Not fast enough. Dean’s here somewhere.
Follow the screams, it said, but there’s only an oppressive, terrifying silence.
Find Dean. Somehow. Failure isn’t an option.
It’s not taking the last person he has left.
Five days earlier
In Sam’s dream, Jess is smiling and that’s enough to wake him from a dead sleep. His heart’s thudding against his ribs, breath coming in quiet gasps, as he stares blindly into the dark. Dean’s breathing is deep and even from across the way, so Sam’s pretty sure he didn’t call out her name. His little brother screaming in the night isn’t something Dean ever sleeps through. Sam hasn’t dreamed of Jess in any way other than dripping blood and wreathed in flame for well over a year, and the novelty has him squeezing his eyes tightly shut against the tears that threaten to fall.
He tries to recapture the moment; to continue the dream in his mind, but she’s hazy, unfocused and the tears spill out at the loss of the hard edged clarity of dream-Jess. It’s been months since he’s taken her picture out and stared at it the way he did right after the fire, and the knowledge that he’s losing bits of her is killing him. He lies awake for hours, trying to get a clear vision of Jessica on their first date, during their first Christmas together, tries to remember the blue of her eyes the first time they met his. His attempts are futile and eventually he falls into a restless doze, his dreams this time darker, more ominous. When Dean shakes him awake late the following morning, he’s still exhausted and for hours, he feels like he’s missing something.
Killing evil things is never boring, but pretty much everything that leads up to the actual demolishing of a supernatural bad guy is worse than watching paint dry. Sam spends the day in the musty basement of the local library, alternately sneezing and asking the wizened elf manning the reference desk for the next batch of old newspapers. When he finally comes up with a burial place that matches the name they’ve been hearing all around town, he resolves that Dean is doing the next round of library basement sitting.
Today Dean’s out interviewing relatives, both of the victims and the suspected homicidal spirit, and Sam gets his brother’s voice mail when he calls to be picked up. Sam’s kind of okay with that though. He’s perfectly willing to stretch out in one of the chairs in the upstairs of the library and doze in the sun until Dean gets around to coming back for him. For some reason, he didn’t sleep very well last night.
Sam’s smiling when Dean wakes him with a smack on the head and Jess dissolves into the bright light of the setting sun, shining directly into his eyes.
“Rise and shine, Sammy! I don’t know about you but I’m starving. Come on, you can tell me about all the hard work you did today over dinner, and you better have found out enough that you can be here freakin’ napping while I’m running my ass all over town.“
Sam gives an exaggerated yawn and stretches until his joints pop. He is kind of hungry- food hadn’t been on his mind in the moldy basement. “I could eat.”
“Good. Let’s hit the bar down the road. Have some chow, down a couple of brews and maybe earn a buck or two.”
“Pool tables and poker, Sammy. You’ve got your idea of work, I’ve got mine.”
By the time they’ve finished eating, their combined research has led them to an abandoned mine shaft outside of town. They agree that waiting until morning to check it out would be the smart move, and Dean spends the rest of the evening cleaning out the locals at the pool table. Sam alternates between watching his brother’s back and surfing the ‘net for their next case. It looks like evil is taking some time off, because other than a heart attack victim in a small cemetery in Massachusetts there’s not much going on. Sam breathes a little sigh of relief; some down time will be good for them both.
Sam’s nodding over the laptop by the time Dean finishes up and buys a round for his latest victims. When they get back to their room, Sam’s out on his feet and has only a vague awareness of Dean putting him to bed. He falls asleep like someone flipped a switch, and the dream comes almost immediately.
Jess is at the table in the sun drenched kitchen of their apartment. She’s wearing a Strawberry Shortcake sleep-shirt and Sam knows if he peeks under the table he’ll see the fluffy pink socks she always wears on Sunday mornings. There are textbooks spread out in front of her, she’s making notes and drinking tea. He presses a kiss to the top of her head and goes to get his coffee as she grins up at him.
“ ‘morning, sleepyhead,” she teases. “Hey, what do you think about witches?”
“Shit!” Sam swears as hot coffee splashes over his hand. Jess is a master of the unexpected question, but this is the first one that’s ever brought his old life into play. He rinses his hand under the faucet and cleans up the spill to buy some time because while he’s pretty good at hiding what’s going on his mind, Jess is pretty good at seeing right through him.
“Sam,” she repeats. “Witches?”
Well, he thinks, back still turned, a bunch of them turned my brother into a pumpkin once. That’s the kind of story he could tell Jess if he wanted to talk about Dean. If he wanted to talk about Dean and he changed all the details to make the story funny instead of horrifying. If he could forget the sight of the bodies of the other victims, and the smile on the coven leader’s face when she’d told his father what she’d done.
“I’m thinking about doing my thesis on the concept of mass hysteria during the witch trials in Salem….,” her voice is fading along with the sun and the kitchen and Sam’s in the Impala, his father at the wheel. The night’s flying by, wind-blown leaves scattering across the windshield, and they’re going to be in time, Sam knows they are because they were. They’ll get to the pumpkin-fest before the jack-o-lantern carving contest starts, they’ll stare at the dozens of pumpkins in disbelief wondering how they’re going to know which one is Dean, and then they’ll just go. They’ll search through the sea of orange until Sam spots the blemish near the top of one of the pumpkins; the blemish shaped exactly like the amulet his brother never takes off. They’ll grab that pumpkin and take it back to the hotel and give Dean a metric ton of shit about getting turned into a giant fruit after midnight comes and goes and he’s himself again.
Now, the dream changes everything. The field is full of possible Deans, and the pumpkin patch stretches into infinity. A frantic search yields nothing, and finally, at midnight, John’s phone rings. A set of co-ordinates appear on the screen, setting Sam and John in a desperate race against time that’s already run out. Dean’s sprawled on the ground in a field across town. The top of his head has been neatly sliced off and his brains spill wetly across the grass. Triangles mark either side of his torso, carved through flesh and bone into his empty chest cavity, a jagged mouth dividing his eviscerated abdomen. Dean’s eyes are open; dull and glassy and dead. Sam falls to his knees, John at his back, and screams denial into the frigid air and then he’s awake, sitting upright in his bed, gasping for air and this time Dean’s not sleeping through it.
“Sam? Sammy? Sam!” Strong hands grip Sam’s biceps, giving him a teeth rattling shake. Dean’s a blur in front of Sam’s eyes, gradually coalescing into a pale, concerned big brother. One of Dean’s hands moves to cup Sam’s jaw and he peers into his brother’s sweaty face. “You with me, Sammy?”
“Yeah. Yeah, Dean, I’m okay.”
Dean’s hand moves through Sam’s hair to rest on the back of his neck. “Just a nightmare?”
Dean’s tone is skeptical, but Sam lets out a shaky breath and nods. “Yeah. Just.”
“Okay.” Dean smirks, but Sam can tell he’s still worried. “Clowns or midgets?”
You, Sam thinks.
Dean gives Sam’s hair a last ruffle and goes back to his own bed, dropping down and giving Sam a faux teasing look. “Okay if I turn the light off, Sam?“
Sam knows his brother will leave it on if he asks, but he nods and Dean hits the switch, plunging the room into darkness. Dean noisily settles into his blankets, but Sam knows he won’t go back to sleep. He’ll stay awake, the jerk, like he can actually protect Sam from bad dreams. Sam won’t sleep either. It wasn’t a vision. It wasn’t. Sam’s not able to close his eyes, but even with them wide open, in the pitch black, all he can see is Dean’s desecrated corpse and his blank, dead stare.
Jess is on his mind more than she has been in months; now his subconscious is pushing Dean into the mix too, like he needs another reason to have nightmares about his brother. He’s lost Jess, he’s lost his father, and Dean’s throwing himself into every hunt like he’s trying to die. Sam needs to do something to set everything he and Jess were to rest. He also needs to slow Dean’s downward spiral until he can figure out a way to stop it. Jess had planned to go to Salem, and Sam had promised to go with her. Dean’s not going willingly on a road trip to any town that celebrates witches, though. And Sam’s not quite ready to make him.
Sam gets up as soon as dawn brushes the windows, Dean following shortly after. No need to spend time pretending to sleep when there’s a brush covered mine shaft to find and some homicidal bones to burn.
Twelve hours later they stagger back into the hotel room, exhausted, dirt encrusted and in Dean’s case, trying to hide a torso full of bruises. The mine shaft was, predictably, not where it was supposed to be and they spent hours fruitlessly searching in the wrong place. It wasn’t until they expanded their search that they found it. Well, Dean found it by having the earth fall from beneath his feet. Also predictable should have been the fact that he wasn’t with Sam when it happened, that he was knocked unconscious by the fall and that Sam spent several more hours frantically and unsuccessfully searching for him.
By the time Sam heard Dean’s muffled shouts and backtracked to an area he’d already searched twice, the sun was just fading over the horizon. Dean’s duffle was lying beside a hole in the earth from which the familiar sounds of Dean’s curses were emerging, along with the even more familiar sounds of him putting up a really good fight. Sam grabbed the duffle, pulled out the flashlight and dropped into the hole.
Dean was backed against the wall, an iron pickaxe blade keeping the hulking shadow in front of him at bay. Sam quickly shone the flashlight around the cavernous hole until he found the bundle of rags that had clothed Dean’s attacker in life. Dean had gotten the bones salted and doused with accelerant, but his lighter lay unused on the ground beside them. Sam picked it up and lit the bones with a satisfying whoosh.
Dean struggled to his feet and threw his brother what he probably thought was a satisfied grin. “Who has a better job than us, Sammy?”
“Oh, just about everyone. Here, let me get out of here, and then I’ll pull you up.”
By the time Sam managed to drag Dean out of the tunnel, and half carry him back to the car, it was dark and Sam drove them directly back to the hotel.
Now, Dean needs a shower badly, but is in no shape to take one, so Sam just bundles him into bed and uses all the hot water himself. His muscles relax under the pounding spray and when he finally slips between his sheets, he’s out in seconds.
“You wanna come?” Jess is draped over him, body flushed with the aftermath of their lovemaking. She nibbles at his neck and looks at him questioningly.
“Think I already did, babe.” Sam grins, grunting as the love of his life digs an elbow into his ribs.
“You know what I’m talking about.”
Sam does, but not only does he not want to go, he doesn’t want her to go. He slides one hand onto her ass, while the other gently teases a nipple. “Do you really want to talk about this now?”
“We have to. I have to let my parents know if I need the money for the tickets. I feel like going to Salem is the only way to really get a handle on what went on there."
“Salem’s a huge tourist trap now. All you’ll be feeling is your wallet getting lighter.”
“Sam. Come on. It’ll be awesome, we just have to go at the right time. I bet you can feel it in the air then; the magic, the power.” Jess is teasing him again. To her, witchcraft is something in movies, on television. Something that hysterical people cooked up to screw with their neighbors. “Come on, Sam. Come with me.”
Sam’s throat is dry. “You’re not….I mean, you don’t want to….you’re not thinking of going at Halloween are you?”
Jess snorts indelicately. “Halloween? Nope. Who’d want to be in a town like Salem on Halloween? All the crazy people would be out.”
Sam lets out the breath he was holding. Thank God Jess doesn’t want to go to Salem on Halloween. She’s right about the crazy people, but they’re not the worst. Witches flock to Salem for All Hallow’s Eve. The only worse time to go would be….
“Um, Jess? So when were you thinking of going?”
Jess snuggles against him, warm and soft. “Mmmmm,” she sighs. “If we decide to go, my parents are giving me the tickets as my Christmas gift.”
Christmas. Sam lets out an answering sigh. After Christmas will be safe.
“I’ll want to be home for the holiday, though,” Jess adds. “We’ll go the week before. The timing will be perfect. Think maybe we’ll get to see a sabbat?”
God, I hope not, is all Sam can think. She wants to go for the solstice. When the true power is out and about. Because it’s not real, right? What could possibly happen? Maybe they’ll get lucky and Sam will run into more witches like the ones that cursed him into having to fuck for twenty-four straight hours and they’ll never even get out of the room.
Sam thinks about what Dean would say, about what Dad would say. There are places you don’t go unless you’ve got a damned good reason and Salem is right behind New Orleans and Cold Oak on Dad’s list of places to stay the fuck away from. Research for a thesis doesn’t qualify as a good enough reason for Jess to be in Salem for the solstice and Sam’s going to do his damndest to keep her in California for the whole month of December.
Jess is kissing him, with pauses to whisper lasciviously in his ear. “What do you say, Sam? Want to help me research?”
Sam begins to answer, but Jess is moving out of his grip, and he grasps for her desperately as she floats to the ceiling. Her face is placid and she breathes steadily as a bloody slice appears across her belly and the area around her is engulfed in flame.
“You could have just said you didn’t want to go,” she says sadly, before the fire consumes her.
Sam’s at his computer first thing in the morning. He’s got to go to Salem. He can’t think of any other reason the dreams would be coming like this. There’s a hunt in Dad’s journal that ties in with the cemetery heart attack victim he’d discovered the other night. He can probably convince Dean that it’s a plausible reason to go to Salem, but it’ll be a stretch. Dad didn’t think there was really anything there and if Dad didn’t think it, Dean’s not going to think it either. Sam doesn’t ignore dreams any more. He’d wanted to keep Jess from going to Salem and she’d died six weeks before their trip. It’s pretty stupid to feel guilty about something like that now, but if going to Salem is going to give him closure with Jess, and possible downtime with Dean, then he’s going to Salem.
Dean comes in half an hour later with coffees and omelets and he gives Sam a concerned look as he shrugs out of his jacket. He hands Sam his drink and settles into the chair on the other side of the table.
“You look like crap, man. You feeling okay?”
Sam looks at his brother through shadowed eyes. The dreams he’s been having are worse than the ones he’d suffered through right after Jess’ death, with the addition of witches and Salem and eviscerated Dean, but he’s not telling his brother that. “Yeah, Dean. I’m fine.”
Dean snorts softly in disbelief, but doesn’t push it. “Okay, Sammy. So, you find us a new gig, while I was out?”
“Well..,” Sam hesitates, and Dean snorts again.
“Come on, Sam, spit it out. What is it? Unicorns? Oh, wait. No. Given the time of year, I’d guess…..Casper the Friendly Ghost?”
“Shut up,” Sam mutters. “I just figured since there’s no sign of the demon, and we haven’t got any leads on any other psychic kids out there, that maybe we could just take an easy hunt next.”
“You have any particular easy hunt in mind?”
“Well, I was going through Dad’s journal, and I think I found something.” Dean’s face closes off at the mention of their father, and Sam hurries on. “There’s a cemetery in Massachusetts where people have been having heart attacks after they visit. Maybe four or five over the last couple of years, always around Halloween.”
“Come on, Sam. Old people visiting a cemetery having heart attacks? Kind of a stretch to link it to a spirit.”
“You come on, Dean. They weren’t all old people. There’s a man buried there that was killed by having rocks piled on his chest until he suffocated. The people who had the heart attacks said that they had a feeling of a crushing weight on their chest.”
“Well, that’s what having a heart attack feels like, Francis. Even with no ghosts involved.”
Sam can see the memory of his encounter with the rawhead flash across Dean’s face and his lips tighten as he looks away, irrationally angry at yet another reminder of his brother’s mortality. “It could be something, Dean. We’ve looked into less.”
“We have indeed looked into less, Sammy. So where is this probably not haunted cemetery?”
“Salem.” Sam stares defiantly at Dean and Dean returns the look with interest.
“Salem….Oregon? Virginia? New Hampshire? Because I know you don’t mean Salem, Massachusetts. I know you don’t think I’m going to witch central U.S.A. on a non-hunt, Sam. A Halloween non-hunt. You know that’s not fucking happening right?”
“You know what, Dean? It’s not my fault you annoy witches just by breathing in their vicinity!” Sam’s anger resurfaces and he’s not sorry for the look that slides across Dean’s face before it becomes the blank mask that Sam usually hates. “You don’t have to come. Probably nothing, right?”
“You’re going to go by yourself.” Dean’s tone is flat, but Sam’s not backing down.
“If I have to.” And I do have to, Dean. I really think I do.
They’re on the road by noon, neither speaking until several hundred miles of interstate have passed beneath the Impala's wheels. Dean breaks the silence first, but he’s in no way conceding anything. This is a bad idea and Sam’s not going to convince him otherwise.
“So, tell me about this heart attack guy.”
“This heart attack guy’s name was Giles Corey. Back in the days of the Salem witch trials…” Dean snorts contemptuously here, and Sam ignores him. “Back in the days of the trials, a village girl accused him of being, and I quote, ‘a dreadful wizard’ and of ‘wanting her to write in the devil’s book.’”
“To write what in the devil’s book?”
Sam shoots his brother a look, but it seems like Dean’s serious. “That she pledged her soul to him? That she’d be his bride? How should I know?”
“Okay, so he got accused of being a wizard and going around collecting signatures for Satan. What’d the good people of Salem figure was adequate punishment for that?”
“Well, they took him to a field near town, put a board on his chest, and piled rocks on it until he was crushed under the weight.”
“And how long did these pious, God-fearing folk watch this poor bastard suffocate?”
“It says it took about two days.”
Dean just shakes his head. “Nice people, dude. I can see why you want to go visit their town.”
The closer they get to Massachusetts, the tighter Dean’s hands grip the steering wheel, knuckles whitening under the strain. Sam shoots him what he thinks are covert glances, convinced that Dean’s going to turn the Impala around any second. He doesn’t, of course. He’d promised Sam they’d look into the deaths in Salem, and he, at least, doesn’t break his promises.
They hit Salem mid-afternoon, and Dean cruises the streets looking for a motel, his expression growing even darker, though Sam hadn’t thought that was possible. “Who the fuck would stay at a place called The Witches Cauldron, Sam? I mean, really?”
Sam cranes his neck to check out the bed and breakfast Dean is snarling at, and smiles at the gingerbread cottage-like house. I would. Jess had booked them in for the week before last Christmas. She’d been as delighted by the theme as Dean is appalled by it.
“I’m sure lots of perfectly nice people stay there Dean. We could stay there. Clean sheets, fresh baked muffins for breakfast….”
With a few choice remarks about people who would stay in other people’s houses and houses with freaky witch themes no less, Dean pulls into the parking lot of a Super 8. It’s a few steps above their usual lodgings and they score what turns out to be the last room available.
“Okay, Sammy,” Dean says, throwing his duffle onto his bed. “Want to tell me what we’re really doing here?”
“We’re here because people are having heart attacks, possibly spirit induced, and we need to see if we can stop it.”
Dean rolls his eyes. “Fine, don’t tell me. I’m going to catch some shut-eye and we can check out this Burying Point place later tonight. And Sammy, don’t be sneaking out of this room while I’m asleep. If you decide to go sightseeing without me and some witch enchants your ass, don’t expect me to come and save it. You hear me?”
“I hear you, jerk. Don’t worry. Sleep sounds pretty good to me too.” Sam settles down and closes his eyes. Lately sleep means dreams of Jess and it doesn’t take him long to drop into slumber.
There’s a woman and she’s blonde, but Sam doesn’t think it’s Jessica. It’s dark and cold where they are and he only catches fleeting glimpses of her. She’s trying to say something, but Sam can’t hear her and then she’s gone, and it’s all Dean: Dean in the wendigo’s lair, Dean after the rawhead, Dean in the cabin being destroyed by that thing in their father’s body. Dean bloody and screaming and…..
“Hey Princess, wake up.”
Sam wakes with a gasp and rolls over on his sweat soaked pillow. Dean’s staring down at him with an unreadable expression.
“It’s almost midnight, Sam. Anything you want to tell me before we set out to save the world from the heart attack inducing spirit of a dreadful wizard?”
“Okay then, let’s go.”
The cemetery’s a bust, at least for tonight. Sam knows this because Dean announces it every half hour, and by the time dawn is lighting the sky, Sam is ready to strangle him.
“No Giles Corey, Sammy. No chest tightening, no shortness of breath, not even a twinge of indigestion.”
“Shut up, Dean. Tonight’s Halloween, maybe we just have to wait until then.”
“Yeah, maybe. Man, I’m starving. You bring anything to eat?”
“You already ate two pounds of M&Ms, dude.”
Sam digs in his pocket and wordlessly holds out a granola bar.
“This is your idea of stakeout supplies? Sometimes I can’t even believe we’re related.”
Dean stuffs the granola bar into his mouth and is turning to head back to the Impala when Sam sees it. He grabs his brother’s arm and Dean halts, smoothly bringing his shotgun to bear on the headstone Sam is staring at.
“What is it?”
“I’m not sure. I thought I saw something over by that grave.” Sam peers at the figure perched on the nearby headstone.
“Ghost of Giles Corey?” Dean cocks the gun. “I don’t see anything, Sam.”
“Could just be a trick of the light,” Sam lies. “You probably shouldn’t be shooting up the cemetery at the crack of dawn anyway. Let me check out the name on that stone and we’ll do some research. We can always come back tonight and stake this place out.”
“Great,” Dean grumps as they walk down the path, “a haunted cemetery on Halloween. What could possibly go wrong?”
The sun rises, bringing a soft glow to the land. Everything is hazy and indistinct; the trees move but I do not feel the gentle breeze.
People come - living beings that look and touch, but they do not see, do not feel, they hold no interest for me.
Today is different. Two men face me across the intervening graves and if I had breath it would have stilled in my throat.
I see him. My blood became dust long ago, but that which courses through his veins once ran through mine. Tainted. Dark. Does he resist?
He sees me.
“This whole place creeps me out, Sam,” Dean mutters as they work their way along sidewalks crammed with costumed revelers. A group of scantily clad young women dressed as witches surrounds them and Dean doesn’t relax until the girls cross the street at the next intersection. “Witches. Why can’t they be sexy candy stripers for Halloween? Or Wonder Woman? She was hot, right?”
“Wonder Woman, Dean?”
“Shut up, Sam. All those comic book women with their..” Dean’s hands cup by his chest and Sam smacks them down.
“Okay, I get it, you’re perpetually thirteen. Can we focus here?”
“Focus on what, Sam? There was nothing there. You dig up anything on the name?”
“No. If she was a witch, she was smart enough not to get caught, and if she wasn’t she was still smart enough not to get caught up in the mass hysteria that got so many other people killed.”
“Yeah, it was just a theory that….you know what, never mind.” Sam diverts Dean’s attention onto a blackboard outside the building they’re passing. “You want a beer?”
Dean shoots Sam a look but allows himself to be diverted. He eyes the board, lip curling as he reads his beverage options. “Jesus, Sam! Cauldron Ale. Bubbling Brew. Pumpkinhead, for fucks sake!”
Dean stabs a finger at an option near the bottom and grabs Sam’s arm. “This one, Sammy. Demon? Warlock? Vampire, werewolf, shifter, incubus? Anything?”
Sam grins. “Nope.”
Dean shoves his way into the crowded building, maneuvers his way to the bar, and orders two Sam Adams lagers while his brother uses his puppy eyes to score a booth. Dean grabs the beers and heads over, dropping down across from Sam.
He hands one beer to his brother, signals the waitress to come over when she’s got a minute and focuses his eyes on Sam’s.
“Spill what, Dean?”
“Whatever it is that you don’t want to talk about. The reason you really wanted to come here. Because Sam, even for you, this hunt is lame.”
Sam concentrates on peeling the label from his beer bottle. “Did I ever tell you Jess was a history major?”
“No, Sammy. You didn’t.”
“She was going to go to grad school while I was in law school, get her doctorate in early American history.”
“She must have been pretty smart.”
Sam looks up with a tiny smile. “She was. She really was. She was going to do her thesis on the concept of mass hysteria in the Salem witch trials. She wanted to come here..”
Dean can’t stop himself. “Here? To research witchcraft?”
“Not the witchcraft itself.”
“I know, I know. But I couldn’t talk her out of it. We were going to come last winter.” Sam gives his brother a smirk. “We were going to stay at The Witches Cauldron. Jess thought it would be fun.”
“Fun.” Dean shakes his head at the concept. “And by winter, I suppose you mean..?”
“The solstice, yes. I would have found some way to keep her from coming here then though, Dean. You know I would.” Sam laughs bitterly. “Turns out I didn’t have to. Her not coming here, hell, her not doing anything ever again, got taken care of for me.”
“Sammy.” Dean lays a hand on his brother’s arm and Sam allows it to stay there.
“I started dreaming about her, about her wanting to come to Salem, and I just thought…maybe…”
“Maybe if you came here, it would put some things to rest?”
“And has it?”
“Not really.” Not yet.
Dean leans back in his seat and takes a swig of his beer. “So, does this mean we don’t have to go back and freeze our asses off at the cemetery tonight?”
“There was something there, Dean.”
“Then we go back and freeze our asses off.”
The waitress, dressed in a mini-skirted Star Trek uniform, arrives to take their order and Sam loses Dean’s attention for the rest of the meal. Dean agreed to go back though, and that’s all Sam needs to hear.
I feel the stirrings from my resting place beneath the grass. Does he return?
No. Greater power than he yet possesses crackles along the gravestones.
They cannot be here, should not be here.
This is our place.
They have no right.
It’s dark in the cemetery- the night is cloudy, and even if it wasn’t, the moon would be just a sliver in the sky. In addition to being dark, it’s freezing, and Sam’s feet crunch through the dead grass as he returns with a thermos of coffee. A cold, bored, decaffeinated Dean is not someone Sam wants to spend the rest of the night on watch with. Especially since Dean is convinced there’s nothing here to be watching for.
Sam approaches the tombstone he’d left Dean leaning on and sees his brother’s flailing motions in the beam of his flashlight. Dean’s flinging his arms around, jumping up and down, practically doing calisthenics to keep warm. Sam’s about to slow down to watch Dean look ridiculous for a few more seconds when he sees movement in the dark beside his brother. The shadows are coming from Dean’s left and he doesn’t see them, can’t see them. Sam’s about to call out; to warn his brother, but a crushing blow to the back of his head sends him down into an even deeper blackness.--
They are too many- too powerful. And he is here.
Does he sense me? Know I am nearby?
I stay below ground, but the safety of my resting place is only an illusion now.
I was special to him once and he taught me much, but I spurned his advances, rejected his plans for me.
Does he remember?
Consciousness returns slowly and Sam’s bleary eyes water from the light of the torches surrounding him. Shadowy figures blur in the darkness and he twists his head, looking desperately for Dean.
The torch bearers come closer and Sam can see five cloaked figures. One moves to the forefront and casts back her hood. Dark eyes stare from a delicately featured face, and Sam twists against his bindings.
“Where’s my brother?”
“He’s…..in the vicinity.”
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“You’re in a cemetery in Salem on Halloween. Who do you think I am?”
“Still leaves the question of what you want, you bitch.” Sam’s throat tightens like there’s a hand gripping it and he struggles to breathe. The angry look on the witch’s face morphs into a smile and the dark eyes glow like burnished gold as Sam tries to push himself backward through the gravestone behind him.
“What do I want? I want your brother bloody and screaming. I want you, Sammy, to fall in line like a good little soldier. But I’m not greedy. I’ll just take Dean tonight. It’s not your turn yet.”
The demon grins. “So many of my kids to visit- so little time. Gotta go, Sammy. Your brother’s waiting.”
“You leave him alone, you bastard.”
“Oh, Sammy, I do enjoy your spunk. I’ll tell you what, find us by midnight and you can have him back. Alive.”
“You’re not going to hurt him?”
The demon laughs at Sam’s incredulous tone. “Of course I’m going to hurt him, Sam. But I’m not going to bleed him from the inside out again. Been there, done that, and I’m just not in the mood tonight. I think a good old ass-whupping will be sufficient. Just make sure you find us by midnight, Sammy.”
“And what happens if I don’t?”
The demon turns and the smile it flashes in Sam’s direction stops his heart for a moment. “Why, your brother turns into a pumpkin, of course. “
Sam throws himself against his bindings in a frenzy. The dreams. The fucking dreams. They didn’t feel like visions, but…“you sent them?”
“No, I didn’t send them. I look in on you from time to time, Sammy, and it’s just easier when you’re sleeping. Jess was a pretty little thing, wasn’t she? And Dean carved into a jack-o-lantern? Witches are so inventive. Midnight, Sammy. If you get loose, just follow the screams. Don’t be late!”
The light is receding as the shadows and their torches move away. Sam watches them until only darkness remains and he prays that the direction they were headed is where he will find his brother.
Azazel and those with him do not slow as they leave the cemetery. Their business is not here, no matter what lies he told the boy.
Just one is left behind, and that one does not know me- will think me just one more spirit among many. I arise, safe now that my ancient foe is gone.
The boy fights, struggles physically with the ropes that bind him.
His power is untapped, untried. It could help him now if he would let it.
He is wiser than I though, and uses only the strength of his humanity.
For this, it will be enough.
I leave him to it and follow the foul odor of hell-spawn through the dark.
Sam’s wrists are raw and bloody by the time he manages to free himself, but he ignores his injuries and heads for where he remembers dropping their weapons bag. It’s not there, and he wants to scream in frustration. It’s going to be difficult to rescue Dean as it is: without holy water, salt and a damned effective exorcism ritual it will be impossible. The night is silent and he tries not to think too hard about what that might mean as he continues his search.
Blood trickles in thin rivulets down his pain furrowed brow.
He’s pinned to the rough, wooden wall; muted gasps trapped behind clenched teeth. This one is stubborn- the promised screams do not come. I drift closer and he shivers.
I hear a name.
This one will be theirs, taken for a seeming eternity of torment, but not now; not yet. It is not their time and they cannot have him.
I will guide the other here.
The outcome will be what it may.
Sam travels in an ever widening circle through the cemetery. The night is still silent and he’s not taking the chance that Dean is closer than the demon led him to believe. His brother could be hurt or worse, and Sam’s not going to go running off on a wild goose chase if Dean’s lying unconscious, not dead, not dead, behind the next headstone. A breath of colder air tickles the back of his neck and he whirls, hands raised in what he realizes is a futile gesture of defense against the likes of anything he’s likely to encounter here.
The woman gently flickering in front of him is the same spirit he glimpsed this morning, he’s sure of it. He opens his mouth and closes it again soundlessly as she lays a finger across her lips. She moves through the night and he follows, desperate for any avenue that will lead him to his brother.
A few dozen yards from where they started, she stops. Sam takes a few more steps and trips over the weapons bag. He falls to his knees with a muted gasp and rifles through it, pulling out what he’ll need. The holy water and salt he slides into his jacket pockets. The exorcism ritual is stored in his head: he’s not leaving that to chance ever again.
He looks up at the spirit and whispers soundlessly. “Is he..?”
Close by, she breathes.
Sam takes in the tiny shed with a glance. It’s empty except for one demon and Dean. Yellow Eyes and the rest of the coven are nowhere in sight. It’s a trap, it has to be, but Sam’s got no choice about this. His brother’s depending on him.
He slips silently through the doorway, holy water and salt ready to be flung, but the demon’s ready for him. It turns, holding Dean in front of it like a shield. The demon’s got an arm tightly around Dean’s neck and Sam can hear his brother’s choking attempts to breathe.
“Stay right there Sammy, unless you want big brother to try breathing through a crushed trachea.”
“Where is he? Where is that yellow eyed son of a bitch?”
The demon snorts. “You Winchesters. Think the whole world revolves around you. His business here had nothing to do with you. You were just kind of….a happy accident. Our little fun and games tonight were just to keep you out of his hair while he did what he came here for.”
“Oh yeah?” Sam desperately wants to know. “And what was that?”
“Like I’m going to tell you. Just wait over there like a good boy, Sammy, I’m kind of busy here.” The demon releases Dean and he slides to his knees, head lolling on his blood-streaked chest. It wraps its fingers in Dean’s sweaty hair and jerks his head up roughly. Dean’s eyes are closed, blood dripping from his left, but he’s conscious, Sam can tell.
“It’s a good look for him, isn’t it?” The demon leers up at Sam, eyes black in its face. “On his knees, covered in blood. Mmm, mmm, mmm,“ it murmurs, running a thumb along Dean’s slack lips. “I could sure think of a few things to do to him like this, couldn’t you, Sammy?”
“Let him go, you bastard. We had a deal. I found you before midnight. Let him go.”
The demon just laughs. “You did Sammy. You found us before the clock struck twelve. Half an hour before, to be exact. Good for you. Not so good for Dean, here. I’ve still got thirty more minutes to play before I have to give him back.”
Sam takes a step forward, mouth opening to start an exorcism ritual, but he’s barely gotten two words out before the demon freezes him in place. He struggles to continue, but the words won’t move past his clenched teeth.
“Uh, uh, uh, Sammy. That’s not very nice.“ The demon backhands Dean, sending him sprawling to the floor. “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?”
He’s trapped, doesn’t yet know how to best their power.
I flow into him, embrace his essence and enhance it with my own.
His strength almost overwhelms me, but quickly I adapt. The demon has turned away, foolishly secure in its supposed superiority. When the words begin again, it turns in shock but it is too late. It cannot control me and it cannot separate us. The exorcism is completed and its smoky residue spirals back to the hell it belongs in.
The demon is defeated and I should leave now, but I linger. The power in this boy is like nothing I’ve ever felt. It dwarfs mine like a mountain to a pebble. I could stay. I could take it, take him.
A shudder jolts us both as my gift manifests. I see my host, leading the forces of darkness across the land, chaos and death in their wake. I see him atop a throne in hell, arrogant and cold; the other collared and feral at his feet.
I could start this chain of events right now. A nudge here, a twist there and he would fall.
No. That is not the path I chose centuries ago and it will not be the path I choose tonight. I leave his body as quietly as I entered it and watch as he falls to his knees.
Sam scrambles to his brother and pulls him into his arms. Dean mumbles and tries weakly to push Sam away, but his brother only grips him tighter. Sam swallows hard and looks up at the spectral woman still standing before him.
“Do they come true?”
They can be changed.
“I can’t…,” he stammers. “I don’t want…”
Then see that it does not come to pass.
He nods, determined, as he struggles to his feet, supporting his brother. Dean sways unsteadily, but manages to stand with Sam’s arm wrapped around his waist.
“Hey, Sammy,” he murmurs, “we good to go now?”
“It’ll be gone before we can even start looking for it, you know that.”
Sam does, but he wants that damned thing so badly he can taste it. It hurt his family again and the fact that he dragged his brother right into its clutches makes Sam realize that what he really needs out of this trip is to put the past behind him. Jess is gone, and he’s going to make the demon pay for how she died, how Dad died, but he’s not going to risk Dean unnecessarily to do it.
“Okay, Dean. We’ll hit the hotel to pick up our stuff and get the hell out of Dodge.”
“Good.” Dean sighs wearily, more of his weight resting against Sam’s chest. “I hope you got everything you need out of Salem, because I am so done with this town.”
Sam tightens his hold on his brother. “Yeah, Dean. I got everything I need.”
They lean on each other and don’t look back as they head out the door, and vanish into the night.
I cannot see all that lies ahead. There are forces aligned against them, dark and light, and whether they will overwhelm the brothers is not for me to know.
The power is fading, slipping away like the tides. All too soon it is gone, he is gone.
He will not return.
Long ago I made the choice to remain, and no regrets follow me as I retreat into the earth.