“DEAN!” The shout rolls across the junkyard.

Bobby glances out the window from where he’s sitting reading the newspaper. Ever since John arrived on his doorstep a week ago, battered and bruised, he’s been riding Dean mercilessly. The boy has taken to hiding in the junkyard, fiddling with the cars for a distraction, an escape from his father’s rage and obsession.

John of course has taken that badly. He’s started to track Dean down, finding the boy and forcing him to train. Guns, self-defense… even basic tracking skills. Not that John has half the skill of Bobby at THAT. But John naturally considers his way the best way. Ever since Bobby originally helped him learn hunting skills he’s become hardheaded, rarely taking any advice without a grain of salt.

And for Dean, it’s either John’s way or the highway. His father accepts no less.

Bobby can’t take much more of this. The boy hasn’t spoken a word since losing his brother. Each time John tracks him down, Dean simply does the training he’s told to do. In those moments he has a single minded determination, focused completely on the task at hand. John’s heavy handed tasking leaves no time for the boy to recover, no time to mourn.

Bobby watches as John confronts Dean in front of the house. One of the junkyard dogs lies nearby, watching calmly. John yells at Dean for slacking off. He berates Dean for letting his focus slide, for losing sight of their goal. He scolds the boy, asking if he WANTS to die like his brother. Dean simply stands there, taking it. He stares at the ground under his feet, letting the shouts roll off his back as he scuffs a shoe against the rough, gravelly ground.

But Bobby can see the way Dean clenches his fist behind his back. Where his father can’t see it. He is holding in all the pain and rage and self-blame, bottling it up until no emotion can escape. Not fear, not happiness, not sorrow. Each day he becomes better at this, using his unique mental focus to keep control. Bobby wishes it doesn’t have to be this way. If Dean keeps it all in, it will eventually consume him, a black hole of emotions that will leave nothing behind.

Yet John can see none of this. Too buried under his own guilt from losing his youngest, piled on top of the loss of Mary all those years ago, he can’t see anything but the mission. His holy cause. The beginning and ending of his day. His own personal Alpha and Omega. He will drag Dean down into the pit with him if given half the chance. And Dean will let him. He knows no other way.

After the shouting is over, John storms off. Dean settles down on the steps, mechanically taking apart his gun and reassembling it, over and over and over. Each piece is meticulously removed, cleaned and fitted. He knows that gun better at 14 than Bobby did at 28. No child should have to live that way.

The roar of the Impala starts up. John is off to the bar, his most self-destructive habit. He might come back later, he might not. Either way, Dean will sit there until his hands are covered in blisters, sore and bleeding, memorizing the gun down to its smallest parts. He probably knows it well enough to build one with his eyes closed. He won’t stop until he falls asleep there on the steps or is TOLD to stop by his father. Which will not happen.

And, Bobby knows why Dean is like this. He blames himself for his brother’s loss. Sammy’s memory haunts Dean’s every footstep, his shadow behind every door Dean opens. The little brother that used to idolize him, follow him everywhere like a lost puppy. Gone forever. Dean will never stop blaming himself for what happened.

Bobby can’t stand by and watch anymore. He goes outside. Dean barely glances up from the gun, eyes flicking to the older hunter for a mere second before resuming his work. Bobby bends down, putting a hand on the gun. Dean meets his eyes, confusion showing through. He knows as well as Bobby how John will react if he finds out Dean is slacking off again. Bobby just stares back, letting his own silence speak for itself when he meets the boy’s eyes. He doesn’t get a response from Dean and doesn’t expect one.

But the boy has suffered enough.

Bobby takes Dean back in the kitchen. He cooks them both a meal of hot dogs and baked beans. He takes Dean out back and tosses a ball back and forth with him. They spend that night eating popcorn, drinking Pepsi and watching old westerns. They start with a Clint Eastwood one. With the monkey.

John will never find out that Dean didn’t train that day. Not from Bobby. And Dean won’t speak for another few months, the time it takes for him to process through his brother’s loss. John drinks himself into oblivion each night for another month before he returns to hunting. Obsession blinds him to the changes in his eldest son.

That day, Dean doesn’t smile. It’s too soon for that. But the darkness that’s been hovering over him is pushed back.

For a time.

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