Apologies for not posting last night, I was out on the razz and didn't get home until super late. Of course, I was nowhere near organised enough to think about scheduling the entry!
So here's an early update!
As the fog of unconsciousness receded, Dean thought briefly about opening his eyes.
His head was still giving it the full tilt-o-whirl, taking his stomach along for the ride and his neck hurt like a bitch. All things considered, full consciousness seemed like far more effort than it was worth right now, so he decided to give it a miss.
He was lying flat somewhere, on a bed maybe, or on a couch, with a thin pillow or a small cushion beneath his head. Dean didn't really know what he was lying on but given that it wasn't a bed of nails he decided to just run with it.
Gradually, he became aware of something beneath his head; something moving. It was scratching that sensitive spot right behind his left ear and it was – well – nice. Very nice.
Dean unconsciously tilted his head away from whatever it was to give it more access and the scratching intensified accordingly. The groan that escaped from between his dry lips was a sound of blissful relaxation.
Damnit if his leg wasn't going to start twitching soon.
Over the next few minutes as awareness increased, curiosity got the better of him and he gingerly opened his eyes, blinking spasmodically to clear his vision.
As his eyes drifted into focus, Dean looked up straight into a startlingly familiar face.
He grimaced as the sound that came out of his mouth sounded like he'd been gargling plutonium.
Jimmy's face stretched into a beaming smile. "Dean," he gasped; "I'm so glad you're awake."
Dean grunted in agreement and gagged as his stomach lurched nauseously.
But still there was that scratching behind his ear; boy, it was good.
Then the penny dropped.
Recoiling back from the fingers grazing behind his ear, he turned, staring open-mouthed at Jimmy who abruptly pulled his hand back as if it were burned. His smile fell.
"Don't you like that?"
Dean's mouth worked silently for a moment before the power of coherent speech caught up with it; "well, yeah – but – I mean, no – I …"
It was no good; he wasn't ready for articulate conversation yet.
Jimmy looked down into his lap, a faint blush colouring his cheeks. "I'm sorry. My animal – my rabbit – Sam, seemed to enjoy it when I did that to him," Jimmy mumbled; "I think it calmed him, so I thought …"
Dean's head dropped back onto the soft surface beneath him with a faint 'thunk'.
"Uh, right;" he slurred drunkenly; "yeah, thanks. I appreciate the thought – kinda - but just because it's something nice to do with a rabbit, it doesn't necessarily mean you should do it to another dude," he shrugged and a lop-sided smile crossed his ashen face; "when my brain's working, I'll explain how these things work!"
A shy smile crept back across Jimmy's face, "thank you Dean," he murmured quietly.
They both looked up as the door behind them opened and Tom strode into the room.
Dean suddenly became aware of what he was lying on; it was a narrow, padded couch, of the kind very often seen in doctor's surgeries. The walls of the room he was lying in were not the dust-coated mud colour which used to be burgundy that the boys had come to know in Bobby's house but a spotless, clinical white.
Dean was in Tom's clinic.
"How you feelin' Dean?" Tom began; "I heard voices so I guessed you were back with us."
"Neck hurts," Dean began wearily; "head aches, stomach feels like it's doing mach 2 and I can't think straight," he sighed; "so, yeah, awesome, thanks."
Tom smiled sympathetically and, without asking permission, picked up Dean's wrist.
"Pulse is more-or-less normal," he observed, speaking to no-one in particular, until he looked straight at Dean; "reckon you'll be okay, - well, once you've come back from your bad trip, anyway."
Dean closed his eyes and pulled in a deep breath, his nostrils flaring as he swallowed back a wave of nausea. "What happened last night?" he eventually asked.
Tom's cheerful smile faltered and he hesitated before turning to Jimmy; "hey kid, why don't you go down to the kitchen and make us all some coffee; just like I showed you, remember?"
Jimmy leapt to his feet, nodding enthusiastically as he scampered out of the room.
The fondness was clear on Tom's face as he watched the door close behind Jimmy; "that boy loves to learn," he smiled; "his mind soaks up knowledge like a freakin' sponge."
He turned to Dean and his expression was suddenly serious enough to make Dean's heart plummet into his guts, reigniting the nausea.
"It was two guys from Gemini," Tom began; "they broke into Bobby's place and saw you sleeping on the couch. Thought you were Jimmy and drugged you so that they could take you back to the lab."
Dean frowned in confusion; "how the hell did they find him? - me? - whatever?"
Tom's face flicked from serious to angry instantly; "those sly bastards planted a tracking device in his arm."
Dean's eyes widened; "tracking device?"
"Yeah," Tom nodded in response; "it was tiny, smaller than a watch battery, works on GPS or some damn technobabble like that."
Dean blinked in confusion; "One of the guys was inspecting your arm for it because he was fretting about it malfunctioning. The idiots couldn't tell the difference between the clone and you."
Dean cocked his head quizzically; "well, this stupid tracker couldn't have been that good if it took them three days to find us."
Tom shrugged; "I heard them talking between themselves and they said it went off-line for a while. I didn't know what they meant, but when I told Bobby he guessed it might have been when you were holding Jimmy at the bunker. That place is guarded against angel radio, telepathy, thought transference … it makes sense that it might interfere with GPS signals too."
Dean nodded, wincing as his sore neck protested the motion; "makes sense," he agreed, labouring himself halfway up toward a sitting position on his elbows; "so we need to get our asses back to the bunker; won't they find us here otherwise?"
Tom shook his head, and pressed his hand against Dean's chest, pushing him back down into a horizontal position.
"I removed it," Tom stated bluntly; "back at Bobby's. After we'd, uh, dealt with the guys from Gemini, I checked Jimmy's arm, and there was a tiny scar, about half an inch long, just in the crook of his left elbow. I always carry a couple of shots of local in my travelling bag, you know - just in case - so I used one of them and cut the damn thing out." He paused for a moment; "didn't you notice the bandage on Jimmy's arm?"
Dean grunted a negative, resisting the urge to shake his head; "Tom, I wouldn't notice a freakin' steel band if they danced through the room right now."
Tom huffed a quiet laugh.
"You did deactivate it, didn't you?" Dean asked, his slurred speech sharpened with apprehension.
"Well, Bobby stomped on it," Tom replied; "if that's what you mean."
Dean seemed satisfied with that explanation.
Tom sat in thoughtful silence beside his patient for a moment, but the abrupt convulsing of Dean's throat didn't escape his attention. "I can give you something for the nausea, Dean, if it doesn't subside within an hour or so," he explained with an apologetic smile; "I'm not keen on pumping you too full of drugs given that I still don't know what those bastards gave you."
Dean silently nodded his understanding, and his eyes thanked the man beside him. Eventually, he felt able to speak again; "where's Sam and Bobby?"
Tom took a deep breath and glanced shiftily at the door as if he was watchful for Jimmy's return. "Dean, there's something you need to know," he replied, barely above a whisper.
Dean's eyes widened in immediate concern at the tone of Tom's voice.
"What?" he prompted, trying to ignore the knot of ice-cold fear that was tightening in his belly; "Tom?"
"We got some information out of our intruders last night," Tom began; "while you were out of it."
Dean stared at Tom; "yeah ...?"
"It's Jimmy," Tom eventually stated, his voice dropping to an even quieter register.
"What about him?" Dean replied nervously.
"There's something wrong with him," Tom blurted; "that's why they wanted to take him back to the lab." Dean could see Tom's hands shaking with suppressed rage as he spoke; "they were cold, calculating bastards. They referred to him as 'it'. To them, he's just a failed experiment; a lab rat to be sliced and diced for the benefit of the next attempt."
"Well, we know what's wrong with him," Dean interjected; "they're pissed because they wanted Rambo, and they've got Bambi instead."
Tom shook his head. "No, Dean it's more than that," he sighed; "there's something physically wrong with him. The cloning failed in some way."
Dean frowned; "are you saying …?"
Tom nodded slowly; "they said he'll probably be dead within the week."
Dean gasped, "how … why?"
Tom shook his head with a dejected shrug; "we don't know; they didn't want to wait for that to happen naturally because it would hold up the project. That's why they tried to take him last night; they were going to take him back to the lab and 'put him down' so that they could autopsy him to glean more information."
"Well, where are the sonsofbitches?" Dean snapped, struggling to upright himself again; "we need to get them talking."
"Not much chance of that," shrugged Tom; "they're probably under Bobby's floorboards by now."
Dean's lips quirked in approval.
"Anyway, so that's where Sam and Bobby are," Tom explained; "they've gone to find the lab and see if they can get some answers there."
Dean's jaw dropped; "they've gone where? Jesus Tom, I need to be there with them." He flung a leg over the side of the couch and managed to rock himself up into a hunched sitting position, trying to convince himself that the spinning room and churning nausea that resulted from the action would pass momentarily.
Tom stood and firmly pressed Dean back down into the couch. "What you need to do, Dean, is rest," his stentorian 'I'm a Doctor and I know best' voice leaving Dean in absolutely no doubt about who was in charge here. "You're still groggy; who knows what lingering effects that crap they pumped into you will have?"
"No offence Dean," he added, far more gently; "but you'll be a liability if you follow them there in this state. They're better off knowing that you're back here safe and recovering."
Dean scowled angrily at the Doctor; he wanted to rage and argue and tell Tom he was talking crap. But the rage didn't come because he grudgingly knew that Tom was totally right.
"That's why we decided that you, me and Jimmy should come back here rather than to the bunker," Tom explained; "I can keep an eye on you, and if there's anything I need to do for Jimmy, I've got the equipment to do it here. And I'm going to do everything I possibly can – I ain't losing that boy, not without one hell of a fight."
Dean let out a despondent sigh; "I gotta hand it to him, he's taking it real well," he observed.
Tom stiffened at Dean's words and glanced down at the floor. Gnawing his lip nervously, he traced a crack in the linoleum with the toe of his shoe.
"Tom," Dean prompted suspiciously; "he does know, right?"
"I don't want to scare him," Tom mumbled; "he wasn't around when it all went down yesterday, Sam had taken him upstairs to keep him safe."
Tom genuinely looked like he might break down before he fortified himself and continued; "I know a doctor isn't supposed to get emotionally involved with his patients but, what can I say Dean? That ship's sailed; the deed is done. It's like he's my own son."
"He's had such a crappy start," Tom explained shakily; "and he's so full of excitement and joy with the life we're giving him. I showed him how to make coffee and a grilled cheese sandwich this morning and he was freakin' elated. You'd think I'd imparted the secrets of the entire damn universe to him, not just how to make a stupid breakfast." Tom paused to compose himself before continuing; "I know I'm a sap, but I want to protect him. I can't bear the thought of scaring that joy out of him. If the worst happens, he'll die never knowing he was in danger; he won't have to sour what life he's got left with worry, but I'm hoping that when Bobby and Sam get hold of the research there'll be something there that I can work with; and then if I do need to tell him what's going on, I can give him some hope."
Tom abruptly fell silent and sat back, wiping his eyes, as the door opened with a soft squeak, and Jimmy walked carefully into the room carrying a tray containing three mugs of coffee.
Dean rolled over sideways and looked across at Jimmy, immediately noticing the narrow bandage wrapped neatly around his left elbow. He forced an exaggerated smile onto his face, fighting the rising nausea induced by the heavy aroma of coffee.
But his smile faded when he noted the thin trickle of blood running down from Jimmy's nose and pooling on his upper lip.
"Tom," Jimmy whispered as he placed the tray on the table beside Dean's couch with shaking hands; "I don't feel well."