Title: When Heroes Go Down (They Go Down Fast) 1/?
Summary: The war is at hand. It's demon against man and we're losing the fight. The special children are wreaking havoc across the land, side by side with demons. Dean is on a desperate hunt to save his brother while leading a small band of survivors to a final showdown.
Disclaimer: I own nothing winchestery. Alas. Alack. It's all you, kripke.
There are children standing here, arms outstretched into the sky, tears drying on their face. He has been here.
Houses burnt beyond repair. The smell of death is in the air. A woman weeping in despair says, he has been here.
And I see no bravery, no bravery in your eyes anymore. Only sadness. -- James Blunt
They walk in silence, dusty boots on dusty streets. The sky is ash and the air smells of smoke. Dean thinks the constant stink of death is finally fading, or maybe he's just gotten used to it. The rusting shells of cars rot in driveways, gutted houses hunch on blackened foundations.
Milwaukee's a dead city now, bled dry of citizens and hope. They pass a park littered with bodies. Burnt trees raise gnarled hands in prayer, and Dean bares his teeth: good luck. Prayer hasn't done anything for him or Sam, and he's tried—they've all tried. But nobody's listening. Nobody he wants to hear him, anyway.
It takes a few days to cross the city. They haven't come across any stragglers for almost a week now, but they haven't come across any solders from The One Army, either, and that? Is a genuine bona-fide miracle.
Dean turns to the man beside him. They don't need to speak; in fact, they try not to. The sound of voices has a tendency to bring out the curious, and more often than not, the curious are demons or TOA soldiers—and both groups are bad news. Izzy staggers after them. She's crying again, but it's mostly a lot sniffling with a few mumbles and she's not too loud. He lets her keep it up, let out some of the grief.
God knows he'd like to.
The rumors aren't much at first—a few whispers around the Roadhouse, a little bit of gossip. Then people start dying from a mysterious disease down in Mexico. Highly contagious, causes extreme violence. The whispers grow louder when two towns disappear overnight near the California border. The cops find a lot of blood, a lot of weapons, but not much else.
And then it hits Los Angeles. Mass panic. Car accidents. Shootings. Fires. And so much fucking death. And when everyone is freaked out of their minds, that's when the first soldiers appear.
Todd Simons of Oakland, California walks the halls of Berkeley electrocuting students with his hands.
Carol Hawthorn and her twin sister Karen set the Mall of America on fire. They don't need matches.
Jake Meyer stabs his whole family, using telekinesis and a butcher knife. Then he proceeds to kill everyone in a two block radius before the police arrive. He kills three police officers by turning their guns on them before a sniper takes him out.
It goes on and on. No one knows who to trust. The government thinks it's terrorism, and in a way, it is. Not against a country: against humanity. The military tries to crack down on the kids perpetrating the attacks. They call them clairvoyants or telekinetics on CNN, and the politicos debate about a sixth sense and ESP. Eventually slang takes over, with words like Espies and Sixers.
They spend their time exorcising demons when Sam's not having nightmares. He's scared to death and Dean doesn't know what to do. A part of him just wants to pick Sam up and run (go, Dean, go, just as fast as you can) with him.
But Sam's too big and there's nowhere to go.
Bottom of Form 1
He's been tracking Sam for months now. He can always sense when he's close, he can feel his presence like a vibration in his teeth.
Following the trail of mutilated bodies works too.
Sam's nightmares are getting worse. He won't talk about them, but from the way he doesn't eat and talks in flat monosyllables, Dean's pretty sure he's getting visits from The Demon.
Sam thinks about death all the time. His death. Dean's death. He sees the faces of the ones he didn't save whenever he closes his eyes. He thinks about the feel of his gun (comfortable, cool, calm) in his hand and wonders how many people he could kill. And then he vomits on the side of the road, head down, fists clenched, eyes streaming. He grits his teeth while Dean says, "Sam? What's wrong?"
What's wrong is, he's trembling on the edge. The edge of sanity, the edge of death. And wouldn't it just be easier to fall? But he just leans his head against Dean's shoulder because Dean's the only good thing left. Dean's the anchor that keeps him steady. And Sam tells himself that as long as Dean's okay, he will be too.
Sometimes Sam leaves messages for Dean. Scarlet words on soot-covered walls. One message reads, I'm waiting. A note is nailed to the body of a woman hanging from a tree. It says Hey bro, you're a little late.
Dean cries after that one. Not for long. He lets himself have five minutes to fall apart. Then he has to bind himself back up; tamp the memories down good and hard. He wipes his face on a dirty sleeve. That's when he sees the two pale faces watching.
The Sixers call themselves The One Army. As far as Dean can tell, their mission statement is pretty simple: kill everyone. And they sure as hell try.
He and Sam are trying to meet up with Andy and Sarah at the Roadhouse when it all goes to hell. The Roadhouse is burnt to the ground, the smell of smoke still in the air. A skull smiles up from the dirt. Before they can even register the horror, the Sixer soldiers are there, one on each side of Dean. Andy's frozen in place, all rolling eyes and shaking hands.
Sarah runs to Sam, her mouth gaping in a silent scream, and one of the soldiers smiles and says kill yourself in a voice thick with blood and shadows and power. Andy turns and shouts don't,his own voice reverberating, but it's too late because she pulls the gun out of Sam's waistband, puts it in her mouth, and pulls the trigger. Her blood sprays across Sam's face, in his eyes, in his mouth.
The Sixer holding Dean smiles and puts a hand on Dean's forehead. "He's next."
The next thing Dean knows, he's on the ground. Everything hurts. His eyes, his teeth, his bones. She electrocuted him. Fucking bitch. But he can move, and he's already trying to sit up so it's not that bad. And he wonders about that. Why is he still alive? Why didn't she kill him?
Because of Sam.
It's a trap.
He should have seen it. He should have seen it, but he didn't. And now Sam is standing fifteen feet away radiating rage -- and power. Sam's shaking and blinking and the look on his face makes Dean want to cover his eyes and scream. Sam's strong and he's not letting go of the power yet, he's holding on, but Dean can see it's breaking him. He can feel it crackle in the air, and it makes him think of summer storms on a humid night.
The male Sixer pulls a gun and puts it to Dean's head. The barrel feels cold against his skinHe thinks, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
The whites of Sam's eyes show and his nostrils flare. He screams, spit and Sarah's blood flying. "If you touch him I'll kill you! I'll kill you!"
"It's okay," Dean grits out, and the sweat rolls off him. "Sam, it's o--"
And then Sam's back arches and energy slams out of him. The Sixer is lifted off his feet and slammed into the wreckage of the bar. A broken board punctures his chest and he twitches, once, twice, and then lies still.
Dean's mouth drops and terror claws at his gut. "Sam!"
Andy's hands are buried in his hair and he screams again, "Sam, stop!" Because they don't know what will happen if Sam (a special child, so fucking special) kills. But they suspect. Dean suspects. And now it's too late.
Something is wrong with Sam's head. A light has just gone on, a hidden room unlocked – and whatever is in that room should stay there. But now it's free, and it wants to explore. This is Sam's on switch for The Demon. It's his initiation into The One Army. It draws a line between the Sam that was and the Sam that will be.
Sam falls to his knees, trying to close the door again, but he can't get a firm hold, he can't reach, he can't. "He was going to kill you," he mutters, swaying.
The female Sixer holding Dean shoves him away. "Get out of here," she growls. She flexes a hand and sparks of electricity ripple over the skin of her knuckles.
Dean takes a step toward Sam and then he's running. oh dear God let him be Sam let him still be Sam please let him let him be him
Andy glares at the Sixer with narrowed eyes. "Get out of here."
The Sixer smiles but there's no warmth. "You know better than that, Andy Gallagher," she says. "I can't electrocute you. You can't mindfuck me." She licks her lips, rubs a hand down her thigh. "You can, however, fuck me the old fashioned way."
Dean's kneeling in front of Sam, a hand on each shoulder. "Sam, Sammy, can you hear me?"
Sam's face is still speckled with Sarah's blood, but the sickly pallor of his skin is unmistakable. The door swings wider. There's something there. Something coming. No. No. "Dean. You better kill me." Hurry hurry please Dean, hurry.
Dean blanches, shakes his head. "Sam. No."
Andy pulls a gun from his coat pocket. He matches the Sixer's smile. "My voice might not work, but a bullet will."
The Sixer's smile widens and Andy sees she's filed her teeth into points. She shrugs. "Go ahead. Kill me. But you're surrounded. Five more will come in my place. And sooner or later, you'll be one of us."
Andy clicks the safety off. "No. Never."
The Sixer nods toward Sam. "I bet that's what he thought too. The One Army needs him. My Commander needs him." She clicks her teeth. "So my Commander will have him."
Andy pulls the trigger.
The Sixer dodges and rolls behind the Impala. She's impossibly fast. Gunshots ricochet around them and Andy crawls under the car. Dean pulls Sam to the ground and throws himself on top of him. Sam lies still beneath Dean, eyes squeezed shut. His breath is hot against Dean's stubbled cheek. "I need a gun, Dean. I can still do it. Otherwise...otherwise you have to. You promised." His voice is the sound of betrayal and pain and fear, and Dean doesn't know how to fix it.
Sam's hand scrabbles out for his gun, still clasped in Sarah's hand. Dean pulls his arm back. "No, Sam. I'm not letting you do this."
The gunfire stops but Andy stays under the car for several minutes. When he can't stand the waiting any longer, he crawls out, slow and cautious.
Dean's lying on his side, unconscious. The female Sixer and her fellow soldiers are gone.
So is Sam.
There's a boy and a girl, no older than ten. Both of them wear the mismatched tracks of stitches across their faces. Both are gaunt with wide eyes that have seen too much.
They look like to two scared, wounded children, lost in a dying world. That doesn't mean that's what they are.
Andy hoists his shotgun, aimed and ready . Izzy's got her knife and the holy water. Dean pulls himself up to his full height and adjusts the hat on his head. He nods at the kids, his face solemn. "Christo."
The girl immediately says Christo back. She elbows the boy and he mutters, "Christo."
"Where is everone?" Dean asks.
The boy looks at the ground. Shuffles feet wearing tattered shoes. The girl stares back at Dean. She shrugs.
Dean reaches into his pack and pulls out a partially broken granola bar. It's old and stale, but food is food. He breaks what little is left into two pieces, and holds them out. The girl snatches both, then steps back, warily. She hands the bigger piece to her brother.
The pain is swift and unexpected. A fragment of memory – don't cry Sammy, you can have part of my candy bar – that cuts deep. Dean swallows, his dry throat working past the loss. These kids are brother and sister. He's sure of it. Dean flicks a look at Andy, then nods.
Andy smiles at the kids. "Where is everyone?"
Their replies are instantaneous.
The girl says, "Dead."
The boys whispers, "Gone."
"Who killed them? The One Army? Disease?"
The boy moves closer to his sister and snakes a thin, scabbed arm around her waist. He presses his face against her shoulder. "The tall man," he says. His eyes flick to the body of the dead woman hanging from the tree.
The girl pushes a greasy string of hair from her forehead. Dean can see there is a brand burned into her scalp. The letter R. He doesn't ask what the letter stands for. She stuffs the granola into her mouth with dirty fingers. "Some died from the Disease," she says, chewing. "Some from TOA. A demon came through last year and killed my mom and dad. He killed most everybody. Two weeks ago a man came through." Her face is impassive, but Dean's counting the stitches on her face. There's gotta be at least fifteen. "He killed the rest." Her fingers bruch the stitches tracking her cheek. "He did this."
"What did he look like?" Dean asks. But he already knows.
Dean and Andy waste some time trying to find out if Ellen and Jo survived. The phone lines have been down for months, the internet is long gone, and Dean has no idea where his cell phone is. Even if he had it, it's not like it would work. A few news reports trickle in on radios and the remaining televisions to tell them the rest of the world is just as fucked. One afternoon a tinny voice tells them South Dakota is pretty much one huge wasteland. Dean shuts the radio off and is quiet for the rest of the day. He wonders if Bobby got out alive.
He eventually realizes his search party for Sam is going to equal exactly the two of them and that's it. In late October they sit beside a campfire and Dean wishes that Sam were with him instead of Andy. If it would actually bring Sam back, his Sam, he's pretty sure he would shoot Andy in the head right now. He'd certainly sell his soul, make a deal with a demon, the devil, whatever it took. He'd trade his life, Andy's life, it doesn't matter. He just wants Sam.
But all he has is Andy. It's better than being alone. Right?
Andy runs a hand through his long hair. Shadows dance across his face. "What do we do now?" he wants to know.
"We find Sam," Dean says. His eyes burn, and he tells himself it's because of the smoke.
Izzy wants to give the kids an extra blanket and some apples she's been saving, but they refuse. They run off down the street, small legs pumping, clutching each other's hands. They don't look back.
Izzy sighs heavily, drops the apples back into her pack. Her mouth pulls into a tight line of misery.
Andy parts her shoulder. "It was a nice gesture," he says. "You tried."
"Let's keep moving," Dean says. The body of the dead woman sways in the breeze. Sam's note is crumpled on the ground where Dean left it. His feet are killing him, and he's so hungry his stomach lining is starting to eat itself. "I'll take one of those apples, Iz."
She sighs again, this time out of annoyance. She digs back into her pack and tosses an apple toward Dean. He catches it in one hand without looking.
They fall into the familiar pattern: Dean and Andy up front, Izzy right behind. They don't speak. Dean tries hard to keep it together, but every day without Sam feels a little more like hell. This isn't Sam running off to Stanford. This isn't Sam off on his own looking for destiny or some such shit. Dean's mouth tastes sour. Fuck destiny.
Dean's thankful for the company; he'd have gone crazy months ago without Andy, and Izzy's fine as long as she's not too freaked out. But as much as Andy tries, he's not Sam. Sam's absence feels like a missing limb. He's always reaching with a hand that's no longer there. He's always turning to say something to Sam, but there's only empty space where he should be. There's just Andy, and he's not good enough. No one's good enough to replace Sam.
It takes another two weeks for the gas to run out. Every gas station they try is empty. Most of them don't even have food or supplies left, though some still have employees decomposing behind the counter.
Dean feels like he should be crushed to leave his girl on the shoulder of some highway in Ohio. Andy's weeping like a baby over it, but Dean doesn't have the energy to care. All of his energy is already invested in finding Sam. It's easier to travel without the Impala, anyway. Most of the roads are too jammed up to make driving feasible now.
And hiding is easier on foot.
A field across from the highway is filled with wooden crosses. There are at least a hundred graves, maybe more. Dean looks at the soft mounds of dirt and wonders if a nearby town just gave up. Everyone took a shovel and dug their own shallow grave. Pulled a blanket of dirt over their heads and went to sleep.
A few miles past the makeshift cemetery they come upon a woman in stained pajamas standing in the road. Her face is covered in dirt and something else, maybe blood. Her hair hangs in thick snarls around her head. Dean can see a few leaves tangled in it.
"Christo," Dean calls.
It's the way you greet folks nowadays. No more hello. No more introductions. Just Christo and as much Latin as you can cram in your skull. When demons can wear anyone's face, you can't be too careful.
The girl doesn't even look at him, but she doesn't flinch. She's standing still, knees bent slightly, arms loose at her sides. That's when Dean notices the bloody screwdriver clenched in one fist.
"Christo," Dean repeats, a little softer. He pulls his gun out of his waistband and waits.
He can hear the girl talking softly to herself, and she repeats the word Christo a few times so at least she's not a demon. Then she shudders, takes a deep breath, and turns to Dean. "They're coming. We've got to go."
Dean regards her with obvious suspicion. "We don't have to go anywhere."
"There are two demons coming. One looks like a little boy. The other is in the shape of a dog. They're coming together." She cocks her head and mutters "together, together, forever."
Andy and Dean exchange looks. Andy twirls a finger by his ear in the universal sign for nutjob. Dean shrugs. He doesn't care if she's crazy or not, as long as she's not a demon. Or a Sixer. Dean leans toward Andy. "Ask her."
"Are you part of TOA?"
The girl takes a step backward. "I'm not anything. I'm nothing. And that's what you'll be if you don't move your asses." She finally looks at Dean and her eyes are the palest blue he's ever seen.
A dog barks in the distance.
Dean and Andy catch up with the girl easy enough and they move off the road. The three of them wait behind a dense cover of dying lilacs.
Dean can hear the child's voice now, high and sweet, while he talks to the dog. "Do you smell anyone yet?" he asks.
The dog growls low in his throat.
Before Dean has time to give orders, the girl is already whirling out of the bushes, the screwdriver ready. "Christo," she shrieks and the boy hisses at her. The dog yips once, turns in a quick circle, then resumes growling.
"Die, you fucker," she spits, and nails the screwdriver directly into the center of the demon's forehead.
Dean recovers quickly enough to take out the dog with one shot. The girl pulls the weapon out of the demon's head and wipes it clean on the hem of her pajama top.
"Jesus Christ," Dean says through clenched teeth, "you could have gotten yourself killed. And you didn't have to kill him. We could have done an exorcism on the kid."
She shakes her head. "Wouldn't have worked."
Dean's anger ramps up a few degrees. "Look, bitch, I know at least ten different exorcisms. We could have–"
Andy interrupts, pointing to the small figure on the blacktop. "Dean. His neck."
And Dean sees. The boy's neck is distended. A piece of bone protrudes from under his left ear. "He had a broken neck," Dean says softly. His eyes flick up the girl. "How did you know?"
"The voices tell me," she says simply.
"Well maybe they can tell me next time," he says, slipping his gun back into his belt.
"You're making fun of me," she says, eyes on Dean's face. It's not a question, it's a statement.
"I'm not." Dean says. "I'm not in a position to judge. Maybe you have some invisible choir of angels following you around giving you GPS on demons. Maybe you don't. Whatever you have, you helped us out when you didn't have to. And that's a rare thing."
Andy nods in agreement. "Thanks." He holds out his hand. "I'm Andy."
She stares at it moment, as if he's just offered her a severed foot. But then she grasps his hand and smiles, and the look transforms her face. "I'm Isobelle. But you can call me Izzy."
Dean dips his head, touches the brim of his hat. "I'm Dean."
"Nice to meet you."
She rolls her eyes then and drops Andy's hand. "And I don't have a choir of angels telling me about demons. It's mostly just my sister." She pauses. "She's dead."
They camp in an empty Amtrak station. They're not the first ones: the detritus of past occupants litters the station floor and walls. They wind their way through the garbage to a bench that's not broken. Izzy looks over her shoulder, then breathes "Oh my God." Dean and Andy both look up, tense.
Dean feels for his gun. "What?"
"A bathroom!" She grins likes it's Christmas and twirls herself over to the door. She pokes a head inside, then jerks herself back out. "Sweet Jesus it reeks," she yells, her face screwed up in disgust, but she forges ahead anyway and a triumphant cry filters through the door. "Guys, there's water!"
Dean smiles, and it feels wrong, like he's forgotten how. He pushes the door open and the three of them stand in front of dirty sinks filling almost empty bottles, laughing.
Izzy tells them she's off her medication. She used to take medication in the hospital and she couldn't hear her sister or any of the other voices. But since the hospital was abandoned, her sister is with her all the time.
Dean's pretty sure Isobelle never had a sister. She might be schizophrenic, or maybe she's got a posse of personal ghosts she hangs with – he has no idea. He asks what Izzy's sister's name is and she looks at him like he just asked for her panties. After that he just calls her Claudia, because that seems like a cool name for an invisible chick.
Imaginary or not, Claudia provides decent intel every once in a while. She knows there's a bunch of demons in Indianapolis so they give the city a wide berth.
One morning Izzy shakes Dean awake. It's still dark out but Dean's instantly alert, one hand on his gun, the other on his knife. "What?"
"He was here a few weeks back," she informs him.
"How do you know?" Dean asks. He doesn't need to ask who she's talking about.
"Claudia and some of the others saw him."
Dean stares at her, hard. "What do you mean, saw him?"
"Well, not him, but his footprints. Like, psychic footprints. She sees them in the air. Sometimes I do too."
Dean sighs. He feels tired now. Not sleepy, exhausted. "How do you know what his footprints look like, Iz? You've never seen him."
"They look a lot like yours."
Dean's eyebrows skyrocket. "I have psychic footprints?"
She gives him a look. "Of course. Everyone does."
Not for the first time he wonders if she's one of the special ones. But she's too young, she's only nineteen, and she's heard the voices all her life. "Listen to me," he tells her, his face solemn, "if Claudia ever tells you to kill me or Andy while we're sleeping, you don't listen, okay?"
"Of course I'll listen," Izzy says, "I can't turn her on and off. Just because I listen to what she says doesn't mean I have to do it, right?"
"Good girl." Dean pats her knee.
He smacks Andy's foot and he jerks awake. "Huh? What?"
"Time to go," Dean says. "We're gaining on him."
It's plenty warm in the station. Andy pours a large salt circle around them and they settle down for the night. Dean closes his eyes but can't sleep. He listens to Izzy whisper to Claudia instead.
"Am I crazy?" she asks softly. "Are you even real? Do I have a sixth sense?" She pauses, listening to a voice only she can hear. "I know. I'm just trying to figure out what I am."
Dean rolls over to look at her. "You're the same thing as me and Andy," he says hoarsely.
Izzy blinks at him in the semi darkness, her face a question.
They follow 294 from Indiana to Chicago. Every now and then they see someone walking in the opposite direction. More often they see the dead lying where they fell. They search pockets and bags like vultures, looking for food or weapons, but they rarely find either.
Six Flags Great America is a skeleton now, metal bones falling across the highway. Andy stares at the ruined roller coaster for a long time. "My mom brought me here when I was little." His voice is reverent with memories.
Izzy swings on a piece of scaffold like it's monkey bars. "I always wanted to go to Disneyland."
"It's a little late now," Dean comments. He keeps walking. He doesn't care about parks or rides or the past. Just Sam.
Izzy kicks her legs, swinging back and forth. "This is still pretty fun," she says. "Can we stay a while?"
"You can stay if you want," Dean says over his shoulder. "But Andy and I aren't."
"How come we never get to have any fun?" she demands, pouting.
Andy adjusts the strap of his bag. "There isn't any left to have."
They're eating a breakfast of apples and godawful jerky that Andy found in a burnt-out Walgreens a few days ago. None of them can identify the exact flavor. It's like trying to eat shoe leather, only Dean's pretty sure shoe leather would taste infinitely better. They each take a pee break behind the ticket counter and get ready to move on.
The outside doors swing open and a lone figure steps through. He's tall and thin, and for one second Dean's heart stops and he thinks it's Sam. But it's not. The figure moves closer, and Dean can see the man is older, his face lined, long graying hair tied back with a bandana. Andy lifts his shotgun and flashes Izzy an annoyed look, tinged with anger.
"What?" she shrugs. "Claudia didn't see him. I can't help it. Besides, he's not a demon."
"And yet I'm not comforted," Andy mutters from the corner of his mouth.
Dean's hand is on his gun. "Christo."
The man nods and responds, "Christo. Este salvi."
Dean's finger slides off the trigger, but he keeps his hand on the gun, just in case. "You be safe too," he says. "Nice Latin."
The man smiles thinly. "I knew Latin before the world went to hell."
"Good for you."
"You're not a demon, and you look a little long in the tooth for a TOA soldier," Dean comments. Andy and Izzy move in, flanking him on either side.
"I'm a letifer," the man says. He leans against a long walking stick.
Letifer. Latin for death-dealer. What the post-apocalypse hunters like to call themselves. Great.
"If you're a hunter, you don't have any business with us," Dean says and makes a little move along gesture.
The man's smile fades. "I'm on a job. I heard there was a Sixer in these parts. Part of the TOA."
Dean stares the man down. "Really." Andy shifts almost imperceptibly, but stays quiet.
The hunter taps his stick against the floor. "And the funny thing is, this particular Sixer used to be a hunter." His expression turns cold. "How's that for fucked up?"
Dean's chest tightens. He lifts his chin in defiance. "I've heard worse."
The hunter's eyes narrow. "I haven't. You three wouldn't know where he is, would you?"
Dean purses his lips. If he knew where Sam was, he wouldn't be standing here talking to this asshole. "Do we look like Sixers to you?"
"Can't be too careful," the man says and grasps the walking stick with both hands.
Dean shakes his head in disgust. "Dude. I'm not gonna play pick up sticks with you. If you want to hunt, fine. Move along. Find something worth hunting. I'm hunting the Sixer."
The hunter regards Dean thoughtfully. "We can hunt him together."
"No. We can't."
The hunter moves closer, swinging the stick in some kind of stick-fu way that makes Dean want to shoot him and be done with it. Instead he turns to Andy. "Get rid of him."
Andy clears his throat. "Drop the stick," he says, his voice loud.
The hunter stops moving and he blinks. He looks torn. Fury mixed with a desire to please. The stick drops to the floor. "You're sick of this hunt," Andy continues. "You want to go home."
The hunter eyes Andy and it's obvious he's trying to kill him with sheer willpower. It doesn't work. So the hunter turns and walks on stiff legs out the door.
Dean breathes a sigh of relief. He punches Andy's arm, but not hard. "Nice. Remember what I said, though."
Andy starts walking for the far exit and they follow. "Yeah, yeah. If I ever use the voice on you, you'll cut my head off and stuff it down my neck."
Dean nods and slaps Andy's back. "You know it."
The moon is a broken fingernail.
It doesn't give off much light, but the sky is hazy from too many fires, and they shuffle along well enough. They're crossing through Kenosha when they find a fast food restaurant that's still standing. It looks like all the food is long gone, but then, in a back cupboard, there's a box of stale saltine packets. Awe. Some. They fill their packs, duffels and pockets with as many crackers as they can.
"My grandma used to call these soda crackers," Izzy tells them, apparently at Claudia's request.
"That's funny, because--" Andy trails off and elbows Dean.
There's something in the parking lot. Behind the husk of a school bus. "We've got company," Dean grits.
Izzy's head comes up, eyes wide with anxiety. "There's a demon outside. And he's--" her face tightens with fear, "--he's in his pure form."
Andy's brow wrinkles. "Pure form?"
Dean lays his weapons out on an empty table top. "He's not dressed like one of us," he says, and starts loading ammo.
Dean picks his rifle up just as the plate glass window shatters. The three of them are back far enough to avoid most of the glass, but he's still pissed that they weren't ready.
Two figures stand in front of the bus watching them. One looks human, one doesn't. The possible human is a girl about Sam's age. Shoulder length dark hair. She's holding a machine gun and smiling. "Dean Winchester," she calls. "Nice to finally meet you."
The hairs stand up on the backs of Dean's arms. Now what?
Next to her is a tall humanoid shape made of fire – at least, it looks like it's made of fire. The fire is contained and glows a brilliant orange. It raises arm-like appendages, and the glass partition explodes behind them.
Andy's on one knee. He takes a shot and recites an exorcism while he reloads. He ducks behind a downed table. Izzy peers carefully over the formica top and takes a shot as well.
Dean pulls a glass bottle of holy water out of his duffle and lobs it at the demon. The glass breaks at the demon's feet and Dean can see the holy water hit. The flames stutter and there's a loud wailing noise, the sound of angry wind. Dean smiles darkly and tosses another bottle. The demon backs up a step.
"Stop it," the girl commands. "I'm here for Andy Gallagher."
"Andy's busy right now," Dean says. "Why don't you come back...oh, I don't know, how about never?"
"Don't you want to know how I know who you are?" she asks.
"Not really interested," Dean responds. "But I'm guessing you're a soldier. A little far from the front, aren't you?"
"You never know where you can find new recruits," she says with a smile.
She's cute, really. If she weren't an evil homicidal demon-loving killer, he might smile back. And there's something about her that seems...familiar.
"Don't make me kill you," she says warns, sounding a little too cheerful.
Andy's still belting out the Latin and the demon doesn't seem very happy about it. For the moment, the girl's attention is on Dean, not her fellow...whatever, and he's thankful.
He pops up from behind the table, gun at the ready, and squeezes off a single shot. One eye is closed, the tip of his tongue peeks out of his mouth in concentration. The girl slams against the bus and drops to the ground.
The demon is tossing tables around and Izzy takes some tossing as well. It throws Andy through the glass window on the other side of the restaurant. Dean takes up the exorcism and in another minute, the demon vanishes with a flash of ozone and a loud crack. The smell of sulfur hangs heavy in the air.
Breathing hard, Dean checks on Izzy. She's got a gash along one arm, but it's nothing a few stitches can't fix. Andy's alive, and while he's not exactly well, he'll be okay too. There's a piece of glass stuck in the back of his head and in his shoulder. He's going to need more than a few stitches.
Dean walks out to the fallen Sixer, his boots crunching glass beneath his feet. She blinks up at him in confusion. There's a bullet hole in the center of her forehead, neat and black and clean. There's very little blood, but he can see it pooling beneath her head. "Wha...happen?" she slurs.
"You tried to kill me and my friends," Dean replies.
Her head rolls in a vain attempt at denial. "No. Wouldn't do that. 'm a good person. Try to help. Try to help Sam."
Dean's stomach falls, and he crouches beside her. "What?"
"Sam Win...chester. Hadda vision."
Dean licks his lips, his mouth dry. "What's your name?"
She blinks. "Ever…thing's blurry. 'm cold."
Dean tries again. "What's your name?"
"Ava. Ava Wil...son."
Looks like we found her, Sammy.
Dean clasps his hands to keep them from trembling. "Ava, what's the last thing you remember?"
"I know. But this is important, Ava. Try to remember."
"Went to see Sam. Hadda vision. Tried to save him." Then her face contorts and she chokes out a sob. Her eyes bulge and Dean can see the uneven pupils. "No! No! I did bad things. oh my god, ohmygodohmygod, what did I do?" Tears leak from her eyes as they roll back and forth in her head, looking for someone to blame, someone to help. "What did I do? What did I do?" Her voice is a weak rasp and her body shakes while she begs for an answer she doesn't really want. Dean's trying to figure out if he should try to help her when she goes into a seizure.
It takes 43 seconds for her to die.
He remains beside her body for a while longer, thinking.
They smell the smoke long before they see it. A black column on the horizon. "You still see his footprints?" Dean asks Izzy.
An old woman, or maybe just a woman who looks old, is perched on the curb by a bus-stop sign. She's cradling something in her arms. When they get close, Dean can see it's the body of a child. The body is so decomposed he can't tell if it's a boy or a girl.
"Christo," Izzy says softly.
The woman looks up. Her eyes are blank and her smile is too big for her face. "Can you help me? Something's wrong with my boy."
Izzy turns away, a hand pressed to her eyes. Dean can't bring himself to meet the woman's pleading gaze. It's not the Sixers or the demons that are the worst, it's the people they've broken and left behind.
"I'm sorry," Andy mutters as he shuffles past.
Blocks away, they can still hear the woman calling, Can you help me?
Izzy is sleeping.
Andy's hunched beside the fire. He's afraid to sleep now – the Demon started visiting his dreams two nights ago. Dean feels a sense of deja vu. He remembers the way Sam sunk into a black mire of fear and depression. He doesn't want to lose Andy too.
He brings a hand to his temple and rubs the scar where Sam hit him all those months ago. Dean's fingers stray to the scar often. The last time Sam touched him. The last time Sam touched him was with his fist. After he saved Lenore, Sam said, I owe you one.
Izzy is pale, her hands clenched. She's afraid, and Dean doesn't blame her.
Sam's close. He's waiting. Dean's whole head vibrates with the knowledge, and he doesn't know what to expect. "Anything?" he asks Izzy for the third time in five minutes.
"I don't think so," she says. It's the same answer she gave the last time he asked. "She's not talking right now."
Dean wants to laugh. Even the imaginary people are scared.
Dean's feet pull him past empty stores and broken houses until he's standing at the end of a residential street. An old brownstone stands at the end of a cul de sac, and it's more or less untouched.
Sam is in there.
This is it. Now or never.
Dean stops, puts a hand on Andy's shoulder. "You need to stay outside and wait for me."
Andy gapes. "What? Are you crazy? There's no way I'm--"
Dean puts a hand up. "I don't want him killing you." He looks from Andy to Isobelle. "I'm not taking any chances. It's better that he just kill me instead of all three of us."
Izzy hugs herself. The stitches on her arm march in a neat row. "How about you kill him first? Isn't that the plan?"
Dean nods slowly. "Yeah," he lies. "That's the plan."
"I came all this way with you," Andy protests. "He was my friend too."
"And you're my friend," Dean says and there's some truth to it. "So wait for me. I'll call you if I need you."
He moves up the front steps slowly. He can feel their eyes on him, but he doesn't look back. The front door creaks on rusty hinges and he steps inside an old-fashioned front porch.
Sam's waiting in the kitchen. He's leaning against a counter, arms crossed over his chest, relaxed. His smile looks genuine, and the sight of his dimples makes Dean's chest ache.
"Hey Dean," he says and he looks and sounds like Sam (Sammy), but he's not. "I've been waiting for you."
Dean doesn't bother smiling back because he can't. He's not sure he can do this.
You can. You have to.
"I'd like it if you put your weapons on the counter," Sam says, as if he's asking Dean to stay for dinner. "I don't think I need you to keep that promise anymore."
Dean nods and puts the .45 on the chipped counter. Next comes the bowie knife tucked in his boot.
Sam eyes the weapons for a moment, and then they fly into a corner of the room, clattering against the hardwood floor. He looks back up at Dean. His hair is long and unkempt, but clean. There's no denying he looks good. Healthy. Happy. His eyes are no longer dull with fear. The worry lines on his forehead are gone. "I missed you," Sam says. "I didn't think I would...but I did."
The dirty dishes piled in the sink rise a few inches, rattling softly. A chair lifts off the floor next to Dean. He takes a step back.
"I want you to come with me," Sam says. "You can be one of us."
Dean shakes his head. "I'm not like you, Sam. Not anymore." He works to keep his voice neutral.
Sam grins and Dean glimpses the wolf (eager, hungry, wanting) below the surface. "You could be," he says. "I can help you."
"And I can help you." Dean's hand seems to move on its own. He pulls the little .22 from his belt and aims in one smooth motion. The gun is steady in his hand. "I keep my promises," he says.
Dean pulls the trigger. It takes a second. It takes forever.
There's a flash from the barrel.
Sam doesn't even have time to be surprised.
The dishes fall back into the sink with a horrendous crash. The chair drops back to the floor, tips over.
The bullet enters Sam's skull through his right eye.
One minute he's standing by the counter, talking to Dean. The next minute he's on the floor, a bullet in his head.
Andy's tucked behind a tree trying to watch everywhere at once. There's no movement in any of the remaining houses. No blinds move. No birds sing. No dogs bark. There's just the heavy curtain of silence hanging over them all.
And then – the soft pop of a gunshot.
Izzy turns to look at him, her face pale. She bites her lip, eyes bright. "Was that--?"
He nods, tight-lipped, heart pounding.
His feet run toward the house and then there's Dean (alive!) yelling at him to get inside, now, come on, hurry!
Andy bursts through the door, Isobelle on his heels. Andy stops in the kitchen doorway and Izzy slams into him, almost knocks him down.
Sam's on the floor. His face is covered in blood and oh fuck his right eye, his right eye is gone. Gone. There's blood, and what is that? Andy turns away and thumps his head against the doorframe, trying to control his clenching stomach.
Sam's left eye is open and tracks Dean's every move.
Izzy's crying. "Oh my God, Dean. Oh my God. What happened?" She cringes, hanging back near Andy. "Did you...did you," she swallows, and lumbers on, "do you want me to finish it?"
Dean glares. "No, I don't need you to finish it," he growls. "I wasn't trying to kill him. If I wanted him dead, he'd be dead. I just need...to try this first. Now get over here and help me."
Izzy kneels beside Sam's still body and tries not to look at his face. "What...what are you doing?"
"Wishing you'd shut up," Dean grits. He snaps his fingers in Andy's direction. "Hey. Andy. Look in the drawers for towels or pot holders or anything."
Andy wipes his face with the back of his hand and stumbles toward the bank of drawers.
Dean's hand is on Sam's neck, feeling for a pulse. It's there, and fairly strong. He shows Izzy where to place her fingers. "You feel that? If that changes, if it feels slower or faster, or whatever, you let me know."
"Okay." She turns to the air beside Dean's shoulder and hisses, "Not now. I'm busy."
Andy comes over with a towel that says kiss the cook, and Dean folds it into quarters and presses it to Sam's eye. Or, more accurately, where his eye used to be.
Sam lifts a hand to snag Dean's sleeve. He misses, his peripheral vision gone, but tries again. He closes long fingers around the soft flannel. "Dean."
Dean almost puts his hand on Sam's, but he can't. Not yet. Not until he's sure.
Sam's head is killing him. He can't figure out what happened. One minute he's at the Roadhouse and -- no, wait, the Roadhouse is gone. He was with Dean and then--
Dean's face is all tight and angry looking and he won't meet Sam's gaze. There's a blond girl and he wants it to be Jess, but it's not. And Andy's here. Andy is okay. He's not evil. Not like--
Sam studies Dean's face. He's got a scar on his right temple, just above his ear. Like someone hit him and--
He can feel the panic edging in. Crowding him. It's eating up the air all around him and his chest feels too tight. Sam tries to touch his face but a hand gently guides his back down. There's a weight on him, on his soul. The pressure of a thousand things he doesn't want to remember whispering, itching, singing for his attention.
He remembers there was a door. In his mind. And something came out, something loud and terrible and him. The door is gone now. The room is empty. Sam is empty. And then the memories (pierce skin) of what he's been doing (lick blood) for the past eight months (break bone) rush in, filling the hollow places.
The bleeding seems to be under control and Sam's still conscious. He hasn't launched the table at Dean's head or thrown him against a wall, so maybe he was right. Maybe this will (is) work(ing).
Sam keeps looking at him and his one eye feels like a laser burning right into his skull. But then Sam opens his mouth and a ragged scream rips out of him and it sounds like he's being torn apart, like he's dying. His good eye is focused inward and his arms are boneless and flopping on the floor like he's having a seizure. But he's not. Dean knows Sam well enough to recognize what this is.
It's a grief so deep and so wide Sam can't contain it.
Izzy shrinks back in alarm. "What's happening?"
Andy grimaces. "Shit, what's wrong with him?"
Sam wails on the kitchen floor of a narrow brick house, desperate to scream out the guilt (cut tendons) and horror (tear muscle) and shame. He's mindless of the fact his brother holds him now, rocks him back and forth, makes soft sounds of comfort. Sam screams until his voice is gone, until he's reduced to making a horrible keening noise that sends Andy and Izzy running from the room.
He keens, head pressed against Dean's chest until the darkness pulls at him, but it doesn't matter because the guilt and horror and shame are still in him, and they'll never leave.