Word Count: 3700
Summary: Just because Sam didn't like to hustle pool wasn't to say he didn't know how - or wouldn't when he needed to.
Notes: My thanks, as always, to geminigirl11 - this one went beyond just betaing, thanks for all the great suggestions!
Disclaimer: Not mine. The pretty, snarky, angsty brothers belong to Kripke & the CW.
Making Ends Meet
All bars had certain things in common. And even after years of being away from the seedier ones, his friends having gone more for the preppy bars that surrounded campus, Sam found himself relaxing into the low-lit, smoke-filled room. Dartboard on the far wall, pool table with nicked canvas in the back; a steady throng of people pushing around the bar, each demanding their time and their booze. All familiar, the sights and smells ingrained since childhood.
Sam shoved his hands into his pockets, sitting inconspicuously at a small, out of the way table and watching the crowd as they moved past. Familiar or not, he was quick to acknowledge that this was more Dean's scene than his own. Dean had always taken to such places like a second skin, far more comfortably than Sam probably ever would. Sam was rarely in them alone, either, but it happened when there were extenuating circumstances.
They'd been in Fort Smith - just inside Arkansas, on the border of Oklahoma - for over a week. Lured into town by the rumors of a haunting at the old courthouse, they'd barely made it into town when the cold Dean had been fighting finally manifested into full-blown flu. After a week of coughing and sneezing, fever fits and chills, Sam was almost as exhausted as Dean.
He'd put off going out as long as possible - loathe to leave Dean to his own devices - but once Dean's fever had finally settled, Sam knew they could wait little longer for supplies. Food and medicine were at the top of the list, but before he could buy them they needed an influx of a more monetary nature.
Glancing at his watch, Sam cringed to realize he'd been gone for almost two hours and had nothing as of yet to show for it. Not wanting to admit defeat, but needing to check on Dean, he took a last drag out of his beer, long since warm and flat. With a last glance at the pool table, Sam made to leave.
"You've been staring at that table all night." Sam jumped at the voice, turning to find a stocky, forty-something man standing behind him. "You interested or not?"
Sam glanced down at the man, chewing on his lip as if debating the offer. "Depends."
"On what kid?" he replied, and Sam couldn't help but notice the glances they were attracting. The man smiled, the kind of smooth smile sharks everywhere possessed. The very signal Sam had been taught to look for. "It's just a friendly little game."
"Friendly, huh?" Sam asked, reserved. "I dunno..."
The man nodded. "Sure it is. And I bet I've got a couple of pals named Jackson who are mighty interested in chatting."
"Name's Luke, kid. This here's Pete." He gestured toward another guy, a couple of feet away, who was as tall as Sam but twice as wide. Sam glanced at him, noticing he'd probably had his fair share of the pitchers that had been making their way from the bar at a fairly rapid pace, by the vacant expression. "What's yours?" Luke asked, drawing Sam's attention back. "Name, kid?" he added when Sam just stared.
"Well then, Sam. Let's play a round or two, what do you say?"
He had to bite the inside of his lip to keep from smiling. Some habits - even those he didn't always care for or approve of - were never really lost. Not that most people would ever equate hustling pool with that sentiment, but being a Winchester never had much amounted to normal.
"What the hell," Sam said, shrugging as Luke slapped him on the back.
The first game passed quickly. Sam worked to balance his shots, sinking some, missing others. Just unreliable enough to make Luke over-confident. 'Never let them know what you can do right away, Sammy', Dean's voice echoed in his head. Yeah, it might've been years but some things never truly left him. If he were honest, it was almost comforting to hear his brother's words in his ear, knowing that Dean had taught him every trick he was using. Made him feel a little like he wasn't flying solo.
When Luke sank the eight ball, causing a round of drunken cheers from the others, Sam grimaced, handing over the twenty he'd laid down on the table.
"Not bad, kid," Luke said, pocketing the bill. "Give it some time, you might be all right."
Running a hand through his hair, Sam shoved his other hand into a pocket. "Try again?" he asked, glancing at the table, hopefully.
Luke grinned and Sam could feel him falling nicely into the trap. "Sure, buddy. I could probably teach ya a thing or two."
Four games later and the crowd had thickened considerably. It wasn't his favorite side effect of playing, but an inevitable one all the same. There were few things a bar crowd liked more than a good poll game - unless it was a fight. And he wasn't planning on going down that route if he could avoid it. So far, he was down, but not bad. He was contemplating how to up the stakes so that he might get back to the hotel before dawn and check on Dean, when Luke finally made his move.
"Okay, kid. Been flirtin' around this table all night. Time to put up or shut up."
Pretending to hesitate, Sam asked, "What are you thinking?"
Taking a drink of beer, Luke tossed the bottle in a nearby trashcan before saying, "Everything we've bet tonight. Plus a little more. If you're serious."
Luke grinned, obviously thinking he was home free, and Sam swore he could see every tooth in his mouth. He looked disturbingly like the cat that caught the canary. Sam couldn't help thinking that Luke was in for one hell of a surprise.
"Come on kid, you don't wanna run home to momma empty handed, do ya?"
Bristling, Sam shook his head. "Okay. You got it."
Sam had won the break on the last game and he chalked the stick as the balls were reset at the opposite end of the table. Dropping the chalk cube onto the table edge, Sam grasped the stick lightly, spinning it between his fingers. It might be a ratty, bar-grade pool stick, but he'd made do with worse in the past. It still felt as familiar to have one between his hands as riding a bike must feel to most people.
He took a deep breath to clear his head. Put up or shut up time, like Luke had said. Stifling a grin - he didn't doubt Luke would shut up soon - Sam brushed his bangs out of his eyes before leaning over the table to line up the shot.
Luke never saw what hit him.
An hour later, Sam pulled up in front of their hotel room and killed the car. Grabbing the Wal-Mart bag from the passenger seat, he slowly unfolded himself from the car, trying not to sneeze from the rank smoke smell that clung to him. He locked the door, making sure not to slam it in the hopes Dean was still asleep.
Once in the room, he was relieved to see that Dean was, in fact, still asleep. It was proof how worn out Dean was that he hadn't even noticed Sam's disappearing act. A small fact Sam was grateful for.
"Where do you think you've been?"
Or maybe not.
Dean rolled over, groaning as he turned to look at Sam before coughing miserably. "Yeah, gathered that."
"How do you feel?" Sam asked, dropping the bag and keys on the table. He was thankful there was a sliver of light coming in through the curtains so he could navigate his way through the room without falling flat on his face or blinding Dean with the overhead light.
Dean shrugged and Sam wasn't surprised by the lack of answer. It never failed - as soon as Dean started feeling better, he was fine. Even on days he couldn't walk as far as the bathroom, he was always 'fine'.
"So?" Dean asked, more of a rasp than a word as he struggled to sit up. Sam moved beside him, propping the pillows up behind his back. Once he was settled, Dean squinted up at him. "Where were you?"
Gesturing toward the table, Sam replied, "Store."
"All night? Must have been one hell of a sale, Sammy." Dean sniffed loudly, though Sam doubted how much he could actually smell. "Nice air freshener they have there, too."
Rolling his eyes, Sam retrieved the bag, digging through it to pull out a bottle of orange juice. "Here, drink this." Sam opened the bottle, holding it out expectantly.
Dean took the bottle, but didn't drink right away. "You stink, dude."
"You're welcome." Sam couldn't quite help the smile that threatened, though. "Drink," he repeated.
"Tyrant," Dean muttered, but drank anyway.
Sam kicked his shoes off, pulling his jacket off simultaneously. Rummaging through the sack once more, he pulled out a box of pills. "Here, take a dose of this." He popped two caplets of the medicine out and dropped them onto Dean's lax hand. "It'll help you sleep."
"I've been sleeping fine."
Walking toward the bathroom, longing for a hot shower to rid himself of the smoke, Sam rolled his eyes again. He seemed to do that a lot when Dean was sick, he had noticed. "Fine. It'll help me sleep then, if it makes you stop coughing."
"Dean." He turned back toward his brother and just stared.
"Fine," Dean replied, defiantly tossing the blue-green tablets into his mouth. He chased them down with the orange juice, covering his mouth when it caused him to start coughing again. Sam winced at how red Dean turned as he fought to breathe for coughing. "Happy now?" Dean asked, once he caught his breath.
"Ecstatic," Sam said, turning back toward the bathroom. "Now go back to sleep, it's not even dawn."
"Heard that," Sam called out from the bathroom, adjusting the water temperature in the shower.
He couldn't help laughing at Dean's mumbled, "Yeah, well good, I meant for you to," which was soon followed by rasping snores.
Twenty minutes later, feeling relatively clean again, Sam stepped out of the bathroom and into the darkened main room. Once his eyes adjusted, Sam glanced over at Dean, who was once more passed out, still propped up against the pillows and drooling. Quiet snores were punctuated by deep coughs that made Sam's chest hurt just to hear. Dean sounded better than he had, but he still had a ways to go.
After exchanging the towel for a t-shirt and boxers, Sam finished sorting through the grocery bag. He couldn't help but be grateful for twenty-four hour mega marts on nights like this one. It made him wonder how Dean had managed it when they were little. He remembered being sick, their dad away on some hunt or another. Dean had always made due with no options for food or medicine but gas stations, if they were lucky.
He quickly separated the food from the medicine, knowing both would be needed come morning. Dean would complain about the money he'd spent - the unexpected, extended hotel stay had zapped their resources. Forced down time always made Dean twitchy, especially about money, and the past week had been no exception.
For a while, though, at least money was one thing they wouldn't have to worry about. Sam grinned, extracting the wad of bills from his jeans pocket. Between the hustle itself and the side bets that had been made before his final shot, he'd managed even better than he'd hoped. Counting the money out, which he hadn't been willing to do while making a quick exit from the bar, he broke them into smaller stacks. He then rolled them together, dividing the take between Dean's bag and his own.
What Dean would say when he found it... Well, he'd cross that bridge when he came to it.
Grabbing the grocery bag, Sam pulled out the remaining item. He quickly removed it from its packaging, dropping it onto the table beside Dean's bed. Scavenging through the papers on the table - his attempts at research going back several days - he finally found the section he sought and placed it on the table, too, covering the first.
Checking the clock merely revealed morning to be far too near, and Sam lay on the bed with a sigh. He'd barely pulled the covers up before falling into a thankfully dreamless sleep.
It was the light that woke Dean, pouring in through the flimsy curtains. Sam had been fussing with them since Dean had gotten sick to no avail. It didn't seem to matter what he did, the light inevitably found its way into the room and across Dean's bed.
Taking a cautious breath - hesitant to set off another round of coughing - Dean rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes. He hated the drugged-up feeling the medicine left behind. It might have eased some of the symptoms, but it sure as hell made others seem worse. The strange tilting motion of the room when he tried to sit up, for instance.
Sitting perfectly still, eyes closed and breathing through clenched teeth, Dean fought the vertigo moving caused. A couple of minutes later he risked opening his eyes, barely, and found the room was once again stationary. Despite his struggles, he had to admit it was the closest he'd felt to human in days.
A quick glance across the room revealed Sam to be out cold - as if the soft, rasping snores weren't a clue. It still rankled - it felt backwards. He was supposed to take care of Sam, not the other way around. Though he knew Sam would probably disagree.
He was tired of being trapped in one place, and even more, he hated the helplessness he always felt when Sam was sick, even with something minor. But he knew better than to think Sam would escape it, not after taking care of him all week. Even as kids, they'd given bugs back and forth to each other. As adults, they'd found it was no different. It was just a matter of time.
Biting back a sigh - it wasn't worth the coughing fit that would undoubtedly wake Sam - Dean turned toward the edge of the bed. Squinting against the light, he staggered from the bed, moving slowly as if it might keep the room from tilting once more.
Halfway across the room he stumbled, slamming his foot into one of the wooden chairs. Cursing, he limped onward toward the bathroom, checking to make sure he hadn't woken Sam. To his relief, Sam merely rolled over, still asleep.
Reaching the bathroom, he flipped on the light only to immediately turn it off. Tears bit his eyes from the sudden, searing brightness and he blinked them away. Being laid up with some bug from hell was bad enough without that. Once he could see, Dean fumbled with his carry bag, finally finding his toothbrush. A few moments more and he located the toothpaste that seemed to alternate between his bag and Sam's. His mouth tasted like several dirty gym socks; germs or not, that had to go.
Morning ablutions done, Dean left the small bathroom, intent on returning to bed. Almost there, he saw the groceries Sam had apparently brought in the night before. He had hazy memories of being forced to drink orange juice in the middle of the night but it was mostly a blur.
There were several different kinds of medicines and he cringed at what those must have cost. Using the fake credit cards had never bothered Dean as much as Sam, though it wasn't his favorite thing in the world. However, when they were in one place for over a week, even Dean preferred not to risk leaving the paper trail. Their cash was running low, though. He was only sick, after all, not completely brain dead.
Picking one of the boxes of pills at random, he kept checking until he found one that wouldn't knock him back out on his ass right away. He was tired of sleeping. Hell, he was tired of being tired, but sleeping wasn't helping that much either, apparently. Unfortunately, he didn't really have the energy for much else.
Finally satisfied with one of them, his stomach merely turning at the sight of the food Sam had purchased, he returned to bed. He found the half empty bottle of orange juice still sitting, opened, on the table. The pills were swallowed with a grimace, the room temperature juice burning his sore throat.
In the process of dropping the emptied bottle into the trash, he knocked a section of newspaper from the table. Confused, Dean stared at the colorful pages now resting on the floor. He looked from floor to table, unable to think of any reason for the Sunday comics to have ended up there. Either way, he wasn't inclined to lean over and pick them up. He was far too likely to end up beside them, instead.
Shrugging, Dean lay back on the bed, out of breath for his troubles. He half-heartedly punched the extra pillows behind him. He'd found early on that sitting up seemed to help with the cough. As he did so, he noticed something wobbling on the table. Turning, he stared at the egg-shaped object, definitely out of place in their room. He tilted his head, unblinking, but the object neither changed nor disappeared.
Wondering what it was Sam was up to, he reached over and picked it up. It was a hideously bright shade of red, with a seam around the long side. Turning it over in his hands, he looked over at Sam, face hidden by his hair as he slept, and then back at the egg. Gingerly, as though expecting something to pop out at him, Dean cracked the seal.
Seeing the beige putty inside, Dean couldn't quite keep from smiling. All of a sudden, he remembered a much younger Sam. One who was laid up by the chicken pox, covered in spots, and long since bored with all Dean's attempts at distraction.
He couldn't remember where he'd gotten the Silly Putty back then, although he clearly remembered their dad taking it away later, after an incident with the Impala's carpet. But at the time, that and a page of the Sunday comics had kept Sam occupied enough to keep him from scratching and complaining. It had even made him laugh. And that was all that had mattered.
"I guess that's why they call it the 'impulse aisle'," Sam said, startling Dean from his thoughts.
Shoving the putty back into the egg, Dean snapped it shut quickly. He looked up to find Sam staring at him, bleary-eyed. "Silly thing to spend money on, Sam," he replied, his voice rough, doing his best to act nonchalant. It was just a simple kid's toy, after all.
Sam gave him an enigmatic smile. "Nah, it was worth it."
"Sammy..." Dean sighed, stifling a cough as he placed the egg back onto the table. He knew it probably hadn't cost much, but when they were barely scraping by to begin with... "It's not like we've got a ton of extra money lying around." When Sam merely shrugged, Dean bristled. "What?"
"We're okay for a while."
Sitting up straighter, more clear-headed than he'd been in days, Dean glared at Sam. "Something you want to share with the class, Sammy?" His voice lacked the force he would've liked, but he knew Sam got his point. He always did.
Sam just grinned, though, shaking his head. "Just 'cause I didn't like to hustle pool doesn't mean I was never any good at it." Dean opened his mouth, but had no reply. Sam grew serious and continued. "I knew we were short and I took care of it. End of story." He gestured toward Dean. "You're feeling better, I see. That's good."
"Don't change the subject. You got out clean, right?" Dean had to ask, checking his brother for any signs of a fight. "No sore losers?"
Laughing, Sam kicked the covers away and climbed out of bed. "No, Dean. Everything went fine."
"Well good. That's good then." He couldn't help but feel slightly unconvinced. Hustling always had been more his gig. Even when he gave Sam a hard time about not wanting to, he'd hated making him do it. It was dangerous, for one. And even though he'd taught Sam the game, he had never seen him do it. It wasn't so much a lack of confidence as... well, maybe it had been a lack of confidence.
He gestured toward the groceries with a head tilt. "So you must've done alright then."
Sam paused on his way toward the bathroom and messed with their bags for a moment, although Dean couldn't see what he was doing. Without a backwards glance, Sam then tossed two rolls of bills onto Dean's bed before disappearing into the other room.
Flipping through the bills, bound together by rubber bands, Dean felt his eyebrows rise. "Dude, you sure you didn't rob a bank?" he asked, once Sam returned to the room. His voice still wasn't up to yelling, even across such a small space.
"Nope. Just a couple of drunk guys come over from Oklahoma, thought they'd find a sucker or two." Sam laughed and Dean couldn't help but think he didn't do that nearly often enough these days - not that he would ever breathe a word of it out loud. "Guess they just weren't expecting to be the suckers."
Dean was impressed. For a little while at least, they had enough petty cash for gas and food and ammo without having to worry about it. He tossed half the money back to Sam, laughing even though it caused him to start coughing. Once he could breathe again, he smirked, his words more of a croak that actual voice.
"That's my boy."