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Valentine, Arizona, Night

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Interstates were all right in their own way. Nothing better if you had places to be. But Dean couldn’t help hating them. He particularly hated the fucking 40, only slightly less than he despised the 10. Roads like this were all destination, no journey, they made you think about where you were going, not the getting there. These last long stretches before California just seemed to get hotter, dustier and more boring. Not to say that Cali was that much better, but it was like some kind of psychological barrier out of the way, when you had to stop at the border stations and be relieved of all your vegetables. California was where Sam was.

At Gallup, highway 666 dead-ended into the 40. Dean curled his lip at the sign, just a little affronted that it was allowed to exist. Cynically, he wondered if it were someone’s sick little joke, a devil’s highway shooting straight up into Mormon country.

He sighed at himself, bored. This wasn’t something that was meant to be done alone. His ass hurt, sweat was beginning to crust on his upper lip and form stalactites between his t-shirt and the Impala’s upholstery and still the highway went on and on and on and on….

When he saw the turnoff to old route 66 he didn’t hesitate for a second before pointing the Impala toward the exit. He could vaguely recall it from the map. It was just a detour up toward the Grand Canyon, it fed back into the I40 after a good number of miles. But it might be more interesting than the stupid, sterile Interstate for a while and it might tease him out of his own head a little.

He was just settling into the rhythm of the highway when a silver car vroooomed past him, making the Impala twitch like a fish on a line. He grinned to himself, those guys. They should have passed him hours ago. It was almost sunset; they should’ve been long gone.

He gunned it. The Impala roared like a lion. He could still see the faint glow of taillights and a slight blaze that might’ve been neon. It was headed not quite straight into the line of sunset. He almost lost them in the haze of dusk. Then the lights reappeared, maybe they’d seen him and were hanging back a bit.

They were. The silver car seemed to hover, they were pulled down to a sedate 70 mph when he roared up on their tail. He swerved over to the left hand lane and feathered the gas so his girl could pull up alongside. He overshot a little…his 3500 pounds weren’t going to give up their momentum so easily.

Dom was driving, his left arm snaked down to the wheel and he smirked over his shoulder at Dean while giving his accelerator a little tap that sent the Z hurtling ahead for a few seconds. The implication was obvious. Dean downshifted momentarily, jacked up to redline and it was on.

This old highway wasn’t quite up to interstate standards and since it didn’t really go anywhere, it was pocked with a few ruts that made what they were doing incredibly stupid. Dean’s fingers tingled, savoring the sensation. Within seconds he’d pushed his lady up a little past her comfort zone, still neck and neck with the Z. Her pistons started to bellow with the strain.

Dom fell back hard suddenly and Dean flicked his eyes front just as they roared past a sleepily swaying station wagon tootling along in the right lane. Dean had less than a second to register the blank faces goggling at him before the Impala and Z were down a slight incline and out of sight. Dom pulled up parallel again, inexorably. They flashed past a sign: Valentine 15, Chloride 40.

They raced up onto a straight, flat stretch and Brian leaned over Dom’s shoulder and wiggled his fingers at Dean the way a toddler might wave. Brian mouthed clearly ‘bye-bye’ and Dom’s arm tightened and they were just….gone. The exhaust pipes flared like twin rockets in the twilight.

Dean grinned to himself. Assholes.

He stroked his girl’s dash, “S’alright, baby, we were just playing.”

Her answering rumble told him plainly that she needed a time out to cool down a little and maybe an oil top-up. Like, pronto, cowboy.

Valentine was, as he suspected, kind of rough trade. There wasn’t much around here but a lot of hard living. But Chloride was obviously less a town than a strip-mine, so Valentine would have to do. It actually looked like it had been a nice place at one time, picking up on Grand Canyon traffic, it had a few dilapidated motels that had probably been hot shit back in the fifties. Two of them looked abandoned, but one neon sign glowed hopefully.

Dean idled through the speed zone until his eye caught on his goal: a roadhouse separated from a gas station by a wide lot checkered with cars.

He hissed to a halt on the gravel leading into the lot. He couldn’t see the silver Z car anywhere in the stacked rows of 18 wheelers and all of Ford’s variations on the F150. In fact the only foreign car on the lot was a Toyota Tacoma, looking beat-up but indestructible. He looked up at the hand-painted sign. Howie’s.

He’d never been to this place before, but even parked outside he could almost taste the cigarette ash and stale beer. Full of hardass guys doing lonely, crappy jobs and coming for some liquid therapy and impromptu anger management for a few hours on a Friday. Home sweet home, really.

He locked his girl up tight before trudging through the lot and jerking open the door onto different flavors of heat and noise. The place was busier than he expected. They served food and the vibe was neutral. He didn’t feel like he was stepping into the civilian equivalent of a prison yard. But the male to female ratio was hovering at about 11 to one, which spoke to it being a little less than civilized on occasion. He worked his way through the crowd carefully; it was too early for drama.

He was angling for a space and some bartenderly attention when a low voice cut through the din. “Hey, Bri, look what the cat dragged in.”

One of the figures at the bar straightened and resolved itself into Brian’s flash of teeth and bright eyes. Dom’s broad back cut a generous space for them at the bar.

“Jeez, where’ve you been, man?” Brian whacked him on the shoulder. “Here, take my shot.” Brian nudged a glass into his hand, and Dom companionably clinked the bottom of his beer bottle against it.

“Here’s to the road,” Brian started.

“And getting off it,” Dom curled his lip dangerously.

“Or just getting off,” Brian countered, all teeth.

They looked identical for a split second, faces split in the same ripshit grin.

“I’ll drink to that,” Dean muttered with feeling.

Two thoughts struck Dean simultaneously as tequila gushed, sizzling, down his throat, we are going to have fun tonight and or we’re all going to jail.

*****

“Didn’t expect you’d turned in,” Dean asked over the vague hubbub of clinking bottles and country music. “Where’d you park?”

Dom hitched a thumb while Brian said, “Round back. Keeping a low profile.”

Dean smirked a little at that; he didn’t imagine that keeping a low profile was their strong suit. They were already gleaning the occasional sidelong glance. Dean felt his heart beating faster; it was like an electric current was sliding over his skin, making his hair stand on end.

“Let me get this, man,” Dean edged Brian strategically away from the counter when the bartender looked at them expectantly. Dom waved them both in the directions of the tables which were flimsy, sticky and set too close together, but were at least somewhat quieter than the crowded hub of the bar. They got themselves settled slowly at a table half in the corner.

“So I’m glad you’re here, man.” Brian shook his head exaggeratedly and continued. “Dom, God love him, the last time we went to a bar after a race, we’re there for, like, three hours in, like, total silence, and finally I say, ‘Good race,’ and he’s all, ‘You here to talk or you here to drink?’”

“Yeah, that didn’t happen,” Dom said, sitting down heavily, laden with little golden glasses. “You’re down one shot, right?”

“Aw man, you know I can’t count,” Brian grinned angelically.

Dom shook his head and gave a long-suffering sigh, doling out another shot for everyone. “You can hold off….I only got these now, ‘cause the table service is having a permanent smoke break.”

“And here I thought you were trying to get me drunk and take advantage of me,” Dean grinned almost as angelically as Brian.

Dom took a long pull of his beer, maintaining eye contact. “Night’s still young, right?”

“And you still win, man.” Dean shook his head, while Brian hooted at the look on Dean’s face.

“I like to win,” Dom said mildly.

“Understatement,” Brian caught Dean’s eye and shook his head at Dom affectionately.

“You know, if you’d stuck with the road another hour or two, you could be pounding these drinks in Vegas.” Dean curled a fingernail under the label of his beer.

“Vegas…” Brian said, like he was trying to place a name he hadn’t heard since middle school. He raised his eyebrows and looked blank. Dom snorted and rolled his eyes at Dean.

“Las Vegas?” Dean said, on the edge of incredulous. “Uhm, Bugsy Siegel? Casinos? Neon, mafia, showgirls, high rollers, $9.99 all-you-can-eat surf n’ turf? Cirque de-fucking-Soleil? Showgirls? None of this ringing a bell?” He was almost tempted to snap his fingers in front of Brian’s face.

Brian just looked at him with eyes so blank, they actually looked like they’d turned a lighter shade of blue. Brian turned toward Dom, “D, that place sounds fun, we should totally go.”

“Later,” Dom said, managing to sound both sarcastic and amused. “Why don’t you go get us another round, sweetie? Since that’s about all you’re good for?”

Dean thought Brian would get mad, Brian’s eyes sharpened up like twin blowtorches and he leaned in towards Dom, showing all his teeth, and not in a smile. But all he said was, “So how do I do that, again?”

Dom took another sip of his beer, pursing his lips around it like he was trying not to laugh. “You ask them for beers.” Dom held up three fingers. “Then you give them the money.” He passed Brian a folded twenty in two fingers. “Remember, beers first, then money.”

“Beers, then money,” Brian repeated half under his breath. “Gotcha.” Dom watched him leave looking slightly pained, but on the verge of laughter.

Bemused, Dean hitched a thumb at Brian’s retreating back. “Sudden head injury?”

“Christ, don’t give me ideas,” Dom groaned. He shook his head and it bobbed like it was too heavy. “My own fault, so I shouldn’t bitch.”

“What’d you do?” Dean grinned. This was gonna be good, he could tell.

“You know the fuel injection and delivery system on that car cost about $6,000?” Dom leaned his head back against the wall and looked out at Dean from under heavy eyelids.

Dean whistled.

“Yeah, and so….letting it run out of gas is a kind of boneheaded maneuver.” Dom continued wryly. “So I may have used words like ‘stupid’ and ‘dumbass’ and ‘bonehead’ this afternoon. And so he’s engaging in his favorite pastime.”

“Let me guess,” Dean toasted his half-empty beer. “Busting your balls.”

“Pretty much non-stop,” Dom said dryly.

“So who’ll break first?” Dean asked, curious. Something had happened out there in the desert to loosen up the very guarded D. Toretto. He seemed almost playful.

“If past experience is anything to go by….” Dom pretended to think about it. “It’ll be me.”

“Just apologize or does he hold out for humiliation?”

“Guess we’ll have to see,” Dom said slowly.

Dean laughed. “Sucks to be you, man. He looks inventive.”

Dom pulled the beer away from his mouth and half smiled.

“You know,” Dean could feel the tequila settling into his muscles, tendrils of lax warmth. “I wanted to thank you for…earlier.”

“For what?” Dom cocked an eyebrow at him and just waited for him to elaborate.

Shit, there wasn’t enough tequila in the world to explain why he was running off at the mouth like this. It wasn’t like him. But Dom had this weird older-brother, father-confessor vibe going that Dean felt like a warm hand on cold flesh. “I mean for being so cool about…” the dozen fake IDs in my glovebox Dean didn’t say. He just tried to make his expression significant.

Dom hitched forward a little and said, “Hey, you know I’m not any intellectual giant myself, but there is one thing I do know: my business. And more to the point, I know what’s not my business.”

“I wish more people were like you, man,” Dean said fervently.

Dom chuckled almost silently. “You’d live to regret that, for damn sure.”

Dean grinned, “Yeah, I guess.” They sat for a moment in easy silence while Dean tried to find the fewest words to explain.

“It’s just one of those…” Dean flicked his fingers sideways. “Necessary evils, know what I mean?”

“That is something that I know a bit about” Dom half-smiled at Brian negotiating the pool table with a tray of beers and shots. “Those necessary evils.”

Brian high-stepped back into his chair spider-like. He watched Dom twist off his bottlecap avidly, like he was keen to learn how.

“You guys gonna go check out the Canyon?” Dean asked idly.

Brian set his beer down after one choked-off sip and looked at Dom with astonishment. “There’s a canyon?

“Oh God,” Dom covered his eyes with his hand and said quickly. “Could you give it a rest? I am sorry, all right? Really. Very. Sorry. You are very intelligent. It was wrong of me to suggest otherwise.”

Brian leaned back and smirked at Dean. “You’re my witness, man. You getting all this?”

Dean scratched the stubble on his chin, “Yeah, but is he really sincere?”

Brian instantly nodded. “You’re right, I need to make it stick. What do you think?”

Dean snapped his fingers, “Girliest drink at the bar?”

“Perfect,” Brian crowed. “D, go get me a piňa colada.”

Dom folded his arms and gazed at both of them. His mouth was twitching. “You haven’t finished your beer.”

Brian tapped the table and then chugged his full beer and belched loud enough to make one side of the room pause and titter. Dean applauded a little.

“In ten seconds, piňa colada turns into apple martini,” Brian warned. Dom spread his hands in an ‘all right, all right’ gesture and stood up.

“Remember, drinks first, then money,” Dean said, very seriously.

“You’re a bad influence, Dean Winchester.” Dom said as he sidestepped by. “If that really is your name.”

Dean grinned. Bad influence is my name.

Brian was twisting around in his chair watching Dom’s progress, “Am I shitting where I eat? Is this gonna get us tossed out of here?”

“Nah,” Dean reassured him. “They’re just gonna look at him like he’s wearing a dress.”

“Thanks man,” Brian looked up at the ceiling. “I wonder how long it will take me to erase that mental picture.”

Dean snorted. “I wonder if they can even make mixed drinks here.”

“They’ve got something called a ‘Howie Wowie’,” Brian grinned off Dean’s look. “Yeah, sounded about that appetizing to me as well.”

“I like it, it’s a good place,” Dean nodded. “There’s just one problem.”

“Let me guess….” Brian started.

“There are no chicks here,” Dean talked over him.

“That ain’t the problem.” Brian shook his head.

“The hell you mean, that ain’t the problem?” Dean looked over his drink incredulously.

“Chicks are and will ever be,” Brian started meditatively. He scanned the room. “Woman comes in here, she’d have to be pretty much bulletproof.”

“What’s your point?” Dean took a sip of his new, cold beer.

“I like ‘em to be a little …softer.” Brian grinned. He looked toward the bar and then speculatively at Dean.

“Mmmmm,” Dean weighed up the idea, pursing his lips. “I like ‘em bulletproof.”

Brian just grinned and shook his head, “I got another reason, maybe. Little more personal.”

“Do tell,” Dean leaned his chin on his two stacked fists.

Brian glanced back at the bar and paused for a long moment. Then he looked back at Dean, smiled and shrugged. “Back in the day, you know, I once slept with Dom’s sister.”

“Damn,” Dean rocked his head back a little.

Brian looked more serious than Dean had ever seen him. Which wasn’t very serious, but still. “Yeah, maybe more than once.”

“I repeat, damn,” Dean continued. “And he still lets you walk around on both feet like that?”

“Yeah, well…he owes me pretty big time, too,” Brian looked wry. “It’s all seriously complicated. Point is: he doesn’t like it so much if he thinks I’m getting a little too…cavalier with a lady’s feelings, know what I mean?”

“Aw, that’s sweet,” Dean started and Brian flicked him off. “OK, guy’s night it is.”

“Hey, don’t let me harsh your swerve, cuz,” Brian took another sip of Dom’s beer. “I mean, check out Diane over there,” he gestured to one of the waitresses who appeared to be enjoying her smoke break. “She is ready to rock. And only about twice your age.”

“Ah, I like it,” Dean sucked his teeth while getting an eyeful. “Experience.”

Dom returned with a festive cluster of three tropical drinks. They even had tiny umbrellas.

“Aw, man,” Dean winced. “For real, you had to go and do that?”

“It looked so nice, thought we should all have one,” Dom countered. “Hope you’re hungry, some food’s coming too.”

“Like what?” Brian took a sip of his impossibly girly drink and raised his eyebrows as if to say, ‘not bad’.

Dom looked at him flatly. “Little calamari. Some beef Carpaccio, rounded off with some sushi.”

“Wow,” Brian rubbed his hands expectantly. “Score.”

“Food is the big draw here,” Dom got himself ensconced again. “Otherwise, they’d have to rely on atmosphere. And go broke.”

“Do I ever get to buy a drink?” Dean asked. The coconutty rum tasted like liquid dessert. He just barely kept himself from smacking his lips.

“Save your shekels,” Brian. “It’s our pleasure.”

“Hey, you don’t owe me anything, we’re square.” Dean protested.

Dom was shaking his head. “S’not like that. Just a little road hospitality.” He cut his eyes sideways at Brian who was now sniffing his drink like it was some goddamned Chateauneuf-du-Pape. “’Sides, I’ve been rolling with this one for a while and his stories are starting to bore me.”

“Hey, that sentiment is more than mutual, DT,” Brian grinned and rocked his chair onto its back legs.

Dom arched an eyebrow and said kindly, “Plus, I imagine keeping your baby in gas and oil might be a full-time job.”

Dean shrugged, “Ah, s’nothing.” Unexpectedly, he felt flattered, not offended by the concern.

“Sorry,” Dom cocked his head. “I’m making assumptions. You probably have independent wealth.”

“Shit, I wouldn’t go that far,” Dean grinned. “Not without resources, let’s say.”

“So you get the next round,” Dom pulled one side of his mouth up.

“Thanks,” Dean reached over and clapped Brian on the shoulder. “Meantime, let’s go shoot some stick.”

*******

“Sorry about that,” Brian chalked his cue. “Big brother is kind of his default setting.”

“’S cool,” Dean lined up for the break. “I’m a big brother myself.”

“Then you know how it is,” Brian watched the balls scatter.

“Kinda,” Dean skated over that idea. “How about yourself?”

Brian snorted and watched Dean pot a few. “In our little family, I’m kind of the black sheep.”

Oh, man, this was awesome. It’d been so long since he’d met people he could…damnit, he hated to think something this goofy, but he could relate to these two. Brian helped him work the tables so seamlessly; it was like they’d been doing it for years. With Brian playing the straight man, what would have just been three bills turned into six.

When the last challengers looked a little mutinous, Dean could feel it when Brian just straightened a little behind him. He was almost tempted to goad the two truckers into another game for doubled stakes, shit, opportunity was knocking, but Dom was beckoning them back to the table. Burgers and fries tossed haphazardly into a plastic, wax-paper-lined basket had never looked so delicious.

“Thanks man,” Dean slid into his seat, grabbed his burger and practically rubbed his face in it.

“Yeah, watch him, he’s been working up an appetite.” Brian smiled sweetly at the two muttering truckers.

“Mmm,” Dean grunted around his first mouthful. “I should really get in on the racing game. Margins are higher, less chance of bloodshed.”

Dean watched as both of their foreheads crinkled while they were chewing. He felt a vague flush of tactlessness, so he spoke quickly to cover it. “Where you guys headed anyway?”

“Staying local tonight,” Dom chewed and swallowed.

“On to Vegas tomorrow,” Brian finished. “Visiting some old friends.”

“OK, I suspected before and now I know: you’re crazy.” Dean toasted the room sarcastically. “I mean, I could see how you might wanna sacrifice anything Vegas had to offer for the exotic pleasures of Valentine, Arizona.”

Dom and Brian shared a wry look. Brian started, “Hey, it’s like two more hours…”

Dean snorted. “It’s two more hours for….sane people, man. For you, it’s like another half-hour.”

“Dean, Dean, Dean.” Dom sighed. “It’s our road trip, we’ll stop when we feel like it.”

“Yeah, you’re right, not my business anyway,” Dean suddenly got the sense that he had inadvertently edged pretty close to something kind of complicated, so he told them his best joke about the Lone Ranger while they ate. Everything seemed to be getting shinier as he talked.

“So he’s like: Silver! Read my lips! I said ‘POSSE’!”

“Hah!” Brian nearly pushed his chair over in an excess of enthusiasm.

“Oh, man,” Dom shook his head. “Nice. If that’s the level of humor we’re at, we need to be drinking more.”

Brian got himself rebalanced. “Did you hear the one about the three girls whose boyfriends were all named ‘Leroy’…?” More beers and shots seemed to multiply on the table and the last of the fries got eaten.

Brian was telling some long anecdote involving a Yenko Camaro, “…so he was this total loser, thought he was quick though. Reminded me of Jesus Palmeras…you know, that guy they call Liquid Jesus, Dom?”

“Yeah, that guy is fast like evolution is fast.” Dom snorted.

“Like the Ross glacier is fast,” Brian agreed. “But anyway…”

New crowds kept washing up into the bar. Something caught Dean’s eye.

“Ooooooh, Indian gals,” Dean leaned over to get a longer look.

“Native American, man,” Dom flicked a coaster at him. “Be respectful.”

“I am soooo respectful,” Dean insisted. “I am overcome with respect. I am going to go buy them drinks as reparations.”

Brian had tilted his chair back so far, he was looking at the cluster of giggling black- haired women upside down. “Let us know how that works out for you.”

“What no backup?” Dean groused. “C’mon, can’t believe I am alone in wanting to personally get to know a fascinating part of our own heritage…”

“If by ‘personally getting to know’ you mean ‘personally giving them an STD’ I’ll pass,” Brian made a ‘no, thanks’ gesture.

“But there are three of them,” Dean pointed out helpfully.

“Dean, don’t you think their people have suffered enough?” Brian smiled brilliantly, taking the sting out of his words.

“Fine,” Dean leaned forward, preparing to heave himself to his feet. “You will at least back me up when I tell them I’m a fighter pilot?”

Brian pressed his knuckles to his mouth to keep from busting up laughing. Dean kicked the side of Brian’s foot under the table.

“Sure thing, Big Chief Wannafukya, but if you get on the wrong side of the Navajo nation…” Dom nudged his beer to the side. “We ain’t the cavalry.”

“No worries,” Dean got to his feet with only one moment of having to lean hard on his chair. “Your services won’t be required.”

 

He threaded his way back toward his new friends, sliding into his chair with a grunt.

“No joy, General Custer?” Brian almost batted his eyelashes, so Dean feigned a swipe at him. “Did you mention that you were a fighter pilot? Heard that always works.”

“The giggling, man.” Dean rolled his eyes. “It was giving me performance anxiety.”

Dom lifted his drink and said placidly, “I’d’ve thought you’d be used to a little giggling by now, Dean.”

Dean tried and failed to choke back a laugh. He mimed clutching his heart. “Ouch!” He turned toward Brian, “Hate to break it to you man, but your friend here is kind of a bitch.”

“Yeah,” Brian sighed exaggeratedly. “But he’s my bitch.”

Dom pulled his bottle an inch from his lip and mouthed the word ‘Hah!’

This felt good. Relaxing. He was so drunk, time was actually starting to blur.

“Let’s go, man,” Brian had pushed his chair back, suddenly there was more room to breathe, move and talk. “This place is starting to show its ass.”

Dean set his feet carefully, kind of wanting to protest. The conversation hadn’t flagged, there were pool tables open, why, why, why did the night have to end? But then someone doused the lights for a second and the scrape of chairs being set on tables filtered through his vague haze.

The night had cooled the air just a bit, but it was still almost breathlessly warm. The air felt full with the heat that it wouldn’t lose before dawn. Dean rubbed his face and felt it tingle with intoxication. He contemplated the Impala.

“Hey dudes,” Brian’s teeth were luminous in the surly glow of the solitary streetlight. “Let’s go swimming.”

***********

“One hand on me and you lose the hand,” Dom’s warning cut through to where Dean was still struggling with his boot laces. Dean looked up and grinned. Brian had used the last six steps to the motel pool to strip down, one shoe, one shoe, one sock, another sock, t-shirt, jeans and he’d already thrown himself in, whooping. Now he was trying to ‘encourage’ Dom by snatching at Dom’s still-shod feet. Dean snickered, which unfortunately drew Brian’s attention to him.

Brian swam up, fast as a fucking dolphin, and jerked at Dean’s feet so hard that Dean tottered onto one of the chaise lounges. “Christ, you’d think that you’d had too much to drink, bro.”

“Fuck right off,” Dean still let Brian pull his boots off. “You wanna get in my pants, I don’t make it easy.”

“’S’not what I heard,” Brian smirked and Dean gave him the finger with great dignity.

Dean finally wrestled out of his shirts, skinned off his jeans and strategically cannonballed in a way designed to lash Dom and Brian both. The water was shockingly cold and instantly his head felt a thousand times clearer.

God, Brian was a genius. This was fantastic. The booze plus water plus warm desert air buoyed him up until he felt like he was floating. Wait, he was floating. At least he was floating until Brian shoved him under unceremoniously.

Dean came up sputtering and would have retaliated but Brian quirked his head Domward and really, yeah, that would be fun, too. Unfortunately, Dom had already planned for this contingency and vanished somewhere. Brian looked so bemused and blank that Dean was able to blindside him easily.

They were in full-on, battle royale when Dom’s chuckle bounced around the courtyard. In his boxers, Dom looked like an ad for Calvin Klein. He was obviously not so much the worse for drink because he was armed with towels.

“You coming in, or are we coming to get you?” Brian rolled his shoulders back and slid a conspiratorial glance toward Dean.

Dom tossed the towels on a lawn chair, muttered something that sounded like ‘punks’ and slowly slid into the water. Brian got suddenly coy, moving back to the deep end and lurking chin-deep. Dom moved through the water slowly, seemingly unconcerned. Dean took a few strokes toward the shallow end and waited as rearguard.

Dom put himself in the deep end in two long strokes and ducked his head under. Brian swam back toward Dean, half-heartedly splashing him. Brian looked excessively blank-faced which Dean realized slowly was Brian’s ‘crafty’ look. Dom was looking at them expectantly, treading water.

Brian splashed Dean again and mumbled. “Go for the ankles.”

“Not my fight,” Dean splashed Brian back.

“C’mon, man,” Brian had turned to face away, but Dean could still see the edges of his smile. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

Brian launched himself toward the deep end, innocuously, like he was just going to do a few laps. Dom moved a few strokes toward mid-pool like he was doing the same in reverse. They swam in parallel circuits for almost ninety seconds until Brian reversed course unexpectedly and cannoned into Dom broadside.

For a moment, Dean thought that the element of surprise had prevailed. Brian got his head above water first, but it was only to take two gasps of air and then the water was churning like sharks in a feeding frenzy. Dean laughed out loud, ducked underwater and approached cautiously. He managed to grab one of Dom’s ankles and unbalance the Colossus long enough for Brian to save himself from drowning.

The wrestling continued until they were all slightly light-headed from oxygen deprivation and laughter. Dean grabbed a lawn chair and placed it in the shallow end so he could lounge as exhaustion settled on him. He looked up at the desert stars which easily out-shone the wan lights winking out around them. There was a cicada-like buzzing and the occasional hum of a distant engine but other than that and the splashes from the pool, silence.

He leveled his head again and examined his pruny fingertips. Through the fan of his fingers, Dom and Brian moved through the water almost silently. Dean squinted at them, confused. He wasn’t quite sure what they were doing until they moved momentarily into the lights flooding out from the front office.

Dom was walking in water that came up between his nipples and chin and Brian had wrapped his hands and forearm over Dom’s shoulders while he floated behind. Dom was dragging him through the water like a living cape. Brian had leaned his cheek on Dom’s shoulder and seemed almost asleep as Dom dragged him and the water swirled around him.

Dean swallowed as a sudden aching nostalgia squeezed the back of his throat. He remembered the feel of Sam’s face pressed against his collarbone, Sam’s tiny hands wrapped delicately around his neck while he was learning to swim. Watching this hurt like a punch to the gut and it also made him instantly afraid for them. This was just…too much and abruptly he had to move to keep from suffocating.

“I’m gonna…” He stood up and shivered for a second. When had it gotten cold? He made a gesture that he hoped meant ‘go sleep in the Impala.’

They had stopped and stood up when he spoke. They looked like statues for a second; their lust for life momentarily muted.

“Dean,” Dom pointed. “I got you a room. Key’s under those towels.”

And, if possible, his throat thickened even more. Shit, he could take a lot, stand all kinds of stupid privations, but the kindness of strangers was about like to kill him. He nodded, not even daring to choke out a thank you, wadded his clothes into a ball and scooted up the steps.

He hung his wet boxers over the shower curtain rod and tossed himself on the bed. He covered his eyes with his hands and let the bedspins spiral him down to sleep.

**********

When morning snuck in through a gap in the dusty curtains, Dean’s first words were ‘bleaaagh’. He unstuck his tongue from the roof of his mouth and cupped his hands around the back of his head. Wasn’t even in the same universe as his worst hangover ever, but he still got to his feet carefully.

“Oh yeah,” He shot fingers at his buck-naked self in the mirror. “Off the hook.”

His boxers weren’t quite dry, so he zipped up very carefully. He scooped and slurped some water straight from the tap and felt better at once. And he really did feel better. He felt stripped and washed clean of his vague anxiety. Re-purposed. Strong.

He tugged on a t-shirt, patted his pockets and moved out onto the landing. He had to buy those crazy guys some breakfast, it was the least he could do.

He was moving slowly down the landing with a vague idea of sweet-talking the day clerk into telling him whose room was whose, when he heard Brian’s laugh. He paused in front of a door. Damn, the walls in this place were like plywood. He could hear Brian’s voice fading in and out like a radio.

“’M not ready to…” and maybe Brian turned away for a second because his voice got too low. “….na make me say…..yeah…..don’t even……Ah, yeah, like….”

Dean blinked. That was the end of the conversation, but not the end of the noise emanating from the room. Which was louder and in two separate registers but not identifiable as words.

Dean noticed that he was twisting his keys into his fingers in a painful way. His paradigm was shifting and it was grinding the gears. Flashes came to him: Brian’s mile-wide smile; Brian saying "I like it in the morning, you know?" Dom saying, "I’m sure we’ll think of something to do.” Brian saying “It’s all seriously complicated...". Dom dragging Brian through silent water.

They finished each others’ sentences. They drank each others’ drinks.

They were the two coolest people he’d met in a long time.

Dom’s voice murmured in his head more to the point, I know what’s not my business.

So he went down to the front office and quizzed the day clerk and she told him everything that he needed to know. He checked on the Impala and the Z which still sat, untouched and dusty in the lot. Then he went back, listened for a long moment, then pounded on the door.

“Rise and shine, cupcakes,” Dean projected his voice. “The road awaits.”

There was a longish pause and then a heavy tread made quick tracks to the door. Brian pulled the door half ajar and leaned on it. Dean kept his eyes on Brian, but he could sense Dom moving in the background. They were both shirtless and barefoot. Dean noticed unwillingly how flushed Brian was and he was in serious need of a comb. Plus, Brian’s usual grin had an almost hard edge to it; there was a dare in his eyes that was quite deadly.

“Dean,” Brian said with a touch of reserve.

Dean let his own grin turn cocky. “Best breakfast in town is two blocks thataway.” He gestured with a flourish. “Let me buy you a short stack. Or two.”

Brian’s grin softened for a second, then came back more real. “Tempting offer. We got time for that, big D?”

“Most important meal of the day,” Dom rumbled from the sink’s basin.

 

Dean forgot to turn on the stereo for long minutes after he’d pulled out of the diner’s lot. It had cooled off and the air seemed clearer as he followed the road with the soft line of buttes in the distance.

He hummed to himself tunelessly.

….you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way,
the highway that's the best.
Get your kicks
on Route 66