They stayed at Bobby's place for a few days, but Sam kept twitching and knocking things over with his mind, his mouth pinched and anxious. He still thought the demons might show, bugging Dean to get gone already.
Bobby went into town and got them outfitted with better supplies, but they would be traveling light, horseback to St. Louis because neither of them was getting anywhere near a train west of the Mississippi. The Union-Pacific Railroad had lost their business for good.
Sam spent his time reading up everything Bobby had on South American cultures and lore, learning random chunks of Spanish poetry that he rattled off for Dean while Dean cleaned weapons and made dinner and played solitaire. Sam told him that Incan ghosts were probably going to be easier to deal with than Aztecs would have been. Sam told him stories about angels with black wings and the heads of jaguars, and Dean had terrible dreams that night.
Dean didn't know what they were going to do when they got to Bolivia. He was trying not to worry too much about it, trying to have faith in everyday things like Sam wanted him to.
They were sailing out of New York City. Bobby unearthed a ship's advertisement with a colored drawing of the Statue of Liberty, brassy copper shine with the torch a perfect yellow wave of flame. Sam and Dean had never been east of Chicago, and Bobby told them outlandish yarns about the mammoth coastal cities, gadgets and automatons for the slightest task, vicious beasts living in the sewers, buildings too tall to see the tops of and colored solid black from the soot. He said that they could live their whole lives there and never make a dent on the population of restless spirits, the immigrant curses brought from every country the world; Bobby said that it would take an army.
These were like nursery tales for Sam and Dean, the stuff they'd grown up on. Dean fell asleep curled up on the bear rug in front of the fireplace, Bobby's steady voice lulling him under, and woke up with Sam's feet planted on his back, Sam conked out in an overstuffed chair in an untidy sprawl.
Dean struggled to his feet, shook his brother awake. They soft-stepped through the creaking house to the spare bedroom where there was one cot and a nest of blankets on the floor. Dean wouldn't touch Sam because he didn't think he'd be able to stop, and Bobby was snoring just through the wall. Sam didn't care, pushed Dean back against the door and kissed him and kissed him and kissed him until his head spun and his skin hummed, whispering, "Goodnight, goodnight," into Dean's mouth.
The night before they left, Bobby broke out his good moonshine and they sat out on the porch until even the insects had been exhausted, breaking each other up with stupid jokes and crazy stories. Dean laughed so hard his head felt achy and disconnected from his body like a hot air balloon. Sam rolled off the porch and lolled about in the yard getting his clothes dusty, limbs gone loose and his grin messy, easy. Dean kept staring at him, thinking that he was going to find the thickest patch the Amazon had to offer, hammer together a little house under the dense green trees and hide Sam away from everybody else.
Sam and Dean both slept on the floor of the spare room that night, twined together still in their boots and shirts. Bobby kicked them awake in the morning, Dean's arm tossed over his brother's chest and Bobby didn't seem to think anything of it. They were all whipped by hangovers, grunting and restricting the emotional elements of their goodbyes to clapped hugs and long tight handshakes.
They rode off, looking back to see Bobby with his hand raised. Dean almost wondered aloud if they'd ever see him again, but then his brain caught up and he throttled the question, flung it back.
He had a very bad headache, jostled with every stride the horse took. He got sick an hour or so in, once the sun was high enough to batter down on him and fill his vision with spots. Sam crouched beside him as he threw up his breakfast into a ditch, wetting his hand with water from the canteen and pressing it to Dean's hot forehead, over his hair.
Dean sat back on his haunches carefully, gave a weak little laugh. "Off to a good start, ain't we?"
Sam smirked, his eyes ringed and bloodshot. "Nowhere to go but up."
They got into the rhythm of the road, winding down into Nebraska and Kansas where summer was already in full swing, the fields thrown out green and gold and the apples tumbling out of trees as they rode past. Sam went without his overshirt for the warmest few hours of each day, and the skin of his forearms tanned to the color of polished mahogany.
Zagging slightly off a crow's path, they touched on a few old haunts, their rare steadfast friends, just enough to put around the story that they were lighting out for California and good riddance. They went through Lawrence, where they'd both been born, visiting the graves of their mother and her family, and then headed straight east.
They rode as much as the horses could reasonably bear. Dean was still trying to quit torturing himself with pictures of his girl starving and tangibly dying beneath him, her slick black coat gone ashen and brittle. He wondered if anyone had found her, or maybe she was running free now. He asked Sam what he thought and Sam said he figured Dean had spoiled her well enough that she'd never do for anyone else again. Sam said she'd probably live another quarter-century and be the last wild horse the West would ever see, and Dean liked the sound of that.
The weather held out, a long unnerving stillness in the air, like counting down seconds after sparking the fuse on a stick of dynamite. Sometimes there was lightning but never rain.
They weren't staying in boarding houses or brothels, not having the money for it and anyway, it wasn't safe enough. Neither of them would have been able to sleep in a house full of possessable people. So every night they got off the main road and found a place to camp out in the nothingness all around, somewhere where a fire wouldn't give them away and they might be left to themselves.
No different than any other night from the past two decades, passing food to Sam over low-burning flames, hearing the clink of the tin cups and coffee pot, spreading out their blankets close to one another for warmth and security and a hundred other reasons. Dean could have been fifteen again, waking up in the middle of the night to find Sam squirmed out from under his blankets and obliging Dean to tug them straight again. Sam flopped over, rolled and kicked out his discontent. He'd always been able to sleep through pretty much anything Dean tried on him, endlessly frustrating considering that a feather dropped by an outsider could stir him otherwise.
Dean didn't want to watch him sleeping but he was awake now, and he didn't have anything else to look at, the millions of strewn-salt stars having long since lost their novelty. Sam had lines on his forehead and his mouth screwed in a knot because even in his sleep he had to think too much. Dean pushed at Sam's forehead with his thumb, trying to smooth him like clay but it didn't take.
All of this had happened so many times before, everything save the fifteen minutes earlier when Sam had snuck his hand under Dean's blanket and Dean had snuck his hand under Sam's and they'd stroked each other off lying side by side on their backs, gasping quietly up at the sky.
That had been Sam's idea. He'd pushed Dean's face away when Dean tried to kiss him, held his shoulder down and said, "Like if we were kids," in this torn-up voice that Dean couldn't refuse.
So they kept it simple, near-silent, like their father was right on the other side of the fire, and maybe Dean could kind of understand what Sam was after. There was no way to kiss Sam like a brother, but there was a way to jerk him off like one, like teenagers trapped in tiny rooms, het up with the maddening itch and no one else to turn to, a sin at once mortal and immediately absolved, something that must happen a thousand times a day, even if Sam and Dean never had, they could now.
It settled something in him, this idea that he could have Sam and have his brother still. Dean didn't trust the feeling, sensing that there was something wrong with the logic of it, but then a pleading groan came keening from Sam and Dean forgot to care.
They got to St. Louis and sold their horses, found a good-sized riverboat where they could get lost in the crowd, and tripled their take. Sam only had to rig the roulette wheel a couple of times, after Dean got pissed off at a pompous Texan who kept sneering at his boots and daring him on double shots, lost more than he could afford playing drunk and angry.
But that was why he had a brother with magical powers, Dean thought woozily, leaning an a slippery brass rail watching the white ball flicker and dance under Sam's steady eye. Any time Dean had a problem, Sam was his first idea for a fix. Sam was the net underneath him, and Dean stumbled over, put his arm around his brother's shoulders.
"'He flies through the air with the greatest of ease,'" Dean said in a lilting slur.
Sam smirked, his eyes on the ticking roulette wheel, his side flush with Dean's. "'That daring young man on the flying trapeze,'" he finished, and won ten dollars.
The train ride to New York City was draining, to say the least. Sam and Dean jerked every time a crew member approached, gazes baleful and ever-suspicious as the conductor made his rounds. They slept in jagged snatches in their seats, a couple hours at a time with one always keeping watch, and ate poorly, spoke only to each other. By the time the land filled in with houses and churches and the sky tinged gray, Dean was going out of his skin, dying to be anywhere else.
New York wasn't that much better, though, claustrophobic and sepia-toned by night when the men on stilts kindled the gaslights to smolder in straight lines. Everything was busier and dirtier than the range, civilization evident in the gentlemen's buttoned-up suits, the ladies with their elaborate hats erupting with lace and fake birds. Dean felt coarse and rough, stepping into the ordure and refuse of the gutters to let swells pass unobstructed. Sam kept doffing his hat at everyone they met.
There was almost a month before their ship was due to sail, and they were staying with some Chinamen that Bobby'd had some business with in the past, sleeping in hammocks in the back of an apothecary that reeked of herbs and medicines completely unfamiliar to them. Thick and spiced like smoke, the air seeped into them and they both had erratic visionary dreams, all thundering fire and bloody stucco.
Sam and Dean occupied themselves best they could, gambling and odd jobs around Chinatown, keeping a jittery distance between them because there were so many people, so many eyes. Maybe no one knew they were brothers this far east, the names Robert Parker and Harry Longabaugh printed in blurring ink on their steamship tickets, but that didn't stop Dean's hand from jerking away.
They took the trolley up to Coney Island one day and followed the clatter and holler down the wooden sidewalks to the Steeplechase, spreading out in a manic glitter like a little boy's dream. Dean killed a flock of clay pigeons and Sam ate spun sugar until his mouth was sparkling and sticky-pink. They stayed away from the treacherous racket of the rollercoasters and drank lemonade with a view of the beach, the pale folks squinting and laughing and splashing.
They weren't talking about Bolivia, the way they were fleeing everything they'd ever known and god only knew when they'd make it home. Dean kept trying to remind himself, we don't have a home.
A few days before they sailed, Sam and Dean walked all the way up through the park to the Polo Grounds, pushed through the turnstiles and the crowds. Way down the left field line they watched the Giants kick the holy hell out of Brooklyn, stamping and crow-calling and rising as one with fifteen hundred other people.
Walking back through the warm summer night, Dean said, "Baseball."
"Something else we're gonna miss."
"Dean, that was the first professional game we've ever been to."
Dean waved that away. "Just sayin'. Lots'a stuff here you can't get anywhere else."
Sam didn't answer for a moment, and they walked a little farther. Dean caught himself listening for the ring of spurs behind them, shook that off.
"Don't take it so hard," Sam said eventually, features softened by the muddled light.
Dean scoffed. "Ain't."
"I know, I know. Just, try not to take it so hard."
That got Sam a scowl, an irritated breath. Dean shoved his hands in his pockets, thinking sourly that his brother wasn't always as smart as he made out. Sure, Dean was feeling off, harassed and unstrung from all this waiting around, this killing time, but he wasn't taking it hard. He didn't have any real connection to this country except for all the blood his family had spilled on her land.
The steamship was as long as a city block, and seemed from below as tall as the cliff Sam and Dean had jumped off. Sam whistled low at the sight of it, and Dean thought it was the single biggest thing he'd ever seen that didn't have a foundation.
Their two-berth room in third class was a different matter, so narrow Sam couldn't comfortably fit his shoulders and had to stand sideways. There were two miniscule bunks on one wall and a basin the size of a soup bowl opposite the door, a shaving mirror no bigger than Sam's hand nailed up over it. Both their feet stuck out the ends of the bunks.
Dean could barely breathe in there, and they spent most of their time on deck, searching the ocean for they didn't know what, finding no sign.
At night with the lamp doused, their room was a deeper black than Dean had ever known, something his eyes never adjusted to because there was no light at all. They were separated from the moon by dozens of layers of steel; the door was sealed watertight. It was easier for Dean like that. He and Sam crammed into one of the tiny bunks and rubbed off against each other slow because they didn't have room to do more, couldn't see their way even if they did.
The room was the same suffocating size in the dark, but somehow it didn't matter at all if Dean couldn't see it. Sam said that was normal, but it still felt like some kind of minor miracle.
They came into harbor in Rio de Janeiro at the hottest point of the summer. The train ride inland to Bolivia was a pretty good approximation of hell, pitiless days spent melting into their seats, hanging their heads out the window trying to get some kind of breeze and being rewarded with pelts of sooty black smoke. Sam was red-faced and glaze-eyed all the time and Dean thought he might be running a fever but he couldn't tell because everything felt at least a hundred degrees.
Dean was weary in his bones, in every fragmented inch, months of traveling behind them and he wanted to be done. He just wanted to stop, and he didn't think he cared where, but then the train left them at a station that was just a crumbling wall with arches set into it and the town's name painted on a swinging board, bleached away by the sun. The arches opened directly onto a scrubby dirt patch clustered with pigs and chickens and strange long-necked animals the size of donkeys with thick cream-colored coats. There were a few thatched-roof houses, but no people around, and the whole thing looked uninhabited for a dozen generations.
Sam and Dean stood next to each other, staring with dismay at the decrepit scene.
"This," Sam said slowly. "Is not quite what I was expecting." He glanced at Dean as his brother moved into the yard. "All of Bolivia can't look like this."
"How do you know?" Dean said from where he was wandering ankle-deep in piglets, gaping in disgust. "This might be the garden spot of the whole country. People may travel hundreds of miles just to get to this spot where we're standing now."
He stepped in something foul-smelling and cursed, kicking at the ground and swearing viciously. Chickens scattered away from him, squawking, and Dean looked up to find his brother smirking.
"Boy, a few dark clouds on your horizon and you just go all to pieces, don't ya?" Sam said.
Dean snatched up a piglet and threw it at him. Sam dodged, and the little pig landed skidding on its stomach, squealing and skittering away. He crossed his arms over his chest, gave Dean a look.
"Get a hold of yourself, would you. Remember why we're here."
"'Cause we had no choice!" Dean said, almost offended. Sam only rolled his eyes.
"'Cause we're hidin' out from demons, Dean. We want the middle of nowhere. We want godforsaken."
Dean shook his head but didn't argue. He came back over to his brother, stomped his boots on the stone to get the filth off, and served Sam a solid smack to the back of his head, just because. Sam's hat tumbled off and he caught it neatly in front of him, rolled it back onto his head.
"C'mon, man," Sam said. "Let's get lost."
They found their way to what passed for a city this far south, the buildings made adobe and gray stone and stalls set up in the plazas selling fruits and vegetables and hard chunks of cheese, everything covered with a fine layer of dust. Sam tried out his new Spanish on a boy tending to some horses, and got snickered at for his accent, directed to a saloon.
Saloons were probably the same the world over, Dean thought as they settled in at a back table. There were men who looked like solid clots of dirt parked at the bar, spotted glasses full of amber beer, the hushed rattle of dice being thrown against the wall.
Sam leaned on his elbow on the table, his eyes working across the room, sizing up the men. No one was taking much notice of them, occupied in their inner lives, their drinks clutched as talismans against the constant oppression of the heat.
"All right, well, we're here," Dean said. "Now what?"
Sam side-eyed him. "How come I gotta say?"
"Sammy, we've been over this. I'm the face, you're the brains." Dean gave him a mock toast with his beer, a curling smirk. "You'll think of something. I got nothing but faith in you, little brother."
Sam snorted, scuffed his boot into Dean's under the table. "We're just gonna lay low. Make a little money gambling, then we'll see about a straight job."
Dean blanched. "Straight job? But we're outlaws." He'd thought that, if nothing else, was clear.
"Yeah, that doesn't work so well in a country where we don't know anybody. Can't turn to a life of crime, that's how you get your picture up in mail posts."
"We already got our pictures up in mail posts."
"Not down here," Sam said, tapping at the table. "We can kill whatever we come across, but we can't go looking for it. Couple of Yankees askin' around after vampires and chupacabras? People are gonna remember that."
"But, a straight job?" Dean asked again, his voice high with displeasure. "Haven't had one of those since . . . I've never had one of those. Huh."
Dean scratched at his rough chin, kinda surprised. It always felt temporary while it was happening: they had to hunt this creature before it killed again and he had to play faro for three hours so they'd have a place to sleep tonight and they had to cover four hundred miles of empty prairie before the end of the week. Everything seemed unique to itself, situations popping up unexpected to keep them moving. Somehow it added up to a whole life spent on the dodge, and Dean wasn't sure how he was supposed to feel about that.
Sam nudged at his boot again, knocked his knee into Dean's. He hit it just right, too-sensitive cluster of nerves that set Dean's whole leg to buzzing.
"You know all those normal people who never see one demon their whole life, never see one anything, just go about their business thinkin' the world is beautiful and safe like it seems, those people, they go home at the end of the day. You know what I mean?"
"What, what the hell are you even talking about?" Dean told him, half-aghast. "We can't live like those people, you can't just stop knowing it."
Sam shook his head, his mouth knotted, giant hand dwarfing the glass. "No, I didn't say that, man, shit. Or, not literally anyway. But we can get jobs that don't involve actively searching for evil when we're supposed to be actively hiding from it at the same time. We gotta fake it, at least."
"But," Dean said, not quite a whimper but the crook in Sam's eyebrow told him it was close. "Bobby said there'd be ghosts for me to kill."
Sam laughed, clapped Dean on the back. "C'mon, with our luck? You know we're still gonna stumble into that stuff all the time."
That made Dean feel a little bit better, and then Sam ordered them some whiskeys and that finished the job, and he was smiling again, dopey and heatstruck and slanted towards his brother like a tree reaching for water.
So they spent a couple of weeks getting the lay of the land, learning the choked passes through the Andes and the run of the rivers. The jungles were traversed by single paths cutting narrowly from town to town, acres and acres of overgrown plant life stretching out around, trees indistinguishable from each other and the soil rich black, almost completely untouched by the sun.
Dean thought it was an interesting place, sunken in green with birds colored like harlequins, splotches of red and lavender and egg-yellow, winging branch to branch. The towns were tiny and backwards and the people were nice, worn down to nubs a lot of the time, but pleasant and generally accepting.
Dean's hair lightened in the scorching tropical sun and little kids always wanted to pet the streaks of dusky blonde that had showed up, never having seen that color before. Dean always sighed extravagantly, dropped to one knee and said, "Vamos, rapído," head cocked for the kids to get at it, eyes rolling up to Sam with a smirk.
They camped above the valleys formed by foothills of different mountains, high on the slope of land with the muzzy lights of town down below them. One blanket under them, their arms folded under their heads, they stared up at the winter constellations in the summer sky.
"It's not so bad here, huh?"
Dean huffed, not wanting to admit it because he liked complaining about things and getting Sam all riled up. But the grass was soft under the blanket and he wasn't hungry and it had been a long time since anyone had taken a shot at his brother. Dean felt alien and out of place in Bolivia, but it wasn't nearly as severe as he'd feared, really only a slight heightening of a feeling he'd always known but never positively identified until now. He'd always been like this. And anyway, he liked the sound of Spanish, the beat and rattling song of it. He liked seeing Orion in the middle of July.
"Ah, I guess it's okay," Dean allowed, grinning up at the sky.
Sam rolled over, half on Dean with his arm pushing across his chest and his chin propped on his brother's chest. He kicked Dean's boots apart so there was a space to wedge his leg. Dean took in a careful breath, feeling his body press up against Sam's.
"Got a line on a job," Sam said, his chin shifting faint.
"Real job or bullshit straight job," Dean asked. He was fighting sleep, so goddamn comfortable it made him stupid.
Sam pressed a smile into Dean's shirt. "Bullshit straight job. Fella over in Santa Cruz name a Garris. Word is he keeps an eye out for Americans."
Dean grunted, pulling one hand out from under his head to lay on the high slant of Sam's back, fingers twisting up into hair. He still had his eyes on the stars, heat gathering and thickening under his skin where Sam was up against him, spreading out all gradual and molten.
"Fair 'nough," he mumbled just because he hated loose ends. He felt no pressing urge to ask what type of work, trusting that Sam wouldn't have mentioned it if it was hauling rocks in a mine or some such.
They lay there for a long moment. The stony point of Sam's chin became his cheek laid flat, his breath rustling the split where Dean's shirt was unbuttoned. Dean had mostly come to terms with this thing between them, the conversion they'd made. They had come so far, and Sam was the only thing he knew by heart down here, the only one who knew his true name. It had taken crossing a continent and tacking on an ocean, but Dean knew now that this was the same as it ever was; only the geography had changed.
"Been thinkin'," Sam said, never a good sign. Dean wound his hand gently in his hair, made an inquisitive noise. "Long term. Just in case, you know, case we have to stay down here for longer than we planned. Maybe a ranch. Some place way aways from ever'body."
Dean hummed, forcibly keeping his eyelids from drooping past half-mast. "Ranchin's brutal work."
"We're pretty tough. Get our own spread, little house somewhere."
Dean could see it, flatland penned in by the blue mountains, four-room cabin they'd build for themselves with a porch like Bobby had, sigils and protections carved into every piece of wood. They could breed horses maybe, stunning black mares.
His eyes were closed. He was smiling again, half aware of it, saying, "Whatever you want, Sam."
Sam nosed into Dean's open collar, cold nose and warm breath, his lip pulling on Dean's skin and making him shudder. Sam murmured, "I hear Argentina's lovely," and Dean slid both hands fast into his hair, dragged him up into a kiss that felt like some kind of blood oath.
Sam's hands worked swift at Dean's buckle, breathing hard into his mouth. Dean arched his hips for his brother to tug his pants and smalls down, shirt rucked up and the blanket scratchy on his bare back. He was half-hard and made it the rest of the way three seconds after Sam covered him with one hand, holding his prick flat to his belly, thumb rubbing just under the head, and a crazy bit-off sound filled Dean's mouth. Sam grinned at him, sharp in the starlight, rolled him onto his side and notched in behind him, chest to back and his rough linen shirt at the edge of too harsh where it rubbed on Dean's skin.
"Fuck, Sam," Dean managed, shoving his arm under his face and setting his teeth to the meat of his biceps, shirt dry on his tongue. Sam had his forehead on Dean's temple, his hair stinging at Dean's eyes.
"Gettin' to it," Sam answered, drawling and distracted, little bites along the line of Dean's jaw. "Christ, you beautiful fuck, every goddamn day like this, please," and he was just muttering now, keeping his mouth running as he jerked his belt open, reached for the jar of slick they'd learned to lay in with the rest of their supplies. Dean had his eyes squeezed shut, the anticipation wrecking through him worse with every second, his skin drawn tight and shivers scampering up his spine.
Then Sam was easing in, mouth buried in his brother's throat, constant low moan that matched up to Dean's perfectly. Sam had an arm shoved up Dean's shirt and wrapped around his chest, clutching his shoulder. They were both still fully dressed, skin to skin only where Sam was fucking into him, and his arm holding Dean to him, and the flat place way low on Sam's stomach pressing to the small of Dean's back. Dean was gasping, fisting his hand into the ground so he could have leverage to thrust back against his brother.
And yes, yes, he thought in the splintering moments right before, however long Sam wanted to stay down here was just fine by him.
Percy Garris was a short rolypoly sort of man with a brown vest too tight across his gut, gray beard around a mouth stuffed with rotted teeth and chaw. A couple times a minute, he spat a plug at a target, said either dammy or bingo, depending.
They met him near the mines in Santa Cruz, where he was doing some business with the men off their shifts. He gave Sam and Dean a skeptical look, noting their frayed coats and low-heeled boots.
"So you want jobs," he stated plainly, squinting through a magnifier at some shiny bit of quartz. "You're from the U.S. of A and you are seeking after employment. Bingo. Well, you couldn't have picked a more out-of-the-way place in all of Bolivia, I'll tell you that."
He scribbled something on a tablet and passed it off to a young man named Jesús, turned to give them his full attention. Dean shifted his weight, one hand hooked on his gun belt. He didn't know how you were supposed to act when asking for a straight job.
"Now, ordinarily you've got to wait to work for Percy Garris. But this ain't ordinarily. Dammy."
Sam glanced at Dean, eyebrows tipped up. "You mean there are jobs."
"Yes there are jobs, there are lots of jobs, don't you want to know why?"
Sam got a sure-I'll-bite look on his face. "Yeah, why?
Garris spat brown. "Dammy. Because I cannot promise to pay you. Don't you wanna know why?"
"Okay, why?" Dean asked, taking his turn.
"On account of the payroll thieves, fellow citizens." Garris explained like they were maybe slow, hand gestures and everything. "You see, every mine around gets its payroll from La Paz. And every mine around gets its payroll held up. Some say it's the Bolivian bandits, some say it's the bandidos yanquis."
He'd come to stand near Dean, eyeing his weapon. "That's a fairly nice-lookin' piece. Can you hit anything?"
Dean looked at him, nonplussed. "Sometimes."
Garris nodded to himself, walked out away from the stall and pitched a plug of tobacco out about twenty feet. "Hit that," he said.
Dean went out to him, squinting at the plug blending in almost identical to the dirt. He measured the distance and brought his gun out in a neat little spin, showing off a little and he could feel Sam rolling his eyes behind him. This would be no problem, and then they would get their straight job and make the money for their ranch and melt easily into the scenery or whatever it was Sam wanted for them, and Dean lifted his weapon, sighted down his arm and fired, missing by a good six inches.
He stared in shock at the intact plug of tobacco, the skidded bullet trail in the dirt. Garris made a disapproving harrumph noise, spat and said, "Dammy." He turned away, shaking his head as he walked back towards the cantina. Dean watched him go feeling worthless, robbed of the only thing he could do well and he didn't even know why, and then Sam was saying loud:
"Hey Dean, hit this,"
making Garris and Dean both turn back to see him rear and whip a silver coin high and far into the air, and without thought Dean picked it cleanly out of the sky, a deafening ring echoing over them.
Dean nodded to himself, spun his gun back into the holster and shot Sam a grin. He turned to Garris, schooling his expression into one of unhurried confidence, eyebrows hiked slightly. Garris came back vaguely awed and trying to hide it, hands on his gut.
"Well, uh, considering that I'm desperate and you are just what I'm looking for, on top of which you stem from the U.S. of A., we start tomorrow morning."
He started away again, and Sam called, "You mean we got jobs?"
"Payroll guards. Bingo."
Sam and Dean went drinking that night, blew the last of their money on a room in a boarding house, hot water by the bucketful and a real bed. They tumbled each other across the sheets, clumsy and drunk-handed, and Sam was laughing so hard his face was the color of cherries, eyes screwed up and his mouth wide open. Dean was dumbstruck and unable to do anything but press himself full length against his brother and grind him down, rock into him steadily until he passed out, blissful and most of the way hard but he couldn't help it, just died a little bit right there because there could be no better moment; it was exactly what he wanted.
Sam woke him up around dawn, anyway, sucked him off as slow as a hallucination, and Dean never even got his eyes open until he'd finished and Sam had slid up his body looking for his turn. Dean couldn't do half as good, but Sam didn't seem to mind, hunching over him and whispering raggedly all the things he'd be doing to Dean if they weren't riding so far today.
It was a pretty good way to start the day, and then they napped for a little while longer, cleaned up and ate and they went to meet Garris.
The ride down the mountain was not far from idyllic, a masterfully designed day and the landscape unspooling around them verdant and seething with life. Garris yodeled 'Sweet Betsy from Pike,' taking special pleasure trilling on the hoodle dang hoodie eye doh, hoodle dang hoodie ay. Sam and Dean gauged the path ahead for possible ambushes until Garris called them morons and told them nobody was going to rob them going down the mountain, as they had no money going down the mountain.
They brushed it off, rolling their eyes at each other behind his back. Garris maybe held the most dangerous job in Bolivia, but he didn't know a fraction of what he ought to be afraid of.
La Paz was more like a real city than anything they'd seen so far, but they had no time to enjoy it, a full afternoon's ride back up the mountain to the first mine. The three of them ate in a cantina and the specialty of the house was still moving, but the beer was cold and that went a long way.
Coming back the way they'd come with the heavy leather sacks of silver money slung on the back of Garris's saddle, Dean got a creeping feeling in his gut, a sense of imminent violence that he'd developed through years of practice. He looked at Sam and Sam was looking back, face tight--he felt it too.
Garris was rambling on about Bolivian ways and being colorful, and Dean was just waiting for a half-second of space to break in and get him on his guard, when there was a brief sudden barrage of gunfire and red mushroomed on Garris's chest.
Sam shouted, and they all three rolled off their mounts, although only the Winchesters under their own power. Dean scrambled for some rocks, heard another burst of fire and one of the horses screaming, thumping headlong into the ground. He looked frantically for Sam and Sam was a little higher up, pressed into the rocks too. They exchanged quick flashing signals, four shots in the first assault and three in the second and it was at least three men, they concluded without a word spoken aloud.
Garris was bleeding out in the dirt, his hat knocked off and the shot horse struggling to rise on its forelegs nearby, collapsing in agony. The money bags had come off the horse with him and were lying mostly hidden by his body.
"Sam," he whispered urgently. "You see 'em? Can you get to 'em?"
Sam glanced down at him, shook his head. Dean wiped at his mouth with the side of his wrist, his chest hitching and crowded with hysterical laughter. Their first day of straight work ever, and look what had happened.
Dean cast about for anything that might help, some better cover maybe, and his eyes met those of a freakish-looking little monkey who tipped its head at him, its paw just like a hand curled around the branch. Dean experienced a moment of outraged bewilderment--what are we doing here--but he fought that off.
They had to get the hell away. Dean signaled to Sam and they made to run but shots cracked all around them and they scurried back to the rocks, next to each other now.
Dean took off his hat, slapped it on his knee. "Fuck this. Get me those payrolls, Sammy, would you."
Sam gave him a look. "You sure? They'll see."
"I really can't come up with anything I care less about, right now. Get me the goddamn money."
Sam exhaled fast, raised his hand and brought the money sliding up the hill to them. Two shots bit at the earth right around it, and one hit the silver itself, belling a high ting, and Dean could hear the sounds of astonishment and fear somewhere up to his left, the broken bits of a prayer.
Dean got his hands on the sacks, got to his feet and hurled them cartwheeling up the slope towards the bandits. Sam and Dean gave it a minute, and then hightailed it into the woods. They found the tracks of one of the horses that had spooked at the gunfire, and followed them to a creek where Garris's mount was drinking calmly as if nothing had happened and no man had been killed on its back ten minutes ago.
Dean unhooked the canteen from the saddle and knelt to fill it up, passing his wet hand over his face and hair, adrenaline pouring off him. He heard Sam pacing behind him, swearing low to himself.
"Cowardly sons of bitches, fuckin' hiding like that, no real man kills from cover," and Sam was just upset, Dean knew, shaken and feeling powerless despite all the things he could do. It had been awhile since they'd actually had conversations with any of the people they'd seen killed.
"Come drink some water and calm down," Dean told him, tried to make it an order, which had never really worked on Sam.
His brother stalked over to him, wrenched his hand in the collar of Dean's coat. "We're gettin' that money back."
"What?" Dean went to shrug him off but Sam didn't let go. "You're outta your head, Sammy, and this little going-straight experiment is over."
Sam shook his head hard, his jaw stubborn and set and Dean despaired absently, knowing that look on Sam's face and knowing the argument was already pretty much over.
"You heard Garris, those guys have been killing men on this path for three years running."
"You don't know it was the same guys," Dean said, at least going through the motions. "Maybe this was their first one."
"So what if it was? Garris is still dead, ain't he?" Sam's expression gave briefly, his mouth weak for a moment before he pulled it together, glaring down at his brother. "All right, Dean, lemme put it like this: a phantom traveler just killed a man up at the pass there. Let's go wipe the fucker out."
Sam was too smart for anyone's good sometimes. Dean gave him a baleful look and stood up, leading the horse and lashing it to a tree proximal to some grass. He went back to his brother still scowling but Sam put a hand on his shoulder and that helped some.
They tracked the bandits up the mountain, through the brush and heavily layered undergrowth, following a broken trail. They didn't talk, Sam holding his Colt and Garris's revolver, Dean holding his gun and the one Colt with the four demon-killing bullets shook out and replaced with regular ones. He really hoped it didn't turn into a firefight, not wanting to use the sixty-year-old Colt more than absolutely necessary. Fuckin' Sam and his irrefutable sense of justice.
The bandits, three of them with bandoliers sparkling in the sun, were clustered on their knees in a small clearing, bickering over the distribution of the money and paying no attention to their surroundings. Dean could only make out about one word in ten, they were talking so fast and rough, but he knew the tone, and the shifty cunning looks on their dirty faces, just the same as the villains back home.
They were able to take up position on the rise just above them, Dean just in front of Sam so that he'd take the first blow and give Sam time to respond. The sun was in his eyes, but he wasn't scared, really. People couldn't really scare him much anymore.
Sam said something sharply in Spanish, making their heads jerk up. Sam spoke again, level and stern, and Dean wasn't listening close enough to understand it, but he could read the bandits' faces pretty well.
The evident leader of the men answered Sam, his hands black with grime and shining with silver coins. Every one of them had his hand on a weapon, and Dean was getting a bad feeling in stomach.
"Deja el dinero y salga," Sam said, and Dean knew salga, at least, knew the bandits weren't doing anything like it.
The leader looked leery and malicious and kind of confused, a bad combination, and as he responded in a flat dull voice, his compatriots slowly got to their feet behind him, hands hovering over their weapons.
"It's not going well, Sam," Dean said without looking at him. He wasn't taking his eyes off these guys for a second.
"Don't you think I know that?" Sam said, sounding frustrated. He said again, louder, "¡Salga!," and then, "Please," which made the men's faces crease with bafflement, so Sam tried, "Por favor," and the leader repeated, "¿Por favor?" and then they were drawing on the Winchesters, three hands darting and Dean was motionless for a split second and one of them was just fast enough, just barely.
Dean dropped down into a crouch, and Sam cried out behind him, Sam was shot, and Dean didn't think, didn't have time. He put a hole in the hand of the leader of the gang, sparking off his weapon, and then there was a bare instant to recognize the overwhelming terror flooding the men's faces as they froze in place and that meant Sam was alive, still strong enough to hold them.
Dean stepped forward, plugged the leader in the chest, then again, and again, and again. The man toppled backwards, a gurgling truncated scream as he rolled down in a mess of blood and dust and winking silver coins. Glancing back at his brother, Dean found Sam on his knees, clutching the shoulder of his outstretched arm, his face dug deep with pain and exertion.
Snarling, Dean turned back on the two remaining men, raising both his guns and steadying the barrels directly between their eyes. The men were blank with horror, pale as paper with their eyes bugging out and their hands in bloodless fists, darting from Sam to Dean like they weren't sure who scared them more.
"Run," Dean said with his teeth bared, and they might not have known what that meant, but Sam let them go at that moment and they obeyed without hesitation anyway, crashing away through the trees.
Dean dropped both weapons. He was staring at the dead man in the yellow grass, watching the blood soak in and river downhill. Dean thought for a second about how he'd never killed someone who was totally human at the time. It was a man lying there, nothing more.
He turned back to his brother, breathing out, "Sammy," and coming up to crouch beside him, pressing his hand over Sam's own on his shoulder. "Are you okay?"
Sam was white-lipped, gouged creases at the corners of his eyes. He nodded jerkily, but his hand was covered in red. Dean pulled him up, supported him when he teetered.
"C'mon, let's get you back to that creek and I'll get the bullet out." Dean's voice was shaking, not caring if Sam could hear.
Sam stumbled, strength sapping out of him, and he leaned hard on Dean, whining under his breath from the pain. Dean grabbed the money up, babbling at his brother, it's okay not much farther you're doin' fine, and concentrated on keeping Sam upright, trying not to replay what had just happened.
"Never, never done that before," Sam managed to say, kinda wheezing.
"Keep quiet, Sam, we're real close now."
Sam banged his head off Dean's shoulder, losing his hat. "Just held him so you could kill him, never ever used it like that before."
Dean couldn't swallow, couldn't breathe. "Shut up, please," he begged, hauling his brother along and slamming off trees.
"Don' wanna go straight if it's people we have to kill," Sam mumbled into Dean's back, and Dean nodded, blinking fast because his eyes ached and he thought he might be about to cry.
"It's okay," Dean told him, probably lying but who could blame him, and then, "We'll think of something," which was something he'd said to his brother a hundred times and it had always been true before. As they came into view of the water, waiting to wash the blood off their hands, Dean thought hopelessly that he would trade all the silver on his back in a heartbeat if they would just be given one more chance to get out.
The two bandits that had survived were named Beto and Pablo, and they sprinted all the way down the mountain, guns banging on their hips, heads full of panic and awe. There was a cantina where they were known, where a man who worked in the mines met to tell them when the payrolls were due, and they fell in through the door hanging on each other and stuttering through their story.
They said that there had been a sorcerer up at the pass. A foot taller than a normal man with slitted marble eyes like a caiman, he had lifted his hand and denied gravity. He had lifted his hand and frozen time. The other man, the monster's first, had been as any other, scarred up and plainly mortal without that blaze of vicious energy around him, but he surely must have sold his soul and all human decency to partner with such a thing, and he had slaughtered Guillermo without the slightest pause.
Beto and Pablo spoke with genuine fear still rioting in their faces and voices, and they were believed because they were not drunk, because strange things happened sometimes, sometimes evil walked the earth in unanticipated forms and anyone who'd spent any time at all in the jungle could attest to that.
By nightfall there were thirty men listening to the two bandits. Other people soon had their own stories about the pair of tall Americans, so recently arrived but it was quickly learned that three farms they'd passed had gotten blight, and a man had lost six llamas to some unknown infection that had passed to his son against all the mercies of nature and now the boy was in the ground by his father's hand, and who was going to answer for that?
By noon the next day, their numbers were up to fifty, outlaws and respectable men both spilling out of the cantina onto the baked dirt courtyard, honing their machetes and cleaning their arms to gleam in the blinding light. In everything but dress, they looked for all the world like a small company of soldiers, readying for their next assault.
They sent lookouts to watch the path down from the mountains. They picked positions, filled their pockets with ammunition, making barbaric promises for what they would do when the demon and his man rode into town.
If Sam and Dean had known about any of this, they would have done things a lot differently.
The bullet came out of Sam's shoulder excruciatingly slow, and he clenched his teeth on Dean's gun belt so hard the tendons in his neck stood out flushed and thick, doing his best to muffle his moans but a few snuck out all throttled and warped. Sam was sweating, jerking, and Dean couldn't get a grip. He was kneeling on Sam's chest at the edge of the creek, digging the tip of his knife into the hole in his brother's shoulder, and he couldn't, he had to stop, had to fall off with a splash and get sick in the water.
He got it out eventually. He got Sam stitched up and cleaned and bandaged, fed him sips of whiskey until his eyes were muddy and unfocused. Dean wanted to get them off this fucking mountain, find a town and a room and a bed with white sheets for Sam, see if any of those cruddy little plaza stalls sold morphine. But Sam was passing out fast and so Dean got him wrapped in a blanket and tucked up against the base of a tree, settled him in for the night.
It was just early evening and Dean wasn't going to sleep. He laid a small circle of salt around his brother, tiny island like a fingerprint on the ocean, and went to find the other horse. He checked Garris's body while he was there and found that his pocket watch had a thumb-sized photograph fit into it, a pretty Spanish woman in a dress forty years out of fashion. Dean took the watch and the half-finished pack of tobacco, brought the horse back and settled cross-legged next to Sam. He counted the payroll money, making the coins clack and sing against each other. He watched his brother, Sam all hunched up with hurt lines written across his face.
Dean had a quick stab of that disquieting feeling again, that untethered odyssean sense of being half a world away from the place where he was born. He swallowed against it, forced it back. He had to remember, home was a small fire on the open land; home was the man still beside him.
Sam slept for a dozen hours at least, prodded awake by Dean to have some more whiskey every time he started moaning in his sleep. Sam blinked, found Dean's face in the murk and said something to him in Spanish, and Dean murmured, "Yeah, yeah, you're exactly right," hand cupped around the base of Sam's head levering him up to drink.
In the morning Sam was moaning more about his headache than anything else, still kinda drunk and moving stiff and sore. He pretended like he was too out of it to talk, but Dean thought it was probably just an act.
They made their way down the mountain gingerly, like their horses' hooves had turned to glass. Dean let Sam ride in front because he needed to keep an eye on him, make sure he didn't slip into unconsciousness and out of the saddle. Sam was slumped, riding with his shoulders in a broken tired curve and favoring his left side, and he only growled when Dean asked him if he was all right.
Coming into the foothills, Dean rode up abreast with his brother, angling looks at him from under his hat brim. Sam's mouth was twisted at the edges, his knuckles tight white stones.
"He didn't outdraw me," Dean said.
Sam twitched, looked over at Dean with molasses-slow surprise. "What?"
"Guy back there. I beat him on the draw."
Sam mulled over that. "Think my shoulder would beg to differ."
"I did." Dean wasn't defensive about it, honestly more like sad. "Coulda killed him before he touched the trigger, but I, I, I don't know what it was, I just didn't for a second."
Dean glanced at Sam, rubbing the back of his neck and kinda shrugging. He was trying to forget the sounds Sam had made when Dean had had a knife in his shoulder. He remembered that moment, weapons in both hands and seeing the men reach and doing nothing, less than an eyeblink worth of time but still enough.
"Like missing that plug for Garris," Dean continued, his voice hoarse but he blamed the trail dust. "I don't know, man, maybe I'm losing it."
Sam snorted, spat. "Fat chance a that."
Dean glowered, wishing Sam would take him seriously. "How'd you explain it, then?"
"You missed the plug because you've never actually had to stand still and prove that you're a good shot to someone. You missed because you were calm; you know your eye's better the worse the adrenaline."
It sounded pretty good, though Sam was nothing like unbiased. Dean had overheard him bragging to strangers that his brother could outshoot a firing squad, which was probably how most of the stories about him got started up. Dean could appreciate the impulse, always three or four drinks in when he started wanting to tell people about how Sam was magic.
Dean made an inconclusive noise, a kinda acknowledging grunt that meant Sam's ideas were still under review but showing merit, and asked, "So what about the bandit, then?"
He should have just let it be, and Dean cursed himself as Sam stayed quiet for a moment. He knew what Sam was going to say; it felt like anyone on the planet could have been dropped into this moment and still known what Sam was going to say.
"He was a person, Dean. You let him reach because. He was just a guy."
Dean's stomach hiked and roiled, and he nodded foolishly, eyes locked on the steady roofs of the town below. He didn't feel any better and he didn't know what to say next.
Sam saved him from it, saying wearily, "So, no more going straight."
"Just the face, Sammy."
"You aren't, you know."
Something steely in Sam's tone and Dean looked over, found Sam looking back, color ripe on his cheeks, typical look of irritated affection on his face.
"You like to play like I'm the smart one," Sam told him. "But this whole thing, everything we do, it's you that keeps it going, not me."
Dean shook his head, feeling an instinctive refusal. "I just go where you go, that's all."
"Nah." Sam smiled, pressed his fingers lightly against the wound in his shoulder, testing it. "That's backwards, man. I been following you around my whole life."
"Jesus, no wonder we only ever go in circles."
Dean watched Sam smirking, his hand pallid against the rust-red stains on his shirt. Sam's skin was still a sallow ashen color, still in pain in ways that he would prefer not to let Dean see.
"The next place we go," Sam said, "we'll work on traveling in just one direction."
"Where's that?" Dean asked, a jumping feeling in his chest at the thought of all the other oceans they had left to cross.
Sam shrugged carefully with his good shoulder. He was mostly revived now, straighter in the saddle and casing the beautiful day.
"I don't know, Argentina or Chile, maybe? Maybe Australia."
"Australia?" Dean half-laughed; it sounded almost made-up the way Sam said it.
"Sure. They speak English there, so we wouldn't be foreigners. They got horses in Australia, hell, they got thousands of miles of land we can hide out in. Good climate, nice beaches. We'll go see what kinda monsters they got way down there, see who needs saving."
Dean thought about Bobby's leather-colored globe and how Australia had been so far south it almost seemed in danger of falling off the edge. He saw it in his mind as low rolling hills, linksland as green as the Amazon jungle, the ocean wide open, so blue there was no telling it from the sky.
"It's a long way, though, isn't it," Dean said just by rote, heard Sam blow out a breath.
"Ah, everything's gotta be perfect with you."
Grinning at nothing, Dean nickered his horse ahead, taking point again now that Sam was in a better state to watch his own back. He poured some water from the canteen into his hat, the sun at its zenith, cool trails eking down his neck and seeping into his shirt.
They rode into town blind and innocent as children, hundreds of eyes on them from behind the chipped walls.
There was a boy of maybe fourteen years old loitering in the courtyard outside the cantina, a frightened look on his face that stuck even when Dean tried to joke around by making his Spanish particularly bad, grinning all big and dumb and American. The boy took their horses and stuttered something that Dean didn't quite get, but Sam was saying, "Bien, gracias," so he figured it was all right.
Sam nudged him as they walked up to the cantina, and Dean turned, got an eyeful of white sunlight as Sam said:
"And I'll tell you what else-"
and then Dean was shot in the back.
It felt like a punch at first, solid jab just under his shoulder blade, and Dean was shoved forward, tripping almost off his feet. Then agony burst rich and full all through him, and he choked, half-bent over with his legs not working, his hands gone dead.
Sam was hollering his name, wild edge to it. He was taking hold of Dean and hauling him bodily somewhere and Dean couldn't see, his vision whited out by sun and dust and pain. Cracks all around them like ladder rungs snapping, a dim ferocious roar in the background and Dean's well-trained mind provided him with the make and model of the rifles and revolvers being fired before he quite registered the noise as gunshots.
He shook his eyes clear and latched onto Sam's shirt, each breath searing like acid. He could feel the bullet in his back, metal still white-hot cooking his flesh.
Then Sam cried out and his leg buckled and gave, almost pitching them both to the ground, he was shot, again, and Dean's heart jolted so hard against his ribs that it bruised. He wrenched up strength from somewhere and took up his brother's weight, dragging both of them hobbling and falling into the blessed shadow of the cantina.
Dean slammed down on his shoulder and anguish ripped through him. Sam was a little ways away, struggling up and screaming at someone across the room, "Get out get the fuck out right now," with feral power shredding his voice.
Dean forced his head up to see Sam thrusting his hand out, every muscle strung with tormented effort, and across the room a table flew massive and bulky through the air, crushing into two of the men standing there with their guns drawn and sending all six of them scurrying out the back patio, their expressions cast back in abhorrence.
Sam collapsed on the floor, sucking in huge wrecking gasps. Dean tried to push himself up and couldn't, the bullet an intractable weight. He coughed, face jammed against the stamped-smooth floor, and there was red mixing in with the dirt now.
"Dean," Sam moaned, and Dean tried to reach for him but it hurt so badly, made him half-yell and Sam was mumbling, "No, no, stay, don' move," and crawling close to him.
Sam tipped him carefully on his back, Dean's teeth slicing into the inside of his lip, and then Sam's hands were all over his face, his throat. Sam was crying, and Dean got a hand fisted in his brother's shirt, gasping at him.
"Dean, Dean, you're okay, it's all right," Sam said, all scored and jagged. His rough fingers scuffed hard under Dean's jaw.
"Yeah," Dean managed, tasting blood. "Sam, you, did you get-"
Sam shook his head, but said, "Just my leg, it's no problem."
"Jesus, Sammy," and Dean tried to sit up, see what kind of damage his idiot brother had managed to incur, but Sam held him down. His mouth was like a wire, his eyes bigger than Dean could ever remember, swimming at him.
"Just stay there, Dean, please."
Sam slid away, dragging his leg behind him and Dean could see it, the blood soaking his pants around a wound in his lower thigh. The stitches at his shoulder were open again too, wet crimson re-dyeing his shirt, and Dean wanted to say something about how soon Sam's clothes would match perfectly, but he didn't because he was afraid he'd break down entirely.
Breathing raggedly and unsteady, stifling most of his groans, Sam slumped against the wall, hands cupped carefully around his leg. He hissed, tried to breathe out slow.
"Sam," Dean said in a croak. "Why is this happening again?"
Sam tipped his head back on the wall, his long throat dirty-brown and streaked with sweat. Dean could see the dangerous flutter of his pulse in his throat.
"It's not demons," Sam told him. "They wouldn't have run."
"We, we haven't done anything," Dean said, his voice breaking. "What have we done?"
The pain in his back was leveling, a crippling riptide instead of a tidal wave, and he wedged an elbow under himself, shoved up despite Sam saying his name half-desperate. Dean pulled himself to sit against the wall next to his brother, canting onto him because he couldn't brace his back. Sam's hand fumbled for his knee and his side, reaching up to gracelessly palm across his face.
"'s okay, Dean, it's gonna be okay."
"Sam." Dean had his face hidden in Sam's shoulder, reaching to curl his hand around his brother's neck. He could feel Sam's heart racing, his skin too hot. "Can you get us out?"
Sam's chest hitched under him, a terrified thrum low in his throat. "I. Yes."
Dean pushed up, his face contorted. He got a look at Sam's eyes, brilliant and white with pain. His muscles were shivering under Dean's hands.
Lines of metal showed up in Sam's expression. He glared at his brother, both hands cradling Dean's head and neither of them was talking about that.
"I can," Sam insisted. "I can hold 'em off long enough for us to get to the horses, at least. Long as it's the last thing I have to do, I can do it."
Dean shook his head, coughing weakly against his hand and it speckled red and Sam's face became stricken. Dean thought it was probably a pretty good bet that he was dying.
"You don't even know how many are out there."
Sam swept his thumbs along Dean's cheekbones, tear tracks cut clear down his face. He looked manic, power burring in him and Dean wanted so badly to believe that it could be enough.
"I think the six in here were the bulk of it," Sam told him, dead certain. "Maybe three or four left out there to drive us inside so they could finish us off in close quarters."
Dean clutched at Sam's wrist, trying to remember how many individual weapons he'd heard discharged out there, but it was all clamor and din in his memory, the drill of the bullet, Sam crying out. He squeezed his eyes shut, felt a single tear burn down his cheek. Sam wiped it away, pressed his mouth to the edge of Dean's, pleading to him, swearing:
"I can take ten, Dean, I can get us out."
Dean nodded without opening his eyes, and then turned away from Sam, keening in pain and spitting a mouthful of blood onto the ground. He felt dizzy, drunk from it, the slug lodged very close to his heart.
He slumped back on his brother.
"Okay, Sammy, I believe you, I know you can."
Dean kept his eyes closed. Sam wouldn't be able to tell he was lying if his eyes were closed.
Dean's nerves weren't really working, his fingers thick and numb around the Colt, so Sam took his brother's hand in both of his and used his handkerchief to tie the gun to Dean's hand. Sam rested his forehead against Dean's as he worked, breathing unevenly and biting his lip.
There were things that Dean should have said. He stared at his brother's intent face and thought of all the standards and everything he had planned for this moment. It was always going to come down to this, to dirt and blood, and there was a proper epitaph somewhere, the farewell this whole catastrophe truly deserved, but it wasn't for Dean to say. No matter what Sam thought, Dean had never been the smart one.
So Dean didn't mention it. Sam pulled himself to his feet using the wall and pulled Dean up after him, and they leaned there catching their breath, looking at each other and Sam kinda smiled, so Dean was obliged to smile back. Dean could feel his pulse start to go shocky and fitful and he didn't mention that either.
"Soon as we get to the horses-" Sam started to say, then stopped. He lifted his hand to Dean's face, his throat ducking as he swallowed. Sam's face was heartbroken and alight, glittering with dismay, and Dean knew that he wasn't fooling him at all, not for a second. Dean had to laugh, sagging into his brother's arms.
"Ride like the devil's chasing," Dean mumbled into Sam's throat, and Sam made a sound that was more sob than laugh, fingers carding hard through Dean's hair.
Sam pulled Dean back, wiped the blood off his mouth, and kissed him. Dean kissed him back, and wished that it could happen now, just like this, the two of them holding each other up against the wall, this perfect quiet moment that they'd found.
He got one more look at his brother, one more chance to love him like crazy, as Sam sidled up to the door and swiped his forearm across his face. The sunlight fell in huge chunks, packed with clouds of dust thick as cotton, and Dean saw the light angled across Sam, drawing his planes into sharp relief and making him glow all over.
It seemed true then, at that moment. Dean's vision was graying in and out and he couldn't feel the gun bound to his hand, and his faith came flooding back, staggering him. Sam was lit up gold and Dean believed him, believed him with everything and all he had. There were only ten men out there and Sam could take them. Sam could do anything.
Sam looked over at him, gave him a reckless grin that unlocked some last small piece of Dean, opened him up all the way for the very first time, and then together they ran through the door, out into the pure white light of day.
Endnotes: The major events of the plot and all the best lines of dialogue are from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, written by William Goldman.