The dying grass scraped the bottoms of Sam's feet as he paced to and fro on the lawn, fingering his phone and trying to think.
He's hurt bad.
Dean was in a lot of pain and hadn't provided many details about what happened in the parking lot, but whatever it was had quite possibly broken his back, and not in the metaphorical way. He didn't want to bring Amelia around when Dean could see her – it would raise too many questions, and they couldn't risk jeopardizing their mission – but he hadn't seen Dean this bad off since the hellhounds had come for him. Apart from risking a trip to the hospital, he didn't have too many options.
God damn it.
He pulled up her number in his contacts and called her, running a hand through his hair. It rang six times, and then-
He sighed with relief; he'd been afraid she wouldn't answer. "Come here. Now."
"Your joints aching again already, gramps?"
"Just do what I say, Amelia."
"Ouch, Daddy. What's with the attitude?"
"And bring that potion he Starks made me, too. A lot of it."
"Are you hurt, Sam? Don't pull this mystery shit on me again-"
"Enough!" He switched the phone to his other ear and bit his lip in frustration, willing his voice down. "Just get your ass to the house. Quickly."
He hung up, shoving his phone into his pocket.
This was not good.
Why had Crowley gone and done this now? They were so close to finishing this, and after almost a year of waiting for Kevin to decode the tablet and reveal the trials, he was beyond pissed that they were being derailed yet again. He couldn't believe it had taken the kid so long to decipher the damn thing – he'd read the Leviathan tablet like it was Green Eggs and Ham, and they'd had no reason to worry about a time crunch. But now, the whole thing was gonna fall apart in t-minus two weeks, and here they were, sandbagged by the King's games.
We are gonna close his eyes for good when all is said and done, he thought bitterly, making his way back into the house. No more truces.
Nikki was sitting on the sofa bandaging her feet when he walked in.
"Well, if it ain't 007."
She hadn't bothered to hide her contempt for his decision to keep Dean out of the hospital. She winced a bit as she treated a cut on her knee, but went back to deliberately not looking at him shortly thereafter. Sam gave an exhausted sigh, dropping into the shorter of the two living room chairs.
No wonder she and Dean get along so well, he thought. They're practically the same person.
"Dean's gonna be fine," he said. "Help's on the way."
She seemed surprised at this, and some of the animosity melted from her posture. "Someone's coming? Like a doctor?"
He chuckled. "Yeah, actually."
"Look, I know hunters can patch each other up when push comes to shove, but unless your doc can do spinal surgery with a sewing needle and nylon thread, I don't know how much help he's gonna be."
He considered lying about using magic, but it wasn't like he'd be able to hide it for long; she was sure to notice Dean going from zero to hero in ten seconds either way.
So much for keeping this all under wraps.
"No surgery," he said. "Magic. Witchcraft, to be exact."
Most hunters hadn't dabbled in the dark arts as much as he and Dean had and didn't take kindly to using it, but Nikki didn't recoil the way he expected; instead, she narrowed her eyes and looked questioningly at him.
Their heads both snapped in the direction of the bedroom when they heard the loud groan. Sam was first on his feet, racing down the hall.
Dean was laid out on the bed, a length of plywood placed under his back. His badly bruised face looked even worse in the low lamplight, and as Sam moved closer, he saw even worse bruising around Dean's neck.
Jesus, he thought, touching Dean's forearm to let him know they were there. Demons really did a number on him.
"Hey, Sasquatch," Dean mumbled, his eyes barely open.
"How's the pain?" Nikki asked softly. "Need more vicodin?"
Dean shook his head gently. "I'm on cloud nine, babe."
"Help's on the way," she said.
Dean reacted. "No doctors-"
"Relax," Sam said, squeezing his arm. "I'm not exactly a newbie at this, Dean. Don't worry about it. You're gonna be fine."
Dean chuckled. "Miss Crossroads not involved in this plot, is she?"
Not the way you think.
He cracked a smile. "Not this time," he said. "Been there, done that."
Dean fell into a shallow sleep after that, mumbling occasionally. Nikki turned to Sam, pulling her hair up into a ponytail and pulling an armchair from the corner up to the bed.
"Go wait for whoever's coming," she whispered. "He'll be fine."
He nodded, taking another glance at Dean before leaving the room.
Amelia was sitting on the couch, examining Nikki's soiled bandages.
"What the hell are you thinking?" he whispered, taking her by the arm. "She's gonna see you!"
She looked highly amused as he led her through the kitchen and onto the service porch, closing the door to the house with a loud snap.
"She?" Amelia leaned against the washing machine, eyeing him. "You cheating on me, Sam?"
He rolled his eyes, exhaling. "You're nuts for coming in the house like that," he said, shaking his head.
"I didn't know your girlfriend was here." She was as smug as ever; it seemed married human life had done little to temper her in that regard. "And after that heartwarming speech about me being faithful to poor Don…"
"He's your cover. You want to live on earth with us, you gotta blend in."
She put on a mock pout. "Can't I blend in as someone else?"
"You have to kill someone for that."
"People have killed for less…"
"Fine, don't laugh."
"It's not funny. I've been burned by monster chicks before. Not eager to repeat the experience."
"Oh, god, not the Ruby story again-"
"And if you don't keep your end of the bargain," he continued, "I got no issue with sending you to Purgatory with your brothers and sisters."
"Oh, don't be such a bitch, Sam." The playfulness was gone from her voice. "You don't have a prayer of getting through this without us horrible evil ones helping you. So stow the death threats. Asshole is a bad look on you."
She was moodier than she had been when they'd first met. At first, she'd barely registered his barbs and insults and simply hadn't responded to most of his human outbursts. It had been fine by him; he wasn't thrilled to be working with someone who wanted to eat him, and the more levelheaded she was, the better. But after they'd been on the road awhile, she'd warmed up to him and become a lot more comfortable in a human body. After that, they started…well, the world was ending, anyway, so who could blame him? It wasn't like they were in love, and after what they'd done to finish off Dick's extended family, it was hard to think of their relationship in terms of anything but survival.
"I don't have time for this," he said dismissively. There was enough going on; he didn't need this right now. "Did you bring the stuff or not?"
She shook her head, digging in her back pocket. The bottle she handed him was about the size of an avocado, and of a similar shape. He pocketed it.
"Thanks. I'll call you."
He started back into the house.
"It's funny," she said. Her feet were planted and her arms were rigid at her sides. She was pissed, and Sam knew, even as he prepared a retort, that he'd have to mend fences.
"Back when Humpty Dumpty in there was M. I. A., you acted like you liked me, like we were on some kind of team. That's how you humans work, isn't it? Loyalty? Trust? All that bullshit?"
"We had a job to do," he said solemnly. "We still have a job to do."
She nodded and smiled bitterly. "Right. I abandon everything I know and help you lock all of my kind away, and risk the integrity of the universe to get the golden boy back home, and you…what? Kill me when this is all over?"
Sam didn't answer. The truth was, he didn't know what was going to happen to them when this thing was done. He wasn't even sure he'd survive.
"Figures." She reached for the door into the yard. "But I guess I should have known better. Get us monster to do your dirty work so you can go on pretending you're the good guys. You and Dean, you pretend you're just so righteous and all about saving the world, but how much of that saving was only necessary because of you two, fucking with things? You're not better than me, Sam Winchester. I'm you, minus the platitudes. So get off your high horse. Before you fall and break your neck."
She stepped silently off the porch and into the night. Sam looked out after her, with a sigh, wondering how he kept ending up in debt to things that ate people. Then he went back inside.
Nikki looked up when he walked in. "He here yet?"
"Here and gone." He held up the bottle, and she came over and looked at it, frowning.
He lifted an eyebrow. "Witchcraft always is."
She crossed her arms and looked tenderly at Dean. "You sure you can trust this guy?"
He walked up beside Dean and sat on the edge of the bed. "It'll work. Don't worry about it."
"That how you got better so fast?"
He didn't reply, opting to try and wake Dean instead.
She didn't ask again.
"Hey, man," he said, showing Dean the bottle. "Got you a little something."
"…hell's zat?"Dean's eyes were barely open and Sam could tell he was trying not to show how much pain he was in.
"Medicine. Open up."
Dean did, and Sam tipped the bottle into his mouth while Nikki looked on nervously. Dean coughed a few times and made a face at the taste, but soldiered through. Once the bottle was half-empty, Sam put the cap back on an pocketed it. He'd need more later; his last dose was already wearing off.
Dean fell back asleep and Sam rose, stretching. The bone-deep ache was returning to his limbs, and he really wanted to head it off at the pass. It was bad enough Dean had had to use the stuff; Sam didn't need him asking any more questions about his health until this was all done.
"Is this what's supposed to happen?"
Sam nodded, giving her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "One of the ingredients is a pretty strong sedative, so he'll be out for a while."
"Yeah, well, he could use the sleep. Doesn't seem like it's a high priority for either of you."
She turned serious. "Where'd you get this stuff, Sam? I've never met any hunters who could make potion to heal a broken back. That takes real power."
He was careful not to give any details. "We've crossed paths with quite a few people in our day," he said. "Some of them…do this professionally."
She shrugged. Sam could tell she wouldn't ask anything more; she wouldn't get anything out of him and she knew it. "Whatever, let's just hope it works."
Sam awoke in the guest bedroom just as the sun was setting the next day. He started to sit up, but he was completely exhausted, his body resisting every effort at movement.
He looked at the bottle sitting on the nightstand.
No point in waiting, he thought, reaching for it. Need the strength for tonight.
He did his best to swallow it quickly, polishing off the bottle. It was too bad he'd had to use it so soon; the potion got its regenerative properties from Leviathan blood, and Amelia was pretty pissed at him. Who knew when he'd be able to get more?
He had just shoved the bottle back into his pack when Dean knocked on the door and walked in, not bothering to wait for an answer. Sam was relieved to see that he was practically as good as new; even the bruising on his face was gone, and he wasn't nearly as stiff as he had been the last few days.
Dean closed the door softly.
"She still asleep?"
He nodded, dropping into the chair in the corner of the room. "Yeah," he said, keeping his voice low. "Didn't go to sleep until this morning."
"Let her rest. We don't have to be at ground zero until midnight, and it's only a half hour away if we take 70."
There was a brief silence. Sam could feel the potion beginning to work and he sat up slowly, stretching.
"I was in pretty bad shape."
Dean was staring intently at him, his arms crossed over his chest. He looked better than Sam had seen him in years; the lines around his eyes were gone, he didn't have a hint of a limp, and he was clear-eyed. Looks like it worked a little too well, Sam thought, cursing himself for using half the bottle. A fourth would have been plenty, but he had wanted to be sure Dean was okay.
"Better now, right?"
"I'll say," he said with a chuckle. The look in his eyes wasn't jokey at all, though. "Good as new. Bruises from the other day are gone, that sprain I got on the way to St. Louis has vamoosed, and hey! My broken back is as good as new!"
Sam wondered why he was bothering to stall. "Glad to hear it-"
"What did you do to me?"
Shit. "It was magic-"
"What the hell was in that slime you poured down my gullet?"
Sam shrugged and looked away, wishing he'd come up with something to say the night before. "I don't know, it's witchcraft. There was some Ecuadorian wolfsbane, dandelions, eucalyptus leaf-"
"Bullshit. That demon snapped my back like a glow stick. Where'd you get the mojo to fix that, Sam? The Crossroads Princess?"
He sighed. "I didn't make it."
"The who did?"
"Don and Maggie," he said. At least it wasn't technically a lie. "Stark," he finished when Dean looked confused.
"What…the Divorce Court witches? Since when are we in bed with them?"
"Since they helped me out with a problem."
Dean got up from his chair, more determined than ever. "What problem?"
"Just because I took some time off doesn't mean I didn't have to get rid of the Leviathans, okay? I couldn't just leave them running amok."
"How could they help you?"
"They had a spell to freeze them, remember that night at the motel? I didn't have any other way to hold them still, so…"
"So what, you went some kind of killing spree with Mr. and Mrs. Smith?"
Sam nodded, hoping Dean would believe it. It was mostly true. That had to count for something, didn't it?
"They didn't have any way to get me out the hole, though, right?"
He shook his head. "Didn't have nearly enough power."
Dean studied him, looking for signs he was lying. Sam did his best to hide them.
At least he looked away, reaching for the bedroom door. "Guess I'm lucky that portal was there, huh?"
"Yeah," Sam said, standing up to follow him. "Lucky."
They stepped out into the hall, stepping lightly to avoid waking Nikki. They went into the kitchen and got some spaghetti, sitting at the table to eat it. The tabletop was still covered with all of their research.
"So how do we wanna tackle this thing?"
Sam set his fork down in the bowl, looking at a Google Earth view of the church on his phone. "Doesn't seem like we have too many options. He's gotta know by now we're not dead. With Nikki, we'll at least be better off than we usually are."
"So we just rush in, guns blazing?"
"Got any other ideas?"
Dean took another bite of spaghetti. "Think Crowley knows she's with us?"
"I dunno. Why?"
"Just thinking," he said. "If he's moved on to breaking seals, he might not be hunting our old saves anymore. I mean, the guy's a dick, but he's not one to waste time on stuff that's not gonna push him forward. He hasn't threatened us or killed anyone in at least a week, and we know he has Abaddon. Hell, is he even still after the tablet?"
We should keep more of that potion around, Sam thought. It's like Adderall. "You're right, I hadn't even thought of that."
Dean smiled. "So if he doesn't know she's with us, he'll be expecting us to come alone. We go in, talk dirty for a few, Nikki sneaks in and grabs one of the vics, saves the seal."
"Can't he just break another?"
Dean shrugged. "Buy us a little more time to suss out what he's up to."
Sam closed out the map, looking up at his brother.
Dean lifted an eyebrow.
"Sounds like we got ourselves a plan."
Sweetwater Baptist Church was a shack in the middle of goddam nowhere.
Should have known.
This area of St. Louis County was heavily forested, and the map hadn't been much help once they'd turned off the state highway. Dean squinted in the darkness, trying to see through the dirt that had splashed up onto the windshield as they crept along the dirt road. Sam had the map open on his lap, and Nikki was checking the weapons in the back seat.
"How is it," Dean wondered aloud as he did his best to avoid the worst of the muddy potholes, "that these ancient demon safe houses are never off a main road? Did their witchy servants scry for the future locations of the interstates before they evil-ed up the place?"
"This church has been here a while," Nikki said. "My parents told me it was here when they came up my grandparents from Alabama in the fifties. They passed through here on their way west, and it had a bad rep, even back then. Guess now we know why."
Sam chuckled. "Whoever tried to have Sunday morning services here must have gotten a hell of a show."
Dean followed the road as the canopy of the trees got lower, resigning himself to the fact that they would have to wash the car – for real, this time – when all was said and done. "You sure this is the right way, Sam?"
He held up the map. "Map's not too detailed," he said, "but it's the only road. Gotta be the right one, right?"
Dean rolled his eyes but didn't say anything more. He'd doubted Sam's creative navigation in the past, and they were never the better for it; might as well swallow his pride and press on. "What all does he keep in these hidey-holes, anyway? Besides the tablets, I mean."
"Don't ask," Dean said.
Sam folded up the map. "Maybe this is where he keeps his needlepoint and his winter sweaters."
"He did say he didn't run hot."
"There!" Nikki was peering out one of the back windows. "I think that might be it."
Dean stared out Sam's window, trying to make out what she was seeing. The trees had thinned on the passenger side of the car, and a wide field stretched off to the east. The new moon was exceptionally dim, but he could just make out a small structure in the middle of the space. It was a modest, house-shaped building, and as they got closer, he saw the cross standing on the roof.
Sam shoved the papers on his lap into the glove compartment and shoved his gun into the back of his pants. "Let's go over it one more time-"
"Oh, my god, Sam, I got it, I told you-"
"This guy is bad news, Nikki," Sam said seriously. "We have to get this right. So we go over it again."
Dean parked the Impala a hundred yards or so from the church, killing the engine and the lights. "All right. Me and Sam will head inside and sniff out Crowley, see how many mooks he's got down there with him. We engage in some witty banter, keep him fluffed, and you come in-"
"-exactly ten minutes after you two leave the car-"
"-and find the vics," Sam finished. "The ritual goes down at midnight; he'll have them tied up and stashed somewhere until then. While we keep him busy, you get 'em out here and into the trunk-"
"'-which has a devil's trap drawn on it. Crowley won't be able to get to them." Dean could tell she was itching to get going. He smiled slightly, remembering when he'd been that age, feeling invincible.
Sam nodded. "If we're not out in ten minutes, you take off. Go back home; we'll meet you there as soon as we can."
"Watch your ass," Dean added.
She shot him an exasperated look. "I will, mother. Let's get going. It's eleven thirty."
Sorry for the gaps between chapters; I've been busy with school. R&R!