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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."

Chapter Text

Sam’s mouth dried out. “What about Dean?”

“Well, first off. He’s alive. And he’s after us,” Mick added wryly. “He’s looking for you. Been quite the pain in the arse, actually.”

Sam just stared. He figured he should feel shocked or awed, but all he registered was bubbling anger in his gut. “You expect me to believe that? From you? What, are you going to offer to give me his location if I do something for you?”

Mick sighed mournfully. “Nothing like that, Sam, though I don’t hold it against you for thinking that, considering what we’ve put you through. Last I heard, he was in Los Angeles, with your angel, Castiel, and…” He hesitated.

“And?” Sam prompted harshly. If Mick was going to lie, he should at least tell it completely.

“And he was with Mary Winchester.”

Sam could feel the blank stares from Snake, Wolf, and Alex. They’d lost the thread of conversation long ago. Sam just barked a laugh.

“My mother? Who died thirty years ago?” Now he knew he was lying. It was a lot to believe that Dean had somehow cheated death again, it was another thing entirely for a long dead Winchester to come back too.

Mick reached into another pocket in his blazer, and everyone realized at once that he had somehow freed his wrists from the handcuffs. Three guns were instantly on him and Sam was standing, chair thrown back, grabbing Mick’s wrist. Mick allowed the restraint, keeping eye contact with Sam, and slowly drew papers out of the pocket. Sam let go of the wrist and snatched the papers away, quickly absorbing the black and white surveillance stills.

Two of the people were unmistakably Cas and a very upright Dean. He glanced at the date at the bottom of the footage. It was only a couple days ago. The third person was shorter than Dean, with light shoulder length hair. She had a hand on Dean’s cheek and Dean was looking into her face. She was turned away from the camera, so Sam couldn’t make out her features, but it didn’t matter either way. He didn’t have a single memory of his  mother. Not like Dean had. He wouldn’t have been able to pick her out of a lineup.

“One last question,” Sam said, careful not to reveal the tremor in his voice. “How did you find us?”

“Simple location spell,” Mick said behind Sam’s back. He was once more secured to the chair. “Had more than enough of Alex’s blood to find him. You, on the other hand, have got some serious protection going on. Spell had no idea where you were. It was luck you two were together, really.”

 


 

The reunion wasn’t yet physical, but spiritually and psychologically, Sam shed the weight of his grief. Altered by his captivity, his eyes were still dark, skin still overly-pale, face gaunt from the energy his body demanded fighting the interrogation drugs. When the gruff voice first spoke over Alex’s cellphone, Sam collapsed onto the sofa, eyes wide and unseeing. He looked like a man who prepared speeches for kicks, but all that hissed out of his mouth was a tiny, “Dean.”

Alex knew he’d be okay and left him in the livingroom to reunite with his brother.

“That was textbook cruel,” he said once he joined Wolf and Snake in the kitchen again. Mick Davies blinked innocently, cuffed to the chair. “Letting a man believe his brother was dead for a month.”

“Well, he knows now. You might want to watch him, it wasn’t just the drugs blocking his memory of the interrogations. Grief played a big part. It might come back to him now.”

Snake nodded thoughtfully. He was cautious of any information Mick gave them and didn’t know why he would give them warning when they’d been the ones to hurt Sam in the first place, but he would file that information away for later.

Alex took Sam’s former seat. He had questions, some that Sam had offered limited answers to and some that hadn’t yet seen the light of day. It went beyond his captivity, into the world the British Men of Letters tried to eradicate. Monsters, demons, magic. How did the cuffs on his ankles immobilize only part of his legs? How did his blood lead Mick to the safehouse?

A staccato series of knocks on the front door cut into his chance to ask. Wolf let in Eagle and Fox, who paused to examine Mick warily before putting their grocery bags on the counter. While Snake filled them in, Alex conferenced with Wolf.

“We can’t hold him here. Prisoners require a lot of maintenance,” Wolf said. “We’re not equipped for that.”

“And that’s why we won’t hold him,” Alex replied.

Wolf fingered his gun, looking the wrong side of confused. “You want to let him go?”

“You know,” Mick butt in, “I’d be more than happy to speak with you all again. Especially you, Alex, about Kendricks. And Sam, he’d only have to call.”

Wolf gestured at Mick incredulously. “And you just believe him when he says he wouldn’t just go into hiding?”

Mick pursed his lips in disapproval. “I’ve been nothing but completely honest with all of you, despite the handcuffs and guns. I’m trying to right the British Men of Letters’ mistake. I can’t do that if I won’t even talk to you.” His hands clasped in his lap and Alex sighed in exasperation. He’d slipped the cuffs again.

“How do you keep doing that?” Snake wondered.

Mick smiled pleasantly and placed a finger over his lips in a shushing motion. “A magician never reveals his secrets.”

“Oh, now Harry Potter is real?” Wolf scoffed. “I was having a hard time with monsters, but magic?”

“If there are magic creatures, why not magic abilities?” Alex asked.

Wolf looked at him askance and muttered, “You would believe this.”

Alex smoothed a crease in the Kendricks invitation again. He knew Wolf thought he was young and naϊve, but Alex had seen some pretty unbelievable things in his time. It wasn’t so much that he believed in magic that he was at peace with the thought of it. There must be a logical progression from the government sends a child spy to space to magic is real . At least, he hoped there was.

“Alex.” Mick drew his attention. “Any question you have I can answer, but at Kendricks you can really learn about it all. Every curiosity would be satisfied.”

Alex gave off an exaggerated air of contemplation, mind already made up. There was no question that the British Men of Letters were a threat, to both his new acquaintance (friend?) Sam Winchester and his own family: Jack and K-Unit, who were implicated simply by their close connection to Alex. No doubt his friends, Tom and Sabina, and maybe his classmates, would be targets as well.

He had done more with less. He could take them out from the inside, to ensure everyone’s safety, not just his own.

And he had to admit, he was curious to see those parts of the world that were hidden to him. Magic and monsters. That information could be useful, or at least fun to learn. He deserved to indulge.

Alex folded the letter back into the envelope. “Invitation accepted.”

 


 

Alex’s bedroom in Chelsea was dusty. First, it was because of long holidays with his uncle, that he learned after his death were really either Ian’s missions or Alex’s training. Then, it was Alex being roped into operations for MI6. Between the operations, Alex got himself involved in his own missions. He never intentionally left for long enough to let the dust settle, it was just how the events played out.

Jack never touched his room when he was gone. She puttered around the rest of the house, managing to live up to her original role as a housekeeper, but his space was like a time capsule, documenting life before MI6. There were trophies from football and academics, posters of famous athletes, a shelf of novels.

Family photos: his parents at the altar, he and his uncle in skis, the backs of Jack and Toms heads as they ate ice cream on the beach. K-Unit squeezed into a sofa on a dare. His godfather Ash would be there too, if he hadn’t tried to kill Alex but a month ago.

The top of his dresser was filled with the knick knacks he collected on vacations with Ian. A pink flamingo figure from somewhere warm, a globe filled with a flurry of plastic snow, a miniature Eiffel tower… Despite the dust, the souvenirs otherwise appeared new, where his posters and books had begun to fade from the constant light of the open curtains.

Alex pulled the curtains closed, inhaling more dust than he would prefer. It disturbed him that his room was untouched after his latest escapades. It reminded him of the rooms of dead children, preserved by parents who could convince themselves for a moment that their loved one wasn’t really gone. To think of Jack, waiting for him, making sure everything was just as he left it, hoping he wasn’t dead. It made him ill.

This wasn’t who he was anymore. He wasn’t following the Chelsea football club and excelling in maths. He wasn’t carelessly enjoying adrenalin with his ordinary uncle. He wasn’t even simply K-Unit’s Cub, MI6’s secret child operative.

He folded the last T-shirt into his duffle, zipping it closed and hefting the strap onto his shoulder. That left the Kendricks Academy invitation on his bedspread, which he noted was now slightly rumpled, with a clear space in the thin layer of dust over the quilt.

Jack appeared in the doorway. When he’d done the same, showing up at the door early in the morning after riding back from the safehouse all night, she’d glowed with joy, just happy he was back. He’d snuffed that joy out showing her the invitation and telling her he’d accepted.

Now, she folded her arms. “You’re sure about these guys, Alex? They sound like a cult.” Or Scorpia , she didn’t say. She accepted his decision, but that didn’t mean she agreed with it. Alex couldn’t argue much, given his historical membership to nutty secret societies.

He told her almost everything. Everything she needed to know, anyway. She didn’t need to know what he was really going to do at Kendricks.

“I’m sure,” Alex said.

“You’ll call me?”

A nod.

Jack shifted uncomfortably in the threshold of his room, then lunged at him, arms outstretched. “Oh, Alex. You’ve just come back. I’ll miss you.”

Alex dropped the duffle again to return Jack’s embrace, burying his nose in her shoulder. She smelled like the detergent they used, a “fresh air” flowery scent. She smelled like home.

“It’ll be okay, Jack. I’ll be back before you know it. And you’ll see me for holidays,” he assured. Then he admitted, “I’ve missed you too. I wish I didn’t have to go so soon.”

They’d already talked about this, that Alex wanted to begin at Kendricks right away, instead of waiting for the next semester. He told her that then he would graduate quicker, be back home faster. It was a nice thought.

Really, he hoped the sooner he jumped into this world of secret supernatural librarians, the faster he could find their weakness, and the less likely he would die.

Wolf picked him up and was silent the entire car ride to the meetup point with Mick. The school’s physical location wasn’t a total secret, but only approved vehicles were allowed within miles of it, so Mick had volunteered to drop Alex off.

Hunched over the steering wheel, frustration rolled off Wolf in waves. He had accepted Alex’s decision even less than Jack, probably because he had first-hand witness to Alex’s condition immediately post-British Men of Letters escape.

They pulled up at the meeting point, a petrol station in the middle of nowhere with just one car parked in the lot, Mick leaning against the hood. Before Alex got out, Wolf grabbed his shoulder, dropping something in his hand.

Alex folded it open to look. It was a small multitool: scissors, knife, pliers, screwdriver, even lockpicks.

“Watch out for yourself,” Wolf grunted, trying and failing to appear distanced from the situation. Alex pocketed the tool and went for a hug, comforted by Wolf’s responding squeeze. Maybe the man was gruff, but he cared.

The ride with Mick was quiet as well. Unlike Wolf’s tense silence, he had the radio on to a classics station. He tried to initiate conversation a few times about Alex’s personal life and what he was looking forward to at Kendricks, but seemed to get the message with Alex’s monosyllabic responses. They arrived shortly and Alex only felt a little bad that Mick seemed disappointed that he wouldn’t engage.

Kendricks Academy was impressive. Surrounded on all sides by yellowing empty farmland, it towered over trees and nearby smaller structures. The Gothic architecture lended itself to pillars and eaves and ornate moulding carved into weather worn gray stone.

A boy with dusky curls and complexion met him at the large double doors and introduced himself as Iain.

“I’m head boy.” He gestured and relieved Alex of his duffle. “Come on, I’ll show you to your room.”

The architecture continued inside, like the school had frozen in time since it had been built. The newest additions seemed to be polished wood floors and a few screens displaying student successes.

“Spell Club” said one screen, with a photograph of eight students gathered around a bronze bowl. If Alex wasn’t positive he was awake and sane, that would have been the last straw.

Iain wove a path through the school, pointing out key features and explaining Kendricks facts along the way. Offices, including the headmaster’s. Classrooms. Labs. The school motto is Latin for “United Strength Is Stronger.” Alex nodded and hummed throughout the tour, but kept his observations to himself. Like that fact that they had a bad motto.

The halls to the boys and girls dorms branched in opposite directions, with the faculty and staff dorms straight down another hallway. They mounted the stairs and Iain knocked on the first door, opening it when no one answered.

The room had five four-poster beds, each with a worn wooden chest of drawers, a night stand, and a trunk.

Iain gestured to an empty bed. “That one’s yours. I’m across the room.”

Alex dropped his duffle on the bed. While he wasn’t thrilled to share a room with four other boys, the bed itself was large a plush. He took a heavy seat to test the springs and fought a tiny smile. It was springier than a trampoline and he could imagine generations of students bouncing on it.

Several robes and uniforms were folded at the end of the bed. Alex picked one up to examine it and held it against his chest to make sure it fit, although he had no idea how a robe was supposed to fit.

“If they aren’t the right size,” Iain said from his own bed, “I can get you new ones.”

“Thanks,” Alex told the boy, folding the robe again. He’d change later.

In the dining room, Alex helped himself to a healthy portion of roast chicken and mashed potatoes, struggling to keep the wide sleeves of his new robe clear of any food. Iain waved at him from a small table by the windows and Alex joined him. A girl slightly older than himself made herself comfortable at the table seconds after Alex sat and smiled at him widely.

“Alex, this is Sophia,” Iain introduced. “Sophia, Alex. She’s a charity case like you.”

Alex shook her hand and shot Iain a look. “Charity case?”

“There are two types of students here: legacies and charity cases. If your parents or your grandparents weren’t Men of Letters, then you’re a charity case. Someone vouched for you to get you into Kendricks.”

Sophia nodded in agreement. “Charity cases can be looked down upon, so make sure you’re doing your best. It reflects on all of us.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that,” Alex said, relieved that he wouldn’t be around long enough to become too attached. Betraying the British Men of Letters to destruction would probably be the worst possible reflection on the lowest class of students.

“Good.” Sophia grinned, then gestured with her fork. “Now, tell us about yourself.”

Alex had breakfast, lunch, and dinner with Sophia and Iain every day. He decided to go with a watered down version of his own story: dead parents, dead family all around. Family by choice in his housekeeper and military unit. Iain properly ooh ed and aah ed to hear that he worked for the military, to balance out Sophia’s mild approval.

Sophia’s entire family had been wiped out by vampires while abroad and she’d been contacted by the British Men of Letters upon returning to Britain orphaned and newly introduced to monsters. She was a perfect student and had proclivities towards poisons and interrogation substances. Alex wasn’t shocked to discover that Lady Antonia Bevell had recommended Sophia to the headmaster, and that under the Lady’s tutelage, had developed an experimental drug with djinn venom.

Iain was a legacy with an “unremarkable story” (his own words). He didn’t elaborate and Alex felt a little disgruntled that the candidness he and Sophia had shown wasn’t returned, though Sophia seemed supremely unbothered by Iain’s quick dismissal of his own history. Alex supposed they’d known each other longer. And Alex hadn’t exactly let them know the full version of his heavily edited background. He made no mention of what exactly he did for the military.

Though he was definitely feeling the Harry Potter vibes, his phone worked just fine within the walls of Kendricks. There was no magic interference with electronics. The first and second days he called Jack twice, once at lunch to chat and once before bed to say goodnight. After that they settled into a routine of calling every evening.

Alex was careful about what he told her. He told her that he learned what died when stabbed with silver and that the Dewey decimal system was incompatible with the British Men of Letters’ particular type of classification system. He didn’t tell her when his spells classmate Gerald was killed with poison, making Sophia the top of the class. Alex hid his disdain better than Iain, who had taken to eating meals at another table afterwards.

He was enrolled in five classes. There were a variety of offensive weapons and martial arts trainings mixed in with study on paranormal phenomena with a heavy emphasis on research, data collection, and archival skills. One class, which was simply titled “The Code,” he shared with children as young as eight years old. He was the oldest in the class by years, but he didn’t doubt by the looks in the children’s eyes that some of them had aged beyond their years. Like him, they’d seen too much too soon.

The Code was dedicated wholly to hours of instruction on the British Men of Letters’ standards. There were the typical rules of operation, including non-fraternization policies and amendments made in secrecy statutes for immediate family, but the further the class progressed, the more severe and arcane the Code got.

On page thirty: At any cost, the order of your superior is the Code .

Alex could let a few overly harsh policies stew, but not all of them.

On page five: He who ends a Man of Letters must meet his own end .

“So a British Man of Letters dies on the operating table. Do you kill the surgeon?”

“First we would investigate to eliminate every possibility that the operation was sabotaged,” Mrs. Rutherford said with far too much patience, “then, yes, we would eliminate the surgeon.”

Alex persisted despite the stares from his classmates. “What if a Man commits suicide by tube? Does the driver deserve to pay for something he couldn’t control?”

“It’s not about deserving anything, Alex. It’s just balance. It’s just the Code.”

Balance was a key theme in the Code’s text. It insisted that everything had to be equivalent, as the light and the dark. Historically, this had the unintended effect of ensuring that everything the British Men of Letters did financially was mostly legit, sourcing their budget from wealthy legacy families and pooling earnings internationally from investments. They didn’t obtain things through force or deceit unless it absolutely couldn’t be bought. Alex’s next few years at the Academy were preemptively paid for, he even got a handsome stipend, and that was already more money than he knew what to do with.

But revenge killing wasn’t balance. It was just an eye for an eye; sometimes a completely blameless eye. It was anything but balanced.

“Alex,” Mrs. Rutherford called after him as he gathered his things to leave. Alex approached her desk at the head of the room. He had already decided that whatever punishment there was for questioning the Code, it was worth it in the end. Turned out he didn’t need to worry. “You’re excused from your next class,” she continued. “There’s a Man outside to see you.”

Or at least, he hoped that he didn’t need to worry about what the Man wanted.

A familiar tailored suit met him outside the classroom. The hallway was nearly empty of students, since most had already made for their next lesson or found something better to do than stand around in a corridor, staring at Alex and Mick as they greeted each other.

“Alex.” Mick clapped him on the shoulder with his signature cheerful smile. “Walk with me.”

Mick led them on a winding path through Kendricks. Alex thought that he might be lost, until he caught the look on his face. The Man was reminiscing. They passed the hallway to the dorms and Mick chuckled.

“I remember my roommates getting kicked out of the girls dorm at three in the morning,” he said fondly.

“You weren’t caught with them?” Alex couldn’t help but ask.

“Of course not, I was studying! I was a perfectly responsible student.”

An obedient student who probably followed the Code precisely. Alex didn’t doubt that Mick would kill the surgeon and the tube driver. He pursed his lips. “What do you want from me, Mick?”

The Man pulled the door to a terrace overlooking the courtyard and ushered Alex to the dainty table there. It had only two wrought iron folding chairs, equally fragile, exactly like what one would find at a high class cafe that didn’t want its customers to get too comfortable. Alex took a seat, noting a plate of biscuits and a pitcher of something hot already laid out for them. Mick helped himself to the pitcher—the steam smelled of strong black tea—and offered some to Alex, who declined, but swiped a biscuit. Students milled about below, pointing to pages in old tomes or gesticulating wildly. Miles away from whatever world Alex had entered.

Mick took a sip of his tea, curling his hands around the cup in appreciation. “How have you been doing, Alex?”

“I’m sure you have my school records,” Alex replied.

Mick inclined his head. “But how are you settling in? Teachers’ notes from your lessons only give me so much detail. Made any friends? Joined any extracurriculars?”

Alex thought of Sophia and Iain. “Friends: yes, I suppose. No clubs.”

“No clubs? Do you spend all of your free time doing schoolwork?”

Alex aimed his dryest look at the Man. “I spend a lot of my free time convincing Jack that I haven’t completely lost my mind and joined a cult.”

Mick nodded, smiling slightly. “Your American housekeeper. You call her?”

Alex broke the biscuit in his hand, watching the crack rend the sweet treat in two. “Every day.” When he looked up again, Mick was sympathetic.

“Homesick?”

“I’m sure you didn’t come here to ask me personal questions.”

The sympathy faded from Mick’s eyes as he placed his tea on the table. His face reflected excitement and joy, but Alex could tell by the terseness of his words that he was wary. “Of course, I have great news for you, Alex. I just—” He swept his gaze across the students in the courtyard below, grasping for a thought, then sighed, letting it go. “It’s nothing.

“Your teachers think that you entered Kendricks at a far higher level than your placement tests could capture and by my recommendation and by approval by the old men, you’ll be placed in the field. With me, and… a few other Men that you might be familiar with.” He looked into his tea. “You have to understand, Alex, I tried convincing them to give you a different placement, but they felt that given your history and skills, that this was the best place for you.”

“What’s the placement?” Alex would withhold judgement until he knew exactly what he was dealing with. He found he wasn’t so torn up about getting back into the field, even under a different organization, but given what he knew about the British Men of Letters’ operations from his classes, particularly The Code with Mrs. Rutherford, and that he apparently knew some of the Men in the placement, he felt that some caution was not unwarranted.

“The American Operation, in the States, with Lady Antonia Bevell, Arthur Ketch, and I as the Heads of Operation.”

Lady Bevell. His torturer. The biscuit crumbled in his fingers, but he gave no other outward signs of emotion. Somehow, she’d gone from enemy to ally. He would have to work side by side with her. Mick watched him, looking uncharacteristically worried.

“I tried telling them that you have a history with Lady Bevell, but they—”

“I am capable of working with her,” Alex interrupted. “I wish I could say she was the first person bent on my destruction who later ended up on the same side as me.”

Mick was quiet, ignoring his quickly cooling tea. He worked a careful smile back onto his face and his whole demeanor transformed back into the cheerful man who first met Alex outside the classroom. Alex supposed his acting skills, in combination with his natural outgoing demeanor, made him a great PR person, and were probably the reason he was Head of the American Operation. When he wasn’t escorting prisoners to hours of fruitless pain, he was companionable, pleasant company. Something he’d need if he was going to convince American hunters to work with him, if they were anything like Sam Winchester had been.

“Good, then it’s decided.” He gulped down the cold tea and gestured for Alex to take another cookie. The first was just crumbs on the ground, Alex had never even eaten it, but he took a second just to please Mick. “You leave with me tomorrow.”

“What about classes?” Alex had only just begun most of them. He’d been looking forward to uninterrupted study, for once in the past couple years.

“They’ll send you with the work for the academic courses, and I’m assured by your physical education teachers that you are well versed enough in martial arts and weapons enough to pass your exams.”

Alex chewed the biscuit slowly. Mick had been speaking personally with his teachers and was taking him on a trip to America. This was more personal than professional, but he couldn’t argue with a chance to become involved in the British Men of Letters regular operations earlier. He decided to push his luck. “Why me, Mick?”

Mick blinked. “Why you, what?”

“This is more than another Man would do for a student. I broke into headquarters and you helped torture me, probably would have killed me, and I escaped, injuring you and other Men. Yet, here you are, plying me with biscuits and tea, offering me work on another continent, a position I’m sure many more qualified and dedicated than me would be honored to accept. Why me?”

Mick smiled, lopsided, revealing perfect white teeth that matched his perfect tailored suit. “I wasn’t a legacy when I entered Kendricks. I remember being a charity case, like you. I was young and foolish, orphaned and just barely scraping by. I stole from a Man and when they caught me, instead of punishment, they offered me a chance, a way to make something of myself and my natural skills. Sound familiar?”

Alex nodded. It was his interactions with the British Men of Letters to a T. Mick stood, smile turned soft, and Alex followed him back into Kendricks.

“I think you’ve got potential and it would be a waste to antagonize you when we could be teaching you, making you more formidable than you already are.” Mick stopped at the hallway to the dorms with a slight wave. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Alex.”

Alex waved back.

 


 

The American Operation was based out of a former factory in Illinois, in order to be central to any further operations in the States. An otherwise empty warehouse housed a corrugated shipping container complex assembled like a scattered stack of shoeboxes that managed to look simultaneously alien and horrendously mismatched.

“Don’t worry about the looks,” Mick assured him as he scanned his hand for entry. “We’re roughing it until we secure a site for a proper headquarters. The shipping containers are a temporary thing. But these hand scanners are top of the line. We’ll get you in the database and you’ll get access for yourself.”

Mick left him

outside Alex’s room in the dormitories with a promise to return within the hour for a complete tour. Alex sized up the door. It was several white metallic panels bolted and welded together, with the Men of Letters seal and the number twelve stenciled in with black spray paint. He knocked, just in case he had a roommate, and when no response was forthcoming, slid the door open and let himself in.

The room was one shipping container. Utilitarian cot with crisp white sheets and one pillow. A dresser, a night table, and a hanging mirror. A modern, lightweight desk with a metal swivel chair. An open closet system of shelves and rods, upon which were hung or folded the suits and accessories he was expected to wear. In contrast to the worn classic wood-and-stone Kendricks aesthetics, everything was paint white and steel gray. It reminded him of his cell in the British Men of Letters London headquarters. Except this time, he was here as one of them, not an outsider breaking in.

How the tables turned.

Alex dropped his duffle on the mattress and took down one of the suits, admiring the fabric and construction. He didn’t know as much about them as he probably should, but he thought it must be a two-piece cotton suit with a nice collared button up underneath. Simpler than most of the other Men wore, but he wasn’t technically a Man yet, not even graduated from Kendricks, so maybe his clothing signified the distinction.

With admirably little difficulty, he donned the suit and pawed through the shelves of shoes, socks, and ties. Standing at a distance from the mirror on the wall, he allowed a small smile. He looked sharp.

Jack would be trying to get him to pose like a statue for a photo, and Eagle or Ben would be behind her, trying to break his composure with silly faces. The smile dropped off his face when he remembered exactly how far away they were now.

Voices filtered through the thin corrugated metal above the cot. Alex peered out into the hallway and at the room next door. The door opened and before Alex could duck back into his room, Lady Bevell stormed out. Thankfully, she seemed too steamed to notice that Alex was there and took the closest right out of the dorm hallway. Gone hardly before she registered.

Someone stepped up to the open doorway of unit eleven and leaned against the frame, watching where she’d gone. It took a minute for the presence to break through Alex’s panic. He’d frozen in the doorway, eyes locked on where she left. Usually, Alex could keep his ease, but the moment he’d seen Lady Bevell his mind went straight back to the knives and fists of his interrogation sessions.

“Hello,” the inhabitant of unit eleven said with interest. “You look shaken.”

“I’ve had… experience with Lady Bevell,” Alex managed.

The man nodded sagely. “Yes, she’s a right psychopath. I’m Ketch, by the way. Arthur Ketch.” He held out his hand. Alex took it in a light shake.

“Alex Rider.”

“Oh!” Though the way Ketch said it, it sounded like a question. “Mick’s little project. I’ve heard great things about you. I wonder how you’ll live up to expectations.”

“Just fine, hopefully,” Alex said, not liking the Man’s tone.

Ketch tightened his hold on Alex’s hand when he tried to pull away and leaned in, eyes glinting like a knife turned in the light. “I hear you have a background in special operations. Tell me, Alex, have you ever taken a life?”

It would have been easier if Ketch radiated bloodlust or madness. Instead he just seemed intent, like a snake about to strike. He wasn’t a murderer, but an assassin. Alex’s mind flashed to another man he once knew like this, a certain Russian who met his end on Air Force One for Alex’s sake. Somehow, he didn’t think Ketch would have such a legacy.

Alex was saved from answering when Mick rushed by. “We’ve got a call. We’ll have to have your tour later, it’s time to help the Winchesters.”

Alex shook off Ketch’s hand, following the other Man, not missing the flash of irritation on Ketch’s face. He hoped he wouldn’t have much to do with him during his stay at the compound. “The Winchesters asked for your help?”

Mick flicked across his phone screen as they pounded down the stairs. “Their angel, Castiel, gave me a call. They’re in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park. No one’s seen the brothers Winchester in almost two months, they must be tangled up in something bad to reach out to us. This could be a moment to establish trust.”

“Taking advantage of their desperation?” Alex queried.

The Man grinned, a hint of fondness in his voice. “Maybe, Alex. But whatever I can do to sway them, I will. The success of the Operation hinges on them.” He tapped on his phone, then slipped it in his pocket. “There’s an airfield ten minutes from here. We’ll get there in five. We’ve got a three hour private flight to Colorado and a rental waiting for us at the airport. Ketch will accompany us.”

Alex’s stomach dropped. So much for his hope. Perhaps no one unsettled him more, except Lady Bevell. Thankfully, the Man met them at the airfield and only tilted his head in acknowledgement of either of them. The plane ride was mostly silent.

None of them knew what they were flying into. It could be a complete bloodbath, could be an active war zone, could just be that one of them needed a car jumped. Castiel hadn’t offered much over the phone.

Mick said, “He didn’t seem to understand why we would need more convincing than just knowing that the brothers Winchester were in trouble. But angels can be dense like that.”

So Alex had to be prepared for anything. He felt like maybe his recent trip to space on Ark Angel might have covered him in the “anything” department. At least, that’s what he had hoped before running into Sam Winchester and the supernatural underbelly of the world. Now, his definition of “anything” included things like witches, wendigos, black dogs, ghouls, angels, and demons. God knew what would blow his world this time. He hadn’t been at Kendricks long enough to learn about it all.

The ride to the park was equally silent. Nobody spoke a word until a car and two figures appeared on the other side of the windshield.

“Castiel and Mary Winchester,” Ketch said pleasantly, observing them from the passenger seat as their rental car slowed. Alex shifted in the backseat, perpetually wary of that tone of voice. It was like a predator sizing up its prey, wondering if one had enough meat on its bones or if two would have to die.

Whatever the situation turned out to be, Alex hoped no one had to die.

They held conference on the side of the empty stretch of road. Mary was rightfully suspicious of them, given that the British Men of Letters had greeted Sam with weeks of torture. Castiel assured her that at the very least, the Men had assisted them in the past, and could once more. Mary was rigid, every line speaking to her unwillingness, but she relented. Desperation was convincing.

They finally learned about the brothers’ predicament. They had been apprehended trying to “assassinate” the President of the United States and were now imprisoned at a government black site in the park known as Site 94. It didn’t exist, legally. Alex scanned through his sparse American military intelligence contacts, but most were dead or useless. His primary interaction had been the CIA, and being that they concerned themselves with external affairs, Site 94 wouldn’t be in their register.

“We don’t need to break in, just find them,” Mary supplied. “They called us and told us to meet them along this road.”

“This is a long stretch of highway,” Ketch noted with dry amusement. And he was right. Route 34 was over a thousand miles of asphalt.

“But that’s alright,” Mick was quick to assure. “We can detect them with heat-sensitive satellite. Just need to borrow one.”

Plan agreed upon, Mick set Alex and himself up in the backseat of the rental with a portable computer array. The screens covered their view of the windshield and Ketch sitting in the front seat, tapping his fingers on the wheel while watching the two figures mill about outside their own car. He glanced at Castiel every once in awhile but tracked Mary’s every move, like he was trying to puzzle something out. Mick set up the last screen and then all Alex could see was the login dialog for a US government satellite network.

“Observe,” Mick said with a smirk, and within minutes of typing and tabbing through several windows running programs in languages Alex could never hope to decode, he had access to the satellite’s functions.

With a few commands, he aimed the sensory array at the park. On one screen, the commands scrolled as they were carried out. On another, a green and black matrix mapped out the rough terrain of the park. A few counter-commands popped up, like the technicians in some lab or observatory across the country had noticed the intrusion and were trying to combat it, but whatever programs Mick was running cancelled them out. Mick scanned every mile until he came across a moving yellow-red clump. Scanning a mile ahead revealed two red dots, pursued by the clump.

“That would be our boys. They’ve got company.”

Alex could practically hear Ketch smile, all canine teeth. “Splendid.”

It was simple to drive to the meetup point. Sam and Dean reunited with Castiel and Mary, radiating weariness and joy in their muddy gray jumpsuits. Skin sallow and eyes dark, they looked like they hadn’t seen the sky in years, when apparently they’d been gone for nearly two months, about as long as Alex had been at Kendricks.

“Alex,” Sam said, a little shocked and a little delighted. Everything he said was quiet and subdued, like regular talking volume was too loud. “What are you doing here?”

“He’s with us,” Mick said before Alex could get a word in. Alex closed his mouth as Sam’s shocked expression faded into dull suspicion. The hunter noted Alex’s suit and his position beside Mick. No doubt he was remembering the interrogation sessions, the connections they made while imprisoned. All that, and Alex still decided to take up their invitation to join.

Alex wished he could reassure Sam that it was only temporary, that he was just doing it to get what he needed, to make sure he could really stop them if he needed to, but nobody could know that. Not until the end. So he just nodded and didn’t smile. Sam could be wary of him, even hate him, if it meant that in the end, the hunter and all others would be safe from the British Men of Letters and all their machinations. Sam nodded back, frowning, and neither said a word to the other.

Sam and Dean had been running all night and just finished a confrontation with the tactical force chasing them.

“We should get,” Sam said, gesturing to the getaway cars. “The people we left will call for backup any second.”

Ketch rose from his position against the rental. “Uh, you left survivors?”

Sam squinted, like he could understand Ketch differently if only he could see him clearer. But Ketch’s intentions were clear.

“A bit… unprofessional,” Ketch said.

“We’ll handle it,” Sam countered, and the Winchester party departed.

Ketch and Mick conversed with their eyes and Mick went for the car, Alex hesitating before trotting along after him. Like a good little puppy, he thought with some bitterness. He was taking charge the next chance he got.

“You know what to do,” Mick said to Ketch. “Gear’s in the trunk. I’ll get back to headquarters to report and send another car for you.”

Ketch stripped out of his tailored suit and folded his clothes neatly into the trunk, suiting up again in black tactical gear. Every inch was covered in kevlar and blades, like a thick-skinned spiky porcupine. Ketch nodded once in Alex’s direction and marched into the woods, rifle primed.

Alex carefully kept his face dispassionate as Mick calmly drove them away, like images of Ketch slicing arcs of warm blood out of unsuspecting guards weren’t dancing through his head.

 


 

Alex parked the car outside the building and checked the GPS again. The day-long drive had taken longer than he’d hoped, mostly due to the fact that he kept drifting to the left side of the road, but as long as the address in the compound’s records was still accurate, he was in the right place. The American chapterhouse bunker. Sam and Dean Winchester’s base.

They took a minute to answer his knock but he supposed two people living in a large facility would. Thankfully, it was Sam that opened the door. He looked better, refreshed, since Alex had last seen him gaunt and worn after his isolation at Site 94. He smiled at the thought of the hunter catching a break for once.

Sam’s eyebrows rose in surprise and he leaned out the door to look behind Alex but frowned when he found no one. “Where’s Mick?”

“It’s just me,” Alex said.

“Really?”

“Yes,” he said plainly. A little suspicion was warranted, given he’d joined their captors. He didn’t hold it against Sam. “Mick isn’t invisible behind me. He has other things to do and I thought I’d stop by. I haven’t seen you since Site 94.”

Sam grimaced at the mention of the government blacksite. Alex didn’t know the details, but he figured the American military hadn’t taken a perceived attempt at the President’s life lightly. It was just Sam’s luck he went from British Men of Letters torture to whatever his own government cooked up.

“Yeah,” Sam sighed. “Come on in. We’re not doing anything right now.”

As he descended from the door, Alex noted the American late 40s architecture. The bunker was old, but sturdy. Equipment that easily should have broken down over the last seventy years seemed operational, lit up internally and humming, dials shiny and displays functional. The entryway led into a war room, graced with a giant illuminated map of the world at the center. The map was currently acting as table for some boxes of takeout, empty beer bottles, and piles of paper. They weren’t concerned with global warfare like the builders had been.

Sam gestured to a chair beside the table and headed down a hallway, presumably the kitchen. “You want anything?”

“Water,” Alex called after him. “Long car drive.”

The hunter returned with an open bottle of beer and a glass of water. Alex took the glass gratefully. The car had air conditioning, but that combined with the heat outside still dried up his liquids.

“So, how’ve you been?” Sam started. “You really went through with it and joined them.”

Alex set the glass down carefully. “Yes, I did. It’s been going fine. I was at Kendricks for a couple of months before they pulled me out for field work. I’m not even an official Man of Letters yet.”

“Guess you’re just that good.”

Alex thought of Mick reaching out to him and his personal interest in his success. He shrugged off the praise. “Maybe.”

The older brother, Dean, strode into the room, eyes glued to his laptop. “Hey Sam,” he started to say just as Sam said, “Dean, we have a visitor.”

Dean stopped beside his brother, watching Alex. “Mick Junior is here? What does he want?”

“Dean,” Sam scolded, but Dean kept going.

“Those cowards sending kids to do their dirty work now?”

“Dean!”

“It’s okay,” Alex interjected.

“He was held with me, they got to him too, Dean. Cut him some slack. He’s fourteen.”

Alex resented the thought that his age affected his decisions or warranted him more pity, but he kept his mouth shut about it. “Nice to meet you, Dean.”

Dean just grunted. Alex obviously had the delight of meeting the cordial brother first. The older hunter practically tossed his laptop on the table. Without ceremony he announced, “Case in Akron. Animal maulings.” Then he left.

Sam watched him go with pursed lips. “Sorry about that, he’s touchy since I was kidnapped.”

“Understandable,” Alex said. “I guess I’m not exactly your friend right now.”

Sam turned to Alex with sad eyes. “Of course you’re my friend, Alex. Despite the British Men of Letters thing. I mean, if it doesn’t work out, if you ever need somewhere to go.” He gestured to encompass the bunker. “You know where we are. You got me out of there, you practically reunited me with Dean. You’re a good kid. It’s the least I could do.”

Alex’s lips settled into a soft smile. Even when he was out of it during their captivity, Alex had sensed how kind Sam was, underneath all the bravado and grief. To him, it really just came down to helping people. That’s why Alex helped him back. There were too many cruel people in the world. It couldn’t be without Sam Winchester.

“Thanks,” he said simply. Sam’s eyes crinkled as he smiled back. Then he leaned back in his chair, propping his feet on the table, and took a swig of beer.

“By the way, you never told me why the British Men of Letters had you. Was it a spy thing?”

Alex chuckled. “No. I told you this a couple times when we were in the cells, but you always forgot.” Sam’s face fell at the reminder of his blank episodes, but Alex was quick to reassure. “Don’t worry about it, I’m always happy to tell you again.

“I broke into their headquarters out of curiosity. I noticed people acting strange outside the building and decided to see what that was about. I thought it would be a drug gang or the mafia, but I got into their computers and it was just old artefacts and recipes.” Which later turned out to be magic items and spells, but Alex hadn’t known that at the time.

The British Men of Letters London chapterhouse was, ironically, across the street from Royal and General Bank on Liverpool Street, masquerading as a financial company, just like MI6’s headquarters. Alex was finding it harder to believe that any company specializing in money was actually what it said it was. Neither organization seemed aware that the other existed right on its doorstep, and Alex would let that go on as long as possible. At the very least for his personal enjoyment, if not to ward off the total collapse of the supernatural and mundane organizations protecting Britain.

“You were just curious,” Sam said in a tone of flat disbelief. “You were captured and tortured for a month because you just wanted to see ‘what that was about?’”

Alex sipped his water and shrugged with a cheeky grin. “Curiosity killed the cat, is how I think the saying goes.”

Sam broke into a laugh. “I think it does.”

“You never told me about the Darkness and the sun,” Alex countered. “Or is that still top secret?”

“It was never top secret, I just wouldn’t give anything to those sons of bitches. No offense.”

“None taken.” Alex had been doing the exact same thing. If he’d told the truth instead of taking the beatings wordlessly, he would’ve told them that he wasn’t looking for anything, wasn’t trying to destroy them, wasn’t sent by anyone. But he wanted the bastards to sweat about it.

“And it hurt, at the time,” Sam continued. “I thought my brother died to take out the Darkness. She was killing the sun, we had to do something, so Dean was going to blow her up. He didn’t, though. Turns out she just needed to talk about it.”

“Hold up,” Alex interrupted. “The Darkness is a person?”

They settled in for a long discussion.

Hours of explanation about Sam and Dean’s adventures later, Sam finished his flat beer. He set the empty bottle on the illuminated glass of the war room table, eyebrows drawn together and gaze averted.

“And all of that, as amazing as it is, it was also the worst. Winchester luck is just the worst case scenario. It would have been bad enough if all I’d been doing all these years was just hunting the small fry, the wendigos and ghouls. I never wanted to be a hunter. I was dragged into it, the decision was made for me before I was old enough to fight it. I was training to kill before I could drive.” Sam peered into Alex’s eyes. “I’ll bet you’ve got a similar story. I mean, child spy?”

Alex slowly sipped his water, startled by the conversation turning his direction. For the past hour or so, he’d been able to nod and respond to the fantastic tales Sam was spinning. They were absolutely insane—God, the devil, the apocalypse?—but Sam wasn’t lying. It was about as insane as manufactured natural disasters and computers filled with poison aimed at schoolchildren. The idea that there were larger forces out there, executing plans bigger than any one person, playing with the lives of millions, if not billions. It wasn’t anything new to him.

“My father was a spy for MI6 too. When he was murdered, my uncle raised me to spy, though I didn’t know that. I speak six languages. I can parachute, rock climb, dive. I know martial arts. Now, I can navigate nearly any firearm. They didn’t ask me to spy—they would take away my only family if I didn’t.” Alex paused, a little shocked to feel his throat closing up. He drank deeply from his glass and flicked the empty vessel across the table. Sam watched him softly and he almost hated it.

“I don’t need pity,” he said.

“I don’t pity you,” Sam replied. “I just— I understand.”

Alex remembered Sam, pale as a sheet, just woken from a seizure-induced sleep, refusing. Refusing Alex, his existence, his reality.

“I’m not telling anyone, especially not you,” he’d said. “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.”

Sam had feared for he and his brother’s lives as children. It must have been a horrible thing to see another child in a similar place.

Sam checked his watch. “You’re welcome to stay tonight, or however long you need. It’s getting late. We’ve got a guest room made up.”

“Thanks, I’d like that.”

Sam showed him to room fifteen and bid him goodnight, making his way down the hall to room twenty one. There had to be at least thirty bedrooms in the bunker. It wasn’t hard to imagine that a formidable contingent of Men of Letters had at one point directed all of the States from here. And maybe would again, if Mick succeeded with getting the Winchesters onboard with the American Operation.

Alex’s cell buzzed and he answered with a quick, “Hello?”

“Alex, where are you?” Mick’s voice said into his ear.

“Mick,” he confirmed. “I’m with the Winchesters in their bunker.”

“That’s a day’s drive. Whatever are you doing there?”

Alex turned to his bed, preparing his excuse. “You need Sam and Dean for the American Operation, right? Sam likes me. I decided to capitalize.”

“Hm.” Mick sounded suspicious but didn’t feel the need to voice it. “You should have told me.”

“Do I need to tell you everywhere I go?”

“We might have needed you. And I don’t think you’re old enough to legally drive.”

“I’m not legally old enough to do a lot of what I do, Mick. Not going to stop me.”

“Alex,” Mick sighed, crackling the speaker. “You know that disobedience can be tantamount to betrayal. It’s the Code.”

Alex rolled his eyes but kept his voice neutral. Code this, Code that. Maybe he had reassured Jack he hadn’t joined a cult not for her benefit, but his own. The Code was practically their religious text. “I wasn’t disobeying. I had no orders. I’m taking initiative.”

When Mick was silent in displeasure, Alex added, “And I brought my schoolwork. You can expect it completed when I return.”

Mick finally relented. “Okay. Just don’t be gone too long. We have work to do.”

 


 

The work Mick was referring to was recruiting American hunters. Alex didn’t go to the one-on-one meetings Mick had with them. They’d tried that, but hunters turned out to be a surly lot who didn’t take well to “kids” being involved with the professon. So Alex had an office—a closet, really—where he mapped hunter networks from the little information Mick was able to gather from the hunters themselves and that Alex was able to glean from databases listing booking charges and news articles.

One of the surefire ways to identify a hunter virtually was grave desecration or robbing. It wasn’t a popular crime among petty criminals and if it matched up with recent ghost-related disturbances, such as otherwise normal people acting out (possession) or a string of odd deaths that suddenly ended without explantation, it was with ninety nine percent surety that Alex pinned the identity of a hunter.

Ghost hunts—“salt and burns”—were the easiest and most common form of hunting in the States, so tracking them tracked the most hunters in the least amount of time. The one downfall was that since they were such easy hunts, while they got a good cross section of hunters, they weren’t exactly top shelf.

Alex didn’t feel too bad about exposing so many hunters. Most of them told Mick to “fuck off”, according to his reports. Every record of American hunters was digital, and Alex understood that each computer in the British Men of Letters compound in Illinois was networked. He still had what Smithers had fondly referred to as a “drive bomb” on a USB stick among his personal items. All he had to do to wipe everything off every computer was plug the stick in. When the time came, American hunters would go back to being under the radar.

They finally had a stroke of luck a day after Alex returned from the bunker. Pierce Moncrieff, a hunter out of Baton Rouge, agreed to work with them.

With ,” he emphasized. “Not for. I’m the Hunter King of Baton Rouge, I don’t work for nobody.”

“Yes,” Mick said with a strained smile, seated at his desk and looking like he wished any other hunter had said yes. “Of course, we’ll work with you.”

Pierce moved into unit thirteen, right next to Alex, but thankfully they saw little of each other aside from running into each other in the hallways. Pierce seemed uncomfortable with the thought that Alex was involved in any way with hunting, just like every other hunter had been. But Alex felt that he was needlessly shifty about what he did. The heavyset man moved in with designer clothes from high-end department stores and didn’t seem to want in the money department, though he accepted the British Men of Letters’ hunter stipend like it was a lifesaver.

So their weekly team meetings now included Pierce, who was starstruck upon meeting Mary Winchester. Apparently, stories of Sam and Dean’s escapades saturated hunting legends, making Mary as mythical, or maybe even more mythical given her recent resurrection, as Sam and Dean themselves.

Alex didn’t know Mary well. She kept her distance and looked distressed when she overheard him speaking to Mick about a recent case he’d unearthed, not sure if there was an alternative to beheading vampires.

Alex took frequent trips to the Winchester’s bunker to talk with Sam. The hunter was genuinely happy to talk to him, and eventually even Dean warmed up, though he was still wary of Alex’s membership with the British Men of Letters. He was too smart not to be.

Before he could knock the heavy steel door, it ripped open, revealing a very pissed off Dean, who used every inch of his height to loom over Alex before pulling him inside.

“What—” Alex began to protest.

“Did you know?” Dean demanded, dragging him down the stairs into the war room.

“Know what?”

“About our mom. Mary Winchester?” Dean held his wrist in a vise grip, glaring down into his eyes like he could see the deception. “Did you know she was working for the British Men of Letters?”

Alex made a confused noise. “You didn’t know? How could you miss something like that?”

“Hey!” Sam slid between them and forced Dean to release Alex’s wrist. “Dean, calm down. Alex, why didn’t you bring this up before?”

Alex rubbed his wrist. He didn’t owe them any explanation, especially after a welcome like that. Dean stood before his brother, tense, still glaring at Alex. Sam had a hand on his chest, light pressure to remind Dean he could push him away if it came to it.

“I didn’t know you weren’t aware,” Alex said into the strained silence. “It just never seemed relevant before.”

“‘Didn’t seem relevant?’” Dean growled.

“Dean,” Sam warned.

“No,” Dean snapped. “I know Alex is your prison buddy, or whatever, and you’re willing to trust him because he smiles and got you out of there but that’s not enough for me. He’s keeping things from us.”

“Of course he won’t tell us everything about himself, he worked for MI6, Dean.”

“And the Brits!” Dean burst out. “Now he works for the British Men of Letters, who are so trustworthy, that they’d just torture my little brother before even trying to establish contact.”

“Calm down, Dean. You’re not mad at Alex, you’re mad at Mom,” Sam said lowly. “Stop shouting at a fourteen year old boy.”

“He’s not just a fourteen year old boy,” Dean hissed. “He’s their pawn! Don’t you see it, Sammy? He’s taking all this effort to get chummy with us. He doesn’t really like us, those limey sons of bitches just need an in on us and if Mom didn’t work, why not some kid?”

If Alex followed correctly, Dean was implying Alex was practically a double agent, planted in the cell next to Sam’s to get his trust during captivity in order to keep that trust after escape and later betray him. Quite the accusation. Alex bristled.

“I have only been completely honest with you both,” he said. “I’m sorry if that wasn’t enough. I will leave you two to your disagreement.”

Sam tried to call after him, but Alex was already out the door.

 


 

Blood rolled across the cement, congealing under the tread of Alex’s regulation Oxfords. He raised a foot, peeling the sole away from the floor, and placed it back down gently.

He’d beheaded something. It looked human, but Sam assured him it wasn’t.

“Vampires!” the hunter had warned just before the compound had been stormed.

His suit was ruined, sprayed in crimson from torso to neck. Blood was cooling on his cheek, thankfully not his own. Yet, as he stared down at the severed head and body, still jerking with echoes of life, he had a hard time feeling grateful.

Technically , he told himself, this isn’t the first time I’ve killed . Sure, it was the first that was up close and personal, but it had been he who ended Damian Cray, Julia Rothman, Winston Yu. In ways much worse than simple beheading.

Although the beheading hadn’t been simple. The neck was shredded where Alex had fought with the vampire, restraining it enough to get the blade in once, twice, three times, four times. Scraping bone, severing muscle, one agonizing inch at a time. Alex was strong, but he’d never had occasion to separate extremities from a body before. He figured with as much practice as Sam and Pierce had, their kills would be with just one slice.

Their kills.

His kill.

The red emergency lights blinded Alex as he slid down the wall, falling to his arse across the hallway from the body. In each flash of the lights, everything was illuminated red. The white walls, the white skin, drained of blood, all the red outside. All the red on him.

What was he doing? Trying to take down an organization much bigger and much older than any he had ever faced before. Scorpia was twelve people and founded after the modern intelligence agencies were established. The British Men of Letters was literally ancient and there were at least twenty people within the American compound alone.

Something growled down the hallway and Alex stumbled to his feet, machete raised, despair locked behind a thick layer of steel. He had a mission: survive.

This time, the blade went through the vampire’s neck and caught on the spine. With a kihap , the spirited yell from his taekwondo training, he ripped the blade the rest of the way through the monster’s neck and it collapsed minus a head.

Leaning against the wall, Alex put a hand to his forehead, trying to collect himself. He couldn’t risk distraction while they were under attack but he was hyperventilating and light headed. He could see the inside of the vampire’s neck, the trachea and spinal column and twitching muscles, oozing thick blood.

Someone called his name. Instinctively, Alex raised the machete, then realized it was only Sam, barrelling down the hall.

“Alex,” the hunter panted, leaning down to meet Alex’s eyes. “Are you alright.”

Alex’s voice sounded far away to his own ears when he responded, “Fine.”

Sam had less than a spray of blood on his jacket while Alex was veritably soaked.

“Come on.” Sam grabbed his wrist before Alex could complain and he followed the hunter through halls splashed in red light and red blood, numb to the carnage around them. “We got the alpha vamp but there might still be others around. Stick to the main room, it’s safer there.”

The room came into view. A man, presumably the alpha vampire, lay face-up on the floor, a single bullet hole between his eyes. Serena, who Alex only knew in passing as the security expert, was collapsed in a pool of blood in the corner of the room, part of her neck ripped to tatters.

“Alex,” Mick sighed. “I’m so glad you’re okay. You’ll have to report on this once the situation is resolved.”

Alex just nodded, a quick bob of the head that betrayed his shock.

“Mick,” someone scolded. “He’s in shock for God’s sake. Alex, honey.” Mary suddenly appeared with her jacket outstretched and drew it around his shoulders. Despite himself, Alex grasped the edge of the jacket like a blanket. She obviously had a lot of experience with victims. It was nice, to have someone offer comfort after something terrible. Alex wasn’t sure what to do with it.

Mary didn’t seem offended by his silence and pushed Mick in his direction with a hard look. Mick stood awkwardly aside and patted Alex on the shoulder, a weak there there motion that would have made Alex laugh if he were able to feel anything.

The hunters cleared the building and gathered everyone into the garage. After the alpha was killed, most of the vampires fled and only a few stragglers had to be taken out. Serena and Alton, the alchemist and weapons developer, were dead, along with most of the guards who hadn’t hidden themselves in time. Pierce was nowhere to be found and according to Sam, the Hunter King of Baton Rouge was a traitor anyway. Ketch and Dean met the group of survivors in the garage.

Mick kept Alex under his arm. Alex kept Mary’s coat over his shoulders. Sam approached them after a short conversation with Dean and Mary.

“I’m in,” Sam said. “Look, tonight was bad, no doubt, but the Alpha Vampire is dead. You’re changing the world,” he glanced at Alex. “And I want to be part of it.”

Alex felt Mick tense in surprise and then ask after Dean. Sam watched his brother and shook his head.

“Give me time to convince him.”

Alex gripped the jacket tighter. He’d played a part in persuading Sam to trust the British Men of Letters. He hoped bringing the hunters into it wasn’t the end of them all.

 


 

He visited Sam and Dean at their bunker one more time. Prior, Mick had practically peeled him away from mapping hunter networks. Alex hadn’t slept in days. The Winchesters were happy to see him, but Alex couldn’t look them in the eye. Couldn’t stop thinking of himself covered in red, not just vampire red, but hunter red, if this all went wrong.

He’d broken into Mick’s email and personal documents. The British Men of Letters’ Plan B was to eradicate all American hunters, Sam and Dean especially. Mick was trying his hardest for Plan A to succeed, but Dean was making it difficult. And Alex knew he couldn’t do anything more to convince Dean, who already suspected treachery from Alex.

He left the bunker almost as soon as he came.

 


 

It was time.

When he returned to the British Men of Letters compound in Illinois, it was chaos. Technicians fluttered around the monitors, activating protocols. Ketch was briefing his special operations team in the conference room, while an older woman stood imperiously aside, taking a call on her cell phone. Alex took one look at the main screen and made for the service hallway behind the main bank of computers.

The screen listed American hunters and beside each and every name: EXTERMINATE .

The hallway was empty. Alex glanced around quick, just to make sure he was truly alone, and pulled out the multitool Wolf gifted him. With the screwdriver bit, he pulled away part of the wall leading into the backside of the main computer. Behind a sea of colored wires he could make out a flashing red light, which indicated the main USB access point to the hard drive. Alex rummaged in his bag, extracting the “drive bomb” USB stick from Smithers, and reached inside, feeling around for the right place.

First he reached too far to the left and felt a warm fan buzzing under his fingertips. Cursing internally, thinking of Ketch with his entire team just a few rooms over, he adjusted his knees and shoved his shoulder further into the open pane, awkwardly jamming his arm backwards into the mechanism.

The safety clicked off a gun. Alex froze.

“What are you doing?” Unmistakably Mick, except his voice wavered, like he’d just had a nasty shock. “Get up.”

Alex slowly stood, holding his empty hands out from his body. Mick would kill him. He must have concluded that Alex was trying to sabotage their system. Alex knew the Code said that threats to the British Men of Letters were to be countered with extreme prejudice. Mick was a Man through and through, and the Code would trump even his affection for Alex. Mick tightened his grip on the gun and Alex braced for the shot.

But Mick didn’t jump straight to violence. “When I was at Kendricks, they accepted me, they brought me up, they taught me how to live. You didn’t get any of that, Alex. But you still can. Stop whatever this is and stay by me. The British Men of Letters… Me . We can give you so much.”

“No.” Alex watched Mick stiffen with hard eyes. “They taught you how to live by their Code, their rules. Not your own. You don’t have to do this, Mick.”

Mick ground his jaw, almost looked to be fighting back tears, but the gun didn’t waver.

“Mick,” Alex said cautiously. “What is going on?”

“Did you know?” the Man began in a quick, rough burst. “I killed my best friend? I was twelve and they gave us a knife and said only one of us could live or we’d both be out. They didn’t lock the door, didn’t hold my hand. Timothy, he would have helped me, hidden me with his family. But I didn’t have one, and if I didn’t kill him, I wouldn’t have the British Men of Letters either.”

The Code said: At any cost, the order of your superior is the Code .

“They tested your loyalty to the Code,” Alex surmised.

“And I passed with flying colors at the tender age of twelve. I had my priorities sorted. I’d made my decision. You think I would change it now?”

“I think you’re smart,” Alex replied evenly. “And I think being a Man has taken its toll in ways you were never willing to test. Even if you shoot me, will you at least think about it?”

“I’ve thought about it. I’m just back from meeting the Winchesters. Renny is dead, a hunter did it. That hunter? Is alive.”

Alex sucked in a breath. Mick had broken the Code. Hope expanded his chest and his heart slowed its frantic pace. He had a chance to get out of this. The Man was straying. He was fighting with himself, Code versus choice, and choice was winning.

Mick had his own line of thought. “How did you think you got out?”

“Got out? Of what?”

“Headquarters.” Mick lowered his gun, brows and mouth heavy with anguish. “Back when we’d had you captured. Why did you think no one was there but me and two guards? That Lady Bevell was allowed to interrogate Sam outside regular hours with minimal security? That the cameras didn’t immediately give you away? That you could short out the locking mechanism in the first place? How did you think that happened? Luck?”

“It was you,” Alex realized. “I didn’t know that. Wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.”

“You weren’t supposed to take Sam. You weren’t supposed to get attached.”

The conversation wasn’t just about himself anymore. “That’s your mistake. It’s human to get attached, to help someone out.”

Mick’s gun dangled from loose fingers. He’d wanted Alex to escape, to get out. Perhaps he’d saved blood specifically to track him down again and make his Kendricks offer. The plan had always been to turn Alex. Or maybe it had been Mick reaching for something to turn him. Some memory of the friend he’d killed all those years ago.

Several expressions tried to assert themselves, but Mick settled on grim determination. He sheathed the gun in his belt.

“My arm is longer,” he said. “Move aside and tell me what you need done.”

 


 

The car ride was too quiet after Mick explained everything that went down when he and the American hunters tried to apprehend the nephilim’s mother and the Prince of Hell, so Alex started talking. If he didn’t, he might actually start freaking out. Satan himself was expecting, and not just a normal kid. No, a superpowered anti-Christ. That was far beyond Alex’s worst case scenario. He had to focus on something they could actually do something about.

“You did the right thing letting the hunter live. We’re doing the right thing,” he said. “They would have killed all the hunters. They’ll probably still try, even if the drive bomb takes out their lists of names.”

Mick’s silence continued, Alex’s only response the sound of the road passing under the car. His eyes were distant, brow worried, hands white on the wheel.

“What can we expect?”

That woke Mick up. “The special operations squad will be after us. Ketch is the unit leader. This car will have a tracker, so once we’re far enough away we’ll have to ditch it. Do you know how to hotwire a car?”

Alex nodded. “Where will we go?”

“I don’t know,” Mick admitted. “There are safehouses in Britain, but they’d find us there eventually. They’ll be staking out the airports now. Maybe if we’re quick we could get to Mexico, there’s a Men of Letters chapterhouse there. Barely anyone left now, but besides the point.”

“I mean right now, where will we go? What will we do? We can’t just run. They’re planning total annihilation of American hunters.” Plan B was in action. Alex remembered when he first visited the Winchesters’ bunker, Sam had offered him a place to stay if the British Men of Letters didn’t work out. “Maybe we could go to Sam and Dean.”

“No—” Mick started to say, but Alex got there first.

“We worked enough with them, they would help us. You turned your back on the Code for them.”

Mick made a strangled noise, like he wanted to defend himself but the guilt was still eating him. Alex lurched forwards when Mick hit the brakes. It was lucky they were on a deserted stretch of highway late at night. Yanking the wheel at an angle that almost seemed impossible, he turned around.

“The first hunter on the list was Eileen Leahy, the one I didn’t kill. She’s the reason I’m out of the British Men of Letters. I’m not going to let her die for nothing. She’s in North Carolina right now, that’s a twelve hour drive. It’ll take them two days to get to her, we can get there in one.”

 


 

Eileen was suspicious of them, given that she’d been on the run from the British Men of Letters for a couple weeks. She’d touched down in North Carolina from Ireland in the hopes that getting out of Europe would give her some distance from the British Men of Letters’ operations. It took awhile to convince her to run with them and in the end, the only way she’d agree to go was if she drove the truck they’d hotwired.

“We should go to Sam and Dean,” she said from the front seat. “If anyone can help us, they can.”

Mick made to protest again, but Alex butt in. “Sam once offered the bunker to me if I ever needed help. I agree with Eileen.”

Mick threw up his hands in the passenger seat and grumbled, “Fine.” The rest of the ride he stared out the window at the passing scenery, seeing none of it.

 


 

The bunker was locked tight when they got there. Someone had bolted extra locks to the outside doors and a constant mechanical hiss could be heard around the perimeter. It took a minute, but Mick’s eyes widened when he recognized the signs.

“They’ve locked the bunker and reversed the air pumps,” he said. “Alex! Go around back, get into the mechanical room. There’s a lever for the manual override there, push it back up. I’ll work on the door.” He spent a minute observing the padlocks, trying to figure out how to open them, before Eileen pushed him aside and pulled out her lockpicks.

Alex rushed around the smaller above ground level of the bunker until he noticed a door hanging open. Pushing inside, he came face to face with a wall of glowing buttons and switches. This must be the mechanical room.

He peered into the darkness of the room, trying to make out a lever among the controls. Feeling along the south wall, he came across a handle, and feeling along that, he hoped he found the lever. With all of his weight, he pushed it upwards until it was flush with the wall, then he hurried back to the front door.

Eileen disengaged the final lock and hauled the door open.

“Don’t shoot!” Mick shouted, ducking for cover as soon as he looked inside.

Dean watched them from inside, face totally baffled, finger on the trigger of a rocket launcher. Sweat soaked straight through his clothes, he was disheveled like he’d panicked for days, and he had a couple days growth on his face.

“Guys,” he said, slumping with relief. “You have perfect timing.”

 


 

“Go over the plan one more time,” Sam said from the driver’s seat. Alex would have rolled his eyes if they weren’t on the warpath, so he complied.

“You and the rest of the hunters go into the British Men of Letters compound, Mick and I hold the perimeter and keep the cars running. If you’re not out in an hour, call Dean and leave.”

If they weren’t out in an hour, or maybe even less than that, Alex planned on going in himself, but he didn’t tell Sam that. It had taken all sorts of rhetorical acrobatics just to convince the hunter to let him come in the first place.

Sam didn’t respond to his recitation. The gate to the factory was in view. Each car in their caravan accelerated and the sheriff’s truck burst through the gate, taking fire from the guards. Alex climbed into the backseat of the Impala as it stopped in line with the other cars, forming a barricade between the factory and the only way out of the gate.

Hunters tumbled out of cars, dodging gunfire from the factory entrance.

“Remember!” Sam shouted above the cracks and cries. “Stay here!”

The guards dropped and the hunters disappeared into the building.

Mick cautiously approached, gun drawn. With the guards down, it was quiet outside, aside from the bursts of machine gun fire that echoed through the factory. Alex tried not to imagine Sam and the other hunters cut down by a hail of bullets, trying to retaliate with their inferior weapons. He pushed himself upright in the back seat, carefully holding his handgun away from his body.

“Alex,” the Man acknowledged. “Good, you’re well. I don’t like it, but I have an idea.”

“Idea?”

Mick worked his jaw, shuffling in discomfort. “When I first made you the offer to join the British Men of Letters, you asked if we had any sway with the British consulate. You wanted your housekeeper’s visa sorted. Well, I got her permanent resident papers awhile ago, but I was holding onto them. They’re in there,” he gestured to the factory, “and I won’t be able to get doubles. Now’s our only chance to get them.”

Alex didn’t even have to think about agreeing for a second. Anything to free Jack from MI6’s hold. This was part of the original reason he joined. “What about the cars?”

“They’ll be fine. Now, here’s the plan…”

 


 

Alex was careful to keep his finger off the trigger and the barrel pressed to Mick’s forehead. With his arm around the Man’s throat, the Man himself stooping ridiculously to walk with him, Alex entered the factory. A trail of blood and bodies marked the hunters’ path through the outer defenses. The door to the inner complex was blown completely off its hinges, so Alex steered Mick inside.

Alex was playing the part of loyal student of Kendricks, who had captured a Man of Letters that had broken the Code. It would be enough to make it past harried guards, though if they came across Ketch or the new Heads of Operation, things might get sticky.

“Left,” Mick muttered, and Alex turned them left. “It’s in Hess’s office.”

Dr. Hess was a British Men of Letters Elder and the former Headmistress of Kendricks Academy. Alex had never met her, since she flew stateside only when the American Operation turned to Plan B, and Alex had chosen that moment to bail. He thought it put her priorities in perspective, that she was only interested in personally overseeing the extermination of American hunters and not their recruitment.

“Stop,” Mick said. “It’s here.”

Alex let go of him long enough for the Man to scan his hand to open the door. As luck would have it, they hadn’t updated the accesspoint database to erase Mick’s prints from the system. Alex was grudgingly impressed that any computerized system was working at all, considering only a few days ago he’d loosed the drive bomb into the main hard drive. There was something to be said about the British Men of Letters’ efficiency.

The door popped open and Alex led with his gun.

Dr. Hess startled when Alex entered. She reached for a gun on the desk but Mick wove around Alex and got there first. Now with the business end of two weapons on her, she raised her arms, pasting a pleasant smile on her face.

“Mick,” she said. “Allen.”

“It’s Alex,” Alex grunted. “And you’re Dr. Hess.”

“Indeed. I remember approving you for the field by Mick’s request. Such an impressive record.”

“Alex, check the desk,” Mick said, eyes glinting while he watched Dr. Hess. “I’ve got her.”

While Alex rummaged through drawers and files, Mick endured Dr. Hess.

“Mick, you were such a good student. You graduated top of your class as Kendricks and here you were living up to your potential, leading the American Operation.”

No mention of immigration papers or Jack Starbright. Alex tried the next drawer. Nothing.

“It’s understandable that you might struggle with the Code, but remember, it’s all that separates us from the monsters. You made a decision not to be a monster all those years ago. You did what was right, you followed the Code.”

Alex scattered files on the desk. Still nothing. He bit the inside of his cheek, hoping Mick was ignoring Dr. Hess. Mick was raised by the Code and Alex knew how hard it was to buck something that was part of your entire life.

“No,” Mick said, voice steady. “The Code is what makes a young boy kill his best friend. Alex?”

Alex shook his head and walked back to Mick’s side, gun aimed at the Elder. He didn’t find anything.

Dr. Hess grinned. “I thought you might come back for those bribes for your pet project, Mick. I’ve hidden them, you won’t find them without me. You need me.”

Mick pulled the trigger and the shot echoed like a blast in the small metal room. Alex jerked away instinctively. Dr. Hess slid down the wall, bullet hole between her eyes, painting a red trail on the white, eyes staring, face locked in shock.

“Mick!” Alex exclaimed. They still didn’t know where the papers were.

Mick shook his head, calmly stepping towards her body. He felt around her pink blazer and eventually pulled out two files, one marked J. Starbright and another marked Lucifer.

“She only had time to hide them on her person. Come on,” the Man said, face grim. “We’ve got to get out before they blow the compound.”

 


 

Back at the bunker, Mick handed off the Lucifer file to a stone faced Sam.

They lost a few hunters in the raid. Sam clung to Eileen while Dean, Mary, and the sheriff huddled around the war room table, talking. Ketch and Lady Bevell’s dead bodies had greeted the raiding party when they returned to the bunker. And Mary was back to normal, back to the hunter who had given Alex her jacket when he’d been in shock. He was glad.

“So what will you do now?” Sam said to Mick. “You can’t go back to Britain while the British Men of Letters have it on supernatural lockdown.”

“I know,” Mick sighed. “I don’t know what I’ll do. Hunt, maybe. I’m not good for much else.”

Dean joined them. “You’re not good for that, either.”

Mick watched the hunter, who gazed impassively back. The former Man slumped under the statement. “You’re right. I suppose you’ve seen my hunting first hand. Not exactly top shelf.”

“You can stay with us,” Dean replied. “You’re a pencil pusher, a researcher, right? We need that when we hunt, and so do other hunters. You can help us.”

Mick raised his eyebrows. “Really? You would allow that? Someone else in your bunker? Me ?”

“Eileen is staying too,” Sam butt in. “After all this, she doesn’t feel safe in Europe anymore.”

“Yes, but,” Mick pursed his lips. It went unsaid, but everyone could hear it. He had worked for their enemies.

“You saved our butts,” Dean said. “I think we can give you a chance to read books for us.”

“Then, yes,” Mick said, excitement in his eyes. “I would like that. A former British Man of Letters and three legacies? It’s practically the new American chapterhouse.”

Eileen appeared at Sam’s side, equally enchanted by the idea. “We need a different name though, too sexist.” She made a few signs with her hands. “People of Letters?”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Dean mumbled, but he was smiling.

Sam turned to Alex, face open and inviting. “And you’re welcome too, Alex.”

Alex allowed a soft grin. “Thanks, but I have people waiting for me in London.”

 


 

The Kansas international airport was dead at this time of the night. Alex had tickets to the soonest direct flight to London. Mick escorted him in their stolen truck and waited with him at the gate, making small talk.

“And, ah, here’s this.” Mick handed him a packet of papers. Alex took a few out. They were immigration authorizations and permanent visas made out to one Jack Starbright.

Alex clicked his jaw closed. “Thanks, Mick.”

“I’m sorry I just gave them to you,” Mick said. “I was saving them for a special occasion, I should have realized how urgent the situation was. They’re a hundred percent legal so you should have no issues with them whatsoever.”

Alex didn’t say all was forgiven but he did nod to acknowledge the apology. This would make things so much easier for Jack, and maybe even get MI6 off his back.

Mick took a slow step forward, then lowered himself to give Alex a hug. Alex smiled at his hesitance and returned the hug.

“You’ll do just find here, Mick.”

“I should be the one reassuring you,” the Man huffed. “You’re going back to the British Men of Letters’ territory and whatever organization it is that you worked for before, all at the fresh age of fourteen. If I were you, I’d be terrified.”

Alex squeezed the strap of his backpack and gave Mick a strained smile. “Believe me, I’m scared. But I don’t let that stop me.”

“And that, Alex, is what makes you the hero of this story.”

They shared another smile and Alex left as they called his plane to board. In hours, he’d be back in London with Jack and K-Unit. The smile stayed on his face.

He wasn’t a hero, he was just doing his best for the ones he loved.

 


 

A man in a black suit held up a sign proclaiming “Rider” at the London airport. Alex watched him as the passengers cleared out until they were the only ones left at the gate.

“Can I help you?”

The man lowered the sign. “Royal and General Bank requires your presence. If you’ll come with me.”

Alex clutched his backpack, loaded with all of his earthly possessions from the American Operation and Jack’s new citizenship papers. “Why should I?”

In an eerie bird-like motion, the man cocked his head. “It’s a simple debriefing. I’ve been told to reassure you that you are still on vacation.”

Slowly, Alex went to the man. A debriefing he could do. Blunt probably wanted to know where he’d been the past few months. Maybe if he told them the truth, he’d be deemed mentally unfit for service and MI6 would finally leave him alone.

A heavier part of his heart told him he’d always come back to this. MI6 was inevitable. There was a reason his father and father’s brother were in the business. It was in his blood.

He noticed one of the British Men of Letters’ sigils disguised in the designs on the floors and smirked as he walked over it. Whatever awaited him on Liverpool Street, he was at least assured that there was another world out there. Sam and Dean and Mick, child soldiers saving the world out of Kansas. Somewhere where someone understood.

Chapter Text

Just a chapter I'll leave up for a bit so everyone knows that I finally began posting the sequel to this!

Summary: "Sam thought that with his return to London, Alex Rider had put monsters and hunting behind. But Alex has never been predictable, and after the events that killed Jack Starbright, the teen spy is in America again and in a dark place. With Hellhounds on his tail it seems like he has little time left. But if Sam has ever been anything, it's determined to save who he can. Alex helped him once, now it's his turn to do some rescuing."

Link: Fortune Favors the Bold