Rating:PG-13 for language
Spoilers:Season 5, after 5.16, Darkside of the Moon.
Summary:When Sam is attacked and marked for possession by a 'Hell Bearer,' Dean will stop at nothing to save his brother. Pain and exhaustion he's handled before; however, adding to that the horrific memories of Hell may be too much for this world-weary hunter to bear.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
Warnings: There is mention of torture (from Dean's tour in Hell) in this fic.
Author's Notes: Thanks so much for all of your feedback! I feel a bit like I'm spamming you this week between replies, episode reviews, and chapter updates, but I hope it's all worth it and you're not sick of me. If I haven't replied to your review yet, I promise I will. I have to travel this week, so there will be some airport time when we can 'chat.' *grins*
This chapter was a test for me on multiple levels, for multiple reasons. I truly hope you enjoy!
Wake Up and Fight: Part 1
Wake Up and Fight: Part 2
"Words are, in my not-so-humble
opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both
inflicting injury, and remedying it."
~J.K. Rowling via Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows
Part Three: The Last Four Hours
He was breathing dirt.
It pressed around him, clinging to his skin, stinging his eyes, filling his mouth, preventing him from taking the breath he so desperately wanted—needed—to take but if he did he knew would choke, drowning on earth. He began to thrash, to move, his fingers seeking what his lungs could not find.
Instinctively, he reached up as the dirt gave way, something deep within, tucked in the cells of his body, remembering that he was beneath the earth, buried. His lungs burning with a special fire he'd not known before this moment, his efforts increased, his brain struggling, misfiring, thoughts half-formed, need reduced to one thing: air.
He felt the earth shift, felt his hands breech the prison of dirt and grass and worms and roots. Pushing forward, feeling that he was on the edge of freedom, he struggled upward, elbows cresting, then his right shoulder and suddenly—
The gasp was almost despairingly familiar as he coughed the dust of death from his body, drinking in the sweet, sustaining oxygen. Without opening his eyes, he continued to pull his body from the grave—for he knew now it was a grave…his grave to be exact—reaching, clawing for purchase on the long grass growing up around the make-shift cross marking the body of Dean Winchester.
He'd been there before. He'd felt all of this before.
Lying on his back, he drank up the warmth of the sun, relishing in the natural light, remembering all-too-well the dark of Hell, the shimmer and dance of firelight, the glint of metal. He knew that he would have to rise and walk, find out where he was, where Bobby was, where Sam was. He knew because he'd done it before, and now, because fate was cruel and the universe was bent on twisting him up until there was nothing recognizable left, he was going to have to do it again.
Rolling to his stomach, he pushed himself to his knees, grateful that at least he was free of the wounds he remembered carrying with him into the dark. He body was whole; the biggest need he had right now was for water. But thirst wouldn't kill him quickly.
He knew that for a fact.
Standing, he looked around for the first time, frowning as the woods seemed familiar, but for all the wrong reasons. This wasn't where Sam had buried him. He would never forget that place. Never forget standing for the first time, befuddled and scared and grateful, and turning to see a crude wooden cross, the initials D.W. carved as if by the grip of a child. Seeing the trees laid out around that cross like a bomb had been dropped, leveling the forest in a perfect circular pattern.
If he'd died—and he was sure he had…those demons had meant business—then he was either alive again or this was one twisted up Heaven.
"Damn sure ain't Hell," he croaked, ridiculously happy to hear his own voice.
He started forward, remembering that he should find a road somewhere nearby, through the trees. But as he walked through the scattered beams of sunlight, the stillness of the woods began to weigh on him. It was as if he'd gone deaf—or the woods were so loud it was quiet. He could feel life around him, the wind on his face, the thrum of heartbeats midst the trees.
But he heard nothing.
Continuing on, he kept his eyes out for the road. The last time he'd died, Castiel had told him to look for a path to follow. He'd already been on a road at the time. Stood to reason…since he was pretty sure he was dead…there would be a road this time as well.
He stopped when he saw the cabin.
It was another place he'd never forget. And it wasn't supposed to be here. Not here, where Sam had buried him. They'd left this place behind in Missouri. Dad had been bleeding from a gunshot wound, and he had been bleeding from the inside out, his heart literally wrenched in his chest from the invisible grip of a demon—one that he was destined to kill a year later.
Approaching the cabin cautiously, he peered in through a window, unable to see the interior and reassure himself of what he might find inside. Taking a breath, he made his way to the door. It gave way without resistance and he stepped inside to find that rather than resembling the place his possessed father had tortured him, it was his childhood home in Lawrence.
"Okay, what the hell?" he said out loud, his voice sounding rough to his ears, as if he'd spent the last several hours screaming. He looked around, ready to be let in on the joke. "What is this, Worst Hits of Your Life?"
Nothing answered him. Not one breath of sound.
"Seriously, what's going on?" He demanded, turning in a circle. "Cas? Sam? Anyone out there?"
He crossed the dimly lit, shadowed room to look out through the back window. Behind the cabin, the woods disappeared to reveal the muddy, abandoned lot of Cold Oak. Catching his breath, he realized he could see where the mud was stained dark from Sam's blood. Shooting a glance to his right, he saw a side door off the interior of the Lawrence living room was slightly ajar. With everything in him, he knew that if he approached that door, he'd see his brother laying on a bare mattress, dead, his blood adding to the faded stains.
"Hey!" He shouted, looking up at the empty ceiling. "You guys run out of ideas or something?"
The voice was familiar. And impossible.
And the last time he'd heard it, it had been to tell him how worthless he was, remind him that everyone left him. He felt his breath escape, his chest caving in as he curled forward in an unconscious act of protection. He lowered his eyes, turning slowly to face the center of the room.
And she was there.
Dressed in jeans and a white shirt and not, thankfully, the white gown she'd been sleeping in when she died, his mother stood watching him, her long, blonde hair pushed back away from her face and trailing down her back, her mouth set in a grim line, her blue eyes steady and serious.
Dean looked at her out of the corner of his eyes. "What are you doing here?" He couldn't bring himself to call her Mom.
"We need to talk," she told him, shifting her weight to one leg and crossing her arms over her middle. It was such a natural, easy position he was almost willing to believe she wasn't planted there to further torture him.
"Why?" he challenged. "You got more to tell me about how much of a burden I was? How I got you killed?"
Mary opened her mouth, but he didn't let her speak.
"'Cause I happen to know for a fact that it wasn't me. And it wasn't Sam." He took a step forward, his body strangely light without pain weighing him down. He glared at the figure of his mother, his brows pulled tight over the bridge of his nose, his eyes hot, his mouth a tense line. "I saw what happened. I was there."
"When I saved your father's life, you mean?" Mary challenged, tilting her head and lifting her chin so that she could maintain eye contact as he advanced. "When I made a deal with Azazel, not knowing what it would do to my children? Is that what you saw happen?"
Dean swallowed, his incensed advanced halted by her honesty and ownership. "Uh," he blinked. "Yeah. Yeah, that's pretty much it."
"You're not dead this time, you know." Mary's mouth quirked in a sad impression of a grin.
Dean glanced around him. "Well," he said, exhaling carefully. "If I were, this would be a new way to let me know. I mean, I've been to Hell. And I've been to Heaven—"
"Not really," Mary interrupted.
"Not really?" Dean repeated, looking back at his mother, his resolve that she was a tool to hurt him rapidly fading as she continued to act…well, like the mother he remembered.
"Sweetie," Mary replied, her eyes soft. "Do you really think you'd end up in a Heaven without your family? Without everything you'd sacrificed for?"
Dean frowned. "Sam was there."
Mary nodded, unfolding her arms and tucking her fingers in the back pockets of her jeans. "In a way, yes."
Dean began to circle her. Mary stayed still, dropping her eyes to the floor, waiting him out.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Dean challenged.
Mary waited until he'd come back around to face her and looked him in the eye. "You were played, Dean. Pure and simple. And so was Sam."
"Really," he replied dryly. "So what's this?" He spread his arms wide to take in the darkened, quiet living room of his childhood home. "Heaven got to mess with my memories, now Hell gets a chance? This the universe's version of good cop, bad cop?"
Mary let a small chuckle slip out, then schooled her mouth, quickly. "You're funny. You get that from your dad."
Dean pulled his head back, his eyes on hers. "I'm not saying 'yes.'" He narrowed his eyes at her. "So, you can just go back and tell your boss—"
"This has nothing to do with vessels," Mary broke in. "This is about you, Dean."
"Who are you?"
Sighing, Mary dropped her arms and lifted her chin, her eyes meeting his withoutapology. "I am your mother," she said quietly. "I am every memory, every longing, every thought you ever had of her. I am the same girl you met back in '73, the one the child in you remembers, and the one the man in you misses."
"Then who was that…person in…," he tried to finish, but found his mouth had gone dry, his eyes burning.
"She was your mother, too," she said, sadness shifting across her unlined face to mar her eyes. "Just a twisted version of her."
She stepped forward, close enough to touch, and it was all Dean could do to hold himself still. "I love you, Dean. I don't blame you for what happened to me."
Dean swallowed, wanting to believe.
"I didn't want to die." Mary frowned, her eyebrows pulling together. "I wanted to be there when Sam learned to walk…when you went to Kindergarten…when you had your first fight, your first kiss, your first…everything. But you know better than anyone that we don't always get what we want."
Dean felt tears press against the backs of his eyes, his breath catching on hooks of hesitation in his lungs. "You're…real?"
"I'm as real as your memories, kiddo," she smiled.
Mary dropped her chin and looked up at him through her lashes. "Because. We need to talk," she repeated. "You can't keep this up, Dean."
"Keep…what up?" he stared at her, confused.
"You're skimming by without the tiniest thread of hope," Mary told him. "You're on autopilot. You're barely existing."
"There's stuff happening, right now…," he looked down, turning away to cross over to the window and stare out at the barren landscape of Cold Oak. "You don't want to know about it all."
"I already know," she told him, crossing the room to stand beside him, close enough to touch, but not reaching out. "I know what you've been through. I know what you're facing. And I am here to tell you that you're not going to make it through this fight without a little hope."
Dean looked askance at her, his heart lead-heavy, his will whisper-thin. "I don't know if I want to make it through this fight."
The way she barked his name had him flinching and turning to face her, chagrined. She sounded like…Sam. Her arms were crossed once more, her eyes level and serious.
"I do not want to hear those words from you again, do you hear me?"
"You don't know—"
"I know enough," she interrupted, her voice clipped, her eyes flinty. "I know you've done your job—over and above anything your father and I could have hoped for."
Dean looked at her, daring for a moment to believe her words. Believe she was real. He held his right hand in his left, rubbing his fingers.
"I know you gave yourself up for your brother, Dean. I know what you went through so that he could live."
"This…," he shook his head, feeling the pressure at the base of his throat threaten to choke him once more. "This is so much more than that. It's…it's bigger than us, Mom."
The name slipped out without him thinking, sliding over his lips and into the air between them so naturally, so simply he didn't have time to draw it back. Mary took a quick, shuddering breath, then looked over her shoulder as if for help.
Dean wasn't given time to breathe before a hand slid to her shoulder, as if bracing her, and from the shadow of the cabin windows the rest of John Winchester emerged.
His face was clean-shaven, his brown eyes as peaceful as Dean had never seen them. Dressed in the layered denim-over-cotton style his sons had mirrored, John looked as if he'd just come in from working on the Impala's engine, his wide mouth relaxed, his body close to Mary's in an easy connection that caught at Dean's heart, pressing it against his ribcage.
"Dad?" Dean whispered, shocked, uncertain.
John's smile was soft, care-worn, and happy.
If he wasn't still convinced that Sam's dead body lay on a bed in the room beyond, and if he couldn't still see Cold Oak out through the cabin windows, Dean might have been willing to sink into this moment completely, letting it absorb him and embrace him and keep him from ever having to return to the pain and loneliness that awaited him outside of this room.
"Memories are powerful things," John told him. "Yours, especially."
"You don't forget anything," Mary chimed in with a watery laugh.
Dean wanted to reach out to them, pull them close, but some instinct told him to stay still, as if he knew the minute he touched them this would all be shattered and he'd be breathing dirt once again. He couldn't figure out what to do with his hands, where to rest his eyes. He wanted to turn away, ground himself in a place where it was safe to look, safe to believe, but he couldn't stop staring at them.
"Take a breath, Son," John ordered. "We need to talk."
"That's a popular opinion 'round here," Dean replied, his voice tremulous.
John stepped out from behind Mary, standing next to her. As Dean watched, Mary slipped her hand into John's, their finger's lacing in an instinctual, natural way of two people accustomed to each other's presence, nearness, balance.
"Listen," John said. "Dean." His voice hardened, drawing Dean's eyes from their interlocked hands to his father's face. "You listening?"
"Yessir," Dean answered automatically.
"You will not give in to these bastards."
Dean huffed in spite of himself. "Which bastards do you mean, Dad?" He rubbed his face, surprised to find that his skin was smooth—no wound bisected his forehead. "The demons or the angels?"
"You have to survive the demons in order to resist the angels," Mary pointed out.
Dean half turned from his parents. "Maybe Sam was right, though," he sighed. "Maybe…maybe this is how we stop the Apocalypse. We let the demons win this round and the angels—"
"No, Dean," John broke in. "You will not give in to these bastards."
Dean turned, anger suddenly burning like acid on his heart, wanting to confront his father, to lay into him; for burdening him with an impossible secret and then dying on him before telling him what to do about it; for not being there when he'd been out of choices and Hell had ripped him apart; for leaving them alone to figure out how to handle a royally fucked up destiny—
He didn't realized he was crying until Mary reached out, her cool—very real—hand smoothing the tears from his hot face as her eyes welled in response.
"I don't want to do this anymore." He whispered the confession to her. "I don't want to go back."
"Yes, you do," she countered. "You're a fighter, Dean. You don't give up. You don't give in."
"But," he sniffed, looking down as the tears gathered on his lashes, tripping down his face in unashamed release. "I'm just…I'm tired, Mom. I'm tired of fighting all the time," he raised his eyes, taking them both in, "and always losing."
"Dean…." John started and Dean saw that his lips were trembling, though his eyes were steady.
"Your brother needs you, Dean," Mary whispered, interrupting her husband. "He is lost without you. Empty. You are two halves of a whole."
Dean shook his head. "Can't help but think he'd be better without me—"
"That's where you're wrong," John broke in, his voice picking up energy as if finding a thread of solution in his wife's words. "Your mom and I…we never wanted this for you two. We never planned on this. But this is what we got. This is our family legacy."
"What? You two dead and Sam and I as angel condoms?" Dean sniffed, dragging a hand down his face to banish the last of the tears clinging there.
Mary's mouth curved again and Dean saw John squeeze her hand as if in caution.
"You two are all that stands between humanity and chaos," John said.
"Humanity is chaos, Dad," Dean protested. "Nothing makes sense anymore."
John released Mary's hand and closed the space between them until Dean could feel his father's breath on his face.
"Listen to me," John said, his voice low, his tone compelling Dean's obedience. "If there is one thing I know I taught you, it was to fight. To never stop fighting. And you do that better than any goddamn soldier I've ever known."
Dean swallowed, watching his father, his jaw tight.
"And this is when you have to fight the hardest," John continued. "When you have angels lying to you and God is hiding and all you've got on your side is your brother, this is when you fight the hardest."
John reached up and took Dean's face in his hand, his thumb on one cheek, his fingers on the other. Dean caught his breath. In that moment, staring at his father, he wanted so badly to believe.
"You look them in the eye. You don't flinch, you don't fail. And you fight back because you know, Son. You know you are right. You know you will win. When it's all done, you will win."
"I don't…how do I know that?"
"Because," John said, his eyes filled with more than just this moment. More than just this fight. "I just told you."
When John released his face and smiled, stepping back next to Mary, Dean felt a weight press on his shoulders, heavy and unmoving. Every battle he'd fought, every fight he'd survived, they were wasted if he backed down now. If he gave in. But he felt like the rope in a tug-of-war between opposing sides of the universe…and he was stretching thin.
Dean's eyes darted back and forth between the two of them. "If you're just my memories…and this is just a dream, then—"
"Then you need to wake up, Dean," Mary said gently. "Wake up."
Dean looked at his father. "But—"
"Wake up, Son," John nodded, wrapping an arm around Mary's shoulders. "You end this."
Dean looked out through the cabin window, watching as Cold Oak faded away and Singer Salvage came into view.
"Wake up, Dean," Mary told him, her tone becoming urgent. "Dean!"
He looked back at her only to realize she wasn't standing in front of him anymore. In fact, nothing was. Not the living room, not the cabin, not even the woods. There was nothing there but black and emptiness and a strange sort of weightless peace. For the briefest of moments, he wanted to retreat into this void, hide here forever.
But a push in his mind, like the shove of a hand on his memory, sent him mentally staggering forward and he heard his father's voice speaking in a tone that denied resistance.
"Dean! Wake up. And fight."
Dean opened his eyes.
There was no gradual transition from the peaceful oblivion of a dream state to the cruel flash of awareness. There was just nothing and then everything, the pain driving home the fact that he was, in fact, not dead. He blinked, surprised to realize that the beginnings of dawn had turned the edges of the horizon a pale gray as the sun sluggishly worked to take back its hold from the cloying night.
It took him a moment to draw a breath. The pain in his chest was sharp, like a stab through his side, piercing his lungs and pinning him to the ground. Once he drew one breath, though, he needed another, then another, gasping for air like a drowning man. The air seemed to soothe the pain, easing the ache in his lungs and returning feeling to his tingling extremities.
Rolling from his back to his side, Dean tried to push himself upright only then realizing that it was a wonder he was allowed to be upright. Allowed to breathe, for that matter.
It was quiet. A fact that struck Dean with a bone-deep fear.
He managed to balance his wavering body in a seated position, but blinked dumbly as he felt something wet drip from his face to his dirt-smeared lap. Reaching up with a dirty, shaking hand, he dabbed at his face, feeling a cut across the bridge of his nose, the puffy, tender skin around his left eye, and the now freely-bleeding gash on his forehead. His nose itself was bleeding, but upon further inspection, didn't seem to be broken.
Carefully, he ran his hands down his torso, checking his arms for additional wounds. His bones did not appear broken, though he had accumulated multiple abrasions on his arms, and his T-shirt was ripped across the chest, exposing a wide scrape on his ribcage. He would have removed the ruined garment completely if he wasn't so cold. The wound on his leg had reopened and the make-shift bandage was down around his ankle.
He pulled it off awkwardly, gasping as he struggled to his knees. And then he realized where he was: inside the salt ring. Looking carefully over his shoulder as the world seemed to twist, he saw that the attack had pushed him over the protective line—smearing it, but not breaking it. Swallowing, he waited on his knees until the world righted itself once more. Then he stood, wavering in the gray light of pre-dawn, staring at Bobby's house.
Every light was on. Dean blinked sluggishly; the observation and its ramification slow to marry in his stunned mind. Someone was in that house. Someone was in the house with Sam.
He dismissed the thought the moment it came to him. Bobby wouldn't have left him lying bleeding and unconscious in the salvage yard, no matter how worried he was about Sam. He took a shallow breath. And since the salt ring was still in one piece that meant one thing: witch.
Dean wanted to get inside, check on Sam, but he was hardly prepared to take on a witch that powerful with his bare hands. And he knew that if Sam were still alive, he couldn't count on his wounded brother to help him.
He's alive…he's alive alivealivealive—
He closed his eyes, forcing himself to breathe, to calm his panicked what if thoughts and assess the situation. And then he realized the smell of sulfur still hung, wet and heavy, in the air.
Slowly opening his eyes, he turned in a wavering circle, facing away from the house…and he saw them. The demons had inexplicably pulled back, hovering high above in a twisting, festering mess of dark smoke. They seemed to be…waiting for something. Dean looked over his shoulder at the house.
Like a movie with pivotal moments edited out, memories of the past few hours crashed into Dean, making him stumble.
Sam's blood is not like other humans. It has been changed through contact with demon blood. They will not be able to possess him, but they can still destroy him.
It's easy when you have mind willing to believe.
They won't stop! They won't shut the hell up!
"Oh, you bitch," he spat as the realization broke over him.
The witch was free—somehow she was free and she was using Sam. Using Sam and calling the demons' attention. For what, he could only guess. But there it was.
Dean looked up at the cloud once more. Taking a slow, steady breath, he put one foot out of the salt ring, watching the demons. He half expected them to turn as one and attack. But they didn't move from their high-ground surveillance. The cloud was poised as if ready to pounce, rolling and twisting around itself like a sky-borne den of snakes.
Curling his fingers into tight fists and squaring his shoulders, Dean stepped all the way outside of the ring. Nothing.
he breathed, bouncing his head with the curse. Glancing back at the house he muttered, "Said it before, I'll say it again. I friggin' hate witches."
He needed to get in that house. Now.
"Okay, okay, think, Dean. Can't go in like this," he mumbled to himself, needing the sound of his own voice to balance. "Need some backup."
He needed weapons. Holy Water. Rock salt. Something.
He suddenly yearned for the Impala—and her virtual treasure trove of weaponry—with the pang of a lost lover. Patting his own pockets down, he felt the small dagger he'd slipped into his back pocket; the shotgun he knew he'd brought with him was several feet away, barrel glinting in the wan moonlight. As he made his way toward the weapon, his mind began to catch up to his circumstances.
There had been times before when he'd been fairly beaten up. Times when he'd been broken, bleeding, hurting to the point of fear. But rarely in those times had he ever been alone. His dad, brother, or Bobby had been near, aware, at least, of his pain, even if they hadn't been able to stop it right away. The only time he'd hurt like this, and felt so alone, he'd been on a rack.
You look them in the eye. You don't flinch, you don't fail.
Dean took a shuddering breath, shoving the ache down deep where it couldn't get in his way. His dad was right. He had a job to do. And he was damned if he was letting those bastards win.
He looked down at his watch, wiping blood from his face with the back of his hand and sniffing as his nose throbbed in reaction. If he'd added right, Bobby wouldn't be getting there for a couple more hours. And his phone was in the house somewhere. He glanced over his shoulder. The garage was a good 30 feet from where he stood. But the demons were focused on the house—and Sam.
Could he make it?
"What the hell," he exhaled. "Not doing Sam any good standing here and wondering."
As he lurched in a staggering, almost zig-zagging run to the garage, glancing repeatedly over his shoulder at the threatening cloud, he made a plan. Blanking his mind to the specifics of how, he reasoned that if he had all the components of the ritual in place—including his own blood—then all he'd need to do is get the witch out beyond the salt line, summon one of those vultures and light her up.
He'd made sacrifices for Sam before. He'd killed to save Sam before. He'd done this before...before Hell turned him sideways. Before he saw lines to be crossed where before there was nothing.
He reached the garage and sagged against the doorframe, gasping. His breath was hitching along his side, stabbing him with angry fingers. Pressing the flat of his hand against his ribs, he made his way inside the building, flicking on the overhead light and looking around. He knew Bobby weighed down the trunk of his rear-wheel drive cars on the slick mid-west roads with bags of salt, and his vigilance was rewarded: to the right of the doorway, he saw a yellow bag of rock salt.
Dean pulled out the dagger and quickly sliced open a bag, dumping it across the doorway and grabbing a few handfuls to line the solitary window—just in case that witch wasn't as captivating as she thought. Barrier in place, he turned to face the room. A humorless grin spread wide across his face as he took in Bobby's oddly organized workbench.
"Jackpot," he declared.
On the lowest shelf, Bobby had started several Molotov cocktails—all that was missing was the accelerant, which was, conveniently, stashed on the shelf above in a red gasoline can. Next to that was another can, clearly marked Holy Water in permanent marker. Inside the center cabinet, glass doors revealing its contents, were jars of herbs with white labels identifying them.
Next to that cabinet were a series of hooks holding packets of spark plugs, fan belts looped in a figure eight, jumper cables, and an assortment of screws, nuts, bolts, and sockets. And stacked on the edge of the bench were several tiny cans of spray paint in various colors. Dean closed in on the workbench and pulled one of the lower drawers open. Next to the screwdrivers and wrenches he saw several boxes of shotgun shells. He picked one up and sniffed it. Gunpowder.
Putting it back, he pulled another from a different box. Rock salt. The extra rounds he'd brought with him were long gone. He pocketed several from the box and shoved two rounds in the gun he held loosely in his grip. He carefully filled two Molotov's with accelerant, knowing he wouldn't be able to carry more. Moving quickly, purpose giving him strength, he began to pull items from the cabinets and shelves, muttering softly to himself as he did so.
"Two parts boneset—whatever the hell that is—three parts caraway root…," he remembered from the ritual list. "Mix in a little guilty blood and some innocent victim and you got yourself a foolproof remedy for demon dog spit."
His hands moved, searching for the boneset and caraway root in the jars of herbs. Time was eating away at him; Sam was alone and wounded in that house and he had to get in there. He had a promise to keep. He dumped the herbs in an empty Mason jar, then reached into his back pocket for the small dagger.
He was already bleeding from several places on his body, but none of them freely enough to add to the Mason jar concoction. Taking several deep breaths, he tightened his left hand in a fist, then dragged the blade across his forearm, tipping it so that the blood ran from the wound into the jar.
"Goddamn…," he growled the curse through clenched teeth. "Never gets easier."
When enough blood had been gathered to cover the herbs, he lifted his arm and wrapped a shop towel tightly around the wound.
"Done, done and I'm on to the next one," he whisper-sang.
Looping two fan belts together, he created a harness across his back for the loaded shotgun. Grabbing the two Molotov's, the jar of blood-herb paste, and a can of brown spray paint he turned and headed to the doorway, peering out. Nothing had changed. Bobby's house still blazed with light, the demons still hovered. If he was going to get to Sam, there was only one way to do it: haul ass to the front door. He began to move; his gait was steadier, his head clearer, but he wasn't moving fast enough, and his legs shook.
Keep moving, don't stop, he admonished himself. He could collapse later, when this was done, and Sam was safe.
Dean reached the edge of the salt ring around the house and took a breath. He needed to be smart about this. One wary eye on the hovering cloud, he turned in a slow circle, spraying the ground on the outside of the salt ring, watching with satisfaction as the paint blended almost perfectly with the dirt. He set one of the Molotov's down outside the salt ring, then carefully stepped over the ring. Crossing to the porch, he set the second bottle down on the edge of the steps before climbing them and easing the door open.
The surplus of lights made him squint, flinching back slightly as his eyes reacted from the darker exterior. He didn't think he'd ever seen Bobby's house so brightly lit. As he stepped forward, his eyes caught on jars and books and stacks of boxes that had simply blended into the environment before. But illuminated as they were now, Dean was almost assaulted with the amount of stuff in Bobby's house.
"Sam?" he called tentatively. "You…still there?"
The silence that greeted him turned him cold. He'd taken too long; he was too late.
"How 'bout you, Witchy Woman?" His voice was hard, fists at his sides. "You locked up tight?"
He stepped into the study as he said this and his breath stilled. The room was empty; the ropes securing his brother to the couch lying flaccid. He moved to the center of the room, setting the jar of blood and herbs on Bobby's desk before nudging the couch helplessly with his knee. At the sound of the furniture scraping across the wooden floor, the scream he'd first heard hours ago echoed through Bobby's house, cutting through him, making him wince and cover his ears.
"Sam!" Dean yelled. "Where the hell are you, man?"
It wasn't Sam who answered him. It was the rasp of the aged, rotten voice he'd heard in his head. His heart stopped.
Reaching back between his shoulders to pull the shotgun free from its makeshift holster in one smooth motion, Dean turned to face the hallway and saw the witch standing next to Sam. His heart started once more at the sight of his brother, though the state Sam was in had his worry spiking to eleven.
Sam seemed disconnected, unaware. His head was down, arms hanging limply at his sides, eyes staring at nothing, lips parted. The witch had a hand on his wounded arm, somehow keeping him close with just that touch.
And she no longer resembled a Kindergarten teacher, nor looked like the corpse of a hag. She was slim, but powerfully built. The skin on her face was pulled tight over prominent cheek bones, her blonde hair falling back from wide, dark eyes. She was a mix of all images he'd seen up to this point; even her shadow shifted as if it were still intent on toying with him.
Dean cocked the shotgun, leveling the barrel at her. "What did you do to him?"
"I told you…, "she smiled, "all I needed was a willing mind. And his has been so fun to play with."
Dean's eyes flew from the loose ropes to the arm of the couch as he remembered stabbing the blade of the dagger there. "Shit."
Bobby was going to owe him the biggest I told you so.
"Now, as it seems your brother's popularity with our friends outside is my ticket out of here," the witch smirked, "I'll just be going—"
"Hold up." Dean lifted his chin. "What happened to use me? You suddenly find a reason to live?"
Arching a thin eyebrow, the witch subtly tightened her grip on Sam. "As have you, it would seem."
"You're not leaving here," Dean informed her, a sour smile turning his lips.
She squeezed Sam's wounded arm and Dean winced as Sam's head snapped up with a gasp of pain. Dean stared at his brother's dark-veined face, his eyes bloodshot and vacant, his lips pulled tight against his teeth in a horrid grimace.
"Let him go," he ordered, bringing the shotgun up to his shoulder. "NOW!"
She side-stepped so that she was slightly behind Sam. "You willing to risk hitting him just to get to me?"
"I won't hit him," Dean replied, certainty making his voice dangerous.
She stared at him, her wide eyes dark, her lips pulled back in a snarl. "From what I can tell, your friends out there don't much care what state your brother is in." Her hand slipped slowly up Sam's arm, long fingers wrapping around his bowed neck. "Maybe I'll just get this over with now, save them the trouble."
In that moment, Dean felt all of his regret, hesitation, and guilt slip free, sliding from his conscience like rainwater down a gully. He was willing kill this woman to save his brother. He'd kill her and not look back.
And he saw that realization crossed her face.
The lights around him began to flicker, sparks shooting from the outlets along the hallway. At one particularly loud pop, Dean looked over, instinctively, and the witch shoved Sam directly at him. Gasping, Dean dropped the gun, catching his brother as Sam's dead weight sent them both to their knees. Struggling out from beneath Sam, Dean brought the shotgun up just as the witch reached the door. He pulled the trigger, winging her and spinning her into the wall.
She opened her mouth, her lower jaw looking slightly unhinged, and screamed in rage—the same screech he'd heard from below when he'd moved the furniture into the Devil's Trap, only amplified tenfold as she faced him—her eyes bright and crazed. Crying out in pain and shock, Dean rolled back, curling inward, trying to keep his eyes on the witch, knowing she was his only chance.
The rock salt had peppered her left shoulder and arm and he could see the particles burning through her shirt, thin tendrils of smoke curling up from her skin. She panted, her eyes hot as she pushed herself away from the wall. His arms shook as he lifted the gun once more but this time she was ready.
With a snarl that twisted her face into something tortured and evil, the witch lifted her good hand, palm forward and thrust it at him. Dean felt his muscles coil, tensing, as he waited to be thrown back against the wall, but looked over in surprise when instead of moving him, the witch's power shoved Sam's limp body across the study into the center of the Devil's Trap, slamming him against the base of Bobby's desk.
Sam's eyes flew wide; he cried out with the impact and Dean saw the witch continue to push him, Bobby's desk creaking with the pressure of Sam's body. Sam gasped with pain and at the helpless sound, Dean came unglued.
Rage ignited in him with a fever-bright fire, turning him from a skilled, purposeful hunter into something wild. Ignoring his wounds and weakness, Dean flung himself at the witch with a roar of protest, slamming her bodily into the wall, breaking her hold on Sam. She looked at him, her bloodshot eyes wicked. Pushing at Dean's face, she worked to dislodge him, forcing him back.
Dimly, as if from a great distance, he heard a whisper in his head, words that had until this moment sent him spinning with fear.
They're getting stronger.
"My mind's no so willing anymore," Dean growled, shoving her hard and reaching for the shotgun, "bitch."
She turned quickly, scrambling for the door. He fired, missed, reached into his pocket and brought out two more rounds. As she pulled the door open, Dean followed, sparing a glance at Sam's crumpled form.
Sam looked up, his eyes bleary, but coherent. "Go," he rasped.
Dean needed no further encouragement. He shoved the rounds into the barrel, snapped it shut with a loud, metallic click and charged out of the door after her. She was nearing the edge of the salt ring when he fired again, this time hitting her square in the back with the rock salt, sending her spiraling across the edge of the ring, smearing it further. There was barely an edge now keeping the demons at bay.
"Shit," Dean breathed, grabbing the Molotov cocktail from the porch steps, holding it and the barrel of the gun in his right hand as he advanced.
The witch rolled over, her face contorting and twisting until he saw the hag once again, her corpse-like visage screaming at him in pain and anger.
"Back away," she growled, her voice deep, inhuman, frightening.
Dean raised the shotgun. "I can't do that."
The air around them began to rumble, vibrating with the ripple effect of a distant explosion. The witch continued to crawl backwards, obliterating the edge of the salt ring. Dean took a breath, stealing himself for the onslaught.
"When they take me, I'll escape," she predicted. "You can't win this one, boy!"
"Don't be so sure," Dean snapped at her, his eyes darting between the witch and the sky, watching for the fury of clouds above them.
"You want this too much," the witch said, suddenly rising to her feet with ease the rock salt wounds should not have allowed. "I can see it in your eyes. You would die to save him."
"Damn straight." Dean told her, lifting the barrel of the shotgun up away from her as he saw the snake-like arms of the demons cross the grey bruise of sky.
"No one deserves that kind of love," she declared.
Dean leveled his gaze at her. "He does."
She stared at him, eyes rounding with surprise, face softening, transforming to the innocent image he'd first seen through the window of the panic room, and in that moment, the demons struck, knocking her to the ground, one thick plume of purplish smoke raping her mouth as it drove inside her, filling her completely. Dean fired at the cloud, pushing them back, but he needn't have bothered.
They weren't coming for him.
The witch took a breath, sitting up, the bend of her legs and drape of her arm over her knee indicating the demon who'd taken her was most likely male.
"Hello, Dean," it grinned with the witch's mouth, turning her eyes onyx. Sliding the witch's hand to its back pocket, the demon drew forth the dagger that Dean had left too near Sam's reach. "You've been a naughty boy."
Dean felt his blood shiver. "Son of a bitch."Continued in Wake Up and Fight: Part 3b