Title: Sucker Bet
By: candacehilligoss
Pairings: Dean/OMC
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Don't own them. Not making any money off this. Yadda. Yadda.
Author's Notes: Yeah, it's the old gay bar trope. I know.
Summary: It should have been shocking, maybe, but instead it was no surprise at all.


"That would be frustrating," Sam observed.

Dean looked at him. They were parked outside another bar in another mid-sized town, close enough to watch the locals come and go but far enough away that no one was likely to notice them. It was such a familiar experience that Sam thought it might as well be stock footage. It would be convenient if you could do that in real life, use stock footage for the stuff you did over and over again. And you could be off doing something else while it played.

"What, exactly?" Dean asked. Because, Sam reflected, Dean could think of an endless variety of things he would consider frustrating, in any given situation.

"They just got rid of this guy eight years ago. It must be frustrating that he's back."

"Frustrating. Terrifying." Dean said, weighing the words.

"Potayto, potahto," Sam supplied. Dean raised his eyebrows and went back to looking at the bar.

"I wonder if they think it's him, or if they think it's some copycat."

"They know he's dead," Sam pointed out. Dean shrugged.


"He'll look different," Sam said.

"Of those people who know this guy's a killer," Dean said, "I don't think anyone's seen him who... " he glanced at Sam. "You know."

Sam nodded. It got to the point, sometimes, where they just couldn't complete the clichés.

Another couple left together, arms around each other, and Dean leaned forward. Sam did the same. Was one of them their guy?

The men shoved each other a little, laughed with easy familiarity. Sam relaxed, saw Dean sit back. Not a one night stand. Not what they were looking for.

"This is bullshit," Dean commented. "Doing it this way."

Sam looked at him. Dean kept looking out the window.

"Not that I disagree," Sam said, "but what are you proposing we do?"

"You," Dean said, "are going to stay away from this place."

Sam shifted into a better position for glaring.

"You know what's bullshit? You treating me like I'm--"

"We need one of us on the outside," Dean said, cutting him off. "I'm just guessing, but I don't think hanging around in there gets you to the key to this town. One of us needs to be able to get in with the upstanding citizens. Flirt with the ladies."

"So one of us has to flirt with the ladies" Sam said, "and you're offering to take the other end of the deal?" He was mollified, okay, but now he was confused. Dean's fingers tapped lightly against the steering wheel.

"Yeah," he said.

"I don't think you should be going in there alone," Sam said. Dean actually laughed, looked at him with bright eyes.

"Sammy, it's a gay bar, not a nest of vampires. Okay, some of them may be dressing the part..."

"It's like any other job," Sam said. "We're supposed to watch each other's backs."

He regretted it before the words were even out of his mouth. Dean started in with the laughing again.

"I'm sure I'll have lots of people to do that for me," he said finally. Sam shook his head.

"It's not funny, man. It's a job."

"I know it's a job," Dean said, suddenly calm and sober as if he hadn't laughed in months. "This is the best way to handle the job. I'll be okay in there."

"Hey, I'm sure you'll do really well in there," Sam said. He figured it would get Dean's goat, at the least. Maybe even convince him to rethink his plan. But Dean just smiled and started the car.

"`Course I will," he said. "I'm smokin'"


Apparently he didn't think he was quite smokin' enough the way he was, because he went back to the hotel first. Wanted to change clothes, stick some gel in his hair, whatever.

Sam didn't figure it would matter either way. Dean was Dean. Someone had told their father once that Dean had been blessed with angelic looks and a devilish way about him. Their father had thereafter kept that someone, a lady in her mid to late cougars, well away from both his sons, but Sam didn't think he'd disagreed with the statement. You couldn't. Dean had the "wrong side of the tracks with a good but rough-edged heart" routine down so well, he made it look like fine art. He had girls across the country wondering if just maybe they could have tamed him.

His looks and his body and his charming little act, and the way they all worked together--that was why he could walk into a redneck bar or a gay bar or probably any bar he chose short of maybe, maybe a lesbian bar... and expect the people inside to want him so bad it hurt.

A tighter pair of jeans and a swipe of hair gel were not necessary.

But, hey, whatever made him comfortable or confident or whatever he needed to be to pull off his usual routine under unusual circumstances.

When Dean emerged from the washroom, Sam had to admit there'd been some value in whatever he'd done. He couldn't tell exactly what was different, apart from the jeans and the slightly spikier hair, but there was... something.

"What the hell are you looking at?" Dean inquired, not sweetly. Sam grinned.

"A whole new side of you," he said. "Love the hair."

Dean grabbed a bag of Oreos from the desk and whipped it at Sam's head. Sam managed to duck, but it was a near thing.

"What are you, me?" Dean asked as Sam recovered his balance. "It's a job. Get over it."

"Okay," Sam said, trying not to smile. "I'm over it. What do you want me doing on this job?"

"You know," Dean said, in a tone that indicated Sam certainly should know. "Research. Find out whatever you can about the guy's life. If you get bored, you can check out some of the other bars in town, see if people are talking."

Sam didn't figure he'd get that bored, but he shrugged as if he'd consider it.

"Okay. How long do you want me to give you before I come to your rescue?"

Dean grinned.

"Look, man, I've got my cell. You've got yours. If I need something, I'll call."

Sam stared at him, trying to figure out where Dean's good humour was coming from. Was he just happy to be on a hunt? Pleased to be spending an evening in a bar, even if he was likely to hate the music and even if there might not be a single hot chick in sight? Or... just possibly... looking forward to the challenge? Not that he'd want to follow through, but maybe it wasn't completely crazy to think that Dean was curious as to whether he could work the room.

There were few things Dean enjoyed so much as a challenge.

"All right," Sam said. "Good luck."

"It's never luck," Dean corrected as he headed out the door.


If there was anything that made Sam feel more tag-along kid brotherish than being left in a hotel room while Dean headed to the bar, he couldn't think of it. Not that he was, exactly, stuck there, but Dean had the car and there really wasn't anywhere he wanted to go anyway. Prowling redneck bars for clues was only fun when Dean was there, expertly stringing along women, pool players, and--his favourite--combinations of the two. Whispering snide comments about the patrons in Sam's ear every time their paths crossed. Slipping Sam quarters and daring him to find something other than country on the accursed jukebox. And the Eagles did not count.

As far as research went, Sam was pretty sure Dean's fact-gathering mission was going to be more helpful than anything he could find online. No that there was nothing to find, but it wasn't likely to be anything they didn't already know. The job was not complicated.

Eight years earlier, Eliot Valko had died in the town of Grenville, North Carolina. The events leading up to his death had taken place over the previous two years, during which Valko had murdered six men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four, hitting the demographic just that neatly. All attractive. All gay.

He was something Sam had been disgusted to recognize as a type--a strangely strong man, seemingly attracted to those attractive young men, and given to blaming those young men for leading him astray. After leaving those six men, one at at time, dead in the town's alleys and parks, their lower lips slit neatly by something sharp as a razor, Vasko had hung himself. Maybe. He'd been found hanging from some rafters, anyway. How he got there was a matter for debate. Evidence that he had been the killer had been abundant in his home, and the murders had stopped with his death.

And now young men with their lips cut were showing up again. Three so far, over the last three months. Most people seemed to think it was a copycat, but there were other rumours. And so it had become a job, and Dean had received a call.

Dean, upon learning the details, had said something about "fucking hypocrite whack jobs," with the kind of disdain he saved for creatures who were not only evil but unoriginal.

There probably wasn't a whole lot about the crimes, past or present, that Dean wouldn't be able to learn at the bar. The only thing Sam could think to investigate was Vasko himself. His habits, preferences, the little things that never seemed to change. Two weeks earlier, they'd spotted a possession because the possessing spirit in question had continued her habit, from life, of crocheting Kleenex box covers in the shape of Maltese dogs.

"Now, that's evil," Dean had said, and Sam had laughed.

When he heard the Impala pull up outside, Sam had been staring at the screen so long that his vision had blurred. He gratefully shut the laptop and rubbed his eyes as Dean entered the room.

"How'd it go?" Sam inquired, keeping his voice as neutral as possible. He looked up to see Dean flopping onto the next bed, cheeks flushed and eyes bright.

"My seduction technique is unstoppable," Dean informed him. Sam grinned and turned to get a better look at his brother. Dean's hair was mussed and, incredibly, his mouth had the faint red tinge that said someone had laid one on him in the recent past.

"And fully transferable," Sam added. "That's kind of impressive. Were you actually necking with a guy?"

"No," Dean said. "Come on."

Same words, same tone he'd used to lie about something much more important, and Sam hadn't believed him then, either.

"Whatever you say," Sam said. Dean lay back against the pillows and shut his eyes.

"You get anywhere?" he asked. Sam laughed.

"Not as far as you."

"Yeah, yeah." Dean waved a hand. "What've you got?"

"Birch beer," Sam said. Dean opened his eyes and rolled onto his side to look at Sam.


"Birch beer," Sam repeated. "This guy was normal, on the outside. Worked in construction. Bowled. People had no idea there was anything strange about him until... you know."

Dean nodded.

"So. Birch beer."

"Yeah. I guess it's like root beer or something. This guy had a thing for it."

"Wonder where he bought it," Dean said. Sam smiled. He loved it when he'd anticipated Dean, had an answer ready to go.

"Nowhere that's open tonight," he said. "I called every gas station and convenience store in town. No one knew where a person could get it, either. Not in town. I'm guessing, if we find a source, we'll be able to find this guy."

"Is this seriously going to come down to birch beer?" Dean asked. Sam shrugged.

"Maybe. At least it's not crocheted dogs."

Dean laughed and rolled onto his back again.

"Scariest thing I've seen in a long time," he said.

"So, you get anywhere tonight?" Sam asked. "Besides second base?"

"Is second base different when it's two guys?" Dean said, half to himself.

"You'd know," Sam said.

He decided it wasn't really a surprise that Dean was taking the night's events, whatever they had been, in stride. He made a lot of redneck comments, but that was all part of his act. When it came right down to it, Dean liked pretty much anyone who had the guts to be deeply unpopular in a small town.

Not that he was necessarily comfortable with the situation--though, Sam realized, he didn't know Dean wasn't. He didn't know where Dean had been or what he'd done in those years when Sam had been at school. Regardless, he figured Dean was secretly open minded enough to do the job, accept some necking, and move on.

It gave Sam an odd feeling to think that Dean might be enough of a hedonist to enjoy it.

"No one said anything," Dean said. "I didn't notice anything unusual. Like, outside the usual kind of unusual."

Sam resisted the urge to parse that sentence.

"You think the guy was there?"

"Dunno," Dean said. "I'll try again tomorrow."

Something went through Sam, hot and almost painful, at the unbidden image of a man's hands on Dean's hips, a man leaning down to kiss Dean's open mouth. He wanted to say no, that he'd do it, even though that wasn't what they'd agreed on. He shut his mouth instead.

Before he could recover, there was a knock on the hotel room door.

Sam got to his feet in an instant, hearing Dean do the same behind him.

"Jesus," Dean muttered, and Sam silently agreed. How had they not heard someone approach? They should never have been surprised by a knock on the door.

Dean had a gun in his hand and was moving to cover the door. Sam went forward and looked through the peephole, cautiously. That story about the ice pick through the peephole was surely an urban legend, but there was no reason why someone couldn't try it out for real.

The guy outside the door didn't look as if he were carrying an ice pick. He was tall, not skinny but not hulking either, with sandy blond hair and dark blue eyes. About Dean's age, maybe a little older. Handsome in an affable southern way, like a dust-mottled sunbeam resting on the stoop. There was a hint of a smile around his mouth.

"Dean," Sam whispered. "Could someone have followed you?"

It was akin to asking whether Dean could have missed a close shot, or ground the gears on the Impala. Impossible. Insulting that the question even arose. Still, Dean didn't object, just shook his head and crept to Sam's side, took his own look through the peephole.

His shoulders tensed and he took a step back, then to the side. Sam raised his eyebrows at Dean and Dean shook his head again, this time in shocked disbelief.

Some guy had followed him. From the club.

Impossible. But so was sneaking up on their hotel room.

As their father had sometimes said, there was nothing to it but to do it. Sam looked at Dean, who moved several paces back and nodded.

Sam pulled the door open toward himself, putting it between his body and the man on the stoop. Dean greeted their guest with a gun and a crooked smile.

"Inside," he said. "Take five steps in and face me."

Because he was not an amateur, he did not wave the gun to indicate where he meant. Also, because he was not an amateur, he stayed well back.

"This is a gun," he'd told Sam when Sam was eight. "Unless you're planning to cold cock someone with it, it is a distance weapon. All you're doing when you get in too close is asking someone to take it away from you. Or stick a knife in you. Got that?"

Sam had said that, yes, he had it. While at school, he'd once spent most of an evening drinking and feeling sorry for himself that he had to hear something like that when he was just eight years old. Then it had occurred to him that Dean had said it when he was twelve. Sam had finished his beer and gone the fuck back to studying.

Their visitor didn't seem particularly distressed to be in a hotel room with a gun pointed at him. He even raised an impressed eyebrow at Dean, who was still looking a little... off.

Sam kicked the door shut and, for the first time, their visitor looked surprised. He looked Sam up and down, then looked at Dean again. He was smiling.

"That is not what I expected," he said. He had a slight drawl, nothing overbearing. His voice had the same warmth as his appearance.

Sam didn't know what the hell his comment was supposed to mean. Dean apparently did, because he tilted his head the way he did when Sam was twitting him and he was worn enough to concede.

"Not what you're thinking," Dean said. "I don't recall telling you where I was staying."

"Yeah," the guy said. "Check your back pocket. The right one."

Sam could see Dean almost smile at that.

"You some kind of amateur magician?" he asked, reaching his free hand back. "Am I gonna find a rabbit in there?"

Their guest laughed.

"In those jeans," he said, "I think you'd know."

It took a moment, then Dean's eyes widened, just a bit. It was possible that no one but Sam would have noticed. Dean brought his hand forward and Sam could see a tiny disk in his palm, no larger than a watch battery.

"Son of a bitch," he said, not without admiration. Their guest nodded.

"I figured, with how nervous you were, no way were you gonna notice that I left something behind."

Sam quickly drew the edge of his lower lip into his mouth and bit down. Laughing at Dean was always a good time, but it was going to have to wait until they were alone.

"You just hand these out at random?" Dean asked. "Or is this how you get dates?"

Sam blinked. Yeah. It was, really, pretty damned suspicious. The sort of thing a serial killer back from the dead might do. He couldn't think why that hadn't occurred to him earlier, except that their guest didn't seem like a serial killer. Dumb though that was.

"You were new in town," the guy said. "I wondered about that. And you were looking for Eliot Valko."

Dean didn't look away from their guest as he said,

"Sam. Get him a drink."

The nearest bottle of holy water was in Sam's jacket pocket. He pulled it out, opened it, and held it out.

"I don't recommend trying anything," Dean said. His voice was cold, flat, as if he hadn't been smiling just seconds earlier. Their guest nodded.

"Not gonna."

He took the bottle and gave it a bemused look.


"Holy water," Sam informed him. "So it depends."

Will took a swig and handed the bottle back to Sam.

"Interesting," he said. "Does it always work?"

"In this kind of case," Dean said, visibly relaxing, "yeah."

"This kind of case. Well. I'm not saying you were obvious or anything. Guess it takes one to know one."

"You're looking for the guy, too?" Dean asked.


"You know he's dead, right?" Sam asked. Dean's eyes flickered to him, just for a second. I'm doing the talking. Shut up. Sam ignored him. Their guest shrugged.

"Doesn't seem to be slowing him down any."

Dean sighed and put his gun down.

"How much do you know?" he asked.

"I don't know who the hell you are," their guest said. "Can we start there? Look, show of good faith."

He carefully reached into his jacket pocket and drew out a card, which he handed to Dean. Dean glanced at it, then handed it to Sam.

Will Lawson. Private Investigator.

Sam pocketed the card.

"Someone hired you?" he asked. Will shook his head and pulled another slip of paper from his pocket. A photograph. He gave it to Dean, who gave it a longer look than he'd given the card. He had a distracted look to him when he handed the photo to Sam.

"That's David. Friend of mine. Been a flake as long as anyone can remember. He was convinced the ghost of Valko was back in town, killing again. I said it had to be a copycat. We argued about it some."

"Third victim," Sam said to Dean. "David Park." He kept his voice soft, quiet, as if he could keep Will from hearing it. Or keep it from being painful, at least. Ridiculous.

Dean nodded at Sam. He remembered. Of course he did--he would have studied all of that before going to the bar. He looked at Will.

"Sorry," he said. Will gave him a flicker of a smile.

"And now here you are with holy water. Makes a guy wonder."

Sam handed the photo back to Will. Dean stepped forward and offered a hand.

"Dean Winchester. This is my brother, Sam."

Will looked from one to the other, then grinned and took Dean's hand.

"You don't look like brothers," he said.

"Heard that a few times," Dean said. "This is what we do. We deal with this kind of situation."

"And what kind of situation," Will asked, "is this, exactly?"

"What your friend thought," Dean said. "Possessing spirit. We're here to find out who he's possessing and kick him out. Send him back where he belongs."

Will glanced at the photo of David, still in his hand.

"Guess I owe you an apology," he told it, then put it back in his pocket.

"Just like that?" Sam said. "Now you believe it?"

"I was coming around anyway," Will said. "The whole copycat thing didn't sit right. I don't know why."

Dean shrugged.

"Instinct," he said. "Have you gotten anywhere?"

Will shook his head.

"There's no one new at the bar, aside from you. No one's acting strange. I've been by Valko's house a few times, but no one's been around there. It's gone to weeds now anyhow. No one wanted it after."

Dean raised his brows and Will smiled.

"I know. You'd have thought they'd have put up a statue or something, in honour of his good works. But murder's still murder. Besides," he added, "this town, they're not so bad as all that. They talk a good game, but they know it's their kids or their friends or the guy at the grocery store, you know? So mostly talk is all it is."

Sam wasn't so sure that was all there was to it, but what did he know?

"Did you want to sit down?" he asked.

"Guess I might as well," Will said. "Since I have to hear your story."

"No," Dean said. "You don't." His face softened a little and he canted his head at the room's one chair. "You don't want to. Let's stick to this job."

Will sat, his eyes locked on Dean. Will was looking at Dean speculatively, as if he thought he could read their story in Dean's eyes.

Or maybe it was just that gay guys liked that dark green as much as waitresses and bar girls did.

Dean sat on Sam's bed, since it was the one nearest the chair. Sam leaned against the dresser.

"Were you in town eight years ago?" Dean asked. Will shook his head.

"I moved here two years ago. David grew up here. He lost some friends the first time around."

"Did he have any suspects?" Sam asked.

"No. He was liking everyone for this. See, that's been bothering me, because he wouldn't have gone with anyone. Valko used to get people that way, take them home. I think he does now, too. But David wouldn't have gone. He figured it could be anyone. He wouldn't have gone home with me."

"He live alone?" Dean asked.

"Yeah. Hey, I've been thinking--say someone possessed me. Would they know everything I know?"

"Sometimes," Sam admitted. Will pinched the bridge of his nose.

"That's it, then. David kept keys all over the yard, and a lot of us knew it. Nearly all of us, I'll bet."

"Your friend was pretty friendly," Dean commented. There was no judgement in his tone, which was good, because Sam didn't think he could have kept a straight face if there had been. Will smiled.

"He and I were mostly just friends."

Everyone was silent for a few seconds. Then Dean said,

"Well, I've got to look like the easiest prey in town right now, since he doesn't know I know about the killings. I think there's a pretty good chance he'll make a move."

"Lot of guys are gonna make a move," Will said, with something like fondness in his voice. And Sam might have been imagining it, but he could have sworn that he saw Dean blush just a little. "How you gonna handle that?"

"Fool around, move on. If anyone tries to get me to leave with them, and they're persistent about it, I'll go."

"So, you leave with anyone, I follow you out." Will said.

Sam found himself standing up straight before he even realized he'd moved. His stomach hurt and his skin felt too warm. He wanted, more than anything, to plow Will Lawson, Private Eye, right in the back of the head.

He clenched his teeth and took a moment to calm himself before speaking.

"I'll be staking out the bar," he said. His tone was not dulcet, but it wasn't purely homicidal, so Sam credited himself with a job well done.

"Sammy," Dean said. Temper, Sammy. Mind your manners. And there Sam was, ten years old again.

"Hey." Will had his hands up. "I know you guys don't know me and you have your own way of working. I was just offering to be another set of eyes. And we can leave that tracker on your brother."

Sam couldn't deny that a tracking device would come in handy. He took a few breaths.

"Okay," he said. "If Dean leaves with someone, you find me and we'll go after them."

"You've got a deal," Will said. "If we get that far."

"Do I get a say in this?" Dean asked. "Sam, you've got a lead to follow."

"We can do that during the day," Sam said. "No reason I can't be parked up the street at night."

"What's your other lead?" Will asked. Sam glanced at Dean, but Dean didn't connect with him. Lost in his thoughts, apparently. Sam looked at Will.

"The guy had a taste for birch beer, which is hard to find around here. Assuming he's still drinking it, he's got to be buying it somewhere. He's probably the only guy around who does."

"Nice," Will said. "I'd offer to help, but I've got a paying case that's taking up my days."

He sounded a little put out by that, the need to get paid for a divorce case or something when there was a murderer on the loose. Dean had made a similar comment years earlier, when they'd been watching some PI show on TV and Sam had asked if maybe that was something Dean might like to do. Because it wasn't hunting and, at the time, Sam couldn't see himself hunting forever.

"What the hell do you mean, if we get that far?" Dean asked. Will grinned.

"It's kind of charming when a guy shows up all nervous," he said, "like it's his first time. But past a certain point, you start looking like you're not worth the trouble. Like maybe you're gonna fall to your knees for the wrong reasons and start praying for forgiveness instead of getting on with things."

"Too much trouble," Dean scoffed. Will didn't smile.

"You are surely a lot of trouble," he said. "But trouble is a ratio. There's no particular amount that's too much, if you've got enough on the other side."

Sam felt that strange ache again. He didn't know why. It wasn't as if he hadn't seen a million people hit on Dean, even if most of them weren't male and nearly as tall as Sam was.

The guy wasn't even hitting on Dean, exactly. Or, he was, but he wasn't just hitting on Dean. He was talking to him in a weird way, as if he'd known Dean forever, and had his number, and loved him anyway.

And that, like following Dean and the monster into danger, was Sam's job.

Dean, meanwhile, was pretending as hard as he could that Will hadn't said that last thing to him.

"So," he said, "if you think I'm scaring these guys off, what am I supposed to do about that?"

Will stood, stepped forward, and put a hand on Dean's wrist. He tugged and Dean stood in front of him. They were so close that Dean had to tilt his head far back to see Will's face. Will put a hand on Dean's hip and Dean flinched away, just a little. Will tightened his grip.

"Relax," he suggested. And kissed Dean.

He put a hand at the back of Dean's neck and held him there, kissed him gentle but deep. Dean pulled back at first, but a moment later he obeyed and relaxed into the kiss. After a few more moments, he kissed back.

Those strong, broad hands on Dean's body, that mouth pressed to Dean's parted lips... Sam was shaking from the urge to pull Will off and throw him out of the room.

Don't touch him.

He'd never felt so angry while seeing a girl kiss Dean, but no girl had ever held Dean quite that way.

"Better," Will said as he pulled back, his tone crisply matter of fact. Dean was definitely blushing. Will released Dean and stepped away. "Guess I'll see you guys tomorrow night."

Sam locked the door behind him and watched him walk away. If you didn't hear a guy approach, there was reason to think you wouldn't know whether or not he'd left, either.

He did, though. On foot, with a relaxed-looking gait that disguised how fast he was actually going. Sam watched him until he rounded a corner, a few blocks up the street. When Sam turned from the window, Dean was standing behind him.

"Wanna tell me what that was about?" he asked. He didn't sound angry, just curious. And a little absent, still.

"What what was about?" Sam asked.

"You got a bad feeling about that guy?"

Sam opened his mouth to say yes, he most certainly did, but he shut it again because that would have been a lie. Will struck him as a bit smug, which Sam could tolerate in, say, Dean, but found irritating in people who were not ten feet tall and bulletproof. Aside from that, though, the guy seemed sincere enough. He was sure as hell friendly. He'd probably be a decent person to have on their side.

"He bugs me," Sam said with a shrug. "But I don't think it's anything important."

"Huh," Dean said. Then he grinned, and that weird distance was gone. "Never figured you'd be prejudiced, you leftist California hippy."

Sam grinned back.

"Never figured I'd see you necking with another guy. I should have got out the camera."

"Just a job, Sam," Dean said. Sam laughed.

"When it's just a job, they don't usually kiss," he said.

Dean whipped a pillow at him, but he looked pleased. He liked it when Sam legitimately zinged him.

"It's weird," he admitted, leaving Sam's bed and taking up residence on his own.

Sam sat on his bed.

"Like, really bad weird, or just different weird?"

Dean thought about it.

"Different," he said. "Some of those guys are taller than I am. I'm not used to getting up close and personal with someone who might be able to take a round out of me."

Sam lay back against his remaining pillow and stared at the ceiling.

"Out of you? I doubt it. I've got to say, though, it's fucked up that you'd go there. Like, immediately thinking, what if this guy throws a punch at me while we're necking. That's abnormal."

"That right there is the abnormal part of all this," Dean said. "Good call."

Sam turned his head to look at Dean.

"Now who's prejudiced?"

Dean rolled his eyes.

"Sam. You know I don't care. But it's weird for me."

"You never, you know, fooled around? Like in high school or something?"

Dean turned onto his back.

"I'm not talking about this, Sammy."

Not "no." Not "are you kidding me?", which sometimes meant "yes, but let's pretend no" and sometimes actually meant no. Just "I'm not talking about this." And, for good measure, "Sammy." Sam stared at him.


"I don't know how you got into Stanford without being able to understand a simple sentence," Dean said.

As if anything Dean said was simple. Lies, half-truths, posturing. Layers and secrets, and things he wanted you to know but would never say out loud.

"Oookay," Sam said. "Well, that's convenient, I guess. For the job."

"I don't think I actually answered that question," Dean told him. "But whatever. Apparently I'm spooking these guys."

"Will doesn't seem spooked," Sam observed.

"There it is again," Dean said.

"There what is?" Sam asked, getting a mild sense of deju vu. Dean just looked at him, no expression on his face.

"What exactly bugs you about Will?"

Sam took a deep breath.

"Since when do you want to talk about my feelings?"

"I don't," Dean said. "I want to talk about your instincts."

Sam snorted.

"Nice distinction, Oprah."

"If your Sammy senses are tingling, I'd rather find out now than when this Valko guy is draining my blood."

Which was, in fact, how Valko killed his victims. Blood loss. Where he cut them--apart from the de rigeur cut to the lip--and what he cut them with differed, but they always bled out. Sam had been curious as to whether Valko made the lip cut before or after the exsanguination, but he hadn't been able to find that detail online. He didn't know if it was one of those things the cops held back to screen confessors, or whether the local papers had just figured people didn't want to know.


"Look," Sam said, "I told you: it's not a big deal. I'm not getting some evil vibe off the guy. If I were, would I have told him about the birch beer? I just find him annoying."

Dean grinned.

"Seriously? You hang out with me."

Sam laughed.

"I'm kind of inured to you," he said. Dean clasped his hands over his heart.

"That's the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me."

"I'm surprised you knew the word," Sam said, trying to sound quietly amazed. Dean nodded.

"Not changing this topic," he said. "I still want to know what your problem is. You'll feel bad if it's important and you don't tell me and I die. I'm just looking out for you."

"So not funny," Sam told him. Dean grinned, and Sam felt like a jeweler looking at an excellent synthetic diamond. It was an impressive fake, but he could tell.

"It's a little funny," Dean said. "Come on. Out with it."

"He's..." Sam shook his head. "Presumptuous."

Dean burst out laughing. Sam waited, and waited, and waited, until Dean was done. Then he said,

"I'm glad I could entertain you."

"Presumptuous?" Dean said. "When exactly did we turn into nineteenth century English governesses?"

"Oh, fuck off," Sam suggested.

"Because he stuck his tongue down my throat?" Dean asked. "That was sorta presumptuous."

"That was just guy shit," Sam said, waving a dismissive hand. "You would do that with a hot chick. You'd come up with some excuse for laying one on her."

"I don't need excuses," Dean said. Sam looked at the ceiling, which was water stained and not nearly as cocky as Dean.

"Whatever. I didn't like how he was... like, he was going to watch your back at the bar, and follow you if you left with anyone. How he just cut me right out of it. This whole thing where he's all of a sudden working with us. What is that? We don't even know him."

Any hint of amusement, real or fake, had left Dean's eyes.

"We do this sometimes," he reminded Sam. "We work with people we meet. Why is this different? Do you think he's setting me up?"

"No," Sam admitted. "I told you, I wouldn't have tipped him off to our lead if I thought that. My instincts say he's on the level. I just think, if he's gonna work with us, he should keep his mouth shut and go where we point him."

Dean looked around the room.

"Dad?" he said. "Did you just possess Sam?"

Sam glared at him.

"That's the funniest you've been all night."

"Will's basically letting us call the shots," Dean said. Still with that serious look. "And it's his town. His friends."

"I know," Sam said. "I didn't say it was rational, okay? I just don't like him."

After a few moments of silence, Dean nodded.

"No law saying you have to."

Sam looked at him sharply, but Dean had already looked away. More than that, he'd grabbed the remote from somewhere--probably the place he'd hidden it from Sam, so as to control their viewing options later--and was watching the ancient TV slowly warm and crackle to life. Sam stared at the screen, not seeing it. Thinking.

When Dean was fifteen, he had brought home a girl who wasn't, all things considered, the worst person Sam had ever met. She wasn't skanky. She was pretty. She had a smart mouth and an honest smile. She seemed to like Dean for all kinds of reasons, not just his looks. But she felt bad for Dean, on account of he was always stuck taking care of his kid brother.

She was never mean to Sam, exactly, but she talked to him like he was eight even though he was eleven, thank you very much. Wouldn't swear in front of him. Made these quiet comments to Dean, when she thought Sam couldn't hear, about how unfair it was that he had to babysit all the time. Babysit. Dean had tried to correct her, but she'd just said how nice he was, and kissed him.

After a few weeks, Sam had told Dean that he didn't like that girl. To which Dean had replied,

"There's no law saying you have to."

Sam had been stunned by that because, on some level, he'd always thought there was.

Eventually he'd decided that Dean must have meant that they'd be moving on soon, and it didn't matter whether Sam liked Dean's girlfriend or not, because it was a temporary thing. Not someone he'd have to stand next to at a graduation or sit next to at a family dinner or call if Dean got hurt or even see again, ever. So it didn't matter.

He would never have gotten so involved with Jess if he hadn't thought Dean would like her, and that she would like Dean.

So. Did Dean mean to say that he actually kind of liked this guy? Liked him, liked him? For real? Except it didn't matter, because they'd be moving on soon, and Dean would probably never even mention him again?

Or just that Dean kind of liked the guy, the way he liked anyone with nerve and a little panache, and he was going to be friends with Will whether Sam liked it or not, because Dean felt a little short on friends sometimes? Even if he'd never admit that to Sam or anyone else?

Layers and half-truths and lies.

Dean was watching fucking women's professional fucking wrestling. And he knew Sam hated it. Sam would never know whether Dean actually liked it, or just liked to hear Sam complain.

Sam grabbed his pack and headed for the shower.


"Gotta be honest--I thought I was never gonna move these."

The clerk was tall and round, with a wide smile and a monk's fringe of curly red hair. Sam couldn't help smiling back.

"You seem to be the only person around here who sells it," he said. Dean, meanwhile, was running a finger down the dust that had collected on the tall, dark bottles. The clerk laughed.

"Been in the back awhile, I know. Might even have gone off somehow. Tell you what--you walk those outta here, they're on the house."

"Thanks," Dean said, and the clerk laughed again.

"Don't thank me till you open those up. Like I said, they might not be good anymore."

"How long have they been on the shelf?" Sam asked. The clerk's cheek pouched out a little and Sam realized he was one of those people who stuck his tongue in his cheek when he was thinking.

"Gotta be coming up on ten years, now," he said finally. "Closer to eight? I'll tell you why if you want to hear it, but it's a little gruesome."

"Sounds interesting," Dean said.

"Well, gentlemen, some years back we had a serial killer. Not here--next town over. But close enough. He wound up getting shot after he killed about six people. Anyway, he used to come in here from time to time because he liked birch beer and no one else carried it. I saw him maybe once a month for a couple of years. Those bottles there, they were the last ones I ordered in for him."

"That must have been weird," Sam said. "Realizing you'd been talking to a serial killer all that time."

"I never liked him," the clerk said. "I'm not just saying that because I found out what he did. I wouldn't have turned my back on him."

"Good instincts," Dean said, approvingly.

"I guess I'd better have good instincts, running a place like this by myself. You wouldn't believe some of the types I get in here."

"It's a strange world," Sam said. "So, no one's called to ask about the birch beer until today?"

"Not since Valko got shot down." The clerk put his hands on the counter. "Is that all you came here for?"

Sam fought the impulse to glance at Dean. It was a bad habit, looking to Dean for a steer when they were in the middle of interviewing someone.

"There've been more murders," Dean said. "We were thinking it might be a copycat."

"I've heard that," the clerk said. "You think he'd copy Valko right down to the beer?"

"You never know," Dean said.

"You don't at that," the clerk agreed. "All right. You take care."

"Thanks," Sam said. He left, not bothering to pick up the bottles, but he heard them clink together and realized Dean must have grabbed them. He was never one to leave food or drink behind, even if it had been waiting on a dead serial killer for nearly a decade. It was the principle of the thing.


"It's like weak root beer," Dean said.

"I think it's more like cream soda," Sam said.

They'd found a lake a few miles from the store and were sitting next to it, pondering the lure of birch beer.

"This probably isn't what it's supposed to taste like," Dean pointed out. Sam nodded.

"Yeah. They put expiry dates on Coke now. It must go off eventually."

"Well," Dean said, setting the empty bottle down, "it's not bad, but I can't see why anyone would go out of their way."

"Ours is not to reason why," Sam said. "Ours is to wonder what we're gonna do now."

Dean shrugged.

"I'll keep working that bar. The guy's got to come after me sooner or later."

Sam brought the bottle to his mouth to hide his smile. Dean might be the only person in the world who could sound that smug about being stalked.

"What do you want to do until then?" Sam asked. "We could check out Valko's old house, in case Will missed something. Or we could look at the places where they found each of the victims. I can't see a pattern on a map, but there might be something I'm missing because I'm not actually seeing the locations."

"Like they're all next to a red dumpster or something?" Dean asked.

"Yeah, or across the street from a church, or... I don't know. Something."

"Okay," Dean said. "Let's do that."

They returned to the car and Sam set his bottle in the dirt beside the road. Not that he liked to litter and not that food was forbidden in the car--long days of virtually non-stop driving precluded that. But Dean preferred not to endanger the upholstery on short trips.

"It could be the clerk," Sam said once they were on the road. "The one who sold the birch beer. He could be lying."

Dean shook his head.

"Will's pretty sure it's someone at the bar. Someone everybody knows."

Sam looked out the passenger window and rolled his eyes, hoping Dean wouldn't see him doing it.

"We don't even know Will," he said. "Maybe we shouldn't be taking his word on everything."

"He knows the situation," Dean said. "He drank the holy water. I trust him."

"Uh huh. I don't wanna say a whole lot, because the last time we talked about something like this, you punched me in the face. But let's just say that sometimes, for whatever reason, you like people too much too soon."

Sam risked looking at Dean. Dean's jaw twitched, but he said nothing for about half a mile. Then,

"Yeah. I should take my time getting to know people."

His voice was low and... not bitter, precisely. It was more the sound of words being dragged forward against an almost unmovable weight. Sam looked out the window again and breathed. Deep breaths, soft air over the ache in his throat. It was Dean who broke the silence.

"You still have that raincheck on hitting me back."

Sam was puzzled at first, his brain flipping through memories like a receptionist through a Rolodex.

Oh. That.

"I'm gonna hold onto that for awhile," Sam said. "I'll know when the time is right."

Dean grinned.



Sam placed his hands on his knees and stood. He felt a little crack in one knee and he wondered how long it would be before his knees started to hurt. He was pretty sure he hadn't done them any favours while he was growing up.

"So?" Dean asked. They were in the alley where the third victim--Will's friend--had been found. It wasn't bad as alleys went. Fairly clean, wide, with pavement instead of dirt. Sam shook his head.

"Between this alley, the other alley, and the park... there's nothing that stands out. They're public places. Outside. Concealed. You'd expect all of that."

Dean nodded.

"Yeah. The drop points are random."

"And he's not killing them at the drop points," Sam said.


"So we've got nothing," Sam concluded. Dean was looking around the alley again, as if the answer might suddenly appear on one of the brick walls.

"Nothing," he agreed.

"Like you said," Sam told him, "He'll probably come after you."

He said it as if he were hoping it would happen, and he was. On an intellectual level, anyway. On an emotional level, he hated jobs where one of them played bait. It split them up, which made Sam's skin crawl. And it was too easy for something to go wrong.

Dean seemed to have no such feelings about his role, because he brightened immediately.

"That's right," he said. "We'll get the guy. No problem."

They got in the car and Sam noticed, not for the first time, how they slammed their doors at the same moment. He'd once overhead Missouri talking to their father, calling him and Dean the Midwich Cuckoos. He hadn't known what it meant at the time, but a few years later he'd stumbled across the book and laughed.

In time, as it became clearer that Sam wasn't exactly normal, he'd found the comment less funny and more worrying. Had Missouri been referring to Sam's freakish nature? If so, why drag Dean into it? Or had she just meant what he'd first thought she meant, that he and Dean were almost preternaturally connected?

He'd often wondered what Dean would have thought, but had never mentioned it to him. Dean and Missouri's relationship was prickly enough as it stood.

Besides, Dean would have found the entire topic a waste of breath. They'd grown up in each other's pockets. They'd been trained to work together. Now, they were rarely apart. Was it really such a surprise that, in spite of their differences in height, their strides matched? That they turned at the same moments, toward the same sounds? That they could often tell, without looking, where the other one was?

It was just how they rolled.

"Where do you want to eat?" Dean asked, predictably. Sam grinned.

"I thought I wasn't supposed to be seen with a pervert like you."

"I said stay out of the bar," Dean said. "I didn't say you had to pretend not to know me. We could be friends or co-workers or brothers or whatever. As long as you keep your hands of my ass, no one will have any reason to think you're a fellow abomination."

Sam swallowed and looked out the window. There was a lot going on in those few sentences and he didn't really want to think about any of it.

"I think you have all the ass-grabbing you need in your life right now," he said.

It was the heartbeat of a pause before Dean's smart response that said Dean was just pretending to be amused when he replied,

"Does anyone?"


"I doubt they were staring because they knew you'd been in the bar," Sam told the ceiling. He was lying on his bed, waiting for Dean to finish his transformation. "I think it was just that we were new."

"There are, like, 50,000 people in this town," Dean said, his voice slightly muffled by the thin bathroom door. "I don't think they automatically zero in on strangers."

"I don't know about that," Sam said. "Palo Alto's about this size, and I didn't know everybody, but I could usually tell when someone was from out of town."

"That's because everyone who lived there wore pocket protectors," Dean said.

Sam shut his eyes and smiled. It struck him, as it did from time to time, that he liked Dean.

Undeniably, Dean could be annoying as hell, but he was also weirdly good company. He was funny, smart, and quietly considerate about things that really mattered, even if he was a jackass about music and restaurants and who got to drive. He was not only fun, but the cause of fun in others.

Sam loved him for any number of reasons. Really, beyond all reason. But he also liked Dean's laugh and his snarky comments and how he could always find some interesting way to spend an evening. Sam suspected he wouldn't be happy so much of the time, living the way they did, if he were with anyone else.

Even if things were a little off now, considering. Even if Dean was, underneath everything, always hearing the same ticking clock that Sam heard night and day. And even if Sam had a lot of work to do if he wanted this to go on forever.

When the door opened, Sam turned his head to look.

Dean had done something different. It was subtle, whatever it was. It made his eyes look huge. It made him look smaller. Almost delicate.

Sam could have named, without much trouble, every time he'd seen Dean look that way. There weren't many of them. No matter what Dean was doing, he put up as much front as he could manage... and that was usually a lot. One of Sam's earliest memories was, at the age of three, watching his seven year old brother take thirteen stitches without anesthetic or a word of complaint. A year later, Dean had pulled a gun on two men who'd meant to steal the Impala. The gun hadn't been loaded and Dean had known it, but his face had shown nothing but a firm belief that he could and would shoot. Since his father had left him in charge of the car.

Sam sat up and stared at Dean, who stared back silently. Was it some trick of make-up or clothes? Or had Dean just willed himself to drop the front, then stared into the mirror until he'd seen it fall?

Either way, Sam had the insane urge to stand in front of the hotel room door and insist that Dean wasn't going anywhere looking like that.

Dean gave him an unusually soft smile and said,

"It's okay, Sammy."

It wasn't Dean's typical, casual reassurance, tossed off with a slight roll of the eyes that said such a girl louder than any voice could. It was, instead, recognition that Sam was seeing something upsetting, something Dean would rather he not see. But it was part of the plan and under control. It would be okay.

Sam felt an even crazier urge, then. He wanted to grab Dean's hand and pull him over to the bed, give him one of those hugs they weren't supposed to give. Just hold onto him for awhile. Breathe in time with the ticking clock, maybe run a hand down that dark hair until it went flat and Dean had to put gel in it again. Because Dean was his and this Dean, in particular, was his. The one Sam got to see once in an accursed blue moon, and hardly anyone else got to see ever.

Now Dean was going to walk into a bar looking that way, and Sam didn't hate it for how defenseless Dean looked. That was pure deception, another of Dean's lies, and the world was welcome to those. He hated it because of how damaged Dean looked. Hurt, and vulnerable to more of the same. That part wasn't a lie. It was a truth between them, acknowledged rarely and painfully, as private and intimate as anything Sam had ever known.

Sam kept his hands to himself. He wished Dean luck and Dean nodded and that was that.

It wasn't until Dean had left and Sam was giving him their agreed-upon twenty minute lead that Sam realized what, exactly, he didn't like about Will.

Will talked as if Dean looked that way to him all the time.


Sam grabbed the last slice of pizza without thinking, was surprised when Will's hand bumped his. Sam looked at Will, who raised his eyebrows and laughed.

"All yours," he said.

Sam smiled and took the slice, hoping that he wasn't turning red. He'd been teased mercilessly at school for his habit of always taking the last of everything, of swooping down on the best chair or grabbing the only glass that wasn't chipped, and never offering those things to anyone else. His friends had thought it was funny, because Sam was a nice enough guy in other ways.

Spoiled, they'd said. More than a few had expressed surprise that he had a brother. Why hadn't he learned to share?

They hadn't met his brother, or they'd have understood. But Sam had never told anyone that. He'd just shrugged, and blushed when he'd done something especially rude.

Dean's front was most of the way back, which was probably why he seemed to be in such a good mood even though he'd gotten nowhere.

That–the getting nowhere--was the reason they were in some late night pizza place, miles out of town, having a secret meeting about what they should do next.

Sam had been irritated, at first, that he and Dean weren't having the meeting on their own, the way they usually did. But then Will had launched into a blow by blow ("So to speak," he'd said with a grin) of the evening's events, and Sam wasn't ever going to get such a thing from Dean. Besides which, Will had turned out to be painfully funny on the topic of the bar's other patrons, most of whom he knew... well.

"Biblically," Will had said when Sam had asked how he knew a certain gentleman, and Sam had grinned.

"So you got struck by lightning together?"

"You know what's worse? We were both wearing spandex shorts, as my people do, so we melted together. They had to cut us apart at the hospital. And do you think my HMO would cover it? It was out of pocket, and there I was. Out of pockets."

Sam had said that was a tragic story, and Dean, mouth full of pizza, had made a sound of agreement, and so it had gone. Not much work getting done, but it was a good time.

And, yeah, Will didn't need to be sitting that close to Dean in such a long booth, but how much could Sam hate a guy who could describe one of his friends as "RuPaul without the subtlety" and still not seem to have any real malice in him? As if that was just how his friend was and Will would always be good with that.

He seemed to be that way about all his friends, and it helped to explain the way he talked to Dean. Maybe it wasn't anything to do with Dean, in particular. Sam had a funny feeling he could talk about his demon blood and his dark fate, all of it, and Will would just nod. And one day Will would be sitting around with a beer and a buddy saying, "This guy had demon blood up the ying yang, which is the worst place to have it, but he was good people."

"So," Will said, wiping his hands on a paper napkin, "does anyone here think this plan is working at fucking all? Dean's getting a lot of play out of it, but he's not enjoying that, so..."

"I wouldn't call it play," Dean said. "I only count home runs."

"Okay," Will said, "that's sad for you, but the point is, nobody's accomplishing anything. Unless your true mission is to give out wicked cases of blue balls."

Sam wondered suddenly if there were a female equivalent of blue balls. If so, he had to make sure Dean never found out. He'd doubtless claim to be the country's leading cause.

"I accomplished something," Dean said. "I eliminated about half those guys."

"How'd you do that?" Will asked, as Sam said,

"What? How?"

Dean pulled a vial of holy water from his jacket pocket and set it on the table.

"I was topping off my drinks. I took a swig before some of them closed in."

"And what might've happened if you'd found the guy?" Will asked. Sam said nothing, because he knew the answer and was too busy gaping at Dean.

"Might not have been any big deal," Dean said, answering Sam's face instead of Will's question. Sam half-stood in the booth.

"Or we might in an emergency room right now, coming up with an explanation for why the inside of your mouth is so burned you can't swallow," he said, too loudly. Dean grabbed his shirt and hauled him back down.

"Inside voice," he said with surprising mildness.

"Or maybe," Sam hissed, leaning across the table, "he would have realized what you were up to the second he got the water on him and he would've had time to snap your neck before it hit."

"Still sitting here," Dean pointed out in that same mild tone. Sam shook his head.

"No thanks to you."

Dean's eyes narrowed, and Sam was almost happy to see it. Anything was better than that bland calm.

"I know what I'm doing," he said darkly. Sam gawked at him.

"I'm sure you do," he said. "I have a few theories about what that might be."

He couldn't have said whether he would have enumerated those theories if Will had not been with them. He might have, but they were on dangerous ground and Dean really did punch people in the face if they made him angry enough. It would have been a tough decision.

Will was there, though, so Sam clamped his mouth shut and kept it that way.

"Glad we had this talk," Dean said in his finest `this conversation is over' tone.

"Nothing like an open exchange of views," Sam agreed. They glared at each other.

"If you gentlemen feel the need to take this into the parking lot," Will said, "I can wait."

"Nope," Sam said, still glaring.

"We're good," Dean said, glaring back.

"Well," Will said. "Obviously."

He called the waitress over, got his coffee warmed up, and chatted with her about her Duke t-shirt, which she had come by honestly. She was in her second year.

As they talked, Sam breathed in. And out. The anger faded. He was left with fear and... something else. That ache again.

Dean joined in the conversation, going to so far as to talk up their Stanford representative. He sounded proud and, in Sam's estimation, deserved to be. If a guy could raise a 4.0 student with virtually no help from anyone, and see that student off to college before he, himself, turned 23, Sam figured that guy's parenting skills were beyond compare.

And that was without even mentioning demon blood or ongoing trauma or the need to constantly save the kid from actual monsters in the closet.

Not that the waitress was ever going to guess what Sam owed to Dean. And not that Dean would care if she did. He was proud of Sam because of Sam, not because he thought he'd done anything special.

"I lucked out," Dean had said to Bobby once. "He's a good kid."

Bobby had looked at Dean with the `how dense are you' expression he got sometimes, and Dean had answered that question by not even noticing that he was getting a look.

It was expected that Sam flirt with the waitress. He did, casually. She was attractive enough, and probably bright. But his heart wasn't in it. He had a couple of scurrilous reprobates at his table and talking to them was a hell of a lot more interesting than making small talk with a fresh-faced girl.

She seemed to pick up on that, and it didn't seem to trouble her. She gave them an undaunted smile and a "let me know if you need anything", and went on her way.

"You gonna let her know that you need something?" Dean asked once she was out of earshot. Sam could feel himself getting his patented expression of disapproval and wished he could prevent it, because Dean found it hilarious and would do all manner of irritating things to make it appear.

"I don't," Sam said. "She's all yours."

"She likes you, College Boy," Dean said. "Besides, she'd ruin my reputation."

"A month in a Bangkok whorehouse couldn't ruin your reputation," Sam informed him.

"I'm proud to agree," Dean said, "but I'm supposed to have a different reputation around here."

"And that reputation is cocktease," Will said. "You're not gonna be able to gargle whiskey and kiss every guy in that place."

"How much you wanna bet?" Dean asked, reaching for his wallet. Will earned several million brownie points with Sam by actually rolling his eyes.

"Put it back in your pants," he said. "Tell me something--what would happen if we poured some of that holy water into the soda water, and the beer kegs, and the ice cube maker? Maybe hit the liquor bottles, too, for anyone who takes it neat."

Sam stared at him. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Dean grinning.

"That may be the most inappropriate thing I've ever heard. I think I love it."

"I may love it, too," Sam said slowly. He was poking at the idea in his mind, looking for a reason not to do it. Could they sneak it? Would they get caught? What would happen? Would it work?

"See any problems?" Dean asked, as if he could read Sam's mind. Sam held up a hand.

"What?" Will said.

"He's thinking," Dean said softly. Sam had missed that when he was in school, the way Dean would hold the world back for a few seconds so Sam could think. Sure, Dean had his moments of not shutting the fuck up while Sam was trying to think, and more than a few moments of shouting out random numbers while Sam was trying to do math, but mostly he respected the process.

"No real downside," Sam said finally. "It might work or it might not, but no one's going to be onto us if it fails. The only problem is getting in and out of the bar while it's closed."

"That's not a problem," Will said. "Tracking devices are not my only toys."

"Sorry," Dean said to Sam. Sam felt relaxed enough to laugh.

"I miss something?" Will asked.

"Sam does the lock picking," Dean said.

"And Dean does the door kicking," Sam finished, grinning. It was a microcosm for their entire working style.

"I've gone soft," Will said. "Using all this gear. Take away my tracking device and I couldn't find Waldo on an otherwise blank page."

"I have a feeling that's not true," Sam said, and Will gave him a particularly bright smile. After a second, Sam realized it was the first flat out nice thing he'd said to Will. Which was a little embarrassing. He looked away.

"I'll come by the hotel tomorrow afternoon," Will said. "Around four-thirty. The bar doesn't open until eight pm on weekdays."

"Seriously?" Sam asked. "That's weird."

In answer, Dean pulled out his wallet and threw a piece of cardboard onto the table. It had the name of the bar across the top and one of Dean's fake names scrawled across the bottom.

"Technically, it's a private club," he said. "They sell temporary memberships for a few bucks, but it's not like a normal bar. They only open at night."

"Huh." Sam shoved the card back toward Dean. "Makes life easier."

"Nice when something does," Dean said.

"Can I assume you guys will supply the holy water?" Will asked.

"Yeah," Sam said. He'd seen a Catholic church a few blocks from the motel. "We're on it."


They were alone in the Impala on the way back to the motel, since Will had his own vehicle. Sam looked out the window, watching the familiar blur of trees. He didn't know how much of his life he'd spent that way, looking out car windows at night, moonlight on forests, everything going by at sixty miles an hour or more.

"Were you showing off?" Sam asked, still looking out the window.


It was possible Dean really hadn't heard him, given the volume of the music, but Sam doubted it. Still, he repeated himself.

"Were you showing off? Putting holy water in your mouth?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Dean asked.

"I just figured maybe you were trying to look impressive."

Sam looked at Dean, who was firmly focused on the road.

"I don't have to try to look impressive," Dean said, but he couldn't hide the anger in his voice and the line didn't fly.

Sam didn't say anything. As they neared the motel, Dean said,

"That would have been unprofessional."

"Yeah," Sam agreed, not certain whether that was a denial or a confession.

Maybe Dean had been showing off, in which case, Sam was annoyed. Because it was unprofessional. Also, because Dean never showed off for him. When it came to Sam, Dean was more inclined to set an example, which wasn't the same thing at all.

All things considered, though, it was more pleasant to think that Dean had been trying to impress a friend (and what kind of friend, exactly?) than that Dean had been acting that way for some other reason. Any other reason would be worse.

So Sam let it go.


It was four am. They were in the room with the lights out and, in theory, asleep. Dean was asleep. And why not? Nothing terrible had happened so far. They'd made a friend. They had a B&E to pull. For Dean, life was about as good as it got.

Sam lay on his side and watched Dean sleep, which wasn't a productive way to spend time. He could have pulled out the laptop, or at least turned on a lamp and read a book. Instead he was watching breaths, trying not to count them.

There was a thing he'd never say to Dean, could barely admit to himself. Among everything else he'd felt when Dean had said, "one year," in that broken voice, in with the anger and terror and guilt and love, had been overwhelming satisfaction.

He'd felt, for the first time, as if Dean belonged to him, rather than the other way around. He knew Dean had always loved him... but Dean had never crawled into Sam's bed after a nightmare. He'd never taken cover behind Sam when he couldn't handle a fight, or begged him to intercede with their father, or looked at him with a silent plea to fix all of this, somehow.

Childish stuff, most of it, but Sam felt the imbalance. Dean still looked at him that way, still protected him from monsters and consequences and anything he thought Sam wasn't ready to hear.

Every time Dean sheltered him, Sam smelled blood. He remembered hospitals and pallor and all the times he'd thought Dean might die, and how defenseless he'd felt. The times Dean had told him to stay put and he'd done that because Dean had told him to, but he'd shivered and felt sick wondering what would become of him if Dean never came back.

He'd spent most of his life knowing he needed Dean close, being afraid that Dean might not always be there. Big brothers took off, one way or another. His school friends had said so. They went to college or got jobs and moved out and you never saw them anymore. They got girlfriends and you couldn't hang out with them the way you always had. Dean wouldn't leave him in those ways, most likely, but he had more spectacular ways of leaving. Always a showboater, that boy.

He'd never said anything about it to Dean. He couldn't have, before Stanford. And after... if Dean had said anything in response, which was unlikely, it would have been, "Who left, asshole?" And there was nothing Sam could say to that.

He'd had to leave, though. He'd been nearly certain he couldn't make it without Dean and equally certain he was going to have to, so he'd taken a shot. A trial run at a normal life. It had been okay, actually, with a girl he loved in a sweet but muted way, and some friends who didn't get him at all but didn't demand much of him, either. None of it had made him as happy as when Dean put a hand on his shoulder and told him he'd done a good job, but none of it had given him nightmares either.

He didn't honestly know if he would have stuck with it forever, though he suspected he would have found his way back to Dean's side eventually. It was where he belonged and he'd never managed to completely forget that.

Not that it had mattered, in the end, because things had gone the way they had instead. And he'd thought their relationship would be different, on account of he'd left and lived through it. He'd thought maybe he'd need Dean less, or maybe Dean could rely on him more, or some welcome combination of the two.

Except Dean had mostly refused to rely on him, and had continued to shelter him and, worst of all, Sam had basically needed that a lot of the time. In his worst move to date, he'd managed to get a knife through his spine. How many times had Dean said, "down doesn't necessarily mean out"? But Sam had turned his back on the guy anyway, just like an amateur or a born victim.

Sam was used to having his back watched–that was the best he could do for an excuse, and it was really worse than no excuse at all.

Then, in moment beside the car, it had all changed. Dean had looked at him, defenseless, all I had to, and you weren't there and I was scared and I couldn't stand it and please, please, make this okay. He'd recovered a moment later, insisted that Sam was his job and he'd done what he had to do and that was that, but it didn't nullify the fact that he'd looked at Sam that way.

That he was, finally, in Sam's hands.


Sam woke a few minutes past noon to an unmade bed on his left and a note on the nightstand. Getting holy water. Back by three.

Sam didn't know when Dean had left, but at a minimum Dean had given himself three hours to get holy water and that was ridiculous. Obviously he had something else on his agenda. But, knowing Dean, Sam would either find out about that at the most dramatic possible moment–such as the middle of a fight, when Dean would pull out some surprise weapon or charm–or he'd never find out about it, no matter how persistently he asked.

He got up. Got cleaned up. Got dressed. Got food from the nearest restaurant, since the Impala wasn't in the parking lot. He got extra food, a few things that would keep, since Dean always acted a little hurt when Sam got food and didn't think of him.

And then he waited.

He amused himself online for most of the time. Even in this town, though the motel didn't have wireless, there were unsecured networks around. Sam couldn't remember the last time he'd paid for access, and that suited him fine, since he went to some unusual places and he didn't care to have his activities traced by anyone.

Dean rolled in a few minutes before three, as good as his word. He had holy water and six packs of beer and Coke, and a pack of Twinkies, which he cheerfully deposited next to the restaurant food.

"Thanks," he said, opening the Styrofoam container with the kid at Christmas expression he usually brought to that activity.

"No problem," Sam said. "You have fun out there?"

"Painted the town red," Dean told him.

"You missed a spot," Sam said, waving a hand at the motel's dingy walls.

"I didn't want to ruin the décor," Dean said. "How long have you been up?"


Dean nodded and turned the TV on. He liked to watch TV while he ate. For once, he'd settled on something worth watching–a documentary on parkour. The screen was small and the set was closest to Dean's bed, so Sam flopped down next to Dean.

"That is fucking amazing," he said. "No matter how many times I see it. "

Dean said something that sounded like agreement and tossed back a swig of cola. He handed Sam a can and Sam noticed something different as Dean's hand moved near him, a smell that wasn't right. It wasn't bad, it was just... not the usual. Not the hotel's soap, either, since Sam had that on his own skin. He glanced at Dean out of the corner of his eye and noticed that Dean's hair was damp. Not so anyone would see it with a casual glance–it was nearly dry and neatly combed in place. But it was just a little darker than usual, had a slightly brighter shine.

He wanted to ask but, then again, he didn't. Since he knew damned well that Dean wouldn't answer him anyway, he decided not to bother.

They relaxed, shared food, nudged each other, made ludicrous boasts and challenges. Sam wouldn't have objected if that had gone on for a hundred years rather than the hour they actually received.

The program was ending as Will knocked. Dean turned off the TV.

"Time to water down the liquor. More."

Sam grinned and went to answer the door.


"So, what've you got?" Sam asked as they pulled up behind the bar. "Pick gun?"

"No," Will said. "Well. Yes. But I don't plan on using it."

"Where'd you get the pick gun?" Dean asked, glancing at Sam. They'd been wanting one for ages, but the guns were illegal in some states and finding one wasn't easy.

"Off the internet, mailed to a post office box registered under a false name." Will got out of the car without further comment.

"I was wrong," Sam said thoughtfully. Dean looked at him.

"About what?"

"Remember when I was fighting with Dad--I think I was fourteen--and I said no one else lived the way we did?"

Dean smiled. It had taken awhile, but he was finally able to smile when Sam mentioned their dad.

"And I said some people did. Not just hunters, either."

"And I didn't believe you. I was wrong."

"Yep," Dean said, and followed Will to the building.

Sam arrived at the door in time to see Will punching a code into a keypad. The door unlocked and he pushed it open, then punched another set of numbers into a pad located just inside the door.

"There you go," he said. Sam stared at him.

"I thought you said you had toys."

"I do. Binoculars and a parabolic microphone. Sometimes it's easier to just get the damned codes."

"Oh my God," Sam said. "Keep talking until my brother believes you."

They went inside in a hurry since, code or not, they weren't supposed to be there. Will pulled the door shut behind them and Dean headed for the bar.

As Sam had expected, Dean had already mapped the place out in his head. He'd worked as a bartender off and on, and he wasn't nearly as casual as he liked for people to think he was. Of course he'd have a plan.

He directed them both, smoothly and quietly, pointing more than speaking.

Will raised his eyebrows a few times upon seeing a particularly good bottle of liquor stashed behind the cheapest of whiskeys and gins, but he said nothing. If he mainly worked alone, and Sam thought he probably did, he wouldn't have been in the habit of talking.

They'd all brought light gloves, so there was no need to wipe away prints. They scanned the place for signs of their visit, found none, and slipped out the door. Will set the alarm behind them.

Back in the car and a few blocks away, Dean checked his watch.

"Fifteen minutes. Not bad."

"You think that's gonna do it?" Sam asked. Dean glanced at Will.

"How often do they get into the good stuff?"

"In my experience? Never. I guess it could happen."

He said it the way he might have said, "the river could run backward and rain could fall up."

"Well, here's hoping they don't start tonight," Dean said, "Because I didn't open anything that hadn't already been cracked."

"I think we'll be all right," Will said.

"You have anything going on between now and eight?" Sam asked. Will sighed.

"Sadly, yes. I wish I didn't. If this works, I'm guessing you two will be rolling out of town tonight."

"Yeah," Sam said. "We move around a lot."

"By choice or necessity?" Will asked. Dean smiled.

"A little of both."

"Sam, are you coming into the bar for the fireworks?" Will asked. "Or are you gonna wait outside again?"

"I don't know." Sam looked at Dean. "Things could get a pretty wild in there, if this works."

"Probably a good idea if you're there," Dean said. "Will's not used to this kind of thing."

Sam fought back his smile and nodded.

"Then I'll be there."

In the back seat, Will snorted a laugh. Sam turned to look at him.


"Sorry, man. I'm just wondering what happens the first time a guy hits on you."

"Huh." Sam lay his head back against the seat. "Usually, in these situations, I'm there to see the band. But I'm guessing there won't be a band in this place."

"Oh, you're one of those," Will said.

"One of what?" Dean asked. Sam could tell he was dying to watch both their faces, irritated that he had to mostly keep his eyes on the road.

"These guys, in the cities, they come out to the clubs to see Antony Hegarty or whoever, or because they like the DJ, or they're with a friend. I would say a good eighty percent of them are curious, but they won't admit it. It's frustrating as hell. You assume they're gay, being in a gay bar and all, so you hit on these guys and they try real hard not to jump ten feet in the air because they know that's not cool, but that's their impulse and there's no way you can't see it. It's embarrassing for everyone."

"Sammy?" Dean asked. One corner of his mouth was curled up and his eyes were bright. "You been embarrassing gay guys in California?"

"Apparently," Sam said, unconcerned. "From what I hear, there's an eighty percent chance I was curious."

Let Dean deal with that.

"Okay," Will said. "Well, we've got no band and no DJ worth anyone's time, and it's a private club, more or less, so you're gonna be fresh out of excuses for being there. You'd better be pretty good at controlling your impulses."

"He's not," Dean said, all business. "Maybe you should stay in the car, Sam."

"Or he could pretend to be with me," Will said. He looked at Sam. "Either you can be with me, with me, or you can be my cousin or something, in town for a visit."

"The second one's probably easier," Sam admitted. Not that the thought of faking a date with Will was all that bad, really, but he'd feel weird about draping himself over nearly anyone in an unfamiliar bar. It just wasn't his nature.

"Done deal," Will said. "Unless your brother objects."

"No," Dean said. "It's fine with me." He glanced at Sam. "I don't want any shit from you about anything you might see in there."

"Just a job," Sam said easily. "I know."

Maybe he was imagining things, but Will's eyes seem to cloud over for a moment. Sam turned to get a better look at him, but whatever he'd seen was gone.

"It'll be fun," Will said. "Until someone bursts into flames or whatever. Hell, maybe even after that."

"It's usually the most fun after that," Dean said. "You'll see."


By Sam's lights, the music was pretty good. Not great–not precisely his style–but a damned sight better than mullet rock. The DJ might not have been worth anyone's time, but he was enthusiastic and eclectic, so Sam was willing to give him a pass. Just not knowing what he was going to hear next was a treat for him.

"They like you," Will said, just loud enough to be heard above the music. Sam laughed. Will had introduced him around, made it clear that Sam was there to hang out and possibly dance, but that was absolutely it, and the guys had acted disappointed for all of ten seconds before taking him under their collective wing and teaching him a thing or two about dancing, which was about ten things more than Sam had known walking in.

"They seem like good guys," Sam said. That got a laugh out of Will.

"Some of them are. Some just act real friendly. Doesn't matter if you're here for one night."

They really only had one night to make this work, and it bugged Sam a little that no one had reacted to the holy water yet, but the night was young and Will had said some of the crowd didn't arrive until midnight.

Dean, as Sam had expected, was having no trouble fitting in. They were flirting with him, pressing in on the dance floor, offering drink after drink. Dean had to tell some of them again and again that he was a paranoid guy, that he only took his drinks directly from the bartender.

Sam was amazed that Dean hadn't considered any of them persistent enough to be suspects.

"You keep staring like that, people are gonna wonder why," Will said. Sam looked at him. They had a booth at the back of the bar, a good sheltered spot from which to observe the goings on.

"I'm checking out the scene," he said. Will gave that snorting laugh again.

"You're checking out one guy," he said, then quickly held up a hand. "I mean, that's how it'll look to others. Stop staring."

"I'm supposed to be watching his back," Sam pointed out. "So are you."

"I have a feeling you have more subtle ways of doing that," Will said. "Try using some."

A tall man with short dark hair slid an arm around Dean's waist and roughly pulled him forward. Dean, still playing a kinder, gentler version of himself, allowed it. Sam tensed and began to slide to the edge of the booth. A hand on his arm stopped him and he turned to glare at Will.

"Let. Go."

"Stand down," Will said. "That wasn't anything. Look."

Sam did, and saw Dean easily sliding from the man's grasp. He had the twist to his mouth that meant some kind of smart assery was coming out of it, and the man was laughing in response.

"See?" Will said.

Sam took a deep breath. In through the nose. Out through the mouth.

"I'm not used to this," he said, aware that his voice was still tight with anger. Will sighed.

"Sam... maybe you really shouldn't be in here."

"I'm not uncomfortable," Sam insisted. Will's eyes narrowed and suddenly Sam could see the sharp intellect hidden behind Will's affability.

"No," he said. "You're curious."

Sam looked at his hands, which were gawky and raw-boned as the rest of him had been for most of his teenage years.

"So?" he asked.

"So." Will put his hands on Sam's, and Sam looked up at him in surprise. Will gave him a gentle smile. "I don't want to get into what is your very private business, but either you need to let it go for the night or you need to not be here. Because eventually you are going to jump up and start a brawl, and that will not be productive."

Sam looked at the crowd and realized that he could go out there and dance with Dean, wrap an arm around him, maybe even steal a kiss. As far as pranks went, it would be stellar. Dean wouldn't be able to drop his cover. He wouldn't be able to do anything about it until later. Of course, since they were on a job, Sam would catch holy hell later, but it might be worth it.

Except that he didn't really want to do it.


Not as a prank.

And that thought didn't really come as a surprise to him, did it? After a few beers and the week they'd had and a good hour of watching other guys paw Dean as if they had any right to do that. When they should have considered themselves lucky just to look at him.

It should have been shocking, maybe, but instead it was no surprise at all.

Sam looked back at Will and saw affection there. No judgment, just concern.

"Did you have sex?" Sam asked. "Today? This morning? Is that where he was?"

"Have you ever asked a girl that?" Will asked. Sam frowned.


"Did you ever ask a lady if she'd been with your brother?" Will asked, his voice a bit louder. Sam shook his head.

"I... no."

"Then why in hell would you ask me?"

Sam said nothing. Will put his hands around his beer and looked into its depths.

"You want to know something like that, you will have to ask your brother."

Yeah. That would go excellently. Sam looked at his own pint of beer, the way the lights played off the side of the glass. Sometimes, when he got drunk enough, he could be happy just staring at those water droplets for an hour. He'd never been the lampshade wearing kind.

He was torn from his meditation on condensation by Will's sharp voice.

"Son of a bitch."

Sam looked up and followed Will's gaze to the dance floor, where Dean... wasn't. Sam was on his feet before he realized it, dimly realized that Will was standing beside him.

"Washroom?" Sam said.

"Check," Will told him. He was heading for the dance floor.

There were three guys in the washroom. None were Dean and all claimed not to have seen him in there. Sam thanked them distractedly and hurried back to the main room.

"Anywhere else?" Sam asked as Will met him. Will shook his head.

"No back room. And he wasn't gonna leave."

Which was true. Dean wouldn't have left with anyone, not with the potential for fireworks in the bar. Sam felt as if he'd been punched in the gut. Will's face was pale and his skin looked tight.

"Fuck," Will said.

"Back door," Sam said. "We would have seen him go out the front."

Will nodded, already heading past the bar and into the kitchen. Sam was on his heels, shoving aside staff members who tried to stop them.

At the back door, they stopped and stared. Nothing. Recently stirred dust in an empty parking spot. Someone had left. But they knew that. Sam leaned against a dumpster and tried to think. Was Dean still wearing that tracking device?

He opened his mouth to ask and saw Will staring at something over his shoulder. Sam turned and saw a piece of cardboard sticking out at the top. He gave it a tug and read the printing on it, then released it as if it had bit him.

Birch beer.

"They ordered it in here," Will said.

"Who does the ordering?" Sam asked.

"Bartender. He owns the place."

"Dean took drinks from him," Sam said. And please, please, let whatever was in those drinks be something to knock him out, make him tractable. Please, not anything worse.

Will ran inside. Seconds later, he was back.

"He's not there. No one saw him leave."

As if they'd needed to be told.

"Tracker?" Sam asked. Will nodded. Sam took out the keys to the Impala.

"Let's go."


"He wouldn't have been drinking," Sam said. "Bartenders don't."

"Not usually," Will agreed. "Take that left."

"You have a gun?" Sam asked.

"Yeah. You?"

"Yeah. Dean didn't bring one. Nowhere to put it."

"I know."

Sam should have been furious with Will. If Will hadn't distracted him, he'd never have taken his eyes off Dean. But he'd distracted Will, too. And there was something comforting in the set of Will's jaw, the coldness in his eyes. This guy was prepared to fight for Dean. Sam was good with that.

"If Valko is possessing Paul, is Paul still in there?"

So the bartended had a name. Of course he did. And Will would know him. Sam glanced at Will, who was looking at his tracker.

"Yeah," Sam said. "There's some Latin I have to say and... we can get Valko out of him."

"So, when you shoot someone who's possessed... ah--next right."

Sam turned, the Impala hugging the road. No matter how fast he or Dean drove that car, it held its ground.

"It's like shooting someone who isn't possessed," Sam said, once they were going straight again. He remembered his father, a bullet in his leg. Dean's face, as if he'd rather have bled to death than seen Sam shoot their dad, regardless of the circumstances. As if that would have been better for everyone, somehow. And it hit Sam, like a fist slamming into his heart, that Dean had always seen things that way.

"So we're looking to stop him while doing as little damage as possible?" Will asked. Sam blinked, focused on the words.

"Uh... yeah. If we can."

That was always the goal. Mostly they even managed to do it, complete the ritual and leave a confused host more or less intact. But what Sam had been telling Dean for years, that he'd do anything for him... it was no word of a lie.

"You have got to be fucking kidding me," Will said. His voice was soft but menacing and, for a second, Sam thought Will must have read his thoughts. He looked over and saw that Will was looking at the road, rather than his tracing device.

"What?" Sam asked.

"He went to Dave's house," Will said. "Fucker. Guess he knew it was empty."

Sam scowled. There were evil bastards, and then there were evil bastards that went out of their way to rub salt in wounds.

At least Will, who had been good and pissed off before, was completely furious now. That would make him more likely to take a shot if he needed to take one.

Will gave him directions to the house and Sam slowed as they approached, stopped the car about half a block away. No sense tipping Valko off. They closed the distance in silence, guns drawn. Will pulled a key from a birdhouse and gestured for Sam to meet him behind the tree, a tall and rambling beech with a base nearly wide enough to hide them.

Will leaned in close and described the layout in a hurried whisper. Sam shut his eyes and pictured it, committed it to memory. He tried not to think of how strange it must be, how disorienting, to fight on such familiar ground.

Will was as silent entering the house as he'd been approaching their motel room that first night. If things had been different and they could have stayed around longer, Sam would have asked him how, exactly, he moved so quietly. Both Sam and Dean were pretty quiet when they needed to be, but Will was on a whole other level.

Someone was walking in a room down the hall and to their left, where Will had said the bedroom was. Will gave Sam a nod and they moved forward.

Normally Dean would go first, in this kind of situation. That was because Dean was impatient, and because he was protective, but also because Sam was a hell of a lot taller and, with Dean in front, they could both see what they were walking into.

With Will nearly as tall as he was, Sam didn't know what to do until Will waved him forward. In deference, most likely, to Sam's experience. Sam loved him a little for that.

He stepped into the bedroom's open doorway and there it was. The tableau. Dean was on the bed, unclothed. Unconscious, or nearly so. Paul the bartender, aka Eliot Valko, was standing over him, drawing a knife across Dean's inner thigh. It wasn't a deep cut, not yet.

Valko looked up, probably alerted by the change in light.

"Get away from him," Sam said, drawing a bead on Valko's (only take the head shot if you're sure you can make it, Sammy) chest.

And it was on.


There were those--Dean was one--who could play-by-play a fight they'd been in. Dean could even say where everyone else had been in the fight, and what they'd been doing. It had taken him years to develop that skill. Sam had never mastered it. He could remember nearly every detail of a movie he'd seen, or a book he'd read, or a card game he'd been in, but not anything physical, fast and confusing.

He knew that he and Will had charged Valko, forcing him to back away from the bed. He knew that Valko had kept the knife, which made charging him a bad strategy, but that their best strategy would have been shooting Valko and that was supposed to be a last resort.

He knew Will had taken a small cut to his arm at some point, and that it was because Will had shoved him out of the way. And he knew that Will had finally cold cocked Valko. Of course he had, being a sensible guy who was in close with a gun during a knife fight. Dean would have approved.

Sam had said the words and Will had been pretty damned impressed with that, and now they were standing over the bed breathing hard.

"You over-think," Will said, holding a piece of his t-shirt over his bleeding arm. "You hesitate."

"We could have just shot him in the leg," Sam countered.

From the bed, a soft voice:

"You both suck."

Will laughed and Sam took in a sharp breath, then joined him. Will gently placed a hand on Dean's forehead and smoothed back his hair.

"We know, babe."

Sam looked at Dean's leg and decided the cut really wasn't bad. It would need stitches, but that was no big deal.

"Hospital's a few minutes from here," Will said.

"No," Sam and Dean said together. Will looked from one to the other.

"Some reason you can't go in a hospital?"

"We avoid them when we can," Sam said.

"Cops," Dean said simply, and Will looked pained.

"`Course," he said. "Let's head for my house. I'll make some calls, see if anyone can pick up that poor guy on the floor over there. Is he gonna remember any of this?"

"Tough to say," Sam told him. Will nodded.

"I'll try to find someone who can handle the situation. Let's head out."

Dean was still too drugged out to walk. Will made a move to carry him, then backed off after a look at Sam's face. Sam didn't know what his expression was and didn't care. He just knew what he wanted.

He slid his arms under Dean's legs and back and carried him to the Impala. Dean bitched a little about not needing it and was ignored by both of them. Will opened the door so Sam could put Dean on the back seat, and Sam gave him a grateful smile. A little help wasn't the worst thing in the world.


"Suture kit," Will said, tossing it onto the bed next to Dean. Sam picked it up.

"Nice. You have nice gear."

"I get that all the time," Will said. He handed over the rest of the equipment Sam needed and sat down on the other side of the bed, putting a hand on Dean's arm. "How're you doing?"

"Fine," Dean said. Will looked at Sam. Sam shrugged.

"Maybe. We'll see."

As Sam put the first stitch in, he glanced at Dean and gave him a smile.

"Good thing we got there when we did," Sam said. "You could've lost something near and dear to you."

"Fuck off," Dean said. "He was going for the artery."

That seemed to be the case, but Sam took his opportunities for ribbing where he could get them.

"Whatever you need to tell yourself," he said. Dean shut his eyes.

"Bitch," he said. Sam nodded.

"Jerk." He looked at Will. "He's fine."

Once Sam was done, Will helped him clean up and handed him a pair of boxers for Dean.

"I'll try to find something he won't disappear in for tomorrow," he said.

"It's okay," Sam told him. "Our packs are in the trunk. We always assume we might have to leave in a hurry."

Will's eyes got that overcast look again.

"Bring your packs in, then," he said. "I've got a washer and dryer."

Sam pulled the boxers onto Dean, who was sleeping off the drug. He was careful, but Dean flinched anyway. Sam carefully rolled him to one side, pulled the blankets down, rolled him back and covered him. Dean usually woke quickly, even when he was a wreck. It was always strange and a little scary to Sam when Dean was completely out.

He pressed a kiss to Dean's forehead and went to the car for the packs.


It was nearly midnight, but they'd been keeping late hours and they were wired from the fight, so Sam and Will stayed up. Will showed Sam the laundry room, made him a snack, helped him clean some weapons. It was nice, being in a house.

"How long have you had this place?" Sam asked. Will smiled.

"Not long. It belonged to a friend. I was living in Durham and we... well, anyway, I knew him a little and he left me this place. And some money, which is where the gear comes from." Will paused. "He had a heart problem and no family to speak of. I was gonna sell it, but then I thought a little peace and quiet might be good for me."

"I hear that," Sam said.

"You gonna tell me what it is with you guys? Why you do this?"

Sam shook his head.

"I'm sorry. I don't feel like talking about it. Maybe some other time."

Will grinned and laid a hand on Sam's shoulder.

"Another time," he agreed. He stood, went to the fridge, and brought two more bottles of beer to the table.

"You are a fine host," Sam said.

"You and your brother are fine company," Will replied. Sam opened his mouth and Will must have seen something in Sam's eyes, because he held up a hand.

"You gotta ask him, if you're sure you want to know," he said. "And he's gonna ask why you're asking."

"Yeah," Sam said. "But maybe I'll do it anyway."

Will shook his head.

"Just being--what, bi?"

Sam shrugged.

"I guess."

"That wasn't tough enough for you?"

Sam grinned.

"I was brought up to only love really difficult things," he said.

"Kiddo, I don't know what to say to you."

Sam glared at him. Will rolled his eyes.

"Stow that look. When you pass thirty, you'll start being grateful for anyone who thinks you're a kid."

Sam looked at his beer.

"It's a sore point," he admitted.

"Yeah. Well. He had a long time to get used to things being one way between you two."

"I know."

"Are you sure this situation is what you think? Being as you're pretty much just the two of you most of the time? Maybe it's just... proximity."

"Proximity." Sam said. "Look. No offense to you, and no offense to the girls he's pushed me at since I turned fourteen, or the ones I've met on my own. I really liked some of those girls. I even loved one once. But..." He stopped, considered his words. "See, there are other people... and then there's him."

Will said nothing, just nodded.

They drank beer and cleaned weapons in silence for awhile. Sam switched his laundry over. When he got back to the kitchen, he said,

"I couldn't tell from what I found online. Did Valko ever... did he do anything? Before he killed them?"

"I don't think so," Will said. "But it did cross my mind. You gonna talk to your brother about it?"

Sam met his eyes.

"Can you? He would never tell me the truth."

Will patted Sam's shoulder again, on his way to the bedroom. He looked tired.

"Fix that," he said, "and whatever's meant to be will fall in line."


They left after breakfast the next day, which was served at roughly noon by a bleary-eyed PI who kept insisting that they take food with them, and come back as soon as they could.

Will did give Dean a kiss before they left, but he gave Sam one, too. Both kisses were friendly, nothing more. Before releasing Sam, Will whispered, "It's all good," in Sam's ear. Sam gave Will a broad smile.

"We will come back," he said. Dean had grabbed their packs and was putting them in the car, all the way down the driveway. Sam leaned in.

"He's in trouble," he said. "I have to get him out of a deal. I might need help."

"You know where I am," Will said simply. Sam smiled again.


He went down to the car and let Dean go back to say goodbye. He still wasn't a hundred percent sure what had gone on between them. High nineties, maybe, but not a hundred. He'd decided not to ask. It wasn't what he really wanted to know, anyway.


Dean probably shouldn't have been driving, but that rarely stopped him. Sam got as comfortable as he could in the passenger seat and wondered once again whether it would be easier to convince Dean to give up the wheel if he let the rule about the music slide. Play all the Metallica you want. Just let me take over for awhile.

"That Valko guy," Sam said after an hour or so of silence and trees. "Did he... mess with you?"

Dean looked at him for the few seconds he could spare before looking back at the road.

"Assuming I know what you mean," he said, "no, Sam."

"Would you have told me if he had?"

Dean's brow creased.

"What the hell is this?"

"It's a question," Sam said. "Would you have told me?"

"He didn't," Dean said. "Drop it."

"I believe you," Sam said. "But I want to know, if he had, would you have told me the truth?"

"This may be the most pointless conversation you've ever tried to drag me into," Dean said, "Which is goin' some."

"It's three hundred miles to the next job," Sam said. "Humour me."

"Okay," Dean said. "Fine. Probably not. You happy?"

"Nope," Sam said. "Why wouldn't you have told me?"

Dean was deliberately not looking at him now. It wasn't just that he had to watch the road.

"Jesus, Sam. Why would I?"

"I asked you first," Sam said placidly. Dean was, if nothing else, devoted to playground honour.

"There would be no point," Dean said. "Why would I upset you for no reason?"

"Yep," Sam said. "That's the problem. You think it would be for no reason."

"Sammy, you keep this up and one of us is going to have to get out and walk."

"Do I seriously offer you nothing?" Sam asked. Dean's jaw tightened and he pulled over so quickly that Sam banged his shoulder on the passenger door. Dean was halfway to Sam's door by the time Sam had recovered enough to snap his seatbelt off and step outside. He made it just in time to get pushed back against the side of the car.

"How could you say that?" Dean wanted to know. Sam just looked at him, oddly calm inside.

"You won't accept anything from me," he said.

"You don't owe me anything," Dean told him. Sam almost laughed.

"That's practically psychotic, but it's not the point. I love you, moron. If someone hurts you and I can't slap a bandage on it, I want us to figure out something else I can do. I don't want you to lie to me because you assume there's nothing I possibly could do. It's insulting."

Dean wasn't pushing anymore. What he was doing was closer to gaping.


"Yes, you fucking idiot. Insulting. And if you say, yeah, maybe I could help, but it's not worth upsetting me, you're still saying my help isn't worth enough, so you'd be better off keeping your mouth shut."

"Sammy." Dean's expression had softened. "You know I couldn't do this without you. I told you that."

"You know something? I don't actually care if you call me Sammy. I care that you think I'm twelve."

Dean sighed and moved to lean against the car beside Sam.

"I know how old you are. You're four years younger than me."

"So?" Sam asked. "You can tell yourself that makes you responsible for me forever. I don't think I could talk you out of that. But you have to realize that I am taller than you. Okay, I don't fight as well as you, but I'm stronger. I'm all grown up. And if you weren't so determined to die young and leave a good looking corpse, there wouldn't be much in this world that scared me."

Dean was staring at the ground, perfectly still.

"Sam," he said. "It's not determination. It's just how it is."

"You're insulting me again," Sam said. "I told you I would get you out of this."

Dean's voice was so soft that Sam almost had to hold his breath to hear him. He said,

"I think a lot of you, Sam. That's the truth. But I don't think you can."

"Oh." Sam stood up straight. "Okay. That's it. I get you out of this, and you stop treating me like I'm twelve." He offered a hand. "Shake on it."

Dean's mouth twitched, as if asking for permission to smile.


"You heard me. We agree this is a tough one. If I solve it, you have to admit I'm competent. Shake."

Dean took Sam's hand and shook it, once.

"Sucker bet," he said. "I already think you're competent."

Sam pulled Dean forward and hugged him, hard. He held on until Dean relaxed in his arms.

"I keep saying it wrong," Sam admitted. He let Dean go and took a step back, still close enough that Dean couldn't walk away.

"What?" Dean said. It seemed to be his word for the day.

"I'm going to get us out of this," Sam said. "Because this deal of yours is killing me."

He put a hand on Dean's face, felt the sharpness of the cheekbone, the warmth of his skin where the sun had been resting on it. He leaned in and kissed Dean, long and deep. Dean didn't do much about it at first, one way or the other, but after a moment he responded. It was hesitant, nervous, but Sam would take it.

"Something to think about," Sam said, pulling away. "Can I drive?"

Dean blinked, then held the keys out. Sam put out a hand, flat, and Dean slapped the keys into it.

"I borrowed Will's stereo last night," Sam said cheerfully, tapping his jacket pocket. "He can connect an iPod to his tape deck. Got ninety minutes of music from this century, right here."

Dean slammed the passenger door and glared at him through the windshield. Sam slid into the driver's seat and smiled.

"You can have the music or you can have that dumb smile on your face, but not both," Dean said. "Don't think I won't throw you out of this car."

"Can't hear you," Sam said, throwing the tape in and cranking the volume. "Music's too loud."