Dean sat flipping through the journal, but Sam could tell he wasn't really reading anything. Sam had spent the better part of an hour trying to not be obvious about the fact he'd been watching Dean.
His brother's face was that passive, neutral expression that made Sam think Dean was absorbed in some inner conversation with himself. He was sitting on the bed, seeming relaxed, but the tension that hung in the air Sam could part with his fingers. He didn't have to guess much to know what Dean was contemplating or why there was the tension.
"I'm sorry." The words blurted out of Sam's mouth before he thought much about them.
Dean glanced up, genuine surprise and curiosity on his face. "About what?"
"That I didn't tell you. That it even happened…that I'm—"
Bristling and sitting straighter Dean's face turned to anger. Pointing at Sam he snapped out, "If you say because you're half demon I'm beating the crap out of you right here and now."
Sam shut his mouth and stared at the end of his bed.
"Why didn't you just tell me, Sammy?"
Shrugging, Sam had no ready answer for that one, and about a dozen reasons lined up in his head. None of them really explained anything. The truth was there was one and only one reason. "I was…I didn't know…it scared me."
"I traded my soul for your life, Sam. I've put you above everyone and everything. Maybe you could have given the guy who raised you and knows you better than anyone a tiny, little bit of credit?"
Okay, now didn't that just bite?
"Don't you get it by now there are some things I just don't give up on? I'll never give up on?" Dean asked quietly.
Sam nodded. In retrospect his fears and keeping what he knew from Dean seemed stupid. It had certainly been unnecessary and caused him much unneeded grief and sleepless nights.
"Is there anything else, Sam?"
Picking at the sheet Sam shook his head, "I don't think so."
Dean laughed at that. "I've sort of lost track myself." His voice and face softened. "I'm not giving up, Sam. Not ever, for any reason. I don't care what you think was done, or how bad it is. You're the only brother I've got and I'm not giving up. That's a promise."
Sam swallowed around the lump in his throat. He didn't know what to say, or even if there was anything to say. It didn't matter; speaking wasn't going to happen for a few minutes.
"I found something." Dean held the Colt's journal up facing out so Sam could see what was on the page Dean had opened it to.
He had to blink a few times to clear his vision while his eyes skimmed the entry and his brain homed in on some key words. Lawrence, Kansas, John, Mary. Sam sucked in a breath and looked up, meeting Dean's clear, steady eyes.
"I don't know if I want…if I can…"
"I don't know if I can't," Dean said softly and set the book down on his bed beside his leg.
Sam's eyes followed the movement then went back to Dean's face. This time his brother's expression was open and readable. Dean wanted to know, he wanted to see his parents and know what brought them together with Jake and Ben Colt. Dean wanted it very much, but he'd give it up for Sam. Yet another thing in their lives Dean would give up for Sam, do it willingly and without regret or malice.
Not this time. Not anymore.
Sam leaned over, fingers brushing over the old, worn leather for a few seconds before he took firm hold of the book, leaned back against the headboard and opened it to the page Dean had shown him. "I think we can." He watched Dean rustle around for a few minutes, getting more comfortable. "Dude! Why don't you just stand up, turn around three times and make a nest?"
Dean tossed a pillow at him, which Sam caught and chucked right back.
"I'm comfy now."
Snorting, Sam cleared his throat, took a swig of water, propped the journal on his bent knees and began to read.
July 1, 1977 Lawrence, Kansas
"I'm getting too old for this crap." Jake mumbled for the third time and shoved against the car door, one hand inside turning the not so agreeable steering wheel. "She's definitely getting too old for this. Will you put your back into it?" The final words were snapped at Ben.
Huffing, Ben ignored Jake's sour mood. He wasn't in such dandy spirits himself and if he didn't keep his mouth shut the two of them were going to end up yelling at one another. It wasn't his fault the car had broken down and it wasn't his fault it was so damn old getting parts took some sort of act of Congress, God being their second choice.
Jake stopped long enough to wipe one arm across his forehead. Of course when he stopped, the car stopped and Ben tripped up the back end, sprawled over it for a few seconds before nearly ending up on his butt.
Ben barked out a, "Hey!" when Jake turned to him, Ben silently chastised himself for not engaging brain before mouth. "It's not my fault."
"I know," Jake said softly and settled on the running board. "This is one heavy-ass car."
Straightening, Ben leaned back, then stretched side to side. "Sit tight, I have an idea."
"Where are you—?"
"Just give me a minute, I'll be right back." Ben called over his shoulder as he jogged down the street.
The back of the repair shop Ben spotted was open, a fan in one end blowing warm air through the large, damp space inside. "Hey. Hello? Anyone home?" Please let there be someone here before I have a damn heart attack pushing that car.
"Can I help you?" A kid, maybe twenty to twenty-five appeared from under one of the newer, smaller, more gas efficient cars. He wiped his hands on a rag that didn't do much other than move the grease around his hands and smiled at Ben.
"Yeah, I hope so. I've got a car…"
The kid glanced around at the garage full of cars in various states of repair, "Me too."
Sighing, Ben pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger, why did everyone feel the need to drench him in sarcasm? "I have this car…it's the size of a very large Sherman tank and weighs about three times as much."
The kid nodded, "We should probably use the flatbed then."
A few minutes later Ben was climbing into the passenger side of the flatbed truck. "I should probably warn you, it's my brother's car and I think he believes he gave birth to it."
Suddenly the kid brightened, huge grin splitting all over his face. "She must be a great car!"
Before the truck even pulled up next to the Chevy Master and the kid beside him exhaled a sharp, "Schweet car!" Ben knew he'd become invisible and marveled once again at how the generation gap snapped shut when two guys found common ground in an old car.
Ben managed to coax Jake out of the repair shop and head to a nearby diner telling Jake he needed to let the kid work on their car in peace. "We'll find the money, we always do." Ben said between bites of BLT.
"We're all too old for this." Jake mumbled.
"Speak for yourself." Ben grinned and poked Jake's shin with his toe.
"Naw, seriously, Benny. We follow the trail and it dies. Every time it's getting harder and harder to pick up on Yellow-Eyes. You want to be doing this when you're seventy? Because I sure don't. We have to find it. We have to stop it and I'd sure like to do that before I die."
"You're nowhere near dying," Ben said quietly.
Jake's eyes softened, "I know. You know what I mean."
"Look, we did everything we could and we've done a lot of good things along the way. Maybe it's time we just let it go. There're others, Singer, others we've met who are far more spry than we are and with more ambition. Let them have a crack at it too. Our turn is over."
Jake shrugged, threw down some money on the table and nodded. "Let's go check out the car."
The kid—Ben made a mental note to ask his name—was sitting at a dirty desk, writing on a piece of paper when they got back to the garage. He looked up and smiled at them with kind, dark eyes. "I have a quote for you. It'll take a few days to order parts, some aren't easy to come by."
Ben peered over Jake's shoulder at the paper the kid handed him. Jake's hand shook and Ben saw how his face fell. Hand on Jake's shoulder, it suddenly hit Ben hard, this was their home and it might have to be left behind. "Would we be able to store it here for a bit? That's a lot of money for us right now."
"Yeah, I figured it was. I'd be happy to look after her for a bit for you."
"I brought you some lunch, John." A female voice ended in a sharp gasp, "Schweet car!"
Ben's chin dropped to his chest, it was some sort of gathering, had to be. Ben turned to see a girl, about the same age as the mechanic kid. She had long blond hair and fair features which contrasted sharply with his darker hair.
"We're going to store her here for a bit," John said.
"Oh, cool." She handed a bag to John without taking her eyes off the car, pacing around it and peering in the windows. Stopping near the rear passenger window, she arched one eyebrow. "Are you a photographer?"
"I am," Ben said.
"We're getting married in a few days and no one to take pictures. July fourth weekend is popular I guess and we didn't book anyone in time."
Ben nudged Jake's arm, they looked at one another. Jake grinned suddenly. "Don't suppose you'd trade some wedding shots for some car repairs?"
The girl looked over at her fiancé.
John nodded, "I think we could work something out. You get your car fixed, Mary and I get some pictures."
"Schweet." Ben shook John's hand. Not only were they keeping their car, they'd get to go to the wedding of a couple of sweet kids by the name of John and Mary.
John slid his arm around Mary's waist, smiling down at her before giving her a kiss and then nodded to one of the offices. "I'm going to take my lunch in the back."
She gently caressed his arm, a look of unspoken understanding and excitement passing between them at their good fortune, before he took his leave. "I'll be right there," she replied.
John raised a hand to both Ben and Jake. "Call the shop when you find a place to stay, I'll keep you updated on the progress."
Mary watched her fiancé duck back into his office and then turned back to the two of them, crossing her arms and hitching a hip up against the desk John had been sitting at before. "You two hungry?" she asked.
"Just ate, ma'am," Ben nodded toward the direction of the diner.
"Sounds like you need a place to stay," she said, looking once again to the car. "Been on the road long?"
Jake straightened his hat and went to the trunk to get their bags. "You could say that," he snorted as he ducked beneath the trunk lid.
Ben gave her a quick, apologetic look and shrugged. "A while."
Mary's eyes continued to gloss over the car, eyes narrowing a little in thought, head tilting in curiosity, especially when Jake hauled out two bags, talismans hanging from the leather straps. Her lips thinned, the smile there waned into a sadness Ben couldn't place…until he saw her run a hand though her hair, tucking a wayward blond strand behind her ear, the charm bracelet visible against her slender wrist. Sigils and talismans and marks of protection clanked together along the circlet. Nothing you could find in some common jewelry shop either. Iron and silver, brass and tiger's eye, all the charm shapes wards against the supernatural.
The tools of a hunter.
"Nice talisman," she said, nodding to Jake's bag, subtly calling him and Ben out. "You have been on the road a long time."
Ben tipped his chin toward her wrist. "Been hunting a long time," he said. "You ever hunt, Miss—?"
"Campbell," she said, sad smile reflecting now in her big eyes. "And…yes. Not anymore. Not now."
The nervous way she looked back to John's office made Ben understand to some degree the reason her arms had come to cross over her chest, her demeanor becoming more guarded.
"Did you…" she pushed away from the desk, "ever meet Samuel or Deanna Campbell?" Her voice shimmered a bit as though she was both scared and hopeful.
Jake had returned to stand beside Ben and shook his head. "No. Like to keep it just the two of us," he said. "Tried to steer clear of other company, 'less we need the help. Family?"
She huffed, shaking her head. "Parents. And your philosophy sounds almost exactly like my father's." For a moment her smile returned full before she looked away, eyes glistening. "They're dead. And I'm done."
"I'm sorry," Ben replied.
"I have John," she said, voice stronger, but the slight bob of her throat gave away her pain. "I'm gonna have a family someday and they'll know nothing of that life or of what's out there…" Her eyes locked with Ben's then moved to Jake's. "And people like you two make that possible. You make this world safer. No one really knows what sacrifices are being made…but I do. Thank you."
Ben looked over at his brother and saw the tiredness seem to ebb from his eyes in that moment. And then, suddenly, like they'd been talking about the weather or the latest ballgame, Mary's face brightened as she shrugged, the pain brushed from the soft lines of her face, returning the youthful features.
"If you go down Banker Street toward the north of town, there's an Inn, friend of mine works there." She looked one last time at the camera in the backseat, grinning. "Tell June, Mary sent you. She'll be able to help you out. And thanks for doing this; you don't know how much this means to John and me."
Ben watched her leave to join her fiancé, only able to shake the sadness he felt for her with the hope of what she had spoken. She had made a choice. One Ben never made. This life was for the called and he understood the need to get out. It was just never in him to leave. It was never in either of them, Jake or him. When their time was up, when it was time to lay down arms, they would know.
Now wasn't that time.
Ben shook his head. "I wish them luck."
Jake was silent a moment, then re-shouldered his bag. Ben noticed that he'd stubbornly chosen the heavier one. "Me too. Now let's go before I fall over." Another 'I'm too old for this crap' fell from his lips as he turned and headed for the Inn, Ben following, shaking his head.
Three days later the Chevy was working like she was brand new. They had their 'home' back and they got to go to the wedding of a couple of sweet kids by the name of John and Mary.
We got to go to the wedding of a couple of sweet kids by the name of John and Mary.
Those were the last words written in the journal. There were no more entries after, just empty, blank and worn pages that Dean trailed his thumb over, muscles working against the tightness of his own throat.
To be that close to them, to his mother and father, to see the lives they were trying to make for themselves, to hear the way his mother thought about their future, a family that would never touch the life of the supernatural…his gut tightened and an ache built. The anger he'd felt toward her began to abate toward sadness, then churn sickeningly into a fated hopelessness.
He been livid at his father for the deal he'd made to save Dean's life, and had then turned around and done the very same thing to save Sam's. He would do it again in a heartbeat, and that was why this hurt so damn bad. Their mother, even if it had been unwittingly, had given up the one person Dean had given his soul for. Sam was carrying the burden of the blood in his veins, the curse he owned no matter what Dean said, and in that moment of learning that he had followed in his family's footsteps, Dean felt hollowed out.
His whole life he'd pictured his mother a certain way. The faded photographs and the even more faded memories of a four-year-old were all he'd had to hold onto. And from them he'd resurrected some semblance of an idea of what she'd been like and who she was…
And in these two days that image had been torn apart…
He knew what it was like to hold the body of someone you loved, to give up your soul for them; and it was the only way he'd seen at that moment to save Sam. There'd been no other choice, no other way after he'd carried around the months of pain from hurting Sam and from being torn open by his father. The frustration of being choice-less, that mark, he now felt deeply embedded in their family line.
He knew his mother's pain and at the same time that did little to calm the sting of choices the she'd made.
I'm here, Sam. So are you. We got nothing but each other and whatever we have to do to deal with this thing, all this crap, we will. We'll do it together.
"She was beautiful." Sam's voice was tired, weighted. "They looked…happy."
She sold me out. She didn't even know me.
"She had no idea what she gave up when she made that deal." Dean cleared his throat, the sting lessoning, loosening the stiff muscles. "God, she was a hunter…" He breathed in disbelief, still struggling to wrap his head around that one. It gave a whole new meaning to 'the family business'. "She thought she could escape. She wanted whatever family she had as far away from this life as possible. She wanted us to live lives we never got to live…She had no idea…"
Dean's eyes settled on Sam's, which were unsuccessfully trying to hide beneath his bangs.
"But I did…" Dean rubbed at his lips, letting that roll over him and through him. Sam lifted his head, eyes deepening with understanding.
"I wasn't going to let go, Sam. Not of you. She had no idea what she gave up, but I knew exactly what was worth my soul."
The ghost of a smile pulled at the corner of Sam's mouth, his eyes glassing over. He nodded slowly, pulling his knees up into his chest.
"You woke up, Sam. I came back from Hell. And our supposed family curse…I don't believe in it. Only real curse is that you're stuck with me, Sammy," Dean smirked.
Sam huffed out a short laugh, shaking his head. "Goes both ways, Dean."
Dean nodded. "Damn straight."
We're going to be okay, Sammy.
Sam relaxed a little, releasing a shaky breath and taking in a stronger one, as though he had overheard Dean's thoughts and was in agreement. Dean felt the tension inside himself, the coiled ache in his gut lessen. After bringing Sam back last night he'd tried to deal with the anger at the truth inside himself knowing the last thing Sam needed was for him to fall apart. But it was lessening in the wake of knowing that through all of this—through all the demons and deals, through all the trade-offs and trials—they were still there.
He still had his brother.
There was a moment of silence between them, before Sam laughed a little into his knees, causing Dean to lift his eyes from the journal and arch a brow.
"What?" Dean inquired.
"So, you're named after our grandma," Sam snickered. "Deanna."
Dean threw his pillow at Sam, the journal slipping from his lap and landing on the spine, opening on the floor.
"You're lucky I've got a bad leg." He'd damn near killed himself on it last night. Though, if Sam tried anything again, he'd damn-well make that leg work.
"Dean…" Sam said, eyes now fastened to the floor and the open journal. There was a photo sticking out between the pages. It was of their parents. On their wedding day…
Sam reached down and picked it up, and Dean watched his throat move in a bout of emotion.
"I looked through that thing…cover to cover…" Sam breathed.
"But we never saw the last entry either," Dean reminded him.
"I want to meet them," Sam replied quietly.
"Who? Mom and Dad when they were that age? We kinda just…"
"No," Sam shook his head, setting the picture down on the bed-stand as though he was afraid it would crumble to dust in his hands. "Jake and Ben."
"Bobby, hey, it's me," Sam held his cell in the crook of his neck, while he stuffed more of his clothes and Dean's into a duffel, not paying attention to whose was whose. They'd sort it out on their own when they got to Ohio, or when Dean found himself swimming in the wrong shirt. "Dean's doing better, and I got some rest. We're heading to Ohio. I know you're coming out to meet us now, but head for Cleveland, okay? Call me when you get this, I'll tell you where we're staying."
Sam snapped the phone shut and tossed the duffel to the door before knocking on the bathroom door.
"You're not trying to look better for your prom date. We're just going to find two dudes, Dean."
He heard the shower curtain shink against the metal rod as it was ripped back violently.
"Be nice to the damn cripple," Dean bellowed, and something that sounded like a wadded up towel thunked against the door.
Sam laughed, the sound only slightly gravely, his lungs getting stronger after a night of sleep. "Hurry up, or no coffee."
The threat was met with unintelligible mutterings behind the door.
The box Dean had purchased at the yard sale sat on Sam's lap, his arms hung over the corners, hands dangling loosely as he watched the scenery roll by. Every time Dean glanced over at him, Sam met his sometimes concerned, often questioning expression with a small, soft smile, the one reserved for big brothers only. The fact Sam didn't ignore him surprised him, Sam thought.
He fingered the items, picking one up, staring blankly at it then putting it back. He'd been doing that for the past half hour and he knew Dean's worry was ramping up bit by bit with each passing mile.
Focusing more on the contents of the box and less on his brother, Sam picked up a newspaper clipping of a weather report, the city and date caught his eye. Lawrence, Kansas, May 1, 1983. A place he had connection to and history in, yet other than brief trips through a few years ago, no memory of.
"You want some more coffee?" Ben swung off the picnic table bench, stood and stretched.
"No." Jake sat hunched over the table, papers and maps sprawled in front of him, he'd barely glance up when Ben spoke.
"Hey, take a break for five minutes."
Straightening and leaning back a bit, Jake surveyed the small park surrounding the table. A group of three or four small children and two women were nearby enjoying the day and taking advantage of the swing set. "How are we going to find a six month old baby, the right six month old baby in this city? How many women do you suppose are pregnant right now?"
"Well, the kid has to be six months old before the end of this year, so, technically we only have to worry about the ones born before June first."
The vile glare Jake aimed at him made Ben smirk and fake a cringe. His witty retort was cut off by a football hitting the table and bouncing through their papers making everything flutter and scatter.
" 'm sorry." A small voice stopped them both from lunging and grabbing at the papers. "Can I have my ball back?" Large hazel-green eyes peered at them from under fair-haired bangs.
Ben grinned at Jake's surprise when a small hand tugged on his sleeve. Blinking down at the kid Jake nodded and retrieved the wayward football. "Quite an arm you got on you there."
The little boy, maybe four or five nodded and grinned brightly at them.
"I'm so sorry." One of the women Ben had seen earlier near the swing set had both hands on the boy's shoulders now and was moving him away. "He didn't bother you did he?"
"Na, we're just discussing his football career." Jake smiled and Ben saw the woman, probably thirty years younger than him nearly melt from Jake's charm.
"Do I have to stay at your house all night?" The little boy cranked his neck backwards to look up at the woman.
"Yes, you do. Your mom and dad will be gone for the whole night. But you know what, Dean? When you go home you'll be a big brother." Taking Dean's hand in one of hers and his football in the other the woman smiled at them then headed back to the group near the swing set. Dean turned around and waved at Jake, who waved back.
"Well," Jake sighed, "We know who it's not."
"That kid's not involved. He's obviously well over six months old."
Ben snorted a laugh. "I'm going for more coffee."
"You want to stop for coffee?"
Sam jerked straighter and pulled his gaze from the box to Dean. "What?"
"Coffee, want to take a break and get some coffee?" Dean's eyes narrowed when Sam let the piece of newsprint slip from his fingers and drop back into the box. "You okay?"
"Ya-yeah, I'm fine."
Dean guided the Impala to an off ramp. "Uh huh."
They found a small diner off the highway and coffee turned into a lunch stop. Sam climbed out of the car, box tucked under one arm.
"You bringing that in?"
Sam nodded and fell into step beside his brother.
Shrugging, Dean held the door open for him. "I thought you outgrew the security blanket thing a few years ago."
There was a sign reading Please Seat Yourself, so Sam flipped Dean off and headed for the first vacant table. He slipped into a chair and set the box carefully on the chair next to him as Dean settled across the table and snatched up a menu. Rummaging through the box, he glanced up when Dean poked his forearm with the corner of one of the menus. "Just order me something. You should know what I like by now."
Dean quirked an eyebrow at him, shrugged and went back to reading his menu.
"What was the name of the uncle who paid for Mom's grave?"
Dropping the menu far enough to look over its top edge at Sam, Dean blinked at him. "I dunno. Dad just said an uncle. It's not like I could ever question him on details about…well anything, but particularly that. Why?"
Sam extracted a small slip of paper from the box and held it between two fingers, turned so Dean could see. Swallowing hard, his brother's face went blank as he reached across the table and took the scrap of paper from Sam.
"You've got to be kidding."
"How would they even know?" Sam took the paper back and returned it to the box.
"Well, obviously they, or at least Jake did, if he paid for our mother's grave and headstone."
"I wonder if we did meet them. We've met a lot of people, Dean."
Dean shrugged, "Maybe, I think we'd remember. I'd definitely remember the car."
"Jake, you do know Twinkies and DingDongs aren't a food group, right?"
"And cheese curls are?"
"Hey," Ben held up both hands in mock defense, "at least there's cheese in them."
"You go right on believing that little brother." Jake was talking to him, but his attention was on something farther down the aisle of the small store they'd stopped off for some supplies. He grabbed another handful of Twinkies and tossed them into the cart Ben shoved along in front of him.
Ben's eyes skipped to the far end of the aisle and landed on what must have caught Jake's interest.
"Do you believe how late people let their kids wander around by themselves?" Jake mumbled. He headed for the next aisle over.
"Maybe their parents are in the store too?" Ben followed behind Jake, once they were around the corner Jake stopped part of the way down the aisle, reaching up for a box of pasta but looking a few feet to his right at two little boys.
"Then why are they price comparing?"
"I don't know. I've never had kids, why do you ask me these things?" Tossing both hands in the air, Ben grabbed a few more things off the shelf and tossed them into the cart.
Jake snorted but didn't answer. The smaller of the two boys walked in their direction, looking for something. He stopped when he nearly collided with Ben's legs and ran one hand through his hair. Peering up at Ben, then Jake he mumbled "'cuse me," and snatched a few cans of spaghetti before ducking away.
"It's okay." Jake grinned down and Ben felt a stab of pain. His brother truly loved children and took any opportunity to interact with them. Which, Ben was sure was going to get the two of them arrested at some point.
The boy's eyes skated to their cart. "Those are my brother's favorites, but we need to get other stuff instead." He pointed to the Twinkies. "I'm seven today."
"Well, happy birthday." Jake grinned.
The older of the two boys appeared behind his brother and slid one arm across his shoulders. Ben swallowed the lump in his throat down, remembering how many times his own big brother had performed that same maneuver on him. "C'mon, Sammy, we have everything." He nodded curtly to Jake and Ben before steering the younger boy away towards the cashier. As he was paying he glanced over, Jake's eyes met his for the briefest instant before he hustled his brother outside.
Ben quietly followed Jake to pay for their own purchases. He couldn't help feeling an odd sense of déjà vu or whatever. Maybe it was the older of the two boys had the same coloring as his own brother, dark blond hair, greenish-hazel eyes, and though the kid couldn't have been more than eleven or twelve he sported a solid, athletic build. Somehow the idea he'd just seen in the man who was his brother and this boy he didn't even know two people cut from the same cloth.
Grabbing one of the packs of Twinkies out of their bag, Ben sprinted out the door. "Hey! Kid!" When the two boys turned to him he threw the packet across the small parking lot. The younger of the two caught it, jumped up and down a few times and smiled brilliantly, his face breaking into dimples when he turned and offered it to the older boy. Ben was back inside the store before either child could return his gift.
"You going to eat that?"
Sam's arm got a rough poke with the blunt end of Dean's fork. "Huh?" His gaze slipped down, a plate of food sat in front of him and he hadn't even noticed it being set there. Or Dean ordering their meal for that matter. "Too much cold syrup, made me spacey." Sam answered Dean's question before it was asked. He was offered a dubious look, but his brother ate and didn't ask any more questions.
Sam put the box in the back seat as they pulled out of the diner's parking lot and back onto the highway. Dean's sidelong glances in his direction didn't slow down one bit, however. When they pulled off to refill the tank a few hours later, Sam clicked on his small flashlight, twisted around and routed through the box some more, determined to find some clue as to what happened to Jake and Ben Colt.
There was a small, folded piece of paper tucked into one pocket of the old camera bag, Sam freed it, unfolded it carefully and read. He felt more than a little guilty when Dean popped his head in the window to ask if Sam wanted anything from inside the station store and Dean found him sitting there, tears dripping down his cheeks.
"Dude," Dean snapped, making Sam jump. "Do not try to tell me this is from too much cough medicine."
"Can we…? Not here, please?"
Dean leaned against the car but didn't get inside. "What has been with you today?"
"What if they're dead?"
Swallowing, Dean didn't answer. His lips pressed together in a fine line. Moving out of Sam's line of vision for a minute he heard the chink and clunk of the gas nozzle being removed from the car and replaced. Dean tapped the roof of the car a few times, letting him know he was heading inside to pay. Back out a few minutes later Dean slipped silently into the car. Driving a few miles down the road Dean pulled the car off in a small park. Shutting down the engine he glanced over at Sam expectantly.
Sam handed him the paper. "It's dated two-thousand-three. I can't tell by the handwriting which one wrote it, but then this is thirty years after the journal ended," he said quietly.
Dean took the offered paper and read it. Sam watched the emotions, all too familiar to them both, rolled over his brother's features.
He knew rereading the letter was only going to make him feel worse, but Sam couldn't help himself. He wished he could figure out which of the brothers had written it. The handwriting was close to that of Jake's in the journal, but not the same. There had been a few things written by Ben and his handwriting had been very similar to his brother's.
I've tried everything, tried calling in every favor I could think of, but nothing. After everything we've been through, it's not the kind of evil I ever thought one of us would die from. Bone cancer is insidious and I hate I can't do anything but watch my brother's life waste away. The doctors say a year, if we're really lucky. What I wouldn't do to stop it. I've even tried calling Yellow-eyes, I'd gladly give my own soul so stop this. But I guess Yellow-eyes has other things keeping him busy these days. He's not answering.
Sam slid down until his head rested against the seat and wondered, yet again, what sort of place they'd find when they reached the address that was their destination.
Ben pushed through the diner door, ducking the bell out of habit. He glanced around, there were a few empty tables, but he headed to the counter. Lunch was take-out today.
"Hey there, it'll be up in a minute." The pretty blonde behind the register smiled at him and poured him some coffee, nodding to one of the stools at the counter. She retied her pony tail and moved closer to where Ben sat. "How's Jake today? He couldn't come with you?"
Shrugging, Ben sipped his coffee. "We're heading out in a day or so. Going back to Ohio."
"Leaving sunny Palo Alto for Ohio?"
"Well, when you put it that way, Jess," Ben laughed. He sighed, "time to head home I think. What's new with you?"
Jess leaned over the counter. "I met a boy."
Nodding, "His name is Sam. He reminds me a lot of you actually. Our second date is tonight."
Ben snorted, "That might not be such a good thing." He dropped the money on the counter for the bag of food one of the cooks brought out. "You know how to get a hold of me, if this Sam of yours misbehaves, I'll break his kneecaps." He tapped the counter as he stood up, grinning. "We're leaving tomorrow, we'll be sure to stop by."
"You'd better," Jess called after him before turning to help other customers.
Sam pushed himself straighter and took a look around. It was dark, there were a few stars out. He had the oddest sense of making this trip before, and dismissed it as imagination and lack of sleep. "You want me to drive for a while?"
"Na. There's a motel coming up. Let's just crash there for the night." Dean's quiet, firm tone left no room for dispute. Sam had been off the entire day and he knew his brother was worried.
While Sam gathered their things to take inside for the night, Dean went to the motel office and paid for their room. He was on his phone when he came out, nodding to the room a few doors down from where they'd parked. Dean took one of the duffels from Sam, finished his call and closed his phone. "That was Bobby. He got the message and will meet us there tomorrow."
Jake pushed slowly out of bed. They'd just crossed the Ohio border and he knew one of them would be finishing their trip alone. He sat on the edge of the bed, breathing in the night air and letting his eyes adjust to the lower lighting before heading to the bathroom. The trip from California had taken longer, but then they weren't as young as they'd once been and driving cross country wasn't as easy as it once was.
Ben turned restlessly in his own bed, but didn't wake up. Jake watched him sleep for a few minutes. He eased down on the edge of Ben's bed and gently wrapped his fingers around Ben's wrist, knowing in the morning just one brother would wake up.
Sunset Memorial Park, North Olmsted, Ohio…
Billy Gareau had worked here since his college days, now he was the head grounds keeper at this cemetery. He'd seen lots, but nothing touched him nearly as much as the day one man came to bury his brother. He'd known the names Jake and Ben Colt, of course, since his dad had worked with Jake in the Cleveland Police department many years ago. His father said Jake had gone nuts, taken off and dragged his younger brother with him. Billy wasn't so sure he didn't believe the stories his dad told of what Jake claimed to have seen. Strange things went on in cemeteries and he was in one day and night on a regular basis.
Maybe Jake Colt hadn't been the crazy one.
He'd checked on the guy every day when he took lunch, the remaining brother who came to visit a grave religiously for three years. Sometimes he'd talk to the guy. Billy had been married and divorced twice, yet here was a man who'd lived his life with a brother and they never once gave up on one another. There was a message in there somewhere, Billy was sure.
What he found this day didn't surprise him one bit. He knew he'd have to take care of this sooner or later and about a year ago had simply offered to make sure things were done however this guy wanted. The coroner would be here soon, after all the proper paperwork Billy would do as he'd promised and have the man he found hunched dead over his brother's grave today cremated. He didn't get what the small packet of herbs and salt was for, but he'd put that in with the body. People had asked for odder things.
"This is it?" Dean stopped the car and nodded out the window.
"That's the address." Sam's heart fell, he was afraid this is where they'd find the Colt brothers.
"Which way?" Guiding the car through the front gates of the large cemetery, Dean glanced sideways at Sam.
Wordlessly Sam pointed to the road leading to the right. It wasn't a long drive, a few minutes through immaculate grounds. The sun shone down brightly on freshly cut grass and flowering shrubs. Finally, they found the marker they'd been searching for.
Climbing from the car, Sam stretched in the sun and scanned the section of cemetery. "Which one do you think died first?" He pulled his lower lip between his teeth for a few beats.
Dean turned and leaned both arms on the roof of the car. "I don't think it matters, Sammy. Whichever way it went it was the end for them both. We'll find out soon enough." He pushed off the car and followed Sam off the road and onto the grass, "Hey, Sammy, what do you suppose happened to their car?" Dean jogged to catch up with him and pushed his elbow into Sam's side.
Sam snorted, rolled his eyes and shook his head as he walked over the grass, reading grave markers, chanting a continuous I love my brother in his head.
They stood in silence before two bronze plaques near an oak tree, staring at the names etched there in reverence. Even Dean was quiet, becoming more still than Sam could ever remember him being. They hadn't even spent this much time at their own mother's grave. Dean had never seen the point of standing where there was no body. He'd scoffed at visiting a headstone that had been put up by someone they didn't even know.
And now that they did, Sam wondered what Dean was thinking now. Like too many times in their lives, his brother's expression gave away nothing.
Sam had already accepted that they were gone. He'd known before they got much closer to their destination that the address wasn't residential. It didn't lessen the ache of disappointment in his breast. He'd wanted to meet them, even if he had spent the past few days in their shoes. Everything dies...
He sighed, shuffling a little, before kneeling down to touch the plates before they left, moving unconsciously in a gesture of respect and remembrance. There was no way to tell who went first, no dates were beneath their names, and he knew Dean was right. It didn't matter who went first...It would have been the end for both of them.
But not for us, Sam thought as he felt Dean move beside him, his shadow spilling over the graves. Everything dies, but not everything comes back.
His fingertips ran the edge of their names, gracing the only thing that was written on each: Brother
A deep pressure started to build behind his eyes, spreading along the bridge of his nose and bleeding back through his frontal lobe. He sucked in a breath, the grave markers shimmering in and out of vision, the beating of his heart echoing through his ears. And then there was nothing, no sight or sound, no sensation, before the deluge of images bombarded him.
Jess smiling as she poured coffee, Dean in the park when he was young and an older man giving him back his football, Sam getting a birthday present from a kind stranger when he was seven, and then he knew the ones he was seeing were Jake and Ben, the last flashes of faces and moments of Jake by Ben's bedside...
Sam lurched away from the graves, finding Dean's arm against his back, a hand at his shoulder, his voice echoing through the fog of Sam's mind, calling his name. Dean was helping him up, spinning him to face him, hands steady against his face while the rest of the world tilted for a moment. Pressing his eyes shut, Sam drew in a deep breath and re-centered himself.
Dean was there. Always there. For the first time in a long time Sam didn't feel like such a freak. For the first time in a long time, he wasn't some curse. Dean had reminded him of that by just giving a damn, by running after him...by once again showing Sam there was nothing that could change what he was to Dean.
I wasn't going to let go, Sam. Not of you. She had no idea what she gave up, but I knew exactly what was worth my soul.
"'M okay..."Sam muttered before opening his eyes, finding Dean's expression saturated with concern. Sam's hand settled against Dean's shoulder, squeezing it to convey some semblance of reassurance. "'M okay, Dean. I am." He shook his head, voice breathy, throat tight. The last image of Jake and Ben causing his eyes to sting. "Really need to figure this psychic thing out...getting sick of not being able to control it..."
Dean had released him, staying close. "We will, Sam. You have my word."
Sam smiled a little, hand going to his eyes, pressing against them, the images still seared there behind his lids, reanimating as he pressed harder creating sparks of light.
"What did you see?" Dean asked. "You saw them didn't you?"
Sam's hand dropped away, eyes sliding to the bronze plaques which were glinting, catching the sun. "I got some last looks. Nothing that made sense..." He sighed deeply. "You're right, Dean. Doesn't matter how they died...they fought long and hard...and together."
Dean nodded slowly. "That's all that matters."
The soft crunch of grass beneath someone's feet caused both of them to turn in unison. Sam saw Bobby walking toward them, hands shoved deep in his pockets, ball-capped head bowed. He looked up at the two of them from under the brim, smiling weakly, eyes going to the graves.
"Always wondered what happened to them," he said quietly, coming to stand at Sam's side.
Sam had called Bobby again just outside of Cleveland, telling him the truth about where they'd been these past few days. He remembered how quiet Bobby had become, the names, Jake and Ben Colt, breathed through the phone like they were to be revered.
Bobby never knew what happened to them. Only found their car with Rufus a few years ago. Sam had asked him not to tell Dean. Sam had plans for that car and for his brother.
Bobby gave Sam a nod and removed his baseball cap, running a hand through his hair. "You two reminded me of them in a way," he sighed. "Jake always had some smart ass thing to say."
His eyes slid to Dean who huffed, ticking up the corner of his mouth in response. Bobby then nodded to Sam. "Ben always seemed to know what to do."
Bobby returned his cap and shrugged. "In hunting, family is where you find it. What you two have is rare. A gift. I'm glad I got to know them, Jake and Ben, even if it was just when I was starting out. Saved my life...You two are the only family I have now. Took what those two gave me and wanted to do the same for you. Had no idea you'd become like sons."
Sam smiled at that, and Dean clapped Bobby on his shoulder. "You're getting soft in your old age, you know that?" he asked.
"Ever the smart ass," Bobby shook his head. "Say I'm old again and I'll whoop your ass, boy."
"All I'm saying is this war is dark and ugly and suffocating...but you have each other. There will always be comrades, brothers in arms, people fighting the good fight, one generation to the next." He nodded to the graves. "Consider the torch passed."
Sam swallowed against the tightness gathering in his throat, taking in what Bobby was saying, nodding in agreement.
Bobby looked over at Dean, shaking his head. "Good to see you're not knocking on Death's door," he said.
While it was said with a joking air, Sam heard the deeper thread of concern. Bobby had to have driven there straight, no sleep, to be with them now. That or he'd discovered a way to cheat time and space.
"You're walking, too. Good sign."
"I just got back, I'm not looking to check out anytime soon," Dean said quietly, eyes sliding to Sam's with a promise. "As for the leg...I've had worse."
"Good, kid. Wanna keep you both around." Bobby threw a glance back toward his rusted out Chevelle at the entrance to the cemetery. "I'll give you two some time. There's a diner back at the street before last. Meet you there."
Sam watched him go wondering once again if he knew what he'd done for them. If he had any concept of what it meant to know he'd come all this way, even if it was to find them both well. He could see the gratitude etched in his brother's face as he stared after their friend, then slowly back to the graves.
Comrades. Brothers in arms...
There was no greater peace in Sam in that moment, as he studied his brother, then knowing that they were the next generation to fight and survive, to live and protect and overcome. They were going to fight the good fight, and there was no greater hope in Sam than in the promise that he had a brother who would fight unconditionally alongside him.
A/N: Thank you all for reading and for the encouragement along the way! Special thanks again to our betas as well. We hope you've enjoyed this story as we've both enjoyed writing it. If you are interested, the next installment in the War Without Front series will be A Bright World by Bayre, and comes out tomorrow here: (http : // bayre. webs .com /abrightworld. htm) Remember to take out the spaces. This link won't work until July 16.
Since Jake and Ben didn't become hunters out of revenge, but more because hunting things, saving people, it made sense that their end wouldn't be a typical hunter ending.
We've loved having you along for the journey. Take care.
--Bayre & SJ