Summary: Pre-series. Sam's counting down the months toward freedom, Dean's starting to face harsh reality and John, for once, is a relatively innocent bystander in this mess they call their lives. Unhappiness abounds.
Rating: T, language
Disclaimers: See my profile page.
Author's Notes/Comments/Warnings: A response to ficwriter1966's "first lines" challenge over on lj wherein one takes the first line of a participant's fic and writes a drabble using that line as the first line of their drabble. Far from a drabble, I still think I should score points for "Bitter Pill" being the shortest fic I've ever written ;). In this case, I borrowed from ficwriter1966's marvelous "Dean and the Company Picnic". Beta credits, plus inspiration credits, must go to the splendid pdragon76, whose wonderful "Bean Town Rising" (check it out here at ffnet) put thoughts in my head about Sam, particularly during the "Stanford's looming" time period and hence gave me the courage to finally step into that gorgeous mug and do some wading around. I've tweaked it since getting it back though, so all mistakes are definitely mine.
by May Robinson
They roared into town on the raw edge of attracting law enforcement attention. Sam wasn't worried about getting into a wreck. No, the idea of Dean losing control of the Impala, even when they were this short of hydroplaning, was as ludicrous as the concept of having a civil conversation with Dad.
Okay, that light was totally red and, really, getting pulled over by the cops wasn't going to help them get to Dad any sooner. "Dean," Sam pressed, releasing his grasp on the dash.
Apparently Dean's right foot didn't though and the engine revved louder, responding to a none-too-subtle increase in pounds per square inch.
"I know, Sam. I know."
"No, apparently, you don't." He knew Dean hated what he called Sam's pomp-ass voice, damn near as much as Dad did. Still, sometimes it's all he could use to be heard.
"Give it a rest, Sam, I know what I'm doing." Dean was using Dad's deep brook no argument voice, which was precariously close to Dad's shut up and do what I say. Somehow, coming from Dean, it didn't irritate Sam half as much. Still, he couldn't help but get his back up when Dean followed up with, "Now keep your trap shut and your eyes peeled for the truck, he didn't say where he was."
The slight break in Dean's voice was enough to remind Sam his brother was worried though, so he bit his tongue, or rather the inside of his cheek, and let it go. Dean's back was ramrod straight, had been almost the entire two plus hours getting here. Hands that normally held lightly to the steering wheel were undoubtedly going to have imprints of its grips in response to Dean's white-knuckled hold.
It wasn't the weather or the darkness. No, it was Dad's phone call.
The one Sam still wasn't privy to any details about. Of course. The two of them and their fucking need to know bullshit. Aside from, "Get your ass in gear, Dad's in trouble," Sam was once again in the dark.
Okay, so Sam had been able to infer a bit more from Dean's side of the call. His somewhat higher pitch when he asked if Dad was okay, the hushed "How bad?" as he turned his back to Sam, headed for their room and started grabbing the gear they'd already packed in preparation for tomorrow morning.
He might've even heard a "just don't fall asleep" but when Dean had purposely kicked at the World History books Sam had been gathering into his backpack, Sam had forgotten his concern and let fly with a few choice words about Dean's lack of respect for anything Sam deemed important.
Like Sam ever treated what was most important to Dean with anything less than respect.
Dean had been as tight-lipped as their father ever was once they'd hit the road, and Sam had given up asking questions fifteen minutes into their drive. Contrary to the mighty John Winchester's opinion, Sam actually did know when to let up. When his so-called inquisitions were pointless, albeit warranted.
Hell, aside from the brief "I know/No, you don't" exchange they'd just had, Dean hadn't said a word in two hours. One of Dean's mix-tapes, this one made for Dad come to think of it, had blanketed Dean's silence but when Side Two had ended with Dickie Betts' playing "Jessica", Dean hadn't bothered to replace it. It wasn't Sam's place to do so -- he'd learned hands off the hard way almost the moment the Chevy had been bequeathed to Dean -- so it was left to the rain, the wipers and the engine to be their only soundtrack as they exited the highway and practically blew into town.
Dean's near whisper of "C'mon, c'mon, where are you?" came as a surprise to Sam. Then again, Dean was talking to himself, or rather, imaginary Dad. Still not Sam, though. Typical.
"You know he's fine, Dean," Sam placated, recognizing once again that Dean was worried. But then Dean was always worried. When he wasn't being a prick. In contrast to their race to get here though, big brother was driving ridiculously slow now, crawling past every cheap-ass motel in sight. "He's always fine," Sam added when Dean's only response had been a grunt as he suddenly picked up speed turning into the Shady Lane's entrance.
Leave it to his brother to speed up as he was pulling into a motel.
The building's frontage was practically non-existent which meant parking in the rear, a five-star worthy feature according to the John Winchester scale of ideal accommodations for covert getaways. Sam had no doubt Dean's gut was telling him Dad was here, and that his gut would be right.
Nothing out of the ordinary then, right? At least the Winchester kind of ordinary.
Besides, just how much trouble could Dad have gotten into if he'd been able to call them? And order them to hit the road half a day early? That they were even here, trolling through motel row, meant their father was safe.
Hell, Sam knew Dean was pissed about being left behind but, it was hardly Sam's fault Mr. Bothwell had scheduled his U.S. Government exam the Friday before exam week. The man had to go in for some non emergency type surgery next week so his classes had to write their exams today. No way could Sam have bailed, any more than he was willing to skip his exams next week either. He was a Junior now, damn it. Every grade counted, especially if he wanted a chance in hell of getting a scholarship in a year's time. So what if Dean had to stay behind so they could follow in the morning. Dad was only going to be doing some research and reconnaissance today, anyway. They'd take out the poltergeist tomorrow, be back by nightfall and Sam could study his brains out for the balance of the weekend while Dad and Dean toasted each other's hunting prowess over a six-pack of PBRs.
Or, better yet, they could go shoot some pool and leave Sam and his textbooks back at the house.
Dean's whispered, "Oh, fuck," threw Sam out of his internal rant and he blinked in bemusement at the sight of the Sierra. It was parked diagonally across two parking spots, its front wheel on the driver side raised up above its counterparts as it sat off-kilter on the walk in front of a row of identical gun-metal grey doors.
Dean pulled into the nearest intact spot on the truck's far side, threw open his door and started issuing orders before Sam had time to think. "Straighten out the truck and make sure it's locked up tight," he barked, tossing his keys to Sam over the roof of the Impala and sounding even more like Dad. "We don't need the manager nosing around," Dean added, like Sam needed to be told the obvious.
Still, Sam knew when Dean was not in the mood to be fucked around with and he was definitely at that point right now.
Making his way over to the truck, Sam watched as Dean -- his big-ass first aid kit teetering precariously out of the duffle over his shoulder -- attempted to open the door to room 29. How he could be sure this was Dad's room Sam didn't know. Typical of Dad and his wild goose chases, Dean clearly hadn't even been told which motel he'd booked into. And now, the way the truck was situated, he could've been in any one of three rooms.
"For fuck's sake," Dean blurted, dropping his bag to the ground, the door apparently not yielding to his wishes. Sam detoured from the Sierra's driver side door, already reaching into his back pocket for his wallet so he could pull out his lock-pick. He was so much better at this than Dean.
"Here, let me," he offered as he approached his brother who was crouched down in front of the door now, his own pick in hand, fiddling with the lock.
Dean's head snapped around hard enough to give him whiplash and Sam froze at the intensity of the hard gaze drilling into him. "Did I ask for your help?" He practically snarled. "Why can't you just follow a simple instruction for once, huh?"
Seemingly as surprised by his own ire as Sam, Dean swallowed hard, nostrils flaring before his features softened with eyes almost pleading now under the oddly orange glow of the motel's exterior lighting. But Sam's hackles were already up so, when Dean resignedly asked him to just straighten out the truck like he'd asked and bring in the gear from both vehicles, Sam could only utter what he was more than willing to admit was a very pissy, "Fine."
Minutes later, the truck expertly parked dead-center between the lines, Sam tried the door to the room, only to find it locked again. Dean wouldn't have done that, so it was more than likely an automatic thing. Dumping all their bags at his feet, not wanting to annoy his brother further or disturb the goings on inside by knocking, he gathered up his pick once again and lowered himself to the lock imbedded in the door handle. Immediately he noticed, with ever increasing alarm, the bloody fingerprints around the mechanism and, for that matter, those on the door-frame to the left and slightly above it. Nudging the bags at his feet, he couldn't prevent the groan from crossing his lips as he realized the action had smeared what had been drops of blood into streaks along the walkway.
The abrupt realization spurring him on, Sam quickly worked his magic on the lock, stepping into the room far enough to close the door behind him. He didn't dare step further though, the scene before him stopping him in his tracks.
Dad was in the only bed, propped up slightly by a couple of pillows. His face, neck, hell, the bedding, were all caked in blood. He was conscious though, thank God, intently focused on Dean who was seated beside him on the edge of the bed, facing him. The big first aid kit was already open, laid out on Dad's other side so Dean had to reach across him to grab what he needed, but it didn't seem to hinder him in the slightest. Not even breaking eye contact as he reached for the Hibitane antiseptic, pouring it into a cloth already in the same hand, then dabbing it high against Dad's temple, right along his hair-line. All with the well-practiced fluidity that Sam both marveled at and abhorred.
When Dad flinched, so did Sam, breaking him out of his trance and he almost moved forward then. Almost.
Dad had hissed at the same moment he'd flinched though and it was then that Sam saw the reason behind Dean's one handed ministrations. . .
Dad's right hand was firmly clasped in Dean's left, their fingers entwined. With Dad's arm bent up at the elbow like it was, that vice-like hold they had on each other looked like it could rival any two world class arm-wrestlers. Hell, knowing his father and brother, they probably could.
Between the intensity of their gazes, that grasp that looked like a lifeline between them, and the tenderness of Dean's touch as he wiped away the blood from their dad's face, Sam felt a familiar bone deep longing creep into him. He remembered how witnessing his brother and dad so totally and completely in sync with each other used to fill Sam with pride and awe. When those feelings had morphed into jealousy and resentment, he had no idea. But, as he watched the two of them whispering words of encouragement, accolades, stories, secrets -- hell, how was Sam to know? -- there was one thing he was certain of. He was an outsider here.
He was still Sam Winchester though. Had to be heard. Had to get to the bottom of what had happened.
Had to know that this wasn't his fault.
Clearing his throat, he dropped the bags he'd forgotten he was still carrying to the floor. Quietly he called out to them, his family, feeling as though the few feet between them was a canyon sized gap. "Dad? What happened? Are you okay?"
Dad slowly rolled his head against the pillow toward Sam, the right side of his face looking not nearly as bad as the left. He still looked like road-kill though.
"Hey, Sammy," he said quietly, a half-assed attempt at a smile overtaken by a frown as he batted away the cloth Dean was trying to dab on the cut just under Dad's eye.
Sam finally approached. Made it as far as the near side of the bed before he stopped again. Dean hadn't made eye contact yet but Dad seemed okay enough to talk, so Sam continued to address him. "Jesus, Dad, what happened? I mean. . . the poltergeist didn't do this, right? You weren't--"
Anything else he was going to say was cut off by Dean. "Of course the fucking poltergeist did this, Sam," he snapped, glaring at him over a tense shoulder. "What? You think Dad did this shaving?"
Sam could understand why Dean was pissed. Really. Dad looked like hell. Probably had a concussion. It was Dad he should've been mad at though, not Sam. If John Winchester was stupid enough to take on the thing when he knew back-up was coming the next day, he got what he deserved and they were all damn lucky he didn't get himself killed. It was a rookie mistake that either of his sons would've gotten their asses reamed for if they'd ever pulled it themselves.
Feeling the heat of defensiveness race up his spine, he tried to quell the accusations from his voice even as he uttered, "But you were supposed to wait for us. Just check out the lay of the land."
Before Dad could answer, Dean threw the bottle of Hibitane into the first aid kit. Drilled it, actually. It wasn't until then that Sam had noticed they'd released their earlier hold on each other but, now that Dad had grabbed firmly onto Dean's other wrist -- the one belonging to his throwing arm -- Sam couldn't miss it.
"Easy, dude," Dad told him, then fixed his gaze on Sam. "That's all I was doing, kiddo," he said, exhaustion slurring his words. "This poltergeist was a mean sum' bitch but, until I showed up, it never acted up during the day." Smirking, which looked a hell of a lot more like a grimace given the state of Dad's face, he half shrugged at Dean before adding, "Didn't expect it to change its M.O."
"You should've had back-up," Dean said softly and, though Sam would normally pounce on the ever-present self recrimination he could hear in Dean's statement, defend Dean even against himself, the guilt Sam could feel churning in his own gut fused with the accusation he heard in the words and erupted out of his throat in bitter indignation.
"So this is my fault?"
"I didn't say that."
"He didn't say that."
Great, John and Dean Winchester, hunters extraordinaire, coming at him now, in fucking stereo.
"No one's laying blame here, son," Dad continued, sounding awfully rough. But Sam's focus was all on Dean. Big brother Dean, who'd been pissed all day and who'd been alternately giving Sam the silent treatment or treating him like shit since even before Dad's phone call.
"I had an exam, Dean. An exam. God! Do you even know what that means?"
"Sammy that's enough." The warning came from Dad but it was Dean who'd effectively shut Sam up. He'd sprung up from the bed but was just standing there now, eyes seemingly focused on the one fist he had tightly clenched around a bloodstained rag, the other raking through his short-cropped hair. It occurred to Sam that Dean, right here and now, was the epitome of coiled like a snake and maybe, just maybe, Sam didn't want to be in the line of fire if he struck.
Backing up a step or two, he could still feel his brother's intensity, sense the anger rippling through him.
"Let it go, sport," Dad said quietly, though his words were laced with the hard edge of one of his commands.
Dean's shoulders dropped then as his whole body seemed to deflate, until once again he was sitting next to Dad. Sam released the breath he'd been holding, let it out so unsteadily he had to ask Dean to repeat himself once he realized his brother had actually spoken to him.
"I can't do this, Sam."
"Can't do what?" Sam suddenly looked at Dad, wondered if he was hurt somewhere else. Hurt bad enough to warrant the inexplicable helplessness he could hear in Dean's voice. The broken expression on his face.
"Can't deal with--" He cut off his own words, shook himself. "I gotta look after Dad, Sammy," he said, resolutely now and sending an apologetic look to their father. "He's lost too much blood, he's dehydrated and I still gotta patch him up."
Suddenly realizing how tightly stretched Dean's nerves had to be, Sam decided to offer an olive branch. "I could pick up some Gatorade. Some water?" Turning to Dad, he asked. "You eaten, Dad?"
"I could eat," he responded, sounding like he'd be out cold long before Sam returned.
"Okay then," Sam replied, uncertainty coloring his response as he recognized the dismissal for what it was. Already feeling as if on shaky ground, his footing rocked even further when Dean softly called out to him again. Apology in his voice, sincerity in those eyes. And something else. Something that Sam couldn't quite identify but knew instinctively was a close relative of pain.
Lightly tossing his wallet to Sam, he said, "Just pick up some soup for Dad, okay? I don't wanna be cleaning up anything with chunks in it if all he's gonna do is hurl it up again, all right?"
Sam couldn't help but laugh then, if a little halfheartedly. "Sure thing, bro."
Sam watched as Dean reached for one of the suture kits they'd made off with during their last trip to an E/R, watched Dean use his teeth to tear its sterile packaging open, all the while still waiting for Dean to finish whatever he had to say. Dean bit his upper lip before speaking, eyes averted, looking at the needle in his hand until he finally met Sam's gaze. He looked awfully sad but, when he spoke, his tone sounded carefully neutral.
"When you get back here... Dad booked us another room." Cocking his head toward the wall to his right, Dean continued. "Right next door. Twenty-seven. You can use it if you wanna study. The key's on top of the TV."
"Sammy, just let me patch up Dad, okay? I can't--" Dean cut himself off again but this time the I can't deal with you implication was crystal clear.
If Dean's, "Just do whatever it is you do," was meant to lessen the blow, it fell well short of its mark.
Dean wasn't being mean, though. Wasn't being a prick. Sam knew that. And maybe that's why his words hurt so bad.
Sam was used to fighting with Dad. Hell, it was a regular occurrence. But, unfair or not, he was equally used to Dean trying to stop it. Stop them. Fighting twice as hard to bring them back together. It was something Sam could count on in a life that had too few constants.
But Dean had that same look in his eyes right now, the one Sam couldn't quite put a finger on just minutes before. He could see it now though for what it was. Resignation. Defeat.
He was starting to let Sam go.
As Sam stepped out of the room, he looked back to Dad and Dean, both now thoroughly engrossed in their roles of patient and medic. They were the picture of mentor and student. Father and son. It was no wonder Dean couldn't deal with him. Sam didn't fit in the frame. Hadn't in a long time.
He wasn't an outsider. He was an intruder.
But he had less than eighteen months. Less than eighteen months and then that wouldn't be a problem for any of them ever again.