Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. I'm pocketing no money.
Summary: 'In the Beginning' tag. Submitted for Kazcon, 1st Place Winner. This is my first experience in writing a tag. Rules were had to be under 2,500 words (I hit at 2,499) and had to mention Lawrence.
Travelling Riverside Blues
Stealing a piece of crap car in 1973 and driving it eight hours to Denver and eight hours back reminded Dean that there were some things he was going to have to get used to.
The pump at the Phillips was one. There was no easy slide of the plastic to pay for his gas and he found himself actually reading the directions on how to fill the tank up before he lifted the nozzle.
Passing by a crowd of young girls at 1:07 a.m. was another. They were gathered on the sidewalk, long hair blowing in messy tangles, smoking cigarettes and drinking Pepsi from glass bottles. Each one was bone skinny, wearing tank tops and shorts cut clear up to their asses.
Dean walked by, raising an eyebrow. "Who wears short shorts?" he muttered to himself, pulling his leather jacket around him. He glanced back at the girls, barely-dressed, wondering fleetingly what exactly they were doing on the corner.
"That'll be $4.23," the shop clerk stated, taking Dean's five dollar bill. Another thing. "Prices just keep going up."
Dean nodded and pocketed his change.
"Take care now," the guy waved as Dean was leaving. "And leave those girls alone. You take one to California, you got to take 'em all to California."
Dean frowned. Hitchers, of course. It was the seventies after all.
Still, giving the foursome a smile as he headed out of the parking lot wasn't going to damn him to Hell. Or, at least, he didn't think it would. He pushed the small car harder and let the full tank burn into the somehow-cleaner-smelling-air. At first he had thought it was just being in Lawrence, but as he drove farther away, he realized it was everywhere. The air just seemed fresher. Less abused.
He passed nothing but farmland, billboards, and more hitchhikers holding their homemade signs. Thirty-five plus years from now they'll be considered bums and their signs will all say the same thing: Homeless. Will work for food. Or some unoriginal shit like that.
But these hitchers out on the road in the middle of the night in 1973? They were just like Dean. Just trying to get somewhere fast to do what they needed to survive. The only difference was Dean had hotwired something that didn't belong to him to get the job done faster.
He pulled up to a Yield sign along a riverside, waiting for a motorcyclist to go through. The guy looked over and gave him a nod and Dean found himself nodding back. His eyes drifted to the right, to be sure no one else was approaching when he saw him. Just a guy, another hitcher. Dark hair, too long for his own good, tall and built, with broad shoulders. His big hands were holding a white sign with black letters that simply said: Please.
Dean didn't hesitate. His body was leaning across the empty seat before his head even registered what he was doing. He was rolling the window down and shouting "Hey!" to the man before his brain even calculated that it was 1973 and there was no way – no way – that this guy on the side of the road was going to be Sam.
But the guy was already standing up and walking to him and the door was opening and before Dean could make sense of it, he had the car moving again. All he heard was the ringing of the cash register to Pink Floyd's Money over the radio and itsounded just like new. Because it was. Another thing to get used to.
The guy shifted awkwardly at first, making room for his long, gangly legs under the dash and then he was trying to push his extra long Army duffel in between them. He got most of it to fit and then gave up, choosing to rest his elbows on its top.
Dean kept driving, but watched the kid – he looked like a kid – out of his periphery. He was dressed in military fatigues and his eyes were darker than the night. He looked over at the driver's seat and Dean realized with both disappointment and relief that this was a stranger.
"Thanks, man," the guy said, smiling. His face was rounder than Sam's, softer maybe. "I've been walking a long time." And he didn't have any dimples. Not one. Just regular pudgy cheeks that looked like they could explode if he grinned any harder. "I'm Leo Ward," he continued, extending his hand. Dean quickly reached for it, shaking it briefly. Sam's handshake was firmer. More solid. More confident.
"Dean Winchester." He felt his throat bob and suddenly he didn't know what he was doing. "Look, buddy-"
Dean nodded. "Leo." His hand gestured out the windshield. "I'm just going down a few miles. Where're you headed?"
Leo shrugged. "A place right outside of Limon. Just off 70. However far you can get me, man. That's all I ask."
Dean looked away. Limon, Colorado. It was about an hours drive and definitely right on his way.
"Oh, thank God," Leo sighed heavily.
Dean's neck cracked in his direction. "What?"
Leo's head was bouncing with the pluck of an electric guitar as CCR started in with Green River. "Finally a ride who knows his tunes."
Dean listened as the tinny speakers poured out John Fogerty's swampy vocals. "Classic rock fan?"
Leo's body tilted towards him. "Rock fan, yeah."
Dean's eyes dropped and then focused back on the road. Had to get used to that one, too.
"I stepped off the bus eight days ago and you know what song was playing?"
Dean glanced over.
"Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree." He let out a short laugh. "You know how many more times I've heard that stupid song?" His eyes followed Dean's shrug. "I stopped counting after fifty."
Dean felt his face scrunch up with disgust. Leo was pointing at him. "Exactly," he mimicked the same look and rubbed at his knee. "What the hell does Tony Orlando know about being in prison anyway?"
It was Dean's turn to laugh. Rock and Roll or Disco. That's what dad had said the music of the seventies was all about.
Leo was fidgeting with his knee again, pulling at strings on his duffel, watching the world through his own piece of glass.
"Where you from?" Dean asked, picking up casual conversation.
"Iowa. Little town called Melrose."
"Isn't that in the opposite direction?"
Leo turned his head, hitched a shoulder. "Army dropped me off there last week. I saw everyone I needed to see."
Dean nodded. "Your family's there?"
"Yep. I walked in the front door and found my mom got older. My dad got fatter. My little sister… well, she had a baby a couple of months ago. Now she lives out back with some guy I'd never met. His name's Bob. Boring as hell and likes Simon and Garfunkel."
"Not the Bridge Over Troubled Water dudes."
"Sail on, Silver Girl," Leo smirked, rubbing hard at his leg. Dean could see the muscles in his bicep moving as his fingers flexed. "I was gone a long time, you know? Army had their hands on me for over three years but it felt like forever." His cheek ticked and his gaze gained distance. "I saw a lot of things over there… I did a lot of things over there that I'm not proud of."
Dean felt a churn in the pit of his stomach, felt his body break out in peppered sweat. He gripped and re-gripped the wheel of the car and felt his foot find a release for his energy in the accelerator.
"Honestly, I got home and it was like none of them knew me anymore. And none of them wanted to know me. They all changed. They went on with living, for better or worse. But me?" Leo looked out the passenger window. "I think I got lost somewhere."
Dean waited but Led Zeppelin's Black Dog started and finished and Leo wasn't saying anything else. Dean cleared his throat as the soldier started to reach for his knee again. "So, do you know someone in Limon?"
Then Leo's face lit up and Dean already knew. "Yeah," he beamed. "My girl."
Leo nodded. "She's far out, man. But, she…" he massaged the top of his thigh and thought about his words. "She hooked up with some guy a few weeks ago. Wrote me a letter when she heard I'd come home. Told me it was over."
Dean's eyes narrowed. "And so you're hitching across three states to see her?"
Leo looked up and locked eyes with Dean. "She put the return address on the envelope."
Leo grinned. "So? So, she's my destiny."
Dean tried to keep a straight face, but he knew he was failing. Destiny, it seemed, had been around since the seventies.
"See, if I didn't choose this road right now and meet up with you when I did," Leo's voice was just above a whisper, "I'd never know." He leaned over the bench of the car. "You ever have a person in your life that you know, without a doubt, that you'd do anything for? Throw a punch, take a bullet. Whatever it is, you'd do it because that person needed you as much as you needed them?"
Dean looked back to the road.
"Yeah," Leo went on. "I thought you did." He watched Dean for a few seconds, his hand applying pressure to his leg, his head bopping to the music. "I tried, you know."
Dean's gaze skated across and back. "Tried what?"
"Tried to be a good man. Over there." His head tilted to the right. "I thought if I knew who my enemies were and who my friends were I'd be able to keep myself straight. I'd be able to do what I had to without… without giving too much of myself away." He smiled again, but it was sad and it died before it ever hit his eyes. "They filleted me. Ripped me open. Spilled my guts out until I wasn't a good man anymore. Until I wasn't a man at all." Dean felt Leo's eyes rest on him. "And then everything was easy. Didn't matter what I did or who I did it to. It wasn't me anymore."
Heat swelled under Dean's jacket. He felt the sweat escape his armpits, his groin, his back, his hairline.
"So I thought if I get to Limon and I see my girl, maybe I'll find myself again. I gave her so much of myself. She has to have some parts stashed away somewhere." He wiped at his eyes and Dean didn't dare look over. "What about you?"
"What?" Dean's voice was raw. "What about me?"
"You never said where you're headed."
"Oh." Dean blinked and readjusted his hands. "Denver area."
Leo was studying him. "Business?"
Dean swallowed. "Personal. I'm trying to…" He wasn't sure how to complete that open-ended sentence.
Dean glanced over and Leo stared back. The man held an innocence and yet he was knowing. "I've seen the look before," Leo said casually. "Who is it?"
"My…" …family, Dean started to say, "brother."
Limon approached too fast and Dean found himself turning onto the exit, even though Leo insisted he didn't need to. The house was only a few blocks away and he could walk, but Dean told him it would be faster if he drove him. He didn't mention the injured leg but Dean could feel Leo's grateful eyes.
Three minutes later, Dean pulled to a stop in front of a trailer in the middle of a two-lot yard. It looked small for such a big destiny.
Leo reached for the car door and pulled on the handle.
"What're you gonna say to her?" Dean asked, truly wanting to know.
"I'm gonna look at her and say 'Hurry home. I ain't had my right mind, since my rider's been gone…'" Leo's voice thinned until no sound escaped him.
Dean paused. "Really? Zeppelin?"
A small laugh jiggled Leo's throat. "It's her favorite song. Or, it used to be."
"Yeah," Dean breathed. "Mine, too."
Leo pushed the door open and threw his duffel out. "I have a Plan B," he said as he lifted his bum leg outside. "But it scares the hell out of me."
Dean encouraged him, rolling his right hand. "Yeah? What's that?"
Leo paused. "Just go in and tell her the truth. Tell her what I did. Let her see me. Who I am now. And hope. Hope that she'll still love me."
Dean felt a burn behind his eyes and tried to blink away the evidence. The car shook and shuddered as Leo found his way out into dark. He rapped on the closed window with this knuckles and Dean leaned across to roll it down for him.
"Here." He waved a few bucks in front of Dean. "I only got about three dollars on me, but I want you to take it."
Dean shook his head. "I'm okay. You keep it."
"Really." Dean looked through the small opening and met his gaze.
"Damn." Leo brought the money back and pocketed it. "I wish I had something to give to you."
Dean felt his face soften as a small drop of wetness escaped his eyes. "You already did."
Leo released a nervous sigh. "Guess I'll go knock and see if Sam's there."
"Who's Sam?" Dean asked, his voice catching on his vocal cords, his heart aching at the sound of his brother's name.
"My girl. Sammi." Leo shoved away from the car door and raised a large hand.
Dean blinked through the damn tears that had accumulated there. Sure as shit looked like Sam walking away. "Hey!" Dean called and Leo stopped, turning back. Dean wiped clumsily at his face and sat up higher behind the wheel. "Just… thanks for serving our Country." He closed his eyes. Good God, did he really just say that?
Leo smiled big and grand. "You know, you're the first mother fucker to say that to me." He slapped the hood of the car. "Good luck, man."
Dean didn't look back in the rearview mirror. He didn't want to see Sammi open the door. He didn't want to see if she hugged Leo or rejected him. He didn't want to know the outcome because it was too much to know. He just kept going straight ahead, hoping the open road would show him his own dreams and possibilities. Win or lose. It was all a risk. And if he could do this, if he could pull this off… he could save his mom, his dad and Sam. And maybe even himself.
And all that he would sacrifice would be the people he would never know he saved in another time.
He hoped he could get used to that, too.
Playlist: Money performed by Pink Floyd
Black Dog performed by Led Zeppelin
Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree performed by Tony Orlando and Dawn
Bridge Over Troubled Water in reference to performed by Simon/Garfunkel
Travelling Riverside Blues (in reference to and recited) performed by Led Zeppelin