Pulling into the Singer Salvage lot always lifted Dean’s heart a little, unless he was losing blood very rapidly. Singer Salvage was the one fixed point in Dean’s very shaky firmament.
They rolled up around six AM after the interminable drive from Paterson fucking, N.J. The sky was gray at dawn, scalloped with high cirrus clouds. Dean had downed two 5-hour Powers four hours ago so he was twitching like an aspen leaf and Sammy….Sam looked as grim as the undercarriage on the Impala.
Hopefully, there would be a lull. There were always lulls. Some were long, some were short, all were essential. Time to sleep, do laundry, take a deep breath. Sharpen the blades. Reload. Up at Bobby’s, time always seemed to stop its headlong downhill rush and slip along sluggishly for a while. The door shrieked a protest when Dean stepped out of the car and he winced and forced himself not to look too hard at the damage until he was at a point where he could do something about it.
They dragged themselves inside. Bobby was awake, already at his desk scowling at his computer and muttering into his moustache. Sam nodded at Bobby and then clumped up the stairs, darting a glance at Dean on his way to the coffee pot.
Dean grunted a vague approximation of good morning and the bill of Bobby’s cap moved an inch in acknowledgement.
“The Impala’s fucked.” Dean took a sip of fresh coffee, figuring he was going to fall unconscious at some point soon so a little more caffeine couldn’t do much harm.
“Sam called me.” Bobby looked up and Dean wondered if he’d slept at all. “But he didn’t go into detail.”
“Damned poltergeist drove it into the side of a building.” Dean was so tired that his outrage felt vague and sick, like hot water instead of lava. “Had to take a crowbar to the quarter panels just to drive her home.”
Bobby blinked slowly. “Dean, at least that’s one thing we can fix.”
Bobby was a good man, but he wasn’t usually a kind man. His kindness made the back of Dean’s throat ache. He took another sip of coffee to wash the feeling away. Bobby looked back at the computer and Dean was grateful for the billionth time that Bobby was who he was. No stupid questions, no false hope.
“Sam have any more…?” Bobby asked without looking up.
Dean sucked on his teeth in a vain attempt to get the sour taste out of his mouth. “A few bad flashes I think. Obviously nothing fatal.”
Dean rocked on his heels, trying to bounce away the numbness that twenty-two hours of straight driving wrought on his body. Bobby tapped away at his keyboard.
“How the hell am I supposed to know that?” Bobby mumbled into the screen.
“Are you talking to me or some asshole on the internet?” Dean scratched the back of his neck.
“Idjits.” Bobby grimaced and started his hesitant hunt and peck again.
“Is it a job?” Dean’s heart sank. A muscle twinged painfully in his lower back.
“No.” Bobby managed to infuse the one syllable with a metric ton of petulance. “Some Hollywood type wants to buy that old Charger.”
It was the barking that woke him. First the dog, then Bobby. Dean was on his feet with his boots laced before he was aware that he was awake. He had shrugged into his jacket and thumbed the safety off by the time he’d gotten halfway down the stairs. He paused inside the kitchen door to take stock of the situation.
The light was slightly darker than when he’d gone down for the count yesterday. But the sky seemed heavy with the same clouds, the same forbidding, two-tone gray. Dean shot a glance at the clock on the stove and did a double take.
Holy crap, he’d slept for a whole day. Dean blinked and re-focused at the door, tugging the tired gingham curtain back an inch. He blinked again, more deliberately.
Bobby had a shotgun trained on a solitary guy who was standing with his hands in his pockets next to a tiny and very colorful car. Dean focused on the car a moment longer than was necessary because it was ridiculously incongruous, a bright jewel in the sere gray-brown landscape. On the unpaved drive, the low-slung car seemed to crouch and it was the color of jellybeans. Some part of Dean’s brain whispered ‘import’ and dismissed it.
The guy standing beside the car looked way too untroubled by the fact that there was a shotgun hovering well inside his head vaporization zone. He wasn’t dressed appropriately for weather within a 500 mile radius of South Dakota but that didn’t seem to be bothering him either.
The sticky, rotten taste inside Dean’s mouth, the faint weakness in his thighs and the numb ache in his shoulder were clues that this was real, he was awake. But there was something about the contrast between all the dull, familiar features of the junkyard and the too-bright, too-sharp lines of the stranger and his car that made it feel like a dream.
“…don’t just show up.” Dean caught the mid-point of Bobby’s rant. “In case it escaped your notice, it is six o’clock in the fucking morning...”
The guy pulled his hands out of his pockets and spread them in a placating gesture. “I was gonna sleep in the car until… I’m sorry that it bothered the dog.” He made a half-hearted gesture toward the fugly pooch that was standing in for Rumsfeld nowadays. “I really didn’t mean to wake you…”
“Son.” Bobby said, sounding dangerously pissed off. “This is private property and…”
Dean’s focus tightened on the stranger. The guy would probably have been good-looking if he ever got a good night’s sleep or maybe shaved. But what really drew Dean’s attention was the way the guy suddenly shifted his weight and reached up to scratch at his collarbone casually. Too casually.
Dean could practically see the next few moves like he was the choreographer. The way the stranger could dart a hand out wide, push the shotgun barrel in a broad arc and twist his body to snap it out of Bobby’s grip. And then he’d have a loaded shotgun and it would take Bobby’s morning reflexes just a bare second to regroup but that could easily be a second too long… Dean could see it like it was happening, because it was exactly what he would do.
Dean thumbed the safety back on and shoved his piece into his waistband under his shirts. He stomped out onto the back porch and called obnoxiously, “Morning!”
Bobby didn’t move but the dog changed its bark to a whine and the stranger’s eyes snapped onto Dean.
And it was weird. Dean could feel the guy’s gaze sharpening on him. All the tired annoyance on the stranger’s face
vanished and Dean had an uncanny feeling that the guy recognized him somehow, even though he was sure that he’d never met the guy in this world or the next.
“Nice car.” Sammy slouched in the doorframe, knuckling the sleep out of his eyes. “What’s the ruckus?”
And then it got weirder yet, because the stranger’s eyes did that oddly-fascinating recognition thing again and he started to laugh. The dog backed up a pace and Bobby looked completely flummoxed. The stranger didn’t seem bothered by their stares or the way that his peals of laughter seemed to echo in the silent dawn.
“Dude, what’s so funny?” Dean pasted a tentative tight grin on his own face. His suspicion that this guy could handle himself was still intact but was being paced by the consideration that this guy was also loco.
“Ah, nothing.” The dude snorted and shook his head. “Life. Life is kinda funny.”
“I guess.” Dean took a few steps forward. “Beats the alternative. Do I know you?”
The guy directed a very pointed look at Bobby who sighed grumpily and lowered both barrels. The stranger shrugged and smiled before extending his hand for Dean to shake.
Both nature and nurture had ensured that Dean Winchester was not a trusting person. It was like the weirdest Mexican standoff ever conceived, shotgun, 9MM and Sammy’s fearsome talents, up against the stranger’s charm offensive.
“I’m Brian. O’Conner.” The guy’s lips were still twitching, but at this distance his good humor looked less genuine and more manic. Dean shot Bobby a warning look. Bobby’s lips were about to disappear into his moustache.
“So, what’s so all-fired important you gotta show up at a junkyard at six in the fucking morning, Mr. O’Conner?” Dean kept his face sweet but his voice hard. Behind him, he could hear Sam clumping down the stairs.
Dude just laughed again. “Brian.” He dug a hand forcefully into his back pocket. He pulled out a crumpled, coffee-stained piece of paper and unfolded it reverently. Dean squinted down at a foggy printout of a car that he didn’t have any trouble recognizing.
“Motherfu-“ Bobby’s scorn seemed to extend around him like a force-field. “You’re that kid from Los Angeles? I thought
I was gonna get you some answers for the thousand and one questions in your last email before you hauled your ass up here like some kind of…”
O’Conner rubbed the back of his head and looked comically sheepish. “Yeah, well...”
“Dude, you drove from Los Angeles?” Dean asked rhetorically, since it was patently obvious that O’Conner had done exactly that. Dean held up the printout as if it was exhibit A in the O’Conner sanity hearing. “They made 100,000 of these. You really couldn’t find one that didn’t require a 26 hour drive?”
O’Conner blinked and said dryly. “89,200. Look at the front fenders.”
Dean grimaced and squinted down at the page. “What do you…huh.”
“So that just brought the total down a bit. Very few of which survived the gas crisis. Even fewer are for sale.” O’Conner continued. “And it was only a 22 hour drive.”
“Bobby, is that goddamned Charger R/T?” Dean demanded.
Bobby rolled his eyes. “It’s a moot point, idjit, that goddamned Charger doesn’t even run.”
“Could I see it anyway?” For some reason, O’Conner addressed this question to Sam who was standing back looking supremely bemused. “Don’t want to keep wasting your time.”
Dean blinked. He’d never seen anyone attempt puppy-dog eyes on Sammy before.
Sam kind of chuckled, raised one shoulder and threw a wry glance at Bobby.
Bobby sighed, snapped the shotgun barrel open and snatched the ejected shells out of the air. “Whatever. Not like I got anything more important to do.”
The dog woofed expectantly. O’Conner trudged off obediently in Bobby’s wake and Sam leaned into to whisper to Dean. “What’s an R/T?”
The car looked mean. Dean knew in the depths of his soul that the Impala was recklessly bad-ass, but the ’69 Dodge Charger looked like it could have eaten the Impala for breakfast, garnished with a GTO and a Mustang. Even rusting and infirm in a crowded corner of Singer Salvage, the long black car crouched in wait like it was expecting fresh victims. The split grille seemed to smirk.
“Tires’re all busted.” Bobby said unnecessarily.
“Not a problem.” O’Conner assured him.
“No stripes. See that rust?” Bobby pointed to the middle of the hood. “Someone must’ve yanked the emblem off.”
“Not a problem at all.” O’Conner said without hesitation.
“Plugs are probably dead as Caesar.” Bobby continued inexorably. “Mice probably been gnawing on the wires.”
“No worries.” O’Conner reached down and stroked the red R/T overlaying the bars of the grille. Dean gave the driver’s door a good yank, and then reached down to pop the hood. The interior smelled moldy and vaguely skunky.
Dean pushed himself out of the car in time to see O’Conner’s face visibly fall. “OK, this could be a problem.”
Dean leaned over the engine block and winced. “Shit. Knew it was too good to be true.”
Sam craned his neck over Dean’s shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
O’Conner scrubbed his hands through his hair which was already pretty hopeless. He dug his fingers into his eye sockets while Dean explained. “Engine’s a 318.”
“Right.” Sam nodded sagely in a way that Dean recognized from 1,001 interrogations. Sammy was adept at playing along to elicit more information whenever someone said something he found mysterious.
“Which isn’t the original engine. Which means…”
“That sometime in the 40-odd years since the thing was built, someone did a little switcheroo. Which looking at the bodywork…” Bobby shook his head. “not a shocker. If it had been worth a damn, I’d have sold it by now. Must’ve sat here for at least 15 years. Son, I understand if this queers the deal and I wish you the best of luck but…”
Bobby took a few deliberate steps and O’Conner allowed himself to be hustled back out of the lot. Dean started to trudge after them, and then paused for a second realizing that Sammy was still frowning down at the hulking heap of the car. “You coming?”
Sam didn’t look at Dean, just nodded down at his feet and followed silently.
O’Conner looked deflated, wan and washed-out now. The iridescent, lavender circles under his eyes were even more obvious in the growing light. He looked as thin and wired as a junkie denied a fix. He was petting the dog while Bobby looked ready to shove him into his car bodily.
“Sorry, man.” Dean proffered his hand again and O’Conner took it after a second, like it took a while for the synapse to fire. “Better luck next time.”
O’Conner gave a little half-shrug and didn’t seem to notice that he was swaying on his feet. “I think there may be one in Virginia, seller’s playing kind of coy, but that’s my next best hope...”
“You’re not going to drive to Virginia?” Sam’s voice had a disapproving note in it that gave Dean a pleasant, unexpected flutter. It had been so long since he’d heard Sammy’s bitchy you’re-not-seriously-gonna tone.
O’Conner squinted one eye closed and then the other and then opened them, like that would somehow compensate for a
massive sleep deficit. “Uh, I’m under…I’m kinda under the gun, uh, timewise.”
Dean grunted. “Dude, I got two words for you: Plymouth Roadrunner. Shit, I got a couple more: Barracuda, Yenko Camaro, Tempest GTO, fucking Ford Gran Torino…” But O’Conner was shaking his head and when Dean said ‘Torino’, he actually winced.
“No, man.” O’Conner clicked his tongue and settled into a hard lean on his little car. “Gotta be a Charger.”
In an instant of eye contact, Dean could see that any further argument would be useless and foolish. “OK, cowboy.”
Bobby had already vanished back into the house. The air was so still and cool that Dean didn’t have any problem smelling the coffee brewing. “We’ll hook you up with a go-cup of joe.”
“You should crash here.” Sam said unexpectedly. Dean turned sideways, coughed meaningfully and made his best ‘are you completely insane?’ look over his shoulder. Sam rolled his eyes and said slowly. “I think it would be really irresponsible for you to drive right now. You’re practically asleep on your feet.”
O’Conner blinked at them owlishly. “I don’t wanna…”
“C’mon.” Sam rocked back on his heels and managed to look both kind and dismissive at the same time. “Seriously. What’s a few hours on the couch gonna do? Besides save your life?” Sam matched Dean’s warning look with one of his own.
O’Conner followed Sam docilely enough and when they got inside, he just burrowed right down on the couch without one glance askew at the books or the bones or any of the decidedly odd shit that Bobby kept lying around.
“What in the Sam Hill!?!” Bobby hissed in a loud whisper from the kitchen. Sam had vanished upstairs somewhere and O’Conner was sitting, blinking ever more rapidly and looking like he was just about to slide sideways onto the floor. Sam came down with a frayed crocheted afghan and just like that O’Conner was asleep in the front room.
“What the hell are you thinking, man?” Dean thwapped Sam on the shoulder, but Sammy didn’t flinch or even bother looking apologetic.
“Look, we’re in the saving people business, right?” Sam said reasonably, helping himself to a cup of coffee. “So that means…y’know, helping.”
“Helping.” Dean and Bobby said in unison. Sam pursed his lips.
“Helping.” Sam repeated firmly. “Another hour on the road and that guy could kill someone, at the very least himself. Do you want that?”
“Of course not!” Dean banged his mug on the counter. “But having him up in here…”
“…he’s no hunter, Sam.” Bobby chimed in. “He takes a look around, most folks’d start dialing 911 before they even get to the second floor.”
“I dunno.” Sam shrugged. “Didn’t look to me like much would faze him. Besides, all he’s doing is crashing for a few hours and then he’s gone off looking for his Challenger…”
“Charger.” Dean said automatically. Bobby frowned.
“…and he never thinks about us again.” Sam spread his hands in the same placating gesture that O’Conner had used not half an hour ago. “This is an easy and painless way to be a good Samaritan.”
Bobby opened the cupboard, looking speculative. He pulled a gallon jug and a box of Morton’s out and Sam sighed heavily while Bobby sprinkled the side of O’Conner’s lightly snoring face with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of holy water. O’Conner brushed peevishly at the wet, but didn’t wake up. Dean got into the spirit and snuck up to poke O’Conner’s ankle with a silver knife which yielded the unforeseen result of Dean getting kicked in the kneecap. O’Conner glared at him blearily before drifting back to dreamland.
“He’s not a demon.” Sam said flatly, handing Dean a bowl of Cheerios.
“Pays to be sure.” Dean rubbed his knee as he sat down and poured the milk.
“You gonna babysit?” Bobby asked shortly, gesturing to the bank of phones with all their incriminating labels, the fridge full of gallon jugs of animal blood, one wall of the pantry festooned with a distinctly non-standard herbal array.
“Whatever.” Sam slouched back into his chair. “I’ll watch him.”
Dean left Sam settled at the kitchen table with his laptop. The garage was cold, so he dragged the door back to let in a little more light and air. Light filtered over the grille of the Impala and he winced. He’d been able to replace the headlights in Paterson, but the chrome was cracked in crazed frills. He punched the button to work the lift.
It wasn’t as bad as he’d anticipated and he had a moment of appreciation for heavy, implacable Detroit steel. The skid plate had done its job like a champ but a muffler clamp was still missing. Some of the body bolts looked ready to snap. He ran his hand along the drivetrain anxiously.
“Baby, I am so sorry.” Dean muttered under his breath. He started prospecting through the million and one boxes of random shit on the hunt for clamps and bolts.
Dean had developed a deep restless ache in his neck and his wrists when someone whistled close to his head. He jerked out from under the muffler so quickly that he bashed his ear on a stray corner of the back bumper. O’Conner recoiled a step from the spectacle of Dean wincing in pain and brandishing a socket wrench.
“Hey man.” O’Conner tried a half-assed smile in the face of Dean’s grease-daubed scowl. “I was just admiring the hardware, no need to get all territorial. Look, don’t touch, I get it.”
“Word of advice.” Dean kept himself from snarling, just barely. “Don’t ever sneak up on anyone around here.”
“OK, guy.” By the way O’Conner opened his eyes comically wide, Dean could tell he was being fucked with. O’Conner jangled his car keys theatrically. “I’ll wear a bell.”
“Shouldn’t you still be sleeping off your caffeine bender?” Dean started, but looking past O’Conner’s shoulder, the sky outside was almost full dark. His stomach rumbled. His baby had kept his attention for the better part of the day and he was starving, headachy and grateful.
O’Conner shrugged and stretched. “I feel so much better. Your brother’s making me pancakes.”
Dean coughed and was going to expound on the ‘wait, what?’ theme, but then O’Conner stroked one finger over his girl’s chrome.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ’67 four door.” O’Conner gazed up admiringly. “213 inches long and 80 inches wide, I bet you could live in this.”
“In a pinch.” Dean said dryly.
“What’ve you got under there?” O’Conner was making an expression that Dean assumed got a lot of panties to drop.
“It’s the 427.” Dean admitted.
“But it’s not the SS.” O’Conner was totally ignoring his own ‘look, don’t touch’ rule. “You put that in later.”
“Me and my old man, yeah.” Dean pressed his forehead into the cool expanse of steel for a moment.
“Two tons of fun at, uh, 385 hp?” O’Conner looked at him speculatively. “So you’re 0-60 in…9 seconds?”
“More like 8.3.” Dean wiped his hands carefully and escorted a reluctant O’Conner back out into the yard.
“I gotta say, I wouldn’t have expected a guy who showed up in that.” Dean gestured to the tiny Japanese confection on the drive. “To know much about this.” And pointed back at his lady.
“Yeah, well.” O’Conner said, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I have pretty eclectic tastes.”
O-kay. Dean resolved not to touch that remark with a ten-foot pole. O’Conner seemed to sense it because he turned to Dean with a disarming grin. “You like pie?”
“Sh-yeah?” Dean grimaced. “This a trick question?”
“Blueberry or peach?” O’Conner continued.
Dean jiggled his head. “They’re both good.”
“So American muscle.” O’Conner mimicked Dean’s head-jiggle. “Import engineering. They’re both good. So what happened to your baby in there?”
Well, a dead girl possessed her and drove her into a mini-mart in an almost-too-successful bid to kill me. Dean didn’t say. He cleared his throat. “Ah, I…hit a deer.”
“Right.” O’Conner said slowly. “One of those Midwestern deer. That look like walls.”
Dean paused for a second, contemplating several smart remarks. Or just saying ‘none of your fucking business’ and
leaving it at that.
“It’s okay, man.” O’Conner clapped him on the shoulder. “You don’t have to tell me. Embarrassing, maybe, you were just driving along, not paying attention, trying to get a clean, close shave…”
“Actually, I was...flossing.” Dean joined the riff.
“Doing your hair up right. Fixing your eyeliner.”
Dean shook his head. “Mascara.”
O’Conner practically bounced up the steps back into the kitchen. “Giving yourself a righteous manicure.”
“and then…” Dean sighed and sucked his teeth. “You just have to do a pedicure.”
“I know, right?” O’Conner sidled past Sam who was, goddamnit, making pancakes. “Otherwise, you just don’t look…pulled together.”
Bobby blinked at them, slow as a lizard.
“Man, I’ve got this buddy who’s a cop.” O’Conner raised one devilish eyebrow. “And he’s always telling me the funked up shit people get up to in their cars. Like this one time, he pulls up beside some retired guy who’s playing checkers with his buddy, right there on the bench seat and the guy’s like…’what’s the problem, officer, it’s not like it’s chess y’know, not something you’d actually have to concentrate on…”
Man, this guy can talk. Dean found himself unwillingly smiling, drawn into the animation of those sparkly blue eyes. They were all riveted.
“…And so, like, he pulls up beside this woman who is knitting, actually fucking…” O’Conner clenched his fists and mimed a garter stitch. “My buddy cannot even believe…this takes the cake, right? And so he’s like shouting, “Hey, pull over! And she’s like, no, mittens!”
Sam snorted and started choking on a mouthful of bacon. O’Conner slapped him on the back without breaking stride. “Careful, man. Breakfast for dinner is the best thing ever, I think. It reminds me of this one time…”
By the time they’d finished dinner, even Bobby had almost smiled. Sam had made another pot of coffee, continuing on the ‘breakfast in the PM’ theme and O’Conner managed to gulp down almost all of it. Looking at him, Dean didn’t have any trouble believing he’d make Virginia before dawn. O’Conner had the plates cleared and washed before Dean had a chance to stand fully upright.
“Hey, uh.” Sam quirked a chin at his laptop. “I think I may have found a solution to your problem.”
O’Conner raised his eyebrows. “My erectile-dysfunction problem? My Nigerian inheritance problem?”
Sam’s forehead smoothed and he did that little almost-laugh that made Dean’s heart literally swell.
“Your engine trouble.” Sam’s huge fingers danced over the tiny keys for a second. “There’s a guy down in Wakonda who thinks he has what you need.”
“Wakonda?” O’Conner repeated and Dean smothered a laugh. “There’s a guy in Wakonda, South Dakota who has a 440 Magnum just sitting around, like you do?”
“Uh, no, that’s not…” Sam frowned down at one of his email accounts and read aloud hesitantly. “He’s got a 426…Hemi? He says it’s like new.” Sam looked up uncertainly into their silent faces. “Uhm, it’s not cheap.”
O’Conner slid very gracefully to his knees on the buckling linoleum. His face was desperately, doggedly sincere. “Sam, I know this might seem kind of sudden and I’m not all…conversant with the law as it stands in South Dakota, but would you marry me?”
“I’ll certainly think about it.” Sam said dryly, patting Brian’s hand while Dean held his forehead and clenched his thighs, trying not to piss himself laughing.
“Hey, so.” Dean strolled to the car, which he’d finally decided was as attractively exotic as its owner. “You any good at bodywork?”
Brian’s broad grin was visible even in the faint yellow spill from the house and Dean could hear the leer in his voice. “What exactly did you have in mind, Dean?
“It’s not a line, you don’t need to bite.” Dean chuckled. “I just…I could use some help. Some professional-type help.”
“No argument there.” O’Conner said lightly, like it was a reflex.
“And you could too, right?” Dean jerked a thumb at the garage behind him. “We’ve got everything under the sun back up in here.” Dean paused for a second, considering how frighteningly true that was and then bulled onward. “You’re welcome to stay and maybe we can help each other.”
“And how does Mr. Singer feel about that?” In the space of a second, O’Conner was suddenly serious as a heart attack.
“Bobby’ll get used to the idea.” Dean didn’t know how he’d suddenly become the one with a wheedling tone in his voice. “You said you had some time pressure. Many hands make light work.”
“Tempting. Very tempting.” O’Conner was doing some complicated juggle-toss with his keys. “Is it the couch that’s still…y’know what, never mind. I could sack out in that Impala. I just…”
O’Conner turned to face the light, so Dean got the full effect of the fierce, manic gleam in his eyes. “I get kind of…intense…about things. I’m gonna be kind of a psycho until this is done.”
“Shit, man.” Dean shrugged. “The kind of company we keep, don’t think we’ll even notice.”
It was true though. The first thing Dean saw when he walked out to the garage the next morning was Brian O’Conner waist-deep in the engine cavity of the Charger which was now covering two thirds of the floor of the garage like one of those airplane hangars where the NTSB kept aviation wreckage. It looked like a person with OCD had decided to clean and catalogue the car which Dean thought was probably a little too close to the truth.
“Starting early this morning.” Dean passed over a mug of coffee, which O’Conner sucked down gratefully.
“Technically, I’m working late.” Brian held up a PCV valve and blew on it lovingly.
“Don’t do this, man.” Dean groaned. “I should never have helped you tow this thing in here.”
“Too late now.” Brian rubbed his filthy hands together “Speaking of which, do you think it’s too early to load up the truck and go down to…”
“If I say yes, will you promise to nap in the truck and not yammer on like a four-year-old?” Dean asked sternly.
O’Conner squinted and said hesitantly, “….yes?”
“Okay, then.” Dean jogged back for the keys.
It was amazing to watch a person talk themselves out of money. Dean could tell that the poker-faced man with the gorgeous engine didn’t really want to part with it. But after an hour-long chat with the human equivalent of a golden retriever puppy, he meekly threw out a figure that O’Conner just happened to have in his fucking pocket. O’Conner’s rambunctious enthusiasm was like a physical force that just bowled the quiet man over. O’Conner asked the seller all the right questions, eliciting the guy’s life story, his short glory days as a hot-rodder back in the ‘70s.
The guy watched them leave like someone watching their child being taken by Social Services with the horrible sinking sensation that they were actually going to a better place. Brian had promised him photos. Dean hoped it would be enough.
O’Conner had napped fretfully for the hour’s ride out, but on the ride back, he was tense and kept talking to himself.
It would have freaked Dean out but the snatches he caught of Brian’s ramblings were just equations for torque. So that was only a little bit weird.
“Hey.” Brian asked as they were rigging the chain to unload. “When do you want to start beating some panels, man?”
“Oh, I dunno.” Dean looked at the Impala and squinted up at the sun, which was glimmering faintly out of a fish-belly sky. “How about tomorrow? If we hustled, we could get this baby hooked up tod-…”
He was arrested by Brian’s grin and his gentle, “Not quite yet.”
“Not quite yet?” Dean almost yodeled. “What do you mean?”
“I got a few mods in mind.” Brian said casually.
“You just got a 426 Hemi…” Dean tried to modulate his voice which seemed to want to scale up all on its own. “Maybe the most iconic engine ever made, ever. And you still want to tune it?”
Brian paid no attention. He paced in a tight circle, like he was gearing up for a bare-knuckle fight with the hovering, gleaming engine. “We’re gonna ream that ridge off.”
Dean just watched him, mesmerized.
“I want the largest bore I can handle.” Brian cupped his hands in parentheses in front of his mouth. “Max bore, motherfucker. I want the longest stroke I can manage without sucking off any torque.” Brian banged his cupped fist in a tight arc a few times, either signifying the length of his desired rods or a desire to masturbate. “And I want some tight-ass forged pistons, baby. Tight.” He clenched his fists together to show Dean how tight he meant.
Sam sidled into the garage with three bottles threaded in between his fingers. “You guys still talking about cars?”
Dean cleared his throat. “Uh…well, I am. I think Brian may be talking about something else though.”
“Is that for me?” Brian grinned sweetly at Sam and fluttered his eyelashes as he took a beer.
Brian had made a list.
“Come check out my list.” He beckoned Dean over to where Brian was slouched practically in Sammy’s lap as Sam surfed the ‘net for him like the obliging little bitch he was.
Dean took the list and scanned it. A few random words jumped out at him like ‘dry cell battery’, ‘run flat tires’ and ‘Brodie knob’.
“Uh, Brian.” Dean held the list up at eye-level. “Are you building a car or are you building a tank?”
“Dean, do I ask you questions like that?” Brian pouted at him over Sam’s ginormous, flannelated shoulder. “I mean, do I ask you why you need double skid-plates on your Impala or why it still weighs about 300 pounds more than it should?
Or what Bobby’s got in the basement or why there is a huge pit of disturbed earth in the northwest corner of the…”
“OK, so you’re building a car with some tank-like properties.” Dean shot back, recognizing defeat. “You want it to be bulletproof?”
Brian pursed his lips craftily. “You can do that?”
“I can call a guy.” Dean sighed.
Brian blew a kiss at Dean before hugging Sam in a totally manly way. “You guys are the best.”
“We try.” Sam let himself be hugged. “Could you do me one favor and go take a shower?”
“For you, baby, anything.” Brian had shed his shoes and his shirt before he even got to the hallway.
“How is it that he doesn’t sleep?” Bobby called from his study. “…And I’m the one who’s exhausted?”
After a handful of days, they all had their morning rituals in place like overlapping circlets of gears, intersecting but only just. Bobby was almost always awake first, the virtue of an aging bladder and prostate gland. He put the coffee on and went to scan his RSS feeds for freakish events while the sky lightened.
Sam liked to read an actual newspaper before he got online in the morning. Dean almost always found him hunched over a crossword, crunching away at a bowl of cereal, filling in clues at a steady, measured pace. The one in the Argus Leader usually only took him fifteen minutes, but that was fifteen minutes that Sammy was thinking about nothing in particular so it was sacrosanct. Dean never spoke to him until he put the pen down.
Dean liked to stretch in the shower, gargle and clean a gun. He would pick up whichever one needed some TLC the night before so he didn’t have to go looking in the morning. It was very satisfying. The hiss and click of a well-oiled cylinder, the tight snap of a magazine jammed into place…he’d wipe the oil off his hands and go pour himself some coffee, but he didn’t really need it.
Brian O’Conner apparently liked to make phone calls. Or whether he liked to or not, that seemed to be how he woke up in the morning. Dean would come out onto the stoop and watch him walk back and forth in circles in the yard, talking in low, urgent tones, blank-faced, all of his usual animation gone.
Brian used up all the emotions that he never showed Bobby, Dean or Sam on those phone calls. Dean had figured out that the ones where Brian looked particularly miserable: he was talking to a woman. He’d soften his voice, leave long pauses in between his responses and he’d stare at the phone after he was done, just looking wrecked. Then he’d usually wander off into the depths of the yard, maybe coming back with some interesting salvage item that Bobby could sell on E-bay.
Then there were the intensely heated conversations that Brian conducted in Spanish. Dean’s Spanish wasn’t perfect, but
he could tell that Brian’s facility wasn’t exactly textbook either and the people he spoke to gave him a headache.
Dean had walked up to hear Brian snap, "Eres un pinche güey!" before clicking the phone off angrily.
“Whoa.” Dean proffered a cup delicately. “That didn’t sound very nice.”
“Yeah, well.” Brian breathed deeply through his nose and admitted. “He is a fucking idiot, though…que se vaya a la chingada. Never mind.” Brian grinned tiredly and toasted Dean with his mug of java.
But the oddest were the conversations that made Brian stand up very straight and give one- and two- word answers. More disturbing yet, that word was usually ‘sir’. Brian didn’t move around a lot when he made those calls, but Dean could watch the flush move across his face and down his neck. Dean had happened to walk up on the end of one where Brian had just utterly and completely lost his shit.
“No sir. I shall not.” “You are welcome to put that in your report.” “No, I don’t.” “No.”
The lack of a ‘sir’ was very obvious, even to Dean.
“That would probably bother me, if I gave a shit.” Brian said this very calmly, even though he looked sunburned. “Well, then I would like to invite the OPR to go fuck themselves.” Then very sweetly. “You too, if you are so inclined.”
Brian clicked the phone off and his grin at Dean was the very knife’s edge of wry.
“Sounds like that bridge is burnt, baby.” Dean tried to make his voice kind.
“Oh yeah.” Brian played it off for a second and then kind of hunched over like he was going to puke. “I’ll never work in that town again.”
“Doubt that’s permanent.” Dean continued. “You seem like a damn useful guy to have around.”
“I’m glad you think so.” Brian was breathing deeply and looking around him like he was waking up for the first time.
“What’s the OPR?” Dean asked without thinking.
Brian opened his mouth and looked like he was about to say something truly snarky, but then he seemed to re-group and just said shortly, “The minions of Satan.”
“Huh.” Dean coughed and cleared his throat.
“Can’t let those fuckers win.” Brian said grimly as he strode into the garage.
“You said it.” Dean agreed.
It was like magic. Sorcery. How the most boring and repetitive task on the planet…thumping lumps and dents out of molded pieces of sheet metal, sanding and grinding them to a silky-smooth finish could be made fun. Pleasurable. Something to look forward to and not dread.
Dean stroked his hand appreciatively over the suede feel of the Impala’s driver side door. He couldn’t even feel the faintest edges of the filler. Brian had sanded it to within an inch of its life and all that remained was to paint it.
He turned around, trying to figure out how to say something like ‘thanks, you bozo’ without actually saying those words.
Brian had solved the problem of the Charger’s rusty hood by cutting an enormous hole in it while Sam watched. Watching Sam watching Brian work in a shower of sparks made Dean feel weird, but less weird than he had in a good long while.
Sam saw him and grinned. “He’s been at it for an hour at least.”
“What are you gonna do there? Hood scoop?” Dean called when Brian turned the torch off and raked back his safety hood.
“You’ll see.” Brian’s hair was soaked with sweat. “Air intake is important to me.”
“He’s also ordered a nitrous oxide system.” Sam muttered at Dean.
“You have gone off the deep end, man.” Dean shouted back at Brian. “Nitrous? Who taught you physics? You’ve been cutting out weight like an Olympic wrestler.” Dean gestured around to the myriad items that Brian had not put back in the car, mostly concerned with safety and/or comfort. “All the power in the world isn’t going to help you if you can’t keep the tires stuck on the pavement.”
“Dean…you really think I’m working on all this air flow just to make my hair look GQ?” Brian stripped off his thick leather gloves and vaulted over the side of the primer-ed Impala. “Torque is my middle name, baby. Sam, tell him about my headers.”
“Uh.” Sam looked at Dean blankly. “He has headers.”
“I most certainly do.” Brian was unbuttoning his coverall as he walked toward them and he bobbed his shoulders in the rhythm of his walk. “I have large valves. I have a short camshaft.”
He stripped the thick canvas down to his waist, showing off his stained wife-beater. “My suspension…” Brian flexed subtly, hooking his thumbs in his waistband and Dean bit his lip to keep from grinning. “…is pretty tight.”
“Do you plan to drive that thing or fuck it?” Dean asked flatly.
“Jealous, much?” Brian bit his lower lip and Sam exploded in laughter. Big shouty guffaws of laughter and in a second
Dean was howling too and Brian was attempting a Playgirl-style pose on the back of the Impala and Bobby was jerking back the door, his eyes dark and frightened and somehow that was hilarious too, watching Bobby’s anxiety morph into annoyance, because there was nothing to be afraid of, nothing.
“Idjits.” Bobby shook his head and Dean laughed so hard, he choked a little.
Leaving the paint shop, Dean gave Brian a pre-emptive punch on the shoulder.
“Ow!” Brian winced theatrically, before popping Dean right over his nipple. “Man, I didn’t even say anything.”
“We will never speak of this.” Dean tried to maintain his dignity and not lay any rubber getting them out of the lot. “What happens in the paint shop, stays in the paint shop.”
“Oh, jeez.” Brian was doing his best to look innocent. He was doing a shit job. “C’mon, we got a great deal. An a-maz-ing deal.” He continued a half-tone lower. “She was so into you.”
“What did I just say?” Dean irritably passed a Ford-150. “’Sides, it wasn’t my ass she was checking out.”
“Uh,” Brian put on an I-beg-to-differ-face. “I seem to remember that it was.”
“So she checked us both out!” Dean barked. “She’s seventeen, she doesn’t know what she wants.”
“You might be surprised.” Brian said mildly. “I get it. It makes me feel old too.”
Dean blew all his breath out. “Like, a thousand years old.”
“Dear Diary,” Brian wrote an imaginary script on the dashboard. “Today I met my soul mate. I hope our children have his dreamy, sea-green eyes and full, pouty…”
“Does anyone know you’re out here?” Dean asked conversationally. “If I buried you back at the lot, who’s gonna come looking, really?”
Brian laughed maniacally. Dean turned up the music to cover it.
“I think Bobby can take care of the pick-up.” Dean said."We show up again, she might get a terminal case of the giggles."
“We should bring Sam.” Brian flicked his fingers out like fireworks exploding. “That’d really blow her mind.”
“You cannot be serious.” Dean felt like he had said this at least 50 times over the course of the day.
Brian was in his final stage of assembly and he seemed to move in a whirl of blue-white heat, like the oxy-acetylene torch that he was so fond of. He didn’t even speak, just gestured to Sam who was yanking the pulley that kept the assembled blower kit hovering over the gleaming engine.
“Just guide it over the bolts, please.” Sam encouraged him. Dean glared at his brother, the nascent gear-head. Sam seemed to have found a measure of Zen as Brian’s occasional fetch-and-carry guy. Dean sighed and bowed to the inevitable. When the assembly was settled and the gaping mouths bolted firmly in place, they all stood back for a second in silence.
“Man. I’m…my mind is blown. To think that just over a week ago, this beast was junk.” Dean walked to the front to get the full effect. The grille’s snaggle-toothed smirk had been transformed into an arrogant chrome smile. The body gleamed like dark, still water. The car still looked mean, but now it was packing serious heat.
“The phoenix.” Sam said quietly. “Rises from the ashes.”
“And all you had to do was spend $40,000 and work on it 18 hours a day.” Dean teased Brian over his shoulder.
After no smart remark was forthcoming, Dean turned to look at Brian who had the strangest expression on his face. Dean had expected manic glee or even quiet satisfaction. Brian was wearing the faintest trace of a grin; his head quirked to the side, like he was listening to music almost too faint to hear.
“Hey.” Dean tossed a chamois cloth and Brian caught it reflexively. “Was it worth it?”
Brian focused on Dean’s face blankly for a second and then his eyes drifted back to his creation. “I don’t know yet.”
“So should we….go for a ride?” Dean pretended to stroke the hood, gliding just a bare inch from the new paint job.
Brian did smile then, big, wide, genuine. “Tomorrow. After we pick up the coldest plugs made in North America.”
Dean became conscious while teetering on the edge of a rocky palisade and his heart felt like it was going to explode until he realized that he was dreaming. He peered out at the dream-ocean and listened to the dream-seagulls, but when he took a deep breath he couldn’t smell any rotting seaweed or ocean brine so that was a pretty firm indicator that it was just a dream. Plus Castiel was standing next to him, gazing up at the bright sun and not squinting. Dean sighed. It had been an effort to teach Castiel to blink, teaching him to squint was…well, Dean didn’t have to worry about it. This wasn’t really Castiel, just some projection from his subconscious.
“Hey.” Dean made sure his balance was functional and nodded at dream-Castiel, who naturally did not return the greeting. “You got anything you wanna tell me?”
“You require a haircut.” Castiel intoned this like most of his pronouncements.
Dean snorted and turned away. “Thanks. I’ll get right on that.”
Dean firmed up his footing and followed Castiel’s eyes down to the beach. Sam was sitting on Bobby’s couch right at the edge of the surf. It looked like Sam was watching the horizon as if it were television.
“He remains intact.” Castiel’s tie was blowing almost sideways but Dean didn’t feel a hint of chill.
“Yeah, no thanks to you.” Dean scrubbed a hand over his face. “You’re what, surprised?
“You are resurrecting an automobile.” Cas’ stream of consciousness was just like other people’s, only far more cosmically annoying.
“Go away.” Dean muttered. “Send the Doublemint twins.”
“I don’t understand that reference.” Castiel started walking down a path that tracked the edge of the palisade. Dean ambled along after him, wondering why he never had decent sex dreams anymore.
“Your friend is very old-fashioned.” Castiel nodded down at the beach. Dean glanced down and was surprised to see
Brian O’Conner sitting next to Sam on the ratty couch. Dean squinted. They had a bowl of popcorn and they were just…watching the surf.
“Old-fashioned?” Dean snorted again. “That guy is one long, non-stop dick joke, Cas. He is the opposite of old-fashioned.”
Castiel bobbed his head in acknowledgement. “Nevertheless. Modern humans are...suffused with ambivalence. You reek of it.”
“Hey!” Dean tried to think of a snappy comeback and failed miserably.
“But he…” Castiel inclined his head toward Brian. “The last man I knew whose mind was that clear was an anchorite monk in France who died in 1041 AD. And he ate nothing but crickets.”
“Dude, gross!” Dean shuddered. “Please no more stupid human tricks. Besides, there’s a difference between mental clarity and obsession.
“Your brother finds it very peaceful.” Castiel looked up at the sun again, unblinking. “Being around someone so un-assailed by doubt.”
“That’s just great.” Dean returned flatly. “Glad the universe could cough up a car-crazy Californian yahoo to heal my brother’s psychic wounds, that’s totally…”
Castiel furrowed his brow. “The car is…just a vessel. It is not his focus.”
“Could have fooled me.” Dean paused for a moment. That there was something (someone?) that Brian was more obsessed with than the Charger was kind of thrilling and disturbing all at once. That’s how the pyramids got built, I guess.
“Yes.” Castiel responded to his unspoken thought.
“I wish...” Dean did not complete the thought aloud, tried not to even think the rest of it because it was betrayal, pure and simple.
Dream-Castiel just looked at him wryly. “You don’t need another brother, Dean.”
“Ah jeez.” It was stupid to blush in your own fucking dream. “I just…sometimes it feels like I know him.”
“You don’t.” Castiel said.
Dean watched Sammy and Brian as they ate the popcorn and the waves rolled in.
The coldest plugs sold in North America had finally arrived at the Sioux Falls Autozone. Brian thumped his thumbs on the package while Dean yodeled along with Def Leppard as they tore along route 81. Brian’s phone rang and Dean considerately turned the volume down a notch or five.
Brian’s face had gone instantly blank as soon as he saw the number, so Dean kept his attention firmly fixed on the road.
“Is everything….” The person on the other end of the line had obviously failed ‘small talk and greetings’ because Brian sat back and didn’t speak for almost 90 seconds.
“OK….no, that works. That’s the thing about losing the paperwork.” Brian sighed. “Someone always finds it. But it’s fine. Should be fine.”
Brian listened, his eyes gone frighteningly empty. “Don’t worry about that, just take the usual precautions. I’ll be ready. Call Tego. Yes. Yes. You too.”
Brian clicked the phone off without lowering it from his ear. The reflection of the gray-white sky in his light blue eyes made Dean think of his puzzling dream.
“So.” Dean started.
Brian O’Conner was very, very good at keeping his feelings in check. If Dean hadn’t had many years of painful experience, he wouldn’t have noticed the slight tension, the tightening of Brian’s guard as he waited for a question.
“You were telling me about this camshaft hoodoo?”
Brian subtly relaxed again. “The solid flat tappet? Well, first…you should know up front that it’s a huge pain in the ass to break in.”
“Astonishing.” Dean said dryly.
“But you know…” Brian rocked his head back and forth. “Worth it. Since it’s not hydraulic, it doesn’t expand or contract at big extremes of temperature and that pays off in power from a cold start. But it’s not the greatest at maintaining valve lash for hemi head configurations, so that’s why I held off. But it’s your baby, your call.”
“Hmm.” Dean chuckled. “You know, I used to think I knew a lot about cars.”
Brian shook his head. “I am a gifted amateur. Not nearly a pro.”
Brian turned to grin at Dean. “But I’ll say this: you know a lot about Impalas, for damn sure. You know this car like you grew up in it.”
“Ah, man, you have no idea.” Dean sighed. Brian’s phone rang again and this time he grinned at the number display.
“Hey sexy.” Brian lolled with his knees poking the dash. “Yeah, we are victorious.”
Dean slouched back and smirked at Brian’s grin.
“Oh yeah. Sure. You don’t have anything else to…well, you know I like to show off for you…soooo.” Brian traced his fingers along the seams of his jeans.
“I dunno, maybe…twenty minutes?” Brian flicked the side of his cheek, making a hollow click. “Oooooh, my favorite.”
Dean snickered to himself. The way Brian said that sounded completely porno.
“Well, you just keep it warm for me. Adios.” Brian clicked the phone off and waggled his eyebrows at Dean.
“Something I should know?” Dean did not leer.
“Sam’s making spaghetti for lunch.” Brian said nonchalantly.
Dean pulled his foot off the accelerator and let it hover over the brake. Brian looked at him askance as the Impala started to slow, so Dean grimaced and tried to play it cool.
“My brother is not going to have sex with you.” Dean burst out. OK, well obviously, there was playing it cool and playing it cool.
Dean thought for a second that Brian would laugh himself into a brain aneurysm. By the time they turned off onto Bobby’s rural route, Brian was huddled almost in the footwell and his howls had faded to the occasional giggle. Dean had quickly cycled through anger, outrage, mortification, shame and jealousy and now he was starting to have problems keeping his own face straight. Brian looked up at him, flushed and feverish with laughter.
“Not even a handjob.” Dean said sternly. Brian clutched his ribs and begged. “No more man, please, no more.”
After Brian could control himself enough to breathe without hiccupping, he laid a hand on the Impala’s broad bench seat like it was Holy Writ and said. “I swear, I have no designs on his virtue, none.”
“Then why do you flirt with him like you’re Scarlett O’Fucking-Hara?” Dean asked in a reasonably injured tone. Brian sat back properly and when he spoke he was unexpectedly serious.
“It makes him smile.” Brian lolled back deep into the seat back. “And…I know this isn’t news to you, but if there’s one person who needs a lift around here, it’s your bro.”
Dean dug his elbow a little deeper into the door panel and shifted uncomfortably.
Brian continued. “I was feeling pretty sorry for myself when I came out here. Making your brother laugh it’s…” Brian gestured at the blur outside. “Therapeutic.”
“Okay.” Dean felt his left eye twitch and cleared his throat elaborately. “I’m just starting to feel like chopped liver over here, but whatever.”
Brian’s grin lit up the gray day. “Dean, I make it a point not to mess with guys who are already spoken for.”
Brian stroked the dash and crooned into the Impala’s side air vent. “Ain’t that right, honey?”
“Psycho.” Dean chuckled and tried to stop grinning.
After lunch, they drove out to highway 25. Bobby had some construction cones and signs in the back of the truck and it took less than an hour to close the desolate road.
Bobby firmly opted out of any test drives, declaring that there were far worthier ways to get yourself killed, but he’d brought a cooler full of decent beer, so Dean doubted that he truly disapproved.
Brian had sussed out the longest, straightest section and he stared down the road, his hands gripped at ten and two with both his thumbs sticking straight up, like the steering wheel was a gun sight. Sam buckled himself in shotgun side without the faintest trace of apprehension.
“Y’know, he weighs a ton.” Dean lapped his hands over the passenger side door and cocked his head toward Sam. “But he’s not gonna be nearly heavy enough, you know that right?”
Brian just grinned while Sam chimed in, “Heavy enough for what?”
“You’ll see.” Dean resisted the urge to check if Sam’s harness really was cinched tight and stood back.
“Cold start.” Brian held up one finger. “Take one.”
When he put his foot down, it was like the air exploded. The constant burring hum of the motor rocketed to a squealing crescendo in less than a second. Even though he’d been expecting it, Dean still felt a thrill of astonishment when the enormous long hood of the Charger, packed with 843 pounds of engine popped up off the ground like a matchbox car. He imagined he heard Sam’s surprised yelp as the gravity took over, torque peaked and the Charger slammed down and darted forward, receding to a black and silver blur in the time it took to blink.
The exhaust flared and the blur became a surging, screaming shadow racing over the earth. Dean was crowing aloud at this point and Bobby pulled off his cap to wipe his forehead. When the Charger finally hove back into view, Sam was laughing like a loon at something Brian was saying and for a moment Dean felt like he could defy gravity.
“Think you borked the chassis?” Dean couldn’t help it; he thumped the hood with his fist. “Fucking torque maniac?”
“Whoa.” Sam’s eyebrows were little peaks of thrilled amazement. “You knew that was going to happen? That was crazy!”
“I know.” Brian slid out of the window, Dukes of Hazzard style, for a second Dean thought he was going to jump on the hood. “Ain’t it cool?”
Dean slid into the driver’s seat because he was totally getting a piece of this action. The engine was still muttering ominously and the gas gauge was bobbing like a crazed mayfly.
“You really think this is a good use of your time?” Bobby handed Brian a beer.
“Yeah, I do.” Brian was breathing hard and he was practically throwing off sparks. “Some mistakes are too much fun to make just once.”
Dean woke up with his face uncomfortably cold and wet. He pulled himself out of a puddle of drool and groaned. When he arched his back, the ache in his head seemed to swoop down his spine. He sat upright cautiously. All body parts intact. He rubbed his eyes and yawned until his jaw cracked.
Miller time had turned into Jack time which had morphed into Cuervo time, but it was bearable. The pain of a hangover paled in comparison to some of Dean’s most memorable early mornings, so he burped up a noxious beery breath and tumbled downstairs.
Bobby was at the computer, sipping coffee. Brian sprawled across from Sam who was glancing at his crossword desultorily. Brian looked ridiculously chipper, but then Dean remembered that Brian had been pretty high on life before they’d started pouring out the shots. He was leaving today.
Brian rolled back his head to look at Dean upside down and hummed the first few bars of ‘Iron Man’. Dean swatted the back of Brian’s head on the way to the coffee pot. He sat down at the table and noticed that Sam had only filled in five clues. Dean could hear prairie birds chirping over the refrigerator’s hum. He breathed in one moment of peace.
Brian tapped Dean’s forearm with his spoon. “One last favor and you can’t ask me to explain.”
Let’s hear it first Dean wanted to demand, but he just nodded.
“Don’t sell that Nissan whole.” Brian was grinning but it was a thin veneer. His eyes were serious and chilly. “Chop it down double quick.”
A small part of Dean wanted to protest the waste but his instincts chimed with Brian’s caution. He wasn’t sure who was owed the favor, but he didn’t care. Sam was staring at Brian but Brian didn’t seem to be bothered by his steady gaze.
“You know, I hate to be…” Sam leaned forward over the tiny Formica table. “I just have one question, before you go.”
Dean swallowed his coffee wrong and almost choked. Sam just looked so intense and Dean had no idea what was about to come out of his mouth.
“I never introduced myself to you. I never told you my name.” Sam said quietly. “And I thought that maybe Dean did, but then…” Sam quirked his chin at Dean. Uncertainty hit Dean like vertigo, he’d never told Brian his name either. “And I never said we were brothers.”
Bobby had stopped the steady click, click, click of his mouse. Dean took a deep breath.
Brian was slouched in his tiny chair. One side of his mouth quirked up and he rolled his head to one side like it was heavy. He looked at the wall and flicked his eyes back to Sam. Dean glanced at the wall, following Brian’s gaze. His heart started to beat faster as he actually looked at what he was seeing. A bank of phones, each one labeled a different federal agency.
“You know, my last job.” Brian sat up a little straighter. “We had this screensaver. Some corporations animate their logos for a screensaver, ours was a little different.”
Brian stroked his fingers over his chin and the rasp of stubble was loud in the silence. “I’d seen your face about a hundred times before I met you. And…”
Brian dug into his back pocket and pulled out a sleek black wallet. He palmed it onto the table, like it was his discard from a poker hand. “…five months ago, shit, three months ago, it might have been a real feather in my cap to pull in Dean and Sam Winchester. Because when some of us say we’re from the FBI, we really mean it.”
He flipped the wallet open. Dean picked it up with tingling fingers. The guy in the photo looked like Brian’s older, meaner brother.
“Good one.” Dean said. “Very believable.”
Brian chuckled. “But see, you’re catching me in a kind of…transitional period? My priorities have changed pretty radically. So, uh, I’ll just mosey off into the sunset now and you can go about your business.”
“Are we gonna see you again?” Dean asked, not letting any apprehension show on his face. He hoped Brian would pick up on the subtext.
“I dunno.” Brian winked. “Are you that lucky?”
“Mopar.” Brian said to Sam and leaned over to press a kiss on top of Sam’s ridiculous hair.
“What?” Sam asked softly.
“A Chrysler product, five letters, last letter R.” Brian tapped the newspaper. “Mopar. Stay cool, Sammy.”
“Avoid Colorado if it’s at all possible.” Brian thumped the back of Dean’s chair. “They really got a hard-on for you there. Vaya con Dios.” He squeezed Dean’s shoulder for one long, warm instant and then the back door banged shut.
After a second, Dean got up to follow him, because like Bobby said, family wasn’t always about blood.
“Hey!” Dean yelled.
Brian poked his head out of the car and waited expectantly.
“What are you gonna do with that car, rob a bank? Kill the president?” He wanted his last memory of Brian to be Brian, smiling.
Brian obliged; he smiled as sweetly as heaven and called back. “Nah, man. It’s a gift.”