Like Father, Like Son
Post- "No Exit," pre- "Hunted"
Ellen Harvell looked up automatically when the door to the bar opened. What she saw caused her to freeze, allowing the beer she was drawing to overflow. Quickly releasing the tap, she cursed as she set the glass down and shook the excess liquid off her fingers.
She had spoken to Dean Winchester on the phone several times since their falling out, but had never expected to see him enter her establishment again. Their last encounter after the long drive from Philadelphia had left both families hurting.
While she had made her peace with Sam, her relationship with Dean was still tenuous, though he didn't hesitate to call her when he needed something. She didn't resent it, because she understood. Dean was as protective of his little brother – and his father's memory – as Ellen was of her daughter, Jo. It made sense. While she didn't blame the sons for what their father had done, she also didn't trust them - yet. She felt she didn't know them well enough to pass judgment. Several times, she had tried to rectify this by getting Dean to talk to her, only to hear the buzz of an empty line.
As the brothers stood near the entrance, checking the crowded saloon, Ellen could tell Dean wasn't happy. It was clear Sam had used his vast persuasive powers to sway his brother into coming to the roadhouse.
When Sam headed towards the back, she guessed he was looking for Ash. The only thing that would persuade Dean to step foot in the saloon again was the search for the demon responsible for his parents' deaths, or something to do with one of Sam's visions.
Uncertain how she felt about their presence, Ellen pulled two PBR's from the refrigerator and placed them on the counter in front of an empty stool. Wiping the excess fluid off the glass she had poured, she put it in the hand of the hunter impatiently waiting for it.
When she glanced back to where she expected to see Dean, she was surprised to see the chair was still vacant. A five-dollar bill had replaced the beer bottles. Glancing around, she saw Dean heading for the only empty table. It was available for a reason. Most of her customers were hunters who knew a risky position when they saw it. The table was situated next to the stairs leading up to the pool table, leaving its occupants little maneuverability.
Ellen found herself worrying about Dean's choice. Was he so upset with her he was willing to put himself in such a perilous position? Or, did he think she was so angry with him, she would rather see him harmed than sitting near her?
Amazed at herself for caring, she quickly turned away to take another order. "Want yer usual, Mel?"
"Who's the boy?" Mel's eyes studied Dean.
"Dean Winchester." Ellen smacked his arm to get his attention. "Now, what'll ya have?"
"John Winchester's kid?"
There was a note in the big man's voice that made Ellen vacillate. "What if it is?"
"I got me some issues with John Winchester."
"Well, ya gotta go ta Hell ta settle 'em."
Mel was as tall as Sam, but weighed a good hundred pounds more. He had been a professional boxer before a deadly encounter with a poltergeist had turned him into a hunter. He was one of the few in their small clique Ellen was leery around. But he was also good at his job. Anyone who killed the "things" responsible for the death of her husband and other innocents was welcome in her establishment.
Smirking, Mel swiveled his seat so he could watch Dean. "I reckon the here and now is a lot easier."
When Mel slipped off his stool and headed for Dean, Ellen hesitated. A part of her wanted to see Dean hurting. He was partially to blame for the rift between her and her daughter. The rational part of her told Ellen that Dean was no more responsible for Jo's choice than he was for John's actions so many years before, even though Dean had clearly assumed both burdens.
The sight of Dean being slammed against the wall behind his chair galvanized her. Cursing herself for her indecision, she crossed to where she kept a sawed-off shotgun under the bar to break up brawls. Grabbing it, she pushed through the crowd gathering around the combatants. When she broke through, she was dismayed to see Dean lying motionless on the floor. Blood was pooling under his head, and streaming from his nose.
Mel's fist twisted around Dean's shirt pulling him up to deliver another punch. Raising her voice above the cheers egging the hunter on, Ellen growled, "That's enough."
With Dean hanging limply from one beefy hand, Mel looked over at her and sneered, "You don't have the balls."
"In five more seconds neither will you," warned Ellen, caressing the trigger and deliberately dipping the barrel.
Releasing his grip, Mel let Dean drop to the floor. "What the hell; he ain't worth it."
"Now, get out of here." Wincing at the sound Dean's body had made as it hit the wooden slats, Ellen coolly faced the big man. She knew she had to get him out of the bar before Sam discovered what had been done to his brother. In any other situation, Ellen would have said Sam was incapable of hurting someone. But she guessed Sam could be as protective of Dean as his older brother was of him. The outcome for Mel or Sam was lying at her feet. Sam wouldn't be surprised as his brother had been. And, though he was smaller than Mel, he was quicker. Ellen didn't relish scraping Mel off the floor and nursing him back to health.
"Come on, Ellen," protested Mel. "He had it comin'."
"What did Dean Winchester ever do to you?" Ellen demanded.
Scratching his head, Mel reluctantly admitted, "Well, nothing, but John—"
"Dean isn't his father's keeper. Or your punching bag. Now get out and don't come back 'til you realize my place isn't a boxing ring."
Looking around the crowd for support, Mel walked towards the door when everyone turned away. "Ellen, you of all people should be thankin' me. He's his father's son."
"I haven't forgotten," Ellen whispered, keeping her weapon steady until the door closed behind him.
As soon as he was gone, she flipped the safety on the gun and laid it on the bar. Crossing to where Dean was stretched out on his back, she ordered, "Someone get Sam, he's with Ash."
Kneeling next to Dean, Ellen gently checked his arms and legs for broken bones. When a cut on the side of his head continued to bleed profusely, she took off her apron and pressed it against the wound.
"Dean!" The cry announced Sam's arrival.
Before the younger Winchester could start demanding answers to what had happened to his brother, Ellen said, "Help me get Dean into the back room."
Obviously torn between wanting to help his brother, and finding out who had taken him down, Sam finally squatted and gently lifted Dean's shoulders, his forearm supported the lolling head.
Ellen continued to keep the blood-soaked apron pressed against Dean's wound as she inspected the rest of the visible damage. Blood flowed slowly from one nostril and from a cut under Dean's right eye. The flesh stretched over the cheek bone was already starting to swell. She knew from experience the red marks would eventually change color, turning bright purple and green.
Staggering as he lifted his heavy load, Sam tightened his grip. Once he was steady on his feet, his gaze raked the faces surrounding them. "Who did this?"
"The one you want isn't here, Sam." One hand on Dean's head, Ellen used the other to steer Sam toward the back room where she had a couple of spare beds. "Let's fix up Dean, then you can worry about getting your own face smashed in."
The fact that Dean had yet to regain consciousness was enough to make Sam obey. His expression clearly challenging anyone to try to stop him, Sam carried his brother through the crowd.
Ellen stayed with them while Sam carefully laid Dean on the closest bed. Seeing Ash standing in the doorway, she said, "Go take care of the bar."
A broad smile on his face, Ash quickly disappeared. Ellen knew she would regret her decision when it came time to do inventory. Ash wouldn't hesitate to help himself to free beer. But it was partially her fault Dean had been injured. It was time to make amends.
Once Dean was settled, Ellen took Sam's hand and placed it over the sodden apron. "Hold this, I'll get my medical kit."
"We have one in the car," offered Sam.
Certain hers would be better stocked, Ellen said, "Mine's closer."
Hurrying into the bathroom connected to her bedroom, Ellen took the opportunity to wash some of the blood from her hands. A glance in the mirror showed a streak of red across her forehead and into her hair. Wetting a washcloth, she quickly wiped it off. Gathering several more cloths, she filled a bucket with warm water before grabbing the case she used to store her medical supplies.
When she returned to the spare room, she found Sam using his shirt to stop the blood flowing from Dean's nose. Handing him one of the clean rags, she suggested, "Use this."
Assuming he would comply without question, Ellen shifted to where she could tend the cut on Dean's head. Even before she had gotten the blood cleaned away, she knew it would have to be stitched.
"You want to tell me what the hell happened out there?" said Sam, his voice low and dangerous.
For the first time in their acquaintance, Ellen recognized the hunter in Sam Winchester. Before, all she had seen was his intelligence and compassion. Now, she saw he could be as relentless as his brother and the other men in the bar. "Someone with a grudge against your father decided to take his pound of flesh from Dean."
"Who?" Sam spat through gritted teeth. His hands shook with suppressed rage, however he was remarkably gentle as he wiped the blood from Dean's face.
Though it was obvious Sam longed to take the needle and thread she pulled from her box, Ellen was grateful when he didn't. She wasn't sure if it was because his anger made it almost physically impossible for him to do a decent job, or if he recognized her need to make amends. He watched her closely, but didn't interfere as she stitched the wound. "That's not important right now. He won't be coming back anytime soon."
"Nobody does this to my brother and gets away with it."
Even as she admired Sam's fierce loyalty, Ellen knew she dared not tell. This became even more evident as she watched Sam's huge hands rinse the rag and squeeze out the red-stained liquid. She imagined he wished the cloth was the neck of Dean's assailant. Knowing any further protest on her part would only fuel Sam's fury, she kept her silence, refusing to answer. Sam was smart. Eventually he would realize he could learn the man's identity from almost anyone else in the bar. Ellen just hoped that by the time he did, Dean would be awake to rein in his brother.
"How did he get the drop on Dean?" asked Sam, changing tactics.
"Dean sat at that table by the stairs."
"That explains it."
Taking a deep breath to steady her hands, Ellen pushed the needle into the flesh on one side of the gash. "Why did he do that? There was an empty stool at the bar. Does Dean hate me so much he was willing to put himself in jeopardy?"
"No!" Sam looked shocked. "Dean doesn't hate you. He thinks our presence causes you pain. He didn't want to hurt you anymore than he thinks he already has."
Ellen's hand stopped in mid-stitch. She never would have attributed such selfless motives to a Winchester, the one lying on the bed least of all. Obviously, she had been wrong.
"Tonight," continued Sam, "he was going to wait in the car while I talked to Ash."
When she tried to speak, Ellen found it difficult for the words to clear the lump in her throat. "What changed his mind?"
"I honestly don't know."
Looking down at the battered face, Ellen tried to come up with a reason. They had talked amicably on the phone several times since the incident in Philadelphia. Still, she was certain those short conversations wouldn't have been enough to convince Dean all was forgiven and forgotten. Resuming her stitching, she realized she would probably never know why Dean had chosen tonight to face her. While she could often tell what Sam was feeling at any given moment, she had yet to learn how to read Dean. She wondered if anyone ever had – including Sam.
As she tied off the last stitch a soft moan indicated Dean was finally regaining consciousness. Knowing he would feel more comfortable in Sam's company, Ellen quickly gathered the first aid kit and the blood-soaked rags. "I'll get some ice for those bruises."
"Thanks, Ellen," Sam absently offered his appreciation.
Ellen had no sooner left the room when she heard Dean's pain-filled voice. Concern and curiosity stopped her in her tracks. The sound of slapping flesh told her Dean had regained consciousness ready to fight. She smiled ruefully.
"Easy, Dean," said Sam.
His voice raspy, Dean verified, "Sammy?"
Knowing Dean's right eye was practically swollen shut, Ellen wasn't surprised when he didn't immediately recognize his brother.
"Yeah, it's me," Sam acknowledged.
"What happened? Where'd Mike Tyson go?"
"Ellen scared him off." Sam's tone turned bitter. "Before I could make him sorry for what he did to you."
"Why'd he come after me?"
"I guess he was pissed at Dad, and took it out on you."
"You know I loved the man," said Dean, "but I wish he'd had better people skills."
"It seems the only person he didn't alienate was you," Sam agreed.
"Next time I run into the son-of-a-bitch who did this, I'm going to give him the chance to tell Dad face-to-face what he thinks of him."
"I get first crack at him."
Dean moaned softly. "Why should you go first? I'm the one lying here covered in blood."
The vocalization of Dean's pain reminded Ellen of her mission. Silently adding her own promise to make Mel pay for what he had done to Dean, she hurried away. Ice would numb the tender flesh. She owed it to him to do whatever she could to ease his suffering. Maybe, when he wasn't seeing two of her, they could talk. She wanted him to know that at least one person didn't hold him responsible for his father's actions. This was one case where it wasn't like father, like son.