Burning the Primrose Path

Def: "The Primrose Path refers to a life of ease and pleasure, or to a course of action that seems easy and appropriate but can actually end in calamity."

The bartender absently wiped out a glass with a cloth, dark eyes trained ahead of him. It was fairly early and the Friday crowd hadn't descended upon them yet. It made it slightly easier to watch the table to his left.

The big wooden support beams standing between his spot behind the bar and the table of college kids framed the scene, lending it the illusion of a moving photograph. A photograph of camaraderie and relaxation. A photograph of friendship and normalcy.

It was all wrong.

Intolerably wrong.

Sam Winchester gave a shy smile and ducked his head. He traced his thumbnail over a groove formed in the finish of the table as he listened to his friends talk. His eyes remained trained on the thick resin coating, worn from years of use.

Of abuse.

Despite his shyness- that unassuming demeanor that was at its essence 100% pure SAM- his shoulders did not speak of hidden stress. Of tension that buzzed barely beneath the surface. No. He was... relaxed.

Blissfully ignorant of the bartender watching him like a hawk, listening in to every nuance of their conversation punctuated by the loud raucous laughter of young people set free from their duties. Almost Adolescents, Not-Quite-Adults set loose into the world for the first time. Unweighted with adult responsibilities and those which they did carry, borne with the humor and bon vivance of youth.

Sam didn't have quite that ease of spirit, even now. He was relaxed but not intoxicated on his own life force. There was still something in him that spoke of his chaotic youth.

The bartender put away his glass, began to cut lemons, slice, slicing through the skin. The citrus smell hitting his nose, almost tasting the sour on his tongue. He flicked his eyes toward Sam Winchester again. Let his gaze linger.

The kid didn't even know he was being watched. Every hunter's instinct honed in him by his father's training should have been screaming at him. Sent his gut churning a warning, put him on edge.

Even his womanizing sack-of-shit older brother would have been radiating tension, scanning everywhere in the bar, trying to seize onto who or WHAT was observing him. But not Sam. Not now.

Now Sam was absorbed alternately in studying the table before him and flashing shy smiles and the odd remark into the conversation. He stole a fry off of the plate of the pixie stick of a blonde in front of him and she smacked his arm possessively. "Sam! Those are my fries."

He gave her a flash of his dimples. Besides being unaware of the gaze burning into the side of his head from the direction of the bar, he seemed oblivious to the intention of the blue blooded piece of ass in front of him. It was a crying shame.

His friends all seemed straight arrows. The girl, Rebecca, and Zak, her dark-haired brother next to her. And then there was Sam's shadow and best friend, Tyson Brady sitting at his left hand side, where a little over a year ago his brother would have been.

These kids all had pretentious fucked up names like that. Tyson and Zak and Grady and Grayson and Tyler. Parents had to give their special babies special names, unique like snowflakes. Except they were all the fucking same. Next to them "Sam" was almost a laugh.

Sam with his beat up t-shirt and loose jeans picked up at a second hand store, the hems scuffed to hell. Those fucking blue tennis sneakers that he'd had since the day he'd walked out on his Daddy's wrath.

Brady elbowed Sam's arm and motioned for him to grab them more drinks. Sam shook his head, hid beneath his mop of brown bangs and finally gave in, giving Brady a slap on the back as he slid his chair out and stood up.

The young Winchester had already put on height in a few short months, inches even.

The bartender's eyes went to Brady briefly. Sam's All-American chiseled jawed friend looked a little stressed. The weary tension rolling off him in a wave despite his perfect bonded teeth and styled blonde hair. He was under stress. Probably mid-terms. Long hours studying. Not sure if he'd make the cut.

The bartender smiled as Sam approached. Put away his lemons, wiped his hands on a striped bar towel.

"Hey," Sam looked out from under his mop of bangs. "The waitress sort of went MIA and I need a couple of beers. You have Arrogant Bastard on tap?"

The bartender smiled. "Do I ever, kid. You got an ID?"

"I got carded at the door." Sam waved back vaguely toward their table.

"Yeah, well show me again. I know that guy doesn't pay attention half the time."

Sam reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a battered leather wallet, showed his ID.

Sam Winchester, twenty one years old.

He'd probably made it himself. Kid had more fake IDs at 16 than most spies.

But the difference here was that this was under his real name. Progress. Sammy going legit. He even caught sight of a credit card in his actual name. The miracles never ceased.

The bartender turned his back to fill the draft and smiled watching the liquid fill the glass in a heady foam. "You sure don't look 21, Sammy."

"It's Sam." He replied defensively without skipping a beat. "And yeah, I look young for my age. I hear that a lot."

The bartender glanced up in the mirror behind the bar, saw Sam watching him with a furrowed brow before they locked gazes through the mirror and the kid looked back at his friends.

"How many do you want, or am I supposed to guess."

The bartender blinked once and didn't bother to hide his yellow eyes. When Sam turned back they were brown again.

"Two." Sam said.

Azazel smiled and handed Sam the glasses. He cocked his head, a show of teeth. "Here's your Arrogant Bastard, kid."

Azazel made a show of wiping down the counter as Sam walked away. The kid didn't give him a second glance. Not once. He didn't look up from his table of friends, didn't even pause to take notice of the patrons as they started to file in.

It was a goddamned crying shame. All that potential, all that training and drilling and honing. He was the favorite.

Azazel knew better than to put all his eggs in one basket, of course he did. There were others but none of them, not a one, held a candle to Sam Winchester.

Sam had some unspoken power in him, something that hummed with life. And not just the power that he had from Azazel's blood gift to him. No. There was something in Sam's very spirit. That unbreakable stubborn will combined with that quick intellect. The combat training and weapons expertise that meant if push came to shove, Sam could be a stone cold killer like his older brother. And on top of all that, the kid was growing up to be a giant buck of a man. He was already taller than anyone around him and his bone structure hinted at sheer physical power when he truly matured.

It was a goddamn waste to see him piss it away at Stanford with these soft, spoiled rotten rich kids who'd never seen a day's hard work, probably couldn't change the oil in their own BMWs.

It'd been essential to get him away from under Daddy's thumb. But this complacency wouldn't do. Not at all.

People were starting to mill about the bar and stand in the way. Azazel took the orders as they came, slipping in smiles and nods and Nicholson charm.

The more he watched Brady, the more he saw signs of the blonde Ken doll's stress. Poor little pre-med student. Bit off more than he could chew, needed that vacation after mid-terms.

He'd do nicely. Beautifully, actually. The closest point of access to Sam. And so wide open for possession that he didn't stand a chance.

Azazel would make certain that Sam Winchester wasn't out of the running. It wouldn't take too much effort after all, just some nudging in the right direction. Sam couldn't be pushed. Pushing made him recalcitrant and stubborn. He'd sink his heels in and plant himself like a mule. But nudging, suggesting, baiting him with a little carrot here and there. Well that had worked the kid's whole goddamn life.

A little training, they'd have him heading right in the direction he wanted him to go. Azazel was betting on this dark horse.