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The roads keep taking them east.

They’re wandering in a lost aimless way and it feels aimless because they’re just burning gas, burning speed, no apparent reason except to keep moving. Sam thinks they should be exhausted, they should be tired, but he’s living off adrenaline, like a runner’s high, we could just keep going, and Dean’s staring at nothing in particular outside the windshield.

East and the horizon changes colors like a dangerous animal and Sam says, “Here comes the sun.” They make it about two miles and Dean smacks Sam in the chest, loud and hard, making him cough.

“Dammit, now I have that song stuck in my head. Way to go.”

Sam marks an invisible point in the air, he needs all the points he can get and they might be aimless, Dean might be talking to him again, but things are still quiet and uncertain.

Four days ago, they were in a cemetery, fighting for their lives, which was nothing new, is never anything new, though it’s not like anything permanent, more like they’re fighting against injury and broken bones the way people fight against broken hearts, every inch they can get in victory.

They were in a cemetery, fending off two spirits, angry lovers who felt wronged by the world, in this one and the next, and their otherworldly murder spree had occurred along a strip of blacktop that measured little under a mile, taking couples as they pleased with a righteous fury matched by their indignant vengeance.

The couples were always lovers, not just vague pairs, they had to be lovers and they had to be unhappy somehow, a misunderstood word, an off-hand gesture, a look askance and an argument simmering between them, it had to be there. Happy families and all that.

Four days ago, Dean was firing in one direction while Sam pointed his shotgun in the opposite direction and the buckshot was ripping apart ghosts, slamming into tombstones.

Graves cracked open, salt and kerosene spilt over the bones, all that was left was to light the holes in the ground, but Sam had the matches and he took a hard body blow, almost blacking out.

He came around with Dean yelling his name, “Throw me the damn matches! Hurry the fuck up!” Shoving a hand in his jacket, Sam tossed them down and realized where he was, as one spark, then two and then twin pockets of fire appeared and he heard a howling out in the dark.

“How. But. Why am I in a tree?” he asked and Dean was bent over, arm clutching across his stomach, gasping for air with a strained whistling noise.

“’Cause you’re a huge fucking dumbass. You make a damn big target, Sammy,” Dean said. “’Specially since you’re such a dumbass.”

Sam ached everywhere he could feel, so he just rested there, flung across a branch and part of the trunk and Dean poked fingers into his own ribs, wincing.

“You break anything? I need to yell timber?” Dean asked and Sam flipped him off, crawling out of the tree with an ungraceful drop to the ground. “You break anything? Sprain your pride?”

They got out of the cemetery in one piece, but Sam’s brain kept saying lovers and he was trying not to think what it meant when they’d hit the cursed flat mile and picked stupid vicious fights with each other and like a scheduled appointment penciled in on a calendar, the spirits had shown up, rocking the car with their cold palms on the metal. Dean kept his mouth shut after that, didn’t say two words together and Sam was trying not to think what that meant either.

Four days ago and the roads keep taking them east. Dean sits crooked behind the wheel, his whole left side mottled purple and Sam’s still disgruntled angry because he tried to help his brother, rub salve where he could, but Dean slapped his hands away, then went and fell asleep in the shower.

Dean hums under his breath, still sitting propped on one hip, hand on the wheel holding him up and Sam aches in the shotgun seat from a multitude of bruises, so many that he couldn’t even find them all in the mirror. He’s not even sure where they’re headed, but he doesn’t mind, he’s never minded, some sort of captive, suffering from a phenomenon like shades of Stockholm Syndrome, at home in the car and if the haunted asphalt has anything to say, in love with his brother, all wrong, completely completely wrong.

So they don’t talk, but Sam’s going to get Dean to say something, get him back on his side.

Miles go by and the sun climbs high and Sam’s vibrating, fidgeting with insults and injuries he wants to say, get under Dean’s skin, little brother stuff he’s intuited over the years, preternatural, comes with the territory having a guy like Dean as his brother.

Gas station deep in the heart of nowhere and he climbs out, slams the door like Dean hates and true to form, Dean jumps, but just shoots a glare over the roof, dark and hot like the gleaming car as the temperatures rise. Inside, Sam picks out candy, some of Dean’s favorites, some of his own, whatever he can see and carry. Sodas fit in the crooks of his arms, balancing a syrupy orange drink for himself. Doubling back, he spies jerky and snatches candy-fisted at the packaging. He smiles greedy-bright at the guy behind the register, laughing to himself with uneasy breaths.

Sam clutches at the plastic bags, searching around for Dean as he leaves. Dean’s staring up at the sky, hands on his hips, like he’s arguing or bargaining, so Sam slips into the car, sets about shuffling things in the foot well.

He’s cracking open a soda bottle when Dean appears. “You gotta piss, do it now. Not planning on stopping.”

The pump is clicking slow and Sam smiles, shakes his head. “Nah, I’m good.”

It’s a waiting game, everything with Dean is, sometimes you’ve got to be dead patient, it’s like living with an earthquake, sometimes clear calm, sometimes all shook up and there’s nothing like barking dogs or abnormal weather to warn you. It’s the little signs only registered by a needle, but Sam’s been fine-tuned and honed and he’s watching.

The pump creaks, done, and Dean ambles in to pay, comes back out wiping his palms on his jeans as if he needs to get something over with and Sam’s not thinking like that, not thinking of yet another argument taking place at high speeds.

Dean folds and winces into the driver seat, starts the car, then they’re back in motion.

Sam leans against the door, trying to sprawl as best he can in these cramped conditions, knee nudging Dean and Dean huffs, still quiet, driving like he can see something Sam can’t. Big show of dragging out the plastic bags and Sam’s making a lot of noise, crinkling, muttering to himself. He snaps a KitKat apart, eating each bar with satisfaction and Dean’s glancing at him, sideways.

Everything about Dean is flat right now, like those first days after they lost their father, and Sam presses his knee a little more against Dean, those fucking bony kneecaps, Dean likes to point out, keep your fucking bony kneecaps and elbows to yourself, Sam.

He wants to count miles in his head, how they were taught to estimate distances, because knowing what’s between here and there could save your life, knowing how far it is for him to reach over and touch Dean is some other level of import.

It isn’t until Sam keeps staring at him, guzzling his way through a two-liter, until he opens the Reese’s peanut butter cups that Dean finally speaks.

“Gimme one.”

“Magic word.”


“Oh, wrong one,” Sam says. “You lose.”

“What else you got there.”

Sam paws through the bag, naming off candy like it’s Halloween, jerky flavors like it’s Christmas, and Dean says, “Fine, just gimme somethin’,” so Sam chooses wisely and tosses his choice over.

“Twizzlers. Why Twizzlers?”

“Meh, you can have those.” Sam waits a beat. “The rest are mine.”

“Didn’t I teach you to share?” Dean demands, shaking the Twizzlers package. He throws it back at Sam, almost hitting him in the throat, which brings his hand close enough to swipe out at Sam and hold on. He drags Sam over and Sam’s gone shaky, he doesn’t know what Dean’s up to because he’s got Sam by the wrist, fingers tight and eyes glinting as he pulls.

“Unwrap that,” Dean says, low like he’s actually angry and Sam’s forgotten he’s holding the second peanut butter cup, greasy and melting in the little paper wrapper.

“No,” he says and Dean frowns, yanks Sam’s hand to his mouth, tongue skidding out over Sam’s palm as he licks at the chocolate.

“There, mine now.”

“Fine, bastard, take it,” and Dean smirks, triumphant, as he snatches the cup from Sam, eating in a complicated fashion, one-handed, peeling the paper off with his teeth.

And it’s what Sam wanted, Dean talking to him, paying attention to him, but his palm is hot where Dean licked him and there’s a buzzing in his blood, so he finishes off the two-liter, remembers the second part of his plan.

“Dude, pull over.”


“Pull over,” Sam says, waving the empty bottle. “Went straight through me.”

“What in the happy hell,” Dean says, disbelieving.

“Pull over.”

“You’re holding a big fucking bottle. Use that.”

“You want me to piss all over your car,” Sam says and Dean’s eyes go in slits.

“You’ve pissed in a bottle before.”

“Yeah, when I was eight and Dad wouldn’t stop ‘cause of that thing dragging people into the river a thousand miles away and—“

Dean sneers, his voice tight. “So what, you’re older, I should hope to hell that your aim has gotten better.”

“If you say so,” Sam says, wriggling around so he can unzip his jeans and his heart’s pounding like he’s panicking, but he’s not, he’s not panicking, so why’s his heart going so fast, marathon-hard, and he can’t seem to stop since it’s a challenge and his hands know he doesn’t fucking give in. He unzips his jeans and then the sky shifts over the dashboard as the car swerves, heavy right to the shoulder and Dean throws the car in park, slapping at him.

“Go. Get the fuck. Out.”

Opening the door, Sam shoots a glance at Dean and his brother is gripping the steering wheel like a life preserver, like they’re sinking fast and he’s the captain, gotta go down with the ship.

And Sam suddenly feels guilty, his brain saying lovers, how they fought on that miserable broken piece of road before the ghosts appeared, he feels guilty in a clean slicing way, stumbling out of the car.

There’s a rumbling noise behind him, not the car, Dean’s not leaving him standing by a fence with his fly open and a draft sweeping by, the rumbling gets louder, then there’s a truck horn blast. Three huge flatbeds and two smaller trucks and Sam’s pissing on a fencepost as the convoy rolls past, it’s just a typical day, nothing to see here, move along.

He waits a moment out in the heat of the day before heading back and Dean’s opened the back passenger door, slouched on the seat, scuffing at the dirt with his boot.

He feels the aimlessness again, four days of simply wandering, following whatever sign sounded interesting, and somehow always going east, he feels it as he walks up and Dean just stares at the ground.

He watches his brother’s hands scrub at his jeans, fingers restless and body so still, and Sam thinks of earthquakes again.

“Bet we could catch ‘em,” he offers, trying not to sound sheepish, as if he’s busted something and he can’t afford to pay. “They haven’t gone far.”

Dean’s mouth ghost-quirks to the side before he says, “You bet your ass we can catch ‘em. Outrun ‘em too.”

“Should probably get on that.”

“Yeah, probably should. If you’re done marking your territory.”

“That fencepost is mine,” Sam says.

“Great. I’m real happy for you, Sam. Location, location, location. Got anything else you need to piss on or are you done?”

Dean stands, but he still isn’t looking at Sam, so Sam says, “Done. For now. Might see another fencepost I like along the way.”

There, Dean glances at him, rolling his eyes, and there, that long-suffering sigh like Sam is every misery, Dean’s very own cross to bear, but apparently he doesn’t mind because he says, “Then get in the damn car, hope you didn’t piss on your shoes.”

“I already know they’re mine.”

Back in the car, back on the road, and Dean revs the engine before pushing her fast after the rambling convoy.

It doesn’t take long, fifteen-twenty minutes or a couple messy packs of Twinkies later, whichever comes first, Sam can’t really tell, and they drive up behind the tail-end truck.

“The caboose,” Sam says and Dean’s busy licking cream from his fingers, but he points at the circus-style font splashed across the truck, the colors faded by sunshine and a scrim of dust. Someone’s written in it, RENO OR BUST, and Dean drives with his knees, cups his hands around his mouth to yell, “You’re going the wrong way!”

Sam did that once, wrote in the dust on the car, and he only did it once because it pissed Dean off something good, Sam writing out his whole name three times and lines of bad porn dialogue and what Dean had said in his sleep the night before, it’s boat of a car and he remembers writing careful to fit it all in. Dean threw a bucket of water at him, told him to clean it off or don’t come back in the house, you little bitch, it better shine the next time I clap eyes on it.

He sassed back and Dean chased him down, tackling him into the dirt. They fought, pulling their punches at first, but then doing real damage, and they came away from it with a torn shirt, a bloody nose, a black eye, and Sam had bitten through his own lip when Dean tried to headbutt him.

Jittering angry, Sam started to wash the car, using his ragged shirt while he sucked back blood and ignored Dean who watched him for a bit before he said, C’mon, Sammy, look at me, look at me. Dean’s eye was swelling shut and he kept saying, Look at me, man, did I break your nose, shit, Sammy, I, I’m. I’m.

Sam spat blood at Dean’s feet and said, Yeah, you’re a sorry excuse for a brother.

That night, he slept for shit and around dawn, he heard Dean get up, but he kept his eyes closed, couldn’t look at Dean in his exhausted beaten shape, then he felt soft fingers running down his nose, checking for broken cartilage. He felt Dean’s breath on his cheek as he said, Sam. Sammy.

Then Dean didn’t speak to him for three days, acting skittish whenever Sam was in the room.

He’s kinda like that now, skittish and ill-tempered, and Sam’s working hard to fix it unlike that time before when he’d wanted Dean and then he’d wanted Dean to leave him alone.

RENO OR BUST and there’s a little drawing of a stick man flipping them off with his middle fingers drawn stupidly long.

Empty two-lane road, Dean’s swerving to see around and Sam says, “Gun it.”

Dean grins messy-wide, so Sam expects him to say something corny, warp speed, but he just floors it and then they’re flying.

Pictures of cotton candy and stuffed animals, dancing cartoon concession food items, the nachos wearing a sombrero and the lady-lipped candy bar dancing the tango with a corn dog in a bowtie. The eerie faces of horses silently neighing.

Dean’s slowed down to keep pace, so they can gawk at the convoy and Sam’s hoping there’s no oncoming traffic over the next hill, his hand finding the door handle, but Dean doesn’t show the same fear, Sam’s brother reckless however he can be.

Spindly spiderwebs of steel, a dismantled ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl, lonely bumper cars like discarded shoes. Single-bar chairs and a UFO roof. A bright red sign that screams SHOOT THE BULLSEYE, WIN THE PRIZE. The scalloped top of the carousel with its lights and mirrors like pearls, little metal flags twisting as the flatbeds roll along the highway.

“Traveling carnival,” Sam says, a little awed, it’s like seeing the bones of a giant, all spread out and lifeless, waiting to be reassembled and brought back to noisy, blinking life.

“Like that book,” Dean says authoritatively, punctuating it with a burst of speed. “Bet it’s evil.”


“What. Y’know. Evil. Traveling around, luring people in with fun cheap rides and addictive cheap food and maybe weird sideshow freaks and then BAM!” Dean smacks the dash. “They steal your soul. And you’re trapped. In one of those carousel horses. Made to listen to that music over and over while some little kid throws up on you ‘cause he went on the teacups. For eternity.”

“Are you for real?” Sam says.

“That’s why it’s called a funhouse.”

“I’m not even gonna ask.”

They shoot past the trucks and the leader lays on the horn, so Dean answers back, long and loud and Sam shouts over the din, “You wanna follow ‘em?”

Dean snorts and lets off the horn. “Nah.”

The last hunt four days behind them and Sam hasn’t found anything since, they don’t have anywhere to be. “You sure? They could be evil. Like you said.”

He likes to push, wants to push because Dean’s talking to him again and the flung-out headlong rush around the trucks has eased the four days of tension, lovers, Sam’s brain supplies, and he says, “You gonna pass up cotton candy?”

“You look like you mugged Willy Wonka,” Dean says, throwing a a candy wrapper at Sam. “We’re gonna be flyin’ high for at least a few hours.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

They roll on down the road, eating through the candy and the jerky, and Dean’s forgotten how he isn’t supposed to be talking to Sam, he’s talking as fast as the wheels spin, and Sam wants to keep Dean going, wound up and telling bullshit stories. They ride on their own legend, memories of hunts and shenanigans gone by, ‘member that one time, Sammy, and Dean’s smile is bigger than the sky and Sam’s trying to match him.

He can’t help it when Dean’s tonguing missed Snickers chocolate from the corners of his mouth, when Dean’s chattering his way through the gummy bears, biting the heads off first, trying to hoard the Swedish Fish, Sam can’t help it, he can’t keep his eyes on the road or the landscape or anything except Dean.

They play 20 Questions and Dean comes out with some random shit, but Sam should know better, he should know when the three things Dean’s thinking of in succession are bacon, pie, and fire, and Sam can’t resist laughing, his blood buzzing rowdy in his ears again.

“You’re a simple man, Dean.”

“I just know what I want,” Dean says, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel and after a minute, he cuts his eyes sideways at the shotgun seat. Sam’s not expecting it, caught like a kite in a rogue gust of wind.

“I, uh. I think it’s. It’s my turn,” Sam says because his brother doesn’t mean it like that, he knows Dean’s list of good things in life, but it’s not like it sounds. Around Dean, he mishears things, as if Dean’s jamming his signal and everything comes through garbled.

The game dissolves as they slowly crash, Dean going quiet and sullen again. Sam can’t get him to guess anymore and they’ve been on the road since before dawn, somewhere around three a.m. because Dean was antsy for whatever reason, sometimes Sam can’t tell what’s going on in his head even though he’s nine for twelve on this string of games, it doesn’t make a lick of sense.

There’s a flash of light on the roof of the car as Sam’s head rocks against the window, sunlight bouncing off Dean’s ring as he rubs at his eyes and he thinks he says, C’mon, man, let’s stop somewhere, I could do with a burger.

Instead, Sam’s at a carnival, wide striped tents and the place is deserted, in the middle of set-up, but he can hear music, carousel music, the same loop over and over, just like Dean predicted. He’s running, screaming Dean’s name and he has to find him, it’s not safe here, all the vendor stands turning into mirrors and his reflection is distorted beyond belief. There’s things in the shadows, following him and he’s starting to panic, he needs to find Dean. Sam keeps running, listening for his brother, and he’s sorry that they fought, sorry for every time he’s fought Dean because it doesn’t have to be that way. He yells for Dean, desperate and high, then he trips, pitching hard to the ground, his joints on fire and the carousel music winds faster, threatening to make him go mad.

And Dean’s there, hands on Sam’s face, Hey, you lookin’ for me?

We have to go, Dean, they’re after us, they’re gonna –

Shut up, Sammy, and Dean’s kissing him, licking into his mouth, again and again until Sam can’t breathe, before he pulls back, says, Let’s get back on the road. I put your soul in the car.

Sam snaps awake. He’s disoriented, the world too bright and slumped and he hears a low whump-whump-whump, like his heart’s fallen out, beating all over the floorboard. He’s sweating as the sun shines through the glass, body shaking from his overheated dreams.

Dean says, “Shit. Shit shit shit,” then the car’s tilting slow, easing to the shoulder.

Sticky and hot and his breath coming too fast, Sam can’t move as Dean gets out, so he just lays there, his bruises poking him and all he can think is fuckin’ sugar.

Dean and his damn lunatic theories, Sam’s been around them his whole life, he should be immune, inoculated over the years, but it never works that way, Dean mixing into Sam like nitroglycerine and maybe it’s only a matter of time before there’s a crater where they should be standing. But he’s not going to think about it, he’s not.

“Looks like we’re headed into town,” Dean says more to himself than Sam and Sam shakes away the explosion debris in his head.

“What town.”

Sighing, Dean gestures at a sign about thirty feet from the car, pointing the way, and maybe their luck has turned.

The car limps along the twenty-some-odd miles into town, a little pea sprout of a place, just off the main artery of the highway and Dean croons to her for every mile.

“I know, pretty girl, it’s all Sam’s fault. Next time he wants to do something so monumentally stupid, we’ll let him do it on his own. Serve him right.”

“Oh good God, like this is my fault.”

Sam grimaces because his stomach hurts, fucking sugar, as if he can feel the car’s pain, their myth-seeking speed-runs on the road too much for both of them sometimes, it’ll be okay if they can just take a break.

“You’re just jealous.”

“Yeah, of you in love with the car. How’d you guess. Need to find a mechanical love of my own. I’m sure we’ve got enough quarters ‘round here somewhere, bet she takes quarters.”

And why’d he put it like that, because now they’re back to being misunderstood, at cross-purposes and crossed wires, Dean hunching in on himself with a scowl and a wince and Sam raps his forehead against the shotgun window.

Instead of crawling the streets looking for a garage, Dean pulls into the motel parking lot, what appears to be the only motel for miles around and he pushes at Sam, “Get your ass out and get us a damn room.”

“Don’t you wanna go bully some poor grease monkey?”

Dean’s mood sours, Sam can almost smell it, as his lip curls, he almost snarls. “Fuck no.”

“All right, all right,” Sam says, palms up as he gets out of the car, “no need to get hostile.”

“You haven’t seen me hostile,” Dean throws at him and Sam can see how much it’s killing him that he can’t just peel out with the final say, but he has to sit there, with the car making her pathetic whump-whump-whump sound. Sam sympathizes, he has that thought again about his heart as he goes inside, rubbing at his chest.

The computer’s down, so the clerk has to do things the old-fashioned way, everything on paper, and while he waits, Sam spies the tourist trap rack, a tradition so worn and faded, it’s a habit he can’t seem to stop, Dean started it when Sam was four and learning to read.

He flips through the brochures on the particleboard rack, running his fingers over the cheap folded papers, rollercoasters and natural wonders and outlet malls. Sam likes to pick by the pictures on the cover and the one he finds is all blacks and blues with dramatic lighting and silhouettes, hanged men dangling from a tree with the yellow-orange full moon behind it.

After the clerk gets Walter P. Pikay checked in with double queens and a warning that the vending machines are broken, Sam takes the brochure with him out to the car. He almost had Dean back with him, had almost won him over for the day.

"Hey, Dean, hey, check it out,” he says, sticking it through the open driver’s window.

A quick-and-dirty little story about the hanging tree, right there in town, and how it might be haunted because of the first hanging to ever occur in the county. A thief, back when this town was on the closing years of the Wild West, desperate to be a part of the era, and the thief wasn't just any night prowler, but a horse thief, a rustler by trade and a murderer by necessity.

Story has the whole nine yards: rustling, greed, six-shooters and the death of the town's brightest son. A posse and a last stand at a shack just outside of town where they caught the thief alive and dragged him back in by his boot heels.

Just in case they got the thief alive, the town had scared up a traveling judge and brought him in on the express mail coach. The trial took all of three hours. They hanged the thief at twilight the next evening.

"Fast and no-nonsense," Sam says.

"Thought it was 'sposed to be at dawn," Dean says and Sam squints at him.

“You talk like an expert.”

“Learned it all from the movies,” Dean says. “They know everything.”

“You just wanna be an outlaw.”

“Hell yeah, Sam, you wouldn’t? C’mon, seriously, can’t you see it, us as outlaws?”

He can, he can see it, the two of them taking on all comers and shooting their way out of danger. Back to back, drawing as fast as they can, a six-shooter in each hand, hoping like hell they don’t find their end in the cemetery at the top of the hill. He smiles, but Dean’s frowning at him, impatient.

Sam shifts his weight, nervous that he has Dean’s attention again. “Could be haunted.”

Dean shrugs and says, "Doubt it. Town that'll go through that much trouble to get rid of someone they hate, they won't stand for ghosts."

Sam laughs and Dean smirks at him, ain't-you-easily-impressed. "Tourist trap."

"This says there's floating lights at night."

"Yeah, like prairie lights, probably," Dean says, then he punches Sam in the shoulder. "Fuckin’ tourist, I have something important to do. What room."

"Oh, c'mon, don't deny it, you wanna see the hanging tree."

Dean’s expression says Sam’s trying too hard. “What room.”


Then Dean’s crumpling, tossing the brochure into the back seat and puttering off to room fourteen, leaving Sam to walk.

By the time Sam gets there, Dean’s popped the hood, staring disconsolately at the engine and he doesn’t look up at Sam, just waves a hand, “Put the stuff in the room.”

“Come help,” Sam says, annoyed suddenly, “she needs to cool off anyway, idiot.”

“Asshole,” Dean says, but he does what Sam says except how he still won’t look at Sam and it’s becoming fucking irritating. Out of spite, Sam calls the bed by the door, since it’s usually Dean’s spot, and chucks the bags he’s carrying onto the other bed with a force that would be a prelude to a fight, but Dean doesn’t rise to the bait, leaving Sam without anything to do but glare with his hands on his hips, looming until Dean goes back out to the car.

The room is stale, so Sam leaves the door open; nothing’s after them and the car’s parked right outside, the third partner in this criminal enterprise and it’s countless how many times they’ve had to disappear into the night like desperadoes.

It's one of those days that foretell something, with how the clouds are formed and the air is hot and the dogs bark to each other, like earthquake weather.

Sam starts watching Dean, because these signs usually don't work, but now their luck has turned, so anything could happen and it’s not long before Sam is well on his way to being lost with the possibility of it all.

Lovers, and it's not like that at all, he and Dean living in each other's pockets, and it's been years since Sam ever thought of wanting to fuck around with his brother, any inkling of it, like a broken light flashing sporadic in his brain, he thought the filament had given up the ghost long ago, done.

But now, now under these taffy-pulled skies and the cloying heat and he can count the dogs like a metronome, Dean’s in front of him, making little clicks and clinks, metal against metal, humming fast and driving under his breath. Sam thinks it'll happen, he’ll try, lay hands and mouth on Dean, then Dean'll punch him and the taste of blood is all he'll be left with, here in this tiny town with the hangman's tree.

Give a man enough rope and he'll hang himself with it.

In full-on Technicolor replay, he remembers Dean saying he knows what he wants, his eyes sliding over to where Sam was sitting.

Dean speed-hums through a guitar solo, his pockets glittering heavy with wrenches, sockets jingling like change, his fingers are smudged black when he reaches for one and it's a bolt out of the blue to think that Sam is happiest here, propped up against the brick wall, his knuckles covered with cement chalk as his brother is up to his elbows in machinery, humming heavy metal and Sam wants so fast, after so many years, that he almost can't stand it, like a sharp blow to the head, concussion dizzy.

It feels like hope.

Sam mumbles, "Too hot out here, man," and Dean says, "Useless ass and a damn wuss, how did I luck out," which is Sam's exit cue to disappear through the open door of their room and stumble to his bed.

One minute he’s watching TV, an inane talk show with inane chatter, and the next he can barely stay awake, the rise and fall of the television voices lulling him better than any drum solo lullaby or hum of the road.

He shifts around to stay awake, he still can feel how his heart was pounding, running through a maze of mirrors and carnival tents, and there’s a simmering in his veins, the buzz of his blood back in full force, and he wants to ride it like a huge swell about to pitch him onto a beach.

It’s a valiant fight and he thinks he’s winning and.

When he rolls over, Dean's flopped next to him and there's a hard metal lump pressing up into his ribs. He fishes around for it, but his arm is trapped under Dean and it’s like bizarre physics, one of those intricate mechanics taught in school that he never completely understood.


His brother doesn't stir, dead to the world, and Sam doesn't think about how he's watching Dean sleep before he realizes Dean’s holding onto his wrist.


Sam stares at the ceiling, listening to his breathing and the twinges of his bruises and he can feel the metal as his chest expands, contracts. He focuses on that instead of what’s really happening here.


"What," Dean mumbles into the pillow.

"There's a wrench in the bed."

“Best place for it.”

“In my bed. There’s a wrench,” Sam points out because his brain is still somewhat unconvinced.

"And if you don't shuddup, I'ma beat you senseless with it,” Dean sleep-slurs.

"Why's there a wrench in my bed?" He helplessly wants to ask why Dean is in his bed, but that seems like pushing it too far, he might fall.

"Prolly fell outta my jeans. Who cares.”

“I do, it’s my bed.”

“Who said it was your bed?" Dean asks, shifting around so he can get a good grip on the pillow, shove it under his head.

"I did. When we got here. I called it."

"Shoulda pissed on it, Sam. Mark your territory."

Now Sam’s fully awake and he makes a face at his brother even though Dean still has his eyes closed. "Gross, Dean." He kicks at him and Dean kicks back, coming awake now too and he lets go of Sam without any acknowledgement, nothing to help explain why he had a hold on Sam.

"You put stuff on the other bed. I can’t sleep there. There's stuff there.”

I didn’t put you here, Sam wants to say, you and one of your wrenches here in mine, because Dean has to claim everything, somehow, in his unstoppable, conquering way.

It’s dark out when Sam sits up and Dean’s hand trails down his arm and he can’t look back at Dean, sleepy and warm, next to him in bed, he can’t, so he scoots to the edge and flicks off the still-chattering television.

“So, what’re we doing tonight?”

“The same thing we do every night.”

You’ve already taken over the world, Sam almost says. It’s true and he was taught to speak the truth, except in times of necessity. He deems this to be one of those times, so he doesn’t say anything and Dean grunts like he missed an obvious opportunity.

“How ‘bout a bar,” Dean says, and it’s a bad idea, but between the two of them, they’ve had worse, and unbidden, Sam flashes to about a week before the whole angry lovers hunt went awry, when Dean spent an empty-sixer night staring at his mouth and Sam talked as much as he could, talked about the stupidest bullshit, almost talked himself hoarse so Dean wouldn’t look away.

It’s a bad idea, so Sam says, “How ‘bout a bar.”

The bar is afire with neon. Right when they walk in, Dean sighs like he’s home and Sam sighs like he can’t believe they’re related, really sometimes he can’t, not that he’s ever wished they weren’t, he pushes past Dean, a deft shoulder check and he pretends not to hear the “what the hell” behind him.

They settle in a booth and Sam nudges his fucking bony kneecaps against Dean who retaliates by crosses his legs, kicking Sam in the shins in the complicated process, it’s a tight squeeze with the two of them even sitting across from each other.

The waitress appears out of the neon wash and before she can smile or open her mouth, Dean says, “Two beers, your cheapest bottle of liquor and a coupla shot glasses.”

She shakes her head, like she should’ve known when she saw them, they probably look down on their luck and raring to be up on their alcohol, so she just says, “You got it.”

And when the alcohol arrives, two Millers and a bottle that looks like it’s been around since the Ford Administration, Sam proceeds to do the dumbest thing he’s used to doing in a long history of dumb things: keep up with his brother.

It's like something storied, Hendrix on the jukebox, the exalted guitar wailing through the smoke and the two of them getting drunk on rotgut gin and beer. The waitresses walk around with trays like chrome-plate hubcaps and when Sam tilts his head, gets a second look, he sees that they are hubcaps, cutting at the light and making him blink. Dean misunderstands, says, "What, the redhead?"

“Oh fuck, just shut up,” Sam says, shutting himself up with a shot, liquor running down his chin, and he catches it with his wrist, licks at it clumsily.

Dean kinda gasps and shifts like he’s guilty, but Sam can’t think of what, what’s he guilty of, if there’s anyone guilty here, it’s Sam and they’ll hang him for it, all the old miscreant dreams and new half-truths and they’ll hang him, probably from that fucking tree.

He shrugs, then shrugs again because hey, that’s his life and he doesn’t know what to else do. Then Dean shrugs too, says, “Fuck it, just forget it. We’re the prettiest two in here,” and Sam laughs as he takes a drink, beer foaming around his mouth.

And like that, they’re back on the rails together, traveling the same conduit, back to being bullshitters and partners-in-crime, fellow collaborators and confederates. They argue about whether or not to hustle the poor clueless folk in this hound-dog bar and how many of them are carrying guns, how many of them they could take in a fight and how many fighting rounds they’d last depending on how drunk they are.

The neon is lighting Dean up in a devastating way and Sam will be damned if he looks away for even a moment, misses one of Dean’s laughs and the answering curve of his mouth when Sam smiles.

The beers are going fast, the rotgut gin going faster and Dean blinks like he can’t believe Sam’s here and Sam wants to put a hand on his neck, say, Yeah, I’m here, this is real, what you do to me, you have no idea, but oh brother, it’s real.

They both cut it short, Dean stopping early and Sam stopping with him, as if getting blackout drunk isn’t the plan, the plan is to remember this and maybe look back on it with fondness and Sam’s all for that, Dean’s all of his memories and all of his nostalgia.

Wandering out into the night, tripping each other up, and Sam feels the aimlessness again, how right it is, they have nowhere to be except here, wherever the hell they are, shoulder-to-shoulder under the night sky like they know how to be when they remember it.

Sam’s blood is running hot and fast through him, like a switch has been flipped, power stations surging overload, and he wonders if Dean can feel it too.

"You're crazy, man. Absolutely. Fuckin' crazy," Dean mutters.

"Who you callin' crazy, crazy?"

"Not me. You."

Sam huffs, annoyed and Dean looks briefly confused, eyes like smears of light. "No, not you. Me. Me. I'm crazy," he sorta clarifies.

"Don't sell yourself short. You're insane. It's like callin’ yourself stupid. Should be understood," Sam says, smiling because it's a good joke, but Dean shakes his head, almost blundering into a pothole.

He laughs once, a kinda don’t-that-beat-all sound and Sam’s about to ask what the hell’s so funny, but Dean grabs his arm, fingers tight in the crook of his elbow, “Hey, let’s go see your damn tree.”

Closing in on midnight and they noisily walk the streets, looking for the town center and the hanging tree, Dean making claims that he’d be the fastest gunfighter ‘round these here parts and Sam saying, “Yeah, these here parts, nowhere else. Big fish in a small pond, that’d be you, Dean.”

“Fucker, I’d do that coin trick, you’d be dead before the coin hit the ground,” Dean says and then there’s the tree, no silhouettes against the moon or floating balls of light.

Sam says, “You wouldn’t shoot me,” and Dean says, “Don’t test me, Sammy, some of the shit you’ve pulled,” and suddenly, Sam’s worried, panicking almost.

“No, Dean, you wouldn’t shoot me,” he insists, words slurring with how fast he says them, reaching out to put a hand on the tree because he can’t seem to feel anything now.

Dean’s staring at him like Sam’s crazy, opposite of what he said however many minutes ago, you is one crazy motherfucker, Sam Winchester. Dean’s staring at him, and Sam can’t take much more of this, he leans against the tree and closes his eyes.

“You wouldn’t shoot me,” he says again, then he feels fingers on his nose, tracing the line of it and Dean says, “No, no, I. I wouldn’t. Sammy.”

Then Dean puts his mouth against Sam’s, warm and fast, and Sam clutches at him before he can change his mind and get away, before this is anything other than a true kiss.

Fucking need for oxygen, Dean pulls back, the tree taking Sam’s weight and Sam says the first thing that comes to mind:

“I don’t see any ghost lights.”

Dean laughs, the sound breathed across Sam’s skin. “Prairie lights.”

“Yeah, I don’t see those either.”

Dean laughs again, his hands slipping under the hem of Sam’s shirt, squeezing and Sam thinks, Lovers.

Pressed up against a maybe-haunted tree, they’re making out like nothing’s ever wrong and Sam’s sweating out the alcohol just from the heat, their own little weather pattern.

The floating lights haven’t shown and they’re too distracted to notice, rubbing together as if they’ve just discovered the marvel of attraction.

Once, Dean gets a hand in Sam’s hair, pulls his head back and Sam’s panting up at the branches overhead, the sky beyond, there might be a phantom light, but it might be Sam’s imagination, because he’s dizzy again, like hope, and he might pass out.

After a while, they meander back to the motel, shouting, same as when they were teenagers and out for mischief, hellbent for mayhem, riding high on their own legend. At the room, Sam captures Dean in the doorway, decides this is their best adventure ever, long may it last, like the aimless road.

Dean’s bruised side finds the still-hidden wrench in the bedsheets like a landmine and it all goes downhill headfirst when he demands that Sam kiss it better.

They’re still a little drunk and Sam might be delirious, listening to Dean say his name. Mindful of bruises, they use their hands and they use their mouths and in the darkness before dawn, they do it all over again until they’re bitten and familiar. In the morning sunshine, Dean flings an arm over Sam’s belly, “Five more minutes, Sammy, let the old man sleep.”

After his shower, staring at the mirror, Sam can tell Dean’s bruises from the fading ones of four days ago, how these new ones fit to Dean’s teeth and how tight he held onto Sam.

The car purrs at the turn of the key, Dean in full smug confident swagger and Sam waves a hand, “Yeah, yeah, you got the magic touch.”

“Don’t you know it.”

“Well, at least you don’t take quarters.”

He gets a smack in the chest and a “you watch your mouth, boy,” Dean’s attention on him like a whirlwind rush.

His brother doesn’t say two words together about it, about them akin to a forgone conclusion or insanity plea, just smiles like he knew it all along, it’s fucking crazy but it’s worth it and when it rains, it pours.

When they leave town, Dean turns left. He trails his arm along the top of the seat to tug at Sam’s hair and after a hundred octane miles, Sam looks up and realizes they’re headed west.