Disclaimer: I do not own "Supernatural" or any of its wonderful characters.
Author's Note: Hi everyone! This is the first chapter of my attempt at incorporating the events of Season Two's "In My Time of Dying" into the Beer 'verse.
It's been in the works for a bit and massive thanks to Lembas7 who beta-fu'd it for me and acts as a wonderful sounding board. Thank you, hun! Any remaining errors are all mine.
As always, thank you all so much for consistently commenting and reviewing on this AU, I appreciate it SO much, it really drives me to putting it all down to paper. :D
Just a fair warning, at the end of Beer 'verse stories I tend to do quick work of patching up the boys' relationship with some tape and bubblegum, seems I've run out both. :\ The story will be written in outsider PoV throughout. The title is taken from Chris Ledoux's, "Fathers and Sons." I hope you enjoy!
She knew something was wrong. She knew it in the marrow of her bones and the man had only said six words.
I need to speak to Sam.
No preamble, no explanation, no introduction; and he didn't need any. Jessica Winchester had never met her husband's father so she didn't know how she knew it was him.
But it was.
Shaky legs took her to Sam's side; he looked up from the computer. She handed him the phone without one word.
She saw him frown at her a little, then heard his curious, Hello?
The color leached from his face so abruptly she felt herself sway. It would have been better if he'd been up and pacing in an instant; if he'd scowled and started yelling; if he'd cursed and hung up the phone – anything would have been better than his shell-shocked eyes and hoarse, choked, where?
Sam pressed the end button on the phone and then sat staring at nothing, vision turned inwards to something she couldn't see.
Words stuck in her throat; her mind formed them, but she couldn't speak. What happened? What is it? She was supposed to ask, she wanted to ask, but she couldn't – because she knew.
He looked up at her again and Jess felt a shudder run through her – eyes hollow and wide and lost.
She could see Sam was trying to find words too, that his mind was screaming them at her even as his mouth couldn't form them.
He blinked at her and she heard a rushing sound in her ears, just as he formed the word Dean on dry lips.
The rushing grew louder and the numbness began.
It was a blessing, actually, the numbness; the stillness that had descended over her. It enabled her to book plane tickets, call professors and work places, rent cars, pack clothing, drive to the airport . . .
Because Sam sure as hell wasn't able to do any of these things.
Wha- she'd managed before he'd cut her off.
How is –
And that was it.
Truthfully, that was a blessing too; his silence.
He was going to fall apart, shatter like glass against concrete and she wasn't so sure she would be able to handle the fallout.
It was easier to have Sam blindly obeying her commands – get in, wait here, hold that – then to think about what he'd told her, about what could happen, about Dean–
Easier to focus on what she could control: getting them on the next flight out to Iowa and organizing paid sick days and organizing well that's just too freakin' bad because he won't be in until further notice vacation days. She could handle that.
She couldn't handle bad.
It had been the worst flight of her life. Of course, she'd really expected no less. Long and oppressively quiet, Jess had found her gaze cutting to Sam almost constantly just to make sure he was breathing. He'd been still as death, a thought she brushed aside instantly, the entire time – focused on something she couldn't see.
Numb, she'd decided. He was completely anesthetized, for the moment, to what was going on, to what they were doing, where they were going, what they'd find when they – another thought she refused to finish.
He was breathing deeply, steadily, now that they'd landed, keeping calm. But still, she was the one paying attention, not him. She was guiding them out of the airport and to a cab. She was looking for street signs and landmarks, she was trying to hold it together, because the fact that she was the one doing it said he absolutely wasn't. It said he was retreating behind a mask she'd only seen once – during a rare argument between him and Dean months ago. A mask that hid the Sam she knew behind a remoteness that still chilled her. Dean had a version of it too, just as chilling.
She was shaking all over. Couldn't stop, even though she was in control, even though she wasn't thinking about . . . she couldn't stop. And every time she looked at Sam her heart skipped a beat, because – God, he'd unravel. It was there, plain as the sky to see, if –
Sam would split apart, and she had no hope of fixing him. Jess didn't have the right thread; no one did. Since meeting Dean, since seeing them together, Jess had developed a deep incomprehension of how they could ever have been apart. How had they spent four years without contact? How?
Watching Sam and Dean in a room together was watching perfect symmetry. They were always aware of each other, matching each other, checking each other; knowing what the other was doing, what the other would say –
They were getting out of the cab now. Sam first. He paused for a moment on the sidewalk, glanced at her – face blank, mask in place – and then started forward. They knew what floor to go to. Jess had written it all down earlier when she'd called for an update. Stable, was all they'd said over the phone. Stable, but in the ICU.
They were inside too quickly, in the elevator too quickly, and she wasn't ready for this. Sam wasn't ready for this. For a moment Jess couldn't breathe, and she looked up at him, but he was staring straight ahead again. He was going to unravel if –
She forced herself to release a breath and draw one in. She couldn't lose control. Sam needed her to be calm, to be steady. He hadn't said it, but Jess knew. She knew it. He hadn't said much, but he didn't have to. She understood. What was there to say? How was any of this supposed to be put into words? She understood that it couldn't. Putting it into words made it real . . . and this, it couldn't be real.
Sam needed her to be the steady one. Jess reached out and took his hand in hers. He jumped a little, as he'd forgotten she was there. The gaze that met hers was dull and heavy and it made her heart clench. She wrapped both her hands around his, squeezing gently.
Something wobbled in the mask, shifted, then steadied again. It was all she needed to see, though. She moved in closer and laid her head on his arm. He was stiff, tension radiating off him. The elevator stopped. The doors slid open. He didn't move, though, didn't even twitch. He stared straight ahead, gone to a place she had no hopes of following. A place that belonged solely to Sam and Dean. She didn't covet that place, though; she knew her own version of it.
Jess tugged on his arm, using one of hers to keep the elevator doors from closing. He jumped again, realization leaping into forest green eyes, panic flared in them too and she tightened her hold on his hand. "Come on," she whispered past the lump in her throat.
Sam nodded, the mask holding steady. The mask was keeping him from shattering, she thought suddenly. Hiding behind it, holding onto it, it was keeping him sane.
A moment later and he was leading her, pulling her along – much too familiar with the generic layout of hospital floors. The thought bloomed and slithered away in her mind, tucked away with a dozen, maybe a hundred others.
Jess held on tightly, running a little to keep up with his long strides, refusing to let go of his hand.
Sam stopped suddenly.
She barely caught herself from bumping into him. Righting herself, she looked at him, ready to ask what was wrong. He was looking straight ahead, the mask so firmly, so completely in place her mouth snapped shut. Jaw clenched, chin hard, eyes cold, he looked fierce. The Sam in front of her was not one you'd like to meet in the dark. She shivered a little and followed his gaze.
Instinctively she took a step closer to Sam. The sole man in the waiting room was standing at its center. Tall, dark, and handsome – the cliché registered before anything else. A walking cliché... that was Sam's father.
That was Sam's father.
He had what looked like two-day old stubble on his face, a stitched up gash on his forehead, and an arm in a sling. He had Sam's dark looks and the same mask on. It was a Winchester trait then, she thought absently.
She swallowed hard. Normally, she'd try to break the ice. She was good at that; good at witty and relaxing.
This wasn't "normally." This was a father and son meeting for the first time in almost five years. This was Dean in a hospital, not here to make them all smile and roll their eyes.
Her eyes stung suddenly and she took a desperate, deep breath. She was the one person here who could not unravel. She squeezed Sam's hand gently, hoping for a reaction. She got none. The men continued to stare at each other, the air between them thick, swirling with things unsaid. She could feel it; the memories, the past; it was so strong you could drown in it if you wanted.Things were getting blurry, shining behind a shimmer she refused to acknowledge, when Sam's father took a step forward.
"Sam," he said, gravelly voice catching with something that sounded so much like grief that the stinging turned to burning. She swallowed hard, her own breath catching.
A shudder went through Sam, she squeezed his hand again.
"Dad," he whispered, choked and quiet.
She saw the older man work to swallow.
"Sam. It's been-" he began, but his voice cut off, broke; crumbled. Jess saw him draw a deep breath, stepping closer to them. "Been a long time-" he tried again, and again his voice caught.
Sam was nodding, eyes fastened unblinkingly on his father. She looked up at him, blinking to clear her haze of tears only to see a sheen marring his. "Yeah," he said hoarsely. "Too long," he added brokenly.
The older man had stopped a few feet away from them, eyes never wavering from Sam. He cleared his throat, swallowed again. "Wish it could be for better-" he began, but he never finished.
Sam's broken whisper cut his father off and an instant later the older man was directly in front of them, reaching out with his free arm to hook it around Sam's neck, pulling Sam forward towards him.
And Sam went; collapsed against his father, pulling his hand from hers and wrapping both arms around the older man, somehow shrinking his stature so he was tucked against his Dad's chest.
"Sammy," she heard his Dad whisper, saw the way his hand curled around Sam's jacket.
Jess turned around after that, giving them privacy.
She drew another shaky breath, pulling her emotions under control. She wrapped her arms around herself and studied the room. She'd only been in one other waiting room in her life – she'd been four years old and about to become a big sister.
She circled it slowly, trying to take it in, but too completely aware of the two men in the middle of it – pulling apart now, talking in hushed tones, heads lowered, touching. Sam's arm was latched onto his Dad's, his head practically leaning on the man's shoulder.
Sam's father had his free arm resting on Sam's back and as Jess watched, every few seconds he'd rub – comforting.
It was an odd notion for her. Jess had thought of Sam's father a lot since knowing Sam, since knowing Dean, since knowing SamandDean – and comforting had never entered the arena.
Sam's head lifted, abruptly meeting her gaze; it was her cue. Jess headed towards them slowly, feeling shy suddenly.
She'd wanted to meet this man so much. The man that had raised such complex men, such close brothers, such fascinating human beings; had wanted to study him, to analyze what kind of father he'd been to two motherless little boys; to see if they'd become what they had because of him or in spite of him. She had wanted to judge him – because everything she'd gathered so far had told her this was a father to be tried and judged.
But not like this, not here, not with Dean –
The tears were stinging behind her eyes again as Sam outstretched a hand towards her. Jess took it, concentrating on keeping control.
She felt the man's gaze land on her, felt it study her, read her – judge her. The thought sent of a prickle of anger through her and she lifted her gaze to his.
They were Sam's eyes, just not nearly as warm.
"This is Jess, Dad." Sam said softly, pulling her closer to him. Her eyes were fastened on the Dad though.
The man offered her the briefest of smiles and said huskily, "S'good to meet you."
She nodded slowly. "Yeah, yes. It's good to meet . . ." she trailed off. His gaze wasn't on her anymore. It was on Sam. No words that she could see were exchanged, but suddenly Sam's arm was slipping down to ensnare her waist and his chin was lifting in a way she'd seen Jilly do a million times to their Mom.
"My wife," Sam added, voice steady.
There was something going on here, something she didn't have a handle on and hadn't been watching for. The two gazes held for a moment longer, before she felt the weight of her father-in-law's gaze again.
"John Winchester," he said extending his had towards her.
She took it. His grip was warm and strong, the eyes that met hers steady, searching. An instant later the grip was gone and the older man's attention was on Sam again.
"I wanna see'm." Sam's words sounded oddly childlike to her, almost demanding with a thread of pleading running through them.
The weary nod her father-in-law gave seemed odd too, as if relenting to an argument she hadn't heard.
"This way," he added after a moment, turning towards one of the hallways. Sam turned with him. Jess waited until the length of his arm pulled her along, watched the slow, shuffling gait of John Winchester, the way Sam frowned at the man's profile; heard Sam's quiet Should you- and the brisk I'm fine that cut the simple question off.
He tugged on her arm when she waited a few seconds too long before moving, shooting her that same frown. She squeezed his hand and lengthened her stride. They were silent as they made there way down the hallway. The walk was long enough for her to determine that there was definitely something wrong with John's leg and that it was questionable whether or not he should be in a hospital room of his own.
But then he stopped by a doorway and she stopped thinking.
"He's not . . ." John let the words trail off since Sam was already moving around him and through the door, Jess a couple steps behind him.
She heard Sam's whispered Oh no before her mind registered what she was seeing.
Dean was lying on the bed, eyes closed, tube down his throat, motionless.