It was a minor miracle that Sam escaped pretty much undetected. Not that he was feeling very thankful at the moment, holed up in a crappy motel in the middle of nowhere with newspapers spread across the bed and floor, his only earthly possessions stuffed in a beat up duffel bag.

After spending a few days covering any tracks he may have made that Henriksen could follow, Sam focused on catching up to Dean. To his chagrin, it was taking him a while to stop thinking like a fed and remember how to hunt. He forgot there were some resources he couldn't access anymore, some information that he wasn't allowed to get, and Dean's trail had been long cold before he'd set off after him.

In desperation, Sam had called Pastor Jim's, only to learn that the pastor had killed almost four years ago, and the new guy, a Pastor Baker, had never heard of Dean Winchester.

Next he tried Bobby's place, where a gruff voice answered, "Singer Salvage Yard."

"Bobby Singer?" Sam asked.

"Who's this?"

"It's Sam, Sam Winchester."

There was a long pause on the other end. "Whatcha want, kid?" Bobby finally asked.

"I know, Bobby, it's been a long time. I was just wondering, have you see Dad or Dean lately? I need to find them."

This time the pause was so long, Sam wondered if he'd hung up. Eventually Bobby sighed. "Son, I know you're with the FBI now. I know you're part of the task force huntin' Dean down. Everyone knows."

"Bobby, it's not about that." Sam pinched the bridge of his nose. "And what do you mean, everyone knows?"

"Hunters talk, is all. Worse group of gossipy biddies I've never known. And Dean makin' the eleven o'clock news as a bank robber and you outside with the SWAT team, well, that gave 'em lots to talk about."

"Yeah, I bet," he muttered. "Bobby, please. I wouldn't have called if I wasn't desperate." He winced, abruptly realizing how that sounded. "Uh, sorry, I didn't mean . . ."

"I know." Soft noises on the other end of the line, Bobby moving around as he thought. "You ain't looking to arrest him?"

"No, Bobby, I'm not. But I need to find him." Sam pumped every ounce of sincerity he could into his voice.

"Y'know, you damn near broke his heart. That boy's done a lot to try and keep this life away from you. He didn't like it, but he respected your decision."

Sam bristled at the censure in Bobby's voice but bit his tongue. Without Bobby, he literally didn't know where to even begin looking, so it wasn't a good idea for him to antagonize the man defending himself.

"Ah, hell, kid. Fine. Dunno where your daddy disappeared off to, haven't heard from him in near two years. But Dean, he called 'bout ten days ago, from down in New Mexico. Cimarron, think he said. Was dealing with a chupacabra. Didn't say where he was headed next, but that's the last I know."

"Okay," Sam sighed in relief. "Thanks Bobby."

"Yeah. And Sam? Talk to your brother." Bobby hung up.

"Oh, I plan to," Sam murmured as he put his phone down.

Cimarron, New Mexico was a couple states away, but Sam doubted Dean was still there. In ten days he could have driven cross-country twice. At least it gave him a place to start.

It took Sam another week to get a good line on Dean, searching through newspapers trying to find potential jobs that his brother would check out. He had to cut out of town fast once when he spotted the sheriff giving him a more-than-curious glance; with the nearest FBI field office only twenty miles away, he wasn't taking chances.

Eventually, after three states and a completely accidental run-in with a water wraith that nearly drowned him before he fought his way out and came back that night to banish it, Sam got lucky in Dolores, Colorado. He stopped at a tiny truckstop diner for lunch, and flashed Dean's picture around to the waitress and cooks.

The waitress, who looked to be sixty if she was a day, smiled at the photo. "Yeah, I saw him. Young guy, cute, came in here yesterday afternoon all alone. Sat right over there to have coffee and pie. Hard to forget him. Smile that that, he could charm the rattle off a snake."

Sam smiled at her, flashing his dimples. "Did you happen to see which way he went?"

"Yep. He was looking pretty tired, so I told him that if he was looking for a place for the night, Cortez has a couple nicer hotels. It's just eight miles or so down Railroad." She nodded vaguely southward toward the main road. "He thanked me and left."

Sam slipped an extra ten in her tip and left, anticipation lengthening his stride as he headed for his latest car. Dean was close, he could feel it.

He found him at the second motel. Or rather, he found the Impala. Pulling up on the opposite side of the parking lot, Sam shut off the engine and just stared at the car, reveling in the sudden rush of warmth at the sight of it. It was definitely Dean's Impala, the one he'd basically grown up in. Okay. Sam took a deep breath and let it out, settling the butterflies in his stomach.

An hour later, checked into a room of his own, freshly showered and changed into one of his business suits, Sam walked across the parking lot. Hesitating alongside the car, he glanced around for a second. Cautiously he ran his hand along the still-sleek lines of the Impala, palm tingling at the familiar touch. This car had once been home to him, home and safety and warmth curled up in the backseat with Dean, Dad's music low over the sound of tires on asphalt his lullaby.

The Impala meant Dean was here, right inside that door, and Sam was abruptly and viscerally aware that this was the closest he'd been to his brother in over six years. Well, no reason to put this off any longer. Taking a deep breath and habitually straightening his coat, Sam stepped up and knocked on the door.

Bed springs creaked, slow footsteps, and he held his breath when he felt eyes on him through the peephole. Time dilated, feeling like an eternity passed as Sam waited to see if Dean would open the door to him. Finally a rattle of safety chain and solid thunk of the deadbolt retracting preceded the door opening, and Sam felt like he could breathe again.

Dean stood framed in the doorway, suspiciously appraising him. Sam took the opportunity to examine him in return, his first real look at his brother.

It shocked him.

In his memory, Dean was larger than life, handsome, cocky, tough, and more often than not with that damn smirk firmly in place. The whole time the FBI was tracking him, that memory fed off comparisons to John Dillinger and Jesse James, giving him an almost mythic quality.

This man before him, though, bore only a passing resemblance to that memory. His hair was chopped short and had a greasy look, as if unwashed for a while, and there was at least two days' stubble on his jaw. The eyes were sunken and slightly bloodshot, dark shadows underneath emphasizing the pallor of his skin and the vivid red line of a scar running down the right side of his face from forehead to jaw.

Once lively and sparkling, Dean's green eyes now were flat, shadowed, a blank mask to Sam. He was thin, thinner really than was healthy judging by the way his clothes hung off his frame, and what muscles Sam could see were whipcord thin, stretched taut like piano wire. Who are you, and what have you done with Dean? was on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed them back. He had no right to ask that.

Silence yawned between them, growing bigger and more awkward the longer it lingered.

Dean broke it first. Out of nowhere, his fist rammed into Sam's face hard, sending shockwaves of pain through his head. Sam staggered back, blinking away stars as his cheekbone throbbed hotly. Belatedly he brought his hands up to fend off another blow, but none was forthcoming. Instead, Dean turned on his heel and disappeared back into the room.

Except he didn't shut the door. Sam wavered, rubbing gingerly at his cheek. Did that mean . . .?

"You just gonna stand there?" came the rough familiar voice, and Sam swallowed hard before walking through and shutting the door behind him. The room was shadowed, but enough light came from the bathroom light and around the curtains to let them see each other.

"What the hell was that for?" Sam asked, working his jaw around gingerly.

"Lots of reasons. That was long overdue." Dean cleared his throat, a sandpapery rasp that made nearly Sam flinch. "So, FBI guy, what brings your polished ass to my neck of the woods?"

"Uh, well," Sam scratched the back of his neck, unsure and feeling a decade younger. "I kinda . . . tracked you down."

"Obviously." Dean snorted, crossing back over to the bed and sitting down wearily. "Took you long enough," he muttered, unscrewing a flask and taking a quick swig.

Sam frowned. "Dean, it's three in the afternoon."

"So?" Dean pointedly didn't offer him some. "Again I ask, what are you doing here?" He craned his neck as if looking out the door. "You bring your posse with you?"

"What? No!" Dean arched an eyebrow, that ugly scar twisting in counterpoint. Sam blurted out, "How've you been?"

Dean's mouth quirked in a self-deprecating smirk, but not a hint of humor touched his eyes. "Just peachy, Sammy," he drawled, spreading his arms wide. "Look around at my comfortable accommodations, the fine food and outstanding service at this delightful establishment. It's been all this and a bag of chips since you left." Shaking his head, he dug around under the bed with one hand and pulled out a half-empty bottle of whiskey. "How the fuck do you think I've been?"

Sam gritted his teeth, irritation flaring hot and jagged inside him. "Well, you look like shit," he said bluntly, fingers itching to snatch the bottle away.

"Language, Sammy."

"It's Sam." Sam planted his feet, claiming a spot by the door and figuratively digging in. He came here for a reason, and he couldn't let Dean rattle him any more. "And no, no one's with me. You wanna know why? Because I'm not with the FBI any more."

Dean frowned. "What? Why?"

"Because of you, Dean! You really think they wouldn't eventually find out that Dean Harrison was really Dean Winchester, who just happens to be related to Sam Winchester? Oh, and by the way, a suspected serial killer!"

"They shouldn't have. I paid Ash enough." Dean took another slug of whiskey.

"That all you have to say?" Sam demanded. "I just lost my fucking job! They tried to arrest me! All because you couldn't keep your stupid face off the eleven o'clock news!"

"That was four months ago," Dean said. "And you just lost your job now?"

"Took them that long to crack your alias."

"And in all that time, you didn't bother telling them yourself? Sell me out, claim you had no idea what I was up to, get immunity or whatever shit and keep your job?"

"What was I supposed to tell them, Dean? 'No sir, my brother's not a serial killer, he just hunts monsters'?"

"He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy!" Dean mocked, chuckling to himself. Sam made a disgusted noise and changed tracks.

"Dean, where's Dad?"

Dean immediately shut down, turning his face away. "Dunno."

"Dean . . ."

"I don't."

"Huh. And why don't I believe you?" Sam goaded. "C'mon, surely sometime in the last six years you tracked him down."

Dean stood and glared at him. "Yeah, I did. And I did it without your help too, college boy."

"Good. Know what I've been up to without you? Having a life of my own. Not being Dad's lap dog, come running every time he calls. I made it through law school and the Academy without either of you. I was helping people too, you know. But I earned my badge."

"And you lost that badge," Dean shot back. "While you had your head stuck in a book, I tracked Dad down. Oh, and you wanna know what else? We found the thing that killed Mom."

Sam startled, thrown off balance. "What?"

"Yeah. It was a demon. A high level demon with yellow eyes. Evil son of a bitch, had killed a lot of people, burned more than one mom on a ceiling. But Dad and I, we tracked it down. Dad couldn't have done it on his own. He needed me. Where the hell were you?"

"Dad needed you?" Sam scoffed. "That why he abandoned you? Yeah Dean, he left you. Just took off on his own, and left you behind like he always did. And yet you still follow him everywhere, like a whipped dog."

He made a show of looking around. "Where's he now, Dean? Huh? He still 'need' you?"

Dean choked a bit, face flushing red. He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he reopened them, they were filled with ice. "You really want to know, Sam?" he asked quietly. "You wanna know what happened to Dad? Fine."

He fixed Sam with an unwavering gaze, voice soft yet deadly. "We tracked that damn demon, but we needed a way to kill it. We found a gun, a Colt, that can kill anything, I mean supernatural anything. And when we cornered that thing, I'm the one who pulled the trigger and blew his ass into oblivion."

Dean sneered at him. "Think it's party time, right? Demon's dead, Mom's avenged, we stopped the Apocalypse and now we can all celebrate. Except Dad's not happy at all. Starts hunting less, drinking more, and I mean a lot. He couldn't even look me in the eye anymore. Goes on for months. One night, he gets stinking drunk, and I tried to drag him home. That's when he tells me.

"I did what he spent twenty years dreaming about. I killed the demon, not him. He never got to feel the satisfaction of killing the damn thing himself. And he hates me for it. I took away his revenge, his purpose. He can't stand the sight of me." So worked up his body was trembling, Dean kept his fists clenched tight at his sides. "Couple days later he just vanished. Didn't leave word, a note, nothing, just up and left me. Again."

Abruptly his anger fled, and Dean slumped back on the bed, hands hanging between his knees. "Now? He's either dead, drunk, or starting a new life somewhere. I don't know or care. All I know is that I'm tired of being left behind."

Sam opened and closed his mouth a few times, not quite sure there was anything he could say.

"Know what really gets me, though? Growing up, you and Dad were always fighting, just butting heads over everything, especially hunting. You ran off to college just to get away from us. You told me that you wanted a 'safe' life." He snorted. "After all that rebellion, trying to get away from the life, you're still a hunter. You and Dad, you're still the same. Only I think you've got the harder job. Demons, they're easy to get." He took another drink. "People are just fuckin' crazy."

"And what about you, Dean?" Sam said. "You fit in that category?"

"What d'you mean?" he growled back.

"We tracked your every movement for the last five years. The places you've been, the cases you've worked. Lot of 'em it's easy to tell if you know what to look for. Other, well, they seem a bit suspicious. Like they're not supernatural."

Dean raised his head and shot Sam an incredulous look. "You thinkin' I've been killing people?"

Sam stood firm. "There is a reason they labeled you a serial killer, y'know."

"C'mon Sam," he snarled. "You really think I could murder innocent people in cold blood?"

"Yeah Dean, I do."

At that, Dean seemed to deflate, the spark in his eyes winking out. He just shook his head slowly and reached for the whiskey bottle again. "In that case, I have nothing more to say to you."

Sam glared at him, wanting more than . . . this. Wanting satisfaction for the life Dean wrecked for him. Wanting . . . something.

Snarling to himself, Sam turned to the door and yanked it open, spilling weak rays of late autumn sun into the room. He took a step . . . then stopped.

Where the hell was he going to go?

He had no home, no job. The FBI was looking for him. He was completely at loose ends, and didn't know what he could do. He'd been so focused on finding Dean that he'd failed to plan beyond that. Now, he had no purpose, and for a moment he wanted to turn and punch Dean for taking that too away from him.

I took away his revenge, his purpose. He can't stand the sight of me.

The words echoed in his head, ricocheting around other memories. He glanced back at Dean sitting there, watching, waiting for him to walk out. To abandon him, just like Dad did.

You and Dad, you're still the same.

"Goddamnit," he cursed under his breath, an ugly feeling welling up in his stomach. A minute ago he didn't know what to do. Now he knew his choices.

He could walk over to the motel office, call the nearest FBI office, and turn both of them in. He probably still wouldn't have his job back, but he would clear his record and win back some favor. Maybe he could still work as an analyst. Unlikely, but still.

He could walk away, go make himself a new life, somewhere the FBI would never find him. He could settle down, get a safe job, find a nice girl and marry her. He had some money and enough contacts to make Sam Winchester disappear, and become someone totally new.

Or . . .

He could do the hardest thing and try to reconnect with his family.

It wouldn't be easy. Hell, right now it seemed nearly impossible, with the chasm between him and Dean littered with the dead ashes of burned bridges, and Sam holding the matches.

But the foundations were still there.

Now he realized why he became such a workaholic, why he hated going back to that empty apartment, why he sometimes felt itchy and uncomfortable in his own skin. Because no one really knew Sam Winchester in the first place, not his team, not even Jess. He'd created a shell, a nice image for them to admire, but never let anyone inside it. It had bothered him for years, and he never understood why, until now.

He was lonely as hell.

And so was Dean.

And if he walked out that door right now, he would always be that closed off shell, He'll never be Sammy, never have someone who actually gets him, who knows all the little details about him. All the while growing up, Dean had never once forgotten something if it was important to Sam, because Sam was important to him.

He wanted to be that important again.

His decision made, Sam moved to walk out the door.

Dean sighed. "If you're gonna turn me in . . . well, guess you gotta do what you gotta do."

The door clicked shut behind Sam.

*~*~*~*~*~*

The next morning, Sam was leaning on the Impala when Dean walked out of the motel room. Dean frowned at him, taking in the jeans and layered shirts, the duffel bag at his feet. A quick glance around showed no one else out and about, and cautiously Dean walked over to the Impala.

When he opened the back door to toss his duffel in, Sam pitched his in along next to it, then opened the passenger side door and slid in. "So, where to first? Vegas, or the Grand Canyon?"

Dean scowled and opened the driver's door, getting in next to Sam. "Get out of the car."

"No." Sam met his gaze calmly. "I'm coming with you."

"What? What about, y'know, being a fed and law and order and all that?"

Sam shook his head. "Can't go back, Dean."

Dean looked out the windshield, tensing as he bit out, "Don't do this just because of that. We can do something –"

"No." Sam crossed his arms over his chest, silently daring Dean to try and kick him out of the car.

Dean shook his head, completely confused. "I don't get it. Why're you doing this?"

Sam let out a long breath. "Because you're still my brother."

Dean blinked, then ever so slowly a tentative smile curled his lips. "Bitch."

Sam smiled back, something settling warm and light in his chest for the first time since Stanford. "Jerk."

It felt like coming home.

END