Episode Six: Company Policy

By BurstynOut & Tracer

Part One


Break Room

The night shift poker game was on a "need to know" basis, but even the “suits", as the gathering of security guards liked to call them, got in on the action, placing bids and gambling on the outcome during their lunch breaks.

It was always a thrilling spectacle, complete with beer and cigar smoke, although both were strictly prohibited in the Taliean Inc.’s employee manual. The thick, paperback guide to proper work ethic served only as coasters down in this hole of an office and held no jurisdiction of any kind in their realm.

All in all, the job was an excuse to get out of the house and hang with the guys. The dimly lit complex held no over-achievers that burned the midnight oil, or starving kids, fresh out of college, desperate try to climb the ladder. They could play in uninterrupted peace. Something none of them could do at home.

“Read ‘em and weep, boys!” The sandy-haired new hire laughed, his shiny company badge bearing the name Jack Stanton. A smug smirk was plastered on his face as he laid the cards down with a flick and displayed a full house before stretching his arms out greedily to collect his prize.

“E’ther you jus’ lucky, or you been cheatin!” The gray haired, lined man to the “freshie’s” right, growled.

“Ah, shut up, Earl. You just mad ‘cause he’s taking all your money!” Another wizened employee shot back, his name badge declaring him as Mike. Chuckling wickedly, the salty-haired man locked eyes with Stanton, jutting his thumb out in the direction of Earl.

“Don’t you mind ol’ Earl there. He’s been here since the dawn of time and is just mad ‘cause God ain’t killed him yet.”

“Like to see him try!” Earl stated cockily, shifting his shoulders and polishing his fingernails on his shirt.

A round of laughter filled the smoke-filled room, and a man in the back yelled out the announcement that new bets were being taken seeing as the “freshie” had just won his sixth game in a row. Several employees jumped at the chance to toss in their wagers, and the volume increased ten-fold as they shouted out their biddings.

“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint,” Stanton shouted over the crowd, “but I’m out.”

“What?” Mike questioned, “Whattya mean ‘out’?”

“I mean, I was hired to be a security guard, not a card shark,” Stanton clarified, ignoring the deep voice bellowing. If none of the guys knew that the kid was a new hire, they sure as hell did now.

“Damn, I think the boy’s serious!” The fourth player chimed in, cocking an eyebrow and studying Stanton’s face for a long minute.

“Well, someone around here should be, Ricky,” Earl shot back, rising slowly from his chair, the light creak of bone on bone accompanying his movement. “A’right, boy, if you're serious, lets go.”

“You gonna show him around?” Mike inquired, almost worriedly.

“Yeah, got a problem with that?” Earl snapped, and a series of heads shaking ‘no’ met his glaring eyes. “Good. Now, c’mon, I wanna get back before the final game.”

* * * *

Two sets of footsteps resounded off the linoleum flooring which bore the Taliean insignia, echoing in the wide, open gallery. Dim fluorescents outlined the edges of the hallways, and circles of yellow light bounced off the office doors, glaring brightly off of the thick glass.

“So, how long have you worked here?” The younger guard spoke up, breaking the eerie silence that had hung in the air since they’d exited the break room over thirty minutes ago.

“Boy, don’t small talk me. If you ain’t got something important to say, you might as well just shut up,” Earl fussed, fiddling with the retractable key chain that hung from his belt. “Now, I’m gonna take that wing over there, and you sweep the side offices.”

“Uh, if you don’t mind me asking, why do you need to check out the supply rooms?”

“You a smart ass, son? ‘Cause let me tell ya, I ain’t got no liking for any smart ass. Damn punk kids come in here thinkin’ they know what’s up. Well, I’ve been here as long as Taliean's owned the joint,” Earl mumbled angrily, giving Stanton a firm look before heading off to the supply rooms. “Now do as I say, boy, else you gonna be moving back in with your momma.”

The two security officers headed out to their posts in silence, but less than twenty minutes later the sounds of panicked screams were heard as the young officer searched frantically for his missing mentor. After years of loyal service, Earl had seemingly vanished into thin air.

* * * *


Sam rested his throbbing head against the cool passenger window, swearing to himself that if one more Black Sabbath monstrosity blared through the speakers, he was salting and burning Dean’s collection whether his brother threatened him or not.

Not that Dean could really hurt him all that bad. At least not at the current moment. He’d gotten a lot better, and most of the cuts and abrasions had healed nicely, leaving only small, white scars along his hairline.

“Dean, pull over,” Sam commanded, shifting in his seat to face his brother and taking in his state.

“Uh…no,” Dean replied, a smirk on his face as he shot his little brother a side glance before refocusing on the road.

“C’mon man, you need a break. And—and it’s my turn.” Sam shot back, feeling all of about ten years old. The comeback was juvenile to say the least.

“Nope. Sit back and relax, stilts.”

“Can I ask why?” Sam muttered, clearly annoyed. He was so not in the mood for this and was getting damn frustrated by Dean’s continued insistence that their partnership was still a sixty-forty split when it came to the sharing of responsibility.

“Yes, you can,” Dean answered laughingly. “One, the second I pull over, you’re gonna demand the keys, and two, you’re only telling me to do this ‘cause you’re hoping I fall asleep, and then you can change the music to that sissy indie crap you love so much.”

“T-that’s not true,” Sam protested, mouth gaping slightly at just how well his brother knew him.

“Whatever, Sammy,” Dean shot Sam a knowing look, and shrugged his stiff shoulders.

“Look, Dean, we’re in--” Sam craned his neck to read the bright green road sign and nearly choked on a laugh, “Humansville—ha, what the hell is wrong with people?”

“Maybe they're aliens. It’s a good cover,” Dean quipped, receiving a reprimanding scowl from Sam.

“That’s still another fourteen hours from where we need to be, Dean. And contrary to your popular belief, you can’t hold out in that driver’s seat that long. Sooner or later, you’re gonna have to give me those keys,” Sam stated smugly, crossing his arms and leaning against the door.

“You drove enough over the past couple of months, and besides, my baby likes me behind the wheel. Says I drive far better than you ever will,” Dean argued, although his tone was smooth.

“This hunk of junk talks now? Are you sure they didn’t say something was wrong with your head?” Sam questioned, his face red as he tried in vain to stifle a laugh.

“Real funny, college boy. You’re lu--” A high pitched series of rings pierced through the guitar riff, and Dean hastily turned down the volume and snapped his phone open.

Sam pretended not to be trying to eavesdrop on Dean’s conversation, but his brother’s tone had turned near menacing after he’d asked who was calling. Dean’s brow was furrowed, his face tense. A series of ‘no’s’ and one ‘I’ll see what I can do’ later, Sam had a friggen’ Spanish Inquisition prepared for his brother.

“Who was that?” Sam questioned, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Frank Taliean,” Dean muttered, shaking his head as if in disgust.

“Wait, as in, the billionaire Frank Taliean?” Sam pressed, excitement and confusion wrapped throughout his words.

“Yeah. How’d you know?” Dean inquired disbelievingly. Leave it to his geek brother to pull that random fact out of his ass.

“I read your mind,” Sam stated, feigning seriousness but unable to keep the grin off his face when Dean shot him an irritated look. “Ah, c’mon, Dean, the dude’s face is plastered on almost every business magazine, and his company is about to undergo the second largest merge in history. Any idiot who watches the news or browses the Internet would know who he is.”

“Any idiot, huh?” Dean pursed his lips and twisted the volume knob back to its original position before leaning back in the driver’s seat.

“So?” Sam drawled, eyes wide in impatience.


“You going to tell me what he wanted? And how the hell did he get your number?”

“He offered us a job,” Dean answered slowly.

“And you told him no?” Sam screamed. He really couldn’t help it. Dean wasn’t exactly Einstein, but he wasn’t stupid either, well at least little brother hadn't thought so all of about ten seconds ago.

“Yeah, Sammy, I did. Okay? Trust me on this one. You don’t want to get involved with this guy,” Dean snapped, tossing his phone to the floor and wiping a hand across his face in attempts to calm himself and prevent a battle between him and Sam.

“Uh…yeah I do. Dean, the guy would probably pay us more than a couple thousand. I mean, he’s a billionaire for Christ’s sake,” Sam reasoned, banging the back of his head against the leather seat at his brother’s stubbornness.

“It’s nothing but blood money, Sammy,” Dean murmured, and Sam nearly missed it over the powerful melody humming from the speakers.

“What do you mean?”

“Taliean was a former hunter, a good one, almost as good as Dad,” Dean stated off-handedly, his voice reminiscent.

“So?” Sam pushed pointedly.

“He abandoned us,” Dean spat heatedly.

“He quit? You’re not gonna help him because he stopped hunting?” Sam’s tone was damn near condescending of Dean’s reasoning, and the elder didn’t like it one bit.

“No, Sam, I’m not gonna help him. His priorities are totally messed up. He didn't have the class to make up his mind about where he was in the game, and his Charlie Brown, wishy-washy B.S. got a lot of people hurt. I can't respect a guy that takes everyone down with him because he wants to play both sides of he fence. You're either in it or you're not Sam. You play the fence, people get hurt, and that's not how this works.” Dean’s eyes were ablaze with fury, and his face twisted in anger at the bitter memory.

“Dean,” Sam began cautiously. Now would definitely not be the time to piss his brother off. “There was no way he could’ve known what was gonna happen. You said it yourself, he left before the whole thing went down. And look, man, if nothing else, our cash is nonexistent, and unless you reapply for a card in the next 24 hours, we are in trouble, because I know that between Sam Michaels and Dean Bonham, we have about a hundred dollars left.”

“I know,” Dean breathed, his forehead creasing pensively.

“Then turn this car around. A simple haunting can wait if the dude’s gonna pay us.” Sam smiled widely, and waved his hands, simulating a U-turn.

“I just have a bad feeling about this, ok?”

“No, you have an 'I hate this guy' feeling,” Sam retorted. “Now turn this bad boy around before I get out and hop a bus to go help this dude.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Wanna bet?”

“Fine,” Dean snapped, “but just so you know, I’m not responsible for any action I may take in that traitor’s presence.”

“Whatever, Dean,” Sam exasperated, rolling his eyes.

“I’m serious,” Dean replied, a smile tugging at his lips as he whipped the Impala around. “And Sammy, if you ever call my car ‘bad boy’ again, I’m kicking your ass.”

* * * *

Taliean, Inc. Office Complex

“Wow,” Sam murmured. Dean eased the Impala to a stop alongside a Porsche and what looked to be the newest model Corvette on the market.

“Yeah,” Dean breathed, stepping out of his car to get a better look at the pristine, jet black sports car, doing his best not to drool on it.

“Not the car, dumb ass,” Sam laughed, shaking his head and grabbing two IDs from the dash.

“Right. Because why think about taking a joy ride when you could be staring at that,” Dean replied in relative disgust, waving his hand in the direction Sam was staring in.

Dean would hardly consider the business complex of Taliean to be the 8th wonder of the world—the Porsche maybe, but the massively tall, steel gray skyscrapers jutting from the middle of a small patch of green ground surrounded by concrete, definitely not. But that image was all to be seen for what appeared to be miles. He could imagine why Sam would find it impressive, though. His brother probably had wanted to work in a huge firm like that—saving the world from a steel cage, locked behind a mahogany desk. It was living, breathing, normal, white-collar America.

“Let’s just get this over with,” Dean huffed, trudging over to passenger side and snatching his ID from Sam.

“Would it kill you to try and look a little more like you want to be here?” Sam asked heatedly. They needed the money, and so far Taliean was the poster child for everything he had wanted, which gave Sam no reason to hate the man, much less piss him off. Who knows? He might need one hell of a reference some day.

“I look fine, thank you very much,” Dean snapped, tugging on his jacket.

“You look like someone’s making you walk ‘the green mile',” Sam stated pointedly, eyebrows raised in disapproval. “Now, c’mon, we told him we’d be there before closing.”

“The things I do for you, I swear,” Dean muttered, pushing past Sam. His quick strides created a steadily growing gap between the brothers, and Sam’s long legs burned as he hustled to close it.

It wasn’t hard to locate the HQ building. The large, black marble sign emblazoned with the silver emblem of the company gave that one away. Sam gave Dean a glance that screamed ‘behave and don’t say anything stupid’ before pushing his way through the revolving door.

Stepping out into the wide open lobby, Sam worked to silence the gasp forming on his lips and quell the nagging feeling of being completely out of place that knotted in his stomach as the mass of young and middle-aged men passed him in droves. The incoherent chatter of voices reverberated off the marble walls to almost deafening proportions, and the blur of suits prevented the youngest Winchester’s eyes from taking in a good layout of the foyer.

The thriving corporate world was almost scary in and of itself, and Sam struggled to take himself out of his current state of gnawing panic and confusion so that he could act like it was all good for his already lagging brother—who apparently was nowhere to be seen.

Sam whipped his head to either side frantically, temporarily losing his calm and indifferent façade as every horrible reason why Dean wasn’t standing at his side as he should be flooded his mind.

The younger brother had never wished more that he had that whole psychic/telekinesis thing completely in his control. He really wanted to pick up the nearest brick and smack some sense into that idiot who claimed to be related to him when he turned around, scanning the incoming crowd, only to see Dean still standing outside, clearly visible through the glass revolving doors.

“What the hell, Dean?” Sam snapped, barreling through the doors and back out into the square, not even hearing the startled employee’s responses through the pulsating beat of blood in his ears.

“Doors aren’t supposed to spin like that, Sam,” Dean stated, head hanging low. Although, by the way it was bobbing, Sam could tell his brother was trying not to laugh and had to lock his hands to prevent an impulsive punch to the smug face when it met his gaze and a shaky voice inquired of him, “What if they’re possessed?”

“You’re a jerk,” Sam declared angrily, although it was drowned out by Dean’s roaring laughter.

“Your…your face, S-Sammy,” Dean gasped, trying to do his best impression of the expression that had contorted Sam’s features, his face red and his body hunching over as he gave into the fit of laughter at his younger brother’s expense.

“This isn’t some hick town, Dean,” Sam chided, fists clenched at his side, “You can’t pull this crap here. These people expect you to act somewhat civilized, and I’m not letting you stall your way out of meeting this guy. Will you stop?

“Civilized. Got it,” Dean nodded, biting his lip to stop the grin threatening to break through when he saw just how much Sam really looked like he wanted to kill him.

“Good. Now, c’mon, he’s expecting us.” Sam waited for Dean to make the first move, and then filed in behind his brother.

“I really don’t want to be here,” Dean muttered under his breath, although loud enough for his brother to hear.

“So you’ve said.” Sam shot back, ignoring the pleading in the elder’s eyes and stepped up to the reception desk.

“Hello. My name is Sam--”

“Samuel Conners. And I assume this is your business partner Dean Watson,” the perky, brunette receptionist rattled off lightly, her huge smile fading when she noticed their eyes widening in shock and confusion. “Oh, I’m sorry. Mr. Taliean told me you were coming. Hang on one sec, and I’ll page him for you.”

Sam shot a wary glance at Dean who merely shrugged.

* * * *

Chrome, black, and modern silver faded into walls washed in pale yellow and adorned by chestnut beams as the brothers followed the petite receptionist, her red locks pulled into a smart ponytail. The highlighted number declared the level as 75th, better known as the company business suites and home to the president of the corporation and Taliean’s governing board.

Dean’s mouth formed a tight frown as he entered the luxury comforts of the upper white-collar lifestyle. Sam’s face was the exact reciprocal. The younger was damn near gaping, his eyes lit with anticipation and what Dean guessed people referred to as wonder. Usually, he liked seeing Sam stunned, dumbfounded, and just at a plain loss for words, mostly because those scenarios were usually due to his own perverted comments. No one or nothing else was allowed to elicit that particular expression from Sam without express permission from Dean. It was in the big brother handbook.

Certainly nothing like this place was allowed to tweak Sam's awe bone. This…all of it, was bought in blood, hunter’s blood, and Dean couldn’t understand how anyone could just step over the fallen bodies, simply forgetting in order to embrace all the trappings of wealth. Sam’s fascination came from his ignorance to those past events, and Dean had to constantly remind himself of that fact in order to prevent himself from giving Sam the treatment Taliean deserved, and if he had his way, would receive.

Rich, colorful paintings graced the light sandy hallways, contrasting Dean’s crappy mood, each hanging a foot from the next. Their deep hues of blue, red, and darkest green accentuated the collection of antique vases and statues resting along the reddened brown tables aligning the walls. Dean huffed at the extravagance and eyed a green-blue collage the receptionist and Sam both chimed in to be an early impressionist piece. The sad thing was that the monstrosity hanging from the wall was probably worth more than a lifetime of hustling would ever garner Dean.

Dean was about to offer a comment on how women looked better in certain types of paint and, well, certain foodstuffs for that matter, but he chose not to when he saw Sam fully engaged in a conversation with the art literate, short-skirt wearing, red-head. He so needed to take an Art History class.

“Wait here,” the woman instructed. Her name, Sam informed, was Laura. Dean and Sam followed her command and momentarily stared at the deep, scarlet, leather couches that formed an L-shape in the waiting area before settling down on the nearest one.

Sam grinned when Vilvadi’s “Spring Movement” began playing softly throughout the room, replacing the Mozart piece before it. He rubbed his nervous hands along his slightly dust brushed jeans. It was one of Jess’s favorite classical pieces, and the bars that signaled memory were bittersweet to his ears.

The steady hum of “Sad but True” that interrupted the classic moments later was just plain annoying.

“Stop,” Sam ordered irritably, his gaze hard and firm.

“Make me,” Dean countered, switching melodies and opting for something from his Black Sabbath repertoire.

It was to big brother’s benefit that Laura chose to return at that exact moment, because Sam had about had enough of Dean’s attitude. He was sure that Dean’s recounting of the story, or what Dean had actually told him, which amounted to all of about three sentences, was true, but getting out is a hard choice to make. He knew that personally, and well, what happens afterwards is not your fault. Dean had been preaching that to him for the past year and a half now. So why was he suddenly being selective in the “it’s not your fault” category was beyond him.

“Follow me,” Laura chirped, flashing a Crest-ad worthy smile at Sam who returned the expression as he jumped up from the couch. Dean rolled his eyes and stood alongside his brother, silently shuffling behind the two flirts and scratching the always present itch that seemed to reside in the short spikes at the top of his head. He really didn’t want to be here. Had he said that already?

Several steps and a hard push against the heavy wood doors later and the brothers were once again waiting impatiently in the middle another huge room. Two oversized wine-colored chairs faced the long glass desktop which was held up by thin wrought iron pieces that were interwoven in the center and stretched outward to the sides. It was probably the ugliest looking desk Sam had ever seen and just, well, strange.

Ever the one to find such things interesting, Dean titled his head, squinting against the midday light that flooded in from the tall bay windows. He walked stealthily towards the desk. Crouching down along side, he ran his had gingerly against the iron grain, turning and gesturing for Sam to come down beside him.

“Zia Sun,” Dean clarified with a satisfied smile and ran his fingers along the intersection of the many supporting strands, quite pleased to have grasped the designer's intent.

“So?” Sam pressed, eyeing Dean questionably. Damn, his brother was weird.

“Strong body. Clear mind. Pure spirit. Devotion to the welfare of his people.” Sam stared blankly at Dean as the elder rattled off the meanings of each of the extending lines. “Ah, c’mon, college boy, you don’t recognize this?”

Sam looked over his shoulder nervously to ensure that no one was watching their exchange. “Uh…no.”

“Seriously?” Dean questioned, creasing his forehead in disbelief.

“Yes, seriously, Dean,” Sam said, exasperated. “Look, if you’re gonna tell me, now would be a good time.”

Dean’s eyes visibly dulled, and for a second, he looked as though he was deep in memory. “Caleb used to use it. It’s a symbol of brotherhood.”

“Oh,” Sam murmured, eyeing the design more intently with newfound understanding. To his surprise, his brother rose quickly, and little brother shot up rapidly to join him.

“That bastard,” Sam watched his brother carefully for a moment as the hushed phrase escaped Dean and the elder merely shook his head in disgust.

“So…uh…what’s that mean? That he has it?” Sam stuttered and searched for the right words to quell the tense moment.

Dean smirked and with a serious voice replied, “Justification, or so he thinks.”

The cracking of the door startled the brothers out of thoughtful silence and they turned sharply to see the intruder. Sam’s eyes widened, and he couldn't help but feel nervous when a familiar countenance, brushed with pepper-gray hair and bearing eyes of sea blue, lined with age and experience, entered the room. The man’s frame was thin, although not lacking in shape. Once a hunter, always a hunter, whether by title or not, and Sam figured that Taliean, much like himself, couldn’t escape the workout regimen.

“If it isn’t the great Taliean himself,” Dean announced with sheer mockery, resolved to be unimpressed with anything the man had to offer.

“Dean,” Frank greeted tersely, extending his hand for Dean to accept. The elder made no motion to do so. “Personable as always I see.”

“Hi, Mr. Taliean.” Sam cut in and shook the extended hand, his voice falling into the usual soothing “trust me, I’m normal” tone it always held when meeting people. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“I trust, not all good,” Frank returned, gesturing for the boys to sit and then circling and coming to sit in his own chair, “considering your brother's apparent distaste for me.”

“Can you blame me?” Dean quipped lightly, smug smile in place.

“Dean,” Sam rebuked harshly and turned apologetically to the business executive, “I’m sorry for my brother’s apparent disregard for manners in general.”

Frank shifted forward in the chair and rested his forearms on the desk, folding his hands. “No need to apologize. The anger rises from the details. It always does.”

“I wasn’t there,” Sam shrugged resigning to let the issue rest.

“Stanford, right?” Frank inquired knowingly. “Your Dad told me that. He was quite proud.”

Sam shifted awkwardly in his chair under the reiteration of praise. “Thanks.”

“Just stating the facts,” Frank replied offhandedly, shifting through a stack of papers, pulling out a file, and plopping it down on the desk with a thud. “Now, to the business at hand.”

Dean straightened in his seat. Regardless of the man, at least they wouldn’t be in Hell Hole, USA searching for a job. “So what’s the problem?”

Frank sighed heavily, and deftly flipped through the mound of papers, selecting a few. “I got a spook,” he said flatly. "Why else would I call John Winchester's boys?"

"What makes you think it's our kind of problem?" Dean asked, not amused.

"There have been a few sightings by our night security guards, and one of our most senior watchmen up and disappeared a few days ago. They're taking bets in that department that he saw the spook and high-tailed it outta here. Earl wasn't exactly the kind of guy to admit he was freaked out by something. The men think he's probably vacationing in Bermuda about now."

“Maybe it’s your dynamic personality. It has that affect on people,” Dean quipped. Sam shot him a warning look, but really what could he do? It wasn’t his fault he had an open door policy, and if someone was stupid enough to open it, he was inclined to step in.

A smirk flittered across the former hunter's face, and he shoved the folder in Dean’s direction. “I doubt it.”

Sam had to give the man credit. He was visibly bristled, but not deterred. No wonder the guy had been able to hunt with his father and their friends. “So you think this is a ghost… poltergeist?”

“I’m not sure.” Frank rubbed a hand over his face pensively. “I haven’t been out of the game that long. I managed an EMF sweep of the security sweep on lower level, and I did get some strange readings.”

Dean pursed his lips and scrunched his forehead. “So why do you need us? If you can handle it?”

“It doesn’t look good for the company head to be sneaking around laying salt lines down in the security department,” Frank answered condescendingly. "And I'm pretty sure it's an inherited problem of sorts. I got the building pretty cheap after an IRS seizure. It's rumored that the place was the cover operation for an organized crime syndicate with ties to the mob, the mafia, even the yakuza. Tons of suspicious activities associated with the place, and more missing persons tied to it than I care to think about. I don't have time do the kind of research it would take to determine the actual source of this problem. And when I don’t have time, I hire outside help."

“That’s where we come in,” Sam chimed in, giving Dean a nervous, ‘please remain calm’ smile.

“Right,” Frank agreed, pulling another blue manila folder from the side drawer and meeting the brothers’ gazes firmly. “I need this done quietly and efficiently. I expect it to be completed in such a way that no one other than I knows who you really are. Is that clear?”

The automatic response hit the air before either brother registered saying it. “Yes, sir.”

“Good,” Frank nodded shortly, handing the second folder over to Sam. “I know how much secrecy and a good cover works to the advantage in such matters, so I took the liberty of arranging those for you. Since the security department is in need of a new hire, I filed the paperwork for a Dean Watson to fill that position.”

“So, wait. Dean’s gonna serve and protect?” Sam scoffed, laughing openly.

Dean shot a heated glance over to his brother and retaliated. “Can it, geek boy. Chances are, you’re mopping floors.”

That shut Sam up instantly, and he shot a desperate look at Frank for any chance of escaping a janitor’s attire and a stinky mop. The executive came through—in a big way. “Actually, Sam here is going to take part in the Taliean Advance Program.”

Confusion crossed Dean’s face as he got the impression that he was supposed to have heard of the program, but Sam, well, the kid’s eyes were as big as saucers, and a huge, stupid grin was plastered on his face.

“A corporate internship? Me?” Sam gasped disbelievingly, eyes blinking slowly.

“With the best business lawyers stateside,” Frank bragged proudly, clearly reveling in Sam’s response.

“Thank you. God, thanks.” Sam breathed, chewing on his bottom lip as he mulled over the chance that any of his college buddies would’ve killed for. He didn’t even have his undergrad diploma, and this guy was giving him a dream opportunity.

“Yeah…thanks.” Dean muttered. If he didn’t hate the guy enough already, roping Sam into the Frank Taliean Fan Club was pushing it.

“You’ll start tomorrow,” Frank continued, raising a hand to silence Dean’s upcoming comment, when the intercom buzzed and an electronically altered version of Laura’s voice declared some pharmaceutical company was on the line. “I need to take this. Laura has your required uniform, Dean, and Sam, shirt and tie. Okay?”

Dean stared blankly at Frank for a moment. “Uniform?”

“Got it,” Sam nodded, grabbing Dean’s arm to yank him out the office as, apparently, the idea of required clothing made the elder immobile. “Don’t worry we’ll figure this out.”

“Oh, and I booked you a room at the Marquis,” Frank called out to their retreating forms. “It’s on 5th and Townsend.”

“Fine,” Dean responded shortly, raised his eyebrows and allowed Sam to semi-drag him from the room, all the while thanking the man like he’d just created water, and waited until the door closed before commenting further. “I don’t care if we’re staying in the friggen’ Waldorf. I ain’t wearing any uniform.”

The heated statement did nothing but send Sam into a new fit of laughter.

* * * *

The Marquis Hotel, later that evening

Sam emerged from the extravagant bathroom, the size of which surpassed the proportions of most of their usual motel rooms, sleeping quarters included. He caught himself almost expecting to find a bow-tie wearing gentleman waiting outside the shower (complete with two massaging shower heads and an auto-clean sanitizing system) with a fresh towel and a spritz of some manly cologne. A dude like that would fit nicely between the computerized toilet and the intimidating bidet like just another luxuriant fixture in the house of polished brass.

The younger brother stifled a Cheshire grin as he ran a towel through his still-too-long hair and caught a glimpse of Dean.

"What're you lookin' at?" Dean asked, looking up from the room service card, a huge white towel wrapped, turban-style, around his head and the rest of his body swallowed inside a thick, terry robe.

Sam was suddenly thankful they hadn't taken Taliean up on his offer to get them separate rooms. They'd used the excuse that it would be harder to do research that way, but honestly, they just felt safer in the same room. And now, Sam would have this image of his brother burned into his brain and ready to lord over him at will. Life was good.

Sam quirked an eyebrow, pausing his scalp massaging to gesture a hand toward Dean's uncharacteristic attire. "You really need to ask?"

"What?" Dean retorted. "Friggin' Taliean set us up in a hotel where the towels are way too big to smuggle out in a duffel bag, so I'm wringing every penny's worth out of these babies before we check out."

"And the robe?"

Dean snickered, glancing back down at the menu, leaving only his lifted brows to focus on his brother. "Well, the chick from housekeeping came by with the extra towels while I was getting dressed, and she looked kinda freaked out by my scars, so. . ."

"Rrright," Sam said with an exaggerated nod, clearly not believing the excuse.

"Whatever," Dean shrugged, unimpressed with Sam's dismissal. "Besides, I was fixing to order something messy from room service, and I wouldn't want my nice clean body to get all sticky. Well, I would, but I don't really have a food fetish."

"Haven't tried the right food, then," Sam teased, ignoring his brother's approving eyebrow twitch.

Sam went back to rubbing his wet hair and turned toward the closet, pausing to admire the several new suits he'd purchased, on Taliean's tab of course, from the men's clothing store that was located off the lobby of the hotel. "Can you believe five hundred dollars was the least expensive suit they had in my size?" He asked incredulously.

"Is that all?" Dean asked darkly. "I'm surprised you didn't buy more than three then. Since you're so gung ho about this corporate internship thing, might as well suit up for the long haul while Taliean's footing the bill."

Sam ignored his brother's downward mood spiral. "No point. They'd never survive being crammed in the trunk of the car for however long it takes us to find and kill the Demon."

Dean flipped through the channels on the big screen projection TV that came out of the wall at the press of a button like something out of the Jetsons. He was pretty sure Sam hadn't seen him pushing the button over and over again when they'd first checked in, grinning with amusement until he'd ventured too close and nearly had his foot closed up in the wall. The newness had already worn off as the somber, melancholy of bad memories filtered into the room.

"Never know," Dean suggested quietly, "you might like it so much you'll forget about hunting the demon."

"No way," Sam retorted, both appalled that his brother would suggest such a thing and surprised that Dean had picked up on his enthusiasm for the chance to role play what he'd imagined so many times would become his actual life. "I'm not going to just forget about the demon and what it's done to us, Dean. Nothing can keep me from finishing this."

Dean sighed, unimpressed with Sam's conviction. "Yeah, Frank said the same thing, right up until the day he didn't show up to take care of his commitments to us and to the hunt."

"Bad things happen in our line of work all the time, Dean. It isn't anyone's fault."

"It is when that anyone promised he'd be there, Sam. It is when he promised that his business wasn't going to interfere with the job, and it did." Dean tossed the remote control to the far end of the queen sized bed and snatched the room service menu back up from the end table.

The older brother felt the weight of Sam's stare piercing the top of his head, and he lifted his gaze with an intense glare fixed in his eyes. "You might not care that Frank left and got people killed that you never met, never knew. But I was there, too, Sam." His eyes darted away once more, his throat twitching convulsively around an invisible knot. "It's not just about the ones who died there that day. It's about the ones who almost died."

He looked up at Sam, eyes narrowing with intensity. "This is about Dad."




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