Characters/Pairings: Sam, Dean, Ellen, Jo, Jim, Gordon … and more. So many more. Character Bingo for the win! No pairings, although mentions Sam/Jess.
Notes/Credits
There's quite a lot from Road House in here. There's also quite a lot you might recognise from elsewhere cough. Some dialogue has been taken verbatim from both sources but some has been changed a little.

Thank you doccy , giandujakiss and mitchy for checking it over, making it readable and exorcising the demons of Britishness. Any remaining errors, so very much my bad.
Written For: reelspn chellange
Disclaimer:
No copyright infringement intended; fair use only. Not created for profit.

-o-

If Sam's honest – hell, even if he's only half honest – Harvelle's doesn't look like a place worth fighting over.

It's not much more than a shack, all rusted corrugation and wind-torn wood. There's a phone box and a lazily turning wind-catcher that's been jammed crooked into dirt littered with cigarette ends and shimmering oil slicks.

That explains the smell of gasoline.

There's a chance the inside is tricked out and the outside is all about the ambiance - he's worked a few places like that - but somehow he doubts it.

He'd doubt it even ran to electric if it weren't for the neon sign, flickering in red and white even with the sun high up in the sky and beating down.

Bobby's an old friend and he never asks favors and Sam'll be fine telling himself that's the only reason he's here. Until another message from Jess flashes on his phone and he chickens out, ignores it.

"Ellen's tough", Bobby had said. "And she's proud. But she's got a kid and this guy? He don't play by the rules. I'd ask your Daddy but there's history there and you know Dean got banged up pretty good a couple months ago."

He didn't. He wanted to ask but just made some vaguely committal noises and found himself on the I-80 a week later.

Bobby hadn't said anything about the shotgun.

Sam raises his hands away from his body and tries to look inoffensive. In his favor, big brown eyes staring through sheepdog bangs has won more than one person over. In the cons column, he's 6'4'' and at least a head and a half taller than the woman; he's not going to be convincing her he's harmless any time soon.

He knows he's been standing out there looking the place over for a while; she probably thinks he's casing the joint.

"Ms Harvelle?" he chances.

"Mrs." The barrel doesn't move even a little bit. "You want to be getting out of here."

He can't say she's wrong but after two days driving it seems kinda pointless not to try and talk her around. "My name's Sam. Sam Winchester. Bobby maybe mentioned me?"

Shotgun's still not moving.

"Bobby." Her voice is flat, but he decides to take it as an opening.

"Bobby Singer? Has that junk yard." His mind searches for identifying features. "Couple dogs. Likes hats?" He pauses, lowers his hands a little. "Him, not the dogs."

"Uh huh." Her eyebrows draw down to a furrow and he puts his hands right back where they were.

"Yeah, I said I was on this road trip and he said I should go by your place. Said you have good beer."

"Sam Winchester. You'd be John Winchester's boy."

Well, that's open to debate but it's not really the time. "Would that get me shot?"

She looks down at the shotgun in her hands and then the barrel drops, but it seems to Sam it does it grudgingly. "No. Won't make you many friends, though." She smiles, hard. "But I'm betting you know that. Bobby didn't tell you to stop by this place for warm beer."

Honesty seems like the best policy. "No, ma'am. Said you were having a little trouble."

"We can deal with our own troubles."

He shrugs, let's her see exactly how little he cares whether she lets him in or throws him out.

She nods and the barrel of the shotgun rests on the wooden decking at her feet. "You taking up the family business?"

He opens his mouth to answer but, struck with it, discovers he can't find a place between yes and no. He settles on, "Bobby doesn't ask for much."

That seems to work, she turns and pulls open the door, disappears into the gloom within. He follows, catching the inner door before it swings back into his face. Little bits of cracked paint come away under his fingertips and he wipes his hands on his jeans.

If he squints, he can see what the Roadhouse started out like – it's in the carving of the bar front and the finish of the floor. But now there's long rents in the wood and the bar stools look like they've been broke up and fixed more than once apiece. There are rafters open in the ceiling and an old TV crackling in the corner, frayed wires running somewhere behind the wall.

Mrs Harvelle is watching him but she doesn't seem too put out by the study of her bar.

Instead, she retrieves a couple of smeared shot glasses and fills both with an amber liquid from an unlabelled bottle, he can only hope it's whiskey.

"Nice place, Mrs Harvelle."

She regards him for a long moment, long enough he's wondering whether he should be apologising, but finally she shrugs. "It's a dump, kid. But it's mine. Call me Ellen." She slams her shot back and swallows like it's water. "I heard you'd gone off to be a lawyer someplace."

The first time he heard of this woman at all was a week ago through a slightly alcoholic fog at two am, when he checked his messages. So it's a little disconcerting.

"Yeah, Stanford. But I'm taking a year. Working things out."

Her mouth quirks. "What's her name?"

The Librarian had said the same thing; he's beginning to wonder if he's wearing a button someplace. "Jess. Jessica."

"Anyone worth working things out for? They're worth working them out well."

"Uh. Thanks?" Again with the disconcerting; he's not used to motherly advice from people he doesn't know. He's not used to it from people he does know.

Ellen's shoulder lifts a half shrug. "My husband, God keep him, he passed and left me with a daughter to raise, a bar to run and not much else to occupy me but dispensin' Hallmark wisdom to the young."

So maybe he can like this woman. He grins and then sips a little of his whiskey. Somehow, he manages to swallow and then, with care in case it's explosively unstable, he places the glass back on the bar and pushes it a finger length away.

"Yeah, well, you're not wrong. It's just trying to make different paths run close enough together, you know?"

"Oh, I know." She pulls a bottle of Bud out from under the bar, flicks the cap and pushes it over. She's right – it's warm.

"So Bobby said some guy's been leaning on you? He … wants the Roadhouse?"

She snorts. "Right, we're hot property. Resh used to be some hotshot lawyer, but he came out here and went into investing. He wants the land so he made me an offer. Have to say it wasn't unreasonable, but this bar was Bill's and I'm not ready to let it go."

He nods, she goes on.

"So then we start getting supply problems. Trucks come late; sometimes they don't come at all. He makes another offer, I say no.

"Couple nights later, we get cops coming around. People come here? They're not saints. More than one's carrying unlicensed, but they know how I feel about drugs and we're clean. Detectives tell me they found cocaine in the bathroom. As if anyone coming in here could afford it.

"Then a couple days ago, his daughter gets my Jo fired from the pharmacy. Says she saw her stealing.

"Some of his men come in most nights. Starting fights, breaking the place up, bringing in the wrong crowd. We can take care of ourselves but insurance won't hold out. I know Bobby sent you here to help and I'm not expecting anything of you. But, you want to stay, I'll pay you fair."

It's and old story, he doesn't bother offering up ideas - there aren't any new ones under the sun. "You got any bouncers?"

"I do now, but they're not professionals. Gordon knows what he's doing. Ash, he's just well-meaning."

Sam shares her wince. He knows where 'well-meaning' will get someone.

"I took on Dwayne after Jo went to college, he's the bartender. Calls himself a lover, not a fighter."

Ellen watches him and he watches her. He's still not sure what he's planning to do, so it's something of a surprise when he hears himself speaking. "I stay, I control the floor. Hire and fire the staff. I say someone's out, they're out."

It sounds like it's a rote and that's mostly because it is, one he's heard it in a hundred different dives – he's just never said it before.

Ellen looks amused and he has the dark suspicion she's grading him out of ten. Apparently, he passes. "You're John Winchester's boy, all right. You keep the place from being torn apart, you have a deal."

"It won't stop him, though. Guys like that, they keep coming."

"I know it. Resh thinks he owns this town, but he doesn't. He's put the bite on a lot of good people and we're biting back, we just need time to raise the money. Hire a lawyer. Take out his teeth the legal way."

She looks speculative; he has to shake his head. "Pre-law."

"Ah well. Guess I'll hire you for those pretty brown eyes after all."

"There a place I can stay in town?"

"Couple of places might suit you, but there's a room here. If you want it."

His father avoided rooming anywhere near where they worked like it was part of his religion, never bothered to say why, just gave them a wasted hour's travelling time each way and Sam's not taking that road down memory lane because it goes nowhere but angry.

Ellen's still waiting; he nods. "Sure, that'd work. Thanks."

"You'll be next to Ash." She crooks a finger and beckons him down the corridor that runs behind the bar, passed a door decorated with stickers and posters and a sign that hangs center.

Sam cants his head. "Doctor Badass is out? That's a shame."

Ellen rolls her eyes and pushes the door next to it open.

The room is empty except for a bed and dresser, but the pale pink walls and butterfly print curtains are its history.

"Your daughter doesn't live here?"

"No, she got a place in town when she started working at the pharmacy. I'll get around to re-decorating sometime."

"Uh huh. Okay, I'll sit at the bar tonight. I want to see how your people work, what the regulars are like. So-"

"- don't tell them. Fair enough. People will start coming in, few hours or so. You got time."

He nods. "There any place that sells cars around here?"

-o-

The Roadhouse doesn't look much better after dark and the music pumping out into the night is more his brother's taste than Sam's, but at least it's busy.

He makes sure a few people see him park up the broken down car he got for $500 and a smile and then takes a stool at the back, where he can watch the bar, the floor and the door. It takes half an hour to spot the bartender's method of skimming - a shot off every six or seven, a quarter for every ten dollars. Dwayne probably takes a couple hundred a night.

Doctor Badass is easy to keep in his sights as well, a lanky Lynyrd Skynyrd reject complete with mullet. He's trying to look tough but it's mostly for show. The other bouncer, though, Sam guesses has experience where it counts. The short cut and casual clothes stand out a mile surrounded by leathers and long hair, but he seems at ease. If Gordon's not ex-military, he's something close enough for horseshoes or hand-grenades and that's more then enough to keep the regulars in line.

And the regulars, well they're drinking hard and they're dancing hard, but they don't seem inclined towards letting loose any other way. Still, he'd guess they'd throw in to any bar fight going and the three who've just walked in, they're offering one.

It's in the way they walk, scan the room. He doesn't have to catch Ellen's glance or see Ash and Gordon straighten to know these are Resh's boys. Except it's two boys and a girl.

One man he'd say was military once for sure, it's in the stance despite a somehow furtive expression. The other is more relaxed but there's something off in his gaze; like he's sneering out at the world, wondering which parts he can take apart first. The girl is petite and blonde with an elfin cut, a sharp smile and a red leather jacket, and Sam would bet half his grant she's calling the shots.

He nicknames them Army, Bob and Red. Not the most original line-up in the world, but it'll do until the shouting starts. Which will be, he suspects, within ten minutes.

Red's gaze is amused and it pauses as it passes over him. She leans against Bob, whispers something in his ear. Bob nods and starts towards the bar, but Gordon and Ash are already coming in on intercept.

Sam can't hear the conversation but he can see the expressions. The countdown in his head is one second off Ash throwing the first punch.

And then it's a melee.

He stays where he is, shakes his head to stop Ellen raising her shotgun and blasting a hole in the ceiling to restore some order. The ceiling has enough holes, and he has to know how they play.

Red stays back as Army and Bob move in. Army does the heavy lifting, squares off against Gordon and keeps him at bay while Bob plays cat and mouse, picking away at Ash until he's on the floor and trying with limited success to protect his head from the boots trampling down around him.

This is for his benefit, Sam is almost certain; although how he provoked Red's curiosity he doesn't know. When the kicking starts, when the patrons start to take sides, Sam stands.

He hasn't done this in years, and it's like it's yesterday.

The milling crowd doesn't touch him, fists can be turned, kicks can be avoided and bodies can be pushed away. Army swings, something glinting in his fist, and Sam barely feels the burn of it along his ribs as he turns and gets a good grip on the back of the other man's head.

Army's nose meets Sam's knee with enough force he can feel the man's bones give under the impact. He pushes him into Gordon's waiting hands and turns to ram an elbow into Bob's throat.

It's a hard move. He's seen it crush windpipes more than once and you have to be so, so careful. He's always been careful. Bob gags and falls away, trying to figure out how to breathe.

Take away a man's breath, his father said, and he won't care about anything else at all.

He reaches down to haul Ash up by the scruff of his neck and never takes his eyes off Red.

When Red, Bob and Army have been crowded, herded or dropped to the door he nods and speaks evenly.

"Bar's closed to you. Have a good night, now."

Over the choking sounds of Bob and the wetter gasps of Army, Red's smile sharpens until there's nothing but edges. "We haven't been introduced. My name's Meg. Meg Resh. This is my brother, Tom, and the one bleeding out through his nose is Jake."

He preferred Bob and Army but, whatever. "Goodnight, Ms Resh."

Her smile takes on a taunting winsomeness. "You won't even tell me your name?"

"You might want to get your boys down to the doctor's, they need seeing to."

She ducks her head, just a little, and the amusement returns. "Well then, I'll just have to ask around."

Army and Bob help each other out after her and the door swings shut.

And somewhere from the back of the crowd a familiar voice rings out. "Ladies and gentlemen, Sam Winchester."

There's laughter and a smattering of applause and then it's back to the serious business of drinking and dancing.

Sam nods to Gordon and Ash, murmurs that he'll see them both tomorrow at noon, and goes to find Jim Murphy.

The man's hunched over a beer and a bible at the other end of the bar and he looks like he's been planted there a while, so Sam's not over-surprised he missed him. The preacher clothes are torn and dusty but the black leather bible is near pristine for all it's been on the road longer than Sam's been alive.

Jim reaches over and pulls Sam into a half hug, fast and companionable, and the scent of incense and liquor is like going back twenty years.

He returns the hug gently and doesn't ask for a licorice ball. "Little far North for you this time've year, isn't it?"

"You know I walk the roads the good Lord provides me."

"Or Bobby."

Jim's grin is cracked around the edges but it's as warm as Sam remembers. "Or Bobby. He wasn't sure you were coming so I said I'd come on by. Been a long, long time."

His eyes track Ellen as she moves behind the bar and then flicker back to Sam. "You know you're bleeding?"

"I figured if I ignored it, it would go away." he deadpans and Jim laughs quietly. Nearly says something and thinks better of it. Instead he leans forward to catch Ellen's eye.

"Jo around?"

She leans forward, half shouting to be heard. "She'll be in town, why?"

"Sam needs some stitching."

Sam leans forward to be heard. "Hey, Sam can do it himself. He's fine. And he's standing right here."

Jim waves him off and Ellen follows suit and Sam shrugs.

While Ellen calls her daughter, he moves down to collar Dwayne. Let him know there'll be a meeting and makes sure to smile while he does it.

"So you're Sam Winchester, huh?"

Dwayne's smile is friendly and personable and Sam nods amiably. "Turns out."

"I heard your daddy killed a couple fellers down South in a bar he was working. That true? They say you mess with him, he seals your fate."

Sam shrugs and ramps up his smile to a grin, lets teeth show. "Guess they get poetic down South."

Ellen's waving him over so he nods and heads her way, trying not to roll his eyes.

When Bobby said Ellen had a kid, Sam was vaguely thinking something by way of blonde pigtails. When it turned out not, the pink wallpaper and butterflies had given the vague impression of frail femininity. Which, now he thinks about it, was probably a flawed reasoning given Ellen greeted him with a double-barrelled shotgun.

The blonde was right, and the girl – woman – is slender, but after that she's her mother's daughter. And her bedside manner sucks.

They're sat on a couple of chairs in the back room and the naked bulb above them gutters, but at least her tools are clean.

"It's just a scratch. Stop moving."

"Then stop poking at me."

"You want to do this yourself?"

"Well, yeah."

"Tough." She smiles saccharine and then bends her head back to her work.

"So Meg got you fired."

"Uh huh."

"Anything else? They tried …"

"I carry mace, a cell phone and my dad's hunting knife."

And, when she glances up for a moment, it's with a glare he can feel disintegrating his frontal lobes. "Right."

"It true you were in witness protection with the FBI?"

This is a new one. He shakes his head and then stifles a yelp as she pulls the stitching without warning. "Uh, no."

"Mom said you had to keep moving all the time so you didn't get killed or something."

"Not exactly. My mom and dad, they saw something. Like, witnessed something. They were meant to get protection but … there was a fire. Mom didn't make it out. After that, Dad wouldn't testify, packed us up. Kept us moving, job to job."

"What did they see?" She tucks a strand of hair back behind her ear, some of his blood stains the end of her fingers but she doesn't seem to care.

"Damned if I know."

"My dad, he got shot out on the highway. Police said maybe a hitchhiker or something. Just … they didn't take anything, just killed him."

He's not sure what to say, bonding over a shared parent mortality rate seems a little weird. "... sorry?"

She smoothes strips of tape over the gauze and leans back. "You're done."

"Thanks."

"Whatever." But there's a slight but proper smile. "Thanks. You know, for helping out."

"Whatever." They share a wider smile and he returns to the front lines.

-o-

Gordon and Ash are both there by eleven-thirty, although he guesses it helps that Ash lives in-house because Sam's not convinced the man would have made it otherwise. It's something about the bleary-eyed stare and terry-towel robe.

Jim is at the bar, in the same stool he occupied last night and he's wearing the same clothes. Sam would wonder if he'd even moved except he doubts Ellen would have let him stay. His back is turned and the pages of his bible rasp quietly as he reads.

At the booth in the corner, Jo sits with a newspaper before her, pen in hand. Every now and then she grimaces and circles something, Sam has to admit he wouldn't want to be job-hunting in this town.

Ash potters around fixing a beer and pretzel breakfast of champions, Gordon sits on the pool table and cleans his nails with a sliver of wood.

"So, you're a Winchester."

This got old a decade ago. "You can tell by the maker's mark."

Gordon's nod of apology is cursory. "Must get a little annoying."

"Little bit, yeah."

"I heard your old man's working out of Chicago."

"Good for him."

Gordon regards his nails critically and then drops the splinter to the floor. "You know Dwayne's skimming, right."

The change of topic derails him a little, but Sam nods. "Not being too clever about it."

"Ellen knows it too. Want to know why she hasn't fired him?"

Sam just waits. Guys like Gordon, they'll answer all their own questions.

"He's a Resh. Cousin or something."

"Why'd she hire him in the first place?"

"Because," Ellen's voice is dry as she emerges from the back room, "I was trying to make a little peace. Get the deliveries coming again. You gossip like an old woman, Gordon."

"You'd know, old woman."

Ellen just grins.

There's friendship between them – Sam can tell that – but there's something lurking in Gordon's expression that has that spot between his shoulder blades itching. Gordon's trouble, Sam just doesn't know what kind of trouble.

They make small talk until twelve and then silence settles until twelve-thirty, when Dwayne rolls through the door. There's a woman's giggle from somewhere outside and then the revving of a motor as his ride drives away.

Dwayne pulls a chair out from under the table and spins it, sits leaning with his arms crossed over the back.

"Sorry I'm late, boss. Car trouble, you know?"

Ellen shakes her head, gestures to Sam with the cloth in her hand. "Not me you have to apologise to, Dwayne."

Dwayne turns his head and the smile falters under Sam's level stare. But it returns full watt after a moment. "Well then. Sorry … boss?"

Sam shakes his head. "Not anymore. You're register dipping and it's free drinks for all your friends. You're out, Dwayne."

"You know who my Uncle is." His eyes flicker to Gordon, to Ellen, then back.

"Yeah, I do. Hope your ride hasn't gone far." He nods to the door and doesn't move when Dwayne stands and sends the chair skidding away, red faced and angry.

"You think you can come here and pull this? You ain't your daddy."

Sam thinks he could probably make a hundred comebacks – some of them even new - but he doesn't; he has an example to set. So he lets Dwayne bluster himself out and then, finally, stands. He's a head taller than the man and when he crosses his arms, sees him hesitate.

Dwayne's a lover, not a fighter.

"You've had your run, you've had your severance three times over. Give my respects to your cousins."

When Dwayne's stomped his way out, Sam decides momentum is probably the way to go. He turns to Ash, now wide-awake and wide-eyed with it.

"You're off the floor unless I call you in – you're backup. Ellen wants to keep you busy, you tend the bar."

Ash stares at him for a moment, something more switched on than Sam had given credit for ticking behind his eyes, and then he nods. "Sure, man. I was tired of getting my ass kicked anyway."

"Two isn't much crowd control." Gordon's tone doesn't have anything more than cautious observation in it, which is better than Sam had expected.

"No, it isn't. You pack a place out with security, it's an invitation; you keep it quiet, effective.

"The rules are simple. One, don't under-estimate your opponent - expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside – never start anything in the bar unless it's absolutely necessary. Three," he smiles brightly, "be nice."

Gordon's eyebrows rise. "John Winchester came up with that one?"

He ignores the question, and Ellen's smirk. "Be nice," he repeats. "If someone gets in your face, calls you a son of a bitch, be nice. Ask him to walk, but be nice. If he doesn't walk, I'll help you walk him and we'll both be nice. Remember it's a job, it's not personal."

Ash's voice is muffled around a mouthful of pretzels. "Being called a son of a bitch isn't personal?"

"It's a phrase intended to elicit a prescribed response, that's all. Be better than that. Be nice until it's time not to be nice."

Pretzel crumbs drift in the breeze. "When do we know it's time not to be nice?"

"I'll let you know." He tears his attention from the drifting crumbs and looks to Ellen. "What's the stock count like?"

"We got enough for another couple of nights, maybe three. But, Dwayne being fired, we won't get another delivery easy. I can get the beer shipped in from out of town, someplace Resh can't have a say, but they'll just break it up when it gets here."

"One thing at a time. Get the delivery ordered."

"Sure thing, boss." Ellen's voice is ironic but she turns to pull the stock notes clipboard from its nail on the wall.

"I can help."

Jo's voice is quiet and there's defiance at its base that makes Sam suspect this is an old argument. He's proven right by the shake of Ellen's head. "I said no, Jo."

"I can handle myself. I could kick Ash's ass and you let him help."

Ash nods, not taking offence. But he doesn't take sides either, burying himself in the newspaper.

"Joanna Beth Harvelle, I am not having you out there and that's the end of it. You can tend bar if you want to help."

Jo's chin raises. "It's not up to you, you said Sam is doing the hiring and firing."

And Sam finds himself being glared at on two sides. He opens his mouth. Closes it again. Tries to work out the best way to get out of it relatively unscathed. He nods. "What experience do you have, Jo?"

"I grew up here, didn't I? And Gordon's taught me some things."

"He has, has he?" Ellen's voice is low and meaningful and Gordon raises his hands.

"Just to help her look after herself, self-defence."

"Give me a couple nights, you'll see what I can do."

"No." Sam shakes his head and goes on quickly to forestall a second salvo. "There's on the job training, but this isn't the time for it. Tend the bar; you're with Ash on backup. You come in only, only when I say."

Neither Ellen nor Jo looks happy with the compromise, which is about as good as he's likely to get it.

When he goes outside, all the tires of his car have been cut open. It's better than someone finding something he cares about to demonstrate the depth of his or her feelings on.

"John would have taken both women out the fight and let Ash go."

He hasn't realised Jim had followed, the man's quiet when he wants to be. Sam doesn't turn, just leans his hip against the car and watches the sun climb up into the sky and its rays creep along the road to turn the tarmac a blinding white.

"You think I should've done that?"

"No, I don't." Jim's hand claps down on his shoulder and then withdraws. "Bobby made a good call."

"He didn't have a choice. Dean's hurt and he said Ellen wouldn't have Dad here. What happened?"

There's silence for long enough he turns to check the preacher's still there. He is, staring down that same long strip of burning road.

"Your dad took you all through here, must be close to twenty years ago. You'd have been four, five. Doubt you'd remember much." But he looks over anyway and Sam shakes his head, there's nothing familiar here.

"Bill and Ellen were just setting the place up, Jo wasn't even into her first teeth. They were setting to make it into a diner, for families and such. Your dad helped out for a few months. Then Bill was killed and I don't know what happened, just that you were all on the road a few hours later and Ellen …" He coughs. "She never cried, you know? I never saw it. She just tried to make the diner work and when it didn't, she turned it into something that would."

There's something more. Something about Jim, and Bobby and his father and Ellen and Bill, he knows there is. And Jim's waiting calmly for Sam to ask but Sam doesn't want to know. He swallows and looks away. "What's Gordon's story?"

"Walker? Just another wandering soul. He hunts bounties, most of the time, but every now and them he comes to spend some time here. Little like me, I guess."

That might explain a little of the creep down his back, he supposes. More than one warrant has a Winchester on it, though it's never been him.

"Ash?"

"That would be our resident genius. Boy was at MIT doing something fascinating with computers or engineering. Maybe computer engineering."

Sam tries not to look disbelieving but suspects he fails.

Jim smiles and waits a beat, like a period at the end of a sentence. "History isn't my subject, son. Maybe I can interest you in a few Psalms. It's Sunday, you know."

Sam remembers the way it goes. "Right, a few Psalms and something to make the dust go down easy?"

"Well, if you're inclined."

They make it through two beers and no Psalms before Ellen declares that idle hands are the Devil's work and height should be good for more than shade, and sets them to cleaning windows.

And somewhere between the sun going down and the moon coming up, Sam realises he's having fun and Jess isn't there to share it with.

He's been staring at his phone for five minutes before Jo swipes him on the head with a dust rag as she walks by. "Just call her."

"She's probably out."

"So?"

She has a point, but his finger hovers over the call button and stalls there.

Tomorrow.

-o-

Tomorrow comes and he walks in on Ellen and Jo arguing in the fierce hisses of people aware they have thin walls and an audience, but he's pretty sure they'd be yelling otherwise.

He'd be willing to back out but two pairs of eyes turn on him and he can't help feeling a little sympathy for prey animals in the path of snakes.

It turns out they can get the drinks delivered but some things need a town run and there's no way Ellen's going to let Jo go on her own when they've all but slapped Resh in the face.

Sam's willing enough to keep her company, he hasn't seen more than the used car lot and he needs new tires anyway.

So Ellen gives him the keys to the battered old truck they keep out back and a grocery list about as long as his arm.

"You feeding the five thousand?"

"You want to eat tonight?"

It's a winning argument.

Fall Creek – population 2,097 – is, Jo says, not a one horse town because the horse died last winter. Of boredom.

But he kind of likes the place. It's nostalgia after years in a city. It's the face – or close enough to it – of his childhood and it wasn't all bad.

He grins as they park up to the curb outside the general store. "So why do you stay?"

"I'm not. Just trying to get enough saved up to go to medical school." She scowls. "Don't laugh."

He blinks, taken aback by the vehemence. "I'm not laughing."

Her cheeks color and she shrugs. "Sorry. Most of my friends, they're pretty much planning to live and die here. And mom's never tried to hold me back, but …"

"Yeah. My dad wasn't so thrilled I wanted to be a lawyer."

"But he's proud of you, right?"

"We haven't talked in years. I didn't tell him I got accepted to Stanford until right before I left. He went ballistic."

"Well you didn't give him much warning."

"If I had, he'd still have gone ballistic and then I'd have had to leave earlier."

They're both getting more than a little uncomfortable with this heart to heart so he forces a smile. "So, where're we going first?"

"You can go where you want, I'm going to the diner."

"If I leave you alone, your mom will shoot me." He tries to look sincere and pleading, it's not hard in this situation.

"She's not a good shot. And I have a lot of bandages." Apparently, Jo is as immune as Ellen. He wonders if it's genetic.

A toss of her head and a grin and Jo's heading down the sidewalk; Sam's left standing outside the store with a grocery list and a sense of foreboding. But he can see the diner and he figures he won't be more then twenty minutes.

The store looks like it should have most of the things on Ellen's list but as he walks the aisles he can see the shelves are thinly stocked and more than one can's pushing its sell by date.

When the door bell chimes he glances back, for a moment the blonde hair gives him some hope that it's Jo but the short cut – and the red jacket – make him lose it fast.

Meg wanders towards him with that smile.

"Morning, Sam."

"Ms Resh."

"Call me Meg, please."

He nods and turns half away to put a bag of flour in his basket.

She isn't put off; he hadn't really thought she would be.

"Tom and Jake are feeling much better."

"Great." He smiles as insincerely as possible.

"I left them at the diner."

He looks back to her, drops the smile.

"Oh, she's fine. I just wanted a chat. We can chat, right? I mean, it's not like you can ban me from here."

"What do you want?"

"It isn't what I want, Sam. My father would like to talk to you."

"I doubt we'd have much to say to each other."

"He's one of the town's biggest employers, you know."

"I have a job."

"As a bouncer? C'mon, Sam. You're better than that, right? Give it a few years and you'll be somebody. My father's always looking for new lawyers, fresh blood to add to his team."

"I'm sure he is."

"Think about it – a place to learn, get contacts. He's taken an interest in you, Sam. How far do you think you could go?"

"All the way down. Thank you father for his interest, Meg, and tell him to leave the Harvelles and their bar alone."

Meg's look of disappointment is overplayed so far he's expecting a pout and a stamp of the foot; she finally turns away and walks towards the counter.

"Hello, Scott. It's been a while."

The young man ducks his head with a hunted expression and mumbles something Sam doesn't catch.

Meg nods. "I know, times are so hard on everyone right now. That's why we're so grateful for all the contributions to the town betterment fund.

"Now, I don't want you to have to go to the trouble of delivering it; I know your father isn't well. Tom and Jake will be by to collect it soon."

She holds up her hand. "No, please, don't thank me."

Scott stares after her as she leaves and then looks to Sam. He seems to grapple with himself over speaking for a moment and then stammers, "Look, just, whatever she wants? Let her have it, okay? People don't, they get hurt."

"I'm getting that. Can you total this up? I need to go to the diner, I'll be right back."

He's already backing away, doesn't hear Scott's reply as he bolts out the door and runs down the sidewalk. He's still running as he hits the door of the diner and doesn't stop until he sees the place empty of any Resh's and Jo sitting, drinking a soda. She frowns.

"Sam?"

He ignores the looks from the other patrons. "We're leaving, come on."

For a moment she looks like she might argue but instead nods and drops a twenty on the table as she stands. "There go pancakes."

"I'll make you some when we get back."

"Not like these." She looks wistful but doesn't drag her heels as they leave. "What happened?"

"Meg. She said Tom and Jake were in the diner."

"I think I would have noticed. She just throws threats around."

"Yeah, well, I'm not taking chances, your mom scares me."

Jo waits in the truck and Scott doesn't meet Sam's eye while he takes the money for the groceries and Sam thinks maybe cities are better than small towns after all.

-o-

Ash likes the bar best mid-afternoon. When the worst of the heat's out, before the custom starts rolling in.

Ellen and Jo are clearing the stock room, Ash can tell by the shouting-that-isn't-shouting. Gordon's gone into town and Jim is probably around somewhere but who the hell knows where. Sam is out back checking the delivery, so it's just him.

Him and the bar.

He straightens a little and pats the counter top. This is pretty cool.

It stays cool until the door swings open and a hard case walks in.

Sure, the guy's smiling and he doesn't look like one of Resh's goons, but he probably is. There's a swagger, like he owns the place and anyone in it.

But Ash stands his ground, nods with narrowed eyes as the man leans against the bar.

"You got a skinny little bitch called Sam working here?"

'Skinny', 'Little' and 'Bitch' aren't words Ash would associate with Sam. He hopes this guy learns the hard way.

"He's out back." He jerks a thumb towards the side door.

Hard case nods and pushes away from the bar. "Beer. I'll be back."

Ash doubts the guy'll want beer – or much but a hospital – if he does come back, but he pours it anyway.

-o-

Sam had been expecting there to be trouble with the delivery, he just hadn't expected it to come so fast. Thirty seconds after the truck rolled in, a Dodge pulled up along side and, he's good – even rusty, he's good – but five to one odds aren't his happy place.

They've put him on the ground twice and he's pretty sure he has cracked ribs to show for it – that and torn stitches if the heat searing his side is anything to judge by.

He's fought his way up twice, but he's not sure he can do it again and he's only laid two of them out.

Blood stings his eyes and blurs his vision and when it clears his arms are caught and there's a fist coming in to blur him up all over again. He slumps, rides it and tries to become dead weight, but they're keeping him upright.

Ellen and Jo are around but damned if he's getting them involved and Ash, well then it'd be two people getting beat up. If Jim were around he'd be there already and he knows he's on his own.

This is going to hurt.

"How's it going, dude?"

The expected second punch doesn't arrive; he can feel Resh's men pause. He raises his head and tries to focus on a dark shape standing nearby. The voice is familiar but he's not sure if it's not just the ringing in his ears.

"Fuck off." Tom is succinct, at least.

"Aw c'mon, sweetheart. There's room for one more."

Sam's vision clears in time to see Tom pin wheeling backwards and his arms are suddenly released as Jake and whoever the hell else it is let him go to take on the new threat.

It's brief. He doesn't even bother to join in. The stitches aren't torn as much as he'd thought and a tentative poke to his side makes him think his ribs might not even be cracked, just bruised.

And then three more men are curled in groaning heaps around him and he looks over at his rescuer.

"I had it handled."

"Yeah, I knew that."

"What the hell happened out here?" Ash stands in the doorway, looking at the scene.

Sam smiles and knows his teeth are stained red. "Bad delivery." He spits the blood out.

It's not long before Jo and Ellen appear behind Ash, both looking about as perplexed. He probably can't delay much longer, if only because Ellen's getting the 'fetch the shotgun' gleam in her eye. He raises a hand to gesture.

"My brother, Dean."

Dean grins.

-o-

"You don't call, you don't write." Dean sips at his beer.

"This from you. Bobby said you got beat up a couple months ago."

"Beat up? Please. I sprained my wrist. Want to know how?"

"I really don't."

Dean hasn't changed. Sam knows he's changed. He's taller. He's … he's a lot of things. He's different.

And four years later, Dean's still a leather jacket, a grin and a bad joke. It's weird and it's a little sad and, because he's sore and tired, it's comforting.

"So what's the deal?"

"Guy called Resh is trying to play town overlord. He's a piece of work. What are you doing down here? I thought you and Dad were over in Chicago."

"You keeping tabs?" Dean looks surprised and maybe even a little pleased so Sam winces a little when he shakes his head.

"Gordon told me. He works here."

"Right." Something behind Dean's eyes shutters but the easy smile's still there. "Christ knows where Dad is. I was doing a job in New Orleans."

"Dad's letting you work on your own?"

"I'm twenty-six, dude. Anyway, it wasn't really my scene. And then-"

"-Bobby called."

"Yeah." Dean's eyebrow rises, still as expressive as Sam remembers. "This isn't news?"

"No, he's getting quite a phone habit."

"Who else is here?"

"Jim."

"Jim Murphy? Preacher Jim?" Dean's grin widens even further at Sam's nod, genuinely pleased. "Haven't seen him since Nevada."

"What happened in Nevada?"

"Nothing interesting." A shrug and Dean stops sliding his bottle of beer from side to side and takes a long pull on it.

Now's as good a time as any. Sam lowers his voice; they're the only ones in the bar but sound still carries. "Hey, you remember being here before?"

"Fall Creek? Sure. Long time ago."

"About eighteen years."

"Sounds about right. You were still a kid."

"So were you."

"I was a manly eight year old. Why?"

"Just wondered. I didn't remember."

"Well, yeah, you were four. So, college work out for you?"

Dean's expression is guileless, that's how Sam knows he's trying something on.

"What?"

"What, what?"

He decides to take the question at face value; it will save time. "Fine. Did okay in the LSATs. I'm taking a year, then it's law school."

"Hey, does that mean I can get you to defend me when I get arrested?"

"Are you planning to get arrested?"

Dean shrugs ambivalently; as if to suggest bad things inexplicably happen to good people. "Got a girl?"

He barely pauses, but he knows Dean will hear it. "Yeah, I do."

"She … pretty?"

He could have lived without the hands cupping there and there as a visual aid. "Yeah. And clever and kind. She's … she's all good things."

He's expecting laughter, some mockery, but there's only a faint smile. "So why're you here and not with her?"

"Really not your business."

Dean holds his hands palm out and then drains the last of his beer, slides the bottle and unused glass down the bar towards Ash. "Okay, so Bobby called and I came running. But this is your floor, man. You want me gone, I'll go."

And he means it, Sam knows. Dean was never the one trying to call the shots in his life. And if he turned away help just to be contrary and then failed Ellen and Jo, he wouldn't be … much of anything. He nods. "Dad's Rules, plus one."

Dean looks amused. "Yeah?"

"Be nice."

"Be nice? I'm always nice."

"No, Dean. You're like the anti-nice."

"They deserve it." He eyes Sam like he's grown antenna. "Nice, huh?"

"Those are The Rules."

"I can do nice." Dean nods confidently and Sam's not entirely sure whom his brother is trying to convince.

It turns out that Dean really can do nice; it just takes him a while to work out a definition that jives with Sam's.

It's not 'well, you didn't bar his girlfriend and she needed consoling.'

It's not 'look, I avoided most of the glass when I dragged him to the curb.'

It's not 'yeah, I broke his arm. But I smiled first.'

Four days later, Sam's trying to work out how to fire his own brother but that's the same day Dean gets it. Or maybe he just stops yanking Sam's chain and decides to humour him. It could go either way.

After the first night and a little violence, no one he recognises as Resh's man makes an appearance and a fierce little part of himself he thought he'd smothered a long time ago wonders if it's because the man's scared that Winchesters are in town.

There was a time that meant something to him, he remembers. When his dad was the biggest, baddest son of a bitch for six states and his big brother was the best big brother anywhere.

When being a Winchester meant more than a vague sense of embarrassment, anyway.

But somehow he doubts Resh is worried. Men like that don't do worried. They do waiting, watching and acting.

And, in the mean time, everyone is getting a little edgy waiting. When Jo and Ellen have their first screaming match that shakes the floor, he figures 'little' might be an understatement.

They're a Mariachi band away from re-enacting Rio Bravo.

Dean's calm. Dean's way too calm. And he seems to get on with everyone. He listens with apparent interest – even admiration – to Ash's computer talk, it's 'States we have known' with Gordon and he slams shots and argues religion with Jim.

That's new. Dean starts claiming to be a different religion every day and he seems to know what he's talking about.

"Girlfriends." he says with a smile. "Don't ever date a runaway 7th Day Adventist."

He'd probably be making nice with Jo if Ellen hadn't narrowed her eyes the one time he tried, but even she starts to mellow after a few days.

Sam's ready to punch him out by the end of the week and he's beginning to suspect this is Resh's plan – let them all kill each other.

They've been sniping at each other half the night and, finally when last call comes around, he's had enough. "What?"

Dean stares at him, says nothing.

"You're playing everyone's friend."

"So? You told me to be nice."

"Right."

"They're your friends, Sammy. I just want to …"

"Don't call me Sammy. And while you're at it, stop telling fat baby stories, okay? It's been four years and you just show up and-"

Dean's smile of bemusement fades. "I know how long it's been. I drove you to the bus station and that was it, you left us behind. So I'm sorry if you're feeling crowded. I told you I'd go if you wanted me to."

"I didn't leave you behind."

"Sure as hell looked like it from that spot in your rear view mirror, dude."

"Dad told me if I left, I shouldn't come back."

"Right, Sam, and you're fourteen so you'd take that one as gospel."

"He didn't have to say it."

"Well, news, he's not perfect. He was trying to scare you, he just wanted you safe."

"Safe? You know what? I haven't moved out of Stanford for four years and no one's come looking for me. He's paranoid and you let him be."

Dean looks down, keeps looking down. "Yeah, maybe you're right."

This, Sam wasn't expecting. "What?"

Dean looks up, shrugs. "Maybe you're right. Say the word, I'm out of your … really amazingly floppy hair."

He resists the urge to defend his hair. "I don't want you gone, Dean. I missed you, okay? I just …"

"You're about as stubborn as he is."

"Yeah, about."

And that's it until he hits his bed at 4am and finds a newspaper clipping rustling under his head.

Dean is curled on his side on the pool table – "it's comfortable, I swear" – and facing the front door. He always had to be closest to the door when they were kids too; man, they used to fight over that one.

Still, he makes a satisfying thud as he fails to catch himself when Sam pushes him off and to the floor.

He rolls ready to come up fighting, aborts when he registered who pushed him. "Dude, the hell?"

Sam shoves the clipping in his face.

"What?"

"September 2001, double murder in Lawrence."

"It's a tragedy." Dean reaches up to Sam, thinks better of it and hauls himself up off the floor using the table. He dusts himself down.

"It's the Gallagher brothers."

"Couldn't have happened to more deserving people, then."

"A week after I leave, the men Dad didn't testify against are shot to death outside a nightclub? What did he do, Dean?"

"Dad? C'mon. He's a mean son of a bitch, he's not a killer."

Dean's meeting his eyes with sincerity and a trace of injured innocence, and his mistake is the injured innocence. Dean hasn't managed injured innocence in his life that Sam knows of. He's barely managed sincerity.

"Where is he?"

"I told you, I don't know."

"You've been running after him for years and you don't know."

Dean runs his hand over the back of his head and huffs a sigh. "I was going to go looking when I got Bobby's call. I figured I'd come by, then take after him."

"You didn't…" Sam waves the clipping; he's not sure how to ask. He's not even sure what he's trying to ask.

So Dean doesn't answer, just reaches out and takes the article from his hand. "Where'd you even get this?"

"It was in my room."

"Someone was being helpful, huh? Well, they didn't come in the front and Ash and Ellen'd see anyone coming in the side or the back that didn't belong."

"Jim?"

"Doesn't play games like that."

"Ellen?"

"Hates Dad but she likes you. I'm thinking lukewarm on me."

"Yeah, well, you keep going within a hundred yards of her daughter."

"Is it my fault I'm irresistible? No, I don't think so. Ash would be able to get it but I don't think he'd pull something like this. Jo likes you too so we're left with Gordon behind door number one."

"He hunts bounties. Maybe there's something out on Dad."

"Why'd he leave you this, though?"

"Wants to follow you to him, maybe?"

Dean nods slowly, apparently Sam is making sense. "Well, that's not happening."

"We could just ask him."

"He's gone to this kind of trouble, I'm guessing he's not open to a sit down and a frank exchange of views."

"Sorry for the," Sam waves awkwardly at the pool table.

"No problem." Dean tucks the clipping into his pocket and then turns to walk towards the back corridor.

"Hey."

"You're king of the hill, dude. You get the table. Wouldn't dream of taking it off you."

Sam debates, figures he probably owes enough to swap sleeping accommodation for the night. One. Night.

-o-

They've reached an equilibrium by the next evening and Sam's almost starting to remember why he missed Dean so much after he left.

He's missed a history, someone who remembers the same things he does – even if it's not always the same way.

And when they fight together, it's a rush. Dean has always been able to work with anyone he's paired up with – family or not, he makes it look easy to blend his style when Sam knows it's anything but.

God help him, it's fun.

Until there's another clipping on his bed – this time he sees it before he lies on it.

The third Gallagher, the last living, granted parole. It's dated a week before Bobby called him. His spine begins to crawl and he knows what's coming before he sees it; case represented by Resh's team of lawyers.

He's not sure what it means and drives down on the frustration quickly. He doesn't know, but he's banking that almost everyone else in the bar does.

He debates whether to talk to his brother or to Jim; settles on Jim because he can't remember Dean ever denying him anything, but he's got a hell of a way of making him forget what he wanted.

It's Sunday and no one else is awake, but he knows where Jim will be. So he leaves Ellen a note pinned to the bar and then drives to the church on the outskirts of Fall Creek.

Jim's not inside. He never goes inside. But he sits on the steps – no matter the weather – and he listens. Sam sits beside him and waits quietly for the service to end.

When the people start filing out, chattering like birds, Jim stands and walks to the little garden by the side. Sam follows, still not speaking. His hands dig into his pockets and he tries not to look as worried as he feels.

Jim coughs and digs in his pocket for the silver hipflask that's seen more than a little tarnish. "I'm guessing you have questions. Dean told me about the paper."

"He didn't tell you about this one." He holds the second clipping out to Jim, stands quiet while the man reads it.

"I see."

"What happened here, Jim?"

Jim knocks back the flask, drinks like he's aiming for Dutch courage. "When your momma died, your daddy was so scared he'd lose his boys … it changed him. It'd change any man."

"Change him enough to kill?"

"Maybe." Jim nods. "Maybe he would. But back then, he was just running as far and as fast as he could. He came here because his lawyer told him it was safe country."

"Resh." Sam's guessing but he's starting to see the shape of it all, even if it's missing the details.

"No, but the feller'd been paid off. He was working for him. And they took their time. Let you all get settled in, let your daddy think it was over. He took up with Bill and Ellen. Never told them. Think he wanted to give you boys a chance at something normal.

Whoever it was, they wanted it to look like an accident I think. You were all in the car but it was Bill driving. Ran you off he road but Bill, he kept you alive John said. Kept that car from going over the edge. Hell of a thing.

So they came around, shot up the driver side first. Bill, he didn't stand a chance. Your daddy gave them hellfire, ran them off."

"I don't remember."

"Too young."

Sam's been hearing that a lot lately; it's not helping. "Does Dean remember?"

"Never said anything to me. But then, that's not his way."

"Ellen and Jo? They know what happened?"

"Not Jo, she just knows what's in the paper. Ellen does. She might've forgiven John, if he'd told her and Bill the straight story. But all she sees was he set her man up to die."

"I can understand that."

Jim nods and looks up at the church. "But she was fond've you boys. Asked after you. I was their friend, came to be John's too. Bad ending. When I heard Bobby'd sent you up here, didn't know what he was thinking. I think I get it now. Winchesters got business up here, it's about time you finished it."

Sam wants to recoil. Wants to deny it because he hasn't been a Winchester for years and anyway, he was a kid. Dean was a kid. It's nothing to do with them.

And then he thinks of Ellen and Jo and Ash and all the people he'd be leaving to Resh if he just caught the first Greyhound back to Stanford.

So he doesn't recoil, but he doesn't do anything else either.

Jim nods and turns away.

"Mr Murphy. And Mr Winchester, we finally meet." The voice is smooth and jovial and, importantly, behind him. Sam spins. Jim is tense at his back.

The man is dressed church casual, looks every inch the respectable businessman – except perhaps for the yellow-tinted glasses. But he'd know who this was even if Meg – in a red summer dress – weren't standing behind him.

"Mr Resh."

"Fred, please." The man's smile broadens engagingly. Meaninglessly. "I was disappointed to hear you weren't interested in my offer, Sam."

Sam tries to imagine this just another guy in a bar, two sheets gone and trying to get him riled; he smiles right back, "I'm sorry to hear that."

"Dean or Jo?"

He pauses. "What?"

"Dean or Jo. Dean's at the Road House; I understand Jo is at the diner finding those pancakes she likes so much. Skipping church." Resh tuts under his breath.

"Are you threatening them?"

"Threatening them? In this place? No, I'm asking you a simple question, Sam. Dean or Jo? I can flip a coin, if you want." He starts to dig in his pocket, withdrawing a little circle of silver.

"No." He steps forward but Jim's hand is on his arm, making him pause and look at the men behind Resh. He won't do anyone any good lying bleeding in the church lot. "Dean."

"Your choice." Resh slips the coin away. "You have a good day, now."

Sam doesn't wait for the pleasantries; he turns and runs towards the truck he borrowed and he can hear Jim keeping pace behind him. The tires have been slashed and he stares in horror for a moment before Jim tugs him on. "We'll take mine."

"Give me your keys, go find Jo. Get her out of the diner."

The keys are thrown and Sam honestly can't remember catching them, opening the door to Jim's beat up truck or turning the engine. He remembers trying to call on his cell, and the empty dial tone in response and he remembers the screeching of his tires.

His mind is riot of fear and a parade of increasingly worse images and it's only when he's pulling up beside the Roadhouse that he stops.

Thinks.

Three entrances.

Some of Resh's men were at the church. Some would be at the diner, unless Resh was very sure of Sam's choice. So five, maybe six in the Roadhouse. Maybe more. He counts three cars. Resh sent five just for him and Dean's not even a little bit rusty. Add in Ellen's shotgun and Ash would do what he could.

They don't need anyone outside; they know he's coming.

They'll expect him in the side, or the back. Only an idiot would go through the front, but they'd have someone there just in case Sam's IQ had dropped a hundred points.

He opens the dash and pulls out Jim's colt, checks it's loaded. It is.

There's a shadow at the side of the car and he turns fast, bringing the gun up.

Gordon's eyes are wide, but calm. He gently turns the barrel aside.

"There's two in the front, three at the side and two at the back. I saw them go in."

"You didn't help?"

He knows he sounds accusing but Gordon takes it in his stride. "No way to. I knew you'd be back."

"Is anyone hurt?"

"I heard Ellen screaming bloody murder a few minutes before you got here, and Ash was yelling too. They're alive."

"Dean?"

Gordon's silent, shakes his head a little.

Sam pushes it out of his mind; Dean can take care of himself.

"Who are you?"

"You know who I am. We don't have time for this."

"I'm not going in there with someone I don't trust."

"Then you're not going in there whatever I say."

He catches the meaning, flushes. "Tell me you don't work for Resh"

"I work for Ava Gallagher."

That, Sam has to admit, he didn't see coming. "We're talking after this."

Gordon smirks. "I can't wait. Just remember I'm helping you out."

"I'll go in the front."

"That's not –"

"They'll focus on me. Maybe even take a couple guys off the back, you come in that way."

Gordon looks faintly surprised, maybe that Sam trusts him that much, and then nods. He ducks down further, under the eye line of the windows, and makes his way around the back of the building.

Sam tucks the colt in the back of his jeans, under his shirt, takes a breath and walks towards the front door. He's never seen anything as terrifying in his life.

The outer door is hanging open, the inner swing in under his push, already torn half way off its hinges.

A series of rounds being chambered greets him as he steps over the threshold and lets his eyes adjust to the shadows.

Four men, not two, but he's not going to fault Gordon for that. They probably realised two wasn't enough to keep order, by the marks on their faces. One man's eye is so puffy it's closed completely and a painful looking shade of purple. He wondered whether that was Ash or Ellen – Dean disables, he doesn't maim. At least, he didn't four years ago.

Ellen and Ash are sat at the side of the room, hands tied with old rope before them. Ellen sports a long scratch down her cheek and a proud head tilt that Sam guesses has something to do with Black-eye. Ash is smiling and Sam can't figure that one out until he sees the man's torn knuckles and matches them to the ripped up mouth of the man holding a Winchester on him.

Oh, the irony.

Or something.

There's a figure lying on the pool table, curled on its side in a mimicry of the position Sam had shoved Dean from and Sam's trying to look any place but there because the light's too dim to see ribs moving - breath being drawn.

And he understands how his father could kill.

Then, he smells the gasoline.

He smiles and lowers his hands and something rejoices inside when the men exchange a look; when one takes a step back.

"You've doused the place. Those?" He points to the guns, "they're useless."

He's punched two before he hears sounds of violence starting up in the corridor beyond and guesses Gordon has joined the party. The third man he sends a knee in the sternum of, he doesn't try to pull the blow and only vaguely hopes they can get an ambulance out as he feels, hears, something crack in the guy's chest.

There's a knife sheath stuck down the back of the convulsing man's pants and he draws the blade out, throws it to stick in the table in front of Ellen and Ash.

The man drops and there's just one more, raising his gun.

He freezes, as much at the thought of the inferno as being shot but Dean's suddenly there, wrenching the gun away and planting a fist down against the man's jaw that drops him where he stands.

There's a bloody gash down Dean's forehead and the glaze over his eyes says a concussion is a concern. But he's upright, even if he is holding his ribs and swaying.

"Hey, Dean." Sam feels breathless, like he'll never get it back.

Dean kicks the man at his feet. "The sad thing is, this still isn't the worst job I've worked."

It's not funny, but he gives a laugh that sounds a little shattered even to his own ears and then looks to Ellen.

"Jo's with Jim, they'll be along soon."

Ellen nods and walks behind the bar with a careful poise that suggests she's not entirely unscathed. She reaches for the shot glasses one at a time.

There's a revving of an engine and the crunching of tires over rough ground as a car peels away. Gordon drags a weakly moaning man in by his collar a moment later. "The others took off."

The men who are semi-conscious Gordon kicks to wakefulness, makes them haul their friends off and waves them goodbye. Sam tries not to look too closely at the man who's coughing up blood.

Sam takes the drink Ellen hands him and downs it without feeling the burn touch the sides.

Jim and Jo pull up a few minutes later and it's happy family re-unions time, Ellen doesn't even seem inclined to yell too loudly about Jo sneaking out.

The kerosene will evaporate, Gordon says like he knows about it. But even Sam knows the fumes are better avoided so Sam and Ash drag what bedding and covers they can find outside and Sam tries to remember the last time he went camping.

Dean sits on the ground, leaning back against the phone box, and dabs at the still oozing slash over his eye. Jo drops some gauze by him and then goes to see what's left in the medicine chest.

Gordon is leaning against his car, watching the road. Sam joins him because he said he would, but damned if he knows what to say now it comes to it.

When a few seconds have passed Gordon says, "Been coming by here since Andy and Ansem were killed. Ava figured your Dad would come by here some time, wanted me to watch out for him."

It's more than a little weird to be amicably chatting with someone who wants his father dead, even if it's not personal. Actually, that just makes it worse.

But he can be civil if Gordon can and it's not like they need two sets of trouble. "You didn't have to get friendly with the Harvelle's to do that."

"No. But it wasn't right, what happened to Bill Harvelle. Back then, the Gallaghers just wanted your dad dead. Your mom getting killed was a mistake. But Resh gave the order to slash and burn, maybe he thought he had more to lose.

"Resh will keep coming now, it's not just about the land and there's not enough money on Earth to get the kind of law he wouldn't buy his way out of."

"What the hell are we meant to do?" Sam hates the sound of his voice; it's too quiet and too choked. He clears his throat and closes his eyes, opens them when he's reminded himself that family history isn't why he's here.

Gordon shrugs, Sam's halfway grateful he doesn't answer; doesn't acknowledge the moment of weakness.

There's nothing more to say so he walks back across the lot to slide his back down the phone booth and sit shoulder to shoulder with his brother.

"You okay?"

"Sure. Couple of stitches from a pretty nurse and I'm good to go." Dean cracks open one eye, closes it again but not before Sam can see the dazed look has receded. The pupil is still too large, though.

"What happened?"

"They came in fast. I tried to let Ellen do all the fighting and hid like a girl. You ever seen the woman go off? Man, don't get on her bad side. She has no sense of personal space boundaries."

Sam winces and decides to bear that in mind, doesn't bother asking more questions. If Dean doesn't want to talk about it, he won't.

But it occurs to him that a minor concussion might make him susceptible to other topics. "What did Dad do? You know, before the garage? Before mom?"

Dean's silent too long and that's answer enough.

Sam feels his lip curl back. "They never saw anything, did they? Was he working for the Gallaghers, was that it?" He leans around, so he can see his brother's face. "Why am I learning more about us from strangers than I ever did from him?"

Dean shuffles around, turns his face away. "He didn't want you to know."

He wants to pull him back but schools his hands, keeps his arms crossed. "He told you."

"Didn't have a choice, I was too old to forget. That and he wanted me to know, so I'd know who was after us. What to look out for if he wasn't there. It was just you and me a lot of the time, he couldn't take us to the bars when you were really young. You probably don't remember."

"Jesus, Dean."

He's not sure why he's swearing or what he regrets or who he's most angry at.

Finally he runs out of steam and glances over to see Dean's edged back, closed his eyes and turned his face up to the sun. The cut has stopped dripping but he's a mess.

"I remember."

The eyes slide open again. "Huh?"

"You used to open the cereal box at the bottom so I'd get the toy sooner."

Dean's laugh is low and quiet. "Freak."

By the time Jo's finished patching up her mother and Ash and turned to Dean, the sun is sinking and the night chill is settling in.

They light a fire in the front where no errant spark can drift towards the Roadhouse and settle around with sleeping bags and whiskey. Even Gordon and Jim set in the night and it Sam thinks it's like the Addams Family goes camping.

Ash stretches and cricks his neck loudly. "Anyone got marshmallows?"

Jo speaks over the top of her mug of coffee. "Or crackers?"

"Or bread?" Eyes turn to Dean and he flushes lightly. "What? Toast!"

"Marshmallows, chocolate and crackers. Sausage or hotdogs if you're feeling exotic." Ash sniffs. "Toast."

Dean shrugs. "I like toast."

They end up with bacon from the stores that doesn't smell too strongly of kerosene and a slightly abused bag of tomatoes Jo picked up at the market, sticking together in an old iron pan.

"Place'll be clear by tomorrow morning. I'll make breakfast." Ellen smiles at Dean, a fondness she hasn't worn before. "There'll be toast."

Ellen, Jo and Ash, Dean despite his best efforts, fall asleep some time around midnight but Sam's too keyed up to join them. He sits with Jim and Gordon at the fire, shifts the logs around with a blackened stick.

"Why'd Resh do this? Why's he playing these games?"

"It's psychology." Gordon sips at his coffee, made with an old kettle over the fire.

"He hasn't scared us."

"It's not about you. Partly, it's about the people watching. Ellen was trying to raise up support against him. She won't find anyone willing to risk that now. He can pick us off and everyone will be looking the other way."

"Why hasn't he, then? He could have just-"

Gordon's staring at him and Sam realises why the man's still there and what the other reason is. "We're bait. He's trying to get Dad back here."

"Wish him luck with that."

Dean's voice is soft and a little hoarse; he drops down beside Sam and leans towards the fire, sighs softly as the warmth eases the bruises. "Better."

Sam frowns. "Dad won't come?" He thinks his father's a lot of things and okay he's had to re-examine some of that lately, but that John Winchester would be there for his kids when it came down to it is etched in the world stone.

Dean looks to Gordon for a long moment and then shakes his head. "No. He knows the heat's on him again; he'll stay as far away from us as he can. 'S why it's going to be a bitch following him. Man knows how not to be found."

Gordon nods, a little admiration tingeing the grudging.

"So Resh is just going to run all over us and Dad's going to be out there someplace thinking he'd make it worse? That's …"

Dean's smile is twisted and he ducks his head to hide it. "You have to admit, only we could give enough of a damn to make the special effort to hang each other out to dry."

Sam snickers under his breath and he can see Jim's lips twitching too. Gordon only looks perplexed, but he's not close enough to family to see it.

Then there's silence and the question nobody is asking.

Sam watches the fire dive on the logs, eating them whole. "Ava, she doesn't think much of Resh, right?"

Gordon lets out a breath slowly and then shakes his head. "Not much at all. But she's not going to step in here, it's too far from home and she's still putting her house in order."

Scratch Plan A.

Dean pours himself a mug of coffee. "Resh owns the cops for three counties in any direction and he's kept clean enough the Feds won't touch him."

Plan B bites the dust.

"There's nothing he cares enough for to hold against him; I don't know he'd even step in to save one of those demon spawn he calls kids, if it came to it."

Plan C death rattles with Jim's two cents.

"How about …" Sam coughs smoke and starts again, "How about playing them against each other? Meg and Tom against their old man. Help them take over, they leave the Roadhouse alone."

Jim grimaces. "Doesn't help the rest of the town. Besides, you couldn't believe a word they said."

Plan D goes unmourned; he didn't really like the taste of it anyway.

Dean keeps his hands moving amongst the flames; warming always half a second from burning. "Is wanting the Roadhouse an excuse or-"

Jim laughs, but not loud enough to wake the sleepers. "Oh, no, he wants the place. He's got grand designs for the whole area. Once he gets enough land, it'll be condos and malls as far as the eye can see."

"Can we make it so no one would want to buy here, make him think the land worthless?"

"Only by making it worthless, and that's no help to anyone staying here."

Gordon speaks in a considered tone. "Might be worth it anyway, to have Resh gone."

It wouldn't be but it's the last plan they have, so Sam waits a while before he nixes it. "He'd just turn up two towns over."

Two weeks ago, he was sitting at the kitchen table in the apartment he shared – shares – with Jess, reading the letter she left him. She needed time. She needed to get away. She loved him and she'd be back.

Now he's sitting next to his brother, talking about anything but murder.

Gordon and Jim fall asleep eventually, at least he thinks they're asleep. Probably with one eye open. And then it's just him and Dean, staring into the fire.

"Mom and Dad didn't witness anything, did they?"

Dean doesn't look surprised, but Sam's always been like that, working away at things. He knows it irritates people, sometimes it irritates him, But when he has enough pieces, he wants to see the picture. It's part of the reason he chose Law; at least he'd be paid for it and he'd be helping people.

"No."

"He did work for them."

Dean nods, confirming it this time. "Then the Feds came knocking. Offered him immunity if he rolled. He wouldn't have, but there was Mom. Us. He was looking at a hard twenty at least."

"Why didn't they put us in Witness Protection?"

"Bobby was lead agent. He pushed but the Fibbies weren't going for it. Quit after mom was killed, said it was his fault. He's been helping us out since. Should've brought Dad in after Mom, instead he gave him the Impala and five hundred bucks for gas.

Sam can't remember a time without Bobby there. When they need car parts, or a few dollars. Or when Dad got banged up bad enough to rest up, that's where they'd gone. He'd never questioned why.

"Whose fault was it?"

Dean groans. "Don't you start; it wasn't anyone's fault 'cept the guy who set the fire. But it was meant for Dad, so he blamed himself too. And after Bill … he just went the only way he knew how."

Sam lets out a shuddering breath. "Did he kill the Gallaghers?"

"Don't ask me that, Sammy. Please." He's never heard his brother beg before. He wishes he didn't know what it sounds like now. A quiet plea and he swallows, swears to himself he won't ask again.

"Okay. So what do we do?"

"We'll figure it out tomorrow. Go to sleep."

Sam snorts, like that's possible. And then the dawn's creeping over the embers of the fire and Dean is gone.

Jo jerks awake and then blinks sleepily at him when he stands in a rush, but Gordon and Jim are already moving around.

"Where is he?"

Jim won't look at him, Gordon will. "Where do you think?"

Sam's jaw clenches so hard he can feel his teeth creak. He holds his hand out to Jim. "Keys."

"He didn't want you there."

"He'll get over it."

"Sam …"

"No, you know what? This isn't our fault. This stopped being about us twenty years ago. You, all of you, you could have done this and not one of you has. And, okay, we'll handle it. But he is not doing it alone. Give me the keys, Jim, or I'll take them."

Jim stands taller and for a moment Sam thinks he can see a little of the man he was, before the drink. Before he lost the path. But that man isn't enough.

"Now."

The keys feel cold and slick in his palm and the colt is heavy and warm at his back; he can feel their gazes burning into him as he walks to the car. He doesn't look back.

Resh's place – compound, really – is at the top of the town's only hill. Maybe he even made the hill himself, just so he could look down.

When he's cleared the fence, Sam can see where Dean's been by the trail of groaning bodies left like breadcrumbs and, closer to the house, he can hear the shouting.

He smiles. Dean can only piss people off that much when he's alive and well and making life difficult.

When it suddenly goes quiet, his smile fades.

He moves cautiously through the front door, through the ornate hallway until he can see the reason for the silence.

Dean, gun pointed at Resh's head. That would work if it weren't for Meg and Tom, Jake and a few others, standing with guns pointed at Dean.

Resh stands with his hands barely raised, more insult than acquiescence. He smiles. "Go to it, killer. Pull the trigger."

Dean's expression is impassive but intent, Sam's not sure if he's focusing though. He's standing too still; too carefully. His finger tightens but it doesn't twitch all the way to firing.

"You've done it before, right?" Resh's voice rises, calls to his people. "He shoots me, you give him thirty seconds to get clear before you go after him. Let's make this sporting."

Sam can see Dean swallow and then a bitter twist of his mouth that parodies a smile.

Resh nods, continues. "I can turn my back, if you want. That help, son? Or, maybe, I can just tell a few of my boys to pay that Roadhouse another visit. See how those lovely ladies do without you standing in the way. See how your brother does."

And Sam knows the exact moment Resh over-played his hand. Looks like Resh does too, he's already moving as Dean fires and the bullet embeds itself in a painting on the wall, dead centre.

Jake dives for Dean and Dean spins away, which puts him right in the path of Tom.

The colt is warm in Sam's hand and he can't believe the noise it makes as he fires it up at the ceiling. The small part of his brain that isn't shuddering at what he's doing hopes there's no one upstairs.

The tableau freezes like the painting Dean shot up and some of the expressions would be funny if it hadn't come down to bullets and blood.

He uses the barrel to gesture to Tom, who's doing a half-way good job of keeping Dean pinned. Probably feels like a big man for taking down someone already beat up. "Let him up." Sam scowls and Tom moves away fast.

Dean stands stiffly and crosses the room warily, keeping well out of Sam's line of fire.

He speaks out the side of his mouth in a murmur once they're side to side. "I had it handled."

Sam coughs a laugh. "Yeah, I know."

"Give me the gun." Dean holds out his hand, but not very expectantly.

"Not happening."

Resh is just watching with an expression of interest turning to boredom. Some of it has to be affected but it's riding Sam's nerves anyway.

"So what's the game plan, boys? How many of us you think you can take out?"

"You first." Sam swings the barrel across to point at the man; his expression doesn't change.

"Okay, and then what?" Resh drops his hands entirely and his voice takes on a paternal note that tells Sam the man's just not done his homework. "Sam, you've got a future and you're pissing it away. Forget law school. Forget that pretty girl back home. Even if you live - and, son, I have to say I don't like your chances - what are they handing out for First Degree murder these days?"

The gun jerks in his hand and the wall beside Resh's head explodes into shards of wood. "Stop talking."

Dean's turned the wary expression on him; Sam wonders what he looks like. It's a little liberating to realise he doesn't much care.

"Sam, this is blown. We'll do it another way."

"You wouldn't, if you had the gun. How many of them would you kill?"

The tip of Dean's tongue darts out to run along the bottom of his lip, chase away a bead of red. He shakes his head. "He was lying."

"Was he? And if it wasn't you, it was Dad. What's another Winchester with blood on his hands?"

"One Winchester too many." Jim's voice is measured and even and the shotgun blast that shatters out after is even more terrible for it.

Resh's head seems to sink in on itself around the chunk missing from the side. The remaining eye blinks, blinks again and Sam swallows hard and often to keep from throwing up.

Meg screams as her father falls back and Tom raises his hands.

Ellen speaks from somewhere Sam can't see. "You listen up. It's over. No more. You two, you settle affairs and you leave. It ends."

Tom nods, once. Meg stares up at them all, no tears, only hatred. "It doesn't end."

Another round is chambered out of Sam's field of view but he thinks he recognises Scott's voice. "Yeah. It does."

-o-

And no one's more surprised than Sam that it really does.

He stays on a week, while what's left of the Resh family move out of town. While everyone heals up and something approaching normal settles in.

No one speaks about it. No one. Not the sheriff, not the newspaper, nobody. It's this thing sitting on the table between everyone; an extra silence in every room, filling it wall to wall.

And that's okay, but he wouldn't want to live with it for long.

Maybe it's what it was like last time Winchesters were in town. They don't bring much by way of good luck with them.

Gordon lights out after a couple of days, when it's clear John Winchester won't be visiting. Jim's gone a day after that, with a hard hug and the promise he'll see them down the road. And then it's just Sam and Dean, and Dean's looking ready to go.

It's the little things that give Sam a clue – like the packed bag and the jacket, the car keys in his hand.

"I can drive you back to Cali."

He's shaking his head so he's a little surprised to hear himself say, "Yeah. Okay."

It doesn't take long to pack; it takes longer to say goodbye. He wasn't sure Ellen had a maternal bone in her body that couldn't be found in a momma bear, but she piles enough food on him to see him and Dean both to Stanford twice over.

Jo pulls him into a hug, holds on. "Phone her before you get there, okay? We don't like surprises."

He hugs her back, kisses the top of her head fast and wonders what life would have been like with a sister. "I'll do that."

Ellen doesn't hug, but she smiles and it softens her face enough he can see a little of Jo in her.

Ash does hug and Sam's wondering the best way to peel him off when he disengages as suddenly as he'd attached. "See ya, man."

"Right." Sam nods, smiles and walks backwards trying not to make any sudden movements.

The sun's high and blazing and he squints as he waits for Dean to bring the car around, can't believe what he's seeing when it pulls up.

"You got the Impala?"

"Score, huh?" Dean's grinning like he's hustled pool and Sam doesn't blame him.

"Unbelievable."

They're only two hours down the road when he remembers how uncomfortable it is.

Dean's unsympathetic, but then he always was.

"You're just jealous 'cause you're so short."

"I'm not short, Gigantor. What're they feeding you down there?"

Sam rifles through the tape box. "I can't believe you still have these."

"They're classics."

"They're tapes. You even heard of CDs?"

Two easy days heading West and they were right, it's an ending. Maybe a beginning too. He makes a note to ask Dean for his cell phone number. See if he wants to come by for Thanksgiving. Christmas. Jess and Dean would get on, he knows they would.

He tries calling Jess twice but her phone's busy both times and he takes it as a sign to stop trying. Let whatever will be just be.

Somewhere between Nebraska and California Dean says, "Dad went to Black Ridge. Colorado. We shag ass, we could make it by morning. Tell him about Gordon. Resh."

Sam shakes his head. "Dean, I- I'm."

Dean nods, wistful maybe but not surprised. Not blaming him. "You're not going."

"I gotta get back to Jess. And then there's gonna be interviews and-"

"Yeah." Dean's smile is trying for fine and settling on resigned. "Yeah, man. Whatever. I'll take you home."