Haven, Maine, November 1983
Lucy ran, her sneakers slipping on the muddy ground, her wet hair clinging to her skin. She looked back over her shoulder and saw the wavering light of Hansen’s flashlight behind her. The sight spurred her onward. She ran away from the road, beginning to climb the hill, pushing her way through brambles and bushes. She was ripping her skin to shreds, but she ignored the pain.
She stumbled over a hidden rock and fell headlong. Her outstretched hands sank into cold, slimy mud and she stifled a scream. Rolling onto her side she wiped one hand on her jeans and strained to see what was behind her. She couldn’t see the flashlight following her any more. Maybe Hansen had finally given up the chase.
Unwilling to trust to luck, Lucy went on climbing the hill. She moved more slowly now that her pursuer seemed to be gone, taking care not to fall again. She might be safe for now, but what was she going to do? She couldn’t go back to Haven. She could spend the night out in the open – she had done so before – but it would be a cold night and she was already wet and muddy.
She stopped to rest beside a familiar rock. From here, she could see Haven’s lighthouse clearly. Its rotating beam no longer flashed a warning out to sea: today’s ships with their modern technology no longer needed it, but still Lucy found it a comforting sight. She ran her hand over the rough stone beside her and when her fingers found the grooves of the carving she traced the familiar maze with her fingertips. The pattern was a mandala. Protection. It felt like a sign. Perhaps she could wait out the night here. It was a safe place and in the morning she could make her way back to Haven and…
And what? Wait around for Max Hansen or Driscoll to come after her again? To kill her as they killed the Colorado Kid? Her friends would try to protect her, Lucy knew they would. But Driscoll wouldn’t stop. Eleanor would die. Vince and Dave would die. Garland, too, if he tried to fight Hansen, would die.
But what else could she do? Where else could she go?
Lucy felt dampness soaking through her jeans from the grass beneath her. She stood and pulled off her waterproof parka. She laid it on the ground, partly on the grass and partly against the rock. Then she sat down on it and gazed up at the sky. It was a cloudy night but she saw patches of starlight through the clouds. That was not a good sign. Visible stars meant it would be very cold tonight.
Hot tears stung her eyes. “I messed up,” she said aloud, gazing up at the stars. “I messed up and now people are dead because of me.” She swiped at her eyes, angry with her own, useless tears. “I don’t know what to do!” she cried to the heavens. “Please help me. God, I don’t know what to do!”
The heavens, as always, were silent and cold.
Lucy sighed, folded her arms on the great rock, and rested her head on her arms.
She couldn’t be sure, but perhaps she slept.
At first, she thought she was dreaming. A hand caressed her shoulder, gentle and comforting. She began to raise her head. She almost smiled. Those warm fingers combed through her tangled hair. Adrenaline flooded her and she sprang away from the rock and that touch.
When she turned, Lucy fully expected to see Max Hansen with an axe or a gun. But the man was a complete stranger. The sun was peeking over the horizon in the west, giving Lucy enough light to study the man. He was dressed for hiking: jeans, sensible boots, a waterproof hanging open over a flannel shirt. His hair was quite long – shoulder-length and wavy, nut brown – his skin pale and a little flushed as if from exertion.
He said, “Hello, Lucy.”
At the sound of her name, Lucy tensed. “Do I know you?” She had no memory of this man. She had never seen him before, but there was something about him that felt familiar. Something in his eyes…
“Very well,” he answered, “but you don’t remember me yet.”
“Who are you?” Lucy demanded.
The man moved toward her, reaching out with one hand. Lucy tried to back away, though the gesture didn’t seem threatening. He was too fast for her. His fingertips touched her forehead…
…and she remembered…
She found herself sitting on the wet ground, her legs outstretched before her. She stared up at him and now she saw past the flesh to the core of him. Gabriel! She didn’t understand why she hadn’t known him instantly. How could she possibly have thought him human?
“Are you here to kill me?” Lucy asked calmly. She had no fear of death; it was the inevitable result of the choices she had made. She just hadn’t expected it to come so soon, or like this. She thought of her friends back in Haven and had a moment to regret that they would never know what happened to her.
His eyes met hers, full of compassion. “No, Lucy. I’m not going to kill you. You’re in some trouble here. I came to help.”
No. She knew what she was to Gabriel: at best, nothing; at worst, a traitor. Why would he offer her help? “How can I believe you?” she demanded suspiciously.
“You’re still alive,” he pointed out bluntly.
Oh. That was true. Even so. Then she realised what kind of ‘help’ he might be offering, and she felt a chill that had nothing to do with the damp earth. “How can you help?” she demanded. “I won’t let you hurt them.”
Won’t let. As if she could stop him. He could smite Haven into ashes and rubble with a thought.
He shook his head sadly. “You know me better than that. Come with me, Lucy.” He stretched out his hand.
She looked at the offered hand. His nails were trimmed short and neat, the fingers slightly curved as he stretched it out toward her. It was not a threatening gesture.
“Where?” she asked.
He smiled. “When,” he corrected.
Lucy understood. She reached up and took his hand.
Alastair slid the blade beneath his victim’s skin, separating skin from muscle with practised skill. As he worked, he talked, discussing what he planned to do next and asking his victim’s opinion, although the soul on his rack could not reply. Every now and then he paused to lick the blood from his blade.
The damned soul once known as John Winchester endured it in silence. His silence wasn’t stoicism. If he could have screamed until his throat bled, he would have. But his jaw was crushed and his mouth had been stuffed with his own bloody intestines. He couldn’t scream. He could only endure. There was no escape into unconsciousness or death. He was already dead. This was Hell.
John knew that he had chosen this fate freely, but no longer remembered why he had done such a thing. He knew it was vitally important to deny Alastair what he wanted, but he could no longer fathom what could be important enough for him to endure this over and over.
The knife slide into his elbow joint and Alastair twisted it viciously, ripping the tendons. It forced John to suck in an involuntary breath, burning his lungs from the inside. He cursed silently. This wasn’t even the worst of it. Alastair was just getting started. The knife continued to saw through his flesh.
Alastair lifted John’s severed forearm, making sure John could see it. They knew each other so well now. At first, Alastair took John’s eyes early in the torture, but he knew now that it was so much worse for John if he could see what was being done to him. John watched him toss the severed arm to the waiting jaws of a hellhound. He felt its teeth sink into flesh and crack bone; it made no difference that it wasn’t attached to him. John waited for the next twist of the knife.
That was when it happened.
The shock went through Hell like an earthquake. Even on the rack, absorbed in his own agony, John felt it. The ground cracked. Geysers of flame shot upward from the cracks. The sound was deafening. Alastair stopped mid-cut. Then they came: demons flying past, too many to count. Somehow, the horde carried John with them. Instinct made him fight until he realised he was whole again. To escape Alastair’s knife, even for a moment, was a true gift. He allowed the demonic flight to carry him onward. Wherever they took him, it couldn’t be worse than what he was leaving behind.
The demonic flight carried him upward through the brimstone-filled darkness. Upward? Was this a way out? Could such a thing exist?
With the thought, John felt hope for the first time in a century. He stopped simply allowing the demons to carry him along and joined their flight. If this was a chance to escape, he had to find it! He remembered that there were gates which led out of Hell. He also knew they were all sealed up, tight. But this mass-exodus could mean nothing else. Somewhere, a Hell’s Gate had opened.
The climb wasn’t easy, but John was very motivated. He knew the Gate would not remain open for long. If he couldn’t reach it in time, he’d be back on Alastair’s rack. If it was possible for Alastair to make this even worse for John, he would. But John had nothing to lose by trying.
And there it was! The light ahead was dim, but steady. The demons left John behind, bursting out of the Gate in a torrent of black smoke. John spared a thought for the poor humans who must have opened the Gate: that horde would eat them alive. But he continued to climb, battling his own exhaustion, inching closer and closer to freedom, until – finally – he tumbled out of Hell…
…And found himself in a cemetery in South Wyoming.
John gazed at the objects Gabriel laid in his hand. Two small pieces of metal that meant so much to him. He had assumed they were lost forever, gone with the flesh he left behind with the rest of his former life. He slipped the plain, gold ring onto his finger; it slid over his knuckle and settled into place as if it had never been gone. As if the flesh he wore now was unchanged. John breathed, and absurdly, felt different. More complete, as if some part of him he hadn’t realised was missing returned with the ring. He closed his fist around the dog-tags, then pocketed them.
“Thank you,” John said sincerely.
They were in what looked like an expensive hotel suite: thick pile carpet on the floor, heavy floor-to-ceiling drapes and even a fruit basket on the mahogany table. The couch John was sitting on was soft leather. But every time he closed his eyes he saw shadow, flame and Alastair.
“It’s time,” Gabe said.
John frowned. “Time for what?”
“I need to know if you’re still in this, John.”
For a moment, John was speechless. Of course he was still in the fight. How could he possibly give up now? How could he back off knowing that Dean had made a deal, knowing that Dean was going to Hell…knowing what Dean would face there?
“If you think you’ve done enough, I – ” Gabe went on, his tone unusually reasonable.
John interrupted. “I’m in, damn you!” As long as my boys are alive. He knew he wouldn’t like whatever Gabe was going to propose. But he made a deal with Gabriel years before he sold his soul to Azazel, and the terms of that deal were clear. Gabriel agreed to help John try to kill Azazel. That was Plan A and John failed. Plan B was for John to go to Hell. They both thought that would buy time if John could hold out; they hadn’t expected Azazel to go after Dean so soon. John failed twice over; now he had to accept Gabriel’s plan. Whatever that was.
“This won’t be easy for you.”
John gave him the look that comment deserved. “And you think what? A century in Hell was a walk in the park?”
“Point taken. But this is different. Azazel is dead, and that’s a real victory. But Dean – ”
John interrupted again. “I know he sold his soul. I know the terms of his deal. I know that if we can’t break it – ”
“We can’t break it. That’s what you have to understand here, John. I don’t see the future, not perfectly, but I can see the unfolding destiny here. No one can break Dean’s contract except Dean himself and the terms mean he won’t do it. He’s going to Hell. And there he will break the first seal.”
John shook his head. “No, he won’t. He’s strong enough.”
“You were able to resist because you went down to the Pit knowing what was at stake. Dean will think he has nothing left to lose.”
“Then tell him!”
“At this point, that would only make things worse for Dean. The first seal is going to break, John, it’s only a question of when. Would you have Dean suffer as long as you have?”
John flinched. He smelled sulphur and blood. He felt the blade sliding under his skin.
Gabriel sat beside him, careful to stay far enough away that they did not touch. “Dean has made his deal; if I could change that I would, but it can’t be changed. Is it better for him to die without hope, or to go the way you did? How long would he hold out, John?”
Too long. John couldn’t bear to think of his son suffering even an hour under Alastair’s knife. He knew what Gabriel was saying. The faster Dean broke under the torture, the better for him. But not for the rest of the world…
“You’re talking about the apocalypse,” John said. “You want to let it happen?”
“No, I’m still talking about preventing it. That can still be done, John, and Dean won’t be left in Hell. When the first seal breaks my brothers will finally act and the first thing they’ll do is bring the Righteous Man out of Perdition. But it all depends on Dean and Sam’s choices, now, not yours or mine.”
John could see a trap coming. He knew Gabe well enough for that. But he didn’t know what the trap would be. If Dean and Sam understood the stakes, they would risk Sam’s death to break Dean’s contract. John knew the demons wouldn’t let Sam die: now they knew he was the one they needed to break the final seal, he was too important. More important, perhaps, than Dean was. So it seemed obvious to him: tell the boys the truth, make them believe it, and it would work out.
Yet Gabe insisted that wasn’t possible. There could be valid reasons. If they tried to break Dean’s contract and failed…things could end up even worse for the boys. Maybe Sam could die – a powerful demon would be able to resurrect him when they needed him – and what might happen to Sam’s soul in the meantime John didn’t know. Was that a reason not to try?
It might be. At the very least, John would listen to Gabe’s reasoning; he had learned the hard way that Gabriel was usually, annoyingly right.