Thank you MaggieMay17 for beta'ing, Ncsupnatfan and VegasGranny for pre-reading. Thank you all for reading.
"You ready for this?" Dean asked as they climbed out of the car.
"Sure," Nick said, adjusting his tie and smoothing his hair in the side mirror of the Impala.
"You're pretty enough," Dean said. "We're here for a case, not to find you a date."
Nick rolled his eyes. "I'm checking I look fed enough to pass. You might want to do the same. Besides, it wouldn't be the first time I found a date in the morgue."
Dean snorted as they met at the front of the car and started towards the building. "That's not the kind of thing you brag about, Nicky."
Nick punched his arm. "You know what I meant. Remember the ME in Boston? I had a great week with her after meeting over the cadaver of a werewolf victim."
"I remember she called for a month after we left town."
Nick sighed. "Yeah, she did. Shame. We had a good thing going on. Unfortunately, Amara was more pressing than keeping in touch with her."
Dean grinned. He and Nick had very different approaches to romance. Nick would find someone in a town they were working and stay with them the duration. Dean had never really settled with anyone for more than a weekend—Cassie being the only exception. There'd been a couple he might have gone longer with, like Lisa Braeden, but his life had never fit with hers and her son's. The one time he'd considered it, going to her, he'd had other orders to follow.
When Nick had been in the Cage, Dean had thought about going to her, having a place to hide and deal with his grief, but Nick had given him instructions for when he was gone: keep fighting. Dean spent the year without Nick hunting and searching for a way to get him back. He'd had no idea at the time that Nick was also hunting, just without a soul.
It still amazed him that Nick had managed to be on the road with the Campbells without him hearing about them. Even Bobby had been oblivious. Castiel had been more concerned with fighting his war and cozying up with Crowley to set Dean up with his brother again.
"I'll let you have first dibs on anyone we find this time then," he said.
Nick raised an eyebrow. "You think I need your permission to snake any girl out from under you?"
Dean pointed a finger at him. "Okay, that happened once, and I was never that set on her. She chewed her nails. That's unhygienic for a nurse."
"It wasn't her nails I was interested in." Nick leered. "It was what she kept under her scrubs."
"I'll make sure Mom hears about that little remark."
Dean winked and pushed open the door to the small hospital that housed the morgue.
Nick hurried in after him, grumbling about dick brothers and bro codes, but quickly became serious as they passed a woman walking toward them with a clipboard held to her chest.
She looked them up and down, taking in the suits and sober expressions, and asked, "Can I help you, gentlemen?"
"Agents Brookes and Hamilton," Nick said, presenting his badge and holding it out to her. "We're looking for the morgue."
Dean forced his displeasure to not show at the fake name as he withdrew his own badge and held it out to her. Nick chose the lamest aliases for their FBI covers when it was his turn to make up the new badges. Dean liked his little jokes of using his music icons as aliases. Nick preferred to play it straight and professional.
One of them had style, and it definitely wasn't the youngest Winchester.
She examined their badges and said, "Of course. Take the elevator down a level and turn left. You'll find the morgue at the end of the hall. Our ME is Doctor Vance."
"Thank you for your assistance," Nick said formally.
They walked to the elevator, and Nick kept his back straight and head high until they'd entered the car and the doors had slid closed behind them when he relaxed his posture and said, "Vance sound like a woman's name to you?"
Dean was amused, as always, by the easy way Nick shifted between personas on a job. He was dangerous facing a monster, every inch the professional when playing fed, and in the times between, he became the brother that Dean knew and loved. They were equals on the hunting field, both getting the job done, but Nick was the best when it came to acting. Dean couldn't move between faces the same way.
It was good to see Nick relaxing again. He'd been highly strung since the trouble with Lucifer started. Seeing Sam, hearing his story, had cemented in all their minds that Lucifer was gone and that they had an ally in the form of his vessel. Dean knew it was still hard for Nick to see Sam's face and not see Lucifer's awareness in the eyes, but it was better now.
The fact they had a case to work, just the two of them like old times, was working for him as much as it was Dean, too. It was their first hunt in the three weeks since they'd met with Sam. It also felt good to be out of the bunker. Things were tense there, especially with Nick spending long hours alone in his room with books of lore and ignoring knocks on the door.
Dean was pleased that he seemed to be doing better now that they were out and working. "You do know surnames are unisex, don't you?" he asked.
"Smartass. I'm going with female. If I'm wrong, I'll do laundry for a month."
"Ironing included?" Dean asked.
"Like I don't prefer doing that anyway? I can tell the difference between starch and beer, unlike you. I've told you that it's hard to pull off the fed act when we smell like we've rolled out of a bar." He narrowed his eyes. "Which is why you do it, I know. But yeah, I'll wash your dirty Underoos and ghoul-brain spattered flannels if I'm wrong."
The doors opened, and Nick straightened again and strode out as Dean hurried after him and hissed, "I don't wear Underoos."
Nick didn't even acknowledge him. He just walked along the long corridor towards the double black doors at the end. Dean matched his pace, trying to smooth his expression into neutrality as Nick came to a stop and then pushed them open and entered.
There was a desk with two filing cabinets behind it and four hard, plastic chairs against the wall. Sitting at the desk was a kid with blond hair that Dean thought would have been spiked up if not for the liberal amounts of gel slicking it back. He guessed it was the kid's attempt at looking older than his baby-faced features indicated.
"Hello. Can I help you?" he asked, his voice bobbing.
He was either even younger than Dean tagged him at, or he was a late bloomer whose voice hadn't yet settled into the deeper tones of adulthood.
Dean remembered Nick at this age, how he'd been so embarrassed by the process of his voice breaking that he'd become practically mute for a few months. Dean probably hadn't helped, but it had been too damn funny to resist teasing him.
"We're from the FBI," Nick said, flashing his badge again. "We're here to see the Jane Doe that was brought in yesterday."
The kid's eyes widened. "You mean the one with the eye thing?"
"The missing eyes?" Dean asked.
The kid nodded eagerly, then blushed. "I was filing the paperwork when the photo dropped out, honest. I wasn't snooping in there. My dad doesn't like me in there with the stiffs. I mean deceased, yeah, the deceased."
Dean's lips twitched with a smile, but Nick's face remained stony. "Yes, we wish to see the deceased."
"I'll tell my dad," he said. "I mean Doctor Vance." He blushed again. "Look, I'm here to do the filing to help my dad out since he busted me sneaking out for a party. You won't tell him about the photo thing, will you?"
"Or the stiffs comment?" Nick asked.
The kid's face fell. "Yeah, that."
"We won't tell him," Dean reassured him and then asked the question that was puzzling him. "How old are you anyway?"
"I'm a junior."
"In high school, right?" Nick said pointedly. "So, you're pretty young to be working in a place like this."
The kid rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, I'm not really supposed to be here. The hospital thinks I'm just doing my summer reading out here. You won't tell them, will you? I don't want my dad getting into trouble."
"We won't tell anyone," Dean said before Nick could speak. "But we need to see that body now, so if you could…"
He pushed back his chair and walked around the desk to the doors that Dean assumed led into the morgue. He pushed it open and called, "Dad, there's some agents here to see you. Shall I… Dad!"
The shock in his voice made Dean push past him and enter the morgue. The man he assumed was Doctor Vance was on the floor beside the stainless-steel table with a covered body on it. He was unconscious, but Dean couldn't see a sign of injury.
He crossed the room and bent to the doctor to check his pulse, finding it strong and steady. He looked around in time to see the kid's knees buckle, making him drop, and something unseen catching him and lowering him gently to the floor.
Nick pulled his gun, and Dean did the same. He had two explanations for what he was seeing, and one of them was very bad—though with the way the kid's fall had been softened it was unlikely.
"Michael?" he said uncertainly.
"No," a voice replied, and Sam appeared standing beside the kid. "It's me."
"You knocked him out!" Nick said, a bite of anger in his voice.
"He's sleeping," Sam said. "I don't have the ID or suit to play at fed like you. I just needed a minute with the body, so I came in with stealth."
"Yeah, knocking people out is real stealthy," Nick said.
Sam narrowed his eyes. "I'll wipe what happened from their memories, too. I'm not hurting them." He walked away and pulled back the sheet on the body on the table then shook his head as a male face was revealed. "Not it," he muttered.
Nick moved back and came to stand beside Dean, his gun still held in his hand, as Sam went to the wall of steel doored fridges.
"What are you doing here?" Dean asked.
Sam answered without turning, his attention on the labels in the doors. "I heard a suspicious body had been found and came to check it out."
He opened the door he'd selected and pulled out the tray that held a sheet-covered body. He pulled back the sheet and revealed a woman's face with charred voids where her eyes had been. He tugged up her lip and pressed down on the gum.
"Here we are."
Dean moved closer to look as a much longer than usual fang appeared, overlaying the normal-looking teeth. "Vamp," he said.
"One of Michael's experiments," Sam added. "But there was only one."
"What difference does that make?" Nick asked.
Sam covered the body again and pushed the tray back inside. "When I found the first scene, there were a bunch of them. I've tracked two more cases, and they all had more than one body left behind. Michael has either started taking one at a time, or he's getting closer to perfecting the method."
"How did you hear about the others?" Nick asked, his tone hostile. "We've been looking for signs."
Sam slammed the door closed and said, "I have more freedom of movement than you, and I have someone helping."
"Who?" Dean asked.
"Violet. Reapers monitor the souls going into Purgatory, too. She gave me the heads-up that there were some passing through and where they were coming from. This is only the second in the US. The others were in Rio and Moscow."
Dean's eyes widened. "You've been to Russia?"
"You don't need a passport when you've got wings."
Sam smiled at Dean as he said it, something strange in his eyes. If Dean didn't know better, he would have said it was affection.
"And that's not the point," he continued. "What matters is that these monsters aren't just in the USA. Michael is spreading them out, which means a lot of people all over the world are in danger, and there are hunters that aren't going to know what they're going up against. And we have no way of warning them."
"We're no help there," Dean said. "We don't have contacts out of the States."
Sam nodded thoughtfully, seeming to consider something, and then he said, "But the Men of Letters might."
Nick stiffened. "The only other Men of Letters we know about are those British bastards, and we're not going anywhere near them."
Sam looked oddly sympathetic. "No, you really shouldn't. But maybe I could."
"What about Ketch?" Dean suggested. "We could ask him to help contact them."
"He's a marked man to them," Nick pointed out. "We can't send him to his death just to pass on the news. And…" he gave Dean a pointed look, "he's busy."
"Busy doing what?" Sam asked.
"It's…" Dean started, but Nick cut across him, saying, "Nothing you need to know about."
Dean was confused by Nick's reaction. They hadn't discussed Ketch since meeting Sam, and he'd not been in touch. In truth, Dean had forgotten about him and his mission. It wasn't like they needed the pulse generator now they had Sam to kill Michael, and since he said that was set in stone, it was basically taken care of already. Why was it a problem for Sam to know about it?
Nick crossed his arms over his chest. "If you want to go to the Brits, we can't stop you." He sounded a little annoyed about that fact. "But don't expect us to help."
Sam shrugged. "Okay. I'll do it. Maybe they'll have operatives in other countries. I'll be in touch."
"Wait!" Dean said.
Sam looked at him, that strange fondness in his eyes again, "What do you need, Dean?"
The way Sam's voice curled around his name, as if it mattered to him, made Dean uncomfortable.
"How's your grace doing?" he asked. "Will you be ready for Michael soon?"
Sam shook his head. "I don't think so. I don't feel as strong as I did immediately after we were switched."
"You had Jack's grace then, too," Nick pointed out. "You might be ready."
"I did…" Sam shrugged. "You two be careful and shoot me a prayer if you come across any of Michael's monsters. Don't go after them intentionally."
"We won't," Dean said.
Sam walked to the doctor, unconscious on the floor, and touched his forehead, and then moved to the kid and did the same. "They'll be out a little longer, and they won't remember anything of the last half hour or so. Might be less; I'm not exactly practiced at this. Either way, they won't remember you, and that's what matters. You should get out of here."
"Okay," Dean said. "Be careful out there."
Sam stared into his eyes for a moment, almost as if he was searching for something, and then he disappeared with a faint fluttering sound.
"Be careful?" Nick asked with a raised eyebrow. "What was that about?"
Dean shrugged. "I don't know, just felt right. Besides, he's the one we're relying on to stop Michael. We need him in one piece to do that."
Nick frowned. "I guess."
"You guess what?" Dean asked. "What's going on? Why did you cut me off about Ketch?"
Nick looked incredulous. "Because we don't want Sam knowing we're going after a weapon that can stick him in the Cage."
"We're not, though," Dean said. "We need him."
"We do now…" Nick started walking away.
Dean grabbed his arm and turned him. "We're not sending Sam to the Cage, Nick. Why would you even want that? He's helping us. Hell, he's saving the world."
Nick considered a moment. "Yeah, I know. It just feels right to have a backup that he doesn't know about." He pulled free. "We probably won't need to use it."
Dean watched him walk from the room, feeling a strange heaviness in his chest. Something about the idea of sending Sam to the Cage felt wrong, painful. Apart from as an ally and way to stop Michael, Sam was nothing to any of them, himself included, but for some reason, the idea of him being in the place of pain and torture the way Nick had been, hurt him.
So… a little more time together. The next one is a fun one—to me—as Sam is going to England. I get to go bring a Winchester to my home country for the first time in a long time. When I did it before, it was Sam and Crowley in Knocking on Heaven's Door. That was a riot, but we didn't explore the way I wanted to. I get to be fully British in the next. As a Brit that writes almost solely from a US perspective—apart from when I write Crowley or Rowena—I am really happy about that.
Until next time…
Clowns or Midgets xxx