Life had a way of repeating itself. This was a fact that could be proven by two completely unrelated events that seemed fated to reprise themselves once every twelve to fifteen years. The first was the horrifying yet seemingly harmless reappearance of bell bottom jeans into fashion. The second and significantly more dangerous was the slide and click of Bobby Singer's shotgun as he loaded a round into its chamber, then raised and directed the barrel at the chest of John Winchester.
"You've got exactly five seconds to get your ass out of my house before I pump you so goddamn full of buckshot…"
Oh yes. They'd been there, done that once before; life set on permanent repeat. Of course this time, with no doe-eyed youngsters to stand in his way, Bobby had every intention of carrying out the threat.May 1989
The storm that had been stirred up by the warmer than average day, was still raging late into the night. Its wind whipped the trees that surrounded the property and rattled all the sheet metal lying loose around the salvage yard, until the sounds bled together and it was impossible to tell the difference between the metal and the thunder. Bobby, however, wasn't listening.
Tucked away in the library, all the noise from outside was muted by the endless stacks of books that littered his home and Bobby was planted right in the middle of them all. Sucking down coffee and munching on a bowl of pan popped corn, he poured through the books, searching for the answer he knew was just a page turn away. His hunting partner was about two days out and hot on the trail of the latest monster of the week and expecting results in the research department.
Rufus had stopped to gas up and call him collect from a truck stop payphone on the far end of Maine. He'd griped about how mobile monsters had become and whatever happened to the slow moving zombies they use to take out with pot-shots from the back of Bobby's truck, and why was it that he got strip searched each and every time he crossed the US Canadian border. Bobby had only shaken his head and made some disparaging remark about 'giving probable cause' before hanging up.
When three hours and eight books later Bobby was no closer to finding what he was looking for, he made a vow to take a week off and really get his books in some sort of order. Of course at the pace he was going, he might as well pencil in that vacation sometime in the year 2006. He slapped the book in his hand closed and tossed it onto the discard pile.
As Bobby was reaching behind his back for the next volume, he caught a flash of light out of the corner of his eye as it reflected across the far wall. Bobby frowned and pulled himself up off the floor. He stepped over a stack of books, pressed a knee into the sofa and peered through the split in the drapes. A long, dark car had pulled into his drive and made its way up to the front walk. Bobby watched its driver climb out into the rain.
Growling, Bobby pushed off the couch, snatched the nearest weapon and stomped towards the door. In one fluid motion, he shouldered the gun, pulled and pushed the fore-end, dropping the cartridge into place and flung the door open.
The dark haired man who stood before him startled back a step in surprise, dropping the hand that was meant to knock on the front door. He was tall and young – not a day over 35 if Bobby had to guess – and soaking wet from his run from the car to the house with his field jacket pulled tight around his broad shoulders, high up around his neck to keep the cold summer rain out.
Bobby didn't give him a chance to do or say anything; he just raised the shot gun higher, leveling it at the stranger's chest.
"I don't know who the Hell you are, mister," Bobby rasped menacingly, "but I'm giving you fair warning. You got exactly five seconds to get off my porch, 'fore I blast your ass full of buck shot."
There was an almost imperceptible movement – a tug of the man's jacket – that had Bobby's finger twitching over the trigger.
"Daddy?" The sound was nothing more than a whimper and was nearly drowned out by the noise of the storm, but it still reached Bobby's ears. His eyes narrowed even as the other man's eyes widened and his breath hitched in his chest.
"What the –"
"S'okay, son," the stranger said softly, reaching a hand around each side of himself, tucking not one, but two young boys into his back, protectively. "You're Robert Singer?" he directed at Bobby, "Look, I know this is outta left –"
"You brought your damn kids out in this piss?" Bobby growled. "In the middle of the night? What kinda fool –"
"I didn't have a choice," the man interrupted. "Listen, a mutual friend gave me your name."
"Can't be. I ain't got none."
Even as Bobby groaned in response, he knew what the man was saying sounded completely plausible. Bill Harvelle was a family man himself; a wife and a young child; a girl if Bobby remembered right. He wasn't shy and didn't know a stranger; talking to any damn fool who felt the need to gab. Hell, that was half the reason he and his pretty little wife had opened up the bar - Harvelle's Roadhouse - because he liked to talk and people liked to talk back at him. The fact that he was a decent and reliable hunter to boot, was just icing on the cake and it had taken no time for his roadside establishment to fill up with the same. Bill prided himself on being able to help his hunter patrons whenever possible, so it should be no surprise that he would send one in Bobby's direction if that's what the situation called for. It didn't mean Bobby had to be thrilled about it.
"Bill said you were the man to talk to about a little problem I ran into," the stranger said, continuing as if Bobby hadn't just zoned him out completely. "Said you'd know where I could lay my hands on some 'provisions'. I'm not asking for a handout," the man clarified, "I've got money."
"Alright, just…shut up a minute and let me think on this."
There was a significant pause in which Bobby lowered the shotgun and ran a hand up and over his mustached lip, scratching at his bare jaw; thinking hard. All the while the stranger stood quiet and expectant on the cold, wet porch, waiting for the decision.
"Bill sent you?" Bobby finally asked, as if he hadn't already heard the answer to that.
"Don't call me sir. I ain't your CO and there ain't enough years between us for me to warrant a 'sir'. Just…come in, get yer kids out of the rain 'fore y'all catch yourselves a death of cold."
"Thank you," the man said with a nod, ushering the boys in. The littlest one, who couldn't be much more than five and in a set of well-worn Star Wars pajamas was swept up into the arms of his father and carried across the threshold, into the house.
Bobby closed the door behind them, setting the latch and doing a quick check of the salt line before he pushed past the small family and led them down the short hallway to the library.
"Dean, take your brother," the man said, handing the smaller boy off, "and go sit down."
"Yessir," was the older boy's quiet but clear reply. Bobby watched as the boy set his brother down—he was much too old to be carried anyway— and then took his hand, pulling him towards the couch. They climbed up and sat on the end that was cleaned off, and when the younger boy curled up on his side and pillowed his head on his big brother's chest, the older boy didn't seem to mind one bit.
Once the boys were settled, the men looked to each other, the stranger tilting his head towards the darkened kitchen. Bobby flipped the switch that set the florescent lights humming and crossed the room to the coffee pot.
"Coffee?" he asked, lifting the pot and an empty coffee cup.
Bobby nodded and while the man was distracted with removing his coat, Bobby slipped a silver flask out of his shirt pocket and poured its clear contents into the bottom of a coffee cup. He topped the liquid off with coffee and offered the mug to the stranger.
"I didn't catch your name." From behind his own mug, Bobby watched as the man took a tentative sip from the proffered cup.
"Name's Winchester. John Winchester," he answered after finding the coffee to his liking and taking down several long drinks.
When there was no apparent reaction to the Holy Water-dosed coffee, Bobby breathed an unnoticed sigh of relief and set his mug aside. He motioned toward the desk and together they took a seat opposite each other.
"Winchester, huh?" Bobby rolled the name over his tongue, but other than the brand, it didn't ring any bells. "Don't think I've ever heard of you."
"Try to keep to myself; stay under the radar." John said with a deep yawn. He rubbed a hand roughly over his jaw and then up and back through his dark hair, making it stand up in odd angles and giving him a more youthful appearance. It was entirely possible, Bobby thought looking at him, for John to climb up on the couch with his boys and blend in as one of them, even though in reality, he couldn't have been but five years younger than Bobby, himself.
"But you've found your way to the Roadhouse," Bobby noted, "so you ain't under the radar no more. And Bill sent you here, so…what is it you're looking for, John?"
"Like I said…provisions."
"You mind being a bit more specific?"
"Consecrated iron rounds."
"That's specific enough, I suppose." Bobby frowned, studying the young man warily, "What exactly are you chasin' after?"
When instead of answering, John sized him up through narrowed eyes and shook his head. Bobby huffed an exhausted sigh.
"Well," he continued, "I can see we're not the caring and sharing type. I can get you what you need, I suppose."
"Good. Thank you."
"But it's not gonna be tonight. It's late and I'm bushed."
"Oh. Okay, well…" Nodding, John pushed himself up and away from the table and Bobby was quick to follow suit.
"You'll just have to bunk down here for the night," Bobby explained, not giving the hunter a chance to back out. "A good night's sleep and you can get a fresh start in the A.M."
"What?" Shaking his head adamantly, John argued, "No, I'm not –"
"Look, I get it. You don't know me. I don't know you. And personally…I'm not one for trustin' people I don't know, but this is just common sense. It's three o'clock in the morning, and it's stormin' something fierce. There's an extra bed upstairs, big enough to fit the three of ya and there ain't anywhere in this county as safe as right here, and I oughta know. It makes no sense for you to take those babies," he tilted his head towards the boys curled up, asleep on the couch, "back out into that monsoon to some seedy motel in town when I've got more than enough room."
"That's…generous of you, but –"
"I don't do generous. I just don't want it on my conscience if something bad happens to ya, that's all. The bedroom is upstairs, first on the right. Take it or…jus-just take it."
John nodded again after a moment's consideration and then moved into the library to collect his kids, hefting the little one into his arms and directing the sleepy older boy up the stairs.
Bobby waited for them to round the corner, then set about double checking the doors and lines, before turning in himself. But it had been such a long time since there'd been anyone in the house, that sleep was evasive. Bobby lay awake, listening to his home as it breathed with new life. He lay awake wondering what had possessed him to not only invite this unknown man – this hunter – into his house, but also to allow him and his children to stay.
It had been true what he'd said about it being safe here. But he didn't know this man from Adam; didn't owe him a thing and the last thing Bobby needed was the lives of three more people put into his hands. Morning would come quickly, Bobby assured himself. Morning would come and he'd get John what he needed and then send him and his little boys off on their merry way and never have to hear from them again; never have to worry whether he had done the right thing.
"Balls," Bobby groaned. He flipped over onto his stomach and buried his face into his pillow, willing sleep to carry him and this entire messed up situation away and after a few minutes, it did.-O-o-o-O-
Sammy, stop. What are you doin'?
Just lookin', Dean. See? He's not so scary when he's sleepin'.
Get outta there 'fore Dad catches you. He'll tan your butt 'n you'll deserve it. Come on, Sammy. Now!
Bobby shifted on the edge of sleep, subconsciously adjusting to better hear the little whispers that had filled his room and the soft patter of bare feet on the hardwood floors around his bed, but when Bobby raised his head, the room was dark and empty save him. He lifted himself up on his elbows, glanced around the room, frowning in confusion, certain that he'd just heard voices. When he was convinced that he was alone, he dropped back down on to his pillow and fell quickly back to sleep.
An hour later, the sun filtered in through his curtains, splashing cool tendrils of light along the length of the planked oak floors, up the pale green chenille of the bed covers and finally onto Bobby's face where it danced among the auburn bristles of the man's unshaven jaw.
As if he could sense the movement of the sun there – feel the tickle on his skin – Bobby reached up and ran a hand over his rough jaw, the dusting of hair scraping roughly against his palm.
He breathed the deep, cleansing breath of first morn and his eyes snapped open.
Having heard footsteps on the stairs, John turned from the stove and to his children, who were sitting quietly at the table.
"You boys be polite and respectful now. We are guests in this man's house, so no acting up or being mouthy. Understood?"
"Yessir," Dean replied matter-of-factly; his younger brother immediately mimicking his response with a happy smile.
"Knew I could count on you boys," John said, placing a hand on each of their heads and ruffling their hair affectionately. He turned back to the stove, turned the heat down beneath the iron skillet and was cracking a couple eggs into the still hot bacon grease when their host entered the kitchen.
"Sorry," John said over his shoulder at the man. "Don't mean to take over your place, but these boys won't wait 'til midday to be fed. I'll pay you, of course, whatever the cost."
"Don't worry about it," Singer replied with a yawn, "I'm just a little surprised I actually have eggs, is all."
The snapping of the eggs in the grease drew John back to his cooking, but he watched the other man out of the corner of his eye, and tried to gauge his reaction to the home invasion. Singer stood in the entry of his own kitchen shuffling his feet, looking as though this was his first time ever being in the place and glancing warily at the boys.
His kids – much to John's delight – stayed perfectly quiet; sitting at the table next to one another. John didn't have to look to know that both of them would be watching their host with endless – albeit polite – curiosity.
"Coffee, Mr. Singer?" John took a cup down out of the cupboard and filled it with the steaming hot brew, offering it to the other man.
Their host frowned, but accepted the cup. "First Sir and now Mister? Kid, you're making me feel old. Just call me Bobby for crying out loud."
He stepped further into the kitchen and sat down at his kitchen table. "You're not gonna call me Mister too, are you?" he asked, causing the boys to grow wide-eyed and uneasy.
"Nosir," Dean answered immediately, shaking his head adamantly; his little brother once again mimicking Dean's words.
John grinned and turned back to the stove. He rummaged around until he found the plates, pulling a few down and began dishing them up; an egg, fried hard and bacon for each boy, three eggs over and bacon for him and Bobby. Then he scooped up all of the plates and returned to the table where Dean, having made his own introductions, was now chatting up their host; regaling him with their adventures across the tri-states in the last week and how they'd stopped in a little town so he and Sammy could run the bases of a ball diamond in an Iowa cornfield.
With his eyebrows riding high on his forehead, John took a seat next Bobby and watched his son in wonder and disbelief. Dean wasn't exactly one to strike up a friendship on the spot. Sammy, maybe. His youngest had never met a stranger, but Dean? Dean was reserved and untrusting around strangers. Mouth closed, eyes and ears open, forever on the lookout, Dean was the one John depended on to look after his little brother; to do what he was told and keep them all –John included – in line and out of trouble.
At 10, Dean was the unwitting partner in John's quest for revenge and justice. In the five-and-a-half-years John had been hunting, it had been Dean who had been witness to it all. The little boy had seen his father's successes and his tragic failures. He'd seen the effect that this 'new life' without his mother had had on his father. He'd seen the gut-wrenching depression and, God help him, he'd seen his father's ongoing battle with alcoholism. But what could such a young child really understand of all that? The only thing Dean could truly comprehend was how to take care of his family. It wasn't just 'Look out for Sammy'; it was 'Look out for me too. Don't let me fall, Dean.' It was an enormous weight to put on such little shoulders – John was well aware – cruel even, but Dean took to it like a duck to water. Without Dean, John would have most assuredly fallen and the boys would have been stripped away from him. And John was all too aware that it might still happen. Maybe they didn't live the best life. Maybe what he was putting his kids through even bordered on neglect from time to time, but for John, it was necessary. Everything he did was necessary. It all had a purpose; to avenge his wife's death, to make sure the tragedy that had befallen his small family didn't happen to anyone else, to kill every last one of those evil sons-a-bitches and leave them a bloody, unrecognizable mess just like they had left his life. But most importantly, he had to make sure that his boys would never be vulnerable in the face of evil, even if that meant exposing them to life's harsh realities, long before they were ready. Yeah, John knew it was necessary, he just wished he didn't feel so damn guilty about it.
"Can we, Dad?"
"What?" John shook himself out of his headspace and realized that he'd missed a big chunk of the conversation. Both boys were looking at him expectantly; Sammy up on his knees in the chair, bouncing with excitement.
"Please, Daddy?" the youngest pleaded.
Putty. That's what he was. Looking into those soft hazel eyes, John Winchester knew that he could never truly deny his children anything. Maybe it was time that changed.-O-o-o-O-
John leaned over the couch, pushed the curtains aside and peered out the window. Somewhere out in the salvage yard, he could hear his two boys, whooping and hollering as they played Cops and Robbers. Sammy of course would choose to be the good guy, and his older brother would let him, because that's what older brothers did. Dean would get stuck being the bad guy, again. But it wasn't a secret to John that Dean didn't mind at all being the bad guy. At ten-years-old, the kid already had that bad boy persona down pat. Heaven save all the teenage girls that crossed his path in a few years.
"Here ya go." Bobby entered the room that he referred to as his library and set a steel ammo box down onto the desk. John joined him and stared down at the ordinary-looking iron rounds, losing himself in thought. He was exhausted; physically and emotionally, having just spent the past four days driving across three states in pursuit of the thing that had tried to take his little boy – his Sammy – away from him.
The hunt had been just like any other hunt. John had done his homework; figured out what it was he was hunting; what could kill it; had even tracked down the family who he believed the creature had been targeting. Everything had been going according to plan, yet still, something hadn't felt right. Having listened to his instinct, John had returned to the motel room, and thank God he had. The Shtriga that he'd been tracking for the better part of week had done the unexpected. It had doubled back and attacked John's own family where they'd slept. It had been too close of a call, and John was reeling from how vulnerable his family really was; even after everything he'd done to protect them.
"Somethin' on your mind?" Bobby's question broke through the whirlwind of his mind, and John physically shivered, shaking himself back into the now.
"Just uh…" John's voice dropped off and he glanced back towards the window. He ran a hand up the backside of his neck, scratching idly into the hair at the nape of his neck that desperately needed to be cut. There was overwhelming urge in him to blurt out personal information, but he reined it back in with a tired sigh and said, "Question. This thing, this Shtriga that I'm hunting…I used iron rounds before, so how do I know these consecrated rounds are gonna work?"
"You don't." Bobby turned to his fireplace and with the touch of his hand, opened a secret compartment. He pulled out a dusty, leather-bound journal; its spine cracking when he opened it up on the desk and spun it around to face John. "You wanna make sure this thing is good-n-dead, you gotta shoot it with consecrated iron while it's feeding."
"While it's feeding?" John couldn't hide the look of shock and disbelief that swept over his face.
"Only tried and true method I know," Bobby answered solemnly.
When John stepped backward – away from the awful truth – the backs of his knees connected with the sofa and he sat down hard. He folded in; his elbows on his knees the only thing keeping him upright, and spoke quietly. "You know, that thing…it came after my kid. It tried to drain Sammy like it had done all those other kids."
Bobby shook his head and John couldn't tell if it was sympathy in the man's eyes or something else.
"So what? I was just supposed to let it continue to feed on him so I could get a good shot?"
"Of course not," Bobby answered, barely suppressing the eyeroll, "but that does beg the question…why do you have those boys tangled up in this mess in the first place?"
John sat back, stiffening defensively, but Bobby didn't hesitate long enough for John to react.
"John, I know you don't know me from Adam, but I've gotta ask: What are you doin'? You got a family, and a young one at that. Why on God's green Earth are you draggin' those boys through all this crap? Don't you know they're gonna get covered in it? The stench, the blood, the misery; it's a never-ending cycle of death. That's what you're condemning those boys to."
"You're right," John answered brusquely. He felt a spark of anger flare up hot in his belly, but he managed, for the most part, to keep the heat out of his voice when he replied, "You don't know me. You don't know what I've been through, what my situation is, so don't go judging me."
"Your wife died, killed, murdered by some evil sumbitch and you're on a mission to avenge her death. How'd I do? Did I hit it pretty close?"
John faltered, voiceless under the scary accuracy of the other man's words.
"It don't take a genius to string things together: two boys, no mama, you looking haggard like you do. Plus, I recognize the look of desperation and grief. I've felt it myself. All hunters have. It's the same damn reason we all get into hunting: personal tragedy. But that don't excuse what you're doing to those boys."
"What other options, do I have? Huh, Bobby? My Mary... She was amazing; beautiful, you know? And she was the love of my life and they…" he swiped his tongue across dry lips and swallowed thickly, composing himself before going on. "Those evil sonsabitches took her from me, from our boys, and this so-called mission? It's my life now. I mean…I think I'll go crazy if it don't do…something. I can't walk away from it." He scrubbed a hand over his brow, trying to rub away the tension building at the front of his skull. "So you tell me…what am I supposed to do?"-O-o-o-O-
An hour later, John and his boys were ready to get back on the road. They were heading to Blue Earth, Minnesota and the man the boys affectionately referred to as 'Pastor Jim'. When he'd been brought up, Bobby acknowledged having met Jim Murphy once or twice and said he knew him to be a good, decent man and a 'pretty handy hunter to have in your corner'. But John already knew all this, because John considered the man to be something of a friend. He had also called ahead and made arrangements for his kids to stay with the preacher man while John continued on with his hunt for the Shtriga that had attacked Sammy. Bobby couldn't help but feel relieved by that.
John gave Bobby his sincere thanks for the consecrated iron and for the place to stay, and the boys said their farewells. Sammy swamped the man with one of his trademark hugs, whereas Dean stood tall and offered up his hand. Bobby shook the boy's hand and then tugged him in to a loose hug and clapped him firmly on his back. He ruffled the older boy's hair and instructed him to take good care of his little brother, and to, "Watch out for your old man too."
"Take care of yourself, Singer," John offered back with a smirk. He loaded the boys in the car and they were gone; the Impala kicking up dust in their wake until Singer Salvage disappeared in the cloud.