Title: When It Changes

Author: Restive Nature

Genre: Crossover

Type: WiP

Shows: Dark Angel and Supernatural

Disclaimer: Neither show represented in this fiction belongs to me. Dark Angel is the product of Cameron/ Eglee and Fox, whereas Supernatural is the product of Kripke and The CW. No profits are made from this fiction and it is intended for private enjoyment only.

Story Rating: PG-13 up to MA for language, violence and sexual situations. (All higher rated material will be contained in its own chapter and clearly marked at the beginning of the chapter. PG versions of these chapters will also be available.)

Chapter Rating: PG-13 for language.

Time line/ Spoilers: This story takes place predominantly in the Supernatural time line. This means that the Dark Angel structure of post-pulse America does not fit in. The massive changes will be that Manticore is decades ahead of itself and the characters from DA are born much earlier than portrayed on the show. There is no Pulse occurring. Any other changes to the structures or episodes of the shows will be (hopefully) explained within the story itself.

Pairing: Dean/ Max, other canon pairings

Summary: Change can be a choice and you never know where the road you choose to take will lead you.

When It Changes

Chapter Thirty-five

Courting Disaster

"You trying Max again?" Dean asked as he was removing some clothes from his duffel. Sam, pulling the towel from his hair and tossing it onto the bed as he thumbed their sister's number into his phone once more, just nodded.

After their harrowing night being attacked from any and all angles from killer insects, their priorities had been to get the hell out of there, find a motel, any motel and shower the feeling of the stings, bites and just the general creepiness of little buggy legs crawling all over them, off. Sam had won rights to the first shower just because his legs were longer and he was able to make it to the bathroom first. He also had the feeling that if Dean had another credit card or enough cash, he'd have gotten another room just for the bathroom alone. Sam hid his smirk, recalling how girlish his big brother had gotten over that steam shower in the house they'd squatted in, on the last case.

After a few minutes, the phone was finally answered on the other end. But it was Kendra who had answered.

"Hey Sam," she greeted enthusiastically enough. He had to smile. She'd never had a bad word to say, even when things got strange or weird. "What's up?"

"Just calling in for my weekly check-up," he joked. Kendra's laugh tinkled over the line.

"You make her sound like a parole officer," she giggled and Sam smiled. Of course Max was in the same boat as he. If he had to check in with her, it was just as much the shoe on the other foot. And speaking of...

"Well if the steel toed boot fits," he joked, knowing well his sister's propensity for the occasional less than feminine footwear she indulged in. "Is she home yet?"

"Actually you just missed her," Kendra could make an unseen over the telephone pout, unlike any other. "She's heading over to Logan's. Which is a good thing. Because after the week she has had and their huge ass fight..."

"She and Logan were fighting?" Sam caught and seized upon. He knew that it had caught his brother's attention, the way he stilled and waited for more information, just the same as Sam.

"Yeah, I guess," Kendra sighed and blew out a frustrated breath. "I don't know if, well, I mean I know what he did to piss her off. But I guess it got even worse."

"What did he do?" Sam demanded at once, settling himself on the end of the bed and giving his brother 'uh-oh' face in the gleeful manner of one who had been expecting something like this and was quite unperturbed about it. Dean seemed to be fighting a grin and he continued to organize his clothes. Sam was not at all surprised to see that his brother was putting off his shower by a little to find out what had gone down between their sister and the guy that they were sure was a major cause of problems in Max's life. Some of the crap he seemed to pull her into...

"Well, Max was being an absolute sweetheart," Kendra began, seeming to talk while she was doing something else. Sam could hear what sounded like drawers shutting and realized that Kendra was probably getting ready for an evening out. But as long as she was willing to talk, he was willing to listen. "She invited Logan here for dinner, to thank him for all the times that he cooked for her."

"Uh huh," Sam encouraged as Dean moved closer. He managed not to roll his eyes at his brother's obsessive compulsive behavior. It had been going on too long now for him to continue harping on. It was just a newish old behavior applied, most likely because Max wasn't there for Dean to keep his nosy older brother eye on. He did however, tilt the phone slightly so that Dean could hear as well. It would save him from having to give Dean a blow by blow replay of the conversation.

"And you know she can't cook a damn thing," Kendra was going on. "So I taught her how to make pasta tricolore." Sam ducked his chin and chuckled. That would have been a sight. Max had learned how to bake, but cooking seemed to elude her on the best days. It was a bittersweet thought, since it was something she had enjoyed with Jess. He pushed the thought away as Max's room mate went on. "Anyway, I left after Logan got here. But I guess he was all business and completely disregarded her efforts and made her go do some errand with him for one of his articles."

"Ouch," Sam winced. He knew very well what cardinal rule of male/ female behavior that Cale had broken, but his brother's snort of amusement drew his attention.

"Always knew the guy was a dumb ass," Dean declared quietly, but with the same self satisfied smugness that Sam wasn't admitting to quite yet.

"So I take it he must have made it up to her," Sam sighed, since Kendra had said...

"He must have," Kendra grumbled. "Though I have no idea how. No flowers or gifts or anything, but she was in a better mood tonight. Probably," and then she let our a snorting giggle. "Normal," she got out and Sam's eyebrows raised up swiftly.

"What'd he do now?" he demanded gently.

"Turns out he was dating a woman, formerly named Louis, who," Kendra informed them with pleasure, "after just a few dates with Normal, decided she was gay."

That was enough to send Dean off into paroxysms of laughter, while Sam fought valiantly to hide his own smile. It wasn't a pleasant prospect, to have.. that happen, but it was Normal and... he just couldn't hold it in. Sam wasn't as obnoxious about it as Dean, but the laughter escaped and he couldn't take it back. "Oh man," he sighed, "that's bad. I mean, it's Normal, but still..."

"Yeah, Cindy felt pretty bad for him," Kendra cooed over the line. And before he could ask, went on. "I guess it was a huge joke, of course it was. But this chick? She actually had the nerve to break up with Normal and then turn around and ask him to give Cindy her number."

"Now that sucks," Dean grunted. And Sam was in full agreement.

"Did Cindy take it?" he wondered aloud and Kendra was immediately making negative noises.

"She said that if the girl was gonna treat other people like that, especially one that she claimed to like, even if it was just as a friend, then it was someone she didn't want to know," Kendra informed him and Sam was nodding. Cindy might be quite an over the top character, but she had a good heart. He knew that already. And the same could be said of Kendra. At least, he was relieved to realize again, that Max had some good people in her life there in Seattle. Unlike...

"So back to Logan," he hinted. "He must have done something to get back in her good graces. 'Cause you know Max can hold a grudge." His eyes flew to Dean as he said that, smirking at his elder brother, who just sneered mockingly at him and moved away to grab a few things out of his bag.

"I'm goin' to shower," he announced in a whisper and Sam nodded.

"I have no clue," Kendra told him. "All I know is that he screwed up, Max was on an anti man rant, she and Sketch almost got caught in the middle of that gang war goin' down on Clemson, she was gone one night and when she got back, she had calmed down about it all. Oh and she said something about the cops and some girls. Which, oh! That was probably it."

"What was it?" Sam asked helplessly, not knowing what to panic over. Gang wars? And with Sketch, who was not notoriously brave or reliable, or in any way qualified to protect his sister. Not that she would need it in most circumstances, but.. gang war! He did notice that whatever panic was in his voice had stopped his brother cold in his tracks and Dean had half turned at the entrance to the bathroom to stare, puzzled again at the sudden shift.

"Well, Max was going on about guys bein' all task oriented and just, like I said, anti men. I mean, the girl didn't even want to kick it with Sven!"

"Who is Sven?" Sam asked with a grimace, wishing now that he had just called Max's cell direct instead of his usual try her at home first routine. But then, she probably wouldn't have said a word about the majority of this, as was her typical mode of operation.

"Blond haired, blue eyed Swedish Adonis I know," Kendra tittered, but then grew serious again. "Just a friend. But Max left Crash as soon as we all got there. That was the night she took off. I went to check on her, but she was on the phone, talking to someone about some girls that had just been nabbed off the streets. It was on the news."

"It was?" Sam's radar went up even further. How did they not know... well he knew. But then, there must have been nothing supernatural about it.

"Yeah," Kendra confirmed. "This dirt bag was paying some dirty cops to round up young girls that were out after this supposed curfew, which is totally bogus, and then Brock? Or something like that, this guy was smuggling them to the middle east to be sold in slave auctions."

"What!" Sam's voice had entered a register that he was quite certain he hadn't seen since puberty and Dean was at his side in an instant. "Jesus!" Sam exclaimed, but before either Dean or Kendra could respond, he muttered, "hang on!" And then with his hand muffling the phone, quickly relayed to Dean what Kendra had just told him.

"Told you man," Dean replied, a heavy sadness lingering in his eyes as he shook his head, "it's a fucked up world out there." Sam nodded slowly. "But how does Max figure in?" Sam shook his head and turned back to the cell, repeating that very question to Kendra.

"Oh, she's friends with one of the detectives, I think, through Logan," Kendra explained. "So I think she had called Logan so that he could tell his cop friend. I mean, she saw it happen. You know Max. She's not gonna ignore something like that."

"No, of course not," Sam sighed. Kendra was right. His sister would never. And giving the police information and of course there would be so much more red tape given that Internal Affairs would have to be involved. But little girls... It was a sickening thought to contemplate.

"Okay, so one more question," Sam sighed and snagged his brother's sleeve before Dean could retreat again. He already knew the hell he'd pay if Dean found out about this after the fact. Dean shot him a slight glare and Sam held up one finger. "Please tell me you were just kidding about this gang war." He knew that he'd made the right decision when Dean's eyes widened and he sank back down to the bed.

"Ah crap!" Kendra grunted. "Yeah, that probably would have been on the list of things not to tell you about if Max knew..."

"Knew what?" Sam demanded. "Okay Kendra, you can't not tell me now!"

"Gossipy little bitch aren't you?" Dean smirked happily and Sam grimaced at him, wrinkling his nose and then leaning away from his elder brother. Dean's eyes narrowed, not too much and Sam was wondering about the wisdom of pushing buttons at the moment. At least it was slightly distracting, but he'd much rather hear about Max's problems, so he knew what he could call bull shit on when he finally talked to her.

There was a long sigh and then Kendra began speaking in a scolding tone. "All right, look Sam, I got the story from Sketch and you know what he's like."

"I know," Sam nodded, even though she wouldn't see. He wondered if she'd ask him to cross his heart and not break a secret swear or something. But she didn't. She just sighed once more and began the tale.

"All right, so Sketch had to deliver a package on Clemson street, which he says are in perpetual turf and gang wars," Kendra informed her audience of two, since Sam had tilted the phone for Dean once more. "It's not as bad as that, but honestly, tensions have escalated on occasion. As I understand it, they usually don't bother service people."

"Okay," Sam hedged. "So why was Sketch...?"

There was another aggrieved noise from the blond on the other end of the line. "They had to deliver... it was a finger, okay?"

"What?" the question echoed in the room as both males blurted it out. Naturally though, Kendra noticed and seized upon the distraction.

"Is that your brother Dean with you?" she asked with a laugh.

"Um," Sam hedged, because he didn't really want to get onto the topic of over sexed elder brother phone meeting little sister's over sexed room mate. "Yeah, he's just... leaving." He scrunched up his face, squinting his eyes almost shut as he waited for the expected blow for being an intentional cock block, but Dean was just looking slightly amused again. Sam eased away from his brother and Dean shook his head. At that point, Sam wasn't sure if Dean was waiting until he relaxed slightly, or if his brother was warning him that he'd get it when Sam least expected it to come.

"But seriously," he hurriedly continued, hoping now to distract them both. "A finger?"

"Oh all right," Kendra grumbled. "Sketch said that the gangster recognized the finger and demanded to know where the pick up was made. When Max told him, the guy went a little nuts, threatening them and everyone else that pissed them off and remember, according to Sketch," she stressed the words, "they barely got out of there with limbs and skin attached."

Sam shuddered as the unintentional reminder of the shape shifter that had impersonated Dean and so many others came to the fore front of his mind. He was pretty sure Kendra wouldn't ever use those words again if she'd been anywhere around the moltings of that being. He shivered, glad that he hadn't eaten in a while. And probably wouldn't now that that was on his mind. Not for a few more hours anyway.

"Okay," Sam sighed, figuring that he'd covered about everything that he could with Kendra and she was probably feeling bad about letting that slip. If he wanted to stay in good standing with her, he'd have to figure out how to handle Max without her blaming her room mate. But that whole thing about a list of things Kendra wasn't allowed to tell him, well, that was a bonus little tidbit that he could guilt her with. He knew instinctively that that would work. "Well, I've probably taken up enough of your time."

"It's okay Sam," he could hear he smile in her voice once more. "I know you worry about her. She worries about you too. And Dean. That's the way family works."

"That it does," he agreed with a pleased smile, before they exchanged their final pleasantries and hung up. He stared at the phone in his hand, wondering how much trouble he'd get in for deliberately calling Max and interrupting her evening with Logan, especially after all Kendra had told him about their having a fight and now apparently making up.

Once again, he was wondering what was really going on between those two that Max wasn't telling him.

Max stared at the phone in her hands. She had been debating making this call the last day or so. Ever since Kendra had informed her that Sam had called while she was over at Logan's for dinner. Kendra had also informed her that she had sort of spilled the beans on what Max had been up to. Max could have been upset, but wasn't. She recognized that she had put Kendra in a tough position by asking her not to talk to Sam about some stuff. But when they had first talked about it, Kendra had pointed out that she understood. She had the same problem with her family. According to Kendra, her mother was a worrywart. And every time she talked to the woman, the older lady was full of misgivings still about Kendra living in such a crime riddled city. The way Kendra had drawled the word had made Max laugh. It sounded very dirty when said that way.

So Kendra had assured Max that she would keep mum about most subjects and hinted that she was aware that Max herself didn't tell her everything and as long as Max wasn't getting into something that could endanger her or anyone else, then she was fine with it. Since they had much different ideas of endangerment, Max had agreed. Promising her friend that she was always careful, in more ways than one. That had been good enough for Kendra and she had gone on preparing for her date night with her new mystery man.

Max was pretty much ready to go for her own night. She was just waiting a little closer to dark, since, as she had told Logan, this proposed hit on a witness in the protection program wouldn't go down until it was dark. And at the same time, being on a schedule would give her an excuse to get off the phone with Sam, if it got to be too much.

She bit and held her lower lip as she pulled up his number and dialed it. Better to just get it over with. She smiled softly when he answered almost immediately, sounding gruff, tired.

"Hey, I hear you called," she greeted.

Hey Max," he returned with a sigh. "And I gotta tell you..."

"Not to happy with what you heard from Kendra?" she questioned gently. Kendra hadn't told her word for word the entire conversation, but enough. She just wasn't sure what Sam would jump on first, since there'd been plenty of ammunition.

"Not even remotely," he chuckled. She frowned. Something sounded off with him, but she wondered at bringing it up. Maybe after she had alleviated his concerns for her, they could play the turn around game.

"Okay," she began, leaning back on her bed with her free hand. "What do you want to hear about first?" She heard muffled words in the back and knowing the boys, they would probably be in the car, headed for another case. She winced slightly, thinking of Dean and then snapped her mouth shut. She hadn't exactly been dream free on the nights she did catch a little shut eye, but she could control her waking moments and the thoughts were resolutely pushed away.

"God, I don't know," Sam groaned. "I mean, yeah, it all sounded pretty bad. But Kendra was also passing on information from Sketchy and we all know how reliable he is. Did you really deliver a finger?"

"Umm, yeah?" she framed it as a question even as she wanted to laugh. That wasn't all that unusual, but she wasn't going to tell him that it wasn't the first time that had happened. It was just the first time she had been in the same room as the recipient opening up a body part. She was quite sure that it had happened before. She heard Sam sigh heavily. "Okay," she began quickly, "yes, Sketch and I delivered a finger. It was from one of Bleed's gang. Kendra said that Sketchy told her about Bleed threatening us. What he said was that we needed to clear out before they took care of their rivals. And to stay out while this went down. Despite what the media reports, these guys are smart."

"They might be smart, but accidents have been known to happen," Sam countered instantly. "Max, I really don't like this, but!" he raised his voice over any protest she was making. "But," he continued when she silenced herself, "I know that you're not going to deliberately walk into a bad situation and yes, I realize that stuff like this happens. So please, just be careful."

"I will," she smiled. "I promise. Now, anything else?"

"What don't I have to worry about with you?" Same teased, making Max laugh softly.

"I could say the same about you," she pointed out. "At least I have the advantage of knowing my territory really well. You guys keep walking into all these different places, not knowing all the little things that might be going down that you could be walking blind in." Her heart and throat clenched spasmodically as the thought became verbal.

"Touche," Sam countered. There was a small pause and then Sam was sighing. "I don't know Max. Why does it seem that every time we talk there's some crap going on?"

"Hey, there are whole days, weeks even, in my life," she began, but when she heard the disgruntled noise he gave, she smirked, but it faded quickly. "You don't mean just me, do you?" And before he could reply, she asked softly, "what's going on Sam? Where are you guys at?"

"Just on our way to another case," he offered instantly, warily and her senses seized upon it.

"What case and where?" she wanted to know.

"It's nothing," Sam immediately protested and Max picked up just as quickly that there was something about the case that was bothering him. She winced slightly, wondering if it was again, like the case with the Warrens, someone that Sam knew. Not wanting to put too much pressure on him if that was the case, Max was hesitant.

"Are you sure?" she asked gently. "I can tell from your voice that it's something. It's not... another friend is it?" she tried to maneuver carefully there and was rewarded with a tired chuckle.

"No, nothing like that," Sam denied. "And if you're hearing anything in my voice, it's lack of sleep." He paused and Max knew what would come next in this defensive dance of hiding things from one another to save each other from the worry.

"Uh huh," she murmured, unconvinced. She knew what Sam sounded like when he was cranky from insomnia and this was nothing like that. There was a tightness in his voice that spoke to a very deeply repressed emotion. She almost wanted to laugh. And indeed, something slipped out. "Sam?" she waited until he gave an indication that he was listening. "Okay, I spent how many years with you guys?" she asked in teasing, but slightly serious tones.

She didn't allow him to answer, since they all knew that. "And pretty close quarters a lot of the time," she went on. "And even if it has been a few years, I still remember. That is not how you sound when you're sleep deprived." And now was decision time. She could hear how his breath had sucked in slightly over the line and was sure that he suspected that she was going to ambush him. But she wasn't. A glance at the lowering sun in the afternoon sky told her that she didn't have time to get into this. And she could always keep this for later. If it happened again. And she was pretty sure, given the natures of their self appointed jobs, it would.

"Max," Sam sighed down the line and she chuckled.

"I get it Sam," she assured him. "I remember the nightmares and the difficulties. And I'm really not surprised that it hadn't been apparent much earlier."

"Yeah," he agreed softly, sounding a little relieved.

"But it's not just that either, is it?" she asked astutely and then Sam was giving her that tired sound that let her know that she was on the right track without having to actually ask. "Don't worry. You don't have to tell me. I've kind of already figured that the case you just finished was pretty rough or the one you're heading to, you're not looking forward to."

"The second one," he confirmed quietly. They were silent for a long moment and then it was Max's turn to sigh.

"Okay, well, I have an appointment tonight I need to get to," she offered with a small moue of distaste. "But if you want to talk, I'll have my cell with me." There was an even longer pause and then Sam cleared his throat.

"This case?" he began softly and it was so quiet, that Max was suddenly glad for her enhanced senses. "It's in Kansas." She waited. "In Lawrence," he admitted and she blanched silently. Her mind rapidly cycled through that information and she frowned. Why would it be affecting Sam so bad? He didn't have the same kind of connection or feelings about the place that John or Dean had. Or was this simply a reaction to how Dean was handling going back to a place that he had sworn never to set foot in? And what was so important about the job that they hadn't simply passed it off to another hunter? Or had Sam insisted that they deal with it? He got that way sometimes. Trying to force people to deal with things in what he considered a healthy, emotionally mature, responsible way.

Didn't always turn out that way.

"Okay," she spoke slowly, considering. "That explains some things. But not everything." She heard Sam sigh once more. "And I am sure that the dissection of all that would probably take longer to hash out than it would to actually deal with this job. Am I right?"

"One hundred percent," Sam laughed and this time, it sounded genuine. She smiled, relieved that she could bring him this small amount of relief. "But we'll be fine," he assured her.

"I know you will," she teased back. "After all, Winchester's are amazingly good at compartmentalizing when they need to."

"That we are," Sam agreed. "What time do you need to get going?"

"Right away, actually," Max noted, glancing at the clock on the microwave. It would take some time to drive over to the address that Logan had provided her with.

"So what is it exactly that you're doing?" Sam wondered and Max rolled her eyes. She was glad that she had thought of the question that was sure to come up in their conversation.

"There's a witness for an upcoming trial," she began her rehearsed story for her brother's benefit. "He's in witness protection right now, but he's having second thoughts about this trial. I'm not sure how he's been threatened or what with. But even if the attorney treats him like a hostile witness, he can't be compelled to actually talk. If he refuses, he'll be hit with jail time for contempt, but the entire case would fall apart because the whole thing is hinging on his testimony. So, we're going in to try and give him some more reasons to go through with this. Maybe remind him that jail isn't the safest place for him either in the long run."

"Woah, wait," Sam's interest perked up immediately. As she knew that it would have. "That's not..."

"Sam!" she spoke sharply. "This isn't some petty little thing..." she began and then had to rein herself in. She was doing this for Theo. For his wife and child. It had to be done, regardless of what Sam thought was right and well within legal bounds. She wouldn't have bothered too much herself with it, but when she had complained to Logan about interfering in this case with the feds, he had told her what the case was. Knowing that it was the dirtbags that had caused Theo's death, she had instantly been on board with rescuing the witness from the hit that was supposed to go down tonight. Not that her brother needed to know that tidbit, hence her rehearsed story.

"He has information on the people that were replacing prescription drugs with placebos" she continued, trying to calm herself. "He hasn't been subpoenaed yet and if he's asked if he has discussed this case prior to the trial, he will naturally say yes, because he has talked. That's why the lawyers want him testifying, because they know he has the info. But he's a flight risk. In a big way. We need to persuade him in, finesse him and the cops and lawyers don't have a good reputation for getting that done."

"Sounds like it's personal," Sam commented after a moment. And Max sighed, sagging a little.

"It is," she confirmed. "It was the stuff that the doctor's had Theo on. That's part of why I..."

"I got it," Sam murmured soothingly, immediately. "Okay, well, good luck with that. Call me when you're done? Or whenever you're free. And don't... worry... if I don't answer right away."

"That's what voice mail is for, right?" she teased, getting back on an even keel as quickly as she could. Sam agreed and they hung up. Max glanced back out the window. Even as far away from the boys as she was, she still knew that this job in their hometown was going to prey a little on her mind. And not for reasons that were good for the well-being of her heart.

Dean glanced over at his younger brother, sitting in the passenger seat. Sam was staring contemplatively out the window, as he had been doing for most of the trip. He was stiff and brooding. A normal sight really, but there was more, much more to it this time. And while Dean was still reeling inside from the revelation of where this job was and the coercion he endured to be forced into handling this, he was more concerned with what this would do to Sam.

His younger brother didn't have the memories or the expectations that he would figure that Dean had. And so, as such, Sam would figure that he would be the rock in this job, there for Dean to lean on.

But Dean knew, he'd deal. He'd handle and divert and compartmentalize, because that was what he did. He was the elder brother, not the other way around. And yes, it was a given that Dean relied on his family to have his back when they went into a job, just as he had theirs. But he already knew what the push buttons on this job were. Those were obvious. The one that had thrown him for a loop was the revelation that Sam had been dreaming these things and apparently, these dreams were coming true. And Dean was smart enough to work out what that meant.

Sam had a two ton mega crap load to deal with, over and above this jaunt back to the old home sweet hell. Whatever problems Dean had were negligible. But he was also smart enough to realize that at some point, Sam would be reaching his breaking point and Dean had the feeling that it was close. And that would be the time that Dean would need to need him. To distract Sam. To give him something to distract him, to help him to hold on, to make it through.

Dean was honest enough with himself to know that he needed that too. And usually, it was Sam needing him that helped him hold it together. And if it wasn't Sam, it was the thought that John was out there somewhere, alone with no one backing him up. Trusting Dad, but... And if that didn't work...

"So you didn't tell her about your... dreams?" he questioned quietly, taking his eyes off the road long enough for another glance at his brother. Sam, not moving from his position, shook his head, the long mop of hair brushing against the window.

"She'd just worry more," Sam sighed. "And she's dealing with enough right now."

"Why?" he asked bluntly. He couldn't imagine that there was anything other than her real family that would upset Max to the point that it would outweigh Sam's... whatever it was he had going on. "What's she doing?"

Sam seemed to be mulling something over, but when he shifted upright a little, Dean held back a verbal offer of relief. Sam was content to talk a little. That would help. "I doubt you ever met him," he began. "I know Max said that Dad had. But her co-worker, Theo?"

The name was not familiar off the top of his head, so Dean shook his head in the negative. Sam pursed his lips, looking upset, but gamely went on. "Theo was Max's mentor of sorts when she first started working at Jam Pony. She's the one that got him and his family the apartment next to her and Kendra's."

"And?" Dean shrugged. "What's going on with them? Anything we should be concerned about?"

"No," Sam answered shortly. "Nothing like that. It's just that Theo got sick again. Something he picked up when he was overseas, in the service."

"What, like malaria?" Dean frowned deeply. That was about the extent of what he could think of along those lines of information. Sam shrugged.

"No one ever said exactly ywhat it was," he explained, gesturing with his hands a little. "Anyway, he was treated for it, but every few years, it would crop up. The last time he got sick? The medication didn't work. He died. Max was devastated. When I saw the news later, I didn't even connect it until Max just said..."

"Said what?" Dean demanded sharply. Something was hurting her. It was a familiar ache raising in his chest, different from when it was Sam or Dad... but very alive and there all the same, even after all this time. He suspected that even until his dying day, he would feel that.

"There was a news report about a pharmaceutical company that had been replacing medication for low income veterans with sugar pills," Sam explained. "They probably wouldn't have caught it, but some doctor was suspicious and performed an autopsy. He found that the drug he had prescribed for the vet wasn't present at all in his system. When his family insisted that he'd been taking the drug, they tested what he had left. They found it to be sugar or something like that. So there was an investigation and a recall on the drugs. Unfortunately, it called into question deaths of other vets that were prescribed this drug. It was all traced back to a pharmaceutical company located just outside of Seattle."

"So what's this all got to do with Max?" Dean wanted to know. He was familiar enough with drug company screw ups. Or product recalls. It was on the news around the country often enough that he'd often see something on television as he flipped through the channels, or articles about it as he browsed through the obituaries. Obviously an intentional screw job on drugs was bad business but some people, some crooks just couldn't help themselves. Blue collar, white collar, it was all crime in the end.

"She's going to talk to a potential witness," Sam supplied. "Try and get this person to come forward willingly instead of having to forcibly subpoena them."

Dean nodded slowly. If Max's friend had been hurt, killed by this deceit, he could very well see her position on this. "And are we suspecting that Cale got her involved somehow?" he questioned astutely. "After all, sounds just like the crap he'd pull her into, doesn't it?"

"I was thinking the same thing," Sam sighed, relaxing back against the car door, his elbow resting at the base of the window, his head on his hand. "I mean, I know that she's said that Cale tries to do good works, but they have professionals for this. Yeah, it's personal for her, if this was what happened with Theo. But I..."

"Sounds iffy, doesn't it?" Dean concurred, his jaw tightening. One of these days, they were gonna load up and haul ass to Seattle and check this guy out in person.

"A little," Sam admitted. "On the whole, it doesn't sound bad. And I think..."


"That she volunteered the information just to keep me from asking what she was really doing," Sam sighed, recognizing a gleam of suspicion mixed in with ire in his brother's face. Not like he felt any different.

Dean smirked, the very moment that Sam admitted that. "She did take that lesson to heart, didn't she?"

"The old bait and switch?" Sam scoffed. "Yeah, it's a classic and even more to the point, a family favorite, hmm? Kind of like right now?"

"Don't know what you're talking about Sammy," Dean shook his head lightly and gave an easy going shrug.

"Or like how you call me by that stupid nickname whenever you want to push my buttons so we don't have to discuss what's really bothering you?" Sam suggested archly, but Dean just threw a lazy grin at him.

"Or the classic 'let's dissect Dean's psyche because Sammy isn't ready to deal yet either'?" he tossed out at his brother and knew he'd hit a victory when his brother averted his face with a slight flush effusing his skin.

"Two big words in one sentence," Sam retorted, a glimmer of a grin trying to break free. "Who are you and what did you do with my brother?" he teased, the easy familiarity of it allowing the tension to ease off some.

"It's still me," Dean chuckled, reveling in the simple feeling of it. Pushing the thought of dealing with anything heavier than their usual brotherly back and forth until the next day, he reached out and sneakily ruffled his brother's hair before his hand was smacked away. "I was just saving the big guns, kid."

The eye roll and shake of his head that Sam gave, made Dean feel immensely better. Even if it only lasted until the next sigh and contemplative staring out the window resumed. But these days, Dean would take it.


:Will you please put that damn thing away and go to sleep!" Dean complained as he lay on the top of the bed designated his in yet another rundown motel. They had stopped for the night, since Dean's eyes were getting tired. That was all that he would admit to. They had also noted some headlines at the last gas station, a Mom and Pop store that Dean had wanted to look further into. So far there had been nothing to pop out at them that screamed it was their kind of gig. So Sam had put that research forcibly aside, maintaining that they needed to deal with this Lawrence crap and was looking into some other information. Dean knew that they had to and they'd be gone again at first light. If he could have, Dean would have kept driving, or let Sam drive. But with Sam's lack of sleep the last few weeks, that was just as dangerous as the kid driving drunk.

Sam was about to retort, but glanced at the time on his laptop and blinking rapidly, stretched his arms and back out, before starting to shut down the machine. "Sorry," he mumbled. "It's just interesting, this whole case."

"Which whole case?" Dean grumbled as he tried to get comfortable again, flopping onto his stomach and thrusting his arms under the relatively flat pillow. Fluffing it up slightly, he knew he should have known better than to ask.

"This class action suit against the pharmaceutical company," Sam replied as his fingers moved rhythmically over the keyboard. "I think I've figured out why Max's little story was bothering me."

"Why zat?" Dean mumbled against his bicep as he burrowed himself into comfort.

"Well," Sam began, turning in his seat to face his brother, "it's a class action suit against the company, on behalf of the veteran's and their families that suffered because allegedly sugar pills, or placebo's were sent out instead of the drug."

"I know what placebo's are dumb ass," Dean grunted, turning enough to give his brother an approximation of an evil eye.

"Right," Sam nodded once. "Now, the suit alleges that it wasn't an accident, that it was deliberate. There was noise about a witness that could completely support this case."

"But lemme guess, the guy disappeared," Dean sighed. It was a typical thing, he was sure. Not like he'd never skipped out on something like that. School came to mind immediately, when he could. Sure as hell would never volunteer for jury duty, if they'd ever call him. Sam on the other hand... At least his little brother had curbed that law-abiding tendency some whatly.

"Yeah, the key witness," Sam enthused, packing the laptop into it's protective case. "Because Dean, not only does this guy have the dirt on the deal, the rumor is, is that his testimony implicates the Mayor himself."

"Oh gasp no," Dean snorted. "Not the Mayor. Zoinks, the fate of the world hangs in the balance, Velma. Better crack this case wide open."

"Well, not the fate of the world, no," Sam grinned, even though he knew his brother couldn't see him, shaking his head pitifully as Dean was. "But for Seattle, sure, and this would be justice for all of the victims that suffered by the mistake, if it was a mistake. Because from what I've read, if they can produce this guy, it was deliberate. Apparently the real drug was being sold on the black market and-!"

"Sarcasm Sam!" Dean retorted, a little harshly. "Look it up brainiac."

"I don't believe I need to," Sam replied calmly as he rose from the table. "I'm the one that explained the concept to you. Remember? About a decade ago, and then in high school, and last week...? Why, even this morning-!"

"Shut up and go to bed before I sarcasm your ass out the window," Dean growled. Sam's laughter chased him as he ducked his head under the pillow now to try and recapture the dreams that the incessant clicking of Sam's keyboard had woken him from.

There was quiet for several minutes while Sam gathered his clothes to sleep in and picking up his essentials bag, moved to the bathroom to brush his teeth before he retired. There was the rustle of movement as Sam returned, shutting off the rest of the lights before climbing into his bed and getting comfortable. Dean, his lips twisting slightly began counting down in his head and just as he reached one, Sam piped up once more.

"But you know what I was thinking?" he began as Dean rolled his eyes and didn't answer. "This witness?" he went on. "Okay, so the guy apparently has ties to some bad guy that was taking drugs for veterans, selling it on the black market, doing all sorts of bad things. If he can implicate the Mayor, the city of Seattle is going to see a hell of a scandal break loose. The Mayor can be charged on several varieties of charges and nobody likes a snitch, right?"

Dean was quiet, but that was no deterrent to his brother. "So why is this guy who just doesn't feel like testifying... why isn't he in protective custody? At the very least? He can be compelled to testify. You know what I think?"

"No Sam, I don't," Dean smiled tightly at his brother, trying to rein in his disinterest and irritation. "But I'm sure you'll tell me."

"I think that Max made that stuff up, because something else is going down about this guy," Sam rushed out. "I mean, it makes sense, right? The guy is probably in hiding, not sitting in some motel room enjoying the hell out of his life. He's probably got all the people he betrayed when he let slip the information he has, gunning for him. Plus, if the Mayor truly is corrupt, there's that angle. And I think Max is mixed up in the middle of it."

"You seriously spent three hours putting together what I could have told you after your phone call with her?" Dean gaped at his brother while Sam blinked slowly at him.

"Well, I knew that too," he shrugged and then grinned. "I just wanted a little more information on it before I busted her."

Dean groaned and dropped his head back down. "Why, why couldn't I have been an only child? Why?"

His brother's laughter lasted long enough to turn to soft snores, both of which irritated the hell out of the eldest Winchester offspring. But it was better than having to yap about Max all night. His dreams already tormented him enough. Though not quite as much, as it would turn out, Sam's did.


Dean had waited long enough to make sure that Sam's laptop had a good charge on it. Of course he planned on leaving it plugged in, but the questions Sam had been asking were bothering him too. Of course, everything that this Cale character roped Max into seemed questionable, at least on some level. And while yes, they had to sit back and ostensibly trust her judgment, Dean was quite sure that there would come a day when that man got Max in too deep and she'd need their help. Whether she'd call for it or not... well, Dean just wanted to be prepared.

And in the course of researching the same things Sam had, Dean came to the same conclusions. This whole deal with the trial and the witness that didn't want to testify was extremely fishy. In fact, Dean was willing to bet good money that the feds were trying to protect him and he probably had a number of hits attached to his name. Now, if he could just discern who exactly the witness was, because of course the name was withheld to protect the person, he might be able to figure out just who it was. And why he was so bothered by it all.

He was in the midst of researching back several months through the Seattle headlines, when he noted that Sam was becoming more agitated in his sleep. With a grumbling, half pitying noise, he brought up another browser tab and nimbly, despite his sleepy state, brought up a search engine and typed in a few key search words that would bring a general amount of fruit cake sites. Watching Sam out of the corner of his eye, he switched back to the headlines of Seattle.

Reading between the lines, he could see some of the things that had occurred that Sam told him that Max had been involved in and he wasn't too happy about it. But despite not being there and unable to see for themselves, Dean knew that they had to trust for now that Max was all right. At least they had that. John was a different matter altogether. They had absolutely no information there. So there was that small blessing.

Dean continued to search until his eyes were blurry and crossing occasionally. But on the up side, he had a whole host of names that had bad connections in and around Seattle. Some were marked as currently deceased, which could lend credence to his whole searching for a case, cover story if Sam asked in the morning. Hopefully the little geek wouldn't search himself for the names listed and find the central point of interest. Dean would of course, use the excuse that it was so that Sam could have an excuse to go up to Seattle to legitimately check on their sister should the need arise.

But when he realized that whatever dreams chasing Sam through the night were enough to wake his brother, Dean quietly shut down the browser to do with the Seattle stuff, flipped over to a second sheet of paper in which he'd taken a few notes and busied himself with his search for a new case, this time in earnest.

Sam's quiet panic and desperation were worrisome. Especially more so when he picked up the sketch of what he'd been dreaming of again, to stare morosely at. Their old house in Lawrence, Kansas.


The one place that he couldn't ever really go to, because it really wasn't there anymore. Not in his heart.


Max sat at the counter in Logan's corner penthouse, wincing occasionally as he applied the antiseptic to her wounds. She could have told him that it was totally unnecessary, but he was persistent in some odd things. It actually, felt kind of nice to have someone watching her back. Though it wasn't precisely the someone she wanted. At least of the several choices that she had, logically and emotionally. Yearning for her family and she wasn't going to be choosy about which family she meant.

The news report about the bomb threat at the courthouse, where they had been earlier, delivering Bruno Anselmo to the trial, regardless of the death threats and hits taken out on him, he had managed to give testimony that implicated the Mayor heavily in several schemes and would most likely bring about a political flurry and scandal the likes of which the city had not seen since the days of prohibition. Max chuckled to herself.

"Well, I'm glad that Bruno chose to do the right thing," Logan sighed moderately. "Even though he paid for it in the end."

Max was saved from answering him by way of her cell phone ringing. She had emptied her pockets of a little bit of her belongings, since she'd had a little of the cash left from what Logan had provided her with to take care of Bruno. Which was only after the safe house he had set up for them had been compromised by Bruno's stupidity. She was considering offering it back to him, but really, she could use the money. She could always use money.

She swiped up her cell phone and saw that it was Sam. With a small eye roll, but seeing no reason not to answer, she did so.

"Hey Sam," she greeted cheerily. "What's up?"

"Bruno Anselmo," was her brother's tired reply. Max winced again, partly from Logan pressing a little too much at one of the scrapes and part from Sam sticking his persistent nose in again.

"Aaaa-nd, what about him?" Max wondered aloud with a drawl. She heard her brother's sigh.

"He was the witness you were going to talk to, wasn't he?" Sam demanded. "Max, were you at the courthouse... when he?"

"Got ganked?" she supplied for him and heard his strangled gasp. "I was in the area, but I wasn't there."

"Okay," her brother sighed after a moment. And then let out a small laugh. "You can imagine what's been going through our minds. Dean figured... he had a list, you know?"

"A list?" she asked, her brows pulling together as she tried to extemporize what he might be talking about.

"Of all the possible witnesses," Sam explained, leadingly. "Anselmo was right at the top of the list. Of course, we were wondering when you said you were going to talk to a witness, because this case..."

"My case or your case?" Max bit at her lip and glanced over her shoulder at Logan, who had pulled back from applying butterfly bandages to her wound to blatantly listen in to her conversation. "Sam, you're not making total sense here. What's bothering you?"

"Several things," he scoffed. "Anselmo was the witness you went to talk to?"

"Yes, he was," she confirmed, thinking quickly how to spin it all.

"And this guy was majorly bad," Sam went on. "Just the allegations, let alone the convictions this guy has had..."

"Which was why he had the hit out on him," she agreed, "which was why I wasn't there. Believe me, I did not want to be around that scumbag any more than I had to."

"But you still went to see him," Sam pressed.

"I did," she agreed, not being able to hide that fact that she had already told him herself. "He needed a reason to testify," she explained quickly, thinking of what she had been about to say to Logan. "Look, Bruno knew he was a dirt bag. He made no apologies for that. But he loved his daughter. He told me, when I talked to him about it, that he wanted for his kid to be able to have one example at least, where he did the right thing. He wanted to be worthy of her love and trust. Regardless of what it cost him. So he went ahead and testified."

"And took a bullet in the gut for it," Sam spoke quietly. "That's..."

"The price he paid for his crimes," Max broke in. "It might not have been the right thing or justice, but given what he was, his outlook on life, I think he'd been heading there all along. But now, his daughter knows he knew right from wrong, the people responsible for these crimes won't get away with it and there will be justice for others," she supplied. She heard Logan chuckle behind her and she shifted in her seat to frown at him. Sure, she was sorta channeling him and his blah blah, woof woof, but sometimes that was the sort of stuff that Sam ate up.

"Okay," Sam finally accepted. "Just as long as you're okay and not mixed up in this anymore."

"Not at all," Max grinned. "I've got other things to worry about."

"Like what?" Sam demanded with a small chuckle.

"Oh, just my balance, among other things," Max teased and then grunted as Logan went back to patching her up. "I slipped getting into Logan's car this afternoon and scraped my shoulder up."

"Ow," Sam sympathized, though he certainly wasn't broken up about it. "So aside from talking to Anselmo, has anything else been going on?"

"Nothing worth note," Max sighed and had to frown at Logan's disagreeing grunt. He poked at her back and she spun slightly, slapping at his finger.

"What was that?" Sam wondered, his voice full of suspicion.

"Argh," Max groaned. "Logan was putting a bandage on that scrape I mentioned and he poked it by accident!" She glared at the man before her, using a few fingertips to cover the phone. "Do you mind. I'm trying to convince my brother that I'm fine and it doesn't seem to work if I'm screaming in pain."

"I understand that Max," Logan smirked. "I lie to my family about what I get up to, all the time."

"I told you Logan," she began with a sigh, but the squawk in her ear from her brother made her grunt and spin around. "Sam, I'm fine, everything is fine, nothing has been going on for you to worry about. It's just a scrape and I would be even more fine if Logan would quit trying to douse it with iodine!"

Logan's laughter seemed to transmit through the phone to Sam, as her brother asked, "is he really?"

"No Sam," Logan called out loudly. "I used hydrogen peroxide, antibiotic cream and some bandages. She's just being a baby."

"I know the feeling," Sam laughed. "Who do you think has to patch up Dean these days?"

"Oh you mean he isn't pulling the 'every thing's all good, I always limp because my knee twists backwards naturally and my ribs are fine, that protrusion just means I'm hungry. Bring on the burgers and pie and don't forget the onions!' routine?" she teased loudly. Both the males, behind her and on the phone were laughing.

"Exactly," Sam guffawed and she could swear she could see in her mind Sam laughing and pointing at his brother while Dean did something inconsequential like clean his gun or watch television, completely mystified about why he was being laughed at, but his mind already whirling about how to turn the attack around. The pang that hit her in the gut was more intense than the earlier admittance she had felt and she had to blink quickly to rid her eyes of the tears rapidly forming. With a frown, she latched on to Sam's statement about patching his brother up.

"Okay, whoa," she muttered. "What exactly have you and Dean been doing, that he needed patching up?" she wanted to know. "And where are you guys?"

"Uh," Sam hesitated and Max pursed her lips. Busted! "At the motel," he tried gamely.

"In what city?" she asked in precise measures. Now it was Sam's turn to wince.

"We're uh, we're actually in Kansas City right now," he told her with a cheer that was as false as Normal's sense of goodwill to his employees.

"And where were you right before Kansas City?" Max wanted to know, holding herself still. She knew her American geography better than most teens and adults that lived in the country, mostly because of her memory retention and from the fact of driving all over America for nearly a decade with John and the boys. She heard Dean in the background.

"Just tell her Sammy," his brother was prompting. "It wasn't that big a deal."

There was a hesitation and finally Sam admitted it. "We were in Lawrence. At the old house. But Dean's right. It wasn't..."

"You boys wouldn't be telling me it wasn't a big deal if it wasn't a big deal," Max snarked. "I can think off the top of my head three good reasons, separate and distinct for all of you why it would be a big deal. Want me to start listing them?" she didn't realize that her voice had risen, even as she did come up off the stool. They had been dealing with something supernatural at their old house? Oh lord...

Before her brother could speak, she was changing her mind. "Look Sam, I'm at Logan's right now. Why don't we finish this later?"

"Yeah. Yeah, that'd be fine," Sam agreed. Both seeming a little startled, they didn't bother with their goodbyes and both hung up. With a slightly shuddering breath, Max settled the phone gently on the counter, as if it were the only breakable thing in her sphere. That was patently untrue, but her fears, for herself, for her family, were shatteringly close this day. She landed on the stool she'd been sitting on more than sat. It was only a moment, feeling Logan's eyes boring into her back before he spoke again.

"You didn't tell your brothers?" he asked gently, hesitantly.

"Nothing to tell," she grunted, regardless of whether he was talking about being at the courthouse or the unknown welcoming committee that Logan had saved her in the parking garage from. The one that Bruno Anselmos, still a dirt bag to the last, had sold out her secret to.

"Well they got you pretty good," he muttered as he applied something more to the slightly scorched skin that resulted from a tazer burn. He must be referring to the 'no pain' guys then.

"I need to get my ass kicked once in a while," she retorted flippantly. "Just to keep me real," she added. Though how in the hell they had managed it was a mystery that had been preying on part of her mind since Bruno's admission that they had been looking for her and that he had led her right to them. What they wanted, what they were capable of. It wasn't something she'd let go. She knew she shouldn't dwell on her weaknesses. But in this world of ordinary people that ignored the truths around them, she had let her defenses drop. And it would get her killed. She heard Logan sigh.

"These guys aren't going to go away," he reminded her.

"Kinda pesky like that," she scoffed, as her skin puckered over in goose bumps. Almost, she could believe, that it was in response to the cold fluid he was swiping over her skin. But she knew better.

"Max..." he began, whatever logic he was calling upon unnecessary at this juncture.

She turned her head slightly, her lips trembling now too. "You don't have to tell me to be afraid. I'm already there."


"What'd she say?" Dean asked tiredly from his position, hunched over Sam's computer. He was engaged already in another search, thinking he might have a lead.

"We'll talk again later," Sam replied tiredly, tossing the phone down to the table. "She's over at Cale's, she wasn't at the courthouse, and she certainly doesn't think being in Lawrence was no big deal."

Dean, having meant what he had said, that it wasn't a big deal, meant that in a certain way. In other ways it was huge, but there was nothing that Max or their father or anyone, even themselves could do about it. Taking what Missouri Mosley had said about it, the spirit of their mother had used up whatever ghostly spirit energy she had to destroy that poltergeist. In Dean's mind, if things had to be that way, then what better way to go all the way out, than taking out some evil son of a bitch. They'd deal whichever way they could. And all the better that Sam have his emo conversation with Max, than with him as he'd been trying off and on halfheartedly since they'd left Lawrence. And before his brother could say anything, Dean spun the computer around to show his brother the headlines he'd been looking at.

Looks like he'd just found their next case.


"Come on Max!" Sam grunted, gripping the cell phone tighter than usual. "Pick up!"

He'd already talked to Cindy to find out the startling development that Kendra had moved out several weeks back, shacking up with a divorced cop and that Cindy, having a run of bad luck was evicted from her apartment for reasons she wouldn't speak of and was in the process of moving in with Max. Hence why she was answering the phone at the apartment. She had informed Sam that Max had gone to Logan's for dinner that evening, but Sam hadn't really wanted to talk to the man. Social pleasantries aside, he still didn't really like the guy.

But since his sister wouldn't answer her cell phone, there seemed little choice. He knew Dean would kill him for calling her. Just as he knew that Max would kill him for not calling about this. Shutting the incessant ringing off for the moment, Sam glared at the antiseptic scented corridors of the hospital, reliving for just a moment, the nightmare of getting Dean to the hospital, the tests, the doctor's declaration and Dean... Dean just accepting it.

Well, he might be talking a big game, but Sam knew how he would feel in his brother's shoes and there was no way in hell he was going to just sit back and let things unfold as the doctor had predicted. Squaring his shoulders, Sam brought up his telephone number directory and found Logan Cale's home phone number, pressing his thumb against the button before he changed his mind and tried her cell once more.

The man answered immediately. "Hello?" he asked, sounding slightly winded.

"Logan?" Sam asked, "this is Sam. Max's brother," he prompted, though he didn't think it quite necessary.

"Sam?" Logan sounded puzzled. "Is everything all right?"

"Um, no not really," Sam grunted. From the hints that Cindy had been dropping about Max's evening plans, Sam was sure that interruptions would not be welcome, but this situation was beyond that. "I need to talk to Max. I tried her cell but-!"

"She's not here," Logan interrupted. "Sorry. Her broth- sorry, her other brother Zack called. He needed help with something, so she left, a while ago now."

"Zack!" Sam's eyes went wide. Well, there was another piece of news, a good piece, but that certainly didn't help him. Last they had heard, Zack's flight had gone down over some mountains and there had been no survivors listed. Max had insisted that she was sure Zack was well, and now it seemed as if her hunch had paid off. Too bad she couldn't simply say the same about Dean and have it be true. That cool reminder made him shake off the momentary wonder about Max's other family. "Look, something has happened here and I need to talk to Max as soon as possible. If you hear from her, could you please, please tell her to call me immediately?"

"Of course," Logan promised, curiosity coloring his voice. There was some hesitation before he asked, "is everything... Is there anything I can do?"

'Give me the name of something that will save my brother from the electrocution he received, saving kids from a monster,' was his immediate thought, but Sam quelled that immediately. Logan was completely in the dark about the supernatural, he knew that. And the situation would take too long to explain and he had more calls to make. "No, but thank you," he offered automatically. "Please, just let Max know."

"Of course," Logan repeated. "Take care Sam."

"You too," Sam murmured before pulling the phone away to hang up. He was already punching in the next number on his mental list.


"So what'd ya get for me?" Dean asked as Sam re-entered the hospital room. He had been checking in on his brother in between frantic phone calls that evening. And when the nurse on duty had confirmed for Dean that he was not required to eat specifically within the dietary parameters that hospital guidelines supplied their cafeteria with, had sent Sam to get him a burger. Sam, treading the line between wanting his brother to do everything possible to care for himself and yet indulge his hurt brother, had given in.

"Burger with the works, fries and a shake," he sighed as he moved all the way into the room, laying the bag containing Dean's meal on his brother's lap gently, almost as if any touch would damage him further.

"Excellent," Dean clapped his hands then rubbed them together. The television and remote were forgotten for the moment as he reached for the bag. Sam set the shake on the night table beside the bed and reached for the rolling table as Dean was already unwrapping the burger. "Did you remember my pie?"

"Yeah Dean," he rolled his eyes. "There's cherry and apple, your choice."

"Both!" was the answer and he couldn't help but chuckle. He positioned the table over his brother and snagged the bag back over his brother's pained squawk, replacing it on the table so his brother could reach it, before he turned to his own meal. He seated himself in the solid chair, uncomfortable as usual. Reaching into his bag that had a very similar meal to his brother's, he glanced up at the television mounted in the corner that had been muted for the moment, at his return.

"Good thing I got a couple of each then," Sam retorted, well aware of his brother's dietary abuse. "What are we watching?"

"Whatever was on," Dean shrugged and reached with his free hand for the remote once more. "Stupid channel list is all messed up," he grumbled as he ate.

"Well, there's always the discovery channel," Sam teased, though it was only half-hearted, though the annoyed glare his brother gave him wasn't. He pretended interest in his own meal as Dean continued to desultorily surf through the channels, trying to find something interesting. Unfortunately, just as he settled on an old rerun of Bewitched, the television seemed to lose it's signal.

"Oh for cryin' out loud!" Dean mumbled, picking up the remote once more. The screen cleared once more as static was heard and then, instead of the programmed show, there was a strange image and Sam sucked in a startled breath, choking slightly on his bite of food.

"Do not attempt to adjust your set," a voice announced from the television. "This is a streaming freedom video bulletin."

"What the hell?" Dean demanded, though whether of the television or his brother was unclear.

"This cable hack cannot be traced and it cannot be stopped and it is the only free voice left in this city," the voice continued. Sam grabbed for his drink and took in several gulps to stem a coughing fit. "This is a message to those known as X5. You've been compromised. You're in danger. You know what to do."

"What is this garbage?" Dean grunted, flipping the channel to find that it was the same on each station, his eyes going wide.

"Eyes only," Sam coughed out. Speaking so soon didn't help and he gently patted at his sternum with the heel of his hand.

"... peat, you've been compromised," the voice continued. "You know what to do."

"That cable hack program that comes out of Seattle," Sam explained, once his throat was clear. "Max and her friends watch it. But it's never..."

"This message will repeat every hour, on the hour, until each of you has checked in," the voice announced and then with another brief flare of static, the hack was gone and whatever it was that Dean had flipped to had returned. He cautiously backtracked to "Bewitched" to see Darrin speaking to Samantha. Dean quickly muted it and turned to his brother.

"Damn!" he grinned. "That guy just hacked every freakin' channel!" his voice was full of amused awe. Trust Dean to be impressed with a feat like that, though when one thought about it, it was a pretty amazing trick. Of course, Sam would be more impressed if the guy managed to slip through and do it again as the voice had promised... every hour...

"Looks like it," Sam agreed with a nod. He took another sip of his drink, watching the cogs in his brother's head whirring. "And I have no clue how he'd even go about doing that."

"Probably hijacked a satellite or something," Dean grinned, his eyes glowing with the sneaky appreciation for the stunt that had just been pulled off. "FCC is probably pissed as hell."

"Probably," Sam agreed, to both or either. He really did have other more important things to think about. Namely, how to save his brother.

"And man, whoever these X... what were they?" he muttered. "Ah X5's? What the hell is up with that? Must be..." Dean trailed off as he realized that his brother wasn't paying attention at all. He shook his head and turned back to his food. And television. Whoever these X5's were that got a small time cable show to pull off a national prank like hacking the countries' television stations, they must be some major players in something. And Sam had said that Eyes Only, this guy was out of Seattle. Or at least people believed so, since that was were it must be normally broadcast.

Many things were whirling through Dean's mind. This puzzle was just a welcome diversion from it all. But one thing he really wondered, all that he would allow himself to think on now, "what the hell is an X5?" he murmured to himself.