Disclaimer: I do not own them. More's the pity.

Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: Season 4. He'd declared that family don't end with blood, and from the moment he'd met them, Bobby had lived that truth. In a search for something to save Sam from his destiny, Dean finds a journal that changes desperation into hope. Blood Brothers zine.

Spoilers: Season 4, sometime vaguely after 4.20, The Rapture.

a/n: This story was printed May of 2009 by Gilded Lily Press in the zine Blood Brothers 3. Thanks to Jeanne Gold for the opportunity; it was a pleasure to write for you. A heartfelt thank you to all who read this story in that zine. I truly hope you enjoyed. This is the last zine story I have saved up to post. I haven't decided if I'll do another zine story, but if I did, it wouldn't be posted for a year after printing, so it would be awhile before most of you saw it.

A couple of quick notes about this story. I wrote it toward the end of Season 4 when the the Winchester family levee was nigh onto breaking and I really didn't hold out much hope for Bobby's survival. We were watching our boys crumble, their father figure helpless to hold them together, angels and demons playing tug-of-war with their willpower, and this story fell out of that. It's a bit of a speculative story I guess you could say, and is now AU from it's time period. However, I hope those of you who enjoy pure canon-based fics aren't turned away. I'd written a little introspectively about Paster Jim in a previous zine story; this is my exploration of Bobby and how he saw the boys.

It's also a little play on the importance of a name. I'll let you decide whose name I mean.

I rolled a number last night and I walked in my sleep.
I could feel all the nerves in the tips of my teeth.
As they crumbled into dust and washed into the sea.
Finally shut my mouth so I could hear myself think.
It only gets to me in times like these.
And times like these are getting to me.

~ Seven Mary Three ~
"Times Like These"

The place smelled the same.

But it was too quiet.

He walked through the door, his booted feet leaving prints in the dust that covered the floor, and moved to the interior of the house, pausing at the base of the stairs. He hadn't been upstairs since he was a boy. His teenage years had been spent mainly in the car lot, his twenties in the study and the kitchen. And lately….

He shook his head. Best not to think about that. Not now.

He had a job to do, and only this night to do it. He wasn't going to get another shot.

Breathing in, he turned to face the study, taking in the stacks and stacks of books, the trucker hats with Singer's Auto patches on the front, the Carhartt jackets and worn cowboy boots, toes curled up with age and disuse.

A cobweb was visible across the fireplace opening, and old, dried wax hung suspended from the mantel. Glancing to his left, he could see into the kitchen, and a heavy cast iron pan still rested on the stovetop, waiting for warm fingers to curl around its handle. Just to the left of the stove, six individual phones were lined up on the wall, a label as to which line they represented written on yellowing masking tape, the edges rolling up as if to hide their secret.

Squaring his shoulders, he moved into the study, trying not to let the weight of the quiet build in his ears, trying to focus on the task at hand: find the book.

The Key of Solomon. It had been here all this time, hiding in its passages an anagram that supposedly spelled the solution to his current problem. Find it, and he found his way home. His way out.

Several minutes of searching through the stacks of books yielded nothing but dust motes, a bout of sneezing, and dirty hands. He switched his attention to the shelves, rolling his neck to ease the tension of exhaustion. He'd managed to put miles between himself and the darkness dogging his heels. But miles only meant he was more alone.

It didn't mean he was any safer.

Sunlight faded, throwing shadows across the desolate room. He found a light switch. Nothing. Power had been cut long ago. Still, he flipped it twice more, out of habit or desperation, he wasn't sure.

A quick search located two gas-powered lamps under the kitchen sink, six candles lying in a ritual bowl, and four more in a side drawer in the big desk that dominated the study. It wasn't until he'd pulled those four candles out and lit them that he noticed the journal.

Sitting back in the old chair, its joints creaking with his weight and its age, he lifted the journal from the bottom of the drawer, brushing the cover free of dust. It was leather, its pages well-turned and dog-eared. Frowning, he sat forward, resting the journal on the desk so the lantern and candles illuminated the plain, nondescript cover.

"You never told us about any journal," he muttered into the silence, his tone accusatory, longing riding the undertow of his words.

He flipped open to a random page, noticing the tight, neat, blocky writing, the words filling every line on the paper. Scanning, his eyes lit on a paragraph that stole his breath.

I had been listening for him, waiting almost. Sam walked past the front of the house, his head low, the hem of his loose-fitting gray t-shirt balled up in his fists. I saw his shoulders flinch when the sound of glass breaking echoed across my car lot. He didn't stop, though, didn't turn around. He just kept walking. I stepped out onto the porch. Metal-on-metal followed the breaking glass, and I followed the sound, moving away from Sam, toward what, I didn't know. When I saw him, my heart broke. Like a dried twig stepped on in the woods. Snap.

It wasn't a journal like his dad's. It wasn't a log of hunting. It wasn't an instructional manual on How To Kill Demons and Influence People. It was the story of a life.

It was Bobby's story.

"Son of a bitch," he breathed, rubbing his worn, scarred fingers over his lips. Sitting back, he looked around the empty room, for one moment seeing the ghostly images of his family standing in the corners, watching him, waiting.

He had only tonight to find the anagram. He had only tonight to return with the solution so he could…could what? Keep fighting? Keep running? Survive? How much longer? How many more losses? He had been around angelsm long enough by now to know some things aren't chance. That reason follows chaos. That a backbone of purpose held him at his weakest moment.

"You got it, old man." He nodded once. "You win."

Pulling the deepest drawer of the desk open, he reached in and grabbed the neck of the whiskey bottle he knew would be there. He knew, because he'd put it there for a moment of just in case after he'd poured the rest of them down the drain in the kitchen. As he lifted it from the drawer, it clinked against a wide-mouthed shot glass. Retrieving that as well, he wiped the glass on the tail of his shirt, the silver ring on his finger rubbing rhythmically against the rim.

He poured two fingers of whiskey and, with a deep breath and a toss of his head, slammed the amber liquid back, letting it burn his soft palate with its will. Looking at the journal, he poured another shot, then sat back, opening it to the first page.

"Bring it," he rasped, eyes now pinned to the scrawl.


Keeping my eye to the keyhole…

If you're reading this, it's possible I ain't around to stop you.

The plan, as it stands, is to give this to Dean. He's the one who needs the balance. He's the one who needs to be reminded that it all started somewhere, it all has a reason. And he's the one who would care. Plus? There's nothing that boy don't share with his brother.

I'm not sure how this story's going to end.

But I know how it started. And war is worth nothing to history if there isn't someone around to tell the story. If we learn anything from this race to stop Armageddon, it has to be that: tell the story.

Let them know.

Or we're all done for anyway and we may as well bend over for them sonsabitches now.

This is how I saw it. How I remember it. And I remember too damn much.

Everybody gets into hunting somehow. Sometimes it's through books or by accident. But my experience says it's usually when evil takes something away from you. Something you weren't willing to give, something you'd lay down your life for if you only knew it was coming. Happened to many a friend. Happened to the boys. Happened to me.

Her name was Karen.

She liked to wear blue and was a terrible cook. She always smelled like lavender. Her smile devastated me, and I would do just about anything to make her laugh. She waited for me when I went to 'Nam. I remember she said, "No one's gonna steal me away. I wouldn't be much good to them without my heart."

I was just a kid when I went to war the first time.

Nothing much worth telling before that. I lived my life, had a daddy, a mama, lost them both. War twisted things inside of me, turned them to steel. I killed a man when I was nineteen. First time. I watched him die and felt no remorse. My buddy was alive next to me because of it. And even if he did die two days later, at least he'd had those two days.

I was a corporal. Bravo 7-4. I was a good soldier. I saved and I killed and I survived. I was happy to leave it behind, to come home to Karen. To find that niche of normal in this fucked-up world. I had it, too. For almost four years.

And then, while I was sleeping, it entered my home. Entered my wife. I didn't get it at first, but when I did, I was terrified. She wasn't sick, she wasn't crazy—she was gone. My Karen was gone, and in her eyes was a demon.

No one is ever really prepared for the moment they have to kill their loved one to save themselves. To save the world. To save…anyone. Killing the person most important to you on the planet? You may as well kill yourself. She attacked, and out of pure dumb luck, I grabbed a silver blade, stabbing her until she stopped moving. But she screamed. And a black smoke billowed from her mouth and out through the cracked window.

I wanted to burn the house down with her and me in it. I would have, too, if it wasn't for a man named Jim Murphy. He'd been tracking this demon that had taken my Karen, found me with her, and saved my life.

Jim Murphy burned my Karen, pried the bottle of whiskey from my hands, dragged my sorry ass out of bed each morning, and started me on the search for the demon that I hadn't killed when I'd killed Karen. The demon that had escaped through her opened, screaming mouth while I plunged the blade into her chest.

The lessons I learned about hunting weren't easy, and they weren't quick. But they were the only thing that kept me grounded in this life, kept me from using the knife on myself. I built up the auto yard to keep prying eyes away—and afford this lifestyle. And I found hunters. Found them, followed them, learned from them.

There were those who knew weapons, those who knew ghosts and spirits, those who knew about vampires, those who knew the importance of research. I became a goddamn ninja of research, keeping every book I found, even if I didn't know if it was ever going to be useful.

The auto yard became a cemetery of sorts as the vehicles of those who didn't make it came my way. And I kept them. I used them. I hid them.

With Jim's help, I built a safe room in the basement of Karen's house. Devil's trap, iron walls, salt, holy water. It would keep me safe. And it was from there that I survived Karen's demon. It was from there that I found the exorcism. It was from there that I readied myself for battle.

I spent a lot of years backtracking, searching for signs, to the sacrifice of all else in my life. Too many people told me it was hopeless. Finding one demon in a world filled with them at varying intervals was not only impossible; it was madness. But I was determined. Maybe a little obsessed. I found a summoning spell calling for special herbs and some elements I didn't even know existed before this, and I brought it to me.

I stepped from the protection of my iron safe-room to see a girl in front of me, no older than twenty. Her eyes were black, and she smiled Karen's smile. It was strong. I was pinned to the wall almost instantly. But I'd memorized the rite, and before it could kill me, I sent it back to Hell and was left with the shattered shell of the girl lying on the floor of my basement.

But the demon was gone.

I thought my job was done. I'd killed the demon that killed my girl. It had taken me almost twenty years, but I'd done it. And my body showed the scars. My home had become a library of the supernatural. A safe house for the unlucky. A place where secrets stayed quiet.

Then, during the winter of 1990, I met a man who changed my life forever.

John Winchester.


He raised his head, taking a breath, a hot shimmy of need slicing through him at his father's name. This was nothing like what he'd expected. This was a peek into a man he thought he'd known, a man who was like a father to him.

And yet, he realized now, he'd never really known him. He never stopped to ask, never bothered to think.

He'd called when he, or his brother, was in trouble. He'd quietly depended on Bobby without registering exactly what he was doing. He had marked this man as family long before he'd lost his own father. Yet, it had taken the dreamroot for him to find out that Bobby had been married. It had taken climbing from Hell to realize the only person other than Sam he needed to see had been Bobby.

He'd never once called just to say hello. Just to see how the old man was doing. He'd never asked what all this Hell, all this fighting, had done to his friend.

And here it was, in black and white, as if Bobby were speaking to him in his gruff voice, facing him but not really looking at him, telling him in as no-nonsense a way as possible that this was just how it was; there was nothing for it.

Licking his lips, he looked around at the halo of light that stretched to the stairway, leaving darkness like a threat at the edge of the illumination. Rubbing his hand across his mouth in what had become a nervous habit over the years, he pulled out his .45 and laid it on the open journal, saving his place.

Grabbing one of the lanterns, he stepped from the stale air of the house to the cold bite of the night, crawling into the backseat of the waiting Impala for the bag of food he'd purchased on his way over.

He was starving.

Food in hand, he re-entered Bobby's house, settling comfortably at the desk, slipping the gun to the side rather than putting it back into the waistband of his jeans. As he unwrapped one of the sandwiches, he looked at his watch. He had roughly eight hours until sunrise.

Tomorrow was for all the marbles. He had to find that book.

And yet…. Bobby was right. If he didn't know why, what was the point? He had fought for so much, lost so much. His entire life had led up to this war. And he couldn't remember why he was fighting so hard. It didn't really mean anything anymore.

Not without….

Closing his eyes, he pulled in a breath and rolled his lips against his teeth, steadying his suddenly racing heart. When he opened them again, the dark spots that had gathered at the corners of his vision were gone, and he was able to see the room clearly once more.

"So, let's see what you thought about Dad."


Long nights, impossible odds…

Though widespread, the hunting community is tight-knit. There isn't a one of us who wouldn't shelter another. And most of the names are known to someone. People knew about John and his boys, but before John died, the boys knew very little of their own community. Their own family.

John thought he was protecting them. He wasn't.

I met John by accident, but looking back now, I think it was fate. He'd been hunting an incubus, found the damn thing, but it turned the tables on him. Turns out, we were hunting the same thing, only we didn't know it.

I'd tracked it to a small school for girls. It was posing as a teacher there, the bastard. I waited until night, watching the entrance. I had a '72 Charger then, and it was damn cold in that car. I saw someone creep up the front steps. I was sure it was the incubus, though I couldn't figure why it'd left the school in the first place. From what I could find out, it had built its nest there and probably figured it was safe. It dropped to a knee, swiftly picked the lock, and ducked inside.

Grabbing my flask of holy water and the extinction spell, I ran up the stairs behind it, followed it down the hall, then lost it in the dark corridors. Cursing myself, I refocused on the mission and pulled the floor plan from my coat pocket, finding the teacher's lounge. I backtracked, setting up my base of operations in that room, then waited. By all the reports, the hollowed husks of the dead girls had been found in the lounge.

I heard it before I saw it.

The incubus screamed like a lion in heat, the sound echoing down the corridors, shaking the solid wooden door to the lounge and breaking the double-paned windows. I ducked, covering my head. I felt my ears pop with the sound, and I grew suddenly dizzy as warm liquid flowed from my burst eardrums.

I cried out, more from anger than pain, and just about ripped the damn door off its hinges trying to get outside. I wanted to kill that sonuvabitch.

On the other side of the door, two men fought. I was so surprised; I stood and stared as they continued to grapple with each other.

One, I knew, was the incubus. I didn't have a damn clue who the other one was.

"Seen enough?" one of the struggling men yelled to me.

I blinked. His voice was inhumanly loud against my damaged ears.

"Your fuckin' feet glued to the floor or what?"

I moved then, hearing in his growl a familiar plea, an order to step up, stand with him, to fight. I turned and grabbed the holy water, flinging it in an arch toward the man who had not spoken to me, catching him across the face. With a screech of pain that sent both me and the other man to our knees, the incubus backed away, grabbing at its eyes.

"Lost m'gun," the man panted.

"Wouldn't do no good anyway," I yelled back. I held the extinction spell in a trembling hand and began to read.

The incubus writhed, its cry of pain drowning out the sound of my words but not the power of them. The man beside me slipped to the floor, his body bouncing against my legs, but I read to the end. The incubus was smoking, the human shell it inhabited burning before our eyes.

I stopped reading, the effort draining the strength from me. Falling on my ass, I stared as the incubus burst into a blue-white flame, the stench of sulfur overpowering. Breathing shallowly through my mouth, I buried my nose in the crook of my arm and watched until all that was left of it was ash. Turning, I finally looked over at the man lying on the ground beside me.

He was rugged, a shadow of a beard framing his jaw. His dark eyes were both calculating and wounded, and his mouth was firm. He stretched out a hand. It was smeared with blood.

"John Winchester," he said, his voice strangle-me rough. "Damn nice to see you."

"Bobby Singer," I replied. "Where're you hurt?"

He grunted, shifting to his side. I saw a gap in the dark shirt he wore. The exposed flesh was gaping and red, blood slicking his skin and the floor beneath him.

"You tried to stab it?" I asked, incredulous.

"Didn't work out like I'd planned," John confessed.

"You can't stab an incubus," I informed him, getting to my feet and reaching down for him.

"Is that what it was?"

"How long you been doing this?" I asked, frowning at how pale his face got as soon as he was on his feet.

"Since '83," he replied, reaching out for the wall of the corridor to keep himself from falling.

I shook my head and slipped his arm over my shoulder. "Rookie."

He tried to get me to help him to his car, but there was no way he was gonna drive anywhere. I dropped him in the backseat of the Charger and started for my place. That's when he mentioned his boys.

"They're back at the motel, waitin' on me."

"You brought your kids with you?" I was shocked. That was a new one.

"They aren't here, are they?" he replied, his voice tight from pain. He had started to shiver both from the cold and the loss of blood. "I can't leave them there. They got nowhere else to go."

Dean, he said, was his oldest. Said he'd seem easy to read, but don't assume anything. He put a game face on—even at eleven—that could fool anyone. Apparently even his father. Sam was seven, shy, small for his age, and did nothing without his brother.

The way he spoke about them told me all I needed to know about this family. Everything else I learned was just details.

Walking into the motel room with their father bleeding in my arms didn't win me any favors with Dean. His eyes were flinty and I saw the curses die on his lips as he worked to both stand in front of Sam and help me with John.

Sam... Sam just looked scared. Somehow, through all this Hell, I don't think he's ever lost that look.

I got John patched up, got Dean to dial down the fury once I explained about the incubus, and the next morning they were following me to the house in John's '67 Impala. Always did like that car. For a week after that while John healed, the boys slept upstairs, John on the couch, and I opened my library to them.

John soaked up everything I could hand him, healing quickly from his mistake. Sam and Dean spent most of their time in the auto yard playing with my Rot puppy, Cheney, or sleeping. It seemed as though they couldn't sleep enough. Made me wonder how much they slept when John was away.

I watched them once, out in the yard. John was on the couch—I'd just helped him change his bandage. Dean had rigged up a wooden target against a rusted, hollowed-out '74 Mustang that had belonged to a hunter named Cassius Dell. Cash had been good, but the werewolf he'd been after was, unfortunately, better.

I stood in my kitchen, sipping a smooth shot of Jack, and watched the boys. Spread out on the trunk of the Impala was a canvas rollup of knives, varying in size. Dean threw one, hitting the target dead center, the blade twanging and glinting in the cold afternoon sun. I was both impressed and a little afraid. It seemed wrong he was that good at his age.

Then he stood behind his brother, raising Sam's arm, showing him the motion, his lips moving in a constant stream of instruction. When he handed Sam a knife, I tensed. Dean nodded, Sam threw, and the knife embedded itself in the edge of the target.

Sam smiled, dimples I hadn't seen before digging deep into his face. Seeing that smile twisted something in me. I think I knew then that these boys would be part of my life until the end. Dean tipped his head back, saying something obviously obnoxious, and Sam jumped for him. Dean caught him, and in moments the throwing lesson degraded into a half-hearted wrestling match that Cheney was all-too-eager to join in.

They looked like three puppies out there, rolling in the snow: legs, arms, and grins.

John took them away soon after that, heading out for somewhere else. He promised to come back, and he did. They all did. But it was never like that first time. Each time they returned, the boys had seen more, done more, survived more. Their innocence was waning, until one day they showed up and, for Dean, it was gone entirely.

About a year after I met them, I found out what got John into hunting. I heard it from Harvelle, though, not John. Gotta say, it pissed me off to find out secondhand when I had spent so much time with the man. But then again, I hadn't asked. It spooked me a bit to see the similarities in our stories. But the boys…the boys made us different.

They were both his salvation and his damnation.

I'd been free to hunt that little bitch down for twenty years. And John, well, he had four eyes staring at him full of so much false bravado that tragedy was simply an afterimage. But it was there.

I remember the Christmas of '91 when Sam called me. He wanted a gift for his dad, something that would keep him safe. Just so happened I'd come across an amulet. It was Mesopotamian, and I knew it would help fight evil and chaos. The god on the amulet was said to hold the gates of dawn open for the sun god Shamash and support the sun disc. I told Sam it was real special, and that his dad should never take it off.

It came as a surprise when several months later, John and the boys met up with me in Missouri and I saw the amulet around Dean's neck. Sam simply met my eyes and shook his head once. I didn't say a word, and something told me this was where it belonged. Dean was the one who needed the strength to stave off chaos.

While John chased his demons, though, life around here didn't stop. I hope I'm able to tell Dean one day how I figured it out. But so far, the time hasn't been right. Too much has happened to drop this on him now, and I'm too ashamed that I didn't see it sooner for what it was.

When I was in 'Nam, it was sometimes hard to tell the good guys from the bad. North and South Vietnamese sounded the same, looked the same, moved the same. I had to trust, and I don't trust easy. Fighting evil, well, it's not much different. Ghosts and spirits, creatures and demons, they don't always show their true face. And I was fooled a few times.

But I got better.

I got smarter. I read, I collected, I studied up. I took out a ghost in Nebraska that had been terrorizing a family for years. I went to Colorado to meet with Elkins and helped him suss out a nest of vamps, taking them out one at a time. I hooked up with Joshua and Caleb and killed a rakshasa in Texas. Ellen clued me in on some demonic activity in Virginia.

And then, there was the revenant….

Sometime during the summer of '95, I woke up to the sound of the heavy, unmistakable roar of John's Impala.


Shivering suddenly, he sat back, rubbing his eyes. His phone was buzzing in his pocket, and he fished it out, ridiculously hoping it was Sam. Perhaps calling to tell him it had all been a mistake. Everything was okay. He was back now.

It was a text message from a Brooke. He frowned. He didn't remember any Brooke. He scrolled through the message, recognizing sadly familiar lines of You said you'd call, but I thought I'd see if you were around. Here's my number in case you lost it.

He hadn't lost it. He'd never saved it in the first place. He remembered her now: she'd been too thin, her hipbones almost bruising his inner thighs. But her eyes had been soft and her mouth had been willing and he'd needed so badly to escape, even if it was to the dank-smelling darkness of a no-tell motel and the arms of a stranger.

He deleted the text and checked his watch. He'd lost nearly two hours reading, swimming in memories so thick he wanted to brush them away from his face. They made him feel both warm and lonely at the same time. Digging the pads of his finger and thumb across the thin skin of his eyelids, he brought up sparks of light in his vision, blinking them away as he stood and stretched.

He was wasting time. If anyone were still around who gave a damn, they'd be kicking his ass for sitting still, walking down memory lane while he should have been tearing the place apart, finding the book and looking for the anagram. He half-expected the hushed whap of wings to echo in the stillness, heralding the arrival of Castiel or one of his brothers.


Dropping heavily back into the chair, he felt his throat close. Screw the timeline. Screw the anagram. Screw even Cas and his warriors. He wanted to read more. Remember more. Connect with why this whole thing mattered. Remember what it was like to have faith.

Besides, he couldn't remember being at Bobby's the summer of '95.


Give me a chance to survive…

Sam was just about thirteen, but when I stumbled out onto the porch, my boots barely on, my shotgun in my hands, it was him I saw behind the wheel. Some people can step from sleep to awareness with barely a breath. I am not one of those people. It took me several seconds to piece together that if Sam was driving the Impala, it meant that both Dean and John couldn't.

By the time I got down the steps and into the auto yard, Sam was out of the driver's seat and had opened the passenger door. I moved up beside him, questions tangling themselves up in an effort to be the first spoken. They all died on my lips the moment I looked into the backseat.

Dean lay there, still, pale, and bloody. His shirt was off and rolled up into a ball along his waistline. It looked as if he'd been holding it there before he passed out. His face was cut up and his mouth hung open. For one completely terrifying moment, I thought he was dead.

"Dad's back there, Bobby," Sam said, finally giving in to tears now that someone else was there to help. "I had to get Dean out, but Dad's back there."

"Take it easy," I implored. "Is your dad hurt?"

"Yeah." Sam nodded.


"Bad enough," Sam replied, looking nervously at Dean. "Not as bad as Dean, though."

"Okay, son," I said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You did good. Help me get him inside."

"What about Dad?"

"We'll get your dad. Let's take care of your brother first."

Together, we eased Dean's inert body from the back of the Impala and hung him between us. He listed heavily to Sam's side, so I wrapped an arm around his waist to lift him from the ground. I can still remember how cold his skin was, how little his body shuddered with breath.

I wasn't in that hospital when the doctors had to shock him back to life after the accident with the semi-truck. I'm thankful for small mercies. This night was the closest I came to losing Dean without actually seeing him die.

We hauled him inside and laid him on the couch. I pulled the shirt away from his side and my mouth went dry, then flooded with wetness at the sight of the wound.

"What did this?"

"Zombie," Sam said.

"A zombie?" I repeated, surprised.

"Dad called it a reverend, but I think he was wrong."

"Revenant," I whispered, scared. "Get me that big silver flask, Sam. The one on top of the piano."

Sam did as he was told. I instructed him to hold down Dean's shoulders. He obeyed. I told him not to let go, no matter what. He nodded.

I took a breath and started to pour Holy Water on the raw, gaping wound across Dean's belly. Still unconscious, Dean bucked, his back arching, his neck tightening against a scream until his lips tore open and the pain leaped out, to the horror of his little brother. Sam's tears fell on Dean's bloody, sweat-covered forehead unchecked, and still I poured. Steam rose from Dean's belly and still I poured. Dean sagged, spent, limp, his body shaking from shock, and still I poured.

I poured until the flask was empty. As Sam watched his brother shake, his eyes young and bloodshot from emotion, I hurried to the kitchen, filled a pan with warm water, and grabbed a bar of soap from the edge of the sink. It took several minutes to clean the dirt and blood away from the torn flesh. Several minutes of clenched teeth and harsh pants and raw whimpers.

When that was done, I burned the end of a needle to sterilize it and began sewing. Sam slid to the ground, his back against the couch, the side of his face resting against Dean's bare shoulder. As I worked, I questioned Sam, getting details on the hunt, the location, and John's situation. I wrapped Dean's belly in clean white gauze, gave Sam two pain pills should Dean wake, and told him that under no circumstances were they to leave this room.

I was scared.

More than I'd ever been going into a fight. Dealing with a wounded kid—even if it was a seventeen-year-old wise-ass with an eye for ladies and a mouth of sin—never sat well with me. And the hell of it was, I loved this kid. Like he was my own.

He walked through fire for his family, every day, and he never asked for a thing. He put up a front, holding people far enough away that he could keep an eye on them, but he was playing wounded and he was lonely and someone needed to see that one of these days.

Someone like his damn father.

Sam…. Sam was different. I cared about him. I did. I worried for him, and as long as Dean was around, I would do anything for the kid. But there was something about Sam that kept me from anteing up. Something I hadn't ever been able to pinpoint until recently.

But, looking back, it was something I saw in him early on.

I got to the house where Sam said John was holed up. I had rock salt, Holy Water, and a silver-tipped spike. I aimed to stake that bastard into his grave for hurting Dean like he had. I drove the Charger through the walls of the old house, bringing part of the second floor down on the roof of the car and getting out in the middle of dust-filled chaos.

I yelled for John.

"Over here!"

"Where is it?"

He didn't sound good when he answered. "Upstairs."

Instinct had me looking over my shoulder as I recalled the ceiling falling in on my now-demolished car. It stood on the roof of my car. I had time to take a quick breath before it launched at me, all red eyes and sharp nails. I dodged the lethal nails, knowing they were what had filleted Dean, and shot it with a double-barrel round of rock salt. It crumpled, but I knew it wasn't down.

"Where's the grave?"

"Outside," John gasped.

"No shit, Sherlock!"

"Out the back door, fifty yards!"

I took off, hearing it behind me. I ran like the devil himself was after me. John, or one of the boys, had dug up the grave. I turned just as I reached it, and the revenant launched itself at me. Momentarily forgetting I wasn't twenty years old anymore, I tried to dodge it. My hip seized up and it caught me, dropping both of us into the bottom of the coffin.

I swore. A lot. I fought with it, keeping its nails away, keeping its saliva from my mouth and eyes, screaming my fuckin' head off for John to get his ass out there and help me.

After what seemed like half of forever, I felt the revenant jerk, then stiffen. I slipped out from underneath it and climbed from the coffin, unable to get free of the grave. John was down there with us, and he used the entire force of his body's weight to lean on the silver-tipped spear, driving it through the creature and pinning it to its coffin, killing it.

Panting, we looked at each other. His head was bleeding, one eye red from it, and his right hand was obviously broken, held close to his chest.

"Hey, Bobby," he wheezed.

"Hey, yourself, ya idjit," I snarled. "Now what?"

By the time we got out of the grave, it was dawn. We unburied the Charger, and it limped back to the auto yard, well on its way to becoming one with the rusted lot. By the time we reached the boys, Dean was burning up with fever, muttering loudly and incoherently. Sam had worn a hole in the carpet from pacing.

Gotta give him credit, though. He hadn't left that room.

I had started working on a late sixties model Chevelle and, while it wasn't pretty, it was running. I piled the Winchesters in the car and drove them to the hospital. Sam and I played word association games in the waiting room while the doctors took care of his father and brother. When Sam was allowed to go back, he made a beeline for Dean, leaving me to wonder why he replied "fiction" when I gave him the word "happy."

I looked in on John, saw him sitting up in bed, his face patched up and his hand wrapped like a boxer's. He nodded to me, and I tipped him a salute, then moved to Dean's room. Sam was standing at the foot of his brother's bed, Dean's amulet in his fist. Dean had taken to wearing a silver ring on his right hand, I'd noticed. I didn't know where it came from or what it meant to him, but Sam held that as well.

Dean was awake, though barely. His eyes looked bruised, his face was pale, his voice weak, but he was grinning at his brother. And Sam smiled back. I stepped away, knowing it was their moment, not wanting to interrupt, but vowing to help them keep that bond for as long as I could.

I almost made it.

When everyone else was stocking up for Y2K, I was reading. About demons and angels. About Heaven and Hell. About why there has to be both. Why we're doomed or destined, depending on how I decided to tilt my head on a given day, to constantly struggle, constantly fight, lose more often than we win. What I lost sight of for a while there was that sometimes we did win.

John reminded me of that.

He showed up one day, without the boys, not long after New Year's Day, 2000. We'd all survived the turn of the millennium, and John Winchester was at my door with a bottle of Jack, two glasses, and a grin. Dean, he said, had found a honey at a bar and had been playing house for three days. He figured one more and the boy would be back. He wasn't worried. Sam was studying for his PSATs, though, according to John, he didn't know why the kid bothered. Everyone knew he was smart. Wasn't that enough?

I decided to switch to safer topics, and we started in about demons. I had to tread lightly when it came to John's boys. I had to remember they weren't mine.

John told me about the pattern of demonic activity he'd been trying to pin down. He spoke slowly, his voice a lazy drawl. After a while, I think he forgot he was talking to me. He was so close, he said. So close to finding the bastard. So close to killing it. He needed to find the Colt, he said, and predict the demon's location, rather than just follow it.

I knew the flavor he was tasting at that moment.

I remembered it. I didn't tell him; he didn't need to know. He was wrapped up in his revenge and seeing the light at the end of his tunnel. There was something that brushed the edges of his words, though. I asked him what he wasn't telling me, and he looked at me for the first time in about an hour.

His eyes were cloudy, far away, drunk.

"I'm running out of time."

I frowned, but I didn't need to prompt him.

"Sammy…he's getting old enough…they're gonna want him."


"Dean'll take care of him. He'll watch over him. He'll do what's right, but…"

"But what, John?" I felt cold listening to him talk about Dean. There was a detachment there, a purposeful separation. As if he needed to think about his eldest as a weapon, something to be triggered, something to be used. As if Sam was somehow more important.

"Dean can't keep all the demons away." John sighed, pouring himself another shot.

I took the bottle from him, waiting for more. But John was done talking about it. He switched to bragging about his boys' success in their latest hunt without him. He'd sent them to northern Montana after reports of a yeti terrorizing a small town, killing young animals and attacking the local sheriff. He had me in tears laughing as he recounted Dean's complete disgust at being asked to go after the Abominable Snowman.

"He tells me," John said, wheezing from laughter, "that we weren't in a fuckin' Scooby-Doo cartoon."

"Damn yeti would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those meddling kids," I cackled.

"They couldn't take the Impala, of course, which just pissed Dean off that much more."

I nodded, wiping my eyes. It had been a long time since I'd laughed that hard. Though, I could sympathize with Dean. Boy was twenty-one. More than capable of finding his own hunts, making his own decisions. John just sent them on that hunt to show Dean he was still in charge, still their general. And ten-to-one, Dean knew that.

Sam had devised a trap; Dean had been the bait. They'd caught it, killed it, disposed of it, and returned home, the small Montana town safe once more and still none the wiser about what had been plaguing it or who had saved it.

When the boys got back, John told them they'd done a good job, but the only thing that improved Dean's mood was the blonde he'd hooked up with in the bar. Sam, though, told him he had a whole new appreciation for the people who swear Bigfoot is real. I smiled, watching my friend think of his boys.

Sometimes we win.

It wasn't long after that, though, that Sam turned everyone's world upside down.


Exhaustion made his eyes burn. He rubbed the heels of his hands into his sockets, trying to generate enough liquid to alleviate the gritty feeling each time he blinked. He checked his phone once more, even though he hadn't heard it ring or felt it vibrate. Nothing.

Rolling his bottom lip against his teeth, he scrolled down to Sam's name, staring at it for a full minute before he closed the phone. Not now. Not until he had something to tell him. Pushing away from the desk, he stood up, rolling his neck. The whiskey had gone through him, and he headed down the hall toward the bathroom, remembering at the last minute that the water had also been shut off.

"Damn," he muttered, zipping up and starting for the back door.

In the dark, he bounced off a door frame and stumbled over a pile of books before he reached the door. Grumbling, he stepped outside and took care of business. As he headed back inside, the moonlight shone through the opened door to illuminate the pile of books he'd tripped over on his way out.

Narrowing his eyes, he peered closer at the spine of one.

"Oh, you gotta be kidding me."

The Key of Solomon.

He hadn't seen this book since dropping it into the trunk of the Impala so long ago, before John drove away to Jefferson City, possession, and, eventually, his death. Bobby had it in a stack of books in his back hall. The book was supposed to hold the solution, according to Castiel, and it was in the middle of a stack of books in the back hall of a house that no one had been inside since Bobby—

He caught his breath, unable to really complete the thought. Bending, he picked up the book and headed back to the desk. Two of the candles had burned down to nothing, dimming the light in the room. He sat slowly, opening the large, ancient volume on top of Bobby's journal.

Whether it was nostalgia from reading about his youth, exhaustion from fighting for days on end, or simply missing his brother, he was struck with a vivid memory of Sam sitting in this same place, doing this same thing years ago.

Before Dad died.

Before demon blood and angels.

Before Hell.

He swallowed, rubbing his eyes once more, unable to ease the ache that burned there.

"Okay." He sighed, dropping his hand and lifting his head. "Okay."

Everything stops until we get him back.

He'd said those words, just before coming to Bobby's with Sam for help years ago. It was the first time they'd seen the old man since he'd kicked John out by force. Sam hadn't been there then. Sam had been the reason.

Swallowing, he began to scan the book, the words floating above the pages as if in 3D, meaningless, without order, empty.

"Gotta focus," he chided himself.

The anagram had something to do with numbers. An ancient formula that would halt a demon in its tracks, send it into stasis, and retrieve the soul that rightfully belonged in the body. All he had to do was find it, make it a part of him, and have the balls to say it at the right time.

"Sammy, damn it, where are you when I need you?"

He wanted everything to stop. He wanted to put it all on hold, until he got Sam back. But he didn't have that choice this time.

The book was a strange mixture of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, the signs and symbols familiar but his understanding of them flirting on the edge of his knowledge. Sam would know where to look right away, he was sure.

Rubbing his eyes once more, he resisted the urge to take another shot of whiskey.

He shifted the large book to turn yet another page and thought about Bobby's journal. He knew where the old man was heading next. Sam leaving for Stanford. The decision he'd fought for, stood up to John for. He had wanted Sam to be able to go, even as it hurt to watch him leave.

Looking back, he was willing to bet that was the decision that set the course for their destruction.


Keeping my back to the wall…

I found out by accident, really.

Hadn't seen the Winchesters in several months; had a spirit problem in 'Frisco, and was heading down the 101 through Palo Alto when I stopped for gas. The Chevelle was a powerful car, but she wasn't built for beauty. Stood out a bit in that tricked-out town. I heard my name as I stood at the pump, and looked up with shock.


His grin was sunny, dimples telegraphing loud and clear, but there were shadows in his eyes that I don't know if he'd recognize on his own.

"What the hell you doin' here, kid?"

"Goin' to school," he revealed.

I thought back to that winter a couple of years prior when John had said Sam was studying for his PSATs, and cylinders began to click into place. Sam'd had this planned for a long time.

"Where's Dean?"

Sam's smile faltered. "With Dad."

"They're not here?"


He didn't say anything else, but then again, he didn't need to. The shadows told the rest of the story. I bullshitted with him for several minutes, until a leggy blonde with a killer smile and the prettiest eyes I'd seen in seven states came out of the coffee shop next to the gas station. She stepped up to Sam and put her arm around his waist, fitting against him like a missing piece of his puzzle.

He introduced me as Uncle Bobby, and I shook her hand. I knew she was special to him, and my heart hurt for her. There were things that followed Sam, things I wasn't clear on at the time but still had suspicions about. Things that could get those around him—those who loved him—hurt. I told him to take care of himself, not to be a stranger, and headed out.

I hadn't been home for more than a day when John's black truck and the Impala pulled into my lot. The Impala was limping. I knew instinctively that Dean had insisted they come here to fix her if they were anywhere in the vicinity.

I headed out to greet them, recognizing immediately that a storm was brewing between them when John jumped from his truck, slamming the door, and stalked toward the Impala. He lit into Dean like I'd never seen before.

And Dean took it.

I can't really recall what the fight was about, truth be told. Just that John was pissed, Dean was pissed, and when one yelled, the other fumed. I waited until they both took a breath at the same time and broke in.

"Anyone need some coffee?"

John and Dean stared at each other for a full minute before John turned away and pushed past me into the house. I stayed where I was, watching the kid. He didn't move until his father was out of both eye and earshot. Then he seemed to sag in on himself.

"You comin' in?" I asked.

"Need a minute," he said, and his voice was tight.

"Rough hunt?"

He looked at me then, and it was as if instead of eyes, someone had cut two raw holes in his face. I felt my heart catch.

"They're all rough now, Bobby," he said.

Without Sam, he meant. They were all rough because they were no longer three. The family balance was broken, and Dean wasn't strong enough to be two people. Ask me, he shouldn't have had to be.

But, no one asked.

"What's wrong with the Impala?"

He told me, and I pointed to where he could find some spare parts. He nodded his thanks and moved away. I noticed he was limping as well, favoring his right leg, but he didn't say a word about it.

I went inside to find John inspecting one of my shotguns. I waited for him to talk to me, tell me about Sam, tell me why he was tearing into his own kid like a drill sergeant with a new recruit. He didn't say anything for the longest time. I stepped up to him and took the shotgun from his hands.

"He's getting sloppy."

"Who, Dean?"

John nodded.

"How so?" I asked, feeling strangely defensive on Dean's behalf.

"Not checking his six, not knowing his enemy. You see his leg?" He still wasn't looking at me.

"Saw he was limping."

"Yeah, well, he almost lost it. Couple more hours and he might've."

"That can happen to any of us," I tried.

John looked up then. The skin beneath his eyes was purple from lack of sleep, the lids swollen and red from nights of drinking. His eyes had always been dark, but now they were fathomless. I knew that look, had seen it in the mirror many times in my past.

"You haven't lost him, John," I said. "Sam's out there."

John snarled, his lip curling up. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"I know you got a smart kid in college, and a smart kid beside you, that's what I know."

"Dean isn't the same without his brother," John yelled, pointing toward the window, directly at where Dean stood bent over the open hood of the Impala. "He's weak."

"I find that hard to believe," I replied. "You trained him, John. He's you."

"He's nothing like me," John spat, shaking his head. "This thing goes sideways, Dean's the one who has to pull us through, and he's not fuckin' strong enough."

I didn't know what he was talking about, but I didn't like the direction he was heading.

"Look," I said. "You're tired, you're hurting, and I think you're a little bit drunk. Why don't you sleep it off?" I raised my hand to rest it on his shoulder, but he pushed me away roughly.

"Forget it," he said. "Soon as Dean has what he needs, we're moving on."

"Well, I'm so glad I could be of service," I said, dropping the barrel of the shotgun into the cradle of my arm. "Anything else I can do for you? Ammo, fuel, fake ID, willing woman?"

"You don't get it, Bobby," John said, turning slightly away from me. "There's no room for mistakes in this."

"You're right." I moved toward the door with the intent to give Dean a hand. "I don't get it. You know why? Because you haven't come down off your goddamned high horse long enough to let us little people in on the joke. But you know what I do get?"

John faced me, his eyes dead.

"I get that you're pushing Dean away. That you've been pushing him away since Sam learned the truth about his mom and hunting. That kid would lie down in traffic for you, and you act like you couldn't care less."

"That's right!" John bellowed, angry, hurting, irrational. I knew that, but it still pissed me off. "That's right, and you know why? Because this fuckin' thing is bigger than Dean or me or Sam or you. I can't afford to care."

"He's your son, John!"

"He's a soldier in a war."

"Are you shittin' me?"

"He's a soldier. And soldiers die." John's red-rimmed eyes suddenly swam. "They die, Bobby."

"What, and you just can't live with that?"

"I lived through Mary. I won't live through Dean."

"So you'd rather just use him, huh? Put him on your path and turn your back?"


I knew he was lying, to himself, to me. But I also knew Dean had heard this. I knew because the rhythmic metal-on-metal clicking had stopped. And my heart hurt.

"Get out," I said, my voice low.


"Get the fuck out of my house, John Winchester."

He started to move past me, standing in the open doorway.

"Calm down, Bobby."

I raised the shotgun. "Get the hell out. I don't want to see you again."


I cocked the shotgun, and like magic, Dean appeared on the porch behind his father.

"C'mon, Dad."

"You get what you need?" John asked, facing me. His chin was lowered, his eyes intent.

"Let's just go."

Dean didn't look at me; his entire focus was on his father. I kept the shotgun up, pointed at John, waiting. John simply looked back, and I'll never forget the look of despair in his eyes.

I'll never forget it because it was the last time I ever saw him alive.


His head was propped in his hands.

His neck coiled with tension and sorrow. John had been pretty messed up when Sam left, for a long time. But he'd come around. Not vocally, maybe, but it had been there in his eyes at the end. He'd heard pride in his father's voice. Seen love in his eyes.

It was the only thing he'd truly believed in before being hauled out of Hell. It was the one constant in his life.

His dad had faith in him.

I'm so proud of you.

His dad had known.


My God, I'm hardly alive…

There are times when predictions are laughable, and times when you take cover.

During 2004 and 2005, I took cover. I read. A lot. Most of the books I'd gathered were in Latin, Sumerian, or Greek, but there were some that were in Hebrew and even Aramaic. Took me forever to translate those bastards, and I still haven't worked my way through them all. One thing was sure: men have been tempting fate to try to kill each other for a helluva long time. And demons have been walking the earth since before time began.

One major setback in the fight to defeat evil was the burning of Alexandria's Great Library in about 415 B.C. So much history was lost. Some even say the Library held the secret to defeating any demon, better than any weapon. Books upon books mention the Bibliotheca's destruction as the first great victory of Lucifer.

All I know is, Alexandria or no Alexandria, demonic possessions spiked, and spiritual activity was off the charts. Hunters around the country were fighting and dying at a rate unheard of in my lifetime. My friends were dwindling, and I was scared. I kept tabs on those I could, using an information network to find out about the others.

The name that kept coming up, over and over, was Winchester.

I couldn't get details, except that they were popular. And not the kind of popularity that would win them any prizes, either; the kind that would get them killed. I found out about Elkins' death and the Colt. I remembered what John had said about needing to find the Colt, and I knew he had been somehow tangled up in that mess. I was looking through an old text I'd come across years before called the Key of Solomon when the boys knocked at my door.

I wasn't surprised to see them, to be honest. It was as if I'd been waiting for them for the last two years. I was surprised to see them without John, though. And then Dean told me what had happened.

His voice was all bravado when he said he hadn't been sure they should come here, considering how things had been left. I could tell in a glance that Sam didn't know what had happened and that Dean wasn't ready to rehash it. I left it with a simple, "we take care of our own."

And just like that, I was Uncle Bobby again.

Dean filled me in on the last couple of years—travels with John, working hunts on his own, the "hotties" down in New Orleans, and finally, Sam's girlfriend—while Sam stood on a chair and spray-painted a Devil's Trap on my ceiling. There was no way they were far enough ahead of the demon that it wasn't going to get to me. I was sure I could handle myself, but Dean had sounded pretty shaken up when he told me about Caleb and Jim.

I hadn't let that news sink in. I wasn't going to, either. Not until I got their daddy back. I didn't want to lose another friend.

I was shocked as hell when that girl walked through the door. Not that the demon had found the boys so quickly, but that she looked so damn human. It was Karen all over again. She'd killed Rumsfeld on her way in, the bitch. I really loved that damned dog.

She tossed Dean and I across the room like she was swatting a fly, but the Devil's Trap caught her. As Dean worked her over, the barely controlled anger in his voice scared me. He sounded so much like John. Looking back, I realize now what I was seeing: Dean without his family.

John had built himself a warrior, all right. He'd secured a soldier in Dean and called it good. But from where I stood, he'd completely missed the wounded kid bottled up inside. And I realize now that it was that kid who broke in Hell. Not the man who had fought so hard, sacrificed so much.

It kills me, knowing what I do, to look back and see that.

I made sure to salt all the doors and windows, keeping any other demons out as Dean questioned this one on the whereabouts of his father. The more she resisted, baiting him, the angrier Dean became until he was practically shaking.

At one point, he leaned close, screaming at her, "Hey, you think this is a friggin' game? Where is he? What did you do to him?"

"He died screaming. I killed him myself." The blonde smiled wickedly.

I felt my stomach turn as Dean straightened up. When he hit her, I took a step back. It was a sight I'd never thought I'd see: Dean Winchester hitting a woman. But he'd been searching for John for so long that to have found him again only to lose him to the very demons they were hunting…well, it was starting to turn cracks into crevasses inside him.

Still, I knew I had to stop him. I called him over to me.

"She's lying, he's not dead." He said it as though he was trying to convince himself.

"Dean, you've got to be careful with her. Don't hurt her." Any more than she'd already been hurt, anyway. I started to feel lightheaded, seeing Karen's face on the demon, feeling my hand plunge the knife in again.

I had killed countless demons, spirits, and creatures in the years between Karen and now. But in this moment, with Sam's fear saturating the air around us and Dean's fury heating it to a boiling point, all I could think about was my girl and the lust I had for the hunt to get her true killer.


"Because she really is a girl, that's why!"

"What are you talkin' about?" Sam asked, confused.

"She's possessed. That's a human possessed by a demon, can't you tell?"

What the hell had John been teaching them? How could they have gotten this far without being able to recognize the innocent? Did he really ingrain a shoot first, ask questions later mentality into them? I swallowed the burn of bile at the back of my throat as Dean looked back at the blonde with a mixture of disbelief, wonder, and hope.

"You're tryin' to tell me there's an innocent girl trapped somewhere in there?"

I nodded, feeling my heart freeze. Innocence under a demonic façade. Had Karen ever tried to reach out to me? Not for the first time, I found myself watching Dean, trying to seek out what was on his mind, trying to prepare for his next move.

"That's actually good news."

She didn't make it.

Dean's need for his father was so overpowering, so strong, that nothing I would have said would have stopped him. He got the location from the demon, and Sam completed the exorcism. The broken girl the demon left behind died on my floor, and I wished the boys luck as I figured out what I'd say to the cops.

As they left me, Dean looked back, my silver flask of holy water in his hand. There was something in his eyes when he thanked me. Something that made me want to run after them, leave the dead girl to the cops, keep them in my sights. But I didn't. I let them go face the darkness alone, just as John had. Just as everyone in their lives had.

And I regret that choice to this day.

Sam was the one to bring me up to speed a few days later. It's strange when I think about it. I felt for the kid. I'd fight for him, beside him. I'd protect him. But I never really connected with him. Not like Dean, anyway. I guess I kinda thought I didn't need to. Dean's connection to Sam was stronger than anything I could have offered in the wake of his father's death.

I didn't move much in the days between the boys walking away from the house and the phone call I'd been dreading. I wanted to hear John's voice, have him give me hell for being such a softie, have him take the long way around thanking me for helping his boys.

But it was Sam who called.

He needed help towing the Impala back to the auto lot before the people in the impound yard discovered what was in the trunk. Dean was hurt, he said. Real bad. In as few words as possible, he told me about finding the demon—their demon—and it possessing John. He told me about the torture, the bleeding, the utter destruction those few moments in the cabin in Missouri had had on their fragile family.

I agreed to help, hung up the phone, and cried.

The Impala no longer even resembled a car. I knew Sam had been driving, and I was amazed, when I finally saw what was left, that he had walked away, or at least was walking now. The boy should have been dead. The backseat, though, was gone. The mangled bits of vinyl left behind were smeared with the dark stain of blood.

Dean's blood.

John had said he was a soldier. And soldiers die.

Sam showed up shortly after me, his face battered, his eyes lost. I wanted to hug the kid. He examined the car as if seeing the destruction for the first time.

"Oh, man, Dean is gonna be pissed."

I swallowed. "Look, Sam. This…this just ain't worth a tow. I say we empty the trunk, sell the rest for scrap."

I was already thinking of several cars in my lot that I could give them. They just needed a little spit and polish.

"No." Sam shook his head, his eyes pinned to the mangled car. "Dean would kill me if we did that. When he gets better, he's gonna want to fix this."

Frowning, I shook my head. "There's nothing to fix! The frame's a pretzel, and the engine's ruined. There's barely any parts worth salvaging."

Sam looked up at me then, and I saw his father in his eyes. "Listen to me, Bobby. If there's only one working part, that's enough. We're not just going to give up on…."

I heard the kid I'd first met in his tight voice. The kid who wanted his big brother back, in one piece, alive. I realized this car was more than just a car. It represented Sam's family—the only true home he'd ever known. And in its own way, the car was Dean.

I agreed, humbled by Sam's belief in his brother. In the strength of his brother. Then he handed me a piece of paper, asking if I could get some stuff for John. I looked, the words "oil of Abramelin" catching my eye. Sam told me John wanted it for protection from the demon.

I knew better. I knew because I'd used these exact components to summon Karen's demon. I knew because it was the first time I'd dared such a thing, and I would never forget that strange mix of fear and excitement.

John was going to summon the demon. To kill it…to trap it…to deal with it, I didn't know. But it sure as hell wasn't for protection.

Sam guessed before I could tell him and the betrayal in his eyes turned swiftly to anger. He went through the trunk while I got him the items on the list he'd asked for. I dropped him off at the hospital on my way back to my place, pitying John for the wrath his youngest was about to bring down upon him.

I waited for word, staring at my phones until my eyes burned. Late the next evening, I got another call. It was Sam. John was dead. Dean was healed.

My head spun. I drove back to the hospital with a sick feeling in my stomach. We were on a dangerous road, one that lead to a dead end for some—if not all—of us. The boys didn't speak as they climbed into the car. Dean had a deep cut on his forehead, and his eyes were hollow. Sam was openly crying.

I told them I'd help them get the body from the hospital and asked about John's truck. Dean didn't speak. Sam just shrugged and said as far as he knew, it was back in Jefferson City.

Burning John's body wasn't something I could be a part of. Not because I didn't want to be. But because it was so personal, so very hard. I had to give them time to grieve, to let it out. I decided I'd just be there when they needed me. But I planned on keeping a close eye on them.

Dean's quiet was heavy.

His body may have been miraculously healed, but something much deeper was broken. He was a soldier without a general, without a mission, and he was sinking. Every day, he got up before either of us, and went out to the lot to work on the Impala. The sounds of Bad Company, AC/DC, and Led Zeppelin melded throughout the day with the tinny echo of clashing metal, curses at inanimate objects, and the zing and snap of the blowtorch.

Sam paced, worrying, digging through what little possessions they had left. He was scared and desperate and searching. I tried to think of how he might be feeling, knowing he'd dealt with loss more recent than either Dean or I. But I couldn't find it. I couldn't connect.

One day, a couple weeks after John's death, Sam asked to borrow a car. I had a minivan running and gladly handed over the keys. A hunt was exactly what they needed. Get back on the horse. Start talking to each other again.

I had no idea until they returned—without my minivan—that they'd gone to the Roadhouse and met Ellen and Jo for the first time. There was so much John hadn't told them. But he was gone now…and I'm sure he'd had his reasons.

Dean immediately went back to the Impala. Sam sort of folded in on himself, but I watched him walk out to the lot, his stride purposeful, intent on talking with Dean. I knew when he'd reached his brother: the banging stopped.

I had been listening for him, waiting almost. Sam walked past the front of the house, his head low, the hem of his loose-fitting gray t-shirt balled up in his fists. I saw his shoulders flinch when the sound of glass breaking echoed across my car lot. He didn't stop, though, didn't turn around. He just kept walking. I stepped out onto the porch. Metal-on-metal followed the breaking glass, and I followed the sound, moving away from Sam, toward what, I didn't know.

When I saw Dean, my heart broke. Like a dried twig stepped on in the woods. Snap.

He was leaning on the dented trunk of the Impala's shell, breathing hard, his shoulders shaking. I could almost see his world cracking around him. Life is hard enough when you don't have a hero, but I can't imagine the weight that bears down on you when you feel like a hollowed-out shell and are still expected to soldier on.

I said his name, softly, but he recoiled as if I'd yelled.

"Go away, Bobby," he said, raspy.

"You don't have to do this by yourself, you know."

"Please," he said, still not facing me. "I can't. Not right now."

I nodded, though he couldn't see me. Pain like that is a personal thing. It's not something someone can dig you out of—no matter who they are or how much they love you. Pain like that, you want to wrap it around you and bury yourself in it. Pain like that you want to keep close because it's all you've got left after the world has its say.

I'd been there. I knew.

It took Dean another two weeks, but he got the Impala back together, better than she was before, if you ask me. They left then, and while I was sorry to see them go, I was ready to get my space back. I'd lived alone too long to not covet my solitude.

Life tried to return to normal, or as normal as it ever was for a hunter. I kept tabs on the boys. I knew they'd met up with Gordon, thanks to Ellen. I knew they'd gotten themselves arrested, twice, the idjits. I knew Sam broke his hand.

Somewhere in there, something cracked between them. I didn't know what it was or when it happened, but when I saw them next, it was clear.


After all this time, after everything that had happened, after Hell, he thought the weight of John's words, his final order, would have been transparent.

But reading the memory in Bobby's neat handwriting brought it back with dizzying suffocation. He stood up, moving to the window. The moon was bright, casting a silver glow on the empty bodies of dozens of cars.

It was so quiet.

"What the hell am I doing anyway?" He put his back to the window, staring at the desk, another candle dead. "Walking down memory lane?"

He had to finish this. Now.

Closing the journal, he purposefully set it aside, resting his .45 on top of it. Grabbing the Key of Solomon, he continued to scan the pages, words from Bobby's hand teasing him in the silence of the room.

He began to hum, the sound of a slow guitar clear in his head.

The night birds called to one another outside the window, and he felt more alone than ever before. He began to sing.

"Well, I know my baby, if I see her in the dark…I said I know my rider, if I see her in the dark…."

He could almost hear Sam's predicable groaning protest as he sang.

"See my baby, tell her hurry on home. I ain't had, Lord, my right mind, since my rider's been gone…."

He turned another page. Then another. No simple exorcism could help them now. No weapon would save his brother, no deal, no sacrifice. Archangels, guardians, prophets: none of them mattered now. It was down to the wire, and he was left with a renegade angel as his only ally.

What had Castiel said about numbers? They led to an ancient formula that would save Sam from himself.

"A formula that even the angels don't know about?" He shook his head in doubt, not for the first time.

As he turned another page, however, he drew back in surprise. Shoved between the creases of papers was a folded parchment, obviously old, edges brittle. He stood slowly, leaning over the book to get a better look. It didn't feel like paper. More like...dried leather, or animal hide.

He eased it out, opening it up carefully.

It was covered with letters. The same ones, over and over.


Repeating in rows and rows.

Baffled, he leaned one of the lanterns closer. At the bottom of the parchment was a word in Greek: Ἀλεξάνδρεια.

"Alexandria? Why do I know this, why do I know this?" he muttered to himself, flipping back through the Key of Solomon, searching his memory for what he'd read, what he knew, why that mattered.

The only thing he could find was a repeating of one phrase in Greek: Ένα όνομα

"One name…one name…one name what?"

He saw it again, several pages later, only this time in Hebrew: שם אחד

"Arrrggghhh!" He lifted his head, raising his eyes to the ceiling. "Listen! You and me, we gotta come to some understanding here, okay? There's only so much I can do!"

Looking back at the parchment, he shook his head.

"I don't get it…one name…a bunch of letters…." Rubbing the palms of his hands into his burning eyes, he called out to the emptiness. "Seriously! What the hell?"

He needed Sam. He missed Bobby. He was lonely for his father. He wanted to stop. He wanted to fuckin' sleep.

Picking up the bottle of Jack, he unscrewed the cap and took a swig directly from the bottle. He couldn't do this alone.


Where happiness is only a heartbeat away…

I was happy to see him, to be honest. It had been a long time.

But when he smiled at me, there was something in his eyes…a nothingness that hadn't been there before. Could have easily been the hell they'd been through. Could have been time wearing him down. But I put the Holy Water in his beer just to be safe.

It made me sick to hit him. Made me sick to know that thing was inside of him. But I was done with demons taking people I loved. I tied him up under the same Devil's Trap he'd painted and called his brother.

The relief in Dean's voice was palpable. But he was hurting, I could tell. He got here in record time driving the piece of shit car he'd boosted.

We started the exorcism, ready to reclaim our Sam, when the demon inside him laughed. I about bit my tongue mid-word. When I saw the binding link on Sam's arm, my heart plummeted. I'd heard of these, but I hadn't found a way to combat them.

A guy can only read so fast.

The demon in Sam cracked my ceiling, breaking the Devil's Trap, then broke free. Before I could do anything, it tossed me across the room. I was dizzy, disoriented, cloudy, but I could see Sam stand and go after Dean, who was lying on the floor in a heap. It took me too long to get to my feet, too long to gain my balance, too long to think of the fireplace poker.

The demon was beating the hell out of Dean. Its words tore at him from the inside out, and it used Sam's fists to break him on the outside.

"You couldn't save your dad, and deep down, you know that you can't save your brother. They'd have been better off without you."

I heard this, felt my stomach turn, my hackles rise, and saw Sam lift his arm for a killing blow. I grabbed him, pressing the heated iron across the binding link, and prayed to whoever might be listening that this would work.

It did. Sam came around.

And Dean hit him, right before he passed out.

Dean was a mess. A barely patched bullet wound—that a shocked and shaken Sam realized he'd been the cause of—and bruises on top of bruises. I hauled Dean up, dragging him to my couch, Sam following mutely behind.

Midway through stitching up his shoulder, Dean woke up, looking around, and panicked. Sam stepped in close, not speaking, but getting in his eye line. Dean relaxed, and I finished my job. They sat at my desk, Sam icing his burn, Dean icing his face, and stared at each other for a while.

I'd heard about Steve Wandell. I knew it had been the demon in Sam that had killed him, and that Sam would keep that ugly memory. I felt for the kid, I really did. But I was afraid for them both. I gave them charms to ward off possession. We hadn't killed that demon. All we'd done was delay it for a while.

I kept closer tabs on them after that, and it was a good thing I did. Their first run-in with a trickster turned them into a couple of squabbling puppies chewing on each others' ears. As ridiculous a situation as that was, it was good to fight alongside them again, help remind them they are, first and foremost, brothers.

But John was right. They were also soldiers. And soldiers die.

I never again want to hear fear in Dean's voice like I did that fall day when he asked me to meet him halfway and help him find Sam. He told me they'd stopped for pie. That things had been going well. That they'd been really connected lately.

And then, Sam was gone. All that was left were three dead bodies and traces of sulfur. I had a bad feeling. A real bad feeling. The storm that had started so long ago—before our time, really, back with Alexanderia—was picking up speed, and we'd run out of places to find shelter.

We got to the Roadhouse too late to save Ash. I was sick at heart, and Dean…well, he was so tense with worry, he was practically shaking. Losing Sam would kill him.

I knew that then. I know it now.

The vision hit Dean like a tidal wave. His face collapsed in pain, his breath whooshed out, and his knees buckled as he fell across the Impala's hood, holding his head. At first, I couldn't tell what was happening. Neither could he. But it hit him again, then again. Each time he became visibly paler, using the Impala as support, until at last I stepped close, ready to catch him if he went all the way down.

He'd seen a bell with an oak tree on it. I didn't question how or why, just pointed him in the right direction for Cold Oak, South Dakota. I felt time thinning out on us, the devil at our heels. I felt Dean turning to glass on the seat next to me.

We were too late.

Dean's call of his brother's name settled in my gut like a rock as I ran after the kid who'd stabbed Sam. I lost him in the woods at the edge of the small ghost town. By the time I returned, Sam was gone, hanging limp in Dean's arms.

All I could think was no. No no no no no no no….

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Dean couldn't lose everyone. How was that right? How could we keep fighting the good fight when all our reasons to struggle were taken from us? Wordlessly, I helped Dean to his feet, Sam's lanky form clutched tightly against him. He wouldn't let me help him carry Sam indoors. He lifted his brother's dead weight across his shoulders, bowing from the effort, struggling in the mud, legs shaking, eyes devastated, and looked to me for where to go next.

I found an abandoned house near the spot where Sam had died and led Dean in there. He laid his brother on the bed, then sat facing Sam, simply staring at him, his shoulders bowed, his entire being raw.

I watched. I waited. I went outside and paced. I cried. I cursed. I watched some more.

But Dean wouldn't leave Sam. He wouldn't eat. He wouldn't drink. He simply stared at his brother.

I wondered if this was what Jim Murphy had seen when he'd found me with Karen. I wondered how Jim was able save me. I wondered how I could save Dean. I won't ever forget walking away from him that day, or what he said, how he looked.

"Dean...I hate to bring this up, I really do. But don't you think maybe it's time...we bury Sam?"


Jim had burned Karen. He'd done it for me. He'd made sure it was done right.

"We could maybe..."

"What? Torch his corpse?"

I waited.

His voice was barely audible. "Not yet."

I was losing ground. I couldn't leave him. I couldn't stay. I tried to get him to come with me, but he wouldn't budge. I tried to appeal to the soldier in him, telling him I needed his help, reminding him he's still in this fight. "Somethin' big is going down—end-of-the-world big."

"Then let it end!"

He glared at me, his eyes red-rimmed, his face drawn, pale. I was viciously reminded of the last time I'd seen his father. They could have been mirrors of each other in that moment. Both times because they'd lost their reason for fighting: Sam.

"You don't mean that." I needed him not to mean that. I couldn't lose him, too.

"You don't think so? Huh? You don't think I've given enough? You don't think I've paid enough? I'm done with it. All of it. And if you know what's good for you, turn around, and get the hell out of here."

He pushed me then, yelling at me to go. I wanted to grab him. To hold him. To shake him. I felt tears burning my eyes, and his voice softened.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Please, just go." He was breaking in front of me, and I was helpless to stop it.

I left him there, and part of me was convinced I would never see him again.


He lifted his head with a frown, turning back a few pages.

The storm that had started so long ago—before our time, really, back with Alexanderia—was picking up speed and we'd run out of places to find shelter.

"Well, I'll be a son of a bitch," he breathed. It hadn't been in the Key of Solomon that he'd read about Alexandria; it had been in Bobby's journal.

He looked up. "You can send me angels, but You can't point something like that out?"

The darkness outside seemed to deepen as another candle snuffed. He knew dawn was approaching without looking at the digital read-out on his phone. He would be expected to have answers.

"One name…." He rolled his lips in against his teeth. He looked at the paper again, the letters repeated across the page.

Bobby's journal said the Great Library had burned in 415 B.C. The formula was supposed to be an anagram of some sort. He tilted his head, narrowing his eyes.


"I'll be damned!"

Numbers. Not letters. They were numbers. Roman numerals. He started to search through Bobby's desk for a pencil and paper. He pulled open the slim drawer directly in front of him, and a small wooden box tumbled free, falling into his lap.

Frowning, he picked it up. On the front of the box was a carving exactly like his amulet. He opened it up, but it was empty. Rubbing his thumb over the carving, he thought about that Christmas, Sam giving him the gift originally intended for their father.

He'd only taken it off a few times: in the hospital after the revenant attack, after he'd been electrocuted, after the accident with the semi-truck, and once right before they'd let themselves get arrested so they could help Deacon with his spirit problem. Sam had kept it safe for him while he'd been in Hell.

It wasn't a mystical charm. It wasn't a powerful symbol. Sure, it represented something powerful, but it wasn't a power that was going to deflect evil or save him from death.

It was Sam. Sam and him. Their bond. Their brotherhood.

Setting the box back in the drawer, he found a pencil stub, but no paper. He looked at the Key of Solomon, but Bobby would kick his ass from the great beyond if he doodled in an ancient book. He picked up the journal.

There was one blank page in the back. He tore it out, noticing as he did so that the last entry of the journal was unfinished. He wrote down the series of Roman numerals, and then returned to Bobby.


I close my eyes and maybe I'm already there…

When I opened my door to see them standing there, I couldn't have been more surprised if I woke up with my head stapled to the carpet.

Sam smiled, looking slightly shaken but happy.

Dean…well, he looked guilty, gutted, and worn. As they stepped inside, he stayed close to his brother, managing somehow to keep us both in his sights. He kicked my questions to the curb with a simple, "Sam's better, and we're back, so what now?"

I had to take a minute. It was as if I flipped a switch and downshifted into hunter autopilot, leading them to the map, telling them about the demonic omens, the clear space around central Wyoming. Asking Sam to take a closer look, I managed to get Dean to come with me to the truck outside.

He followed me. I was trembling inside, from fear, from anger, from relief, from a god-awful emotion I couldn't name. He followed, and the image of Dean turning to glass that I'd had a few days prior returned when I rounded on him, accusations firing from me like bullets.

"You stupid ass! What did you do? What did you do?" I pushed him, just as he'd pushed me the day before. Pushing away the truth that was before my eyes. My heart beating a steady cadence of no no no no no…. "You made a deal. For Sam, didn't you? How long did they give you?"

His eyes were leaden, his voice tight, as he replied, "One year."

He was breaking me.

I was so stupid. I'd seen how fragile he was, how on edge. I'd known what John had done. And I walked away without seeing, without realizing. I felt…betrayed. He'd pushed me away, told me to leave. And just as he'd always done, he took it upon himself to fix it.

How can you undo the undoable?

We fought evil, we didn't deal with it. Or at least…we shouldn't. I cursed John Winchester. He couldn't take the time when he was alive to show his boy how much he loved him; he had to give his life for him instead. He had to twist Dean up inside until his only recourse at the loss of his brother was to follow in his father's footsteps.

"Which is why we gotta find this yellow-eyed son of a bitch," Dean continued. "That's why I'm gonna kill him myself. I got nothing to lose now, right?"

Frustrated, angry, helpless, I grabbed him by the jacket, shaking him slightly, my teeth clenched. "I could throttle you!"

I released him, suffocating from the impotent feeling of being too late. Once again, too late. I wanted him to take it back. I wanted him to give it back. He could survive without Sam; I survived without Karen!

"What is it with you Winchesters, huh? You, your dad. You're both just itching to throw yourselves down the Pit."

Suddenly he was a kid again. His voice shook, his eyes pleaded. "That's my point. Dad brought me back, Bobby. I'm not even supposed to be here. At least this way, something good could come out of it, you know? It's like, my life could mean something."

The idiot. I couldn't believe he was that far gone. I refused to. "What? And it didn't before? Have you got that low of an opinion of yourself? Are you that screwed in the head?" I grabbed him again, shaking him harder. He just let me, and I could feel the helpless tremble of his heart beneath my knuckles.

"I couldn't let him die, Bobby," he said, choked. I saw tears of helpless need and complete exhaustion gather in his eyes. "I couldn't. He's m'brother."

"How's your brother gonna feel when he knows you're going to Hell? How'd you feel when you knew your dad went for you?"

Dean looked slightly panicked at that, but he didn't pull away. "You can't tell him. You can take a shot at me. Whatever you gotta do, but please don't tell him."

With a trembling hand, I reached up, gripping his chin. I wanted to hit him. I wanted to beat him. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to hold him. I just wanted it not to be true. I didn't want to live with this loss for a year.

Ellen's miraculous appearance saved Dean from the beating of his life, and anything I felt about his crossroads deal vanished in the wake of the fight of our lives. We made it to the Devil's Gate, but not in time to stop that kid, Jake, from using the Colt to open a door to Hell. Always one step behind, always a minute too late. I could see now why John wanted so badly to predict The Demon's movements.

It's hell being the pick-up man.




He rubbed his face, his body so tired it tingled, his mind so weary it slushed from one thought to the next. He reached up and rubbed the warm bronze of his amulet as one of the two lanterns joined the rest of the candles in darkness. He had one lantern left.

But the sun was chasing the night across the sky and he knew in a little more than an hour, he'd have someone on the porch, ready for him.


"This is friggin' pointless. Even if I do figure out the order, how do I know what it means?" he asked the quiet house. He looked up, then around. "Huh? C'mon! Do I need a secret decoder ring or something? I mean, did I not get the right fuckin' box of cereal?"

There were only a few pages left in the journal Bobby had written to recount most of his life without telling anyone about it. A journal that might have never seen the light if he hadn't been sent after this seemingly impossible anagram that was really a formula that was really a super-special demon-freezing code.

He stood suddenly, a growl building in his belly, reverberating in his chest, echoing out through his lips as he clenched his fists, shaking them with frustration. "This. Is. Pointless!"

Then let it end!

The sentiment echoed in his brain, in his heart, in his body as he grabbed books from the shelves, ripping pages, flinging them behind him, moving through Bobby's study with reckless abandon, his temper shattering any control he'd fashioned over the last several weeks.

"I'm done!" he yelled, grabbing more books, ripping, shredding, tearing, destroying. "You hear me? Cas! Hey! I'm done! I don't care. I don't care!"

Sam would be lost forever.

Maybe he already was.

Sam would be theirs to toy with.

Maybe he was strong enough to fight.

Sam would never forgive him.

He stopped, gasping for air, looking wildly around the room, his fingers nicked and bleeding from numerous paper cuts.

"I don't care," he panted. "I…I just…I don't…." He sank to his knees in the middle of the destruction. "Please," he whispered. "Please, just…help me."

As if the window to a hurricane had opened, wind tore through Bobby's house, whipping the papers he'd just torn into a cyclone, throwing books into walls, against the ceiling, into him. He tumbled end over end until his back slammed against the wall, breath stolen from shocked lungs.

He raised his hands over his head, covering his face with his arms, trying to pull in air, but it was spinning too quickly. He slipped down the wall until he was lying in a heap, face pressed to the floor, waiting for oblivion or death, not caring which happened first.

And then, it stopped.

The house was quiet once more.

He waited two heartbeats, then slowly lifted his head. The room was annihilated. Every book was destroyed; the shelves were broken, the lanterns shattered. Pushing himself carefully to a sitting position, he realized the window had been broken outward, papers strewn onto the lawn, the coming dawn seeping into the room along with the cool of night.

Rising to his knees, he took a gasping breath, then another, pressing his bloody hand against his chest, feeling the pounding of his own heart as confirmation that he was still here, still alive.

"Okay," he said roughly, clearing his throat. "You got my attention."

Using the wall for support, he stumbled to his feet, staring at the top of the heavy oak desk in amazement. Lying intact and untouched was Bobby's journal, the Key of Solomon, and the paper with the Roman numerals he'd been working on.

"Didn't see that coming," he muttered, stepping closer.

As if settling on the dying wind, a single sheet of torn paper floated down to rest on top of the Key of Solomon. He blinked, reaching for it, leaving a faint pink thumbprint on the paper. He had no idea which book it had come from, but written along the top margin in Bobby's handwriting was the Greek alphabet.

Below it, a series of Roman numerals.

"Oh, you gotta be kidding me," he muttered. Unable to help himself he looked around. "Seriously?"

He could almost hear the old man's voice firing back a sarcastic response.

Huffing out a disbelieving laugh, he dug the chair out of the pile of papers and books, set it upright, and sat down.


Keeping my mind on a better life…

Watching Sam's face as he killed the kid that had killed him was, I know now, a preview of possible outcomes of this fucked-up spiritual war.

He never lost the scared look I'd seen the day I met him, but he learned how to channel it, to mask it, to use it.

Unfortunately, Sam's vengeance was, once again, too late, and the door to Hell was opened, releasing hundreds of demons into a world already plagued with darkness. It took everything Ellen and I had to force the doors even a little bit shut. I couldn't hear anything that night over the roar of the demonic storm, but I saw everything.

I saw Azazel throw Dean into a tombstone, damn near splitting his skull. I saw it pin Sam against a tree. I saw it taunt them both, teasing them with arrogant power. I saw it come close to finishing Dean.

And then I saw John Winchester remind me for the second time in my life that, sometimes, we win.

His spirit had drafted the demons out of the Pit, riding the wave of evil until he was free of the fire and able to wrestle the demon inhabiting the body of a some unwilling victim, weakening its hold on Dean long enough that the kid was able to grab the Colt, aim, fire, and bring his declaration that he was the one who would kill the sonofabitch to life.

The minute Azazel fell, the power pushing against the doors disappeared, and Ellen and I were able to close them. We stood where we were, staring as John's spirit smiled at his sons, tears shining on his face. He reached out, touched Dean's shoulder, and was gone in a blinding burst of pure light.

Vaya con Dios, my friend.


He sketched furiously, dividing his attention between the anagram and the journal, the sun rising steadily, illuminating the room. In the back of his mind, the phrase repeated throughout the Key of Solomon teased him.

"One name, one name…."

With every combination, he had too many consonants, not enough meaning.

"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon…."


All that to be just what I am…

With the exodus from the Devil's Gate, we had a whole new class of criminals.

And for a while, we fought them as a team. The Seven Deadly Sins were…interesting. But we lost a good hunter fighting them off. The boys found my curse boxes when a mercenary named Bela hired a couple of thugs to steal a very unlucky rabbit's foot, putting Sam in a bit of a bind.

They also found John's storage unit that he'd apparently left out of the "need to know" talks when he was alive. I heard from Sam often as we tag-teamed in the search for a way to get Dean out of his crossroads deal. But everything that showed promise ended up with Sam dead, and I knew that was a pointless avenue.

For a while there, Dean had an odd sort of fascination with the freedom of knowing when his time was up. Kid was ready to lay anything with tits and ass, ate enough grease to choke a buzzard, and took chances during hunts that made both me and his brother want to lock him in the trunk of the Impala.

Then I got the hunt in Pittsburgh. And everything changed.

I don't really know what the boys went through, to be honest. I did my thing, covered my tracks, dug into the silene capensis occurrence with Dr. Walter Gregg, went to bed, and woke up trapped in a nightmare.

Karen, in her demonic state, chased me through our house. And no matter what I tried to tell myself, no matter how I tried to reason with her, she kept trying to kill me, all the while asking me why…why I'd let that happen to her, why I'd let her die, why I'd killed her.

Truth is, part of me wanted to die. I wanted it to be over. I was so fuckin' tired of loss, of fighting, of resisting, of trying to save, only to have them slide through my fingers, too late to do anything but mourn.

Trapped in that house, in the nightmare, in that fear, I started to see some sense in Dean's approach to this year, some relief from the life he'd lived.

When Dean showed up in the nightmare, I was half out of my mind with fear. I couldn't believe he'd found me, and then I was sure she was going to kill him. She came at me, came at Dean, and I tried, God knows I tried. I wanted her to see that I paid for killing her. Every day I paid for not being in time, not being fast enough, smart enough. By losing, always losing.

Dean gripped my arms, his eyes solid, his hands strong, demanding that I wake up. "Bobby! This is your dream. And you can wake up. I mean, hell, you can do anything."

I wanted it to be over. I was so damn tired. I wanted her to just kill me already.

Dean's grip was powerful, his eyes intense. His demand, while unbelievable, was undeniable in its ferocity. "You gotta snap out of this now. You gotta snap out of this now! You're not gonna die. I'm not gonna let you die. I'm not gonna let you die. You're like a father to me. You gotta believe me, please."

You're like a father to me.

I held on to that. Held it tight. It had mattered. I had mattered. What I'd given, what I'd shared, what I'd done…it had mattered. I look at that now and I know that however this story ends, whatever happens to the boys, they know. They know without a doubt that I loved them.

Dean saved me that day. And Sam didn't let him do it alone. They were each other's shadows, as they'd always been, and they pulled off the impossible.

And so it kills me to say, to put on paper, that I couldn't save them.


The grit in his eyes brought tears to the corners.

He wiped the moisture away impatiently.

"One name…."






"No way…."



"Iehovah…?" he whispered, looking up.

The sun crested the horizon. With a soft rustle of wings, Castiel was standing in front of him.



Well, I'm gonna be a blue collar man…

Dean's last day was a race.

Sam and I searched for any way out. We found Lilith, ready to take her down. Dean resisted. At the end, after all the bravado, the posturing, the confession of fear, the fight for survival, it once more came down to sacrifice. What was he willing to give?

And the answer, for him, simply was nothing.

He would not chance sacrificing his brother. He wouldn't budge on that. I saw him playing wounded, his face bearing signs of his fight with the demon Ruby for control of her blade-that-can-kill-demons-if-you-can-get-close-enough. I saw the haunted look in his eyes as the hallucinations started.

And he still tried to protect, to guard, to keep me behind the wall his brother was strong enough to climb over. But Bobby Singer wasn't born yesterday. And one distributor cap later, I was following them to Indiana. If there is anything this journal should show him, show them, it's that family don't end with blood.

I don't much like to think about the fight to get to Lilith, the con to keep the demons surrounding the house she was in at bay. I did my part. I turned the sprinkler system into a Holy Water shower, and I gave the boys their chance. But I was cut off from them. An army of demons stood between me and their fight.

I heard Dean scream. And my heart bled.

When Lilith ran, the demons fled with her, leaving twenty or so very confused people milling around the house. I plowed through them, wanting to be wrong, hoping I hadn't heard what I thought I had. But I found them just as I'd found Dean before. Just as Jim had found me.

Dean…well, he was gone. He was shredded, bloody, broken…gone. Sam held him, cradled his brother's body in his arms, weeping. I stood, unable to speak. Unable to breathe. Unable to cry.

I'd been too late. And I'd lost him. Sam had lost him. The world had lost him. He'd been the best of us, one of the reasons to keep fighting. He'd been a soldier in the righteous army.

And soldiers die.

Sam didn't stop crying until I said his name. He laid his brother down, resting his hand on Dean's cheek, leaving a red, bloody handprint there. His body trembled, his lips quivered, but his tears were gone.

I knelt beside Dean, still unable to cry. I eased his lids closed, feeling a scary sense of permanence with that gesture.

"Sam, we have to—" I couldn't finish the sentence.

"I know where to go."

"I'm so sorry, kid."



"Don't, Bobby."

And, like his brother, Sam didn't let me help him. He lifted Dean's bloody, torn body over his shoulder, stumbled out of the house, past the shell-shocked family, through the still-running sprinklers, past the confused neighbors, directly to the Impala.

They were both covered with Dean's blood when we reached the car. I opened the back door, my throat tight. I wasn't breathing quite right, but I couldn't seem to steady it. Sam rested Dean's body on the backseat, covering it with John's leather jacket that Dean never seemed to be without. All but his face.

When he backed out, we looked in together. With the exception of the eerie stillness, Dean could have been sleeping.

"Where are you—?"

"Follow me or don't. Up to you," Sam said.

Of course I followed him. I don't know why he picked that spot in Illinois, but I followed him. I helped him carry his brother to the middle of a heavily wooded area, helped him clean the blood from Dean's face, helped him build a box. I helped him remove the horribly tattered shirts from Dean's destroyed body.

"Dean would want…." I started, forced to clear my throat. "He'd want to be salted and burned, Sam. He wouldn't want the chance—"

"No," Sam said, his eyes on Dean. "He's gonna need a body when I get him back home somehow."

"What do you mean?"

But he wouldn't answer. He lifted Dean by himself, laying his brother in the box. After a moment, he eased the amulet from around Dean's neck, settling it over his own head. Just before he nailed the lid shut, he dug Dean's old Zippo from his own pocket and stuffed it into Dean's.

"See ya," he whispered.

We buried Dean together, and then Sam left. My world felt unreal, like I was simply waiting to die now. Like there wasn't much left to fight for. I tried to find Sam, but he was a Winchester. He was raised by a damn good soldier. He didn't want to be found, so I was alone.

And this time, there was no Jim Murphy to pull the whiskey bottle from my hand. And there were no boys to keep tabs on. And there were precious few hunters left. The demons outnumbered us, and for a long time I was numb.

A long time.

And then my phone rang.



"It's me."

There are some things I just took for granted in life. One of them is that when someone has been dead four months—after having been ripped open by hellhounds—they don't use the telephone. I didn't know who this chucklehead thought he was, but I was too old, too tired, and too goddamned pissed to play along.

"Who's 'me'?"


That one name, the one name that would have meant the world to me, to Sam. He could have picked any other name but that. I threatened to kill him and hung up.

Several hours later, there was a knock at my door. And he was standing there. Looking…like Dean. Like our Dean. I'd seen too much to believe it, and attacked him, but he was real. God damn it, he was real. He cut himself with a silver blade, he spit out Holy Water with an irritated lift of an eyebrow. He was real.

I held him. He felt real. He smelled real. He sounded real. He was Dean. I listened to his escape story, saw the burn mark on his arm, fell so easily into the rhythm of breaking down a hunt with him that I forgot for a moment he'd want to know about Sam.

I went cold at the thought of Sam. Somehow, Dean had been rescued from Hell. And this family was rather skilled in making deals.

Dean knew how to find Sam almost immediately, which made sense. He'd had a hand in raising the kid. We were both tense as we approached the motel room. I think Dean may have actually been bouncing.

When Sam saw his brother, it was as if the air was sucked from the room. He went through the same reaction I had, but I caught him, holding him back—barely. He had a girl with him, but we forgot about her when I finally convinced Sam that it was him. It was his brother.

Sam all-but crushed Dean in a hug, and I had to work to swallow. I didn't know what it meant in the grand scheme to have Dean back in the fight. I didn't know how one man could make a difference one way or another. But I honestly didn't care. He was here. He was back.

The rest of that day was really a blur, which is odd considering it happened the most recent. Something about confirmation of the existence of angels has a way of rattling the brain. We almost lost Pamela, best damn psychic I know, and one fine-looking lady to boot. She got a glimpse at what grabbed Dean by the arm and pulled him from the fire, and it burned her eyes out.

Sam was…well, not himself. Still isn't. He's still fighting his own war. He's manning his own missions. He's his father's son, that's for damn sure. Dean is confused, angry, and more than a little traumatized, but he's still Dean: still fighting, still cocky, still broken. Day after he came back to us, I pulled him from a room filled with shattered glass, his ears bleeding, and he proposed summoning the thing.

Turns out, it was an angel. An angel who put Dean on a mission from God. There are too many secrets, too much mystery, too many "need to know" answers out there. But if it's the last thing I do, I'm gonna get these boys through it.

Besides, we apparently have God on our side. Jehovah himself. As Bishop Augustine said, "Earthly cities are destined to fall, but the city of God will remain forever."

Guess we have more to do than I thought.


"He was a righteous man."

Dean huffed. "He was more than that."

Castiel looked askance, his face impassive. "He led you to the answer."

"That was Bobby?"

With a lift of his trench coat-clad shoulders, Castiel looked back toward the sun. "You asked for help."

"Yeah and, seriously, what the hell, Cas? You needed me to go through all this just to find the name of your God."

"Not just my God, Dean."

Dean rolled his eyes. "Right."

"The name is only as powerful as the belief behind it."

"Had to be in Latin, too, huh? With the I? Couldn't have made it even a little bit easy."

"You wouldn't have appreciated it."

Dean raised an eyebrow. "Don't be too sure."

"Are you ready to go after Sam?"

Chin down, Dean flicked his eyes up to meet Castiel's even gaze. "Save him, you mean."

Cas tilted his head. "If that's what is meant to be in the end."

"Oh, don't worry." Dean's mouth tightened around the words. "That's the only way this is going to end."

Cas nodded, taking a step to the side, inviting Dean to leave with him.

Dean looked around Bobby's ruined study. "What about—?"

In a blink, the books were back on shelves, stacked in corners, papers repaired.

Dean folded his lips down, his eyebrows rising in twin teepees. "Nice trick."

The corner of Castiel's mouth tipped up in the barest hint of a smile.

"Need a favor first," Dean said.

"A favor?"

"Yeah, it's when you do something for me 'cause you're such a swell guy."

"I know the meaning of the word, Dean."

With a quick well all right then nod, Dean tucked Bobby's journal in his jacket pocket. "Good. Let's go."

Castiel riding in the Impala—in Sam's seat—was so many levels of wrong. But until Dean set things right, until he saved his brother from whatever crooked path some kind of tricked-out destiny had led him down, this was what he was left with. Dean drove through the early morning, windows down so the fresh air kept him awake, radio on to distract him from the presence of the angel, the pending struggle, the one name waiting in the back of his mind.

The weight of Bobby's journal was like an anvil on his heart. The old man had captured Dean's life, his past, his soul-crushing pain so plainly, so clearly. And he wanted to be done with it. He wanted it over.

He was tired of being too late.

In the end, he hadn't saved Bobby. And Sammy was slipping through his fingers. But he wasn't letting the damn devil have the last word.

Not this time.

Bobby's final, unfinished passage echoed in Dean's head.

As clichéd as it sounds, we all have a hero and a devil in us.

Dean's not light 'cause he was saved by an angel and Sam's not dark 'cause he wasn't. They're just human. They fight and they feel and they try and they fail.

Like I said, I don't know how this story will end, but I do know that it couldn't end any other way. And no matter what the ending, I'm proud of the part I've played. My only regret is that I didn't tell them—all of them: Jim and Caleb, John and the boys, Ash, Gordon, Isaac…Karen. I didn't tell them they were the good guys. That they mattered.

Never really thought about leaving a legacy before now, before Heaven came down and knocked on our door instead of the other way around. But if I did, it would be

Dean didn't need to know what Bobby's next words might have been. He knew the intent: tell the story. Learn from history. Don't repeat it. Don't wallow in it. Don't suffer from it. Don't let it haunt you.

"Where are we?"

"Holy ground."

Cas looked quizzically at Dean. Or, at least, Dean thought that was his quizzical look. He could have been reciting the Latin alphabet in his head for all Dean knew.

"Follow or don't," he said, repeating his brother's words. "Up to you."

"I will wait for you." Castiel nodded.

Dean stepped from the car, walking through the dense woods to the clearing where a charred pyre still stood, a pyre that had held his father's body…and Bobby's. Here he'd stood with his brother in silence, searching for words. Here he'd stood with his brother in pain, searching for shelter.

"Thanks for the help, Bobby," he said. "You were right on time."

Swallowing, he looked down at the leather book in his hands, running his bloodstained fingers over the cover. There were things he kept because he didn't want to forget, and things he burned because he didn't want to remember. John's journal had been an instruction manual, a record of his journal, a history book of lessons learned.

There hadn't been a shred of regret or hope, not a word of how he'd seen his life.

Bobby's journal had been a narrative of his life, of his heartache and loss, of his triumph and humor. Of his soul.

He opened the front cover once more, letting his eyes hit the words.

The plan, as it stands, is to give this to Dean. He's the one who needs the balance. He's the one who needs to be reminded that it all started somewhere, it all has a reason. And he's the one who would care.

"Sometimes we win," he whispered, missing his family intensely in the moment.

His tired, gritty eyes succumbed to emotion, and as he looked up, a tear tumbled from one, sliding down his cheek and tucking into the corner of his mouth.

He reached up and wiped his face. "This is gonna be one of those times."

He'd taken from it what Bobby needed him to, what he'd needed to. And it was time to let it go. Burn the past. Let it end; start from now.

Stepping closer to the pyre, he dug his Zippo from his pocket, opening the journal. After two quick clicks, the flame caught, and he touched it to the pages, setting the book among the ashes of his fathers.

"Family don't end with blood, man."

He watched the journal burn, pressing his lips tightly.

When it was all but gone, he turned, heading back to the Impala and the waiting angel. He dropped into the driver's seat, glancing to his right, needing the person who should be there back where he belonged.

"Let's go get my brother back."

Castiel nodded, and Dean drove west, one name on his lips.

a/n: The title and each journal chapter heading come from the Styx song Blue Collar Man. The lyrics that Dean sings come from Zeppelin's Travelin' Riverside Blues.