Supernatural, all audiences. Post-Devil's Trap (spoilers and speculation)
Many thanks to my betas: Megan, Esorlehcar, and Bone/
The characters and situations portrayed here are not mine, they belong to the WB. This is a fan authored work and no profit is being made. Please do not link to this story without appropriate warnings. Please do not archive this story without my permission.
Technically, Dean doesn't believe in omens. Or signs. Or predictions.
Unless the omens are Sam's, in which case, he's kind of had them shoved in his face and ignoring Sam has a variable rate of success that goes back…oh, a lot of years.
And Creedence Clearwater Revival shouldn't be an omen or a sign because they're a good band, classic. More pump you up and get you ready for going to do what you have to do.
Except he can't actually seem to get a line on what needs to be done at the moment. He's not sure he can actually get a line on what's happened.
He's bleeding. He knows that. It kind of feels like new places, even though his shirt's still soaked and his insides feel like they've been randomly run through a food processor. There's blood on his tongue, clogging up the back of his throat, his nose. His head hurts to the point where he thinks he should probably check it but he's kind of afraid to move it in case it falls off.
Maybe Sam could tell him if it's still attached.
CCR gives way to…oh, no. that's just wrong. What kind of radio station sets their line up to jump from CCR to the emo shit Sam likes? Who the hell is that?
It scares him to realize that he actually recognizes Crowded House. He's obviously been letting Sam have far too much time controlling the music lately. Sure, there's "eclectic" radio stations, but not way out here, and that's not eclectic, that's just wrong and stupid.
"Change the station, Sam…Change it now, or so help me God--"
It's a snap-back echo of what he's said before and the impact on his state of mind is about on par with the fact that they just got nailed by a semi in the middle of fucking nowhere.
The engine's still running, or an engine. He can hear the rumble, feel the vibration through the door frame, through the seat.
He can hear the sound of feet crunching on glass and grass, which seems strange because the music's still playing and that massive engine is still growling, and there's light spilling in through the fractured glass and bouncing off the back of the seat and spreading sharp shadows over the interior of the car--
Which means his eyes are open.
Focusing takes more effort than it should -- blinking kind of sharpens up the center of his sight but the edges are still fuzzy and glaring. There's a creak of metal and Dean's not sure if it means hope or help or what because he can see the back of the seat now, leaning kind of awkwardly to one side which means the seat adjustment is knocked to hell again. It slips sometimes and he's tightened the track bolts and removed the damn seat a dozen times and refitted it but the tracks are worn and the metal is soft and luckily it's never snapped out of place while he's driving.
That same scattered light flickers over something but it's gone too fast for Dean to catch it, but he stares anyway and there…just a fraction of a second, a tiny glint.
But the next one comes quicker, and then another…dripping. A drop of something, from the back of the seat to the floorboards…like oil. The car shouldn't be leaking oil from the seat.
Oh. Not the car…there's oil gathered on the seat next to Sam's head. Just pooling there and then dripping off the vinyl.
The car rocks a little. Someone at the back? Someone trying to get to them? Help? Threat?
When the glass of the window shatters, he figures he's pretty much got his answer. He's shoved and pushed and finally grabbed and a hand reaches in and fumbles for the door. He should fight back, should find…
The door opens and Dean's head drops and he's looking up at a night sky for just a moment before the sky is eclipsed and a pale face leans over -- older guy, CAT hat, trimmed mustache…black eyes…
He reaches up to grab, to stop or cling, slow, whatever he can do…about three seconds too late. His shoulders are gripped and he's hauled out, dragged out and he should be kicking and screaming but he can't. He hits the ground hard and it jars every loose and painful thing in his chest, but the grass is cool on his back and the stars are clear…
It steps around him and all but jerks the driver's side door off its hinges and then the old man with the Caterpillar hat is hauling Sam out and just dropping him on the ground, crawling in and Dean doesn't know what he's looking for because Sam is right there…and his face…He's got blood all over his face, at his nose and his ears and matting his hair, staining his collar and Sam's not moving. Dean's not even sure he's breathing… but he must be alive because there’s blood trickling…no, flowing across his temple to his hair and dripping onto the grass, caught by the light scattered under the car, bright and dark and shiny like oil.
He should check on Sam. On Dad. He should check…
The radio station changes again and this time it's Alabama. Not great, but it'll do…Down on the River, he thinks but there's other noises now. Sirens maybe and it's darker. And he looks over at Sam…
Only Sam's gone. There's just a smudge of red oil where his head had been.
"I towed the Impala back to my place," Bobby says from the door, feeling as out of place and uncomfortable in a hospital as anyone could possibly be. Too many folks, too many strangers, and Dean's familiar face don't make him feel any more comfortable than he supposes his face makes Dean feel.
"Thanks," Dean says. He's quiet, subdued, like Bobby knows Dean usually isn't and it ain't because Dean looks like he came out on the bad side of wrestling with a semi-tractor. All in all, he came out on the good side, because he's still breathing, and talking and the bruises on his face have come up good and proper and Bobby bets the rest of Dean don't look much better under that hospital gown.
John looks better, maybe. He's got some bruising too. But he's had a piece of his skull removed from his brain that the doctors aren't sure will actually do the trick. He hasn't come around at all and as near as Bobby can tell, those machines are the only thing keeping him alive.
He got the call from some friendly sounding little gal at the hospital. "Mr. Singer…I'm calling on behalf of your nephew, Dean Winchester? There's been an accident..."
Bobby had to hand it to Dean. Boy had more wits half-dead then most folks had fully alive and walking around.
Doctor said Dean had lost a lot of blood -- needed a couple, three pints pumped into him, more of it pumped out of him: his lungs, his chest, his stomach. In with the good, out with the bad. They were confused as hell. Figured it was from the accident only, except for some cuts and bruises around his face, they couldn't find anything but massive bruising all over his chest and back, stretched skin like blood blisters. Couldn't find any wound, any cut to explain the loss of that much blood. Pressure, one of the doctors told him. Like Dean had been under so much pressure the blood had just seeped out of his tissues. They didn't know anything that could cause that.
He should be dead, they told Bobby. What happened is a mystery to them. How he survived is a mystery, too.
Doctors don't like mysteries no more than the police do.
They found the semi about three miles down the road, driver dead, poor bastard. Looked like he'd been hurt in the crash and bled out without realizing he'd taken some kind of puncture wound to the throat…
Bobby knows better. The cops don't know what to think.
They haven't found Sam. They've been searching for three days. The cops, the state patrol, they think he got out of the car to go get help and passed out somewhere.
Dean knows better.
"It took him, Bobby. That bastard has Sam."
Bobby doesn't even question how Dean knows it. "Why? Why take him…not kill him or you? They sure as hell tried, son."
It's the Colt, of course. Locked in the trunk again with Sammy's little protection seals keeping the demons out and the Colt safe.
They're back where they started -- only this time it's Sam they want to trade for the Colt, but Dean's pretty sure there's more to it than that.
"You think he's still alive?"
Dean won't look at him.
"He's alive. That son of a bitch wants Sam for something, he said so," Dean said, that first day, when the hospital staff had given them some privacy and Dean gave Bobby the whole story.
"Demons lie, Dean. You know that."
Dean shook his head which looked like it hurt more than it should have for so small a movement. "No. Not about this…not this time."
Bobby had done a lot of fast talking to get Dean to stay put for a couple of days. He needed the care and they were still waiting for John to wake up, and Dean could barely make it to the bathroom on his own. "We don't even know where to start looking. They'll come to us -- to you. You know that."
But they haven't called yet, haven't contacted Dean at all. Dean's got his phone and John's and Sam's; he's had no calls at all.
They spend a good hour with John, Dean talking softly to his father while Bobby puts every protection symbol he knows on John's bed, on the door. He doesn't know how much good it will do and he'd salt the doors and windows if he could get away with it. But they can't take him with them and they can't stay.
Bobby's not usually the "do it" guy. He's the "go to" guy; for information, for supplies, for advice, for facts and figures and theories. But this is different, and not just because it's John and his boys, but because this storm isn't going to let there be any bystanders.
He's got friends dead and hurt and now he's got one missing.
Dean walks like an old man. Even under the shirt and the jacket Bobby brought him, he can see the bruising, all across his neck and collar bone, down to his fingers. But he's not bleeding anymore even if he's a lot paler and there's lines around his mouth and eyes that weren't there just a few days ago.
Bobby's place isn't much but there's room enough for a friend.
They take the tow truck down to get John's truck, which is in better shape than the Impala and Bobby checks it to make sure it's only the tires that need to be replaced.
It's only a couple of hours, but Dean sleeps the whole way back, only waking up when Bobby turns into his own gravel drive.
He pulls the truck up next to what's left of the Impala and doesn’t try to hurry Dean when he just stares at it for a long minute before getting out to take a closer look.
Dean stares at the car for a long time before touching it, running his fingers lightly across the hood, tracing them across the crumpled passenger side.
Bobby's checked the car over, noted what could be fixed and what maybe couldn't be. Mostly it can all be fixed and that's another damn miracle. But she's all steel and guts, pretty much like her owner, and the truck caught her broadside. The whole passenger side will have to replaced, doors, quarter panels. She's got a bent tie-rod, snapped ball joint. The suspensions shot to hell, but she can be fixed -- not easily, but doable.
He wishes now he'd spent a little time cleaning her up. Most of the blood has dried, and a lot of it was on the glass that's already fallen out, but it's there on the front seat against the dark vinyl, flaked and brown and enough of it to make Bobby wish he'd cleaned her up a little bit.
Dean's eyes only linger there for a moment or two, fingers skipping up lightly where there's blood on the metal of the front passenger door while his eyes flicker toward the windshield, where there's a smear muddying the cracked glass, just above the steering wheel.
For a second Dean's eyes meet his and then pull away again. If Sam's hurt bad, if he's like that girl…
Bobby puts his eyes back on the driver's side front quarter panel which doesn't have a ding in it. "It'll take some work but we can get her running again," Bobby says. "Good as new." A little hope, a little good news -- maybe will help ease those lines on Dean's face.
Dean stops at the trunk, lets his fingers barely trace the symbols still there, under the dust.
He glances up at Bobby who digs in his pocket and comes up with the keys.
Dean opens the trunk like it's made of the most fragile glass imaginable.
The gun is there, amid the jumble of other weapons and tools knocked loose during the crash. Dean picks it up, bruise-blackened fingers curving around the handle, his other hand smoothing along the long barrel. "You know about this gun?" he asks.
"I do. I'm the one that told your daddy about it," Bobby says and Dean's head snaps up, eyes narrowed and mouth tight.
He's known Dean Winchester since he was a boy, all wild fair hair and smug grins. Known this boy since his daddy put the first gun in Dean's hand and had him aim and fire at tin cans set on Bobby's fence. Showed him how to take care of 'em too, because John wouldn't let him shoot one until he knew how they fit together, how they worked, and how to keep 'em clean.
He'd watched this boy hold his brother's little hands up over his head when Sammy started walking -- John on one side, Dean on the other and Sammy's laughter scaring crows and cats alike.
Used to be, even rare as he saw them, he could still see the boys he knew. Dean and Sam, shoulder to shoulder, thick as thieves, all through Sammy's coltish years, when he got tall and thin and could still make Dean or Bobby, and sometimes even his father, laugh. Seen Dean, on and off over the years, growing tall and strong, solid and steady like his father, but with more charm and sass than John ever showed.
He looks at Dean now and he can't see that boy.
"You know how it was made…what it took?"
"I know…some of it."
"And the bullets? You know how they were made?"
Bobby doesn't know what Dean's getting at and he shakes his head. "I don't. I don't know what they're made of and I don't know what they are packed with."
Dean nods and palms the cylinder, lets the shiny bullet fall into his palm. He stares at it for a minute before rooting around in the trunk until he finds a little leather box. He drops the bullet into the box and the box into the trunk, then closes it.
"You know anyone who still does gunsmithing, Bobby?"
…they don't need you, not like you need them…
Some lies are harder to dismiss than others.
The only call he gets is the hospital, the doctor to tell him there's been no change in John's condition and Dean doesn't know what to think about that. Everything's on hold now. He's got a half-assed plan, but it will only work if the bastard calls him, because Dean does not have the faintest idea where to start looking even if he had a car to do it with. They could be a few miles away or on the moon; it's all the same.
The room Bobby's given him is the same one he and Sam shared years ago. Two twin beds and an old steamer trunk used as both dresser and table. Mostly the trunk's filled with books and artifacts Bobby's collected over the years. Right now the key of Solomon is open on top of it, left behind in the car because either the demon missed it or because there's nothing in it that can be used against him.
The fact that there've been no calls makes him feel sick inside. He won't let Bobby say it again and he keeps pushing the thought back as heard as he can. If Sam's….even if Sam is…
Demons lie. He'd lie about that too, because he wants the Colt, because it has real power. Because it could stop him, destroy him, just like his father wanted.
Bobby's been buried in the books when he isn't working, because they know more about this damn thing than they did before and while the Colt is one sure way, every demon has its weakness and even this one had to have one before Samuel Colt ever made this gun, before guns were invented even, and if they can find that maybe the gun won't be as important.
Bobby's not much of one for mirrors and Dean's just as glad because he doesn't need to see his body to know how much damage still remains. He can feel it every time he breathes, when he lies down, like everything inside is bruised, shifted around. He's got fractured ribs that nothing but time can do anything about. He's had a headache since he woke up and sometimes his vision isn't as clear as it used to be. He can still taste blood and even Bobby's whiskey won't get rid of the taste in the back of his throat.
He'd work on the car while he waits but he's got a grip like a child and his fingers go numb for no reason at all that he can figure out.
It's five days before his phone rings and he feels kind of sick all over again, when all it is is a text message.
That's it. No time, no deadline, no instructions. No reassurances. No return number.
It's less than twenty miles away, and Bobby pulls out maps. There's nothing there. No town, no nothing, just undeveloped land along a little-used state road.
Bobby changes the tires on John's truck while Dean tries to figure out what, if any, weapons to take. Holy water's useless, maybe salt too, although John was already inside the cabin when Sam laid down the salt. He packs his gun anyway, the 9mm; it doesn't make him feel safer but it feels familiar at his back. His knives too. It's all as much ritual as preparedness.
"Truck's ready, fueled up," Bobby tells him. "I loaded up a big first aid kit…just in case. Couple of jugs of holy water."
"Didn't affect it."
Bobby's gaze drops. "Sam might need it," he says. "You sure you don't want me to come with you?"
Dean wants someone at his back more than he ever has, and Bobby may not be family, but he's close enough and yet…this isn't Bobby's deal. This isn't what Bobby does and besides…"No. just…Keep an eye on Dad, for me…you know if…"
"You're coming back, Dean. With your brother. You said it yourself. If it wanted you dead, you'd be dead."
Dean nods but he's not so sure. Luck or intent, it's hard to say. He really does think Sam's alive. He has to be. The demon has plans for Sam, which isn't exactly reassuring but they can worry about that later.
"Take off your shirt," Bobby says and Dean looks at him in surprise. He's got a jar of something liquid and dark and a paint brush.
"You think it will help?" Dean asks as he eases his shirt off.
"Same kind of protections Sam used on your car. Might not stop everything but it might slow it down, and it cain't hurt," Bobby says easily.
The brush tickles on his skin and Dean swears he can feel a tingle there along his shoulders and again on his chest. Might just be the cool air on the liquid. The black lines are almost lost in the bruising on his skin, and they smell kind of bitter and sweet and metallic, a scent Dean equates with medicine. Bobby paints smaller symbols on the backs of his hands and his palms.
It dries quickly and Dean gets dressed.
When he picks up the Colt he can definitely feel an electric shock sizzle along his palms but it isn't enough to make him let go.
"I'll give it twenty-four hours, then I'm coming to look for you," Bobby says as Dean throws his gear into the truck.
He shakes his head. "If I'm not back in twenty-four hours, don't come looking. Find someone to make a gun that will fire that bullet. Dad will want it when he wakes up."
There's not much on the road he takes. A few farms, spread far apart, some abandoned, some looking like they should be. His Dad, of course, has a GPS tracker in his truck which makes things a little easier.
He doesn't feel up to driving. He doesn't feel up to doing this at all and not five miles from Bobby's place his hands are sweating and his vision has blurred out along the edges. His head is killing him.
Ten miles out and he has to pull over, he's shaking so bad.
Dean can honestly say, to himself, he's been scared more than once in this life. He's felt it over and over, but it's only threatened to overwhelm him a dozen times and only has overwhelmed him three times that he can remember.
The first was the night his mother died. It's the clearest memory he has of that night, of being so utterly terrified he couldn't speak, couldn't do anything but hold onto his Dad and to Sammy and hope they would make it all better. The second time was the night he pulled Sam out of his burning apartment and saw Jessica pinned to the ceiling. The two were connected not only in his mind but in every nerve and muscle in his body. Even facing his own death, with his heart faltering and feeling his life slipping away with every breath, even facing the Reaper, hadn't made him feel that terrified.
This feels worse.
He's been in pain before. He's had broken bones, bruises, blood loss, burns, and been shot by his own brother. His father said this demon was an evil son of a bitch and Dean thought that maybe he'd understated the case. This thing…it was powerful and not stupid and for all the evil Dean has seen, faced off and faced down, nothing has scared him so much as having it stare at him from his father's face and twist his insides up and around until he bled from his pores. It hadn't even touched him and yet it had reached inside and squeezed his insides until he thought his bones would shatter and his organs explode. He's never felt pain like that. The idea of facing it again makes him want to puke.
It makes him want to run, to quit the whole thing, find someplace where he can hide.
He doesn't want to admit he'd been wrong to stop Sam. That his father had been right to want this thing destroyed. But he wishes now Sam had fired the damn gun. As much as he loves Sam for listening to him -- and he knows that's where the line got drawn -- if Sam had…if he'd been able to...
If Sam had, Dean wouldn't have to face this thing again.
He's not sure he can. But he's damn sure he can't leave Sam to face it alone. Not after all this…
…after all this…
But Sam hadn't pulled the trigger and after all this, how ironic is it that Sam would be the one paying for it…and Dean kept accusing Sam of being selfish.
Even if this damn demon hadn't taken him, Sam knows he is marked. They all know it. Sam, who wanted it to be over.
It never will be. Not for him, not for Sam -- Dean could walk away from the hunt tomorrow. He's always had that option. Sam never can no matter how he'd tried. If this thing really wants him, then eventually, someday, it would come hunting Sam.
Sam has no choices.
And neither does Dean. Not in this.
He sees the cutoff as the GPS winds down toward the coordinates. It's a dirt track but he can see the structures: a farm, the house looks to have burned sometime in the past, the fields have gone to seed. One half of the barn has collapsed in on itself but the other half is still standing. As Dean pulls up, a flock of crows wing skyward, screaming at him. Way more than seven.
There are no other cars that he can see and the grass leading up to the barn is high and untouched, no sign of anyone walking through it recently. The house is only a shell, blind windows looking into a hollow center. It's a wonder it hasn't collapsed as well. No tracks there either, but he checks it anyway and sees nothing through the windows. The fire gutted the place. A blackened staircase leads up to a second floor that doesn't exist any longer, like the fire burned the interior and left the frame intact.
And how likely is that?
Stepping around to the side, Dean sees a rusting and scorched crib in the yard, weeds growing up and through it. The shiver that runs through him has nothing to do with the cold.
This tragedy is old…Dean would bet about twenty-odd years old. He wonders if anyone survived at all.
Part of the barn roof is gone. It doesn't look like the fire touched there -- this is age and time and neglect, a few winter storms, the wood worn down past the paint. Light scatters weak spotlights on the interior and the wood creaks when a wind comes up.
One half of the double-doored entrance has come off its hinges, sagging down, dug into the dirt. The other half is open. He gives his eyes a few seconds to adjust but even before they do so fully he sees Sam.
Some of the aching, heavy feeling in his chest eases, but he has to fight not to just run forward because the first thing he notices is that Sam doesn't look up when he comes in. He's on his knees and his hands are tied behind his back, head down, wearing only his jeans; no shirt, no shoes. He can see dried blood on Sam's skin, matting his hair, staining his jeans.
And then he sees the ring around Sam. He thinks it's salt at first but it's not. It's too fine, grayish -- ashes. Dean doesn't even want to think about what from.
"Sam…Sammy," he says it softly because he still hasn't seen anyone.
Sam's head jerks up and Dean's breath hisses in his throat. Both of Sam's eyes are swollen shut. There's caked blood on his face, around his eyes, his mouth and nose, all along his hairline, down his throat, and his left shoulder …it's wrong, it's swollen and distorted -- dislocated probably.
Sam's voice sounds wrong too, it's raspy and low and broken and like he's speaking from a great distance, not just a few feet away.
Dean's palms tingle and his back and chest itch. He scans the interior carefully, quickly, coming closer, edging around the circle. The itch in his palms intensifies.
"Yeah, it's me…Sam. Where is it? Where's the demon?"
"Close enough to spit on you."
He's not as fast as he should be, but he knew that. It's more instinct than anything to turn and face, to reach for his gun. He doesn't pull it, though.
He doesn’t recognize the face, only the eyes, and it takes everything he has not to flinch. But his chest hurts and he swears he can feel something wet trickling down his side.
This thing can do it again, can make him bleed and hurt and swear and beg and this time Dad won't be there to fight it back. For a second he can't breathe, can't see, can't even think -- a white wash of fear tinged with the blood-red edge of terror makes his muscles tremble. The urge to run is like a whisper in his ear. Run! Forget Sam, forget everything…run. You can't fight this, you can't beat this…you can't win…you can only lose…run!
Except it's between him and the door and there's no place to go.
He keeps waiting for the pain to hit, only it doesn't and all the demon does is smile at him. "Yes, I could…but I don't need to. I got what I wanted. You brought the Colt?"
Dean takes a breath; slow, measured, then reaches under his jacket to pull out the gun. His hands are shaking and the itch on his palms has becomes more of a low burn. His fingers brush his side and his shirt is damp, but his kuckles are wet with sweat, not blood.
"Smarter than your father," the demon says. "Put it down. Right where you are."
Dean lays the gun down and steps back but the demon doesn’t move, only watches him, waits until Dean moves back some more until he's behind Sam. "Very good. Now, you stay, right there."
Sam's bent over again, his forehead almost touching his knees. He hasn't said another word, but Dean can see him shaking.
The demon has a canister -- metal, like a coffee tin -- and he upends it carefully. More ash drifts out, settles, making a circle around the Colt. He's saying something, but Dean doesn't understand it, and the sound of it makes his insides twist a little. The symbols Bobby painted on his skin are distracting the way they make themselves known.
Not salt, but something like it for a similar reason. Dean reaches toward Sam cautiously.
"You don't want to do that," the demon says casually, finishing his circle. "And you don't want to break it. Not if you want your brother back in one piece."
He sets the canister down, and spreads his hands wide, the glint of sunlight across his hands makes them look like something else for a moment; elongated claws, wet and bloody, but then they look like hands again.
The circle he's laid shimmers and seems to boil, mercury and blood, almost alive. Dean swears he can hear the circle scream and then it fades and the Colt with it.
It's a portal of some kind. A doorway, etched in the ashes, powered by wherever or whatever this demon draws its power from. Maybe hell, maybe something else, and Dean stares at the circle surrounding Sam.
"Let him go," he says, but his voice breaks.
"Or what?" the demon asks him. The face is human enough, the eyes -- not so much, but even as Dean stares, it's like the features are just barely holding together, they shift and twist slightly. If someone asked him, Dean wouldn't be able to describe that face to save his life. "You'll follow me to hell, so help you God?" It chuckles, laughing at him. "Don't you think if God, any God, could stop me, it would have done so by now? You're messing with the natural order of things, boy. You and people like you…you're more annoyance than threat."
"Yeah, which is why a gun gives you nightmares," Dean says, and he can't say he's surprised when he's shoved backward, pinned to one of the thick timber supports holding up the barn. It creaks ominously and he hears boards fall down from somewhere, clattering and shattering as they fall.
And he hears Sam make a sound between a sob and a scream as the circle around him flares brightly. He doesn’t know what that means and can't even start to think about it before the demon is right in front of him.
If he wasn't pinned to the beam he'd be on his knees trying to crawl away. Red tinges his vision as the demon's eyes brighten. The symbols painted on his skin burn and itch.
The pain doesn't come. The demon stares at him for a long moment before backing off a step. "Much smarter than your father. My compliments to your friend Bobby, but…"
The hand that thrusts out and closes over Dean's throat is cold. It's also strong. Fingers like steel tighten until he can't breathe. He tries to pull the arm away but the demon squeezes tighter and leans in close. "There's a lot of ways to die, Dean. Some more painful than others, but in the end you are still dead. You should remember that."
His vision starts to darken around the edges and he thinks he hears Sam call out his name.
Then he can breathe and he is on his hands and knees, gasping for breath, tasting blood again…
The demon crouches in front of him. "I've still got plans for your brother. And now I have plans for you too. You won't know when or how and probably not even why…but we'll meet again. Count on it. And if you see him before I do, give my regards to your father."
The demon rises up and smiles and then dissolves, a trail of grey-black ash lingering in the air before it drops, disappearing into the dirt floor.
And Sam screams.
There's a flare so bright Dean has to cover his eyes but when he can see, Sam is where he was before, still bound and sobbing so hard he can hardly get a breath. The circle around him has vanished.
Dean can't quite get to his feet but he half scrabbles, half crawls, hesitating only briefly before reaching out to grip Sam's arm. Sam makes a whimpering sound and flinches, but there's no shock and the tingling on Dean's hands and his chest and back subsides.
"It's me, Sam. I've got you," Dean says low and soft and gets a better hold on him, shifting around so he can look at Sam's face. The right eye is barely slit open, but it's obviously enough because Sam leans forward, into him.
"I thought you were…I thought you were--"
"I'm not dead. Neither is Dad," Dean says. The details of the latter can wait and he pulls Sam a little closer, fumbling for his knife to cut Sam's hands free.
Sam's got little control of his arms and he buries another cry of pain into Dean's shoulder when the left flops forward.
For a minute Dean isn't even sure he can get Sam to his feet, and only his reassurance that he's going to get the truck and bring it closer makes Sam move, clutching at him with his good hand .
If Sam were any more scared he'd be insane by now.
It's awkward and it takes two tries to get Sam on his feet, his right arm over Dean's shoulder because Sam still can't see worth a damn.
There's not much Dean can do for him. He wipes away as much of the blood from Sam's face as he can, enough that he can open his eyes a little more. They're blood-shot and bruised and a little glassy. Shock and relief and fear all present and accounted for. Sam needs a hospital, but Dean's got an Ace wrap to keep Sam's left arm close to his body so it won't move even while Sam's half lying down, kind of twisted onto the front seat of the cab with Dean's jacket under his head.
The only time Dean isn't touching him is when he has to shift and when he calls Bobby.
It's been five days.
Dean isn't sure he wants to know what's happened to Sam during that time, so he doesn't ask.
He's only a couple of miles from the hospital when his phone rings -- there's no number shown.
"All those things I said about you being smarter than your father? You aren't."
Fear tightens Dean's throat and makes him shake. He pulls over before he wrecks the truck. "The bullet's no good without the gun."
"And the gun's no good without the bullet. Did you think I wouldn't notice?"
Dean takes a deep breath and his fingers tighten in Sam's bloody hair enough to make Sam whimper. "It took you long enough."
The demon chuckles "True. I can find Sam, Dean. I can find your father. I can find you. You've all got my mark on you now. But you did save me from being shot by your brother. That's a favor I won't forget soon. I always pay my debts. I'll save you for last."
The phone goes dead in his hand.
He has to sit for a moment, until Sam stirs, tries to push up. "Dean?"
Dean glances down at him, at the hazel eyes he can barely see, at Sam's swollen, still bloody face. "We're almost there," he says and moves the truck back onto the highway.
Bobby waits with Dean for news, brings them both coffee and Dean sips his, then stares at the floor until it goes cold. Bobby'd watched him when he arrived at the emergency room -- it took one of the nurses to gently pry his hands off Sam.
The story he gave the cops didn't satisfy them, but they don't know what else to say -- only called off the search. Sam had called him from some twenty miles away, disoriented, confused. He doesn't remember how he got that far out. He must've walked.
Bobby doesn't know if any of that's true and it doesn't matter, he supposes.
Sam needs surgery to reset his shoulder, he's got a nasty head wound, concussion, dehydrated and feverish -- he's not saying much but what he does say the staff write off as delirium. "You Winchesters, you're a tough bunch," the doctor says, and Dean's eyes flicker up then, a small smile twitching his lip -- the first Bobby's seen.
"Yes, sir," Dean says. "I guess we are."
Dean spends a few minutes with John, talking quietly, but all Bobby can make out is,"I got Sam back, Dad. We've got him back." Like Dean, Bobby hopes John can hear him. Like Dean, Bobby's not sure it really matters.
It's hours before they get Sam into a room and Dean looks like he's ready to drop, but he gets on his feet again when the doctor comes back. "He's stable. He's going to be wearing a sling for awhile. We've got him on fluids and antibiotics."
"He'll be okay?"
"Barring complications," the doctor nods, then fingers Sam's file. "Mr. Winchester…was your brother involved in anything…unusual before your accident?"
"What do you mean?" Dean asks, tension wiping the weariness from his body and his face.
"We found…not all his injuries correspond to what we'd expect from the crash." Much like yours, is what the doctor doesn't say, Bobby's pretty sure of it.
"He, uh, got in the losing end of fight earlier that day," Dean says cautiously. "His face…"
The doctor nods. "That's… that explains some of it, but…" he opens the file and pulls out a couple of polaroids. "Do you know how he got this, or when or…?"
Bobby recognizes the symbol he thinks, and his stomach drops about the same time Dean's face pales under his bruises.
"I don't. What… where…?"
"It's burned into his skin, on his right hip. Like you brand cattle. It's several days old."
Dean swallows and hands the pictures back to the doctor. "He didn't have that before the accident," he says. "Can I see him?"
They did a fair job of cleaning Sam up, but it's not much of an improvement. The fluids are making his face even puffier, distorting his features almost past recognition. His shoulder is wrapped and his arm strapped across his chest to keep him from moving it and his skin's only a couple of shades darker than the sheets he's resting on. He's got two IVs running and a catheter, and he doesn't even move when Dean comes in, comes closer.
Dean catches Sam's good hand, but it stays lax in his and Sam doesn’t move. He glances at the door, then Bobby, and Bobby closes it quietly while Dean rolls back the sheets and the edge of Sam's hospital gown, then the bandage, exposing bruised and reddened skin.
It's about half again the size of a half dollar, and even red and swollen like it is, it's easy to make out most of the details.
"You know it?" Dean asks him quietly.
"It's familiar, but I'll have to check," Bobby says and pulls out a little notebook, sketching in the details he can make out. He might have to look again when it's healed up some. He hurries, then watches Dean gently smooth the bandage back down when he's done. His hands flex and fist for a second while he studies Sam.
"You want to come back to the house? Get some rest?" Bobby offers.
He's not surprised when Dean shakes his head. "No. I don't want him to wake up alone. He doesn't…we didn’t talk much on the way back," Dean says. He opens his palms again and rubs a thumb over the symbol there, faded and smeared now from sweat. "These…they helped. A lot, I think. You know somebody who can make them permanent?"
Dean's still not meeting his eyes and Bobby doesn't like it. Dean Winchester, like his daddy, has never been one not to look a man straight in the eye, especially when he's asking a favor. "I might. You want to tell me what happened out there?"
Dean sighs, smoothes the blankets over Sam. "We got our asses handed to us, Bobby. Again. Dad may have been right -- that the only chance we had was that gun. It's just toying with us now. Waiting."
"I don't know," Dean says, but his gaze rests on Sam.
It's three days before Sam is released and Bobby doesn't see much of either of them except for an hour here or there. John's still in a coma, but Bobby's got friends in strange places and John's a vet. The trucker's insurance will cover what the boys owe and maybe some extra -- they're likely going to need it. There's a VA hospital and extended care facility in Lincoln.
When he hears the truck coming up the drive he's got food waiting, but neither of them are very hungry. Some of the swelling has gone down on Sam's face, but he's limping and his arm's still in a sling. Dean's bruises are settling into greens and yellows and purples.
In all the years Bobby's known John Winchester, the man has always been intense and driven. His sons look more haunted and hounded, and he's seen that too before…mostly from guys he knew come back from the war.
They're going to have to stay in one place long enough to get John settled. They both know it, are resigned to it, but it makes them twitchy. Sam jumps at everything and more than once Bobby finds him staring off into space, like he's not entirely here. Dean calls him back softly, treating Sam like he's more broken than Dean is.
Bobby's not sure that's true, but after a few days, Sam seems a little more himself.
It's been a week when he finds them out in his back field, loading up guns and practicing like they did when they were younger.
A week after that and they are loading the truck, thanking Bobby for everything which makes him feel kinda bad because he's not sure he's done anything worth being thanked for. He's given them a list of names and contacts, there's a whole box of books and he's still hunting for what that symbol that critter left on Sam means.
"You boys need to, you come on back here. You got friends. Not just your Daddy, you two, too," Bobby reminds them. "This thing ain't going to miss nobody. We're gonna have to pull together."
Dean's smile is closer to what Bobby remembers and Sam's too.
"You give me a month and I'll have your girl up and running again," Bobby promises.
"We'll be back," Dean says. "You take care of yourself, Bobby. Be extra careful."
He watches the truck's taillights disappear down his driveway in the early shadows of dusk and scratches at his jaw. He can't shake the feeling he's never going to see those boys again.
It stays with him over the next few weeks, most strongly when he's working on Dean's car. He's got a friend that helped him machine some parts he couldn't find, another feller matches the paint for him. He spends the night of the full moon etching symbols into the metal of her frame, resecures the trunk, sets packets of charms and herbs in the door panels based on a note that got mailed to him from somebody in Kansas.
He talks to the boys about once a week, Dean usually. Sam's voice still sounds like somebody poured sand into his throat. He sends them to a tattoo artist he knows a little toward Omaha. Hopes that will actually help. John's no longer on a ventilator but he still hasn't woken up -- but there's a little more hope in Dean's voice when he calls with the news.
The Impala is ready to be reclaimed, and the boys will be by tomorrow to pick her up and for the first time since they left, Bobby thinks it might be okay. It'll be good to see them. He's found someone he thinks can maybe remake that gun, at least someone who understands what that kind of job will take.
He's got him a new dog, this one named Cheney. Not much more than a pup, but he only really ever wanted a dog for company. There's a book came just today and Bobby settles in with a cup of strong coffee and a bottle of whiskey and starts thumbing through it while the radio wails on about cheating husbands and wives and miles of lonely road.
Halfway through the book, he thinks he's found it. There's no picture, but he pulls his sketch close by and the picture they took of the mark on Sam's hip before they left. He does his best to draw out the written description of it and feels a chill sweep through him.
Too close not to be the same thing. That devil's staked a claim on Sam for everything like him to see, charm and curse both.
But every spell has a counter spell and Bobby smiles to himself as he sketches that one out too. Beat the devil at his own game.
The radio stutters and whines and the lights flicker. Outside, Bobby can hear the wind rising and Cheney is barking his fool head off.
He thinks the protections on his own house will hold, but he's not sure and the book and the notes go into a metal box and are shoved under a loose floorboard in front of the wood stove.
When his door slams open and the windows shatter, he guesses it's not enough.
"Helluva storm, that’s for damn sure," Bobby says to himself and waits beneath the seal of the Devil's Trap. He doesn't think it will work, but he's been wrong before.
Just not often.
The volunteer fire department is still there when Dean pulls the truck up the drive. Dean echoes Sam's soft "Oh, God," silently. There's nothing left of the house at all except some smoldering timbers and the blackened hulk of the cast iron stove, what's left of the old chimney. Cheney whimpers and cries when they get out and Sam squats down to pet him.
The Impala sits off to the side, dusted with ash but otherwise untouched. Bobby's tow truck is scorched and blackened on one side from the fire.
The fire chief thinks something went wrong with the stove while Bobby was sleeping. Took the whole house. He was probably overcome by smoke. Probably never knew what killed him.
Dean doesn’t believe that for a second.
He has to pull the registration on the Impala to get them to let him take her, gives them his name and address, lets them know Bobby had no family left. They'll take care of the dog.
Cheney laps up water from Sam's hands from the back of John's pick up. "We'll come back in a day or so, see if there's anything he left behind for us," Dean says quietly.
Sam nods, drops his head. "We should…we need to warn everyone. Everyone who's left."
Dean doesn't disagree.
"Maybe I should…"
Dean pushes Sam against the side of the truck, hand fisted in his shirt. It's been said or nearly said a dozen times since he got Sam back. He doesn't want Sam to say it again, to offer it again. The fresh tattoos on his back and chest, on his hands, tingle and burn slightly and not because they are still healing. He had to wait for the bruising to subside more before Allia would even do them. And Sam's were harder, his skin is still red and inflamed no matter how much Neosporin and aloe Dean rubs into the marks.
Sam goes silent, but his eyes are wet. He keeps the words unspoken and still Dean goes to bed every night and wakes up in the dark to check on him, scared Sam will find a way to just end it. If I'm gone…if I'm de--, and there Dean stops him.
He stops him now because it's all the same thing. It's not going to end until they find a way to stop this thing. It won't be over because Sam's dead or because Dad might as well be. Fear of this thing gnaws at him like cancer. Memories of pain haunt him like the ghosts of the dead and the living never have. Both are burned into his bones.
The only thing Dean is more afraid of than that is that Sam will once more ask Dean to let him go.
And Dean will say yes.