Disclaimer: I don't own SPN or DA- but if I did, those shows would have been boring, because I couldn't hurt them the way their owners do… :(
Spoilers for... on the safe side, I'll say all of DA and up to mid-S5 SPN. Set before the boys reunite, though. If there are time-line issues, please ignore them as artistic license or some such. :)
A/N: This is a *one-shot* escapee plot-bunny that I couldn't avoid writing.
Props to vegakrist's Wellspring-verse for being the inspiration behind this and if you haven't read those fics already, you really, really should. And bring a tissue.
"What the hell?" It was about as articulate as Dean Winchester was capable of being right at that moment. Castiel, staring just as intently at the same sight, had nothing to add and no answers to give. "Are you seeing this too, Cas?" He had to double-check, just in case. As his friend nodded, the Hunter reached out one finger and poked the cheek of the child sleeping on his bed. "He's really real."
"Yes, Dean. He is real."
"Is he me? I mean… I've been to the past, but has past me suddenly been sent to the future? Uh, present?" He didn't remember that ever happening him, but who knows? Time travel sucked.
The Angel shook his head slowly.
"I do not believe so. He belongs in this time." Dean stepped back suddenly, grabbing the Angel's arm in a grip that would have alarmed any regular human.
"Is he my kid?" His voice was practically a shriek. The kid hadn't responded to holy water or silver- so he wasn't a shape-shifter. He'd also tried to attack them when they'd cornered him, three miles into the woods in a hole in the ground that could have been considered a cave, maybe.
"I… I do not believe so."
"So, what? Someone took me and made a copy?" The kid was him, down to the freckles and the dimpled knees. It was the single freakiest thing he'd ever seen and he'd spent forty years in hell. And Castiel nodded, appearing to agree.
"He does appear to be a… copy, as you said." The Angel frowned, staring intensely at the young child. "He has his own soul, obviously, but he holds the same genetic markers and, as such, would be a suitable vessel for either of my brothers." And on that note, Castiel reached out and inscribed the Enochian sigils on the child's ribs, just in case. "Though he appears too young to yet be a suitable vessel- this child is, perhaps, ten years old. Vessels must be at least thirteen before they can consent to being a vessel."
Well. That was a relief, at least.
"Can you tell who- or what- made him?" The Angel shook his head again, visibly distraught.
"I cannot. But I can tell that he has been sorely mistreated, Dean. His soul is… tired. Tired and hurting. He needs protection." And Castiel turned his earnest face to his human friend, only to see that Dean did not require convincing. His own expression was already set in determination, and he was planning what he would say when the child woke up.
"We need to find out where he came from, Cas. Whoever did this… we're lucky that we were the ones to find him. If it had been anyone else, they'd have killed him already." Chuck had called him, asking the elder Winchester brother to investigate something for him. "Remind me to call him when the sun comes up and thank him, will you?" He already owed the prophet one for the thing with Lilith and Sam, from before Sam lost allhis brain cells up Ruby's skirt, and now it looked like he owed him another. Having a prophet transcribing his life was suddenly more useful than he'd previously understood. Castiel agreed to the request solemnly and Dean would have been amused if he hadn't been in shock.
"We need to get some food and some kid-clothes and then… wake him, I guess, and hash this all out." He knew from experience that feeding and clothing a child was a quick way to make them think you were one of the good guys. And this kid… well, this kid clearly hadn't met that many good guys. He was scrawny; skinny in a way that Dean had never been, and pale under the dirt as if he'd been hiding indoors for a long time, out of sight. It was possible.
"I will watch over the child, if you wish to fetch appropriate clothing and sustenance." Dean nodded, slowly. They'd found him less than an hour before, but he was strangely reluctant to leave him. Castiel noted the reluctance and a tiny smile graced his face.
"You will be an excellent father, Dean." His friend blushed, horribly, for the first time in years and stuttered that he wasn't a father; he was just looking out for the kid. Castiel, of course, didn't believe him for a second. He was becoming accustomed to the Righteous Man's casual lies, and his discarding of his own worth. Castiel had once believed the mortal to be arrogant and he understood that it was an impression his friend wished to promote. Knowing him better, now, he could see the humility that stretched to the core of his being; the deep seeded belief that he was not good enough. It was both humbling and heartbreaking. Castiel was sure that Dean was the best human he had ever known. Of course, that list was pretty short, so maybe it wasn't saying much.
Dean rushed out of the motel room after that. He was gone less than thirty minutes, returning with several paper bags filled with clothing- nothing fancy, just jeans and tee-shirts that were new but cheap, boots that he was pretty sure would fit the boy and underwear with Spiderman on it. He'd looked for Batman, but Spiderman would do in a pinch. Peter Parker was awesome, too. He'd gotten a few strange glances at Wal-Mart, racing around the store without even stopping to get a cart. He'd gotten groceries too, refusing take-out for the first time in literal years in favour of ingredients. He used to cook for Sam all the time when they were kids- he could do that for this kid, too. He'd even paid in cash, just in case. The last thing he needed was to get arrested with a random child in his custody. No siree.
Castiel was seated by the window, watching the clouds race across the sky with a distracted gaze. Dean suspected he was tuned to Angel FM.
He busied himself, moving around in the small motel kitchen in a daze of domesticity that was almost painfully familiar. The meal he prepared was not complicated- a tuna casserole that he tossed in the oven without much thought. He'd avoided the inevitable enough- it was time to face the music. If the musicwas a small boy wearing his face, at least.
"Can you wake him, Cas? Please?" He tried to shake the nervousness from his voice but wasn't sure he'd succeeded. Not entirely, in any case. He perched himself on the edge of the second bed- he'd asked for a room with two out of habit, something he was glad for now. The Angel nodded and reached over, releasing his hold on the boy's consciousness with a gentle touch to his forehead.
The child sat straight up; fully awake immediately- much like Dean when woken abruptly. He eyed them nervously, slinking backwards in the bed until he was crouched at the head of the bed with his back pressed against the wall.
"Take it easy kiddo- we aren't going to hurt you. I promise." He forced himself to relax, rolling his shoulders and holding out his hands in the universal 'I mean no harm' signal. If the child relaxed, Dean couldn't see it. "My name is Dean and this is my friend Cas." 'Friend' was the closest term he could apply to the Angel. Castiel was more than that, now- he was family, almost. They'd faced down Archangels together- an experience like that bonded people. That and the Angel had pulled him out of hell- he owed Castiel a lot, too. "We were sent here to find you, kid. Do you know why?" The child shook his head slowly, eyes darting constantly between the two men. His two targets- his captors. Dean could read that clearly enough on his tiny face. "We're here because… because you were made out of me. Do you understand? Do you know how that happened?" The child looked confused and then, to Dean's confusion, took a deep breath, sniffing the air. Did the kid smellhim? The hell?
"You were my donor." His voice was rough; ragged as if he hadn't used it in weeks. He might not have. "They used your genetic material as a template for mine." Dean nodded- that sounded close enough to understanding, even though the Hunter wasn't even sure what it meant.
"Yeah, that's right. But it means something else, too, kiddo. It means that we're made of the same stuff; the same blood. It means you're my family, and family is real important to me." The kid just blinked at him, not understanding, and Dean through a helpless glance at Castiel.
"Dean wishes for you to stay with him, child, because although he has only just met you, he already loves you as though you were his son." Well, if you ask an Angel for help, you can't complain about what he gives you. The child's eyes widened dramatically and he turned his gaze back to Dean, disbelieving.
"Did the Blue Lady send you?" He whispered, with a note of what Dean could only identify as hope in his young voice.
"Who?" The child reached inside his shirt carefully and removed a tattered piece of card with shaking fingers, offering it to Dean with a certain fear in his eyes. Dean took the card and held it as if it were precious- because it was precious to the boy.
The Virgin Mary stared up at him from the card, tattered and damaged though her image may be she remained recognizable. Dean turned the card to Castiel, a question in his eyes also. Chuck was a Prophet- he was connected to Heaven. Dean wasn't sure he believedin that the Blue Lady had any power in Heaven, but if anyone were to know, it would be Castiel.
The Angel took the card in his hand and ran one finger across the image with a gentle touch.
"It is very possible. She has been known to intercede, especially when children are involved." Castiel's voice was soft, but his words carried well. "I cannot be certain, child, but the Blue Lady may well have led us here. Certainly, it was one who knows her well who requested our presence here." The child sank onto the bed, slowly, and nodded once. Dean, unfair though it may be, was surprised by Castiel's tact. He was more used to the Angel's blunt honesty. The Angel handed back the card and the boy took it gratefully.
"So, kid, have you got a name?" The child's large green eyes turned on him and he replied, almost shyly.
"My name is Ben." Dean smiled in return, meeting his gaze and trying to reassure the boy, somehow, that he was safe, now.
"Okay, Ben. How would you like to get cleaned up and change out of those clothes?" And slowly, with another glance at Castiel and one thumb tracing the card in his hand, Ben nodded.
Half an hour later, Dean watched as the boy tore into a plate of casserole with a hunger that implied he hadn't eaten in weeks. It was comforting, watching the child sate his hunger even as his feet dangled off the chair. Castiel had disappeared- fluttered off to 'check on something'. Dean had given up asking what the Angel was doing, these days. He rarely understood the answers, anyway, though he did appreciate the presents that Castiel brought him- holy oil, sometimes, and silver sometimes to be melted for bullets. The Angel knew him well, now.
But then, they'd been traveling together alone for a month, give or take. He was almost bound to pick up a few things here and there. Watching the child opposite him, Dean's heart clenched with the memory of a hundred motel rooms and Sammy in the seat opposite. It was not a comfortable feeling; not when he didn't know where his brother was, or how he was doing. They'd agreed to separate- they'd decided, together, that it was the best move. But right then, in that moment, he wasn't sure why he'd agreed to it. He had a very strong feeling he would need Sam's help, and soon. Raising a kid brother was one thing, raising a homeless clone was completely different. Especially seeing as he was in the middle of the freaking apocalypse.
Ben ate silently, but with enthusiasm, sitting there in the clothes Dean had bought for him, clean and smelling like soap and boyand not like dirt and forest anymore.
He waited until the child finished eating before he asked him where he'd come from.
He waited until the child was finished his story and had fallen into a comfortable sleep before punching the wall as hard as he could, several times; the anger and hatred that filled him stronger than anything he could recall. The closest he could get was… he remembered feeling like this, almost, when he'd seen Sam with Ruby. When he'd realized that he had broken the first seal. Complete helplessness, coupled with impotent anger and the desire to just… smash something. Preferably his fist intosomething. These Manticore people… they were suddenly right at the top of his shit-list and, if they had known who he was and what he was capable of, he'd like to think they'd be running scared.
He called Bobby first and explained in short, terse, sentences exactly what was going on. Bobby got real quiet and replied that he'd make a few calls; gather up the people he trusted to keep their heads about something like this. Dean thanked him, and requested that Bobby clear out his spare room when he got the time. Ben had said there were a hundred more like him; a hundred more children being held captive in a place that so strongly resembled hell that it made Dean feel ill.
Instead of vomiting, like he wanted to, or getting drunk maybe, he sat up all night, making lists and making plans and when Castiel reappeared at dawn, Dean explained quickly what the boy had told him.
The Angel shook his head sadly, dismayed by the lengths that people would go to in order to kill each other. But the Righteous Man had spoken and for the first time in a long time, Castiel could feel that fire burning in Dean's abused soul- there was a power in anger, in righteousness, and it was in that state that Dean was the most vibrant. It had been missing from him for a long time.
"I do not believe there are any other Angels who will aid us." His tone was matter-of-fact.
"What about Anna?" Dean had been thinking about it all night- Anna would help, if they could get her free from where she was imprisoned. Castiel frowned, thinking hard.
"I do not know if I can free her." Prison in Heaven was inescapable, yes, but no-one had ever attempted a rescuebefore. Castiel was not unwilling to be the first.
"Don't even think about it, Cas, if there's any chance you'll get caught and thrown in there yourself." Castiel inclined his head, acknowledging the sentiment, and disappeared in a flutter of wings.
Shortly after that, Ben woke from his sleep, looking refreshed and the tightness around Dean's heart eased, just a little.
"Morning kiddo. Did you sleep well?" The child just nodded, suddenly shy again and Dean waved him over to the table. "You hungry? We have cereal and, uh, toast, I guess." He forced the boy to drink a glass of orange juice as the bread toasted, and then left the child to experiment with two flavours of jelly as he ran over his notes again and continued to research the Manticore facility on the computer. Ben's information had been enough for him to locate the ariel photographs of the old military base that doubled as the secret facility, and he'd managed to track down some blueprints, too. He planned on having Ben look them over, to make changes where required.
He wanted to move on it now, today. With patience he hadn't known he possessed, he forced himself to sit still and deny the urge. There were eleven more kids out there like Ben; kids who had been wandering the world alone for months, with no-one to keep them safe; no-one to protect them from the monsters- human and demon alike- that stalked the shadows. His priority had to be chasing those kids down; locating them all.
Manticore, for all the understood about military tactics and how to create the perfect soldier, sucked at hunting. Dean knew hunting; he knew kids, and he knew military tactics.
By noon, he was pretty sure he had solid leads on at least four of the remaining eleven. He passed the leads to Bobby, emphasizing that whoever he sent looking must ensure that they tell the child that the Blue Lady had sent them- that Ben had sent them, and that the Blue Lady wanted them to be safe and protected.
They were all under orders to return the children to Bobby's for safekeeping. The old Hunter wasn't thrilled at the prospect, but Dean was certain he'd survive the experience. He'd done alright with the Winchester boys when they were kids, hadn't he?
Ben watched him with wide eyes from his perch on the bed, back pressed against the pillows and not saying much of anything. Occasionally, Dean asked him to clarify something, and he spent an hour going through the Manticore blueprints, adding details- doors with lock codes, where the labs were and where the dormitories were. There were four dorms, with space for fifty kids in each one. Dean wasn't sure whether it was lucky or unlucky that the dorms weren't full- he imagined that, at some point, Manticore had created 200 X5s. That was what Ben called them; what he had referred to himself as: X5-493. He'd shown the older man – his Original- the bar-code late the evening before. Dean had covered his hand over the tattoo, squeezing the nape of the boy's neck in what he hoped was a comforting gesture and told him that he wasn't 493 anymore, not if he didn't want to be.
By noon, then, Dean was exhausted and more than ready for a break.
"You feel like going out for lunch, kiddo? You hungry?" When Dean was nine, he was alwayshungry. That much hadn't changed, really. The little boy nodded, uncertain. "It'll be okay, kid. We're going to the diner down the street. We'll be there for less than an hour, and I won't let anyone so much as look at you funny. I swear."
Dean had been sent by the Blue Lady, so Ben was willing to do whatever the older man wanted. He pulled on his new boots- sturdy, like the ones he'd had at Manticore, but different,- and the hoodie that Dean handed him. It was Dean's own, so it engulfed his tiny body but… it smelled like Dean, and that smelled pretty good. It smelled safe and warm and his skin tingled inside it. Dean took his hand, too, leading him out of the motel room and into the afternoon. It was bright, outside- he hadn't been outside in the sun in a long time; daytime was more dangerous than night for traveling. He blinked, several times, trying to clear the glare from his eyes. It wouldn't take long for them to adjust- he was Manticore-made, after all. The rough hand felt warm and solid and Ben kept his eyes on it- on the place where their hands met. He had seen other people- other normals- doing this with their children. Ben had thought it was meant to restrain the child, but Dean knew that Ben was stronger than him; he knewthat he couldn't restrain Ben unless Ben wanted to be restrained. But now… he wasn't sure that was what it meant. Dean's grasp wasn't tight, not really, and his thumb was tracing circles the inside of Ben's wrist. He didn't know what that meant, either, but it felt nice. Was Dean doing something to his pulse? Regulating it, somehow? He felt calmer, now, but that couldn't be it, could it? Manticore would have told them if something that easy would change a body's heart rate.
Neither of them spoke as they made the short walk to the diner- Dean wasn't trying for secrecy or trying to hide the child. They'd be leaving that evening, anyway, and he was certain that no-one in this po-dunk town would remember that he hadn't had a child with him when he'd checked in the previous night. Besides, the resemblance was obvious. No-one would ever question his paternity. The thought made him smile, just a little, and he gripped the little boy's hand a bit tighter. No-one was ever going to take the kid away from him again. No way, no how. He'd spend another century in hell, first- and that was saying something. He thought he might be starting to understand, now, what kept his father going on the rack for more than a hundred years… and he'd only had Ben for a day. Less. It was… disconcerting.
He took the booth at the back of the room, closest the emergency exit and with a clear view of the diner and the doorways. Ben nodded his approval absently, even as Dean directed him into the seat and handed him a menu.
"The waitress will be here in a minute to take our order, okay- so you can ask her for anything you want from the menu." He paused a second, considering, "Or if there's something you want that's not on the menu, we can ask her and she might agree to make it special for you." Ben glanced at him once, and blinked. The menu was… enormous. He didn't know what half of these items were and Dean thought there might be something elsehe would prefer? A tiny frizzle of excitement was building in his stomach- he hadn't eaten so well in weeks. Dinner last night and breakfast this morning and now lunch… he couldn't hold back a tiny smile.
"There's so much… how do I choose, sir?" Dean was like his C.O now, right? He didn't know what else to call him.
"Well… what sounds good, kiddo? Or interesting, at least? We can order lots of different things and you can try them all if you want?" Dean would spend a hundred dollars on lunch if it got the kid to smile again. God, he was turning into a girl.Or worse- Sam. "I'll be getting a bacon cheeseburger, because that's my favourite, but we can try all the others for you until you know what your favourite it."
The child mouthed the word favouriteas if he had never considered the idea and the ensuing rush of sadness almost caught Dean off-guard. He squashed it, hard. He couldn't let the kid see how much that stuff was affecting him. He couldn't- he had to be stronger than that, just for now.
Ben asked for onion rings and a chicken salad, and Dean smiled and charmed the waitress and asked her if she could bring them along some fries and barbeque wings too, as well as his own meal. He wanted Ben to get the chance to try them all- but they could start small.
He watched the child eat. Ben took small bites, savouring every mouthful. He'd been ravenous the night before, so Dean doubted he'd even tasted the food. But today? Today he was tasting it- he liked the BBQ sauce but he didn't like mayo. He preferred the wings to the salad, but he did like the tomatoes. He still kept a close eye on all the people around them, but he was happy to sit curled into Dean's side and let the elder man keep watch.
And they had pie for dessert, introducing Ben to Dean's favourite food group- and it didn't disappoint. Clearly, the sweet tooth was genetic, and Dean could stop himself from muttering "That's my boy" under his breath. He didn't notice that Ben heard the words and almost froze in his seat- paralyzed by sudden warmth of feeling.
Castiel was waiting for them when they got back to the room, his expression serious.
"Have you located the facility?"
"Yeah. Ben- go wash up." He pushed the boy gently in the direction of the bathroom and he went, obligingly. "I don't want him to hear the bad shit, Cas. He's too little."
"When you were his age, you were hearing the bad shit." Dean ran one hand over his face and sighed, acknowledging the statement with a nod.
"But I knew how to be a kid, too, when I got the chance. It's different." Castiel just accepted it. Sam would have pushed. The Hunter appreciated the difference. "I talked to Bobby- we have leads on four of the kids Ben escaped with. Bobby has guys he trusts on the way to seek them out. But… if they need backup, will you zap over and help out? These kids are going to be scared, man- they do not want to get found." Castiel nodded again.
"I will inform Bobby that if he needs my assistance, he can call." The Angel disappeared and, two heartbeats later, reappeared. Dean didn't even bother to remind him that they could have just calledBobby. Angel-air was probably faster, anyway.
"I still have a heap of reports to go through- I need to find the rest of these kids. Bobby and Ellen are rounding up the people they trust. As soon as we have enough bodies, I intend to go back and get the rest of them. Ben thinks there's about a hundred kids, so we're going to need at least fifty families willing to take them in. Fifty Hunter families would be best, or people we've helped along the way, maybe. I want these kids put into homes where they'll be loved, but they're going to need serious help. Serious, serious help."
"I know, Dean." The Angel was staring out the window again, listening to words than Dean couldn't hear. "I believe that I have a way of rescuing Anna from her prison. I will need several hours… do you think I will have time now, or will you need me here to transport the children?"
That gave the Hunter pause- he'd give the Angel props: he moved fast when he had to.
"Much as I hate to say it, getting Anna out of prison is something we need for the end-game. Go get her, Cas. We'll be fine for a few hours. Just… be careful, yeah?" He'd already lost Sam- losing Castiel now would really, really suck.
As soon as he spoke, Castiel disappeared and, seconds later, Ben emerged from the bathroom.
"Has he gone to find my unit?" Dean shook his head slowly, noting the disappointment on the boy's face.
"Not yet, Ben. There's a friend of his, another friend of the Lady's, who is being held in a prison at the moment. It's important for a war we're fighting- something that has nothing to do with Manticore or your unit- that we rescue her. Cas is gone to do that and when he gets back, we're going to find your brothers and sisters, okay?" It wasn't an order, or even a hint at one, but the boy seemed to take it as such, nodding sharply as though he had been rebuked.
"Listen, kiddo. It's a task that will only take Castiel a few hours and we're nowhere near ready to go after your unit- they're good at hiding, you know?" He forced some humour into his tone. "So Cas can do his thing and he'll be back in time to help us out. Now, how do you feel about giving me a crash course in what it means to be you?" The words were convoluted; complicated in a way that Ben was unused to but his Original's eyes were kind and his voice was soft. It was unusual. He agreed readily and began his debriefing, starting with their training regiment and their escape and watching Eva get shot.
October 22nd, 2009, Wyoming.
He approached the base from the south, heading for the service entrance. It was guarded; protected just as tightly by the guardsmen and as secure as anywhere else on the base. But he knew the guards there- he'd been past them three nights already this week. He pulled the truck up for inspection, calling a cheerful hello to Dan and Freddie, asking about their weekend plans and laughing at their jokes. The inspection was quick- checking the truck bed for outlawed items and glancing into the cab where Dean was already dressed in the blue coveralls that signified janitorial staff. The cleaning staff stayed off-base. They were completely unaware of the nature of the base- they cleaned down the common areas, ran the laundry room and had no contact with the staff of the base beyond the guards on the gates. They used the service entrance and followed a fenced driveway to the rear of the base, where they entered through a guarded door and collected their supplies from inside before beginning the shift.
The cleaning contractors were based in Colorado and did triple-checks on their new employees; odd for a cleaning contractor, perhaps, but not when you consider wherethey were cleaning.
Dean Winchester had never really liked cleaning- there was nothing in it that he enjoyed.
However, he found forging ID's easy and intercepting the newest member of the janitorial team on his first day had been pretty straightforward. The guards, four days into his new career, knew him as Timothy Dardis, out of Austin Texas. He was friendly and cheerful and always on time.
That day, they didn't check the underside of the truck for the two Hunters who dropped to the ground when Dean rolled to a stop. The guards didn't see them until their weapons had been confiscated and they had both been knocked unconscious.
"Strip 'em and get dressed ASAP. We need to get the others in here." There were cameras, of course, pinned on the service entrance. But the truck hid most of the shuffling and the two comatose marines were gagged, bound and hidden beneath a tarp in a matter of minutes. Their replacements, two middle-aged Hunters that Bobby had called in from Illinois, worked well under orders- and they were eager to help, too. They were both married; had families waiting at home. If everything went well, they'd be returning home with two new children apiece.
The rest of the night crew arrived for their shift- or, at least, their vehicles did. The Hunters inspected the cars- two minivans and a piece of shit Honda- with a grin and waved them onwards. Three cars, seven Hunters.
Dean immobilized the guard on the door using a mop and some cable ties and left the man trussed up in the supply closet. He stripped the uniform, handing it off to the next Hunter through the door, and removed his own coveralls. Ben had told him what to do- he needed to act the part; he needed to be in charge in a way that the child soldiers would recognize. The Hunter in him knew that; he'd played FBI; CIA; NSA; Homeland security. What was Army General against those? He wore the red patch with the little star in the middle on the left shoulder of the stupid jacket Bobby had insisted on. He added the swagger of importance that only the armed forces ever pulled off to that- he'd have to, to convince anyone that he was a Brigadier General. Why didn't they just try pass him off as president, for Gods sake?
The two Hunters stripped their coveralls, too, to expose regulation base uniforms and side arms. Dean had never had bodyguards before- it was disconcerting. Another Hunter took up the post at the doorway- Dean thought his name was Andy, but he couldn't be sure- using the uniform Dean stole from the previous guard. He kept the radio, too, just in case.
t was late in the evening, but the base was anything but quiet. Dean knew that- he'd been watching carefully. Together, they stalked the hallway, through the canteen and toward the security desk- they would call little attention to themselves as Dean had seen several of the officers visiting the kitchens for after-hours supplies. Against regulations, perhaps, but it was ignored nonetheless.
The very idea of eating in the same building as children got tortured made him feel ill. Very, very ill.
They took the security room with little fuss- the three men stationed there practically fighting over who got to show the General the system. They were gesturing to the cameras in the dormitory showers when Dean gave the signal- three blows to the head; three more unconscious prisoners. These ones they shoved behind the monitors, stripped their uniforms and hog-tied 'em just the same.
One of his bodyguards gave the call, then, and they guided three more Hunters to the security room and replaced the guards easily. They would be responsible for getting the remainder of the Hunters into the facility.
Lights out for the Transgenics hit twenty minutes after Dean dropped his passengers at the entrance gate. His trek from gateway to security room took about twenty minutes, so the call for lights out coincided neatly with his arrival- almost as though he'd planned it that way.
There were more than two hundred human soldiers on the base- they outnumbered the children two to one, and they outnumbered the Hunters by twice that again. Of course, that's why Dean was playing General and not grunt. They left the security desk behind, moving swiftly toward the command centre; Lydecker's office, the labs and the testing rooms. The entrance to the 'basement' where they kept the 'anomalies' was through those rooms. The dormitories and the classrooms were on either side of Lydecker's office suite. Of course, Lydecker himself was not in the building- he had found himself, and his guards, detained on an operation off-base less than an hour before.
Dean hoped that the man had yet to be fatally hurt- he longed to deliver that one to hell, himself. He was sure that Alistair would appreciate the guest. He'd said as much to Castiel, the night previous, and the Angel had only looked saddened. The waste of human life upset him- Dean could understand that. But it wouldn't stop him from tearing this place apart brick by brick and putting a bullet in the brain of anyone here who thought that ripping little children to pieces in the name of science was kosher.
Most of the science teams were gone for the evening- there were two doctors on call, and a nurse in the testing rooms. They had the security feed, now, so Dean didn't hesitate- he shot them dead where they stood before anyone could say a single word.
His bodyguards didn't protest, either- not when they saw the ten year old strapped to the table, seizing violently. Ben had told him what to do to prevent the seizures- and he'd brought his own medication to do just that, feeling no fear as he removed the IV's and placed one gentle hand on the child in front of him. Her eyes opened, briefly, and met his without fear; just acceptance.
"It's okay, kid. You're going to be fine. Swallow this for me, okay?" A flask of milk laced with vitamin supplements to suppress the shakes. Ben had been the unwitting test dummy when he'd succumbed to the seizures earlier that week. It only took a few minutes before her body stilled, her system readjusting itself and recovering quickly.
Around him, the other two Hunters were accessing and copying the medical research; downloading it to external hard-drives and destroying the originals. There might be other medical problems, later, that they would need the research for. Dean hoped not, and he had sworn blind that all copies were to be handed directly to him at the end of the maneuver. Everyone had promised him; everyone was too afraid of, or awed by, him to object. Most people, when the Archangel Micheal's vessel on earth asked you to do something, said yes, sir. Interestingly, the fact that he kept refusing the Angel actually won him more points with the Hunters.
Of course, half of them were certain that they were going to hell anyway, for all the lying and cheating and stealing that they routinely practiced. Castiel had assured him that most would not- they were soldiers of Heaven, much as the Angel was. Dean decided that information was best shared later. After all the work had been done.
The child was watching him, eyes wide and confused.
"What's your name, kiddo?" She blinked, twice, in the way he recognized from his boy- completely confused by the question. "What's your designation, then?"
"X5-491, sir." Her brown eyes widened a little further, but she relaxed. She reminded him strongly of his brother- puppy dog eyes especially.
"Right. I'm going to call you Sammy. I'm requisitioning your unit and taking control of this facility. Is that understood, Sammy?" She nodded once. Sir, yes sir. "Good girl. Now, I'm going to cut these straps and let you up- can you walk?" Ben had taken some time to recover from his fits, so Dean wasn't sure how long it should take.
"No, sir. Not yet, sir." She watched, avid, as he sliced through her reinforced restraints with a blade as long as her arm.
"That's fine. But you're coming with us, all the same. Time, boys?"
The two young men at the computers conferred briefly.
"Three minutes, sir." They were almost finished. He took his time with the child- helping her up from the table and locating her uniform and boots and instructing her to get redressed, quickly. She finished at the same time as his soldiers.
"Carson, carry her until she can walk herself. Sammy- don't let him put you down unless you're ready to run, understood?" She nodded again, a single sharp movement of her head. Carson picked her up carefully- she was younger than his youngest sister, but not by much. He was careful, but his grip was firm.
"I'm Carson, kiddo. I'll keep you safe, okay?" She didn't understand why he would, but she nodded anyway.
"Move out." Dean snapped, dropping his weapon back into its holster. The bodies of the medical staff had been removed; pushed into a side room where they wouldn't be seen from the door. Dean suspected that the blood stains on the floor wouldn't be surprising to any casual observer.
He kicked in the door of Lydecker's office, not bothering with the lock. He didn't care, at this point, who heard him- there could only be one or two researchers in the area and the boys in the security room would tell him if anyone else was approaching. Besides, all going well the next people into this wing would be his brother and a dozen Hunters, ready to move with the kids.
He was grateful, watching Carson cradle Sammy that they had moved that evening and not waited until the following day. He felt no guilt, either, for the three lives he'd just taken. He'd kill them all himself if that was what it took. He wanted nothing more than to return to his boy and promise him that Manticore were never going to come after him again. Well, that, world peace and an end to the apocalypse that didn't spell bloody death for all concerned.
They were in Lydecker's office less than five minutes when the sound of footsteps echoed down the corridor. Carson and Wells glanced up, startled, but Dean didn't react.
"They're on our side." He muttered, completely confident. He didn't want to admit that he recognized the sound of his brother running- people already thought they spent way too much time together. Thirty seconds after that, Sam stuck his head 'round the door.
"How's it going?" He noted the girl at Carson's side with interest. "Where'd you find the kid?" He had his puppy dog eyes out, again. Dean ignored the question.
"Under control. Any unexpected surprises?" They'd anticipated three patrol teams- four men to a team. Sam's unit were to take them out, one by one and replace them with Hunters.
"Everything is on schedule. The guys are in place now to lock down the soldiers and the scientists have been rounded up- Jo has them in the canteen.
"Good." He took the cell phone from his pocket and dialed- they didn't risk the radios inside the military facility. "Commence lock-down. Isolate and relay the message to the dormitories. I want the reinforcements moving, now." He snapped the phone shut without waiting for an answer.
"Sammy, you're with me. Sam- you, Carson and Wells move out and supervise the TGs. Leave the computer stuff with me." His brother startled when he realized that the small girl was also named Sam. His brother just grinned at him. "I named her after you, dude." Sam (Winchester) bit back a scowl at that, glancing once at the kid and muttering that they couldn't keep her. Dean just swatted him, accepting the backpack filled with top-secret confidential sciency-government stuff from Wells and waved them out the door. Sam, who Carson had perched on the chair in the office, watched him rifle through the filing cabinets in the office, seeking anything else odd or unusual, or otherwise worth noting.
"Sir? What are my orders?" She had been patient, initially, but she was still a child and her attention span was limited.
"Orders? Sit there and recover. When you're completely better, tell me." She just blinked at him and stood.
"Reporting for duty, sir." She even saluted. It was weird and sent a shiver of ill-ease up Dean's spine.
"Right. Let's go then." He removed the folders from the cabinets and piled them high on the ten-thousand dollar mahogany desk with a smirk. From the backpack, he retrieved a carton of lighter fluid. "Just a second." He pushed her toward the door and, still smirking, dropped a match onto the desk. "We're done."
Outside, he closed the door over again, watching for the smoke that was bound to make it's way under the door in a matter of seconds.
The boys had already disabled the fire alarms, so the staff wouldn't notice until it was too late. Besides, that little fire had been a petty, personal, retribution. Dean had not appreciated finding his own file amongst the list of donor names.
Apparently, only one fifth of the X5 series had been created using single-donor DNA. The practice had been discounted after a number of genetic anomalies scraped through the screening process and had to be terminated. There were only twelve surviving X5s who were genetically related to anyone. Any one person, anyway. The rest were an amalgamation of so many parts of people and strands of DNA that they would have no family to return them to. It was… saddening. He had hoped that they would all have blood relations out there, somewhere, that they could at least know.
"I need you to take me to the Basement, Sammy, and then return to Carson and Wells and your unit. They will be assembling in the training yard for their orders." She cringed, just a little, at the mention of the basement. Ben had told him that the basement was where the anomalies were held captive. He'd explained that the anomalies were people, mostly, whose spliced DNA had proven than the human DNA.
Castiel had promised him that every single creature in the basement in Manticore held a human soul. That was enough, as far as Dean was concerned, to earn them an option of freedom, be that freedom death or life.
"You don't have to go in with me, kiddo. Just show me the door." She relaxed, then, and ran off at half-speed. He followed quickly, through a maze of corridors that he had already memorized from the blueprints, just in case.
The door was innocuous enough, marked with a simple sign reading 'Basement' and protected by a key pad locking system. Of course, the locking system had already been overridden- they'd done that from Lydecker's computer.
"Thanks Sammy. Go back to your unit- take your orders from Sam and I'll be along shortly."
She ran back the way they'd come, blurring through the corridors at speeds that only another X5 could match; through the now-empty dorms and out to the training yard. Her unit was lined up at the furthest wall, with the rest of the X5s surrounding them. She reported first to Sam, realizing when he grinned at her and ran one hand across her head that he was not upset that his brother had given her his name, and ran off to take her position with her unit. Around the edges of the yard, she could see soldiers- Ordinaries- emerging from the darkness. They were strangers, they were armed, and they were watching the children with expression on their faces that Sam couldn't place. Her unit were glancing at her; curious. She had been taken away- they hadn't expected to see her return. 494, standing next to her, was whispering questions under his breath and she shushed him, her eyes on the strangers and her namesake. Taking a deep breath, attempting to regain her patience, 494's scent filtered through her nose and she realized, suddenly, that the familiar scent the General carried with him was familiar because it was 494's.
She turned to him, eyes wide with shock.
"The General is your donor." The words blurted out; loud enough that all the TGs heard- even some of the normals heard her. 494 just looked confused. He'd been asking a bunch of questions, but none of them were about a donor. They'd all heard rumours; myths about their DNA donors. On the bad days, they daydreamed of being rescued by them and taken away from Manticore. On the good days, they wouldn't even admit to believing they existed. "I swear, 494- the new General; the one in charge now. He's your donor." He quashed the tiny seed of hope that seeded in his heart- 491 had obviously gone crazy. Maybe that was why they were taken away when they had seizures- the shakes made them crazy? She ignored his denial, just grinned wide and bounced a little in his position, trying to get a better view of the top of the room.
"491- Behave yourself." The command was snapped from several of her unit-mates. She eyed them with an almost-worldly air and snapped back.
"My name is Sammy." Those words, too, echoed across the lines of soldiers and they turned to glare at her. The twelve escapees had named themselves and they had been traitors. In the months that had followed, the re-indoctrination and the punishments had insured that no-one else had dared to name themselves.
"491! You can't do that. You can't name yourself." The accusation was hissed at her but the girl didn't care.
"I didn't. The General named me." She might have only had a name for thirty minutes, but she was fiercely proud of it. There was an almost awed silence, spreading out from her position in waves as the words were repeated; whispered from ear to ear. There was a new General, and he'd named one of them. That he was 494's donor was ignored- that was too much to hope for, surely?
"Really? And where's your stupid General now?" 494, unknowingly, was mimicking his donor's tone almost exactly. Sammy grinned to hear it and pointed, straight at the doorway where a tall blonde man in fatigues was emerging. To the TGs, he smelled of gunfire, blood and motor oil.
And under that… the scent of 494 was strong.
"See? I told you." Sammy sounded smug, but she resumed her position in line, perfectly at attention once again.
"At ease, soldiers." The General didn't have to shout to be heard- his voice carried as well as any of their instructors had, though it was unusual to be in the training grounds at night. They relaxed, as one. "Seven months ago, twelve of your number escaped from this facility. I'm certain that you remember that and I know that those who remained here paid in blood and sweat for their actions." He paused, glancing across the lines of tiny soldiers and trying to ignore the voice in his head that demanded he turn around and burn the facility to the ground.
Later, he swore. "One of those twelve, designation X5-493, found his way into my care and the truth of this facility and the Manticore project came to my attention. As a result, I discovered several inconsistencies with the operation and I have stepped in to claim this project as my own. As of today, you are under my command. As of today, this facility is to be closed and your units will be reassigned." They didn't even mutter in complaint- it was kind of scary, their level of obedience. "But let me make one thing very clear- what was done to you here; how you have been treated by the people who work here and by the people who created you… that was wrong. You are soldiers, I understand that, but you are also children and it is the responsibility of the adults in this world to protect children. As such, the adults in this facility will be punished for failing in their responsibilities." They might not understand it, now, but he wanted them to know- he wanted them to remember, years from now, that when they were removed from Manticore, they were being rescued and not recruited. "When I call your unit, I want you to follow the officers to transport as we move to a new facility. Alpha Unit." Fifteen tiny bodies stepped forward, snapped salutes in unison and followed Carson in single-file toward one of the requisitioned Army transport trucks. "Beta Unit."
Sammy and 494 were Theta Unit- the last of the eight units called forward. As they marched past him, following Sam (the man), the General's hand shot out and clasped 494's shoulder, pulling him from formation.
"What's your designation, soldier?"
494 glared and snapped his answer. His unit stopped, standing still to watch their brother. 494 was occasionally reckless- he had gotten in trouble more than once for speaking out of turn and snapping at their superiors. He needed to be watched.
"Are you aware that I am your donor, kid?" He nodded. It was undeniable. "Do you know what that means?" No. He didn't. Was it bad? Was the General angry that he'd been used as a donor? He shouldn't be- it was an honour to be considered as superior genetic material suitable for creating super soldiers. "It means you're mine, kiddo. You're my family; my unit." He hadn't known that Ben had a twin- the boy had never mentioned it- but having been a father for little over a month, he was quick to fall in love with this one, too. To anyone who knew him well, it was written all over his face. "Have you got a name?" 494 wasn't capable of speech; shocked silent by the idea that this man; his donor, actually wanted him. That the stories might have been true. He'd called him family. Family was something that only Ordinaries had; not soldiers; not TGs.
"One of the officers called him Alec, sir, for being a smart-aleck." Sammy spoke up- she wasn't afraid like the rest of her unit. This man had saved her; killed for her.
"Is that true?" Alec nodded, keeping his expression blank. "Are you happy with that name, son?" Son- He called him son. 494 wasn't sure, but he thought the tightness in his chest was going to turn into a seizure. He just nodded again.
"Alec it is, then. Alec Jonathon Winchester. Welcome to the family." Dean motioned for the boy to stay with him and waved the rest on. When the last of the TGs disappeared from sight, headed for the last transport, Dean dropped to his knees by the boy and ran his hands over him quickly, searching for injuries. He managed to restrain himself and not wrap the child in the hug he desperately wanted to give him. "I know this is messed up, Alec, but I want you to listen to me for a second, okay?" The child's green eyes were wide with anxiety, but he nodded. "You have a twin, X5-493. His name is Ben. He's the one who told me about this place, but he didn't know about you." He grimaced. "If I had known, I would have tried to come earlier." He would have tried, but really- they'd done this as quickly as possibly. Any gathering of Hunters was like herding cats- difficult and painful. "I just want you to know, before you get on the transport, that I'm on your side now, kiddo, and I love you already." Alec didn't really know what that meant; he didn't understand it, either, when the man pulled him into an embrace, resting one warm hand over the bar-code on his neck. Alec didn't understand the feeling in the pit of his stomach, either, but… the General smelled good and safe and Alec thought he could learn to be part of his unit. "Right- off you go. Find your unit and I'll see you on the other side." He was reluctant to let the child leave his side- but this wasn't Ben, who had been glued to his side for a month. This was Alec, and it would take time before they got to that. "Unless you want to stay with me? I'd be glad to have you, but I'll understand if you want to go with your friends."
"I want … I'll go with my unit." And he darted away; disappeared through the doorway in a flash of movement that was almost too fast for Dean to see.
The kids were all loaded onto transports and the Hunters had retreated with them- Dean watched the vehicles leave, firm in the knowledge that Castiel and Anna would be waiting for the trucks just outside the next town. The trucks would be driving into a tunnel in Wyoming and emerging from a tunnel in Nebraska. From Nebraska, they'd jump to Colorado and from Colorado to South Dakota. Dean had appropriated an old paper mill not far from Sioux Falls- isolated, relatively clean and with running water. It wasn't ideal, but there was food and shelter waiting for them, and they would be far, far away from this place.
They wouldn't see it burn. He'd be the only witness to that.
The soldiers and scientists were restrained in the canteen. They'd be tied together using cable ties; trussed up like prize hams and just left for him to go to them. He'd sworn he would do it alone- the death of this facility, the blood that was going to flow… he was almost happy to have that stain his soul and his alone. Maybe Michael wouldn't want him, after he'd killed them all. That would be an almost-pleasant upside.
They watched him with terrified eyes, a sea of humanity reeking of fear and hatred and he almost felt sorry for them. But he remembered Ben, and the terrified screams that woke him every night. He thought of the hundred children he'd just seen removed from here, and wondered which of the people in front of him had been responsible for holding them down and breaking their bones, just to test how quickly they healed.
"My name is Dean Winchester. About thirteen years ago, someone in this facility got their hands on my DNA and used it to create two very special little boys. Those two boys have lived here their entire lives and I wish I could say that when I found them, that they were happy and healthy and all the things that a child should be." He paused, glaring out into the sea of nameless faces. "But they weren't. They weren't, because somewhere in this room are the people who broke their bones as toddlers. Somewhere in this room is the man who held my boy underwater until he drowned when he was three years old. Somewhere in this room, is the sick, twisted fucker who decided that these weren't children, that they were experiments." He spat the word, practically.
"It's only fair, now, that I warn you that there is every chance that none of you will be leaving here alive." From the shadows, the surviving anomalies emerged. Some of them had been incapable of moving; too damaged and too hurt to survive outside their cages. Those, he had prayed for and sent on their way, blessed with a bullet. The ones who could talk and walk and who asked him for mercy… those, he had taken with him. Theirs would be the last transport to leave- the first experiments; the most mistreated- those would be the last to leave. He would be leaving the decision of what to do to these people up to them- the Anomalies.
There were two dozen of them; various shapes and sizes, various splices and dices showing on their skin. Most of them had lived for almost two decades, locked in the cages in the basement.
He turned to speak to them, compassion in his eyes.
"You guys have been treated so badly- your whole lives have been pain and agony. It's not my place to tell you what to do… but I hope you choose to walk away. Just walk away, and let me take you out of this place and find out what the world is supposed to be like." He met each gaze, refusing to flinch at the variety of injuries and scars he could see arrayed in front of him. "Or let me be the one to destroy them, if that is what you want." They'd been speaking together while he was with the children- they must have been. They'd elected a spokesman, too- a seven foot tall Lizard-man whose name he vaguely recalled was Mole. "Freedom doesn't need to built on a bed on bones. Not always." He didn't even know if they'd care- in their position, he probably wouldn't. But… he had to ask. He had to try.
"You would do that for us? Kill them all because we ask, or leave them all alive because we say so?" Mole's voice was a strange combination of youth and experience. Dean thought he was probably… seventeen or eighteen, maybe.
"I would. They deserve to die. I believe that. But you don't deserve to have to kill them."
There was a difference. Dean knew that- he had twenty years of killing things to back that up. Each of the souls on the floor was marked for hell- there was no doubt of that in his mind, either. No amount of remorse or regret could remove the stain on those souls. They would be judged and they would be found wanting. Of course, explaining the concept of religion and hell to two dozen transhuman experiments wasn't something he relished.
Silence reigned and the minutes ticked past as the TGs conferred. Dean watched the prisoners, eyeballing the ones who seemed to be trying to escape their bonds.
He was the only one who didn't jump out of his skin when Anna appeared at his side.
"Dean? Are you ready to go?" Her eyes were gentle when she glanced at him.
"Not yet, Anna. We haven't reached a decision yet." She glanced at the TGs, considering.
"You do not want to do this. Revenge is not lasting and while there would be satisfaction in their deaths, you would taint your own souls with the action and risk eternal torment in the fires of hell."
That had been the speech he'd been avoiding. Mole stared; the rest of the TGs just looked confused. If you could tell when a six foot something half-dog half-man was confused.
"And them? Will they end up in hell for what they did to us?" The underlying question: would they be punished for their crimes, or were the TGs seen as something less than human; was it okay to hurt TGs and not the other way around.
"Of course. Their souls will be tormented for eternity for the sins they commit on earth. It will not be pleasant." Anna allowed her grace to shine and the prisoners gasped and cried out as the shadow of her wings fell on the walls. "But you must make your choice, now, so we can leave. There are others approaching the facility." Word of the Winchester children had finally hit the grapevine- Dean acknowledging the child in public, in front of witnesses and naming him Winchester without the sigils to protect him had spun the spotlights of both Heaven and Hell toward Wyoming. Of course, Alec was safe now- Castiel sought the child out and marked him, and the safe house was warded against Angels and Demons alike.
The safe house itself, however, was likely to turn to mad house shortly if the leader of the escapade did not make an appearance soon. Ben and his escapee friends were climbing the walls, already; the newcomers were scared and the Hunters were wary. Dean had been holding them all together and with him gone, old tensions were beginning to rise.
"Let them live." Mole stated. They said nothing more.
"Very well." And in a flash of light, they were gone- Anna, Dean and the TGs just disappeared and, on the cafeteria floor the staff of Manticore began to realize just what they had brought upon themselves.
Anna didn't bother with the transport- she took them straight to the safe house. She knew enough to keep the 'nomalies away from the children- the only times the two groups had interacted before, the children were spreading monster stories, or they were hunting down Transhumans in the name of training.
Dean made sure they were fed, clothed and comfortable before disappearing to find his kids. Anna stayed with them, telling them of her Father and her Faith and what it meant to be mortal and living on earth. She told stories of how Dean and Castiel had rescued her- more than once- and how their humanity was something to be cherished and that they would be rewarded in their next life for their Faith in this one. She had lived a lifetime as a human- well, two decades at least- and she knew how to offer comfort to mortals.
She didn't know what Dean's plan for them was, but she had Faith that he had one, at least. That would have to be enough for them, for now.
The children were seated in neat rows on the factory floor when Dean made his reappearance. The Hunters were lining the walls, looking uncomfortable and anxious. Sam and Jo were toting boxes to the top of the room- supplies that Bobby had delivered a week previously. The ten Manticore escapees that he had managed to track down (apparently missing only Max and Zach, though he hoped to locate them soon as he had leads for both) were standing behind Sam, twitching nervously. Their hair had grown out, they were wearing jeans and colourful tee shirts and they were beginning to act like normal kids, now. Most of them had been living rough, when they'd been tracked down. One or two had found foster homes but they had been happy to leave and be reunited with their unit. Brin and Zane had managed to integrate most- they had been enrolled in schools and making friends when Bobby found them. But if the Hunters had managed to find them, then Manticore would have found them eventually. They had been realistic enough to accept that truth, regardless of their new-found freedom.
Dean's hope was that these ten would be a good example for the rest of the Manticore refugees.
"Alpha unit- front and centre." The fifteen little bodies that identified themselves as Alpha unit leapt to their feet and ran to position, standing straight and tall in front of him. It might be counter-productive, giving them orders, but he couldn't see any other way of making it work. It's not like anyone else had any better ideas, either.
From inside his jacket, he removed the sheaf of paperwork that he'd lifted from Lydecker's office- the only paperwork in there to survive the fire, he was certain. It listed the X5s by unit and designation. They lined up according to number- Ben had told him that much- numerical order from left to right, highest to lowest.
Behind him, the boxes of supplies that Jo and Sam had been organizing were stacked according to contents. It should be a relatively simple conveyor belt. Ben and Tinga moved to his side, ready to help, and he spared them a quick smile and ran one hand over each of their heads. Jo had spent three hours in a sewer drain, coaxing Tinga to her side and she hadn't let the child out of her sight since.
All of the original ten had their own favourites; their own place to be, now- mostly with the hunters who found them. Rufus had tracked down two- both Seth and Jondy refused to let him let them go, regardless of how loudly he protested that he was too old to be a parent (and to two ornery white children at that). But he loved them all the same. Brin and Zane had set up their home in Singer's Salvage yard and god help anyone who tried to take them away from Bobby- he had a shotgun loaded and ready for anyone who even looked at them sideways. Dean thought it was cute.
He shook himself back to reality, stepping out to face the first child in line.
"Have you got a name?" The boy shook his head, slight fear and apprehension in his eyes. Dean looked him over, met his gaze and smiled gently. "You do now, kid. How does Anthony sound? Tony, to your friends." The child nodded quickly and Dean gestured for him to follow Ben, where he was loaded up with a sleeping bag, a change of clothes (from the box marked boy and a clear plastic bag with a toothbrush and toothpaste, clean underwear and a wash cloth. There was another box too, from which Tinga pulled a soft toy- a tiger, with bright stripes and soft fur- and placed it gently on top of Anthony's pile. The child recognized the usefulness of everything else, but the toy… that was something different. Something new. He lined up again, as per Tinga's instructions, just beyond the stack of boxes. He wasn't alone for long- he was followed quickly by Brennan, Catherine, Dillon, Edward, Frankie and the rest of his unit. They got names, alright- in alphabetical order. The General was a straightforward thinker- and it made it easy for him to not double-up and give out the same name twice.
The man had his back to them, reaching the end of Alpha unit. Each name was noted carefully next to their designation on his list and each child received some small gesture of affection- a smile; pat on the shoulder or a hand run over their head. It was unusual.
Brin led them away, to their sleeping quarters, and they could hear the General snap out the call for Beta unit and the shuffling of excited feet- and it was excitement in the air, now. They were getting names.
Alpha unit were led to a clean and dry room a floor above- the end of a long hallway. There was a square of paper on the door with 'Alpha' written on it in colourful letters. Inside there was enough space for all of them- just barely. Brin was rambling, telling them all about the world and what people were like and what foods they would just have to try.
Her sleeping bag was already laid out- Brin was on loan to Alpha unit as a guide, if they wanted her.
The chorus of acceptance was unanimous- they needed a guide, and they wanted Brin because she knew what was going on; she knew where they were and what was going to happen.
They didn't quite believe her when she said she had a new unit now – it was smaller than before, just one other unit member and her CO. Her CO was teaching her about engines and about cars and how to speak Latin and all about 'nomalies. One of her old unit was with her- Zane- and he was happy too. He was on loan to Beta unit and, less than fifteen minutes later, Beta unit trooped up the stairs and settled in the room opposite Alpha. Zane and Brin met in the hallway, exchanging excited grins.
It didn't take long, really, for everyone to be named and housed upstairs. The new unit guides lingered in the hallway, watching their comrades arrive with satisfied grins and an air of smugness that would have been frustrating if there hadn't already been so much to talk about; so much to think about. When Theta unit arrived, led by Jondy, silence fell- 494 was there. He was the General's. They all knew, now, that the General had killed the doctors who were after 491- Sammy. But Alec looked uncomfortable with so many eyes on him; nervous. He retreated to the Theta room, throwing himself onto the ground and leaning up against the wall. In his arms, he gripped a stuffed toy- a large black cat that he thought might have been a panther. It was soft; softer than anything else he'd ever held.
They were alone for a few minutes when footsteps made their way up the stairs; they all recognized the scent of the General as he moved toward them. The guides scattered, darting back to their charges and pasting expressions of pained responsibility onto their faces.
Dean just raised one eyebrow at the sight and sighed. He should have known they'd be gossiping.
"Lights out, little people. It's late; you're all tired and I know that a lot of stuff has gone down today, but you guys need to get some sleep." The guides were the only ones who could see him- peering out around the doors- but they all heard him fine. "There's a bathroom at the end of the hall and I'll leave a light on so you can all see where you're going. If you need to get up and use the facilities, please do. That is what they are there for. If you can't sleep, for whatever reason, come downstairs and find me, okay?" The guides all nodded and were dismissed back to their charges. Of course, the rest were all whispering under their breath- the norms wouldn't hear them- even as they climbed into sleeping bags and fought over the best spots on the floor. The General didn't leave though- he stopped with Theta unit and asked, quietly, if Alec would come and speak to him please.
They heard Alec follow and retreat down the stairs and then the lights on the floor were switched off; all but the light at the end of the hallway- the bathroom, like he'd said.
Alec fought to control a tremble- not the shakes, but nervousness. He didn't know what to expect, removed from his unit by this man who had given him his name. The strange guy in the beige coat had told him he was a Winchester now and that might cause problems- and then he'd laid his hands on him and something had burned inside but just for a second. So Alec was confused and frightened and more than a little nervous, so he stayed quiet.
The General led him to a small room on the ground floor where the furniture had been pushed up against the walls. It was empty, but it smelled of the General and of his twin, too.
Dean gestured for the child to sit, even as he dropped to the ground himself.
"How you doing, kid? You got any questions?" Any questions? He had at least a thousand. He said nothing. "I didn't mean to separate you and single you out, kiddo. I'm sorry if you feel like that's what happened. I just… I wanted to talk to you one-to-one for a minute or two. Ben would like to meet you, too, but I told him he'd have to wait till morning. He's sleeping now, or he's supposed to be. He's with my brother, Sam."
"You named 491 after your brother?" It slipped out without conscious thought and he winced, waiting for a rebuke that never came. The General laughed, instead.
"Yeah, I did. She reminded me of him." He paused, seeming to consider the question. "I gave you the name Jonathon, after my father. He was very important to me. He was a soldier, too, a marine. He died, saving my life." And the tiny hurt that had welled up was washed away, as if it had never been. "He would have loved you very much." John Winchester would have ripped down the walls of Manticore bare-handed to rescue the boys- and he would have killed anyone or anything that tried to stop him, no questions asked. Someday, Dean would tell the boys about their grandfather (well, their father too, if you want to get technical) but it was too soon to heap them with the JW guide to the family business.
"Where are we being redeployed to?" Dean took a deep breath. He'd prepared this explanation- he'd be telling them all over breakfast in the morning.
"Deep cover mission, kiddo. Like the escapees, you're going to join a family and go to school and learn how to be a child. You're still a soldier- but you won't be fighting any more until you're older."
"A family?" The General had mentioned that before, but it still sounded far fetched.
"Yeah, Alec. You're mine- you're already in my family, so you'll be staying with me and your brother, and your… my brother, Sam. And your unit- all the rest of the kids upstairs- they're going to be going to new units too." He didn't know how else to explain it, but the child seemed to accept it. They sat in silence for a moment, side by side on the dusty floor.
"Permission to speak, General?"
"Call me Dean, kiddo. Or Dad, if you want." The child froze; shocked. Checkers had sometimes claimed he was the only father they would ever know. That someone else wanted the job was… unprecedented.
"Are you my Dad?" He swallowed the rest of the words that wanted to spill out.
"Technically? I'm your brother, I guess, because our DNA has the same parents. But… they made you out of me, Alec. In my heart, you're my son." As he spoke, he ran on hand up the child's back to rest at the nape of his neck, warmth covering the cold spot where the Manticore bar-code rested. Dean pulled the child into his side, slowly- giving him a chance to resist- and settled the boy under his arm, pressed close to him. "I love you, kiddo, and I'm so sorry that you had to stay in that place for so long." Alec might not know much about people- hell, he didn't know much about himself- but he could hear truth in the man… in his father's voice. "Family is really important to me, Alec. You, your brother and your Uncle Sam are the most important thing in the world to me. Family can be more than blood, too. You have an aunt- Jo; she's Tinga's mom now, and Jo's mom Ellen. Brin and Zane live with your uncle Bobby. Castiel- you met him earlier- and his sister Anna. That's us- That's our family." Alec heard the names, trying to match the names to the faces he'd seen earlier. Sam was the gigantic one with long hair. Jo had been the small blonde woman, but she carried herself like a soldier too. Ellen had helped them into the trucks. Bobby had been waiting here for them to arrive, passing out cartons of chocolate milk. Castiel and Anna had brought them here, somehow. One second, they had been in Wyoming and the next, they were several states away. It had been frightening and frustrating, but they were warm and smelled like clean air and earth.
They sat there for a long time after that, Alec's genetically-enhanced hearing concentrating completely on the steady hum of Dean's heart beating. Gradually, the boy relaxed into the Hunter's side, allowing Dean to pull him onto his lap- a regular nine year old would have objected; tried to wiggle out of the embrace. But Alec pressed his ear against the broad chest and just listened, marveling at the feeling of the heart beneath his ear and wondering why Manticore had tried to take this- whatever this was- away from them. Lydecker had always talked about good things and bad things, but they hadn't been allowed whatever it was that Dean was giving him, now, and it felt pretty good. So good, in fact, that Alec drifted to sleep easily, wrapped in the arms of the man he'd already begun to think of as his father. He woke, briefly, when Dean returned him to the Theta room. The roomful of TGs watched carefully as they saw the General deposit Alec gently into his sleeping bag and press a kiss to the boy's forehead. Tinga was the only one who understood- she had a Mom now, too, and Jo put her to bed that way every night.
Alec woke in the morning to the sound of feet racing up the stairs. He wasn't the only one who sat bolt-upright in his bedding, eyes widened and frightened. But the cause of the noise became clear quickly- the footsteps stalled outside Theta room and the door opened slowly. Alec didn't know if he was surprised or not when a face identical to his poked around the door. Ben's hair was longer, flopping in his eyes a bit, but otherwise it was like looking in a mirror. A mirror where his image was wearing a wide grin and excited eyes- it was a little weird, all things told.
"Hey Tinga! Dad sent me to wake y'all." The boy bounced on his feet. "And to ask Alec if he wanted to come eat with us?" There was hope in the other boy's voice that Alec wasn't sure he'd ever heard in his own. His unit were staring at him, wondering. He met his twin's gaze and risked a smile and a nod. The returning smile was even brighter.
"Awesome. I've gotta wake the rest but… get dressed? I'll be back." And he closed the door after him, gently. They could hear him move from room to room, telling the others that breakfast was in fifteen minutes and that they wouldn't want to miss it because Bobby had made the eggs and Bobby's eggs were epic. Half of the words went mis-understood, but they all knew what breakfast meant and soon the hallways were filled with TGs, queuing for the bathrooms in orderly lines and dressing quickly. No-one wanted to miss the food. Alec was dressing and queuing for the bathroom when Ben re-appeared, grabbing him by the elbow dragging him out of line and down the stairs. He was talking a mile a minute as he went- explaining that he was sorry he hadn't met his brother the night before- that he'd been so tired after everything that he couldn't wait up until after Dean had spoken to Alec, but that he was sure they'd get along great. Alec could barely keep up with the words being thrown at him- the sheer amount was overwhelming. His brother didn't seem to notice, simply shoved Alec toward an empty bathroom on the ground floor with a grin.
"Queuing is for pussies, bro." The words made no sense, but Alec was relieved that he wouldn't have to queue, at least. He'd have to figure a way of proving to Ben that he wasn't a pussy, whatever that was. He took his time, washing his hands carefully and examining himself in the mirror carefully. He didn't look different, really, but the bright red tee shirt was a splash of colour he was unused to and the jeans were unusual- he'd never worn denim before. The tile was cold under his feet and he watched his toes as he wiggled them, just a little. He didn't look any different- he was the same that morning as he had been the morning before.
But he felt different. He couldn't explain it; wouldn't have been able to put words to the sensation if he'd tried.
"Alec?" His own voice, calling him back to reality. "Come on, bro. Dad's waiting for us." His own voice, calling the man Dad so casually. Alec couldn't help the pang of jealousy that shot through him, then. Ben had been here, felt like this, for a whole month. He'd had their family all to himself for a month. What if they didn't want a second? What if one of him was enough, and they sent him away?
Or sent him back? The fear gripped his heart, even as Ben started complaining outside.
"I know you're just standing there, Alec. Come on- I'm hungry." What choice did he have but to go onward? There was no Manticore to go back to. He shoved the confusion down deep and opened the door, resisting the glare that he wanted to shoot at his brother. He had to stay on Ben's good side, right? He followed his twin quietly, his bare feet silent on the cement floor. He needed to get some shoes- Ben had shoes. Alec bit back another wave of envy. The large room they'd been in the night before was different in the morning light- there were tables and chairs laid out, waiting for the rest of the kids to arrive. There was another, longer, table at the back, laden with plates and smelling of food that Alec had never smelled before.
The General was standing to the side with his SIC; his brother and they were talking quietly. The General was smiling and the tall one- Sam- laughed and shook his head. Whatever was happening, they were both happy. Alec wasn't used to seeing Ordinaries who were happy; the Manticore soldiers were usually expressionless, like he was supposed to be.
He saw the second that the General heard them approach- his Original turned to them with a smile and dropped to his knees. Ben ran straight into his arms for a hug, even though he'd only seen him a few minutes before. Alec stayed a few steps back, entirely unsure of what was expected of him.
That didn't last long- he didn't even see Ben reach out and pull him closer, but that was what happened, and Alec found himself squashed between his Donor's chest and Ben's, both of them holding him tight and there was something; some choking in his lungs and something in his throat and he couldn't breathe, and he couldn't open his eyes because it might all go away, and it felt so good that he couldn't; he didn't ever want it to go away, whatever it was, and then there was something on his face and he was crying for the first time ever and he couldn't stop it and… and then there was another hand on his head and it was the tall one, Sam, he could smell him and he smelled like Ben and the General and like family and something inside of Alec just… snapped, and he knew what Ben had meant when he said that 'Dad was waiting for them' because it felt like this is what he'd been waiting for, forever, except he hadn't known he'd been missing anything; he didn't know he'd been waiting, but now he knew and he'd found it and he wasn't ever letting go.
Dean smiled wide and it reached his eyes for the first time since he'd been freed from hell- Sam could see it in him; the happiness that was there, again, and he felt his own grin stretch his face. It wasn't normal; hell, this was as far from normal as you could get and still have it happen but Sam felt good. Sure, Lucifer was a pain in the ass and Michael was a dick, but wasn't this kind of proof that they were doing the right thing, all along?
If saying no was going to keep these boys alive then Sam would scream it from the rooftops.
A/N: I know some of this reads as a little rushed, but that was (mostly) intentional- let me know if you had trouble following any parts of it, cos then at least I'll know for next time. :)