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The Hero With A Thousand Faces

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Morning came as it always did to a Kansas farm — early.

Sam twisted in the sheets, the old bed creaking as she stretched. The lace curtains at the window shifted with her, fluttering in a soft, warm spring breeze. Behind them, dawn peeked over the fields.

Sam rolled out of bed and pulled on yesterday’s jeans, then grabbed a shirt and laced up her boots. She crept as softly as she could down the hall and stairs, past her parents’ open door and down into the kitchen, where she switched the flip on the coffee maker before heading outside.

The fields smelled like newly turned earth and sweet, growing life. Zipping up the hoodie she had grabbed on her way out the kitchen, Sam breathed deeply as she headed to the back fields to turn on the irrigation system. The breeze stirred her shaggy hair as her long legs ate up the yards.

Once the switches were flipped, Sam paused, leaning one leg up on the fencing, watching the sun slowly emerging on the flat Kansas horizon. If she squinted, she could see the interstate in the distance. Other than that, she was in a sea of ankle-high new crops.

The last of the stars blinked out as the sky grew brighter. Sam turned her back on the interstate, the sky, the world, and went back to the farmhouse.

***

Ellen served eggs and toast and hash browns, and they ate and drank coffee and her parents rumbled softly to each other about the crop. Sam focused on her plate.

“You okay, honey?” Ellen asked, her hand brushing the back of Sam’s neck as she got up for the coffee pot.

“Yeah,” Sam said. “Still waking up.” She’d slept heavy but unrestfully, her night marked with strange and vivid dreams. A ghost of a headache lingered behind her eyes.

Rufus grunted into his food. “Talked to Joe Franklin the other day in town,” he said. “Said how he might be up for giving you a few flight lessons, Sami.”

Sam shook her head. “I don’t want flight lessons from Joe Franklin,” she said firmly.

“Well, if you want to learn how to fly,” Rufus said. “Learn right here at home.”

Ellen sat back down. Sam kept her eyes on her plate and didn’t answer. “Just something to think about, Sami,” she said gently.

Sam felt her jaw tighten, her spine straighten. She looked up and found her father’s rheumy eyes fixed on her. “I don’t care about learning to fly,” she said, biting off each word crisply. “That’s not what going to into Service is about.”

“No,” Rufus said, eyeballing her even harder. “It sure isn’t. Which is why you can learn to fly right here at home. Where you’re needed.”

Sam gulped at her coffee, letting it burn her tongue rather than let out the word resting on its tip.

“You’re a big help here, Sam,” Ellen added. “Couldn’t do it without you.”

“Sure you could,” Sam answered. “Other people can help.”

Rufus snorted. “What other people?” he asked.

Sam shrugged. “Ash,” she said, but that was a stupid argument, even to her ears. Rufus laughed.

“Ash gets off his butt and does something helpful around here, I’ll die of a heart attack,” he said. “Then Ellen really will need your help.”

Sam had to smile, leaning back in her chair and taking a more moderate sip of coffee. “All my friends are gone,” she said finally.

“That’s not true,” Ellen said. “You just want to stretch your wings, and you think a Service plane will let you do that. But Sam, there’s a price to that. Besides, I haven’t given up on college.”

Rufus and Sam were silent, because they all knew there was no money for college, not for a family like theirs, no matter how smart Sam was. They had no connections, and to boot, Rufus and Ellen had unindictable but undeniable connections to the old uprising movement. The only way Sam was getting out of Kansas was in a uniform, and they all knew it.

The name on the mailbox at the end of the dirt drive said Turner, but this wasn’t their farm, wasn’t their land, wasn’t even their house. That all belonged to the Moore family, along with all the farmland for three counties. The Turner family worked the land, and for their efforts got a place to lay their heads at night and enough money to keep going. Not enough to go anywhere.

Ellen was right, plenty of Sam’s friends were still here, working on their own farms, some of them working side-by-side with Ellen at Wal-Mart, where she put in hours to scrap a little more together. Rufus and Ellen had a terror of being turned out penniless that Sam suspected was based on experience from the gray years before Sam.

Of her childhood friends, Jess was the only one who had departed for college that fall. Sam had understood her whole life that she and Jess had different futures in store, daughter of landowner and daughter of sharecropper, but it didn’t make being left behind any easier to swallow. The world was dull and washed out without Jess’ golden light, and Sam’s future stretched dismally out in front of her, gray and unchanging save for the seasons.

“I’d better turn off the irrigation,” Sam announced, and stood. No one answered, and Sam went back out into the day.

***

Ash lived in a trailer on the back edges of the land the Turners were responsible for. So far as the Moores knew, he was a farmhand who worked for room and board. So far as Sam knew, he’d never done an hour’s work on the farm. He had appeared in their lives when she was 12, asleep on the couch when she came downstairs in the morning. In response to her inquiry, Rufus had said, “That’s our friend Ash. I’m gonna fix up the old trailer for him.”

Ellen had later supplied that Ash had attended MIT and was some kind of computer genius. Ash himself had told her that he was retiring to the country. Retirement for Ash seemed to involve filling the trailer with a wide variety of electronics and computers. He alternated between working for energy drink-wired days on end to being nearly comatose. Ash drank cheap beer out of cans, listened to dark, funky soul music, and ate chili and Fruit Loops. He was too young to have known her parents during their uprising days, and his ID card said Wedge Antilles.

Sam had decided not to ask any questions and just accept Ash’s presence. He made a decent surrogate older brother, most of the time.

The evening was chilly, and dark, so Sam put on her hoodie and hopped on her scooter to go back to the trailer. She left the scooter beside one of Ash’s satellite dishes and mounted the creaking metal steps to let herself in.

The trailer had a familiar, pungent smell of pot, beer and unwashed man. Ash was tinkering at his card table workspace and didn’t look up, but did greet her with a, “Sami, yo yo yo!” She grabbed a can of beer out of the fridge and plopped herself onto the only decent piece of furniture, a La-Z Boy that the Turners had bought for Ash as a Christmas present a few years before.

“What the hell happened to that thing?” Sam asked, and pointed with her beer at the laptop Ash was working on. It looked like someone had dropped it in a campfire.

“What didn’t happen to it,” Ash muttered. It looked like he was trying to pull the hard drive out. “What’s the news from up the hill, my sister?”

Sam grimaced. “When is there ever news?” she asked. “Rufus says Joe Franklin will give me flight lessons.”

Ash looked up. “Why the hell would you want flight lessons from Joe Franklin?” he asked, and Sam barked a bitter laugh.

“That’s what I said,” she answered. “Rufus seems to think I want to go into Service just to learn how to fly, not just to get the hell out of Kansas.”

“Also, why the hell would you want to go into Service?” Ash said, sliding the hard drive out of the scorched laptop.

“Means to an end,” Sam said. “You know that.”

Ash shook his head. “Gotta agree with your parents on that one, Sami. Think you don’t have choices now? Join the Service and find out what it really means to be under the thumb of the man. Fight wars to line his pockets, lose limbs to grow his power.”

Sam shook her head. “It’s not all like that,” she said. “I could learn skills, see the world, advance. It’s about the only way out of this place for people like us.”

“By design,” Ash said, pointing at her with a screwdriver. “You want to pledge your life to the people who created this shitty system, and then spend it upholding that system.”

“Then what do you suggest?” Sam demanded. “Stay here, run the family business? Get married, have kids, watch them grow up hand-to-mouth with no options for the future? Working at Wal-Mart or waiting tables? No thank you.”

Ash shook his head. “You’re young,” he said. “Your chance will come. Be Zen, little grasshopper.”

Sam leaned her head back on the recliner and downed the remaining two-thirds of her beer in one go. “Zen,” she muttered, and Ash cackled. He popped the hard drive into a new laptop.

“Where do you get this shit?” she asked.

“Zen?” Ash asked. “I know things. I am one with myself and the world around me.”

“The burned laptop, genius,” Sam clarified.

“I know things,” Ash repeated. His focus was off of her and on his work, so Sam went to get another beer. She popped it and lingered behind Ash, watching him tinker. Menus and numbers flashed across the screen as he typed furiously. Then suddenly, a face.

“Is this a live stream?” Sam asked, leaning closer.

“Recording,” Ash said shortly. The image wavered, then solidified into a young woman with rumbled dark hair and vibrantly blue eyes. Her lips moved but no sound came out. Ash’s fingers snapped at the keyboard and the image flickered, re-resolved, and clicked together with sound.

“This message is for Bobby Singer,” the woman said. “The payload is on this laptop. You know what to do with it.” There was a crashing sound in the background, and the woman turned her head, then turned back to the screen. “This is our only hope.”

There was a larger crash, and the video ended.

“What the fuck was that?” Sam demanded.

“I gotta go,” Ash said. He stood, snapped the laptop shut, then started frantically looking around the floor. “Help me find my shoes. Get that thing in a backpack.” When Sam just stared at him, he said in a tone she’d never heard before, “I mean it, Sam. I need your help, right now.”

She found a backpack and put the laptop in it. Ash put on his shoes, then tossed some other things in the backpack — some dump phones, a wad of money that he took from a coffee can, and what looked to Sam like fake IDs that were taped to the bottom of the recliner.

“I need your scooter,” he said, and she handed him the keys, along with a jacket.

“What do I tell my parents?” she asked.

“Not a goddamn thing,” he said. “You left me here drinking and playing with equipment. You’d had too many beers and didn’t want to take the scooter back so you walked. Got it?”

Sam nodded. She opened the trailer door and went down the steps, then froze.

On the horizon, she could see fire.

“No,” she said, and started running. Ash grabbed the back of her hoodie and nearly knocked her off her feet.

“Scooter,” he snapped, shoving the backpack at her. “Put that on.” She did, and he started up the scooter. She jumped on behind.

They left the scooter in the bushes a half mile from the house, and Sam’s long legs quickly outdistanced Ash’s as she ran through the fields toward home. The house was engulfed, and now she could see strange vehicles in the drive and at the main road, people with weapons. Ash tackled her to the ground before she could burst into the circle of light created by the flaming building.

“Sami, no,” he said, and she was sobbing into the dirt because she knew what highwaymen did to families and farms.

“No, no,” she said. “We have to go to the Moores, get help, get police out here.”

“Sami, no,” Ash repeated. “These aren’t highwaymen. Look at those vehicles. That’s Special Service, Sami.”

She shook her head. Why would Special Service be burning down her house? What would they want with —

She turned and hit Ash, hard as she could from the awkward angle on the ground, right in the face. He took it, then pounced on top of her, getting his hand over her mouth.

“You can whale on me as much as you like later, but we gotta go,” he said. “They’ll be looking for the trailer, they’ll be looking for us. You wanna live? We gotta go.”

She shook her head. Her face was wet. Why was her face wet? “My mom and dad,” she said behind Ash’s hand, and he shook his head at her. His face was wet too.

“They’re gone, baby,” he said. “I’m so sorry, they’re gone.”

“No,” Sam said, and she shook all over. “No.”

Ash put his head down to hers, covering her face with his hair and his tears. She shook and shook and shook while the night sky turned orange and the last embers of her childhood floated up to the stars.

***

They took the scooter as far as it would take them, then hefted it into a dumpster. They slept briefly, uneasily, in a highway culvert, shoulder to shoulder.

Morning, true to form, came early. Ash ate a power bar from the backpack while she stood with her back to him, surveying the length of the state road.

“It’s not just another uprising,” Ash said.

“I don’t care,” Sam said dully. “I don’t care what it is.” She thought of her birth parents, long dead in the first uprising, not even a faint memory. She thought of Ellen’s first husband, Bill, and their little girl, Joanna, both dead in the water riots that followed the devastating end to the uprising. She thought of a world so brutal that leaving an orphaned infant with a half-crazed, alcoholic homeless man was the best deal on the table.

All of her parents, by birth and circumstances, now dead at the altar of freedom.

“I could do what I want now,” she said. “Join the Service. Go wherever I want.” She turned to Ash. “Except I can’t, right? That’s all over.”

Ash nodded. “Oh yeah. We’re off the reservation now.”

Sam sighed, looked back at the road. Ash stood, pressed a power bar into her hand. “We need to get to Singer,” he said. “Rufus and Ellen weren’t the first people to die for that hard drive.”

Sam shoved the power bar in her hoodie pocket. “Where?” she asked simply.

“Sioux Falls, South Dakota,” Ash said. “We’re gonna have to jack some cars. Stay off the highways, anyplace with CCTV. Can’t hitch, they might have our pics out there.”

Sam shook her head. “We’ll get plugged in a stolen car,” she said. “We need help.” She held her hand out. “Give me one of the dump phones.”

Jess sounded wide awake, sounded like salvation. “Don’t let anyone know it’s me,” Sam said as soon as Jess answered.

“Sure,” Jess said brightly. “I can drop my notes off to you before class. Hang on.” The background noise changed, grew quiet. “Sam,” she said, and her voice caught. “Thank God.”

“What do you know?” Sam asked.

“My parents said highwaymen attacked the house. Ash had some part in their gang, led them to the farm. He left with them and they took you. Is that right? Did you get away? Are you all right?”

Sam smiled grimly. “That’s bullshit,” she said. “My parents?”

There was only Jess’ shaky breathing down the line. “I’m so, so sorry, Sam,” she finally said. Sam didn’t answer, and then, “How can I help you?”

“We need a car,” Sam said. “If we can get to Lawrence, can we have yours? And we need your silence.”

“Yes, of course,” Jess said without hesitation. “To both. Sam, it’s on the news. Do you have somewhere to go?”

“Yeah,” Sam said. She closed her eyes. “Thank you.” They were both silent, listening to each other breathe. “I dreamed of you,” Sam said.

“Good dream?” Jess asked.

Sam pressed her hand over her eyes, blocking out remembered fire and despair. “No,” she said, then, “Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Jess said softly. “Be here, safe.”

“Tonight,” Sam said.

“Tonight,” Jess said.

“You’re not coming with,” Sam said, and Jess was silent. “I mean it. They’ll be all over us, saying we kidnapped you.”

Jess made a soft, hurt noise. “Okay,” she said, and she might have been crying.

“I love you,” Sam said, clutching the phone so hard her hand was cramping.

“I love you too,” Jess said, and Sam hung up.

Sam turned back to Ash, dry-eyed. “You’re the genius,” she said. “Find us a way to Lawrence by tonight.”

***

They jacked a car after all, then stuck to state roads, dodging civilization as much as possible. They made it to Lawrence well before nightfall, but lingered outside of town for the cover of dark to fall.

Sam had been here once since Jess had left for college, a stolen (literally, in Ellen’s car without permission) weekend in February. She’d left knowing that Jess was further away than Lawrence, someplace Sam could not follow.

She knocked quietly on the door, then tried the knob. It was open. Most of the apartment was dark, but a light burned in the kitchen. On the table were the car keys, and a bag of homemade cookies. Sam added them to the backpack, then hefted it back on.

“She here?” Ash asked, low, twitchy.

“Hang on,” Sam said, and headed back to the bedroom. “Jess?” she called softly.

The bedroom was dark. Sam switched on the bedside light. Her fingers hesitated on the framed picture beside it, her and Jess at age 10, arm in arm.

A drop of something warm and sticky fell on her hand. She frowned, touched it. Looked up.

Jess. Jess, from her dream. Jess, bleeding and pinned impossibly to the ceiling. Jess, her mouth open in agony, unable to move or scream.

Sam screamed for her, was on the bed stretching long limbs to her, when she blossomed in glorious flame.

“NO!” Sam screamed, and her hands were singed. “NO!” and then Ash was on top of her, on the bed, then dragging her away. He was yelling at her, but she couldn’t hear the words. He hit her.

“We have to go!” he screamed, and shoved her toward the living room.

The door was flying open, and a man in SWAT gear was on the other side. “Shit!” Ash screamed, and reversed direction, back into the burning room. “Window!” he yelled. “Go, go, go!”

Sam shook her head. “Jess!” she screamed, and Ash grabbed her by the hair and hauled her to the window. He threw it open and pushed her halfway out. Second floor, but doable.

“Go!” he yelled, and she went.

She landed hard, the wind out of her for a minute, and then got to her feet. She looked up. The window was blazing. She couldn’t see Ash.

She heard gunfire.

Sam ran.

Chapter Text

Sam arrived at Singer Auto Salvage four days later, dirty, wet, tired. Still, she lingered beyond the circle of light cast by the outdoor lamp, fading into the twilight. Finally, Singer came to the door and stepped onto the porch.

“If you’re coming in, best do it now,” he said. “No one comes in after dark.” Then he turned and went back into the house.

Sam crossed into the circle of light, went up the porch steps, and opened the door. The old farmhouse was dim and dusty and inviting. It smelled of old books and men and stew.

There was no one in the living room, so Sam followed the path of the house to the kitchen. Singer was standing at the stove, stirring the smelled stew. He looked at her keenly.

“I’m Sam Turner,” she said.

“I know who you are,” Singer said. “What’s more urgent, food or sleep?”

Sam looked at him dully. “Shower,” she said, and he nodded.

The water pressure wasn’t great but the water was hot and blissful. Singer knocked on the door while she was standing under the water. “Got some clean clothes for you,” he said. “I’ll throw yours in the wash.”

The clean clothes were a pair of men’s boxer briefs, flannel sleep pants, a t-shirt, and a pair of tube socks. Everything was too broad but long enough. It all felt like heaven.

She found her way back downstairs and sat at the kitchen table. Singer gave her a bowl of stew, a hunk of bread, some water, and a beer. She ate in silence, trying to pace herself so it didn’t come back up. Singer sat down across from her and nursed a beer.

When she finished, he cleared her dishes, sat back down. “I knew your parents,” he said. “All of them.”

Sam finished off her beer. “I want to sleep,” she said.

Singer stared at her for a long minute, then nodded. “First I need to know about Ash,” he said. “Was he captured?”

“Dead,” Sam said. “And my girl.”

“Oh, hell,” Singer said. “I heard about Rufus and Ellen, but when I saw you I thought —“ He coughed. “All right, let’s find you a bed.”

The bed was old and sagging and slightly musty. Sam wrapped her arms around the backpack and went instantly to sleep.

***

It was late morning when she woke and made her way downstairs. Singer was at a desk in a library-like room. In the living room, Sam paused and looked up, noticing in the daylight a circular pattern on the ceiling. Singer eyeballed her.

“We have this pattern on the floor of the farmhouse,” she said, then amended, “had this pattern.”

“Yeah,” Singer said. “I’d hope so.”

Sam passed under it and slumped into a chair beside Singer’s desk.

“Glad to see you can walk through it,” Singer said.

“What the hell does that mean?” Sam asked, and Singer eyeballed her some more.

“Rufus and Ellen sure did keep you in the dark,” he said. “Probably thought it was for the best.”

Sam shook her head. “I don’t care about this shit,” she said. “This power to the people, government overthrow bullshit. We were always just trying to get by.”

“How’s that working out for you?” Singer asked, and he and Sam stared each other down.

“I saw something,” Sam said. “Something happened, and I can’t explain it.”

Singer leaned back in his chair. “Tell me,” he said.

Sam started with calling Jess, arriving in Lawrence, getting to the apartment. The dark bedroom. Blood on her hand. Jess on the ceiling. Fire and the end of the world.

“Yeah,” Singer said, and sighed. “I’m real sorry.”

“But not surprised,” Sam said. “She was on the ceiling.”

Singer nodded. “I dreamed it,” Sam said. “Before it happened. For weeks. The blood, the ceiling, the fire. All of it.”

This made Singer raise his eyebrows. “Well, now, that does surprise me,” he said.

Sam nodded. Singer scruffed his beard. “Want some eggs and whisky?” he said.

“Yeah,” Sam said.

***

“Like demons from hell with tails and horns and pitchforks?” Sam asked, shuffling the eggs around her plate.

“Yep,” Singer said. “Minus the tails and horns and pitchforks. They don’t have bodies of their own, so they have to hijack a human one.”

“Possession?” Sam asked, and sipped at her coffee. Singer nodded.

“So you think Jess was possessed?” she asked, and Singer shook his head.

“Hell, no,” he said. “I think they had a bead on you going to her for help. Maybe they tried to possess her and couldn’t, happens sometimes. Maybe they just wanted to fuck with you. But it went wrong, because you’re here.”

Sam pointed to the laptop on the table. “Because of that,” she said. “What’s on it?”

Singer sighed. “My guess? Plans on how to close the gate they’ve been using.”

“A gate to hell?” Sam asked, and Singer nodded.

Sam poured another shot of whisky and downed it, then went back to her eggs.

“The dreams?” she asked, and Singer was silent for several minutes.

“Your parents, your first parents,” he said, “were demon hunters. That’s what the uprising was really about, in case you haven’t guessed yet. Demons are prisoners in hell, you see. This is escape for them, a chance to establish a ruling class over humans.”

Singer poured himself another shot, slammed it back. “The Winchesters were some kinda hellfire on demons,” he said. “They were something. But it went south. The whole thing went south. Mary, your mom, she was pregnant with you, and somehow one of them got past her defenses.”

“She was possessed while she was pregnant with me?” Sam asked incredulously, and Singer nodded.

“Your dad, John, got to her, along with a few of us helping him. We saved you,” he said. “But your parents didn’t make it.”

Sam stood, refilled her coffee. She turned and leaned against the counter, stared at Singer.

“So I’m half-demon or something?” she asked.

Singer snorted. “I doubt that,” he said. “The half-demon part. But the something … I always wondered. Rufus was keeping an eye out, never saw anything.”

Sam shook her head. “No wonder he wanted to keep me close,” she said. “He could have told me.”

“That secretive old bastard?” Singer said. “I doubt he ever even told Ellen. Besides, would you want to put that on your kid? I know he was a crazy old fucker, but Rufus loved you.”

“I know,” Sam said. “But maybe things would have gone down different.”

“Can’t know that,” Singer said. “Can’t ever know that, kid.”

Sam sighed. “Yeah,” she said, then, “So now what?”

***

Now what arrived in the form of Singer’s no-good kid, who came banging through the kitchen door the next morning while Sam was still dressed in what she now presumed were his old sleeping pants and t-shirt, underwear-less and half awake, clutching a coffee mug to her chest while she waited for the pot to finish.

“Hey, Bobby, I’m home,” the no-good kid bellowed at the top of his lungs, before eyeballing Sam and plastering an absolutely bedazzling grin on his face. “How you doing?” he asked, and Bobby suddenly appeared from nowhere and said loudly, “No.”

“All right,” the no-good kid grumbled, and gave Sam a real smile and his hand. “Dean Singer.”

She shook, prying one hand off her coffee mug. “Sam Turner,” she said, and then something else burst through the back door in a flurry of fur and teeth, dashed across the kitchen, and stuck its nose in her crotch.

“That’s my co-pilot, Chewbacca,” Dean said cheerily. “That’s a good boy, Chewie!”

Chewbacca snuffled into Sam’s scent, then decided she was friend and backed up to wuff happily at her, giant tail smashing back and forth between the fridge and a chair. Sam offered her palm, but Chewbacca ignored it and jumped onto her chest, paws directly on her boobs, so she could properly scratch his head.

“Down, dog!” Bobby yelled, while Dean said, “Good boy, Chewie, way to make friends.”

“Damn it, Dean, teach him some manners!” Bobby hollered, and left the kitchen.

“Great to see you too!” Dean yelled after him. “We missed you, Bobby!”

“Chewbacca?” Sam asked Dean wryly.

“Yeah,” he said, turning back to her with the same happy look on his face that the dog was currently wearing. “It’s Native American for Big-Assed Dog.” He grinned, pleased with himself, and opened the fridge to grab a beer.

“Hey, Bobby, I totally exorcised Ruby’s ass back to hell!” he shouted into the other room.

“About time,” Bobby yelled back.

Dean picked up the box of Cheerios on the counter and reached inside for a handful, shoved it in his mouth. “Yeah, she was pissed,” he said around the mouthful. “Said a lot of dirty words, threats about once she tells Lilith. Like she’s never double-crossed someone before.”

Bobby appeared in the kitchen door, glowering. “Damn it, Dean, no deals with demons!” he yelled. “No double-crossing demons! Just get rid of them! That’s all!”

Dean grinned, his mouth full of Cheerios. “She said my ass is Lilith’s but they gotta catch me first. Besides, can’t blame the ladies for wanting a piece of this!”

So that was Singer’s no-good kid. Who apparently had been old friends with Ash and was truly stricken to hear of his death, and who did not agree with Bobby at all that they needed to deliver the hard drive to the Rebel home base in Chicago, mainly on the basis that the woman in the video was a full-blown nutcase.

“Boy, do you have any idea who that is?” Bobby demanded.

“Sure do,” Dean answered. “That’s Castiel Organa, and while a good number of us thinks she walks on water, some of us remember that she thinks she talks to freaking angels.”

Sam raised her eyebrows, looked at Bobby, who was abashed. “She thinks she talked to one angel, once,” he clarified.

“Yeah, cause that’s better,” Dean said.

“She’s not a nut,” Bobby said to Sam, then to Dean, “You’ve never met her. She’s not crazy, just really … intense. And we’re fighting demons, is it so bad to think there might be some angels on our side?”

“Don’t get religion on me now, Bobby,” Dean said seriously. “I don’t want you putting me in some fluffy white dress with a bonnet and taking me to get baptized.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Bobby growled back.

Sam cleared her throat. “So, whether the woman on the video is crazy or not, we think there’s a good chance the information on the hard drive might actually help, right?” Bobby and Dean both nodded. “And Ash and my parents and Jess all died because of it?” Bobby looked pained and Dean looked a little ashamed. “So let’s get it to the people who need it, all right?”

“Is that you enlisting, Sami?” Dean asked.

“Sam,” Sam said.

“Glad to have you with us, Sami,” Dean answered.

***

Chewbacca got to ride shotgun, because, Dean said, he was the co-pilot. Bobby said it was because the dog threw up everywhere when he rode in the backseat, and neither Bobby or Dean could stand the thought of dog vomit on the seats of Dean’s illegally sweet 1967 Chevy Impala.

“It’s an awesome car,” Sam said, “but doesn’t it kind of stand out?”

“Of course it does!” Dean said. “How could something of this magnitude of sweetness not stand out?”

“Yeah,” Sam said slowly. “And aren’t we on a secret mission?” Bobby shook his head at her, sighed.

“It’s cool, we’re stealth,” Dean reassured Sam, and pulled onto the highway, classic black muscle car filled with Rebel fighters, a trunk full of weapons and ammo, a top-secret hard drive, and a big-assed dog hanging out the passenger window.

Stealth.

***

Over the Mississippi, Bobby and Sam grabbed a booth at a diner while Dean took Chewbacca out back to stretch his legs and rummage through garbage.

“So if this works,” Sam asked, “what happens then?”

“You mean if we shut the gate to hell?” Bobby asked, and she nodded. “Well, my educated guess is that hell goes back to being a one-way ticket. You can check in but you can’t check out.”

Sam stirred sugar into her coffee. “But the demons already here?”

“Oh, probably have to pick them off,” Bobby said. “Which we can do. Exorcism, mostly, get them out of the human host and send them back where they came from. There’s a couple of ways to actually kill them, though.”

“Like how?” Sam asked, and Bobby opened his mouth to answer but then got distracted by the television over Sam’s shoulder. Sam twisted, looked, then was on her feet and moving toward the set, Bobby at her heels, along with half the diner. Someone screamed, and someone else started crying.

A mushroom cloud, glowing fiercely. Over a city. And at the bottom of the screen, Nuclear bomb detonated in downtown Chicago.

“Oh, sweet Lord,” Bobby gasped, and now the whole room was pressed to the television, someone turning the volume up as high as it would go, people clinging to each other and crying, and Sam realized that she was gripping Bobby’s arm and that his arms were around her shoulders.

“As no missile was detected by Imperial air surveillance, officials believe this was a terrorist device that could have been brought into the city in the back of a vehicle and then remotely or manually detonated,” the reporter was saying. “While an outside terrorist force is possible, a Imperial source who asked to remain unnamed said the most likely scenario is that this attack was conducted by a political fringe group seeking to overthrow the government.”

Sam’s legs felt like rubber and her head swum. “Here, here,” she heard Bobby say, and he pushed her into a chair and pressed her head down between her legs. He put his mouth to her ear. “This wasn’t us,” he murmured.

“No,” Sam gasped. “This was them. This is real. And they’re coming for us, aren’t they?”

“Oh, yeah,” Bobby said, and stood up, straight and rigid. Sam raised herself carefully, turned her head in the direction Bobby was looking.

Service troops, in the parking lot, pouring out of a couple of Hummers. And checking out the Impala.

“Fuck me,” Bobby said.

“Yeah,” Sam gasped. “Stealth.” She stood, grabbed Bobby’s hand. “Out the back, come on, before Dean goes out front.”

They wove through the crowd of screaming, sobbing, praying diner patrons, past the restrooms, and through the back door, unnoticed, to find Dean playing fetch with Chewbacca, and then to bolt for the woods behind the narrow strip of diner and gas station, away from the highway, away from the Service, away from the horrors on the television, and into the night.

***

“So, to focus on the good news,” Dean said as he hot-wired them a car, “we’re all alive. We’re not incarcerated. And Chewbacca’s OK.”

“Why do I feel like bad news follows this?” Sam asked, screwing on a swapped license plate.

“Because that hard drive, we all realize, is still in my super-secret compartment in the Impala,” Dean said, and the car sprang to life. “So we need to go get my baby.”

“We need to go get the hard drive,” Bobby corrected him. “That car’s collateral damage, boy.”

Dean opened his mouth and then, surprisingly, shut it.

“We need to double back, see if we can find a Service outpost where they might have taken the car,” Bobby said. “Seeing as how Dean isn’t half bad at making super-secret compartments, I’m hoping they haven’t found the drive.”

“So we’re just going to break into a Service outpost, steal back our secret plans, and escape?” Sam asked. Bobby and Dean both looked at her.

“Yeah,” Bobby said.

“Sounds good,” Dean said.

“Yeah,” Sam repeated. “Sounds great. Real easy.”

“No way out but through,” Bobby said. He reached into his jacket. “Sam, you were asking about how to get rid of demons.” He pulled out a long knife with an elaborate handle. “Here’s a way.”

He handed it to her and Sam gripped the hilt. It felt right in her palm, the weight an extension of her arm.

“What is this?” she asked, just as Dean said, “For real? Why’re you giving it to her?”

“It kills demons,” Bobby said. “Kills them for real, not just sends them back to hell. And it belonged to your mother, Sam, a long time ago.”

Sam tested the knife, slicing it through the air. It didn’t look special, but it felt special. It felt right.

“Seriously?” Dean said. “I thought that knife belonged to Mary Winchester.” After a beat, he added, “Wait, Sam is Mary Winchester’s kid? I thought she was Rufus Turner’s kid?”

At this, Sam and Bobby both looked at Dean in disbelief.

“Come on, Dean,” Bobby said, exasperated.

Dean had on his thinking face. “I guess that’s why you’re not black,” he mused. “I wondered about that.”

“My parents died in the uprising,” Sam said. “Rufus, and later Ellen, raised me. I didn’t know anything about my birth parents.”

“Oh, so you’re the boy who lived,” Dean said, and Bobby gave him a dirty look.

“She looks all girl to me, Dean,” he said.

“You not knowing that reference,” Dean said, “is why my childhood was all fucked up.”

Sam ignored them, held the knife up, studied it. “Thank you, Bobby.”

“I was just keeping it safe for you,” he said. “I knew the day would come.”

“Hey, Sami,” Dean said, “check it, we’re a matched set.” He pulled a pistol out of the small of his back. “Demon-hunters united!” he crowed. “We could open a business, Singer and Turner, Demon Killers Incorporated.”

Sam raised her eyebrows at him. “The Colt kills demons too,” Dean said. “It belonged to my real dad, along with the Impala. Guess we’re in the same boat, huh?”

Sam glanced at Bobby, who wryly nodded his head. “You could say that,” he said, dry as the desert. “I raised Dean after his parents died in the uprising. They were compatriots too.”

Dean was posing beside her with the Colt. Sam thought that if Dean had a secret sparkly glitter journal somewhere, he would spend the wee hours of that night designing logos for Singer and Turner out of crossed Colts and knives.

“All right, Singer and Turner,” Bobby said, and opened a car door so Chewbacca could jump inside. “Let’s go infiltrate the bad guys.”

***

The Chicago bomb had the Service somewhat in disarray, fortunately for them, and they were able to spot the Impala through the fence of the closest outpost. Unfortunately for them, the Chicago bomb had the whole region crawling with Service, and on their bellies outside the lights of the enclosed parking lot was as close as they could get.

“We’re gonna have to go inside,” Dean finally said. “There’s no creeping up and cutting wires going on here.”

“There’ve been bulletins out about Sam for a week,” Bobby said. “And you and I aren’t exactly unknown to them. We can’t just stroll in the front door.”

Sam was watching soldiers drop out the back of a truck in full SWAT gear. “Maybe we can,” she said, and pointed them out.

“Oh, yeah,” Dean said. “Let’s Ocean’s 11 this thing.”

“Now that one, I get,” Bobby said.

The masses of quasi-unorganized soldiers made it relatively easy work. They stashed the stolen car and Chewbacca half a mile away and made their way back to a ditch alongside some tent barracks that seemed to be doubling as a urinal for soldiers too lazy to walk down to the latrine. A soldier with his dick in his hand is not an attentive soldier, so before too long there were three unconscious, bound soldiers hidden in the weeds and the three of them were outfitted as Service soldiers.

I guess I got into the uniform after all, Sam thought, and pulled down her helmet.

Then it was just a matter of nodding to soldiers as they passed, walking like they had a mission. Past the tents and vehicles, into the former school building now an outpost, down corridors, moving closer to the back exit that led to the enclosed lot. Lingering in a hallway waiting for some officers to move away from the door, idly listening to their conversation.

“I guess she’s not breaking at all,” one of them said. “Her hometown and everything, got to be all her people gone.”

Another one snorted. “Which people?” he asked. “Doubt her real family would have anything to do with her anymore. Shame about them, they were good folk.”

The first one sighed. “I can’t get my head around the whole thing,” he said. “I guess there’s no end to hate and craziness, make someone attack their own city like that. At least we got some of them in the process.”

“And we got her,” the second one said. “Nice feather in the cap, turning Castiel Organa over to the big bosses.”

“True that,” the first one said.

In the hall, Sam turned to look at Bobby. Dean sighed and hung his head.

“Let me guess,” he whispered. “Now we gotta save the princess.”

***

Castiel Organa was a slight, fiercely pretty woman in her mid-20s, dark hair, circles under her vibrantly blue eyes, and a set to her jaw that made her seem older. She was sleeping on a cot in what Sam guessed was once a school nurse’s office, but she turned and sat when Sam walked in and pulled off her helmet.

“Aren’t you a little young for Special Service?” Castiel asked, and Sam blinked at her.

“No,” she said. “I mean, I don’t know. I’m not Special Service. I’m here to … rescue you?”

Castiel looked amused. “Thank you,” she said, “but do us both a favor and put that helmet back on and get out of here before you get us both killed.”

Sam shook her head. “No, really,” she said. “We have to get the hard drive with the plans on it back, and Bobby is working on a diversion so we can get it and you out of here.”

Castiel was on her feet, startlingly quick. “Bobby Singer is here?” she demanded, followed by, “What do you mean, get the hard drive back? You lost it?”

“They don’t know they have it,” Sam hastily assured her. “It’s in our car, in the back lot. Dean’s clearing a path for us and then Bobby is going to create the diversion and —“

A spat of gunfire cut her off. Castiel glared at her with laser blue eyes and wrenched the assault rifle out of Sam’s hands. “Sounds like a great plan,” she said, deadpan, kicked open the door, and began firing.

“Sam!” Dean bellowed from the hallway, and came tearing toward them. “We got company!”

“He’s with me!” Sam yelled at Castiel when it looked like she might gun Dean down. He dashed into the doorway, then turned and joined Castiel in firing at the half-dozen soldiers who had appeared.

“How do we get out of here?” Castiel demanded.

“Around the corner,” Sam said. “Down the stairs,” and she pointed, but gunfire was raining down the corridor, and Dean and Castiel didn’t have a good enough angle from here to pick anyone off.

“Got it,” Castiel said, and stepped into the hallway.

“What the hell are you doing?” Dean yelled at her.

“Saving our butts!” she answered, and let loose with the gun. “Run!”

They ran, while soldiers fell and Castiel followed hot on their heels. They thundered down the stairs. “This is no good,” Sam said. “They know we’re here, they’re going to be all over us in a minute. We need Bobby’s diversion.”

“Duck and cover,” Dean said, and yanked open a door. It led to an old school science lab, a supply closet in the back. They slid in, closed the door, tried to muffle their breathing. Outside, boots stamped and voices called.

“This is your great plan?” Castiel hissed. “Do you have the hard drive?”

“Hey, Dean Singer, nice to meet you,” Dean said.

“I know who you are,” Castiel snapped. Sam felt her turn her head. “I don’t know you.”

“Sam Turner,” she said. “I’m, well, I was, a friend of Ash’s.”

Castiel sighed. “You should have left me and focused on the hard drive,” she said. “This is fruitless.”

“Listen,” Dean said, “we’ll just sit tight until Bobby creates the diversion and then we can make a run for it in the confusion.”

“What kind of diversion?” Castiel asked.

“He’s gonna blow some shit up,” Dean said.

“Good,” Castiel said grimly.

***

As promised, Bobby blew some shit up, and they had to climb over fallen shelves and squeeze past a half-jammed door to get out of the science lab. The hallway was illuminated by emergency lights, hazy through the smoke.

“The hard drive,” Castiel reminded them. “That’s what matters. If one of us gets our hands on it, take it and go. Head for the base in West Virginia, I don’t think they know about it.”

Dean paused over a dead soldier and pulled off his helmet, handed it to Castiel. “Put this on,” he said. “Better than nothing.”

She yanked on the helmet. “Where’s your car?” she asked, and Dean gestured to the back of the hallway. Sam snagged the dead soldier’s weapon and followed them toward the exit.

It was chaos outside, with half of the building on fire, soldiers dragging injured compatriots away from the site, vehicles pulling in and out haphazardly. Bobby knew how to create a diversion, that was for certain. Dean pointed out the enclosed lot they’d surveyed earlier, past the sporting fields. They started toward it at a light jog.

Dean was scanning constantly. “Where the hell is Bobby?” he muttered.

“He’ll meet us back at the other car,” Sam said, because she was already imbued with confidence in Bobby Singer’s ability to get himself out of a tight spot.

“Hey, soldiers!” someone yelled at them. “I need help over here!”

They kept up their steady pace, and the voice came again, “That’s an order, get your butts over here!”

Sam touched Dean on the shoulder. “Get Castiel and the hard drive,” she said. “I’ll shake this guy, meet up with you.”

Dean nodded. “Be careful,” he warned. “Got your knife?” Sam nodded, and Dean squeezed her arm, then took Castiel by the elbow, steered her further away from the lights. Sam peeled off from them and headed over to the soldier, who was kneeling beside a young man caught under a slab of what looked like bleachers from the gym.

“Where the hell do your buddies think they’re going?” the soldier demanded as Sam dropped to her knees.

“We have orders to secure the perimeter,” she said, then touched the young man’s face. “How you doing?”

“Like shit,” he said. “Get this off of me.”

Sam and the soldier hefted, stopping when the young man screamed, until he shouted at them to just fucking do it. They did, then Sam helped bind up his bleeding leg and carry him to the back of a truck. “What’s your name, soldier?” the man snapped when they were finished.

“Turner, sir,” she said.

“Get back to your post then, Turner,” he said, and she nodded.

She ended up cutting through the football field, avoiding a cluster of black SUVs behind it, a group of people dressed not in uniform but in suits. The lights were on full here, and sparking. The air was heavy with distress, smelling of sulfur, and Sam struggled to take deep breaths. She reached under her shirt, gripped the knife by the hilt. She kept to the shadows, trying to skirt them and wondering if she should go back and take the long way around. She glanced over at the cluster of people and froze.

Bobby Singer, suspended in the air, body covered in soot, blood dripping from his mouth. Beneath him, a blonde woman in a black suit, hand casually extended, the source of the dread and sulfur and horror.

Sam made a smothered noise, and her knees wobbled. She wavered, torn between running to Bobby’s aid and certain death, and running into the dark of the night.

The woman turned, looked right at her, and Sam grabbed the knife and ran straight for her.

Her legs went out beneath her but she kept moving, dragging toward the circle of light, slamming upright against one of the SUVs and remaining there, not of her own power. The knife flew away from her and into the woman’s hand.

“Well, well, well,” she said. “I haven’t seen this in ages.” She turned her attention from the knife to Sam. “Who have you brought me, Bobby?” She looked at Sam with deadly, black eyes. “Who is this?” she whispered.

“Go back to hell,” Bobby gritted, and spit blood at her. She turned back to him, smiled cruelly, and twisted her hand. Bobby screamed in agony.

“No!” Sam yelled. “Let him go!”

“Thanks for returning this,” the woman said, holding up the knife. “A parting gift for me, when I didn’t think you cared anymore.” She turned her open hand again and Bobby screamed.

Later, Sam would describe it as something pushing out of her brain, through her forehead, birthing itself from her frontal lobe. It hurt, and she screamed, and the blonde woman staggered.

Bobby fell to the ground, and Sam dropped to her knees. Working on instinct, she was on her feet, sprinting, and then the knife was in her hand and she was over the woman, who was looking up at her dazed. “It can’t be,” the woman said, and then, “Singer, you old fucker.” She lifted her hand, and Sam raised the knife.

Which was when the Impala burst into the circle of SUVs, plowing over two of the suits. Both of them howling, Dean and Chewbacca sprang from the vehicle, Dean firing the Colt and Chewbacca tearing out another suit’s throat with a victorious growl.

The Colt fired, caught a woman in the head. Her body flashed, red, and the stink of sulfur overwhelmed them, and then she dropped, her eyes smoking.

Dean turned the Colt at the woman at Sam’s feet, who laughed grimly, and disappeared.

Sam dropped to her knees and vomited. She could hear Dean finishing off what must be demons with the Colt, and Castiel asking Bobby if he was all right. Sam moaned, pressed the heel of her hand to her head.

Someone touched her back and then a soft cloth was pressed to her face. “Here,” Dean said, and she realized he was trying to stop a nosebleed. “What the hell happened?”

“I don’t know,” Sam said, dazed. “I did something.”

“I’d say,” Dean answered. “Who was that, the woman?”

It was Castiel who answered, cradling Bobby in her arms.

“That,” she said, “was Azazel.”

Chapter Text

Winters in Kansas were cold, so Sam used to think, but they had nothing on northern Minnesota. They were so far north that yesterday she had been able to see the great wall along the Canadian border, running unbreachable and unbreakable into the horizon, longer than her eyes could see.

It took the old truck she was driving forever to heat up, so when her phone trilled at her, she had to pull off a heavy glove with her teeth before she fished it out of her pocket to look at the message.

All clear. Found a Waffle House!

Sam snorted. Dean Singer ate like every meal was his last.

K, she typed, one hand and one eye on the wheel. Heading back to motel.

She thumbed the phone to lock it and redirected her attention to the snowy road. The truck could handle it, but it still needed caution.

Everything needed caution. Two years in the Rebellion, and Sam lived with a constant tension in her stomach and shoulders. Who was friend, and who was foe? What lay around each corner, at each gas station, in each Waffle House? And beneath that, the bigger questions. Did any of this make a difference? They were no closer to closing that gate today than they were when she joined up in Bobby’s kitchen. Maybe she should join her fellow Imperial subjects and hunker down for the long winter. But then, hunkering hadn’t saved Rufus and Ellen in the end. Hell, Jess hadn’t even needed to hunker, with all her privilege and money and connections, and none of it had saved her.

More than the loss of her parents, any of them, the thought of Jess kept her driving down cold roads like this, trying her best to make a change. She closed her eyes for a second, thought of Jess’ smile, her soft lips, then re-focused on the road.

The sun was setting and Sam blinked and flipped down the visor against the bright rays. Her vision cleared, then flashed in an array of lights, cutting through her brain like a razor, and she thought, Shit, before she drove off the road.

A man with a cruel face and black eyes. Her knife in his hand. He licked blood off of the end of it and laughed. I knew you’d give it all up, he said. They always do, in the end. And he plunged the knife into her stomach. Sam screamed.

Sam screamed and came back to herself. The truck was off the road, down the steep ditch, the nose buried in a foot of snow. Her chest hurt where the seatbelt was digging in. Her head screamed in duel pain, from the vision and from where she’d hit the steering wheel. She felt blood trickling from her forehead.

“Shit,” she said, and then threw up on the seat beside her. “Shit shit shit.”

She leaned back and gasped, then dug in her pocket for her phone. Her hands shook and it took several times to punch in the code to unlock it.

Slid off road, she punched in, then hit send. She leaned her head back and breathed through her nose, fighting more nausea. The phone pinged at her but she ignored it, thinking about the vision instead. That had been her, her with a demon.

She’d had dreams every so often after the ones of Jess’ death, dreams that later had come to fruition, but never one while she was awake, and always about other people. This was new and horrific. It also begged the question of avoiding being stabbed by a demon, now that she had forewarning.

Sam lifted her head and took a deep breath. It was nearly dark now. She looked at the phone. Where? Dean was demanding.

M-, she typed, but never got to finish, because the door jerked open and a fist slammed into her face.

“Well, well, well, what have we here?” a sharp voice taunted. “I was looking for Bobby Singer, but you’ll do.” And the fist grabbed the back of her head, slammed her into the steering wheel, and now it was fully dark and Sam slid into it.

***

She woke tied to a chair in what looked like an abandoned bar. Her head still throbbed and her whole face hurt.

“Fuck me,” she moaned.

“Maybe later,” a voice said. “Though I don’t usually go for locals. Still, those nice long legs. Could be good for a laugh.”

The demon came around and stood in front of her. He was fingering her knife, testing the end against his finger.

“I haven’t seen this in ages,” he mused, examining the knife. “Thought it was lost for good. Damn thing pops up at the worst times.” Then he turned his attention to her. “I can’t place your name,” he said. “You’re not Singer’s kid, that’s a boy, but I know you.” He snapped his fingers. “Oh, you’re Rufus Turner’s foundling, aren’t you? Oh, how lovely. I knew Rufus in my day. Such a pity about him and the wife, all burnt up like that.”

There was blood in Sam’s mouth, and she spit at him, missed. He laughed.

“I like them spirited,” he said. “Let me apologize for my rudeness.” He put a hand on his chest, bowed. “I am Alastair.”

Sam remained silent. Her eyes roved the room. It was dim but they were undeniably alone. She was tied to a chair and it felt like the chair was tied to a post. It was also freezing. She couldn’t feel her hands. She was screwed but good.

“No help coming,” Alastair said. He held up her phone. “You didn’t get the chance to tell your partner where you were. My unbelievable good luck, you running off the road like that. Texting and driving is dangerous, you know. And here we are. I’m sure our business will be long finished before he tracks you down.

“So.” He pulled another chair around and sat in front of Sam. “It’s been a long time since I’ve chatted with Bobby. He dropped out of sight but good. But now I hear things. He’s a player again. And I’d love to catch up. So let’s make this easy. Tell me where he is. In fact, tell me where everyone is. Then you can die quick, and I can carve my name on your back and leave it for Bobby Jr. to find.”

“Yeah, that’s not going to happen,” Sam said.

Alastair smiled. “Then you can die slow. That’s how I like people to die anyway. It’ll be fun!” And he grinned, sharp-toothed and suddenly black-eyed and Sam saw reality and the vision as the same.

I knew you’d give it all up, she heard. They always do, in the end.

“No,” Sam said, then screamed, “NO!” because she saw them all, Ash and Rufus and Ellen and Jess, always Jess, but also Bobby and Castiel and Dean and countless other Rebel fighters, and she knew things, knew places and secrets and names and she wasn’t giving it up, she couldn’t give it up, and pain blossomed in her head, like a hand unfurling and reaching out through her sinuses and grabbing something, something vile and rank, and she was screaming and Alastair was screaming and the smell of sulfur was thick in the air.

“NO!” Sam screamed while Alastair howled and fell to the ground and black smoke rose from him, and above their screams she heard Dean, boots pounding into the room, then yelling, “Holy fucking shit!”

Then it was quiet and Dean was leaning over her and she blinked hazily at him. “Dude,” Dean said seriously, hands on her shoulders, “that was fucked up,” and then she fell, down down down into the dark.

***

Sam woke on a gurney in the medical ward of the latest and greatest Rebel base to the sound of pages turning gently, slowly, and someone’s steady breathing. She turned her head and opened her eyes, and Bobby flicked his gaze up to her and sighed.

“Hey, kid,” he said, and closed his book.

“Hey,” she croaked, and then sipped when Bobby held a straw up to her mouth. “How am I?”

“You tell me,” Bobby said. “Half-frozen when Dean found you, and then he couldn’t wake you all the way here. You’ve been out about 24 hours.”

Sam nodded. “Head hurts a little,” she said. “Otherwise not too bad.”

“Well, you look like hell,” Bobby said, and offered her more water before sitting back down, elbows on his knees. “Wanna tell me what happened up there? Dean said he found you tied up with a dead body at your feet and sulfur in the air.”

“Demon,” Sam said. “Got the drop on me, about to kill me. Then … I did something.” She reached up, touched her forehead with two fingers. “Here.”

Bobby’s jaw worked and he looked at her intently. “You exorcise that demon?” he finally asked, and Sam nodded. “Well, fuck me,” Bobby said.

“Yeah,” Sam said wearily. She shut her eyes, listened to Bobby breathe and think.

“There’s someone you should go see,” he finally said. “I don’t know how this is all going to end. Have never known that. Probably not good. But it’s clear to me that you have a role to play, an important one, and I think we’d better find out what that role is.”

Sam opened her eyes. “You sending me to some mystic psychic voodoo priest?” she asked.

“Hardly,” Bobby said. “I’m sending you to a prophet.”

Sam barked out a laugh. “What, like a Bible-thumper?” she asked. “Maybe a nice little time away in a cult? I don’t think so.”

Bobby shook his head. “No cult, no followers, no Bible. Just a man, and not a great one at that. Not many have heard of him, and those who do, and seek him out, tend to be disappointed. But I think he’s the real deal. Probably why he’s a disappointment to people looking for a savior. Real deals aren’t so great.”

“And he’s going to do what for me?” Sam asked. “Show me the true path? Give me my mission?”

“Maybe,” Bobby said grimly. “I think you should go talk to him, see what he has to say.” He hesitated, thinking over his words. “Things are happening here that are bigger than us.”

Sam sighed. “Bobby, I don’t,” she started, and then the door banged open and Dean and Chewbacca came charging in.

“Sami!” Dean bellowed, because the man had no inside voice. Chewbacca followed suit by barking out a greeting.

“Hey,” Sam said, and let Dean adjust the head of the gurney and hug her roughly and then knock Chewbacca off the gurney when he climbed on and started licking her face.

“Damn it, Dean, act civilized,” Bobby yelled, then pointed at Chewbacca. “You too.”

“You’re looking better, Iceman,” Dean said. “I thought I was going to have to go kill a bear and cut it open and stuff you inside to keep you warm.”

“Please,” Sam said with equal affection and weariness, “stop watching Man Vs. Wild.”

“Shut up,” Dean said, and reached into the back of his jeans and pulled out Sam’s knife. “Here you go. So, did you totally exorcise that demon with your super-brain or what? Cause that’s some crazy shit.”

“Crazy shit’s my game,” Sam said, tucking the knife under her pillow.

“But that’s something new,” a gravely voice said, and Castiel appeared in the door. She nodded at Sam. “I’m glad to see you doing better.”

“Thanks,” Sam said.

“Be careful, Cas,” Dean said. “You’re almost expressing an emotion there.”

“Sam is important to the Rebellion, in ways we do not yet understand,” Castiel said. “And to me. Just because some of us know how to contain ourselves doesn’t mean I’m without emotion, Dean.”

“That so?” Dean asked, grinning. “Bet you were worried about me too, huh? You pacing the floors until I got back safe, Cas?”

Castiel glared at him with a little too much annoyance, like maybe she had been pacing the floors until he got back. Sam cast a desperate look at Bobby, who grinned back at her and shook his head.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Castiel said. “Your armor of stupidity protects you from all harm.”

“Aw, that’s not nice,” Dean said. “It’s okay if you want to give me a big welcome home kiss. All the girls want to. You can be a real girl too, if you want, Cas.”

Castiel opened her mouth, shut it, and abruptly crossed the room and for one horrifying second, Sam thought she was going to kiss Dean and scar Sam forever. Instead, she tossed herself at Sam on the gurney and laid one right on her.

Castiel’s lips were dry but soft, and the kiss was firm and inviting. Sam grinned against her lips and opened her mouth and put some tongue into it and heard Dean making noises like he was being stabbed, and Bobby laughing.

When the kiss ended, Castiel gave Sam a warm, wry smile, and then turned a supremely smug look at Dean, whose mouth was hanging open.

“Are you guys gonna do it?” he asked. “Because I’m totally down with that.”

Castiel’s face turned to utter disbelief, and she turned on her heel and walked out of the room. Sam grinned at Dean.

“Should I go after her?” he asked, and Bobby laughed so hard Sam thought he would fall out of the chair. “I’m gonna go after her.”

When he was gone and Bobby had wiped the tears from his eyes, he stood and laid a hand on Sam’s arm.

“Think about what I said,” he told her. “It’s long past time we find out what you can do, and why.”

“I’ll think about it,” Sam said, and took Bobby’s hand in hers. “Really.”

“Good enough,” Bobby said.

***

Sam woke from a deep sleep to total darkness. Chewbacca was a warm presence across her legs, but his head was up, ears alert, listening. Sam frowned, breathed, listened.

There. A thump. Not just a noise, but a physical sensation that came up through the gurney. Something heavy on the ground. Far off, but big.

Sam flicked on her light, got up and scrounged around the room until she found clothes. Chewbacca hopped off the gurney and whined.

“Hang on,” she muttered to him, doing up her boots. “We’ll go find out.”

The room plunged into darkness abruptly, then the emergency light over the door came on.

Then the siren.

“Shit!” Sam said, finding her coat under the chair and throwing it on. She was nearly to the door when it slammed open and Dean strode in. He tossed something at her and she instinctively reached out, grabbed it. His keys.

“Impala’s in the underground lot,” he said. “Get her going and pull around to the east entrance. I’ll get Bobby and Castiel. Take Chewie with you. We’ll go out through the back passage, hopefully right under their noses and past their barricade.”

“They found us,” Sam said, breathless and unnecessary.

“They found us,” Dean repeated grimly, turned on his heel and left.

Sam burst out of the room and down the hall into chaos. People were running, carrying equipment, carrying weapons. A troop of soldiers with sniper rifles ran past her, headed to the main entrance. Commanders were yelling, directing some people to evacuate and others to fight. Sam broke into a trot, dog at her heels, and headed for the underground lot.

Cars and trucks were revving up in the lot, headed for the long underground exit that would take them under the woods and river and spit them out near the highway, the escape of last resort. Sam found the Impala, whipped it out of its spot with tires squealing, and pulled up near the east entrance.

Around her, the evacuation continued to scramble, then died down. She felt more whumps through the earth — someone was laying down heavy fire. She rolled down her window and heard gunfire, people yelling. Chewbacca whined and pressed against her.

“Come on, Dean,” she muttered, and the door burst open.

It wasn’t Dean. It was Bobby, and he was covered in blood, staggering against the wall.

“Bobby!” Sam cried, already out of the car and coming around to Bobby, putting his arm over her shoulders and then piling him into the backseat. He clutched at his middle, where blood was pooling out. Sam took off her coat and pressed it to him.

“Bobby,” she said again, desperate, looking into his face.

“Not so bad,” he grunted. “Where’s Dean?”

“He went to get Castiel,” she said, trying to look at the wound but Bobby pressed the coat to himself firmer, wouldn’t let her see.

Bobby shivered, looked her in the face. “His name is Chuck Shurley and he lives in Maryland,” Bobby said.

“Who?” Sam asked.

“Prophet,” Bobby answered. “Promise me.”

“Fuck that,” Sam said sharply. “I’m not going to see a prophet named Chuck about my magic mind powers.” Her life was tragically ridiculous.

“You better,” Bobby growled.

“Shut up,” Sam said. “We can fight about it later.” Bobby grunted at her, leaned his head back. “Come on, Dean,” Sam whispered. The whumps were closer, bigger. So was the gunfire.

Sam shoved the coat as tight to Bobby as she could, then climbed back into the driver’s seat.

“No,” Bobby said. “Don’t leave without them.” Sam pressed her lips shut tight, gripped the steering wheel, resisted the urge to rev the engine.

They sat, Bobby gasping and Sam gritting her teeth and Chewbacca pacing the front seat with anxiety.

And then Dean burst through the doors, dragging Castiel by one hand while she fired a gun with the other. They shot into the backseat and Dean screamed, “Go, go go!” and Sam went.

“Bobby, fuck, Bobby!” Dean shouted from the back but Sam didn’t check on them because she was careening dangerously fast toward the exit. They were the only things left in the underground garage, the last escapees, and they needed to close off the exit behind them.

“Castiel,” Sam said, “we gotta close the door behind us.”

“On it,” Cas said, and Sam screeched into the tunnel, slammed on the brakes, and Castiel was out, hitting the button to close the iron door and then Sam heard the beeps as she set the charges before getting into the backseat again.

Sam went, and the fact that Dean didn’t complain about what she was doing to his car told her how bad things were in the backseat. She could hear Bobby’s labored breathing, Dean reassuring him, Castiel moving around. She kept her eyes forward and her foot on the gas.

Before they saw the exit to the tunnel, the blast hit them from behind, rocked the Impala, shook the earth, but nothing fell on them and Sam kept going. She went until they shot out onto the service road, and then she kept going to the main road, then continued to tear through the frozen night, taking random turns and back roads until she was thoroughly lost. Finally, she pulled over into the tractor drive of a field and put the car in park.

She sat for a moment, hands still on the wheel. “Bobby, Bobby,” Dean sobbed. Sam took a shuddering breath and made herself get out of the car, open the back door.

Bobby’s head was in Castiel’s lap and Dean was kneeling beside the seat, clutching at his father’s hand. Bobby’s eyes were open and fixed on the ceiling. His chest rose once, hitched, slowly fell. There was blood everywhere. Castiel met Sam’s eyes, shook her head.

Sam leaned in, leaned over Bobby. She put her hand on the top of his head. “Bobby, hey,” she said. “I promise. I’ll go see him.”

Bobby’s eyes fixed on her, and he half-smiled. Sam could see blood on his teeth. Bobby worked his mouth. His eyes fell on Dean.

“Dean,” he croaked. Dean, full-on blubbering with his face coated in tears, looked up. Bobby pulled at his hand clumsily, reached for Sam’s. Pulled them together, brought all three of their hands together.

“Take care of your sister, Dean,” he said, looking Dean right in the eyes, and finally managing a full smile. Then he died.

“No, no no,” Dean gasped, and clutched at Bobby. “No, Bobby, don’t go, please.”

Sam pulled her hand away, stumbled away from the Impala and into the stretch of trees next to the road. She bent over, put her hands on her knees, and breathed, tried not to vomit. Black spots swam in front of her eyes.

A small hand rested on her back. “Breathe,” Castiel said. “In. Out. Good. And in. Out.”

Sam followed her directions and the black spots faded. Dean was still sobbing in the car. She straightened up. Looked at Castiel. Tear tracks marred the small woman’s face, but she was no longer crying. “Sam,” she said, her blue eyes intent on Sam.

“What the hell,” Sam said, but she knew.

“The Winchesters had a son, a little boy,” Castiel said. “The demon killed him when it possessed Mary.”

“Or not,” Sam said, and Castiel nodded gravely. It was right. Sam felt it deep down, thought now that she had felt it since Dean had burst into Bobby’s house with his stupid dog and his stupid face and it had felt like she had known his jack ass her whole life.

Dean stumbled out of the car. By the pale light thrown in the half-moon and the Impala’s headlights, Sam could see that his clothes were covered in blood. He careened past them and into a tree and began violently kicking it. He screamed in grief, at first wordlessly, and then in garbled words.

“Goddamn — Bobby — lying — dying — bastard!” he yelled, and then dropped to his knees.

“Dean,” Castiel said softly. Dean covered his face with his hands, took a shuddering breath.

“He said my parents were named Campbell,” he said. “Holy fuck. The Winchester kid died.”

Sam and Castiel were silent. Dean took his hands off his face. “Sam is my sister,” he said, then, “Holy fuck, Sam is my sister. I have a sister,” and he stumbled back up and grabbed Sam into a massive hug. Sam wrapped her arms around him, uncaring that they were getting Bobby’s blood all over both of them. They’d earned it.

“You’re my sister,” Dean said, shocked and wondering.

“Yeah,” Sam said. She pressed her face to the crook of Dean’s neck and started crying.

“I guess it’s a good thing you don’t sleep with dudes,” Dean said.

Sam started laughing, pulled back while still holding on so she could look him in the face. “Dean, not every straight woman feels compelled to sleep with you,” she said.

“That’s not true,” Dean said with utmost sincerity. “There was a greater power at work, making sure I didn’t screw my sister.” Then he smiled, put both hands on Sam’s face. “Sami,” he said. “My sister,” and Sam had to smile back, reach up to grip both of his hands in hers.

“Not Singer and Turner,” she said. “Winchester and Winchester.”

“Hot damn,” Dean said. “Let’s make them proud. Let’s make them all proud.”

***

The emergency meet-up spot was in Utah, technically part of the Empire but where the Mormons turned a blind eye to Rebel activity. Only to get there, they either had to drive south, through the heart of Empire territory, or west, into the lawless Badlands where the Impala would be a coveted prize.

Dean violently rejected proposals to ditch the Impala (“Our dad had amazing taste in cars, Sami!”) or paint it (“Why must you be so cruel, Cas?”) despite its high visibility, but besides a different car, they needed money and IDs and clean clothes, so Dean proposed driving east, through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and then south into metro Detroit. Northern Michigan was scantly populated and therefore scantly patrolled, and the southeastern population centers were wastelands of gangs, burnt-out buildings and starving people with no running water. Though Imperial territory in name, no one from the Empire came there.

Dean had a friend in Detroit, the economic Mecca of that civilization desert, whom he said would store the Impala for them and then get them clean IDs, clothes, cash and a vehicle. Their trip took them through a well-kept but empty road through a national forest, a tunnel through deep, dark green trees, vaster and wilder than Sam had ever imagined, and finally along the coast and over the bridge.

South of the bridge, the land looked more familiar to Sam, farmland and small towns, not dissimilar to Kansas. Once the main road turned to interstate, they left it and stuck to back roads, starting to veer east.

Sam thought the landscape would change slowly, small towns to bigger towns to the remnants of Michigan’s great industrial cities, but instead, it went from empty fields to crumbling buildings almost all at once. Houses and business buildings alike stared at them with glassless windows. Dean had to slow the Impala to a crawl at one point as a pack of dogs crossed the street and stopped to stare at them, considering if they had food. Or were food.

People in shabby clothes loitered at corners and watched the Impala pass with only a glimmer of interest. A man on the steps of a long-abandoned library waved excitedly at them, got up and chased after them for a bit, grinning broadly. Dean stopped to let a woman carrying a child and pushing two more in front of her pass. She stared into the windshield at them. “You crazy!” she yelled.

“How are these people living?” Sam asked, huddled in the back seat with Chewbacca a reassuring weight on her legs.

“Doesn’t look like living to me,” Dean said shortly. “Why don’t they rise up and behead somebody?”

“Who?” Castiel asked grimly. “They’ve been abandoned here. Even if they had the energy and resources to fight, who would they go after? The Empire used them up and left them here long ago. The ones they would behead are far out of reach.”

They drove through miles of burned buildings and places with no power and roads with potholes so big they had to find alternative routes. Finally, they came to an area where electricity seemed regular and houses looked inhabited. They passed a lit-up gas station, then a grocery store. Finally, they swung around a corner and saw the skyscrapers and lights of Detroit glimmering before them.

Detroit had been spared from the fate of its sister cities by the unexpected discovery of kyber crystals beneath Lake St. Clair two decades earlier, just as the metal industries of the Imperial rust belt broke against the dual rocks of the Imperial ban on unions and slave labor in Central America. As Sam understood it, the local government managed to keep most of its autonomy from the Empire through its reliable delivery of massive loads of kyber, that great power-generating resource. Workers labored in the deep, dangerous mines under the lake to produce the Empire’s greatest resource, and in return, they spent their off-shift time in relative freedom, dropping their cash at casinos and shows and restaurants.

They hit a checkpoint while they were still a few miles from downtown, and Dean provided the unlikely name of “Snap Wexley” and said he was heading to see Victor Hendrickson. After a quick consultation on the radio, the officers waved them through and gave them directions. One of them grinned and gave Dean a “Sweet ride!” to which Dean gave him a thumbs-up before pulling away.

They parked in a lot adjacent to two enormous skyscrapers nearly at the lake’s edge, then took an enclosed overpass to the buildings themselves. A handsome black man in an expensive suit was waiting for them. He broke into a giant smile.

“Dean Singer!” he said, shaking his head.

“In the flesh!” Dean replied, reaching out for the man’s hand and then pulling him into a hug. “How you doing, buddy?” he asked while they thumped each other on the back.

“Can’t complain,” the man said. “Surprised to see you, though. We haven’t seen each other since … what is it?”

“Atlantic City,” Dean said, and grinned even broader. “With those twins.”

The man snapped his fingers. “Oh man, those twins!” he said. He looked past Dean at Sam and Castiel. “And you’re still up to old tricks.” He let go of Dean and extended a hand to Castiel.

“I haven’t had the pleasure,” he said, and lifted her hand to his mouth. “Victor Hendrickson, at your service.”

She nodded, polite yet grave as always. “Castiel Organa,” she said.

“Oh, and that’s Sam Turner,” Dean said dismissively. “And you remember Chewbacca.”

Chewie barked, wagged his tail, and Victor leaned down to give him a scruff. “How you doing, old boy?” he asked. “Still hanging around with this loser?” He looked up at Sam and grinned. “And a pleasure to meet you, Miss Turner.”

Sam jutted her chin at him, kept her hands in her pockets. Victor straightened, turned back to Dean.

“So, you need cleaned up, huh?” he asked, and Dean nodded.

“Yeah, plus, can you keep my baby for me for a bit? I need something less head-turning to tool around in,” he said.

Victor put a hand to his chin. “I’ll need to take her out to keep her running,” he said, and Dean sighed, sagged.

“Once a week,” he said, holding up one finger.

Victor grinned. “Just for maintenance reasons,” he reassured Dean. “So for right now, I’m thinking showers and clothes and then food. A good night’s sleep and we’ll have you back on the road in something sensible and fuel-efficient. Sound good?”

“Can’t thank you enough,” Dean said. Somehow, Sam thought Victor would find a way to get paid back.

The hotel rooms were posh, and Sam emerged from a thoroughly satisfying shower to find an elegant black pant suit laid out on the bed. The pants were even long enough and the black dress boots fit. She looked in the mirror, turned to admire herself from all angles. She looked all woman without looking at all frilly, classic and striking.

Dean was fussing with his cuffs when she came into the hall, looking pretty sharp himself in a suit, sleek open-neck shirt with no tie. He glanced up and whistled. “Where you going with those legs in that suit, Sami?” he asked, and Sam wrinkled her nose at him.

“Sister,” she reminded him, and he answered, “Shit, right.”

A door opened and Castiel came out. In a dark blue cocktail dress. Sam and Dean just stared. Sam swore a heavenly light surrounded the small woman. She looked ready to sword fight with someone and then have some champagne.

“Really?” Castiel said, annoyed, and Dean said, “What?”

“You look nice,” Sam said and Castiel cast her an amused glance.

“Thank you, Sam, as do you,” she answered, and offered Sam her arm, which Sam took. Dean made horrified sounds but followed when they went toward the elevator.

It opened before they could step on and Victor emerged. He whistled. “Look at you guys,” he said. “Sharp enough even for The D. You want, I’ll send someone up to give Chewie a bath and a trim.”

“Please,” Sam and Cas said together, and Victor clapped his hands together and laughed.

“Will do,” he said. “But first, dinner awaits.” He gestured them into the elevator and hit the top button.

The back of the elevator was glass and looked out toward the lake. Sam watched it grow larger as their height allowed her to see further. It made her head hurt and she shut her eyes, then leaned forward.

“Sam?” Dean asked, low.

“I think it’s the height,” Sam said, but something else felt wrong, something pressing onto her like a vice, like a giant hand squeezing her. Lights danced before her eyes and a face flickered in and out of focus. A woman in a dark ballgown with blonde hair. She smiled, but it was all malice and sharp teeth.

Sam gasped, opened her eyes and squeezed them against the light. They watered and the world wavered. She looked at Victor.

“What did you do?” she asked.

He looked so, so sad. “I have to protect my city, my people,” he said. “I’m so sorry, but you have to know — there’s no point in resisting.”

Dean and Castiel stared at him in shock and then the elevator doors opened. A banquet hall stretched out before them, a table groaning with plenty. At its head, the blonde woman in the dark ballgown, smiling with all her malignity. Azazel.

Sam staggered upright, stumbled through the door toward the woman, drawn to her, though she felt certain the woman wasn’t doing anything to her.

“There you are,” Azazel breathed. “This is what I’m here for.” She looked beyond Sam, to the open elevator. “Mr. Singer, Ms. Organa, please join us. There’s room for you as well. In fact, Mr. Singer, someone’s waiting here just for you.”

Sam paused, turned. The room was full of people — demons, she corrected herself — in suits, and Imperial officers in uniforms. A small woman with long dark hair grabbed Dean by the back of his hair and exposed his throat. Sam thought for one awful second that the woman was going to cut his throat, but instead, she licked it. “Hey, baby,” she said.

“Hey, Ruby,” Dean squeaked, then added, “You’re not blonde anymore. You look good as a brunette.”

Ruby laughed, turned her sharp eyes to Azazel. “Is our business here concluded?” she asked, and Azazel waved a hand dismissively.

“Give my regards to Lilith, and make certain she knows that we upheld our part of the bargain,” Azazel said. “I expect the same from her when the time comes.”

Ruby bared her teeth and Sam thought she heard a growl. Two men stepped forward and started putting Dean in shackles. He locked eyes with Sam, nodded. Then he looked at Castiel.

“I love you,” he said simply.

Castiel didn’t even blink. “I know,” she said, and they hauled Dean into the elevator and he was gone.

Sam breathed hard through her nose, looked back at Azazel. She had sat down and was sipping red wine. She waved her hand at the table.

“Please, you’re my guests,” she said. “We have much to discuss.”

“I will not break bread with you,” Castiel said, low and dangerous.

Where did you learn to talk like that?” Azazel asked in wonderment.

“You will not win,” Castiel continued without acknowledging Azazel’s question. “You may destroy those of us here today. You may imprison or torture us, possess us or drive us mad. But others will carry on where we fall. You believe that you are legion, but we are limitless. We are hope. You stand now at the precipice of your doom.”

Her blue eyes shone with unnatural light and for a moment, Sam saw the woman who talked to angels, and believed. Azazel looked startled, but it was a flash, and then she sipped her wine.

“Get rid of that,” she said in a bored voice. “I have business to discuss with Miss Turner.”

Arms grabbed Sam and forced her down into a chair at Azazel’s side while guards grabbed Castiel and shoved her into the elevator. The doors shut.

“Leave us,” Azazel ordered, and demons and guards emptied out the room until it was just the two of them. Azazel picked up an oyster and tipped it into her mouth.

She sighed. “I miss eating,” she said. “It’s one of the many little pleasures granted to you humans that was taken from us. But here,” she waved a hand to encompass the room, the world outside, “we can have it again.”

Sam sat in silence. Azazel finished her wine and stood, turned her back and walked to the windows. Night was falling and the lights of the city were coming on below. Sam’s fingers twitched beneath the table. Under the waistband of her pants, her mother’s knife lay hot and heavy against her skin.

“I felt Bobby Singer die, did I not?” Azazel asked, and when Sam didn’t answer, she turned and held out her hand, squeezed it. Sam wheezed as her windpipe constricted. Azazel opened her fingers and Sam gasped.

“Yes,” Sam croaked. “In Minnesota.”

“I always knew he could still cause problems, but I had other matters at hand,” Azazel said contemplatively. “Perhaps I should have pressed harder, re-prioritized. But no matter, here we are now.”

“What do you want with me?” Sam ground out. “I’m not even a leader in the Rebellion.”

Azazel laughed, hard and abrupt. “So he still didn’t tell you, did he? I’m not that surprised, Bobby kept his secrets. And Rufus — well, he wrote the book on paranoia, didn’t he?”

Sam thought of the secret Bobby had revealed in his last moments, but remained silent. This was something else, she thought. Something related to what Sam could do. A cold lump of dread settled in her stomach.

Azazel turned back to the city beyond the glass. “This is all to be ours,” she said. “Your little Rebellion thinks it can close our gate, but even if you do, we’ll find another way. Soon Lucifer himself will walk this earth, and our dominion will reign for a millennia. The screw has turned, Samantha, and you, you are the future.”

She reached out and touched the glass delicately, almost wonderingly, and Sam leapt across the table, knife effortlessly out and raised to drive into the back of the demon’s neck.

She never made it. She flew backward, slammed into the wall and dangled there, three feet above the ground. The knife was in Azazel’s hand and she looked at Sam tenderly.

“I admire your spirit,” she said. “It’s so like your father’s. John’s, I mean. That man was something else. Do you know what he used this knife for? He could have used it to kill me, but then baby would have been gone too, so instead he used it to slice me open and rip her out. But that took time, and I used it, and I escaped. Probably the closest I’ve ever come to death in all my many, many years. I have to give the man credit for that. And all while he was dying — I’d already had my hooks in him good. But he got what he wanted, he saved his baby. I didn’t know it though, not until that night we first met. I thought baby was dead, along with John and the other whelp. But here you are.

“Don’t you know yet, Sam? Don’t you understand? I’m your mother.”

“No,” Sam sobbed, and her face was already wet. “No, my mother’s dead.”

Azazel smiled. “Not quite,” she said. “She’s still kicking a little in here. This is making her kick a little harder. Her baby girl, alive and infused with that special little dash of demon. And together, we’re going to find out what you can do. You and me, Sam, together at last. As it should be,” and she held out a hand in invitation.

“NO!” Sam screamed, and the building shook, and the glass windows broke and she fell to the ground and PUSHED and Azazel, her face a perfect shock, flew out past the broken glass and plummeted toward the ground.

Sam vomited on her suit and used a chair to pull herself up. “NO!” she screamed again, and the building shook even more. She staggered to the edge and swayed, peered over. She didn’t know if she was screaming in grief or triumph. She fell, and cold wind wiped at her face, freezing her tears. Glass cut her hands.

“No,” she whispered, and the world fell dark.

***

A voice over the speakers penetrated the haze of Sam’s mind.

“The Empire has taken control of Detroit,” Victor Hendrickson said. “Our crews are pulling out of the mines and destroying them as they go. I advise everyone to flee as quickly as possible. … The Empire has taken control of Detroit. Our crews are pulling out of the mines and destroying them as they go. I advise everyone to flee as quickly as possible. …”

The announcement continued on a loop. Sam got up, staggered to the elevator and hit the button. She tried to remember what floor the rooms had been on, where she’d left the dog. Where she’d left the car. Where she could find Cas.

The elevator dinged blandly and opened. Sam stared blankly at Castiel and Victor, both holding assault weapons. From behind them, Chewbacca barked.

“We have to find Dean,” she mumbled, and Victor caught her.

“Shit,” Victor said. “Castiel, close the doors, get us out of here. I’m sorry, Sam, Dean’s gone. We couldn’t get to them in time. We’ve gotta go. We’re blowing the mines and now people are fighting in the streets. This town is burning to the ground tonight.”

“You betrayed us,” Sam slurred. She tried to make her legs hold her up.

“I know,” Victor said. “I’m sorry.”

“He came and got me,” Castiel said shortly. “He’s getting us out. And he’s going to help us find Dean.”

“Whatever the boss lady says,” Victor answered without hesitation. “Sam, where’s Azazel?”

“I pushed her out the window,” Sam said and started laughing hysterically, then vomited again, this time on Victor’s suit.

“That won’t kill her,” Castiel said.

Out the glass window of the elevator, Sam could see buildings on fire. “She had the knife in her hand,” she added.

“Shit,” Castiel said, and Sam blinked at her.

“You swore,” she said, and Castiel leveled her gun at the door as it opened.

“I’ve had a rough day,” she said.

***

Sam pulled up to the curb in front of the shabby little house on the shabby little street, put it in park, and killed the engine. The sky was lightening but it wasn’t quite dawn yet and everything was quiet. Chewbacca lifted his head on the seat beside her, looked around with little interest, and put his head back down.

Sam contemplated the house. Bobby had warned her that most people who searched for and found the prophet were disappointed, and the house seemed to bear that out. The front porch sagged off the frame. Some shingles were missing from the roof. The yard was unkempt.

She leaned against the window and absently scratched the dog’s ear. He sighed, despondent and resigned. Sam sat and breathed and waited for the sun to come up. Then she finally got out and approached, knocked on the door.

He was a small man, scruffy bearded and in a tattered robe, feet bare. “Hey,” he said, and waved them in. He patted Chewbacca on the head and the dog licked his palm. The man padded over to the couch and dropped onto it, reached for a bottle on the battered coffee table, and poured from it into two ready glasses.

Sam only hesitated a moment before sitting on a filthy armchair and accepting a glass. They downed the liquor in silence.

“So, what’s your name?” the man asked. Sam raised an eyebrow. “I’m a prophet, not a mind reader,” he said. “I knew you were coming, but I don’t know your name.”

“Sam Turner,” she said, and now he raised an eyebrow.

“Winchester,” he said. Sam shrugged. She was proud to be a Turner. Rufus and Ellen had been good parents, good people.

“OK, Turner,” he said. “Whatever. I’m Chuck.”

“Yeah,” she said, and sagged back into the chair. Chewbacca laid down beside her, put his head on her feet. She rubbed her face. “They took my brother.”

“You have bigger problems,” he said. “That will come, with time. But for now, we have to figure out what to do with that big powered brain of yours.”

Sam looked at him. He had poured himself another glass. His legs were sprawled and she could see that he was only wearing dirty boxers under the robe. “How do you plan to do that?” she asked, skeptical.

He tossed back the drink. “Not a clue,” he said. “So let’s get started.”

Chapter Text

Morning came late in Maryland. Everywhere, actually. In the past year or so, the days were shorter, and dimmer. The nights were deep, and cold.

Sam dressed in the dark. The power didn’t work most of the time, but she didn’t need the light for this. She’d had these clothes made, and paid expensively for them. Fitted pants, almost like riding pants. Knee-high leather boots. A soft cotton henley, and over it, a fitted leather jacket. It all moved with her seamlessly. It was protective and flexible and would last.

It was all black. In it, she could blend in, or she could stand out, depending on her mood. It was a far cry from the worn jeans and tees of her past life, but then, Sam was a far cry from the girl who’d worn those Wal-Mart clothes.

She finished by running her fingers through her cropped hair — the shaggy mop at the top of her head had gone, too. Sam was all business, and she looked it.

She came down the stairs softly, and finally turned on a lamp in the living room. Chuck was sprawled on the couch, covered both by a blanket and Chewbacca, who had his head on the prophet’s chest. They were both sound asleep. Sam crouched beside them and scratched between Chewbacca’s eyes, on his now-gray nose. He opened his eyes.

“Hey, buddy,” she said softly. “I think you’d better sit this one out, what do you say? Wanna stay here and keep an eye on Chuck for me?”

Chewbacca yawned, then licked her hand. “Yeah,” she said. “I miss him too. Let’s see if I can do something about it.” She glanced over and saw that Chuck had opened his eyes. “It’s time,” she said.

“Yeah,” Chuck mumbled, and she could smell the liquor on his breath. “Don’t overextend yourself. Don’t get cocky, kid.”

“I can do this,” Sam said. “And if I can’t now, I’m not ever going to be able to. It’s time to find out. And they’re ready for me. I’m bringing my brother home, and then I’m going for her.”

Chuck blinked red eyes at her. “Your mom is still in there somewhere,” he said, and Sam shook her head.

“Maybe,” she said. “But I hope not.” She pet Chewbacca for a bit. “You’re stocked on people food and dog food,” she finally said. “Don’t forget to feed him.”

“We’ll see you at the end,” Chuck said, and on impulse, Sam leaned over and kissed his cheek.

She stood and turned off the light and knew he couldn’t see her in the dark. “Godspeed,” Chuck said, and Sam left.

****

Technically, Las Vegas was part of the Empire, but practically, it was a gangster town filled almost exclusively with demons and run by the biggest gangster demon of all, the old and powerful Lilith. There was some schism between Lilith and Azazel and the other demons running the Empire, something the Rebellion had never quite understood, but that kept the two factions warily circling each other and taking the occasional jab. The Rebellion had also been able to take advantage of that from time to time, though dealing with demons had its own perils. As Dean had discovered — making promises and then exorcising your partner, no matter how fleeting the partnership, back to hell didn’t tend to end well once they clawed their way back topside.

There were no roadblocks or stormtroopers in Vegas. Sam drove right into town on the strip and parked on a side street. Vegas did have power though, more lights than Sam had ever seen. And people — well, demons — jostling each other everywhere, revving motorcycles and peeling down the strip, laughing raucously and drinking openly and fucking in doorways. Music peeled from every building. It was like nothing Sam had ever seen and at first her senses trembled with it, with that and the number of demons, but then she focused and muted them out, muted herself out so that no one noticed her.

Every face she saw was like a Halloween horror mask. Somewhere around her 200th exorcism during her training with Chuck, Sam started to be able to pick out demons in the crowd, and soon after that, see their true faces, the humans they inhabited lost to Sam’s eyes until the demon was gone.

The doorman at Caesar’s Palace had red eyes and sharpened teeth and two protrusions on his forehead. The guards scattered around the floor had pig-like faces with a deep, fanged underbite and horns on their head. One demon with a hoodie pulled up was only darkness with two glowing red eyes. It wasn’t all demons though — Sam saw a bellhop, a janitor, a bartender, a woman serving drinks, a stripper on a pole.

Sam saw all this, filed it in her head, but kept moving toward her goal — the dais at the back of the huge open room, garnished with an elaborate throne and with a mass of demons guarding it and holding court. As she approached, she began to draw notice, until suddenly two of the pig-faced guards grabbed her arms and started hauling her to the throne. The crowd noticed what was happening and began roaring and screeching. Demons were nothing if not loud and bestial.

The last the Rebellion had heard of Lilith, she was masquerading as an elegant blonde woman. Maybe she still was, but Sam saw her real face, over-bloated, lolling tongue, rolling yellow eyes. Her voice was booming and guttural and repulsive, and her laugh bounced around painfully in Sam’s head.

“Well, well, well,” she said. “I do believe it’s Sam Turner. I heard you were playing superhero on the East Coast, Sam. What brings you to my domain?”

Sam ignored the jabbering crowd, the guards manhandling her, and focused only on Lilith. “I’m here to take back Dean Singer,” she said firmly, and the demons hooted. They quieted after a moment when Lilith waved a hand.

“I came by Dean fair and square,” Lilith said, and from the side, Sam saw the demon Ruby appear. She had looked prettier in Detroit, before Sam had developed better sight. She smirked at Sam. “He made a deal and then he failed to live up to it. That’s old and binding, and you know it.”

“He didn’t pledge his soul,” Sam said, loud and clear, and the crowd quieted.

“He owed me,” Lilith said icily, “and instead he sent one of my lieutenants to hell. I’ll do what I want with him.”

“You never gave him a chance to make that payment,” Sam said, just as icy, “and nothing in his deal said he wouldn’t harm your errand girl. You’ve had him here for two years and whatever he owed you is paid in full. That’s old and binding, too.”

Ruby actually hissed at him, snakelike. Lilith didn’t look at her but held up a single finger. She smiled slowly. “Since when do I need deals or permission to take what I want from humans?” she asked. “Including you. Your friend’s gutter soul is intact. And thanks to Rebellion tattoo artists, he’s in that body alone still. But I don’t think he’s outlived his service to me. Where else will we set our empty glasses?”

The laughter shook the floors, the tables. Sam saw a few demons fall over howling with merriment. She turned her head at movement to her left. They were rolling forward a platform. Dean was on it. Sam felt sweat beading her brow but otherwise stayed steady.

His eyes were white and blind and he was so still, statue still, that Sam knew he was held in position. His arms were bent to hold a hand up by each shoulder, and on each hand was a tray filled with empty glasses and plates to be cleared away.

He was dressed in a gold Speedo and covered in sparkling gold body paint. He looked, Sam thought, like the monster from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

She looked back at Lilith, who quirked her lips. “Good help is hard to find,” she said. “I’m not inclined to give him up. And what are you going to do, exorcise me? What do you think I am, some common demon who will give it up for you? I don’t think so, Sam. And as for your little schemes —”

She raised a hand and demons around the room sprang into action, grabbed the stripper, the bellhop, the janitor, hauled them before the throne.

“That didn’t go well,” the bellhop said, shuffling into place beside Sam and the janitor, but the stripper surged forward toward Lilith.

“You won’t succeed,” she started, all fire and righteousness, but Lilith yawned and flicked her tongue and Castiel fell mute.

“You must be the woman who talks to angels,” she said in a bored voice. “I’ve heard that you’re a real pain in the Empire’s ass, and while that amuses me — as does, by the way, that outfit — I’m looking forward to telling them that you’re not going to be a problem anymore. All of you, in fact. Remember to thank Sam for dragging you on this suicide mission while you’re being thrown in the pit. In fact,” Lilith snapped her fingers and Dean suddenly collapsed, the trays and their contents crashing to the floor, “I’m done with the lot of you. It’s frankly not worth the trouble.”

She stood. “Lock them up,” she ordered. “And prepare for a trip. We’re going to see the Sarlacc.”

The crowd whooped its approval, rattling weapons and shooting off a few rounds at the ceiling. Pieces of plaster smattered onto the crowd. A guard picked up Dean’s arms and started dragging him across the floor. Sam felt a gun at her back and moved obediently in the direction she was prodded. She looked up at Lilith as she passed.

“So nice to meet you, Sam,” she said, sitting back down and tossing a shrimp into her mouth. Sam swore it was still alive and squirming. “Thanks for the offerings.”

***

They were tossed into a small cell together, somewhere deep beneath the Palace. The guards unceremoniously dropped Dean on the floor, and as soon as the door shut, Castiel dropped beside him and gathered him in her arms. “Dean,” she said urgently, “Dean.” He stirred but didn’t respond.

Sam closed her eyes, checked her center. Ronald, the bellhop, sidled up to her. “All good, boss?” he asked, and Sam nodded, breathed deeply through the nose. Richie, the janitor, leaned against the cell wall. “Well, here’s a fine pickle,” he said. “And on top of it all, I am having to school a lot of thoughts about that outfit, Castiel.”

“Why,” a hoarse voice said, “what’s she wearing?”

Sam smiled. Castiel leaned over Dean and kissed him thoroughly.

“I love you too,” she said when she was finally finished. “That’s what I should have said.”

“Yeah, better than, ‘I know,’” Dean said. “That was stone cold.” He opened his eyes and Sam could see that they were still white. “I can’t see,” he said. “Lilith did something to me. We’re still here, right? What’s going on? Where’s Sam?”

Sam crouched beside him, put a hand on one sparkling gold shoulder. “I’m here,” she said. “We’re busting you out, me and Castiel and a few others. What do you remember?”

Dean shuddered, blinked his unseeing eyes. “Not much,” he admitted. “I couldn’t move or see, didn’t need to eat or drink. They tried to possess me but the tattoos worked. I think I was ornamental after that. You kind of blank out after a while.”

Castiel tenderly stroked his hair. “That’s a blessing,” she said, and Sam had to agree. Dean blinked again.

“We’re busting out?” he asked. “Where are we now?”

 

“A holding cell,” Sam said. “They’re getting ready to take us to the Sarlacc.”

Dean bolted upright, clutching at Castiel for balance. “Well, shit, Sami, that’s not busting out,” he said. “I’ve heard them talking about that thing. It’s some kind of monster pit in the desert. I’m not sure if it kills you or eats you or spits you out in hell, but it’s not good. Lilith feeds it demons who have pissed her off.”

“It’s OK,” Sam said. “A lot’s changed. I’ve been training. I can handle it. We have a plan.”

“What, with Bobby’s drunken prophet?” Dean demanded. “And who did I hear, Ronald and Richie? Are you nuts? Oh, man, we’re all gonna die.”

“Hey, Dean,” Ronald said, and Richie snorted.

Castiel put her arms around Dean. “We know what we’re doing,” she reassured him and he put a hand on her back and frowned.

“What are you wearing?” he asked.

“I was posing as an exotic dancer,” she said with all her Castiel gravitas.

Dean groaned. “For real?” he asked. “While I’m blind? This is the worst rescue ever.”

***

They traveled out into the desert in a caravan, the prisoners handcuffed in the back of an F-250. Lilith rode on a massive, bedecked flatbed truck, like Cleopatra on a golden litter before her subjects. Demons on every kind of vehicle imaginable surrounded them, howling and yipping with glee. They were going to the Sarlacc.

“Hey,” Dean asked as they sped down the highway, “did they get your knife, Sam?”

“Yes,” Sam said. She had her eyes closed and was gathering her focus.

“Shit,” Dean said. “How about the Colt? I left it in the Impala.” His face paled under the gold glitter. “Oh, no, is my car OK? Oh, crap, is my dog OK?”

“They’re all fine,” Sam said, and Dean started muttering to himself about double-crossers and classic cars.

“Hendrickson helped us,” Castiel whispered to him. “He got the rest of us out. The Rebellion is strong.”

“Really?” Dean asked. “Because it seems to me that the Rebellion is about to get thrown into a big hole in the desert.”

The Sarlacc was, indeed, a big hole in the desert, but Sam could see teeth, and tentacles. “What do you see?” she asked the others in a low voice.

“Big old scary hole,” Richie said, but Castiel answered, “I can see it,” adding to the rest of them, “Don’t get thrown in the Sarlacc.”

“Thanks, Cas,” Ron said feebly.

Sam looked over at the flatbed. The bartender and the waitress were in the entourage. They stopped at the edge of the pit and Lilith waved her hand for silence.

“Legion!” she called, and the crowd started back up. She let them carry on for a moment, then waved again for silence.

“The Sarlacc is hungry,” she said. “And what better feast than those who betray and challenge us.” She looked at the prisoners. “I knew you would be useful, Dean, for look what you’ve brought me. The woman who thinks she talks to angels, and the woman who thinks she can destroy demons with her mind. Let’s put both of those fallacies to rest today.”

She smiled at them, and while Sam knew everyone else saw gleaming white teeth, she saw the demon’s tongue lolling grotesquely. “Any last words?” she asked, and when Castiel predictably opened her mouth, Lilith laughed and said, “Oh, nevermind, I just remembered that I don’t care. Toss them in!”

The guards prodded them to the edge of the lowered tailgate. “Um, Sam, if there’s a plan, now’s a good time,” Dean said, and Sam said, “Yep.”

In the city behind them, deep thuds were followed by flames rising into the sky. Everyone turned to look and Sam turned on her heel, knocked the demon behind her to the ground, pinning it with her body, and exorcised it out of its host with one giant burst of power and pain and pleasure from her head.

The demons around them began screaming in shock and anger. On the ground, wheels were screeching as vehicles spun around and headed back to the city. Lilith rose in fury and screamed, “Kill the prisoners! Get us back to the city!” but before anyone could act, the waitress picked up the pitcher on her tray and tossed it into Lilith’s face. White smoke rose and she screamed. The waitress spun and emptied the other glasses of holy water into every demon she could spot.

Sam had moved onto the next demon and black smoke poured out of its mouth. She could hear the others fighting as best they could with their hands cuffed, trying not to get thrown in the pit. She finished with one demon and turned back to the others and reached out with her mind to grab a demon pushing Dean off the tailgate. Castiel grabbed Dean as he slid and Ron helped her pull him up.

On the flatbed, Lilith had recovered and had the waitress up in the air, choking. “You dare to challenge me?” she hissed, and the waitress’ feet kicked frantically.

The shot rang out, and the earth shook. Demons howled, now in panic. Lilith fell over, dead, a perfect hole in the center of her forehead.

The bartender, Victor Hendrickson, gripped the smoking Colt and smiled, fierce and cold.

The waitress, Bella Talbot, fell to the ground, and Victor pulled her to her feet. Richie had picked his handcuffs and tossed the demon driving the F-250 into the Sarlacc so he could climb into the driver’s seat. “Hang on!” he yelled, and pulled up along the flatbed. Victor and Bella jumped in and they shot down the highway.

The demons were still in a panic, but some of them rallied and gave pursuit. “Are they following us?” Dean asked.

“Yes,” Castiel said, and pulled him down as bullets flew by them.

The demons gained on them and they bounced around in the back as Richie sped up. Sam could see plumes of dust coming from a crossroad. “There,” Ronald said, and then cheered as a flash of light came from the dust and one of their pursuers was knocked off the road in a hail of fire and shrapnel.

“What just happened?” Dean demanded, and Castiel smiled.

“Reinforcements,” she said, then squeezed his hand. “I told you that we had a plan.”

As their escorts pulled alongside, another series of booms and flames erupted in Vegas. Sam slid across the truck bed beside her brother and took the hand that Castiel wasn’t already holding.

“Are we leveling that city?” Dean asked, and his voice was serious, direct. He sounded like Bobby.

“Yes,” Sam said. “But not without getting you out first.”

“Thanks, Sami,” Dean said, and she put her arm around him.

“I’m sorry it took so long,” she said. “But the time had to be right. It’s almost here. I have a lot to tell you.”

They tore off down the road.

***

It was the deep dark of early morning and someone was shaking her shoulder. Sam rolled over and turned on the little battery lantern she kept beside the bed. Dean’s face loomed over her, his newly sighted eyes blinking at the dim rays. He looked the same, and different after his imprisonment. He had lines on his face, but his face was also more open. There was also a softness about his lips that hadn’t been there before, but Sam attributed that to Castiel. Love was powerful.

“Hey,” she said. “You OK?”

“Yeah,” Dean said, and sat on the edge of her bed. “I was just thinking about Mary — about our mom. She’s the last one, isn’t she? Of our parents, I mean. Bobby’s gone now, and Ellen and Rufus, and John Winchester a long time ago. Do you think she’s in there? In Azazel? Could you tell?”

Sam shook her head. “I couldn’t tell,” she said, but then added what she hadn’t been able to admit, not even to Chuck, “but I think she is. I feel like she is.”

Dean nodded, leaned on his knees. “We have to save her,” he said. “No matter what.”

Sam took his hand. “You know what that probably means,” she said.

“I do,” Dean said. “But better dead than possessed. Better anything than possessed, anything but hell.”

“If she’s still alive, she is in hell,” Sam said. “But we’ll get her out, you and I.”

Dean smiled at her. “I can’t believe you came and got me,” he said, then added, “I can’t believe we found each other.”

“Singer and Turner,” Sam said.

“To the end,” Dean whispered, and hugged her.

***

Anna Milton entered the briefing room and immediately commanded everyone’s attention, and silence, despite her slight stature and simple white dress. Her chin was high and her voice carried.

“We have found the Devil’s Gate,” she announced without preamble, and the crowd stirred. The screen on the wall sprang to life with a map of the Empire and began to close in on the Badlands just east of the Rocky Mountains, north near Canada.

“Along with the instructions on how to close it that we have long held, we now have the means to forever close the road between Earth and hell,” Anna said. The map pinpointed the Wyoming territories. “A graveyard, once hemmed in by an iron railroad.” Lines on the map lit up and the crowd began to murmur. The railroad formed a Devil’s Trap. “As you can see, someone who came before us made sure that anything getting out of the gate could not roam free,” Anna continued. “But the Trap was broken long ago, and the gate stands open and unguarded.”

“Not exactly unguarded,” Dean said from the back. “The Empire’s got it pretty well guarded with goblins and cannibals and who knows what else that lives in the Badlands.”

“Indeed,” Anna said. “Gaining the Gate will not be easy, and we expect that when we arrive, we will find it held against us by worse than goblins. But we are strong.” Her gaze went over the crowd and rested on them, one by one. “We know where the Gate is.” Her eyes met Sam’s. “We know how to close it.” Sam thought of everyone who had died for the knowledge. Ash. Her parents. Jessica. “And the time to strike is now. The death of Lilith and the fall of Vegas has created discord and confusion. We need that advantage. We need every advantage.”

“So, what, we go in guns blazing?” someone asked from the front. “We’re not that strong.” There were rumbles of agreement around the room.

Anna held up a hand. “We send in a small team in one of our stolen Imperial trucks,” she said, and the screen behind her rotated, showed red dots that Sam knew marked outposts. “Take out one outpost quietly, without them knowing we’re there. This allows the rest of us to move in closer to the Gate before we tip our hand and increase our chances of success. General Organa will lead the team.” Castiel, standing near the door, nodded, and Sam saw several looks of relief in the crowd. Castiel inspired confidence in the troops.

“And the Badlands?” Bella Talbot asked from where she leaned against a wall. “How do we plan to negotiate that?”

Anna smiled. “We have a few ideas,” she said.

***

The Imperial truck, with its massive wheels and armored exterior, moved unharrassed, if not smoothly, through the Badlands. Sam peered out the narrow windows, designed for scouting and shooting, and saw dry prairie with mountains looming behind them. A dead cow beside the road. A burn-out RV.

Behind them, too many miles to see even in this flat terrain, rolled the Rebel fleet, outfitted to look like a massive troop of Reavers, the bands of cannibals and goblins that roamed this land. Sam wasn’t sure if these were humans who had begun to feed on their own, or humans possessed by goblins, or just actual incarnate goblins who had crawled out of hell itself, or a nightmarish mix of the three, because humans who wandered too close to these territories did not return to report on what they found. She could feel the uneasiness in the dozen people crammed into the back of the truck while Dean tore down the dusty, broken road, but their course was set. Either the Reavers would steer clear of an Imperial vehicle, or they would be set upon. If they were set upon, the fleet would have to force its way past the Empire’s defenses without a point team, and pray for the best.

“Do you see anything?” Castiel asked, and Sam pulled back from the window slot, shook her head.

“All clear,” she said, then, “We’re getting close.” She could feel it ahead of them, like a black hole sucking all light toward it. She wanted to lean toward it, to arrive sooner.

Castiel’s brow was furrowed. “Are you all right?” she asked quietly, and Sam nodded.

“Can you feel it?” Sam asked, and Castiel shook her head.

“No, but I feel dread,” she said, and cut her eyes around at the team. “I think we all do.”

Sam nodded and made her way into the front, climbing into the passenger seat beside Dean. He glanced at her but didn’t speak. She closed her eyes and worked on focusing herself. She was hoping to exorcise a number of demons once they engaged the enemy, and she wanted her energy high and her eyes on the prize. The truck rumbled on. Sam breathed.

The black hole ahead of them grew in strength but became more focused. Sam could have pointed to it. She could also feel demons, demons everywhere, like red pinpricks of hot pain in her brain. They were close, all right.

“You OK?” Dean asked, and Sam opened her eyes.

She nodded. “We’re ready for this,” she said, reminding herself, reminding Dean. She thought of Chuck and all they’d learned together. If she wasn’t ready now, she never would be.

Twilight was not approaching, but the sky continued to grow darker. The red pinpricks of demons grew in number. Sam breathed deeply through her nose.

Then a hot shot of pain tore through her and she gave a strangled cry and fell against the door. “Sami!” she heard Dean yell, but she couldn’t answer because she could see that face, the blonde woman in the dark suit, the demon wearing her mother, and the face turned and looked right into Sam’s eyes.

When she knew herself again the truck was stopped and Dean was looming over her yelling her name and Castiel was wedged between the two front seats yelling at Dean to get the vehicle moving again now.

“Cas, my freaking —” Dean started, and Castiel cut him off.

“We cannot stay here,” she said. “We have to move. The Imperial logo is only going to grant us so much grace.”

“But Sam —” Dean started, and this time Sam cut him off.

“She’s right,” she croaked. “But I have to get out. I have to get out now.”

Castiel frowned and Dean made a lot of loud noises that may or may not have been words. Sam opened the truck door and began to clumsily climb down.

“Are you out of your mind?” Dean hollered, while Castiel said, “Sam, tell us what’s happening.”

“I saw her,” Sam gasped. “Azazel. She saw me. She knows I’m here. You have to go, leave me here. Get away from me. They’ll be coming. I’ll burn the whole mission.”

Dean kept making noise while Castiel stared at her with those blue, blue eyes. Then she climbed over the seat and hugged Sam where she stood on the truck’s runner. “Come back to us,” she whispered fiercely.

“Uh-uh,” Dean said and climbed over Castiel, clearly intending to go with Sam. They both pushed him back.

“Dean,” Sam said. “You can’t go. Don’t you understand? Azazel doesn’t know about you.” She reached out and touched his face.

Dean’s jaw worked. He looked like he might cry. Then he reached behind him and pulled the Colt out from the back of his pants and held it out to her. “Take it,” he said brusquely. “It might be the only thing that can save you. Save us.”

She took it, put it in her pants. “For fuck’s sake, Sami,” Dean said, “don’t get eaten by Reavers.”

She smiled, and jumped off the runner. Castiel shut the door. Sam stepped back and the truck pulled away and continued on the north road.

When she could no longer see its taillights, Sam crossed the road and began walking west. They would find her soon enough.

***

The demons who picked her up brought Sam right to the graveyard at the center of the devil’s trap and pointed out her way. Apparently, whatever was in there, even the denizens of hell didn’t want to approach.

Sam didn’t think she could not approach, even if she’d wanted to or thought there was any point in resisting. She felt like a bit of dirt being sucked down a drain, circling closer and closer to her fate. It was pitch black in the graveyard, but Sam could see.

Before she reached the black gravitational hole that could be nothing but the Devil’s Gate, Azazel stepped from behind a tall stone and reached a hand out to her. Sam flinched, but let the demon touch her cheek with the back of her hand.

“Sam,” she said softly in her mother’s voice. “I knew you’d come.”

Sam could see demons, but now, she saw Mary Winchester’s face, and she didn’t know what that meant.

Azazel had a new, long, vibrant scar down her face, Sam assumed from Detroit. She didn’t know how this body had survived that fall, but then she didn’t really understand how possession worked.

She wondered if she could exorcise a demon like Azazel, or if she should just go for the Colt.

Then Azazel said, “The master is here.”

Sam tilted her head, puzzled. “Isn’t that you?” she asked, and Azazel laughed.

“Come,” she said. “Come, and meet Lucifer.”

Sam was dumbstruck, because did Azazel mean Lucifer, like, the devil? Satan? She silently followed Azazel deeper into the dark, closer to the pull.

There was a crypt, and its doors stood broken and open. Inside it was — nothing. It was black, yes, but not because of a lack of light. It was a lack of everything. Sam was looking into a pit of nothingness. She wondered if hell was at the other end, or if she was looking at hell itself.

She was so mesmerized by the gate that at first she didn’t notice the figure to the side. It was cloaked in black and as Azazel approached, it raised its head, and Sam saw a wrecked and sagging face, red eyes. It looked melted rather than old. When it smiled, Sam saw that it had lost most of its teeth. She couldn’t even tell if the host had once been a man or a woman.

Azazel knelt on one knee before it. “Master,” she said. “The child has come, as I said she would. She will take Lilith’s place, and all this world shall be yours.” She took Lucifer’s hand and kissed it.

Lucifer placed a withered hand on Azazel’s golden hair. “It has indeed come to pass as you predicted,” it said. “I am greatly pleased with my servant, who will be greatly rewarded.”

Azazel turned an adoring face up to Lucifer, then stood and went to Sam. “Come,” she said, and took Sam’s hand. “Come, and understand your role.”

Sam went, but when she stood before Lucifer, she said, “I have no role here.”

“Then why have you come?” Lucifer asked. “You felt the pull, did you not? Are you not here to fulfill your destiny?”

Sam was silent, troubled. She could feel the power of these two demons, and knew she could not exorcise them. Perhaps she was here merely to die, as a distraction to aid the others. If so, then so be it.

Lucifer chuckled, and as if reading her thoughts, “Perhaps you think that you are here with the rest of the Rebellion, to shut this gate and bring about the end of our reign?”

Before Sam could stop herself, her head jerked and her eyes widened. Both demons laughed.

“Sam,” Azazel said, “do you think we don’t know of these things? But it need not trouble you. They are beyond your help. Our forces lie in wait for them. Tonight marks the end of the Rebellion. Among other things.”

“Indeed,” Lucifer said softly. “But perhaps it does not need to mark the end of all your friends. I could spare the ones precious to you. This is a request that I will grant, Samantha, should you grant a request to me.”

“I don’t make deals with the devil,” Sam said, low and dangerous. Something was stirring in her chest, something dark and hot. “So take what you will and be done with it.”

Lucifer smiled and folded its hands in front of itself in the cloak, then walked to a stone graveyard chair and sat, looking like an emperor on its throne. “Some things must be freely given,” it said. “As you can see, this vessel,” and it gestured at the ruined face, “cannot contain me. No human can. And I cannot leave from here, the source of my power. No, I need something powerful to complete this incarnation. A sacrifice. And those must be willing.”

Sam looked to Azazel, but there was no clue upon her face. She thought of Detroit, and of Las Vegas. “Lilith,” she said finally. “Lilith was to be your sacrifice.”

Lucifer sighed. “My first child,” it said. “My first wife. Rebellious though she was. I allowed her certain freedoms, but she knew the price. She understood her role. But you and your friends have denied me this, Samantha. She was special, and this must be a special sacrifice. Ordinary demons and humans simply won’t do. But you — ” and it pointed at Sam, “— you, child of both worlds, the girl with the demon heart, I do believe that you fit the bill.”

Sam felt as though the breath had been punched out of her. “I don’t have a demon heart,” she said, and her voice shook.

“Sam,” Azazel said, and laid a hand on her arm. Sam turned to her. “Don’t be afraid. It will be quick, and painless. All you have to do is say yes.”

“And if I don’t?” Sam demanded of them. “What then? You’ll kill me? Your logic is a little flawed there.”

“There are many kinds of deaths, Sam,” Lucifer said. “And you are going to meet yours at the end of this, one way or another. Shall you die quick and easy? Or should we drag it out for a few years? Shall you watch your friends perish? Or will you see them spared? These are the choices before you.”

“There’s no choice,” Sam said. “I will never say yes to something that will allow you to walk the earth.” And with that, she reached behind her, pulled out the Colt, and shot Lucifer between the eyes.

Azazel cried out and the Colt flew from Sam’s hands and into the demon’s. Lucifer’s head jerked back and it looked as though its neck was broken.

And then it raised. There was a perfect hole in the center of that melted forehead. And it laughed, long and delighted.

“Such spirit!” it said. “You are the right one indeed!”

Lucifer stood and Sam staggered backward. “Now,” the Devil said, “give me my answer. Say yes, and I will spare your friends. Who do we have? Victor? Bella? Ronald? Castiel?” Here it sighed. “Yes, even her. And who’s this? Who do I see there, tucked away? The most important of all.” It fell silent and Sam collapsed to her knees. She could no longer see in the dark. It bore down upon her completely.

“Who’s this?” Lucifer whispered. “Did we know this? Azazel?”

“Yes, Master?” Azazel said.

“The other Winchester child,” Lucifer said, triumphant. “The other Winchester child is alive. Dean.

“That child died, Master,” Azazel said, and Sam swore she could hear fear in her voice.

Lucifer laughed. “Alive!” it crowed. “And here! Oh, the joys! Yes, please, let them live! Let them be brought to me! Or perhaps, Samantha, the request that you would like to make of me is that I let them die now. Because their deaths too, could play out for years.

“Say yes,” the Devil hissed from right beside her, and she felt the forked tongue flick against her ear.

“No,” Sam said, and then all was pain, the pain of being burned alive and yet never being consumed, pain in her skin and organs all at once. She screamed and screamed and screamed and when she stopped, the Devil laughed.

“What was that?” it cackled. “Yes?”

Sam gasped, wheezed, tried to crawl away, gagged, and then said, “No.”

It began again.

And again.

And again.

Sam saw nothing, but in the dark, there were the demons, Lucifer blacker than even the darkness around her and Azazel a deep, deep red. Sam sucked air into her lungs and screamed, “NO!” and felt something push out of her, rush toward the deep, deep red, and she felt the malevolence, the terror, the depravity of that ancient demon, felt it surround her, and then it rushed by her and there was something else, someone else.

She saw a little girl with blonde hair biking down a small town street.

She saw a Christmas tree all lit up with presents piled beneath.

She saw a little dog running out of a house as the child clambered down a school bus.

She saw a large man, bending over and laughing, holding the little girl’s hands as she stood on his feet and they danced.

She saw a woman with a kind face leaning over the girl in bed, kissing her forehead.

She saw a handsome young man with dark hair and he chased the girl, now a young woman, up to a tree and then leaned over her and kissed her thoroughly.

She saw an infant, and the young woman and the dark-haired man were crying and laughing as it was placed, wet and red and squalling, on her belly.

She saw a little boy, and he put his hands on the young woman’s round belly and she stoked her sides as they smiled at each other.

MOM!” Sam screamed, in her head or out loud, and the ground trembled and a tree cracked and fell over and then Sam was back in her body, shaking on the ground, and Satan itself stood over her with its lips drawn back over its toothless gums and a look of utter fury on its face.

“You had your chance,” it hissed. “Resist me? The great have fallen on their faces before me in worship and you think to throw me off? Who are you, girl, to challenge me?”

She could see again, but she shut her eyes to block out the horror and waited for whatever would come. Lucifer was howling now and a dry wind began to blow. Leaves and twigs smacked Sam in the face but no blow, no pain, no death came, so she opened her eyes again.

Azazel was holding Lucifer over her head with both arms. Lucifer was shrieking. The graveyard was trembling. Tombstones were splitting open. And with a heave, Azazel threw Lucifer down the open gate.

Lightning split the sky and hit the ground nearby. Sam could smell the ozone. The stone seat crumbled into gravel. Azazel stood at the entrance to the gate. She turned to Sam, and Sam understood.

Mom,” she said, and began to weep.

“Oh, Sam,” Mary said, and then Sam saw that she still held the Colt in her hands, and she turned it and shot herself in the gut.

“NO!” Sam screamed, and found her feet. She fell beside Mary. “No, Mom, no!”

Mary looked up at her and she had green, green eyes. They were Dean’s eyes. “Sam,” she said, wondering, and touched her face, as Azazel had done, but the demon was gone.

The ground shook again, and a fissure opened up. Another tree cracked and fell. The graveyard was falling apart.

“I’m getting us out of here,” Sam said. “You’re going to be OK.”

“Oh, baby, I’m not,” Mary said, but Sam picked her up and ran.

***

There were no demons at the graveyard gate. Not far beyond was the broken rail line that had once been the Devil’s Trap. Past that was a gentle slope where the lee protected them from the wind. The darkness was not so complete here. Sam laid Mary down gently and let herself fall down beside her mother.

Sam was crying, but Mary was not. Her breathing was labored. She was covered in blood.

“Let me look at you,” Mary said, so Sam just hovered above her. She took her mother’s hands and kissed them.

“Is it true?” Mary asked. “Is your brother alive?”

Sam nodded. “Bobby Singer raised him,” she said. “Dean. He’s — he’s a good, good man.”

Mary smiled. “We named him Michael,” she said. “But Dean is good. A strong, honest name.”

Sam laughed, smiled, kept crying.

“My beautiful girl,” Mary said. “I’m so sorry about everything.”

“No,” Sam said. “Never. You saved me. I got to meet you.”

Mary nodded. “Samantha. It’s beautiful. It suits you,” she said. “We were going to name you Jessica. But you’re clearly Sam.”

Sam made a noise. “No you weren’t,” she squeaked.

Mary smiled. “It means gift from God,” she said, and then she died.

Mom,” Sam wailed, and laid down on top of her mother, and wept, and knew no more.

***

She woke on a gurney and she turned her head and thought she would see Bobby, that they would be back in Minnesota. Or that it would be Ellen, and she would be back in her own bed in Kansas.

It was Castiel. She looked exhausted, an elbow on her chair’s arm and her face on her fist. Someone slept on the next gurney over.

“Hi,” Castiel said, but didn’t move, and Sam croaked, “Hi.”

She found a bottle of water tucked beside her and cracked it open with trembling hands and drank. The room was dimly lit and Sam could see that Castiel was holding her fellow patient’s hand.

“Is that Dean?” she asked once she had downed the water.

“I’m OK,” a man’s voice rumbled. “I just got a little shot. But they gave me drugs. They gave me goooood drugs. And we found you. We found you and our mom and you did it, Sami, you saved her. Didn’t you?”

“She saved herself,” Sam said shortly, and sat up, swung her legs over, then shuffled the three steps to Dean’s gurney. He looked like shit.

“Did you do it?” Sam asked.

“That fucker Hendrickson did it,” Dean said indignantly. “He killed Lilith and he shut the Devil’s Gate, but only because I got all shot, otherwise I would have done it, and oh, Sam, you should have seen Cas, she was so hot, all giving orders, like the fiery swift sword of the Lord, smiting demons and flinging holy water. It was awesome.”

Sam looked at Castiel, raised her eyebrows. Castiel raised hers back. “I was so hot,” she said dryly. “And yes, the gate is shut.”

Sam’s knees wobbled and this finally prompted Castiel to stand, take her by the elbow and guide her back to the gurney. Castiel tucked her in, and then to Sam’s astonishment, leaned over and kissed her forehead, long and firm.

“I’m so sorry, Sam,” she said.

Sam took her hand. “Thank you,” she said. “Thank you for Dean.”

“Oh, yeah, she saved my ass,” Dean said. “I love her. I love you too. I love you guys so much.”

Castiel’s lips twitched. “Don’t take that too seriously,” she said to Sam. “He said the same thing to both Victor and Anna earlier.”

“I love them too,” Dean said. “You’re all awesome.”

Sam and Castiel smiled at each other. “Lucifer was there,” Sam said, and Castiel’s smile faded.

“I know,” she said. “I — well, I’ll explain later. I didn’t know before, what we were walking into. But when it happened, I knew. Otherwise we might not have found you. There’s a big hole in Wyoming now. The Reavers are at the bottom of it, and who knows what else.”

Sam nodded. “The Empire?” she asked.

“Still here,” Castiel said. “There’s still work to do. But this, this is the turning point.”

“We’re the winners,” Dean mumbled, and then apparently fell asleep, because he started snoring.

Sam began to laugh, and then she began to cry, and Castiel crawled onto the gurney with her, and held her, and cried with her.

They had won.

Chapter Text

Sam finished reviewing the status reports, drained the last of her coffee, and set the mug aside at the small table. She stood and stretched and looked outside.

The sun was shining. The sun shone almost every day here in Salt Lake City, and Sam couldn’t get enough of it.

She powered down the laptop to save the battery because she’d have to go down to Rebel headquarters to juice it back up. Residential electricity was rare, even though the business district got it pretty regularly. That was OK with Sam. She was used to rising with the sun, and sleeping with the sunset, the cycles of her farm upbringing ingrained in her.

She went to the sink and rinsed out the mug. She could hear Dean snoring down the hall. He was still sleeping a lot, but he was getting stronger. He’d be able to travel soon, and she had promised him a trip to retrieve Chewbacca.

After that … Sam stared absently out the window at the blue sky. She’d been dreaming a lot, dreaming about people. People who could do things.

The Empire had been in control a long, long time. They didn’t know how long demons had been living alongside them. And more and more, Sam was wondering if she was the only one. If there were others out there like her.

More and more, she was wondering if the things she could do were really because of the demons, or if they were something else, something that had woke up because it had to. Because it was time.

She could see their faces even after she woke. Some were older, some were her age. Some were children. And she was pretty sure that if she got in a car and started driving, she would go right to them.

Sam was shaken from her reverie by a car pulling in the drive and parking beside the Impala. She watched as a young woman with vibrant red hair got out of the driver’s side and squinted at the number on the house. Then she went around and opened the passenger door and a big-assed hairy dog jumped out.

As soon as Sam opened the door, Chewbacca barked joyously and then stuck his nose in her crotch. “Chewie,” Sam cried, and knelt and wrapped her arms around the dog. He licked her face and barked again and jumped around like a puppy. Then he pushed past her and tore into the house, barking at the top of his lungs. He found who he was looking for, and a minute later Sam heard Dean yelling, “Chewie! Who’s my good boy?”

Sam laughed, and stood, and the woman was on the doorstep. Sam was suddenly aware that she was in leggings and one of Dean’s old flannel shirts and bare feet and she felt awkward. She wasn’t used to being seen out of her armor of black clothes anymore.

“Hey,” she said, and pushed her hair out of her face, reminded that she needed a haircut.

“Hi,” the woman said. “I guess I have the right place. I was at that building downtown and a woman — Castiel? — said that you were here and I should bring Chewbacca right over, so here I am.” She trailed off awkwardly, so Sam offered out her hand.

“Sam Turner,” she said and the woman shook eagerly.

“Hi, right, well, I knew you weren’t Dean,” she said. “I’m Charlie Bradbury.”

“So, um, you’re a friend of Chuck’s?” Sam asked, even while she knew that was ridiculous, because she’d lived with Chuck for two years and he’d never had a phone call or visit in that time.

“Kind of?” Charlie said. “He, uh, called me?”

Sam groaned. “Tell me you don’t work for the sex phone line,” she said, then added hastily, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We all have to make a living.”

Charlie laughed. “Well, kind of, but not like that. I did billing and technical support. But he called and asked for me and it’s weird, he knew everything about me. Like, everything. And he said I should come use my talents in the Rebellion and would I get the dog and drive him out. So I was like, of course, if I’d known how to reach the Rebellion back when I’d, well, there had been some trouble, and then I had to change my name and work for the sex line, but then Chuck called, so here I am. Hi!” she ended nervously.

Sam grinned. “That sounds about right,” she said, and then her smile faded, because she suddenly knew. “Chuck’s dead, isn’t he?”

“Oh, yes, I’m so sorry,” Charlie said. “I probably should have led with that. He said he was your teacher?”

Sam nodded, swallowed around the lump in her throat. “Um, how? How did he die?”

Charlie blinked at her. “I’m not totally sure, but it’s not surprising, given how old he was. I got to know him for a few weeks before, and I’m glad I was there for him. Poor old guy, in that house all alone. I don’t know how he took care of himself.”

“Right,” Sam said slowly, because Chuck had been in his 30s. “He wasn’t that old.”

Charlie gave her a strange look. “He had to be 90,” she said. “I mean, all wrinkled and hunched over like that. I thought, at least. He could only really shuffle around. Did you know him a long time ago? I mean, I thought, Chewbacca —”

Sam thought about how sometimes things looked different to her than they did to other people. “I, um, I guess I was used to it,” she said. “Forgot how old he really was.” She blinked back tears, then smiled at Charlie. “Thanks so much for bringing Chewie back.”

“Sure,” Charlie said. “He’s a great dog.”

She was really cute, Sam thought. She loved the red hair. She wished again that she weren’t dressed like a hobo.

They smiled at each other. It was getting awkward and Sam suddenly realized that she was keeping Charlie standing on the porch.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Come in.” She stepped aside. “Are you staying? With the Rebellion, I mean?”

“Oh, totally,” Charlie said, and stepped into the house. “I’ve wanted to do something for, well, forever. And I mean, I knew I couldn’t be all alone, but it felt that way. And now here you all are, and you’re real and, yes, I’m staying. I’m really happy to be staying.”

They grinned at each other some more, and Sam reached out and took one of Charlie’s hands in both of hers.

“Then welcome,” she said. “Welcome home.”