RULES OF THE ROAD
By: Karen B.
Summary: Season one. Just after the pilot. The rules of the road are helpful in more ways than one. Sam's first nightmare after Jessica died didn't come right away. A little story of what went on down the road after leaving Pala Alto.
Declaimer: Not the owner
Rated: Been done before… but here you go again. Few f-bombs to watch out for. That's about it.
Quote: House rules, Sammy. Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole – Dean Winchester
Sam not only didn't want to leave Pala Alto, he was adamant about staying, but we'd come up empty and leaving was the only hand to play.
Big brother wasn't only watching out for little brother, big brother was taking charge.
I'd handled my hard-to-handle 6' 4" numb little brother the only way I knew how when he was being a stubborn ass. Told the skinny bitch how it was all going to go down. Either Sam was getting in the car under his own steam or 'call me crazy' I was going to rob a bank, get knock down drunk and pick a fight with the biggest guy in the next bar I saw, or if that didn't work I was going to jump off the nearest bridge.
When my threats of bodily harm to myself didn't work, I grabbed Sam by the arm and told him to get in the fucking car. We were leaving.
"Now!" I'd shouted at him.
"No, Dean. I can't," He said all cool-calm on the outside, bloody-raw on the inside. "You don't understand. I –"Sam choked on whatever he was about to say, instead his face darkened with anger. The rock-like strength he'd been trying to fool me with fortified further as his hand's curled into snug fists, his usual puppy-eyed self now anguished and bristled like an angry dog – a man falling to pieces and fighting it all the way.
That was all right by me. He was allowed to be angry. Hell, I was angry. He was allowed to fight for composure and control. It was the Winchester way of surviving. But enough was enough. Camping out in this town had gotten us nowhere and we were losing time.
"Sammy." I opened the passenger door of the Impala. "We can't do anything else here." I waved for him to get in.
Sam shook his head no, jaw muscle going into a spasm as he glanced away.
I ducked my head, flashing my own set of puppy eyes at him. "Sammy, please. Come with me."
Sam shut his eyes tight as if he were trying to concentrate over a bad migraine.
I sensed his hesitation, could practically hear his heart hammering in his chest. See the paper, scissors, rock battle he played in his head by himself. This town had been his and Jessica's home. Sam never liked moving around. Dad and I were suited to it, but Sam had a hard time adjusting. He always hated leaving places he'd stayed at long enough to call home in return for what he called empty, silent roads leading nowhere good. But Sam also knew the flip side of that coin, the danger that came from staying still too long.
Sam raised his eyes and looked at me. "When do you want to leave?" he asked in a small voice.
"Sooner the better," I said softly. "I already checked us out of the motel and our things are in the trunk."
Sam unfurled his fists, blew out a long held breath and slid into the car, taking the door from me and slamming it shut.
Relieved, I didn't have to rob a bank, get my ass kicked, or jump off a bridge; I slid behind the wheel of my Baby, revved her up, popped in a Metallica tape, pushed the petal down and drove away from Pala Alto.
Hitting the open road wasn't the joyous 'reunited' occasion I'd always had dreamt it would be. It went without saying, but I said it anyway over-and-over to myself: Sam was a complete mess.
To the untrained eye, he'd kept control, stiff and ridged. He'd done so all through Jessica's funeral, through the lowering of her casket, through the constantly hugging, and crying family and friends. Through our research and interviewing, through it all, he'd remained straight-faced and stoic.
He didn't sleep much, but when he did nod off I prepared for the nightmares. But the nightmares never came. Even in sleep, Sam somehow kept the pain locked up and at bay.
When we'd picked through their burnt-up apartment, trying to identify and salvage what was left of their charred belongings, I thought for sure he'd break then. But Sam remained solemn and quite the whole time, only a slight tremble in his hands. It was disturbing to say the least.
In Sam's eyes I'd seen what I'd never seen in him before.
Just as there was nothing left of their lives together, there wasn't much emotion leaking out of my brother. Everything had been destroyed, including my brother's heart. But I knew it was all a shield.
The kid always loved intensely, there was no middle ground for Sam, and accordingly, he hurt intensely. This silent, blind, courageous act of his was just that…an act.
I tried to talk to him, to somehow help to ease his pain, or more like reveal his pain, but Sam was stubborn and he held strong, kept his head up. He had a good game going, but I knew better. One lone tear was all he was willing to allow himself that first night, and not one tear more or less.
Sam. He just wasn't ready to break, wasn't ready to do the whole grieving thing.
We had work to do, and that was all.
Sam just wanted to suffer silently, like a wounded animal trapped in a corner.
I allowed it…for now.
But now that we were on the open road, what I didn't allow was for Sam to be alone for a second. Even during bathroom runs, I made sure to stand outside the door of the john, waiting and listening. Wouldn't let him pay for gas or wander off alone. The break would come and when it did…it would come fast and hard and I needed to be on the ground floor ready to catch him.
The heart can't be reasoned with. The heart did or the heart died, and Sam's heart always did. 'Huh?' I shook my head, chick-flick moment with myself. Holy crap I was going crazy.
I glanced over at Sam. The window was rolled all the way down; it was always rolled all the way down. I could only suspect it was to help him to keep breathing as I knew a part of my brother just wanted to die.
Sam's head lolled back, rocking against the seat, mouth slightly open, gusts of wind whipping his greasy unwashed hair around his face. Every pointy strand looking like a sharp lethal weapon, but still he slept on, deeply and profoundly. He was shaggy and he was scruffy and he was skinny. Like some stray dog wandering lost and alone.
All Sam wanted was for me to drive.
So I did.
I'd been driving day and night and night and day for three full days now. No diner stops. No bar stops. No motel stops. No 'hey, let's check out that giant ball of string' stops. Pit stops were few, pulling over only when Baby was running on fumes and sputtering. We stopped just long enough to purchase gas and junk food.
Side of the road stops were even less, and only because my eyeballs were either swimming in yellow piss, or I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer, or both. I'd catch a few quick winks, while Sam either had his nose in a book or his lap top. Eventually the laws of nature would win out over him, and he'd doze off some, but not for long. He'd wake back up, shake me awake, give me the stink-eye, and then we'd be right back out on the open road again. Kid had driven himself into a state of exhaustion. He'd hardly eaten and barely slept since Jessica's death.
Today Sam spent the morning staring at the white line, taking his eyes off the road only because he had to blink now and again. Three hours back, he'd finally passed out.
One hour back, I finally decided enough was enough. It was time to put the rules of the road into effect.
I didn't even know what state we were in as I pulled off at the very next diner I came across.
Bob's Big Boy, home of the double-decker cheeseburger.
It was a 50's style looking diner with a seven-foot tall, cartoonish looking statue of an overweight boy, who I assumed was Bob, standing out front. He had big blue eyes, pompadour styled hair, wore a white tee shirt with the words Bob's Big Boy printed across it over which he wore a pair of friggin' overalls that looked more like a red and white checkered table cloth, than pants. Guy had a really creepy smile too, and if it weren't for the giant-assed double-decker cheeseburger he held in his hand high over his head, I'd have kept driving.
We hit a speed bump and out of the corner of my eye, I watched Sam sit up bolt straight and glance over at the gas gage; which was still half full, unlike my bro who was less than half empty.
"Dean, why are we stopping here?" He sat forward, staring hard at Bob as we drove past and wrinkling his nose.
"Meals on wheels." I licked my lips.
"Huh?" Sam arched his eyebrows.
"This place has a carhop." I smiled brightly. "My treat."
"No," Sam protested, suddenly not only looking less than half-empty, but half-sick as well.
"Come on, Dude." I tapped my hands excitedly on the wheel trying to be casual. "Hot chicks in miniskirts, Sam, all roller-skating right up to the car window." I waggled my brows.
"Dean, I'm not hungry." Sam crossed his arms in defiance.
I snickered. Sam was a full-grown man, but I still saw the kid in him every time he did shit like that.
"Rules of the road, Sammy, never drive on an empty stomach."
Sam didn't argue further, looking away out the window, eyes squinting to slits.
He knew rule number one of the rules of the road. Don't fuck with the rules. Ha.
I drove us past the long line of cars searching for a parking spot. Radios blared and the smell of onion rings filled the air.
"There." I found a spot on the end, pulled in, put Baby in park, and shut off her engine.
"Dean, I said I'm not hun –"
"Let's see here," I talked right over Sam, ignoring his protests. "What to order?" I rubbed my hands together in anticipation, reading from the menu that was displayed on the post next to the car. "Chicken salad, tuna salad, egg salad..." I frowned. "Sammy, what's a Black Cow?"
"It's a root beer float, Dean," Sam groaned crossing his arms tighter.
"Stop being bitchy."
"I'm not being bitchy and I'm not eating." Sam threw himself back against the seat.
"Yes you are." I smiled and bat my eyelashes at him. "And yes…you are."
"Pfft." Sam pressed his lips together.
"Good. Shut up." I glanced out the window and caught sight of the pretty-faced girl, wearing hot-pink shorts and hotter-pink skates gliding cheerfully over. "Can I get you something, handsome?" she leaned forward, peering into the window, working the wad of pink gum in her mouth.
"Absolutely, sweetheart," I grinned up at her suggestively. She could get me a lot, but right now all I needed was to get some food into Sam. "I'll have the double cheeseburger with the works; hold the mayo, large fry, large Coke and a piece of apple pie for desert."
"And for you, sir?" Pinkie peered over at Sam, blowing a bubble inside a bubble, and then crackling the gum loudly.
Sam wiggled in his seat uncomfortably, still pressing his lips together in refusal.
"He'll have the melted cheese on toast, and a Black Cow," I took charge.
"Coming right up." She winked at me then glided off.
I settled back into my seat to wait, monitoring Sam's emotional state.
He looked mad, but I could tell the nothing inside of him was growing to something and soon would burst.
"Stop it, Sammy, you look like a nerd when you're mad."
Sam didn't say a word and he didn't stop it.
"Dude, your stomach was screaming for food forty miles back. Do not tell me again you're not hungry."
Sam uncrossed his arms. "I could have ordered my own, Dean."
"What can I say?" I shrugged. "I took the guess work out of it for you," I said, tapping my fingers to the beat of We're An American Band, blaring from the speaker of the Monte Carlo two cars down.
Sam sighed, but said nothing more.
We watched the waitress circle around the cars with precision and balance bringing them their orders on a flat metal tray held high in one hand, heavy, and loaded down with food. Surprisingly she didn't spill a drop.
It didn't take long before she finally circled back over to us and hooked our tray full of food on my open window. "Can I get you anything else?" She crackled her gum without making a bubble this time.
I gave her my best seduction stare. "You could give me a –"
"No," Sam butted in. "Nothing. We're good," he said in a sharp tone.
"Oh, okay." She tossed the bill to the tray and skated off in a huff.
"Thanks, bro." I fixed Sam with an annoyed stare. "There goes the plan." I gestured out the window.
"What plan?" he asked, flashing me his cutest-puppy-in-the-world look, a look I hadn't seen since I couldn't remember when.
"Don't 'what plan' me, Sammy Boy. And you are so not cute, so knock it off with the puppy thing. You busted up my plan of action," I accused, irritatingly.
"Which was?" Sam challenged.
"I was about to hook up with that." I watched Pinkie skate up to an old, blue pickup truck and start flittering with the douche inside. "No accounting for taste," I mumbled.
"She's not a fish, Dean," Sam said, dryly.
"My…how we forget so soon," I grouched.
"Rules, Sam," I continued my rant. "We're out of cash and our next stops the pool hall I saw down the road and I was about to ask Pinkie there if she wanted to join us when she got off work," I growled, popping a fry in my mouth and handing over his grilled cheese, a handful of napkins and his Black Cow.
"What can I say?" Sam nibbled on the edges of the bread. "I took the guess work out of it for you."
"Not as much as you."
"I'll just have to find another fish to teach my awesome kissing skills too," I retorted proudly.
"You are so conceited," Sam rolled his eyes; having finished nibbling off the crust now nibbling like a mouse at the cheese.
"At least I don't eat like a girl," I said, being sure to look pissed, opening my mouth extra wide and taking a huge chunk out of my burger. Egging Sam on was my real plan of action…to distract little brother from the heavy-duty stuff circling around in his head. Good news was it seemed to be working. Bad news was I didn't know for how long.
"What about you?" Sam scrunched up his face. "You eat like a drooling Cheetah during mating season.
"More like a drooling wolf," I stated.
"Fine. You're a drooling wolf." Sam spat.
I took another huge chunk out of my burger, leaning in toward Sam and chewing right in his face, showing off the bread, meat, pickles, and onions mushed up and rolling around inside my open mouth and purposely letting mustard drip down my chin.
"Rules, Dean." Sam whipped a napkin at me. "Get that crap on the seats and you're going to have to seriously kick your own ass."
"Bitch," I huffed, grabbing the napkin and sitting back on my side of the car, wiping my mouth, secretly smiling inside.
I didn't get a jerk out of Sam, but I did get a small smile. It was a start.
I sat on a barstool only a few feet away from the pool table –my turn to be on the sidelines.
The bar was loud, the large screen TV on the wall mounted in the corner was blaring. The air smelled of stale cooking oil, bargain basement whiskey and cheap cigars, but it was full of the perfect animal…heavy drinkers and woman flaunting what little clothing they had on.
My kind of place, except for the smoke.
I coughed and squinting my eyes against the burning of a cigarette coming from the guy next to me. Taking another long swallow of my beer, I watched on as Sam gathered the pool balls into the wooden triangle. With his fingers he shuffled the rack back and forth clicking solids and stripes together until they were packed in good and snug, then carefully lifted away the triangle leaving the pool balls to rest where they sat… just the way I'd taught him when he was twelve.
"That's my boy," I called out.
Sam flicked me an annoyed look and I gave him a happy nod. Last game. Go get 'em tiger.
Sam rolled his eyes. If he didn't want to stop for food, he sure as hell didn't want to stop here. This was so not his kind of joint. But again, the rules of the road dictated it. We seriously needed cash and Sam seriously needed the distraction and I seriously needed…
A lady in high heels poured into a glittery red dress approached the bar.
I smiled up at her.
She shot me the universal 'let's get naked' smile, ordering a drink, and then slowly walking away, looking back over her shoulder at me the entire time.
I swiveled about on my barstool to study her cute, round ass wiggle-waggle away. A woman in high heels trumped a woman on roller skates any day of the week. Just as I was about to give chase I heard the drunk Sammy was shooting against snicker.
"Get ready to be creamed, buddy boy."
There came a loud clack and the dunking of several balls.
The woman in red disappeared into the crowd and I groaned, swiveling back to the game at hand.
Sam came over to stand by me, hip leaning into the bar and reaching over to pilfer a lemon wedge and plop it into his glass of ice water, and then taking a gulp.
Drunk-guy picked up a blue cube and absently chalked the end of his stick, blew off the dust, then took his good-old-sweet time lining up his next shot.
"Water is for pansies," I whispered, downing another chug of beer.
"You want me to win us some cash, or you want me to get drunk?" Sam whispered back, taking another gulp of his lemon water.
That was exactly what I wanted, for Sam to get blackout drunk. Get some rest. I opened my mouth to say just that, but Drunk-guy swearing because he missed his shot stopped me.
Sam set his water glass down and went back to stalking around the dimly lit, green-clothed mahogany. Pool stick in hand, he studied the layout like the pool shark he was taught to be. I had to laugh out loud, along with Drunk-guy when my giant-assed, clumsy brother knocked his head against the dust-coated green banker's lamp that hung over the billiard table.
Sam shook his head ignoring us, parting his feet and balancing his weight equally on both. He bent his knees slightly and leaned in low over the table. With an eagle-eye, he lined up the cue ball. Then sliding his pool stick back and forth smoothly through his hooked finger, he adjusted his aim.
Drunk-guy slumped against the wall. "You'll never make that combo shot, Buddy-boy," he slurred.
Sam looked up at him. "You don't think so?"
"It won't work," Drunk-guy grinned. "And when you miss, I'm going to run the table on you."
"There's where you're making your mistake, buddy boy," I mocked, keeping my expression calm and neutral. "Buddy-boy there can beat you blind-folded with both hands tied behind his back. Got it?" I heckled.
Sam flashed me a short side-glance, cocking his head slightly off to one side, while Drunk-guy scratched the top of his.
"Okay, so that doesn't make sense," I barked, waving my hands in frustration. "We'll go with only one hand tied behind his back." I stood corrected.
Sam's lip's quirked at the corners. Drunk-guy's too.
"Hey, I'm Buddy-boy's big brother…I got bragging rights."
"Who gives two shits?" Drunk-guy slurred.
We both got quiet as Sam focused in once again on his shot. He drew the stick far back, using plenty of English, and with flamboyant execution baby brother struck the white cue ball dead center, letting his stick follow through. The white ball cracked into the lead ball sending the multicolored spheres rolling across the table bumping into rails and propelling them over the green velvet, plunking his remaining balls into their respective pockets to win the game – rocking Drunk-guy for every dime.
"Told you…he's my boy," I chimed, downing my beer and slamming the empty to the bar in victory.
Sam dropped his pool stick to the table, drawing himself up straight. "Good game," he said offering Drunk-guy his hand.
"Was all bullshit." Drunk-guy scowled at Sam, refusing to be a good sport and shake.
I rolled my eyes to the ceiling. Every now and again we came across a firecracker, who wanted to explode, and I had to force myself to remain seated and let Sammy do his thing.
"Come on, man" Sam said softly. "You know I won fair and square." Sam spread his hands out in front of him, none threatening. "You owe me five hundred dollars." He wiggled his fingers, the universal code for "pay up."
"I'm not paying one lousy penny," the asshole hollowed.
I saw red. The sound of a bouncing pinball and muted chatter of the other patrons in the bar barely registering. I wanted to charge in right-off, but kept my mouth closed, twisting side to side on the barstool in agitation, allowing Sam some more time at the wheel.
"Look," Sam said in a warm, overly friendly tone, "We agreed before we started playing how this was all going to go."
I could tell by the deep scowl on Drunk-guy's face and the way he strutted like a peacock toward Sam, the playground was about to become a boxing ring.
I continued to stay put.
"You're a hustler," Drunk-guy snarled, now whirling his stick in slashing motions.
I stiffened; squaring my shoulders, fists clenched, and stopped fidgeting on the barstool.
Sam took one step backward, avoiding the stick. "Remember," he warned. "That's my brother over there." Sam continued to keep his voice friendly, jerking a thumb in my direction. "You're pissing him off. So how about being a good sport and paying me so we can leave."
Drunk-guy studied me carefully.
I flashed him my wide open crazy-eyed look along with my shark-like toothy grin. The games we played, just to keep a low profile. One elbow to this guy's face and he was toast, but we didn't need the publicity. I hoped Sam's 'calm' would talk the guy down so we could take our money and scram. Most times that worked.
"I don't see it," Drunk-guy said, going back to closing in on Sam, his stick now held over his head. "I'm not paying a hustler a dime. How about you and your watchdog leave before I get real mad," he said with cocky confidence.
I sighed. Here we go.
The other patrons suddenly got real quiet tuning in to the knock-down-drag-out- that was about to occur, only the blaring TV could be heard.
Sam glanced over at me and shook his head slightly. I tried.
"How about we go two out of three falls…double or nothing," I finally intervened, my tone nowhere near as calm or friendly as Sam's as I slipped off the stool to stand.
"Let's go," Drunk-guy slurred, now peacocking toward me.
The bartender, who'd been wiping down the bar looking on, flipped the cloth over his shoulder and came around front. "That's enough, Hale, bottle it and pay up."
Drunk-Guy –Hale –didn't seem to hear him.
I stepped forward ready to cram that stick up Hale's ass, grab our cash, and take flight, when Sam suddenly moaned. I whipped around to see him hunched over gripping the side of the pool table and shaking from head to toe. For one heart-stopping minute I thought he'd been stabbed in the gut.
Sam didn't answer, just stared past me up at the TV.
I turned around to see what had my brother so shaken.
While the drunk and the bartender babbled on behind me, I watched the screen. There was a picture of a girl plastered in the upper right corner of the TV, and the newscaster was saying something about the fast-moving fire that spread through her apartment killing the twenty-two year old. She didn't look anything like Jessica. But my guess was the fire, her age, and the apartment building itself was enough to set Sam on edge.
"Shit." I shoved past Drunk-guy. "Just keep your fucking money."
Drunk-guy stumbled back into the bartender who led him away through a set of swinging double doors.
Sam was still holding himself up with the pool table.
"Sam." I gripped him by the shoulders and eased him up so that we were face to face. Okay so I'd need a step ladder to be face to face. I stared up at him. The kid looked at me shuffling on his feet nervously.
"We're out five hundred," Sam whispered mournfully.
"Man, I don't care about that. You okay?"
"Lightheaded." Sammy swayed to and fro in my grasp.
'"Dude," I tried for a smile. "You're the only one I know who can get drunk off one glass of lemon water."
Sam's eyes clouded and he looked genuinely sick, like he was about to finally have that break. "It's okay, Sammy. Let it out."
"I'm fine, Dean." Sam straightened up further, swiping the back of a trembling hand across his mouth.
"Bro. You're not fine you need to –"
"Just shut up, Dean." Sam jolted back away from me, his jawbone tight, cheek muscle twitching.
I glanced around the room, everyone was looking. I shot them my crazy-man eyes and that seemed to work, most of the bar going back to their booze and woman.
"Look," I brought my attention back to Sam. "I thought –"
"You thought wrong," Sam said, spinning away like a thundering tornado, and pushing his way through the crowd to the exit.
"Peachy, Dean. Just friggin' peachy," I muttered, dropping a few bills to the bar and following.
After the bar crises, Sam was once again a bundle of nothingness, slouched in his seat, saying nothing, staring out the front windshield watching the rush of the white line.
Took a while, but I finally found us a cheap motel –Tequila Ponchos –some dusty, old dive, off some dusty old interstate in somewhere U.S.A.
I drug my stuff inside and paused, taking in the décor. The stucco walls were bright-orange, and colorful-woven rugs were spread about on the pinewood floor and also hanging on the walls. A fake cactus in a big red pot sat in the corner near the door. I reached over and touched one of the needles and it pricked me.
"Oh, son of a bitch," I yelped, squeezing my finger until a drop of blood appeared.
Sam trudged up behind me. "What's with you?" he griped.
"Friggin' pricked my finger on the cactus," I griped back, popping my finger in my mouth sucking on it as I headed over to the bed and dropped my bag to the multi-colored comforter.
"Don't be such a baby." Sam tiredly plopped his bag on the opposite bed, looking like he'd taken a bone-breaking body slam into a friggin' brick wall.
I pulled my finger out again to examine it. "You think I need a tetanus shot now?"
"Definitely," Sam deadpanned as we both stared at a large framed picture that hung above both beds: A smiling jalapeno dude, sporting a Yosemite Sam mustache, wearing a sombrero, and carrying a gun, chasing after a runaway taco dude wearing tennis shoes.
"Huh?" we mumbled in unison.
I started to pull out some fresh clothes, but Sam, he didn't move. Just stood on shaky legs, staring catatonic at the picture, shoulders hunched, face pasty white.
"Hey," I called over.
"What?" Sam arranged his stance to steady himself.
"Think fast." I tossed him a bottle of my favorite 'shower-me-awesome' gel.
Sam almost fumbled the pass but held on. "Are you trying to tell me something?"
I waited a beat then said, "You smell like a dirty diaper, man," I said, giving him the critical once over. "And you look like one too," I laughed, going back to unpacking.
Sam huffed. "And you don't? You've been in the car as long as I have, Dean, "he justified.
"Dude." I stopped unpacking and did a little Michael Jackson dance move and body rub for him, "I'm crazy sexy, and I know it."
Sam gave me a disgusted look.
"What can I say?" I shrugged. "It's a gift.
He continued to hold my gaze a bit longer, then turned on his heels and stormed into the bathroom slamming the door shut.
I plopped down to sit on the bed and shut my eyes. Sam was all locked up inside. He needed to cry more than one tear, and I didn't care where or how he did it. Cry in the chapel, cry in the rain, cry in the shower, cry in his sleep, cry in my arms, cry in a bottle, cry in Spanish or Latin…I didn't give a shit. He just needed to cry. I shook my head angrily, kid had a long fuse, but the end was lit and it was only a matter of time before he exploded, there was no stomping that bitch out.
Opening my eyes, I titled my head toward the bathroom and waited; watching ghostly fog creeping out from under the crack, listening to the bustle of activity going on behind the door: shower spray running full blast, the bottle of awesome shower gel falling to the tub's floor, the flushing of the toilet, disposable shaver racking over rough whiskers, teeth being brushed, water being slurped from cupped hands – swish, swish spit.
But still not a single sob, or moan.
"Damn it, Sammy," I mumbled, "If you don't let it out soon, I'm going to have to kick your ass."
I got up at eight-thirty in the morning and made a pot of bad coffee. Shockingly Sam was still out. Normally he was the one up making the pot of bad coffee.
I sat at the small table near the window drawing back the curtain to take a peek outside. The sky was gray, and a light wind blew through the trees. Across the lot a stray cat climbed out of the dumpster and ran off into the woods with a chicken bone in his mouth.
I took a sip of coffee.
"Crap," I whispered. It tasted like hot water brewed through an ashtray.
I set the cup quietly down and glanced over at Sam. It was the first time I'd seen him get a good night's sleep since all this happened. Kid hadn't moved a muscle from eleven o'clock on. I thought about mom. I remembered a lot of things very clearly from that night: the heat, the fire, the smell of burning hair, the fear and tortured panic in my father's eyes. But thankfully dad had blocked my view of mom actually pinned to the ceiling. I was glad. I didn't think I'd be able to handle that.
Sammy, he'd seen it. He may have only been six-months old but he saw it all up close and personal. I often wondered what memories were locked away inside that giant head of his. There, but forgotten. And now, here he was, forced to see the same horror replaying all over again. Only this time it wasn't a memory that would be kept locked away. It was something that would hit him square in the face…for the rest of his life.
Sam's fingers flexed and his breathing stuttered.
I got up and went over and poured a cup of bad coffee. I turned around, mug in hand. Just in time to see Sam blink open his pasted shut eyes.
Resisting the overpowering urge to grab him and pull him into a bear hug and squeeze him until he let it all out, I moved over to the side of the bed.
"About time," I said quietly.
Sam's gaze drilled holes into the ceiling, his features grim and twisted with repressed pain.
"Sammy?" I stepped in closer.
Sam shifted with a moan. Some mornings were rough, but this was hands down the worst. He needed to purge and if he didn't do it soon…I couldn't allow this to go on much more. I could tell he was on the edge. One push was all it would take, but I didn't push.
Sam turned toward me slowly, gazing up through a mess of shaggy dog hair, his eyes red rimmed, dark blue-black half-moons painted under them.
"There you are." I forced a smile lowering the mug to him. "About friggin' time."
Sam looked momentarily confused and the offering and it took a minute before he could sit up.
It was all I could do not to wince at the fierce pain I knew he was holding back, day and night. If the kid was a horse, I'd have to take him out back and shoot him.
"Here." I physically took his hand and placed the coffee cup in it. "Drink this."
Sam furrowed his brow, staring into the blackness like he wanted to drown himself in it. I knew he was doing the should of...would of...could of...but didn't bit…where Jessica was concerned. Dad used to stare into his whiskey bottle like that. He had regrets...always...no matter what he did or said or how often he did and said it...in this Winchester cursed life…there was always regrets. Sam pushed his long hair out of the way before it could dip into the mug and I could tell by the way he squinted his heart was throbbing in his head.
"Dude, you need a haircut or you're going to have to join a hippie commune," I joked.
Sam did some major eye-rolling that I was sure left him even more lightheaded then that glass of lemon water had. He took a sip of his coffee. "Blah," he shivered his lips quirking like he'd just sucked on a muddy rock.
"Bad-ass cup of Joe. Right?"
Sam shrugged. "Drinkable."
"Better get a move on," I said, giving his leg a little nudge with my knee.
"Why?" Sam swallowed another mouthful. "What you got?" he rasped hoarsely.
I had nothing. "It's Sunday Funday," I announced cheerfully, turning on my heels, and heading over to grab me another cup of badass.
I could practically hear Sam's head do a shaking rattle.
"Yes, Sammy. Rules of the road," I reminded again, leaning against the counter and downing the last of the coffee. "It's that time of year." I reminded.
Sam moaned flashed me a pissed-off look, and then made a beeline for the bathroom, taking his badass coffee with him. He knew he couldn't argue with me. After all this was the family business and every business had to pay quarterly dues. Sunday Funday was something I made up years ago. Every three months and not always on a Sunday, we'd take time out just to hang out. Sammy loved it when he was younger. Dad was almost always gone and Sam, he looked forward to Sunday Funday. I'd always find something awesome for us to do no matter where we were.
There were times I had to be pretty creative. We didn't always have money or a car. Once I even stole an Atari from some rich kid's house, and Sam and I played video games in our motel room, eating nothing but junk food for three days straight.
"Don't be such a pouty, bitch," I said to the closed door as I started to pack up our things. "You love Sunday Funday."
The shower turned on and I heard Sam slamming things around. I finished gathering up our stuff and stepped up to the door.
"I'll be in the car, hurry it up."
I honked the horn for the sixth time and Sam finally emerged. He opened the passenger door, tossed his bag roughly in the back and slipped in yanking the door closed with force.
"Watch it, buddy," I scolded, giving him the once over.
"You watch it." Sam didn't look at me, just stared blindly out the window, hair still dripping from his shower. Something was different about him though. His eyes were still rimmed red, and the blue-black circles were still there. But there was something different.
"Let's get this over with," Sam said slouching down further in the seat.
I studied him hard a few more seconds then smiled. "You cut your hair."
"Yeah." He finally looked over at me. "So."
"So you don't look like a little old ladies pretty, poofy poodle anymore."
Sam growled, "You said I looked like a hip–" he shook his head. "You think I'm pretty?" he said with a sly smile.
"What?" I shrieked. "No, I…'eh…you….I didn't mean...that's not…"
Sam snickered, "Don't worry, Dean, I won't tell every Tom, Dick, and Harry you swing that way." His snickering quickly turned into all out laughter.
I gripped the steering wheel eyes wide and staring out at the road. Feigning embarrassment and anger, I pressed my lips tight letting Sammy think he'd gotten the best of me. It was good to hear him laugh, but the laughing didn't last long and soon the car was quiet again.
We'd only gone about five miles more down the highway. There wasn't much of anything around and I wasn't sure what the hell I could do for Sunday Funday when suddenly I saw the huge billboard sign:
Deer Park. Exotic animals. Gift shop. Snacks. Great family fun. Next right.
Sam knew right off where I was heading us, because he started up with his bitching.
"Dean, please," he said in a high pitched voice. "Can't we just skip the whole Funday thing?"
"Sam," I said sternly. "We've done this enough together. You know how it works."
Sam opened his mouth. "Dad-"
"Would hate this place. I know."
"Sam." I shut him up, giving a little wave at the smaller sign as we drove through the entrance of the park and read it out loud, "Pet and feed over one-hundred animals from around the world."
"Whatever," Sam sighed, totally disinterested and picking at a piece of lint on his shirt.
I decided to give him a little push. It was time. "Look, bro, you need–"
Sam held up a hand. "Save it, Dean."
"Fine." I pulled into a parking spot.
"Fine." Sam's shoulders were coiled with tension as he stepped out of the car, slamming the door shut extra-hard on purpose.
I cringed. "He doesn't mean it, Baby. We have to give him some more time." I rubbed the dash then got out of the car, gently clicking the door shut, eyeing Sam from across the hood.
Sam narrowed his eyes at me.
"Let's do this!" I announced sternly, drawing my shoulders back, briskly heading for the ticket counter, Sam trudging not far behind.
We purchased ice cream cones filled with cracked corn and wandered around the small, shady park; trees and flowers and shrubbery flanking the dirt walkway. Most of the animals roamed free, and we found ourselves surrounded by them: goats and llamas, zebras, deer, chickens, ducks, all of them scrambling to be fed and more than a little friendly. I was about to call Sunday Funday on account of some long-necked dude that tried to peck my face off, but then I saw how my happy-animal-loving little brother was. He actually was smiling and laughing and the coiled tension in his shoulders that had been there for weeks had magically disappeared. I guess what they say about animals being good therapy is true.
Sam made sure everyone of his little animal friends got his, or her, fair share of food, and being sure to pet each animal after he fed it. Me, I'd fed the fur balls but nothing more. The kind of therapy I needed didn't come from the four-legged kind. Unfortunately for me, the four-legged kind had needs too and I was their therapy.
While Sammy crouched down to feed a miniature horse the size of a footstool, I was being humped by an equally miniature donkey.
"Dude, I don't have your tail, get off me." I gently pushed the four-legged animal away, but he wasn't having any of that. Coming back for more he latched onto my leg again, his red rocket poking out and rubbing against my jeans. "Oh, hell no," I screeched. "Sammy, little help here."
"I think he has a crush on you," Sam laughed, scattering some corn out for a herd of chickens that had surrounded him.
"I'll give him a crush," I shook my leg hard, but the animal wouldn't budge. "Look, sexually frustrated… if you don't want to lose your tail for good this time you better get off," I snarled.
Sam snorted. "I think that's what he's trying to do, Dean."
"Shut up," I hissed, still shaking my leg.
"He just wants you to pet him," Sam called over, happily stroking the muzzle of the tiny brown– well behaved–pony.
"The only petting I do is in the bedroom with the hot chick next to me." I waved my cone under the donkey's nose, letting him get a good whiff. "Go fetch, Winnie-the-Pooh." I chucked the cone a good five feet away.
The damn thing finally detached from my leg and trotted away.
"That'd be Eeyore," Sam corrected, standing up straight and watching as the pony he'd been feeding also wandered off to get more food from a little boy in a blue shirt holding tight to a red balloon.
"Tigger, Pooh, Piglet, Owl, Rabbit, Gopher, Christopher Robin," I pointed a stiff finger at the donkey who was busy munching on the cone I'd tossed. "He comes after my leg again I'm salting and burning that bitch."
With an eye roll and a groan, Sam headed over to a lily-covered pond.
"Hey, wait up," I hurried after him.
The fish seemed to notice us right away and started jumping and thrashing about. Sam dug a few quarters out of his pocket and put them into a gumball machine, twisted the knob and collected two handfuls of brown pellets.
"Is there anything in this place you can't feed?" I asked.
Sam shrugged, sprinkling the pellets into the water. The giant orange fish came to the surface, bumping into each other, their big, fat, o-shaped fish lips opening wide, smacking and slurping as they sucked in the food.
"Whoa, those are some giant-assed goldfish."
"That'd be Koi," Sam corrected again.
"Thank you, Doctor Seuss."
"Doctor Dolittle." Sam brushed the last of the fish food bits from his hands, but continued to gawk at his wavering reflection in the water.
Sammy's happy demeanor suddenly changed. His eyes grew dark and angry and accusing. I'd seen that look before over the last few weeks. Knew he was blaming himself for what happened to Jess, and telling him it wasn't his fault wasn't going to help.
"Whatever." I kept my tone light. "Are you ready to go, little Sammy know-it-all?" I just wanted to get him away from his own worst enemy, himself.
Sam nodded glancing away at a young mother and her daughter, both with long blond hair blowing in the breeze as they bent down to feed a baby goat. His expression changed again. He licked his lips and I could practically see his heart constricting in his chest. Damn it he loved her so much.
"You okay, pal?" The words involuntarily slipped out.
Sam swallowed hard, his throat bobbing. "Jess would have loved this place," he whispered sadly, a glint of wetness in his eyes.
It was the first time he'd even said her name since that night.
"Sam." I reached out to grip his shoulder.
He jerked away. "I'm all right, Dean." Sam shoved his hands deep into his pockets and walked rapidly away, heading for the exit, all hunched over, shoulders tense and coiled once again.
I sighed staring after him, my insides twisting up.
Park admission: Nine bucks each.
Six ice cream cones full of cracked corn: Twelve bucks.
Giant-assed goldfish food: One dollar in quarters.
My little brother's pain: Unending.
"Son of a bitch," I mumbled, hurrying after him. "Dude, wait up. Don't you want to feed the pygmy hippo before we go?"
I was bored out of my skull, on my left there was nothing but rolling meadows of corn, on my right a deep cut ravine, ahead of me the white line rushed by in a haze, the heat of the day blowing in through Baby's open windows.
I wrinkled my nose, the air was heavy with the scent of animal, horse or cow or hog, maybe all three. We were driving through Ohio farm country, bumping along down some two-lane highway that seemed to go on forever.
Sam was totally worse for wear and passed out cold, unnaturally slouched down in his seat. His legs arranged awkwardly under the dash. His head dipped forward, chin lightly bobbing up and down against his chest. Man, he'd knocked himself out feeding all those fur balls. Mission accomplished – mostly.
The kid was pushing the limits or something. Like some sort of Genus Book of Records want-to-be. How long could a human being go in utter pain and not cry a tear. We were definitely going to have to have a little brother-to-brother and soon. Maybe even at the next rest stop; which if the last sign I'd read was correct was just past the old Buckeye tree somewhere in the middle of Crabby Dicks Apple Orchard.
Up ahead, in the opposite lane a red blur was headed my way. I squinted, thinking I was seeing a mirage. It'd been miles since a car had passed us.
As the car approached, I smiled. A '73 dark-red Chevy Caprice Convertible, 454 motor, eight track player, split seats, all electric, air conditioned, cruise control with tilt steering.
The driver suddenly slowed and honked the horn loudly. I cringed, worriedly side glancing over at Sam. He was clearly deep in sleep, hadn't even flinched or responded in anyway. The Chevy slowed further and I did the same, raising a hand out the window about to flash the honking asshole the finger when my eyes popped.
A bunch of young, hot, topless chicks were hanging half-out of the car waving and blowing kisses at me.
I flashed my best smile and winked at them.
The busty girls giggled, and then sped off.
I stuck my head out the window craning my neck hoping to get one more free shot when I hit a rut in the road, the car veering left, bumping along the gravel shoulder near the edge of the ravine. Son of a bitch.
Sam tilted sideways, limp with exhaustion, then toppled forward, head heading toward the dash. Multi-tasking I one-handedly got us back on the road, while reaching over to push Sam back.
His head reclined against the seat and his mouth fell open as he snored like a buzz saw, still asleep.
"Geeze, Sammy," I whispered.
At the sound of my voice, Sam suddenly jolted involuntarily upward. "Jessica!" He wailed, damn near taking a flying leap out the window.
"Sam! Hey!" I hollered at him, reaching for his shoulder, but Sam was all over the place. His whole body shook, consumed in terror, feet kicking out, a faltering hand grappling at the door handle.
"Jess! Nooooo!" he screamed.
"Sammy settle down," I tried again to reach for him, but the blare of a pick-up truck in the other lane – that I'd unknowingly drifted into –stopped me. "Holy crap." I gripped the steering wheel again with two hands and swerved back into my lane, barely avoiding disaster as I quickly pulled off onto the shoulder.
Before I could even shut off the engine, Sam had shoved the passenger door open and tumbled from the car.
I knew it was only a matter of time before the nightmares would start up. Took him long enough, kid was a real prize-fighter. Even as a kid Sam had nightmares lover just about everything; once dad had avoided a stray dog, who was trying to cross the highway. Little guy almost made it and would have if it weren't for the eighteen wheeler in the next lane that splattered the poor thing all over the road like a paper cup full of cherry soda, the blood spray blowing back into the backseat of the Impala to wet Sam's face. And that was the least of the gore we'd encountered.
Sammy had nightmares over that for a month. I didn't tell him, but so did I.
"Sam!" In a rush I exited the car rounding the back and dropping to a crouch by his side. "What the hell was that?" I hissed.
He was on all fours, head hung low, staring at the ground, face pure-white and short of breath. "Dean! No! No! Jess!" he yelled, his fingers curling into the dirt.
It was then I realized he was still trapped in the intensity of his dream.
"It's okay, Sam." I locked my hands around his wrist and pulled him up to his knees. "It's okay. I'm right here, okay? Right here."
"Guh." He raised his hands as if to protect his face against the flames.
Still holding his writs I shook him hard. "Sam! Wake up!"
Sam's eyes widened and cleared, looking at me long and hard.
I cupped his chin and squeezed. "Dude, I need you with me."
Sam shot a quick look all around, confused, upset.
"You -know- where -you are -now- bro-?" I asked really slowly.
"Um?" He tilted his head to one side and raised a brow. "Dean?"
"That'd be who you're with," I said with a weak smile.
"Close enough, bro."
A few cars roared by–none of them sporting topless, hot chicks. I thought about asking Sam what the hell he'd just dreamt about, but I knew the answer.
"Let's get you up, kiddo." I pulled him to his feet and paused a minute so he could balance himself.
"It wasn't a nightmare," Sam said with certain desperation in his voice and doubt shining in his eyes that made me suck in a quick jerky breath.
I nodded, unable to speak.
"It was real," Sam muttered.
I wasn't sure if he was asking me or telling me.
"She's gone. Jess is gone," his voice came out barely a whisper. "It's true."
My heart gave a sudden lurch, Sam's pain ripping through me like a cyclone. Kid had been walking around rejecting reality, replacing it with his own. Pretending, ignoring, and stuffing the real facts far away from the surface.
"I wish it wasn't, Sammy."
Sam stared at me with the world's biggest puppy-eyes, scared half out of his gourd. "It was my ffff…" he gulped hard.
"Don't do that." I clenched my teeth knowing exactly where Sam was going. And I got it. I did. Sam's world had been turned around one hundred and eighty-degrees. No one should have to live through their loved on being charbroiled and peeled off the ceiling. But it wasn't his fault. "Sammy, just don't. You didn't know it was going to go down like that…did you?"
"You don't understand," Sam protested, obviously knowing right off where I was going with this. "I saw –" His head wobbled back and forth like it might fall off or some crap. "Never mind…it's too late. It doesn't matter now."
"I'll tell you what matters now, Sam." I went with a different angle. "You would have done anything to prevent what happened, right?"
Sam bit into his lip.
"Yes?" I pressed.
"Yes!" He blurted, eyes welling up.
"Trade places with her in a moment's notice wouldn't you?" I wanted to look away and escape the haunted look on my brother's face, but no way would I ever do that.
Sam tried to pull away from the grip I still had on his writs, but I held him in place. "Wouldn't you?" I repeated with more conviction.
"In a second," Sam choked out.
"In a second," I agreed, swallowing hard, trying to reign in my own emotions.
If I hadn't flown back to that apartment when I had Sam wouldn't be here right now. He may not have been able to trade places with Jessica or pull her off that ceiling to save her, but he also would not have left that room with her still in it.
"Dean," Sam called drawing me back to the here and now.
"You're hurting my wrists."
"Oh, sorry." I let go but stayed close incase Sam lost his legs again. "So what do you say we get out of here, huh?"
"Give me a minute." Sam took in a long, shaky breath and turned his back on me, tottering toward the ravine that overlooked the valley.
"Sam." I stiffened and took two steps after him, knowing the kid wouldn't jump, but picturing him losing his footing and slipping over the edge.
"It's okay, Dean…" He stopped but didn't turn to look at me. "I'll be all right."
I nodded, suddenly realizing I was the wall that stood solid between Sam and his pain.
"Let him go, Dean," I softly said, backing up until I bumped into the Impala.
Sam walked ten feet away. Stood on the edge, straight and tall, staring out over the valley. After several long minutes it was like a switch went off inside of him and he hunched in on himself, shoulders shaking, head bowed.
I cringed, hearing his quiet sobs carried along on the breeze back to me as the tears came.
There was nothing I could do. Nothing I could say. Nothing I could fix. I wanted to punch something. Smash something to bits, wanting to see anything besides Sammy falling apart into tiny, unfixable pieces. But none of that would bring Jessica back and besides, this was what I'd wanted. Knew this was what Sam needed. For Sam to break.
So I just stayed right where I was leaning heavily against the Impala and carefully watching over him.
Sam had been standing there a long ass time like that and I could tell his legs were trembling, threatening to drop out from under him. He shifted from foot to foot and I caught sight of his reddened cheeks and watery eyes.
He passed a hand over his face and his hand shook. His sobs turning to tiny hiccups and for a moment he looked old and frail. Not the huge pain the ass strong hunter I knew he was. Seeing Sam like that, carrying such a heavy load, the droop of his shoulders, the shadows beneath his eyes, the way his lips silently spoke her name to the sky. It killed me inside. This was no cold germ I could nurse Sammy back to health from. I'm not a praying guy, but right then I prayed like crazy that Jessica knew how much Sam loved her. My guess was she did.
Sam shoved a hand in his jacket pocket and pulled something out. Whatever he held in his hand caused his shoulders to droop even more as if the thing had gone dead weight on him. He stared long and hard at it, then his eyes flicked skyward again, searching, begging, mumbling words I couldn't hear.
I suddenly realized what it was in his hand –a small, square red-velvet box. Only one thing a guy would keep in a fancy box like that. Judging by the way Sam suddenly gripped the box and held it high over his head he was about to chuck it.
My eyes watered up and I felt really uncomfortable, like a peeping Dean. This was a private thing between my brother and his girl. I bolted to the driver side bending in through the open window and popped the hood, then quickly stuck my head under it, cozying up to Baby's engine. I checked the oil, tinkered with the carburetor, tightened down the radiator cap, checked all the hoses and the belts and the air filter. I was about to check the oil again, when I heard stones crunching behind me.
"What's wrong with her?" Sam sniffled, his voice hoarse.
I drew my head out from under and put on my game face. "Nothing," I grouched, slamming the hood closed. "She's perfect. In as kick-ass shape as the day she rolled off the line."
Sam snuffled and nodded. His lips were cracked, eyes shimmering with leftover tears, and he looked really out of it.
"Sammy." I stopped. I wanted to hug him. To tell him it was all going to be okay, but I knew that's not what he needed right now. And besides I couldn't promise that. Just drive had been Sam's earlier request. Maybe the kid needed to be the one driving for a while. But in looking at how wobbly and shook up he was, I doubted he could keep his eyes on the road or his hands on the wheel. Hell, I wasn't even sure Sammy still had a current license.
"Let's get going," I said instead, rounding the car and sliding in behind the wheel.
Sam followed suit, slumping back into the passenger seat, adding throat clearing to his constant sniffling.
"Dude, that is so disgusting." I reached across the seat and opened the glove box and rummaged around. "What'd you do get a Lego piece stuck up there again?" I handed him a yellow Wendy's napkin, and shut the box.
Sam blew mucousy snot into the freckle-faced, pigtailed red head.
I twisted around and reached behind me into the backseat and pulled a cold bottle of water out of the cooler. Untwisting the cap, I handed it over to Sam. "Drink this."
Sam downed half the bottle, slouched further into the seat, going back to looking straight ahead out the front windshield.
I started the car and flipped on the radio, changing the channel to a soft rock station.
You know darn well
When you cast your spell you will get your way
When you hypnotize with your eyes
A heart of stone can turn to clay
"Doo, doo, doo ..." I sang along, starting up the engine and pulling off the gravelly shoulder and back out onto the road.
Sam turned his head, wet cheek sticking to the leather, eyes on me.
I met his gaze with a frown. "What?"
"Seriously?" Sam turned his attention to the radio, gawking at it as if it were some sort of strange creature he'd never seen before.
"House rules, Sammy. Driver picks the music. Shotgun shuts his cakehole." I nodded, putting a big, smug grin on my face and tapping my fingers against the steering wheel. "Doo, doo, doo," I continued to sing.
Sam sighed and closed his eyes. "Thanks, Dean."
I gently placed a possessive hand on his shoulder and left it there. "Anytime, little brother," I said, heading us down the winding road – destination unknown.
AN: Thank you ever so much for your time and care in reading! Sunshine even in rain!