- Epilogue -

"So he's fine?"

Sam glanced at his brother then looked up at the doctor. The woman studied her charts, tucked an errant strand of graying blonde hair behind one ear and took a moment. Dean shuffled, his hands in his pockets and posture tense. The white cast on his broken wrist stood out as a bulky obstruction on the older man's forearm, only partially hidden beneath the trademark black jacket. Getting that set and casted had taken considerably less time than Sam's tests, scans and endless prodding.

"Yes," Doctor Winfried finally said. She smiled at them both then fixed on Sam. "I can find no explanation for the shortness of breath that you described, and the radiology tests on your hand have come back showing no abnormalities. I can run further tests, but unless the symptoms recur, there's not a lot I can do. You did say the breathing difficulties were fleeting."

"Yeah, and I feel fine now." Sam snagged his shirt and slipped into it. "I'd been tackled to the ground, could that have done it?"

"You hadn't mentioned a physical blow."

"I, ah, didn't think it would cause breathing difficulties."

"If you were winded, yes, it could. Where exactly were you hit?"

Sam gestured in the general area of his diaphragm as Dean's formerly tense expression melted into a smirk. The forty something year old doctor pushed aside Sam's shirt and pressed cold hands against his abdomen. Dean sauntered to the door and peered out, the fourth time he had done so. Sam's anxiousness ramped up. This wasn't the same hospital he had been admitted to over twenty four hours before – Dean had said that he had chosen a different one. So what was Dean looking for?

"There doesn't appear to be any bruising. Lay back again, I'll check for tenderness."

"I'm fine," Sam started. He watched as Dean stepped into the hallway, ducked his head both ways then moved out of sight. Sam pushed against the doctor's hands. "Really, I'm fine."

"Mr Bowman, please lay back."

Sam reluctantly acquiesced, unconsciously tensing as the doctor found a tender point and pressed down.

"Does that hurt?"

"No," Sam lied. He eyed the doorway. Where the hell was Dean?

"Roll onto your side."

Sam frowned and reluctantly shifted so he lay on his side, facing the door, one arm loosely outstretched. He flinched when the doctor touched his back, low down, near the waistband of his jeans.

"You've got a bruise here, is that where you were struck?"

"Yeah, must be," he said as he felt her lightly press against the small of his back. His breathing hitched up and he pulled away – stilled when she rested a cool hand on his flank.

"Is that painful?"

"No." He swallowed convulsively, his gaze locked on the empty doorway. Had Dean lied? Was this the same hospital, the same place where he had almost died – the same place where Fergus Tanner had handed him over for experimentation? Queasy sourness tightened his gut, raised goose flesh on his arms as the smell, the sounds, the memories washed back.

"Any tenderness?" The doctor asked as she pressed down.

Pain spiked through Sam's back, momentarily stealing his breath and he grunted and slid forward, panting softly to ward off the almost overwhelming urge to jump from the table and run. He grit his teeth and closed his eyes as she pressed down again, not painful so much, but intrusive, unwelcome. Like Sandbaum… and Fergus.

He clenched his fists and tried to forget – the pain, the helplessness, the look in their eyes as they watched him struggle to breathe and the pitying condescension when he couldn't. Worst had been Fergus' expression as the slick haired medico had been ordered from the room, told to keep Dean away – a mix of disappointment and smug anticipation. Sam would never forget that look.

"You can sit up now."

Sam opened his eyes and pushed himself up, his hands shaking as he pulled his shirt close around him. He shivered but the doctor seemed not to notice. She made notes on her chart then looked up and smiled, her gaze distant, already considering her next patient.

"I can see no problems, Mr Bowman. But come back in if you experience any more breathing difficulties or have any symptoms that cause you concern."

He nodded, slid off the table and moved to the door, his knees felt weak, his legs numb and unsteady. Dean stood outside, idly picking at the cast on his arm as he scanned the hallway, searching. Sam knew that look, the narrowed gaze, the stiff set to his brother's jaw. The older man was in hunting mode, or damn close to it. Sam slumped against the doorframe and nodded at the doctor as she left the room. He waited for Dean to speak.

"I'd kill to see the look on Fergus' face right about now," Dean said after a moment, his words clipped and serious intent just below the surface. The older man looked across and the glint in his eye spoke volumes. "You look damned good for a dead guy."

Sam went cold. He stared at his brother as Dean watched him, testing, waiting.

"This is the same hospital," Sam breathed as he wrapped his arms around himself. "Christ, Dean, you said it wasn't." He felt an upwelling of angered indignation.

"Technically, I didn't answer the question. You reached a certain conclusion and I didn't correct you."

Dean grinned, but there was no maliciousness in the expression, only concern and something else. Something darker, directed elsewhere, a need for justice, maybe even revenge. It obliterated Sam's anger, made him feel oddly safe. He held eye contact, soaking up the sensation as he clutched the fabric of his shirt between his fingers and clenched at it. He shivered again, cold from the inside out. Aching, as though every muscle and joint had been strained beyond its limit, every cell re-defined. And it had. Dematerialization would do that, he figured.

"It's risky," Sam said. "What if he recognizes us?"

"That's kinda the plan, kiddo. If you're up for it."

Dean's eyes bored into his, seeking permission, the dark eyed look almost pleading. Clearly Dean had major issues with Doctor Fergus Tanner. Sam looked away, uncertain sourness tightening the glands in his mouth and flip-flopping his stomach. He hugged himself tighter, willing the shivering to stop, the exhaustion to fade… the memories to vanish.

They didn't. And wouldn't.

"You seen him yet?" Sam asked.

"No, but he's rostered on for a 2pm start."

Sam glanced at clock on the opposite wall. "That's thirty minutes from now."


"So we could still leave?"

"Yeah, if you want. It's up to you, Sammy."

Sam huffed. "It's not entirely up to me. You're obviously itching to bust his balls."

Dean shrugged and one corner of his mouth twitched. "It's your call, Sam."

Sam blew out a breath and scanned the hall as an undefined sensation raised the hairs on the back of his neck, breached his bared skin, made his heart beat faster. Doctor Fergus Tanner: slicked back hair, glasses, a pressed baby blue suit and cold eyes. Sam remembered the man's eyes, the way the skin crinkled up at the sides as he had laid his suggestion out to the Professor. Oxygen deprivation, Sandbaum would never have thought of it on his own, of that Sam was sure.

Sam's fists clenched and his stomach churned. "We'll stay."

"You sure?"

"Never been surer."

Fergus Tanner looked like he had seen a ghost. A full on, underwear changing encounter with a banister riding apparition. Dean stood just behind Sam, so close that their elbows touched. The doctor's eyes flicked between them, locking longest on Sam as his mouth opened in a wordless gape.

Dean remained silent and Sam just stood there, his long arms at his sides and his hands balled into fists. Tension rippled through him, shivers of exhaustion and stress. Dean doubted that Fergus noticed, he was too busy staring at Sam's face, at the blithely innocent mask that the younger man wore.

"But you're dead," Fergus finally blurted out, his face a distinct green color and his cheeks an unhealthy shade of grey.

"Yeah, about that. Got time for a chat?"

Dean withheld a smirk. Sam managed to make it sound like a cordial invitation. Spider to the fly, he thought, his fingers prickling with anticipation as the doctor eyed them both, clearly intending to dissent.

"Thought you'd be curious as to how I recovered," Sam added nonchalantly, "I'm sure Sandbaum would be eager to be updated on my progress. My condition was unique, afterall."

Fergus' fingers twitched and his eyes gleamed. Color slowly returned to his face as he ran a tongue over his thin lips. "Did you go to a different specialist?"

Sam cocked his head to the side and smiled. "Something like that."

Dean resisted the urge to smirk. Sam was good, scarily good. He kept his expression neutral as Fergus weighed it up, his gaze raking over Sam with a predatory gleam. Wondering, no doubt, how he could get Sam readmitted for tests, for further study… for transfer to Boston. He moved fractionally closer, the length of his upper arm against Sam's, all the while he kept the neutral barely there smile in place.

And Fergus latched on, hook, line and sinker.

Ten minutes later, Fergus had found a quiet room, invited them both in and closed the door. The single windowed room looked out into a secluded courtyard and three couches lined the walls. Fergus chose the one by the window, Dean and Sam took the other two.

"So, who did you see?"

Dean leaned back, settled himself on the couch and watched Sam at work.

Sam clasped his hands before him and rested his elbows on his knees, his body leaning forward. "Doctor Tanner, what I will be sharing with you requires a certain level of… faith."

Dean bit back a smirk as Fergus leaned closer, his smarmy slicked hair gleaming in the light that shone through the window. He mirrored Sam's posture, the only difference being the clipboard he rested on his knee, and the pen he clutched between his fingers. The hand trembled with anticipation as he nodded eagerly.

Sam paused, smoothed imaginary creases from the thighs of his jeans. His hands shook slightly, reminded Dean that despite the control the younger man held over Fergus, he was damned close to his physical limits. Soon Sam would crash, and hard, and this hospital would not be the best place for it.

"What I'm about to tell you may seen a little… out there."

Fergus leaned closer, his pen poised.

"Scotty," Sam said, his voice conspiratorially low.

"Scotty?" Fergus wrote it down without taking his eyes off Sam. "Scott….?"

"Beam me up, Scotty."

Dean almost gagged on the laughter that burbled up his throat. He brought one leg up and rested the ankle on his knee, his fingers tight against his calf. His foot tapped the air as his fingers quietly thrummed against the denim.

"Beam me up… Scotty?" Fergus said, his voice lacking inflection. "I'm not sure I understand."

Sam leaned back, extended his arms over his head and clasped them at the back of his neck. The posture screamed dominance and Sam's muscular frame, broad shoulders and corded forearms clearly displayed physical authority. Fergus twitched nervously and his gaze darted between them. Dean arched an eyebrow as the doctor slid back on the seat, the pen now loose in his fingers.

"Maybe it would be best if I arranged a time for you to meet with the Professor and I." He tensed in preparation to stand.

Sam abruptly stood, and the swiftly fluid action pinned Fergus in place, froze him to the couch. The doctor sank back as Sam began to stalk the room – powerful and aggressive – damn near primal. A swell of pride filled Dean's chest as Fergus' gaze tracked Sam's every move. He settled back, enjoying the show as Fergus watched Sam like a stricken rabbit eyeing a circling fox.

"Does the Hippocratic Oath, ring any bells for you?"

Fergus' tongue flicked nervously as he eyed the door. Sam noticed and moved to it. He casually leaned against it, his muscular six foot four frame a frighteningly effective deterrent. He lifted one leg, pressed the foot flat against the door and crossed his arms over his chest as his lips pulled apart in a feigned smile.

"I have patients to attend to," the doctor said hollowly as he fiddled with the clipboard and gripped the pen with close to crushing force. He made no attempt to move.

"Ever heard of the Hippocratic Oath?" Sam asked benignly. When Fergus failed to answer, Sam clicked his fingers and waved them before him. "Wakey wakey, I asked you a question."

"I know what it is," Fergus said, bristling.

"Uh, see that's where I beg to differ. So let's run a refresher for you." Sam started saccharinely. "It goes something like this: I swear by Asclepius, Hygeia and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods…." He trailed off, cocked his head to the side. "You're glazing over there buddy, so I'll make it easier for you."

His tone changed, deepened, grew harder. "You were my doctor, my well being was your highest priority, and you deliberately betrayed me."

Fergus fished in his pocket, his jaw clenched and a determined edge to his actions as he searched for something. Once he had it out, Dean growled, stretched and snatched it away. "No making phone calls during class."

"You can't do this. This is—"

"An injustice? A betrayal of personal liberty? Unconscionable?" Sam pursed his lips and shot a feigned incredulous look at his brother. "Then what the hell is taking a patient off oxygen for forty three minutes, Fergus? Forty three minutes and twenty seconds." Sam's voice hitched, snagged just at the end. He swiftly turned away and returned to pacing.

Dean leaned forward, watching and waiting, carefully sensing the shifts in his brother's emotional and physical state.

"It was you who called in Sandbaum." Sam said. He jabbed at the air with a sharp, brutal thrust. "It was you stood outside my room while he tortured me."

Sam voice became harder, gritty and deep with venom. His face reddened as he turned again, rapid jerked movements, his words punctuated with forceful grunts.

"See, I remember you suggesting it to Sandbaum. The fucking gleam in your eye, you damn near drooled at the thought of it you sadistic son of a bitch."

Sam stalked back, leaned over the doctor. The older man grimaced, his eyes wide and a thin sheen of sweat glistened on his brow. Sam leaned in until their faces were inches apart.

"Do you have any idea what it feels like to slowly suffocate? To think you're dying. To be watched, to beg and plead and have no-one help you. What do you think that's like?"

Fergus's nostrils flared and he raised one hand as though to attempt to push Sam away. Dean tensed, ready to intervene if the altercation came to blows. But Sam held his ground and Fergus' hand stilled in mid air.

"It's torture," Sam said, seething. Spittle lashed Fergus' face and the older man blinked and grimaced. "And you initiated it. On me. I was your damned patient, and you tortured me!"

Sam shuddered, his voice breaking. Dean grimaced and tensed to stand, but Sam shook his head and waved him back.

"But you missed out on the best bit because Sandbaum sent your sorry ass outside to keep Dean away. If my brother had known what was going on behind those blinds, he would have flattened the damned lot of you."

Fergus' Adam's apple bobbed. He pressed back against the couch, his chin raised in false defiance. His lips moved but no sound came out and his face had gone an odd shade of pale.

Sam, however, did not look much better. The younger man visibly trembled, his eyes a little too wet looking for Dean's liking. Sam had hit the edge, this was now over.

"Hey," Dean said gently as he swiftly stood, caught Sam's arm and pulled him away. "We're done here. He's had enough."

"Fergus forgot the Hippocratic Oath," Sam said as he weakly bucked. "He has a duty to protect his patients. I was his patient and he fed me to the wolves."

"Sammy, I know, but he gets it." Dean glanced at the man who stared at them, one hand raised to his face and an indignant gleam in his eyes. Truth be told, Fergus did not get it and probably never would.

Sam breathed hard, his chest heaving and face flushed. He staggered, slumped forward and Dean caught him. "Sam, not here. C'mon, you can sleep in the car."

Sam stiffened, sniffed and pushed away. He lurched to the door, wrenched it open and seemed to be intending to leave. Instead, he hesitated, then slammed the door shut, crossed the room and smacked both hands palm down on the small coffee table.

"Look," he spat, shaking. "Look at my hands."

Fergus glanced at Dean before he lowered his gaze, his expression unsure, the arrogant gleam gone from his eyes.

"Remember these." Sam raised his left hand and waggled his fingers. "They were cut off. All four of them, less than thirty hours ago."

Fergus' Adam's apple bobbed, and he fidgeted in his seat.

"Now there's not even a mark," Sam hissed. "How the hell do you explain that?"

Fergus stared at Sam's hand, his jaw loose as his eyes flickered with uncertainty. When his focus shifted, it went to the younger man's chest and held there as all remaining color leeched from his face. He recoiled, drew in on himself as it seemed to finally dawn on him that science had not played a part in Sam's recovery, instead something bigger, darker… unexplainable.

Sam straightened, clearly registering the shift. "Now we're done," he said hoarsely as he strode from the room.

Dean shifted on his feet and eyed the doctor who now stared, shell-shocked, at the floor. Eventually he raised his head.

"I should report him for that. Both of you." The idle threat held little heat.

"Not such a great idea, Fergie."


Dean smirked, straightened his jacket and nudged the cell phone across the table. It skittered and almost slid off the edge. Fergus grabbed at it, his hands white knuckled around the small device.

"Let's just say that there are many things that you don't know about. About Sam. About me. About how Sam was healed."

"Is that a threat?"

"Take it however you please, but that thing you did to Sam. Don't do that again. To anyone. Ever."

Fergus flinched and raised his chin in mock defiance. "Why"

"Scotty," Dean said cryptically. "He's watching you, and he's not liking what he sees."

"That's ludicrous. There's no-one watching me," Fergus said, but his voice lacked strength and his eyes scanned a little too quickly, looked into the corners with a touch too much earnestness.

Dean sauntered to the door, strolled out into the hall and checked on Sam. The younger man sat on a bench seat two rooms down, slouched forward, his head in his hands. Dean's chest tightened as he regarded his exhausted sibling. As if aware of the scrutiny, Sam raised his head and weakly smiled. Dean held the eye contact as he gained assurance that Sam was okay, physically and emotionally wasted, but okay. He held up two fingers. "Two more minutes," he said softly.

At Sam's assent, Dean quickly scanned the hallway, noting the absence of foot traffic, before he ducked his head back into the room. Fergus had not moved, glued, it seemed, to the small brown couch, his expression a mix of arrogant uncertainty and barely veiled fear.

"So, you and me, we're on the same page now?" Dean said as he moved closer.

The doctor stood, hugged his clipboard and phone to his chest and tried for an indignant scowl. "It's ludicrous," he muttered, clearly shaken but desperate to hide it. "You both need locking away."

"Not happening, buddy." Dean threw a swift gut punch, hard and sharp, his fist sank into the soft cavern of the older man's stomach. The air whooshed out and Fergus grunted, slumped to his knees and his face turned red as he gasped for air.

Dean breathed hard, his knuckles tingling as he stepped back. Tension rippled across his shoulders, pulled the muscles tight in his back.

"Hurts huh," Dean said as he checked over his shoulder for witnesses. He saw none and turned back, addressed the fallen doctor's oil slicked and perfectly parted crown. "That doesn't even come close to what you put my brother through. You ever try something like that again, to anyone…."

He let the threat hang as he turned on his heel and stalked from the room.

The drive to the motel passed without conversation. Sam had fallen asleep, his head against the window, arms loosely hugged around himself. He didn't rouse when the car stopped at the motel – the same establishment that they had called home for close on a week.

Dean considered waking him, using the motel for the night then thought against it – too many memories and too much pain, for them both.

He worked quickly, packed up their belongings, tidied the room and paid the account. He checked Sam's pulse when he returned to the car because his brother had not moved and the stillness churned memories that Dean was ill equipped to manage. But Sam was fine, he stirred a little when touched and Dean pulled away.

Sam woke four hours later, seemingly stiff and sore, but unnervingly quiet and Dean found a motel in the next town that they came to.

"I've got it," he said as Sam grabbed for a bag from the trunk. The younger man faltered and stepped back, dew eyed and pale. Dean brushed past him, set their bags in the room and returned outside. Sam stood at the back of the car, staring into the trunk.

"Where's the weapon's bag?"

He had been hoping to avoid this. "We'll replace it."

"Where is it?"

"Left it in the subway. And I wasn't going back for it."

"Shotgun too?"

"One of them."

"Jesus, Dean, our prints are all over that stuff."

"Yeah, so?"

"Doesn't that bother you?"

"Yes, but what do you want me to do about it?"

"I don't know. Go back," Sam said, his words fizzling out as soon as they came out of his mouth.

Dean arched an eyebrow. "Yup, as I said, we'll replace it."

Sam's mouth pulled down and he seemed to shrink in on himself as he hugged his arms around his stomach.

"Sam, go lie down, you look like hell."

"You think you look any better."

Dean smiled and shrugged. "Touché." He closed the trunk lid, locked the car and headed into the motel room. When he came out of the bathroom, he found Sam standing in the doorway. "You comin' in or are you gonna block the draft with your ass?"

Sam raised weary eyes that shimmered with unshed tears. Dean sucked in a breath and waited.

"Dean, what happened?"

"Which bit?"

"All of it." Sam chuckled but there was only pain in the sound. He moved into the room, and stiffly sat on the edge of the one of the beds. It creaked and dipped under his weight. He restlessly pushed one handed at his thigh then kneaded his fingers in evident distress.

Dean frowned, too easily able to read the lines of fatigue and pain. He retrieved the first aid kit and snagged a blister pack of pills.

"We should get some food," Sam said as he watched Dean with dulled eyes. He kneaded his wrists then rubbed his elbows as he listlessly scanned the room. "Dematerialization sucks," he murmured.

Dean passed him the tablets and a bottle of water. "Muscle aches?" he asked, but he knew the answer in the way Sam fidgeted and restlessly kneaded. "Shower might help."

Sam nodded and took the water and medication, his hands shook as he broke the blister packs and shook out three pills. They disappeared in one swallow.

Dean found a phone directory, picked a pizza place and dialed in a large pepperoni with all the toppings. "It'll be thirty minutes," he said as he hung up the phone.

"You said that Ted killed himself, but there wasn't any blood. So was he even human to begin with?"

"Yeah, he was human, best I can guess." He moved to the bed opposite Sam, sat down and leaned forward, close enough to touch but not too close to crowd. "I'm thinking Melanie took him from the track like she had taken you."

"Into that little space beside the tunnel?" Sam said, his tone stricken.

"Maybe," Dean said.

Sam looked down at his clenched hands, the fingers, all eight of them, unmarked, perfect. Dean swallowed hard as an image of Sam's severed fingers, spewing blood, ripped through his mind.

"It shouldn't have worked. It wasn't possible. I should have died."

Dean bristled and heat sparked his veins. "Sam."

"Logically. Physically. It shouldn't have worked."

Dean understood and he relaxed, moved closer. Their knees touched. The white of his own wrist cast the only visible reminder that it had in fact been real. "I know, but it did and that's all I need."

Sam nodded, his long bangs hiding his eyes and Dean suspected he was crying. Dematerialize a guy, deny him oxygen and effectively torture him – it'd whittle anyone down and Sam had been through hell. Sam finally lifted his hands to his face, wiped at his eyes then abruptly stood. Dean kept his head down, affording privacy to his sibling as Sam retreated into the bathroom and quietly closed the door.

He did not understand it. Not really and it bothered him just as it bothered Sam. Ted had sacrificed himself for Sam, had somehow convinced Melanie to put Sam back on the train and in doing so had obliterated his own and his dead daughter's spirits: had ended it, once and for all. At least that's what Dean hoped. Any other configuration of plausible explanations was someone else's problem.

"You pick the next gig," Dean said around a mouthful of cheesecake, close to an hour later.

Sam lay reclined on the bed, head propped up on pillows as he sleepily channel surfed with pizza greasy fingers. The pain pills had kicked in, that and the hot shower left Sam groggy and relaxed. He quietly belched, rubbed his stomach and flipped to another channel.

Dean withheld a smart ass remark and added, "No planes or trains though." Or anything with a fetish for strangulation, but he didn't say that out loud.

"Okay," Sam said quietly and idly flipped to another channel.

"If it's not over, we don't go back."

Sam glanced at him and slowly nodded. "Okay."

"Someone else can deal with it."


"I mean it Sam. If the bitch isn't gone, and next year she wastes more people on that subway, we're not going back."


"Stop freakin' saying okay."

A smile tucked up one corner of Sam's lips as his gaze roamed, the lids heavy, his eyes glazed. Exhausted, Dean reminded himself, just exhausted. It unnerved him to see Sam so out of it, it reminded him of Sam drugged, wheezing, dying….

He abruptly stood, gathered up the take-out packaging and busied himself. When he finally came to something close to rest, he was seated on the edge of Sam's bed, one leg folded beneath him, the knee against Sam's thigh. Sam's eyes had closed, but his breath had not yet evened out into sleep. Soon it would.

Dean gently extricated the television control from his brother's hand, stilled when Sam caught his fingers and held on. Dean's breath hitched and tears stung his eyes, despite the pain of contact, he did not pull away.

"No planes… or trains," Sam slurred. "And we'll never… go back." His eyes opened, a thin sliver of blue-green beneath the lashes. "And... thanks for not... giving up."

Dean's throat constricted as he gently squeezed Sam's fingers. "I'll never give up, Sammy. Not against dead Trekkie's, not against anything."

Sam sighed, a soft sound of contentment and safety, as his eyes slipped closed. When Dean was sure he was asleep, he gently extricated his fingers from Sam's lax grasp, pulled up the blankets and tucked them in. He hesitated, one hand on Sam's chest as he felt the gentle rise and fall of his brother's breaths – normal, natural... safe.

He would keep Sam safe, always, no matter what – and Sam would do the same for him. It's what they did, what they would always do, no matter what.


AN: To everyone who took the time to review, my sincerest thanks, your encouragement and support means a lot. And to all those that didn't, but who read (and hopefully enjoyed) the story, thank you for your quiet appreciation. And to Em (A-Blackwinged-Bird), my green-thumbed beta. Thank you doesn't seem to come anywhere near close.