Bobby thought talking about Sam would somehow give him and Dean a little pick-me-up. Like a good shot of whiskey or a kick in the ass. Sort of a non-football version of 'Let's win one for the Gipper'. It was the best Bobby had to offer at this point. After all, what kind of pick-me-up was there for a guy who was possibly staring down a demonic insurrection in the wake of his brother's death?
Bobby swallowed hard and gave the younger man a look. Dean's face was as impassive as ever and melancholy lodged in Bobby's throat like reflux.
The sky was clear and that should have augured well for their mission but Bobby's nerves were stretched so taut that it didn't make much difference. Good visibility probably wouldn't mean much of anything in face of what they were about to undertake. True, he didn't know for sure, but he'd been around long enough to know that it wasn't good.
Probably end of the world not good.
Which was why he had to put this behind him. Not that Sam's death didn't hurt like hell, not that Dean's grief didn't make him ache, but because there was a bigger picture.
Licking his lips, he steeled himself, trying to keep his steps as light as he could. They'd left the Impala back a ways, partly because the road had grown rough and partly for the element of surprise. For all that he'd put together, he still wasn't quite sure what they'd walk into and it was better to enter by foot than charging in with the roaring engine of the car.
Alert and anxious, he inched his finger away from the sawn-off held in his right hand. The last thing he needed to do was blow off his toe like some wet behind the ears kid. And at the rate he was going, he couldn't be sure that was an unlikely scenario.
Ellen, pistol drawn, jumped as a leaf blew from an oak tree, narrowly missing her head. She covered her heart with a hand and Bobby watched her silently move her lips, trying to calm down. Bobby knew how she felt.
Only Dean seemed unaffected by the tension.
The younger man carried the Taurus in a light grip, his eyes scanning ahead, moving up to take point as the three hunters picked their way cautiously through the cemetery by the light of the moon and stars.
So far, there'd been nothing. No weird signs, no demonic activity. Just the cold and empty silence of an abandoned graveyard.
"That's far enough," a disembodied voice boomed from behind them.
Startled, Bobby spun, finger primed on the trigger once again. It didn't seem possible that someone had gotten the drop on them--they'd been too cautious. Sure, Bobby wasn't in his prime anymore, but he could still move in stealth mode with the best of them. He hadn't survived this long as a hunter to be caught by some run of the mill human.
No, this had to be more of that supernatural mojo at work.
Ellen and Bobby had fallen still in front of him, guns ready and eyes darting around in the darkness.
Then, Bobby saw a form--to the left in front of them, standing near the crypt. A tall, muscular black man—really more kid than man—walked up to them, unarmed. He had on army fatigues and a black long sleeved shirt and moved like someone who had spent some time in the armed services.
Ellen was stiff, her gun trained ahead. For his part, Dean stood straight, tensing his shoulders and lifting his chin as he brought his weapon to bear on the kid, pointing the barrel directly at his head.
Then Bobby recognized him. He'd only seen his retreating form at Cold Oak, but the long lanky figure was one he'd chased for a good half a mile before he'd realized it was futile. Quitting the chase had been hard, because revenge was something understood--and justice was something Bobby believed in. He didn't let murderers go.
Especially ones who killed Sam Winchester.
Dean's voice was soft, but Bobby knew exactly what he said. Dean released his safety, gritted his teeth, and whispered, "This one's for you, Sam."
Normally Bobby might protest. Justice didn't have to equate vigilante execution in his mind, but he'd seen the look on Sam's face as he fell to his knees. There was time for sympathy, but Bobby wasn't sure this was it.
But before Dean could pull the trigger, the kid threw up his hand and Bobby found himself unable to move--not even to twitch an eyelid.
It was his instinct to panic, but he didn't even have that luxury. Straining his eyes, he sought Dean and Ellen, and he could see them similarly subdued, stiffed and immobile by an invisible force.
Put down your weapons.
Hell, no, there was absolutely no way Bobby was going to give up his shotgun without a fight. He didn't give up his gun for no one, no how.
So it was more than a little maddening when he found himself bending over, tossing the sawn-off a good five feet away from his body.
You can relax now. It's going to be okay.
The deep voice echoed directly in his mind. Bobby straightened up without thinking about it only to have his knees threaten to dump him on his ass.
Not that relaxed. Guess I've got to be careful what I ask for here. This is all new to me.
For as creepy as mind control was, this kid wasn't particularly scary. Of course, the whole 'I can make you do anything I want and you can't stop me' powers he had working for him were a pretty compelling case to the contrary.
Ellen and Dean had both been forced to drop their weapons and the younger hunter was the only one who seemed to be actively fighting the mind control, his face glistening with sweat, muscles bunching and twitching with the effort.
Please, don't fight me. I have to make this right. Not just for me, but for all of us. Don't you understand?
Dean found his voice first. "You're one of them, aren't you? Like Sam and Ava and Andy. One of the kids chosen by the demon."
Cold steel ran through Dean's voice; the anger was simmering just below the surface and Bobby knew it wouldn't take much for Dean to go postal--one crack in the force field, and Dean would be ready to go.
Jake shrugged his powerful shoulders before licking his lips with nervous intensity. "I guess so," he said.
Dean's expression wavered with pure rage. "So how did you get so powerful? You embrace your dark side like Max Miller?"
"I don't know any Max Miller," the kid said. "And I don't know how this happened. It just started, like a switch got flipped in my head. But now that I can do more stuff, I guess I ought to put it to good use. You guys just hang out here while I take care of this gate. I'll let you go as soon as I'm done."
As unnerving as the rest had been, that triggered Bobby's panic in earnest. A Devil's gate. It made sense. Why else would the area be protected by such powerful demon repellents? Samuel Colt didn't want demons to open a door to Hell. The consequences could be devastating.
Struggling, Bobby found his voice. "No, son, you don't want to go opening anything." He spoke softly, relieved his voice wasn't locked up tight like his body.
The kid, young man, looked scared out of his mind with wide, staring eyes glinting in the moonlight.
Ellen's maternal voice rang out next. "No, honey, you don't want to go and do that. Let's just sit down and talk about it."
Dean took an alternate method in reasoning. "You can't fix what you've done this way. I mean, come on, cold-blooded murder? Stabbing a guy in the back? Nothing you do here will fix that."
The young man ignored their pitches as he walked toward a stand of tall monuments and headstones that glowed brightly in the strong moonlight. The kid was on a mission and wouldn't be dissuaded--no matter what.
An audible gasp was heard, probably from Bobby himself, as the kid plunged his hand into a deep pocket in his fatigues and withdrew The Colt.
They'd all wondered where it'd ended up. It'd disappeared with John at the hospital, and though the boys hadn't wanted to talk about it, Bobby had suspected John's death and the sudden disappearance had been linked. So however the kid had ended up with it, Bobby knew it couldn't be good. Whatever intel this kid thought he was working on wasn't going to be in any of their best interest.
It was hard to see from his vantage point and Bobby's feet were still firmly planted on the ground but it looked like the kid inserted the barrel of the colt into the surface of the mausoleum. There must have been a hole in the smooth granite face because the colt twisted in a circle, making a loud clicking noise, like tumblers being cleared on a safe.
A large ominous thump echoed off the headstones and the kid stilled, standing completely motionless in front of the looming burial vault, almost expectantly.
Bobby's legs unlocked but before he could even take a step, the ground rolled beneath his feet and he was thrown to the ground. Ellen and Dean copied his actions, all of them raising their arms to protect their heads as a large bolt of lightning streaked through the clear sky.
A large crash accompanied the light show and the mausoleum door burst open, throwing the kid roughly to the side.
The force of it hit Bobby squarely, rolling him on the ground. His ears rang and his vision blanked out as he was overwhelmed by a loud rushing noise. The tornado of sound gushed over him, and he went head over heels again.
When he finally stopped, he blinked, working to clear his head. It took a minute before the hazy shapes came into focus. He saw gravestones first then finally movement--Dean.
The younger man was to his right, a few feet in front of him. Dean had managed to roll to his feet, shaking his head. His eyes narrowed and Bobby followed his stare to land on the kid who was on all fours, head hung low on his shoulders, trying to get his bearings.
The calculating gleam in those bright green eyes gave Dean away: He wanted to off this kid for killing Sam. And to Bobby's way of thinking, it wasn't just that the kid killed Sam, it was that he knifed Dean's little brother in the back. When Sam had been defenseless and unprepared.
It was enough to keep Bobby where he was, even though he knew Dean's intent. Even if he knew it wouldn't bring Dean the solace he hoped it would. Even if it might be something Dean lived to regret.
With a set jaw, Dean lurched toward the hulking mausoleum on his way to finish the kid and Bobby couldn't help himself. He silently cheered.
The swirling air bumped into Bobby again, slamming him back to the ground.
Then Bobby realized that it wasn't just air assaulting them, it was brightly glowing reds and oranges and yellows. Demons were fleeing the granite resting place. Charging through the gate. The gate to hell.
Pausing as he stalked toward the kid, Dean glared at the gate. The indecision was apparent to Bobby as Dean stood as still as one of the headstones, contemplating his choices.
Kill the kid.
Close the gate.
Avenge Sam's death.
Stop all hell from breaking loose.
Ellen came up behind Bobby, maneuvering her shoulder under Bobby, and helping him to his feet. They moved together with an unsteady gait, moving as fast as they could.
Before they got more than two feet, Dean had made up his mind.
Bobby saw him slam against the granite slab, pressing his shoulder into it with all his might. Turning to them impatiently, Dean screamed against the stream of escaping demons, "Help me close it!"
Bobby thought he heard Dean muttering something about Sam and saving the world under his breath and he didn't sound happy about it but Bobby could only marshal enough energy to put toward shutting the unholy gate. The three of them heaved and strained but their combined weight wasn't making much headway.
The voice was back but it coincided with the gate crashing shut. Dean yanked Ellen's hands back before they were crushed in the doorway.
Something winged off Bobby's shoulder, interrupting his breather. Bright colors continued to swirl around them, violently bouncing off everything in their path like pinballs launched by spring loaded plungers thudding off flippers.
"I'm so happy you could stop by, boys and girls." Bobby whirled around, ducking between the frenzied demons lucky enough to have escaped the hatch. Standing in front of him, unruffled by the activity, was a shorter man with a pleasant face…and glowing yellow eyes.
This was John's demon. The one he'd chased all his life. The one who had taken Mary and Sam. Azazel.
The lore on him was sparse, and Bobby had told John everything he'd learned. He was among the higher ranks of hell, and was thought to be close to Lucifer.
Before Bobby could remember anything else, he was launched through the air without warning, crashing into Ellen midflight, both of them tumbling down to the hard ground in a tangle of elbows and knees.
Dean landed not far from them, sprawled on his back in the night damp grass, stunned from his flight.
"Here's Johnny!" the demon roared, eyes rolled up with psychotic energy in a dead on impression of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. The face relaxed into what would have been a disarming smile if it had been a person. Rolling up the sleeves of the light blue cotton work shirt, the demon gestured to the commotion around him. "First I want to thank my friend Jake for doing such a superb job with the gate. And taking care of all those Survivor wannebees. I guess you could say none of this would have been possible without him. A round of applause for Jake. Who else do I need to thank?"
The demon bypassed Bobby and Ellen, walking over to the downed Winchester with long, fluid steps, brown hair untouched by the whirling wind. "I guess I should thank you, Dean, for dropping in on this little party. Although you could say it's too little, too late. Seems to be a common Winchester theme."
Dean gasped, struggling to his knees. "You don't know jack…"
The younger hunter grabbed at his throat, his voice choked out along with his air.
Grinning, the demon put his hands on his slim hips. "Actually, I think I do. And I know John. And Sam. And Mary. Would you like me to go on?"
Despite the darkness, Bobby thought he could see Dean's face flushed a bright red. The younger man continued to claw and struggle and Bobby rolled to his feet, bent on aiding him.
Dean's hands dropped from his throat but before Bobby could get to him, the yellow eyed demon was tossing the younger hunter into the air. Arms and legs cart wheeled wildly before Dean collided with the solid trunk of an oak tree, what little air he had left whooshing out of him in a pained grunt.
Azazel was in firm control of the situation and for the second time, Bobby was helpless to save those who mattered most. He'd promised himself after Sam's death that he'd take care of Dean, no matter what.
He surged against his invisible bonds, but nothing happened. Straining and sweating, there was nothing he could do. Nothing he could do to save Dean. Just like there was nothing he could do to save Sam. To save John.
But damn it. This time he'd die trying.
He woke up to the sound of pounding surf in his ears. Rolling on to his back, he sat up, expecting to find sand under his hands. Instead grass, slick and damp, met his fingertips. And pain flared along all his nerve endings.
His eyes scanned the area, searching for some sort of clue as to where he was and how he got there. The moon and the stars dominated the sky, the air crisp and clean, a black wrought iron fence penning him in.
His low back ached with an intensity that stole his breath. His shoulder twinged as he tried to reach behind him and he aborted the attempt to touch the deep pain in his back, settling for rubbed absently at the abused joint.
He caught sight of some headstones and realized he was in a cemetery. But why and how did he get there? And most important, where was his brother?
A cacophony of voices made his head ache even though they were in the distance.
Bracing against the pain, he pushed to his feet. His lungs stuttered in his chest, the art of breathing temporarily forgotten. Panic seized him for a moment but he fought to suck air in and the anxiety eased.
There was a freshness about the act of breathing that made him pause. Breathing was supposed to be easy, not a struggle. And thinking shouldn't be involved.
Something was off here.
Something was wrong.
Something was wrong with him.
Tingling in the extremities almost set off a panic attack and it was a struggle to bring his respiratory system under control. Wrung out and staggering on weak coltish legs, memories pummeled his brain.
The yellow eyed demon and the other 'special kids' in Cold Oak.
Andy dead, ripped to shreds. Innocent and harmless to the end. He'd been murdered.
Seeing Ava's evil revealed. Realizing how powerful she was, how much she'd been through. How many people she'd killed. She'd been a secretary, engaged, funny, normal. Then she'd been gone in more ways than one.
Trying to reason with Jake. Failing.
Fighting with Jake. Winning.
His brother had come for him. Everything was going to be okay...
A sharp pain in his back replaced by cold numbness. Gray vision giving way to black.
Lungs burning as they ceased to work.
Cold horror washed over him.
Sam had died at the hands of Jake as surely as Ava had killed the other kids. He'd turned his back and Jake had punished him for it. He'd been dead--cold and blue and dead.
So why was he breathing now?
Head throbbing, Sam staggered forward toward the noise. The wind shaking the leaves on the trees made him jump. He couldn't think.
A sharp cry ahead of him.
More than that. Something in his voice. Something in the sharpness of his cry.
His brother was in pain.
Pushing forward, ricocheting off trees and stumbling against decaying grave markers, Sam followed the noise.
Sam needed to get to Dean. His brother would help him. Dean always took care of him, ever since he was a baby.
Dean was in pain and needed him.
And that was a mission Sam could not fail at.
Azazel paced back and forth in front of Dean, a grin so wide the Cheshire Cat would have been envious. "Dean, you really should be thanking me. After all I've done for you, a little gratitude wouldn't be amiss."
Although his ass was planted on the ground at the base of the tree and his back was leaning up against the bark uncomfortably, held by the demon's powers, Dean still had the use of his voice and he couldn't keep the incredulous note out of it, "Really? I should be thanking you? For what? Wiping out my whole family?"
The left eyebrow of the demon lifted artfully as he stopped his pacing over the roughshod ground and gazed deeply into Dean's eyes. "Your whole family. Isn't that a bit of an overstatement on your part?"
The demon was enjoying this way too much. It was obvious that Dean couldn't get away and here the supernatural creature was taunting him, like a kid with a magnifying glass in the sunshine frying ants on a sidewalk. "You weren't content to take away my parents, you had to go and take Sam, too."
The bitterness flew from Dean's lips along with spittle. It was aggravating the way he was at the mercy of this demonic megalomaniac.
"Oh, I didn't take Sam. I just borrowed him for a little while. See for yourself," the demon said spreading his arms wide.
From behind the dark haired meatsuit, Dean could see something stumbling toward the demon's little stage.
Someone in mud coated jeans and a tan jacket with brown disheveled hair.
A certain someone Dean had cradled in his arms, feeling the blood soak his hands, holding up the boneless body as he exhaled his last raspy breath in Dean's ear.
Moisture flooded Dean's eyes and he furiously blinked to clear them. The invisible restraints holding him in place lifted and Dean slowly climbed to his feet, afraid Sam was a mirage.
Any doubts Dean had that this was truly his brother, back from the dead, disappeared the closer the figure with the shambling gait got to him.
He recognized Sam's too long hair, including the uneven hank hanging in his eyes, desperately in need of a cut. A few more steps closer and he saw the mole on Sam's left cheek and the indentations where his dimples were although the expression on his face was as far from smiling as he could get.
The kid looked disoriented, eyes flitting from side to side. Panicky.
A voice chimed in from his right side. "Never fear, Dean-o, Sammy's here. Kind of sounds like the Rat Pack. We just need to add Frank and Joey and maybe Peter…oh, and what was that hot chick's name? The one with the great gams? Angie. We need an Angie."
Filtering out the demon's babble, Dean concentrated on his brother. There was no doubt that Dean was staring at Sam but he wondered at his brother's mental state. Face slack, eyes wide and vacant, skin pale.
Dean's feet moved without his volition, pulling him closer to Sam. The demon cackled in his ear, "Look who decided to drop in. I don't think Sammy cared for his previous accommodations at all. Then again hell seems to put most people off. They can't eat or sleep. Or it drives them insane. I wonder what category Sam falls into. Sam!" the demon snapped his fingers. "Hmmm…the lights are on but nobody's home. I think he might be one fry short of a Happy Meal. One brick short of a full load. Oh, this is fun…I could go on all night."
Sam's feet had stopped moving, his body swaying in the wind. Dean was afraid he was going to collapse to the hard ground and he broke into a run. "Sammy?!"
Azazel's voice boomed, amusement fading, "Stop right there, boys. I think we need to slow this little reunion down a bit, don't you? The guest of honor, the true prodigal son, isn't looking so hot at the moment."
His forward movement ground to a halt a mere ten feet from his brother and Dean struggled against the bonds holding him immobile. Sam's eyes stopped panning the cemetery and landed on Dean's face, a tentative smile flexing the deep grooves next to Sam's mouth in a quiver. "Dean?"
His brother's voice trembled and he was shaking so hard, Dean thought he was going to fly apart in front of him. Dean ached to sprint forward and hug Sam but until the demon let loose his hold, he wasn't going anywhere.
"Awww, just look at 'em. They're so sweet. Don't they just bring a tear of joy to your eyes? Screw it. I can't stand in the way of something so touching." Dean didn't even have a chance to brace himself before he found himself airborne again, launched right toward Sam.
Sam didn't have time to even throw his arms out to defend himself before Dean collided with him, bowling him over, both brothers bouncing on to the packed dirt path below. Sam took the brunt of the collision, knocked flat on his back, Dean's torso resting heavily on his chest.
Levering himself on his skinned elbows, Dean found himself nose to nose with the brother he thought was gone for good. "Sammy?"
Those large, tilted, blue-green eyes gazed back at Dean with a myriad of emotions. Pain. Confusion. Hope.
Sam still had hope and that had to mean something.
Dean now had hope, content to have Sam back by his side. Literally by his side as he slid off his brother, watching the grimace of pain scrunch Sam's face up.
His own hand shaking from the intense emotions and sheer adrenaline pulsing through his body, Dean put his hand over Sam's heart. Felt the rise and fall of his breathing and the steady beat of Sam's strong heart.
His brother was back.
The wind intensified, pushing Sam's hair over his face, obscuring him from Dean's view. He barely registered the approaching footsteps until they we were upon him. "Like I said, touching. An episode of The Waltons couldn't have scripted the schmaltz any better than this. But all things must come to an end. Say goodnight, John-Boy."
He was sick and tired of taking flight but that didn't stop him from winging through the air to land roughly against the same Oak tree that had stopped him before. The wind was knocked from him and he saw stars, the pain in his back wrapping around to encompass his ribs.
"No!" Dean knew that voice, fraught with panic, and he wanted to go to his brother, show him that he was okay. His body had other thoughts and his fingers twitched but that was the only response he could summon at the moment.
Sam was pleading in the background, begging for Dean's life. "Please…leave him alone…you can't…I need…"
"You need, Sammy, my boy? What about what I need? And why should I save your worthless brother's life?" the demon taunted. If it was possible, Azazel was even more smug than before.
Dean's vision wasn't swimming as much at the moment so he focused on the tableau playing out before him. The demon facing off against his brother, arms akimbo, a gunslinger waiting for the draw. Sam had an arm bent around his waist and stood weaving in place. Reaching out a hand in supplication, Sam swallowed down as if fighting back nausea and beseeched the demon, "Please…don't kill him. I'll do whatever you want."
Cringing against the unyielding trunk, Dean wanted to cry out to Sam, to stop him from trying to make some sort of deal with Azazel. Behind the battleground, Dean spotted Ellen and Bobby and the look of absolute horror on their faces must have mirrored Dean's. How could Sam reason with a demon? Sure, Dean had tried to make a deal with the Crossroads Demon but that was different, Sam's life had been at stake.
Pressure increased against his ribcage and Dean realized Azazel was still pulling his Jedi mind trick routine. This time the life was being squeezed out of Dean and his little brother was bargaining the best he could under the circumstances.
Dean tried to remain quiet, he didn't want to be a distraction, but a whimper of pain escaped his lips. Sam's eyes, almost rolling with panic, turned away from the enemy to stare at Dean.
Azazel's hand rocketed forward, cracking into Sam's cheek. "I'm so sick of your pathetic little mewling. Show me what you're made of, Sammy. You wanna save your brother? Make me stop."
Sam's head rocked back under the force of the blow and he staggered back a few paces but he didn't fold. In fact the opposite happened. Sam's spine straightened and he stared down at the demon, disgust pulling his lips back. Dean could plainly make out the livid shape of a hand on his brother's right cheek but Sam ignored it, eyes narrowing.
Dean had seen this look a million times. Sam at his best—cool and totally focused and able to verbally tear apart anyone opposing him.
But this time the strategy had changed and Sam wasn't talking, he was doing.
Static filled the air and if Dean's hair had been longer, it would have been floating around his face. Sam's hair fanned out, his arms outstretched toward Azazel.
And, for the first time, the demon lost his smug expression.
Without further warning, energy blasted from Sam's hands, flattening the demon. Azazel, sprawled on the ground, writhed in agony. "Sam, my boy, think about this. We're practically family…argh!"
Energy buffeted the demon, a brilliant white-blue light cracking over his skin.
Dean's attention flipped back toward his brother. Sam's face was expressionless, even the lines of pain smoothed away.
It was Sam yet it wasn't. His brother always used reason before violence.
There was no reasoning now.
Sam moved closer to the demon with a purpose and certainty that belied his earlier state. The doe eyed, pained kid had packed up and in his place left this…man.
It was a bit like staring at his dad.
Breathing with ease, Dean pushed away from the tree. He wanted to stand by his brother but something held him back. The unchecked power unleashed on the demon gave him pause.
Sam's head was thrown back as the demon jerked from side to side, foam bubbling from its lips. "Rein it in, boy," the demon panted. "I've invited one more…person to the party…and I think you'll want to hear what he has to say." The effort to speak had cost the demon too much and his eyes rolled back into his head.
Hands lowering to his side, Sam cocked his head to the side, his impression of Lassie dead-on. The air was saturated with electricity but Dean sensed Sam was back in control of himself and moved to stand by his side.
Azazel flopped around on the ground in front of his feet and Dean derived a certain amount of pleasure from the sight.
The only thing preventing Dean from breaking into "We Are The Champions" was Sam. He wanted the demon to pay for everything it had done, but Dean wasn't comfortable with Sam doling out the justice.
The wind had completely died down and the demons that had busted through the gate were long gone.
The sound of boots crunching on gravel caught Dean's ears.
Dean glimpsed Sam's face, slack-jawed with wonder, and turned to see who was approaching.
Sound caught in Dean's throat but he forced it past his lips anyway. "Dad?"
John Winchester stood before them, tall and proud.
Dean's heart stuttered in his chest. He'd already gotten Sammy back. Maybe all three Winchesters would be hunting as a team again.
"Howdy, boys," John said, white teeth flashing in his tanned, healthy face. "It's been awhile."
Hope crashed and burned, leaving behind the taste of something souring in decay, as his dad's eyes promptly faded to black.