Dean woke the next morning with the memory of his last conversation with Jo echoing through his mind—not the one just before she'd died of wounds sustained by saving him from a hellhound, but the one just before she'd had to prepare to carry out Osiris' sentence. The one where she'd told him he was carrying far more guilt than he needed to, and he'd replied that it made up a good 90% of who he was.
I get rid of that, what then?
You really want to die not knowing?
He hadn't answered her then, being too tired and depressed to want anything but the release death seemed to offer. But now... now it looked like he had no choice but to find out. And as scary as it was, as hard as it was to accept that bad things had been done to him... he already felt somewhat lighter for trying.
Hell, he almost wanted to buy Hochstetter a beer. Wouldn't that creep the guy's cheese, knowing that he'd been a better therapist than interrogator!
He was feeling better physically, too, now that his system was finally just about adjusted to being dried out. And so eager was he to get back into the swing of things and ditch the barracks for a few hours that he almost missed the looks Hogan and Kinch kept shooting his and Sam's way. They didn't look freaked or mad, just... worried.
Finally, after lunch, Dean dropped his spoon into his empty bowl and said, "Okay, Colonel, what'd I do?"
Hogan blinked. "Nothing."
"All right, what'd Sam do?"
Sam looked startled. "What?"
Hogan sighed. "It's not what he did. It's how."
Sam gulped and paled as he figured out what Hogan had to be talking about. "Sir—"
Hogan held up a hand. "Save it, Winchester. I'm sure it was an accident. But Hochstetter saw. He wouldn't have been so scared otherwise. I don't think he'll do anything yet, but if this East Prussia business is a trap and we haven't fallen for it, I think he'll be mad enough about that and about your managing to rattle him that he'll ship you both off for tests to find out what happened and why."
Dean's hands clenched into fists almost of their own accord. "You think they'll sic someone like Mengele on Sam?"
"Who?" the other prisoners chorused.
"Josef Mengele," Sam replied tightly, "the camp doctor at Auschwitz. Does a lot of human experimentation—usually without anesthesia."
Hogan frowned. "Auschwitz? That's in Poland, isn't it?"
"Yeah. I dunno, it... it might have been liberated by now, but even if it has, Mengele's still out there." Sam winced and pushed hard on his scar; Dean really didn't want to know what Lucifer was taunting him about.
Dean swore bitterly. "What do we do?"
Hogan shook his head. "I won't try to kid you, fellas. If Hochstetter can convince the right people that you're spies, even though you were captured in uniform, there may not be much we can do except arranging for your escape once you're outside the wire, and even that might not be so easy if Hochstetter keeps a lid on the camp. I'd tell you to escape now, but we can't jeopardize Klink's record, not yet. And with the Gestapo everywhere, you'd never make it."
Frustrated and heartsick, Dean pushed himself away from the table hard enough to have knocked it over had Sam not seen his move coming and braced the table. Then he paced away from the table and back. He really, really wanted to kill something right then. That beer he'd wanted to buy Hochstetter? Now he'd swap it for hemlock or a hex bag.
Sam huffed. "Too bad Hochstetter's human. Be a lot easier if we could just kill him."
"Don't tempt me," Hogan said flatly.
"How soon do you think he'll come after us?"
"Hard to say. Probably not more than a week; he's got a short fuse. Doesn't give us much time, especially on radio silence." Hogan sighed, then tapped his mug on the table as he thought. "Safest way to get you outside the wire, of course, would be to have you transferred to another camp. Once you get past Hammelburg, you could probably escape on your own, especially if we hand-pick the guards for you. Allied lines aren't too far from here, maybe 50 miles depending on which way you go; we can get you a map, try to arrange a recognition signal so you won't get busted as German spies."
"Think you can pull that off?" Dean asked. It was a crazy idea, but at least it was an idea.
Hogan shrugged. "Worth a try. I'll go to work on Klink this afternoon."
But Klink, it seemed, was running scared. Hochstetter evidently hadn't appreciated having to deal with men who weren't intimidated by the Gestapo and had threatened Klink within an inch of his life if Sam and Dean left the camp for any reason, up to and including death. Hogan tried everything, but Klink wouldn't budge.
"Think we ought to try to go over Klink's head, contact Burkhalter?" Kinch asked over supper.
Hogan sighed. "I dunno. Could be risky. If Hochstetter's got the phones tapped, he'd nail us like that." He punctuated the statement with a snap of his fingers, which made both Winchesters jump involuntarily.
Dean was mildly disappointed that the snap didn't cause any changes, as it would have if Hogan had been Gabriel. He'd already suspected that Hogan was human, but some supernatural help would have been nice.
"Besides," Hogan continued, "I can't make too much of a fuss or Burkhalter might get curious enough to order tests. Unless we could control where and by whom, that defeats the purpose." He shook his head. "No, let me think on it a while. You and Baker keep an ear on the radio, though, all right? We get any news about Poland, especially, let me know."
Kinch nodded. "Yes, sir."
Newkirk shot a glance at Dean's face and said, "Oy, Captain, I've some fabric wot needs tearin' to strips—makin' a rag quilt, y'see, to 'ide messages in. Care to 'elp?"
Dean shrugged an eyebrow. "Since there's nothin' to kill around here, sure."
Newkirk nodded once and retrieved a length of heavy wool fabric from his footlocker. Then he showed Dean how wide to cut the strips and left him to it until roll call. Dean had to confess that the process was cathartic, expending his energy on something useful... and it kept him from thinking much about how spectacularly his conversation with Sgt. Wilson, plus some of his conversation with Ness, had come back to bite him.
Nazis might be easy to kill, but that didn't make killing them simple.
Old mental habits die hard. Sam knew that as well as anyone. Right now he was having a terrible time not blaming himself for losing control of a power he hadn't even realized he actually still had, which parlayed into worrying all through breakfast that Dean was about to fall back into the trap of blaming himself for this situation when he hadn't had any way of controlling it in the first place. And since Lucifer was standing just inside Sam's peripheral vision reciting statistics about Mengele's twin experiments—statistics Sam wasn't entirely sure he'd ever researched himself—being Dean's gofer for the day seemed like a much wiser course of action than doing things that would leave him alone with too much time to think. So he asked for permission, got it, and arrived at the motor pool to discover that Dean had located a truck part that needed straightening and was currently pounding the hell out of it.
Sam had a sudden flashback to Dean taking a crowbar to the Impala after Dad's death, after Sam had said something monumentally insensitive. He couldn't even remember what he'd said, only that he'd said it because he hadn't reached the conclusion Dean had about Dad trading his own life for Dean's. Dean had taken it like a knife to the heart, and the car had paid the price.
Hoping to avoid a repeat performance, Sam waited until Dean stopped to catch his breath before walking into the workshop area. "Hey."
Dean looked up at him and smiled a little. "Hey, Sammy. You okay?"
"Yeah, just... thought..." Sam gestured vaguely before shrugging. "Need anything?"
"Besides a fifth of Jack and Hochstetter's head on a plate?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "From me. Now."
"A map would be nice. Don't even know where the hell we are, other than somewhere in Germany and maybe 50 miles from the Western Front. Where would we even go, Aachen? Bastogne? Is the Battle of the Bulge over yet?"
"How should I know, Dean? European Theater was Dad's thing, not mine. I barely remember The Longest Day."
Dean grimaced. "Look, get with Kinch. Find out where we're headed once we escape."
"Still think we can?"
There was a deadly light in Dean's eyes as he growled, "I am not letting Mengele get his hooks into you, Sam, or any other freak Nazi so-called scientist."
"Gandalf was right. 'He who breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.'"
Sam didn't know whether to be impressed or baffled that Dean could quote Lord of the Rings without blinking that way. That line hadn't even been in the movie.
"Hogan's got a point about needing to get out of this area first," Dean continued. "But as soon as we're clear, we are makin' a break for it, and right now, I don't even care who we have to kill. Well, not Schultz," he amended.
Sam huffed. "So, map."
"Okay. But I'm supposed to work here with you for now. So..."
Dean flung a greasy rag at him and pointed to a bench. "The bearings on those brakes need the grease repacked."
"Dude, you're my helper. Go help." Somehow the situation managed to bring a twinkle back to Dean's eyes.
Sam rolled his own eyes again and got to work.
Several tense but uneventful days followed, during which Kinch and Baker were able to receive enough broadcasts to nail down where the Allied lines to the west were. Sam and Dean both worked with Kinch to work out escape routes from any road on which the SS could possibly take them out of the Hammelburg area, and Hogan tried to come up with a plan for overpowering the guards and/or setting up an Underground ambush.
The plan hadn't quite fully materialized before Baker climbed up into Barracks 2 from the radio room calling for Hogan. Once the team was assembled, Baker reported, "I just got word through the BBC. The Red Army took Memel on Sunday when the Germans pulled back toward Königsberg, and one of the Russian units coming up from the south to reinforce Memel just about tripped over an SS unit that was parked a few miles northeast of Skaudvilé."
Hogan frowned. "Tripped. So the information was legit?"
"Yes and no. The Russians caught the Germans napping because the Germans were facing the wrong way—toward the way a unit would have had to come out of either Memel or Riga to stop a counteroffensive. Not too well hidden from the south, but anyone coming from the northeast or northwest wouldn't have seen a thing until it was too late."
"So if we had gotten that message out..."
"We would have sent the Russians into the ambush," Kinch finished gravely.
A collective sigh went up from the group.
"All right," Hogan said, "we'll work with what we have. Hochstetter could be here any minute. Baker, any chance of getting word to the Underground?"
Baker shook his head. "No, sir. Even with the transmitter off, there was interference in the signal that sounded like a radio detector. And when I checked the phones yesterday, I heard some clicks that could have been a wire tap."
"Oh, great. All right, Winchesters, as soon as you escape, make your way to the barn here." Hogan pointed to a spot on the map that was on the far side of Hammelburg. "There's a shortwave set hidden in the hayloft. As soon as you get there, send a signal on the emergency wavelength—that's 530. Start and end your message with the code W2." Hogan rapped the Morse code lightly on the table: one short, two long, space, two short, three long. "You can put anything else you want in between; in fact, it might be better if it's not actually Morse code."
"How's this?" Dean replied and tapped out the rhythm to the opening riff of "Smoke on the Water" with a pencil.
Baker's eyebrows shot up, but Kinch nodded. "Sounds almost like U-C-U-A, but it's just syncopated enough to throw the Germans off."
"Or this?" Dean tapped out the opening riff of "Back in Black."
"Could you repeat that?" Dean did so, and Kinch jotted down T-S-S T-I-I T-S-S A-A-A-A-I. "Yeah. Either of those could work. Try one more, just to be on the safe side."
Dean twiddled the pencil loosely between his fingers as he thought, then rapped out the opening of "Eye of the Tiger."
"No, there's one dash you're holdin' too long to be Morse code. Try something else."
Dean responded with the first verse of "Walk Like an Egyptian."
"Needs more cowbell," Sam deadpanned.
Dean threw the pencil at him.
Kinch chuckled. "I think the first part before the repeat should be enough. You don't want the Germans to get a fix on your signal."
Dean nodded. "Gotcha."
"What are those patterns?" Hogan asked.
"Music from our day. First one's 'Smoke on the Water,' second's 'Back in Black,' and the third's 'Walk Like an Egyptian.'"
"All right. Make sure it's one of those three patterns. After you send that message, shut off the radio and sit tight until someone comes for you. The recognition signal will be the name of the pattern you sent. It might be a few days, but the people who own the farm won't come looking for you if any of their food starts to disappear. You'll be safe there."
Both brothers nodded their understanding.
"Now, there's a chance Hochstetter's going to want handcuffs on you, maybe even chains. Can you get out of them?"
Dean shrugged. "Got a paper clip?"
Hogan grinned, got one from his locker, and tossed it to Dean, who caught it easily and slipped it onto the top of his sock.
"So," Sam reviewed, "ditch the Germans, head for the barn, radio back—W2, one of those songs, W2—hang up and wait. Someone will show up, name the song, and tell us where to go next."
Hogan nodded. "That's it. Unless I've forgotten something."
No one knew of anything, so they all settled in to wait with a rousing game of gin.
They didn't have to wait more than a few hours before a truckload of Gestapo drove into camp. A very anxious Schultz came to collect the Winchesters, who followed without protest.
But halfway across the compound, Dean said, "Hey, Schultz, hold up a sec."
Schultz stopped but looked around nervously. "Please, Capt. Winchester..."
"Schultz, it's okay. It's just that... well, we think Hochstetter's gonna have us transferred, and we might not get another chance to talk, so... thanks."
"For everything," Sam added.
Schultz looked ready to cry. "You boys... you will take care of yourselves, ja?"
Schultz nodded. "Okay. Let's go."
They got as far as the front steps before Klink and Hochstetter came out on the porch and Klink ordered Schultz back to Barracks 2 to make sure the other prisoners didn't start a riot. Schultz obeyed, and the stone-faced Gestapo men closed in around Sam and Dean. With the Winchesters thus outnumbered, Hochstetter was back to his usual smirking, smug self, but Sam completely tuned out the little man's monologue until he ordered Sam and Dean searched.
Dean endured the patdown in his usual manner, not even reacting when the goon confiscated the paper clip on his sock. But then the goon got a little overly thorough, which earned him a vicious kick in the face.
"Hands off," Dean growled as two other goons held him back from following up the kick. "We don't swing that way, you sick—"
"Silence!" Hochstetter shouted.
And only a few seconds after that, the goon searching Sam brushed past just exactly the wrong point—and the world dissolved in light and fire and screams and Lucifer's tainted glory and diabolical laughter, too close, too anxious for the wrong kind of fun. Sam lashed out blindly with everything he had. For a too-brief moment, he felt Dean's back pressed against his, and it grounded him somewhat—brothers against the world, forever and always—but then hands pulled them apart and there were fire and ice and chains and screams and Sam could barely hear his own voice screaming in Latin and Enochian...
Then a shock of pain shot through his left hand, and the world resolved itself into Dean staring at him intently and cold German air that burned his lungs like ice as he gulped it down in harsh pants. His vision swam again, but Dean didn't let go, and his eyes focused again on Dean, Dean, brother, best friend, stone number one. Real.
Sam nodded once.
"You with me?"
Two nods, and Sam chanced a look around. They were shackled together, he and Dean, hand and foot, and they were standing next to a truck with its tires blown out, and leading back to Klink's office was a trail of Gestapo men—dead or unconscious, Sam couldn't tell.
Sam looked back at Dean. "Did... did I..."
"No one who matters."
Sam nodded and breathed a little easier. Then he remembered that of course, Schultz had been sent back to guard Barracks 2, and Klink would have run for cover as soon as things started to get wild. He glanced over at the barracks and saw Hogan looking out the window at them in concern; Hogan relaxed a little and nodded once when Sam made eye contact with him, but he didn't look any less worried.
Dean was still pushing on Sam's scar, so Sam let his hand curl around Dean's thumb as he made eye contact again. "I'm sorry, Dean," he whispered.
Dean stopped pressing then but let his fingers curl gently around the back of Sam's hand. "Hey. Not your fault. I told these—"
"Kein Gespräch," snapped a Gestapo thug with a machine gun who nevertheless made no move to separate the brothers. Apparently he was too glad to have the wild man tamed and too eager not to suffer the same fate as his comrades.
Dean gave Sam's hand a quick squeeze and raised his eyebrows—You good? You want to let go now, Samantha?
No, Sam wasn't good yet; he couldn't be sure he wasn't going to lose his grip again. He tightened his hold on Dean's thumb and willed himself not to cry. Something in Dean's eyes softened then, and he tightened his own hold on Sam.
They hadn't been standing like that long before another truck drove up and the Germans herded them into it. Dean kept an eye out the back as they drove away from the camp, marking the direction they were headed and trying to decide where they could escape, if only by falling out of the truck. But Sam was in no fit state to do any such plotting; he was having a hard enough time letting the pressure of Dean's hand and the jolts from the truck on the uneven road keep him grounded.
Then, after they'd been on the road about five minutes, the truck hit a sudden bump, shooting the brothers a good two inches off the seat...
... and when they came down again, it was into the front seat of the Impala, which they were driving along some sort of track. A hundred yards or so ahead stood another, newer car and a camera crew. Their chains were gone, they saw upon looking around wildly, and their hair and clothes and everything were back to normal.
Of course, there's really only one way to test whether or not this new Impala is as good a car as the classic Impala of forty years ago, said a British tenor voice-over, and that is to let the two go head to head. The trouble is finding a classic Impala in good enough condition. We actually had to bring one all the way from America. It's a fully-restored Impala from 1967, and its owners are renowned ghost hunters Dean and Sam Winchester.
Dean had at this point reached what looked like the start line and parked, and after exchanging a look, he and Sam got out and walked toward the cameras warily.
"Dean, is it?" asked the same voice, which belonged to a short man with light brown hair and an eager smile who turned from his place in front of the cameras and walked toward Dean.
Dean cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah. This is my brother Sam."
"Excellent. Richard Hammond. Thanks for coming." Hammond shook hands with each brother in turn before turning an expert's eye to the Impala. "Beautiful car, this!"
Sam quickly lost interest as Dean got caught up in car talk with Hammond and set about cautiously and surreptitiously making sure that things were at least not the product of his own mind, and it seemed that they were real enough to be reliable for the moment. But Dean called him back to discuss the upcoming test—Sam, who insisted that he was fine, would drive for the quarter-mile drag race, and Dean would drive for the short lap of the track. Dean was adamant that he would not relinquish his long-lost baby to Top Gear's "tame racing driver," and Hammond didn't push the issue.
It wasn't until Sam was about to hand the keys back to Dean after the drag race that the brothers happened to glance over at the production office trailer just as a tall middle-aged man with thinning curly brown hair was coming out. Something flashed across his face—it might have been astonishment; it might have been something else—followed by an utterly devious grin.
Sam and Dean exchanged a look and a sigh. The Trickster had found them again.
"Newkirk?" Hogan asked quietly as the gates closed behind the departing truck and Schultz headed back to Klink's office. "How easy will it be for the Winchesters to get out of those chains?"
"Why don't we ask Malcolm the Marvelous?" Newkirk shot back bitterly, referring to the escape artist who'd nearly fouled up an important assignment.
"They got Dean's paper clip, sir. That's why 'e shook 'is 'ead when 'e looked over 'ere. And besides that, 'e's got Sam to look after. If those lads escape on their own while that truck's movin', it'll be a bloody miracle."
Hogan sighed heavily. "All right. We need to figure out where they're taking the boys and then find a way to spring 'em. If anybody comes up with any good ideas, I'll be in my office."
There were affirmative murmurs all around, and Hogan made his way back into his office and plugged in the coffee pot just in case anyone on the other end said anything useful.
He was still listening to Klink arguing with Hochstetter and stewing over how to rescue the Winchesters when the phone in Klink's office rang. Hochstetter answered, listened, and exploded, "WAS? Was meinen Sie, sie sind verschwunden? ... In Luft aufgelöst? Unsinn! Sie haben einfach nur entfliehen! Und Sie müssen dafür bezahlen! ... BAAAAAAH!"
Hogan slumped in relief, letting his head fall forward into his hands.
Carter came to the door at just that moment. "Sir, what if—Colonel? Are you okay?"
Hogan took a deep breath, sat up, and unplugged the coffee pot with a smile. "Yeah, Carter. We can call off the rescue mission. They've gone home."
"Gone home? As in..."
"Disappeared right out of the back of the truck—vanished literally into thin air."
Carter lit up like a Christmas tree and ran back into the main room to tell the others. And Hogan breathed a silent prayer that whatever was waiting for the Winchesters back in their own world wouldn't be the death of them yet again.
After Hogan and his team went to New Zealand in 1999, he and Kinch renewed an old habit of calling each other once a month to keep tabs on each other, reminisce, and grouse about Kids These Days like the grumpy old men they pretended they weren't. They kept it up through two moves and the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and of Carter's death in 2003, though most conversations were more pleasant than those periods. However, one such call in the summer of 2005 took an unexpected turn.
"Sir?" Kinch said suddenly. "Do you get a channel called WB?"
Hogan frowned. "Yeah, why?"
"Switch over. There's this commercial... I think I'm seeing things."
Hogan turned on the TV, found the channel—and blinked at the image on his screen. There, smaller than life and quite a lot younger, were Sam and Dean Winchester.
"Dean, this is my girlfriend, Jessica... whatever you want to say, you can say in front of her."
"Dad's on a hunting trip, and he hasn't been home in a few days."
"Jess, excuse us. We have to go outside."
"Ho-ly cats," said Kinch when the commercial was over.
"Yeah," Hogan agreed. "Looks like we've got a new show to watch, Kinch."
"Yes, sir," Kinch replied, as if it had been an order.
Kein Gespräch – No talking
Hochstetter's dialogue: WHAT? What do you mean, they disappeared? ... Vanished into thin air? Nonsense! They simply escaped! And you will have to pay for it!
A/N: Yes, the Trickster is Jeremy Clarkson. I couldn't resist. ;) For those who don't know, Top Gear is a very funny but very informative ("factual!") BBC car show. Coyote Waits is a mystery novel by Tony Hillerman.