Supernatural isn't mine.

OK, you guys, this is it, last chapter! Thanks so much to everyone who's stuck with me all this time, despite all the many delays. Extra special thanks to everyone who's taken the time to review -- hearing your comments really means a lot.

This'll be my last posting on this site. All of my fic can be found on my LiveJournal by clicking the "homepage" link on my profile page, and I'll only be updating there in future -- I hope some of you may visit me there! Thanks for four years of good times, guys.

Hope you enjoy this.

The Crow on the Cradle

Chapter Twenty

"Fuck," says Dean again, then slams his hand against the hood of the car, once, twice, hard enough that she's sure he's going to have a bruise. "Dammit," he says. "Dammit." He punches the air and kicks the tyre, then whirls and takes two steps away from the car. "Sammy!" he yells. "Sam!"

There's nausea rolling in her stomach, and she thinks maybe she might not make it if she tries to walk, but Dean's losing it and she needs him not to do that right now, she needs him to be thinking straight because John's been taken and Sam's gone (Sam's been gone three hundred and three days) and Dean's all she has, Dean needs to fix this mess, so she takes three steps over and touches his arm, holding out the note.

"He's OK," she says, and the words taste like a lie on her tongue, but she needs them to be true, Sam's got to be OK (Sam's gone), because otherwise they're all screwed; she's seen what happens to this family when it loses a member, and she's close enough now that she knows she won't escape the fallout.

"What?" says Dean, lips barely moving, and she presses the note into his palm, leaves her fingers there for a second because for some reason she doesn't want to let go of it (it's not the last of him, we'll find him, he's OK), then pulls away. Dean stares down, and the scrap of paper looks tiny in his hand, four words and blood and Sam. He stares long enough that he must have read the thing twenty times, and then he closes his fist, and she bites back a cry at watching the paper crumple, because it's just a fucking note, God, it's not Sam.

"He knew," Dean says. "He knew, Christ, he knew Dad was gone and he did this to us again." The hand with the note in it tightens until the knuckles look like they're ready to burst through the skin, and she takes a step back, because she's learned to stand her ground with Winchesters, but she's also learned that Dean doesn't always pay attention to where his fists are going.

"He's trying to help," she says, and that's not a lie, she knows that's true; Sam's trying to help, but Sam's only half-sane on a good day, and now he's out there by himself. "He knows more about this than we do."

"Then why the fuck didn't he just fucking tell us instead of running off to play hero?" asks Dean, and by the end he's shouting, looking out into the darkness like somehow Sam can hear him. But Sam's gone, and he wants them to help John, and for all everything in her wants to give up on John and look for the man she's built her whole fucking life around for the last ten months, for all she knows that Sam's been manipulating her (because she never would have left him alone in the car if he hadn't begged her to help Dean), she knows too that Sam's secretive brain can see the puzzle where she can only see the pieces, she knows that she has to let herself be manipulated if she wants them all to get out of this. But she swears to God that she's never going to let Sam do this to her again.

"We need to find your dad," she says, and swallows down the acrid taste at the back of her mouth, because that's what Sam wants, he wants them to help John, and if that's how she can help Sam (help everyone) then that's what she'll do.

Dean just shakes his head, runs his hand over his mouth and chin. "This is fucked up," he says. "This is fucked."

"I know," she says. "I know, Dean. But we need to find your dad."

Dean closes his eyes, then opens them and looks at her. "OK," he says. "OK. But we're gonna need some help."

Bobby Singer is taller than she expected; in fact, he's nothing like she expected at all, and she doesn't know why she thought he'd be wizened and stooped and have half-moon glasses, except that he's apparently the most respected demon expert in North America, and that seems like it should be a title for retired professors, not redneck scrap-metal dealers. And then again, Sam, her Sam who's always trying to hide how tall he is, who looks more at home in a library than he does at a party, Sam's been proficient with knives and guns and Latin since before he hit puberty, Sam was fighting monsters when her own parents were trying to convince her that they didn't exist, and she should have learned by now that appearances mean nothing at all.

"This Jessica?" Bobby asks, and they've never spoken before, but she's listened to enough one-sided conversations, Dean relaying details she passes to him down the phone, that she feels like Bobby's almost a mythical figure, the man on the other end of the phone who knows.

"It's good to finally meet you," she says, and holds out her hand. She means it, too, as far as anything can be good right now.

"Likewise," says Bobby, and shakes her hand, then pushes back the brim of his trucker hat. His face is half-covered in hair, but his eyes bore into her like he can see a lot more than she's telling. He only looks for a second, though, then turns back to Dean.

"Sam?" he asks, and Dean swallows and shakes his head.

"He's taken off again," he says. "Got some cr- stupid idea in his head, I don't know."

Bobby barely reacts, mouth turning down slightly at the corners, but Dean shakes his head again like Bobby threw a fit. "That's not the worst of it," he says. "They got Dad, Bobby. They wanted the Colt, and they got Dad."

Bobby stares at Dean for a moment, then sighs and glances back at the house that's sagging behind him, clapboard walls grey and bleached under the white sky.

"They'll be coming after you, then," he says, and there's no reproach in his voice, no you shouldn't have come here, you shouldn't have brought this down on my head, just certainty and mild irritation.

"Pretty much," says Dean, shoulders hunched like he's freezing.

Bobby nods. "You better come in," he says.

Bobby's house smelled like it always did – like gloom and dusty books and safe. Maybe that was why Sam always got on with libraries like a freakin house on fire – they reminded him of being at Bobby's. Except Sam wasn't here now, Sam had decided they were better off without him (again), and fuck Sam anyway, fuck him and his stupid grandstanding and his heroics.

Bobby's coffee was the same as always, too, thick and black and so strong Dean wondered if they shouldn't maybe make it with holy water, figured they could probably kill a few demons just by inviting them over for book group or whatever. He was freakin glad of it, though, because he'd been driving for hours and Sam and Dad had been gone for longer, and Dean was so fucked, so fucking screwed, he'd thought they were getting somewhere and now all he had to show for his life was an antique revolver and an ex-cheerleader who he couldn't even screw because she belonged to Sam.

"We're going to find them," said Jessica, and Dean felt himself start, guilt thick in his throat, and he didn't know why the hell he should feel guilty about thinking that way, but he wished he'd never had the thought, wished he could clean the dirt of it off his mind.

"They're gonna find us," he said, and she swallowed, he didn't need to tell her who they were, she knew what he meant, always fucking did, figured Dean would find himself stuck with two Stanford geeks instead of one (except for how only one of them was left now). He opened his mouth to say something else, but then Rumsfeld set up barking outside like there was a freakin army of mailmen on the way, and Dean knew it was time.

The door blows in like matchwood, splinters scattering across the floor and she takes a step back, Bobby stepping in front of her. There's a woman standing in the doorway, short and blonde, face twisted in a sneer.

"Howdy, Dean," she says. "You never called."

Dean's standing stock still in the middle of the room, and she sees his shoulders tense in surprise. "Sorry, sweetheart," he says. "You're just not my type. I don't screw bitches from Hell."

He's met the demon before, and she pushes her thoughts faster, tries to remember if the face is familiar, but she's drawing a blank.

"Not like you to be so picky," says the demon, and raises a hand, and Dean's body jerks backwards like someone's pulling a string, slams against a bookcase so hard the cheap plywood splinters and books crash all over the floor. She hears Bobby suck his teeth in annoyance, and then the demon-woman is striding forward, hand raised again. She stops when Dean starts laughing, though.

"Care to share the joke with the class?" she says, and Dean's head tilts up, dust and fragments of wood slipping out of his hair. The demon follows his gaze, and snarls.

"Amazing how often that damn thing comes in handy," Bobby mutters, flicking a glance up at the huge symbol painted on the ceiling. He glances back at her and twitches an eyebrow, then looks over at the demon, who's spitting curses at Dean. "We're gonna need more coffee," he says.

"Chicago," says Dean, and she frowns and tries to remember. Chicago had been the hunt with the mutilated victims, the one they never finished because Sam threw a fit and didn't stop yelling until they were safely past the city limits. Chicago had been just before the second time she left Sam alone with the not-Dean, when he'd called and said John had been attacked by—

"The girl from the bar," she whispers, and she'd assumed, she'd just assumed the not-Dean had picked a random girl to spin his tales, hadn't thought to look into it and see if she really was a—

"Meg," says Dean, and scowls. "Sam had us out of that city soon as I mentioned her name the first time. He must've—" He shakes his head, hands flexing. "Why didn't he tell us," he mutters.

She thinks about what would have happened in Chicago if Sam had told them that the girl – Meg – was a demon. Thinks about how there's no way John would have left without confronting her. Maybe he would've won; and then again, Sam can see the future, sometimes, and he got them as far away from Meg as he could.

"Ain't no time for what if around here, son," says Bobby, slapping a book down on the table. "That hellspawn in there knows where your daddy's at. Hope your Latin ain't too rusty."

Dean grabs the book and nods.

"We got work to do," he says.

The demon lifts its head when they come in, eyes wide, the sneer still painted on its face like it doesn't know how to make any other expression. This thing was in a bar with Dean, flirted with him, and her stomach turns over thinking about how close they came, how desperate Sam was to get them away, and did that mean they were in danger of losing Dean as well?

But what if isn't her territory, she doesn't see the what if, not the way Sam does, and she takes a moment to close her eyes and be grateful, because if second-guessing is this terrifying then how much worse must second-knowing be?

"Where's my Dad?" says Dean, and he's smiling, but it's not a smile she ever wants to see directed at her.

The demon cocks its head, confident even now, and she thinks that's how Dean would be, if he was trapped and threatened, then pushes the thought out of her mind because this thing is a demon and Dean is Dean. "He's dead," it says.

Dean's smile is gone like it was never there, lips pressed together. "You're lying," he says, and she remembers the mantra, demons lie, and then she remembers another one, remembers Sam saying they can't read your mind, not really, and Jesus, did Sam know they would end up here?

The demon smiles. "He screamed for you, Dean," it says. "Screamed as I tore him apart. But don't worry, you'll be seeing him soon."

"Shut up," says Dean, pulling Bobby's book out of his pocket. He flips it open and starts to read. "Regna terrae, cantate Deo…"

"Aw, had to finally learn Latin, huh?" the demon says, eyes stretching wide. "And there was me thinking you'd at least hold out until you were sure little Sammy was dead."

Dean stutters to a halt and stares, and she takes a step forward, she's been hovering in the shadows but (demons lie demons lie) she needs to hear this.

"What are you talking about?" says Dean, and the demon's smile sharpens, then it flicks its eyes to her.

"Well, if it isn't little Sammy's little girlfriend," it says, tongue flicking out over its lips. "You should have stayed in California, honey. Sammy's never coming back for you."

"Sam's not dead," she says, and she can hear the tremble in her own voice loud and clear, the demon smiling wide.

"He never could take care of himself," it says, and its eyes move back to Dean. "You never let him learn, coddled him his whole life and then just let him go off on his own. No wonder he's dead."

"You're a lying bitch," says Dean, and she wants to say it too, demons lie, Christ, but Sam's gone, he's gone again, and what if, what if, and she feels sweat break out on her palms, fear thrumming in her stomach that this might have all been for nothing.

"Exorcizamus te," says Dean, mouth hard on the foreign syllables, "omnis immundus spiritus-"

The demon jerks and groans in the chair, fingers twitching, but then it chokes out a laugh.

"He burned," it says. "Little Sammy burned to death after all. And he's burning now, with daddy in Hell."

"Shut up," she says, she doesn't want to hear it, doesn't want to think of the way the heat bruised her skin in the house in Salvation and what that might be like, to die that way, doesn't want to remember a burned-out car in the ruins of a house in Jericho and what it was like to wake up every day with ashes on her tongue and think that Sam was dead. She closes her eyes and listens to the harshness of Dean's voice, and the Latin's a shield between her and the demon, but it's not thick enough.

"Aw, does that hurt, honey?" the demon says, and she opens her eyes to find it staring straight at her, panting, mouth twisted in pain or something like it. "Not as much as it hurt him," it says. "You should have heard him scream."

Dean stops chanting at that, fist clenched at his side. "She told you to shut the fuck up," he says, voice rough with something that she doesn't want to think about (it's not fear, demons lie), and the thing's attention turns back to him.

"Poor Dean," it says. "All those years trying to keep him safe just to let him die back where it all started." It grins, jerking against the rope at its wrists. "Right back where mommy fried. Should have just let him die when he was a squalling brat, maybe you could have made a life for yourself."

Dean blinks at that, and she can't help blinking herself, tries to figure out how long it would take Sam to get from Salvation to Lawrence and why, why he would go there. "What?" says Dean, and the demon laughs.

"That's right," it says. "Sammy burned in the house in Lawrence. He's been gone for months, but you just keep on trying to find him. It'd be touching if it wasn't so pathetic." It spits on the floor. "Good luck with the search, by the way. If you work hard enough, you should be able to scrape up enough of him to fill a memorial egg-cup."

Dean looks back at her, and she can barely see him, the edges of her vision are greying out, but she sees the way relief chases confusion across his face, can read it as easily as she feels the tangle of emotion in her own chest, it doesn't know, it doesn't know. And then Dean's chanting again and the demon's shrieking, howling about how Sam's skin blistered and cracked and John bled like a stuck pig, but Dean just keeps speaking, wind whipping through the house and the candles guttering and his voice rising to a shout. And then the demon throws its head back and screams, and black smoke billows out, rolling and thick, and the air tastes of grease and sulphur, and she puts her hands over her ears and prays.

And then the smoke is gone and the demon's head drops forward onto its chest, except it's not a demon any more, it's just a girl, just some poor girl who's had evil living inside her skin for who knows how long, some poor girl who has a hole in her stomach that's gushing with blood.

"Jesus," says Dean, and darts forward, and she moves too, helps him untie the girl and move her to the floor, trying not to jar her, and she looks for something to put under the girl's head, looks for a phone to call an ambulance, but the girl opens her eyes and she knows it's too late.

"I was awake… for some of it," the girl, breath rasping in her throat like it's something solid. "Your dad's in… Jefferson City. Sunrise Ap, Apartments."

"What about Sam?" says Dean, and the girl's eyes roll towards him.

"I don't know... anything… about a Sam," the girl says, and then her fingers curl weakly around Dean's arm. "They want you to come," she whispers. "They'll be waiting."

Dean looks up, face set, and she knows that doesn't matter.

It's nine hundred miles from Bobby's place to Jefferson City, and neither of them have slept in over twenty-four hours, but there's no time for any of that now, no time for food or preparation or anything except let's go, now. Dean pushes the car the whole way, way past the speed limit and taking corners without slowing down, and she remembers how she used to shriek and laugh, back when she was in high school with some dumb jock in the driving seat showing off. She doesn't feel any of that, now, that euphoria from too fast too free never gonna die, and she wonders what happened to that girl.

Fifty miles from Jefferson City, Dean's taking a leak by the side of the road when his phone rings, and she reaches for it without thinking because it could be Sam. The name on the display says Jim, though, and she frowns and puts it to her ear.


There's a pause, and then a man's voice says, "Could I speak to Alice Cooper, please?"

It's a code, one she knows well enough, and she looks around, but Dean's disappeared into the trees. "Alice is out for the summer," she says, filling in the other half without even thinking. "Who's calling?"

"This is Jim Murphy," says the voice, and something clicks in the back of her mind, but she doesn't have time to examine it, because the man says, "I actually wanted to talk to Sam."

"Sam?" she says, and then the car door swings open with a creak and Dean drops into the seat and stares. She shakes her head and hands him the phone.

"Jim Murphy," she says, and as she says it she remembers John, dark and fraying at the side of the road in Iowa, Jim Murphy's dead. If Jim Murphy's dead, then who—

"Who the hell is this?" says Dean, jaw squared like he's expecting to do battle over the phone, and she wonders suddenly if it's a demon, if they can possess the dead, reanimate them, and then she has a sudden image of Sam, skin charred and raw, leering at her from dead eyes (but he didn't burn, the demon didn't know), and she has to fight down nausea.

Dean's listening, and then he says "What did he sound like?" and then "You're sure it was him?" She watches him, trying to figure out what's going on, but all she can hear of the other half of the conversation is a tinny rumbling. "We're—" says Dean, then "No," and then he shakes his head, lips pursed.

"I can't tell you," he says. "I don't know what's going on, I don't know who I can trust."

There's another pause filled with the muttering of a man who ought to be dead, scratching just at the bottom of her hearing, and then Dean looks at her.

"Yeah," he says. "I got some backup." He nods, and she sinks down a little in the seat, listens to him saying goodbye to – whoever it is. Backup, and she doesn't know whether she's proud that she can be that for Dean or terrified that she's going to fail. There's no space for failure, not any more.

Dean snaps the phone shut then turns to face the road, rolling his shoulders. "Well, that was freakin weird," he says, and she sits up again.

"Who was it?" she asks, and Dean frowns.

"Sure as hell sounded like Pastor Jim," he says. "Said Sam called him a couple of days ago, told him to get out of town for a while." She frowns, because Sam doesn't have a phone, but then she remembers him coming out of the bathroom with Dean's phone in his hand, only the sane people around here are allowed to operate electrical equipment, and the low muttering before that, when she thought he was talking to himself, and God, did Sam know even then? How long has he been planning this?

Dean's not finished though, fingers drumming against the steering wheel, never still. "Said he got back to his church and found the cops there and someone who looked just like him in the morgue with his throat slit," he says, and she blinks, tries to take this in, understand it, but—

"What—" she says, and then "How?", and there's something tickling at the back of her mind, but the lack of sleep's catching up with her and she feels sluggish and dazed with all this new information. The demon killed this Jim Murphy, Christ, it even phoned John to taunt him about it, but why—

Dean runs a hand over his face, rubs his eyes. "What do we know that can look like someone else and get killed without silver?" he asks, and she feels her stomach drop.

"The angel," she breathes, and Dean snorts.

"Yeah, freakin angel," he mutters. "Man, this is fucked up."

"What are we going to do?" she asks, and Dean takes a deep breath and settles back in his seat.

"We're gonna find Dad," he says, and pulls out.

Last time Dean was in Missouri, Sam was dead. That was a fucked-up thought, but it didn't stop Dean from having it, because yeah, it wasn't like Dean's brain had ever been too good at staying away from the fucked-up thoughts. And once he'd had it, he was stuck with the damn thing, round and round and round, Sam was dead, fucking cremation and ashes in an urn and even if it had never been Sam in the first place, even though Dean knew it had never been Sam and the ashes had been gone for months now, even if they were going to Jefferson City, not St. Louis, Dean still felt sick with worry. Which was actually fair enough, because Sam was fucking missing (again) and Dad had been kidnapped by demons and they were in freakin Missouri and fuck, fuck.

Jessica cleared her throat. "We should stop," she said. "We should park here and walk in, or they'll get too much warning."

Dean glanced over, but she wasn't looking at him. Too much warning, Jesus. Dean just wanted to drive in there, slam the car through the front door of wherever they were keeping Dad and take out as many evil fuckers as he could, but no, no, no time to play hero right now, not with all that was left of Dean's family hanging in the balance. He pulled over and swung the door open, heading round to the trunk and trying to think about holy water and rosaries and weapons, not about Sam and Dad and what a demon could do to you if it had you prisoner for twenty-four hours.

"Take this," he said, tossing a gallon can of holy water to Jessica, and she caught it, rolled her shoulders.

"Are we taking that?" she asked, and Dean looked down, realised it was in his hand.

"It can kill them," he said, and Jessica nodded.

"OK," she said.

Dean looked at the Colt again, and God, they were walking into a freakin trap, he was taking Sam's girlfriend, Jesus, not just Sam's girlfriend, Jessica into a goddamn trap and this wasn't her fight, this wasn't her family. "You should stay here," he said, and her head snapped up.

"What?" she said, then "Why?"

"It's too dangerous," Dean said, and Jessica's nostrils flared, and suddenly he remembered her attacking him back in the motel parking lot in Palo Alto, Jesus, months ago when they still had no idea what had happened to Sam, before he'd spent more time with Jessica than he'd spent with any woman since his mother died.

"Like hell," she said. "You try and leave me here, and I swear to God, I will scream my head off until all the demons in the world get here."

Dean wanted to laugh, but Jesus, she looked fucking serious, and he was pretty sure she'd do it, too. "It's not Sam," he said. "It's Dad, not Sam."

Jessica stared back at him like she couldn't believe what she was hearing. "That's a hell of a thing for you to say to me," she said, and Dean felt shame and worry warring in his belly, and decided not to examine that crap, because seriously, he had enough to think about right now, and he didn't have time to argue, and anyway, he could always use backup.

"Fine," he said, holding out the Colt. "Then you take this." Maybe Jessica wasn't the world's greatest shot, but Dean was damned if he was going to let her go into this thing without the best protection they had. He thought she would argue for a moment, but then she grabbed the gun and tucked it into the back of her jeans, lifting her shirt over it.

"Ready?" he asked, and Jessica nodded.

"Let's go get your dad," she said.

The building was where the girl – Meg – had said it would be, right by the river, Sunrise Apartments, and Dean figured the demons thought they were pretty damn clever, hiding right in the middle of a bunch of people who practically had "possess me" stamped on their freakin foreheads. Unlucky for them, Dean wasn't exactly a slouch in the brains department himself, plus he had a pretty girl with him who could pull the fire alarm without anyone suspecting her and then sweet-talk the firemen while Dean broke into their truck and stole their gear. It was easy – almost too fucking easy, but Dean wasn't about to look a gift-horse in the mouth, not with Sam missing, not when he had to snatch Dad back from under the noses of a bunch of demons for crying out loud, and the two of them were geared up and ready to go in under two minutes.

"I always wanted to be a fireman when I grew up," said Dean when they were halfway along a landing, then clamped his jaw shut because that was dumb thing to say, Sam missing and Dad maybe possessed (maybe worse) and he wanted to be a fireman when he grew up? Jesus.

"You'd have made a good one," said Jessica, and he looked at her in surprise, but he couldn't see her face under the alien mask or whatever those fucking things were that firemen wore over their faces. Dean had stopped wanting to be a fireman when he was eight years old, and he'd never got around to finding out what those things were called. He chewed his lip a little and checked the EMF, but nothing was going on.

"Next floor," he said, and Jessica nodded a little. The fire gear had to be hell on her – for all Dad'd made her train whenever they had time the last eight months or so, she was still thin, still a girl. Hell, less than a year ago she'd practically been homecoming queen, for Christ's sake.

"What'd you want to be?" he asked, and wondered why he'd said it, except he kinda just wanted to know, he'd been hanging around this chick for months, shared more with her than he'd ever shared with anyone who wasn't family, and he didn't even know what she wanted except that she wanted Sam.

Jessica paused a second on the stairs, looked at him, but he still couldn't really see her face. "I don't know," she said. "I wanted to make a difference." She laughed, sharp even through the alien mask. "Guess it doesn't matter now."

"You don't think this is making a difference?" Dean asked, but either Jessica didn't hear or she pretended not to. Either way, Dean kinda wished he hadn't asked.

"I wanted to marry him, you know," said Jessica, and Dean stumbled over a step. OK, so it was kind of his fault, but this was a fucking weird place to be having this conversation. And then again, it wasn't like the two of them found themselves in many places that weren't weird, so.

"Yeah?" he said, not really sure how to respond, but wanting her to keep talking, suddenly just wanting to hear about Sam, about her and Sam and what it was that'd made her come all this fucking way for a guy who never even told her the truth.

"Yeah," she said. "I don't… know, I mean. I knew there was something he wasn't telling me, and sometimes that made me so mad, sometimes he made me so mad, but. I would have been OK with it. I loved him so much."

Dean nodded, holding the EMF out but not really seeing it. Loved, past tense. "I guess a lot of things have changed since then," he muttered.

Jessica was quiet for a moment. "Not everything," she said.

Dean opened his mouth, because damn, if there was ever a time for a smart-ass reply this was it, except then the EMF was going off, and he flicked his eyes at Jessica and hammered on the door.

"This is the fire department," he yelled. "We need you to evacuate."

John's in the back room, on his back on the bed, and she's not sure she's ever been so glad to see him before, but she's dousing him with holy water anyway. Dean glares at her, but Dean's not exactly the best judge when it comes to his family, and she's not about to take the risk that John's possessed. He doesn't hiss, though, just opens his eyes and mutters something, and he looks tired and old, like he did when Sam was dead. Dean hauls him off the bed and they head to the window, her first, then John, then Dean, clambering down the fire escape into the street, and she thinks they're going to make it, thinks that maybe they're going to get away with walking straight into a trap and getting out scot-free, except she's only taken a few stumbling steps away from the building, John leaning heavily on her shoulder, when she hears Dean yell behind her and turns to see him crashing to the ground with a guy on top of him, a guy with black eyes oh God, and he's punching Dean, smacking him in the face so hard she can hear the hurt from where she's standing, and she doesn't even think about it, just races forward trying to grab the guy around the throat, because demon or no demon she's not going to let it hurt Dean. The thing is, though, demon or no demon is all very well except when the thing you're attacking actually is a demon, and it barely shrugs but she finds herself flying through the air, landing hard on the ground, gravel scraping against her arm and hip. There's no time to worry about grazes, though, because the thing's still got Dean and John's barely conscious and it's up to her, God, up to her to stop it, and she struggles to her feet, sees that it's still punching Dean and he's stopped struggling now, blood leaking from his nose and mouth, she needs to stop it and she can only think of one way and her hand's on the gun before she even really thinks about it, aiming carefully because she's only got one shot and she's not good at this, she's not a natural like Dean, and then.

And then the crack is loud in her ears and her arm jerks with the recoil and the demon stiffens and topples to one side and she just, she just killed a man, a real person and shit. Shit.

But there's no time, no time, and she stumbles over to Dean and grabs his arm, hauls him up and thanks God that both he and John seem to more or less be able to walk on their own, glazed eyes and staggering maybe, but it's good enough, because as much as she might want to she can't carry them, can't carry either of them. She keeps a hand on Dean, steers him in the right direction down the alley and doesn't look back at the man she killed.

I wanted to make a difference, that's what she told Dean. This isn't what she meant.

The cabin has two rooms, and she's glad of it, glad that John tells her to go and check that the windows are all salted, because it means she can be alone for a second, can collapse onto the bed in the back room and put her head in her hands. She killed someone, and she's been training with the stupid guns for months, but that was to defend herself, that was to kill ghosts, and maybe that still sounds a little ridiculous even after all this time, but better ridiculous than murder. She wonders what her parents would think, if they could see her now. Jessica Moore, golden child, valedictorian, college dropout, murderer.

"Hey," says a voice, and she looks up to see Dean in the doorway. His face is swollen purple and black, and she thinks about how once upon a time, she thought Dean was a thug who she wouldn't like to meet in a dark alley. Now she thinks maybe she's the one they should be scared of.

"Can you give me a minute?" she asks, but Dean hovers, doesn't go away.

"You saved my life," he says. "You don't have to be sorry about it."

"I'm not—" she says, because that's not it, she's not sorry for saving Dean, she's sorry for— "I just, I didn't know I could do that," she says. "Everything's just— I don't know."

Dean comes in, sits down on a chair that looks like it's about to collapse. She doesn't stop him.

"I'd do it," he says. "If it'd been Dad or Sam. If it'd been you. I'd've done it in a heartbeat."

She blinks at him, and it's weird, because she wants to be angry or scared, but she just feels a little bit safer. "Is that supposed to make it OK?"

Dean laughs, but not like he thinks it's funny, looks down. "No," he says. "Just, I get it."

She looks at the floor, too, feels like she ought to give something up in return. "I'd do it again," she says. "That's what's so bad. Even if I had time to think, I'd still do it again."

She looks up in time to see Dean nod. "I know," he says, and she expects him to say something afterwards, something like it's OK or it was the right thing to do, but instead he chews his lip for a minute and then says "Were you ever a cheerleader?"

"What?" she says, and Dean looks surprised, like he didn't actually mean to say that, then shakes himself a little and plasters a smirk onto his face.

"You know, cheerleader," he says. "Pom-poms, yelling, all that crap?"

"Are you hitting on me?" she asks, and Dean's smirk spreads, turns into an actual smile.

"What can I say?" he says. "Sammy may be a geek, but he's got taste, I'll give him that."

"Shut up," she says, but she's laughing, a little, and it feels like freedom. John's OK, and now maybe Sam will come back, maybe this can be over, or this part of it at least. Dean flashes his teeth at her and stands up, heads for the door, but she knows he wasn't hitting on her, knows the question was serious, and she doesn't know why he wanted to know, but she wants to tell him, wants someone in her new life to have a piece of her old one, someone other than Sam.

"I never was," she says, and Dean turns, hand on the door handle. She snorts. "I hated football. All sports, really. Boo-ring," she says, hitting the intonation just right, like she's sixteen all over again.

Dean's smiling, not grinning now but smiling. "Sammy likes soccer," he says, and she smiles back, feels this.

"I know," she says. "I used to watch him play sometimes." That's her Sam, and Dean's Sam, too. That's Sam.

Dean nods, and then slips away, and she looks back at the floor, thinking. She killed a man today, killed him to save the life of a guy she's been furious with more often than not over the last ten months.

And she'd do it again.

She's not sure how long she sits there, but she gets to her feet when she hears Dean's voice rising in the other room, makes sure the salt is thick at the windows and opens the door, opens her mouth to ask what's going on and closes it again, fingers tightening around the doorknob, when she sees, because John's got his hands raised, face tight in a frown, and Dean's oh God pointing a gun at him, pointing the Colt at him and she doesn't know what's happening but she's not safe any more.

"What?" she says, and Dean lifts the gun a little.

"He's possessed," he says, and John sighs.

"We don't have time for this, Dean," he says. "We need to find your brother."

"You're not my Dad," says Dean.

"Jessica, help me out here," says John, but she's not listening, fear curling in her belly and she thought the holy water would do it but Dean knows, Dean knows his father, she trusts Dean more than she trusts anyone in the world right now, and she forces herself to walk without staggering, goes to stand behind Dean.

"You're not John," she says, and John's face turns down at the edges.

"Fine," he says. "You're both so sure? Go ahead. Kill me." He drops his head, he looks so tired, and she knows Dean won't do it, knows that she probably wouldn't either, because John's still in there even if he's not alone. Dean swallows hard and lowers the gun, and then they're really screwed, because John lifts his head and his eyes are yellow and then she's flying through the air, smacking against the boards of the wall so hard that she can't breathe for a moment or two, she's closed her eyes without even noticing, and now she opens them to see Dean pinned up against the wall opposite, pinned like something's pressing against him, head tipped back, cords standing out in his neck, but there's nothing there, nothing in the space between them but the Colt, lying in the dust of the floor like it didn't cause all of this.

"What are you?" she says, and tries to turn her head to look at John – not John, not John just like Dean wasn't Dean in Massachusetts, just like Sam wasn't Sam in St. Louis, and she's getting so tired of this, so tired of being tricked by her own senses. She strains her neck muscles, but something she can't see is pressing against her cheek, against her skull, and a moment later John (not John, not John) steps into view, bends down to pick up the Colt, moving slowly, but not like he's hurt, like he's savouring the moment.

"Quite a question, coming from you," not-John says, and curls his fingers around the gun. It looks like a toy in his hand, and she wonders if he's going to kill them with it. That doesn't make sense, though – the gun can kill anything, and wasting bullets on a couple of humans when you've got the power this thing's got would be ridiculous. The thought doesn't make her feel any safer.

"What a pain in the ass this thing's been," not-John says, looking down at the gun in his hands almost regretfully, and she remembers the way Sam stared at it when John first brought it back from Colorado, like it was a snake, like it was the end of the world. He knew even then, and she wonders if what's happening now is what he was trying to stop, or if it would have been worse, if it could have been worse. Not-John's eyes flick up to her face, yellow like pond-slime or sulphur, and he licks his teeth and grins.

"Should have stayed in California, little girl," he says. "Sammy's dead, and John's mine now, and this one?" He gestures towards Dean without looking round. "He's not worth it."

She grits her teeth (Sammy's dead) and doesn't look away, because if all she can move is her eyes, then she's damn well gonna make that count. Not-John just grins like it's the funniest thing he's ever seen, then turns to Dean. "Daddy says hi, by the way," he says. "He's looking forward to killing you. In fact," not-John steps closer to Dean, leans in, but speaks loud enough so that she can still hear him, "I bet you're looking forward to it, too, aren't you? Always doing your best to play the martyr for your family. And when John's done shredding the flesh from your bones, you'll get to be with little Sammy for ever, just like you've always wanted."

"Sam's not dead," says Dean, and his eyes flick up, away from not-John and over to her, just for a second. "I don't believe it."

Not-John laughs, deep and throaty, and it's happier than John's laugh has ever been, deep and convivial and it sounds like long winter evenings by the fire and it makes her want to crawl out of her skin. "You just keep telling yourself that, Deano," he says. "But you couldn't protect him in the end. He burned, and he's burning now."

She swallows, tries to push the image of Sam on fire out of her head, because she knows that's not what happened, she knows they found Sam in Lawrence and nobody burned there that night, and she can't figure out why not-John and the Meg-demon keep telling this story. Dean, though, he rolls his head a little, like he's pulling to get away, widens his eyes.

"You're lying!" he yells. "They would have found the body, we would have heard," and she's staring at him now, because surely Dean doesn't believe this, he knows Sam didn't die in the fire in Lawrence, and she thinks for a second that maybe she's gone crazy, maybe she's been imagining Sam all this time, the way that Sam imagines the other Dean, but then Dean's eyes land on her and flick away and she realises that he's playing along, that he wants the demon to think Sam's dead, and then she remembers Sam before John left, before Sam left, I'm gone, you need to remember that, they can't read your mind, and she gets it and lets out a sob.

The not-John turns to face her in a second, flat yellow eyes looking so wrong in John's face. "That's right, sweetheart," he says. "Lover-boy's all ashes now, and you've wasted the last year for nothing. Although I had been planning to kill you, so I guess you got the better end of the deal." The thing – the demon, it's the demon that killed Sam and Dean's mother, God – looks back at Dean for a second and then smiles. "Better late than never," it says, and raises its hand, and suddenly her body's on fire, pain flaring under her skin, flowing through her like blood, and she can hear Dean yelling something but she can't see, she thinks she might be screaming, and then there's a crash and the pain stops so suddenly that if the demon wasn't still pressing her to the wall she'd be on the floor by now. She opens her eyes, panting, and the door of the cabin's swinging wide and Sam's standing in the doorway, pale and manic-looking, eyes wide and rolling a little and hair stuck to his scalp with sweat.

"Get… the fuck away from her," he says, and she sees the demon falter, almost fall back a step, and then smile.

"Well, well, well, look who decided to join the party," it says, and it's distracted enough now that she can turn her head, look at Sam, look at Dean, but she's not getting any clues from either of them, she doesn't know what she's supposed to do. The demon cocks its head on one side, like it's considering Sam. "So, you learned a few new tricks, I see," it says. "That could come in handy."

"F-, fuck you," says Sam, and she sees he's even more out of breath then she is, and he's taking a step backwards, back out of the cabin. "You hurt them, I'll never be your soldier."

The demon chuckles, low and sweet. "Little early in the game for that kind of negotiation, Sammy-boy," it says. "But never let it be said that I frown on ambition." It takes a couple of steps forward. "You've always been my favourite, even before you were fucked in the head."

"Come on, then," says Sam. "Come and get me." He's fully outside now, nothing out there but darkness and trees and nothing to pin him against, but the demon grins.

"My pleasure," it says, and Sam flies forward suddenly, stumbles into the cabin, the door slamming behind him, and the demon takes one more step and then she feels the pressure on her chest let up a little and Sam starts to laugh.

"Gotcha," he says, wiping the back of his hand across his face, and the demon raises his eyebrows. Sam looks up, and the demon follows his gaze. There's a symbol on the ceiling in white chalk, intricate and huge, and she recognises it as the one from Bobby's, the one they used to stop the Meg-demon from escaping. Sam's laughing, and she can almost move, she pulls against the force that's still pressing on her and she sees Dean doing the same, but then the demon starts laughing too, raises its eyebrows at Sam, and the ceiling cracks, the symbol splitting down the middle and plaster dust raining down on all of them, and the demon's still laughing, God, she's going to be dreaming of that laugh for the rest of her life, if she has any life left to live.

"You didn't think a few lines of chalk could stop someone like me, did you?" the demon asks, takes a step forward then, stops, frowning.

Sam falls backwards a little fingers scrabbling for the wall like he needs something to hold him up, but he's grinning. "No," he says. "I didn't."

"Sam, what—" she says, and Sam glances at her, looks confused for a second, then apologetic.

"Iron under the, under the floorboards," he says. "Needed time to do it."

The demon snarls, and suddenly she's back against the wall again, and she hears a head hit wood with a crack that's too loud, but she doesn't know if it's Dean or Sam, the three of them a captive audience, now, with the demon trapped in the middle.

"I can still kill you from in here," the demon says. "But I think I'll start with Miss America." He turns towards her, and Sam closes his eyes and she thinks this is it, this is the end, but then Sam starts speaking.

"Exorcizamus t-," he says, and then swallows like he can't remember the next part and opens his eyes, looking over at the wall where Dean is. "God, no, stop," he says. "Dean, no!"

The demon laughs, and Sam's attention snaps back to it. "Exorcizamus," he says. "Exorcizamus te, om— omnis immundus— Shut up!"

The demon grins at her. "Looks like lover boy's losing it," it says. "Not such a catch after all, is he?"

She thinks she should be afraid, then, because this thing can apparently kill her without breaking a sweat, even from inside the iron circle that Sam's made, but this is what ruined Sam's life, Sam's life and Dean's life, John's life and her life, and she's done being afraid, she doesn't care about fear any more, all she wants is for it to be dead. She doesn't look away, and pain starts spreading through her body again, but not as strong as before, not as fast, and she lifts up her chin.

"Exorcizamus te," she says. "Omnis immundus spiritus, omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio—" she lets out a groan as the pain increases, God, she wants to double over, curl around herself and just stop this, and she tries to force the next words past her teeth, but she can't do it, she can't—

"Omnis incursion infernalis adversarii," comes Dean's voice from across the room, and she opens her eyes to see him staring, eyes fixed on hers, and when he sees her looking he nods. "Omnis legio, omnis congregatio et secta diabolica." The demon whirls, and suddenly the pain lets up, she coughs twice and then Dean's face is twisting and she forces her brain to remember where they are in the ritual.

"In nomine et virtute Domini Nostri Jesu," she yells, fuck you you bastard fuck you, and the wind's starting to get up now, Sam's got his hands on his temples like he's having a vision and Dean's eyes are tight closed, but she's free, apparently the iron circle means the demon can't keep them all down at once, and she's never been so glad that she bothered to memorise something in her life. "Christi, eradicare et effugare a Dei Ecclesia, ab animabus ad imaginem Dei conditis ac pretioso divini Agni sanguine redemptis." It's all she has time for before the demon's turning back to face her, John's face twisted in a rage that isn't his, and it's barely turned before Dean's voice shouts above the wind, hoarse and frayed.

"Non ultra audeas, serpens callidissime, decipere humanum genus, Dei Ecclesiam persequi, ac Dei electos excutere et cribrare sicut triticum." And the demon's still staring at her, but the pain's less, the pressure's less, like the exorcism's sucking away its power, and the wind's enough to make the ends of her hair whip in her face, the lights flicker and go out, leaving everything silver and black and alien, and the demon's not grinning any more, but she is, she's grinning at the thing that's caused so much hurt and she's done being afraid. Pain twinges in her gut, but Dean's still chanting, and it's faded, faint, like an echo of something she's forgotten.

"Fuck you, you bastard," she says, and joins in with Dean, hurling the last few lines out with as much force as she can, and then John's body is on its knees, eyes spread wide, head thrown back, throat working grotesquely as greasy black smoke pours from his mouth and the smell of sulphur fills the room, so thick it makes her gag. The Colt drops from John's hand and skitters across the floor to land at her feet, and she drops on her knees and grabs it, looks up to see the thing go back to hell, and that's when she realises it's not going anywhere, it's hanging in the air, roiling and twisting like a live thing (and it is alive, Jesus Christ) but not escaping out through the ceiling, not like when they exorcised Meg, and the wind's still wild, so loud that she almost doesn't hear Dean screaming Sam's name, but then she does, and she turns.

Sam's on his knees on the floor, fingers digging into the sides of his head and blood trickling out of his nose, black in the moonlight. He's staring at the roiling smoke, jaw set, and Dean's crawling over to him, the wind so fierce now he can barely stand, and then Dean looks at her and yells "Shoot it, for Christ's sake, shoot it."

She looks down at the gun in her hands and then up at the smoke, and it's writhing like it's trying to get away, but something's keeping it there, Sam's keeping it there, God, and then she's raising the gun for the second time that day, taking aim as carefully as she can, and she thinks this isn't fair, this shouldn't be her, it should be one of them, they're the ones that have been searching for this thing their whole lives, after all.

And then she remembers that if Sam had never got a phone call in the middle of the night last October, this thing would have burned her on the ceiling like she was nothing but a pawn, and she pulls the trigger.

The bullet rips through the cloud like it's something solid, and a shriek fills the room, and she feels like her senses are on overload, the taste of sulphur sour in the back of her throat and her ears ringing with the wind and the screaming and her eyes unable to cope with the mass of black and white and jumbled lines that used to be a cabin and furniture and people. Light spills out of the hole in the cloud, golden and sputtering, and then suddenly the oily smoke gets ragged, like something's tearing it apart, streamers flapping in the wind, and as she watches, the rags shred themselves to nothing and they're gone. They're gone.

The wind's gone, too, and the howling, and there's nothing but the lingering smell of sulphur left to let her know that any of it happened at all. She drops the gun, not because she wants to, but because her fingers won't listen to her any more, and she's considering collapsing on the floor when she feels a hand on her arm, and she looks round and it's Sam.

"Is that Dean?" Sam asks, eyes wide in the moonlight, and she looks and sees Dean crouching by his father, checking for a pulse. Sam looks over, and then his eyes flick beyond Dean to the far wall, where Dean was pinned not ten minutes ago. "Which one is Dean?" he whispers.

She tries for a smile. "That one," she says, and points at Dean, and Sam sort of crumples in on himself, crashes onto her like he can't hold himself up any more, and she lets him come, because maybe she has more strength left than she realised.

"I'm sorry," Sam whispers. "I needed it not to know I was alive."

"Because you knew how to kill it," she says, and shifts so that Sam's head is in her lap, using her cuff to wipe the blood from her upper lip.

"I thought I – I thought I could save you," says Sam, and there's a tear tracing a path from the corner of his eye down into his hair, and she brushes it onto the tip of her finger and smiles.

"You did save me, baby," she says. "You saved us all."

And Sam closes his eyes like that's all he needed to hear.

It's nearly dawn when she stumbles out of the door of the cabin, desperate for some air. Sam's sleeping and John's resting, and Dean's just sitting in the corner looking shell-shocked, and she just needs to get away for a moment, needs to try and digest all the things that have happened tonight. The light outside is dim and grey, the air cool with morning, and she drops down on a fallen log and just breathes, trying to clear the sulphur out of her lungs. She's been sitting there maybe five minutes when she realises she's not alone, and she opens her eyes to see Dean watching her, but the cabin door's still closed, and she never heard it open.

"What do you want?" she asks, too tired to be scared or even angry any more.

"Is that any way to greet an old friend?" Dean asks, and sits down on the log next to her, maybe a foot of space between them. She shifts away.

"You're not my friend," she says. "You don't know what a friend is."

Dean – the not-Dean – thinks about that for a moment, head cocked on one side. Then he shrugs. "Well, hey, I guess nobody's perfect." He flashes her a grin. "But I saved your ass, so that gets me some points, right?"

"We saved ourselves," she says. "Sam's plan. We fought. You didn't do anything."

The not-Dean raises his eyebrows. "Yeah, cos getting your throat cut by a freakin demon's a fun time for the whole family," he says, and she narrows her eyes at him, something jogging in her memory, throat cut by a demon.

"You—" she says, and thinks about it some more, then, "Pastor Jim. That was you."

The not-Dean grins. "See, I knew you were the smart one. Sammy wouldn't play ball unless I made sure Jim and that Caleb dude were safe. Let me tell you, playing demon-victim twice in twenty-four hours sucks ass."

"Wouldn't play ball with what?" she asks, and the not-Dean glances towards the door of the cabin.

"No way to kill Azazel without a way to trap him," he says. "Turns out, Sam wanted to change the future a little bit too much. But all's well that ends well, right?" He looks back at her like he's expecting her to agree. "Demon's dead, you're alive, John's alive, Jim's alive, everybody's freakin alive. I should get a goddamn medal."

She stares, shaking her head. "What do you want?" she asks again, and the not-Dean raises an eyebrow.

"Need to talk to Sammy," he says. "He ain't exactly overflowing with brotherly love for me right now, if you know what I'm saying. Figure you might be able to convince him."

A laugh bubbles up in her throat, and she lets it come, because there's no reason not to, not any more. "Are you serious?" she says. "You put us all at risk for some stupid divine game of one-upmanship and you want me to help you? How stupid do you think I am?" She shakes her head and doesn't even wait to see what the not-Dean's reaction is, doesn't give a damn about the thing any more, angel or no angel, doesn't give a damn about any of it. She's off the log and heading for the door of the cabin when the not-Dean yells after her.

"Come on, are you seriously telling me you're not going to help me?" he calls. "Whose side are you even on?"

She looks back, and she can't tell what his expression is in the pre-dawn gloom, but she doesn't care. "Theirs," she says, nodding her head at the cabin, and then she turns and doesn't look back.

She's almost at the door of the cabin when it swings wide, and Sam's half-falling through the doorway, good hand clamped around Dean's forearm, dragging him after. She stares for a second, and then Sam stops and grins at her, teeth the brightest thing in the little clearing.

"Come on," he says. "You've got to see it."

She frowns at Dean, and Dean shrugs and rolls his eyes, and then Sam's running down the gravel road towards the highway, pulling Dean after him, and she follows, letting her stride lengthen until she's sprinting, wind rushing against her skin and water starting at the corners of her eyes. Sam pelts down the road, barely making the corners, and then he stops at the bottom, so suddenly that Dean crashes into him and she barely manages to pull up in time to stop herself doing the same.

"Sam, what—" she says, but Sam puts a finger to his lips.

"Wait," he says, and they do. There's no noise except a few birds and the distant rumble of traffic, and the faint sound of crunching footsteps that she assumes is John coming down the road.

"What are we waiting for?" says Dean after a couple of minutes, and Sam waves a hand at him.

"In a minute, just, just wait a minute," he says, and then a semi rumbles past, heading north, close enough that she falls back a step and gravel spits up against the nearby trees, and Sam tips his head back and whoops, turns to them, grin so wide she thinks his cheeks might break, and she can't help but smile back, even though she has no idea what's going on.

"Did you see?" Sam asks, grabbing her arm. "Did you see?"

"Sam, what are you talking about?" asks Dean, but then Sam turns to him.

"Dad's OK, right?" he says, and before Dean can answer, Sam turns and yells "Dad?"

"I'm right here," comes John's voice, and she turns to see him rounding the last corner, frowning, but not looking unhappy, just confused.

"Dad's OK," says Sam, and he sounds awestruck. He looks at Dean, then at her, then at his father, and back to Dean. "Yeah, Dean," he says. "It was worth it."

Dean has time to flash her a confused glance before suddenly she's being crushed, Sam's got his arms wrapped around her and Dean both, and she's pressed against Sam's chest and Dean's side and Sam's grinning down at her like she's the best thing that ever happened to him and it's everything she imagined getting Sam back would be and more, more because she has more now than just Sam.

"It was worth it," Sam says, and she knows he's right, maybe she didn't get the Sam she expected, but it was worth it all the same. Sam's been gone three hundred and five days.

He's not gone any more.