Sam's palm still cupped the salt shaker. It had gotten him free of the ghosts holding him back, but he knew it wouldn't work against Dorthea. She wasn't a ghost. He didn't know anything that could reach beyond the dimension she was part of and kill her.
It really wasn't fair that she could reach through and kill them. Except for trapping her within the boundaries of the large pentagram, the psychic kid's binding spell was worthless.
Sam stood halfway out of one of the rooms, holding onto the doorjamb. He couldn't control the tremors coursing through his body, was barely managing to stay upright.
His dad sat up against the wall, nearly his entire body encircled with painted vines that seemed to have crawled right off of the wallpaper. His father bucked, screaming behind paper vines.
Dean was on the floor, the witch kneeling over him, the sharp point of her knife grazing his brother's stomach. She was going to stab Dean!
Without thinking, Sam stepped away from the doorway.
Straining with rage and fear, John snapped the vine on one of his wrists free. Sam paused, hopeful. His dad could save Dean. He always took care of everything.
Smiling in triumph, Dorthea extended her hand out to Sam in invitation. "It won't hurt, I promise, darling. I won't make you suffer."
"Sammy, get out of here!" Dean screeched.
Sam drew back. He could run. The ghost kids would help him hide again.
Dorthea smoothed a hand along Dean's rib. "I only need one."
Dean latched onto her other wrist, and started forcing the blade back down. "Then you kill me! You kill me!"
The air seemed to suck right out of the room, a breath frozen in time. Sam's heart wrenched so tight in his chest he thought it might splinter in two. Maybe it did.
"Nooooo!" Sam stepped fully into the hallway. The blood coating Dean's chest made him want to vomit.
It all came down to blood.
Unable to steal what is freely sacrificed.
The psychic boy used his own blood to weave a spell and bind the woman to the in-between.
Sam took another step closer and Dorthea disappeared from Dean's side to reappear in front of Sam. He flinched.
The coolness of her blade touched his stomach, chilling him to the bone. He was shaking so hard, he wasn't sure if it was her pushing in, piercing through the first pinch into his skin or if he had inadvertently pushed outward. His face tilted up toward hers, eyes large and wet, feeling the icy prickle as the knife slid into his body.
John rammed his elbows against the wall, over and over, cracking plaster and giving himself a little leeway before the vines tightened their hold.
Sam gasped, just a soft little intake of air and John's head wrenched up, seeing the witch's blade slide hilt-deep into the side of his youngest's abdomen. Every muscle in the teen's body seemed to clamp rigidly around the intruding piece of metal and a fist punched through John Winchester's world.
"Sammy!" Dean bawled, crawling weakly across the floor.
Shuddering, Sam's young body went completely lax. Dorthea pulled him toward her, stroking his hair.
"Shhhhh, there, there, sweetheart. Now that wasn't so bad. Momma has you." She yanked the blade out and Sam wobbled. It shone glossy red.
Sam slipped downward. His cheek pressed into the witch's arm. Around them, several children appeared, watching somberly from the shadows.
John's chest heaved up and down, his vision smeared behind tears that he blinked away because he had to see, had to let Sam know he was there, that he wasn't alone.
Sam's eyes slipped lower, his forehead scrunched as though he fought it. John willed him to fight, even as he struggled against his bindings. His free hand clawed at the vines on his other arm, tore them from his mouth.
"Sammy," he cried. "Hang on. Daddy's here, I'm coming. You hang on."
Dorthea kissed Sam's temple. Blood soaked into Sam's jeans.
Clenching his face tight, Sam started whispering. "Peto vox per aer ingravesco unus per vox. Per suum ago . . ."
The witch cradled Sam close, oblivious to the boy's spell casting. Or too arrogant to worry.
"Ago in q-quinque cuspis . . ." Sam shuddered in a great gasp. Fighting through it, Sam pushed the words out. "Per is cruor ut solvo vos . . ."
John squinted. Sam said the words wrong. It was different. John's pulse roared to life, understanding dawning. Sam changed a word, just one little word that changed the phrase's entire meaning. He wasn't binding Dorthea to the other world. He was letting her go.
John didn't understand why Sam would do such a thing, but he trusted his child. If there was an answer to be found, Sam would ferret it out.
Except Sam's words were slurring. His hands hung limply. The witch was the only thing holding him upright. "Is cruor ut . . . solvo . . ." Sam's eyes fell closed.
John squeezed his own eyes closed, weeping, and screamed out what his son couldn't finish, "Per is cruor ut solvo vos. EGO signum super vestry caput capitis! I seal upon you! Be free and damn you straight to hell!"
Dorthea gasped, her slender body arched and rolled like a cat taking a stretch. Light and energy crackled around her. She let go of Sam and he dropped to the floor in a boneless heap. Of no more consequence to the witch, Dorthea stepped over him, heading to the stairs.
Her body pulsed with fluid light. It poured from her fingertips. John could feel vibrations coming off her in waves, stronger than anything he'd ever come up against before. With that kind of power, she was formidable. Eyes glittering with delight, Dorthea stretched her arms wide . . . and her head rocked back, then snapped upright again, shock pinching her features—a bullet hole darkening her forehead.
From the floor, Dean held John's gun still pointed at the witch, steaming, its muzzle following her down as she dropped. "Welcome back to the real world, bitch, because my little brother just made you mortal."
The witch's body began shaking, slender arms flopping, spikes of light tore through her flesh, spearing outward.
With the witch's hold gone, John tore free of the vines, leaving them fluttering to the floor like the paper they were. He scrambled across the carpet to Sam.
Dean crawled over just as quickly. "Dad, is he . . .?"
"Get down!" John shoved his other arm over Dean, trying to shield both his children as the building wave of power roared into them, shrieking and wailing with the force of thousands of demons unleashed. The pressure buffeted into John, sliding him on his knees across the floor, but he kept his arms anchored around his boys, bringing them with him.
The thundering energy flew across the ceiling, down into the foyer, shooting out in a million tendrils of zipping light that ducked and wove into the five corridors. Peeking between the iron banister, John saw the pentagram now, grotesquely lit up above the chandelier just before the crystal rocked, pulled from its mooring and fell, shattering on the floor below.
Abruptly the mansion went still.
Dean shoved out from under John's arm. "Sammy! Is he?"
John's gaze snapped to Dean. He pushed off his youngest child. John's fingers flew to Sam's neck. Dean's to Sam's wrist, though there was no need. Sam's chest lifted and fell in shallow breaths. But, God, there was so much blood. "We've got to get him out of here." John tore off his own T-shirt, wadded it up to press against the wound in the boy's abdomen. Sam didn't stir from the pressure.
"Is it okay to move him?"
John glanced at Dorthea's spent body, then the children quietly watching. He shook his head. "Too much to explain. We'll call from the road. Get him the quickest help possible."
"Yeah, okay." Dean didn't take his eyes off his brother. "He's going to be okay, right?"
John swallowed around the scream clawing its way up his throat and nodded tightly. Truth was, he didn't know. That blade had gone in all the way. No telling what damage had been done and the blood loss was significant. And Sam was so still, his young face already too pale.
"Sammy." John pushed down on the T-shirt, frightened at how more blood soaked up into it.
"Sam!" Dean tried a less gentle approach. "Sam, you wake up."
No response and John wanted to punch the floor. They were losing him and John was helpless to stop it. He was losing his son.
"Dad, make him wake up."
John's gut constricted at the plea. "I . . ." They needed towels, needed to keep pressure on the wound, stop the gaddamned bleeding, get Sam down the stairs, into the car. They just needed to keep him alive long enough to get him help. He could do that. He could do that.
John Winchester stomped down on his fear. He had a son—two sons—to save.
Pulling on every reserve he had, John brought the marine to the forefront.
"Can you get down the stairs on your own?"
"Good," the marine praised, gearing up to carry Sam down the stairs when Sam suddenly moaned, his head rolling to the side, and marine be damned, the father in John clamored past him. "Sammy?"
Thick lashes fluttered up, revealing glossy eyes, too bright around the shadows lining Sam's lean face.
"Dad?" Kid's voice was too breathy.
"I'm here." John's voice came out husky, strained with tears. "I'm here. Gonna fix you up. Just . . . just . . . stay with us, Sam. Okay, just stay with us."
Sam didn't respond to that. His eyelids sank, but didn't close.
"Hey, hey," Dean whispered, twining his fingers through Sam's. "You heard Dad. Don't go anywhere."
"Not," Sam gasped, and John couldn't help smiling at the underlying determination.
"Ready?" John said to Dean, and shifted one arm beneath Sam's knees and his other across the kid's back. Sam cried, features clenched tight when John shifted him into his arms. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I know it hurts." He kissed Sam's hair, just holding him there until the pain subsided and then carefully got to his feet.
He carried Sam slowly down the stairs, painstakingly feeling each placement of his foot, keeping an ear out for Dean's progress behind them. The kid was barely on his feet, but Dean was tough. And with the urgency to get Sam out of this house, he'd roll down the staircase if that was the only way.
They stepped over shards of the broken chandelier and made it to the large front doors when the oldest kid, the one who showed them how to get out of the walled-in room, appeared in their path, arms folded, blocking their way.
His son didn't have time for this.
The other ghost children appeared, watching.
Dean pulled his bag of salt from his pocket. "Want me to get rid of them?"
John glanced down at Sam, out cold in his arms."No." He looked at the ghosts. "I'm taking my boy out of here. He needs help I can't give him. But I promise, we'll be back to set things right for you."
The oldest boy glanced around at the others, and then faded away. They all faded away. The giant doors swung inward.
With no further invitation warranted, John carried Sam out into the cool of night and straight toward the Impala.
Sam woke to Dean's blurry face hovering inches above his own, puffs of breath flowing like whispers over his skin. ". . . to be okay we're almost there I got you you're going to be fine I promise I promise Sam we're going to fix this . . ."
They were in the back seat of the Impala—he'd recognize the feel and smell of that car without looking—his head resting on the hard planes of Dean's thighs. The low rumble of the car must have lolled him to sleep. He couldn't remember where they were going.
He felt really funny, floaty, like if he started flapping he could soar away, except something was wrong with Dean. His brother was crying and speaking so fast Sam could barely understand him. Dean never cried so Sam stayed where he was. He was tired anyway. Sleepy. He'd try flying another day. Besides Dean was crying and Sam wouldn't leave him like that. He let his head press more heavily into Dean's lap, letting him know he was here, he was still here. He felt safe in the car anyway . . . protected . . .
Until the Impala hit a bump and an icy slash of pain splintered through his stomach, vibrating across his entire body and he clawed to get away from it.
"NonoSamno Dad something's wrong SamSammy . . .come baaaack . . ."
The next thing Sam knew he was on pavement, staring up at the stars, something cupped over his mouth and nose, trapping his noisy exhalations in cloudy vapor.
"Pass him onto the gurney. One. Lift . . ."
Sam floated away, carried along a bobbing current of blissful darkness and snatches of moments he didn't remember happening. Bright lights streaked overhead above hazy unrecognizable faces, wheels squeaking beneath as a sharply lit ceiling rolled by.
He fell from the sky, streaming through the air beside angels that fell with him, wings bursting into purpling flame, trailing smoke and misery that wafted to the earth like dark feathers on a gentle breeze, until he settled softly on a cushion that smelled of antiseptics and sweat. Voices echoed over a steady beeping.
". . . watch him, but at his young age, the spleen still retains the ability to repair itself . . ."
His eyelids felt gooey and glued closed. It took more effort than Sam had to slide them open so he gave up and went chasing fireflies along a darkening path where paper vines wound along the ground and satyrs and cupids leaped about between trees and doorways.
The next he awoke, he was in the car again. It was quiet and unmoving. Stars filled the little patch of black sky he could see through the rectangle of the rear window. The entire back seat had been transformed into a bed of pillows, sheets and blankets, and Sam smiled, sinking sleepily into warmth and comfort and safely.
A breeze filtered through the open door, bringing the scent of smoke, fire.
Worried, Sam sat up and hissed at the sharp lance at the side of his belly.
Immediately the Impala rocked and Dean was there, poking his head through the open door. "Sammy? Oh, hey, you shouldn't be trying to sit up." Dean came inside, one knee resting on the seat between Sam's legs. "Come on, let's get you laying back down."
"I don't want to lie down." Sam yawned. "What's going on?"
Dean froze, staring as though he hadn't seen him for years even though it was really too dark to see that clearly. Dean's palm lifted to Sam's cheek, a gesture he usually reserved for times when Sam was sick. "You with me this time?"
Sam rubbed at his eyes. "Have I been sick?" Is that what was going on?
"Sick?" Dean looked a little stunned. He cocked his head. "Bit of an understatement." He smiled and backed out of the door. "Dad. Sam's awake. Really awake this time."
Footsteps carried on gravel and suddenly their dad's larger frame occupied the space Dean had just been in. "Sammy?" Leaning closer, John placed the back of his hand across Sam's forehead, feeling for fever. His features were ragged, the way he looked after an extremely long and difficult hunt when it took several days of sleep for the deep lines to smooth from his face.
"How are you feeling, kiddo?"
Actually a little freaked out by the way Dean and Dad were acting. Sam wrinkled his nose, not sure what he was supposed to say. "My stomach hurts a little. When I move. Have I been sick?"
John looked behind his shoulder at Dean who was still hovering close. Their silhouettes wavered slightly in front of a crackling fire several yards away.
Dad's calloused hand moved from Sam's forehead, but didn't leave, instead sliding into Sam's hair. "Do you remember the hunt?"
Pursing his lips together, Sam concentrated. He remembered vines and cupids and falling angels. Pentagrams and murdered children and a witch who crooned kind promises while a silver blade brought fire and agony inside his stomach.
Sam flinched, his hands dropping to the side of his belly where he felt thick gauze and tape beneath his T-shirt. Eyes wide, he nodded and started shaking.
"Hey, hey." Somehow his dad was closer, a large comforting arm wrapped tightly around Sam's back. "It's been a scary couple of days, but you made it. You're okay. You're going to be okay."
Sam nodded, feeling about as far from okay as he could get. The witch had stabbed him. But his dad was here and Dean was here and they were safe, which made him safe.
"I'm glad you woke up," John said. "Might help to see it through."
"See it through?" Sam was surprised at how quiet his voice came out.
"The hunt." Dad had his other arm beneath Sam's knees and was sliding him out with him. Once they cleared the car John cradled Sam against him like a baby. It was kind of embarrassing, but Sam's stomach hurt and his whole body felt weird, tingly and weak. He wasn't sure he'd be able to stand on his own.
Fortunately his dad carried him over to the front of the car and set Sam down on the hood, keeping one arm around him to steady him. Dean sidled next to Sam, leaning back against the car, close enough that it seemed natural when Sam edged forward to rest his shoulder against Dean's.
The large mansion loomed in front of them, quiet and shadowy, the two front wings ready to enclose them at the slightest provocation. Though uneasy, Sam was unafraid because nothing bad could happen while he sat between his brother and dad.
He glanced toward the flames rising up from a large hole in the weeds that must have once been a manicured lawn. "Is that her?"
"Nah, Sammy," Dean answered. "We took care of the witch at the back of the house. Didn't feel it'd be right to the kids to lay them to rest in the same place as her."
Sam nodded, his throat closing around what he didn't really know how to say anyway and let his head rest against Dean's shoulder and felt the steadiness of his dad's arm at the small of his back and when he looked back to the fire, the ghost of the psychic boy stood there. The kid nodded once and then melted away.