January 24, 2025

On the day Dean Winchester had turned 35, it felt weird. It felt off.

But the day he turned 45, he could feel something wrong in his bones. Like there were forces at work that didn't like it. Things below the ground screaming in outrage. Wheels within wheels turning in the heavens. Like things the world had expected to happen, all the things they had killed, stopped or changed, all angrily throwing themselves up against glass at the same time.

If a smile could be both sarcastic and pitying, Sam Winchester had perfected it as he listened to him go on. "You're being ridiculous."

"Shut up, I can feel these things," Dean argued, pouting a little, still somehow managing to look like a child when he did.

"Yeah, what you're probably feeling is the bottle of Jack Daniels you stayed up and polished off because you felt sorry for yourself." Sam turned the birthday steaks over on the stove and they sizzled in a way that Dean found tremendously pleasing. Mmm, birthday steak.

They'd bought this bar seven years before. Separately, they'd each gone to Frank on the same day and asked him who owned the area in and around the Devil's Gate.

"Do you two even talk to each other?" Frank asked in exasperation.

Little by little, they bought up parcels of land inside, until enough of them connected to make something of it. "Bought" was maybe the wrong term, since some of the transfer of ownership had taken place at Frank's computer in exchange for favors or for substantially less sums of cash than buying them outright would have. What was important to them is that anyone already living and making a life inside the Devil's Gate area be left alone.

Sam had hit the law books and tied up the parcels they couldn't buy, for one reason or another, with claims of wildlife preservation or potential contamination threats. The two of them and their hired guns had defended it like they were rival ranchers in an episode of Bonanza or something, but it worked. Over time, people just understood that this land belonged to the Winchesters and didn't make trouble. Over time, the things that failed to understand had met sticky ends.

The bar was opened the year after that in a rambling two-story house that may or may not have been zoned for business, much less the sale of alcohol.

They didn't want to call it the Roadhouse. They felt like that implied that they were just as good at being the same thing that Ellen had created from the ground up. Presumptuous was the word Sam used. Besides, if someone still had some bad blood for the Roadhouse, they were unnecessarily painting a target on their backs. But they both felt the need to pay tribute anyhow, so Harvelle's was born.

Dean peered around Sam at the meat on the bar's grill. "Don't cook all the blood outta mine."

"I know how to cook a steak, Dean."

Sam still said Dean's name as if he was pleased that it could still be said directly to his brother, instead of slurred into the bottom of a glass or addressed to a rectangle of freshly-turned earth. A person might think that someone who'd died as many times as they had would be a little more accepting of the idea, a little more prepared for the inevitable.

That person would be wrong.

Dean smirked into his next swig of beer. "You dried out the last ones."

Sam looked stupid in an apron and Dean was enjoying it. His hairline had receded a bit, but Sam's hair hadn't started to go gray in the front like his own.

He turned to furrow his brow at Dean in annoyance. "You tenderized these on an anvil with a claw-hammer. They've been covered in marinade for three days. If they dry out, we should look for hex bags."

Dean grinned, shivering a little into his flannel shirt, cursing the Wyoming winter that made its way through drafts that Sam swore weren't there. The cold got to him more than it used to. He felt it worst in his shoulders.

2

It was later that year that the couple had walked in. In their mid to late 20s, Dean figured. They'd been in a few times before. They kept to themselves.

Dean was tending bar that night. He looked across at Sam, who was reading a newspaper at one of the tables.

At that moment, Sam's glance moved from them to Dean, eyebrows raised. Well?

Dean shrugged back. Maybe. We'll see.

3

Harvelle's was on the main road just inside the Devil's Gate. It looked inviting to certain kinds of people and discouraging to everyone else. They got equal numbers of weekend warriors, stray hikers and bikers, but hunters passing through made up at least half of the patronage.

Hunters knew that they went into the private back room of the bar, or what had once between two bedrooms with the wall knocked out between them, so their guns wouldn't make the non-hunting crowd nervous and itchy. It had been Sam's idea to put two long tables in there instead of twelve smaller ones, to force the hunters to interact with one another. There were no rules about smoking and voices were frequently raised without either of them giving more than a warning look of interest.

If a scuffle broke out, Dean would hit the jukebox to stop it, and in the jarring silence would boom, "Take it outside!" They always did.

Hunters occasionally staggered in with untreated knife gouges and bullet wounds or broken bones. Sam and Dean would clear a pool table, pour the guy or girl a tall one, and patch them up enough to get them back on the road.

For the wounds that needed a steadier hand and fussier work, they had a guy named Warsaw, a disgraced but competent surgeon, on call. Warsaw drank for free.

Two bedrooms on the bottom floor had been left as is, with a bunch of cots crammed in, for those who needed to crash or dry out. But down the hall from that was an addition that Dean had built himself. This is where he and Sam set up their operations, and no one who knew what was good for them wandered in more than once.

They were both in there now. Dean had a tarp laid out over a table, tapping his foot to "Taking Care of Business" as it thumped through the walls from the jukebox. Gun parts and tools were scattered around him. He hadn't told Sam yet (there was no use jinxing it), but he was pretty sure he'd made a shotgun that was better than the Colt. If he wasn't so intent on smithing every part of the gun himself to be something that could kill almost anything (damned if anyone was gonna call it anything but "The Winchester", Dean thought), he might've had it done by now.

A phone rang and Sam turned to peer at it.

"Your turn," Dean muttered without looking up.

That was the year that Sam had gotten glasses, and he glared over the top of them at Dean now. He'd been working non-stop over a set of 900-year old rituals anyway, trying to translate them from the fragile pages. Dean figured he could use some blood flow to his ass before the muscles atrophied.

Sam walked over to the phones and picked up one in the middle.

"Marshals Service, this is Matthews." He listened for a moment. "Yeah, he's one of ours. He giving you any trouble?"

4

The two of them lived upstairs where the roof sloped down.

Dean had redesigned the stairs in such a way that they were mostly out of view of anyone who might be wandering around the various rooms of the bar. He'd also built a gun nest up there with a rifle slat cut into the bar's false front, right where the half-oval was cut into the first "E" in Harvelle's. So far, they hadn't had to use it.

They'd started out in separate bedrooms at first, the way they figured normal people did it. But after awhile they shrugged and faced facts, hauling both beds into what was serving as the living room.

It was a few months later that Dean presented Sam with the first prototype of The Winchester.

"It does what, now?" Sam had asked in disbelief.

"I think it's gonna kill anything," Dean said flatly. He'd come up with a bullet mixture of salt, iron, silver and protective herbs, with one of the warding symbols Sam had figured out carved into each one.

He felt good about this, really good.

5

A couple of weeks later, Dean killed a werewolf with it from 50 feet away, hitting it in the shoulder on purpose, figuring he could hit it in the heart with the silver bullets in his own gun as a failsafe.

They both walked up to it. Sam, his own gun in hand, carefully knelt down while Dean kicked it.

Good and dead. And it made the same light show in the thing's skeleton as the Colt had done. There was tinkering yet to be done, but dead was dead.

Sam smiled up at him. "Dean... you did it!"

Dean beamed down at him, the deep crow's feet around his eyes fanning out, making him look more distinguished than he really was.

A month after that, Dean used to it to shoot a vampire in the hand and killed it just as good as if they'd samurai'd its head off. He opened up his journal and added that to the list.

6

In May of 2027, a dog, of all things, started sleeping in front of the bar. It was some mix of German Shepherd and who knew what else. He was in the start of his middle years, Sam thought, just starting to go white around the muzzle.

"A stray," Sam started, scratching him behind the ears.

"Taken in by a couple of strays," Dean finished.

Sam went to get him some water. Dean had some sausage and eggs left in the styrofoam container from the diner up the road and put it down on the floor.

They named him Ash.

7

The couple came into the bar a few times that year, and one of the two of them would try to strike up a conversation. They seemed close and they seemed ferocious. And getting them into a talk was like waiting for a glacier to melt.

That night, the couple walked up to Sam and Dean themselves. Both of them were behind the bar that night, trying to outdrink each other. Predictably, Dean was winning.

The man's name was Chris Deeds and the woman's name was Elizabeth Cruz, Beth for short. They were 28 and 26, respectively.

"You know, we were in Nebraska talking to a bunch of other hunters on this wraith thing." Chris downed the whiskey that Dean had poured for him with a grimace. "It turns out you guys are the fucking Winchesters. Those Winchesters. The big, badass, scary, no one knows how you're still alive Winchesters. We've been in here I don't know how many times and we never knew."

"We don't broadcast if we can help it," Sam explained.

Speak for yourself, Dean thought, but nodded. "That's us."

Beth leaned toward him, her glossy black hair picking up all the neon light in the bar, attractive in that hard way that Dean had come to recognize as basic hunter aging. "Seriously, we heard that two hunters actually took you guys out. I mean, killed you, pumped you both full of lead, and you were spotted a few days later, still hunting. Was it just a macho bullshit story, or what?"

He and Sam looked at each other, barely concealed half-grins, as they both threw back a shot at the same time.

Someday they might tell Chris and Beth how Roy and Walt were buried behind the bar, salted and roasted under about 15 feet of earth, right beneath where Dean had built the high fence that served as his outdoor work area.

"Bet we don't seem so scary now, huh?" Dean asked sheepishly, not answering the question.

Beth stared at them both incredulously. "The fact that you guys aren't just some story that our parents told us to make us behave?" Her laugh was smoky, and if Chris hadn't looked like he might come over the bar and turn Dean's head into a canoe, Dean might've tried to hit that.

She shook her head and drained her own drink. "It's scary as fuck that you even exist."

"Someday you'll have to tell us which of those stories is real and which is just hype," Chris said as Sam poured him another drink, implying that he was fairly sure they were all hype.

"Maybe someday," Sam said.

8

A few months after that, Chris and Beth brought a wraith to them, at their request. Dean shot it with the Winchester.

"Kills wraiths?" Dean asked as Sam looked it over.

"Kills wraiths," Sam confirmed.

So far it had killed everything. Now they just needed to try it on a demon.

9

That was the year that Frank called them and told them he was dying. The doctors had said he had a year or so left.

The thing that bothered Dean most about getting older, besides his back, was all the people he heard had died, people who were as young in his mind as the first time he'd seen them, and then hearing the chatter in the hunter's room that they were gone.

Frank presented this news without any trace of sentimentality, and they took it just the same. "I'm telling you so that if there's something you assholes need done, you can tell me now while I'm functional and not when I'm coughing up blood clots."

So they opened and started maintaining an investment portfolio (Sam's idea) and drafted up all the paperwork they would need, finalizing some of the remaining land parcels and the bar (Dean's idea). Dean didn't ask how Frank managed it, but agreed to the favors Frank asked for in exchange. They paid a lawyer $2500 to find the holes in it, and then fixed the holes.

When Frank died in his sleep eight months later, they kept up their end of the deal: they salted and burned Frank and burned any of his operations to the ground. Then, just as he made them swear, they sifted through the ashes and found anything that looked like computer equipment, and burned it again.

As they watched the second fire burn, he and Sam poured some GlenFiddich, Frank's favorite, on the ground and drank to his safe travels to... wherever.

"Not a bad way to go," they said at the same moment, then looked at each other and laughed.

10

"I just translated a re-animating spell from a really obscure dialect of Creole," Sam said proudly, standing in the opening of Dean's outdoor work area. "It only took me three days."

"Does it work?" Dean asked, distracted, putting on a pair of goggles.

"I don't know, Dean, I only finished translating it. I don't think actually using it would be a good idea, do you?"

"Then how do you know you translated it right?"

Sam made that face at him, the face that looked more disapproving now that he was older. "I translated it just fine."

Dean held up a grease gun, grinning.

"What's that?"

"It's a mixture of rock salt and epoxy." Dean pumped out a line of the substance on the concrete in front of him. He made sure his goggles were on tight and gestured at Sam to back away a little. Picking up a leaf blower next to him, he switched it on and aimed it at the salt line. It didn't move. Dean beamed at Sam. "The wind'll just set the epoxy, but until then the mixture's thick enough to stay put. The salt crystals just need to be ground up small enough to fit in the tube. Man, if this works - and it will - I am awesome."

Sam was smirking. "What took you so long to come up with that?"

"Fuck you," Dean growled. "We were busy."

A few weeks later, when they were helping Chris and Beth on a ghost problem, Dean laid down a circle of salt on the floor. And it worked.

"See? I told you!" Dean said excitedly.

"Good for you," Sam groused, annoyed at hearing, for the tenth time, how Dean was going to re-caulk all the windows at Harvelle's and re-do the weather-stripping on the Impala.

In the course of blowing salt rounds at the ghost, they'd hit the family's cat and killed it. Sam re-animated it, reciting the spell from memory, and it walked off without so much as a meow of gratitude.

"Good job on translatin' the ritual," Dean said later that night as they sat on the back end of the car.

"Good job on your salt thing," Sam told him.

They knocked their beers together.

"The cat was limpin' when it left," Dean mumbled.

"The family wants to bill us for the damage your salt line did to their floor," Sam returned.

"Eh," Dean shrugged, taking a drink. "Nothin's perfect."

11

"What's that?" The demon asked, laughing at them from the stake where they'd secured him. "A shotgun? A stupid, cheap-looking shotgun? It's sure as hell not the Colt."

There was no light out here, out back of the bar, and its black eyes looked like the night sky was peeking through its face.

"No, it's not the Colt, it's the Winchester." Dean blew a hole in its leg and the demon lit up like a Christmas tree.

"Kills demons?" Sam called out.

"Kills demons," Dean confirmed. He looked down at the remaining vessel and pumped the shotgun angrily. "What're you callin' 'cheap-looking'? Asshole."

The vessel, who was again a man named Douglas Cooper, blinked up at Dean, distraught. "What happened to me?"

Dean slid the shotgun into the holster he'd created for it, which made it sit across his back where he could pull it like a sword. He didn't care if Sam made fun of it or not.

Sam jogged over and they helped the guy to his feet.

"We're gonna take you inside," Dean told him.

"We'll explain everything," Sam promised.

They hauled him back to the bar where Warsaw was on stand-by.

12

It was April 2029 when they were sitting together behind the bar. The news came on the old television set usually reserved for sporting events and shows that Dean pretended he didn't watch.

The world was apparently up in arms about some asteroid that was going to hit the earth. Dean grabbed the remote from under the bar and toggled the set off mute.

He elbowed Sam. "It's that asteroid, Adonis."

"Apophis," Sam corrected, looking up.

"Whatever."

They watched it for a few minutes, until it was just a bunch of talking heads all reiterating the same thing. It was funny how they kept saying "Scientists say there's no reason at this time to panic" but using words like "end times" and "damage projection."

Dean shook his head and re-muted it. "It's always somethin', isn't it?"

"It's not gonna hit us," Sam said. "There's only like a three percent chance. And even if it does, there's worse ways to flame out."

"Kids today and their killer asteroids," Dean joked. "Back in our day, it was the Apocalypse, Purgatory exploding and the fucking Leviathans."

"They don't know how easy they have it," Sam said, in all seriousness, before catching himself and burying his face in his palm. "Dude, are we really this old?"

Dean laughed. "I think so."

13

The asteroid missed the earth, but that was the year Dean had a heart attack while they slept, and Sam couldn't wake him up.

Three days later, Dean woke up in New Orleans smelling like herbs and woodsmoke, with an old black woman thumbing his eyelids up.

Sam was sitting next to the bed and jumped up when Dean moved on his own. The inside of Dean's mouth felt like a cheap motel towel. He licked his lips and started to talk, but nothing came out. Sam propped him up enough to get water into him. "Your heart gave out."

"Was it the bacon or the whiskey?" Dean rasped.

All Sam said, so quiet that Dean had to strain to hear it, was, "I just..." His voice sounded thick and choked off. His lower lip shook. "I just wasn't ready."

Dean nodded with a dry half-laugh. "What'd it cost ya?"

Sam didn't answer, but his usually tanned face looked bloodless, his hair seemed to have gone gray in the time Dean was out, and there was a weird symbol branded into his forearm. He just looked at Dean, and Dean knew what question he was asking without needing to hear it.

Dean nodded and Sam helped him get back into his clothes.

14

Exactly one year and two days later, a hunter had jimmied the lock on Harvelle's, worried because it hadn't been opened. She found the Winchesters sitting closely together on a sofa, their hands wrapped around empty bottles, each of their faces turned toward the other. They were dead.

Two days and six hours after that, a lawyer called Chris Deeds and Beth Cruz.

They were as surprised as anyone to hear they'd inherited Harvelle's and the surrounding lands, a not-insignificant investment portfolio, a dog named Ash and a 1967 Chevy Impala.

The lawyer told them that there was a few conditions before he could show them the rest.

"The rest?" they said together, as they sometimes did.

First, they had to commit to tending the bar and keeping up what the Winchesters had built. That included, the lawyer explained, all the day-to-day operations as the Winchesters themselves had painstakingly laid out in a contract. The "contract", in this case, was a journal.

They opened it and in Dean's blunt, all-capitals scrawl was a note of each service that Harvelle's handled. All the way from the kind of snacks that were stocked under the counter, to the music that must remain on the jukebox at all costs, to the bank of official phones, to the emergency medical care that Harvelle's sometimes provided. This also included maintaining the phone bank in the back whenever it rang. The car was not to be sold, re-painted or modified in any other way except what was necessary to keep it running.

The lawyer explained that if, for any reason, the two of them didn't want to be held to these terms, or set in motion for these terms to be met (in case they wanted to continue to hunt rather than settle down), all bets were off the table, and he was to begin a nationwide search for "a good fit" for the Winchester legacy.

Chris and Beth looked at each other, coming to the agreement right there.

Chris nodded, in awe. "Of course we'll do it."

Beth's eyes were damp.

They were honored, frankly, that the Winchesters thought that highly of them.

They signed everything and the lawyer, satisfied that he didn't need to swap blood with them, pushed a brown envelope across the table. Inside were three keys: two keys for two separate safes, one of which held The Winchester itself, and a larger one which held the schematics for things Dean had invented, and for useful, but dangerous, rituals that Sam had translated.

The third was the key to the Impala.

Inside the envelope was a piece of paper that had seen better days, and the envelope itself looked like it had been torn open and re-sealed multiple times.

In competing scrawls were various directives from the Winchesters, apparently as they had occurred to them over the past year:

Watch out for each other. D.W.

Call 759-555-1298 and ask for a guy named Boots. Tell him you both need an anti-possession tattoo and get it as soon as possible. He's expecting you. S.W.

My pearl-handled Colt .45 is under the bar. If I find out one of you sold it, I'll haunt your dumb asses. D.W.

The knife in the top drawer in the operations room kills demons. S.W.

The car vents make a rattling noise but it don't hurt anything. Don't try to fix it. D.W.

Dr. Warsaw always drinks for free. S.W.

One had been hastily scratched out: The dog likes bacon. D.W.

Please don't feed the dog bacon. S.W.

15

Sam and Dean Winchester woke up with a start inside the car.

The windows were down and a cool breeze was blowing in.

Sam looked at him, all long-haired and smooth puppy face again. "Morning."

"Mornin', Sammy," Dean mumbled, stretching. On some level he noticed the lack of pain in every single bone and muscle, and expected it. "You hungry?"

"I could eat," Sam said.

Dean pushed an Aerosmith cassette into the tape player as the car started with a rumble.

The first sign they saw on the road said Grand Canyon National Park, 103 mi.