Sara clung to the tree, trying so hard not to breathe, not to move, not to think. She'd watched the cult drag Dean away, taking 'her' body as well. Leaning back against the tree trunk, Sara thanked God for two things. One was the sharp knife Adrian Atwood had given her last year. The other was that Dean had shoved her into a tree with the body of Katie Smith, who'd been killed by a bullet wound to the shoulder. Judging from the stains on the tree, she'd been left to bleed to death in this tree. But when the cultists had aimed at the tree, sheer desperation had made Sara think of cutting Katie down, to make the cult think they'd killed Sara.
Which gave her the advantage, she supposed. If the cult thought she was dead, that the threat was over, they wouldn't look for her. But making herself stay in the bloody tree until they were all gone, until she could be reasonably sure that they had relaxed again, was terrifying.
When Sara couldn't stand it any longer, she climbed carefully out of the tree and made for the church again, following the direction she'd seen the cult take Dean. Sara couldn't cope with all this on her own, she needed the older Hunter right now and she was going to find him.
The cult seemed to be having some sort of pre-ritual party, with a huge bonfire. From the number of men surrounding it, Sara guessed everyone was there. Trying to do a rough head-count, she was amazed and relieved to see her mother and Mr Winchester at the edge of the crowd. They were tied up, unconscious, and under pretty heavy guard, but they were alive and that was all that mattered. And as they weren't in any real danger until the ritual started, Sara kept moving, staying low to avoid detection, until she reached the doors of the church.
She slipped in, the Colt Python Dean had given her in her hand, and was incredibly thankful to find it was empty. She wasn't sure if she could shoot someone or not. So Sara put the gun back into its holster and stepped further into the church. No Dean.
The pentagram was in the centre of the church, right under the painting of St Michael and the other angels on the ceiling, fighting demons. Sara looked at the pentagram, thinking. It was definitely an evil pentagram, as it was pointing West, the horizontal 'down' in magic. The symbols painted around it weren't familiar to Sara, but working on the theory of everything being upside down, she twisted her head around a bit and thought the signs came from ones for binding, summoning, everything you would expect.
Sara was well aware of the fact that the moment her luck ran out, she'd be completely screwed. She didn't have much but luck to rely on at this moment, and a lot could happen between now and when she found Dean. She needed a back-up plan. Or any plan, at this point.
She dug around in her bag for inspiration, wincing at the various things in there smacked against her hand. She'd forgotten about the cut she now sported, thanks to a desperate Dean. It was pretty impressive, she had to admit, going from the base of the fingernail of her middle finger and reaching across the back of her right hand to her wrist. It stung like hell, but at least the blood had clotted when she was still hiding. With her good hand, Sara searched through the bag again.
What would chrism oil do to an inverted pentagram?
There was one way to find out. Quickly, glancing at the door every other second, Sara used the last of the chrism oil to sketch another pentagram, pointing East this time, on top of the inverted one. As an afterthought, she found the signs for binding and scratched at the paint to ruin them just a little bit. Pops had once told her that if a summoned demon wasn't bound properly, it would bit the head of its summoner in revenge, which sent it back to wherever it had come from. Demons really didn't like being summoned and then forced to submit to the will of humans.
With her sabotage complete, Sara turned to go and search for Dean when a glint caught her eye. Sara was a complete magpie, as she put it, and anything shiny always caught her attention. Around the pentagram was a ring of protective charms and amulets, herbs, and so on. All of the objects were by definition 'good', so she could only assume that the cult planned to twist their power to help with the summoning. But it was the one that was on the Eastern point of the pentagram that she was interested in. It was a brass amulet, shaped like a man's head, but with horns, on a long black cord. Sara held in it her hand for a moment, then dropped it into her jacket pocket. It looked, it felt, old and powerful. Probably best to remove it from the mix, then.
Right. Time to find Dean. That back room looked promising.
Dean had been through a lot in his time as a Hunter. Stabbed, shot at, burnt, bruised...
But he hadn't been chained up in a cupboard before. Nor had he ever let anyone die on his watch.
He had promised Sara he'd look out for her. He'd promised.
Part of him was silent, shaking, unable to function. The cult had shown the body to Amelia, he'd heard the scream of anguish from her, of rage from his father. Sara was sixteen. Sweet sixteen and never been kissed. The shocked bit of him wondered if that applied to her. What would Amelia do? And the Coopers, what about them? Sara's friends, those other Hunters she'd mentioned, Adrian and someone else...
He'd let them all down. But mostly he'd let Sara down.
And these bastards were going to pay.
There was only one cultist on the other side of the metal door and Dean could easily cope with one man with this rage burning inside him.
He should be glad that it was quick for Sara, but he wasn't. She shouldn't have died. He shouldn't have left her behind to get shot.
But he had.
Dean wanted to scream. He wanted to shout and scream but he didn't. Instead, he focused on ripping his chains out of the wall. Then he could kick down that damn door and make these bastards pay.
He didn't have any weapons. He didn't care.
There was a loud clunk, and Dean felt some satisfaction; that had been easier that he'd thought it would be. But the chains were still firmly attached to the wall. What the hell had that been?
The bottom dropped out of his stomach. What the hell was going on here? "Sara?" he said softly, fairly certain that grief was driving him crazy. Or crazier, maybe.
But when the door was pulled open to show Sara standing right there, right in front of him, with her red hair and tired green eyes and a bloody right hand that gave Dean another pang of guilt, he couldn't argue about it.
"Are you ok?" she asked, coming forward.
Dean grabbed her arm, and she was reassuringly solid under his fingers. "Am I ok? You're meant to be dead! They shot you!"
"Actually, they shot Katie Smith."
He paused, mind working it out. "Oh. Good plan."
"Didn't really plan it," she admitted.
Behind her, Dean could see the body of a cultist on the floor. "What did you do to him?"
"Hit him with a fire extinguisher. Don't suppose you know where the key for the chains is, do you?"
"Don't need one," he told her, and it was true. With the door open, he had enough light to pick the locks on his chains open. "Just need a hair pin."
"What are you looking at me for?"
"Your hair is that long and you don't have a hair pin?"
"I don't use them!" Sara protested. After a moment, she brightened. "Got a paperclip, though."
"You have a paperclip but not a hair pin?"
"Do you want it or not?"
Dean held out his hand for it and had to spend a few moments twisting it into the right shape before he could get to work. As soon as the paperclip was in his hands, Sara had backed out of the cupboard and when Dean followed a minute or two later, she was reloading the shotgun.
"You ok?" he asked.
She handed over the gun. "Fine. Why?"
Dean grinned, shrugged. Somehow it didn't seem right to say, you nearly got killed so how about you wait here until it's all over?
"Oh, let's just go, ok? I think they're starting soon."
"Well, we can't risk burning the church down, not with our parents in here, and we don't have time to get them out..." He trailed off, looking incredibly sheepish.
"What is it?"
Dean sighed. "They told your mom you were dead."
"Oh, she's gonna kill me." Sara shook her head, trying to stay focused. "Um, I sabotaged their little set up, but I don't know how effective it'll be, so-"
The lights flickered, the room shook.
Dean immediately took charge again. "I'll cover you, get to Dad and Amelia, cut them free."
Sara nodded and moved for the door.
"Um, about earlier," Dean started.
She turned back and smiled at him, a real smile of trust and friendship. "I didn't die, Dean. I didn't die and I am not dying, not now, not later. I promise."
"I'm holding you to that," he said, smiling back.
Sara pulled out the Colt Python, priming it. He had the shotgun ready. At Dean's nod, they ran out. Three cultists were down thanks to Dean before the others even registered the teenagers' presence.
The lead cultist, the same smug bastard who had given the order to fire at Sara, got a shotgun blast to the face. Sara vaulted over a pew and sprinted for the pentagram, where her mother was tied down, ready to be sacrificed. The cultist holding a knife got a bullet through his chest before Sara had even thought it and then Sara was next to her mother, cutting her free, trying not to see the expression on her face because it was going to break her heart. Dean kept firing, ducking down behind pews to reload, as Sara moved from Amelia to John and cut his bonds as well.
John snatched the sacrificial knife up and threw it at a man who was trying to sneak up on Dean. The teenager responded by throwing a handgun to his father. As the two Winchesters made short work of the last cultists, Amelia took Sara's face in her hands.
"You stupid, stupid girl. How dare you?"
"You do not come after me on a job."
Sara pushed her mother's hands away. "I thought you were in trouble. What was I supposed to do?"
"You could've been killed!" Amelia said, voice harsh.
"So could you."
The fight with the cult was over, both the Winchesters were watching the fight of the Lucians. John was looking at Sara sadly, but Dean was entirely confused. When he moved to speak, John shook his head quickly. Still confused, but trusting his father, Dean stayed quiet.
"I know what I'm doing. You don't."
"And whose fault is that? I've asked you time and time again to teach me, to let me help-"
"I don't want this life for you, Sara."
"Really?" Sara was shaking. "I thought it was just that you didn't want me in your life at all. I mean, you only had a child to make your own mother shut up about it. You left me in England, without anyone to help me, watch out for me! You don't call, you don't write. And you don't know the first thing about my life."
"That's not true."
Sara shrugged. "What school house am I in? What A-levels am I doing?" Her voice dropped. "I am sick of you shutting me out and then claiming it's for my own good. When was the last time you knew anything about looking after me?"
"John," Amelia said, turning suddenly. "Destroy the altar and pentagram, will you?"
John nodded, leading Dean away with him. As they overturned the altar and stamped on the objects it had held, Amelia looked at her daughter again.
"Do you have a journal?" she asked mildly.
Sara pulled her leather-bound notebook from her bag and wordlessly handed it over. As Amelia took it, she grabbed her daughter's hand and sniffed it.
"I tampered with the pentagram," Sara said. "In case me and Dean-"
"Dean and I."
"Dean and I couldn't stop the cult before they started the ritual."
Amelia nodded slowly. "We'll discuss this at home."
"Mum, I'm didn't mean-"
"I said we'll discuss this later."
"Amelia," John called.
She went to speak with him, leaving Sara standing there. Dean watched Sara from across the church, an odd expression on his face.
"Dean, I'll take Amelia home," John said after a few moments. "Burn the church, and that orchard, then follow me. The compulsions are still up, so you don't need to worry too much about the cops. I'll see you back at Amelia's as soon as possible, understood?"
"Sara, stay with Dean," Amelia added.
Sara nodded, looking at the floor. She didn't look up again until she heard the adults leave and the door slam shut behind them.
"Come on," Dean said. "We need to find something to get the fire started."
Half an hour later, Sara and Dean sat side by side on the hood of the Impala and watched the orchard burn.
"I'm sorry," Dean said.
"What for?" It was the first time she'd spoken since Amelia had yelled at her.
"For what you saw in there." It was the simplest answer.
"I'm ok, Dean. Yeah, so I saw the creepy-ass orchard of death, but I got to see it burn as well. That's better than most nightmares."
"Yeah, I guess." He looked at her. "Sara?"
She was still watching the orchard. "Yeah?"
"What's a Wykehamist?"
"Heard of Winchester College? It's one of the best schools in England, full of very intelligent and very odd people. Anyone who goes there is a Wykehamist. Do all hunts end like this?"
"Sitting on a car watching a load of trees burn down? No, not so many. So this was your first hunt, huh?"
"First and last, by the look of it."
"Sara, your mom just wants you to be safe."
She shook her head. "This life... It's in me. In my blood and my mind and my memories. I can't be normal. Can't forget. I mean, if your dad had said to you, age eleven, oh, wait, you can't fight the monsters anymore, but they still exist, don't you worry, what would you have done?"
Dean stared. "That's what happened to you?"
"More or less."
"The Lucians... They've been exorcists since, like, the thirteenth century AD. My grandfather was one. He died when Mum was about fourteen. She'd never had normal, you know. And her mum kept pushing her to have a child, to continue the bloodline. So she had me. But my grandmother died when I was ten. It was Grandma who made Mum train me, and she wasn't around anymore, so Mum stopped. Left me at school, went far, far away. And things kinda went downhill from there."
"How'd you get back into it, then?"
"Gran had chosen a boarding school for me. Mum just sent me there without a second thought, you know, but my gran always tested me. The boarding house was haunted. As I couldn't really take the weekend off to dig up a corpse, I called this Hunter called Adrian Atwood. He helped me out, I've been returning the favour ever since. Just research, tracking down books, stuff like that. Behind Mum's back, of course. Not sure that's an option any more."
"What will you do now?"
"I don't know."
"I'm sorry it all had to come out like this."
"Stop apologising, Dean. I mean it. I nearly didn't come home this summer, you know, but I'm glad I did. If this was my only hunt, I'm still glad I came. And I'm more than glad to have met you."
"Thanks," he said, surprised. "And now, we will celebrate your first-stroke-last hunt properly, the way I celebrated my first real hunt."
"And how would that be?"
From one pocket, Dean pulled a giant bag of M&Ms, from the other, a hipflask.
So the two teenagers sat on the Impala, AC/DC playing from the car stereo, eating M&Ms and drinking whisky, watching a creepy-ass orchard of death burn down in front of them. A little bit of humanity, however warped, surrounded by the ashes.
True to her threat, Amelia Lucian wanted to speak to Sara the moment the teenager walked through the door. Dean did have to fight with the urge to burst into the study and tell Amelia how damn proud she should be of Sara. Actually, he probably needed to tell Sara the same thing. Well, either way, Dean had to give his dad a blow-by-blow account of what he and Sara had done to track the pair down. But Dean kept half an ear open, listening for the sound of Amelia yelling at Sara. He didn't hear anything, though, and he dared to hope for Sara.
Finally, satisfied that he knew everything, John nodded. "You did well."
Dean smiled at the praise, but it soon faded. "Was it right to take Sara with me?"
The reply was short and without the faintest trace of doubt. "Yes."
"They nearly killed her, Dad."
"They nearly slit my throat as well, you know." John sighed. "Dean, you can't protect people by making them ignore what's real. I've told Amelia over and over that making Sara live a 'normal' life wasn't the way to keep the girl alive. Sara is old enough to know what she wants to do with her life, and it was only a matter of time before she took matters into her own hands and tried to fight on her own. And that really would have killed her. For a first hunt, you know, she did pretty well. The chrism oil on the pentagram, now that was impressive."
"Thanks," Sara said from the door. "It's such a shame we didn't get to see how that one played out." Her tone was teasing, there was a smile on her face and in her eyes and Dean felt better. "Uh, Mum wants to yell at you for letting your son corrupt me," she added.
John nodded and left, slapping Dean on the back as he passed.
"So?" Dean asked when Sara didn't immediately start talking.
"She'll train me. She'll let me help her," she said, sounding surprised, like she couldn't believe it herself. "I've got a lot to learn, she'd said, but she'll teach it all to me."
"Well, building up that special resistance you mentioned, it's gonna be hard work, right?"
"I'm not afraid of hard work, Dean."
"Then what are you afraid of?"
Sara slumped into a chair, sighed heavily. "My mum's thirty-six, Dean. For a Lucian, that's like reaching a hundred. And she managed that by not... not getting close to anyone. Not even me, you know? To be a good exorcist, you need balance. To get that balance, she cut everyone out." She looked at Dean. "I don't want to die, Dean. I won't die. And I really don't to be alone all the time."
"So don't be," Dean said, with a shrug. "Use people to steady you. Be the exception to the rule."
"We, uh, we did ok, right?"
"No," he said and smiled at her again. "We did amazingly."
"Dean, get a move on!" John yelled, dropping the last bag into the Impala. "Caleb's probably killed Sammy already and fed his body to the dog!"
"Scary thing is, he's probably right," Dean said.
Sara, sitting next to him on the steps outside her home, chuckled. "Well, try to keep your brother alive. You Winchesters seem fairly useful."
"That we are," he agreed.
"Um, I found this in that church," she said, pulling the little brass amulet out of her pocket and handing it over "Mum took a look at it. She'd said it's some sort of old protective charm or something."
Dean let the amulet hang from its cord, looking at it. A little brass head with horns. It was pretty cool, he had to admit.
"Just thought it might help," she finished.
He slipped it over his head, letting it rest outside his shirt. "How does it look?"
Sara grinned, nodding to show approval. In the car, John hit the horn a few times, making Dean roll his eyes.
"You'll be ok?" he asked, one hand on Sara's shoulder.
"Sara Lucian, get rid of the pyromaniac already!" Amelia yelled from inside the house.
"Yeah, I'll be fine," Sara said. "Thanks, Dean."
"Anytime, Sara." Giving her shoulder a squeeze, Dean stood and jumped down the steps, opening the Impala's door and climbing in. "Hey, Sara?"
"I'm still holding you to that promise."
She grinned, nodding. "Be careful."
"I will, I promise," he said back.
John nodded a farewell to Sara and started the car, driving away. Dean twisted in his seat to watch Sara, and was glad to see Amelia standing next to her daughter. Ignoring the look his father gave him, Dean reached forward and flicked on the radio.
Sara would be ok.
Six days later, Sara turned seventeen. Despite Sara's words to Dean, Amelia hadn't immediately found another hunt and they had arranged to go out for dinner with the Atwoods and the Coopers to celebrate. It would be a good birthday, without lies and arguments and loneliness.
There was more post than normal, as might be expected for Sara's birthday. A few letters and cards from school friends, and a small parcel. Curious, Sara pulled it open to reveal a small white piece of card and a necklace, a thick, flat spiral of silver on a black cord. The card said, in slightly scruffy writing:
Amelia had been watching, and when she saw the note, she sighed.
"Sara," she started. "Men like John and Dean, they're good people. Good Hunters. But they move around a lot and they're not always there when you need them. It doesn't do to rely too much on them, or to trust them too much. The day might come when you find yourself on a different side to them. When maybe they see you as a threat, rather than the things we fight. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Sara looked up at her mother. The words she'd heard before, when Amelia had finally agreed after all these years to let Sara do what she wanted, rang in her ears:
"It's hard, and difficult, and lonely, Sara. You'll live alone, and die alone. And the latter will happen sooner than you want it to."
Sara was a Lucian through and through. And that meant that, to some extent, she would always be alone.
"Use people to steady you. Be the exception to the rule."
Sara smiled, rubbing the half-healed cut on the back of her hand. Dean Winchester had marked her in more than one way. "So I'll trust him just enough."
"How much is just enough?"
She tied the pendant around her neck. "Completely."
Final thoughts, comments, etc will be hugely appreciated!