Six: God Has Left the Building
On the border Texas shared with Mexico, the men of an unofficial border-guard were found dead. Though no cause of death was established, the discovery was the first in a wave of violence that swept the southern part of the state like wildfire. Retaliation followed accusation and communities split along ethnic lines. Within a week, the violence escalated to such a point that the National Guard was called in. An order for martial law soon followed, but in a state where the most respectable citizens clung to their right to bear arms such an order could only incite further violence.
News from the Lone Star State was hard to come by after that.
In neighbouring Arkansas, public defender Mara Daniels followed the news from Texas with increasing alarm. Her brother – her only family – lived in in San Antonio. She called, suggesting a vacation, but she had left it too late. Travelling was already too dangerous. When the phone lines went down, Mara took a leave of absence and, telling no one her plans, packed up her car and tried to reach her brother that way.
She never got past Dallas.
Bobby Singer returned from Oklahoma with bad news and worse. He had stayed much longer than he planned in order to investigate an odd pestilence that was attacking crops throughout the state. Between that and the tornado, Oklahoma was having a bad month. Bobby was convinced the destruction of the crops wasn’t natural. He had driven through the state, stopped and examined some of the fields. It was, he reported later, as if the entire state had become unholy ground.
But even he was at a loss to explain what kind of creature could have accomplished such desecration so quickly.
Their encounter with the shape-shifters seemed to change things for all of them. When they reached Bobby’s home, they found Ellen alone there: Bobby had still not returned. At Jo’s suggestion, they set about re-arranging things anyway.
First, the sleeping arrangements. Sam and Dean moved into the trailer and helped Ellen move her things into the room Dean had made his own. The trailer was cramped, but they were both accustomed to sleeping in the Impala occasionally, and the trailer was far more comfortable than that. Jo wanted to sleep in the panic room, and since Sam didn’t need it any more, everyone agreed.
By day, the panic room became research-central. Sam and Jo got down to some serious work, cataloguing all the signs and omens Bobby had collected while Sam was ill and searching out new ones. They covered the walls of the panic room with their findings.
The four of them made a good team, as it turned out. Sam, trained by his father, had John’s gift for finding connections and links that most people, even many hunters, would miss. Jo, having learned from Ash, was very good at finding information: tracking down a person or a creature from the smallest of clues. Dean and Ellen sorted through everything Sam and Jo found, figuring out what was responsible for each incident: demons, angels, other creatures. Whenever they found something within a few hours drive, they went hunting, sometimes Sam and Dean went alone, sometimes one of them with Jo, occasionally all three of them. But they all avoided any hunt they thought would lead them to demons.
It was Ellen who identified the mysterious pattern of the Seattle flu outbreak. According to the CDC records, it was the same virus everywhere, but in most places the precautions and vaccines managed to contain it, keeping fatalities to a minimum. Yet in other places it became a devastating plague, with fatalities as high as 90% of those infected. Ellen plotted these on the map on the panic room wall and the pattern was obvious at once. The most dangerous strain of the Seattle flu was travelling in a clear, unbroken line across the continental US.
“Some kind of demon?” Sam guessed.
“I don’t think so,” Ellen disagreed. “I think this time we’re looking at something bigger.” She threw him a Bible. “Revelation chapter six.”
Sam flipped through the pages until he found the passage. “The Four Horsemen. Of course, this would be Pestilence.” He looked at another part of the display, suddenly. “And what’s going on in Texas is War. Shit, we should have seen this coming. How do we stop them? Are they demons?”
Ellen shook her head. “This is way out of my league. There is something to be found in all these books, but you need Bobby. Or maybe you can make sense of it.”
“I’ve already read most of them. You’re right. Bobby is the expert.”
“He should be back soon, Sam.” Ellen began stacking the books she had been using, closing the subject.
They both heard Dean’s footsteps on the stairs, fast and hurried. Sam turned toward the door as Dean appeared, out of breath. “Sammy!”
“Hey, Dean. Ellen was just telling me – ”
“Cas called,” Dean interrupted.
Sam stared. “He called? On the phone? He usually just…” Sam gestured vaguely.
“On the phone. He wants to meet us in Florida. Miami, if you can believe it.”
Sam scoffed. “Dude, there’s no way that was really Cas.” Castiel could simply appear in the middle of the room. He had a habit of doing so at the most inconvenient times. Cas wouldn’t phone. And he wouldn’t ask them to go to him. It didn’t make sense. Or it made just one kind of sense: trap.
“It was him,” Dean insisted. “I don’t get it, either, but I’m sure.”
Sam couldn’t argue the point in front of Ellen. She knew that an angel had pulled Dean out of Hell, but they had kept the rest of Castiel’s involvement to themselves. So he shrugged; he would argue with Dean later, when they were alone.
“So, we’re going to Florida?”
“Jo was with me when I got the call.” Dean looked at Ellen. “She wants to come with us.”
“She wants to go to the beach,” Sam said with a smile. Jo had claimed that as her “prize” for the hunt they aborted in the wood. According to her, since she and Sam found Dean, that was a win by the rules. Dean pointed out that he had given them directions but Jo wouldn’t budge. Now this phone call had given her an excuse to claim the prize again. But if this was a trap, they shouldn’t drag Jo into it.
“It’s good that Jo is willing to have fun again,” Ellen said, “but I don’t like this.”
“I’m not sure I do, either,” Sam agreed. “You know, if this really is Cas, we’ll be back in the fight. Jo’s doing well and she can hunt, but – ”
“Yeah. She shouldn’t be hunting with us. Not on this.”
In the end, though, they did let Jo join them. It was under Ellen’s rules: Jo could have her day on the beach, but it was strictly for fun. No hunting and no matter what happened, she was returning to Bobby’s place afterward. Dean offered to put her on a plane if it turned out Cas had something urgent, but Ellen insisted they drive her home. If this was urgent, she pointed out, this Castiel could have come to them.
The next day, they were in Florida.
“Three dogs with everything,” Dean said to the vendor. The smell of frying onions and cheap meat surrounded him, making his mouth water. “Make that four. Extra onions,” he added and dug into his pocket for his billfold. He handed over the money, took the hot dogs and stepped away from the stand. He spent a few moments figuring out how to juggle three of them so he could eat the fourth on his way back to the others.
He took a huge bite, torn between hunger and savouring the taste. After weeks of Ellen’s cooking he really needed junk food. Lots and lots of junk food. But halfway through his second bite, Dean saw something that made him forget about food entirely.
Castiel stood on the other side of the street, watching him.
Dean’s immediate thought was overwhelming relief. Castiel was alive! He had been gone for so long and the last time Dean saw him Castiel was about to take on an archangel. When he didn’t contact them again, Dean had been sure Castiel must be dead. Or at least…gone.
On the heels of relief came anger. Where had Castiel been all this time? Would it have killed him to pick up a phone sooner? And why drag them all the way out here for a meeting? Next came a familiar dread of what the angel might want from him this time, and then a different, colder anger. Dean held on to that last and made his way through the crowd to Castiel.
“Hello, Dean.” It was the same calm voice; the same boring trenchcoat, the same wind-mussed hair and intense eyes.
“What do you want, Cas?” The words came out more harshly than Dean intended. He actually saw Castiel flinch.
“I thought it best not to contact you at your friend’s home.” Castiel gestured to the stairs behind him: they led down into an underground storage cellar. “They are watching me, Dean. Had I contacted you there, they would have found you.”
“Bring ’em on!”
“You don’t mean that.” Castiel headed down the steps, which left Dean with very little choice.
Dean followed him into the cellar. “Maybe I do. You knew, Cas. You self-righteous sons of bitches knew what was coming. If you’d told me – told us – that Lilith was the last seal, Lucifer would still be locked up! And you didn’t just not tell me. You kept me from Sam.”
“I had – ”
“You know what? Fuck your orders! Fuck the lot of you! Angels, demons. From where I’m standing, there’s not much to choose between you.”
Dean’s words got through; he saw real shock on Castiel’s face. The angel opened his mouth to speak and closed it again. “Dean…” he began weakly.
Dean wasn’t done. He advanced on Castiel, pressing his advantage. “I trusted you. I took a vow because I trusted you. And you didn’t just betray me, Cas. You screwed everyone. The whole damn world. Do you know what’s happening out there now?”
“More than you do, perhaps,” Castiel agreed.
“And for what? For God? Do you know what your friend Zach said to me? God has left the building.”
“I’m aware of Zachariah’s views.”
“I am not on your team, Castiel. I will never take another order from you or the rest of you freaks. You want to toss me back in the Pit for that, be my guest. I’m done.”
Castiel looked genuinely frightened. “You have to stop Lucifer, Dean. You’re the only one who can and you swore a vow – ”
Dean laughed. He set the hot dogs down on a nearby box and turned to face Castiel. “Yeah, while my brother was dying I had a lot of time to think about that.”
“Sam is alive – ”
“No thanks to you. You made me swear a vow to obey God. Not you. Anna – remember her? – she told me there’s only four angels who have even seen God. I’m betting you ain’t one of ’em.” Castiel had also made him swear to obey God as he had his own father. That was a get-out clause right there: Dean had always obeyed his father…right up to the point where his orders got Sammy hurt. Since Sam almost died because the angels screwed them over, Dean figured his vow was worth nothing. But he didn’t tell Castiel that. Not yet.
Castiel nodded and closed his eyes briefly. It was as good as a confirmation. “I have faith…” he began.
“Faith’s pretty useless when your boss straight up told me he’s not working for God any more,” Dean pointed out relentlessly.
“Faith is all I have, Dean,” Castiel said softly. He turned away, his head bowed in resignation. “But I understand your decision.”
“I don’t think you do.”
Castiel turned back, hope blazing in his eyes. “Then explain it to me. I’m listening. Please.”
Dean couldn’t remember Cas ever saying please before. There were things he wanted to say, a hundred questions he needed to ask. But first he had to be sure he could trust Castiel. So he threw down the challenge.
“I’m off your team, Cas. That’s final. But…you can still be on mine. You, not the rest of those smug bastards.”
Those intense blue eyes widened as Castiel comprehended Dean’s meaning. “You’re asking me to serve you.”
“Something like that.” Serve wasn’t the word Dean would use. But he wanted Castiel’s loyalty. He needed to hear him say it. Castiel did try to get him to Sam on time. He risked going up against an archangel. He had proven himself on their side. But it wasn’t enough. Dean was beginning to appreciate his Dad’s paranoia. “Are you in?” he pressed.
Castiel met his eyes. “I am,” he said simply.
“Even if it means going up against the other angels.”
Castiel nodded. “Even if. But I will not disobey God.”
That was reasonable, but Dean couldn’t relax yet. “Then I need one more thing from you.”
He expected objections, arguments, but Castiel simply answered, “Name it.”
Would he do it? Only one way to find out. Dean said, “I need to hear it from Jimmy.”
Castiel took a step back. “You’re treating me like a demon.”
Dean shook his head. “If I was, you’d be dead. If you join this fight, Cas, you could die. If you die, Jimmy won’t survive it. We both know that. So I need to know he’s willing to take the risk. Take it or leave it, Cas.”
Castiel bowed his head. “As you command.” He became very still then, abruptly, he staggered. Automatically, Dean caught his arm to steady him. Castiel looked up. The eyes that met Dean’s were the same intense blue, but the difference between Castiel’s face and that of his vessel was unmistakeable.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Jimmy said. He laid a hand over Dean’s, an odd gesture.
Dean drew back. “Yeah, I did. I can’t get you back to your family, Jimmy, but if you want out, I’ll make it happen.”
Jimmy was silent for a long moment. Finally, he closed his eyes. “If Castiel needs a new vessel, he’ll go straight for my daughter.”
Dean set his jaw stubbornly. “No, he won’t. Because if he does, I’ll kill him.”
“You can’t kill an angel,” Jimmy pointed out.
“Lucifer is an angel. They keep telling me I’m destined to kill him. One more angel screws me, and Lucifer will be last on my list.”
Jimmy stared at him, then smiled. “I think I believe you.”
“You should. So, will you answer my question?”
Jimmy’s face fell. “Dean, it’s too late for me to want out.” He sounded lost. “I want out, believe me, I do, but if I can’t be with my family then the only thing I have left is what I can do to keep them safe. This is what I can do.”
Dean knew what it was like to be boxed in, to have no good choices. “Alright,” he agreed.
Jimmy studied him, his expression oddly serious. “Listen, Dean. Go easy on Castiel.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Not kidding. I know he pissed you off, but there’s something you should know. Castiel doesn’t understand why you feel angry and betrayed. He knows what he did, but he doesn’t feel those emotions. He can’t.”
Dean shrugged, past caring.
“But he can love, Dean. He loves you. So go easy on him.”
Dean and Castiel walked back to join the others. Sam and Jo were sitting on a blanket on the sand, sharing a super-size cup of soda. Dean watched them from a distance, assessing them both. Sam was looking much better. He still had a way to go to get back the muscle he lost during his long illness, but the weeks of training and hunting had paid off. Sam looked healthy and tanned, the awful hollows under his eyes gone. He bore a few new scars as evidence of the self-inflicted injuries, but nothing worse than that.
Jo, by contrast, seemed unwell. In the bright Florida sunlight the gauntness of her face was even more evident than usual, her skin burned pink in spite of her heavy sunscreen. The thin top she was wearing seemed too big for her. Jo was terribly thin and her short haircut accentuated the effect.
Castiel blocked Dean’s way with his arm, just as Dean drew breath to call out to them.
“Dean. Who is the girl?” He pulled Dean back out of sight of Sam and Jo.
“Jo Harvelle. She’s an old friend. A hunter.” Dean looked at Castiel. The angel was always hard to read, but he seemed troubled, his blue eyes riveted on Jo.
“She is…” Castiel began, and stopped. He hesitated long enough that Dean thought he wouldn’t continue, but then he added, “…scarred.” It sounded as if he wanted to say something different.
Dean frowned. “Aren’t we all? She’s been through a lot, Cas, but she’s a good kid.” He started toward them again.
Castiel grabbed his arm. “You do not understand. The girl is tainted. She has been touched by a demon.”
Probably a great deal more than touched, Dean thought, remembering the little Jo confessed to him that first night at Bobby’s house. He shook his head in denial. “She was held prisoner, Cas. She went through Hell. The kind of Hell you don’t just put behind you and trust me, I know. But she’s dealing.” He shook off Castiel’s hand. “Leave it alone, Cas. Jo’s okay.” He strode forward without waiting for the angel to respond.
Sam looked up. “About time. I was beginning to think you… Cas!” He stood, passing the soda cup to Jo.
Castiel moved forward. “It’s good to see you alive, Sam.”
Sam grinned. “Yeah. You too. Where have you been?”
“Elsewhere.” Castiel answered and Dean had to stifle a laugh at the non-responsive answer.
“Doesn’t matter,” Dean said. “He’s back now. But Cas says he’s being watched so we can’t be together very long.”
Sam’s smile vanished. “We’re ready to get back into the fight, I think. Is there a safe place we can meet?”
“Ilchester,” Castiel answered.
Sam swallowed. “Back there? Really?”
“Lucifer’s escape left the area…contaminated. They won’t be able to find us there.”
“What, you mean like radiation?” Dean asked.
“Of a sort,” Castiel agreed.
“But it’s safe, right?” Dean pressed.
Castiel’s eyes turned to him. “Nowhere is safe, Dean. Not even Heaven.”
“Right.” Stupid question. Stupid, stupid question. “Uh…Ilchester, then. Five days.” It would take them that long to take Jo home, square things with Bobby and Ellen, and figure out how to get into what was still a quarantined area since everyone believed a dirty bomb had gone off there.
Castiel nodded. “Five days.” And he was gone.
Jo stared. “Who the hell…?”
Dean grinned at her. “That was Castiel,” he answered.
The rest of their day out was spent trying hard to have fun, but Castiel’s reappearance, while it was good news, had put a dampener on the day for all of them. Castiel had reminded the brothers what awaited them, making it harder to forget their worries and enjoy themselves. Jo kept asking questions about Cas. She’d heard his name before, because he’d been mentioned in their discussions at Bobby’s, but she didn’t know what he was. Though Dean didn’t give much credence to Castiel’s vague warning about Jo, the warning was enough to make him wary of giving her too much information. He’d been happy to have her along while they were training, but Jo wasn’t coming on the road with them. She didn’t need to know about Cas…especially as Dean wasn’t wholly certain Cas could be trusted.
It was early evening, not yet dark, when they decided to head back. They planned to stay in a motel overnight and get an early start back to South Dakota in the morning.
Stonehenge began to play on the radio as Dean drove and he turned the volume up with a grin. Sam, for once, didn’t tell him to turn it down. He half-turned to look at Jo, who sat in the back seat, singing along, a little off-key. Then Dean joined in. He didn’t exactly feel like singing, but pretending to have fun was better than being miserable.
Stonehenge! Where the demons dwell
Where the banshees live and they do live well
Stonehenge! Where a man’s a man…
It was a good anthem for three hunters.
The truck came out of nowhere. Dean barely had time to hit the brakes. He winced at the screech of her tyres and wrenched the wheel around as she spun out of control. Jo was screaming. The Impala was off the road, bucking and bumping over uneven ground. Come on, baby. Don’t do this to me. Dean saw the fence ahead and struggled for control of the car, cursing that goddamn truck and wishing Jo would shut the fuck up. Sam was thrown against his shoulder and he stamped down on the brake again as the wheel finally obeyed him and they came to a shuddering stop.
For a moment, Dean simply clung onto the wheel, breathing hard, his heart pounding. “Is everyone alright?” he asked.
Sam picked himself up. “Yeah, I’m – ” he began, then grabbed for the holy water under the dash. “Dean! Incoming!”
Dean saw them. Three demons coming toward them from the truck that, he now realised, had deliberately forced them off the road. He reached for the door as Sam did the same, then he remembered Jo.
“Jo? You good?”
She was white as a sheet, clearly shaken by the near-crash. “Uh. Yeah,” she answered.
Unconvinced, Dean said, “There’s holy water in the bag by your feet. If you can’t fight, stay down.” It was all he had time for: Sam was already out of the car. Dean pulled Ruby’s demon-killing knife from his sleeve as he hurried to join his brother.
Sam squeezed the bottle, spraying holy water in a wide arc as he headed for the demons. As the one nearest to him reacted, he closed in with a roundhouse punch that sent the demon flying backward. Dean had no time to see any more. He went for the second demon, aiming straight for her heart with the knife. The blow forced the breath from her lungs and she doubled over his arm. Dean twisted the knife, felt the crackle of her black soul burning out as the knife did its work, and yanked it free. Blood gushed over his hand. He spun around, looking for the others.
Sam had wrestled the male demon to the ground and was mid-exorcism. He didn’t need Dean’s help.
Where was the third demon? Dean was sure he’d seen three. Dean looked around himself, saw no one. Had it fled? Was Jo alright?
When he thought of Jo, he looked toward the car and saw movement there. Dean ran. Silently apologising to his beloved car, he vaulted over the hood, knife ready in his hand. Jo was on the ground, the demon holding her down. He was saying something. Dean caught the word bitch before he thrust the knife through the demon’s neck, severing the spine and killing the demon within.
Jo gasped as the body collapsed on top of her. She struggled to push it off. Dean helped, then offered Jo his hand. He saw her bottle of holy water on the ground beside her, the water soaking uselessly into the mud.
Once Jo was on her feet he looked for Sam. Sam was on his knees beside the body of the demon he’d exorcised, but he seemed to be unharmed. Dean glanced back to Jo, making sure she was unharmed, then walked to Sam’s side.
“Dude. You okay?”
Sam answered without looking up. “I’m good.” He shook his head, then started to get up. He turned toward Dean, seemed about to speak, but then stopped, his eyes widening.
“Sam? What’s wrong?” Dean asked, but then he noticed where Sam was looking, and he knew. The knife in his hand, red with blood. Demon blood. Demon blood saturated Dean’s shirt sleeve, too, and was drying, sticky on his hand.
Dean fought an urge to back away from the hunger in Sam’s eyes. “Sam! Snap out of it!”
He could see the awful battle Sam was fighting, his struggle to look away. Dean remembered the weeks of Sam screaming in the panic room and knew he couldn’t go through it again. He just couldn’t bear it. “Sam,” he warned. He kept his eyes on his brother. “Jo! I need a towel. Now!” He didn’t dare turn around to see if she’d obey him. He honestly didn’t know what Sam would do. This wasn’t the brother he loved. What he saw in Sam’s eyes was a feral, unreasoning hunger. They were the eyes of something he should hunt.
If it were anyone but Sammy…
He heard Jo’s approach. She handed him the requested towel without saying a word and Dean, still watching Sam warily, used it to clean the blood off the knife. Then his own hand. He stripped off his bloody shirt and wrapped it in the towel. It didn’t get rid of the blood, of course, but at least it was no longer visible.
Sam watched every single movement Dean made with an unsettling intensity. It was a predator’s look and Dean felt like prey. He shoved the bundle of cloth at Jo and walked slowly toward Sam, his arms spread wide, but ready to go for a weapon if Sam made it necessary.
“Sammy,” he said carefully. “Are you in there?” Reaching out as if to touch Sam’s arm, he stopped short of actually touching.
At last, Sam blinked and then nodded. “I…uh…I’m okay.”
Once more with feeling? Dean gripped Sam’s arm and shook him roughly. “You’re a few miles from okay, dude. Are you gonna hold it together?”
Sam swallowed hard. “I think…yeah. I’ll be okay.” He frowned. “We’d better hit the road. There could be more where they came from.”
He was right. Dean nodded, relieved that Sam was thinking clearly again. “Let’s go.”
Of course, as soon as they were back in the Impala, Jo started asking questions. Dean cut her off, telling her to save it while he was driving. The car seemed intact, but she’d been jolted around rather too much for Dean’s comfort. He could hear the familiar engine struggling as he tried to manoeuvre them back onto the road. Jo and Sam maintained a respectful silence while Dean drove. As the car reached the incline that would lead them back onto the road, Dean was afraid they’d have to get out and push, but he should have trusted his baby. She gave a lurch under his hands and then he felt traction. He whooped in triumph and steered her back onto the asphalt. He checked the rearview, but saw no sign of any other vehicles. That was good, considering they were leaving three very dead bodies behind them.
He turned the music up loud and floored the gas.
Above the field, vultures were already circling.
The motel room was a “family” suite: a king-sized bed and two queens in an adjoining room. The demon attack had them all spooked and Sam laid down protections beyond the usual salt lines: he rolled back the carpets and drew a devil’s trap in front of the door and under each window, including the bathroom window which only a child could fit through. He also pulled more weapons than usual from the trunk, giving several to Jo to place around the room where she would sleep. Just in case.
The demons had found them once. Possibly those three were just looking for fun and hadn’t known who they were ambushing, but Sam thought that unlikely. Knowing what he now knew about his place in Azazel’s grand plan, Sam was pretty sure there wasn’t a demon in existence that wouldn’t recognise the Impala, or Sam himself.
Which meant, Sam decided, that more demons would be coming for them. Except…how did they find them in the first place? The hex bags Sam and Dean both carried were supposed to hide them from demons and angels alike. Jo didn’t have that level of protection, though. Was it possible the demons found them through her? Or was it possible the attack had been aimed at Jo herself? Sam didn’t really know what had happened to Jo, but he guessed from the little that had been said that she pissed off some pretty powerful demon and paid the price. Maybe this one wasn’t about the Winchesters. But even if it wasn’t, their swift dispatch of those three on the road was a bit like erecting a neon sign: Winchesters woz here. Not their smartest moment.
Nor Sam’s finest hour. He had been fine in the middle of the fight. His lifetime of training kept him steady: he hadn’t tried to reach for the powers he no longer had (or did he? He hadn’t tested them) but rather went straight for the exorcism. And it worked. It left him feeling drained, almost like his early attempts to exorcise the demons with his mind, but he’d done it.
It was only when Dean came near him, when he saw the blood dripping from Ruby’s knife and the blood on Dean’s hands…Sam simply lost it. He lost himself. All he could think of was the blood. He saw himself lunge for Dean, lick the blood from his skin and the vision was so vivid Sam almost believed it was real, and the Sam standing still was the imaginary one. His need for the blood was that powerful. It took everything he had to hold himself still, to not lunge, to not drink. He couldn’t speak. He could barely understand Dean’s words until the blood was gone. And even then, he could still taste it on his tongue, as if he really had done what he imagined.
How could Sam hunt demons, how could he possibly fight Lucifer, if he could be incapacitated by the sight of a drop of blood?
Obviously, he could not. But neither could he let Dean carry on this fight alone.
While Sam was finishing the last devil’s trap in Jo’s bedroom, he heard her voice in the other room.
“Can I see the dagger you used?” Jo asked Dean.
Sam rolled the carpet back down over the devil’s trap. That was it: the rooms were as safe as he could make them. He headed back into the next room.
Jo was examining the symbols etched on the blade of Ruby’s knife. “This really kills demons? I mean, permanently?”
Dean nodded. “You saw it. You have to do it right: hit the heart or brain.”
“Which means,” Sam interjected, “that you’re killing the human body, too. Demons are hard on the bodies they ride; a lot of people don’t survive an exorcism. But at least that way they have a chance. With the knife, they don’t.”
“With an exorcism, the demon can come back,” Jo pointed out.
Sam nodded. “That’s the trade-off,” he agreed.
“Can’t we make more of these?” Jo asked, a little too eagerly, as she passed the knife back to Dean.
“No.” Dean slid the knife back into his sleeve.
“We tried,” Sam added. “There’s some kind of spell involved that we don’t know. Ruby always said she didn’t know how it was made…”
“And you believed her,” Dean spat.
Sam looked at him. “No, I didn’t. But she stuck to the story and after what happened in Monument I figured her demon-killing spells were best left alone.” The spell Ruby wanted to use in Monument involved ripping the heart out of a virgin’s chest while she still lived. If that was how she’d made the knife, there was no possibility Sam – or any of them – would make another.
Dean looked down, a little chastened. “Can’t argue with you there.”
Jo looked from one to the other. “Who’s Ruby?”
They looked at each other. Sam knew they would have to face this eventually. Living in such close quarters with Ellen and Jo, the only way to keep their secrets was to never discuss anything of significance. He nodded to Dean. Might as well come clean, the gesture said.
Dean nodded back, leaving the talking to Sam.
“Ruby was a demon,” he said to Jo. “She’s dead now.” Briefly, he sketched for her his history with Ruby: that she’d offered him a way to break Dean’s contract and at first he’d intended only to use her, but after Dean died she got him to trust her, much more than he should have. He skipped the part about Ruby getting him addicted to demon blood but did explain about the final seal: Ruby’s plan all along had been to use Sam to break the seal. He’d gone along with her because he wanted Lilith dead, revenge for what she’d done to Dean, never having a clue that Lilith’s death was the final seal that would break Lucifer free of the cage.
“You said you were in Ilchester to stop it!” Jo accused.
“We were!” Sam protested. “We knew Lilith planned to break the seal, we just didn’t know what it was.”
“Think about it, Jo,” Dean added quietly. “Lilith was the most evil bitch who ever existed. She was, literally, queen of Hell. Who would have thought that killing her would turn out to be the wrong thing? We screwed up. We know that. And we’re gonna fix it.” He looked at Sam.
Sam knew this wasn’t the moment to voice his misgivings. “Yes. We’re going to fix it.”
“When you can’t even manage an exorcism without freaking out?” Jo said sceptically.
So, they were there. “It wasn’t the exorcism,” Sam said quietly. “It was the blood.” He said nothing more, but waited for the inevitable demand for an explanation.
It didn’t come. Jo stared at him, wide-eyed for a moment. Then she nodded as if in response to some inner voice, and looked away. “Sorry. I get it.”
Sam doubted that she did, but he was willing enough to drop the subject right there.
They shared a bucket of chicken chased with a great deal of whiskey before Jo announced she was going to bed.
Dean grabbed the last piece of chicken, tossed the empty bucket toward the trash can and lay back on one of the beds. “Can we talk about it now?” he asked.
“Talk?” Sam repeated. “You never want to talk, Dean.”
He frowned. “You can’t pretend it didn’t happen, Sam.”
Sam sighed, knowing Dean was right. He sat down on the other bed, started to reach for the whiskey bottle then thought better of it. “Okay.”
“What the hell happened?”
“I think you know. I saw the blood and…”
“Sam, I know it was the bitch blood. I know you can’t shake it like that.” He snapped his fingers. “But you looked…”
“Like a vampire,” Sam supplied. Dean called him that before. The words, though long-forgiven, still stung.
“Like something not human,” Dean answered. “I don’t know how else to say it, man. And I can’t…you can’t watch my back if something like that is going to…”
“I hear you,” Sam interrupted. “And you’re right. I didn’t know I’d react like that. I mean, I never thought it’d be easy, but when I saw the blood on you I just…” He scrubbed his face with his hands. “I don’t know. It flipped a switch I didn’t even know was there.”
“At least that’s honest.”
“I have to be honest about this, Dean. Lenore got me clean. I knew I’d still have the craving, but I didn’t know it would hit me like that. Now I do know…maybe it’ll be easier next time.”
“And maybe next time you’ll tear the demon’s throat out,” Dean said bluntly.
Sam knew it would take a long time for Dean to trust him again, especially with this. They had slowly been rebuilding the trust between them and he had undone a lot of it with his reaction to the blood. He thought carefully before he answered.
“I won’t do that, Dean. I just won’t. You don’t have to believe me now. Just give me a chance to prove it.”
Dean was silent for a long moment, considering his words as carefully as Sam. “The problem with that, Sammy, is if I give you that chance and you’re blindsided again, it’ll be me with my throat ripped out.”
“You’re right. What do you want from me, Dean? I know how badly I screwed up, okay? More than you know, even. Maybe I can’t fix the worst of it, but I can fix things with you. Just let me try.”
Dean took a deep breath and let it out. “I don’t know, Sam. I just don’t know.”
Perhaps it was that conversation which robbed Sam of sleep that night. Or perhaps he was afraid to dream, knowing he would dream of Ruby and her intoxicating blood.
He lay in bed, acutely aware of every small sound around him. Dean slept in the bed beside him, his breathing slow and steady. Sam knew when his brother’s dreams began; the rhythm of his breath changed and odd sounds came from him, as if he were trying to speak but could not. In the next room, Jo tossed and turned. Her sleep, too, was disturbed by nightmares. At one point she cried out in her sleep, begging someone to stop. Shortly after that, Sam heard her pacing the bedroom. He considered going in there; thinking some company might help her, but she stopped pacing and he assumed she had returned to bed.
Outside the motel room, Sam could hear an occasional car pass by on the road. He heard the buzz of electricity from the neon motel sign. He heard a couple in another room yelling at each other, though they were too far away for him to make out their words. He heard the scratching of some animal around the trash cans and, once, quiet footsteps as someone walked past the room.
The footsteps made Sam tense and he slid the gun from beneath his pillow, waiting. But whoever it was kept walking, apparently uninterested in the three hunters.
Around 5:30am, Sam got up, showered, dressed and headed out to the nearby diner to get breakfast for all of them. Dean was just beginning to stir when he left the room.
If Dean wasn’t too hung over he would want to get on the road right away, so Sam ordered breakfast and coffee to go, plus a small coffee for himself to drink while he waited. He wandered over to a table near the window with his coffee. From here he could see the motel parking lot: the neon sign still flickering annoyingly, the vending machines outside the office, the cars, including the familiar Impala.
There was someone beneath the staircase that led to the upper floor. Sam frowned, trying to get a better look, but the angle was poor. He couldn’t tell if the lurker was male or female, even. But there was definitely someone hiding there. Demons again?
Sam paid for breakfast and left the diner with a large paper bag of food and three coffees on a cardboard tray. He walked quickly, aware of that maybe-a-demon still in the shadow of the stairs. He was prepared for a fight. He reached the motel room, however, without incident. Sam set the food and coffee on the concrete just outside the door, rapped a quick code on the door to let Dean know it was him and moved warily toward the stairs.
It was an open staircase and through the steps Sam could see the figure was huddled on the floor. It could have been a sham, but Sam moved closer anyway. He saw no sign of weapons, and the person didn’t seem to be watching him. He hesitated, glancing around in case this figure were bait in a trap, but he saw nothing. He rounded the stairs and suddenly recognised the battered leather boots.
“Jo?” Sam crouched down, concerned.
She didn’t move at first. Jo sat on the ground with her legs bent, hugging herself as if she were cold. She was fully dressed but her hair looked like she’d just tumbled out of bed. Her face was turned away from Sam, toward the wall.
“Jo!” Sam repeated, more sharply.
She turned her head, then, enough to look at him. “Hey,” she said softly.
“Hey? What the hell are you doing here? Are you okay?”
Jo placed one hand flat against the wall behind her and pushed on it, slowly getting to her feet. She didn’t seem to notice the stairs above her until she banged her head. She ducked, looked up, and rubbed her head where she’d hit it. “I’m okay,” she said. “I just…needed to get out.”
Sam grabbed her arms and pulled her roughly toward him, into the sunlight. Jo didn’t fight him, which together with what he saw in her eyes, confirmed his fear.
“What are you on?” he demanded.
“I don’t – ” she began.
Sam shook her. “Truth, Jo. What did you do?” When she didn’t answer, he pushed up her sleeve to check the inside of her arm. He saw marks of old needle tracks, but nothing fresh. Maybe she hadn’t injected? Then he remembered an old trick his Dad told him about: you could hide the needle marks by injecting between the fingers. Sam lifted Jo’s hand.
She snatched it away, which was as good as a confession. “Cut it out!”
Sam didn’t know what to do. Ellen’s reluctance to discuss what happened to Jo made sense with this piece of the puzzle in place. She knew Jo was an addict. Ellen must have brought Jo to Bobby’s place to keep her away from anyone who could supply her drugs, but she hadn’t wanted them to know Jo had a problem. Which meant Jo had probably been clean for a while. Sam would have to tell Ellen about this, but should he tell the others? They had agreed to no secrets for a reason, but this wasn’t his secret to tell.
It would do no good to talk to Jo while she was high. “Jo, you’d better hold it together, ’cause if Dean figures out what you’re up to I don’t know what he’ll do.”
She looked up at him, and he could see that at least some of his words were getting through to her. “Are you going to tell my mom?” she asked, pouting.
Sam shook his head. “I don’t know yet,” he lied. “Come on. You can sleep it off in the car.” He took her arm firmly and walked her back to the motel room.