Title: enough for the wise
By: toneskis
Pairing: gen
Rating: AO for cursing, implied sexual themes involving a minor
Characters: Bobby; the three Winchester men (give 'em time, they'll show)
Words: 9017
Notes/Disclaimers: Gen, pre-series. I don't really consider this story an AU, just more of a... delayed meeting with Bobby.
Summary: Leave it to Bobby to find trouble in Joy, Ohio.

***


--*--*--*--*--*--*--*--


Bobby was out of town when it happened.

Which, considering his track record, wasn't particularly shocking when he really thought about it. Oh no "” this kind of shit just loved to find him when he least expected it; it practically waited for him to take his first step off of the porch in the morning. Bobby Singer could wander into the deepest, darkest woods around and nothing as dangerous as a squirrel would look his way. But step into the produce aisle at the grocery store or the Barnes and Noble travel section and it always went to hell. Tossed into fruit towers by pissy poltergeists, atlases chucked at his head by fucking gnomes "” oh yeah, been there, done that.

So leave it to him to find trouble in Joy, Ohio, right in the middle of his uncle's cousin's daughter's wedding. Or something like that.

He wouldn't have bothered going either, would have much rather stayed cooped up with his books or behind the hood of some junker, but he'd had no chance when she got involved. Jeannie Singer "”Thurman now "” had asked him to come, and after enough waffling to fill an IHOP, he'd caved to his sister's will. Packed the truck and headed to Joy. All their lives, Jeannie had been able to sucker him into anything "” a con-woman since birth, and he loved her for it.

As weddings went, he had to admit it hadn't been terrible. The old Baptist preacher was as boring as a spelling bee, the couple-to-be were cutesy "” in that madly, truly, deeply way that screamed divorce in three years "” and a pair of horny groomsmen made come hither eyes at the bridesmaids the whole ceremony. The worst part had been his tie, really, which had spent the entire hour choking the life out of him like it thought it was some goddamn boa constrictor.

No, it was after the ceremony had finished and everyone was heading out of the little church when he heard it "” a snippet of townie gossip that caught his ear and held. Murder.

The conversation he'd stumbled upon didn't faze him, at least, not at first. The rule of thumb was that most homicides were just people unable to control their emotions and lashing out in unspeakable ways. Terrible, sure, but human nature was volatile and nothing would change that.

Of course, that logic went out the window when he heard the end of the tale: missing eyes, bizarre symbols, no suspects or motive. Well, that sure changed things, now, didn't it?

As the guests made for the reception "” there'd be no alcohol at a Baptist wedding, but the buffet was bound to be phenomenal "” Bobby slipped out of the procession. When he caught up to Jeannie, he gave her a kiss on the cheek and told her he wasn't feeling well; the lie, as usual, slipped out easily. His youngest sibling gave him a skeptical eyebrow arch, but said nothing, God bless her, just handed him an Alka-seltzer packet from her purse and followed the crowd to lunch.

Back at his motel, doing his best to ignore the stale odor of Taco Bell that still lingered in the room, Bobby examined the local newspaper he'd picked up from the office. The meager rag could barely be classified as journalism, but the front page had the story he was looking for.

Stay-at-home mother of two, 34 years old, eyes missing, no sign of struggle. There seemed to be no forced entry, all doors and windows locked except for the front door. The police believed she had let her attacker inside. The only other oddity had been the strange symbol carved into her wrist, the wound fresh, possibly indicating it had been left by the attacker.

A sketch artist had replicated the image and the article said the police were interested in any leads in identifying the symbol. Bobby scratched his chin. Nothing else in the article struck him as particularly interesting, until he got to the end, which linked the death to a similar series of murders in the neighboring town of Norwalk three weeks prior. Hi ho, hi ho.

Bobby was at the local library in less than ten minutes. Under the watchful eye of a librarian who had to be on the shady side of eighty, he spread out four weeks' worth of the Norwalk Carrier. As to be expected, murder in small-town America trumped craft fairs and bake-offs and he found the stories easily.

His fingers tracked over the blocky text, absorbing the information: May third, 24-year-old high school teacher, eyes missing, symbol carved into his chest; May ninth, male dentist, 45, ditto on the eyes and symbol. May fourteenth, 9-year-old girl, no eyes and a symbol carved in her back.

Bobby was only beginning to process this information when things got worse. A whole hell of a lot worse.

"Police Chief Wright said his office is working closely with the FBI and authorities from Gallipolis to see if the murders are connected to the April slaying of Cassandra Fox, Lauren Kinkade and Steven Miles."

Well, shit.

When Bobby left the library a little after six o'clock, he had seven bodies on his hands instead of one, seven pairs of eyes removed, seven symbols, and no fucking clue. He had a few of his important books "” it was habit to bring them along "” but the vast majority were some 1,200 miles away and he was coming up with a solid blank on initial ideas. Whatever this thing was, it looked like it was moving in patterns, and if that was true, there were two left to kill in Joy.

The FBI suspected a serial killer, but without any solid crime scene evidence, motive or method of tracking the murderer, there was no way to stop the killings. And judging from personal experience, the authorities weren't exactly adept at handling this kind of situation.

The eyes and the carvings had to be important, but off the top of his head Bobby couldn't recall any particular demon with a penchant for eyes. It could be part of some kind of sacrifice, maybe. A cult or off-book Wiccan coven perhaps, but that was rare.

Knowing he didn't have the time to leave and come back, Bobby ran through his mental Rolodex of contacts. The downside of hunting, see, was that most of the people he dealt with were pretty old-fashioned folk who were also stubborn as hell. A gun and a handful of bullets was about as high-tech as it got. Most of the hunters he knew had no interest in cell phones (himself included), which meant that if they were on a hunt "” or just off to the store for milk "” he couldn't reach them by landline.

The ones he did get in touch with over the next twenty minutes offered squat. Some contacts they were. A few promised to call back if they found anything, but Bobby wasn't expecting his motel phone to be ringing off the hook anytime soon. Bobby scrubbed his face, listening to the mini Mount St. Helens gurgling in his stomach. After missing both lunch and dinner, it might be in his best interest to get a little grub and coffee into him before he passed out.

He had his pick of conventional fast food in Joy, but old habits are harder to break than diamonds, and Bobby stumbled into a local café called Lucy's. Nothing fancy, but there was fresh pie on the counter and a waitress old enough to be his mother. Familiar.

Ordering a cup of coffee and a BLT, Bobby made notes on a pad of paper he'd taken from his motel, careful to move his hand over it whenever the waitress wandered his way.

The place was pleasantly crowded and he did a sweep out of instinct: a gaggle of senior citizens sat behind him debating local politics; a young man and woman were in the back bickering at each other around bites of their hamburgers; a teenager at the counter was charming his way to a free piece of apple pie; two middle-aged women laughed heartedly together, with occasional comments aimed at the old coots talking government.  

Satisfied, Bobby devoured his sandwich and was well on his way to finishing off a bowl of blackberry cobbler when the hairs on the back of his neck prickled. He glanced up, ready to pull the knife from his jacket, but rather than a monster, he found the pie-charmer standing next to him.

"Hi," the boy said, crumbs dusting his blue t-shirt. He looked around fourteen, maybe fifteen, with chin-length blond hair and curious eyes. Too curious for Bobby's tastes. 

"Hullo," Bobby offered.

"You're new around here, aren't you?"

Bobby took a sip of his coffee. "And how do you know that?"

The teen smiled. "'Cause you've been here over an hour and no one's talked to you."

Bobby had to give the kid credit. Everyone in the tiny place seemed to know each other. Even the bickering couple had stopped by a few tables before fighting their way out of doors.

"Maybe I'm just a mean bastard nobody likes."

"Nah," the kid said, nodding a head over his shoulder. "Old Carl back there, now he's a mean old cur, but people still talk to him. It's like a rule or something around here."

Bobby had to smile at that.

The boy narrowed his eyes. "You're here about the murder, aren't you?"

Bobby tried not to let it rattle him, but it was clear he wasn't prepared for the question. "What makes you say that?"

The kid pointed to the pad of paper. Damnit to hell. Bobby moved his hand over the notes.

"I'm looking into it, yes."

"You a cop?" the kid asked, his voice rising excitedly. "Private investigator? That would be reeeally cool."

Bobby smirked into his coffee cup. "Something like that."

"Sweet," the boy murmured, wide smile plastered across his face like this was the most exciting thing he'd ever heard. "Look, if you need any help I can totally, like, do research or something for you. Or even rough some people up and stuff."

"Look, uh--"

"Gabriel Baxter," the kid offered. "My friends call me Gabe though." 

"Gabe, I appreciate the offer, I really do, but this is something I have to work on alone. You understand?"

The boy still looked hopeful, but after a few seconds of staring he seemed to realize the abused puppy look wasn't going to cut it either. The teen finally shrugged and wiped his palms on his Levis. "Hey, no problem, I get it. Nice meeting you, man. Maybe I'll see you around."

Bobby nodded and watched the kid walk out of the restaurant, the little bell at the top of the door marking his departure. He chuckled. The boy didn't look like he could go a round with a mailbox and he wanted to rough people up?

Grinning, Bobby stuffed the pad of paper into his pocket and chided himself. Next time, Singer, no notes in public places. Finishing off the last bites of his dessert, Bobby threw a ten on the table and walked out to his truck.

Back in his motel room, the red bulb on his phone was blinking. The message was brief, typical Jefferson, but it told Bobby to call him back.

"Nothing?" Bobby growled into the receiver a few minutes later, tapping his pen fiercely against the table. "I can't find a single lead on this thing."

There was a pause on the other line, and Bobby heard Jefferson take a few breaths. "You should know, there's someone else working this case. Has been for a few months now."

"Yeah?" Bobby asked, leaning dangerously back in his chair. "Who?"

"Hunter named Winchester."

Bobby sat up. "John Winchester? The SOB that took out three skinwalkers in Michigan last year "” in one night? That Winchester?"

"That'd be him."

"Why is he on this? Or better yet, how's he not caught this thing by now?"

"No idea, just heard through the grapevine."

"What do you know about him?" Bobby asked, running a hand through his hair. He knew plenty of hunters who were decent folk, friends even, but that didn't mean there weren't some on the fringes of acceptable behavior "” those who would go to any lengths to get the job done, morality and good taste be damned.

"Not much, frankly. Scary bastard when he wants to be, but a good hunter. Scuttlebutt says he has a family that travels with him, but I can't confirm that."

"Would you trust him?" The million-dollar question.

There was a pause on the other end but, finally, "I don't trust anyone."

Bobby smiled. "Fine, you ass, be that way. Look, if you hear anything, let me know."

Jefferson chuckled deeply and the line went dead. Bobby hung up the phone and slumped over the table. A part of him considered letting this drop. Driving back to South Dakota and pretending he'd never stumbled into this entire thing; let Winchester do the dirty work. 

Frustrated, Bobby threw the pen down and watched it clatter across the table. Yeah, that was never going to happen. He knew himself well enough to know he wasn't about to stop now. It wasn't his style; and besides, two hunters meant this thing would be in the ground a whole lot faster.
 

--*--*--*--*--*--*--*--


Jeannie left the next day, never knowing her big brother planned on staying in town indefinitely. It made him feel better to see her taillights vanishing from Joy; one less thing to worry about.

Research was tedious at best. He spent the day making phone calls, desperate for leads. Anything and everything had potential. He eventually changed back into his suit and slipped a fake ID into his wallet "” never leave home without it "” that named him as a writer for the Associated Press and canvassed the city.

And yet, like the previous day, he found nothing significant. No real link to the killing in Joy to the other towns, no clues to the nature of the deaths. When he fell into an uneasy sleep that night, stomach clenched in frustration, all he knew was that he was missing something.

In the morning, fat raindrops splattered on Bobby's ballcap as he walked to the manager's office for coffee and a morning paper. Standing under the covered walkway with his newly acquired caffeine, he took a sip and felt it burn its way down his throat, welcoming its strip-an-engine potency. With his free hand, Bobby unfolded the paper and scanned the headlines. His heart dropped into his boots.

"˜The body of Gabriel Baxter, 15, was discovered late Sunday night in Spencer Park. Police Chief Warren will not comment on the case until the primary investigation is concluded, but he indicated the fatality may be connected with that of Caroline Johnson, who was found dead Wednesday. Like Johnson, Baxter's eyes were removed and an unidentified symbol was found on his arm. Baxter, an honor roll sophomore at Jefferson High School, was last seen--'

Bobby twisted the newspaper, his fingers crumbling the thin paper around the edges. Ah, kid. This shouldn't have happened. I should have caught this thing. I should have-- Bobby made a fist. No apologies. Instead, he'd find this son of a bitch and make it pay. Send it so deep into Hell it wouldn't be able to claw its way back out.

Avoiding the boy's obituary like the plague, the days blurred. He found three rituals that required the harvesting of eyes, including one meant to bring on an apocalypse "” which, as far as he was concerned, was goddamn typical. Bobby wanted to find Winchester, maybe compare notes, but there hadn't been a peep from the man and he had no way of contacting him; wasn't like there was some demon hunter's Bat signal, though he was beginning to think there should be. Who knew if the guy was even around? A lot of damn good he'd been anyway, especially if he'd been after this thing for months.

Four days later, Bobby found himself at the graveyard. He hadn't gone to the funeral, too obviously out of place there amongst family and friends. The last thing he needed right now were questions aimed his way. And, to be perfectly honest, he'd known he couldn't bear to look at the kid's face, see the same boy he'd talked to just a few days before "” the kid he'd dismissed in an attempt to protect him.

The well-kept grass crunched pathetically under Bobby's boots as he weaved through the gravestones. Gabriel's was the easiest to find, the mound of dirt still fresh, with flowers and other trinkets thrown on top. The mementos were piled so high they rose above the gravestone itself.

Bobby crouched down, staring at a small brown bear sitting next to the grave.

"Hey, kid. I... I'm sorry you were dragged into all of this. I'm sorry I couldn't save you. God knows I've been trying, but whatever this is, I just can't seem to get a handle on it. I swear to you though, I'll find this thing, and I will stop it."

Bobby ran a hand over the words "Loving Son and Friend" and looked down at the picture set into the stone, staring at the image of a smiling boy with a life cut short. A boy who would never go to college, get married, a boy who... Bobby's hand fell from the marker and he raised an eyebrow. A boy with coal-black hair, cropped short and tight against his head. A pudgy boy wearing thick glasses and a crooked, unfamiliar smile.

"Bit of a dweeb, wasn't he?" a voice asked, curling in the darkness behind Bobby. "He screamed like a girl when I ripped his eyeballs out."

Bobby wasn't as young as he used to be, but he was up and moving before the interloper finished his sentence. Not twenty feet away, at the outskirts of the graveyard, was the boy from the diner leaning easily against the trunk of an old tree. Although the kid's face was in shadow, Bobby could still see the shiteating grin plastered across it.

"Christo," Bobby growled.

The boy flinched, and even in the dim light he could see the flash of unnaturally dark eyes.

"You son of a bitch," Bobby whispered as his hand inched toward the flask of holy water in his vest.

The demon pushed off of the tree. Gone was the awkwardness from before, all of it an act. He "” it "” slinked toward Bobby like a cat after a crippled mouse.

"I gave you a chance," the kid offered sweetly. "You had days to figure it out. You could have saved him, Singer."

"You know who I am?" Bobby's fingers closed around the flask.

The thing smirked, moving around him in a wide circle. "It wasn't hard. Your kind aren't as mysterious as you think you are. The moment you walked into that diner I knew what you were. You reek, just like all of them."

Bobby glanced around the graveyard, waiting for accomplices to emerge, but they seemed to be alone.

"Why are you doing this?" Bobby asked, wondering just how cocky this fucker was. Demons were compulsive liars by nature, but they sure loved to chat when they thought they had the high ground. "The eyes, the symbols "” all of it."

Bobby was expecting a grand explanation, frankly, all revealed with a leer and some smirking eyes to match, but he didn't get one. Instead the thing shrugged mildly.

"Because I can."

"What?"

The demon masquerading as a child moved closer. "An artist has to sign his work. The eyes, well "” those were just fun. The way they screamed as I plucked them out." He bit his bottom lip. "I could taste their fear as they died."

Bobby felt himself go rigid. "This was all just... what? A game?"

The answer was a quick flash of white teeth.

That was all it took to push Bobby over the edge; enough was enough.

Bobby dashed forward, his flask open and aiming for the demon's face. His plan, at least for the moment, was to incapacitate the thing and then knock it unconscious. Watching as the water arced toward the demon, Bobby formed his angle of attack; but the water never hit its mark, because the demon was no longer standing where it had been. Moving with unnatural speed "” even for typical hell spawn "” the thing dodged and came at Bobby, grabbing his arm and pulling it up and behind his back. Something popped in Bobby's wrist and he went down on one knee. The kid was a couple inches shorter than him, but stronger than anything he'd felt before.

The flask lay somewhere behind him on the ground. Shitshitshit.

Bobby grunted as the fingers holding his arm dug deeper into his flesh.

"This'll be good," the demon whispered into his ear, the boy's lips scratching the side of his face. "I haven't killed a hunter yet. He won't be happy about that."

He? Bobby frowned, grunting at the pressure on his wrist. He was in the middle of planning his escape "” which would have worked, damnit "” when the hold on his arm was suddenly released. There was a shrill scream behind him, and Bobby dropped forward and rolled to his feet. The demon was cowering on the ground, screeching in pain, arms flailing around its face as holy water sizzled on the boy's skin.

Behind the demon stood a man holding Bobby's flask; it didn't take a physic to tell him it was John Winchester. From the way he held himself to the amount of heat he was packing "” not to mention the menacing look in his eyes "” Jefferson was right: Winchester was a scary bastard. Of course, Bobby wasn't complaining. That bastard had just saved his bacon.

Before Bobby could offer his thanks, Winchester raised a pistol and aimed at the figure writhing on the ground.

"No!" Bobby shouted, stumbling forward. "Wait! There's a kid--"

Winchester squeezed the trigger.

Bobby closed his eyes, refusing to watch the bullet hit its mark. The demon would be fine, but the boy? The boy wouldn't survive long past the exorcism. After a moment, Bobby opened his eyes and glared at the other man. "You goddamn, selfish--"

And then Bobby paused, realizing "” a little stupidly "” that he hadn't heard a shot. In its place had been a softer sound, a rush of air that reminded Bobby of the BB guns he'd played with as a kid.

Winchester lowered his weapon and Bobby frowned, glancing over at the demon. The boy was on his knees, his teeth bared in fury and his eyes wild. He scrambled to his feet but slowly, much slower than he'd been moving before. He growled at John and lunged, but only made it a few feet before dropping back to his knees. It was then that Bobby noticed the tiny barb sticking out of the kid's shirt, the end covered in fuzz. A tranquilizer. Hell's bells, why hadn't he thought of that?

The demon tried to say something, but his eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed face first into the damp grass. Both hunters stood, waiting for any movement.

When Winchester seemed satisfied that the thing was unconscious, he glanced over. "You okay?"

Bobby looked down at his wrist but nodded. "I've had worse. I'm--"

"Bobby Singer. I know," Winchester said, walking intently toward the demon. "John Winchester."

"You sure a tranq will work?" Bobby asked, deciding to ignore the fact that the man knew who he was. He had his sources; it was likely Winchester did, too. "Dangerous, isn't it? Using it on humans?"

The other man didn't look at him. "I had the right dosage, shouldn't be any permanent damage." He flipped the boy onto his back and checked his pulse. "It was either this, or let it get away again."

"If you need help with the exorcism, I'd be more than happy--"

"I've got it," Winchester said, cutting him off at the knees.

Bobby glared. Stubborn bastard. He was offering help, the least Winchester could do was... What? Look grateful maybe?

"How'd you find us?" Bobby asked, retreating and changing the subject. It seemed safer.

Winchester rummaged through the kid's pockets. "A waitress in town recognized a picture," he said, nodding toward the boy, "mentioned that you'd been talking with him a few days before. Did a little digging, found your motel."

Bobby blinked. "You broke into my room?"

Done with the pockets, the hunter stuffed the few items he'd found into his own jacket. "You left the obit out. I figured if the demon was after you, it'd follow you here."

"You used me as bait?"

"Something like that."

Bobby wanted to throw a punch, but his last instinct of self-preservation kicked in as he made a fist with his good hand. He was tired, his wrist hurt like a bitch, and he'd probably just end up on his ass. He sighed. Sometimes he hated being logical.

It was clear Winchester seemed ready to move and Bobby waited for him to throw the kid over his shoulder in a fireman's carry.

Instead, Bobby watched as the hunter slide one arm behind the boy's back and another under his knees and lifted. The teenager was solid, if not particularly large, but Winchester didn't seem to notice the burden. He pulled the limp body close to his chest, cradling it like it was the most precious thing in the world.

Bobby followed behind, watching the teen's head bounce gently on Winchester's shoulder as the man make quick strides toward the road beyond the tree line.

They reached the asphalt; parked behind Bobby's pickup was a big black muscle car.

As they approached the vehicles, the passenger door of John's car opened. A dark head peered around the door, staring at them. After a few seconds, the figure stepped out onto the side of the dirt road and Bobby realized it was a child.

"Dad?" the kid asked, voice soft.

"Get back in the car!" Winchester ordered.

"But Dad, is..."

"Sam!" Winchester yelled louder. "In the car. Now."

The boy stepped back toward the car, but to the kid's credit, he wasn't completely cowed by his father. If anything, he looked more determined.

As Bobby moved close enough to get a good look at the kid, it was clear that the kid "” Sam "” was also getting his first clear view of them. The boy's eyes widened and he darted toward his father. Or, to be more accurate, toward the body in his father's arms.

"Dean!"

The kid ran at them like Beelzebub was nipping at his heals, his ratty sneakers digging deep into the gravel as he slid to a stop. His hands went out to touch the unconscious boy's arm.

Sam looked up with terrified eyes. "Dad? Is... is he--?"

"He'll be okay," Winchester said, the bark gone from his voice. "I need to get him into the car."

Without having to be told, Sam ran back to the vehicle and opened the back door. Bobby stood back, watching as Winchester gently deposited his charge into the backseat. Once the kid was laid out inside, stretched along the back, the hunter shut the door and told Sam to get into the front seat. Without protest this time, the kid slid back into shotgun.

Bobby silently took in the scene, the pain in his wrist forgotten for now. He was a smart man, despite what people might think of him at first glance. And he knew, without a doubt in the universe, that the boy Winchester had just held in his arms was his son. So that was it. The reason Winchester had been after this thing like his very life depended on it.

It had.

Bobby stared at Winchester "” John "” and felt sympathy for the man, a stranger not fifteen minutes before. Bobby didn't have kids, couldn't really sympathize on that front, but he wasn't blind to the desperation that marred the other man's face. John's facade had vanished, replaced by something that made Bobby's insides twist. There was a hollowness to his eyes that no one should carry, and Bobby absently wondered if it had always been there, or if it was just the result of the last few months.

Bobby grabbed John's elbow as he passed and the other man looked over at him as if he'd forgotten he was even there.

"Let me help you," Bobby said.

"I don't need your help, Singer."

He tightened his grip. "You might not, but he might. Don't be stubborn "” not now. I can help if you let me. Please, John."

John stared at him, really taking him in for the first time, and Bobby held his ground. Winchester seemed to look right into his soul for a minute "” judging him, trying to assess if he should trust him or shoot him on the spot. There must have been something in him that Winchester liked, thank God, because he offered a quick head bob.

"I have a place ready, about an hour out of town. Follow us."


--*--*--*--*--*--*--*----*--*--*--*--*--*--*--


John's "place" turned out to be an empty church campground on the outskirts of Lake Erie. It had probably been used for retreats and children's summer camps once, but now the docks were half submerged in the lake and spindly weeds had overtaken most of the gravel road. No one had been here in a while, that much was clear to Bobby. Mostly though, the cabin was isolated. The last thing they needed was a well-meaning fisherman stumbling upon their exorcism and dialing 911.

Bobby didn't have to use a key to get into the cabin, just pushed the door open and stepped inside. John followed him in, the kid "” Dean "” in his arms again, with Sam trailing behind them like a shadow, lugging an old Army bag twice his size. Bobby'd offered to help the boy, but when he'd tried to take the thing Sam had snatched it away, claiming it was his responsibility. Hardheaded little shit, but Bobby could respect that.

Bobby held up a camping lantern, pushing back the darkness. There certainly wasn't much to see. At capacity, the small cabin could probably hold a dozen or so people comfortably. Everything was in the open:  six bunk beds, kitchenette and dining table, even a twin bed probably meant for a councilor. There wasn't a bathroom, but Bobby had spotted a brick communal restroom up the hill.

John put Dean gently on the bed, spreading the kid's arms and legs toward the posts. There weren't any bedspread or sheets, but an old blanket had been thrown across it and a pile of thick rope lay at the foot of the bed.

"Help me tie him," John said, and Bobby moved to the other side.

The rope was passed over and under the bed until it was eventually wrapped four times around the boy's body. John tied it off.

"Sam, bring me the bag."

Following orders like a well-trained little soldier, the boy hauled the olive duffle to his father and John rummaged through it. He pulled out a few pieces of shorter rope and tossed two to Bobby, who didn't have to be told what they were for. He tied the kid's feet to the thick wooden posts as John did the same with his son's arms.

When that was done, Bobby tugged a few more times on the knots to make sure they were secure. Satisfied, he turned back at John, who was now lugging the duffle to a table that "” unlike the rest of the room's sparse furniture "” wasn't covered in dust. As John began to lay out the supplies, Bobby wondered how long this place had been ready. Days, weeks. Time spent waiting for the demon wearing his son's face to surface. Fun.

Bobby glanced at the bed, watching Dean's chest rise silently up and down beneath the ropes.  

"Would you like me to draw a devil's trap?" he asked.

John didn't say anything, just pulled out what looked like a folded bed sheet and tossed it over. Bobby caught it and spread it open, letting the edges skirt the floor.

"I'll be damned," he murmured, staring at the devil's trap on the tightly woven sheet, every ornate symbol and circle thickly painted onto the material. The thing had to have a radius of almost ten feet.

It only took a minute to nail it to the ceiling directly above the unconscious boy. Besides trapping the demon, the circle should also dampen the thing's powers, which would come in handy during the struggle of the exorcism. Shockingly, demons weren't big fans of hellfire, Bobby had noticed.

The rest of the supplies were pulled out of the bag and placed on the table. Two two-gallon milk cartons of holy water, a rosary and a thick leather journal, the tranq gun and a case with extra darts. John handed a small burlap sack to Sam and the kid made quick work salting the doors and windows. When he was done, he looked back at John, who nodded encouragingly. Silently, Sam made a wide circle around the bed.

"Don't you think that's a bit overkill?"

John didn't look at him as he rummaged through the bag. "I'm not letting this thing get away again."

"What happened?"

For a moment, Bobby was sure Winchester would ignore the question; go about his business like he'd never heard it. But to his surprise, the other man sat down in one of the empty chairs.

"Three months ago, I investigated some killings in rural Illinois. Turned out to be a demon."

As he spoke, John reached into the duffle and took out a bottled water and a container of pills. He offered them to Bobby, who didn't waste any time downing three of the proffered Ibuprofen for his wrist.

"We caught the thing and I tried to exorcise it, but I screwed up. Read a line wrong, missed a symbol in the devil's trap, I don't honestly know. The thing escaped mid-way through, slid right outta that girl and through a skylight."

Bobby took another drink and pushed the bottle back.

"Eventually, all signs of it just... vanished. There was nothing I could do, and we left town. I didn't realize something was wrong until about two weeks later."

"How'd you know?"

John glanced toward the bed and Bobby followed his gaze, watching Sam dutifully checking the salt lines.

"It was Sam. Said his brother was acting funny, but I chalked it up to the normal bickering they do. God help me, I even left for a couple of days on a hunt down South."   

The little boy finished around the bed and then moved from window to window, gently poking and prodding the salt with a finger, making sure each grain was in its place.

"When I came back," John continued, "Sam was quiet. He tried to tell me something was off, but I was bushed after the hunt and the drive. Went to bed that night and never thought twice about it. The next morning at breakfast, Sammy put holy water in the orange juice."

"Smart boy."

"Long story short, I wasn't prepared and it got away. We'd been after it since that day. Two fucking months. Whenever we'd get close, it would bolt.  The damn thing used Dean's memories and training against us "” it knew our patterns, habits. It killed all those people just to play with me, Singer."

John pushed away from the table, and Bobby took it as the signal that story time was over. Business was at hand.

For the next hour he and Winchester went over the exorcism. It was a little different than the usual fare, meant for a creature a little more powerful than the usual lower lever fare they dealt with. It would take longer, but it was stronger and guaranteed that the demon wouldn't be going anywhere, at least in this world.

Complete darkness had fallen now and Bobby swatted mosquitoes as he walked to his truck for his duffle. On the way back, he'd barely raised a boot to the first step when he noticed Sam. The kid was sitting on the ground, back to the cabin, knobby knees pulled up and his face planted between them. He didn't look like he was crying, but Bobby wouldn't rule it out. It was pretty dark.

"You're gonna get chiggers sittin' there," Bobby said.

The kid's face wasn't visible, but through the gap in the boy's legs Bobby heard, "S'kay, got nail polish."

"You... what?" Bobby asked, genuinely confused.

Sam looked up, and through the dim lighting from the window Bobby could make out wet tear tracks down his face. Crying then.

"Nail polish," Sam repeated, a hiccup in his speech. "Dean bought it for me. Just the clear kind though, not some girly color. He said if I put it over the bite it'd make it stop itching, heal it up faster 'cause it traps the bug inside. It works real well, Mr. Singer."

Bobby crouched in front of him. "Call me Bobby, son. I ain't much for formalities."

The 11-year-old smiled slightly, and it was clear that, unlike his daddy, he wanted to talk.

"Your old man told me what happened a few months back. How you figured out there was a demon in your brother."

Sam shrugged.

"You two must be pretty close for you to notice something like that. Demon's are real good at hiding."

The boy swallowed, looking like he was about to go round two with the crying. Ah, crap.

"Dad wouldn't listen to me," he whispered. "I just... I didn't know what to do."

Bobby smiled, laying a hand on Sam's shoulder. "You did fantastic, kid. If you hadn't figured it out, there's no telling how long it would have kept up the act."

"Is Dean gonna be okay?" Sam asked.

"I'll promise you something, okay? And you gotta believe me because I always make good on my promises. We'll get that thing out of your brother." He ruffled the boy's dark hair. "Now come on, let's go inside before the mosquitoes and chiggers "” nail polish or not "” eat us alive."

 

--*--*--*--*--*--*--*--

 

Another hour passed, and Bobby felt as if he was staring out at the horizon, waiting for a hurricane that wasn't quite ready to hit shore just yet.

There was a rattling in the kitchenette as two of the Winchesters set about making peanut butter sandwiches. They'd pulled the bread and Peter Pan "” extra, extra chunky, Sam had informed him pointedly "” out of the olive duffle, and Bobby was beginning to think they lived out of the thing.

They'd all mostly forgotten about eating. Even Sam had claimed to not be hungry, at least until the kid's stomach started to sound like it was trying to regurgitate itself.

As John spread the peanut butter, offering the first sandwich to Sam, Bobby'd pulled up a surprisingly comfortable wooden chair from the table and sat next to the bed with the trapped demon. The light from the camping lamps sucked for doing a crossword, but he was making due by keeping the book about five inches from his nose. Thank god he'd had the book in the truck "” the quiet before the pending exorcism was driving him absolutely batty.

Behind him, Sam and John were talking too softly for Bobby to make out what they were saying, which meant he wasn't quite prepared for the clear words aimed his direction. Bobby's eyes darted to the demon. The thing was still were they're left it tied spread eagle, but it was clearly awake. Or slowly making its way there, at least.

What surprised Bobby though were the eyes. Instead of the dark, bottomless pits he'd been expecting he found himself looking into a set of dazed, but very much awake, hazel-green ones.

"Who?" the kid asked, his voice so weak it barely registered.

"John!" Bobby called and rose to his feet.

"... my dad?"

John moved past Bobby, hovering at the end of the barrier.

"Dean?" Winchester asked.

Groggily, Dean's eyes moved toward the new voice, and Bobby watched as they widened and came to life.

"Dad! Dad, please!"

Bobby felt John shift and he threw an arm out, halting John's movement. Winchester knew better than to approach that thing, but Bobby had to make sure he wasn't going to do anything stupid. The touch was enough to snap John to attention and he moved back.

"Dad! Help me!" the teen begged, struggling with the ropes holding him down.  "Pleasepleasepleasegetitout!"

"Dean," John offered, voice breaking, "you gotta listen to me. We'll get that son of bitch out of you. I promise. I promise."

The kid was sobbing now, his head still turned to them, pleading, begging for help. Dean's breathing hitched and he drew in a deep breath, his mouth gaping open. The kid began to scream, and the sound was so terrible and full of pain that even Bobby flinched.

Seconds later, inky blackness swirled into the boy's irises and the demon began to laugh.

Bobby heard shuffling behind him and turned to see Sam standing a few feet back, eyes wide with terror.

John heard it too and barked, "Sam, go to the car!"

There was a protest, a vehement one, but John made it an order and Sam sprinted from the cabin, the door slamming behind him.

"Aw, you shoulda let him stay," the demon said, tugging experimentally on its bonds. "It would have been fun. Bet I could have told him all kinds of nasty things about his big brother."

Bobby splashed it with holy water.

Over the demon's screeching, Bobby heard John walk to the table. He returned with two books and two rosaries, one of each he handed to Bobby.

"Double the exorcism, double your pleasure," the demon smirked.

Bobby splashed it again, just because he was feeling vindictive like that.

John opened the book, reciting the first words of the exorcism, and Bobby followed a few lines behind.

"Exorcisámus te, omnis immúnde spíritus..."

The demon growled, twisting its wrists in the ropes. "I had fun with your pretty son, John Boy. He fucked his way across five states. Restrooms, alleys, truck stops "” everywhere anyone wanted a piece of this ass!" 

"...omnis satánica potéstas, omnis incúrsio infernális adversárii..."

"He kept telling me his daddy would save him," the creature panted, fighting the holy words tooth and nail, "brave Johnny Winchester to the rescue."

"...omnis légio, omnis congregátio et secta diabólica..."

Bobby tried not to look at the blood dripping onto the bed, the ropes biting into the boy's skin as the demon struggled.

"But Daddy never came! He left his son to this because he didn't even care!"

John's voiced faltered and Bobby threw more holy water at the thing to get it to shut up.

Bobby grabbed John's bicep, forcing the other man to meet his eyes. When he was sure Winchester was listening, really listening, he growled, "Demons lie."

John worked his jaw, but nodded. "Ergo, draco maledicte et omnis légio..."

The demon began to scream and the cabin shook, dust from the rafters floating down like snow.

Winchester read on, and though Bobby had never been one for playing second string, he found himself glad to be the sidekick this once.

 

 --*--*--*--*--*--*--*--

 

Bobby had performed about a dozen exorcisms over the years, some worse than others, certainly, but never had he come across a demon so utterly stubborn. The thing clung so tightly to his host Bobby was afraid it was going to pull the kid right into Hades with it.

But after two hours of chanting, the thing finally lost its grip. Good fucking riddance. Dean hadn't been awake for more than a few seconds afterward, his body too worn out from the battle, and now the cabin was silent.

Bobby yawned, running a hand over his face and through his hair. It would be dawn soon, and he realized he hadn't slept in almost 48 hours. Not quite his record, but close enough. That hotel bed was definitely calling his name. He planned on sleeping an entire day, and then some. Somewhere along the way there'd also be food. A man couldn't live on ground nuts and bread alone.

He was just finishing his last puzzle when the sense of being watched flooded over him.

Bobby turned toward the bed "” déjà vu, much? "” and found himself looking into familiar eyes. There was a brief staring contest, eyes locked and lids unmoving, until the light orbs darted around the room, then back to Bobby, and finally down at the ropes holding his legs and arms. The kid growled and pulled on the bindings, but they didn't give.

Bobby sat up straighter. Damnit. It couldn't be... not after all that.

The boy glanced back at Bobby, a pissed-off frown spreading across his pale face.

"What's going on?"

Bobby felt himself whoop.

The eyes widened. "Who the hell are you?"

First things first, Bobby thought, uncapping his flask of holy water. The clear liquid hit Dean smack across the face, but outside of blinking owlishly up at him, the kid did nothing but get wet. No reaction, no smoke, no screaming. Thank Christ.

Bobby pulled the knife from his boot and made quick work of the bonds around the boy's wrists and ankles. Dean flinched at the sight of a weapon coming at him, but stilled once he realized he was being freed. After Bobby finished the arms and legs, he sawed through the bigger ropes wrapped around the boy's body.

Dean sat up stiffly, cradling his bloody wrists. The kid looked over at him again, his confusion now replaced with something else.

"I think... do I know you?"

"Bobby Singer."

That seemed to trigger something because Dean's eyes widened. "My dad. He... he's here?"

Bobby nodded, throwing a thumb over his shoulder. "Should be back any minute. He took your little brother to the bathroom up the hill."

"Sammy's here?"

"Yep. And excited to see you I'm sure."

Bobby watched as Dean scanned the cabin, taking in the tiny room, every little detail clearly being cataloged for later use.  

"What do you remember, Dean?" Bobby asked.

The kid closed his eyes, arms resting in his lap. "I'm not sure," he answered, eyes still squeezed shut, as if running through it all in his head. If he still saw Bobby as a threat, he was hiding it well. "Bits of things, people's faces. I... I feel like I've been stuck in carbonite."

Musing on what carbonite was, Bobby stood and offered a hand. The teenager wrapped a palm around Bobby's wrist "” the good one, thankfully, because the other one was definitely screwed up "” and let the older man help him stand.

The kid wobbled a bit but steadied himself. When Bobby was sure Dean could stand on his own, he let him go and turned to get some bandages for the rope burn. He'd made it halfway to the table when the door to the cabin opened and John stepped inside, clearly shocked by the sight of Dean awake and standing.

John glanced over at Bobby and Bobby nodded. Three big strides and the eldest Winchester wrapped his son in a bear hug, lifting the kid off of his feet.

Dean seemed startled, but like a marionette cut from his strings, he collapsed into the embrace. When John finally set the kid down, he cupped his big hands around the boy's face.

"Goddamn," he breathed. "It's so good to see you."

There was a gasp and they all turned to find Sam in the doorway, gawking at them all with eyes as big as saucers. For a moment Bobby was sure the kid was gonna hightail it in the opposite direction, but Sam stood there silently. He looked like he was seriously debating it, though.

Dean stepped away from his father, putting himself in full view of the door.

The two brothers stared at each other, until Dean finally offered, "Comeere, squirt."

That was all it took to get Sam moving, flying toward his brother at mach five. Dean made a guttural oomph as Sam adhered himself to his chest, wrapping his arms around his big brother's waist and impaling his nose into Dean's chest.

"Good to see you, too," Dean wheezed. After about thirty seconds, or before he lost too much oxygen Bobby figured, the older boy attempted to peel the other off him. "Yo, spider monkey, you have to let me go. I have to piss like nobody's business and you squeezing the life outta me isn't helping."

Sam, albeit reluctantly, let his arms drop and gave Dean's bladder a pardon.

As Bobby watched the smaller boy led his brother outside to the bathroom, he had the strange feeling that as soon as Dean walked out of that bathroom stall, he'd have his human leech right back.

 

--*--*--*--*--*--*--*--

 

Sleeping on the bottom mattress of a bunk bed wasn't exactly Bobby's idea of a good time, but getting a few hours under his belt did guarantee he wouldn't fall asleep behind the wheel before he got back to Joy.

Bobby sat up, rubbing a hand through his disheveled hair. Across from him, Dean was curled up on another of the bottom bunks, Sam plastered to his side. It didn't look very comfortable, but they seemed to make it work. Not surprisingly, John was perched on the bunk closest to his sons. With his feet planted on the ground and his hands clasped, he didn't look like he's slept a wink, just stared at his boys as the day broke.

Bobby stood and gathered his few things. He was sure that John had noticed the movement, but the hunter didn't take his gaze from Sam and Dean.

"I best be heading out," Bobby said quietly.

John looked up and Bobby saw a little smile tug at his lips. "No need to whisper, Singer. I don't think an F5 tornado could wake them at this point."

Bobby laughed a little, glancing down at the sleeping duo. Dean was snoring softly, eyes moving behind still lids. Sam, on the other hand, was quiet, but leaving so much drool on his brother's shirt Dean would probably have to change when he woke up.

"Thank you."

Bobby shrugged. "No thanks necessary."

John looked back at his boys, and Bobby got the feeling that thank you's weren't frequent in John Winchester's vocabulary.

"No, there is. I don't... I don't think I could have done this alone." He looked back up. "I'm in your debt. Anything you need, whenever, whatever, all you have to do is ask."

Bobby chuckled and pulled out his wallet. He rummaged through a few wadded up bills and receipts. "I'm not one for life debts, John, but we might be able to help each other out sometime. Here's my business card."

John took the square of paper, glancing at it somewhere between skepticism and amusement. "You have a card?"

Bobby managed not to roll his eyes. Barely. "Yeah, Bobby Singer, ghost exterminator in 30 minutes or less. I run a junkyard, Winchester, phone number and address are both there. I don't travel that often, weddings in godforsaken Ohio towns aside, so I'll probably be there. Stop by sometime."

John nodded and pocketed the card. "'Preciate it."

Bobby shouldered his own duffle and nodded down at Dean.

"He'll be okay?"

John leaned forward, running his palms together. "He doesn't remember much, and hopefully it stays that way. But time will tell. Dean's a strong kid, though; the strongest. We've been through worse, and he'll get through this."

Worse? Bobby thought, a little sick to his stomach at the implication. Just fifteen lowly years on the planet and he'd been through worse? Bobby glanced down at Sam, who'd snuggled in closer to his brother to continue his drool domination over a defenseless Metallica t-shirt.

"Well, I suppose his guardian angel will be there to help."

Desiring no more fanfare, Bobby made for his truck. Tossing his duffle into the passenger seat, he hopped in, slamming the door and starting the engine. Soft country music flowed through the speakers as he sped east, tires throwing up a cloud behind him.

Bobby glanced into the review mirror, but John's impala and the cabin were gone now, obscured by a veil of dust and woods.

The hunting world was bigger than most thought, but paranoia and bullheadedness kept it from uniting in any major form. It was common to meet a hunter once and never set eyes on "˜em again. There were all kinds of reasons, of course "” different hunting grounds; retired from the game; or, more commonly than not, dead as the proverbial doornail.

But driving away from that cabin, something told Bobby this wouldn't be the last time he'd have to deal with a Winchester. A part of him was almost looking forward to it.

Well. Almost.

--*--*--*--*--*--*--*--

***