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This story is No. 6 in the series "Province". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: SLASH. Dean/Xander. Sequel to Ten Years Gone. Xander hits the road with the Winchesters.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Supernatural > Xander-Centered > Pairing: Dean WinchesterChessMFR151268,57734412,8884 Jan 127 Feb 12Yes

Diabolic Scheme

Author's Note: Chapter title from a song by the Hives. Thanks so much for reading and reviewing!








Dean’s eyes slammed shut at the last moment and his whole body flinched in anticipation of the crash. He couldn’t watch, couldn’t see his car crumple on impact, not again.

Horror overwhelmed him; horror that he’d trusted Alex to drive, horror that Alex was obviously a demon and Dean hadn’t even realised, horror that John and Sam were about to die because of Dean’s mistake. Horror that Alex was going to die, too.

Horror that he’d failed so goddamn badly.

But the crash never came. There was a flash that Dean could see from behind his eyelids, and then he realised that they hadn’t crashed, that they were still moving, still driving. His eyes flew open.

The car rocketed down a dark, empty road. No buildings, no people, no neon lights. Dean didn’t know how it was possible, but they weren’t in Vegas anymore.

They hadn’t crashed, they’d driven through the wall. And ended up in the desert. What the fuck.

“Get off me,” Alex was yelling. He was still behind the wheel, undamaged. He’d leaned forwards when they were crashing, but now John had wrenched him back.

“Fucking stop the—“ His father’s growl cut off when he noticed where they were, when he realised they were still moving and un-crashed. He froze, staring out through the un-smashed windscreen with one hand still bunched tightly in Alex’s coat.

Alex clenched his teeth and gripped the steering wheel, and angry grimace on his face. The tires screeched, Dean was thrown forwards, and the car fishtailed as Alex braked hard.

They finally slid to a stop, with the car still on the road but slung haphazardly across the centerline. Alex cut the engine, and shocked silence stretched out between them all.

Dean stared around wildly, between Alex and the car and what little of the desert he could see in the dark outside the windows, on either side of whatever the fuck road this was.

Before anyone could do anything, Alex elbowed John’s now-unresisting hands off him and reached across to the glove box. He opened it with a grim expression and shaking hands, pulled something out and got out of the car. Dean watched with blank incomprehension as he went around to the front and leaned over the hood.

Alex uncapped the permanent marker – Dean had never kept permanent markers in the glove box, where the hell had it come from? – and started drawing on the hood of the car.

Apparently, this was too much for John. “Motherfucker, he muttered angrily, and shoved his door open. Dean got out as well, feeling slow, a little shell-shocked, and really fucking uncertain about what the fuck had just happened. Where the hell were they?

John showed no such uncertainty. When he reached Alex, he yanked him off the hood of the car, physically twisted him around, then slammed him down on his back. “What the hell is the matter with you? Are you trying to get us killed?” he shouted, into Alex’s tense, scowling face.

No, Dean thought reflexively, adrenalin kicking in and wiping away his shock. He scrambled around the car, intent on pulling them apart.

He wasn’t fast enough. Before he could pull John away, Alex had already reacted to John’s attack with a fist to the face.

It wasn’t a hard punch, he didn’t have the leverage, but he followed it up with a shove that almost sent John sprawling out on the ground. It separated them, anyway, long enough for Dean to get in the middle, hands gripping his father’s shirt to hold him back from another attack. “Dad. Dad! Stop,” he ground out.

The wild look in his father’s eyes was scary. No, it was scared, and Christ, they’d just driven through a wall. It wasn’t like Dean didn’t get it. He knew his own hands would be shaking if they weren’t clenched in the front of John’s shirt. He held on, though, held him back. Finally, John relented.

Dean’d had his back to Alex, and when he thought John wouldn’t make another move, he turned around. “Alex, what the fuck?” he breathed out.

Alex stared back stubbornly, and Dean hadn’t meant the words as an attack, but he didn’t think he could let this slide.

Then, heart in his throat, he said, “Christo.”

No black eyes, not even a flinch. This was Alex. Dean’s whole body shivered in relief.

He gathered himself back together, and noticed Alex was levelling him with a pissed-off glare. But Dean wasn’t about to apologise for checking. Alex had driven them through a wall.

“Okay, so seriously,” Dean said, trying to sound calmer, trying to sound like he was just asking. “What just happened? And where the fuck are we?” he added at the last minute, glancing around. The road they were on had no streetlights, and the desert looked eerie in the silver and grey light of the almost-full moon.

Something in Alex’s expression had closed up, and he was silent for a moment. His eyes were shadowed as he studied the two of them, and then warily watched Sam as well when he came into view.

“Right now, we’re forty miles north-west of where we were a few minutes ago,” he eventually admitted.

“You mean, a few minutes ago when you drove us into a wall?” John interjected, stepping around Dean so he could accuse Alex without anyone in the way.

Alex glared at him. “When I ditched our tail, yeah, that’s exactly what I mean,” he spat angrily.

“You call that ditching a tail?” John shouted.

“Enough,” Dean snapped. John looked betrayed, but Dean went on. “He’s not a demon. We’re not dead, we’re not captured by whoever the hell was in those SUVs,” he said to his father. “Yes, it was fucked up, but I want to know exactly what happened before we start fighting again,” he insisted hoarsely.

Everyone seemed to pause, to digest that. No-one seemed willing to make the first move.

Finally, Alex relented and said bitterly, “Look, I get it, okay? I didn’t explain what was going on, tonight’s been twelve kinds of fucked up, nothing makes sense. I know it’s all been a shock. But I have to do one more thing, and then we can hash this out.” His voice had something dark in it, he wasn’t really asking permission so much as telling them, and he was glaring at John as he spoke.

“One more thing, and then what? Are we going back for the weapon?”John demanded.

Frustration crossed Alex’s face. “When I finish with the car, we will discuss it.”

John released a noise of incoherent fury, but Dean interrupted again before his father could actually explode.

“That’s fine,” he said sharply, glaring at his father. “It’s okay as long as you’re gonna explain,” he added, to Alex.

Alex had been glaring steadily at John, but Dean’s reply finally broke him out of it. He looked warily at Dean, eyes guarded, and Dean could have sworn he caught a glimpse of hurt and distrust flickering somewhere underneath. Before he could be sure, Alex nodded and turned his back on them, leaning over the car again.

Dean had one second to worry about the strain on Alex’s face and the exhaustion that seemed even deeper than it had earlier that day, before John had grabbed him by the arm and wrenched him around to face him.

“Okay? Okay? Dean, we have no idea what just happened, what part of that is okay?” John demanded, and Dean’s hackles rose.

“The part where no-one’s dead,” Dean repeated, trying to sound more sure about it than he felt. “Or captured. We’re all in one piece, and I trust him to know that this road is safe,” he added, gesturing at the empty darkness around them. “So the interrogation can wait until he’s done.”

Dean stared at his father, unflinching. He was hoping John would be convinced, or at least remember what he’d agreed to at the beginning of the night. But John’s glare went from disbelieving to disgusted, his jaw clenched, and then his mouth twisted like he was about to say something.

He didn’t. Dean kept staring, refused to back down, and John didn’t seem willing to put his revulsion into words.

He let go of Dean’s arm, and Dean turned away. John’s only options were stay and deal with the situation or leave, and Dean didn’t want to see either. The memory of the last time he thought he saw disgust in John’s eyes was still vivid, and he’d seen enough of his father’s back to last a lifetime.

He looked at Sam. “What about you? You pissed off? Gonna shove anybody?”

Sam’s eyes went wide, and he cast a nervous look at their father that Dean ignored. “Dude, I’m just. I have no idea what’s going on. I just want an explanation.”

And that was very Sam, to ask questions first and throw punches afterwards. Dean just nodded. The adrenalin and anger of the past few minutes was draining out of him, and he crossed his arms when he realised his hands were actually shaking, just like he’d expected.

Because they’d just driven through a wall.

He reined it in, though, shoved the shuddering feeling deep down, and stared ahead. He watched Alex finish with the hood and move around to the driver’s side door, like paying attention to what he was doing could make this whole thing seem more normal. It didn’t work, of course, but he could pretend it did, pretend like he knew what was going on even though he had no goddamn idea, pretend like, a few minutes earlier, he hadn’t been terrified out of his mind.

But he trusted Alex. Owed him, owed him enough to back him up like he’d promised, even over this. Terror didn’t matter, he wouldn’t break ranks and switch sides. John needed to learn that.

He wouldn’t give in and demand answers, either, no matter how badly he wanted to.

“Don’t touch, Sam,” Alex said quietly. Dean shook himself out of his thoughts and looked up, to see that Sam had gone over to peer at the symbols on the car. It was dark, the ink was black on black, and it wasn’t like Sam had a flashlight, so Dean didn’t know what he’d been hoping to see.

“Sorry,” Sam said, and moved his hand away from where he’d been about to touch the lettering.

“Are we allowed to ask what you’re doing?” John said sulkily.

Alex had shifted to the backseat door on the driver’s side, so Dean couldn’t see him, but he could imagine the eyeroll. “I’m hiding the car. I’m pretty sure that right now we’re out of range of whatever search they could scramble together, but I figure it’s a good idea. I don’t know who else might be looking for us, either.”

“Oh,” John said, and Dean could hear the considering note in his voice. His anger seemed to relent a little, and Dean wondered why, after all this time, he could still gauge the level of the man’s anger when he’d barely said a word, he was six feet away, and Dean had his back turned.

Next, Alex slid into the driver’s seat and wrote more symbols all over the leather in the middle of the bench, between where the driver and passenger would sit. As Dean watched, waiting, anxiety started threading through him. More anxiety, if he was being accurate, because the whole situation had him plenty tense already. Strangely, it wasn’t about the fact that Alex was scribbling all over his car in permanent marker. He actually didn’t care about that, Alex could do whatever he wanted to the car short of crashing it.

But on top of everything else, now there was magic. He knew enough about it to know that none of the shit Alex had done tonight was easy. It wasn’t the kind of magic that anyone with a book and a couple of herbs could do. Between the power Dean’d felt in the garage earlier and the part where Alex fucking drove them through a wall, it was perfectly obvious that Alex had skilled-up somewhere along the line. The question Dean now wanted to ask was when?

Because it was shocking how easily he did it. Dean knew Alex’d always been okay at the everyman kind of stuff, but the symbols, the languages, and most importantly, the power involved in tonight? It was like Alex suddenly had the kind of power that only came with practice, and up until a year ago, Dean had never known him to practice. He’d never been interested, always said he’d just leave it to Willow.

So what the fuck had changed?

It occurred to Dean, as he watched Alex finish with the passenger side doors and head around to the trunk of the car, that this was going to be one of two things. It would be yet another thing Dean had missed while they’d been apart, yet another gap between them, or it’d be another secret, something Alex refused to discuss.

The thought of either had cold twisting in the pit of his stomach, because how many gaps could there be before Alex decided it wasn’t worth explaining himself anymore? How many secrets before he decided keeping them was too much trouble and he’d be better off without Dean’s scrutiny?

Dean gritted his teeth, and tried to shove the thoughts out of his mind. He shouldn’t even get started thinking that way, he had enough shit to worry about as it was. And he sure as hell didn’t want his uncertainty showing on his face in front of his father. Uncertainty, misery, worry; he had to shove it all down.

All he could do was back Alex up, no matter what. No matter how bad it started to look, Dean was staying until Alex told him to leave.

The reminder helped, a little, which was good, because at that moment, Alex came back around the car. He stood facing the hood for a moment, then turned his head and said to Dean, “Give me your hand.”

Dean didn’t even pause. He stepped forward without question.

“Dean,” he heard John say, but one sharp glare at his father was all it took to remind him whose side Dean was on.

Alex had ignored all of this, and said, “I want to use you to hide the car. It’s a little complicated to explain, but it won’t hurt or anything.”

“Okay,” Dean agreed, offering his hand, palm up.

Alex took it and guided it down to rest on the hood of the car, still warm from the engine. Dean could barely see any of the writing, but he figured his hand was right in the middle of the symbols.

Alex’s hand covered Dean’s, holding it down. He started muttering something under his breath; Dean could hear enough of it to know he didn’t recognise the language. He also thought Alex sounded strained, like he was too tired for this. He persisted, though, and Dean couldn’t bring himself to interrupt, to break what was obviously hard-won concentration.

After a few phrases, everything Alex had written started to glow. Dean startled and almost jerked away, but Alex’s hand over his kept him in place. As the light intensified, the surface of the car got hotter, and Dean could feel it radiating outwards.

But it was like the temperature of a really hot shower. It didn’t feel dangerous, he realised. Just hot.

And somehow, it felt noticeably different from the stuff Alex had erased earlier in the garage. This light seemed warmer, less hostile, even though that didn’t really make sense. If there was a difference, though, if he wasn’t just imagining it, Dean figured it was probably because of Alex, because even though Dean was freaked out about the fact that there was magic going on at all, and even though he was even more freaked out knowing Alex was the one doing it, somehow he couldn’t bring himself to feel threatened. And that had to be about Alex.

Alex, who was still muttering another long string of words and phrases. His eyes were closed, and his voice gradually got louder and louder. As he spoke, the glow sharpened, until Dean had to lift his free arm over his eyes or risk the afterimage getting burnt into his retinas.

Then Alex finished abruptly, with a word that was almost a shout. The light beating on Dean’s eyelids vanished, and he hesitantly uncovered his face. The writing was gone, and he wondered whether it’d been absorbed into the car in a reverse of what they’d seen in the workshop.

“What the hell,” Sam exhaled from behind them. Dean ignored him, because he’d turned his attention to Alex, who was still leaning on the car with his eyes closed, trying to get his breath back.

“I’d like to ask the same thing,” John said grimly from behind them both.

Dean ignored him, too. “Hey,” he said to Alex, after a few more moments without a reaction from him. “Are you okay?” He kept his voice soft, almost a whisper. Alex’s hand was still covering his.

Dean’s whisper was enough to make Alex finally raise his head and open his eyes. He looked at Dean, and fuck he looked tired. All the energy seemed to have drained out of him, and Dean, more than ever, wanted to lock him away and force him to sleep for a week.

He restrained himself, though, and Alex huffed out a breath and released Dean’s hand. As Dean straightened, Alex turned and slumped back to sit against the hood of the car with his eyes closed. Dean thought he caught a glimmer of satisfaction in his expression, though.

“You finally done?” Dean asked.

Alex exhaled again, a real sigh this time, and opened his eyes so he could stare down at the ground. “Yes,” he eventually said. “It’s done.”

There was a short silence, then John said, “What’s done, exactly?” Dean shot him a look, but he seemed less confrontational than before.

Alex didn’t seem concerned, anyway. “The car’s hidden,” he explained tiredly. “I tied the spell to Dean, because it’s his car, but yeah. Runes for distraction and blindness. Anyone looking for that car with ill intent towards its owner won’t be able to find it. And they can’t find me, so they’ll be looking for the car,” he finished.

They paused to digest that. “Okay,” Dean said slowly. “You’ve hidden us from the people chasing us.”

Alex nodded, but before he could add anything, Sam asked, “What about. What about the wall?” He stumbled a little on the words, no doubt remembering the terror, and swallowed hard. “Can they track whatever that was?”

“No, they can’t. Exits are hidden, and the magic’s untraceable. They’ll know we did something to escape, but they won’t be able to find out what.”

Another short pause. “Exits,” John began, glowering again. “About that.”

Alex sighed, and cut him off with a wave of his hand. “I know, I know. I should have explained it,” he admitted, then said, “I didn’t, because exits aren’t something you talk about if you don’t have to, and definitely not something you talk about when someone can overhear you. We were moving too fast for me to explain properly, so I figured it could wait until after I got us out.” He stopped, exhaustion sharpening on his face again.

“What are they, the exits? There’s more than one?” Dean asked cautiously. Alex seemed to need questions, to be prompted, but Dean didn’t want to start another interrogation if Alex wasn’t really up to it.

“Yeah. They’re portals, basically,” Alex replied. “There’s a few scattered around in different cities. Not many people know they exist, let alone where they are and how to use them. You say the right words and go through, you get taken out of the city. It’s...it’s an exit,” he repeated helplessly, waving his hand again like it would help them understand.

Dean frowned. A portal. Okay. “And it portal-ed us forty miles outside of Vegas?” he prompted, hoping Alex would explain some more.

Alex latched on, relieved. “Yeah, north-west. That’s why I said we were heading to Barstow, when they were still listening. Because I knew that if we had to use it, the exit would take us here instead, in the opposite direction,” he said, gesturing to the empty road around them.

“By now they know we knew they were listening, so they might not trust anything we said,” he added. “But they’ll search for us in the city first, and even if they don’t try Barstow after that, we’ll be long gone from here by then. We’re about ten minutes drive from the Interstate.”

Dean looked up and down the road they were on. For the first time, he noticed a faint glow in the distance somewhere behind them, and realised it must be Vegas, to the south. The interstate they were near must be the one heading up to Utah.

“So when you said we ditched the tail...we really ditched the tail,” he managed, surprised and kind of awed. Of all the random shit that’d gone on that evening...well, if this was what happened when Alex used magic, Dean might just be able to get behind it.

“What about the weapon? Can we go back now that the car is hidden?” John said.

Rather than get irritated that he was once again asking that question, Alex stared at him, uncomprehending. Then he did a double-take. “Shit. Sorry. I am really, really tired,” he said, a bleak almost-laugh escaping his mouth. Then, instead of explaining what he meant, he pushed himself to his feet and walked around to the trunk of the car.

Dean after a second’s surprise, helplessly followed. “Alex,” he began, then stopped. John and Sam had followed as well, and they watched Alex, confused.

Alex had opened the trunk and leaned way in to get at the upper corner of the right-hand-side. And the only thing that used to be in that corner was Dean’s hiding place, a kind of ledge up in the back where Dean used to stash stuff like the polaroid, so what the fuck?

Finally, Alex found what he was looking for and pulled himself out. He held a thin, cloth wrapped bundle, about as long as someone’s forearm.

“Here,” he said simply, handing the bundle to John. “Keep it sheathed. And don’t ever, ever touch the blade. I’m serious, one scratch from it is apparently enough kill you.”

A few pieces slotted into place in Dean’s brain, and he did a double-take of his own. “Is that...” He felt like he was about to swallow his tongue.

“Yep,” Alex nodded, sitting heavily on the edge of the trunk like if he had to stay on his feet for another second he’d fall over. “That, my friends, was the handover,” he said.


***

Dean stared, watching exhaustion and triumph chase themselves across Alex’s face, along with something darkly amused. For a long moment, the three of them were shocked into silence.

Then John let out an explosive “What?” He looked poleaxed, and stared down at the bundle in his hands. Then he unwrapped it hastily, his hands shaking. Inside was a knife, a slender blade with an old handle in a busted-looking sheath. “Oh my god,” he said faintly, then demanded, “It was in the car the whole time?” His voice was a strange combination of frustration and amazement.

Alex shrugged. “I kept telling you to trust me.”

“Trust you?” John said, disbelieving.

Dean glared at him. “Hey,” he snapped.

“Dean, he was running a con this whole time,” John replied hotly. His anger was almost half-hearted, though, and he kept glancing down at the weapon in his hands, cradling it reverently.

Alex just grinned meanly. Then he dropped the expression and seemed to become all businesslike. “So. You guys want to do this here, or should we get on the move? I don’t think they’ll find us for a while, but explaining it all is going to take some time.”

“Here. Right now,” John insisted.

“Fair enough,” Alex agreed, although he was studying John carefully. He looked down, and paused to gather his thoughts. To start, he took a deep breath.

“What I didn’t tell you earlier, is that this was always going to be more than just a meet. Giles told me this job would be just like one I did three months ago, in Scotland, when a Council agent working undercover needed to get some information to us and we knew she’d be followed. We also knew she’d be killed or worse if she was caught. So, to keep her safe, we set up a fake situation and a code, to let her pass the information to me without looking suspicious to the people watching her.” He paused, then said, “I didn’t know who she was, until she tracked me down in Glasgow and offered me a job.”

It took a second for it to actually make sense to Dean, and even though he probably should have figured it out already, he still took a step back in surprise. “Spike? Spike was the contact?”

“Yeah, he was,” Alex said, meeting Dean’s eyes for the briefest moment. Dean’s breath caught at the haunted edge in his look. Alex looked away, and said, “I didn’t know it was him, not at first, but as soon as he offered me the job...” He trailed off, and stared at his feet for a second.

Dean abruptly remembered the sheer panic on Alex’s face in the bar, which must have been when first saw the vampire. Add that to the way Alex fought so hard to escape, and the way Spike had seemed apologetic that they’d even sent him... It all added up to something, even if Dean didn’t know what it was.

The others had been stunned to silence. “So...so that was the meet. In the alley,” John eventually said, sounding a little like he was thinking aloud. “Nothing was ever going to happen in the bar.”

“Nope. Well, it could have, if Spike had approached me in the bar. The alley was better, I guess.” He cleared his throat. “After the job offer to identify himself as the contact, Spike could have said something else that would translate to a location. Saying he had a gift meant that he was going to hand the package over then and there, instead,” Alex said, almost like he was reciting something.

“The car...” Dean said slowly, thinking back. “Spike stole my car especially for this?” he said, angrily and a little disbelieving.

Alex gave him a vaguely apologetic look. “Sort of. He didn’t steal it himself, but it was part of the plan, part of the misdirection. It’s a bluff, kind of, almost like a Trojan horse except the analogy doesn’t totally track.”

Dean frowned. A Trojan horse? But Alex had already moved on.

“The pigeon thing isn’t part of the Glasgow job, but it’s what told me we’d be followed, that there were tracers on the car,” he said. Then he muttered thoughtfully, “Although, come to think of it, pigeons don’t happen in Vegas like they do in Europe, so that’s really not all that inconspicuous. I wonder if they know Spike tipped me off?”

He thought about it for a second, then dismissed it, like he’d decided it was Spike’s problem.

“Pigeons,” John said roughly, still staring down at the weapon in his hands in disbelief. Alex raised an eyebrow, but John didn’t seem to have any more comments to make.

“Yeah, so,” Alex began, and before he could stop himself, Dean interrupted.

“Who’s ‘they’? Why did you have to do all of this?” he asked. Someone stole his car, someone chased them, someone was a threat to Alex. Apparently, despite appearances, it wasn’t actually Spike, but hopefully it’d be someone Dean could shoot.

Alex studied him. “’They’ are where the weapon was extracted from. Spike’s involvement, with Angel and the car and everything, means that the weapon had to come from Wolfram and Hart.” He spoke a little slowly, like he'd thought about it and he was sure it was the only explanation that made sense.

“Aren’t they a law firm?” Sam said, surprised.

“Yeah, they are,” Alex agreed. “An evil law firm. Most of their clients are demons and anyone who works for them has sold their soul to do so. These days, Angel runs the LA branch,” he added, making a face.

“I thought he was on Buffy’s side?” Dean frowned.

Alex shrugged. “Not anymore. I’ve heard he’s claiming this whole gig with the law firm is about trying to take them down from the inside, but I’m not too clear on the details. Not that I care, because it’s not like I believe anything he says anyway,” he added, muttering.

“But... Why’s he helping out if he’s not a Council ally?” Dean asked, confused.

“Oh, he’s not, he’s probably not even involved,” Alex clarified. He was still talking a little slowly, like he was putting it all together in his head as he said it out loud. “If he was, the first thing Spike would have said was ‘Angel’s offering you a job’ instead of ‘I’m offering you a job’. I know he talked about Angel later, but all that was just more cover.”

Alex paused, then added, “It makes sense. Angel’s far too compromised for Giles to trust him, and he’s no personal ally of mine. This whole setup isn’t even really his style. He’s Spike and Wesley’s boss, though, and they probably convinced him the job offer was a good idea without letting him in on the scheme.” Alex paused, then groaned. “Which means he really is trying to hire me, which therefore means he’s deluded as well as an asshole. God,” he grimaced.

“Who’s Wesley?” Sam was watching Alex closely, intrigued.

“Former Watcher, who works at Wolfram and Hart as well. He’s compromised in a different way,” Alex said grimly. “But he’s the person most likely to recognise this weapon if he saw it in Wolfram and Hart’s cache. Giles would have contacted him through a secure channel after the demon attacked me in the warehouse, asking for leads, and Wesley would have agreed to get this weapon for us. He would have recruited Spike to help out with the extraction, and they both would have enjoyed pulling one over on Angel.” Alex shrugged again, and gestured as if to say ‘you know the rest’.

“Okay,” Dean stalled, thinking. He wanted to ask, 'when the fuck did you plan this?' but instead said, “The tracking devices were theirs?” He felt like Alex had already answered that question, but still. The more information he had, the better. His mind was spinning a bit, trying to sort through everything.

“The tracking devices belong to the company. As soon as the job offer was on the table, the firm wanted to track me because I was their employee, or track me so they could come after me and make me change my mind if I said no to their offer. They would have added the tracking devices to the car when it was being rebuilt, and Spike or Wesley would have known.”

“And they told you how to get rid of them. Which part of the code was that?” Sam asked, fascinated.

“It was all on the note,” Alex replied curtly. “Along with the weapon’s hiding place.”

“Huh,” John managed.

Dean eyed the car anxiously. “You got all of it out, though?” he said, before he could stop himself. “They can’t steal the car again, right? Or come after you?”

“No, it’s hidden. They can’t get through the exit, they can’t trace me, they can’t trace the car. And hopefully we’ve covered the weapon transfer well enough that by the time they realise it’s missing, we’ll be the last people they think of.”

“They’d really come after it? I mean, you said they were evil, but... I don’t know, they’re just lawyers,” Sam said.

Alex raised his eyebrows at Sam. “Evil lawyers,” he stressed. “Giles doesn’t insist on all this cloak and dagger bullshit for no reason.” He looked between them, taking in the frowns, the slight amount of incomprehension Dean knew was still flickering over his own face.

Alex sighed a little, resigned himself to explaining some more.

“So, yeah, okay, Spike and Wesley could have cooked up some other reason for Spike to come to Vegas. And yeah, he could have bumped into me ‘accidentally’, planted the weapon on me without all the fuss, and then headed home again.”

“But people know that he knows me,” he explained patiently. “And from what I’ve heard of Wolfram and Hart, they probably have him followed whenever he leaves the office. They also probably know who I am and what I do, they probably know more about me and Spike and our history than I’m totally comfortable with. And the upshot of all that is that anything simpler would have screamed set up.”

“All it would take would be a single glimpse of the weapon, or a big-enough hole in whatever story supposedly brought Spike to Vegas. They’d imprison him in a hell dimension and then they’d come after me. They’d roast both of us,” he finished, sounding horribly matter-of-fact.

“They did come after you,” Dean reminded him, shooting Sam a pointed look.

“Exactly. About a job offer. You guys saw the SUVs, you saw the tracking devices. Imagine if they knew we’d stolen a priceless, dangerous weapon from them. These are not people you run some half-assed scam on.”

Dean’s stomach clenched, and he must have looked worried, because Alex went on.

“Don’t worry about it, Dean. The job went off well, and the setup was good. Spike had a legitimate excuse for a specific kind of contact, and I’m pretty sure we’ve anticipated all of their moves. The job offer’s a good cover, especially with the car.”

“Yeah?” he frowned.

Alex nodded. When he spoke, it seemed again like this was part of the plan he'd only guessed at, but again, like it was all that made sense. “Angel’s in a situation where it’s not totally out of the ballpark for him to try and hire someone he knows is on the right side. The company knows his loyalty to them is questionable, so they wouldn’t be surprised by the attempt. Getting me would also be a coup against the slayer, so they might have even encouraged the play, even though everyone knew it didn’t have much of a chance of working.”

“Then, as part of the offer, Spike gets to give me something that Wolfram and Hart think they have their fingers all over already, something they’re going to believe was the point of the meet,” he said, gesturing over his shoulder at the car. “My reaction to it all was realistic, and if they work out that Spike tipped me off about the trackers, I doubt they’ll even be that bothered given what they know about our relationship and the fact that Spike’s still got a soul.”

Alex paused for a moment, then added thoughtfully, “The car fits in there, too, because it made Spike look like he had an agenda. The car has enough significance to me, and to Dean, that it looked like by stealing it, he was trying to piss someone off, either me or Dean or both, and frankly, that’s a very Spike thing to do. The more cover over the fact that all of us have a totally different goal, the better,” he finished.

Silence fell as they all process it, or tried to.

“Wow,” Dean finally said. He still felt slightly bewildered, but the more he thought about it, about the layers, one bluff over the other, the more impressed he was. He stared at Alex, awed, until the tips of Alex’s ears flushed and he cleared his throat. "When the fuck did you plan this?"

"I didn't," he shook his head. "I knew the Glasgow job, so I knew the code. Some of it was explained on the note Spike slipped me, and the rest...well, I know enough to work out the rest." He shrugged, then added awkwardly, "My brain started going double-time in that alley, trying to figure it all out. Some of it, I'm guessing about." He shrugged again.

Sam interrupted, though, before Dean could say anything. “Why didn’t you just tell us at the beginning? Let us in on what you did know?” he said, voice low and a little wounded. “We could have helped. Or argued with you less, at least,” he added, with a glance at John.

“You didn’t not help,” Alex insisted. “And...well, there were a couple of reasons.” He hesitated again, then said, “The major reason was that I didn’t know about any of this before we started. I wasn’t lying when I said I didn’t know who the contact was going to be. It could have been someone you weren’t supposed to know about, and if that’d happened, it’d be better to keep the smoke screen of the job offer and stuff. I could have pretended I got the weapon another way.”

“Also, even though I didn’t know what the threat actually was, I knew that if Giles was putting me – us, I mean – through all of this meant that it was probably going to be bad. He wouldn't expose me to Wolfram and Hart lightly, and if something had gone wrong and they caught me, the less you all knew, the better, especially about whether or not we had the weapon,” he said simply.

That sent a chill through Dean, as he imagined the consequences if it had all gone wrong. Giles' involvement - planning and coordinating all of this for them - had him partly grateful, partly horrified.

Dean knew Giles had no reason to trust them, but he had even less reason to expose Alex to danger just so they could get a weapon. Dean could barely believe he'd done all of this for them, for John. He'd never be able to thank him enough. Hell, from what Alex had said about the law firm, Dean might even thank Spike one day, if he stopped wanting to pull a gun on the bastard, but he'd never be able to thank Alex

At the same time, though, Giles - and Spike, and whoever else had been involved in this con - had exposed Alex to danger. So much danger. Alex.

Dean tried to shove down the protective terror at the thought. He focused carefully on the gratitude, because he knew Alex would appreciate it more.

"Tell Giles thanks, from us,” he said roughly.

Surprised, Alex said softly, “Sure.”

They stared at each other for a second, the rest of the world dropping away like darkness. Then Alex broke it again, looked at the others, and said quickly, “Anyway. We have the weapon, we’ve evaded capture by people who probably want to force me to sign the kind of employment contract that hocks my soul to the bad place, and you have your car back,” he added, in Dean’s direction. “I’m calling tonight a success.”

John snorted, but then he surprised the hell out of Dean by grinning openly at Alex. “Kid, your criteria for success need some serious work. But I guess we can go with it just this once.”

Alex rolled his eyes, but the meanness was gone, and Dean, still working on the retrospective fear that was currently turning his stomach to acid, decided he would take what he could get. “Let’s hit the road,” John said, sounding practically upbeat.

Before they could go more than a few steps, Alex said, “Wait.” Dean watched John turn around, watched Alex hold his hand out. “Give me the knife? I think we should keep it hidden in the trunk.”

John hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah, okay.” His faith in Alex seemed restored to the point where he could freely hand over their only chance at killing the demon. And as Dean watched Alex lean into the trunk again, replacing the knife where it’d been hidden before, it actually struck him that they had a chance at killing the demon.

They had a chance at killing the demon. They had a weapon. They might be able to do this, they might be able to fight it, he might be able to keep Alex safe.

The swell of hope in his chest was almost painful. He couldn’t quite shake the feeling that the risk hadn't and would never be worth it, but they were all alive, and they had a weapon.

“Dean, can I drive?” John was asking, and Dean cleared his throat again, hoping his face looked normal.

“Can you—Uh, sure, I guess,” he said, feeling addled. He should have hesitated – the car was his, god, he had his car back too, tonight was amazing – but his brain was spinning too much for him to care too badly.

They all climbed in, slamming doors. He was in the back next to Alex, and John started the engine; his baby growled, and seriously, it felt like they were starting over, like they’d all just been freed from something. Dean hadn’t realised how tense he’d been, how much dread he’d carried, until some of it was gone.

“The highway is up ahead. Follow this road, go left, then right,” Alex instructed.

“Will do,” John said, and his voice was almost warm. Dean would have been amused at John’s one-eighty on whether or not he liked Alex, but he was too busy agreeing whole-heartedly.

Because danger and risk aside, Dean could understand the scope of what Alex had just pulled off. It could have gone completely, absolutely wrong, if Alex had been even slightly less capable. And Dean was impressed. Pissed off and horrified that Alex had risked himself. But also impressed.

And now they had a weapon.

Dean ducked his head to hide his involuntary grin. God, up and down, he was back on that fucking rollercoaster again. He needed to get himself under control.

He was still busy smiling to himself, though, as John peeled out and aimed them in the direction of the Interstate.

The End

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