Actions

Work Header

We Drank a Thousand Times

Chapter Text

July 1998

It's a hot Saturday night, and Jay's sitting in his usual spot, nursing a beer and watching a fight brewing over by the pool tables. It's three on one, Jimmy and Earl and Big Eddie against a new kid, and it hasn't come to blows yet but Jay's pretty sure that's only a matter of time. The kid's been hustling those three all night, and by Jay's estimation they're more than five hundred in the hole. 

The new kid's young; real young, could pass for sixteen without breaking a sweat. Watching him, Jay's pretty sure he's older than he looks, but not by much. Grown men don't like getting scammed by someone whose stubble still grows in patchy, but that ain't the whole problem, either. They get kids in here sometimes. This place don't exactly run straight by the letter of the law, so it's not all that uncommon for tough little punks to hang around in search of a pool game and an easy mark.

The real problem is how goddamn pretty the kid is. Not just good-looking but downright pretty, a porn director's wet-dream even with the ratty clothes and the crew cut. Jimmy and Earl and Eddie probably figured him for easy pickings, and Jay can't entirely blame them; with a face like that, it's easy to miss the strength in his wiry arms, the easy balance in his posture, the spark of pure crazy in his big green eyes. Even Jay didn't figure him for a hustler at first, and he's usually got an eye for that kind of thing.

There's another kid with him, even younger, a gangly puppy dog of a teenager watching from the sidelines with an expression that's half-worried, half-resigned. Brothers, Jay thinks, and takes another pull on his beer.

The kid sets his cue against the dirty floor, leans into it a little, grinning. "Believe you fellows owe me some cash."

"You believe wrong," snarls Big Eddie. He's the one who lost most of the money, mostly because he's a big dumb drunk who don't know how to figure out when he's getting played.

The kid grins wider, bouncing on the balls of his feet like he knows how this is gonna go down and doesn't mind it one bit. "Come on, don't be like that, I'll even buy you a beer. You lost fair and square. Three times."

Fair and square is probably stretching it, but Eddie kept on betting after the kid sucked him in and started milking it, so Jay figures he deserves to clean out his wallet.

"I don't lose to pretty-boy faggots like you," Eddie says, balling up his huge fists, and just like that the tension that's been rocketing up snaps, hard. The pool cue becomes a weapon in the kid's bony hands, cracking in half across Eddie's broad face almost before Jay sees him move; the thin end spins off to clatter on the floor and the kid reverses his grip and drives the blunt end into Eddie's gut with violent precision.

Eddie folds, gasping, and the kid kicks his knees out from under him, then shoves the cue under his throat like the muzzle of a gun. It takes all of five seconds, and Jimmy and Earl are still rocking back in shock when the kid turns to his brother. His expression is manic and more than a little bloodthirsty. "Get the money, Sammy."

"Dean--"

"Now."

Sammy grimaces awkwardly, glancing up around the bar. Mostly, nobody's paying much attention. People get knocked down sometimes at Rocky's, and if you ain't already in the middle of the situation, it's usually smart to keep clear. All he's really got to worry about are Jimmy and Earl, but that could make for a problem. Sammy moves like he knows how to handle himself but he's really just a kid, not more than fifteen and maybe not even that; he don't have the bulk to take on two full-grown men, even if he knows the theory.

It don't take long for Jimmy and Earl to get past the shock of seeing Big Eddie pinned by a wiry little twink, and just like Jay figured they're going from surprised to pissed off pretty damn quick.

"Oh, hell," he mutters, drains his beer and slides off his bar stool. He don't like to get involved with this type of bullshit, but he's not gonna just stand by while those gorillas lay the smackdown on a couple of kids.

And it's not like he really has to do anything. Just slides in next to the pool table, picks up an extra cue, and says, "Looked like y'all owed these boys some money."

"They scammed us," Jimmy says sullenly, but he's already backing down, fists unclenching. He tangled with Jay once, a few years back, and he ain't yet been stupid enough to try it a second time.

"Ought to be a lesson to you, then," Jay says mildly. To his left, Dean's giving him a narrow-eyed look, like he ain't quite sure what the hell Jay's up to. "Come on, now. You don't want to make me do this the old-fashioned way, do you?"

He hooks a finger under the chain around his neck and pulls out the dogtags he still wears under his shirt. Not that it earns him much respect around here, but it's enough to remind those two that settling things with him the old-fashioned way still ain't the best idea in town.

Jimmy's eyes follow the movement, and then he turns his head aside and spits contemptuously. "Fine. Fucking queers can stick together."

"Oh, now don't be like that," Jay says, and grins at his face. Then turns to the younger brother. Sammy. Sam. "Kid, y'all better get your winnings and hightail it out of here."

Sam opens his mouth like he's going to protest, and his brother shoots him a glance. "Sammy."

"Fine." His tone is snippy, but Jay don't miss the nervous way he's hunching his shoulders when he reaches for the stack of twenties on the table. From the floor, Eddie opens his mouth, red-faced, but he closes it again when Dean jams the pool cue viciously into his throat. 

Sam actually counts out the cash, and Dean makes a huffing, impatient noise. "That's my money, Sam."

"Screw you," Sam mutters, but he hands it over. Dean pockets it, tosses the pool cue aside, and turns, finally, to face Jay.

"Thanks," he says. He don't really sound like he means it, but Jay wasn't expecting any kind of gratitude at all, so it's something.

"Don't mention it," Jay says, keeping on an eye on Eddie while the big lug struggles to his feet. "Y'all get on out of here, now."

For a minute, Dean looks like he's gonna say something else, but he finally just shakes his head, grabs his brother by the arm, and steers him out the door.

***

It never really gets cool in Canfield, North Carolina in July, but at least outside there's a breeze coming in off the river and the air doesn't stink of sweat and beer. It's late enough that it's quiet--hell, in a town this size, it's lights-out after nine-thirty. Streetlamps just light up the five blocks of main road, and once they cross the highway there's no light but the half-moon riding low on the horizon. An old farm truck rumbles past them as they cross over the bridge on the way out of town, but other than that it might as well be a ghost town. 

Except for Sam, of course. Dean's been counting down in his head since they left the bar behind them, and sure enough--

"What the hell was that?" Sam's voice is just starting to change, cracking in a way Dean's never did. It makes his periodic attempts at sternness downright comical.

"What?"

"You tried to start a bar fight!"

"I didn't try anything," Dean says. His palms tingle with the satisfying memory of the pool cue cracking when he hit that fat fucker in the head, and even though he knows it'll just aggravate Sammy he can't resist a grin. "I put that son of a bitch down."

"You could have gotten hurt."

"Nah." He thumbs the roll of bills stuffed in the pocket of his jeans; most of the back rent they owe old man McGee. Enough to keep him off their backs until Dad gets back, hopefully. "We need the money. Couldn't risk him trying to welch on the bet."

"Sure," Sam grumbles. "That's why you hit him."

"He did have it coming. Mouthy bastard, wasn't he?"

"Dean..."

"Well, he was." 

One of these days, he's gonna be able to walk into a bar without some douchebag calling him a faggot or trying to pick him up. Until then, he's more than happy to do a little re-educating where it's needed. Kind of like a public service.

"You're such an asshole," Sam says. "You're lucky that guy showed up when he did."

"I had it covered. And this asshole is the one paying for your freaking cavity-inducing sugar fixation, so watch your mouth."

Sam makes a sound somewhere between a snort and a groan. It sounds kind of like a dying cat. "Whatever."

It's a good two mile hike to the trailer park, and by the time they get there Dean's joints feel puffy and swollen with the heat. Their door's hanging open a little--damn thing never latches, not that they have anything valuable to worry about in there--and he's just hoping there aren't raccoons inside again. It's after two in the morning. All he wants to do is lock the doors, chug a soda and pass out without having to chase oversized rodents out of the kitchen cabinets, and he says as much to Sam.

"Raccoons are procyonids," says Sam around a yawn. "Not rodents."

Dean kicks the door shut and stares at him. "How are you such a geek?"

"Some of us actually go to class." He can't see Sam's face, but he can hear the pout.

Dean flicks on the sputtering yellow overhead light and takes a look around. No procyonids to be seen. "Lock the doors, would you? I'm ready to crash."

He doesn't hear whatever it is Sam mumbles back at him, but at this point he's too tired to care. Bed's not anything fancy, just two twin mattresses shoved against the loose faux-wood paneling in the smaller of the two bedrooms. Dad's off on a hunting trip (by himself, because apparently it's too dangerous for Dean this time) and one of them could probably take his room, but that doesn't quite feel right, somehow.

He's pretty much used to sharing a room with Sam at this point, anyway. No big deal.

***

They manage to avoid old man McGee for the next couple of days. Dean's winnings are enough to cover maybe two thirds of their back rent and if he does some fast talking, that might be enough, but he'd rather not test it. Especially since Dad'll be back any day now. 

Sam doesn't outright argue when Dean tells him that, but he does point out that Dean's been saying that for the past three weeks. Which is true, but it doesn't mean anything. Dad's on a job. He got bogged down. It happens. It's not like he hasn't been in touch.

"...right," Sam says, dropping a can of tomato soup into their cart.

Dean adds three cans of chicken noodle, the cheap brand that all the little groceries out here sell. It'd be cheaper at the big chain store up the road, but that's a ten mile hike. "Dude, do we have to go over this again? I talked to Pastor Jim yesterday and he said--"

Sam kicks his foot. "Hush."

"What?"

He looks up. It's the guy from the bar, coming up the aisle with a basket full of beer and sandwich fixings. Dean didn't get a good look at him at the bar the other night, but there's not much more to see during the day. He's nothing special. Just a guy, early thirties, lean and unshaven, sandy hair too long and falling in his eyes. Something about the way he moves catches the eye, though. Economical, balanced, like a hunter or a soldier. He had dogtags on in the bar, Dean remembers, and there's no reason to think they weren't legit.

He sees them, makes no pretense that he doesn't, but just as Dean's filling up his mouth with friendly small-talk that he really doesn't want to do right now, the guy gives them a nod and walks past without a word.

Dean's watching him disappear around the corner when Sam kicks him again. "Ow! What?"

"You could have said thank you."

"I did say thank you. The other night." Sam opens his mouth, and Dean cuffs him upside the head. "Come on. Can we finish shopping before I keel over of starvation?"

Mae at the counter is always good for a little bit of sweet-talking; Dean's pretty sure she can see right through him, but that doesn't stop her from blushing and dimpling up when he tells her he likes her new shirt. She's got a frowzy, overblown kind of prettiness that he likes, even if she is old enough to have a daughter Sam's age. Experience is just a bonus. Shame she has a husband. He's a useless dick, but Dean's been trying to stay away from the whole adultery scene when he can avoid it. Especially in towns like these, where everybody and their cousin has a gun-rack in the back window. It would be pretty embarrassing to survive ghoulies and ghosties only to get blown away by a jealous husband.

Still, Mae needs to smile more, so he doesn't feel too guilty about laying it on extra-thick today. If there's one thing Dean Winchester is good at, it's making women smile.

The fact that she slips a couple of prepackaged sticky-buns in his bag after he pays is just a bonus.

"That wasn't nice of you," Sam tells him when the door swings shut behind them.

"Shut up and eat your sweets," Dean says absently. The guy from the bar is at the counter now, and from the way Mae's talking to him, they're old friends. 'Course, with a town like this, that's hard to tell; it's small and Southern, which means that everybody chats with everybody. Through the window, Dean watches her throw back her head and laugh, frosted-blonde curls bouncing. Bar Guy is smiling, too, but it's more reserved, tucked into the corners of his mouth like he's not sure he wants to let it out. He's kind of a no-color guy, sandy hair, worker's tan and pale blue eyes, brown t-shirt and faded jeans.

"Are we going to stand out here all day, or what?" Sam says.

Dean blinks, looks down at his little brother. "Have you always been this much of a pain in the ass? I can't remember."

"Shut up," Sam grumbles around a mouthful of pastry. "Can we go now?"

"Yeah," Dean says, turning away. "Let's go."

***

Their luck had to run out sooner or later and sure enough, when they get back to the trailer there's old man McGee sitting on the front step with a shotgun across his lap, heavy gut spilling over his belt, sweat-stains on his ratty wifebeater. "Hi, boys."

Dean hands his bag to Sam and shifts to stand between him and McGee. He doesn't really care for the way McGee's been looking at his brother. Not like he's never sold his ass to pay the rent, but it's different if it's Sammy. A fat greasebag like McGee has no call to be looking at Sammy like he's a side of beef. "Hey, Roger. We've been trying to catch up to you. Got some rent money for you."

"That's right good to hear," says McGee, stroking the barrel of his .16 gauge thoughtfully. "I was afraid I was gonna hafta take it out of your hides."

Dean laughs, hopes it doesn't sound as hollow as it feels. "Now why would you think a thing like that?"

"Oh, you know." McGee heaves himself to his feet. "Tough times. Folks skipping out on their rent. Makes an honest businessman a mite twitchy."

Honest businessman, my ass. "Well, twitch no more." He hands over the roll of bills tucked in the pocket of his jeans, five hundred dollars minus what they scraped off for groceries. Hoping McGee won't count it, but of course the greasy bastard won't make it easy on them. Sam shifts his weight nervously behind him while McGee thumbs through the money.

"This ain't all you owe me."

Dean hears Sam draw in breath, and he steps back hard on his little brother's foot. "We'll get you the rest."

"Seems I been hearing that a lot lately," says McGee.

"Cross my heart." He places a hand on his chest. "Would I lie to you, Roger?"

McGee grunts, looks him up and down, beady eyes assessing. "You better not. You got to next week to pay me, or I amtaking it out of you boys one way or another. We clear?"

And yeah, Dean doesn't miss the way McGee's eyes flicker toward Sam. Manfully, he resists the urge to put his fist in the man's face. Dad's gonna be back by next week anyway, and he can always go scam a few more dumb drunks down at Rocky's in the meantime. He's totally on top of this. "Crystal."

"Good." McGee bumps his shoulder carelessly as he walks past, and Dean just barely has the self-control to keep from tripping him flat on his face in the dust.

"Did you hear him?" Sam hisses when McGee's out of earshot. "He's going to shoot us if we don't pay him."

Dean doesn't bother to clarify the misconception. "Yeah, Sam, I heard him. We'll get the money. Let's get that food inside before it all goes bad, huh?"

***

"Boss, I'm heading out."

Jay sets his lug wrench down and leans around the oversized wheel on the battered Dodge 4X4 he's currently working on. "You done already?"

George is already halfway out the door. "I'll finish her up on Monday," he says, and the door slams shut. 

Jay swears under his breath and tightens the last lug nut with a sharp jerk. Seems like all the goddamn cars in town just up and decided to break down right around the same time his latest deadbeat employee quit, and the downside of owning the place is that he's the one who gets to pick up the slack.

It's a job. It's a good job, even if he has to remind himself of that from time to time. Dillon's Garage was a tumbledown old wreck when Jay took it over and he never did bother with prettying it up, but he does alright. Better than alright, really. Town this size, there ain't much competition.

He likes the work, for the most part. Likes cars better than he does most people, and other than a tumbledown farmhouse on a couple acres of rocky land and ten thousand dollars of debt that he's been chipping at for the past five years, it's all he has left of his parents. They didn't exactly part on friendly terms and he wasn't planning to stick around when he came back to take care of the estate a few years back, but--

Well, by that point, he didn't have anyplace else to be. It's alright, though. It's home.

It's dark by the time he closes up, and he's got half a mind to just drive home, but it's been a couple of days since he's swung by Rocky's. Maybe long enough that Earl and his asshole friends won't get up his ass about stepping in the other night, maybe not, but either way he's got just as much a right to be there as any one of them. No matter how much some of those boys like to run their mouths.

It's probably the ornery streak that decides him, in the end.

He's smoking by the bar and shooting the breeze with some traveling salesman from Memphis when those two goddamn kids walk in again. It's just like the last time; Dean all swagger and attitude that he don't quite have the years to pull off yet, Sam trailing in his wake like a sulky shadow. They make a beeline for the pool tables.

"Heard those Winchester boys got into it with Big Eddie," says Marty behind the bar. The Bud Light sign above the door reflects off the shiny brown dome of his head.

"Yup," Jay says succinctly, stubbing his smoke out in one of the jam jar lids that serve as ashtrays in this fine establishment.

"Heard you got into it too."

Jay shrugs. "Just a friendly word about paying his debts. Didn't hardly have to say a thing."

Marty sighs. "Just watch your back, okay?"

Mister Traveling Salesman is looking back and forth between them like it's a ping-pong tournament or something. Jay shrugs again, deliberately slow. "Don't see how it's such a big thing."

"Try not to be any dumber than your mama made you," Marty says sharply, setting the glass he's wiping down with an audible thump. "You stepping in to save some pretty kid--"

"He ain't a day under nineteen." At least that's what Mae told him when he asked about those boys, and for all Dean's soft mouth and big sleepy eyes make him look younger, Jay's inclined to believe it. "And that ain't got a thing to do with it."

"You know how it's gonna look," Marty finishes like Jay hasn't said a word. "I'm not saying anything, you know that. Just, you know how it's gonna look."

"I don't give a good goddamn how it looks," Jay says, a little more snap in his voice than he means. Mister Traveling Salesman slides nervously off his seat and slinks over to the other end of the bar, and Jay ignores him. "Get me another beer, would you?"

"Boy, you got some kind of death wish," says Marty, and plunks the bottle down in front of him.

Jay grins. "Nah. You betting against those two?"

Marty peers nearsightedly over at the pool tables, where Dean is cleaning out another traveling-salesman type, a pinched-looking guy with too much hair on top and the kind of little smirk that says he thinks he's too good for this kind of place. Sam is tucked into a booth nearby with a soda and a hardcover book as thick as Jay's head, pointedly ignoring his brother. Kid's gonna ruin his eyes reading in this light.

"Well?"

"I'm betting you get your head bashed in one of these days," Marty says, sounding annoyed.

"You volunteering for the job, old man?"

"Don't tempt me." Marty flicks the wet bar rag at Jay and turns away to start pouring beers for the cluster of field hands that just rolled in.

Over by the pool tables, the guy is scowling while Dean counts a stack of bills. He says something, and his face falls when the guy shakes his head sharply and stalks away.

Jay shakes his head and applies his attention to his beer, and he only half-notices when Dean flops onto a bar-stool a few seats down from him. When his bottle's half-empty, the kid's still sitting there, staring absently at the dusty old moose-head Marty keeps over the bar. Jay looks down at his beer, back at Dean, and sighs. Marty's right. One of these days, he's gonna get his sorry ass lynched. "Hey, kid. Winchester, right?"

Dean controls his startle fast, gives him a narrow-eyed look. "Yeah?"

"Come here a minute."

Dean slides off his chair and edges marginally closer, crossing his arms over his chest. His elbows form two bony points, and his eyes are narrowed. "What?"

"Heard you boys have some money troubles."

"Yeah? Who told you that?"

"Don't take a genius to figure it out." Dean's Led Zeppelin t-shirt is bleach-stained and ratty around the collar, and it looks like it might be older than he is. "But Mae's a good friend of mine, and she mighta mentioned something."

"Nice lady," Dean says guardedly. "What's it to you?"

"Might have a way for you to earn some quick cash, if you're interested."

Just like that, Dean's suspicious expression goes flat and cold. "Dude, I don't know what you're thinking, but I'm not a mule and I'm not for sale."

The not yet is unspoken, but Jay's been around the block enough times to hear it anyway. Kid like that, it probably wouldn't be the first time.

"I'm not buying," he says mildly. "Got a garage up on Whitehorn Road, could use a few extra hands."

"Yeah?" Dean lifts his chin. "Doing what?"

"Depends how much you know about cars."

That gets him an almost-smile, still edged with something a little too hard to be called fear. "You're actually serious, aren't you?"

Jay lifts his beer. "Wouldn't have offered if I wasn't." The Coors is spit-warm and foamy on his tongue, and he grimaces as he puts the bottle down. "You turn up on Monday, I'll put you to work. If not, it's no skin off my nose. Your choice."

Dean hesitates, glances over toward his brother. "I'll think about it," he says finally.

Jay shrugs, gets to his feet. Bar's getting too crowded this time of night, and he's got a six-pack of cold beer and a date with his lounge chair waiting for him at home. "You do that."

***

Jay isn't honestly sure whether or not he's expecting the two of them to turn up, but when he rolls into the parking lot a little after six on Monday, they're standing there like a pair of skinny ghosts in the morning fog. He can feel them staring at him as he crosses the lot, weaving between the old junkers that make up the bulk of his custom, but he just nods vaguely and unlocks the front door.

"Got a coffee maker in the office," he says without looking up. Kids like this are like wild animals; you gotta be careful if you don't want them to fight or run. "Bagels, too. They're probably stale, but they'll do you if you're not fussy."

They both shift their feet restlessly, but it's Sam who finally speaks. "Thanks." 

"Don't mention it," Jay says, standing aside to let them pass him into the shop. "Ain't a handout. I do need the help around here and I'm expecting you to work." It's more or less the truth, even if he don't need the help anywhere near as much as those two need the money.

It's cool and dark inside, and he breathes deep the familiar smell of dirt and axle grease. This is his favorite time of day, when the sun hangs low on the eastern horizon and the road is quiet and his shop ain't full of chattering idiots. There's just these two boys, and they don't seem inclined to chat. He starts up the coffee, jerks his chin at the mini-fridge on his desk. "Bagels and cream cheese in there. Help yourself."

Sam hesitates by the door, and Dean gives him a shove inside. "See if there's any onion in there, Sammy."

"Gross, man." Sam wrinkles his nose, but opens the fridge and rummages through the plastic grocery bag. He lobs a bagel at his brother's head, and Dean catches it deftly and grins. Out of the corner of his eye Jay can catch the shape of it, wide and sunny and nothing like the defensive smirk he's been wearing the last few times Jay ran across him.

He looks away. Dean's a good-looking kid, and old enough that 'kid' probably ain't the right word for him, but Jay's damned if he's gonna make any of the nasty rumors about himself true.

The coffee maker belches out a cloud of steam, and he pours himself a cup before turning to lean against the edge of the counter. "Either of you boys know anything about mechanics?"

"Dean does," says Sam, with a sideways glance at his brother.

"Yeah, Sammy's useless in a shop," says Dean around a mouthful of bagel. The wariness isn't gone, not by a long shot, but it's softened by interest now. Or maybe it's just that Jay's feeding him. "He likes books, the freak."

"You're a freak," Sam mutters, but he's smiling when he bites into his own stale bagel like it's the best thing he's ever tasted.

"Right," Jay says. "So. Last high-school dropout I hired up and quit on me. Job's two hundred a week, cash only. That do you?"

Dean chews his lip for a moment, thoughtful, then nods abruptly. "Yeah," he says at last. "That'd be great."

"Good," Jay says, and stick out his hand. Dean shakes it, warm grip firm. He's got calluses on his hands and grease under his nails, and maybe this won't turn out the be a total charity case after all.

***

Liking the car part of it doesn't come as a surprise. Sam can get on his case all he wants about dropping out, but even if it weren't for the hunt, there isn't much school can teach Dean that he wants to know. He's always understood the shape of the world with his hands.

The rest of it's pretty cool too, though, and that does come as a surprise. Jay doesn't honestly seem to care where the two of them are from or what they're doing in Canfield, and the other guys back off after Dean's explanations start to involve flying saucers, but for the most part everybody's friendly. And yeah, getting up early enough to catch a ride in with Jerry from across the park kind of completely sucks, especially since Sam doesn't get why Dean won't let him stay home by himself and likes to express his displeasure with the situation loudly and often. Like hell is Dean leaving him anywhere near McGee's clutches without supervision, though, and even with his bitching it's kind of nice to have a regular schedule.

None of that quite compares to the satisfaction he gets when he knocks on McGee's front door and shoves his first week's paycheck in the fucker's face, though. At this rate, they might even manage to save up a cushion by the time Dad gets back. If this is what it's like to be a regular Joe, he guesses it's not so bad. 

He hears the rumors, though. Well, freaking duh, Dad taught him well enough that he knows to look out for anything funny going on, which means that he gets wise to a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with murderous supernatural entities. Dean is plugged in. He hears stuff.

In this particular case, he'd have to be deaf, blind, and a moron not to get wind of the stories about Jay. Military. Marines, is what George at the desk says. "Until they gave him the boot. I heard it was a dishonorable discharge or something. You know, for conduct unbecoming an officer, or whatever they call it when you turn homo."

Dean smiles and passes over the socket wrench and doesn't bother explaining that dishonorable discharge is mostly what you get when you go shoot some random civvie full of holes, not when you get caught blowing an NCO behind the mess.

Mike, a grizzled old ex-con with a few Navy tattoos, takes Dean aside his third day at the shop and asks him how he's doing.

Dad's in way over his head on some freaking hunt three states over and I can't cover his six because I'm stuck here in the ass-end of nowhere babysitting my little brother, how the hell do you think I'm doing, is what he thinks.

"Dude, I'm great," is what he says.

"Okay," Mike says. He's jittery in a way that makes Dean think he might have a coke habit, but he's a decent kind of guy for a washed-up old nutcase. "You just take care of yourself. Take care of that brother of yours, too. 'Specially around Jay."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Dean asks, like he doesn't already have a pretty good idea.

"Nothin'," Mike says hastily. "I ain't saying nothin'. Jay's a good guy, don't let nobody tell you different. Just watch yourself, huh?"

Yeah, in case the freaky queer mechanic breaks into his place to steal his little brother or something. Could be worse, it's not like they're burning crosses on the guy's front lawn, but Dean finds the whole thing a little weird. Last place they were living was a fourth-floor walk-up in Vegas, right smack in the middle of the district where rich assholes go to get their freak on with teenage boys. Dean used to hang out on the stoop with this tough little hooker named Carlos, sharing smokes and shooting the breeze while they watched the Volvos and Lexuses crawl up and down the block.

Compared to some of the people who hung around there, Jay's about as square as it gets, and Dean doesn't really get why half the town seems to care so damn much which flavor the guy likes to bang when it doesn't seem like he's actually banging anybody at all.

Come to think about it, Dean's not entirely sure why he spends so much time thinking about it himself, either.

"Hey, Jay," he says in the middle of the second week. He's bleeding the brake lines of this little Ford Escort that's got more rust on it than paint, and Jay's in the driver's seat with one of his ubiquitous cigarettes dangling from his fingers out the window. It makes Dean wonder if customers ever kick up a fuss about the tobacco smell.

"Yeah?"

"You got a wife or something? Never see you with anybody." 

Hey, nobody ever said he was subtle. He pokes his head out from under the chassis in time to see Jay's long fingers flick a column of ash on the shop floor, and when he speaks he sounds caught somewhere between wary and amused. "You know I ain't got a wife or a girl or anybody like that, Dean."

It's not often he calls Dean by his first name; mostly it's boy or kid or hey you. Dean ducks his head back under the car, smelling asphalt and brake fluid. "Yeah," he admits. "I guess I do."

"Alright, then." There's the soft, squishy noise of the brakes pumping, and more liquid dribbles into the five-gallon bucket next to Dean's head. "Still feel kinda soft. There's air in the line."

And that's the end of that conversation.

***

Another two weeks, and Dad is still not. Fucking. Home.

Times like this, Dean sort of wishes he wasn't working at the garage. The regular paycheck is kind of nice, but right about now he's wishing he had an excuse to go into Rocky's and pick a fight.

"How you boys set for money?" Dad asks during his nightly phone call. It's after seven, sticky-hot and the sky is heavy with rain that isn't ready to fall. They're at the table, eating cold mac and cheese with the cheap fan blowing right in their faces, and Dean still feels like he's about to start melting any second now.

"We're good, Dad," he says, looping the phone cord around his wrist like a handcuff. A sticky, coiled handcuff. "Picking up some hours at a garage in town."

"Good." Dad sighs. "That's good, son. You know I'll be back in a few days."

"Yessir," Dean says, ignoring the look Sam is giving him across the kitchen table. This is their ritual, and maybe it's stupid that it makes him feel better to hear it, but it's still true. "I know. Kick some ass."

He keeps a smile on his face until there's static on the other end, then sets the phone down. Sam jabs a fork at his plastic bowl of mac and cheese. "Did he say when he'll be home?"

"A couple of days," Dean tells him firmly. "Just a couple of days."

"Right," Sam mutters. He looks sweaty and ill-tempered. Dean waits to see if he's going to make some kind of wiseass remark, but he doesn't. Smart move.

***

The next day is slow as hell, mostly because anybody with half a brain is sitting at home in front of the open fridge door. It's pretty cool in the garage, though, and Dean bums a cigarette from George and goes around to the front to smoke it. Sam's gonna give him hell if he sees, but Sam's off in the back room with his head buried in some ginormous book he stole from the library, so he's safe for now.

He draws in a mouthful of smoke and blows it out into the heavy air. This time of year, the heat has burnt all the scrub grass out front yellow, and the trees along the side of the road look droopy.

"That ain't good for you, you know," says Jay, coming up beside him with one of his Marlboro Reds hanging from his lower lip. He's got a ball-cap pulled low over his sandy hair, and Dean can see the outline of his dogtags under his t-shirt. Funny how he still wears them, after everything.

"Yup," Dean says, flicking ash at the oil-stained concrete floor, and Jay smiles, creasing the beginnings of laugh lines at the corners of his eyes.

"Reckon I don't have much call to talk."

Dean glances up, grins at him. "Yeah, not so much. I don't smoke much. My dad would kick my ass if he caught me. He was a Marine," he adds offhandedly. "All about keeping in fighting trim, you know?"

If Jay was anybody else, that would have been his cue to mention his own stint in the Corps. Of course, he's Jay, which means that he just nods thoughtfully and takes another drag on his cigarette. The man's not much for talking. Dad would have a fit trying to interview him for a case, and that thought makes Dean grin wider.

And then, all of a sudden, Sam's there. He doesn't even seem to notice the cigarette that Dean drops when he grabs his arm. "Hey, Jay. Dean, can I talk to you for a second?"

"Sammy, what--" That's all he manages to get out before Sam is all but dragging him outside. Damn kid's getting strong. And he's babbling about a mile a minute, skipping whole parts of the sentences the way he always does when he's overexcited.

"--freaking finally, dude, I just talked to him--"

"Woah, woah, woah. Slow down." He gets his hands on Sam's shoulders, grips tight. Sam's humming like a live wire, all but bouncing in his ragged sneakers. "Okay. Start making sense."

"Dad called," Sam says. "He's on his way in now. He said to get packed."

***

Truth is, Jay's not expecting to see those boys again after the way they rushed out yesterday, but next morning, they're waiting in front of the garage like always. Sam's fidgeting, but Dean has lost almost all of the habitual tension he's carried since the moment Jay met him; he actually looks like a kid for a change. Instead of old Jerry's pickup, there's a sleek black muscle car idling on the other side of the lot, a late-sixties model Impala from the looks of it, beautiful car. He can see the dark shape of a big man behind the wheel, but it's too far away to make out any kind of detail.

"So," Jay says. "Reckon this is goodbye."

Sam fidgets, looking halfway between nervous and guilty, but Dean just sticks a hand out with a wry grin. "Yeah. Gotta move on, man. It's been great."

"Y'all take care of yourselves, you hear?" Jay unfolds his billfold, counts out ten twenty dollar bills.

"You don't have to--"

"Think I'm gonna stiff you for last week's work?" He shoves the money into Dean's hand. "Be seeing you."

Dean gives him a slanted grin, stuffs the money in his pocket, and adjusts the strap of his bag. "Seriously, Jay, thank you."

"Yeah," Jay says. "Get outta here. Your ride's waiting."

He watches the two of them cross the cracked pavement to where the car is parked, falling unconsciously into perfect unison, soldiers and brothers both.

He's got the strangest feeling he ain't seen the last of the Winchester boys.