A/N: This is in the Drive 'verse, as are all of my stories, but to read it alone, hopefully all you need to know is: Dean has a permanently fucked-up leg.
"Butterfly wings," Dean says in disbelief, leaning on his cane to get a closer look. "This whole fuckin' picture's made out of butterfly wings."
Sam comes to stand behind him, examines the riverside scene, framed behind a thick piece of glass and hung above the couch of the small living room. At first glance the picture looks as if it's been pieced together out of thin slices of mother-of-pearl, or iridescent paper, but as he peers closer, he realizes that Dean's right: the whole thing is a collage of multi-colored butterfly wings.
"Woah," he says.
"Creepy," Dean says. "That's what that is."
"You afraid of butterflies, man?" Sam teases as he steps back, but he has to admit, it is just a little uncanny.
"Who'd you say lives here, again?" Dean asks, turning away to continue his exploration of the apartment.
"Gene and Marilynn Finklestein," Sam says. "And they're on a senior's cruise."
"They must really need the cash, to sublet this apartment for just a week."
"Guess so. Maybe to pay for their cruise."
Dean shakes his head, moves to check out the bathroom, and Sam trails behind, adjusting his sling to take some pressure off his good shoulder. He'd found this place on Craigslist, couldn't believe his luck – a cheap, fully furnished two-bedroom apartment for seven nights, in a decent location in Ft. Worth, Texas, with a pool in the middle of the compound. Pure fuckin' luck, because a pool had been Dean's stipulation for seven days in one place.
"If we're gonna be on vacation, we're gonna do it right," Dean had said firmly. "And that means a pool."
But the pool isn't even the best part. The best part, Sam thinks, is —
"Dude," Dean says in disbelief as he flicks on the bathroom light. "No way."
"Way," Sam says with a satisfied smile. "Gene broke his hip a few years ago and now it's all fucked-up, so, voila."
Dean stares at the metal grab-bars running the walls of the room, then squints at the tub. "Is that—"
"A whirlpool tub," Sam says. "Kinda like a Jacuzzi. Supposed to be good for your circulation and stuff."
Dean raises his eyebrows. "You're not playing around with this vacation shit, huh?"
"Nope," Sam says, grinning, knowing that's about as close to a thanks as he's gonna get.
Dean's silent for a moment, then says, "You do realize that there have been naked old people in that thing, right?"
"We'll clean it out, if it makes you feel better," Sam says. "It'll be good for your hip. That's why Gene had it installed."
"Awesome," Dean groans. "Just put me in assisted living now, why don't you?"
Sam whacks him on the arm. "Quit whining and appreciate the whirlpool tub. Do you know how long I had to talk to those people, to prove we were worthy of the apartment? So long that I know the names, ages, and color preferences of all seven of their grandchildren."
Dean smiles. "You're so sweet with the elderly, Sammy."
"I handle you okay, don't I?"
"Fuck you," Dean grumbles, following him out of the bathroom. "Like I'm not already embarrassed about sharing ailments with a ninety year old."
"He's eighty three, dude. As of last Tuesday."
"Jesus, they really did talk at you, huh?"
"Let's just unpack."
Sam heads over to the salmon-pink couch where they'd unceremoniously dumped their luggage, and hefts one of the duffles in his good hand while Dean drapes himself with the other two.
"You can take that room," Sam says, gesturing to the door on the left, right off the living room. "It's got a little balcony where you can smoke."
"Hey," Dean says, surprised. "Thanks."
Sam shrugs. "I don't want you stinking up the rest of the apartment."
Dean considers flipping him off, but decides against it, because, damn, Sam really did do a good job finding this place. He would never admit it out loud, but it's a hell of a lot harder to take a shower in a bathroom without handicapped facilitates. Not to mention take a piss.
Dean's room is small, with a double bed that takes up most of the space – must be the Finkelsteins' bedroom, and he grimaces as he has to block out the image of naked old people once again. There's a chair by the door to the balcony, a sturdy wooden dresser with a hairbrush and some photographs of kids on top, and a big closet full of the Finkelsteins' clothes. The place smells vaguely of baby powder and cologne, and Dean can't help but feel a little weirded out that he's living in someone else's home for a week – but he guesses it's better than a motel.
He drops the duffles on the bed, heads over to check out the balcony. It's tiny, just big enough for a dilapidated blue chaise lounge and a few unhealthy-looking potted plants. The apartment is five stories up and Dean, looking over the balcony, has to fight the vertigo that always comes to him with heights. He swallows, tries to enjoy the view of the bustling street below, but can't shake the clenched, panicky feeling in his stomach, even worse now than it was before his accident. He's always been afraid of heights, of flying – damn near had a heart attack that time he and Sam had to go up in a plane to banish a demon, but that was different; he'd had a mission. It's worse when he's just standing here, doing nothing, waiting for the balcony to give way and crash down onto the street.
"Hey," Sam says, startling him, and Dean has to put out a hand to grip the railing.
"Jesus," he grouses. "Give a guy a little warning."
"Sorry. Nice room, though, huh?"
"Yeah," Dean says. "It is pretty nice. How's yours?"
"Bed's a little short," Sam says with a shrug. "I think it's the room they use when their grandkids come visit. But it's cute. Wanna see?"
"Gimme a minute," Dean says, flashes Sam the pack of cigarettes in his palm and lowers himself carefully down onto the chaise lounge, trying to quell the beat of fear in his belly.
He props his cane up and pats his pockets for his lighter.
"We gotta get you some new crutches," Sam says, eyeing the cane.
Dean wants to protest, but in the few weeks before a poltergeist had destroyed his crutches, he'd come to appreciate them. They serve different functions than the cane, and it's nice to have the option, depending on how good his leg is and what he's planning to do on a given day.
"Maybe I'll find a clinic tomorrow," Dean says grudgingly, bumps a cigarette from his pack. "Gotta refill one of my prescriptions, anyway."
"I hear the bus system's pretty good," Sam says. "That way we don't have to worry about parking."
"Cool." Dean lights his cigarette, exhales into the warm Texas air. It's around seven o'clock, and the sky is dim, a hazy city-grey with a thin line of pink around the edges, vestiges of the setting sun.
It's been a while since they've been in a city. Dean kind of equates vacation with country, and he put up a half-hearted fuss when Sam insisted on Ft. Worth. He's pretty sure Sam put his foot down because he thinks Dean has less of a chance of going stir-crazy in a city – and he may be half-right. But it's not so much location that gives Dean that deep itch to move – it's the constant, nagging feeling that there's something he's supposed to be doing, someone who's dying because he's not there. Hero complex shmero complex, Sam can babble as much psych bullshit as he wants, but Dean knows that his vacation is someone else's nightmare. So forgive him if it's a little hard to relax, sometimes.
"You want pizza?" Sam asks, turning to go back inside. "We could order a pizza."
"Sure," Dean says, though he's not hungry. But he has been trying harder to eat more, and he feels like maybe his appetite's improving a little – he doesn't know if it's a placebo effect, or if the antidepressants are kicking in, but it hasn't been so difficult, recently, to finish a sandwich or an order of mozzarella sticks when Sam shoves them at him.
And he hasn't, you know, needed to use his sleeve as an impromptu tissue quite so often.
In the three days it took them to drive from Kansas to Texas, it had only been that one time, in a gas station a couple miles out from the border of Kansas. Some hassled father holding a toddler had bumped into him too hard and he'd stumbled on his bad leg, already stiff and sore from the hours of driving, and he'd just gone down, taken a rack of service-station pastries with him. Sam, thank god, had missed it, had been outside getting gas, but that meant Dean had had to let the guilt-stricken father help him up while his kid looked on, wide-eyed and curious.
Dean had grinned like a maniac, made an impossibly lame crack about gas prices being so high they knocked you over, but he couldn't fool the guy, much less himself. He didn't know which was worse, the fireworks of pain that shot behind his eyes, the embarrassment the man clearly felt at knocking over a dude with a cane, or the apple-pie filling all over the ass of his jeans. As soon as he was upright and more or less steady, Dean had slunk off to the bathroom, spent a few minutes taking deep, shaky breaths and grinding his nails into his palm so hard he bled. But it was just that once. Which, pathetically, is progress in Dean's current book.
He finishes his cigarette, pulls himself to his feet, tries not to look over the edge of the balcony as he grabs his cane and maneuvers himself back inside.
Sam's sitting on the couch, flipping through a copy of Good Housekeeping and drinking a beer. "Pizza'll be here soon," he says, and Dean makes his way over to the armchair, sinks down with a little "Oof" that has Sam glancing towards him.
"You okay? Take your meds?"
"I'm good," Dean says, watches Sam's big hands turn the page of the magazine. "You seriously reading that shit?"
"Looking for recipes," Sam says defiantly. "I was thinking I might cook something tomorrow night."
Dean stares at him. "You. Cook."
"Yeah, dude, me, cook. I didn't just learn school stuff while I was at Stanford, you know. I mean, we had a kitchen. And Jess sure wasn't about to do all the cooking."
"You let me do all the cooking, growing up."
"You liked it."
Dean shakes his head in disbelief. "Is this how our vacation's gonna go? You, turning all housewife on me?"
"Well, I was thinking we could go to a play or something," Sam says, ignores Dean's groan. "Check out some museums."
"Or how about the oh-per-ah?" Dean asks, giving his best go at a British accent.
"We could go to a bar tonight," Sam continues, undaunted. "There's kind of a cool-looking one just down the street."
"Maybe," Dean hedges.
"Oh, hey, you want one of these?" Sam asks, hefts his beer, and Dean hesitates.
Lately he's been going easy, has found that the stronger painkillers he's on don't mix so well with alcohol, make him slurred and uncoordinated after just a couple drinks – but – maybe if he drinks more, Sam will drink less.
Twisted logic, but hey, if he's having a beer, that's one less for Sam, right? Sam heads into the kitchen and Dean hears the creak of the fridge, the clink of bottles. A sound that's too familiar, lately.
He's been thinking that maybe he should say something, but he just doesn't really know how to come out and say Sam, I think you're drinking too much without sounding like a stiff-laced hypocrite. Because god knows, Sam's gotten on his case for drinking before and Dean's always snapped at him to shut the fuck up. Dean knows he's had his moments with alcohol – scary moments where he's looked up and realized it'd been a good week since he'd been completely sober – and he knows his father's had those moments, too. But Sam? Not so much. 'Til now, anyway.
And it's really not like he's getting falling-down drunk, has been staying securely on this side of plastered. A few beers when they have lunch, a couple swigs of whiskey in the car, casual, like it's no thing, then beer with dinner, whiskey after. Slow — but constant.
The only almost-bad night had been when their father had called, as promised, to tell them that he was in Idaho checking out reports of dying greenhouse plants.
"Greenhouse plants," Sam had snorted. "How the fuck are we supposed to know if he's telling the truth?"
"Gotta trust him," Dean had said, and Sam had tightened his lips, reached for the whiskey like it was a reflex. He hadn't gotten belligerent or anything, but he had passed out on his bed fully clothed, looked a little green around the gills the next day.
When Dean had tried to mention it, an offhand, vaguely reproachful, "Think you finished that whole bottle by yourself, dude," Sam had just laughed and agreed. And it's hard to – to argue for anything when Sam's not even on the defensive. He's not trying to hide anything, so Dean doesn't really know how to address the problem. Or if it's even a problem.
"Hey," Sam says, waggling the beer under Dean's nose, snickers as Dean starts.
"Thanks." The first sip reveals that it's still kind of warm from being in the car, hasn't had time to refrigerate. He makes a face.
"I—" Sam begins, but just then the doorbell rings.
"That was quick," Dean says.
"Good," Sam says, "I'm starving," and heads over to open the door.
Dean settles a hand on his knee, tries to knead away some of the muscle tension that's threatening to turn into a cramp if he's not careful, but whips his head around when he hears a posh old-woman's voice with a hint of Texas twang saying, "Hello, dear, you must be Sam Ruger."
All Dean can see is his brother's broad back, blocking the person on the other side.
"Uh, yeah," Sam says. "That's me. And you are…?"
"I'm Mrs. Henly from down the hall, honey. You can call me Marcella. I'm a friend of Gene and Marilynn. They told me you were coming, and I thought I'd stop by and make my introductions, perhaps explain a little bit about how things work around here."
"Work?" Sam says. "Uh, sure, yeah. Would you like to come in?"
"Thank you," she says, and Sam steps back to reveal a petite old woman in a tweed pantsuit. She's got a neat head of curled white hair and an elegant silk scarf knotted around her neck, and looks a bit as if she's stepped off the pages of Better Homes and Gardens.
"Oh," she says, noticing Dean. "Hello, sweetheart. You must be Sam's poor brother. Dean, isn't it?"
Dean doesn't know exactly what he's done to merit the poor, since Sam couldn't have made that bad of an impression in such a short span of time, but he nods and gives her the smile he reserves for older women, starts to struggle to his feet.
"Oh, no, no," she says, bustling forward and extending one soft, veined hand. "Don't get up. Sam's told us all about your horrible car accident."
"He has, has he?" Dean asks, sinking back in the chair to shake her hand as Sam grimaces behind her.
"Yes, it must be awful for you."
"It's not so bad," Dean says guardedly.
"And you, Sam," she says, turning to him dramatically. "What's happened to your arm?"
"Nothing serious," Sam says. "Fell down a couple steps. Why don't you have a seat, Mrs. Henly. Would you like, ah, some water? There might be tea or something in the cupboards, we haven't checked."
"I told you, it's Marcella. And I'll take one of those, if you don't mind," Marcella says, gesturing to his beer, pooling condensation on the glass coffee table. "Old people drink too, you know."
Dean raises an eyebrow and Sam laughs as he heads into the kitchen, comes out with a beer for Marcella and a fresh one for himself.
The woman takes a healthy swig, leans back into the couch cushions as Sam settles in beside her.
"This is a lovely place to live," she says, with an air of didacticism. "So we don't want any loud parties, or drugs."
"No, of course not," Sam says, looking taken aback. "Marilynn explained the rules to me, and Dean and I don't know anyone in this city, anyway."
"You may have guests, of course," Marcella continues. "Female or male, we don't judge." She leverages a knowing look at them and chortles as they redden. "The pool is open from eight to eight, every day," she says. "There's no lifeguard, so you must sign a waver with the super before you use it. His name is Mike and he's a doll. He's on the ground floor, one-oh-one, always there from eight to ten each morning."
"Ah," Sam says. "Okay. Good to know."
"Don't bring any animals into the place."
"Don't smoke anywhere in the building."
"You smell like a smoker," Marcella says, wheeling on Dean.
"Marilynn has terrible asthma, so don't go stinking up her linens or anything, all right?"
"I will try my best," Dean promises.
"And that's all we ask of you," Marcella says, and dimples, her eyes crinkling. She must have been good-looking as a young woman, Dean realizes. "You boys come get me if you have any questions, you hear? Or if you'd like to chat, about anything. I'm in five-oh-three and I have lots of experience talking to young folks. I've got plenty of grandkids." A strange look passes across her face suddenly, a shadow of sadness that has Dean wondering, but then it's gone.
"Thank you very much," Sam says.
"You seem like good boys," she says. "And you, poor dear," she says, addressing Dean, "I had gum surgery a few months ago, and still have half a bottle of Vicodin, should you need it."
Dean laughs, can't help himself. "I'm all set with the painkillers, but I appreciate it."
She smiles, looks him up and down. "And you're so good-looking, too," she says. "What a pity."
Dean blinks, isn't really sure what to say to that, but knows he's a little offended.
"What do your parents do?" she asks, and seems ready to have a good, long, life-story session, but luckily, the doorbell rings.
"I'll get it," Dean says, hoists himself to his feet, because he really doesn't want to sit there being poor dear'ed for a moment longer.
It's the pizza guy, and Dean gives him a smile, gestures towards the living room. "You can put those on the table over there," he says, and follows the kid inside. He leans up against the wall to dig his wallet out of his back pocket, and Marcella stands.
"I'll let you boys eat in peace," she says. "But I do hope you come see me in five-oh-three, so we can get to know one another properly. I have boxes and boxes of Girl Scout cookies, thanks to my darling Susie. She's nine. Just adorable."
Sam smiles noncommittally, walks her to the door. "Thanks again for coming over."
"No, please. It was my pleasure."
Dean pays the pizza guy and lowers himself back down into the armchair while Sam heads to the kitchen to rustle up some plates.
"Hey," Dean calls after him. "What the hell did you tell her about me?"
"I didn't tell her anything," Sam says, coming back in. "I told the Finklestein's that you were injured in a car accident. That's all I said."
"Well, tell me what story you're gonna use before you use it," Dean grumbles. "What happened to the fireman thing?"
"I forgot. Sorry. How was I supposed to know they'd tell the neighbors?" He shakes his head, opens one of the boxes. "You want cheese, or pepperoni?"
"I'm gonna have a cigarette first," Dean says, and pushes himself out of the chair. Up-down up-down. His hip is gonna bitch at him later.
"Hey," Sam says. "One piece. Just eat one piece now."
"Dude, I really need a smoke."
"You need to eat."
"I'm gonna eat," Dean says. "After I smoke."
"Whatever." Sam gives up, watches Dean limp out of the room. He looks at the pizza, then at his beer, finishes it in a long gulp and goes to get another one. He needs to get a buzz going, some kind of buffer between him and the constant worry.
He's getting better at opening bottles one-handed, barely even fumbles this time, but he still can't wait to get this fucking sling off. Dean had convinced him to see a doctor, who had advised two weeks with the sling and then a few weeks of exercises, which is more than he's ever done for a dislocated shoulder; but then, he's never dislocated his shoulder twice in as many weeks. It doesn't hurt unless he moves it around too much, but it's irritating, only having one working arm.
He'd be bitching about it, except for the fact that Dean's a lot worse off than he is. Though knowing that doesn't make it any easier to pop a bottle cap.
Dean comes back into the living room when Sam's halfway through his second slice of pizza, eases himself onto the couch next to his brother and grabs a slice of pepperoni under Sam's approving gaze.
"I'm gonna make fettuccini alfredo tomorrow night," Sam announces around a mouthful of crust. "So we should go grocery shopping in the morning."
"You can go shopping. I'm goin' to the pool."
"We can do both."
"You can do both."
"Fine," Sam says. "You can't have any fettuccini."
"Go get me another beer."
"You gonna come shopping with me?"
"Go get me another beer."
Sam rolls his eyes, but climbs to his feet. "You're a baby, you know that?"
Dean shows Sam a chewed-up mouthful of cheese as an answer.
After they eat, Sam puts away the leftovers and does the dishes while Dean retreats into his room to do his physical therapy exercises, now that his hip's not hurting too much to get them done. His – whatever the hell that was called – Bursitis? – seems to have cleared up, god know how. He flouted the doctor's orders of bed rest, got thrown into a few cabinets in Kansas, and has spent two days behind the wheel, since Sam can't drive with his arm strapped to his freakin' chest. But nevertheless, Dean's been moving a little easier, doesn't need as much help getting in and out of the car, or up the stairs, and Sam's glad something's finally going right.
Dean comes out after a half-hour, forehead a little damp, Actiq stick tucked into his cheek. Sam's getting used to seeing Dean suck on the morphine-like painkiller, but it still looks bizarre to him, painkillers delivered in lollipop form. Seems like it'd be dangerous to have around little kids.
"You feelin' up for a bar?" Sam asks, lounging against the counter as Dean winces down onto the wooden chair by the kitchen table. Sam's had five beers, can feel the tension in his belly start to uncurl. He's ready to switch to something a little stronger, because hey, they're on vacation, right?
"Why not," Dean says, twirls the Actiq in his mouth. "Wait 'til this baby kicks in. Then we can go."
"You want another beer?" Sam asks, and Dean shakes his head.
"Nah. I'll get one there."
Sam shrugs, cracks one for himself, notices how Dean's eyes track his movements, narrow just a little.
"What?" he asks, trying not to sound defensive, because he doesn't need to defend himself against anything, here.
Dean shrugs. "Nothin'. Just…"
"Just, go easy, dude," Dean says. "I don't wanna have to drag you home."
"Hey, I'm not the one who mispronounces Winchester after three beers."
"That's insensitive. I'm on heavy sedatives."
Sam just raises his eyebrows and tips his bottle.
Neither of them bother changing, but Dean jams his gun into the back of his jeans, untucks his t-shirt to fall over it. Opens his eyes wide at Sam's pained expression.
"Dude," he says. "I'm not walkin' out there naked."
"You're gonna get us arrested."
"This is Texas, man. Texas is where it's at when it comes to guns."
"Yeah, well. You were excited to see armadillos, too."
Dean glowers. "Shut the fuck up, man." The only armadillo they'd seen had been crushed and rotting on the side of the road, and Dean's horrified face had sent Sam howling into gales of laughter, even as he felt bad for the mangled little guy.
"Sorry," Sam says, whacks him on the shoulder. "Let's go."
The elevator is rickety, with old-fashioned latticed metal folding doors, and it jolts and beeps with every floor. Dean's got one hand in a death grip on his cane, and the other palming the mirrored wall behind him. Sam can't help but grin a little as his brother swallows with an audible click of relief when they land on the first floor and the doors slide open.
Dean's cane echoes loudly across the tiled floor of the lobby, and the doorman grunts his way out of a nap as they pass, gives them a bleary nod and settles back down in his chair.
It's dark and warm outside, and Sam is surprised for a moment by the amount of people on the street, by the lights and the cars and the noise. They usually stay out of major cities, and it feels strange to be in the center of one, where they can blend in without even trying.
Dean pauses to get a cigarette lit, and Sam steps closer to his bad side, covering it in case his brother gets jostled by the people walking by.
"Where'd you say this bar is?" Dean asks, snapping his lighter shut and tucking it into his pocket.
"Not far. Couple of blocks. I saw it while we were looking for the apartment. Looked cheap."
"Cheap is good. Think they have a pool table?"
Sam shrugs. "Looked like the kinda place where they might."
"We could use a little extra cash."
They start forward, and Sam realizes that he's glad he let Dean convince him to come to Texas. It has to be at least seventy degrees, and it's only April. It was still cold and threatened to sleet in Kansas when they left, but now, he doesn't even need the flannel shirt he's got on over his blue t-shirt. It feels nice.
The wail of a siren suddenly pierces the warm air, rises above the traffic noises, and Dean and Sam both turn automatically to watch the ambulance as it passes, through the cars that pull off to the side of the road.
It stops in front of their building, and paramedics spill out, shouting to one another and barking into radios as a fire truck careens down the street towards them.
"Shit," Dean says, stops. "What the hell?"
"I dunno, man," Sam says, scans the air for signs of smoke. "Doesn't look like a fire or anything. Fuck, I hope no one's hurt."
"Well, someone's clearly hurt," Dean says, waves a hand at the ambulance. "Jesus."
"Let's go," Sam says, tugs his brother's sleeve, suddenly anxious. "Nothing we can do. Not our kind of problem."
Dean lets himself be led forward, but casts another look back. "Shit. Hope everything's all right."
"Yeah." Sam keeps walking, doesn't want to get sucked into this, not right now. He has a bad feeling, all of a sudden, deep in the pit of his stomach. He just wants a calm vacation without any fucking ambulances or blood or anything like that. Is that so much to ask?
Calm down, he tells himself. It's just a natural reaction to the sirens.
Nothing a few shots of whiskey won't fix.
To be continued…