Crowley stared at the video feed, blood draining from his face. "You...idiots, you were supposed to kill both of them."
Abaddon covered her mouth as, miles away in the Nevada desert, Sam Winchester looked up from a thinning mushroom cloud, his eyes two bits of black glass between tight lids, and pointed straight at the satellite camera floating in space. Air Force personnel began talking all at once, trying and failing to get thru to the drone pilot still circling Sam's coordinates.
Abaddon spoke softly, her voice cracking. "How much of a delay is that image?"
"I don't know," said Crowley, grabbing his jacket from the back of a chair and stuffing one arm in his sleeve, "A few seconds? I don't plan on being here long enough to find out."
"What do we do?"
"Run. Run fast, and maybe he won't get you. Or at least," he said, as Sam moved out of sight on-screen, "You won't see him when he does."
The power flickered, the air greasy with black magic as one by one the humans slumped in their chairs asleep. The rest of the room went dark save for a single cone of light where Sam stood before them, naked, smoke coiling from his hair in thin penstrokes, with a livid red sigil over his heart that Crowley did not recognize. He wrapped one hand around the demon's throat and lifted him off the floor.
"Wow Sam," rasped Crowley, "I almost wore that same outfit."
Crowley's eyes flamed white and dropped in a boneless heap. Magic sealed them inside the building, and when Abaddon tried to smoke out Sam flung out his other arm and the bottom half of her face smoothed into one continuous plane.
"Mm Mmmmm!" she pleaded, hands flung up to shield herself. Sam stepped over Crowley's corpse and spoke an ancient word, his body glowing in a nimbus of witch-fire. And the last thing she ever saw was Sam towering over her, gray tears swimming in his eyes, before she erupted in flames.
ONE YEAR EARLIER
After years of suffering Dean's self-pity, Sam had finally snapped and summoned one of Abaddon's demon nuns, promising her clemency if she taught Sam the trick of soul removal. With a little trip to the dungeon and a lot of chloral hydrate in Dean's beer, Sam managed to have both their souls removed to a safe area so they could concentrate on the main business at hand without old grudges clouding their judgement.
Dean stared at a world map and then back at Sam. He knew he should feel angry, but all he got was a weird tickle in his chest. "I think we're going about this all wrong."
Sam pulled two bottles from an ice chest. "How's that?"
"We're never gonna kill all the demons. Not on our own."
"You thinking we should call together the other hunters?"
"Better," said Dean, as he twisted off the cap and sucked foam from his beer. "I'm thinking we should recruit."
NINE MONTHS EARLIER
Braceface tapped the cassette tape against her chest, the words Property of DW just visible on the blood-stained label.
Boobs sat on her lace coverlet, the geography homework forgotten. "Where did you get that?"
Braceface leaned against the bedroom door and shook rain from her hair. "Nicked it from a crime scene when Dad wasn't looking."
Boobs' mouth fell open. "That's evidence!"
"But dude, you should have seen it, it looked like a goat exploded in there," she said, searching for a tape player, "Dunno why someone would leave it behind."
Boobs touched her hand. "What are you doing?"
"I'm gonna play it."
"Please don't," said Boobs, as lightning flashed outside, "You're gonna get blood in the works."
"Relax," said Braceface, as she popped it in, "You afraid of a mixtape?"
She pressed PLAY, and a man recited into a cheap microphone, wind from an open car window hissing in the background.
"What the hell?" whispered Boobs, her throat tight. She heard a noise on the ceiling, but she looked up and it was only a cockroach on the lightbulb. "Ugh I hate those things, the flying ones."
"Shh," said Braceface, leaning in to listen, "Is he speaking Latin?"
The incantation finished, and a tree fell on a powerline across the street, plunging them into darkness. The sisters reached for each others' hands, and a second later lightning flashed and sent their shadows across the opposite wall before them.
"Does this thing run on batteries?"
"...it's still playing."
The tape stopped, and when the lightning flashed again a third shadow stood between them. They sprang apart, screaming as they felt around but saw no one else in the room save for themselves. And then the player changed direction, rewinding all the way until something broke and it puked up great shiny black ribbons onto the floor, the man's voice continuing to speak in lower and lower tones as the tape self-destructed.
"Ladies and gentlemen, your test begins...NOW."
The player stopped and the lights came back on, everything just as they had left it. Neighbors peeked out from their windows, satisfying themselves that the storm had passed, and went back inside. Boobs was about to reach for the tape when something…moved on the ceiling.
Braceface felt something wet on top of her head, and when she touched it her hand came away red. Another drop of blood fell to the white carpet, and the hairs rose on the back of her neck.
"Don't look up," Braceface whispered, eyes wide as both girls stood frozen, "If we don't look, if we can just get to the door..."
"Are you gonna go to the door?"
"Yeah, here, hold my hand, we'll walk together."
Officer Boobsface was asleep in the recliner, his holster hanging from a wall peg, and Mrs. Boobsface had stuck a note to the fridge saying she'd be out late volunteering at the hospice. Boobs grabbed five dollars from her dad's wallet and eyed a diner sign in the distance.
"Coffee's on me," said Boobs, stuffing the money away, "We drink it slow enough we can hang out til it's time for school tomorrow morning..."
The crack of an old muffler broke the silence, and they turned just in time to see headlights whip around the corner, windshield glinting in the streetlights as a black van clipped the curb and began driving on the sidewalk. Braceface grabbed her sister's hand, Pastor Duggar's mailbox snapping off and sailing into the night air.
She remembered that drop of blood from the ceiling, as if she'd been marked. "I'm not going back in the house."
Boobs paled. "We can't outrun a van."
Braceface tossed a keyring at her. "Betcha Dad's chopper can."
"I can't drive that thing!" she wailed, "We don't even have a helmet!"
A bullet zinged through Boobs' hair, drawing blood. "Fuck it, you drive."
They ran for the garage, and climbing onto the motorcycle they cut through the culdesac into the playground as shadows emerged from the other houses, dropping on all fours and scuttling toward them crabwise. Braceface was too distracted with driving to risk a backwards glance, and by the time the van pulled up beside them the passenger side window had rolled down and a red dot appeared on Boobs' forehead.
"No!" Braceface shouted, as a shot fired into Boobs, rocketing her out of her seat and into the waiting arms of whatever infernal creatures raced in the shadows alongside them.
Braceface had just enough time to see that, instead of blood, her sister's face had veined black, the wound glowly faintly as though lit from within, before the van door slid open and Braceface was lifted inside by strong fingers. The chopper kept going for a few hundred yards, eventually tipping over into someone's swimming pool, but by that time the van had vanished, their five-dollar bill tumbling in the wind like an old sandwich wrapper.
Hours passed. When Braceface moved again, she breathed wetly into a felt bag over her head as she was walked through a crush of people. Rock music played in the next room, with people cheering every few seconds as if at a sporting event.
"Where am I?"
The bag came away and she was led down a dim passageway, taking right turns past a make-shift kitchen piled high with guns and Chinese take-out. A six-foot bunny rabbit with bloodstains down it's chest and big floppy ears sat slumped behind a reception desk, both feet crossed as it talked into a phone. "Never mind," it said, swinging it's legs down, "My replacement is here."
"Fucking hell," said the bunny rabbit, as she removed head and shook out her braids, "This thing is giving me crotch-rot."
One of Braceface's guards pointed a finger. "Take off your shoes."
Braceface recoiled. "Why?"
"Because they won't fit in this thing," said the bunny girl, unzipping the back of her costume until she was down to panties, her body lean with the white shadow of a halter top on her otherwise sunburned body, "Suit up, the Brothers are watching and I bet five bucks one of you would ralph on your shoes before the fight's over."
"One of us?" asked Braceface, as the guards directed her feet into the fur pants, "What fight?"
The mask was fastened over her head and knotted at the neck, and red light streamed through the open door as the music deafened her. It was easily ten degrees hotter inside the costume, and she saw hazily as if through net stockings. She looked down at the blood on her chest, wondering why no one bothered to wash it, when a hand shoved her between the shoulderblades and the door bolted shut behind her.
"Whoa," she whispered, in a mixture of fear and approval, "That's pretty fuckin' cool."
She stood on an open field worn bald by foot traffic. Bodies littered the ground, weapons lying a foot or so away from their outstretched hands. A geodesic dome stretched overhead with a single hooded light at the center, three stories high and the entire surface covered with cheering teenagers, who alternately hung or climbed onto the steel beams to get a decent view. The bandleader tuned her guitar and wrapped her hand around a microphone.
"Are you ready?!"
"YEAH" shouted the crowd.
"Are you ready for some SHIT?"
"Here we go, EINS ZWEI DREI VIER"
A heavy grate rose on the far side of the dome, and a thin loping figure darted out of it, its' school uniform torn at the knees as if it had crawled for miles. It regarded Braceface, lips pulled back over needle teeth, and memory glinted in its' eyes.
"Oh no." Braceface muttered, as her vampire sister smelled the blood and lept in a ten foot arc toward her.
"It's me!" Braceface shouted as she rolled on her side and stood up again, but the crowd chanted for bloodshed and her words were lost in the fog of noise. Backing away, she tripped over a corpse with her clumsy rabbit feet and her eyes fell upon the owner's cache, a knife and a chain.
"Hurry up and kill her ya pussy!" shouted the bandleader as Braceface grabbed the chain and began running in circles, "Come on, my grandma's clit was bigger than your dick!"
Braceface's heart pounded in her chest, her guts turning to battery acid inside the suffocating suit. She bought herself some time by tossing sand in her sister's eyes, but Braceface was used to running in an air-conditioned gym at school, behind the shaved, well-chlorinated asses of the boy's swim team. She had maybe two more minutes before she passed out.
I hope this works, she thought. Stars shown through the highest point of the dome where the electrical wires threaded through, out of arm's reach from the audience, and tying the chain into a crude lasso she hurled one end toward the ceiling and exhaled when it caught the light fixture. Boobs rubbed the sand from her eyes and rose up with a lusty snarl, fangs gleaming and not mindful of the proceedings when Braceface rushed forward and headbutted her in the solar plexus.
"Sorry," she whispered, pinning Boobs with her weight.
Knotting the loose end of the chain around her sister's ankles, Braceface climbed up the inside of the dome, and, with a tiny prayer for all the swim team members she'd never gotten around to seeing naked, lept onto the light fixture, dragged the chain over a steel beam, and dropped to the ground with her sister flying past her in the opposite direction.
"Ow." she muttered. The chain tinkled against the ceiling, but Boobs could not loose her bonds. She was safe.
Braceface closed her eyes as the crowd booed, when suddenly her mask was torn free and ice water slapped her face.
"Well I've give you points for style."
She blinked at the two figures before her. Machetes hung from their belts, one shirtless and the other in flannel, the backs of their hands webbed with old boxing scars, and taking a moment to turn her head and vomit, she stood up and balled her fists. "Leave her…alone," she managed, out of breath and barely able to see straight, "She's just sick or...something."
Sam's eyes flashed black, and all the fight went out of her.
"Don't worry," he said, as Dean signaled for Boobs to be released and then, reluctantly, pulled five dollars from his wallet for the receptionist, "We've got a cure for that."
New recruits were divided into two camps: anyone good in a fight worked for Dean and had their souls scooped into a jelly jar, while anyone with a knack for the occult worked for Sam and traded their blue eyes for black. The brothers maintained one hundred percent employee retention, since Dean grilled the best cheeseburgers this side of Paradise and Sam never, ever, ever wore a shirt. But material perks aside, they provided a big picture solution that everyone could get behind: cure every demon, on Earth and in Hell, with a mixture of hunter-exorcists and demon muscle.
While Sam kept his distance, Dean took on a more avuncular role with his jokes, drinking contests that often lasted for days, and his encouraging pranks (to this day, the reigning champion was a girl scout from Milwaukee who managed to track down Azazel's corpse, staple his mummified head to an animatronic robot, and program it to stand outside the window and serenade Dean with "Light My Fire" on endless repeat). This didn't stop him from beating the shit out of anyone who touched his car and enforcing daily five mile runs where he chased newbies with a baseball bat full of nails, but Dean was clearly the warm center of the organization.
"I don't get it," asked Braceface one day, "They can swap bodies and take endless damage. Why aren't we all demons?"
Dean tallied weapons in their warehouse, ticking boxes on his clipboard. "Magic'll fuck with you. We need the best of both worlds."
"So how does Sam turn people into demons?"
As if on cue, a door opened across the hall and a boy and several girls exited while Sam reclined against the headboard of a four-poster bed, cheeks flushed and thoroughly fucked out. For a moment their eyes locked, one side of his mouth twisted in a grin over red, wet teeth.
Dean pulled the door closed with a soft click and wagged his finger. "You don't wanna know."
She glanced at the jars on the high shelf, her soul labeled in block letters. "How do I turn my sister back human when this is all over?"
"That is the million dollar question," he said, as he pulled a syringe from it's case, "And it's the first thing we're gonna work on today. After your run."
"You have no soul."
"Of course I do," said Dean, smiling, "It's in a pie tin in the trunk of my car."
Boobs and a dozen others braced themselves against the wall, as one of Dean's recruits sealed their bloody hand on a woman's mouth and an eldritch shockwave passed through the basement. Sam nodded, and turned to Boobs. "Go to the storage room, we're out of holy water."
The 'storage room' was a shipping container on a truck bed, tagged with sigils and requiring no less than five different keys to raise the door. Pulling on protective gloves, she poured holy water into a milk jug and was about to turn back when she noticed a dull thump in the far cabinet.
She set the jug down. No one opened that cabinet except for Dean, though it used the same wards as all the other containers and hadn't been unlocked in a while. She looked over her shoulder and whispered the passwords, the lock glowing a pale orange, and hoped no one would notice her delay.
The jars were neatly labeled with each owner's name, the souls bobbing and marking the air with faint tendrils of light, peaceful as jellyfish...all but one. She lifted the jar marked SAM WINCHESTER and watched it bounce inside, sliding along the glass before winding up and trying to pass through like a bee trapped in a hot car.
A boy stopped by the open door. "Hey, Sam's looking for you."
She started and shoved the jar back in it's place, closing and re-warding the cabinet. "You headed back inside?"
"Yeah, did you watch Miller fuck up his cure session with the demon lady? She went chestburster and now we gotta scrape her off the ceiling," he bragged, as Boobs snatched up the jug, "Man that is some big bad fuckery, I don't see how Sam enjoys it."
"I don't know, I guess some folks are just..." she said, glancing to the side of the shipping container where the Impala was parked, "...drawn to it."
Crowley poured himself some Scotch. "Thirsty?"
Abaddon crossed her arms and looked away, her face wavering behind the candelabra at the far end of the mahogany table. Swords dating from the Battle of Crecy hung crossed behind her on the castle wall, and a great fire cast one side of her face into shadow. "Tell me you have good news."
Crowley spun his glass around. "The Winchesters are building an army. I think our days of gentlemanly warfare are numbered."
"Meaning we can't afford to depend on just magic or brute force to bring them down. If we're going to take them both at the same time," he said, sipping his drink and then watching his reflection reassert itself in the amber liquid, "We're going to have to get creative."
Sam stacked a pile of folders, running his fingers along the edges until they were square, and opened the one on top labeled MoL: INFERIGRAPHICAL SURVEY. Dean stretched and leaned over Sam's shoulder, casting a shadow on the page. "Whatcha reading?"
Sam pushed him out of the light. "It's an interstate map of the far southern kingdom of Hell."
"That's interesting..." said Dean, testing the new mattress.
"Hell did trade like anyone else, and there are thin places in America between here and there that we can exploit," he said, tapping a nightmare version of the Nevada desert with his pencil, "We're going to need routes going in and out if we want to invade."
"Uh-huh," said Dean, pulling the sheet off the bed, "You know what I think?"
Sam looked up under his brow. "Don't."
Dean covered himself with the sheet, arms stretched before him like a cheap Halloween prop. "Raaaaawr..."
Sam put both hands flat on the desk, usually the signal to be serious. "Dean stop it."
"It's the blaaaaanket monster."
"Dean I'm working."
Dean folded his arms around Sam's head and pretended to chomp on his brains. "OM NOM NOM NOM."
"Quit it!" Sam said, smiling at last, "It tickles."
"Neck fart!" Dean shouted, burying his mouth in Sam's neck and blowing hard. Sam doubled over laughing, papers drifting off the desk, and stood out of his chair to tussle Dean to the floor.
Later that evening, the brothers split open two beers and sat on an overturned shopping cart on the roof. With no need to sleep, they always took time out of the schedules for sunsets. "How's your kids doing with the Thompson exorcism?" asked Sam.
"They're quick," said Dean, flicking foam that had spilled over his hand, "We should be ready to move just as soon as you get the map sorted out."
"Hell's a scary place. They might not be up for it yet."
"They've got a hundred times more practical experience than any of those butt nuggets in Men of Letters," he said, smiling, "Any of them could get the job done once this is all over."
Twin sunsets reflected in Sam's black eyes. "What if I don't want anyone else curing me?"
Dean tried to read his brother's voice, all the things unsaid between the words. "It would be my honor."
THE NOT TOO DISTANT FUTURE
In the halls of Hell, torchlight flickered on columns that stretched into shadows, veined with the souls of all who'd perished in the Great Deluge. Sam, naked save for the mark over his heart, bestrode a Hell Hound with its' chains wrapped in his fist, and his black eyes glittered as another cured demon fell to his knees in obeisance.
"Rise," he said, "Someone will accompany you on the road back to Earth."
Boobs touched the man's shoulder, and she motioned for him to follow. Once they were out of earshot, she pointed to his chest and whispered, "What happened to you?"
He looked down at the scar, made in the likeness of the sigil Sam bore. "There are others down in the dungeons, who have marked themselves with the Red Rose to pledge allegiance to the Boy King."
Her eyes misted, and his brow knit. "Have I said something?"
She took his hand and opened the door. They had a long journey before them, and she didn't want to linger on the topic. "That's no rose."
Dean shielded his eyes. Purple mountains edged the desert north of Reno, and the dust blew so thick he could barely read the map. "How much farther?"
"We're almost there," said Sam, homing in on some hidden frequency in the earth, "Though we may have to return tomorrow if the storm keeps up."
Dean frowned. Sam had insisted on packing their souls along for the ride, in case any of the recruits harbored feelings of revolution. "You'd think the airport would have re-routed in this weather."
Sam kept walking. "What are you talking about?"
Dean put a hand on Sam's chest to stop him. "Can't you hear that plane?"
The sky flashed white and then red as the mushroom cloud burst upward with Sam at the center. Dust as fine as ash, part desert, part Chevrolet, wafted all about him. Though his clothes were atomized, the demon blood kept the rest of him safe, and he felt only a dull throb in his head.
He looked down, and a gray something stuck to his chest. The breeze lifted it away, ashes swirling into the lonely hills and out of sight, leaving only a red handprint over his heart. The space from which he'd carved his soul spasmed like a phantom limb, and he knew his own soul must be close by. The jars had been destroyed in the blast.
"No no no..."
The two souls floated in the wind, seeking their vessels and finding none suitable. Sam lunged for his, but it recoiled from his touch and no longer answered to him. And joining together at last, never to be divided, never to be seen again, they flew toward the sunset as one and winked out on the smoking rim of the world.
The denizens of Hell looked up and quivered with anticipation as the Boy King clutched his hair with both hands and howled like a wounded animal. He bit his lip until a drop of blood fell to the ground, and there did the earth crack between his feet with a seismic tremor that echoed into outer space. When the dust cleared, he pointed to the sky accusingly, and was gone.
Mary stared at Sam over the door chain. "I'm sorry, you can't come in."
Years had passed on Earth, though who knew how long that translated to in this place. The house was twice the size of anything they'd ever lived in, sprinklers sending up rainbows in the flower garden and a red wagon in the driveway. Though it looked like lathe and plaster, Sam could no more enter his brother's Heaven than pluck the moon from its' orbit.
"Dean," Sam pleaded, looking down, "Please, it's me."
Dean hid behind Mary's skirt, four years old, one enormous eye studying Sam as he alternately considered the black-eyed monster on his doormat verses the baby cooing upstairs.
"You should go," said Mary, about to close the door, "We're about to make dinner."
Young Dean turned and ran toward the nursery, but Sam grabbed the door with his hand. "She's not real, Dean," he shouted up the stairs, "She's just an idea. This whole thing, this house, none of it was ever this good."
Dean stood at the head of the stairs with a swaddled baby in his arms, it's tiny fist bunched in his shirt. Sam and the infant locked eyes in recognition, as wholly alike and yet as disparate as a newborn shed of it's afterbirth.
"I did it," Sam said, "The world is free now, all the demons have been turned back. I'm the last."
There was a steel wall behind those innocent green eyes. If this confession resonated with Dean, sparking any memory of his promise to cure his brother, he did not show it. The children went back into the nursery, and suddenly it did not surprise Sam that he had so easily found the way home out of Hell.
Sam tore a strip from the deer on the campfire and fed Jack out of his hand. After curing the Hell Hounds, most of them fled the moment they reverted to their original nature, but Jack, named after Dean's favorite author, remained at his side, and together they watched the birds fly south for the winter.
Jack laid his head in Sam's lap and fell to dreaming. Sam had stopped practicing magic or drinking demon blood long ago, and though he was only forty, the years had doubled back on him and he looked nearer eighty. He shivered in the cold, wishing he'd packed a jacket. Then a heart valve forgot to open at the right time, and it became hard to breathe. Burrowing into Jack's warm coat, he closed his eyes and never opened them again.
Sam opened his eyes partway. "Let me sleep," he said, closing his eyes, "I'm so tired."
"Come on lazybutt, we're gonna run out of light." said Dean, lifting the Sam so his child head lolled on his shoulder. He smelled like breakfast and freshly cut grass, and all the things Sam had never dared dream of.
"Where are we going?"
The sky stretched in both directions with clouds edged in sulfurous pinks and orange, the first stars twinkling in the east, and Dean's breath neither fogged the air nor his footsteps neither bent the grass as the hound awoke to find itself alone.
"Let's go watch the sun set."