Sam eyed the downward slope of the cave entrance with more that a little trepidation. It gaped from the earth like a mouth to Hell, the long, gentle slope of it like a throat. The cave wanted to eat him.
Okay, he knew that was ridiculous. But he just had a bad feeling about this. Maybe it was what had happened the last time, maybe it was just nerves – and maybe it was something else – something that he just didn't quite remember. That he didn't want to remember. Something about being alone and in the dark and scared…and there had been a door that loomed like the mouth of the cave…
Sam shuddered violently. That had never happened. Never!
A quick, hot blot of pain stabbed through the muscles of his back, distracting him. He bit his lip and waited for it to pass. It did that now, every once in awhile. He was getting used to it.
Without realizing it, Sam pushed the images back down where they came from, refusing to consciously acknowledge them. The pain helped with that.
But it didn't change the fact that he really didn't want to go into that cave. And he didn't want his brother down there either.
Still, somewhere, down in that dark, was a kid. Lost and alone and about to get ripped limb from limb to atone for the sins of his parents.
They had to go in there.
Sam's gut churned at the thought of it.
"Sam!" Dean hissed, giving him an irritated look. Dean was already sheltered at the right side of the opening, pistol out, ready to go. He glared at Sam, who was still hovering at the edge of the water, rather then taking his position on the other side of the opening.
Sam sucked it up and focused on the job. Save the kid, kill the monster, get out of town.
It sounded normal, it sounded like family – it sounded about perfect. Everything else could wait.
He got into position and moved with Dean into the dark.
They could hear the voice echoing up the tunnel of the cave before they had gotten more than a couple dozen feet in. It bounced from the wet walls – the hoarse sobbing of a hurting child was a low, hopeless counterpoint. Sam's chest ached in sympathy. Dean's eyes narrowed, and he quickened their pace just a little. But as much as the soft sobbing wrenched at Sam's heart, he was still relived to hear it. A kid had to be alive to be able to cry.
Further down, light spilled from around a slight twist in the tunnel. Dean and Sam approached it carefully. The echoing voices from inside grew louder until they began to make out words.
"I'm sorry, little one," came the voice, calm and reasonable and completely insane. "But sometimes the blood of the innocent has to be spilled to grant justice. I need for your family to know pain, real pain. I need them to know what I went through; what I'm going through. This pain won't ever pass. They have to know what I'm feeling; what they put me though. This is the only way to ensure that."
Sam shot Dean a panicked look. Whatever was happing, it sounded like Jesse was going to kill the little boy now. Five minutes earlier, and they could have crept toward the room, let their eyes adjust, known what they were up against before entering Jesse's area. Now they were just going to have to plunge in, and hope for the best.
Dean nodded, obviously thinking along the same line, and they both hurried toward the light, moving quietly and fast.
"Have a better life on the other side, child. Goodbye, little Jeremiah."
The words come just as Sam and Dean rounded the corner.
Sam blinked once as his eyes adjusted to the somewhat brighter light. The cave had opened into a cavern of sorts; a low, jagged ceiling pushed down ominously into the small space. Flood lights had been set up in strategic places, a gasoline generator chugged in a spot near the 'door' providing power to the lights. They were aimed at the far side of the room, highlighting a small cage and the boy trapped inside. A video camera was positioned to record the coming gore. Sam felt his stomach twist, realizing that Jesse Fleishman intended to relive his murders over and over and over again.
Jesse had gestured as he spoke, and from a dark corner a shape surged forward. It was like watching a chunk of the wall move itself. Its feet thudded with the weight of its body, the very stone of the cavern seemed to vibrate with the power of it.
Jesse had opened the cage door to allow the creature easier access to the cringing boy inside. He was waiting patiently for his monster to come and do the dirty work.
Without hesitation the golem obeyed its maker's summons – moving implacably toward the cage, intent on ripping the child inside apart piece by piece. It wasn't slow – but it wasn't fast either. Like a train gaining speed, it surged the few feet to the cage as Sam and Dean entered the room.
"Call it off, Jesse," Sam said. His pistol leveled on the man's head while Dean took aim at the golem. "Just let the boy go. He didn't have anything to do with what happened."
Jeremiah had scrambled back, pushing against the edges of his cell, desperate to get away. But there was nowhere to go.
"I am afraid I can't do that." Jesse's eyes darted between them, he edged sideways, trying to put the bulk of the monster between him and the gun. "Somebody has to pay!"
"Knock it off!" Dean yelled. "Stop him and stand still or we will shoot you! Stand still!" he commanded, and Jesse froze. As if connected to his master, the golem twitched to a stop like a toy running down. Its bulk blocked both the cage door and any clear shot on Jesse.
Dean hissed in an aside to Sam, "Dude, how am I supposed to shoot a rock?"
Sam ignored him, focusing on Jesse. "Somebody did pay, Jesse. You did. You hurt your brother and you paid for that. You're still paying. The child is innocent. Just like Mikey. You're not getting vengeance – you're just committing the same crime over and over again."
"No," he growled, shaking his head so hard that his hair flew. "No! It's not the same! It's not the same! They took Mikey from me! Then they left me there! They sneered at me and judged me – but I knew where my grandfather's old books were, and I knew what the old witch had taught me when I was a kid. And I knew they would feel what I felt! An eye for an eye! What could be more holy that that! I want them to feel the same way I did after Mikey died. I want them to feel everything!" The words came out so fast and so thick that spit flew.
"We aren't going to let you do that," Dean said calmly. He cocked the pistol. "Some things you can't share; some things you just have to live with."
"And some things you can't escape, no matter how much you want to," Sam finished. "And you're not taking any more innocents with you."
Jesse didn't wait for them to shoot. Dropping down behind his creation, he began to mutter, the words coming fast and in Hebrew.
The monster was turning even before Jesse started chanting. It rotated toward Dean and Sam, raising hands that began to glow, a deep, sickly orange as the rock and clay of its massive hands became lava. The heat was so strong that Sam could feel it even halfway across the room, tightening his skin and pulling out a fine sweat on his face.
"Watch it, Sam!" Dean shouted, but then the golem was charging, moving ridiculously fast for such a big, heavy form. Dean fired one round, but it did nothing to the creature, and they had to dodge out of its way – Dean going left, Sam right.
The monster stumbled several steps past them before reacting and turning.
"Moves like a train, steers like a cow," Dean observed. He shot at t again, but though the bullets penetrated the body, they had no effect. It turned its back on Dean, moving toward Sam, building speed.
Sam noticed none of it. Jesse had used the distraction of the golem's first attack to dart away, dragging the boy from the cage and using him as a human shield. Jesse had a knife, and Jeremiah was bleeding from the pressure of it as the man held it against his neck. The little boy whimpered.
"Jesse, let him go!" Sam said, trying to find a shot.
The man shook his head again, crouching as much as he could behind the boy, blocking the opportunity for any safe shot. "This is not my fault! What happened to Mikey was not my fault! And I will make them pay!"
Maybe it was because Sam was confronting Jesse, because he was the one threatening its creator – but the golem roared, going after Sam.
Sam felt the heat of it. The burn had him dropping and rolling away instinctively before he even registered the monster was there. He ducked the monster's scalding grip and scrambled away from it.
Jesse moved, dragging the boy backwards. Edging toward the far side of the room, his eyes darting to the exit, just beyond the struggle between Sam and the golem. As the golem again charged Sam, Jesse had his eyes locked on Sam and the golem as if directing the monster somehow. Slowly the golem lunged and grabbed at Sam, maneuvering him around the edge of the cavern and just past the opening to the exit.
Jesse began creeping toward the door. Sam could see him, but was helpless to stop him as he dodged the monster.
Jesse was going to get away – with Jeremiah.
That was, until Dean stepped away from the wall where he'd been waiting and pistol whipped him.
Sam couldn't help the small smile as Jesse dropped like a rock. Dean reached out and collected Jeremiah, pulling him away from the man on the ground.
The smile was short-lived, however. The golem stumbled, temporarily cut off from the input of its creator. It went down, its superheated hands catching on the gasoline generator next to the wall.
The explosion tore through the room.
Sam slammed backward, hitting the cavern wall hard. He slumped, dizzy and aware of the fact that his face burned.
He could hear a kid screaming.
Up. He needed to get up.
Sam forced his eyes open. The room swirled and jumped like a bad movie. Sam shook his head, trying to clear it, and almost fell over. He pushed himself up and made it as far as his knees, blinking in the heavy light.
The room was chaos. Gasoline from the generator had caught fire when the golem touched it. The resulting explosion had not only taken out the lights, it had thrown burning gasoline all over the room. Fires burned everywhere, providing a flickering light that was not helping Sam's scattered vision. Smoke was filling the tiny cavern. The air was already thick and hot. And the golem was moving again – unhurt by the explosion, and still obeying the orders of its creator like a good little soldier. Vaguely Sam realized that Jesse had to still be breathing; if he wasn't his monster would be free.
The golem had Dean and the boy cornered, backed up against the cage. Dean was standing in front of the kid, blocking the monster with his own body, but there was nothing Dean could do to stop the creature from fulfilling its orders. The monster reached out, its oversized and misshaped hands glowing with unnatural heat, its eyes blank and merciless.
Sam's heart thudded painfully. Cold fear ran through him, the prickly sensation of it only intensifying the ache in his head and the burn in his chest. There had to be something, some way to stop this, to force the creature down, because Dean would never move, and the creature was never going to stop until he killed the boy, and that meant that Dean was going to die, that Sam was going to have to see his brother die –
His powers ripped from him in a rough, huge, and cold wave. The swell of unrestrained force slammed through the cave, simply leveling anything it touched. The fires died out as it passed, instantly smothered. Jesse's unconscious body flipped up and was flung aside like a leaf in a maelstrom. He slammed into a wall and dropped, not moving. The golem was simply tossed like a rag doll, flicked away from Dean and the boy. But wave rolled on. The very walls of the cavern shifted as that it hit the edges of the room. A low rumbling began to vibrate the air.
For a second, the air was the only thing that moved, and the walls as a low thrum began to beat, and the first of the rocks started to give way. Sam dropped his head, unable to take the look in Dean's eyes as his brother stared at him. Dean looked almost…frightened.
Then Dean blinked as if waking up, breaking the moment. He swallowed turning his face away.
"Cave in," Dean stated flatly as more rocks began to fall. "We need to move. Now."
Almost on cue, the place began to crumble, big chunks of stone cracking and separating from the walls. "We gotta get out! Sam! No!"
Sam ignored Dean. He had stumbled to his feet as soon as Dean had turned from him. He had wanted to go to his brother, make Dean look him in the eye, make sure that he had imagined the rejection he'd seen for just a second in his expression…but he was afraid to. Afraid that he would find exactly that if he went to Dean right now. So instead of going toward his brother, toward the way out, he'd headed the opposite direction. This wasn't over. Not yet. And, damn it, at least he could finish it. He staggered across the room, falling to his knees next to the golem – who, like a beetle on its back, was struggling clumsily, trying to get up but weakening after the death of its maker.
Sam's gaze met its carved eyes as he reached for the mark held on its forehead with a mound of mud and clay. It began to reach for him with its burning hands.
Sam jerked the sigil free of the clay.
Instantly the golem began to crumble; falling apart, dissolving back into the base elements that had formed it.
Its face went last. Its eyes locked on Sam's as its dissolution progressed. And Sam recognized the expression on the lumpy, misshapen face – it looked at him with something like gratefulness. Sam froze, locked into place by the kindness he could see in it now. It was a creature meant to protect, to help and serve – and it had been used to kill innocents and destroy lives. It had never been meant for such purposes, so far from its original intention. It had hurt the golem somehow, to be used in such a way. Monster or not, it had hated what it had been forced to do, what it had been molded to become. Reluctantly, Sam felt a thin line of connection form – like recognizing like.
And Sam understood, now, why it had never been Jesse he felt bad for….
The moment was soon over; the creature's face separating and collapsing back into dust. Sam felt a brief wave of sorrow pass though him; not so much for the creature's passing, as for the pain of its brief existence.
Sam was brought out of his reverie by Dean's shout, by the genuine fear and desperation Dean invested in that one syllable.
Sam looked around, blinking back the massive ache in his head, and sniffing back the blood that streamed from his nose.
The walls had begun to shake in earnest, and chunks of stone were starting to fall, a hailstorm of deadly proportions. "Sam!" Dean called again, a thread of command in his voice as he turned to collect Jeremiah.
Sam tried to stand, fighting to get himself on his feet. The agony in his skull swelled and blossomed, and black flowers began to blot out his vision. His sense of balance went with it, and he found himself folding back to his knees, struggling with his stomach. Absently he rubbed a hand over his face, confused when he saw it streaked with blood.
"Sam!" Dean shouted. "Move!"
He flipped a hand at Dean, trying to signal him to get the little boy out. To worry about himself. Watched blankly through the falling debris as Dean took the boy over to the opening and sent him running down the tunnel toward the outside.
Then he watched as he came back.
"C'mon, Sammy. We have to get out of here."
Sam felt his arm looped over Dean's shoulder. Felt the tug of it as Dean hauled his limp body to its feet. Around them the cave continued its collapse, it was like it was imploding in slow motion. And Sam swallowed, knowing it was his fault. He tasted blood. "I'm sorry, Dean," he muttered. Dean and the boy could have been killed by this cave-in. A cave-in Sam had triggered. "I'm so sorry."
"Later, Sammy," Dean hissed, dragging him toward the tunnel as the ceiling rained down. "We run like hell now, and I kill you later."
Sam thought that sounded pretty good – especially the being killed later part. Being killed later meant surviving now. Sam forced himself to focus, to move, helping Dean as much as he could as his brother guided them both to the exit. And being alive later seemed more likely as they made it to the more stable tunnel.
The sunshine at the end guided them out as the cavern collapsed completely behind them, burying Jesse Fleishman, forever alone with the monster he had created.
Sam stuffed his last shirt into his bag. Behind him, Dean was tucking his FBI suit back into its garment bag, getting it ready to store in the upper part of the trunk.
"You know, I think you were right," Sam said suddenly, carefully not looking at his brother.
"You know I'm always right, Dean replied absently. "About what?"
"About my powers. When you said I should just leave them alone. I know I said it before, but I think they are too dangerous. They almost got you and Jeremiah killed. They did kill Jesse Fleishman."
"That was reflex," Dean shot back instantly. "You couldn't help that. Besides, Jesse was evil. And you don't know that the powers killed Jesse. He could have been alive. It could have been the cave-in that got him. We didn't have time to go back in after him, even if we'd wanted to."
"I know," Sam sighed, "but that doesn't make me any less responsible. It doesn't make me any less of a monster."
"Hey!" Dean snapped, marching over and grabbing Sam's shoulder. His voice was hard, and his eyes were angry. Sam flinched back from that anger. "Don't you ever say that," Dean growled, low and serious. "Not ever. You aren't a monster, Sam! What happened in the cave was an accident. You didn't choose to kill anyone. Jesse Fleishman did."
"Neither did the golem," Sam argued. "The golem looked at me before it died, Dean. Like it was grateful. Like I freed it! It didn't enjoy what it was doing. It didn't want to kill. But it never had a chance. Just like me." He tugged his shoulder free from his brother's hand. "Not wanting to kill, not choosing didn't keep that thing from being a monster."
Dean made a noise, thick and angry and scared. "It's different, Sam. It is! That thing was designed to kill!"
"I might be, too!" Sam shouted, dropping his bag and taking a few steps back. "These powers, or abilities, or whatever…the yellow-eyed bastard forced them on me! I never asked for them. And we have no idea what they're designed to do! When he brought me back…he could have done anything to me! Made me into a monster. I'm just a pawn in their plan. And my powers are too. They are serving the demon's purpose – if I use them, then they can use me. These powers mean danger for everyone. I can't control them, and if I practice, if I try, the world may end up paying for it! You may end up paying for it."
Dean shook his head. "No, Sam. No." He took a step toward him, and Sam realized he couldn't back any farther away because he'd automatically put his back against the wall without realizing it. "Sam, you won't hurt me. You'll never hurt me. I know that. Just like I know you're still you. No matter how you got back, no matter what they did to you – you're still you. And you are not a monster."
Sam could feel himself starting to shake. He worked to keep it from getting out. "How do you know?"
Dean put a hand on his shoulder again, warm and solid and there. "Because you're my brother and I know you. That's all I need to know."
Sam searched his eyes, looking for any doubt, any worry – but all he saw was his big brother, waiting for him to calm down.
So he took a breath, sharp and fast, and nodded his head. "Okay. Okay. But I'm not ever using the powers again. Not ever."
Dean nodded, pulling his hand away. "Okay. It's your choice, and I don't think that's a bad way to go. I know I tell you a lot that I think they're dangerous, and I'm serious about that; but keep in mind that if it weren't for your powers, you would have become the golems dinner and you would have never been able to kill it and save us."
"Or kill Jesse Fleishman."
Dean's eyes went flat. "He was human, but evil – just like what we hunt. You've done nothing wrong, Sam."
Sam nodded, but he didn't buy it. "The powers are dangerous, Dean. You have to see that." And you have to be careful around me. The words stopped in Sam's throat, choking him.
"I do see that," Dean replied, having taken Sam's statement at face value. "I'm just saying they might be handy after all. Now, you ready to get out of here? Or do we have to cry on each other's shoulders first?"
Sam blinked at the sudden change in tone, half offended – until he saw Dean's mouth, fighting his familiar wicked grin.
Sam rolled his eyes. "You're a jerk, know that?"
"Better than being a bitch," Dean replied instantly and lightly. He shouldered his bag. "You want to walk to the car? Or do you want to just levitate yourself out there?"
Sam grabbed his own bag, grinning a little and headed out the door. As soon as Sam left, Dean's grin faded. He bit his lip, looking worriedly at the door. Then he took a deep breath, grabbed his garment bag, and walked out of the room, shutting the door behind him.
Outside the familiar rumble of the Impala's engine roared to life.