Dean cranked the car window down and pressed the accelerator farther to the floor. Night air rushed over his heated skin, chilling the sweat on his brow. The radio blasted saxophone, and he let out a laugh born of adrenaline and relief. All he wanted was to put as many miles between them and the blood splattered warehouse as he could.
“That went well,” he said, running a hand over his mouth. He didn’t have too look to know Sam was side-eyeing him.
“Yeah. Awesome.” Sam’s tone broadcast snark.
‘You okay?” Dean asked. The pallid light from the dashboard revealed a dark blotch on his brother’s cheek. He reached over and touched it. His fingertips came away wet.
“Keep your eyes on the road,” Sam said. The Impala roared down the shiny ribbon of coastal highway.
“Sam…” Dean turned the radio down.
“It’s not mine.” Sam opened the glove compartment and grabbed a couple fast food napkins. He wiped his cheek off. “Did I get it?”
“I don’t know. My eyes are on the road,” Dean said.
Sam rolled his eyes. Dean could feel it from across the car and smiled.
“What are you so happy about?”
Dean shrugged and winced at the pain his left shoulder. “Just satisfied at a job well done, Sammy.”
“Yeah, just wrenched my shoulder a bit. You know how it is.”
“I should with all the times I’ve put it back into place. You know, one of these days, you’re going to need surgery.”
“One of these days … You still think about the future?”
Sam chuckled ruefully. “No, not really.” He raked his fingers through his hair. “Not in any ordinary sense.”
“No.” The glowing neon sign of a roadhouse came into view. The Lamplighter. “Damn if that don’t look like an oasis in the desert, huh?”
“I could drink a beer,” Sam said.
“Hell, yes, you could,” Dean said as he slotted the big car into a space between a couple Harleys and a Chevelle as black and shiny as the Impala. “Maybe make a few bucks. What d’ya say? Feeling lucky?”
“Nope,” Sam said.
Sam grinned. “Feeling on top of my game.”
Dean laughed and swung to door open. “Awesome.”
A haze of smoke hung over the barroom. Dean resisted the urge to wrinkle his nose. He’d tried cigarettes once, got caught by his dad, and lived to regret it.
“You want to smoke?” John asked. He grabbed Dean’s wrist and thrust a pack of unfiltered Camels into his hand. They were standing behind the motel they called home that week. “You sit right here and smoke. Every single one. You understand me? You don’t come back in till the entire pack is gone.”
Dean had sat down on the ground, his back to the outside wall of the motel, and peeled back the cellophane from the top of the pack. The Ohio Valley stretched out around. Off in the distance, the sun glinted off the river. With nothing but a bottle of Coke for company and his dad’s Zippo, he smoked. Cigarette after cigarette…
Dean was on number twelve, his head was pounding and stomach rolling, when he heard the crunch of gravel. The beat-up toes of his little brother’s Converse stopped beside him.
“Dad took off, Dean,” Sam said.
“West Virginia, looking for some red-eyed insect man or something,” Sam said. Anyway, he’s gone. You can stop.”
Dean huffed. “No, I can’t.”
Sam sat beside him and bumped his knee against Dean’s. “Can I try one?” Sam reached for the cigarette between Dean’s fingers.
“No!” Dean took one last drag and stubbed it out. “Don’t be stupid, Sammy.”
“Oh, but okay for you to be stupid.” Dean’s mouth dropped open as Sam crushed the rest of the pack in his hand. “Okay, for Dad to be stupid and poison you.”
“Godammit, Sam!” Dean leapt to his feet and his head swam. He put a hand against the side of the building to keep from falling down. Sam moved into a crouch and grabbed Dean’s other arm to steady him.
“Do you know that farmers use tobacco juice as pesticide?” Sam asked.
Dean smirked and fought the urge to vomit. “I bet you read that somewhere, huh?”
Sam looked up at him, all big-eyed and serious, and nodded.
Dean downed a shot of whiskey and leaned back against the bar with a beer in his hand. Sam was over by the pool tables with a glass of whiskey. Always aware of his height, he slouched a little and sat on a stool to appear shorter, less intimidating. Dean eyed the groups playing pool. The bikers were quiet and insular. He figured it would be the just over 21s -- probably the short guy or the future wife beater. There was always a short guy with something to prove. Then a blond in tight jeans moved in so close her crotch had to be pressed against Sam’s knee. Sam raised an eyebrow and shot a look at Dean who couldn’t help laughing out loud.
“What’s so funny?” the guy next to him asked. He turned and looked in Sam’s direction. The bar was crowded, but Sam and the girl were under a light at a tall table against the far wall. The guy wore a Bud Light cap and Dean was pretty sure he wasn’t being ironic.
“Oh nothing.” Dean took a sip of his beer. “I don’t think that blonde is going to have much luck with my brother.”
“Why not? She’s pretty hot.”
“Not his type.”
“What’s he gay?”
Dean leveled a stare at him till Bud Light’s grin faded. “What if he was?” Dean asked.
The guy looked away and shrugged. “Don’t make me no never mind.”
“Yeah? You sure?”
“To each his own,” Bud Light said to his beer.
“Good!” Dean patted the guy on the back. “Get this man another beer,” Dean said to the bartender.
“So you wanna play a game of pool or what?” Jenna she’d said her name was -- like the porn star. She’d actually said that -- Jenna, like Jenna Jameson. Sam couldn’t wait to tell Dean. He’d get a kick out of that.
“Sure, why not?” Sam replied when a guy stepped up next to her and snaked an arm possessively around her waist.
“Who’s your friend, Jenna?” the guy asked.
“Oh hey, Cory,” she said with a self-satisfied smile. “This is Sam.”
Sam knew a set-up when he saw one. He shifted a confused look between the two. “Jeez, man, I didn’t realize Jenna was your girl or anything. We were just talking.”
Cory clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t sweat it, dude. She gets a little flirty when she’s had a few. No harm, no foul, right?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Sam said, “thanks, man.”
“No problemo, Sammy,” Cory said.
It made Sam want to punch the smirk off is face. He met Dean’s gaze over the guy’s shoulder.
“How about a game of eight ball to show there’s no hard feelings,” Cory said.
“Um, yeah, why not?” Sam said and stood. He had a good six inches in height on the guy, but like a Chihauhua, Cory wasn’t going to let that intimidate him. He stayed in Sam’s space. “Excuse me,” Sam said. “I need to get a cue.”
Cory grinned up and him. “Yeah, sure, man.” Then, he backed up a step to let Sam through to the cue rack on the wall. Sam smiled mildly and chose a stick.
Dean watched the dance between his brother, the girl and her boyfriend. He’d seen it, been a part of it, dozens of times. He thought about intervening, throwing into the mix, but he was content for the moment to sit back and watch Sam handle the situation.
Dean chuckled. “This is going to be good.”
“What’s that?” Bud Light asked.
“My little brother is going to take that guy to the cleaners,” Dean said.
Bud Light turned around. “Cory? Wouldn’t bet on it. He’s the best pool player around.”
“Why don’t we,” Dean suggested.
“Bet on it,” Dean said. “Ten bucks says Sammy wipes the floor with that guy.”
Bud Light watched Sam flip a coin in the air to determine the break.
“Twenty,” he said.
“Heads I win, tails you lose.” Dean grinned as he watched Cory break.
“See that,” Bud Light said as Cory sank two balls.
Dean pushed a fifty across the bar to the bartender. “Leave the bottle,” he said.
The bartender left the half-empty bottle of Beam on the bar. “Can I get in on this wager?” he asked.
“Sure, why not?” Dean said. “Anyone else?”
Cory got three balls in the pocket before missing a shot. He never got another. Sam worked the table with a focus that was, as with anything he studied, impressive. His long reach didn’t hurt his game any. Cory’s brow furrowed and his cheeks reddened as he watched Sam beat his ass. Dean could see the explosion on the horizon.
“Eight ball, corner pocket,” Sam said and sank the black ball.
“This is bullshit!” Cory shouted. He went to grab the pile of bills that lay on the edge of the table, but Sam’s hand came down over his.
“I won fair and square,” Sam said.
Cory glared up at him. “You’re a shark.”
Sam laughed and came close to saying, takes one to know one, but opted for, “Dude, seriously?”
His left hand snatched the money from the table as his right blocked Cory’s punch. He crammed the fistful of bills into his pocket and shoved the smaller guy against the wall. He didn’t want to hurt him, but he knew from experience that Cory wouldn’t just let him walk away. True to type, Cory came back swinging, and Sam landed a solid punch to his jaw.
Jenna was suddenly hanging off Sam’s right arm. “You leave him alone!” she shouted. Sam shook her off and she landed on her ass on the floor.
“You fucker!” Cory was helping Jenna up, and one of their friends came at Sam from the side. He took a glancing hit to the chin. He punched his attacker who staggered back into a biker playing pool at the next table. Now, both groups of pool players were involved. From the corner of his eye, Sam saw Dean raise a whiskey bottle and launch it at the bottles shelved behind the bar. The explosion of glass caught the attention of many of the patrons, and the room erupted in shouting and swinging fists as one person after another was jostled and pitchers overturned.
Sam ducked under a punch and made his way through the crowd to the door where Dean sidestepped the bouncer and shoved the door open. Dean pushed Sam ahead of him and they stumbled down the steps.
“Hey!” the bouncer yelled from the doorway. “Don’t come back here!”
“Yeah, yeah!” Dean shouted back. “We know!”
They all but fell into their seats. Dean jammed the key into the ignition, and the V-8 roared to life. Dean threw the car into reverse as figures spilled from the doorway of the bar and down the front steps. The big car fishtailed as Dean floored the accelerator and pulled onto the coastal highway.
Sam suddenly let out a peal of laughter. Dean glanced over at him in surprise. Sam kept laughing. It was easily the best sound in Dean’s world, and he was soon echoing his brother’s adrenalin fueled mirth.
A soaring guitar riff and saxophone blasted from the speakers as they left the bar behind them. Something was always behind them -- a bar fight, a hunt, an unpaid motel bill, a bad romance, the death of a friend. From the time Dean was four, for as long as Sam could remember, there was something in the rearview mirror, another town, another motel, fear and loneliness.
“Peasants with pitchforks,” Dean said. Sam cackled with delight. Dean took a curve too fast and had to fight to hold the car on the road.
“Dude, slow down,” Sam said. “You’re going to get us killed.”
Dean had already let up on the accelorator. “I can think of worse ways to go.”
He felt Sam’s gaze on him. “Yeah,” Sam said quietly, “me too.”
They drove late into the night. Dean slowed the car as they passed through a small, silent beach town. Blank windows faced the road. The homes could easily be abandoned. The only indication that people slept within were cars parked in driveways. As the sun began to rise, people would roll out of bed, shower, eat, read newspapers or more likely these days look at their phones. They’d get into those cars and go off to legitimate jobs with paid benefits and direct deposit. The Impala rolled out of town, leaving the homes behind it. As it always did. He’d imagined those lives all his life. Hell, he’d lived one of those lives with Lisa and Ben for a year. Half dream, half nightmare. He glanced over at Sam who dozed with his head against the window. Is that what Sam had had with Amelia?
Suddenly, from the dark and mist along the road rose the skeleton of some great prehistoric reptile. Dean reached over and grabbed Sam’s knee, shook it.
“Wha … what the fuck?” The spine wove in and out of the mist behind a rusty chain-link fence. “It’s a roller coaster,” Sam said.
Dean pulled off into a blacktop parking lot with weeds growing through the cracks. He parked the car along a concession building to hide it from the road. Walken Beach Boardwalk, a faded sign declared.
“What are we doing?” Sam asked.
“I need to stretch my legs,” Dean said.
“At an abandoned amusement park?”
Dean shrugged. “Why not?” He pushed his door open and got out. Sam followed suit. The car doors swung shut with a creak and solid thump. Sam raised his hands over his head and stretched. His shirt pulled up, revealing a streak of pale skin. Dean ran his knuckles along it.
“Someday, I’m going to take you to one of those tall men shops,” he said.
Sam caught his wrist as he pulled away. “We’d just get ‘em mixed up with yours in laundry.”
“Right,” Dean said. They were forever wearing one another’s clothes and bickering about it.
Sam dropped his wrist and they walked together along the chain-link fence till they found a gap someone had cut.
“Naturally,” Dean said. “People just don’t know to stay out of abandoned places.”
Sam cleared his throat. “People like us?” Mist swirled between the rides and buildings in the light ocean breeze.
“It’s different,” Dean said. “We’re professionals.”
“Are you looking for a hunt here? Because we didn’t bring weapons.” They passed a funhouse on their left and a tilt-a-whirl on the right.
“I’ve got a couple knives,” Dean said. “Pretty sure you’re armed.”
“Yeah. Hope we don’t run into any clowns.”
Sam just punched him in the shoulder in response.
Rounding the Ferris wheel, a pier stretched out before them and tiny lights dotted the curve of the coast in each direction. They walked to the railing of the boardwalk. Waves lapped at the beach below.
“The guy at the bar, Cory, he called me a shark,” Sam said.
“Yeah? Well, you are damned good. Not as good as me, but better than him by a long shot,” Dean said.
Sam nodded. “You know if sharks stop moving, they die?”
“Yeah, of course,” Dean said. “Shark week.”
“Yeah, but …”
“Gotta keep moving,” Dean said. He pushed away from the railing and Sam followed. Dean had spent most of his life with Sam at his heels like a shadow. As that shadow had grown, it had become more and more a part of him.
There was a chill to the mist and Dean led Sam down the stairs and under the pier. Dean found a dry place in the sand and sat back against a boulder. Sam sat next to him and bumped his knee against Dean’s, as he had done so long ago behind a motel in Gallipolis, Ohio. They pulled their jackets tight around them and hunkered down, watching the pale wash of breakers until their eyes grew heavy and exhaustion took over.
The ache in Dean’s shoulder awakened him. The weight of Sam’s sleeping form was both a comfort and an annoyance. Dean stretched, gently jostling his brother to wakefulness. A line now separated the sky from the water on the horizon.
“I could use some coffee,” Dean said, but he didn’t get up. The horizon turned a deep blue.
“Do you remember teaching me how to kiss?” Sam asked.
“What? I …” Dean stammered and heat rose in his cheeks.
Sam chuckled softly. “I never thanked you for that.”
“Well … you’re welcome.”Dean dug his heel down into the sand.
“That was the best,” Sam whispered.
“What?” Dean peered at his brother trying to make out his expression in the faint light, not believing his ears.
“You,” Sam continued quietly. “That day in whatever motel that was in whatever town. I think that … I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since.”
Waves slapped at the pier and a soft glow washed across the ocean.
“Yeah, the, um, The Cactus Court Mo…” He turned his head, and Sam’s lips were right there waiting for him. They were warm and soft and welcoming. It was brief and reticent, but full of promise.
Dean turned away and looked off across the horizon where the pink blush of sun dawned. Sam didn’t say a word.
“Listen, Sam.” Dean cleared his throat. “I know that you wanted a home and a …”
“Don’t say normal,” Sam said. He reached down an picked at the fraying toe of his boot. “I’m not a kid anymore, Dean. I know what my place in the world is and I’m good with it.”
“Yeah, absolutely,” Sam said. “As long as we’re in this together, you know?”
Dean nodded. “We are.”
Dean turned toward Sam, tilted his head, offering his mouth. Sam leaned in and kissed him again; deeply, thoroughly this time. He left Dean breathless, trembling like no hunt had ever done.
“We should … we should go get a room,” Dean said.
Sam smiled. “Yeah, we should.”
They rose and climbed back to the boardwalk. With the rising sun at their backs, they followed the long path of their overlapping shadows to the Impala.