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The Consequences of Prophecy

Chapter Text

The student hurried along the paths toward the edge of campus. He was in a hurry to get home, and hoped he could make it before too long.

The student paused and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. "Hello?" he asked. He grinned.

"No, I'm headed back to my apartment. Class just got out," the student said. He stopped, shook his head, and started walking again. "No, actually. Just some very weird dreams. You?" He paused and listened to the person on the other end. "Really? Are you sure haven't just been having too much fun with your lighter?"

He grinned. "I know that, jerk," he said. "Anyway, I'm being dragged to a party tonight- yes, I know. But what can I do?" He paused. "When?" He looked around cautiously for a second. "I haven't noticed anything, but they've probably gotten a bit more subtle since the last time. I hope. You know how it is- we never seem to catch a hint until it's almost too late. No, I'm fine. Besides, I can handle it if something happens."

Laughing, the student checked for traffic before crossing the street. "Okay, okay - and yes, that'd be appreciated. I've been getting the feeling that there's more to the dreams than I thought at first. It'd be nice to have someone else around who knows what's going on."

He shook his head. "Of course not! How do you tell someone something like that, anyway? I'll tell her eventually, don't worry. Just… once things are a little clearer, and I've got a bit of proof. She does know the back story, just not that we actually believe the attackers had a point."

He stopped in front of a building. "Listen, I need to go- No, jerk, I'm at my apartment, and I need both hands. Yeah, I'll talk to you later."

He absently juggled keys, phone and backpack as he entered his apartment building. Across the street another man, dressed much like every student around, pulled out his own cell phone.

Chapter Text

Jessica Moore looked up from her books as her boyfriend entered their apartment. "How was class?" she asked.

Sam Winchester shrugged. "Boring, as usual. I hate this class. Anyway, I've got something more interesting to ask you about."

Jess blinked and smiled. "Oh?"

"Dean's in the area and wants to know if he can crash on our couch tonight and maybe for the weekend. If it's alright with you…?" he looked at her pleadingly.

She smiled up at him. "Of course it's alright. It'll be good to see him again. I haven't seen him since last spring break."

Sam smiled. "Neither have I. He's been busy with… something. I don't dare ask what."

She grinned. "That sounds like him. And have you heard from your father lately?"

"Yes, Dean sent me an email just last week, telling me that Dad was going to drop off the radar for a bit. He's got some sort of line on that crazy cult that's been trying to kill me since I was a baby."

Jess nodded. She knew the story- the nation knew the story, though most didn't know the names of the victims.

A group of crazy, end times obsessed survivalists had decided that seven weeks old Sammy Winchester would grow up to be some sort of demonic overlord and help destroy the world.

They'd attacked the Winchester's house on June 21, and wounded both little Sammy and his four year old brother, Dean, before their mother, Mary, and father, John, managed to force them away from the boys.

Mary had been killed, but not before putting up a tremendous fight, enough for John to take out the men she wasn't dealing with, and rescue their sons. One of the men had been captured, and he'd spilled everything about why they'd attacked.

But despite the resulting media frenzy, the names of the family that had been attacked had been kept from the public eye. Even the worst of the journalists had seen that it would only hurt the baby.

Most people didn't know that the survivalists had tried to kidnap Sam several times since then, but had never succeeded. Sam had been rather vague on why.

Jess blinked and shook herself out of her thoughts. "When is your brother getting here?"

Sam shrugged. "It depends on how long his business takes," he said. "He'll probably get in at about 3am tonight, knowing him."

Jess laughed

~~~~~~~~~~

Sam sat up slowly and glanced at the clock. It was 3:42am and he could hear someone- or something- in the apartment. He sighed. It was probably just his brother, but he'd been raised not to take anything for granted, and he had to check.

He made sure to avoid that one creaky point on the floor as he made his way toward the quiet sounds. After a moment, he could see that there was a man in the living room.

As the man passed by the doorway, Sam struck, hoping to get him into a choke hold. His opponent ducked out of Sam's grasp and the fight was on- until the man pinned Sam to the ground.

"Whoa, easy there, tiger!" the man exclaimed.

Sam scowled as he finally got a good look at the intruder. "Dean, you scared the crap out of me!"

"That's 'cause you're out of practice," Dean retorted.

Sam scowled, knocked Dean over and pinned his brother to the ground.

"Or not," Dean conceded. "Get off me."

Sam got up and pulled Dean up with him. "Dean, next time, don't break in, alright? What if I hadn't realized it was you?"

Dean chuckled. "You would have, before you did anything to hurt me."

Sam sighed. "Next time, just knock and wake me up, alright?"

The light turned on, and they both turned to look at Jess. "Sam? What's going on?"

Sam rolled his eyes. "Dean decided to break in rather then wake us up," he told her. "Which, considering how light I sleep, just doesn't work."

She glared at Dean. "Next time, knock," she ordered.

Dean laughed. "You are so far out of Sam's league," he said. "You know that, right Sammy?"

Sam rolled his eyes. "You only tell me that every time you visit," he replied. "And its Sam, jerk."

"Bitch," Dean replied promptly.

Jess sighed. "Argue later," she ordered. "I'm going back to bed, and so is Sam. Dean, you know where the couch is."

The brothers watched her go back to the bedroom. Then Sam smiled and shook his head. "We'll talk in the morning," he said.

"Yeah, we will," Dean said. "And Sam?"

Sam turned back around.

"It's starting."

Sam nodded.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jess woke up again to the tantalizing smells of something cooking and the low sounds of Sam and Dean talking and laughing.

She blinked sleep out of her eyes and stretched. Definitely time to get up.

She wandered into the kitchen. Dean was at the stove, expertly flipping pancakes while Sam chopped fruit on the counter. They were laughing about something as they looked over at her. "Jess, hi," Dean smiled.

She returned the grin. "Hello, Dean," she said. "Much better time to say hello, isn't it?"

She leaned in and stole a piece of cantaloupe from Sam's pile of fruit.

Sam laughed.

"Good morning," she told him as she kissed him on the cheek.

"Morning," he leaned down and gave her a proper kiss.

Dean whistled after a moment and they broke apart. Sam shot him a look over Jess's shoulder. Dean smirked back. "Pancakes are ready," he said innocently.

Jess turned to the cupboard. "I'll set the table," she said.

They were all quiet as they ate, but once they were done and were cleaning up, Jess turned to Dean. "So, what have you been up to lately?"

Dean grinned. "Running errands, mostly. Got into a bit of trouble down in New Orleans, but other then that, nothing much."

"What sort of trouble?" Jess asked.

"Just a couple of guys didn't want me in their bar."

Sam put the last of the dishes in the dishwasher. "But you're fine, obviously."

"Come on, Sammy. It was two drunk men. I'd have to be way off my game for them to take me down," Dean said as he finished putting the leftover fruit salad away. "Anyway, do you have any plans for the day?"

Sam shrugged. "Not really," he said. "Jess?"

She shook her head. "Just a study group in the library," she said. "And I have to work this afternoon."

"Then Sam and I will stay here," Dean said. "I promise to keep him in one piece, though."

Jess smiled. "That means you can't fight in the living room," she said.

He deflated, but it was exaggerated enough that she was certain he hadn't planned anything of the sort.

"You boys have fun," she said. "I'll see you tonight." She turned to head into the bedroom to get ready, but swung back around as a thought occurred to her. "Dean, you are staying tonight, right?"

Dean nodded. "Maybe for the weekend, if you don't mind."

She grinned. "Of course I don't," she said.

She headed back into the bedroom. Sam followed her to grab his own clothes. "Jess… I…"

"It's something important, isn't it?"

"Dean wouldn't be here in the middle of the semester if it wasn't."

Then find out what it is, and tell me later."

Sam looked troubled. He kissed her goodbye, but didn't say anything as she picked up her bag and headed out the door.

Dean looked just as troubled as he watched her go. Jess bit her lip. She didn't like this. She just didn't know what this was.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam was waiting for Dean to start. Dean didn't say anything for nearly five minutes after Jess left.

Sam swallowed. Finally, he couldn't take it any longer. "What's going on?" he asked.

"You got the e-mail I sent, right?" Dean asked.

"Yes, of course I did. Thanks for the heads up."

Dean nodded. "I couldn't tell you everything in the e-mail, since it wasn't secure. But Dad didn't go alone."

Sam's eyes widened. "You don't mean… I thought they weren't planning that for another year or so!"

"They weren't," Dean said. "But things change, Sammy, you know that. Well, you know he's got a lot to get ready for."

"Yeah, you're right," Sam said. "I just figured there'd be more time."

Dean shrugged. "And I'm here for a reason," he said. "Some of the new Hunters have taken up the crusade."

Sam sighed and rolled his eyes. "And they don't even realize that they're just driving me to do what they're trying to prevent."

Dean shrugged. "Hey, you know what they say about me," he pointed out.

Sam laughed. "When I take over the world, you can be my right hand man," he promised.

Dean laughed with him.

They grinned at each other for a moment. "Are you going to tell Jess?" Dean finally asked.

"She knows the basics," Sam said. "I told her that when we started getting serious."

"She doesn't know demons and all that actually exist," Dean retorted.

"I've been… introducing the ideas," Sam said. "Getting her used to the idea that there's a lot more in heaven and earth and all that. But it's hard. I don't want to scare her away." He shook his head. "I plan on telling her everything before I…"

Dean waited for a moment. "No, you don't get to stop there, Sammy. Before what?"

Sam sighed. "Will you help me shop for a ring before you leave?" he asked quietly.

Dean's eyes widened. "You're that serious about her?" he asked.

Sam nodded slowly.

"Yeah, I'll go with you, Sammy," he said.

Sam looked down, smiling. "And… if she says yes, even after she knows everything, will you be my best man?" He looked up at his brother, eyes pleading.

Dean's jaw dropped. "You want me to be your best man?"

Sam nodded. "I wouldn't want anyone else," he said.

Dean sat back, stunned. "Yes," he breathed. "Of course.

Sam's grin was infectious, and Dean couldn't help but grin back.

"I didn't realize it was getting that serious," he said. "Does Dad or anyone else know?"

Sam shook his head. "No," he said. "I wanted to tell you first."

After a moment, Sam shook his head. "Anyway, we've gotten off topic."

Dean took a deep breath. "You're right," he said. "You know, you might not have a chance to marry her."

"I know," Sam said. "I… Dean, remember that dream I mentioned on the phone? It's been a reoccurring dream where she dies."

Dean sat up. "How?"

Sam shook his head. "The Hunters," he said. "They attack- you're there- and I don't see all of it, but she's hurt, at least. There's enough blood that I'm not sure if she's alive."

Dean swallowed. "It's a dream, Sam," he said, though he wasn't all that certain that it wasn't. "It has to be."

"Dean I'm twenty-two," Sam said.

Dean sighed. "I know," he said. "But even if that is what we think it is, we can change it."

"I hope so," Sam said. He took a deep breath. "Can we change the subject? Please, just for now?"

Dean nodded. "Alright," he said. "Sammy, what do you want to do today?"

Sam shook off his bad mood. "Ring shopping?" he asked. "Not to buy, yet, but just check out a few stores.

"We can do that," Dean said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dean was singing along to the Led Zeppelin song on the radio when he turned down the street to the apartment. They'd looked at several rings, and made a short list of rings Sam thought Jess would like, and they were both in good moods.

Sam glanced around as they pulled up to the apartment. "Dean…" he started quietly.

"Something's up," Dean said, reading his tone.

"Yes," Sam said. "Those cars- the blue ford truck and the green camero aren't… they're not supposed to be here. I've never seen them before."

Dean continued driving, only to swing around and park on the next street over. "Up the back? If we're just being paranoid, all we'll do is scare Jess a bit."

Sam nodded. Cautiously, they both pulled themselves up the fire escape.

"Sam, what do you have on you?"

Sam glanced down. "Not much," he said. "Just my Glock and a boot knife. I'm pushing that as it is at school."

Dean snorted quietly. "I just have my gun and a couple of knives too, unfortunately. We're going to need a hell of a plan."

"If something's wrong," Sam said, though he didn't doubt that something was.

He kept low as they reached the closed window to his apartment. After a moment, he dared to peak inside for a brief look. That look was all he needed. Three men stood in the main room, surrounding Jess, who was tied to a chair and gagged.

"Hunters," Sam whispered. "Three of them, the ones I saw in my dreams, though I don't recognize them beyond that."

"Damn." Despite the curse, Dean sounded unsurprised.

"They've got Jess," Sam's breath hitched. "Just like in my dream."

"We'll rescue her," Dean said. "We won't let a bunch of Hunters take her."

Sam managed a tight grin.

~~~~~~~~~

Gordon Walker eyed the girl they had tied up. She was scared, but she has still found the courage to glare at them. They'd been forced to gag her to get her to stop cursing at them and possibly warn their target.

She really was quite pretty. Beauty, brains, and an attitude to match- it was easy to see why the antichrist had chosen her. It was a shame she seemed loyal to that creature.

The front door opened. Gordon, Kubrick, and Creedy stiffened as the girl's eyes widened. She began to struggle again. Gordon thought he heard something behind him, but it was just the wind through the open window.

Creedy crumpled to the ground as Sam Winchester, the antichrist, walking into the apartment. Gordon kept his focus on the abomination while Kubrick turned to face whatever had taken out Creedy. Kubrick, however, flew forward before he completed his turn. Gordon could see someone else standing there. This wasn't going well.

Gordon fired at the abomination, which finally moved, diving behind a wall.

Gordon swung around toward the other thing in the room- only to come face to face with the abomination's brother. "I'd heard you were in town, traitor," he snarled at Dean Winchester.

The other man smiled mockingly. "Traitor to what?" he asked.

"The human race!"

Winchester laughed. "Am I really a traitor when I'm just keeping my brother alive?" He sprung forward and knocked Gordon off balance.

Gordon still managed to get off one shot, but it didn't hit Winchester or the abomination. Gordon didn't particularly care after that.

Winchester was one hell of a fighter, and the abomination- from what Gordon could see of the other fight- was just as good.

Then everything went black.

~~~~~~~~~~

Dean looked up as soon as he was sure the Hunter he was fighting was unconscious. Sam had taken out his two opponents and was already on the phone with emergency services.

Dean glanced at Jess. He'd seen that she'd been hit by the bullet, but he'd been unable to get to her. She stared at him without seeing him, but he was relieved to see that she was still breathing.

Dean spent a futile moment trying to stop the flow of blood, but that did nothing but leave his hands covered in it.

"Sam?" Jess asked shakily.

"He's getting help, sweetheart," Dean said. He glanced down at his hands. Sam reached them and placed his hands over Dean's. Dean freed one of his hands and brushed the first two fingers across her forehead. The blood left behind a pattern which would appear to be accidental to anyone who didn't recognize what it was. "I'm not really that good at this, Jess, but it should work," Dean said.

She blinked at him, uncomprehending.

Dean took a deep breath and then chanted quietly. It was a simple spell, one he'd learned when he was ten. He'd never had to do it in a life or death situation before, but he knew it would work.

He finished just as the paramedics and police broke down the door. Sam smiled gratefully at him. Jess had a fighting chance now.

~~~~~~~~~~

The man picked up the phone. "Hello?" he asked. He had no idea who would be calling at this hour.

"Pastor James Murphy?" The young man on the other end of the line asked. He sounded pleasant enough, if rather abrupt.

"Yes, young man, I am Pastor Murphy. May I help you?"

"I doubt it. I just called to give you a warning," the young man's tone shifted, became colder.

"I beg your pardon?"

"I am Sam Winchester, Pastor Murphy," the man said.

Jim gasped.

"So you have heard of me," Sam said.

"I have. I don't believe the stories Hunters tell of you," Jim said.

"I'm not sure I believe you," Sam replied. "But that doesn't matter. I just called to give you and the more sane Hunters a warning. Get your fanatical brethren under control, Pastor Murphy. I was perfectly willing to live and let live. But then some of the fanatics attacked my girlfriend, just because she's my girlfriend. The fanatics are pushing me toward the fate they want to prevent. Next time you see a Hunter, ask what they know of self-fulfilling prophesies."

Jim inhaled sharply. "Is your girlfriend alright?"

"She'll be fine," Sam replied. "Eventually. But the next group that attacks me won't be. I'm through playing with kid gloves. Your people have gone too far. Warn all the Hunters that next time, all the attackers die."

"Mr. Winchester, most Hunters don't believe that you will bring about the end of the world, and we know that those that do are actually pushing you away from humanity. Let those of us who don't believe your so-called destiny help you."

"No," Sam said. "My family and I can handle this. You and your friends never bothered to help us before. No Hunter vouched for us the first ten times we were attacked. Why should we accept your help now?" The phone clicked, and Jim knew that the boy had hung up.

Jim took a deep breath and closed his eyes. It seemed he had some phone calls to make.

He carefully dialed and waited. Once the other person answered, he took a deep breath. "Bobby? I just got a very interesting phone call. We might have a problem."

~~~~~~~~~~

Jess drifted awake slowly. She could hear a steady beeping, smelled the mix of medicine and sickness that told her she was in a hospital. And she hurt. She heard voices off to the side. "I don't think we have much of a choice, Dean," it was Sam.

"I know. I just wish…"

"Me too," Sam said. "I don't want to ruin her life like this."

"You're not ruining her life," Dean replied. "You're going to make her safer."

"Except for the Hunters, Dean. They're going to come after her now. They know I'll do anything to keep her safe."

"Yeah, but the sane ones know it too, dude," Dean said. "And they don't think you're the antichrist."

"They give me the benefit of the doubt, Dean," Sam said. "They know that damn prophecy as well as the insane ones."

Jess tried to frown. It sounded like Sam and Dean actually thought there was some merit to the cult member's thoughts.

"What am I going to do, Dean?" Sam finally asked. "Jess is going to hate me."

Dean sighed. "No she won't, Sam," Dean said. "She'll be mad, sure, but… hell, you've been trying to figure out how to tell her since you met her."

"I know. And once we started dating, I warned her about the Hunters."

Dean sighed. "Yeah, you did. Remember that. She'll understand in time."

"I think I need to leave school," Sam said. "We've been able to keep my location a secret for four years, but now the Hunters know where I am."

Jess wanted to let Sam know she was awake, but she was more interested in listening.

"Azazel won't be pleased," Dean said. "And neither will Dad." Jess frowned. Who was Azazel?

"They've both gone off the map, Dean," Sam said. "Who knows when they'll find out? Besides, after this attack, I'd have to move. And… I hate it, but it'll keep Jess safer."

"Sammy…" Dean whispered.

Sam didn't say anything for a long time. "I don't want to do it. But I can't keep her safe if I stay in school."

"You can't keep her safe if you leave her, Sam," Dean said.

"So I can call in some help," Sam said. "I can't just let her… this is my fault. I knew the Hunters would find me again. I should have known they'd use anyone I was close to. I should have known, Dean."

"Sam, this is not your fault," Dean said. "It's never been your fault. The Hunters did this; they're the ones who killed Mom, not you."

"But I should have known…"

Jess shifted slightly and Sam cut himself off. "Jess?" he asked quietly, rushing to her side.

"Sam," she whispered, opening her eyes. Sam looked awful, tired and worried.

She sighed. Whatever he'd been talking about was important, but it could wait. She didn't have the strength to talk about it right now.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam stared down at Jess. She'd finally woken up, and the doctors were saying that she'd recover completely, with only a scar to show for the attack. She hadn't said anything about the attack, or how Sam had blamed himself. He couldn't help but wonder how long she'd been awake and if she'd heard his discussion with Dean.

It didn't actually matter, of course, he had to tell her no matter what.

Dean slipped back into the room. "She's asleep again?" he asked.

Sam nodded. "Yes," he said. "Have you heard from the Moores? I know they're on a cruise and completely out of touch, but we've been trying to call them for a day now."

"Nothing," Dean said.

"They're going to hate me," Sam said. "This happens when they're out of touch? Mr. Moore didn't like me anyway, but now…"

Dean shook his head. "Is he going to be a problem?"

Sam laughed soundlessly. "No," he said decisively. "It doesn't matter, does it?"

Dean sighed. "It's not your fault," he said.

Sam knew Dean had said it before. So had their father, so had everyone else they'd grown up around. It hadn't been his fault that their mom had died. Still, some part of him felt that it was his fault. The Hunters had been there to kill him. They had been there to kill him yesterday, too. Jess's injuries were because of that.

So Sam settled for making a noise that really meant nothing.

Dean eyed him for a moment before sighing and sitting down next to Sam. "You know, visiting hours will be over soon."

"Yeah, I know," Sam said. "I have to… god, the police," he said. "I haven't talked to them yet."

Dean laughed. "They want your statement, yeah, but everything's pretty clear, especially with our history. And, well, the guy I knocked out is already ranting about how you're an abomination."

"Lovely," Sam said. "And I… Dean, I can't think straight," he said. "I don't know what to do next."

"Don't worry, Sammy, I've taken care of it," Dean said. "I've already talked to the local FBI office. They're not happy, and they're making noises about suggesting the Witness Protection Program again. And guess who'll be here soon?"

"Actually, I'm already here, Dean."

They looked up at the man at the door.

"Agent Henriksen!" Sam said. He stood up quickly- too quickly, he swayed a moment.

"Sit back down, Sam," Victor Henriksen said.

"When was the last time you slept, dude?" Dean asked.

Sam gave his brother a look, but sat back down.

"You got here fast," Dean said.

Henriksen shrugged. "I was in the area because of another case," he said. "Anyway, don't take this the wrong way, but I'd hoped that I wouldn't see you boys again."

Sam smiled wanly. "No problem, Agent," he said. "I wasn't looking forward to seeing you again either."

"So, I've already read your statement, Dean. Sam, is there anything you can add?"

"Probably not," Sam said, glancing at Jess. "Jess is my girlfriend, we've been living together for over a year now- since the start of the last school year- and the cultists just used her to get to me. I think she was just wounded accidentally in the struggle."

"About that…" Henriksen started.

Sam sighed. "I think we've had this talk before."

"Yes, we have. Call the cops next time," Henriksen said. "I know John taught you two to defend yourselves, but you really should leave this stuff to the professionals." He sighed. "Now that I've given you the scolding my bosses wanted me to, how are you?"

"Sam and I just have bruises," Dean said. "It's Jess that was hurt."

"And if we'd called the cops, she'd have been hurt worse, probably even killed," Sam said. He was absolutely certain of that. His dreams had shown him that much.

Henriksen nodded. "Knowing these cultists like we do, I'd have to say yes. What do you plan to do now, Sam?" he asked.

Sam sighed. "Jess's parents will be here in a few hours," he said. "They're flying in. I guess I'll need to pick them up at the airport."

"Sam, I think he means long term."

Sam sighed. "Leave," he said. "The cultists are targeting others again. I'm not going to put Jess in anymore danger. It's part of the reason I went to Stanford in the first place- Dad and Dean were getting targeted."

Henriksen nodded. "I understand, Sam," he said. "Have you heard from your father yet?"

Sam shook his head. "He was trying to lead the cultists away from me; he went under the radar a few weeks ago."

The FBI agent nodded, but he didn't look happy. "Understood," he said. "But he should be here with you," he said.

"It's not like Dad knew about this," Dean said. "Not even… well, there's no way anyone could have known."

Henriksen nodded. "It's just bad timing," he said.

Sam sighed. It was bad timing, but he couldn't be entirely sure that it wasn't planned. It would be just perfect if it was. At least he knew that it wasn't John Winchester who had planned it this way if it'd been planned.

Didn't mean he wasn't going to give Azazel an earful if that was the case. Sam rather hoped that it wasn't part of some plan, to be honest.

He sighed and focused back on the subject at hand.

Dean was staring at him. "Sam, you shouldn't have to give all this up," he said.

Sam nodded. "You're right," he said angrily. "I shouldn't have to give up a full ride. We shouldn't have had to move at least twice a year when we were kids. Mom shouldn't have died when I wasn't even two months old. You shouldn't have had to grow up knowing that people thought your brother would end the world. I shouldn't have had to grow up like that…"

He cut himself off, and headed for the bed Jess lay in. "None of it should have happened," he said. "But it did. And now I have to deal with the consequences." He sat down next to her.

Henriksen sighed. "I'm sorry, Sam," he said. "I should have been able to…

"Don't," Dean said. "The cultists are too good at hiding. There was nothing any of you or your people could do about them. They won't stop. At least you managed to get them classified as terrorists."

Sam sighed. "They're not going to stop until I'm dead, they're all dead, or they're all in prison," he said. "And they're just too good at hiding."

Henriksen sighed again. "I just feel that I should do more for you boys," he said. "No one should be chased like this, Hunted like this, because of some prophecy that isn't worth the paper it's printed on."

Sam smiled slightly. "Thank you, Agent," he said softly.

Beside him, Jess turned her head toward him. She opened her eyes and smiled slightly when she saw Sam sitting next to her. "Hi, Jess," Sam said quietly, Henriksen forgotten for the moment.

Behind Sam, Dean jerked his head to the door. He and the FBI agent left, leaving Jess and Sam alone for a moment.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Victor studied Dean for a long moment. "You and Sam are hiding something," he said.

Dean shrugged. "Yeah, we are," he said. "It's nothing major, Agent, nothing anyone can help us with."

"Does it relate to the cult?" Victor asked.

"Only in the sense that I need to convince Sam not to leave his girlfriend because of them," Dean said.

Victor snorted. "You Winchesters are all far too stubborn," he said. "Good luck with that," he said.

Dean sighed. "Yeah, I know," he said. "If only I could find a way… But Sam is convinced that Jess will hate him. She knew about the cultists before this, before you ask, but Sam still thinks she'll hate him."

Victor sighed. "I'll be in touch, Dean," he said. "You still have my cell phone number, right?"

"Yeah, we do," Dean said.
"Be careful."

"Of course," Dean said. "Good luck catching the cultists."

He didn't sound like he believed Victor was actually going to have any luck. Victor didn't blame him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I can't change your mind, can I?" Jess asked.

Sam shook his head. "I'd stay if I could, but it's too dangerous for you," he said.

"Why?" Jess asked. "The cultists were stopped."

Sam sighed. She knew he was still reeling from her parent's visit and their complete disapproval of him. Now, he had said that he needed to leave. Jess was nearly completely healed now, and Sam was leaving.

"It's more then that," Sam said. "There's more of them out there. And I've been…" he stopped and ran his hands through his hair. "It's bad, Jess," he said. "I won't ever be able to keep you safe from them if I don't go. And, well, you know how I've been trying to tell you something for a while?"

Jess nodded. She looked over at where Dean was standing by the door. Dean just nodded at Sam.

Sam nodded and sat down on the couch next to her. "I haven't been able to find the words for a while now," he said. "I was thinking about telling you the day we were attacked. I figured Dean could help me. Or he could help me move out if you didn't believe me. But then you were hurt by the Hunters."

"Hunters?" Jess asked.

"That's what they call themselves. That's what we call them."

"What do they Hunt, beside you?" Jess asked.

"Evil," Sam said. "Supernatural evil."

Jess sighed. "Sam, they believe that you're the antichrist, or whatever. They probably Hunt innocents who just happen to have something odd happen around them."

Sam sighed. "For the most part, no, they don't," he said. "They're right, in a way." He snorted. "The supernatural exists. Ghosts, witches, werewolves, they all exist. So do demons."

"Sam, quit teasing me."

"He's not, Jess," Dean said. "The world around us is full of more then just humans," he said.

Jess stared at Dean, then at Sam.

Sam sighed. "I've wanted to tell you for months," he said. "I just wasn't sure how."

"Are they right about you?" she asked.

"Only in the sense that they've pushed me on that path," Sam said softly. "If it wasn't for them, I'd just be another college student. Mostly."

He sighed. "I… when we were attacked when I was a baby, Dad and Mom didn't defeat the Hunters on their own. A demon possessed Dad and stopped them. He wasn't able to save Mom, but he did manage to save the three of us."

Dean nodded. "That demon- Azazel- has helped us, Jess. He's got some plan for us, but all he's done to us is protect us from the Hunters. He's gone off to get things set up, and Dad's gone with him."

"A demon," Jess said skeptically.

Sam nodded. "Azazel is a very powerful, very high level demon," he said. "He protects us."

Jess closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She opened her eyes and turned to Sam. "Are the… Hunters right about you?"

Sam nodded. "Only in a very broad sense. I don't want to destroy the world- just… it's complicated. They made it a self-fulfilling prophecy," he said. "If they hadn't attacked my home, Dad wouldn't have been driven to protect Dean and I, and I doubt we would have met Azazel until I was… well, right about now, actually," he frowned. "It's a very long story," he said. "But I don't want to kill everyone, I promise."

Jess nodded. "I need to think," she said.

Sam closed his eyes. "I know," he said. "I'm ready to go."

He stood up, but she pulled him back down. "Sam, it's a lot to think about, but I still love you."

Sam smiled sadly. "Let the shock fade," he said. "But I'll always love you, Jess."

She pulled him into a kiss. His eyes were very bright when he pulled away and stood up. "Jess, I've got a friend who will be coming here to keep you safe. She won't hurt you, but I don't know if she'll introduce herself to you."

"What's her name?" Jess asked.

"I think she's calling herself Meg right now, but I'm not sure," Sam said. "Just… I want to make sure that the Hunters won't come after you again, and if they do, I want you to be protected. I love you, Jess," he said.

He stepped back. "Let's go," he told Dean roughly.

Dean stared at him. "I'll take care of him," he promised Jess.

Jess watched as Sam walked out the door. It had obviously something that hurt for him to do.

She wished she could comfort him, but she wasn't sure if he was really telling her the truth. She believed he believed it. Jess closed her eyes. She had some research to do.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Dean glanced at his brother out of the corner of his eye. Sam had been silent nearly the entire trip, except for when he had to speak, like when they were ordering in diners or when Dean sent Sam in to get motel rooms.

Sam was grieving, almost as much as he would be if Jess had died. "You know, she doesn't hate you," Dean said.

"Once it sinks in, she will," Sam said. "Dean, I'm destined to help bring about the apocalypse. I was just fooling myself thinking I could ever have a relationship that didn't end with the girl hating me."

"Sammy…" Dean trailed off. "Jess is a smart woman. She loves you. She'll understand."

Sam didn't say anything as Dean turned into the driveway.

"Home base," Dean said as he looked up at the large mansion.

Once Dean parked in the large garage, Sam slid out of the car and headed for the trunk.

Dean sighed. He'd left Sam's cell phone number with Jess, as well as Dean's own number, and he hoped she'd call soon.

Dean got out just as Sam pulled out his two duffels. "Let's go," Sam said. "I want to take a shower and then sleep for about twelve hours."

Dean huffed. "Remember, you haven't been here in nearly four years," Dean said.

"It can wait," Sam replied. "I just want to sleep."

Dean sighed and collected his duffle. The rest of Sam's stuff would be fine in the car until later. Sam hadn't taken much anyway- anything that wasn't personal in nature had stayed with Jess.

Sam headed for the entrance. Dean watched as he hesitated just before entering. "I didn't plan on returning until I had a degree," Sam said quietly.

"I know," Dean replied. "Everyone agreed that was the best plan."

"I know," Sam said. "I never expected to…"

"Yeah," Dean said. He forced a smile. "Come on, little brother, let's grab some showers and some sleep."

Sam nodded but didn't smile back.

They were, luckily, able to sneak in without anyone noticing they were there. Dean ran interference until Sam was in bed, and then headed down to let the housekeepers know they were there.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam rolled over, reaching out for Jess, only to find she wasn't there.

Sam opened his eyes. For a moment, he wasn't sure where he was, but then he recognized the walls of the room. His room back at the home base, the one he'd grown up in, when he and his family wasn't on the road to get away from Hunters, at least.

Sam smiled sadly. He'd had an unusual childhood, but he knew that had been out of his father's hands. John Winchester had done his best to make sure his sons had the best childhood they could. It hadn't been John's fault that the Hunters had been obsessed with killing a then-innocent boy.

Sam tilted his head back. His life hadn't been easy, and if he could have traded it for a normal childhood, he would have- he'd have given anything to have his mother survive that night.

Chapter Text

June 21, 1983

"Come on, Sammy," four year old Dean Winchester said.

Seven week old Sammy gurgled, and waved his hand around, but beyond that, the newborn didn't do anything

Dean laughed anyway. Sammy gurgled again. Mary leaned over them both. "Come on, Dean. It's time for you and Sammy to go to bed."

"Ok, Mommy," Dean said. "Can I help get him ready?"

Mary smiled. "Of course, and then we'll get you ready."

Dean "helped" his mother get Sammy ready for bed before getting ready for bed himself.

Mary tucked him into bed and returned downstairs. Dean waited a minute or two before sneaking out of his room, and down the hall into Sammy's nursery. He did this every night, and he wasn't going to miss a night. He had to watch Sammy go to sleep, and make sure the monster in the closet didn't get his brother before Sammy was asleep.

He had to be a big brother to Sammy. He entered the room and screamed.

The three men who were gathered around Sammy's crib whirled around.

"The other boy," one of them snarled.

Dean, instinctively, knew that they were here to hurt Sammy. "Leave Sammy alone!" he shouted.

"Shut him up," the one who was apparently the leader said.

The oldest of the men reached out to grab the four year old. "Poor kid. Older brother to the antichrist. We should probably put him out of his misery too."

Dean ducked, just like he did when John tried to get him to take a bath. The man had managed to get a grip on Dean's left shoulder, and pain bloomed even as he escaped. Dean ran between the legs of the man and clambered up the side of the crib, just as Mary appeared in the door way.

The men were distracted from the boys as John appeared beside her.

Dean folding himself around Sammy, who was crying now. Dean began to cry too. His shoulder hurt so much, and he was so scared.

Mary launched herself at the men with a wild yell. Dean watched, wide eyed, as John, again, followed her lead. The fight was brutal, but his parents were winning.

Dean just barely heard the front door crash open and more people run up the stairs.

John was ready to meet them, trusting Mary to handle the ones already in the nursery.

Dean whimpered as one of the two remaining men got behind Mary and grabbed her head. The loud crack echoed through the room.

The man turned to his companion. "Kill them," he said, nodding at the crib. "Better kill the older boy, just to be safe, like Jeff suggested."

Dean clutched Sammy to him, even though it hurt his shoulder, and Sammy screamed in pain. He wouldn't let the other man hurt Sammy.

"Please," the little boy whimpered. "Don't hurt Sammy."

The man hesitated. "Sorry, kiddo," he said. "But…"

"You're not going to touch them."

Dean looked up. His father stood at the doorway. "Daddy!" Dean yelled.

John flicked his gaze to Dean for an instant. "Protect your brother, Dean," he ordered, before turning his attention to the men still in the room. He saw Mary on the floor and sighed. "I see I was too late," he said. Dean's eyes widened as his Dad's eyes turned yellow.

The men brought their guns up, but John just gestured, and they both hit the wall.

Dean gasped. His dad was a superhero! He had to be!

Sammy had quieted, and one hand grasped Dean's finger. Both boys were wide eyed as they watched John deal with the attackers. "You are fools," he said. "That baby there? He's innocent. Completely human. He could have been a Hunter, you know. You attacked an innocent family. But now they have my attention, thanks to you, and yes, I think I can use him, and his older brother. Of course, I'll need their father's permission, but I think John will give it to me, especially after you Hunters killed his wife for nothing."

"You're lying!" One of the men said.

John laughed. "Not really," he said. "Little Sammy, there? He's just a little baby. Can't even hold his head up yet. He's human. His brother? The one you were going to kill just in case? He's also completely human. Just two little boys you Hunters thought were a danger. They certainly aren't yet, but I think I can make them into a danger to all Hunters. But you know what, boys? I wouldn't even be here tonight if it weren't for you Hunters."

"Demons lie!" the other said.

"Not when the truth hurts more," John said. He chuckled, low and intense, and that made the hair on the back of Dean's neck stand up. His dad didn't sound like that. "I think killing one of you should make a point. Those boys- they're off limits."

John flicked his hand and the leader's neck twisted. John allowed him to fall, before turning his attention to the last of the men. "You are really a fool," he said. "But you're young, and I bet that you haven't been Hunting long. You're going to go to prison, now, and you'll probably get out in…" he shrugged. "Well, before you're ninety, at least," he finished. "I suggest you stay away from Hunting and Hunters. It's because of them that you went after an innocent little baby. He flicked his hand again, but this time, the man's head just bounced off the wall, and John allowed him to crumple to the ground unconscious.

John turned to look at the crib. "Dean, it's alright. You're safe now," he said. He reached in and began to check both boys out. Sammy screamed when John pressed gently on the baby's ribs, and John pulled back.

"Broken ribs," he said quietly. "What about you, Dean?"

"My shoulder hurts," Dean said warily. This wasn't his dad. "Who are you?"

John chuckled. "Smart kid," he said. "I'm glad I got to see that. Don't worry, I'm here to help."

"You hurt those men."

"They were going to hurt your brother," John said.

Dean stared at him. "Why are your eyes yellow?"

John blinked and his eyes were normal again. Dean stared at him. "Dean, I need you to keep quiet about that," he said. "The police are coming."

"What do I need to do?"

"Just say that your mother and father managed to stop these men, but not before they hurt your mother," John said. He knelt down and gathered Mary in his arms. "Oh, Mary, your husband would be weeping right now," he said softly as he bowed his head. "He is weeping, though he can't show it. I'll give you the honor that he can't right now. He'll be able to, tomorrow."

The police entered the room then. Dean shrank back, pulling Sammy, who was still whimpering, back with him. But the ordeal was over- or perhaps it was just beginning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

July 1, 1983

John Winchester looked up at the knock to the door of the hotel room he was staying in with his two sons. He hadn't been able to stay in the house where his wife had been killed, and he'd had to get away from the media frenzy that had begun. At least he'd managed to keep his son's names away from the press. He was just glad the press hadn't gone looking for the names, or if they had, they'd respected the fact that the boys were minors.

John looked out of the peephole. An unfamiliar, middle-aged man stood there. John opened the door, but kept the chain up. The man smiled. "Howdy, John," he said. "I told you I'd come see you, once things were a little more settled." His eyes flared yellow for just a moment.

John froze for an instant, and then fumbled with the chain. "Yes," he said shakily. "You… thank you. You saved my boys," he said.

The man smiled. "I did," he said. He stepped in to the room and glanced around. Dean and Sammy were both asleep in the crib the hotel had provided. The man frowned as he saw the cast on Dean's shoulder and the way Sammy's ribs were bound. "Are they going to be alright?"

"Sammy has two broken ribs and Dean's left shoulder was cracked, but they're both alive," John said.

The man brushed Dean's hair back and the little boy sighed and curled around his brother as the man ran his hand over the baby's head. "They'll be fine, then," he said.

John nodded. "Thank you," he said. "But I don't know…"

The man smiled. "First off, my name is Azazel, John. I'm afraid I have a lot to tell you, and you're probably not going to like most of it."

John sighed. "The men who killed Mary…" he paused and changed tactics. "The survivor is claiming that Sammy's going to end the world. He's yelling that I'm a demon and Dean's in danger. No one is taking him seriously, thank God, but it's hard to deal with."

"Well, you're not a demon, Dean isn't in any danger from you, and little Sammy is only going to end the world if he wants to. And even then, things are a bit more complicated then that," Azazel said, amused.

"But you're a demon," John said. "And you possessed me that night, didn't you?"

Azazel chuckled. "I see that your boy gets his intelligence from more then just his mother. Yes, I am, and yes I did. I let you stay awake for it so you would know what was going on, what happened to the Hunters."

John sighed. "God," he muttered.

"Oh, he's around somewhere," Azazel said. "Probably none too pleased with the Hunters, but he's around."

John sat down on the bed hard. "So, demons exist, so does God. What about angels? Satan?"

Azazel laughed. "Angels exist. I was the son of an angel and a human woman. Satan much prefers Lucifer- he's my father, before you ask." The demon sat down next to John.

John laughed hollowly. "Of course," he said.

Azazel sighed. "This might be a mistake," he said quietly. "But I believe that you can understand what I'm about to tell you."

John took a deep breath. Panic later, marine! He told himself. "Alright," he said. "I'll listen."

Azazel sighed and brought his hands together. "Your boys have potential," he said. "They're both very special, and like it or not, they're going to be involved in the coming events. Now, if the Hunters hadn't attacked you, I suspect they would have become Hunters themselves."

"What? They would have become people willing to attack infants?" John said.

"No," Azazel said. "Not all Hunters are the same, John. There are those who would have been appalled to hear of this attack- those who are appalled. Your sons, I think, would have been excellent Hunters. And they probably would have been a big problem for me as they got older."

"Why are you telling me this?" John asked. "I mean, I'm no expert, but demons always want things from humans, in the stories, anyway."

Azazel nodded. "Yes, we do," he said. "I see you've been looking for answers."

John shrugged. "When I can," he said. "I haven't found much that I believe, though."

Azazel sighed. "To answer the question you're not asking, yes, I do want something from you." He paused, as if trying to decide how to say something. "I am searching for children, special children," he started.

John looked at him sharply. "You just said my sons were special," he said.

Azazel nodded. "Very good, John," he said. "Yes, they are." He leaned back. "I admit, Sammy meets my needs rather more then Dean, simply because he is a newborn, but they both have that… spark, that sense to them." He studied John. "You do as well, and so did Mary," he said frankly. "I'm not surprised to see they both have it so strongly."

John closed his eyes. "Your needs?" he rumbled, once he opened his eyes and stared at Azazel.

The demon laughed. "Relax, John, I'm not here to take Sammy. I just… Sammy could be very powerful one day."

John looked away. "Then why are you telling me all this?" he asked. "I doubt it's out of the goodness of your heart."

Azazel laughed, throwing his head back in what looked like genuine delight. "Oh, no, nothing like that. You see, I'd like to return here, or wherever you're staying, if you're not back in your home by then, on the night Sammy turns six months old. There is a ritual that I've performed before on likely children. It's best done on the night they turn six months old. But I need their parent's permission."

"And parents just give you their permission?"

Azazel shook his head. "Of course not, John!" he said. "I make deals with young adults, ones that will probably have children that have potential. I give them something they want and, ten years later, I return and perform the ritual on the infants."

John narrowed his eyes. "Sammy won't be an infant in ten years."

"But I did save him already, without making a deal with you," Azazel pointed out. "Anyway, ten years ago, I made a deal with Mary."

"What?" John asked.

Azazel nodded. "Do you remember the night her parents died?"

John frowned. That night was rather fuzzy, but he essentially remembered it. "Pretty much, yes," he said.

"I bet it's pretty hard to remember, though," he said. "You see, John, you died that night too."

"What?"

"Mary had just lost everything. Her parents, you, her hopes for the future. I offered to bring you back in exchange for a favor in ten years."

John didn't say anything for a long time. "I died?" he finally asked.

"You were only gone for a couple of minutes, at the most," Azazel offered. "You can think of it as if you received a supernatural version of CPR."

John buried his head in his hands. He would not fall apart in front of the demon. After a long time just sitting there, he looked up. Azazel was over by the crib again, staring down at the boys.

"Why are you telling me this?" John asked.

Azazel looked over at him. "Mary gave me her permission- implicit though it was. But that permission was revoked with her death. I need yours."

John took a deep breath. "What do you do?"

Azazel frowned at him. "Is that important?"

"Before I give you permission, I want to know what you want to do to my son."

Azazel sighed. "John, I said Sammy had potential," he said. "What I want to do is something that will, once he grows up, help that potential become a reality."

John was not stupid; he knew when he was being given the run around, even by a demon. He forced down all fear, astonishment, worry, and everything else that would keep him from protecting his son. "What do you do?"

Azazel sighed again. "Stubborn," he muttered. "Is this really necessary, John?"

"Yes," John said. "We are talking about my son."

Azazel shook his head and chuckled briefly. "You, my friend, are dangerous. I think it's a good thing you didn't become a Hunter."

John stared at him.

"It's very simple. Most humans need some sort of event to realize their potential, be it regular, normal potential, or the type of potential that your sons have. In the case of supernatural potential, that event is often traumatic. What I do is provide a trigger." He frowned. "I feed the child a few drops of my blood, in effect adopting them and gifting them with a measure of power to awaken their own."

John stared at him. "You…"

"Yes, John, you heard me correctly."

John shuddered. "What does it do to the children?" He glared at the demon. "Tell me everything. I'm not going to let anyone do anything to my son that might hurt him."

Azazel held up his hands. "It won't hurt him, John, I promise." He shook his head. "Hunters would say that it damns him, however. But then, Hunters tried to kill both your sons for some reason."

"Why did they do that?" John asked, allowing himself to be sidetracked for a moment.

"I don't know, but I will find out," Azazel promised. "I'm curious, since there's no reason your family should have been targeted. Anyway, it will awaken his power, but only when he's an adult and ready for it- twenty one or twenty two. Beyond that, might make him a little more prone to anger then he'd normally be, but it shouldn't do much more then that if he doesn't want it to."

"And if he does?" John rumbled. He studied the demon. Azazel seemed to be telling the truth, but he wasn't entirely sure.

Azazel shrugged. "It might do nothing. If he wanted it to, it might lead him to find a way to become a demon himself- or at least, partially a demon. No one can become a full demon without going to Hell."

John nodded slowly. "Any other drawbacks?"

Azazel shook his head. "If he's found out, he'll be Hunted, but that's already happening. Depending on his powers, this may help protect him."

John nodded slowly. "What about Dean?" he asked.

Azazel looked over at the crib, startled. "Dean?" he asked.

"You did say he had potential as well. And those men were going to kill him, just because he got in the way."

Azazel smirked slightly. "Yes and just based on what I've seen, Dean is going to continue to "get in the way" of anyone who comes after Sammy."

John nodded, a slight smile curling his lips.

"But I'm not sure it'd be a good idea," Azazel said. "Dean's potential is… very different. If I hadn't taken a good look at him last week, I might have missed it. Besides which, he's older. I've never given this gift to a child above the age of one. But I could do it." Azazel smirked. "I would have done it, if he was younger or the ten years were up earlier."

John nodded once. He stared at the crib his sons slept in. They had had to sedate Dean to prevent him from panicking at the hospital when they'd separated the boys to be checked out. Sammy had screamed during the entire time, until Dean had been brought in. "They're already so close," he whispered.

"They shared a very traumatic experience, even if Sammy never remembers it."

John looked over at Azazel. "If you do this, it'll protect them?"

"It will help," Azazel said. "There's no guarantee, I'm afraid."

John closed his eyes. "I'll let you do it," he said. "To both of them."

Azazel smiled.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

November 2, 1983

Sammy and Dean had both settled down to sleep easily enough, but John had been too nervous to even think about going to bed.

He sat down only to jump back up a second later and start pacing. Sammy was six months old today. Azazel should be coming back tonight sometime.

The doorbell rang. John jumped, startled nearly out of his wits.

He laughed at himself and headed for the door. "Howdy, John," the man on the doorstop said as he opened it.

John frowned at him until his eyes flashed yellow. "You look different," he said as he let the demon in.

Azazel nodded. "I'm a demon, John. My previous host was wanted by the police for several murders. I had to leave him eventually. This one is simply an ordinary, lonely man. I'll return him to his home with no memory of tonight."

"Do you have to change… hosts… often?" John asked. He'd spent a lot of time researching demons, but most of what he'd found was odd, and probably written by Hunters.

"No, but I prefer not to take them for too long. I'm more powerful then other demons and most humans have trouble containing me for long periods of time," Azazel said. "I think you'd have no troubles, but like I said, you have that spark."

He looked around. "Are the boys asleep?"

John sighed. "They're in bed. Dean's been having a lot of nightmares lately, so he may be awake. And Sammy…" John shook his head. "It's almost as if he knows something is going to happen."

Azazel smiled. "That wouldn't surprise me," he said. He nodded decisively. "Sammy first, I think," he said.

John tensed up. "Right," he stammered. He couldn't believe that he was actually doing this. Still, he turned and led the demon up the stairs.

Azazel shook his head at him. "Relax, John, this won't hurt your children. I'll be surprised if they wake up."

John took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, I just…"

Azazel chuckled as he entered the nursery. "There's a reason I tend to do this without explaining things to the parents first," he said quietly.

John leaned over the crib. Sammy was awake, and he babbled up at his father. "He's awake," John said.

Azazel leaned over, a small knife in his left hand. "Well, that will make this a little simpler," he said. "Hey there, Sammy," he said quietly as he cut his wrist.

John watched, eyes wide, as three or four drops of blood dripped down to land on Sammy's parted lips.

Sammy had gone quiet and was staring up at Azazel.

The demon nodded as the last drop hit Sammy's mouth and ran his hand over his wrist.

John leaned down to check on Sammy, who grinned and started to babble at John again.

"He'll be fine," Azazel said. "And unless you tell him, he'll never know it happened." The demon reached down and traced Sammy's face. "He's got such potential," he said.

Sammy reached up and grabbed the demon's finger. The demon laughed. "Now, I should probably go see Dean," he said. "This will be interesting."

He hesitated out in the hall, however. "Which room is Dean's?" he asked.

For some reason, that made John smile, but he pointed out Dean's door without saying anything.

Azazel entered Dean's room silently. The four year old was fast asleep, but his lips were parted as he snored quietly.

Azazel didn't say anything as he cut his wrist again and allowed the blood to fall into Dean's mouth.

John watched from the doorway. He could only hope that this was the right thing to do. The demon healed his wrist and ruffled Dean's hair gently. The little boy rolled into the touch, still asleep.

Azazel smiled down at Dean, then left his room and gestured down the stairs.

John headed for the kitchen and pulled out a bottle of whisky that he'd bought just for tonight. "Would you like some?" he asked.

"Certainly," Azazel said.

John set the bottle down and pulled out two glasses. Azazel studied the bottle before smiling. "You have good taste, John," he said.

John poured them both generous measures of the whisky. "I bought it for tonight," John admitted. "Though I wasn't sure if I was going to drink it if you did or didn't show up." He tossed back his shot. "So, it's done," he said after a moment. "What next?"

Azazel downed his shot and grinned. "Excellent," he said. "You raise your sons," he said. "You don't have to tell them about tonight. In fact, you probably shouldn't tell them. Sammy might think that what happened to his mother was his fault. It wasn't, by the way. That was purely the Hunters."

"What about Hunters?" John asked. "I've been doing a bit of research, and there are a lot of them around."

Azazel nodded. "Yes, there are, but I'm keeping my eye on them. If they decide to come after Sammy again, I'll warn you. Luckily, none of them seem to know why your attackers came after you in the first place." He snorted. "I'm still trying to figure that one out too, actually."

John nodded and poured two more shots.

Azazel savored this one, and John copied him. "John, before I go, I wanted to talk to you about Mary," he said.

"What about her?" John asked. "She made a deal with you, didn't she?"

Azazel nodded. "There's a bit more to it," he said. "She was a Hunter, once."

John froze. "What?" he croaked.

"She wanted out of that life. That's part of why she made a deal, you know. Because she wanted to get away from her Hunting roots."

John sat back. "I never…"

"No," Azazel said. "She wouldn't have told you, because there was no reason for you to know. She never planned to need the information again. She couldn't have known that Hunters would attack you. Hunters leave, sometimes. This is the first time that I know of where a former Hunter was attacked by other Hunters. There's no reason…" he shook his head. "I wonder if that's a reason they attacked, because she was a former Hunter."

They sat in silence for a long time.

"I need to go," the demon said eventually.

John nodded. "Good luck," he said. "With… whatever you're doing."

Azazel grinned. "You're a brave and interesting man, John Winchester," he said. "Raise the boys well."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

June 22, 1985

John laughed, his deep chuckles a counterpoint to Sammy and Dean's high pitched giggles.

John was mowing his lawn. Dean was helping by pushing the mower and Sammy sat on the driveway, watching them both.

Azazel sighed as he watched. It had been a year and a half since he had gifted the Winchester boys, and he was grateful to see that they all seemed to be recovering from Mary's loss. He'd kept a closer eye on them then on the rest of his chosen children, just because Hunters had already recognized them as a threat.

He hated to take this normalcy away from Dean and Sammy so soon. It would have been useful if they had remained away from everything, so that when they learned what they had, they'd be in awe.

His current host was a teenaged boy who had run away from home about two months ago. He didn't look too out of place around the neighborhood, thankfully.

John noticed him watching and eyed him for just a moment. Azazel sighed and crossed the street. John really was very perceptive for a human.

John stopped the lawnmower right next to Azazel. "Any particular reason you're watching us?" he asked.

Dean looked up at Azazel with narrowed eyes. Sammy stood up and toddled over to them, staring at Azazel. "Yellow!" he declared.

Azazel looked down at Sammy in astonishment. "I… what?"

"Yellow!" Sammy said more forcefully.

Dean tilted his head, frowning.

John glanced down at Sammy, then at Azazel. "Azazel?" he asked cautiously.

The demon nodded, still staring at Sammy. "Amazing," he murmured.

"What is it?" John asked. "Did Sammy…?"

"I believe he just might have," Azazel said.

Dean leaned forward and tugged on John's shirt. "Daddy? Who's that?"

John looked down. "He's a friend, Dean," he said. "Though I haven't seen him in a while."

Azazel nodded down at Dean. "Hello, Dean. I haven't seen you in a couple of years now. You've certainly grown."

The boy stared at him solemnly. "You're different," he said bluntly.

John sighed. "Dean, be nice," he chided gently.

"No, John, Dean's right," Azazel said. The demon sighed. "I have bad news. I found out why the Hunters attacked you two years ago. Worse, some of the other Hunters found out why. They're coming here, John."

John took a step back. Azazel watched him carefully. "How long?"

Azazel sighed. "Two days, at the most. You need to take your sons and go."

John closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Right," he said as he opened them. "Dean, get Sammy into the house. I'll put the lawn mower away, and then we'll get read to go on a trip."

Azazel watched as John did as he said. "Do you want to come in?" John asked.

Azazel shook his head, but handed John a slip of paper. "Go here. It's a safe house my family maintains. They'll know you're coming, and you'll be safe there for a while."

John glanced at the paper before shoving it in his pocket. "Thank you," he said.

Azazel nodded. "Oh, and wear this," he said, handing John a small charm necklace. "It shows that you're under my protection. The boys are fine, but you'll need it."

John looked at it strangely but put it on.

Azazel just nodded at him and walked down the street. As soon as he was out of John's sight, he found a deserted alley and left his host. The boy would be fine in a few hours, if confused why he was in Kansas and not California.

Azazel went back to the Winchester house and watched, invisible, until he saw that John was taking his warning seriously.

Azazel left, thinking about the prophecy he'd learned. The one that he knew didn't actually have any power, but clearly the Hunters had believed it, and if they kept it up, they'd make it come true. Not that Azazel minded if that happened, he just didn't like the idea of losing Sammy Winchester before he could really use him.

~~~~~~~~~~~

June 25, 1985

John stared up at the large house- a mansion, really- as he got out of the Impala. Automatically, he got Sammy out of his car seat as Dean jumped down next to him. "We're here, Daddy?" Dean asked.

John nodded. "We'll be staying here for a bit, Dean," he said. "Come on Sammy," he continued as he put the wiggling toddler down.

"Daddy, big house," Sammy said.

"Yes, it is," John said. "What do you think, bud?"

"Yellow man's been here," Sammy said. "An' it won't hurt us."

John shook his head and turned back to close the doors of the car. He didn't know how Sammy knew Azazel had yellow eyes.

The front door opened. John turned around slowly, carefully. He eyed the man and woman who stood on the porch. The woman- she looked to be in her early twenties, with dark hair and eyes- bounded down. "You're John, I take it?" she said. "And this would be Sammy and Dean."

He nodded slowly. "Yes," he said. "You are?"

She tilted her head slightly. "Well, howdy, then. Call me Beth. I'm Azazel's daughter. This is my brother."

"Call me Tom," the man said.

John blinked. "Azazel has children?" he managed. Then he sighed. "Never mind. I probably don't want to know. Dean, no, stay with your brother," he called as Dean began to wander over to the lawn.

"Daddy can't Sammy and I explore?"

"We have to get everything out of the car first, son," John said. "And then I want you two to take a nap. We'll see after that."

"No nap!" Sammy said. "I'm not tired!"

"Alright, buddy, but I want you to lay down for a bit," John said.

Sammy frowned at John but nodded obediently.

Beth came around and grabbed a couple of the duffle bags out of the trunk of the Impala. "They're cuter then I expected," she said conversationally. "And how do you get a two year old to obey you like that?"

John sighed. "Lots of bribes," he said with a smile.

Dean stared up at Beth. "Why are you all black inside?" he asked.

She blinked down at him before staring at John. John shrugged. "I just see an attractive woman. My sons are… different. It's something Azazel did, I think."

"It's never worked so well," Beth said. "Father has been trying for a while now, but nothing's ever come of it. Maybe it's because you're not frightened by it?" she ended with a question.

John shrugged. "I don't even understand it," he protested.

Tom came around and grabbed the rest of the bags. "Maybe this time, it'll work."

John sighed. "What exactly is he trying to do?"

Beth shrugged. "He won't tell us. But ten or fifteen years ago, he started trying harder. We don't know why."

John sighed. "Great, just great," he muttered.

"Daddy, what are you talking about?" Dean asked.

John forced a smile. "Grown up stuff, sport. I'll explain when you're older."

Dean frowned at him.

Beth smirked down at the two boys. "I like them," she said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

November 2, 1991

"Dad, why are we moving again?" Dean asked.

John sighed. "Because we have to, Dean," he said.

"Why?" Sam asked.

John turned to the eight year old. Sam was standing near the window, frowning. It looked like his sons were in agreement on this one. They didn't want to leave.

"Sammy, we're moving because we have to be safe."

"Safe from what?" Dean demanded. "We move all the time and you never tell us why."

Azazel, who was currently in the body of a matronly old woman (something that had made John laugh the first time he'd seen this host), chuckled. "There are people in this world who are dangerous," Azazel said.

Sam favored Azazel with a completely unimpressed look. "I know that," he said flatly. "I want to know who's chasing us."

John sighed. "Can it wait until we're somewhere safe?" he asked. "I don't want either of you hurt."

Sam nodded. After a moment, Dean did too.

"Good. Get the rest of the stuff from the bathroom, and then head to the car. We leave in ten."

Dean turned and headed for the bathroom while Sam went into the room he and Dean shared to grab the last small duffle.

As soon as he heard the front door close behind them and he knew they couldn't hear, John closed his eyes and started to curse.

Azazel waited until John stopped before speaking. "I'm sorry, John," the demon said.

"It's not your fault," John said. "It's those damn Hunters again."

The demon nodded. "I think you should head back to the safe house for a few months. It always takes them longer to find out after you head there."

John sighed and nodded. "I want to get this group off our tails. It only took them three months to find us again this time."

"Going to the safe house will help," Azazel said. "It took them nearly three years to find you again after the last time you went there."

John nodded. "If we're not careful they're both going to be held back a year," he muttered.

Azazel didn't say anything for a long moment as Sam passed though the room again. "I don't understand why you insist on schooling."

"Several reasons," John said. "The biggest one is the fact that we blend in better if they're in school. And, well, Mary would have insisted on it."

"Ah," Azazel said.

"I'm going to have to tell them about the blood," John said. "And everything that happened when Mary was killed."

"I'm sorry."

John sighed. "I knew this day would come eventually. They're both too smart and suspicious for me to put it off forever."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

November 7, 1991

John paced back and forth as his sons watched him. Beth, still in the same host, was also watching in amusement. There was no one else in the house with them right now.

John knew that the majority of the demons around weren't quite sure what to think of him and his sons, and how they were protected by Azazel. Beth, at least, seemed to like the boys. The rest of them just tolerated them.

His sons knew a lot of things about demons and Azazel, but he'd never told them about Hunters and why demons protected them.

John sighed. Yeah, he had to do this, but he didn't have to like it. Sammy was going to think that it was all his fault, he just knew.

"Dad?" Sam asked.

John realized that he was staring out the window, lost in thought. He turned back around and looked at Dean. "Dean, do you remember the night your Mom died?"

Dean frowned. "Yeah," he said. "What's that got to do with anything?"

John sighed. "Everything," he said. "Alright, Sammy, first off, don't do anything until I'm finished," he said.

Sam frowned at John before nodding.

John took a deep breath and began to explain everything. It took nearly an hour before he was satisfied that they both understood what the Hunters were.

Sam was trying not to cry, John could see. "They attacked because of me?" he asked.

John shook his head. "No," he said. "Never because of you. If they were better Hunters, they would have known that the book of prophesies they found was a fraud. No prophecy from that book has ever come true unless someone set out to prevent it from happening."

"But they killed Mom because she was protecting me," Sam protested.

"She was protecting both of you," John said. "And they killed Mary because they were stupid and misguided. It is not your fault, Sammy, do you understand me?"

Sam nodded slowly, eyes wide. John wasn't sure his son believed him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

March 21, 2001

Sam tore into his room at the mansion. He and his family had returned after they'd been found by Hunters yet again. Once they got there, he'd been told that several large envelopes had arrived for him. He stared at the small pile on his bed and started slowly sorting them out. He didn't open them just yet. He shouldn't be so nervous. If it was bad news, he wouldn't have gotten large envelopes. Right?

Slowly, Sam opened the first envelope. Purposefully, he put off the one from his first choice college to last. He wasn't sure if he wanted to know if he got in or not.

As he read the letters- most of them acceptance letters, though there were a few rejection notices, he grew more and more nervous. Finally, all that was left was the one to Stanford. Slowly, he opened it and pulled out the letter. He read it once, then again. "They're giving me a full ride," he whispered. He read it again.

"Hey, dude, mind telling me what's going on?"

Sam jumped at Dean's voice. His brother was staring at him from the door.

"I've been… planning," Sam finally said. "I need- I can't just rely on everyone to protect me, and I need to do something that no one would expect," he said. "And… I want to do it, too."

"Do what?" John asked as he came up behind Dean.

Sam deflated. "I've been applying to colleges," he said.

Dean frowned. "But… that won't matter, not in six or seven years."

"I know!" Sam said. "But no one would think I'd do it, and I love school, and this way you're not always Hunted, and you can have your own lives, and I can find out if I can live on my own, and I don't…"

"Alright, kiddo, enough," John said.

Sam took a deep breath. "I just wanted to do something on my own for once," he said quietly. "So I could prove that I'm not just a burden."

John sighed. "You're not a burden, Sam," he said. "You're my son, and I'm supposed to take care of you." He shook his head. "So, where did you apply? And who accepted you?"

Sam looked at the pile. "A lot of schools," he said. "And most of them accepted me."

He swallowed. "Stanford offered me a full ride."

Dean grinned. "Go Sammy!" he yelled. "Are you going?"

Sam looked down. "I want to," he said.

John closed his eyes. "You won't be protected," he said.

Sam nodded. "But no one would expect me to go to college," he said. "After all- I'm supposed to be about 25 when I end the world, according to that bogus prophecy. Why would I go to college?"

John chucked. Tina- formerly Beth, but she was in a new body and using a new name- appeared behind him. "So, our own Boy King is going to college?" she asked.

Sam grimaced. "I hate that title," he grumbled.

"Well, are you?" Tina asked.

Sam shrugged. "I want to," he said.

John frowned. "I don't like this, Sammy. You should have mentioned this beforehand."

"I didn't think it would matter," Sam whispered. "I can't believe they accepted me." He held the Stanford letter close to his chest. "I can't believe…"

Dean reached over and ruffled his brother's hair. Sam grabbed Dean's hand and pushed it away. "Stop that," he said.

"Make me," Dean said.

Sam stood up. He was already two inches taller then his brother, and he was pretty sure he wasn't done growing. John moved between his sons before things could degenerate into a wrestling match. "Let me see the letter, Sammy," he said.

Sam handed it over, along with the letter about his scholarship.

John read them slowly, smiling slowly. "You got into Stanford," he finally said. "And got a full ride scholarship, too."

Sam nodded. Tina grabbed the paper next and whistled. "That's scary," she said. "I mean, AC here is way too smart if he managed that."

Sam scowled at the demon. "Whatever you say, she who can't decide on a name."

"Hey, I use my hosts' names. Makes it easier," she said. Tina grinned. "Come on, smarty pants. Azazel will want to know about this."

Dean grinned and grabbed the letter. "I'm going to go tell him!" he shouted and ran out of the room, heading for the ritual room, where they could contact Azazel, still holding the letter.

"Hey! That's mine. And I want to be the one to tell him!" Sam ran after him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Present Day

Sam sighed and sat up. He had a lot to do today, and he was probably going to be tied up in explaining everything all day. Plus, everyone would want to talk to him.

It was going to be a long day.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dean sat at the kitchen table, fiddling with his cereal and reading the newspaper. He and Sam had been at the mansion for three weeks now, and he was starting to get a bit bored.

Sam wasn't recovering well from leaving Jess behind. Jess hadn't called yet, not that Dean was aware of, anyway, but Azazel's daughter, now going by Meg, had called to say that Jess was doing well enough.

Dean sighed. He needed to distract Sam from moping about the house. Dean frowned as he flipped through the paper. He and Sam were mostly just staying here in an attempt to get off the Hunter's radar. No Hunter had ever found this house, after all, and it had always been a safe refuge when they were kids.

Sam wandered in, talking on his cell phone. "No, we haven't heard from Azazel either. Or Dad for that matter," he added.

Dean looked up. Sam glanced at him and mouthed "Meg".

Dean nodded. He listened to Sam's side of the conversation with half an ear. He gathered that Meg didn't have any news for Sam, but maybe Sam was getting some information Dean wasn't.

Dean frowned as he read about several disappearances in Lost Creek, Colorado.

Sam sat down across from him as he ended the call. "What is it?" Sam asked.

"Maybe a Wendigo," Dean said. "But I'd be surprised to see one in Colorado."

Sam frowned. "Maybe it migrated."

Dean snorted. "Well, if it is a Wendigo, then it's probably back in hibernation by now," he said. "Too bad. Guess no Hunter's are going to get to it."

Sam shrugged.

Dean sighed. "Not much else is going on," he said, waving his hands at the stack of newspapers. "Some of the Hunters have been chasing the demons Azazel sent out."

Sam nodded and leaned forward. "What about the other chosen?"

Dean blinked. "You know, I have been giving them much thought. Yeah, they're probably experiencing their powers for the first time, just like you."

Sam nodded. "What about you?"

Dean shook his head. "I don't know, man. I mean, I know I'm technically one of the chosen, but I was a little older when it happened. I might not show any signs."

Sam sighed. "I was just hoping one of us would do better then prophetic dreams."

Dean smirked. "Not very flashy, is it?"

Sam scowled.

Dean nodded. "You'll get something else eventually. And sooner rather then later. Just don't fight it."

"I know, Dean. I had that talk with Azazel when I was fourteen."

"Better that talk then the one we had with Dad," Dean countered. They both shuddered.

"Anyway," Sam said, apparently determined to drag this conversation back on track. "If I'm getting those dreams, then what else is going on?"

Dean nodded. "We probably should take a look at the other chosen," he said. "I mean, they aren't the favorites, but who knows?"

Sam looked up. "There's, what, about fifty in this generation? And that's only if they've all made it to adulthood."

"Something like that," Dean agreed. "Of course, we don't know about all of them, but we can keep an eye on the ones we do know about."

Sam actually smiled. "I'll get started, look them up. You do know what this means, right?"

Dean grinned in response. "Road trip!" he announced gleefully. "Anyway, once you have a location on a few of them, we'll head out."

Sam nodded. "Sure. Some of them might not be in America, of course."

"So let's stick to the ones that are," Dean said. "At least for now."

Sam nodded. "I think… hmmm…" He got up and headed for where he'd left his laptop.

Dean smirked. At least Sam was distracted. His smirk faded as he looked down at the table. He had wondered why he wasn't showing any powers, but he didn't particularly care. Maybe his powers were more subtle. After all, prophetic dreams were a lot more subtle then telekinesis. Maybe he would get something similar. Or maybe the ritual just hadn't worked on him- he was older when it had happened, like he'd said. Azazel hadn't been all that sure if he'd show any powers when he'd talked with Dean about the matter.

Dean picked up his dishes and dropped them in the sink. He and Sam were probably going to be crossing the country a couple of times. It would be a good idea to make sure the Impala was ready to go.

Dean whistled as he headed for the garage. He'd have to keep Sam busy, but he was sure that would be easy enough to do. A road trip would do nicely. It would be a good idea for Sam to check out the competition.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jess sat in the café, working on a paper. She couldn't help but look across the table every few minutes. Normally, Sam would be right there, working on his own homework.

Their friends hadn't really understood why he'd left, but they at least knew that he thought he was putting her in danger. She didn't like it. She returned to her paper. She had to get it finished before the next class in two days.

"You know, I wasn't going to say anything to you, but your bad mood isn't helping me."

Jess looked up, startled. The blond woman she'd seen around campus a few times in the past weeks had slid into the other side of the booth.

Jess scowled. "Who are you?" she asked snappishly. She didn't want to socialize.

The woman smiled at her. "Call me Meg," she said. "I think Sam told you I'd be here to make sure the Hunters don't go after you again."

"You're Sam's friend?" Jess asked. "You know what's out there."

Meg smiled wickedly. "I do," she said. "Of course I do. I'm part of what's out there, believe it or not."

Jess blinked. "You're a…" she couldn't bring herself to say it.

The woman smiled at her, and her eyes filled with black. Jess's eyes widened and she leaned forward. "How do you do that?" she asked.

Meg blinked. When she opened her eyes again, they were normal.

"You want to know how I do that? You aren't scared?"

"Well, of course I do," Jess said. "I'm pre-med, and what you just did shouldn't be biologically possible."

Meg blinked in shock. "That wasn't the reaction I was expecting," she admitted.

Jess favored her with a flat stare. "What, did you expect me to scream? Please. It's a nice trick, but you already said you're here to keep me from getting hurt."

Meg started chuckling. "I like you," she said. "And of course it's biologically impossible, but I'm a demon. We don't have to follow the rules of biology."

Jess glanced at her paper, then saved and shut down her computer. She could finish it later. "Can you tell me about demons?" she asked.

Meg smiled. "Why not?" she asked. "But not here. I know the perfect place."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jess looked around the nightclub. "Sam took me here all the time," she said. "We never had to wait in line. I figured it was because he knew the bouncer."

"He did," Meg said. "Tom is my brother," she said. "Our family runs the place, to give Sam a safe haven while he was in school."

Jess frowned. "You mean…?"

"Sam despises willful blindness. At school, a lot of the professors in his courses had seen things that can't be explained by scientific means, and they refused to believe that something else might have caused them. He needed somewhere to vent. Plus, this allowed us to make sure he remained safe."

"From Hunters," Jess said.

"Yes," Meg replied. "Not that it did a lot of good," she said.

"Why are they after him?"

Meg shrugged. "When he was a baby, some Hunters found a bogus prophecy that said a child would become a leader of a demonic army. And yes, that prophecy is bogus, before you ask. They decided that Sam matched the circumstances from that prophecy and that they would deal with him before it happened."

"So that much is true," Jess said.

"Of course it is," Meg said. She led Jess through the empty club to a back room. "Before Sam met you, he spent a lot more time here, or at the previous club," she said. "He was one of the few people to even know about the back room here."

Jess snorted. "Figures," she said.

Meg grabbed a couple of bottles of water from the mini-fridge. She handed one to Jess and sat down. "Come on, what questions do you have?"

"You're a demon." Jess said. "That means you're a fallen angel, right?"

"No, actually," Meg said. "Very few demons were once angels. Even Azazel, the demon I consider my father, was a nephilim- only half angel. I was human once, a long time ago."

Jess frowned. "Azazel is the demon that's helping Sam, right?"

Meg nodded.

"What do you mean, you consider him your father?"

Meg shrugged. "He's not literally my father," she said. "Like I said, I was human. I did something to anger God, and I was sent to Hell. I don't remember what happened, it was too long ago. But Azazel taught me how to survive in Hell, how to thrive. So he's the only father I remember, really. He's already got plans for his next two children, beyond Tom and I," she said.

Jess nodded. "Who?" she asked.

"Who else?" Meg asked. "Sam and Dean, of course. When they die, they're probably going to go to Hell. So my father wants to be the one to guide them through becoming demons."

Jess frowned. "I see," she said. She didn't, but she was going to try to understand. "What about Mr. Winchester?"

Meg smiled. "You mean John?" she asked. "I think there are a few others interested in him."

"And me?" Jess asked.

Meg studied her. "You aren't going to Hell," she said. "Not yet, not certainly."

"But I will if I still stay with Sam," Jess said.

Meg frowned. "Yes, that's likely," she said. "But Sam left…"

"To keep me safe, the moron," Jess hissed. "He had to know that…"

Meg started laughing. "No wonder Sam loves you!" she said.

Jess stopped, her rant derailed.

Meg smiled. "I think we should spend a lot of time together, girl. I like you."

Chapter Text

Sam slouched down in the passenger seat, reading the e-mail Meg had sent him.

She sounded pretty impressed with Jess. Impressing Meg was hard for a human to do, but Jess was doing it. Sam wasn't surprised. Jess always made an impression on him. Meg had also assured Sam that Jess was coming to terms with what she'd learned. Sam couldn't really trust that, not until he saw Jess again for himself.

And Sam knew that he couldn't see her again.

Sam shook his head to get rid of those thoughts and paged down his e-mails. Nothing major, just a few of his classmates wondering how he was doing.

"So, where next?" Dean asked.

Sam put his phone down. "Well, if we want to take care of a ghost or two, we can head for Wisconsin, but we're not Hunters."

Dean grinned. "Nope, we're not," he said. "But ghosts are annoying. What is it?"

"Well, it might not be a ghost. There's something in Lake Manitoc that's drowning people."

Dean considered it. "I don't think that's something for us. Let some Hunter get it."

Sam shrugged. "Alright," he said easily. It didn't really matter to him. He and Dean had acted as Hunters before- taking out a few ghosts, a werewolf, and assorted other creatures, but they didn't really care about doing it.

It's not like they were Hunters, after all. And it wasn't like anyone they might save wouldn't die sooner or later. Probably sooner, the way the demons were preparing for whatever Azazel was planning.

Sam pulled out his notebook. "Alright then. I suppose our next stop would be Scott Carey. Nothing related to powers just yet, but who knows, he might be hiding it."

Sam held up the sheet of information. "Says here he's been in and out of therapy his whole life."

Dean snorted. "Great," he said. "Sounds like a real game winner."

Sam smirked. "Yeah, I'm not sure he'll make it to the big showdown. Still, it'd be a good idea to check him out. It's him or Jake Talley, but we wouldn't have a reason to get onto a military base, and by the time we get one, he'll probably be over in the Middle East."

"Army?" Dean asked.

Sam nodded. "If he doesn't get killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, he'll probably make it to the endgame."

"You know, I just don't understand this whole "fight to the end" thing."

Sam shrugged. "It's Azazel's plan," he said. "And he wasn't even human to start with. How can we even begin to guess why he's doing this the way he is?"

Dean nodded. "True. So, back to Scott Carey. Am I going the right way?"

"Yep. Just keep going until you hit Illinois, then let me know," Sam said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"So, how are classes going?" Meg asked as Jess opened the door to her apartment.

"Almost over," Jess said. "One more week, and then its time for finals."

"Getting stressed?" Meg asked.

Jess glared at the demon. "What do you think?" she asked. "I've got one class that I absolutely can't fail. I need to pass for a class next semester. Plus, one of my professors is an absolute misogynic jerk, almost never gives any of his female students more then a C, and I can't lose my 4.0." She paused and smiled sheepishly. "Not that all that really matters, I suppose."

Meg smiled. "I like it, it's a nice change from the rest of the worries I hear every day."

Jess smiled. "Really, I need a break," she said. "None of my friends can take a break, so I've been pacing through my apartment. I'm going to go nuts if I keep studying."

Meg studied her. She looked rather frazzled at the moment, true, but a lot of the students she'd passed had looked the same way, and she'd seen Sam in the same state a few times.

"I have an idea," Meg said. "You need a break. Go on, get ready to head out. What's your favorite place to go to relax?"

Jess frowned. "I…"

"Never mind, you're too frazzled to think." Meg stared at Jess for a moment. The jeans and shirt would work fine. They weren't going to go clubbing, after all. "Can you take an hour or two from studying?" she asked.

Jess blinked. "Yes," she said slowly. "Why?"

"Good," Meg said. "Come on."

"Where are we going?" Jess asked as she grabbed her purse. She didn't look worried at all. Meg liked how the woman was more fascinated by demons then afraid of them.

"Just that Mexican restaurant you showed me," Meg said. "We can plan our trip, have some of the best Mexican food that I've had in a long time, and just relax a bit."

Jess nodded. "Sounds good to me," she said. "Oh, we really will have to use your car for the trip," she said. "My parents are going to take mine away if I don't change my mind." She huffed. "As if I would."

Meg nodded. "I expected something like that," she said. "And my car is better, anyway. Come on, let's go. I'll have you back here and studying in two hours."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam groaned as he opened the door to the mansion. They'd just spent well over a month on the road, checking things out. At one point, they'd had to deal with a chaos demon that liked to take planes down. It wasn't like they wanted to Hunt. It was just, if something like that was going to fall into their laps, they were going to take care of it. That was one of the better ways to let the sane Hunters know that they weren't actually evil, if only so that the sane Hunters wouldn't go after them until it was too late. They'd also checked out about half a dozen of the other chosen, just to see if they were displaying any powers yet.

Most of them were keeping it under wraps, but since Sam had been looking, they'd found signs that it was happening to them.

But now it was nearly Christmas, and he and Dean had picked up a Hunter on their tail shortly after leaving the last of the chosen behind. They'd returned to the mansion to get rid of him or her.

Sam yawned as he closed the door behind them. He was tired. They'd been traveling hard for two days now, and he really needed to sleep.

Sam stopped dead as he saw who was waiting for him in the main entrance way.

"Jess?" he breathed.

"Sam," Jess replied, smiling up at him.

Sam froze. It couldn't be. How could Jess be here? She didn't even know where the mansion was…

Meg stepped out from behind Jess.

Sam just barely noticed that nearly everyone in the household was watching. He still couldn't move. Dean chuckled. "Hey, Jess," he said, though he sounded surprised.

Jess nodded at Dean then returned her attention to Sam. "Aren't you going to say anything, Sam?" she asked.

"I…" Sam trailed off. He couldn't believe she was here. "You're really here?"

Jess punched him hard. Sam groaned and stumbled back a step. "You idiot," she hissed. "Did you really think I'd hate you? Sam, you are without a doubt the biggest moron in the world!" She grabbed him and began dragging him away. "We are not having this conversation with an audience," she declared as she pushed him into one of the many offices on the main floor. She shut the door in Dean's face and then turned to Sam.

She was furious, Sam could tell. Her eyes were all but literally flashing, her cheeks were pink, and she was trembling violently. She was gorgeous.

Jess's eyes widened.

Sam cringed as he realized he'd said that last part out loud.

Her eyes softened. "Sam," she said. "Did you really think I'd hate you?" she asked.

"I'm the antichrist," Sam said. "You should be running as far away as you can."

"I love you," Jess said. "And do you really want to destroy the world?"

Sam shook his head. "Not really. But I do want to… well," he sighed. "Not sure how much I can say."

Jess shook her head. "You big lummox," she said. "Men! I don't really care what you are. You're Sam. You'll always be Sam." She leaned up and kissed him.

Sam closed his eyes. He had wished for this. He would have prayed for this, but he knew that his prayers would never be answered.

After a long moment, Sam broke away. "My room is on the second floor," he said softly.

Jess smiled. "I know. I've been here for a day, and I've been staying in your room."

Sam grinned. "That's great," he said. "Oh, Jess," he whispered. "I missed you so much."

She smiled up at him. "I missed you too, you big idiot."

He leaned down and kissed her again. "Jess…" he said quietly. He shook his head. "What would I do without you?"

"Crash and burn, baby," she said. "Isn't that obvious?"

Sam smiled and leaned forward. Maybe they wouldn't move to his bedroom just yet. "Something like that," he murmured.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"So, should you really be here?" Dean asked Meg as soon as the door closed behind Sam and Jess.

Meg shrugged. "Jess suggested it. She's determined, Dean, and she's not leaving Sam."

Dean shook his head. "Strong girl," he said.

Meg nodded slowly. "Yeah, tell me about it. She's pretty interesting and brave, for a human. I don't know that I've ever seen a human willing to do what she's doing."

"What about Sam and I? Not to mention Dad," Dean asked, amused.

Meg smirked. "Come on, Dean. Sam's our savior, you know that. You're his brother and one of the chosen. And your father is my father's host right now.

"Right, whatever," Dean said. The way the demons refused to classify the Winchesters as human- and therefore prey- amused him to no end. "Thank you for bringing her here. Sammy was going crazy worrying."

Meg nodded. "The Boy King sure doesn't have much optimism, does he?"

"You know he hates that title."

"I know," Meg grinned cheerfully. "Anyway, what's been happening?" Meg asked

Dean grabbed his bags as well as Sam's and headed up the stairs. "Not much," Dean said. "Sammy and I have been checking out a few of the other chosen. Most of them seem to be getting the first hints of their powers. Just like Sam is."

Meg nodded. "Anyone I should keep my eye on?"

"Well, there is one named Ava who seemed to know we were coming. Probably precognition, like Sam."

"I'll avoid her," Meg said.

"Yeah, you'll want to be careful, the Hunters seem to realize that there are more demons out and about nowadays."

"I'm always careful," Meg said. "Why do you think I'm still up here, even if I have had to change hosts a few times?"

Dean nodded. "Good point," he said as he dropped Sam's bag off on his bed and headed for the next room over. "So, are you and Jess staying?"

"For the winter break, at least," Meg said. "And don't think she didn't have a bit of a fight with her family about that."

Dean turned around. "The Moores are off limits," he warned. "Got it?"

Meg pouted. "Fine," she said.

"Jess wouldn't forgive Sam if demons killed her parents," Dean said.

Meg nodded. "I guess you're right," she said.

"Of course I'm right," Dean grinned. "How bad was the fight?"

"There's a reason we drove here in my car," Meg said. "You know, I really do like the girl, even if she doesn't like it when I tell her about some of the rituals I've done."

"Meg, some of those rituals make my Dad squeamish, never mind a girl who didn't even know about our world three months ago."

Meg grinned. "She didn't throw up, though."

Dean blinked, impressed. "Now I know she's the right girl for Sammy."

Meg nodded. "Well, Sam always did like human girls more then demons. Strange, isn't it?"

Dean shrugged. "Not really, considering that some of those demons helped raise us." At her glance, he smirked. "It'd be a little creepy if he picked you, you know."

Meg shuddered. "Oh, no, just no. Not that I wouldn't be flattered, but Sam is just not my type. He might be the type of host I'd take if I went for male hosts, but… no."

Dean grinned. He'd won that round. It was rare that he left Meg at a loss for words. "Anyway, Sam and I have been driving all day. I need to hit the sack, and soon," he said. "I'm exhausted."

"Humans," Meg said in amusement. "Fine. You can tell me about your trip later."

Dean nodded. "With Azazel out of contact, you're the one in charge for now, and we did find out some interesting things."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam smiled as Jess held a box and shook it at him. "I know you don't celebrate Christmas, Sam, but you are going to open this present," she said.

Sam grinned. "And you know why my family doesn't celebrate Christmas."

Jess shrugged. "So your family includes a few demons. That doesn't mean you can't open your present!"

Sam shook his head, chuckling. She was handling this so well. He couldn't quite believe how well. He took the present.

Jess grinned deviously as he opened it- only to find a Halloween devil costume. Sam stared at it, not quite sure he believed it was there. Jess started to laugh.

Sam glanced up at her. "Jess?" he asked. She had given him a devil costume?

Jess smirked and bounced up and down on the bed. "Come on, Sam. You can't tell me that it's not a little funny."

"You got me a devil costume," Sam said.

"You said it yourself- you're the antichrist," Jess said. "It's funny."

Sam bit his lip. Ok, so it was funny.

Jess saw the look and grinned. "You think it's funny too!" she said.

Sam looked away. "Alright, yes, I do," he said. "But a devil costume?"

Jess grinned. "I am going to make fun of you," she declared. "You are not going to get to take this seriously."

Sam tilted his head. "You're crazy, you know that, right Jess?"

Jess grinned. "My boyfriend is the antichrist," she said. "Of course I'm crazy!"

Sam chuckled. He leaned over and began to tickle her. She shrieked and tackled him back into the bed.

Maybe he could get used to Christmas.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dean glanced around. Jess and Meg were getting ready to return to Palo Alto. Despite that, Sam was happily helping Jess load her stuff in the car.

Dean knew exactly when he'd seen that look on Sam's face last- when he had talked about proposing to Jess.

Sam didn't even seem to mind that he wasn't going to see Jess for months, because he knew that she accepted him. Dean grinned. If only the Hunters could see him now! The man they were condemning as the antichrist was meekly accepting orders from his girlfriend as he helped her pack the car.

Dean chuckled as Sam stopped and stared at her standing in the snow. It was like, even after three weeks, he couldn't believe that she was here. Dean had seen this several times over the break. Sam would stare at Jess for hours. Jess seemed to understand it and made sure to stay close to Sam.

Dean had watched, amused, as Sam had opened up to her. It was the first time they'd been around someone who wasn't a demon and knew who Sam was. Sam hadn't told her everything, but he had told her most things. Jess had accepted the truth with a remarkable calm, even if she was prone to teasing Sam about his titles.

Dean was grateful. Sam's feelings for her meant that she would be protected. Her acceptance of Sam meant that Dean would kill for her.

Meg leaned against the doorframe across from Dean. "He's completely besotted," she said.

Dean snorted. "Where did you pick that word up? Besotted? Come on!"

"It was in common usage when I first got out of Hell," Meg said.

Sam and Jess stopped packing up and turned to look at Dean and Meg.

Dean smiled at them. "Don't mind us," he said. "Just a bit of gossip."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Oh, yes, and if I'm not careful, you two will gang up on me."

Out of the corner of his eye, Dean saw Meg grin.

"Come on, Sammy, we're not that bad," Meg said.

"It's Sam," Sam insisted. "And you just made my point."

"Aw, we're practically family, Sam. Why can't I call you Sammy?"

"Oh, yes, that exactly the kind of name I should have. The antichrist's name is Sammy," Sam retorted. "I don't think so. I have to tolerate it from Dean, Dad, and Azazel, but that's it."

"Spoilsport," Meg said.

"You bet," Sam replied.

Dean laughed. "Sammy's got a point, you know," he said, grinning when Sam glowered at him.

"Well, I suppose we should probably go," Jess said, before Sam could launch himself at Dean.

Dean glanced at her. "What to get back to school that bad? Or do you just want to get away from the insanity here?"

Jess lifted an eyebrow. "Classes start in three days. It's not that I want to, but I have to."

Sam sighed. "Good luck with everything, Jess," Sam said.

She grinned. "Of course," she said. "And, Sam, don't worry. My parents are feeling a lot better about you since you convinced me to finish my bachelor's."

Sam nodded. "Once things heat up, we'll need to warn them."

"They won't believe a word," Jess said.

"I know. But we need to warn them."

"That's later," Dean said. "Let's just worry about what's going on now," he said. "We've all got things to do."

Meg nodded and headed for the car. "By the way, Sam, I really don't mind keeping an eye on Jess. Bodyguard duty to your consort is not a chore."

Sam started to sputter. Dean threw his head back and laughed hysterically.

"Jess, it's not…"

Jess kissed Sam. "I know, Sam," she said. "Don't worry."

Meg grinned at Sam. "Aw, she's not going to get angry at you," she said. "Looks like she really means it."

Sam sighed. "I can't win, can I?"

Jess kissed him again. "I love you," she said quietly.

Sam kissed her. "I love you, too," he said. "You have that book I gave you?"

Jess nodded. "I'll study it," she said. "Remember to call me, this time, you big idiot," she said. "I'm not going to leave you."

Sam nodded. "I know that now," he said.

Dean looked to the side and started whistling.

Jess walked up to him and slapped him upside the head. "Stop it," she said.

Dean stopped. Jess was scary when she glared at you like that.

Meg chuckled. "Come on, then, Jess," she said. "Hmm… I think I'm going to need to teach you a few things once we're back in Palo Alto. You handle these two well enough, but I think you should learn more about our world."

Jess grinned and headed for the car. "Sounds good. And Sam and Dean are easy to handle- they're men."

Sam and Dean glanced at each other before following them to the car. "Be careful," Sam ordered. "We know that the Hunters know about you, Jess. And Meg, watch out for her."

Meg smiled. "I will. You've got your own plans, I assume?"

"We're going to check out more of the chosen," Dean said. "And a few other things, probably. We might check out what's going on with your friend, Jess, if we can. That whole thing about her brother's arrest sounds fishy."

Sam nodded. "We'll keep an eye on that," Sam agreed. "But I'm not sure we can do anything to help Becky and Zach just yet."

Jess nodded. "Alright," she said. Sam and Jess hugged, and then Jess slid into the passenger seat. "Love you," she told Sam.

Sam watched as the car drove away. Despite everything, he had a small smile on his face.

Dean grinned. "Come on, Sammy. What do you say to getting an early start tomorrow?"

Sam nodded. "Sounds like a plan. We've got about five of the chosen to check out. That's about it for those in America."

"What about that Army guy?"

Sam shrugged. "I'm not sure, but I think he's going to be on deployment soon. Or something. Anyway, he's not going to be easy to get to. I bet Azazel will drag him to wherever he's planning on holding that thing for the last round."

Dean nodded. "He'll be the one to watch," he said.

Sam frowned. "Yeah, but he'll still be freaked out by the whole thing."

"Well, it's not like you don't have to worry about it for a while," Dean said.

Sam laughed. "True," he said. "Come on, let's go pack."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jess let Meg into the apartment with a smile. "Meg," she said. "What's going on? Is something wrong?"

Meg shook her head. "Sam and Dean are fine," she said. "Are you doing anything important right now?"

"Just studying," Jess said. "Nothing that can't wait until later."

Meg smiled. "Great, we're going out," she said. "I've got some things I think you should learn."

Jess frowned. "What sort of things?"

Meg sobered. "I know you think it was a joke, being called Sam's consort, but that's how a lot of demons are going to see you," she said. "I want you to be able to protect yourself, if any demons get bright ideas. Most aren't going to dare, but there are a few factions who don't like the Winchesters."

Jess paled. "What can I do against demons?"

Meg smiled. "It's mostly knife fighting," Meg assured her. "Plus, a few of the simpler forms of witchcraft, the kind a normal human can do."

Jess blinked. "Like the spell Dean used to help save my life?"

Meg nodded. "I'll be teaching that one to you." She smiled. "Come on, let's go.

Jess grabbed a light coat- California or not, it was still February, and a little cold- and followed Meg out the door.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam leaned against the Impala as he waited for Dean to get the keys to a motel room. They'd been crisscrossing the country for the better part of two months now. Azazel had contacted them a couple of times with instructions, and they'd been running errands for him ever since leaving the mansion.

It was nearly the end of February, and they were headed for St. Louis, where they were finally sure they could do something to help Zach.

They'd be there tomorrow. Sam had hacked into the police reports, including Rebecca's statement, and he admitted that things were not looking good for Zach.

They got their stuff out of the car and into the room. "So, what do you think?"

"The police have a pretty good case against Zach," Sam said.

"What type of friends did you have at college, anyway?"

"Zach didn't do it," Sam said. "I know him; I know enough to know that he didn't do it."

"Does he know you're the Boy King?"

"Of course not," Sam said.

"Then maybe you don't know that he's a murderer," Dean said cheerfully.

Sam shook his head. "No, he would not have tortured his girlfriend. I know it. I grew up around psychotic murderers, Dean. Zach isn't one, and the police reports say that whoever tortured and killed his girlfriend was."

Dean glanced at Sam, who smiled. "Admit it, Dean, aside from Dad, we were raised by psychos. And Dad's not that much better."

Dean laughed. "Isn't that part of being a demon?"

Sam nodded, grinning.

Dean sobered. "Alright, I believe you. Who or what did it?"

Sam shrugged. "I don't know. It could be a simple human criminal, someone who can disguise himself, or something a little more out there."

Dean nodded. "Alright, so we have no idea what to plan for."

"Silver works on a lot of creatures, and a human will die just as easily if they're shot by silver as by lead."

Dean laughed. "True," he said. "Sam, have you killed a human yet?"

Sam shook his head. "No, I haven't. You?"

"There are people who died because of me but no, I haven't killed anyone directly, yet."

Sam sighed. "Great," he muttered. "Let's hope that this is some sort of creature. I don't think I'd hesitate if it was a human, but I don't know for sure."

"Me neither," Dean said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam paced back and forth as he watched Dean as he was led off in handcuffs, never mind the dead body that looked just like his brother.

He had to do something…

His eyes lit up. Henriksen! Sam fumbled for his phone.

"Agent Henriksen," the FBI agent answered.

"Agent, thank god," Sam said. "It's Sam Winchester." A couple of police officers looked over at him.

"Sam," Henriksen said. "What the hell is going on in St. Louis?"

Sam gulped. "Dean's been framed," he said. "The culprit framed a friend of mine, so we headed out to figure out what was going on. Then he framed Dean. The culprit hurt another friend, and then abducted me. He was going to kill me, but Dean stopped him and killed him. He was arrested after that, charged with attacking and killing my friend's girlfriend and another woman, and attacking me and a friend. But they have the body of the man who did it."

Henriksen sighed. "Geez, Sam," he said.

"I know," Sam moaned. "He didn't do it, but the police aren't listening to Becky and I. Becky's the friend who was attacked."

"Alright," Henriksen said. "Since this might be something the cult is doing, I'll be right up. Let me call the local police, they might listen to me."

"Thank you, Agent Henriksen," Sam said.

"It's not a problem, Sam," Henriksen said. "Your case is my main one, and I'm between other cases."

Sam nodded, and then realized that Henriksen couldn't see him. "I understand. Agent, how long do you think this will take? Do you think they'll charge him?"

"They have two eyewitnesses saying he didn't do it, the dead killer, and probably no real material evidence. I'd say that no, they won't. But still, the cult might pick up on this and go after the two of you."

"I didn't even think about that," Sam said. "Right, you're right. I'll be careful."

"I'll see you in a few hours, Sam," Henriksen said before hanging up.

Sam sighed and ended the call.

"Who'd you call?" an officer asked.

Sam grinned. "A friend of the family's," he said. "Agent Henriksen, a federal agent in charge of catching the cult that's been gunning for me and my brother, Officer Brown."

"What?" Officer Brown asked.

Sam sighed. "There's this doomsday cult out there that thinks I'm the antichrist. If they catch all the media attention, they'll be coming after me."

Brown blinked at him. He stared at Sam. Sam knew what he had to be thinking. Brown was wondering how a kid like Sam could be the antichrist.

While at college, Sam had deliberately cultivated a look that Dean had told him made him look more like an overgrown puppy then the antichrist.

It made him seem more trustworthy to police, and kept anyone from believing the Hunters.

Sam grinned. "Anyway, he's coming up. He'll want to protect me, and hopefully capture one or two of the cult members."

Brown scowled. "Should we take you into protective custody?" he asked.

Sam shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I've never needed to go into protective custody before."

Brown sighed and jogged over to the detective in charge.

Sam snorted and looked around. He found Becky, who was leaning against the wall out of the way, and headed for her. "You alright?" he asked.

Becky took a deep breath. "I think I'll be fine," she said. "Will your brother be alright?"

"I hope so," he said. "They don't really have much of a case on him. Just your testimony and you've already retracted it."

"Good," Becky said. "He didn't do it. You weren't even in St. Louis when Zach was framed."

Sam nodded.

The detective in charge stopped in front of them. He stared at Sam for a moment before speaking. "Sam Winchester? I'm Detective Wells. Officer Brown informed me that you might be in danger. Would you like protective custody at this time?"

"Sam?" Becky asked.

Sam shook his head. "I think I'll be fine," he said. "Agent Henriksen will be here in a few hours, and the people after me won't be able to find me before he gets here. Besides which, you still need my statement, so I'll be down at the station anyway, Detective."

Detective Wells nodded. "You are, of course, free to change your mind. But yes, we do still need your statement. And yours as well, Ms. Warren. I'd appreciate it if the two of you would not talk to each other at this time."

Sam nodded. "Of course," he said. "It'll be alright, Becky," he told his friend before leaning against the wall away from her."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Victor hurried into the police station.

His badge would get him through most of the obstacles, but he knew that he wasn't going to see Sam until the younger Winchester was doing giving his statement. Dean, however, he could see. As a fellow officer of the law, he'd be able to get access to the prisoners with no problems.

He smiled at the sergeant at the front desk. "I'd like to see Dean Winchester," he said as he showed the officer his badge.

The sergeant took the badge and looked it over. "Agent, we were told that you might be coming. Winchester is being held in one of the interrogation rooms."

Victor nodded. "Has he been provided with a lawyer yet, Sergeant Beckett?"

"The DA will be sending one over," Beckett said.

"I want to talk to Mr. Winchester before he arrives and kicks us out," he said.

"Of course," Beckett said. "I'll get someone to show you where they are."

"You do that," Victor said. He knew that these officers were just doing what they were supposed to do. He just hoped that things worked out. He knew Dean, knew him well enough that Dean wouldn't do this. Plus, he knew Dean has an alibi for at least the first murder.

Another officer led Victor through the building. "So, are you here to charge Winchester with a federal crime?" the officer asked.

"No," Victor said. He didn't say anything else.

The agent snorted. "Right, well, be careful. He just killed two women, tried to kill a third, and tried to kill his brother."

"His brother disagrees," Victor said as the officer opened a door.

"Agent Henriksen?" Dean asked as he looked up. "What are you doing here?"

Victor snorted. "You're all over the news, Dean," he said as he closed the door behind him. "So, why don't you tell me what happened?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You shouldn't go, Bill," Ellen Harvelle said.

"I'm not going to kill the boy," her husband said. "I just want to observe him for a bit."

"But there's no evidence that he's evil," Ellen said.

"I know, that's why I want to watch him," Bill said. "And if I can pick them up in St. Louis, I can follow them for a while. Ash is going to help me by keeping an eye on their car by satellite.

"Be careful," Ellen said. "And don't get caught."

"Don't worry," Bill said. "I'll only go after Winchester if I get proof that he's what they say he is. Otherwise, I'll just follow them for a bit."

~~~~~~~~~~~

Dean smiled as he leaned against the door of his car.

"Thanks, Agent," Dean said.

Henriksen smiled. "It wasn't a problem, Dean," he said. "Plus, I didn't do anything. They had the killer, and they knew it. They cleared you once they had all the evidence in. Though I'd love to know how you managed to get a doppelganger."

Dean shrugged. "Well, I suppose it doesn't matter."

Sam snorted. "Yeah, at least you're not in prison," he agreed.

"So, where are you boys headed next?" Henriksen asked.

Sam shrugged and glanced at Dean. "Where ever the wind takes us, I guess," Dean said. "Well away from St. Louis, though. I'm sure we'll be attacked if we stay any longer. Sam, you said goodbye to your friends yet?'

"Yeah, I have," Sam said. "Becky isn't happy with my explanation, though."

Henriksen laughed. "Well, try to keep in touch, alright?"

"We'll do our best," Sam said. "Good luck."

"You too," Henriksen said.

As the federal agent walked away, Dean glanced around. For a moment, he thought someone was watching them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam frowned as Dean glanced in the rearview mirror and frowned. "What is it?" Sam asked.

"I think we're being followed," Dean replied. He made a quick right turn onto a side street and continued on as if nothing was wrong. "Yeah, we're being followed."

Sam looked out the side mirror. "Which car?" he asked.

"The green pickup," Dean said.

"I see it," Sam said as he picked it out of the traffic. "Hunter?"

"I don't know," Dean said as he made another left turn. Sam watched as the truck followed them. "Sonofabitch," Dean muttered.

"Tell me about it," Sam muttered.

"I'm going to try something stupid," Dean muttered. "Get ready."

Sam made a face. "At least you admit it," he muttered. "Ready."

Dean turned right this time, and then almost immediately left. He followed the side street of the little suburb for a while, making random turns in the hopes of losing their tail.

"I don't see him," Sam reported once they found one of the main streets.

"Ok, time to get out of town," Dean said.

"Yep," Sam glanced at the street signs, and then pulled out the map of Michigan. "Alright, let's find an interstate and head south."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam glanced around the small convenience store. Aside from the cashier and Sam, the place was deserted. Dean was just outside, getting gas for the car while Sam picked up some snacks for them.

They were both jumpy. The green pickup had found them again 500 miles from St Louis, and they'd been forced to lose him again. Then whoever was in the pickup had found them less then a hundred miles later.

They had currently lost their follower, but neither of them knew when he might show up again.

Neither of them liked it at all. They had no idea how he or she was still following them, and they wanted him gone.

Sam picked up their standard road snacks- a couple of bags of jerky, one of peanut M&Ms, a snickers bar, and two sodas. He paid and headed back to the car.

"So, I was thinking we ought to head back to the mansion," Sam said once they were back on the road.

"That's sounds like a good plan," Dean said. "There's no way this guy is getting through the wards around the mansion."

"Exactly," Sam said.

Dean glanced around. "Alright, we'll stay on this road for another few hours, and then head west."

"It'll only take us a day or so to get there if we just trade off driving," Sam said.

"Yeah," Dean replied. "We'll do that."

Sam chanced a look behind us. "As soon as we lose him again," he groaned.

"Damn, this guy is persistent."

"I know," Sam said. He sighed.

"Are you getting any idea who this is?" Dean asked.

Sam shook his head. "Nope," he said. "I guess it's a Hunter, but I really have no idea."

"Well, you really should pick up the psychic stuff," Dean said.

"You too."

"I haven't done anything yet," Dean argued. "I don't think I've got any abilities." He glanced in the rearview mirror again. "Dude, this guy just will not get lost. I wonder if he's the psychic."

Sam chuckled. "Yeah, there's an idea," he said. "Or he could have planted a tracker on the car."

"He better not've touched my car," Dean muttered. "Alright, fine. The next time we lose him, we'll search."

Sam nodded. "Or he could be using satellites. Don't the Hunters have that one computer guy who can make a computer do almost anything? I bet he could hack into some system and use the satellites to find the car."

"Yeah, Ash or Alex or A-something or other. But dude, can that actually be done?"

"I think so," Sam said. "Or they could be using locator spells of some type."

"We're screwed, aren't we?" Dean asked.

"Well, we gotta lose this guy for good before he does something. Whoever he is."

"And whatever he might do," Dean added.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Azazel grinned as he stood up. It was time for him to put the next part of his plan into place. It had taken him some time to get things ready, but finally, he had everything he needed.

The Hunter's attack had helped his plans along in one sense, while derailing them in a greater way. He had planned on using the Winchesters to provide him with both Sam- his father's vessel- and Dean- the Righteous Man.

But the Hunters had attacked, and now Sam or Dean could be Lucifer's vessel, and he had no one to be the Righteous Man.

It had taken him this long to locate another candidate for the role. Now, it was just a matter of procuring him.

Azazel sent John to sleep. He didn't want anyone guessing what he was about to do, not even someone on his side. He blinked and went to find the man he had identified as being a righteous man. Perhaps the man wasn't the Righteous Man, but he had potential.

John would not be happy when he woke up, but he'd understand.

Azazel stood by the side of the back road, invisible, and watched as the lone car on the road approached.

There was a family in there, and the father was righteous, a good man… and a vessel.

Azazel smiled. He hadn't been sure of that last part, but now he knew. He knew the Righteous Man would need to be a vessel. He could only hope that that would be enough. If it wasn't, then he'd have to find the perfect vessel, and hope that the angels didn't pick up what he was trying to do. He knew that supposedly, the Winchesters were the only ones who could do it, but he wasn't sure. Still, if he was wrong about this one, then there were always some Winchester cousins he could check out.

With a thought, Azazel blew the one of the tires on the car. The driver immediately lost control on the slippery road.

Azazel cushioned the daughter in the back, so that she was merely knocked out. At the same time, he made sure that the mother died almost instantly and the father was fatally wounded.

Azazel grinned for just an instant before sobering. That had been a nice piece of work. He approached the car and allowed the father to see him.

The man groaned. "Help," he managed to say.

Azazel leaned against the car door. Luckily the window was open. "You're dying," he said.

"Please," the man said. "My wife and daughter," he groaned.

"Your wife is already dead," Azazel said. "And your daughter will be fine. But she'll be alone, Jimmy Novak."

Jimmy groaned and closed his eyes. "No," he moaned.

"You don't want her to go to her grandparents, do you?" Azazel asked. "Because that's what will happen. Your wife's parents will challenge the will and win custody. Then they'll destroy her life, since they'll say that it was your fault their daughter married and had her. Because Claire is your daughter, they'll ruin her life."

"Stop," Jimmy groaned. "It won't happen that way!"

"Yes it will," Azazel said. He allowed that to sink in for a long moment. "But I can change that," he finally said.

Jimmy looked at him. "How?"

"If you agree, I'll bring your wife back, and she'll be there for your daughter. You'll know that little Claire will be happy with her mother. They'll meet someone else, and he'll adopt Claire in the end."

"But…"

"But you'll take your wife's place. You'll come with me. Your family will mourn, but they'll be alive."

Jimmy groaned and turned his head away. "Can I say goodbye?" he asked.

"Of course," Azazel said. "I'll give you a few minutes, long enough for you to know that they'll be fine."

Jimmy closed his eyes. Azazel knew he'd won, however. Jimmy was desperate. He didn't want his in-laws to raise his daughter. He knew how much they hated him.

"Alright," Jimmy said. "I'll go with you."

Azazel suppressed a triumphant grin. "Good," he said. "I suggest you don't tell them, however." Amelia gasped and began to breathe again. Jimmy groaned and turned painfully to look at her. Azazel made sure they couldn't see him again, and watched. Amelia would think that she only received a minor concussion. Claire, too, woke up. Another car would be driving down the road in less then a minute. The driver was a doctor, and they'd try to help.

Jimmy managed to kiss his wife one last time and reached out to run his fingers through his daughter's hair. "I love you both," he said quietly. Azazel stepped forward, still invisible to the woman's eyes.

"Time to go, Jimmy," Azazel said.

Jimmy sighed and closed his eyes. "Love you so much," he whispered as he died. The other car skidded to a halt right behind the Novak's car.

Azazel didn't stay to watch. He'd make sure that Amelia and Claire were fine- he kept his deals- but right now, he had a soul to deliver to Alastair.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dean sighed as he pulled into yet another rest stop. They'd been going in circles for the past two days, losing their follower, then picking him up again, then losing him again. They'd always headed in the general direction of the mansion when they could.

He and Sam were both exhausted. They'd determined that the car didn't have a tracker on it, but there were just too many other ways their follower could be finding them, both mundane and supernatural.

"Hey, Dean?" Sam asked groggily. "Where are we?"

"About ten hours from the mansion," Dean said. "Assuming we managed to lose this guy, so we can head there."

Sam nodded. "We switching?" he asked.

Dean groaned. "Yeah, I think we need to," he said. "I'm wiped out."

They got gas and snacks again, switched places, and headed out again. Sam swore softly about fifteen minutes into the drive. Dean groaned.

"Already?" he asked.

"Yep," Sam muttered. He scowled. "I wish this guy would just go away!"

"I know!" Dean snapped. He was angry, very angry. He just wanted to go home, and if only their follower's tire would just get a flat, they could get away again for a few hours.

He felt a wave of… something push out from him. He collapsed back into his seat as he heard the bang of a tire blowing out. He turned just as their stalker wrestled his car over to the side of the road.

"Dean…" Sam whispered. "Did you…"

"I think I did," Dean said, wide eyed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam and Dean stayed at the mansion for a week, just paranoid enough to worry about their follower to keep under the cover of the wards. Dean was slowly figuring out how he blew out their pursuer's tire, and how to do it again.

But now they were on the way to Saginaw, Michigan, to check out another of the Chosen.

Max Miller lived in Saginaw with his father and stepmother. Sam wasn't sure what power he was going to show, but he did want to check on the competition. There was no one on the interstate with them, and Dean was currently going nearly ninety.

Sam sat up suddenly. At the same moment, Dean swerved onto the shoulder. Sam barely noticed. He could hear screams and mocking laughter, and one voice sobbing.

He shuddered and closed his eyes. Immediately, he could see a room lit by firelight.

There was a rack in the middle of the room, and a man bound on that rack. Another man stood in front of him. The man strapped down was sobbing brokenly. "Yes," he said. "I'll do it. God help me, I'll do it."

The man- demon- in front of him smiled and snapped his fingers. The man fell off the rack and on to the messy ground of the room. The demon knelt down next to him and pulled him up. "Good," he said.

The demon handed the slightly unsteady man a scalpel as another man appeared on the rack. The free man- dark haired, light eyed- hesitated, eyeing the scalpel.

"Whatever you want to do, Jimmy," the demon said.

Jimmy nodded and took a deep breath. The hand holding the scalpel hovered over the other man for a long moment. Jimmy took another deep breath and drove the scalpel into the man's stomach.

The man screamed, and the demon smiled. There was nothing for a long moment, and then the room rocked. Jimmy didn't seem to notice, but the demon did, and his smile widened.

Sam's eyes snapped open, and he could no longer see the room. He could still hear laughter and the beginning of a celebration. Eventually, the sounds faded away and he was able to focus on the world again. He checked the clock. Less then a minute had passed, but it had felt like forever.

He realized he was shaking. That vision had been terrifying. Beside him, Dean was shaking too.

"What was that?" they asked at the same time.

They looked at each other. "A man named Jimmy, stabbing someone on a rack?" Dean asked shakily.

Sam nodded. "And laughter, screams, and celebration."

Dean swallowed. "Hell," he said. "We just saw Hell."

"Yes," Sam said. "They were in Hell. And Hell was rejoicing for some reason."

"What is Azazel doing?" Dean asked. "I mean… it has to be something he's doing, right?"

Sam nodded. "I think so," he said. "I need to call Dad."

"He won't pick up," Dean said as Sam dialed.

"I'm still going to call," Sam said. He listened to his Dad's message and swallowed. "Dad," he said. "Call, please. Dean and I just saw something… we need to know. Please!"

Sam closed the phone and shuddered. "That was…"

"Bad," Dean said. "Is that what your visions are like?"

"No," Sam said. "I've never had one when I'm awake. And it…"

"Maybe Meg knows what's going on," Dean said as he pulled out his own phone.

"Maybe." Sam listened as Dean called Meg, however.

"Hey, Meg," Dean said, trying to sound casual, but failing miserably.

Dean didn't say anything for a long moment. "No, Sam and I are in one piece," he said. "We just…" he paused again. "Fine," he snapped. "Sammy and I both had a vision of some sort, at the same time. It was the same thing, too, so it's something important. We have no idea what it is, though."

Dean paused. "Yes, I did, too," he said. "No, I don't know why I haven't had any before now. Do you want to hear about it, or not?"

He smiled. He looked calmer and in better shape already. "I thought so," he said.

Sam smiled slightly. Hearing his brother arguing with Meg was comforting in a way he didn't understand. It seemed to be comforting for Dean, too.

"It was a room, with a man on a rack. The man said he would do something, and a demon got him off the rack and handed him a scalpel. The man stabbed someone else on the rack. Then we heard someone celebrating. Meg, Sam and I think the vision took place in Hell. Why would Hell celebrate if a human started stabbing another human?"

He was silent for a long moment. "What?" he finally asked.

"What is it?" Sam asked.

Dean shook his head. "No, Sam and I are fine. Worried and confused, but fine. No, I don't know why we would have seen that. Is it true? Does that mean that Azazel is getting closer to his goal?"

He paused again. "Yeah, I'll tell him. Thanks, Meg," he said. "No, really, thanks."

Dean ended the call slowly. "God," he said quietly.

"What is it, Dean?" Sam asked. "What did we see?"

Dean took a deep breath. "We just saw the first seal being broken," he said.

"Seal?" Sam asked. His eyes widened. "You mean the seals keeping Lucifer in Hell. Those seals?"

Dean nodded. "I do," he said. "Apparently, Azazel found someone to break it."

Sam grinned. "That's a good thing, right? I mean, Azazel's plan is working."

Dean shrugged. "Yeah, but where's your army? You're supposed to be leading a demon army before the first seal broke."

"I'm not ready to lead an army yet," Sam pointed out. "Maybe it just happened faster then Azazel thought it would."

Dean nodded. "I don't know about you, but I'm tired," he said.

As soon as Dean mentioned it, Sam felt the fatigue suddenly dragging at him. "There should be a motel around somewhere," Sam said.

"I saw one in that town about a mile back," Dean said. He started the car and pulled onto the road again, only to swing around back the way they'd come. He glanced at Sam. Sam could see the matching exhaustion in Dean's gaze.

"We gotta talk about this, but I just want to sleep," Sam said.

Dean nodded. "You get a room, I'll get our gear," he said once he'd found the motel and pulled in.

Sam nodded.

Chapter Text

Sam groaned and rolled over. Something was pulling him out of the exhausted sleep he'd fallen into almost as soon as they'd gotten the room. "Sammy, get your phone," Dean groaned from the other bed.

Sam sat up slowly and fumbled for his phone. "Yeah?" he finally slurred out once he managed to answer the call.

"Sam?" it was his Dad's voice.

"Dad?" Sam asked as he sat up groggily.

"Not quite, kiddo," Azazel replied.

"Oh, sorry sir," Sam said. "What's going on?"

Azazel snorted. "You called me, Sammy," he said. "What do you think is going on?"

Dean rolled over and sat up.

Sam blinked and shook his head. "Right, sorry. I'm still half asleep. Uh… it was the first seal, wasn't it?"

"Sam!" Azazel snapped. "Start at the beginning!"

Sam took a deep breath. "Right," he said. Quickly, he explained how he and Dean had shared the vision, and how Meg had explained what it meant.

Azazel made a small sound after he finished. "Yes, Meg is right," he said. "The first seal was broken about five hours ago. That's about when you shared the vision, right?"

Sam sighed. "Yeah," he said. "But it wiped us out," he said. "We both crashed pretty hard once we got to a motel."

"Hmmm…" Azazel murmured. "Sounds like it's just because the vision was of Hell, I'd say."

Sam nodded, forgetting for a moment that Azazel couldn't see him. "Right," he said after a moment. "And it was some guy named Jimmy who did it?"

"Yes," Azazel said. "Actually, the fact that you know that is what convinced me that the vision was genuine. Jimmy went to Hell over a month ago; he finally broke the first seal. Of course, we also have another problem down there."

"What is it?"

Azazel snorted. "Nothing you need to worry about," he said. "Our opposition is finally waking up, that's all."

"Opposition… heaven?" Sam asked.

"Exactly," Azazel said. "Don't worry; they want you and Dean alive for now."

"Alright," Sam said. "But that "for now" doesn't sound good."

"No, not really. But we can work it to our advantage. Don't worry about it."

"Yes sir," Sam replied. "Is Dad awake?"

"Yes, he is."

"We'll be fine, Dad," Sam said. "Dean and I are just tired."

"He heard," Azazel said. "He says he's doing fine as well."

"Thanks," Sam replied. "Um…"

"Go back to sleep, Sam. Tell your brother to do the same. I need you sharp, Sammy. We'll talk when you're a little more coherent."

"Yes, sir," Sam said.

Dean looked at him. "What's up?"

"We were right," Sam said. "It was the first seal, and Azazel says that heaven is paying attention now."

Dean blinked. "Well," he said. "Let's hope that they don't come after us."

"Azazel said they want us alive right now." Sam cut himself off with a yawn. "I'll tell you about it in the morning."

"Yeah, sounds good," Dean replied.

Sam dropped his phone on the bed table before fumbling with the light. As he lay back down, he could already hear Dean's snores starting.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam was still a little groggy as they made their way to the diner attached to the motel the next morning.

Dean looked about the same. "So, is he going to step up his plans?" Dean asked.

"I don't know," Sam said. He opened the door and they entered.

Out of habit, he glanced around. The diner was half full of the crowd of locals, truckers, and assorted drifters that they always saw in places like this.

No one paid them any attention, save for one of the truckers near the back, and he only glanced over when the door opened before returning to his breakfast.

Sam nodded once. He'd also noticed the back door, the door to the kitchen, and the many windows. He smirked. He was entitled to be paranoid; they really were out to get him.

They were seated and they ordered something similar to what they normally got- Sam had an omelet, Dean had pancakes. They made small talk until the table next to them cleared.

Sam took a deep breath. "He says Meg is right," he said.

Dean didn't even blink at the change of subject. "Alright," he said. "Did he mention anything about you? And all the other…"

"I got the impression he's working on it," Sam said. "Anyway, I'm not going to worry about it. We've got something else to worry about"

Dean sighed. "Now what?"

"He said the opposition is starting to pay attention."

"The opposition," Dean said flatly. "You don't mean…" he pointed up.

Sam nodded. "Yep," he said.

"So they're actually going to do something?" Dean said.

"About time, too, all things considered," Sam replied. "I get the impression that they haven't done anything in a long time."

Their food arrived and they abandoned the conversation. "This is actually pretty good," Sam said.

"Yeah," Dean agreed. "I'd come back here if we come through this town again."

Sam nodded. "Yeah, so would I."

They finished their meals in silence. "So, now what?" Sam eventually asked. Behind Dean, the door opened. Sam watched as an unfamiliar man walked in and cased the place as well as Sam had done.

Sam signaled to Dean that there was someone dangerous who just entered.

"Back on the road," Dean said. "I mean, there's nothing we can really do, is there?"

"Nope," Sam said. "Just keep searching, I suppose."

Dean frowned, but nodded.

The man walked straight toward them. "Sam and Dean Winchester?" he asked.

"Who's asking?" Sam responded. He studied the other man. He looked like a trucker, but the way he held himself, it was obvious he was a Hunter. Sam wasn't sure why he was wearing such an old baseball cap, though.

"Name's Bobby Singer," the man said. "I'm a Hunter, I saw you boys here, and I thought I should talk to you."

Dean scowled. "We don't talk to Hunters," he snapped.

"Not even ones who know that that idiotic prophecy is bogus?" Singer asked.

Sam nodded slowly. "You're not interested in Hunting us?"

"Not unless you give me a reason," Singer said. He grabbed a chair and joined them at their table. "I heard what you boys did on that plane," he said. "You two are pretty good. I've got a problem I could use some help on, and most of the people I usually work with can't help me."

"Thanks," Dean said. "But we don't Hunt. If something like that falls in our laps, we'll deal with it, but we don't go looking for trouble.

"I understand," Singer said. "But this thing is attacking kids. I need someone to help stop it."

Sam scowled. That would get Dean interested, not that it was likely that Singer knew that. If Sam admitted to himself, he wanted to take out anything that attacked kids too.

"What is it?" Dean asked.

"A ghost, as far as I can tell," Singer said. He scowled. "Here in this town, before you ask where. I can't figure out who the ghost is, however. And I saw you boys enter the diner, that's how I knew you were here."

Sam sighed. "I suppose this counts as falling into our laps," he said to Dean.

Dean nodded. "Kids," he said.

Sam looked at Singer. "You better tell us what you know," he said.

Singer nodded slowly. "Most of my research is in my room," he said.

"We're only going to meet in public places," Sam said. "No offence, Singer, but we don't trust Hunters."

"I don't blame you, son," Singer said.

"I'm not your son," Sam snapped.

"Sorry, Sam," Singer replied. "Bad habit of mine, I'm afraid. Do you want to meet in the library?"

Sam and Dean exchanged glances. "I think we can do that," Dean said. "An hour?"

Singer nodded. "See you then," he said. He got up and headed out the door.

They watched him go.

"You don't think this is a trap, do you?" Sam asked.

Dean shook his head. "Singer's one of the semi-reasonable Hunters," he said. "Well, as reasonable as any Hunter can be. Besides, if a ghost is taking out kids, then we've got to help."

"Softy," Sam accused, but he agreed. They both had a strong soft spot for kids that were attacked by the supernatural or because of the supernatural. Sam supposed it was only natural, considering what had happened to them when they were kids.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bobby Singer watched as the Winchester boys entered the library. He waited for them to find him, which didn't take long at all. He had chosen a table well away from anyone, where they could talk freely, but where they could easily see all exits.

Bobby had not expected to see the Winchesters here, but since they were, he was determined to show them that not all Hunters were heartless, fanatical idiots like the ones who'd attacked them.

"So, what's going on here?" the shorter one- Dean- asked as they sat down across from him. The taller one- Sam- dropped a messenger back beside him on the floor.

Bobby shrugged. "I haven't got it all figured out yet, but I do know it's a ghost."

"What's it doing? And where?" Sam asked.

Bobby sighed. "It's attacking kids in the park," he said. "Here's the newspaper articles for the past ten years."

"Only ten?" Dean asked as he took the stack of photocopies.

"It started about that long ago," Bobby said. "One or two a year, then the last two years, eight kids have been attacked."

Dean frowned down at the papers.

"How are they attacked?" Sam asked.

Bobby sighed. "The police don't know," he said. "It always takes place when there's no adults around, and the kids who witness it can't or won't say much. But the ones attacked are always under seven, mostly boys, a few girls, and the bodies are found near the creek that runs on the left side of the park."

Dean looked up. "The first body- the one from ten years ago- the police found traces of someone else there, it was ruled a murder, though never solved. Could he be the ghost?"

"I thought he was," Bobby admitted. "But I salted and burned his bones and nothing changed. And before you asked, he didn't leave any other remains behind."

Dean nodded. "What if there was another attack?" he asked.

"I've checked, going back as long as the town's been here," Bobby said. "Nothing."

Sam picked up one of the photocopies. "Only the first one had any evidence that there was someone beside the victim there?"

Bobby nodded. "There have been twenty victims so far, and none of them survived. I've got the police reports, and about half of them show signs of sexual assault, though there are never any… traces of the perpetrator," he scowled. "I've been starting to wonder if it might be the same guy who attacked the first kid, but he just died before he could attack any more kids."

"That's a possibility," Sam said. He was staring down at the papers. "Have you looked into that?"

Bobby shook his head. "Not yet," he said. "I burned the first kid's bones five weeks ago. Three days ago, there was another attack, and I just got back."

"Whoever it was, they were probably a local," Dean said. "Sammy?"

"I'll get on it," Sam said, as he pulled a laptop out of the bag. "Dean, Singer, you two should probably concentrate on the kids; see if they have anything in common besides playing at the park."

"They all went to the same school," Bobby said. "But there's only one elementary school in the area, so that's probably not a connection."

"Probably not," Dean said. "But it could be, you never know." Sam didn't even look up from setting up his computer, but he handed Dean a pad of paper and a pen.

Dean took it without comment and spread out the papers in front of him. "Singer, do you have obits for all the victims?"

"All the ones that I could find," Bobby said. "And you two can call me Bobby if you'd like."

"I think I'll stick to Singer," Sam said. "Make no mistake, Singer, we don't like Hunters, and you're a Hunter."

Bobby rolled his eyes. "I talked to Jim Murphy a few months ago," he said.

Sam didn't even twitch. "I figured he'd call other Hunters after I called him," he said. "Ah, here we go," he muttered. "Anyway, I'm hacking into the police station's computers. I hope they have their reports on computer now. I want to read the first report, see how it's different from the other ones."

Bobby grinned, impressed. "I had to pretend to be a fed to get into their files, but they were on the computer."

Sam nodded. "Alright. I don't think they'll know I'm here, but be ready to leave if they trace me."

He turned his attention to the computer. Dean was making notes on the pad, looking through the reports as he did so.

Bobby sighed. Hopefully, a different point of view would show something he was missing. This was why he liked working with others when he had a difficult case.

Bobby turned to some of the other information he'd compiled on the case. "Singer? Can you look up the news papers between the first death and the second? If it was a local who died, then there might be an obituary in the paper. We can use that information to figure it out," Dean said.

Bobby nodded and went to find the microfiche reader to check the back issues he'd searched through the last time he'd come to this town.

They passed the morning companionably, researching the case. Finally, Bobby stood up and stretched. "I've got a list," he said. "What about you two?"

"Well, the victims don't have much in common," Dean said. "They all went to the same school, they all spent time at the park, and most of the mothers were members of the same gardening group."

"Gardening group?" Sam asked, amused.

Dean shrugged. "Shut up, it's a connection. Did you get the police reports?"

"Yep," Sam said. "In and out, no problems. The reports are on my computer."

"So, how about lunch?" Bobby asked. "My treat, and we can talk about what we found."

The Winchesters exchanged glances and nodded. "Sounds good to me," Dean said. "So, what's good in this town?"

Bobby smiled.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam finished his salad quickly- he'd been hungrier then he'd thought- and smiled. "You're right, Singer. This place isn't that bad."

"Much better then the diner," Dean agreed.

"The diner does better breakfasts," Singer said. He smiled as Sam and Dean exchanged glances. "I was here for three weeks trying to work this case out. I tried out pretty much all the restaurants."

Sam chuckled. "I know how that is," he said. "Anyway, what'd you two get?"

Dean pulled out his pad. "Not too much. Like I said, all the kids went to the same school. But since there aren't any other schools in the area, I think we can discount that."

"I looked into it last time," Singer interjected. "There didn't seem to be anything."

"Alright," Dean said. "We'll set that aside for now. Fifteen of the moms were in a gardening group. They always entered the large vegetable competition in the local fair. The other four mothers weren't in the group. One family lost two children, four years apart. Five of the families when to the local Catholic Church, seven to the Baptist church. The others weren't religious, from what I can tell. Two of the victims were black, three were Hispanic, one Native American, and the rest were white. The families were all over the income scale, too. Fourteen of the victims were boys, six were girls."

"And they were all taken when their parents or caretakers weren't watching," Singer said.

"Exactly," Dean said. "They don't seem to have anything else in common."

"Targets of opportunity," Singer replied. "Like any human predator. I actually wondered if that might be the case, but only the first victim showed signs that he was attacked by something human."

"On that note, I've had a look at the case files," Sam said. "And Singer's right. The police couldn't figure out why there are absolutely no traces of the assaulter on nineteen of the victims. But the first boy did have traces of someone. Some hairs, some body fluids, and traces of blood under the boy's fingernails. The boy had defensive wounds, which the other victims lacked." Sam sighed. "The police don't know what's going on, but they think it's a serial pedophile, one who learned how to hide his tracks between his first and second victim."

"They're right, except the guy probably died," Dean said.

"My cue," Singer said. "There were several local deaths in between the first and second victims. Two of them are ones I want to look into. James Gracey, the local crackpot, had a massive heart attack five weeks before the second attack."

"Local crackpot?" Dean asked.

"That's nearly word for word what the newspaper said," Singer said. He picked up a copy he'd made. "'Gracey was known around town for his insistence that demons told him how to act.' Basically, he thought that demons were telling him to do things. He kept them out using candles he made himself. He claimed that they couldn't stand the smell of patchouli."

Sam favored Singer with an unimpressed stare. "Most demons would rather possess someone then just influence them. And candles?"

"Like I said, the local crackpot," Singer said. "He also spent a lot of time in the park."

Dean shook his head. "Who's the other guy?"

"The head gardener for the park, Mitch White" Singer said. "He was killed barely a week before the second attack. He got into a bar fight with a drifter and the drifter knifed him."

"So, he died violently," Sam said. "And he spent a lot of time at the park, obviously."

"So, which is it?"

Singer shrugged. "I have no idea. We need more information."

Sam sighed. "Maybe we should check the graves."

Singer nodded. "That's a good idea. I don't think we'll get any more from the families then I did last time I was here," he said. He held up the notebook he'd used for notes about this case. Sam and Dean had both read the notebook.

Well, I'm all for checking out the park," Sam said.

Singer shook his head. "Did that already. No sign of EMF unless the spirit is gearing up for another attack."

"Which, if it holds to pattern, won't be for at least another couple of months," Sam said.

Singer sighed. "I know. If the pattern holds. It's been decreasing over the past few years, which is how I picked up on it."

"What about the graves? Have you checked them out?"

"Not yet," Singer said. "Let's see… they're both buried in the same cemetery."

"Great," Dean said. "That makes things easier."

~~~~~~~~~~

Bobby watched as Dean pulled what looked like a battered walkman out of the trunk of his car. It was nighttime, and Bobby had already handed Sam a shovel and the salt, and Dean the gasoline. He carried another shovel and the map.

"You still have that thing?" Sam asked.

"Hey, it works!" Dean said.

Sam snorted. "Of course it works," he said. "You built it. But I would have thought you'd have built a new one before now."

"What is it?"

"EMF detector," Dean said. "I built it a few years ago out of an old walkman. And I like this one," he told Sam. "I finally got it right. I'll build a new one if this one breaks beyond repair."

Sam shrugged. "Fair enough," he said. He turned to look at Bobby. "So, Singer, are they both buried in the same section?"

"Yes, they are," Bobby said.

"Good," Dean said.

They headed out, flashlights searching the markers for the two names they were looking for.

They found the crackpot's grave first. The EMF detector didn't even beep.

It took them another ten minutes to find the second gravesite, and the detector went wild as soon as they got it close to the grave.

"Well, that's pretty clear," Bobby said.

"I'd say so," Sam replied. "Well, that's it then, Singer. Let's start digging."

Bobby and Sam made quick work of the dig. It was nice to have someone else helping, and someone to act as a lookout made it easier to work as well.

Sam broke through to the coffin first, and he and Bobby finished uncovering the coffin in record time.

The first problem came as they opened the coffin up, and started pouring salt over the body.

Wind picked up, and Dean was flung back into a nearby headstone.

Sam scrambled out of the hole and grabbed the bag of salt. He turned cautiously, and when the spirit appeared in front of him, he flung at least half the bag at the ghost.

The spirit disappeared. "Singer, hurry!" Sam snapped as he scrambled for his brother.

Bobby grabbed the gasoline and scrambled out of the hole to pour it down. He lit the book of matches and dropped them in the hole. The corpse ignited just as the spirit reappeared in front of him.

He watched as the ghost reached out to him but went up in flames as it did so.

Sam and Dean came up behind him. Dean was moving a little stiffly, but otherwise fine.

"So, Singer…" Sam started as they filled in the hole.

"Yes, Sam?" Bobby asked.

"Why did you ask us to help?" he asked. "You could have easily figured this out on your own. You're an experienced Hunter. There's no way you wouldn't have been able to handle the ghost."

Bobby shrugged. "I suppose," he said. "I did appreciate the help. Mostly, I just wanted to point out to you boys that not all Hunters are complete and utter morons."

Sam frowned at him. "Why?"

Bobby sighed. "Because I know what's out there. You two know what's out there. If those jackasses who call themselves Hunters don't stop, they'll drive you to do what they want to stop. I don't want that."

Sam snorted. "I bet you don't," he said.

Dean glared at him. "We know there's some Hunters out there who won't do anything unless we give them reason to," he said.

"Good," Bobby said. "But you've never met any of us," he said.

"Fine, Singer, you made your point," Sam said. "Now how about we all go our separate ways and hope we never have to talk to each other again."

Bobby sighed. "Boys…" he said. "Just know, my door's always open if you need help. I know you're not the evil some people say you are. I can help, if you need help."

Dean snorted.

They finished in silence and carried the supplies back to the cars in silence.

"Come on, Sam," Dean finally said once everything was packed away.

"Yeah," Sam said. He glanced at Bobby one last time.

The Hunter just watched them go. He wasn't sure if he'd done any good, but he'd had to try.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam sighed. "He wasn't that bad," he admitted.

"Yeah, but next time we see him, he'll probably try to blow our heads off," Dean pointed out. "Because the next time we see him, we'll be knee deep in Azazel's plan.

"Only knee deep?" Sam asked.

Dean snorted. "Fine, hip deep."

Sam smiled. "It's a shame, though," he said. "Singer seemed like a decent guy."

"Well, he shouldn't be a Hunter if he wanted to win any points with us."

Sam nodded, though Dean was staring at the road. "I guess your right. So, now that all that's over with, how about we head for Saginaw?"

"Sounds like a plan to me," Dean said. He reached out and turned on the radio.

Sam relaxed as the familiar guitar notes of Highway to Hell began.

Even if he did hate the lyrics.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Saginaw turned out to be a bust- Max Miller was missing. He'd disappeared in the middle of the day, and the only clues were the rest of the people in the diner- all of them dead and covered in sulfur. Max was not the main suspect only because the CCTV showed him backing away from a shadowy form before the thing grabbed him.

Sam and Dean exchanged glances at the news.

"Well," Sam said once they were back in the Impala and heading away.

"It's starting," Dean replied. "I thought he'd start later on."

"I guess not," Sam replied. "Well," he repeated.

"At least we know now," Dean replied.

"This means that he's almost ready to release Lilith," Sam said. "Which means that soon enough, they'll start breaking the rest of the seals."

"I know, Sammy," Dean said. "We better head back to the mansion."

"Yeah," Sam said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam groaned as he opened the door to the mansion. He was just so tired. It was two days past the time they'd thought they'd make it, and he just wanted to go to sleep.

There didn't seem to be anyone around as he and Dean reset the wards and stumbled to their rooms. Sam groaned as he set his duffle bag down on the floor. He was exhausted, that was the only reason he didn't see the man standing in the corner of the room until he had closed the door and moved toward the bed.

He dropped to a crouch, but came out of it just as fast. "Dad!" he exclaimed.

"Your father's asleep right now," Azazel replied.

Sam sat down on his bed. "Right, sorry. I'm tired. Is something wrong?"

Azazel shook his head. "No, nothing's wrong. I just wanted to check on you and your brother, after you both had that vision."

Sam groaned. "Yeah, that damn vision," he muttered. "Literally."

Azazel chuckled. "Yes, true," he said. "Sam, it's a good thing. It did prove that Dean received some benefits from becoming one of my children, and you are getting stronger."

"If you say so," Sam said. He blinked and shook his head. "Dean did something to the car of a man following us before we headed to Michigan," he said. "So the vision wasn't proof, really." He yawned. "Sorry, we barely stopped on the trip back from Michigan. Can we…"

Azazel sighed. "Humans and their limitations," he muttered. "We'll talk in the morning," he said.

Sam nodded and lay down. He'd get up in a minute and get changed…

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Azazel watched fondly as Sam and Dean worked around each other in the smallest of the mansion's three kitchens to make breakfast. Neither of them had noticed he was watching, since he was currently hiding in the few shadows of the breakfast nook.

"Sleep in a real bed does wonders, doesn't it, Sammy?" Dean asked.

"Yes it does," Sam replied. "And it's Sam!"

"Whatever, Sammy."

Sam growled low in his throat, but he didn't say anything. Azazel smiled. That was an old argument, one that the boys had been having since Sam had turned thirteen, at least.

They really were his favorites. And it wasn't just because they were both powerful, it was also because they knew what he wanted, and they participated eagerly in his plans.

Though Azazel suspected he'd take a great interest in them even if they didn't know.

He narrowed his eyes and stepped out of the shadows. "Feeling better, boys?"

Somehow, neither of them jumped or showed that they were startled at all.

"Yeah," Dean said. He glared down at the eggs he was scrambling. "We're fine," he finished.

"Good," Azazel said. "Because I've started weeding out the weaker of the children."

"We know," Sam said.

Azazel frowned at him. "We stopped by Saginaw. Max Miller was taken by something that left a lot of sulfur in the area. We figured it was you."

Azazel chuckled. "Yes, it was. He and four others- you don't know about them, they're from outside the US- are in Cold Oak right now."

"Cold Oak?" Dean asked. "Not the most haunted town in America?"

"Yes, Cold Oak," Azazel said. "I figured an abandoned ghost town would be a good place for my version of Miss America."

"Or Survivor: demon blood version," Sam muttered.

Dean chuckled. "I like that," he said. "So, when are Sammy and I joining the game?"

"You aren't," Azazel said. "Sammy… probably in a few months or so."

"Why isn't Dean?" Sam asked.

Azazel sighed. "Dean is… he was unplanned, and I'm still concerned that the blood didn't do enough to make him suitable to our needs. Plus, I know you two wouldn't kill each other, which would defeat the whole purpose of the death match. I'm not stupid, boys, I know you've talked about that."

"True," Sam said. "Are you going to want breakfast?" He asked quickly.

"I've already eaten," Azazel replied.

"Alright," Sam sighed. "I'll be joining in for the final round, right?" Sam asked.

"Yes, that's my plan," Azazel said. "At least, at this point. But if the angels start acting up more, then I don't know what I'll do."

"What are they doing?" Dean asked as he and Sam sat down to breakfast.

Azazel sighed. "A good number of them are laying siege to Hell."

Dean choked on a bite of toast.

"What?" Sam breathed.

"Who would want to get into Hell?" Dean asked.

Azazel sighed. "The man you saw in your vision- Jimmy- is important to the events that will come. The angels need him, or they will lose the upcoming war."

Sam blinked. "He's that important? Is that why he broke the first seal?"

"It's because he broke the first seal that he's so important," Azazel said. "And no, I'm not going to explain further right now."

Sam and Dean glanced at each other, but Azazel knew they were used to that sort of response from him. They both shrugged and returned their attention to breakfast.

"But I am going to need your help soon, boys," he said. "Just as soon as I find out where it is, I'm going to send you out to retrieve something for me."

"What is it?"

Azazel sighed. "It's a gun," he said. "A very special gun."

Sam blinked. "A gun?" he prompted.

Azazel felt John in the back of his mind, prompting him to explain.

"Yes," Azazel said. "It's an old gun. You see, in 1835, when Halley's Comet was still visible, Samuel Colt built a gun. The story goes that he built it for a Hunter- a man like the ones after us, only on horseback. I know why he made it, and that was only part of the reason. He also made thirteen bullets. As long as those bullets have not all been used, that gun can kill anything."

"Anything?" Sam asked. "Like… supernatural anything?"

"Anything," Azazel said. "Though I suspect that it can't literally kill anything, I have no proof. It can certainly kill anything that currently walks the Earth."

Dean whistled quietly. "That sounds dangerous," he said.

"Oh, it is," Azazel said. "But it has more uses then that. That gun is also a key point to several of my plans."

"Alright, so we're going to find an old gun that can kill anything," Dean said. "Well, that can't be easy."

Azazel sighed. "I have some ideas of where it might be," he said. "It might take me a couple of months to confirm it, though. I need you two to stay here. It's getting dangerous out there. I heard about your run in with that Hunter, and I don't want anything to happen to you so close to the end."

They didn't look too happy about that, but they didn't say anything.

"Think of it this way, boys. You can work on your abilities, try to wake them up."

Dean brightened slightly, but Sam just looked even more upset. "Great," he said. "More vision headaches."

Azazel chuckled.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Trapped, he was trapped. Jimmy Novak panicked for a long moment before he took a deep breath and forced himself to focus. He'd probably done something wrong, and Alastair was punishing him. He tried to remember the last thing he could, but all he could remember was a brilliant light and a voice saying he didn't belong in Hell.

He closed his eyes. Alastair was just trying to give him false hope, to break him down even more. Being Alastair's student was hardly better then being his subject.

Jimmy nodded once.

He could handle this. He felt along the sides of his cage, and found they were soft, with what felt like hard wood under the padding.

He frowned. He was in a coffin? Maybe Alastair wanted him to escape from the coffin before his real punishment began.

Well, Jimmy hated small spaces, so he'd oblige him. Jimmy had learned how to handle pain, but he still hated to be held down.

He began battering against the top, eventually breaking through, only to be met with a fall of dirt. Desperately, for Jimmy could feel his oxygen running out (what oxygen? He was a soul, why did he need to breathe?), Jimmy dug through the dirt.

He felt a hand poke up into clean air, and he doubled his efforts. Someone grabbed his hand and helped pull him up. He gasped as cool air met his face. "What?"

"Hello, Jimmy Novak," the man who helped him up said.

"Where's Alastair?" Jimmy asked as he looked around. It looked like they were in a cemetery, one that had been flattened by some sort of explosion.

The man sighed, drawing Jimmy's attention to him. He was taller then Jimmy by several inches, with light hair and blue eyes. He was older then Jimmy by a few years- possibly ten- and he was standing stiffly, as though he were much more serious then the blue jeans and comfortable flannel shirt he was wearing indicated.

"Alastair, as far as I know, is still in Hell, recovering from the injuries he took as he tried to prevent me from rescuing you."

Jimmy gaped at the man. "What?" he asked. "We're not in Hell?"

"No," the man said. "Now come, we have to get out of here."

"Why?"

"Because you are considered dead by the world, and I have much to tell you. I cannot do that if we are interrupted by someone."

"Now wait just a minute," Jimmy said. "I'm not going anywhere with you, not until I know who you are and where we are."

"Currently, we are in the cemetery in Pontiac, Illinois," the man said. "And I am Castiel. I'm the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition." He looked completely satisfied by that.

Jimmy stared at the other man in shock. "You're who?" he asked.

"I am Castiel. I am an angel of the Lord."

Jimmy shook his head. "What would an angel want with me?"

"We have need of you, Jimmy," the… angel said. "You have a part to play in what is to come." He sighed. "First, let's go. We have much to discuss, and I don't want to do it here."

Jimmy frowned at him, backing away. "I'm not going anywhere," he said.

The angel lifted his hand and placed two fingers on his forehead. There was a moment of stomach twisting movement, and Jimmy stumbled back from the angel as they reappeared somewhere else.

Jimmy looked around. They were standing in some hotel room. "We can talk here," Castiel said. "And we have much to discuss."

"Now wait just a moment," Jimmy snapped. "You say I'm not in Hell anymore?" he asked.

"You are not," Castiel replied.

"Then I'm going to call my wife."

"She will not believe it is you," Castiel said.

Jimmy slumped down. The angel was right. He'd been in Hell for two decades, at least. There was no way Amelia hadn't already moved on. And Clair was probably nearly as old as he'd been when he'd died.

"How long was I down there?"

"Twenty three years passed in Hell, while only a little over two months passed here."

"What?" Jimmy asked.

Castiel nodded. "Time runs differently in Hell then it does on Earth," he said. "You were only gone for two months."

Jimmy closed his eyes. "That means that Clair… my little girl is still so young," he said.

"Yes," Castiel said.

"I have to go to them," he said. He stood up and headed for the door.

Castiel grabbed his arm. "They are safe, for now. Would you drag them into danger just because you want to see them?"

Jimmy froze. "Danger?"

Castiel nodded. "We are about to enter a period of war with Hell," he said. "And you, James Novak, have an important part to play in that war. I will stay with you and lead you through what you need to learn."

"Why me? Why not someone who deserves it?"

Castiel looked at him. "You do deserve it, James Novak. Because God commanded it. He has work for you."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jess was not so patiently staring out the front window of Meg's car. She wanted desperately to jump out and run to Sam, but they still had most of a mile to go, and it'd be faster in the car, winding road or not.

"Why is this place all the way out in the middle of nowhere, anyway?"

"Can you imagine us having normal neighbors?" Meg asked. "Believe me, we're safer this way. There's nobody to complain about weird noises, we have the freedom to do whatever we need to do, and we can set up some strong wards to keep Hunters from finding us. No, its better that we're out here in the middle of nowhere."

Jess sighed. "I guess you're right," she said. She reached up and fingered the amulet she now wore. It had been a gift from Meg after she'd cast her first successful spell. Meg had told her it marked her as Sam's, and therefore, off limits.

"Of course I'm right," Meg said haughtily. Jess started to laugh.

"So, what'd your parents say this time?" Meg asked.

Jess sighed. "Mom and Dad aren't happy about this, but they seem to realize how much I need to do this. And it's not like I'd be safe on my own yet. I can defend myself now, but any really good Hunter will easily take me out. And they might, just because of Sam, never mind the fact that I'm a witch now."

"Actually, I meant the fact that you're not continuing on to grad school."

Jess grinned. "They just think I'm taking a year off," she admitted.

Meg chuckled. "I see," she said.

They turned a corner, and there was the mansion. Jess could see Sam waiting for her on the doorstop. Her boyfriend stood up as the car approached.

Meg stopped right in front of the door, and Jess had her door open almost as soon as they stopped.

"Jess!" Sam exclaimed as he caught her and spun her around before kissing her firmly. "Congratulations," Sam finally said. "I heard you managed to keep your 4.0."

Jess smiled. "Of course I did," she said. "And I learned a lot more then just in my classes," she said.

Sam frowned down at her before his eyes drifted to the amulet.

He blinked in shock.

"Jess… do you know what that means?" he asked.

Jess nodded. "Of course I do," she said. "I told you, Sam, I love you. Giving myself up to you is nothing."

Sam kissed the top of her head. "Jess," he said quietly. He sounded stunned, but happy.

Jess smiled up at him. "That's not all," she said. "I've learned quite a lot."

"Meg's been teaching you?"

Jess nodded. "Knife fighting as well as a few spells."

Sam grinned. "Good," he said. "We'll have to spar sometime."

Jess grinned. Her boyfriend was awesome.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dawn found Jess stretching out on the front lawn. She'd gotten in the habit of running a few miles every morning (actually, Meg had pretty much forced her to start running), and the grounds around the mansion would be perfect for a nice long run. She knew Sam and Dean had already started on their run, but they tended to go faster then she could keep up, and anyway, she liked running alone.

Jess checked that her new knife was secure in its sheath at the small of her back, and set off.

There was something very lovely about the location that Azazel had chosen for his safe house. Despite being occupied by demons for the better part of a century, the woods around the house were peaceful and healthy. Jess saw deer bolt away from her as she ran, as well as signs of other forest creatures.

She smiled. It was a wonderful area.

She lost herself in her run. As she finished her circuit around the house, she saw that Sam and Dean were waiting for her, along with John. No, not John. She had to remember that she was looking at Azazel right now.

"Good, there you are," Azazel said. "As soon as the three of you are ready, I need to talk with you. I've found the Colt."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam watched as Azazel spread a map out. "Before I explain where the Colt is, I want to show you something. Once we have the Colt, and you've won, Sammy, we'll head here."

Sam and Dean leaned over the map to study it.

John and Dean studied the map. "So, this is where you want us to go once we've found that colt?" Dean asked. "What's so important about this corner of Wyoming?"

Sam was wondering the same thing. Jess looked like she wanted to ask about it too.

Azazel laughed. He took a pen and made five marks. "These five points are where Samuel Colt- yes, the very same man who built that blasted gun- built five churches. He connected them with private railroads."

Sam leaned over and took the pen. He connected the marks into a familiar pattern. "It's a devil's trap. What's in the center that's so important?" Sam asked.

Azazel nodded at Sam. "The devil's gate. A door to hell. It can only be unlock by using the same Colt. We open it, and release the army. We can release Lilith."

"Lilith?" Jess asked. "You don't mean- the first woman, the one who refused to bow down to Adam, the one who came before Eve? That Lilith?"

Sam glanced at her. He was shocked that she knew that. "I read about her," she said quietly.

Azazel nodded. "Yes, that Lilith. She's a very powerful demon, currently trapped in Hell, and if we can free her, she can begin the process of freeing Lucifer."

Jess sat down. Sam realized that this was the first time Jess had heard the full plan. Sam glanced at her, worried about how she'd take it. She smiled at him wanly. "I had no idea," she muttered.

Sam nodded. "Well, that's the plan," he said quietly.

She nodded slowly. Sam wasn't sure what she was thinking. He just hoped she wasn't regretting her decisions.

"So, this devil's gate," Dean said. "If it's in the middle of a devil's trap, then demons can't escape," Dean shook his head. "Oh, Colt was a…"

"He was very smart," Azazel said. "I knew him quite well. Unfortunately, I was never able to tempt him to our side, or things would be very different. He was never a Hunter, but he had friends who were, and he trusted them more then he trusted the demon who offered him everything he ever wanted. I never attacked him, so we developed a very odd relationship- it wasn't friendship, but he at least trusted me not to attack him or his family, even when he was doing all his best to stop my plans."

Sam and Dean both snorted at that. "So, we know what we need the Colt for. We know where to go when we find the Colt. We just need that gun to do it. And you know where the Colt is," Sam said.

Azazel nodded. "And that's where you two come in- again. Or the three of you, if you want to help, Jess. I've found out where it is, but the man guarding it has too many protections against demons for me to just walk up to him and take it."

"So you need us to get it," Dean said.

"Yes," Azazel said. "Daniel Elkins is reclusive, so he won't recognize you on sight."

"That's a plus," Sam said. "If we choose good fake names- no rock aliases, Dean- we should be able to get in with no trouble."

"There is one thing," Azazel said. "Elkins is a vampire Hunter, primarily. I think that one of the nests is going after him in revenge."

"Huh," Dean said. "I thought vampires were extinct."

"Vampires are real?" Jess said.

"They were," Sam said. "But I thought Hunters had wiped them out about fifty years ago."

"Everyone thought that, Sam," Azazel said. "But I made contact with a couple of nests when John and I hit the road. None of them are going to help us, but I didn't really expect them to. Especially not the one group… they've stopped feeding from humans. Their leader is…" he shook his head. "No one should deny their own nature," he said. "Fools."

Dean snorted. "What, they go after cows?"

"Yes, actually," Azazel said.

"Wow," Sam deadpanned.

Jess snickered. "The look on your face, Sam," she said.

"I loath stupidity, and what those vampires are doing is stupid," Sam said. "Azazel's right, no one should deny their own nature."

Jess shrugged. "What about the other nest?" she asked.

"They won't help us, they won't hinder us," Azazel said. "I suppose that's the best I could hope for. You'll be heading into their territory- Elkins has been Hunting this nest for years, and they've been tracking him in turn."

Dean nodded. "So, since we've never met vampires before, how do we deal with them? Just in case?"

"Beheading works," Azazel said. "And they don't like getting stabbed by a knife covered in the blood of a dead man. Beyond that, just don't get in their way, unless they get in yours."

Sam and Dean nodded. Jess smiled wanly and nodded as well, a moment after that.

"Good," Azazel said. "You'll leave for Colorado in the morning."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam climbed out of the Impala next to the old cabin. It looked trashed.

"Damn," Dean said as he got out.

Jess unfolded herself from the back seat and eyed the cabin. "I'd say the vampires got here before we did," she said.

"Looks like it," Sam said. "But the gun might still be there."

"Let's get the flashlights and some weapons out of the trunk," Dean said.

Sam glanced around the outside before they entered. He couldn't see any sign of where the attackers might have gone, but that didn't mean much.

Once inside, it was clear that the place had been ransacked. "So, this guy was definitely a Hunter," Sam said. He was looking at the thick line of salt that lined the door. "And, apparently, whatever attacked Elkins wasn't bothered by salt."

"I thought we'd decided it was vampires," Jess said.

"Well, no need to eliminate anything right now. After all, we wouldn't mind taking out some Hunters and none of us are repelled by salt," Dean said. "But you're right, it's probably vampires."

Jess snorted. Sam smiled and let his girlfriend and brother bicker companionably. He headed back into the rest of the cabin. It was a large one, with all sorts of interesting odds and ends inside. "I'd love to spend a week with Elkins' library," he muttered. "And then, I'd probably have to torch a good portion of it."

Dean and Jess either ignored him or didn't hear him. Jess was still searching the main room, while Dean was upstairs.

"Hey, I found something!" Dean called out. He came down the stairs holding a box. "Look at this."

Sam took it and opened it. There was a space for a hand gun, and several slots for bullets, but the box was empty. He counted them and came up with thirteen.

"It's gone," Sam said.

Jess took the box and studied it. "I think I can find it," she said.

"A locator spell?" Sam asked.

Jess nodded. "Exactly," she said. "It's similar to using a spell to locate people, but it works on inanimate objects."

"Awesome," Dean said. "Sammy, have I told you that your girlfriend is way out of your league?"

"It's Sam, and stop it," Sam said. "I heard you the first hundred times."

"I think we have what I need back in the car," Jess said.

"Let's get a hotel room," Dean said. "We're all tired, and I don't want to talk to vampires, or whatever has the Colt, without a good night's sleep."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chapter Text

Jimmy glanced around the small town as he searched for a motel. In the past two months, Castiel had taken him all over the country and tried to show him just what he'd need to do. He'd taken him to learn from men and women who had a lot more experience at handling evil then Jimmy did. Jimmy hated it. He'd finally put his foot down and purchased an old clunker of a car so he could get wherever he needed to go without relying on the angel and his stomach turning method of travel.

He wanted to be with his family, he hated being a "Hunter", and he didn't understand how people could devote their lives to what he'd been doing for two months.

He'd broken more laws in the last two months then he'd even realized existed. He had several fake ids that proclaimed his name was one of half a dozen different names, with as many professions. He'd learned how to use all sorts of guns, including the illegal ones.

He wasn't the same man he'd been before that accident. Of course, his nightmares of Hell and what he'd done there pretty much assured that, never mind his new status as angel errand boy.

"You are more then that," Castiel said.

"Stop that," Jimmy snapped. "Stay out of my head."

Castiel just tilted his head. It was funny how the angel managed to look like an innocent child, even though his body looked at least ten years older then Jimmy.

Jimmy sighed. Despite everything, he was growing to like the angel. The angel had been his only constant companion since he'd come back to life. The angel was irritatingly dense, didn't seem to grasp human concepts at all, was prone to simply expecting Jimmy to just follow whatever orders he gave, and quietly sure in a way that grated on Jimmy's nerves. He was also brave, caring in his own way, and someone to talk to.

"So, explain to me why we're in Colorado again," Jimmy said.

"There is a nest of vampires here that need to be taken out," Castiel said. "If you can handle them, then we know you're ready to take on the demons that will be attacking the world shortly."

"If they're not attacking yet, why don't you stop them now?" Jimmy asked.

Castiel sighed. "We do not have enough information about how they will attack," he said. "They will, but we just don't know…"

Jimmy shrugged. "You know, I thought Armageddon was supposed to be God purifying the world, and making paradise afterwards, not demons destroying everything."

"If we do not succeed, then the demons and Lucifer will destroy the world," Castiel said somberly.

"No pressure," Jimmy muttered, but it wasn't like this was new. Castiel only told him this about once a week.

"So, vampires," Jimmy prompted. He'd learned not to question what was real and what couldn't possibly exist in the world.

"Yes," the angel replied.

Jimmy waited a moment, and then sighed. "How can I handle vampires?" he finally asked. Blasted angel didn't have any sense of how to handle a conversation.

Castiel nodded. "They can be killed if you decapitate them. The can be paralyzed if they are injected with Dead Man's Blood."

"Dean Man's Blood?" Jimmy asked.

"The blood from a dead man- or woman- can be used to paralyze a vampire. If they are stabbed with a knife coated in it, they can be decapitated at leisure."

Jimmy snorted. "I bet," he said. "Right, what about sunlight? A stake through the heart?"

Castiel frowned at him. "I don't understand. Neither of those things can kill vampires. They do sleep during the day, but that is because sunlight irritates their skin."

Jimmy sighed. "Of course," he said.

He pulled the car into the parking lot of a cheap motel that he never would have touched in his former life. He parked right next to a beautiful muscle car, and took a moment to admire it before getting out and heading for the office.

"Alright, I'll get a room, then you can tell me where the vampires are," he said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jimmy groaned as he opened the door to his room. Castiel had flown off somewhere- he did that sometimes. Jimmy didn't care; it meant he had some time to himself.

The door to the room next to him opened, and a beautiful blonde walked out and nearly right into him. "Sorry," she said.

"Don't worry," Jimmy replied. "Are you alright?"

"Yes, I'm fine," she said.

A tall- very tall- man appeared in the doorway to the room she was just in. He took in the scene and then stared at Jimmy.

Jimmy shifted uneasily.

He didn't like it when people stared at him, and this guy just would not stop.

"Sam?" the woman asked.

Sam shook his head. "Sorry, you... uh... just reminded me of someone."

"It's alright," Jimmy said. "I'm Cas," he added. It was better if he didn't use his real name, so he'd taken to shortening Castiel's name whenever he needed a quick alias.

"Nice to meet you, Cas," Sam said. "I'm Sam, this is Jess."

"So, what are you doing in Colorado?" Jess asked.

"Just passing through," Jimmy said. "On my way to California."

Sam nodded. "Same here, only we're heading for the east coast."

Jimmy grinned. "Great. Well, it was nice to meet you, Sam and Jess," he said.

"Nice to meet you too," Jess said.

Jimmy entered his room and smiled. Those two were a cute couple. It was nice to talk to normal people every so often, now.

He set his duffle down and pulled out the notebook that he'd purchased. He'd been told that the best way to organize his Hunts was to have a journal full of information he'd come across. Other Hunters said that it made sense to have one easily referenced fact book.

Castiel still wasn't back. Jimmy sighed. It looked like he'd be going this Hunt alone.

So, decapitation. Jimmy knew that he had a machete in his car trunk. He'd need to pull out his large knife, too, so he could cover it in Dead Man's Blood.

But first, he had to find the vampire's hideout.

He heard a loud rumbling and peaked outside the window. The couple, along with another kid about their age, was leaving in the muscle car.

Jimmy sighed. He wished he could be as carefree as those kids.

~~~~~~~~~~

"Jimmy Novak?"

Sam rolled his eyes. "For the tenth time, Dean, yes, Jimmy Novak."

"You're sure?" Dean pressed.

"Yes, I'm sure," Sam growled. "It's either that, or Novak has a twin."

Dean tilted his head.

"No, Dean. I looked into him when Azazel told us about him. He doesn't have any siblings. And that wasn't a shape shifter, either."

"So… if it's really Novak, how is he back?"

Jess leaned over the seat. She had no clue, really. "A deal?" she asked.

"No, Azazel said they wanted him dead and out of the way in Hell," Sam reminded her. "No one would deal for him, if anyone thought to ask."

Dean sighed. "Then it can't be Novak," he said.

"Then tell me who it is!" Sam exclaimed. "I know its Novak, or else he's got a double out there, and no one knew."

"What about the angels?" Dean asked. "Azazel said that they were trying to get to him."

Sam grinned humorlessly. "I figured that they were just trying to get him out of Hell and into Heaven or something."

Dean snorted. "Fine, we'll tell Meg or Azazel when we get back to the mansion," he said. He pulled the car off the road and hid it behind some trees. "We're here," Dean said.

Sam climbed out of the car and opened the trunk. "We're going in armed," he said. "I don't care if we're not going to fight, I want us armed."

Jess frowned at him. "Are you expecting problems?" she asked.

"I just have a bad feeling about this," Sam admitted.

Dean sighed. "Alright, machetes all around," he said. "Good thing we have an extra one for Jess," he said.

Jess led the way to the barn the vampires were using as a nesting site. She had several tricks up her sleeve, tricks she'd picked up in the past few months.

Sam was right behind her. She might have learned how to defend herself, but he had spent a lifetime dealing with the supernatural, and he knew how tricky it could be.

Dean brought up the rear. He wasn't going to let his brother out of his sight.

The reached the barn with no problems, and Sam rapped sharply on the smaller door.

They had to wait a while before the door opened and a sleepy looking man peeked out.

He blinked, taking in their weapons. "I've never known Hunters to simply knock," he said.

"We're not Hunters," Sam said. "We're just careful."

The vampire snorted. "Yeah, sure."

"Azazel sent us," Sam continued.

The vampire stiffened. "I already told him that we aren't going to help him," he said.

"We know," Sam said. "We came here because a Hunter had something we needed." He paused. "Can we do this inside? I know sunlight irritates your skin."

The vampire sighed. "Yeah, sure," he said as he let them in. Dean looked around. The barn didn't look that impressive, and it was rather dark inside, but he could see a couple of locked cages and some hammocks.

He returned his attention to center of the room and the table the vampire was leading them towards.

It was covered in cash and jewelry, with an antique gun carefully placed on one corner. They sat on bales of hay around it. Jess pulled back slightly, doing her best to pretend to be of no importance.

"I'm Luther," the Vampire said. "Why are you here?"

Sam smiled. "I'm Sam Winchester; this is my brother Dean, and Jessica Moore. We're here because we were told that Daniel Elkins had a gun we needed."

"I told Kate that killing Elkins was a mistake," Luther said.

"Oh, we don't care about that," Sam said. "One less Hunter in the world. But we need that gun."

Luther frowned. "Why?"

"Azazel didn't tell us why," Sam lied.

Dean leaned forward. "It's an old colt revolver. Azazel said that it was… important."

Luther nodded slowly. "And if I say we don't have it?"

"Then we go back and tell Azazel that a nest of vampires is trying to impede his plans," Dean said harshly. He glared. "And he'd know if you kill us. He'd be very displeased if that would happen."

"Since when does a demon care about humans?"

Jess smiled. "His host is their father," she said. "Has been for a while now. Azazel raised these two."

Luther studied them after that. "Demons use humans," he said. "Whatever he wants you for, he doesn't actually care about you."

"That's where you're wrong," Sam said.

"If you die, he'll just find someone else to do what you would have done."

"Perhaps," Sam dismissed. "But he did say that I'm the best one for the job. Do you think he'd be happy to see over twenty years of work lost because one vampire was too aggressive?"

Luther snorted. "I don't care what Azazel thinks," he said.

Sam leaned back. "Maybe not," he said. "Still, you should give it some thought."

Luther rolled his eyes. "So, you say you're not Hunters," he said.

"We're not," Jess replied. "We're just here for the gun. Once we have that, we'll leave you alone. You can go back to doing whatever you want to do."

"Somehow, I don't believe that."

"We know Hunters are going to come after you, because you killed Elkins," Sam said. "Hunters know how to hold grudges. And they're always chasing after me."

"You killed a Hunter?"

"My dad did, when they attacked us when I was a baby," Sam replied. "That's when they killed my mom."

Dean leaned forward. "So, Luther, what do you say?

"I say no," Luther said. "I don't have to give that gun to a bunch of humans."

Sam and Dean exchanged glances. "That's unfortunate," Dean said. He shrugged. "Because we aren't really interested in a no."

"You're also surrounded," Luther said.

Dean didn't even blink. "So?" he asked.

Luther didn't like that. A female vampire reached out to grab Dean.

Dean let her touch his arm before lashing out. He felt that power he'd been cultivating for over two months flash through him. The female vampire cart wheeled through the air and slammed against the wall, pinned like a bug.

"What does it matter, if we can beat all of you?" Dean continued.

Sam smirked. "We're not ordinary humans, Luther. Now, we came here in good faith, and tried to be polite about it. Now, I'm telling you. We're taking the gun with us, and you're not going to be able to stop us. If you try, you'll all end up against the walls, and then we'll use our machetes. Or Dean and I will simply freeze you in your tracks, perhaps."

Luther glared at him.

Sam smiled. "Starting with girly there already pinned to the wall. You'll be the last one we kill."

Luther growled low in his throat. Dean flicked a glance at the vampire, most of his attention on the one he was holding up.

"Fine," Luther said. "It's the one on the table."

"We know," Sam said. He reached over and carefully picked it up. He checked to make sure it was loaded.

"Well, Sammy?" Dean asked.

"Five bullets," Sam said.

"That'll be enough," Dean replied.

Sam lifted the gun and pointed it straight at Luther. "Now, how shall we see if it's the real thing?" he asked.

The vampires, already immobile thanks to the powers Sam and Dean were using, stilled even further.

"If you kill me, you'll never be safe. Kate and the others will hunt you down and kill you. And you don't have enough bullets to kill us all."

Sam sighed. "True, I suppose. Still, there are other ways to prevent that."

Jess got up and moved to stand behind one of the other vampires.

Sam smiled coldly. "We're going to make sure, Luther," he said. He pulled the trigger.

The vampire jerked back as the bullet hit him in the head. Sam watched impassively as darkness leached out from the hole, and the vampire jerked again before collapsing, dead.

"I'd say that proves it," Dean said.

Sam tucked the gun away under his shirt after a moment. "Yes, it does," he said before looking around at the rest of the vampires.

"We can't let them come after us," Dean said easily.

Jess looked faintly disturbed, but nodded. "They'll come after us?" she asked. "Even after… all this?"

"Yes," Dean said.

"You don't have to stay for this," Sam said quietly.

Jess shook her head. "No way, Sam. I'm a part of this now. Though I don't think I want to…"

Sam nodded. "Of course." He and Dean pulled out their machetes and made quick work of the ten vampires in the nest.

Jess didn't turn away, but she didn't help, either.

"Let's go," Dean said once they were done.

"What would you have done if he'd just given us the gun?" Jess asked.

"We'd have left them alone," Sam said. "But he threatened us, and that was a foolhardy mistake at best."

Jess nodded. "It seemed a bit violent," she said.

Sam shrugged. "It's the only way to stop them," he said. "They'd have kept coming after us, and more importantly, you."

Jess nodded. "I understand," she said. "I hope I never have to do that, though."

"I don't blame you," Sam said. "It's not easy."

Jess smiled. "I'm not doubting you," she said. "Or my choices. I just wonder what it'd be like if you didn't have to do that sort of thing."

"I wonder that, too, sometimes," Sam said. "But then I remember that I have a lot more freedom as one of Azazel's chosen."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jimmy glared at Castiel. "And you didn't tell me they were already dead, why?"

They were standing in the old barn that they'd tracked the vampires to, only to find that all of them were dead. Most of them had been beheaded, just like Castiel had told him, but one of them had been shot, apparently.

"I didn't know," Castiel said. "Perhaps some other Hunters were here."

"I thought you said Vampires could only be killed by beheading."

Castiel frowned. His light blue eyes darkened for a moment as he studied the corpse. "This vampire was killed by the Colt."

"A horse or a gun?" Jimmy asked.

Castiel glanced at him in confusion. "A gun," he said. "One that can kill anything."

Jimmy snorted. "Alright, if you say so."

He paused and looked around. "Well, we don't have a Hunt here," he commented, then winced at how obvious he was being. "I suppose we should just torch the place."

Castiel frowned at him. "Why would we do that?"

Jimmy frowned. "So the police don't come here and think they have some sort of serial killer? So that if they do find the place, they won't find any fingerprints from us? It'd be strange if they found the fingerprints of a dead man here. And I don't know about you, what you do when you're not helping me, but you don't need your fingerprints in the system."

"They are not my fingerprints," Castiel said. "I do not have fingerprints. And Nick does not have any criminal record."

"Nick?" Jimmy asked.

"My vessel. He is a good man, though he was reluctant to help at first."

Jimmy frowned and shrugged. He'd given up trying to understand his angelic shadow.

"Fine, but I don't want to do that to my family. They think I'm dead. I don't want them to find out I'm alive because I'm a suspect in… something like this."

Castiel nodded. "We cannot let them suspect you are alive at all," he said. "Or they would be in danger."

"I know," Jimmy said sadly. It wasn't like they hadn't had this conversation before.

He made short work of dousing the barn in gasoline then left the building and created a makeshift fuse so he could light it safely. That was a trick he'd picked up from a Hunter named Bill Harvelle and his wife, Ellen.

He watched for a moment to make sure the building was burning well, and headed out. Luckily, it had rained the day before, so the trees surrounding the barn weren't in any danger.

When he turned around, Castiel was right behind him. Jimmy jumped. "Castiel!" he yelled. "God, would it kill you to stand a little farther away?"

Castiel frowned at him.

Jimmy snorted and stomped away. He hated this.

"Head for South Dakota," Castiel ordered once they had reached the car and Jimmy had tossed the gear in the trunk.

"Why?"

"There is a Hunter there, one who my superiors say will be important to the future battles. He can teach you a lot about demons."

Jimmy sighed. "Does this Hunter have a name?"

"Robert Singer. I believe he goes by Bobby."

"Is there any reason you can't teach me about demons?" Jimmy asked. He hated spending time with Hunters. Most of them were suspicious, and after one or two learned that he was supposed to be dead, Jimmy kept away from them as much as possible.

He still hadn't gotten over nearly being killed by that husband and wife team down in Okalahoma.

"You cannot do everything angels can, when it comes to fighting demons. It is best that you learn from a human."

Jimmy snorted. "Fine, South Dakota it is. He better not try to kill me."

"He will not," Castiel said. "Robert Singer is a good man who has not killed anything just because it's different. He didn't even try to kill Sam and Dean Winchester."

"Who?"

"The Winchesters. They are often Hunted. They were attacked when they were children, because some of the Hunters thought that Sam would end the world. The Hunters have pushed them to the side of demons, but Sam and Dean have not done anything worth Hunting, yet. My superiors hope that they will redeem themselves."

"They were attacked when they were kids?" Jimmy yelped.

"I believe Sam was seven weeks old."

"Holy shit," Jimmy said. "How did they survive?"

"I don't know. Their mother was killed. A few years later, they and their father were forced to go on the run by more Hunters. I believe they fell in with demons after that."

Jimmy frowned. "See, this is why I don't like Hunters," he said. "What kind of person would attack a seven week old for something he might do in the future?"

"He is going to try to end the world now," Castiel said. "But I believe if he hadn't been attacked, he wouldn't have."

Jimmy snorted. "Surprise, surprise."

"We still have to go to Robert Singer," Castiel said.

Jimmy rolled his eyes. "Fine," he said. He jumped in the car and started it. "Are you coming with me?"

"No. My superiors need me to track a group of demons down in South America. I will direct you to your destination, then leave."

"Fine, whatever," Jimmy said. "Let's just get this over with."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Azazel considered matters for a moment. He wanted to keep the Hunters in doubt over how evil the Winchesters were a little while longer. That meant, since the next part of the plan was going to be highly visible to Hunters after a while, he needed to take another host.

He frowned and traveled to a hospital in Missouri, where he knew another suitable host could be found.

He woke John and let him know that he was leaving, and then exited John's body.

He saw John collapse right in front of the hospital, and headed out to find his next host. The janitor was just getting off shift, ready for three days off. Perfect.

Azazel entered him and settled in. The man wasn't quite as comfortable as John, but he'd do for now.

There was a commotion near the emergency room, but Azazel ignored it. His host wouldn't have paid any attention to it either, so the demon just walked out the door.

Azazel reappeared in Cold Oak. Sam, Dean, and Jess weren't back at the mansion yet, but they had called Meg and let her know that they had the Colt. Now that he knew that, he needed to check on the ongoing competition between his chosen children.

Ava Wilson had become a surprisingly strong competitor, lasting nearly three months so far. Max Miller had been disappointing, falling to Ava after only five days. Most of the rest of the children had performed about as well as expected.

He was down to just four left, not counting Sam. In just about a week or so, he'd bring Sam and the other three into it.

"Hello, my dear," Azazel said as he reappeared next to Ava.

"Who are you?" she snapped, jumping to her feet.

"I'm hurt, Ava," he said. "I realize that I look different, but I'd think you'd still recognize me." He allowed his eyes to turn yellow.

"Oh!" Ava said. "How did you…?"

"It's just something I can do," Azazel waved her question away. "No matter. I'm just here to give you a bit of a pep talk. You're doing well, my dear."

Ava smiled proudly.

Azazel didn't look directly at her, but out at the slowly crumbling town of Cold Oak.

She was doing well. Just, she wasn't doing well enough to win. If Sam didn't take her out, then Jake Talley would. Andy Gallagher would also be one of the last competitors, though Azazel doubted he'd be any sort of threat to the others.

Azazel had finally decided that Lily Reyes would be the last of the final five competitors. It hardly mattered; the rest of the children had proven to be fairly weak. Lily was no different.

"I'll be bringing in another group soon," Azazel said. "Don't worry, my dear. You shouldn't have any trouble with them."

Ava nodded. "Of course," she said proudly. "None of the scared little boys and girls have been a problem."

"You were the same way when you first came here," Azazel said. "The only difference is that you've used your fears to become stronger."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bobby watched the other Hunter as he paged through another of Bobby's books on demons.

The Hunter, going by the name of Jimmy Novak, had shown up a week ago asking Bobby to teach him about demons. Bobby hadn't wanted to, but the man had had that haunted look in his eyes that Bobby knew meant he'd lost people.

"So, what do you think?"

"I think that it's pretty crazy that this devil's trap actually works," Jimmy replied. "But, hey, I don't make the rules."

Bobby smiled. Despite himself, he liked the other man. "Neither do I, kid, neither do I."

"I'm not a kid," Jimmy said. "I have… had…" he swallowed and shut up.

Bobby frowned but didn't push. Every Hunter was either born to this life, or had something happen to them to push them into this life. And Jimmy had definitely not been born into this life.

His nightmares proved that he'd experienced a lot, though.

"So, Jimmy," Bobby said. "If you keep having screaming nightmares under my roof, I might need to find a hotel just to get some sleep."

Jimmy paled. "Sorry, I didn't realize…"

"Forget it, kid. Just… we all have bad experiences, sounds like yours was worse then most. Sometimes, we need to talk about it."

Jimmy frowned. "I'm not sure…"

"You don't have to tell me everything, but even a bit of sleep means you can be a better Hunter, and it's clear you're not getting it."

Jimmy sighed. "A few months ago, demons faked my death and… and it was bad. I can't go back home, not any more. And I won't put my family in danger."

"Aren't you putting them in danger by keeping them ignorant?"

"I'd be putting them more in danger if I went to them," Jimmy said. He frowned and didn't say anything else.

Bobby eyed him for a moment, but Jimmy just buried his head in the book and ignored him. In the end, Bobby didn't say anything.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

John sighed. He still felt a bit disconnected from the world. He'd only been in control of his body for a week, after hosting Azazel for several months.

But he was recovering, and he was so proud of his sons, how they'd acted since he was possessed.

He was sitting in the kitchen watching Jess as she made a sandwich for herself. "Do you want a sandwich, Mr. Winchester?" she asked.

"You know you can call me John," John said. "And, yes, please."

She set a sandwich down in front of John after a moment and then sat down across from him.

She ate silently, mind clearly somewhere else entirely.

John smiled at her. Before he could say anything, though, Azazel walked in. The demon was smiling.

John shifted. It was never a good thing when a demon smiled like that. At least, not for most people.

"It's time," Azazel said. "Where's Sam?"

Jess took a deep breath. John closed his eyes. He knew Sam would be fine, but he still worried.

"Can I tell him something first?" Jess asked.

Azazel nodded. "Of course," he said. "But first we have to find him."

"He and Dean went out to do something to Dean's car," Jess said. "When I asked what, they said it was a secret."

Azazel and John both snorted. "That just means that they're doing something that I wouldn't approve of," John said.

Jess smiled. "I do need to tell him something before he goes, if I can," she said.

John smiled in response.

Azazel rolled his eyes. "Well, assuming I can find him," he grumbled.

Almost on cue, the door banged open, and Dean and Sam rushed in, arguing.

"No, Dean, trust me. That won't work!" Sam snapped. He side stepped John and headed for the kitchen.

"Sammy, which of us is the one who can actually work on the car? You might be the college boy, but you can't tell the carburetor from the engine."

"Boys," Azazel said mildly. They both ignored him.

"Yes I can," Sam objected. "It's not my fault you're in love with your car, Dean. And I can handle most of the maintenance on the Impala."

"Yeah, as if I'd ever let you. You'd probably make the engine drop out."

"Boys," John tried.

"I would not!" Sam replied. "Besides, you're the one who mixed up the antifreeze and gas lines."

"I was eight!" Dean objected. "And you're the…

"BOYS!" Azazel thundered.

Sam and Dean froze for an instant before turning to face him.

"Ah… sorry, sir," Sam managed.

John couldn't help be feel impressed. He'd seen Sam and Dean go at it many times. Their bickering could last for hours, and he'd never been able to short circuit one of their arguments before they were good and done.

It probably helped that Azazel could pin them to the wall if he wanted, John figured.

Azazel sighed. "I did not sign up for this," he muttered. "Sam, it's time."

Sam took a deep breath. "Right," he said.

Jess ducked down and grabbed his hand. "Sam," she said quietly before she stood on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear.

John couldn't hear what she was saying, but it was clearly important. As soon as she was done, Sam leaned down and kissed her.

When nearly a minute had passed, and they didn't show any signs of stopping, Dean whistled loudly.

Sam pulled away reluctantly. "I'll be fine, Jess," Sam said. "After all, I'll know what's going on."

"Be careful," she said.

"I will," Sam said.

He turned to Azazel. "I'm ready," he said.

The demon smiled. "You'll do fine, Sam," he said. "Now, I know I told you all about your competitors, but watch out for Ava. That girl is ruthless. Though I think she might take a liking to you. Put on your "I'm just a likeable boy trying to do what's right" act and you'll be fine for a while."

Dean snorted. "So that's what it's called," he said. Sam and Dean stared at each other for a moment before Dean nodded. "See you in a couple of days, little brother," Dean finally said.

Sam nodded.

Azazel reached up and touched Sam on the forehead. They both vanished.

John took a deep breath. "I hate waiting," he said.

Dean nodded. "Give me an hour and I'll have the Impala ready," he said.

"And go where?" John asked.

"I'm heading for Cold Oak to pick Sam up."

John took a deep breath, but Dean straightened. "I'm going, Dad," he said. A burst of yellow flashed across his eyes for just a second. It was different from when Azazel showed his eyes, but it stopped John in his tracks.

"Dean?" John asked.

Dean frowned at him. "Yeah, dad?"

"Never mind," John said. "Be careful. And take care of your brother."

"Always, Dad," Dean said. "We'll be back in a few days."

Chapter Text

Sam groaned as he woke up and sat up slowly. He was on the ground in the middle of a deserted street. Azazel had been kind enough to drop him on a board, so he wasn't completely covered in mud, but he was already pretty dirty. Actually, Azazel probably hadn't even noticed the board, but Sam appreciated it anyway.

Sam looked around curiously as he stood up. Cold Oak was still in relatively good shape, but the decades of abandonment were clearly visible.

Sam didn't know if anyone was watching him, but he had to assume that he was always being watched.

He pulled out his phone as he began to walk down the street.

There was no signal, not that he expected one. Sam slid his phone back in his pocket with a small sound of feigned disgust. He knew Dean would be coming after him.

Sam began to search the town. He knew there were others here; he just had to find them.

As he peaked into one building, he heard a noise just along the side.

He picked up a broken board and held it ready as he crept toward the side.

Just as he reached the edge and turned toward the sound, a man ducked out of the alleyway.

"Ahh!" the smaller man yelped.

Sam barely arrested his swing.

"Who are you?" he barked.

"Who are you?" the other man replied. "Where are we? How did we get here?"

Sam put the wood down and sighed. "I don't know how we got here, and I don't know where we are," he lied. "My name is Sam," he added.

"I'm Andy," the other man replied.

Sam nodded. "Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one here. Alright, what's going on? What's the last thing you remember? I was arguing with my brother about his car."

Andy sighed. "Honestly? I was about to start my second bong load."

Sam smiled slightly, but didn't react beyond that. "Alright, I don't think that's going to help us at all," he muttered.

Andy sighed and opened his mouth to say something else. He was cut off by a scream.

Sam took off running toward the sound. Andy followed him after a second. They followed that scream and the ones that followed to a locked shed. A woman was shouting and sobbing, trying to get out.

"Hello?" Sam called.

"Help me, help me, get me out of here, please!"

"Alright, just give me a moment," Sam called. "We'll get you out."

The woman continued to sob and cry for help.

Sam found a rock on the ground and smashed the lock.

After a moment in which he fumbled to open the door, he got it open. A frightened woman stared at him. She had tear tracks down her cheeks, and she was trembling with fear.

It was all feigned fear, of course. Sam could tell she wasn't afraid in the least, but she was an excellent actress. She must be the current reigning champion, Ava.

She burst into tears and clung to him. As he awkwardly calmed her down, he had to give her points for technique. If he hadn't been who he was, and if he hadn't been warned, he would have bought her act.

Eventually, he got her to stop crying and let him go.

"So, ah..." Sam smiled sheepishly. "I take it you're just as freaked as I am?"

She nodded quickly. "I don't even understand. I was just on a date with my boyfriend. Now I'm here! I don't even know where here is. Or who you even are!"

Sam frowned and shrugged. "I'm Sam," he said.

"And I'm Andy," Andy said. "Also, freaked out."

"I'm Ava," she managed. She tried to smile, but the expression wavered.

"There's got to be something the three of us have in common," Sam said. "I just don't know what."

"Hello! Is anyone else here?" A male voice called out.

Sam turned. "Maybe not just the three of us," he said quietly. The three of them looked at each other before they headed for the sound of the shout.

They turned the corner. On the porch of yet another building, a man and a woman, looking just as spooked as Andy was, waited.

"Hey, you alright?" Sam asked.

"I think so," the man said. "Where the hell are we?"

"I don't know," Sam lied. "I don't think any of us know." He glanced around. "Um, I'm Sam," he said.

"I'm Jake."

"I'm Lily," the girl said.

The rest of Sam's group introduced themselves.

"How did we even get here? A minute ago, I was in San Diego," Lily complained.

Jake sighed. "If it makes you feel better, I was on a plane to Afghanistan."

"Great," Sam muttered. "So… where are we, and how did we get here, and what can we do to get out of here? Should we even try to get out? I mean, someone wants us here, and who knows what they'll do if we try to leave."

The other four exchanged glances. "Never even thought of that," Jake muttered.

"And what do we all have in common?" Sam asked.

"Well… alright, I was born in '83. You all look about the same age," Jake said.

Sam nodded. "So was I," he admitted.

"Me too.

"Yeah, me too."

"Yep."

Sam glanced around. "Hmm…" he said. "Well, that's one thing." He hesitated and looked behind him. "Maybe we should see if one of the buildings is stable? It'll get dark soon, and we need a place out of the weather for the night. And we can check the others, see if there's anything we can use there." He glanced at Jake.

The other man was nodding. "We need to stick together," he said. "Safety in numbers and all that. If some psycho brought us here, we don't have to make it easy on them."

"Or at least in sight of everyone else," Sam agreed.

Jake nodded.

Sam took a deep breath. "Alright," he said. "We should spend the night here, and then head out in the morning. We'll figure out which way to go once we have a better idea of where we are."

He looked at the buildings lining the street they all stood in. "There's got to be something else we all have in common," he muttered.

Jake shrugged. "It's not family," he joked.

Sam smiled ruefully. Actually, it was, but he wasn't going to say anything.

"Alright," he said. "We've got the five of us, and…" he glanced up. "Maybe three hours until it gets dark. Let's get to planning."

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam watched as Jake entered one of the buildings carefully. He was staying in Sam's line of sight as he glanced around.

Jake looked back at Sam. "Schoolroom," he said.

Sam nodded. "Where ever this is probably had a bunch of kids. Is it just me or does this place look vaguely like those towns from the gold rush era."

"Yeah," Jake said. He turned and froze, staring at something out of Sam's line of sight. "Hey, you alright?" he asked.

Sam headed up the stairs. He knew there couldn't be anyone else there, so it had to be either a ghost or a demon.

Jake backed away, and another being came into view. It was shaped like a little girl, and Sam watched as her nails lengthened.

Sam rushed up the stairs and into the room.

The rest of the group was alerted to the events and they followed him. He grabbed an iron fire poker that was leaning against the wall just inside the door and swung it at the demon.

The demon dissolved into the black smoke he was so familiar with, and flew out the door. Andy, Ava, and Lily all ducked down as it escaped.

"What the Hell?" Jake asked.

Sam pulled himself upright. "Damn," he muttered.

"What, do you know what's going on?" Jake asked.

"I… I know what that was," Sam said.

"Well, what was it?" Ava asked.

"I just… it was just stories, you know?" Sam lied. "I never believed them."

"Sam," Jake said. "We need to know. If we're going to survive, we need Intel. You know what that was."

"A demon," Sam said after he took a deep breath. "I'm not sure what type. My uncle and aunt were always telling me stories about demons when I was a kid. That thing acted just like the ones in their stories."

"Demons," Jake said flatly.

Sam shrugged. "That's the stories," he said.

Jake sighed. "Alright."

"If it really is a demon, I know how to deal with them," Sam said. "How to protect ourselves."

"So, how do we do it?" Jake asked. The other three clustered close to them, all of them looking up at Sam.

And somehow, just like that, Sam became the leader of the group.

Sam turned and led them all out of the classroom. It was a shame. He actually was coming to like Jake. And the others were interesting as well.

"Alright," he said. "According to my aunt and uncle, demons hate iron, so if we can find more iron, we can use that. Just like when I hit the demon in there. Not that I knew that was going to happen, mind, but still. We need weapons. And, we need salt, lots of it."

"Salt is a weapon?" Lily asked, skeptical.

Sam sighed. "More like a defense," he said. "Demons don't like salt. If we line the windows and doors of wherever we decide to spend the night, demons can't get it. Andy, will you stay with me and help me search that building right there? Ava, Lily, Jake, the three of you search the one next to it."

"Hang on," Andy said. "I'm still stuck on "demons are real,"" he admitted.

Sam smiled. "It's a brave new world," he said. The small group started walking. In front of one of the buildings was a large bell. Sam glanced at it, and at the engraving of a large tree on the bell. "Huh," Sam said. "I've seen that bell before," he muttered.

Everyone looked at him. "What?" Jake asked.

"I… I think I know where we are," Sam said. All of a sudden, he had everyone's full attention. He smiled weakly. "If I'm right, we're in Cold Oak, South Dakota. It's an old town, a town so haunted, every single resident fled. The ghosts chased them out."

"More stories from your uncle?" Jake asked.

Sam shrugged. "Actually, a report in school," he shrugged. "My aunt did suggest it, admittedly."

Everyone was still looking at him. "I have a weird family, alright?" he finally said.

Ava shook her head. "Well, it's nice to know we're someplace so historical," she said. "Lovely."

Lily glanced around. "Why in the world would that whoever it was put us here?"

Sam sighed. "I've been wondering the same thing," he admitted.

Lily snorted "You know what? It doesn't matter. Clearly, the only sane thing to do here is get the hell out of Dodge."

Sam shook his head. "Wait, hold on. Lily, the only way out is through miles of woods."

"Well, that sure beats hanging out with demons and ghosts."

Sam shook his head. "We don't even know what's going on, why we're here. And we don't know how many demons or ghosts are actually out there." He stared at her. "Plus, it'll be dark in just a few hours. We need to wait until morning.

Jake nodded. "Yeah, he's right. We should…"

Lily interrupted them. "No, there is no we!" she exclaimed. "We have nothing in common; I am not a part of this group!"

Sam sighed. "Look, I know…"

"No, you don't know anything!" Lily exclaimed. "Listen, I have to get back."

"We all do," Sam said. "But the only way that's going to happen is if we stick together."

"Fine," Lily snapped. "But the moment we're away, I'm going to make my own way home."

Sam nodded. He took a deep breath. "Alright, we know where we are. Now we just need to wait until morning, then we can get out of here. Let's search the buildings."

"I hope we can find something to eat," Andy grumbled. "I'm frickin' starving."

Sam didn't say anything, but he saw as Lily lagged behind the group, and then slipped away.

He wasn't the only one who noticed. He noticed Ava watching her go.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They'd split up as they searched the town. Sam was in one building, a two room house of some type, searching through the trunk he'd found. He felt a flare of triumph as he found a small knife, which he tucked away under his shirt.

He turned around, and Ava was just walking in from the other small room in the house. She was rubbing her forehead.

Sam knew what that meant. Still, he had appearances to keep up. "Hey, you all right?"

Ava nodded. "Yeah, I'm just…I don't know, a little dizzy."

Sam nodded. "I know the feeling. I'd kill for a sandwich right now."

"Oh, tell me about it," Ava said. "But don't worry, I'm fine. Except for every single thing that's happening."

"I hear you," Sam muttered.

Andy called something out. "You guys! I found something!"

Sam and Ava joined Jake and Andy. Andy was holding up two bags. "Salt!" Andy exclaimed.

"Great!" Sam said. "Now we just… where's Lily?"

"Lily?" Ava asked.

Sam froze as he heard the sound of a little girl giggling. After a moment, he rushed out and toward the center of town. He heard everyone else following him. "Lily!" he called out.

Then he saw her. She was hanging from the top of the water tower, dead.

Sam swallowed. That wasn't nearly as brutal as some of the deaths he'd seen other demons perform, but he was well aware he was being watched.

Sam closed his eyes and winced. After a moment, he opened them again. Ava had grabbed on to Jake and was holding tight. If Sam hadn't known better, he'd have said that she was completely freaked out. She was babbling something about getting out of here.

"Stop," Sam said. "Lily was trying to leave," he pointed out. "Whoever's out there isn't going to let us go. And…" he looked up at the sun, which was approaching the horizon. "I don't know about you, but I don't want to be out there in the woods, after dark, with ghosts and demons and God knows what else after me."

Jake nodded. "Sam's right," he said.

"Come on," Sam said. "Jake's been attacked, Lily's dead. We have to gear up for the next attack. Whatever's out there is going to want us all dead. Or… I don't know what's going on. But we have to be ready."

Ava snorted. "Gear up? Be ready?"

"Yeah," Sam said.

"I can't do that. I'm not some soldier!"

"If you want to stay alive, you're going to have to," Sam said. "Let's get inside. But first… Jake?"

"I'll get Lily down," Jake said.

Sam nodded and led Ava and Andy back inside.

It was going to be a long night.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Bobby frowned as he hung up his phone. His houseguest looked at him. "That didn't sound good," he said.

Bobby nodded. "That was from Ash, over at Harvelle's Roadhouse," he said. "It's a gathering place for Hunters. I think we need to get there, something's wrong."

Jimmy nodded. "One car or two?" he asked.

Bobby smiled. The new Hunter may hate it, but he was learning fast. "One," he said. "Since you don't know how to get there."

Jimmy nodded. "What should I bring?" he asked.

"I've got a kit packed for the road. You been at this long enough to get some personalized weapons?"

Jimmy looked away. "No. I picked out a pistol that fits in my hand, but that's it."

Bobby nodded. "Get it and let's go," he said.

Jimmy nodded.

Bobby was pleasantly surprised to see Jimmy waiting by the door when he got back from his room with a duffle full of extra supplies. Who knows what they might need.

Jimmy shifted, and Bobby caught the flash of the gun tucked into his waistband. "Let's go," Bobby said.

"My car or your truck?" Jimmy asked.

"My truck," Bobby growled.

They headed out.

It was a couple of hours to the Roadhouse, just over the border in Nebraska, but Bobby made good time. Jimmy was silent in the passenger seat the entire time.

Almost as soon as Bobby saw the smoke on the horizon, he knew that something had gone wrong.

He was proven right when he pulled in, only to find the Roadhouse a burnt out wreak.

"That's not good," Jimmy said quietly. "What happened here?"

"I don't know," Bobby said. "Come on; let's see if we can't find some survivors."

Jimmy was already heading for the building. The smell of the smoke or the burning flesh didn't seem to bother him as he searched. "We aren't going to find any survivors," Jimmy said.

"I know," Bobby said. "But we have to look."

They continued to search through the rubble. Jimmy was right, there were no survivors. "There's no sign of the Harvelles," Bobby said. "That's a good thing. Maybe they weren't here when it happened."

Jimmy didn't say anything.

"Let's get back to my house and try to figure out what's going on," Bobby said.

"It's going to be war, isn't it?" Jimmy asked. "Hunters against demons."

"It looks like it," Bobby admitted. "It's not going to be pretty, I know that."

Jimmy swallowed. "It's going to be bad," he said flatly. "Really bad."

Bobby couldn't really argue with that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sam didn't want to sleep, but he could feel his head dropping every few minutes.

He looked up at one point, and Azazel was standing right behind Jake. Sam scrambled to his feet, but Jake didn't even notice.

"I'm asleep?" Sam asked.

Azazel smiled. "Bingo, Sammy," he said. "So, how's it going?"

Sam shrugged. "One of us is dead, Ava is a really good actress, and I'm somehow the leader here."

Azazel chuckled. "Nice, kiddo. Yeah, I certainly didn't expect little Lily to last long. What about the others?"

"I'm going to let Ava pick off the others, unless something happens," Sam said. "She's doing such a good job of it."

Azazel nodded. "I'm glad to hear that you've taken my lectures on letting others do the work to heart."

Sam shrugged. "Well, you gave me enough of them," he pointed out. "So, why contact me?"

Azazel smiled. "Oh, this is the point in which I normally tell all the kids just why they're here, give them a pep talk, tell them what they need to do to survive, tell them about the ritual I used when they were infants, you know the drill. I figured I might as well visit you as well."

Sam smiled. "I see. Got any advice?"

"Andy was horrified, Jake didn't like it either, and Ava is ready and raring to go. She also asked if she could spare you, and take you as a… hmmm… well, she didn't say pet, but I think that was implied. She seemed rather impressed with your body."

Sam flushed. "I'm already taken," he muttered.

Azazel laughed. "Yes, but she didn't know that."

Sam smiled. "Well, it's not like she's going to last more then a few more hours," he said.

"Don't get overconfident Sam," Azazel warned.

"Hey, if she does manage to kill me, Dean will kill her," Sam said.

"True," Azazel said. "Alright, time for you to wake up," he said. "I'll see you when it's all over."

"Yeah, one way or another," Sam agreed.

Azazel snapped his fingers and Sam jolted awake.

"Sam!" Jake said. "Ava's missing."

Sam scrambled up and he and Jake went outside. "Andy, stay here," Sam snapped as he left the room.

"I'll search the barn and the hotel, you check the houses," Jake said.

Sam nodded. "Alright. Meet back here in ten minutes?"

Sam ducked into the first house and waited a moment. He fingered the knife at his waist. Ava was about to take out either Andy or Jake. He'd give her the time to do just that.

He heard her screaming after a moment, and contemplated heading back, but he heard Jake rushing toward the building they had chosen, and decided to wait.

After a moment, he glanced out the door, and saw a black cloud coalescing just outside the window of the building. He didn't want anyone who could control demons going after him, so he headed over there.

The demon- and Sam was sure that it was an Acheri demon- was about to kill Jake. Sam reached out and snapped Ava's neck.

"You alright?" Sam asked after the Acheri disappeared.

Jake nodded.

Andy was dead, a bloody mess on the ground. Ava was dead, too, and Sam couldn't be sorry about that.

He and Jake stared at each other for a moment. "Now what?" Jake asked.

Sam lifted his head. "Now we end this," he said. He dropped the mask of the scared man, he dropped the mask of the good man, he showed Jake just who he was. "Azazel only needs one of us. And that's not going to be you."

Jake backed away. "What the… how do you know who's doing this?"

Sam smiled coldly. "I bet you had an interesting dream," he said. "That was Azazel. You know the uncle I was talking about? That's him. He's a demon. And he only needs one of us, a general, to lead his army."

Jake backed away. "You were faking, just like her."

Sam's smile widened. "Yep," he said. "Come on, how do you think I managed to stay so calm?"

Sam stepped forward. "It's a shame," he said quietly. "I actually liked you."

Jake's expression hardened. "I won't just let you kill me," he snapped.

Sam's smile morphed into a smirk. "You won't be able to stop me," he said. "You don't even know what I can do. But come on, then. I'd be happy to see you try."

Jake charged.

Sam let him get within a couple of feet before gesturing and sending Jake flying to the side.

Jake hit the wall, and then Sam let him crumple to the floor. Sam pinned him to the ground, because while he was sure Jake wasn't going anywhere, he didn't want the other man to get any ideas about attacking. For a moment, Sam was grateful for the grueling training Azazel had put him through once his powers began to grow.

Jake looked up at him, dazed, as he approached. "Well, Jake, I guess this is it," Sam said. "The end of this little contest and it's down to me and you. I bet Azazel never expected that. I'll have to ask him. You aren't that great a fighter or even very powerful. I was expecting Ava to be the last. I guess she just didn't pay any attention to me."

Sam crouched down next to the other man and considered him for a moment before pulling out the knife. "Ava had an interesting idea, controlling demons that way. Of course, I bet that Acheri demon is torturing her now, getting a bit of revenge. So I'll do this the old fashioned way."

Jake blinked. "Please," Jake managed. "You don't have to do this."

"Oh, I do," Sam replied. "Goodbye, Jake."

He traced the line of Jake's jugular, contemplating doing it that way.

Jake stopped fighting his hold, his eyes huge. Sam drew the knife back and held it up for a second. He'd never actually killed a human in cold blood before. Ava, at least, could be called self defense. If he did this…

He slammed the knife down into Jake's heart.

~~~~~~~~~

Dean leaned against the Impala, waiting. The trail to Cold Oak was just ahead of him. He knew the contest had to be over by now.

He wasn't nervous, exactly, or worried. He knew Sam was going to win.

Still, as the night wore on, he got a little… concerned.

Eventually, he heard rustling and footsteps. He straightened, and his hand went behind his back, to the gun he kept there.

If this wasn't Sam, he'd shoot them. But the next second, Sam ducked forward and climbed around the fallen branches in his way.

Dean smiled. He'd been feeling different since he'd told his father that he'd be picking Sam up in Cold Oak.

Looking at Sam now, the feelings made sense. "So, Sammy, have any trouble?" Dean asked.

Sam grinned and Dean couldn't help but return the smile. "Not a bit," he said. "Oh, Dean, I wish you could have seen the look on the last one's face, when I showed him who I really was."

Dean nodded. Everything seemed to click into place. Sam was becoming who he'd been born to be, and Dean would be right by his side. They were ready.

Sam rolled his head on his neck. "So, I suppose we should head for Wyoming next," he said.

"Azazel gave us directions," Dean said. "And Wyoming it is."

"Great," Sam chirped, like a little kid excited about a field trip. "Let's go open the door to Hell!"

Dean started laughing. After a second, Sam joined in.

~~~~~~~~~

Bobby pulled back up to the salvage yard and stopped the car. There was someone waiting for them on the porch. It was probably a civilian customer who needed some sort of machine part.

Jimmy groaned as soon as he looked out the windshield.

Bobby frowned. Rumsfeld wasn't trying to chase the man away, so he was probably alright.

Jimmy slid out of the truck and slammed the passenger door closed. "What are you doing here?" he asked, his question almost covered by the sound of the door closing.

Bobby frowned. The man waiting for them, however, simply tilted his head. "You were supposed to be here, Jimmy, learning."

"We had to go out," Jimmy said. "An emergency."

The man didn't say anything. He just stared at Jimmy, unblinking.

Bobby stiffened. This man was not human. He'd gotten through the protections on the yard, Rumsfeld wasn't reacting, and he had to have crossed a salt line to stand where he was, but he just wasn't human.

"So, who's this?" Bobby asked.

Jimmy deflated. He looked wary, unhappy.

"I am Castiel," the man declared, as if that meant something to Bobby.

Bobby frowned. He wanted to reach back and grab his gun, but he head no idea what he was dealing with. "What are you?"

Castiel frowned minutely. "You did not tell him about me?" he asked Jimmy.

Jimmy just stared back. Jimmy was blinking, however.

Castiel turned to Bobby. "I am an Angel of the Lord."

Bobby snorted. "No such thing, so why don't you tell me who and what you really are."

Castiel frowned. "I am an Angel of the Lord," he repeated.

Bobby reached back into the cab of the truck, but before he could pull out his shotgun, something flickered in the corner of his eye.

Bobby turned back to face Castiel. Slowly, shadows formed behind Castiel, spreading into great wings. Bobby stared at him.

Jimmy squeaked. "Where did those come from?" he finally asked.

"They are the shadow of my wings. Most humans cannot see my true form, so I confined myself to showing you simply a shadow."

Bobby closed his eyes and shook his head. "What…" he shook his head again. "Fine. So what's an angel doin' here?"

"We must keep the Devil's Gate from opening," the angel said. "My superiors have just told me that Azazel is trying to open the Gate."

"Azazel?" Bobby asked. That name was somewhat familiar. His eyes widened. "The demon of the goat?"

"That is one of his titles," Castiel acknowledged. "We do not have much time. We must go now." He reached out to Bobby, apparently ready to do something to him.

"Hold on," Bobby objected. He dodged the angel's grab. "If we're going to face off against a demon like Azazel, then I want to be ready. Besides, we don't even know where this devil's gate is. There's been a dozen rumored gates just in the US."

"This one is in Wyoming," Castiel said. "Nevertheless, you are correct; we will need to be prepared."

Jimmy glanced at Bobby. "What's a Devil's Gate?"

"It's a door right to Hell," Bobby said. "If the demons open it, then any demon can get out."

Jimmy paled and swayed. "Any of them?" he asked hoarsely.

Castiel nodded. "Any of them. My superiors believe that Azazel is trying to release a specific demon, though I don't know which one."

Jimmy sat down. "Alastair?" he asked.

"Unlikely," Castiel said stoically.

Jimmy shuddered and took a deep breath. "Alright," he said. "Let me get my stuff, and we'll go, Castiel," he said.

"I'm going with you," Bobby said. "There's no way I'm lettin' a demon open a door to Hell if I can help it."

Jimmy smiled wanly. "Thanks," he said.

Bobby stared at him, worried. "Everyone in the truck," he said. "I think I got everything we need to deal with if its demons."

"It will be faster if I take you," Castiel said.

"No," Jimmy said. "We're going up against something powerful. We need all the firepower we can get. And if something happens to you, Bobby and I won't be able to get away. Where is this Devil's Gate, anyway?"

"It is in Wyoming, like I told you. There is an old cemetery surrounded by a devil's trap made of railways. Azazel cannot get to the cemetery."

"Well, if he can't get to the cemetery, then we don't have anything to worry about," Bobby said.

"Humans can, and he has humans who are willing to work with him," Castiel said.

"How long do we have?" Bobby asked.

Castiel looked away for a moment. "Some hours," he said. "I believe it's enough time to drive there."

Bobby nodded. "Let's go. You can direct us."

The angel actually blinked. "I don't…" he looked slightly lost for a moment.

"Get in the truck," Bobby ordered. "You're navigating."

Castiel continued to stand there until Jimmy pulled him into the truck.

~~~~~~~~~~

Dean pulled the car over as they reached the tracks. He had to shake Sam awake, since the younger man had been the driver last night.

He couldn't see anyone, but there was a feeling in the air that some part of him insisted meant that Azazel was near. He didn't question it, but he glanced at Sam. Sam nodded. It was likely that he felt the same thing.

They stepped out of the car. "You're both right," Azazel said as he walked around from behind the car. "Good. You've finally come into your powers."

Sam smiled briefly. "Yes sir," he said.

"Well done, Sammy," Azazel said. "I knew you'd win."

Dean glanced at his brother. "Of course," he said.

The demon pulled out the Colt. "Alright, then. Let's get this over with. There's an old cemetery at the center of this Trap, with a large crypt in the center of the cemetery. That's the gate. You know what to do, Sammy."

Sam took the Colt and smiled. "Of course," he said. He tucked the gun away for the moment.

"Once you open the gate, get away," Azazel said. "Powerful or not, the demonic energy will overwhelm you. Once it's freed, the trap will break. I'll be able to join you then."

"And Lilith will get out?" Sam asked.

"She'll be one of the first out," Azazel promised. "Oh, before you go, I saw a truck parked out of sight, back in the trees. It's a Hunter's vehicle." Azazel sighed. "They're probably already waiting for you, or for someone," he said. "You know how dangerous Hunters are, so I don't need to warn you about that."

Sam nodded. "Yes sir," he said.

Azazel smiled. "Whatever you do, don't let them stop you," he ordered.

Sam nodded. He twitched his head, and Dean fell into step right behind him as he started back to the car. "Let's go," he said.

"Good luck, boys," Azazel said. "I'll be waiting right here."

They closed their doors at the same time. Sam grinned at Azazel before Dean started the car and they headed out.

Sam and Dean were both silent as they drove. "You know, this means we're going to Hell for sure, if we do this," Dean said as he parked the car about a mile from the cemetery.

"Yeah, I know," Sam said. "But I wouldn't want to be on the side of angels, since they're the ones who let the Hunters attack us and kill Mom."

"True. I'm not looking forward to torture, though."

"Who would?" Sam asked. "But I bet they wouldn't torture us for long," he said. "We'll be human souls in Hell, yes, but we'll also be the ones who helped open the Gate and everything else. Plus… well, you know who I am."

Dean nodded. "As long as you're sure, Sammy," he said.

"I am," Sam said. "Besides, this means that, whatever happens, you and Dad and Jess will be treated like royalty. Even if something happens to me, you'll still be treated well."

Dean was silent. After a moment, he smiled. "I can understand that," he said.

~~~~~~~~~

Bobby waited. He didn't dare look up to see the poor fool the demon had recruited to help open the gate. He needed to stay hidden until the person- people; he could hear two sets of footsteps- were within the loose circle he, Jimmy, and Castiel had set up.

The footsteps paused, just outside the perimeter. He heard two people whispering, though he couldn't make out the words. Then they passed him and headed toward the crypt.

"So, why don't you just stop now," Bobby said as he stood up. The two- men, he saw- froze for an instant with their backs to him.

Then the shorter one turned around. "Bobby Singer," he said.

"Dean Winchester?" Bobby gasped. "What…"

"We're doing what Azazel wanted us to do," Sam Winchester said as he turned around as well. "We're opening the Devil's Gate."

"We're not going to let you do that," Jimmy said as he appeared from the shadows.

"You can't stop us, Novak," Dean said. "After all, you couldn't stop Alastair, could you? Or, rather… he didn't stop you." He was smiling, a cold, cold smile.

Jimmy took a step back. "How did you…"

"We know a lot of things, Righteous Man," Sam interjected. "We know a lot more then you think." He looked to the side. "So, why don't you show yourself, angel?"

Castiel stepped out, his face impassive. "I won't let you do this."

Sam smiled. "You think you can stop us, little angel?" he asked mockingly. He glanced at Castiel. "So, why are you in that vessel? He's not your true vessel."

"My true vessel has a greater purpose now, and his successor is too young. This vessel is fine for me."

Sam snorted. "So, they only sent one angel to stop us? I wonder why? Don't they know that it would take more then one angel, a Hunter, and a broken man to stop us?"

"I'm not broken," Jimmy snapped.

Dean laughed. "That's not what we've heard. You broke, Novak. And we know it. I bet Hunters would be after you too, if they knew. Too bad you're siding with the angels."

Jimmy glared and, before anyone could react, fired his gun at Dean.

Still, Dean had enough time to fling up his hand. The bullet stopped in mid air less then a foot from his face. "Not going to work, Novak," he said. He pushed his hand out and Bobby and Jimmy both flew back. "Go, Sam!"

Bobby watched as Sam turned and ran for the crypt, as Castiel leapt forward, and Dean swung around to face the angel.

Bobby struggled to his feet and staggered over to where Jimmy was crumpled on the ground. "Damn it, Jimmy, get up," he said.

Jimmy blinked at him and sat up slowly. "My head," he groaned.

"No time, we have to stop Sam Winchester, now."

Jimmy got up, just as Castiel threw Dean back. Dean nearly hit a tombstone before coming to a halt. It was too late, however. Sam had reached the crypt and was shoving a gun into a hole in the engraving.

"Shit," Bobby said.

He and Jimmy leaned against each other as the engravings spun around. As soon as they stopped, Sam grabbed the gun and turned and sprinted toward his brother.

"Oh no," Bobby said.

"It's unlocked," Castiel said. "We must…"

"Take cover, now!" Bobby yelled, pushing Jimmy behind a large tombstone and joining him. He just saw Sam drag his brother behind another tombstone.

The doors to the crypt burst open and masses of black smoke billowed out. "What…?"

"Demons," Bobby said. "Lots of them."

Castiel was sheltering behind a nearby tombstone. "The gate is open, but if we're lucky…" his shout trailed off. "We have to leave, now!" he finally said.

"What?"

"The trap has been broken, Azazel is coming."

"We have to shut the Gate!" Bobby yelled. "We can't let any more demons get out."

Castiel nodded. "On my word, run for the gate. You can push it closed."

Jimmy swallowed but nodded. Bobby nodded.

Castiel jumped up. "Go!" he shouted, just before vanishing and reappearing in front of another of the Winchesters. "I will deal with you two later," he said as he placed a hand on each of their foreheads. They both sagged down.

Bobby surged up and dragged Jimmy with him. "Come on!" he yelled.

He and Jimmy ran for the door. They had to get it closed.

"Now, why did you do that?" an unfamiliar voice asked from behind Castiel. Bobby turned slightly, took in the fact that it was a demon, and returned his attention to reaching the crypt.

Jimmy got there before Bobby did, and despite the terrified look the other man gave the area beyond the gate, he still rallied enough to start pushing on one of the gates.

Bobby took the other gate and started to heave the door closed, even as he heard the fight between the demon, presumably Azazel, and Castiel begin.

Even through the effort to close the gate, he could hear the crashing sounds as they threw each other around the old graveyard.

The door wasn't budging. Bobby turned around and heaved. Jimmy followed his lead. Slowly, the doors began to shut. "Damn, this isn't good," Bobby said.

"You think?" Jimmy panted.

Bobby pushed harder, and finally, finally, the doors closed. The wind and otherworldly forces that had been buffeting them stopped. The lock spun closed once more, and that was it. "We have to get that gun," Bobby said. "We can't let them open the door again."

"The taller one… Sam… he had it last."

Jimmy glanced at the angel and demon. "Castiel's not doing so well," he muttered.

"Worry about that later," Bobby ordered. "If this is the gun I think it is, we'll be able to use it to help."

He headed for where the Winchesters lay on the ground. Sam was just starting to stir as Bobby knelt down next to him and pulled the gun out from his waistband. Sam's eyes opened slowly. "I should just shoot you now, boy," Bobby said as he tucked the gun away and pulled out his own.

Sam snorted. "Yeah, old man? I did what I had to do," he said. "It worked. You're too late."

"The other Hunters were right about you."

Sam smiled slowly. "That's the beauty of it," he said. "They weren't. Not at first. But where else were we going to go when they kept attacking us? It's your people's fault, Singer. We've released an army, and it's entirely the Hunters' fault."

Jimmy reached them and covered the slowly waking Dean with his gun.

Dean smirked up at the other man. "Really?" he asked. "And after everything you've done, you'd really shoot me?"

Jimmy's gaze hardened. "You know nothing about what I've done," he said.

Dean chuckled. "Oh, you'd be surprised. Besides which, I'm sure Alastair would like to see you again. Azazel said he said you had such promise."

Jimmy shuddered and tightened his grip on his gun.

"Oh, I can't allow this," the demon said from behind them. Bobby flew into Jimmy and they went down in a tangle of limbs.

Azazel knelt down next to the Winchesters. "Nice job fighting off the angel's influence, boys," he said. "Now then, I see these two have managed to close the Gate, but we're in luck. We've done what we need to do."

Bobby slowly untangled himself from Jimmy and stood up. He stood in front of Jimmy protectively. Clearly, the demon and the Winchesters knew something about Jimmy's past that they were using to hurt him. He wouldn't let them do that any more.

Azazel glanced at him. "So you're the Hunter who wouldn't kill the boys here."

"That was a mistake," Bobby said. "But not one I regret."

"Ah, an honorable man," Azazel said. "Then, Mr. Singer, I have an offer for you. I could use men like you."

"Don't bother," Bobby spat. "I won't help demons, ever."

Azazel sighed. "I had to offer," he said. "You did treat the boys with respect, something no other Hunter has managed to do."

Bobby glared at the demon. His hand inched toward his waistband and the gun there. Azazel glanced down at his hand, and smirked. Bobby was suddenly unable to move.

Jimmy stood up behind Bobby.

Azazel shifted his gaze to Jimmy. "Hello again, Jimmy," he said.

Jimmy stared at him blankly. "Who…?"

"Aw, don't you recognize me?" Azazel asked. He looked down at himself. "Well, I suppose I look a bit different now. Last time I saw you, it was just after a certain car accident. I'm sure you remember the one."

Bobby felt Jimmy shudder. "I remember it," he acknowledged.

Azazel smiled. "I thought you might. Now, then, the angels got you out of that, but that's just not fair, don't you think. I'm sure you'd love to see Alastair again."

"No, he won't," Castiel said as he appeared right in front of Bobby. He spun around and touched both Bobby and Jimmy on the foreheads. A second later, they were in Bobby's kitchen. The angel slumped down. Bobby and Jimmy caught him just in time.

"Castiel?" Jimmy asked.

"Tired. Azazel is strong. I barely survived," Castiel said. "It… hurts."

Bobby took the lead and jerked his head. "Jimmy's been using my spare bedroom. You can rest there, if you need to." He and Jimmy started carrying the angel toward the bedroom.

"Only… only for a bit. Azazel disrupted my connection to Heaven, but I will be fine soon. We need to prepare. They will start…"

"Tell us later," Bobby said. "We have enough time for you to get your strength back."

"I… watch Jimmy," Castiel said. "Jimmy is my charge, and I need to keep him safe. Watch him."

Jimmy snorted. "I can…"

"Please," Castiel said.

"I'll watch him," Bobby said. "You rest." He and Jimmy placed him down on the bed. Jimmy went down and pulled the angel's shoes off.

"This is… it's the apocalypse," Castiel managed. "I have to warn my brothers that they will start on the rest of the seals soon."

With that, he closed his eyes and seemed to fall asleep.

Bobby and Jimmy stared at each other. "You know what he's talking about?"

Jimmy shook his head. "I just know… he rescued me, and he said that I was needed."

~~~~~~~~~

Sam groaned as he got up. Azazel was staring at the spot where their opponents had just been. "Well, that angel was a little more tenacious then I gave him credit for," Azazel mused.

"Who was he?" Sam asked.

"His name is Castiel," Azazel said. "He's a minor angel, a foot soldier. But he's also the one who managed to get to Jimmy in Hell and pull him out."

"And you're surprised that he didn't give up?" Dean asked.

"Hmmm, I suppose not," Azazel said. "You two are unhurt?"

"Just sore," Sam said. "Castiel threw us around a bit."

Azazel chuckled. "Yes, he would," he said. "Well then, I suppose we should get going. Lilith will find a suitable host, and then meet us at the mansion."

He reached out and touched both of them. In an instant, they were back at the mansion.

Sam glanced around. "Can I…?"

"Go," Azazel said. "Find your father as well. I want everyone in the main library in an hour."

"We'll need to go back for the Impala," Dean said.

Azazel shook his head and rolled his eyes. "Yes, we'll do that later," he promised.

Dean smiled.

Sam turned and headed toward his room. He knew Jess was waiting there. His father was in his own room, just across the hall from Sam's room, and next to Dean's.

He stopped at his dad's room first. "Dad?" he called out as he knocked on the open door.

John abandoned whatever book he was reading and jumped up. "Sammy!" he exclaimed as he pulled Sam into a tight hug.

Sam went stiff, confused. "Dad?" he finally asked.

John pulled away from the hug, but kept his hands on Sam's shoulders. He looked Sam over slowly. "I'm just… I was worried, kiddo," he said.

Sam smiled softly. "I'm fine, Dad," he said. "Dean and I got knocked about a bit when we opened the Gate, but we're fine."

"I know, but… you and Dean are my boys," John said. "I worry about you two."

Sam nodded. "Azazel wants us to meet down in the library in an hour," he said. "I'm going to find Jess."

"I think she's in your room," John said.

"I know she is," Sam replied with a smile.

He turned around and started toward his own room. As he did so, he noticed John watching him. He looked back and smiled. "I'll tell you about it later," Sam promised.

John nodded. "Are you feeling alright?" he asked. This time, Sam knew that he wasn't just talking about the events of the past day and a half.

"I'm great, Dad," Sam said. "I finally figured it all out."

John nodded, and Sam turned around again and headed for his room. Unsurprisingly, the lights were off. It was rather late, and Jess was trying to sleep.

She wasn't doing that good a job of it, though. She looked up as soon as he opened the door.

"Sam!" she exclaimed.

"Hey, Jess," Sam said. "I'm back."

~~~~~~~~~

Bobby sat at his desk in his library, flipping through a King James Version of the Bible. Jimmy was studiously ignoring him, refusing to explain what the angel had rescued him from. Whatever it was, it had been bad. Bobby didn't want to ask, but he suspected that it explained Jimmy's nightmares.

"So, apocalypse now," Bobby finally said.

Jimmy flinched. "I guess so," he said.

"You didn't know about this?"

Jimmy shook his head. "No," he said. "I'm just the errand boy," he said. "Castiel tells me to go somewhere, and I do."

"Why?"

"Because he rescued me," Jimmy said. "And… I'm legally dead. I can't go back to my family. They'd never believe it was me. I might as well do this. Maybe I'll be lucky enough that it will kill me, and it'll be over."

Bobby sighed. "That's not an attitude a Hunter should have, Jimmy."

"I'm not a Hunter," Jimmy spat. "I will never be a Hunter. It's Hunters that caused this. Hunters that made those two turn to demons for protection. Why would I want to be someone who'd attack a 7 week old baby?"

Bobby blinked. "I get it," he said. "Believe me, I do. But what you're doing… you're a Hunter, Jimmy. You're one of the ones who wouldn't attack an innocent baby."

Jimmy snorted.

"He's right," Castiel said. They both looked up. The angel was standing in the doorway, watching them both. He still looked a little haggard. "But that doesn't matter. We have a serious problem."

Bobby nodded. "You mentioned the apocalypse," he said.

"I did. A short time ago, my superiors found out what Azazel was planning. When the Gate opened, Lilith, the first demon Lucifer corrupted, was released. She and Azazel are going to work together to free Lucifer."

"That doesn't sound good," Bobby said.

"It isn't," Castiel said. "But we- and my siblings, for more angels will be joining the fight- can fight them, perhaps even stop them."

Bobby smiled. "Well, then, I guess that just means one thing," he said.

The angel and the man looked at him and his smile widened. "We've got work to do."

~~~~~~~~~

Dean entered the library. He knew Sam wasn't in the room, but he was surprised to see that he wasn't the first one in the room.

"Hi Dad," Dean said.

John looked up and smiled. "Dean. What happened out there?"

"We opened the Gate," Dean said.

"I know," John said. "Your brother already told me. What about everything else?"

Dean sighed and explained everything Sam had told him, everything he knew that had gone on in the past few days.

When he was done, John sat back. Dean smiled and sat next to him. "It's been a long couple of days," he admitted.

"That it has," Azazel said. He, Sam, and Jess had come in partway through Dean's story.

Azazel took a deep breath and nodded. "She's here," he said, just as a little girl walked in the room.

Dean blinked at her, at the power he could feel coming off of her. "Lilith?" he asked.

The girl smiled. "Yes," she said. "So, you are the humans who are helping us. And Sam…" she walked over and stared at him. "My Father is going to love you, Sam," she said.

Sam smiled. "I hope so," he said.

Azazel smiled. "So, we have sixty-four seals to break, in whatever order we like. That means we've got work to do."

Chapter Text

One Year Later

Sam took a deep breath and walked toward the abandoned convent. He knew he wasn't going to survive this, not really, but he'd said goodbye to his family already. He was just glad he and Jess had never had children. He'd have hated to leave even more if he'd had a child.

Lilith watched him approach the altar. "Are you ready?" she asked. For a moment, he was grateful she was in the body of a pretty young woman. At least this way, he didn't have to kill a child.

He smiled wanly. "Are you?" he asked.

She returned his smile. "No choice," she said.

Sam nodded. "Hard to believe it's time."

"I've waited a long time for this," Lilith said. "Longer then you've been alive."

"I know," Sam replied. "I just wish that…"

"Me too," Lilith said. "But I was the first, and I'll be honored for all time. I wish I didn't need to die for it. And you know that you, too, will be honored. And your family will be treated like royalty for the rest of their lives, and as long as their souls exist."

"I know," Sam said. He lifted his hand. After a moment, he lowered it. "I…"

"You have to, Sam," she snapped. "Get it over with."

Sam closed his eyes. "Goodbye, Lilith," he said.

"Give me your best shot," Lilith responded.

He lifted his hand again and pushed out with his power.

Lilith flew back and cracked her head against the altar. "You're not strong enough!" she taunted as she pushed herself up. "What good is an antichrist if he can't kill me?"

Sam clenched his fist. He knew she was trying to get him angry enough to reach into his power and kill her. And he needed to kill her. So, why not let her? "You're going to regret that!" he replied. He could do this, he would do this! He felt his power rushing through him. He pushed out at Lilith's demonic form. She opened her mouth for a scream, and Sam could see the beginnings of light flashing deep in her human form.

Encouraged, he pushed harder. The power overtook him. He dimly heard her scream, but all he could feel was the power rushing through him, all he could see was her dying form. His vision wavered for a moment, and then returned. She was pinned against the altar, flashes of light consuming her form. Sam smiled grimly and tightened his hand into a fist.

Lilith slumped to the ground, dead. He wavered, but remained on his feet. He had to make sure that he'd done it before he could rest. The demon's blood began to trace a pattern on the ground of the convent. Sam allowed himself to collapse to his knees, once he knew that it had worked. He watched as the pattern filled out, smiling tiredly. The ground trembled as the pattern completed itself and light flashed out of the center.

Sam bowed his head. The power filled the circle to the edges, and the building around him began to crumble. He wasn't afraid. He knew he was safe here. He was the only person who was safe. The sound began to overwhelm him as the light enveloped him. Even so, he lifted his hands up to the light. He knew what the light was asking, even if he couldn't understand any words.

He knew what he had to say.

"Yes."

~~~~~~~~~~