Disclaimer: Don't own them. More's the pity. Story title from Bad Company album of the same name. Also, the "T" rating is very PG-13 for language and some mature scenes, particularly in the first chapter.

Spoilers: This story is set in Season 1, overlapping the ending of 1.12, "Faith."

A/N 1: A long time ago in what feels like a galaxy far, far away, a woman named Amy Blair charged her way down the hospital corridor where she worked, knocking aside an orderly and vaulting over a fellow nurse in order to get to the computer and place her final bid in an author's auction. This auction was a benefit organized by K. Hanna Korossy for the sake of her good friend Anna (Yuma) who was in need of a wheelchair.

I was the fortunate one on the winning end of Amy's bid. Fortunate because out of that bid, I gained a friend and partner in crime. Amy has been exceedingly patient while waiting for the fruits of her auction bid. She allowed me to finish Weapon and the Wound and a couple of zine submissions as well as encouraged me to take a break and breathe for a bit.

Now, I am able to bring you her promised story. I must say, Amy's requests story-wise were comfortably situated just to the left of normal. I've worked and reworked the outline and I think I'll capture them all. Amy, you be the judge. This one is for you, girl.

A/N 2: My good friend and beta, Kelly, has taken a break from fanfiction beta'ing for a bit, wanting to be able to read at will, which I completely understand and respect. Therefore, this story will not be fully beta'd (possibly given a second glance as friends have time), and I hope you'll forgive any typos and/or homophone mistakes (for they are my weakness) that you come across as you read.

A/N 3: I've noticed that Amy has a thing about names. Therefore, each chapter name is that of a pirate movie. Hopefully that makes sense eventually. Okay, I'm done.

Chapter 1 – Treasure Island

If there was no faith there would be no living in this world.
We couldn't even eat hash with safety.

-Josh Billings, His Complete Works, 1888

 

"Hey, Layla, it's Sam."

He was surprised to find his hand trembling.

"Sam!" She sounded surprised and a bit confused. "How did you get our number?"

"Roy let me know where you were staying." Sam cleared his throat nervously. "Uh, how are you?"

Layla was silent for a moment and he could hear her take in a slow, shallow breath. "I'm…"

He waited while she searched for the right word—one that wouldn't patronize him, wouldn't belittle her very real situation, and wouldn't condemn his brother as her mother had.

"…here," she finished. "I'm still here, Sam."

Sam licked his lips, the cell phone pressed close enough to his face to leave imprints of the keypad on his cold cheek. December in Nebraska wasn't the best of times to spend outdoors. The air had a sharp, silver quality, filtering the wan sunlight through chilled particles until it dusted the land with the illusion of warmth.

He glanced over his shoulder at the curtain-covered window of the motel where they were staying; knowing Dean was on the other side of that window, preparing to leave. If his brother knew what he was doing—why he was doing it—Sam felt certain he'd be in for the beat-down of his life.

Or least he would have been, before Dean slid free of Death by the skin of his teeth and was viciously grounded by the stark reality of what he'd been successfully able to ignore for nearly twenty-seven years: his own mortality.

"Listen, uh, this is probably the wrong time to ask, but…" He took a breath. I'm so gonna get my ass kicked for this. "Could you come by? Just for a minute? We're leaving soon, and, well, Dean…"

Layla waited silently, her breath skipping across the mouthpiece of the phone and teasing Sam's ear as he took his turn to search for words.

What could he tell her that she'd accept or even understand? That Dean was lost? That he felt guilt where none should be borne? How could Sam convey to her that he'd had no choice? That they hadn't known the whole story around Roy when they'd arrived. That if there was anything Dean could have done to save her, he would—that, in fact, he almost had.

"What, Sam?" Layla prompted when he took a minute too long with his thoughts.

"He… wants to say goodbye." Sam closed his eyes, knowing how final that sounded, hating himself for using that word.

Layla sighed softly. "I don't know, Sam."

"Please? Listen, he's just… he's not himself right now, and I… it's my fault, okay? He was dying and I was… I was desperate." He closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I couldn't let him die. I couldn't. He's my brother."

He was closer to tears in that moment than he had been since standing at the foot of Dean's hospital bed, staring at the pale shadows of regret and terror that ghosted his brother's bruised eyes. He swallowed hard, feeling a ball of tears crawl down his tight throat to nest like a rock in his stomach.

"Okay," Layla replied softly. "When?"

"Uh, now?" Sam opened his eyes, blinking away the bright spots brought on by ferocity of his hope.

"I'll be right there," she said and then Sam heard the quiet click as the phone was returned to the receiver.

He turned around to face the motel room. Taking a breath he tucked his phone into his jeans pocket, ducked his head against the cold wind, and stepped inside. Dean was digging into his duffel bag, pulling out a long-sleeved shirt to layer over his standard-issue gray T-shirt. He glanced over his shoulder as Sam closed the door behind him.

"Where you been?"

Sam thought quickly, shrugging out of his canvas jacket. "Uh, I was checking us out."

Dean nodded, and without another word moved past Sam to the bathroom. Moments later, Sam heard the shower turn on. He stood still in the center of the room, eyes on the crack beneath the door. Dean had never been the caring, sharing type. His 'no chick-flick moments' mantra had begun when he was about twelve.

But in this instance, Sam really wished he'd break his own rule.

Turning back to the table, Sam pulled his own duffel toward him. He'd purposely risen before Dean, showering and stepping outside to make his secretive call. It had been all he could think about since Dean's soft admission that he was a little bit weak after his encounter with the reaper in the parking lot.

The water shut off and Sam heard Dean cough, heard the squeak of a hand swiping steam from a mirror, heard the familiar sounds of water filling the sink and a razor tapping the edge of porcelain as his brother shaved. He suppressed a shudder as he remembered the suffocating feeling of panic and abandonment that had all but swamped him when Sue Ann slid the bar across the cellar door, trapping him, keeping him away from Dean as she embarked on her self-appointed mission from God.

God save us from half the people who think they're doing God's work.

Dean had been right on that one. Sam continued to pack his duffel with the precise rhythm that had frequently garnered ribbing from Dean over the years. His clothes, books, and bullet clips were all organized as he preferred them: books at bottom, bullets at top. The foundation supporting the necessary.

Dean stepped from the bathroom fully clothed, his short hair still wet, wiping remnants of shaving cream from his jaw. The room stayed unusually quiet as Sam gave his brother the space silence provided while Dean finished packing. He zipped his bag, then dropped heavily onto the edge of the bed, his hands hanging between his knees, eyes on the floor.

Sam glanced over his shoulder at Dean's still form, troubled by the weight that had surrounded his brother since they'd left the cold, muddy lot outside of Roy LeGrange's 'church.'

"What is it?" Sam asked, not really expecting an answer.

Dean didn't look up as he replied. "Nothing."

"What is it?" Sam repeated, softer, turning from his bag and facing his brother.

"We did the right thing here, didn't we?" Dean asked, his voice slightly vacant, as if he were pushing the words out with concentrated effort. Sam frowned at the line that bisected Dean's brow, exposing a level of doubt he wasn't used to seeing on his brother's face.

"Of course we did."

Dean lifted his eyes, his chin tucked in to his chest, shielding his eyes as if he were afraid they'd reveal something he wasn't ready for Sam to see. "Didn't feel like it."

When a knock sounded at the door, Dean flinched.

"I got it," Sam said before Dean could respond. His heart hammering against his ribs, Sam crossed the room and turned the knob with a sweaty palm. She stood on the other side of the door, as fragile and beautiful as ever, a small, uncertain smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, soft lines around her eyes a testament to her fate. "Hey, Layla. Come on in."

Dean half stood from the bed as she walked inside the small, dimly lit room.

"Hey," she said, tucking her fingers into her back pockets with a slight shrug.

Dean's eyes were wide; the line, however didn't leave his brow. "Hey. How'd you know we were here?"

Layla glanced quickly at Sam. "Um, Sam called." She looked back at Dean, her smile returning, softening, inviting. "He said you wanted to say goodbye."

Dean shot a surprised look at Sam, who smiled back in return. He wondered if Dean saw in his eyes the hope that this girl could offer Dean the solace he so desperately needed.

"I'm gonna grab a soda," Sam said, picking up his jacket and heading to the door. As he stepped through, he tossed a quick glance over his shoulder and saw Dean sinking slowly back to the edge of the bed, Layla sitting next him.

Sam took a breath, the cold air biting his not-quite-thawed cheeks. He headed to the soda machine, leaning against it and looking out across the parking lot. The low hum of electricity coursing through the big machine thrummed against his back, static pulling his hair against its surface. It felt almost warm in this pocket of space. For a moment, Sam simply wanted to pause time, hold everything still.

His eyes roamed the cars in the lot. How many times had he looked at cars in a motel lot, wondering where each was coming from, where each was heading, and if it was a better place than where he'd been or where he was going.

Why didn't you call back, Dad?

Sam closed his eyes, resisting the urge to pinch at the ache across the bridge of his nose. He didn't expect John to have had an answer, a solution for him. He didn't expect John to have even been able to make it to the hospital, having no real idea where his dad was at the moment.

But he'd thought he'd at least call back.

"Sam?"

He jumped at the sound of her voice.

"Hey," he greeted Layla, opening his eyes shyly, embarrassed at having been caught unaware.

"You okay?"

"Yeah," he smiled at her. "Yeah, fine. Just, y'know, thinking."

He could see tears caught on the edges of her lashes.

"Thank you," she said, "for calling me. I think…" She looked away from him and then down at her feet. "I think I needed this as much as Dean."

Sam swallowed. "What are you going to do now?"

She looked back up at him, the smile in her eyes not strong enough to convince her lips to follow suit. "Keep going, find out what happens next."

"I'll—" He stopped, unsure what he had just about promised, just about offered her. There was nothing he could do to save her from what waited for her. She simply looked at him, and he felt his face heat up under her guileless gaze. "I'm glad you came," he finished lamely.

"You guys be careful out there," she said with a tilt of her head, her blonde hair blowing across her face and catching on her lips. She reached out a slim finger and pulled the strands away. "Never know when you might need another miracle."

Sam pulled the corner of his mouth up in a half-hearted grin. "Yeah, those are few and far between for us."

Layla shrugged, rotating her body slightly away. "Oh, I don't know," she said, looking down once more. "I think you two are blessed."

As she stepped down off the curb, away from Sam, she glanced back at him. "You have each other."

Sam blinked as he watched her head to her car. As she climbed in, he lifted a hand, smiling back at her. When the taillights disappeared around the curve from the motel, Sam turned to the building, heading inside their room, out of the wind.

Dean stood with his back to the door, head down, one hand on his hip, the other up, presumably at his face. Sam frowned at the set of his brother's shoulders.

"You okay?"

Dean brought his head up, turning slightly to address Sam without looking at him. "Yeah." He ran the back of his hand across his mouth, then grabbed the handles of his duffel. "Let's go."

He moved past Sam, again without meeting his brother's eyes, and headed for the Impala. Sam felt himself pull in, his chest and gut tightening as if anticipating a strike. His brother was beating himself up and it appeared that no absolution was going to stop the blows from falling.

Following Dean to the Impala, Sam winced when he heard the muffled whump of a duffel bag hit the bottom of the trunk. Dean moved away from the trunk toward the driver's side of the car with measured steps, his face fisting up in a dark scowl. Sam sighed, dropping his duffel next to Dean's, then closed the trunk gently.

He was accustomed to anticipating his family's ever-shifting moods, but there were times when he wasn't sure when to dodge and when to stand firm.

"Where're we headed?" Sam asked, pulling the passenger door closed with a creak of hinges.

Dean fired up the Impala, shoving Metallica's Load cassette into the player, and cranking the volume. Sam started at the hard line of his brother's jaw, waiting for Dean to crack open, to say something, to yell at him for butting his nose into business that was not his.

"…Oh poor twisted me. I feast on sympathy. I chew on suffer. I chew on agony. Swallow whole the pain, oh it's too good to be, all this misery…"

"Dean?" He had to yell over the guitars to be heard.

"West."

"What's west?" Sam gripped the dash as Dean flattened the accelerator and backed out of the lot, cranking the wheel hard right and power-sliding the Impala around until they faced the road.

Consider your ass kicked, Sam, he thought.

"You said Dad was in Sacramento, right?"

"Yeah, but…" Sam's voice was tight as he braced himself against the door, feet pressed into the floorboards of the car, fingers gripping the dash as Dean entered the county road in a spray of mud and gravel.

"But nothin'," Dean growled. "This all started 'cause we needed to find Dad, not so we could be his damn hunting puppets."

Sam licked his lips, blinking in surprise. The Impala's powerful engine responded to Dean's anger, shifting quickly to automatically accommodate the flattened accelerator. Sam felt the big machine tremble slightly as if it, too, was suddenly wary of the white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, the coiled muscle bouncing in the driver's jaw, the focused stare through the windshield into the brittle day and across the nearly-abandoned county road.

"He told us not to come," Sam reminded him. "You were the one that—"

"I don't care!" Dean snapped, his eyes darting flint-like daggers Sam's direction before returning to the road. "I don't care, Sam."

Sam nodded, taking a breath as the tape rotated songs. "Okay, so, we head to Sacramento."

"I mean, what's he thinking, huh?"

"I don't know, Dean," Sam said, unnecessarily.

"Just picks up and leaves? No warning?" Sam watched as Dean pulled his lower lip against his teeth in an unconscious nervous gesture of thought. "Sends us coordinates… I mean, we know the guy's alive."

"That's something," Sam offered hesitantly.

Dean took a curve on two wheels, the Impala bouncing back to center, its occupants rocking slightly with the motion.

"The higher you are, the farther you fall. The longer the walk, the farther you crawl. My body, my temple; this temple it tilts. Step into the house that Jack built…"

"It's not enough, man," Dean shook his head. "It's not even in the same zip code as enough."

Sam slid his eyes from his brother's face to the windshield once more. He'd been so angry with John when he'd called the morning after they'd survived the Roosevelt Asylum. Hearing his dad's voice again for the first time since he'd walked out two years prior had been like a shot of adrenalin to his system, leaving him at once hot and cold, sweaty and shaking as he'd handed the phone across to Dean's reaching hand, seeing as he did so the bruises he had caused.

All he'd been able to think about was getting to John, demand answers, find out why. Why John had abandoned him? Why had Jess died? Why he was shutting out his own sons on the fight of their lives? And all Dean had been able to think about was doing what John asked, following orders, doing the job.

"I called him," Sam found himself saying suddenly, a quick stab of guilt and fear stabbing through him as he darted his eyes to Dean's profile.

Dean jerked his eyes to the right, meeting Sam's. The look of surprise mingled with gratitude and edged by acrimony made Sam work to swallow the ball of tears once more. When Dean didn't say anything beyond that look, Sam continued.

"I, uh… I figured, y'know, he should know what was going on at least."

"Voice mail?" Dean guessed.

"Well, yeah, man, but—"

"Don't, Sam." Dean's voice was sharp, cutting the air between them with the bitter sound of disillusionment. "Don't even bother. I called him in Lawrence, got the same thing."

Sam's eyebrows bounced up beneath his shaggy bangs. "You did?"

The song shifted again and Sam recognized the opening riff to Hero of the Day. Dean glared at the radio, punching the eject button with his thumb. He began to flip the dial, the odometer needle still buried in the far right. Sam reached up and gripped the dashboard once more.

"Called him. Told him where we were. What we were up against." Dean shook his head once. "Even told him I needed him."

"You did?" Sam repeated, incredulous.

Dean lifted a brow, tossing Sam a quick glance. "Yeah. I did."

Finally finding a radio station that he could apparently deal with, Dean sat back, slowing the insane progress of the car, and rested the bend of his wrist on the top of the steering wheel. Sam watched him, waiting, listening as guitar riffs serrated the silence.

"How did everything get so fucked up, man?" Dean finally said, his voice rough, tense, as if he were holding back a torrent of words.

Sam sighed turning to face forward and slouching down so that his head could rest back against the seat. A sign slipped pasted them marking Denver, CO, as 170 miles away. A glance at his watch told him it was nearly noon. This was going to be a long ride.

"You wanna talk about it?" Sam ventured.

"Not much to say, is there?" Dean muttered, turning the volume down a bit when Slash began to light up Sweet Child of Mine.

"He's not gonna still be in Sacramento, Dean."

"You don't think I know that?"

"So why are we going there?"

Dean shot him a quick sideways glance. "You got a better idea? I'm all ears."

Sam didn't, and pressed his lips closed. He wasn't going to win this argument, basically because Dean was having it with himself. Sam had spent his entire life watching his brother; he could tell the levels of Dean's anger and the direction the wrath was aimed simply by watching the tick of his jaw muscle, the tilt of his head, the roll of his shoulders.

Dean wanted to blame John for not being around. He wanted to blame Sam for taking him to the faith healer. He wanted to be angry at the whole damn world for the fact that Marshall Hall was dead, Layla Rourke was going to die, and Dean Winchester was alive. But the only one he was actually mad at, Sam knew, was himself.

"You did everything you could for her, Dean," Sam said softly, his words slipping between the notes of Axel Rose's tragic wail.

Dean flinched, his eyes darting out through the side window.

"She—"

"I don't want to talk about it, Sam."

"Why not?" Sam pressed, wanting to break the tension between them. The tension he couldn't help but feel as though he'd created with a blast of rock salt almost a month ago. "You didn't do anything wrong!"

Dean's lip bounced in a disgusted snarl. "I lied to her."

"When?"

"When you told her to come over and say goodbye."

Sam swallowed.

"I told her…" Dean sighed, resting his left elbow on the windowsill, the leather of his jacket squeaking against the glass, and covered his mouth with his hand for a moment. Taking a breath, he moved his hand to the side of his head, smoothing back hair too short to be mussed. "I looked into her eyes, and I told her I'd pray for her."

Sam felt a strange coldness settle around his heart, causing him to shiver from the inside out. "But… you won't?"

Dean snorted.

"Why not?" Sam repeated, risking an actual ass kicking to get Dean out of this head space.

Looking at him quickly, brows pulled together in a come on expression, Dean replied, "Because I live in reality, Sam. She's dying, okay? No amount of… of praying is going to fix that. I had my chance to save her."

"Dude, we've talked about this," Sam shook his head, looking away. "You couldn't let Sue Ann kill someone else just to save Layla."

"Not someone else," Dean said in a hollow voice. "Me."

Sam opened his mouth, the cold feeling in around his heart moving upward and settling in the back of his throat. Before he could protest, argue, demand Dean take the words back, his brother turned the volume of the radio up once more and Zeppelin's Heartbreaker drowned out any hope of conversation.

Slouching low in the seat, Sam turned his attention to the rapidly passing landscape, the car filling with the sound of steel guitars and drum solos as the wheels chewed through up the distance and the airwaves burned through classic rock. He watched the miles tick down on the highway signs as they approached then passed Denver. Each thought frayed and unraveled, bleeding from one coherent argument into another emotional outburst that would only serve to increase the ironic quiet in the car.

You don't get to make that decision, Dean… you don't get to say who is better than you, who gets to live because you die… You don't get to just leave me like it wouldn't mean anything… You don't get to condemn Dad for leaving you and then say you want to do the same thing to me...You're the reason I'm here in the first place, you dick… I was happy, dammit… Happy, in love, safe… I was safe, Dean… And then you came and got me and now my world is inside out and you're the only reason—

Dean pulled off at an exit just shy of Grand Junction, CO, startling Sam with the shift in direction. He pulled himself upright, joints cracking and popping as he changed positions for the first time in hours.

"Why are we stopping?" He asked, stifling a yawn.

"So we can feed Mr. Fusion," Dean said, his voice husky from disuse. He pulled over to a Phillips 66, rolling up to the first gas pump, then shut off the engine. "Gotta take a leak. Start it up?"

"Yeah," Sam nodded, rolling his neck as Dean climbed stiffly from the car.

He stood free of the passenger seat, letting the blood flow back to his legs before he made his way to the pump. The west Colorado wind wasn't as brittle as it had been in Nebraska, but it still smelled like snow and it still burrowed through him with nimble fingers.

Sliding a VISA card touting the name Abe Froman on its front into the automatic pay slot, Sam pulled the hose free and moved to the rear of the car. Glancing down at the license plate, he paused before pulling it down to expose the gas tank opening and regarded the plate. KAZ2Y5. Kansas. Douglas County, to be exact. The place where normal life for the Winchesters had both begun and ended.

He had often wondered why first John and then Dean had gone through the effort to renew the plates with the Lawrence, KS, designation when until very recently, they hadn't been back to Kansas in nearly twenty years. He hadn't noticed it before, but he now realized that Dean would even avoid taking I-70 across country so that he could maneuver around the state if at all possible. What had kept his father and brother so rooted in a hometown that wasn't even their home?

Before the vision, before Missouri Mosely, Sam hadn't even had a solid memory of Lawrence. Images, impressions, mostly from stories Dean would tell him when they lay alone in the darkness of another strange motel room.

"…nice ass, but you're embarrassing her."

Sam frowned, blinking, and looked up, then around. Dean was standing next to the gas pump, a piece of licorice dangling from his lips like an unlit cigarette, his cheeks wind-whipped red, his eyes narrowed and amused.

"What?"

"Dude, I've been talking to you for like three minutes and you're just staring at my girl's backside," Dean smirked, darting his tongue between his lips to capture the last bit of licorice and pulling it into his mouth.

Sam shook his head. "I was just… thinking."

"Well, see if you can think and pump at the same time," Dean flicked an eyebrow up, and Sam rolled his eyes at his brother's double entendre. "I'm gonna run next door for some food. What do you want?"

Sam looked in the direction Dean was pointing. Burgers and fries were the last thing he wanted, but they'd picked an exit with a limited selection. Correction, Dean had picked an exit with a limited selection.

"Nothing, don't worry about me," Sam flipped down the license plate and inserted the nozzle, squeezing the handle to fill up the car.

"Aw, Sammy." Dean shoved another whip of licorice into his mouth, grinning. "I've been worrying about you since you were a zygote. No reason to stop now. I'll surprise you."

Sam watched his brother jog across the street, raising a hand, palm up, to thank a car for the consideration of not hitting him, and sighed. The hours of quiet had apparently given Dean time to compartmentalize as he so often did. The cocky grin was again at home on his lips, but Sam hadn't missed the hollowness in his brother's eyes.

He finished filling the Impala, ran inside quickly to relieve himself, since he knew Dean wouldn't want to stop until this tank was vaporized, and when he returned, Dean was in the driver's seat, stuffing French fries into his maw with his left hand, his right hand tapping out a rhythm on the edge of the steering wheel.

Sam slid into his seat, swallowing a groan as Jethro Tull's Aqualung beat through the car.

"Dude, seriously?"

Dean tossed a brown sack into Sam's lap. "What?"

"Do you sit up at night plotting ways to torture me?"

Dean shifted to reverse, paused, tilting his head as if to consider his answer.

"The music, Dean," Sam grumbled, digging a warm, wrapped sandwich from the bag, already dreading the uncomfortable knot his stomach would tie itself in when he consumed the grease-heavy burger. "There has got to be something other than the best one hundred guitar riffs on—"

He stopped.

"Chicken?"

Pulling out of the gas station, Dean shot his eyes to the side. "Best one hundred guitar riffs on chicken? Not sure I'm familiar with that one, Sammy."

"You got me grilled chicken."

Dean grinned. "And a side salad."

Sam sighed happily as he dug into the bag and pulled out the clear plastic container and cellophane-wrapped fork. He grinned as he dug deeper.

"What's this?"

Dean's burger and fries had been consumed and he was pulling a large gulp of strong coffee into his mouth. He settled the cup between his legs and reached out.

"That's mine."

"Fast food pie?"

"Pie's pie, dude."

"You're impossible," Sam shook his head biting into his chicken sandwich as Dean sang loudly and purposefully off-key.

"Do you still remember December's foggy freeze - when the ice that clings on to your beard is screaming agony…"

As they crossed the border into Utah, Sam realized he should never have called attention to the music. In the space of a couple hundred miles, Dean had slid smoothly from silently brooding behind the notes, to playing up the riffs, to obnoxiously singing every single word of Every. Single. Song. Even Survivor's Eye of the Tiger wasn't left off the rotation of the impromptu Dean Winchester Karaoke Show.

Sam had finished his food, cleaned up their trash and stuffed the bag of wrappers under the seat, and was settling back in a comfortable slouch, ready to let his eyes lose focus on the passing scenery and allow his brother the pretense of contentment when the first sliding notes of Eric "Slow Hand" Clapton plucking out Layla caught his ear.

He sat completely still.

He felt Dean do the same. If it weren't for the bounce of the guitar's strings, Sam could have sworn that he could hear his brother's heart pounding. Without a word, Dean reached out and turned off the radio, returning both hands to the steering wheel, eyes resolutely forward. Sam licked his lips, then resumed his slouch and looked out through the window as the Impala chased the evening light.

After about an hour of nothing but the hum of rubber on the road, Sam wanted to scream.

"I need a drink," Dean said suddenly, causing Sam to flinch at the unexpected sound of his voice.

Straightening, Sam looked through the twilight for a discernable landmark. "You know where we are?"

"No."

Sam bounced his head once, pressing his lips flat. "'Kay."

"I'm gonna pull off at the next exit with fuel," Dean informed him.

Sam didn't reply. There really was no need. Dean's internal compartment walls had apparently not been as strong as Sam thought. The heavy silence almost made the automatic act of breathing difficult.

The neon signs pulled them from the highway and through the growing darkness of the night. The small building resembled more of a lean-to than an actual place of business, but in its windows it boasted enough drafts to keep a thirsty man from the burden of sobriety, and along the front of the building several motorcycles and pick-up trucks lay testament to the cultural mix of the patrons.

Without a word to Sam, Dean parked at the side of the building where the Impala was camouflaged by the shadow of the building. As one, the brothers exited the car, meeting up at the trunk and soundlessly checked each other's weapons. Guns were stowed safely in the trunk, throwing knifes expertly concealed. With a nod, Dean moved around Sam and headed inside. Sam was sure to stick close, not liking the dark look that had returned to his brother's expression.

The last thing Sam needed was to pull his brother from a guilt-driven brawl simply because Dean wasn't satisfied with the beating he was taking from himself.

www

Why do you deserve to live more than my daughter?

As he stepped through the doors and into the cigarette-smoke and alcohol-saturated air of the small bar, Dean was looking for one thing: a way to forget. Forget Layla Rourke's forgiving eyes. Forget the crippling fear of being too weak to stand on his own or of not waking in the morning. Forget the all-consuming cold that had curled the edges of his lungs and slowed his heart and driven him to his knees at simply the touch of the reaper's hand.

I looked into your heart… saw a young man with an important purpose. A job to do. And it isn't finished.

He wanted a way to forget, and he didn't much care how he got it.

He stepped up to the bar and ordered two beers, then looked to Sam. "What're you gonna get?"

Sam's hazel eyes dropped to the bottles comfortably situated in Dean's hands then back up to his face. Dean saw an expression cross Sam's face echoing familiarly, So it's gonna be one of those nights. Guilt stabbed through him for one quick moment as he registered that in years past, the look had been directed at John, not Dean.

Screw you, Sammy, his inner voice snarled. He was long overdue for one of those nights.

"I'll have a beer," Sam said to the bored looking bartender.

The thin, tattooed man flipped the cap from Sam's beer using the inside lip of the bar, slid it down to him and called out the price. Dean waited while Sam paid, then made his way through a few groupings of people to a high-rise table near the back of the room. Two younger cowboys were playing darts off to the left of the table.

"This yours?" Sam asked, gesturing to the table, though Dean was already hitching a hip onto one of the chairs.

As the cowboys shook their heads, Dean saw Sam's shoulders relax. He felt for the kid. The last few days had been rough on both of them. But he wasn't ready to let go of his anger just yet. Taking care of Sam had always meant putting himself aside. Boxing up his feelings and storing them for another day. Problem was, the day to unpack those boxes never seemed to come.

Dean finished his first beer in about three swallows, letting his eyes roam the small bar as he nursed his second. He felt his brother's eyes on him, but ignored the look. The talk to me about it look. The I'm here for you look. That goddamn kicked-puppy look that Dean was willing to swear Sam practiced in the mirror always had him closing up those boxes before he was really ready.

He signaled the waitress, a fortyish woman with short, jet-black hair and a shocking slash of platinum blonde at the widow's peak. She came over, presumptively shoving Dean slightly off the edge of his chair so that she could hook a hip next to his, and wrapped an arm around Dean's shoulders.

"What can I do you for, boys?"

Sam simply shook his head, tipping his barely-touched beer bottle toward her. "I'm good, thanks."

"Oh, honey, I don't doubt that one bit," she teased coyly, her voice betraying a love affair with late nights and smoky bars. "How 'bout you, handsome?" She tilted her head toward Dean and he slid his eyes to boldly meet hers.

"I'll have a whiskey…"

"Teresa," she supplied.

"…Teresa," Dean nodded. "In fact, make that two, and keep 'em comin' 'til I throw in the towel."

"Or until tall, dark, and handsome over there drags you out of here, that it?"

Dean gifted her with what he knew to be a disarming grin. "That's about it."

Teresa slipped off Dean's chair, giving his earlobe a quick, flirty pinch as she moved away to fill his order.

"Keep 'em comin'?" Sam repeated, incredulous. "You sure you want to do that, Dean? We don't even know where we are."

Dean lifted a shoulder, finishing his beer. "So?"

"So… you really want to start something up when we don't—"

"Easy there, Sundance," Dean tipped his fingers up in a sign of peace. "Who says I'm gonna start anything up?"

Sam sat back, dropping his chin and tossed Dean a clear you gotta be shitting me look.

"Relax, Sammy," Dean sighed, moving his gaze from Sam to circle the room once more. "I just want a break, that's all. Celebrate the fact that I'm not dead."

"Right," Sam shot back, his voice low. "Couple of hours ago you were ready to turn back and rebuild Sue Ann's super-special reaper control table so that you could give yourself up and heal Layla, and now you're celebrating the fact that you're not dead?"

Dean leveled empty eyes at Sam. "I'm not talking about this, Sam."

Exasperated, Sam flicked his fingernails against the edge of the table. "Dean—"

"No," Dean shoved enough force into his voice that the cowboys finishing their game of darts glanced their way. Lowering his voice a notch, he continued, "Just… drop it, okay?"

Sam leaned forward, the set of his shoulders telling Dean his brother was coming in for the verbal equivalent of a gut punch. Teresa cooled the moment by stepping up to the table, setting four shot glasses on the table along with an opened bottle of Jack Daniels.

"This," she said, setting another beer in front of Dean, "is from the brunette in the corner."

Dean's eyebrows bounced once and he looked past Teresa's shoulders.

"The one in the jean skirt and black boots?" Dean asked.

"Well, honey, is she looking this way with fuck-me eyes?"

"I'd have to say yes," Dean grinned.

"That'd be the one."

Dean sat back in his chair, lifted the bottle and tipped his chin up in thanks as Teresa moved on to another table.

"Dean," Sam pressed, in a bid to return to the conversation.

Dean downed the free beer, sighed noisily, then began to pour whiskey across the four shot glasses in one smooth motion. He didn't look up at Sam's exasperated sigh. Picking up the first shot, he tossed it back with a quick flick of his head, feeling the amber liquid burn first his tongue, soft palate, throat, then come to rest like a warm brick in his belly.

Hissing quietly, he pulled his lips back against his teeth as he waited for the burn to roll through him like liquid gold, then downed the second shot.

"You're a selfish bastard, you know that?" Sam said, and Dean could hear the effort his brother was using to keep his voice level, keep the warble of emotion from the words. "You think you're the only one that got messed up by what happened?"

Dean kept his chin down, lifting his eyes to Sam's, picked up the third shot, and without looking away, swallowed the liquor.

"We. Didn't. Know." Sam snapped in a low, clipped tone. "You were dying, man. I couldn't—"

Sam stopped, his eyes swimming suddenly. Dean stared at him, closing his fingers around the fourth shot.

"I would have done anything to save you, Dean. And I'd do it again." Sam's voice shook slightly with conviction, and he pressed his lips together around the end of the sentence, pulling in a breath through his nose, waiting.

Dean swallowed the fourth shot, turned the glass over and clapped it down on the table, looking directly at Sam.

"A guy's dead because of me," he said, his voice low, his eyes hot. "Could be that he was going to be nothing more than someone's brother, someone's son. Could be that he was going to be the one to discover the cure for cancer. Could be that he would father the next Hitler. Who the hell knows? Not me, that's for damn sure."

Sam stared back at him, his eyes filling once more, his chin shivering as he held back the painful, angry words Dean knew he was aching to spit back at him.

"And now a girl lost her chance to be healed because of me. A girl that doesn't deserve to die—"

"And you do, is that it?" Sam growled.

Dean rolled his lips against his teeth, glanced down, then bounced the tips of his fingers on the table top. "Let me know when you're ready to go," he said, plucking two shot glasses between his thumb and forefinger, picking up the Jack Daniels, and slipping from the chair to stroll across the bar to the brunette who was waiting for him, leaving his brother to reign in his impotent anger alone.

There were three levels of intoxication as far as Dean was concerned. Comfortably numb, knowingly reckless, and black-as-the-backs-of-his-eyelids wasted. The whiskey shots had loosened muscles tense from hours of driving, and added a slight swagger to his step. Another shot and he knew he'd tip over the edge into comfortably numb, still able to react, but uncaring enough not to have to. He clicked the glasses down on the bar in front of the brunette.

"Hi," she said, her voice throaty, the smile that played across her full lips carried in the word.

"Hi," he replied, his face relaxing into a smile.

She leaned forward against the bar, the shadows falling away from her like water, and he saw that her hair was short, sweeping her jaw, and so black it was almost purple in the neon lights. Her eyes were a startling, transparent blue and they were devouring his face from hairline to chin. A white T-shirt with a deep V cut set off the tan of her skin. She smelled like summer, a warm coconut scent wafting from her skin as she turned on the bar stool to cross her legs the opposite direction and hook the toe of her boot in the curve of his knee.

"Want a drink?" He asked, ignoring the bold way her black boot bounced along the inside of his leg and slightly up his thigh.

"Is your friend—" She started, her eyes flicking over his shoulder.

"My brother," Dean corrected, "is fine. Needed a little alone time."

She smiled, red lips pulling slowly across white, even teeth. "Good. And I'd love one."

He poured two shots, handed one to her, and tipped the rim against hers.

"What are we toasting to?" She asked.

He watched her eyes dilate in reaction to his slow blink. "To being reckless," he said, keeping his eyes on her mouth as he swallowed the whiskey.

She pulled in a gasp of air through her teeth, blinking as the liquor burned. Setting the glass down next to his, but not taking her fingers from it, she looked up at him through her lashes. He grinned and poured two more.

"So what brings you to our booming metropolis…" she prompted him for his name.

"John," he said, needing to be someone else in this moment. Anyone else. "John Murphy."

"Hello, John," she smiled, holding out a slim, ringless left hand. "I'm Joey."

He grinned, grasping her hand in a shake, then, sliding his palm across the back of it, he closed his fingers around hers. "You must have some interesting parents."

"Short for Josephine. Always thought that sounded like an apple-shaped woman with a hair bun serving tea to strangers."

Dean tipped his head to the side, taking in her curves. "Definitely not apple-shaped."

"So," she started as they shared another shot. "Do you like—"

Dean never got to hear the rest of her question. Like a perfectly cued, bad '80's movie, a very large, rather inebriated cowboy with a bicep the side of Dean's waist and a belt buckle that would rival the Impala's grill stepped up to them, positioning himself in the narrow space between their shoulders.

"Joey!" He bellowed.

Dean looked up. And up.

Great distraction, Winchester, he sighed inwardly, I'm not gonna get laid, I'm gonna get the shit kicked out of me by the Jolly Green Giant this did not work out like I planned.

Joey's nose wrinkled in disgust. "Jesus, Billy, back off already."

"You know what I told you!"

Joey slid her hand from beneath Dean's, pushing her barstool back and sliding off. Standing, even in heeled boots, she barely cleared the middle of Billy's chest. Dean stepped down beside her, ruefully realizing that he only had about five inches on her and still had to tip his head up to look at Billy's red, angry face. His eyes darted around Billy's arm to try to catch Sam's eyes.

"Listen," Joey's voice lowered and Dean found her tone to be a strange mixture of tolerance and warning. "You really need to back off, or go home. If Hank comes in here he can arrest you for breaking your restraining order."

"Your Daddy don't scare me," Billy crossed his arms over his massive chest.

Dean leaned a bit closer to Joey. "Your dad's a cop?"

"County Sheriff," she replied, then poked one manicured finger into Billy's muscled forearm. "Leave. I mean it."

"Not unless you come with me."

"You know I'm not going to do that."

"C'mon, Billy," Teresa said, materializing as if from thin air behind Billy. "Nate'll have my ass if you go bustin' up his place on my shift again."

Dean swallowed, and searched for Sam again. The table they'd been sitting at was vacant.

Billy half turned toward the waitress. "I love her, Sis."

Oh, this just gets better and better… Dean reached up and rubbed the back of his neck. He was beginning to regret the last shot, feeling his liquor-loosened body tipping the scales into knowingly reckless.

"I know, Billy, but she's made it clear she don't feel the same. Now, you gotta get on out of here," Teresa said, reaching up to rest a gentle hand on Billy's shoulder.

The big man began to turn, but at the last second, rotated quickly and wrapped a hand around Joey's wrist, pulling her toward him, off balance.

"Hey!" Dean barked, instinctively, just as Joey cried out in surprised pain.

Without preamble, Billy's meaty fist cracked Dean across the side of the face, toppling him backwards into the bar stools and he went down, hard, on his side.

"Well, shit." Teresa grumbled.

"What the hell, Billy!" Joey cried out.

Dean blinked, hearing their voices over a high-pitched whine like a downed fighter jet in his ears. His face felt at once numb and on fire and there was a coppery taste of blood in his mouth. Carefully he kicked free of the bar stools and rolled over onto his back. Towering above him, Billy had released Joey, who was presently pounding a small, ineffective fist on his shoulder, and was reaching down for Dean's shirtfront.

"You're the one that should be leaving," Billy snarled.

Dean felt himself lifted from the floor, acutely aware of the surrounding silence in the bar and all eyes on the unfolding drama. When Billy had him fully off the floor, Dean searched for purchase with his feet, working to pry Billy's fingers from his shirt.

"Listen, Gigantor," Dean grunted, slightly concerned by the fact that he couldn't pry himself loose. "I get it. You eat your spinach. That's awesome. Let me go and we can talk about this."

"Let him go, Billy," Joey commanded from somewhere behind the big man.

"You want him, don't you?" Billy asked, tilting his head to inspect Dean closer.

Uh-oh, Dean moaned inwardly. This is not going to end well…

Billy reached up with his other hand and closed his fingers around Dean's neck.

"What the hell are you doing? Are you crazy?" Joey's voice raised in both pitch and volume.

Dean began to squirm as Billy's fingers closed tighter. "Hey, man—" His protest was cut off along with his air supply. Oh, shit…

"I think I'll just make you leave," Billy decided, raising Dean slightly off the ground by the grip around his neck.

The toes of Dean's boots scuffed the floor. Black dots played hockey at the corners of his eyes. His lips began to tingle.

"Are you all just going to sit there?"

The voice was female, but Dean had lost the ability to distinguish between Joey and Teresa. The edges of his vision were tunneling inward and he found himself instinctively clawing at Billy's arm, his feet desperate to find ground.

"Somebody call Hank already!"

"Billy, c'mon, honey, put him down."

"Teresa, do something!"

THWACK!

Dean knew that sound like he knew the healthy rumble of his baby's engine. It was the sound of a knife blade finding its home in a hunk of wood.

"Let him go, or the next one is gonna be in your eye."

Blackness had almost won when suddenly Billy's grip released and Dean was free. He staggered back a step, then another. As he reached out toward the bar for balance, his legs buckled and he went to his knees coughing and dragging in air. He reached up to tentatively touch the tender skin around his neck, then looked up at Sam.

"Thanks," he rasped.

Sam kept his gaze centered on Billy. "Don't mention it."

Dean started to get up, but a wave of dizziness convinced him to stay on his knees a minute longer.

"Oh, my God," Joey breathed, ducking around the big man and hurrying to Dean's side. She put one arm around his shoulder, and the other hand on the side of his face, her fingers cool. "Billy, you stupid son of a bitch," she snapped.

"Hey, now Joey," Teresa rebuked. "He let him go, didn't he? You knew you were playing with fire, flirting with him in here."

Dean looked up, the world once again level. "Listen, we, uh… we can go," he offered roughly.

"The hell you will," Joey snapped, looking down at him. She stood slowly. "Last time I checked, Teresa," she continued, and Dean felt the air around her words cool about ten degrees, "this was a free country, and as this is the only bar in this piss-ant town, I'll flirt with whomever I damn well please."

"Joey—"

"Billy," she cut him off, "I mean it. Get the hell out of here or I'll have Hank slap more than a restraining order on you, got it?"

Dean looked from Joey's angry face to Billy's fallen countenance, then over to Sam's stone-cold expression. He realized his brother hadn't looked away from Billy once since throwing the knife. With a huff of disappointment, Billy turned, pushing the door to the bar open, letting some of the December air into the small room, and slammed it behind him.

As if an invisible director had called 'action,' conversation and movement inside the bar returned to normal. Dean, still rubbing at the rising bruises on his neck, watched as Sam crossed the room and pulled the knife from the wall, slipping it back into the hidden sheath in his boot. He understood then that Sam's focused attention on Billy had been partly because he was warning him away and partly because he was afraid the big man would wise up and turn to grab the knife and return the favor.

"Here, take it easy," Joey said soothingly as she helped Dean to his feet.

Sam turned to face him, his hazel eyes meeting Dean's, holding a bitter question: you satisfied? Dean straightened his shoulders, jutting his chin out defiantly. Part of him was wired for the brawl he'd been denied. It was that part that wanted to knock the smug, I knew it look from Sam's face. Part of him wanted to reach for the whiskey bottle again and drink until knowingly reckless was so much ancient history and he fell directly into oblivion.

Cool fingers gently probed the rising welt on his cheekbone. "That's definitely going to leave a mark."

The part of him that won the internal struggle was the one that wanted to sink into this stranger, to breath in her dark beauty and sharp tongue—so completely opposite from Layla Rourke—and let physical abandon erase, if only for a moment, the putrid self-loathing that had snapped at his heals since leaving Nebraska.

"I'll be okay," Dean said softly, testing the strength of his voice. His eyes never left Sam's stony face.

"John, don't be ridiculous," Joey said, a frown in her voice. "I have a med kit in my truck. I can fix you right up."

Sam's eyebrow flicked once at Dean's choice of an alias, but he said nothing.

Dean looked away from his brother and down to Joey's unique eyes. "You have a med kit in your truck?"

"My brother works the rodeo," she lifted a shoulder. "I got kinda used to patching him up on the fly."

Dean smiled, slipping an arm over her shoulder. They moved toward the door, Teresa's voice stopping them.

"There's a tab to settle there, tough guy," she reminded him.

Dean heard Sam sigh.

"I got it," his brother grumbled.

He half-turned, facing his brother, not wanting to inadvertently invoke an opening for an admonition. Sam spared him.

"I'll be in the car," he said, looking down at his wallet. "Y'know… when you're… done." He looked up, meeting Dean's eyes and ticked the corner of his mouth up in a small smile.

"C'mon," Joey said. "My truck's at the back of the lot."

"You got a coat or something?" Dean asked.

She smiled as if touched he'd think of that. "I left it in the truck—didn't want to have to keep track of it."

Dean nodded and walked with her to the truck, keeping his arm around her slender shoulders both because he liked the feeling of a woman's body next to him and to keep her warm. The temperature had dropped considerably in the time they'd been in the bar. When they reached the truck, Dean saw that she wasn't kidding about being parked at the back of the lot—the truck bed was backed up to a grass embankment and the vehicle was conveniently cloaked by night.

Joey unlocked the driver's door of the extend-cab, reaching up to push the lock and nodded toward the rear door. "Climb up in the back. Med kit's back there. I'm gonna start it up, warm us up a bit."

Dean did as she asked, pulling the door shut behind him and settling on the bench seat, his eyes already searching for the med kit she promised. His cheekbone was throbbing and his neck was going to be sore for a good while.

"Find it?" Joey asked as the truck roared to life, the sounds of an acoustic guitar spilling from the radio and heat rolling from the vents.

"Not yet," Dean answered.

"Hang on," Joey said, turning the radio up until Dean was able to pick out Layne Staley's lonely voice filling the space between them.

"Alice in Chains?" He asked.

Joey looked over her shoulder. "Rebellious grunge fan. You?"

"Not so much," Dean shook his head.

"I knew you had to have a flaw somewhere," she teased. He saw her wiggling a bit and couldn't figure out what she was doing until she turned around, arched her back and slipped quickly over the back of the seat to rest next to him, her feet bare.

"Impressive."

"I learned to take the boots off first when I accidentally kicked a friend of mine in the face and knocked his tooth out."

"That'd kill the mood," Dean said.

Joey smiled, her face soft in the amber dashboard lights. "Surprisingly," she laughed, "it didn't."

Dean raised a brow, then winced and gingerly touched his bruised cheekbone. "Ow."

"Ooh, sorry," Joey, bent low, her chest across Dean's lap, and reached beneath the driver's seat. "It's under… here… some…where—ah! Got it!"

Sitting up, she showed him the med kit, a triumphant grin on her face.

"Never doubted you," Dean said, letting the warmth of the truck, the whiskey, and the woman ease him back down to comfortably numb, his belly uncoiling, his legs loose and easy, his body responding to her closeness.

"Here," she whispered, hiking her denim skirt slightly higher on her thigh, slipping her leg across his lap, and settling herself comfortably on his groin. "That's better. Now I can really… get to you."

"I'll say," Dean swallowed.

She opened the med kit, withdrew a cotton ball and a brown plastic bottle.

"Peroxide?"

She shook her head. "Witch hazel," she replied. "Great for swelling and bruises."

"I'll have to remember that," Dean said, sliding his hands from her knees to her thighs, pausing at the edge of denim as she dabbed the witch hazel on his cheekbone.

"We chase misprinted lies. We chase the tracks of time. And yet, I fight…And yet, I fight this battle all alone. No one to cry to, no place to call home…"

She dropped the cotton ball on the floor, put the witch hazel away, and slipped the med kit over the seat to the front. Dean didn't move. His hands rested on the tops of her thighs, his body sinking deeper into the bench seat, the music stealing into the cracks the liquor always exposed.

"Hey," Joey, tipped a finger on his chin. "You okay?"

"Yeah, just…" he shook himself. Dude, get a grip. You have a willing woman On. Your. Lap. Shove the psyche back under its rock and get on with it.

"John," she said softly, making him regret his choice of names. "I want to be here. Right now. With you." She leaned close to him, her breath ghosting his lips, her lips close to his. "How about you?"

There were times to step away, take a breath, grab onto something solid and find balance. Then there were times to turn a blind eye to reason and step off the edge. Without a word, Dean reached up, sliding his fingers into her short hair, and pulled her face forward, their lips meeting in a crash of carelessness—the exact thing he'd been looking for.

The music absorbed their soft moans, quick gasps, and low growls of carnal pleasure. The darkness hid any truth outside of the secluded seat.

Joey pulled her T-shirt free, tossing it aside and diving back for his mouth as if she couldn't breathe were it not for him. He felt her tongue against his teeth, along the roof of his mouth, stroking against his tongue as he reached back to unhook her bra, pulling the straps free and helplessly moaning in the back of his throat when he filled the palm of his hand with her warm breast.

She clawed at his jacket, flannel, and T-shirt, her actions a display of hunger to feel the unique sensation of flesh on flesh. Once free of his shirt, he dropped his head back as she worked her mouth down his throat, to his collarbone, her fingers unzipping his jeans, shoving them low on his hips, then backtracking along his coiled belly, ribcage, to meet her mouth at his sternum. Just as he was about the grab her and pull her mouth back to his, she pushed up on the bench seat with her knees, and as he blinked in momentary confusion, dropped her panties on the seat next to him.

"Nice move. You got any more?"

"Just one," she rasped. "If you've got…"

"Back pocket…"

"Lean toward me… okay, got it…"

"Want me to…?"

"Not on your life…"

Dean's eyelids fluttered softly as he felt her fingers on him, rolling the protection into place. Her hand skimmed up his jaw and into his hair, pulling his face forward. Her mouth was hot on his, swollen lips pulling his close, tasting. And then their bodies were moving in an automatic, instinctive, primal rhythm, the music accompanying them.

Joey's legs held his hips tightly, her slim body moving against his, silk against leather, until he felt his muscles tighten, felt her gasp and still, gripped her waist and pressed his face against her chest and shook as his body liquefied, his heart hammering in his throat, his fingers tingling. He felt her tremble in his grip, her breath punching out of her in a quick staccato of release, and then she sagged against him.

"How was that move?" she asked after a moment, pushing her hair away from her sweaty forehead.

Dean blinked, bringing the world back into focus. "You've perfected it," he panted, grinning.

After a few minutes of awkward positioning, they were redressed and sitting side-by-side. It was this moment that Dean hated—the thanks, it was fun, you're gorgeous, I'll never see you again moment. Joey reached out for his hand, lacing her fingers through his for what felt like one last moment of intimacy.

"I'm sorry about your eye," she said. "And your throat."

"I've had worse," Dean said.

"That wasn't part of the plan or anything, y'know," Joey smiled slightly. "I don't have a Florence Nightingale kink or anything."

Dean chuckled. "Good to know."

Joey released his hand. "Thanks," she said, kissing his cheek. "That was fun."

Dean almost let out a genuine laugh as she took the burden of goodbye away from him. He turned sideways, his arm across the back of the seat, then leaned forward and kissed her cheek. He opened the door and let himself out, moving with slightly hollow legs across the lot and around the side of the bar. The alcohol was playing with his balance and pulling at eyelids, but the chill of the night kept him alert. His body was lazy with afterglow and his mind was filled with easily recountable sensations. When he saw the Impala, he grinned.

Sam was sitting behind the wheel, frowning at his cell phone display. He opened the passenger door and dropped onto the seat. Sam jumped slightly, then tucked his cell phone in his pocket.

"You smell like sex," Sam complained.

Dean leaned his head back, closing his eyes, ready to sleep for a week. "I should," he grinned sleepily.

"You get what you needed in there, Dean?"

Dean was quiet for a moment. His body was relaxed and energized at once. "Yeah," he said, then yawned. He slouched down, tucking his arms around himself, trying to remember what it was he'd been looking for in the first place.

Sam started the car. "Hope so," he said, then mumbled something low enough that Dean had to open his eyes and lift his head.

"What was that?"

Sam dropped the gear into reverse, laying his arm across the seat and backing out of the lot. "I said that I don't want to hear you saying you're not worth her life."

And just like that, it was back. Dean shivered once, keeping his arms around his chest.

"Don't worry," he said softly, closing his eyes once more. "You won't."

As they continued to drive west toward Sacramento, Sam pushed the radio stations until he found one he liked. He turned it up as Dave Matthews' nimble fingers tripped insanely through his Two Step.

Dean opened one eye. "Really?"

"House rules, Dean," Sam said, and Dean saw the whites of his teeth as he grinned. "Shut your cakehole and get some sleep."

www

There was something comforting about driving at night.

Once he'd been old enough to take a shift and let his dad and brother sleep, Sam always volunteered the night hours. With his family huddled in their own versions of comfort, Sam could wrap himself in the shield of darkness with nothing but music, the glow of the dash, and the lights of the other cars to interrupt his train of thought.

Within minutes of returning to the highway, Dean had fallen into a fitful sleep, his bruised face pulled tight and lined with whatever demons visited him in his dreams, the finger marks on his neck visible in the muted light of the dash. Sam sighed, turning down the radio a bit to try to let Dean sleep off some of the drunk he'd taken on. He still stung from his brother's earlier comment that the reaper should have taken Dean, giving Layla a chance to live.

He thought for a moment about what Dean had said about Marshall Hall, that they would never know his intended purpose in life because it had been traded for Dean's. Same could be said in reverse, Sam mused, glancing silently at his sleeping brother. Bet you didn't think of that. Maybe there's a reason you were picked out of that crowd, given a second chance.

His cell phone vibrated in his pocket and he plucked it out, glancing at the screen. Same message as before: a series of numbers and two letters, JW.

Sam's lip bounced in a rebellious snarl and he stuffed the cell back into the pocket of his hoodie, turning up the music. Mike and the Mechanics were asking can you hear me running, can you hear me calling you.

Sam knew John had received his message about Dean. That had to be why he was calling Sam's phone and not Dean's with coordinates. Did he even wonder if Dean survived? What if it had been John and Dean who'd run into the rawhead? Would John have taken a chance on Roy LeGrange? Taken that leap of faith?

How far would you go to save us, Dad?

He rolled his neck as he left Utah behind and slipped across Nevada's border. Hours evaporated. Dean slept, barely moving, sometimes mumbling, often snoring softly. Sam stopped once to relieve himself and fill up the car, but Dean didn't budge. When he got back in the car, Sam actually reached over and rested his hand gently on his brother's chest, checking for breath.

Dean stirred, his brow furrowing slightly, but remained asleep.

Sam continued to head west, thinking. He'd not been able to see his way to a clear path since the night Jess died. His lifeline had been to hang on to Dean and find dad. Walking away from Dean on that wet highway in Indiana had been one of the hardest things he'd ever done. Hearing Dean say he was proud of him for having the strength to walk away almost shattered him. Seeing Dean pale, weak, feeling him tremble with every step, watching him fall weakly to his knees on the stage in that tent…

Sam shook himself. He was done with that. They would find John, stick together, finish the job and then he was going to make sure they both got a shot at normal. He wanted his brother to know what it felt like to finish a day of work, come home, sit on a couch in his own home, and sip a beer while he watched a baseball game. He wanted his brother to know what it felt like to have the same girl lay beside him night after night and never be able to get his fill of her.

The sweaty slide of a saxophone suddenly filled the car and Dean jerked in startled reaction. Sam glanced over, but Dean simply readjusted his slump against the side window and settled. Gerry Rafferty's vanilla voice waxed nostalgic about leaving the big city for time on Baker Street.

What would it take, Sam wondered.

What would it take to give his family roots? How far was this fight going to go? Would Dean stop with just the demon that killed mom? Could he, when as Dean reminded him, they know what's out there, they know to be afraid.

"But you know he'll always keep movin'. You know he's never gonna stop movin'. 'Cause he's rollin', he's the rollin' stone…"

He crossed a bridge passing over an industrial section of a nameless Nevada city, the lighted billboards catching his tired eyes with warnings about motorcycle safety, promises of renewed energy, and announcing that the Nevada Powerball was at $65 million and change.

Sam grinned ruefully. That's what we need… to win the lottery… no more fake credit cards, no more skanky motels, no more sleeping in the car… we'd make the ghosts come to us.

He laughed softly at himself, and drove on through the night.

As dawn crept up in his rearview mirror, Sam saw that they were just outside of Carson City. He debated on waking Dean, but decided that this time, he'd pick the exit. Pulling off, he parked at a Denny's with a gas station next door. The tank was just about empty once more, but he needed fuel before the Impala got some.

"Dean," he said, reaching over and shoving gently against Dean's shoulder.

Dean huffed slightly but didn't fully wake.

"Hey, man, rise and shine already," Sam shook him a bit harder.

"Oh, dude, seriously," Dean groaned. "You do not want to shake me right now."

"One too many shots of whiskey, there, Butch?" Sam teased. "I'm surprised. You were still walking in a relatively straight line and everything."

Dean rolled his neck against the back of the seat, joints cracking with the motion. Sam narrowed his eyes in a sympathetic wince.

"Nice shiner," he said.

Dean blinked blood-shot eyes at him. "Leave it to us to pick the one hole-in-the wall place where Bubba the Giant has a crush on the Sherriff's daughter." He yawned.

"Hey, first, you picked the place," Sam pointed out. "I had nothing to do with it. And second, no one asked you to hook up with the Sheriff's daughter."

Dean's eyes dropped half-mast and his grin slipped from sleepy to lascivious. "Trust me, dude. She asked."

Sam rolled his eyes and waved a dismissive hand at him. "Whatever." Stretching his arms out in front of him, popping his shoulders, and rolling his neck, he said, "I'm starving, and I know you're hun—"

He stopped at the look on Dean's face.

"What?" He curled his fingers into fists to stop himself from reaching out to check Dean for injuries, so pained was the look on his brother's face.

"Dude. What. The. Hell."

"What?" Sam asked again, his brows meeting across the bridge of his nose.

Dean's eyes slid to the softly-playing radio. Sam followed his gaze, tuning in to the now static-filled music.

"…a summer's disregard, a broken bottle top, and a one man's soul. They follow each other on the wind ya' know… 'cause they got nowhere to go…"

"Tell me that isn't Michael Freakin' Jackson on my radio," Dean said.

Sam's hand shot out and he quickly turned off the music then shut off the car. "I wasn't paying attention."

Dean lifted an eyebrow in doubt, then followed Sam from the car into the restaurant gingerly rubbing at the fading marks on his neck. Luckily, it seemed Billy hadn't held on long enough or tight enough to do serious damage.

Sam slid into the booth and waited to order until Dean joined him after washing up from a night of drinking, sex, and sleeping in the car. He busily contemplated his menu asDean returned, a sigh following him.

"Nothing like a sink bath in a public restroom to brighten your day," Dean grumbled, Sam said nothing, knowing his brother was simply biding his time. When Dean said nothing else, Sam hazard a peek over the edge of his menu. Dean was looking through the restaurant window.

"You win, Sammy," he said, his voice soft with awe.

"Huh?"

"You pick the exits from now on," Dean continued.

"I do?"

Dean jerked his head toward the window. "Check it out! It's like a muscle car convention. A Chevelle, Charger, Falcon, oh, dude…" Dean sighed, his voice becoming reverent. "There's even a Shelby. My baby's in good company."

Sam dropped his menu. "What, do you have some kind of special grease monkey EMF?"

Dean grinned. "What can I say? It's in my blood."

Sam shook his head, looking out through the window at the cars Dean was currently drooling over. "The only thing in your blood is cholesterol. And possibly Chlamydia."

"Eh, it's curable." Dean grinned as a sleepy-looking waitress walked up and asked them what they'd like. "Well," Dean started, cutting off Sam's reply. "I'll have a coffee, two eggs, hash, toast, bacon. What about you, Sam? Some… pop, maybe? That would be a real thriller, huh?"

Sam looked up at the confused waitress. "I'll just have some pancakes and an egg on the side, please."

"You want her to beat it?" Dean asked, mirth making his green eyes dance.

"I'll have a large coffee, too," Sam said, handing her his menu. As the waitress walked away, Sam looked at his older brother with a tolerant gaze. "You happy now? Got it out of your system?"

Dean's grin widened. "Not even close."

Sam's tired eyes wandered through the large window, watching as another muscle car pulled into the lot near the Impala, looking a bit worse for wear. As the driver killed the engine, a large plume of black smoke belched from the exhaust. Sam winced, glad that Dean's attention had centered on the coffee set in front of them instead of the two, twenty-something passengers exiting the road-weary vehicle.

"Huh." Dean bounced his head once.

"What?"

"You weren't listening?"

"To… what?"

Dean pulled the side of his mouth into a small grin and shook his head. "You gotta start paying attention, again, Sammy."

"Eavesdropping, you mean."

"You used to be pretty good at it, before…"

Sam sipped his coffee, lacking the energy to get into a semi-nostalgic argument with his brother about how things used to be when it was the three of them on the road, dodging child services, keeping under the radar, and staying one step ahead of the devil.

Dean leaned his elbows on the table, wrapping his hands around his white coffee mug. Sam eyes strayed down when his brother's ring clicked on the porcelain. He saw a pale pink lipstick stain on the side of the mug facing him, but decided not to bring Dean's attention to that.

"Two tables back behind me," Dean said, "there's a girl, I'm gonna say fifteen, sixteen. She snuck out of the house and went to some party. Dad pulled her out and is trying the when I was your age speech."

Unable to help himself, Sam lifted his eyes past Dean's shoulder and zeroed in on the pair Dean referred to. He saw the girl fling her long red hair over her shoulder and look away from her father. The dad sat back, one arm hooked on the back of the booth, the other slowly rotating a mug of coffee.

"What am I going to do with you, Jill?" The dad sighed.

"Doesn't matter," Jill huffed, crossing her arms and frowning. "My life is over anyway. Everyone at school is going to start calling me the girl with the psycho dad."

"I was protecting you."

"It's like you're two different people," Jill retorted, a hint of tears in her voice. "At home you're just… y'know, regular. And then you get around actual people and you're like some freak."

Sam pulled his attention back to their table when their food came.

"Sounds like you," Dean commented when the waitress left. He bit into a piece of bacon and Sam noticed an odd light in his eyes.

"What does?"

"The girl," Dean said, digging into his hash. "You used to tell me you thought Dad had a split personality."

Sam shrugged, cutting into his pancakes. "You have to admit, our lives were—hell are weird. Dad would leave for weeks at a time; you were like, twelve or thirteen the first time you had to hustle pool for grocery money."

Dean lifted a shoulder, eating silently, his eyes still on Sam, as if searching for something.

"Hell, Dean, he was gone for a month when you turned sixteen."

"Seventeen," Dean corrected.

"Whatever. A month," Sam shook his head, chewing thoughtfully. "I mean… what was different about this last time?"

"What do you mean?"

"What made you worry? What made you come after me?"

Dean frowned, finally pulling his eyes away and using his toast to push his egg yolk onto his fork. "You heard the EMF on that voicemail he left."

"Yeah, I did, but… I mean, there had been hinky stuff before. What was different about this time?" Sam pressed, guessing the answer, wanting to hear Dean admit it. Admit that he'd simply been lonely. That he'd missed his brother. That when life was lived with eyes wide-open, it was harder to do it alone.

"I just had a feeling, Sam, okay?" Dean replied. "Turns out I was right."

Sam tilted his head, his eyes wandering outside. "Maybe."

"What do you mean, maybe? We found his journal, man. He left that behind for us to use to find him."

"Or to turn us into… what did you call it? His hunting puppets?"

Dean pushed his empty plate back, sipping his coffee. "I was pissed. I didn't mean that."

"Why the hell not?" Sam challenged. "Dad's a smart guy, sure. He's tough as they come. But it doesn't mean he's exactly… balanced."

"Who is?" Dean shrugged rolling his neck.

Sam saw that he was starting to chip away at Dean's defensive walls and a night without sleep made him just daring enough to keep at it. "You should be pissed, Dean. Hell, I am. Dad gets a voicemail less than a week ago that you're dying and he doesn't try to find us, doesn't send help, doesn't even fucking call back to check in!" Sam was leaning forward, the tip of his right index finger pressed into the table top to enhance his point. "Instead he sends coordinates—to my phone no less."

Dean brought his head up, fast, his face paling. "He did what?"

Sam sat back, immediately regretting his exhaustion-loosened tongue. "Never mind."

"Bull shit. You tell me."

Sam sighed, looking out through the window once more. "While you were, uh… busy… last night, I got a text. Coordinates."

Dean looked down, absorbing. Sam held his breath, waiting.

"To where?"

"Didn't check."

Dean was quiet for a beat longer. "Son of a bitch," he said softly. "I knew you were hiding something."

"What?"

Dean signaled the waitress for more coffee. "You get this like über-innocent look on your face when you're hiding something or lying to me."

"I don't lie to you," Sam protested.

Dean lifted an eyebrow.

"Often," Sam conceded.

"So, coordinates, huh?"

"We're not going, Dean," Sam shook his head, movement in the parking look catching his attention once more. He looked closer, trying to decide if he'd actually seen a figure dart between the cars parked outside, or if his tired eyes were playing tricks on him.

A police car pulled into the diner parking lot and two cops exited the vehicle, heading for the front door.

"Sam, he wouldn't have sent them to us if he didn't—"

"No." Sam's voice was firm. "We're. Not. Going."

Dean narrowed his gaze, his eyebrows meeting over his nose. "What if he's there?"

"He won't be," Sam shook his head. "He hasn't been so far."

Dean watched him a moment longer. "What are you thinking?"

Sam shook his head. "Ever think about playing the lottery?"

"What?" Dean laughed.

Sam lifted a shoulder. "It was just a thought."

"Keep sipping the happy juice, Sam. Winning the lottery… hell, we got a better chance of Dad calling us back."

"I say we head to Sacramento," Sam proposed. "See what Dad might've been hunting there."

"Pick up his trail?"

"He's gotta be after the demon, right?" Sam asserted. "I mean that's what he said when he called—that he was close, but that it was…" He trailed off, narrowing his attention to the lot outside.

Dean picked up his trailing thought. "Too dangerous my ass. Man's got a crazy way of protecting us. Sent us to that damn rawhead—"

"Dean!" Sam barked, finally realizing that what he was seeing was actually happening.

Dean jumped, face tense, looking wildly over his shoulder to follow Sam's line of sight.

"Someone's breaking into the Impala."

www

There were only a few things sacred to Dean Winchester in this life: his family, his Bowie, his Colt 1911, and the Impala.

He'd seen a figure in black leather lift the jimmy from the Impala's lock at the same time he'd heard Sam's announcement, but somehow, his body was already moving from the booth to the front door, an oath on his lips before the implication truly registered. As the palms of his hands hit the silver crossbar of the door, he saw another figure slipping into the front seat of the Shelby parked two steps from the front door.

His boots hit the sidewalk just as the nimble fingers of the Impala Thief wired her engine to life.

"HEY!" Dean barked across the lot, the diner door swinging shut behind him, catching his bellow and tossing it back inside where, unbeknownst to Dean, the two police officers heard and turned. "Get out of my car!"

The thief ignored the order and before Dean was able to step from the curb in a dead run, the thief had closed the driver's side door and was rocketing the powerful car out of the parking lot.

"SON OF A BITCH!" Dean roared, turning on his heel and heading for the Shelby, murder on his mind.

Dimly, he heard his name in his brother's voice, but the only sound that mattered to him in that moment was the rapidly fading growl of his baby's cylinders as they ate up the road. He tore open the door of the Shelby, grabbed the would-be car thief by the back of his collar, and with a heave, dragged him from the car and dumped him on the asphalt, taking his place.

In two heartbeats, he'd finished the hotwire job the inept thief had been attempting, slammed the car into reverse and rubber met the road in an impressive flash of chrome and navy blue paint.

www

"WAIT!" Sam tried one last time, his voice catching on the back of his dry throat as Dean took off after the stolen Impala in an equally-stolen Shelby. "Dean! You dumbass…"

"He stole my car!" Came a voice behind him.

"Yeah, I know he di—" Sam turned to face an angry muscle-car owner, his words evaporating on shocked lips when his eyes hit those of an ancient black man, powerful hands not worn down by age gripping the shirt front of a slim, red-haired kid.

"Uh, I know he did, sir," Sam said, darting a desperate look over his shoulder at the police as they exited the diner, one speaking into the walkie-talkie on his shoulder. Sam lifted his hand to tap two fingers on the old man's chest. "Don't worry, okay? I'll get it back for you."

"Better be in one piece, or there'll be hell to pay!" The man yelled, jerking the thwarted thief with him as he headed back toward the diner.

Sam nodded, jogging over to the police cruiser. "Take me with you," he demanded to the heavy, ruddy-skinned driver. The cop looked up at him, incredulous.

"We ain't no taxi service, kid." He tried to pull the door shut, but Sam slid his leg in the way. "We've got a car thief to catch; you wanna back up, or do I arrest you for obstruction of justice?"

"Take me with you," Sam repeated, acutely aware of how far Dean and the Impala were both getting from him as he stood there, helpless, "or you'll have to add homicide to you list."

The cops squared his shoulders, a brow raised.

"'Cause if my brother catches the guy that stole his car," Sam continued, "he's gonna kill him."

Glancing quickly at his partner, the cop sighed and nodded. "Get in."

www

I'm gonna kill 'im, Dean vowed to himself, his eyes pinned to the backside of the Impala, his body moving in automatic rhythm to the demanding beat of the heavy Ford. I'm gonna rip his arm off and beat him to death with it… then I'm going to tie him up and drag him behind my car…

The Shelby had a manual transmission. It had been years—many of them—since Dean had dealt with a clutch, but he didn't have time to think about it: he simply drove. Barely taking time to press the clutch to the floor, he slipped the gear from third, to fourth, to fifth, downshifting once more to take a tight turn, slipping the stick up through the catches and slamming the accelerator to the floor, demanding performance.

The powerful car responded, holding Dean as close as a lover as it skidded around a left-hand turn, dodging cars and semi-trucks that were moving at a moderate pace in comparison. Dean glanced down once to the odometer and barely registered that they had passed the one-hundred miles per hour mark. His whole being was focused on following the Impala, on getting it back.

You take care of her, she'll be with you for life. She's forty years old and still as bad-ass as they come… John's words beat in his ears along with the sound of the Shelby's pistons. You earn this, son.

Dean downshifted and tightened his stomach muscles to absorb the impact of a rough exit to a dirt-and-gravel road.

Earn this… The words left a bitter aftertaste in the back of his throat. He'd spent his life earning that car, earning his father's respect, earning the honor of owning her. And no goddamn punk was taking that from him. He floored the accelerator, left hand on the wheel, right gripping the rounded head of the gear shift.

www

"Damn, this kid can drive," muttered the cop.

"Which one do you mean?" Sam asked from the back seat, his long arms spread across the divider, trying to keep himself intact as the boxy cruiser followed the two powerful machines down a deserted road, through traffic, and then off into the Nevada desert.

The screaming sirens turned into so much background noise and the crackling calls of dispatch echoed numbly through the car as the three occupants focused on their prey.

"Good… point," the cop managed. "The Chevy's your brother's car, you say?"

"Yes sir," Sam ground out, bouncing hard on the seat, the crown of his head cracking against the roof of the car as they rambled over the rough road.

"He's not letting it out of his sight is he?"

"No… sir," Sam replied, then swore as his cheek bounced against the glass of the side window. "He'll catch him… we just better be there when he does…"

"Looks like that won't be a problem," the other cop commented in a tight voice.

"Why?" Sam said, bracing his feet against the floorboards.

"He just ran out of road."

www

"Oh, you gotta be kidding me," Dean breathed as through the dust kicked up by the Impala's wheels he saw a slice cut into the earth as if God had drug a butter knife down the length of the dessert. "Stop…" he breathed, easing up on the accelerator, and downshifting, his eyes on the Impala, watching for brake lights. "Stopstopstopstopstopstop…"

www

"Oh, my God," Sam breathed, his eyes on the rear lights of the car his brother drove up ahead. "OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGod…"

www

"Atta baby," Dean murmured when the Impala's rear lights flashed and her wheels locked as the breaks were applied. "Atta girl, slow down now, slow, slow, slow…"

www

"He's not stopping!" Cried the cop.

"He'll stop," Sam asserted. "He'll stop."

"They go over, there's not going to be anything to identify—"

"He'll stop," Sam repeated, his voice hard. "He's gonna stop."

www

Silence.

Dust billowed around them, settling on the two cars like sugar frosting, turning the dark paint almost pastel. Dean took a trembling breath, his brain slowing to register present time, ticking back from the super-sonic processing that had taken him from the diner booth and thoughts of his father sending coordinates to Sam and not him, and propelled him with the energy of the insane to this precipice.

He'd shut off the Shelby's rumbling engine as soon as both he and the Impala had come to a sliding stop. Swallowing the bile of realization, he opened the door and stepped from the vehicle, his eyes on the Impala's door, the din of a police siren wailing in the background.

The Impala's door opened and Dean saw two hands poke out through the opening.

"I'm gettin' out, okay? Don't shoot!"

It took until that moment for Dean to realize that his Colt was sitting at home in his grip and was pointed mercilessly at the driver.

"Shooting is too good for you," Dean replied, biting off the ends of his words, keeping his gun up. "Get the hell out here where I can see you."

"I'm comin', okay? Just… why don't you set the gun down, okay? Let's talk about this?"

"Shut the hell up," Dean shouted, registering the fact that the sirens had stopped. "Get out of my car."

Slowly, sliding his skinny body through the small opening between the door and the car, a kid of about twenty-one emerged, platinum-blonde hair spiked, right eyebrow and bottom lip pierced, left eye blackened in a bruise that rivaled Dean's.

"I'm out, okay? I'm out."

Dean approached, gun up, eyes taking in the thief's countenance. Truthfully, he couldn't decide if he wanted to shoot him, push him off the ledge, or take him back to the diner and buy him a meal. The kid skidded along the side of the Impala, blue eyes large and trained on the gun.

"Wanna put that away now?"

"Not especially," Dean replied.

"Dean!"

Dean blinked, keeping the gun on the Impala Thief and shifting his eyes quickly to the side. "Sam?"

"You okay?"

"Yeah. You?"

"I, uh… the cops… brought me."

At that, Dean finally relaxed his arms, his gun dropping to his side. The kid sighed loudly and let his hands fall. Turning from the thief to Sam, Dean tucked the Colt into his back waistband. Sam stepped up close, two men in blue highway patrol uniforms behind him. Dean asked with his eyes if they were in trouble. Sam blinked once, slowly, indicating that if they kept their mouths shut, no worries.

"Emerson?" One cop exclaimed, bringing his handcuffs out and stepping up to the skinny kid. "What the hell were you thinking, boy?"

"I gotta get to San Diego," Emerson replied, turning and crossing his arms behind his back as if this move were familiar to him. "I told you that!"

"And I told you to buy a fuckin' bus ticket!"

"You think if I could afford a bus ticket I'd be going after the—"

Turning him, the cop biffed Emerson on the back of the head, shutting him up. "Not one more word about that damn treasure."

"But—"

The cop put his hand on the butt of his gun. "I ain't kidding, boy."

Dean and Sam stood silently, watching as the other cop jotted down the license plate of the Shelby, moving around front to capture the VIN number. The brothers moved closer, Dean moving deftly to protect the Impala's plate from sight as Sam leaned closer to the cop's notebook.

"What's that for?" he asked.

The cop shrugged. "Records," he said. "In case Saul Denton files a claim later."

Sam moved to innocently block the cop from the Impala. "That the name of the guy that owns the Shelby?"

The cop nodded. "He's a fixture 'round here. Buys 'em broken, sells 'em like new."

"Huh," Sam nodded. "Think maybe he might want to get his hands on the pile of scrap metal this guy and his friend drove in? Could, uh," Sam glanced quickly at Emerson, "could make up for the other guy going after his car."

The cop nodded, lips folded down in a thoughtful frown. "Yeah, maybe."

"You guys got Mack, too?" Emerson asked as the cop who'd cuffed him took him by the arm and started to haul him toward the police cruiser.

"Lemme give you some advice, Em," the cop closest to Sam tossed up, having been effectively distracted from capturing the Impala's information. "You decide to steal cars with your little brother, let him take the one furthest from the building."

"Dammit, Mack," Emerson grumbled, his curses fading as he was tucked into the backseat of the cruiser.

The cops turned to Sam and Dean. "You want to press charges, you're gonna have to come back to the station," the ruddy-faced cop said.

Dean shook his head. "I got her back, that's all that matters."

"What do you want to do about Saul's car?"

The ruddy-face cop looked from his partner to the brothers. "One of you want to take it back to him?"

Dean nodded. "Least we can do," he said, willing to agree quietly so as not to stir up more trouble. He was well aware that if this Saul Denton wanted to press charges, he was facing a tricky escape. Mental note, grab a paperclip…

With a small salute of thanks, the cops slid into their cruiser, pausing to complete paperwork while the brothers regarded each other silently.

"That was close," Sam said softly.

"You're telling me."

"I'm gonna go out on a limb and say you want to drive the Impala back to the diner."

Dean grinned, digging in his pocket for the keys. "Guess we still have to pay a bill there, too."

"Yeah," Sam nodded, opening the driver's side door of the Shelby.

Dean put his hand on the Impala's door and pulled it to him, stopping at the sound of his name. He turned, seeing Sam stare into the interior of the car.

"What?"

"It's a stick."

"Yeah…"

"Since when can you drive a stick?"

Dean blinked. "Since… uh… hell, I don't know. I just could."

Sam was looking at him, his face unreadable.

"Dude, stop staring at me like that."

"Y'know, just when I think I have you all figured out…"

Dean lifted an eyebrow. "You wanna drive the Impala back, Sammy?"

"I'm gonna have to," Sam lifted a shoulder. "Never really bothered to learned how to drive a stick. Didn't know you'd learned how."

"Guess I'm just full of surprises."

www

It took an hour to get back to the diner and pay their bill, another hour to wash Saul's Shelby good enough that he agreed to not press charges against Dean, and yet another hour of driving West before Sam surrendered.

As the sign welcoming them to California passed them by, Sam told Dean to take the first gas, food, lodging exit. To his surprise, Dean complied with little argument.

"Thanks, man," Sam sighed, his body bone-weary.

"It'll give me a chance to clean up the Impala," Dean shrugged.

They checked into a roadside motel and Sam made a bee-line for the shower. Leaning one hand on the questionably clean tile wall beneath the shower head, he dropped his chin to his chest and let the hot water beat against his neck and run in a river down the valley of his spine. He could hear Dean walk in and turn on the water in the sink, knew he was splashing his face and downing ibuprofen. Morning-After Dean was predictable, even when a high-speed car chase was thrown into the mix.

"I'm gonna take these towels to wash the car," Dean said over the noise of the shower.

"Leave me one," Sam said.

"No, man, I thought I'd let you air dry."

"Bite me," Sam retorted, tipping his face up and letting the hard water run over his eyes. "Call down front for more, okay?"

Dean said something in reply, but it was lost in the sound of water. Sam stayed under the water until it ran cold. He stood in front of the mirror toweling off, marveling that they were once again in California. Nowhere close to Palo Alto, but he still had never guessed he'd be back in this state so soon after Jess's death. Stepping out into the dank coolness of their room, he dropped his towel and stood naked in front of the small table, digging through his duffel bag for clothes.

He was tugging a pair of sweatpants over his bare hips when his cell phone vibrated against the table top, startling him. He looked down. It was Joshua. Frowning, Sam picked up the phone and pressed 'talk.'

"This is Sam."

"Sam, it's Joshua. How's your brother?"

Mentally, Sam kicked himself for not circling back and letting John's friend know that his tip about the faith healer had worked, despite some side-effects.

"Hey, man, he's good. Thanks, y'know, for—"

"He's alive?"

"Yeah," Sam wrapped an arm around his bare chest. He moved to the heating unit; even in California, December was cold. "Yeah, he's fine. I mean, there were some… issues…"

"What kind of issues?"

Sam sighed, cranking the ancient heater deep into the red and listening as the unit clicked to life. "Well, there was a reaper, and it turned out the faith healer's wife was… kinda trading lives."

"But Dean's okay?"

Frowning, Sam parted the curtains, looking out into the parking lot. The Impala was back and Dean was sitting behind the wheel, staring at something in his hands. "Yeah, he's okay. What's going on?"

"Have you heard from your Dad?"

Sam's shoulders dropped and he felt his face empty of emotion. "Why?"

He heard Joshua sigh, pausing as if searching for words. "I got a call. From John."

Sam felt cold. "What did he say?"

"He, uh… he said to check on you."

"He couldn't do that himself?"

"That's the thing… I don't think he could. It's okay—I mean, I don't think he's hurt or anything… but, I think…"

Sam sat down on the bed, his eyes on the door, seeing nothing. "What are you trying to say, Joshua?"

"Sam, he's the one that gave me the name of the faith healer. And… I got the impression that he thinks—"

"That Dean's dead?" Sam asked.

Joshua paused again. "Yeah."

Sam was silent for a moment, processing. With each intake of breath his emotions ricocheted from elation that John had heard him, had gotten wind of his desperate search, had reached out in his awkward, tangled-up way to offer them help even before Sam had called to let him know what was going on. With each exhale, anger swelled that if their father thought Dean dead, why had he contacted someone that was basically a stranger to them to find out more.

Why wasn't he searching for them as ardently as they'd been searching for him?

"Thanks, Joshua," Sam sighed, unsure what else to say.

"Oh, one more thing," Joshua said. "The call came from some place called Windom, Minnesota. He's called me from there before. Just thought you'd like to, y'know, let him know everything's okay…"

Sam hung up feeling numb. They had a location. A location that their father had visited before. A thought struck him and he scrolled through his list of text messages until he found the coordinates John had sent twice before. Pulling his laptop from his bag, he typed in the series of numbers, searching for the location. The cross-hatches landed in Minnesota.

Well, fuck. He was there after all… What am I gonna tell Dean?

The door of the motel room opened and Dean stepped in, a brown and yellow parchment rolled up in his grip.

"Hey, Sammy check this out—" he said, his words halting as he looked directly at Sam's face. "What?"

"Nothing," Sam lied, unsure yet how to broach the subject of Joshua, the coordinates, and John's location.

"What?" Dean repeated, closing the door and dropping his chin.

"I'm just tired," Sam said, closing his computer. That wasn't a lie. He was exhausted and it didn't look like he was going to get sleep anytime soon based on the energy radiating from his brother in that moment.

"M'kay…" Dean hedged doubtfully, then apparently decided to drop it in light of the item in his hand. "Check this out." He pushed Sam's duffel to the floor, shrugging out of his jacket. He spread the parchment out on the table. "I found it kinda jammed under the driver's seat of the Impala."

Sam stood, peering down at the parchment. "You think that kid Emerson left it there?"

Dean looked at him over his shoulder. "Well, unless you have a habit of stashing old maps in our car, I'm gonna say yeah."

"Maps?" Sam frowned, looking closer.

"Dude, what else could it be?" Dean replied excitedly. "Look, there's a compass, right? And doesn't that look like the edge of land?"

Sam looked closer. "What is this? Spanish?" He pointed to the compass and the words norte, sur, este, and oeste.

Dean was quiet for a moment as he, too, studied the parchment. "Well, it sure ain't Latin."

"You know any Spanish?" Sam said, tilting his head to take in the faded word California running along what looked like a land mass. More writing from the lands edge followed a series of arrows inland to a feather-light X. Along the torn bottom of the map more words were visible.

Dean replied, a grin clear in his voice, "¿En tu casa o en la mía?"

Sam shouldered him aside, snorting. "What's that mean, your place or mine?"

"How'd you know that?"

Sam just shook his head and reached down into his bag.

"What are you doing?"

"Getting the light refractor."

"Why?"

"So I can see the words at the bottom better," Sam snapped, his fingers wrapping around a make-shift magnifying glass.

"And again with the why? You don't know what they mean."

Sam looked at his brother over his shoulder. "Since when has that stopped me?"

Dean folded his lips down, his brows tenting into twin V's. "Good point."

As Dean watched, Sam re-wrote the words he could make out onto a clean pad of paper. Dean sat on the bed, waiting, his feet tapping impatiently. Opening his computer once more, Sam pulled up a translation url and began typing.

"Okay, so, this?" he said, pointing to mil seiscientos quince, "means 1615."

Dean frowned. "Like the year?"

Sam lifted a shoulder, typing more. "This," he pointed to en el solsticio de invierno regresará ellaa las aguas y la sangre de los hombres correrá hasta que volvamos a alzarnos, "is something like… She will return to the water on the winter solstice and the blood of men will flow until we rise again."

Dean straightened his shoulders. "Okay, that doesn't sound good."

"This," Sam continued, pointing to cuando la luna caiga sobre la hoja de la espada, ella llevará su carga a casa, "is… uh… when the moon falls on the blade, she will bear her burden home."

"Blade? Blood? Old map from 1615? We talking, like… pirates here, Sammy?"

"There's more," Sam said, looking up at the sound of a knock at their door.

"There usually is." Dean stood. "Maybe these are the towels you called for," he said, gripping the handle and sliding the chain lock free.

Sam straightened suddenly as Dean turned the handle. "Wait! I didn't call for towels. I thought you—"

The door opened a fraction and Sam slid his chair back in surprise as he saw the barrel of a gun jammed roughly into Dean's bruised face, causing his brother to stumble back. Before Sam could step forward, the gun was shoved into the tender flesh under Dean's chin and his shirt was fisted in a no-nonsense grip as the assailant forced his way into the room.

The door slammed backwards against the wall as another gun barrel was trained on Sam.

"Hi, again," said the blonde-headed gunman who was now pressing Dean against the closed bathroom door gun barrel shoved so deep under Dean's chin, Sam saw his brother fighting to swallow.

"You're the kid that stole our car!" Sam exclaimed, his eyes darting from Dean to the gun barrel centered on his own heart.

"Emerson Guiley," the blonde nodded, his back to Sam, his deceptively slim frame conveying strength enough to immobilize Dean. "That handsome devil painting you as a target, there, Stretch, is my little brother Mack. And I think you boys have something of ours."

Sam watched as a smaller version of Emerson, sporting red hair instead of blonde, but with just as many piercings, kicked the door shut behind him, and grinned. Sam felt the hairs on his bare skin rise in reaction to that grin.

"That's rich—" Dean tried, but Emerson shoved his gun harder into Dean's throat, causing him to gasp.

"Oh, believe me," Emerson said, tilting his head to the side, and stepping closer to Dean. "I get the irony. I do. Had me a good laugh all the way over here from Carson City hiding in the back of a livestock truck. Didn't I, Mack?"

"Yup," Mack replied.

"Not big on words, huh?" Sam snarked, tiring of the way Mack's blue eyes raked him. "So you left something in our car when you stole it and now you want it back?"

"And they say the big ones lack brains," Emerson quipped.

"Well, take it and get the hell out of here," Sam ordered, his eyes on Dean's face as its hue shifted from red to gray to white. "And let him go already!"

"Nah… don't think so," Emerson shook his head.

"Dude, he could have killed you back there," Sam pointed out, stepping forward. He stopped when Mack cocked his pistol. "He let you go."

"Correction!" Emerson snapped. "He let the cops take me. That's a bit different from letting me go."

"So what the hell do you want?"

"Your car."

"Yer—" Dean wheezed.

"—not taking our car," Sam finished his brother's assertion. He moved forward again.

Mack fired.

White-hot pain sliced across the outside of his shoulder and Sam jerked, going sideways to his knees, and grabbed his arm. "Son of a…"

"Quit whining," Emerson said. "It's just a flesh wound. Mack don't say much, but he can shoot the wings off a fly."

Sam blinked away the white bulbs of light that illuminated the corners of his vision when he heard something click. Thinking it was the gun being cocked once more, he brought up his bloody hand in surrender when suddenly Emerson exclaimed in surprise.

"Holy shit! I did not see that coming."

Sam pushed himself clumsily to his feet to see that Dean had managed to open the bathroom door, tumbling ass first onto the tile floor and causing Emerson to release his grip or fall with him. Dean lay coughing rough gasps of air, his hand on his bruised throat. Emerson gripped the doorframe of the bathroom with one hand, surprise clear on his face.

"Sam?" Dean rasped, his voice like sandpaper on a chalkboard.

"I'm okay," Sam assured him. "Listen," he said to Emerson, resolutely ignoring Dead-Eye Mack and his gun. "You're after that map, right? It's right there, man, take it and go. We could care less." Seriously… there were much bigger issues on the Winchester agenda at the moment then some old map.

Emerson turned, leaning in the doorway of the bathroom, his tongue teasing a hooped piercing in his bottom lip. He rubbed the barrel of his gun along his temple. "You know it's to a treasure, right?"

Sam gripped his bleeding arm, closing his eyes briefly against the stinging pain. "Whatever."

"Pearls, man. Gold. Everything the Spaniards stole from the Indians when they first got to California."

Sam rolled his eyes. "That's a bunch of shit. Stories about a… a lost ship in the California desert have been around for hundreds of years. Can't prove it ever existed."

"Until now."

"What…" Dean reached up and gripped the toilet, then the sink to pull himself shakily to his feet. "What makes you… think that this… map… is real?"

Emerson looked at his brother. Mack glanced back, grinned once more, and nodded.

"Tell you what," Emerson straightened up and stepped away from the bathroom door. "I've changed my mind. I don't just want your car."

He pointed his gun at Dean's face, cocking the hammer.

"I want you to take me to the treasure."


a/n: For those of you who like music in stories (Amy), I hope you enjoyed this chapter. For those of you who don't so much, but would like to keep reading, don't despair. From here on out until practically then end, it's a rather music-free environment. You'll see why.

Translations: are included in the text, but will be provided in this space in later chapters. Many copious thanks to the amazing Onari for help with authenticity of the language. Babel Fish may have let me down, girl, but you never have.

Playlist:

Poor Twisted Me by Metallica

The House that Jack Built by Metallica

Sweet Child of Mine by Guns 'N Roses

Heartbreaker by Led Zeppelin

Aces of Spades by Motorhead

Aqualung by Jethro Tull

Eye of the Tiger by Survivor

Layla by Eric Clapton (I know it was Derek and the Dominos originally, but I've always loved the live version Clapton played the best)

Nutshell by AIC

Two Step by DMB

Silent Running by Mike and the Mechanics

Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty

Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson (Amy, I hope you're happy.)


Disclaimer/Spoilers: Please see Chapter 1.

A/N: Thank you all so much for reading and for your thoughtful reviews. I can't tell you how much I dig that you guys 'get' this fic so far. And for those of you who said you hoped I continued, no worries. I always finish 'em. I gotta know how they end! *grin*

Oh, and the supernatural element of this supernatural story is coming, I promise. In this chapter, in fact. And I may have told a teensy, tiny white lie about the music. It's the next chapter that it goes away.