Disclaimer/backstory: Aside from the usual disclaimers, which most definitely apply, I have to confess that the premise of the story is not entirely my own idea. Back in June, TeamFreeWillAngel and I corresponded for a couple of weeks about her story "Samuel M Winchester, US Army." She had asked me to take a look at a revised and expanded version, but I haven't heard from her since early July, nor have I seen any of the revisions she made. However, some of the suggestions I'd made were still fairly fresh in my mind when I wandered over to the most recent hoodie_time Dean-focused h/c comment-fic meme and found two back-to-back prompts requesting combat-injured Dean; one even suggested Dean as a Navy SEAL. Now, I don't know any SEALs; my acquaintance with current Navy personnel is limited mainly to reading bloggers like Neptunus Lex and CDR Salamander on occasion. But I do know Marines, and I also know stories like that of MAJ Chuck Ziegenfuss, a tank commander who was badly wounded in an IED attack in Iraq in 2005. So this story is the result of combining both prompts and RL experiences, mine and others'. I've used the timeline created by hells_half_acre to guide the timing (aside from the date of Sam's powers beginning to come online), along with the RL events that led to the creation of Project Valour-IT. I've also tried to find a different tack for one of the plot devices that I've seen done very well by others; I wouldn't have used it at all had the story not taken a harder-than-expected turn to the AU.

In honor of MAJ Chuck Ziegenfuss, who inspired this story; my cousin the Marine, my cousin the airman, and my other cousin who's joining the Air Force this fall; and the many other heroes in uniform who have shed blood, sweat, and tears in the Sandbox and elsewhere—this truly is the land of the free because of the brave.

Semper Fi
by San Antonio Rose

If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven's scenes,
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines.
-Marine Hymn

October 31, 2005
0800 PST

Sam was deep into study mode, so much so that he didn't hear his phone ring until Jess smacked his leg and said, "Psst, Max! Your shoe is ringing!"

Sam laughed and picked up his cell phone, frowning a little as he saw an unfamiliar phone number with a 760 area code. "Hello?"

"Samuel Winchester?"

Sam's frown deepened. "Yes."

"Sir, this is Sgt. Seth Jackson, United States Marine Corps. I regret to inform you that your brother has been injured by an IED in Iraq."

Sam blinked again. "Dean? But—how long's he been in the Marines?"

Sgt. Jackson didn't sound at all rattled by the question. "Two years, sir. We couldn't locate your father, and you were the only other family member listed as next of kin."

"Is... will he... will he live?"

Jess sat forward at that.

"He's alive," said Sgt. Jackson, "but he's badly injured, though it looks like his internal organs are all undamaged. He's being evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center as we speak. I don't know much more than that at this time. Apparently Cpl. Winchester has quite the sense of humor, though. The medic said that he said to tell you to look after his car or he'd haunt you."

He would, too, Sam thought, still dazed. "When can I see him?"

"He'll be in ICU for a few days. But if you can get to Germany, you should be able to go into the room briefly when there are no tests or examinations going on. Otherwise, you'll have to wait until they ship him to Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio."

"I'll call Mom," whispered Jess.

Sam nodded but held up a finger. "Okay. Who do I contact?"

Sgt. Jackson rattled off names and phone numbers of people in both places for him to contact for updates on Dean and for travel assistance. Sam thanked him and hung up numbly.

"Sam?" Jess prompted. "What happened?"

"Um. Hang on a sec. I need to call a couple of people—you can listen." Sam took a deep breath and let it out again, then turned on the speakerphone and dialed one of the few numbers he'd had memorized long before he came to Stanford.

"Hello?" said a gruff voice on the other end.

"Hey, Bobby. It's Sam Winchester."

"Sam!" Bobby sounded pleasantly surprised. "How are you, son?"

"I'm fine, thanks... but Dean's not."

"What's that idjit done now?"

"IED attack. In Iraq. And apparently Dad's disappeared. Bobby, I didn't even know Dean was in the Marines..."

Jess grabbed her laptop and started typing.

"Slow down, Sam," said Bobby. "They call you 'cause they can't find John?"

"Yes, sir. They're taking Dean to Germany, and then when he's stable, they'll send him to San Antonio."

"All right. I ain't spoken to your dad for about six months, and from what I hear, he ain't on good terms with very many other hunters at the moment, either. But I'll call Jim and Caleb, and we'll see if we can't track him down, let him know what's happened. Is there anything you need? There's a Fisher House for both hospitals where you can stay for free, but if there's anything else—airfare, bus fare..."

Jess showed him the laptop screen with a travel site showing a flight for two from LAX to Cologne and mouthed, We've got this.

"Thanks," Sam said to both of them. "I'll let you know once I talk it over with my girlfriend."

Jess smiled and went back to typing.

Sam picked up the phone then and turned off the speakerphone; Jess didn't need to hear what Bobby was about to say next. "So when did Dean join the Marines?"

Bobby sighed. "Honestly, Sam, I don't know... but I can make a good guess. Wasn't long after your daddy chased him out of Palo Alto that last time that he sent Dean on a solo hunt, rumors of a poltergeist up in Connecticut. Only it turned out to be a daeva bein' controlled by a witch. Dean realized it was a two-man job, called Caleb for backup, still nearly got himself killed. Wasn't actually injured, and it wasn't his fault, but Caleb says it was way too close for comfort. John showed up and yelled at him for bein' an idjit, and Dean finally yelled back—'If you're gonna keep treatin' me like a damn Marine, maybe I oughta actually be one.' Couple days later he showed up here, left the Impala under a tarp, said he had somethin' to do overseas and he'd be back for it in a few years." Sam could almost hear Bobby shake his head. "Shoulda figured he meant he'd enlisted."

"I wish he'd told me."

"Probably didn't want you worryin' about him. You know how he is."

Sam sighed. "Yeah. I know."

"Well, listen, I'll let you go. Keep me updated, you hear?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you need anything, anything at all, you give me a call."

"Yes, sir."

"Take care of yourself, son."

"Thanks, Bobby. Bye."

Jess was IMing with her mom but looked over at Sam as he hung up the phone. "Who's Bobby?"

"Huh? Oh... old friend of the family. Said he'd call the other people I was gonna call. What's your mom say?"

"They'll pay for the plane tickets to Germany and back to San Antonio. No problem." But Jess obviously wasn't going to be diverted from the few odd things she'd heard in Sam's conversation with Bobby. "What does your dad hunt at this time of year? It's not deer season yet."

Sam hesitated. He hadn't told her the truth yet, and he still didn't want to, but if Dean was going to be out of his head on painkillers, there was no telling what he might say...


"There's really no telling," Sam replied. "But... he's not after game. Look, Jess... this is probably going to sound crazy, and I've never told you about it because I didn't want to lose you, but if you change your mind about me..."

Jess frowned. "He's not in the mob, is he?"

Sam huffed a laugh. "No. Nothing like that."

"So tell me."

He told her everything.

She didn't flinch or call him crazy, just nodded slowly. Then she said, "Sam, do... do you think maybe something like that happened to Brady?"

Sam blinked. "I... hadn't thought of it, but it's possible. Why?"

"Sometimes, the way he smiles at me... it gives me the creeps. And sometimes his eyes look black, like alien eyes. I know he's normally a pretty good guy, and I keep telling myself I'm getting paranoid from all the stress, but..."

A chill ran down Sam's spine. "We can be paranoid together, then, 'cause that... yeah. I don't know what could cause that, but it definitely sounds supernatural." He didn't want to believe anything was wrong with Brady, but he had changed pretty radically in the middle of sophomore year, and Sam really didn't think Jess would make up something like that.

Jess bit her lip and then nodded once decisively. "Okay, then. You pack and I'll call the dean. We've got a plane to catch."

"I knew there was a reason I loved you," Sam replied and kissed her.

While Jess drove them down to LAX, Sam called the chaplain's office at Landstuhl and requested a referral to the Fisher House. Then the chaplain forwarded him to someone who gave him an update on Dean's condition (critical but stable), and Sam took notes about Dean's various wounds so he could repeat it all to Bobby.

Burns and shrapnel wounds on both arms and legs. Right leg and left arm badly broken. Traumatic brain injury (concussion, Jess explained). Nerve damage in his hands for sure, possibly elsewhere; he'd lost a couple of fingers, might lose his whole left hand. Hearing loss, would need a skin graft to repair his eardrums. They'd have to watch for infection very carefully because of the condition of the room where the bomb had gone off.

Dean's squad had been clearing a house after a firefight, a house where several hostages had been held and others had been tortured and killed, and the place was filthy (though Sam could easily imagine it looking like one of the more disgusting Wendigo lairs they'd cleared back in the day). Dean had heard a noise from one of the back rooms and warned the other members of his platoon to stay back while he checked the room, even when there turned out to be a terrorist's body visible from the doorway. "Never know," Dean had said. "Guy could be playin' possum."

He was.

No one else was injured, and everyone said it was a miracle that Dean survived. One guy even swore he'd seen an angel standing between Dean and the bomber. Sam thought that was likely enough to be true.

Bobby was noncommittal. "Ain't too much lore on angels," he said, "less'n you count writers like Pseudo-Dionysius. Don't know a hunter who's ever run into one. Don't mean they don't exist, though."

"That's true," Sam replied. "Any luck on finding Dad?"

"It's only been two hours, Sam."


"Look, I know you're worried. Just keep Jim and me posted, and we'll make sure your daddy catches up to you wherever you are when we find him."

"Will do. Oh, and Bobby?"


"I told Jess about... hunting... and she thinks maybe something's up with one of our friends. His name's Brady." He repeated what she'd told him.

"I'll look into it," Bobby promised.

Just then Sam heard the Call Waiting beep and said a hurried farewell to Bobby before switching lines. It was the Landstuhl chaplain, calling back to inform him that Dean had arrived and that the Fisher House was full up.

"Can I speak to Dean?" Sam asked.

"I'm afraid not," the chaplain replied. "He's still getting settled. But one of our Soldiers' Angels volunteers will be in to see him shortly, and we'll be sure to let him know both that you called and that you're on your way."

"Okay. Thank you."

"Problem?" Jess asked as Sam hung up his phone with a sigh.

"Yeah. Looks like we're gonna have to find a hotel after all. Which probably means having to lie and say we're married."

Jess shrugged. "Doesn't have to be a lie."

Sam looked at her wide-eyed. "You mean... y-you will? I mean, will you?"

"Of course, silly."

It took every ounce of self-restraint Sam possessed not to kiss her senseless then and there, and the only reason he managed it was that traffic was terrible and their getting in a wreck wouldn't help Dean.

Dean hurt. That was all there was to it.

The fentanyl had taken the edge off—way off. He wasn't hurting so badly he couldn't speak anymore. But painkillers had always made him kind of loopy, so he couldn't really form too many coherent thoughts at the moment. And the pain was still there. It just... felt more like he'd taken a header into a tombstone rather than leaving significant portions of himself in a foreign country. Rang his bell pretty good, too, which wasn't helping him think straight.

He hated hospitals. He wanted to go home. Only... where was home, now? Pendleton? Palo Alto? Wherever the hell Dad had gone off to? Dammit, he'd fought to stay with Echo 2/1 and go back to Iraq just so he wouldn't have to think about these things...

What had Dad gotten a Purple Heart for, anyway? He never talked about 'Nam if he could help it.

Where was Dad? Why wasn't he here yet?

... Where was here again?


Germany. Right. Trenchcoat Guy. Casper or Columbo or something. Angel. Soldiers' Angels. Nice people. Pretty quilt in that backpack. Right size and everything. Hadn't had a quilt of his own since... since... well, there was that one at Bobby's...


Dean finally met Trenchcoat Guy's crazy blue eyes. "Wha?"

"Sam will be here in a few moments."

"Sammy?" Ought to hide Alec—embarrassing, big tough Marine with a teddy bear... but damn, it hurt to move...

"Yes, Dean. Sam's coming. I'm leaving now, but I'll try to stop by again later."

"'Kay. Uh... C-Cas?"

Trenchcoat Guy almost smiled. "Yes?"

"I can call you Cas?"


"'Kay. Thanks, Cas. 'Preciate it."

And that did make T—Cas smile. "You're welcome."

Dean let himself drift for a while once Cas left, contemplating the pretty quilt that the nurse had kindly covered him with. Red, white, and blue, it was, all kinds of patriotic fabrics, and the nurse had said the pattern was... Texas Star? Something like that, anyway. And he wondered idly if sewing might not be good therapy for his hands once he got his cast off—maybe not quilting, but he'd had to mend his and Sammy's clothes often enough when they were kids...


Dean looked up—and there he was, large as... larger than life, like a worried overgrown puppy, and with a blonde in tow, no less. And Dean's breath caught. "Sammy?"

"Yeah, Dean. It's me. And this is Jess... my wife."

"W-wife? Wait, when did this happen?"

"Yesterday. I was gonna propose soon anyway, but... we kinda figured..." Sam trailed off, a little embarrassed.

Dean's eyes slid over to Jess. "Honey, you are way out of my brother's league."

She giggled and held Sam's hand a little tighter... and Dean smiled, 'cause that was good. He deserved somebody like that.

Whatever that meant. Damn fentanyl.

Sam sat down beside Dean's bed. "So, um... how are you feeling?"

Dean sighed. "Like I been gored by a minotaur, dude."

Sam snorted and shook his head. "Doctor says the gut's one of the only places you didn't get hurt."

"Yeah? Lucky me."

"Dean... why didn't you tell me you'd enlisted? It's not that far from Palo Alto to Camp Pendleton."

"If I had called, would you have answered?"

Sam ducked his head.

"Aw, hell, Sammy, I don't... I can't remember now. 'M sorry."

Sam huffed. "Yeah. Me, too."

And then it dawned on him. "Sam... why'd they call you? Where's Dad?"

Somehow, Sam managed to look even more worried. "Nobody knows. Bobby and Pastor Jim are tryin' to track him down, let him know what happened. Bobby said he thinks maybe Dad went after a vengeful spirit in this town called Jericho, not too far from Stanford, but... you know what Dad's like when he doesn't want to be found."

Dean sighed. "Yeah. Un-unfortunately."

His next blink evidently lasted a little too long, because Sam very gently patted his shoulder. "We need to go get checked into the hotel, dude. But we'll be back later, I promise."

"'Kay. Glad you're here."

Sam started to say something else, but Dean was asleep before he could say it.

The Winchesters had once driven coast to coast in two days when Sam was little, and Sam hadn't thought anything of getting used to a four-hour time difference in that amount of time. That experience was absolutely no preparation for adjusting to a nine-hour time difference in the course of an eleven-hour flight. And though Jess had slept on the plane, Sam had woken with a start at midnight PST, not from the headache-inducing nightmare of Jess' death that had been plaguing him for months, but from the distinct sense that something, some enemy, was looking for him. That sense had stuck with him all the way to the hospital, disappeared briefly while they were in Dean's room, and returned with a vengeance as soon as they stepped outside.

"You okay, Sam?" Jess asked.

Sam decided to be honest. "I dunno. I've got this weird feeling... might just be jet lag, but I'm not sure."

"You look a little green. Maybe we should find an Aldi and pick up a few snacks on our way to the hotel. We should get a phone card, too—I don't think my cell plan covers Europe."

Sam agreed, and Jess didn't comment when he picked up a box of salt as well.

Once they were in their room, Sam instructed her to lay salt lines while he called Bobby. Unfortunately, Bobby's number went straight to voice mail, where the older hunter had left Sam instructions to call another number for some important news. Sam took down the number, cursed under his breath during the beep, and said, "Hey, Bobby, it's Sam. We're here. I'll call back later." He then hung up and tried the second number Bobby had given him.

"Harvelle's Roadhouse," drawled the male voice that answered.

"Is this Ash?"

"The one and only. You Sam Winchester?"

Sam cleared his throat in surprise. "Uh, yeah. Bobby told me to call. Has he found my dad?"

"Negatory, but you got bigger problems, my friend. Your pal Brady hopped a red-eye from LAX to Frankfurt about two hours ago."

"Brady? Why?"

"Bobby says he's possessed. And if the demon's been hidin' in plain sight as long as Bobby thinks it has, you've got real trouble."

Sam swore. One of the few monsters his father had never let him or Dean face was a demon; he knew some of the ways to defend against them, but Dean was a sitting duck.

"What's your email address?" Ash asked. "I can email you some information. Not a lot you can do in a military hospital, but there are some things you can get away with even there."

Sam sighed and gave it to him.

Trenchcoat Guy—Cas—was back. Dean thought he remembered Sam and Jess coming by again before it got too late, and he thought Jess pinned something to the back of his quilt before she tucked it in around him as tight as it would go, though he'd insisted on keeping his left arm out on top of the covers because the cast was so bulky. But here it was the middle of the night, and even with all the nurses coming in and out, Cas was still hanging around. Dean wished he felt up to finding out more about the guy, but all he ever did was watch Dean sleep. Never talked much. Never blinked much, for that matter.

Dean thought he really ought to be creeped out by Cas, but he was too doped up to care.

All of a sudden, Cas looked up like he heard something in the hall and left the room. Dean couldn't see where he went. But he wasn't alone for long; a blond guy who looked to be about Sammy's age, all tan and white teeth and condescension, walked in like he owned the place. Wasn't in uniform. Wasn't in a lab coat.

It was the middle of the night, and he didn't know this guy from Adam. Something was very, very wrong. And of course Dean didn't have a sidearm.

"Well, well," Blondie smirked, oozing up to the bed. "Lookee what I found. Dean Winchester, alive and unwell. Guess that explains why Sammy didn't show up at the Halloween party. Bet you don't even know what day it is, do you?"

Dean wasn't going to give this dude the satisfaction of a reply.

"'Course, being in a different time zone means the day's arrived a little sooner than you might have expected, and I really should be doing this about twenty hours from now, but technicalities aside—here in Germany, it's November 2, Deano."

Not good not good not good...

"I was supposed to toast his little Jessica, but it seems the kid wised up somewhere along the way. I couldn't get into his room. But I sure got into this one," Blondie leered and reached for a corner of the quilt.

But before Dean could cry out or reach the call button, Cas came back to the doorway and yelled, "HEY!"

Blondie turned. Cas did something Dean couldn't see. Blondie snarled something unintelligible and made some gesture of his own in Dean's direction. Cas snarled back.

And suddenly Blondie was vomiting black smoke. But at the same time, something hit Dean's left hand, through the cast, that sent white hot pain up his arm despite the painkillers, and Dean screamed. By the time the nurse got there, Cas was gone, Blondie was collapsed on the floor, and Dean was almost blinded by the burning agony in his hand. The nurse had to put him all the way under to give him any relief at all.

When he started to wake up again, he heard the doctor talking to someone:

"... lucky he screamed when he did, or we might not have been able to save his arm at all. As it is, I have no idea how the infection got started, but it was spreading like wildfire, far too quickly for antibiotics to have any effect."

"And you had to take the whole hand?" That was Sammy.

"Yes. I'm sorry, Mr. Winchester."

A sniffle... must be Jess.

"What about the man you found in here?"

"He was already dead when security arrived. Looked like his heart had been damaged by drug use and finally just gave out on him."

Dean opened his eyes a crack, and Sam saw him right away and grabbed his right hand. "Dean?"

Dean swallowed once, twice, looked at Jess, who was crying. Swallowed again. He didn't want to look... and yet he needed to see for himself...

"Dean?" Sam said again. "How much did you hear?"

Dean swallowed again, not sure he could talk, and slowly looked down at his left arm. Without a hand.

He wasn't sure if the sob that followed came from Jess or from him.

"It was a curse," Dean said later, once Jess had gotten a local SIM card for Sam's phone that would let them call Bobby direct and use the speakerphone. His speech was still kind of slurred from all the trauma and the painkillers, and Sam didn't want him to have to tell the story twice. "Had to be. Guy was goin' on about it bein' the day Mom died and how he was s'posed to kill Jess but couldn't get in the room, an' then he tried to pull off m'quilt."

Sam could almost hear Bobby frown. "Why the hell would he do that?"

"We pinned a devil's trap to the back," Sam explained. "Ash's idea."

"But Cas stopped 'im," Dean continued. "'M kinda fuzzy on what happened, but I think he exorcised the guy. Black smoke came out of 'im, I 'member that much. And somethin' hit my hand."

"Who's Cas?" Jess asked.

"Guy, 's around," Dean replied vaguely, clearly fading. "Blue eyes, black hair. Trenchcoat. Dunno."

"Get some rest, Dean," Bobby said gently. "Sam, take me off speaker."

"Yes, sir."

Dean was already half asleep by the time Sam got the phone up to his ear. Jess fussed over him quietly, and Sam went out into the hall.

"So what do you think?"

"We dodged a bullet, is what I think. Ain't much more you can do now 'cept be careful, not leave Jess alone unless she's behind salt lines. Looks like there've been some nasty omens around Palo Alto the last couple of days; could be that demon and whoever it was workin' for. Black eyes, it's probably workin' for someone."

Sam sighed. "Bobby... I've been having this nightmare since about mid-summer. It's like what Dean's told me about Mom's death, only it isn't Mom on the ceiling, it's Jess."

"That's bad."

"But last night the dream changed, and... I think I saw what happened to Dean, only in the dream he actually died."

"You ever get a headache with these dreams?"

"Yeah. Like, migraine."

Bobby made a thoughtful noise. "I dunno what to tell you, Sam. I've heard of psychics who get headaches like that; I've known psychics who don't."

Not that it helps much either way. "Any luck tracing Dad?"

"Yeah, all bad. I think he went flyin' off to Palo Alto to look into these omens, maybe catch the thing that killed your mom. But if it was Brady, he was too late. I've got Ash workin' on a few other possible traces, though."

"Okay. Thanks."

"When do they plan to send Dean back to the States?"

"Maybe Friday. He'll probably be at BAMC for a month or two; no tellin' how long after that the physical therapy's gonna take."

"You gonna stay with him?"

"Yeah. Jess started looking at apartments yesterday."

"What are you gonna do about school, son? You're awful close to graduatin'. Be a shame to just quit now."

"We need to talk to the dean, but... we're thinkin' we can take the spring off and then finish our coursework at UTSA, maybe graduate next December if all the credits transfer. But unless Dad's willing to give up the hunt for whatever killed Mom for a while, we're all Dean has. He needs us. School can wait."

"You think he'll try to fight the medical discharge? Lot of amputees do these days, and all Dean's lost is a hand."

"I dunno. Depends most on the nerve damage, I guess. The bones and the burns will heal okay, but the nerves... it's too soon to tell. And if he can't go back to Iraq, that probably means he can't hunt anymore, either."

"Guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Bobby said with what was probably a shrug. "Well, Sam, I'll let you go; don't want to run your phone bill too high. You be careful, though, y'hear?"

"I hear you, Bobby."

"All right. Take care, son."

As Sam slipped his phone back into his pocket and turned to go back into Dean's room, he thought he caught a glimpse of a tan trenchcoat disappearing around the corner in his peripheral vision. And he wondered.

Cas didn't show up again until late that night. Dean was running a low fever and couldn't sleep well, so he was sort of awake when Cas walked in. In fact, he was staring listlessly at the door, trying valiantly not to think about what was missing from the arm that was now propped up on a little handmade pillow, also courtesy of Soldiers' Angels, and on Alec, which Jess had tucked under Dean's elbow while Sam wasn't looking.

Dean liked Jess. She looked too much like Mom at some angles, but she wasn't just any girl. She was Sam's girl, his wife, and that made her Dean's sister. And that was awesome. He'd always kind of wanted a sister.

But anyway, here was Cas, sitting down gingerly on the edge of Dean's bed and looking miserable. And that was odd.

"Hey, Cas. Where ya been?"

"I had... other matters to attend to," Cas replied. "I wished to ensure that you and your family would be safe until you are returned to America."

"And are we?"

"Yes." Cas sighed heavily and looked at Dean's arm for a moment before meeting Dean's eyes again. "I am sorry, Dean. I never intended for you to be attacked again. I should not have allowed the demon to get so close."

Dean blinked and frowned. "Are you a hunter, Cas?"

Cas tilted his head and looked confused. "No. As I told you before, I am an angel of the Lord."

Dean snorted. "No such thing."

"You believe that because we were unable to save your mother."

"Damn ri—" Dean stopped in mid-word as the implications hit him. "You... you mean you tried?"

Cas nodded sadly. "Azazel had placed Enochian wards on your house to prevent us from entering. The most I could do was to shield you and Sam as you ran to the Impala."


"The demon that killed your mother and gave orders for Jessica to be killed. I believe his intent was to force Sam back into hunting."

Maybe it was the fentanyl, but Dean's brain steadfastly refused to process what he'd just heard. Instead, he blinked stupidly at Cas for a moment before asking quietly, "Cas... can you fix me?"

"No." Somehow Cas looked even more miserable when he said that. "I am here... undercover, as you might say. Restoring you to full health would attract too much attention." He pondered Dean's arm for a moment and brightened a little. "However, I can do this much."

Dean wasn't sure what to expect when Cas' hand curled gently around his arm above the cast, but a wave of cool relief washed over him immediately.

"Rest now, Dean. I will keep watch."

"Thanks, Cas," Dean murmured as he let sleep take him.

Dean's fever had broken sometime during the night, the doctor told Sam and Jess on Thursday morning, so the plan to send him to BAMC on Friday was a definite go. Sam spent as much time as possible with Dean that morning, but the afternoon was a whirlwind of phone calls and emails to arrange everything that Sam and Jess would need while Dean was in the hospital and some that Dean would need once he got out.

One of the most important necessities, and one that Jess insisted on tackling herself while Sam emailed professors to confirm that they were taking incompletes, was securing an apartment; she found a nice, ground-floor, wheelchair-accessible flat close to UTSA and the major medical centers, and though it was further from BAMC than Sam had hoped, he and Bobby agreed that Jess would be better off driving shorter distances in the heavily-warded Impala while Sam took her car to visit Dean. Her parents were not best pleased when she informed them that she'd be taking time off from Stanford, but the UT Health Science Center made an acceptable second choice, and when she mentioned that the rent on the apartment she'd found was less than half what their place in Palo Alto cost, they happily agreed to get the couple's belongings moved and to help out with the rent until she and the boys were able to find jobs. Bobby promised to have a trustworthy hunter friend collect Jess' car from LA, and Sam reserved a rental car and a room at the Fisher House for the interim.

Then he had to warn the doctor to make sure Dean was heavily sedated for the flight back to the States, which caused him to wonder how Dean had managed the flight to Iraq in the first place.

"Didn't," Dean confessed groggily when they stopped in to see him that evening. "Hitched a ride with the Navy. Hate ships now, by the way."

Sam snorted. "You and BA Baracus, man, I swear."

"Hey! I'm totally Faceman!"

"Whatever, jerk."

Dean's answering mumble wasn't quite intelligible, but Sam knew what he'd said anyway and grinned.

It was well after midnight when the frenzy of transatlantic communication ceased and Jess fell exhaustedly into bed, but as he turned out the light, Sam thought he caught a glimpse of someone standing in the shadows outside their window—not looking in, but looking away as if on guard. It was odd, but he supposed the Air Force might have sent someone to make sure they weren't attacked again, and he was too tired to think about it further. As it was, he was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow.

Morning came all too early, announced by Ash calling both to wake them in time to catch their flight out of Frankfurt and to report that he had nothing to report. "I don't know how he did it," he drawled, "but it looks like su padre managed to block all outside access to his phone. Bobby can't even get his voicemail, says it's out of service, but he's paid up through December on Burt Aframian's dime. And I can't get it on GPS, even through the NSA satellite, which probably means it's off."

"You hacked the NSA?" Sam said incredulously.

"Not long enough for 'em to notice," Ash replied casually.

Sam decided he really didn't want to know and sighed. "Okay, well, thanks, Ash. We'll call you or Bobby when we get into Houston."

"And we'll keep lookin'," Ash promised.

"You sure we ought to drive from Houston to San Antonio?" Jess asked sleepily, even though the tickets were already purchased.

"Cheaper and faster than layovers from DFW," Sam shrugged. "And I-10's not a bad drive as long as we make it out of Houston before rush hour."

"I don't even want to know how you know that," said Jess and headed for the shower.

Coffee and showers woke them both sufficiently to enjoy the train ride from Ramstein to Frankfurt, which made the trip feel almost like a honeymoon, but the wait at the airport was long enough for the exhaustion to creep up on them again. So although Sam caught a glimpse of a dark-haired man in a trenchcoat backing out of their row while they were boarding the plane, he wasn't able to let the oddness of it do more than register, and he and Jess were sound asleep in each other's arms not five minutes after takeoff.

It wasn't until they woke on landing at Heathrow for their layover that Sam realized that, despite knowing there was a demon apparently putting out hits on Dean and Jess, he'd felt safer in the last twenty-four hours than he'd ever felt anywhere but Bobby's house and Pastor Jim's church.


- As far as I'm aware, the exact details I've given regarding the attack that should have killed Dean are fictional. The tactic used is not and did in fact result in numerous casualties over the course of Operation Iraqi Freedom. However, the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, really was deployed to Iraq as part of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit from October to December of 2005, and their stateside base is Camp Pendleton.
- Apparently you can just walk into a county clerk's office in California and get married right away, at least in Orange County. (Germans may not have a problem with an unmarried couple sharing a hotel room, but I wouldn't expect Sam to know that.)
- All commercial flight routes mentioned are the result of hurried searches on Orbitz.
- Alec is a nod to vegakrist's fabulous AU "The Wellspring." But the Soldiers' Angels First Responder Backpacks really do have a stuffed animal and a quilt in them, among other necessities.
- I'm not sure why I got it into my head that Sam's visions started in mid-summer. But this is AU, so I'm sticking to it.
- The day-date references made in the pilot correspond to 2003, not 2005. I didn't catch that until I had over half of the story up at hoodie_time.