A/N: Okay, I know, I know...I suck. This chapter was so overdue it's beyond funny. If anyone is still even reading this? I'll be amazed, but for those of you who are sticking it out with me? THANK YOU! For everyone who is still hanging in there and waiting for updates, I promise the next one won't take forever and a day to be posted. I'm already well at work on it and the muse seems to have gotten over her issues. I could sit here and try to make excuses for all the real life crap that seems to have strangled my muse...but at the end of the day, you don't need to hear it. Just know that I love each and every one of you out there that takes the time to read this and leave me some feedback on it. This story and the characters I have to play with are all precious to me. There will be more soon...I promise.

I just want to quickly throw a shout out to LovinJackson and lovinandrew for thier support and arse kicking on this fic. And a huge thanks to both Christie and Manda for thier feedback on this chapter. You guys are all life savers and keep me believing I can do this. I love you guys.

Now, on with the show...

~~Hellbent~~

The throaty rumble of the Chevelle's engine was the first thing to awake Elise. Her eyes squinted against the sudden assault of the sunlight and she found herself blinking rapidly to try and stop them from watering. Sunlight? It was morning? Where the hell had Sam been all night?

At some point during the twilight hours, Skye had apologised for bailing on Elise and had slipped back into the house where she sought the warmth of her own bed. But there would be no such solitude for Elise until Sam was finally home. Lying in an empty bed worrying about whether or not Sam was in danger wasn't exactly going to help. So she'd stayed put with her blanket wrapped around her, finally falling asleep at some point it seemed.

The sight of Sam climbing out of the driver's seat sent a wave of relief through her that left her legs trembling for a moment. The memory of Skye's nervous pacing, waiting for Dean to return was still too damn fresh in her mind. Standing up and stretching, Elise shrugged off her blanket and stepped forward to meet Sam as he reached the porch.

The grin plastered across Sam's face as he saw Elise froze and then faltered as he spied the abandoned blanket behind her. "Were you waiting up for me?"

Elise looked at Sam as though he was insane, her relief rapidly souring along with her mood. "Of course I waited up for you! What the bloody hell did you expect me to do, Sam? You take off to meet some stranger about that Crowley guy and you don't think I'll wait up for you to get home? Seriously?"

There was something not right here. Sam had left the house like a permanent set of storm clouds was following him. It was how he had been since Dean had died and other than brief moments of peace when he caught snatches of drunken sleep, there had been no change in his mood...until now.

"Hey, relax...I know what I'm doing." Sam assured her, kissing Elise lightly on the forehead.

"Sam..." That wasn't the answer she was looking for. Where the hell had he been? What had he been doing?

"I'm fine...really." Sam moved to step past Elise and head into the house. "Man, I'm starved, you think there's a chance Bobby's got some bacon and eggs I could cook up?"

Elise caught Sam's arm and pulled him back as he reached for the door handle. "Are you fucking kidding me?"

"What?"

"Don't what me, Sam...you come waltzing in here like everything is just bloody peachy and I'm supposed to just cop it on the chin? Are you drunk?" Elise demanded, folding her arms across her chest. Sam didn't smell like booze...at least, not like he had in the past. His eyes seemed clear...clearer than she'd seen them in weeks. So why was her gut screaming that something was wrong?

"What? No! Elise, I'm fine...really." Sam tried to assure her, his face ticking with annoyance now.

"Then what's the story?" Elise pressed, her stomach knotting up inside her.

"There's no story!" Sam insisted as he turned and pulled open the door, stepping inside with Elise right on his heels. All he wanted now was some breakfast, maybe some coffee. Not a barrage of questions about where he had been. How the hell could he explain to Elise about the bar he'd been to? The church he'd seen? About Ruby of all things? Sam didn't want Elise freaking out. He finally felt closer than he had been in weeks to getting the answers he needed. His confidence was returning, his head felt clearer – Sam was finally getting back in the game and it felt good! Why couldn't Elise just see that and be happy about it?

"Then why won't you just tell me where you were? God, I'm not the bloody Spanish Inquisition, Sam! I just want to know you're okay when you're out there. I'm worried about you!" Elise threw at him, her voice lifting in anger now they were inside. Sam was being evasive with her. Why? What had gotten into him? Oh...oh shit. Was that it? Had something gotten inside Sam? Did that explain the sudden change in him? Elise was all but holding her breath as she stepped forward cautiously and spoke the word quietly. "Christo..."

Sam slowly turned, his expression a mixture of hurt and surprise. "What the hell? I'm not fucking possessed, Elise!"

"I wish you were! " Elise yelled at him, folding her arms as her eyes filled with tears. "Cause at least that would explain why you'd lie to me!"

Sam blinked for a second, feeling as though he'd been slapped. "You don't mean that."

"Don't I?" Elise snapped hotly.

Sam softened then, reaching for Elise to try and calm things down. This wasn't how he wanted things between them. "Hey, Elise...come on, come here."

"No, fuck off!" Elise spat, slapping his hand away as she turned her back. "You want to play secret agent, Sam? Be my guest...just don't expect me to sit up waiting any more. I must have fucking rocks in my head!"

"Elise! Elise, damn it, wait!" Sam called after her as Elise spun on her heel and stormed out of the kitchen. She was up the stairs in seconds and Sam flinched as he heard their bedroom door slam before the soft wail of Ethan's cry filled the air.

"Shit..." Sam ran a hand through his hair. He'd royally screwed that up. But what other option did he have? Telling Elise the truth wasn't going to make her feel any better about what he was doing and Sam couldn't let anything screw it up now. Not now. He was close. So close to finding Crowley, to bringing Dean home. It was just a little longer...and then he could make it up to Elise.

Everything would be alright then...

~~Hellbent~~

"So..." A finger gently traced her jawline and down her neck to her collarbone. Feather light and teasing, setting off butterflies in Skye's stomach as she stared into the greenest eyes she had ever seen in her whole life. Eyes that she had thought were lost to her forever...but here they were – wide, green and sparkling with amusement as Dean lay beside her. "You know one of us has to get up right? "

Skye let her lips puff out in a pout and snuggled in closer to Dean's chest. "Nope... I'm good right here, thanks very much."

A gentle chuckle rumbled through Dean's chest as Skye pressed her ear against it and closed her eyes. He was so warm, his arms tucked around her, holding her so close against him that she could hear his heartbeat lazily thumping in his chest. The sun was clawing its way through the curtains ever so slowly and Skye couldn't remember the last time she had felt this content. Her hand was splayed over Dean's hip and she smiled as she found herself tucked in under his chin. As if they fit together like puzzle pieces. Complete again.

"You can't stay, can you?" Skye asked, breathing in the scent of soap with a underlying hint of gun oil.

"Nope...wish I could. " Dean replied, shifting slightly so he could look at Skye, his green eyes following every line, as if he was committing her face to memory. He leaned forward then, kissing her softly on the bridge of her nose. " Wake up, babe..."

Skye's eyes snapped open with her next breath, already aware of the emptiness of the bed beside her. She rolled over, sliding her hands over the empty space beside her, tears sliding down her cheeks and fading into the pillow. There'd been so many nightmares since Dean had died...but it was these dreams that hurt the most. Those dreams that left you feeling warm inside, as though every sense was buzzing still from the experience. The ones where just for one moment, you forgot the truth, forgot the pain and the loss that hollowed you out inside.

From downstairs, Skye could just make out the sound of Sam and Elise's voices. Arguing. Footsteps were heard pounding up the stairs outside her door, followed by a door slamming shortly after.

Ethan's cry cut through the air, stirring Skye into action at last. She sat up and swung her feet to the floor, reaching for the jeans that were lying in a pile on the floor beside the bed. A loose t-shirt, one of Dean's if Skye remembered rightly, was next. It still held a faint echo of his scent and Skye hated that she would have to eventually wash it and lose even that small reminder of him.

Bare feet made no sound as Skye slipped across the hallway to the nursery. Opening the door she discovered that Connor had dragged his toy box over to Ethan's crib and was standing on it, his little hands dangling Mr Woobie over the side of crib as he tried to soothe his brother.

Skye smiled as she ran her hand over Connor's head. "Hey there, buddy, what you doing?"

"Efan's sad, Mommy...Woobie's gonna make him better again." Connor explained, dancing the tattered bear for his brother.

"I think a bottle would work better, sweetie, but I'm sure Ethan would love for you to make Mr Woobie dance for him again after breakfast? What do you say? I'll make pancakes?"

"Pancakes!" Connor yelled excitedly, an excited smile bursting forth as he turned and jumped off the toybox and bolted from the room with an excited puppy in tow. Skye shook her head gently as she laughed, hearing her eldest son still whooping with excitement all the way down to the kitchen.

"Your brother's gonna get us in trouble with Bobby..." Skye said to Ethan as she scooped him up from the crib and held him close, breathing in that soft baby scent. For a moment, Skye stood there, cuddling Ethan as her mind wandered to Dean. He was missing so much and her heart ached for what her boys had lost in turn. "Come on...before Connor wakes up the whole house, huh?"

Still cradling Ethan against her chest as she walked into the kitchen, Skye was surprised to see Sam standing there, nursing a coffee in his hands and grinning as Connor babbled to him excitedly. "An' we're having pancakes with syrup an' budder an' everyfing! Right, Mommy?"

"That's what I promised, wasn't it? Hey Sam, nice to see you got home okay."

"Oh hey, here...Let me take the little guy for a moment." Sam all but launched up from the counter he'd been leaning against, holding out his hands to Skye and Ethan.

"You sure? I just need to warm up his bottle." Skye hesitated for a moment, before deciding to allow Sam to take Ethan. What the hell had gotten into him? This wasn't the Sam she had watched leave the house last night. That Sam had been a walking storm cloud that tended to put the boys on edge. But this Sam? He was smiling...there was a sparkle in his eyes. It was ...dare she say it – eerie?

"You're in a better mood today...everything went well last night then?" Skye casually threw the question over her shoulder at Sam as she set about warming the bottle and mixing up the pancake batter. The simple structure of making breakfast allowed her to maintain her calm right now while a thousand questions flew through her head. What the hell had gotten into Sam? Was this why she had heard arguing before? Seeing Sam like this had to have thrown Elise off. It was like a completely different man had walked through the door... night and day different.

"I've got a few leads..." Sam shrugged, the move a little too casual for Skye's liking. "I'm getting closer to Crowley."

"Finally...I was starting to think the guy was Santa Claus." Skye poured the first of the mixture in the pan, then took the bottle out of the warmer and tested it on her bare wrist. "Here, swap with me. "

Sam handed Ethan over and took the spatula from Skye in one fluid move, stepping up to the stove in time to flip over the pancake perfectly. Skye made herself comfortable, sitting at the table, nursing Ethan with a practised hand as she popped the bottle into his mouth and let Sam handle breakfast. A stack of hot pancakes was soon cooked and sitting before Connor. His eyes lit up with sheer glee as he poured syrup over the stack and prepared to tuck into them.

"Connor, sweetie? How about you take your breakfast into the other room and watch cartoons?"

Connor eyed his plate, then his mother with a frown. "But I'm not s'posed to eat 'n front of the tv, Mommy. Bobby said so."

"It's okay, hun. He won't mind this time. Go on..." Skye smiled pleasantly as Connor gathered up his plate and headed for the door. He paused for a moment and looked back. "Everyfing okay, Mommy?"

"Everything's just fine, sweetie. I promise. Now go watch cartoons, okay?"

"'Kay..." The tv could be heard softly filling the air a moment later.

"Alright, Sam. What's the real story?" Skye's pleasant demeanour was instantly replaced by a 'cut the bullshit' glare that all but pinned Sam to the counter he was leaning against.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Sam couldn't help but bristle. Feigned ignorance wasn't a good look on him.

"You know exactly what that means. I don't know what the hell happened out there last night, but whatever it was? It was more than just getting a step closer to Crowley." Skye was icy, yet calm, trying not to upset Ethan as he slowly drifted off in her arms, sated from his feed. "What have you been doing?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing? I thought you said you're a step closer to Crowley?"

"I am."

"And how's that nothing, Sam?"

"It's not – that's not what I meant. I'm just saying you don't need to worry, okay? I've got everything under control." Sam fumbled, clearly frustrated at being grilled again for the second time that morning.

"Control? That's what you're calling this?" Skye arched an eyebrow at Sam.

"Excuse me?" Sam cocked his head to the side, his eyes narrowing at Skye as he went on the defensive.

"Cut the bullshit, Sam. What's going on with you?"

"I told you. Nothing. I'm fine."

"Fine? Is there another definition of that word? Because you're not fine, Sam. You're not. I don't know what it is you're up to, but whatever it is? It's not good. "

"Why? What's not good about it?" Sam demanded, pushing away from the counter now. He folded his arms and Skye leaned back in her chair slightly, not liking the vibe she was getting from him now.

"I'm not trying to pick a fight here, Sam..."

"Really? Because from where I'm standing? It's looking a lot like you're sticking your nose in where it doesn't belong. You're not my fiancée, Skye...and you're sure as hell not my brother. Don't think you can take his place now he's gone."

"Take his place? That's what you think this is?" Skye pushed herself up onto her feet now, Ethan still asleep against her chest. "Look at yourself, Sam! When you walked out that door last night? Elise was worried you might have ended up wrapped around a pole! She's been worrying herself sick all night that you wouldn't come home. It's what's scared her every damn night you've left here. You don't tell us where you're going; you never say who you're with..."

"I'm doing what I have to!" Sam suddenly snapped, watching Skye take a step back from him. Ethan startled awake a second later and began to bawl as Skye tried to soothe him.

"I'm doing everything I can to get my brother back, Skye. I thought you'd have understood that! I thought you'd want that?" Sam started pacing the kitchen, his whole body tense and pumped up like a wild animal looking for an exit.

"Of course I want Dean back, Sam! But I don't want to lose you in the process!" Skye moved then, still bouncing Ethan ever so gently to calm him as she tried to block Sam's path and get him to listen to her. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Connor standing in the hallway just outside the kitchen. His blue eyes were wide and filled with tears as he looked at Sam.

"No one's losing me, Skye! I can do this. I'm close to bringing Dean home. You just have to trust me...please. I'm so damn close I can feel it." Sam pleaded, needing someone to back him up right now.

"But at what price, Sam?" Skye asked him.

"Not my soul if that's what you're worrying about. I'm not worth enough. They already had a better deal." Sam suddenly spat at Skye as her words hit a raw nerve.

Skye tightened her arms around Ethan, feeling as though the air had been sucked from the room. Azazel's voice seemed to echo in her mind, recalling the night she had thought she was miscarrying.

"His soul's not worth anything to me. Not even a nickel. But your son? That's something else…tell Dean when you seen him that he should always read the fine print before he signs anything…"

A better deal...the pieces kept falling into place, no matter how much Skye wanted to ignore it. Her son had been part of her deal. He was what Azazel wanted now that Sam had refused to step up and follow his destiny. Skye felt sick to her stomach, cradling Ethan closer even as her mind was spinning with the thought that he could be more like his uncle than any of them would have ever thought.

And just like his Uncle, Skye was determined that Ethan would have his own life. There was no such thing as destiny. She wasn't allowing some demon to tell her what her son would be. Sam had walked away from what he had been destined for...why couldn't Ethan?

"I'm not talking about you making a deal, Sam. They don't need to make you sell your soul for us to lose you..." Skye told him, trying to get through to Sam. "Please, Sam. I've lost Dean... I don't want to lose you too..."

"Or Poppy..."

Skye and Sam turned as one as Connor's small voice suddenly cut through their conversation. The little boy was still standing there, watching them both. His eyes were huge, brimming with tears as he clutched his puppy in his arms. "Ev'ryone keeps goin' 'way...like Daddy, did. Poppy's gone too."

"Oh no...no, sweetie, Poppy's not gone. He's going to be back real soon..." Skye crouched down to Connor's level, mindful of the wriggling pup in his arms that was trying to lick Ethan now. "He's just busy, that's all..."

"Promise?" Connor's bottom trembled ever so slightly.

"We both do, buddy." Sam joined in then. He crouched down beside Skye, smiling at Connor, his argument forgotten. "Hey, that little guy looks like he's waiting for a walk. How about you take him outside huh? Your Mom and I need to clean up the kitchen before Bobby wakes up. Otherwise he's gonna be a grumpy bear..."

"Like a real bear?"

"Worse." Sam winked at him, his smile widening a notch as he made Connor giggle. The front door closed with a bang as Connor raced outside with his puppy jiggling awkwardly in his arms.

Sam straightened up and headed for the kitchen, clearly thinking of anything but cleaning up as Skye followed behind him.

"Sam?"

"Shhh!" Sam held up a hand to Skye as he closed his eyes. He opened his mind, reaching out to his father and expecting to find the familiar thought patterns he had become accustomed to. But there was no reply, nothing at all to answer Sam's searching and a pit formed in his stomach as he opened his eyes again. "I can't find him..."

"Well...you're rusty, right? Maybe you just need some practice? Maybe he's...out of range?" Skye hated sounding like such a novice to the whole concept of Sam's abilities. Sure, he'd still been connecting with Dean through his dreams, but Skye had grown accustomed to that. It just seemed like part of Sam and lately Skye had almost wished it wasn't as she saw the pain it put him through. The drinking, the haunted look that Sam had been carrying for weeks...watching Elise worrying herself sick and feeling helpless. As far as Skye had been concerned, the less Sam tapped into his abilities? The better it was for all of them.

"No...I told you before, I'm stronger now." Sam tried again, finding that there wasn't any pain now. The headaches, the sensation of molten lava behind his eyes...it was all gone. It was so easy to reach out with his mind since last night and Sam wondered if something had flipped inside him? Maybe Ruby had been right after all.

"Stronger? Stronger how?" Skye asked, not liking what she was hearing at all. Just what the hell had Sam been doing when he went out?

"Nothing...damn it, Dad, where the hell are you?" Sam growled as he severed the connection and opened his eyes again. It wasn't just the lack of response...it was the lack of anything at all. Sam couldn't sense the slightest trace of his father. It was like he'd vanished from the face of the earth.

~~Hellbent~~

Lawrence, Kansas.

A lot of possibilities crossed John's mind of who or what he would see when he opened his eyes. However, Missouri – bound and gagged before him – wasn't one of them. His head was keeping its own tempo in time with his heart beat, except at around a thousand decibels louder than he ever would have liked. It was almost as if the skull itself was pulsating like some living thing in time to his heart and John swallowed back bile as his stomach rolled.

He could feel a thin trickle of blood above his eye, slide down the lip of his eyelid before it filled his vision red. The stinging that followed elicited a growl from deep within as John shook his head, blinking to clear his eyes.

"Well, well, well...I told you boys, didn't I? I told you that there was a reason we'd come here. And here it is...God's handed us the answer we've been looking for."

God? John blinked furiously, clearing enough of his vision to finally make out several men standing near the corner of the room where Missouri was tied up. Demons? No...they didn't smell like demons. It was more of a scent of gun oil and a lack of showering. Which could only mean hunters and for John? That meant trouble.

Studying the faces, John thought he recognised a few from the days of when he had actually been hunting. Good men who would have moved in the same circles as John over the years. But one face in particular was well known to him. A man who had been friends with Gordon Walker...

Kubrick.

John felt weary just looking at Kubrick and seeing the smug smile on the bastard's face. This was going to be one hell of a long night, that much was certain now. Kubrick was more of a nutjob than Gordon had been, always believing that God had called him into hunting...that the good Lord himself was guiding him. There'd only been a couple of hunts when John had been unfortunate to cross paths with the man, but they had never seen eye to eye. Not when it came to God and destiny. John wasn't exactly favorable towards either idea and judging by the gleam he could see in Kubrick's eyes right now? Things were going to get messy...

"You and your boys, John...you're living proof of everything that's wrong with this world right now. Good folks are dying while demon scum like you and that boy of yours are still walking the Earth. It ain't right. It ain't right that a hunter like Gordon Walker should die at your hands." Kubrick spat coolly as he approached John and stood over him.

"Gordon blew himself up, Kubrick. Smartest thing he ever did if you ask me, because I wouldn't have let him die so damn quick." John growled, taking a moment to check his surroundings and how he was restrained. Kubrick hadn't taken any chances at all. John was securely chained to a chair that had been bolted to the floor in the midst of a devil's trap. His hands were cuffed to the arm rests, his legs chained to the legs of his chair. Two heavy chain shackles had been used to restrain his wings out on either side, cutting in around the bone and through the skin and feathers, making it painful to move them at all.

"As you can see? We've made sure that you're not going anywhere. We've covered the room with shielding runes. You're off the grid, John. No one knows where you are. That psychic freak you call a son has no idea where you are and he's not going to know until we're ready for him..."

John cast a trained eye around the room and quickly picked out the runes that Kubrick had been talking about. "Is this the part where I'm supposed to start shaking in my shoes?" he asked dryly. He wasn't about to give Kubrick the slightest glimmer of fear. At his worst, this son of a bitch was still a rank amateur to John's time in Hell.

His answer was a hard back hand that snapped his head to the side and split his bottom lip. Blood welled from the wound, running down his chin and dripping to the floor in small pool at his feet.

"Let's get one thing clear, Winchester. You're bait and nothing more..."

"Bait for what? Sam?" Was that it? They were hoping to lure Sam here? Have his boy walk into a trap? These meat heads had no idea who they were dealing with if they thought Sam would be that stupid...

"What are you really up to, Kubrick? Normally I'd love to play twenty questions with you...but I'm too damn sore and tired to really give a rat's ass right now about what you think God's telling you do." John said darkly before he nodded in Missouri's direction. "Whatever it is? Doesn't involve her being bait, so how about you trying raising the already low opinion I have of you and act like a fucking human being? Let Missouri go."

"Human being? Oh that's rich coming from you. Sorry, John, but the seer stays. I can't have her ruining my plans."

John glanced over to Missouri again, finding it hard not to smirk at the glare she fired back in his direction. It would be typical of her to be pissy with John for wanting her out of harm's way. Damn stubborn woman never did know when to back off.

"You know, Kubrick? I thought you were smarter than this. Using me as bait for Sam? If you've heard anything about Sam at all, you have to know that's a bad idea? He'll tear this place apart brick by brick to find me." Okay, so John was laying it on a little thick. But if there was one thing he knew about his son? It was how he would react to this in the wake of Dean's death. It was likely to get bloody...very bloody. John didn't need these stupid misguided sons of bitches driving Sam over the edge.

"Oh I'm counting on that, John." Kubrick was all smiles again. That damn smug grin that John wanted to smack off his face so badly. With the soft, ominous sound of metal on leather, Kubrick drew his knife from his belt sheath and held it up for John to see. "This blade? Consecrated steel from the sword of a Knight in the Crusades. Took me a long time to find a blade like this, but well, you Winchesters opening that Hell's Gate? Gave me so many more reasons to need it."

"Glad I could be so helpful." John muttered.

Kubrick started pacing now, walking back and forth in front of John as though he was a teacher trying to impart a lesson. "Ever hunted for sharks, John? I have...and the best way to bring in a shark? Is to chum the water before you bait the hook."

John's eyes were fixed on the blade in Kubrick's hands now as he tensed up, waiting for the next move. "What the hell's your problem, Kubrick? Sam's no threat to you..."

Kubrick rounded on John suddenly, lashing out with a backhanded fist that opened up John's bottom lip even more. "Lie, Lie, Lie!"

John shook himself as pain arched along his jaw, his head snapping violently to the side. He turned back slowly, glaring darkly at Kubrick before he spat a wad of spittle and blood at the man's feet.

"It's interesting what you can find out from a demon. No loyalty for their own kind, huh? Not if they think they can save their own skin by giving us something we want more...and that's where you come in, John. This demon I talked to? He told me all about you, your boys...everything. I've been hunting you ever since. So you imagine my disappointment when I heard that Dean was already dead..."

"You piece of shit."

Kubrick knelt down before John, gently tapping the tip of the blade he was holding against his cheek. His eyes were locked on John as Kubrick called over his shoulder. "Alright boys, it's time. Watch your backs, don't underestimate Singer and I don't want to hear from you again until it's done. "

A frown settled over John's brow as he narrowed his eyes at Kubrick, pulling at his restraints futilely. "Bobby? What the hell's going on? What do they want with Bobby?" An uneasy feeling was turning his stomach to ice as John watched the other hunters in the room gather up their things and head up the basement stairs.

"It's God's work I'm doing here, John. You and your boys? You opened that Hell's Gate. You unleashed all those demons on the world and tried jump starting the apocalypse on us!"

"Jump start? We closed that gate you stupid-..." The rest was lost in a ragged roar of pain as Kubrick drove the knife he was holding down to the hilt through the top of John's shoulder. It just kissed the bone, the pain seeming to sink right to the core of John's tainted soul.

"I don't need to hear your lies, Winchester. You tried bringing Hell down on all of us and now God's shown me the way to restore the balance. That demon I tortured? Told me all about the baby. So the way I see it? I take you and Sam down plus the kid? And it's a good day in the office for me." Kubrick released his hand from the knife and left it embedded in John as he stood up again.

"Ethan?" John hissed out through gritted teeth, fighting against the searing heat radiating through his shoulder and along his arm. "You're going after Ethan? He's just a fucking kid!"

"Lie, lie, lie again!" Kubrick barked, grabbing the knife and twisting it sharply until he had John snarling and writhing in his chains. "I know all about it, John! That demon was very helpful in the end! The demons have plans for the kid and God wants me to stop it before it's too late."

Sweat was running down John's face now, mixing with the blood and sliding from his chin in scarlet drops. It all made sense now. Why they had grabbed him, why he was bait for Sam. They needed him away from Bobby's to get to Ethan.

"Oh and before you go getting any ideas of giving Sam some sort of psychic warning about what he's walking into? I wouldn't get too worked up..." Kubrick wrenched the knife out of John's shoulder, eliciting a scream from him that had Missouri crying out through her gag. "...There's not going to be enough left of you to spell out SOS by the time I'm done here."

~~Hellbent~~

Singer's Autoyard, Kyle, South Dakota.

"Sam, just stop and think about this for a moment." Skye demanded as she followed Sam out the front door. They'd done nothing but argue since Sam had realised he couldn't contact John. Skye understood his fear. She really did. Dean's death was so fresh for them all and the last thing anyone wanted was another body to mourn. She didn't even know how she would begin to explain it to Connor if something had happened to John. First Dean, now John? It's was too much for any of them to deal with. "You can't just go storming out of here like some half baked cavalry!"

"Watch me."

"You've got no idea where to even start looking! What the hell are you going do? Drive around until you pick something up on your psychic radar? It's fucking crazy!" Skye reached out and grabbed Sam's sleeve, trying to turn him around.

Sam shook her off easily and stepped off the porch, intent on heading for the Chevelle. "I know what I'm doing, Skye."

"No - you don't, Sam. You're freaking out and you don't have the first fucking idea of where to start looking. Please, just stop and think!" Skye pleaded.

Sam half turned in mid stride, still arguing. "There's no time!"

"Make time, son."

Skye almost crashed into Sam as he stopped in his tracks and turned to find Bobby standing in front of the Chevelle's driver's door, his arms folded across his chest. Judging by the set of Bobby's jaw? He had no plans of moving any time soon.

"Bobby, what the hell...?"

"What? You think I could sleep through you two trying to damn well out shout each other? I hate to take sides, Sam, but Skye's right. You ain't going anywhere."

"Bobby, come on..."

"Oh come on nothing! I don't know what the hell's gotten into you, kid, but despite what you think? You're not Superman."

"I know that!" Sam snapped sharply, watching the way Bobby seemed to draw up slightly as if he was ready to defend himself against attack. He didn't mean to put Bobby on edge, but Sam didn't need to hear those words. Not from him, not from Ruby, not from anyone. Sam had no illusions of what he was. He didn't wear a cape, he didn't save the day. He couldn't even save his big brother.

" How long's it been since you last slept?" Bobby narrowed his eyes at Sam.

"I'm fine."

"And I'm Mother Theresa. I've told you before, Sam, don't try and con a Con man. You're running on fumes, no matter what you seem to be trying to tell yourself. Now I ain't letting you go anywhere until you've had some goddamn sleep, so get your ass up to bed before you find my foot planted in it." Bobby stated firmly. "I'll make some calls, see if I can't find some sort of a lead for you to follow. If that don't work? I've got a few locator spells I can dig up, see if they can't give us some sort of idea of where the hell to start looking."

Skye remained silent behind Sam, watching the whole argument unfold between Bobby and the younger hunter. She prayed that Sam was going to listen to reason right now, even if she understood his frustration. Whatever might have happened to John – if anything had happened – they couldn't rush off half cocked.

After what felt like almost an eternity for Bobby and Skye, Sam's shoulders seemed to sag slightly before he nodded gently. "Alright...alright. You've got 24 hours."

With that, Sam turned and walked back to the house without a backward glance.

"You need a hand with that research?" Skye asked.

"I can handle it." Bobby replied evenly, pushing off the car and heading towards the house.

Skye turned slowly, watching him go. Yep, he was still pissed at her. Skye sighed, raking a hand through her long brown hair and taking a moment to consider her next move before she sighed and went inside.

~~Hellbent~~

Sam hesitated momentarily as he raised his hand to knock on the bedroom door. He couldn't hear any sound from the other side to indicate if Elise was even in there. Was that a good thing? Sam didn't exactly feel any better just because he couldn't hear crying or furniture breaking through the door. Another heartbeat of indecision followed before Sam finally lowered his hand and opened the door quietly instead.

Elise was curled up on the bed with her back to Sam, hugging a pillow to her chest.

"Elise? You awake?" Sam ventured cautiously, closing the door behind him. The lack of reply had Sam's heart sinking. He could tell from the way Elise was curled into her pillow that she was awake. So she wasn't just ignoring him, she was shutting him out. He'd really done it this time.

Perching gently on his side of the bed, Sam turned and placed a hand on Elise's shoulder. "Elise, come on...talk to me?"

His answer was Elise stiffly jerking her shoulder out from beneath his hand. Sam left his hand hovering for a few more seconds before it slowly closed and he withdrew it. Right in that moment, Sam had never felt so alone, knowing that he was the reason behind Elise's cold shoulder.

"I'm not trying to shut you out, Elise. I swear." Sam began. He couldn't tell Elise the whole truth of what he had been doing. Sam couldn't tell anyone. They wouldn't understand and he couldn't afford them to try and stop him. Not now. But that didn't mean he wanted to keep hurting Elise. Sam just needed to choose his words carefully. A few half truths was better than no truth at all...right?

"I've been going to a bar..." Sam ventured quietly, forcing himself to tell Elise all this even as she refused to acknowledge his presence. "It's a demon bar, which is why I haven't been taking you with me. It's not that I don't want you there, or that I'm scared of you seeing what I'm doing out there...it's just that I'm scared you'd get hurt. I needed to know you were safe. I always need to know that you're safe, Elise."

Elise didn't respond or acknowledge Sam in any way except to seem to draw her pillow in tighter.

"This bar. It's the best place to get word of Crowley. I'm close, Elise. Real close. I can feel it. They're starting to get used to me at that bar...and then they'll start talking."

Something twisted inside Sam as he heard the lies roll of his tongue so easily. No mention of Ruby. Elise didn't ever need to know about her. About the truth of what Sam was doing and where he was going. It could only hurt her and Sam had already hurt enough people he loved.

"I need to do this. If I can find Crowley, I can find Dean, I can bring him home." Sam explained, feeling an ache fill his chest and lock up his throat. "It's...it's like something's broken inside me. Ever since Dean died. I need to fix this, Elise. I miss him. Every damn day. Every damn minute that he's gone. There just this gaping hole in the world where Dean used to be and it's like I can't breathe anymore."

Tears spilled down Sam's face and he swiped them away, fighting to compose himself again. "I just...I just need you to trust me. That's all. I need you to believe in me. I've already lost Dean...I can't lose you too."

There was still no response, no movement from Elise. Sam let out a shaky breath as his shoulders slowly slumped in defeat. Fine. He was too tired to fight any more and really, could he blame Elise for turning her back on him after weeks of watching Sam crawling into one bottle after another as the grief of losing Dean tore him apart?

Pulling his shirt over his head, Sam dumped it on the floor and reached down to unbuckle his jeans. It took a moment to kick them off before he finally crawled under the covers, the stillness of the room almost deafening to him as he settled and closed his eyes to try and sleep. At that moment, Sam felt utterly alone, despite knowing he was in a house full of people who cared about him.

But as he lay there, trying to shut down his mind and just give into the exhaustion now tugging at him...the bed shifted slightly and ever so slowly a hand slipped over his waist as Elise drew up behind him and curled in as close as she could.

Tears stung Sam's eyes as he felt Elise's warm breath against his neck and shoulder. It was a silent signal of truce and Sam slid a hand down to cover Elise's as it sat over his waist, threading his fingers through hers. He knew he owed her the complete truth...but there would be time for that when he had Dean back and his family was whole again. For now? Sam was simply grateful to have Elise at his side still and he wouldn't allow anything to take that from him.

~~Hellbent~~

There was a set to Bobby's jawline that almost had Skye turning around and walking away from the Den at first. She was paused just outside the doorway, cradling Ethan in her arms, gently rocking him back and forth while in her mind, a millions different apologies for the night before, ran on a loop.

"You plan on standing there all night? Or do you wanna take a photo? Something to carry around with you..." Bobby grumbled without looking up from the book in front of him.

"I...uh..." Will you stop pussying out and just talk to the guy? Skye shook her head to chase away the ghost of Dean's voice in her mind and stepped forward with a sigh. "I thought you might need a hand. You know, tag team on the research while you make those calls?"

"I've got it all under control."

"I'm sure you have...but I'm still gonna help, so deal with it." Skye said, deciding to bite the bullet and enter the room. She sat on the couch at the side of Bobby's desk, gently shifting Ethan in her arms so he was comfortable while giving her more room to balance a book beside her. "So...what are we looking for? You said something to Sam about locator spells before? Is there something in particular I should be looking for?"

"You don't wanna go getting in the middle of all this, Skye."

"I'm already in the middle of it, Bobby. I have been for a long time...now are we going to sit here and argue about that or are you going to tell me where I should be looking?"

Bobby stood up and grabbed a couple of old leather bound books from his desk, walking them around to Skye and putting them beside her on the couch. "Fine, start looking in there. I remember there being something about using an amethyst crystal to track someone's whereabouts, but I'll be damned if I remember what the hell you're supposed to say at the time."

"Do you think this'll work? " Skye asked as she opened the first book and began to carefully sift through the pages.

"The hell if I know..." Bobby shrugged. "It's not like John's on the top of anyone's Christmas list. The few hunters that know he's back? Would sooner send his ass to Hell than buy him a beer. I'm running out of people to call." The frustration was clear in his gravelly tones as Bobby sank back down into his chair and eyed the stack of books he had gathered from his haphazard library that seemed to line every wall, nook and cranny of his house. Over the years, Bobby had gathered a formidable collection of knowledge, but would it be enough? First Dean, now John...everyone was looking to him to find what they needed and the pressure was churning his gut. He kept trying to tell himself that John was just off the radar and holed up somewhere, dealing with his own demons, so to speak. But there was a gnawing feeling deep inside that told him Sam had a good reason to be worried. That something had happened to John and they were running out of time.

Turning her head slightly as she continued to study, Skye could hear the sound of laughter coming from the living room as Connor played with his puppy. A puppy they had yet to name because Skye couldn't bring herself to even let it in that much. As if just ignoring the situation would make it go away before Connor could ever be hurt by the pain of losing something – someone – that he loved. It never worked that way. If it did work that way? Skye would have never let Dean and Sam into their lives at all.

"Bobby? About last night..." The tension Skye had been feeling since last night was crushing her. It was time to clear the air.

"Forget about it."

"I can't just forget about it, Bobby. I upset you." Skye pressed, knowing that she had to tread carefully, even if she refused to back down.

"So what? You wanna hold hands now and talk about it? You want me to take up knitting next?" Bobby drawled, clearly uncomfortable with the conversation.

"No, what I'm trying-..."

"I know what you're saying, girl. Let it go. I don't feel like caring and sharing, okay? This ain't The Notebook..." Bobby cut in, before he allowed a small smile to curl up the corner of his mouth.

"So...we're good?" Skye ventured hopefully.

"Yeah, we're good." Bobby assured her before he picked up the phone. "And I just remembered a couple of other favours I can call in...might help us track down where John was last seen." Dialling the number, Bobby glanced up to see Skye smiling as she went back to the book beside her and his smile grew a little more. They didn't need long winded apologies and hand wringing. What had been said had been in anger at the time and now that was behind them.

They had bigger things to worry about now...

~~Hellbent~~

It was a sense of foreboding. A sense that pulled at the gut and whispered of horror just around the corner, that caused Sam to awaken with a jolt. He looked around him, confusion etched into his face as he took in his surroundings. This wasn't his room. He wasn't lying in bed with Elise curled up behind him. Instead he was sprawled in one of the old arm chairs downstairs in Bobby's living room. Books surrounded him on every wall and Sam could smell the familiar musty smell that seemed to hang around all of Bobby's furniture thanks to years of neglect.

How the hell had he ended up down here? Sleep walking?

A scream cut through the air. A mixture of terror, pain and anguish. Skye's scream.

Sam was out of the chair and running for the stairs in a heartbeat, gripping the rail and dragging himself up the stairs in huge lunges, three at a time. Running down the hallway, Sam couldn't help but wonder where Bobby was? Where was Elise? Why had no one come out of their room to see what was wrong? Something about all this was nagging at his gut, like a sense of deja vu that Sam couldn't shake...

Another scream rent the air and Sam slid to a halt beside the nursery door, throwing his shoulder against it as he turned the handle and all but fell into the room. The hair on his arms and the back of his neck stood on end instantly as Sam found himself confronted by a shadowy figure with yellow eyes standing in the room.

"You!"

Azazel chuckled darkly, his yellow eyes almost glowing in the soft light. "Not me, Sam. Not this time. I'm just along for the ride." He waved a hand in the direction of Ethan's crib.

Sam turned, his heart trying to climb up his throat in sheer horror as he saw another figure standing beside the crib. A figure so familiar that Sam was almost afraid to say his name. "Dean?"

The smile on Dean's face as he turned to glance over his shoulder at his brother was chilling. A monstrous, twisted version of the grin that Sam had always loved to see on his older brother's face. "Hey, Sammy..."

The way Dean's pet name for him dripped from those lips made the skin crawl on Sam's neck almost like it was a form of blasphemy. This wasn't his brother standing there. There was no light in those eyes, no Dean. Just pure malice. It was sickening and heartbreaking all at once.

"You're not Dean." Sam growled, his hands balling into fists at his sides. "Where's Skye, what have you done with her?" A soft sob caught his attention and Sam glanced over to Connor's bed to see the little boy awake and curled up with his back against the wall, watching everything unfold before him with wide, fearful eyes.

"Stay there, Connor. You stay right there. It's gonna be okay." Sam called, trying to move to cover the boy, every muscle coiling for a fight as his mind raced to find a way out of this for all of them. Sam wasn't stupid, he knew he couldn't fight Azazel. Not in here. And now there was Dean to contend with as well...or at least, something that looked like his brother. It wasn't Dean. Sam refused to accept that.

"What's the matter, Sammy?" Dean reached into the crib and picked up Ethan, his hand rubbing the little boy's back to soothe him as he turned to face Sam, cradling his son against his chest. "You don't look happy to see me? Oh wait...that'd be cause you left me to rot down in the pit, right? Just cut me loose and never gave me another thought."

"No!" Sam denied his voice rough with emotion. "I've been trying for months to get you out, Dean! I've been chasing every damn lead I could find!"

"Every lead huh? Really? You want me to swallow that bullshit? Come on, Sam. Who are you lying to here? We both know you'd never be strong enough to bust me out the pit. Hell, even Yellow Eyes knows what a weak bastard you are now. Face it, dude...you're not the winning team anymore. There's gonna be a new kid on the block now." Dean smiled at his brother, his eyes sliding oily black before he pressed a soft kiss to the top of Ethan's head. The baby hiccuped for a moment and began to cry before he was soothed once more by his father's hand rubbing his back.

It was an image that Sam wished he could see without it being tainted by the black stain of the demonic eyes staring back at him as Dean smiled again. "See? I haven't lost my touch huh?"

"Don't do this, Dean," Sam was pleading now, trying to ignore the knot forming in his gut. The sick feeling that he was missing something here.

"Sorry Sammy...it's already a done deal."

Something caught Sam's attention out of the corner of his eye and he looked up, his eyes widening in sheer horror at the sight of Skye pinned to the ceiling just as Jess and his mother had once been. There was a deep scarlet stain spreading across her stomach, Skye's eyes pleading with Sam for help as her mouth hung open in a silent scream that quickly became real as flames exploded all around her, engulfing Skye in seconds.

"That's our cue, Dean." Azazel disappeared from the room with a grin at Sam and a flashy snap of his fingers as the flames rapidly spread throughout the room.

Connor screamed from where he was huddled on his bed as the flames came closer and closer, licking at the base of the bed and igniting the covers where they touched the floor, crawling towards the little boy with each passing second.

Sam hesitated for barely a heartbeat, knowing that Dean was about to take Ethan, before he made his choice and leapt through the growing wall of flame to grab Connor. Scooping the little boy up in his arms, he tried to turn him away from the flames, feeling them already licking at his back. The room was well ablaze, with Skye's body lost to it's own funeral pyre on the ceiling as Sam desperately tried to find a way through the flames. He was pushed back at every turn as Connor screamed in terror for Skye and begged Sam to save him.

"Dean! DEAN, help us! Don't do this! Save Connor, PLEASE!" Sam yelled through the flames, knowing that he was pleading on deaf ears. But surely there was some glimmer of his brother in there still. Some small part that would never allow harm to Connor.

"Collateral damage, Sam. The old Dean might have given a damn...but he's long gone." Dean shrugged his shoulders then and vanished with Ethan just as the flames exploded around the crib where he had been standing.

Sam looked around the room, trying to back away as far from the flames as he could. There was nowhere to go any more. The flames were too high, too angry, consuming everything around them. Furniture was alight, the paint on the walls blistering and peeling in the intense heat.

Sam drew Connor in tight against him and huddled up into a ball against the wall as much as he could, using his huge frame to try and shield Connor for as long as he could. His lungs were already burning with smoke, his voice choked and raspy as he said, "Shhhh, it's okay. I'm right here. Just close your eyes, little dude. Close your eyes and think of your Mom..."

Sam could feel the flames licking at his back, the skin beginning to blister, his shirt smoking and burning as he fought the urge to scream right up until the moment that his hair ignited.

And then Sam screamed as he lit up like a Roman candle...

Sam's eyes snapped open, searching the room around him, a scream locking up in his throat as he fought to swallow it back down in the first few moments of waking. Elise was still sleeping soundly beside him, oblivious to the fear coursing through Sam in that moment, his chest heaving, his body bathed in cold sweat. Pushing himself upright, he swung his feet off the bed and sat up, running a hand through his sweat damp hair as he regained some composure finally.

Barely a heartbeat passed before he snatched his jeans from the floor and pulled them on, snagging his shirt from the floor and dragging it over his head as he stepped out of the bedroom and all but jogged down to Ethan and Connor's room. The door flew open as Sam burst in, startling Ethan awake and filling the room with his throaty cry a moment later.

Connor stirred in his bed as the puppy at his feet barked in response to all the sudden commotion. He sat up slowly, rubbing at his eyes sleepily until he was suddenly enveloped in a hug from Sam. "Uncle Sammy 'kay?"

"I'm fine, buddy. Just fine. Just a bad dream." Sam assured Connor, his eyes squeezed shut against the horrible echoes of the dream still drifting through his mind. The stench of burnt flesh was fading now, replaced with the soft smell of the fabric softener Skye used on Connor's pyjamas. "You go back to sleep, okay? Everything's okay."

Connor shook his head and scowled sleepily. "E'fan's too noisy."

"Sam? What's wrong? Are the boys okay?" Skye skidded to a halt in the doorway, flushed from her run up the stairs. It had only been a couple of hours since she had been able to put Ethan to bed and head back down to the den to continue helping Bobby with the researching.

"No, no, they're fine." Sam tried to assure Skye as he watched her pick Ethan up and rock the baby gently to settle him again. He wanted to tell her about the dream, but how could he explain to her exactly what he had seen? Dean as a demon? Burning her and Connor alive? No, there was no way Sam could tell Skye anything about that at all. There was no need to. Sam wasn't going to let anything like that happen.

"Okay...so you want to explain why you're in here looking like you've seen a ghost?" Skye demanded, her hand rhythmically patting Ethan's back as he was rocked slowly. It was second nature to her, an action she wasn't even really aware of while she waited for Sam to answer her.

"It's nothing. Just a stupid dream."

"There's no such thing in this family, Sam. What did you see?" Skye's tone was sharper now, her eyes narrowing as a chill ran down her back. She was all too aware of Sam's dream connections with Dean, of her own nightmares that had led her to Dean's body, what now felt like a lifetime ago in some barn in the middle of nowhere. It was impossible to dismiss anything now as just a stupid dream.

"Sam? Everything okay in here?" Elise was in the doorway to the nursery, hair dishevelled, still waking up as she yawned and stretched.

Sam looked at Elise and then back at Skye, still waiting for his answer, before he shook his head and headed for the door. "It doesn't matter. I'm not letting it happen." He slipped past Elise and disappeared back into his own room a moment later.

"Okay, what am I missing here?" Elise asked Skye, clearly lost.

"Don't look at me...he's your fiancé." Skye shrugged. She placed a now sleeping Ethan back in his crib and then made sure Connor was tucked in tight before she flicked off the light again and ushered Elise out of the room. As the door closed, the girls were greeted by the sight of Sam emerging from his room, pulling his jacket on and carrying a small duffel bag with him.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa...where the hell are you going?" Elise blocked Sam's path, planting a hand in his chest.

"Elise, don't. I have do to this."

"Do what? I'm not a bloody mushroom, Sam. I'm sick of the bullshit you've been feeding me. Just give me a straight answer for god's sake."

"I'm going to get Dean back." Sam told her as he stepped around Elise and pushed past Skye, heading down the stairs like a man on a mission. There was no way he would be able to explain the urgency now burning in his gut. The feeling that every ticking minute meant he was a step closer to failing Dean and losing him forever. The dead, black eyes mocking him from his brother's face were an image that Sam couldn't shake...and that was a good thing. It was what Sam needed to push him now.

"Sam!" Skye shared a look with Sam before they both raced down the stairs after him. By the time they had reached the bottom, Sam was already out the door and in the Chevelle.

Elise caught a glimpse of Sam looking at her and mouthing the words I'm sorry before the Chevelle took off with a roar from the engine and a spray of gravel.

"What the hell does that idjit think he's doing with my car?" Bobby's voice growled from behind the girls.

Skye and Elise turned and saw the older hunter standing near the base of the stairs, looking every bit like someone who had just been disturbed from a rough night's sleep. It was barely four am by Bobby's watch and his mood was already soured before he had even opened his eyes. His demeanour softened somewhat, however, as he saw the emotions swimming in the eyes of both women before him. "Aw hell..."

~~Hellbent~~

The Chevelle ate up mile after mile without protest, but Sam couldn't help but wish it was the Impala beneath his hands right now. He made a silent promise to Dean that he would fix the car after tonight. That he would fix them both, car and owner...because Dean was coming home.

Sam knew where he would find his answers and he wasn't stopping until he had them. He owed Dean that much.