Within the darkness, there were occasional rays of hope.
In Wyoming, three hunters who were unknown to the Winchesters, though Ellen and Jo Harvelle would have recognised their names, went to investigate the devil’s gate that had been opened a few years before. They discovered Samuel Colt’s ancient devil’s trap and repaired it, re-sealing the gate with salt as well as iron.
For a time, demonic signs in the area were much less.
When they later told the story to a group of hunters in a Kansas bar, one of the group – a red-haired young woman – questioned them closely. After hearing the full story she suggested that, if they could obtain enough iron, a similar method could create a safe sanctuary from the demons. The idea spread, a location was chosen and work began.
In Colorado, Haley Collins encountered a young girl passing through Lost Creek, who was struggling to find her location on a map. She seemed to be carrying her entire life in the trunk of her car and that reminded Haley of the Winchester brothers. She mentioned them in passing while recommending the best places to buy supplies. The girl’s smile lit up as if she’d discovered a treasure. It turned out she knew the Winchesters, too.
Impulsively, Haley invited Kat to spend a few days with her family; Kat accepted. She fit in well with the Collins clan and the “few days” stretched into a week and then a month. Kat had lost her own family to the Seattle flu and Haley knew how that felt. By the end of summer, when trouble came to town, Kat was one of the family.
It turned out that the exclusion zone around Ilchester, Maryland was no longer in effect. That simplified things for the three hunters: they were able to drive right in. In the outskirts of town, a small number of people had even returned to their homes and they watched the Impala with suspicious eyes as they passed through the streets.
The convent where Lucifer rose had been abandoned since the massacre in ’72, but the building had been intact when Sam last entered it. Now it was a pile of rubble. Looking at it, Sam could understand why the news services assumed the explosion was nuclear. Where the small chapel once stood there was nothing. Not even rubble. Not even the bodies Lilith and Ruby had been riding when Sam killed them. Only dust.
About half of the building was blown into small pieces and scattered in a rough circle around the place where the chapel once stood.
The place where Lucifer’s cage was once buried.
The place where Sam opened that cage and unleashed the Devil on the world.
Sam couldn’t take his eyes off it. The memories crowded him, pushing everything else out of his head. His lust for revenge and the innocent woman he murdered to satisfy it. His confrontation with Lilith; something felt wrong, felt off but he’d wanted her dead for too long to hold back. His moment of triumph and the sickening realisation of what he had really done.
“You were really in there?” Jo said, awe filling her voice. “How did you get out?”
“We ran,” Dean answered. “Very, very fast.” he shook his head. “I have no clue how it was fast enough. I thought we were dead. This column of light burst out of the ground and I knew what was coming. I just thought, if I was gonna die, I didn’t want to die with my eyes on fire. So I grabbed Sam and we ran. We got to the car before we died and I just floored it. Didn’t dare look back. Somehow we made it.”
“Because you have a destiny, Dean,” Castiel’s voice came from behind them. “God saved you.”
Dean stiffened and Sam saw the fury on his face as he turned to face Castiel.
“That so? Well, I’d have more respect for God if he’d left us to burn and saved everyone else.”
The smallest hint of a smile twitched the angel’s lips. “I suspect that is why God considers you worth saving.”
Dean made an impatient gesture. “Alright, screw the touchy-feely crap. We’ve got an apocalypse to stop.”
“Look, Cas, I’m taking a huge leap of faith just accepting that I’m the one who’s supposed to stop Lucifer. That’s all the faith I’ve got in me right now.” Dean was gazing out of the window as he spoke. He could see the pile of rubble and wondered how the children who were taught in this room liked having a spooky view like that convent while they tried to memorise the periodic tables or dissect frogs.
They were in what looked like a chemistry lab in the Ilchester high school building. The school had been abandoned since the explosion but even if it hadn’t been, school was out for the summer. It seemed like a good place for their clandestine meeting.
Jo was outside the school, keeping watch from the safety of the car, just in case some over-zealous security guard showed up.
Sam sat on the teacher’s desk, idly playing with a bunsen burner while he listened to Dean and Castiel debate. He could tell Castiel was not happy, but Dean was even less so. Sam spoke up before Cas could piss Dean off even more.
“I’ve got to say I’m with Dean on this one, Cas. Look, I’m not trying to wriggle out of my share of the blame here, but if I’d known that killing Lilith would break a seal you know I would never have done it. You spent all last year telling Dean he had to stop it when you could have stopped it with six words.”
“My superiors did not want it stopped. As soon as I knew the truth, I did what I could.”
Sam jumped down from the desk. “I know that, Cas. I’m just saying. Lucifer may be the bad guy but it’s obvious Heaven’s not on our side, either.”
The angel turned to Sam. It was always hard to tell what Cas was feeling, but the weariness was plain in his voice when he finally spoke. “What do you want from me, Sam Winchester?”
It was a good question. Sam hadn’t planned to demand anything. “You’re a warrior with a few millennia of experience. I understand you were kept in the dark last year, but you still have knowledge and resources we can’t get near.”
Castiel nodded, but he said, “My resources are limited. More so than you think.”
“Your knowledge isn’t,” Sam insisted.
Castiel inclined his head, acknowledging the point.
Dean had let Sam go on because he wasn’t saying anything Dean wasn’t thinking himself. Now, Dean stepped forward, away from the window, placing himself between them.
“Cas, tell us about Lucifer.”
Castiel closed his eyes for a moment. It was a subtle thing, just a shade too long to be a blink. That tiny gesture told Dean he was asking a lot. Maybe too much, but he didn’t understand why. Then Castiel began to speak, and Dean understood it perfectly from the first words out of the angel’s mouth.
“He is my brother,” Castiel said.
They were human. They understood brotherhood, but they couldn’t possibly understand what it meant to be an angel. To be a creature created whole and complete, never born or raised. To be in Heaven. How could Castiel explain to such children what it was to serve God? They would never know that kind of faith. They had known a father’s love, but they had never known an existence in which that love was not just enough, but everything that could ever matter. Everything else in Heaven followed from that. Service and obedience were no burden when they came from love and gratitude, which was all anyone ever owed to God.
And even if Castiel could have explained, he could not do so quickly and they had limited time. The Winchester brothers were perceptive in some ways, but they were human. They would not understand.
Castiel did his best, even so.
He spoke of the creation of the Earth, but he could not convey how amazing, how beautiful it was. The astonishing diversity of life continued to this day, but it wasn’t the same as in the time of creation, the time of Heaven on Earth, when angels walked the new world freely in their true forms.
Then came humankind, and God gave his supreme creation to their stewardship, separating Earth from Heaven. When God asked his angels to bow down to humankind, there was huge confusion. Many did not understand why God would will such a thing. They looked at this latest creation and saw nothing more than a new animal, a creature so weak it had to kill others for skins to wear and had to manufacture its own claws from stone and fire-hardened wood. Others saw potential in humankind, but they did not all see the same potential.
Never before had there been division in the ranks of Heaven. No words could convey the shockwaves humanity’s existence sent through the angels. Never before, in all the millennia of their existence, had there been conflict between them, nor any reason to choose sides. All were unsettled and confused. When the first angels forsook Heaven for Earth, took human forms and through them, human women, some of those left behind sought revelation from God. It did not come. They concluded God was testing them.
If it was a test, they failed it badly.
For a time, there was chaos. Castiel couldn’t speak of those years. It had been too confusing, the orders absent or contradictory, no hand of God to guide them. In Heaven, angels took sides against each other for the first time in eternity. On both sides, angels died. Huge areas of the green and bountiful Earth were scorched into deserts by the battles of the angels. The Nephilim – the offspring of angels and humans – rose up to defend their lands and humankind learned war, famine, pestilence and death.
Eventually, the archangels remaining in Heaven, Lucifer among them, unified and took control of the situation. Many of the angels who had chosen Earth were expelled from Heaven, forced to become human to live – and die – with the choice they had made. A few were forgiven. The archangels tried to eradicate the Nephilim. A few escaped the purge, but were greatly weakened, and in exchange for their lives they surrendered their ability to breed among themselves. The Nephilim would die out, a dilute taint in human bloodlines the only trace they ever existed.
The first War of Heaven was won. Angels were forbidden to walk the earth in their true forms. They could walk through that paradise only confined to human vessels. To further limit their ability to encroach upon the earth, each angel was given a specific human vessel and could use no other, and even their chosen vessel had to consent to serve.
But the will of God was unchanged by their sacrifice. The angels were to bow down to humankind. Though they still did not understand, all obeyed. All, except Lucifer. And the Bright One, the greatest of the archangels, the most beloved of God, rebelled.
In his bid to prove humanity unworthy of God’s great honour, Lucifer took a human child whose soul shone brightly with her purity and her love of God. He ripped, warped and twisted that bright soul until nothing was left but blackness and smoke. Then he forced the twisted thing back into human form and set her loose upon her own kind. Lilith, the first demon was a cruel and terrible creature. She revelled in blood and pain, seeking to warp others to her form and will.
And still God did not intervene.
Once again there was war in Heaven. Brother fought brother, archangel fought archangel. Legions fell. And finally, Michael carried their defeated brother to the highest tower of the Holy City and from there he cast Lucifer into Hell, locking his cage for a millennium with seals and prophecies.
“Why didn’t Michael kill him then?” Sam asked.
Castiel moved closer to him, looking into Sam’s eyes. He did not understand the question. “They are brothers.”
“I can’t imagine wishing a thousand years of Hell on my brother.” Sam shook his head, meeting Dean’s eyes. His expression was a mixture of pain and a confusion that Castiel knew was genuine, though he didn’t understand it any more than Sam understood him.
“Can’t you, Sam?” Castiel challenged. “Tell me, if your brother were to become something truly evil, if he were a threat to the entire world…”
Sam looked at Dean. “Truthfully, I don’t think I could kill Dean even then. But if there was no other choice, if I had to…I’d kill him. I couldn’t send him back to Hell.”
Dean’s face was expressionless, but something passed between the brothers as Sam spoke. Something that didn’t need to be said aloud. Something that excluded Castiel.
Finally, Dean nodded. “Yeah. I guess that goes for me, too.”
Castiel turned his intense look on Dean. “If a person is dead, Dean, Sam, it is over. There can be no forgiveness, no redemption. You would truly deny each other that?”
Dean opened his mouth to speak, but Sam cut in first. “We’re hunters, Cas. If it needs to be killed, we kill it.”
Castiel felt slightly reassured that Sam had stopped short of an explicit yes. But he still didn’t understand them.
“Lucifer was one of the best of us,” Castiel tried to explain. “We could never have denied him the chance of redemption. When the seals began to break, I didn’t know my superiors intended to set him free. I warned you that when Lucifer rose, Hell would rise with him. But still I hoped…I thought there was a chance, however small.” He met Sam’s eyes, as if force of will could make Sam understand at least this much. “You, Sam, might have been the instrument of his redemption. All my brother had to do was want it.” Quietly, he added, “Our father would have forgiven him. I have to believe that.”
Sam’s look darkened. “Is that why you didn’t stop me?”
“No. I followed my orders. It’s true that when I understood what my superiors intended, I did hesitate. If I had acted sooner, I might have been able to bring Dean to you in time. But as soon as I was certain, I did everything I could.” Castiel was irritated he had to repeat himself. He had already told them this.
Sam nodded curtly.
“Lucifer doesn’t want redemption. The opportunity is gone and now, to save this world, he has to die.” Castiel turned to Dean. Dean, who was the chosen of God, whether he believed it or not.
Dean rolled his eyes. “How? I’m a good hunter, Cas, but how do you kill something like that? An archangel, for God’s sake!”
Castiel ignored the blasphemy and extended his arm, allowing the long, silver sword to slide into his hand. “If we find no other way, you will use this.” He offered the blade to Dean over his arm.
Dean stared at it uncertainly. “Do I have to pull it out of a stone, too?”
“No, you take it from my hand,” Castiel answered, not sure why a stone might be required. Then he saw Sam stifling a smile and understood this was some cultural reference. Again.
Dean accepted the sword. “If this will kill Lucifer, why do we need to find another way?” He raised the sword before his eyes. He did it to examine the blade, but the gesture resembled a warrior’s brandish, and Castiel felt a chill of fear, both of Dean and for him.
“Because wielding this sword will most likely kill you,” Castiel answered.
Dean dropped it instantly. The blade clattered to the ground.
Castiel bent to pick it up again. “Holding it will not harm you, Dean.” He offered the sword a second time. “This is the weapon of an angel. A few humans, a very few, have been able to wield such a sword and survive. You may be one of them, Dean, but there is no way to test it without risking your life.”
“So, basically, I try to kill Lucifer with that thing and, what? I drop dead? No deal, Cas.”
It was as Castiel expected. He felt a certain relief; he had no desire to see Dean burn out from within trying to wield an angel’s weapon. He nodded, and drew a breath to offer another suggestion.
And at that moment, everything changed. Forever.
Jo was waiting in the Impala. She’d found a radio station that seemed to be all music – no news or chatter – and was humming along to a country and western song as she relaxed in the front seat. She was a little bored, but content to be on guard duty this time. That angel made her uncomfortable.
The first time a burst of static interrupted the song, Jo thought little of it. The radio signal wasn’t that great anyway; she’d been listening to a lot of hiss along with the music.
But the second time, she remembered her training and looked up, adrenaline flooding her. The sky above was thick with demonic smoke. Jo reached for the door, knowing she had to warn Sam and Dean. But it was moving too fast; she could see she would never make it to the school building in time. The car where she sat was safe: demon-proofed. As soon as she recalled that, Jo’s hand froze an inch from the door handle. Her mouth went dry. She could not complete the movement. She could not make herself touch the door.
Cursing her own cowardice, Jo grabbed her cell phone instead. Her breath was coming in rapid pants, her heart beating too fast and she wasn’t sure she’d be able to talk but she had to try. She flipped the phone open. There were no signal bars showing. Ignoring that, Jo punched the speed-dial for Dean’s number. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work.
Jo stared at the school building, indecision gripping her. It was too late to warn them.
She made a vain effort to relax, to slow her breathing. Something about this didn’t add up, but she was too keyed up to think straight. She needed to help them. But she couldn’t make herself reach for that door. Air caught in her throat like sand with each breath.
Then she heard a man scream. Jo didn’t know whose voice it was – Sam, Dean or some stranger – but it didn’t matter. Dean had the car keys; that didn’t matter either. She knew how to hotwire a car. Dean could yell at her after she saved his ass. Jo reached under the steering wheel and pulled the wires loose from the ignition. With shaking fingers, she stripped the wires with her knife then struck the frayed ends together until the engine fired. Then she twisted them together, keeping the engine running. She took a deep breath, muttered a quick prayer and floored the gas, accelerating the Impala toward the school.
Dean was pissed. He was pissed at himself for believing this crap about destiny. He was pissed at Castiel for handing him such a shitty deal. The freaking world was ending and for a delusional moment Dean had actually thought he could do something about it. He’d been right the first time. He wasn’t up to this. He was pissed about that, too.
The classroom door blew inward and hit the inner wall with a huge bang. The noise made Dean turn that way, which meant he was facing away from the windows when they exploded into a hundred thousand shards. He didn’t see it, but he certainly heard it and doubled over by reflex, too late. Pain ripped through his cheek and he felt blood flow. More glass pelted the back of his leather coat and jeans, but none except the first piece cut him.
As Dean straightened, he saw the two demons in the open doorway. For a wild, insane moment he was actually glad to see them. Because this meant he got to fight, and he really, really wanted to kill something right then. A pair of demons would do just fine and a feral grin began to spread across Dean’s face.
He felt something blow past him. The sensation was like a bullet missed him by a hair’s breadth but whatever it was felt bigger than a bullet. He saw Castiel’s eyes go wide with fear. For an instant, it was as if the angel’s body was filled with pure white light; his eyes glowed brightly and light burst from his open mouth. Castiel started to reach toward Dean. Then he was gone and his silver sword once again clattered to the glass-covered floor.
Dean had become accustomed to Castiel’s vanishing act, but he was sure this time it hadn’t been voluntary. He had no time to wonder what happened. He started to reach for the fallen sword, changed his mind and went for Ruby’s knife instead.
Sam yelled, “No!”
Dean’s muscles stopped working. He hadn’t even touched the knife but he was frozen in place. Dean recognised the sensation. The demons had him. His chest felt tight, as if the air around him were too thick to breathe.
Dean saw one of the demons stretch out his hand. Sam moved into his field of vision and the brothers’ eyes met. Then blinding light filled Dean’s vision.
Dean had time to think Thank God that white light thing doesn’t work on Sammy! Then an invisible, white-hot blade slid beneath his skin and he cried out in sudden, shocking agony.
In the first moments of the attack, Sam didn’t know what was happening. The door of the schoolroom they were using flew open. The windows exploded inward. Sam, who was the closest to the window at the time, dived to the floor automatically, throwing his arms up to shield his head and face. The rain of glass hit him and the floor at the same time and he felt several needles slice into his hands.
The sound of shattering and falling glass filled the air, but beneath that was another sound. It was like thunder or an earthquake, but Sam couldn’t feel any tremor. The deep rumble intensified but the glass had stopped falling and Sam fumbled above his head for the nearest desk and used his grip on it to haul himself up.
Sam had time to see the look of shock on Castiel’s face, more emotion than the angel ever expressed, before Castiel vanished in a burst of light.
The long, silver sword crashed to the ground where, an instant before, Castiel stood.
Sam couldn’t see Dean from where he was. He straightened and his eyes swept the room quickly. That was when he saw the demons. Two of them, side by side, one with his hand outstretched, palm outward, in a gesture Sam recognised.
Only then did Sam see his brother. Dean stood facing the demons, his body frozen into an awkward position. Sam couldn’t see his face clearly, but it was obvious Dean couldn’t move. The thunderous rumbling continued.
All this happened in less than three seconds. Sam had time to finish straightening his back, to begin to reach for his holy water and to take the step forward that allowed him to meet Dean’s eyes. He saw blood on Dean’s face.
The room filled with blinding white light.
Dean screamed. Blood bloomed on his clothing. Sam flashed back to the yellow-eyed demon in their father’s body, torturing Dean, drawing blood from him without even touching him. It ended with Dean in a coma and the only reason he survived was their father’s bargain with Azazel.
The terrifying sound of Dean’s agonised scream faded suddenly and Sam found himself…gone.
It was almost like watching the scene through a window or screen. The schoolroom was still full of a blinding white light, but Sam was no longer blinded by it. He could still hear Dean screaming, but the sound was muted and distant, like a TV with the volume turned down low.
He could not see what was hurting Dean, but Sam had never known his brother to scream like that. Something terrible was happening to him. Sam tried to move toward his brother. He was immune to that demonic light weapon; he should be able to use that to help Dean. But it was like moving through treacle; Sam couldn’t reach him.
“How much do you think he can take?” The voice was soft, its tone curious.
Sam turned, looking for the speaker. The voice seemed to come from right at his shoulder, but he saw no one there.
There was an amused chuckle. “You can’t see me yet, Sam.”
“What are you?” Sam demanded.
“I asked you first. Answer my question and I will answer yours.”
Dean was still screaming. His body rose from the ground, slowly, until his feet dangled about half a metre above the glass-covered floor. He hung there, writhing.
“Fuck you!” Sam yelled.
“That’s good, Sam. Hold on to that anger. But you haven’t answered my question.”
“Castiel did more than heal his body when he raised him from Hell,” the voice continued. “He also healed his soul. Well…not completely, but enough. You know what Dean became down there. Castiel gave him just enough healing to let him come back as himself. But it’s still in him, Sam. Ready to come out. Or to be forced out.”
Sam heard he words and on some level he understood them, but he didn’t care. He was focussed on Dean, on what was happening to him now, not on the past. Dean was being tortured!
“Whoever you are, help him!” Sam begged. “Please, stop this!”
Abruptly, the scene froze, cutting off the sound of Dean’s scream. No…that wasn’t right. Sam had the peculiar feeling that it was he who had frozen, as if he were trapped in a single moment of time. What was happening to Dean was still happening; Sam just couldn’t hear it any longer.
Sam had said, stop this, but this wasn’t what he meant.
“How much, Sam?” the voice persisted doggedly. “How much pain before he breaks? How much will it take before he becomes something you’ll have to hunt?”
“What are you? What do you want?” Sam cried, frustrated by the persistent questions.
“How much, Sam. How much pain can he take?”
Thirty years, Sam thought, but he didn’t say it. “I don’t know!” he said aloud.
“Much less than thirty years, I’m sure. Thirty minutes, perhaps.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because Dean belongs in Hell.”
“No!” Sam protested. That was over. Dean was saved. He would never have to go to Hell again.
“He sold his soul, Sam. Castiel freed him, but he didn’t break the contract. I designed Hell for humans like him.”
Sam caught his breath. Lucifer. The voice was Lucifer.
“God created Hell. Not you.” The words were out before Sam could stop himself.
Lucifer laughed. “Is that what you think?”
“God created everything,” Sam asserted. Like Dean, he didn’t have a very high opinion of God just lately, but he still believed.
“In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth,” Lucifer agreed. “But he didn’t build New York, did he? So yes, in a sense, he did create Hell. But I’m the one who built it.”
It seemed a fair distinction, but Sam couldn’t have cared less. He knew what Lucifer wanted now. If Dean was truly destined to kill the Devil, then the Devil wanted him dead. Why he was talking to Sam was a mystery. There was no deal to be made here. Nothing could be so valuable to Lucifer as Dean’s death.
The thought twisted a knife in Sam’s insides and stopped the breath in his throat. He couldn’t watch Dean die again. There had to be something he could do.
Sam reached inside for the powers Ruby taught him to use. He had no real hope it would work. He had no demon blood and his powers never worked very well without it. He wasn’t even sure this oddly frozen space was in the room with Dean. But he had to try. Sam was prepared to give every ounce of power he possessed. He would save Dean!
Desperately, he reached out toward the demons. Pain slashed through his skull but he felt the dark power rise within him, responding to his need. His power took hold of the demon…and nothing happened. Sweat beaded on his forehead. He tasted blood.
Sam cried out with the pain, but he didn’t drop his concentration. He reached for every last drop of his unholy power. His head was going to explode. Blood poured from his nose and his outstretched hand shook badly. He was going to give himself a stroke, but it would be worth it. For Dean.
Suddenly, Sam was free. Dean was still screaming in pain and now Sam could see blood on the floor beneath Dean’s floating, writhing body. Sam had no idea how he’d done it, but he couldn’t waste the opportunity.
He charged across the classroom to the demon torturing Dean. Surprise was his only hope. There were two demons, but only one of them mattered in that moment. He launched himself at the demon, arms outstretched. His hands closed around its throat and the momentum of his dive carried them both to the floor. He began to chant the exorcism. Behind him, Dean’s screaming stopped as his body crashed to the ground.
Sam’s triumph didn’t last. He had barely begun the exorcism when he felt the other demon’s power grip him. In desperation he reached for his holy water, but he didn’t make it before he was flung across the room.
“What must happen in the world will take place with or without you,” Lucifer’s voice echoed in his head. “You can’t save the world. There is no hope. But you can save Dean.”
“No!” Sam cried the denial, horror filling him as he began to get an inkling what Lucifer wanted from him.
“A simple trade, Sam. You know it’s the only way.”
The voice was gentle now, almost caressing. A lover’s voice. “It’s always been you, Sam. Long before you were born, it was you.”
Dean hit the glass-covered ground hard enough to crack two of his ribs. He didn’t notice the pain. The impact of his fall forced the air from his lungs, cutting off his screaming. He rolled onto his side, dragging air in through his raw throat as if he’d been underwater. Slowly, sensations other than pain came back to him. Blood soaking through his clothing. A lot of it. Cold. The taste of sulphur in the air. But mostly, there was just pain. For a time, it might have been seconds, or much longer, Dean couldn’t move.
“Sammy?” Dean groaned when he had air enough to speak.
Glass crunched beneath a boot near Dean’s head. He opened his eyes and found one of the demons standing over him.
The next instant, pain engulfed him again. This time, Dean was ready for it. He would not cry out. His breath whistled through gritted teeth and a strangled groan did escape him, but he did not scream.
Sam’s voice, raw and desperate. “Dean, no! Stop it!”
Dean tried to say, I’m okay, Sam, but he couldn’t form the words. He felt like his insides were being ripped out a piece at a time. But even through the pain, the next words he heard chilled him to the bone.
“Anything, just stop it!” Sam begged.
“And you’ll let Dean go,” Sam said, his voice frighteningly calm. “Forever.” There was a dreadful silence, and then Sam said, “Alright. Yes.”
Instantly, Dean was free. He lay back, panting. He still hurt, but it was the pain of existing wounds, not new torture. He could handle this.
What had Sam done?
Dean struggled to his feet. He saw Castiel’s sword on the ground and picked it up, using the sword like a cane to steady himself. He spat blood onto the floor, unable to straighten fully. He looked for Sam.
The room was so bright, it hurt to look. Why was it so bright? Dean squeezed his eyes to slits, raised his free hand to shield his eyes and tried to see past the sun in the room. Burning pain pierced his eyes. He could just barely make out his brother’s form in the centre of all that light. A new sound filled the room, a kind of high-pitched whine that seemed familiar.
Burning pain in his eyes and Dean doubled over, clinging to the nearest desk, covering his face with one arm. The sound was louder. Almost like a human scream, but not…
Suddenly, he remembered Pamela screaming, light bursting from her eyes before they burned right out of her skull. And Dean knew.
Castiel’s voice echoed in his head. “It’s too late! Dean, run!” The urgency in his voice communicated more than the words and Dean felt adrenaline surge through him.
Then a new sound, totally unexpected. The Impala’s engine revved outside the broken windows.
“Go!” Castiel urged again.
Dean leapt to the window, vaulted over the sill and landed on the grass outside. His car was there, the passenger door open and Jo sat at the wheel. Jo!
Dean dived for the open door. “Go!” he gasped.
“He’s gone. Go! Drive!”
Jo floored the gas and Dean pulled the door closed as the Impala accelerated, carrying them both to safety.
On the other side of the continent, Lenore woke from her daylight sleep, screaming in agony.
Jo hesitated at the foot of the bed. Dean was lying with his back to her, the blanket down around his waist. He wore no t-shirt and she could see the pale bandages around his waist and lower chest. There was a lot of tension in the muscles of his back and shoulders. Dean wasn’t sleeping. He wanted her to think so, which meant he didn’t want her around.
Well, tough. They couldn’t stay in this crummy motel forever. He had to either let her drive or get well enough to drive himself.
She walked around the bed and set the bag and bottle on the nightstand. “I brought you something to eat,” she said, keeping her voice soft.
Dean sighed and rolled onto his back. He cast an irritable glance toward the nightstand, saw what was there and his mouth twitched in a reluctant smile. “You think you know me that well, huh?”
Jo had gone into town – on foot, since he was keeping the Impala’s keys under his pillow – for take-out cheeseburgers and fries, and added a bottle of whiskey for good measure. She knew damn well it wasn’t what Dean should be eating or drinking right now, but she figured eating something was better than eating nothing and this was more likely to persuade him to at least try. She returned his smile with a quick grin of her own.
Dean sat up with some difficulty then reached for the whiskey.
Jo got there first and held it out of his reach. “You eat first. Then you can drink the whole bottle if you want to.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “You ain’t my mom, you know.” But the words were not harshly spoken and he did pop a handful of fries into his mouth.
Jo replaced the bottle then pulled up a chair. “How’s the pain?” she asked tentatively.
Jo had treated his wounds herself and wasn’t sure how well she’d done. She couldn’t fathom how he’d been cut like that. When they reached the motel, Dean’s clothing was intact – bloody, but not cut. Yet beneath the cloth, his skin, across his stomach and thighs, was shredded. None of the cuts had been deep enough to do real damage, but she knew that superficial wounds like that tended to hurt the worst. There were a lot more nerve endings in the skin. Dean allowed her to undress him, but then wouldn’t let her touch the injury. It hurt too much. In the end, Jo had to give him morphine for the pain, but when that kicked in Dean allowed her to clean and bandage the wounds.
Dean unwrapped the cheeseburger. “I’ll survive.”
That wasn’t an answer, but Jo let it go. It wasn’t the physical pain that was keeping him in bed now. It was having left Sam behind. Sam had to be dead; Dean would never have told her to go if he hadn’t been certain. But Jo hadn’t seen a body and that bothered her. He needed time to heal and time to grieve, so she’d given him time. But time was running out; she needed to get them back to Bobby’s and she couldn’t do it without him.
Since he didn’t ask her to leave, she stayed, and when Dean started on the whiskey he shared it with her. They didn’t talk much, but Jo didn’t feel the need. She couldn’t talk about her own experiences. Dean was an exception; somehow, if she was drunk enough or tired enough, she found she could talk to him. Dean would tell her what happened when he was ready. If he was ever ready.
Finally, Dean lay back on the pillows and stared at the ceiling. He was silent for about a minute, then he started to speak.
“I thought I remembered. Hell. I did remember, but…” Dean glanced at Jo. “Did you know? About me?”
“That you sold your soul? I knew. I don’t think there’s any hunter who didn’t hear about it. The rest I could figure out when mom told me you died.”
He nodded. “Castiel pulled me out.”
The angel. Jo had wondered about that, too. She nodded.
“At first, I didn’t remember a damn thing. It was there…I knew I’d been in Hell, that these things happened to me, but it was…just a fact, you know? Like history. I knew it, but I didn’t really remember it.”
Jo understood. “That’s probably a good thing.”
Dean gave her the look that statement probably deserved. “Yeah, you think?”
“Sorry.” She shrugged. Shutting up now.
“It came back in flashes. I’d look in a mirror and see my own eyes or I’d catch a movement or a smell and I’d remember something. Really remember. Just a little at first, then lots more. Halloween was the worst…all those masks… Until I thought I remembered it all.”
Jo’s mind teemed with questions but she held her tongue. If she asked, she was sure he’d clam up.
“Now it’s like I didn’t really remember it at all. Because what’s in my head now is…is more. Everything’s so much harder. I don’t know. Like that demon took me back there.” Dean was frowning as he struggled to find the words to explain.
Jo nodded. “Now we see through a glass, darkly, then face to face,” she quoted.
Dean looked surprised. “Yeah. What’s that, a poem?”
She managed not to laugh. “No, it’s from the Bible. I think I know what you mean, though. I…I have flashbacks, sometimes. It’s more than a memory or a nightmare. It feels real.”
Dean didn’t answer. He stared at the ceiling for a long time. Jo thought he was going to sleep again, but then he turned to her. “Look out for Sammy,” he said.
Jo didn’t understand. “Dean? I can’t – ”
“It’s what Dad always said to me. Look out for Sammy. It was my job, all my life.”
Oh. Jo didn’t dare to speak.
“The day he died, Dad told me I had to save Sam. He said if I couldn’t save him, someday I might have to kill him. How could he know that, Jo? How could he have known, when even the angels didn’t?”
“Maybe he didn’t,” she suggested tentatively. “I mean, he could have meant something else…”
“We need to get back,” Dean said, briskly changing the subject.
Jo lifted the empty bottle of whiskey. “I don’t think either of us can drive right now.”
“Guess not. In a few hours, then.”