Back to Chapter One
Thursday night at Rick’s is karaoke night. It’s depressingly typical that the world can more or less end (not end, Dean, the world hasn’t ended, it’s still here – Sam’s voice in his head, correcting him with that fond, pedantic tone) and yet, karaoke survives. It’s some fucking legacy.
He sits at the bar, nursing his drink, and listens to Rogers and Weatherly of Blue Team murdering Chicago’s Dying In Your Arms Tonight.
And that’s the other thing about the karaoke (at least this particular karaoke machine) its playlist consists of almost exclusively soft rock ballads of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Sure, Dean has been known to get up there and smash Every Rose has its Thorn or Dream On when he’s inebriated enough, but they’re classics, totally understandable.
He looks over at the stage as Rogers and Weatherly finish, bowing ironically at the jeers and catcalls from the rest of Blue Team. The bar’s busy, mainly a military crowd tonight, though there’s plenty of civvies around, some mingling and some sticking to their own. His team called him over when he arrived, boisterous and loud and well on their way to some manic hangovers. He turned them down in the end, telling them he’s got an 0700 hours meeting with Sanders tomorrow (which is true), though the real and kinda pathetic truth is that he’s been looking forward to spending the evening with Sam. Just Sam. The two of them alone together in their quarters. When his brother finally gets his workaholic, overachieving ass down here of course.
He looks up as Navarro claps a hand on his shoulder, patting him in an overfriendly, drunken way.
“You gotta come drink with us,” Navarro slurs. He jerks his head towards the corner booth where Gutierrez and Street are wrestling on one of the bench seats, Gutierrez trying to pull Street down into his lap, Ancelotti leaning over and grabbing for Street’s crotch.
Dean raises an eyebrow. “Little too homoerotic for me, man.”
Navarro blinks in the direction of the table then lets out a wild bark of a laugh. “Oh man, they’re so fuckin’ gay!” He turns back to Dean, grinning sloppily. “You remember my sister, boss? My sister, Jenny?”
Dean hesitates, taken aback for a second by the sudden change of subject. He peers into Navarro’s face; the kid’s eyes are wide, terribly and drunkenly sincere.
“She likes you, like, a lot,” Navarro continues, leaning in even closer so his breath tickles against Dean’s cheek, hot and sour and alcoholic. “She’s got this enormous crush on you.”
Dean licks his lips and fights the urge to laugh. Seriously? Have they regressed to the eighth grade here? Is one of his own men trying to fix him up with his freaking sister?
“I told her, I said, ain’t nobody better than the Commander, Jen. You can’t go wrong with him. Look, sir, she’s sittin’ over there, with the guys.” He jerks his head back towards their booth. There are only two girls at the table who aren’t part of Red Team, both look young, early twenties probably. “She’s the one with dark hair,” Navarro slurs, “look, she’s lookin’ over at us.”
Sure enough, the dark-haired girl has lifted her head and is looking their way. She cringes away immediately when she notices them looking, a blush flooding into her cheeks. It’s kinda cute. Hey, she is cute, hot from what he can see of her with her long dark hair, smooth skin and by the looks of that tight little t-shirt, an excellent rack too. Most definitely his type. Still, though.
“So you gonna join us? Gonna speak to her? She’d be so happy, man.”
“Dude, I’m flattered, but she’s a little young for me, don’t you think?” he says.
Navarro blinks like he’s trying to process Dean’s words. “You ain’t that old,” he says at last.
Dean grins and shakes his head. “That’s mighty complimentary of you, Tommy, but I’m thirty-nine. How old is your sister?”
“Twenty-two,” Navarro answers, still with the befuddled look.
Dean disguises the wince. Jesus, twenty-two. What was he doing when he was twenty two? Having a lot more fun than she is no doubt. It’s pretty sucky for young women here: forced to keep popping out the babies if they’re not in the military or one of the reserved occupations; all part of Mrs. Fitzgerald’s big fertility drive. Then again, anybody who is here is by definition one of the lucky few, so they all gotta take their punches.
“People don’t care about that shit now, not like we can be picky, boss,” slurs Navarro.
There’s some truth in that. There are a little over six thousand people living on the base, pickings are slim, and fit and available men are getting less and less plentiful by the day. Can’t blame the girl for being interested, by anyone’s standards he’s a prime catch.
Sam’s voice jerks his attention away from Navarro, and he turns to see his brother giving him a quizzical look, raising an eyebrow as he props his cane up against the bar and slides onto the empty stool on Dean’s other side.
“Sam!” Navarro cries. He reaches across Dean’s body to pump Sam’s hand. “Nice to see you, man! Maybe you can talk some sense into the Commander?”
Sam looks amused, exchanging a glance with Dean and smiling tolerantly at Navarro. “I can try. What is it?”
“So, my little sister’s got, like, this enormous crush on him and she’s desperate for him to just come on over there and, like, talk? But he reckons he’s too freakin’ old or something! Which is bullshit ‘cause he’s in great shape. Right, boss? Right?” He claps Dean heavily on the shoulder again. “She’s a great girl, seriously, I ain’t just sayin’ this ‘cause she’s my sister, but she’s an awesome girl.”
Dean watches his brother’s smile get tighter and tighter, his eyes narrowing and that crease appearing between his eyebrows. Navarro’s still utterly oblivious, rattling on in his ear.
“Navarro, hey, hey, dude, shut up for a second!”
Navarro instantly shuts up, obeying on instinct. Goddamn, his men are well trained.
“With respect, I’m not interested in your sister. I’m sure she’s a lovely girl, fact is, I can see that she’s a lovely girl, but she’s too young for me. And I’m not – “ he shrugs, aware of Sam beside him. “I’m not looking for any sort of a relationship. I have other priorities. You got that?” He raises his voice at the end, using his officer tone; not that dissimilar from his big brother tone, though a helluva lot more successful.
Navarro blinks at him, eyes a little foggy, then he nods rapidly. “Yes, Sir, course, Sir.”
“You owe me some seriously good sex for that,” he says five minutes later as they make their way back to their quarters. “Did you see how hot Navarro’s little sister was?”
“No,” Sam snaps.
Dean flicks him a side-ways look. “You alright, man?”
“Yeah, Dean, I’m fine. Just peachy.”
“Dude, seriously, enough with the lemon face. You know I only got eyes for one girl round here.”
He smirks at his brother but Sam’s not responding to it, his expression tense and not amused, a small muscle twitching at the edge of his jaw, his fingers wrapped tightly around the head of his cane.
Dean considers stopping and saying something else, something about how dumb it is of Sam to even be jealous, how fucking ridiculous he’s acting, but they’re not home yet. There are still too many people around; overtaking them as they make their slow, steady way back to their quarters, forced to walk at Sam’s pace.
Their quarters are some of the nicest on the military side of the barracks. They were given the room three years ago after Sam got discharged from the infirmary and they’ve never considered changing. It’s the longest time the two of them have ever lived in one place and the room has become home, or at least they’ve tried to make it home. They’ve tacked pictures from old magazines to the walls: a couple of Dean’s favorite Maxim spreads, beer and underwear ads and just crap that looks damn cool. Sam even managed to find an old ad for a 1960s Chevy Impala from amongst the base’s ancient stack of 1950s and 1960s magazines, it’s the wrong year but it’s almost perfect, it’s almost his baby. They’ve salvaged furniture from other parts of the base and have even built or made some things themselves during their rare down time in the craft and wood shops over in the civilian barracks. A few years back Sam had gone through a whittling phase, a way of keeping himself occupied during his long, painful recovery, and the room’s littered with his wooden, lumpy and somewhat disfigured approximations of various animals. Overall, it’s actually the nicest place they’ve ever lived together – which says a lot about how they used to live.
Dean unlocks the door as Sam walks stiffly towards the bed and lowers himself to the edge with an audible wince.
“Sore?” Dean says, turning to look at his brother.
Sam gives that exasperating, one-shouldered shrug, avoiding Dean’s gaze, but Dean can tell that he’s in pain. It’s obvious in the lines around his eyes and mouth, the tense shape of his shoulders, not to mention the wicked fucking mood.
He sighs and kneels on the floor in front of his brother. “Damn it, Sam, how many freakin’ times I gotta tell you?” He tugs at Sam’s light blue scrub pants. “C’mon, get ‘em off.”
Sam’s mouth twitches, the corners curling upwards into an almost mischievous shape as he looks down at Dean. But Dean’s not in the mood for it right now. He just raises his eyebrows, his pissed older brother don’t keep me fucking waiting face.
Sam sighs and fiddles with the drawstring of his scrub pants, shifting his ass on the bed to push them down. These days, scrubs or track pants are Sam’s uniform. Not just ‘cause he practically lives in the goddamn lab but because they’re the easiest choice for his leg. Jeans and fatigues are too difficult, too stiff and too narrow, and anyway, there aren’t that many pairs on the base left in Sam’s gigantor size.
Dean helps Sam tug off the pants until they’re pooling on the floor around his feet, then he goes to work on the buckles and straps around Sam’s right thigh and hips. It doesn’t look too bad, just a little red where the straps have chafed against his sweaty skin, where he’s been wearing the prosthesis for far too long. Dean purses his lips, keeps his head bent as he gently detaches the socket from around the stump of Sam’s thigh, removing the false leg entirely.
The skin around the stump is red, enflamed and definitely sore. The rash that’s been troubling Sam for the past few weeks has not improved, in fact, it looks worse. Dean scowls and lifts his head to glare up at Sam, though the glare dims a little when he sees that his brother’s got his lip caught between his teeth, wincing like he’s in genuine pain. But Christ, it’s his own goddamn fault; he knows that he’s not supposed to wear the prosthesis for long periods of time; it’s not built for that.
“Idiot,” he mutters under his breath as he gets to his feet, propping the false leg up against Sam’s side of the bed in its usual spot.
Sam scoots backwards on the bed until he’s leaning against the headboard. He tilts his head back against the wall, and closes his eyes. Dean watches him; he looks tired and vulnerable, in just his boxers and the light blue scrubs shirt, one leg stretched out in front of him.
Dean swallows, his chest clenching as he says, “You know you’re an idiot, right?”
Sam opens his eyes and blinks at him. “I’m not going to stop wearing it, Dean.”
“You don’t understand.”
“No, I don’t. ’Cause when did we ever give a crap what other people think?”
“I care what other people think,” says Sam.
Dean presses his lips together and goes to the bathroom. He takes the tub of medicated lotion down from the mirrored cabinet and comes back into the room. He perches on the edge of the bed and angles his body towards his brother. Sam’s staring down at his lap, his hand hovering over the scraped raw skin at the edges of his stump. He raises his head as Dean shifts closer, looks at him blankly for a moment, then removes his hand, letting it fall to the bed.
Dean gives him a reassuring smile and unscrews the tub. He smoothes the lotion over the angry red rash as gently as he can, his mind taking him back thirty-four years, to his five year old self watching Dad smear diaper-rash cream onto baby Sammy’s little butt. The stuff had smelt exactly the freaking same as this shit now, hell; this probably is the same stuff, just in different packaging. He finishes up, screws the lid back on and gets up to replace the tub in the bathroom cabinet. When he gets back to the bed, Sam’s wrestling with his shirt, tugging it over his head, sending his hair every which way.
He throws the shirt to the floor when he’s done and maneuvers himself under the covers, wearing just his boxers. Dean shucks off his own clothes – all of them, except his dog tags – and piles them up on the chair by the bed for easy access in the morning. He’s got another early start and he’s not leaving his bed until the last possible second.
Once he’s naked he gets the lights, and slides under the covers. He rolls onto his side and shifts closer to Sam until he’s pressed up against his back. Sam tenses for a millisecond then relaxes, nestling back into Dean’s body. Dean leans in, puts his lips to the firm muscled curve of Sam’s shoulder and kisses him softly.
“Hey, you okay? Does it still sting?”
“It’s okay,” Sam whispers.
He’s probably lying, it probably hurts like a bitch, but this is Sam, this is the guy who used to sew himself up with just a little whiskey to deaden the pain. Sam has the highest pain threshold of anyone he knows, except perhaps himself.
He slides one arm around Sam’s body, fingers smooth over his stomach. Sam shivers, and Dean skims his fingers lower, brushing up against the waistband of his boxers. He props himself up on one elbow for a better angle, peppering kisses along the breadth of Sam’s shoulders, the nape of his neck and nub of his spine. Sam moans, soft and low, and Dean pauses to watch his profile with a greedy hunger. Sam’s eyelashes flutter, his mouth twitches and curls up into a loose sloppy smile, his lips soundlessly shaping Dean’s name. Dean presses another kiss to one of his shoulder blades then he pushes his hand under the waistband of his shorts and grabs his cock.
Sam’s already half-hard, flesh warm and silken under Dean’s fingers. Dean squeezes gently, moves to bury his face in the hollow of his brother’s throat and inhale his scent. He jacks Sam’s cock until it’s fully hard, waistband caught around his wrist, fingers tickling Sam’s balls on the way down and brushing over the sensitive head on the way back up. Sam hums, mouths Dean’s name, fumbles back with his hand to paw at Dean’s naked hip to tug him in closer, their bodylines melting into one.
Sam likes to drag it out these days, he likes to savor it, and of course he likes to make Dean work for it. Luckily for Sam, Dean is an awesome big brother and an awesome sex partner, and after twenty years of fooling around together, he knows the exact size and shape of every one of his brother’s buttons. Like for example how Sam gets all tingly inside when Dean leans over him from behind to kiss the corner of his mouth and drag his tongue over the edge of his lips. He feels Sam shiver and turn his head into Dean, their noses colliding as their mouths clash.
They kiss, open-mouthed, breathing each other’s oxygen, Sam’s smile against his lips. This is something that hasn’t changed between them, the way Sam’s mouth on his can send him reeling. He gets his hand on the mattress, palm pushing down into the hard springs, other hand still working Sam’s dick. He rolls his brother onto his back, hair an inky spill against the pillow, mouth loose and curled up, eyes hooded, dark slits in his familiar face, locked on Dean.
He flashes Sam a snap of a grin, all teeth and devil-may-care. He wriggles his shoulders to throw off the covers, cool air hitting his slick, sweaty back. He straddles his brother’s waist, and Sam gasps at the contact, reaching up to cup the back of Dean’s neck and pull him down into a kiss. They kiss and kiss, until Dean’s lips are tingling and his face rubbed raw. He works his hand between their bodies to find and fist Sam’s cock once more, the pulls getting rough and spasmodic as they grind together.
“C’mon, man, c’mon, Sammy. Wanna see you, wanna see you lose it. So hot, Sam, so damn hot,” he whispers into the side of his brother’s face.
Sam clutches the back of Dean’s head, arches up into his hand. He’s getting close now, muscles trembling and hips stuttering, breathing gone high and tight. Dean flicks his thumb over the head of his brother’s dick, hears Sam’s gasped breath, and then he’s coming, spurting over Dean’s fingers. “Don’t stop, don’t stop,” Sam begs, back and shoulders rising up from the mattress. Dean doesn’t, wringing every last drop from his brother’s twitching dick.
Sam pants and collapses back into the pillows, expression gone slack and sloppy. He runs his hand down Dean’s arm, then back up again to his shoulder, his neck, fingers smoothing over the chain holding his dog tags, making them jingle in the quiet room. He pats the side of Dean’s face, cups his jaw, thumb caressing his bottom lip.
“That was great, thanks, Dean.”
Dean laughs, kisses the pad of his brother’s thumb. He flops down into the bed, and turns his head to watch Sam.
“You wanna help me out here?” He waves a hand over his own erection.
Sam gives him a brilliant grin and reaches over to jack his cock.
It reminds Dean of when they were kids, lying side by side in the dark in their shared queen bed. Helping each other out, they used to call it. When they’d reach for each other’s cocks, eyes locked on the dark ceiling above, hands moving under the covers, furtive and quiet and secret; when their arms and elbows would bump together and Sam would giggle and gasp and Dean would hiss at him to be quiet, to not wake Dad; when he’d roll over into his brother’s hot gangly space and claim him; when he’d feel Sam’s long slender body tremble underneath his hands, his young soft skin burning up under his fingertips; when Sam would whimper out his name like he couldn’t help it, and clutch onto him with both hands, holding on tight to his big brother as he let himself go.
Sam rolls onto his side to get better access, propping himself up on one elbow, hand under his chin, small private smile on his face as he watches Dean. He works his long clever fingers up and down Dean’s dick, caressing his balls and dragging his fingers down against his crack. It doesn’t take long. Unlike Sam, Dean never holds back, he doesn’t see the point of it. Sam’s hands and body have the same effect on him now that they did ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. Sure, his recovery time isn’t what it once was, but some things never change, and his brother still has the magic touch as far as Dean’s dick is concerned.
“Thank you for the present,” Sam says a few minutes later after Dean has gotten back into the bed, clean and shivering from his cold three minute shower.
He turns his head to give his brother a questioning look and Sam clarifies: “The hostile? The one your guys brought down to the lab? They said you picked it up in one of the traps.”
“Oh, that. Well, you’re welcome. I guess.”
Jesus, Sam is one weird dude. Though, he doesn’t know why he’s surprised, he can remember how Sam used to get back when they were hunting. Whenever he got a chance to get his hands on a cadaver or a monster-carcass or whatever, then it was latex gloves and scalpels and a happy Sammy. This is just the same thing; only swap the monster cadavers for hostile mutants.
“It was still alive when you got it?” he asks.
“Yeah, it’s still alive. Looks like a good specimen, younger than the others we got at the moment. I was checking it out before, that’s why I was late. Robinson needed my help getting it processed.”
“What? Sam, Jesus, man! I thought I told you not to get involved in that crap? Don’t you know how freakin’ dangerous that is?”
He sits up in bed with a jerk, turning his head to stare down at his brother. Robinson? Sam was fucking around with Robinson? Guy’s a fucking prick. Seriously bad news. Not that Dean can entirely blame him, working the cages every single day gotta be the single worst job on the base, and that includes the poor assholes down in sanitation. But Sam should not be going down into the cages. Sam should be keeping the fuck away from the cages. He should only be allowed near those motherfucking mutants when they’ve been shot through with elephant tranquilizer – enough elephant tranquilizer to take down a herd of elephants.
“I know exactly how dangerous it is,” Sam replies tightly. “I know better than you, Dean. It’s my job to know.”
And that’s something else Dean doesn’t like to think about - just how up close and freaking personal Sam gets with those things every damn day. The thing is, he knows that they’re proving more and more resilient to the tranqs, that they’re developing immunity. He’s seen it for himself.
Two months ago, they’d made that mistake – he’d made that mistake – not using enough tranq, and someone had died because of it. They’d taken one of the bastards alive just like they’d done earlier that day, doped and chained it up, everything like normal. Except that it hadn’t mattered. The thing had come awake in the bed of the Jeep and sunk its teeth into the nearest human body: Craig Clancy, one of his guys, one of his team, a 23 year old kid with a wife and baby back at the base and everything to live for. He'd seen it all play out right in front of him, utterly useless and unable to do anything to save the kid. He’d emptied the chamber of his .45 into the mutant’s head; but by then it was too late. He’d made Jackson pull the Jeep over and he and Clancy had gotten out, walked side by side to the nearest copse of trees where he’d put a bullet in the kid’s brain.
“It’s not your job to go down into the cages,” he insists. “Jesus Christ, Sam, that thing could’ve woken up at any moment. I don’t want you down there! Let Robinson and his guys handle it, they’re psycho enough.” He presses his lips together, trying to swallow down that familiar frustration. “I just wish that for once – for once in your goddamned life you would listen to me and just – just do what I say.”
“You’re not in charge anymore, Dean,” Sam snaps, glaring at him. “I’m not one of your men and you’re not my commander!”
Dean grits his teeth and throws himself back down into the bed, mattress shaking under the impact. “I’m still your big brother! And I’m still – Jesus, man, you’re all I got. I can’t let you put yourself at risk like that, especially now –“
“Now that I’m a gimp you mean?” Sam interrupts. “Now that I can’t handle myself anymore? Now that I’m a useless cripple with one fucking leg?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Yeah but that’s what you meant! Dean, I watch you go out there –“ he thrusts out his hand, jabbing one finger towards the window - “outside – with those things. I watch you do that all the damn time and I don’t say anything ‘cause I know that’s your job and that’s what you do and that’s who you are and you’re not gonna change! But I don’t have to like it, and I worry every single fucking time you cross the wall, so don’t talk to me about keeping safe.”
Sam’s eyes are flashing, his mouth set: it’s so familiar this expression on Sam’s face, this righteous fury, this frustration and anger and exasperation. Dean’s gaze drops to his brother’s heaving chest, to his hand fisted in the sheet, the other still outstretched. Sam jerks his head away, swallows hard, letting his hand fall to the bed.
“Sammy, hey, c’mon, look, I’m sorry, man. I just. I worry, you know.”
Sam shakes his head, blows out a breath. “Look, let’s just – get some sleep.” He shifts back down into the bed, pulling the sheets with him.
Dean watches him for a moment, biting his lip, then says finally, “Yeah, okay.”
He blows his way past Weiner at 0700 hours. Weiner looks up from his paperwork and scowls at him. “You’re late, Red Leader.”
Dean grits his teeth, skin prickling in irritation. He and Weiner are engaged in this ongoing mutual loathing thing. He can’t even remember anymore how it started, just that Weiner totally hates his guts and Dean, well... he just can’t stand the officious little prick. A personality clash Sam calls it, rolling his eyes when Dean bitches about one of Weiner’s pathetic attempts to undermine him – missing him off meeting lists or not sending him memos – all that petty, insignificant shit that grates on Dean, leaves him itching to slam his fist into the smug bastard’s annoyingly pretty face with its stupid annoyingly symmetrical features.
This time he takes Sam’s advice and ignores him. The asshole is wrong anyway. It’s 0700 hours, he’s not late, he’s precisely on time.
Sanders waves him in. He’s got his back to Dean, standing over the hotplate in the corner of his office, pouring coffee from the saucepan that simmers throughout the day, infusing Sanders’ office and most of CIC with the bitter scent of burnt coffee. Still, it tastes better than it smells and it’s helluva lot better than the shit the mess hall serves up.
Sanders doesn’t bother asking him if he wants a cup, just pours him one and places it on the desk, indicating with his head for Dean to take a seat.
“Thanks,” Dean grunts, taking a sip and repressing the accompanying shudder; but Christ, that’s some bitter coffee.
Sanders takes a seat opposite him, raising his mug to his lips and eying him over the rim.
“Silver Leader informed me that your two teams slaughtered fifty one hostiles in yesterday’s battle.”
So they’re calling it a battle then. Seems fair enough. Though, fifty-one, Jesus, fifty one mutants, and that figure doesn’t include the bastards they took out before Ritchie sent out his SOS.
“We got twenty-two before that,” Dean tells him. “Twenty one dead, one captured. It’s in the cages now, Robinson processed it yesterday.”
Robinson and Sam, he thinks, gritting his teeth at the thought while forcing down another bitter chug of coffee.
Sanders nods, and tilts his chair back, steepling his fingers under his chin. “And Silver team eradicated thirteen earlier in the day. That makes a total of eighty six hostiles. In one day. They’re increasing.”
“Sam says they’re just going to keep coming. They can sense us from miles away, this many humans in one place…” he trails off, shrugs. “So, yeah.”
We’re screwed, he thinks, completing the sentence. He’s been thinking it for years, ever since the first reports started filtering through from other hunters, tales of zombies that don’t follow any of the rules; a new menace, spreading and infecting and taking down entire towns. Something man-made, some scientist’s folly, and it was destroying the world far better than Lucifer could’ve dreamed of.
And so now, five years later, he and Sam trapped on a base in the middle of Western Oregon along with six thousand other lucky souls, trying to build a new world from behind the wall. It’s not going to work. He knows it, and surely Sanders must know it too, yet they keep trying. He’s just relieved that for once, the responsibility isn’t entirely his and Sam’s.
“The question is, of course, what we do to mitigate it,” says Sanders, straightening his chair.
Dean doesn’t respond, just takes another swig of coffee. What they’re doing right now: sending good people out there to patrol and fight, to hold back the mutant menace, it’s just getting them killed, and it’s not like they have the manpower to spare. But what else can they do? Until Sam and his band of geeks discover the vaccine or the fatal flaw or at least some fucking way of getting the bastards, they’re pretty much fucked. But this isn’t the time for doom and gloom, Sanders is looking to him for answers, and Dean’s a Winchester, if there’s one thing he knows really damn well it’s how to keep fighting when the odds are against you.
“We can train harder and longer,” he says. “My team puts in the most training hours and we have the best survival rate. You can’t tell me the two ain’t related.”
The corner of Sanders’ mouth twitches and he nods. “I’m not disagreeing with you, Commander. And yes, you’re right, the figures speak for themselves. Your team has the best mortality and the best strike rate in the corps – which is why I’m putting you in charge of all basic training for new recruits from now on.”
“What? But what about Ruiz and Gilet?”
“They’ll report to you.”
“And Red Team –“
“Are you telling me you can’t handle this additional responsibility, Dean?”
Shit, first-name terms, never good. Sanders is regarding him with that piercing, assessing gaze that brings back his father so irrevocably. It’s not the first time that he’s noticed the resemblance. In many ways, Sanders often seems to him like an older African American version of his father. He’s pure Marine through and through, a professional, a veteran of some of the world’s most horrific conflicts and an excellent commanding officer, someone Dean's willing and happy to take commands from. But he's also got that same utilitarian ruthlessness and presence as Dad always had, that same strength of will – the one that’s keeping six thousand people alive, that’s kept six thousand people alive for the past few years.
Are you telling me you can’t you handle this responsibility, Dean? The words echo in his head in his father’s familiar deep voice; his father’s features imposed over the grizzled face of his commanding officer for a fraction of a second. He blinks, pushing the image away and sits up straight in his chair.
“I can handle it,” he says. And he can. He knows he can. And this matters. Bad aim and bad technique make you miss your shot and that puts your comrades in danger. He knew that when he was eight years old, these guys have no excuse.
“Good. I’m giving you the extra responsibility because I think you deserve it,” Sanders says. “You’re my best commander, Dean. Your men and women respect you and they follow you unquestioningly. That is a rare gift.”
“Right.” Dean huffs out a grim smile. “Thanks. I guess.”
“I’ll need some sort of training plan from you. Just a run-down of what sort of techniques and regimes you want to use. This is basic training, remember? New recruit stuff. You know the drill.”
Jesus, more paperwork. Awesome. So far this added responsibility gig sucks big time. “Of course,” he says.
Sanders reaches to pick up a document lying in his in-tray. “That is all, Red Leader.”
Dean salutes and leaves the office.
He retraces his steps back to their room, wanting to get Sam’s opinion on what the hell he’s supposed to do with the new recruits. He has some ideas and he knows he can do a much better job than what Ruiz and Gilet are doing right now. They’re old school, which works just fine when your enemy’s some poor unlucky human bastard, not so fine when your enemy’s something else entirely, that takes a different mindset – the kind of mindset him and Sam were raised on. It’s something he’s been banging into the heads of every newbie sent his way, giving them some serious tough love, trying to get them up to his own Winchester standards. And okay, he knows that his own standards are high, (Sammy will testify to that), but they’re fighting for the survival of their species out there, they can’t take shortcuts.
Back at their room, he slides his pass-card out of his pocket and swipes the lock. The bed is empty, perfectly made. Sam’s not there.
He curses under his breath and gives the room a quick scan. The prosthesis is still propped up against the wall by the bed where he left it last night. Huh. So did Sam actually listen to him for once and keep the leg off for the day?
Not fucking likely. More likely, Sam was hurting so much when he got up that he decided to leave it off which – not so good news.
He leaves the room, and heads for the lab. He buzzes the intercom and frowns as it takes a full minute for Sam’s face to come onto the blurred video-screen and demand: “Yeah? Who is it?”
“It’s me,” he answers.
The lab is quiet; only Sam and Suzie seem to be working today, both of the other two nerds, Ron and the other dude whose name Dean never remembers, are missing again. It always seems to be that way; Suzie’s okay but Sam puts in twice as many hours as those other two jokers put together despite having no formal scientific qualifications. Apparently all three of Sam’s co-workers used to have real jobs working for drug companies or universities or hospital research labs or even freaking L’Oreal in Ron’s case, but Sam’s expertise with monsters and monster carcasses outstrips that of every motherfucker on the base so they grudgingly accepted him. In Dean’s opinion, the whole setup is a freaking joke; they’re damned lucky to have Sam and even luckier that Sam doesn’t seem to care that the other three are blatantly taking advantage of his workaholic tendencies. Then again, Sam really enjoys what he’s doing and would probably sleep in the goddamn lab if Dean let him. But that’s his little brother: overachieving, dedicated, geeky Sammy, the uber-researcher, the Nerd King himself.
Sam’s back at his desk, frowning at his computer screen and tapping at his keyboard with one finger. Dean crosses the room, sparing a brief nod of hello for Suzie, and looms over his brother. Sam’s desk is a mess, piles of papers and books and files taking up every inch of space. It’s the kind of mess Sam doesn’t tolerate in their private quarters, but he seems to thrive on it here.
There’s a corkboard fastened to the wall above Sam’s desk with a couple of photographs pinned to it: the first old and faded, creased across the middle where Sam carried it in his wallet for so many years. It’s the photo they found in Dad’s motel room all those years ago, during Sam’s first hunt away from Stanford; it shows the three of them after a fishing trip posed on the trunk of the Impala, young Sammy on Dad’s knees, Dean sitting beside them and leaning into Dad. The other photo is much more recent; Suzie took it at the compound Xmas celebration two years ago: him and Sam, arms thrown around each other’s shoulders, cups of paint-stripper homebrew in their hands and drunken bleary grins on their flushed faces.
“What you doing, man?” he asks.
Sam sighs and tilts his head back to blink up at Dean. “I don’t think you’d understand it.”
“Try me,” Dean says, hooking his foot around a nearby stool and dragging it closer. He plops down and turns to peer at the screen, elbows resting on the corner of Sam’s desk. Admittedly, the jumble of letters and numbers don’t make a whole lot of sense, but whatever, he’s not that freaking dumb, he could figure it out if he had any idea what any of it actually meant.
Sam points at the blocks of numbers in a table with the end of his pen. “This is some of the data we got from the tests Suze ran overnight on the new specimen. We took samples from it, blood and other fluids and skin – the usual shit.”
“Yeah? You find anything interesting?”
“Potentially, yes.” Sam darts him a look and Dean can see the barely suppressed excitement in his brother’s expression, the way his mouth is twitching at the corners and the way his gaze eagerly springs back to linger over the table of numbers. “I’m not done analyzing it yet and Suze is still running more tests, but do you remember what I said last night about this creature looking younger than the previous ones we’ve had?”
“Yeah,” Dean says.
“Yeah, well, it looks like I was right. The initial analysis of the skin and blood show that this specimen is barely a month old. But that’s not what’s interesting. It’s the make-up of the DNA. It’s not human.”
“Well, no, man, they ain’t human,” Dean says, puzzled.
“Yes, no, well – not entirely of course, but they were once human. All the mutants, they’re just human bodies that have been infected. This one is different. Its genetic make-up, what I can see in its DNA, just from a quick first glance – it, God, Dean, it proves the hypothesis that we’ve been working on these past couple of months.” He pauses to turn his head and stare at Dean. His eyes are wide and lit-up, wholly focused on what he’s saying. It’s like the eureka moment of every single hunt. It’s like those times when Sam used to sit back in his chair and say huh, and Dean would sit up and raise his eyebrows and Sam would come out with his explanation for whatever fucked-up shit they were dealing with in that particular town, eyes lit up and mouth trying not to break into a huge excited smile, Sam’s I figured it all out look.
“What?” Dean says.
“They’re reproducing,” Sam states plainly.
Dean blinks. “Huh? What?”
“They’re reproducing, Dean. It’s the only explanation for it.”
“But it’s – it’s fully grown, dude. It’s no baby; it’s like some big motherfucker.”
Sam gives him this look, this well duh kinda look that makes Dean feel about as dumb as a two by four.
“Well, obviously, they’re not breeding like most vertebrates breed. For a start, they don’t have any sexual organs, so it’s got to be some form of asexual reproduction.”
“Like amoebas and bacteria?”
Sam looks at him in surprise, eyebrows raised.
“What?” Dean says. “Hey, I used to watch the Discovery Channel. I know what asexual reproduction is. I saw this show once about this female shark being kept in a tank with no males around who managed to give birth on her own.”
“I remember reading about that shark. But that’s parthenogenesis, it’s a little different. This –“ he gestures at the screen, hands shaking with excitement – “this is probably something like that – like some form of parthenogenesis. It’s gotta be.”
“So these things are, like, somehow managing to give birth to themselves?”
“Who the hell knows what they’re doing! We need more specimens like that one you picked up yesterday to even begin to understand what’s going on. But the one thing I’ve learned about these motherfuckers so far is that they don’t follow rules. With Nature and biology and science there are rules, and sure, you get instances when the rules aren’t followed, like that shark, and evolution is all about breaking existing rules and mutations and nature bettering itself.” The excitement’s really shining through now, his eyes lit-up, hands gesturing. Dean watches him, mesmerized, unable to look away. “What this specimen is is some sort of new generation. It’s a straight up monster mutant. This changes everything, Dean!”
Dean shakes his head and blows out a breath. “Man, this makes me miss shapeshifters and skinwalkers and even freakin’ witches and I used to hate those sonsofbitches. At least, you knew where you were with them. These fuckin’ mutants…” He breaks off with a shudder. “They give me the goddamn heebie jeebies, Sammy. Though if what you’re sayin’ is right then we really are screwed.”
“Perhaps not. We can still kill them, they still die.”
He thinks suddenly of the battle yesterday, the machine gun bullets spraying uselessly through that group of five or six mutants that had attacked them from the north hill, that one group that had seemed immune to their regular bullets, the ones they’d had to waste with shotguns and grenades. Sam’s right, they do still die, but for how much longer? Sam’s still talking though, big hands gesticulating and eyes bright, more animated than Dean’s seen him in a long while, glancing from his screen to Dean’s face and back again.
“…And if we can figure out some sort of vaccine then we could – I mean – that will change everything! We’ll have a real chance of survival. Of course they’ll probably just keep reproducing but at least they won’t be able to use human bodies for it.”
“Right, the vaccine.” Dean purses his lips and shakes his head. “Well, good luck with that, man. I guess one of us gotta stay positive.”
“Sure we do,” answers Sam with a shrug. He catches Dean’s eye, mouth tilting up into a half-smile, eyes brightening. “Dean, c’mon, you and me have faced worse odds than this. Remember Lucifer? Who knows – we could get lucky again.”
“Yeah, I guess,” says Dean, unconvinced.
“And think about it! We’re just beginning to scratch the surface here. There’s so much we don’t know, so much more we gotta find out. We might discover their fatal flaw.”
“If you say so.”
“Well, I’m really glad we had this morale boosting chat,” Sam says after a moment, that little superior smirk playing at the corner of his mouth as it always does when he’s being sarcastic.
Whatever, it’s a good look on him, and Dean feels his stomach do that familiar lurching thing, fingers twitching to touch. He gives the lab a quick once-over; it’s momentarily deserted, Suzie disappeared somewhere and the other two guys still AWOL. He licks his lips and curls his hand around the back of his brother’s neck, pulling him into a kiss. Sam protests for a second, resisting and trying to say something, but Dean cuts him off, shoving his tongue down his brother’s throat and letting Sam make the choice of either kissing him back or choking to death.
Sam makes the wise decision and gives in. He opens his mouth up to Dean and scoots to the edge of his chair to get a better angle, raising both hands to frame Dean’s face as he kisses him back. They pull apart after a few seconds and watch each other, mouths wet and faces flushed, expressions a little dazed. Dean smirks and the corner of Sam’s mouth quirks up, amused.
“Sorry, couldn’t help myself,” Dean murmurs.
“You ain’t sorry.”
“You said ain’t.”
Sam makes a face and pulls away. He picks up a pencil lying on top of several scribbled pages of notes and taps the eraser end against the desk, looking thoughtful for a second, then he raises his eyes to Dean’s and says, “Alright, I promise.”
“I promise that if I ever want to go down into the cages or get up close and personal with a conscious mutant, then I’ll radio you first to ask permission.”
“Sam, this ain’t funny –“
“I’m not being funny.”
“Oh.” Dean hesitates, floundering. He risks a quick glance at Sam; Sam looks pensive, lip caught in his teeth. He means this. And that’s – well, that’s good; strange and out of character for his brother, but good.
“Okay, well, I guess that would work,” he says. “You’d radio me first? Wait for me to come down here?”
“Yes, Dean, I’d wait for you to get here to babysit my ass.”
“You know, you could just agree to not go anywhere near the fucking cages.”
“No, I can’t agree to that.”
“Why not? Let Robinson and his band of psychotic assholes handle that side of things. It’s how they get their rocks off anyway.”
Sam makes an exasperated noise and taps his pencil against the desk again. “Dean, shut up. Just – agree to this, okay? I’m not making any promises I can’t keep. Not anymore.” He reaches out, curls one hand around Dean’s wrist, fingers lingering to give him a light squeeze. “Do we have a deal?”
“Yeah, alright, okay, we have a deal,” Dean mutters.
“Good.” Sam removes his hand and turns his attention back to his computer screen. “Now get the hell out of here, I got work to do.”
Dean leaves the lab, waving goodbye to Suzie, who’s just come out of the one of the freezers holding some stained slides in her hands. She blinks at him like she’s only just registered there’s anyone else in the world beside herself and her samples. Freaking nerd squad.
He makes his way back towards the CIC, thinking over everything Sam said. Can the mutants really reproduce on their own? Parthenogenesis or whatever Sam called it. Asexual reproduction, just like little evil bacteria cells, dividing and conquering.
Jesus Christ, whatever the fuck is going on out there, it definitely puts Mrs. Fitzgerald’s big fertility drive into perspective.
Maybe this is the time to start praying again.
Right, yeah, praying, ‘cause that had worked so damn well before. He can still remember that last time, Castiel’s voice confirming humanity’s destruction.
“You did it to yourselves; this is not Heaven’s problem, Dean.”
And Dean had raged at him, begged him, pleaded with him, reminded him of their friendship, of Castiel’s own confessed affection for the hairless apes. But the angel had stood firm, had told him that Heaven wouldn’t and couldn’t intervene.
“This is a matter for your people, Dean. Their folly and hubris have brought this plague down upon you all. We cannot act here. We will not act here.”
He’d taken pity on Dean eventually, after he’d seen for himself what devastation had been wrought to the place he’d almost called home. Before he’d left for good, he’d made one last plea, appealing to both him and Sam. “The two of you will always have a place in Heaven. You’ve both earned it.” And then when he could see that he wasn’t getting through. “You will be together and you will be at peace. Please, just think about it. All that’s left for you here is destruction and death.”
But Dean could remember Heaven, and he had no desire to return. Even if what he could remember was some fucked-up construct of that bastard Zachariah and not the “real” Heaven. Besides, their place was on earth, with the rest of the screwed-up, hubristic and doomed human race. They weren’t ready to go.
In the end, Sam had been the one to speak up, to tell Castiel their final decision.
“We’re not leaving.”
That was the last time any representative of Heaven or Hell had spoken to them.
On to Chapter Three