Soul Searching, a Supernatural AU, part 2
by Meg,

Scenes from Kansas:

Sam got the best natural sleep he'd had in months while riding the rails with Dean. The trip was taking much longer than he expected, although Dean didn't act surprised that it was day four and they had just barely gotten out of Colorado. But it had given the brothers time. Sam, time for healing. Dean, time to deal with what had happened to his family. All of a sudden, the soulless ones were not the only bad guys they were fighting and Dean was still getting his head around that.

The sausage rolls they'd brought from Menlo were long gone, but each stop at the communities along their route seemed to offer some sort of food suited for traveling. Finger foods that required no utensils, usually some combination of meat, pastry dough and vegetables. It was really all they needed.

The train was finally pulling out of Kanorado and it would still take them almost two more days to reach Lawrence. They were traveling through a part of the country that hadn't fared nearly as well as the coastal areas. Throughout the Midwest, only the larger farms had been able to survive through co-opting and there were never enough resources to truly make it easy.

Dean wiped his mouth with the handkerchief he used for a napkin and took several swallows of water. He'd given Sam a few days to adjust. He figured just being back out in the world with no confining walls was a drastic change for him. His brother had shown no inclination to talk any further about what happened inside the NAARC and Dean don't want to push but… damn it, he was Sam's brother and he really wanted to know.

“So. When did you get the feeling things were wrong?”

It would have been silly for Sam to pretend he didn't know what Dean meant. He kept staring out the window watching the flat, flat prairie roll by, but did not hesitate to answer.

“About a year ago. Maybe a little less. It started with a blackout of communications to the outside.”

“You didn't find that a little odd?”

Sam shot Dean an irritated look. “That's what I'm trying to tell you. Things were pretty hush-hush around there, from the start. I figured there was some security issue they were dealing with.”

Dean could see Sam's frown reflected in the window and shook his head. Sam would turn out to be the trusting one. Sam caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and turned in his seat to face Dean.

“What? They were doing important work, Dean! And Dr. Kumar told me they'd made a major breakthrough in their serum research. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.” Sam stretched his legs out, resting his feet on the seat in front of him and crossed his arms across his chest.


Sam looked back out the window and mumbled something.


“I said, until I found out they were drugging us.”

Dean reached across the width of the bench seat to lay a hand on Sam's shoulder. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately. Ever since Sam's rescue, the touchy feely family gene was becoming dominant. Dean felt like if he got too far from Sam, and not just physically, he would lose him again. He didn't want to spook Sam now, when he was finally starting to open up.

“Go ahead and say it. I'm gullible. I was naïve to think I could make a difference.”

“Do I look stupid?” Dean looked shocked. “Shut up,” before Sam could open his mouth. The glint of mischief in his eye, however, gave Dean the courage to confess.

“I remember thinking when you left…that took a lot of courage. Leaving your family, everything you knew and going off to be a …research subject,” Dean caught himself before the words lab rat tumbled out. That would probably not have been one of his brighter ideas at all.

Sam pulled his legs down and shifted so that he was now leaning back against the window. Dean let loose an inward sigh of relief. He hadn't blown it.



It seemed to be all the encouragement Sam needed. He leaned forward and the words just tumbled out.

“I noticed we were fighting. Like almost every day there would be a fight between a couple of volunteers. It was truly bizarre. I got suspicious because for over two years we'd all lived together at the Center with hardly a squabble. And these things were bullshit. Nothing worth fighting over.”

Sam shifted uncomfortably and Dean waited for the proverbial shoe. “I knew something was seriously not right when I started a fight over the way someone was eating.” He looked truly contrite. “Dean, I punched a guy out…unconscious. And all he did was shove too many beans in his mouth.”

Dean expelled a loud breath and shook his head. “I don't know, Sammy. You've punched me for less.”


Dean grinned. “Go on. How did you figure this out, then?”

“I stopped eating.”

“Come again?”

“I stopped eating. I figured if they were giving us something, it would have to be in our food. After a couple days I could tell the difference. It had been such a gradual change, and I wasn't looking for it, but the feelings of aggression started fading after 48 hours. So I confronted Kumar.”

“I'd have liked to be a fly on the wall then.” Dean was enjoying the tale of Sam outfoxing the great Dr. Kumar.

“Fat lot of good it did. He admitted that they had been dosing us with hormones to increase sperm production. And that's when he told me about the…the babies.”

Dean's good humor slid under the railroad tracks, was smushed and pummeled. “I'm sorry, Sam. I don't think I said that before, but I would have done anything to have kept you from going through that shit.”

Sam's smile was bittersweet. “I know.” A deep breath and onward. “I guess I was still full of enough surplus testosterone that I just sort of lost it. I pretty much trashed Kumar's office.”

“That's my boy.” Weak but pure Dean.

“Yeah, well… I can testify to the blinding pain of having a limb broken, cause that's when they busted up my arm.”

“You are such a pussy. Remember when we were scoping out that circle of Hoovers near Boise and one of them jumped my ass before Dad shot it off me? Fucker broke my damn wrist and hand in two places and I swear he cracked my neck. You were just lucky.”



Sam's not sleeping. Again. It's not too cold, not too hot, not too anything. But, he knows that's a lie. For months he was alone, imprisoned inside his own head. Too much time to think when he was awake (as awake as he ever was) and to dream when he slept. Alone too much.

Dean thinks he's doing Sam a favor by giving him the little guest room out back all to himself. He remembers Sam in the hospital, flinching at Dean's touch, then finally sobbing in his arms. Sam needs time. Sam needs space.

Sam's gentle scratching on Dean's back has him jerking upright on the ratty couch. Is something wrong? I can't sleep. What can I do? Come with me.

Sam turns and walks back to his little room in the rear of the house and Dean follows. Dean thinks it's odd that he's the older brother, yet Sam always leads the way. The bed is small, but Sam's used to smaller. He slides under the covers and Dean curls up behind him, holding Sam like he did in the hospital.

Dean remembers how cold and numb he felt inside when Sam left. And how much colder and more numb he was when they'd found him. Their father…dead or worse, but Dean knows he's been put in charge of Sam again.

When Sam's breathing starts to even out, Dean relaxes against his back. Sam feels the warm breath of a sigh against his neck and snuggles down further under the covers. He knows his dreams have meaning and he should try to figure them out, but for now, he revels in the feel of safety and not being alone.


Dean figures they're good to go when Sam knocks him on his ass in less than two minutes. So-called little brother always had the reach. Those long loose arms and legs made it almost impossible for Dean to get in close during their sparring, but when it comes to brute strength, Dean usually finds a hole to exploit, taking Sammy down every time.

They're out in a corn field gone to grass, the town still within sight and easy running distance. They're not stupid, despite Missouri's idea otherwise.

He recalls her words from that morning. “You boys don't have the sense you were born with, going out there like that. You're just asking for trouble.” Missouri was never shy about voicing her opinions.

Dean reacts with a shrug and cocky grin. “We never had to ask for it, Missouri. The Winchesters are trouble magnets.”

The brothers' laughter comes easy and they head out to their homemade arena. It's as secure as baling wire and tin cans can make it. At least they'll have warning.

Once Sam regained some muscle, they start wrestling, just to get him used to the moves again. Three months into their self-imposed exile to Kansas, they're rolling around in the grass like puppies, tickling, shoving, poking and gouging. And when Sam flips Dean and twists his arm behind his back until he thinks he can hear the joint creak, Dean finds himself thanking the universe for returning Sam to him.

His next thought is that tomorrow they'll begin the knife work.


Summer just means the wind is hotter. It's a lazy day and very, very quiet. Which is pretty much how it is most of the time. The Lawrence, Kansas, of old now has about a quarter of its population before the world went to hell. Still, it's one of the larger communities in the area and far enough from Chicago for a degree of safety.

The creaking and groaning of some sort of contraption bouncing on heavy springs is heard three blocks down the street. Sam is already outside, working on his kata, but stops to gape open-mouthed when Dean jumps down from the passenger seat of a truck pulling what Sam thinks is a cage on wheels..

Missouri soon joins him, hands on ample hips and lips pursed.

“What in the hell is that?” Sam wears a bemused expression.

“This, my man, is our chariot.” Dean's proud face beams and he pulls a red cotton rag from his pocket to buff an imaginary smudge from the fender of what Sam swears is a dune buggy with a roof.

Missouri squints at the black metal on wheels occupying space in front of her house. “Oh, my Lord! I haven't seen one of those since I was a little girl at the lake. Where in the world did you find it? I didn't think there was any of those left.”

“Ah, a woman who appreciates quality,” Dean says approvingly. “My man Hess has been storing it his garage…his family's garage, for a few years.”

An ancient stooped figure comes around the front of the truck. Sam thinks he is probably too old to drive, but his smile is enthusiastic and lively.

“My grand-daddy used to use it to check the fields and ride us around,” he crows.

Missouri, sensing a good story, eggs him on. “Hess, you old goat. You kept that thing hidden all this time and what for?”

“Just never found the right person for her,” says Hess and turns his toothless grin on Dean. “But we're gonna find some parts and get her running again and this boy's gonna see she keeps going.”

“That's right Mr. Hess,” Dean humors the old man.

Sam shook his head again and walked around the beast. Now that it had indeed been identified as some sort of transportation, Sam could see the resemblance to the buggies they'd seen flying through the sand on the beach in California. It sat high on oversize tires with a large trunk attached to the rear by braces and heavy screws.

Sam was pretty sure he'd never seen anything *exactly* like it and couldn't help thinking it looked kind of cool.


“How many times have we gone through these very motions?” Sam has the repetitive movements down pat. Smell, fold, stuff. If it's clean it goes in his bag, if it's dirty, the communal laundry bag. They're just starting out, so it's all mostly clean.

“Feeling nostalgic?”

“Not hardly. I just feel like I've spent my whole life packing.” Sam tugs the drawstring tight and ties it off, throws it in the corner and goes in search of Missouri.

“At least you're alive to pack ,” Dean mumbles into his own bag, only half full.

Missouri wears a smile she doesn't even try to show in her eyes. She and Sam understand there can be no lies between them. “I wish you boys wouldn't go before help comes.” Pointless, useless words, but she has to say them out loud.

Sam smiles and pats her arm. “If you didn't want us to go, then you shouldn't have told us.”

Dean looks more serious. Less inclined to reassure. “If Dad is in Texas…if they took him there, we don't know how much time we have.” Neither brother will acknowledge the alternative. “The car's finished and Sam's ready. You know we have to go.”

Missouri nods. She knows. She knows too much.

Even though it's August, the chill of the night still lingers in each puff of frosty air when they speak, which isn't much, really. Loading up never required many words.

For four months Dean works on the car while Sam works on his skills. They both get whipped into shape. A good chunk of change, some bartering of labor and his own mechanical inclination get the old girl ready for the road, if not exactly purring. Sam has to admit Dean is right. She's a beaut.

The trunk creaks loudly in the still early morning. Dean props open the box he's custom built for the buggy and does a quick inventory. Sam throws their bags in the back and walks back to hug Missouri goodbye.

“Take care of each other. It's all you've got.”

Dean joins Sam and the three huddle on the front porch, strangely reluctant to leave now that it's time.

“It's all we've ever had, Missouri. Thanks for everything.” So much to be thankful for.

“Bring your daddy home, boys.”

They each give her a hug and a peck on the cheek, get in the car and wave again. The last peace and quiet of the morning is broken when Dean pumps the accelerator, warming her up. Headlight beams illuminate cracked, broken pavement as they roll down the highway.

Sam knows that Missouri knows that he knows. He looks over at Dean, whose arm lays carelessly over the top of the steering wheel, humming to some song in his head. Sam figures he'll keep a few things to himself awhile longer.

“…a Golem will always rise up against its creator and reveal everything.” -- Shaiya Brizel, The Silence of the Ultra-Orthodox

Early November 2236, Houston, TX

There are times when you look back on something that seemed to be such a good idea at the time and ask yourself – “What was I thinking?”

Ada would have liked to put all the blame on her brother. Between Terry and his wife, and Ada's own fierce desire to be…normal, she'd let them talk her into this. No, this had not been a good idea at all.

But, it was a bit late for regrets. Yeah, try to tell him to back up and rethink this. Ada jerked with the one-two punch she'd just received to her kidneys and groaned. She caught her breath and placed a gentle hand atop her huge, ballooned belly. Her living room window overlooked Hermann Park, the animals which inhabited it from the old zoo making it a jungle in the middle of the city; a bizarre foreground for the steel and metal cityscape beyond. It was all she'd ever known, and all she ever wanted to escape.

Houston had been Ada's home her entire twenty-five years. She wasn't bound or fenced in, but was just as imprisoned by the genetics of her people; people who were feared, and rightly so, by the rest of the world for their desire, their need, to steal the very essence of humanity from those more fortunate. She and the rest of the ten thousand Golem who called Houston home would die without a source of soul feeding. And that source had always been human for her. Ada knew of small sects of her race, almost cults, which fed off the souls of animals, but they were more myth than reality in her sheltered world, yet she envied them the freedom they must have.

When offered the opportunity to participate in the latest experiments, compliments of the North American Animus Research Center, she realized how close the fulfillment of her dream could be. Like her parents, her brother, and the rest of her family, Ada was part of a Golem dynasty which had funded and supported the research that could find a way to free them all from the biological imperative to kill humans for they themselves to live.

And now, with the birth of her child barreling down on her… it was an understatement to say that plans had not exactly progressed as anticipated and Ada was the one paying the price for the miscalculation.

“How's my favorite little sister?” Her brother entered without knocking. Big surprise.

“I have a baby who's going to be born in less than a month without a soul, without a daddy, and without a clue. How do you think?” Ada's unspoken and he'll die if we don't find his father hung between them.

Terry recognized the almost-hysterical rise in Ada's voice.

“We have a lead on his location. I promise you.” He clasped her arms firmly in his large, cool hands. “Your baby will have his father before he is born.”

Ada sniffed and backed out of Terry's grasp and began pacing the small space between window and sofa. “Like the lead you had last month? And the one before that? Do not patronize me, T. I should have known this would get fucked up. How are we going to take care of him? How are we going to make this work?”

Terry stiffened, but anger towards Ada was as foreign to him as having a soul. But, why couldn't she just trust him?

“Don't question me. You of all people should know that I will not tolerate failure. You are one of the fortunate few carrying the future of our people and I will not let you or the baby come to harm. Nothing will keep this from happening.”

His hand reached out for a brotherly caress of her long black hair. “Have you been to the hospital today? Would you care to walk with me?” His tone now considerate and caring.

“No, you go ahead. I'll wait till tonight.” She was so tired.

Terry hesitated. “You should not be walking the streets at night, nina. Not in your condition.” He could hear her grinding teeth across the room. “I'm just saying… things have been uneasy lately. And we can't take any chances.”

“Yes, I know. Can't afford to lose the precious cargo I'm carrying.” She waddled to the sofa and fell back, bouncing slightly. “Just go. I'll be fine after a nap.”

Terry spun on his heels rather dramatically and strode out, presumably to check on the progress of their search. It was his obsession these days.

Ada hadn't meant to be so testy, but the unknown she and her child were facing scared her more than she'd ever admit. They were taking an unheard of chance. Their own scientists had been working from Dr. Kumar's notes and had warned them of the risks.

But Terry and the council, after some persuasion, had agreed that the fluids taken from Kumar's subjects, and particularly the semen, had to be key to the success of the project. And they'd been willing to take the chance. Since they'd brought the other men back with them to Houston from Stanford, it was just a matter of finding the one missing donor. How hard could that be? Whatever the outcome of their haste, everyone agreed that the fathers must be present at the births. It had always been so and they saw no reason to believe these deliveries would be different.

Only, as the birth of her child drew nearer and there was still no sign of the one they sought, Ada realized her folly. All she had ever wanted for her and her children was to be normal.

Ada sighed. It might be November, but that made little difference to the temperature and even less to the humidity. It was all well and good for Terry to brush away her concerns, but how could she not worry about her baby? And had he really been telling the truth about knowing where the father was this time?

She rubbed circles over the top of her stomach, where the baby's head made a noticeable bump. “No te preocupes, ninito, tendra un alma.”


Mid-November, El Paso, TX

Of all the one-horse (no offense to equines) villages they'd traveled through the last three months, El Paso had to be the ass-end.

Sam sat on an upturned crate beside the garage… or what passed for one. Dean paced around the car, as if he'd missed something vitally important and if he found it, the black beast would miraculously start.

“I can't believe this is where we get stuck.” Sam had pretty much been bitching non-stop for the last half hour and Dean had had it.

“Would you please just shut your mouth for a few minutes? Fuck! You think I busted the hose on purpose? Sheesh.” Dean walked off toward the ramshackle office to see what they'd have to give up to get the part he needed.

Sam looked around the square. The sun was so bright the ground wavered in front of him. And although it wasn't too hot, he felt like the sand and grit had permeated every pore, making him itch and long for a shower. Texas hadn't changed a bit in the five years since he'd been here. And he had certainly thought he'd seen the last of it then.

Had he read the signs all wrong? His nightmares were like an elusive trail of breadcrumbs, leading them here and there across the state. Sam suspected the buzzards, which were always circling the landscape, had eaten half of them. It scared the shit out of him when he realized they couldn't avoid Texas if they were going to follow their dad's trail, but everything in him screamed that this place was evil and nothing good would ever come of it. Their father might be here, but there was also danger lying out there somewhere – especially for Dean. If you're going to believe one dream…

And now he didn't know what to believe. They were on their way to the Valley, as the locals called it. A friend of their dad's in Odessa suggested they try down there, since John had taken him to the Rio Grande once to clean out a circle of rogues come up from Mexico. Apparently their father had little “camps” situated all over the state, probably all over the country, wherever they'd been traveling for twenty years.

Sam's dream the night before seemed to confirm the possibility. He'd seen a hut of sorts; no more than a lean-to really, covered with hides and a thatched roof. The small fire pit in front glowed, providing the only light. And he'd seen himself and Dean sitting at the fire. No sign of his father, but when Sam had asked their dad's friend to describe the camp, it fit his dream hut to a tee.

“Two days.” Sam was startled from his thoughts by Dean shoving a bottle of water at him. A shower and bed would do them both good.

“Thanks.” Sam emptied the bottle in one smooth round of gulps, then went over to the old water spigot and refilled it. “Let's go find a place.”

The search didn't take long. There were only two motels still operating in town. They chose the one where the desk clerk spoke English.

The Desert Oasis lived up to its name as far as the Winchesters were concerned. There were two windows to open for a cross breeze, a large ceiling fan that was making a miraculous difference in the air current, and most importantly, there was water. The shower tap marked with red paint produced the same temperature as the blue, but it would get them clean and refreshed.

Dean was messing with the cell phone when Sam came out of the bathroom, tossing the damp towel on the floor before flopping back across his bed. The drone and breeze from the ceiling fan had almost put him to sleep when Dean's excited, “Yes!” startled him back to alertness.

“I changed the signal to match the one from the Mexican towers. As long as we're this close to the border, we should be golden.”

“That's nice,” Sam muttered, but didn't open his eyes.

Dean didn't say anything and that did cause Sam to open his eyes.


“You're better.”

“Come again?”

“You're doing better.” Dean swept his hand in front of Sam, indicating his state of undress. “You've been losing the layers for a week and now, you're… “ Dean grinned and waved a hand to indicate Sam's body sprawled over the faded bedspread.

Sam was naked! He was tempted to jump and scream like a girl frightened by a mouse just to freak Dean out, but chose the more mature route.

“Fuck off.”


Mid-November, Houston, TX

Terry watched the city…his city...from the top of the Enron Building. Houston had been built for a population of three million, so the paltry inhabitants which now occupied its homes and businesses looked like stray ants roaming about.

During the last week, he'd been receiving reports of great interest and if all went as planned, the father of Ada's baby would be in their Houston hospital by dawn. He hardly dared believe the Golem's search for a cure could finally be within reach. For the next generation.

Since their beginnings, the Golem, as they referred to themselves, had battled a high mortality rate. Whether mated with like or a souled human, the infants remained soulless. And thus had begun a generation-long practice of kidnapping both male and female humans for breeding and subsequently “feeding” their souls to their young. Rather barbaric, but necessary for their survival.

The hope now was that Kumar had discovered a way around this, or at the very least a way to help the children maintain the soul of their human parent. The notes they'd retrieved from the Center during the raid were incomplete. However, Golem scientists had also been studying, and between the two sets of research it was believed that a breeding program with the special humans with telekinetic gifts – just like the ones who triggered the beginning of their race – was the key to finding their answers. It was just another unfortunate aspect of this war on genetics that more humans would have to die, but it could mean a new generation whose future held more than living off the souls of the stock they bred and maintained for such purposes. The end always justified the means.

Terry was about to leave for a mid-afternoon business meeting when his wife shoved the heavy doors open to his office and rushed to his desk.

“She's having the baby. They're taking her to MD Anderson now.” Melody had ascended to the upper ranks of leadership with him over the years and she shared his dreams for their people.

“But she's more than two weeks early! We're not ready.” Two seconds of panic. That is all Terry allowed himself, then sat back down and thought.

“You said this morning they had him.” Melody's dark eyes flashed. She would not lose their chance now, after the planning, the studying, their attack in California. “If he's not here by the time the baby is born, we must find a surrogate.”

“We don't know how that will work, Mel. When Ada's child is born, he will need his father's soul to nourish him within. And we must have him for our experiments.”

Each saw the desperation the other was feeling and Terry came around and took Melody by the arm, leading her out. “Come on. Let's go to the hospital. Ada will want us there.”

The staff was bustling about busily in the ward when they entered, but there wasn't a lot of chatter. In their world, the birth of a child was rarely cause for celebration. Terry and Melody slipped the cotton gowns on over their clothes and went in search of Ada.

Her room was large and empty, the only sounds being the monitors attached to her stomach and her groans of pain. There was no doubt the child was ready to enter this uncertain world. Terry crossed the space to Ada's bed and held his little sister's hand. Neither he nor Melody acknowledged the woman sitting wide-eyed and scared next to the bed. She did not look familiar, so Terry was guessing they'd brought Ada fresh stock for soul-feeding during birth, as a Golem woman always required more during that period of time. This one would most likely be dead by the time the baby was born.

Melody tried for happy aunt. “Your nino is coming, Ada. Aren't you excited? To be a mother at last!”

Ada's eyes slitted at Melody and she turned her head to Terry. “Is he here yet?” She clasped her brother's hand so tightly his fingers were turning white.

“Not yet, but he is on the way. You do not need to worry about that. You have other concerns.” Terry patted her arm with his free hand.

In a low, controlled voice, almost a snarl, she pulled him down within inches of her face. “You. Get. Him. Here. Now. I don't care what you have to do, or who you have to kill. I am not letting this baby out of my body until Sam Winchester is in this room.”

Melody and Terry's responses were drowned by a new wave of howls as the contractions came again and the feeder showed the signs of soul slowly leaving the physical plane. The woman's body went slack in the chair, a blank expression masking the pain of losing the part of her which had made her so different. And so necessary.


San Angelo, TX

Dean was convinced there wasn't a place in Texas worth fighting for. As far as he was concerned, the Hoovers could have it. Then he suspected he might be on to something. Round them all up and ship 'em to Texas. Yes! He wondered how much a job like that would pay.

They'd be hitting Big Bend the next day, but for now they both needed a good night's sleep. It had actually been one of the two days a year Texas has that was perfect. Not too hot, not too humid, not too windy. So, Dean had waited until Sam had showered and crawled under a thin sheet, finally lulled to sleep by the deep whining of the oscillating fan on the dresser.

When he was sure the sleep would be peaceful, at least for now, Dean got ready for his own shower, double checking their door was locked and his gun was handy on the back of the toilet. They were remote. And nowadays remote was dangerous.

When they'd entered San Angelo mid-afternoon, the hairs on the back of Dean's neck prickled and every fiber told him the only thing they'd find here was trouble. And from Sam's expression, he figured his brother agreed.

“This can't be right, Sam. What do these people do for a living?” A slack-faced child gawked at them or the car. They were never sure which brought more attention. As they passed Main street, the kid ran off, presumably to get all his friends.

“They have one of the last remaining oil wells still functioning in the state,” Sam replied matter-of-factly while scanning the storefronts along the mostly quiet street. When he spotted the “Rooms” sign dangling by one corner in front of a large gravel lot occupied by a couple of tanker trucks, he turned the Beast in. Sam had named the vehicle shortly after leaving Lawrence and Dean had indulged him.

“You read too damn much,” was all Dean had to say. Sam just looked at him as if to say one of us needs to know what we're doing.

The place had once been a lavish hotel for oil tycoons, but now the owner only maintained the bottom floor of rooms, all with a door opening to the outside. Dean and Sam both agreed this would do. A backdoor was always a good thing.

Now Dean let the warm water sluice away the trail dust that was their constant companion while he relaxed against the cool tiles of the shower. Even the bathroom had a window to the outside and Sam had opened it earlier. Dean could hear children playing outside, wringing the last moments of daylight before being called to dinner.

The sun was setting as he slid the shower curtain open and toweled himself off. Maybe he'd go out and find some dinner while Sam slept. He didn't want to take the chance of waking him. Once dressed, Dean eased out of the room, satisfied that Sam would sleep until he got back. He had no intention of getting out of sight of the motel and he'd seen a small diner across and down the street that the locals seemed to favor.

The door closed with a soft snick and Dean paused to adjust the gun stuck under his shirt in the waist of his jeans and scan the area outside their room. One of the large tanker trucks had left, but the second still sat in the center of the graveled lot. He didn't know if the place had other guests, but there certainly weren't any other cars around except the Beast and that truck. Dean's boots crunched the oyster shells packed into the gravel and circles the truck suspiciously. No obvious occupants and he realized just how paranoid their world has become.

In the two minutes since he'd left the room, it had gone from twilight – more shadows than light – to full dark. The storefront signs on the street were only partially lit, and Dean just knew they weren't going to find anything in this town coming close to Missouri's fried chicken.

He rolled his neck to one side and headed for the diner, intent on getting whatever he could find and returning to the room pronto. He'd just crossed the street when a grimy boy darted out of the alley to his right and ran right up to him, like he knew exactly who he was. The hairs on Dean's neck prickled and he stuck his right hand in his back pocket, close to his gun.

“Are you Senor Winchester?” The kid couldn't have been more than ten. Hard to tell what he really looked like under all that dirt in the dark of the sidewalk.

“Who wants to know?” Dean frowned and shifted his stance so that his back was to the building. The kid continued to fidget nervously and took a step back so Dean tried for non-threatening.

The little messenger either didn't understand him or had chosen to ignore Dean's question. “I'm supposed to give this to Sam Winchester. Are you him?” A tightly folded piece of paper was clasped in his grimy hand and all Dean knew was he had to get whatever it was the kid had.

“Yeah, I'm Senor Winchester. How'd you know?” Hey, he hadn't lied to the kid. The boy looked nervously over his shoulder and stepped to the side, inching closer to the alley. Dean followed his gaze to the motel where he and Sam were staying. So, he'd been watching for someone to come out.

Dean backed off. “It's ok…just give me the note.” He smiled and hoped he looked harmless, which was really the total opposite of how he usually tried to come across.

Dean watched relief flood over the boy's face and he practically threw the paper at him and ran back into the darkness. Dean was tempted to follow the little urchin, but decided he probably wouldn't find out anymore than he already knew. He unfolded the paper that was quite creased and dirty itself.

“We have information about your father. Come to The Tavern on Lily street.”

Dean strained to see through the dark streets, lit only by dim lights on the corners. Everything looked normal, but he certainly knew how deceiving that could be. He knew they'd been right to worry. Ever since entering Texas, he and Sam had felt like something or someone was chasing them, rather than the other way around. They'd never seen any sign of the enemy (and which side was the enemy was still up for debate), but it didn't keep them from looking over their shoulders nervously. A lot.

Dean and Sam had begun taking turns sleeping, each standing guard over the other. The only problem with that had been that when Sam slept, it was never more than an hour or so before he'd wake up sweating and shaking with another dream. Consequently, he lived in a perpetual state of exhaustion.

It was a no-brainer as far as Dean was concerned. He'd go check out the place in the note first. There was someone out there who knew who Sam was – or what he was, and this note was an obvious lure to get him out in the open, and that was something Dean just wasn't going to let happen.

They'd passed The Tavern, which was indeed its name, coming into town. It was on the southern edge and Dean thought it was closed down, but now supposed it just hadn't opened for the night.

Since it was just a few blocks to the south, Dean didn't see any reason at all to start up the Beast and waste precious fuel. They'd managed as long as they had by doing most of their traveling during the day, when the bright Texas sun charged the solar cells he'd mounted on the roof during the refurbish. He walked down the street, trying to remember to smile at the few people he passed, but always scanning, always watching the doorways. He couldn't shake the sense that this town was not 100% human.

The Tavern was bolted and chained. Dean drew his gun and pulled it up to his chest, walking cautiously around the side toward the back where there was a fire burning in an old oil drum. He saw a couple of figures huddled around the fire against the evening chill and smelled trap. How stupid did they think he (or Sam) was?

Dean went back toward the front of the building, scanned the parking lot and headed to the other side. There was an alley, which held only a few rats as far as he could tell. If he turned right out of the alley, he'd be almost on top of the fire pit. Dean jumped around and almost shot at a dog rounding the front where he'd just been and cursed under his breath.

“Go home, mutt!” he whisper yelled and headed back to the street.

Dean thought briefly of going to get Sam and tackling this together. They'd always been better together and not just to cover each other's backs. Sam could read his body language – his expressions and know what Dean was going to do before he even realized it himself. All of a sudden the note seemed much more menacing that it had when the kid gave it Dean and he needed Sam here with him, mostly so he would know where he was and that he was safe.

When he'd just about made up his mind to walk back to the motel, the door of the bar creaked open. “Pssst.”

All Dean had done was turn his head. It was a split second of undivided attention to the problem at hand and he had paid for it. He just hoped the price wouldn't be his life or Sam's.

The first blow was across the back of his shoulders. Dean rolled to the ground and came up firing, dropping three figures in the shadows with three shots. From out of the dark alley a 'thing' came flying at him, screeching like a banshee and stronger than fuck. A soul-rushed Hoover. A sharp burn lanced his shoulder.

Mother fucker bit me! he realized and struggled to stand up where he knew the fight would even out. He saw several more figures moving in on him through the struggle with the crazed Hoover, but it was too late to make a retreat. His fist connected satisfactorily with a boney jaw but Dean had no time to take advantage of it. His legs gave out and white lights flashed in front of his eyes from the pain of a thick piece of wood slamming across the backs of his knees.

Dean gasped, praying for air to fill his lungs again before the next blow, but he didn't have to worry about the monster in the dark again. He reached for his neck to investigate the sharp stinging pain and felt the large dart that lolled over onto his shoulder, the point embedded a good inch in the skin between neck and collarbone. His fingers felt thick and wouldn't obey him however, and before he could even touch the soft feather which actually sort of tickled, blackness descended.

When Dean woke up, he was in the back of a covered truck, shackled at wrists and ankles and pretty damn glad to be alive, although his whole body felt like he'd been run through a ringer. He tried to survey his surroundings and realized that he was also blindfolded.

If he'd been taken by Hoovers, which he had every reason to believe was the case, that meant they wanted Sam alive. He had a moment of intense relief that he hadn't gone back and gotten his brother, because he'd be goddamned if anyone was ever going to lock Sam up again.

“Are you Sam?” the voice in the darkness was dry and gravely like its owner needed a drink.

“Answer me. Are you Sam Winchester?” This time the voice was accompanied by a sharp jab to his ribs.

Dean shook his head but then quickly nodded, licking his lips and wishing for a drink himself. Another poke to the ribs.

“Yes,” he rasped out. “Yes, I'm Sam.”


Houston, TX

The clock indicated a few minutes past midnight and Terry paced the hallway, visibly agitated. Through the swinging doors of the birthing room he heard Ada scream and he winced. How long could this last? Could she last? But, really the question burning hottest was what would they do when the baby was born and his father wasn't here?

The doors pushed open and a nurse hurried down the hall. Terry couldn't stand it any longer. Yes, he'd wanted this for his people. For the proud Golem. They'd worked for years, paralleling Dr. Kumar's research, although with significantly different motives. And although they did not have all the answers, what they did know was that there had been babies. Children made from Golem and Human. It was the key, he was sure.

“Terry, Ada wants you.” Melody stuck her head out and motioned for him to follow. He hurried to his sister's side and clasped her hand in both of his.

“Shhhh. It's almost over,” he whispered, then caught the doctor's eye and paled. The man was shaking his head, and Terry wasn't sure if that meant it wasn't almost over…or it was more over than he thought.

“Terry. Is he here?” Ada panted out the words, then squeezed her eyes shut against another spasm. Her hair was sweat drenched and plastered to her skull and all of a sudden Terry realized just how big she'd gotten the last few weeks.

He was spared having to answer when a commotion outside the doors caused everyone to stop and look up. “Get him... It's urgent…. We have the father.”

Terry turned back to Ada and smiled. “Yes, hermanita, he is here,” and turned to rush back out into the hall.

Ada answered with another ear-piercing scream while Terry pulled the men who'd come to see him down the hall a ways. “Well? Where is he?” His voice was low and urgent, his eyes a little wild.

“He is in here, Senor Terrance,” one of the men spoke up and pointed to a hospital room with his hat.

Terry shoved the door open and stood staring at a man tied to one of the narrow gurneys. Terry recalled the pictures of Dr. Kumar's subjects he'd studied. This man's short spiky hair was lighter than it should be. And his eyes… were the wrong color.

“You fools!” Terry whirled on his men. "Hijo de puta" And he knocked his henchman in the face with the back of his hand, sending him sprawling on the slick hospital floor. “This is not Sam Winchester.”


San Angelo, TX

Cool, smooth lips mouthing down the narrow line of hair below his navel while calloused hands pressed against his thighs. Tickling cool air following the moisture of a trailing soft tongue making his toes curl just before his hips hitched up into empty air.

Sam woke himself up with his own low, pleading moans. “…Dean.”

Holy fuck! That was different.

Sam sat straight up in bed an instant before a blinding pain behind his right eye caused him to run for the bathroom. He sat on the cool tile with his cheek pressed against the open door for a good five minutes once he realized nothing was coming up, trying to figure out the best way to deal with both the pain and his latest dream.

If he squeezed his eyes shut, it only made the ripping pain and white spots worse. But once the sunlight from the bathroom window hit his face that was no good, either. A narrow squint seemed to work the best.

Sam turned his attention to the other issue. He was no longer hard, but a telltale smear of stickiness on his belly was proof things had been progressing to their natural conclusion pretty quickly in his dream. And there was just no fucking way that was his brother he was getting off on. Sam wondered how many other dreams he'd mistaken over the last months.

Dragging himself up unsteadily, Sam grasped the doorknob and wooden frame. His mouth felt cottony and dry and his tongue stuck painfully to the roof of his mouth. He peeled it away with an audible click and licked his lips, looking blearily around the small room. It slowly registered that Dean's bed had not been slept in and it had to be late morning or early afternoon.

He scrubbed at his face with both hands, then turned back into the bathroom and emptied his bladder. A few splashes of cold water later and Sam's arms and legs didn't feel like sticks nailed to his body, but his head still hurt like a mother. He stumbled around looking for his clothes but had to sit on the edge of the bed when he leaned over to pick up his pants and the world almost came up to meet his face.

Once dressed, Sam shoved a couple of knives in his boots and a pair of sunglasses over his eyes and set out to find Dean…and something to eat. His stomach was growling almost as badly as his head was hurting.

The Beast was the only vehicle in the parking lot and the day was ramping up to be quite un-November like with its brutal heat. Sam figured most everyone must be taking a siesta since the little square outside their room was quite empty. He spied the diner across the street and figured it had to be his best bet for finding Dean and then something to put in his stomach.

The inside was cool and Sam took a deep breath letting his eyes adjust, enjoying the dark interior after the blaze of sunlight outside. He straddled a stool at the low counter and asked for a glass of water, then searched the small café for his brother. The place was empty except for two old men playing a board game in the corner.

Sam caught the attention of the man behind the counter who had set his water down and headed back to the end of the bar to read the rest of his paper.

“Excuse me, sir?”

His waiter returned reluctantly and leaned against his side of the counter. “Yes?”

“I'm looking for my brother and figured he might be here or have been earlier.” Sam described Dean to the waiter but the man shook his head.

“No one like him has been in here today. But, we're not the only place to eat around here either.” He shrugged and before Sam could respond, he'd turned back to his paper, effectively stopping any further inquiry.

Sam sighed, emptied the tall glass of water and decided his stomach could wait until he found Dean. The place wasn't that big. It couldn't take that long. He dropped a coin on the counter and stood up just as the door swung open and two boys crashed into the café, chasing each other and laughing loudly.

“Hey, no running inside!” Sam's waiter yelled and the boys settled down quickly and took Sam's place at the counter.

Sam stopped at the end of the counter on his way out. “If you happen to see him, his name is Dean. Tell him Sam is looking for him.”

He had just stepped back outside and slipped on his sunglasses when one of the boys hissed at him from the door, trying to get his attention.

“Senor? You are Senor Sam Winchester?” The kid looked totally scared shitless. Sam smiled and walked back over to the doorway.

“Yep, how did you know?”

The boy was chewing his lower lip and fidgeting with his hands, looking everywhere but at Sam. “Have you seen my brother?” Sam asked, suddenly feeling cold on the sunny sidewalk.

The boy turned to go back inside and Sam grabbed the top of his skinny arm. “Wait. Please help me. I need to find my brother.” For some reason, this boy was going to be key to finding Dean.

Apparently the child was frightened enough now to loosen his tongue. “I gave him a note last night, I think. It was supposed to be for you.” Fear of disciplinary action was clear in the boy's wide black eyes. “I swear he told me his name was Sam.”

Sam refrained from trying to shake more information out of the boy and concentrated on calming himself down. “Do you know where he went after you gave him the note? It is very important.” Sam tried to relay through his firm grip on the boy's arms how desperate he was feeling.

“I… I don't know for sure,” the kid was on the verge of tears. “I think he went down that way…but maybe not.”

Feeling sort of like an ass for almost making a kid cry, Sam let him go and smiled. “You're not in trouble. It's ok…really.” Sam followed the path of the boy's small hand pointing down the street.

“Thank you. Here,” and Sam handed him a penny, which was really not good for anything unless you had a few hundred more to go with it.

Sam hurried back across the street to their room and packed the few things they'd brought in with them back into the Beast and threw the key to the room on the bed. He checked his Glock and started the engine, heading down the street slowly in the direction the kid had indicated.

In broad daylight, the whole town looked battered and sad, but looking even more decrepit was an old stone and wood building at the end of the street, almost out of town. It had obviously been a bar of some kind in its hayday. Sam stopped the Beast out front in a crumbled concrete parking lot and got out.

There was a chain pulled through the handles of the door with a padlock holding the ends. Sam clenched his teeth until his jaw ached and covered the ground around the building, the parking lot and the alley. He found the drum fire pit. He found tire tracks and he found the leather thong Dean wore around his neck threaded through the silver talisman their father had given him on his thirteenth birthday.

In a fit reminiscent of his adolescence, Sam kicked the oil drum over and felt oddly satisfied. He crossed the alley to the back of the bar and shot the locks off the door.

A small amount of light was allowed in through the streaks in the grungy windows, but the place was definitely abandoned with the sour smell of years old urine and alcohol with wet, rotting wood making Sam cover his nose until he recovered enough to breathe through his mouth.

Dean had been right back in El Paso. He was better. Whereas Sam had been concentrating on getting his body back to Hunter specs in Kansas, the past months on the road had been all about his head. As the dreams got more fierce, he was able to parse his life at the NAARC into manageable chunks, take them out, analyze if necessary and come to terms with his imprisonment. That's how he occupied his mind at night, when he fought sleep and what came with it.

The result had been a clarity of purpose Sam had either been unable or unwilling to gain during his early years hunting with John and Dean. And no, maybe the Center wasn't the best idea, but he somehow knew that his time there would ultimately be of benefit, if not now, then in the future. As surely as he knew that Dean was no longer in San Angelo.

Later Sam would be embarrassed to admit he'd let the guy get the jump on him. But since that admission was only to himself, he figured he could live with it. The fight was actually fairly even, regardless of his enemy's element of surprise. On a one-on-one engagement, Sam had always been the more accomplished. Dean seemed to have the moves and the strength to tackle small groups, but when it came to just he and Sam, the odds were Sam would flatten him in under five.

Sam knew this was a Hoover he was dealing with. He just knew. And having that knowledge added a certain desperation to his fight. It seemed the struggle had hardly begun before the guy, about Sam's height and weight, was sprawled among the broken bar stools and ashtrays on the floor.

But, where Sam expected to see fear, or at least resignation in his enemy's face, he saw satisfaction – or triumph and alarm bells went off in his head. Before he could raise his gun, he felt an ugly tug on his body. Like someone had grabbed him by the skin of his chest as if it were a shirt he wore. Sam gritted his teeth and tried to pull free of the force when just as quickly he was released and stumbled, hitting the bar behind him with the small of his back.

Now his enemy looked scared. Fear mixed with confusion made for a very comical expression, Sam decided. And then it hit him. The Hoover had been attempting a soul-suck. To rip Sam's soul from his body so quickly and tragically that a quick death would have been merciful. And he had failed.

A slow, knowing grin spread across Sam's face, but it was not pleasant. With his gun aimed at the quaking figure's head, he walked forward until he stood between sprawled legs. Quicker than a snakebite, Sam kicked him in the groin, taking more joy than he should have in the retching sounds coming from the floor. Now he had his attention.

Sam had never actually been this close this long to a Hoover in his life since the only smart way to clean out a circle is to hit them fast and unawares, before they could rip your soul out and gobble it down for a dinner. Or that's how his father explained it.

Sam was curious. The man looked human. He certainly acted human, based on his current predicament. But he wasn't and Sam had to remember that. His brain was whirling – cataloging this bombardment of new information. His father, Dr. Kumar, no one had ever told him he could not have his soul taken away. That, in and of itself was pretty mind-blowing. And the Hoover rogues, which had always been their primary targets where either so hopped up on a soul-rush or starving for one that it had been easy for Sam not to think of them as human, but more just the monsters he was raised to believe they were.

“Where's Dean, asshole?” He ground the words out as soon as the fellow quit writhing around and opened his eyes.

“Gruuuh…” he moaned and rolled to his side and retched again.

Sam reached down and grabbed him around the throat. “Don't make me ask you again. Where. Is. My. Brother?” Sam growled through gritted teeth. He squeezed until his fingers ached but the source of the information he sought came from a different direction.

With his hands still squeezing the Hoover's neck, a flashing scene of shadow and light played out more clean than any dream. He saw Dean, a bit worse for wear, but alive and apparently being held in a medical facility. He got a fix on location…or close to it, but reeled back when the jarring cry of a baby filled his head.

The poor guy on the floor was now sputtering and clasping his throat in addition to fighting back the nausea and pain inflected earlier, but Sam wouldn't allow one second of sympathy. It was almost too easy to pull the gun from the back of his jeans and squeezed the trigger twice before giving it a second thought.

Fuck his head hurt! Even with sunglasses blocking the worst of the sun's glare, Sam could barely see to get back to the Beast. He shook out his left hand, flexing the fingers, and yeah, he'd need to get ice or something on that before he left town. But he knew where Dean was.

The Beast roared to life and Sam slammed it into gear, leaving a cloud of Texas dust hanging in the motel parking lot. It was going to be a long-ass haul to Houston.


The feeder's body was hauled away for cremation with surprising respect while another was brought in to take her place. The room no longer rang with the sounds of labor and childbirth. Ada's throat was raw and an occasional croak for water was all she could manage. Her body had no more strength to push and Melody was afraid she'd given up.

When Terry re-entered the birthing room, his face was pinched with the look of a man who has grim news to share. Melody rushed to his side and whispered out of hearing from her sister-in-law. Terry nodded and closed his eyes for a brief three seconds. When they opened, the gloom was gone, replaced by what he hoped was encouragement and reassurance for his sister.

“Ada, mi hermanita,” he murmurs softly against the side of her face. Her hair smelled sour and tired and her hands laid limply at her side. “Todo estara bien.” Terry smiled, willing his sister to keep fighting.

Ada's face screwed into folds and wrinkles as another wave of spasms rippled through her gut but she no longer cried out. The doctor was there on the other side, looking at Terry beseechingly. “We have to take the baby now or they will both die.”

Ada pulled her hand up to touch Terry's wrist. “Not until he is here, por favor,” Ada pleaded more with her eyes than her words.

“He is here now. You can do this, Ada! Let your child be born and we will take care of the rest.”

Ada nodded and smiled weakly while the staff began preparations to remove the baby from her wrung out body. Between the mild drugs used to relax her and the weakness of childbirth, Ada barely noticed the man they wheeled in beside her.

At one-fifty two a.m. Samuel Montoya was brought into the world shrieking over the manhandling he was receiving just seconds outside the womb. They laid him atop Ada's chest, careful of the fresh incision and she peered at him through exhausted eyes and smiled. One tiny hand waved about spastically until he swiped a finger through a lanky strand of Ada's black hair then latched on with the killer grip of a newborn.

Ada turned to Terry, who was standing between her and Dean, to ask the question he was hoping to avoid. He jerked his head at the doctor who shoved a needle into Ada's arm before she could even speak.

“Is Sam here? Can I see….” And she faded into sleep at the same time the nurse scooped up baby Samuel and placed him tenderly in the bassinette at the foot of her bed.

The leader of the Houston Golem was all business. “Quickly, bring the child up here. Now!” he screamed when the nurses did not move fast enough.

Dean's head was just clearing from the tranq but he seemed to be aware enough to glare at his captor. “So, you are the brother of Sam Winchester?” Terry regarded the livid bruises on Dean's face and the slightly swollen area at the base of his neck. It was pretty clear Dean had put up one hell of a fight before finally going down.

Dean just glared at him and stubbornly refused to speak and Terry shrugged and grinned. “It is no matter. If the baby needs a soul, you should do as well. But I do find it strangely ironic that you will die in your brother's stead to save his child.”

Dean's eyes widened and he struggled against the bonds on his arms and legs, but a wide leather strap bound tightly across his chest allowed for little wiggle room.

“You son-of-a-bitch,” Dean spat but finally gave up struggling against his bonds. He glanced down into the face of his brother's child.

“That…that's Sam's?” Dean's voice was hoarse. He looked over at the baby who was now contentedly gurgling while being wiped clean, and squinted at it, trying to see any resemblance to Sam.

“It is.”

Dean craned his neck to look around Terry at Ada. “How?”

“Don't worry about that. But you will die with the knowledge that you have played a great part in the possibility of a future for our children.” Terry seemed almost regretful when he spoke to Dean.

Terry stepped out of the way when they wheeled Samuel closer to the bed and Dean could see the wrinkled red face more clearly. Tiny wisps of mahogany hair crowned his tiny head.

So, this was how it would end? He didn't regret giving his life in exchange for Sam's, but Dean was bitter over not being able to be with him, or at least say good-bye before…before he died by the hand of the people they'd fought to destroy their entire lives. Dean had always figured this was how he'd go, but never imagined it would be a baby who killed him.

He also wondered how long it would take. What would it feel like as he began to lose parts of his soul to this child? He looked into the bassinette again and tried to hate it, but could not.

Long moments passed while the room held its collective breath. After awhile soft murmurs began among the nurses and the doctor exchanged an unreadable look with Terry. They left the room and Dean thought he would scream with the uncertainty that had been building within him over the last hour since the babe was born.

Outside the room, Terry glared at the Doctor. “What is it?”

“It's the child, Terry.” The doctor's overlong blond hair bounced with the doctor's agitation. “The baby is not feeding.”

“Of course he is not. He won't be hungry until Ada awakens and can feed him herself.”

The doctor shook his head, causing another flurry of flying yellow hair. “No! I don't mean like that. Our children's first instinct upon birth is to find a soul. It is more important to them than food.”

Terry nodded. Everyone knew this. “He will find his soul, Doctor.”

The white-coated man peered through the windows in the door and Dean caught his eye and tried for a menacing glare. The doctor backed up quickly.

“I don't think you understand, Mr. Montoya.” The doctor's body was practically vibrating with excitement. “The feeder, he isn't showing any signs of … of the feeding.

Yet, Samuel is perfectly content. I believe Samuel does not need to feed on your young man in there.”

Terry still frowned, looking impatient.

“He already has a soul.”


The closer Sam got to the Gulf Coast, the more his visions attacked with vicious temerity. He'd driven through the night until he'd run the Beast off the road, or what passed for it. It had taken him two precious hours to wedge enough rocks beneath the tires to scrabble up from the mire of the swampy shoulder, but by midnight he was back on the pavement, determined to reach Houston by dawn.

When it had been twelve hours since Sam left San Angelo, he still had only the vaguest idea of what he'd do when he found Dean. The skyline of Houston was already barely visible against a murky rising sun, but Sam had no illusions that he could just walk in and take his brother out.

Another hour and a light rain had begun as Sam found an overgrown field in which to park the Beast two miles south of downtown. He climbed around the frame of the buggy and opened the trunk. It didn't take him long to locate their log book where Dean had stuffed pieces of information from either their own travels or furnished by other Hunters. The rough hand-drawn map of downtown Houston had been provided by Bean before they left California, as well as designs for the layout of Chicago and Denver, although they were all at least a year old and hardly drawn to scale. But, it was the best Sam had to go on, so he studied the paper, folded it and stuffed it in the inner pocket of his rain poncho.

Sam slipped through the early morning shadows from building to building, never seeing one single being. He was amazed how easy it was to walk across the railroad tracks that landed him square in the middle of Hoover central. He figured he could bluff his way in to a point, as he was fairly certain no one was expecting a lone human to approach one of their major cities, but the ease of access made Sam edgy. It shouldn't have been this easy.

When he was about four blocks from the main hospital building, which sat along the southeast edge of the four square mile downtown area, Sam stopped in the eave of an abandoned building to recheck his gun. He pulled the rain-heavy poncho over his head and stuffed it through a broken window since he needed the freedom to use his crossbow at the slightest sign of trouble. Like his dad, Sam had always favored it as a weapon and he knew no small part of that was the deadly silence in which it struck.

Sam's efforts to beat full daylight had failed, but between the rain, now coming down in gusty waves, and the early hour, the streets were still blessedly empty. Less than ten seconds after leaving the shelter of the abandoned warehouse, he was soaked through to the skin and swiping water out of his eyes. The weather was becoming a double-edged blessing.

Twenty minutes had Sam skirting the service entrance in the rear of the hospital as he ran for cover between two parked ambulances to survey his options. Although he still wasn't certain of Dean's exact location, it was common knowledge among Hunters that MD Anderson was the stronghold of Hoover medicine. And Dean had definitely been in a hospital or clinic in his vision.

When the door opened and a couple of orderlies dumped several bags of dirty laundry in a waiting cart, Sam flattened himself against one of the vehicles, ready to crawl underneath if he had to. But the loading dock remained quiet after they went back in and Sam saw his way to get inside.

Pulling a set of only semi-dirty scrubs out of the cart, Sam turned to the door used by the staff. That would be a door that was locked…but not for long. Sam deftly worked the tools he'd brought until he heard a satisfied clunk and the large latch gave way.

The rear rooms were mostly storage so Sam was able to take a few moments to figure out exactly what he was going to do next. The tingle at the base of his scalp and just a feeling that Dean was near made Sam resolve to do a bit of damage to the Hoover health care system before he got them out of there.

He never doubted he and Dean would leave alive, despite his fears about Texas the whole time they'd been here. With that resolve, Sam stripped out of his sodden mess of clothing and slipped into the scrubs. There was no way he'd pass close inspection as a doctor, especially with muddy boots sticking out of the pants legs, but hopefully it would buy him the time he'd need.

With the morning shift change, the halls contained more activity than he was prepared to deal with, so Sam gritted his teeth and sat on the cold tile floor of the storage room to wait it out. Everything in him screamed to just go find Dean, blast their way out and get to safety, however Sam knew this was not Dean rescuing him from Kumar's lab. There was real danger here, especially for Dean. He wasn't taking the chance on his brother leaving with less of himself than he'd arrived with.


“Are you certain?” Terry grabbed the doctor by the arm as soon as he came back into the hallway after checking on Ada and the baby. Dean was starting to get more vocal about his predicament and his voice could be heard clearly as the door swung open then bounced closed.

“I don't give a flying fuck if he's the goddamned savior of the universe. I want to see that son of bitch right now.” It was apparent Dean had little regard for watching his mouth in front of an innocent baby.

“It's obvious, Terry. The baby is content – no distress. And Winchester,” he winced as another round of curses filtered into the hall, “is not affected as you would expect, either.”

Terry sucked on his teeth, curiously smug over the new development. Ada would be waking soon to feed Samuel, so he knew he didn't have much time in which to decide what to do with their unwilling guest. Perhaps if the baby had no use for Dean Winchester's soul, he would find another use for it. And there was still the matter of finding Sam…the right Winchester brother. If they'd truly discovered a way to breed the soullessness out of his people, Sam's presence was even more important. Between him and the other men they'd captured at Stanford, a new day was dawning for the Golem.

“Thank you doctor…that will be all. I think I'll go spend some time with my sister and nephew now.” Terry dismissed the man and motioned for two of his men to follow him back into Ada's room.

Before Dean could ramp up another round of verbal abuse, Terry held his hand up for silence. “Is it going to be necessary to drug you again, Mr. Winchester?”

Dean snapped his mouth shut and shot his most belligerent look at Terry.

“Muey bien,” Terry chuckled and went to stand beside his sister.

“What are you going to do now? Make me part of your herd of feeders?” Dean asked in his deep, low voice, not able to resist baiting the man, but all too aware that Terry would not hesitate to follow through on his threat.

Terry's smile was feral. Dean had figured out that the child was not attacking him in any way, which had a whole new set of implications …but the knowledge that he was no longer useful to his captors made him suppress a shudder of trepidation.

“We were fortunate not to require your services this time, but you are definitely proving to be extremely bothersome and disruptive to the peace of this hospital.”

Terry faced Dean with wide, dark brown eyes, then nodded to his men. They rolled Dean's gurney to the other side of Ada close enough that he could have reached out and touched her if he hadn't been hogtied.

“My sister has been through an extremely stressful time, not just tonight but for the past few months. In general she has always had a perverse preference of female feeders, but she is going to require a boost as she prepares to take care of Samuel and as you are here …”

Dean didn't need him to finish. “My brother will hunt your ass down and you will be crying for him to kill you,” Dean ground out.

“That may be,” Terry seemed happy to humor him. “I have no doubt he will figure out where you were taken eventually. But, by then, it will be too late for you…and him.” Any sign of the doting brother was long gone from Terry's features as he strode out of the room, leaving Dean to the tender mercies of one of his men, while the other followed with the feeder who'd been brought in for Ada earlier.

Dean glared at the remaining man casually leaning against the wall next to his gurney. It was the fine glint of a silver blade that really drew Dean's attention, but the thug was just toying with him. Dean watched him toss the knife in the air, catching it deftly before sliding it into the sheath at his belt. Dean drew in a deep breath and blew it out when the blade was put away. His relief was short-lived.

“Senorita Ada likes her souls living.”

Beside him, the young mother began to stir and Dean knew what they had in mind for him. When she woke, Ada would automatically begin seeking a soul and his was the only one in the room. Even baby Samuel had been taken away by a nurse just before Terry had returned to seal his fate.

Was it Dean's imagination or was he already feeling a tug, deep within? How empty would he have to be before even death was preferable to never seeing Sam again?

Rather than clearing out as Sam had hoped, traffic in the hospital seemed far busier than he would have thought for a community of this size. He recalled his stay in San Francisco and couldn't imagine this place having more illness and injuries than there. But, evidently business was brisk today for the Hoovers.

Or something pretty important was going on.

He chafed as the hours passed and resorted to silent stretching moves to keep his legs from cramping and his back from aching. The longer he had to remain hidden brought him closer to discovery – and Dean closer to danger. Just knowing his brother was in here and he couldn't get to him was making Sam fidgety and anxious. He looked around the room, really just a large closet, but found nothing of use. He did pocket some medicines he recognized as pain killers, just in case.

It had to be close to noon, Sam figured, when he stood up to work the kinks out of his back again. He bent to touch his toes and the world went white. Then it went black and he found himself on the floor in a very ungraceful heap.

He clutched his head and bit down hard on his bottom lip to keep from making any sounds, but the pictures flashing through his head made him dizzy.

Dean strapped down and helpless, lying very still, barely breathing. The room was sterile…so much like the lab Sam had been held in, it made him nauseous.

The clarity of his vision made Sam catch his breath, grasping frantically for more. This had never happened while he was awake. Before he could recover fully, another image of Dean, now awake, eyes wide and panic-stricken burned into Sam's memory and he could feel his brother's soul leaving his body. He wanted to scream and he couldn't.

Then, as quickly as it came, the lightning-like pain with the faster than a speeding train images ceased, leaving Sam gasping for air with the taste of blood in his mouth. Sweeping his sweat-soaked hair out of his eyes, he knew he couldn't afford to wait here any longer.

Sam cracked the door and saw that the mad rush up and down the hall he'd witnessed all morning had slowed to a few staff at a station about twenty feet to his left and a cleaning crew mopping the hall to his right. A wheeled gurney like they'd strapped him to at Stanford stood next to the door just out of his reach.

He waited and watched for the few seconds needed to slip out of the supply closet unnoticed. When he hoped what Hoovers still lurked were distracted enough, Sam flung a sheet over the gurney, hopefully hanging low enough to hide an immediate view of his booted feet, slid his bow beneath the covering and rolled it down the hall.

Thankfully, the elevator that was nearest the storage closets was for freight and maintenance. When he got to the lift, which creaked badly but seemed to be operational, he hesitated, not sure which floor to take. He concentrated, almost grunting with the effort, trying to get a feel for where Dean was. Nothing. Sam studied the buttons. Beside each floor number was also listed a department. Surgery, Stock, Pediatrics, Guest Wing, Geriatrics (he couldn't imagine that floor being very full). He nervously bounced on the balls of his feet, finger hovering over each one, praying for some force or intuition to show him the way. Still nothing. He ground his teeth.

He couldn't stand here all day until someone spotted him. As he was about to push the Stock button, shuddering inside at what that implied, his hand stopped and without hesitation poked the button marked Pediatrics. As soon as he did, Sam remembered the piercing wail of a newborn infant which had put an abrupt end to his first vision of Dean's location. He knew he was right.

The door opened and Sam wheeled his table into the car. Less than a minute later, however, he was cursing his luck as the elevator slowed down much too soon to have reached his destination. Sam pulled his knife from its sheath inside his pants and his fingers shifted around the hilt for a better grip. He stood passively, hands behind his back, waiting.

An older man in Janitor blues stepped in with a ladder, barely giving Sam a nod. He turned his back to him, facing the doors then turned again to face Sam, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. Sam heard the radio crackle on his belt and saw the man's hands twitch to reach for it. Sam moved in swift and low with his knife, coming in under the ribs. He slid around the wounded man as he clutched at his stomach and sliced across the jugular.

Blood sprayed on the control panel and doors, but Sam snatched the sheet off his gurney and twisted it around the worker's throat to absorb most of the blood. Sam dragged him to the back of the car and leaned him against the wall, a bloody rag doll heaped in the corner. Sam knew as soon as the body was discovered, he would no longer have the element of surprise.

When he finally arrived on his floor, Sam could hear voices off to the right of the elevator, but at least he hadn't been met with a barrage of gunfire – or worse. He spied a handmade sign propped up at the end of the hallway. Out of Service. Sam snatched it up and set it carefully in front of the freight elevator, hoping that would buy him the time he needed.

Amazingly enough, he was able to push the table past the nurses station with hardly a glance, but his shoulders and back were starting to ache between tense muscles and adrenaline. He held his breath until he reached the corridor where the rooms were.

It was pretty obvious which room Dean was in as soon as Sam rounded the corner. There were two guards standing outside and the sound of a baby crying coming from within.

At least he'd finally caught a break.

Pulling back, Sam grabbed the loaded bow. John had given it to him at fourteen, not as a birthday gift, but as a reward after his first Hoover kill using John's own bow. Like his father, Sam had a natural aptitude for the weapon.

John designed his son's bow at the next community large enough to support a weapon-smith. It held three arrows at staggered levels and had its own built in quiver on either side. Within a month Sam could load and accurately fire fifteen bolts.

With practiced ease, Sam raised the bow and aimed. Thwap! Thwap! The guards were dispatched in seconds. Strangely enough, the wails inside the room seemed to still also, leaving the hall too quiet. Sam wasted no time getting inside Dean's room.

In the absence of angry baby sounds, the room was eerily still. There was some sort of monitor attached to a young woman lying on the bed and it beeped softly in a slow, steady rhythm, but she barely registered with Sam.

He was all about Dean, lying way more still than was natural on a gurney next to the woman – so close she could have reached out and touched his bare shoulder.

Sam's feet felt like molten lead and he stood transfixed in the doorway. “Dean,” he croaked in a hoarse whisper. Saying his brother's name seemed to be the catalyst Sam needed to move and he walked to the foot of the bed where the woman slept.

Her eyes fluttered open and when she saw Sam, widened like dark saucers in her pale face. He was more than a little disconcerted when she spoke.


“You know who I am?” He looked at the sleeping baby and realized what must be happening. The child was taking Dean's soul. One of the vile Hoover spawn, no more than a few hours old, would be the cause of his brother's death. The urge to kill rose into his throat until he thought he'd choke on it.

“You don't have to look at him that way, you know. He's not a monster.” Sam turned his disgusted expression to her. “He's not what you think.” She stopped, letting her words sink in. She was opening her mouth to say more when Dean stirred next to her, yanking all of Sam's attention back to him.

Dean was the color of gray ash, his eyes outlined by dark smudges that turned into vivid bruises along the right side of his face. Sam noticed the puncture wound, puffy and red in his neck and cursed the animals who'd done this. He wore only a pair of thin cotton drawstring pants and more evidence of injuries along his ribs and across his stomach made Sam wince.

“You fucking idiot. Always gotta be the goddamned hero,” Sam muttered as he unbuckled the bindings at Dean's arms, ankles and across his chest.

“Somebody has to cover your sorry ass.” Dean's lips barely moved – Sam wasn't even sure he'd heard right. But a study of Dean's face proved that he was indeed awake, or at least aware. His eyes were still closed, but the shadow of a smile graced his lips and Sam didn't know whether to kiss him or slap him.

The straps dangled to the side and Sam's hands brushed against Dean's cheeks, resting finally behind his neck as he reached down to touch his forehead to Dean's. “Whose ass needs covering now?” he rasped, fighting back tears of gratitude, anger and relief.

Dean was clearly too weak to retort, but his lips turned up further as he tried to truly smile.

“Come on, we have to get you out of here.” He pulled Dean up into a sitting position, his hands supporting him at head and shoulders.

“You'll never get out of here alive. And your brother is going to die anyway,” the woman hissed, more frightened than hateful, but it all looked the same to Sam.

“Look, lady… if you want your baby to live,” and Sam spared a glance for the child, his look full of loathing and resentment, “you will not try to stop us or call for help.” Sam could hardly believe he'd just threatened to kill a newborn infant, but knew he would if the alternative was losing Dean.

He hoped he'd made it clear that he wouldn't hesitate to kill both of them. She glared at Sam but pressed her lips together and leaned over to pull the baby into her arms. Sam returned to trying to rouse Dean who was mumbling and frowning, but at least not fighting him.

He helped Dean to his feet, slinging Dean's arm over his shoulder to get a better grip around his waist. At first he felt his brother sag into his arms, forcing Sam to hold most of his weight, but Dean seemed to realize what was happening finally and stood shakily on his own, but still leaning heavily on Sam.

“Where's my gun?”

“Are you high?”

“Dunno. Maybe.”

“Well, you must be,” Sam hissed. “You're as likely to shoot yourself or me in the shape you're in.” Sam manhandled Dean back against him and headed for the door.

“Wait…” Dean appeared to be more clear-eyed, but Sam couldn't tell if the clarity was reaching his brain. “We can't do this with just one weapon. You're the one who's high if you think we can. These guys mean serious business. You have your bow. I'll take the gun.”

Sam leaned against the door and sucked in a cleansing breath to clear his head. He screwed up his face, thinking…thinking. Dean was right. If they had to fight their way out, there was no way they'd make it with just Sam shooting the bow or gun.

“Okay,” he said finally. “Try not to do permanent damage to yourself, though.” He handed Dean the gun, making sure the safety was still on. Dean flipped it off immediately.

“Are you going to cause trouble?” Sam asked the woman. Hoover or not, it didn't seem right to kill the mother or her baby.

“No,” she said and shook her head, holding the baby closer. “But my brother will never let you leave Houston. He's been looking for you for months.”

“Well, he'll have to learn to live with disappointment, because we're out of here.”

He turned back to Dean who was sweating, but his hand gripped the gun tightly while his other one supported him, palm flat against the wall. “You sure you can do this?” Sam had no idea what they'd do if Dean couldn't make it out at least partially under his own steam.

“I got your back, bro.” Dean smiled, but it came out like a grimace and Sam closed his eyes in silent prayer for them both.

He glanced back once more at the woman who was watching them with interest, rocking her body back and forth as she cradled the baby. They exchanged a glance that seemed to communicate an understanding and Sam nodded.

“Vaya con Dios,” she whispered and Sam opened the door.


It looked like they were actually going to pull it off for a minute. They'd made it back to the freight elevator before Sam had to put all three arrows through a group of orderlies rounding the corner as the doors shut behind them.

“Fuck. They'll be waiting for us on the ground.” Dean was leaning heavily against the rear wall of the elevator car, his breath ragged already, although they had yet to really run. How was he going to make it back to the car? Sam glanced at him, then down at the body of the Janitor, still slumped in the corner and knew only one way to buy them an extra few minutes. He hit the B button on the panel. Hopefully the guards would be galvanized at the first floor, waiting for them to come out.

“Got ourselves in a fix this time, didn't we?” Dean looked so weak, Sam had no idea how he could even stay on his feet. How long had the baby been feeding on his soul? It couldn't have been more than a few hours old, surely not old enough to put Dean in this shape.

“Be ready to head for cover. We're going to the basement and I don't have a clue what's down there.” Sam pulled Dean against him and turned to face him at the same time Dean turned to him. Their faces were so close Sam could see the dried blood on the tiny puncture mark at Dean's throat and the teeth marks imprinted on his shoulder.

“What bit you?”

Dean narrowed his eyes in concentration, trying to remember. “Some hopped up Hoover flew at me when I got attacked. Son of a bitch. If they hadn't tranked me, I'd have ripped his fucking eyeballs out.”

Sam had to smile. Then the elevator dinged, warning of the approaching stop. The brothers shifted so they could hold on to each other and still move as quickly as possible and waited to make a run for it.

This portion of the basement was unused and looked to have been abandoned years ago. Decrepit medical machinery which no longer worked in a world short on energy stood against two walls, covered in spider webs and thick blankets of dust. The sound of engines turning could be heard somewhere else on the floor and Sam assumed the generators, ventilation and the like all ran from down here. But the relative quiet was a blessing for now. They could recoup and hopefully figure their way out of this mess.

Sam walked them over to a corner partially hidden by a rusty metal cabinet whose doors wouldn't shut. He lowered Dean to the floor, then dropped beside him. He reloaded the crossbow, pulled both knives from his boots and handed Dean one. It was the one Dean always used when hunting.

“I'm going to look around. Don't move.”

“Oh, you mean I can't do that table dance…” and Dean began to cough so violently Sam thought he would retch. When the spasms stopped, Dean's head fell back against the wall, his eyelids bruise-blue and grey. His breath came in quick shallow gulps. Sam instinctively took a deep breath of his own.

His arm wrapped around Dean's shoulder as he closed his eyes. With his free hand Sam felt for more physical injuries he might have missed earlier, but aside from the bruised ribs and face and the wound from the trank dart, Dean hadn't been touched.


Sam's hand stilled on Dean's chest and his fingers pressed firmly into hard muscle. Dean's heart felt surprisingly strong. Sam now flattened his hand and moved it lower to Dean's stomach, then froze.

Dean was wrong. He felt wrong and Sam felt that his worst fears were confirmed.

Sam moved around, kneeling at his side. “Dean – Dean…..” he brushed his hand along Dean's cheek and it came away damp and clammy. “Do you know…how much? How much did they take?”

Dean rolled his head around to face Sam and his eyes were mere slits. “Enough. You need to leave me. You'll have a better chance alone. Taking me's a waste of time now.”

Sam saw red. His jaw clenched until his teeth hurt and he slapped his hand down next to Dean's hip with a loud crack to the floor. “Brains must shoot right out with the soul,” he ground out, “if you think I'm leaving this building without you. Yep, I definitely got the brains.”

Sam waited for it – the expected retort about Dean having the looks. It did not come. Instead, Dean's face screwed up in pain and Sam clutched his head to him, rocking them both gently back and forth.

“It wasn't the baby, you know?” The words came out mixed with a cough.

Sam held him tighter, not sure he'd understood right. Pieces fell into place and he understood why Dean's condition was so critical. But he really didn't want to think about that right now.

“She was the one – after childbirth,” Dean rasped. Sam thought he looked worse than death. He'd truly given up.

“Shhhhh.” Sam gathered Dean closer, his whole world concentrated on willing Dean to live.

Dean tried to raise his hand is if to bat him away. “No, you need to know…”

But, Sam wasn't listening any longer.

Standing at the window in the hospital, Dean's knife in one hand while blood trickled down his left forearm. “You needed my blood to live.”

Sam took Dean's face in both of his hands. His brother seemed to be slipping into a coma, fading away right before his eyes. “Dean!” He leaned back against the wall and twisted Dean around so that he leaned back against Sam's chest. The short spikes of his damp hair still smelled like Dean and Sam took a second to stroke it as Dean's head lolled back on his shoulder.

He picked up the knife he'd tried to give Dean a moment ago. In the absence of a sterilizing agent, Sam pulled out his lighter – a staple they'd both carried from a young age, thanks to John. After a couple of dud flicks, it finally caught and Sam ran the flame slowly up and down the knife's edge.

He re-pocketed the lighter and studied the blade. He knew this part. He'd done it in his dreams.

Sam gripped it steady in his right hand, took a deep breath and laid the sharp edge across his forearm. With the lightest pressure he pulled it back across his flesh and watched the thin line of blood well. A silent thank you went out to his father for teaching them the importance of a wicked sharp knife blade. The two-inch cut barely even stung.

Dean now lay unconscious in Sam's arms and he had no idea how he was going to pull this off. Hopefully instinct would take over for Dean, because Sam was flying blind here. He shifted enough so that Dean was lying back on his right arm as he brought his left up to his brother's lips. There had to be a better way to test his theory, but he'd be damned if he knew what to do. The vision was all he had to go on.

Sam pressed his arm to Dean's mouth, smearing streaks of blood across Dean's dry lips. Dean licked his lips and Sam felt a spark connect between them and pressed more insistently.

“Come on… come on,” he whispered in Dean's ear and squeezed his waist. “You do not give up now. Do you hear me? Winchesters do not give up!”

Sam squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his cheek to the side of Dean's head, willing him to do whatever it took to live. The small slice was already beginning to seal, the bright fresh blood of a moment ago turning to thick maroon, its coppery smell filling Sam's nostrils. He growled low in his chest, reached around and poked at it with his right hand, forcing it open again.

The slight burn was replaced by warm moistness on Sam's arm. Dean's lips pressed to the abused flesh as his tongue lightly laved across the cut. Sam could have wept with relief. If the lifeblood and essence of his body could save the fucking world, it sure as hell could save his brother. He did not want to be part of a world where that was not an option.

He waited. Five, then ten minutes passed and Dean was still unresponsive. How could he have been wrong?

Sam pulled Dean tightly against him, holding his brother around the waist, his chin resting on Dean's shoulder.

“What do you need?” he asked Dean softly.

Sam closed his eyes reached into Dean's body. He felt the vast emptiness where his soul had been, now just a small knot.

He'd lost track of time while he examined and catalogued each part of Dean. His shallow breath that hitched every third or fourth time he inhaled. The pulse at his neck that jumped and stuttered against Sam's cheek. He felt Dean's heart beating, but not as strongly as before. Nothing was changing.

Then Sam felt a flush of hot power rise within him and a tightness between his eyes. He thought it might be the impotent rage he was feeling, but then Dean jerked in his arms and he heard him take a deep, powerful breath before sagging back against Sam again.

The key had turned in the lock and Sam could almost hear the tumblers fall into place. Dean felt right again. And Sam had a splitting headache.


Dean's pallor did not change much and his skin still felt clammy and damp but Sam could definitely tell there was an improvement. For one, Dean was conscious. He knew it had to be what he'd done that caused the change. They both knew as well as the doctors that no one ever recovered from even the slightest damage to their soul.

Best to get moving while it was working.

He left Dean propped against a stack of boxes and began exploring the basement, looking for anything that would aid them in their escape. Ancient gadgets on wheeled carts and cracked plastic IV bags weren't going to do the job. Neither were the hundreds of boxes of old medical records taking up every available inch of space.

Sam was about ready to go in search of the boiler room, which had to be close judging by the roaring and clacking coming from somewhere nearby, when he bumped into three tall metal cylinders while trying to skirt around more boxes. He peered in the darkness, not daring to hope. He lifted one of the canisters, but it was impossible to tell whether it was empty or not. Sam hefted it over his shoulder and made his way back to the small open area near the elevator. Under the dim light over the doors he could clearly see the label. Oxygen.

If there was even a small amount left (the gauges seemed to have stopped working long ago) he may have just found their key for getting the hell out of there… alive.

Well, there was only one thing left to do. After double checking that the regulator was in the off position, Sam pulled his lighter out again. Not the smartest thing to do, but options and time were pretty limited. He held the lighter out in front of him, standing behind the cylinder. It took more flicks than before to catch this time, but finally a small flame danced above his thumb. With the tiniest pressure he attempted to barely move the brass handle, allowing the least possible amount of oxygen to escape.

The flame became a torch and Sam dropped the lighter, whipping his hand back to side. Quickly he shut the cylinder off and examined his hand. Just singed hair, luckily, but they sure as shit had oxygen.

He hurried back over to Dean who started to pull himself up when he saw Sam's animated expression. “What's up?”

“How do you feel? Can you walk or run on your own now?” Sam helped Dean the rest of the way up and studied him closely. “You look like shit.”

Dean pursed his lips and glared at Sam. “Oh, and you're the handsome prince,” he returned and rolled his shoulders and neck and flexed his hands, assessing his physical condition. He winced once, then straightened to his full height and smirked at Sam.

“A girl could probably beat me up right now, but I think I can haul ass if properly motivated.” Dean glanced above them, indicating the Hoovers who were even now no doubt on their way down to retrieve their truant guest. “And I'm motivated today.”

Sam grinned and felt like a total idiot. Their chances for survival were single-digit at best, but all he could think of was if he and Dean bit it tonight, it would be together.

“Come see what I found.” Sam hurried back to the canister he'd toted to the elevator and displayed it for Dean like a prize trophy. “And there's two more in the back. I'll get them.”

Dean whistled softly through his teeth and circled the oxygen tank. “Got stuff in it?”

Sam was returning with the second one. “Enough.”

Once all three were gathered, Sam went in search of the next closest bay of elevators. He returned a moment later and laid out his plan.

Dean was fairly worthless for lifting boxes and jerking the tanks around into the elevator they'd come down in. He knew the best thing he could do was be ready at the other bay to get in and close the doors as soon as Sam was done. Mostly his thoughts were occupied with various theories on why Sam's blood had not only improved his breathing but gave him strength to navigate on his own. Maybe he didn't want to know.

Sam stood back, satisfied with his job in the elevator. Six boxes of medical records had been emptied on the floor of the car, surrounding the three cylinders standing in the center. He'd twisted some of the paper into tight twists of kindling and soaked the rest with the remainder of a bottle of alcohol he'd found in one of the dented storage cabinets. It would either work or it wouldn't.

He glanced around, satisfied that Dean was already out of the room, and tried to light the paper. One of the fags caught, but soon died when there was nothing else to feed it. The lighter was going out and Sam had no idea if he could get it to work again.

He flicked and rolled his thumb over and over the wheel of the lighter until it was raw and bleeding. “Mother fucker!” he cursed changed hands. His left hand was more clumsy and it slipped off the wheel more than it made contact, but he finally got a spark to light and managed to get all the kindling going, as well as a few loose sheets near them before the lighter died once and for all.

Sam stood watching the flames licking toward the center, growing as two-hundred pounds of dry old paper caught fire. When he was sure the fire wouldn't go out, he hit the button inside the door of the elevator and waited for the door to begin closing. He'd only get one shot at this.

As the door began to close toward the center, he twisted the nozzle on all three cylinders and almost fell backwards trying to get out of the way and let the panels close the rest of the way. He'd sent it up to the first floor and when the elevator stopped and Hoovers surrounded it, ready to shoot them when they came out, a nice little oxygen explosion would be there to greet them.

Sam scrambled up and headed for the front elevators where Dean was waiting.

“Now,” he yelled and dove into the car as the doors shut behind him. The thirty seconds it took to reach street level felt like thirty years.

The explosion rocked the entire building just as their doors opened. Sam could see the street through glass doors right in front of them. Then the glass shattered, sending shards flying at the lobby and elevator and he knocked Dean to the side and covered him with his body.

Shockwaves rippled up and across as the fire spread through the elevator shaft quicker than even Sam had anticipated. He grabbed Dean by the arm and jerked him around.

“Can you run?” Dean nodded. “Let's go then,” Sam was yelling over the screams and noise of pandemonium. They were hardly spared a second glance among the other patients and staff as that ran across broken glass and debris for the gaping hole in the wall that used to be the front doors.

It was raining again, but only a drizzle really. Not like the deluge Sam had endured that morning. Neither looked back as they searched for a place to hide or some way out of the immediate vicinity. There were alleys behind office buildings and wide open parking lots, neither of which could offer reliable cover.

Two blocks away and the neighborhood was still in chaos. Pockets of residents could be seen in the gathering twilight, clustered together to stare at the billowing smoke coming from the hospital. The brothers cut through an underground parking lot and kept running until they came out just inside the edge of a tropical jungle.

Dean tripped on an exposed root and slammed into a tree, knocking the wind and a grunt out of him.

“No,” Sam said, holding Dean against the tree when he started to shove himself off to run. “Let's stop here. I think we have a little time. You can't go any further right now.”

They both slid down to the damp ground and leaned against the tree trunk. Wide oak-leaved branches protected them from most of the rain, which was more of a mist here. The air smelled of rotted compost and ozone and the banana plants and underbrush rustled with the sound of wildlife scurrying to dry ground.

Sam tried to get his bearings, determine their path to the Beast, but the gray sky and thick foliage overhead prevented even the slightest clue. Then he felt Dean shiver beside him and realized how miserable his brother must be. Shirtless, soaking wet pants, and barefoot. Barefoot. Dean had his legs crossed under him, but Sam could see the bottom of his left foot. It was covered with mud and blood.

“Your feet.” Dean looked down and just shivered harder, arms wrapped around his waist.

Sam could see tiny slivers of glass imbedded in the pads of Dean's feet, and then upon inspection of his right foot, a long jagged tear in the arch.

“We have to get you some shoes or something.”

“What we have to do is get the fuck out of here, bro,” Dean chattered through his teeth. “Feet will heal if you're so goddamned determined to drag me along when you could be long gone.”

Sam searched through the growth, looking for any kind of shelter. He decided the best thing they could do was go back into the garage, where they could at least get out of the elements.

“Come on, let's go back just inside here,” Sam nodded toward the archway which used to guide zoo guests from their tours back to their cars.

“No!” Dean's hand gripped Sam's shoulder, holding him down. “Only going forward.” He leaned down closer to his foot and tried to pull one of the larger shards of glass out, but his hands were shaking too badly.

“Here,” Sam said and batted his hand away. He was able to retrieve three pieces of glass before accepting the rest would have to wait for better light and better equipment. He was torn between letting Dean rest and putting as much distance between them and the Hoovers as quickly as possible.

Dean made the decision for him.

Sam turned to say something and realized Dean's shivers had turned into full blown shudders. He shook Dean once with no response and for the first time during the rescue wished their dad was here with them. But they had not made it this far to give up now.

Sam slapped the trunk of the tree so hard his hand stung and throbbed and made a growl deep in his throat that morphed into a groan of despair. But he only allowed it for a second. It was his turn to be the savior.

The rain had stopped and the woody jungle had grown quiet as nocturnal animals began to wake and daytime dwellers sought refuge for the night. Sam heard a crash through the brush father out into the park and didn't want to think what might be out there, running wild and possibly not appreciating intrusion into its world.

He reached down and grabbed Dean's arms and pulled him up, grunting under the dead weight of his brother. After a few minutes of grappling, Dean was situated across his shoulder in a fireman's carry. This time they wouldn't stop until they were out of this godforsaken city.

There seemed to be some kind of invisible boundary that the jungle and its inhabitants respected. Although any sign of fence was long gone, growth stopped at the ten foot wide concrete walk skirting the old zoo. As if by unspoken agreement, the city was allowed to resume past that point, although nothing truly prevented nature from crossing the walkway except possibly the sense that what lay beyond was not nature or natural.

As it got darker Sam started to believe they might actually make it. It was full night when he reached what had been the entrance framed by a twenty foot rusty iron sign which declared they were now entering beautiful Hermann Park. It was here that the encroaching jungle thinned to cracked parking lots of weeds and overgrowth and Sam could see the city again. Smoke obscured the stars and he realized the entire hospital must have been lost. Old materials and a long-disabled fire prevention system had made it go up like the kindling he'd lit in the elevator.

He spared a few seconds of regret for the young mother and her child, then adjusted Dean's weight over his shoulder. There were fewer lights and more abandoned buildings to his right, so that's the direction he chose.

It was sheer, blind luck which brought him back to the warehouse he'd stopped at on his way to the hospital early that morning. He recognized the chipped red painted plaster of its walls and knew this was a place they could stop with reasonable safety.

Sam found the discarded rain poncho he'd stuffed through the window and after leaning Dean against the wall, spread it out for him to lay on. He gently eased his brother to the ground, cushioning Dean's head in the palm of his hand.

He could barely feel Dean's pulse at his neck and knew he was losing him. He searched frantically for anything to cover his brother, but the warehouse was bare and with the exception of busted crate material, the cavernous room seemed empty in the near total darkness. He wished they'd been able to grab his clothes back at the hospital.

Stripping off his scrubs top, Sam laid it over Dean's bare chest, tucking it tightly under his arms and waist. He checked his pulse again, still thready and faint. His hand lingered at Dean's temple as if he could infuse his brother with his own life through sheer will.

The knife was in his hand again and this time, without hesitation, he sliced across his arm, a space just below the earlier cut. He went deeper than he meant to and hissed at the stinging pain.

Sam raised Dean's head and stuck his arm out. He realized at this rate, he'd soon look like a scratching post, but they were just more scars to add to the collection. At least these would have meaning. Sam knew he'd make as many of them as necessary to keep his brother alive.

He sensed the growing emptiness again and pushed at the space, willing it to fill, but nothing happened. Sam pushed harder, grunting with the effort and finally recognized the give in Dean's body when the pieces fell together again perfectly, with no empty space between. Then he sagged against Dean's shoulder, squeezing his eyes shut against the awful pain.

Dean gagged on the blood flowing in his mouth and Sam jerked his head up, pulling Dean up higher so he wouldn't choke. “Why do you keep feeding me that vile shit? Tastes like blood.” Dean croaked. His voice was stronger than Sam had heard it since he'd found him, but he still seemed a bit disoriented.

“Um…so you can haul your own sorry ass to the car?” It seemed no matter how dire the situation was, the brother-snark never stopped.

Dean shoved himself up and rested on his palms. He tried to ignore the fact that they were no longer in the jungle-like park and he had no recollection of moving.

“How much further?”

Sam tried to recall the distance from the day before. “Maybe a couple miles. I parked the Beast in a field on the edge of town.” He wrapped his right hand tightly around the cut that was still oozing and aching.

“What happened to your arm?” Sam peered closely at Dean's face, trying to read his expression in the moonlight which barely managed to filter through the window. He saw when awareness dawned. “You cut yourself again so I could drink your blood?” Dean was incredulous. “Are you insane?” It seemed they'd been asking each other that a lot lately.

Dean looked like he was going to be sick, so Sam grabbed his arm and squeezed. “Let's do this later. It's no big deal and we need to get moving. I want to be far away from here come daylight.” Sam stood quickly and yanked his shirt up from the floor at their feet. “Here, put this on.”

Dean started to object and saw the look in Sam's eyes and for the first time just shut up and did what his little brother told him to do.

It took another three hours to hike the two miles to the Beast, partly because of a wrong turn and then having to lay low in a garage while a patrol of Hoover guards went by. It wasn't dawn yet, but not far from it based on the washed out pinkish orange of the eastern sky.

Dean's strength held out this time and Sam had to believe he was on to something with the blood-feeding thing.

“It's just across the railroad tracks,” Sam whispered when they stopped along a decrepit depot building.

Dean was shivering again but Sam had nothing left to cover him with, and Dean seemed more worried about his precious Beast than the cold. “It better be,” he groused and Sam's lips twisted in a half-smile.

“Let's go.”

They crossed the tracks in a running crouch and didn't stop until Sam pointed at the dark shadow amidst the tall grass and weeds of the field. They both fell against the back of the vehicle and gasped to catch their breath. When Sam recovered he opened the trunk and pulled clothes out for them both.

He restrained himself from helping Dean dress as he rocked precariously on one foot while stepping into his jeans. But when he pulled his socks out, Sam stopped him.

“Lemme see your feet.” He was dressed in denim and three layers of cotton, still cold from the trunk but softening against the heat of his body. “They need to be cleaned and bandaged before you do that.”

Dean liked to pride himself on being the practical one. The no-nonsense, do-what-has-to-be-done-no-matter-what one. Tonight he realized he and Sam were more alike than he'd ever known. Looking in Sam's eyes and seeing hard determination and a stance that said he was ready to wrestle Dean to the ground if need be, he sighed and sat on the running board of the Beast. Sam could probably knock him over with a finger right now, anyway.

“Shit!” Sam muttered inspecting Dean's feet, steaming up the chill air with his curses. He doctored Dean's feet mostly through touch since they couldn't risk a light, but when he couldn't feel any more slivers when he ran the pads of his fingers lightly across Dean's flesh, he swabbed them one last time with alcohol and wrapped them in gauze.

Once Dean had his socks on, throwing his shoes in the back, they climbed in the Beast and cranked her up. Fog had settled as far as they could see, milky and dense. A mixed blessing.

“Ready?” Sam looked over at Dean. He felt cocooned in the fog, like it was just he and his brother.

“I'm so fucking ready, ready doesn't begin to cover it.” Dean was losing color again and let his head drop back on the seat like it was too heavy to hold up. It was wearing off again.

Sam shifted into first and bounced them through the field back onto the deserted highway. Back west, but not to San Angelo. Unless he started to lose Dean again, Sam had no intention of stopping until they reached the Rio Grande Valley.

Riding in the Beast was like sitting inside a hurricane. It wasn't built for comfort or quiet, and Dean had never gotten around to improving that aspect of its performance. Under the hood was what counted and it wasn't exactly like they had extra money laying around for such luxuries as suspension.

Sam briefly closed his eyes, willing away the headache he'd had for what seemed like a lifetime, but knowing as long as the deafening roar of road noise pounded in his ears he'd get no relief.

Unlike Dean. And truly he didn't begrudge his brother the sleep he needed so badly. But as long as Dean was asleep (and Sam could tell that was all it was) they didn't have to stop, which meant they didn't have to talk. And Sam was okay with that most of the time, but the thing was he knew they had to talk -- about what happened, what it meant, what it would mean.

So while Dean dozed through the raucous bouncing ride in the Beast, Sam thought. Which, according to Dean, was never a good thing.

He thought about the wreck that their lives had become, or maybe what they were was just a microcosm of the state of the world. He thought about the woman and baby in the hospital, a little regretful that they'd probably died in the fire. And he thought about his brother – without a soul, or at least most of it.

He'd grown up knowing more about the things his father called Hoovers than he did sports, cars, or girls. Everyone knew where they came from. The goal of the experimentation had been benevolent enough – to eliminate the genetic mutations responsible for life threatening illnesses such as cancer, AIDs and heart disease. The result had been anything but. Soulless children born as a result of telekinetic healing performed on their parents where the beginning of a new race whose DNA had been altered in ways no one had foreseen.

Now they called themselves Golem. But Hoover or Golem they were still genetic abominations feeding on the souls of their human cousins, instinctively searching for and taking that part of themselves forever lost.

Sam knew his mother had those same telekinetic/healing powers used to create the Golem.

And he had inherited them from her.

John used to make it a point to tell Sam that neither he nor his mother were in any way responsible for the creation of those monsters, but his youngest son was never able to totally shake the feeling of guilt he believed those like himself bore in the face of the collapse of the civilized world.

That Hoovers were evil he had believed wholeheartedly. That the same science which created them could save them he had believed just as much. Then, more recently, he'd discovered that there were humans who were just as evil – just as selfish – and that his soul could be stolen in more ways than one.

He'd never fully understood the extent of Kumar's studies, much less what he'd actually discovered. Sam only knew that the doctor felt justified in imprisoning him and the others with little regard for their lives or health, let alone their rights.

Now he wondered if Dr. Kumar had known exactly what Sam and the others had been capable of – or was this a newfound gift reserved only for his bloodline? Or only for Dean?

They'd put a hundred miles behind them already, but still had twice that much to go. Now that the threat of immediate danger was past, Sam realized they needed to stop soon whether he wanted to or not. They'd need food and supplies for where they were headed.

He knew of a village south of San Antonio where they could trade for what they needed, and although he had seen no signs, he guessed it to be another hour down the road. It would have to do.

The Beast bounced hard enough for Dean's head to hit the roof and he sputtered awake.

“Good, I was about to wake you up.” Sam smirked at his brother.

“A simple 'hey, wake up' works too, you know.” Dean straightened up in the seat, then took stock of their surroundings.

“Please tell me we're not still in Texas.”

“I can tell you that – but I'd be lying.” Sam couldn't help reaching out to put his hand on Dean's shoulder, squeezing. “How you feeling?”

Dean rolled his neck until it cracked and then rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands. “Like shit.”

“We can fix that with some hot food and cold water. San Bernadette is just ahead. Remember that place? You and Dad went hunting rogues in San Antonio while I stayed with that old witch in town.”

Dean nodded and his stomach growled loud enough to be heard over the Beast's engine and he laughed. “Food is good. I can do food.” They settled into an easy silence. Now that Dean was awake, Sam really didn't know what to say. Dean would want an explanation and damned if Sam could give him one.

When they left Dirty St. Bernie, as Dean dubbed it, full of hot beans and rice and with dried food, plastic bottles of water, and an earthenware jug of homemade liquor made from cactus plants filling the spare trunk space, Dean got out the map.

“Where we going? Mexico?”

“Nope. Crystal City – or just south of it. That's where Dad's camp is.”

“And you know this how?”

Sam shrugged. “I just do.”

Dean carefully refolded the map, slowly following the creases. Filling his belly was definitely a good thing, but he was getting sleepy again, and it was the sort of fatigue he'd experienced way too many times for his taste in the last twenty-four hours. He tried to hide it from Sam by staring out the window and letting his head rest against the cool glass.

He shouldn't have been surprised when Sam pulled off the main road about four hours later, following a trail that wasn't much more than a wagon track. In a bizarre reversal of roles, Sam seemed to be in charge and Dean saw no reason to try and change that. It felt good.

Since he'd spent the last few hours dissecting and reconstructing events of his rescue and Sam's subsequent acts to save him, Dean thought he was ready for the conversation.

He sat up straighter and took of his sunglasses. “You fixed me,” he said to Sam, clutching the roll bar overhead to keep from being bounced out of his seat.

“What?” Sam cast him a glance that Dean tried not to interpret as 'guilty' before returning his attention to the trail.

“I said, you fixed me.”

Sam's jaw worked back and forth as his teeth clenched and he tried once more to ignore the implications of what he'd been able to do for Dean.

“You'd have done the same for me.”

“Um, yeah, if I had super freaky powers, I would.” Dean shifted around so he was leaning back against his door, bending his left leg on to the seat. “You wanna tell me what happened back there?”

Sam's blood was the instrument of Dean's recovery; but it hadn't been enough, and Sam remembered pushing, like shoving a key in a lock and turning until everything clicked, like a piece of precision machinery. He'd done it until Dean felt right again.

“I guess I fixed you.” What else could he say?

Dean cocked an eyebrow at Sam, not buying it for a second. Yeah, that wasn't going to fly. Sam knew they could keep dancing around this, whatever the hell this was, but eventually they were both going to have to face the fact that the very foundation of their relationship had changed into something bizarre and not quite right.

“Let me see your arm.” Dean's tone sounded stronger than he looked and Sam reacted as he always did to his brother's orders.

“Fuck you.”

Sam had hoped maybe Dean wouldn't remember the particulars of how he got him on his feet again, but apparently some things stuck.

Sam sighed. “Look, I know we need to talk about this.” His right arm moved animatedly in the air as he talked. “Let's get to the camp and get settled and I'll tell you what I know.”

Dean chewed the inside of his cheek while he thought about it and must have decided to let things slide for now. “Don't try to bullshit me, Sam. I will know it and I will kick your ass.”

Sam couldn't help smiling and responded with the expected, “You can try.”


It was almost dark when Sam maneuvered the Beast through a narrow canyon and down into a valley, sheltered by mesquite trees and rock walls. As they descended, Sam noted the creek running behind the cabin with approval.

“I'll be a son of a bitch,” Dean muttered as they stopped and Sam began unloading the trunk. “I'd forgotten all about this place before old man Barkley told us about it.”

“I don't remember it at all,” Sam said and swung down off the running boards with an armload of packs.

“Well, you did pretty good finding it then.”

Sam let it pass and just continued his investigation of the grounds. The hard-packed earth surrounding the cabin merged effortlessly with thick drifts of sand blown in from the desert and everything was grayish green in color and smelled barren. John had built this one-room cabin about twenty feet up from the creek. It had no windows, a corrugated tin roof and clapboard sides. Crude but sufficient for getting out of the elements – or planning a raid on the rogues.

“Let's go inside.”

They walked around to the front and Dean jiggled the rusty handle holding the door shut. It wasn't locked, but there was some resistance as Dean shoved his shoulder against the warped wood and just that little bit of effort almost brought him to his knees.

“Dean!” Sam was next to him in an instant, supporting him until he could sit on a large log placed in front of the fire pit out front.

“Fuck! I hate this!” Dean's frustration was palpable as he slammed his fist down on the log.

Sam winced and could only stand by helplessly, knowing he'd feel the same way. Deciding it might be a good time to give Dean a few moments, he went back to the door and with little effort shoved it open. The smell of animal remains, both living and dead, was pretty strong, but otherwise the room was grimy but undisturbed. It had been a very long time since a human had inhabited this space.

An adobe fireplace cum cooking hearth took up one whole corner. Two narrow cots flanked it and a table with two chairs of dubious looking strength sat square in the center of the dirt floor. Sam doubted the cots were still habitable unless you were a critter and decided immediately to toss them out. There was a trunk in the corner opposite the fireplace he'd bet contained cooking utensils and other nonperishable supplies.

He dragged one of the cots behind him out the front door and immediately noticed that Dean was no longer sitting on the log. Sam left the dirty straw-stuffed mattress on the ground to the side of the cabin and searched the landscape for his brother.

Dean was easy to spot silhouetted in the twilight where he stood beside the creek. He was now wearing his jacket against the evening chill and his hands were stuffed into his front pockets. Sam thought he'd never seen his brother look so alone.

Sam knew better. As long as they had each other they wouldn't be alone, even if Dean didn't need Sam to stay alive. Sam finished cleaning the beds out of the cabin and joined Dean at the creek where the water now sparkled and gurgled in the weak light of a gibbous moon. Once the sun set out here, the desert became the epitome of dark.

“I left the place open to air out. Still not sure we want to sleep in there tonight.” Sam didn't look at Dean, but shared his brother's fascination with the frogs on the far side of the water, doing their nocturnal thing.

“Beast'll be ok.” Dean's overzealous frustration of earlier seemed to have fizzled out into abject apathy.

“Let's build a fire first and I'll fix us some dinner.” Sam slung his arm over Dean's shoulder and steered him back around to the camp. He wondered if Dean was losing ground again and doubted he'd get through the night without another – what was he supposed to call it – hit, fix, dose? Sam's head was starting to ache already with the memory.

Without having to think about it, Sam built a fire. They had a nice little blaze crackling and spitting in less than ten minutes and he rummaged through their goods looking for an easy dinner. Dean sat on the log like the proverbial bump and stared into the fire. The light and shadows dancing over his face only accentuated the dark circles and slightly haunted look he wore.

When Sam handed him a sandwich of mutton and hard cheese on a tin plate, along with a mug of water Dean just stared at him.

“You really want to try to act like everything is ok, don't you? Like the shit didn't just hit the fan all over our whole world?” Dean snatched the plate and mug, draining half of it before setting it on the ground. He looked like he wished it was something stronger.

“Hello! I lost my soul, Sam – or enough of it for the rest not to matter. By all rights, I should be dead.” Dean emptied the mug and got up for a refill. The volume of his voice rose steadily. “And I would be if you hadn't done whatever-the-hell it was you did.” Dean looked around the circle of firelight like he was trying to catch an elusive memory, just out of reach.

Saying it like that – getting it out there in the open made it sound worse than even Sam had imagined. “Christ! I know that, Dean! You think I'm not sitting here totally freaking out just because I'm not crying or screaming or cussing the gods?”

“I don't fucking need you to freak out Sam. I need you to tell me what the hell happened back there.” Dean had quit yelling but Sam could tell he was still pretty pissed. He could also see signs of the inevitable collapse. Dean was looking pretty rough, chest heaving, and probably not just from the outburst, and his eyes overbright as he took a bite of food.

Sam sipped from his mug, trying to put abstract thoughts in logical terms. At least Dean was eating now and Sam took the opportunity to stuff the rest of his sandwich in his mouth. Childish delay tactic, but effective.

He got up and poked at the fire with a nearby stick and sat back down closer to Dean whose face shown with a fine sheen of perspiration. If he was fading to the point of needing Sam to do his thing again, Sam wanted to be close enough to catch him.

Before Sam could begin, Dean surprised him by grabbing his wrist and yanking it into his lap. “Hey!” Sam said, trying to tug it back, but Dean's grip tightened and he held firm to Sam's arm.

Grabbing the unbuttoned cuff of Sam's shirt and pushing it up to his elbow, Dean glared at the puckered pink and red lines across Sam's forearm.

“I wasn't dreaming,” Dean said softly. Sam saw confusion, wonder and hurt flutter across his features. “You literally did cut yourself and feed me your blood.” He let go of Sam's arm and scrubbed at his face before leaning over closer to the fire. “Why?”

Sam let his hands dangle across his knees and finally moved one shoulder in a slight shrug. Dean seemed willing to give him time to formulate an answer. Finally, Sam swung around, straddling the log, facing Dean, then reached out and laid his hands on Dean's knees.

“Do you remember if Mom ever like,” he waved one arm around meaninglessly before returning it to Dean's knee, “you know, had visions?”

They rarely spoke of Mary and never of the special gift she possessed that made her a target of the Hoovers. Yes, she and Sam had the genes necessary to develop a serum against soul snatching, or so the scientists believed, but Sam was sure now it went much farther than that.

Dean was shaking his head, still confused. “No – I don't know. Dad never said anything but then again, he didn't talk about Mom much at all. Are you having visions? I thought they were just nightmares.”

Sam realized it was past time for he and Dean to get on the same page. “Both I guess. I dunno.” Sam's hair caught highlights from the fire as he shook his head. There really wasn't much he was sure of anymore.

“Look…” he really wanted Dean to understand – or at least understand as well as he did himself. “I knew what I had to do back there at the hospital to keep you from dying. I remembered having a dream, I thought, back in San Francisco…”

“With my knife. You were cutting your arm when I walked in that day.”


“Okaaay. So, you knew I needed blood after having my soul taken – apparently before it even happened? Did you know what was going to happen to me?”

“Of course not!” Sam said, flabbergasted that Dean would even ask. “And no…not just blood, Dean. My blood.”

That seemed to be about all Dean could take as he jumped up from the log and began pacing around the fire, talking and gesturing as he walked.

“Has this got something to do with what that quack did to you at the Center?”

“No, listen!” Sam stood facing his brother across the fire. “I think…I think this is something I've always had – and just never knew. Dr. Kumar found out a few things, but I don't think even he knew everything.”

Dean exhaled and shook his head, walked back to Sam and sat down. “Ok, what else can you do?” Sam gave him points for at least putting on a façade of calm.

But he couldn't stay still and talk about this. He took up Dean's pacing, his shoulders hunched and hands shoved inside his pockets. “I know my soul cannot be taken. At all. Even a little bit.” And before Dean could grab onto that like a hungry dog he continued. “I produce half-Golem children with souls – Kumar discovered that one. And apparently I have something that keeps you from dying after having most of your soul vacuumed out. Um, I think that's all.”

Dean nodded knowingly. “Ah, that's all. Well, if that's all…” and that seemed to be it.

“Yeah,” Sam said softly. “All I know about anyway.”

The crackling of the fire sounded like fireworks in the stillness of the night. It didn't seem like there was much left to say. And while the brothers just stared at each other through the fire, Sam watched Dean draw a stuttering breath, saw his eyes roll back before he collapsed not six inches from the burning firewood.

“Dean!” Sam pulled him away from the fire, drawing them both up against the makeshift log bench. He leaned his head over to listen, but could neither hear nor feel Dean's heart beating and could only tell he was breathing by laying his hand over Dean's chest and watching it rise and fall, shallow and irregular. He'd probably been approaching this state for awhile and stubborn ass that he is, wouldn't let on.

Sam's knife was in his pack, inside the cabin and he searched Dean's belt for the other one. The sheath at his waist was empty. “Damn you,” he growled and pushed Dean over to lie safely out of reach of the flames and rushed to the cabin.

When he came out, knife gripped in his left hand, Dean was raising himself up to lean against the log, but could barely get his hands beneath him.

“Just lay there and shut up,” Sam said, unreasonably irate at his brother.

“No. You're not going to do that this time.” Dean feebly pushed at Sam's hand holding the knife and rolled to his side, curling into a loose fetal position.

“So what? I'm going to watch you die instead? Right!”

Sam manhandled Dean over to his back and without even thinking, sliced open the fleshy part of his palm just under his thumb and slapped it over Dean's mouth while throwing his body over Dean's legs. Dean struggled but couldn't do much more than whine against Sam's hand while lying helplessly on the ground.

He could feel Dean's lips tighten as he pressed them together, refusing to take what Sam was offering. “Don't be an idiot, Dean!” Sam's eyes narrowed into black slits unusually bright in the firelight. “Goddamnit, you cannot leave me alone!”

Dean stopped struggling and he glared up at Sam, his eyes having lost all signs of the moss green usually reflected there. He shook his head, pleading silently for Sam to understand. They struggled like this forever, without words or force, when Sam saw Dean's face shift into bitter resignation, he knew he'd won the battle but not the war.

Dean's lips relaxed and parted but he refused to actively participate. Sam's exasperated sigh and muttered curse split the night and he reached over and squeezed the cut, forcing the blood to flow more freely. They stared at each other, locked in a battle of wills neither intended to lose while Sam pushed the pieces into place, just as he'd done at the hospital. It seemed harder this time, probably due to the struggle Dean was putting up. He closed his eyes, concentrating on the spot at Dean's belly where his hand now rested and seemed to vibrate up his arm and into his chest. He still didn't understand what it was he was doing, but he could tell when things clicked – when Dean felt right to him again and whole. Or more whole.

There had to be a compromise they could reach before Dean needed this again. Sam didn't think he could fight him like this every time and maintain his relationship with his brother. And even then he knew victory would be bittersweet because Dean would never forgive him for winning.

Dean wouldn't live a life like this and Sam suspected he'd find some way to leave at the first opportunity.

Then Dean bit him. He didn't break the skin, but his teeth clamped down on the spongy flesh hard enough to make Sam yelp and yank his hand back. Sam sat back on his heels and glared at Dean, who wore an expression of justified revenge. He supposed that meant Dean was feeling better.

“We're not doing that again – just so you know.” Dean's voice was barely a whisper but held a raw determination that Sam knew only too well. Dean wasn't a man used to fighting and losing against his own body and Sam knew he was right about the war.

“I'm not letting you die – just so you know,” Sam countered.

“We'll find another way. You can't survive like this either. It's worse than what they did to you at the Center.”

That was something Sam couldn't let go unchallenged. “You don't know what the hell you're talking about, so just shut up!” His eyes glittered with righteous indignation. “Nothing can ever be as bad as that and I can't believe you're comparing a little cut now and then to save your life to what those fuckers did to me!”

Dean saw the unshed tears. The anger directed not so much at him as the people in a world who could care less what lines they crossed or who they hurt as long as their own purposes were served. It sucked.

“Okay, Sammy…okay.” Dean's voice cracked and he swallowed before rolling over to face Sam and reached out to stroke his leg, soothing him like he'd done when they were young. “I'm sorry…shhhhh…I'm sorry.”

Sam rolled down into Dean's arms, inhaling a deep breath and letting it out, then coughed and wrapped his arm around Dean's waist.

“Don't ask me not to do whatever I have to to save your life, Dean. It ain't gonna happen.”

Dean considered his words and he could feel Sam tense in his arms, waiting for his response. “Then we'll just have to find another way to do that, kiddo.”

It wasn't long before Dean's eyes fluttered closed and he seemed to be sleeping when Sam finally moved stiffly out of his arms and went in search of antiseptic and gauze for his hand. He walked out of the cabin a few moments later with medical supplies, blankets and their sleeping bags. Unless Dean woke up, Sam wouldn't be able to get him into his, but he could at least put it over him against the evening cold. Texas or not, the desert was always a place of extremes.

He settled back after building up the fire and flexed his hand experimentally, grimacing when the cut opened and closed beneath the bandage. As he slipped into his sleeping bag next to Dean it occurred to him that the scars they both wore on their bodies weren't the only ones they carried now.

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