It Runs In The Family

Author: Cheryl W.

Disclaimer: I do not own any characters or any rights to Dark Angel or Supernatural, nor am I making any profit from this story.

Summary: Crossover with Dark Angel and Supernatural –AU. Dean, Sam and Alec's continuing adventures. No slash.

SNDASNDASNDASNDASN

Chapter 31 – What Matters Most – Epilogue – part 2 aka The end

SNDASNDASNDASNDASN

It wasn't a foreign occurrence to Alec to wake up in pain. For most of his life, pain was the last thing he felt before he slept at night and the first thing that registered with him every morning. He just came to accept that it was Manticore's take on a goodnight lullaby and reveille.

But while the awareness of pain was almost expected there were other things that were wholly not expected. Like the feel of a hand nestled in his own and the weight of something warm lying on his stomach.

Forcing his eyes open, Alec blinked against the light filtering into the windows until his enhanced retinas compensated, brought the room into sharp focus. But that focus quickly shimmered as his eyes filled at the sight of his sleeping brothers. Of Sam sitting in a chair to his left, his brother's larger but immeasurably gentle hand in his and of Dean slumped against the right side of his bed, his big brother's head mashed onto the edge of the mattress and his arm flung over Alec's waist.

In that moment, the pain, all of it was worth it. Squeezing Sam's hand and lightly brushing his other hand over Dean's disheveled hair, Alec didn't think there was a luckier guy in the whole world than him. He smiled as his brothers almost simultaneously jerked awake, left the comfort of sleep simply at his touch, because he might have need of them.

"Alec," Sam breathed, a wide smile blooming on his face.

Alec wanted to be true to form, to offer up some wisecrack, to prove that he was alright, to not worry his brothers more than their eyes revealed they were. But only one thought ebbed through his mind. "You're here," awe and gratitude and happiness coiled in the simple observation.

Exchanging a look with Sam, Dean expected Sam to gloat at having pegged Alec's needs correctly. Instead, Sam just smiled all the wider before he looked to Alec.

"Only place we would be, Alec," Sam simply stated, his eyes crinkling with affection as they held Alec's.

Alec smiled back at Sam, reveled in his brother's warm assurance. Then he rolled his head to face Dean, knew that his oldest brother wouldn't telegraph his emotions like Sam did, that he would have to decipher what Dean wouldn't say.

But to his surprise, Dean proved easier to read than Sam ever was. His oldest brother's affection, his relief, his fear, it was there in Dean's tremulous expression, in the depths of his eyes, in the wavering confession. "I thought we were going to lose you…that I lost you…."

"Never happen," Alec reassured. Though the declaration came out hoarsely, his eyes sparkled with life as they looked from one brother to the next. "Stubbornness, the likes you've never seen before, runs in my family. It's a curse really…"

Sam chuckled and Dean smirked, challenged, "A curse, huh?"

"Totally, like good looks. Other transgenics just have to deal with the feline hormones, but me, I've got this Greek godlike appearance. It's a real burden, let me tell you."

"So I've been told," Sam teasingly drawled, looking from Alec to Dean and getting cocky smiles back from both of them.

"Yeah, like you're not beating them off with a stick every bar we go into…" Dean mumbled in mock jealousy. Looking to Alec, he drawled, "Did Sam tell you about the rich cougar that couldn't keep her hands off him …"

But things were starting to reconfigure in Alec's head, the hows and the whys and the 'why aren't we dead?' slowly adding up. So before his brothers could bamboozle him further with their purposefully lighthearted banter, Alec interrupted, more than a trance of Manticore soldier in his no-nonsense tone. "How long have I been out? Can Lydecker tell if Manticore is still coming after us? Do you have trip wires set up outside?"

"One question at a time, tiger," Dean soothed, putting a steadying hand on Alec's shoulder to calm his suddenly frantic brother. But Alec's eyes bore impatiently into his, demanded answers to all of his questions and more. Like all big brothers, Dean folded, scrambled to settle his little brother's fears. "You've been out a few hours. And yes, we have booby traps set up because, believe it or not, Sammy and I know a little bit about how to protect ourselves, don't need you to supervise us all the time," he sarcastically drawled, because, yeah, he catered to Alec but that didn't mean he didn't resent it just a tiny bit. After all, little brothers were supposed to cower in the mere presence of their big brother.

Not even reacting to his brother's mocking indignation, Alec pressed, "What did Lydecker say? Is Manticore closing down Boris' research? Is the tracker in Dean's blood still working?" directing his final question to Sam.

Understanding Alec's tenacious worry, Sam patiently announced, "We didn't call Lydecker." At Alec's, frustrated, almost angry expression, he gently reminded, "Alec, you made us promise to not call Lydecker, remember? So well…we didn't." He watched as his brother's forehead creased in confusion before it smoothed out but his mouth turned down into a grim frown.

"To not call and get him here to play Dr. Feelgood for me," Alec slowly pronounced, struggling to not condemn his brothers for their recklessly blind acquiescence to his wishes. "That didn't mean you shouldn't have asked him, oh I don't know, if you were going to end up on a Manticore exam table if you were foolish enough to stay in some motel for a few hours to fix me up."

Sam was too stunned at the reprimand to reply but Dean didn't have any such limitations.

"Oh, excuse us for making saving your life our top priority," Dean sarcastically volleyed back. "And since you were acting like Lydecker was the boogie man, I thought you'ld come up swinging if I even spoke Lydecker's name again, that you would think I betrayed you, went against your wishes and was calling him to come stitch you up. Which I didn't. I shoulda …but I didn't."

Alec's breath trapped in his chest but it had nothing to do with the physical trauma his body was still overcoming and had everything to do with the heartbreak in Dean's tone, in the paleness of Sam's complexion, in the exhaustion evident in both of his brothers' eyes. He silently cursed, hated that he was berating his brothers when he knew that everything they had done, it was all for him, to save him.

Forcing air into his tight lungs, Alec nodded, hoarsely returned, "Can we do a retake? Start with me saying 'thanks for saving my butt, again.' Lead casually into 'So how are things? Are we expecting any visitors?' 'Have I mentioned lately that I have the most awesomest brothers in the whole wide world?'"

Sam couldn't help himself, he laughed out loud at Alec's antics. He loved the kid too much to hold a grudge, especially when Alec had only been reacting out of fear. 'For our welfare. Mine and Dean's.' He knew that Alec was only angry because he and Dean had put his welfare ahead their own. 'He's a chip right off the block, that's for sure,' he thought, turning to see what said block's reaction would be.

Blindsided by Alec's repentance, earnestness and open affection, Dean fell silent, couldn't join Sam's laughter, not when his throat was closing up on him. Clearing his throat, he mumbled, "Yeah, well, ….." and then he petered out, could not voice the rest. That he had the awesomest little brothers. That he was sorry for getting angry, that Alec had gotten hurt in the first place. Wanted to explain that all this, it wasn't about anger. It was about fear, his fear of losing his family, of losing Alec. He managed at last, a husky, "That's more like it."

Knowing that Sam's laughter and Dean's awkwardness equaled forgiveness, Alec pulled on a cocky smile. "Now that that's settled. Ya gotta tell me about this cougar with the great taste to like Sam," he prodded, enjoying the blush that instantly pinked Sam's cheeks.

"No, Dean. You promised you would never mention that again…" Sam nearly pouted, only to be met with his big brother's devious smile.

"I lied."

And Sam didn't interrupt once…but five times in Dean's story telling, all the while basking in Alec's laughter and in Dean's smile and in the notion that everything was going to be fine.

SNDASNDASNDASNDASNDASN

It had nearly taken an act of God, but Alec had finally gotten his brothers to leave the room, to go grab something to eat in the diner across the street. Of course that was only after he vowed to stay in bed, to not think about even crawling to the little boy's room on his own. He would have chaffed at the lecture if his brothers' open concern for him didn't turn his insides to mush.

'But they didn't say anything about not reaching out and touching someone,' he rationalized as he picked up the cell phone that Sam had made sure was within his reach. You know, in case he needed his big brothers in the twenty minutes or less that they would be gone. Because, though they had said they might be gone for an hour, Alec would bet his motorcycle that his brothers wouldn't be able to stay away from him that long. 'Big bad hunters, more like big scruffy teddy bears,' he warmly scoffed as he dialed the phone number he had committed to memory.

Contrary to what his big brothers thought, Dean and Sam did need him to protect them. Especially when they were not watching their backs as fiercely as he would. Well, if he could. And that was the whole point of the phone in his hand. He couldn't protect his brothers right now, not unless the threat fled at poor karaoke singing.

"Hello?" Came the cautious greeting from the only person who could help him safeguard his brothers.

"Aaahhh, were you waiting by the phone for my call?" Alec snarkily asked, fighting down his mixed emotions at the sound of Lydecker's voice, at the knowledge that the man was still alive, was still out there.

The audible sigh of relief he heard across the connection? Alec didn't quite know what was a performance and what was real when it came to his former commander.

"Since your opening words weren't a threat, I'm assuming you found Dean," Lydecker replied, his words coming out more a worried question than he intended.

"Yeah, the reunion was a cross between 'Rumble in the Bronx' and a Lifetime Movie but that's just our family for you. Course the reunion that was the real historical page turner was ours with Boris. In case your sources are behind the times, Boris is dead. My guess is that his whole team is," a proud, deadliness hummed through Alec's statement.

"Boris was in the field? He never…he's .." Lydecker stammered.

"More of a stay-at-home kinda guy? Well, like you always taught us, feelings get in the way of clear thinking. He wanted Dean so badly…" Alec began but he had to take a moment to wipe out the memory of just how close Boris had gotten to killing him and Sam, to taking Dean back to Manticore. "He made it personal…and so did we," he savagely declared.

"His team…there were maybe twenty or more men assigned …"

"Gee, aren't we Mr. Information suddenly," Alec darkly cut in, beginning to wonder how long Lydecker had this information and hadn't bothered to share. "You barely got us any leads on Dean's tracker and now, all of a sudden, you're read in on the file. Did you make another deal, sign up for another Manticore project?"

"No! No! Of course not…"

"Because you would never work for sadists like that?" Alec incredulously shot back. "Would never use a supposed friend's son as a component in your experiment? Would never put my brother on a medical slab to see your sick dream realized?" The words coming out of him before he could hold them back.

And then it was like opening Pandora's box, the million questions about himself breaking free, demanding answers as insistently as his lungs demanded breath. "You know, that's what I don't understand. Why John Winchester's son? Did you hate John? Did you want to call him up one day, gloat that you exploited, distorted the goodness that was in his son. Why, Lydecker? Make me understand. Why did you make me? Use Dean to do it?"

"Alec…" Lydecker began, would not answer what Alec was asking, could not. Did not want to.

"You don't mean Alec. You mean 494, right? Good little obedient soldier who thought you would look out for me, who believed that a family was having someone like you in his life. Someone who taught me, trained me, helped me survive. But now I know, I know what you are…and what you aren't."

Drawing in a breath, shaking his head, Alec rid himself of the thousand wounds of his childhood. When he continued, his voice was steady, cold. "You saved Dean and Sam. That's worth more to me than anything else you could have done…or not done. Just tell me if the tracker in Dean is still functional, if someone's going to take up Boris' experiment, come looking for Dean. You tell me that and you'll never hear from me again. I won't even mention your name at the Manticore reunions."

Though Alec had slipped behind his façade, was throwing out wisecracks like landmines, Lydecker wasn't fooled. Knew what ran beneath the younger man's words, that, after everything he had done, had risked, Alec thought he presented a threat to his brothers, that if they met again, Alec would be inclined to take it as an act of aggression against him and his brothers.

'Did you think he forgot everything you drilled into him? To savagely defend Manticore to the death, if necessary. To not let anything stop him from completing his mission. To never abandon his unit. Alec remembers it all…lives by it in the new world he's created. He would kill to save his brothers, would die rather than fail them and would never leave them. Ever.'

"Lydecker," Alec growled, his patience fleeing and his anger growing at the man's lack of response.

Not doubting Alec's boast that Boris was no longer among the living, Lydecker guaranteed, "With Boris gone, his experiment will be closed."

"What about Dean? Someone else might find him valuable, since he's the sole surviving DNA donor and all."

"They won't be coming for him again," Lydecker confidently cut in. "I hacked into the mainframe, removed his name and everything that linked him to you or to any of your clones."

Lydecker's statement, it should have produced only relief in Alec but instead it struck a blow he didn't know he was susceptible to. 'Removed…everything that linked him to you.' There was anger, hurt in his tone as he shot back, "That's what you do best, isn't it. Destroy connections, rip families apart, treat people like they are your own personal salvage yard, steal the parts you want and scrap all the rest. And then you take what you stole and twist it, create it into something you can control, can manipulate. What appealed to you most about Dean, his pain, his strength or the fact that his father raised him to be a soldier?" he spat, not expecting an answer.

But he got one.

"All of that," Lydecker quietly admitted, as much to Alec as to himself.

Alec squeezed his eyes shut, had not been as ready for the truth as he thought he was. Was infinitely glad that Dean wasn't there, wasn't hearing the callous reasons that made him worthy to inspire a string of clones that would never be even five percent the man he was.

"Even so young, Dean was exemplary, showed bravery and discipline…."

"Stop!" Alec harshly hissed, hands fisting around the phone, would have been around Lydecker's throat if the man were there.

"..was so like John and yet, so different."

Alec wanted to cut off Lydecker's words again but he selfishly didn't. He yearned for any small insight into his brothers' father, for an outsider's point of view of Dean and Sam's childhood that he greedily fell silent.

The Manticore scientist didn't stop his flow of words, needed someone to understand, to know what he had strived to achieve. "John, had changed since Vietnam, losing someone irreplaceable, losing his wife, it had hardened him in ways the war hadn't. Only his need for revenge and his two boys were keeping him going. And I understood that, living with only memories, aching for what you lost, wanting to get them back, any way you could," Lydecker's admitted, his voice husky with regret and remembered pain.

"And Max was your way, wasn't she?" Alec surmised, suddenly remembering something Max had told him about Lydecker. "Her DNA is from someone you loved…and lost."

"Yes," Lydecker acknowledged, an edge to his voice that Alec had never heard before from the Manticore commander, a weakness, a vulnerability. "I wanted part of her back, and then I saw John with his sons…."

Alec felt sick as the pieces fell together. Dean hadn't been part of the X5 transgenic program, he had been the inspiration for it. Lydecker had wanted what John Winchester had so badly that he had broken every moral code, had sought not to create a new race but to create living breathing humans.

"Using human DNA, having surrogate mothers, it succeeded where the other experiments with only animal DNA failed," Lydecker said, extolling his genetic breakthrough like he thought Alec would be someone who would appreciate such genius. "In appearance, you were human, simply gifted with nature's most useful instincts. You were to be the best of us, of who we were. You could do things ordinary humans couldn't, could survive extreme conditions and extensive wounds. You were created to risk your life so humans didn't have to. To die so we didn't have to lose the ones we loved."

Alec pulled in a shaky inhale, was overloaded by Lydecker's confession, by the man's motives, by the emotions it stirred in him. A memorial and a replacement, a scapegoat and saving grace. He was meant to be it all. To be better than humans, and to die to save them. He was a fusion of what John Winchester had lost and could never bear to lose.

"But you were…" Lydecker choked back the words and for a moment, it seemed like he wouldn't continue. When he did, his voice was strong and his convictions were stronger. "Were more human than I ever planned for you to be. You weren't stand-ins for who I lost, for who John lost. You had some of the traits of your DNA donors, had most of their looks, yes, but you weren't them any more than a child is their parents. And just like every person ever born, the decisions you make, what you value, who you choose to follow in this life, it defines who you are."

"I once followed you…" Alec pointed out with shame, knowing more than ever that Lydecker wasn't the greatest of role models, that the paths he had lead him down were dark and unseemly.

"Not willingly," Lydecker gruffly reminded. "But you would follow Dean and Sam to the ends of earth. You want their respect like you never sought mine. I might have stolen Dean's DNA but you earned your place with your brothers. They love you unconditionally and that's something rare and precious, something not a lot of us ever get in this life."

"So you expect me to thank you…for exploiting Dean when he was just a child? For creating me? For creating Ben and loco 492? For playing God?" Alec asked but there was little heat in the words, was more searching wonder.

"No," Lydecker curtly answered. "Not thank me….or forgive me. Truth is, I wouldn't undo what I did. But if I had to do it all over again…."

"What? You'ld teach us how to play baseball and paint smiley faces," Alec sardonically challenged.

That got a low chuckle from Lydecker. "No. Not that. But I guess I would take a page out of your brothers' book."

"How's that?"

"Just because they didn't expect you to come into their lives, that didn't mean that they didn't need you in their lives."

Alec was struck speechless by Lydecker's sentimental wisdom. He had always thought that that was the reason his brothers were in his life, not the other way around. Then, before Lydecker could think he suddenly turned mute, Alec covered up his emotional upheaval with a snarky, backhanded statement of praise, "Maybe you're not as full of crap as I thought you were."

"I have my moments. I have my moments. Now take care of yourself, Alec, because, like you've proven at every turn, you're one of the good guys. You and your brothers both are," Donald Lydecker said before he ended the connection, not aware that his parting words caused a joyous smile to emerge on his former pupil's face the brilliance of which none of his clones would ever sport.

SNDASNDASNDASNDASNDA

The next afternoon, Sam entered the motel room with three lunches in hand, was heading for the table when he came up short. Slowly, he backtracked, came to a towering halt over the two figures on the couch.

"Yeah, you sure are one tough disciplinarian, Dean," he taunted his older brother but his eyes were purposefully resting on Alec. Alec who was tucked into a nice comfy ball on the couch and using Dean's lap as a foot rest. Alec who Dean swore up and down wasn't allowed to get out of bed.

"Ssshhh…" Dean hushed, eyes dropping to make sure Sam's outburst didn't wake Alec. Finding Alec's breathing still even with sleep, he looked up to Sam in time to see his brother shake his head while sporting his most cocky of smirks.

Dropping his voice to a whisper, Sam gloated, "You're such a softie, Dean. Whenever Dad left you in charge you never punished me for anything."

"Sam, you were a geek. You never did anything that needed punishment," Dean quietly shot back, purposefully shutting down the memories of all the times that he had wanted to throttle his rebellious little brother.

"Yeah, right," Sam snorted. "You caved instead of punishing me."

"Which is probably why you're such a spoiled brat," Dean lobbed at Sam but there was no malice in his words, and his eyes were filled with affection for said spoiled brat.

Sam smiled softly at the accusation. "No doubt. And Alec's got you wrapped around his super powered pinkie too."

"Does not," Dean protested in a hissed whisper.

"Does too," Sam sing songed.

As if to prove that point, when Alec moved, let out an exhaled breath, Dean froze, dreaded the return of the crease of pain on his little brother's features. A crease that never came. With one little brother seen to, he reluctantly looked up at Sam, knew he had made Sam's point for him. But Sam only had eyes for Alec.

Smugness seeped into Dean as he realized he wasn't the only one wrapped around Alec's little finger. "Yeah, 'cause you haven't been spoiling him one bit. Would never strong arm me into agreeing to throw your bet with Alec, make sure Alec won…and you lost?" Dean pressed, cocking an eyebrow in incredulousness.

"I really want to learn to cook," Sam petulantly returned, but as the left side of Dean's mouth raised in a 'yeah, right Sammy' smirk, he exhaled. "It's not like you don't want to learn to play the piano."

"Yeah, because it's about me. It's so not about you giving Alec anything he wants?" Dean snorted. "You trying to out do me for big brother of the year?"

Sam couldn't help but smile at that notion. "Absolutely. I think I'll have it in the bag if you agree to one more thing…."
"No."

"You haven't even heard what it is yet."

"And still I'm saying no."

A sleep thickened voice interrupted their banter. "I'll call the big brother thing a tie …."

Dean shot Sam a reprimanding look for waking their wounded little brother even as Sam's face was marked with guilty shame.

Apprehensively they watched Alec roll onto his back with a grimace. But a cocksure smile appeared on his pale features as he pinned both of his brothers with his gaze. "..if you two do me one favor…"

"Anything," Sam and Dean wholeheartedly vowed at the same time, their voices complimenting each other like only the best bands ever could. The ones that seemed divinely sanctioned.

And it took all of Alec's covert training to not smile at the victory he could almost smell. "There's this thing I want for Christmas. You could say it's pretty close to my heart…" he drawled, patting his chest, right where the protection tattoo rested on both of his brothers' chests.

"No!" Dean heatedly forbade. But an instant later, it wasn't just Alec giving him the puppy dog eyes. Apparently his little brothers weren't above double teaming him.

Employing his most effective peace-making tone, the one he unveiled when Dean was being stubbornly overprotective, Sam began, "Just hear him out Dean…"

"No. End of discussion," Dean snapped, eyes giving Sam a glare before settling firmly on Alec. No way were they going to change his mind on this one. He was the big brother and he did know best.

"It's not like it'll be my first run in with ink," Alec serenely supplied, stepping up to the plate to take his turn at persuading Dean. "And I've really come to appreciate the artistic message of my bar code. It's kind of a modern, 'we are the world' message. That we're all products on the shelf of life…."

"Aaahhh please, I'm gonna hurl if you continue," Dean interrupted, his tone a cross between a whine and a threat, hoping that ended the debate because, like it or not, he was a captive audience. He would not do a thing to jostle Alec's injured leg, which meant he was trapped on the couch, wasn't going anywhere,. Trouble was, his brothers knew that too.

Sitting down on the small table beside Dean's propped up legs, Sam mischievously added, "Dean, come on. I don't know why you're being such a stick in the mud when it comes to tats. You don't seem to mind girls with tattoos."

"Speaking from experience, I've gotta tell you that girls with tattoos are way more fun," Alec said with a waggle of his eyebrows, knowing full well that Max would give him a head slap for his comment.

"And still, my answer's no. So drop it and move onto wish number two. How about a nice nose ring? I hear they are the new tats this year," Dean helpfully offered, turning hopeful eyes on Alec.

"Dean…" Alec bleated but it was Sam who ended up shaking his head, shutting down his entreaty.

"Nope. Forget it Alec. I've seen him get like this before. There's no budging him…" Sam counseled.

Dean settled back in the couch, smug in his victory. "You got that right."

"Guess I'm going to be the reigning best big brother," Sam announced, sighed as if he was taking the title unwillingly. He offered a wink to Alec a second before Dean scoffed.

"In your dreams, Sammy."

Getting in on the game, Alec admitted with mock resignation, "No. Sammy's pretty well got it locked in now. Guess age and experience is letting you down this time, Dean."

Dean's jaw clenched and he offered his brothers matching glares. He knew what they were up to but he wasn't going to fall for it. Nope. Not this time. His ego could take the hit. So what if Alec thought Sam was awesome and 'I'm a straight-laced, boring, stick in the mud' Dean bitterly finished.

"Don't take it personally Alec," Sam consoled, his eyes on Dean instead of his younger brother. "Dean's specialty is giving lame Christmas gifts. One year he gave me a Barbie doll…."

Pointing a finger at Sam, Dean animatedly protested the malign of his character, "Hey, that was a mistake and you know it, Sam."

"Do I?" Sam innocently retorted, bit his lip to hold back his smile at Dean's rising indignation.

"Yeah, you know it! I wanted to give you something for Christmas…."

"What? A twirling baton?"

Alec smiled as his brothers bickered about their past Christmases and slowly but surely started to rethink his whole tattoo wish. After all, his brothers were the ones that showed him that some tattoo could never define who he was, or even what he was. And sure, his barcode tattoo was more apt to get him and the people he cared about in trouble but then again, when did a Winchester need help finding trouble.

'And when did I start putting more faith in a design on my skin than my brothers?' he scathingly asked himself. 'If I need saving, if they need saving, we have each other.' And that right there, it had a better success rate then any protection tattoo ever would.

Alec opened his mouth to announce his new decision, to bring a halt to his brothers' squabbling.

"Come on Sammy, I know the baton inspired you, had you going out for Stafford's cheer team," Dean taunted, turning the tables on his little brother, offering Alec a gloating 'this will get Sam's goat' smile.

"Yeah, right. Course it did," Sam sarcastically drawled.

Deciding that his announcement could wait, Alec closed his mouth and leaned back on the couch to contently watch the show. He vaguely wondered when he would stop being enthralled by his brothers'. The answer was quick in coming. 'Never.'

Out of the blue, Dean snapped his fingers as if a thought just came to him. "Oh, that's right." He waited a beat for dramatic effect, until he was sure he had effectively retained both of his brothers' rapt attention before he spoke again. "They don't use batons in their routine. All that practicing you did for nothing, Sammy."

"You're a jerk, Dean," Sam proclaimed, his tone carrying a faint reminiscence of his sulking adolescent timbre before it fell into a resigned chuckle. Turning to Alec, he warned, "He's a jerk, right? I'm the awesomest big brother and he's a jerk. Just nod your head. I won't let Dean beat you up, for agreeing with me."

Before Alec could do more than offer up a goofy smile, Dean was making his own case. "Don't let Sammy pressure you," he said, meeting Alec's eyes, barely holding back his smile. "We both know who's going to win this race, hands down." And then his smile emerged in all its smug glory.

"Oh really," Sam drew out in challenge. "You and what ghost army?"

"You went there. I can't believe you went there…" Dean drawled, shaking his head but his smirk promised that he was more than looking forward to the battle ahead because the prize, it was so worth it.

"Now, guys. Let's talk about personal service," Alec interjected. "I really could use a back rub…."

"Forget it" came the resounding answer, attesting to the fact that his brothers could still agree even when they disagreed. Course that didn't mean either one of them was conceding the battle. After all, surrender wasn't in the Winchester playbook.

'And neither is playing things safe,' Alec accepted, was starting to see that his brothers had been raised to be soldiers as much as he had. That Shiloh, it wouldn't be the last battlefield they took a stand on. His family would always face danger…but never alone.

'And it sure isn't going to be some tattoo that saves my butt, every single time. And then brags about it,' Alec silently quipped, smiling as his brothers' one-upmanship gained momentum. Suddenly he knew that, maybe other people needed to wait for some magical date on a calendar to get what they wanted most. But not him.

Because everything he ever wanted, everything he never allowed himself to hope for, he already had it. In spades.

SNDASNDASNDASNDA

The End!

SNDASNDASNDASNDA

A truckload of thanks is owed to every single person who took a chance on this AU, who reviewed with such kindness and insight, who patiently waited for long-in-coming updates, who read chapter after chapter. Thank you to all of you!

You might have caught on that I left a few things hanging, namely the bet between Sam and Alec and Alec's Christmas gift for Dean. I'm hoping those loose ends work as an encouragement to me to write the Christmas tale I promised and a hook to get you back to check it out.

Until then, everyone enjoy the new season of Supernatural!

Cheryl W.