Disclaimer: If they were mine, the brothers would spend the first few episodes of Season Five just hugging it out.
A/N: I spent a lot of Season Four wondering why Sam and Dean seemed to have gaping plot holes…I mean, big gaps in their memories regarding the use of exorcism rituals. This is the result.
Warnings: Spoilers for up to the end of season four. Anything else is just me :)
Bobby Singer heaved a sigh as he pulled his car to a halt outside of a pretty-looking house in Estherville, Iowa. He heaved an even bigger sigh as he marched up the garden path, and by the time he was standing outside the front door of the house, he was rolling his eyes.
"Damn Winchesters," he muttered, then, lifting his hand, he rapped sharply on the door.
Dean Winchester opened it, his grim face relaxing slightly when he saw Bobby on the doorstop. "Thanks for coming, Bobby," he said, relief evident in his voice as he stepped aside to allow the other man entry. "We didn't know who else to call."
Truth be told, Bobby wasn't exactly surprised by Dean's comment. Since that night at the convent in Maryland, Sam and Dean had spent more time on the run from other hunters than allying with them. Even Ellen Harvelle and her daughter had been cautious of appearing too friendly with the Winchester brothers, and they had been downright wary round Sam the last time they had crossed paths with him at the salvage yard. As for some of John's old friends… well, having witnessed what Dean had done to a couple of them after finding Sam strung up and bloody in that damn warehouse, a devil's trap scratched into the floorboards beneath him, Bobby would be surprised if they had managed to crawl out of hospital yet.
Bobby followed Dean down a short hallway lined with flowery wallpaper and into a small but cosy living room. Sam was there, towering, as usual, over several low armchairs that had been pushed against the cream-coloured walls to create an empty space. But it was what was in the centre of the room that drew Bobby's attention.
Black paint had been used to mark out a large devil's trap on the fluffy cream carpet. In the middle of the trap sat a frail-looking old lady in a rocking chair, her arms bound to her sides with what he looked like the torn remains of a tablecloth. As Bobby entered, the old woman looked up, her movements a little too fast to be natural.
Bobby cut his eyes away from the woman in the chair, however, to nod at the youngest Winchester brother. "Sam," he said. Though he did he best to act normally, he couldn't help darting a quick, curious look at the younger man, examining him for…well, for what, Bobby wasn't exactly sure. He just knew that Sam had been different since the night that Lucifer had risen. He spoke less, for one, keeping his thoughts and opinions even closer to his vest than he had before. He was quieter as well, his movements more guarded as though he was constantly expecting an attack, and his shoulders were always bowed, like he was carrying the weight of the world on them. Which, Bobby supposed, Sam kind of was.
After a moment's hesitation, Sam stepped forward and offered his hand to Bobby, a smile on his face that looked forced.
Well aware of Dean's watchful gaze, Bobby clasped the kid's large hand between his own, then pulled him forward into a brief hug. Feeling Sam tense against him, he released him quickly, not wanting the make the kid any more uncomfortable than he obviously was.
A couple of awkward seconds passed.
"So," Bobby said finally, clearing his throat gruffly to help break up the tense silence that had descended in the room. "What is it you need my help with this time?"
Dean nodded towards the old woman in the rocking chair. "She's possessed," he said shortly.
Bobby eyed the amiable-looking lady, who reminded him a little of his long-departed grandmother, god rest her soul. "You sure?"
Just then, the woman spoke. "I do adore children," she declared in a sweet, sing-song voice. "Their bones make such a delightful crunch when you bite into them."
Dean didn't even blink. "We're sure," he said flatly.
"Then what's the problem?"
Dean's eyebrows rose. "It's pretty obvious, isn't it, Bobby? We don't know what to do with the demon."
Bobby frowned. "What do you mean, you don't know what to do with it? You need to send the damn thing back to hell."
"Yeah, we get that, but how? Elsa's still alive in there and-"
Bobby held up his hand, halting Dean mid-sentence. "Elsa?" he echoed.
"Yeah. We were having tea with her when she got possessed. We're pretty sure the demon was after one of us, and we managed to trap it, but-"
"You were having tea?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "Elsa's a witness in the case we're working, all right? The point is, we don't know how to get the demon out of Elsa without hurting her."
Sam's voice was quiet as he spoke for the first time since Bobby had arrived. "There is one option," he said, his voice low.
Dean spun round, already shaking his head. "Sam, no."
"It'll just be this once, Dean. That's all."
"Forget it! You're not doing that to yourself again, even if it will help someone!"
"Then what are we supposed to do?" Sam burst out angrily.
Bobby jumped, startled. It had been a long time since he'd heard Sam yell like that. In fact, Sam was so quiet these days, he'd almost forgotten that the kid had a temper to rival his daddy's. But it looked like things between the brothers were finally starting to get back to normal.
"We can't use the knife to kill it because it'll kill her," Sam continued heatedly. "We don't have the Colt anymore, and if we did have it, we couldn't use it for exactly the same reason!" Suddenly his eyes flicked to Bobby and he snapped his jaw shut, but not before he gritted out, "I've already doomed the world, Dean, I'm not killing an old woman as well."
"Why, that reminds me!" exclaimed Elsa suddenly. The demon inside of her turned to face Sam, moving the old woman's body like some sick sort of puppet. "Sam," it said warmly, its head tilted to the side as it looked at him, its eyes flashing black in the morning light that was streaming into the living room through the single French window. "I haven't thanked you yet for releasing Lucifer." The demon paused, thinking, then twisted Elsa's mouth into a cruel imitation of a smile. "You know, the bitch I'm riding baked some chocolate-chip cookies earlier. They're in the kitchen if you'd like one. I know it's not much to offer, but I just want to do something to show you how grateful I am to you for bringing about hell on earth."
Sam's face had paled as he listened to the condemning words, but his expression was strangely blank. Rather than recoiling from the accusation, he seemed almost to be drinking it in, accepting it.
Dean, on the other hand, took one look at his brother then strode forward and flung a stream of holy water at Elsa from a silver flask he pulled out from his jacket pocket. "You can just shut your mouth," he growled at the now hissing and spitting demon, who glared at him darkly before falling silent. The next second, Dean had turned back to Sam, ignoring Bobby, who watched surreptitiously. "Hey," he said, his voice low. "Look at me, Sammy."
Unwillingly, Sam complied.
Dean's gaze was unrelenting, but it held an understanding that Bobby had not seen from him before. "Dude," he said carefully, "tell me the truth. Do you want to use your mojo?"
His eyes dark, Sam shook his head once.
Dean nodded. "Then you don't have to." He shrugged. "We'll find another way."
Bobby could see a nearly invisible flicker of relief cross Sam's face. It seemed to ripple through his entire body, his shoulders relaxing and his stance becoming steadier.
Feeling almost like an intruder as he watched the brothers together, Bobby decided it was high time to do what he'd been summoned for and help out. He cleared his throat, drawing both Winchesters' attention to him. "How about we just do an exorcism on her?" he suggested.
Sam and Dean looked at each other, then glanced back at Bobby. "A what?" they asked simultaneously.
Bobby frowned. "We'll use an exorcism ritual," he repeated. "It'll bust the demon out of the poor thing's body and, long as she hasn't been used too hard, she has a pretty good chance of survival."
Yet Sam and Dean had identical expressions of puzzlement on their faces.
"What sort of ritual can do something like that?" Dean asked. Reaching up, he scratched at the back of his head. "I mean, no offence, Bobby, but it sounds kind of crazy."
Bobby scowled. "You're kidding me, right?" he demanded. "Your brother here can exorcise demons with his mind, you've got a magical demon-killing knife down the side of your boot, and you're telling me that using an exorcism ritual's crazy?"
"Sam can only exorcise those sons of bitches because of what Yellow-Eyes did to him," Dean retorted. "And the knife…well, we're not exactly sure how that works, just that it does. But a ritual?" Breaking into a sudden grin, he nudged Sam's shoulder. "What, I suppose we're meant to just bust out a few lines of Latin and the demon'll turn into smoke, is that it?"
Next to Dean, Sam, who had tensed again when Bobby had mentioned his powers, began to smile a little too.
Bobby just looked at them blankly. "This is some sort of joke," he finally said, finding his voice. "You two are just pulling an old man's leg. Right?"
Dean shook his head, his grin growing. "Bobby, we're sorry, we are, but we don't know what the hell you're talking about."
Bobby turned to Sam, who was now smiling openly, dimples and all, as he watched his brother, who had begun to chuckle. "Sam, you've had the ritual memorised for nearly two years now!" he accused.
Sam's smile faded. "Bobby, I don't even know what an exorci… …how do you say it again?"
"Exorcism," Bobby repeated flatly.
"…what an exorcism ritual is," Sam continued, sharing a glance with his brother, who shrugged his shoulders, his laughter dying away. "How could I have it memorised?"
"But-" Bobby shook his head. "Are you two seriously telling me you don't know how to exorcise a demon from a person's body?"
"Of course we know how to exorcise a demon!" Dean retorted. His amusement had vanished abruptly, and he sounded irritated. He jerked his head at his brother. "Sammy here can do it with his gargantuan brain if he wants to! He just doesn't. Want to, I mean."
Bobby sputtered. "But, it's been weeks since Sam stopped using his powers!" he exclaimed. "How've you been managing to exorcise all the demons that are out there now?"
"We've been using the knife, how else would we've been doing it? The problem we've got here is that the knife kills the victim, and we'd rather not hurt some old broad who bakes cookies for her visitors!"
"Let me get this straight. You're telling me that neither of you have ever heard of using an exorcism ritual on someone in order to expel a demon from their body."
Dean shook his head, Sam as well.
Bobby frowned, thinking. Then, an idea struck him and he gestured at Dean. "Where's your daddy's journal?"
Throwing a quick look at Sam, Dean reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out the leather bound book.
"Gimme that." Snatching it out of Dean's hands, Bobby began to flick through the pages. He reached the end, frowned, and started again, more slowly this time. Again he reached the end of the book without coming across the exorcism he was searching for.
His frown deepening, he looked up at the brothers, who were watching him, occasionally sharing a glance. When he saw Dean roll his eyes in his direction, Bobby bit back a sharp-tongued comment, snapped out a "wait here," and headed out of the room, down the hallway and out the front door to his car. Reaching in through the open window, he dug around in the glove compartment and pulled out one of his own notebooks, filled with his narrow scrawl. Nodding to himself, he stomped back inside, stubbing his toe on a grinning garden gnome on the way.
Sam and Dean had taken seats on a couple of the armchairs that were lining the walls and were muttering between themselves. Dean had Ruby's knife in his hands and he was playing with it as he growled about something not being Sam's fault. Sam, whose knees were up somewhere around his head, he had sunk so far into the soft cushions, didn't reply, just snapped back that they weren't going to use the knife when they didn't have to.
Bobby came to a halt beside Sam and flicked through the notebook until he had located the very same exorcism ritual that he had given John Winchester so many years ago. "Here." He shoved the book at Sam, keeping the page open with a finger. "Read."
Looking dubious, Sam flicked a look at Dean, who shrugged, then he took the book and began to read from the page. "Regna terrae, cantate Deo, psallite Domino… …" Sam broke off, a sceptical expression on his face. "Bobby," he said apprehensively, "are you sure this is going to work? It sounds kind of tacky."
"Of course I'm sure!" Bobby snapped. "Now keep going!"
Getting to his feet, Sam began again, stumbling a bit over some of the more complicated Latin as though it was unfamiliar to him, but nevertheless pressing onwards until the end.
The demon in the trap had begun to twitch and hiss as soon as Sam had begun to speak and, as Sam hit the last line of the ritual, a stream of swirling black smoke erupted from its mouth, swirling into the air like a minuscule, yet fiercely violent, twister. Finally, there was a deafeningly loud rushing noise that filled the whole room, rattling the furniture and the pictures on the walls, then the smoke raced towards the open fireplace and disappeared up the chimney. In the rocking chair, Elsa slumped, thankfully unconscious.
Sam came to a halt, his breath coming in heavy pants from the effort that was required to make the ritual work. He stared down at the notebook in his hand as if it were magic, his eyes roving over the lines of script on the page like he had never seen them before.
Dean, on the other hand, had jumped to his feet and was staring at the chimney into which the smoke had vanished. "That was awesome," he breathed. He spun round to face Bobby. "How'd you know how to do that?"
Bobby rolled his eyes. "Never mind that now," he growled, "just help me get the lady untied and onto the couch. Then you two had better take off, we don't want you running into any cops or anything, and the neighbours would've heard that. Meet me back at my place. We're going to find out just what's going on with the both of you."
When Dean and Sam finally left, talking animatedly between them themselves, Bobby shook his head. "Idjits," he muttered, then set about the business of cleaning up.
A couple of hours later, Bobby pulled out two of the wooden chairs around his kitchen table and gestured to them. "Sit."
Obediently, the brothers sat.
"Now," Bobby started. "You two mean to tell me that you don't remember a thing about exorcism rituals."
Both Winchesters shook their heads.
"Well, when did you forget?"
Dean knit his brow. "How are we meant to know when we forgot what we can't remember we knew in the first place?"
Bobby glared at him. "Okay then, tell me what you used to use, before the knife and Sam's powers."
Dean opened his mouth, then closed it again with a snap. He looked confused. "I never really thought about it before," he confessed. He nudged Sam, who was sitting beside him, his hands in his coat pockets and his shoulders hunched. "You?"
Sam's forehead creased in thought. Finally, he shrugged. "I don't know. It just…happened. Like, the demon was in the victim's body one minute, and out of it the next. Nothing really happened in between."
Dean chewed on his lip thoughtfully. "Huh," he said finally. "Now that I think about it, that is kinda weird."
"You don't say," Bobby muttered, rolling his eyes. "You mean to tell me that you two idjits never once thought about how you used to get demons outta people? About how other hunters do it?"
Again, the brothers shook their heads, each looking as confused as the other.
Bobby grimaced. "Well, I suppose there's nothing we can do about you two being knuckleheads. The only thing we can do is figure out why you've forgotten it, and what did it to you both."
Dean interrupted immediately. "You mean you think something's been messing with our memories?" he said angrily.
"That's exactly what I mean." Bobby paused, thinking. "It's a pretty big thing to forget, so whatever did it, it'd have to be pretty powerful. I mean, not only did it alter both your memories, but it managed to get rid of that exorcism in your daddy's journal as well. So it's gotta be something that's able to change what's real." Abruptly, Bobby stopped, considering what he'd just said. Then it clicked. "That son of a bitch," he murmured slowly. Shoving his chair back, he stood up from the table, holding out a hand to keep the brothers from rising along with him.
"I think it'd be best if you two stay here," he stated. His eyes darted briefly towards Sam and his expression tightened. "I don't want either of you getting any more tangled up in this mess than you already are."
That said, he strode out of the room, leaving two surprised Winchesters in his wake.
Bobby stood alone in his salvage yard, hidden from the house by a tall pile of rusting cars that were piled haphazardly in a half-circle. Beside him lay the remnants of the materials needed for a complex summoning spell. He waited, his arms crossed over his chest, his impatience growing with every minute that passed.
Finally, a figure detached itself from the shadowy pile of cars and sauntered out into the dying sunlight.
"You," Bobby growled, as he watched it approach.
"Me." Coming to a halt, the trickster smirked. "Good to see you again, Bobby. It's been a while."
"Enough with the small talk," Bobby snapped, his fingers itching as he imagined them wrapped around the trickster's neck. "What did you do to them?"
"To who?" asked the trickster innocently.
"You know who. To the Winchesters!"
"Right, the Winchesters," the trickster drawled. "How're they doing these days? I hear Sammy's been doing big things." He smirked. "Big things that have brought the world to its knees, but hey, whatever floats his boat."
Bobby scowled at him. "Why'd you do it?" he demanded.
The trickster shrugged. "Smart guy like you, do you really need to ask? You know my modus operandi."
"Humour me," Bobby said sarcastically.
"Well, since you asked so nice." The trickster stepped forward. "Truth be told, Dean's been pissing me off for a couple of years now. Always up on his high horse about his brother using his powers." The trickster shook his head. "I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen when the two of them didn't have so many options when they wanted to exorcise someone. And as for Sam…" He grinned. "Well, Sammy's just fun to mess with."
"How long?" Bobby ground out.
"You mean how long since I made the boys forgot about exorcisms? Right about when Dean went to hell."
Bobby grimaced. "You know about all that?"
The trickster held up a hand. "Hey. I know I may not look like much, but you should remember that I'm a demi-god. I know a lot more than you think."
Bobby snorted. "Then you know what you've done, right? Those boys were at loggerheads all last year because Sam found out he could use his powers to exorcise demons without killing the victims. And now the damn apocalypse has started because of what he learnt!"
"Hey, as long as there's still the Superbowl and a few hot women around, I'm cool. And besides, this apocalypse hasn't been too bad. A bit more chaos than usual in the world, a few thousand people dead…so far." The trickster smiled cruelly. "Anyway, you really think that Sam Winchester would've been content to just send Lilith back to hell, after what she did to Dean? That kid wanted her dead. And believe you me, he's like a dog with a bone when he wants to kill something." He smirked. "Besides, you really think a simple exorcism would have worked on the first demon ever made?"
Bobby gritted his teeth. "Put them back. Make them remember."
"Well…I guess it isn't quite so fun anymore, not now that Sammy's all 'woe is me, I broke the world' all the time. And Dean's seems to have gotten over that whole 'my brother's a monster' thing." The trickster paused, considering. "All right, I'll tell you what. I'll put them back, restore their memories, the page in John's journal, the whole nine yards. But you've gotta set that wooden stake you've got up your sleeve down til I've left. Those things can be dangerous."
Trying not to let his surprise show on his face, Bobby uncrossed his arms and let the stake fall to the ground with a dusty thump. "Fine. It's a deal."
"Alrighty then." The trickster turned to leave, but then looked back. "Oh, and Bobby? Say hello to Sam for me, would you? Tell him that I'll be seeing him real soon."
And with those parting words, the trickster vanished.
When Bobby re-entered the house, he moved down the hall silently and paused at the door to the kitchen. Standing well back, he peered around the doorpost.
Sam was still sitting at the kitchen table. He looked absolutely gutted, his face pale and his eyes dark. "I remember now," he was saying hollowly to Dean. "I never had to use my powers, I could have sent demons back to hell with an exorcism." He slammed a hand on the table and stood up, sending his chair crashing to the floor behind him. "Damn it!" he swore violently.
"Hey!" Dean said sharply, standing up as well. "This is not your fault."
"Why?" Sam demanded, a muscle in his cheek twitching angrily. "Because you said so?"
Dean glared at him. "Because it's the truth, asshat! You couldn't remember, Sam, neither of us could."
"Dean's right." Deciding for the second time that day that it was time for him to interrupt, Bobby walked into the kitchen. Immediately, Dean turned on him.
"What the hell, Bobby? You couldn't have reminded us about exorcism rituals last year sometime?"
"Don't you take that tone with me," Bobby warned. "I just got you and your brother your memories back. And anyway, why would I think to remind you about something like that? I didn't know the two of you had forgotten in the first place!"
Dean slumped into his chair, looking disgruntled. Sam, however, was watching Bobby, his gaze sharp. "What was it?" he asked. "That did it, I mean."
Bobby lowered himself into a chair. "A trickster."
A flicker of fear appeared in Sam's eyes, instantly annulling the anger residing there. "The trickster?" he asked hesitantly.
Bobby nodded silently and it was Sam's turn to sink into his chair, looking as though he'd just been through another round of detox.
Dean, on the other hand, looked pissed. "Did you kill it?" he demanded.
Bobby shook his head, and Dean's expression darkened.
"Why the hell not?" he exclaimed. "I mean, it does this to us, and then there's that whole groundhog day thing that Sam went through for-" He turned to his brother. "How long was it again?"
"A few months," Sam replied shortly. His gaze, however, which was fixed on Bobby, was softly pleading, and Bobby could almost hear Sam's broken voice again, confiding to him late one night in the otherwise deserted salvage yard about Dean's many deaths. And about the one after those.
Bobby kept his silence. Sam no longer kept many secrets from his brother, but Bobby thought he should be allowed to keep that one, at least.
Dean was still steaming. "So let's go after it!"
"No!" Sam exclaimed, pushing up from his chair. Bobby, who was looking for it, found it easy to detect the note of fear in his voice. Dean, however, was just staring at his brother, his brow furrowed. Sam shrugged. "I just mean that there's no point. Let's just let it go. We've got our memories back-"
"Yeah, about this," Dean retorted. "Who knows what else it's made us forget." He rose to his feet. "That's it. I'm going after it."
Sam took a deep breath. He looked nervous. "I'm not."
Dean stared at him. "You're kidding me. You're seriously going to let that thing get away with what it's done?"
Sam looked at him apprehensively, but held his ground. "Can you please just let it go, Dean?" He stumbled a bit on his next words. "Just trust me on this one."
Dean looked at him, his gaze hard. Finally, he dropped back into his chair with a huff. "Fine. But I'm warning you, Sammy, you better find me a hunt with some apocalyptic zombies in it to make up for it, all right?"
Sam looked relieved, but his mouth was curving into the beginnings of a smile. "I think I heard about some over in Las Vegas the other day," he suggested.
Dean grinned. "Awesome." He glanced over at Bobby. "Wanna come hunt apocalyptic zombies with us? They're the best kind," he added temptingly.
Bobby shook his head. "I'm pretty sure you two will be alright by yourselves," he said roughly.
Dean shrugged, then thwapped Sam on the back of the head. "Coming, bro?"
Sam stood up, and, as Bobby watched, the two brothers left the room with their steps in sync.
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