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When Bobby meets John Winchester, they’re both seated at the bar of the Roadhouse. It’s jam packed with other hunters, music and banter the background noise as they sit elbow to elbow and say nothing to each other. John is sporting a sling, his young face marred with a smattering of black and blue, his lower lip split open. Bobby can’t tell if his stoic silence is a bad attitude, exhaustion from the job, or because of his injuries. Ellen, long blonde hair tied in a knot at the base of her neck, makes her rounds back over to them before Bobby can decide and slides them each a double whiskey, resting her hands on the ledge of the bar.

“Doin’ okay John?” She asks him and he quirks an eyebrow at her instead of using any words. Bobby knows all too well that the response means whatever he was hunting didn’t end pretty. His body sure showed the signs of it. He nods sympathetically in John’s direction, he’d seen his fair share of broken bones from a hunt gone wrong. Ellen reaches over a sympathetic hand and gives John’s arm a before she’s back on the other side of the bar.

“What get ya?” Bobby asks, his voice rough from lack of sleep. He and Rufus had just finished off a Wendigo in Indiana, then Rufus had dropped him here so he could team up with another group that had caught wind of a nest of vamps. Bobby’d stayed behind ready to man the phones for a few months. Vamps weren’t his thing and he was tired.

“Stupidity.” The guy, John, laughs but there isn’t anything behind it. He gives a soft sigh, “Guess I’m still pretty new at all this. Kind of messed up on a regular haunting. Got my ass kicked around. Need a little more practice, I guess.” He winces as the whiskey stings his lip.

“New huh?” That doesn’t surprise Bobby any as he hadn’t heard of any hunters named John. He prided himself on knowing most who were in the game. “Shitty life to get yourself into.” John’s eyes harden and he turns away.

“Not much choice.” His voice is gruff. He takes another sip. Bobby knows all to well what that means. He thinks about Karen, can’t help it, and how it had been almost five years since…well, he can’t bring himself to even think it. Hunting didn’t give people the option.

“Never is.” He agrees. He tilts his glass over to John’s for a cheers to that and the two sit in silence as they listen to the glasses clinking and sound of pool cues clanging. He can’t say he’d ever come to the Roadhouse and had such a quiet conversation. He feels for this John guy, looks too young and still too soft around the edges to be running around with no clue what he was doing.  “Listen, you ever need anything…name is Bobby.” He jots his number down on to a napkin, “Gimme a call.” He slides it over and off the bar stool, saluting Ellen on his way out.

 

**

He hears from John often after that. He finds out about the wife, the growing obsession for revenge. Hears about the two little boys he carts around in his well-loved muscle car, getting left behind with babysitters and preachers in small towns and junky motels. He doesn’t expect to ever meet the rugrats, doesn’t really think it’s his place to ask. He and John had a strict working relationship. He got wind of a hunt and he’d send John the coordinates before anyone else and if John can’t take it, he passes it along. Since that night at the Roadhouse he’d taught John a thing or two about how to handle himself on a hunt, in a fight, and how to protect his kids.

Which is why Bobby supposes, he’s the first John calls at 1 am and let’s know he’s an hour outside of Sioux Falls and needs a safe spot to crash for the night. He can hear the trucks in the background of John’s call and he sounds exhausted so Bobby lets him know he’ll have the spare room set up in no time.

“Thanks Bobby…and hey. I got the boys with me. Sam and Dean.” He sounds apologetic and Bobby tenses for a minute looking around the living room. There’s weapons out in plain sight and knows about the ones hidden at small child level. A bunch of books in Latin, the blood of lamb, and a few herbs still lay out on the table from where Bobby had been organizing for a hunter who’d planned to run through in the morning.

“Gimme some time, I’ll get it all set up.” He hangs up after that and quickly childproofs the downstairs, best that he can. He’s still got a spare bedroom from when Karen had insisted that they keep an extra queen bed in case they had any visitors. He mostly keeps the door closed, reminds him too much of how life used to be, so he quickly runs a vacuum through all dust that had accumulated. Last time he’d talked to John he thinks the youngest might only be two or three, definitely not at the age where he needed to inhale any molds.

After getting the bed made up and a camper set off to the side, in case the older boy wanted his own space, Bobby admires his handywork before remembering that he still had a few objects laying around downstairs that he needed to collect. He’s just finished wiping down the coffee table of any extra beer cans and whiskey glasses when he hears a knock on the door. Grabbing a bottle of beer and sprinkling in a few drops of holy water, he answers it.

There stands John, face exhausted and standing like he might be injured judging by the grimace on his face. In his arms is a small boy, head of light brown curls, cuddling a stuffed dog and a worn blue blanket wearing a pair of race car pajamas that are too small. Bobby can see the way they ride up on his tummy, a pair of pull ups peeking out the back and his ankles and wrists exposed. He watches Bobby cautiously as Bobby gives a nod to John. Next to him, clad in a pair of jeans and flannel that are too big, is a blonde boy with distrustful green eyes. He’s holding three bags by the straps and stood slightly behind his father. His spare hand is looped carefully, protectively, against the baby in John’s arms. Guess this must be Sam and Dean.

“Howdy.” Bobby grunts. He offers John the bottle and John takes it gratefully giving a swig and juggling the little boy in his arms with one hand. When no steam emits off him, Bobby lets them across the threshold and leads them into the living room.

“Dean. Sam. This is Bobby, say hello.” He nudges his hand at the older boys back who looks at Bobby like he’s ready to grab for the gun holstered to his father’s side and shoot any second. At his father’s urging though, he sticks out a small hand.

“Nice to meet you sir, my name is Dean.” Bobby stares down at the grubby fingernails shocked. The kid can’t be older than seven and he’s got better manners than half the hunters Bobby knew. He shakes it quickly and nods. “This is Sam.” Bobby watches Dean’s hand curls around the little boy’s ankle once again and gives it a little tickle. Sam squirms and giggles leaning over his father’s shoulder to look down at his older brother who sticks his tongue out in a goofy motion.

“Nice to meet ya boys.” Bobby says and it gets Sam’s attention back on him. He smiles widely, not at all untrusting like his brother, and waves a hello with the hand not clutching his sleep arsenal.

“Hi!” He’s quieter than most kids, Karen’s nephew was never like this at this age. His eyes look heavy with sleep, like perhaps he’d just woken up when they’d arrived at the door.

“Sorry about the late night, Bobby. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate you doing this for us. I had the boys about 100 miles east of here on a job, things didn’t really take well.” He doesn’t let on to more and Bobby understands why. Doesn’t know how much the kids know.

“Ain’t no problem.” He shrugs. “I’ll show ya what I got set up.” He nods his head towards the stairs and John smiles appreciatively.

“Gotta get Sammy to bed.” He says and Bobby doesn’t ask why he doesn’t include Dean, who looks equally exhausted.

“De.” Sammy frowns and looks to his brother. “I want De to come too.” And John rolls his eyes at that.

“Yeah, Sammy, we’re all coming with you.” But Sammy doesn’t look appeased by his father’s words. Instead he kicks his little legs and wiggles in John’s arms. “Stop, Sam.” John tells him but the boy doesn’t listen.

“Lemme down, daddy. I wanna walk with De.” Not up for the middle of the night argument John looks over at his other son, who gives his dad a shrug but his eyes soften as the little boy immediately runs over to him.  He grabs Sam’s hand and they follow behind their father and Bobby to the steps.

“Big steps, Sammy.” Dean tells him and bends some. “Gonna hafta carry you.” He settles the little boy on his hip, who looks like he belongs there. Bobby tries not to think about how odd it is, to see a seven and three-year-old look like they fit together so well. John grabs the bags and gives another eye roll as Sam’s hands tangle around Dean’s neck and his legs around his waist, octopus style, as his big brother makes his way to the top of the steps.

 When they get into the guest room, John sets their bags on the floor and looks around quickly, taking note of the salt on the window sill. “Thanks again, Bobby.” He says.

“Bathroom’s there,” he jerks a hand towards the room across the hall. Dean doesn’t bother to enter the guest room, instead walking into the bathroom and taking his brother over to the toilet. John unloads one bag where he pulls out a toiletry bag, following his sons while Bobby stands in the hallway unsure if he should leave them to it or not.

“Good job, Sammy.” Dean tells him after pulling up Sam’s pants and walking them over to the sink where he hoists Sam up to wash their hands together. Sam’s eyes are trained on his big brother, even as their father has them brush their teeth and wipes their faces with a washcloth. It feels intrusive to watch but Bobby can’t look away.

“Minty kisses?” Sam asks and Bobby expects John to drop a few kisses to their foreheads. Instead he heaves out a sigh as Dean puckers up and the two boys share a chaste and innocent kiss together, Dean helping his brother off the counter and walks straight past Bobby without so much as a look and into the bedroom.

John shrugs at Bobby, like he doesn’t know what to say, and nods towards the boys. “Dean’s got him to bed, I’m gonna take me a shower and rinse off all the…work.” He doesn’t say anything else as he closes over the door. Bobby turns to the little boys as they settle into the camper. He doesn’t know when Dean had gotten himself dressed into his pajamas, which looked to be like one of John’s shirts and a pair of underwear, and heaved them both onto the camper but he’s got Sam up against the wall and himself tucked in as he stares at Bobby who falters in the doorway.

“You boys need anything?” He doesn’t know how to talk to kids, supposes that Dean doesn’t really care to talk to him anyhow.

“No sir.” Dean tells him

“You tell your daddy if he needs anything don’t hesitate. Same for you and Sam.” They both look over at the little boy who’s curled along his brothers back. The stuffed dog is settled in behind Sam and his blue blanket is tangled in his fist. He’s fast asleep already.

“Yes sir.” Dean tells him again.

Bobby heads to bed.

 

**

It’s the roar of the Impala’s engine that alerts Bobby to the fact that the Winchester’s are pulling into the yard. It was August, the heat of the summer had him out on the porch cleaning out his guns with a few cold ones in the cooler by his feet. He wasn’t expecting to see John or his boys, but he wasn’t surprised much either. Last he’d heard they were riding up the East Coast while John tracked a nest of vamps but he knew that school was starting up soon and he wasn’t able to haul the boys around as much as he’d like. Bobby’s only known them a little more than two years but he’d taken a strong liking to the little boys, his heart lifting as Dean jumps out the front seat.

“Hey!” He calls over to Bobby, waving a hand excitedly. But he doesn’t run up to Bobby to give him a hug. No, instead Dean circles the car and reaches into the backseat. When he stands again, he’s got little Sam wrapped around him just like he had the first time he’d met Bobby.

“What did I tell you about coddling, Dean?” John heaves a sigh at his son.

“Sorry sir.” Dean apologizes but makes no move to put Sam down, instead walking them both over to where Bobby is at on the porch.

“You good boys?” Bobby asks as Dean carefully climbs the rickety steps. Once he’s made it to the top he sets Sam down but takes his hand as they walk over to Bobby.

“I’m good at cleanin’ guns.” Dean tells him nodding importantly. He sits down on top of the cooler and Sam clings to his legs. The last time he’d seen Sam in May the boy hadn’t spoken much. It didn’t seem much had changed over summer. “Say hi, Sammy.” Dean rubs a hand on Sam’s back and the little boy just clings closer, turning his back to Bobby and shoves a thumb into his mouth.

“Sam.” This time it’s John who is up on the porch now too, a bag slung over his shoulder and a worn expression on his face. He looks older than his actual age, years of devestation and obsession etched into his skin. “Be polite to Bobby.” The look Sam sends his father was enough to put any drill sargent to shame. His little face scrunches into a glower and he sucks harder on his thumb. “And I told ya about the thumb, son. Take it out.” John reaches down and tugs at Sam’s wrist causing the boy to pull back with a whine and curl on the other side of his brother.

“No!” Sam lisps around his thumb.

“Sam.” John can’t seem to let it go. He bends down to pick up the small boy who begins to cry, reaching out his hands for his older brother.

“No!” Sam shouts again, slapping a hand repeatedly on John’s shoulder. It’s as if a dam breaks behind John’s eyes and in a flash he’s got Sam wrestled down the porch steps and over to the Impala, Sam’s heavy sobbing echoing all the way back onto the porch where Bobby has stilled cleaning his gun and Dean has his eyes trained on the car, every muscle in his body tense.

“Sam and your dad seem a bit tired.” Bobby says to the boy, trying to distract from the few smacks they can hear coming from the car. Dean doesn’t answer but Bobby sees his shoulders shrug up to his ears. “Think you boys be ok with hot dogs for dinner? If I’d known you were comin’ I’d have gone to the store.” John makes his way back up on the porch then with one hand gripping his son’s wrist while Sam drags his feet, still crying. When they reach the steps, Dean is already down to the bottom, waiting rigid like he isn’t sure if he can grab his brother or not. His fingers wriggling into fists behind his back as he waits for his father’s orders.

“Dean. Take your brother inside and get him cleaned up before we eat.” John doesn’t even look at the boy as he immediately relaxes, gathering Sam into his arms. Sam is quick to wind both fists into Dean’s shirt, his snotty face tucked into his big brother’s neck. John doesn’t wait to see if the two will follow the orders or not, just nods his head to the door and steps inside.

“Oh sure, come on in.” Bobby mutters, but stands up to go see what brought the Winchester boys to Sioux Falls. “You boys wanna help grill the dogs?” He looks over at the two brothers.

Dean has Sam settled against his hip, Sam’s thumb back into his mouth, as he rubs a protective hand up and down Sam’s back. He doesn’t appear to be listening much to Bobby, “It’s okay, Sammy.” Being repeated over and over again. “Dean?” He asks him and Dean finally turns his attention away. He nods but doesn’t make a move to release his brother as he carries him back up the steps and inside.

Later, when dinner is done and John is out back with a beer and a book on werewolves, Bobby finds the two little boys curled up together on the couch. Dean’s got a comic book spread out on his lap, Sam leaning so far over it that Dean has to rest his chin on the little boy’s head so he can see to read the words.

“And the knight lifted his sword above his head,” Dean reads choppily to a wide eyed Sam, “Swinging it down to kill the dragon.” Sam turns to Dean in awe, a small ‘oh’ forming on his lips.

“So cool!” Sam tells Dean earnestly, “He got him!”

“Yeah, Sammy. He ganked him because he’s a badass knight.” Dean smiles and Sammy immediately matches one back. Then he lets out a little yawn and rubs up at his eyes.

“Tired.” He tells his brother who nods and closes the comic book.

“C’mon,” He says to Sam and starts to stand up. Before he can move though, Sam is clambering onto his lap, kicking the comic book to the ground.

“Love when you read.” Sam squishes his brother’s cheeks and Dean makes and exaggerated face, tongue sticking out to make Sam giggle. “Kiss.” Sam demands to him.

“Aww come on Sammy.” Dean starts to complain but all Sam has to do is pout and Dean hefts out a sigh that doesn’t match the affection in his eyes. “Okay, just one.” And he presses a chaste kiss to Sam’s lips. “Now, bedtime for real.” They never notice Bobby half hovering between the kitchen and the living room, unsure if he was ever really needed by them at all.

 

**

“I’m seven now Dean.” Sam snaps at him. He’s got a book settled in his lap and Bobby doesn’t know any seven-year-olds that can read chapter books except Sammy Winchester. “I know how to go to the park all alone.”

“And I don’t care if you could walk backwards with your eyes closed. I said no.” Dean is parked next to his little brother with the remote in his hand. The two had been arguing nonstop about if Sam was going to get to go play soccer with some other kids he’d met in the park.

“You’re such a jerk sometimes!” Sam snaps at him, slamming his book shut. “If you’re old enough to go with Dad on his sales sometimes then I can go to the freakin park, Dean!”

“Not gonna happen bitch,” Dean says with a finality that Bobby knows means the conversation is done. He flicks through the channels, mindlessly, avoiding any further eye contact with Bobby or his brother.

“You’re not always the boss of me you know!” Sam snaps at him again, not ready to let the fight die.

“Oh the fuck I’m not?” Dean snaps finally, seemingly forgetting that Bobby is sitting across the room cleaning his arsenal. But Bobby isn’t his dad and he’s sure as hell not going to win the prize for babysitter of the month in the club. “It’s my job to watch out for you and I’m not going to the damn park to watch you play soccer, Sam. I’m tired.” He leaves it at that. Sam doesn’t know that Dean had just done a simple salt and burn with his father the night before, completed it with his dad hardly needing to give directions.

“Shut up Dean! Uncle Bobby, tell him I can go to the park.” Sam looks close to tears as he jumps up and stares desperately at Bobby.

“I ain’t gettin into your arguments. You know that, boy.” Bobby doesn’t look up from where his hands are busy. Knows he’ll take pity on the younger Winchester and knows the other needs some time to sleep.

“Told ya.” Dean says triumphantly. “Now move bitch I can’t see.” He makes a shoo motion as San stares in disbelief between the two of them.

“I hate it here. I hate it here, I hate this stupid family and all your stupid rules and I really hate you!” He cries out suddenly. “You’re so unfair.” With that he spins and neither Bobby nor Dean say anything until the front door slams shut. Bobby looks to where Dean is sitting, his face turned to stone.

“Gonna follow him?” Bobby asks after a beat. Dean’s answer comes in the form of pressed lips, a tight jaw, and a white-knuckled grip on the remote. “Okay.” Bobby shrugs and continues what he’s doing.

It’s nearing 6:00 when Bobby returns back to the living room, dinner on the stove. “Go on upstairs and get your brother for dinner. Make up before you come sit at this table.” Dean’s hardly moved from his spot on the couch but he’s good at taking orders so up he goes and Bobby can hear him stomping up the steps.

He hadn’t heard Sam return but with the way the rain was beating down outside he figured the boy had snuck in after he was sure Dean and Bobby weren’t focused on him anymore. The footsteps back down the steps come all too easy, sounding as if they’re tripping with the effort to reach the bottom first.

“Boys!” He snaps and makes his way into the hallway where he sees a pale faced Dean standing with a gun in one hand. He turns to look up the stairs feeling bewildered when he doesn’t see Sam at the top. “Uh...” is all he can think to say.

“Sammy’s not in the house.” Dean chokes out, his voice high pitched and terrified. “I checked everywhere upstairs, he’s not there. I can’t find him. I can’t find Sam.” He looks ready to faint.

“Okay boy, calm down. I’m sure your brother, stubborn as he is, is out in the shop. Come on.” Together they slip into pairs of boots and Bobby fishes up jackets for each as they make their way out into the storm. Bobby considers telling him to put down the gun but then decides against it at Dean’s jittering.

“Sam!” Dean bellows, running ahead to get into the shop first. They scour the place with no sign of the younger Winchester and a feeling of dread begins to fill Bobby’s stomach. “You think he could be up in one of the cars? Would he go up there? Could he fit? Is it safe enough?” Dean doesn’t wait for an answer as he’s back out into the junkyard and kicking his boot against the rusted sides of each car he passes.

“Sam?” Bobby calls out, heading the opposite direction in the yard and mimicking Dean’s kick. “Sammy?” He tries again and that’s when he hears it. A very faint ‘help!’ Catches his ear. He stops immediately, unsure if he was hearing correctly.

“Help me! Dean! Uncle Bobby!” Bobby would recognize that little voice anywhere. He takes off in the direction where it’s coming from, an area of his yard sloped with a huge ditch at the end. “Dean! Found him.” He calls and immediately Dean is gaining on him, then passing him as they tumble down the hill. Dean doesn’t seem to care as he loses his footing sliding down the side of the hill, Bobby not far behind but managing to stay up right.

“Sammy! Sam?” Dean calls out as they approach the ditch at the bottom of the hill. Nearly falls into himself, but manages to catch his footing and stand upright in the end.

“Dean!” There’s soft crying coming from inside the hole and when Bobby makes it down his eyes widen as he notices Sam is standing calf-deep in water. His hands and face are streaked with mud and his eyes rimmed red as he lets out a hiccuping sob of relief when they peer down at him. He’d taken quite the fall in, a good 5 feet into the ground. “Dean!” He reaches his hands up towards his big brother who lays flat on his stomach to squeeze the hand in the air. “Pl-please help me.” Sam sobs. “I’m so sorry I don’t hate you De, I don’t, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to say that.”

“Hey, hey, hey, shhhhhh.” Dean soothes immediately. “Hey, buddy it’s okay. It’s fine. We’re gonna get you out of there and everything’s gonna be okay. Are you hurt?” Sam shakes his head but holds up a set of skinned palms. Bobby can see the way Dean does a visual assessment anyways, biting his lower lip in worry.

“I’ve been trying for hours to get out. I can’t do it. I’m stuck forever. I just want to get out.” He lets out another helpless sob. “I wasn’t even going to run away this time, I was just walking and fell.” Sam’s boarding on hysterical now and Bobby takes pity on the young kid.

“Alright son.” He calls down. “I’m gonna reach down and pull ya out now. You gotta work with me though. Grab my hands.” Bending down and making sure his footing is secure, Bobby clasps the younger Winchester’s hands. It takes a few attempts, Sam’s crying deterring him, but on the fourth pull Bobby has him up and out onto the level ground and immediately he’s being pulled into Dean’s arms.

“You little bitch.” Dean pulls Sam into his lap, Sam’s legs straddling his brother with his face buried against his chest, one arm wound tightly around the neck and the other curled up in a fist next to where he’s sobbing against Dean’s chest. “Don’t you ever do that to me again. Don’t you ever worry me like that.” Dean’s hand swings out and lands three firm swats against Sam’s behind. “I’m so mad at you.” He swears against Sam’s head. But instead of looking upset or shocked by any of this, Sam curls closer and nods helplessly. “I know.” Dean soothes, the hand that had spanked his brother now coming up to cup his cheek. “Sammy.” Dean plants a kiss on the top of his brother’s head, then again on his nose and leaving a final one against Sam’s lips. “Sammy. Lemme see, are you hurt?” He runs his hands all over, checking Sam’s ankles and wrists. Sam wordlessly holds out his scratched palms that had taken the brunt of his fall, but other than that Dean’s exam checks out.

“You’re okay.” Dean tells him, still clinging Sam to his chest. “I got yah, you’re okay.”

It isn’t until Bobby settles a hand on Dean’s shoulder that either make a move to go back inside.

 

**

In all the years he’s known the Winchester boys, the middle of the night turn up has to be a signature move. His wall clock says It’s 2:25 am and Bobby’s buzzed on whiskey and an interest in an infomercial for a new frying pan. He jumps when there’s a knock at the door, soft at first and then insistently louder.

Grabbing his .22 Bobby slips it into his back pocket keeping his feet light as he makes his way to the door. There’s no peephole so instead he bypasses the front door completely and instead goes to the dining room window where he can shift the curtain and catch a glimpse at the porch.

He can’t say he’s surprised to see the outline of sixteen-year-old Dean Winchester slouching, a smaller figure in front of him that can be none other than Sam. They’re alone, which worries Bobby more than the time of night, so he clicks the safety onto his gun and drops it onto the table before opening the door.

“Everything alright?” Sam’s got bags under his eyes, his hair is limp and he’s palled in color. He looks better than his brother though, who’s gone gray and appears to only be upright because he’s got an arm slung around his little brother.

“Dean is sick.” Sam says matter of fact. His voice is raspy like he’s coming out the end of a chest cold. Immediately Dean shakes his head, the movement sparking a coughing fit. “See.” Sam doesn’t hesitate to keep the matter of fact tone from his voice.

“Sammy…” Dean tries to say. “He’s got somethin’,” Dean doesn’t elaborate whatever the “somethin’” is because he doubles over then and vomits, some of it splashing up onto his brother’s jeans and most of it dripping through the porch floor. It’s snowing pretty heavily, Bobby hadn’t realized, and there’s a crappy Ford sitting in the driveway.

“Come on in…miss the vomit right there.” He points to where the puddle of it is seeping near their shoes.

“Thanks.” Sam hauls his brother inside like he weighs nothing and Bobby can’t help but feel amazed at how much he’s grown since the last time he’d seen him. It hadn’t been but a few months and already Sam’s baby fat was gone replaced with a leanness that hadn’t been there before.

“Bed’s done up. Hadn’t changed it since last time you boys were here.” Sam nods and toes off his boots, bending down to do the same to his brothers. “Your daddy know you boys are here?”

“I left a code. He’ll call when he’s back.” Sam doesn’t say anything more. “He needs to see a doctor but we don’t have enough money. Will you help us?” He takes Dean from where he’d been resting against the door, flushed skin broken out in a slight sweat from the walk in.

“In the mornin’.” Bobby says. “Need help getting him up the steps?”

“No.” Sam shrugs. “I got him.”

Bobby busies himself with finding a few fever relievers, a pair of bottled waters, and a bucket for puke to bring up to the boys. Sam’s got Dean already in the big bed, his jeans and jacket are folded neatly onto the backpack Bobby hadn’t realized the boy had brought in.

“Brought these for ya both.” Bobby sets them onto the night table. Dean’s eyes are already closed and he’s still as a statue except for the hand that’s tangled up in his brothers. Bobby hadn’t seen either be so close in years, the physical part of their relationship fizzling out the older they got. However Dean’s thumb soothes the back of Sam’s hand, Sam seated next to him with eyes like a hawk. “He drive you two idjits here?” Bobby shakes his head, imagining how dangerous it must have been for the both of them in the snow with a fever addled Dean behind the wheel.

“I drove.” Sam looks up at Bobby then, his face scrunched in what only can be described as a, “duh” look.

“You’re twelve.” Bobby says, feeling anxious. “You can’t drive.”

“Yes I can.” Sam says shrugging. “I’ve had to do it a few times. Only when it’s an emergency. I don’t go fast and I can take back roads. We were only twenty miles from here.” Like it wasn’t twenty miles too far for someone his age to have gone.

“Sam.” Bobby says but he doesn’t finish the thought. He imagines them in a dump, hauled up in a shit motel room with no working heat and a mattress covered in stains. Nothing but relief fills him that they’re here now with him. Safe. “Get him to take some of those. You do the same. I’ll get ya up in a few hours and I will drive us to the clinic. Looks to me like he’s got the flu.” Sam flushes but it’s more out of happiness than embarrassment, reaching over to get the pills.

“De.” He shakes his brother’s shoulder and unfocused green eyes open like little slits. “Uncle Bobby got you these.” He presses the pills to his brother’s lips and Dean opens up enough for Sam to slip them in. Carefully Sam slips one hand to the back of his brother’s head and the other holds up one of the bottles of water. “Small sip.” Sam advises, Bobby wonders how often the roles had been reversed. Once he’s satisfied Sam sets the bottle back down again, then lays himself out next to his brother.

“Thanks.” Dean rasps out, arm slipping around Sam’s waist and pulling him closer to him. “Takin’ care of me, S’mmy.” Dean’s lips press against the side of Sam’s face who wrinkles his nose to hide a smile.

“Yeah, whatever jerk.” Sam reaches a hand up to pat Dean’s cheek.

“Bitch.” Dean takes a few seconds to mumble back put he presses another kiss, this time to the side of Sam’s mouth. “Love you.” Bobby knows it’s his time to go then,  Dean would be embarrassed in the morning if he’d known that anyone but Sam had heard his few words of affection.

“G’night, idjits.” Bobby flips the light on his way out. The tightness from his chest is gone, his feet falling lighter on the stairs as he walks back down to his chair. He had an infomercial and a half drunk glass of whiskey to finish before morning.

 

**

“You boys ever been bow huntin’?” He and the two younger Winchesters are tucked into bowls of chili and large slices of cornbread from a box. Bobby’s mom made it better but he never got the recipe before... well. He never got it from her. So boxed bread made by Dean and everything but the kitchen sink chili was their dinner of settlement.

“Nah.” Dean’s cheeks are full as he answers and Sam eyes him in disgust, lightly picking at his own meal. He wasn’t as big an eater as his father and brother, never one to scarf down a meal like he wouldn’t get another. At thirteen he was all legs and no torso, skinny enough he’d disappear if he turned to the side.

“You boys up for it tomorrow?” It’ll be a cold and wet Saturday but the season had just started and Bobby was itching to trek through the woods.

“What do we shoot at?” Sam curiosity gets the best of his normal silence, “targets? Dad makes us do that all the time.”

“No, stupid.” Dean says, “he said hunting. Not target practice.”

“That’s why I asked Dean, God you’re always such a friggin’ jerk.” Sam scoots his chair further away from his brother who’d leaned up into Sam’s space and grabbed for some of his share of the bread. “Stop Dean! I was going to EAT THAT!” He all but shrieks, teaching over and attempting to grab back the cornbread. It crumbles and falls, chunking off into Dean’s bowl of chili.

“Well damn Sam, how would anybody know with you sittin there poking at it like an f-ing science experiment.” Dean defends.

“Wow sorry I eat at a normal human pace and don’t shovel my food like some kind of fat pig.”

“So now I’m a fat pig? This looks fat to you?” Dean lifts up a shirt to show off his abdomen where he’d recently acquired definition from all his training and work he’d done through summer.

“Ew Dean! Who cares?” Sam rolls his eyes but subconsciously tugs on his own t-shirt. The skinny on him was new, just a year ago he himself had sported a tubby belly and Dean hadn’t let him forget it.

“Boys!” Bobby snaps when Dean reaches across for Sam’s hair which Bobby knows will lead to a full on brawl if he lets it continue. “Would ya stop for a minute so we can talk about this?” The two of them turn back to him, looks of apology on their faces.

“Sorry Uncle Bobby.” Sam says sheepishly while Dean nods in agreement.

“Tomorrow. Four thirty wake up, I’ll get ya some rags to throw on.” Bobby stands to clean his dish and then heads up to the attic to see what old camo coveralls he might still have.

Four o’clock comes quicker than Bobby would have liked. He’d managed to find some old jackets which he’d thrown into the boy’s room while they’d argued over what time to set the alarm but no camo coveralls for them. It takes him some time to get himself ready and to find the scent cover he was looking for; by the time he makes his way upstairs it’s already 4:45. The alarm is off in the boy’s room but the door is cracked open with a light on meaning that they’re probably awake.

Sam’s sitting up in the bed, dark circles contrasting his pale cheeks as he watches his brother slip into a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt.

“C’mon bitch.” Dean urges and throws a pair of jeans at his brother’s head. “Put these on and quit mopin. We got some huntin’ to do.” He puts on a fake drawl and Sam rolls his eyes with a soft smirk but takes the jeans and stands up to slide them up his legs. He hadn’t openly laughed at Dean’s jokes in years but sometimes the tired caught him with his guard down and he’d indulged in Dean’s silliness.

“You boys almost ready?” Sam shrugs while his brother nods and together the three make their way downstairs for a quick breakfast of cereal before they’re out the door and piling into Bobby’s pick up.

“We’re gonna only go up the road here some, park off the road and do about a half mile hike before we get to where we need to go.” The drive is mostly silent and by the time they pull off on the road Bobby is pretty sure both boys have fallen asleep against the window. Bobby can’t say he minds, loving the darkness of backroads, the way the moonlight illuminates the trees and haunts the ground. It wasn’t often he got to enjoy this time of morning without having to watch his back that something evil was coming up behind him.

“We’re here.” Bobby reaches over and slaps Dean on the shoulder who jumps up, swiping at his chin with a dignified snort. Glaring over at the wake-up call and Bobby’s smirk, Dean reaches into the back of the cab and shakes Sam’s thigh. Bobby doesn’t wait for them to get their wits about them before he jumps out the truck and motions for them to meet him at the bed. “I got this here scent blocker ya’ll should put on. Stops the deer from smellin’ us when we’re close and attracts them to us.” Both wrinkle their nose in disgust when Bobby opens up the container and he laughs a little at identical looks of horror.

“Ew what is that?” Dean gags, coughing into his elbow.

“Little bit of deer piss ain’t hurt nobody before.” Bobby thrusts it over to them after applying it on himself.

“I’m good.” Sam says firmly and pushes at his brother’s wrist as he waves the can in front of Sam’s face.

“Suit yourself,” Bobby shrugs and together all three grab their arsenal of guns and bows before they’re hiking up into the woods and to the tree stand Bobby knows is just through the clearing. After they’ve climbed up and are settled in together, nestled up all comfy cozy, Bobby talks them through the steps of where to hit the deer to end it the most painless and to get the most out of the kill.

But, it’s hours before they spot anything. Dean’s announced his boredom on five separate occasions and Sam’s fallen asleep against his brother’s arm. He had failed to mention to the Winchester’s that hunting in real life was more waiting less shoot first ask questions later than they were used to. Bobby spots them first, a herd of bucks grazing together in the open field down below them. He nudges Dean who nudges Sam and then holds up his bow before motioning the boys to do the same.

“Wait!” Sam says hoarsely staring in horror at Bobby’s raise weapon. “No! Uncle Bobby, wait, I don’t think we should.”

“What?” Bobby all but snaps back trying to keep his voice low. “Sam unless you want hotdog casserole for dinner for the next two weeks, we’re doing this.” Sam pales as Bobby cinches his finger back and then releases, hitting a six-point square between the eyes and letting out a triumphant “ha!” as he collapses and the rest of he herd takes off, spooked.

“Oh.” Sam pales further and he turns away, unable to look down at the corpse now laying on the ground. Dean winces and struggles to not do the same as his brother.

“Boys. This is nature. Survival of the fittest. We gotta eat too. Now come on down and help me get her.” Together they all three climb down to the bottom and head over. He’s big for being so young, nice and thick and Bobby knows he’ll be able to freeze enough venison to have for the next few weeks.

Sam is silent on the trek back to the truck and Dean keeps shooting worried glances over to his brother, who still won’t look at the deer even though they’ve tied the legs together and have hauled him up into the bed.

“You okay, bud?” Dean’s voice is low but Bobby can still hear him anyways. Sam shrugs in response and they all don’t speak as they drive back home, the only sounds are Sam’s sniffles as the sun begins to peek above the treeline. It’s turned out to be a nice day after all, no clouds in the sky and the air nice and crisp when they get back out.

Sam doesn’t come to help Bobby skin the deer or to cut the meat, instead choosing to practice shooting at the old junk cars in the yard. Bobby and Dean can both hear the angry pelts of the bullets ricocheting off of the metal scrap. After ten minutes or so Bobby’s had enough, looking up at Dean who keeps shooting up every time they hear a ping.

“Get him before he hurts himself.” Bobby snaps to Dean finally, who’d done more gagging and worrying than helping anyways. Bobby finishes up on his own, methodical, and by the time he’s bagged, frozen, and cleaned what he needed the sun is high up in the sky and he checks out into the yard to see the boys still standing out there.

Dean’s got one arm around his younger brother, pulling him close into his chest. It’s his signature, “you’re just fine” move that Bobby has seen him do plenty of times. He feels intrusive though when Dean leans down and presses one kiss to his brother’s forehead and then another straight on the mouth when Sam leans up. They talk some more and then Sam is nodding, the two breaking apart as they make their way back over to the house.

Sam smiles as he passes by, “Need any help doing the dishes?” It’s his version of a truce for whatever feelings he was harbouring ever since sunrise. Bobby nods once and then Sam is off into the kitchen, leaving Dean standing out in the yard next to Bobby.

“He good?” Bobby asks. He doesn’t expect a realistic answer.

“Yeah,” Dean smiles as they see Sam’s head appear in the window when he reaches the sink. “I got him.” He says as if it’s easy.

And yeah. Bobby guesses with them it really is.