter, Bobby, I'm not good enough at manual labor for you? I've been working out here with you for three hours and this is the thanks I get? Next time, get Sam to do the job. It's not my fault you're too cheap to hire a real goddamn worker!"

"Watch your mouth. And don't try to change the subject." The look in Bobby's eye was relentless. "Got something you want to get off your chest?"

"Fuck off!" he ground out, jumping to his feet. "I don't give a shit whether you believe me or not. I'm sorry my drilling doesn't come up to your high fucking standards. I'm going inside."

He managed to take four angry strides before Bobby thundered, "Get back here!" sounding just like his father in one of his don't-give-me-any-of-that-crap moods.

He couldn't help it, it was ingrained into him: he stopped.

"Don't walk away from me when I'm talking to you," Bobby growled. "You're almost a grown man, and in my book that means being able to have a civilized conversation without swearing or stomping off. Even when the subject's not to your liking."

Dean sighed, lowering his head but not turning back. "I'm listening," he muttered. "Say what you gotta say."

"Sit yourself back down here, Dean. I ain't gonna talk to your back."

Bobby waited, firm and uncompromising, until he was seated next to him again. When he started to talk, though, his tone was softer. "I know you never worked a day in construction, so don't bother denying it."

"Fine! I lied to Sam, all right?" he said bitterly, his jaw clenched. "Why the hell does it matter to you? We needed money and I got it."

"Calm down, son." Bobby refilled his glass and handed it to him. "I know it's none of my business. But you're here under my roof and your daddy's put you under my care. The way I figure, that means I've got some responsibility toward you, beyond feeding you and keeping you out of the rain."

Dean let the cool liquid soothe his throat, and took a minute to get his breathing back under control. Damn it, damn it, he wasn't ready for this conversation, but he couldn't see any way out of it at this point.

It would have been easier if he didn't like Bobby so much. The rough exterior and gruff manners didn't bother him. Bobby was knowledgeable and easygoing, for the most part. He seemed to have a special fondness for Sam—maybe because he recognized a fellow bookworm—and Dean appreciated that. Despite their rocky start, he'd opened his home to them, and he seemed perfectly happy to spend an evening telling his own hunting stories, explaining how to trap a kitsune or counteract a death omen. Unlike Dad, he didn't think Dean's questions were stupid—or if he did, he never said so—and he never told him he was too young to know.

It gutted him that five minutes from now, Bobby was going to be looking at him differently, and there'd be no going back from that.

He drained the glass, wiped his mouth, and sighed. Time to face the music. "It's okay, Bobby. Ask whatever you want."

It didn't take long for Bobby to find out the salient details: how much money they'd had and what they spent it on, when it all ran out, what happened at Home Depot, and how he tried selling sandwiches. "And then it rained all the next day," he finished. "I couldn't make any money, and it was time to go back to Sam. And I just… couldn't go back with nothing. It was my responsibility to get the money."

"Did you steal it, Dean?"

"No, sir." He didn't want Bobby thinking he was just a common thief. Even if the real explanation was worse.

After a moment of silence, Bobby spoke up again. "C'mon, kid. Come clean. Where'd you get the money?"

"I worked for it!" he fumed, feeling trapped and angry and ashamed. "Don't ask me anything else, okay?"

"Look, it's pretty clear you were doing something shady. I've got eyes, and I can see that something's been eating at you, so spit it out already."

"Is this your version of therapy? I don't need to confess anything, Bobby, so back off!"

"Hunters need to steer clear of the law," Bobby told him, his low, calm voice an annoying counterpoint to Dean's rising tone. "You of all people should know that, with your daddy locked up like he is."

Dean scowled. Low blow, bastard.

"If you were into some kind of illegal business, I need to know about it as long as you're living under my roof." Bobby's gaze turned hard and piercing. "Was it drugs? Were you dealing?"

Oh, for fuck's sake. "Not drugs. You need me to spell it out for you?" he snarled. "Fine! I earned it doing the only job I was qualified to do." He took a deep breath, then deliberately met Bobby's eyes. "I whored myself out."

There. He'd said it. Bobby turned away, but not before Dean saw the look of shock and revulsion in his eyes.

He felt his heart plummet into his shoes, but once he'd started, it turned out, there was more he wanted to say. "I hustled for two nights," he added, furious at Bobby, at himself, at the stupid porch. He wanted to rub Bobby's nose in it, punish him for forcing the words out of him, for dragging the secret into the light of day. "Turned tricks. Hand jobs, blow jobs, full service. Did whatever they asked. Believe me, it pays better than construction."

"Jesus Christ, Dean," Bobby muttered.

He felt his throat swelling, despite his anger. It ached to swallow, and tears were prickling at the corners of his eyes. Shit. He needed the anger to stop himself from breaking down, to protect himself from whatever he'd see in Bobby's eyes once the man could bring himself to look at him again: disgust, probably. Embarrassment, definitely.


Well, he needed to get used to it, he supposed. He'd crossed a line that could never be forgiven or understood. Even among hunters.

The silence grew unbearable.

"I'm sorry," he blurted. "I shouldn't have said it like that. I mean, you don't need the details."

Bobby nodded, still not looking at him. "Sure as hell don't. Word to the wise, kid. Some things don't need explaining."

You're the one who made me say it. "Guess not."

"It was just that one time?" Bobby asked, and he nodded.

More silence.

"Listen, Bobby, I'm going to leave," he said quietly, hoping it sounded more like a statement of intent rather than a plea for forgiveness. "It's okay. If you can keep Sam till Dad gets out, I'll go back to that shelter in Minneapolis. They said they could put me into a group hostel, and-"

"What?" Bobby's head snapped back around, and he was giving Dean a look of confusion. "You want to leave?"

Not want, he thought in resignation. Have to. "I was planning to go back anyway," he lied. "It's called transitional housing, they said, and I can stay there for a few months. They'll help me get a job."

"Are you under the impression I'm throwing you out, boy?" Bobby looked appalled.

"I know you're not," he said quickly. Even after what he'd just revealed, he knew Bobby wasn't the kind of guy who'd toss him out into the street. "It's okay, it's my decision. I'll tell my dad and Sammy I left to get work. I'll leave in the morning."

"No, Dean," Bobby said emphatically. "Why do you think you have to leave?"

He felt a drop of wetness slide down his cheek, and wiped it away angrily. "Nobody wants a whore living under his roof," he mumbled.

"For the love of God, you're not a—" Bobby sounded pained. "Look, I'm doing this all wrong, I know." He sighed. "Not gonna lie to you. When I saw the way the two of you were living, back in that shack, I knew you were strapped for money, and the story your brother told me just didn't sit right. He didn't say anything," Bobby told him quickly, forestalling his questions, "but I've got instincts, and I've got eyes. I've seen those labor markets in the cities, here and there, and they're always filled with big, strong guys who look like they've been around the block a few times. No way a kid like you would be picked up for construction work."

He lips twisted in a cynical half-smile. "Wish I'd known that before I went up. Instead of wasting my time trying to get a job, I'd have had a few more days to make some real money."

"That's enough!" Bobby snapped with more than a touch of anger, and Dean hunched in on himself miserably. "I had a feeling you'd gotten into something heavy, but you weren't talking, so I didn't want to press."

"So why'd you make such an issue of it now?" he asked bitterly. "Why couldn't you just let it go?"

"Because John asked me to keep an eye on you. And because I'm a meddling old fool, I guess. Hunters keep plenty of secrets, but at least we can relax in our own homes. This kind of secret'll make you explode unless you share it with someone."

Right. So far, sharing it was just making him feel like shit. And if this got back to his father… "Please, Bobby, don't tell my dad."

"Tell him what?" Bobby asked, and Dean gave him a hesitant smile. "It's not my place, kid. When he comes back, you can decide what you want him to know. But I'll tell you this much. Your father's damn proud of you. I don't get the impression that he says it out loud to you too often, but he's said it to me more than once."

"If he knew…" Dean started, but Bobby cut him off.

"If he knew, he'd realize just how far his eldest was willing to go to protect his little brother." He paused for a minute, as if checking to make sure Dean had heard that, then added, "Your daddy's been to war, son, and so have I. And we all do things in combat that we'd never do if we had any other choice. It's called survival. And that's all you were doing. Surviving and making sure your brother did too."

"Maybe," he said, wanting desperately to believe him. He looked up, finally, and met Bobby's eyes. There was no censure there, no disgust. Just compassion.

"You did what you had to do, Dean. John expected you to take care of your brother, and that's what you did. Ain't no shame in that."

Bobby was offering him his own form of absolution, and he inclined his head, not wanting him to see the relief in his eyes. "Thanks, Bobby."

Bobby stood up, breaking the moment, then held out his hand for Dean to grasp as he pulled himself upright. "Don't thank me so fast. Tomorrow we're going down to the lumberyard. Been meaning to put up some bookshelves in my study, and it seems to me that you could use some more practice."

"Prob'ly right," he mumbled, feeling suddenly exhausted. "Wouldn't be surprised if Sammy needs to brush up his hammering skills too, y'know."

Bobby laughed. "Can't be any worse than you."


October 1995, Sturtevant, Wisconsin

They were waiting for him next to the Impala outside Racine Correctional Institute when he walked out the gate.

John looked the same as always: confident, strong, determined. Only the nervous hand he ran through his hair disclosed his anxiety. His face broke into a smile when he saw them, and Dean felt relief wash through him. Things could get back to normal now.

More or less.

When he got to the car, he reached first for Sam. Dean could tell his brother was a little stiff and uncomfortable with the hug, but John didn't seem to notice.

"You need a haircut, for God's sake, Sammy," he said, making a face of distaste. "Doesn't Bobby own a pair of clippers?"

"I like it long."

"He thinks it makes him look taller," Dean teased, trying to cover the awkward moment. "I'm gonna buy him platform shoes for Christmas."

"Shut up, Dean. I'm gonna buy you a cookbook."

"That's enough, boys. I haven't even been out for two minutes," John said, but his tone was amused. Then he turned to Dean, standing slightly behind Sam, and motioned him forward, enveloping him in a tight embrace.

He closed his eyes, letting the warmth of his father's arms envelope him. Finally. His father seemed thinner, and he realized that they were now nearly the same height.

"Six months," John said quietly, still holding him close. "Long time."

He felt his throat swelling, and when he spoke, his words came out a little choked. "Good to see you, Dad."

They climbed into the Impala, Dean riding shotgun, Sam in back. "Bobby tells me he's got you training on a crossbow," John said, as he backed out of the parking lot. "And fixing up a vintage Ford."

"Yes sir. And Sammy's learning Latin."

His father smiled. "Well, that's a real oversight on my part. Should've started teaching you both years ago… Jim Murphy's told me that often enough. And you should be learning it too."

"Not me," he said hastily. "Sammy's the bookworm in this family."

"Both of you. You never know when you might need an exorcism. Don't argue, Dean," he said a little sharply, forestalling Dean's protests.

He sighed. Dad hadn't changed.

They were heading over to Blue Earth, now that Pastor Jim was back from Costa Rica, to "get their bearings" as John put it. Translation: find a hunt, choose a home base, enroll them in school.

Start over again.

"You look beat, kiddo."

He nodded. They'd been on the road since three in the morning. "It's an eight-hour drive from Bobby's. Wouldn't mind getting something to eat, though."

John let out a bitter laugh. "Anything but pasta."

"Burgers, then," he decided. "That good for you, Sammy?"

"Whatever." But he gave Dean a small smile when he looked back at him.

"Great," John said. "I'm starving."

The end.

Author's Notes:

The Beast of Bray Road is an urban legend that was first popularized in the early 1990s. The first newspaper article, "Tracking Down the Beast of Bray Road," was published in 1991 (just google it...). Another article, published in 1992, includes the quote used in Part Three from the witness who described being attacked in her car by the Beast.

The story was widely picked up by national media, and the Beast of Bray Road became the subject of several books and documentaries. The abandoned house where the boys stayed in the story was discovered by a local law agent, who noted the occult graffiti on the walls of the house.

The shunka warak'in, which John initially proposes as an explanation for the Beast, can be googled as well.

The Nahanni Valley in Canada, home of the waheela, is a real place, and its "Headless Valley" has been proposed as a possible location of the waheela.

Thanks for reading! And please leave some feedback :-).