The five men sat crowded around Bobby's kitchen table, marvelling at how the older man had managed to make his and Tom's roast ham go five ways thanks to the addition of half a tonne of baked potatoes and some carrots which had been lurking forgotten at the back of the refrigerator.
Polishing off everything in sight, and following a brief tutorial in using a knife and fork, Jimmy wolfed down his food with the appreciative fervour of a man for whom every flavour was an exciting new experience, barely pausing for breath between enthusiastic mouthfuls.
Sam smiled as he watched Jimmy shovel more potatoes onto his plate and then proceeded to inhale them as if they were the only meal he'd ever had; which on reflection, it quite possibly was.
"Well, if there was any doubt he's Dean's clone …" Bobby observed drily
"Bite me," snorted Dean.
"No thanks," Sam replied with a grin; "but he might," he added with a chuckle, pointing a thumb in Jimmy's direction.
Jimmy paused, looking up at the assembled gathering and smiled a shy hamster-cheeked smile across a face stuffed to bursting with more-or-less anything edible on the table.
"Well, we'll know for sure tomorrow," Tom piped up, "after I've couriered those urine samples you two gave me off to my buddy in the police pathology unit."
"See," Bobby grimaced, waving his loaded fork in Tom's general direction as he addressed the Winchesters; "this is why you shouldn't have medical people to dinner," he grunted; "an' definitely never let 'em cook for ya."
It was after Bobby and Sam had cleared the dishes away and brewed coffee that the conversation turned serious.
"So," Bobby began, turning to Jimmy; "tell us a bit about this place y'came from. The boys said there are people there who wanted to hurt ya?" He kept his voice flat and his face neutral in an attempt to reassure the quietly nodding figure opposite him.
Jimmy took a sip of water and glanced around the table nervously. "First of all I wasn't alive, and then I was," he began hesitantly; "when I opened my eyes for the first time, I was standing, almost floating in a container. It was like a big tube, I could see out of it and it was full of warm green water." He paused for a moment; "I didn't like it," he added eventually; "it was uncomfortable and cramped. It scared me."
The four men listened attentively; "what, so they had you in a freakin' scuba mask or some crap?" Dean asked, his brow furrowed in confusion.
Jimmy hesitated, the bemused cant of his head suggesting he had no idea what a scuba mask was.
“Anything over your face to help you breathe?” Sam explained.
Jimmy shook his head.
"What the hell," snapped Dean; "were those assholes trying to drown you?"
Jimmy took the question at its literal face value; "no, I could breathe."
"In the water?" Sam joined the conversation.
"What are you, a freakin' mermaid – man – whatever?" Dean snorted; "how the hell is that even possible?"
"I don't know squat about creating clones," Tom suddenly interrupted; "but there is a substance, a liquid that has such a high oxygen content, humans can breathe it." He paused in thought for a moment; "it's chemical name is perfluorocarbon, but it's generally known as liquid breathing."
Sam, Dean and Bobby all exchanged confused glances.
"I've never seen it used, its application in medicine is still largely theoretical," Tom added; "but it's said that it can be used to deliver medicines and nutrition into the body at the same rate that we process oxygen, that is, almost instantaneously; far quicker than through a drip."
He rubbed his chin thoughtfully; "maybe because you were created the way you were, rather than how we were, your creators were using it almost the same way as the amniotic fluid that surrounds a foetus as it's developing; to provide nutrients and medications ..."
His voice tailed off as four sets of eyes fixed on him.
"Just a thought," he shrugged.
"Well, that's kinda super disturbing," Dean croaked, his nose wrinkled in disgust as he pushed his beer bottle away; "Bobby's right about you medical dudes; will you stop with the bodily fluids already?"
Tom grinned at his queasy friend.
"When they drained the tube and brought me out for the first time, it was hard. I was weak and cold and so - so frightened. But gradually, I realised it was much easier to breathe air and move around. I liked it so much better, and I told them so," Jimmy sighed; "they didn't seem to care."
"They told me my name was Dean Winsborough, and took me to a room. It was white and shiny and cold. They examined me, in much the same way you did Tom, but for much longer, and not so kindly." He shuddered at the memory; "then they left me in the room and gave me an overall to wear. I was told to sleep. I couldn't sleep; I was too confused; too scared."
"Is that why you ran away, because you were scared?" Tom asked gently.
Jimmy nodded hesitantly.
"I don't know how long I was left to sit in that shiny, white room. They came by every day and gave me nutrient drinks and medicine, and stuck needles in me, but they were never kind to me like you've been." He sighed, and his voice dropped almost to a whisper as he continued; "then one day they came in and told me I would have to go back into the tube. I didn't want to, but they didn't listen. They took my overalls away and as they pushed me back into the tube, I overheard them say to each other that I wasn't right and would have to be eliminated so that they could start again, and get it right next time." He paused in thought for a moment; "then as the tube began to fill, I realised the water smelt different, it smelt bitter. Somehow I knew that if I allowed myself to be immersed this time, I would die. So I fought hard to stop them securing me into the tube; I think I shocked them because I was able to fight my way out. Then I ran."
Dean nodded; "that's why you were wet when Sam found you."
He paused again, staring down into his lap and nodded." I was wrong to run away because they'll look for me. They might find you and eliminate you for helping me."
Dean snorted contemptuously. "I'd like to see the freakin' Frankenstein douchewads try."
Sam smiled as he patted Jimmy on the shoulder; "don't you worry about us; there can't be four people in the world who are better at not being found than us," he reassured.
"Yeah," added Dean; "and trust me, it'll take more than some boffin-headed creepy scientist to ice any of us. We're all stronger and smarter than they'll ever be."
"But why would they want to eliminate you?" Bobby asked; "what the hell do they mean, you're not working? Tom's given you the once over, he says you're as fit and healthy as a goddamn ox."
Jimmy's face dropped. "I don't know for sure but I think it's because I was disobedient."
All four men stared incredulously at their companion. "That's not what we've seen," Sam remarked eventually; "and even if you were, that's no reason to ‘eliminate’ you."
Jimmy took a deep breath as if he had to fortify himself for what he was about to say. "While I was left in the white room, they came in and gave me an animal to pet. They said it was my reward to bearing the tests so well."
A faint smile crossed his face as he continued; "the animal was small and white with big pink eyes and long ears. He was soft, and I liked him – a lot." He glanced at Sam as he continued; "I decided to call him Sam because it was the only name I knew. I had heard them talking about someone called Sam Watson – they said he was my ‘next of kin’. I didn’t know what that was, but it sounded like someone who would care about me." he smiled up at Sam; "it was you."
Sam suddenly looked like he'd been punched in the gut.
"They gave me some green leaves to feed to Sam, and I held him for a whole day. I liked holding him and he liked being held, it was the first time I had ever experienced a touch that was affectionate and warm, not cold and hostile. Sam was my friend."
Jimmy fell silent for an uncomfortably long time before continuing.
"Then they came back and told me to kill Sam. They said if I did, I'd get a reward."
His four companions' jaws dropped in unison.
Jimmy shrugged; "I refused. They got angry and told me to kill Sam again and I refused again, so they asked me why I wouldn't kill Sam."
He swallowed nervously as he recounted the difficult conversation; "I told them that Sam was smaller and weaker than me and he hadn't harmed anyone, so I wouldn't kill the animal under any circumstances, and I wouldn't stand by and allow others to kill him either."
"It took three of them to do it," he whispered, staring downcast into his lap; "but they took Sam away from me. I never saw him again."
"They told me that my lack of co-operation was ‘discouraging’ and that the only one who would suffer as a result was me."
"Shortly after that they took me back to the room with the big tube in it, and that's when I escaped."
Jimmy was met with total silence; four gaping mouths as he told his story. An age passed before anyone spoke and when they did, it was Bobby that broke the silence; "I don't know who these asshats are, or why they're doing what they did, but we're gonna move hell to find out and make sure they pay for what they've done."
"Amen to that," echoed Sam; his voice was quiet, but his jaw was set firm in anger.
"We're just glad you managed to get away," Tom smiled warmly.
"I ran," Jimmy picked up the story; "I ran through corridors and rooms and I didn't know where I was going, but I knew I had to get away from them. A loud alarm was ringing around me, but I crawled into a vent and found my way through the building that way. I eventually emerged on a narrow street."
"I'd never been outside before. I was naked and cold and confused but I knew I had to get away as fast as I could, so I just ran for my life until I couldn't run any longer. Then I had to find food. And help." He looked at Sam with a smile; "yours was the only name I knew, it was the name I remembered them mentioning. I didn't know how to find you, but the police officer found you for me. I was glad when he asked you to come."
"Thank you for helping me," he added.
The table went quiet as Jimmy finished speaking and looked down at the crumb-strewn tablecloth.
"Well, it looks like you and me both have been screwed by these assholes," Dean's face was dark with fury; "don't you worry dude, they're going to freakin' pay for this."
Sam nodded; "for a start, I'll call the post office tomorrow, and see if they've got a record of who placed that advert you answered."