Dean and his Dad both poked their heads out from under the Volkswagen they were fixing up for a customer. It was a Saturday and Mom was out shopping with Sammy so Dad had let Dean tag along to the workshop. Usually Dean would hand him the tools while he worked, but today Dad had let him lie on one of the creepers and slide under the car with him. It wasn’t quite as exciting as learning to be a hunter would be, but Dean was still enjoying himself. It was nice to spend time with his Dad.
“You John Winchester?” asked a man wearing a battered old baseball cap. He had a gruff voice and a scruffy beard, but it was the oil-stained work clothes that gave him away as a fellow mechanic.
Dad pushed his creeper clear of the car, stood up and wiped his hands on an old rag before offering the visitor a hand to shake. “Yeah, that’s me.”
Dean scrambled out after him, wiping his hands too and sticking one out in greeting. He wanted to be just like his Dad.
The visitor’s face crinkled into a smile as he shook Dean’s hand. “Hey kid. What’s your name?”
“This is my boy, Dean,” Dad said, clapping Dean on the shoulder.
“Hey there Dean. My name’s Bobby.” He looked up at Dad. “Bobby Singer of Singer Salvage Yard in Sioux Falls, South Dakoda.”
Dad whistled. “You’ve come a long way.”
Bobby scratched the back of his neck. “Yeah. I heard you have a rare engine part for a Chevrolet C4 Corvette, and I need one for a client of mine.”
Dad raised his eyebrows.
“A high paying and very demanding client,” Bobby clarified.
Dad chuckled. “Well, I do specialise in Chevvy’s. I own a 1967 Impala, myself.”
“I saw her on my drive in. Boy, she’s a beauty, ain’t she?”
That earned a grin from Dad. “Yeah, I’m proud of my gal. Dean here is in love with her, though – he spends more time washing and waxing her than I do. Calls her Baby.”
Bobby winked at him. “I know what you’ll be wanting for your sixteenth birthday, then, ey boy?”
“Oi, don’t go putting ideas in my boy’s head,” Dad objected. “The Impala’s all mine.”
“’course,” Bobby agreed. But he mouthed “for now” to Dean when Dad wasn’t looking, and Dean beamed at him.
“Come on out the back, Mr Singer, and we’ll have a look for that engine part you need. Watch the shop, Dean?”
Dean clambered up onto the front desk and sat with his legs swinging, looking out for any more customers.
He wasn’t expecting the sound of fluttering wings and almost fell off the table when Cas appeared in front of him.
“Cas!” Dean shot a look behind him, relieved that his Dad was too busy with a customer to notice the angel’s unnatural entrance. If he had seen Cas appear out of nowhere he would have freaked out. “What are you doing here?”
“I brought you your teacher.”
Dean hopped down, excitement bubbling up inside him as he looked around, expecting another person to pop out of thin air at any moment. “Really? Where?”
Cas gestured to the back work room. “Bobby Singer.”
Dean raised his eyebrows, unconsciously mirroring his father. “That guy? He works at a salvage yard.”
“Yes. He is also a hunter; one of the best. He was a mentor and a father figure to the other version of you, although in the original timeline you did not meet him until you were a few years older.”
Sometimes Dean’s life was very strange. Even though he had known about this ‘original timeline’ and ‘alternate reality’ thing for a while now, it still weirded him out. Cas was talking like he had this whole history with a man he had only just met, and as the years passed he would probably start remembering all the times his other self had spent with this stranger. Still, if Bobby Singer was going to be his teacher, Dean guessed they would be forming new memories together. It would be a relief to have another person to talk about monsters with.
“He is a good man,” Cas assured him. “I am certain you will learn as much from him in this reality as you did in the last. Perhaps more.”
Cas nodded and left in a flurry of invisible wings, just as Dad and Bobby came out of the back room with an engine part in tow.
“…so we’ll just settle the account…” Dad was saying as he led Bobby over to the desk.
“I can put that in your truck for you,” Dean offered, gesturing to the engine part.
“It’s heavy,” Bobby said, but he placed it carefully in Dean’s arms. “You got it?”
Dean hefted it, getting the weight balanced so he could walk without dropping it. “I got it.” He took it out to Bobby’s truck and set it down in the trailer, packing it amongst blankets and boxes so it wouldn’t get damaged along the drive.
Bobby came out just as he was finishing up and gave an approving nod. “Thanks, boy. Keep up the good work and you’ll be a mechanic like your Daddy in no time.”
Bobby was about to climb into his truck when Dean piped up with, “Actually, I don’t wanna be a mechanic when I grow up. I wanna be something else.”
Bobby let go of the door handle and crouched down to Dean’s level. “Oh yeah? What might that be?”
Dean looked the man straight in the eyes. “I want to be a hunter.”
Bobby stumbled back in surprise, falling on his ass in the dirt. “W-what?”
“I want to be a hunter like you,” Dean said calmly.
The man stood up painfully, huffing a laugh that wasn’t very convincing. “I own a salvage yard, kid. I don’t go out and shoot Bambi.”
“Not a hunter of deer. A hunter of monsters, like ghosts and Wendigos and Shapeshifters-”
“Shh!” Bobby exclaimed in alarm, glancing around to make sure no one else had heard what he had said. “You can’t just- You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah I do. Monsters are real, and you hunt them. You probably carry a stash of weapons with you, like shot guns and silver knifes and holy water…”
“How could you possibly-?”
Dean shrugged. “I know some things. I wanna know more, and an angel told me you were the guy to ask.”
“The phrase is ‘a little birdy told me’,” Bobby corrected, “and I don’t know who you’ve been talking to, boy, but they have been yanking your chain. Monster’s ain’t real, and I’m just a mechanic.”
Dean sighed. “When I was four years old a demon with yellow eyes stabbed me with a knife, stuck me to the ceiling and set a room on fire to kill me. It is too late to ‘shelter’ me, or whatever you adults seem to think you are supposed to do, so can you please just tell me the truth?”
Bobby gaped at him.
“Mr Singer?” Dean prompted when the silence had drawn out a little too long.
The man shook himself. “Bobby. ‘Mr Singer’ makes me feel old.”
“You are old,” Dean reminded him helpfully.
The man grunted. “So you know about monsters.”
“Yes, sir.” At Bobby’s wince, Dean edited, “-er, Bobby.”
The man took off his baseball cap and ran his fingers through his hair before setting the cap back in place. “Okay. Okay. I was not expecting to meet a kid who knows more about monsters than the majority of the adult population in America, but hell, in this line of work you learn to just roll with it. Does your Daddy know?”
Dean shook his head. “I told Mom and Dad what happened but they didn’t believe me.”
“Well, you gotta admit kid, it is a lot to swallow.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Bobby gave him a long, searching look. “You do, don’t you?” He sighed, sad and weary. “I’m sorry, boy. I wish you coulda kept your innocence.”
Dean shrugged. “If I had known about monsters sooner I might have been able to stop the demon from ever getting into my house.”
Grief passed over Bobby’s face. “I know what you mean.”
“Now that I know, I want to be a hunter. I want to save people from monsters. And I want you to train me.”
“I don’t care if it is dangerous. The world is dangerous! If I know how to hunt I can help to make it a little bit safer.”
“Dean, you’re just a kid. How old are you, nine? Ten?”
“Eight and three quarters,” Dean grudgingly admitted.
“Eight,” Bobby echoed. “Dean, if you want to be a hunter I am not going to tell you no. But you are only eight years old. You haven’t even hit puberty yet. The hard truth is that you are too small, too weak, and too young to be hunting. You can’t hold your own in a fight, you can’t dig up a grave, you can’t ask questions at a crime scene, you can’t be out alone at night, you can’t drive halfway across the countryside, you’ll have trouble doing research when you can’t read most of the big words in the books yet, and you are too young to die.”
“Here’s what you can do. You can learn how to protect yourself and your family. You can learn how to spot monsters. And you can have my phone number, so if anything comes up you can give me a call and I will deal with it or I will send in another hunter.”
“When you are old enough, you can come to me in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and I will teach you everything I know about hunting. But for now, I want you to be a kid. Have fun. Play with your friends and your little brother. Go to school. Date pretty girls. Eat cake. Play baseball. Live a little.”
Dean wanted to become a hunter right now. But Bobby had a point. Cas had to work hard enough to protect him without Dean going out and deliberately looking for danger, and Dean just wasn’t big enough to take care of himself out there in the big bad world. He would have to wait.
“You’ll teach me how to protect my family?” Dean asked.
“Absolutely. Tell you what. I’ll stick around in town for a few days and teach you a few tricks of the trade, and I’ll leave you with a quick-reference guide for everything else I won’t have time to show you. But only if you promise to be a kid, just for a little while longer.”
It was a fair deal. “Okay, Bobby.” Dean held out a hand. “I promise.”
They shook on it, and Bobby was on his way.
“What took you so long?” Dad asked when Dean wandered back into the workshop.
“Me and Bobby were talking cars,” Dean said.
Dad chuckled. “That’s my boy. You’ll be a mechanic for sure.”