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It’s only a matter of time.

That’s what their dad used to say, before he drove off one night and didn’t come back. That was the summer Dean was twenty and Sam was sixteen and they hitchhiked.

Hitchhiking in the summer meant hot fried-egg days and cool water-wet nights. Sometimes it meant waking up in a field covered in dew, sneaking past the NO TRESPASSING sign that had bullet holes in the S’s.

Dean’d have Sam stand closest to the road because he was young and his hair was a messy mop and he looked harmless though Dean was always right there behind him, with a hand on the leg of his jeans, ready to pull him down and out of the way in case some asshole wasn’t paying attention or didn’t take kindly to hitchhikers.

People say there’s a trick to hitchhiking, sticking out your thumb at just the right jaunty angle, or writing up a sign with some clever saying that isn’t something like ST. LOUIS OR BUST, or even making “wrong turn at Albuquerque” jokes. But there really isn’t. Sometimes you’re lucky and sometimes you ain’t.

Dean and Sam were sometimes lucky and sometimes weren’t and they were pretty much used to it by the time their dad drove away, telling them he’d call in a couple of days. The money ran out pretty damn fast, even with them getting food from the vending machine. It was Sam who figured out how to break into the behemoth, how to crack it open and steal as much as they could without being suspicious.

“Grab me that Reese’s.”

“You already have a Reese’s.”

“I want another one, duh, Sam, sometimes I wonder about your intelligence.”

“We can’t just clean it out, duh, Dean, sometimes I wonder about your intelligence.”

“Fine, little bitch, then gimme some Funyuns.”

But that didn’t last long when a family drove up with a spoiled brat who wanted a Reese’s and the machine was out, so the kid screamed bloody murder and the motel manager realized the machine had been broken into; someone came out right quick to fix it.

They couldn’t keep paying for the room, though Dean offered to help pitch in with the motel’s laundry.

The credit cards had run out and they were pretty far from the nearest P.O. box that might have news and new ones for them. Dean was scared Dad was dead or the heat was coming down on them. Or worse, Social fucking Services, because that was the nightmare, that was the end-all-be-all of their worst dreams, having Sam taken away from Dean regardless that he was of age to be Sam’s legal guardian. They could be dangerous about each other and so far, they’d managed to avoid any casualties, but if someone came down on them, to separate them, there’d be consequences.

“It’s too quiet, Sammy, it’s too quiet,” Dean said, so they hitchhiked, off the map, off the grid, heading to the closest P.O. once they found out where the hell they were in the country.

It wasn’t the first time their dad had run off into the night, but he’d usually call or text with coordinates and Sam would sigh, pissed off, but Dean would just bundle Sam up and go to the parking lot to survey the cars with the keen eye he got from his father.

Because grand theft auto was sort of their inheritance. It was the main skill of a plethora of delinquent things their dad taught them before disappearing. Sam had the brain for the locks and the wires, but Dean was the mechanic through and through, always with grease under his fingernails.

That abandoned summer meant a lot of riding in the back of beat-up pickups, riding out the bumps over roads, and sharing a bag of Cheetos at high speeds. It meant a lot of slipping into gas station bathrooms to clean up and double-team distracting the cashiers to steal wilted sandwiches and sodas. Dean would eye the car and Sam would eye the people and if either of them felt uncomfortable, they wouldn’t take the ride. They preferred pickups to cars because they could ride in the bed and they didn’t have to make small talk or try to feel less dirty and itchy about being trapped in someone else’s car.

Hitchhiking sucked, but it meant freedom and at night, Dean would talk about their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, their last inheritance, a 1967 Chevy Impala, “black as an oil slick, Sammy, and just as fast, so pretty, all those Detroit lines, you remember it, that engine would purr and you’d go to sleep like you were drugged.” Sam remembered it, long road trips at high speeds, Dad drinking coffee like it was the only thing sustaining him and Dean always rolling down the window, sticking his hands out into the rushing air.

The Impala was mythical. Some sort of happily-ever-after and some days, Sam wished it didn’t exist because what if Dean finished fixing it and drove off without him, but Dean kept saying we, like a key for the ignition, so some days Sam didn’t mind.

They finally reached a full-on proper city, with food to take and cars to steal and Dean whispered, “Chop shops,” and Sam whispered back, “Laundromats,” and Dean said, “Coffee.” Something new dawned on them in those days, as their ride passed the city limits sign, that criminal spirit sunk into their bones, just like their dad wanted.

He’d say, “It’s only a matter of time.”

The P.O. had new credit cards and no news from their dad. It was hot in the city and their motel was called “Heart O’ The City” which Sam liked as if they were in the heart of the city, the only part that mattered, and there weren’t roaches and the air conditioner worked, so that was fine.

They found a public high school on the outskirts, almost in the suburbs and it wasn’t hard to claim an address and Dean as Sam’s legal guardian and Sam’s voice didn’t shake when he said, “Our dad’s dead, all I’ve got is my brother.” He didn’t tell Dean that he meant it too.

During the day, Sam rode a combination of the El and the bus out to his school and Dean parked cars until his boss docked him for being late after a lunch; a pay phone call to check on Sammy, he had a bad feeling crawl up his spine and Dad had taught them their criminal senses were better than most, all bad feelings needed to be listened to, and Sam was being pushed around at school, “nothing I can’t handle, Dean, seriously,” “I’ll rip their throats out, Sammy, they hurt you,” so Dean said fuck it, his boss can’t deal with the fact that his brother comes first, fuck it, and found a garage, working on yellow cabs, buried up to his ears in engines. The cabs were much better and Dean scrounged change for laundry, more change to buy Sam candy and keep the kid in shoes if they saved it.

Sam ducked his head at school, did his homework, avoided the good kids and the bad, didn’t pick fights or stop fights and his fighting instincts were bequeathed to him by the absentee Marine, but he ducked his head, listening to his new sneakers squeaking on clean tiles.

Dean worked on the taxis and made sure to wash off the grease before heading back to the motel, later a tiny rathole of an apartment, eating sandwiches and apples and turnovers from the McDonald’s around the corner, swallowing down coffee, black like the oil he drained from the underside of the taxis, and he listened to the other guys cussing, telling ribald jokes and teasing the company receptionist who gave back as good as she got and liked to swing her hips around Dean.

Each day Dean and Sam fought and argued about the remote and whoever got home first had to do the dishes, so Sam started going to the library, texting Dean and it became a game of chicken. Each day they wrestled and switched off making breakfast though Dean complained about “all the fucking fruit, that won’t fill me up,” and Sam threw food at him in retaliation, “fine, get scurvy, see if I care, jerk.”

Each day, Dean mussed Sam’s hair. “Gotta get it cut.”

“Nah, I like it.”

“It’s not like you’re rebellin’ here, Sam.”

“Don’t push me, Dean.”

They grinned at each other, Sam heating up, feeling so warm under Dean’s palm until Dean turned away and the connection broke.

Each day blended into the next, two kids in the city, orphaned by their father’s heartbreak and felony impulses.

At night though, at night, they’d throw on ratty jeans and boots and go out looking for trouble. This was scoring beer for Sam and breaking into cars and the guys down at the chop shop always grinned real big when they showed up with another rolling pile of money. Sam knocked on the drop-door, two short knocks, then a pound of his fist, and the door cranked up and Dean drove in.

The first time they’d dropped off a car, the main man with his gold canine teeth put a gun to Sam’s head and smirked, “Just a pair of kids, who do you think you are.” So Dean put a gun to the head with the smiling sharp gold teeth and said, “We’re good with a pair of pliers too, have those teeth out before you’d ever taste the blood. Painless or your money back.”

Guns were their backup plan, never Plan A because if they couldn’t do it right without a gun the first time, then they couldn’t do it at all. They only carried at night; if they were out and were fairly dangerous, then everyone else was out and were possibly more dangerous. Sam wanted to carry a knife to school though, school was hell in some ways, not only because he couldn’t see Dean to know he was safe, but just all those fuckers raging with hormones, ready to take a swing or a piece out of him.

“Fight first,” Dean said, “weapons later. But watch your hands, don’t bust up your hands. You need ‘em to be in good working order.” He sounded like Dad in a sober moment.

It wasn’t always serious; they stole cars for joyrides, just for joyrides, just for cruising around town at 1 a.m., like they owned the streets, Dean’s eyes burning more than the city lights, and Sam laughed and laughed and laughed. 24-hour diners were their kitchens until they went home, which wasn’t a real place, a temporary location that held their duffel bags and a busted TV.

“Think we’ll do this forever?” Sam asked and Dean grinned. “Nah, Sammich, you’ll go off and be something amazing. That huge brain of yours.”

“But what about you,” Sam said and Dean made a so-so motion with his hand, grease in the lines of his knuckles.

“Who knows.”

A few days after that, Dean said, “Maybe I’ll find Dad.”

Sam wanted to say, Maybe you could stick with me.

When summer rolled around again, their first summer after their dad disappeared, they skipped town, boosting a pickup and moving on to another town and another P.O. and another school, new people, new crimes, new places to hide, because they were always looking over their shoulders, one foot out the door. Dean would go out with girl here and there, Sam would go out with a girl here and there, but no one had a chance to stick.

So it goes. A new place to learn how the cops work and the system works and how many people prefer to buy foreign instead of American.

But one year, around Christmas, they had to get gone under the cover of dark, after a garage went bust and the cops were swarming the city, looking for car thieves. New Year’s found them in another city and another P.O. and another school, Sam and Dean claiming to stay with their grandparents.

Dad used to take a sip of whiskey and say, “It’s only a matter of time, boys.”

Somehow Sam got through school and he got accepted to college and he almost ripped his acceptance letter in two. Dean was going with him, Sam’d make sure of that, Dean was going with him, by hook or by crook.

Then it all went downhill pretty fucking fast because Sam couldn’t stop staring at Dean when he went by the bus garage, Dean was working on school buses, he couldn’t stop staring at his brother as if he’d never seen him before, that criminal spirit sinking deeper into him.

He felt the inevitable, someone was leaving and he was going to fight like hell’s fury to make sure it was both of them. Together.

And Dean felt it too, Sam could tell, he started fidgeting more, his hands coming out to touch Sam, but he wouldn’t, something pulling him back.

They both crackled and vibrated and Sam’s teeth snapped together.

One night, they went joyriding and went flying high on adrenaline and acceleration and Dean actually stopped at a red light and said, “Where to, Sammy.”

“California.”

“Cal-i-forn-i-a,” Dean said, gesturing vaguely west. “What’s out there.”

Sam couldn’t say and he looked at Dean, awash in the lights in the dark, red poured on him and he had to blink to see him, his brother, the only other person he loved in the world.

He had stopped letting Dean ruffle his hair or his nerves. But then, right then at that stoplight in the city in a stolen car and his blood running at high tide, Sam was overwhelmed with everything Dean was.

“You and me,” he finally said and he kissed Dean.

Dean’s foot slammed down on the pedal and they accidentally shot through the intersection, breaking them apart, Sam gasping with his heart left back on 45th street.

Dean didn’t look back, just kept driving towards that address known as home for now. He dropped Sam off, told him to go upstairs, then Dean took off, alone, into the night.

Sam didn’t sleep at all, just sat on the couch, reading, the light going yellow and the words becoming symbols he didn’t know anymore, his eyes and head feeling swollen. Something crawled up his spine, those larcenous chills. When Dean came back, because Dean always came back, it was never in question, never in doubt, Dean always came back, he was bruised, holding his shoulder, knuckles bloody.

“Car crash,” was all Dean said through slack lips and he slowly uncurled a fist to touch Sam, hand on his head, like they were ten and six again.

The morning news showed an abandoned car, their abandoned joyride car, on its side in a ditch.

“Fuck you, Dean, don’t you ever fucking do that again,” Sam yelled, furious and shaking.

Dean squinted at him through a black eye. “California,” he said instead of an apology.

Sam called in sick to school and called Dean in sick to work and he patched up Dean the best he could, the smell of band-aids and Neosporin and they watched crappy daytime TV without really paying attention.

The next day though, the next day was the beginning of summer, last day of school and Sam wasn’t going to walk the stage at graduation, didn’t feel the need. That afternoon, a beginning of an era, Sam thought, everything would be shiny as new pennies, but Dean didn’t show.

The sun went down and Sam was starting to sweat, his blood on fire.

He finally got a phone call, their cell phones the only things they really worried enough about to pay for, a necessity like food and clothes and freedom.

Dean was in jail and Sam needed to hightail it out of sight.

Protocol, yessir, I can do that, evasive maneuvers, and Sam packed their stuff, all of it fitting in duffel bags, even the guns and ammo. He wiped down their tiny tiny rooms and disappeared with all their worldly possessions dangling from his shoulders. Three blocks away at the graffitied pay phone, he tore a page out of the phone book and headed to the first hotel on the list.

But this was shit, Sam without Dean, his brother sitting in jail, he couldn’t sit in a cold motel room and wait. He had to, he had to, Dean would come back, he always came back, Dean always came back to Sam.

Around midnight, the light coming in under the door disappeared, the knob clinking and Sam threw the door open to find Dean ready to pick the lock.

“Holy shit, Dean, what happened,” Sam burst out, almost crying, he was eighteen, too old to cry, but Dean’s face went blank like it had after Sam kissed him, so Sam couldn’t cry now.

“The wreck, Sammy, the wreck the other night, someone saw me walk away from it,” Dean said. “Patrol car picked me up on my way to get you. They ran the VIN, imagine that.”

“Imagine that,” Sam murmured, trying to will away his panic.

“Slipped the cuffs. Cops think they know about us, so we’ve gotta split.”

Cops think they know about us. Nobody knew about them. No one knew them.

Everything was too great and Sam was too small, the immensity of kissing Dean, his brother’s wreck aftermath of the kiss, California and being done with school, Dean hauled in by the cops, everything was too great and Sam almost couldn’t break into the car they needed, he kept thinking, We need this car we need it to get out of here get away we need this car.

His hands shook while Dean popped the hood to do the twofold job of looking like a normal guy checking the quality of his car’s guts and actually being a car thief checking the quality of this about-to-be-stolen car’s guts.

It’s this wire, this wire, just like you learned a long time ago with Dean bouncing on the seat pretending to be the cops, screeching like a siren in your ear, it’s this wire, Sam thought, you can do this, get you and your brother outta here, get to safety.

The wire sparked and Sam called out, “Franklin,” as in “Ben-ja-min,” Dean used to say, “electricity, man, we got electricity, now we’re cooking with gas.” It was Dean’s cue to step away and Sam made the connection, the car spluttering to life.

“Hell yeah, Sammy, every time,” Dean said as Sam revved the engine so the car wouldn’t stall, then he revved it again to let the sound and vibration soothe his nerves, the growl and feel of power never failed to calm him, he remembered how Uncle Bobby claimed that Sam didn’t have pacifiers, he had spark plugs. The car rocked as Dean slammed down the hood, threw the bags in the backseat and climbed into the shotgun seat. “Make like a banana.”

“And split,” Sam said, because that was a good luck charm for them before hitting the road, one step ahead of the cops. “Where’s my cherry on top.”

“Where’s my whipped cream,” Dean said, licking his lips and Sam steered them away, searching for the highway out of town. He didn’t think about how he’d kissed his brother.

He didn’t think about it every mile of the way, with Dean stretched out next to him, bruised, quiet, a fugitive from the law because Sam had knocked over one domino and all the others fell so fast he couldn’t fix it and they might be crushed.

He realized his cherry on top was the acceptance letter, folded and stuffed into his duffel.

But Sam had fucked it all up because Dean had grinned at him under the stoplight in the dead of night when it was just the two of them and the world was theirs.

He tried to listen to the tires on the road and forget it all.

They drove until dawn and both were yawning fit to bust something, so they dumped the car on the outskirts of Small Town U.S.A. and walked across town to a little lonely motel.

Dean moved like he had a bone-deep pain and Sam wanted to lay a hand on him, but couldn’t, afraid of the next stroke of fate.

Instead Sam passed out with his teeth on edge, he still had that feeling in his spine, traveling all along his nervous system, something was coming, something was inevitable and it would change everything. Dean was in the shower when Sam fell asleep to the sound of the water.

It was like old times, Sam waking up to a sunblinded room, sprawled in his clothes, jeans uncomfortable and shirt twisted, attempting to remember like a drunk what had happened before to get him to this place, yet another motel room with a damp musty smell.

He said, “Dean,” like he always did, locating his brother meant locating his place in the world, but there was a new unforeseen complication and Dean smashed into him, hand over his mouth.

“Sam, we are in some sort of trouble here,” Dean said. “Cops showed up when I went to fetch coffee.”

Sam struggled because what kind of shitstorm was going to rain down on them, they couldn’t sit here talking, but Dean just pressed him harder into the mattress, fingers gripping him tight.

“Car musta had a lojack on it.”

“Getting sloppy in your old age, Dean,” Sam said between his brother’s fingers.

“Shut up, bastard, and listen. We gotta split.”

Sam struggled again, obviously they needed to split, but Dean didn’t let him go, breathing funny against Sam’s forehead. “Lemme up, jerk.”

“No, Sam, we gotta split up.”

Then he let Sam go.

That sense in his spine and Sam was right, he was fucking right, and oh, he didn’t want to be right.

Dean was holding Sam’s ragged acceptance letter in his other hand. “We’re gonna slip out the back here, then you go left and I go right. Don’t hitchhike, just take the first car you see and haul ass. You – you need to get outta here.”

“No, fuck you, Dean, you’re coming with me if I have to knock you out and, I can carry you, I’m big enough, even if you’ve been putting on weight, I will knock you out, Dean, one punch, don’t push me, you got it? I’m not –“

“Yeah, you are. You get stopped somewhere, you could tell ‘em I kidnapped you or something. You made a break for it,” Dean said and Sam thought he was losing his mind or maybe Dean had finally snapped, this wasn’t something he was supposed to ever hear coming from his brother.

“Stockholm Syndrome. I made you do it.”

Fisting a hand in Dean’s shirt, Sam shook him and said, “What the fuck, man, Stockholm Syndrome, did you fall and hit your head in the shower. You’d never talk like this –“

“Thought I told you to shut up and listen. You can’t be in on this. You’ll go to school,” Dean said, shaking the letter, “set up shop somewhere and this’ll be nothing but a bad dream, just this one time in your past. Sowing your wild oats and all that shit.”

Sam saw it in his head. Him talking to the cops, He’s my brother, I didn’t want to fight him, I just went along with it, me and my brother, we used to run around and do stupid things, we were young and stupid, you must know what that was like, when was that, back in the Cretaceous, you’re ancient, man, sucks to be you, what, did you just run around and hijack triceratops or somethin’, steal dinosaur eggs, chisel graffiti. He’s my brother.

Dean liked to piss off the cops, he’d like that, but this was different, Sam came out of the daydream to Dean saying, “Hate to admit it, but you look young and innocent. Give ‘em the puppy dog eyes any time anyone asks you something and you’ll be good.”

“What about you though, huh, fucker,” Sam said, because this could not be going down this way. They were leaving, but not together. Not two years ago, he’d asked Dean what about you, Dean planning that Sam would go off to do big things, and holy shit, Dean had been ready to send Sam off even then, not two years ago.

“What about you.”

Shrugging, Dean leaned away, looked away. He said, “Gotta go to ground. I’ll send you postcards.” He smiled, but it was slanted and bent, and Sam never wanted to see it again, for a minute confused that he never wanted to see Dean again.

They knew right from wrong, even if they’d been breaking the law for almost as long as they could talk, they knew right from wrong and this was wrong, on par with murder in the first degree.

“No, you can go to ground in California so I know where you’ll be,” Sam said, about to get violent. “Who knows when you’ll do something stupid again.”

“That’s the spirit,” Dean said. He stood awkwardly and then shuffled over to his duffel. “Clock’s ticking, Sammy.”

It all happened because of the stoplight. Sam was young and stupid, but this was too much, there are mistakes and then there are life-changers.

Rattling, and Dean held up the dented tin first aid kit, the little white box with the big red cross that had held their money, their credit cards, their false IDs for years now, the First Bank of Winchester, Safety Deposit Box 502, and Dean put it in Sam’s duffle.

“Oh, no, Dean, what’re you doing. You need to, you, don’t give me –“

“Look, I’ve got three credit cards and some of the cash,” Dean said, zipping Sam’s bag closed viciously. “You’ve got the rest. You’ll need it.”

And this was not happening, Sam didn’t know what to say.

Dean opened the door, looking cautiously around, then he glanced back at Sam, sunshine in his hair, like a broken halo. He waved Sam up and over, then without a word, gave Sam the acceptance letter, not catching Sam’s eyes. When Sam glanced over his shoulder, the cop car was sitting at the manager’s office, pretty as you please, and this was a close call, cutting right to Sam’s lungs. They took off, nothing but two travelers heading out for the day.

Until they came to a street and Sam crossed, but Dean didn’t. Sam scuffed his sneakers on the curb and wanted to say something, I’ll hunt you down, you bastard, you know this is ruining my life, then Dean smiled like this wasn’t going to be the day the world ended and he flipped Sam off. He looked up at the street sign and went right.

Sam went left. He didn’t look back at his broken heart.

In the alley behind the Italian restaurant, Sam found a huge road schooner, they used to be Dad’s favorite to steal, so he’d had lots of practice on them. Easy as pie and Sam was cool and empty and ready to go.

He drove away with the letter in his fist, headed west.

So it goes. Sam hopped his way to the coast. He listened to Dean’s advice, didn’t hitchhike, just stole cars like a duty, like a princeling fulfilling his birthright. The first few days, he smashed the windows though he didn’t need to, it just made him feel better, the sound of breaking glass and violence, broad daylight, the sun beating down on him. After awhile, he racked up an auto body count so he could tell Dean, committed grand theft auto like it was the last glory days of a fading age, your times is endin’. The cities were the best because he’d steal a car at one end, dump it in the middle, steal another there, then drive it to the other side, and steal a new one.

Sam wasn’t choosy. Stealing cars helped him stay sane.

His phone didn’t ring. No cops chased him down. As soon as he had an address, he sent word to Bobby. If anyone could find Dean, it’d be Bobby though the years had stretched between the Winchesters and Bobby Singer. Once, Dean carelessly called Bobby a kingpin in his presence and Bobby almost boxed Dean’s ears, “I don’t commit the crimes and I don’t tell people to commit the crimes. Use your eyes, that’s what they’re for, does it look like I’m hidin’ a crew or a mob family or whatever else stupid Hollywood notion you’ve got in that block-of-cement head of yours? I follow the crimes, boy, I listen. Just like you need to learn how to.”

Bobby knew who they were. He had their Impala in his salvage yard. “If you ever need anything, if I’m not around,” Dad said,” you call Bobby.”

“He threatened to shoot you,” Sam pointed out, petulant, and Dean smirked.

“He won’t threaten to shoot you,” Dad said. “You call him. Got it?”

School started and the wolf slipped into sheep’s clothing, just another kid among the other kids, his sneakers squeaking on clean tile floors.

And somehow two years passed. Two years of Sam getting up in the morning, going to classes, washing his clothes, studying, cooking meals, thinking about Dean out there in the wide-spread of the country instead of at some diner with Sam saying, “Hey, slick, you best think twice before you put that salt in my coffee.”

He felt like he’d been cut apart and put back together except he was missing pieces, but he could still function, all jerky and crooked-like. He passed for normal and fit in and for the first time in his life, Sam felt like a criminal.

Two years and he’d get postcards from Dean, “Hope you’re not using that toothbrush, I used it to clean my boots,” lots of nothing, nothing about where he was or what he was doing, just that he was alive and not in jail and keeping an eye on Sam, but he wouldn’t come close enough to let Sam see him. There’d be a date and time at the bottom of each postcard and head to the pay phone six blocks away, across the street from a bowling alley. That was iffy enough, keeping to a predictable pattern, but Sam was ready, Hey, man, I’m just talking on the phone, since when is that a crime, huh, buddy.

The cops never came. Dean always called.

Sam dated a girl, for more than a couple of weeks, and then one night, they went to a party. She drove and when she stopped at a red light, Sam remembered. It was one of those nights and the only remedy was to drink it all away.

They drank and talked and Sam couldn’t take it anymore, drinking so fast he swayed, and everyone talked too loud, especially his girlfriend, he had to get away. He found an empty hallway scattered with cups and pulled out his phone. Dean called him from his cell, Dean still had his cell, fuck the pay phone and waiting to hear from Dean again.

It was one of those nights and Sam called Dean. Twenty years old and he felt like crying again and when Dean didn’t pick up, he rambled to Dean’s voicemail, “Dean, I’m so sorry, this wasn’t ‘sposed to happen, okay, okay. You were ‘sposed to come with me, California’s got cars too, it’d be like a movie, dude, stealing cars in California. You, you, you were ‘sposed to be here. Where are you. Tell me where in the hell you are. Tell me. I’m your brother, Dean. Tell me. Okay?”

He was too drunk to say what he needed to say and it fucking pissed him off, how the drunk made him fumble-tongued and fuzzy-brained and he needed to tell Dean everything. Two years down the drain.

His girl found him with the phone in his fist and she was laughing, trying to tell him some joke. Then they were walking back to her dorm and Sam couldn’t help it, he pointed at cars as they went along and told her how to break into each one, which ones were worth more and that whole foreign versus American didn’t matter because all you needed were the parts, stripped bare, taken down to every weld and bolt, and this one here, oh this one is a beaut, I could probably get six grand easy just for, eh, this that and the other.

She stared at him in the flood of the street lamp, like she’d finally realized who he was and Sam didn’t think about it, he was too drunk to care anymore, stripped bare, maybe someone could profit from his spare parts.

She said, “I don’t think I need to be here for this,” and Sam said, “Fine, we’re almost to your dorm.”

“No, I don’t need to be here with you.”

And in a swirl of alcohol, Sam thought, Dean needs to be here with me, he knows me. You don’t.

“You’re absolutely, completely right,” he said.

He made sure she got to her door and then that was that. Sam headed to his apartment and got indoors, but he didn’t turn on the lights, just sat down on the floor, thumbing his phone.

He was still drunk but he felt so bad like he was sober. There was nothing else for it, so Sam called Dean again.

“You need to be here,” he said at the beep, then he couldn’t shut up, getting angrier and angrier, “You need to be here, Dean, but I can’t do this. This’s ruining my life. Cops or no cops, I’da stuck with you, but you. It was that night, wasn’t it, that night and, and the wreck, wasn’t it. You didn’t hafta get rid of me, Dean. But you did.”

Sam took a deep breath.

“So don’t come here. Just stay away.”

Three days painfully sober, three nights poundingly drunk and Sam regretted it, every word.

A week later, he found a voicemail on his phone. It was Dean, drunk as hell, whispering into Sam’s ear, Sammy, Sammy, what’d you do to me, I didn’t do nothin’ to you, I’m tryin’ to help you, man, you don’t need this, you never needed this, you think Mom wanted this for you, she loved you, Sammy.

The postcards came, but not as often and without a pay phone appointment at the bottom. The ink was smeared or there’d be coffee rings and once there was a rusty stain of what looked like blood and Sam tore it up into tiny, tiny pieces like confetti.

When Sam got drunk, he’d send a random text out into the void, this beer is disgusting; you’d like the waitress, she’d sleep with you, then kick your ass; I hate Jack Daniels; and not long after, a postcard would appear, a whole lot more nothing, but a lot of I’m still out here, Sam, I hear you, loud and clear.

Then Sam moved, had his mail forwarded and two miserable years passed without him even having to lift a finger. He was pre-law, wanting to study all the laws he and Dean had broken, the ones he knew his dad had broken, and in the future, he planned to be prepared for whatever curveballs Dean threw at him, he’d get his brother out of any sticky situation and they would bend the laws to their will, however they wanted.

They weren’t talking now, but Sam would get Dean back, get Dean back on his side and they’d be brothers again. This was just another example of them being dumb and dangerous, they did stupid stuff when they were younger; once they walked down to the local gas station with a gas can in a Red Flyer wagon they’d lifted from a lawn on the way and the cashier looked at them, rubbing at his chin, piece of chewing tobacco tucked in his cheek.

“Just gimme five dollars worth,” Dean said, and the guy squinted, then pointed at them.

“You ain’t out to cause trouble, are ya.”

“Sir, it’s hard to mow the lawn when the lawn mower’s outta gas,” Sam said, ignoring how Dean elbowed him in the ribs.

The guy laughed, a crumble of tobacco dark on his lips, then he wiped his mouth and said, “That’s true, son, you tell the God’s honest truth.”

“Dad said if we mow the lawn, I’d get a new comic book and my brother might be able to buy that bike he won’t shut up about. It’s got six speeds and it’s black, like our car, and he said he’d teach me how to ride it and—“

“All right, kid, I believe ya, stop your yammering.”

Dean winked, gave Sam a thumbs up and Sam grinned, pushing his tongue into the space where his two front teeth used to be.

Between the two of them, they got their five dollars of gas into the can, and carted it off in the wagon. They walked out of the neighborhood, across the train tracks and down to the car cemetery, heaps of car skeletons like they’d come there to die, and Dean said, “Pick one, Sammy.”

“It’s Sam.” Pushing his hair out of his eyes, Sam spotted a rusted blue Bug and said, “That one.”

They set it on fire that afternoon and it burned so bright and so hot, the sky wavering with the heat and the smoke was so black. They laughed and hollered and Dean chased Sam around until they couldn’t laugh, they were breathing so hard. They had to run for it after someone called the fire department and the only bad thing that happened was they left the red wagon behind.

Sam hadn’t stolen a car since he’d crossed into California’s borders. He was tempted to now, except he didn’t know where to go, his brother out there lost in these United States and Sam would’ve hitchhiked his way back and forth across the vast expanses just to see Dean.

This was just another example of them being dumb and dangerous and they did it to each other.

So when Sam got the call around three in the morning, he shouldn’t have been surprised. The cop called him Mr. Winchester and apologized for waking Sam, but he wasn’t really sleeping anyway. Insomnia was something else he’d inherited.

Dean’d been arrested. Drunk and disorderly. And Sam thought, What the hell.

His brother knew better. They’d been criminals for as long as they’d been alive, conning people when they were little for change and candy, you were the best at crying, Sam, just this kid crying, fit to bust a lung and all the mothers wanted to put you in their pocket and take you home, Dean used to say. Dean, slicker’n a whistle, never racked up a juvie record, though his adult life was a little different. And Sam, well, Sam never had a record, juvie or adult, Dean saw to that, taking all the blame, so while Dean’s rap sheet, rather the crimes he’d been suspected of, was as long as your arm, half of those were Sam’s too. Even the illegal fireworks. Especially the illegal fireworks.

What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine.

Dean knew better than to get himself thrown in fucking jail; they hardly ever got arrested, all arrests, no convictions since Dean slipped out, or Sam and Dad or sometimes just Sam jumped him out. Dad taught them well; being a Marine meant he taught them all sorts of unsavory things polite society frowned upon, but they’ve never cared about any of it because they were just fine, it’s everyone else who’s crazy.

He remembered the precinct building, he’d stood outside once, fighting with himself because the third week Sam was there, he had the crazy notion to steal a car and leave it right at the precinct curb, their front door, under their noses. Just for the hell of it, because he was in California alone, because Dean had told him to go, because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

When the cops brought Dean out, Sam was carefully counting out bills, unrolled from the collection in the first aid kit and Dean mumbled something, “Righteous dollar bills.”

His brother looked the same, older, four years older, with new laugh lines at his eyes and Sam really didn’t want to fucking know who’d helped put those there, someone else making Dean laugh.

Dean’s eyes widened in fake incredulity, then there was a difference in his gaze.

“Sammy.”

“It’s Sam,” he said, taking Dean by the elbow and Dean drunkenly smirked, waved at the cops, the dispatcher, the night desk receptionist.

“Whatever the hell, dude, you’re huge.”

“So the girls tell me.”

“And a sense of humor!” Dean said, almost yelling as they stepped outside, and his freckles were stark in the lights of the precinct. “You’ve learned much at the hallowed halls of education, damn shame I missed it.”

You gave it up, Sam almost said, but settled for “’Hallowed halls’? What’re you – how’d you get here?”

Dean grinned and Sam felt everything disappear around them, a once-in-a-lifetime feeling, his brother grinning like everything was old news. “Stole a car. C’mon, genius, obviously you didn’t learn enough.”

Sam thought, That’s my boy. “Of course.”

“Of course.”

His brother was here, alcohol on his breath, but not as drunk as he was making out to be, good ol’ Dean, trying to fool everyone else, but it didn’t work on Sam, he’d seen and knew too much.

“I’d be disappointed if you hadn’t,” Sam owned up.

They stood staring at each other, Dean smiling like he was breaking the law just by doing it and Sam smiled back, because he’d be breaking their law if he didn’t.

“Do they know you stole a car?” Sam finally asked, jerking a thumb at the precinct and Dean shrugged, not a care in the world and Sam hoped that was because they were back, in the same spot at the same time breathing in time.

“Nope, I ditched it before I went to the bar,” Dean said, waving a hand, “how stupid do you think I am?”

“Pretty stupid. Drunk and disorderly? Shit, Dean, why were you arrested?”

They were walking aimless, this was the time the crooks were out and the streets were gray and Sam wouldn’t have traded this for anything, wouldn’t have it any other way than this right here.

“You moved, Clouseau. I couldn’t find you. Wanted to make sure you didn’t have a record.”

Sam thought again, What the hell, and realized it wouldn’t be the last time he thought it tonight. “Do you have to make everything overly-complicated? Did you break into my old place?”

“Yeah, there was some blonde wearing a Smurf t-shirt,” Dean said, kind of wistful, then he scowled at Sam’s scowl. “I didn’t scare her, she had a baseball bat and a boyfriend. I hotfooted it outta there.”

And Sam could see it, Dean smirking at the Smurf t-shirt, making some inane apology, sorry, thought my brother lived here, nice t-shirt, always loved the Smurfs.

It made Sam jealous all over again.

“You couldn’t just call?” He was getting irritated, not having Dean was like not having a heart and now it was back, Dean was back, trying to make room for himself and Sam knew he fit, but not how.

He wanted to take a swing at Dean and he shifted his weight, but Dean anticipated the half-hearted move, grabbing his wrist and scuffing them to a stop on the sidewalk, Sam’s arm pressed against his ribs. “Easy, tiger. Like you woulda answered.”

Breaking out of Dean’s hold, Sam twisted to get Dean on his own ground, reversing the grip to take Dean captive, but Dean stepped sideways, pulling them into the shadows.

“You stopped answering.”

“You stopped calling, Dean.”

“You told me to, Sam.”

Pure diamond-hard truth and Dean blew out a breath. They stood there, no longer grinning, no longer fucking around, the night was black and Sam’s heartbeat was loud in his head.

“Any place to eat around here?”

“Yeah,” Sam said, tugging at Dean’s jacket. “I can’t believe you got arrested to find me. Call Bobby next time, jerk.”

“I didn’t wanna wake him. He needs his beauty sleep, bitch,” Dean said, but there was an undercurrent to his voice, buried deep and Sam was afraid to kick over that rock. He thought, What the hell.

Sam walked the streets and back alleys in the few months when he first arrived, so he knew the way, led them towards a diner, a place he ended up two or three times a month in the dead of night, unable to sleep.

Dean didn’t say anything else, warm next to Sam, and briefly, it was like the days when their dad disappeared and Dean was twenty and Sam was sixteen and they hitchhiked.

“I haven’t stolen a car in four years,” Sam said, and Dean suddenly looked sad passing under a shadow, and Sam felt that heartbreak all over again, fresh and new, everything he’d become numb against in the warm winds of California.

“Sam, you know, I didn’t, I didn’t do enough, I just,” Dean said, turning away, kicking at a dumpster. “I tried to find Dad.”

A scream, high-pitched terror and they burst out of the alleyway onto the street, blinded by the sudden change in light.

Police cruiser parked at the curb, reds and blues spinning, and a man was struggling against the car, yelling, pleading, calling out for his life.

From the cop who was holding him down by his spine and skull and –

The cop’s mouth unhinged, row upon row of rusty sharp teeth and Sam saw claws, out of this fucking nightmare mirage in all the shattering lightbeams, Sam saw claws digging into the man, the cop’s limbs spidering out in sick, broken fashion and then Dean was running headlong at the cruiser, bare-handed and looking for a fight.

Nothing made sense anymore as Sam sprinted to the grindshow mess in front of him, the cop tossing the citizen to the side and screaming at Dean, an animalistic show of teeth and force before tackling Sam’s brother.

Ready to tear him apart.

Adrenaline was their lifeblood, Sam saw everything as a blur, like when they were jacking a car, slowed-down sounds and sped-up motions, the cop’s gun skittering out onto the gray street and Dean pinned underneath the cop-monster.

Spray of blood and Sam just got his brother back, he wasn’t going to lose him, not now, not ever, they were supposed to be fighting over greasy eggs and burnt coffee, crispy slices of bacon and Dean talking with his mouth full, hot sauce on his fingers.

Sam grabbed the gun, took aim and pulled the trigger.

The cop-monster shrieked again, so Sam shot it again. He could keep this up all night, he heard his dad, widen your stance, son, let out your breath and squeeze the trigger, get ready for the kickback, the kickback’ll knock you into next week if you’re not ready for it.

Sam put three more bullets into the body and Dean rolled free, towards Sam, blood staining his face, dripping down his jacket onto his jeans.

The corroded mouth and piercing claws were gone, the stick-figure limbs tricks of the light and the reds and blues flashed over the corpse of a human cop.

Dean’s eyes in all that blood, buried glass in a wound, and he said, “You killed a cop.”

“He wasn’t, not a cop, did you see the teeth, claws, he had claws. He was going to eat you, oh shit.”

They checked on the man, but his neck was snapped, head at an unnatural angle against a crappy chainlink fence and Sam closed the man’s eyes.

He was still holding the gun and Dean said, “You gotta get outta here. Right the fuck now.”

No, this wasn’t going to happen, they weren’t going to split up, Sam would’ve gone with his brother the first time and now he wanted to run with him, it was the only thing that made sense.

“No, we run. Right the fuck now,” Sam said.

Dean’s chest lifted and fell, hard and fast, about to yell at Sam, but Sam jumped in feet-first.

“You aren’t doing anything with this, Dean. He almost killed you, but I got to him first. You aren’t taking this for me,” Sam said, pointing the gun between them. “We run. You hear me? You’re coming with me. You can say I kidnapped you. Stockholm Syndrome.”

His voice scared him and Dean blinked like he was seeing Sam for the first time, like they were equals in something unholy and bona fide, and that criminal spirit stirred, spinning in their bones.

He couldn’t stop Dean as he reached over and took the gun from Sam, like he might still fight Sam on this, both their fingerprints on it now, but Dean just rubbed at the barrel and didn’t say anything.

They couldn’t take the cruiser, and there was the blood pooling out on the street. The man’s car was still idling, hazards winking yellow and Dean waved Sam over with the gun to the passenger side, then got behind the wheel, like any other day they took a car, Sam almost believed it, any other day they took a car, this one was decent with tread still in the tires and a good-sounding engine and a half tank of gas.

Dean punched the steering wheel and switched into second, then third, blowing through a stop sign. He drove to Sam’s place, Sam’s directions avoiding major streets, and followed him up, close on Sam’s heels. They didn’t turn on the lights, Sam knowing the layout in the dark, his old duffel in the bottom of his closet and his body did good, didn’t shake as he packed.

He grabbed the tin of the first aid kit last, his phone in his pocket and Dean rubbed at his forehead, hand coming back sticky red, and he said under his breath, “Fuck. Sam, no,” as Sam broke the key off in the lock.

“Fine, I’ll drive.”

Dean’s motel was close, he hadn’t even had a chance to spread his things around like he did, taking up as much space as he could, taking up as much of Sam’s space as he could, and the car rocked as Dean threw his bag in the backseat and got into the shotgun seat.

Sam drove, putting the city behind them and it was easy to burn his bridges, start to forget everything he’d known for four years, with Dean next to him, his brother knuckling blood off his face.

It was always a temporary spot, a holding pattern, somewhere Sam never meant to stay unless Dean wanted to in that future that wasn’t going to happen.

He cut ties and Dean cut his eyes over to Sam and it was as if the last four years were sucked into a void.

Dean once shot someone for Sam, a long time ago, an incident they only spoke of when they were blackout drunk and due to forget.

Sam was about ten and Dean was teaching him the ropes. They’d been stealing in tandem for a few years, causing distractions and whatnot, but Sam whined that he wanted to do it on his own, he could, he was just as good as Dean, just as sticky-fingered as Dean, so one hot afternoon, Dean jerked his head towards the convenience store on the corner and said, “That one. Get what you want.”

He crossed his arms and waited for Sam to go to it and Sam said, “Watch this.”

“Watch what, I’m not ‘sposed to see you do anything and neither is anyone else. That’s the idea of stealing, Sam, ‘member?”

“Thanks, jerk, always gotta be an asshole.”

“Fucking language, pipsqueak.”

“Whatever, Dean,” Sam said, sighing, weighed with heavy troubles. Then he headed into the store and Dean gave him a five-minute headstart.

Dean was fourteen and sporting a gun in his waistband since Dad was gone four days now, chasing down a lead about property what needed to be transferred from the legal owner to a brand-spankin’ new illegal owner. And it was a good thing too Dean had the gun because what happened could’ve been a lot worse.

Nobody else in the store and the door didn’t have a regular dangling bell, but a wire that tripped to make a sound like a doorbell, ding dong. Man behind the counter, reading the paper, smoking, cussing under his breath at the news with bottles of liquor and packs of smokes towering up along the wall. He eyed them both and Dean realized the mistake, he’d tell Sam later, “I knew right away, really, I got that feeling down my spine.”

Two kids in the store even though Dean was starting to look older than his years and maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the guy’s chainsmoking habit, maybe it was the way he kept swigging beer in the middle of the afternoon.

Sam took candy because he was about ten and his sweet tooth was becoming legendary, only getting worse with age and who knows, but the guy looked up as Sam headed to the front of the store, doorway in sight, and the guy snarled.

“You hold it right there, kid. Don’t think you can get out the door faster’n I can reach ya. You punks come in here too often and steal from me. Bastards are gettin’ younger and younger, ain’tcha,” the guy said, coming around the counter, cigarette burning in his mouth. “Show me what you took. Show me.”

Brushing his hair back, Sam said, “I’m sorry, mister, but I don’t –“ and the guy grabbed Sam by his shirt and said, “You shut your mouth, you little shitkicker. Show me what you took.”

Dean was creeping along the aisle, ready to do whatever it took to get Sam out of this mess, and Sam shook his head, “Really, sir, I –“

“Gonna keep on lyin’, huh. Fucker. Someone shoulda taught you manners,” the guy said, grinning ugly and mean, then he backhanded Sam and Sam saw the spin of the earth.

“You let go of my brother,” Dean said, whipping around a stand of Gatorade bottles, gun drawn and he always told Sam when they were well into their drinking and the story, “I aimed for his junk, Sammy, I was gonna shoot his balls off. Make him sing high-pitched for the rest of his life.”

“Get the fuck away from him,” Dean said, voice cracking and the guy smirked, so Dean cocked the gun, the click loud over the buzz of the lights and Sam struggled a bit in the guy’s hold.

“You gonna wave a squirt gun at me? Your balls even dropped yet, kid?” The guy took a drag on the cigarette, beefy hand still tight on Sam’s shirt, and he waved the cigarette close to Sam’s cheek. “Nah, you get outta here, run on home to mommy and daddy. Your brother needs to learn a lesson about other people’s property.”

Sam struggled again, wanting to rip his shirt if he had to, to get away from this insane guy and he told Dean once and only once that he almost peed his pants right there in front of Dean, he was scared and scared for both of them though Dean never wavered with the gun. He tried to kick the guy but his legs couldn’t reach. His face was starting to swell on one side, mouth going puffy and his eye hurt every time he blinked.

The guy backhanded Sam again and Dean aimed and pulled the trigger.

What Sam never told Dean was the guy’s eyes were crazy, his breath all alcohol and cigarette smoke, but his eyes were like the guy was gone, checked out completely and his pupils grew black with anger until his whole eye went black, both them, iris and color and whites gone, just these huge black blots on his face.

Then Dean shot him in the leg and the guy yelled, letting go of Sam and they ran.

Dean told Sam once and only once that he felt guilty about what happened to Sam, it was his idea, he picked the store, he didn’t listen to that criminal sense zinging up his spine, he kept rambling angry and heartbreaking, slurring his words until Sam told him to shut the hell up, “you shot him, Dean, you shot him and we got away.” And then Dean said, “It wasn’t enough. I shoulda killed that motherfucker. I tried to shoot him again, but I thought I’d accidentally shoot you, so the shot went wide. Took out some of the vodkas.”

That’s why Sam remembered everything being soaked over with the smell of vodka.

Sam threw the candy away. He didn’t cry. That night, they ordered pizza and stayed up watching TV and Sam fell asleep with Dean’s arm around his shoulders and when he woke, Dean was still awake, holding the gun as if he expected the army to come through the door at any minute.

Now, Sam woke and the car was idling in a parking lot and for a minute, he thought he’d passed out at a party and someone kind was taking him back to his apartment, then he saw the old blood smeared on the gearshift and Dean was walking back to him, clean of blood and hollow-eyed from driving too long, phone jammed against his shoulder.

“Yeah, yeah, okay. Should be a coupla days. Get there quick as we can. No, won’t stir up any more trouble. Yeah, Bobby, thanks,” he was saying as he opened the door, handing a bag of food to Sam and Sam waved at him, mouthed gimme the phone.

Dean shot him a raised eyebrow and shrugged. “Hold on, Bobby.”

“Hey, Bobby,” Sam said and Bobby on the other end, all the way in South Dakota, coughed and said, “Sam?”

“Yeah, man, it’s me.”

“Hey, kid. Good to hear you. Haven’t heard from you in a year or two.”

“No news is good news?” Sam tried because he felt bad, they’d kept in touch with Bobby those two years after Dad vanished down the road, calling every once in awhile about which cities to avoid and which ones were ripe for the fleecing and how the hell do we turn off this newfangled alarm system, it won’t shut the fuck up. He’d caught Dean on the phone many times, getting advice from Bobby, their surrogate father, and he’d made a few calls of his own.

Bobby was the one who gave him the keychain, a .308 Winchester rifle round, the cartridge carefully attached to the ring. Sam gave it to Dean one Christmas and though they didn’t really own anything that required keys, Dean kept it, used it constantly, keys to various P.O. boxes, a storage unit somewhere around Buffalo, and like a fairy tale, the keys to the Impala.

“I wished when one of you called you had good news,” Bobby said, “can’t keep worryin’ ‘bout you two idjits all the time. You could just call to ask me to tea sometime. It’d be weird, but it’d be diff’rnt.”

A laugh punched out of Sam, a hole in him pouring with relief, so he wanted sarcasm, joking, “Well, Bobby, we just thought we’d take a road trip –“

“Save it, Sam, I’ve heard the chatter.” Bobby sighed on his end and Sam knew he’d be tugging on his cap and Sam always thought of him at gas stations and truck stops, convenience stores and tourist traps when he saw the caps they had for sale. “A dead cop in your area. Dean said he shot ‘im.”

Crinkle of the plastic bag, Dean pawing through to find a Snickers or a Moon Pie or the Swedish Fish, whatever, and Sam closed his eyes, his knee hitting the glove compartment where the cop’s gun was hidden, gun shot residue and the Winchester fingerprints, his brother trying to take Sam’s sins again, Dean’s thievery knew no bounds.

“He lied,” Sam said and Dean stopped rustling, shifting around to stare at Sam, but Sam ignored him and owned up. “I killed him.”

“Well, shit on a shingle, Sam, what were you—“

“He was about to kill Dean,” Sam said, fighting off Dean who was reaching for the phone, it was a mad scramble breaking down into a battle and Sam heard Bobby say, “You two need to get your asses—“

“Bobby,” Dean said, snatching the phone away and Sam wanted to hit him, somehow everything was worse, this wasn’t a game of poker with the wildly varying Winchester rules Dean changed all the time when they were younger, this wasn’t them fighting for space in the backseat of that folkloric car waiting for them with Bobby, this wasn’t them chucking pennies at each other to keep the other one awake all night.

This wasn’t just stealing candy and beer and cars.

It’s only a matter of time.

Dean said some muttered things into the phone, then snapped it shut and said, “Pick a new car, Sam.”

Like a bolt from the blue, Sam panicked, fierce and electrical and he got Dean by the collar. “We are not fucking splitting up, do you hear me? You’re dragged into this, I know, and if you wanna go your way, I, I, I guess you can, but not here. Somewhere down the road. And – and you are not taking this one, Dean. This is mine. On me.”

“Sam –“

“I mean it, you aren’t going to jail and neither am I. He was going to kill you, or eat you, whatever, I don’t know what, shit, what that was, what was that – but, but you don’t get to take this and give up. I’ll shoot you, so help me God.”

His thumb was pushing into the vulnerable point on Dean’s neck and Dean didn’t look away, watching him.

“We gotta ditch this car, so go pick a new one and I’ll meet you ‘round back,” Dean said, voice pushed strong, and Sam remembered Dean never wavering with the gun when he was ten and Sam remembered not even taking another thought to shoot the cop.

Uncurling his fingers, Sam nodded. This could make or break them, this was their bond and trust, Dean always came back, Dean was true to his word.

Sam got out, grabbed their duffels, then hesitated and knelt to open the glove compartment. He took the police-issue gun and shoved it into his bag. Dean licked his lips, wiping at the blood on the steering wheel and Sam closed the door, glancing around at where they were.

Middle of nowhere and standing there with the bags hanging off his arms, squinting in the sunlight, Sam felt like he was back hitchhiking, living off sugar and caffeine, dust on his boots and nowhere in particular he wanted to go, just wanted to get gone.

An older extended cab pickup, that big boxy indestructible build and brown-on-brown, a truck built for the ages, abuses of the road, and Sam wanted to drive him and Dean to wherever they could hide, fall off the face of the earth maybe and even farther. They needed to vanish, like ghosts lost in the glare of headlights on the windshield.

He got the lock and cracked the steering column and it was like riding a bike, it came back to him, muscle memory, and soon enough, the engine roared alive, dusty-throated and full. Sam maneuvered around to behind the store, parking by a dumpster and if anything, this was it, this was everything, from the moment their mom stepped off the curb and that alcoholic sonofabitch hit her, from when they buried her and their dad took to the roads, from when they learned at his knee how to pick locks and how long it took for cops to respond to a call, from every dollar they’ve earned, true or crooked, it led to this, Sam on the lam with his brother, looking for a place to burrow and duck for cover.

And there was Dean, striding down the alleyway, sunshine on him like every free man, and Sam meant to keep it that way. He flashed the headlights and Dean nodded, shoved his hands in his pockets, came around to the driver’s side.

“Slide over,” Dean said, “I’m driving.”

“You drove all night, dude, c’mon.”

“And I can drive all day. I’m not like you, I don’t need to take ‘breaks’ and piss every two miles.”

Dean was smirking, Sam could see it, and he smirked back. “You’re so manly, Dean. Is that what you wanna hear?”

“Yeah, that’s it, baby, sweet-talk me.”

“So manly and strong. You eat fire and piss lightning.”

“Sounds painful, but a nice image,” Dean said, nodding. “Like a kickass album cover.”

“You eat glitter and fart rainbows,” Sam said. He leaned against the door to see his brother better.

“Okay, that was just bizarre. Shut up.”

“You didn’t specify what type of album—“

Alright, Sam, that’s downright frightening, what the hell were you learning at school. Get the map, we got a map? Maybe you know some geography.”

“This isn’t Schoolhouse Rock,” Sam said and Dean said, “I know, the Commonwealth of Winchester is not a democracy, we don’t need to know how a bill is made.”

Shoving at Dean, Sam started searching the cab of the pickup. “Who made you dictator for life?”

“I voted myself in,” Dean said, shoving at Sam and messing with the radio and damn it, Sam hadn’t heard this song in too long much too long, hadn’t heard his brother singing under his breath with Bon Scott, singing about no stop signs, speed limits, nobody’s gonna slow me down, and Sam said, “At least it’s not Bon Jovi.”

A low chuckle and Dean said, “Only on occasion,” and Sam said, “Well, this isn’t the occasion.”

“Living the dream, Sammy, don’t you wanna be Public Enemy Numero Uno, wanted dead or alive?”

Black humor and it was like those nights Sam listened to music just have noise and when he was slow-slipping alcohol, he’d listen to the music that reminded of him of his brother and how homesick he was.

He wondered how Dean coped, if Dean coped and he gave up searching for the map, they’d find their way to Bobby, he needed to ask something first.

“So what did you do, Dean. Live the dream?”

Driving lazy, sprawling out behind the wheel, Dean didn’t say anything at first and Sam wanted to tell him, Y’know, when you made me leave, I stole so many cars, I bet I topped your record easy, like nothin’.

Then Dean shrugged, one-shouldered. “I told you, I tried to find Dad.”

“And? How’d that go.”

“’Bout as well as your damn sarcasm right now.”

“C’mon, Dean, tell me.” Perversely, Sam almost didn’t want to hear it, as if he’d asked out of spite, he wasn’t happy Dad left, but it had been him and Dean for so long, sometimes it was like it didn’t matter Dad left, but it mattered to Dean, who used to tell Sam after a typical Dad-and-Sam dust-up, “the old man’s right sometimes and he’s wrong sometimes, but cut him some slack, he’s looking out for us.” Sam heard underneath that don’t make me choose, but in the end, Dean still chose. And Sam saw his own scars from when Dad left shared on Dean.

“Really, Sam,” Dean said and goosed the gas, the road humming loud, the radio spitting out dark metal riffs, so Sam watched the white line of the road.

“I was at this bar. Bobby said he’d heard the name Winchester out on the waves, in Kansas, so I jacked this car, sweet little ride. Anyway, so, I was at this bar and there was this old guy, y’know, propping up the place. The tear-in-my-beer type. He talked in his drink. He kept saying, ‘The devil won’t let me be.’” Dean stopped talking for a bit, then pushed the engine more, faster, the truck shifting into the next gear. “He sounded like Dad. The way Dad used to talk after he’d had a few. Like it was hell everywhere he went. No matter what he did, Mom wasn’t coming back. And I got this feeling, Dad isn’t anywhere. So I called Bobby and said he musta heard the wind ‘cause there was nothing in Kansas.”

Sam followed the white line with his eyes, as if he was still hitchhiking.

“I think Dad’s dead, Sammy.”

Dad drinking his whiskey, telling Sam, “There’s always family, Sam. Anything happens, you’ve got Dean.”

And there was a mountainous sense of loss, their dad gone, dead somewhere and they didn’t know it, wouldn’t know for sure, every day, maybe until they died and Sam was so fucking grateful he had Dean. He hadn’t lost Dean, not for good.

They drove for a ways, until the sun was midway in the sky and Sam made Dean trade places, “don’t make me hold you at gunpoint,” “oh, a funny man, real hilarious.”

He felt better behind the wheel, better about what Dean confessed, better now that Dean was next to him, warm and lax as if he’d used up all his energy talking, his eyes closed.

Dean slept and Sam drove and everything was the same, but different, good and bad and Sam thought he’d have nightmares once they stopped for the night, but here in the daylight with Dean, in this truck, headed to Bobby, he’d be okay.

Three hours later, Dean woke and started talking like they were having a conversation. “I worked in garages. Mechanic, that ol’ fallback. Drove around. Hustled pool. Stayed with Bobby for a while.”

“He let you in his house?” Sam said, reading the signs along the highway. He was starving now, because those Swedish Fish didn’t last long, dammit, all good things must end.

“Surprised the hell outta me too,” Dean said, big sardonic grin. “Man must be a real bad judge of character.”

“I’ll tell him you said that.”

Stretching, Dean smacked at Sam. “You do and he’ll shoot me. Then he’d shoot you for tattling.”

A diner at the next exit, so Sam took the next exit and it was a regional chain restaurant, countrified, with knickknacks on the walls and slick tablecloths and slicker menus, and they ordered the same, big platefuls of food and milkshakes to top it off and they didn’t talk as they ate, Dean tipping on the back legs of his chair, hidden foot catching him on the table stand before he went ass-over-teakettle and Sam watched him and waited, but didn’t know what he was waiting for.

Salted fries in ketchup and Sam was picking off the stragglers, the little and broken ones and Dean watched the parking lot, eyes narrowed like he was thinking of stealing again or just plotting a new path for them to follow, once upon a time, Sam thought Dean could’ve been an explorer, a pathfinder, forcing his way through the world, unafraid and unabashed and Sam would trip along behind him, mapping their steps, documenting for later generations how far they’d come. But instead, there wasn’t a trail to blaze and nothing was written down because that’s how you get caught, it was just them flying under the radar, keeping their heads down and letting the world wash past them and that made Sam happy.

Some day, Sam would suggest they ditch everything and hitchhike again, though it was hard to do nowadays, with all the crazies and paranoia, they’d sooner get a gun in their face than a ride down the road, but the spirit’s the same, the two of them setting out to conquer the world, one mile marker at a time.

Tipping back again, Dean balanced for a moment, then tipped forward, hands catching on the table. “I worked on the Impala.”

Sam sipped his milkshake too fast, ache spreading hard in his head. “You did?”

“Yeah, she’s ‘bout ready. Needs a few more parts and then she’ll be back on the road.” Dean’s smile was genuine, unselfconscious happy, his eyes snapping with excitement.

And Sam felt himself catching it, airborne. “That’s great, dude. Can’t wait to get her out, take her for a spin.”

“Oh, no, I’m driving her. You only drive her if I’m drunk or otherwise incapacitated.”

“You’re life-incapacitated,” Sam said, curl of his lip, fumbling to unhook Dean’s anchor foot from the table as his brother tipped back again and Dean crashed forward into the table to stop him.

“So’s your face.”

“Glad to see you’re keeping up, Dean.”

“I aim to please,” Dean said.

“Yeah, you please all right,” Sam said, “you please to bite me, fucker.”

“Fuck you and the fucking horse you rode in on.”

“Great, guess I’m driving then,” Sam said as Dean threw money down on the table and snorted.

“In your dreams, pally.”

“My dreams don’t ever include you, Dean.”

“They should, I’m a main attraction.”

They somehow made it out of the restaurant without incident, pushing at each other until Dean stopped to hold the door open for a gaggle of little old ladies, his cheeks going pink at the chorus of thank you, young man, wish my grandson was like you so polite, what a nice young man and so good-lookin’ too, thank you, handsome, you come back this way you clear your dance card for me.

“Dean Winchester, cougar bait. Who’da thunk it.”

“Shut the hell up, Sam, and get in the fucking truck. We got miles ahead of us.”

The ride was easy, no highway patrol to be seen, and they’d stop at dark, it was good to travel at night, but getting off the road was good too, hiding amongst the rest of the populace like regular citizens rather than curfew-breakers. They needed to go, needed to get to the safety of Bobby’s and driving at night guaranteed them a mighty headstart of everything else, but sometimes it was better to blend in than mad dash and Bobby’d keep them apprised, tell them if they needed to hurry their asses up.

With each mile, Sam felt himself coming out of a shock, the last day coming completely back to him like a nightmare he only half-remembered and so he said, “The Impala, think we’ll get her on the road this time?”

Dean hummed at the wheel, twisting his hand around it like an invisible throttle. “Yeah, think this is the homestretch. Two more parts and they’re already on order. We can stop at one of my old garages and pick ‘em up on the way to Dakota.”

Then Sam knew the score, Dean working in garages here and there, carefully ordering parts for his pretty girl, like it was just another mechanic’s order, then he’d move on, red grease rag in his back pocket and another garage to earn some money and build up the car on the sly.

The rule was never go back to the same town twice, people have long memories for strangers who blow into town, especially those who look like the leading edge of trouble, but for this they’d have to make an exception and Sam decided he was just fine with that.

The Impala was theirs, wholly and completely, something only for them in a universe chock full of things that didn’t belong to them and they didn’t have anything else. It was a crying shame she was laid up the way she was; it’d been a handful of years since she’d been out prowling the road.

Sam was driving, Sam was fifteen and the Impala was his driver’s ed car, he was learning on the fly, like a fledgling getaway driver, ready to step up and take his place with his father and brother. Dad in the front seat, Dean in the back seat, Dad was talking about something urgent, a shipment of new cars heading west out of Deee-troit on a train, those boxcars like candy wrappers, once they arrived at the train yard, it’d be like Halloween, unwrapping all that candy to gorge themselves on it.

The teenage hormones in Sam were making him itch, his bones stretching in his skin, his eyes kept finding Dean in the rearview, the smirk of glee on his brother’s face, his brother was pushing Sam onward, helping him forget his sweaty palms and the racing of his heart as Dad said, “You’re learning this here and now, get us up to 80 and be on the lookout for highway patrol.” They were leaving behind another school, an exam on the French Revolution and a girl who stammered around Sam and there was a football game that Friday Sam wanted to go to, with Dean, sitting at the top of the bleachers away from everyone else. Something to do on a Friday, run-of-the-mill like milk and cookies, like people saying, how ‘bout a game of touch football, we’re having a barbeque on Sunday, BYOB. Watching the plays and betting on the home team and the running back who picked out the holes in the line big enough for a fleet of Mack trucks. Didn’t matter they’d be at the game with civilians who had no idea one of their SUVs or four-door sedans might disappear from the parking lot come the next PTA meeting.

“We gotta get there, Sam, this is important. Lotta money in this one and this comes first,” Dad said and Sam rolled his eyes, Dad was always chasing something, he could never say what, but he dragged Sam and Dean with him like a chain; their mom was the only thing holding him down and when that bond snapped, their dad shook loose and they bumped along in his wake.

Dean unhooked his seatbelt to lean over the seat better, giving Sam pointers. “You don’t need that 10-and-2 bullshit, just drive how it feels natural. You get too tense, you’ll wreck the car for sure, overcorrect or skid and fuck it all up. This isn’t Cannonball Run, keep ‘er between the lines and watch your speed. Don’t mash with your foot. Feather the pedal, ease off and ease on.”

“Thanks, Mr. Miagi.”

“Under my tutelage, you will learn well, Samuel-san.”

“Right, next you’re gonna teach me how to strike out with the ladies. I can’t wait for that. When do we get to ‘parallel parking’.” As if he could conjure a double entendre out of thin air.

“Shut the fuck up, Sam.” Dean hit Sam upside the head and Sam reached back for him without taking his eyes off the road. “C’mon and make me, jerk.”

Dad smacked at them both without anger, breaking up the fight-in-progress, Sam trying not to swerve. “Dean, get back in your seat, your brother’s got to learn—“

A cattle truck came out of nowhere, plowing past a stop sign as they flashed through a country intersection and there was the screech of smashing metal, glass flying like the world was being crushed by an immense hammer. Then it all slammed to a halt an inch before they were dust.

T-boned, the car crumpled like paper instead of steel and the next four days were a haze of Dad not wanting to be held down in a hospital and Sam holding vigil for the car and Dean. Dean didn’t open his eyes, fighting for his life with Sam fighting for his brother in a silent match of imaginary fisticuffs.

Sam needed Dean to come back and be his brother because the Winchester boys don’t run no other way.

Dean always came back. The Impala ended up with Bobby and Sam at bruised-and-battered fifteen told him in no uncertain terms that he and Dean’d fix it, they weren’t giving up on that car, it was their ticket to wherever they wanted to go and be whoever they wanted to be, him and Dean in that car on the road someday, so Bobby took it and worked to keep it rust- and vermin-free between visits.

They were still a day away outside of Sioux Falls, the pickup rolling along and Sam’s shock was coming off in layers. He dreamed about the monster cop, rows of teeth like a shark and those wrong-way jointed limbs about to take Dean away in the lights hurling blue and red and Sam couldn’t find the gun, he couldn’t find the gun, the monster cop was growling-laughing, teeth about to sink into Dean and tear, leave him a bloody ragged mess and Sam found the gun, heavy in his hands, but he couldn’t squeeze the trigger, it wouldn’t move, fuck, he needed to shoot it, blue and red fucking taking over his head

“Wake up, Sam, wake up,” Dean said and Sam’s body jolted, his temple banging against the window.

“Ow, fuck.”

“Good dream, eh,” Dean said, patting Sam’s thigh and panic was crawling over Sam’s skin, his heart pumping hard to keep him alive out of this nightmare. “Clowns or midgets.”

“Fuck you too,” Sam said, his voice thick with adrenaline and Dean squeezed a hair short of painful and it spiked through Sam, cracking his shell of shock. “Fucking cop or whatever. That thing was gonna eat you–“

“You saw it too, right,” Dean said, letting go of Sam to draw a vague gesture in the air. “Teeth, claws. Thing smelled like ass.”

“Random trivia for 200, you know what ass smells like.”

Dean’s eyes were pinched, a look of why you gotta be like that, and he sped up to pass a minivan with sullen children. “Okay, it smelled like something had crawled into its mouth and died a slow, rotting death complete with flies and decomp. You happy?”

“Descriptive,” Sam said and the panic was easing like water going back out to sea, but he had to keep talking. “It wasn’t human, I had to shoot it, Dean, I’ve never killed—“

“Sammy, calm down. You put a bullet or three in that sonuvabitch and I’m still here ‘cause of that,” Dean said, grim, staring out like he could see the curvature of the earth. “You did good. I know what I saw, I know what you saw. You put it down like a dog, whatever it was.”

“We gotta tell Bobby, that was no cop.”

“We aren’t telling Bobby that. Tell him the cop was attacking a civilian, we stopped it and the cop tried to shoot me or something. A minor disturbance that blew up.”

“Minor? Blew up? I’m a cop-killer now, Dean, I don’t think people take kindly to that.”

“Well, guess we’ll have to hide a little longer than expected,” Dean said as if he was gritting his teeth and Sam suddenly felt sorry, so very sorry, this was such a nuclear mess, he should have to deal with the fallout alone.

“You should get some distance,” Sam said, “put some miles between you and me.”

And Dean jerked the wheel to the side, getting them off onto shoulder without grace, throwing gravel. He looked like some ancient version of Sam’s brother, this person hiding inside Dean, warrior burning angry. “You’re the one who said ‘we’ in the first place. According to you, this isn’t my crime to claim, but we’re on the run here, we’re going to ground, we’re gonna get the Impala and make like a banana.”

“And split,” Sam said automatically and Dean didn’t back off, bright and hard to watch.

“You don’t get to take this one either, Sam. Looks like this is our out, so it’s we or nothing.”

Sam was the one who made ultimatums, demanding an answer for everything under the sun, but Dean had it in him to cut to the heart of the matter, demand his fair share and get it too, stubborn as the day is long and strong-willed to boot. The two of them could probably will something into existence, if they fought hard enough, and Sam stared at Dean; he didn’t really want to break up the band, this was going to be their farewell tour, final ride most likely and there was nowhere else he wanted to be, nobody else he wanted to be but Dean’s brother. They were delinquents down to their cores and that was good enough.

“We take it,” Sam said and got Dean in his grasp, his own brand of ultimatum when he kissed his brother.

Dean sort of bit him in surprise, but Sam pressed in close. The first time Sam kissed Dean at the stoplight, he didn’t know what he wanted, how to express that thrum of need, how he wanted to keep Dean around permanently. It was like creeping vertigo, falling down but seeing the stars the whole way, topsy-turvy, and Sam didn’t understand it then.

He understood it now, massive and colossal, Dean’s hand painful in his hair before Dean snapped the kiss in two.

They didn’t say anything and Sam didn’t let him get completely away, put his mouth to Dean’s and breathed like CPR, then slid back into his seat and closed his eyes until he felt the truck move out onto the road.

He didn’t expect Dean to talk about it and he wasn’t going to push the issue though Sam felt desperate; the last time he kissed his brother, it set off a chain reaction, like a gas pipeline exploding, and he was left with everything unzippered between them, raw and gaping. But so far, Dean was playing along, sticking with him, they’d discuss it later when Dean would approach him, nervous and fidgety, and Sam would list all the reasons this could be good, monumental and for keeps, no one knew them except each other.

Then he thought of something and blurted it out stupidly, “Shoulda asked first if you had someone.”

Dean laughed and whistled low. “’Bout a year ago, there was this girl. In Ohio. Heard Dad might be working in the area, so I stayed for a while. Weeks.”

Sam didn’t open his eyes, just grunted his incredulity and Dean mumbled, “Yeah, shut your mouth. She was great, beautiful and smart. Then one night, she asked me what did I really do for a living. Guess the mechanic angle didn’t cut it for her. So I got drunk and told her the truth. She dumped my ass flat.”

“Same thing happened to me,” Sam admitted and Dean laughed again, a little louder, and said, “Bullshit.”

“Nope, scout’s honor.”

“Doesn’t work, you were never a scout.”

“It was that night I called you.”

He stopped there and the seat squeaked as he felt Dean shift. “I got wasted at a party, and when I walked her back to her dorm, there were all these cars parked along the street. Thousands of dollars on wheels. Rolling money. I told her how to steal ‘em, break ‘em down for parts. Textbook, Dean.”

Dean laughed, dazzling to Sam, and when he peeked from under his hair, Dean was shaking his head, amazed at the ways of his brother, now I’ve heard everything.

“Glad we’ve had this moment of male bonding.”

Nothing about the kiss, nothing more about those girls who couldn’t handle a bit of larceny, nothing more about how many people can’t follow them wherever they’re headed.

But Sam closed his eyes and Dean’s hand came down on Sam’s lolling knee and Sam fell asleep again. He dreamed of the stoplight and that night so long ago; the street, buildings, night sky were sprinting past at high speeds, but in the car, they were stopped at the light, still as a photograph. He was kissing Dean in the drenching red, but Dean kept laughing, saying, You don’t know what it’s like.

What what’s like.

This, Dean said into the kiss and he tasted clean. This, just another crazy venture. What’re you stealing this time.

Sam said, You.

“What were you gonna be,” Dean said from somewhere outside of the dream and Sam came awake, all-fired quick.

“Whaddya mean.”

“Whaddya mean ‘whaddya mean’? What were you gonna be. At college.”

Shoving at various places, Sam got himself center on the seat; somehow he’d slipped, almost into Dean’s lap and his brother never said a word except to ask inanely about college.

“Lawyer.”

“Fucking hell,” Dean said and Sam glanced over at him to see the sun dipping down low, cut in half and losing traction. “From lawbreaker to law-upholder. Or something.”

“Wanted to be ready to save your sorry ass.”

“My hero,” Dean rejoined. He meant it, the hero part, Sam heard it, but they both ignored it. “Turned out real well, didn’t it.” Twisting his legs to stretch as best he could behind the wheel, Dean glanced over at Sam, quick-like, with a small smile. “Don’t think you needed a fancy education to fire a gun, Joe College.”

“Real funny, you think of that one all on your own?” It wasn’t in Sam to be bitter, vengeful maybe, because so many things had gone wrong, were still going wrong, and might get a whole lot worse, so he might be angry and vengeful against a world that broke them up into pieces, he might need to be avenged for the trespasses visited upon him, but so far, he was slipping a net and getting away with his brother, so it wasn’t in Sam to be bitter.

“You ready to stop,” Dean said. Motels and fast food, next three exits and Sam said, “I’m always ready for crappy food and crappy motel rooms.”

“Dude, you’re in luck.”

They had their pick of two motels, though neither one really inspired confidence, so Dean clapped a hand over his eyes and picked, then drove to the one he didn’t pick and Sam laughed at the idiosyncrasy. He didn’t comment on the one bed, just read off the movie schedule for HBO and Dean nodded approvingly, toeing off his boots.

“Pizza?”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

“Good, you order it then.”

Dean and his damn traps, so Sam ordered the pizza and they kicked back, pillows piled high, pushed together like they might actually fit on the bed in some cuckoo combination and Sam felt compelled to point out this wasn’t a porno, pizza delivery and all.

And his brother went nervous and fidgety, so bad Sam was about to knock him off the bed, and something was exploding on the TV in a giant orange fireball, not unlike the fire they wanted when they bought five dollars worth of gas and carried it in a red wagon.

“Sammy.”

“Yeah,” Sam said, waiting, and Dean looked startled, maybe at Sam’s allowance of the chubby twelve-year-old’s nickname, especially at this moment when he wasn’t a dumb kid anymore and he wanted this with their shared history under his belt.

He wanted to say, Sorry about that night, Dean, when you ran off and it was so bad you wrecked a car. I’m sorry it ruined your life and scared you so much.

“I’m sorry you wrecked that car, Dean.”

“Not my first rodeo,” Dean said, attempting to shrug, but couldn’t, they were mashed together, the pillows slipping almost uncomfortable and Sam was about to suggest building a pillow fort or an activity equally stupid, when Dean said, “I wasn’t paying attention, ended up in the other lane. And there was another car, it was what, one, two in the morning, what other fucking idiots are out that late. So I tried to pull back into my lane and overcorrected. Skidded. Went right into the ditch.”

“This isn’t Cannonball Run.”

Smirking, Dean said, “Smokey and the Bandit maybe,” and Sam laughed way too hard, coughing, Dean pounding his hand flat on Sam’s back. Which turned into Dean simply hitting Sam and Sam couldn’t handle such an indignity, raring up to pitch Dean onto the floor where he deserved to be.

“Get offa me before I knock you down and make you stay down.”

But Dean didn’t fight back, grinning, waving his hands, “Bring it on, bitch.” Then he hauled Sam in, kissing him hard and Sam gave it back to him in triple. They were crooked on the bed and fell together, sliding off, and Sam couldn’t believe it, nothing had prepared him for this, that epoch together, their span of time, their connection tied between them; he’d felt it then and he felt it now, knew Dean did too and he said, “Dean, you shoulda—“

“You were just a kid, Sammy, you didn’t know. I thought you might, the way you followed me everywhere, maybe the way I, I hung around, keeping an eye on you, but,” Dean stopped, Sam’s mouth on his Adam’s apple, and he swallowed to say, “but I couldn’t. You got your letter and—“

Sam pushed over his brother, to see him properly, to look him in the eye. “You knew about that?”

“You left it on the table one afternoon. But you didn’t know about me, us, you hadn’t figured it out for yourself and I didn’t—“

“Oh, hell, Dean.” Sam rolled away, but Dean’s hands hunted him, a leg sweeping out to snare him, pin him there. Dean didn’t speak and Sam thought, Maybe this is the real car wreck all these years.

All these years, and it was them in every way it could’ve been, secured and hooked so tightly together, not because they were all they had left, not just the people who stuck around and understood those felonious teachings, and Sam didn’t want to calculate wasted time, he wanted to catch up and go forward, with how Dean said ‘us’.

They stayed there quiet on the floor, in a weird monkeyed configuration and when Sam glanced at Dean, his brother was staring at the ceiling, tense and biting his lip like he might chew through it.

“Dean.”

“What.”

Still staring at the ceiling, Dean didn’t look at him and it hurt more than anything before or anything that could ever come after and Sam couldn’t take that. “Dean.”

No response, Dean flat and keyed-up, the way he held it inside, vibrating, as if he might fly apart, so Sam ran a hand up his side, palm covering Dean’s ribs. “Better late than never, right.”

“You sonuvabitch,” Dean immediately said, eyes meeting Sam’s, as if he was just waiting and Sam grinned, cocky. Dean yanked him down, mouth-to-mouth, and this was nothing like fighting, more like getting the upper hand through dirty tricks and cheats, so when Sam licked Dean’s throat and got his jeans open, Dean trapped him with his thigh and toppled them over to use his teeth on Sam’s belly.

They tried to pull out all the stops, Dean’s years of experience given a run for their money by Sam’s clever fingers and mouth, but they got distracted by the newness and thrum, and then they were busy keeping score, matching smirks, forcing out sounds, this first time was too fast, they couldn’t slow it down, Dean laughing and it rushed through Sam with a crash and he moved against Dean like an involuntary reaction, a reflex and Dean knew just what to do to Sam, right, oh, there, messy technique and no finesse, half-clothed and half-naked, and Sam came all over them when Dean said now, and Dean looked shocked, pleased, a split second before he came in Sam’s hand.

His heart going 100 mph and Sam took a breath. The room was spinning a little and he wouldn’t admit to Dean that he did this to Sam, this was the real beginning of an era, Dean laughing under his breath.

Nothing else, Sam thought, nothing but this, as Dean lounged, taking valuable floor space, disheveled and askew and the color high in his face.

Cleaning them up took effort, but it was good because then they were clean and Dean complained, “Dammit, that’s my favorite shirt.”

“Nope, that black one’s your favorite shirt.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You don’t get to tell me—“

A knock on the door and they were both jumpy, their earlier energy turned into something else entirely, and the knock came again. “Hello? Pizza?”

“You and your damn pizza,” Dean muttered, fishing for cash, jerking at the doorknob and he shoved bills at the delivery guy in trade for the pizza box. Sam felt smug as Dean nudged the door shut, “Great, it’s my pizza, I don’t hafta share.”

They ate in silence, balancing hot slices dripping grease, wiping their fingers on their jeans, and Sam was figuring time and miles, and they’d joked about telepathy before, but without Sam saying a word, Dean said, “Don’t forget we gotta stop to get those parts for the Impala.”

“That’s gonna slow us down getting to Bobby,” Sam said, as if Dean hadn’t realized it, but Dean shrugged, nonchalant.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said, “we need those parts. Gotta get ‘em now, so we can get her on the road. Last chance, Sammy.”

Sam picked a green pepper off his slice of pizza. “Why’d you leave before you got ‘em anyway?” The cheese was too hot, burning the roof of his mouth.

“Chased outta town.”

That came close to the funniest thing Sam had ever heard, laughing so he almost choked. “You were run outta town.”

“I know, it’s hard to believe. I think it’s ‘cause I’m so awesome. So charming and attractive. Handsome.”

“Delusional. I’m stuck with a crazy man,” Sam said and Dean kicked at him, mouth full, “Like Siamese twins.”

“It’s conjoined twins,” Sam corrected and Dean kicked viciously at him again, but Sam wanted to get the scoop, “So what did you do to get run outta town. This I gotta hear.”

And oddly, Dean shook his head, grabbing for another slice and he looked uncomfortable. “Nothing worth telling.”

But this was unexpected and Sam learned a long time ago not to give up on an opportunity where his brother was concerned, so he pushed. “C’mon, you don’t slip up like that.”

“There was this guy. At one of the chop shops. We kinda.” Dean’s mouth twisted and he made an obscene motion; Sam got the point and he didn’t stop his jealousy, just let it grow in his stomach. “His cousin owned the shop and didn’t like anyone messing with members of his family. One of those insane motherfuckers, you remember the type.”

Yeah, there were shops that were professional businesses, all about the supply and demand, money for goods, no questions asked; there were the shops run by crews who did it for the fun of it, the hell of it, and the money didn’t hurt none either; then there were the shops like little fucked-up kingdoms with these guys who thought they were Tony Montana, guns and drugs, and the cars were used to fund their fucking bad habits.

“The guy. Not the insane one. He was about your age,” Dean said, then he mumbled something suspicious-sounding. “Looked like you.”

“Dean, you romantic bastard,” Sam said, slow grinning, but Dean shot him down, “Watch your fucking language, sasquatch. ‘Sides, I got that feeling, y’know, all up and down my back, so I skipped town. Made my way to California. Found you.”

“Then you tried to show me a good time.”

That shut them both up for a little while, eating a swath through the pizza box, Sam thinking about Dean running with a target painted on his back over some guy who looked like him, reminded Dean enough of him that he took a chance and ended up with a gun in his face. He didn’t know whether to be caveman-jealous or uncertain about where he stood now with his brother.

“This is it, right, Dean,” he said, out of nowhere, and foolishly wanted to take it back. “This is it. No one, uh.”

He couldn’t say no one else, no one else ever, because once they got the car, they were out of the game, at least for the foreseeable future, but Dean could go back, start over, to the guy at the chop shop, to the girl in Ohio. Dean wasn’t a cop-killer, didn’t have that rep yet and if Dean said so, Sam would set the record straight.

“You and me,” he started, but Dean’s cell rang, a song blaring and Sam said, “Is that Metallica?” as Dean snapped it open.

“Yeah?” And that tense look came back as he listened, the lines of his body going taut, fight-or-flight, and Sam flagged him down, what is going on, what.

“Hang on, Bobby, I’mma put you on speaker.”

Bobby came across the wires tinny but still Bobby, pissed off. “I’ve been alive a relatively long time and I aim to stay alive for an even relatively longer time, but you two might kill me off quicker’n I want.”

“What’s happened,” Sam said and Bobby sighed.

“A shitstorm with you idjits in the middle of it. That dead cop. His cruiser’s cam caught Dean in its sights.”

“Wait, whaddya mean—“

“I’m lookin’ at it right now.” There was a thump, like a bottle. “Dean comes in from the side, then disappears again, so whatever ‘altercation’ took place between you and the cop, Dean, it’s not recorded. But that’s not all.”

“It gets better?” Sam said, and Dean interrupts, “Is it my best side? I want my first close-up to be good, Mr. DeMille,” showy gallows humor, but Bobby cleared his throat, apparently not amused. “No time for bad jokes, asshats. The vid didn’t catch you shootin’ the cop, Sam, but it did catch Dean again. Holding a gun. Then, as I’m watchin’ it, Sam makes his grand entrance and Dean waves the gun to get you in the car. Then you two brain twins drive off. In a now-stolen car. Leaving two dead bodies behind.”

Dean rubbed at his mouth, a nervous habit for when he was totaling up the damage. “Which means.”

“Given you Winchesters’ penchant for taking cars what don’t belong to you and other various sundry crimes, and the fact that Dean, you’re the one on camera with the gun, and it looks like you threaten Sam into goin’ with you, and there’s corpses left for the cleanin’ crew, you’re lookin’ at—“

“Grand theft auto, kidnapping, murder,” Sam said, counting them on his fingers.

“And various sundry crimes,” Dean said and outside the circumstances, Sam would play to the sense of pride he heard in the words, tease their criminal spirit, but.

Bobby cleared his throat again. “Feds.”

“Oh, this does get better and better,” Dean said, hunched on the edge of the bed.

“I want you here yesterday, sharp, don’t spare the tires. Got it?”

“Yeah, Bobby, we’ll be there,” Dean said and Sam leaned closer to the phone, “Anyone looking for a missing pickup.”

“Brown-on-brown, extended cab, 1986 GMC –“

“Good to know,” Sam said, “we’ll get another ride.”

“Sharpish,” Bobby said, snapping through the speakers. “Get your dumbasses up here. And don’t do anything stupid. Again.”

“We’ve got an errand to run, but—“

“Didja forget to buy milk? I did say ‘feds’, didn’t I. I’m a mite old, but I ain’t senile, I don’t think I forgot to mention that,” Bobby grumbled. “So. Do what you gotta do and then you hightail it.”

“You got it,” Sam said and the call disconnected.

Dean sighed. “We are so screwed.”

They sat there for a second, side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, staring out at nothing.

“Fuck, we have to leave now,” Sam said, and at least they hadn’t unpacked, so they could grab the duffels and disappear, like usual, one foot out the door at all times. He felt Dean nod and that was it, them gathering their tiny world in no-time flat and gone, an empty pizza box in their wake and Dean saying, “So much for sleeping in a bed. Get whatever you need outta the truck, I’ll get the next one.”

About six-or-seven hours ‘till dawn and they could move faster at night, screw blending in, they didn’t have a choice, it’d been made for them and Sam pawed inside the truck for anything they’d left, found only wrappers and trash, but he gathered it up to throw away, whoever finds this truck can’t find them, no way, no how.

In the shadows of the parking lot, he heard a soft, “ohshit, ow,” then a blast of music, “what in the blue hell,” and the tentative choke-turn of an engine. “You dick,” Dean said and then the engine revved with a drift of headlights over Sam.

“Going my way?” Sam asked as Dean popped the back door of a sturdy off-roader, tossing their stuff in as Dean replied, “Hop in, sailor.”

“I’m behind the wheel. You sleep.”

“Nah, I got this one,” Dean said, but Sam shoved him towards the passenger side, taking the time to get in a good half-punch and a grope.

“No, you’re gonna sleep ‘cause you look like shit and the last thing we need is for you to fall asleep at the fucking wheel and put us in the ditch ‘cause you’re a manly man who won’t let me drive. I call bullshit and I’m tired of looking at your hangdog face, so you get in that seat and get your beauty rest ‘cause if I have to keep looking at you all creepy and gross, I will kick your ass outta the car and leave you on the side of the road. Then you go can live in the woods and kill fucking grizzly bears with your bare hands and grow a fucking beard like a manly man, Jeremiah Johnson.”

Dean stared at him, then grinned, cat that ate the canary, like he’d gotten to Sam finally. “Hold me, Sam, that was beautiful.”

“You fucker, get in the car,” Sam said, batting Dean’s hands away, but Dean still caught him and kissed him, brief, time’s a-wasting. “Get in the car.”

“Still think I’m gross?”

“Hell yes.”

An atlas half-lost under Dean’s seat and it was almost like winning the lottery. Dean fiddled with adjusting his seat, as Sam backed out of the parking lot, then threw it in gear, onto the street, and got them the hell out of Dodge.

With a complicated flourish, Dean said, “Plot us a course for the Boulder sector in the Colorado system,” and Sam flashed to those late nights sitting with Dean wherever they were, watching Star Trek reruns, because syndication is the best friend of late night television and insomnia, those nights with Dean like golden nostalgia, and Dean said, “Warp speed, Mr. Sulu.”

“Oh my fuck – are you, are you kidding. I am not calling you ‘captain’.”

“You can in bed,” Dean said and Sam threw the atlas at him, failing at not laughing, “Just gimme the main highways, then go to sleep.”

Unfolding the atlas, Dean rattled off the way to Boulder and massacred the re-folding before tossing the whole thing in the back seat, scooting down to get comfortable and Sam eased the off-roader faster.

Silence for a while, Sam tapping on the steering wheel, still doing the math because they had to get in and out of Boulder, then race to Sioux Falls like their asses were on fire. Dean’s idea of “on the way” was out of whack what with the size of the country; Sam knew Dean thought in vague directional terms: Boulder was east-ish of where they were and Sioux Falls was east-ish of Boulder. He ignored north and south in terms of anything logical and Sam rolled his eyes to himself and Dean said, “So after all this, we ditch the feds, we get the car, then what.”

“Bolivia?”

“Yeah, ‘cause that ended so well for them.” Tugging off his jacket, Dean wadded it into a suitable pillow and lounged, how the fuck did he do that, like it was a couch instead of a car, Sam had wondered that since time immemorial, “no, seriously, man, after that.”

“Hole up, hide out, get jobs, benefits. Vacation?”

“You are just hi-larious tonight, Sam, you should take your show on the road.”

“Look who’s talking.”

Cruise control, Sam was grateful for mechanical wonders great and small, but cruise control was better than a lot of things, depending on the circumstances, so he set the off-roader at 90 and let it fly.

Quiet again, Dean’s eyes closed when Sam glanced over and he looked young, vulnerable, face clear and open, and Sam remembered this from night drives when their dad put them to bed in the car, Sam’d stare out of the back window at the stars, stare at his brother and make a wish.

“We could do what Bobby does.”

“What, run something like that criminal underground radio-wave network he’s got going on?” Sam asked and Dean snorted.

“I bet there’s an acronym for that.”

His brother got a knee into the side of Sam’s leg, hard, like a sucker punch and between one breath and the next, dropped off to sleep.

They’d need a house. And some way to earn a living. Bobby somehow got it all figured out, like the American dream, he carved his place into the world and wasn’t budging. He had his salvage yard, where Dean and Sam crawled all over old rustbuckets and learned the mechanics of the engine, how everything on four wheels is put together and can be taken apart, how to kick the tires and tame the speed demon to do your bidding. Salvage was his job and he was his own boss, so he had more time to devote to his science.

Their dad told them about Bobby. He told them one afternoon when he was sober and they went for root beer floats. He told them like it was a saga, an epic people memorized to tell each generation so no one would forget.

“Bobby was married once,” Dad began, and Sam was seven, listening intently, and he didn’t like this opening use of the past tense. Bobby’s wife was a good woman with interesting friends who had interesting hobbies. She was possessed of a wild streak in her youth, got into easy trouble with increasingly hard consequences, until there was a night with too much alcohol and a car that almost ran head-on into a tree. The near-death experience changed her mind, but she kept her friends and they kept her on the side, away from their increasingly hard dealings.

When she met Bobby, fire met fire, and they were a perfect match. They made sure neither one of them got out of hand, that spark was between them and for no one else. A spring afternoon, the clouds clearing off after raining all morning, and Bobby decided to nap with the TV on, she was going to meet one of those interesting friends for coffee. He trusted her and she trusted her friend to not bring the old unsavory trouble to something so simple as coffee. She left her husband there with a kiss, dozing.

Dad paused to spoon up some ice cream and Dean was swirling his, the ice cream and root beer melting together, but Sam liked to first drink the creamy root beer foam and then eat the root-beer-flavored ice cream.

“Karen was real sweet, good for Bobby, she really had his number,” Dad said and that past tense was killing Sam, he was tense with the cold spoon against his teeth, tongue pressing ice cream to the roof of his mouth. Dean shivered on the booth seat, “ate too fast,” but Sam thought maybe it was the story.

Bobby’s wife having coffee, chatting with her friend, talking about the old days when it was just joyriding and bumming smokes and sneaking alcohol, looking for ways to lose themselves, get away from this town, their parents, all those damn rules, why can’t we just cherry bomb everything, hahahahahaha.

Then this man appeared, stuttering a druggie path across the street to where they were drinking coffee in the open spring air, and the interesting friend told Karen this might not be the time for reminiscing and she told him she wasn’t afraid, it was broad daylight. The man yelled about money and a job, “you were supposed to kill her, but you botched it, she’s still alive and I paid you, you sonuvabitch,” and Sam was gripping his glass and Dean’s spoon clanked loud in his ear.

The man stabbed them both, over and over, right there at the table, knifed them to death before a passerby and a waiter wrestled him to the ground. She died while Bobby was asleep on the couch with the TV on.

Dean whistled, sucked on his straw noisily and Sam said, “How do you know all that?”

“Bobby told me,” Dad said and Sam rolled his eyes because it was so obvious, he had to say it. “But Bobby wasn’t there, how does he know it went like that?”

“Witnesses, Sammy,” Dean said, pushing at Sam’s head and Sam pushed back and Dad waved them off, said, “Now you know why Bobby does what he does.”

It was hard to match the tragedy of a knifed woman having coffee with Bobby, the big man with the gruff nature and beard and cap who gave Dean and Sam the run of his place until they got too noisy, who presented Sam with the bullet keyring he was hiding from Dean until Christmas came around.

But Sam figured it out, over the years, after many trips to Bobby’s house, and he wondered how long it took for Bobby to whittle out that existence, how much patience the man had.

They’d need a house and a lot of luck and equipment to do what Bobby did. After his wife died, he didn’t want vengeance or justice, as Dad put it, though in a twisted manner, he got both when the murderer went to jail and was shivved there by three other inmates. No, Bobby wanted to understand, to see the mechanisms and drive behind the curtain, the interesting hobbies those interesting friends dealt in and what it brought out in other people. The underworld, the layer under civilized society that had its own rules, its own traditions and customs and functioned much like the society they bucked against, so much darker than the rest.

It was his science and he understood it better than most; he spent every year after his wife’s death listening, with his wall of phones, his CBs, radios, and the two laptops that lived on his desk but took various vacations around the house when he carted them into another room and left them there. He had books on everything: car manuals, locks, vaults, safecracking, household chemicals, homemade explosives, tools, firearms, knives, unconventional weapons, battlefield medicine, forgery, banks, police procedure, call signs, money, you name it he had it and Dad claimed that only the FBI had a better library than Bobby, because they were unfortunately better funded, nosy bastards.

A sign arose out of the darkness, such-and-such miles to Boulder, dawn should be in a couple of hours, then the city a couple more hours after that, and Sam stretched, popping the kinks in his neck and back, scrubbing his palms over his knees. Dean rolled a little in his sleep, breath hitching.

Tank was getting low, Sam’d have to stop pretty soon for gas and it was an old game, to see if you could stop, fuel up and get back on the road without the sleepyhead knowing it. Him and Dean were evenly matched, depending on how worn out or caffeinated the other person was, but it’d been four years since the last time, maybe they both started back at zero.

“Sammy,” Dean murmured and right away, Sam put a hand on him, “Yeah.”

Dean’s eyes in slits, staring at him like he wasn’t sure Sam was there, so Sam said again, “Yeah, Dean.”

“Shut your face.”

“Bite me.”

“Come a little closer and I will,” Dean said. “I don’t wanna move.” He had a line on his cheek from his jacket, hair flat on one side, a hand tucked under his leg and nothing had changed, he still slept the same way on the road that he had in the Impala so long ago and Sam chuckled, covered it with a little cough, it was stupid how he missed Dean even when he was sleeping and not shaking Sam’s world.

“Don’t go back to sleep,” he said and Dean huffed, sleepy impatience, knuckles in his eyes.

Voice scratchy, he said, “Go to sleep, don’t go to sleep, make up your damn mind, Sam. Ordering me around.”

“You like it when I’m in control.”

“Wouldn’t know, haven’t taken it for a test drive yet.”

“Gotta get rid of the feds first.”

“Let ‘em watch.”

His brother smirking at him in the middle of the night, the off-roader punching through at 90 and Sam felt the speed of everything, his blood when his brother looked at him like that, the road and wind under the tires and he smiled idiotically.

“Gotta stop for gas, might as well stay awake, make a pit stop.”

Sure enough, as if Sam spoke magic, a gas station arose, nothing but lights in the drift of dark that left them both blinking. Fuel at the pump, key to the restroom, and Dean’s suggestive fingers hooked in Sam’s belt loop, and Sam couldn’t say we don’t have time, federals, the car, it’s coming down on us, he simply said, “Fast,” and Dean said, “You’re so easy,” and Sam pressed him to the wall.

Messy again and eventually they’d have the freedom of time and place to get completely naked and learn, but Dean wanted this as much as Sam and Sam was going to seize this with both hands, Dean talking filth in his ear and his name never sounded so secret-red as Dean shook and came against Sam’s hipbone. And Dean said I wanna see you, and Sam came, as if he couldn’t help it.

Clean, somewhat presentable, but still breathing hard, Dean smiling like the rest of the world didn’t exist, gathering an arm load of junk food and at the register, Sam said, “You don’t need any sugar, think you’re hyped up enough as it is.”

But Dean ignored him, spinning the sunglasses rack and he picked a pair, tossing them on the small heap. “We’re almost there, that much closer,” was all he said and that said it all.

Back at the off-roader, back on the road and Dean didn’t fight Sam about driving, just propped himself on the seat with a lazy cat expression and put on the sunglasses, regardless of the fact that the sun hadn’t broken the sky yet.

90 wasn’t good enough, 95, rounding to 100, and Sam felt the urgency harder now, they had more to lose, but he didn’t say it to Dean and his gold-rimmed mirror-lens aviators.

He saw himself reflected in the lenses, Dean’s kid brother, look at you now, all grown up and on the lam with a shooting behind you and your next of kin in front of you with your teeth marks on the join of his throat, you’ve gotten the good out of the bad, look at you go.

He shook his head and the reflection copied him. "You know how ridiculous you look?"

"I think you meant to say 'awesome.'"

"Pizza delivery, now that's bad porn, but the whole state trooper look, that's even worse."

"You don't want me to 'pull you over'?” Dean popped his jaw and drawled, “Do ya know how fast you were goin', sonny. Short on cash, huh, can't pay the fine, but you don't want a ticket, do ya. Why don'tcha bend over the car here and gimme that pretty ass."

"Fuck." Sam thought about being bent over the car, any car and like a hurricane wind, he remembered how he wanted to lose his virginity in the Impala, when he was fourteen and horny and he never had any privacy, Dean was around, roughhousing, what're you so uptight about, squirt; go away leave me alone, Dean.

"What about the Impala, Dean, what if I was driving the Impala and you pulled me over, there on the side of the road—"

Fuck." Dean couldn’t kick him in the confined space, so he went for a rabbit punch to the ribs, Sam’s breath whistling out and Sam grabbed his wrist, too late to stop the punch he should’ve seen coming, digging his nails into Dean’s skin. Dean said, “Dick move. Should put you in jail for that.”

"Turnabout's fair play. Now shut up and lemme drive."

“You started it.”

“You started it.”

“Shut up and drive, Sam.”

Sam gave him the finger and Dean returned it with interest and Boulder was getting closer every second.

Dean turned on the radio, skipping through until he found what he wanted, then made damn sure Sam could hear it too, the radio rocking them along each mile through the mountains and into the valley.

The two of them and the music and Dean humming, as the sky lightened, cracking in bands, then the sun was burning down the trees and jagged horizon.

Since he had the sunglasses, Dean shoved at Sam who couldn’t fight the sun, the road and his brother at once, so he allowed Dean to switch them out, content to sit and watch Dean accelerate with the guitars and drums pounding into his bloodstream and the happy-excitement that came over his brother when he had four wheels on the asphalt fulfilling his every speed whim.

They roared into town in time for breakfast and coffee and Dean knew the way, leaving Sam to marvel at this down-home, settled side of his brother he knew was hiding in those shoulders. They wore matching amused curls to their mouths when they got a booth, got their menus, got their cups of coffee.

This was them getting down to the nuts and bolts, planning this run because it had to be done quick and right so they could stay ahead, footloose and fancy-free and on their way to South Dakota. They were barely in one place, cutting into eggs with the yolks bleeding out on their toast, bacon and thrown hash browns, already laying plans for a fast getaway, one foot flat on the running board.

Dean used an alias for his time in Boulder and Sam was glad in that pricking part of his heart, no one knew Dean, even that kid who looked like Sam, no one knew his brother the same as he did.

“Fuck knows what’ll happen if I fetch those parts,” Dean said, twirling the peppershaker on the table, his fingers about to let it fall, but he caught it at the last minute. “So you do it.”

“’Cause I look so much like you, midget,” Sam said. “Perfect disguise.”

The peppershaker about to fall again, Dean caught it again, his breath hissing out in annoyance. “No, brainiac, you just go in and say you’re getting it for me. Whatever, I’m unavailable.”

“This plan sounds great, Dean,” Sam said with false cheer, high-pitched with two flashy thumbs up and Dean sent the peppershaker kamikaze-style at Sam’s plates of food, the salt bombing after it and Sam defended his turf with fork and knife. “Great plan, really, this is gonna work so well, Patton.”

Precaution, they circled the block a few times where the garage was and Sam tried to imagine the life Dean had here, living alone in some closet of an apartment, watching TV with his feet propped on something, beer in hand, going to this garage every day to work on cars, then meeting the kid and it still sounded lonely to Sam, incomplete.

Two blocks away, Dean hopped out and said, “Just give ‘em my name, you shouldn’t need an order number. Two parts. Then you.” He made a zooming motion with his hands, smacking them like a hit-and-run. “Get out.”

Sam squinted at him. “And you’ll be on foot. At a distance.”

Dean nodded and with those stupid shades on, Sam couldn’t see his eyes, but he looked nervous, rocking on his heels, what had he done day-to-day, what was this alias worth here in Boulder. He thought the best of his brother, one of the greats, but Dean worried too, didn’t like to show it, but he worried and now they had so much more to lose.

“Is this the part where I say ‘aye-aye, cap’n’?” Sam asked, shaking Dean a little, “’cause I gotta tell you, that’s not gonna happen.”

“You’re no fun, Sam,” Dean retorted and he dusted himself of Sam’s hands. “Such a spoilsport. I don’t know where you got it from.”

So Sam slid into the driver’s seat and Dean patted the door, twice, get goin’, and Sam got goin’. A normal citizen on a normal day picking up the parts he needed to finish his vintage project.

And that’s how it went; the garage was a typical garage, with mechanics wiping their hands clean to deal with paperwork and the owner swilling the dregs of his coffee in a styrofoam cup.

Dean Jagger, “seriously, what the hell were you thinking, Dean, c’mon, how did they not call you on that?”, but Dean smiled, big and toothy, hands in his pockets, Sam’s brother laidback and he shrugged one shoulder like hey it’s me. “The Stones were playing on the radio when I filled out the form.”

“You get away with too fucking much,” Sam said.

The receptionist handed Sam a box, had him sign a paper, and this garage still had the rough manual card swipers, the bulky ka-chunk kind with the carbons and everything. “Our system’s down, stupid phone lines,” the receptionist said, “hope this works.”

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Sam said, “modern technology, who needs it.” He gave her a rueful smile as he took the box and she nodded, “Ain’t that the truth.”

Box of parts, check; off-roader, check; it was peaches-and-cream and if he squinted real hard, Sam could see a glint of possibly maybe those damn state trooper aviators down the street.

“Sam Winchester.”

In junior high, Sam practiced not reacting to his name, and by the time he got to high school, he was damn good at it, as if he was invisible, maybe people would go away, thinking they were mistaken. It was an old habit, one that came back to him in college at times, and he never knew when he’d need it—

“Sam Winchester.” A voice, casual but precise, and then a man appeared around the side of the car. Suit, tie, a small gold tie clip in a diamond shape, and the man was saying, “I need to speak with you, Sam.”

“I’m not sure I know who you’re looking for,” Sam said, drawing out the words as if he was confused. He gave the box a hefty shove and closed the door, walking to force the man backwards.

“Sure you do. I’m here to talk about Dean.”

“I’m just picking up parts for my car, sir, and obviously you’ve got someone you need to find, so—“

The man cut off his path to the driver side door, palm on the metal, where Dean touched it not fifteen minutes earlier. “Now, Sam,” he said, natural, smiling easy-as-pie, “I know who you are. I want to talk about Dean and you really, really, really want to hear me out. Let’s see it’s, oh, getting on towards lunchtime, perfect. You meet me in half an hour at…well, that little diner you went to this morning when you hit town.”

Sam leaned against the car, careful not to show anything, a hand behind his back. Their dad had taught them a few hand signals, keep your eyes peeled and pay attention, if you’re ever split up and can’t reach the other, warn off and meet up later, it could save you both. That glint of light down the street and he signaled to Dean.

“I’d like to hear what you’ve got to say now. Here, in the street, right now,” Sam said and the man laughed, shaking his head no.

“30 minutes. The diner. Don’t try to skip town. This isn’t your car, is it. Ah, no, no, it’s not.” He straightened his tie, smoothing it over his shirt. “And don’t try to read me a riot act or bill of rights or talk about entrapment, Pre-Law. Blah blah blah.”

The man clicked his tongue and stepped away, a hand between them, no-ill-will, but Sam kept his gaze.

“We’re just going to talk. About Dean. Scout’s honor.”

He turned to go, his back to Sam, trusting or overconfident or dumb, Sam wasn’t sure, then he stopped, smiling again at Sam, palm on the hood of the car.

“Tell your brother the FBI says hi.” Knuckles rapped on the metal, then he walked away.

“Motherfucker,” Sam said, gritting his teeth, and climbed into the off-roader. He drove in circles for a while, then went to find Dean, two blocks from the garage, right where he’d dropped him off.

Dean’s eyes were wide, the color blown deep, and he jerked the shotgun door open hard. “What the hell happened?”

Tell me you got rid of those stupid sunglasses,” Sam said straight off and Dean looked offended.

“They aren’t that bad, dude,” he said, pitiful, but Sam interrupted, “Tell me they’re gone.”

“Quit your bitching. In my jacket. Why.”

“If I could spot ‘em on the street, so could the fucking FBI.”

The Impala’s parts were in the back, her heart and lungs, whatever she needed to get the three of them flying low and fast like they used to, those golden good ol’ days when they went wherever the money was good, following where the wind blew, as the crow flies, and it didn’t matter, because they were free, on the loose and they took what they wanted without looking back.

All they needed to do was get the pieces of the car, those last pieces of the puzzle, and get well on their way, but now.

Dean hit the dashboard with the flat of his hand and Sam caught him, fingers curling around his neck. “Dean.”

“Shit, Sammy, this wasn’t. This was not.” His knee began jiggling, bouncing like he might run, run all the way to South Dakota.

Squeezing his brother’s neck, finding the trip of his spine, Sam said, “So we punt. Just need a new plan.”

“What did he want.”

30 minutes, at the diner, talking about Dean, and Sam felt the shadow creep between his shoulderblades; he could hear Dean saying, “Stockholm Syndrome, tell ‘em I kidnapped you.”

His dad scrubbing a hand through Sam’s hair as he said, “It’s only a matter of time.”

They’d have to dance while the devil fiddled, but they could get out of this, they could make it to South Dakota with the keys to the open road, the car was waiting for them and this was it, a roll of the dice at the end. If they went to ground now, it’d be a while before they could surface to see Bobby, because they’d go to hell first before bringing the storm down upon him.

Sam stared at his brother, the way Dean kept an eye on the skies through the windshield, as if the unbroken blue arch told him everything he needed to know, the past, the future, and Sam abruptly felt as if the sky was falling, coming down on them, and that blue arch was nothing but the path of a knife swinging at their hearts.

“He wants to talk,” Sam said and Dean laughed, bitter and short, but no, Sam saw the sway of how the day was going, so he continued, “I think I know what he wants.”

Dean turned to look at him under Sam’s hand and Sam let his palm fall along Dean’s back before he pulled his brother in, foreheads touching.

“The FBI wants you, Dean. Behind bars. They want me to put you there.”

The diner with its red roof and white walls looked like one of those fast food joints from the 70s, taken over as a greasy spoon, single-pieced molded seats, fake wood grain and it was probably a hangout back in the day, kids in bell bottoms with stitching on the pockets sharing smokes and leaving empty beer bottles outside the painted bricks.

The parking lot was almost empty when Sam showed up in the off-roader, on time, and he didn’t look around as he went inside, didn’t look for Dean across the street, Dean sitting with a newspaper in a different stolen car, their worldly possessions and the Impala’s pieces tucked in the trunk. Ready to make their getaway. Without Sam, if necessary, “that’s fucking bullshit,” Dean said and Sam retorted, “You know I’ll be right behind you. I’ll hunt you down better’n Bobby.”

The FBI agent was already seated, eyes on the parking lot, and he smiled, pointing. “That’s an interesting choice of car to boost. Your idea or Dean’s?”

“Mine, I guess, since I don’t know where my brother is,” Sam said, testing, and the agent laughed, waved the waitress over.

“A coffee, and a coffee,” he said, then he reclined a little in the seat, arms along the back, wrists dangling. His watch was expensive, gold like his tie pin, and it was too gaudy, Sam figured he sat at a desk most of the time, chased people on paper, wasn’t used to chasing them on foot in the field and probably spent all his free time at the shooting range or jogging on a treadmill, frustrated. “Now, your job here, Sam, is to listen. And you’re a smart kid, clean behind the ears, so I’m sure you know how to listen.”

“Awesome. I don’t like to listen to bullshit, but you’re free to tell me whatever you want.”

The agent laughed, shaking out his jacket sleeves when the waitress brought the cups of coffee.

Fucking smell of coffee and it was too slow, this was running too fucking slow, Sam could almost feel Dean across the street like a sitting duck, he wanted everything to be blurred and hurtling ahead, as if they were going over a cliff.

“So I thought you were gonna talk,” he said.

Smoothing his tie, a nervous tick or bad habit, the agent said, “Yeah, okay. Like I said, you’re smart. Full scholarship, on track for law school, mostly clean slate. Yadda yadda yadda, nothing really on your record. But I know about your dad and brother. Their records are, well, they’re something else, aren’t they.” He tapped his fingers in a quick rhythm, thumb to pinkie thumb to pinkie. “You know, the original fairy tales were some really fucked-up stories, all blood and gore and body parts.”

Sam crossed his arms and listened because the hammer was going to fall and he wanted to see it when it did. The agent took a sip of coffee and grimaced, then snapped two sugar packets, dumping them in. He took another drink and nodded.

“Their records are like those fairy tales. I know you were raised wrong, Sam, you couldn’t help it, your father and brother taught you what they knew. You think all fairy tales are supposed to be like that. You think that’s how the world’s supposed to work. And I’m here to tell you it’s time to wake the fuck up.”

The agent took a good drink of coffee and smiled. “It’s pretty easy. You did it once. You put all those years behind you and went to college and you were on your way. Pre-law, I bet that made everybody proud. Then your brother tracks you down. You were dragged into this mess, I understand. But, you see, all I want is Dean. You help me get Dean and that’s that. You go back to school, you become a lawyer, soon you’re driving a Benz to fancy dinner parties with some smoking-hot blonde on your arm and all is right with the world. Isn’t that how you wanted it?”

Get ready for the kickback, the kickback’ll knock you into next week if you’re not ready for it, as his dad helped him hold the gun and aim.

And instantly, Sam knew there was no playing with this guy, in his suit and watch and tie pin, there wouldn’t be any let me think about it, let me see what I can do, let me try to get my brother out in the open, let me say anything to stall.

Sam saw stars and said, “He’s my brother.”

“And? I’ve got a brother I haven’t talked to in six years,” the agent said, brushing sugar off the table. “That’s what happens when your brother steals your fiancée and your dog three weeks before your wedding.”

“He’s my brother,” Sam said again. “I’m not giving him to you. You think that’s how the world’s supposed to work. Wake the fuck up.”

Then he walked out of the diner, clenching his jaw at putting his back to the motherfucker, but he had to get out, they needed to get out. He heard the door ding behind him and the agent called, “We know he’s here. You’re his kid brother, you’re his soft spot. He’ll come sniffing after you, Sam, and that’s it, snap, trap shut. Maybe it’ll come down on your neck and you’ll be lucky enough to not feel a thing.

It wasn’t a good idea and it really wasn’t a fucking good idea and Sam didn’t care, he’d given up any notion of what was sane and normal when he’d seen Dean in that jail in California, when he’d kissed Dean so long ago at the red wash of the stoplight, when he was four and holding Dean’s hand, so under that blue arch of knifing sky, he dragged the gun out of his jeans and said, “It was nice talking to you.”

The agent immediately pulled his firearm and though Sam didn’t raise his gun, the agent did, keeping him in his sights and Sam signaled with his free hand, please Dean pay attention and drive away drive fast. The guns were always plan B and this was plan B.

“What if he frisks you,” Dean had asked, then mumbled, “this is a stupid idea, fuck, we should come up with better plans,” and Sam had kissed him, said, “If he frisks me, he takes the gun and knows I won’t deal with his bullshit. Then I leave and you leave and we go for ice cream,” and Dean had said, “Fuck you, Sam,” and bit Sam’s lip.

That was then, fifteen-twenty minutes ago, and now Sam was staring down the barrel of a gun, counting drops of sweat sliding down his spine, hoping it was enough time for Dean to disappear.

But the agent’s gaze shifted and the gun pointed to the side, behind Sam, and then the agent smiled.

“Dean Winchester. It is a pleasure, a real pleasure. No lie.”

“I didn’t get your name,” Dean said, stopping out of Sam’s field of vision, the scuffing of his boots sounding close.

“Jagger,” the agent said, mouth twisting into a sideways smile. “I think we’re cousins.”

And that’s what Dean’s alias was worth in this town.

“A family reunion, love those,” Dean said and Sam took a step backwards, but then the gun veered over to him.

Away from Dean, keep the gun pointed at me, asshole, away from Dean, Sam thought and he took a deep breath.

Guns were always Plan B.

He pulled the gun’s slide and aimed, 1-2, and then he was on fire, burning with every breath, oh fuck, his blood was streaming hot on his clothes. Split-second pop, loud beside him and the agent spun back and down with a misting of blood, then Dean was there, hand on Sam’s side, pressing hard and the corners of the world were gray.

“Dean,” he said, stumbling and Dean was forcing him to walk, his arms keeping Sam upright, “Dean, you.”

“You’re all right, Sammy,” his brother said, and they made it across the street, reached the car, and people were still screaming, yelling somewhere, sirens wailing like death from above, the sound coming from everywhere at once.

Dean crashing around the car and Sam’s adrenaline was spiking as he felt blood leaving him, he climbed into the back seat, slammed the door and Dean was in the front, leaned over, peeling Sam’s hand away. Sam hazily recognized the fabric Dean wadded up and was soon soaking in his blood, plaid, one of Dean’s shirts, and he was mesmerized by the dark red crawling into the threads, then Dean said, “Hold that down,” and Sam nodded.

“Hang on, okay? Okay?”

“Yeah, Dean, okay.”

The car lurched forward with a squeal of tires and the sirens were almost on top of them, ready to devour them, Sam knew it, but all he could see was the wipe of buildings through the back window and the sky, that fucking perfect sky, stretched wide like a tongue to lap up his blood.

He had to tell Dean, he had something to say, but what he said was, “I can’t feel the bullet, I don’t know where.”

A sharp turn and Sam pushed his feet against the seat to brace himself, gravity throwing him around like a toy, and every breath was stoking the fire. He could hear Dean breathing as the car accelerated, metallic rattling in the trunk, and he remembered, they were on their way to save their skins. He set a rhythm, attempting to breathe with his brother, but it was difficult, so tiring, Dean breathing so fast and Sam coughed, over and over.

Dean was muttering as he drove, “Sammy, c’mon, hang on, I’ll take care of you, get you patched up, I’ve got you,” like Sam’s coughing, coming out scratched, over and over.

“Did you kill him?” because that was the last thing they needed, another dead body attributed to their family name, something else to bury.

The tires shrieked hoarsely, the car picking up speed, and Dean said, “No.”

And Sam watched the sky until it abruptly went black.

He didn’t know where he was and it scared him, the last thing he saw was the sky gone missing, but he heard Dean say, You’re my little brother, and that was exactly right, so Sam opened his eyes.

“Holy fucking shit, you pain in the ass.”

“Awesome,” Sam said and Dean smiled down at him, then Sam took a breath. On fire.

“Stop, stop it, don’t move, Sam.” Dean pushing his shoulder into the seat and Sam stared at the roof of the car because Dean wouldn’t let him sit up, “stop squirming, you passed out,” and then a shiver hit him, shaking him right down his middle, and fuck it, Sam scrambled, shoved at the door and vomited onto the concrete.

“Yeah, Bobby said you’d do that,” Dean said helpfully and Sam knew how to breathe now, how to move and expect the snapping flares of pain that swelled and shrunk swelled and shrunk. He scrubbed at his chin awkwardly, and his clothes were still wet, he still felt kind of carved open, his body jerked, knees hitting Dean. His brother crammed in with him, his brother with a hand smearing in Sam’s blood, oh no.

“You okay? Dean, you okay,” he said, desperate suddenly because he’d done something irretrievably stupid, this wasn’t anything he could take back and he’d had Dean back not for long, not long enough whatsoever, and maybe he’d ruined their lives again, broken it all into tiny lost pieces.

A hand tugging him into some sort of shape in the car, a hand tight on his side, fingers holding him closed and Dean was saying, “Yeah, I’m okay. We’re okay.”

“Where are we? Did we get outta Boulder? Fuck, I can’t feel the bullet, I don’t—“

“Sam. Stop it.” A foreign urgency in Dean’s voice, like he might crumble if Sam didn’t do as he said, so Sam did as he said even though the car was too still, they needed to be going, tearing their way to South Dakota.

“We’re outta Boulder, some small town, okay. Guess business isn’t too good, they’ve got some empty buildings. Unused alleys. I know how you love a good alley. All right? You happy? Now shut up and lemme look at you.”

Sam tried to stretch, but his side screamed and pulled, so he waited, Dean working through wet layers.

“Looks like you dodged a bullet. Sorta,” Dean said and Sam was about to punch him, don’t joke, motherfucker, don’t lie to me, but Dean got a hand in his hair, cupping his head. “A real nice graze you got there. The bullet either bounced off the bone or just missed you. Shot like that, probably a fractured rib or two. We oughta go to Vegas. We’d be fucking rich with those odds. Lucky bastard.”

“So I’m Superman,” Sam said, Dean’s speech all relieved bravado, his eyes clear-shine and green, Sam’s brother he tried to take a bullet for.

Dean’s fingers tightened, then he let go and folded down the sticky layers, put a new shirt over the wet-red cloth to stop the sluggish bleeding, Sam felt it trickle.

“Whatever, I’m not Lois fucking Lane. ‘Sides, Batman’s better. You know that. I taught you that.”

“Dean.” This was close, so fucking close, they’d started fights and finished fights and gotten their share of scars, they’d dislocated fingers and once a shoulder and broken a few small bones, had knives and guns waved in their faces, but this was, was, Dean almost fucking eaten or torn to shreds, Sam almost swallowing a bullet in his gut and this was so close. “Dean.”

“I know, Sam,” Dean said, leaning, hand still in Sam’s blood, and he put his mouth to Sam’s and breathed, like resuscitation.

Then time sped up, the way Sam wanted it to, the day slipping by and he couldn’t keep track. He breathed in and out, stared at the roof of the car, and Dean said, “Gonna go rob this drug store, you stay put. If someone stops by, you’re hungover.”

“Just pay cash, jerk.”

“Five-fingered discount, bitch.”

And Dean was gone, Sam breathed in and out, and realized he was listening for the howl of police cars in the distance, the angry screech of their tires.

His phone rang, startling him and he lost his rhythm, his ribs were made of fire, he was breathing smoke, he bit his lip, half-scrunched to dig the phone out of his pocket, damp sounds as he moved. He read the number and he hoped like hell this wasn’t what Dad had meant about time.

“Bobby.”

“Hey, kid, how you feelin’.”

“I’m having the time of my life,” Sam said and on his end, Bobby laughed and a radio burst into chatter somewhere in Sioux Falls.

“Dean told me—“

“Dean’s a filthy liar. Whatever he told you, it’s probably wrong.”

Bobby huffed, exasperation shooting over the line. “Shuddup and lemme talk. The feds caught up with you, yeah, I heard that on the waves. But then you went gunfighter on that fed and he shot you. So Dean shot ‘im. A regular O.K. Corral. This what you two do to relax?”

“Dean didn’t kill him—“

“In broad daylight, Wyatt Earp,” Bobby said, sighing, a scratching on the phone and Sam pictured him rubbing at his beard. “Thought you two knew better. I know you’ve got brains in your heads. Use ‘em.

“Maybe next time Dean will get his ass outta town like I told him to.”

“And maybe next time you’ll realize that Dean isn’t gonna leave your ass anywhere.” The words were sharp, finding the pain in Sam’s chest and Bobby sighed. “You damn idjits. Gonna go down together.”

Sam blinked, surprised, some sort of blood truth coming down the phone lines, he felt it in his bones and that pricking part of his heart and he said, “They wanted to take him, Bobby. Asked me to just hand him over. Like a present.”

“I know, kid, I know.”

Sam’s hand had slipped from holding the phone and balancing on the seat, he pressed the shirt against his ribs and there was another bleat of radio static.

“Where’s Dean,” Bobby said and Sam tried to sit up, look out the window, but he couldn’t see much, alley and bricks and grass growing in cracks in the asphalt. He didn’t want to see the sky.

“Drug store. I’ve kinda got a hole in my side,” Sam said, smiling a little at how Bobby cursed under his breath, hell’s bells, you’ll put me in an early grave and have me spinnin’ in it, dumbass sonsuvbitches.

“You have him call me after your ‘operation’. And I’d hate to rush the good doctor, but Boulder’s finest aren’t exactly sittin’ ‘round twiddlin’ their thumbs. They’re still combin’ the city, but they’ll be adjustin’ their search radius pretty damn quick when you don’t surface. So make sure you don’t surface.”

“I think we can handle that,” Sam said and Bobby retorted, “I dunno, you’ve demonstrated your limited brain capacity enough for one day,” and Sam laughed, coughing.

“Be careful, Sam. Put some speed on it, okay.”

The line went dead and Sam went back to breathing, thinking about how miserable he was at school without Dean and here he was with a bullet wound and injured ribs and Dean was coming back and he wasn’t miserable anymore.

He had his brother with him.

The car rocked, a push of air as a door squeaked open and Dean said, “Not exactly a sterile environment, but it’ll hafta do.”

“You with your extensive medical knowledge.”

“Starve a fever, feed a cold, Sammy.”

“That’s reassuring.”

“Have some booze,” Dean said, handing him a bottle and Sam almost dropped it. “Alright, butterfingers, here.” Dean traded him four painkillers for the bottle, unscrewing the cap, and Sam washed down the acrid white pills with gin.

“Gin, what the hell,” he coughed and Dean smiled. “Sorry, no vodka.” He doused a cloth with the alcohol and said, “Gonna hurt.”

Sam’s breath hissed out as Dean cleaned the wound, fishing around in his plastic bag, evidence that Dean actually paid for everything and Sam felt better, relaxed into the seat a little, relaxed as Dean’s fingers roamed over him, wiping away blood.

Until Dean paused, not touching him and he glanced up to see Dean staring at the bullet gash, needle in hand.

“You can do it, you’ve done it before,” Sam said, but Dean still stared. “You stitched up Dad.”

“Yeah, only once, dorkass. Long time ago. I’m a little outta practice. And that was different.”

“Would it help if I called you a sexy nurse or something?”

Dean smirked and said, “Yeah, it might. Sponge baths.” He licked his lips and despite himself, Sam’s mind started to wander, getting Dean cornered in the shower, wet skin, slippery, then Dean stuck the needle in and began to sew him up.

Sam didn’t move, didn’t grit his teeth; once when he was nine, he’d caught his arm on a piece of fence as they ran from a junkyard dog, ripping a nice long gash and Dean took his shirt off, his favorite Transformers shirt, bundling it around Sam’s arm, telling him stories all the way to the clinic and he offered his hand for Sam to hold when the nurse came in. Sam took it, Dean had stopped holding his hand a while ago, but Sam took it, twisting their fingers together and he didn’t cry through the tetanus shot and the stitches.

“It’s just gotta hold ‘till we get to South Dakota.” A last pull and Sam took a drink from the gin, then two, why not go for three, and the painkillers were tugging at him just as much, the alcohol weighing him down as Dean taped on gauze.

“C’mon, man, work with me here,” Dean helping him sit, his ribs yelling hollowly at him, he let Dean strip his shirt off, get a clean shirt on, his brother’s hands on his back and belly and he pushed his face against Dean’s throat, wanting hear Dean breathe, it helped him breathe, he was going under, all his energy gone.

But Dean was relentless, getting him onto his feet and Sam wanted to keep him close and Dean grumbled, “Hands, Sam, hands, I gotta get, get this thing, hey, hands,” then he disappeared from Sam’s grasp and Sam almost stumbled, “Dean, come back, Dean.”

“I’m right here,” that familiar voice by his ear, “I’ve got you,” and that voice said, “Breathe,” so Sam exhaled, inhaled, and Dean wrapped a shirt around his middle, tying it tight tighter tightest, shifting it like a girdle. “There, it’ll hold your ribs. Let’s get you in the seat and on the road.”

“Dean, I guess you can be my sexy nurse. Need to get you fitted for a cute little uniform,” Sam said, smiling through the tightness, laughing winded when Dean smiled back, “Yeah, yeah, you’re a jackass.”

“Aw, don’t be like that, sweet lips.”

“Oho-kay, you seriously need to sit down.”

“You seriously need to call Bobby.”

“I seriously need to call Bobby and see if there’s a zoo I can put you in. Sell you to the circus.”

Somehow he was finagled into the passenger seat, it was like an amazing work of magic, Dean racking the seat all the way back for him. “Hey, watch your fingers, gotta shut the door.”

Back in the car, this ugly little car, it better get them to Bobby fast and then Dean was next to him, the engine coming to life, and the alley was gone, the town was gone, they were rollicking out onto the highway, time passing with each inhale-exhale captured by the makeshift bandage around his middle and Sam couldn’t keep track.

“Go to sleep, Sam,” Dean’s hand in his hair, stroking, rubbing at his scalp and Sam did as he commanded.

He woke once to hear Dean on the phone.

“We’re headed your way,” he said. “Any word?”

Bobby replied, just a garbled noise Sam couldn’t make out, and Dean nodded. “Okay, we’ll keep a lookout.” A pause. “Yeah, no stops, just fuel and bathroom breaks. Probably sometime late tonight. Early morning at the latest.”

Silence, Dean listening and Sam watched him, his hand playing with the grooves in the steering wheel, tracing them with his fingernails.

“Nah, got him stitched up. I’d like it if you’d look over the stitches. Right, like I’m some kind of expert, you’d do a better job.” Dean laughed bitter under his breath. “Gave him some painkillers. He’s sleeping. I don’t know what the fuck he was –“ Dean winced, the garbled noise rising, and Sam sighed, thought about Bobby telling him gonna go down together and Dean, Dean should know that, he should understand that.

“Yessir. Pedal to the metal.”

And Sam wanted to tell him, Gonna go down together, pedal to the metal; he tilted in his seat, reached for Dean, a hand on his brother, that’s how he knew where he was.

Then he closed his eyes.

He dreamed. It was the summer Dad disappeared and Sam was so warm, his palms always sweaty and he first noticed his brother’s freckles. He was going to steal a car, screw this hitchhiking crap, he was tired of walking, he’d almost walked right out of his shoes. He wanted to be rolling, at increasingly higher speeds, going somewhere, following the lines. They pointed out a new path and he didn’t know where it led, but he wanted to find out.

He was going to steal a car, had to keep wiping his hands on his jeans and he got the car started, rolling the windows down immediately, he liked having the world open around him as he drove and he was so excited, he needed to pick up Dean.

Pulling up to a stoplight, Sam’s excitement knew no bounds, bursting out of him, and there wasn’t anyone around, so he ran the light, that tiny thrill in his stomach every time he broke a law, even something as silly as jaywalking.

He was going to get Dean, they were heading off to points unknown, maybe hustle some pool along the way, Sam drinking forbidden beer and Dean playing the crowd like the suckers they were, no one could stop them, and suddenly, the FBI agent, Jagger, whatever the hell his name was, was sitting in the passenger seat, Dean’s seat, smiling that fucking inane smile.

Sam, you’re sixteen. You’re stealing cars and sneakers and comic books. Don’t you want more than this, the G-Man said.

Sam shook his head, the tires going faster, the wind whipping by and his hair was caught in it. No, he said, no, I’m gonna go get Dean.

Don’t lie to me, son. You know you’re gonna leave your brother behind. And you’ll be better off. The G-Man smoothed his tie and his tie clip was the Impala, all gold, her grill so tiny and bared.

It’ll be me and Dean. You don’t know me, you don’t know us. You don’t know what you’re talking about, Sam insisted, the Jeep speeding along, the wind whipping vicious, his hair striking at his eyes.

The agent said, Sure, I do. College, a degree, a job, and you won’t need Dean. Isn’t that what you want. You won’t need Dean.

Sam hated him. He was sixteen and he only had his brother in the big wilds of the world and he laughed in this asshole’s face at his absolute stupidity.

It’ll be me and Dean, Sam said and the agent put a gun to Sam’s heart.

Is that what he wants. You leave him behind, you’ll be better off. Stop fucking him up.

The bullet went right into him without a sound, but he felt it like a car wreck and the steering wheel slipped out from his hands. And the traitorous asphalt was reaching to grab him as the car spun out of control, rolling over and over and over, smashing smashing smashing.

Maybe he’d caught steel in his side, he ached and then Sam woke, trying to gulp down air, the gauze and shirt-bandage stretching when he turned.

Dean was there, his window down, his elbow resting on it, driving with that careless grace Sam had watched for years and was so jealous of, a reckless sort of charm, preternatural like the green of his eyes and his smile.

“Dean,” Sam said, wanting his brother to look at him, because there was something heavy in his chest, as if the dream bullet was lodged there, a secret he was carrying and he had to get rid of it.

“What.”

“You and me, right.”

Shifting, Dean put a hand between them, fingers playing with the cup holder. “Yeah, Sammy.”

And he had to say it, the dream bullet ricocheting around in his heart by the rushing push-pull of his blood. “No one else.”

His brother’s fingers went still, switched to playing with the cigarette lighter, pop in pop out pop in pop out.

“Y’know, when we were little, you asked questions. All the time. About Mom, where was Mom, we should have a mom, was she pretty. About where Dad was. You musta been ‘bout four or five and you wanted to know freakin’ everything. Why were we moving, why couldn’t we stay, where were we going next, did they have slides and swings there. Can we have a puppy. Can we have a kitten. A squirrel. Why does Dad look so sad. Does everyone have a car like us, ours goes so fast.”

Dean kind of laughed, glancing at Sam. And all Sam wanted to do was listen, let Dean keep talking, the pricking part of his heart tearing the bullet into scraps. He didn’t want Dean to stop. That smile, one in a million, against a high-speed backdrop.

“I tried to answer ‘em, but whatever I said, you didn’t believe me. Sometimes you’d stomp away and say, ‘If you don’t wanna tell me, fine, I’ll find out all by myself.’ One day, you walked right out of the rental house we were at, I forget where we were, but by the time I found you, you were almost to the library. To get your damn answers.”

Taking a deep breath, Dean caught Sam’s wrist, tugging and Sam turned his arm over in response. His brother’s fingertips found the scar on his arm, not long as it was since he’d grown, but just as jagged.

“But this one time, you asked me something and Dad laughed so hard. It was the happiest I’d seen him in a while. You asked if there were Deans out there for other people. Me and Dad, we didn’t know what the hell you were talking about. And Dad said, ‘You mean, a brother?’ And you said, ‘No, a Dean, like mine.’”

Sam laughed and Dean smirked, muttered, “Precocious little shit.”

Twisting his arm, Sam tried to get away and Dean wouldn’t let him get far and Sam wanted to pull him into a wrestling match, but Dean was holding back, being careful.

“Lazy ass, you’ve been sleeping a while, left me to do all the work. Need to stretch your freakish legs?”

“Yeah, that’d help,” Sam said and Dean nodded, but didn’t let go of Sam, so Sam gave an experimental little jerk and Dean pressed his thumb into a pulse point, possessive.

“Next stop we see. Maybe I can sell you cheap. Trade you for liquor.”

“Smokes.”

“Slim Jims.”

They drove on in the afternoon sun, hot yellow light slanted across the windshield, blinding, but Dean didn’t have his state trooper sunglasses, ditched in a gutter somewhere in Boulder. The road was smooth and this car Dean had stolen didn’t have a lot of get-up-and-go, but it ran well, carrying them along at a decent clip without fuss or muss.

Dean only let go of Sam to turn on the radio, messing with the staticky stations until something emerged, a baseball broadcast, bottom of the second, one runner on base, two outs. Like a sign from their past, how they used to put on a game and let it run, doing dishes, sorting laundry, fixing their makeshift tools, Sam doing homework and Dean looking over his shoulder, reading a book. Like a sign from their past, they might make it through this thing after all.

Next stop they saw was spotted by Sam, staring out the window, a truck stop and there was the sound of trains in the distance and the baseball game was now in the fourth, no score.

Hand on his side, Sam treated it like a stomach ache, pulling a jacket around his shoulders to hide the way he was tied with a shirt and then Dean appeared to give him a hand up and out. But with the door slammed shut, his brother held on, leaned Sam against the car and said, “No one.”

A lopsided hug, more like they were supporting each other from falling and Sam nodded, mouth on Dean’s temple.

“Too bad you went and got yourself shot,” Dean said, almost disinterested except for a certain note in his voice. “Think we’ve got some catching up to do.” His palm slid over Sam’s fly and Sam grinned even with the twinge in his side, trying to keep Dean close.

“How cheesy are you,” Sam said and Dean spluttered, mock offended, laughing though, and Sam continued, “And stop bitching. It’s your fault. Your dumb ass couldn’t stay in the car. Which was your plan. You couldn’t follow your own plan. Dumbass.”

“I never said it was a good plan.”

Dean kissed him then, careful, making sure not to touch Sam’s side, but Sam dragged the kiss darker and Dean made a noise in the back of his throat.

They broke apart, but not before Sam’s hand found his way into Dean’s back pocket, halting Dean’s progress too far and Dean rolled his eyes, smacking Sam away.

“I’m sure – wherever we are, where are we, Kansas, Nebraska,” Dean said and Sam supplied, “Nebraska,” and Dean said, “I’m sure they appreciate your PDAs here in Nebraska, Sam. At a truck stop. Who’s cheesy now.”

“Still you.”

Dean gave him the bird and Sam shrugged, returned it and left Dean to fill the tank. They wandered the stop; bathrooms and store, and Sam was getting tired again, breathing wasn’t much fun however necessary it was and he didn’t say anything when Dean silently picked out Sam’s favorite candy, adding it to a growing pile of food.

In the merchandise shelves, Sam pocketed a shot glass and found the caps, they couldn’t leave without getting Bobby a cap, and after some arguing, they bought a camo one with a corn cob stitched on the front, “what the hell,” “I dunno.”

“What’s the good word from Bobby,” Sam said back in the car, retrieving the stolen shot glass from his jacket and Dean shook his head at Sam’s thievery, “what, it’s for Bobby.”

“Said the search has widened. He’s really pissed you made me shoot that fed,” Dean said, putting the car into drive and the truck stop in their dust.

Sam shifted around to get comfortable because Dean had untied him, checked the gauze and then retied him, he thought tighter than necessary, but he knew what Dean meant by it, same thing he meant saying that about the fed, “you mean, you’re pissed that I got shot by that fed.”

“’Cause it helps our cause to go around getting shot by government agents.”

“He was ready to haul your ass in and/or shoot you. Maybe both. You pain in the ass. Our cause is not to get caught. Not to have to split up,” Sam said and it was a little harsh, he didn’t want it to be so harsh, but Dean couldn’t have second thoughts, not for Sam’s safety, their safety was in their numbers, the two of them, the way it’d been since Sam was born.

“Doesn’t mean you hafta bleed for it,” Dean muttered darkly and Sam was about to let it pass, just let it go, but he had a problem with doing that, especially with things that concerned Dean.

“I will if I need to.”

And for the first time in many, many miles and many, many years, Dean didn’t have anything to say. So Sam felt accomplished, smug, smiling as he rested his head on the window, hearing the wind stream around the car.

The landscape was open and huge, about to swallow them whole and Sam was ready to let it, with its grain silos as teeth and the clean straight fields as tongues, licking over the car as it forced its little way past. The sun was falling, running away from them, and it was so long ago, Sam maybe four, peeking out the back window of the Impala, Sam standing on the seat after Dean took his sneakers off, and Dean told him as they raced east that the sun was afraid of them, they were such fearsome crooks, “robbers, we’re robbers, Dean,” that the sun was afraid to go anywhere with them so it ran away from them, and when they were headed west into the heavy setting light, it was running ahead to its hidey-hole so they couldn’t find it until it checked in the morning to see if the coast was clear.

It felt like Sam could count each and every stitch and the ache in his side was becoming a part of him. He decided to watch Dean drive, his big brother with the window down, arm resting there, fingers curled around the top of the frame, as if he was holding the car together and Sam suddenly missed the Impala so much, how his brother looked in it, like home, how Dean drove like it was second nature and sometimes he talked to the car through the curves. It made Sam jealous when they were taking lessons from Dad and Dean was learning to drive her and he couldn’t yet; he felt the road, but not like Dean did.

Sam felt the speed better, maybe because Dean was addicted to it, his lifelong buddy and so any speed was good speed, but Sam felt the twitches, the changes, how everything was rushing to a destination, the land dimmed around them and didn’t matter anymore, as if they were traveling at superluminal speeds, and long distances used to make him angry, they were going so fast why weren’t they there yet. Years of being in the Impala, in any other car, in the beds of pickups, and he’d learned to appreciate the distance, just exactly how fast they’re going and how much of this country they were covering; some people never left their own state, and he and Dean had been to almost every corner, sometimes overnight, they’d cross three states, wind up in a fourth for breakfast and then a fifth before they had to stop and sleep.

A train lonely in the sinking dusk, the whistle long and low, he thought about how Dad would put them half-asleep in the Impala and chase the railroad; train yards sometimes yielded the best rewards and you had to be quick. The coasts gave them sea-salt air with the dockyards and shipping containers and those were worth their weight in gold. The train whistle sounded again and Sam smiled and Dean raised his window against the swift-cooling air.

“Y’know, I was a bartender at this one town,” he said, with a grin, like it was this one time he never would’ve believed and Sam was kind of surprised too.

“They trusted you with their alcohol and their money.”

“Absolutely. Dude, tell me you wouldn’t trust this face.” Dean went for angelic and missed it by a country mile, instead looking for all the world like a mischievous devil who’d steal your wallet and your heart in one fell swoop.

Sam’s brother didn’t know of any other way to be. He flirted without even really thinking about it, a reflex, because Dean wanted everyone to like him, though he really didn’t care, as if he was bringing sunshine to people’s lives, even briefly, and Sam didn’t know how many times he’d popped that particular balloon, she’s not staring at you ‘cause you winked, it’s the ketchup on your chin, dummy. Waitresses in diners, as if he could ease their long-day-hard-work troubles with a smile and a wink and a thanks, sweetheart, maybe a little passing-the-time in the bathroom. Clerks at the DMV who’d had to deal with the annoying unwashed masses and weren’t getting paid near damn enough for it, maybe he’d get a little tension relief himself besides finding out who owned that BMW and what clubs the rich asshole went to to abuse the valets.

He’d get their names, saying them as if it mattered in the long run. Hustling pool, talking people out of beers for Sam, discovering all the good spots in town for midnight joyrides, chatting up the chop shop girls and guys. He was turned down most of the time, but whomever he was talking to usually smiled back, as if it really had made their day. Used to drive Sam up the wall, how Dean carried on, until he was seventeen and sullenly said, “Why the hell do you gotta do that in front of me,” kicking Dean in the shin and he didn’t know then why it bothered him, it just did, but after that, he felt Dean’s eyes on him, as if Sam was this new creature he had to learn all over again.

Dean and his damn swagger coupled with a grin like he was letting you in on a dirty joke.

No wonder this trusting bar had hired him as a bartender.

“I trust you ‘bout as far as I can throw you,” Sam said and Dean nodded.

“I’d call you wise, but it’d go to your head and ‘sides, I taught you everything I know.”

“You skimmed from the cash register, didn’t you.”

“I taught you too well.”

Dean talked as the night crowded around, as if it wanted in on this too and Sam on painkillers wanted to tell it to fuck off, this was his story to hear. Dean’d stayed for a month, maybe longer, six weeks and again, Sam was surprised at this halt in Dean’s nomadic nature, but he himself had stalled for four years, it was nice to have a regular pillow to sleep on, he understood that.

The bar was pretty nice, a regular bar, dark wood, booths and tables, mirrors and neon, pool tables and bar stools, chalkboards listing the draft beers, nothing too fancy, “you woulda liked it,” Dean said as they cut through fields and the dark like a sickle, Sam attempting to flood the ache in his side, ease it with the speed and spin of the tires.

He started out as a glass washer and busboy, “with the apron?” Sam asked, smirking, and Dean knuckled him hard in the thigh, “don’t get smart with me, you and your dimples,” but yeah, with the apron and after closing time his first Friday there, he and the owner played a game or two of pool, Dean pouring them shots.

“He reminded me of Dad,” Dean said. “Military man, but he wasn’t a Marine. Army. Wanted me to arm wrestle him and I told him I wasn’t stupid.”

“News to me.”

“Don’t interrupt the story, Sammy, don’t be a dick.”

“I’m listening. Keep talking, Salinger.”

“Gee, thanks, Holden, now shut your trap.”

The guy was impressed Dean could hold his liquor as well as he could and play pool on top of that. Dean might’ve hustled him, but he was no-nonsense; he could’ve called Dean on his cheating, but didn’t, showing him different trick shots and ways to fake a shot, how to coax a ball into the pocket as if it was luck. Said Dean was good, but he was better and Dean was so drunk he could hardly talk, his fingertips blue with chalk, but he took the compliment, took the guy’s advice and took the bartending job.

Sam closed his eyes, Dean’s hand finding his knee as he talked, telling tales about the regulars, old men who came in to play darts and they fought almost every night, arguments mainly, but one Tuesday, they got into it a bit thick, drank too much and actually almost started a fistfight. The owner was going to let them fight it out, “as best they could, they weren’t really swinging, just kinda slapping at each other,” but then someone started throwing darts at places other than the dart board and that was bad enough.

Men headed off to fish, needed one for the road. Women came in, balancing on the bar stools if they were alone or crowding into the booths if they were with their friends. Some drank those crappy girly drinks, but the ones who ordered the harder stuff, the Three Wise Men or even just beer, those were the ones who caught Dean’s eye and Sam wasn’t shocked at that, Dean’s taste simple and he liked anyone who kept up, though all of them would be left behind.

“I’m not jealous,” Sam said without opening his eyes.

“I didn’t say you were,” Dean said, squeezing Sam’s knee.

It was good work, sleeping in late, breakfast for lunch and lunch for dinner, then over to the bar, staying to close up, three in the morning and the walk back to the motel room was quiet, though he carried a gun and a knife in his boot, just in case, as Dad said.

He didn’t break glasses and took only two bottles of booze. “One of those I took after you called,” Dean said. “Working drunk wasn’t that hard.” He didn’t elaborate but Sam heard the drowned epoch, he knew since he’d drowned it too and he couldn’t completely remember about three or four days in that eon of time after he’d left his message.

“What was the second one for. Kicks?”

“Something like that. It was when Bobby called, told me to go to Kansas. I left that night.”

They’d had plenty of practice doing that, vanishing into the night, “like Batman, what would Batman do,” Dean liked to say, and early on, Sam wanted to leave a note, we’re sorry, we’re really not that bad, we’re not bad people, we just have to go; so he almost asked if Dean left a note for this bar owner, this ex-Army man who filled in some of Dean’s time while Sam was gone. But he didn’t want to know, it spoke melancholy.

People at the bar, this bar lost somewhere out in the night, they played cards, mostly poker, but in a corner by the jukebox, there was a running spades tournament and Dean would wipe the bar and listen to them play.

“I lost $200 to this pair of sisters,” Dean said. “My partner was this kid who didn’t know a jack from a joker. If you’d been there, we woulda taken ‘em for everything they had.” Sam learning card games at his dad’s knee, Dean screeching, I can see your cards, dude, hide your cards, I’m not ‘sposed to see ‘em, and Dad saying, That’s how you cheat, but here, keep ‘em close to you, fan your cards out, put your suits together, like this.

The pool tables were busy too, men teaching their sons and daughters, girls beating the pants off their boyfriends, laughing high and light like the vodka tonics they were drinking.

Dean said, “I kinda, kinda stopped, while I was there,” and Sam wrapped fingers around his wrist, I hear ya, because being stopped was a weird feeling, regardless of the fact that they’d stayed in place, one place at a time, after that stranded summer. They were constantly on the prowl, on the streets of wherever they were or in circles around each other, they just couldn’t help it.

“I still took the money. He told me that he couldn’t respect me, son of a Marine and all. But I think he knew. About the money. He didn’t stop me, just let me take it, so hell, why not.”

Sam laughed, finally looking at his brother, Dean lit by the dashboard and the heavy-rising moon, Dean lit as he talked, smiling and tapping the wheel, Dean so alive in a car and happy, Sam liked to get him like this too when they were standing still, his brother larger than life and the best of the best, his eyes with their shine only for Sam, the way he looked at Sam and how he believed he was conning people into thinking he was holy, charmed, born under a lucky star, but Sam got that his brother was absolutely those things, especially when he looked like this, limned with these lights and shadows and Sam wanted to see him again in the daytime because he got all of Dean, this nighttime version and the daylight one who made Sam smile without realizing it, his brother in any old jalopy, soon-to-be in their very own tried-and-true black treasure of a car, devouring the country, one road at a time, and Sam was his willing accomplice, at his bidding.

“He had some tricks Dad never knew. After South Dakota, we’ll find some pool tables and I’ll teach you,” Dean said and like a blow to the head, Sam fell asleep.

He was shaken out of it by Dean saying, “Wake up, bitch. You don’t have mono again, do you.”

“Jerk, that was in eighth grade. And no, I was shot, thank you so very much. Now take me to Disneyland.”

“I am not here to amuse you,” Dean said and Sam was still struggling out of sleep, but old habits die hard, holding his own against Dean in his sleep, “You sure ‘bout that? I thought that’s all you were good for.”

“Think again, sparky, I will not hesitate to pull this car over and make you rethink your situation.”

“I’d like to see that trick. Please, Dean, put me in my place,” Sam said, grinning big and innocent, asking for it, bring it on sucka, he knew Dean couldn’t resist because he was forever a big brother.

“Think maybe your place is on your knees, how’s that.”

Dean watching him instead of the road and Sam grasped his chin, “Watch the road,” and rubbed his thumb along Dean’s mouth, mesmerizing, Dean breathing out over his skin.

“Sam.”

“Watch the road.”

He felt the speed, like usual, the car and the wind and the road, but him and Dean were slower, caught, the drag of his fingers along Dean’s jaw, down his warm throat, and Dean swallowed, and Sam felt the incongruous speed of his pulse.

“Sam, you, do you.”

“Yeah. I, I just want—“

And a phone rang, Metallica, Dean snarling, “Fucking sonuvabitch,” and the car swerved as he grabbed the phone, snapped it open. “What. Oh, hey, Bobby, sorry.”

Snickering, Sam leaned away, sitting back into the twinge of his side, not bothering to hide his smirk and Dean did some complicated maneuvering with the wheel, the phone and his free hand to make a series of obscene gestures at Sam who only laughed louder.

Until Dean did a hand signal, shut up, and fiddled with his phone and then Bobby rang out jangly in the confines of the car.

“Good thing you’re showin’ up at night. Police sent out a BOLO on you.”

“Awesome, just what I wanted to hear. Maybe I smell, do I smell,” Dean said, sniffing at his shirt and Bobby grunted, “Shuddup. Not just you, Dean, both of you.”

Smug, Dean mouthed, You smell, Sammy, and Sam thumped him on the back of the head and Dean spit silent cuss words.

But Bobby was still talking, “From what I hear down at the station, the pictures they sent over are a damn sight close to glamour shots, so they know what you look like. Some of ‘em are that blurry shit, but they’ll know you. Even a blurry you,” he said, irritated as usual.

“We’ve always taken good pictures,” Sam said and Dean said, “Yeah, pho-to-gen-ic. Must be in our genes,” and Bobby stopped the fun before it got underway, “Fantastic, I’m so thrilled you two are such good-lookin’ morons, but you’re still morons. How far out are you?”

“Coupla hours. Pretty close.”

Bobby mumbled something, “horseshoes and hand grenades,” grumbling into his beard, then he said, “Come in without headlights. Just park in the yard, you know the drill. Lights’ll be on in the back. I’ll be up.”

“No problem.”

The line clicked and they were silent on the road in the little crappy car in the dark driving as fast as the engine could go.

“You know what that means, right,” Dean said, stuffing the phone into his jacket pocket.

“No more coffee runs and chatting with the baristas.”

“Ha ha, so funny. If I still had my state trooper porn shades, I could go in disguise.”

Sam said, “I think they’d remember the creepy weirdo in the mirrored sunglasses who tried to hit on them. Unsuccessfully, I might add.”

Dean ignored him with an odd distracted smirk. “My blindingly handsome features have gotten us into trouble again, Sam.”

“Again? They’ve gotten us into trouble before?” Sam figured the best course of action was to play dumb about Colorado and Dean getting run out of town and that fucking alias.

But Dean’s mind was still off somewhere Sam couldn’t see, his teeth set in his lip.

“You know what that means,” he repeated.

Sam waited because Dean looked so serious, that expression when he was tallying the cost, how much damage they’d caused this time, how much heat was going to come down on them.

“Sam, we gotta go and never stop going,” his brother said, eyes on the asphalt, and Sam took a breath, feeling it hitch in his chest.

“I can do that.”

“No, you. You should,” Dean said but didn’t finish.

And now Sam knew the score.

“You know how I got accepted to college, Dean? I didn’t send in the applications. The counselor did. At that last high school, the one I actually graduated from. Everyone else was filling out the forms, talking about first choice and second choice and fallbacks and the counselor asked me what I was doing. I had a brain, I needed to get my applications in. So I filled a few out, wrote a coupla essays. ‘Cause why the hell not, this counselor was deluding himself. But then he actually sent them in.”

His brother’s hand twisted around the wheel, as if he could make the car go faster.

“And when I got that letter. It was like that time we tried to boost that cop car. Just to see if we could. I meant it, what I said to you when I called. I thought we’d go to the coast, get some sun, steal cars, hell, maybe find us motorcycles, we hadn’t done that in a long time. Maybe school would work out, like it had. The two of us. After Dad left.”

Counting to ten in his head, Sam exhaled, messing with the knot tying his ribs together. He didn’t look at Dean.

He talked about moving into the dorm, how he roomed by himself because the other guy didn’t show. All the girls that came by on his wing’s floor. The parties. Some jerkoff took it into his head to bother Sam, but one bloody nose and a broken finger later, all Sam had was a black eye, but the jerkoff had some brand new ideas.

At first, he was going to the department stores to walk off with new clothes. His backpack was in good shape, that big hiking monster type Dean lifted as a birthday present for Sam’s sweet sixteen he called it, and Sam put his sticky fingers to good use acquiring textbooks.

Then the stars aligned and Sam got a job. “I wasn’t a bartender, didn’t have that kinda luck,” he said and Dean was listening, a small curl to his mouth. “But I was bussing tables.”

“With the apron,” Dean said almost absentminded and Sam snorted.

“Wasn’t too difficult, made okay money,” he said, “didn’t hafta steal as much.”

About ten months in at his educational resort location, he got an apartment, la-dee-da, but he didn’t tell Dean how quiet it was in that apartment, some days he’d run the TV for the noise, half-listening to baseball games in the top of the sixth, as if Dean was about to walk through the door and they’d plan what cross-streets to go to that night and see what cars were about for the taking. He skipped ahead.

“I was doing laundry. I had to go all the way down to the basement, about four floors and I did laundry down there. With a crossword.”

“Sudoku,” Dean said, “I did Sudoku,” and Sam said, “I did crosswords. So who’s telling this story?” and Dean waved a hand.

“Anyway. I kinda stopped too. Like you did.”

He got a new apartment after listening to his neighbors scream at each other for hours. He did the day-to-day stuff. People in his classes would talk to him, that’s how he met his girlfriend, but he never really told them anything. Sam had a brother, he was now at their school, he was taking their classes. That’s all they needed to know.

“They drove cars that woulda made you drool, Dean,” Sam said, smudging at a forlorn light in the distance. “After I called you, that night, I was still stuck. Same shit, different day.”

Then he’d gone walking, looking for a liquor store, and instead he found an all-night hamburger joint, real greasy spoon. It’d been radio silence from Dean for over a year and Sam didn’t confess to Dean, but he was about to go crazy. So he did. In the parking lot.

“There was this beautiful GTO, ’68, ’69, pretty mint. Dad always said go for the pretty ones when you can. A damn perfect opportunity. All mine for the taking. She was too pretty to break down for parts. I was gonna get her going, then head out and hunt you down outta whatever neck-of-the-woods you were hiding. Call Bobby to find you. I had that feeling, all up and down. You were doing something stupid somewhere. So. I’d take this car, find you. We’d keep driving and never stop.”

Dean didn’t say anything and Sam felt idiotic and ridiculous for talking so much, but he couldn’t help it, he’d dug this grave and it was mighty comfortable, he’d lie in it.

“I had the tools in my jacket, ready to go. I was walking to the driver’s side, and, I wish you coulda seen her. Then a cruiser pulls into the parking lot. Two cops get out and they’re standing around like they’re waiting for something. Another cruiser pulls up. Two more cops. The four of them shooting the shit before they go into the hamburger place. What’re the odds. I turned tail and left.”

A fucking huge disappointment and Sam’s temporary loss of sanity forced him back to his apartment, alone, without liquor and ready to call his brother. But he didn’t.

“Then the next night, the cops were calling to tell me to come get your drunk ass outta their jail, you were stinking up the place. So if that shitty lojack hadn’t squealed on us, we coulda. Hit the coast. Kept on driving. Whatever we wanted. But this time, Dean, we can go. And keep going.”

And Sam couldn’t say anymore, so he smudged at more lights in the distance, covering them with his fingertips, making them disappear, like legerdemain.

They didn’t talk, shooting through the dark, and Sam wasn’t afraid of the silence, but he was jittery, that old annoyance over speed and distance, so he flicked on the radio, country music floating with them past the fields of the sleeping heart of America and Dean’s fingers found the scan, prodding Sam’s hand away, the radio skidding through static and voices.

Rock’n’roll, notes screaming high and low, and the singers moaning desolate or defiant, and the land was falling down in front of them, as if the headlights were a sweep of a mighty hand and Sam listened to Dean humming, knowing his brother had come to some decision.

Gonna go down together, Sam thought and he wasn’t going to let it go any other way. Every mile, he thought, That’s our fate.

It was coming close to midnight and after, the moon ticking over when they rolled into the state, looking for the lights of Sioux Falls.

Right before they hit the city limits, Dean killed the headlights and they navigated the streets like a game; this one town they stayed in when Sam was growing up, the kids used to talk about cat-and-mouse, chasing each other around town after ten, when the traffic lights began to flash, and the best strategy was to drive with your headlights off and hide in tricky alleys or blotted-out corners, ready to pounce on your prey or put them in your rearview as they stalked by, and he remembered that, kids out there at night, driving like fiends without lights, like him and Dean sneaking in by the skin of their teeth.

The salvage yard sign slid over their heads, the car crawling between rows of junk heaps and something unwound in Sam, a long thread of reassurance. They were on home turf.

Sure enough, lights on at the rear of the house and they gathered their duffels and the Impala’s last parts to stand on Bobby’s back steps like prodigal sons and Bobby threw the door open for them much as if that were true.

“Boys. ‘Bout time you got here,” he said with a big false smile, then he scowled, “I oughta knock your heads together.” But he hugged them both, clapping Dean on the shoulder, staying cautious of Sam’s side. “Grab a beer and put your feet up.”

“I’ll get the beer. Can you look at Sam’s stitches?” Dean said, pointing and Bobby nodded, waving at Sam.

“Sure, let’s take a gander.”

Sam let himself relax, let the last few days go as he untied the shirt from around his middle, taking a careful breath to pull at the hem of his shirt and then Bobby was there, “Here, kid, lemme help ya. Bum ribs ain’t exactly a party, I know. Wrenched mine working on a truck. That was hell on earth for weeks. Still get a twinge when the wind blows wrong.”

Laughing breathlessly, Sam said, “Sounds like I’ve got a good time to look forward to,” and Bobby chuckled, reaching to get Sam’s shirt over his head.

“Yeah, you do. And you’ve gotta deal with Dean on top of that to boot.”

Dean appeared, as if the sound of his name summoned him, carting a sixer and he said, “I am a joy, an absolute joy to be around. I am freakin’ adorable. I think Sam’s won the lottery.”

“Well, the beer’ll help,” Bobby said and Sam laughed again, putting a hand out for balance and Dean slipped underneath his palm, taking Sam’s weight like it was nothing, sipping a beer. Sam got his fingers under the collar of Dean’s shirt, warm skin, Dean shivering at his touch.

Squinting, Bobby peeled off the gauze to peer at the stitches. “Now hold still. This might be a tad uncomfortable.”

He poked and prodded and Sam focused on the cap ducking and tilting around him, Bobby giving the wound all his attention. Like homesickness, he remembered when Dean must’ve been thirteen or thereabouts; he cut his leg out in the yard and Sam froze, he didn’t know what to do, trembling scared to see his big brother so very vulnerable as Dean bled thick through the slice in his jeans, not making a single sound, and Bobby scooped his brother up, giving Sam orders, go get me a towel and a pair of scissors, fetch the first aid kit, Dean’ll be okay. Bobby took care of it as if kids fell down in his yard all the time; they’d had their share of bumps and scrapes, and to him, this was just another one, and he was right. Not deep enough for stitches, but deep enough to appear scary and to Sam, Bobby was a miracle-worker. Dean hobbled about with gauze on his leg and Sam was his loyal servant, trotting about for him until Bobby caught him as he was ferrying popsicles and said, “Don’t let your brother fool you. It’s not like I cut off his leg or anything.”

Sam stuck to Bobby’s advice and spent the next decade calling Dean on his bullshit. And it looked like he’d get to keep doing it, in Dean’s face, up close and personal. A radio squawked in the house and Sam motioned for Dean’s beer, taking a good swig as Bobby finished his inspection.

“You did good, kid. Not bad. Coulda been a doctor,” Bobby said, “if you actually gave a shit about it.”

“Hot nurses in scrubs,” Dean said, taken over by his shit-eater grin and Bobby rolled his eyes while Sam attempted to spill beer on his brother.

“You got ‘bout a week with those stitches, Sam, maybe ten days. No more ‘strenuous’ activity,” he said with a look, sometimes you’re dumb as rocks. “Go get cleaned up so I can put a new bandage on it.”

Such a damn shame, Sam was counting on that strenuous activity and fucking around with his brother might be worth it, but he wasn’t ready to go around with a gaping hole in his side for it. He went off in search of the shower, towels where they’d always been, everything the same, Bobby’s house never changing and if he and Dean had ever had a home, this was it.

A boot stuck in the door as he went to shut it and Dean said, “Need any help, Sammy.” His brother, relief in his eyes, as if Sam had been going to hold together only until they got to Sioux Falls, as if he was going to burst and bleed right in front of Dean, and Sam said, “It’s just a graze and some busted ribs, I’ll be okay,” but Dean’s face fell, his hands suddenly restless and uncertain, and instantly Sam got it.

“You stupid bastard, get in here,” he said, snatching at Dean’s shirt and Dean stumbled inside, as if his hope was making him brave enough to be there. Dean met him halfway and someone thought to shut the door, Dean mumbling, “you’re the stupid bastard,” as he kissed Sam, pinning him to the wall.

“Bobby—“

“Went to check on his radios. Pay attention to me,” Dean said, getting Sam’s jeans open and undone, and Sam did as he was told.

Rumpled and little uncoordinated and one of these days, soon, very soon, very fucking soon, they would get to do exactly what they wanted, Dean saying against Sam’s skin, Naked, and somehow they got Sam out of his clothes and then Dean went to his knees.

His brother still fully clothed, on his knees for Sam, mouth taking him in, and Sam couldn’t breathe, couldn’t look away, his brother the single important thing in the world, wanting Sam as much as Sam wanted him.

Dean’s hands held him down when he came, Sam’s fingers roaming wild on his brother’s face, cheek, jaw, swollen mouth. He twisted a hand in Dean’s shirt, tugging him up, talking, Dean c’mere you you do you know what you, and Dean stopped him, open-mouthed kiss before he stepped back to turn on the shower.

Dazed, Sam watched him and demanded, “Pay attention to me,” and Dean laughed, did as he was told, because they had that effect on each other. Sam’s teeth on Dean’s shoulder, his hand stroking Dean, and Dean pressing into him again and again until Sam might go crazy watching them move together, watching Dean shudder apart.

“Dirty fucker, get in the shower, clean yourself up,” Dean said between breaths and Sam smirked, “You’re the one who made a mess.”

Ringing telephone in another room and Dean fixed his clothes and Sam stepped under the water and it was pitch-black morning in Sioux Falls.

The shower was so good, Sam tired and feeling slow-drugged, and he just wanted to eat something and go to bed, rest finally after running so many miles in so few days. He listened to Bobby and Dean meandering, their voices melting into comfortable white noise and he could sleep for days, this one spot in the whole of the country that welcomed them in their criminal condition.

He found Dean and Bobby in the kitchen, bottles in hand, shooting the breeze with a plate of sandwiches out on the table. Ham and cheese with cold beer to wash it down and after Bobby put a new square of gauze on him, retied his middle, the three of them sat and talked until the hour just before dawn.

They gave him the hat and the shot glass, “one paid for, one stolen,” Dean said enigmatically and Bobby scratched at his beard.

“I can’t ever get just a normal present,” he said and in unison, they said, “Nope.”

It was something Sam had wanted, for forever, him and his brother and their next of kin sitting at a worn kitchen table with nothing to do but eat and bullshit and tell tall tales about the past. It was a wish, a little piece he left rattling inside him, and it settled down here, as Bobby cussed out Dean for some idle thing from a year ago.

When they broke up the fun to go to bed, Bobby said, “I got your girl ready,” and Dean grinned electrified like it was a bright miracle from on high. “You can stay long as you like, iff’n you didn’t bring trouble to my doorstep. Then I’ll hafta kick ya out.”

“Trouble? We’re not trouble,” Dean said, “imagine us being trouble. It’s not like we go ‘round getting into trouble. Me and Sam are freakin’ saints.”

“Yeah, perfect angels,” Bobby said. “Your innocence and virtue are blinding. Like staring into the sun.”

“Cranky bastard.”

“Damn idjit, dumb as a post.”

They got their usual bedroom, two separate beds, but Dean pushed them together, spreading around the blankets and they climbed in, tangled, Dean warm against Sam’s back and it was like time travel, he and Dean under the same roof, together and whole. Sam fell asleep, Dean’s hand on the knot of his shirt.

“We should get tattoos,” Dean said and he smelled of grease and coffee when Sam opened his eyes.

“What? Tattoos?” He’d missed a conversation somewhere, disjointed as if maybe they’d been talking in their sleep and he struggled to sit, gingerly, as Dean sipped coffee out of a cup with a painted stamp on it for the Sioux Falls Police Department Annual Barbeque 1997. He started laughing, Bobby had a black sense of humor, but Dean huffed, “Tattoos are no laughing matter, Sam.”

“Sorry, just. Did you see that mug you’re using?” Sam said, Dean almost spilling his coffee out of the mug to see it. “Never mind. What’s this about tattoos.”

“I dunno. Thought we could get tattoos. Just a thought, sheesh.”

“What have you been told about thinking, Dean.”

“Fuck you.”

“In seven to ten days,” Sam said, reaching to take the coffee. “Gimme a sip. What time is it.”

“One, one-thirty, two, I forget. Afternoon. Didn’t you ever want a tattoo.”

“You want us to be permanently matchy-matchy?”

Dean scowled, “When you put it that way,” and Sam gave him his coffee back, a surefire way to cheer him up.

“Tattoos. What else have you been doing.”

“Getting lap dances,” Dean said jovially, yanking the covers off the bed to slap at Sam’s feet. “Working on the Impala while your skinny ass slept all day. She’s just ‘bout ready. Should be able to take her out for a test drive tonight.”

“I needed the sleep. I’ve had to deal with you. And I wanna drive, you better let me drive.” It was an effort to get out of bed, his body stiff and grumpy, but Dean got him on his feet and Sam kissed Dean on the top of his head, ignoring the “I’m not your fucking teddy bear.”

Bobby was downstairs, messing about with one of his laptops and the radios were streaming info fast, scratchy, people in Chicago waving knives and having sex in their cars in alleyways, people in New York stuck in elevators and mugged in parking garages, people in San Francisco driving erratically and breaking windows, people all over the country crashing together like dynamic waves and it washed into Bobby’s house, so much detritus, turn a knob, tune a frequency and you got people on Main Street America drunk and doing cartwheels and loitering on street corners.

Books scattered everywhere, papers in piles, maps in folded disarray, the wall of phones each with a different number and purpose, the sudden blurt of language from a CB and Bobby serene in the midst of it like the eye of the storm.

“There’s food on the table, Sam,” Bobby said, without glancing at him, just pointing before adjusting the bill of his cap. “And I got some material you can read on your stitches, how to take ‘em out, blah blah blah, if you want. Unless you trust Dean.”

Sam piled a plate with cold fried chicken and store-bought cole slaw and grabbed a soda. He wanted to sit with Bobby in the fray, let the noise take over so he didn’t have to think. Dean disappeared into the yard, a grease streak bracketing his almost-crazy smile and Sam ate while Bobby dug around in police records, taking notes. Someone’s sister was asking for the details of her brother’s incarceration, previous run-ins with the law and how the fuck she could sue the police department for wrongful arrest and Sam became fascinated with the ins-and-outs as Bobby explained it, writing as he went, then they switched over to another job, blueprints for a vault, something Bobby had been following at a short distance for a few weeks now.

Sometimes Sam had wondered what a quiet life was like, school, friends, a job, complaining about the job, buying a house, car, two cars, commuting, coming home to dinner and the television and the pet and maybe kids with too many toys. It didn’t take him long when he was young to realize that not everyone knew how to pick locks or pickpocket or lie. People didn’t learn about car alarms and hotwiring. People didn’t learn breaking and entering. The best way to corner a car at high speeds. The procedure after a 911 call is recorded and dispatched. The various items to use to slip a pair of cuffs. How to take a punch. How to fire a gun. But it’d never bothered him, not really, because maybe the FBI agent was right: this was how Sam’s world worked.

He heard a clank out in the yard, the drifting sounds of music from a little radio and he didn’t care. This was how Sam’s world worked.

Bobby said, “You wanna read or you want somethin’ to do,” and Sam shrugged.

“Gimme something to do.”

“Actually, I can do you one better. Since you two seem hellbent on leavin’ your mark on honest society, instead of, y’know, not rockin’ the boat,” Bobby said drily, “I got you some new equipment. Should you need to run. Again. Imagine it’ll be any day now.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Sam said as Bobby rooted around in a desk drawer.

A brand new laptop and two shiny cell phones and when Bobby handed them over, Sam almost snatched them away; the laptop was his, Dean wouldn’t get to touch it. In college, he’d maxed out a credit card to get one, only to have it stolen in the quad, and he didn’t get another one, notebooks were just easier to steal and cheaper if he paid and the library computers were free.

“Set yourself up with that. The cell phones are clean and I’ve got the numbers for ‘em, just pick which one is yours and which one is Dean’s. Then don’t give ‘em out.”

“Awesome, Bobby. This is. Perfect. Thanks.” He couldn’t stop the stammer and he and Dean would need to pay Bobby back, somehow, they couldn’t explain to him how much it meant to know he was on their side. They’d talked to him more than their own father for almost ten years running. He was a fixed point in their imploding-exploding universe and Sam was indebted. Especially when he took Dean in, took them in and hid them, for as long as he could. For storing the last remnant of the Winchester family in his garage. For all those years, keeping an eye out. “What do we owe you.”

“You say that again and I’ll kick you outta this house so fast you’ll think your head’s on backwards,” Bobby replied.

Hands out, Sam surrendered and it was still afternoon, but that called for a celebratory drink, and Bobby didn’t say no.

Outside, there was a splutter of an engine, a dark growling note, and Dean war whooped right before the engine died. Bobby quickly poured them another bit of bourbon as Dean stomped indoors.

“Bobby, you got any gas cans around? I, uh, forgot. The car kinda needs gas. To go,” Dean said, pursing his lips and Sam rocked his chair on its legs to hide his amusement.

“Dammit all to hell,” Bobby muttered under his breath, pushing papers out of his way. “You stay put. I’ll go get the gas.” He watched them for a moment, then his eyes went into slits. “Don’t touch anything.”

“Hey, we’re good.” Dean wasn’t anywhere near convincing and Sam grinned trustworthy.

“We need to hold down the fort?”

But Bobby shook his head as he checked his pockets for his keys. “Nah, if it’s anything earth-shattering, I’ll get wind of it. Be back in a few.”

He headed out the door and yelled over his shoulder, “Don’t touch anything.”

A door slammed, an engine rumbled away and they sat in the swift silence, all radios quiet at once.

“So you’ve got her fixed,” Sam said, careful, because this was important, this was almost everything, since she went down seven years ago, they’d been more adrift, and Dean nodded, smile coming fast like heat lightning.

“You gotta see her.”

He led the way to the garage, Sam trailing, following his brother into the sunlight, a sharp thrill going through him that shot to the very tips of his fingers, and it felt momentous, staggeringly big, as if this was what they’d been waiting for since their dad left.

Gleaming black, her grill was a little dusty, her hood littered with handprints and finger-streaks, but she looked like Sam remembered her, the first time when he got in the driver’s seat, turned the key and Dean said, You ready.

Dean leaned a hip against the driver side door, as if he was nervous, presenting the car to Sam, reuniting lost loved ones. Not a dent along her lines, not a scratch on her, no more missing windows and cracked glass, shuttered headlights and bent metal.

She was whole and absolute and the quintessential piece of their getaway, their breakout drive until the road ended whenever and wherever that might be.

“Dean,” Sam said, it was all he could think to say, like how Dad claimed it was his first word, the most important one he’d ever known. He touched the grill, the metal still cold in the shade of the garage, and traced the Detroit steel along the hood to where his brother was, there to take his proper place.

“Whaddya think,” Dean said, patting the roof, and Sam was never envious of the Impala, the affection Dean lavished on her different from how he loved Sam, but being here with their legacy, Sam still needed to invade Dean’s space and he took it, straightening his shoulders.

“Think it’s ‘bout time we got back on the road,” Sam said and Dean tilted into him, into a kiss, until they toppled over, Sam caught against the car, these last whirlwind days spinning to this fine point.

They had to breathe and Dean dropped his forehead to rest on Sam’s collarbone. “This’s good, Sammy.”

Sam wrapped an arm around Dean, nodding. “How long you wanna stay?”

Green eyes like the sun through glass when Dean glanced at him, smirking, and he licked his lips. “You in a hurry?”

Shrugging dislodged Dean and they disentangled, grinning at each other like they’d won every fight, past, present and future, victorious.

“Hand me that socket wrench and get the jack.”

The car needed an oil change, so Sam fetched beers and found an old folding chair and kept Dean company, classic rock on the radio and the afternoon warming. They argued about where to go first; Dean had a list of tourist traps and sightseeing stops, and Sam imagined taking pictures of his brother in front of large mutant vegetables, regional festival signs, crazy metal sculptures, inexplicable rock formations. Which coast should they hit first to stalk its highways and they were halfway through their second beer when Bobby reappeared.

“Good to see you’re bein’ productive,” Bobby said. “Didn’t break anything, I hope. ‘Cause if you did, I’ll hafta break your necks. And that’d be a damn shame. Maybe. Now come get your damn gas.”

Two cans of gasoline, enough to get them on their way and along the asphalt for a while, and they emptied the cans, Dean grinning, raring to go, “Fuel for my baby.” Then Sam would never forget it, Dean slipping into the sanctuary of the black car, Bobby standing at the edge of the garage with his arms crossed and Sam’s breath stuttered, caught under his bandage and in his ribs as Dean put the key in the ignition.

The Impala snarled awake, that dark splendor engine note, and everything Sam needed to know was on Dean’s face in that moment, triumphant and this was what freedom meant, this is what Sam’s world was like, his brother, their car and whatever was to come.

After the crash and span of years, here was Dean, taking the wheel, Dean revving the engine and she purred sleek and Sam felt it across the ground like an aftershock.

When Dean cut the engine, her sound still echoed in Sam’s head and he thought, Let’s get going.

Bobby had bought steaks, potatoes, and they settled down to grill, and it was as if they were off the map, removed from the world, their luck suddenly good and green.

They played penny poker at the kitchen table. “Don’t wanna be bled dry,” Bobby said, smirking into his beard, plucking at his cap.

Their dad had learned to cheat in the military, how to read tells and bluffs, just something else he’d passed on to them before disappearing on the horizon and in the past, Bobby made them play each other, “you two’ll try to fleece me and I don’t take money from dumb kids.” But he jumped into this game with a joking maliciousness and Dean snickered, “This’s gonna be good, you sure ‘bout this,” and he cut his eyes to Sam, his accessory in crime and Sam put on his best honest face and dealt the first hand.

The radios croaked occasionally and Bobby and Sam were kicking Dean’s ass, good-sized stacks of pennies in front of them like kingdom treasuries, and something came across the wires catching Sam’s ear, but gone just as fast, like a fly.

Then one of the phones on the wall rang. Bobby answered and talked for a bit and when he came back to the table, he sighed.

“Y’know, the funny thing about stealin’ cars,” he said, pushing his cards away. “They’re usually reported stolen. Police kinda like it that way.”

It hit Sam right in the breastbone. “Colorado plates.” Dean threw down his hand, irritated, and the cards skidded into Sam’s collection of pennies.

“Nebraska,” Bobby continued, “you stopped in North Platte?”

“Thereabouts,” Dean said, confident, “I think,” and Sam heard Dean in his memory, Wherever are, where are we, Kansas, Nebraska.

“Truck stop,” Bobby pressed on. “Stretch your legs, get some food. Fill the tank.”

“The funny fucking thing about cars is they won’t run on fumes,” Dean said. “Shit.”

“Cameras,” Sam said and Bobby gave all his winnings to Sam, grimacing.

“Hole in one. Cameras at the truck stop. They saw your ’94 Buick. White. Colorado plates. You two were blurry, but still you. Sam, you’re too damn tall. Saw both of you goin’ into the store and comin’ out of the store. Buick goes missing in Boulder, not long after there’s a shoot-out at a diner, involving two suspects who may or may not be the Winchesters the FBI was looking for and then those same Winchesters show up in proximity to that missing Buick. Wonder of wonders. Can’t say as I like the cops, but they can sometimes put two and two together.”

Panic began crawling along Sam’s nerves. “Do they know we’re here yet?”

“You see boots kickin’ in my doors? No, they don’t know you’re in Sioux Falls, not necessarily, but they did see which direction that damn ugly car went. Northeast. So that BOLO just got a lot more complicated.”

“Hooray,” Sam said, riding on the jitters, and Dean rested his head in his hands. The clock ticked, the radios chattered back and forth, and Bobby’s chair scraped the floor as he stood.

“Gonna go see what the local boys in blue are talkin’ ‘bout,” Bobby said. “It’s comin’ on sunset in ‘bout an hour, so they won’t do much after dark. Patrol cars maybe. Not much word right now at the station. Just lookin’ for the car.”

He thumped Dean on the shoulder as he went and Sam nodded. “Thanks, Bobby.”

They sat there, sprawled in their chairs, and they went from being lost in the country to being circled by the hounds, and Dean finally caught Sam’s eye.

“We can’t bring this on Bobby, man,” Dean said.

Sam thought, What do we owe, we owe so fucking much, and he said, “Yeah. We gotta get rid of the car –“

“And get outta town,” Dean finished. “Bobby can break down the car if we leave it—“

“No, we can’t leave the parts here with him. We have to ditch it—“

“And get outta town,” Dean said again.

He was thinking as fast as he could, how to dump the car, how to slip away, how to keep Bobby’s name out of anything and everything, this was worse, this was Sam caught in the nightmare without a gun to save Dean, this was consequences falling like a collapsing house and if they didn’t run, they’d be trapped. Bobby with them.

“Sunset,” Sam said. “We can ditch then.”

Dean straightened and pointed at Sam. Then he disappeared into the other room, Sam frowning his way through pain to chase him.

“Bobby,” his brother was saying, “it’s like ding dong ditch.”

Not turning from his machines, Bobby said, "Your profundity is a sight to behold, Dean, ease up before the rest of us get lost."

"Yeah, he was like this in Colorado too,” Sam said with grim humor. “Good job, Napoleon. Mind like a steel trap, huh, Dean."

“Ding dong ditch. Ring the bell, then you haul ass—“

One summer, it was hot and dry, the whole town dying for a drop of rain, and he and Dean were bored bored bored. They terrorized whole neighborhoods, ringing the doorbells at every house on every street. They had crayon maps and strategies, skipping every other house, then combing back to get the missed ones, finding the best hiding places and they were only chased by an overeager dog and one of the older kids from school, running as fast as they could, like they were cutting tunnels through the heat.

Instantly Sam understood, their lifelong telepathy conduit clicking as he stared at Dean and Dean stared back at him. “Ditch the car. Call it in. The cops’ll go over there, we’ll be over here and then we can—“

“Make like a banana.”

And split, Sam mouthed, and Dean grinned reckless.

“Oh, you have a brain between you,” Bobby said, eyebrows raised, “but just one. For the two of you geniuses.”

Dean said, “Bobby, we need more gas.”

Bobby looked skeptical and Sam said, “Only ‘bout five dollars worth.”

“Wonderful,” Bobby said, “you princesses need anything else.”

“A billion dollars,” Dean immediately replied and Sam nudged him, nodding wisely.

“That’d be good. Couldn’t hurt.”

“The Monopoly money’s in the closet by the stairs. Help yourself,” Bobby retorted, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “Now, if you’re done standin’ ‘round, think we’ve got some stuff to do. Unless you want me to just turn you in. No skin off my nose.”

Hand to his heart, Dean appeared crushed, “Ow, Bobby, that really fucking hurt,” and Sam coughed because he was going to laugh, he didn’t need to encourage Dean’s soap opera acting.

Bobby stared at them, deadpan, then walked away without a word. Dean smiled devious at Sam, said, “Better start packing.”

They hadn’t had a chance to get really comfortable in the house yet, so packing wasn’t anything big. Sam flipped open the laptop and played with it for a bit, smacking Dean’s hands because he kept trying to touch it and the glossy, softly whirring machine was Sam’s.

“Get your own, loser.”

“Maybe I will, Poindexter.”

“Great, you can do your stupid porn searches on it or play Minesweeper and leave mine the hell alone.”

“Stop bellyaching, bitch.”

“Here, break this instead, jerk,” Sam said, handing him one of the phones. “But gimme the number first.”

“Aww, you gonna put me in your contacts? Put me in under ‘Sexy Beast’,” Dean said, wiggling his eyebrows in a manner he probably thought was flirtatious and provocative and damn if it wasn’t, but Sam wouldn’t tell him, he’d be surprised if he, Dean and Dean’s Ego could all fit in the Impala without being horribly squished.

“That’d be great when people realize we’re brothers.”

“Why’d they be using your phone anyway.”

“What if Bobby saw it on the caller ID.”

That made Dean pause and Sam almost laughed, ducking behind the computer and Dean grumbled. “Why you gotta take the fun outta everything.”

They wouldn’t load the car now, it could wait until they were about to put their plan in motion, so all they could do was wait for Bobby to return. They started a game of crazy eights, bitching at each other, Dean attempting to cheat outrageously and Sam didn’t even think about it, it came out of the clear blue, he said, “Maybe we can look for Dad. If you want.”

Dean went silent and for a second, he just switched cards around in his hand and Sam bit his tongue. Dean had always been closer to their dad, the one who listened and took up the teachings like it really was his birthright. He said once that Sam and Dad were too much alike, they’d fight, but John Winchester was still Sam’s father. It’d put them both at ease if they could find him, or at least what happened to him.

It felt like a time for truths, them alone on safe footing, cards in their hands as if it was simply another game of them playing for laundry duty or who got to drive or some silly bet.

“You with me?”

A little laugh under his breath, like an exhale, and Dean rolled his eyes. “If I’m not, you’ll fucking run around like some big asshole, getting yourself shot and fuck knows what else. Jail. Dog groomer. Cosmetology school.”

“Cosmetology school.”

“Someday you’ll hafta learn what to do with your hair.”

Sam huffed in response, blowing his bangs aside, and as if on cue, Dean shot him a patented big-brother I-got-your-number smirk.

And Sam never wanted anything more than to punch his brother or kiss him, maybe both, sometimes fighting was complicated with them, fraught with a different kind of peril, and Dean’s eyes flashed, the smirk gaining ground, because he knew, and this wasn’t over, this was going to be a fight for the ages, one they’d repeat again and again, fight-and-fuck, and love was tasting the surrender on your tongue.

Standing, Sam had to get closer and Dean merely leaned back in his chair, like what you see.

“Ouch, my side,” Sam said pathetically and Dean snorted.

“Why you gotta take the fun outta everything.”

Bobby’s car roared into the yard and Sam threatened, “Just you wait,” and Dean replied, “Oh, I will, Rocky. You’re going down so fast—“

“Gas’s on the back porch,” Bobby said, walking into the room and Sam took a step back, breathing to get under control, hand on his ribs, focusing on the rise and fall. “So. What’s next. This is excitin’. Where’s my popcorn,” Bobby continued, dry as desert.

A map of Sioux Falls because Bobby had everything and they spread it on the table; liquor bottle, a pack of batteries, coffee cup, a brake shoe holding down the corners and Bobby traced streets with his finger.

“You’re here,” he said, “you can’t go far if you’re hoofin’ it back.”

“But it’s gotta be far enough away so you’re out of suspicion,” Sam said. “Somewhere outta the way. Like an open dead end. Not much in proximity.”

“And back streets would be good,” Dean threw in, “less chance of being seen.”

The sun was setting, the night beginning to make its presence known, blue-black creeping in at the edges and it was quickly becoming now or never.

They selected a location and Bobby gave it his blessing. Hands on his hips, he surveyed the map, then surveyed Dean and Sam.

“You’re gonna be runnin’ for a good long while,” he said, gruff, and there was an undertow in his voice; the years had amassed so much, resting here in South Dakota, lingering until the time came.

Dad with his duffel bag at his feet, kneeling in front of Sam. It’s only a matter of time.

They were always going to come back for the Impala, they were always going to come back, but they were here, come to claim what’s theirs, and it was time to go.

Bobby said, “Can’t be Winchesters, at least to the decent folk,” hooking his thumbs in his pockets, “not ‘till this blows over.”

“Not Sam and Dean Jagger either,” Sam said and Bobby shook his head, “What the hell kinda dumb idea is that?”

Dean shifted his weight, eyes deadly at Sam, and Sam laughed and this was bittersweet in the kitchen they thought of as home-away-from-home.

Clearing his throat, Bobby gestured over his shoulder. “Why don’t I help you load up. Got some sandwiches and sodas you can have. Might have a cooler for you.”

The last sunshine fading from the salvage yard, the junk heaps crouching in the shadows, sleeping the sleep of those at the end of the line. Stars overhead, cold and broken, little stabs of light and Sam thought, Superluminal, gotta match their speed.

The day was cooling down, the purples seeping into everything they touched and Sam and Dean carted their tiny world to their final car, disguising itself, blending into the falling black around it.

Bobby brought a green cooler, set it in the back seat, and it’d taken no time flat, realigning their universe to the Impala, prepared to carry all they had wherever they went.

They had to say their goodbyes now, to shield Bobby from whatever was around the corner, but they’d had a rule ever since they were little and they watched their dad leave on a job, they didn’t say goodbye and they didn’t say see ya when we see ya and they didn’t say well it’s been fun.

Prodigal sons, standing on Bobby’s porch, everything they were held in their pockets like change, like the keychain Dean twirled in his fingers. Their ties deeper than blood and Bobby hugged them, clapping Dean on the shoulder, staying cautious of Sam’s side.

“You got our numbers,” Sam said and Dean said, “Don’t text us pictures of your lingerie,” and Bobby kicked them off his steps, “Get the hell outta here before I turn you in for public nuisance. Disturbing the peace.”

“Think you got the wrong idea about us,” Dean said, grabbing the gas can.

“Yeah, kid.”

They climbed into the Buick, the smell of gasoline thick and exhaust-sweet and Bobby went inside. He never watched them go.

Creeping through the streets, headlights off, on the lookout for patrol cruisers and Sam’s ribs ached, like a warning, throbbing like police blues-and-reds, but this was going to work, they’d get out of this—

“Fuck, this is a stupid idea, we should come up with better plans, why can’t we come up with better plans,” Dean whispered, peering through the windshield, and Sam whispered, “Dude, it’ll work.”

Whispering like two kids surfing the channels for softcore porn while their dad slept, and every street carried them farther from their security and their escape route, but this was the plan and it was going to work and Sam’s chest burned, storing oxygen.

A T-intersection, rundown buildings and a sleepy neighborhood nearby and here it was, now or never.

Dean threw the car into park and as the engine died, Sam was already out, careful not to slam the door, snapping open the cheap pay-as-you-go cell phone Bobby had handed him, “for emergencies, break it and toss it when you’re done.” He watched Dean douse the car, dumping the rest of the can on the seats.

They did stupid stuff when they were younger, the five dollars of gas in the red wagon, and Dean was vibrating when he stood next to Sam, matchbook in hand.

“Call,” he said and Sam dialed the police station.

“Yeah, hi, there’s, uh, I’d like to report some strange activity going on. In my neighborhood,” Sam said, stammering, and Dean flapped his hand, yak yak yak. “Yeah, a car pulled up at the end of the street, like, three or four hours ago and it’s just been sitting there. Idling. I didn’t, no, I didn’t see anybody, but. It’s still there.”

A smile was taking over Dean, like a slow rise, getting higher, his eyes clear-shine and green, Sam’s brother, Sam’s criminal heart and spirit, swaying.

“Yeah, it’s white. Buick. No, I dunno the year. LeSabre? That’s the only Buick I—yeah, if you could send someone out.”

Sam gave the cross streets and hit END, Dean tilting into his good side.

“Okay. Light ‘er up.”

The night hung supernatural around them. A skipped heartbeat. Then Dean lit the matchbook and threw it at the Colorado plates.

The car burned so bright and so hot, the black sky and stars wavering with the heat, and the flames were just what they wanted, what they’d wanted when they had the red wagon, crossing the train tracks to the car cemetery and Dean’d chased Sam until they were laughing too hard to breathe.

They started down the street, walking, two guys heading home from a quick drink at the bar or a pick-up basketball game or going to a friend’s for KFC and a movie.

Sam dialed 911 and let Dean hysterically report the burning car, “it’s just goin’ up in flames, man, in flames!” and they were dodging through the shadows, half-jogging, Sam wincing, but they were going to make it, they were going to get out of this, scot-free.

With childish glee, Dean smashed the cell phone with his boot, “cheap piece of shit,” distributing chunks as they went.

“I hope a squirrel doesn’t eat that,” Sam whispered and briefly lost in a shadow, Dean laughed in the dark.

“It won’t, Dr. Doolittle, squirrels are smart. Tough little fuckers.”

“That your scientific opinion, Jane Goodall?”

Four more blocks, they were close, soon they’d see the lights of Bobby’s house, the spread-out mass of the yard and its rust-defying fence.

And Sam thought of something.

“Would this be a good time to tell you how I wanted to lose my virginity in the back seat of the Impala when I was fourteen?”

Dean tripped on a curbstone, catching himself sideways. “Holy fucking saints and all the angels. We can. We can work on that. Later. Uh, later. Away. From here. Fuck, Sammy, you gotta spring that on me right fucking now? I gotta drive, man, have a heart.”

Sam gave him the finger and Dean made kissy noises. Everything in Sam wanted to jog faster, but his ribs jolted, no fucking strenuous activity and he’d pass out in the car if he had to, not before. Almost there, rocks and cracked asphalt and concrete.

Rounding the corner. Singer Salvage Yard. They walked under the arch of the sign.

Home free.

No sign of Bobby, the house lit forlorn and between breaths, Sam thought he heard radio chatter. Dean saluted the house and their boots crunched in the gravel.

Disappearing into the back where the garage was, off to the side, and this was it, their chance and nothing was in their way.

The Impala doors creaked as they got in, shutting them in unison. Sirens in the distance, wailing near-far-near-far, that shocked moan winding around and around and Dean jingled the keys.

“You ready,” he said.

“Full throttle,” Sam said. “Pedal to the metal.” Gonna go down together.

He relaxed in the shotgun seat, remembering how he fit in it, stacking his ribs comfortable, and Dean started the engine.

The two of them setting out to conquer the world, one mile marker at a time, the sirens as the backdrop for the greatest escape they’d ever made.

Dean’s thigh bumped the keychain, bullet swinging against the dash.

"Keep your eyes on me," he said, cocky, finger-strokes on the wheel, and Sam laughed and as they passed under the sign, Dean goosed the gas, the car shooting out, ready to stretch her legs. They cut past Bobby's house and Sam knew they'd be back, sometime.

Then he couldn't see Bobby's house anymore and they were gone.

Sioux Falls at the crossroads of two interstates and what better way for them to pass into the country, pick a direction, any direction, now close your eyes and go.

They could lose themselves finally, on the roads of the U.S., wherever America goes, in their shiny car in the middle of the night. The black sheen of their car, like unbroken asphalt, newly-laid and ready to drive. They knew the way, a rolling holy trinity, their inheritance waiting for them to lay hold of it. Kings of the road.

They knew where they were going, these reckless sons of iron, they just had to get back on the mother road, good and pure. Dean grinning and Sam grinning back because he couldn’t help it, his brother all the good Sam’d ever known and he thought about the eternal potential of their growling combustion engine, the perpetual motion machine of his brother's happiness.

It'd take them anywhere.