Forget Me Not
I-20 East, 23 miles outside of Redwood, Mississippi
John wasn’t just tired, he was bone weary. He’d been on the road for the past ten hours straight and felt as if his spine had become fused to the vinyl seat of his pickup, muscles aching in his shoulders, arms and legs from having been in the same relative position for so damn long. He could have pulled over a couple times to stretch, but that would only have added more time to his travel, and the trip had taken longer than he’d planned as it was.
It was his fault, he readily admitted. He’d stayed an extra day just to be absolutely sure everything was all right, placating the marine-cum-hunter in him. Experience had taught him not to pull out until you were sure beyond a doubt, otherwise you ended up wasting time worrying and second guessing yourself. And that pretty much accomplished jack squat. No, it was always better to cover all your bases the first time, John thought. Even when it came to secretly checking up on your own stubborn kid who’d run off to college.
He’d swung by Stanford, keeping out of sight because despite what he’d said in the heat of the moment, John needed to make sure Sam was okay. The sight of his youngest child, head ducked low as he hurried to class, was almost a physical relief to him after a month of trying to convince himself he’d didn’t give a damn about Sam. The flash of that smile as Sam met up with some other preppy types made the edges of John’s mouth turn up even though he was trying his best to be pissed as hell. Sammy, be careful, John thought, coming as close to praying as the stubborn man had come since his wife’s death.
With a heavy sigh and a neck roll, John reached down without taking his eyes from the highway and felt for the styrofoam cup of coffee nestled in the holder underneath the dash. He grabbed the cup, bringing it to his lips and taking a deep swallow, the steamy caffeine-enriched beverage reviving him a little. In all honesty, John wanted nothing more than to head straight for the motel room, crawl into the nearest bed available and get a few hours of much needed shut eye. Screw a shower. The hot water could wait. He was so friggin’ tired. He’d had maybe six hours sleep in the past forty-eight and felt more like a zombie now than a human being. But despite the fact that his body was screaming obscenities at him and his eyes were so gritty he could barely focus, John knew he’d have to hold out just a little longer. At least long enough to track down his other, wayward jackass of a son.
Big Tom’s Taproom Redwood, Mississippi
The place was a typical juke joint, one found in most small southern towns, replete with redneck beer on tap, a scarred pool table in the back, and a mullet-wearing tattooed bartender. An assortment of tipsy patrons dressed in plaid flannel were scattered about the second-hand tables and chairs that rimmed the edges of the knotty pine bar, listening to a mix of southern and classic rock tunes playing on the chrome and glass jukebox in the far corner. The F and 7 buttons on its smudged face were worn almost unreadable by the number of times Skynyrd’s Freebird had been selected over the years, attesting to the down-home flavor of the crowd.
“Big Tom” Anderson, the original owner of the Taproom, was long since gone, succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver over a decade ago, but the present owner had never thought to change the badly painted signage out front. It wasn’t so much from laziness, nor was it to honor Tom who had been a pissing mean drunk, though a much beloved member of the community. No, the bar kept its original moniker because “Big Tom’s Taproom” sounded a hell of a lot better than “Short Hiram’s” no matter how you looked at it.
Dean grinned wide, the confident twinkle in his eyes complementing the lazy smile plastered over his stubbled face. He lifted the sweating beer bottle to his mouth, draining the last of his Budweiser in one easy gulp, and then turned to his right to give the busty redhead standing next to him a patented Dean Winchester leer of approval.
He snaked his free arm around the attractive twenty-something’s semi-bare midsection, hauling her closer, enjoying the feel of her soft, warm skin underneath his fingertips. Dean drank in the sight, his gaze slowly meandering up her lush body, stopping for a long exaggerated moment at her bountiful cleavage, and then finally roaming up to her face. He leaned in close, smiling when he felt her breath hitch slightly.
“How ‘bout another cool one there, sweetheart?” Dean purred suggestively, his lips tickling the shell of her ear.
She giggled in return, leaning up against Dean’s muscled chest, her hip rubbing up eagerly against Dean’s thigh as she eyed him with unconcealed lust.
“Hey, and another round of shots too, whaddya say, Lola?” Dean added, a tiny slur creeping into his voice.
“It’s Lily,” the girl corrected, teasing one lacquered fingernail down the front of Dean’s black t-shirt. Dean thought it was cute that she had itty bitty butterflies painted on the tips of her nails and had told her so earlier, earning the girl’s undying regard.
Lily didn’t seem too offended by Dean’s inability to remember her name. Hell, she thought as she bit her lower lip and moaned softly, the big hottie could call her anything he wanted just as long as he continued to nibble on her neck...Just. Like. That.
“Another Bud and a tequila shooter, right?” Lily questioned as Dean came up for air, reaching for the pool cue he’d left leaning up against the bar stool behind him.
He nodded happily in reply to her question, winking and giving her denim-covered butt a playful slap as she headed for the bar to get the drinks.
“Don’t take too long,” he advised, eyes riveted appreciatively on the curvaceous hips swaying seductively toward the bar. “You might lose your place in line.”
And he wasn’t kidding. No sooner had Lily moved off, two other girls, blondes this time and closely related, Dean surmised from their appearance, had sidled up along either side of him to take the redhead’s place. Sisters? Cousins? Who the hell cares, he thought with cocky abandon. As long as they were available and willing, he was more than happy to share among family members.
“Ladies, ladies,” Dean said, gaze cruising from one woman to the other with a wicked glint. “No need to fight here. There’s plenty of me to go around! Besides, I need all the good luck charms I can get my hands on, ‘cause if I don’t start winning a few balls here, I’m gonna be one broke little puppy.”
Cue stick in hand, Dean turned back to the pool table, with a placating smile for the two good old boys waiting for him to take his turn. His eyes traveled over the assortment of striped and solid balls disseminated across the felt tabletop before him, effortlessly calculating angles and trajectories with the natural precision of an experienced hustler. So far, he’d managed to appear clumsy and somewhat drunk to the two yokels he was working, letting them get complacent as their winnings piled up and his own stack of bills dwindled. Then, with a rueful grin, he’d gone all in, sliding his last seventy-five dollars over to join the pot sitting off on the side of the table. His pool buddies were more than happy to put up their fair shares as well, laughing insincerely at his hard luck.
What Barney and Opie didn’t know, Dean chuckled to himself, as he bent low over the table, positioning himself for a shot, was that they were due for a little bad luck themselves. He glanced over at the thick pile of money across from him, and then grinned over his shoulder at Lily as she sidled up behind him with fresh drinks. Throwing her a grateful wink, Dean focused his attention back on the table and the shot, eyes narrowing and mouth thinning. The shot was tight and precise, neatly cutting the heavy blue number two, sending it gliding over towards the side pocket. It fell in with a satisfying thunk and Dean straightened up, turning to enjoy an enthusiastic congratulatory kiss from Lily, who was game to reassert her dominance by locking lips with Dean, claiming his mouth with her agile tongue.
Redwood may be a crappy little hole-in-the-wall town, Dean thought, but the people sure knew how to have fun. And fun was good. Because fun took his mind off, well, off other things.
It had been one month since Sam had left for Stanford. Thirty days and yet, the hurt and anger Dean kept penned up inside over Sam’s departure still felt as raw and as jagged as the day Sam had walked out without a backward glance, the slamming motel room door his only goodbye. Part of Dean hated Sam for doing it, for leaving them. Sure his kid brother had been butting heads with their dad since he’d turned thirteen, but in the last year, Dad couldn’t seem to do anything right, according to Sam. In his eyes, John was a selfish SOB who didn’t give a crap about his kids at all.
So not true, Dean thought sadly, and as for selfish, what did his younger brother think this whole college thing was?
Sam had applied to Stanford behind their father’s back. Not a great move, considering the best way to piss John Winchester off was to lie to him. And sneaking around like Sam had done was pretty much lying, in Dad’s eyes. Dean had thought for sure that Sam’s open defiance had earned the kid a round with Dad’s belt. Hell, he wished his dad had punished Sam rather than what he did do. Even when their father had drawn the line like he had, Sam hadn’t caved. In fact, he was out the door before Dad even had a chance to call his words back. Not that it would have mattered at that point, Dean figured.
He would never admit it to anyone, but part of him had died that day, or maybe it had just picked up and left for California with his little brother. And no matter how much Sam had claimed that it was Dad’s “Nazi” mentality alone that had forced him away, Dean somehow felt, deep down, that he personally had screwed up, failed somehow.
Maybe if he’d encouraged Sam more in bow hunting or picked on him less growing up, not always calling him sasquatch or geek boy...maybe if he’d spent less time joking about Sam being such a girl and instead had spent more time convincing his little brother that their father just wanted what was best for the family. Maybe if he’d tried just a little harder to be the voice of reason whenever Sam and their dad had gotten into those monumental knock-down drag-out sessions instead of finding an excuse to be somewhere else...maybe...
You wouldn’t know it from looking at him, but Dean Winchester, skilled hunter and ladies’ man extraordinaire, had always seen himself as a bit of a fuck up. Good, but not always good enough, especially when it counted most. Like with the shtriga back when he was ten, or when he had just stood there, silent, with Dad screaming at Sam to never come back and Sam telling him that was fine with him as he breezed out the door, declining even a ride to the bus station when Dean had offered.
Yeah, Sam’s leaving was as much his fault as his father’s, Dean thought grimly, and that made a pretty compelling case for spending all his time in dive bars and strip clubs, drinking and carousing rather than spending it hunting with his father, pretending that their life didn’t have a gaping Sammy-sized hole in it. All he wanted was to forget. He reached for his beer, chugging it to keep the thick alcohol buzz in his head going for a little while longer.
7 miles outside of Redwood, Mississippi
John had tried Dean’s cell phone a dozen times in the past hour with no luck. The kid either had his phone switched off, in which case John was going to wring his neck, or worse, Dean had opted to leave the phone back in the room when he’d taken off. The latter option made John’s blood boil. It was a blatant act of defiance and John wasn’t about to take another one of his sons thumbing his nose at the rules. Truth be told, John had had enough defiance from both his boys lately to last him the next several decades. There was a reason he wanted the boy reachable at all times, damn it. When had they gotten so completely out of hand? John silently fumed as he slowed his truck to take a left at the stop sign.
He understood that Sam’s abrupt departure had hit Dean hard. It had been an ugly punch to his gut as well, even though he’d have been an idiot not to have seen the signs way in advance. Still, the father in him had stubbornly held onto the belief that Sam would come to his senses and drop his idiotic college plans, would realize that his family needed him. That was far more important than any selfish desire Sam had to prove to himself and everyone else that he could live a normal life if he chose. John realized he’d said some pretty ugly things that last day, but he’d honestly thought that somehow Sam would never completely defy him the way he had. Apparently, the boy had grown a rather large set of balls when John hadn’t been looking. Under any other circumstance, it would have made him swell with fatherly pride instead of turning his blood cold.
Sam’s leaving had created a hollow, bitter ache in John’s chest, and yet he’d managed to pull himself together, trying hard to keep things going on an even keel for his and Dean’s sakes. In fact, he’d tried to use hunting as a means of diverting their attention from the emotional wounds neither man was willing to admit were there.
Unfortunately, Dean had decided to find other ways to keep his feelings at bay. Less than twenty-four hours after Sam left, Dean was grabbing up his car keys and leather jacket, mumbling something about needing some air. He’d disappeared for two whole days, leaving John back in their Des Moines motel room to stew and fret until Dean had stumbled back in on the morning of the third day, lipstick stains all over the collar of his plaid button down, a split lip and several days’ growth of stubble on his face, smelling like a brewery.
John had started to read his son the riot act the minute his ass had made it inside the room, but he’d stopped mid-rant at catching the haunted, pained expression in Dean’s eyes. He’d seen that same look before on war vets after they’d returned from one too many tours of duty. So, instead of busting the kid’s chops, John had silently shoved a cup of coffee into Dean’s hands and pointed him in the direction of the bathroom and a hot shower. Better to let Dean work through the pain in his own way; then they could both get back to the job of saving lives.
But John began to realize that Dean had no intention of working through the pain. His oldest child seemed to prefer wallowing in it instead, clutching the anger and hurt tightly to himself, as if letting go of it meant letting go of Sam as well. John wasn’t sure how to deal with this new reckless, emotionally wounded Dean, other than to leave the kid to himself while John worked through cases at the nearest diner, holing up for a few hours in peace with his notes and a never-ending supply of coffee.
But, Dean’s pattern of ‘party until you forget your pain and pass out somewhere’ got old pretty fast for John. Especially when Dean’s recklessness wasn’t just confined to the pool hall and questionable women anymore. Dean began showing up to hunts with tequila on his breath and eyes half glazed. That kind of stupidity was going to get one or the both of them killed.
No amount of lecturing, guilting or yelling seemed to make a difference to his son either. Christ, John fumed, if Dean had been just a few years younger, he’d have thought nothing of hauling the little idiot over his knee for a good old-fashioned ass beating. His hands were itching to light an uncontrolled bonfire in his eldest’s backside until Dean was too sore to move much less go out and party himself into oblivion. But Dean was twenty-two, supposedly a man, and John was hoping he could avoid reverting to such childish punishments with his son.
He’d managed, instead, to rein Dean in by keeping the leash short, shadowing the kid 24/7. Dean didn’t take a piss without John knowing about it, and the kid was lucky John didn’t take to standing over his shoulder while he did it. And that had worked for awhile, until John had gotten a call from Bobby Singer almost a week ago about a wraith attacking homeless people in Lake Havasu, Arizona. Dean had made excuses, saying he wasn’t feeling well, and John had left him back at the motel in Redwood with instructions to stay in the goddamn room unless it was for food or medical reasons and to keep his cell phone nearby because John would be calling in to check up on him.
John had made a point to call several times a day while he was gone, and Dean had dutifully answered the phone, sounding sober and sullen. It wasn’t until yesterday, as John was heading back for Mississippi, that he had tried to reach Dean and been met with his son’s voicemail instead. John had waited a half hour and tried again, figuring maybe Dean had been in the bathroom or sleeping. Still no answer. And that was when he’d decided that enough was enough. Adult or not, Dean was in for one hell of a rude awakening when John finally got his hands on him.
Big Tom’s Taproom
Dean chuckled, taking another long drag off his cigarette, wispy, blue-gray smoke curling off the glowing tip to waft lazily a few inches above his head. While smoking wasn’t his usual thing, one of the blondes had offered him a cigarette, and well, who was he to refuse? It was just another prop to go along with his illusion of being Mr. Badass to the ladies as far as he was concerned. And as long as he didn’t do it in front of his dad, then hey, who gave a crap?
Dean smirked, thinking of that. He found it quite ironic that his father, who’d been a pretty heavy smoker back in the day, was now preaching on the other side of the fence, warning both his boys they’d be in for it if he ever caught them lighting up. Maybe it had to do with staying in shape for their hunting or maybe John just saw it as one more way to assert his authority, it didn’t really matter. Sam and Dean had tried it anyway, and both had gotten their rear ends blistered big time for their efforts. After that, Dean had made sure to keep his nicotine forays under wraps.
He set the half-finished Camel back down while he recounted the money he’d scammed off his opponents. Three hundred and eighty-five dollars, he noted with an inward smile. Not too shabby for a few hours of work. Dean clucked his tongue in admiration as his eyes swept up like a hungry kid in a candy store to ogle the “blonde ambition” twins perched on matching bar stools in front of him.
“So…Missy and Chrissy, huh? Well, you know what they say. Double the pleasure, double my fun,” Dean announced, lips twitching in amusement.
The girls giggled, batting big brown eyes at Dean. He shot the sisters an award winning smile in return, his mind happily trolling through the gutter as he peeled off a twenty from the wad of cash he held in his fist.
“Here. Why don’t you two lovely ladies go buy yourselves some drinks on me. You know, the kind with the fruit and little umbrellas in them? I’m just gonna go and see if your cousins over there want to try to win some of their money back.”
Dean stuffed the rest of his winnings into his shirt pocket, feeling pretty good about himself. Yeah, it was so much easier not to worry about Sam and whether or not he was doing okay when he had such pleasant and profitable distractions to focus on instead. At least, that’s what he kept trying to tell himself as he chalked up his pool stick once more, nodding and motioning for the next sucker to come try his hand...
John’s eyes registered it before his mind actually did. There. Just past the stand of hunching pines, tucked back away from the street, her gleaming midnight black and chrome body winking in the slanting afternoon sunlight, standing out proudly among the collection of beat up Jimmies and faded, non-descript four doors surrounding her.
John wasn’t sure whether to be angry or relieved as he pulled in beside the Impala outside the squat, ramshackle building that passed as the local drinking establishment. Hell, the place barely looked habitable to his eyes. He shut off the engine, pocketing his keys and got out of his pickup, studying the bar, eyes assessing for anything wrong or off about it.
The two large picture windows facing the lot were hazy, dulled by years of cigarette smoke and neglect. The left one sported a meandering crack that ran, like a lightning bolt, horizontally from upper right to lower left corner. The weathered boards of the building itself were scarred with ugly peels of paint flaking from the gray walls, suggesting the place had, at one time, been painted a ghastly sunflower yellow. No danger here other than the chance the sagging roof might collapse if a stiff enough wind were to blow through, John concluded.
He went over to the Impala, trying the driver’s side door, checking to make sure Dean had at least had the presence of mind to lock her up before starting in on his latest binge of drinking, fighting and fucking. It was secure, which was a point in his son’s favor, and one he was gonna need, because John still wasn’t sure if he should let his son live through the night. He was about to turn and head inside the bar when something caught his eye and he took a closer look through the side window of the car, forehead pressed to the warm glass, hands shielding his eyes from the glare of the sun.
John stiffened, his jaw clenching so tight he could feel his teeth grinding together. Inside, sitting flagrantly in full view on the passenger seat of the car were two empty beer cans and a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels, the cap missing. Nope. Dean was definitely not going to survive this evening. John stalked towards the door to the bar, murder on his mind.
Mötley Crüe was blaring from the jukebox as Dean lined up his next shot on the faded red felt of the pool table, heart warm with a combination of adrenaline and alcohol. If he made this one, and he would, then all that was left was the eight ball for the win. And four hundred dollars in his pocket meant he could buy a helluva lot of fun the next few days while his dad was off chasing boogeymen.
Dean ignored the pang of conscience at the thought of his Dad out there on the front lines. Hell, John Winchester could take care of himself. Dean wasn’t up for hunting anything supernatural these days. He was too busy dealing with his own demons, the ones tormenting his soul and eating away at him until he felt empty, hollow.
Man, Dean thought with a slight grimace, he must be getting sober if the emo bullshit was sneaking back up on him. Well, that was easy enough to remedy. Time for another drink! He held out his hand expectantly and Lily stuck a shot glass of tequila into it, leaving her manicured hand dangling out before Dean as if she wanted him to take it and kiss it.
Dean did one better. He grabbed the redhead’s hand, giving it a gentle squeeze before bringing it up to his mouth to lick up the salt she’d sprinkled earlier on the fleshy web between her thumb and forefinger. Letting her go, Dean raised the shot glass to his lips and slammed the tequila back in one easy gulp. Lily quickly exchanged the empty shot glass for a wedge of lime which Dean bit into, letting the juice dribble down his chin a little. He was pretty sure Lily would clean that off for him, and she did, her lips sliding along his and then down lower to bite softly at his dimpled chin, lapping up the lime juice there.
Dean pulled away from Lily with a wicked grin, swiping a thumb across the slickness on his lips. “Now, that’s the way to do a shot!” he crowed while the other men around the pool table laughed and hooted in agreement.
The tequila created a pleasant warmth in his belly as Dean grabbed his cigarette from the ash tray sitting on a nearby bar stool next to his growing collection of empty beer bottles and shot glasses. He was having quite the little party. A fuck-you-Sam-I-don’t-need-you-or-miss-you party, Dean thought fuzzily and let out a bark of laughter, causing a few bar patrons to give him a strange look.
“All right, let’s do this,” he growled playfully, ignoring the looks and returning to the game before he was too buzzed to concentrate anymore. It wouldn’t do to get plastered just yet, not when he was about to make a final killing at the game. First came the hustle, then came the drinking and after that came some quality time with the ladies. It was a formula Dean liked and one he’d perfected over the years.
“Nine ball in the corner pocket,” Dean stated around the cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, his eyes focusing on the tip of his pool stick and where it needed to meet the cue ball just so.
He leaned over the pool table once again, liking the sudden hush that ensued, and drew back, preparing to make his shot. And that was when Dean felt an assertive tap on his left shoulder blade. He didn’t even bother to look up from the table as he addressed the intruder in his usual honeyed tone, assuming it to be one of his entourage of buxom beauties.
“Just a minute, sweetheart, I’ll be right with you. Lemme just sink the next two and then we can go back to your place and I’ll give you all the lovin’ you can handle, ‘kay?”
“Yeah, I don’t think so, sweetheart.”
The reply was totally unexpected, as was the familiarity of the gravelly sarcasm. Dean froze, wondering if maybe the alcohol in his system was distorting Lily’s soft, throaty alto to what sounded a hell of a lot like his father’s baritone rumble. Maybe I’m drunker than I thought, Dean mused, shaking his head a little to clear the cobwebs.
Then the voice spoke again, definitely male, and this time, with a distinct note of constrained anger to it. “Let’s go, lover boy. Fun time’s OVER.”
Dean slowly closed his eyes, letting an apprehensive sigh escape from his lips. It couldn’t be. No freakin’ way. It just couldn’t be. He slowly craned his head to peer over his shoulder, wincing when the view confirmed his worst suspicions.
“Aw, shit.” Dean swore under his breath as he felt the pool cue being yanked from his grip and a firm hand grabbing his bicep, roughly whirling him around.
John Winchester stood less than a foot from Dean, invading his son’s personal space like he owned it, glaring with a combination of raw disapproval and righteous parental anger. John’s stare zoomed in on the cigarette still drooping from one corner of Dean’s mouth, and his eyes darkened with a cold fury that hadn’t been there a moment before. To Dean’s amazement, his father actually growled, the sound coming from somewhere low in his throat, as the man reached up and knocked the cigarette from Dean’s lips with a flick of his thumb and forefinger. Dean flinched, eyes tracking the butt as it dinged off the side of the pool table in a shower of glowing embers before tumbling to the floor.
“Dad, I -” Dean stammered.
John cut him off with a hostile glower that warned Dean that his dad was on the edge. He wouldn’t be held responsible for his actions if Dean didn’t fall into line that instant. Even slightly tipsy, Dean was no fool. He uneasily fell silent, knowing that look too well to do otherwise. John’s fingers tightened on his son’s arm, giving a brief hard squeeze before releasing his hold. It was another subtle warning, telling Dean to stay the hell where he was and not move if he knew what was good for him. Again, Dean obeyed the silent order without question.
John’s piercing gaze traveled slowly around the smoky, noisy barroom, surveying the situation, his face darkening with a swell of rage. Nothing escaped his notice. Not the collection of empty beer bottles lined up on the bar stool behind his son, as if they were trophies of Dean’s drinking prowess to be displayed for all to see and admire. Not the gaggle of sleazy women off to his right, a couple of them appearing to be quite the adoring fans of his son, as they tried their best to catch Dean’s attention despite the fact that his boy was currently staring a hole in the floor. And not the damp, wrinkled pile of money littering the edge of the bar’s only pool table where three scruffy rednecks stood over it protectively, still clutching pool sticks in their work-roughened hands, giving him the hairy eye for interrupting their game.
John finally flicked his scowl back to Dean, eyes narrowing as he leaned close, voice low enough that only Dean could hear him.
“There some reason you left the room other than to break orders, Dean? ’Cause I sure as hell’d like to hear it,” he angrily demanded. His jaw was rigid as he fixed his son with a look full of recrimination. “And where the hell’s your phone? I’ve been trying to call you all friggin’ day!”
Dean stood, running a hand through his spiky blonde brush cut, the tips of his ears burning. He vaguely wondered what god or perhaps trickster he’d pissed off so bad it had to retaliate by sending his father here, of all places, like some vengeful spirit bent on making his life hell on earth. He’d fully expected there’d be a confrontation at some point between him and his dad. Hell, that was pretty much a given after the way his father had been dogging his every move lately, laying down the law so thick you could spread it on a slice of bread and eat it for breakfast. But, why, he wondered dispiritedly, did the timing have to be so lousy?
“Wow, good to see you too,” Dean finally said, not caring if he sounded disrespectful. He really wasn’t in the mood to be the obedient son this time. “Want a beer? I got a tab going and-”
John’s nostrils flared, his eyes glinting dangerously as he snaked up a fistful of Dean’s shirtfront, pulling him in close. “Don’t get smart with me, buddy boy!” John snapped. “You are so deep in the hole right now -”
“Actually, I’m about four hundred ahead,” Dean said, glancing cheerfully over at the cash still sitting on the pool table nearby.
He threw a quick smile over to the girls who were watching the proceedings with wide-eyed apprehension, giving them the thumbs up sign. “Everything’s cool, ladies. Just having a little chat with my uh...my accountant, here...”
Anger, hot and seething, bloomed inside of John at the blatant disrespect being tossed his way. It was as if Sam’s little mutiny had spurred dissension within the ranks, and now Dean was trying his hand at seeing how far he could push his father over the edge. Except, in Dean’s case, the boy wasn’t trying to better himself like Sammy, or even make a valid point of any kind as far as John could see. No, Dean was merely trying to commit emotional suicide in the easiest, most immature way he knew how. And John wasn’t going to stand for it, not anymore. He’d be damned if he was going to lose another son so soon, and especially not to some fucked up sense of injustice Dean was carrying around inside him.
“That’s it!” John snarled, startling Dean from his flirtations. He transferred his grip from Dean’s shirtfront to his elbow.
It was quite obvious to him now, that what Dean desperately needed wasn’t babysitting or coddling. No, his eldest was asking for an attitude adjustment of massive proportions, and John was beyond ready to deliver just that. He’d seen more than enough of Dean’s self-destructive behavior and he was going to put a stop to it tonight!
“Dad!” Dean hissed under his breath, eyes frantically widening, as John turned toward the exit still latched onto Dean’s arm.
Ignoring the raised brows of surprise, John began to tow Dean silently along behind him, shooting a death glare at everyone in the bar, daring them to make a remark or offer his son a hand. Dean had the presence of mind to reach behind him and quickly snatch the money off the pool table before he was dragged unceremoniously towards the door. Lucky for him, his pool buddies were too stunned watching him getting hauled off by his father to notice the missing cash.
“Having a chat with my accountant,” John spat in disgust, glaring at Dean as he shoved him out the door. “We’re gonna have a chat all right, pal. My hand’s gonna be chatting with your ass - BIG TIME. Now, move it!”
John punctuated the order with three resounding smacks in rapid succession to the seat of his son’s jeans, each one harder than the last. Dean nearly choked on his tongue, his eyes flying wide at the unexpected assault on his backside. The commotion gained the attention of several nearby bar patrons and Dean blushed furiously, quickly dropping his eyes to the ground in mortification as he scurried outside. And here he’d thought his dad telling him off in front of everyone inside had sucked pretty badly. But, nope, it didn’t even come close to the humiliation he felt at getting swatted like a preschooler in front of the same crowd. He was definitely crossing Big Tom’s off his list of places to revisit!
Dean stalked over to the Impala, one hand sneaking back to rub at his stinging rear end. He cast an uncertain glance back at his father, who was trailing behind him, looking about as pissed as he could be. Yeah, it was never a good sign when your old man was looking like he wanted to rip someone’s head off with his bare hands, particularly when you were the nearest warm body available. Dean waited quietly, his weight shifting from one foot to the other in apprehension.
John squared off in front of his son, eyes the flat, dead black of a shark’s. He held out his hand. “Hand over the keys,” he demanded.
“What? Why?” Dean sputtered, even though his fingers were automatically fishing into his jeans pocket. “Dad, I can drive! I’m not even that buzzed anymore!”
John stared at him, incredulous. “And exactly how drunk do you have to be, Dean, before you decide driving isn’t a good idea? Hand over the damn keys. Now.”
Dean remained silent, clenching the keys in his fist, refusing to give them over. “I’m not leaving my baby here for someone to trash,” he said.
John took a threatening step towards Dean. He was done with being patient and understanding.
“I’m not in the mood to put up with a drunken hissy fit from you right now, Dean. So, you either give me the goddamn car keys, or I’m gonna take ‘em from you the hard way, and then I’m gonna bend your sorry ass over the hood of your baby and take my belt to you right here in the parking lot. Your choice.”
Dean blanched. “Dad! I’m like twenty-two, remember?”
“I don’t care if you’re a hundred and twenty-two,” John scoffed, grabbing the keys Dean reluctantly proffered. “I’m your father and you’ll do what I tell you! Now, you’re in enough trouble as it is, mister, so I suggest if you have even one working brain cell left in that wise ass head of yours, you use it to get in the car and shut your cakehole!”
Dean blinked at first, his mouth slightly agape in surprise at his father’s outburst, but a cursory look at his dad determined it for him. He’d already gotten a taste of his father’s hand and was in no big hurry to get another helping any time soon. As a result, Dean promptly slid into the passenger seat of the Impala, thoroughly chastened, his head ducked low in case anyone from the bar was watching.
Redwood Motor Inn
The ride back to the Redwood Motor Inn was done in complete silence. Early on, Dean made an attempt to turn on the radio just for some noise, but that was immediately vetoed when his dad just as quickly shut the music off, shooting Dean an ugly glare from the corner of his eye. Apparently, John didn’t want anything interrupting the preternaturally dark mood that had been set. Great, Dean thought, just what he needed to go along with his fading beer buzz – a bit of psychological torture before the main show.
By the time John parked the car outside the room, Dean was sober and so tired he was barely able to keep his heavy lidded eyes open. He entered the room and shrugged out of his leather jacket, throwing it onto the nearest chair, but not before pulling his winnings from the pocket. He stood, momentarily amused, counting the cash as John strode into the room, slamming the door hard enough to rattle the picture window next to it. Dean jumped but played it off, not wanting to give his dad an edge in the forthcoming battle.
“That what you took in tonight?” John asked. He walked up to Dean, eyeing the thick wad in his son’s hands.
Dean gave him a smug nod.
“Hand it over,” John firmly demanded.
The smile slid off Dean’s worn face. “What?”
John stared at Dean, hard. “You heard me.” He held out his hand expectantly.
Dean’s voice sounded more uncertain than he’d have liked, more whining child than self-assured hunter. “But...but it’s mine...”
“Yeah, and now it’s mine,” John stated as he grabbed the money from Dean’s hands and stuffed it into his pants pocket. “Consider it partial remuneration for pissing me off.”
Dean stood and stared a moment in confusion at his empty hands, then gave a short chuckle, shrugging. “Okay, yeah, I guess I deserved that,” he said. “Just don’t spend it all in one place,” he tried to joke, but his dad was having none of it. John stood with arms crossed, just staring at Dean, lending to the tense, awkward silence in the room.
“Well, uh, okay. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty done in, so I’m just gonna grab a shower and then hit the sack,” Dean announced, trying to sound casual.
“You’re not going anywhere, son,” John declared, his voice full of menace. He pulled Dean back towards the middle of the room, eyes carefully studying his boy, ready to clamp down his hold if Dean showed signs of bolting. “We still need to deal with you forgetting my order to stay in the room, and while we’re at it, I think it’s time we had a little talk about your crappy attitude and reckless behavior, too.”
“Crappy attitude?” Dean questioned, feigning innocence as he took a seat on the edge of the bed behind him. “What’re you talking about, Dad? I’m still the wonderful son I’ve always been.”
John snorted. “So you admit to the disobedience and the recklessness then?” he shot back, watching with satisfaction as Dean fumbled for a comeback on that one.
“I wasn’t being reckless,” Dean finally replied, a wry grin twitching at the corners of his mouth. Despite his dad’s obvious lack of amusement, Dean couldn’t resist poking fun at the situation. “I was being…adventurous. You know, like Indiana Jones…but without the dorky hat.” He smiled, pleased with himself.
Unfortunately, John was less than amused. His eyes narrowed at Dean, amazed at how, after twenty-two years, the kid still didn’t know when to shut up and just take his licks without making it worse for himself. In fact, looking back, John couldn’t think of a single instance where his oldest child hadn’t tried using his mouth as a weapon against an impending spanking, regardless of how poorly it had worked in the past.
Not a great track record if one really thought about it, but then Dean was a Winchester, which meant the stubbornness was built in, for better or for worse. And the poor fool had managed to inherit his father’s cocky, laugh-in-the-face-of-fear outlook on life on top of that. John supposed he should have felt sorry for him, but Dean was his kid, and was old enough to know better than to push his luck like he was doing now. It made it all but impossible to show any leniency whatsoever. In fact, it was time to play hardball.
“Adventurous, huh? Well, from where I stand, it looks more like immature and stupid,” John stated matter of factly. Dean flushed red, his gaze dropping to the carpeted floor. John began rolling up his shirtsleeves as he continued. “And you know as well as I do, Dean, that the only thing immature and stupid will ever get you around here is one very sore backside.”
Dean slowly rose from the bed, staring incredulously at his father as if he’d just sprouted a second head. “You can’t be serious,” he huffed, eyes flashing. “Dad, c’mon. I’m not a little kid anymore!”
John gave Dean a nonchalant shrug in reply and walked over to the tiny kitchen area to pull out one of the chairs from the retro style dining table. “We’ve already had this discussion, Dean. Age isn’t a factor, here – your disobedience and out-of-control behavior is the only thing determining your punishment.”
John returned, dragging the armless, vinyl-padded chair with him. He set it down with a firm thump between himself and Dean, then took a seat on the chair, staring up at his son with grave determination. Dean felt an icy finger of dread tickle the pit of his stomach. This whole situation was heading south at a rather alarming rate as far as he was concerned.
John’s voice took on a hard edge to match his somber countenance. “Sam’s been gone for a month now, and you still have your head up your ass about it. And that makes you completely useless, Dean. And sloppy. And with what we do, you get sloppy? You get dead. Any good hunter knows that.”
Dean flinched as if he’d been slapped. His eyes registered the shock he felt at being called ‘useless’ by his father, of all people. The one guy who had depended on Dean over the years more times than either of them cared to count, and he was now labeling his son as good for nothing. If it was meant to get Dean’s attention, then it had certainly done its job because suddenly, Dean’s shock boiled over into a cold rage.
Dean slowly scrubbed a hand across his chin, a hundred sarcastic retorts jumping into his mind but never making it to his lips. Instead, he glared at his father, pinning the older man with a contemptuous sneer. “Well, I’m so sorry I’m useless to you, Dad,” Dean stated acidly, his jaw clenching. “But maybe it’s not as easy for me as it is for you to just forget about Sammy.”
John’s expression remained unreadable although his tone was quite icy. “Who the hell asked you to forget?”
“You did!” Dean exploded in frustration, a deep crease appearing between his furrowed brows.
Now it was John’s turn to look surprised. He pointed to his chest. “I did?” he calmly asked. “And when was that, Dean?”
“You…when…” Dean floundered, confusion now written across his face as he struggled to recall something that had never actually been said. He let out a defeated breath, staring at his dad with a sense of hopeless desperation.
“I would never ask that of you,” John said softly, shaking his head. “No, that’s something you decided to do on your own, buddy boy. Lemme ask you something, Dean. Did all the screwing around, getting into bar fights and showing up hammered to hunts work for you? Have you forgotten? Do you miss your brother any less?”
Dean said nothing, the shame on his face all the answer John needed.
“Yeah, pretty bad decision making on your part, all the way around,” John said. “And maybe I should have put a stop to it sooner, but I honestly thought you knew better, son. That you’d come around on your own because I’ve raised you better than this. Both you and Sam.”
John sat up in the chair, his face a mask of resolve. “You know the consequences for disrespect, recklessness and disobeying a direct order, so I’m not even going to waste time going over that with you. You’ve got to the count of three to drop your pants or I’ll be helping you. And then, you’ll be getting a reminder with my belt so you won’t forget next time.”
“Next time?” Dean blurted, the panic rising in his eyes. “No, no. No next time.” He held his hands out in front of him as he let out a nervous chuckle. “Uh, I’m thinking no this time either, whad’you say?”
“Okay, maybe I’ve been a little out of control,” Dean stammered, swallowing hard. He couldn’t believe his dad was actually counting, for chrissakes. “I mean, hey, who hasn’t -”
Dean pointed accusingly at his dad, “Okay, now you’re just -”
“Sonuvabitch!” Dean growled under his breath in exasperation as he quickly unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans, yanking them down his lean hips with an angry sigh. He stood in his boxers, pants puddled around his ankles, glaring at his father. “There. You happy?”
“Not yet,” John replied, smiling grimly. He pointed to his lap. “Get over here, please.”
Oh, well, since you said please. Dean almost rolled his eyes. Almost. He managed to stop himself just in time. Instead he demonstrated his dissatisfaction with the situation with a subtle pout and a groan. John chose to ignore the theatrics. He motioned for Dean to get over his lap again, and this time, Dean complied, draping himself reluctantly over his father’s knees, his nose wrinkling at the not-so-fresh smell of the motel carpet now directly in his face. John glanced down at Dean as he adjusted the boy over his lap to give him better access to his upturned rear end.
“The wild boozing, partying and fighting ends now, Dean,” John gruffly stated as he grasped the waistband of Dean’s boxer briefs and peeled them down, exposing the twin globes of bare flesh. Dean concentrated hard on the spot of floor directly beneath his nose, fighting the rising embarrassment as best he could. John continued his lecture. “You’re gonna straighten up, start following orders and stop acting like an irresponsible brat or you and my belt are going to become really good acquaintances, you understand me?”
“Yes, sir,” Dean said, a note of respect in his tone for the first time. It seemed funny to him how lying ass up over his father’s lap consistently brought out immediate and contrite deference on his part even when he wasn’t feeling particularly compliant.
John began to spank him then, his hand rising and falling in a scorching cadence, the swats firm and evenly spaced across the expanse of Dean’s exposed backside, tingeing the skin an angry, pink hue. Dean winced and squirmed unconsciously, a rising heat settling over his aching rear end. He hated being in this vulnerable position. Hated it with a capital “H”. Always had, which was actually sort of ironic considering the number of times he had found himself face down like this over the years.
Apparently, his dislike for getting his ass beaten had no direct correlation to his avoidance of doing stupid shit that got him there in the first place. Dean was certain that Sam would’ve had some big scientific name for the specific condition, like smart-assidus stupiditis or something. He snickered inwardly at that and then let out a muffled yelp as his dad caught him several times in a row across his sit spot, pretty hard. The resultant sting proved intolerable and Dean suddenly forgot all about his pledge to keep silent.
“A little harsh there, Dad!” Dean managed to grit out between clenched teeth. He peered up and over one shoulder, eyeing his father in consternation. “Dude! I get it. I was an ass. All right! Okay! So, how about easing up on the killer swing a little?” John stopped the spanking and Dean relaxed, slumping a little over his father’s lap. “Jeez, finally,” he muttered under his breath, trying to ignore the smarting warmth calling for his attention.
And then he froze at the sound of his dad’s belt being unbuckled and the slight shift as his father slid the length of leather from the belt loops of his pants. Shit!
“Uh, Dad?” Dean squeaked, his mouth going dry. “W-what are you doing?”
“What does it sound like I’m doing?” John questioned. He folded his belt in half and laid it across Dean’s reddened cheeks. Dean whimpered. “Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think we were done here?”
“Well, I was kinda hoping,” Dean answered, not able to keep the sarcastic optimism from his voice.
“Apparently, you’re still having memory problems then,” John remarked. “What did I tell you would happen if I had to count to three?”
Dean thought a moment, forehead crinkled in concentration and then he let out a loud groan of anguish, one hand slapping the carpeted floor in frustration. “Oh c’mon! I was close!” he begged.
John shook his head, slightly amused at the pleading tone now leaking into his son’s voice. “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, Dean.”
He knew Dean absolutely hated getting the belt, would rather walk across flaming coals in his bare feet carrying handfuls of rusty razorblades than get a belt whipping. And that’s why it was always such an effective deterrent to use. John rarely had to actually punish either of his boys this way. But this was one time he was fully prepared to apply the leather to his son’s flesh. Dean needed a lasting, and painful, reminder on the importance of obeying orders without question or hesitation, and he’d had enough of the cocky sarcasm.
“You had your chance back when I was counting, son, and you chose to ignore it,” John stated. “I’m gonna make sure you don’t ever ignore or forget who’s in charge around here ever again.”
“Terrific,” Dean moaned, mentally kicking himself.
He hissed loudly as the belt sang down across his ass, leaving an explosion of pain in its wake. “Fuck!” Dean hollered, his eyes tearing up.
“Watch your mouth unless you want extra for swearing,” John barked, then brought the belt down again across the swell of Dean’s ass to emphasize his warning.
Dean bit off another howl by clenching his jaw tight until his teeth ground together, shifting miserably against the biting assault of the leather strap. John applied the belt with deadly accuracy over and over again, striping his son’s rear end with a deluge of swats that ran from the top of Dean’s cheeks down to his upper thighs and back again.
Dean lost count of the strokes, not that he was really counting, in all seriousness. Because how the fuck was he supposed to keep a coherent thought in his brain, much less keep count of anything, when his Dad kept coming down with that crappy belt in the exact, same freaking place on his already sore ass? This - this was why he hated getting spanked with his dad’s belt. It hurt beyond belief! His father’s cast iron hand was bad enough, but his belt? Well that sucker just upped the ante all that much higher in his opinion. Dean bit his lip, trying to control his breathing as the intense burn and throb of his backside sang out to him in a loud, angry crescendo.
As the spanking continued, Dean began to ponder, with a sick sense of worry, whether his dad intended to flay the skin right off his ass this time ‘cause that’s what it sure felt like. As if reading his son’s mind, John laid down a half dozen more stripes and then called it quits, dropping the belt onto the floor near Dean’s head. Dean subconsciously flinched away from it, wondering if maybe later he could talk his dad into wearing suspenders from now on instead of that thing. Wouldn’t hurt to ask. Well, wouldn’t hurt anymore than it was already hurting, he amended.
He felt the pressure of his dad’s hand disappear from his back and gingerly pushed himself up from his position, choking back a low moan when he felt the bruised muscles in his butt and thigh region protest the movement. Holy crap! He hadn’t gotten his ass blistered this badly in a long time! He groaned inwardly, knowing the after effects of the punishment would be with him for the next several days, painfully reminding him of his error in judgment every time he tried to sit down...or lay down...or bend down...or hell, just breathe for that matter.
John stood up, pushing the chair out of the way. “I hope you’ve learned from all this, Dean,” he said quietly, resting a reassuring hand on his son’s shoulder.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” Dean replied, grimacing, eyes bright with unshed tears. “So not making that mistake again, you can bet on it.”
“Good,” John replied softly. “Then let’s see if you can follow a simple order without giving me attitude this time.” He pointed over to a corner near the bathroom. “I want you over in the corner, facing the wall. Now.” He put a hand to Dean’s back and gave him a gentle shove in the indicated direction. Dean bent down to drag up his pants, but John put out a hand to stop him. “Leave ‘em down, Dean.”
“Daad!” Dean whined, his face turning almost as red as his rear end.
“Consider it part of the lesson. Remember this the next time you decide to get stupid, son,” John admonished.
Dean shot a dirty glare at his father but complied with the order, shuffling over to the appointed corner, muttering nasty comments under his breath. This hadn’t been on his list of good times back when he was younger and it was even less fun now that he was twenty-two. He was almost thankful for once that Sam wasn’t around to witness this because the little geek wouldn’t have ever let him live this down. Not in a million years. Because if it had been Sam here in the corner instead of him? Oh yeah, the taunts would have been flowing faster than a river during a Spring thaw.
Thinking of Sam again brought back some of the old anger from deep within Dean where it had been hiding, banked, waiting for a moment like this. It suddenly raged outwards and Dean had to clench his hands tightly to his sides to fight the overwhelming urge he now had to pound his fist into the wall in front of him. Dammit! Why did Sam have to leave like that? And how could Dad not give a shit, acting like everything was normal and nothing had changed?
“Something on your mind, Dean?” John’s measured voice interrupted Dean’s dark reverie, and the younger man let out a ragged breath.
“Nope,” Dean replied flatly, then tensed up when he felt his dad come up directly behind him. He waited for the reproachful swat, but it never came. Instead, John’s broad hand found its way up to Dean’s right shoulder, giving it a short, gentle squeeze.
“You know, I’m not the heartless bastard you seem to think I am, Dean,” John said quietly, his eyes shadowing a sadness he didn’t dare fully express. “For the record? I busted my ass to finish up this last hunt a few days early just so I could swing over to Palo Alto and check on Sammy.”
Dean spun around, almost forgetting his aching butt as his eyes went wide with shock.
“Yeah, that’s right,” John continued, giving a nod. “I spent the past three days living out of my truck, dogging your brother night and day just to make sure he was safe and to give myself some peace of mind.” John’s face softened and he ran a hand over his lips, scrubbing at them a moment. “He may think he’s out on his own, but I’m gonna be around, doing everything in my power to make damn sure nothing ever happens to him. Just like I’m trying to make sure nothing bad ever happens to you.” A faint smile appeared on John’s face. “And hey, if I have to beat your ass to get that through your head? Well, I’m up for the job. Are you?”
Dean closed his eyes a long moment, processing everything his father had just told him. He opened them again and fixed an apologetic look on his dad while trying to keep the distressed quaver out of his voice. “He’s really okay?”
John nodded. “Yeah. He’s fine, Dean. Got himself a little apartment just off campus and seems to be pretty happy. I figure you and me can swing by there every so often, check up on him, if you want,” John added, swallowing hard, his eyes shining with tears.
He cleared his throat, blinking a few times and then pointed past Dean to the wall. “Now, get your nose back in that corner and no rubbing. I want you think about what we’ve just talked about. Really think. Because I don’t ever want to have to pick you up out of the gutter like that again, especially not because you’re trying to forget something you shouldn’t be forgetting. Got that?”
“Yes, sir,” Dean whispered, turning back to the wall, his own throat now tight with emotion. He let out a little laugh, shaking his head at his own stupidity.
Later that evening, Dean went outside, yanking his cell phone from his pocket as soon as he’d shut the door behind him, leaving his father hunched over the kitchen table, adding notes to his battered leather journal. The time spent in the corner, although impossibly humiliating, had given Dean time to come to a decision. One he’d been putting off for too long.
He wandered over to his car and leaned his left hip up against the side of the Impala, feeling the bite of the icy metal even through his jeans. He briefly wondered if pressing his still warm backside against that coolness would ease the smarting any, and then just as quickly decided against it. Because: A) numbingly cool or not, he was pretty sure he didn’t want anything touching his sore ass right now, and B) to really get the full effect, he’d have to drop his pants in the middle of the motel parking lot. And while Dean wasn’t a prude by any stretch of the imagination, the risk of getting caught and pissing off his Dad again this evening, was so not worth it to him.
He hit the speed dial on his phone, his eyes roaming aimlessly over the liquid black expanse of the night sky, which was lit by a smattering of glimmering stars. It was chilly enough outside for him to see his breath if he chose to notice it, reminding him of how at five, his little brother had been thrilled at his huffing breath, and how at eleven, geek-boy had excitedly tried to explain how it all worked - something about warm air and condensation. Dean suppressed a fond smile, listening to the faint rings on the other end of the phone.
Voice mail picked up after the tenth ring and Dean let out a perturbed sigh. He hadn’t really expected Sam to answer, not with the wounds still so raw. And, Sam was probably asleep, he realized, it being the wee hours of the morning and all. Yet, admittedly, Dean held onto a stupid tiny bit of hope that his brother would actually answer, but all he got was the dry, mechanical: “you’ve reached Sam Winchester…” Dean waited impatiently for the message to finish, and then stood silent a moment, licking his dry lips, unsure of what to say.
“Um, hey,” he faltered, his voice sounding thick with emotion. Dean frowned, cleared his throat and continued, his eyes now focused down at the ground between his boots, his chest tightening. “I just, uh...I don’t know...I guess I just wanted to see how you were and all.” Dean sighed again, wondering why he was finding it so hard to talk. This was Sam. His geeky little brother. The one person who saw through all his bullshit. Dean had never had trouble talking to Sam before. Yeah...before.
“Look, Sammy. Sam,” Dean quickly corrected himself, smiling because he knew how much his little brother hated being called Sammy. “I know we didn’t really get to talk much the day of...when you left. But, uh...well, I just wanted you to know that if you ever need anything, anything at all...or you just wanna talk or something, well you can call me, okay?”
Dean felt something wet on his face and looked up, thinking rain or even snow, as cold as it was, but the sky was clear. Realization hit him and he angrily swiped at the tear that had escaped and traveled down his cheek, biting his lip to keep anymore from joining it.
“So, yeah, anyway, um...I hope everything’s going good for you at college and all. I know you’ll kick ass just like you always did in school. ‘Cause, you know, you’re such a geek,” he said with a hint of affection. “And heh, be careful of those beach babes too, man. They’re totally hot but kinda dangerous if you know what I mean. Steal the shirt right off your back and walk away laughing. Um, not that that happened to me or anything...” Dean chuckled a little, then swallowed hard around the lump in his throat. “And don’t forget to salt your doors and windows, dude. Ghosts and other baddies don’t make exceptions for college boys.” He trailed off, realizing he was rambling and that he was probably leaving Sam the world’s longest, gayest message ever.
“Gimme a call if you feel up to it. Otherwise...I’ll see ya when I see ya, bro.”
He ended the call and just stared hard at the phone for a long minute before shoving it back into the pocket of his leather jacket. God, he could use a drink. More like a whole freaking bottle. Too bad he’d finished the last of the beer earlier in the day. He peered inside the Impala, noting that his dad must have taken the half full whiskey bottle that had been on the front seat because it was no longer there. He sighed. Nothing left but to go back inside to the warmth of the motel room and try to lie down and get some sleep, not that he thought he’d be able to sleep much with his butt still throbbing and all the other stuff on his mind, but he might as well try.
Dean started a little when his phone went off in his pocket. A frown creasing his brow, he fumbled it back out and glanced down at the glowing display and then blinked. Heart in his throat, Dean snapped the phone open and eagerly pressed it up to his ear, his voice sounding a little shaky with disbelief.
“Dude, how many times do I have to tell you, it’s Sam. And seriously, we don’t talk for like an entire month, and then you decide to up and drunk dial me?” Sam sounded the usual - affectionate and castigating at the same time.
Dean couldn’t stop the grin from spreading across his face. “What makes you think I’m drunk?” he challenged, his usual cocky bravado returning.
“Oh, I don’t know, Dean. Maybe it was the totally gay message you just left on my cell about how much you miss me.”
“I didn’t say that!” Dean protested, feeling the color rising to his cheeks.
Sam laughed and suddenly Dean missed him. Really missed him. There hadn’t been much laughter among the Winchester men lately.
“I can read between the lines, Dean, thank you very much. And yeah, you did. You all but started sobbing like a little baby. Hell, I was waiting for you to start belting out Celine Dion.” Sam was enjoying the opportunity to make his big brother squirm. “Oh, and you let that chick in Redondo steal your shirt? You told me it got ruined in the laundry, you liar.”
Now it was Dean’s turn to let out a snort of laughter. “Yeah well, I got an image to maintain, ya know.” The smile faded from his lips and he grew serious. “So...everything all right out there? I mean, you doing okay? Need money or anything?”
Dean could almost hear the smile over the phone. “Always gotta be the protective big brother, don’t you?” Sam said. “But, really, I’m fine. My classes are keeping me busy and I’ve made some friends and well, it’s going great. But, I’m really glad you called.”
“So who’s missing who now?” Dean shot back.
“Hey, I never said I didn’t miss you, Dean,” Sam replied softly. “’Cause I do...it’s just that...I had to do this, for myself, ya know?”
“Yeah, Sam, I get it.” Dean wanted to ask, beg, Sam to come back. But he knew that topic was way off limits for his brother right now, maybe forever. He also wasn’t one to beg for anything, no matter how much he wanted to. “Look, Sammy, I’m real -”
“You know, it wasn’t anything you did or said, Dean.”
“No, I want you to understand that. It’s important that you understand. It was never about you, okay? Dad and I just -”
“Are too much alike.” Dean finished Sam’s sentence for him, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice.
Sam hesitated, letting out a small grunt of disagreement. “Well, I was gonna say never saw eye to eye,” he countered.
“Yeah, that too,” Dean agreed, not wanting to start an argument. He tried to change the subject. “Hey, don’t feel bad. I think I sorta knocked you off the top of Dad’s shit list anyway.”
Sam groaned. “Oh God. What’d you do?”
Dean frowned, lips pursing. “What d’you mean what’d I do?” he asked, his voice rising in defense. “How come you immediately assume I -”
“Yeah, okay, all right,” Dean replied reluctantly. He sighed. “So, maybe I took off without telling Dad and happened to forget to take my phone with me, and maybe I was smoking and kinda got a little drunk -”
Sam let out a mild chuff of disbelief. “A little drunk, Dean?” Sam demanded, accusingly. “That’s like a girl saying she’s a little pregnant.” Dean could just imagine the mocking eye roll he was getting right now over the phone.
“Ha, ha. Real funny, smart ass,” Dean shot back dryly. “So okay, a lot drunk, but I was also creaming a couple local yokels at pool too. You shoulda seen it, dude. I took ‘em for four hundred and change. I’m telling ya, it was epic! Oh, and the chicks here, Sam. You ain’t done a shot of tequila until you’ve -”
“Uh, Dean?” Sam quickly interrupted, his voice carrying an edge of discomfort. “Not sure I really want to hear about that part in any great detail, ‘kay? So, where was Dad while you were acting out your rock and roll fantasy?”
“On his way back from a job in Arizona.” Dean grimaced a little, reaching back to rub at his sore behind. “And man, Sam, was he pissed when he found me.”
Sam didn’t even try to suppress the sarcasm this time. “No, really?”
Dean scowled. “Shut up, bitch. You know, Sammy, I can honestly say I don’t miss your biting sarcasm in any way, shape or form, dude.” Sam chuckled at that. Dean continued, grin returning. “So, where was I? Oh yeah, so Dad went totally ballistic on me. Dragged me out of the bar like I was a three-year-old –don’t even say it – and reamed me out major when we got back to the motel.”
“And by reamed, do you mean Dad beat your ass so bad you can’t sit down right now?” Sam questioned slyly. “Because that’s what I would have done if I was him and you were acting that utterly stupid.”
“Dude! I’m twenty-two!”
“Yeah, and that counts for dick with Dad, and you know it,” Sam retorted. Dean winced at the accuracy of the statement, but remained silent. “So, c’mon. Fess up. Is your ass scorched enough to fry an egg on?” Sam pressed.
There was a long pause before Dean answered in a mumble. “So, what if it is?”
Sam snorted. “Ha, I knew it! Man, you are so -”
Dean’s eyes darkened. “Oh, don’t start! Man, if you hadn’t left, I wouldn’t have -” Dean stopped himself, horrified at what he’d unwittingly admitted.
“What, Dean? You wouldn’t have what?” Sam asked, concern sharpening his voice.
Dean shrugged, his voice carrying an edge to it. “Nothing. Nevermind. It doesn’t matter.”
“Oh man, Dean. Is that what’s going on?” Sam demanded, the hurt and anger in his voice apparent. “You’ve become the official poster boy for alcoholics anonymous because you don’t want to deal with me being gone?”
“Get over yourself, Sammy.” Even to his own ear, Dean didn’t sound very convincing.
Sam continued doggedly. “Hey, it’s me you’re talking to, jerk. And it’s okay if you miss me.”
“I never said that, Sam,” Dean griped.
“Right, of course. Wouldn’t want you to get your macho card revoked or anything,” Sam said, sarcastically. His tone then softened. “But if you do feel that way, Dean, then it’s okay. And I want you to promise me something. Promise that you’re not going to keep on with this self destructive behavior. I don’t want that on my head, man.”
Dean huffed, annoyed. “It’s not on your head, Sam. It’s on mine. So, don’t worry about it,” he replied, sounding more like the Dean Sam remembered. The ‘I’m your older brother and you’ll do as I say’ Dean that Sam used to hate so much but now actually kind of missed. “Jeez,” Dean added curtly, “I’m sorry I even brought this up.”
“I am going to worry,” Sam stubbornly insisted. “And it is on my head if you’re doing this because of me. Dean, please, just promise me you won’t anymore, okay? Please?”
“What? You want me to promise not to drink anymore or get it on with chicks?” Dean inquired, the casual snark returning to his voice. “‘Cause that so ain’t gonna happen.”
“Dean, you know what I mean,” Sam said, letting a hint of anger come out in his tone. His brother’s defensive sarcasm could be completely aggravating at times. “You need to let it go, man.” He paused for an awkward moment and then said, very gently, “You need to let me go...at least, for now.”
Dean grew dead quiet, Sam’s words hanging heavy between them. “Yeah. I know,” he finally whispered, his voice so low Sam had to strain to hear it.
Dean cleared his throat again. He tried for nonchalant, although it came out brusquer than he’d have liked. “Just try not to be a stranger, okay?” he said. “And, if you don’t want me telling Dad about this call, I won’t.”
“Sure, Dean,” Sam’s voice sounded rough, choked almost. He gave a short, shaky little laugh. “Hey, it really was good talking to you again. And what I said before? I really meant it. I don’t blame you for any of this, so you shouldn’t blame yourself, okay?” He tried to lighten the conversation, not wanting it to end on such a weighty note. “And as a special favor to me? Try to lay off the excessive bingeing...you big whore.”
Dean’s smile was genuine this time. “Whores get paid to party, Sam. Me? I just do it for the fun.” He grinned when that earned a snigger of laughter from Sam. “But yeah, I’ll take it easy.” He cleared his throat. “I promise,” he added, voice a little steadier despite the lump in his throat. “And hey, who knows? The next time I’m up near Palo Alto, maybe I’ll just stop by and say hi in person. See if the sorority chicks are as hot as those ‘girls gone wild’ videos make ‘em out to be.”
“Sure. That’d be cool, Dean,” Sam said, forcing his voice to sound relaxed, as if they were shooting the breeze over a couple of beers. “But for now, why don’t you get some rest. I don’t know where you’re calling from, but it’s like three in the morning here, and I have to get up in about four hours for class.”
“See? One more reason why I never liked school, dude. You never get to sleep in,” Dean interjected with smug derision. He paused, not wanting to say goodbye, but knowing he had to. “Take it easy, Sammy. I’ll be talking to ya, okay?”
“Yup. Catch ya later. Bye, Dean.”
“Bye, Sam,” Dean said quietly.
Sam ended the call first. Dean let a hesitant smile ghost across his face as he gripped his phone tightly in the palm of his sweaty hand for a long moment before slowly sliding it back into his jacket pocket. He still missed Sam, but after talking to his brother, the bitter ache that had settled into his chest a month ago had dimmed to a more manageable twinge. The full-blown anguished clenching in his heart was now more like a mild hunger pang. And this pain? Well, this pain Dean could deal with.
He continued to smile as he headed back towards the motel room, hands stuffed into his jacket pockets to keep warm. Yeah, this pain wasn’t so bad at all really. As for the other pain still emanating from his butt... Dean’s right hand absently wandered from his pocket back to the seat of his jeans and he winced a little. Well, that specific hurt was going to take a little longer to forget, especially when he knew he’d get a vivid reminder of it every time he sat down for at least the next few days.
Guess Dad was right, he thought grudgingly. Some things were meant to be forgotten, like old wounds and bad memories while other things needed to be kept firmly in mind at all times, like his father’s orders or the deep, unconditional love the three Winchester men shared for one another. Even when they were too stubborn to admit to it.