Title: Living Rough
By: candacehilligoss
Pairings: gen
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Don't own them. Not making any money off this. Yadda. Yadda.
Summary: Bobby wanted to ask if Sam even knew him, remembered him at all, but he wasn't sure he could stand the answer.

***

What Bobby expected, when he barged into a hotel room containing the Winchesters, was to have a gun aimed at him. At least one. Most times, he'd expect to have two guns on him, but only see one--until the boys recognized him and the second came out of hiding.
 
In this case, he knew Dean was out cold, after taking a fair-sized helping from Bobby's stash of painkillers. He thought Sam might be asleep, too, after the day they'd had. He figured there wasn't much harm in quietly cracking the hotel room's cheap lock and seeing if maybe he could leave food for the boys without waking them up. At worst, he'd wake Sam and they'd stare each other down for a second or two, until Sam realized who he was looking at.
 
So he'd expected the gun, but he hadn't expected that gun to be aimed from the room's one bed, where Sam, bare-chested and half-covered with a sheet, had his free arm wrapped protectively around his unconscious, unclothed brother.
 
Bobby would ordinarily have taken some time just to blink at the scene, let his eyes get adjusted to what it was and what it probably meant, but his attention was caught by something more important. Sam wasn't putting down the gun.
 
Worse than that was Sam's face--hard, cold, the way it had been when they'd stood in front of a certain portal a few months earlier. Bobby wanted to ask if Sam even knew him, remembered him at all, but he wasn't sure he could stand the answer.
 
Then, after what seemed an endless pause, Sam lowered the gun. His face changed, from cold to simply defiant, stubborn.
 
"Shouldn't go breaking into people's hotel rooms," he pointed out. His voice was soft, as if he thought he could wake Dean by speaking too loudly. Bobby was pretty sure an elephant couldn't have disturbed Dean by stomping into the room and trumpeting in his ear.
 
Bobby nodded.
 
"I thought maybe you'd sleep through." He lifted the grocery bag in his left hand. "Brought food."
 
Sam smiled a little.
 
"Thanks. He'll appreciate that."
 
Bobby nodded again. He wanted to leave it at that, just back away, but he suspected he owned John more. For certain, he owed more to those boys. He said,

"Can I have a word with you?"
 
Sam's smile vanished.
 
"I'll meet you out there."
 
Could've been a lot of reasons for that, but the simplest was probably that Sam wasn't wearing a damned thing under that sheet. Bobby set the food down.
 
"Fine."
 
He shut the door, walked out into the lot and stood beside his truck. It afforded a little privacy and was far enough from the room that they wouldn't be likely to be heard by Dean, in the unlikely event that he woke up.

Not unless things got damned loud.
 
Sam left the room about a minute later, looking irritated in a familiar, Sam-like way. It was a relief to Bobby.
 
"I don't care what you think," Sam said as soon as he'd reached Bobby's side. Bobby resisted the urge to shake the kid. He realized in a flash that he wasn't shocked by what he'd seen, not given everything else he'd seen between them over the years. Not shocked and not even, when it came down to it, all that interested. No harm, no foul, and none of his business.
 
"I don't care what you're doing," Bobby informed him, "as far as that goes. You think that's the strangest thing I've seen in all this time? In this business, you do what gets you through."
 
Sam looked as though he'd been sucker punched, but he just nodded and said,
 
"Then why am I out here?"
 
"I don't care for the way you looked at me in there. It wasn't like you."
 
"You don't know what's like me these days," Sam said.
 
"Well, I guess that's what's bothering me," Bobby said. "I really don't."
 
Sam let out a long breath.
 
"You're thinking I'm not myself? Is that it? Maybe I came back wrong?"
 
So the kid knew. No surprise there, really. Dean hadn't had much chance to the set up a cover and he'd been in no condition, emotionally, to keep his game face on. And if anyone could read Dean, even when Dean was running on all cylinders, it was Sam.
 
"Crossed my mind," Bobby said mildly. Sam's eyes narrowed, but he looked more hurt than angry.
 
"This is me," he said. "This is me living rough."
 
What the hell was that supposed to mean? Those kids had lived pretty rough most of their lives. Bobby frowned.
 
"I don't follow you."
 
"I'm missing some luxuries I'm used to," Sam said. Bobby stared at him.
 
"Like what?"
 
Sam shrugged. His eyes had the sharpness they got when he couldn't decide between fury or misery.
 
"Like thinking I've got forever. Or pretending this isn't where I belong. Or letting him do whatever I don't want on my hands, because I'm supposedly the nice one. I don't have any of that right now. I have him, for a limited time. You're just lucky you didn't get shot."
 
That could have been Sam saying he knew he was being over-protective. Sure sounded that way. But Bobby thought maybe he heard something else in those words, or saw something else in Sam's eyes.
 
"You don't happen to think you're... I don't know... gonna fix this? Do you, Sam?"
 
It was a cruel thing to ask, Bobby knew, but it would have been worse not to say anything. Sam shrugged.
 
"Thought I'd give it a try."
 
He sounded casual, but wasn't. That was a given. He was dedicated, body and soul, to the cause. He'd probably thought of nothing else since he'd found out what Dean had done.
 
"You Winchesters," Bobby said. "You always think you can fix everything."
 
"You think I can't?" Sam asked, and there it was again--that look in Sam's eyes, the stranger Bobby had stared down in the hotel room.
 
Except maybe it was Sam, same as he'd ever been, and Bobby had just never known. Sam had been living with that demon blood nearly his whole life, after all.
 
"I don't know what I think," Bobby told him. It was the truth. "What exactly do you figure on doing?"
 
Sam shook his head.
 
"Don't ask questions you don't want the answer to," he advised. Bobby looked at the ground. Anything was better than looking Sam in the eye.
 
"Sammy," he said. He didn't have to look to know that Sam was bristling, standing up straighter. "Sammy... why do you think that thing gave your brother a year?"

"Who knows why they do things?" Sam asked. "For all I know, it was whimsy."

"You know better than that," Bobby told him. "They don't do things for whimsy. Underneath whatever they're pretending to be, they are nothing but business. Try again. Why a year, when it didn't have to give him anything at all?"

"I don't know," Sam admitted, acknowledging the truth of it--Dean would have settled for any length of time, for a heartbeat. Anything. "But it doesn't matter, because I'm going to get him out of this deal."
 
"I swear," Bobby said, "sometimes I don't know which of you boys is the bigger idiot."
 
"It's Dean," Sam said, not missing a beat. Bobby couldn't help smiling.
 
"Some things don't change," he said, mostly to himself. Sam smiled back, just for a moment. Bobby put a hand on Sam's shoulder. "Sam--I could be wrong, but it seems to me the main reason a demon would have for making that deal with your brother would be to see what you might be willing and able to do about it."
 
Sam blinked, hit by that, but he got himself under control more quickly that Bobby would have thought he could.

"That's an interesting question," he said.

"No, it's not," Bobby said. "We both know the answer to the first part, and I'm guessing you know the answer to the second part. I'll tell you what's an interesting question, and you should spend some time thinking about it."

"What's that?" Sam asked. Bobby leaned in close, got in his face.

"How is your brother going to take whatever you've got in mind?"

It was Sam's turn to look at the ground. He did it for what was likely only a minute or so. Seemed a long time, in that silence. When he looked up, his eyes were wet but his face was calm.

"It's not that interesting," Sam said. "He can take it any way he wants, as long as he's around."

So that was how it was. Bobby had thought so, but now he knew for sure.

"How about the rest of us?" Bobby asked. "Friends, hunters, everyone else walking around this beat-up old planet. What if we don't like it?"

Sam did something that nearly knocked Bobby on his ass--he put a hand on Bobby's arm and gave him a sad, gentle smile.

"Are you saying you'd want to stop me?" he asked. "Are you saying it makes any difference what I have to do? Are you asking me to let things ride?"

Bobby thought of Dean, nearly crying in the yard, saying his life didn't matter. Thought of all the years, Dean taking up any job his father gave him, watching over his brother, looking at them both with terrified love. Always certain he was damned to one kind of hell or another.

He looked toward the hotel room where Dean was, he hoped, still asleep. And then he met Sam's eyes.

"I hope you're a better liar than your brother."

"I can be," Sam said. He let his hand fall. "I need to get back inside."

Bobby let him go. He didn't know what he was letting go, but he'd made his decision. Nothing left but to wait and see.

***