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Rough hands tossed him into a cell. Sam stumbled a few steps before collapsing against a wall, sliding to the floor.

“Can you at least tell me where I am?” Sam called after him. The footsteps faded without a response and he huffed. Kidnapping, torture, imprisonment? They were insane if they thought that this would convince him to cooperate.

Shifting noises scraped through the silence of the cell. It sounded like someone dragging their feet. Sam perked up and shifted closer to the bars, hoping to catch a glimpse of whoever was trapped here as well.

“Hello?” he ventured.

In the cell to his left, someone cleared their throat. “London,” they said, then coughed.

Sam pressed his face to the bars, silently thankful that they didn’t shock him or burn his face or something equally cruel that he wouldn’t put past his captors. “What?”

“You’re in London.” The voice didn’t say it so much as wheeze it. The shifting noises continued and a face pressed into the bars of the cell next to his. It was small, young. Just a boy with messy blonde hair and sharp brown eyes. He blinked and Sam sucked in a breath as he noticed the crusted blood on his temple and chin.

“London,” Sam repeated as he tried to reconcile the boy with the setting. “Ohio?”

Annoyance flashed across the boy’s face. “Not bloody likely. England.” He wheezed as though trying to say more and closed his eyes.

Sam pursed his lips. “You sound injured. Can I help?”

A smile tugged at the boy’s lips even with his eyes closed. “Not unless…” He coughed once to clear his airway. “Not unless you’ve got the keys.”

Sam’s lips twitched. “Fresh out.”

The boy blew out a breath, disturbing the curls across his eyes. “Figures.”

He was so quiet, Sam would have been worried that he had given up the ghost if his breath didn’t whistle. Still determined to help, Sam gently suggested an inventory of injuries.

“Kind of a personal question,” the boy responded.

“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours. We can help each other.”

The boy finally opened his eyes again and Sam was treated to the full blast of steely suspicion in them. The boy was injured and captured, but not freaking out. He remained calm and collected and treated Sam with humor and a tinge of caution. It was oddly aware for someone his age. It reminded Sam of a younger Dean, always prepared to react to violence, finding reasons to smile even in the worst situations. He didn’t know why this boy was here, but he didn’t appear to be the typical stock of teenager.

“Why would you help me?”

Sam readjusted his face against the bars to better meet his gaze. “You’re just a kid. I don’t know what’s up with these guys, but they shouldn’t have done anything to you.”

The boy searched his face and Sam hoped his honesty leaked through. He hadn’t exactly lied, he really did think that the Men of Letters should leave children alone, but he did hope that by gaining this boy’s trust, he could learn more about the situation he found himself in. The boy claimed to know where they were, at least, and that already cleared up a few unknowns.

The boy cleared his throat. “I have shallow cuts and bruises on my head, torso, and arms. Physically, I’m in pretty good shape considering. The worst is my chest, they may have broken a rib. And…” More shifting sounds. “They’ve done something to my legs. They’re bound together but I can hardly move them, like I’m paralyzed below the knees.”

Sam sat up. “Done something? What? Why?”

The boy smirked. “I got a few good kicks in. They decided my legs were too dangerous.”

Sam got some grim satisfaction imagining one of his captors getting the shit kicked out of them by a kid. “Good work.”

“Thanks, I guess. Now you.”

“Uh…” Sam ran a mental list of his injuries and hesitated. Quite a few were from the torture he’d endured under the care of Lady Bevell. He didn’t want to give the boy nightmares for life. “Gunshot to the leg, but that’s stitched up. My right foot is burned. And they doped me up with something, so I’ve got to sit.”

“You can’t stand?”

“Nope.”

“And here I thought you were on the floor to make me feel better.”

Sam smiled at that. “Glad you can find humor in a situation like this.” It morphed into a grimace when he realized that’s something he would say to Dean. Dean, who was dead. Water gathered on his eyelids. He blinked his eyes to clear them.

If the boy noticed, he didn’t say anything. He soldiered on after a short coughing fit. “So do you know who these nutjobs are?”

“Yeah,” Sam confirmed. “They’re the British Men of Letters.”

The boy’s gaze sharpened at the information. “Never heard of them.”

“That’s the point of a secret society,” Sam said. He quirked an eyebrow when the boy groaned in response.

“There’s always some quacky super secret society out messing with the world.” The boy stared morosely up at the ceiling. “I was supposed to be on vacation.”

Sam made a sympathetic noise. Being kidnapped probably wasn’t on the list of things a British schoolboy would be doing on vacation.

What was a British schoolboy doing in the Men of Letters’ dungeon anyway?

Before he could ask, the door to the cellblock softly beeped and a man entered. His cheerful grin hovered above the tan tailored suit that looked completely out of place against the water-stained cement and rusted bars. He strode over to Sam’s cell, crouching to meet his gaze.

“Sam Winchester. What a pleasure.” He began to offer his hand before he realized that probably wasn’t wise. “I’m Mick Davies,” he continued, “I’ll be in charge of your stay here.”

Sam pushed himself into a more assertive position, which just meant he leaned heavier against the bars in an effort to seem further upright. “Can’t say the welcome was warm.”

Mick’s expression pinched. “Yes, Lady Bevell got a little ahead of herself. She was supposed to wait to transfer you here. She’s being reprimanded as we speak.”

“It’ll all be forgotten if you just let me go.”

Mick sighed and rose to his full height. “Can’t do that, Sam.”

Sam just barely restrained a snarl. He didn’t have the time or patience to deal with this. “And why is that?”

“We’ve been watching you. Both you and your brother.” He frowned. “We’ve been concerned that your actions might endanger our work.” He paced to the left and glared down at the boy, who had remained in intent silence since Mick had entered. “But I’ll say more when I don’t have to worry about our other guest. How are you doing, Alex?”

The boy shrugged and said waspishly, “I hope no one’s ego was as broken as their bones.”

Mick turned back to Sam’s cell and swiped a key card by the door. It beeped and the lock clicked open. Sam scooted away from the door in an attempt to evade his hands, but Mick dragged him to his feet and out of the cell in no time at all. With effort, Sam struggled, but two more guards latched on to him at the door and he gave in to his body’s inclination to go limp. Whatever they’d given him was still making his limbs useless.

“Be careful what you say, boy,” Mick said into the cell block as the guards dragged Sam down the hallway. “We can take more than just your legs.”

 


 

Sam attempted to flex his wrists and arms when they applied the leather straps from the chair. Engaging the muscles made his wrists larger, so that the bonds wouldn’t go on as tight, and once he relaxed, there would be some wiggle room to escape. The only issue was, though the drugs had worn off enough to actually move his limbs, it wasn’t to the point where he could flex long enough to make a difference, and he was strapped down tight; wrists, biceps, ankles, abdomen, and head flush against the cold metal chair.

The room was sparse, just the chair with a drain underneath and a trolley covered in a sheet. The floor and walls were tiled sterile white, and a white fluorescent light buzzed directly above his head, illuminating the room so brightly it left nothing to the imagination. He wondered if that was the point of the sheet. Imagination.

“We’ve been through this,” Sam said to Lady Bevell’s back. She inspected something under the sheet just out of his sight. Mick stayed long enough to see him secured to the chair and left with the promise to retrieve him after this “session.” “You can cut me or burn me or freeze me, but I won’t give you anything.”

Lady Bevell faced him, hands clasped primly behind her back. “Yes, Sam, you’ve shown an impressive resistance to interrogation. But that was in the field, with our limited supply. Anyone will break if pressure is applied to the right point. With the tools here, it’s only a matter of time until I find that point.” She smiled, smug and assured. “And we have the time.”

Sam fought a shiver as she approached. He wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction. They’d stripped him of his usual durable layers and he was unusually exposed in just a thin T-shirt and a pair of boxer shorts. The muscles in his neck twitched when she revealed a long syringe. The chamber was filled with a clear yellow-ish substance, and he couldn’t help but flash back to the last time Lady Bevell had advanced on him with a syringe. The disorientation, the hallucinations, his near escape that ended when he collapsed in anger and despair.

The prick of the needle turned into a burn when it pierced the skin of his neck and slid through the muscle. Sam knew it would hurt less if he relaxed, but he couldn’t do that. He wouldn’t show any signs of submission, no matter how much it hurt. And in his experience with the hallucinations he knew would accompany whatever drug they gave him this time, pain was real. It grounded him and allowed him some measure of control.

Besides, this pain was nothing like the Cage. Nothing like what Dean must have felt when he detonated. Sam hardly noticed when Lady Bevell stepped away, suddenly stuck on the idea of Dean’s last moments. How much did it hurt, exploding with the power of hundreds of thousands of souls? Had there been time for Dean to register the pain? To reflect it on his face? Or had he just instantly blown apart, into pieces too small to bury? Billie had assured him that with the amount of power that ripped out of him, there wouldn’t be anything left behind, but he hadn’t even tried to look. Hadn’t made sure. Dean, or what was left of him, could be rotting in the woods somewhere and he was doing what? Sitting here, basking in warmth and safety.

Sam opened his eyes, though he didn’t remember closing them in the first place. He felt groggy and overly warm, limbs heavy and vision fuzzy. He scanned his surroundings, puzzled by a distant sense that he was in danger. A coffee table piled with flaking tomes and crusted coffee mugs sat to his left. To the right was a doorway into the kitchen, but his eyes wouldn’t register the room beyond the door. He turned to the empty window, trying to gauge the time of day, but there was nothing beyond the glass, no cars or dirt or sky. And why would there be?

He was lying on the couch at Singer Salvage but Bobby was nowhere to be found. A knitted afghan hid his body from the neck down. He was hot, too hot, but couldn’t get his body to cooperate enough to do more than shift the afghan to the left. If he didn’t know any better, he’d say he was strapped into place.

Between one blink and the next, Dean was there.

Sam jerked against the couch in shock before relaxing. There was no reason to be shocked. Of course Dean was here. He would know what was wrong.

“Hey, Sammy,” his brother gave him a warm smile, holding up a glass of water. “I got you something for your throat.”

“Dean.” For some reason, Dean’s presence was important. Sam felt the seize of his dry throat, but despite the difficulty he said it again. “Dean.” His eyes prickled.

“I’m here,” Dean assured him, and put the straw to Sam’s lips, coaxing him to take a few slow sips. “Do you know where you are?”

Sam squinted at his surroundings, just in case. Nothing new came into focus. “This is Bobby’s place.” He turned his gaze back to Dean. Dean. “Dean,” he said again, just to feel the name on his tongue. His brother smiled.

“Jesus, Sammy, you’d think I died, the way you keep saying that.”

Sam’s throat closed up.

“You’ve been pretty sick,” Dean continued, making a space for the half-full water glass on the cluttered coffee table. “What do you remember?”

“The Darkness,” Sam said immediately. But then he paused. “We were looking for a way to defeat the Darkness…” His memories seemed a haze, the end of one indistinguishable from the beginning of another. They mixed together into an oozing miasma. He winced, and upon tensing the muscles of his neck, discovered that the pain in his body radiated from that one point. The room fell out of focus and Dean’s voice receded, soft blackness seeping across his consciousness, until he jolted with his brother’s slap to the face.

“Don’t pass out on me,” Dean grumbled, annoyed. Then he gentled again, placing a hand on Sam’s sweaty brow. “You feel hot.”

“‘M too hot,” Sam agreed. “What am I sick with, again?”

Dean stripped the afghan off him and threw it over the back of the couch. “You’ll have to tell me, I just found you this way. You need to tell me what happened, Sammy. Remember. The Darkness, the sun? Then I can help you.”

Sam squeezed his eyes shut and fought the haze. He tried all the techniques for recall he had managed to cram into his head during college. Something had happened with the Darkness. They’d found a solution just in time. They had to work fast because… Because…

Something translucent and yellow wormed its way into his head and directed his thoughts to something else. Something bigger than the Darkness.

He opened his eyes again and stared into Dean’s expectant face.

“Dean,” he said. His eyes burned. Dean was here. It was crazy, but Dean was here.

“Yes?” his brother leaned in, like he expected Sam to impart some vital truth.

“You’re here,” was all Sam could manage around the tightness of his throat and the pain in his neck. He thought he would never see Dean again. In pieces, maybe, too small to collect.

He frowned. Why would Dean be in pieces?

Dean rolled his eyes and retreated from Sam’s space. “I’ve been here the entire time, Sam. You were trying to remember what happened with the Darkness and the sun, remember?”

Sam struggled to right himself and follow Dean but his limbs were still strapped to the sofa. He wrinkled his brow and tugged the bindings, but when he looked down there were no bindings. Something was messing with his head.

“What’s wrong with me?”

“You’re sick, Sam. I can’t help you unless you tell me what happened before you got sick.” Dean stood on the other side of the coffee table, arms crossed and gaze drilling holes in Sam’s skull.

Right, the Darkness. A solution…

Sam gaped up at Dean. “Dean.”

Dean released a breath and rolled his eyes to the ceiling, imploring an absent god. He pulled a syringe out of his jacket pocket and approached Sam. “You rest now, Sam. We’ll try again later.”

Sam nodded, eyes on the syringe, still immobile against the sofa. The needle pierced flesh and Sam knew he should relax, but the pain meant something. He gritted his teeth and tensed around the intrusion, hit with another kind of pain, one more visceral than anything his body could endure. Dean, in pieces.

 


 

He awoke in a cell. A sob ripped out of his chest, tearing his throat into bloody ribbons, and he curled against the wall at his back. The Men of Letters had banished Cas and taken Sam somewhere. London, according to the boy next door. Dean had sacrificed himself. He grimaced and clamped his mouth shut around another cry. He didn’t remember what Lady Bevell had done to him, but Dean’s death was suddenly that more raw, like the cut had just scabbed and she’d dug another blade inside.

Speaking of blades being inside. Sam dragged a hand to his neck and explored with numb fingers. Two injection sites forming bruises. At least he was able to use his limbs this time.

“Sam!” someone hissed from outside his cell.

He instantly perked up. That’s right, the boy. Sam sank fully to the bed he had woke up on and scooted to the edge, standing with only a slight totter. He pressed against the bars and searched the cell to his left. The boy was just in sight, still sitting on the floor, propped against the far wall. He grinned up at Sam.

“Glad to see you’re alive.”

Sam nodded, a little perplexed by the grin. “You too.”

The smile fell off the boy’s face. “You don’t look good. I take it they didn’t just invite you for tea.”

Sam clasped a hand over the injection sites. “No.”

“I figured they were that sort,” the boy muttered grimly. He was fiddling with the sole of his shoe, scratching at the foam liner with a dull fingernail. “What do they want from you, anyway? Seems like a lot of effort to ship someone over from America.”

Sam debated, then decided, what the heck. It seemed like everyone knew these days. “They want to know how we defeated the Darkness and saved the sun.”

The boy froze, eyes fixed on his shoe. He squinted up at Sam. “Say that again.”

Sam furrowed his brow but repeated his words. The boy’s expression didn’t change, still searching Sam’s face.

“Who’s ‘we?’” he finally asked.

“Me and my brother…” Sam swallowed. “My brother Dean. Winchester. We’re the Winchesters.”

“Is that a name I should know?”

Sam shrugged. “Seems like everyone knows us these days.”

“I know how that feels.”

Sam watched the boy. He’d returned to working on the inside of his shoe, pensive and avoiding Sam’s gaze. “What’s your name?”

The boy pursed his lips and continued to work. “Rider. Alex Rider. My name gets around too.”

Sam shook his head. “Never heard of you.”

“Refreshing,” was all that Alex said to that. “So you were saying you and your brother saved the sun. Was that literal?”

“Yeah,” Sam sighed.

“And the darkness?”

“Also literal.”

Alex hummed.

“You don’t believe me,” Sam said.

“I’m gonna be honest. They took you away to torture you and when you came back you claimed you saved the sun and ‘defeated the darkness.’ I’m not really putting any bets on your sanity right now.”

Sam finally sank to the floor, headache soothed by the cold of the cell bars. He huffed an empty laugh. “It does sound crazy when you put it that way.”

“It sounds crazy any way you put it, Sam.” There was a tearing sound as Alex finally worked the sole of his shoe free. Again, he loosed a wild grin at odds with his captivity and met Sam’s gaze with a mischievous glint. He placed a finger over his lips, the universal keep quiet gesture, and pressed into the tear in his shoe, producing a series of clicking sounds. Sam watched in mute confusion until the clicking really registered.

... --- … ... --- … ... --- … ... --- …

SOS. SOS. SOS. SOS.

Alex stopped transmitting and watched the shoe. His shoulders sank in relief when the clicking began again, not by his own hand.

.-. . -.-. .. . ...- . -.. .-.-.- / -.-. --- --- .-. -.. .. -. .- - . ... ..--..

RECEIVED. COORDS?

Alex clicked out a string of numbers and shot Sam a look, placing a finger over his lips again. Sam nodded, eyebrows furrowed. Who was Alex contacting? How was he able to transmit morse code with his shoe? It must be related to why the British Men of Letters had him in the first place and might be pertinent. But to Sam, this looked like a chance to escape, and if keeping his mouth shut about it got both of them out, then he would do that.

True to their silent pact, it was never mentioned again.

 


 

The guards pulled him out of the cell for one session every day. It was never day or night in the cellblock, the fluorescent lights were on at all times, and he never saw anything in the building except the long empty hall from the cells to the windowless interrogation room. But he knew days were passing by the food. They gave him two meals a day—surprisingly decadent well-rounded trays of roast chicken, ceasar salads, and omelettes, carefully picked apart with flimsy plastic silverware. He counted fifteen meals. Eight days. Over a week since the British Men of Letters had abducted him.

Since Dean had died.

“This is actually really good,” Sam said into the silence, attempting to cut roast beef with a knife that acted more like paper than plastic. From where he was pressed against the bars, he could glimpse Alex nodding in agreement as he fought with his own food.

“It’s a prison control technique,” the boy said. “Particularly for powerful or volatile prisoners. Imprisonment grates even the calmest inmate, but offering proper, reliably comforting food lowers the incidence of riots and discontent.”

Sam stopped trying to cut and lowered his utensils, watching Alex incredulously. “How do you know that?”

Alex innocently popped a chunk of beef in his mouth and shrugged. Cheeky.

Sam still didn’t have any memory of the previous sessions, and no manner of taunting or careful questioning convinced Lady Bevell to reveal what occurred. He assumed that they limited the sessions to one a day to allow him recovery time, though the only injuries he could detect were the needle marks in his neck, and later his arms when the marks ringed his neck like they’d applied a collar of spikes.

Even if the only broken skin were the punctures, Sam could feel himself deteriorating. Time seemed to stretch longer between meals, although he knew from Alex that they were still delivered on the dot. Their hushed conversations got harder to follow as well. Sam would forget the word for something until Alex patiently prompted the right term. Sometimes he completely blanked out for minutes at a time, coming back to a worried Alex and a growing sense of dread. Whatever they were injecting him with was taking his sense of time and making it difficult to think.

Though he dreaded them, Sam decided the blank episodes weren’t the worst. They dulled the pain of losing Dean for a time, and allowed the featureless days to pass painlessly. He stopped worrying, stopped planning, stopped coping. The blank was a comfort, like a heavy down quilt, coating him in tender nothingness. It was the waking from blank that hurt. The return of his body’s demands to be fed, rested, evacuated, healed, and his mind’s constant need for distraction from Dean and his predicament.

He knew what insanity felt like, and it went something like that.

Alex, meanwhile, remained stable. He was removed for a couple “sessions” as well, but he returned with bruises and blood, not needle marks.

“They’re giving you all the good stuff,” he joked after his second session. A shallow laugh turned into a cough and he curled over his abdomen. The rib was still broken.

Sam made what he hoped was a reassuring noise. He’d prefer that they broke his skin and bones, but he didn’t tell Alex that. This would be enough trauma for the kid, without comparing torture methods. Alex took it tremendously, better than Sam would have expected for a child, but he supposed the British Men of Letters wouldn’t lock up just any kid. He still didn’t know why he was here, but as time went by, he found he cared less and less. Alex remained talkative, even filling the empty space when Sam lapsed awareness, but the boy’s breath still whistled, he still grunted when he jostled his ribs, he still hissed when he moved a limb wrong a pulled a cut. His voice was so small, his face so young. The reasons didn’t matter. They were torturing a kid.

Mick accompanied him through the hallways each time, the expression on his face growing grimmer with each session. Sam emerged from another blank episode to Mick standing at the bars of his cell, lips pursed as he watched Sam on the floor. The hunter flicked his eyes to Alex’s cell—the boy was asleep—rolled his head against the wall, away from Mick, and watched the back wall of his cell. He knew what was coming next.

“You’re making this harder for yourself, Sam.”

Sam didn’t respond. He’d already said everything the last twenty times they’d rehearsed this conversation.

Mick’s suit rustled as he crouched to Sam’s height. Sam couldn’t help it. He swung his head toward the bars, meeting Mick’s gaze. He’d never done that before.

Mick smiled, though it looked pained. “We can help each other. You just have to give us some information.”

Sam couldn’t even summon the will to laugh. Help each other? They’d already made their case to him, and he found it not only lacking, but manipulative. “Let me guess, your ‘help’ will be: I tell you everything you want to know and you stop torturing me?”

“It’s more than that,” Mick began, looking genuinely like he was going to correct a slight miscommunication, but Sam kept going.

“And what about Alex? Torturing children? If this is what the British Men of Letters is all about, then you might as well just kill me now, because I’m never going to help you with that.”

Mick stood again, eyes hard. “You don’t know anything about Alex. He’s much more than a child.” He glanced at the door, motioning for the guards. “And we don’t want you dead. That’s not helpful to either of us.”

Once in the hallway, Mick continued, walking backwards to offer Sam a full view of his earnest expression as the guards carried his limp body through the corridor. “We want the same thing: an end to monsters, to save people from what goes bump in the night. You’ll understand our drive to do whatever it takes to remove threats. Your brother understood.”

Lacking the energy to do much else, Sam bared his teeth. “You don’t get to talk about my brother.”

They strapped him into the chair like usual, but Mick stuck around this time. He held a hushed conference with Lady Bevell by the cart. Either they didn’t expect him to remember it once the session was over, or they didn’t care.

“He can’t take much more,” Mick insisted.

Lady Bevell shook her head with a small smile. “He’s a big boy, he can handle it.”

“The old men are expecting results, your Ladyship ,” Mick responded, and Sam hadn’t felt satisfaction until that smile was wiped off her face. “They’re beginning to question if your method was the best option. It would be a shame if we wasted all these resources on him when we could have just talked .”

“You’ve seen the files,” she hissed, leaning into Mick’s space until he gave in, taking a step back. “They’re dangerous. I’m only speaking his language. You know no other method would be as effective.”

“Effective?” Mick reclaimed his space, face thunderous. “We have nothing but a hunter who can hardly stand anymore.” He poked in her direction but stopped short of actually touching her. “This is the last session. I’m having words with the old men. You will not endanger the American Operation.”

Then Lady Bevell and Sam were alone. She was stone-faced when she turned to Sam, syringe raised. Sam quirked an eyebrow as she returned to the cart, the gentle clack-clack of delicate metal instruments breaking the silence. Though he didn’t remember the content of their sessions, he was pleased to hear that he hadn’t given them anything to work with.

“Sounds like your superiors aren’t happy,” Sam offered, inches from a taunt but too exhausted for the inflection.

Lady Bevell approached with another syringe. The chamber was blue this time. A deep blueberry color that emitted a faint swirling glow. Something about the color was familiar. She pressed the needle into the crook of his arm and Sam, despite tensing for something horrible, felt his muscles relax, his whole body melting into the chair, his breath evening into a rhythm not unlike sleep. That was when he panicked. He’d recognize the symptoms of djinn venom anywhere.

“No—” he started to say.

“Don’t worry, Sam.” Lady Bevell settled on a chair across from his as his eyes lost focus. “It’s not pure, untempered venom. Just a homemade concoction. You’ll find it quite agreeable in a couple minutes.”

 


 

Sam jerked roughly as someone clapped the side of his face. He blinked to clear his eyes and focused on the person in front of him. With some confusion, he recognized Dean, who was working the leather straps off of Sam’s head.

“Sam,” he was saying, voice high with relief. “I’m going to get you out of here.”

Since it seemed like his brain was taking its time catching up, Sam merely nodded and worked on the straps on his other arm as soon as Dean freed one. He glanced over Dean’s shoulder when he knelt to work on Sam’s legs and made out Lady Bevell sprawled across the tile. Dean noticed his line of sight and glanced into Sam’s eyes to read his reaction.

“Just unconscious,” he grunted. “Though she deserves less.”

Sam had vague impressions of needles in his skin and a loss of fine motor control. He had to agree with Dean.

Dean hauled Sam out of the chair and Sam had long become accustomed to being taller than his brother, but Dean seemed particularly small now. The shorter struggled to hold Sam up, as though his weight was too much, and Sam eventually, reluctantly, withdrew his arm from across Dean’s shoulders so they could reach the door faster.

There was a noticeable limp in Dean’s step, but Sam didn’t ask. Sam was practically dragging himself down the hallway himself, finding that his legs were doing good impressions of Jello. They made slow progress. Dean threw out a hand to halt Sam once they reached the door to the cellblock. A small pile of weapons was on the ground—guns, knives, batons. Dean retrieved two guns, a rifle and a pistol, and handed the pistol to Sam.

“You can shoot that?” he queried.

Sam chuckled. Though now wasn’t the time for joking, that wasn’t stopping Dean. “Of course.”

Dean just raised an eyebrow and continued down the hallway. They passed the bodies of two guards, probably where the weapons had come from, and into a wide open space lined with the entrances to more hallways, balconies four stories up, and a door blissfully labeled EXIT. Sam tensed as a door opened and ducked back into the hallway, Dean not far behind. Mick walked out, eyes glued to a cell phone, and disappeared down another hallway.

“It’s night,” Dean whispered, to explain the lack of personnel.

As quietly as they could with injuries, limps, and addled heads, they hugged the wall and took the long way around to the exit. Dean scanned the open space with his gun, half a wary eye on Sam as he covered the rest of the doors with his pistol. Sam supposed the suspicion was appropriate. He’d been injected with essence-de-djinn and God-knows-what, so he didn’t walk so much as lurch. He’d be wary of Dean if he was in the same situation.

Just as Dean pressed the bar on the door, the plaster next to his head exploded. Dean whipped around, rifle retort already echoing, and Mick was collapsed across the space, clutching his shoulder.

“Go!” Dean pushed Sam into the door. “Run! Head for the van!”

Sam forced out his first word since Dean appeared. “Dean—”

“Go now!” Dean pushed him again and aimed the rifle. Mick was grasping for his gun, just out of reach.

Despite his senses screaming at him to remain, to stay with Dean, to grab him and make him run too, to not lose him again—

Sam ran out the door.

He felt the magic barrier wash over him the moment he burst out the second set of doors, and suddenly the sounds of the city assaulted his ears. Car horns and squealing brakes, mostly. He was in a dark alleyway, wet with rain, pungent like piss and garbage. Brick towered in all directions. They were in the middle of a large city. It was insane to think that all that had transpired in the building behind him was isolated away from an otherwise densely packed public. He supposed that must have been one function of the tangible magic barrier. No one could hear any screams.

He took one breath to find the street and ran in the way that a drunk ran, one foot at a time, knees wobbling, head pounding, not giving up.

On the street outside the alleyway idled a black van. The door slid open the moment he emerged and hands grabbed him inside. He spared a second of panic—it would be just his luck that he was saved from one captor just to fall into the hands of another—until someone pressed him into a thick woollen blanket and put a hand to his forehead.

“You’re freezing,” an unfamiliar voice asserted. Whatever they would have said next was cut off by the sound of gunfire. The van vibrated as the engine revved, and within seconds Dean was tumbling into Sam’s lap, the asphalt a blur outside the open side door.

Sam could sense another blank episode rearing its head but he fought it, reaching for Dean’s face in his lap. He gently tapped a cheek.

“Dean, are you alright?” It was steady, but not without pain. He winced at his dry throat. How long had he been in that chair?

Someone pulled the side door shut. Dean rose slowly to all fours and Sam only caught glimpses of his face in the passing streetlights, each emotion like a freeze frame in a film. Confusion, worry, caution. He glanced to his side. Three pairs of eyes peered out of the dark at the brothers.

“I’m well,” Dean finally said.

Sam nodded, or at least, he tried to. It ended with his chin to his chest, staring into the dark pooled at his lap.

 


 

Everything was very soft. And warm. Like the blank, but substantial.

A white popcorn ceiling faded into view. It was dimly illuminated by the light through a window. Sam turned his head, wincing when the puncture wounds made themselves known, and watched the first rays of light peek over the trees.

He rolled off the bed, miraculously landing on his feet, and made for the door.

The room was unfamiliar and the hallway empty of any identifying characteristics. It was gray sheetrock lined with four doors. Bedrooms, he assumed. His was at one end of the hall and at the other end, descending stairs. Voices hovered just outside his hearing, and he shuffled down the hall, one hand on the wall, straining to hear.

He stopped listening when he didn’t recognize Dean’s voice among them.

When he reached the bottom of the stairs, conversation immediately ceased and all eyes turned to him. He crossed his arms, leaning heavy on the banister, trying to appear cool, collected, and demanding, but soon wobbled and sank onto the last step, winded.

He scanned the faces but still didn’t find Dean. Neither was Cas in attendance, although that was less puzzling. He probably had better things to do than wait for Sam to wake up.

Two men with flushed, pale skin flanked the entrance to the kitchen, arms crossed and gazes locked on Sam. Beyond the door was a shifty looking blonde man and a shorter man clutching a neutral-colored beanie in one hand. Alex was seated at the kitchen table, watching Sam carefully. He seemed comfortable around the men, who looked like they were built out of someone’s military fantasies, though there was a hassled, argumentative lilt to his mouth. Sam must have interrupted a disagreement.

Probably about him, considering no one he knew was there to greet him. He ducked his head under the weight of the eyes on him and mumbled, “Where’s Dean?”

The man with the beanie glared at Alex, who glared back. Then the boy’s gaze softened and he gingerly rose from the table, padding to Sam on socked feet.

“Sam,” he said and waited for Sam’s quizzical nod before continuing. “You remember what happened?” He approached carefully, like Sam was a cornered wild animal, liable to hiss and lash out. Sam shook his head.

“Alex, you don’t have to coddle me. I remember escaping. Dean got me out.” Silence all around. Alex was paused a couple steps in front of Sam, body relaxed but eyes troubled. Again, Sam shook his head, denying, throat suddenly closed. “Just tell me—” If he’ll come back . “When he’ll come back?” His tone rose on the last word, making it clear to everyone that it was a hope and not a certainty.

Sam squeezed his eyes shut and pressed the heels of his hands into the sockets. Dean had been there, Dean had saved him. He helped Sam out of the chair, Sam leaned on him, Sam accepted a gun from him, Dean pushed him out the door. Dean had been there.

But he hadn’t. He hadn’t because Dean had been too short, unable to carry Sam, voice too high. He hadn’t known whether Sam could shoot a pistol, as if he hadn’t been there when Sam learned. Damningly, Sam had been hopped up on djinn juice.

A hand tentatively grasped his shoulder. He imagined it was Dean, but he knew it was Alex.

Dean was in pieces.

“I’m sorry,” Alex began. “I think you were confused. I interrupted your session, she’d injected you with something—”

“Lady Bevell.”

“Lady Bevell had injected you with something and it made you see things. I got you out.”

Sam uncovered his eyes, folding his hands over his knees. “Thanks for that. I don’t know how long I would have lasted.”

Alex nodded, squeezing Sam’s shoulder before releasing his space to the shifty blonde, who crouched to be level with Sam’s eyes.

“I’m Snake,” the man said. “What can you tell me about what they injected you with?”

Sam couldn’t help cracking a smile at the name. “Snake, huh? Your parents really like reptiles?” Or, wait a second. No way someone would be that literal. “You’re not some kind of snake skinwalker are you?”

If possible, the man with the beanie deepend his frown, staring daggers into Sam’s head before turning incredulously to Alex. “Skinwalker?”

Alex shrugged. Snake peered into Sam’s eyes, somehow appearing to both visually dissect his ailments and seem concerned.

“Uh.” Sam hoped he hadn’t just offended his probably-human hosts to the point they would kick him out. “Lady Bevell said there was djinn venom in it, but it was mixed with some other things. It was homemade.”

“Gin venom?” It was Snake’s turn to smirk. “Some kind of snake?”

Sam watched Snake smirk, bewildered. “No? A djinn. You know, D-J-I-N-N. Drug you and suck you dry?”

Blank stares from absolutely everyone, even Alex. Sam’s heart thudded painfully in his chest.

“You’re not hunters, any of you?”

“I’ve gone hunting with my uncle a few times,” one of the men by the door offered. He hadn’t so much as twitched the whole time.

“Animals,” Sam assumed.

The man nodded haltingly, like it was a given. Sam dropped his face into his hands again, despairing. Civilians had somehow become mixed up with this. They may have busted him out of captivity, but they didn’t deserve to plunge headfirst into creepy crawlies. It was bad enough that the British Men of Letters were probably on their tail.

“The less you know, the better,” Sam finally said between his hands.

“No,” Alex stepped forward again, though stopped when Snake’s hand suggested he keep his distance. His voice was hard. “Sam, you have to tell us. What did they do to you? Who are they? What do they want? Only you know, and we need that intel.”

“No, you don’t,” Sam insisted, dropping his hands to stare the boy down. No surprise, it was ineffective. He already knew from their time in the cellblock that Alex was stubborn, but even that didn’t prepare him for the steely glint in the boy’s eye, like he was used to intimidating information out of people older than himself. That only hardened Sam’s resolve.

“I’m not telling anyone, especially not you,” he snapped at Alex. “You’re, what? Fifteen? Sixteen? You shouldn’t be getting mixed up with this, any of it! You’re a kid and this is dangerous. And when you do dangerous things as a kid, you get killed.” Dean’s round face and roguish smile at sixteen years old flashed through his mind. The clearest memory he had of that age was that grin splashed in its own blood, reassuring Sam he was fine after a hunt gone bad.

It must have been written plainly on his face, because Alex said calmly, too calmly, “I’m not your brother, Sam.”

“I know that,” he sullenly responded. Because all that Dean was, all the sixteen year old smiles, were in pieces. Alex was just some kid. He wasn’t dead yet. “Keep it that way.”

That was when Snake decided to butt in again. “Can you at least tell us more about what they injected you with? I’m the unit medic, I need to make sure you’re getting the medical attention you need.”

“I’ll be fine,” Sam assured. “Djinn venom wears off. I don’t know anything else about whatever else was in there but I feel fine.” He balanced on his feet for a moment to shift positions on the stairs and winced when the burn on his foot made itself known. “Actually, some painkillers wouldn’t be too bad.” He peered down at the white bandage wrapped around his foot while someone retrieved what looked like a legit bottle of clinical strength analgesic. He accepted the white pills and swallowed them dry, gesturing to the foot. “Thanks for the, you know.”

Snake nodded, face neutral. Sam’s gut twisted and he averted his eyes back to his feet. They’d risked themselves to break him out when Alex was clearly their main concern, and here they were tending to his wounds and dealing with his bereavement, and he wouldn’t give them anything.

“The djinn venom,” he began haltingly. For what felt like a second and a millenium, his attention was locked inexorably with the bandage on his foot. He was blank. When he looked up again, the two men at the kitchen door were gone and Snake, Alex, and beanie-guy were watching him.

“It makes you see what you want the most,” he continued. “I really wanted my brother so…” Sam gestured vaguely to encompass hallucinating that Alex was Dean.

“Sam, does that happen often?” Snake said.

“Does what happen often?”

“The staring,” Snake confirmed. “Skipping time?”

Uncomfortable at showing exploitable lapses in attention, Sam just nodded. “Ever since they started injecting me.”

Snake rubbed his head, that shifty look back on his face. “This is more than a field medic can handle, Wolf. I can’t be sure without an EEG, but… He should go to the hospital.”

Beanie-guy—Wolf (did everyone have animal names, here?)—said, “No hospitals,” at the same time that Sam asked what was wrong. Sam glanced at him, grating on principal that someone else would decide whether or not he got professional medical care, but agreed. No hospitals.

“You might be having seizures,” Snake said. “It looked like one to me, anyway. And if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…”

“It’s a duck,” Sam finished. “I’m fine.”

From where he’d re-seated himself at the kitchen table, Alex snorted. “You’re not fine. Regardless, you’re going to talk to us about the ‘Men of Letters.’” He gestured to a chair at the table. Sometime during their conversation, someone had supplied the kitchen with breakfast foods—pastries and fruits and eggs. Sam accepted Snake’s help to stand and took a seat at the table, more to be polite than to dig into breakfast. He took a hard boiled egg, knowing the protein would help him most, but didn’t feel like eating much more.

The Men of Letters wasn’t a hardcore hunting topic, and Sam felt that he owed his saviors something, especially since they were probably on the Letter’s hitlist now, so he waded into the information he had. They were an old organization of supernatural librarians, he shared. They collected knowledge, although the British Men of Letters had gone a step further and seemed to have mostly eradicated monsters from the country.

“And what did they want from you?” Wolf’s piercing look was obviously trying to discern if Sam was one of the threats they wanted eradicated.

“My name gets around a lot,” Sam replied, picking at the shell around another egg. “My brother and I have been part of some big supernatural disturbances in the past couple years. They wanted information about that, and about American hunters.”

“Saving the sun and defeating the Darkness,” Alex posited.

Sam had intended to keep that between them, but figured that Alex would have told them eventually. He pursed his lips and nodded in confirmation. “Among other things.” He finally shucked the shell off the egg and watched Wolf and Snake dig into their own plates. “How will any of this information help you guys, anyway? The British Men of Letters will be after you, you should leave the country.”

“No way are some posh librarians driving me out of my country,” Wolf muttered darkly around a slice of cantaloupe.

Alex let loose a laugh and put down his fork. “I guess you bared your heart to us, you should learn some things about us too.” He gestured to Snake, Wolf, himself, and the door, after the two men who had disappeared. “We’re K-Unit. Well, they’re K-Unit, with the SAS. I’m with MI6.”

Sam’s jaw dropped, just barely holding on to the piece of egg in his mouth. MI6? Like, James Bond Double-O Seven MI6? “You’re a spy? You’re sixteen!” Sam’s teeth clicked when his jaw snapped shut. “No way. You’re pulling my leg.” He chuckled. “Good one.”

Alex looked resigned and amused. “You’re the one with the monster conspiracy theory and I’m the one joking?”

“Yes.” Sam shot back. Of course Alex had to be joking. The ethics alone of employing a child in a military division…

“I’m not sixteen, by the way. I’m fourteen.”

Sam threw the egg down on his plate and smacked his forehead into the table in defeat.

 


 

He should probably call Cas, or at least pray to him. The last time they saw each other was when the angel was blasted out of the bunker. Cas had driven the Impala there, insisting that Sam needed a moment to process.

“We’ve just suffered a great victory,” he said, eternal eyes watching Sam despite driving. Sam supposed Cas didn’t really need his vessel’s eyes just to see where he was going, so he didn’t worry about it. Crashing and dying hardly ranked as a fear, when compared to a life without his big brother. “Dean told me to take care of you. His… loss. His sacrifice. It’s a lot to take.”

Sam closed his eyes, focusing on the hum of the engine. Cas’s breath hitched. The car moved ever onward. Never stopping.

If Cas needed to drive to deal, Sam would let him. He knew his brother and his angel had that “profound bond” thing going on. What did it feel like when something like that severed?

“When Jess died,” he started slowly, hollowly. “It felt like everything was over. It was so final, I didn’t feel like I belonged to life for years. The only thing that kept me going was the mission: find her killer, take him out.

“But eventually, the mission was to be there for Dean. Dean was constant. Even when he died, he didn’t. Even when I left the life, he didn’t. He was the one stable thing I had. Even when he went off the rails, I could always bring him back. He would come back.”

Not this time. Not anymore.

“You’re wondering what you have left to live for,” Cas guessed.

“I’ve got to. Dean wanted me to.”

“Maybe,” Cas said slowly, eyes locked on the road so as to not meet Sam’s gaze, “but I know Dean believed in you as much as he did himself. You’re more than your relationship with Dean. You’re Sam.” Cas turned the full force of his gaze on his passenger. His eyes gleamed but the tears didn’t fall. All of his focus was on Sam.

“You need to listen to me. When I decided to rebel, everything I knew shattered. My mission faded away, and I was left with choice. Even if Dean wanted different, wanted you to follow him, you get to choose, choose to be Sam and not just Dean’s accomplice. I think he always appreciated that about you, that you would challenge his decisions and make your own.

“Your father raised you to obey orders, and Dean was good at that, but you made him want to think for himself, did you not?”

Sam remembered all the times a younger Dean had stood up for a younger Sam, respecting his wishes when their own father didn’t. He watched the scenery pass. “Dean’s spoken to you about this before.”

“We have,” Cas confirmed. “What Dean wanted is irrelevant. What does Sam want?”

“I want my brother,” Sam admitted in a small voice. He wanted summer barbeques where Dean with his perpetual obsession with meat congratulated Sam for bringing something other than salad. He wanted something more than hunting, but he didn’t know how he could do it without his brother, the constant foundation of his life.

A strangled moan shuddered out of Cas. Sam looked away from the window, brows pulled together in worry. “Cas?”

“I’m sorry,” Cas said. “I seem to be affected.”

He pulled the car over and put his forehead against the wheel, breathing deeply. Awkwardly at first, and then with more confidence when it seemed effective, Sam rubbed between his shoulder blades as Cas shook with the effort to suppress his emotion. The angel didn’t cry, but it would obviously a close thing.

“I’m sorry,” he said again. “I’m supposed to be taking care of you and I can’t even control myself.”

Sam’s chest twisted in pity. “Cas, it’s okay. You were close to Dean too. Of course it hurts.” He paused in his rubbing. The shaking had stopped but Cas was still leaning forward. “I don’t need a babysitter. We can take care of each other. I know Dean told you to take care of me, but you just gave me a whole speech on following orders. What does Cas want?”

Sam withdrew his hand when Cas started to sit up. The angel stared at the steering wheel before meeting Sam’s eyes. Normally, Sam felt a bit like he was staring into the fathomless depths of the ocean when he met an angel’s eyes. Especially Cas’s, because he knew better than anyone the impossibilities that the angel had seen. Death, the souls of Purgatory, God himself. But now they were flat and barely contained his sorrow. He only had eyes for one thing right now.

“I want Dean,” his choked out. “Just like you, I want Dean. There was so much I never said to him… I…” He rubbed his face, tugging the skin under his eyes like he could rip off the layer of grief that had settled into it. “I don’t even know if he’s in Heaven. I didn’t realize until it was too late, I don’t know what the force of a hundred thousand souls would do to his own soul.

“Dean wasn’t my new God, my new Michael. But I followed him, regardless. I chose that. Which means I chose this pain. I always knew he would die, he’s human, but to imagine that he’s not even in the afterlife.” A shaky exhale. “He’s nowhere I can reach him.”

Cas released the parking brake and pulled back onto the road. They travelled in silence for a few miles, wrung out and holding onto tears, until Cas spoke once more.

“I’d like it, to take care of each other. I don’t want to leave you, Sam. I’ve said it before. I love you. You’re my family. You don’t have to be alone.”

“And neither do you,” Sam replied, reaching out to grasp Cas’s shoulder.

The angel nodded stiffly, and with finality parked in front of the bunker.

Presently, Sam got instructions for calling long distance on Alex’s cellphone. The boy insisted he use this specific phone because it was “encrypted and hidden from prying eyes.” Sam was still skeptical about the MI6 thing, but if Alex was telling the truth, it was comforting to know that he had the technology to keep them under the radar.

He dialed Cas’s number first. The call immediately redirected to a robotic message informing him that the number was disconnected. Could cell phones even survive the blast from a banishing sigil? He didn’t know the exact effects of the sigil, but the bright light and delay in being reunited with the angel suggested that it was pretty harsh.

He didn’t pray yet. He may have promised to take care of Cas, and vice versa, but he didn’t want to bother the angel with the British Men of Letters yet. He would shoot out a quick update tomorrow.

Dean’s number was next. Sam typed it in and stared at it, thumb hovering over the call button.

He locked the phone and gave it back without calling the number.

“Where are we?” he asked Alex, who was cleaning a handgun and watching Sam pace the living room.

“A safehouse,” the boy answered carefully. “Far from London.”

Sam nodded, still pacing. “Is the house warded?”

“Warded?” Alex repeated quizzically.

Figured.

Sam retrieved a knife from the kitchen and sliced into his palm, preparing a basic sigil against demons, when someone gasped at the door to the kitchen. Sam looked away from his work on one of the kitchen windows to see Snake, the medic, watching him. His eyes trailed from the blood on the glass, to the dripping cut on his hand, to the bloody knife on the counter.

Sam slowly lowered his arms. “Okay, I’m sure as a doctor this looks bad, but…”

“I’m not a doctor,” Snake said, advancing not towards Sam like he’d assumed, but to the knife, snatching it off the counter and putting it in the sink, standing between it and Sam. “You don’t need to hurt yourself, Sam.”

“I’m not hurting myself,” Sam began to argue, before realizing what a ridiculous statement that was. He was hurting himself, he was just so used to it that it didn’t register anymore.

“Do you feel alright?” Snake asked, still cautiously watching Sam. “The drugs from the injections aren’t affecting you anymore?”

“I’m not hallucinating if that’s what you think. I’m fine.” Sam gestured behind Snake and went back to the sigil. He had to finish it before the blood clotted. “I need to finish this.”

Snake moved closer. “What are you doing?”

“It’s a protection symbol against demons.”

“Demons?” Snake barely concealed the scoff in his voice.

Sam frowned. “I told you guys what the British Men of Letters do, with the supernatural. I do that too, just not like them. Sometimes demons come after people, or just me specifically. I want to make sure they can’t get in here.”

In his peripheral vision, Snake nodded. “Do you need blood to do it?”

Sam paused to think. The sigil didn’t strictly need blood. “Blood makes it stronger.”

“But it’s not required.”

Sam finally turned to face Snake, who was only a foot away, watching him intently. “No.”

The medic stepped away. “I’ll get you something else.”

He returned with an assortment of spraypaints and thick markers. Sam opted for the spraypaint first, to cover some of the larger sigils, and didn’t realize he had attracted an audience until he completed the kitchen and front door.

When he turned to Alex in his space, he jumped, but only a little. He was more than accustomed to Cas appearing within personal boundaries unannounced, but Alex wasn’t Cas. Wolf and Snake stood back by the living room, arms crossed. Clearly, they’d decided that Alex should be the one to approach him.

“Is this about the blood?” Sam ground out. He didn’t need supposed-military operatives treating him so delicately. He could handle some cuts.

“You shouldn’t be opening your skin when you’re still injured,” Alex said. But instead of pushing the subject, he crouched at the edge of the devil’s trap behind the threshold and examined it. “What’s this?”

“Uh.” Sam was taken off guard by how easily he let it go. But his natural inclination towards info-dumping won out. “A devil’s trap. Contains demons. They can go in, but not out.”

“Sounds useful.”

Sam nodded. All eyes snapped to the door when someone knocked.

Sam and Alex glanced at each other. Sam was obviously not expecting anyone, and the look in Alex’s eyes told him that the boy didn’t believe that whoever was behind the door was anyone he trusted.

“That wasn’t the right knock,” Wolf mumbled, taking a gun out of his waistband. Snake and Alex followed suit, muzzles trained on the door. Sam took a step out of the way but didn’t leave completely.

Wolf approached the door and signaled for Snake and Alex to flank him. Alex tried to push Sam behind him, but Sam resisted. It wasn’t like a fourteen year old boy could move him through force alone. Alex rolled his eyes but adjusted his stance to accommodate putting Sam partially behind him.

The look in Alex’s eyes was confirmed when Wolf opened the door to find Mick Davies on the doorstep.

“Ah!” The man held up his hands upon being met with three guns, primed and loaded. “Check me, I’m unarmed.”

Wolf eyed him suspiciously but motioned for Snake, who gave his tailored suit a thorough pat down. Snake shook his head to indicate the lack of weapons and grabbed Mick’s wrist.

“That’s Mick Davies,” Alex supplied. “He’s with the British Men of Letters. He was our personal escort to interrogation.”

Wolf’s shoulders tensed, but otherwise he gave no outward signs of anger. Sam didn’t know if he’d be able to keep it together like that if a child in his protection was introducing him to his torturer.

Once Mick was secured to a chair in the kitchen with a pair of magically appearing handcuffs, Sam sat across from him, eyes hard. “Talk.”

“Sam,” Mick said evenly. “It’s good to see you up and about.”

“No thanks to you,” Sam shot back.

Mick tipped his head forward in acknowledgement. “If it means anything, I think that was the wrong way to go about approaching you. That’s why I’m here now. I think we should talk.”

“Talk?” Sam scoffed, but Mick wasn’t done.

“I’m in charge of what the British Men of Letters is calling the American Operation. I’m sure Lady Bevell gave you the spiel about how we’ve locked Britain down. Supernatural threats gone within hours? No deaths by unnatural means in decades?” He leaned forward in the chair, earnestness in every line of his face. “We want that for America, too. We can help you and other American hunters stop the madness. We have resources—money, weapons, research, spellwork. We can offer that all to you.”

“In exchange for what?” Sam growled. Mick had passed over the devil’s trap inside the door, but he couldn’t help but hear the echoes of a demon deal in his offer.

Mick sat back, contemplating. “Your help with the operation. Contacting hunters, bringing people into the fold, setting the groundwork. You’d be a founding member of the new American chapterhouse.”

“You think after what you did to me, to a kid, that I’d actually help you?”

“I think you’re smart,” Mick replied evenly. “And I think being a hunter has taken its toll in ways you were never willing to test. Not like your father and brother.” Something flashed in his eyes. “Will you at least think about it, Sam?”

“I’ll think about it,” Sam said. “And I’ll have the same answer now as I will in a week: no.”

“Alex,” Mick addressed the boy, who flanked Sam’s left side. “If you reach into my pocket, there’s an envelope. That’s for you.”

Looking disgruntled that he was being told what to do, Alex complied and ripped open the crisp envelope. It looked heavy and expensive, with custom printed stationery inside. It was addressed to Alexander Rider, and the return address just said “Kendricks Academy.”

“It’s a personal invitation,” Alex shared, scanning the letter within. “From the headmaster at Kendricks Academy.”

Everyone looked to Mick for explanation.

“Kendricks Academy is the British Men of Letters training ground,” he explained. “Alex, I think you have the potential to be an excellent operative. Am I correct in assuming that this wouldn’t be the first tactical organization you would be part of?”

“You’d be correct,” Alex said lowly, dangerously.

“We couldn’t find anything on you,” Mick assured. “All of your records are locked tighter than the queen's jewels. You don’t have to worry about your past. Only your future. Kendricks can hone your skills and ensure you a place among the British Men of Letters, with all of the perks.”

Alex studied the letter once more, then asked, “Do they have sway with the British Consulate?”

“Alex!” Wolf hissed.

“Yes,” Mick said cautiously.

Alex shot Wolf a look. “They could resolve the issue with Jack’s visa.”

“They tortured you! Or did you forget that your rib is broken, among other things?”

“I think I’ll decide these things for myself,” Alex snapped.

Alex and Wolf devolved into one of those staring matches, the like that maybe Sam and Dean could have rivaled, if Dean weren’t in pieces.

“Sam,” Mick prompted, and Sam tuned back in.

“You have more to say?” He wasn’t feeling particularly like entertaining the guy who had stood by while he was tortured.

“First of all, I want to apologize. We kept things from you while you were with us and I think you deserve to know. It’s about Dean."