A/N I own nothing but some knowledge of North Texas and a deep desire to see John Winchester again.

Butch Cassidy 1

Sam felt the bed dip but didn't bother to open his eyes, just held his hand out expectantly for the four Excedrin and bottle of water. He wasn't disappointed even though he wasn't ready to try water yet. Besides, he didn't need his eyes or even to smell the slight scent of gun oil and leather mixed with woody smoke to tell him it was Dean taking care of him. Who the hell else would it be? Though Jessica and his roommate before her had tried to take care of him when his then infrequent migraines hit, it was only Dean that could tell just by looking if they were a two pill, four pill, or screw that we need to get you to the hospital for a Demerol drip. Only Dean remembered to shut all the blinds, make sure there was no coffee burning, and have an icepack wrapped in a towel for his forehead and the back of his neck. Yeah, his big, bad brother made a good little nurse maid.

"Sammy," a gentle voice coaxed him to focus for a moment but he still didn't open his eyes, "there is a cup of crushed ice on the nightstand behind you and," he moved Sam's hand over to touch an ice bucket with a slightly damp plastic liner already inserted, "here's a bucket just in case." He couldn't help but hear the concern in his brother's voice. Sam twitched his mouth and hoped Dean understood what he meant. "I've got to take off in a minute, but Dad will be here if you need anything."

Sam wanted to shout, 'don't leave me with Dad. I need you, Dean, to be here and take care of me. Make Dad go get the fake Colt,' but all he could do was rasp, "how long?" His voice was husky but still not on the dark, gravely level of either John's or Dean's.

He heard Dean sigh but he answered, "300 mile round trip. We'll be cutting it really close." He paused, "Don't worry about it though. Get some sleep and feel better."

Sam shot his hand out, knowing he would pay for it in pain but not caring, "careful." He grunted.

"You know me." He could hear the smirk in his brother's voice, that infuriating smirk that always made Sam feel like everything was going to be ok.

"Yeah, I do, so be careful." He could feel bile burn in the back of his throat from talking too much.

"Fine, Sammy, just go to sleep and I'll be back before you know it." Sam was asleep before he even heard the door close.

He woke about an hour later, thirsty, sort of hungry, and feeling like someone had taken a melon baller and scooped out the front part of his brain. It didn't hurt, so much as feel odd and empty without the pain there. He sat up and reached clumsily for his water bottle.

"You alright?" He almost jumped at his father's hesitant tone. Sam watched him play uncomfortably with the pen in his hand, waiting for an answer. John had never been good at dealing with sick people, that had always fallen to Dean along with a good chunk of other duties involved in rearing a child and apparently little had changed. He stopped the bitter bent of his thoughts though, before blurting it out. He had promised Dean he would try not to pick a fight. He suspected Dean had extracted same promise from their Dad, given the general level of his hesitancy. If they weren't fighting with each other, how exactly were they supposed to communicate?

"Yeah, just thirsty." He finally snatched the bottle and nearly drained it in one gulp. He looked around for another and his dad tossed him one, not wanting to get too close to him. They stared at each other for another moment as Sam sipped his water more slowly and contemplated whether he could eat. The silence was not the comfortable kind that he shared with Dean but nor was it the harsh angry type he used to associate with his father. "Any word from Dean?"

"No, not even your brother could drive to Chicago this fast." They both shared a smile. Dean did drive like a bat out of hell.

"You sent him all the way to Chicago, he must have loved that?" Sam pressed on, leaning back against the head board. He wanted to find the easy common ground with his Dad that Dean had always had. Poking fun at his brother's dislike for large metropolitan areas seemed like a good place to start.

"There was one about 40 miles from here, but Dean picked the one in Illinois because he said they had more than one so he could pick the one that looked closest. Frankly I'm surprised he offered to get that close to a city but I trust him to get the job done." No higher praise from John Winchester could have been bestowed on his son, too bad Dean wasn't there to hear it. Especially after he had stayed up till dawn two nights ago detailing and tuning up both the Impala and their dad's truck just because John had angrily thrown a careless comment at him.

Sometimes, well most of the time, Sam just didn't understand their father. How could the man have such faith in Dean at the same time he derided his eldest making him feel worthless. He had no problem telling Sam how proud he was of him and how smart he thought he was yet refused to listen to a word Sam said. But the minute Dean disagreed, John backed down like movie vampire from a crucifix. Sam wanted to know why, why was it ok to praise him but never Dean and why was Dean's opinion taken as fact while Sam's ignored.

"Dad," he started but couldn't go on as soon as he looked into those brown eyes. The same fears and insecurities that had plagued him since childhood rose to choke off his question. "Can we order pizza?"

"Sure," John eyed him suspiciously but handed him menus from the desk.

Pizza ordered, Sam tried again, "Dad," but again failed, when faced with actually getting an answer. He didn't want things to degenerate into a fight before Dean got back. "Need help with the weapons?" He finished lamely. John shrugged and threw him a gun to clean. They worked in silence until the pizza arrived then he tried again, hoping food would embolden him, "Dad"

"Sam," he inhaled sharply, "if you're going to pussy out and ask me another asinine question because you are too much of a limp dick to ask me what you really want to know, then spare me because if you do, you will be reacquainted with my foot up your ass. So just quit wasting the air and ask your stupid question."

Somehow the sharp rebuke set Sam at ease more than John's semi solicitous attitude from earlier. This was the John Winchester he was used to dealing with, not the one that admitted he was wrong, hugged, or asked for help. "Why is it that I can talk to till I'm blue in the face trying to get you to change your mind about something but all Dean has to do is say he disagrees and you back down immediately?"

John leaned back and sipped at his coffee, vaguely disgusting Sam. Not even Dean drank coffee with pizza. "Because he earned it."

"Earned what, how?" Sam stammered.

"He earned the right to tell me to unass myself, when I'm being idiotic."

"Why, because he's older than me or because he is the favoured son?" Sam tried to keep the resentment from his voice, feeling like a sulky teen again. His promise to Dean already forgotten.

"For Christ sake, Sammy, I don't have a favourite and it has nothing to do with him being older. You were gone for nearly four years and we hunted together and we hunted alone. He's a good hunter and as such, can tell me, when I'm wrong." Sam looked about to protest again but John cut him off, "besides, you know your brother. He never would challenge me unless it was a matter of life or death. Or he's sick," John cocked his head sideways and Sam had to agree. Dean had the disposition of a wounded badger, when he was sick. That was assuming of course you could get him to admit it, which was never easy. "Plus, I figure that if he is going about the trouble of potentially pissing me off, it must be pretty damn important. Unlike you, that seemed to try to see how far you could push me before I finally snapped and beat you to death with a shovel." He quirked one side of his mouth up, showing a dimple. Sam mimicked the half smile, dimple and all. It was true, Dean never stepped toe to toe with John and if he did, he was always the first to back down and show his throat. Sam on the other hand was constantly fighting with his father just for the shear sake of fighting.

"Things changed after you left, Sammy, some for the better some not so much. But one thing that really changed was the way Dean and I worked together. We became more like partners, he was junior but still partners." Sam realized that his father looked almost sad or maybe wistful as he spoke and something seemed to twist in his head. All this time, Sam had assumed that Dean had been desperate to find John because he was worried or wanted to make Sam happy. It never occurred to him that his brother might just genuinely miss John's company, that the two of them might have had a comfortable joking type relationship the same as his and Dean's. That Dean might prefer to hunt with John than himself. He couldn't speculate. He had never quite understood John and Dean's relationship. For a good portion of his life, he had thought it was Stockholm syndrome.

"Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?" Sam joked with the old nickname Bobby had used for them but there was still bitterness on the back of his tongue. There was not third member of that crew and he had more than started thinking of himself and Dean more as the James brothers.

"Something like that." There was bitterness in John's tone as well and it struck Sam how oddly weird and homoerotically Oedipal his and his father's constant vying for Dean's attention was. When all was said and done, he supposed their little family dynamic wasn't really that odd, if you ignored the fact Dean was male. John was undeniably the father, alpha in the family. Sam was the child, relatively protected and pampered; he hated to admit it but even a bit spoilt. Dean was the mother, below John but above Sam. It was Dean that cooked and cleaned, did laundry and mended scraped knees and broken hearts. He sutured gashes as well as socks and kept both Sam and John from drowning in their own respective pools of grief. He never complained and they both took insane advantage of that fact by piling more and more shit on him as time went on, knowing he could take it without getting hurt and if it did hurt him, he would forgive without a thought. But in the end, he was probably the most important person in both their lives and the one and only person that could control them both with nothing more than a look. Sam decided not to dwell on it any longer, disliking the fact there was another similarity between them.

"Dean has told me next to nothing about those four years. I mean I heard some of it, when we were still talking and a few tidbits here and there but nothing big. Cassie was the most information I got about anything."

"You met the self-centered tramp?" John smiled unkindly.

"Yes," Sam straightened, feeling that without Dean there it fell to him to defend her. Though he had to admit he was shocked that his father was so disrespectful towards her after he had spoken so kindly about Jessica. "She didn't seem that bad. I thought she was smart, funny, tough. I liked her."

"She is. She actually in a lot of ways reminded me of you. She was also a self absorbed, deceitful, little bitch that broke your brother's heart." Sam wondered if the dishonest part applied to him too.

"I don't really think she can be blamed if Dean got overly attached during the few weeks they dated."

"Yeah because 10 months is such a short amount of time."

"Ten months? Dean made it sound like it was a few weeks, a month tops." Sam was shocked. Ten months was only 8 months less than he and Jess were together.

"Well he probably didn't feel like recounting the entire fiasco to you. But yes, they were together for about 10 months before she dumped him like so much dirty laundry."

"She seemed to really care about him. I'm sure she was just freaked out by the whole ghost hunter thing, most people would be." Sam briefly wondered if John's dislike was racially based or because he didn't like sharing Dean's attention with outsiders.

"Of course they would but if they really loved you, most people might listen. Unless, of course, you had always been a good girl and realized that you were about to graduate from college without ever trying anything new or fun. Then a scummy looking guy with a loud car that was the total opposite of everything you had been taught to like came walking in and you decided that you would take your last chance at freedom and lack of responsibility by slumming with said guy. But at some point you realized that scummy guy treats you better and with more respect than any of those nice boys, so you let your one night stand turn into one week then a month and so on. Until you suddenly wake up and realize that you have spent nearly a year with a guy that is nothing like everyone tells you that you should love, so you look for any excuse to get rid of him, ignoring of course that it has been the happiest year of your life. Because you know what you want and you won't let things like yours or other people's feelings get in your way. And besides, scummy guys don't have hearts that can break. So when that excuse presents itself, wrapped in a neat little bow of insanity, you take it like a gift and don't look back, kicking now crazy guy to the curb. Because come on, really, you are so much better than the type that would be with a skuzzy loon." Sam kept his mouth shut, ignoring the niggling voice that reminded him how often he had had similar thought about his 'low class' family, while trying to fit in at Stanford.

"That is of course," John continued, "until your father is killed by a ghost truck then crazy guy doesn't seem quite so crazy and turns back into simply nice scummy guy. You call scummy guy or rather you call scummy guy's father and luckily for you scummy Dad didn't answer because he probably would have told you that 'you deserved to be killed by a vengeful spirit, you self absorbed whore.' But instead you get a hold of scummy and are very nice to him probably reminding him of how much you two meant to each other so he comes to help. Then when it is said and done, you most likely remind scummy that he is scum and you are not so it won't work. Because, again really, you are better than him." Sam now realized that it wasn't race or jealousy that prompted John's dislike but more dangerously, she had roused Papa bear's protective streak and he never had liked anyone screwing with his cubs. He wondered exactly how messed up Dean must have been after wards, for John to still be this pissy with her.

"That's sort of harsh. Does he know you feel that way about her?" Sam was a little thrown by the difference of reality from what he had assumed.

"Yes, he knows. None of that is to say that I didn't like her or that she isn't a good person, she was just very married to this idealized idea of what she needed to have in order to be happy and normal and it always ended with a shiny ring on her finger and 2.5 kids. She never did understand that a diamond in the rough is tougher and worth a hell of a lot more than a sparkly piece of glass and Dean paid the price for it." John ran his hand along the top of his mug. "I never should have let him get involved with her but he had been so down after that last time he talked to you," Sam moved his eyes to side, unwilling to remember that he had basically shoved Dean out of his life for two years. At the time, he had been so focused on fitting in with everyone and was embarrassed of Dean's tatty clothes and callused hands. He supposed maybe he was a bit too much like Cassie or at least used to be. "I saw that he had spent his whole life living for me and you and that he wouldn't stop until we found that Yellow-Eyed bastard. He would throw away his youth and chance at happiness for me and my crusade without a second thought and a part of me didn't want that. I wanted him to have something that was his, something that made him happy. Unfortunately she turned out to be bad candy." Sam nodded in agreement to Dean not taking things for himself but not his reasoning. Dean did what he did to help people, not to make John happy.

"Is that why you two started hunting separately?"

"No, we hunted alone at the beginning, right after you left." Sam had to bite his tongue to not bring up the fact that he had been thrown out.

"What changed? I mean you were always comfortable hunting alone at first and Dean is more than capable though I'm sure he probably hated being by himself that much." John mumbled something that Sam didn't catch. "What was that?"

"I said I missed your brother." He snapped and Sam smiled as his father continued to babble, much like Dean did when he confronted him about loving Cassie. "Besides, it's not like he takes care of himself if no one is around to watch him." Sam had to agree, Dean did have a habit of worrying about everyone else before himself. He saw that first hand with Layla and it still made him queasy to think about it. Dean had been willing to let himself die to protect her.

"Tell me." Sam crawled back in bed, pulling a pillow onto his lap to lean against.

"Christ, kid, you look like you're four." John couldn't hide his smile either. "Fine."