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tragedy among the scholars of war

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It all starts with a phone call, as so many things do.

**

Middle of land-and-sky nowhere, side of the road, and a pumpjack creaks nearby, stark rusted black, folded like a grasshopper.

When Dean wakes, he's got a voicemail. Sam has one too. They stumble out of the car and stretch, look up at the noonday sky where there's a storm rolling in from the west.

The voicemails are from Bobby, his voice punctuated with rumbles of thunder overhead.

A group of hunters, close on their tail and Bobby knows they mean business. The kind of business that makes Bobby call them with his angry tone and phrases like don't be idjits and salt 'n firewood's cheaper'n a pair of caskets.

The killing kind.

Dean's offended, No one can chase down my baby.

Sam leans against the shotgun door. I don't think that's the issue, Dean.

It sorta is, Sammy. Not only do they think they can track us, they think they can catch my baby. No fucking way.

Makes me sad there're so many stupid hunters in the world, Sam says with a one-shouldered shrug.

That why you left? Dean says, kicks Sam's ankle. You left 'cuz you're smarter'n the rest of us.

Sam sighs, eyes like the storm closing in. No, dumbass. That why you left? 'Cuz you're dumber'n the rest of us?

Dean smirks, slow, easy, like the wind at their backs.

Nah, I'm just a selfish bastard.

Yeah, you are.

Can't let you have all the fun, Dean says and when Sam gets him on the ground, in the dead grass and dirt, Sam's shadow is heavy, disappearing with the sun.

The pumpjack creaks, kneeling and rising kneeling and rising, and Dean wonders aloud what it would look like on fire, kneeling and rising kneeling and rising.

And Sam smiles, promises of destruction and debris.

**

There is a plan, they have a plan, and it's a fucking awesome one, thank you for playing.

It was decided upon over a bottle of tequila and refined as they fucked, a gun held to Dean's head, Sam's body shoving him against the wall and they've always loved games, so this will just be another.

The group of hunters following them, the posse, Dean wants to call them a posse which Sam thinks is dumb, you are not John Wayne, what the hell is wrong with you, aw c'mon, Sam, you know you wanna call it a posse, the posse, the group of hunters, the huddled insane, the knot of fucking brain-dead sons of bitches who should be on life support because their collective brain activity couldn't even keep a single one of them alive, those poor bastards will follow any scrap they leave behind, any sort of clue or cigarette butt or burning bush, for fuck's sake, so that's what they'll do.

They'll leave clues. They'll leave burning bushes.

Because they love fun and while it might not be as much fun as firing warning shots over these motherfuckers' hoods, it'll still be fun.

They love games. Except Russian roulette. That game's just idiotic. If you want to play with a gun, it's better to either use it or just press it to your brother's temple and then fuck him until he thinks he's been shot in the head, until he thinks he's dying.

The plan is easy. And they'll get it started. Just as soon as Sam runs out of energy and comes.

**

They're in a diner somewhere, it's not even really a diner, more like one of those places that serves food without the fanfare of atmosphere or laminated menus, just pieces of paper printed that morning.

Map spread out on the table so it faces Sam as he presses out the wrinkles and there's notations all over the map, pencil, pen, blue black red brown, though the brown might be blood in some places and coffee stains in others.

Dean's reading upside-down, they both know how to read upside-down, long days of sitting in front of their dad, now Sam taking his place and Dean taking theirs.

They're here, this little black dot and Dean smirks, how easy it would be to wipe the tiny black dot off the map. Gas station nearby, nothing but scrub brush and old grass and it's that season, wildfire, grassfire, the ground scorched black and clean. That's what he likes.

Sam smirks back without asking because whatever Dean wants, Sam wants, usually, that's how the phrase thick as thieves works, they are thieves, they are criminals, they are damn fucking felons, notorious and wanted and Dean's about to sweep the map off the table, just fuck Sam right there, he's unbuckling his belt when Sam says, Here.

Where.

Here.

The belt buckle clangs against the table as Dean stands, opening his jeans and he leans close to see where Sam's got his finger.

An X written in pencil, in the middle of a huge empty square of county, and next to it, Dean's scrawl says motherfucking oil widow.

Here, Sam says again, but he's not looking at the map now, he's looking at Dean, shoving his chair away from the table to unbalance Dean and get him in his lap.

The waitress says, Hey, you— then she sees Dean's cock, smearing against Sam's shirt and she steps back, shocked.

That mouth of yours isn't going anywhere near my brother, so you might as well leave, Sam says, gripping Dean closer and it's friction and Dean whines into it as Sam reaches around and pulls Dean’s gun from his jeans.

He points the gun at her and she drops the coffee pot.

Yeah, I think we'd like a little privacy, Dean says.

It takes three bullets to clear the diner because people are so fucking stupid, the first shot makes them look around, the second shot makes them duck and Dean's having to enunciate very slowly to tell them to get the fuck out and then they still don't move, so he takes the gun from Sam and shoots out the main window, glass breaking everywhere as Sam laughs.

Dean does get to fuck Sam on the table and Sam bleeds on the map even though Dean wipes the knife on the back of his shirt and then there's a fire in the kitchen because the cook disappeared with the waitress and left the stove on.

The grass around the diner is starting to smoke and catch as they drive away.

Maybe this little black dot will disappear after all.

A silver truck follows them out onto the highway. And Sam solves that problem pretty quickly with a shotgun and a set jaw, leaning out the window and shooting at their grill.

Fuckers shouldn't have such a big grill; it makes too good a target.

So does the windshield.

The truck swerves crazily and ends up facing the other way on its side.

It's been a productive day.

**

Their way of scattering clues is to leave a wake of ruin, things broken and not easily mended. Because that’s how it should be, the Winchester name tied up in devastation the same way devastation is tied up in them.

Devastation is what they know and love. So they share with smiles on their faces and Dean war whoops as they drive away.

It’s all easy stuff, nothing complex or complicated, they aren’t making Rube Goldberg machines of mayhem and fire. Though Sam wanted to, line everything up, and all it would take is a match or a bullet or even a knife edge, then aces, it’s all aces as things light and burn and spark and explode.

Just like them. All it took was a knife to the back and now, every day is blood in sunshine.

They don’t leave their names because c’mon, that’d be too easy, way too easy, fuckers need to work for it, Sam says, and when Dean rolls his eyes, he says, I mean, I know they aren’t smart, I’d be surprised if they could dress themselves, but where’s the fun if it’s too easy?

You’re too easy, Dean says. The car is shooting down the highway and there’s a Jeep on their tail, close enough to be a glint in the mirror, but far enough away to be a glint in the mirror.

Sam crosses his arms. Now you’re gonna hafta work for it.

Bastard.

You know you want to. You could make me beg. You could make me fucking plead. Tie me up, beat me up.

Dean shifts behind the wheel, licks his lips.

Pistol-whip me, Sam says, and his voice is as black as the car, hot in the sunlight. I’d be on my knees. Hands behind my back. Bleeding.

In a screech of tires, Dean swerves off the road, almost into the ditch and he’s pushing Sam out of the car, saying, All of it, Sammy, you wanna try all of it?

You’re too easy, Sam says, laughing low and dark because he knows it’ll rile Dean, it’ll shove him into getting his gun and his cock out.

And Dean does both, savoring it with a smirk and his eyes flashing like razor-edged weapons. A single swing and Sam goes to his knees, spitting blood and it’s running down his face, to the dirt and rocks, anointing him like holy oil.

Don’t touch me, Sammy, hands behind your back, just open your mouth.

So when the Jeep that was following them flies by, Sam’s doing what he said, humming happily around blood and heat and pain and Dean.

After, he kisses his brother with the taste of blood and come in his mouth and fucks Dean against the shotgun door and the window is smeared when they get back on the road, when he rests his forehead against it.

**

They leave fucking clues, of course they do.

Like this one time, they found the motherfuckers’ cars, and left vampire corpses on their hoods. They have a special relationship with vampires and so it seems only fitting, because afterwards, it’s all hearts and flowers, blood on their clothes and Dean laughing so hard at something dirty Sam said that he can’t walk straight and runs into the side of one of the pickups hard enough to trigger the car alarm. Up until then, they’d been sneaky, ninjas dripping gore, because the trick to this date of theirs and yeah, it’s a fucking date, and don’t you say otherwise, since Sam wined and dined Dean before they went to the nest, it is a fucking date and they’re both expecting to fuck and be fucked and get fucked and stay bloody, the trick to this date of theirs is to put the bodies on the cars without setting off the alarm and they were doing good, drunk on alcohol, flying high on adrenaline, horny four ways to Sunday, until Dean ran into the pickup, laughing his fool head off and then, it’s like every good idea coalesced into one.

The pickup is beeping and howling and screeching, so Sam breaks the driver’s side window with the butt of his gun and Dean’s still laughing, rubbing his hip where he bounced off the metal and Sam hotwires it, is considering turning off the alarm, but Dean says, Leave it on, Sammy, leave it on.

Sam laughs and they peel off, the alarm still sounding, and race across town, dodging through streets until Dean tries to climb into Sam’s lap as he drives.

Everything spins and Sam says, Your fault, Dean, this is your fault, and Dean says, Hell yeah it is, now c’mon.

Everything spins because Sam loses control and the pickup shoots across two lanes and there’s dust and noise and Dean laughing, pressed up warm and tight against Sam and then they’re in the ditch, the pickup flipped on its side.

Broken glass and only one of the headlights is working and the alarm chirps off and on off and on off and on as Sam coughs in gasping breaths and Dean has blood on his mouth.

It’s been a while since they’ve been in a wreck and they decide they like it, Sam smiling and Dean smirking and there’s fresh blood on their skin.

They fuck there, Dean pushing slow into Sam as they cuss each other filthy, twisted and sideways in the crooked cab of the pickup somewhere in a ditch.

The next time, they skip the corpses and settle for burning something down. Why not.

**

There’s the motel room that catches fire, even though they don’t really mean it, Dean playing with matches and Sam spitting whiskey at him and then out of nowhere, the bed and floor are on fire.

But that leads to the bar where everything changes.

The hunter motherfuckers have been tailing them for about a week, several hundred miles and a number of towns though Sam loses count somewhere along the way.

The hunter motherfuckers seem to be ignoring their own proper jobs, you know, there’s gotta be some demons out there messing with someone’s guts, Dean says, I mean, werewolves, leprechauns, Casper maybe?

Dean, we’re their job, Sam says.

Yeah, but they aren’t having any fun with it. And they’re so damn boring. Pretty shitty hunters if you ask me. I am ashamed to be named among them.

It’s not a union.

And there’s a reason for that. Because all these bastards suck. Hard, Dean says.

The neon is splitting the night and blacking out Sam’s eyes, all dark shine as if he’s possessed and Dean smiles bigger and bigger at him, licking his lips, until Sam’s going, What, yeah, what?

So they enter the bar with Dean’s hands in Sam’s pockets, walking plastered to his back and their feet tangle and they trip and the hunter motherfuckers are already there, scattered around the joint. Sam and Dean couldn’t pick them out of a line-up, which is where they belong, harassing good decent tax-paying citizens, as Dean says and Sam rolls his eyes, We don’t pay taxes, and for that argument, Dean stopped it with his teeth on the back of Sam’s neck, We pay taxes in salt, Sammy, and Sam said, Just like the Romans. Which got them all excited because those Romans had a healthy love of blood and all these centuries later, so do they.

The hunter motherfuckers are surprised, as if they didn’t expect the Winchesters, which is downright fucking brainless because Sam isn’t exactly the Spanish Inquisition and neither is Dean and hell, they’re being hunted, what kind of dickheads lose sight of their prey?

So what happens is only fair, at least going one way.

The bar’s pretty empty because it’s Monday, even though Mondays probably deserve alcohol and violence, every day probably deserves alcohol and violence, but Dean’s a little biased and Sam’s got his shoulder pushed against Dean, so they’re in agreement.

One of the hunter motherfuckers opens his mouth first.

Well, look who it is.

Yeah, look who it is, Dean says.

Ain’t y’all ‘sposed to be runnin’? a guy in an ugly brown plaid shirt says, wiping at his beer bottle with his sleeve.

Sam huffs, like he’s lost all patience. Dude, I am not in the mood for this shit.

Dean waves a hand, says, C’mon, Sam, I wanna see where this is going.

Oh, I can tell you where it’s goin’, another guy says, takes a swig of his beer. You two are goin’ straight back to Hell. Double-time.

Yeah, boys, the first guy says, Looks like there’s a sale on and we’ve got us a twofer.

Some little weasely son of a bitch wearing a cap says, You owe me for my truck.

Fuck, that was your truck, Dean says, hands out. Well, gee, mister, we sure are sorry. It was a nice ride that had the misfortune of being owned by you. It joyrides real well and had enough leg room I could fuck Sam in it. Such shame.

The hunter motherfuckers look shocked now and Sam huffs again, This is so dumb. He pulls out his gun and points it at the guy in the cap.

They’re all circling, pushing aside chairs. There’s about eleven or so of them and two of Sam and Dean and that’d be nothing, not when a few of them break their bottles and crack their knuckles and then someone takes a swing. That’d be nothing, just a good ol’ fashioned bar fight, just like the Winchesters like, the chance to get in some pain and violence and retribution for no other fucking reason than it sounds like a good idea at the time because they’ll get to lick wounds and blood and it’d be another regular Monday night with the drug of adrenaline and the taste of breaking something, of destroying something and total destruction is the only option available since it’s what makes them happy and happiness is their unalienable right.

That’d be nothing until some of the hunter motherfuckers gang up on Sam, shoving him to the floor, and Dean puts one of them down, the shot echoing out like the lingering cigarette smoke in the air.

That’d be nothing, but it pisses everyone off, and everyone’s out for blood and kidneys carved out with beer bottles, the world has gone red and when Sam gets his chance, he shoots another hunter as they go after Dean, raging screaming with their mouths open, then shoots another right through the head, viscera spattering everywhere.

That’d be nothing, but it ends with Sam and Dean stumbling out of the bar, drunk on pain instead of good-time alcohol, Dean spraying blood from his mouth as he laughs, blood all on his face and clothes, long thin scratches from a bottle across his belly, some cracked ribs with how he’s holding his side and Sam with a black eye, bloody palms, a dislocated shoulder with how he’s holding his arm, unseen bruises in the shapes of boots with how he’s holding his body.

They’re hurt, pretty bad, pretty good, and they drive away swallowing blood as headlights flash like the sign behind them, other cars and trucks already piling onto the road after them.

They swallow blood and Dean says, Fuck, and Sam starts to laugh, leaning against the door.

Miles down the road, Dean flicks off the headlights and turns onto the first dirt road he sees. Reset Sam’s shoulder, reset their night by sharing bloody kisses, looking at each other’s wounds, pressing where they’re purple and blue.

Then they’re back on the road, pushing on, pushing through, awake with pain and adrenaline and fury.

They’re hurt, pretty bad, pretty good and when Sam groans at the whirl of the stars overhead, dizzy every time he moves, Dean says, I know, Sam, holy hell, I know, we’ll make them fucking pay.

I think I’ve got a fat lip, Sam says.

And their crooked laughter is better than any high speeds on deserted highways.

**

There is a plan, they have a plan, and it's a fucking awesome one, thank you for playing, here is your consolation prize.

And they’re continuing to put it in motion. Because it might look random, it might closely resemble something like crazy, but it’s not, not even close, not even on the same radar as crazy.

They’ve been circling the area, like the bloody water down the drain when they finally stop long enough to shower, long enough to stock up on food and drinks and Sam gets an apple and Dean says, What the fuck, and Sam says, An apple a day, Dean, and Dean says, Yeah, it’s really helped your busted shoulder, Princess.

They’re out ahead of the hunters, poor bastards, because they don’t know where Sam and Dean are leading them.

It’s a house, the empty-looking county marked with the X and Dean’s handwriting, that motherfucking oil widow.

There’s a reality show on and Dean throws his chip bag at the television and Sam says, You think it’s still there?

On the walls? Dean says.

Yeah.

Yeah. If the house hasn’t fallen down.

It’s a house, built on a caprock, as the term is in this part of the state, high and flat like a tabletop and below it, the land rolls away. An odd area, oil country, and Dean complained because the oil is so thick in places, you can smell it in the air and it was like every slow-motion combustion dream they’ve ever had. But you couldn’t light it.

The hunters, poor damn bastards, don’t know they’re being lead to the caprock, where the house is overlooking the terrain and there’s old pumpjacks scattered like the huge metal Xs designed to keep out any kind of land assault from the sea.

It’s not a last stand, not anything like that, it’s damn fine hunting and their father would’ve been proud, they’re using battle strategies like almost everything he taught them because being the children of a Marine means when you’re pushed, you push back and you don’t stop until they’ve given up, until they’ve come to their senses or you’ve worn and beaten them down to bone and base and utter surrender.

Being the children of a Marine means semper fi and they’re always faithful to the idea that they aren’t dying, not today, not until they say when, and that won’t be any time in the foreseeable future.

Semper fi and they’re on the road, Dean smiling around his bruises and how he unconsciously still protects his battered ribs, Sam watching his brother with his black eye and the way his shoulder rotates a little slower under the marks left by boot heels.

There’s a flash in the rear view mirror and Sam leans over the seat to look through the back window and they’re laughing again, music turned up loud. Those poor fucking bastards have no idea.

You think it’s still there?

Yeah. If the house hasn’t fallen down.

**

The motherfucking oil widow had lost her husband to a rig accident, though she claimed it was murder, a conspiracy, an act of untold greed. She had committed suicide and then set about exacting her revenge through a few generations of roughnecks, working around her house that they blindly used as their field office.

Sam said that the lady doth protest too much and Dean laughed as he torched her bones.

They reach the house just around time to have a beer with the sun well into its descent and it’s Dean this time who says, Think it’s still there?

Sam grins.

When they took the hunt, the X in the empty county, it’d only been about a month since they’d left Hell. The pumpjacks creaked eerily, sounding like screaming demons, and there was nothing else out there, but the house, the pumpjacks, the land and the sky.

The widow was buried behind the house, but they’d ignored her grave in favor of seeing just how tough a broad she was. Inside, she threw tables and chairs and tossed Dean down the stairs and Sam through a doorway and finally, the game got old, enough was enough.

But afterwards, Dean had smirked, said, C’mon, let’s sanctify the house too, and Sam said, What’d you have in mind?

It required blood and come and it was back when Sam was still discovering new ways to handle a knife and that lonely house high on the caprock is where he carved his ‘S’ into Dean and he cleaned the blade by flicking it at the wall, red streaking over the pansy-and-petunia wallpaper.

The wallpaper is coming down in strips.

But the blood is still there.

Dean runs his hand over the stains and Sam kisses him, flipping a knife between them.

**

The hunters show up around dawn. They ride slow and without headlights. The house and its detached shack-turned-garage appear abandoned.

Except for the two men sitting on the porch with shotguns in their hands.

The land stretches out flat in front of the house and the backyard nothing but more land, a curved drop and dusty rinses where the water runs when it rains, sluicing and cutting into the ground down to the mesquite bushes. Some of the pumpjacks are still and dead while others move steady and unhurried like they’re turning the world and their creaks as they kneel and rise kneel and rise haven’t changed from sounding like the cut-off shrieks of demons.

There’s not much else, there’s nowhere to go and it’s dark, too hard to see it, but Dean smiles before he puts a bullet through one of their windshields.

So what happens is only fair, at least going one way.

**

It’s not a siege and it’s not a massacre.

Depending on how you look at it.

**

There’s a window on the second story of the house overlooking the drive in and they had argued about whether to just sit up their with their rifle and sight, just picking off the hunters as they drove up.

But that’d be too easy, way too easy, fuckers need to work for it, Sam said, and when Dean rolls his eyes, he said, Where’s the fun if it’s too easy?

Do I need to say it again, Dean said.

What?

You’re too easy.

So that plan went out the window on the second story because they kind of broke the glass when Sam threw a bullet at Dean and Dean threw a bullet back and they grinned through their bruises and it was like a pact.

The house faces west and the sun is coming up in the east, so they’ll be in shadow, maybe always and forever, but to them, it’s going to be a sunny day on the caprock. They’re fighting injured, they’re fighting because you don’t stop and these motherfuckers need to be taught a lesson in the evils of being narrow-minded.

They’re fighting injured, Sam grimacing with the shotgun up to his shoulder and Dean keeping his arms and guns low until he needs to raise them.

Flashlights come out of the diminishing dark and their numbers have been thinned to nine or so, a veritable fucking brain trust, Dean says, and Sam laughs and someone startles, fires into the air.

**

It’s almost like what their father told them as bedtime stories, about fighting and warfare, what bullets sound like when they cut through the air close and how fighting is just powerful chaos, all confusion and insanity.

The sun is rising and gleaming on the cars and pickups out in the yellow grass of the yard, and the light is blinding, sharp, slicing at eyelines and dead sights. The spray of lights and bullets is merciless, ricocheting.

Dust kicks up from misguided shots and the wood of the porch splinters around Sam, around Dean, and they’re counting out loud, counting bullets, trying to see how many it will take to defuse the ticking time bomb or have it explode.

Glass shatters in vicious showers, windows from the house, windows on the vehicles, and somewhere, a man is groaning, faint as if he’s already a ghost.

Dammit all to hell, Dean forgot to turn on the car, turn up the speakers, because they wanted music to go with their coup de grace, like that phrase ballet of violence, because it’s only fitting to mix music and guns, black pulse and dark pounding noise.

Sam’s taken bead on a pair of hunters hiding behind their flung-open doors and he steps fast, crouching, shooting and catching one of them in the head. And Dean gets the other one, then aims for the hood, wanting to hit the engine block.

The smell of blood and oil and dirt is everywhere, and the cuts on Sam’s palms have opened again and Dean’s face is streaked red when he kisses Sam, says, Let’s draw ‘em out.

He fires into the knot of vehicles and kisses Sam again, then there’s a splatter of blood across Sam’s shirt and everything breaks clean down the middle.

Dean takes the bullet in the shoulder, slamming into Sam and they fall against the house.

Fuck, fuckfuckfuck, Dean, holy shit, Sam’s saying against Dean’s forehead, breath whistling with pain and anger, and Dean’s world swims, brightgraybrightgraybrightgray.

Sammy, s’ok, Sammy.

Dean’s blood is so warm, soaking into their clothes and a few bullets fly overhead, then it all goes silent, as if they’ve suddenly gone deaf.

It hurts like hell, and it hurts like Hell, and Sam’s fingers are prodding at Dean, where he’s leaking blood, the wound in his body, and his mouth is moving, Sam Sammy, let’s finish this, c’mon.

Okay, Dean, okay, it’s a through-and-through, Sam says, and he’s tugging at Dean, one hand on where the fire is coming from Dean’s body, where he can feel it like liquid.

And then, Dean’s pissed and when he looks up, Sam is too, his eyes blown like the bullet hole in Dean, and he says, Stay here.

Oh you fucker, Dean says, pushing up and Sam says, Dean.

He scoots a little ways from Dean, and fires out into the yard, bullets clanging into the metal, then he’s got his knife out, digging into the side of the house.

When he comes back, on his knees, Sam’s got a smile like a cold injury in his face and a smashed bullet in his hand.

Dean, it’s silver, he says, as if he’s found a fairy stuck in the wood of the house instead of a bullet.

Silver, Dean says.

Yeah, like we’re monsters.

Then they’re laughing so hard, they’re almost crying, because it’s fucking hysterical, silver and killing humans based on gossip, some sort of fucked-up folk remedy, as if these were misguided villagers and not seasoned hunters, it’s hysterical and they’re going to die from oxygen deprivation.

A voice interrupts their laughter-induced death throes. You boys gonna come out now?

Sam is still laughing under his breath, pretending to consider, making faces at Dean with the bruise still surrounding his right eye as he ties a makeshift bandage to Dean’s shoulder.

Yeah, honey, we’ll be right there, Dean says.

Just hold your horses, Sam says.

They get to their feet, and Sam puts the remnant of the silver bullet in his pocket and maybe later, they’ll have it made into something, a necklace or a keychain or maybe just another bullet.

Sam’s the one who goes to the porch steps though, straightening his shoulders, hiding the twist in the aching joint and Dean hangs back a little.

They’ve furious, even in their laughter, and it’s written on them, like the blood, like the bruises.

The hunters come out from around the cars and pickups, the sun beating down, and one of them begins an exorcism, his Latin accented with an odd drawl.

And then Sam mutters something, Motherfuck, they think we’re demons, and he tosses the shotgun to Dean, pulls his favorite handgun from the back of his jeans and his favorite knife from his back pocket, as the Latin goes on and on.

Then it’s like the full rush of it all, the pure clarity of violence, because they don’t say a word, they don’t need to. Sam walks into the pack of hunters with his gun and knife and Dean covers him from the porch, propped against a post, with the shotgun braced, like the turret gun he’s always wanted.

**

The sun is high overhead and there are no shadows anywhere by the time the last hunter dies.

From the tips of his hair down to his feet, Sam's covered in blood. He blinks hazel at Dean in all the red and Dean wants to know what that’s like. Sam’s red against the blank open of the land and sky, so red in the sunshine, as if he’s just fought his way through death itself and has come back wearing proof of life.

They sit on the porch steps together and stare out at the land, all blood and dust, and the sunlight feels cold.

**

They stay at the house a few days, sleeping like they’ve just come from the grave.

They stay at the house a few days, while their bruises change color and Dean can finally move without bleeding.

The last time Sam bandages him before they leave, the wound starts to bleed a little and Sam catches it with his fingertips, tasting them and Dean says, We haven’t had our mind-blowing survivor sex yet.

We should get on that.

Yeah, we should.

Can’t let a good plan go to waste.

**

Semper fi and you don’t stop until there’s nothing left.

The cars and trucks are left behind.

The house is left behind with Sam’s blood on its walls this time, on the pansies-and-petunias.

The bodies are left behind as a pile of burnt bones, like the criminals and suicides buried at crossroads, because these hunters were both, criminals and suicides and they made their deal, they sold their souls and lost.

And out there with the land and sky, the pumpjacks kneeling and rising, there’s nothing left.

**

Hey, Bobby.

Hey, kid, where’re you callin’ from?

Sam glances out the window. Uh, I think we’re in. Nebraska.

You stoppin' by? Bobby asks and Sam shakes his head though Bobby can’t see him and Dean grins behind the wheel.

No, I think we’re headed on. Minnesota. Some mysterious beast or something at a pond.

Lake, Dean says.

Oh, Dean says it’s a lake, but. Anyway, just wanted to tell you that salt’n firewood might be cheaper’n a pair of caskets, but you won’t need any of ‘em.

It’s quiet on Bobby’s end for a second. How many?

Well, enough to count on both hands, Sam says. You might not wanna answer your phone for a few days unless it’s me or Dean.

Okay, kid, okay.

But we owe you a big fancy steak dinner.

And beer, Dean says, so Sam says, Dean says beer too.

You two, just. Just keep an eye out, all right?

Yeah, Bobby, you got it. We’ll be seeing you.

Sam hangs up and Dean’s grinning. They’re still bruised all to hell and they’ve got the wind at their backs.