Again, Dean kept quiet, thinking. Always thinking. He didn't want to push Max into her painful memories, but they seemed to have a direct or indirect connection to him and his life. And how could the government geneticists know what I might have been capable of at such a young age? And why would someone want to clone me? I'm nothing special – just a hunter, a soldier with a grudge, a brother, and a weapon.
He figured it was insanity. Only insanely smart scientists with access to seemingly imaginary technology would attempt something so far outside the scope of real, tangible science. There seemed to be finesse to the idea; insanity required creativity.
Except having seen everything he'd seen, and fought everything he'd fought, he felt more inclined to believe at least in the existence of the concept. Sure, he had clones. Of course he did.
He let his hand fall from her small frame. Both remained quiet, and much like the majestic tree under which he had parked, Dean felt his feet sink into the gravel and dirt like those resilient roots, pushing down through the rough, sharp earth and making that new system a new home. It seemed as if, even though they were right in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, the universe was forcing him to take a breather and pay attention. Max was in a slight daze, and he was drawn to it.
Maybe it's some kind of genetics, he thought, the attraction to her face. Clearly she has some kind of past with my… clones… Jesus, that's so weird. Maybe they were drawn to her, too. Maybe it's across my genetics.
He tried to examine her expression again, tried to get that glimpse of truth that lay somewhere between her calm demeanor and the emotional turbulence below it. She was a bit of a paradox, and he figured not many people had the opportunity to see it. How could she have let them?
Max snapped out of her stare and swung off the trunk. "Better get back," she said. "And thanks for stitching me up."
Dean's heavy boots backed up and he felt their connection to the root system sever. "Wait, we need to cover that," he said, pointing to the laced mess of her stitching.
"The others could use it more than I could," she said, grabbing the backpack and walking around to the passenger's side of the Impala.
Dean climbed in to the driver's seat and started the ignition. He wanted to know so much more about this 'Manticore' company and how it fit into his life, or perhaps more accurately, how his life fit into it, but Max seemed like she was done sharing.
"So how many clones do I have?" he asked.
"Two that I knew of," she said matter-of-factly. She didn't want to lie to him, but she really didn't want to talk about this – not in detail.
Dean put the car in 'drive' and pulled back out onto the road, headed back to the field. He wondered if these clones shared his personality quirks or if they only looked like him. He wondered if they were better versions of him than he could ever be. "And how did you know them?"
Max pursed her lips and looked away.
Dean knew this maneuver. She didn't want to talk about it. Maybe she was too close to it and didn't have the energy to go much deeper.
"One was my unit mate, my brother. Ben."
His name may as well have been a machete, the way it sliced her to say his name, the way just the memory of Ben made her squeeze her eyes shut, as if she could just deny what happened right out of existence.
Dean paused, preparing to ask the question to which he already knew the answer. "And this Manticore place – they killed him."
Quiet again. That was enough of a confirmation for him. He understood this one, at least on some level. If anything had ever happened to Sam, he was certain he would lose his will to keep fighting. The only thing he valued more than anything else in his life was his own brother, and nothing could ever change that. Though he acted like a selfish brat from the moment his father ordered him to look after his little brother, his trust and dependence on his brother would always be underlying.
"And what about the other one? How did you know him? Was he in your unit, too?"
Max turned her head so she could look out the window and avoid any potential of Dean looking at her as she thought about him. How could she possibly describe what she and Alec were? Could she tell him about when she first met Alec all those days ago in her cell, when he was just a number, just an assassin? Or tell him how many times she'd bailed him out of trouble? Or tell him how connected she was to him? How alike they were?
Max remembered the look on Alec's face, the depth in his eyes, the last time she saw him – the last time, their goodbye. "No, Alec was just… well, he was Alec."
In the way she said his name, Dean realized something worse had happened to Alec. It hurt her more, somehow, and in the passenger's window reflection, he could see Max wasn't looking outside at all. Her eyes were closed and she was in the process of heaving a couple of big breaths. He wouldn't be able to push her any further. "Maybe you could tell me about them sometime," he offered.
Dean searched for the next thing to say, and drove faster to get back to Max's people. He glanced over to her and back to the road. "I never told anyone about that, so if you could just keep that information to yourself, I'd appreciate it."
"No problem," Max said. "Hopefully Alec's old unit and the others who knew him don't spill the beans before you get a chance to talk to your brother."
Max shifted in her seat and turned toward him. "Why didn't you?"
"Tell anyone?" he asked. Dean checked his rearview mirror, then returned his attention to the road. "I tried, but at the time, Sammy was only four and our dad-" Dean paused, trying to figure out how to explain it. "Well, our dad didn't really give me a chance to explain why I'd left my little brother home alone for so long. He was pretty pissed."
"Where was your dad?"
"Where was he? You were eight and your brother was four, and he left the two of you home alone?"
Dean looked in the rearview mirror again, which, when they passed a street lamp, illuminated the green in the hazel of his eyes. He returned his stare back to the road. "He was usually away on a hunt."
"On a hunt for shape shifters?" Max asked, recalling their earlier conversation.
"Sometimes," Dean said, turning onto another road. "Shape shifters, demons, vampires, ghosts, whatever he could find."
"But isn't that what you do?"
Dean smiled proudly. "Yeah, that's how it's kind of a family business."
"What was he looking for?" Max asked.
Dean flashed to the day he lost his mother. With the house engulfed in flames and his father passing Sam off to him, and with the knowledge that his mother was gone, he remembered feeling so helpless. "He was looking for the thing that killed our mother," he confessed, clenching his jaw shut after he said it.
Finally the hill came into view, and as they drove over it, neither Dean nor Max was prepared to see the stillness of the battlefield. All of the Croats they'd killed lay lifeless and in pieces, and otherwise, the field was empty.
"Where'd they go?" Dean asked, suddenly worried about Sam and wondering if the group of soldiers had invited some trouble they couldn't handle. They rolled to a stop in front of the track marks from the jeep.
Max looked up toward the sky, and then off into the distance. "Are those waves I hear?"