Alex is only sixteen, the youngest member of the crew. He’s also the only one born outside the Matrix.
“Born and raised right here in the real world,” he tells Sam when they’re first introduced. “Born in Zion, the last outpost of all there is. The last free world. All that’s left of humanity. Buried deep, near the Earth’s core, protected by a massive system of gates and fences accessible only by hovership.”
Sam shakes his head as the kid gazes at him in awe and wonder.
“You’re gonna save us,” he tells Sam. “We’ve been waiting hundreds of years for you.”
Sam huffs out a breath in disbelief, too overwhelmed to come up with a response.
He’s nobody’s savior. He can barely function.
“How long has it been?”
Sitting across from each other in the mess hall an hour later, Sam and Dean chow down on something that looks and tastes like regurgitated oatmeal. Sam’s been assured it’s full of protein and minerals, but it’s definitely the nastiest stuff he’s ever eaten.
What he wouldn’t give for a fresh salad right now. Or even a bacon cheeseburger.
“Three years, give or take,” Dean answers. “They pulled me out just after you left for college.”
“But you couldn’t stay away,” Sam suggests. “You went back in. You were stalking me.” Sam recalls the tingling sensation of someone watching him as he walked across campus.
“Missed you,” Dean repeats, raising his eyes so that Sam can see the raw grief there. “Even though I knew you were right where you should be, it killed me to leave you there.”
Sam nods. “I first met Jensen in the spring of freshman year,” he recalls. “We first connected in that Harry Potter role-playing group.”
“That’s right.” Dean grins crookedly. “Knew I’d find you there.”
“You were already out by then,” Sam clarifies. “You invented Jensen so you could connect with me, because you thought I wouldn’t want to hear from Dean and you couldn’t stay away.”
Dean clenches his jaw, looks down at his slop, and for a moment Sam thinks he won’t answer. Then he nods.
“I was a mess after you left,” he admits. “Then Dad left, and I sort of fell off the deep end for a while. Drinking, being stupid. Charging into hunts half-cocked. Reckless. Knew I couldn’t go on like that.”
“So you went looking for the magic pill,” Sam suggests, forcing himself to ignore the tightness in his chest at Dean’s words, at the picture of desperation they paint. “You wanted it.”
Dean lifts his eyes, stares daggers at him.
Sam holds his gaze. Steady. Challenging.
“You’re saying I wanted to die,” Dean says, nodding subtly, wincing as he looks down again. Then he straightens up in his seat and takes a deep breath, bracing himself. “I wanted out, not gonna lie. But I couldn’t kill myself. I couldn’t leave you.”
Sam knows the effort it took for Dean to admit something like that. The Dean he knew would never confess something so vulnerable. So intimate.
But Jensen would.
“So you found a way out,” Sam says.
Dean nods. “I knew a girl who knew a guy who had something that could help.” He looks down at the untouched slop on his plate. “Mark Sheppard, leader of a special group of people who knew things. People who could predict the future. He promised if I took the pill, you would come back to me.”
“So you did.”
“I did,” Dean agrees, nodding. He looks up at Sam, eyes clear and green with a film of something that might be emotion, or it might be the dry air in the room making his eyes moist.
“I waited three years, Sammy,” he says quietly. “Three years.”
Sam sucks in a breath, lets it out slow. He looks away, then back at Dean, whose gaze holds his for another long moment before he looks away.
“I’m not Dean,” his not-brother reminds him, and anger rises in Sam’s chest like a firecracker.
“Yeah, you are!” Sam snaps. “You are, damn it! For all intents and purposes, you’re the big brother who raised me. Who took care of me and looked after me when Dad was gone. You’re the most important person in my life, Dean! How am I supposed to just let that go? How do I suddenly face the fact that none of it was real?”
Dean nods. He hesitates before answering, but when he does, his gaze is clear. Confident.
“Because you can,” he says softly. “Because you know it’s true. Because you’ve always known it. You’ve always felt different. Special. A freak. Right? Well, that’s because you are. You’re Jared. The One. You’re the guy who is destined to save the world, and I’m the sidekick who was always meant to be there for you. To protect you until you were ready. The world has been waiting for you, Sammy, and it’s been my job all along to make sure you get here.”
“Fuck,” Sam breathes.
Dean puts his spoon down with a flourish. “Pretty much, yeah,” he agrees.
Sam opens his mouth but nothing comes out.
Dean smirks, lowers his eyes. “We’re in this together,” he says firmly.
Sam sucks in a breath, relieved and terrified at the same time.
Dean’s words give Sam too much to think about.
That night, he can’t sleep. He gets up from the tiny bunk in the ship’s infirmary, pads down the corridor to the bridge. Robbie sits at the comm, keeping watch over a half-dozen screens, most of them filled with continually scrolling code.
Robbie starts when Sam moves up behind him, peering into the screens without recognition or understanding.
“So that’s the Matrix?” he asks.
Robbie nods. “Yeah.” He glances up at Sam, reads his clueless expression and smiles. “You get used to it. Right now I’m just watching for any glitches, anything that might alert us that they’re onto us after we got you out.”
Sam nods. He can’t imagine getting used to all that code. He can’t imagine being able to read it, like Robbie obviously can.
“Can I ask you something?” Robbie says, swiveling toward him. Sam nods. “How does it feel, finding out you’re supposed to save the world?”
Robbie’s tone is kind, sympathetic.
Sam huffs out a breath. “I don’t know,” he admits. “It’s weird, I guess.”
Robbie smiles, rueful. “You know, in there, I was a Prophet of the Lord. I was writing your story, if you can believe it. Yours and Dean’s. You were a world-saver in there, too.”
Sam frowns. “No way.”
“Afraid so, kid,” Robbie says. “Apparently, you can’t escape your destiny, no matter where you are.”
Sam shakes his head. “It’s just so weird. Two weeks ago, my biggest problem was getting into law school.”
Robbie huffs out a laugh. “I hear you. I used to be God. Literally. Before they yanked me out, I was running the show. Now I’m a lowly crew member, playing backup for the stars who were just shitty little nobodies in there. Reality sucks, man.”
Sam frowns at the bitterness in Robbie’s voice. “You regret getting out?”
“Regret it?” Robbie looks up at him, frowning a little as he shifts his gaze between Sam and the screens in front of him. “Nah. It’s definitely better here, man. I mean, who wouldn’t rather be out here in the real world, right?”
“Right,” Sam agrees, but he’s not really thinking about Robbie’s question.
He’s thinking about Dean.
At the end of the week, Robbie hooks Sam and Dean up for Sam’s first online session.
“This is the Matrix?” Sam gazes around at the room which looks like an elaborate Asian-themed gym.
“No.” Dean shakes his head. “This is just a simulation. Everybody starts out here. This is where you learn just how much your mind can do without the limitation of your physical body.”
“This is so weird,” Sam breathes as he looks down at himself, at the simple black sweatpants and t-shirt he’s wearing. He’s barefoot.
Dean’s hair is short again. He’s dressed simply in the jeans and plaid shirt he usually wore when he hunted. Dad’s leather jacket hangs off his broad shoulders, always a size too big.
“The jacket’s not real,” Sam observes. “It only exists in here.”
“It only exists in here.” Dean taps his own temple. “And in our shared memories of our life growing up.”
“That really happened,” Sam clarifies. “We didn’t just dream it.”
Dean grins. “Oh, it happened, all right. For all intents and purposes, you’re still my pain-in-the-ass little brother. But you’re Jared, too.”
Sam nods. “And you’re still my jerk of a big brother,” he says. “But you’re also Jensen.”
“Now you’re getting it,” Dean says, nodding. “Now show me what you got, Jared-Sam.”
Sam gives his all, using the Jiu Jitsu and Taekwondo he learned in the physical world, the programming sent directly to his brain while his body sat plugged in on a loading chair.
Dean bests him every time without breaking a sweat.
After a few minutes, Sam collapses, sweating, breathing hard.
Dean’s eyes sparkle as he laughs.
“Come on now, little brother, you can do better than that!”
Dean hasn’t even taken his jacket off.
“Damn it, Dean!” Sam complains. “I used to be able to beat you when we sparred, at least part of the time. What the hell, man?”
“You’re overthinking,” Dean says, serious. “You gotta let yourself go, Sammy. In here, you can do anything. All you have to do is to believe you can.”
He circles the room, moving so gracefully his heavy boots don’t make a sound. He doesn’t seem to touch the ground.
Sam shakes his head. “I can’t,” he says. “I’m not as good as you.”
“You are,” Dean assures him. “You just have to free your mind from all your old preconceptions. This isn’t real, Sam. All that’s real is what’s in your grapefruit.”
Dean stops, frowning a little.
Dean shakes his head. “With you, I keep reverting back to the old me,” he says. “You bring the old Dean out in me. It’s been a while.”
He shrugs the jacket off and folds it neatly, lays it down on a small wooden chair in a corner of the room. Then he turns back to Sam and beckons with one hand.
“Now come on, little brother. Show me what you’ve really got.”
Sam takes a deep breath, closes his eyes. He imagines he’s at a park near Bobby’s house, a place he used to love when he was a child. In his mind’s eye he can see the grass where he learned to kick a soccer ball around, sometimes with Dean, sometimes by himself. It’s a sunny day in early summer. A soft breeze is blowing and the birds are singing.
Sam opens his eyes. The room has disappeared and they’re standing in the park, exactly as Sam imagined. Dean stands a few feet away, gazing up at the sky with a goofy grin on his face.
“Nice!” he comments approvingly. “Now use that big brain to give up your best moves.”
This time when they spar, Sam imagines winning. He anticipates Dean’s moves, counters them easily. After only a few moments, he’s got Dean pinned to the ground and tapping out.
“Easy, tiger,” Dean laughs. “Now you’re doing it.”
Sam looks down into Dean’s shining eyes and can’t resist a smirk of triumph.
After a week of simulations, Robbie plugs them into the Matrix for the first time.
It’s easy. Sam’s amazed at how easy it is, now that he knows the truth.
The monsters aren’t real. They’re manifestations of the artificial world designed by the Matrix, designed to occupy and distract trouble-makers like their little band of rebels. Figuring out how to kill each kind of monster isn’t even necessary, Sam learns. All he has to do is know the truth, and the power of his mind takes care of the rest.
Slaughtering monsters with his mind attracts attention, of course. Police, FBI, Secret Service, Homeland Security. Soon, Sam and Dean are on the run, their team of hunters scattered. Sam leads the authorities on a chase across rooftops, leaping over streets from twenty floors up, sliding into windows on the sides of skyscrapers, Dean at his side.
When the men in black finally trap them and they can’t go anywhere, Sam closes his eyes for a moment and imagines the car. He imagines a cool, clear morning on a backroad in Iowa, cornfields rushing by as Dean drives.
When he opens his eyes, they’re there, in the car, Led Zeppelin blaring from the speakers. The Impala’s motor rumbles under them as they fly, Dean at the wheel with a smirk on his perfect lips.
“Whooo!” Dean whoops, rolls down the window and leans out to whoop again. Sam’s face splits open in a grin that just won’t quit.
After a few moments, Sam closes his eyes again. This time when he opens them, they’re in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, climbing a winding mountain road with a gorgeous view of valleys and a lake beneath them.
Dean pulls the car over and they get out to enjoy the view. The breeze ruffles their hair, the smell of pine fills their nostrils, and Sam’s heart soars.
They lean back on the warm hood of the Impala and drink their beers, watching as a flock of birds sails into the valley below them, riding the wind. Sam knows how that feels. He could probably become one of those birds, if he wanted.
The feeling of utter freedom is intoxicating. The possibilities are endless.
Sam turns to find Dean watching him, his bright green eyes with their thick lashes the most beautiful thing Sam’s ever seen.
“Feels good, don’t it?” Dean says with a wink. “In here, you can do anything.”
Sam nods, overwhelmed by the sudden urge to kiss Dean, just out of euphoria.
He leans close, cups Dean’s cheek with his free hand, and Sam can see by the look in Dean’s eyes, the way he leans into Sam’s hand, that he’ll let Sam do this. He’s okay with it.
This isn’t Dean, his mind reminds him as their lips touch. It’s Jensen.
He’s not really Sam. He’s Jared, the rebel who might be able to fix all this.
But he’s still Sam, too. This is still Dean, the man who raised him, who was there with him from the beginning.
It’s almost too much. As the kiss depends, Sam closes his eyes, imagines a motel room like the thousands they’ve stayed in over the years.
This one’s got a king-sized bed.
Sam’s cell phone rings, and for a moment he forgets where he is. They’re in a motel, his sleepy mind tells him, but he can’t remember how they got here. Dean’s asleep in the bed next to him. As Sam props himself up to reach for his phone, he realizes he’s naked.
So is Dean.
The night before crashes into his mind and suddenly he’s fully alert. He grabs the phone as Dean’s eyes open, sleep-soft and unfocused, and Sam can’t stop staring.
Robbie’s voice over the phone is like a bucket of cold water. Their time’s up. Time to get out.
Sam opens his eyes. He’s in the loading chair, hooked up to the transmitter, fully clothed. Dean sits in the chair next to him, also fully clothed. Sam glances at him as Robbie retracts the plug from the back of his neck.
“You did good, kid,” Robbie tells him. “Real good.”
Dean gives him a slow, secret smile, and Sam blushes. His ass is sore, which doesn’t make sense since his body hasn’t done anything but sit here, strapped to a chair, for the past thirty minutes. Time moves differently in the Matrix.
He just spent a day in there, taking down monsters, running from the cops, having sex with his brother.
The memory of it makes Sam’s dick twitch. As he and Dean move down the corridor, Sam grabs Dean’s arm and pushes him up against the bulkhead.
“What we did in there...” Sam says. He’s fully erect now, panting a little as he presses against Dean’s firm, warm body. His real body.
“Too bad there’s no king-sized bed on this rig.” Dean smirks.
“So, if there was space?” Sam needs to be sure.
“Privacy, dude,” Dean reminds him. “Where would we go?”
“Everybody knows anyway,” Sam hisses. “Not like they couldn’t see what we were doing in there.”
“Yeah, but it’s different out here,” Dean says. “There’s literally nowhere we can go to be alone. And I’m not performing in front of the whole crew. Not out here. You get me?”
Sam dips his head, lets his lips skim over Dean’s. “We’ll see,” he promises darkly. “I don’t know if I can wait.”
“All right, lovebirds,” Misha interrupts, as he seems to enjoy doing. Sam thinks he might have a thing for Dean, which wouldn’t surprise him. Everyone has a thing for Dean, male and female alike. They all call him Jensen, of course, which still takes some getting used to. “Let’s get back to work. Bogey scanned off our starboard bow.”
As the ship goes into stealth mode, Sam huddles on the bridge with the rest of the crew, watching as the insect-like machines hover and propel through the cavern around them. Sam wonders if the probes are looking for them, specifically, or if they’re simply doing a routine scan of the area. But when Sam starts to ask the question, Robbie puts his fingers to his lips.
“They’re attracted by our signal,” Rich explains after the probes have left. “They can tell when we’re connecting to the Matrix. We suspect they know about us, but they’re not too concerned. Yet.”
“They tried to kill us when we were inside,” Dean reminds him. “I’d say they’re plenty concerned.”
“Wait, so if we die in the Matrix, we die out here?” Sam knows it’s a stupid question as soon as he’s asked it. Rich smirks; Dean shakes his head, and Misha full on rolls his eyes.
“Okay, okay, never mind,” Sam says. “I get it.”
“This isn’t an easy job, Jared,” Mark warns. “If you want out, we can hook you back up, shoot you full of drugs so you don’t ever have to remember any of this. You’ll go right back to your nice, normal life as Sam Winchester.”
“My life was never normal,” Sam snaps. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Sam’s in the rec room with Ruthie, practicing yoga moves, when Dean interrupts.
“Time for what?”
Dean winks, slaps his hand against the bulkhead. “Time to go to Missouri.”
“The state?” Sam frowns in confusion as Dean disappears down the corridor, headed to the bridge.
“You’ll see.” Ruthie smirks.
Sam joins Dean, Robbie, Mark and Ruthie on the bridge for the trip into the Matrix. Rich stays behind as operator with backup from Chad, Alona, and Samantha. Misha and Alex are nowhere to be found, but that’s normal for them. They spend a lot of time in the engineering room, fixing things. They seem to have a kind of father-son relationship.
“She’s not human,” Dean explains once they’re inside.
They’re in a building like the one in which Sam first met them, somewhere in San Francisco. The crew have transformed into the personas they each prefer when on the Inside. Sam and Dean wear usual hunting garb. Sam can feel his Taurus tucked into the back of his jeans, knows Dean’s similarly armed. Ruthie wears the slinky black leather she prefers, Mark the sleek black suit he wore when Sam first met him. Robbie looks like a teacher or writer in his soft grey hoodie, baggy jeans and rubber-toed sneakers. He wears a perpetually worried expression, his eyes darting around nervously as they walk.
“We think she’s a glitch in the system,” Dean continues as he leads the way down the stairs to the car. “She knows things.”
“The future,” Dean says. “Things that happen in the real world, even though she’s in here. She’s a construct. Doesn’t have a human body, but she’s on our side.”
“How is that possible?” Sam falls into step beside him.
“Like I said, she’s some kind of glitch in the system.”
The Impala sits on the street corner, waiting. Dean slides into the driver’s seat and Sam climbs in beside him as the others crowd into the backseat. The day is wet and cold, the city streets deserted. Clouds hang low, grey, like a wet blanket. Sam hugs himself, rubbing his arms for warmth as Dean cranks the heat, flips on the windshield wipers.
Sam sits back as the car moves slowly through the city. He stares out at the once-familiar landscape with his new vision, recognizing a coffee shop where he and Jessica used to go to study together, a used bookstore they frequented right next door. He can’t help wondering where Jessica is now. What did she think when Sam never came home? When he never called?
“Earth to Sam.” Dean waves a hand in front of his face.
Sam starts, blinking. “I was just thinking about Jessica.”
“What about her?”
“She never knew why I left,” he says. “She didn’t get a note, no phone call, nothing. I’m an asshole to do that to her.”
“Dude, you died,” Dean reminds him. “When that happened, the Matrix re-wrote your code. As far as Jessica’s concerned, you never existed.”
Sam sucks in a breath, shocked. “Nobody remembers me?”
“Well, random strangers probably do.” Dean shrugs. “People who knew you before you came to Stanford. But when you died, you stopped being part of the story.”
“The story the Matrix wrote for you,” Dean says. “What, you don’t think the Matrix had a very specific plan for your life? What’s the matter, Sammy, don’t you believe in destiny?”
“No, Dean, I don’t,” Sam snaps. “And neither do you. If our lives are all planned out for us, what’s the point?”
“Exactly.” Dean winks. “And that’s just what the Matrix wants you to think.”
Sam shakes his head. “I’m pretty sure you just contradicted yourself,” he says.
“If you two are quite done confusing each other, would you mind pulling over and letting us out here?” Mark calls from the backseat. “We’ve got our own little mission to accomplish.”
Dean pulls the car over and the three backseat passengers pile out. Sam watches as they file into a seedy-looking bar with a neon Trader Vic’s sign hung over the door.
“What are they doing?” he asks as Dean pulls back into traffic, driving north into a residential neighborhood.
“Acting as decoys,” he says. “We don’t want agents finding Missouri. Or you.”
“I thought you said the Matrix thinks I’m dead.”
“It does,” Dean says. “We want to keep it that way.”
“Wait, so what about you? And the others? Doesn’t the Matrix think you’re all dead, too?” Sam frowns when he considers the implications of this, confused again.
“In a way,” Dean agrees.
“But what about Dad? What about me? If you died, that’d kill him. It’d kill me.” It shocks him to think that their dad might never wonder where they’d gone, might never even remember he’d had sons in the first place.
“Anybody ever tell you you ask too many questions?” Dean smirks.
Sam huffs out a breath. “Yeah. You do. All the time.”
“Here we are.”
The car stops in front of a nondescript apartment building, one of several on the block. Instead of entering from the street, Dean leads the way into an alley between two buildings, then down a short flight of stairs to the basement door. After knocking sharply three times, the door opens and a small girl appears. She motions them inside, then she shuts the door behind them.
“We’re here to see Missouri,” Dean tells her.
The girl nods, turning to lead them down a dimly lit basement corridor to an elevator. Along the corridor, trash piles in corners, battered doors remain closed, graffiti covers the walls. The place smells like overcooked vegetables and pee.
“You did this?” Sam asks as they climb into the dingy elevator.
“We all did,” Dean says.
The elevator door opens on the third floor corridor, dusty and littered with paper bags and grocery receipts like the basement. Dean stops outside the third door on the right, but before he has a chance to knock, it opens. Another young girl leads them down a hall into a small room, where two other adults sit, flipping through old magazines, obviously waiting. They don’t look up.
“Wait here.” The girl disappears through a door on the opposite wall, closing it behind her, leaving Sam and Dean standing in the middle of the room, eyeing the one empty chair.
Before they can decide which of them should sit, the door opens again and the girl reappears, beckoning to Sam.
“Me?” He points to himself, glances at the two people who are still waiting, and shoots them apologetic looks. One of them rolls his eyes.
Dean gives him a little push as the girl continues to beckon.
“Go on! I’ll be right here when you’re done.”
Beyond the door is a larger room filled with young people, most of them children or teenagers. There are a couple of girls who might be college students, but it’s obvious to Sam that he’s the oldest person here. All of the kids are practicing various telekinetic exercises. Sam and his guide stop to watch as a little boy focuses on a pencil that lifts into the air in front of him. It hovers there a moment, then falls to the floor. A teenage girl seems to be bending a spoon with her mind. A boy and a girl sit cross-legged on the floor with their eyes closed, giggling periodically.
“They’re telling each other jokes,” Sam’s guide explains. “Telepathically, of course.”
“Right.” Sam nods. “Of course.”
“Missouri will see you now,” Sam’s guide tells him, nodding toward a curtained doorway at the other end of the room.
As Sam makes his way across the room, he smells cookies baking, knows before he steps through the curtain what he’ll find there. The picture in his mind of a plump woman in an apron is confirmed as he steps into the kitchen.
“Jared.” The woman smiles warmly at him as she sets down her tray of cookies and gestures toward an empty chair at the table.
“It’s Sam, actually,” Sam says as he takes a seat. “Jared’s somebody else.” He can feel himself blushing under the woman’s frank gaze.
“Don’t worry about it,” Missouri assures him a second before Sam’s elbow hits the vase of flowers on the edge of the table, knocking it to the floor with a loud crash.
“Oh my God! I’m so sorry!” He jumps to his feet, watching helplessly as Missouri grabs a broom and dustpan, sweeping the flowers and broken vase into her trash can with an expert hand.
“What’s really going to bother you after you leave here is, would you have knocked it over if I hadn’t said anything?”
Sam shakes his head. “I — I don’t —”
Missouri smiles, gestures for him to sit down again, and Sam does.
“Now let’s take a look at you,” Missouri says as she takes one of his hands, begins examining the palm. “Uh huh. Hmm. Well, look at that.”
Sam frowns, unable to see anything unusual about his hand, other than its size. “What? Can you read my future?”
“Do you believe that I can?” Missouri counters.
“Yes,” Sam confesses. “No. I don’t know. Dean said you could. He said you tell people’s destinies.” He keeps his tone even, determined to hide his distaste at the idea of destiny.
“Jensen believes you will save the world,” Missouri says, squeezing his fingers idly. “He believes you are The One.”
Sam huffs out a laugh, nervously chewing on his lower lip. “I’m no hero,” Sam says, shaking his head. “Dean’s the hero. Always has been. I’m just his dorky little brother.”
Missouri gazes at him thoughtfully for another moment, then she nods.
“Well, you’re not wrong about that,” she says, dropping his hand. She gets to her feet and puts her oven mitt on, turning her back on Sam as she takes another tray of cookies out of the oven.
Sam waits, but Missouri doesn’t speak again. She takes a spatula off the counter and slides the cookies from the baking sheet onto a cooling rack, one at a time. Painstaking.
“That’s it?” Sam asks finally. He’s relieved and surprised, but mostly he feels let down. All the build-up to this moment, to learning the truth about his destiny, seems overblown. Ridiculous. Downright embarrassing.
Missouri turns, a plate of cookies in her hand, and offers him one.
“You were expecting something a little less anti-climactic?” She smiles wryly. “Sorry, kid. Sometimes the truth isn’t all fireworks and spectacle.”
Sam takes the cookie and frowns, shaking his head as he stares at it. What a bummer, he thinks. Dean’s gonna be so disappointed.
“One more thing,” Missouri says, as if she can feel his hesitation. “Your ship’s captain is in grave danger. The Matrix knows he’s here, and it wants the codes to Zion’s mainframe. If he gives them up, Zion will be destroyed. Only you can stop that. You can save the captain by trading your life for his. Your brother will try to stop you, so you’ll need to keep this little bit of information to yourself until the time comes. Do you understand?”
Sam nods, his mind racing.
“Now eat your cookie,” Missouri says, patting his arm soothingly. “I promise when it’s gone, you’ll feel right as rain.”
In the waiting room, Sam shoots an apologetic look at the others who are still waiting before his eyes meet Dean’s.
Dean puts a hand up, palm out. “What was said in there, that’s between you and Missouri,” he says. “You don’t need to tell anyone.”
Sam’s embarrassed, as if he’s lying to Dean. “Dean, what she told me...”
“Was exactly what you needed to hear,” Dean assures him. “Now come on. Our time’s up.”
Mark and Ruthie are waiting in front of the bar where they left them.
“Where’s Robbie?” Dean asks as they climb into the back seat.
“He spotted an agent,” Mark explains. “Took off to lure it off your trail. He’ll meet us at the pick-up location.”
The rendezvous point is only five blocks away in another abandoned building. Sam’s getting definite deja vu this time; it occurs to him that every abandoned building in the city looks the same on the inside. Why not? The Matrix could save energy if it used the same set over and over.
He notices the glitch before anyone else does. They’re on their way up the stairs when a black cat walks across the doorway, followed by an identical black cat that walks exactly the same way.
“They’re on to us,” Mark notes, taking the stairs two at a time in an effort to outrun the agents that suddenly pour into the building’s ground floor.
The windows and doors are bricked up. The phone that was supposed to rescue them is dead. It’s a trap.
Mark pulls out his cell phone, and dials the operator. “We need another exit,” he tells Rich.
Sam closes his eyes, imagines them all safely on board the Impala.
When he opens his eyes, they’re all staring at him, but nothing’s changed. They’re still standing around a table in the top floor of the abandoned apartment building.
“They’re blocking your signal,” Dean explains. “You can’t do your thing in here. None of us can.”
“Pull up a blueprint of this building,” Mark directs Rich over the phone. “We need a crawl space.”
“There’s drywall in the bathroom,” Rich tells him. “You can get into the crawl space through the vents.”
“Fuck,” Mark curses when they crowd into the small bathroom and stare at the vent cover. “Ruthie, you go first.”
They slide in feet first, one at a time, Sam last.
“I hate tight spaces,” Dean mutters as he elbows his way down the shaft.
“No you don’t,” Sam quips.
From deep inside the crawl space, Mark huffs out a laugh.
“Thatta boy,” he praises. “Never lose your sense of humor, Jared. Rule Number One.”
Sam’s not sure he’ll fit. He curls his shoulders in toward his chest, reaches up behind him to pull the vent cover closed after them.
They freeze as they hear shouting, then pounding feet as agents rush into the outer room. Through the slats in the vent, Sam can see one as he makes his way around the corner into the bathroom.
He puts his finger to his lips when somebody below him stifles a sneeze. The agent turns, seems to stare straight at him, and Sam concentrates on being invisible, hopes even a little of his ability seeps out.
For a moment, it seems to work. The agent touches his earpiece, turning to leave the room.
“Top floor clear,” he says.
The agent whirls around, raising his machine gun.
“They’re in the walls!”
“Go!” Sam calls down as shots ring out. “Go go go!”
He feels Dean and the others let go of their hold on the shaft, feels himself slide down after them. His back and arms scrape the walls painfully; splinters stab at his hands.
When he stops suddenly, Sam’s boot slams into Dean’s shoulder. At least he hopes it’s his shoulder. Dean curses softly and grabs his ankle to keep him from sliding further.
“What the hell...”
Sam’s heart practically leaps out of his chest when Mark gives an angry cry and smashes through the drywall below them.
Before Sam realizes what’s happening, Dean’s tugging on his ankle, pulling him down the shaft. As they continue their descent, falling fast past the hole in the wall that Mark made, Sam catches a glimpse of a half-dozen agents as they swarm into the third-floor bathroom where Mark lies sprawled on the floor before he slides past, all the way to the basement garage.
“Come on,” Dean growls as they tumble out onto the floor.
“Mark,” Ruthie whispers, shaken.
“Come on,” Dean repeats, leading the way toward the garage exit as he pulls out his cell phone. “Rich? They’ve got Sheppard. How do we get out of here?”
Sam and Ruthie follow as Dean listens to Rich’s directions.
“What about Robbie?” Ruthie says as Dean cuts the connection. They’ve made it to the street, to the car, and Dean slides into the driver’s seat without hesitating, Sam in the passenger seat, Ruthie behind them.
“He’s on his own,” Dean growls. “Damn it!” he swears as he glances in the rearview mirror. Agents flow out the front door of the building they just left, in hot pursuit.
Dean turns the key in the ignition, the engine roars to life, and the Impala peels out. He drives fast up back streets and alleyways, cutting across main streets without stopping for lights. Sam closes his eyes, imagines them already at their destination, opens them again when Dean slams on the brakes.
“Son of a bitch!”
Chad and Samantha stand in the middle of the road, inches from the front of the car. Samantha carries the case that contains the attenuator the Impala crew uses to boost their signal inside the Matrix. Sam knows this without thinking. The information simply appears in his mind.
“Rich is boosting our abilities,” Dean explains as they get out of the car. “He can’t do it for long, but it should be enough to get us out of here.”
“Mark...” Ruthie whispers.
“No time,” Dean snaps, as angry as Sam’s ever seen him, and Sam understands. Dean’s taking Mark’s capture personally, feels it’s his fault. He thinks he got his captain captured as sure as if he betrayed him to the agents directly.
“Dean, it’s not your fault,” Sam reminds him as they follow Chad, Ruthie and Samantha into the empty apartment house and up a flight of stairs to the first floor.
Dean shoots him a glare that’s as full of pain as anger.
“Not now, Sam,” he hisses.
An old rotary-style telephone sits on a table in the middle of the first room they enter. As all five crew members gather around, it rings. Dean picks it up, puts the receiver to his ear, and listens.
Sam can feel the moment Dean’s surprise turns to confusion. “Robbie? Where’s Rich?”
Dean listens for another moment. When he looks up at Sam, his eyes are wide with horror, and Sam feels a jolt of fear zip up his spine.
“Rob, what have you done?”
“Oh no,” Ruthie murmurs.
“What’s happened?” Samantha asks, frowning.
Dean turns terrified eyes on her, cries out, “No, Robbie, don’t!” A split second before Samantha collapses like a puppet whose strings have been cut.
“Listen to me, Robbie! You don’t have to do this!”
He raises his eyes to Chad, who shakes his head and mouths, “No” a moment before he collapses sideways in a heap on the floor.
“Fuck!” Dean shouts. Tears swarm in his eyes. He slams the phone into its cradle, glances at Ruthie before he lifts wild eyes to Sam. “We need to get out of here.”
Sam nods. This is familiar territory. Things go south, Sam and Dean find an alternative. It’s something they know how to do, or at least they did.
As they turn to leave the room, the phone rings. They exchange confused glances, then Dean returns to the table and picks up the phone.
A moment later they’re all waking up on the ship. Rich is holding his injured shoulder with one hand as he unplugs each of them one at a time. Chad and Samantha were already unplugged, of course. The bodies of Alona and Robbie lie on the floor at their feet, the rifle Alona obviously used to kill Robbie still clutched in her hands. Misha and Alex stand helplessly in a corner, observing the carnage with looks of devastation and horror.
“He said they were gonna plug him in again,” Rich says, nodding at Robbie’s body. “He said they promised to wipe his memories, make him God again.”
Sam stares. “They can do that?”
Dean stares down at Alona, clenches his jaw. “He killed her mother,” he says softly. “He made her watch.”
Sam sucks in a breath, steels himself. “What do we do now?”
“We have to unplug him,” Rich says, nodding at Mark. The captain sits peacefully in his loading chair, breathing normally, looking for all intents and purposes like he’s just sleeping.
His brain activity is off the charts, though. They can all see it on the monitor.
“They’ll try to extract the codes to Zion’s gates,” Rich explains. “All captains have those codes memorized.”
“He’s strong,” Dean says. “He can resist them.”
“Not forever,” Rich says, shaking his head. “You and I both know that. They’ll break his mind eventually. It’s what they do.”
Dean stares at him in desperation and panic.
Sam puts a hand on his arm. “You’re not responsible.”
“I’m his first officer, Sam,” Dean growls. “I was supposed to protect him. That was my job.”
Ruthie leans in and kisses Mark on the cheek, patting him gently. “Goodbye, my boy,” she murmurs, tears in her eyes.
Rich reaches around to unplug Mark, but Dean grabs hold first. “I’ll do it,” he growls, choking back tears of his own.
Suddenly, Sam recalls Missouri’s prophecy.
All eyes turn to Sam. Dean’s hand stays where it is, but he doesn’t squeeze the trigger to release the plug.
“Missouri told me this would happen,” Sam says. “She said I could save him.” He shakes his head. “I didn’t believe her, but now...” He crosses quickly to the adjacent loading chair, settles into it before he loses his nerve. “Send me back in,” he orders.
Rich scrambles to obey, but Dean stops him. “No way you’re going in alone,” he says. “I’m coming with you.”
“No, Dean!” Sam protests as Dean settles into the loading chair next to him. “This is your ship now. The crew needs you here!”
“I’m not letting you go in alone,” Dean repeats. “I’m coming with you and that’s final!”
Inside the Matrix, Sam and Dean load up all the weapons they can carry, drive the Impala to the front door of MIB headquarters, and blast their way inside. It’s noisy, messy, but effective because it’s never been done before. It’s not something the agents expect.
They find Mark on the thirteenth floor. He’s in bad shape, barely conscious, but he’s able to walk, able to make the jump to the waiting helicopter. When the three fugitives make their way to the rendezvous point, Mark goes home first.
Dean goes second because he’s wounded and Sam insists.
“See you on the other side, brother,” Dean growls as he picks up the pay phone receiver and disappears before Sam’s eyes, holding his gaze till the last possible second.
As Sam picks up the receiver for his turn he feels the little ripple in the air that tells him something’s changed.
He knows the line will be dead before he puts the receiver to his ear, knows there are agents in the building, knows they’ve found him.
He fights. He fights because he thinks maybe he can do some good. Maybe the Impala will have time to get away. Maybe Zion will survive.
He fights because Dean’s still alive, because as long as there’s an ounce of strength left in his body or soul, he’ll fight for Dean. He’ll fight so Dean can live. Dean believes in him, and he won’t let his brother down. He can’t.
Sam fights because he’s sick of being bossed around and treated like second-best, because he hates the way their father raised them, because his determination to make something different of his life won’t allow him to give up.
Sam fights with everything he has, everything he’s learned, everything he believes.
He still loses, just as he knew he would. Just as he expected.
After the final race across rooftops and through windows, after Sam’s leaped and slid and moved faster than any human ever could, he finds himself back at Missouri’s door, hoping against hope that she’ll be there. That she’ll give him another cookie and assure him that everything will work out.
The door opens on an agent with a machine gun, of course.
As Sam dies, body riddled with bullets, he remembers Dean telling him, “You gotta let yourself go, Sammy. In here, you can do anything. All you have to do is believe you can.”
Sam’s pulse slows. He’s bleeding out. His heart beats slower and slower until it finally stops.
All is dark and quiet. But even in the darkness, Sam hears Dean’s voice, feels his faith.
“I know you can do this, Sam,” Dean says, his voice piercing the darkness and silence. “Missouri promised me that you would live. She promised!”
The desperation in Dean’s voice gives Sam the strength to push back. He won’t let the darkness take him because Dean will die if he does.
Sam can’t let that happen.
His resurrection isn’t something Sam thinks about until later. In the moment, all he thinks about is Dean. Dean’s the motivation that drives him, the thing that brings him gasping back to life, throwing himself into the flabbergasted agent in front of him, possessing him until he explodes.
Sam’s not aware of the moment when he becomes one with the machine, he just knows he’s doing it. He’s inside but also transcending it, creating something that exists beyond the boundaries of the Matrix. He’s something new.
Sam gasps back to life on the loading chair on the Impala, Dean at his side, touching him everywhere, staring into his eyes with a reverence Sam’s pretty sure he doesn’t deserve.
“It’s easy, Dean,” he frowns, shaking his head. “I can teach you. It’s like a Rubix Cube.”
Dean’s mouth is warm and wet and desperate. Sam never knew he could feel this way. Their real bodies are infinitely more sensitive, more real, than those simulations they’d been living in.
“Yeah. Yeah, Sammy, it’s me.”
But it’s Jensen, too. He’s Jared, the anomaly. The one who figured out how to take control, how to stop the monster —the artificial intelligence — from possessing him and using him.
Jared won’t be used. He was never a child. Never the baby who lost his mother in a tragic fire that turned out to be supernaturally caused. Never the youngest son of a possessive, obsessive former Marine who wouldn’t deviate from his need for vengeance long enough to raise his sons.
But Jared is still Sam, the younger brother of the hero who raised him, who survived because Sam was there to give him his purpose. His faith.
Of course the Winchesters’ moment is interrupted by fireworks and mayhem. They’re in the middle of a war, of course. The sentinels have found them, since they’ve been in one place as long as possible to stay connected to the Matrix.
Afterwards, there are funerals. They’ve lost Alona and Samantha and Misha. Alex and Chad are bereft.
Rich is the only one who mourns Robbie.
“He was my best friend,” Rich says simply. “I’ll never understand why he did what he did, but I’ll miss him.”
When the ship docks in Zion and the crew goes ashore, Jared and Jensen stay behind on the ship, just the two of them.
“Later,” Jensen murmurs as he pushes Jared down on the single bunk in the infirmary. He pushes Jared’s shirts up over his head, pulls his sweatpants off, kissing and sucking every inch of skin as he exposes it.
Jared pulls the ribbon out of Jensen’s hair, runs his hands through the silky strands. He tugs on it as Jensen gets his mouth around the head of Jared’s dick and looks up at him.
“Fuck.” Jared throws his head back, bucks up into Jensen’s mouth. “Jensen.”
Jensen grins as he swallows Jared’s cock as far as he can, wraps his hand around the rest. He bobs his mouth up and down on Jared’s cock expertly while stroking the base with a sure rhythm, twirling his tongue around the head at the same time. It’s unlike anything Jared’s experienced before, the friction on his foreskin. Of course he’s uncircumcised. His body was grown in a test-tube. It’s a wonder he has a belly-button.
Jensen persists, giving Jared the blow job he never knew he needed, stroking Jared’s perineum and inner thighs with his free hand. When his finger touches Jared’s hole he comes hard. Jensen swallows his load, milking him through the aftershocks until Jared’s a boneless, shivering mess of overstimulated nerve endings.
“Oh my God,” he mumbles as Jensen chuckles. He lets Jared’s cock go but keeps his mouth on Jared’s skin, kissing down his inner thigh to his perineum, lifting Jared’s ass so he can push his tongue into Jared’s hole.
“Jensen.” Jared moans as Jensen licks and prods.
Jared grabs his legs, pulls them back so Jensen has more room to maneuver. He hears the snick of the lube bottle opening a moment before Jensen applies a lubed finger alongside his tongue, pushes it inside as Jared bears down.
“That’s it, sweetheart,” Jensen croons. “Open up for me. Let me in.”
By the time Jensen slicks up his cock and pushes inside Jared’s willing body, he’s so open and loose he barely feels it. It doesn’t feel like a first time at all. Jensen leans down and kisses him, wet and sloppy, buried all the way to the hilt.
“You’re so beautiful, Jay,” he croons. “Knew it’d be perfect like this.”
Jared wraps his legs around Jensen’s waist as he starts to thrust, slowing down after a few thrusts so he can kiss Jared thoroughly again. He runs his hand over Jared’s nearly-bald head, grinning down at him from behind his own curtain of hair.
“You gonna grow it out, like Sam?” he asks.
“You want me to?” Jared blinks back the tears at the edges of his vision. Gazing up at the man who means everything to him, who raised him and nurtured him and believed in him even when he wasn’t sure of himself, Jared’s so overwhelmed he fears he might cry.
“Sam Winchester cries when he has sex,” Dean used to tease him, and Sam had hated him as much as he loved him.
Now that he’s Jared, now that he’s been reborn into this new world, into his new life, the tears flow freely and he’s not even embarrassed.
Jensen leans down and kisses the moisture from his cheeks, fucks hard and fast until he catches his own orgasm. Jared watches as Jensen’s face goes still, as his body goes rigid the moment before he comes. Jared’s half-hard dick twitches in sympathy as he watches. He reaches up and tucks Jensen’s hair behind his ear, cups his cheek tenderly till Jensen huffs out a laugh, shivering as he comes down, drops onto the cot next to Jared.
“Well, that was good.”
“Hell, yeah,” Jared agrees, grinning.
Jensen nods, looks up at the ceiling. They’re surrounded by metal, dust, grime. The space is cramped and usually over-inhabited. It’s not exactly a luxury hotel, or even the dingy motels that the Winchesters usually stay in.
“So this is it for us,” Jared notes. “This is all we get.”
Jensen frowns, looks up at the ceiling, shrugs.
“At least we’re alive,” he notes.
Jared smiles, settling a little more comfortably in the bunk. He slides his arm around Jensen and pulls him close.
“Yeah, there’s that,” he says.
Jensen snuggles in, nothing like Dean. Dean would never snuggle. Dean would never let himself be the little spoon.
Jensen seems to like it.
“We’ll figure it out tomorrow,” Jensen promises.
It’s like an order. Sleep, he’s saying, and Jared’s okay with that. He might be the rebel younger brother who hates being told what to do, but Jensen understands. Jensen loves him.
Just like Dean does.
It’s gonna take a while to get used to being Jared, but Sam can do that. He’s got the rest of his life, after all.
Jared falls asleep to the sound of Jensen’s steady breathing, to the conviction that all’s right with the world.