They made quick work of the stairway that led up to the administration building, none of the men wanting to spend anymore time in the tunnel than necessary. Despite being out of the dark, dank tunnel, Dean didn't feel all that much better. His head still throbbed in a dull but persistent beat, his chest still ached from the hammering of his heart that had tried without success to beat itself out of its cavity, and his throat was raw from the screams he hoped the others would have the consideration to forget.
He was a little of his game to say the least, but he was pretty sure, considering he'd spent a lifetime in Hell, a small slip in his defenses was more than acceptable. Of course, he wasn't sure if his brother would see it that way.
He knew what Sam had said under the influence of the siren's poison was something the younger man would have never admitted otherwise. But that didn't mean he hadn't believed every word he'd said. Dean knew that he had meant what he said at the time; the looks of pity, the arguments, the lies… all sure signs that his brother saw him as damaged goods.
And maybe he was. It's not like anyone else had ever had to deal with this. It's not like he wasn't damaged even before the hellhounds used him as a chew toy. He knew he was screwed in the head. He'd never needed Dad or Sam or even Bobby to point that out to him. But despite everything, he'd managed to bury it all and keep doing his job. He'd saved people, he'd saved Sam… and in the end, that was all that really mattered. So despite Sam's belief that Dean had lost a step or ten, he was still going to keep his promise to his father, he was still going to save his brother.
Whether that brother believed in him or not.
The flashback to Hell – if that's what it was – had screwed with his equilibrium enough that he was more than anxious to get out of this god-forsaken place. Despite what he'd told Sam about not being ready to take on Lilith, he would like nothing more at the moment than to ram the knife into that pathetic bitch and watch the light show as she slowly died.
Of course, he doubted it would be that easy. Ruby's knife hadn't killed Alistair. He doubted it would kill a demon of Lilith's standing. He wished like hell they still had the Colt, the gun seeming to hold more power than the demon killing ginsu. Old Yellow Eyes hadn't been able to withstand the power of the old pistol, he doubted Lilith or even Alistair would've been able to either.
Of course, that point was mute. Bela had made sure of that.
But a guy could dream, right?
They pushed their way through another set of heavy metal doors at the top of the stairs, stepping out into a wide hallway that moved out in three directions. The darkness wasn't quite as complete, the faint moonlight shining in through the tall barred windows, illuminating the new surroundings with a silvery glow.
Danny motioned down the hallway directly in front of them. "This leads to the main administration offices. The front door is our best bet."
The wan moonlight seemed to be coming in from both sides of the hallway, seeping through the bars and forming a large X on the floor of the hallway. Dean's eyebrows rose as he noticed the pattern on the floor.
"X marks the spot," he intoned as he followed Sam forward into the hallway. As soon as his brother placed his foot onto the shadowy crossmark on the floor, the temperature plummeted and Dean saw a shape beginning to take form between directly between him and Sam.
"Sammy! Behind you!"
Dean ducked as his brother turned and fired, the ghost disappearing as the salt sailed over his prone figure.
"Yeah," he called, pushing himself up, his eyes surveying the narrow hall as he moved in a circle toward Sam. "I'm good. You see anything?"
Dean nodded and took a step toward his brother when he felt the icy touch of something invisible and found himself pushed back, pinned to the wall. The pressure on his throat began to increase and he could barely yelp his brother's name as his lungs began to demand some much needed air.
Sam watched as the spirit coalesced directly in front of Dean. It was a woman, only slightly shorter than his brother, wearing a long skirt, her dark hair pulled up into a severe bun. He aimed the shotgun at the apparition, but couldn't find an angle where the salt round wouldn't hit his brother. He knew Dean had been shot with rock salt before thanks to Dr. Ellicot back at Roosevelt Asylum, and would no doubt survive the blast, but he remembered the bruising and pain his brother had suffered and hesitated to be the cause of it again.
"Let him go," Sam ordered, the shotgun held firmly trained on the spirit. "I said, let. Him. Go."
"Don't think… she's list'nin' Sammy," Dean managed to choke out. The ghost had pinned him to the wall in the narrow hallway, but his feet were still on the ground and he was able to shift his weight enough to take some of the pressure off his throat. "Please… just… shoot her."
Sam stepped as close to the wall as possible and pulled back on the trigger, the boom of the shotgun echoing loudly in the confined space.
Dean immediately dropped to the floor, one hand to his neck as Sam quickly stepped to his side.
Dean swallowed and winced, but nodded his head. "Thought getting pinned to walls and choked was your gig."
Sam chuckled. "What can I say? I'm a giver."
"You boys alright?"
Both brother's turned to look at Bobby as he appeared from an open doorway near the end of the hallway.
"Yeah," Dean replied, holding up a hand for a lift up. "Just ran into one of Danny's rumors."
Sam pulled his brother to his feet just as the ghost reappeared. Shoving Dean aside, the younger man aimed and fired, only to be met with the click of an empty gun. As the ghost started to drift toward him, Sam quickly turned the shotgun around and swung it in an arch that would make any major league player green with envy. The iron barrel connected with the spirit and it dissipated once again.
"This is getting old," Bobby mumbled as he reached out, his hand gripping Dean's jacket. He pulled the younger man forward, then pushed him through the door as he simultaneously yelled at the other young man to move.
Not needing to be told twice, Sam quickly ducked under Bobby's raised weapon and followed his brother through the door. He waited for the older hunter to back through, then slammed it shut. Dean pulled a pouch from an inside pocket and tossed it to his brother.
"Salt it, Sam. Quick!"
Sam immediately tossed the empty shotgun to his brother and pulled open the pouch. He leaned over, pouring a hasty line of salt at the base of the door before stepping back to stand shoulder to shoulder with Dean.
"That probably won't hold for long," Bobby commented. He turned to Danny who was standing back watching the proceedings with a look of wonder on his face. "Where's this damn front door?"
Danny tilted his head toward the hallway. "Back through there."
"Of course it is."
"We're out of salt," Sam informed them.
"Terrific," Dean sighed. "So… even if we do get past Mrs. Doubtfire out there, we've got nothing to seal the door to the …" He looked to Danny for reference.
"Administrative office," he repeated. He lifted his left arm, squinting through the dim light at his watch, blinking rapidly as the small dial went in and out of focus. "Anybody know how long 'till sunrise?"
Sam checked his own watch. "About an hour."
"So we can sit here until then and hope that salt line holds whatever ghosts this place throws at us for the next hour, or we can head for the administrative office and try our luck with the outside door."
Sam looked to Bobby, his eyebrows high at his brother's words. "We've never been very good at waiting."
Bobby huffed what could have been a laugh and turned toward Danny. "How far is this office?"
Danny shrugged, his eyes looking up as he obviously traced the building's layout in his head. "Down that hall and to the right," he informed them. "There's a barred door on this side, but the outside door isn't reinforced."
"Barred?" All three hunters said simultaneously, causing Danny to look with confusion from one to the other.
Dean leaned back against the wall and gave him a hopeful grin. "It wouldn't by any chance be iron, would it?"
Danny nodded and Dean turned his grin on to his brother. "So much for the salt problem."
"Score one for the good guys," Sam said, returning the grin. He grabbed the shotgun from his brother's lax hand and snapped it open, loading two shells into the barrel. "Last two salt rounds." He looked to Dean who was leaning hard against the wall. "How about you?"
"Huh?" Dean seemed to be caught off guard and Sam dipped down in an attempt to catch his brother's eyes.
"No," Dean responded in an uncharacteristic display of honesty. "But there's not a lot we can do about that now." He dug into his jacket and pulled out one more shell, which he tossed toward Bobby. "That's it. I'm out."
"So we've got three shots," Bobby concluded. "We're gonna have to move fast." He looked at Dean, taking in the weary set of his shoulders as well as the dark line of blood dried on his head and face. "You ready for this?"
"I'll be fine," he responded. He pushed himself away from the wall, swaying for a moment before finding his balance and raising his head triumphantly. "What are we waiting for?"
The hall seemed deserted as Sam eased the door open and ducked his head out. Slowly he stepped out into the corridor, his weapon trained on the eerie X marking the floor down the hall. Tilting his head once, he motioned for Bobby to move out behind him. Bobby held the other shotgun out in front on him, providing cover for Danny as he quickly moved down the hallway. Dean exited the room last, crossing behind Sam as the temperature suddenly dropped and the specter of the warden's wife coalesced once again.
"I guess we know who she's hot for now, huh?" Sam quipped, taking a step backwards, closer to his brother.
"At least she has good taste."
Sam let off a shot and the spirit dissipated, only to reform almost immediately only a few feet in front of them.
"She's quick," Dean observed as he grabbed Sam's jacket and pulled the taller man backwards.
The spirit turned her hollow eyes onto Dean, raising a hand toward him even as Sam aimed the shotgun for another shot.
"Stay back," the younger hunter warned, a deadly tone in his voice.
"Or what, Sam? It's not like you can threaten to kill her or anything."
Sam took a breath, his head twitching in acknowledgement at his brother's comment. "Maybe we can give her something else." He lowered the shotgun, feeling Dean's body tense next to his. "Trust me."
"Uh, okay." From the low pitch of his brother's voice, Sam could tell the older man wasn't really all that inclined to do anything of the sort, but he didn't interfere and dropped his hand, allowing Sam to take a small step forward.
"Look," Sam began, his hand outstretched toward the ghost. "I know you don't want to hurt us. It was the demons who forced this. We know that. We mean you no harm."
Dean swallowed hard, surprised to see the ghost turn its gaze back to Sam.
"As a matter of fact. We can help you," the younger man continued, his voice taking an almost sing-song quality. Dean had seen his brother charm tougher old birds than this… although all of those had been alive at the time. But, the octogenarian set always seemed to have a soft spot for his brother's puppy-dog eyes… he took a slow breath, holding it and hoping for the best.
"We can set you free," Sam said softly. When the spirits dark eyes widened in wonder, he pressed. "That's what you really want, isn't it? We know how to do that. We just need to get out of here. I promise." He could see the hope on the spirits face, knowing he was getting through. "What do you say? You have no debt to those demons. They're using you to do their dirty work. I know you're not violent. There's never been any reports of violent spirits here. You don't want to hurt us. Let us go and I promise we'll set you free."
The spirit stared at him for a moment, it's eyes seeming to bore straight through making Sam's breath catch in his throat. Then with a simple nod, she vanished, leaving the two brothers alone in the corridor.
"Nice going, Ghost Whsiperer," Dean said quietly. "Of course if it'd been me, I would've held out for Jennifer Love Hewitt."
"If it had been you, Jennifer Love Hewitt would've run screaming back to Grandview."
Dean pulled up short, giving his brother a sardonic grin. "I don't know what scares me more – that you just had a heart to heart with a pissed off spirit, or that you've actually watched Ghost Whisperer."
Sam shrugged, stepped back and headed down the hall after Bobby and Danny. "Dude, if it makes you feel better, just consider it research."
The Administration office was a fifteen-foot by fifteen-foot room with high ceilings, hanging fluorescent lighting and frosted glass windows on either side of a large, ornate wooden door. The door was chipped, the stain peeled away in many places, the weathered wood showing through. As Dean entered the room behind his brother, Bobby crossed to the door, grasping the handle and giving the old door a strong tug.
"Damn," the old mechanic whispered. He turned to the former guard. "Don't suppose you happen to have a key to this one, too?"
Danny shook his head. "Afraid not. They just installed a new dead bolt lock. I haven't received a key yet."
Bobby stepped back and raised the shotgun, causing Danny to jump forward, grabbing at the weapon before the older man could fire it into the large glass panel in the upper portion of the door. "No!" He released Bobby's arm and quickly stepped to the door, rapping his knuckle on the pane. "Bulletproof glass." He added, giving the hunter a sheepish grin.
"I thought you said we could get out through here," Sam questioned.
Danny nodded. "It's bullet proof, but it can be smashed from one side."
"Any chance that side is this side?" Dean asked cautiously.
Danny grinned. "We had it installed backwards." He shrugged when the three hunters looked at him with identical expressions of surprise. "Hey, it's not a prison anymore. The Preservation Society is more interested in keeping people out than in."
"Danny," Dean clapped him on the back as Sam stepped toward the door, rifle stock raised. "I think I'm beginning to like you."
It only took a few minutes for Sam to shatter the glass and for him and Danny to carefully clear away the glass. Sam was the first to climb through, followed by Danny, Dean and Bobby. Dean was pretty sure he had never been happier to be outside his whole life.
The sky was beginning to brighten with the promise of daybreak by the time they had all clambered out the window. Dean straightened up, his grip tightening on his brother's arm as his gaze was caught by a woman standing by the open door of a dark colored, late model Mustang parked up against the edge of the highway. because of the distance and the dim shadows of early morning, but he could've sworn he saw her eyes flash black. In any event, once she saw they were out of the prison, she slid into her car, slammed the door and peeled awayt, turning south on the main road, the purr of her engine echoing in the stillness.
"Think she was one of Lilith's?" Sam asked, his eyes tracking the taillights of the Mustang as they disappeared into the darkness.
"Probably." Dean gave a weary sigh and rubbed the side of his head slowly. He had no idea what this little escapade had proven outside the fact that demons could apparently get creative. They were obviously getting under Lilith's skin, if she'd gone to such lengths to orchestrate this plan to eliminate them. He guessed that meant they were doing their job. But, at some point, he'd really like to be the one with the advantage. You'd think having angels on your ass would be of some kind of advantage, but so far? Not so much. Castiel and his buddies had managed to complicate things even more -- and that was something Dean could do without. Whatever they expected him to do, they'd better get their shit together soon or he was going to play the cards he was dealt. And, if that didn't fit into their little master plan, so be it. They'd survived demons, they could survive angels, too. "I don't know about you guys, but I could use a beer, a shower and a soft bed."
He hoped the demons took time to regroup -- at least enough to give them time to get their wind back. Of course, who the hell knew what was going on anymore? He couldn't get a straight answer from Castiel or his boss, so all he knew was the bad guys were breaking seals to free Lucifer. How the hell he was supposed to stop it was beyond him. Maybe Sam was right. Maybe they needed to take out Lilith. But there was no way he was walking into any of this blind. And he had no intention of letting Sam walk into it blind either.
"How about a bottle of water and the front seat of the Impala instead?"
Dean pretended to consider the suggestion for a moment before giving his brother a crooked grin. "That'll do."
"You boys gonna be okay?"
Both brothers turned to Bobby, giving the man twin nods. "We'll be fine, Bobby." Sam assured the older man.
"You should probably make yourselves scarce before that demon in the suped-up Mustang gets the word to management that your asses are still intact."
Sam nodded again. "We've got something we have to do first."
At Bobby's look of inquiry, Dean explained Sam's promise to the woman's spirit. "I think she just wants to move on, Bobby. We can do that."
Bobby removed his cap and scratched an itch on the top of his head before replacing it and giving the brothers a solemn nod. "I know a couple of hunters nearby. I'll give 'em a call, have 'em take care of her. You boys stick around and those demons may take another shot at you."
Dean and Sam exchanged a look, coming to a silent agreement. "Okay, Bobby. Thanks." While they were pretty sure Lilith would keep coming at them no matter where they were, they both knew that the harder they made it for her, the better chance they had of figuring out how to defeat her. They still had no idea whether this elaborate plan was set up to eliminate Sam who seemed to be immune to her big bright, or Dean because he was – according to the angels – the one who was supposed to stop her. Either way they wouldn't make it easier for her, they'd make her earn her prize… it was just the Winchester way.
They took turns shaking Danny's hand, saying goodbye and making sure the guard knew how much they appreciated his assistance. They knew Bobby would give him a number to call if he ever needed it, so they didn't bother to offer theirs. The older man had held up well under the pressure and neither brother would be surprised if they'd just seen the emergence of a new hunter to the ranks.
They both turned to their old friend. "If I were you, I'd avoid helping out old buddies for while."
Bobby scowled at Dean. "Good thing we already established you're not me, then. Besides, the 'old buddies' I seem to spend the most time saving is you two idgits." He pointed a finger from one brother to the other, causing both to duck their heads to hide their grins. "Just see if I come runnin' to save your asses next time you call."
Dean raised his head and gave the older hunter a knowing grin. "You will."
Bobby shook his head, his own grin playing at his lips. "Cocky bastard," he mumbled. He raised his eyes and looked from one to the other. "You boys take care," he called as they both turned and headed across the property to where they'd left the Impala.
"Keys," Sam called as the approached the big black car.
Sam snorted a laugh. "Um… concussion, Dean? Numerous blows to the head? Any of this sounding familiar?"
"I'm fine Sam."
"Right." The younger man stopped as they approached the car, right hand held out before him. "You're fine." He thrust out a hip and stared at his brother, the rising sun just beginning to lighten the familiar look of barely contained annoyance. "It's been a really long night, man and I'm not the one standing here with blood caking half my face."
Dean sighed and dug in his pocket, handing over the car keys before turning and heading to the passenger side of the car. He never could last against that look. "Anybody ever tell you you're bossy?"
Sam smiled smugly as he opened the driver's door. "Look, we'll get a few hours in on the road, then pull over somewhere and catch some sleep. Deal?"
Dean nodded agreement. "Deal. But I get the backseat this time."
Sam just shrugged, knowing his brother would be out in the front seat long before they pulled over to rest. "Just get in the car, Dean."
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed!! I'd love to hear from you! Only a month left until the boys are back! It's the simple things I look forward to the most!