Disclaimer: I don't own or make a profit from Supernatural. Thanks again to Starliteyes.
Hell Is Where The Heart Is
Dean hit the ground running. Somewhere between his perch and the warehouse he lost the M40, but he didn't care. He bolted past the van, now a flaming ball of fire after the man had turned over the engine, and straight into the inferno that was brimming out of the warehouse.
He skidded to a stop just inside the double doors, choking on the black smoke that was billowing out of the building. He wrapped his arm around his lower face, burying his nose into the crook of his elbow and tried to breathe shallowly through his mouth. His eyes began to stream black tears as the smoke irritated his eyes, blurring his vision.
In the center of the room he could see a barred cage with a shadowy form slumped on the floor.
Between him and the cage was a wall of flame nearly as tall as him. He backed up a step, intimidated by the sheer amount of heat wafting off the crackling inferno. Sweat from heat and fear, beaded on his brow and rolled down the curve of his face to drip off the point of his chin. He could feel his shirt plaster itself to his damp torso, and his hair lay wet against his scalp.
He took another step back, breathing in as much clean air as he could from the open door, storing it into his lungs. Before he could think better of it, he raced forward, leaping over the wall of fire that separated him from his little brother.
He felt the flames lick his legs, and his crotch felt dangerously warm, but he landed on the other side unscathed. He raced up to the cage, wrapping his hands around the metal bars to peer down at Sammy and screamed. The hot metal bars seared the flesh on his palms, gluing his hands to them like raw meat on a skillet. Gritting through the agony, he carefully pried his hands off, leaving behind small bits of skin stuck to the bars. Tears of pain mixed with the stream of irritated ones from the smoke. He ignored them; he ignored everything except for the huddled body of his brother on the floor of the cage.
"Sammy! Sam, wake up, lil' bro."
The flames hadn't reached him yet, but the smoke was thick in the center of the room. Sam had already passed out from oxygen deprivation, and Dean wouldn't be too far behind him if he didn't get his ass in gear. He squinted through the smoke and tears, finding the large padlock that kept the cage locked.
He tore off his over shirt, wrapping it around his hands and tried to yank the lock loose, but it was sealed tight. His throat burned and his lungs ached. The thick smoke in the room pushed him down until he slid to his knees, and he found the air a bit cleaner closer to the ground. He reached into his pocket, closing his raw hand around the lock pick set that he always kept with him.
His hands were trembling as he withdrew the picks, his fingertips sending blinding shocks of pain all the way up his arms until it burst behind his eyeballs. He gripped them tighter, grimly setting his jaw as he inserted the picks into the lock. He fumbled for a few precious seconds before he forced himself to stop. He was in a panic, his nervous system strummed tight from all the adrenaline pumping through his veins. He would never be able to save Sam if he couldn't calm down. He closed his eyes, blocking out the roar of the fire behind him, and the raw burning in his lungs.
He cocked his head to the side, concentrating on feeling the lock instead of seeing it. His burnt fingertips screamed with agony, but he pushed it aside, centering all of his attention to the sensation of the tumblers falling into place one by one.
Finally the lock came undone and it rattled to the floor along with his picks. He yanked open the door, crawling to his brother's side. He could barely see now, the smoke was so thick. Dean couldn't remember what it felt like to take a breath without feeling a searing burn thread its way through his lungs. He didn't know if he could force himself up off the floor and fight his way out of the inferno that they were trapped in.
He rolled Sam towards him, and his little brother's head lolled listlessly to the side. Dean's gut clenched as he looked down at Sammy's soot-stained, bruise-laden face. He remembered the day two months ago when Sam threw the mother of all fits, claiming that he was too old to be walked to and from school like a five year old.
Dean had been relieved when Sam had made the argument to their father. Sammy walking home meant Dean had a few more minutes to blow in the high school parking lot to make out with some girl or hang with the guys. That's what Sammy's life had come down to—a few minutes of freedom for Dean. It wasn't worth it. None of it was. Dean was willing to give up everything for his brother, even his own life. He didn't need a few minutes of freedom from responsibility, he needed his baby brother to open his eyes and grin at him with that huge, dimpled Sammy smile of his.
Dean dug down, finding strength he never knew that he possessed. He hauled Sam's dead weight over his shoulder, bracing himself on one knee. He paused for a moment, forcing himself to withstand the heat, the smoke, and his brother's weight on his shoulders. He closed his eyes, took a deep, smoke laced breath and stood unsteadily on his own two feet.
He turned towards the double doors, barely able to see them through the flames. The fire was closer than before, taller and more intense. This is what Hell would be like, he thought. It would be fire and brimstone, heat and sweat, blood and tears.
He dipped his chin towards his chest, the fire of hell dancing in the reflection of his dark eyes. His mouth was set into a pained line, and he tightened his grip on Sam's ankle and wrist. Their time had run out, and there was only one option. If Dean failed, they would both burn. His only comfort in that thought was that Sam would never wake up to feel the flames devouring his flesh.
He dug in his toes, bent his knees and then darted forward before the heat could drive him back. He leapt through the wall of fire. He felt it wrap around his body, caress him with hot, fiery licks. It charred his skin, singed his hair and clung to his clothing.
Dean screamed as his skin cracked and the breath he took seared his lungs. Sheer force of will drove him forward. He breached the wall of fire, and he could see the square of sunlight through the doors ahead of him. Black smoke was the only thing between him and clean air, but his lungs were burning and his muscles were screaming. He struggled forward, but his legs lost all their strength, and he was fumbling to the ground. He dropped Sam, and he tried to get a good grip on his belt and drag him forward on his hands and knees, but Dean couldn't breathe and his limbs lost all feeling.
His head was sinking towards the floor, when a dark figure blocked out the sunlight. He reached out a hand, reaching for a savior.
Daddy, a four year-old thought with all the reverence that he possessed.
John Winchester dragged his sons from the inferno, laying them out on the cracked asphalt far away from the blaze. He saw the remains of a vehicle still burning and he wondered if Tom's partner would be found inside. He didn't much care, knowing that a body would be burned beyond recognition and nothing would lead back to him.
He placed an anonymous 911 call, telling the operator that two children needed emergency attention. As he was flipping his phone closed, Dean's bloodshot eyes cracked open.
"Dad." Dean's voice was rough with smoke, and John felt his heart lurch. Dean was breathing shallowly, and Sam was even worse off. He pressed his ear against his younger son's chest, hearing his rattling inhalations that made him nervous. Lung damage.
"Dad. Sam." Dean coughed, his body wracking under the strain. John reached out a big hand, settling it on his son's shoulder to keep him still.
"He's alive." At his words the tension in Dean's body leached away, and he lay back on the pavement. One hand was wrapped around his little brother's bicep, as if just touching him was enough to keep him breathing. John could see the burns blistered around Dean's fingers, and he looked over his shoulder into the blaze that raged behind him.
His son had dived head first into hell to save his little brother. It was that determination, that love that made him into the dependable soldier that he was. John was no fool. He used that devotion to keep his children safe, and he would continue to do so, now more than ever.
Dean had to become Sam's guardian. Not only over his life, but over his soul. If what Tom had said was true, than their family was destined for evil so terrible that it could destroy the world.
John looked down at his youngest son. Love was like a knife wound to the heart. No matter how much you packed it or bandaged it, it still bled over, sucking every last bit of strength from you. It was its own form of Hell, a twisted punishment for caring for something so much that it blinded you to everything else in the world. His love for his sons was, God-forbid, greater than his love for his wife, Mary. She was dead now, and for the past twelve years he hunted for vengeance. That vengeance wouldn't be slaked until the yellow-eyed demon was dead, but now he had another cause to add to his list. Something that was more important than vengeance. No matter what, he had to protect Sam from the evil that was stalking him.
For now Sam's secret was safe. John would do some covert investigations and find out anyone who might know about Tom and Frank's mission. He would find them, and eliminate them. It was what he did in the Marines and it was what he would do now. There was no fucking way he was going to let some bastard demon take his youngest child from him, and you could damn well believe he wasn't going to let some human hunter do it either.
He could hear the wail of sirens in the distance, and he went on full alert. He roused Dean from half-consciousness, forcing his oldest son to look him in the eye.
When Dean didn't acknowledge him, John slapped him across the face. Dean's eyes shot open, and the cloudiness cleared from them.
"The cops are on the way."
Dean's eyes widened with understanding and he tried to crawl to his hands and knees. The five-o was always to be avoided at all costs. John had drilled that into them from the time Sam could walk. He pushed his son back down, gaining his attention.
"You and Sam need medical attention, but I can't be found here at the scene. Do you understand, son?"
Dean's green eyes dilated with fear until they looked almost black. He began to flail against his father, burnt fingers trying for purchase on his overcoat.
"It's okay, Dean. I'll come for you tonight." Dean calmed a little, but John could still see the fear. "I promise." He whispered to his son, and finally his tension bled out.
"You have to allow them to treat you and Sam, but don't tell them who you are. Pretend to be disoriented, don't give them any information. And for fucksakes, don't let them fingerprint you."
He didn't think it would be a problem with the severity of the burns on his son's hands, but he wanted to make sure that Dean kept his wits about him. He didn't worry about Sam, knowing he was too young for him to be printed without a parents' permission.
He had to high-tail it out of there before the cops showed up and started asking questions. More importantly, he had to get rid of Tom's body. His corpse was riddled with bullets from John's gun, and any questions when his body was identified might lead the cops back to him. That was a risk he couldn't take.
He brushed his hand through Dean's hair reassuringly, giving him a small smile as a reward for the good job that he had done. Dean's lips curled upwards and his eyes drifted closed, motionless as his father walked away from him.
John found the M40 a few feet away and swept it up, securing it over his shoulder with the strap. He raced back to Tom's body, and hefted it over his other shoulder. He carried it back to the Impala, opening the trunk and dumping it inside.
He would take Tom out to the Cascade wilderness and salt and burn the bastard. There would be no trace of him left by the time John was done with him. He figured that Sam would need a couple of days in the hospital to recover. He would sneak in tonight like he promised and check on them, but as soon as they were ready to move they would bust out and shag ass out of the state. By that time John should have some idea who else was knew about Tom's piss ass theory.
There was nothing he could do about Ellen. He wasn't about to eliminate her. She hadn't done anything wrong, and John owed her too much. He would just have to trust her to keep her mouth shut. Once other hunters associated with Tom and Frank started to disappear, she would no doubt put it together. He may have been the bastard that got her husband killed, but Ellen was a good woman who valued family above all else. She would understand John's motivations and keep to her own counsel. It was just too bad that he could never make it up to her.
The fire trucks and police cruisers were entering the warehouse district from one end as John was driving out the other. He looked back in his rearview mirror, watching as the flames reached for the sky. The fear that he felt as Tom had spoken the words of his son's damnation settled into his chest. It became hard shield of resolve, sealing his bleeding heart until all that remained was the determination to protect his family.
A war was coming, and he had to prepare. He had to train his sons to protect themselves from every threat, not just the supernatural ones. He had to discover a way to kill the demon that was hunting them. He had to find a way to save his littlest boy's life and his soul, because if he couldn't do that then he had to do the unthinkable.
To save his child, he may ultimately have to kill him, and that was something that John Winchester just wasn't willing to do, not if he could help it.