Dean looked into Sam's room, wondering why his brother was taking so long to get ready. Dean had to drop him off at work and get to work himself on time. Or at least approximately on time.
His peek revealed Sam standing in front of the mirror, struggling with a tie. "Geez, kid, you did it better when you were six," Dean grumbled as he stepped into the room and took over. "You have court today?"
"Why else would I be performing self-strangulation?"
"It's not strangulation if you do it correctly." He patted the tie into place and took a step back to eye his perfect creation.
Sam sighed. "They taught you a trick at the Academy, right? The Art of Tie-Tying 101?"
"If that makes you feel more adequate, sure. Now, get a move on, Atticus Finch. Coffee's getting cold."
Sam eventually joined him in the kitchen. "So, what are you whining about to the judges today?" Since passing the Virginia bar, Sam worked for an environmental advocacy group. The pay wasn't great, but the cause was good and Dean wasn't charging Sam any rent. The only thing Sam used money for was the "it's healthy for you, Dean" food that showed up in the refrigerator and gas for the Honda that had given up the ghost two weeks ago--as if it had anticipated being sent out to pasture in six weeks. Since he and Sam would be hunting as a team, they only needed one car--and which car that would be had never been in question.
"Because of the drought, the courts have relaxed some of the water protection legislation in certain areas. So now, industries in other areas are trying to jump on the bandwagon, even though their properties aren't in the dry spots." Sam opened the cabinet and frowned before taking down a box of Lucky Charms.
"Feeding frenzy, huh?"
"Yeah. I think it's a good thing I'm getting out soon. There's going to be a lot of head-banging on this one."
"So, how'd it go when you told the office you're resigning soon? Did Donna cry?" Dean asked gleefully. He poured himself another cup of coffee as Sam ate a handful of dry cereal and drunk a glass of milk. He frowned but figured it was one less bowl to be washed. For a health freak, Sam murdered breakfast every single day.
It was the one reason Dean could tolerate him being a health freak.
"I don't know why you never liked Donna," Sam said after swallowing. "She's a great lobbyist."
Dean almost snorted his coffee. "Who hates the military and everyone in a uniform. When she wasn't simpering for you, man, she was all evil-eyeing me. Should've spiked her drink with holy water at that last bash you dragged me to."
"Like I could drag you anywhere, Lt. Colonel Winchester."
"You know, if I hung around another six months I'd probably be upped to full colonel." Getting his Ph.D had made him a hot commodity at the Pentagon. The Pentagon wanted to be seen as more of a "think tank" than a "war machine". It was like the Miss America pageant emphasizing the "scholarship" aspect over the "beauty" part.
"You want to?" Sam asked hesitantly. He left about an inch of milk in his glass and poured coffee into it.
Dean winced as he watched his brother spike the coffee with two heaping spoonfuls of sugar. "The office hasn't been any fun since Evelyn retired," he complained.
He'd originally thought he'd be in the Army until they made him retire, but he was content to leave. The life he'd made there, the friends, the contacts, weren't going anywhere. Ten years was longer than his required contract with the Army, and although they had pleaded and tried to bargain with him, he was leaving with their blessing. He'd explained about the road trip with his brother, how Sam was still in mourning for Jessica, and in need of distraction. Everyone had understood, especially those who remembered the bubbly young woman's visit. Besides, Dean was the Army's family, which made Sam part of the family, too, and family needed to be taken care of.
Speaking of family and friends... "Try not to have one of your freaky visions in the middle of October." Sam's pain-inducing visions of impending supernatural deaths had continued even after the yellow-eyed demon seemed to go to ground. When it was convenient, he and Sam rushed off to try to save the victims. When it wasn't, Dad and one of his buddies did the job as they had when they'd saved little Rosie.
Sam snorted. "As if I schedule them. What's so important about October?"
"Pinky got the kids and me tickets for the Redskins opening home game."
"You and the kids? What about your brother?" Sam asked with a mock pout.
"As if Pinky wouldn't include you. You've been tailing behind us since you could walk."
Sam had to laugh because it was the truth. "I still can't believe how much the Redskins are paying him. No wonder he left the Seahawks."
"Actually, he left the Seahawks because I needed him to be on the East Coast and he owes me."
"He's the one getting you the tickets, how does he owe you?"
Dean topped off his coffee and straddled a stool at the wooden "island" in the center of the kitchen. "You know why Pinky's getting paid the big bucks? Because he doesn't let his quarterback get sacked. Why doesn't he let his quarterback get sacked? We were in fifth grade and had just started playing real football, not that Pop Warner junior crap. Pinky had trouble understanding the concept of a playbook. He was getting all frustrated and glassy-eyed, so I pulled him aside and told him all he had to do was protect the quarterback. He could forget what this X had to do, or that O; all he had to do was protect the quarterback. Considering I was the quarterback, I made sure he had that planted firmly in his head."
"Of course you did." Sam sat on a stool across from him.
Dean gave him the finger. "So, we're playing the last game of the season. We're up by twenty points, less than two minutes on the clock, and we have the ball. I'm just going to fall on it to eat up the time, so I wasn't paying attention and neither was Pinky. Suddenly this huge blob from the other team lays me flat out."
"That's when you broke your collarbone?" Sam asked, nose wrinkling as he struggled to remember.
"Yeah. And let me tell you, that pain is a bitch you can't forget. Anyway, I woke up in the hospital and Pinky's there at my bedside. His eyes are red and his voice is shaky, but he puts his hand on his heart and says, 'I will always protect the quarterback.' I didn't get sacked again until I was playing intramurals at the Academy." Dean took a gulp of his coffee. "So, this great career he has? My boy knows where his skills come from."
Sam blinked at him. "Sometimes you are so full of shit, it amazes me your eyes are still green."
Dean laughed. "You learn how to be so profound and erudite at those colleges of yours?"
"Wasn't Pinky voted Least Likely To Succeed in your class?" Sam asked as he grabbed the Pop Tart box already on the island from last night's late snack. "Well, I was voted Most Likely To End Up On The FBI's Most Wanted List, so we had some real seers in my class--not. What was up with that anyway? Nobody knew Dad had us throwing knives in the backyard and target-shooting." He watched Sam tear open the Pop Tart packet, then down one of the frosted rectangles, followed by a long drink of the treacle that was disguised as coffee.
Sam wiped off his mouth with the back of his hand. "Mr. Taylor's Modern History class."
"The yearly project of your choice?" Dean grinned in remembrance of his favorite senior year class back in Lawrence. "I did the modern era of prostitution, complete with a Barbara Walters type taped interview of a blurry-faced Charity. Doubt that was one of the projects Mr. Taylor shared with the School Board."
"Well, some girl in your year did hers on serial killers. And she came to the conclusion that most serial killers were very charming, and I quote, 'like Dean Winchester charming.'" Sam took out the second Pop Tart. "It got around."
Dean thought about it for a moment and decided he wasn't offended. They'd been young back in those days and easily confused. "How come you know so much about my class?"
"Big brothers are to be emulated; little brothers are to be ignored."
"Oh. Sorry about that." He knew the names of Sam's nerd herd and where they'd lived--because he'd had to drive them all home about a hundred thousand times after Dad had given him the Impala--but that was about all.
"It's okay. When I was in high school, it was all about me, too--you just weren't around to hear it."
"Um, do you recall the cell phone bill that had Dad's head spinning and you calling out 'Christo' every five minutes?"
"Good times," Sam said with a laugh. "But it was an emergency. We'd lost the soccer championship and Cynda Richards had said I was too tall to go to prom with. Desperate times, man. Of course, then I had to pay back the bill by working at the garage--at minimum wage."
"Your own fault. Told you not to call before seven p.m." He checked to make sure the coffee maker was off. It was supposed to be automatic, but an exploded glass pot had taught him to never trust the timer.
"Geez, I'm glad most plans stopped those restrictive hours. Unlimited calling, my ass." He poured a glass of orange juice and downed it in a gulp. "So why do you need Pinky?"
"Pinky likes kids. He can fill in for me at the Children's Home. It'll be a good project for him, especially after he retires in a few years."
Sam frowned. "You got a lot going on here, Dean. Are you sure you want to put it aside to hunt?"
"Despite what the demon did, I got a good life, Sammy. I want...I want to give others the chance to have a good life, too. Whatever we stop out there, won't be hurting anyone again, won't be upending lives and futures. It's a fight worth fighting." He rinsed out his coffee mug. "Come on, let's get out of here before that sugar you just downed pops all your brain cells and you end up babbling in front of the judge."
"You trying to jinx me or something?"
"Would I do that to you, Sammy?"
"Yes," Sam muttered before tossing back the last of his coffee. "What if I did that to you the next time you have to present before the Joint Chiefs of Staff?"
Dean shrugged. "Maybe it'd keep some of them awake enough to do more than just nod. Besides, what are you worried about, Mr. Smith? You'll just bat those puppy-dog eyes at the judge or jury, and you'll have them catering to your every whim. Haven't lost a case yet, have you? 'I'm just your average American man,'" he began in a lousy Jimmy Stewart impression. "'Taller than most, granted, but that thin reed-look makes me better able to represent to down-trodden guppy and the cute baby turtles whom I've been entrusted to--'" He ducked the empty box of Pop Tarts flung at his head. Grabbing his jacket, he winked at his brother. "Car's leaving in five."
He hummed and semi-sang Metallica's "Wherever I May Roam" as he waited.
Sam followed the guard to the consultation room at the military prison and nodded as he was told the three prisoners were on their way. He refrained from tapping his fingers on the bolted down table, not wanting to reveal any of his anxiety. Dean didn't know he was at Ft. Leavenworth. He thought Sam was in Kansas looking into some endangered species case. Which he was. Dean just didn't know he was endangered species in question.
The prisoners were shuffled through the door, shackled and handcuffed. Sam didn't know what they looked like before, but he thought they all looked a bit haggard. Good.
"Gentlemen," he said as their individual guards shoved them into the three chairs on the other side of the desk and clipped their handcuffs to the rods built into the table. He nodded to the guards and they left. Because he'd been honest with the warden--well, semi-honest, something about closure or some bullshit--and had attorney credentials, the interview was being considered attorney/client privileged and he could see the men without the guards present in the room.
"Who are you?" One of them asked. Sam didn't care about their names; the message he had to deliver was to all three.
"My name is Sam Winchester. I'm an attorney at law."
Another of the prisoners frowned. "Appeal? Somebody hire you for us?"
Sam smiled. "No, I'm here of my own free will."
"To do what? Write a book or something?"
A small shake of his head. "Does the name Winchester mean nothing to you?"
All three paled.
"I have an older brother named Dean, if that helps your memory."
Two of them looked at the door, probably wondering how far away the guards were. The third just glared at Sam.
"I heard the bastard got messed up over there in Afghanistan," Three said with a grin. "S'why he wasn't at our court martial."
Sam smiled back. "Seems your hearing is about as defective as your intelligence. Dean--Lt. Colonel Dean Winchester--is on permanent assignment at the Pentagon and consults regularly with the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff. Oh, and if you were speaking of 'messed up' as in disfigured, gotta say the ladies are just as crazy about him as ever. He's one of those men who just seems to get better with age, you know, like a movie star or something. Good thing he's my brother or I just might be pissed about it. You guys pissed?" Sam figured the animosity they had toward Dean didn't just come from his stunt with the Viagra. Sam had grown up with Dean; he knew how it felt to watch his brother walk into a room and instantly gather the attention of every female present. If these three had been the Academy's "big men on campus", Dean had probably shot that all to hell within moments of his arrival.
"Enough about old times," Sam continued, still smiling. "I'm here to talk about the future. You have approximately five years left on your sentences. At the end of those five years, you're going to walk out these prison doors and head to Alaska. Not Juneau, though. Too close. I'm thinking somewhere north and west of Anchorage--you know, the open frontier, so to speak. Plenty of opportunities there for strong, eager men."
"What the fuck are you talking about?' Three asked.
"I'm talking about I don't want you within a thousand miles of my brother and considering we're going to be traveling the length and breadth of the lower 48, you can have Alaska."
Three folded his arms. "And if we don't agree?"
Sam shrugged, his smile remaining the same. "Then you should consider this a warning. I mean, you know how far a Winchester will go to protect a friend--just think about what we'd do for family."
"Why isn't he here?" Two said, surprising Sam with his ability to speak without Three moving his lips.
He stood and assumed what Dean liked to call his "convincing the jury" stance. "Because, oddly enough, some of the Academy graduates are officers and gentlemen. You see, he thinks that locking you in this box of misfit toy soldiers is punishment enough. But in my opinion, you have yet to be punished for your real crime. That's why you should really, really listen to my advice. Maybe when you're in Alaska, I won't remember how I felt when I found out my brother was MIA. Maybe I won't think about how much it aged my father, how we both paced the floor and watched the clock. Maybe I won't dream about what it must've been like for Dean, watching two of his men die, being tortured." Wondering if he was going to see his family again.
Sam bent forward and rested his palms flat against the table. Hazel eyes demanded the complete attention of the three sets across from him. "The truth of the matter, sirs, is that if Dean hadn't come home alive from Afghanistan, we wouldn't be having this conversation." It took them a few seconds to understand what he was saying, to see the truth he was revealing--if Dean had died, they wouldn't have been far behind.
Stunned silence, yes, but after all the hunting he'd done recently, he could sense fear in his prey, smell it. His message had been delivered and received.
"Enjoy the tundra, gentlemen. I hear moose is the new beef."
He rapped on the door and signaled the guards. This interview was over.
"Sam, come look!" Dean yelled excitedly.
Sam jogged across the yard and peered into the trunk of the Impala. He paled. What had once been a small section for hidden weapons in the trunk, now encompassed the entire length and width of the area. "You better hope we never get pulled over by the highway patrol," he warned, eyeing the array of weapons the trunk now held. The arsenal could probably take out a small country.
"Got it covered, lawyer boy. The Army was so bereft about losing such a young, highly productive officer that they made me an official government-licensed defense contractor. As long as I throw them a bone every now and again, I not only get paid rather well, but what you are currently purveying is considered 'work' and if any Smokey wants to get uppity about it, he can take it up with Homeland Security. Besides, I'm gonna be traveling with my lawyer. Isn't that why you've passed the bar in all fifty-eight states?"
He knew Dean was yanking his chain, but-- "I knew you slept through civics class back in Lawrence, but I had high hopes for the Academy. And no, I haven't tried in all fifty states."
"Yet," Dean added with a grin.
"Yet," Sam begrudgingly admitted. So what if he found bar and performance exams challenging? And now, with so many using the same multistate exams, most of the time he didn't have to do anything but pay a fee to practice in another state. Not that that was an out for Dean to get into trouble. Being a licensed lawyer made it easier to get to documents they might need during a hunt--like burial and estate records. Of course, there was no way he'd be able to get licensed in every state, but Georgetown had given him access to a wide network of peers, not to mention Dean and Dad seemed to know someone in every corner of the universe. Apparently the military machine was vast but close-knit at the same time.
He gave his own grin as he looked at the trunk again. "Dad's gonna be so jealous."
"Can't wait to get to Bobby's to show him."
"Man, we could've used this when we went after that Black Dog last month." Every time they went on a hunt, they had to make sure they knew exactly what they were hunting before leaving the motel because dragging around a bag of assorted weapons was a tad silly and slightly dangerous. One wrong clank and--
"Last month I was parking the car in the Pentagon lot."
"Oh, yeah. Guess it wouldn't have gone over so well, huh?"
"I think I know why the Army wants to keep its ties to you. If you ever got in with terrorists, the U.S. would be toast." Sam's eyes widened as he realized what he was about to do--he was, quite literally, going cross-country with an arms dealer. That was so--ludicrous. He found himself grinning as he thought of what his law associates would say if they knew "straight as an arrow, this country needs gun laws" Sam Winchester had a secret identity as a demon hunter and his own personal James Bond-style Q. "That's a whole lot of firepower we're packing, dude. Are those the demon-killer bullets you've been working on?"
Dean's hand hovered over the ammunition box. "Aren't they beautiful?"
"Dude, you being in love with your car is one thing, but your ordnance? Kinky, big bro."
"You know you want to stroke that Glock right there, don't you? See how firm she is, how she glistens beneath your touch?"
Sam always thought Dean could've had a career in the porn industry. This wasn't helping to change his mind. "Do we need to make a visit to see Charity before we head to South Dakota?"
"Nah, I'm good. The Winchester Ladies Cooperative set me up just fine the last time they passed through."
Sam shook his head. "How the hell did Tay get that legally set up? It has a tax I.D. number for Pete's sake."
"A cooperative is an enterprise or organization owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its services. The ladies throw in a percentage of their earnings which in return provides them with living quarters better than some sleazy motel, health insurance in the form of regularly scheduled exams, and a pension fund managed by Taylor 'Flip' Wilson, C.P.A. and Investment Broker. Thus, you have a cooperative, little brother."
"And what exactly is your part in the cooperative?"
Dean stood soldier straight. "I am the quality control manager," he pontificated. "And the occasional crash test dummy if you take into account Miranda's first attempt at a blowjob. Man, Charity had her hands full with her for a while. Good thing we convinced her to enroll in KU instead."
Dean Winchester--reformer of bad hookers. "You are one of a kind, man. Which is a good thing because I don't think the world could take two of you."
"Why thank you, brother. By the way, we have to make a quick stop in Baltimore. Julie said she'd string us up by our balls if we didn't come say goodbye to her, Flip, and J.D."
"I still can't get over them naming their son Jesse Dean."
"Well, Flip wanted Jesse TheFonz Wilson, but Jules wasn't going for it. Woman just doesn't like classic TV."
"Or maybe she's just sane--and didn't want her kid picked on when he started school."
"As if someone would pick on my godchild."
Sam gave a sly look. "You know why Julie picked you as godfather? Said the sheer fact that you're still alive shows you're the luckiest son of a bitch on the planet and her son deserves all the luck he can get."
"She was referring to the number of women who should've killed you long ago."
"I knew she had a thing for me, but taking women from friends is not the way I roll."
"Is it nice there on your planet?"
"Oh, you are a laugh riot, Sammy. Learned stand-up in the middle of being all educated, did ya?" He straightened up to close the trunk.
"What's that?" Sam asked, reaching for the chain around Dean's neck. "Is that the amulet I gave you all those Christmases ago? Man, you still have that thing?"
Dean shrugged. "The Army only let me wear dogtags. Now that I'm a free man..."
Sam was touched, but tried to play it off. "And you call me a girl," he scoffed.
Dean laughed. "You know why I call you a girl, Sammy? It's Dad's fault. Remember when I got the measles?"
"And gave them to me a week later?"
"Hold a grudge much, man? Anyway, I was sitting at home, bored stupid, watching Three Men And A Baby. Dad comes in and tries to make conversation--"
"Before making the lamest excuse and leaving ten minutes later?"
"Yeah, his comfort needs a little work. So I said, 'I guess we're smarter than they are, Dad. We were just Two Men And A Baby and we did okay.' Then he said, 'Well, their baby is a girl so maybe they did need three men.' I said, 'Boys are better than girls, huh?' And he said, 'Not better, just less complicated. Tell a boy to do something and he does it. Tell a girl, and she has a hundred questions to ask before she gets around to it.' Then, as you say, he made a lame ass excuse and left.
"The more I thought about it, however--and remember I was sporting an awesome fever--it sounded like he was describing you more than any girl I knew. But I'd changed your diaper back in the day so I knew you were a boy. Then I turned to the Discovery Channel and they were talking about hermaphrodites and--"
Whap! Sam's hand popped the back of Dean's head. "Too much television, Dean."
"You always say that. But, hey, it was educational television." Dean closed the trunk and walked toward the house. "Final check before we hit the road."
Sam scanned his room, making sure he'd packed what he'd planned to take. They'd be back before winter, so the light jacket was all he needed. His room. Dean had given him a custom-made bed for his first Christmas there, complete with sheets and blankets that actually stayed tucked in while covering his feet. Hadn't had those since his last growth spurt. He'd never admit it to Dean, but the gesture had made him feel loved and wanted. Nothing could make a dent in the hurt he still felt for the loss of Jess (would it really be six years in November?), but having Dean to come home to, to care that he actually did come home, to talk to about nothing and everything, made each day a bit more bearable than the last.
And the military had taught his brother to be a better roommate than he'd been in Lawrence--Dean was neat, quiet when necessary (like when Sam needed to study), and mindful of boundaries (asking about the last lemon tart instead of just scarfing it down).
"You make us some meatloaf sandwiches for the road, bitch?"
However, nothing the Army did, formidable though it be, ever touched Dean's inner "charm." For ill or good, Dean was still Dean. "Yeah, and you could be more gracious about it, jerk. You think Evelyn could send us some via UPS or something every so often?" he asked as he joined Dean in the living room.
"One of the delivery companies has some kind of freezer box, with dry ice maybe? FedEx, DHL, somebody. Look it up when we get to Bobby's, geek boy. Anyway, we'll make sure to give her a call when we're swinging by here. I like the idea that this will be our HQ."
"Still can't believe Dad sold the garage, although selling it to Abe and his grandson-in-law is like keeping it in the family." That had been a shock. And Dad had told them so casually--during a garden variety salt-and-burn.
"Well, Dad hasn't worked there steadily since you went off to college, and I think making sure of Mom's rest, well, it just added closure to his life in Lawrence. For the past couple of years, he's spent more time here with us than there. Yeah, some of it was about training, but mostly, this has become home for him."
"For me, too."
Dean gave a sad smile. "Enough to understand it when Dad sells the house?"
"You think he's gonna do that?"
"I think he's working up to that point. A lot of memories there."
"Yeah." The house in Lawrence had been home for a long time, but... "But if both Dad and I consider this home, then yeah, I understand, and I accept it. You got any problems with it?"
"Nah," Dean said, his eyes shining. "So, you ready to go?"
"What about the munitions plant out back?"
"My lab," Dean emphasized, "is as secure as Fort Knox. Gen. Morrison's going to send people over regularly to make sure there's no suspicious activity." He grabbed his duffel and followed Sam to the porch. After locking the door, he set the alarm. Sam flinched at the sound of the beep. "You alright?"
Sam gave a vague nod. Hunting full-time was going to be different and difficult, and he wondered if he'd made the right decision. For years, he'd resented his dad's hunting, angry that it took him away from his family and his job as Dad. Now, he was starting down the same path.
If there was anything remotely "good" about Jess's death wass that they hadn't had any kids, that he wasn't in the exact same position his father had been in. The six years of training had been a strain--although he'd liked being a lawyer, was proud of what he'd accomplished, there was an itch and an ache that had only been eased and sated by hunting...and killing. If he had to make the decision to put aside looking for Jess's killer for eighteen or twenty years to raise children, he wasn't sure what he'd do.
No. If he were honest, he knew exactly what he'd have done if he had kids. He would've settled them here at the farm with Dean and gone off with his dad. Sure, he teased Dean about the reasons Tay and Julie had made him the godfather of their child, but he knew his friends saw what he did when he looked at his brother--a man who would be a great father. Dean wouldn't have any internal debates over hunting and parenting. Although he was just as committed to the hunt, it was obvious that Dean was in the fight for the living--the victims they could save, Dad, and him-- not the dead. He would set aside the hunt to raise Sam's children or J.D. in a heartbeat.
So, was it fair, in the absence of any children, to jerk Dean from the order he'd finally found back to the disorder of his childhood? Sam knew the decision was his; he knew that even at this last minute if he told Dean he didn't want to hunt, Dean would unpack and spend the rest of his life making weapons, volunteering at the Children's Home, and taking care of his friends. But the one thing he wouldn't do was let Sam go on the hunt without him for no reason at all.
Sam loved his brother, would lay down his life for him. But. But to let Jessica's killer, Mary Winchester's killer, roam the earth and escape judgment...that was unacceptable. I'm so sorry, Dean. "We haven't done too badly on our own, have we--the three Winchester men?"
"Nah. Mom was proud of all of us that night. And I think...I think she'd approve of what we're doing now. We're tackling this as a family. We're well-trained, well-armed, and we're thinking with our minds and not our hearts--mostly, anyway." They crossed the yard to the Impala. "So, you ready to rock and roll, Sammy?"
Sam thought about Jessica and their plans to move here to this Virginia foothill community to be close to Dean, raise a couple of kids, maybe convince Dean to do the same. Plans. Fate. All a crapshoot, really. The only thing real was the road you traveled and the people who were there at your side. "Yeah, I'm ready, Dean. Saving people and hunting things, that's our new family business."
"Don't forget killing as many evil sons-of-bitches as we possibly can."
"And kicking demon ass."
The brothers shared a nod and a vow. There was work to do. Duffels were tossed in the back, doors creaked shut, and the Impala roared to life. The road was calling and the Winchesters were ready to follow.