A/N: The next in the series is titled Colt & Winchester and is cowritten with Sojourner84. On it will be posted under her account.

This story has been nominated for the Salt&Burn awards…Thanks!

I've posted links to both Sojourner's profile and the awards site in my profile.

Thanks for reading!

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Department of Home Land Security, Middle Tennessee Office…

Normally Ernie Adaey appreciated a visit by an attractive—if he was really being honest—hot woman. Today he was simply wary. She'd come in, asked for him by name. She wasn't among the few people who knew he was the deputy director of Home Land Security here, and therefore, wouldn't know to request him by name.

"Mr. Adaey." She shook his hand as he closed the door behind her. "It's a pleasure." Long blond hair, exquisite figure and a voice that oozed confidence. Sunglasses hid her eyes. This woman was no victim that was for sure.

Straightening his tie, Ernie moved to his desk, motioned her to a chair in front of it and waited until she was seated before he sat in his chair. The relief he felt having that desk between her and him took Ernie by surprise.

She leaned back in her chair. "I'm sure you are curious how our experiment went. It exceeded our expectations." Removing her sunglasses, she gazed at him with solid black eyes.

Ernie straightened in his chair. "You took a chance coming in here."

"A necessary one, Mr. Adaey. I wanted your report directly. When the invasion begins, and it is coming, the information from Cutter's Landing will help save your people."

"How are you going to help them?" Ernie snorted. "Too many people on this planet won't trust someone of another color, how are you going to convince them to trust someone of another species from another world?"

She smiled patiently. "Every bit of data we can collect on how your species will react will be useful, trust me. We estimated there will be a certain percentage, a small percentage, of people not affected by the transmissions and blocks. Did you notice anything?"

"There was one guy, passing through with his kid brother. As far as I could tell, it didn't affect him in the least. The kid brother, on the other hand, was worse than most the rest of the town combined."

"Got names?"

"Winchester. Dean and Sam Winchester."

"And it was Dean who wasn't affected? Not even a small amount?"

Ernie nodded.

"That's very interesting. It's people like him who will have to fight this war, this invasion. We'll begin finding them, keeping track of them." She paused, solid black eyes traveling around his office for a few seconds before coming back to stare at him. "Was there anyone else?"

Folding hands together and letting them rest on his desk, Ernie met her eerie gaze steadily. "Like I said, this Winchester's brother was worse than the other people. There was me, but your people made sure I wouldn't be affected. Other than that, no one I know of."

"You'll let us know if any new information about that comes to your attention?"

"Absolutely."

She smiled. Damn she's spectacularly beautiful. Pushing against the arms of the chair, she started to rise. She arched an eyebrow when Ernie's hand darted across the desk, gently grabbing her wrist.

"I've been cooperative because I don't want life on this planet eradicated when the invasion hits. But I think it's time I get some answers."

She resettled in her chair. "Fair enough."

"Why? Why do this, why go to these lengths to help us and go against your own kind?"

She smiled. "The home I was born in is nothing but a far, distant memory. There are many of us who have been here, living among your people for so many years this has become our home. When the invasion begins, you'll need a means to fight, and we want to help. This is our home too, we want to save it. As you have pointed out, preparing your people for what is to come will be nearly impossible." Laughing softly, "I mean, really, aliens? That's as silly as saying demons are coming. So we have to prepare ourselves and find those who can fight with us."

"How did you do that, the town, cut it off like that?"

"That…technology…" she shrugged, "isn't my department. I honestly have no idea. What I do know is that it's part of a weapon which will be used to create the havoc necessary to take over this planet. Think of it as a trial run."

This time when she stood and moved toward the door Ernie didn't stop her until she reached the door. Hand on the doorknob, he held it closed. "One more thing."

"Yes, Mr. Adaey?"

"What's your name?"

She smiled and put her sunglasses back on. "Ruby. You can call me Ruby. Now I have a question for you."

Ernie raised his eyebrows but said nothing.

"Where in this town can I get some decent French fries?"


Motel in Kentucky…

One fact Dean knew for certain, he and Sam hadn't escaped, they'd been let go. Vermin released from the trap.

It didn't matter, they were out. Dean wasn't going to look that gift horse in the mouth, or anywhere else. Sam was back to himself, safe and whole. Dean didn't care much beyond that.

Dean felt good, free, like he could breathe again, something he hadn't felt in days. Whatever happened, maybe he and Sam would never have an explanation, but it was over, done, they'd been freed. In no way did Dean think they'd won even a tiny victory. Hell, he wasn't even entirely sure who they'd been fighting, but he had a good idea. Either way, for now at least, it was done. He dismissed Sam's earlier idea the whole thing had been dredged somehow from Sam's subconscious, that Sam had been not an unwilling participant, victim, but the underlying cause. Willing to concede Sam, and he too, were pawns was as far as Dean would go.

Wheeling the Impala into the motel parking lot, Dean's eyes went immediately to the number painted on the ground of the only open space…ten…one, zero…Dean shook his head. Not again, not still. He was looking for them now, had to be. He was conditioned to see them. That was it, nothing more.

His eyes dropped to the radio as his hand moved to switch it off, catching sight of his watch, 1:12…breath catching in his throat, his eyes moved to the door of their room…two-twenty-two…two, two, two.

No, no, no…not happening, NO! Out of the car, taking the stairs to the upper level and their room three at a time, Dean nearly forgot to open the door before charging through.

Dean stopped so fast just inside the door his vision swam to keep up. Sam sat in the middle of his bed, scratching furiously on a pad of paper, stopping to look up at Dean, then followed Dean's gaze around the room. Guilt, no maybe shame crossed Sam's face, his eyes dropped to the pad, he seemed to shrink, diminish in size, like a small child caught in the act of some grievous wrong he knew would terribly disappoint a parent…or a big brother. Sam slowly lowered the pencil he held, rubbed his palms across his thighs in jerky, unsure movements, fingers curling and uncurling. His eyes flitted to Dean, away and back, but he didn't make eye contact. Dean saw a shiver ripple through his brother but was too stunned to do much about at that moment.

Eyes traveling over the room, Dean stepped in far enough to let the door swing shut then turned to see what was on it, next to it.

"Dean?" Sam's voice was soft, quiet, hesitant.

Holding up one hand for silence, Dean turned a slow circle, taking in everything, trying to make sense of the mess that was their motel room. For a full minute, maybe more, the only sound was the scratch of denim as Sam's hands moved over his jeans, Sam's soft, almost frightened breathing, Dean's own harsher, deeper, more frightened breathing. Those sounds mixed with the flutter of paper settling back into place after the rush of a breeze created by Dean's rather dramatic and sudden entrance.

The place looked like an explosion of paper and duct tape.

Both beds were littered with magazine clippings, books, paper with Sam's handwriting at all angles. Dean picked up one such scrap. It was nonsensical, gibberish, incomplete sentences. Covering the walls were more articles, pages torn from books, pictures, none seeming to relate to the thing next to them. How Sam had done this in such a short time, he had no clue. "I wasn't even gone an hour."

His hopes Sam was back to normal since leaving Cutter's Landing, that his mind wasn't slipping away into some unreachable abyss, that the past year hadn't permanently damaged Sam's sanity were smashed.

Sam needed help. He needed serious help which was far, far beyond Dean's reach. Mind spinning into overdrive, Dean searched his memory for anyone he knew, a psychiatrist who understood that demons, the supernatural, weren't flights of fancy or the sign of a deranged mind. Someone who wouldn't drug Sam, lock him up. No one came to mind. They were on their own. There was no one, not a single person Dean could go to for help this time. Bobby might be somewhat sympathetic to Dean's fears, but in the end he knew what Bobby's, what anyone's, reaction would be. Dean was on his own with this, on his own with Sam.

Dean knew the words, heard them in his head. If Sam's sanity were affected, truly damaged, he could become unpredictable, dangerous; too dangerous to be left loose, driving around the country in a car with Dean. His eyes dropped to Sam sitting on the bed in the middle of a paper cyclone looking lost and alone, unsure what reaction to expect, afraid. Yeah, real monster of doom.

The thought Sam exploded glass more than once in Cutter's Landing was a hot, sharp poker searing through Dean's mind.

Maybe sensing Dean's visual scrutiny, Sam finally looked up at him, eyes meeting Dean's. "Dean, please? I'm not crazy." He bit into his lower lip for a few seconds.

"Do you think I am?" The words left Dean's mouth before he thought about them. Isn't that what crazy people thought, they were normal, everyone else was crazy?

"No." Sam shook his head. "Not at all. Just the opposite in fact, I think you're the sanest person I know."

"That's not saying much. In fact it's pretty scary." Dean snorted, waved one arm at the room. "What is all this, Sam?"

"Listen to me, please?"

Crossing the room, shoving aside papers, books, whatnot, Dean sat on the bed next to his brother. "Of course I'll listen to you. When have I not?"

"December 21, 2012, twelve-twenty-one-twenty-twelve..."

Dean shrugged, "Winter Solstice. Sam, I believe in planning ahead for a hot date as much as the next guy, but this is a bit much. Even for you."

"I figured them out, the numbers."

"I'm still seeing them."

"Me too. They're a date, a possible date of something happening."

"What's going to happen?"

Sam laughed, sounding a bit too giggly for Dean's comfort. "How the hell should I know? Do I have to come up with everything? I got the day!"

"What's your theory?"

Dean saw the spark light up Sam's eyes and face. Sam loved this stuff, the learning, the research. It struck Dean then, maybe for the first time, what Sam cherished, truly cherished was Dean's attention. His belief in the bits of information Sam uncovered. Dean's belief in Sam.

"I've been thinking, Demons and Hell want to take over, but not to destroy the world. Who would be left to lord over? What's the point in that? If that was their intention, shouldn't they have done it by now? Either they can't or won't. I'm thinking can't, not without help, a catalyst. They've got motive, but they need means and opportunity."

Nodding, Dean said, "Makes sense. Go on."

"Hell needs an Antichrist to come to power. Something has to happen to let that person rise up. The Antichrist doesn't come as some sort of invading marauder, he's, at first, a savior, everyone thinks he's a good guy. There're actually two people, the Antichrist and the False Prophet. It's the False Prophet that forces everyone to be marked with six-six-six."

"I read the story too, Sam."

"Think about it. For an Antichrist to do this, something needs to affect the entire planet. Not just a tsunami in the Indian Ocean, or a hurricane in Florida, or an earthquake in Japan. Something has to affect the whole world at once, some huge worldwide, global disaster. Something planetary." Sam's arms waved expansively. "Then along comes these two people, and they pull everyone out of chaos, saves them. Or it will look that way at first."

"What sort of something?"

"The sort that changes everything. Ends what we know, everything we know. Throws the entire world into utter chaos and breaks down social order."

"Then someone appears to save it?"

Sam nodded solemnly. "Not something supernatural, something natural, a natural global disaster. Demons can't stop it, but they can use it." He paused, drew in a deep breath. "Armageddon is the end of the world we know. Not the destruction of everything. That serves no purpose. The end of what we know. The civilization we know."

"How? The rock the size of Texas? I saw that movie too."

"Well…maybe. I've found dozens of possible things that could happen, big things, all centered around December 21, 2012." Sam grabbed a fistful of papers from the other bed, another fistful from the floor, shoving them under Dean's nose. "T-there's a handful of asteroids passing close enough to the Earth, that if they're trajectories were miscalculated, or something happens to change their orbits, they could hit, or skim. On December 21, 2012, the polar axis completes a twenty-six-thousand year rotation, there's evidence the magnetic field could flop then. It's happened before. The geological records are full of times when it flops."

"So all the refrigerator magnets in the world hit the floor at the same time, and we what, fly out of the sun's orbit?"

Sam ignored him, "The sun's magnetic field has already flipped, and there are theories that might trigger ours to flip. In Wyoming, there's a volcano—a super volcano. It goes off about every six-hundred-thousand years or so. And it's overdue."

"Of course it is." Dean mumbled.

"When it goes, it'll take out half of North America, and put enough dust and sulfuric acid into the atmosphere to create a nuclear winter. We're in what's called solar minimum now, not many sunspots, but in 2011-2012 there is a maximum, when there are lots of sunspots and possible eruptions that could knock out power worldwide for years. There are dozens of possible scenarios that bring a temporary or permanent end to our technology, civilization. NASA has predictions for solar storms, those CME clouds. In Canada a few years back, one hit that knocked out power for days. There are predictions of one far bigger in 2012. These things can throw everything into chaos; put us back to the Stone Age. A natural disaster used to set-up a takeover by an Antichrist and False Prophet, and through them Hell in general. I mean people like us, we'll survive, be okay. We already live outside of society. We can defend ourselves, get food. But most of the world's population won't be able to do that."

"So, how did you come up with this particular day?"

"Mayan calendar. Sibylline Prophecies. There're prophecies and predictions going back thousands of years, from multiple faiths and civilizations, naming that day as the end of the known world. Even a computer program designed to predict stock futures came up with the same date. This goes way beyond Christianity, Dean. It's everywhere, every culture."

"So, we have a possible time when something could happen to set gears in motion for an Antichrist and a False Prophet. And Cutter's Landing was what? Test run?"

Sam froze, eyes locked to Dean's. He'd obviously not thought of that. Nodding slowly, "Yeah. It had to be demons. What else has the power to do something like that?"

"But it wasn't blocked from you, not completely."

A weapon is only as good as the man who wields it.

"Dean, I melted down."

"We were warned because they couldn't hide everything from you. I think you melted down because maybe what you saw or heard or felt, whatever it was, your brain just couldn't cope with it. Do you remember anything other than what I do?"

Sam looked down, a short laugh and a shake of his head. "It's embarrassing, the one thing I kept thinking."

"Sammy, you had a temper tantrum in the car, what could be worse?" Dean tapped Sam's shoulder lightly. "C'mon, spill dude. There isn't anything you can't tell me. I might laugh, but you can always tell me."

"I...uh…" Sam picked at strings from the hem of his jeans. "I'd remember how when I was little there wasn't anything that could…you were always there, and I was never scared."

"Whatever it was that wasn't hidden from you, made you go back there. Thing is, we're both still here."

"I know." Sam said softly.

Dean let out a loud breath. His insides felt wobbly with relief. Sam wasn't having some kind of psychotic breakdown. His mind, not able to process what wasn't hidden from him had done a pretty sane and logical thing. It'd gone back to a time of absolute safety. "I think I wasn't affected because of you."

"Like I absorbed it or something?"

"Yeah. Just like that. None of the other people in the town had the same advantage. So, breakdown of social order, fight or flight, back to the Stone Age."

"What about Ernie and Peter?" Sam asked.

Dean caught how Sam's voice changed when he said Peter's name. How his brother still held onto the disgust, the pure loathing Dean had seen from him toward the boy. Sam was adult again, covering it, but it was still there.

As Dean began gathering the papers from the floor, one caught his attention. Written in Sam's handwriting were the words A.C./F.P. job requirements. Smiling because only his brother would make such a list, Dean casually perused the list. "Only the four of us who stayed in Ernie's bunker remembered anything." He held the list up to Sam.

Sam's eyes met his. "You don't think…?"

"Sammy, you got a damn checklist here. And I can tick these off." Dean flicked the paper. "Signs of the Antichrist. Comes from the sea, Ernie was born on a fishing boat out in the middle of the Atlantic. Visible scar from dying, remember the wound on his head?" Dean scanned the numbers and letters Sam had written across the bottom of the page, each letter of the alphabet was assigned a number. "Gimme your pencil." As Dean wrote, he let words tumble out of his mouth. "There was a plaque, it had his birth date and full name on it. Ernest Fred Adaey, born June 24, 1959. His name and birth date both…"

"What?" Sam leaned over, but Dean flipped the paper around before Sam could grab it from him. Leaning back, sucking in a breath, Sam's eyes widened. "He's the…?"

"Using your number-letter method and break the date down to a single digit for each part," Dean swallowed, "They both break down to six-six-six."

"What about Peter? He was there too, nothing changed him." Sam grabbed the paper with his notes, one finger going down the list. "He comes from land, born in the mountains. He knew things Yellow Eyes said to us, spoke the words a demon said. He wants to be a preacher. And when Ernie was shot, I remember that, Dean, it's like branded into my head, he told Ernie not to die and he didn't. I hated him for that, why could he stop Ernie from dying and I couldn't stop the same thing from happening to you?"

"I'm not dead, Sam." Pushing off the bed, Dean took the cardboard box Sam must have been keeping the clippings in and started stuffing things back into it.

Sam's voice was barely a whisper, "If we know, we have to—"

"What Sam? We have to do what? Go kill two people on a bunch of myth? This," Dean slapped at some papers on the wall, "isn't enough evidence. It's circumstantial at best."

"Then what?"

"We know what to watch. We know who these people are. We don't have much choice, we sit and we wait and we see what happens. There isn't anything we can do until we know for sure."

Sam sat staring at his hands, clenching and unclenching his fists. "I could kill Peter right now. Wrap my hands around his neck and," he made a twisting motion with his hands, "Snap."

"That right there just might be a bit of proof. There was definitely hostility from him to you too. Do you have any idea why?"

"No." Sam moved away, taking more of the paper from the walls, mimicking Dean's actions of putting them in the box. "Well, maybe."

"Go on." Dean stopped and turned to face Sam.

"I had the feeling, it wasn't anything substantial, but there was always this underlying, blinding fear I couldn't shake that Peter would do something, take you, and I wouldn't be able to…" He jumped a bit when Dean's hand landed on his shoulder. "Being near him hurt. Even the air around him felt wrong."

"I'm here, Sam. We both are." Dean took a deep breath, he plunged ahead. "Sam, we can't ignore this anymore."

"But you just said there wasn't anything—"

"That's not what I'm talking about. We have to face facts, Sam. There is something, you have something. I think ignoring it is stupid and possibly dangerous." Dean began to pace. "Look, I know I told you that night…before in the house with Lilith and Ruby…before I…before they…before I went away, I told you not to use whatever the power is, to never let it out. I was worried it'd kill you. I think I was wrong, Sam." He stopped in the middle of the room, looking hard at Sam.

"You want me to use it? I don't want to be something evil, what if—"

"What if nothing. You were exploding glass walls back there!" Dean pointed out the window, shouting the final words.

"I don't even know how I did that!" Sam shoved to his feet, was right in Dean's face in an instant, shouting back. "I'm not even sure I did it."

"Hell yes, you did it, Sam! I felt it. Felt it, do you get that? It just rolled out of you, radiated right off of your skin in waves." Dean ran one hand through his hair, stepping back and taking a deep breath, quieting his voice. "What if this just comes out, uncontrolled? Can we risk that? Can we risk not having it in control?"

Sam stood staring at him, looking shell shocked. Maybe the kid was.

Guardian or Destroyer?

"Sammy, maybe we're looking at this all wrong. Maybe using it isn't the problem, maybe losing control over it is. Maybe that's the evil. I told you I only saw the barrier when you were with me and awake. You keep saying you were the cause of it, but if you had caused it, I'd know, I'd feel it. I understand that now."

"What am I supposed to do?" Sam pressed the heel of one hand between his eyes, fingers gripping his bangs. When Dean pulled Sam's hand down, Sam lifted his head and looked at Dean with liquefied eyes.

"You? Nothing. We. Us. This is ours. With everything that's happened, there is one constant, one consistent. You and me. Us. We have to find a way to learn about it, and use it. You're not alone here, Sam. I think the worst thing we can do is ignore it. We do this on our terms. We do this together."


Three Days Later, A Country Road, Michigan…

Sam sat watching the scenery roll by without actually seeing it. The sun was going down, casting gold and pink rays of light through the trees and onto the road. He wasn't even sure exactly where they were, and he had no clue where they were going. Dean shifted in his seat making Sam glance over at him. His brother seemed oblivious when Sam eased around and angled so he could better see Dean's profile.

They'd been driving for days now, stopping only to eat and sleep. Sometimes Sam had to do both at the same time. He'd expected this, it was Dean's way. When Dean felt threatened or frightened, or more to the point, when he felt Sam was threatened and that frightened Dean the most, Dean ran. He took Sam right along with him.

In another week or so when Dean's feelings of being threatened scaled back, and they were lower on cash, they'd stop for more than a night here and there. For now, they drove. It was likely they'd lap the continental U.S. a few times before they really stopped, and probably not until they found a hunt, or one found them. In the meantime Dean drove, checking the rearview mirror every ten seconds, and Sam every two.

Sam didn't care, oddly it brought him feelings of comfort and safety, being in the Impala with Dean was the biggest constant of his life. His mind churned through everything from the past week yet again.

Demons testing how humans in general might react to a disaster big enough to reduce everything back to before the industrial revolution. Testing what they had to fight in an open, all out war. Somehow that seemed the least surprising of everything.

Dean being able to still see demons, that one had Sam's mind going in circles. His brother experiencing some kind of backlash, reaction, or whatever it was, when Sam's power boiled out, unbidden, to break glass boggled his mind and sent his emotions spiraling. Sam had broken glass, without thinking about it, without wanting to when he was afraid for Dean. It'd happened a few times. Dean made it sound so simple, learn to control it, use it. Sam didn't even know what it was, let alone what to do with it.

"What?" Dean's voice broke his thoughts. He turned his head far enough to face Sam, tapping on Sam's shoulder before looking back out the window. "Are there bugs in my hair or something?"

Sam smiled, "No. Sorry. Was just thinking."

"Yeah, about what?"

"About how maybe I have a chance to sleep in a bed tonight and not the backseat?"

Dean's shoulders stiffened for a few seconds then he sat back, blew out a breath, and relaxed.

"Or not. Don't sweat it; I get what you're doing. I'm starting to like the backseat."

"Sammy—"

"Thanks." Sam blurted out.

Dean shot him another look. He rolled one hand off the steering wheel, palm up in a questioning motion.

"In the library, when that woman called me a freak and you told her I wasn't. Thanks for that...and for all this." Sam waved one hand at the road before them.

Doing his best fish out of water impression, Dean looked from the road to Sam and back again a few times before mumbling, "Welcome."

Maybe Ernie was the Antichrist and maybe Peter was the False Prophet, time would be the only thing to tell them that. Maybe some terrible disaster loomed close in their future. Maybe the entire thing had been some grand scheme to push him, both of them to their limits. See what sort of effect might come from a potential cause. Sam had no answers to those questions.

What he did know, and know with complete conviction, was that Dean had done more than return from Hell. He'd come back changed, but still Dean. He was edgier and sharper and somehow even more of a hunter. He was still the man who'd fight for people who had no clue what Dean fought against.

Dean had survived Hell and come back with something more than he'd gone there with. He'd come back with a means to fight Hell. Sam had survived his own Hell on Earth, and he knew there was one reason why. He'd hung on, never let go of Dean. There were huge gaps of time during that week Sam had no memory of, had no idea what went on, just the vague feeling of reaching out, grasping and hanging on.

Demons might have a plan to open Hell and set themselves free, but the Winchesters were going to be waiting. They'd been to Hell once, neither Dean nor Sam were going back.

The End…

…just might begin on December 21 2012, are you ready?