Since receiving a call from Bobby, Ellen and Jo had been preparing for the arrival of their soon to be guests. They didn't have much but with hunters passing in and out all the time, the Winchesters would be far safer here than anywhere else… Or so those involved seemed to believe.
"Did Bobby tell you how long they would be staying?" Jo asked as she helped her mother push one of the tables a little more to the right, truth be told safety aside… a small broken down Saloon was not the best place to be bringing a blind man, but they would do the best with what they had, and the rest would have no choice but to fall into place.
"Until Bobby catches whoever or… whatever is after them I'm guessing." Ellen shrugged a little, "Doesn't really matter, they're family give or take a few drops of blood and that means that we do as much as we can for them."
"Poor Sam though, I mean he's blind. How do we you know, act around him? How do we help him?"
Ellen offered her young daughter a half smile heading for the front door just as she heard Bobby's old rickety truck coming up the dirt road, "He's still the same Sam he's always been Jo, and that's how you have to treat him."
Climbing out of the truck Sam's limbs were as stiff as popsicle sticks as he stretched and rolled his neck from one side to the other, "Hey Bobby? Next time you want to take us on a six and a half hour joy ride can you try to find something in that old junk heap of yours with a little more leg room?"
"Well Excuse me princess, but it's not exactly like we had the luxury of car shopping before getting you boys out of town!" He griped while pulling a few of the duffel bags out of the back of the truck and setting them down, "Ungrateful idgets"
Dean snickered before taking a hold of Sam's elbow watching as the taller man adjusted his sunglasses for the fifth time in the last five minutes. "Sammy, it's alright."
"I just you know, don't want them to feel uncomfortable."
"Dude, this is Jo and Ellen we are talking about here, they run the local hang out for drunks and derelicts, they've seen things a lot freakier than you come stumbling in and that's without including the spooks and demons."
"Last I checked the only derelict I let in my bar carried the last name Winchester." Ellen joked as she descended the steps of the Roadhouse heading to meet the three men. She felt her breath hitch in her throat as her eyes fell on Sam her heart breaking slightly in her chest.
The Sam she remembered was not the one who stepped toward her now she would hardly recognize him if it weren't for Dean pasted faithfully at his side. He'd lost a good twenty pounds since she'd last seen him, he appeared so vulnerable and withdrawn that it nearly brought tears to her eyes, all that remained of her once vibrant and lively friend was a fractured shadow.
As she finally reached them standing face to face she swallowed down her concerns and caressed Sam's forearm lightly, "Well, hey there handsome." She made sure to keep her voice cheerful and light as she spoke.
"Hey Ellen" Sam smiled softly and shook Dean's hand off before reaching out to hug her welcomingly already handing out unneeded apologies, "Listen, we're um really sorry about all this…."
"Don't be ridiculous Sam, there is absolutely nothing for you to be sorry for," As she said this however she looked to Dean, her eyes shooting daggers into him, Daggers that read, I'll get to you later and you have plenty to be sorry for.
Dean shivered and shook his head choosing to play dumb for the moment and pretend he didn't notice Ellen was trying to murder him with her eyes, "So uh, are you sure you have the room for us? I mean-"
"Ashes room has been freed up for months" She declared cutting him off, "Some eighties Madonna clone walked in here one day, stole his heart and he ain't been back since, we get a post card every now and again he's somewhere off the coast of Cuba living it up only the way Ash can."
"So mullet man found a bride huh?" Dean chuckled to himself shaking his head turning to his brother and regripping his arm, "See Sammy there is hope for you yet."
"Hilarious." Sam Exhaled, "So where's Jo?"
"she's inside." Ellen nodded toward the house before falling back a bit letting Sam and Dean take the lead as she came to stand next to Bobby… "He's alright isn't he?" She asked keeping her voice below normal she couldn't seem to tear her eyes away from the two figures in front of her.
"Depends on your definition of ok I s'pose." Bobby adjusted his baseball cap and shook his head, "Every days a new struggle and sometimes it seems the odds are so stacked against him that there is no way he can pull himself out." He smiles in her direction, "But let me tell you, that kids a fighter if I ever saw one."
"What are the doctor's saying?"
Bobby's face fell a little now as he leaned against the hood of the truck and put down the bags rubbing his stubble decorated chin the boys having long since disappeared inside. "The damage is irreversible, his condition it permanent and the best his family can do for him now is help him adjust…. Help him to learn to live without his sight."
"Oh man." Ellen looked to her longtime friend, "And what does Sam say about that?"
"You know these boys, they are a lot like their father… Neither one is giving up hope, but as time rolls on…. I think the realization is finally smacking right into him… Into both of them."
"And you said, this was a person? That someone planted a bomb in the impala?"
Bobby nodded crossing his arms over his chest, "Yeah, If it were a demon I think it would be easier for everyone involved…But the detective is sure and well… Sam's visions don't lie"
"Any ideas on who?"
"Not a clue in hell… But I intend to find out and when I do it will be handled, make no mistake about that. These boys have enough to deal with inside themselves, they don't need extra troubles knocking at their door… Not right now."
"you're gonna handle this on your own?"
"What choice do I have, it's not exactly like I can call up my old hunting buddies, the few that are left anyway, and tell them to come down to south Dakota to help me hunt down a damn human."
"You could always let the police handle this one you know?"
"Not if it's connected the way we think it might be to the other side, with the visions and all… Sam is sure human or not something about this whole thing is dark side."
"Do you think it could just be his hopes and not facts that he is basing this off of?" Ellen couldn't help but question. "I mean I may not know him as well as you but I'd bet he's looking for something…. Anything to rip into right about now."
"Could be, but that's not a chance I'm willing to take," The tired mans lips curled into a smile, "You know, he's been training to hunt again… Doesn't want to feel helpless anymore. And I gotta tell you the little snots still pretty damn good all things considered."
"I'm not surprised," Ellen scoffed a little, "He's his father's son." she eyed Bobby her brow cocking slightly, "Speaking of, how about Dean…. I mean is he alright."
Bobby didn't answer this time as he gave the shorter woman a gentle pat on the shoulder and exhaled loudly before leaning down to pick up the bags again. Dean was another story for another time, one that Bobby himself wasn't sure he had all the pages to just yet, and he'd been living with the kid for months. It pained him when he thought about Dean, the suffering in his eyes and the anger in his heart, it was so overpowering and so deep that it was unexplainable. The only thing the seasoned hunter knew for sure was, life had not been kind to John Winchester's sons and that was putting it mildly.
. . . . . .
Stepping inside the front door to the Roadhouse Dean kept a tight hold on his brother's arm speaking into his ear, "Careful, remember that there is a lip here, the minute you forget you're gonna go head first back down the porch steps."
Sam nodded. "Got it, little lip big pain in the ass…. Or the head depending on which end lands down."
Jo who'd been standing on the far end of the bar silent until now snickered quietly giving herself away.
"We were beginning to wonder if you'd skipped out the back on us." Dean called in her direction with a grin before turning back to Sam, "You've got s couple of tables here so…"
"I can move those." she offered pushing herself off the bar and stepping toward them
"It's fine Jo," Sam smiled gently, the same smile she remembered, just a little worn around the edges.
"Yeah, Sam's on this whole independence kick so if he refuses your help don't take offense or anything, he's just decided that with or without his eyes he can take on the world."
"shut up Dean." Finally feeling the bar top brush against his fingers Sam gripped hold and pulled himself away from Dean shifting his head up slightly welcoming the familiar scent of day old whiskey and dirt that filled his nostrils. So many memories from his old life filling his sense that it was nearly overwhelming.
Jo nodded, "Al-alright then." She looked Sam up and down a few times trying to grasp her head around the man who stood before her, who he was now compared, who he used to be….
To Jo Harvelle Sam and Dean Winchester were icons, they incased everything she wished she could be, they were strong and fearless, they lived by their own rules, kickin ass and taken names with no one to answer to but themselves. They were….. Heroes.
And her hero had fallen.
What remained of him placed out before her like a scratched and burned up old photo, most of it withered away except for the faintest image of what used to be laying below a tarnished surface. An image she had to fight to recognize. She knew her thoughts and feelings were selfish, that they would be impossible for anyone who did not live inside her skin to understand and she tried to push them away, but it wasn't exactly like she could control them.
Dean frowned softly in her direction seeing the question and uncertainty in her gaze as she drew her lip into her mouth hesitantly. "It's good to see you Jo," He stepped forward and embraced her whispering in her ear as he did so, "He's okay…. Really."
She nodded against his shoulder before pulling back, "You too… Both of you…."
Sam heart sank a little further into his stomach having heard the exchanged whisper and the discomfort in the younger woman's words, but he refused to let his smile falter. "So ummm. What does a guy have to do to get a beer around here? It's still a bar isn't it?" He attempted to lighten the mood knocking on the bar top.
Jo chuckled. "Yeah, it's still a bar, let me see what I can scrounge up." Stepping back behind the bar she fished out three PBRS and popped their tops before handing them out.
"Thanks." Sam fingers brushed against hers momentarily as he searched for her hand and took hold of the beer.
"So um, I managed to clean up Ashes old pad pretty well, but the patchouli smell is forever embedded in the walls if you ask me."
"That's alright, at this point we are thankful for anything you got."
"well would you look at that…." Ellen quipped as she and Bobby finally made it into the Roadhouse and she came to stand directly behind Sam resting her hands on his shoulders, "Haven't even been here an hour and already drinkin' my beer."
"even ex hunters can't refuse a cold one Ellen, you should know that by now." Dean rose to his feet and took a few of the bags Bobby was still struggling to hold on to leading the way into the back toward where they would be staying.
After plopping the bags down on one of the beds, Bobby's brows furrowed together as he took notice of the tension radiating off of Dean's features. "You alright?"
"I just, I don't know if this is such a good idea Bobby, putting Ellen and Jo in danger like this…. Not to mention the way Jo keeps looking at Sam like he's an injured yet rabid dog whose going to bite and infect her at any minute. "
"What do you expect from her Dean? She's young, you and sam you come in here all bruised up and broken and it's a slap in the face to someone like her"
"Someone like her?"
"To a dabbling bystander like Jo, you and Sam might as well be batman and Robin. You're invincible."
"Regardless, she doesn't have to look at him like that."
Bobby stepped around Dean and resisted the urge to knock him in the back of his head. "I've got bigger fish to gut than trying to figure out a twenty something year old girls emotional stability." He grinned brightly. "You stay here and figure that one out, I'll take on the figure in the shadows."
"Quit yer whining' you sound like a snot nosed brat." He stepped back into the main bar, "So I guess this is it then…" He looked from Dean to Sam and back again pushing aside the tightening in his chest, he didn't want to be leaving them here, he wanted them with him where they could watch his back and more importantly he could watch there's.
"Bobby…" Sam Rose to his feet and spun around holding his hand out a little.
Every part of him, even those he'd thought to be long since dead ached as Bobby stepped closer and took Sam's hand in his own. "You be careful…. Those pot holes seem to jump out in front of you these days kiddo." His voice quivered slightly and he exhaled, "I- uh…"
"We'll see you soon Bobby."
"Yeah yeah you will." Bobby Squeezed the hand in his own before pulling the younger yet substantially larger man into a hug gripping him tight and holding him close.. He never understood what it meant to have a family, to truly be a part of something until almost a year ago when he vowed to protect the two broken figures that showed up shattered on his door step with nowhere else to go and no one else to turn to.
Now as he prepared to head back home and leave them behind his stomach was twisted in knots, his eyes wet with moisture and his heart was torn in two. He knew that Dean was more than capable of caring for Sam and even that Sam could care for himself, but still he felt empty… He needed them.
Dean walked with Bobby outside and stood beside the rolled down window as he climbed into the truck and closed the door, "You know, I still think I should be going with you." He quipped looking the older man in the eyes.
"If you asked Sam he feels the same way, but your place is here with your brother, we have to cover all our bases and you know that. If this guy comes back, you need to be here, you have to protect Sam."
"Hm, now you sound strangely like someone else I knew."
"it's a big weight on your shoulders and I know that, but your daddy wasn't all hot air… He trusted you and so do I"
"If something happens, you call me."
"Same goes for you, keep them eyes to the skies and your ear to the ground."
Adjusting his hat the now emotion stricken man nodded, fearing he couldn't hold back much longer he put the car in gear and peeled out watching in his rearview mirror as Dean, the roadhouse and his heart grew smaller and smaller before disappearing completely.
. . . . . .
Dean's cheek stung as Ellen back handed him hard across the face her finger digging into his chest. "Boy I could knock you into next Tuesday!"
"What the hell for?" Dean snapped back rubbing at his scruff and scowling.
"Next time something like this happens you pick up your damn phone and you call me! Is it to much to ask for a little piece of mind? We thought you boys were dead and then all the sudden damn near a year later we finally hear from you again?"
"Sam wanted it that way!" Dean retorted weakly.
"I don't care what Sam wanted, you don't just let your loved ones think you are dead you hear me? None of us who have chosen this line of work got much left, but that just means we hold tighter to what we do!"
"Alright." Dean offered her a sympathetic smile, "Look at it this way though, now Sammy and I are gonna be around so much that you and Jo will be sick of us in no time."
"We could use the extra help…" Ellen exhaled and frowned a little looking him over, he'd aged ten years since the last time she laid eyes on him, his skin was nearly as pale as Sam's, his hair was longer, he needed a hell of a shave and his off collar jokes didn't hide his painful interior nearly as well as they use to. "And honestly, you look as though you could use the rest, with Jo and I here you can let up on the Sam duties and maybe take a little time for yourself."
"He's safe here Dean, maybe this isn't all bad, you boys having to come here, I mean we get hunters and the public alike in here on a daily basis and maybe this is just the right spot for him to begin blending in like he should."
Dean nodded rubbing the bridge of his nose tiredly, Sam had settled in hours ago, claiming jet lag, but Dean knew he just needed a few hours to himself to sort through the events of the last few days and was willing to give it to him as long as he remained within ear shot of his little brother Sammy could have all the space he needed.
Jo on the other hand was wiping down the last of the tables in the main bar, led Zeppelin's When the Levee Breaks providing the eerily perfect soundtrack for the evening as she hummed along to it. She'd made it almost mid chorus when a gruff voice interrupted her.
She turned to see Sam leaning in the hall entry way wearing nothing more than his grey sweatpants and sunglasses his head tilted down as though he were studying the floor.
"Dean?" he tried again
Jo drew her lip into her mouth and took a step forward taking the towel she had been using to wipe the tables and resting it over her shoulder. Seeing as how she was a female, it was nearly impossible for her not to notice the perfectly chiseled abdomen of the man in front of her, his biceps bulging slightly as he held on to the wall. He may have let him self go a bit since his last visit but he was still very easy on the eyes especially compared to most of the slobs she was forced to look at on a daily basis. "He's Uh, he's in the kitchen with mom." She finally managed, "I can go get him if you want"
"No, that's uh, that's alright, if he's busy…" His voice lowered a little, "Well isn't this embarrassing."
"What was that?" She took a few more steps in his direction,
"I just. I gotta take a leak and I tried to find it myself but I wound up in what I'm guessing to be the storage closet."
Jo couldn't help but let a small laugh escape her, "That's alright, happens to me all the time in this place.." She now stood directly in front of him, and reached for his arm, "It's like a mystery house, I swear the rooms move around on their own almost weekly. I'll show you."
"Thanks." Sam waited until they were moving before speaking again, "Jo listen I uh…. I want to apologize."
"I just I know that…. This is uncomfortable for you and I'm sorry."
"Sam." She glanced over at him, "I am the one who should be apologizing to you if anything…." she let the words die off on her lips and took his hand placing it on the door knob, "Here we are. Third door on the left side, or as you're more likely to remember it, the door after the storage closet"
"Thanks" he repeated before smiling to himself and turning his head a little more in her direction, "Hey Jo wait!"
"Where is the light switch?"
"It's right inside the door on th-" She stopped and took the towel she had slung over her shoulder pelting it at the now laughing figure, "Shut up Sam"
Rounding the corner still shaking her head Jo nearly ran face first into Dean taking notice of the panic in his eyes and frowning. "You alright Dean?"
"I-I thought I heard Sam calling for me…" He craned his neck to look around and past her.
"Oh, you did, but I handled it."
"Is he alright? Did he run into something… did he fall?"
"He's fine Dean" Jo side stepped the taller man and headed toward the jukebox to make another selection. "He just forgot where the bathroom was is all." She pressed down on Ozzy Osbournes Road to Nowhere, "It was a minor crisis, take a deep breath"
"Oh…" Dean visibly relaxed running his hand through his hair and sliding onto one of the barstools.
"you know, Sam's a grown man Dean, he can take care of himself."
"So he keeps telling me."
"well." Jo came up beside him reaching over the bar and retrieving a bottle of Jamison setting it down in front of Dean and then sitting herself. "Maybe it's time you listen."
. . . . . .
The next morning Sam awoke and shifted his head to listen, at first expecting to hear Rumsfield bouncing around his bed, but then remembering they were no longer at Bobby's he yawned and rose to his feet. Feeling around the foot of his bed he found his shirt from the evening before and slid it on doing the same with his jeans and then his glasses, he had no idea what time it was, he couldn't hear any customers outside his door so he knew it had to be before noon, other than that though god only knew,
"Well good morning sunshine." Ellen was the first to greet him as he finally made his way around the corner and into the main room.
She put down the case of tequila she had just fished out from down stairs and wiped off her palms on her jeans going over to meet him taking notice of the fact that he looked almost disoriented as he drew his bottom lip into his mouth chewing on it, standing frozen and uncertain in the door way. "You alright sweetie?"
"Yeah…. Just." Sam's shoulders shrugged a little.
"Lost." She finished for him before reaching out and taking hold of his arm, "I can imagine how frustrating this must be for you, you were just getting the hang at Bobby's and now you've been plopped down in the center of this place."
He chuckles a little and places his hand over hers, Ellen had always been someone Sam had an instant connection with, never really having a mother of his own… He felt at ease and warm when she was near by, She wasn't his mother by any means, but being a mother herself, she gave off that vibe naturally he supposed. "It's quiet, what time is it?"
"About nine" She glanced to the clock on the far wall, "there's some coffee in the kitchen. That'll be our first stop on the Ellen express." She led them toward the small kitchen slowly allowing Sam to count their steps as they went, keeping in perfect unison with him.
"Nine? Where's Dean? I thought he'd be zonked out until at least eleven."
"He and Jo ran into town to place an order…"
"Oh? Well at least she is getting him out of the house." Sam's sock covered toes came into contact with a chair leg and he reached out feeling for it's back before sliding into it as he spoke.
Ellen smiled a little as she set a cup of coffee down for him, "It's that bad huh?"
Sam shrugged, "I talked to him about it, but I don't know how much good it did really, Dean's got a head of wood."
"He's just worried about you, that's all."
"There's a fine line between worrying and obsessive hovering."
Ellen frowned a little and took a seat beside him holding her own refilled coffee mug. "Sam, have you thought about long term here? I mean… Seriously thought about what you want to do when the smoke clears? Bobby told me you were training to hunt again, but-"
"It's pointless." He cut her off. "I already know that."
"Not pointless." She searched for the right word rubbing her finger in a circle around the rim of her cup. "Just not practical."
"I'll never be able to be a hunter again, not fully anyway and I know that too. The only reason I pushed to learn again was more for Dean than myself anyway, there's a vengeance inside me sure, but he needs to realize that I can defend myself enough-" His body shifted a little and his shoulder's tensed as he finished after a hesitant pause…" so that he can move on…."
"I can't tie him down for ever Ellen, I might not be able to see it in his eyes anymore but I can still sense it, the hunter in him burning just below the surface. Like an animal whose been caged for to long he needs to run…. Hunt and feed off of the danger he finds out there. He doesn't need his blind little brother holding him back."
"He doesn't view you that way, no matter what you might think, you are not his burden, his job has been to protect you for his whole life, he's just taking his duties a little more serious now that you need him more." She reached out placing her hand over his, "But you still didn't answer my question, what do you want Sam? What is to become of you now?" Her voice was tender as she prodded. "Have you thought about yourself in any of this…."
Sam drew in a breath and exhaled before shaking in his head and then tilting it back a little causing the light to bounce off the dark lenses of his glasses and illuminate his chiseled features as he contemplated her question, "I guess it's the hunter in me, or maybe a little self pity, but I don't look past the end of the sunset." He scoffed a bitter tone edging its way into his voice, "I don't think about tomorrow, because I won't find myself disappointed if it never comes."
Ellen was grateful Sam could not see the frown that fell upon her lips at his statement, that was definitely no way a young man in his mid-twenties should feel about life.
Shaking her head she gave his fingers a squeeze finding her voice and making sure it carried a mother-esque tone "That stops now, you got me? you lost your sight and I don't know how that feels, but… You're not dead Sam." She reached up with her free hand and wiped a few hanging hairs off of his glasses and across his forehead, even if it wasn't of any benefit to him, it made her feel batter to do so, "and there is so much in this world out there for you, so much at your fingertips, you need to let go of this anger, this pain and find the light again."
"If only it were that simple."
" Have you given any thought about maybe picking up where you left off? Going back to school and living your life the way you originally intended to?"
"I donno, I mean I'm not the same person I was then"
"Of course you are! You're just better seasoned now." She attempted to lighten the mood giving his hand a pat, "The only way you are ever going to get your brother to move forward is if you take the first steps… Lead by example so to speak."
"Yeah," Sam nodded picking up his coffee and taking a long sip, only for a moment allowing his mind to take him to an alternate reality, to a place where happiness was more than just a word tucked inside a stale fortune cookie….
He thought about school, about a new life…. He imagined that even with this broken body he could once again have a purpose, and found a genuine smile pulling at his lips.
His thoughts turned to Dean, driving down the open road his duffel bag thrown sloppily in the back seat of his restored impala, thought about phone calls they would share and the visits they could have….
He saw a life that though a little lonely, that would be better for the both of them.
Hell, for the first time since the fire, Sam thought of himself as one day having a life at all. "Maybe you're right…" His tone was hardly a whisper, putting just the tiniest bit of faith into his sixty second day dream, "But first things first…. We gotta save the world again, or at least my world, and then I'll see about saving myself."
Leaning back against the chair now Ellen's eyes traveled up and down Sam a few times, for the first time since they had arrived she found hope arising inside her, a glimpse of the man this broken child had once been shining his way through even if it was only for this moment.
He was shattered beyond his years and there was a decade of pain bruising his soul, but still… she could see the fighter inside him, the survivor just itching to find his way home again and she would help him and guide him anyway she could.