A/N: This is a fic about John Winchester. This is a fic about John Winchester in Hell. I feel I should warn there is some potentially troubling imagery and torture involved in the tale, because, well, John is in Hell for the duration. Please do not read if this sort of thing bothers you in any way - I don't want to upset anyone. Please also do not bash John here - I don't want to be upset. I love John.

And I promise to spend the rest of my summer in happier places.

Only as the Day is Long

"Can I have a cookie, Daddy? Pleasepleaseplease?"

Under no stretch of imagination would anyone who'd spent more than five minutes with him call John Winchester an indulgent father. He ran a tight ship from dawn until the next dawn, nearly every day of the year. From all outward appearances, he was gruff and grim and gloomy. He knew that about himself, and he knew that he tended to intimidate people. That was the whole point. People should be afraid of him and what he might be doing in their lives, because wherever he was, evil was surely there as well. Regular people might cow in fear, but his children were an altogether different story.

He could never seem to say no when his baby boy employed that sweet little, head-tilted-to-the-side plea. At least when it came to cookies and crayons and Matchbox cars, he was a marshmallow.

"Sammy, you've already had three," John said, the corners of his mouth tipping up into a smile despite himself at the imploring expression on the boy's face. Yeah, like that.

"I'm still hungry."

On cue, Sam did something magic with his eyes and John's will crumbled to the floor at his feet.

"Okay, one more. Then that's it, buddy, or you'll go into sugar shock."

Sam grinned a toothy, Oreo-crusted and heart-melting smile of thanks before grabbing not one but two cookies from the open package on the table. He ran away like a miniature gazelle, galloping out of reach before his father could catch him.

"Hey, I saw that, you runt," John roared.

"I hadta get one for Dean!" Sam shouted back, his innocent child's laughter floating through the small apartment.

John shook his head, chuckling to himself as he rubbed the barrel of the shotgun with a soft cloth. When there wasn't a hunt, it was ritual for him to clean his weapons on Sunday afternoons. It kept his hands busy and his brain could take a few hours of respite but still be ready for almost anything. It didn't happen nearly often enough, this facsimile of happiness.

The sound of a football game playing on the TV was his soundtrack today, something he would have, once upon a time, been watching instead of organizing his arsenal and pretending for Sam's sake that he was just an ordinary deer-duck-grouse-pheasant hunter. Now the football was noise and nothing more. He couldn't care about the Chiefs or Bears or Packers when there was potential evil around every corner.

For Sam, the treat of the day was cookies. For Dean it was an afternoon of pretending to be a normal boy with a normal family doing normal Sunday things – watching a game and reading the funny pages. John didn't have it in him to deny either son their pleasures. Not yet. They were too young. Sam was, anyway. Dean would be back at his side after the game was over, and John told himself it was Dean's choice. As if an eight-year-old could make those kinds of choices. No. None of them had choices anymore, hadn't since the night Mary died. He didn't like it much, but he couldn't let his boys out of his sight and protection, even if he knew carting them around the whole forsaken country wasn't good for them either.

He sighed and set the shotgun down, suddenly melancholic. He'd had no idea when he started on his mission to find what out what had happened to his wife that it would be this terrible, or this long in coming with no end in sight. Some days, John wanted to quit and bury his head in the sand. Then he looked at the sober, world-weary expression on Dean's face that was so like his mother's it hurt, and his resolve returned stronger than ever.

The crowd on the television cheered, and it pulled John back to the here and now. He was half done with his work for the day. If he hurried, he might have time for his own luxury. It wasn't too different from Dean's – an hour or two of normal family things to keep him from feeling like a complete failure as a father. But it was for his sons as much as for himself. A bath and playtime for Sam, a helping hand with homework for Dean so he'd know his father had something to teach him besides take care of your brother and watch for danger.

Take care of your brother.

John heard Sammy talking away in the bedroom, and he turned in his chair to Dean who was still planted in front of the television in the small living area. He frowned. That Sam was a smart one. A cookie for Dean. Sam had totally conned his way into two cookies and John was okay with that, but what bothered him was whom his son might be talking to. He supposed Sam was at the right age for an imaginary friend – when Dean had been four, well, he hadn't been talking. He didn't have much of a benchmark by which to compare childhood stages.

The skin at the back of John's neck prickled when he heard Sam chattering in a more animated tone, like he was having an actual conversation. He had no reason to believe something was wrong, but in his experience imaginary friends weren't imaginary and they weren't friends. He eyed the small cache in front of him, trying to decide which item he might need. Probably nothing. He grabbed the Colt, loaded it and slipped it into the waistband of his jeans. In the next fluid motion, he collected a flask of holy water and the shaker of table salt. Hoping it would be enough, hoping it wouldn't be needed at all, John gave Dean one last look before slinking to the bedroom door. He nudged it open with his foot, one hand firmly on the handle of his gun.

Sammy looked up, mouth open in a small O and lined with chocolate crumbs. He scrambled to his feet.

John was more interested in the thing sitting next to his son, a misleadingly benign smile on its ugly face. He had his gun out in a flash, aiming.

"Daddy, what are you doing?" Sam cried, throwing his arms out to hug the monster, ruining the shot. "He's my friend."

Time seemed to slow, then, as John stood helplessly watching the creature (Fuck, what the hell was it?) hug Sammy back with large claws extended. It smiled up at John all the while piercing his baby's flesh in a deadly embrace. He screamed, an unintelligible howl of pain, and rushed forward. He landed a fierce kick to the monster's head, sending it flying across the room. Sam crumpled to the floor without even a whimper, so still and bloody. John went on automatic attack mode, pumping the creature with lead before it could get up. He dropped the gun when it was clear the threat was eliminated, falling to his knees next to Sammy. Blood soaked into his jeans, warm and damning.

"D-dad?" Dean asked from the doorway. "What happened? What's wrong with Sammy?"

John couldn't tear his eyes away from little Sam to spare Dean a glance. Truthfully, he didn't want to look up and admit he had failed yet again, afraid to say the words out loud. Afraid it would break Dean all that much sooner. He gathered Sam into his arms and held him tight, rocking slightly as he'd done a thousand times before.

Tilting his face toward the ceiling, John Winchester began to laugh.

"After twenty-five years, this is all you can come up with?" he asked the demon he knew was there watching. "You're losing your touch, you son of a bitch."

Tears streamed down his cheeks, from the laughter, and from the pain he couldn't help feeling for the unreal loss. Even after all these years of torture, he remained too human to numb his own pain at first. His laughter helped remind him nothing was real except the fact he had lost everything long, long ago. The walls around him melted into blood and sulfur. The little boy in his arms turned to ash. The one at the door became a ghoul.

John laughed and laughed. He would never let Hell's demons think his tears were from anything but mirth.

&-&-&

Usually it was Sam being the pain in his backside, but John thought they must have stepped into some alternate reality. Today it was Dean who was being nothing but insufferable while Sam was all quiet smiles, shaggy hair and agreeability, sipping his chocolate milk through a bendy straw and banging his feet against the booth seat.

"Dean, will you make up your mind already?" John growled. "We don't have all day here."

The hunt had not gone well. He'd ended up with a row of uneven stitches on a nasty shoulder wound, three cracked ribs and a hangover from the Jack Daniels anaesthetic. Not that Dean wasn't being annoying, but John knew it wasn't the biggest cause of his irritation. The coddling look the waitress was giving his kids and the lecherous one she was giving him was on the list of annoyances as well. But mostly what was bothering him was the aggravation from his wounds.

"How about you take your time, hon?" Beatrice-the-horny-yet-motherly-waitress said to Dean. "I'll just go get your daddy another cup of coffee and you can be ready when I get back."

Dean smiled at her and a second later turn that smile into a ferocious frown aimed directly at his father.

And there it was, that extra touch that tipped the whole thing right over.

It was an old trick, the oldest in the book. With sudden clarity, John was aware that he was, in fact, in some kind of alternate universe. Hell could be called that, real but horribly unreal at the same time. Some things were almost right, and some things were so wrong he saw through them almost instantly. Dean had never once, in his real life, given him trouble the way Sam had. No backtalk. All yes, sir and no, sir. And real Sam? All backtalk, moping and whining. No smiles and no cooperation from the age of five on. This could not be real.

The demons didn't even really try to fool him anymore. The staging was not elaborate and the props were weak. This was some kind of perverse entertainment for them, a prelude to worst of the torture, the trailer before the main feature. He imagined both good ol' Azazel and Alastair had bowls of demonic popcorn they were munching on right now, sitting up in the balcony of some brimstone theatre. He didn't know how they couldn't be bored by it all by now. Every day, it was the same.

Knowing all of that did not stop John from playing along.

It was psychological warfare to the demons, but to him every second he could spend with his sons was a reminder of why he was here in Hell and what he had to do. No matter the inevitably bloody, horrendous outcome, here and now in this unreality he had his boys again and he needed that like the demons needed to make him suffer. He could play their game as long as he got what he wanted out of it, or for as long as they could dish it out. They seemed to have no idea they were simply making him more resolute. Or maybe they didn't care.

"I'll make it easy for you," John said, yanking the menu out of Dean's hands. "You'll have the grilled cheese and tomato soup."

Dean's nostrils flared. "Fuck, no, I won't, Dad," he said. "Tomato soup tastes like ass. You know I hate that shit."

Sam's feet stopped smacking into the booth seat, his eyes widening in shock.

"Don't worry, Sam."

Sam blinked, confused, and truthfully John wasn't sure he knew why he'd said it himself. It wasn't like that was really seven-year-old Sam sitting there like a stunned guppy in need of reassurance, not any more than it was Dean spouting as many curse words as he could in as few sentences. Swearing had never been a hot button for John, because he was, had not been, the average parent.

"Your brother's just pretending he's bigger than his britches. If he keeps it up, he'll be having soap for lunch," John said, giving Dean a steady look.

"Not again," Sam said, exasperated. "Dean, soup is way better than soap. Even if it's tomato."

Out of the mouths of babes; fake or not, it was little things like simple wisdom coming from unexpected places that was why he continued on with this charade. The emotions he felt were real. They were the only important factor here, both the good and the bad of them. In some ways, he longed for this to be the real Sam. He wished he had the chance to make things right with both of his sons, and this was the subtlest torture of Hell for him. He knew it could never be and he knew this here and now wasn't anything like a substitute. It was no do-over.

"You ready now, sweetie pie?" Beatrice said upon her return, pouring sludgy coffee into John's cup.

"My dad seems to think it's too dangerous for me to think for myself, so I guess I'll do what he says and have the grilled cheese and tomato soup," Dean said, curling his lip in derision. Twelve years old and talking like a man. "Monkey see, monkey do."

And sometimes John couldn't play along as well as he would like.

With a pit in his gut, John slid out of the booth, brushed by a startled Beatrice and stalked toward the bathroom. He ignored the plaintive cry of his Not!Sam and the icy glare aimed at his back from his Not!Dean as he shoved his way out of the main restaurant. He needed a second, that was all. Laughter floated through the door, all of Hell's minions having fun at his expense. It didn't bother him. After he splashed water on his face, he squared his shoulders and went back out.

Foreknowledge of the awfulness that was to come did nothing to prepare him for the sight of his sons back at the booth. He saw them the instant he stepped out of the bathroom. An internal, primeval switch flipped, as it had every single time. Through the haze of pain, he was ashamed of himself for falling prey when he shouldn't anymore.

John uttered a half-swallowed roar of sheer suffering. He ran forward, unarmed, to where Sam and Dean sat. He'd thought … he'd thought it would be Dean this time and he'd been semi-prepared for it. But Dean, oh shit, Dean was dead, jugular impaled with a bendy straw. It was Sam. His youngest son, still with the baby face, sat there cheerful as a lark, sucking his brother's blood out. Thumping his feet against the booth seat in a jaunty little beat. John couldn't keep himself from acting, like he couldn't prevent the horrified revulsion and fear from surging into his throat like bile.

Sam ducked out of John's reach as he tried to pry Dean away, grinning like an imp.

"It's delicious, Daddy," Sam said, with a crimson smile. There were specks of blood on his cheek, grotesque new moles. "Mmmmm. Want some?"

Dean's body sagged down, limply thudding against the tabletop. His eyes were wide and empty and somehow innocent, all of his snarly bad temper washed away by death. John sat down, staring at the macabre scene before him. The initial shock of it was wearing off, the internal walls of defensive numbness going up. It wasn't real. It didn't matter.

"What is the point of this?" John murmured, almost brokenly. In fifty years, he had never been given an answer to that question.

"Johnny," Sam said, shaking his little head. His eyes turned Azazel-gold. "Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. I'm trying to show you what is. Isn't it all you've hoped for? One son is evil, the other dead. You left quite a legacy."

John's nostrils flared. He stiffened and looked that monster in the face, no longer able or willing to pretend it was Sam. He knew his sons. He had complete and total faith in Dean being stronger than he ever was. Dean would not let this happen.

"No," John said. "You're showing me what will never be."

Azazel laughed Sammy's childish laugh as if it were the funniest thing he'd ever heard.

&-&-&

The pain was immense. John had never felt anything like it, except he had. Yesterday and every day before it, he had undergone this exact amount of agony. The length of time he'd spent strapped to a rack was so great he had lost count of the days, months, years and decades. The leather cuffs at his wrists and ankles were deeply stained with his blood. He couldn't say for certain the number of time his liver had been perforated with a rusty dagger, or how often he lost first his fingers and then his hands. Time didn't matter here, except time was also everything.

"You like that, Johnny?" Alastair crooned into his ear, fetid breath hotly gusting across a scarred, burned and bloody cheek. "Doesn't it feel niiiiice?"

The leather strap under his chin and across his mouth prevented a response, but this wasn't a dialogue. It was part of Alastair's depraved romance with him, the cooing in his ear meant to provide sick intimacy. The actual conversation would come later, demonic pillow talk after a hard day's torment.

"I'll bet it feels real good." Nestling his nose into John's sweat-soaked hair, Alastair murmured his sadistic delight. "Yes, I know what you like."

It hadn't reached that point where pain crossed over into near-pleasure, the most dangerous part of the endless numbered days. John had watched thousands of damned souls contort and fall, succumb to that pleasure-pain of demonhood. The memory of Mary on the ceiling kept him strong as it always had done. The memory of his boys fueled him, both from when he was real and from here, the lifetime of what was to have been torture was really his greatest advantage. By using his boys, they'd handed him on a silver platter the only defense against torture he needed.

Azazel had left Hell and not come back for frequent, unwelcome visits long ago, when the mindfucking had switched to Alastair's preferred method: plain, old fucking. John didn't know why Azazel had abandoned the emotional torture he so obviously enjoyed inflicting, but he knew it couldn't be good. He had a horrible feeling that it likely involved Sam, and so also involved Dean. If either of them were still alive. They must be. Every day was a lifetime here, but John would know it in the depths of his ravaged soul if one of his boys had had to do what he had left him on Earth to do. He'd know it in his bones if Sam had become what he most feared for him, and that Dean had ended him.

"Tsk, tsk, Johnny-boy. You're wandering," Alastair said. "We can't have that. I get jealous when your mind's not on me one hundred percent."

John's body lit with fire, all encompassing at first and then localizing to his left arm. He couldn't move his head far enough to look down, but he didn't have to. He knew that pain. Alastair's most favorite pastime was flaying. John choked back a howl as his skin was stripped from him inch by bloody inch.

"There's my boy." Alastair leaned in close, inhaling deeply as if John's fear and agony were aphrodisiacs. They probably were. "So pretty when you try not to scream."

Alastair licked the side of John's face as he tugged at the last bit of flesh on his arm, lapping up the involuntary tears like they were sugar. John twisted his face to the side, focused his hazy vision on the tray of tools. Some were bloody, and some were still clean and waiting to be used. Alastair never let a day go by without using every single device at his disposal.

"We were fated for this, John. You and me, one hundred years of solitude." The demon snapped John's pinky in two, chuckling with glee at the scream it elicited. "And I have to say, I'm really enjoying our time together."

John didn't want to believe in fate. It was his free will that had landed him here, nothing more. But then, if that were true he should have no fear for Sam. Sam, Sam, Sam and Dean. Dean. He had to focus. His back arched off the rack as Alastair tore his broken finger right off of his hand. Euphoria was setting in now, his body (soul) finally filled with enough endorphins to defend against the abuses inflicted upon it. If he had the energy, he'd laugh instead of cry.

"Fuck you, you fuck," he panted, his words muffled by the gag.

"Oh, not today, Johnny," Alastair said with a slick smile. He preened in front of John. "I'm flattered, though. You know I love it when you initiate."

Everything went all bright spots and gray blobs. There broke another finger, another torn from him. Alastair saved his left ring finger for last, alwaysalways. In the slight high he was experiencing, John swore he saw Mary dancing in the flames. He always did, and there was nothing Hell could throw at him more excruciating than losing his wife or the thought of losing his boys even though he himself was already lost to them. There was nothing Alastair could do to him to make him forget why he was here, for whom he had to remain strong no matter what.

Once the fingers started going, it would be quick. Sometimes it felt like they were on some sort of demonic time clock. Alastair dismantled him as if he were made of so many LEGOs instead of interconnected flesh and bone and muscle. Another broken bone, another puncture to his lung. None of it mattered. It was almost over. Alastair pressed close to him at the end, practically on the rack with him, caressing him as often as mutilating. Those two things were one and the same.

"What do you say? Time to end all of this once and for all?" Alastair asked. "Don't you want to climb off and join me on this side, till death do us never, ever part?"

John was nearly there. He teetered on that dark edge, glaring at Alastair with hate and (ohhelphelp) something like love and need. Next to them, a flayed soul slid off her rack, distracting him as if an answer to his unspoken plea. She was instantly, painlessly healed, eyes going obsidian with evil. But healed was a relative term down here. None of that was what he noticed. Her flowing, long blonde hair reminded him of Mary. He knew it wasn't his wife. He pretended it was, just for a moment, and that she was telling him to be strong.

"Ah, I see you've got your eye on our newest recruit. That could be you, Johnny. Powerful. Practically immortal." Alastair slid the leather strap off of John's chin, the only tender, non-torturous move of the day. Always the same. "Come on, you know you want it."

No amount of cajoling was going to work. The demon woman's soul-shell turned from human into smoky illusion, insidious and wrong.

"Never," John said, sounding like a shadow of himself. They both had their age-old roles to play in this production and he was almost as skilled as Alastair, whether he wanted to be or not.

"I'm beginning to think you really are enjoying this, John," Alastair said, patting his battered cheek. "We'll see you tomorrow, bright and early."

The healing of wounds began the second Alastair was out of sight. It was almost as painful as the infliction of them. John's muscles re-knitted, the skin grew over his gaping wounds. Still trapped on the rack, he could never writhe the pain away enough. So he screamed and screamed, needing the release he would never allow Alastair to directly provoke out of him. As he repaired for another round of the same, always the same, he pictured his boys alive and well. John reminded himself that tomorrow he again had to hold out only as the day was long, and he would do it.

&-&-&

Everlasting youth was not all people thought it was cracked up to be.

When he was alive, John Winchester had never understood mainstream culture's obsession with everlasting youth. Maybe it was because he had suspected he wasn't going to last until retirement age, whatever that meant to a man in his profession, since the day he had gone to Missouri and learned the truth. Living to hit ninety wasn't a lofty goal to a man like him; it was a bonus, or more likely a curse. It was something earned, with wrinkles and white hair and scars. John was dead, and yet he felt every minute of one hundred and fifty years old. He looked a third of it. The youthful glow of Hell was on his skin.

He wanted it over, but not at the cost that was being asked of him and so he would continue being the living dead for all eternity. There was only a scrap left to hold onto, a minuscule corner of himself that could see the light of humanity shining somewhere within. He could still see his sons with startling clarity, in all the forms they had taken in Hell. And, more vividly, as he had left them on Earth. Dean looking terrified out of his mind and four years old again, Sam with ugly bruises on his face and floppy hair obscuring his hurt and confused expression.

His parting message for Dean had been so wrong. John realized a century too late that he should have told Dean it was very much okay to be afraid. He shouldn't have added to the bullshit he had heaped on the boy his whole life. He should have told both of his sons to be who they were and that would be enough, that they were strong enough together to overcome anything. Instead he'd left them reeling in fear and heartache. He'd done that, not some yellow-eyed son of a bitch. It was the biggest mistake he'd never be able to try to fix.

"The most tragic thing about you is that you think what you're doing here is important," Azazel said, voice oily smooth and soft in dark room. "You probably think your contribution to the shithole of a world up there was significant. Oh, and rest assured it was, but not for the reasons you think."

John was so weary. The physical torture had ended abruptly a couple of Hell-months ago, replaced with solitary confinement in a sweaty, smelly black room in which he heard it all continue around him. In a way it was worse when it wasn't happening to him. In a way he missed the pain and blood, and that scared the shit out of him. He might spend the remainder of his eternal, damned days in a box, blind as a mole but with super sensitive hearing and smell. Tortured vicariously, starved and shrunk and turned into Gollum.

"The events unfolded in a way I wasn't entirely expecting, but I think it'll work out in the end. It's fate, after all." Azazel moved about the room, a disembodied voice. "You must have figured out by now that Alastair could have broken you long ago if he had wanted to. If I had wanted him to. But you are unimportant. You didn't even notice how easy he went on you."

Easy. Right. John's hands itched, fingers twitching at remembered pain. Outside, the screams reminded him.

"You're just a cog in a great-big wheel here, John." For a second, Azazel's voice sounded almost … pitying. But then it wasn't anymore. "All of you Winchesters are. Were. Whatever. Statisticians agree: two out of three ain't bad."

Alarm coursed through John. Two out of three? Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus, what did that mean? He felt a draft of hot air on the back of his neck, a pseudo caress as if to comfort.

"Listen to that boy out there, will you? Quite a set of lungs on him," Azazel said, close to his ear. "Guess he didn't inherit that manly restraint of yours."

A guttural scream, deep and agonized, ripped through the walls like they were made of tissue paper. John would recognize the owner of that scream anywhere. He scrambled to his feet, searching for a way out he knew was not there, a way to get to his son. Dead, Sam was dead and here in Hell. There was no way out of his prison and the screams wouldn't stop.

"No. It's not him," he said in disbelief. "It can't be."

"John, I wouldn't lie to you about this. I'm shocked you'd even think it." Azazel clucked his disapproval. "It turns out your Sammy didn't have the chops I thought he did after all. With all that rigorous training you gave him, you can imagine what a disappointment it was to me when he didn't embrace the evil I gave him. I think you'd agree our boy did not live up to expectations."

"Sam wouldn't be … he shouldn't be here," John muttered, not caring about the delight his anguish gave Azazel.

"What, you raised a good boy? Sure, one that lied and cheated and stole and killed. Oh, he deserves this, John. You bought and paid for his one-way ticket to the Pit yourself."

Azazel's words and Sam's screams were a knife blade in John's gut, twisting, twisting. He couldn't deal this away, that card played long ago and far away. He had nothing. He was nothing.

"I'd love to stay and chat, but I've got a minor leaguer who just made it to the big game. I've thought about it, and I'm going to put him in. Center field. He's no Sammy Winchester, but he'll do in a pinch," Azazel said. "I'll be seeing you around, John. And thank you, for all you've contributed to the cause."

John was alone again, the walls seeming to close in on him with every cry of pain Sam uttered. It went on for at least a month, and it seemed longer than any of the one hundred years he'd spent down here on his own. He couldn't escape the sounds or the pictures his own mind created, knowing Alastair and his proclivities intimately. Sam, Sam, Sammy was all he could think and feel and breathe. No cut his own soul had endured had hurt like this. If it were to go on forever, he'd never survive.

It didn't go on forever. One day, the plaintive wails of his son being skinned and gutted and burned abruptly ended.

"Sam?" John cried out, voice loud in the suffocating silence. He expected no answer. The quiet was as horrible as the screams.

"D-dad? Is that you?" Sam panted, sounding confused and hurt just like he'd looked the last day John had seen him. "Where are … what?"

"Sam, I need you to know something," John said, desperation clinging to every word. "I love you. I never stopped."

"Da …?"

Sam's voice cut off with a strange sucking sound, leaving John in silence, eyes straining to see and ears to hear but there was nothing, nothing. No Sam, no Azazel, no Alastair. His heart pounded in his ears for weeks. His cries went ignored or unheard. There was only blackness and heat. Unbearable silence and a hopeful, terrible thought about where Sam had gone, and how. He knew what he'd do to save Sam. Dean would sacrifice more. The knowledge was heavy in his heart, dark thoughts his only company for days. Longer.

It started as a murmur, a bare rumble from a great distance.

John wasn't sure it was real, so deafened had he become to the torturous quiet of his new Hell. It was. It was real, and it was getting louder. There were screams, not of pain but excitement. He saw bright light, not the glimmer of humanity that came from within himself. It was familiar, real air. The light of the world broke through the confines of his small cage, shattered the walls. Oh, fuck, hands everywhere. Running souls, ecstatic demons rushing forward.

John crawled out, joined the race. He moved with renewed strength through the flow of demons and lost souls. He crawled and clawed toward the light. Toward where his sons must be. He would see them again, if only for a moment. Nothing else mattered.