Dean dragged Sam away from the commotion. "Dude, we need to talk!"
Sam stumbled behind him as Dean walked briskly over the uneven terrain. Sure of himself, if nothing made sense about this place. The grayness under their feet seemed even but the moment they put their feet down, the ground shifted under them and they had to fight to stay upright. Dean had learned to take strides on pure instinct, without looking where he put his feet, just balancing as he walking along. Sam wasn't fairing so well: he was still trying to put his feet just right and consequently, he stumbled. The screwed-up-ness was surely telling them something, but Dean wasn't exactly sure what.
"We can't leave—"Sam huffed behind him and Dean stopped to turn to his brother.
"Sam, this is all insane. Angels and demons clashing before? A man with a creed helping them out and getting ganked for it? Where were these dicks when you got iced? You pray, Sammy. You do believe in something greater, in God. Why wasn't anybody there for you?"
Sam looked over his shoulder at the two they had left behind. "I don't know what to believe any longer. I'm not sure I even believe that angels can be that ruthless. Killing a man because he tried to help someone out? I don't understand any of this."
He turned back to Dean and there was so much sorrow in his eyes that, for a moment, Dean thought he was staring into Patrick's O'Brian's.
"Is that why you couldn't move on, Sammy? Because you lost faith? Because nobody was there for you in the end?" Dean had never had faith, not like Sam, knowing that his brother had lost so much already … thinking about Sammy not having hope anymore just about killed him.
"Dean, you were there for me." Sam's eyes were earnest as they seemed to bore into his own. "I remember things vaguely but the one thing I remember is you being there. I remember that. I remember how you mourned and hating myself for not being able to reach out and tell you it was all right to let me go."
Dean had to grip Sam's collar and tug at it. Just to assure himself that Sammy truly was there. That he wasn't lost all over. That his little pain in the ass brother was about the only real thing he had in this screwed up mess. "Dude, no chick-flick moments."
Sam grinned and swatted Dean's hand away. Then he looked back at the men they had left behind in the gray fog and his voice fell an octave when he spoke. "How to we get this dude out of here, Dean? How do we get out of here?"
Sometimes Dean really hated Sam and his questions. His brother always had the logical ones at hand, ready to whip out in the most unlikely of situations. And Dean never had the answers. "I don't know man."
He turned to look at Pat and Bobby. They were barely distinguishable in the thick fog-like air that felt stagnant and damp. The thought of staying here forever and wandering in this colorless world without ever getting anywhere had him shivering. He'd rather have a daily fight with any sons of bitches than this. It was beyond eerie. There was this sense of desperation that was slowly invading him, threatening to take over and have him succumb. To what, he wasn't exactly sure, he just knew it wasn't good.
"It would help if we knew how you got out from wherever you—" He had to bite his tongue. That wasn't supposed to have slipped out. That was something else they didn't talk about. Other whys that were still too painful to address.
"I know, Dean. I wish I had some magic mojo to get us and Pat out of here, period." Sam sighed and pushed his hands into his pockets. "I guess all we can rely on is faith that this will end well. Or that the ritual has a time limit and we'll get our asses kicked back when it wears off or something."
Dean rolled his eyes. "I take the wearing off above any kind of faith at this point, dude!"
"I figured," Sam sighed. "I was kinda hoping you'd get hungry enough to put you faith in getting some pie and it'd become infuriating enough for what keeps us here to give up and let you have some damned pie. I've been on the receiving end of your constant whining about needing pie. That or the mullet rock might be the trigger to drive someone insane enough to kick you out."
"Oh, shut up, Sammy! Now you made me hungry. I can almost smell that apple pie from back east, what was that town again? Where that old Dolores …" he paused, trying to remember and had to give up on the name. "Dolores-something chick served that cinnamon whipped cream with it. It was heaven."
Sam snorted sarcastically. "See, you do have faith. In pie. No pie around here though."
"Pie's never let me down, dude!" Dean boxed his brother's arm and then he remembered. Before he lost Sam, the last thing he'd said to his brother was: "Bring me some pie!" He'd asked for pie and lost his brother. He stared at Sam, shuddering.
"What?" Sam asked perplexed.
"I asked for pie just before you vanished. Forget the freaking pie, we're stuck!"
"No!" Sam took a step up to him staring at him. lit up his face. "That's it, Dean." Sam's arms came up, gesturing widely. "Don't you see? You found me you didn't give up, you stuck to it and found me."
"Yeah? You died, Sammy! You bought the farm right in front of me." Dean snarled. "Big freaking hooray for getting it."
"I came back, Dean! I'm right here. And you know why? Because you had faith in yourself! You turned to Bobby, got some help and you found me and I am here. That's what we need to do, man. We need to give Pat back his belief in himself. Give him back hope!"
"That's a Hallmark movie Sammy, not Limbo." Sometimes his brother was just a little bit too trusting and downright naive.
"No, ," Sam shook his head. "That's all there is, really. You trust what you know. You never lose faith in that. You hang on to what little hope there is and you fight. That's what Pat needs to do. He needs to believe in something, not angels or demons but something like love and family. He had a wife and a daughter. That's where he belongs and he needs to believe that he deserves to be with them. That's what he's gotta hang on to."
Dean looked at his brother. The sudden vivacity of his face. The hope in his eyes, Dean knew he was right. He'd never lost faith in his own psychic emo brother, not even when things got rough. And Sam had been there for him always. Sam was what had him always clinging to life. Whatever crap was going on, as long as Sam was around, he'd fight.
The explosion of sounds came from nowhere and the darkness got thicker in the blink of an eye.
Dean turned his eyes back to the pair they'd left behind and the sight had him drawing a deep breath. He gripped Sam's coat sleeve when his brother pivoted.
"Demons," Sam whispered and Dean caught the fear in his voice. The same fear that was twisting his own gut.
Then they were flung forward.
Sam opened his eyes slowly. The terrain that had given way under his feet before was now hard rocks and sharp edges that dug into his back. There was black smoke all around him; sitting on his chest, the smell of sulfur pungent. The demon laughed at him, rattling his bones in the process. It was hard to breathe, the smell making him want to gag and the weight giving little room for his lungs to expand.
"Dean? Bo—?" His voice was garbled and the moment he got a sound out of him, the demons drew even closer, wheezing at him to shut up.
"Your filthy-mouthed brother is a little tied up, Samuel."
It seemed like the demons were nestled into his body and mind. Poking and prodding, insisting on something that was beyond Sam's grasp. They let him hear only snippets of conversation, about hell's fires and the torture his brother would sustain if he didn't convince the former hunter to side with them. There was no other sounds to be heard and still the message seared through him with crystal clarity. From inside his mind.
"No, no, no," Sam groaned, pushing to get away from the weight on his chest. He tried using telekinesis on the black smoke but his powers only cause a rift in the black cloud. It laughed, with a sharp clattering sound that bounced around inside his skull. It re-formed and resumed its position over his chest, now in a thicker mass of black, with clearly visible smoke tentacles that sneaked around his neck and squeezed.
"Stay still, lad! Don't move."
Pat's voice was near, but Sam couldn't see him. He vainly tensed his muscles and tried to roll away. The grip around his neck lessened as the cloud sent him another message that the demons had Dean and Bobby and had better do what they asked of him. Sam looked at and shook his head. The laughter exploded inside him again and the band around his neck tightened.
"Where's D'n?" Sam got out before the air was totally squeezed out of him.
"Right here, as deep in it as you are," Pat spoke. "They are trying to get me to side with them by turning the three of you inside out. Doing a fine job at it too. I wish they'd take on me instead. I think I deserve it. You don't."
"No, , don't listen to them!" Dean's voice, garbled enough to let Sam know he was still alive.
The moment his brother spoke, the weight on Sam's chest lessened and he just knew where it had gone to and he took the opportunity to claw himself to his feet. He turned toward the black smoke around Dean, was splayed out on the ground, only a few feet from him, with Bobby at his other side. Both pinned to the ground by smoke.
Sam fought for air and concentrated to put what little energy he had left in dispersing the hostless demons. Rip them apart and kill them if possible.
The demons were on him in an instant and he found himself face first in the unforgiving grayness. All the air he had managed to inhale was pressed out and red spots danced under his closed eyelids.
While fighting to open his eyes and remain conscious, he heard Dean draw a deep, shaky breath. "Look, the only way outta here for you to forgive yourself."
The demons were frantic now. They went off to torment Dean. Sam felt bones rattle from the force with which he was picked up and hurled back down. Patrick's face hovered over him for a moment, eyes wide from petrified shock. The plan was working, the man was about to give his soul over to save them, the ones who'd set out to save him. Sam would laugh at the irony if he had any air left in his lungs. All he managed was to mouth a no to the man staring at him in overt horror.
But they had forgotten about Bobby, and Bobby had picked up a lot from a few words alone.
"The only faith you need now, Pat, is in yourself."
Bobby's voice was cracked by pain and Sam knew this was it. Dean whimpered in the distance and Sam reached his breaking point. As certain as the air was being squeezed out of him and left him powerless he knew this was the end. As clearly as he heard his own bones break while it felt like he was being slowly dismembered. The demons promised Patrick O'Brian peace if he'd said yes. Promised to put the three of them back together. Heal them and send them all back, save their souls from the former hunter's fate.
Between the loud screams, the whimpers and the wails, he heard them ask how many more souls Pat wanted on his conscience. How it was time to make a choice because to angels were coming to save neither him nor the ones foolish enough to take it on themselves to save Patrick O'Brian from the hellhole his soul had been left it. How it was time for revenge, to join John Winchester in his war against the wrongdoings of the forces his wife had put her faith in. The forces that had let her down and watched in silence while she burned on the ceiling. How his own wife and daughter had fallen victims for souls that belonged in hell. Angels had watched while they were murdered for nothing but opening the doors to strangers. Strangers that were after him, Patrick O'Brian. Strangers that believed he was the evil who needed to be stopped. Devout men who killed in the name of God.
The demons singsonged that it would never had happened if angels weren't involved. Nothing of all this would be necessary if the demons had been left alone, to rule the souls that were destined to be condemned due to their own choices in life. How there had to be a consequence for sin and betrayal.
They wouldn't survive this. None of them would.
Sam's eyes filled with tears. They had been wrong. It wasn't as easy as they had hoped. As he had hoped. Faith was overrated and evil was everywhere. And, even so, the first time in what felt like years, Sam prayed. He pleaded for Dean and Bobby's souls, pleaded for release, bargained for oblivion. Offered his own soul to spare his friends' and suddenly the sky ripped open in a blinding white light.
Dean ducked. He was nothing but a big ache but his reflexes were still intact and when the sky ripped open, that was what you did.
The strange thing was that as the light penetrated him, he felt all right again. It was like an instant cure and he blinked, trying to assess if he was dead this time around. But the ground was still hard underneath him, he was still breathing; dead men don't breathe, do they?
The light was dimming now, not the mindshattering white any longer but more of a golden shimmer spreading out from a pillar of sorts. This was all so buckets crazy.
Letting his eyes roam, he found Sam at his side, eyes open wide, the light mirrored in them. Bobby's face was more skeptical; a stunned disbelief was how Dean would categorize the expression. The freakiest part was that there was just them now, them and the shimmering light. Gone was the smoke, and Patrick O'Brian.
"What the hell?" Dean finally spat out. "Sammy? Bobby? You two cook up another stupid spell all of a sudden?"
Sam didn't respond right away. He just looked at the pillar of light, mesmerized. Then he swallowed audibly. "I think that's an angel, Dean."
Dean looked back at the light, tying to see what Sam evidently saw. He was almost knocked back by the voice inside his head when the light spoke.
"I am extremely saddened by the ordeal my tardiness brought upon you and your confidants."
Dean's eyes widened. This thing in front of him sounded less than human; the voice had an echo that vibrated in his bones. The words were pronounced solemnly like they actually meant something. Dean had been the one who only believed what he saw, always doubting, somehow he instantly knew that this was Bob. It was just a certainty he accepted without questioning. What was before his eyes was Bob, in his true form. That much was clear. His intentions however, were still as cloudy as ever.
"Where's Pat?" Dean spat angrily.
"He's moved on and found peace. I was wrong about him. He's not what we thought he was. He deserves a place in heaven. We made a mistake a long time ago and now I'm rectifying it. Patrick O'Brian is in his rightful place."
Dean rose to his knees, staring into the light. "You made a mistake? What the hell? You're angels! You're not supposed to be dimwits and make mistakes."
"Everything is not as simple as right or wrong, back or white. There are always shades of gray and we didn't look close enough. I apologize for that. We did learn a lesson, and will not be repeated in the future. That's why there is this place, so we can redeem the souls that seem lost to us. Especially in troubled times like these, we do what we deem necessary."
Dean wanted to knock the son of a bitch out. "And that was getting us here to be the demons' punching bags?"
The light fluctuated. "This had to be, for reasons I cannot divulge. You chose to make the voyage, with good intentions. We needed to know if you were ready, then we just stood back and waited for the truth to emerge. This all is grander than you'll ever understand."
"Oh yeah?" Dean rose to his feet, relieved that his body really seemed intact. "Lemme tell you this; you can think I'm a thickheaded moron but it's still my ass you're hauling all over the place. And you did it by leaking info you knew we had to check out? We're hunters, this is what we do. So, or I'll—"
"You will do what, Dean Winchester? Make a deal? Sell your soul to the demons? There's a reason they weren't willing to make the deal while they embraced you father's offer. What exactly do you think is in your powers to do?"
Great, the angel dude liked twisting the knife? Reminding him about that time when he thought everything sacred was lost? How his father had died because of him? How much he hated that he should be dead and if he were, maybe Sam would have been spared and dad would not be black-eyed at this point? What if none of this would have happened if nature had its course? Maybe Sam could really have gone back to school and lead a normal life like he so wanted. Maybe Sam, despite all, would not be this twitchy neurotic mess half of the time if things had gone differently. Where the hell had all these angels been back then?
"I'll kick your ass, that's first on my list right now."
The light chuckled. It seemed to actually laugh at him.
"Maybe you should take some advice from your brother? He prayed and I appeared. I wouldn't have , Sam prayed for your life. I answered. If you had prayed, I would have done the same. Ask yourself why, Dean Winchester. Ask yourself why your father chose to save you, John Winchester, the demon who sold his soul for your survival, why such a noble act? So he wouldn't have to kill his youngest son? Look deeper, look beyond the obvious. I cannot tell you anymore. You have to decide who you put your faith in. That's the only thing that is in my power, and yours, at this point. So long Dean, we'll soon meet again."
Dean didn't have time to do anything but take a deep breath before the white light flared up again and he was flung backwards into darkness.
Bobby groaned when he woke up in the middle of his own junkyard. Sun beating down on him, warmer than it had been in a long while. Right in front of him were the Winchester boys, looking about as stunned as he felt.
"You two okay?"
Sam looked at him, puzzlement flooding his features when he lifted his hands, palms up. And wriggled his fingers. "M'fine. Dean?"
He turned to his brother, who was already on his feet.
"I have an itch to slam angel heads into a wall all of a sudden. If they even had real heads. Not so sure anymore. What the hell was that all about?" Dean wiped his hands on his pants before looking at Bobby for some explanation.
"Dont'cha look at me, son. I ain't got nothing." He groaned when he tried to get to his feet; the loose sand underneath was the ground slippery and he was not a young man anymore. Not like Sam, who seemed to be able to sprint up and Dean, who took one long step to reach him.
Bobby just muttered a little when the boys pulled him up. He totally glared at them giving him inquisitive eyes. Thankfully, it shut them both up. He didn't need reminders how old he was getting.
"Some trip," he stated while shrugging their hands off him.
"Did we ever actually go anywhere?" Sam said, looking at the ground beneath them. "What if this all happened in our minds?"
Dean boxed his brother's upper arm. "You're forgetting something, dude. Not all of us are psychic. I swear I got run over by a bulldozer back there. Then the angel screwed me royally over with mumbo-jumbo."
"You sure you're okay?" Sam asked, reaching for Dean who diligently stepped away.
"Angel dude fixed us, right? I'm as fine as you are. Ripped apart and put together, all systems go. Still pisses me off, big time. I need a beer, or a dozen, to get past this crap."
Sam still looked hesitant. "I'm still not convinced we actually went anywhere."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Now you're telling me I have creepy crawly senses messing with my mind on top of the angel radio? That's so comforting."
Bobby decided to stop the argument right then and there, It didn't matter where they'd been, what mattered was that they'd gotten out. "C'mon, let's get those beers before you get on each others throats all over. I'm too old for this."
"I want pie," Dean pointed out while Bobby pushed both Winchesters toward the house.
"I gather you spied the frozen one I got yesterday? You do the defrosting and it's all yours. I intend to sit on my ass for the reminder of the day while you clue me in on what Bob told you," Bobby replied. "He said absolutely nothing to me, except to look out for the two of you. I kinda need more info to be able to do that."
"He served me a truckload of hogwash too," Dean admitted. "Absolutely nothing useful, but 'd you expect? Sam?"
Bobby watched the youngest Winchester shrug his shoulders in a dismissive gesture. Sam had closed up and Bobby knew that it meant he was pondering on things. Which meant he'd open up eventually. Maybe.
There was no way of knowing and Bobby had learned a long time ago to leave Sam be in times like these. Something was bothering the kid and as much as Bobby hated it, there was little he could do to help out right now.
Feeding them was about all he could manage at this point. And maybe find them an easy hunt to take their minds off Bob.
It was late night when they took off.
Dean's drawn face prompted Sam to take the wheel. Something was up with his brother and being his usual stubborn ass, he wasn't telling anybody squat. Dean might think he was fooling Sam with the usual witty come backs, but the lack of fight about letting Sam drive worked like a red light for Sam. Instant alert. Something was up.
Two hours and they were on the highway, headed south when Sam decided to start prodding.
"Look, Dean, I know you're not into the sharing and stuff but man, you look dreadful!"
Dean huffed and cranked the volume up.
Sam shut the radio off. "Driver picks the music. Your rule, man!"
He got no reply. Dean just rolled the side window down a bit and leaned his head back on the seat and closed his eyes. Sam's stomach knotted up instantly.
"Anything you need?" he asked. "Seriously, Dean, what's wrong?"
"Nothin's wrong, dude. I was just thinking about this whole mess. About that freaking angel turning up so late in the game and telling me he had his reasons. Told me he'd show up if I prayed like you did? I did pray, Sam. I prayed to every freaking god I've heard of when you died, when we were being butchered by Alastair. Maybe it wasn't the usual kind of prayer, but if the dick says he cares, he should have helped back then."
"Dean, the angels are looking out for you, but, y'know, they're angels. They're different." Sam had no idea what to say to his brother at this point. Bob had told him to be prepared for the worst to happen. It scared Sam senseless not knowing what this was. But to him, the worst was losing Dean and he would not let that happen. Ever.
"Right," Dean snorted. "The angels are screwing with my head, that's what they are doing. That's not exactly looking out for me. They sure didn't look out for you, so excuse me if my trust is a little rusty at the time being. Dad saved us from Alastair and he's a demon. You've got, well, demon blood stuff going on and I still trust you over any damned angel. That's a fact."
"Maybe you shouldn't trust me so much?" Sam's fingers curled around the steering wheel, holding on tight. He had gotten a lot of loved ones killed, that was also a fact.
"Why? Did Bob lay it out for you? What this mess is all about?" Dean peered at him from the side.
"Not really, he didn't tell me much at all. Pretty much the same as he told you, and that I had to look out for you. And I'm trying, Dean, I am. But I'm, well, you know what I am. There will always be that part of me that -."
"Shut up, Sammy. Please just shut up! You're my pain in the ass little brother, that's what you are, end of freaking discussion."
The tone of Dean's voice was enough for Sam to do what he was told. The fear still gnawed at him. What if the unthinkable happened? He'd made mistakes before, there were no guarantees.
"Sam, all we have is each other and Bobby." Dean spoke, less agitatedly. "That's the bottom line. Screw the angels and the demons. Screw the seals and our destinies. We stick together. We watch each other's backs. That's pretty much what we can do at this point. You with me?"
Sam nodded, fingers still clutched around the steering wheel.
"Good. Now see that sign over there? I want some pie!"
Sam turned his head in surprise. "Isn't the one you wolfed down at Bobby's enough? Another?"
Dean grinned. "Hell yes, Cherry this time. And if there's a old lady behind the counter, give her your best puppy eyes and beg for some whipped cream to go."
Sam eased the Impala onto the drive-in lane, crisscrossing the parked cars until he got to the minimart and was about to park.
"Drive closer. I wanna check that you do you best to win me some whipped cream." Dean prompted.
"I kinda hate you," Sam groaned when he'd parked as close as possible and opened the door to get out. "Anything else? Anything healthy, like a salad?"
Dean gave him a shit-eating grin and Sam relented. He closed the door and dug for money in his pocket. If Dean wanted pie with whipped cream, that was what he would get. With a last glance at his brother in the passenger seat, Sam turned and walked to the entrance.
Dean watched as Sam walked away and remembered Cold Oak. It was time he got over it, got over the fear he felt when Sam was out of sight. Bob had showed up when Sam prayed. He had saved their asses, Dean had to believe Sam mattered to the angel too.
It felt like Bob was still around. Watching from somewhere and Dean was not quite able to fully relax. This was a test for Bob; if something happened to Sam, the angel could take his freaking radio and stuff it.
Dean rolled the side window fully down and stuck his head out. He looked up to the dark sky. "Dead Sammy's don't bring pie, do they? And I need pie."
It wasn't really praying, not even close. But Dean hoped the angel would get the message.
If Bob claimed to be looking out for him, he'd better be looking out for Sammy too. And he'd better not botch it up this time. That was all Dean really wanted from any angel.