Title: Brothers and Strangers
By: Emily Brunson
Pairing: gen
Rating: PG-13
Part: 1/3
Summary: Secrets have always been the Winchesters' stock in trade, but one particular sin of omission may cost them everything they have left.


The wind is tossing the lilacs,
The new leaves laugh in the sun,
And the petals fall on the orchard wall,
But for me the spring is done.

Beneath the apple blossoms
I go a wintry way,
For love that smiled in April
Is false to me in May.
(Sara Teasdale, “May”)

Part One
Everything I Say is a Lie


In all the adrenaline and fear and busyness of getting Sam to the hospital, there isn’t time to think. Just do. Dean hears it clanging inside his head: make Sammy all right, please God, make him okay and that’s all I ask.

And behind it, like a voice muffled by thick heavy black curtains: did you HEAR? Did you SEE? Was it real?

Doesn’t matter. He frets and paces and drinks too much muddy hospital coffee, doesn’t think about anything but seeing that door open, seeing the relieved look on the doctor’s face, seeing his goddamn brother open his eyes and smile at him. No biggie, Dean. Get me outta here.

Except that’s not quite what happens. There’s the doc, yeah, but he doesn’t look as kind and relieved as Dean wants, needs to see. Instead there’s a couple of uncomfortable chairs and a lightbox covered with x-rays, and a completely unnecessary anatomical explanation of where the bullet is lodged, and what it will take to get it out.

Dean nods and then shakes his head. “Will it work?” he asks.

“Most likely,” the doctor says, and there is doubt like heavy fog in his eyes.

They let him see Sammy before whisking him off to surgery. Not too much point to it; Sam’s out like a light, and if he knows Dean’s here he’s keeping it to himself. Somehow that’s kinda better. Dean wipes his eyes and clears his throat until it hurts, and says, “Don’t have time to dick around, Sammy. Time’s wasting and we got work to do, all right? Important shit, so you get it together real quick, got that?”

His throat aches when they roll Sam away, too, but it isn’t anything but dumb misery. He’s pretty sure he’s not gonna breathe again until he gets the good word from the surgeon, so he goes outside, bums a smoke off a guy near the exit, and lights it before hitting the speed-dial on his phone. The wind is blowing, and he can hear the scuff of it over the receiver, wonders how clear his message will be.

“Dad, listen. Just wanted to keep you updated, you know. Sam got into it pretty bad a little while ago, and he’s in –“ Dean has to clear his throat again, and it feels like he’s chewed glass and swallowed it. “—surgery right now, fixing him up. I mean, he’s gonna be okay, you know. But we’re.” Another dagger in his throat, this one sending a lightning bolt down into his chest. “Out of commission for a little while. I mean, me, I’m fine, you know, so if you need anything. Just. Call. We’re in K.C. Okay.”

He finishes the cigarette without tasting any of it, eyes stinging in the wind, and finds someone else to give him another before he slowly goes upstairs.

There’s a nice, enormous waiting room, and it’s filled with people who are just as scared as he is. It’s not the kind of fear he can do anything about, can’t throw holy water on it and make it disappear, pour salt around his own chair so it can’t reach him. He’s got no protections. He watches a girl crying, a man who must be her father touching her shoulder with a face filled with helpless misery, and Dean looks away before he can start imagining what’s happened to them, who they are. Doesn’t matter. What matters is down the hall, sleeping while someone Dean has never seen before cuts into his body and tries to fix what’s broken.

He doesn’t read, stands at one of the enormous windows and stares down at the people, the cars. Thinks about going to get something to eat, only his throat is too painful to allow it even if his stomach would, and maybe walking over to the convenience store he can see way down on the corner, buying his own smokes and maybe a six-pack, sit in the car and smoke and drink for a while. He’s been alone so much, he’s been lonely before, and right now he’s the only person on the planet minus two who even knows he’s alive, literally, and one of those two is a figurative ghost and the other is in a medically induced coma on an operating table.

He wants to cry, and can’t allow it. And he would give anything – anything in his power, at all – to not be alone right now.

Most of the other families have gone by the time the surgeon shows up. It’s late, sun starting to dive into the west, and the girl he saw earlier left long ago. Dean flinches when he hears his name called, the one he’s going by, at least, and walks fast to the desk.

The surgeon’s young, stylishly bald, and he’s taken the time to put his suit back on instead of coming out in scrubs. It pisses Dean off; he wants to see hurry, not take-it-easy casual.

The surgeon grins at him. “He’s going to be fine, just fine,” he says, nodding, and Dean instantly forgives him for the suit thing. “They’re just taking him over to SICU for the night, okay? Just to monitor him. But the surgery went fine, everything looked great, and we ought to be able to move him to a regular room tomorrow.”

Dean nods feverishly. “So he’s -- His legs. They’re okay.”

“I’m pretty sure you’ve been told about swelling, right? It’s impossible to say with complete certainty what the eventual outcome will be. But the bullet only nicked the vertebra, Mr. Martinez, didn’t sever the spinal cord. We’ve got him on heavy steroids, fight the swelling, and we’ll be watching him close.” The surgeon smiles again, blinding white grin, and pats Dean’s tense arm. “Your brother, right?”

“He’s – all I got,” Dean manages, and is ashamed of how shaky it sounds.

“We’ll take care of him. I’ll be by late this evening when I do my rounds, and if there are any changes we’ll talk again then, all right? Take care, Mr. Martinez.”

Dean watches him go, and flinches again when the reception lady says, “Martinez, right?”

Dean stares at her, nods.

“Your loved one is going to SICU bed 42. You should be able to go see him tonight, regular visiting hours. Seven o’clock.”

“I want to see him now,” Dean says hoarsely.

The woman’s face wears a practiced comforting smile. “I understand, sir, but they’re pretty strict about keeping hours in the ICU. So the patients can rest.”

He makes himself nod, and wanders out to the elevator.


There’s a flyer about motels with medical rates in the hospital lobby. He notes one of them, decides since he’s got time to kill he’ll go grab a room, at least take a shower. It’s something to do.

The motel’s little and shabby, which is familiar in its own way, even if he’s never seen it before. The room is just like so many others, almost like coming home. He slings his bag on one of the beds, drops his keys on the dresser, and strips efficiently, shivering a little because the heater is just coming on.

At least there’s plenty of hot water. And while he rubs shampoo into his hair he coughs a hoarse sob, and it’s been a suck-ass night and day so he’s generous, allows the sob a couple of siblings before swallowing it all back, squeezing his eyes shut and pushing it down again. No going to visit Sam looking like he’s been bawling like a girl. Not good for his recovery.

He leans against the tile wall, lets the water sluice over him, and hears that tinny, artificial voice again. “He never told you the truth. Would you like to know?”

It’s absurd. He should simply shove it away like he did his tears, toss it like the garbage it is and go on. But he’s exhausted, more tired than he can remember being in months, and he hears the voice going on, that whispered tittered litany of secrets, standing again in a dark foul-smelling hallway with Sam’s bleeding body at his feet, and he feels that same bewildered shock, like a slow buzz of alcohol in his veins, clouding his mind.

It can’t be. It just can’t. Because God is a card sharp, a narrow-eyed trickster with sleeves full of aces and jokers both, but this card isn’t one He’s allowed to play. It goes beyond the worst Dean’s ever been able to think up, his superstitious Dad-trained habit of envisioning the worst-case scenarios and preparing for them as eventualities. “Whatever you think of, whatever you CAN think of – there will be something worse down the line, Dean.” Dad’s face, beardless then and grim, eyes so flinty-hard Dean felt like his gaze hurt. “Guarantee it. So when you look around you, see what can go wrong, and how you’d fix it if you have to. All we got is each other. Nobody else looking out for us.”

Dad never told him this one, though. Never even hinted at it. And all the time Dean’s been vigilant, he’s kept his eyes open when he would pay any amount of money on the damn planet just to relax a little, just to sleep soundly and wake up when he was rested, lie around and think happy thoughts for a change. He’s come up with a thousand escape plans and Plan Bs and Plan Cs and Ds, he’s read and studied and worked out compulsively, always scared there’ll be one time he’s not strong enough, fast enough, one injury he can’t recover completely from, one that will mean he’s out, he’s done, he’s finished.

But he’s never envisioned this. It’s insane, that’s why. Completely and totally, unquestionably insane.

He towels himself dry, shaves in the foggy mirror, brushes his teeth and stares at himself. But while he dresses, while he forces down a fast-food burger sitting in the car and then pulls out to head back over to the SICU, he can’t push that demon’s metallic voice down deep enough that its fork-on-chalkboard voice doesn’t still resonate in his bones.

Almost. But not quite.



It’s two days before Sam’s out of SICU, thanks to his reluctance to really wake up, and Dean listens to the speeches about low tolerance to painkillers and heavy sedation and nods and feels his stomach clench. It’s wrong, seeing Sam this way, it’s a terrifying slap in the face. Dean would have shoved him out of the way if he’d only been there faster, if he’d sensed what Sam did and went that direction, too, instead of listening to reason and the whispering ghost of Dad living in his brain and checked out the opposite end of the hallway. He’d have taken that bullet, absolutely no problem, but he blew it, wasn’t there when the chips were down, and now he spends his precious visiting hours staring at Sam’s slumbering face, wondering if Sam is going to walk again and whether or not Dean can live with it if he doesn’t.

Sam moves to a room on the eleventh floor finally, a regular room. It’s such a relief Dean feels a little lightheaded – no more strictly regimented visiting hours, he can park his sorry ass here 24/7 and no one will say he can’t – and Sam even smiles at him, whispers hoarsely that he’s sorry he didn’t listen to Dean when he should have. Dean swallows and says, “Yeah, next time I’m just gonna step over you and go get a beer,” but he won’t, he won’t he won’t he won’t, and Sam’s smile says he knows it good and damn well, too.

But he can’t sleep, can’t eat, and while the physician’s assistant does his rounds the next morning Dean comes so close to passing out cold that the guy gives him a hard-ass lecture on exhaustion and actually calls a cab for him to go home, get some sleep. Dean won’t, and next thing he knows the guy’s calling Transportation to get a wheelchair and take him down to the ER for some IV fluids and tranquilizers. It takes all Dean’s sweet-talking skills to get the PA to lighten up, and he takes the cab. Goes back to the motel and sleeps for nineteen hours straight.

And when he gets up, groggily stunned at the hour, the DAY, he can still hear that chittering voice, so goddamn HAPPY. Happy at his shock, unspeakably thrilled at his instinctive denials.

“Didn’t you ever suspect?” it asks him, again and again while he drinks shitty motel coffee, tries to wake up and get moving. “Deep down, didn’t you KNOW?”

“Fuck you,” Dean whispers in his empty motel room, clutching the cup so hard he feels coffee slopping over his fingers. “Demons lie. You LIE.”

All there is is tinkly laughter, like banging fists on a child’s toy piano, and he gulps the rest of his coffee and grabs his jacket and keys.


On day five, Sam moves his toes. This time Dean has to cry, although it’s cool because Sam’s kinda watery too, and they joke about it, and it feels so damn good Dean can barely remember the cold misery of the past week.

“Man, where are you staying?” Sam asks, after the nurse has come and shot him full of something and gone again. He looks tired, fragile, but Dean will take it. Oh, yes, he’ll take it without complaining at all.

“Some crappy place a few blocks west.” Dean snorts and then grins. “Same shithole, different day, right?”

“You okay?”

Dean meets Sam’s bleary eyes steadily, says, “I’m fine, Sammy. You know, your nurse isn’t half bad. Bet she’d play ‘This Little Piggy’ with you if you asked real nice.”

Sam laughs, rolls his eyes. “I’ll leave that to you, man.”

“Hey, it’s not me acting like a toe wiggle is the cure for cancer, dude.”



Sam mouths something that looks like, “prick,” and is asleep. But he’s still smiling, and so is Dean.


“Rehab,” Sam says the next morning.

Dean nods cautiously. “Okay, so -- What’s that mean, exactly?”

“Rehabilitation, moron. Physical therapy.”

“I grasp the concept, Sam. How long?”

Sam glances out the window, his frown still in place. He’s been in an ugly mood since Dean got here, close on the heels of the departing neurosurgeon, and Dean wants to ask him what changed, what crawled up Sam’s ass last night and turned him into Queen Bitch of the Universe, but he’s trying really hard to be nice, be all supportive and shit, and he waits, semi-patiently, for the rest of the story.

“Two weeks,” Sam whispers. “In-patient, in a rehab hospital.”

Dean blinks. “That’s AFTER you get done here? Holy crap.”

“And then outpatient, two more weeks.” Sam turns his sour face back to Dean. “We don’t HAVE a month to sit around and do nothing,” he says.

“Well, it sure as hell beats a wheelchair the rest of your life, doesn’t it?”

It’s the wrong thing to say, somehow, he knows it when he sees Sam’s scowl. “Fuck you,” Sam says.

“Look, all I did was come see you, dude.” Dean raises his hands, leans back in his chair. “This is the way it is. You gotta deal. We both do.”

“And just how do you think we’ll pay for it, Dean?” Sam snaps. “You gonna hustle fourteen thousand games of pool for it? Knock over a convenience store, what?”

Dean looks away. “I already talked to them.”

“To who?”

“The hospital. Financial stuff.”

Sam’s staring at him so intently, Dean wants to fidget, and won’t. It blew, that long meeting yesterday afternoon. No goddamn credit cards would cover the amount of money they owe now. $90,000 and change, and Sam isn’t even out of the hospital yet.

“What did they say?”

Dean licks his lips and shrugs. “Charity case. They got this program, something. I got a card. Blue one. So we only gotta pay about ten percent, when it’s all said and done.”

“Dean, that’s still a lot of money –“

“Look, I’m not sitting here wringing my hands over my credit rating,” Dean says hoarsely. “That’s bullshit. I mean, we’re not even using real names. Whatever – It’s worth it, okay? Long as you get better. So shut up.”

Sam regards him silently, but the anger has left his eyes, and after a moment he nods. “I’d be so screwed if you weren’t here,” he says hoarsely.

“And don’t you forget it.” But Dean cracks a smile, and so does Sam, and it’s okay.


Sam’s going to the rehab facility on Friday. The night before, they eat contraband burgers Dean’s smuggled up to the floor and argue over whether to watch Survivor or some boring-ass rerun of a stuffed-shirt courtroom drama thing, and this time Dean wins, because first, Sam’s going to be fine, and this babying thing starts to get tiring after a while, and second, Dean’s got a thing for the blonde with the legs up past there.

“God forbid I should stand between you and your libido,” Sam grouches, and Dean gives him a sunny smile and takes the pickles off his burger.

He stays past time for him to leave, since nobody enforces shit anyway, and after the news is over and Leno’s yapping something about Bush, Dean asks, “You have your birth certificate?”

Sam’s sleepy, and yawns before he says, “A copy. Got it for Stanford, stashed it someplace.” He peers at Dean. “Why?”

Dean chews on his lip. “No reason, I don’t guess.” He glances at the tv. “Never had a copy, myself.”

“Does it matter?”



He looks back. “What?”

Sam’s sorta smiling and frowning at the same time. “It does matter, doesn’t it?” he asks softly.

Dean shrugs. “Just curious. I mean, never needed it for anything.”

“Not even for your driver’s license? The real one, that is?”

“Dad took care of that. We went together. Guess they didn’t need it or something. Whatever.”

But he looks away when he says it, because he remembers that day. They were in Oklahoma then, end of what passed for Dean’s sophomore year in high school, considering they’d lived four places already that year and Dean could see it in Dad’s eyes, the fact that they’d be hitting the road again soon. But Dean needed a license, was doing a hell of a lot of driving without one and only a matter of time before some state trooper got vigilant, so Dad drove him to the DMV and Dean took his tests, the Impala like an extension of his own body, and the guy in the passenger’s seat was actually impressed with Dean’s skills, complimented him. Dean nearly told him he’d been driving that car since he was twelve, but didn’t.

But he doesn’t remember his father flashing a birth certificate. Just Dean getting his picture taken, and a piece of paper for a temporary license until he got the real thing in the mail. Which missed them by the time it arrived; they were in Boise then, and Dean killed his first vampire and lost his virginity both the week before that envelope arrived marked “general delivery.”

Looked like a dork in the picture, anyway.

Sam clears his throat, and Dean looks at him reluctantly. “If it’s important to you,” Sam says, “then go get a copy.”

“We aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

“Almost. Easy drive.”

Nothing easy about it. Dean sighs. “Huh.”

“Want to know where to go? Go to –“

“I got it, I got it.” Dean flips him off and goes back to not-watching Leno.

Before he leaves, he tucks Sam in elaborately, just to piss him off. They start laughing, and the nurse comes in with Sam’s nightly pharmaceutical whammy and gripes at them for being noisy, so Dean skulks out, still grinning and shaking his head.

“Tomorrow morning!” Sam bellows behind him. “Be here before eight!”

“Or what?” Dean bellows back, ignoring the nurse.

“Dude, I’m in a hospital! You don’t think I can summon a ghost or a shade or something to open a can of ectoplasmic whoop-ass on you? Because I will! You mark my words!”

Dean’s laughing so hard he doesn’t have the breath to yell anything else, and when he leans in the door he sees tears streaming down Sam’s face, and he’s making that seal-barking noise that means he’s completely lost it and if he were eating or drinking anything he’d be snorting it out his nose. “I’ll be here,” Dean gasps, and has to hold himself up on the door frame until he can calm down enough to walk out again.

But he gasps little wheezes of laughter all the way down in the elevator, and people give him the funny looks but he doesn’t give a damn. Sam’s sprung tomorrow, and even if it’s just to go to another goddamn hospital, at least it’s progress in the right direction. That’s good enough for tonight.

He doesn’t bother with a shower when he gets to the room. Just goes to bed, not laughing anymore but still feeling that good ache in his belly, and he’s asleep before the whispering can even start.



The new hospital’s a lot the same as the old, just smaller. A little bit further from Dean’s motel, but that’s all right. He isn’t late, but really he’s just in the way; the transfer’s done by ambulance, and once Sam’s there they have a thousand tests to do and people practically lined up outside to go over schedules with him, all that happy crappy, so Dean says he’ll be back later that afternoon once all Sammy’s adoring public has left, and splits.

Driving to Topeka, he can hear the whisper again. Quieter now, like it knows it’s succeeded. Which is dumb, because that particular demon is deader than dead, and won’t be whispering its very not-sweet nothings to anyone ever again. But its voice lingers, like a tape loop from Hell, and Dean can’t help listening.

It’s an hour’s drive, but traffic’s a stone bitch, and it’s past noon before Dean finds the right office and gets a parking space. And then he’s gotta wait until they open after the lunch hour, but finally he’s there. The clerk is young and cute, and he talks on automatic pilot, smiling and complimenting her, seeing the quick warmth in her pretty brown eyes, and all the time he’s aware of his heartbeat, fast and light and anxious in his chest. He plops down his driver’s license and hopes she can’t tell it’s been altered, expired two years ago but the guy in Philly did real good work, and it passes without comment.

“It’ll be a few minutes before it’s ready,” she tells him. “Do you want it notarized?”

Dean shakes his head. “Nah. That’s okay. Just the copy.”

“We’ll call you when it’s done.” She bats thick eyelashes at him. “You want some coffee or something while you wait?”

“No, thanks. Nice of you to ask, though.”

She sucks on her lower lip and says, “Just doing my job,” in a tone that says they both know she never, but never, offers to get coffee for anyone.

It’s busy, lots of people, and his smile slips the minute he walks away from the counter. His hands are very cold. What does it mean? He’s here because some desperate entity based entirely on evil sussed out Dean’s weakest spots and took advantage of one of them. Christ, he’s acting like the rankest amateur. Dad would never have fallen for it, not in a million. Probably not Sam, either. But Dean, oh well, Dean’s the guy who always had to cling to people, and maybe Sam could talk about walking away from it all but Dean never could, and feels his blood pressure jump a hundred points every time Sam decides to dust off the old “you gotta let me go” speech. Dean isn’t sure what he’ll do when the actual day comes around again. Because it will, they’ll find what they’re after and kill its ass, and if they both make it through then Sam’s gone, and Dean isn’t sure he can let that happen, or what will happen if he stands in Sam’s way. Would it change his mind? Or just turn Dean into another obstacle to deal with? Like this fire demon, a roadblock between Sam and law school and normal life and all that?

Dean doesn’t know, and thinking about it hurts his head. His mouth is so dry he’s tempted to tell the clerk he’s changed his mind about the coffee, but drinks from a rusty-tasting water fountain instead, goes back to the window and stares out. Checks his watch every twenty seconds or so.

At half an hour he takes the battered smokes out of his jacket pocket and steps outside for a cig. Sam hasn’t asked why Dean smells smoky a lot of the time, and Dean figures he’s assuming it’s hustling some pool, bar-hopping, something. Only it really isn’t; he’ll quit when he’s not so tense, but he’s up to nearly a pack a day again, and it’s ridiculously comforting. He quit ages ago, and swore he’d never start up again, but it’s because it’s bad and nasty and something his dad hates that he ever did it at all, and now it just feels right.

Five minutes after he walks back in, the girl waves him over. She isn’t smiling. “I’m really sorry, sir, but we can’t locate any birth records for you in Kansas.”

Dean just stares at her. Her voice is ringing in his ears, really ringing, echoing like he’s inside some gigantic cave, and it takes him a second to get her meaning. Then he shakes his head. “You gotta have it. This is the right office, right?”

“You’re definitely in the right place for Kansas records, but I didn’t find a thing. I’m sorry, are you sure of the name, all that?”

“It’s my name,” Dean says hoarsely. “I’m pretty damn sure of it, yeah. I was born in Lawrence. Does that help?”

“We index by name as well as location and social security number. Is there any chance you could be listed under your mother’s maiden name?”

He licks his dry lips. “My folks got married in 1977. Two years before I was born. We lived in Lawrence until I was four.”

The girl looks honestly troubled. “I don’t know what to tell you. I did a comprehensive search. I found a lot of Winchesters statewide, but no Dean. Nothing.”

He keeps on looking at her, and finally swallows. “Okay, then. Thanks.”


His feet feel numb while he walks outside, stands on the sidewalk and breathes deeply. And in his mind, the demon laughs and laughs.


It’s early yet, and he has noplace to be. He has decided not to think about what’s just happened. It’s like touching a hot tooth with your tongue, or jostling a broken arm; it’s better to just be very still and don’t mess with it.

He drives east, and when the first Lawrence exit comes he takes it, driving as if his bones are made of glass. His heart is slow and not frantic; his hands are warm. Biofeedback, one of his dad’s weird buddies that long stint in Syracuse used to talk about that, controlling your bodily functions by absolute focus. Dean hadn’t bothered to tell the shithead he’d been practicing the same ideas all on his own for two years already, ever since Denton and the harpy. Sitting against that cold brick wall, in absolute darkness, one bullet left and no Dad and his blood like cold maple syrup in his twelve-year-old veins. He’d willed himself to be still as death, and hadn’t been at all amazed, just grateful, when everything slowed down, his pulse, his respiration, until he felt like part of that wall, solid and static and safe.

And when she’d crept out, fooled, he had calmly looked up and shot her right in her bitch’s face. Dad hadn’t even had to draw his weapon. It was one of the rare times when Dad had been sort of speechless, so impressed by that, and Dean would have been jazzed if he hadn’t had to go puke a few seconds later, because he had harpy brains all over his face and shirt.

He’s calm like that now, still and distant, but there’s a breathless feel to it too, as if this is the smooth glaze over a jagged cutting edge, and he will not, will NOT fuck with it. He drives aimlessly at first, glancing at semi-familiar landmarks, wondering when the pain will start. He doesn’t like coming to this town, didn’t like it when he was here with Sam a while back and likes it less now. But it’s appropriate, walk down memory lane, stop and smell the stupid flowers, so he slows in front of the park where he and Mom had gone every Saturday, and sometimes Dad, too, always to feed the ducks and play on the pretty decent equipment, hang out with other little kids and build some social skills. He doesn’t remember it well, just fragments, bits and pieces like a model someone just started to put together. He remembers a store on the corner, but there’s a fast-food place there now, and instead of an empty lot up ahead there’s a shopping center, and really, nothing looks like the memories he’s so carefully packed away for himself, safe where he doesn’t have to see them unless he wants to. Now he does, but they are nothing more than fleeting images, ghosts in his glassy machine, and they have very little power any longer.

He sits with the Impala idling at the corner, considering whether or not to turn or go straight. It should be a momentous decision, but after the events of a few months ago it, too, is weaker, and when he turns and drives by the house it seems smaller, just a place, a car in the driveway and mail on the mat. He doesn’t stop to check in. It’s in the past, and for the first time he can remember, he wonders if all of it should be there, too. All the memories, the quests, the hunting and searching and killing. What’s it for? Revenge? What does it change?

He parks near a pizza place close to the highway, but doesn’t get out. He’s shaking all over suddenly, and it’s like the harpy all over again, this desperate clawing for control. It proves nothing. Only that he’s a numb fuck who’d believe anything anyone said to him. No wonder Sam wants to get this over with and head back to sunny CA. Dean’s too dumb to live.

Sam. Sam will know what to do. Dean’s face is cold, and he reaches up and wipes his cheeks with dull surprise. He’s tired, that’s all. Tired, and he’ll never come to Lawrence again, so he’s saying goodbye to all this, those fabled happy first four years and the house where he lived for that time, and that’s why he’s cried. But he’s all right, and he’ll be better once he talks to Sam. Sam’s the one who’ll make it make sense. Because Sam’s good at that. Better than Dean ever was.

He hits the highway at a quarter of three, the numbness gone, speeding with Ozzy playing, that tape that’s been cranky ever since Sam stepped on it back outside Phoenix. The warble in the middle of “No More Tears” makes Dean smile instead of frowning like it usually does.


But Sam’s had a full day, a rough day from all appearances. He’s tired, cranky as shit, and plainly jealous that Dean’s been out fucking around and he’s stuck in a goddamn hospital bed.

“So what did you do?” Sam asks, in a tone that doesn’t want to know.

“Drove around, I guess. Went to Topeka. And Lawrence.”

Sam nods, and says, “Wow. Lawrence? What brought that on?”

Dean looks away. “Just on the way. You know, back here.”

“Right. Tell me another one.”

It’s on the tip of Dean’s tongue to say it. I did what you said, and you know what, there isn’t anything. What’s that mean, Sam? Clerical error? What?

He thinks it, and sees the exhaustion in Sam’s eyes, the tight lines around his mouth that don’t belong there, and bites it back. “No big deal,” he says instead, and they both know it’s a lie, but for different reasons, and Dean clears his throat. “So I’m thinking, you know. Since we’re gonna be here at least another month. Maybe I should get a job or something.”

“You?” Sam’s dryness sucks all the light right out of the air. “That’ll be the day.”

“Look, before I started dragging your whiny ass around with me everywhere, I had jobs. They were crap,” Dean admits before Sam can bitch, “okay, yeah. But I earned a paycheck here and there. You think I can hustle ALL the time? In my dreams, maybe.”

In fact he doesn’t mind pool, or the smoke and tension of a good risky game, but he’s never wanted to do it exclusively, and Kansas City isn’t a good location, in any case. He doesn’t have a lot of a face, but there are some guys who remember like fucking elephants, and most of those carry pool cues around with them like other men tote briefcases, so he thinks he’ll probably have to make do with fake plastic and whatever temp work he can pick up for a while.

It’ll work out. Always does.

“So did you walk?” Dean asks.

“Yes, I walked,” Sam snaps. “Fourteen steps. Are you happy now?”

Dean rocks back. “Dude, fuck me for living. I was just ASKING, all right? Would you mind taking the fangs out of my throat?”

“Dean, I’m really tired.” Sam doesn’t even try to sugarcoat it. He just lays it out. “And this –“ He swallows and looks away. “Is not where I want to be. So.”

“So leave you the fuck alone, that what you’re saying?” Dean gets up, smoothes his jeans unnecessarily. “All right, I can do that.”

“Sorry. Just – been a long day.”

“Tell me about it,” Dean mutters, and makes himself pat Sam’s shoulder before he heads for the door. “Can I come see you tomorrow, or will you still think I look like a guy who needs two assholes?”

That gets him a weak puff of laughter, and Sam says, “Come back tomorrow.”

“Okay. But I’m wearing a crucifix just in case.”

“You’re such a dick.”

“Takes one to know one, little buddy.”

He ducks the box of tissues Sam flings at him, and goes out.

And in the middle of the parking lot, just as his hand grabs the Impala’s door handle, it swarms up in his throat, a choking mass of confusion and anger and thickest of all, grief so profound it rips the air from his chest, makes him wheeze and cough like a 40-year smoker.

Oh Christ, let it all be a mistake. Let this not be real. Because if it is, he is lost. Completely, totally lost.

It takes too long for him to get his shit back, and even then he’s panting like he’s run a five-minute mile, dizzy and frantic with the need to be someplace else, someplace with walls and a locked door and safety. So he hauls ass to the motel, parks the Impala crooked, and when the safety bolt is shot he leans against the door, listening to the steam-engine chug of his breathing and thanking God he’s here.

He slumps on the bed, pulls the ancient chenille coverlet over his legs and up to his chin, and lies unblinking as evening turns to night, the random flash of car headlights in the window, the distant sounds of traffic and people talking, dogs barking, a plane overhead. Inside his room it is quiet as a grave.



Sam’s shaking like a leaf, but he’s walking, and the sight of it fills Dean with such relief his own knees aren’t any too steady. It’s not a surprise that Sam’s fine, but it’s something to cling to, and Dean nods and calls out about the gym shorts thing and Sam’s chicken legs, and when Sam flips him off both Dean and the therapist laugh.

“So you’re basically fine,” Dean says as he pushes Sam’s wheelchair back to his room. “And all this is your idea of a vacation, right?”

“Yes, Dean, I always wanted to spend a couple of weeks in a rehab hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. You mean you don’t share the dream?”

“More an Omaha man, myself. But whatever trips your trigger, dude.”

It’s true, Sam’s walking, but he’s not any too steady on his feet, and when Dean studies his face after they reach the room he sees exhaustion, and it’s instinct that makes him ask, “Speaking of dreams. Any nightmares?”

Sam makes a face. “Just about the food.”

Dean smiles, nods, and then says, “Seriously. Because you aren’t sleeping, are you?”


“And translated into actual meaningful words that’s what? An hour or two a night?”

Sam sighs and shrugs. “Probably more.”

“Maybe. Look, why don’t you take a nap or something? I can split, it’s not –“

“No, stick around. Unless –“ Sam narrows his eyes. “You get a job?”

“Not yet. Thought I’d check with some agencies on Monday.” Dean spreads his arms like a potentate. “You’re fortunate enough to have me at your complete disposal for the entire day.”

“Be still my beating heart,” Sam says, and grins. The grin goes away too fast. “You’ve been letting it slide, haven’t you?” he asks. “The work. The hunting.”

“You kidding? I wasted a vamp on my way home last night. Piece of cake.”

“You know, most people would think you were kidding.”

“Ah, but we…are not most people, are we?”

Sam shakes his head. “I’m not the only one who looks tired, man. You weren’t…serious about the vampire last night, were you?”

“Does watching ‘Queen of the Damned’ count?”

“That movie sucked.”

“But she was a serious babe.”

“Only you could make it sound like porn instead of a horror movie.”

“What can I say? It’s a gift.”

“Hey, did you ever go get that birth certificate?”

Dean blinks, licks his lower lip. “I told you about that, remember? Topeka?”

Sam frowns. “You said you went, yeah.”


“So you got it.”


“Lemme see it.”

Dean smiles. “It’s in the car, dude. I don’t carry it around with me. Just a piece of paper.”

“I know. Still.”

“What? You sound like you want to look at baby pictures next.” Dean squints at him. “You sure they didn’t perform a little elective gender-reassignment surgery while you were –“

“Would you stop calling me a girl every time I talk about anything that doesn’t involve guns and/or blood?” Sam shoves his too-long hair out of his eyes, and sighs theatrically. “That shtick’s getting old.”

There are fifteen dozen possible responses on the tip of Dean’s tongue: automatic as breathing, natural, appropriate. He can’t say any of them. It’s hard to banter right now, it’s tiring, and he isn’t about to tell Sam that sleep and Dean have been distant neighbors waving at each other across a wide field and then going their separate ways for the past few nights. Sam’s the one with the bad dreams. Dean just can’t sleep. It isn’t a problem, just a brief annoyance. Not the same.

But he can’t come up with anything stronger than, “Yeah, you’re right,” and that gets Sam’s attention just as Dean hasn’t wanted to.

“You aren’t okay, are you?” Sam sits up, although it costs him some. His nostrils flare wide like he can smell it. “What’s wrong? Is it Dad?”

“Last time I heard from Dad was the same time you heard from him,” Dean says. “Nope.” Something stirs in his belly, something rigid and hot and duskily angry.

“So what is it?” Sam presses. “Is it money?”

“No, it’s not MONEY, Christ, Sammy, lay off. Move along.”

Sam nods crisply. “So, like always, it’s okay for you to worry about me, but when it comes time for me to worry about YOU, then just, you know, fuck you, Sam.”

Dean leans forward, propelled by the sudden surge of bleakness inside him. “If there’s something to worry about, then knock yourself out,” he says tightly. “But for once in your life would you stop pushing? Should I learn how to say this shit in Norwegian or something? Maybe Spanish? Because what’s it gonna take for you to just stop asking so many motherfucking QUESTIONS?”

Sam’s gone very pale, and doesn’t say anything, doesn’t move, nothing. It’s just come out of nowhere for him, and the crazy part is, it’s done the same for Dean, because he has no idea why he’s this angry all of a sudden. Just is, and right now he’d like to just walk. Just fucking walk away, stop it all.

And that’s enough to make him sit up straight, shocked more deeply than by anything else that’s gone on since that godawful night with the demon, because nothing – nothing, period – has ever made him really, truly think he could just turn his back on all of it. The work, his dad. Sam. Only for a second, he’s seen it clear as day: what it would be like, if he could really just bail, just flip all of it the bird and hit the bricks.

But he’s seen it, and what he’s seen is – nothing. Just a gigantic, endless space of nothing at all. And how crazy is that, that he can’t picture ANYTHING? Why is that?

“Jesus, Dean,” Sam whispers. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Long day,” Dean says in his rusty, automatic voice, and looks away before he can see Sam not buying it, as usual. “Listen, I gotta run a couple of errands, all right? I’ll be back later.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

He makes it halfway to the door before Sam says, “You’re in my dreams.”

Dean freezes, doesn’t look back.

Sam sounds meditative, distant. “At least I think it’s you. You won’t look at me. Like you won’t right now. It’s – foggy or something. And I think, He’s lost, Dean’s lost, and if he’d just come with me, follow me, I could make sure he’s safe. He’s found.”

“That a vision or a threat?” Dean asks hollowly.

“Just now -- Is it me you’re pissed at, Dean? Because if it is –“

“Not pissed at anybody.” It takes everything he has to turn, meet Sam’s imploring eyes. “Way to take things personally, bro.”

It’s true, he’s not pissed AT Sammy, but he can’t say it, and Sam doesn’t believe it. “Maybe it’s just a dream,” Sam says stiffly. “Or maybe it’s something else.”

Dean shifts from one foot to another, hands in his pockets. Deeply unsure of himself, as discussion of these weird visions of Sam’s always make him. Doesn’t seem right, Sam all psychic and shit. Not that Dean doesn’t believe it. He’s got no reason not to, and more than one reason to trust whatever the hell it is Sam can do. But it’s as if the things they fight on a near-daily basis, or did before Sam got shot, have blurred the lines somehow, violated the little bubble of normal the two of them carry around with them. Normal, like, ordinary. Just two guys. Sam’s not just his brother any longer, he’s something else, too, and Dean doesn’t like being reminded of that. Not when it’s so far beyond anything he himself can understand, or help with. He’s just a goddamn bystander, some loser watching the train wreck that’s Sam’s life, and he’s never liked it, never will like it. He likes things he can punch, shoot, stab, not fucking premonitions.

“Well, I’m not lost,” he says more sharply than he means. “So you can cross that one off your list. And in case you forgot, I’m not much of the following type.”

There’s no anger in Sam’s dark eyes, only worry. “You in trouble, Dean?” he asks softly. “You’d tell me if you were. Right?”

“Right,” Dean says flatly. “Sure. Now can I go, or you want to extend this little bonding session some more?”

“Come on, Dean. Christ –“

“Look, I can’t go by – dreams and shit. All right? I deal with what’s in front of me. That’s what I do. So, you know, that’s the way things are. Right?”

Now Sam IS wounded, and Dean recognizes it with a dull sense of familiarity. He clears his throat and shakes his head. “Just got shit on my mind, Sammy. Don’t take it so goddamn personally.”

Sam looks away.

“See you later, okay?”

“Yeah. See you later.”

Sam still hasn’t looked at him when Dean shrugs and heads back to the door.


Face or not, he’s getting very low on cash, and the motel room’s on plastic but he likes to eat occasionally, too, so he winds up in a bar he remembers from two or three years back, some grungy place where nobody comes for the ambience, and they’re all there to play. Not Dean’s usual sort of place; there aren’t many women, and those who do show are there to watch the play, not drink and get picked up.

For this, he takes the cue from the back of the Impala. Doesn’t usually use it, not for hustling; walk in with an expensive cue and it’s like a neon sign over your head saying “shark.” But he’s not hustling tonight, he’s really playing, and he eyes the hand-lettered sign on the front door, tournament, checks out the prize money and thinks that would help. No illusions he’ll get it, but a few good games might help his piss-poor mood.

He sees a few guys he recognizes, fewer who recognize him. It’s so smoky it looks like fog, and he thinks about Sam’s goddamn dreams and then shakes his head, shakes it off.

“Gonna play or just contemplate your navel?”

Dean stares at the bearded guy with the sign-up sheet and shrugs. “Either one, if there’s money in it,” he says, and the guy gives a slow grin.

He drinks Coke, because booze fucks his concentration, not to mention his game, and shakes hands with his first opponent, a long skinny drink of water who’d look geeky if it weren’t for the leathers he wears. Heavy Buddy-Holly glasses and hands the size of truck tires. He reminds Dean of Sam, in a sort of unwashed way, and Dean wearily acknowledges the stab of guilt in his belly and watches the break. Nothing goes in, and he slides his hand over his cue, thinks, All right, then, and looks for the one ball.

It’s good, not hustling, not constantly thinking about sixty things while he’s also trying to play. Just the stick and the green, and the single ball wearing stripes instead of solids. His cue feels like it’s grafted onto his arm, just pointing where those balls are gonna go, and they obey like good little soldiers, marching off to battle, one after another. He skips the combo shot because he ain’t in the mood, and doesn’t pay any attention to the guy standing nearby looking uneasy. He’s completely inconsequential. There’s Dean and the table, and that’s all that matters.

They run to five, and Dean shakes the guy’s sweaty hand and finishes his Coke, waiting for his next assignment.

More people watch his second set, and there are plenty of sightseers for the third, because this one’s a local hero, and odds-on favorite. He’s good, too, not a banger like most, but Dean’s a wild card and he never smiles, and it makes this good old boy kinda nervous. Still runs out two games, then chokes on the six, and Dean sweeps up the mess, sinks the nine on the snap, and it’s all over from there.

“New around here,” the guy says when Dean’s chalking up for another break.

“Just passing through,” Dean tells him coldly.


Dean smiles at him, and the guy looks away.

There are people talking while they set up for the final set. Dean hears some of it, doesn’t react. He’s not really surprised to be here. It’s a fucking local tourney, ain’t like they’re in Vegas or Tahoe playing for a hundred grand on ESPN or something, and he’s always been good under pressure. Has to be, he’s made a lot of money acting his way through shit, and pool is lots of things but ultimately it’s just a game. Dean understands games, plays them every single fucking day, ones that take cues and ones that don’t, and so he’s solid going on, not rattled by this guy’s scary break, sinks three balls and plays with a deadly kind of concentration that matches Dean’s own. They don’t speak, and the room is artificially quiet, just the balls and the felt and two guys going at it in this civilized version of a duel.

For a while Dean thinks, clinically, he’s screwed. His opponent runs it out over and over, and by the time he finally jaws the three Dean’s already down four-nothing. But he doesn’t think of all that green felt as a proving ground. Just fertile fields, and he takes a deep breath and lets it out and pushes everything else away, not even noticing very much as the balls are racked, the collective sigh when he nails it on the snap again. Just a moment to thank Theodore in long-lost Syracuse, he of the unfiltered Pall Malls and long brown teeth, and hours of playing in a dim cave of a basement hall after Dean sneaked out of their rat-infested apartment house. Theodore taught him that break, showed him how to stop the ball in the middle of the table and let it all unfold, and Dean’s taller now and heavier, but he still thinks of his fifteen-year-old self and the taste of the Shirley Temples Pam the bartender used to serve him, and the feel of Theodore’s ropy muscular arm over his shoulders when Dean started beating him regularly.

This guy’s not a good loser. Dean shakes his head and doesn’t wince when the grip is way too tight, just gives his narrow smile and goes to collect his money. It’s enough to see him through a few weeks, since the room’s paid for, and he thinks, Ought to go apologize to Sam, and refuses the drinks some of the guys are offering. Thanks, gotta run, it’s late, you know how it is.

The guy’s waiting by the Impala. Dean sees him with no surprise. So this is how it’s gonna be.

Fine. Bring it on.

“Sandy Blackwood says he remembers you from Dallas.” The guy isn’t making any moves yet. Just staring at him, still poker-faced.

“Could be,” Dean says. “What difference does it make?”

“Said he’d beat your face in next time he saw you.”

Dean smiles. “He can try. What, you gonna try too?”

For the first time, the guy smiles, and it’s not angry. Musing, maybe. “So what’s your story, kid?” he asks. He slides his hands into his pockets, and Dean tenses, but nothing else happens. “New in town, what?”

“Checking out the competition?”

“Damn straight.”

“Just passing through. Hanging out for a while.”

The guy takes cigarettes out of his pocket, and offers Dean one. He takes it, eyes narrowed suspiciously. “You got a hell of an arm, and you don’t choke,” the guy says, still sounding like he’s discussing stock-market trends or something. Calm. “You ever thought about going on the circuit?”

Dean blinks at him. “Like, play for real? No way.”

“There’s some money in it, if you got the nuts.”

“You gonna back me or something, that what you’re saying?” Dean snorts, looks away. “Why don’t you go yourself? You almost had me back there.”

“Think about it.” The guy takes a drag off his cigarette and goes for his breast pocket, takes out a card. “Name’s Scott Ely.”

Dean takes the card but doesn’t look at it. “Dean.”

“Just Dean, huh.”


Ely turns to go, then looks back. “Want some advice?”

Dean just looks at him.

“Don’t hustle any games while you’re in town. Sandy’s spreading the word. You won’t find any games, and they’ll hurt your hands.”

Dean nods, and rolls his eyes a little. “Whatever.” He rubs the toe of his boot against his pants leg. “Thanks,” he says awkwardly.

Ely shrugs and walks away.



His winnings from the tourney mean he really doesn’t have to find legit work any time terribly soon. So he isn’t quite sure why, on Monday evening, he lets Sam think he got a job. But the pressure in his head is back, strong as ever, and while he watches Sam pick at a tray of congealed hospital food he thinks, There has to be a way. A way to make this dead demon’s voice go away, lose its power, something. He’s already done his best to make sure it isn’t still with him in any tangible form. He isn’t possessed, as far as he can tell. But he might as well be, because he can’t stop thinking about having no record of his birth, about never hearing stories of his mom pregnant with him. Tons of stories about baby Sammy, but none about baby Dean. Little-kid Dean, sure. But nothing else.

“So did it suck or what?” Sam asks, after pushing the tray away with a look of total disgust.

Dean looks up. “Huh?”

“The job. You look beat.”

Dean turns his mouth down. “Of course it sucked, dude. It was WORK.”

That gets him a smile, but truth is, his day did suck, and it wasn’t because he was doing some shit temp job digging holes or working construction. Instead he spent his day alternately staring at the walls and doing an endless series of pushups and sit-ups and obsessively cleaning his weapons, and wondering just exactly how to proceed. He’s tired but he hasn’t DONE anything, and the lies are starting to pile up.

Sam’s looking like he’s picked up on some of that, and he draws a breath, but the door opens and a nurse or tech or something comes in, a pretty one, and there’s a bustle of drawing blood and checking Sam’s vital signs, so Sam forgets.

Watching, Dean’s stomach turns, a fast nauseating twist. Well, there’s one option, isn’t there? If he can work it. And he can, piece of cake.

The cute nurse chick is talking to Sam, leaning over and taking his pulse. It’s easy to palm one of the vials of blood sitting in her tray over by the sink. Dean slips it in his pocket, sees neither of them notice. His heart thumps in his chest, fast and hectic.

After she goes, Dean says, “So when do you get out for real?”

“Week from Friday.” Sam sits up, swings his legs over the side.

“You sure you should be doing that?”

“What, getting out? Shit, Dean, it’s already –“

“No, I mean. That.”

Sam gives him an impatient eye-roll. “I like toilets better than bedpans.”

“See your point.”

Watching Sam trudge to the bathroom, Dean feels the split inside himself widening. It’s good to see Sam walking, even though any bozo can see he’s miles away from being as easy on his feet as before the shooting. He’s better, though, and one side of Dean is almost tearfully glad to see it.

And the other side, the one gloating over the little glass tube in his pocket, sits back and says, Maybe it’s not your responsibility at all, Dean-o. Ever thought about that?

His throat tightens over senseless grief, and he swallows, once, twice, pressing his lips together at the chance that some of it might spill out and make Sam notice. Can Sam read his mind? He’s good at seeing the future. What’s in Dean’s future? If Sam’s seen it, he isn’t saying. And Dean has no idea if he wants to know.

They watch tv, don’t talk much. And the contemplative study is back in Sam’s eyes as he watches Dean get ready to go.

“It isn’t that late.”

Dean gives him a flashy smile. “Some of us gotta work tomorrow.”

Sam nods slowly. “Yeah. Okay. You’ll be back tomorrow night?”

“Well, lemme check my busy social calendar. Yeah, I think I can pencil you in.”

Sam smiles, but he catches Dean’s swinging hand, clenches it hard. “Sorry about all this,” he says, and his eyes are so earnest and kind Dean feels something unzipping inside himself, all his anger and confusion boiling out until it’s all he can do to return the pressure, give a stiff nod.

“Shit happens,” he says hoarsely. “Don’t worry about it.”

He walks fast down the hallway, avoids the elevator and goes to the stairwell. On a beige-painting landing he stands and presses his fists to his mouth, holds back the cry that wants so much to come out. It’s going to drive him insane, if he isn’t already, and he leans against the wall and closes his eyes and rocks a little, swallowing it until he can take his hands away and not scream out loud.


What sticks with him is how easy it is to put in motion. He’s got Sam’s blood, and his own. Doesn’t much need anything else, does he?

It’s early when he sets out the next morning, but he hasn’t slept anyway, and he’s been waiting impatiently for business hours. The building’s in the middle of a big office park, twisting roads and not enough street signs, but at ten after eight he’s walking into the lobby, his hands so cold he can barely feel the little vial he’s been touching like a talisman.

The receptionist looks like she needs another cup or ten of coffee. She gives him an “oh great, it’s that time already” look and says, “Can I help you?”

Dean is a little startled that his automatic smile doesn’t work. Always does, but this morning his face is frozen. “I was – “ He clears his throat. “Wanted to see about getting a test done.”

The woman’s expression is professionally encouraging. “Which test were you wanting?”

“My brother. And me.”

A moment later she hands him paperwork, and Dean stares at the print at the top, siblingship, and wants to weep. “Fill this out, and we’ll be with you shortly.”

There’s no one else in the tidy little foyer. He sits in an uncomfortable chair and fills out the forms, hands them back. And a few minutes later a man pokes his head out, beckons him into a little office.

And really, it’s quite simple. Blood isn’t even needed, although in the absence of anything else it will do. And all they need from Dean is a few cheek swabs.

“It would be best if we had something from one or both of your parents, as well,” the guy tells him, after stowing the samples away. He has a kind face, one that’s probably used to comforting expressions.

“They’re dead,” Dean says, stoic now that it’s done. “Don’t have anything.”

The guy nods. “All right, then. The usual turnover time for these tests is anywhere from two to four weeks. We’ll contact you when –“

“Can you do it any faster?” Dean asks.

The man purses his lips, gives a little shrug and a nod. “There’s a significantly higher charge for rapid processing.”

Dean nods. “How much?”

The figure the man names will take almost all of his winnings. Dean doesn’t hesitate. “That’ll work.”

“Very good.”

He pays, and walks outside. It’s a pleasant morning, birds singing, puffy white clouds in the blue, blue sky, and Dean shivers in the strong sunlight and makes himself move forward.


He’s broke again, and there’s no little sense of irony while he goes to an agency after all, signs up with really good fake documents and nods when the manager asks if he’ll do industrial stuff, construction or line work or whatever. Anything. Just need a few bucks, that’s all.

He winds up with factory work, packing crates of tortillas and tamales on the outskirts of town, and two days of that prove the fact that Dean isn’t cut out for regular work. Physical labor’s one thing; it’s the crushing boredom he can’t handle. His coworkers all speak Spanish, he can’t understand one word in ten, and his back is killing him by the end of the second day. It isn’t faked this time when Sam asks if he’s tired. He’s dead on his feet, and dozes off in the middle of some boring-ass documentary on the hospital tv channel, only waking when Sam nudges him with absurd gentleness and tells him it’s nearly eleven o’clock.

“Tortillas?” Sam asks, his face too old with his consternation. “Aw, man, that’s all you could get?”

“Not so bad,” Dean lies, and shoves his hand in his pocket, looking for his keys. “Sorry about tonight.”

“Nah, don’t worry.” But Sam’s eyes are worried. “I just wish you didn’t have to do this.”

“It’ll be all right.”

“I wish I could help.” Sam’s fist thumps down on the mattress. “God damn it, I am so fucking useless.”

For a second Dean can’t think of anything to say. He’s doing what he’s always done – taking care of Sammy, run, Dean, take your brother and run – but the split-off other half of him doesn’t like it. He thinks about Scott Ely’s card in his wallet, about the various ways he could earn money without having to work a conveyor belt in a factory with a bunch of guys jabbering Spanish around him, sweating and earning minimum wage, and his mouth fills with bitterness. Like carrying around a hundred-pound pack on his back, 24/7. Responsibility. Take care of your brother. Maybe it was never his duty to begin with.

“Chill,” he tells Sam, pats his arm mechanically. “Pretty soon you’ll be outta here. And believe me, I ain’t working in a tortilla factory forever.”

He doesn’t go to work the next morning. Drinks coffee in a café and thinks about the skinny stack of cash in his wallet, doesn’t think about where the rest of it went. Or the five days of limbo that stretch out in front of him, every tick of the clock like another nail in the coffin of his deepest beliefs. He should do things. Things like maybe steal some money. Or look for some other job, only it’ll just be shit, too, guys like him don’t get hired for the cushy office work. Sam would. Sam would look all shiny and squeaky-clean and cute, and they’d snap him up in a heartbeat. But Dean’s just not wired the same way, never was, and now he tries not to think of maybe the reason for that, the real reason.

He stiffs the waitress’s tip because he can’t afford to drop anything more than a buck, but what the hell, it’s a goddamn single cup of coffee, isn’t like she could have expected much anyway.

That afternoon he calls Scott Ely, and at ten that night he slips away from the hospital -- that old work excuse sure comes in handy – and drives to a tiny bar on East 39th Street.

Ely buys them a pitcher, and Dean wolfs down bar snacks, familiarly greasy and the only kind of food that sounds good to him anymore. Ely watches him, and says, “So what’s your story, Dean No-Last-Name?”

Dean eats a pretzel and shrugs. “What’s yours?”

“I’m going to Reno this weekend. Business. You should come.”

Dean swallows icy beer, wiping his mouth on a tiny paper napkin. “What’s in Reno? Tournament or something?”

Ely shakes his head slowly. “Money. Lots of it.”

“I’m listening.”

Ely’s voice is smooth, crisp as new twenties straight out of the drawer. “I’ll back you. Seventy-thirty. You’ll play first night at a place I know. Downtown.”

Dean pushes the food around on his plate, licks ketchup off his finger. Salt tastes good; maybe he’s dehydrated or something. “Not tournaments, then.”

“Nothing new to you. Or am I wrong?”

“Why take the chance? You got money to burn or something?”

Ely smiles. “It’s fun. Isn’t that why you do it?”

Dean doesn’t smile back. “No,” he says simply. “It’s not.”

“But it is fun. Isn’t it?”

“I dunno, sometimes.” Dean shifts, looks at the dark window. “Look, I got – things, dude, I got somebody in the hospital, and I can’t just walk away –“

“This person dying?”

Dean looks back reluctantly. “No.”

“Two nights. The money will be good, Dean, if you can do what I think you can.”

He thinks about Sam stuck in that godforsaken hospital, thinks about the bills he’s racking up at the motel and how once Sam gets out it’ll be worse, hoping they can get away from here before they gotta pay all of it, and he supposes that’s why he nods. “How good?” he asks.

Ely’s still smiling. “Good enough,” he says.



Reno’s hot and dry and somehow depressing, but the second night he plays in a private hall where the drinks are free and the atmosphere is as thick and crushing as diving 2,000 feet underwater, and Dean welcomes the buzz of adrenaline, the flat dark eyes of his opponents. He walks away with Scott Ely quite a bit richer, and when Ely invites Dean for a drink, he says no. Ought to celebrate, but he just feels tired now.

In his own room he calls Sam, just to check in.

“You didn’t get beat up, did you?” Sam asks.

Dean laughs a little, and shakes his head. “Nah. Kinda fun, really.”

“How much did you win?”

“Enough that if I never see another fucking tortilla again it’ll be too soon, man.”

Sam’s laugh is relieved. “So get your ass back here, okay? I’m so stir-crazy I think the nurses are drawing straws or something so they don’t have to come in here.”

“Just a few more days and you’re sprung. Not that long.”

“Thank GOD.”

Dean smiles. “Be there tomorrow, Sammy.”

“Counting on it.”

He hangs up, and thinks, Tomorrow is Monday. Monday.

He sleeps a little, and the rest of the night he listens to the quiet hiss of the air conditioner, the muffled thump of footfalls in the hallway and feels cool crisp sheets against his skin, and thinks about the harpy he killed when he was twelve. The werewolf at thirteen, the mazukin, the zombies, the yeti that kept bleeding and wouldn’t fucking DIE when he was fourteen. The vampire when he was sixteen, and the girl he’d fucked two nights later, feeling her cool skin under his fingers and wondering if he could come because instead of her pretty high-school face he saw the wooden stake protruding from her bright blue eye.

He has seen himself as a knight-errant, a paladin, righting wrongs, vanquishing demons, but the images seem faked to him now, bad Photoshopping, laughable really. It’s his father’s quest, not his, and Dean is a hollow imitation, a kid wearing his dad’s clothes and shoes, trying to pass. Sam had it right. Sam saw the falsity of it, the fruitlessness, even when they were kids. It’s been Dean, all along, who bought it hook, line, and sinker.

He stares at the dim light on the ceiling, hears a woman’s low laughter outside and a man’s answering indistinct words, and closes his dry eyes.

The drive back is boring and long, Ely jabbering nonstop on his sleek little cell phone, setting up another gig someplace. Dean doesn’t think he’ll be there, but doesn’t bother telling Scott that. If he thinks Dean’s trustworthy, he deserves whatever he gets.

He drops Ely at his car and nods when he says he’ll call. He will, Dean’s sure of it, nice pickings this trip and more where it came from, and yes, it would be one way to make a living for a while. But he’s no longer interested in pool. It’s just a means to an end, one he’ll exploit if he needs to but doesn’t give a rat’s ass about otherwise.

He changes clothes at the motel, pays the manager another week’s worth, and drives to the lab. It’s a different guy this time, but the expression’s the same, cautious and calm, and Dean listens with acute interest.

“We determine siblingship by calculating an index of genetic variations.” The guy taps the folder in front of him, laces his fingers together. “We also did Y-paternal testing, since mitochondrial DNA testing requires material from the mother, and that was not available.”

Dean nods. He feels calmer than he expected. Easier.

“The index of variation between yourself and the sample you provided turned up below 1.0. It’s not 100% conclusive, but it’s very solid evidence.”

He looks at Dean, and Dean says, “Okay.”

The man pulls out another sheet of paper. “The Y chromosome passes from father to son fairly unchanged, even for a number of generations. The Y chromosomes in the samples we tested were comprised of different genetic markers. Again, with a margin for error. But this particular test will stand up in court, if you need.” He raises his eyebrows.

“Nah,” Dean says. “Don’t think that’ll happen.”

“Based on these two tests, I think we can say pretty definitively that this person is not a blood relation.”


There’s a little more. But finally the guy hands him the papers, and Dean’s walking away, out the door.


Sam’s expression when Dean walks in late that night is one he hates. Determined, focused.

“We gotta talk,” he says without preamble.

Dean sits down in the nearby chair, wishing for a cigarette. He cut back, and now he’s hooked again, monkey once more on his back. “You got way too much time on your hands,” he says tiredly. “Need a distraction.”

“Was it really enough? The money?”

Dean faces him squarely. “Don’t worry about it. Hey, how you feeling?”

Sam gives an impatient blink. “Bored and ready to leave,” he says. “Same as every day. Dean –“

“I said don’t sweat it,” Dean interrupts, feeling his face tightening with fast, too-fast anger. “Relax. We’re flush.” He stares at Sam, knowing he shouldn’t, unable to stop. How’d he ever believe they were brothers? They look nothing alike. Sam’s got Dad written all over him. Dark eyes, heavier beard than Dean, that mouth. Just a little blurred with Mom’s DNA. But Dean’s never looked like any of them. Wrong eyes, wrong lips, wrong build. He’s been so goddamn blind.

Sam’s hand closes on Dean’s wrist, cold and startling. “Start talking, Dean,” he says tightly, “or so help me, I’ll –“

“What?” Dean snaps. “Come after me? Like to see that, bro.”

Sam’s earnest eyes narrow. “What is up with you? Jesus, you’re so – hostile.”

Dean doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and the hell of it is, he can see Sam knowing that. Like touching gives Sam’s Spidey senses another way into him, burrowing in and peeking at the inside of his brain, and Dean yanks his hand back with a swallow of automatic revulsion. “I know what you’re doing,” he says thickly. “And you can fuck off. Go – bend a spoon or some shit. Don’t try that with me.”

“Try what?” Sam’s look is honestly bewildered. “I’m not TRYING anything. What, you think I can read your MIND or something?” He snorts, sags back in the bed. “Believe me, I wish I could sometimes. Maybe then I’d actually understand you.”

“Well,” Dean jeers, wishing he could shut up and feeling himself unable to, “guess you’re down here with the rest of us, then, huh? Just have to make do with no superpowers at all. Sucks, doesn’t it?”

Sam doesn’t rise to the bait. His eyes are wary, and hurt, and above all confused. “You – changed,” he says softly. “Something happened. Please, Dean, will you please just tell me?”

“Stop using that – Psych 101 bullshit on me. Okay? If I wanna talk, I’ll talk, but right now just leave me the fuck ALONE.”

By the end of it he’s yelling, and he hears his words bounce off the walls, knows he’s a millimeter from completely losing it, and he stands fast, fights down a wave of dizziness and says, “I gotta go.”

“Dean.” Sam’s pale as the sheets he’s lying on. “My dream –“

“FUCK your fucking dreams,” Dean spits. “You want to know how sick I am of hearing about that shit? ‘Dean, I dreamed about this, we gotta do what I say.’ Over and over and OVER again! They’re YOUR dreams, Sam! I’m not your – interpreter! Just – deal with it!”

Sam looks away, and some dark, horrible part of Dean cackles with glee, seeing the anger, the red spots high on Sam’s pale cheeks, the big hands clenching into the blanket. “So go,” Sam says, with that tight control Dean envies, and hates. “Get out, Dean.”

“My pleasure,” Dean tells him, but it isn’t, even before he gets to the door, he’s bleeding, can’t Sam SEE that? All those visions and shit, can’t he see THIS? Except of course he can’t, he has no more idea of it than Dean did, Dad never told either of them, and they’ve lived their entire lives thinking they knew what was what and Sam still thinks it.

But he’s boiling, he’s almost stumbling with this hot black rage inside him, ichor bubbling instead of blood, and he’s down the hall and pounding down the stairs, teeth clenched so hard he can hear enamel squeaking. And he can’t tell who he’s mad at, if it’s Sam, for being real, for not having to find out he’s not who he thinks he is, or Dad for not ever telling him the truth, or MOM for dying and letting him believe for twenty-two YEARS that she loved him, that he was really hers and not some stranger’s cast-off runt.

He drives badly, blindly, and doesn’t remember getting to the motel. There’s his room, and his stuff all scattered around, goddamn lousy housekeeper without Sam around to call him on it, and Dean stands in the middle of the room with his hands pressed against his face, because if he can hold tightly enough he won’t simply fly apart with the force of this anger, this rage, screaming inside his head.

He coughs a sound that’s bestial, that isn’t anger or grief or anything really even human, and takes Dad’s journal and flings it across the room. It splits open against the wall, sending papers spiraling through the air, fluttering to the floor, and Dean grins through his tears and strides over, falling to his knees and grasping the pages, crumpling them with his fists.



The phone drags him out of a sodden, dreamless sleep, and it takes him a moment to focus enough to flip it open and answer.

“You scared the shit out of me,” Sam says on the other line. “Where the hell have you been?”

Dean blinks heavily, stares at his watch. It’s nearly seven, and from the angle of the light pushing at the window it’s not AM, it’s PM. “Here,” he says after a moment. “Asleep.”

“I’ve left you about forty voice mails. Damn it, Dean, don’t DO this to me.”

“Do what?” His brain is foggy, and he frowns as he sits up. “What’d I do?”

Sam snorts. “Completely freak your shit last night? That ring a bell?”

Dean doesn’t answer for a moment, staring around the motel room. It’s completely and utterly trashed, and not because he doesn’t pick up after himself. Bedside lamp smashed, table overturned, even the goddamn chair’s in at least three pieces. He’s been sleeping on a bare mattress; the sheets are every which way, ripped in shreds. And over it all, tiny pieces of paper, like confetti. The remnants of a parade or something.

And he doesn’t remember doing it. It slams into him with all the power of a yeti on speed: he flipped, fugued right the fuck out, and that was after losing it in front of Sam, and THAT was after –

Dean swallows. “Yeah, kinda,” he says hoarsely. “Sorry about that.”

“Dean, I know you’re not all right. Okay? I know there’s something going on, something big, and I’m not sitting on my ASS while you – whatever it is you’re doing. Where are you staying?”

Dean swings his legs over the side of the bed, stepping gingerly over splintered fake wood. “Dude, it’s not –“

“Just tell me.”

He finds one boot – he’s still fully dressed except for that – and upends it, sees a few pieces of confetti-paper drift out. “Skyland Motel. Why?”

“I’ll be there after a while.”

Dean sits back down, hard. “What? Hey, wait – no, you won’t.”

“Yes. I will.” He can practically hear Sam’s teeth grinding over the phone. “I’m checking myself out. What, you think you’re the only one who can do that?”

“You are NOT doing that, Sammy, you keep your ass right where it –“

“My ass,” Sam says furiously, “is wherever the hell it needs to be, and right now that is not HERE. Shut up, Dean, I’ve already got the paperwork.”

“No. No, don’t you –“

But he’s talking to air. There’s a scrap of paper on the sole of his foot. He can make out his father’s writing on it. “—ean.” His name. Part of it. He scrubs the bit of paper off his skin and shudders all over.


Good thing the hospital’s close. He parks in a handicapped spot, fuck it, and storms into the building, and a security guard gives him an unsmiling once-over while he strides to the elevators. Upstairs, it smells like bad cafeteria food, and he skids a little at Sam’s doorway.

Sam, who’s dressed and arguing with a gray-haired guy who has to be a doctor.

“I’m fully aware of my responsibilities,” Sam snaps, sounding as cold and crisp as Dean has ever heard him. “It’s my choice to leave. End of story.”

“And I strenuously urge you to reconsider that stance,” says the doctor, not nearly as cool. “Mr. Martinez, this is –“

“Stupid,” Dean says from the doorway. “Really stupid.”

Both of them look at him, the doc with relief, Sam with nothing so easily defined. Sam lifts his chin. “It isn’t your decision, either,” he says. “It’s mine. Done deal.”

Dean swallows and shakes his head. “Don’t be a dumbass, Sam,” he says thickly. “Stay and finish getting well. Don’t wor –“

“Don’t WORRY?” Sam isn’t completely steady on his feet, but he’s made a lot of progress, and now he tips his head back and laughs harshly, and Dean shivers a little, hearing that wintry sound. “Newsflash, man: It’s too late for that old line. WAY too late.”

And although Dean would like to think it isn’t, it’s over already. Going up against Sam when he’s like this is just like flinging himself against a solid brick wall: he’s made up his mind, and all Dean will do is bloody himself on the battlements. So he sits in stony silence while Sam signs innumerable forms, stuffs his few things in the clear plastic bag provided by the hospital, adjusts his cane.

Finally he glances at Dean. First time since that brief conversation upon Dean’s arrival. “So let’s go.”

Dean opens his mouth to say something, not sure what, and then just raises his open hands. “Whatever.”

The hospital’s provided a wheelchair, a flustered nurse giving Sam a beseeching look, but he lumbers right on past both, chair and woman, heading for the elevators, and Dean follows, hunched inside his jacket like it’ll protect him from whatever righteous fury Sam chooses to rain down on him. He’s seen Sam pissed off before, way more than once, and this is like the worst of those times, like the terrible night before Sam left for Stanford, or the fight between Sam and their dad, a couple of months before that. In all their time as – brothers or whatever they really are, Dean’s never had that anger turned all the way on himself. Most of the way; he’s got the scars to prove it. But not completely. Now, skulking in the corner of the elevator while Sam stabs his finger against the lobby call button, he feels trapped by it, suffocated.

He doesn’t try to help Sam out to the car. Afraid that in this frame of mind, Sam will deck him, cane or no cane. Opens the door for him, though, and walks slowly to slide behind the wheel.

“Want something to eat bef –“

“Just drive. The hell away from here.”

He does it, driving more carefully than the last few trips, and when they get to the motel he looks over and says, “I gotta get you a room. Mine’s trashed.”

Sam doesn’t look at him. “That’s fine.”

He gets the key, room’s a few doors down from his own, and lets them inside. And the minute the door closes Sam says, “Tell me. All of it.”

“Dude –“

“Right now, Dean.”

Meeting that fierce gaze, Dean feels abysmally tired, worn to the bone, and he shrugs and slings himself into the single chair. “Aw, Sam, it’s just shit, that’s all.”

Sam sits on the edge of the near bed, and Dean can see new lines of strain, maybe pain, etched around his mouth. “What kind of shit? Tell me.”

The table feels slightly sticky under his fingers. He looks away, sees the sunset coloring the curtains from behind. “I can’t,” he whispers.

“Bullshit. You mean you won’t.”

“Potato, potahto,” Dean says, and it’s invigorating, allows him to look at Sam squarely. “It’s none of your business,” he tells Sam evenly. “I’m handling it.” And after he says it he wonders, because his room would seem to suggest his coping skills are questionable at best, but what the fuck.

Sam nods slowly. “I’ve seen you go…through so much,” he says after a very long moment. “All the shit while we were growing up. All the monsters, the blood, all of that. But I’ve never seen you do that last night. Never come close,” he says with absolute confidence. “You LOST it last night. I gotta know why. You have to tell me, or –“

“Or what?” asks Dean harshly. “You’ll walk? That ain’t exactly a new and refreshing response, Sammy; try again.”

“No, I’ll go you one better,” is the instant, hot rejoinder. “I’ll stick to you so tight you’ll forget we aren’t conjoined twins. I will be in your face 24/7. How’s that? That new and improved enough for you?”

Dean swallows. “You can’t keep up with me. In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re still walking with a CANE.” He clears his throat gruffly. “And you look like hell, dude.” He tries for a smile, feels it failing. “Want some Advil or something?”

Sam’s eyes are suddenly shimmering with tears, and Dean jerks his head away, glaring back at the orange curtains. “I’ve been trying to figure out what it might be,” Sam says, sounding twelve and terrified, a sound that grips Dean’s belly, calls out to some deep part of him that wants to move, put his arms around that child and comfort him the best he can. Try to be the dad neither of them ever really had, and all the while knowing he was a piss-poor substitute.

“But I can’t. I can’t – see what it is. It scares me so bad I can barely think. It feels like you’re – not even THERE anymore, and I never thought –“

Dean isn’t watching, has his eyes tightly closed now, but he can feel what Sam’s doing anyway, that ferocious struggle for control, mastering the emotions that always did run closer to the surface than Dean’s ever had. “All that time in California, after I left,” Sam says in his broken voice, “I never felt, once, like you weren’t actually there. I never saw you, never talked to you, but I never had a single moment when I thought, Dean’s not HERE anymore. And now I do. You’re here but you’re not HERE. Where are you?”

In spite of the evidence in that room down the hall, in spite of the whispering thin memory of that demon in his mind’s ear, he cannot hear that voice without responding. It’s ingrained in him, stronger than blood or conditioning or his father’s – not-father’s – goading words, and he gets up and sits next to Sam and pulls him close, because he can’t do anything but that. Will perhaps never be able to not do it, no matter what he learns.

“Right here,” Dean whispers, pulling Sam’s head against his shoulder and stroking the hot damp mass of his hair with shaking fingers. “I’m right here, Sammy, I got you.”

Sam’s hands grip his shirt, pull with strength Dean remembers from too long ago, the cruel clarity of illumination like a blow to the solar plexus, taking his breath away. Take your brother outside as fast as you can. Don’t look back. And he didn’t, and he hasn’t, and it has cost him everything.

Sam’s embrace becomes tears, and Dean is crying too, a little, eyes stinging, murmuring the old familiar platitudes, the ones that worked not because of what was said but how he said it, so many times when Dad was nowhere to be found and it fell to Dean to do this, learning as he went, until it was as natural as breathing for him, for both of them.

“It’ll be all right, Sammy,” Dean says, and wonders if it can ever be again.


“It was the demon, that night. It told me things.”

They’re both still sitting on the bed, although a few inches apart now, cross-legged with their knees nearly touching. Sam’s face is still red with emotion, and his eyes are puffy, but he’s calm enough, facing Dean with every impression of focus.

“I knew it,” Sam breathes. “It started then. I thought -- I thought it had to do with me, maybe, but I was starting to see this was something else. Didn’t know what, but –“ He frowns. “What did it say to you?”

“Not that much. Just a few words.”

“And those were…?”

Dean shakes his head slowly. “I can’t tell you.”

Sam draws back. “Oh, man, don’t –“

“No. I’m serious.” Dean watches him, licks his lips carefully. “I won’t. Not until –“

“What? Until what?”

“Until I figure out what I need to do.”

He can hear Sam swallow, the flicker of fear and worry in his dark eyes. “I don’t think I’m gonna like what that is,” he says unsteadily.

Dean lowers his head, purses his lips a little. “Maybe not. But you gotta let me do this my own way, okay? You said, back there before we saw Dad, the daeva thing – You told me, I gotta let you go your own way. So you do the same, all right? I gotta figure this out on my own.” He shifts, lets his knee bump Sam’s. “Okay?”

“If Dad were here, would you tell him?”

“Nope.” Sam gives him a familiar, disbelieving look, and Dean shakes his head. “Look, I’m about to start eating the table over there. Lemme go get us some food, all right? You hungry?”

“After weeks in a hospital? You’re being facetious, right?”

“If that means what I think it means, yeah.” Dean reaches out and rubs his knuckle against Sam’s skull, old mannerism he’d dropped when Sam got tall enough to make him have to reach. Now it feels bittersweet, like a goodbye to old worn-out things. “Any preferences?”

Sam’s reaching up to pat his hair down again, but his eyes are bright with sadness and his smile is wavery. “I wouldn’t even bitch about grease right now, honestly.”

“Good, because it’s pretty sure to be on the menu.”

He grabs his keys and puts on his jacket, and when he touches the doorknob Sam says, “You’re coming back. Right?”

Dean turns and makes a face. “At this rate I’m not leaving at all, dude.”

“Say it.” There is a peculiar intensity to Sam’s gaze, something that banishes their childhood and yanks Dean once more into the headlong realization that Sam isn’t a kid anymore, isn’t Sammy but SAM, and Dean makes himself nod.

“Yeah, Sam,” he says softly. “I’m coming back.”

“And next time?”

“Every time I can, man.” He waits, and turns the knob. “Back in a few.”

Sam nods. “I’ll be waiting.”



No matter how restless Sam is, and that’s very restless, they can’t go anywhere. Not yet. It’s partly Sam’s body, weakened from too much bed rest and too much recent trauma, but it’s Dean, too.

“You look like shit,” Sam tells him over the coffee Dean brings over the next morning. Sam himself is no poster child for overall wellness, but his eyes are clear, studying Dean with alarming acuity. “Didn’t sleep?”

“I’m all right.” Dean shrugs and swigs coffee. “Listen, I gotta run a few errands today. You’re all right, all set, got what you need?”

Sam places his cup carefully on the table and crosses his arms over his chest. “I’m going with you.”

“No, you’re not.”

“I meant what I said. Glue.” A muscle in Sam’s jaw twitches. “Got it?”

Dean draws a deep breath, and decides, Screw it. He knows your weak spots; works both ways. “So that bit about how I gotta let you do your thing -- That only works when it’s what you want, huh? Not when I want something? Nice little double standard you got going there, dude.”

He sees in the flicker of Sam’s gaze, the way it hits home. Guilt, like a glaze of darkness over that bright gaze. “It’s not like that,” Sam says, but he’s fighting not to squirm.

“No, Sam, it’s exactly like that.” Dean leans forward, keeps the sneer out of his voice with difficulty. “You want me to let you just walk away when you decide to? Then give me the same space.” It’s harder to speak than he’s thought it would be, and he clears his throat. “I’m just doing a little research, that’s all. I know you’re the uber-geek from hell, but I still know how to operate a computer, read a few articles.”

“Let me help,” Sam urges, and Dean shakes his head.

“Don’t need it, man. Need you to get better. That’s it, that’s all. Your job for the day.”

“Dean, you fucker –“

“And then,” Dean says evenly, “okay? And then, we’ll talk. Later.”

Sam’s eyes widen a little, and he gives a nod. “All right. Fair enough.”

He isn’t expecting to get off the hook so fast, and it takes him a second to nod, make himself smile. “All right then,” Dean says evenly. “Back later, Sammy.”

“Sam, God damn it.”

Dean’s smile twitches. “Language.”




It feels…good to have Sam back with him. Good, in a dangerous sort of way, a fragile way. Dean’s insides are made of glass, glass that’s been shattered and repaired with masking tape and crossed fingers, and outside, driving, he feels it all shaking under the strain. He can think about Sam without wanting to break something on the outside, too. It isn’t easy, maybe won’t be easy for a long time, but he can do it. But there is so much more, and even considering it all overwhelms him, makes him feel like pulling over and crawling into the back seat and curling up into a protective ball.

He’s been in a hell of a lot of libraries in his life. Can practically map the US of A by which library’s where, how good the internet connections are, the reference sections, local history publications. This one, he’s been in lots more than once, and he goes directly to the computers, remembers what he’s here to do.

Half an hour later, printouts stuffed into his inner jacket pocket, he heads out again. Sam picks up after a single ring of the phone, sounding alarmed.

“Hey,” Dean says. “I gotta do some driving. You need anything?”

“Driving where?”

“Topeka, gotta check something out.”

“Topeka?” Sam sounds bewildered, and it sends a dull, senseless ache through Dean’s belly to know he can see Sam’s face as he says the words. “What the hell is in Topeka?”

Answers, Dean thinks, I hope. Aloud he says, “Not sure yet. Maybe nothing. Just wanted to let you know, I’ll be out of pocket for a few hours.”

“Dean, what aren’t you telling me?”

“Later, dude,” Dean says with a breeziness that feels as artificial as it sounds. “Gotta go. Call me if, you know.”

There’s nothing, and then Sam says, “Yeah. Likewise.”

Traffic’s not so bad today. He makes Topeka in way under an hour, and the office he needs before noon.

It almost feels like a hunt. It IS a hunt, kinda, if he can just make himself think of it that way. He smiles at the clerk, and says, “I need to look up adoption records.”

She raises her eyebrows. “You have a court order, sir?”

“No. No, it’s for me. I –“ He pauses, collects himself. “I’m – the adopted one. Adoptee.” He’s never said it aloud. It tastes funny on his tongue.

“Sir, you’ll need to fill out some forms, and then we’ll need some processing time.”

He swallows. “But I thought they were open records in Kansas.”

“They are,” the clerk says, and gazes at him for a moment before pressing her lips together and adding, “It takes some time to look them up, that’s all.”

Dean nods, and says, “I can wait. I got – nowhere else to be.”

“Sir, it could take hours –“

She breaks off, looking distressed, and that’s when Dean realizes he’s crying. Not a lot, but enough that he’s freaked out the lady he’s trying to get help from, and that’s not even what freaks HIM out but the sheer fact of tears, Dean Winchester or whoever the fuck he really is, who never fucking cries, not in public for damn sure.

He refuses to wipe his face, acknowledge that there’s wetness on his cheeks. “Sorry,” he says woodenly. “It – would help if I could get that information soon.”

The woman’s alarm has faded to concern, and she nods slowly. “I do understand,” and he wants to feel that she does, maybe a little. He could sure use it. “Okay, here’s what we’ll do. Fill out the forms, and I’ll see what I can do.” She hesitates, holding out the papers. “It’ll still be a while. You have time to go – do other things, if you need to.”

He nods jerkily. “Thanks.” His throat hurts so bad. “I appreciate it.”

“No problem, sir.”

It takes a while to fill out all the paper, and then he’s cut loose, at least until the afternoon. Nothing to do, he wasn’t lying about that, and he could go grab some lunch or whatever, but he’s never been farther from hungry, and so he sits in a hard chair in the lobby for a while, stares at people coming and going.

After an hour, he goes outside and walks down the street until he finds a park, postage-stamp sized but the shade works, little bench he doesn’t have to share with anyone for the moment, and he lets some more time go by. Thinks about calling Sam, for the hell of it, and opens his phone and sees Dad’s speed-dial entry.

Just looking at it makes a little sound escape his throat, a thin wheeze of helpless pain. This is not his father. This man, larger than life for so many years, all the time Dean can remember, is no relation at all. Just a guy, maybe a good guy because whoever Dean’s real folks are, real mother and real father, evidently they didn’t want him too much, and there were John and Mary Winchester, of Lawrence, Kansas, ready to step up to the plate and take this stray kid off the market.

Except he can’t feel grateful, and knowing why doesn’t change it, doesn’t lessen the raw ripping agony of finding it all out as he has. None of it’s been real. Not the fighting, the struggle, the desperation of the life he’s known – none of it’s been HIS. It’s been someone else’s fight, someone else’s grief. Someone else’s retribution. Mary Winchester was never his mother, and the bearded guy Dean called a few months ago begging for help wasn’t his father, never has been his father. A substitute, like Dean himself in poor Sammy’s eyes, not the real thing at all but just a pinch hitter.

He sits on a warm park bench in downtown Topeka, Kansas, and pulls his knees to his chest, rocks in place, and waits.


It’s nearly four by the time he gets the papers. He wants to tip the clerk, thank her in some tangible way, but she doesn’t seem to need it. Just pats his hand, a motherly gesture that brings tired tears to his eyes, and says, “I hope that helps, honey.”

He nods. “Maybe so.”

He sits in the lobby to look at what she’s found for him. It’s a jabber of legalese, mostly, and he wishes sharply for Sam to translate it for him. But Sam isn’t here, and he’ll just have to parse it through on his own.

One thing jumps out at him almost immediately. He can see why there are no newborn photos of him in the scant surviving stack of family snapshots. He was nearly four months old when his mom and dad went before a judge and made it all official. Four months, still a baby but not that new. Four months when he was what? In foster care? Some kind of faceless state agency? The papers don’t say.

His grief steps back while he reads. In its place is something new, something he doesn’t recognize even in all the years of training, all the countless exercises and chases and fact-finding expeditions. He is cold, and tired, but this sort of calm braces him, lets him stare at the last few pages with chilly focus.

His mother is not listed. And, as he keeps reading, he notices something else.

It’s nearly quitting time, and the nice clerk looks surprised to see him back. “I just – had a quick question,” Dean says.

“I’ll help if I can.”

He holds out the paper, indicating the paragraphs in question. “Isn’t this where the – my real mother’s name should go? If she gave me up for adoption?”

The woman scans the page, frowns a little. “Normally, yes.”

“There’s no one listed.”

She purses her lips, and looks up at him. “That could mean several things. Her name might have been expunged because she was a minor at the time of your birth.”

Dean nods. “Or?”

“Or.” The clerk raises her eyebrows. “It’s possible your mother was unknown.”

“Which means – what?”

“I honestly don’t know. In general, I mean -- Abandoned children may never know who their birth mother was. It could have been a CPS case, and –“ She flips busily through the pages, finally nods. “You were a state ward at the time of your adoption. That might be it.”

“So – how do I find out?”

She gives him another gentle look. “It can be very difficult to find out birth mothers’ names in some cases.”

Dean gives a stiff nod. “So I’m kinda screwed, that what you’re saying?”

“Not necessarily. But it could be a long search, yes.”

“Yeah. Thanks,” Dean says faintly, turning away.

“For what it’s worth.” The clerk leans forward, putting her elbows on the counter. “There are services that help you track down adoptees’ birth mothers. Even fathers, sometimes. You could hire one of those. See what happens.”

Dean looks at her, and her kindly look fades into vague surprise. “That’s all right,” Dean says after a moment. “I think I can handle that part myself.”

His hands aren’t shaking when he refolds the papers, puts them away. When he walks out of the office, his earlier tears don’t show at all.


It’s late, and it’s instinct to grab something to eat when he gets back to K.C., haul it back to the motel. Sam’s sitting in the chair by the window, and Dean wonders how often he’s looked out, waiting for Dean to get back. The guilt associated with that thought is faint, and unimportant.

“Chow time,” Dean announces, putting the bags of take-out on the table. “Hope you’re hungry.”

Sam doesn’t touch the food yet. Just stares at him. “Man, you were gone forever. Where’d you go?”

Dean shrugs and opens one of the bags, taking out Styrofoam containers. “Like I said, dude, had to run some errands.”

“Must have been some errand.”

“Yeah. I got Mexican, that all right?”

“Dean –“

“Come on. Eat before it gets cold. It’s good, I’ve got food from here before.”

They eat in silence, and Dean is glad of the reprieve. It’s too much to encompass all at once, what he’s found. He’s adopted; it’s official. That part he can wrap his head around; not easily, but yeah.

But the rest is crowding his brain, jostling for space, the newest of all the new shit he’s had to adjust to the past few weeks. It ought to make him feel better: Dad and Mom were the good guys, the ones who DID want him, as opposed to his real mother, who clearly didn’t. There’s some irony, because wasn’t CPS one of Dad’s major fears, while they were growing up? Always scared some do-gooder social worker would see something they weren’t supposed to, get a court order and take Dean and Sammy away, leave John without his little built-in army of two?

And that isn’t the biggest irony, nossir. The biggest is the one that sits now in Dean’s throat, making it hard to swallow his enchiladas. The irony of the good son as the fake son, the rebel as the real son. It’s always, always been Dean who threw himself 110% into Dad’s version of reality. Dean’s been the spear-carrier, the devoted son and warrior, the unquestioning acolyte. Sam’s the one who questions, considers, objects. A few times over the years, Dean’s wondered at that. How they could be brothers, and so fundamentally different, wired so opposite. Now he knows, and it’s not the answer he ever saw coming. Hell, if he’d considered it, he’d have sworn it was Sam who was the outsider, the changeling in the crib. Sam’s the one who didn’t fit in with their tight little band. Not Dean. Dean always fit in. Dean’s one goal in LIFE was to fit the image of what their dad needed him to be.

He shoves the container away with his food half-uneaten, grease thick and nasty on his tongue. Sam, he sees, really was hungry, and his food is all gone.

“You ready to talk?” Sam asks levelly, and Dean meets his eyes and thinks, Not yet. Maybe not ever.

“What do you want me to say, Sammy?” he asks instead.

Sam ignores the nickname, plunges on. “The truth, Dean. What happened back there? What did it tell you?”

Dean doesn’t have to ask what “it” is.

“Because if you believe it, you’re –“ Dumber than you look, Dean expects him to say it, but he doesn’t. Just shakes his head, little disbelieving twist. “You know better than that,” Sam says honestly.

“Demons lie,” Dean says, when he can’t think of anything else to say. Except this one didn’t. Demons do what they can to hurt you, it’s their sole purpose in existence, hurting, and this one chose the thing Dean fears the most because it didn’t have to make anything up. There was a lot to choose from. It was easy.

“Yeah. They do. What did it tell you?”

“I –“ Dean stops.

Sam’s expression crumples, becomes something Dean hates to see, fears to see. “Please,” Sam whispers. “Let me in, okay? Just this once? Just – drop all this big-brother stuff and let me IN?”

He thinks it might have worked. Might have. But hearing the word from Sam’s lips is like his own knife, thrust deep and with skill directly into his chest, and he jerks back, unable for a second to even breathe, the pain is so sharp. He is not Sam’s brother, he is not John’s son, and he does not know who he is, only who he isn’t. There are enormous gaping holes in the once-solid floor in his mind, treacherous gaps he’s already spent all his energy climbing back out of, and now he stumbles again, reels and can’t catch himself this time.

“What?” Sam snaps, eyes so wide there is a complete circle of white around the irises. “What is it?”

It is not his fight. It never was. He doesn’t belong here. Nothing is as it appears. Nothing at all.

“I’m sorry,” Dean says, backing away. “But.”

There’s horror on Sam’s too-readable face, no understanding except that. He reaches out, and Dean knows his hands will be cold, shaking, because Dean is not supposed to look like this, act like this, he’s the older one, the one with the savvy and the grit and the convictions.

“I’m not ready,” Dean says, and Sam lets him get to the door before saying, “Would you tell Dad? If he were here?”

Dean spins, suddenly furious, and horror becomes shock in Sam’s eyes. “Don’t you call him,” Dean snaps. “Don’t you dare.”

“Why?” Sam asks softly. “Is it because you’re scared of him? Or because he already knows? Is that an order?”

Everything I say is a lie. Dean stands very still, anger boiling in his throat

Sam gasps something that sounds like a sob and shakes his head. “Don’t do this. Whatever – it is, I can see it in your eyes, don’t DO it.”

“Get some sleep,” Dean says. “You gotta get better, remember?”

Sam watches him wordlessly, eyes starry with tears and love and anger, and Dean turns the knob and goes out.



He doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t even feel tired. His body is thrumming with restless, angry energy, and he tries to think about Sam, about responsibility, but it’s John Winchester’s face he sees, his warm smile and cool eyes, and Dean paces his tiny room, pushing the broken furniture to the side and wading through the little piles of paper that a month ago were treasured like the Grail, his only tangible connection to his father. That trail of cryptic breadcrumbs, leading Dean and Sam into the dark woods, hunting as they had been taught since childhood. Hunting, hunting, it’s all Dean has ever done, literally, all he has ever known or considered.

His mouth is dry, his eyes blurring. It isn’t that he hasn’t been able to see it before: the monstrosity that was their growing-up, the skewed reality, the fear and running and fighting, oh God, the hunts. But now, as clearly as anything in his weird-ass life, he can see that it wasn’t fair, they HAD no childhood, only this, and what kind of sick fuck would do that to his kids anyway?

Take your brother. Don’t look back.

There is a flavor like old, rancid smoke on his tongue. This is not his life, this is someone else’s. Sam’s, yes, but not his. He abjures this life, rejects it out of hand. Not his, never his, he was the stunt double, the hired hand, the protector. He stands still, hands clenching and unclenching at his sides, over and over again while he feels the realization trickling over him like ice-cold blood, thick and sluggish. Expendable. He’s expendable. Sam is the real son. Dean’s the fake, the pretender. Has this been what it was about all along? Sam’s gifts, Sam’s freaky premonitions and don’t forget, moved some furniture with his brain while he was at it. Is that the secret John Winchester really never wanted Dean to know?

Rage tastes like burned flesh. He swallows and wants to vomit. All he is – all he has ever been – is a tool for his father to use. His father who is nothing like a father at all, his father who he loathes now with the passion he has once reserved for a faceless demon that took Mary from them all, that has eaten up a mother (not a mother, Sam’s, not his) and an innocent girl (Sam’s, not his) and their childhood, their lives. His father, who let Sam have his freedom but could never allow Dean the same, tying him tighter and tighter with each passing year until he knew, he KNEW, that Dean could never get free, never be anything but what John needed him to be, there for when he was required.

“Fuck you,” Dean says out loud, staring at the window and seeing nothing but flames, and John Winchester’s laughing, calculating face. “You don’t OWN me. You’re nothing. Nothing.”

I abjure you, you manipulating son of a bitch. I fucking abjure your lying ass.


By morning he’s got the room tidied up a little. No help for all that’s broken, but he really could give a rip, except he needs to be organized again, prepared. There are things to do, numerous things, and the clock is ticking.

He puts a few things in a separate bag. Sam might need them, probably will if the Winchester brand of shit luck holds true, and Dean – this new improved Dean, this fully aware and clear-eyed Dean – is unable to get rid of it all. So he reserves one of the shotguns, the Glock, ammo and other items that will be useful. The rest, he cleans and places in the other duffel, wondering if Sam is awake yet and hoping he isn’t.

By nine he’s driving, no morning coffee for him or Sam, Dean’s hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel. One unanticipated side-effect of all that military training, all that gun training and weapons exposure: John’s contacts are also Dean’s, sporadically used but familiar, and he drives without hesitation, the shop in Franklin, half an hour outside K.C. He has no license for the weapons he carries, slung like dirty laundry in a bag in the back seat, but this man won’t give a shit. After all, much of this originated here anyway.

Joe Allen’s older than Dean remembers, a little stooped and grayer, but he recognizes Dean, eyes widening with surprise when Dean closes the jingling front door of the pawn shop behind him.

“Dean Winchester,” Joe says, hands on his hips. “Well, I’ll be.”

Dean doesn’t smile. “You in the market?” he asks, and slings the heavy bag up on the counter.

Joe’s older now, but there’s more than a trace of that old Marine bearing there, the stiff upper lip just-business thing, and he doesn’t even glance at the bag. Still watching Dean, like a dog you didn’t know, wasn’t sure if it’d lick your hand or bite it. “Here and there,” Joe says. “What you got?”

“Everything,” Dean says. He places his hands flat on the counter. Not hiding anything. “You name it.”

Now Joe frowns, because Dean’s come here a dozen times in the past to buy, trade, but never to sell. “You bowing out of the game, boy?” he asks, with real surprise in his voice. “I don’t believe that.”

“Believe what you want.” Dean unzips the bag, yanks so it stands open. “Take a look.”

There’s a lot to look at. The Winchester model 21s, two of them, and the butt on one still has a chip on the upper corner from the werewolf’s face back in ’99. Sig Sauer, his precious Colt 1911 semi-auto, the ancient Peacekeeper. More.

“You really are,” Joe says in a wondering voice, glancing back at him. “You’re walking away. Does John know about this?”

Dean faces him stonily. “How much?”

“Shit, Dean.” Joe scratches his head.

“Couple of them don’t look like much, but you know they got it where it counts. And you and I both know you can move them.”

“Let’s sit down and talk about this.”

Dean sneers. “Nothing to talk about. You don’t want ‘em, Joe, I’ll find somebody else that does.”

Joe nods slowly, says, “Cup of coffee. For old times’ sake.”

Finally Dean agrees, because he needs this money, run-out cash, lots easier than hustling some pissant pool games, and so he takes the coffee, sits uneasily at the battered table in the stockroom in back. Joe’s coffee is fiercely black and thick, and Dean feels the caffeine hitting his strained nerves like a pure jolt of adrenaline. His heart speeds up.

“You mad at him?” Joe asks after they’ve sat there silently for a minute.

“Who?” Dean asks, although he doesn’t have to.

Joe smiles, shakes his head. “John’s an asshole, always has been. But this isn’t you, Dean. I know you, kiddo, known you since that first day when John dragged you in here with him to pick out your first goddamn handgun. What were you? Seven?”

Dean meets his gaze and swallows. “Eight.”

“Now I can give you cash for those weapons out there.” Joe lifts his chin in the direction of the store, and shrugs. “Won’t be what they’re worth, not quite, but it’ll be better than you’d get anywhere else. We both know that. But first I’m gonna ask you something. You sure about this?”

The coffee is tarry in his mouth, nasty, but he can’t spit it out. “Sure as I’m sitting here.”

“John know what you’re doing?”

“John,” Dean spits the word like he won’t, the coffee, “is out of the picture. And as soon as you give me my money, I am, too. Got that?”

“All right, then,” Joe says mildly. Eyes too assessing, too keen. Too much like Dad’s. Not-Dad’s. “Let’s do business.”

They haggle, but not much. They both do know what the weapons are worth, the extra ammo, the accessories. And Joe names a figure that Dean thinks is pretty goddamn generous, and dickering over it is an exercise, nothing more.

Joe goes to the safe behind the calendar on the wall, takes out money. He’s loaded, Dad’s told Dean more than once, the place is a rathole nightmare and Joe’s clothes are faded and not real clean, but he’s miserly with his money and there’s a lot to be had in the gun trade, especially when you’re not too particular about where that money’s coming from or what the goods will be used for. Joe’s got his own code, a paramilitary one, a mercenary’s way of thinking, and he’s been putting by for a rainy day for decades now.

It’s raining in Dean’s world, cats and fucking dogs, and he takes the money and flinches when Joe’s hand closes over his fingers.

“This isn’t like you,” Joe says softly. His eyes are narrow with honest concern. “Out of the blue like this. You in trouble, son? You got friends, not just your dad’s but yours, too. All you gotta do is ask.”

“I’m fine,” Dean says through freezing lips. “Thanks anyway.”

He’s walking to the door, so light after carrying that leaden bag of his father’s junk that he feels like he’ll fly off the planet, and Joe calls, “I’ll hold onto these a little. See if you don’t change your mind.”

“I won’t,” Dean says, and hits the door straight-arm.

A mile short of the Kansas City line, he pulls to the side of the road and leans out, vomiting Joe Allen’s shitty coffee and the remnants of last night’s enchiladas on the asphalt. And sits, waiting to see if there’ll be more, waiting to see if this lightheaded untethered feeling will go away or get worse. He’s unarmed now. The first time in his life, first fucking time ever. He has a knife in his boot, but he has no use for the trick space in the Impala’s trunk, could actually put a real spare tire in there if he chooses now, because what else will it be used for? Luggage? He owns nothing. A few changes of clothes, a toothbrush, a cardboard box filled with fake I.D.s and rubber credit cards. He’s twenty-seven and he doesn’t own a television set or a bookshelf, a chair or a table. He has never leased an apartment, or owned a pet.

He grips the steering wheel and knocks his forehead against the smooth plastic, clenches his eyes shut and gathers himself together. Focus, Dean, his father jeers inside his head. I need you to be strong. You’re the oldest, you’ve got what it takes, now show me what you’re made of. Don’t give me this crap, just do it.

“You’re not my dad,” Dean croaks. “You don’t give me orders.”

The Impala jerks when he puts it back in gear.


Sam’s up, pacing the sidewalk in front of his room when Dean gets back. His face is set in lines of worry and fury, and he doesn’t even wait for Dean to climb all the way out of the car before he’s yelling.

“You fucker, where the fuck have you been? I wake up and you’re GONE, man, what the hell was that?”

Dean slams the car door and nods. “Good morning to you, too, sunshine,” he says, brushing past him.

Sam’s hand is steel on Dean’s elbow, yanking him back. “Where did you go?”

“Business, Sam,” Dean says, because Sammy’s his brother but Sam is not his brother, Sam is someone else’s responsibility now. Dad’s – John’s – or maybe Sammy’s his own responsibility. Maybe it’s time. Maybe it’s long past time. “Just business.”

Sam’s fist clenches, and Dean flicks a disinterested look at it. “Goddamn you,” Sam whispers, shaking his head.

“Too late,” Dean says flintily. “Already done.”

There’s more, but he’s got other things to think about. Sam’s a distraction, something else he has to get situated before he can start on what it is he needs to do. It’s all cleanup right now, and Dean’s got a list in his head, short and not real sweet, business to take care of.

He buys them some lunch, because Sam’s still wobbly on his feet without the cane and the fuel is necessary. They eat in silence, sitting in Sam’s cool motel room, and Sam puts down his sandwich after two bites and says, “Christo.”

Dean pauses in mid-chew, goggling at him, and then nearly chokes because he’s laughing so hard. Laughing until the tears stream down his cheeks, until his stomach lurches and muscles cramp, because it is absolutely the goddamn funniest thing he’s heard in a long, long time, and Sam’s expression when Dean can see through his tears is alternately sheepish and pissed off and worried.

It’s only when the laughing starts to sound strange, like some kind of fucking hysteria or something, that Dean finally starts to try to get it under control. It’s hard. He quivers with random snickers for a minute or two, and wipes his face with his napkin.

“So you’re not possessed,” Sam says prissily. “I get that.”

Dean stuffs the rest of his sandwich in his mouth and chews. “Not today, Sam.”

“If it didn’t possess you, what did it do?”

“Doesn’t matter. Drop it.”

Sam leans back and raises his hands, lets them drop in his lap. “So what now?” he asks, gazing at the drawn curtains. “We keep playing this game forever? What is it you want me to say, Dean? What will it take?”

“I don’t want you to say anything.” Dean wads up his crap and flings it at the wastebasket, misses. “In fact at this point I’d pay you to shut up.”

“Was it about Dad? What it told you?”

“Was it bigger than a breadbox? No, Sam. Okay? I’m not playing motherfucking twenty questions with you. Got it? Move along.”

He’s moving himself, putting his jacket back on although it’s plenty warm outside, doesn’t need it. It’s familiar, though, comfortable. His. It works.

Sam hasn’t moved. Just sitting there, dark eyes sad and unreadable, and says, “You’re wandering. Just like in my dream.”

“Nope,” Dean replies crisply. “Wrong answer.”

“But I can’t see what you’re looking for,” Sam says, as if he hasn’t heard. Dreamy eyes, eyes that see too goddamn much in Dean’s opinion. “And you can’t, either. Can you?”

“I see plenty. All I need.” Dean shrugs. “The car’s got a knock. Since we’re sitting for a while, I’m gonna take her in, see what’s going on. I’ll be back in a little.”

He turns to the open door, and it slams hard enough to shiver the glass in the window.

“No,” Sam says calmly. “Stay.”

Dean keeps on looking at the closed door, the door no one touched. “Nice parlor trick, Sammy,” he says. “Now open the fucking door.”

“Not a chance.”

“All right, then.” It echoes in his startled brain – Sam did that, Sam did that with his MIND, good Christ – but he lumbers forward, puts his hand on the doorknob, and something cool and impersonal wafts over him, encircles him and clenches hard, and he can’t move at all. Frozen in place, like a stop-motion photograph.

“Not until I let you.”

The voice chills him like the door didn’t, and Dean makes his lungs fill with air – charged air, weird spooky air – and says, “Let go, or we’re done. Done, Sam, all the way.”

Just as easily as it’s touched him, it’s gone again, that constraining power, and in its wake Dean shudders all over, fear and shock and fierce, consuming anger like a pulsing tumor in his chest. When he turns Sam’s face is pale with surprise, maybe some shock of his own. It doesn’t touch Dean.

“I’m sorry,” Sam whispers. “I didn’t know I would do that.”

“Do it again,” Dean says, “and I will kill you. I swear to God, I will shoot your ass my own self.”

Sam opens his mouth, and Dean says, “You keep your freaky-ass telekinetic BULLSHIT away from me. FUCK you! Don’t you fucking MESS with me!”

Sam shrinks back, and there is a tiny, guttering part of Dean that remembers that should bother him, that should feel wrong, because Sammy’s his responsibility, Sammy’s his brother and brothers should not fear each other, not like this. Not draw back like he expects to be struck, or worse.

But it’s flickering, dying, and in its place is cleansing, seductive anger, putting the spine in him, the resolve, the guts. “You remember that, next time you decide to show off all those new tricks of yours,” Dean spits venomously. “You just fucking remember what I said. Am I understood? SAMMY?”

Sam’s face is as stony as their father’s. “I understand, Dean,” he says, level and calm. “A lot more than you think.”

Not everything, Dean thinks. Oh, not everything.



There is no one else at the car wash. It’s a sunny day, warm, too warm for his jacket, so he strips it off before plugging in a few coins and grabbing the sprayer.

He works slowly. No hurry. He’s always been careful to keep her clean. Part of it’s vanity, another part pragmatism. She’s a sweet-looking vehicle under any circumstances, and dirt can hurt her, salt will rust out the undercarriage, scratches becoming more, dings worse than that. She isn’t mint condition, not with the hundreds of thousands of miles on the odometer, but for her age and hard use she’s in good shape and he takes his time, mind blank except for this, a pleasurable task always.

It isn’t until he’s moved her out of the bay, under the canopy shade where he can vacuum and wipe and detail, that his throat starts to ache. His eyes are blurry, and he wipes them on the back of his hand, goes back to polishing chrome.

There is nothing he can do for the two faint stains on the back-seat leather. Old blood, mostly gone but a shadow remains, a whispered reminder of all that this car has seen, carried, endured. She, like himself, is scarred in random places, a roadmap of what they have survived together, and he strokes the cloth over the leather, turns away.

No reminders. No lingering ties. It is what has to be. He has a job to do, and he cannot focus with baggage weighing him down.

He wipes his boots carefully with a clean paper towel before he gets back in the driver’s seat. He takes out his cell phone and dials.


Parkdale’s north of town, and he has to consult the directions he got over the phone because it’s been ages since he was out here, absolutely no memory of it. Other people are making use of the nice day, out taking care of yards, washing their own mass-produced carbon-copy plastic cars, walking the damn dogs, and the Impala gets more than one impressed look, more than one head turning to stare in her polished, fuck-you made-of-steel wake. It pleases him, still, but the feeling is dim with pain he doesn’t want to acknowledge, so he focuses on the street signs, winding his way to the address he’s been given.

He actually passes it the first time, has to backtrack, and finally parks in front of a house just like all the others on this vanilla-normal street. Only difference is the sweet T-bird parked in front of the garage, melon-pink and prime. Definitely the right place.

The man who answers the door is younger than Dean expects, a little older than himself, and he lifts his chin and walks outside instead of inviting him in. “Chuck Norquist,” he says. His grip is firm and brief. “You must be Dean.”

Dean nods, shoving his hands back in his jeans pockets. “So.”

“So that’s it, huh.” Norquist steps around him, eyes fixed on the Impala.

He can’t watch Norquist check her out. He studies the yard, no idea what kinds of flowers they are in the beds but they’re pretty, thriving in the warmth, and the grass is neat and healthy-looking. There are kids’ toys over at the side, a discarded trike and a Frisbee and a few other things. He had begged his dad for a bike. When he was eight, and they’d stayed in Richardson that entire year. Stayed because his dad got hurt and it took a while to recover, and Dean actually had time to get to know his way around.

All he’d wanted was a bike. But there hadn’t been money, they were barely scraping by as it was, and all Dad had said was, “You don’t need it. We have better things to do.”

And Dean had nodded, because yes, what Dad said was true, they had jobs to do, a mission, and a bike seemed really pretty silly next to that.

He hadn’t said anything, months later, when Dad refurbished their weaponry, spent money they didn’t have on the things he said they needed. There was never a bike, and Dean had learned to ride on Dylan Montford’s two-wheeler a year later, at least enough not to fall on his ass on the hot asphalt street across from the run-down Detroit apartment house where they stayed those two months. He thinks he could still ride, if he had to, but he isn’t sure.

Never had time for bikes. Waste of valuable resources.

“Huh.” Norquist’s grunt startles him; Dean jerks around, almost reaches for a weapon he doesn’t have any longer. The guy doesn’t notice. He’s enthralled, and trying like hell not to show it. “Lotta miles on her.”

“Room for more,” Dean says, shakily.

“Not all original, either.”

Dean stifles a sigh. “I didn’t just come from a car show, dude, and you said you understood that. So let’s talk.”

Norquist finally looks at him, pulls his lips down while he thinks. He’s got pale, office-worker skin and an expensive haircut. “Original owner?”

“It’s been in the family. Bought new.”

“Any problems I should know about?”

Nothing substantial, and Dean tells him as much, honestly. He’s done lying. Doesn’t pay.

Finally Norquist shrugs. “Five thousand.”

“Cash on the barrel?”


They shake, and Dean feels Norquist’s soft, untrained hand and wants to shudder with disgust. Not the right person for this vehicle, his chariot, his unfailing unvarying companion when no one else was around, everyone else kept leaving but she stayed, she kept him company and gave him shelter when he needed it, speed and ferocity when it was time for such. She treated him right, and he has always tried to do the same, respecting her power and her beauty and feeling it, inside, that she knew he did. And repaid him tenfold.

He stares at the car while Norquist briefly vanishes, comes back outside with a fat envelope and a piece of paper he wants Dean to sign. It occurs to Dean that he should take the knife warm in his boot and slice it across his wrist, scribble his name in fresh blood on the paper. It seems appropriate, somehow. Better than impersonal ink.

He stuffs the envelope in his jacket pocket and nods when the guy thanks him. It’s not enough money, will never be enough money, and as quick as that he’s shaking all over, trembling with the need to scream that this car deserves BETTER than to sit in someone’s garage and wait for the one or two days a month when someone will start her up and take her out for a Sunday spin. She’s a workhorse, she’s a deadly beautiful warrior all her own, and she will suffer in a life like that. Fade, wither, lose her snakebite edge and slump into dowager drowsiness. Forget what her purpose is.

But she’s Dad’s. Before she’s his. And he wants nothing of John’s any longer. Not his car, not his life. Not his name. Nothing at all, no reminders.

“You – want a ride someplace?” Norquist asks, looking awkward.

Dean shakes his head and reaches out to touch the Impala’s hood with two fingers. Kiss goodbye, my darling. I’m sorry. “No, thanks,” he whispers. “I’ll walk.”

Halfway down the block, another house identical to the one he’s left behind, and he stops and bends at the waist, fist pressed to his mouth. It’s too much, go back, give the guy his fucking money back and drive away, for the love of God, it isn’t worth it, not this, too.

It was never yours. None of it.

He can’t stop crying. But he puts his foot forward, follows it with the other, stares without seeing at the sidewalk and the street corner and he will not look back. He will never look back. His father taught him that.


“Had to leave it overnight,” he tells Sam when he asks about the car. The lie is easy, fluid. All of Dean’s last lingering doubts are gone, washed away in the cleansing of his earlier tears. He is hollow now, waiting to be filled with the truth, and Sam’s worry and mistrust do nothing but tink harmlessly against his fierce cold armor, fall to the ground.

It may be why it’s easy to sit in Sam’s room that evening, eating delivery Chinese and watching mindless television. Sam’s penitent, still shocked at lashing out with power neither of them understands, and he does not press. Instead he pokes at the laptop during commercial breaks, scans page after page of news headlines and the funky special-interest-group forums they both know too well by now, and later on he says, “Want to go to Anchorage?”

Dean’s tired, his eyes burning from the remnants of this afternoon and from tonight’s wavering tv picture, and he’s always wanted to go to Alaska. So he nods, says, “What?”

Sam elaborates about missing workers, an obligatory reference to John Carpenter and “The Thing,” and Dean listens and feels nothing. No flicker of interest, no pressing sense of obligation, responsibility, curiosity. Vengeance. It’s like poking a long-dead firepit in an abandoned campsite. The embers are cold, useless.

“We can go tomorrow,” Sam says, and fear quivers behind his strong voice, his confident words. “I’m ready. And I know you’re ready. It’s been driving you – crazy.”

Dean eats a leftover wonton and meets Sam’s imploring gaze. “Whatever you say.”

Sam nods slowly, and turns back to the computer.

At midnight, he stands and says, “Better turn in.”

“Stay here,” Sam whispers. “Feels funny, you in another room.”

“Hey, it’s paid for. Don’t waste it.” Dean smiles formally, and nods. “See you later, Sammy.”


He’s impatient now. Now that it’s all so close. “What?”

“I just wanted to say –“ Sam bites his lip.

“No chick-flick moments, dude,” Dean says, not without gentleness. “Remember? Get some sleep. You look tired.”

“So do you,” Sam whispers.

Dean nods, and scans Sam’s face. Like taking a picture, that familiar face and this place, anonymous hotel room like all the others, the only homes he has ever known after that first, lost place. It all looks faded now, sepia-toned, washed out like Mom, like baby Sammy in his arms. It is a long time ago. It is gone.

“Night, Sam,” Dean murmurs, and Sam doesn’t slam the door for him this time.


He’s thankful for his own precognition in getting separate rooms, rooms hundreds of yards apart. Next door and Sam would hear, while Dean packs, carefully folds clothes and underwear and gathers his toilet things.

Joe’s money and Norquist’s together make a decent pile. Dean divides it evenly, patiently divvies out his portion into several chunks and puts most of it in his hiding places. The duffel, the hidden compartment in his boot. The rest in his wallet. It will be enough. And the stack in the envelope will tide Sam over. Enough to buy a used car, probably not a real good one but it’ll be wheels, and that’ll do. Dean’s conscience is not perturbed. It’s certainly more than Dad ever left them.

The envelope goes in the smaller bag of leftover weapons. Dean doesn’t much like leaving it here, unprotected in this room, but since he’s been here he has strictly forbidden housekeeping to enter, and it will not be a cleaning lady who sees it. It will be Sam, and that will work. He puts the bag in the closet, tucked away behind accordion-fold doors.

It’s chilly outside, damp and fragrant, and all the surfaces are slick with dew. It will be light soon, an hour, maybe ninety minutes. He’s never much liked mornings, but now the freshness of the air, the cool kiss of the damp on his cheeks, feels good. The day is waiting breathlessly to be born, hovering over the faded blue horizon, and isn’t it a pretty damn good metaphor, all told? Maybe a little predictable, but hey, he can live with the occasional ordinary moment. There haven’t been many of those, all told.

His steps slow as he nears Sam’s door. Stop entirely, and Dean places his palm flat on the red-painted wood. He wants to say goodbye, feels there should be some way of marking the moment in his mind, this moment he had never thought even remotely possible until only a few days ago.

But nothing comes. So he pats the door, ducks his head and walks onward.

By the time the sun is completely up, he’s standing by the interstate on-ramp, and after only ten minutes a guy unrolls the passenger-side window in a battered furniture delivery van and yells, “Need a lift?”

Dean grabs his bag and jogs over. “Yeah, man.”

“I can drop you by the exchange. How far you going?”

Dean shrugs, and says, “Not sure yet.” He grins. “Wherever I end up, I guess.”

The guy nods. “Well, come on.”



Author's notes: Well, clearly this ends on a bummer. Resolving Dean's situation wasn't something I found either easy or brief to do, and there are obviously numerous mysteries that need answering -- where's he really come from, who are his parents/family and are they important in the long run, and so on and so forth. To which I can say, yes, they are vitally important and will, hopefully, give some explanations that make sense down the pike.

I had a couple of people already tell me they're taking a powder -- the story just gets too bleak. Which is honestly okay with me -- if things are unhappy-making, I say leave 'em, because life's too damn short. Hell, I had to write Little!Dean just to cheer my own damn self up, so I'm not pointing a single finger. What I will say is that -- ideally, as much of it is as yet unwritten -- there are reasons for everything, to me. Reasons for Dean's choices, that go beyond himself and speak to the underlying larger plot. The consequences of long-ago choices, and in a sense the bigger idea of fate itself, are key. And sometimes you have to leave everything you know behind, lose everything, before you see what it was you had before, and know whether or not you want it back.

I'm glad you stuck with me this far, and I hope you will keep going once I start posting the next section; I think it's gonna be a wild ride. EB