It was the tickle in this throat that woke Dean

Note: I don't know how, after waiting what, six months? this can be anything but a disappointment. But here it is. Thank all of you so much, who sent pleas for a conclusion over the long wait. I don't think I would have purposefully abandoned it without them, but it really might have just slipped my mind.

Chapter 14

It was the tickle in this throat that woke Dean. Which – considering the heaps and loads of other aches and pains screaming for attention – seemed like the equivalent of being woken up by a knock on the door in the middle of a hurricane.

At least, that's what he thought until the tickle prompted a cough. At that point, he realized that tickles were the devil and not to be underestimated at any cost.

And then he realized that, no, actually, tickles were minor imps. Breathing was the devil. Because once he managed to stop coughing and draw the massive gulp of oxygen his brain was telling him he needed, the tickle immediately became the burn of a thousand fire ants and brought on more of the masochistic coughing.

It was while he was rolling onto his side, trying to spare his abdominal muscles some of the torture the throat demon was trying to inflict, that he opened his streaming eyes for his first time. And that's when he realized throat demons and breathing devils were the least of his problems.

The ceiling was a roiling mass of black smoke.

For a second Dean could only wonder at how many demons it must take to make that big a cloud. That Bible story crossed his mind, the one with the man possessed by multiple demons, and he went stiff with dread. 'My name is Legion,' his memory helpfully supplied, 'for we are many.'

Then he connected the smoke with the tickle in his throat and didn't know whether to be relieved or not.

The house was on fire. The house was on fire. He … he had to … he …

Where was Sam?

At that thought, the events that preceded his coming to be crumpled on the floor of a burning building came flooding back, and tickle or no, he bolted upright.

Henrikson was crouching over an unmoving Sam.

"Hey!" Dean croaked. "Get away from him!"

It was ridiculous, because 1.) Dean only sounded threatening if you were afraid of bullfrogs, 2.) Like the demon was just going to say, 'oh, OK,' even if Dean was up to his usual threatening- ness quotient and 3.) Given the expected outcome, you'd think Dean would have some plan for backing the demand up, right? But did he? No. He'd been out of plans for what seemed like hours now.

Which made it all the more surprising when it worked.

Henrikson backed away from Sam, hands up and placating. "It's … gone," he said. "That … thing that was inside of me … It's gone."

It took Dean a second and two coughing fits to get his head around that, and when he did he still had trouble with it. Because, like he was just going to believe that, right? Like Sam had suddenly come up with a way to get rid of the demon while Dean was unconscious. But then again, why would the demon even bother lying to him at this point? Why not just fling him across the room again? He frowned, which hurt, which made him frown harder and hurt more. And then he coughed again for good measure.

"Christo?" he asked, admittedly halfheartedly. In part because his voice wasn't up to asking anything wholeheartedly, and in part because he wasn't convinced there was much of a point, anyway. 'Cause if holy water didn't work on the yellow-eyed demon, he didn't have any reason to think Christo would bring so much as a flinch. Henrikson just stared back at him, eyebrows communicating his uncertainty as to what his response was supposed to be.

"How am I suppo—" Dean started, only to be interrupted by a chunk of the ceiling falling in the corner behind him. He scrabbled away from the shower of sparks it created, then turned back to Henrikson, chest heaving and eyes wide.

"Can we finish this conversation after we're outside?" Henrikson yelled over another crash down the hall.

Demon or not, Dean couldn't see any faults in that plan. Except …

"Is he alive?" he rasped, nodding toward Sam. He held his breath for a reason that had nothing at all to do with the pain.

Henrikson looked back at Sam, then turned to Dean again. "Yeah," he called. "Or, he was a second ago. But if you want him to stay that way, we've got to get out of here."

Relief left him weak, and Dean let himself fall back to the floor for a moment, nodding so that Henrikson would know he wasn't disagreeing. He wheezed and panted, trying to get enough air to force his body up. Or to keep from passing out again, for that matter. It hurt to breathe, it hurt not to breathe, it just plain hurt, period. But then, if the choice was breathing and hurting or not breathing and still hurting, he guessed that made the choice easy enough.

With a wheezing groan that scraped at his throat, he rolled himself over and pushed himself up to his knees. When he got there, he was surprised and irritated to find a hand on his shoulder offering help.

"No," he coughed, trying to wave Henrikson away. "Get Sam out. I'll follow."

"I will," Henrikson said. "But you first."

Dean shook his head as he stumbled to his feet. "Naw," he insisted. "Just go – I'm fine." The way he was clutching at Henrikson to stay upright may have robbed the statement of some credibility, but that didn't stop Dean from trying to push the man back toward Sam.

"Clearly," Henrikson replied. He didn't let Dean shake him off.

"Dude," Dean protested, trying to dig in his heels without tripping over his own feet. Which prompted another coughing fit. When it was over, Henrikson had stopped the forward progress in favor of turning to face his unwilling rescue-ee.

"Listen," Henrikson began, "unless you want me to just chuck your brother out the window, then let me help you out first. If you're on the outside, I'll be able to hand him out to you."

When Dean didn't immediately agree, Henrikson rolled his eyes and started pulling again.

"I'd be getting Sam out already if you would quit fighting me."

Well, when he put it that way … Dean allowed himself to be led to the window and steadied as he climbed out. The jolt at the end of the short drop set him coughing again, and by the time he got it under control, Henrikson had disappeared back into the thick smoke. Dean peered anxiously after him for a moment, but within seconds was forced to move back: A shower of sparks from above alerted him just in time to scramble out of the way of a flaming branch falling from the old tree.

Staring up at the blazing oak, Dean became aware of his surroundings for the first time since he'd climbed in the window. The air outside was just marginally better than it had been inside – all around the dirt yard surrounding the house, the cornfields were blazing.

"Oh shit," he said, and immediately doubled over with more coughing. The episode seemed to last forever, which made it all the more worrisome when he was able to breathe again and Henrikson still hadn't appeared at the window with Sam. Panic had come to stay hours ago, but Dean found that he had not yet reached its limits as he stared hard at the window, afraid to blink for fear of missing some sign that they were coming or needed help … Or worse, some sign that they weren't.

Having the demon riffle through his insides hardly compared to this agony of waiting. How could he have left Sam in there? It was a fire. Dean had spent his life pulling Sam out of fires. He wasn't sure he remembered ever leaving a burning building without Sam in tow.

What must have possessed him that he did so this time?

It was that last thought that spurred him to gather up the tatters of his strength one more time and head back toward the window. When Henrikson suddenly materialized in front of him, Sammy slung over a shoulder, Dean could have wept from the sudden release of tension.

If, you know, he did that sort of thing.

Instead, he rushed – as much as he was able – to pull Sam away from the recently possessed FBI agent and the burning building. He only made it a few faltering steps before falling backward, but even the pain of cushioning Sam's fall with his aching ribs couldn't diminish Dean's relief at having Sam once again out of the fire and safe in his arms.

He scooted a little farther, dragging Sammy with him, until they were about equal distances from the fires in the house and the fields. He was just about ready to breathe a provisional sigh of the relief when the sound of sirens began to filter in to the fire's roar.

Suddenly realizing that they had jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire, Dean began struggling to pull himself and Sam to their feet. But the coughing reached a new all-time high, and spots began to weave across his vision. He fell, exhausted, back to the ground, struggling to pull in a breath. Fixing on Sam's still profile, outlined in sharp relief by the glow of the fire surrounding them, he realized that there was nowhere to go, anyway.

He supposed, as the scene began to fade around him, that life in prison was probably an improvement on the future they'd been facing 30 minutes ago.


Grease was dribbling down Dean's chin and he didn't even care a little bit.

This was … just … the best double cheeseburger. Ever. And ever. Amen. God. Never in his wildest dreams had Dean believed a cheeseburger could taste so good.

He let his eyes roll up toward the ceiling (because for some reason staring heavenward always seemed to increase one's enjoyment of food), but on the way there, something else, or rather, someone else, just coming out of the diner's restroom, drew his gaze. He raised his eyebrows and for just a second forgot to chew.

She was … whew. Hot. Just … smokin'. Curves in allll the right places. Long, blond, beauty queen hair. Long, tan, beauty queen legs. Which – huh – he could see because she was wearing a string bikini. And heels. High heels.

Dean's forehead scrunched up a little at that, because, do bikinis fall under the no-shirt-no-shoes deal? Not that he's gonna complain. Ever. And ever. Amen. And in fact, it seems no one else is going to, either. Actually, no one else seems to have noticed. Which made Dean a little sad, because if ever a girl deserved some noticed … Then again, her gaze never wavered from his as she walked by, smiling suggestively at him, so maybe he liked not sharing, anyway.

She moved past, but threw another smile back over her shoulder at him before walking through the door, and he smiled back. Then frowned, realizing that it was hardly bikini weather outside. The fog was so thick he couldn't really even see past the glass.

He turned to Sammy – who hadn't been sitting there across the table a second ago, Dean didn't think, but it's convenient that he was now, since Dean wanted to talk to him – and opened his mouth to ask if Sammy thought they should go after the girl. But he shut it again when he noticed Sammy giving him that look, that look he always got when he thought Dean was making a pig of himself. Which was totally not fair, because Dean wanted to go help the girl. And also, she smiled at him first.

He opened his mouth again, feeling disgruntled, but Sam beat him to the chase, eyes rolling.

"I should have known," Sam said, sounding as disgusted with himself as with Dean. "But really, Dean. A bikini? In a diner? That's not even sanitary."

Dean scowled at Sam. Wasn't like he put her there.

"Of course you did," Sam said. And then Dean's jaw dropped, masticated Angus and all, because how long had Sam been able to read minds?

"I certainly didn't put her here," Sam continued. "In fact, that's the kind of thing I generally frown upon."

Yeah, and didn't Dean know it. Sam did a lot of frowning at that kind of thing. He spent almost as much time frowning at it as Dean did smiling at it. But Dean wasn't looking for a fight, so he just wiped the grease off his chin, threw his napkin on the table and started the car.

"Uh uh uh," Sam tsked from the passenger seat. "You're not getting away that easily. We need to talk."

Dean shot him an irritated look, because disgruntled didn't seem to be having the desired effect just now.

"I know. You don't like to talk. But this is important."

Dean pulled out of the parking lot. Or, at least, he thought he did. Hard to tell with all the fog. He hoped he didn't hit the bikini girl.

"Now. I know that, in general, you're not much for my commandments. Of the 10, I can think of, what? two? maybe? that you don't break on pretty much a weekly – if not daily – basis."

Dean hated to take his eyes off he road, what with the fog, but he couldn't help it. Since when did Sammy have his own commandments? And why in hell should Dean follow them? Little brothers didn't make the rules.

So he spared a split second to look over at his brother, and then had to look again. Sammy was wearing a long white robe, and his hair was back to brown and grown out to his shoulders.

Dean hit the breaks. The stop was a little rough, but the mattress was surprisingly soft for the kind of motels they frequented. So when he bounced a little, it didn't hurt at all.

"But I'm going to ask you to follow this one for me when you wake up," Sammy said from the other side of the nightstand. Where he was under the covers of the opposite bed. "Just one, OK? And it's not one of the hard ones. You don't even have to get rid of the bikini girl."

Dean was getting tired, so he just shrugged and nodded.

"Number nine," Sam said, enunciating carefully. And it was a good thing, because Dean was getting really sleepy. "Number nine."

"Nine dammit!"

Dean woke up with a start.

"A nine. Really. Come on, Alfie. You slammed your pinkie finger in a car door – "

"They slammed it in the door!"

" – It's not even fractured, much less broken. You don't need morphine. You don't even need a Band-Aid. It doesn't rate a nine on the pain scale."

"Says you, bitch."

"Fine. You know what? I'm calling Deputy Lynch. There's no reason you can't be taken on to booking."

Footsteps faded off into the distance as Dean slowly opened his eyes. A water-stained, drop-tile ceiling stared back at him. He moved to rub a fist over his eyes but came up short. A jerk only produced a clanking. He frowned and tried out lifting his head to take a look. It was slow going until his wrists came into view.


That was enough to jerk him upright.

Any trace of drowsiness was gone, pain and alarm taking its place. But all he could do was stare stupidly, trying to assign some meaning to the sight. Handcuffs? Attached to … a metal rail. On a … hospital bed?

He frowned at that and shifted his gaze to his other hand.

IV. And now that he was paying attention, oxygen mask, also.

Yup. No doubt about it, this was a hospital bed. He was in a hospital bed. No, scratch that. He was handcuffed to a hospital bed.

Which, perhaps surprisingly, was a new experience. He'd been in handcuffs, and he'd been in hospitals, but never before at the same time. Which, he guessed, meant he'd hit a new all-time low.


He was still contemplating that when a nurse walked in, uniformed officer in tow. He shrank back into the bed, but they didn't even spare him a glance. His roommate, on the other hand, got some very personalized attention.

"No no NO," the man – the one who had woken him, Dean now realized – yelled, pitch and volume increasing with each syllable. "You can't take me! Nah, man! I know my rights! I know my rights! I gotta right to medical attention! I gotta right to pain killers! You broke my finger! I gotta right to pain killers. I'm gonna sue your ass! Alla y'all's asses!"

As the man's cries disappeared down the hallway, the nurse leaned back against the door jam and sighed, looking spent and sad. Dean shifted, and the rattle of the cuffs drew her attention. When their eyes met, Dean offered a sympathetic half smile, but it died on his lips. The nurse's face immediately turned hard, disgust and revulsion replacing weariness. She pushed herself away from the doorway and hurried out of the room.

Leaving Dean to sit and put together the pieces.

He remembered … handcuffs. And jail. And getting out.

And he remembered the files that accused him of killing Jess and much more.

And he remembered cornfields and special children and demon-possedFBIagentsandpainandfire.

And. Sam. Not. Moving.

"Hey!" he called after the nurse, who was now close enough to long gone that she could legitimately pretend not to hear his pitiful rusted out voice. "Hey, come back here! What happened? Where's my brother? Hey!"

The yells got him nothing but stream of coughs he could feel in his stomach, and he twisted around for the call button, gasping at the reaction that got from whatever was going on with his insides.

The nurse came hurrying back in looking less than sympathetic.

"Mr. Winchester," she snapped, "you need to stay still. You'll pull your stitches."

Dean grimaced all the more at her words. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been called by his real name in a hospital.

"I just," he rasped, and then had to pause and try to catch his breath.

"And your throat is going to be sore for awhile, so you shouldn't talk either." She raised her voice to be heard over Dean's hacking. The tone stayed flat, though, indicating that, while she was paid to give out this advice, really, she couldn't care less whether he chose to follow it. She hurried through her checks of Dean's various monitors without looking directly at him.

By the time Dean had his voice back, she was turning to leave again.

"Wait," he managed to grind out. She stopped, back stiff, but didn't turn around.

"I just want to know where my brother is. Sam. Sam Winchester. Is he OK?"

She stood still for a second, and Dean could practically see the waves of tension running up and down her spine. Then she turned her head just enough that he could see her profile and make out the muscles flexing in her jaw.

"You'll have to ask somebody who gives a damn," she bit out. "I'll let Agent West know you're awake."

Dean sank gingerly back in the bed, stunned. He couldn't remember ever hearing such … loathing directed at him. And that nurse, she didn't even know him, had no reason to hate him. She treated that drug addict who called her a bitch with more concern.

As Dean thought about it, the shock receded in the face of anger. What right did she have? She had no idea what he and Sam had …

Oh. Right. Except she kinda did. Or probably thought she did, anyway. In all the … excitement … Dean had kind of forgotten about the America's Most Wanted episode and the six point two three million people Sam said had been watching it. Clearly Nurse Karen was one of them. And probably thinking he had some nerve worrying about his partner in crime after all the people he'd "murdered."

He was still contemplating that thought when a tall, thin man in a neat gray suit appeared at the door.

"May I come in?"

Dean recognized him immediately. Or rather, not him personally, but his type. He was unquestionably a Fed.

And maybe another day, that would have worried Dean, but just then he couldn't quite work up the energy. He didn't have the energy to engineer some miraculous escape; he didn't have the energy to tell this guy to piss off. He didn't even have the energy to tell him no.

Dean shrugged his response, to the best of his ability. The man ambled in and pulled a metal folding chair up to Dean's bed. He sat down and fixed Dean with a professionally blank stare. Dean sighed and dropped his gaze. He wasn't feeling up to posturing.

"Your brother's going to be OK."

Dean cautiously raised his head, somewhat worried that sudden movement would remind the man who he was talking to and cause him to stop.

"We helicoptered you both down to Amarillo – it had the nearest neurological unit, and we wanted to concentrate all our resources in one place."

"What?" Dean wheezed, head suddenly spinning – "OK" and "neurological unit" were, in his understanding, mutually exclusive.

"You probably could have stayed in Guymon. He had a bad case of smoke inhalation, like you. Some bruising and such – like you. Minor internal bleeding, like you. Minor burns, like you – although some of his were electrical. And a concussion and some fairly serious swelling around his throat, which you didn't have.

"But the main thing was some unusual brain activity the doctors were picking up, which Guymon Memorial just isn't equipped to handle. Reports are that it's unusual, but doesn't seem to be anything to worry about. Last I heard, he hadn't woken up yet. But then, neither had you until about 15 minutes ago."

Burns? Bruises? Bleeding? Brain activity? Breathing wasn't getting any easier for Dean.

The Fed went on, though there may have been a hint of sympathy in the turn of his mouth.

"Now, I'm going to need to ask you some questions, Dean."

Dean barely registered the statement. "I've gotta get out of here," he said, pulling ineffectually at the handcuffs. "I've got to get to Sam."

The agent sighed. "You can't leave Dean. You're in federal custody. I'm Assistant Director Dave West. There're two agents outside that door, and more at the entrance to the ward. Same on the neurology ward. And even if you were free to leave, you're not fit to. So. You're gonna have to take my word that Sam's OK. And since you're stuck here anyway, we might as well talk."

Dean didn't see much point in arguing with the man, but he didn't make any promises, either. West frowned, but evidently decided to take the lack of response as compliance. He looked down at his hands in his lap and seemed to steel himself for something, then looked Dean unflinchingly in the eye.

"How long has Victor Henrikson been working with you and Sam?"

Which totally wasn't what Dean had been expecting. His mouth fell open, possibly unattractively. He almost blurted out a raspy denial, but stopped himself.

It was tempting. Henrikson had been a pain in Dean's ass for almost a year now. Why not let him see how it felt to be wrongly accused?

But something in Dean's gut shrank away from the idea. Do unto others and all that crap, maybe. Plus, whatever trouble the man had caused in the past, he'd just pulled Sam from a burning building, and Dean tended to take that kind of seriously.

"He wasn't," he said, finally. And it came out more clearly than anything he'd said since waking.

West looked at him hard for a moment, but nodded. He didn't seem as relieved by the news as Dean had expected, however.

"Did he," West started, then had to pause and collect his courage again. "Did he kidnap your brother from the Logan County Sheriff's Department?"

The truth was a little trickier on this one. If Dean said yes, which was technically correct, then he was back to accusing an innocent man of a crime he had no control over. And if he said no, then what? How would he explain what happened?

'Course, he could go with the real truth. What did he have to lose? Maybe he'd even be able to swing an insanity plea.

He finally settled on, "Not exactly."


Victor looked up as the door to his interrogation room opened, and Dave West walked in.

"I thought you might show up," he said, trying to ignore the irony in the echo from – had it really only been the day before? The setting wasn't even so different, though no one had felt the need to bolt the chairs down on Victor's behalf.

Dave, of course, didn't recognize the reference. He just sat down across from Victor and fixed him with a long look, what Victor liked to call his 'come to Jesus stare.' It had worked on many a reluctant confessor, but Victor knew all Dave's tricks.

"How are the Winchesters?" Victor asked, rather than burst into the explanation Dave was asking for.

Dave, however, seemed unsurprised. He raised his eyebrows in challenge. "You mean, 'the monsters'?" he asked. "The 'modern-day Frank and Jesse James'? I'm sorry to have to disappoint you, but they're recovering. Doctors say they'll be fine – perfectly fit for a long life of draining the American tax payers of 65 a day for good food and comfortable lodging. Or some close approximation, anyway."

Victor took up an intense study of grotesquely stained floor showing between his knees. He squared the heels of his feet each in their own square-foot concrete tile. His toes fell well past the opposite edge.

He was … relieved to hear the Winchesters were OK, but he still hadn't figured out what came next, how he dealt with the knowledge that they were innocent. He suspected his word on the matter wasn't going to be worth much.

"Did you kidnap that boy, Vic?" Dave whispered.

Victor straightened so that he could look at his boss head on. "No," he said as steadily as he could manage.

"This is off the record," Dave said. "Just between you and me. I want to help you, man, but I have to know the truth. I know how it can get, how it can be so hard to look at them, knowing what they've done. You put a lot of work in on this. I'd … understand if you just snapped."

"That's not what happened," Victor insisted.

"OK. Did you help him escape? Think he'd lead you to some … evidence you needed? Did he promise to show you something?"

"No," Victor wearily intoned.

"Then what? Give me another option here. I saw the video tape, man. I know you left the department with Sam Winchester in tow."

Victor went back to staring at his feet. The over-achieving air conditioning system was blowing right onto the back of his neck, and he couldn't quite suppress a small shiver.

"Were you possessed by a demon?"

Victor surely injured his neck, his head shot up so fast.

"I had an interesting talk with Dean Winchester before I came over here," Dave said softly. "Off the record, man. Tell me what happened."


Dean was pulled out of sleep by something literally pulling on his wrist. He'd been in the hospital for two days now, and though his throat was feeling something like better, his gut was a roiling mess of nerves.

He still hadn't seen Sam and had only been able to get perfunctory reports on him. He was apparently awake, though still on the neurology unit, which worried Dean. But without knowing whether Sam was up for a great escape, Dean didn't want to make his move. Not that he'd figured out just yet what move he would make if he could, anyway.

So clearly, he'd had a lot on his mind. That was his excuse for the somewhat girly yelp he made when he opened his eyes to find Victor Henrikson standing over him.

For a second, Dean was back in that farmhouse, and the agent's eyes were glowing yellow. Dean's breathing sped up, and he began wheezing through the damage in his throat as he scrambled away from the man, only to be brought up short by the cuffs.

Which also brought him back to reality, where he was still wheezing, but at least remembered that the Demon was gone.

The Demon was gone. Gone.

He took a deep breath and tried to let that thought calm him down. When he had it under control, Dean looked back up. Henrikson had stepped back from the bed and was watching Dean with that carefully blank stare that he had. And it had fooled Dean in their brief previous meeting and on TV. But not now. Now he'd seen that face truly devoid of all human feeling, and this? Was brimming with emotion in comparison.

Emotions like guilt, for instance. And Dean knew that he should say something like how it wasn't the man's fault. He even opened his mouth to do so, but nothing came out. He wasn't quite ready to forgive just yet, because maybe the demon thing wasn't the agent's fault, but the America's Most Wanted Thing? Totally was.

Apparently deciding that Dean was done freaking out, Henrikson moved back to the side of the bed and took Dean by the wrist, reminding Dean of what had woken him to begin with. A second later, the handcuffs fell away, and Henrikson stepped away again.

"Wha –?" Dean rasped, not even sure how to finish the sentence.

Henrikson's mouth opened, and naked emotion tripped across his face before he closed up again, deciding against whatever he had been going to say. When he opened his mouth again, his face was back to the human version of blank. "You're free to go," he said. "Doctor's released you."

And then he turned and walked out.

Dean stared after him, mouth hanging open, for a full 30 seconds. He thought about calling after the man and demanding an explanation, but only for a moment. After that, he came to his senses.

"I know a gift horse when I see one," he muttered to the empty room, and scrambled out of the bed.

Deciding on his next course of action was a no brainer.

Find Sam.

He took a moment to pilfer a pair of blood-stained scrubs from the nearest biohazardous waste basket, cringing a bit, but still thankful that the janitors were apparently a bit more lax about emptying the trash here than they might have been on other wards. Then he was poking his head around the corner and breathing a sigh of perplexed relief at the lack of guards. He hurried down the hall and out into the bustle of the regular hospital.

He thought about asking someone for Sam's room number, but decided that would draw an unnecessary amount of attention to him and take too long, besides. Hospitals were usually good about signage.

Sure enough, a breadcrumb trail of shiny signs led him to a bank of elevators with a helpful, color-coded list of what sort of patients you might expect to find on any given floor.

Unfortunately, standing next to it was Victor Henrikson.

The doors opened, and Henrikson stepped on. Dean thought about waiting for the next one, but … well, it just seemed rude. Besides, refusing to ride in an elevator with him might suddenly alert the agent to the mistake he'd made.

So Dean stepped on to the elevator, carefully averting his eyes. Without raising them above shoulder level, he reached out to punch the button for the fifth floor. But it was already lit.

Dean's gaze darted up to Henrikson's face, but it was unreadable. It didn't necessarily mean anything, Dean told himself. The guy could have any number of reasons to visit the floor that housed neurology and … Dean thought for a second, trying to remember what the director had said. Oh right. Maternity. But since Dean couldn't really imagine Henrikson having a wife, much less one who happened to be stashed in a Texas baby factory, he was forced to conclude that he and Henrikson were heading for the same destination.

Dean was still trying to decide what to do about that when the elevator pinged and the doors peeled back. Henrikson took advantage of Dean's momentary indecision and stepped out in front of him.

Dean followed, trying to convince himself there was no reason to panic. The Demon was gone, so his fear that the agent was on his way to steal Sammy back was unfounded. And if he let Dean go, why would he be on his way to haul Sam off?

Unless … He was, after all, with the government. And he knew about Sam's … powers. Dean had seen enough X-File episodes to build a plausible scenario around that. What if the government wanted to lock Sam away and, like, experiment on him?

Or … The Demon was dead, wasn't it? Had Dean made sure? He tried to remember the details of what happened after he woke up in the burning farm house, but everything was fuzzy.

Dean picked his pace up until he was entering a hospital room four doors down from the elevator right on Henrikson's heels. He wasn't exactly relieved to find Sam sitting up in bed looking exhausted and uncomfortable, but, overall, OK.

Well, actually he was. Even if he was about to be kidnapped by a demon – or possibly the government – overall OK was better than not.

Without a word of explanation, Henrikson marched to a befuddled Sam's bedside and reached for his wrist.

"Hey!" Dean … tried to bark. It came out as more of a croak, but the jerk he gave the agent's arm communicated his intent just as well, anyway. The agent didn't say anything, just held up his arms in submission and gave him that same look Dean had seen earlier. Dean looked from him to Sam, who, judging by the fear on his face, was working through the same reaction Dean had had to the man.

Dean shoved the man back a little farther, then considered the situation. There was, after all, one other option, besides the Demon kidnapping and government plot. Henrikson could be actually coming to free Sam as he had Dean.

Eyeing the key the agent was holding, Dean held out a hand. Henrikson hesitantly gave it to him, moving slowly. Dean decided to take it as an effort not to spoke him, rather than a reluctance to give him the key.

Without taking his eyes off the man, Dean reached down and fumbled with Sam's cuffs until he got them open. Then he carefully handed the key back.

Henrikson gave a terse nod and turned to leave.

Sam, however, couldn't leave well enough alone.

"Wait," he called to the agent's retreating back. "What's going on?

Just in case the man needed prompting on the correct answer, Dean helpfully chimed in. "He's free to leave, too, right?"

Henrikson turned and surveyed them both without expression. "No," he started, and Dean immediately squared his shoulders, tensing for a fight. "His doctor hasn't released him yet."

Oh. Well. He didn't feel silly.

The agent turned again to leave, but Sam – who apparently had no idea what a gift horse looked like – stopped him again.

"But the FBI doesn't want me to, uh, stick around?"

Dean was trying to figure out a subtle way to stomp on his brother's foot, but, seeing as Sam was lying down, settled for a swift pinch instead, earning him a distinctly unsubtle "Ow!" from Sam.

Henrikson didn't deign to notice. "Speaking on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, we're hoping never to hear your names again."

Dean could feel Sam trying to make eye contact, but Dean was four-square against letting on that he thought this idea was anything but completely logical. So he chose instead to pinch Sam again.

"Ow! Dean, quit it!"

With a disdainfully quirked eyebrow, Henrikson once again made to leave. But Sam would have none of it.

"Wait!" he yelled.

Henrikson turned back once more, looking resigned to the fact that he was going to have to have this discussion. "Yes?" he asked.

Having been given what he apparently wanted, Sam now seemed unsure what to do with it. "So …" he began, hesitantly. "You're … letting wanted criminals go?"

This time he caught Dean's fingers with his non-IV-restrained hand just as Dean was going in for the pinch.

"Who said you were wanted?" Henrikson replied. "Thought I made it pretty clear that you're decidedly unwanted."

Even Dean couldn't let that go. "We're not on the wanted list anymore?" he clarified, wondering if he should get it in writing.

"Give the man a gold star," Henrikson drawled.

"How?" Sam demanded.

The cool, distant look Henrikson had been wearing like a mask fell away. He sighed heavily turned to stick his head out the door, checking he hall before he shut it and moved closer to Sam's bed. Then he looked Sam straight in the eyes. Dean felt a shiver squirm its way up his spine.

"Let's just say AD West and I would rather not get in the way of the hand of God."


In the silence that followed the statement, the room's AC unit clanked on, and one of Sam's IV bag's beeped its announcement that it was spent. This time, when Sam looked to Dean, he found his brother right there, meeting his gaze. They exchanged cautionary looks before Sam replied. These situations could be delicate – and they didn't want to be anyone's savior.

"Listen," Sam started, carefully. "We appreciate you not arresting us and all – we really didn't kill anyone. But you can't listen to anything that thing said while it was inside you. Demons lie."

Henrikson pursed his lips and eyed Sam thoughtfully. "Maybe," he allowed. "But it seems pretty clear to me that God's got his fingerprints all over this mess."

Sam bit down on a sudden, unexpected surge of rage at the man's careless proclamation. How could he say that after … everything? Three days ago, Sam had been clinging against all reason to the idea that someone somewhere was looking out for him. He had wanted to believe that.

But after being hunted – and caught – by both the good guys and the bad, he was ready to admit that he'd been duped. The only one looking out for Sam was Dean.

Of course, the word "only" was misleading, since it turned out Dean was enough. But why should God get all the credit when Dean did all the work? Dean tracked him down through an ocean of corn, fought a demon barehanded and faced down an army of psychics. If God was going to get anything, it should be the blame for getting Sam into trouble to begin with. Because if there was one thing the Demon said that Sam was willing to give credence to, it was the claim that God had ruined his life.

"Yeah, well," Sam finally mumbled. "Maybe God should be the one on your wanted list, then."

Henrikson looked genuinely surprised. "Seriously? You've lost faith? After all that? Man, if that ain't irony …" He let out a low whistle.

Sam scowled. "Were we even at the same farmhouse?" he sniped.

"Hey," Henrikson said, "I'm not saying it was a weekend in Disneyland. But I figure the end justifies a whole hell of a lot, considering what the end could have been. If you hadn't been the one who could see the future, you who knew about demons and had been raised exorcising them, there would have been no one to stop that future from coming true."

Sam shifted uncomfortably, aware that Dean, who had been observing the conversation uneasily, was now looking at him in confusion. He thought back to that last vision and couldn't help but flinch at the memory of the desolation he'd seen. He was glad they'd prevented it, whatever the means. But that didn't mean he was ready to call it divine intervention. Not after everything they'd been through.

"I probably would have bought that a year ago," Sam finally said. "Before we were being hunted by demons and the FBI and other hunters. All at once. Now I'm tired. And it seems like if God was such a fan of ours, he'd cut us a little slack."

Henrikson didn't look deterred. "Romans 8:28," he said, with a shrug.

It took Sam a moment, but he called the verse up in his memory.

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose?" he recited. Henrikson just smirked back at him, and Sam felt his anger growing. "Our entire family was killed by this thing, and that's your explanation?"

Henrikson dropped the smirk, but he didn't back down.

"Think about it," he said. "The demon is there and after you and all those other kids. Free will and all dictates that God doesn't change that. But he made sure that one of you had the power to stop it. And rather than just leave you to die in that fire? He got me involved, ensuring that the FBI would track down that rental car of mine and show up just when we needed a rescue – conveniently not a moment too soon, holding them off by jamming the signal with the electrical storms. Otherwise, a bunch of innocent officers might have gotten fricasseed, which wouldn't have done us shit's worth of good.

"And speaking of the electrical storms, I found out about them through your buddy, Gordon Walker. I assume that's the "other hunters" you were talking about? If he hadn't told me about the weather patterns, I would still have found you – but my understanding is that your brother wouldn't have. You and I might still be out there."

Sam and Dean exchanged looks, unable to think of a reply. Henrikson didn't let that bother him.

"Face it, kids," he said. "You're doing God's work."

And with one last quirk of his eyebrows, the agent turned around and walked out of the door.

The End.

More Notes: There! Done! You can take me off the naughty list now.

Again, I really can't properly express how much I have loved getting your reviews. And I hope you'll let me know – good or bad – how you liked the ending. Feel free to make suggestions – I'm not above fiddling with it, still.

And speaking of changing a story after the fact, I've been telling myself for months now that if I would just buckle down and finish this, I'd start an LJ and use it as an excuse to do that revision of Contact that I've been planning. So if you have any feedback on which parts of that need to be sliced and diced, now's the time.

And I couldn't possibly end without saying it one more time: Thank you, Mazza!