Brothers and Strangers




Even when you're richer than God, Dean discovers, New York City is crowded, smelly, and freaking loud. He makes a face, leans on the horn while some chick in a lot of black with about a dozen dogs exits a cab in the middle of the street. Not even the 'Cuda makes up for it, although he has to admit, it's a freaking gorgeous ride. Ain't the Impala, but definitely not shabby.

"You're sure you haven't spent time in the city?"

He looks over at Ari, cool and unruffled in the passenger seat. "Been here, once. A while back. That's about it."

She smiles and shakes her head. "You drive – aggressively."

"Place like this, what else can you do?"

"This is us."

The place has valet parking, a silent, smiling man whose floppy hair reminds him sharply of Sam. Inside is quiet, expensive, the kind of place he should have gone the rest of his life never seeing. He fidgets while Ari speaks to an older woman, and a moment later a short older guy comes out.

"Ah, buon giorno, buon giorno." He has shining white teeth, a grip like iron when he shakes Dean's hand. "Signor Fleming, is good to see you."

Dean forces a smile. "Nice to be seen."

"Two pair, Signora Fleming, you say."

At his side Ari nods. "To start."

"Bene, bene."

Being fitted for your own handmade shoes is…a weird experience. Dean's never given a whole lot of thought to footwear; he has his boots, running shoes, a pair of civilian shoes when he has to dress the part in a suit, and that's all he's ever needed. Now his feet are being treated like the crown jewels.

"They're just shoes," he whispers to Ari, while the shoemaker – Ercolani, something – goes in the back. "What's the big deal?"

"You'll see. They're like sex on your feet."

Dean thinks about it. "Sounds good."

Ari laughs.

The fitting takes about an hour, all told, and by the end of it Dean's pretty sure he could get used to it. He's actually looking forward to the shoes.

"They'll be ready by Friday, correct?" Ari tucks away a black card that's probably got some sky-high limit on it. "There's a party."

"Party?" Dean whispers.

"Bene, bene, of course, the shoes will be ready." Ercolani beams so hard it's kinda painful looking.

Outside the shop, Dean repeats, "Party? What party?"

Ari puts on her sunglasses and looks at him. "Your homecoming party," she says, in a tone that says, "duh."

He can't remember ever having a party for himself. Must have been a couple of birthday parties here and there, maybe back when he was a kid in Lawrence, but that feels like a lifetime ago. "Huh," he says.

Ari tucks her arm through his and squeezes. "There are people you should meet. Gabriel knows everyone."

He must have a funky look on his face at that, because her tone goes from proud to coaxing instantly. "Not a big party, not yet," she says, gazing at him from behind unreadable dark lenses. "But -- Dean, this is a big deal, you know? We need to celebrate! Come on, we're meeting Gabriel for lunch."

"Yeah, okay," he mumbles, and lets her lead him to the 'Cuda muttering at the curb.

The truck stands out in Manhattan traffic: too big, too black, too everything. John sets his jaw, flicks a flat look at the cabbie glaring from several feet down. Eat me, he thinks indifferently, and goes back to watching the red muscle car in the lane ahead.

"How'll you find him?" Sam had asked this morning, and John had just laughed.

"Ain't a whole lot of cars like that on the road, Sammy. Don't worry."

What had really happened was a chance sighting on the road, and his best attempt at covert surveillance. What he hoped to see -- He hadn't been able to tell Sam when he'd tried, and right now he's pretty sure he has no idea.

He's dead sure that seeing Dean strolling out of that store with his filthy-rich Fleming sister stuck in his craw like a big piece of broken glass. The kind of woman who would have sneered at Dean and his jeans and boots a few days ago, and now Dean was what? A project? A fixer-upper?

His teeth squeak together while he brakes for a cheap, flashy little sportscar. Trouble is, Sam's right: can't say if it's danger that has John's dander up, or if it just hurts too much to see him with this wealthy, influential family.

"You're jealous," Sam had observed earlier in a calm, rational voice.

John thought he'd maybe come dangerously close to belting him one for that. But the kid wasn't wrong. Burns like napalm, seeing it. NOT your family, he wants to say, WE are your family. But Dean's been taken in, the prodigal returned, and what exactly does John think he'll do now, skulking around following his boy like a hired dick?

Dean pulls over, and John bites off a curse and can't follow, jerks the truck into the right lane and circles the block. By the time he gets around again, the Barracuda is nowhere to be seen, fucking valet parking everywhere in this goddamn city, and he's lost him.

There's a space at the end of the block. Truck doesn't exactly fit, but screw it. Outside it's humid, the sharp smell of exhaust and garbage along with a mouth-watering smell from the food cart parked a few feet away. His stomach gurgles. Restaurant, this pricy-looking place, must be where they are.

"Lost?" someone asks pleasantly.

John snaps his head to the left, and sees Gabriel Fleming's handsome, smiling face.

"New York's a big place," Fleming continues, gesturing broadly. "Easy to lose your way. Or maybe that isn't what you've lost. Is it?" The smile is toothy, satisfied.

So, this is the way it'll play. Fine. He can do this. He forces a smile of his own. "What I keep trying to figure," he says, "is why'd you want him back so bad? Family like yours, rich, got everything you need – but now you want him. Why's that?"

"He's my brother," Fleming says. His blue eyes are too bright in the sunshine, chips of solid ice, blinding. "Surely you understand the value of family. How's Sammy adjusting to being an only child?"

Fuck you, John thinks, and Fleming must sense it; his smile turns into a grin. "Oh, wait. Not quite only. Mary's lost little lamb, Joseph, he came first."

"You son of a –"

"Word to the wise, John." The smile is gone. "Raphael is back where he belongs now. With us. With his family. It's what he's always wanted. It's what I've always wanted, and honestly? I get what I want." Fleming lifts his chin, doesn't break John's gaze. "Take your only child and leave, now."

John's throat is parchment-dry; he has to fight to get the words out. "Sounds like a threat."

"Does it?" An elegant eyebrow arches.

"I don't think you give a tinker's damn about Dean. You never have. It's something else."

Gabriel blinks slowly, then looks away. "Have a nice day, John. Enjoy the city. Go to a museum."

Dismissed, Winchester.

"Haven't figured it out yet," John says evenly. The clutch of fear – my child, get your hands off my child – has eased; he feels a familiar, cool surge of rational interest. "But I will. You can count on that, rich boy."

Gabriel's full lips purse, then widen in a smile. Not entirely unruffled, for all his calm. He cocks his head to one side, appears to consider a reply, then turns and walks to the front door of the restaurant, disappearing inside.

"You can bet your bottom fucking dollar on it, asshole," John whispers. "I guarantee it."

The living room of Anna Stockton's house is tidy, pretty in a somewhat overly chintzed way, and smells strongly of mothballs.

"Here you are," she says now, appearing through the door to the kitchen carrying two tall glasses of iced tea. "Hot out today."

Sam takes his tea and sips it appreciatively. "Very."

Stockton sits across from him, setting her tea on the table without tasting it. "You're looking into the house. For a student project, you said?"

Sam nods. "I'm actually looking for a thesis subject, architecture. I saw the house last year, never stopped thinking about it, so."

Even approaching seventy years old, as she must be, Sam can see what a beauty Anna Stockton had to have been in years past. Now her clean bone structure shines through, her eyes clear and sharp. "You won't find much," she says after a moment's pause. "I may be the only person still living who knows exactly how that house came to be. Except the Flemings, of course."

Alarm buzzes in the back of Sam's mind. "It's the family estate, right?" he asks.

"Yes. Building began around 1787, although the house wasn't completed for at least a hundred years after that." A line appears between her fine brows. "I'm not entirely sure it's completed yet, for that matter. It's always been a hodge-podge, different styles, that sort of thing."

"Must be expensive to maintain."

"Oh, I'm sure. Terrifically expensive."

The frown lingers, and Sam says, "But?"

"It's…curious, is the thing," Stockton says slowly. "The Flemings are of course wealthy today, have been for more than a century. You know I was the town librarian for many years."

Sam nods.

"I put together a bit of information on the town founder. Ezekiel Fleming, the paterfamilias, I suppose. The house was his – obsession, I think. But the ship that brought him from England – he traveled steerage, you know. The cheapest passage available."

"So he must have earned the money here in the States."

She nods. "He must have. But I could never find out exactly what he did. He simply started building that house one day. Hired the best people he could find. Expensive people, materials. The town came into being from all the crew he hired; the project was so immense, they stayed for decades."

"Inheritance, maybe?"

Stockton meets his gaze squarely. "You aren't a student, are you?"

Sam swallows, and shakes his head. "Used to be. Not anymore."

"Ezekiel Fleming married after only a year in Connecticut. A woman named Sarah Ransom. She bore him three daughters and two sons. His eldest son, Gabriel, also had two sons."

Impatience unfurls in his belly, hot and twisting. "And?" he bites off.

"Look at Ezekiel's sons," Anna Stockton says, "and you will know how Ezekiel Fleming got his money."

Sam stares at her.

"I'm an old woman." She looks past him, out the wide front window. "And I don't think I'll be here much longer. But you're young, and – there's still time. You can stop them. If you're strong enough."

"Stop the Flemings?" he asks, shaking his head. "Stop them from what?"

She has never touched her tea. Now she picks up her glass and drinks thirstily, a startling glug-glug as she downs the entire glass at once. "You should go now," she says, wiping her mouth on the back of one narrow wrist. "Be careful. Follow the sons."

He nods stiffly. "Did he –"

"I won't tell you," she snaps. "They won't LET me."

"Who? Who won't let you? The Flemings? Gabr –"

"Do not say his name," she whispers urgently. "Do not. He will see you, he will hear. Be quiet, stealthy. Hurry. Hurry!"

He's standing, backing a pair of steps toward the door. "Miss Stockton –"

She waves a trembling, imperious hand, and then presses it to her forehead. "Go now, go, please."

"Thank you," he whispers, and fumbles the door open.