Genre: Gen, curtain!fic, h/c, outsider POV
Characters: Dean, Sam, Jody, a surprise guest...
Rating: PG-13 (Language)
Warnings: terminal illness alert!
Spoilers: Season Seven-light
Very loosely based on the radiant kettle_o_fish's prompt over at ohsam: "Curtain!fic. Gen or wincest. Sam's hell trauma returns-- not as incapacitating as it was, but still bad enough to make hunting a near impossibility. Dean just can't move like he used to, slowed by drink and age. They retire and spend a few years leading blissfully boring lives in some unmemorable town, then Sam gets sick. Really sick. The kind of sick that you don't get better from."
Author's note: unbeta'd, since it's commentfic. I just wanted to give everyone something a wee bit melancholy for the holidays, and express my thanks for all the awesome folks here in our little fandom.
PS...all concrit welcomed!
PPS...I keep forgetting to note that there is a sequel to this fic! For the continuing adventures of potential sadness, see
'Goodbyes', complete with emotionally manipulative illustrations. You've been warned.
Jody took the stairs cautiously. Tap tap step, tap tap step. Despite fistfuls of halite on the treads, the cold gray twilight flattened shadows and made navigation treacherous. Wind was howling like a banshee, blowing flurries, and there could be hidden ice refrozen anywhere. She regretted wearing her black leather boots; yeah, they were all kinds of cute but slicker than the dickens. She should’ve worn the utilitarian Uggs she’d left in the truck. Too late to go back for them now.
Something about visiting the Winchesters triggered her vanity, silly as it was. They were the little brothers she’d never had but for whatever reason, she still wanted to wear her black boots around them, the ones with the silver tips and sharp heels. She’d have hat-hair and a pink, chapped nose but her footwear would look damned cool.
She nearly bit it on the top stair and squeezed the paper grocery sack tighter, as though that would somehow keep her from falling. Probably mashed the rolls against the bottle of Johnnie Walker Black. A flash of relief washed over her when she regained her balance. Smooth move, grace, she laughed inwardly.
The apartment spanned the entire second storey of an old house, with the entrance stairs running along the outside of the building past a tea-and-yarn shop on the first floor. Dean joked about Sam taking up knitting ugly sweaters, but Dean was the one who seemed to spend the most time in the store, fixating on the herbal teas. He’d become something of an expert on the supposed medicinal properties of the stuff. For a while, the peppermint was the only thing Sam could stomach.
It’d been almost two months since Jody’s last visit. Even though they all lived in Sioux Falls now, Jody was still pulling a six-day workweek—she loved her thankless job—and the older you got, the faster time flew. The boys were doggedly independent, too, and allergic to motherly intervention. Guess you couldn’t miss what you’d never had.
“I’m pushing forty,” Dean would warn. “I don’t need you to pack my lunch, yanno, or match up my Underoos.” To which Jody would sneer and give the apartment a good cleaning, leaving a bottle of children’s chewable vitamins on the chipped Formica countertop, just to get on his last nerve.
She sniffled and kicked the door in lieu of knocking, since her hands were full.
“Come on in,” Dean boomed from deep within the house.
“Oh, for the love of … I CAN’T.” She was in mittens, too, which didn’t help.
Her nose dripped as she waited, bootsteps finally audible before the rattle of a doorknob.
“Sorry, lady, we don’t need Avon.”
“You’re not nearly as cute as you think you are, Winchester.”
Dean had a dishtowel slung over one shoulder and was pulling off oven mitts. He was, in truth, exactly how cute he thought he was, Jody begrudgingly admitted. The army-drab shirt made his eyes even greener by comparison, and he always looked fine in those jeans despite thinning down, having quit the biz. He was gentler now, less honed to a bitter edge. Relaxed, even. But he also looked worn, the crow’s feet deepened, fresh silver shot through his hair and scruff—both of which could’ve used a good trim. These past months must’ve been a toughie on the boys, and that made her pensive.
“Well, get in. It’s colder than a witch’s tit out there.”
“And you’d know,” Jody said, smiling, overstepping the line of salt at the threshold. Old habits died hard.
“Hey, nice boots.” Dean returned a grin and took the bulging grocery bag, heading off to the kitchen with it.
She hoped her cheeks didn’t just turn tell-tale scarlet, planning to blame it on the weather if they did. Jody stomped her feet on the mat and shrugged off her parka and wooly hat, draping them on the brass coat rack amongst a sea of plaid.
The air hung warm and savory with all the trappings of Thanksgiving: sage and cinnamon and the starchy smell of potatoes. There was a musky undercurrent of pot, but Jody wasn’t inclined to say word one about it. South Dakota was being endlessly stubborn regarding medical marijuana and though she still wore the badge, she wasn’t a cold-hearted bitch. The guy who saved the world deserved some reprieve from the indignities of chemotherapy.
“Where’s Sam?” Jody meandered into the dining room. The old wood floors creaked underfoot.
“In the can, getting pretty,” Dean hollered back. “Trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
The sound of shuffling came down the hallway that led from the bedrooms. Half the house was still dark since dusk had just fallen. “Nice, Dean, always a prince among men. Hey, Jody.”
“Hey, sweetie. How are you?” Jody made a point to sound casual. It was always a bit of a loaded question to ask a sick person how they were.
But Sam, ever the trooper, appeared from the shadows smiling. A smiling phantom. White as salt and barely substantial. He tugged with bony fingers at the knit cap on his head, no hair peeking out from the edges. “I’m good. Not training for any Iron Man competitions but hey. Maybe next year.”
“Yeah, next year.” She suspected she wore a stupidly hopeful expression on her face because that’s how she felt: hopeful and fearful and brave. She wanted it to telegraph and rub off on him, on them. She didn’t want to feel the sting of loss again. Not so soon. She wanted Sam to bust the odds.
Jody watched Sam cross the room, one hand always touching a piece of furniture. In September, steroids and water-retention had made him swollen, lips rough with poisoned sores. His skin had become jaundiced and his eyes so dead and unfocused, she’d caught Dean pinching him periodically to make certain he was still breathing. Even his brows and lashes had fallen out, leaving his face naked and alien. Blotches of bruise and scab spotted his arms from the constant needles. And the apartment had stunk of despair.
But much of that was gone. Several layers of flannel and knitwear gave him a heft Jody couldn’t imagine he still owned and he moved tentatively, but Sam’s gaze was clear. His face was slender again, not so puffy that his dimples were absorbed.
Jody felt her shriveled old heart melt just a little.
Sam shooed Festus—the enormous white and gray tomcat that had adopted the Winchesters—down from a chair and sat at the dining room table. Places were already set with plates and silverware. Nothing fancy, no one got out the linen napkins or Grandma’s china, but an effort had been made to match up the glasses and put out a butter dish instead of a big plastic tub of Country Crock. This was practically fine dining for them.
“You’re staring,” he said pointedly.
Jody blinked. “Oh, God, I am. I suck. You just … you look good! I mean, better. Oh, you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He chuckled, the sound coming out rough and edging into a brief cough.
She felt her lips pursing into her trademark Mom-face. It was autonomic.
Sam rolled his eyes. It’d probably been half a year since she’d seen him work up enough ire to do that. “It’s dry in this place.”
“Well, I could use a stiff drink so you want one while I’m up? I brought the good stuff.”
“Good stuff it is, then.”
“You got it.”
She joined Dean in the kitchen where he was puttering around the stove, a spoon in every pot and a pot on every burner. Cancer had made Dean quite the chef. The acquisition of healing recipes that featured organic ingredients had become his mission and as with all missions, Dean approached it with a single-mindedness that would’ve put the military to shame. A sizeable turkey, brown and crisp-skinned, sat on a cutting board, resting.
“We are never going to eat all that,” Jody said, poking a finger into a mountain of mashed potatoes. “Are we feeding the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?”
Dean arched a brow in faux indignation and nudged her away with an elbow. “Do they even celebrate Thanksgiving?”
“Oh, stop it. Where’s that bottle I brought?”
He jutted his chin to a far counter. “I’ll take mine neat. And doubled.”
She went right to their glasses, plunked ice into two tumblers, kept a third iceless for Dean. “Sam seems to be doing good, yeah?”
“Seems to be,” he nodded, half-grinning as he whisked roux into what was probably the gravy. “Almost starting to look human again. The freak.”
“Does this mean all the crap he’s taking is working? You guys gotten a scan lately?”
“Last month,” he said with a shrug. “Hey, grab that carving knife, will ya?”
Jody slid a whisky to Dean and slipped a considerable blade from the butcher block. Of course, the Winchesters would have the best kitchen knives money could buy. Jody took it upon herself to tackle the delicate operation of carving the bird. She rather liked finessing around the bones. “You talk to Garth lately?”
“He’s spending T-Day with his ‘special lady friend’”—Dean made air-quotes—“but he might grace us with his presence this weekend. Depends on the snow. Gotta admit, I’m pretty sick of the shit already.”
“Well maybe if Sam’s feeling up to it, you guys can spend Christmas somewhere south, huh? Like Texas?”
“Anywhere but Texas,” he snapped.
“Ooookay.” Jody freed the wishbone like a champ and moved to the sink to rinse it off.
“Sorry.” Dean paused, staring at a simmering saucepan of peas. “I don’t think … I don’t think Sam has told Amelia about The Big C.”
Dean shrugged again and picked up his whisky, giving it a quick swirl before taking a swallow. “Hey, it’s his business. I’m the last person who should be giving him relationship advice.”
Jody wiped the wishbone on a paper towel and set it on the radiator to dry. She hadn’t had a date since, what? Fourth of July? Yeah, best to let that topic drop. “Oh, damn, I forgot to bring Sam his drink.”
Dean flung a hand. “Then get your ass in gear, woman.”
Jody flipped him the bird.
Sam had moved to the living room, to his favorite recliner by the window with Festus mounded up on his lap; the cat had to weigh at least twenty pounds. It was well and truly dark out now, early holiday lights twinkling from the businesses across the street. They haloed Sam in an icy glow that was almost Christmas card perfect, if not for the sunken cheeks and disconcerting way she could see every cord, every wasted muscle in his neck. He was absently stroking the cat’s rump, coughing into his shoulder once and again, staring at the night with his eyes at half-mast.
“Penny for your thoughts.” Jody set his drink on the windowsill and perched on the arm of the chair.
“How about a nickel? Inflation and all.”
“You drive a hard bargain, bub.”
They sat together quietly for a few moments until Sam sighed, dragging his gaze away from the dark.
“You think it’s status quo up there now?” He briefly glanced heavenward.
Jody felt a little flutter of discomfort, though certainly a man diagnosed with a potentially terminal disease had every right to wonder. “Dunno. Been pretty quiet, so I guess we’ve got to figure no news is good news.”
“But what if. What if they’re just … gone.”
Sam shifted his spindly legs and Festus grumped. “I thought I saw a reaper the other day. At the post office. But it was just some guy in a long black coat. Wore his hair all slicked back. Don’t you think it’s weird we haven’t seen anything? Anyone?”
“The War is over. Maybe they’re busy putting the Hereafter back together again?”
“Maybe they don’t care about us anymore. We’ve outlived our usefulness.”
“Aw, sweetie.” Jody felt her eyes sting and she put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing. All she grabbed was bone. She was forced to thwart tears with a big gulp of whisky.
Dean poked his head out of the kitchen just in time to save her from dissolving into ugly blubbering. “Little help here? Jeeze, you two. This ain’t a restaurant.”
Sam shoved Festus off his lap and the cat landed with a graceless thud.
There was far too much food for three people, especially since one of them had an appetite that was probably a smidge compromised by roughly nineteen different poisons: potatoes (mashed and sweet), peas, celery stuffed with cream cheese and sprinkled with paprika, slightly flattened rolls, the glorious bird (of course), cornbread stuffing, and cranberry jelly (still in the shape of the can).
Dean uncorked a bottle of nice white wine—an illicit holiday gift from his boss at the bar—and poured glasses all ‘round. Jody found a radio station that advertised ‘Sounds of the Season’ but it got vetoed when the music segued into Christmas carols. They finally agreed upon B102.7. Classic rock, naturally. Nothin’ says Thanksgiving like Welcome to the Jungle, baby.
The boys had set a fourth place at the table, for Bobby, for old time’s sake.
No one said grace.
Festus jumped on the table half a dozen times before he finally got the message that he wasn’t invited to this little shindig. To Jody’s sincere pleasure, Sam cleaned his plate and took seconds. Dean polished off the bottle of wine and broke out a fat joint. Jody declined—she might be turning a blind eye but she wasn’t stupid—and prayed she didn’t have to stop anywhere on the way home, perfumed with maryjane.
Funnily, it was Sam who remembered the pumpkin pie. Jody made the boys stay put; she had to stand up and let her food settle before her jeans cut off her circulation, anyway. She made a mental note to wear sweatpants and the Uggs next year.
The pumpkin pie had been sitting in the warm oven and she took it out gingerly, bare-handed. From the misshapen crust, she guessed Dean had made it himself. There was a squirt-can of Reddi-wip in the ‘fridge, and she set the coffeemaker up to brew a strong pot; she was going to need the caffeine after all that L-tryptophan.
Digging in the cupboards for plates and a pie-server, Jody accidentally toppled the parade of austere plastic bottles that sat above the spices—all the tiny jagged pills that held the keys to Sam’s survival, with names so long and foreign they could be a different language altogether. She glanced at a label, an investigative habit from years of cop work, and noticed something. They were almost two months old and should’ve been refilled by now. She looked at another label, and another. Same deal. She felt sick.
“Dean,” she called out, her voice brittle. “Could you help me reach, um, the thingy over the … whatchamacallit?”
She heard a chair scrape back and he rounded the corner. As soon as he saw the vials in her hand, his smile stumbled.
“Hey,” she said with a brightness she didn’t feel, “did Sam switch meds?”
He stuffed his hands in his pockets.
“Dean, tell me you guys are trying experimental therapy or …”
“We quit,” he said softly.
All the air left her lungs like it’d been punched out.
Dean threw a quick glance over his shoulder and moved into the kitchen. His eyes melted her wholesale, but he smiled. A fragile, bitter smile. “Last scan, they found more tumors, Jody. In his lungs. And the lymph nodes. It’s …” He shrugged and let the truth drift, unsaid.
“But, but aren’t there other treatments out there? They’re making scientific leaps all the time—”
“Seriously, Dean. Maybe a … a healer or a medicine man on one of the reservations. You guys believe, right? You’ve prayed, right?”
He took a great breath and folded her in his arms, steady and warm, nodding against her cheek. “We’re done, Jody. And it’s okay.”
“It’s miles away from okay.”
“I know.” He pulled back and held her at arm’s length. “But we’re good. I promise.”
Jody uncurled her fists and put the pill bottles back on the counter. “I’m so so sorry.”
“I know. So are we. But, well, it’s Winchester luck and that’s the way it is. So let’s just keep on truckin’ until we can’t anymore. Okay?”
“Awesome,” Dean grinned. “Because I need that pie.”
Before she left the kitchen, Jody dried her cheeks and grabbed the wishbone. And after pie and coffee, she wagged the bit of bone in front of the boys’ faces.
“Break it,” she demanded.
Sam waved a hand wanly. He was already wrapped up in a raggedy afghan, eyes drooping, Festus ‘making biscuits’ on his knees. “I hereby give you my proxy, Jody. You do it.”
She wasn’t going to fight about it with him, of all people, so she leaned across the ocean of dirty dishes and utensils and glasses, and held it up to Dean. “Break it.”
When he huffed and looked petulant, she brought it to within inches of his nose. “I said …”
“Okay, okay. Pump the brakes, there, crazy lady.”
It was absurdly important to her. She couldn’t fathom why; maybe it was superstition, or some last vestige of hope on behalf of these men who had become an unwilling, but treasured, part of her life. These two brothers who had battled Heaven and Hell for the world, and won.
They pinched either end between their fingers, Dean caught Jody’s eye, and they tugged. The wishbone splintered with a snap. She was left holding the larger half.
“Aw, you were robbed,” Sam snorted.
“Shuddup, bitch.” Dean threw down the losing piece melodramatically.
Jody helped load the first round of dishes into the dishwasher and Dean packed her up a thermos of coffee to-go. The snow hadn’t committed to sticking after all, and the salt trucks were out in force, treating the roads. She could’ve stayed for the night—she’d done it before—but she had to work in the morning and it would just make things more difficult, she said.
Dean made plans to call her in an hour to be sure she was home safely. He also gave her a Tupperware full of left-overs because there was no way he and Sam would eat it all themselves. Not even with the cat’s help.
Hugs were pressed all around, and Jody teetered cautiously down the long run of stairs to the sidewalk. Once her truck had fired into life and her headlights were on, Dean shut the door and secured the chain. He dropped a glance to the salt line; it was solid enough.
Sam was almost asleep in his chair, head lolling to his chest. Dean slid a shoulder under his arm and hauled him up. He was all ridiculously long limbs, angles and scrawniness. Like he was when he was fifteen. Dean felt a pang of melancholy and loss for that kid. And for the man he’d become.
He pulled off Sam’s sneakers and the knit cap, but didn’t bother with the rest of his clothes. He flopped him into bed, rubbed a palm over the fuzz on Sam’s scalp and tucked the quilt up under his pointy chin. Festus would be along shortly to make like a heat-seeking missile and glom onto Sam’s side.
Sam murmured something unintelligible, smiling vaguely.
Dean wandered back to the kitchen and grabbed the bottle of Johnnie Walker. He figured he’d watch stupid late-night TV and drink until he had to check on Jody, then he’d turn off the TV and drink some more. This was his new normal.
According to the doctors, it would probably be over in six months. For that half a year, he and Sam decided they were going to do whatever the fuck they wanted. And right now, Dean wanted to get well and truly shit-faced.
He found David Letterman, toed off his boots, and was half-way to the couch when there was a knock at the door. Surely it wasn’t a burglar; they weren’t apt to knock. Then he spotted Jodi’s mittens on the floor under the coat rack. Ah. Mystery solved.
He put down the bottle and padded sock-footed across the living room, scooping up the mittens. With a flick of his wrist, he released the chain and opened the door.
He was met by a sloppy tie, blue eyes, and half a wishbone pinched between the angel’s thumb and forefinger.