All Told (a Tall Tales Tag)
by May Robinson
Not a half hour after impaling a Trickster and sending its Hardcore Barbie bodyguards into oblivion, Dean deftly maneuvered the Impala into the parking spot next to Bobby's empty pickup. Despite doubtless aches and pains, he glided the sedan dead center into the space. He was just like his daddy that way and it never failed to impress Bobby, especially from inside the vehicle. Hell, the Earnhardts had nothing on John and Dean Winchester when it came to knowing the feel of their automobiles. Bobby'd bet on that and damn well win the pot, of that he was sure.
Not surprising when you really came to think of it. Long before the Hell-spawned combo of a demon and a semi gave him cause to rebuild the Impala from scrap, eleven-year-old Dean had made it his mission to get to know the ins and outs of his daddy's beloved car. And by the time he was sixteen, John was more than willing to let his oldest boy take over much of its maintenance. Bastard even let him drive it on occasion.
The true reward came at eighteen.
All right. . . so maybe you weren't always such a jackass, were you, John?
Bobby could still remember the day he'd cajoled a dejected Dean out back of his place into the scrap yard, Rumsfeld loping along after them and Sam bouncing along with every bit as much gangly enthusiasm and lack of grace as the pup. And Dean abruptly stopping cold as he was met with the vision of his dad. The same dad, who'd supposedly left Dean behind "for no good goddamn reason" to go hunting in Wisconsin, was casually leaning against a more than familiar liquid black Impala, arms crossed and looking awfully smug. Smug and about ten years younger, to Bobby's mind. At Dean's sudden onset of paralysis, John's granite-hewn features had softened, melted into a warm smile that stood out against his dark stubble nearly as much as the oversized and highly un-Winchester-like red bow planted slightly off center on the car's freshly detailed, gleaming hood.
Bobby couldn't deny that it had been one of John Winchester's finer moments. And Bobby also had to admit he'd been shocked as hell when John'd asked for his participation in Dean's birthday surprise. Strategizing and deception were weapons John wielded like a master, but for him to use them in a coordinated effort to surprise one of his kids, to bestow such an act of kindness, well, it'd just seemed as unlikely as the man using a machete to slice bread.
Of course nearly a decade later, John had proved to Bobby just how wrong he could be about the man he'd considered peer, friend, supreme asshole and then friend again. After all, John had made the ultimate sacrifice for Dean. It was a damn cruel irony though that his final act of love had hurt Dean so badly.
Both boys were hurting and, long before Dean's frantic phone-call and a she-demon-possessed Sam had shown up on his doorstep, Bobby had vowed to try to ease their pain and help them in any way he could. Promising as much to John the last time they spoke. . . John, sounding too damn old but every bit as determined as always, his mind addled by painkillers and a father's grief, calling to confirm the wording of a summoning ritual he'd known by heart for two decades.
You were supposed to give up the Colt, John. Not your life, you sonofabitch.
Not your soul, goddamn it.
So when Sam called the other night, sounding frustrated as hell working a job with his brother, Bobby was more than willing to drop everything and go give them a hand.
He didn't have the right but he was proud as punch of John's boys. Last time he saw them, when they'd left his place, Dean had been shot, beaten raw and was barely holding on. And Sam. . . John's youngest had been about as low as Bobby'd ever seen him. Guilt-ridden too. And scared. Both of them were.
But still they persevered. Still they hunted. And together they were more than survivors; they were one hell of a formidable team.
That's why he'd been more than a little surprised and disturbed by their behavior when he'd arrived in Springfield. He'd known the boys since they were both, well, boys so it wasn't that he hadn't seen them argue, hell, even tussle before. It was just that this bickering was so unlike them. In another lifetime it might have been comical but it worried Bobby immediately. Sam and Dean needed each other, shared too much heartache, especially now that John was gone, to survive turning against each other, even for a little while. Quibbling and testiness was one thing but their outright accusations and underlying maliciousness had set off Bobby’s warning bells from the get-go.
Between that uncharacteristic behavior and the far-fetched tale they'd been spinning, Bobby had a Trickster pegged as the culprit in no time flat and thankfully the boys were receptive to his theory straight away. Patented Winchester subterfuge and a good ole reliable wooden stake had worked wonders and, aside from Dean's unfortunate and unplanned flying lessons, courtesy of the virtual porn tag-team, Crawford Hall's highly unorthodox janitor had been successfully dispatched.
And now here they were.
"Do you want to come up, Bobby? Take off in the morning?" Sam asked as he slid out the passenger side of the Impala.
Bobby climbed out too, silently cursing his age and the fact that both his back and his knees were protesting their confinement to the rear seat just a little too loudly for his liking. Once was a time when a scuffle with the likes of that Trickster wouldn't have fazed him anymore than it seemed to be bothering Sam.
Mind you, Dean was moving every bit as slowly as himself but Bobby definitely wasn't feeling any consolation in that fact. The kid had been thrown around by those conjured-up girls pretty damn hard and the resulting encounter he'd had with the auditorium seating simply had to have left him bruised and battered. Shit, he hoped the stubborn S.O.B. hadn't busted anything. It'd be just like him not to say a word.
Sound like somebody you know, John? Are you proud?
Dean seemed reasonably okay though, now that he'd made it upright. Arms crossed with elbows leaning on the Impala's roof, seemingly relaxed and waiting for Bobby's reply. Busted ribs wouldn't've let him raise his arms like that, Winchester or not. He was probably just bruised badly. Bad enough. Still, not something Sam couldn't handle and, despite the youngest's earnest expression accompanying his invitation, Bobby was going to decline.
Though he'd mocked their half-assed attempts to apologize to each other back at the university, Bobby was more than a little relieved the boys were trying to make amends. From the uncomfortable silence during the drive back from the hunt, it had become obvious they weren't yet back in sync. If he'd had any doubts, the lack of any post-adrenalin-rush music emanating from the speakers and the awkward glances they'd kept shooting each other whenever one of them was looking elsewhere confirmed it. Bobby figured what they needed was some time alone, without an audience, to work out their troubles and look after each other with whatever the Winchesters' warped version of TLC might be.
Smiling softly, Bobby took a moment to remove and re-situate his favorite eagle cap. Trying to come up with the right thing to say to two boys who had to be feeling awfully alone in this big, bad world.
"Nah, I'd better head on home," he replied, reassured in seeing no more than a hint of disappointment in Sam's eyes. "Got some parts comin' in and I should get back now that you two've extricated your heads from your asses." Well, that worked. . . the brothers were smirking, though both did look a touch abashed too.
"Ah, yeah, about that. . . " The stammering came from Sam. Embarrassed or not, Dean sure wasn't gonna be the one to waste time explaining himself.
Wonder where he got that trait from, huh?
"Sam," Bobby interrupted, mild condescension in his tone. "All I did was point out the forest while you both were too busy--"
"Seeing the trees." Sam concluded, his shaggy bangs flopping up and down in comprehension.
"You boys would've had it figured eventually."
"Sure," Sam replied. "That or hospitalized each other."
"You and what army?" Dean scoffed and Bobby couldn't help but laugh. Here we go.
"Oh, and this coming from the man who just had his ass handed to him by two Linda Lovelace wannabes!" Sam countered as Bobby grabbed his gear and transferred it from the back of the Impala to the bed of his truck, chuckling all the while. This was so much more like it, he thought as he listened to the comebacks roll. All bark and no bite, just like it should be. He let it go on another minute or two; it was bittersweet. John should be here, after all.
Deciding it was time to take his leave, he cleared his throat, doing a fine impersonation of someone actually irritated by the juvenile behavior he was witnessing. "If you children are finished, mind if I head on out?"
They settled down, more-or-less, Sam looking appropriately contrite despite wearing a lingering grin. But Dean. . . Dean suddenly looked too serious, in glaring contradiction to the performance they'd just put on.
Before Bobby had time to ponder the swift mood change, Dean made his way over to Sam and Bobby. Still moving slowly and Bobby was fairly certain Sam hadn't missed those too deliberate movements either.
As if setting out to prove his point, Sam's pace picked up, a restrained urgency in his words and actions. "Thanks again, Bobby. We really appreciate your help with all this." The words were heartfelt, as was his grip. Bobby shook Sam's proffered hand, then clasped his shoulder briefly before letting go of the kid completely. Their eyes met in that moment, just long enough for the silent communication of a glance, a wink, and an understanding nod to be passed between them. Watch out for your brother. I will.
"You coming, Dean?"
Dean had remained quiet through Sam's goodbye and now he looked uncertain. Roughly scrubbing a hand through his hair, he paused before answering. "You go on up." At his brother's look of concern, Dean explained, "It's just car talk, Sammy. Got a question for the expert here."
"You sure? I can wait." It was clear as crystal that Sam didn't buy his brother's story anymore than Bobby did. And knowing that his big brother was hurt, Sam wouldn't want Dean left on his own when Bobby drove off. By the imploring look Dean shot him though, artfully disguised as irritation, it was just as clear that Sam would have to cave. "Yeah, all right. Let me grab the gear."
Atta boy. If Sam hadn't thought of it, Bobby would've feigned a change of heart about leaving and hauled the weapons bag upstairs himself. No way were they going to let Dean lug the thing around.
Bag of gear slung over his shoulder, Sam said one last goodbye, as did Bobby.
As Bobby and Dean watched Sam head up the steps toward the hotel's entrance, Dean abruptly called out, "Hey, dude! Order some pizza!" Sam didn't look back but acknowledged he'd heard with the wave of a hand. Which promptly morphed into a flip of the bird as Dean shouted, "Order olives and you're dead meat!"
Bobby chuckled at that, then turned his attention to Dean, whose gaze remained on the retreating figure of his younger brother. Lingering even after Sam had disappeared through the door. The sudden quiet wasn't surprising. Bobby knew Dean had something on his mind and he'd start talking in his own time. When he was ready. Some things hadn't changed in twenty-odd years.
"Sure you don't wanna bunk with us tonight? We could get college boy to order more pizza."
If Bobby thought Dean truly needed him to stay, he wouldn't have hesitated in sticking around. But he knew what Dean was up to. Just winding his way up to saying whatever it was that had him looking so damn young and too damn old all at the same time. "Nah, thanks for the offer, kid, but I should get some miles under me before I call it a night."
Dean's only response was an accepting nod, ending with his eyes downcast, as though contemplating his well-worn boots. He took a deep breath then, as deep as his injured ribs would allow anyway and, when he straightened up purposefully, Bobby knew the boy was ready.
Bobby wasn't though. Not for the raw emotion reflected in those eyes. Dean never laid himself bare like this and Bobby couldn't help but be taken aback. And when Dean spoke, his voice was low and deep and sounding more like John than Dean but with an uncharacteristic tremor neither would ever willingly expose. Even to a friend. Had the tone not unnerved Bobby already, Dean's words damn near poleaxed him.
"I just wanted to thank you too, Bobby. For actually coming, for showing up. . . I mean, when Sam said he was gonna call, I-I didn’t think, especially after Sam and that demon, that you’d show, you know? Thought maybe you’d had enough of--"
"Jesus, Dean." Bobby broke in, unwilling to hear anymore of his foolishness.
Dean wasn't having it though. "No, Bobby, listen," he insisted, "Sammy called and you came. You. Came." He repeated, as if Bobby didn't comprehend that the act apparently rivaled Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon.
Well, shit. Bobby always knew Dean was royally fucked up. It was a prerequisite of the job, after all. In Dean's case, it was due in large part to the life his father chose for them. Even more so, it was courtesy of the sonofabitch demon that took a little boy's mother away from him in just about the most horrific manner possible and then stole away his dad too.
Still, this particular brand of insecurity was unlike Dean.
Bobby found himself in unfamiliar territory. Wanting badly to set Dean straight and not having a clue how to get through his hard head. He knew the pain of John's death was still too fresh. Hell, mention his dad and the kid's grief practically radiated from his soul. But his old man was all he could think of to work with, the only thing that might make an impression on Dean.
"Hell, Dean. It's nothing John wouldn't've done."
Dean's reaction was not at all what Bobby expected. The startling near-primal sound couldn't be easily defined. A mixture of a choking scoff and laughter, brimming with grief and anger and tinged with near madness and Bobby realized too late how wrong his choice had been. Only John could generate the depth of conflicting emotions that Dean was struggling so desperately to hold at bay.
As far as Bobby was concerned, John Winchester's parenting skills had been piss poor at best. His obsession to avenge Mary's death and, to take out every evil, supernatural being that crossed his path created one hell of an unstable, scary environment to raise two little boys in. But one fact Bobby couldn't refute, wouldn't ever consider denying, was John's fierce and fervent love for his sons. There was no question that John put his kids in some awfully perilous situations but, it was equally true that he didn't do so unless he was convinced that they could handle what they were up against. Until his death prevented it, Bobby truly believed that John would always be there if his boys got in over their heads.
That's what made this whole scene with Dean so very wrong. After all, it had been Dean who'd opened Bobby's eyes to this realization about John. Dean, whose faith in his father and adamant defense of his actions, had convincingly argued that John only ever expected of him what he could handle and otherwise would always be there to protect his boys and keep them safe.
So where was that hero worship now? What had John done prior to the family splitting up in Salvation to make Dean lose faith in his dad and, by extension, their friends coming to the rescue?
And then realization struck. It went further back than Salvation, all the way to Nebraska.
Shit. You never did get around to tellin' him, did ya, John?
Now how was he going to deal with this without tearing the hole in Dean's heart any wider? It didn't matter what Bobby had to say. Good or bad, the boy was going to get hurt by it.
"Aw, Dean. . ."
"Don't, Bobby. Just. . . don't."
The kid was looking away now and Bobby hated seeing him like this. Fragile as spun glass and, as much as he wanted to offer comfort, show him compassion and sympathy, Bobby knew to do so would just crumble Dean. Grudgingly and yet with a greater understanding of John Winchester, he realized what Dean needed came from a page of John's book of child rearing.
Leaning closer, well into Dean's personal space, Bobby reached for and fisted the leather of his jacket in his grip, giving the kid a small shake, drawing Dean's attention and forcing him to make eye contact. Warring with the despair still reflected in his eyes was a smoldering anger Bobby was more than familiar with. The eyes, hair and skin had always been darker, but the intensity, at least in this moment, was the same. Like father, like son.
"Well, shit," Bobby began, knowing he was about to hit a deep-seated nerve. "After all these years, I never thought I'd live to see the day you finally signed up for the "pissed off at John Winchester" club."
Dean flinched at that, shrugging out of Bobby's grip, stepping back and planting his feet apart in an ingrained fighting stance. "You don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh, no, I wouldn't know a thing about it, would I?" Bobby taunted. "Just decided on a whim to point a shotgun at him a time or two. Or doesn't that count?"
"That. . . that was different," Dean replied, vulnerability creeping back into his voice. "You don't understand."
Bobby couldn't allow himself to be swayed by the helplessness he heard in Dean's voice. "Then why don't you explain it to me?"
"I can't!" He answered sharply. The burst of fire was better, but short-lived. "It wouldn't make any difference if I did."
"Well, let me ask you something then. . ." Waiting for the go ahead, Bobby just stared at Dean until he acquiesced, then, "Just how often did you and John swing by Stanford to check up on Sammy, huh?"
Dean looked confused but Bobby knew the kid's curiosity -- or rather, his inborn suspicion -- was piqued. "I don't know, a lot.” He shrugged. “Every couple months, I guess, why?"
Bobby ignored the question and responded with one of his own. "And Sammy never had a clue?"
The look on Dean's face was priceless. Incredulous, as though Bobby had just asked him if a Honda had as much soul as the '67. This was good. It meant he had Dean exactly where he wanted him.
"Okay, point taken," Bobby conceded. "So, if that's the case, what makes you think your daddy didn't check up on you and Sam in the last year?" Dean blanched and Bobby hastily continued, a totally irrational fear of the kid passing out on him, before he had a chance to say his piece, spurring him on. "Dean, you're good, damn good, but do you honestly believe John would let you see 'im if he thought it could get you boys killed?"
"What are you saying, Bobby?"
"What I'm sayin' is that I know what I'm talkin' about here. Now you probably didn't know this but, while you were in the hospital, your dad called me. . ." Bobby had to pause then, taking time to collect himself. He was about to recount the last moments he'd shared with an old friend, to that friend's first-born no less, and it wasn't exactly going to be a cakewalk for either of them. "You were in a coma, Dean, and the docs weren't holding out much hope. John needed my help and I guess he might've even needed someone to talk to."
At Dean's disbelieving look, Bobby clarified. "He did talk, Dean. About you mostly but about what happened in Chicago and after too. And he told me that the reason he'd stayed away from you boys for so long was because he was afraid you two'd get caught in the crossfire between him and the demon that killed your mom. Afraid of exactly what went on in Chicago and then in that godforsaken cabin, happening to his sons."
Not surprisingly, Dean now looked full of shame and regret so Bobby barreled forward. "Now don't you go and start feeling guilty, it was John's choice to show his face when he did and you know better than anyone that once his mind was made up, there was no changing it." Dean's eyes were downcast again, though from his posture Bobby didn't think the reason was entirely despondency anymore. He just didn't want to show how much this was affecting him. "You know I'm right about that, Dean."
"Yeah, you are," Dean answered, a wistful blend of fondness and sorrow in his voice.
"Now, imagine what would've happened if he'd showed his face in Nebraska. . . if that demon caught up to the three of you while you were still sick." Bobby reached out again, his grip on Dean's shoulder firm as he gave it a supportive squeeze. This time Dean didn't pull away. His attention was riveted on Bobby, green eyes pooling with a dawning realization and such longing, Bobby had to swallow more than a few times to work down the lump of emotion swelling his own throat. "That's right, kid. John was there. Damn near killed him to keep away but he was there. And yes, once he knew you were healed, he left you in Sammy's hands without sayin' a goddamn word. Now, I'm sorry he didn't get the chance to explain all this but I gotta say. . . You've every right to be pissed with your dad about all sorts of things. Hell, far be it for me to suggest otherwise." Bobby couldn't help the smirk. "You know I've worn the mantle of club chairman plenty of times. But, Dean, do not be mad about him not comin'. Not that. It's one thing, I swear to you, you can cross off the list."
Those scuffed old boots had drawn Dean's attention again so Bobby gave the kid's shoulder another small shake, reminding Dean he wasn't alone and wanting to grab his attention again. "You hearin' me, Dean?"
"Yeah." The voice was distant, as though Dean was still processing everything he'd just been told. He looked up then, eyes glistening with tears Bobby knew wouldn't be shed any time soon. Despite them, he looked stronger than he had just minutes before, the confidence and presence he inherited from his old man enveloping him once again. "Yeah, I hear you."
"Good," Bobby said, releasing his hold. "Glad we got that straightened out." The words were sincere but spoken with the hint of a mentor's admonishment and teasing. And Dean smiled a bit at the rebuke.
"You know anything about Dad showing up in Lawrence when Sam and I went back to the old house?"
"No." It was a half-truth. "You might wanna ask Miz Missouri about it though. Why? You call your daddy that time, too?" In all honesty, Bobby already knew the answer. John hadn't given him the specifics about his sons' return to Lawrence but he had confessed his self-proclaimed sin of once again concealing himself from them.
"Yeah, I did."
"Then don't you think maybe there'd be no point in disturbin' the lady?"
Dean actually smiled then. "Yeah, you're right. Besides. . ." Was that actually a touch of humor working its way back into Dean's voice? "Why would I want to open myself up to the hell she'd give me over my Jessica and Ashley Simpson fantasy?"
"Jessica and Ashley who?"
This time Dean laughed out loud, punctuating his amusement with a light punch to Bobby's shoulder. "How many times have I told you, you can't survive on only three channels? You really do have to invest in satellite TV, old man."
No matter how short-lived it might be, Dean's lighter mood was contagious and Bobby was thrilled to know that he'd helped ease the kid's heavy load. That didn't mean he was willing to put up with disrespect from a cocky Winchester pup though.
"I'm not the one needin' an escort to walk me up a dozen steps," he returned, indicating over Dean's shoulder to the too-tall young man at the top of the steps, the building's lighting illuminating him as he compulsively worried a groove into the concrete with the toe of one shoe.
As Dean turned to look at Sam, Bobby watched Dean, pleased as the color returned to his features by way of a slightly sheepish blush. The older brother sighed, exasperation then resignation, though it was pure affection that crept its way into his voice. "What can I say, California brought out his inner drama queen."
Bobby laughed at that as both he and Dean waved Sam over. Their heart-to-heart was over and frankly he was glad that Sam was there now to haul his brother's ass up to bed. As Sam approached, Bobby realized he should check on one more thing before they went their separate ways. Smoothing an appreciative palm over the Impala's hood, he asked, "So, how is she running? Anything you need from the shop?"
"Nope, baby's running like the well oiled machine she is."
"Good, you keep treating her well and she'll give as good back."
"Hey, are you two still talking about this car?" Sam asked incredulously as he joined them. "Christ, keep it up and you'll both grow roots."
From the entirely too obvious way Sam was scrutinizing his brother's face and movements, Bobby figured Dean didn't think Sam really believed they'd been talking cars either. Still, they both appreciated his willingness to go along with the ruse. "She's a classic vehicle, Sam. You look after her and she'll look after you," he avowed, knowing Dean would approve and feeling delight in Dean's resultant smug grin.
"Man knows his stuff, Sam."
"Yeah, well, speaking of needing looking after, you look like crap." Dean rolled his eyes but, really, it wasn't any surprise that Sam couldn't hold his tongue. His brother's bruises were already becoming a hell of a lot more vivid than they'd been before Sam had left them alone.
"I'm good, Sammy." Despite knowing Dean would be damn sore and stiff tomorrow, Bobby believed him, felt pretty damn good himself knowing that he'd helped to put some of the light back in the kid's eyes. As if acknowledging the same, Dean turned back to Bobby and backhanded him in the gut -- proof of endearment in the Winchester world -- and added convincingly, "Getting better anyway."
"That's just what I like to hear," Bobby said cheerfully as he climbed into his truck. "Take care of yourselves, boys," the send-off as much demand as farewell. Focusing directly on Dean, he added vehemently, "And don't ever hesitate to call, you got that?"
Dean's intense gaze fixed on Bobby's, then suddenly his whole demeanor softened and those eyes crinkled at the corners in a way that reminded Bobby of the look and smile John only ever reserved for his family. "I got it."
"Good." Bobby started up the engine but didn't pull away right away. Instead, he watched as the brothers made their way toward the building's steps, pausing at their base long enough for Sam to settle a supportive arm across Dean's back. That Dean shrugged off the help was no surprise, nor was Sam's response, his frustration palpable all the way over to the truck. Not without a hint of shame, Bobby found himself leaning forward, trying to get a closer look at the brewing standoff to see who was going to win.
Lord knew Dean was stubborn but so was Sam and, in the end, when Dean wrapped his arm around his brother's waist and accepted the supporting arm across his back as they gingerly climbed the steps, Bobby figured they both won.
He'd been kidding earlier when he'd told them they were breaking his heart but, truth be known, John and his sons always could do that to Bobby. In the same way the boys could warm his soul with all that was good left in this increasingly menacing world. Though they'd had their fair share of differences over the years, when all was said and done, Bobby had to figure he actually had John to thank for much of that goodness.
And all told, John, that's one hell of a legacy.
Title: All Told (a Tall Tales tag)
Author: May Robinson
Summary: Bobby and a weary, burdened Dean have a little chat after the Trickster is dispatched.
Rating: T, language
Spoilers: Tall Tales (obviously), with references to Home, Faith, and Born Under a Bad Sign to name a few.
Awards: Much to my delight, this story was awarded both Best Chick Flick Moment and Runner-up Best Story during round 12 of the SPN fic awards.
Author's Notes/Comments: 1) By way of introducing myself on this site, I present you with my first fic written for the Supernatural fandom, posted first to ffnet back in March, 2007, then later to my lj. I've been writing fanfic on and off for about a decade though I'm apparently stuck in yet another period of writer's block. I'm truly hoping season 4 might kick-start my muse again. In the mean time, I'll post a few of my existing stories here. I'm a hurt!Dean genfic addict to the core, so this feels like the perfect home for them :).
Thanks to BigPink for having stepped in to beta my first SPN fic. I'd also like to thank Leslie for feeding this obsession of mine and Penny, my beta from my first two fandoms, whose input and guidance continue to help me grow as a writer.