Author's Notes: Written using fabulous prompts from art_savage during the Supernatural Gen Fic Exchange. Takes place after Born Under a Bad Sign. I hate exposition. Title and summary taken from Stephen Sondheim, but no big bad wolves were harmed in the making of mine. I tried to work in a combination of the following prompts: Dean and Bobby bonding, preferably in the context of a hunt; some kind of lost-in-the-woods scenario; bonus points if you can work in, at any point, Bobby calling the boys "idjits."
Much love to my Beta, Keri, who was elbows deep in zining and con plans, but still took the time to check this over for me. I don't deserve her, but I'm not giving her back.
Summary: Takes place after "Born Under A Bad Sign." Into the woods and out of the woods.
Out of the WoodsPrologue
"Singer Salvage Yard."
"Sam, is that you?"
"Yeah. I, uh, Bobby, I lost Dean."
"I lost Dean."
"Christ on crooked crutch, Sam, how the hell did you lose your brother?"
Black Hills National Forest
Sam was a pitiful sight. Six-feet, five-inches of pure misery leaning against the Impala as Bobby rolled to a stop next to it.
God save him from stray pups and Winchester boys, although one pretty much summed up to the other if he stopped to think about it, and for one brief moment Bobby was tempted to turn the truck around and head back to his scrap yard fast as it’ll take him.
“Hey, Bobby.” Sam, looking all of eight years old, slumped against the car, his foot digging at a rock imbedded in the mud at his feet. “Sorry to call you out in this, but—“
“No need to be sorry, Sam. You know better than that.”
“I do. I just...after what...” he trailed off without looking Bobby in the eye.
“Sam, you’re the only one blaming you for the things that demon did while she was in your body.” Bobby ignored the urge to give the boy a good smack when his only response was a shrug of his shoulder, figuring his brother had probably done enough of that for both of them in the last couple of weeks. Besides, they had more important things to worry about.
“You want to explain to me what’s going on here?”
Sam nodded, turning around and pulling a thick file off the hood of the car and handing it over to Bobby. “We think it’s a vengeful spirit.”
Bobby flipped through the file quickly. “You boys put this together?”
“No, it’s Dad’s. I found it when I was cleaning out the truck.” Sam replied quietly. “Looks like he picked up on the pattern last spring but didn’t get a chance to check it out.”
“And, being as how it’s a whole two hours from my place, he didn’t see any need to bother me with it.” Bobby’s not sure he’d quite managed to school all the disgust from his voice, but Sam’s only response was a ghost of a smile that flitted across his face.
“Well, I did hear something about a shotgun....”
“Yeah, there was that, but your daddy always was a darn fool about somethings.” Bobby sighed and pushed his hat back. “According to these news clippings only couples have gotten lost. So, what exactly happened out there?”
“God, Bobby, I don’t know. One minute Dean and I were arguing and the next he was just gone!” Sam threw his arms up in disgust. “He was only five feet in front of me, Bobby. There wasn’t anywhere he could have gone.”
“What were the two of you arguing about?”
A mulish expression crossed Sam’s face. “I just thought it was about time we started back.”
“And your brother disagreed?”
“My brother doesn’t always know what’s good for him.” Sam snapped in reply.
“Don’t get snippy with me, boy. I’m just trying to get the facts here.”
“Sorry. I’m sorry, it’s just...” he let out a frustrated sigh. “It’s only been two weeks since I shot him—” Bobby held his tongue on that one, there wasn’t a doubt in his mind that Dean had already had more than a few words with his brother on that particular topic. “I just think, thought, we should take it easy a little longer. Give him some time to heal.”
“I can imagine how well that went down with your brother.”
“Yeah, he told me that if I was pansy-assed girl enough to worry about breaking a nail in the woods, I could wait back at the car for him.”
Bobby snorted. “Well, I hate to break it to you, Sam, but I guess your ghost agrees with your brother.”
“In all these couples that got lost, it was the women who eventually found their way back to the parking lot.” Bobby took a meaningfully look around the parking lot and then back at Sam. “Only the men turned up dead.”
Sam rolled his eyes and slipped his backpack over his shoulders. “Dean can call me a girl all he wants over this. As long as he’s around to do it.”
Bobby nodded, pulling a battered old duffel out of the car and slipping it over his shoulder. “How far from here were you boys when you got separated?”
“About two miles down that trail.” Sam pointed to the left. “We were right in the middle of the stretch of trail where all the couples first got lost.”
“All right then, let’s go find your fool of a brother.”
Damn, he was getting too old for this. Only a mile and half down the trail and already his dogs were barking at him something fierce. There was a reason he specializes in demons, aside from the obvious personal ones, they had sense enough to stay out of the damn woods.
“Hey, Bobby, can I ask you something?” Sam looked uncomfortable as he glanced at Bobby from under his long bangs.
“You can ask, as long as you don’t mind if I don’t answer.”
Another brief smile touched Sam’s face. “Yeah, I was just wondering... Dean changes the subject every time I bring it up and....”
“You want to know why I pointed that shotgun at your daddy?”
Sam nodded, waiting while Bobby stopped to paint another neon orange arrow on one of the trees.
“I’m not surprised your brother doesn’t want to talk about it.” Bobby snapped the lid on the can and dropped it back into his bag. “It was over your brother. Or about him anyway. Dean got hurt pretty bad, dislocated his shoulder, busted up a couple of ribs, fighting a poltergeist down in Bixby. Doctor told him to take at least six weeks to make sure he healed properly.”
Bobby could see the muscle in Sam’s jaw clenching as he listened. “Your daddy dropped Dean off at my place on his way to another job. At least he was smart enough to know your brother wasn’t going to sit around on his ass without someone to ride herd on him and make sure he followed doctor’s orders.”
There was a soft snort as Sam nodded and lost the angry expression. “Yeah, Dean’s always had a bit of a double standard when it comes to his health.”
“A bit? That boy don’t have the good sense God gave a dog. At least they know when to come in from the rain.” Bobby fiddled with his cap, readjusting it as he looked ahead down the trail. “Anyway, about four weeks later, John shows up on my doorstep at two in the morning looking to pick up Dean because he needs some back-up chasing down a black dog up in Montana—“
“So, he just snapped his fingers and expected Dean to jump.”
“Something like that,” Bobby admitted with a nod. “I objected. Reminded John that the boy was still recovering from the last job he’d dragged him out on. Your daddy didn’t particularly appreciate my tone. Didn’t think your brother’s welfare was any of my business. After that, well, we might have raised our voices just a mite.”
“And?” Sam slowed, turning back to face Bobby.
“And just about the time I was getting ready to fill your daddy with buckshot, we woke your brother up. After that it was pretty much a done deal. Once Dean saw John, he was packed and ready to go in under five.”
Sam nodded, picking up his pace and concentrating on the trail once more. “Yeah, that sounds like him. Both of them, actually.”
The next few minutes pass in a heavy silence, both caught up in memories of John, their grief warring with anger.
“Sam,” Bobby hesitated, wasn’t sure it was any of his business, asking this. But it had been a long time since these boys had felt like anything other than family to him. “Back at the hospital, when Dean was in the coma, and then again when you boys were staying with me—“
Sam froze in front of him, head hanging low, as he nodded.
“—you just about worried yourself sick over your brother. Those don’t exactly seem the actions of someone who told his brother not to darken his door again.”
“I...It’s complicated...I...“ Sam sighed and leaned against the nearest tree. “No, I guess it’s not really. I was a jerk.” He turned to look Bobby in the eye. “Did Dean tell you that he bought me a new phone when I left for Stanford?”
Bobby shook his head, knowing he’d have to give Sam the leeway to tell the story his own way.
“Brand new, state of the art, fully paid for two years,” he sighed. “I wanted to be pissed. I told Dean I didn’t need anything from him or Dad. I was going to do this on my own. But,“ he grinned sheepishly, “it was a really cool phone and I couldn’t afford one. My scholarship covered necessities, cell phones aren’t necessities.”
Sam stood up straight again and started back down the trail at a slower pace. “Dean called me every Sunday. Every Sunday, even when I could tell he was hurt, once or twice when it sounded like he was in the hospital. Part of me hated it, hated that I still needed that connection, especially in the beginning when it was all so foreign. I really hated hearing him hurt, not being able to do anything about it, wondering if my being there would’ve made a difference. But he never talked about hunting when he called, only stupid stuff. Weird things he’d seen, or some girl he’d picked up. Letting me know he and Dad were okay, without ever coming out and saying it. As much as I told myself I wanted safe and normal, it made getting through it easier because I knew Dean would call on Sunday.”
“Then, one Sunday, he didn’t. I was in the middle of midterms...” Sam paused, looking around the still forest. “I was so caught up in studying that it was Tuesday before I realized, but then—Fuck, Bobby, I was scared out of my mind.” Sam turned back to him. “I was sure he was dead.”
Sam’s hands were shaking as he ran them through his hair. “I freaked. Started calling Dean every ten minutes.” He laughed hollowly. “I nearly got kicked out my PoliSci midterm because I was calling his cell the whole time. It took about five hours before someone finally answered. Some nurse, who informed me that my brother was in a medically induced coma while they waited for the swelling around his brain to go down. Then she goes on to tell me that they weren’t really sure he’d wake up when they reduced the drugs because they didn’t know how long he was without oxygen. Oh, and by the way, did I know if my brother had any medical insurance because the guy who dumped him in the ER and took off didn’t say anything other than that he’d drowned.”
“Listen, Sam, I’m sorry I—“ Bobby sighed, pretty much ready to kick himself for bringing it up. Last thing Sam needs when his brother is missing is a reminder of just how quickly and deeply Dean could get himself into trouble.
“No, it’s all right. It’s just—“ Sam took a deep breath, let it out slowly. “I flew out there and when Dean woke up, once I knew he was going to be all right, I tried to get him to come back with me. Told him he was stupid to let Dad treat him like this. That the job was only going to get him killed and it wasn’t worth it. Dean, he, uh,” Sam flashed him a look full of irony. “He objected. Got pissed that I blamed Dad, told me that he could take care of himself. After that, the whole thing just kind of spun out my control. Next thing I knew I was standing in the doorway telling Dean to just leave me alone. That I didn’t care if he wanted to get himself killed, I just didn’t want to hear about it.”
“Christ, you Winchesters. Stubbornnest bunch of damned fools I ever knew.”
“I didn’t mean for it to go on as long as it did, I just—I couldn’t make myself pick up the phone and admit I was wrong. Then I met Jess and it was just easier to convince myself that it was what I wanted. No Dean showing up on my doorstep making me have to explain the things I wanted to pretend weren’t out there. This is it.”
The non sequitur threw Bobby for half a second, until he realized Sam was pointing to scuff marks in the muddy soil at their feet. “Looks to me like something grabbed him.”
“I know, but I swear, Bobby, there was nothing.” Sam pointed to a tree a few feet behind them. “I was right there. Dean stepped around this tree and then he was just gone.”
“And you didn’t see or hear nothin’?”
“What about the EMF meter?”
Sam flushed guiltily and looked down at his feet. “It was off.”
“I thought you boys were professionals.” Bobby frowned and pulled a meter out of his bag, studied the readings for a moment. “Well, there’s some residual signs here, but not much. Where were the bodies found?”
“Most of them were down near the creek, that way.” Sam pointed down to where the woods ran into a gully. “One turned up on the far side, but the rest were within a few yards, between it and this trail.”
“Okay,” Bobby reached back into his bag and pulled out a pair of walkie-talkies and a can of spray paint. “I’ll start here. You head down to far end of where the bodies turned up and we’ll work our way toward each other. Check in every thirty minutes.” He handed one of the radios and the can of paint to Sam. “And be careful. I don’t want to have to explain to your brother if you break your fool neck out here.”
“You too,” Sam replied, looking down at the can with a frown. “Pink?
“I have it from a reliable source that’s your favorite color.”
Sam rolled his eyes and started down the path, before turning back. “Hey, Bobby, thanks.”
“Don’t thank me, just get out there and find your brother.”
Two hours later, Bobby has worked his way to the small stream at the bottom of the gully and about a quarter of a mile through the brush and bramble that lines it. Sam’s checked in every thirty minutes, like clockwork, sounding more wound up and worried each time.
The deepening twilight has Bobby considering looking for a place to dig in for the evening when he spots something flickering through the trees ahead. A few more paces and he can make it out clearly enough to tell it’s a small fire.
He’s not surprised when a head whips around from behind a boulder, shotgun held steady out front. “Bobby? The hell?”
“Your brother called me.” Bobby replied, approaching slowly. “You gonna put that thing down?”
“Christo.” Dean watched him for a long moment before lifting the shotgun. “You got some Holy Water I can borrow.”
“Shut the hell up and let me get a look at you.” Bobby circled around the rock to crouch down in front of Dean. “You all right?”
“Sam all right?”
“Your brother’s fine. It’s you I’m askin’ about.”
“I’m fine. Just twisted my ankle somewhere between there,” he motioned with the shotgun in the general direction of the trail, “and here. But that’s about it.”
“About it, huh?” Bobby grunted, reaching up to press on the lump disappearing into Dean’s hairline. “Guess this is just a love tap then.”
“’S nothin’.” Dean jerked his head away, biting back a hiss of pain.
“Uh-huh. How many fingers am I holdin’ up?”
Bobby didn’t miss the frown of concentration, or the slight tilt to Dean’s head before he answered. “Two.”
“Too long. How long were you out?” Bobby frowned at the boy and shook his head as Dean started to open his mouth. “And don’t lie to me, boy.”
Dean leaned back against the rock with a weary sigh. “Not really sure. My watch stopped around the time that bitch,” he motioned toward the fire, “decided to throw me down the mountain.”
“More like a hill,” Bobby replied gruffly, glancing back at the fire. “So, you found the bones?”
“Hell, yeah.” A smirk floats across Dean’s face. “Figured she wasn’t gonna let me off this hill unless I salted and burned her ass first.”
“You sure she’s the right one?” Bobby asked, reaching into his pocket.
“Pretty sure.” Dean scooped a small plastic container off the ground and tossed it to Bobby. “I.D. belongs to Nancy Stanley. She disappeared up here after a fight with the guy she was hiking with. She wanted to go back, he wanted to go on. They figure she got lost on the way back to the parking lot.”
Bobby nodded, turning the I.D, holder over in his hand as he brought out his radio. “Sam.”
“Bobby!” Sam’s anxious voice floated through the air between them.
“Thank God. Is he all right?”
Dean rolled his eyes and took the radio from Bobby. “I’m just peachy, Samantha. Guess you found the parking lot okay?”
“You sure you’re all right?”
“He’s got a few more bumps and bruises, Sam.” Bobby ignored Dean’s indignant squawk as he took back the walkie-talkie. “But it’s nothing that won’t heal.”
“Bobby, you sure he’s all right?”
“Yeah, Sam, little more battered then he’d like to let on, but we already knew he wasn’t right in the head.”
“Hey, I’m sitting right here,” Dean muttered petulantly.
“Yeah, and I notice you’re favorin’ those ribs there. You plannin’ on mentioning that?” Bobby returned his attention to the radio. “Listen, Sam, it’s startin’ to get dark out and I’m not particularly lookin’ forward to the idea of lugging your brother up the side of a mountain—“
“Oh, now it’s a mountain.”
“—in the dark. Why don’t you head back on in? Dean and I’ll meet up with you in the morning.”
“Bobby, do you know how cold it’s going to get tonight?”
“I’ve got a pretty good idea. Dean’s already got a fire going and it won’t be the first night either of us’ve had to spend out in the woods. Just give me a call when you get to the parking lot and we’ll see you in the morning.”
Dean huffed softly, fidgeting against the rock. “Jesus, Sam, just go.”
“Boy, you oughta be a little more grateful that your brother cares what happens to you.”
“I’m not...I didn’t... ” Dean ran a hand over the top of his head and looked up at Bobby. “I can take care of myself. I don’t need Sam to fuss over me like I’m some kind of invalid.”
“Seein’ the circumstances that we’re in, I’m gonna be generous and let you off on the being able to take care of yourself,” Bobby replied with a small snort. “But you ever stop to think that maybe Sam’s the one that needs you to let him take care of you once in a while.”
“Well, he shouldn’t have to.”
“What’s have got to do with family, boy? You’re all Sam’s got left and he’s just as scared of losing you as you’ve always been of losing him.” Bobby sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “I know for a fact that if it was Sam who went missing you’d be going out your mind with worry and you sure as hell wouldn’t be headin’ back to the parking lot until you saw he was safe with your own two eyes.”
“Not to Sam, it isn’t.”
“Well, it should be. He shouldn’t have to worry about me.” Dean protested, his voice rising. “It’s my job to take care of him.”
“This isn’t about any job, Dean, and you know that. Sam is your brother, it’s his right to worry about you.” Bobby held up a hand to halt the protest he saw forming in Dean’s eyes. “It doesn’t matter what you think he should or shouldn’t do. Sam’s going to do what he’s going to do.”
Bobby could see Dean concede his point, if only just a little, in the tilt of his head as Bobby settled down next to him. “Now, you think we should stoke up that fire a little, or wait till Sam gets here and make him do it.”
“Sam’s going to the parking lot.” There wasn’t a whole lot of conviction in Dean’s voice, though, as he shrugged.
“You know as well as I do, your brother’s making straight for here.” Bobby gave up on trying to make himself more comfortable against the rock and started rooting around in his duffel. “Even if he didn’t feel responsible for that hole in your shoulder—”
“Sam is not—”
“I didn’t say he was, only that he feels that way.” Bobby dropped a bottle of water in Dean’s lap. “Speaking of which, it might help him get over it a mite quicker if you’d let him help you out some with it.” He sighed and tossed a few branches in the direction of the dwindling fire, letting the silence drag between them for a moment before carrying on. “Dean, I’m not trying to bust your chops here, just try and remember Sam ain’t your daddy. It’s not a crime to let him know you need him once in a while.”
“I know that, Bobby, I just—“
“Don’t know how?” Bobby rose slowly and patted Dean on the leg before starting to gather more fallen branches to feed into the fire. “Just think about it, that’s all I’m saying.”
“Jesus, Dean, how the hell did you manage to make it this far without some girl’s daddy filling you full of lead?”
A sly grin crossed Dean’s face as he reached for the open package of jerky that lay between them. “It’s all a matter of—”
A crack in the woods had them both reaching for their guns, senses on full alert as they scanned the woods around them.
“Sam?” Bobby called out, cautiously, waiting for his eyes to adjust to darkened woods.
“Yeah,” Sam, looking a little sheepish, stepped slowly into the light of the fire, hands held out from his sides. “Hey. I was just—”
“Thought you were on your way to the parking lot,” Dean commented dryly, exchanging a quick, knowing, glance with Bobby.
“This was on the way,” Sam countered unabashedly, bending down in front of his brother. “How’re you feeling?”
“I’m fine, Sam! It was just—” Dean stopped and Bobby could see the way his eyes roamed over his little brother’s face, a fond smile there and gone almost before Bobby could catch it. “My ankle hurts like a son of bitch and I’d kill for a Tylenol.”
“Huh. Okay.” Sam looked a little surprised at Dean’s admission and settled next to him with a shrug. “I think I might be able to help.” After a couple minutes of digging through his backpack, he dropped a small white bottle in Dean’s lap.
“Tylenol? Sammy, I knew there was a reason I keep you around.” Dean grinned and popped the lid off the bottle, dumping three of the pills in his hand. “Hand me that bottle of water, would ya?”
“Here.” Sam handed him the bottle and relaxed back against the rock, eyes still moving over his brother, no doubt looking for signs of hidden injuries.
“What else’ve you got in there, Sam?” Bobby asked, reaching for the backpack. “I hope you’ve got an extra blanket, ‘cause I’ve only got two of these.” He dropped a small silver bundle between the boys.
“Sorry, Bobby. We didn’t have any in the car—”
“Bobby, you actually bought one of these?” Dean laughed gleefully as he unfolded the space blanket. “Dude, I didn’t think anyone had these outside of bad sci-fi.”
“Shuddup, or you can do without.”
“No, hey, I’m good.” Dean threw up his hands in mock-surrender, still smirking as he pulled the blanket up over his and Sam’s laps. “I always wanted to be an extra on Star Trek. Hey, Sammy.” He caught the strap on the backpack and pulled it into his lap. “Got any marshmallows in here?”
“Marshmallows?” Sam rolled his eyes and snatched his bag back.
“What? We’re in the woods, sitting around a campfire. It’s a legitimate request.”
Sam snorted softly and dug around in the bag, letting out a small cry of triumph as he pulled out a bag of trail mix. “I’ve got this.”
“Gerbil food.” Dean shuddered dramatically and pulled a face, shaking his head ruefully. “I just don’t know where I went wrong with you.”
A yellow bag landed on the ground next to Dean’s leg.
“Peanut M&Ms? Oh, Sammy, you are definitely my favorite little brother.” Dean ripped the top off the bag and dumped out a handful.
“I’m your only little brother,” Sam replied, wryly.
“You’re also my only little sister.” Dean offered the bag to Bobby before dropping half his handful in his mouth. “But you’re still my favorite.”
“You’re both idjits, you know that?” Bobby snapped, knowing he wasn’t fooling either of them. “Sam, I’ll take the first watch if you want to get some rest.”
“Yeah, thanks, Bobby.” Sam tugged at the space blanket, trying to get a little more of his share, before scooting closer to his brother.
“Bobby, I can take the first watch if you—”
“Lot of help you’re going to be on that ankle if something does happen.” Bobby wrapped his own blanket a little tighter around his shoulders and moved closer to the fire. “Get some sleep. Sam and I can keep watch.”
“Dean, eat your candy and go to sleep.” Sam bumped his shoulder against his brother’s and wiggled around until he looked more comfortable, eyes already drooping in a familiar manner as he stifled a yawn.
Bobby couldn’t help noting, that despite his protests, Dean’s having just as much trouble keeping his own eyes open, his head slipping down to rest on his brother’s shoulder.
“Ow. I’ve got it, damn it.”
“Dean, just let—”
“I told you I could do it myself.”
“No, you can’t.”
Bobby shook his head in fond disgust, silently asking himself once again what he could have possibly done to warrant John Winchester ever showing up on his doorstep, kids in tow. Jesus Christ, right now they didn’t sound any more grown-up than they had twenty years ago.
“Dean, give ‘em to your brother.”
Dean tossed a mutinous glare over his shoulder, but since it was clear neither Bobby nor Sam were budging he finally dropped the car keys in Sam’s hand and slid across the bench seat to the passenger side.
“Thanks, Bobby.” Sam’s grin was just this side of too self-satisfied as he dropped into the driver’s seat, but Bobby figured he’d earned it after the three-hour complaint filled hike they’d both had to endure this morning.
Why he puts up with either them, he’ll be damned if he knows.
“Hey, boys.” Bobby leaned back out of his truck. “Why don’t you follow me back to my place? Take a few days to heal up?”