Somewhere East of Nebraska
The three of them had ridden in silence over the long stretch of I-80 from Nebraska through Missouri, having left Elkhorn as quickly as possible. Let local law enforcement sort out the details of the plague deaths and the final two deaths at Angela's trailer. Sam doubted they'd get very far, and he imagined they'd never link a plague outbreak to two people stabbed in the heart. Anyways, that was four hours behind them. Dean seemed to be recovering; his faith in his brother's physical resilience winning out over Ruby's pleas to take him to the emergency room. Last time Dean was awake he claimed his chest finally didn't hurt when he breathed, his throat no longer felt as if he'd swallowed glass. He was sitting up now, without dizziness, but in the backseat of the Impala where he'd woke up weak and disoriented hours ago. And that was more than enough assurance that Dean would be cracking jokes and asking to drive.
After Sam had destroyed the demon Merihem possessing Angela, Sam and Ruby had carried Dean from the trailer and rushed from Elkhorn as quickly as possible without attracting attention. Now, Sam sat wide eyed, intent on the road before him. Ruby was riding shotgun, like she had during Dean's absence. He was pretty sure that wouldn't sit too well with Dean once he was fully awake. Disturbing reminders of life without him were really not welcome.
Sam glanced back in the rearview. Dean seemed alert now and able to sit up. "You feelin' all right?"
"I'll live." He croaked. "What about you? Tired, headaches, feeling drained, worn out?"
Sam didn't bother looking back in the mirror. "Why don't you ask what's really on your mind?"
"Don't tell me you're mind reading now." Did Dean regret his sarcasm? He sure did a lousy job at showing gratitude, because like it or not, he had to admit, his little brother had saved him.
Sam's focus remained on the road ahead. "Exactly, figures you'd say something like that. If it's not that look, then it's the little digs."
"What am I suppose to say? You moved a man with your mind…just like Max Miller."
"And we all know how he turned out."
Dean pulled himself forward so that he was leaning between Sam and Ruby, but his attention was drawn completely to his brother. "Stop thinking you can finish my thoughts. It's creepy."
There was a time when that didn't used to be. When they'd spoken in unison, like twins, like four years didn't separate them. Now it felt like forty years sat between them.
"Look, I'm not going to explain myself to you. Did you see what happened back there? Hell came for you. Merihem was summoned to take you back to Hell, Dean. And I'm not going to let that happen. Jesus, Dean, we might fight, but there's just no way, no way I'm going to let them win. I don't care what it takes."
"You mean what it'll cost you. You're not going to Hell Sam, I won't allow it."
"I'm not sure you have much choice in the matter." Sam sighed. "I'm trying to make peace with that, with my heritage as well as my destiny. These powers, they're who I am, but that doesn't mean they get to own me. It's my choice how I use them. And if it means protecting you, then I won't hesitate, not like last time."
"Sam you couldn't stop the deal, and you would never have stopped Lillith-"
"You don't know that…" silence filled the car.
"Dean, if I'd stopped her, if I'd learned how to use my powers; then Nancy still be alive, Victor, God, even Meg, maybe I could have gotten to her, pulled that demon out before it was too late. There's so many others who might have lived. I could have kept you from forty years in the pit."
"Stop it Sam." Ruby finally spoke. "You can't know what you would have learned or if it would have changed anything. In hindsight we could say maybe we should have sacrificed Nancy, she died anyway, but Sam, it's done, you can't go back."
"This hurts to say it, and I mean literally, my throat still feels like hot ashes were shoved down it, but Ruby's right. Cut the self deprecating crap Sam."
"That's a word of the day if I ever heard one from you Dean." Sam actually chuckled and both Ruby and Dean smiled.
Dean, not so smoothly attempted to change the topic and Sam was more than happy to go along. What he needed to do, and how he would accomplish it, were two things best left unsaid. Ruby constantly was on him to come clear with his brother, to let him know that they were doing their damnest to find Lillith. But Sam preferred to keep things as they were because he had no doubt that if Dean knew about the blood rituals, he'd make their father's explosion when Sam snuck off to college seem more like a raindrop than the geyser it had been.
Dean leaned as far forward as the seat would allow. "Now when we gonna stop for food, I'm starving."
Sam stared gloomily into the distance and pressed the accelerator further down. Yeh, he would talk to Dean eventually, just not tonight. Tonight they'd eat, relax, celebrate being alive. He'd tell him, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not even next week, but he'd let his brother know what he did was to protect him, and others who deserved a shot at a normal life.
Ruby had tried to tune out the argument coming from the Winchesters over Sam's use of his psychic abilities. She'd been there before with Sam. He had an arsenal of psychic powers at his disposal, but so far the only two he'd actively seek was exorcisms and farseeing, and even then he'd only farsee if he thought his efforts would yield news of Lillith. Sam had described his exorcism of Samhain, how difficult it had been to simultaneously hold him back and pull him at the same time. Ruby had patiently explained he had been using telekinesis at the time. Sam was more appalled than thrilled to know he's opened himself to this new skill. Ruby didn't press, she knew the greatest leverage to getting Sam to use his powers would be Dean's safety. There was no way Sam would allow his brother to be returned to Hell. Never before had he demonstrated it as urgently when he confronted Anna over finding an angel killing weapon. And today Sam showed again that Dean's life mattered more than any ethics. Why couldn't the pig headed older Winchester see this?
Sam's guilt trip was too much, she thought he'd worked out his over blown emo introspection, she guessed nearly having your brother lose his life again right before your eyes had proven too much. The love between siblings, it was powerful, and dangerous.
Dean Winchester would never understand his little brother the same way Ruby never understood the lengths Rosy went to for her, why that sweet child gave up her goodness to give Ruby a life she didn't deserve. Maybe the student most needing her attention was Dean. If he denied Sam the way she had Rosy….
They came at night…pounding on the door, not with fists, but with a log, shattering the front door with a single blow. The girls were out of bed in an instant to greet the trespassers. Ruby could see defiance in Rosy's eyes as the men began to list her transgressions.
"Tell them Ruby! Tell them the truth. I'm not a witch." Ruby felt the slight pull of her sister's compulsion.
"Is your sister a witch?"
"I don't know."
The first man to speak was a the miller. His look was glazed over and distant.
"She is not a witch. She is an herbalist and a midwife."
The other man, who had asked Ruby if her sister was a witch, had also changed his opinion. "She is an herbalist, a church goer. We should leave here in peace. The two continued like that. Clearly being manipulated by Rosy's power.
They would have spoken Rosy's praises all evening if the constable hadn't appeared. He entered and all heads lowered in respect. "Is this the girl that killed Hans? What do you have to say?"
"I didn't kill anyone." She smiled innocently. "You want to go home and let us be in peace."
When the constable advanced on her, it was clear her powers had no effect on him. "You most certainly are a witch." Rosy's eyes were round with the realization that she could not change the mind of the most powerful man in the village.
"Tie her up and bring her along."
Rosy turned her frightened eyes to Ruby. "Sister, tell them! I'm no witch. Say something!" But Ruby stood mute, framed by the doorway, as she watched her baby sister get taken away.
They dragged her away, bound at her wrists. Rosy turned one last time before being lifted into the miller's cart. The realization that she'd been betrayed written on her features. "Ruby why aren't you saying anything? Help me!"
But Ruby just stood there, condemning her with her silence.
"Hey, Ruby? You awake? We're stopping for food." Sam's voice broke into Ruby's memories and she jumped.
"Nice to see you can stop arguing long enough to agree on food."
"Actually, we didn't." Sam shot Dean a tight lipped look. "I wanted to stop at Taco Bell-"
"Dude! We have a long drive ahead, come on!" Dean's voice was a bit scratchy still, but he was acting like his old self ribbing his younger brother and getting the expected results. Ruby remained hopeful that they could stand by each other.
Once Sam pulled into the parking spot, Dean hopped out of the car quickly. So he had reached the door of the diner first. Out of habit he opened it for Ruby, which earned a strange glance from her and a shoulder shrug from Sam. Dean settled into the booth that gave him the best view of the Impala. Sam sat across from him, eyes to the door. The diner's placemats served double duty as a menu and Ruby wasted no time pouring over her choices. She's never been in Dean's company this long and she had a feeling she's over stayed her welcome. After eating she'd disappear; give Sam and Dean time to process their changing relationship.
Ruby had settled on a Reuben sandwich with fries on the side and was just about to mention it when the waitress walked up to the table. When Dean ordered it, her face fell, then she gathered her dignity and in her best sarcastic voice added.
"Ah, that's what I wanted."
The waitress, a thin middle aged woman named Kelly, had no idea why ordering the same thing from the menu was cause for a fight. "We have plenty, you can both get the same thing." Both Dean and Ruby cast silent daggers at each other.
"Easy now." Sam said. "You heard the lady, you can both have the Reuben." He seemed to be relishing his paternal tone. "And no kicking each other under the table." Sam asked for a cheeseburger and the waitress finally left them.
"What? It doesn't take a psychic to know you two like a book." Sam took out his phone and began to scroll through his menus. Ruby had no such distraction. She had Dean, who was once again glaring at her from across the table. This time she did kick him, and he kicked back. But neither made a sound and Sam ignored them in favor of browsing the weather channel.
Kelly distracted them for a moment with a round of cokes. Dean took a long drink of his, then fished out an ice cube which he swallowed whole. After a moment of overcoming the sting in his raw throat he resumed his staring contest.
"So, what's been going on in that demon mind of yours all this time? Hmm? Sam and I were having it out and you were Little Miss Quiet. Riding shotgun in my car, I might add."
Sam joined the conversation then. He lifted his hands as if to ward off another argument. "Dean, you were unconscious, we had to lie you down." Dean replied with a shrug.
"I'm not sharing." Ruby put her energy into removing the wrapper from her straw and kept her eyes on the table top.
"But you could." She suddenly felt warmth surround her hands when Sam covered hers with his own and gave her his puppy dog look. And then she felt it, a subtle tug at her mind, how could she have never noticed before. He was growing stronger and more in control of his powers. He wouldn't follow the path Rosy had. She couldn't let it happen, she couldn't live through it again.
"This is hardly the topic to discuss over dinner. I was thinking of Rosy, my little sister. You did a good job Sam; you saved me and Dean from that demon. Thanks!"
"But he used his powers again." Dean growled under his breath, the diner was busy at the hour they had arrived. "It's gonna catch up with him Ruby, and you are so hell bent on pushing him that way."
"You ever see someone burned at the stake?" That stopped Dean right away. "The smell of flesh." Dean looked down, she knew she had him. For in Hell the odor of burnt flesh was everywhere, he had to know. "I wasn't watching out enough for her, I didn't help her. Truth was, she scared me." Dean jumped up from the booth.
"You're right; this is not an appropriate dinner topic." Sam didn't understand Dean and Ruby's shared experience, and she wasn't sure she wanted to go there with him, but in typical Sam fashion he needed to know. It was his first step to empathy.
"Let her talk Dean. What happened with Rosy?"
"She was burnt at the stake for witchcraft. She's been on my mind a lot lately, this case, was so similar with witches and the plague, and you. You're not Azazel's first little warrior you know."
Dean had returned to his seat. If Sam wanted to talk, he wasn't going to fight him and Ruby. But it didn't mean he had to like it. It was just another one of Ruby's masterful manipulations to get Sam to trust her.
"She went after some people who had hurt me, she attacked them. We didn't exactly have courts and juries back in the 1300's, so they just called her guilty of murder, guilty of witchcraft, and that was it. Burn witch burn." The waitress chose this time to bring their food. After distracting them for half a minute she left.
Sam reached for Ruby's hand. "What happened to you after she died?"
"Revenge, I didn't care-what did I have to live for? Know what I mean?" The object of her comments sat across from her. "Remember when Sam died, Dean?" She couldn't stop talking now, even though she desperately wanted to. It had to be Sam's influence on her mind.
"Yeh, but I didn't use black magic."
"No, your situation was much different." She said sarcastically. "You just sold your soul to a demon." She took the ketchup and gloriously poured a large puddle of the red stuff onto her plate. "Now, Hell wants you back." She lifted a french fry into the air. "I say we eat! Foods gonna get cold."
But Sam wasn't done asking 20 Questions yet. "Why? Why is it so important that Dean is there."
"Damned if I know, Sam." Ruby launched into her food, ignoring the curious stares of the Winchester brothers.
Dean ran his hand over his face; Ruby's confessional seemed over for the moment. This had been the most insight to her past ever given. He looked to Sam for answers, but Sam just shook his head. Ruby continued eating, not meeting his gaze. He knew no matter how hard he tried he'd never get Sammy's hell buddy to leave them alone, he'd just have to learn to live with her presence and hope her insight wasn't a type of betrayal because if it was he's have to kill her, and Sam would never forgive him.
As for Sam, he had no answers as to what Ruby's story of her sister being one of Azazel's psychic kids even meant. Could it be possible that century after century Azazel sought out children he wanted to infect for his end game, but the time had never ripened? Ruby had done it…the impossible…taken his appetite.
"So that's it? Just drop this whole Sam's like my little sister bomb on us and then drop it?"
"Dean, there's nothing more to say, she was killed, I turned to some serious witchcraft, we both burned in Hell. The End!"
"Yeh, but what does that mean for Sam?"
Sam's fist hit the table just hard enough to rattle the silver ware. "Hey, you know I can take care of myself."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Oh yeh, we saw plenty of that today, and that's why I'm worried."
"Well you don't need to be. It's under control."
Dean looked over to Ruby who was stuffing her mouth with her sandwich. For a fleeting second, she raised her head and their eyes met in understanding.