Soul Searching, a Supernatural AU
by Meghan,
(Technical Consultant: Maygra)

Pairing: None yet, HOWEVER, this universe will be headed to the world of brotherly love,
and I don't mean Philadelphia. Er, that's m/m slash to you and me.
Rating: R/Mature
Warnings: H/C and Angst. Violence, much cursing, biological experimentation and
medical procedures of the ouchy variety. I feel like I should put the "disturbing subject matter" caveat here.
Spoilers: None, this is an AU in a big way.
Disclaimer: This is a fan authored work and no profit is being made. Please do not archive this
story without my permission. It will eventually make it to my website.
Author's Notes: This is the Prologue, if you will, of the Soul Searching Alternate Universe.
It is necessary to read this portion prior to any future chapters, however, it is more or less complete unto itself.

If this universe makes any sense at all, you have Maygra to thank, whom I share a brain with sometimes and is always there to hold my hand. I so totally owe her. In addition, my betas rock like the Detroit Red Wings!! They would be Aukestrel and Adonnchaid (my Stanford expert). If not for them, you'd be scratching your head right now wondering where the rest of the story was. They helped that much and any errors you find are strictly my own stubborness.

Corpus sine pectore; A body without a soul

November 2214 (Twenty-two years ago) Kansas

They called it curfew, which was a nice way of saying stay in your house if you don't want to be shot. But that was okay, because Mary Winchester couldn't imagine anywhere else she'd rather be than home with her 'boys'.

Mary crawled into bed, recalling how she and John had celebrated their sixth anniversary the night before and she smiled to herself remembering the leather bracelet he'd given her. There was a time when that would not have been considered much of a gift, but those days were long gone some twenty years gone. Besides, it was most definitely the thought that counted in their case. For as long as John and Mary had been together, they'd never had much more than each other, later, their sons.

"Have I told you how much I love you lately?" John had whispered in her ear as they lay in the dark of their bedroom after a glutinous dinner of hominy and homemade sausage. They'd paid far more than they could normally afford at the local government warehouse, but John had scoffed at her worry over food for the rest of the month. He always provided.

"Not in the last twenty minutes. You're slacking,” she'd teased and snuggled down in his arms, truly happy, despite the world outside.

Not really able to go to sleep until checking on her children, Mary slipped from beneath the comforter and went to look in on her chubby six-month old, Samuel. Satisfied he slept the sleep of the truly innocent, she paused at Dean's door and smiled at the way the sheet always got wrapped and tangled around her eldest son's legs within an hour of going to bed. Mary straightened the covers, kissed Dean's forehead and returned to bed.

She was about to drift off to sleep when she was jolted awake by a noise she knew instinctively was wrong.

"John?" she called but there was only silence. The spot beside her was empty and cold.

Cautiously she padded down the hall, looking for either her husband or the source of the strange sound. Her maternal instinct took her to Sam's room first. But the sight of a shadowed figure, taller than John and far more slender - almost skeletal really - breathing loud and harsh filled Mary with a cold dread which paralyzed her for too many seconds.

When the shadow noticed her presence, Mary came to life and launched herself at it with a snarl and cry of fury, knowing it would do no good. But maybe she could offer herself to save her son.

In seconds it was over. With a knife almost as long as its arm, the thing shoved the blade low into Mary's abdomen…and yanked upward. Mary's body emptied itself of organs as the thing lowered her to the floor and hovered over her body…waiting.

Mary tried but wasn't sure she'd succeeding in calling John's name. The dull roar of her soul fleeing her body blocked out all else.

Moments later John found his wife sprawled on the floor at the foot of Sam's baby bed, her intestines pooled around one hip. The rank smell of bile, blood and death almost made him gag.

"Mary! Mary!"

Ignoring the gore all around him, John clutched her to him, until Dean's cry jolted him out of his grief and back to the present danger.

"DAD! They're here!" John followed his eldest's pointing finger and saw the stealthy shadows hovering outside Sam's window.

Turning to the crib, John yanked Sam out of the bed, his yellow blanket trailing over the rails, and thrust the baby at Dean.

"Take your brother run to the closet we showed you. Don't look back, just go…NOW!" Dean rushed off with a plaintively wailing Sam held tightly in his arms.

In the next few seconds, John Winchester managed to grab his shotgun, some ammo, and the leather bracelet off the knife-sharp bones of his wife's wrist before retrieving his sons from the reinforced closet they'd established as a "safe" zone.

"Dean come on. Stay behind me until we get to the garage, then get in the car with Sam."

The man and the boy rushed through the house and Dean screamed, causing Sam to shriek even louder, when John discharged the shotgun in the face of a lurking shadow as it tried to prevent their escape. As the figure crumpled against the table, it knocked over a lamp that John had not yet extinguished for the night.

John didn't stop to make sure it was dead or bat at the flames. They made it to the car and with muttered curses, John slammed into gear and tore off into the night, leaving smoke from burning rubber mingling with that of the house.

In the backseat, Dean held little Sammy against his chest trying to soothe the child while scrunching his face up to stop his own tears for his mother.

The smoke from the house turned black and oily as some of the creatures were caught in the flames, while others angrily screeched their frustration. The house was totally engulfed in bright flames now and the attackers continued to scream.

People in nearby houses covered their ears and loaded their guns. No sirens wailed. There would be no aid. A few shots rang out in the night until the burning house collapsed in on itself and sent showers of smoke, ash and sparks into the night sky.

Later people would creep out of their homes and gather in front lawns, checking to see if anyone else had been taken or killed. And they'd whisper, "What a shame, such a nice family. They didn't deserve that."

No one did.

The next day a government van pulled onto the street. People in uniform poked around the still smoldering ruins of the house, but found only the remains of one body.

When asked, no one knew or would tell if they'd seen anyone escape. The Winchester's neighbors were polite but wary… like almost everyone these days.


January 2066 (One hundred and seventy years ago) Cambridge, MD

She had the distinction of being first. Her name would make the headlines all over America. Bethany Marie Tallinger, born 12:13 a.m., Friday, January 1, 2066 at Dorchester General Hospital. It all sounded very regal really, as befitted the first. The hospital gave her parents a shitload of newborn disposable diapers, a $100 gift certificate to the Baby Chalet (which might buy her a pacifier if they were lucky to find something so common at the exclusive shop) and a special birth certificate highlighted with glittery fireworks across the top.

Bethany was not impressed. She'd screamed like a banshee until her face turned an unnatural purple-black. She literally made life miserable for anyone within earshot. One attendant left the nursery crying hysterically, while two others struggled to pull themselves together and get Bethany cleaned up enough to wheel her down the hall to Mom. The more superstitious among them, the ones who had been around for over 40 years and still wore the white kerchiefs of their youth over grizzled grey hair, wondered at this portent for the coming year.

Connie and Murphy Tallinger where grinning ecstatically when the bassinet was rolled in. They'd wanted a baby for so long...had waited for so long. Bethany was the result of their patience…truly a miracle child.

The aide tried for what she hoped was a positive expression of encouragement as she placed the wailing bundle in Connie's arms. Watery neutral-colored eyes finally opened and the ear-splitting screams which had permeated every corner of the maternity wing since Bethany's birth eased into hitching sobs, then contented gurgling. As Connie opened the thin hospital gown to offer Bethany her first meal, like so many mothers before her, she wondered in awe at this tiny life she'd brought forth.

The baby only needed to be guided to Connie's nipple with one finger pressed to her perfect little mouth. Except for the loud guttural sucking noises, the hallway was quiet at last.

Connie imagined she could actually see her soul in the baby's myopic grey eyes. Yes, Bethany was the first.


May 2070 (One hundred and sixty-six years ago) Redmond, WA

It was an apt day for a funeral, although the weather was not atypical for Washington. A young woman's body, encased in velvet and steel, slowly lowered into the dark muddy ground beneath a black hole of umbrellas. Her husband stood at the edge of the pit, silent tears mixing with rain, but her mother sobbed noisily, interrupting the obnoxious sound periodically with exclamation of "It's not fair!" and "Why my Pamela?"

It was true. Her thoughts were not much different from those of the other mourners. Just more vocal. Pamela Baum had her whole life ahead of her. She was young, healthy (now) and the mother of 10-month old Jefferson. No one could understand why the universe saw fit to cure her cancer, and then allow her to die for inexplicable reasons.

Baby Jefferson, with his dark mahogany curls and striking blue eyes, was said to look just like his father. He had stayed home with his Aunt Sonja, Pam's sister, as the weather was deemed too inclement for the little fellow. And a rumor in the family suggested that's where he'd stay. Pam's husband, Marcus hadn't paid the slightest attention to Jeff since his wife's death, leaving all concerns and care for the baby to his sister-in-law - and Sonja couldn't have been more satisfied with the arrangement.

"What's my pretty boy doing?" she cooed at Jeff as she joined him on the floor playing at her urban apartment. "Building something for Aunt Sonja?"

The woman and child continued playing with the blocks and chatting, a continuous prattle of adult baby talk and infant nonsense words echoing through the rooms. From the moment Sonja had visited her sister in the hospital and laid eyes on the tiny bundle placed in her arms, she had been in love…and just a bit jealous. With her sister dead and Marcus showing not the least interest in his son now, Sonja was sure she would be the one chosen to raise Jeff.

"Hey, look…it's nap time, little man." Sonja scooped Jeff up and the baby laughed heartily. She blew on his stomach and he giggled and hiccupped. Once in his room, Sonja sat in the rocking chair she'd recently procured and rocked Jefferson to sleep with a soft lullaby.

Just before the baby closed his sparkling blue eyes, he looked happily up at her and Sonja could swear she felt their souls merge.

Six months later, when Sonja was laid to rest next to her sister on a day much like the last time her family had been to the cemetery, talk was rampant of a mysterious genetic disease which the doctors had not been able to identify.

It was hoped that Jefferson would be spared from the strange malady that had taken his mother and aunt.


October 2079 (One hundred and fifty-seven years ago) Sacramento, CA

It was being billed as an epidemic, but no one was really clear what kind. They said California was being hit the worst.

Jeremy and Melissa Smothers had packed up their most treasured belongings, their two biological children and the foster child they're recently been approved to take in, five-year old Toby.

"They said the city is being quarantined, Jeremy. I don't think we can leave."

"Don't worry, just get yourself and the kids ready, Mel. I've got it covered." Jeremy was loading some tools in the station wagon. It paid to have friends in the police department and arrangements had been made to let them out through the blocked exit on interstate 80 tonight.

The Smothers children were already dressed in their pajamas when their parents roused them enough to climb in the car. Melissa held Toby's hand after locking the door to their house, then walked him down to the waiting wagon, already purring and ready for the road.

The family sat for a moment in the car, taking a last look at the home they'd made for themselves and the foster children who had come through their door over the years. Toby was the fourth and Mel felt the most sorry for him of all the kids they'd opened their arms to. At five, he'd gone through three fosters already, each time being shuffled off through the system when death visited their homes. She thought it a miracle he'd managed to avoid the fatal plague which they had said claimed each and every one of his foster parents, and she was glad Toby was young enough not to feel guilty over the losses.

Melissa and Jeremy were determined theirs would be the last home he needed. She refused to acknowledge the weakness and nausea she'd been experiencing the last few weeks and what it could mean to her family.

At midnight they were crossing the overpass, flashing red and blue lights reflecting in the sky just over the hill. Melissa had to make herself breathe and Jeremy slowed the wagon down, ready to stop at the roadblock ahead.

"Pally is on duty tonight. He's already taken his family north. Said he was sure he could get us past if we came before shift change at 2."

"We have to," was all his wife said.

When it was their turn to stop for inspection, Jeremy let out a huge sigh of relief to see Pally walking up to the car window.

"Man, I'm so glad to see you. My stomach was in knots." Jeremy paused when he realized Pally wasn't alone. His friend looked pale and sheepish. Guilty and sad.

"Jeremy, this is Captain James Habish of the National Guard." Pally's cracking voice was barely above a whisper. He mouthed the words "I'm sorry."

"Mr. Smothers. Will you step out of the car please. I'd like to ask you a few questions."

Jeremy and Melissa exchanged quick, panicked glances and she turned to soothe the fretting children in the back seat.

"Uh..sure, Captain." There really wasn't anything else he could do.

When Jeremy opened his door and had one foot out on the pavement, the sharp, startled cry of Melissa made him look back into the car.

"What are you doing? Leave them alone!" Melissa was frantically trying to get her seatbelt off so she could get out and stop the soldier who'd opened their back door and was even now working at little Toby's safety harness.

Jeremy jumped the rest of the way out, but before he could round the vehicle, strong arms were restraining him, preventing intervention.

"What's this all about? Keep your hands off my kids!" Jeremy yelled, but he was ignored and Toby's blond head appeared through the backdoor just before the rest of him was folded securely in the guard's arms.

Another National Guardsman had appeared beside the passenger door, effectively blocking Melissa's scrambling attempts to reach her foster son.

"NO!" they both yelled, but Toby and the guard were already out of sight, having walked past the circle of light which only extended to the shoulder.

Two hours later, the Smothers family were allowed to continue their eastward journey safely. They had even been given papers of travel authorization and bid Godspeed. The only hint of the tragedy was Melissa's soft sniffling sobs and one empty car harness in the back seat.


June 2220 (Sixteen years ago) Somewhere in the Midwest

"Dad, why do the Hoovers want our souls?" Sam asked, lisping on the s's through the gap in his front teeth.

"Duh, brainiac! Because they don't have none of their own." Dean flipped Sam's hair up as he swatted his brother on the back of the head.

"But, why don't they have none?"

"Have any, Sam. Why don't they have any," John corrected and shoveled more beans in his mouth, having already finished off a tin cup of soup.

It was the first time they'd eaten all day and all three were starving. Dean continued slurping his soup loudly, but Sam looked expectantly at his father for an answer.

John saw his youngest wasn't going to give up this time, even though they'd been through some variation of this topic more times than he could remember.

"Sammy, they're bad sick things. They're driven by instinct. Do you remember what I told you about instinct?" Sam nodded solemnly. "There are those who say they can't help themselves, but that doesn't make them any less evil. Do you understand me?" Another nod while Sam tried to spoon beans into his mouth.

"They're big scary monsters probably sitting out there watching us right now. Ready to swoop down and get YOU!" Dean teased, then fell on his brother, knocking his spoon out of his hand and into the dirt.

Sam came up swinging with the vengeance of a pissed off six-year old. Dean laughed and held him back with a palm to the forehead. John just smiled and watched his sons' horseplay.

"I can kill the monsters just as good as you!" Sam pouted and sat back down, knowing it did no good to try to get the best of Dean.

The brothers settled down and returned to the fire, eating with gusto and drinking the fresh milk Dean had stolen from the village farm. John was spreading out their pallets and banking the fire when Sam's plate dropped to the ground with a loud clatter of tin on tin.

"Watch it fumble-butt. You can't have anymore," Dean threatened before really looking at Sam's face, which caused him to bring his teasing to an instant halt.

"What is it Sammy? Do you…?"

John hurried to his son's side and scooped him up in his arms and ran toward the truck before Sam could get his mouth around the words. Dean was trotting close behind, the shotgun, which was never far from his reach, cocked and ready.

"They're coming," Sam whimpered. "Dad, the Hoovers are going to come take my soul!"


June 2228 (Eight years ago) West Texas

People didn't walk the streets of Laredo, or anywhere else anymore. Mostly because there weren't a lot of streets in the small communities and villages which had sprung up across the country. Big cities were a thing of the past. The world was both much bigger and much smaller than it used to be.

"How much did they give us?" John asked as Sam and Dean returned to the truck with containers of food and ammunition.

Sam dropped the smaller sack of food he was carrying onto the ground and Dean slung the larger tote on the tailgate with a grunt.

"About 1000 rounds of 9mm, but only a couple hundred for the 45," Dean said with a self-satisfied grin. "And we wouldn't even have gotten that if Sammy hadn't pulled his cute kid act." Sam hitched up his too-large jeans and grinned.

John laughed and ruffled both boys' unkempt hair with his hands. "We're set for a couple of jobs then. Sam, did you get directions to that valley the leader was telling us about?"

Sam dug two pieces of grungy paper out of his jeans and held them up proudly. "Yep. Even a note to give their elders, so maybe we won't have to go through that interrogation shit again."

"Hey, watch your mouth, brat." Dean seemed to care more about Sam's vocabulary than John, since their dad was already climbing into the driver's side, anxious to be on the way.

"You say worse!"

"Do not."

"Do too."

Dean grinned then, unable to deny the accusation any longer and thumped his 14-year old brother on the back of the head. "Get in the fucking truck, asshole."

"You both better get in the truck or I'm going to leave you at the next circle we find."

That got both boys scrambling in, Sam in the middle as always, as the truck choked, rumbled and moaned onto the road, coughing out blue smoke that drifted in its wake.

From nearby woods, not a hundred yards from the village, dark shadows shuffled and crouched around the trees and watched the family of three with keen interest.


September 2235 (Four months ago) Houston, TX

It was common knowledge that the Enron building was the main residence for the Houston soul sucking Hoovers. However, no one with half an ounce of sense would dare set foot inside the 610 Loop and most avoided the city altogether.

But if anyone had cared to risk everything and get close enough, they might have wondered why the building was abuzz with more than normal day-to-day activity. There was always heavy traffic between the control center and M.D. Anderson, the old hospital where they housed "stock," as well as the nursery. But today, the air was palpable with tension and speculation.

The huge conference room double doors slammed shut with a boom and those seated around the table immediately silenced their noisy discussions.

"Is everyone here, Marcus?" A tall, imposing figure who could have passed for a 21st century businessman in his suit and tie stood for a moment at the door, then seated himself at the head of the table.

"Yes, Terry, everyone except Melody. She's anxious about leaving the baby alone in the nursery just yet. I don't think she trusts …" Marcus made a generic hand gesture that could have meant any number of things, but Terry seemed to understand. He nodded and shuffled some papers, indicating the start of the meeting.

Terry had the flushed face and glittering eyes of the freshly fed. He looked around the room at the faces of those who had agreed to this meeting and toyed with his water glass.

"I'm glad all of you could make it, as I believe this might be the most important gathering since the evolution of our kind."

Murmurs filled the room while Terry shuffled more papers until he found the missive he was looking for.

"I'm sure the rumors have spread throughout the city and beyond, but in case you haven't heard, the Center in California is making a big deal of their latest discoveries. It seems they've finally perfected the serum that will reverse the effects on our hosts, as long as it is administered prior to final death." He let his words sink in for a few minutes, allowing the soft hum of speculation.

"I don't think I need to explain what this means to us. If this serum actually works, it cannot be more than a few short steps to one that will reverse our own affliction."

Terry looked sternly across the table, meeting the eyes of each and every attendee. "We must get the serum, the formula…and the subjects. Whatever the cost."

Tapping his papers on the table to even the edges, Terry waited for the unavoidable debate, questions, and finally, the decision to attack the North American Animus Research Center.

He had no doubt how the vote would fall.


September 2232 (Four years ago) Stanford, California

"If you walk out that door, Sam, that's it."

Sam stood in the open doorway of the hut they'd been using while in the area, khaki canvas backpack and duffle bag at his feet. How could he even be related to this man?

"They need me Dad. I can have no idea how much. I've talked to Doctor Kumar and read his studies. I've talked to others like Mom." Sam made an exasperated sound, chuffing air from his mouth. "Don't you want this to end? If the others and I can give the Center what it needs for this serum, we can have peace. And more important, we can help the others who're pretty much fucked as far as having a future goes. It could change *our* future. Or don't you want that?"

Dean leaned back against the kitchen doorframe, ankles and arms crossed, watching the familiar scenario play out. Only this time, he was willing to bet his favorite knife Sam was serious. How did he know? His brother had told him...last night.

"They're making a spot for me on campus," he'd told Dean as he dumped out the contents of his chest, picking out the few things he really cared about. Dean noticed he wasn't taking his handgun or shotgun. Catching the drift of Dean's eyes, Sam smiled and picked up the Glock balancing it easily in his hand. "Take care of this if you want. Pawn it if you don't." And he'd thrown it back on the frayed bed covering and continued rummaging through clothes.

"Dad is in there shitting a fucking brick and you don't even care." Dean let the Glock lay on the bed, but already knew he'd keep it safe for his brother. He'd want it again one day. "I mean, I'm your brother and I can't believe you're splitting, either. It's like you don't care if we catch the ones who killed Mom." Dean knew he was being pissy just out of frustration with the situation, but at the moment he didn't care.

And Sam had almost lost it. He stepped right up into Dean's face, ignoring any pretense of personal space, until their chests bumped - Dean didn't back down.

"Don't ever tell me that, Dean. Don't ever pretend like you know me so well." Which almost made Dean laugh out loud because no one knew Sam better than him. "What the hell have we been doing all these years? Chasing shadows. Now I've got the chance to do something real. Something I can put my hands on and see a difference in the world."

Sam backed off, suddenly tired of the fight, shaking his head until shaggy bangs totally obscured his eyes. With an impatient hand he brushed them back, then swept his arm across the bed, sending everything flying to the floor before stomping out into the night. Dean pretended to be asleep when Sam got back, but the new day had picked up right where the night left off.

Dean sort of understood Sam's desire to make a difference. He'd never been quite as gung ho as Dean and his dad. Oh, Dean had no doubts that Sam loved his mother's memory and would do just about anything to know that the thing that killed Mary Winchester was laid down once and for all. But Sam had always felt just a little sorry for the monsters they hunted, day after day, year after year. He'd long lost count of the times he'd came upon Sam retching silently in the grass after they'd completed a Hoover raid, so he knew Sam's heart hadn't hardened like their father's. Dean wasn't too sure what shape his own was in as he usually managed to avoid that line of thought. It didn't really do any good, anyway.

But now he stood here and watched the only two people he truly cared about building an unbridgeable chasm that neither really wanted.

"Sam..." Dean straightened from his slouch and walked toward the front door. "Let it go. I'll drive you to the campus."

John's eyes squinted at Dean in betrayal and his jaw muscles twitched but he didn't say anything, just turned and strode into the back sleeping room, without a hug, a goodbye or even a 'go to hell'. Sam sighed.

"Yeah, let's go. Grab that bag, will you?" Sam hitched the backpack over one shoulder and grabbed his coat off the nail by the door.

Neither brother spoke again until Dean's old Valkyrie tires crunched across the gravel drive that led through the gates of the North American Animus Research Center. They both dismounted and Dean grabbed Sam's duffle out of the saddlebag and swung it up on to the seat.

"At least try to understand, Dean, will you? I have to do this. It doesn't have to mean I'm turning my back on my family. If it doesn't work out – fine. But I have to know."

Dean pursed his lips and nodded very slowly, then allowed for a small smile to show. "You be careful, little brother. I'm not gonna be there to watch you back." Sam grinned. "Bullshit...who's gonna watch yours?" And they grabbed each other behind the neck and squeezed.

When Dean drove off, Sam was walking down a tree-lined driveway to the refurbished building that now housed the NAARC, formerly Stanford University.


Twenty-four hours later, bikes charged up and provisions in their packs, John and Dean were headed south and west to an Indian reservation in Arizona and Dean was pretty sure any discussion concerning his brother would not be welcome.

Sam had settled into his small, but comfortable room at the Center and was preparing for the first round of tests set to begin in twenty minutes. The brothers Winchester would not lay eyes on each other again for four years.


January 2234 (Two years ago) Nevada

Dean snapped his cell phone shut and tried to look nonchalant when his dad cast a quick glance across the table in a small cafe that had managed to survive just outside Las Vegas.

"What was that?"

"Just a text message from a friend."


At least he wasn't going to make a big deal about it this time. Dean stared out the window, not really noticing the sagebrush and cactus that reflected a purplish tint on the desert floor. Sam had been gone two years, but every week he either text messaged or called, as long as Dean was close enough to a solar cell tower to receive a signal. This last one had sounded rather cryptic.

…Doc says we hit a breakthrough. This was so worth it [Dean had smiled at that] but I miss you...and Dad.

Then there was the call he'd received a couple months ago.

"Hey, Bro!"

"Dude, you are not going to believe the things I'm doing here. You would love it!" His brother's infectious laugh trailed off into a snicker.

"So, gonna tell me you get to have orgies with three beautiful women all in the name of research?"

Silence punctuated by a snicker Sam couldn't hold in.

"Sam? No way!"

His brother couldn't hold it in any longer and actually giggled over the phone. "Ok, not quite, but...listen, I gotta go, but believe aren't going to believe this when I tell you."

Dean had done everything possible from a distance of 350 miles to persuade Sam to tell him what they were doing, but his brother proved to be just as stubborn as he was, and ended the call abruptly.

It had been really good to hear Sam laugh and Dean let a bit of the guilt for not trying harder to keep Sam with them slip away.

John threw down a few of their last remaining coins and Dean mentally counted what remained.

"We need to get paid, like actual money, next gig, Dad. We're busted." Even the provisions they usually received for compensation were running lower than Dean liked.

John cast a glance through narrow eyes and replied, "The people give us what they can. We'll make do. You know that, Dean."

Dean sighed and headed out to the bike to put his leathers back on. They were too damn hot to leave on during breaks of more than a couple of minutes, but he didn't relish a repeat of last summer's fun when the skin and meat of his right leg had practically been sanded down to the bone when he'd tipped the bike on loose gravel.

They each straddled their bikes and took off up the highway, ever watchful for a Hoover ambush. John swerved and almost laid the bike over trying to miss a jackrabbit blissfully hopping down the center of the road. Dean just maneuvered around it and laughed.

"Those goddamn rabbits are everywhere!" John's voice crackled loudly through Dean's headset.

"Dad. They're rabbits."

John and Dean reached their destination just before sundown.

"Well, here we are," John said, pulling out a crumpled piece of paper. "The wire said there was a growing circle inside here."

They'd finally reached the upper corner of Utah after eating about 10 lbs. of dust each and Dean rubbed some of the grit out of eyes before reading the rotting, barely legible sign at the entrance to a rock gate house.

Ashley National Forest

The ride had been exhausting and Dean's hands were buzzing.

"We'll stash the bikes there." John nodded at a dilapidated maintenance shed just inside the park.

Dean followed his father, pushing the bike through the hanging doors, and began pulling out his weapons.

Loading both shotguns, his 9mm and Sam's Glock, Dean stuck the extra ammo in his leather jacket pocket and tossed one of the shotguns to his dad.


"Always," Dean smirked.

John had equipped himself with a crossbow and quiver of arrows in addition to his own guns tucked into this belt. He signaled Dean to follow and they crept into the darkening forest. Neither would talk again until after the fight.

The men moved quickly from tree to tree until they came to the firelight of a camp. It could have almost been a scene of friendly camaraderie…a bunch of guys getting together for a campout.

The attack was swift and bloody, but not totally successful.

There were only four Hoovers, which John and Dean considered fair odds, but the situation got a little more complicated when Dean spotted two hostages on the far side of the fire, huddled in ratty old blankets.

He relayed this to John by pointing two fingers to his eyes, then holding two fingers up in the air like a V sign. John frowned and jerked a nod of acknowledgement, then motioned Dean to cover him while he moved in closer.

Dean flipped the safety off his 9mm and gripped it in both hands.

Once it began, the battle became just a blur of movement, punctuated with gunshots in the night. Dean saw one go down with an arrow through its throat, then got occupied with his own Hoover who had just literally kicked him on his ass. Dean raised the shotgun and blasted it point blank in the face. Number three had already been dispatched, compliments of John's 357 magnum, but the fourth was willing to take his chances and risked a quick snatch before dashing off into the eerie blackness of the woods.

It only took five, maybe eight seconds, tops. Just as John and Dean both turned to finish the fight, the Hoover yanked one of the hostages in front of him and practically beheaded the man with a lightning fast, deep slash across the throat.

"NO!" Dean screamed and dove for the shotgun that had fallen to the ground. He could hear his father nocking another arrow. But this Hoover was older, experienced and Dean could have sworn he actually saw the man's soul flee his body before being sucked deep into the Hoover.

"Dean, come here! Don't try it!" John's voice echoed loudly in the quiet of the night and it took all of Dean's self control not to rush the hideous fiend.

But, he knew his dad was right. Once the soulrush started, there would be no stopping this one. The Hoovers became uber monsters once the buzz of an instant soul snatch took over.

With flashing red eyes, a frenzied snarl and rake of his hand in the air, the pumped up creature fled into the woods, crashing easily through underbrush no normal man would have attempted. Nothing left to do but save the living and retreat. The rest of the circle would know soon the Hunters were here.

Dean cast a sick look at the scene around them, so typical of a Hoover fight. It was always so gross, he wondered when the sight of so much blood and yuck had ceased to make him ill. John covered the dead hostage with one of the blankets - a sign of respect and possibly apology for not being able to save him. But Dean already had the horrified face burned into his memory, frozen in death as he realized that he was about to lose that which was all that most people had left in the world. He wore the expression of a man who knew that dying wasn't always the worst thing that could happen to a person.


December 2234 (Fourteen months ago) Stanford, CA

If someone had told Sam three years ago that he'd be jerking off in a cup every day for the betterment of mankind, he'd have laughed in their face, then asked for his share of the drugs. But, frankly, it was getting to be a bit exhausting. Because really? He felt drained... literally.

The hallway of the residential area of the Center was strangely busy, but not with residents. There was a larger than normal proportion of guards striding purposefully in and out, obviously on a mission. The white-coated staff were bustling equipment through the large double doors which led into the primary and most important part of the building: the lab.

Sam maneuvered his way through the traffic to the rec room where he'd planned to make a call to Dean. He wasn't sure what he would tell him this week. Dr. Kumar had stressed the need for secrecy, and as much as Sam wanted to tease his brother with their activities at the Center, he mostly just wanted to know how he was doing, and how Dad was holding up, and where they'd been in the last two weeks.

But when he got to the small private phone room off to the right of the entrance, there was a guard blocking his way.

"Hey, man....just need to make a call. 'Scuse me."

"Sorry, sir. No outgoing calls allowed at this time." The soldier had glanced briefly at Sam when relaying his orders, but was now once more staring straight ahead.

"Huh? Where's Dr. Kumar? He knows I call my brother. It's cool."

The soldier showed no indication he'd heard Sam. Having done his duty, it was pretty clear the subject was closed as far as he was concerned.

Sam growled under his breath and went in search of the doctor. When he found him, Dr. Kumar and his team were in the lab setting up equipment Sam had never seen before. There were tense conversations going on, some of them less quiet than others. It didn't seem like the time to gripe about not being able to make a phone call, so Sam decided to take a walk around the grounds, since it had finally stopped raining.

Once more his way was blocked by another soldier, fully armed and looking like he wanted a reason to pull his gun. What the hell was going on? When he tried brushing by the uniform to reach for the door knob, the man simply sidestepped enough to effectively bar Sam from exiting.

Now he was starting to get pissed.

"What the fuck is going on around here? Where'd you guys come from?"

No answer.

When Sam was about ready to make a more physical issue out of it, he heard the doctor's voice calling out.

"Sam... Sam! come with me. We need to talk."

Sam whirled around, stomping toward the older man. "What's going on here, Doc? I couldn't call Dean this morning and now this yahoo won't let me out. Is something wrong?" His anger began to fade, replaced by concern. Had the Hoovers gotten this close?

"I'm sorry, Sam. Protocol has changed and we all have to adapt. I'm afraid there won't be any unauthorized communication for the time being."


January 2236 (One month ago) Northern Colorado

Dean thought Colorado as a whole was ok, if a bit cold for his taste, but the villages surrounding Aspen totally rocked. Despite the doom and gloom that had encompassed the rest of the world, Aspenites lived life like a nonstop party.

There'd been a small circle of Hoovers in Red Rock, and Dean and John had made Carbondale their base. This was just the sort of job they looked for. It would have been suicide to take on a city like Denver, but this had been a small but significant group rumored to have moved out of their protected urban jungle to the rocky gorges of the Great Divide.

If they'd come from Denver, they were probably rogues. And Dean hadn't met or seen anything in his whole life he hated more than rogue vacuum cleaners.

It had been sheer luck that they'd even heard of this group. They'd spent the last year traveling in the vicinities of Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver, cleaning out the fringe. The rogues tended to drift into forests, mountains and caves close enough to their home city to feed but no longer under the jurisdiction of leaders who wouldn't let them party. There were also a myriad of small empty towns they could move into right here in Colorado. Dean wondered if they appreciated the views.

But, their work here done, John was talking about heading east to Oklahoma. Dean didn't think he'd ever been to Oklahoma before. They'd traded the bikes for a van in Nevada. It sucked up precious fuel, but allowed them to haul around more weapons. It was a trade-off. And January in the mountains wasn't exactly Dean's idea of a cyclist's dream ride.

"Heads up, Dean. Got company." John stopped his last check of their gear, making sure they weren't heading out short on ammo.

Dean strode up next to his dad, slipping the 9mm in the back of his jeans. There was a reason strangers, especially those traveling alone, were cause for suspicion.

"This ought to be interesting, " Dean muttered.

John fixed a smile on his face while both men waited for the stranger to approach. It took guts and nerve to travel alone on foot these days, but this guy wasn't really alone. Dean watched the mammoth canine shuffling patiently beside the stranger, trying to detect any sign of hostility. But the large black beast seemed satisfied to play the part of gentle giant.

"I'll keep an eye on that animal," he softly said to John, who just nodded.

"Hey there," John said when the guy was within earshot.

With a flip of his dirty army-green wool cap, the stranger revealed he was a she, a young woman of startling youth to be taking these chances. She shook out her hair and began rummaging through the bag she had slung across her chest. Dean eased his hands behind his back, fingers feeling comfortable on the grip of his gun.

"Got no weapons. And got my Isolation Certificate right here," was all she said, pulling out an oilskin-wrapped document.

John's smile warmed and he stepped forward to examine the papers. He passed them over to Dean, who scanned the packet and handed it back to the girl. She looked expectantly at the pair of them, her gaze bordering on suspicion.

"Oh, yeah, I guess you want to see ours," Dean said with a short laugh and pulled the requisite documents that every traveler had to have nowadays to move freely about the country.

"I have to say, I'm surprised to see anyone out here this close to Hoover territory, much less a girl like you, Taya," John said, using the name he'd read on the paper.

She shrugged rather sullenly and scanned their documents. "Not really by choice, but it ain't so bad," she said, handing them back to Dean. "Mind if we share a cup of that coffee? Got some fruit from New Mexico here if ya want to trade."

Dean thought it a bit weird she'd included her four-legged companion in the deal, because he'd sure never seen a dog drink coffee.

When John cast a questioning look at Dean, he just shrugged and gestured to the pot still simmering on the fire.

"We just restocked before heading out, so we can spare a bit. Help yourself to the hot stuff. I'll wrap you up some to take with ya."

Taya dropped down to the ground, cross-legged, and pulled a tin cup out of her bag, then poured a cup of the steaming black liquid to the brim. The dog seemed less interested.

"Mind telling us what you're doing out here?"

Dean kept a bit of distance, never taking his eyes off the mutt, which had sprawled beside his mistress, for more than a few seconds. He noticed Taya's clothes were old, but seemed clean. At least she didn't smell.

"Me and Marley, we're headed up to Canada." Taya slurped her coffee and ruffled the fur around Marley's thick neck, jingling the tags on his collar, but didn't reveal any more facts about her reasons for this journey.

John nodded and continued with his inventory, but Dean wasn't satisfied.

"What's up in Canada, Taya?" Dean asked with a smile, trying for friendly and harmless.

Taya wasn't buying it.

"Most people consider it rude to ask a lot of questions."

Dean shifted and squatted down across from the fire. "Well, you can't be too careful these days."

Taya peered at Dean over her cup. "If ya gotta know, I was gonna go to California first. Heard they'd about got 'em all cleaned out of there. Then stayed at a village last night that warned me off that line of thinking."

"What's wrong with California?" Dean was more than merely curious now. "I happen to know it is pretty clean these days, in most parts anyway."

With an exaggerated shiver, Tayla drained her cup and looked at John, then back to Dean. "There's gonna be a big fight there." Now she had John's attention too.

"Where?" he asked more sharply than he meant to.

She shrugged again, but something in John's eyes told her he wouldn't be brushed off this time. "Where they got that big laboratory and research center. The Hoovers been building up their numbers around there and anyone with sense is leaving."

He guessed Taya could tell she'd said something terribly wrong. "Hey, it's just what I heard." She held up here hands, then shoved herself off the ground, stuffing her cup back in the bag and patted her leg for the dog to follow. "C'mon Marley, we better let these people get on their way." She cast a quick glance at John and nodded her head to Dean. "Thanks for the coffee."

By now, John and Dean, over the initial shock of this news, rushed to her side, causing the girl to flinch back and the dog to produce his first sound, a low, rumbling growl deep in his throat. The men backed off, but were no less urgent in their need for more information.

"Taya, wait! What exactly did you hear? How did they know?"

Taya laid a hand on Marley's head and soothed the giant animal. "I don't know. Really. I don't know nothin' else. They just said that California wasn't the place to be right now and I should maybe think about heading north."

Dean, frustrated beyond his limits, wanted to press the matter, but John held him back.

"That's all she knows, Dean. We're going to have to go back and check on it ourselves."

With a disgruntled mutter and stomping of feet, Dean went over to the fire and started kicking dirt over the flames. "We need to go, Dad. Now."

John smiled reassuringly. "Thanks for the info and sorry to scare you. It's just, we got family back there," was all he said and tipped his hat goodbye as the pair of stragglers headed toward the road, Taya tucking her hair back up under the wool cap.


February 2236 (Present Day) Stanford, CA

Dr. Kumar's assistant, Denny Bass, slipped his lab coat on just before entering the sterile environment. It was the fourth layer of clothing for Denny, as he knew how chilly the room was during harvesting procedures.

The nurses and lab assistants already had the donors prepped and Denny was satisfied all was ready for the doctor's arrival.

"Are they all sterilized and marked, Charlie?" he asked the head nurse, indicating the dozen or so gurneys lined up against the wall, each occupied by a male between the ages of 20 and 30.

"Ready, although it took me a good ten minutes to find an unscarred, healthy area on Sam."

Denny frowned. Dr. Kumar's obsession with Winchester was in danger of jeopardizing the entire project. If Sam died while in the tender mercies of the Center,

He scrubbed up and double checked Sam's vital signs before moving down the line, scanning each man's readings. The sedated bodies was hooked to a myriad of machines. There were probes attached to the head to monitor brain activity, blood pressure cuffs on every arm , a clip on the forefinger of each right hand measured oxygen in their blood and the small white squares attached to each chest kept up with cardiac readings.

While they waited for the doctor to arrive, the only sound in the room was the oxygen flowing through the tubes in 12 mouths.

A couple of moments later, Dr. Kumar entered, scrubbed and dressed for surgery without a word to Denny. He scanned the room, then walked over to the table where Sam lay.

"Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's time to make hay while the sun shines" His joke fell like a pitiful sigh, then Denny chuckled, rather self-consciously, followed by the other people in the room.

"Ready at your word, sir."

Dr. Kumar watched the clock on the far wall intently. When the second hand finally came around again to the twelve, he smiled at Denny and nodded. "Let's go."

It had become common practice for the techs to time the harvesting procedures, each trying to beat the time of the last winner. Dr. Kumar didn't participate, preferring to give his staff a little fun to break the monotony of living at the Center 24/7.

While the low hum of voices giving direction and the tink tink of glass against metal filled the room, Kumar turned to his own subject. Sam lay naked on the table, a bright red circle marking the spot on his scrotum where the doctor would perform yet another vasal aspiration to harvest more of Sam's precious sperm.

His nurse had pulled the skin of one of Sam's balls taut in preparation for the puncture. Dr. Kumar was about to insert the needle into the vas deferens when a commotion outside the operating room caused him to pause. The heavy boots of soldiers running down the hall vibrated through the tunnel.


February 2236 (Present Day) The Outskirts of Los Angeles

The risk they were taking would be considered suicidal by anyone's standards. It was one thing to take out a small camp of rogues – even when one or two were hopped up and spitting nails [as long as you had the proper weaponry], but to creep into a city the size of Los Angeles, where the only people walking around freely were lacking in the soul department – well that was just crazy.

But this was where the plans were. John and Dean were determined to find out when the attack was planned or die trying. It was as simple as that.

They'd driven without stopping from Colorado to California until they'd gotten to the west side of the city. It was less populated and there were lots of places to stow the van. They picked El Monte from which to begin their reconnaissance.

"Rest of the way is on foot. And don't forget what I said, Dean. In and out. That's what we're doing. No stupid heroics."

Dean looked hurt. "Gimme a break. I know what I'm doing. You taught us so well."

The smile he shot John looked more like a sneer, but John didn't react. Just laid a hand on Dean's back and said, "I'm worried about him too, son."

"I should have come back to check on him. A year. It's been a fucking year since he called or e-mailed or anything. We can't even get through to let him know." Dean's lips pressed together in abject frustration.

He'd been beating himself up over this topic for the last two weeks.

"Sam did what he thought was right. You've each made your own decisions. No time to second-guess now. But, we're not going to leave him there while those shit-head soul suckers decimate the Center. We'll get Sam out and warn the others. It's all we can do."

Dean showed no signs he'd heard his father as he darted from building to building, using his night vision goggles to scope out the rooftops and alleyways. All he knew right now was once they got Sam out of that institute, he wouldn't let his family split up again.

Six hours and a dislocated shoulder later, John and Dean were back at the van, burning rubber. The injury was John's, but he would have given both arms to have the roll of papers he now had stuffed in his backpack.

They'd manage to make it all the way into East LA before they were spotted. The lone woman was dispatched quickly with a judiciously placed knife to the neck and Dean grimaced, as he did each time he found it necessary to kill one of the female monsters.

"Only another mile, according to this map." John referenced the torn map friends had furnished them in Ontario.

"We should have taken Sean and Bean up on their offer to come with," Dean muttered, cleaning his blade on the leg of his jeans. "Although after you regaled them with tales of the wild west, I don't think they wanted to leave their houses, much less the city."

The rest of the way to the auditorium they were looking for was made in silence. The two men had developed a silent language over the course of twenty years, making words seldom necessary while working.

Once inside their destination, it had been simple to find the plans and make notes of critical information. The intention had been to get in, get the info, and get out, with no one the wiser, but the best laid plans,

Dean knew it had been too easy.

A loud, jarring clang reverberated through the night, causing lights to come on and people to stir from their beds.

"Run, Dean! Get back to the van, I'll divert them."

"No, I'm not leaving you! Are you crazy?" Dean grabbed at John's coat but the artillery was already being pulled out and a zinging bullet barely missed Dean's shoulder.

"I'll meet you – I promise," John hissed and yanked his jacket from Dean's fierce grip, running back the way they'd come.

Dean had no choice but to make for the van, dodging and jumping roofs and crawling through alleyways. He eventually reached the van, but hovered in the shadows a block away, watching for his father.

It seemed like hours, but Dean knew he'd only been waiting about half an hour when he heard footsteps heading his way, followed by heavy breathing. He eased around the corner of the building, his gun at the ready, but lowered it with a gust of relieved air when he saw John, jogging toward the van. He seemed to be alone.

John spotted Dean in the shadows and motioned for him to get in the van. They each reached the vehicle at the same time, John jumping in the driver's seat and Dean throwing himself into the passenger side.

"Are they coming?" Dean asked, stuffing the paper he had crammed in his pocket into John's backpack. It was then he noticed John's left arm hanging uselessly against the door.

"You're hurt!" John gave Dean an inscrutable look, but continued accelerating out of the alley.

"Yeah, well you ought to see the other guy." John's smile turned into a grimace as the van bounced over a curb.

Dean started to chew his father's ass out for being so careless, but clamped his lips tightly and climbed in the back to watch for pursers from the rear.

Next stop: the reinforced station of Menlo Park, which bordered Stanford. The attack was scheduled in two nights.


February 2236 (Present Day) Menlo Park, CA

The sunrise was positively stunning, the kind of scene Dean would have appreciated if his eyes didn't have a desert in them and his legs didn't ache from the hard run last night. Fuck, he needed sleep!

John had finally let Dean drive and was sleeping fitfully in the back of the van, his injured shoulder cradled against his chest. Once out of the city and possible detection, they'd stopped and between the two of them, managed to set John's shoulder into place. It was no less painful, but the four aspirin Dean had given John from the first-aid box would hopefully dull the pain to tolerable levels until they got to the aid station.

Dean steered the van onto the westbound road leading into Menlo Park. There they would meet up with three other Hunters in an attempt to persuade the occupants of the Center to vacate and go back with them to San Francisco.

John and Dean knew from communications with the Center that they were aware of the impending danger, but not one person had made an attempt to leave. Dean didn't know what was going on in there, but willing or not, Sam's volunteer stint was over.


February 5, 2236 (Present Day) Stanford, CA

"Something's really wrong in there. They won't let me see Dr. Kumar or Sam."

John ran through the rain to the van parked under the huge trees outside the Center. Water poured from the brim of his hat onto his nose. Dean and the others were waiting for his signal to come in and help with the loading. Two other large cargo vans lined the street behind them. If they had too they'd make another trip, but these three vehicles were all they could fuel.

Guards posted just outside NAARC were getting restless and it became obvious fairly soon that things weren't going to go as anticipated. Dean lifted the rifle beside his seat and used the barrel to point toward the Center.

"I don't know what you said to 'em, old man, but they're pissed about something." The others followed Dean's example. About ten uniformed soldiers tramped through the muddy yard toward them.

The sounds of safeties being released and barrels sliding broke the peace of the cool winter morning. John walked back to the second van and pulled his 9mm. It was his weapon of choice while he had a bum arm.

"Hey! We're not the enemy," John yelled at the approaching guards with their weapons drawn. "What the fuck are they doing?" He looked over at Dew, the third driver. "You'd think we were attempting a prison break!"

A sharp command cracked the air and the first shots took out Dean's windshield.

"Shit!" Dean dove to the floor of the van. Bean twisted the key in the ignition and shoved the gearshift into drive.

"Dean. That box behind you, ," he yelled and aimed the front of the van for the solid wooden doors of the Center's main entrance.

Dean and Shawn each grabbed a grenade and chose a side window. When they were about 50 yards from the soldiers, they both pulled the pins. Dean opened the passenger door long enough to hang out and pitch is grenade as far as he could toward the soldiers. He ducked back into the van and laid down just in time to feel the vehicle bounce and rock from the two blats.

Bean brought the van to a screeching halt at the base of the wide staircase. John was in the van behind them and Dean could still hear him and Dew shooting at the survivors. Cautiously Dean got out, not sure if more guards would come pouring out the front door or he should take his chances with the ones still out in the yard.

He was having serious doubts about the success of this job and had no illusions that just the five of them would be able to go up against whatever and whoever was inside that building.

John ran up to Dean, his eyes constantly scanning the wet landscape. There was only a mist now, making the once well-trimmed and manicured campus appear more like a jungle. Whatever rehabilitation the government had done to the buildings needed for the NAARC, no one seemed to think it was necessary to extend their efforts to the grounds.

All three vans were crowded around the entrance now, forming a barricade they never expected to need. Behind them, the main building of the Center loomed. The entire front of the building, originally built from mammoth glass panes had long since been boarded up and reinforced. It did sort of resemble a prison. One could only imagine how the deep pool and fountain gracing the courtyard had looked, because now it resembled nothing so much as a swamp.

"Now what the fuck do we do? We have no idea what to expect if we blast through that front door." Dean slicked his wet hair back with one hand while keeping his gun cocked and ready. "Plan B?"

"Plan B," said Dew, the third driver.

Plan B was more for their escape rather than to get in, but Dean wasn't about to argue semantics. Pulling out the maps they'd brought with them, Bean checked landmarks and distances before deciding on which way to go. When everyone knew where they were going, the small group quietly skirted the main building they'd planned to enter and headed for the western edge of the campus. The first service entrance would be just beyond the walls.

When they got to the designated location, Shawn went right up to what looked like a rusted metal outhouse and slipped the lock right out of the chains. When Dean looked curiously at the lock on the ground, Shawn grinned.

"Did a bit of recon work yesterday. Figured we'd need this unlocked for it to work"

John looked impressed and Dean slammed Shawn on the back. "Excellent idea, my man. I take back all the things I told Sara about you." A general release of tension seemed to swell over the group. They were starting to think this thing still might work out.

With as much firepower and ammo as they could carry, each took his turn entering the building, which was really no more than a cover over the massive tunnel that would take them to Sam and the others.

Shawn pulled out a torch and lit it while Dean closed the shed door behind himself before climbing down to join the others.

Shawn was already explaining the layout of the tunnel system. "About a half a mile east we'll hit the residence wing. If we've all been good boys and are extremely lucky, that's where they'll be and we won't have to go any further."

Four faces bore a grim expression. Yeah, that'll happen.

"Then the corridor curves to the north and that's where the research facilities are housed. It's also where there's likely to be the most security."

"We still have to be careful not to catch any civilians in the cross-fire," John warned. "We have no idea, really, what we're walking into now."

A soft murmur of agreement and the cluck of shifting weapons and gun belts followed.

"So, lead the way Mr. Recon Man," Dean gestured for Shawn to head them up. "I'll watch our backs."

When their mouths weren't hanging over from the sheer size and the amount of work that had been put into the ancient underground labs, John, Shawn, Bean and Dew discussed possible scenarios that might have caused the weird freak-out of the guards above ground.

"You don't think, " John couldn't even bring himself to voice the dreaded possibility.

"NO!" Dean's voice echoed from behind them. "No. We would have known. We'd have gotten word if they'd already attacked – or taken over. You saw the plans. It's tomorrow night." It was pretty obvious Dean would not even entertain the possibility.

About 900 yards in, Shawn raised his hand and motioned for them to stop. Everyone stood quietly listening. After a few seconds, they heard the rhythmic pumping of machinery. The time for speculation was over.

Flattening their bodies against the wall, they moved forward cautiously. Dean was amazed they seemed to have the element of surprise on their side when the next rounded corner revealed only three guards in a room full of mechanical gear, leaning against a doorway, casually talking. With the ruckus they'd made up top, he figured the whole place would be crawling with frantic activity.

Hand signals were made, acknowledged with nods, and the group moved in. Not hardly even odds at all. The three soldiers would wake up in a few hours and realize they'd missed all the fun.

They were moving quickly now. The next door they went through narrowed into a hallway with several doors opening off of it on either side. The residence wing.

"Split up. If you find any of the subjects, get them out. Kill anyone who tries to stop you," Bean growled.

He and the rest may not want to kill any civilians, but they all knew the real reason they were here. It was all about Sam and hopefully, as many others as they could get out.

The place had a surprisingly musty smell. The air was stale, even though they could hear air blowing coldly through the vents above. The brushed metal walls carried sound to the extreme, and this whole place was eerily silent. The only sound were the large ducts overhead, behind which large ventilation fans ran with a low, heavy whoosh.

Five minutes later they met back in the central hall. No volunteers like Sam had been found.

"There's a guard back there whose going to wonder what hit him, but it's like this place – like it's deserted," John mused.

"Same here. Shawn, I think your intel is flawed," Dean smirked. "Nobody's lived in this area for a long time."

"Maybe we took a wrong turn," Dew suggested, but the other three shook their head and rolled their eyes.

"There was no place *to* turn, genius." Dew just shrugged and showed Dean his middle finger.

"Well, we're not done yet. We keep moving forward until we find 'em." Dean set his jaw, squinted like he could see farther that way, and set out again, his 6mm rifle strap slung over and wrapped around his arm to brace his shots.

"Let's go," John ordered.

There were more guards to take out in the second large hallway, causing a helluva lot more noise than before. It looked like it was supposed to be a sort of staging/waiting area joining the residence and lab wings.

"More're coming," Dew yelled and they split up to take cover in the rooms off each side. The sound of loud boots and shouted commands had already reached Dean when he yanked the first door open that he came to and slid inside.

The first thing he noticed was how freezing-ass cold it was. Next, he thought he'd stumbled into some sort of mortuary. The room was lined with steel drawers, but on closer inspection, Dean realized they weren't exactly large enough to house a human body.

Still he was curious. Checking the corridor again through a crack in the door, he closed it and turned toward the nearest wall of drawers. His fingers were starting to feel clumsy from the cold. It had to be refrigerator temperature at least in here.

Dean tugged on the handle of a chest-style drawer and it slid out with a smooth shuffle and glide. A fog of chilled vapor enveloped his face and he backed off quickly, waving his hand to clear the air. When he could see, Dean didn't have a clue what he was looking at. Neat rows of frosty vials nestled in metal racks, each sealed with a rubber stopper wrapped in white labeling. Cautiously he pulled one out and peered at it through the hanging mist still drifting from the drawer. No idea what it was and he didn't recognize the name. He pulled another out whose dark contents made him think it was blood. A quick inspection of two other drawers revealed that they were arranged in alphabetical order, so he hurried to the end of the wall and pulled open the last drawer. Sure enough, there were several vials labeled Winchester.

Dean couldn't afford to spend anymore time investigating, so he pocketed all the vials he could find with Sam's name marking them, four total, and peeked through a crack in the door, satisfied he could leave and rejoin the others.

"A few lab techs, civilians all," Shawn reported his findings as he stepped out of one of the labs.

The soldiers had pulled back in the face of the automatic weapons Bean and Shawn sported, but no one was under the illusion they had won.

"That one over there," Dean nodded toward the room he'd just vacated, "is like a fucking meat locker. At least 40 degrees and filled with drawers of vials like this." He fished out the tube he'd stuffed in his jacket pocket.

Dew inspected the vial and wrinkled his nose. Of the four, he was the medic, or as close as you could get to one these days. "I'd say either plasma or sperm." Dean handed him a second tube. "That's definitely blood," Dew said.

Dean took them back, carefully placing them in his pocket again.. Whatever, they were part of Sam. The white fluid had to be plasma or even spinal fluid, maybe. What the fuck would they be taking sperm for?

"That's just wrong," he mumbled and shuddered once.

"Come on, we have to find them before they move 'em or something." John was chafing at the bit to proceed, but Shawn held up a warning hand.

"Ok, let's calm down and look at the map of the tunnel again." He smoothed the paper over a small low table, covered in an inch of dust.

"We're here now," Shawn pointed to a spot on the tunnel map just about midway. "The rest holds the main portion of the research facility. I imagine that's where everyone is. Including all their firepower."

Bean shook his head at the impossibility of the situation. "John, I don't think we can commit to keeping all the civilians safe anymore. There's going to be a helluva lot of shooting and crossfire. I say we grab Sam, high-tail it back to Menlo and report what we've found here."

John nodded slowly, clearly troubled over the turn of events. All they'd wanted to do was make sure that anyone who wanted to leave before the Hoover attack had the opportunity. What they'd walked into was a hornet's nest which raised more questions than it answered.

It was decided that Dean would check each room as they proceeded through the tunnel, Bean covering the rear and the other two keeping watch ahead. However, the next couple hundred yards proved fruitless and Dean was grinding his teeth in frustration because all he was finding was more rooms like the meat locker or empty laboratories with wicked looking machinery that made his skin crawl.

They'd moved into a new section now that had to be close to the tunnel's entrance into the medical building above ground. Time and places to look were running out.

But Dean knew they'd hit pay dirt when they came up against a massive frontal assault from some 30 soldiers. This was grim. If they didn't stop these guards, they'd all be killed and the only way they had of doing that was to blow the tunnel with their grenades. But what if Sam was beyond this point?


"Spread out!" Shawn yelled. John and Dew dove behind an overturned steel desk and Bean and Dean each ducked into unlocked room, the barrels of their guns peeping through the doorway.

"We're going to have to blow it," Dean shouted across the hall to John, holding up a grenade he'd unclipped from his belt.

John caught the eye of the other three and each nodded emphatically. They really had no choice. The only reason they'd managed to keep them off this long was that the only entrance was a narrow doorway which prevented a mass attack. John was pretty sure the Center had more ammo than they did, so it was just a matter of time.

Through hand signals and few words, the small group coordinated their defense and got in position. Shawn had one package of plastic explosives they'd been saving for their retreat, but there would be no retreating if they didn't stop this barrage of gunfire.

The other four covered him while he placed it as close to the doorway as he could get, dodging bullets and dashing behind what little furniture was in the corridor. When he was done, he motioned to Dean, who also moved as forward as cover would allow and waited for Shawn's signal.

Through synchronized finger counting, Dean knew when to toss the grenade through the doorway and run back, just seconds before Shawn activated the explosive.

There were no guarantees they wouldn't bring the tunnel down atop them and all they could do was dive under furniture or run as far back into the tunnel as they could get before all hell broke lose.

Huge chunks of concrete and fast-flying shards of metal sliced through the air. The explosion deafened them to the point that all they could hear were their own screams in their heads. It took several minutes for the debris to settle and the dust to thin out to the point they could see each other again.

"Yell out!" John shouted. Dew and Bean were nearby and he had no problem hearing their "Here!" in response.

"Dean? Shawn?" John tried to get up, but his balance was still off from the percussion of the bomb. "Answer me!"

Seconds that seemed like hours passed before John saw Dean's stumbling figure appear through the smoke and dust. He'd lost his rifle, but still solidly gripped the 9mm.

When Dean collapsed next to his father, he gasped out, "I couldn't find Shawn. How's your shoulder?"

John looked down at his left arm, strapped tightly to his chest and jerked his head. "Seems ok. I'm kinda off balance though."

Dean helped John to his feet, leaned him up against the wall and went to check on Dew and Bean. Blood trickled down the side of Dew's face, but closer inspection revealed it to be a simple nick caused from the fall. A few seconds later, Dean announced he was concussion free and moved on to Bean, who seemed unharmed, if he could ever stop coughing.

While John assessed the structural damage, the other three looked for Shawn. They found him near the entrance. It looked like he hadn't dived for cover at all, based on the fact he was pinned against the corner of the door they'd blown, with about 300 lbs. of concrete on his chest.

"Shawn!" three voices rang out amidst the dust and debris.

"Did you find him?" John called out just as he exited one of the rooms. Slowly, he made his way over the debris until he joined the rest of them at Shawn's body.

"Yeah, we found him." Dean said softly and leaned over the body of his friend to close Shawn's blankly staring blue eyes. He, Bean and Dew grunted the boulder off of their friend's chest.

"Damn," was all John said. But, there was still searching to be done and he was pragmatic enough to realize there was nothing they could do for Shawn now.

"We need to get back to the search, Dean, Bean, Dew, see if you can find ammo we can use on those bodies," John gestured to the three Center guards who'd also been crushed during the explosion.

He knew they'd been damned lucky to escape with only one casualty. He turned to see Dean uncovering and checking out a rifle that wouldn't be doing one dead guard anymore good.

All that was really left to do was search each of the rooms on their side of the tunnel collapse. John guessed there were about a dozen or so in addition to the two Dean and Shawn had shot from earlier, so they quartered the area and spread out.

John's three rooms were empty, as were Dew's. Bean and Dean had taken the north side of the corridor and while Dean was checking out the second room, Bean found three women. He yelled for the others and they all crammed into the 10 x 20 examination room where the females had been strapped into reclining chairs with IVs pumping medication in each arm. Each tried to explain what was happening to them, but it sounded like so much babble, until Dean called for quiet.

"Now, one of you tell us what's going on? Where is everyone?" Dew and John were busy unfastening the straps that held the women's legs and arms down. Bean was watching the hallway through a crack in the door. All was quiet.

"They're keeping us prisoner here," one of the women finally gasped. "Dr. Kumar discovered what was needed to make the serum successful and when we didn't want to help any longer, they locked us down here.

"What's all this?" Dew asked, trying to read the labels on the bags hanging from the IV pole.

"It's something to make us produce more eggs," a second woman volunteered. She was rubbing her wrists to regain feeling and looked on the verge of tears. "They've been harvesting from us for almost a year."

"... the fuck?" Dean looked at his father, not even wanting to think about what they were doing with the men. He turned back to the woman who'd spoken first. "Are there anymore of you? You can't be all the volunteers he was experimenting on."

The second woman shook her head. "No, there were 30 of us originally. Some, died." The third woman took up the story.

"The procedures, sometimes where dangerous. We're the only women left that I know of. I haven't seen any others in months."

"What about the men?" John prompted.

"Yeah," Dean pressed. "Sam told me there were over a dozen men like him here."

"Sam Winchester?" the woman who'd first spoken asked.

"Yes!" Dean wanted to shake her and tell her to hurry up.

"They keep the men in a room down the hall somewhere. That's all we know. We never see them, the attendants won't tell us what they're doing." She bit her lip and looked down. "I know Sam was of particular interest to Dr. Kumar."

John and Dean were both already out the door, checking the remaining rooms. There were only three left. Dean ran to the first while John headed to the one on the end. Dean won.

He was still standing in the open doorway, staring in the room when John joined him. "The last two doors won't open. I'm pretty sure the blast jammed them, " and he stopped.

When Dean's eyes had adjusted to the dimness, he noticed about 20 people huddled behind what looked to be operating tables. Each table had a low-slung halogen light fixture swinging overhead, illuminating the sheet-clad bodies laying on each one.

Dean stepped farther into the room first, with John behind. A female voice screamed somewhere and Dean's rifle was at his shoulder. He heard a loud clatter as an instrument of some kind hit the floor.

It looked like the explosion had interrupted some sort of procedure and Dean didn't even want to think about what that might be, based on the generous-sized hypodermic needles he saw lying on tables at the head of each gurney.

"What's going on here?" An older man in white scrubs turned to Dean. His face was creased and tired looking, but Dean had no pity.

"Fuck you! You'll answer my questions, doctor." Dean let the last word roll out of his mouth with a sneer.

"Dean, here!" His dad was at the first table where the doctor stood, blocking the identity of the occupant. "It's Sam!"

That's all Dean needed to hear. He lowered his gun and headed toward Sam, but not before motioning with the barrel for Kumar and his two assistants at Sam's table to move into the center of the room. He didn't think he had much to worry about from the rest of the medical staff based on the cowering looks they wore. Sometimes having a big gun did all the talking you needed.

When Dean got to John's side, his hands automatically reached for Sam's face, cupping his cheek softly before brushing his fingers over Sam's forehead and into his hair, which had been almost sheared to his scalp.

"Sammy, Sam! Wake up."

"He will not be awake for several hours, I assure you. He is sedated for surgery."

"What kind of surgery." When the doctor did not answer immediately, Dean rushed to him, grabbing the front of his white shirt. "Look asshole. I'm going to ask you once more, then your gonna be the one who needs surgery."

Through gritted teeth he snarled, "Now, What. Kind. Of. Surgery?"

Dean saw no fear in Dr. Kumar's eyes, but the old man seemed to accept the situation. With a sigh he replied, "Sperm harvesting." Then before Dean could react fully to that information, the doctor rushed on. "It's the only way we can make the serum. We've been on the edge for years. Now that we've finally broken the code, Sam and those like him are serving mankind in the highest capacity you can imagine."

Dean glared at the doctor. "You really believe that bullshit, don't you?"

"Dean, we have to get him out of here, Go see if Dew and Bean can help."

"No." John turned to look at his son. "I'm not leaving Sam for one second. You go get them."

John looked confused for a moment, only because he did not expect Dean to refuse an order, but this was also not the time for family disputes. John left the room and returned a moment later with the other two members of their party.

"The women are mobile, barely," Dew ground out. "They should be able to walk out under their own steam."

"That's more than I can say for these poor bastards," John sighed, then held up his hand when Bean and Dew looked ready to ask the obvious. "Later," was all he said and moved back to Sam's side.

"Can you carry him, Dean? He's dead weight," then winced at the implication of those words.

"I got Sam. You worry about whoever else you guys can get out of here."

And with that Dean began disassembling the various wires, tubes and clamps attached to Sam's body. Then he yanked a sheet off a nearby cart and lifted Sam into a seated position by the shoulders. Dean draped the sheet around his brother, wrapped the other sheet that had been covering him around his waist, then leaned in to pull Sam into a fireman's carry over his shoulder.

"Everyone of them is unconscious, John. We can't carry them all," Bean said, not really sure how to decide who went and who stayed.

John cast a look at the orderlies, nurses and technicians standing bunched together now with Dr. Kumar.

"There's a Hoover attack planned against the Center tomorrow night. We just came to get my son and anyone else who wants to leave now. We have vans outside, so if you don't want to stay here with Dr. Kumar," making it clear their offer to evacuate did not extend to him, and take your chances, you can follow us out. Otherwise, don't get in our way."

He turned to Dew and Bean, "We can't afford not to have you two armed and covering our retreat. Help the women and anyone else who wants to leave. I'll cover the rear. When we get back to Menlo, we'll see about sending someone back for the other men.

Bean and Dew nodded and tried to organize what was fast becoming mayhem in the operating room. Dean had already taken Sam out into the corridor, impatiently waiting for the others.

Soon, the rescue team, the three women captives, and five of Dr. Kumar's staff where retracing the trail John, Dean, Dew, Shawn and Bean had followed in. Bean had slung Shawn's body over his shoulder just as Dean was carrying Sam. He'd make sure his best friend received a proper goodbye. A hero's farewell.

They were already out of the large hallway and had entered the narrow junction corridor which led to the western residential wing when John called a halt.

"I'll meet you guys up top. Don't wait if I'm not there in 15 minutes. I need a few words with the good doctor." And before Dean or anyone could object, John was trotting back to the lab wing, gun swinging from his good hand.

"Fucking bastard," Dean growled, but hitched Sam to a better position over his shoulder and trudged ahead. Nothing was stopping him from getting Sam out of there. He'd tell his father what he thought of the split up later.

The group had just reached the machinery room, where the three guards they'd first encountered where still out cold, when the whole tunnel shook and Dean slammed down to his knees, almost losing his grip on Sam's legs. The women in the group screamed and everyone generally started yelling at once.

"What the fuck?" Bean turned to go back for John when he realized the whole tunnel system was creaking in protest of the abuse. "I don't think it's going to hold."

As if to punctuate his words, a steel beam fell across the doorway they'd just passed through.

"Come on, we gotta get up top." Dew yelled, herding the escapees like a tenacious sheepdog. "Move, people. MOVE!"

Bean helped Dean back to his feet and their eyes met in silent understanding. Odds were between slim and none that John had survived such an explosion.

Thirty minutes later they were grouped at the van, dividing up their human cargo. Dean had placed Sam gently in the back of the van he'd ridden in and was checking his pupil dilation. If he'd just wake up,

"Come on Sammy. Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty." He even tried light slaps on Sam's cheeks. "Christ! Sam wake up. Now!" Yet still his brother slept on with not even a twitch.

"Can we get this thing moving. Pul-leeze!" Dean was about ready to drive it off himself and to hell with the rest of them when Bean jumped in the driver's seat and started the engine.

"Hold him in place, Dean. The ride back won't be smooth."

Without an answer, Dean maneuvered himself until he was leaning against the back of the front seat, then lifted Sam up by his shoulders. He pulled his little brother against his chest and wrapped his arms around Sam's waist. Before they were off campus and headed up the highway, Dean had buried his face in Sam's shoulder, fighting back scalding tears.

"I got ya, Sammy. It's ok. I got ya."

* The referenced underground tunnel does exist at Stanford. I did, however, play with the location a bit.


February 2236, San Francisco, CA

Hell in a hand basket was an understatement.

Dean bounced around in the back of the van, wondering just how many holes there were in the 101 between Menlo Park and San Francisco. Bean had hit every fucking one of them, he was sure of that. Dean only hoped Sam wasn't feeling them like he was.

His brother was nestled in a cocoon of rolled up blankets and pillows tucked on either side of him in an effort to make the trip as comfortable as possible. Dean checked his watch again. Then tapped the crystal. Then held it to his ear. There was no way it had only been thirty minutes since they left the camp in Menlo.

Dean braced himself between Sam and the side of the van and examined his little brother's face again. He looked so peaceful, like he was just sleeping.

Not at all like a man doped to the gills.

Kumar had been mostly right. Sam had roused just enough to look fuzzily at Dean's face, say his name and clasp his hand weakly before slipping back into a drug-induced haze. There'd been a few minutes of awareness off and on over the ten hours since they rescued him, but by and large, Sam was totally out of it.

Although it was impossible to pin down exactly which drugs Sam had been given without proper blood work, it was clear to Dew that Sam had been given something more substantial than just anesthesia for the surgery. He had his suspicions based on what the surviving women had told them, but refused to lay voice to them in front of Dean.

But Dean wasn't spared the worst of Sam's condition. Once back at the base camp, they gently laid Sam on one of the cots and examined him. Or mostly it was Dew doing the examining and Dean watching with anguished eyes, feeling helpless and a little like a failure at being a big brother.

When the two of them finally unwrapped Sam from the sheets, Dean felt nauseous and off balance at the sight of what was left of his brother. The whole time he'd held him during the ride he'd been unable to miss how thin Sam was. He'd been tall and gangly and bony and awkward the last time Dean had seen him, and he was still that, but now he seemed almost insubstantial. From a kid who'd looked to eventually gain his father's stockiness and height, Sam was obviously missing both the muscle tone and the weight.

Bruises and faint needle scars decorated the insides of his arms and the backs of his hands, just small white marks but so obviously the tracks of where they had tried again and again to find veins that would hold open. Dew found more on his neck and along the inside of his thighs, mouth tightening at Dean's muttered , "What did they do?"

"Veins were probably collapsing...why they didn't put in a port, I don't know," Dew grumped and Dean didn't even know what he was talking about as Dew continued examining the back of Sam's left hand, then up his arm, testing with a frown on his face.

"This arm's been broken; not set right," he said with only a quick glance at Dean's stormy face. "Healed up, but not...gonna be a hell of a cold weather indicator when he gets old," he said.

It wasn't what Dean wanted to hear, but Dew's casual assurance that Sam could get old reassured him somewhat. When Dew moved on Dean caught up Sam's left hand himself, Sam's fingers curving around his in relaxation.

But much of the reassurance fled when Dew finally moved down along Sam's hips to his groin, shaved smooth as a baby's, and Dean didn't want to look but had to, feeling his blood pressure rise.

They'd mutilated Sam – Dean couldn't think of any other word for it, looking at his brother's groin, and the balls that showed more pale, white scars,  barely healed red ones and even more recent livid cuts in the tender tissue. Dean placed his hand to his own crotch in sympathy.

That bastard doctor, who Sam had trusted and liked and given up everything for, had mutilated and scarred and betrayed his brother and Dean wished now he'd put a bullet in Kumar's brain. There was more than one way to be soulless, even with a soul.

"Dew..." Dean growled, glancing at Sam's face to see if he was feeling any of this, but his features were still lax and pale.

"I'm no doctor, Dean," Dew said finally and pulled out alcohol and some gauze and began carefully cleaning the more recent incision marks. "But they've been doing this for awhile. He's got incisions on top of incisions. Shape he's in, I'd say he's been under -- or close to it -- for a few months. Have to be for as often as they cut into him to get what they wanted. Once, twice a week maybe. Maybe more often. He'd never have stood the pain if they hadn't doped him."

"How bad?" Dean grated out. "I mean..."

"Don't know," Dew said firmly. "I don't. But they were still at" he shrugged helplessly. "I don't know, Dean..."

Dean stared down at Sam's face when Dew pulled the sheet back up, squeezed his hand. Sam didn't squeeze back. "Dew... I need...I need..."

Dew took pity on him. "He's gonna need some clothes when I get finished," he said which was all the excuse Dean needed to get out of there for a few minutes.

The original plan to stay in Menlo for the time being was shot dead in the water. They had to get Sam to the Med Center in San Francisco where they had the means to diagnose and treat him, whatever that entailed. But it wasn't as easy as that. Another problem was created from the get-go.

"They're not going to let us in with him without a cert, Dean. You know the Captain of Isolation Security is a hard-ass." Dew chewed his lip, knowing he had neither the training nor supplies to do anything but keep Sam comfortable, for awhile at least. Dew suspected that within a matter of hours Sam would begin showing signs of withdrawal from whatever they'd shot him up with.

"Don't worry about the cert. You get Sam ready to go," and Dean was out the door, headed to the valley.

It had taken all the money he and John had saved to live on after the rescue, plus half his ammunition, but three and a half hours later Dean was back with a legitimate looking Isolation Certificate for Sam Winchester. He hoped they didn't ask for more ID, because he didn't think a picture of Sam with his eyes closed, looking like death warmed over would suffice.

"Is he ready?" Dean asked Dew.

"Yeah." Dew looked worried and fretful but let Bean take one of the vans for the trip. Just before Dean climbed in the back with his brother, Dew handed him an envelope to give to the doctor at the Med Center. It included what the women had told Dew, as well as his own suspicions of what Sam had been given.

"Thanks, Dew. I know you did all you could. We'll see you soon." Dean smiled reassuringly at his buddy, as much for his own benefit as Dew's. "You guys just find Dad and anyone else who might still be there."

Dew nodded and smiled back. "Shawn's maps showed another service entrance closer to where the blast occurred. We're going to try to get back in and out before tonight. If we have to, we'll go back after, too." Dew slammed the van door shut and wondered just how much more fucked up the world could get.


Upon entrance into San Fran, Bean would drive the Winchesters straight to The Med Center before heading to the Presidio to make arrangements for Shawn's interment. Bean felt Shawn deserved a hero's burial in a place where his friends and family could visit his grave in safety. The best place he could think of was on the bay, where Shawn had been raised.

They started hitting the checkpoints at Daly City, a few miles outside the main entrance. Concertina wire and k-9 patrols swept around the perimeter of the "safe zone" which reached almost to the ocean. In truth, the whole area was government controlled, providing food and supplies to the Western United States. This did not prevent the areas of isolation from being infiltrated occasionally, thus the checkpoints.

Dew slowed the van and pulled out the pouch he had chucked into the glove box before they left Menlo.

"Heads up, Deano. Get out the certs."

Dean responded by silently handing Dew his certification of Isolation, along with the forged paper for Sam. Dean had just gotten his renewed two months earlier, so he had the same date and location put on Sam's. It would be perfectly natural for brothers to be certified at the same time.

"Let me do the talking, Dean," Bean commanded. "Every time I've seen you have to deal with the government, you guys get into it." Dean frowned but acquiesced.

"They always start it," Dean muttered.

"Uh huh."

Everything was going swimmingly until the pair of guards on duty demanded to see ID along with the certs. Great, thought Dean. Overzealous newbs. He pulled out his wallet and handed the card up to Bean. They exchanged worried looks as their eyes met over Sam's prone body.

"Where's his?" asked one of the guards. It all sort of went downhill from there. "... and those are our orders," the second guard decided to join the action while Bean was trying to explain Sam's situation to Asshole #1. They were both being total fucktards in Dean's opinion. Playing the "Whose Dick is Bigger?" game.

Before Bean could continue his logical explanation of Sam's condition and lack of identification, Dean crawled up to the passenger seat.

"Look, dude," Dean began, which immediately made the soldier bristle, "what part of saved the NAARC volunteers from Hoover death don't you understand?" Bean was trying desperately to shush Dean with hand signals between the seats.

"Oh, I heard your friend here the first time, Hunter." The last word was a sneer. "And I don't care if he's Jesus Mohammed Christ, come back to earth. No ID, no entry."

Dean took a deep breath and decided to try one more time before he declared war on the city of San Francisco. "Could you just get your COD?" Another breath and swallow. Damn this was hard. "We're not trying to scam you guys. You saw his cert, which he just happened to have on him when he was rescued. We couldn't stick around for everyone to dig their IDs out." It all made perfect sense to Dean. He was tempted to just get out of the van and drop his pants to get the pissing contest over with.

The two soldiers exchanged a glance and the second one nodded. "I'll go get Captain Carter," he grudgingly said. "You, pull over here so we can get these people behind you in." He motioned to a vacant parking area for Bean to pull the van into.

When the government yahoos backed off to let Bean move the van, Dean couldn't hold it in any longer. He slammed his palm down on the dash, causing dust to billow up like a puff of smoke. "I hate those guys!"

"No shit?"

It was common knowledge among his friends that each time he and his father had to visit one of the larger cities for provisions or intel, Dean's skin would begin to crawl as soon as they'd passed through the gates. John had teased him about being a "wild child" and needing to be around civilization more, but Dean knew it was because he felt like he was being watched all the time. And when not being watched, he knew there was someone keeping track of him, at least.

Some town marshals had even shown contempt for what Dean and John were doing, forgetting the fact that their attempts at keeping rogues at bay and joining with other Hunter groups for larger jobs were what made their cities the piece of cake they were to manage.

"I can't wait to get Sammy out of here," Dean muttered to the window, already feeling claustrophobic.

However long it had taken Bean to convince the Captain that there was no danger of Sam sucking anyone's soul out, it was ten times too long according to Dean. He had a splitting headache from his blood pulsing with anger and frustration. His fingers longed to curl into a fist and punch the holy crap out of those sanctimonious bastards. He thought he would scream until, finally, Bean started the van up again and they waved him on.

"We're going to the hospital?" Because there was no way Dean was going to let Sam go anywhere else in that city.

"Yep. Of course, that wad of bills I handed the Captain had nothing to do with him finally seeing the light."

"You had to pay that son of a bitch to let Sam go to the hospital?" Dean was incredulous, although he didn't know why. Of course this government was corrupt, just as governments had always been corrupt.

"We knew this might be a possibility. I passed the hat while you were in the valley getting Sam's cert. Everyone wants to see Sam recover, Dean. Believe me."

Dean didn't know what to say. If John had been there, Dean was sure he'd be pissing himself with laughter. Dean had the good grace to look embarrassed and even chagrined. He'd almost blown it with his temper when Bean knew what he was doing all along.


The Med Center, in another life, had been the University of California Medical Center. It was the best facility the country had to offer these days, being staffed with the oldest doctors in the world, as well as some of the brightest up and coming students. Dean knew he couldn't do better for Sam.

Bean had waited with them until the nurse finally called to have someone take Sam up to a room. "Dean, don't be an asshole. You call me if you guys need anything. Anything, you hear?"

Dean started to just nod and agree with a smile, then clasped Bean's hand tightly and looked him in the eye. "We will. Dad and me, we were always pretty much on our own. Who knew we even had friends?" Dean teased, then got serious. "Thank everyone for us, will you?" He clinched the roll of bills Bean had slipped into their handshake and felt more humbled than anytime John had ever berated him.

"Oh, they'll expect it paid back, jerkwad," Bean quipped and with a wave goodbye, turned to leave.

"Hey, Bean!" Dean stopped his friend at the door.


"Help them find Dad?" They hadn't talked too much about John and the tunnel explosion. Most everyone had been too concerned with Sam and his unknown condition. But it was understood the other Hunters would go back when it was safe for one of their own, dead or alive.

"You betcha."

With a quick jerk of his head Dean turned to follow Sam up to his new home for the foreseeable future. Dean hoped they had a couch or at least a comfortable chair in his brother's room, because he wasn't going anywhere.

As it turned out, Sam was in a semi-private room which wasn't currently occupied. Turning on the charm, Dean used his best smile to flirt the head nurse into agreeing to letting him use the other bed until it was needed.

Dean supposed news of Sam's arrival and the circumstances which had brought him here spread pretty quickly. He doubted the doctors usually rushed to a new patient's side with such avid interest. Less than an hour after Sam's admittance, an older woman of large stature, followed by a gaggle of what he supposed to be med students, crowded into their room and began to examine Sam. Dean remembered the envelope Dew had given him earlier and passed it over to the doctor, who motioned for him to give it to one of her students.

Tearing it open and scanning the page, a young man about Dean's age passed it to the doctor with some muttered words Dean couldn't make out. The doctor also did a quick scan, then stopped and reread it in more detail, this time with her glasses on. She peered at Dean then at Sam over the rim.

"I'm Doctor Astrid, Mr. Winchester. How long was he there?" she addressed Dean crisply.

"Almost four years, but it's only been the last year or so that we've lost touch with him. He used to call pretty regular." Dean looked down at his brother's too-thin face and laid his palm across Sam's brow. "I don't know how long, " Dean swallowed, "he's been like this."

"Will you excuse us Mr. Winchester, while we examine your brother more thoroughly? I believe there's a waiting area just at the end of the hall." She began to pull the sheet down to Sam's waist and was probing around his neck.

Dean didn't think he could stand to see Sam's body again just yet, so he nodded and picked up his jacket. Maybe he'd get a bite to eat, or better yet, bring it back here so he would be handy if the doctor had anymore questions.

"Please, call me Dean, Dr. Astrid. And I'll be right back if you need anything." He smiled like he would to his grandmother, if he'd had one, and hoped she was the best the hospital had to offer because he was pretty sure that's who Sam needed.


"Dean, you have to leave! We need room to work." Dr. Astrid and two male nurses had firm grips on Sam as he flopped and thrashed around in the hospital bed. "You know he'll be alright, just go, get Cathy for me."

Dean silently raged at how helpless he felt each time Sam had one of these goddamn seizures. But, he also reacted to the authority in Dr. Astrid's voice and ran out of the room to the main station to get the head nurse.

"It's Sam! He's, " Dean waved his hands back down the hall to Sam's room. "Doctor wants you." Cathy was already down the hall by the time Dean finished and he turned to follow, but didn't go in. They would let him know when it was over. Until then, Dean let his back slide down the smooth hallway walls until he was squatting just outside Sam's door, prepared to wait however long it took.

Dean's head banged lightly against the wall and he closed his eyes, reliving the last few days since they'd left Menlo Park. Within twenty-four hours of their arrival at the Med Center, Sam had begun one of the worst cases of drug withdrawal Dr. Astrid had ever seen.

It started with the nightmares, which made Dean's skin crawl when he heard Sam screaming.

"We shouldn't have come here! Have to find him," and variations thereof had Dean ready to commit murder. It sounded like Sam was feeling guilty for what happened to him and the others under the tender mercies of Dr. Kumar. And that was just wrong.

Then other times, during periods of waking delirium, which Dr. Astrid had told Dean to expect, nothing Sam said made any sense at all. All Dean could do was hold Sam while he sweated and moaned, making occasional references to Texas and Missouri, two states he'd never even been to, as far as Dean knew.

They had to strap Sam's arms and legs when the seizures began. Dean could still hear Sam's incoherent pleas ringing in his ears. And even when it seemed he was lucid, Dean couldn't follow Sam.

"We can't go there. Swear to me you won't go!"

"Sam! Sam, you're safe now. We won't go anywhere you don't want to, okay? No problem," he soothed until Sam fell back to sleep only to be woken up a few hours later by another nightmare.

Dean tried to ease Sam's distress like he might a small child, but Sam's waking moments had become just as horrific for him as the few precious ones when he slept.

Dean dared not loosen the restraints after the first time he let his anguish over Sam's pleas make him ignore the doctor's warning, only to have Sam seize in his arms, knocking over the IV pole and thrashing his leg into the bed railing so hard there was still a brilliantly hued bruise on Sam's ankle and foot.

No, Dean had to just sit beside his brother on the bed, letting the tears flow while Sam writhed and cursed just before being violently ill and almost chocking on his own vomit before they could get him up. Dean felt helpless against Sam's demons and that was not a feeling he was used to or could accept.

Looking at his watch, Dean saw that this seizure had lasted less than a minute, but it seemed like hours before they allowed him in. Sam was resting peacefully now, Dean presumed from the drugs they were using to counteract the other drugs he'd been given. Christ, but Sam's body had to be a walking chemical dump by now.

Admittedly his brother was looking a bit healthier than he was a week ago, but that truly wasn't saying much. His color was closer to flesh-tone than the sickly sallow it had been when they found him but he was still far too thin.

"He'll be awake in a couple of hours, Dean. Why don't you get some rest?" Cathy's hand on his arm squeezed tightly for a second before she smiled and left them alone.

Dean grabbed Sam's chart and threw himself in the oversized lounge chair in the corner. He couldn't understand most of it, but the gist was that Sam was going through drug addiction withdrawal, as well as recovering from the surgeries. A note had been made for a psychological evaluation when he was over the withdrawal.

Fucking, goddamn son of a bitch asshole motherfucker. For the hundredth time Dean wished Kumar was standing in front of him so he could shoot him right between his sanctimonious eyes.

Sam shifted and frowned a little in his sleep. Dean was up and by the bed, soothing Sam with a hand to his cheek before brushing it across the stubble that had once been a shaggy mop.

"Shhhh, it's ok. You're safe, Sammy. Not gonna let anything happen." That promise sounded hollow, even to Dean. He'd done such a fucking great job so far of keeping his brother safe.

Sam muttered something and Dean leaned down, bringing his ear closer to Sam's mouth. "What bro? What did you say?" he asked in a soft voice.

"Name,..., " Sam's breath was warm and moist in Dean's ear, ", Sam"

Dean raised his head and peered closely at Sam's face. He still had not opened his eyes and appeared to be asleep once again, but the frown had turned to a barely perceptible smile on his lips. Dean dragged the chair to the side of the bed and slipped Sam's hand in his. The second shift nurse found him there, his head laid next to Sam's leg, still holding his brother's hand, fast asleep.

By day twelve Sam had pretty much gotten through the worst of the physical symptoms and restraints were no longer necessary. It had been over forty-eight hours since his last seizure and the nausea and vomiting had stopped days ago.

To celebrate two weeks of freedom, Dean brought them dinner – the first solid food Sam was attempting. He found Sam sweating and grunting as he tried to pull himself up with his left arm using the swinging handle they'd placed over his bed.

"What the hell do you think you're doing? Trying for a heart attack now?" Dean set the bags on the tray and stuffed pillows behind Sam's back and shoulders to support him.

"I hate this!" Sam said with almost as much vehemence as he'd used during his withdrawal tirades. "I can hardly even piss by myself. This sucks!"

Dean smiled, because this Sam he knew. This was his little brother throwing a hissy because he wasn't getting his way.

"Well, I guess you can't feed yourself this bowl of stew I brought you then." Dean picked up the delicious smelling bag and held it just out of Sam's reach.

"If you don't give me my dinner in five seconds, asshole, I'm going to kick your ass, one day!" Sam tried for threatening, which was pretty comical, then turned to the tried and true method.

"Oh no, that look might work on the nurses, but not me!"

Dean set the bag on the other bed and rummaged inside for his own sandwich and chili. Sam sat pouting, but no longer seemed to be playing. Dean sensed the mood swing and realized Sam was seriously getting pissed..

"You puke this up, you're cleaning up the mess," Dean warned and handed Sam his dinner. Doc Astrid didn't think it was a good idea for you to eat anything more than those shakes they've been giving you for another week, but I guess you know more than she does." Dean groused a bit but leaned over to help tuck Sam's napkin neatly in his T-shirt, and pajama top, and sweatshirt.

"What's with all the layers, man? It's got to be 70 degrees in here."

Dean had noticed that since Sam had begun to recover enough to dress himself, he'd gone back to the multiple layers he favored before leaving for Stanford. He wasn't positive, but it looked like he'd even added one or two.

"Just leave it, Dean," Sam replied and dove into the paper bowl of beef stew. Dean was stunned but let it slide.

In an effort to lighten the mood, Dean couldn't help but smile and tease when Sam cleaned the dish out by tilting it up to his face and licking the inside. "Hey, you weren't raised in a fucking barn, boy." Then did the same thing himself with his chili bowl. It seemed to work. They shared a smile and Dean hoped they'd moved a little farther down the road to recovery.

Sam's good mood was a thing of the past the next day. Dean walked in Sam's room after his shift on the docks, only to find it empty. He could hear water running in the bathroom, so shucked his jacket and cracked the bathroom door to let Sam know he was back.

"Honey, I'm home," Dean sung, but there was only silence behind the shower curtain. "You okay in there?"

"Get out!" Sam yelled over the shower spray and Dean sighed heavily.

"Sam," Dean stepped into the bathroom and shut the door. "We have to talk about this, " and pulled the curtain back enough for Sam to hear him without shouting.

Sam had his back to his brother, but Dean could see the angry red marks across his lower back and buttocks where he'd scrubbed himself raw. Heedless of his own clothes, Dean stepped into the shower and pulled Sam around to face him. His chest and stomach, the entire front of his body had been equally abused.

"Sam! You're freaking me out here."

Sam's face was pinched and hard, not a look Dean was used to seeing on his baby brother. He tried to jerk his arm out of Dean's grip, but he was still at half-strength and Dean could tell when he gave up and just stood there letting Dean hold him up. Dean shut the water off and tried to gauge Sam's state of mind. He was getting nothing.

"Come on," Dean tugged at Sam's arm. "God, I hate wet jeans."

They both stepped out of the shower and Dean tossed Sam a towel while he stripped out of his own soaking clothes.

Once dry, Sam tugged on a pair of jeans Dean had found at a resale shop and began walking the small space around his bed. Dean threw his towel down and pulled dry clothes out of his pack, aware that Sam reminded him of a caged animal. Suddenly, he felt way over his head.

"Sam. Sit down, please!" Dean brushed fingers through his wet hair then reached out to push Sam into the chair. Sam flinched and took a step backwards. Dean backed off, hands in the air. "Okay, okay, it's cool, dude. Let's go for a walk. How's that sound?"

Sam nodded, shrugged into a T-shirt and followed Dean out into the quiet hallway. Dean saw that Sam had pulled in on himself again, shoulders hunched and hands stuffed deep in his front pockets. When they got to the waiting area, Dean walked over to the coffee pot in the corner and poured himself a cup. He poured a glass of water for Sam. Caffeine just didn't seem like a good idea.

Sam was standing at the window looking out at the clear February day.

"We'll be out there soon," Dean said and handed Sam his water. "Just need to get you back to 100%." He raised his arm to pat Sam's shoulder, but stopped himself.  Sam caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and glanced over.

"It's okay. Now. Sorry about earlier." Sam looked kind of lost and Dean shrugged.

"No biggie. I get it. You're still kinda jumpy from...things." Dean tossed the rancid coffee and sat on the windowsill facing Sam and cleared his throat. "Just, you know, I wanted you to know, you're not alone."

Sam continued looking out the glass, then met Dean's direct gaze. "Thanks. That means a lot."

Not much, but it was a start. Dean knew he couldn't really understand what happened to Sam Maybe he never would. But he could damn well make sure he was there when he was ready to talk about it.

"Hey, it's what we do, right? I watch your back," except when I'm not and you need me most, "and you watch mine." When Dean took a step toward Sam, he didn't back off. "And I want to know, Sam. When you can talk, I want to know."

Sam nodded and seemed to accept that and even smiled a little. Dean let it drop and they walked around a bit more before heading back to their room. Dean pulled Sam's bed tray over to his chair while he cleaned his guns and Sam seemed to still be lost in thought.

Dinner was some kind of fried bird and Sam was showing a healthy appetite. "The worst part, " Sam said around a mouthful of food, "was having everything in my life taken out of my control."

Dean paused with a drumstick mid-way to his mouth. He nodded and said, "Hm, yeah. I can see where that would pretty much suck." He wiped his mouth with a napkin and sat back in the chair.

Sam had also stopped eating. "I don't know how to explain it, but it was like, they were always touching me, testing me, probing me, and I couldn't do a goddamn thing about it. I was trapped in my head, wanting to scream at them to stop, but nothing would come out. And they just took what they wanted. I felt, feel violated."

Dean took a moment to digest Sam's revelation. He'd had no idea. "Whoa." Then he tried again. "I mean, Sam, " Fuck. He couldn't think of one intelligent thing to say.

"You don't have to say anything. I just wanted you to know." If the light hadn't caught Sam's face just right at that moment, Dean would never know he was crying.

Dean coughed and looked away, then thought, fuck it and moved to Sam's bedside. "When you went away, I guess I didn't understand why you wanted to leave us. But I knew you believed in what you were doing, so I didn't try to talk you out of it. I wish to God I had now, but , " Dean made a helpless gesture, "it probably wouldn't have done any good." He smiled crookedly and Sam did too.

"Dean." Sam stopped him. "I know, I know all that. I'm just going to need some time. What they were doing in that lab was majorly fucked up. And I guess I'm a little fucked up now too."

Dean nodded and pulled Sam into a tight hug, which Sam not only allowed, but returned. But, Dean could feel the fine tremors running through Sam's body, the tight muscles in his shoulders and knew they still had a long way to go.

The next day, Dean stopped at the nurse's station as he came out of the stairwell. "How is he today?" he asked Cathy, who just looked kind of sad and shrugged her shoulders.

"Hard to tell."

Sam was standing at the window when Dean walked in. His shoulders were stooped slightly and Dean could see his arm moving in front of him, but couldn't tell what he was doing.

"Hey, you're up. I'm glad to see that." Dean entered the room and walked up behind Sam, but froze when he looked around Sam's shoulder.

"Sam! Are you fucking insane?" Dean supposed to anyone else the answer would be pretty clear.

Sam had taken Dean's knife out of his backpack. The one Dean didn't carry with him unless they were actively hunting. And he had just used it to open a small gash on his forearm. Dean yanked Sam's arm back and pulled the knife out of his hand.

The blood was dripping, but not pouring out of the incision Sam had made, not on an artery and not very deep. Sam let Dean turn him around to sit in the chair while he rushed into the bathroom for a towel.

"I did not haul your ass out of that hellhole just so you could kill yourself." Dean was livid and scared. He wrapped the towel around Sam's arm. "And if you were going to off yourself, it helps to hit an artery." Dean finished tying the towel into a knot and collapsed on the edge of the bed.

He finally looked at Sam's face, which seemed blank and dazed. Sam looked down at his arm and back at Dean.

"I wasn't trying to kill myself." Sam scrubbed his face with his good hand and shook his head to clear it. "I saw myself doing this, I had to. To save you."

Dean kneeled down between Sam's legs and clenched his jaw, trying to calm the fuck down so he could think of the right words to say.

"Sam," he began softly, his hands now resting on Sam's thighs. "Sammy, we have to get you some help. Or maybe we just need to get you out of here, but my God, Sam. What were you thinking? I would never ask you to hurt yourself for me."

They looked into the other's eyes, both trying to figure out what was going on. "I saw it, Dean. It was real," Sam said quietly then doubled over and dropped his head to Dean's shoulder. "God, Dean, I don't know what's real anymore."

Dean's arms went around Sam and he pulled his brother up and walked him to the bed. When Sam lay down, Dean crawled up next to him and pulled his brother into his arms, tucking Sam's spiky-haired head beneath his chin. Sam pressed his face against Dean and sighed heavily.

"Let's go, Dean. Let's go find Dad and let's go home. Where no one knows."

"We'll go Sammy. We'll leave tomorrow. I promise." Dean continued to hold Sam until he'd fallen asleep, wishing he knew how to pray for the right words to give his brother peace.

That night Dean woke up to Sam's incoherent whimpers and did the only thing he knew to do. Crawled back into bed with Sam and held him close until the dream passed. If he ever so much as got a whiff of Kumar still being alive, he'd hunt the bastard down and rip his balls off before stuffing them in his mouth. And then he'd kill him.


"Do you remember your nightmares?" Dean asked while he packed his bag. He would so not miss this damn place.

"Not really," was all Sam said but Dean didn't miss Sam's glance sliding out the window and his fists clenching the sheets.

Dean nodded and stuffed more clean clothes, thanks to the hospital laundry, in his pack. Everything Sam owned, he was wearing.

"I remember, pieces." Sam's voice was uncertain.

Dean stopped packing and sat next to Sam on the bed, letting his hand rest on Sam's leg. "What? Tell me what you remember. It might help." He encouraged Sam with a squeeze to his knee.

"Just fragments and pictures. I'm always so scared when I wake up, but I never know why. And it's not always the Center." Sam's face twisted, as if just trying to remember was physically painful. "God, I just want to be normal again and I don't think I ever will be."

"Sam. We were never normal. Lower your standards?"

That got the expected smile, but it was weak. "I wish they'd done something to me so I would forget everything. Like brainwash me or something. It would be better than this." Sam emphasized his words by gripping his short hair with both hands. Dean pulled his hands down and clasped them both.

"Well, they didn't. The bastards did what they did and the only good thing is you're not there anymore. The rest, we'll work out as it goes. We'll deal." It wasn't a lot, but maybe, just maybe if he kept reminding Sam that being alive was a good start, he'd believe it himself and they could both start to get over it.

But, Sam seemed not to hear him. "The last months, I remember being cold mostly. I could never get warm," Dean chafed Sam's hands between his own. "I always knew when there were ready for another, procedure," Sam spat out the last word. "I was already pretty out of it, but just before they'd take me back into that room, I'd get an extra little something that always made me feel nauseous until I passed out."

"Sons of bitches," Dean muttered.

Sam looked on the verge of crying again. "You know at first? I was happy to give them what they wanted, do my part. But it wasn't enough. They wanted more and more and when I balked or asked questions, they took it anyway...over and over and over, I couldn't say no, Dean. To them I was just another lab rat."

Sam's voice was rising steadily and Dean could hear hysteria lurking on the edges. He got up and pulled Sam out of bed and tossed him his hooded sweatshirt.

"Come on, we're blowing this pop stand."

Sam moved mechanically, helping Dean with the last few items they were taking with them, but he seemed to have at least settled down. Dean knew, however, this was far from over. They needed help. Sam needed help. And whatever Sam needed, Dean would get or die trying.


Dean's hand rubbed a soothing circle on Sam's back. "Hey, you don't have to go in there, you know." He knew this wasn't a good idea.

Sam stood at the entrance to the tunnel, then stepped forward, out of Dean's reach. "No, I'm good. I need to do this."

The small party of Dean, Sam, Dew and Bean were retracing the escape route from the Center in hopes of finding some clue as to what happened to John. The inside had already been searched, or at least what was accessible after the explosions, while Dean and Sam were still in San Francisco, but the equipment that was still in one piece would bring premium price at the hospital, more than covering Sam's medical bills.

Bean opened the door, a twin to the one they'd entered through three weeks ago, and climbed down into the tunnel. Dew followed and waited for Sam.

"Go on, I got your back." Dean's voice was low in Sam's ear. Sam jerked a nod, took a breath and crossed the threshold.

While Dew and Bean walked around marking what they thought should be hauled up later, Sam headed for the operating room where they'd found him. Dean followed, wanting to be with his brother, just in case.

But, Sam seemed to hold up well. For some reason most of the machines and monitors there had been trashed beyond salvaging. They walked over the rubble and Dean wondered if Sam was looking for anything in particular.

"Ok, let's go." Sam turned suddenly and left the room before his words even registered with Dean.

Dean found Sam in the storage room they'd discovered on their first trip down. The drawers had been cleaned out and it was no longer cooler in here than the rest of the facility. Sam was standing at the last set of cabinets, his fingers resting on the outer drawer label. Winchester, S.

"I grabbed a pocketful of tubes with your name on them."

Sam did not respond. The sound of Bean and Dew yelling for them to head up stopped Dean from saying anything else.

They were quiet on the drive back to camp and when they got out of the van, Sam turned to his brother. "Where are they?"


"The stuff, with my name on it. Where is it?"

Dean looked confused for only a few seconds, then shook his head. "I don't know. I gave them to Dew." Sam was already walking toward the medic.

When Dew indicated the supply tent, Dean had to trot to keep up with Sam's stride. "What are you going to do?"

"What do you think?"

They were now at the generator-run cooler they kept for the small supply of medicines they kept on hand. Sam stopped and yanked the door open, rummaging carelessly through the stash.

"Hey, wait, man! Sam!" Dean was picking up small vials of antibiotic and other drugs Sam had strewn on the floor.

Sam's satisfied grunt told Dean he'd found what he was looking for. "Sam, I don't know if that's a good idea." Too late.

Sam stowed the five tubes in an oily paper bag leftover from someone's lunch and went outside. As soon as Dean had replaced the drugs, he went out to find Sam, easily locating him by the sound of cracking glass being crushed under Sam's booted foot.

When the bag only contained a mess of pulverized crystalline, Sam turned and walked away from camp, leaving Dean to dispose of one of Sam's demons. He wanted to go after Sam, but resisted, knowing there were some things his brother had to think through on his own.

Dean recalled the first half of the ride back to Menlo over a week ago. Sam stared out the window until Dean grew restless.

"You gonna be okay?" Dean asked when the silence was too heavy to bear.


"Do you know why there were, doing what they were doing." That sounded lame, but what should he have asked? Why were they sucking your sperm out through a needle in your balls? It hurt Dean to even think about it.

The long silence made Dean think he wasn't getting his answer and figured he'd pushed more than Sam could deal with right now. When Sam did speak, he was almost sorry he'd asked.

"You know the serum they were trying to find to reverse or prevent those, things from taking our souls?" Dean nodded. "Well," Sam swallowed and looked like he was going to be sick, but got himself under control. "They found what they were looking for and more."

"What do you mean? They found the formula? And it's made from your, ." Dean couldn't help the face he made.

"Not exactly. They were still working on the serum as far as I know. But the reason they stopped taking blood and just wanted sperm was, " And this time Dean thought Sam really was going to lose it. Sam looked like he'd been kicked in the gut.

"Hey, you don't have to do this now." He hated seeing Sam hurting like this.

Sam slugged down some water from the bottle on the seat and shook his head. "No, you should know. If anything happens to me, someone needs to know."

"Hey, none of that fatalistic bullshit," Dean admonished.

"Whatever." Sam took a shuddering breath and continued. "What they found out was that children produced from my sperm and the eggs from a soulless creature, Dean, man, they had souls." Despite his reluctance to talk about it, Sam's voice held a note of awe.

Dean was glad they hadn't been on a portion of the road with a steep drop. As it was, the van fishtailed through the sandy shoulder.

When Dean had regained control of both the van and his brain, he turned in his seat and stared at Sam.

"You mean there's little Sammy's running around somewhere? And you let them do that?"

"No, Dean. That's what I've been trying to tell you. I didn't know. At least not until about eight months ago. When I found out, I sort of went crazy. That's when I got my arm broke."

"You did not get your arm broke. They broke it for you." Dean wanted him to be really clear on that.

"Anyway," Sam was determined to get it all out, "the rest gets kind of fuzzy because that's when they started doping me."

Silence filled the inside of the vehicle and Dean rolled his window down just to hear some noise.

"Whoa." Sam just nodded.

"Shit!" Sam nodded again.

"As for little Sammy's," Sam's voice cracked, "I have no idea how many, if any survived. They would never let me see any of the babies. So, I don't know."

Dean, who was hardly ever speechless, was doing a great impersonation of someone who'd just lost their wits. "That's a helluva story, dude. You should probably hold on to that."

"Oh, don't worry. I don't think I'll be putting an ad in the paper."

There, it was out. Sam actually felt a ton lighter and although he knew he'd freaked Dean out, he knew his brother was behind him, no matter what he decided to do down the road. He'd made that very clear.

Sam couldn't bring himself to think about that now, though.

They rode the rest of the way to Menlo in silence, through the farmlands in the valley, once well manicured and landscaped estates. The winter harvest was coming in and there were workers in the fields. Dean knew if they kept driving south, they'd hit the few remaining manufacturers left in the country. The others were on the east coast.

The middle of the country hadn't fared so well. Some of the bigger corporate farms in the Midwest were able to maintain a presence as co-ops, only because they weren't near any large cities. But technology rarely made it to the heartland.

Sam was calm if not overly quiet when he returned to camp for dinner. With the exception of today's outburst, he had seemed to be making a steady recovery. His physical strength was returning slowly with his active participation around camp, almost pushing himself too hard, in Dean's opinion.

When Sam started going for short runs in the mornings, Dean joined him. They could both stand to get back into shape. And if it was noticed that Sam would not let anyone but Dean get within touching distance, no one said anything. As for Dean, he had to stop himself daily from hovering, making sure Sam was warm enough, had enough to eat, and slept. To his knowledge, Sam had yet to get more than three consecutive hours of sleep since they'd left San Fran.

Dean knew it was pointless to wait around Menlo any longer hoping their dad would show up. If John had escaped after the explosion, he was long gone. No one voiced what everyone was thinking – If John was alive, why hadn't he come back here?

Dean headed to San Jose one day, to pay back some of the funds loaned them, and on his return he realized Sam knew it too. He wasn't terribly surprised when, sitting at the fire one night, Sam let him know they needed to go.

"It's time," Sam said quietly.


"To leave. Dad's not in there. Nothing good is in there." Sam shivered and pulled his jacket tighter around his shoulders. "The only thing in there is nightmares and I want to get away from here. Now. Tonight."

Dean understood what Sam was feeling, and he wasn't even the one who had spent horrific years in the place. Sam had been hurt in there, John was missing because of there and the best thing to do would be to leave there behind. "Would tomorrow morning be okay?"

Their destination became clear the next day. It was uncanny, but Dean had learned long ago not to question the workings of Missouri. The note they received, sent via whatever messenger was handy and headed this way, had been sent by their father's oldest friend two weeks ago when Sam and Dean were still in San Francisco.

It beckoned them home, as soon as they could travel. It ended cryptically with, Trust no one but each other.

Dean left camp early, leaving word for Sam that he'd be back in a few hours. While he waited, Sam packed their few belongs and was checking their ammo when the van pulled up to camp in a cloud of dust and Dean got out of the passenger side. He waved at the driver, who turned the van around, heading back north.

"Where you been?" Sam asked, stepping out into the afternoon sun. "And who's that driving the van?"

"The new owner."


"I sold it. We'll need the money more than the wheels for now and we can always pick something up back east." Dean pulled Sam's hand up and laid a wad of bills in it. "You be in charge of that."

"Okaaay. So, we walking to Kansas?"

"No, brainiac." It had been years since Dean had called him that. "We're riding the rails." Dean turned and headed to the main area to make their final arrangements, waving his arm in the air and yee-hawing like a cowboy.

"Idiot," Sam muttered and finished packing the ammo.

The next morning found them eastbound on the Union-Pacific, the last running rail line in America. The route had been altered to run from coast to coast, stopping only at remote, well-known villages. It flew by big cities without so much as a whistle.

Dean's new-to-him cowboy hat, acquired as part of the sale of the van, was pulled down over his eyes as soon as they had settled in their seats. "I always wanted one of these."

"Okay, John Wayne, but we're headed to Kansas, not Texas, right?" As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Sam felt an itch between his shoulder blades and an inexplicable panic start to rise up inside him. He rolled his shoulder, as if brushing something off and settled himself in the seat.

Dean was already snoring softly and Sam leaned back, propping his feet up on the seat across from them. Wherever they were going, they couldn't leave California fast enough to suit him.

By late afternoon they were passing through eastern Utah and snacking on some sausage rolls Sam had brought from camp.

"Hey." Dean put his arm around Sam's shoulder as he was packing away the remaining rolls. Sam looked at him and returned the smile. "You know I'm never letting you out of my sight again, don't you?"

Sam elbowed Dean in the ribs, his smile spreading into a boyish grin. "You might try."

Sam didn't let his smile falter, but his dreams were ever-present. He and Dean were bound as closely as two people could be and he had no intention of letting his brother out of his sight, either.

To the next part

Return to Rum, hot oil, and the lash