There was something going on. Something very not right, and Ruby could swear it had to do with Sam. If nothing else, over the centuries she’d learned to trust her instincts. Ruby started to reach for her phone, but a cool voice stopped her.
“Ah, ah, ah, I wouldn’t make that call if I were you.”
She spun around to face the intruder and found herself face-to-face with a tall, thin man, immaculately dressed in a three-piece suit, leaning casually against the locked door of her hotel room. He gave her a cold smile that didn’t reach his eyes and she let her eyes go black as she reached within herself for her demonic power, one hand starting toward her knife.
“I wouldn’t do that either,” the man said nonchalantly, buffing his nails on the lapel of his suit. Suddenly, she couldn’t move. Even worse, she felt her power leech from her bones, leaving her weak and helpless. The knife fell from her grasp, skidding well out of reach as it hit the floor.
“That’s better,” the man in front of her said, giving her a smarmy smile. “But please, be comfortable. I want this to be a friendly chat, after all.”
With a flick of his hand, Ruby found herself moving toward the bed. She tried to fight, but it was no use. Whatever had her was more powerful than anything she’d ever encountered. She was surprised to find herself situated not laying across the mattress, but instead sitting at its edge, in as ladylike a position as someone on a skeevy motel bed could be.
“Now then, what to do with you, hmmm?” He looked her up and down, and Ruby flinched inwardly at the white-hot flash of power that washed over her. She unwillingly looked up to meet his eyes, expecting them to be pitch black, or possibly, if she was very unlucky, pure white. Instead, they blazed with unholy fire. Not many demonic forces could harness what she felt emanating from him, and a wave of fear hit her as she realized just how far out of her league she was. When Dean Winchester had been pulled from Hell, there had been rumors, lots of talk she’d dismissed as impossible or downright crazy. Whispers of things more powerful than demons wandering the Earth, of power plays being made now that the Seals were being broken.
She wished she’d paid more attention, because somehow she had garnered the attention of one of those beings.
“You’re beginning to understand,” he said, delightedly, obviously having plucked the thought right from her mind. His smile became a troubled frown that she was certain was insincere as he went on. “That certainly does complicate matters,” he said. “Now I can’t just send you back Down. You lot are so gossipy. But I can’t have you telling your precious charge anything either, now can I?”
He tapped a finger on his chin as he thought. “This is a predicament. I suppose I could just scatter your essence completely, let it drift away. Would you like that, little demon? You’d be one with the cosmos.” He cocked his head. “Or is that too lofty an aspiration for your kind?”
She glared at him and he gave her an indulgent smile. “Oh, do forgive my manners. You are permitted to speak, of course.”
The tiniest bit of whatever held her immobile relaxed. “I won’t beg for my life,” she spat out, burying her fear under a layer of bravado that had served her well over the years.
He leaned in and gave her a sinister smile. “I wouldn’t be too sure of that. Or was that a challenge?” he asked, one eyebrow raised. “Maybe you want to strike a deal.” His look intensified, the force of it almost painful. “Is that it? Do you actually believe you have anything I would want?”
“You know about Sam,” she said, mind racing as she tried to figure out a way to stay alive. “Then you have to know that he trusts me, listens to me. That puts me in a pretty powerful position, especially now that his brother is back in the picture.”
He looked mildly interested, and gave her a go-ahead gesture. “Intriguing. What exactly are you offering?”
“Like I said,” Ruby went on, feeling a little bolder, “Sam trusts me. Given time, I could get him to do whatever I want. And if you’re calling the shots, that means he’ll do whatever you want.”
He gave her a skeptical look. “Really? And what would your Lucifer think of this change of heart you’re having?”
She fought to hide the shock that question pulled from her. If he knew about that, he was more powerful than she’d guessed. “He’s still caged. You’re here,” she replied, amazed her voice didn’t shake.
“True enough,” he replied with a chuckle. “And it is tempting, but I must tell you, you’re proceeding under a false assumption. I don’t want your plaything’s trust.” His eyes narrowed, the look on his face stormy and intense. “I want his head on a platter.”
Ruby was stunned into silence. The whatever-the-Hell he was watched her for a second, then smiled, his mood breezy once more. “So you see, you have nothing I need,” he told her, arms spread wide.
Ruby’s heart sank as she realized he was right. “You’re just playing with me, then.”
“I am wounded,” he exclaimed, putting a hand over his heart. “I thought we were having a pleasant exchange.” He moved in close, playing with a strand of her long, dark hair, then trailing the back of his hand down her arm. “You’re very lucky, you know. Not everyone gets my… special attention.” This last was whispered into her ear, and Ruby couldn’t suppress a shudder.
“Even luckier for you,” he went on, straightening and smoothing back his near-shoulder length brown hair, “I’m going to let you live. You can even keep this meatsuit if you’d like,” he said, wrinkling his nose. “But until all is said and done, you are mine.”
“What,” her voice cracked and she started again. “What do I have to do?”
“Right now? Make a phone call. Tell Samuel you won’t be able to meet him for a few days, possibly longer. Give as little detail as possible, and say nothing that might make him suspicious. I’d rather you not disappear completely, but one wrong word, one hint about me, and you’ll regret it in ways you cannot begin to imagine.”
Suddenly released from the invisible hold, Ruby slid off the edge of the bed, barely catching herself. She took a deep breath, then another, before standing and shakily walking to get her phone.
Sam flipped his phone shut and turned to Dean. “That was Ruby. She won’t be around for a while.”
“Good,” Dean nodded as he exited the car. Sam sighed as he got out, and Dean looked over at him over the top of the Impala. “What?”
“It’s just… something didn’t seem right.”
“She’s a demon, Sam. There’s nothing right about her.” Sam glared at that; Dean glared right back. “Seriously,” he scoffed, “you can’t expect me to even pretend to be worried about her, can you?”
“I just wish you’d see that she’s different, Dean.”
Dean snorted and shook his head. “I’ve been to Hell, remember? No way are you ever gonna convince me a demon has any good intentions. So give it a rest, please? I’m done having this argument.” He started forward and gestured for Sam to follow. “You want to pick up the pace a little? I am overdue for a cold beer and prettier company than you could ever hope to be, Sammy.”
As expected, Sam rolled his eyes at that but quickly caught up, and the two walked toward the bar.
“Bobby joining us?” he asked Dean.
Dean shook his head. “Nope. Not that I blame him – this is his town, after all. Probably shouldn’t make our connection too obvious.”
“It’s not like the hunt we just finished was here,” Sam said.
“True enough,” Dean shrugged, wincing as the motion pulled at the stitches he’d needed after they’d taken down the werewolf a town over. He felt Sam’s gaze on him and waved his hand. “Whatever. More beer for us, Sammy.”
Sam knocked into Dean’s good shoulder as they walked, retaliation for the Sammy, Dean was sure. He started to shove back, but stopped when he heard the unmistakable sounds of a fight. Pulling Sam to the edge of the building, Dean peered around the corner, swearing under his breath when he saw that one of the two men at the end of the alley had a gun. He was about to pull his own weapon when two shots rang out as the taller man shot the other one in the face. There were two bright flashes of light from his eye sockets as he fell to the ground.
Dean jerked Sam back before they were spotted, and silently dragged his brother down the block, only stopping when they were around a corner.
“Jesus, Dean,” Sam whispered, turning to face his brother. “What the hell was that? It almost looked like-“
“Like when we gack demons,” Dean finished.
“You think the guy’s a hunter?”
“No idea,” Dean answered, shaking his head. He could hear sirens nearby and swore under his breath. No chance of going back for evidence now, not dressed like they were. “But I know who will know.” He started walking back toward the Impala, trusting Sam to follow.
“Shot out the guy’s eyes, big blaze of light, then whatever it was died,” Sam repeated.
Bobby looked at Sam, then Dean. “And you’re sure it wasn’t some kind of hoodoo gun?”
“You ever hear of a gun like that besides the Colt?” Dean asked, unsurprised when Bobby shook his head.
“So what gets taken out by normal bullets?” Sam asked.
“Nothing that I know of,” Bobby admitted. “And far as I know, there’s nobody but you two idjits hunting in the area right now. Nothing much to hunt, not here.”
“It looks like we need to do some research, see what that thing was,” Sam said, elbowing Dean when he made a face.
“I’ll starting reading,” Bobby said with a nod. “You two go get cleaned up, get changed, and get back to the crime scene pronto. I want to know want the hell’s going on in my town.”
“We didn’t expect anyone Federal here,” the medical examiner said as he pulled open the drawer and pulled back the sheet.
“Just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Sam told him as he leaned in to study the body.
“Any idea who it is?” Dean asked.
“Not yet. Not a local, no ID… we’re running prints now, but it could be a while, depending.” He shook his head. “It’s a strange one, though.”
“Strange how?” Sam asked.
“Well, I haven’t done a full autopsy yet, obviously, but I’m betting cause of death wasn’t the gunshot wounds.”
That got them both interested. “Why’s that?”
“Look at the wounds,” he said, stepping aside so Sam could move closer again. “Not enough blood, or skin trauma. Living tissue would have been a lot more torn up, bruised, you name it.”
“So you think someone killed the guy and then shot him?” Sam asked. “What, to make ID’ing the body harder or something?”
“No idea why – that’s your job,” he said with a shrug. “I’m just telling you he had to have been dead before he was shot.”
“Well, based on what we saw in the morgue, it wasn’t a vamp, or a zombie, or anything else that might use a dead body.”
“Could have been a demon,” Dean threw out.
“Never seen one go down like that,” Sam countered. “No black smoke, no exorcism.” He paused, and Dean could see his brother weighing his words before he spoke again. “You know, we could try to find the guy that shot him. He might be a hunter.”
Dean stopped in his tracks, grabbing Sam’s arm and turning him so they were face to face. “No. No way. Until we know more, we are not going anywhere near him, you got me?” He watched Sam intently, body tensing until finally Sam nodded. He could tell Sam wanted to protest, but the idea of Sam talking with someone who might not be human was too much. Just the mention of Ruby made Dean’s stomach turn over – no way was he going to encourage meeting someone who might be another demon.
“Okay then,” Dean said as he let Sam go and started walking again. “Let’s head back. Maybe Bobby has some answers.”
“I got no idea exactly what’s going on, but I do know this isn’t the first place it’s happened.” Bobby shifted over to show them the computer screen. “There’s been a few cases like this, starting about two months ago. No real pattern, just a body’ll turn up, eyes shot out, and the kicker is if the vic is identified, they’re already dead. And I mean years, sometimes decades dead.”
“Are we talking missing persons assumed dead, or dead dead?” Dean asked, yanking off his tie as Sam leaned in to read.
“I mean dead and buried, funeral, body, casket, the whole nine yards. But no sign of embalming fluid, no autopsy scars. It’s like they were never dead. Bodies ain’t even desiccated.”
Dean suppressed a shiver. What Bobby was describing was hitting way too close to home and they all knew it.
“And they stay dead after that?” Sam asked, scrolling down the page.
“Oh yeah, far as anyone knows,” Bobby told them. “Looks like they’re cremating ‘em second time around. It’s like nobody wants to take a chance on them coming back to see if third time’s a charm.”
“How many have you found?” Dean wanted to know.
“Four so far, but I get the feeling I’m just getting started.”
Sam tilted his head to face Bobby. “And no common thread?”
“Not that I can see. But feel free to start looking,” Bobby replied, waving a hand at the computer. “Because whatever this is, it ain’t gonna be easy to figure out.”
Dean pulled up a chair, flipping it around before straddling it and crossing his arms over the back. “And no leads on this hunter or whatever it was we saw?”
“I’m telling you, there’s nobody around but us. Maybe it’s a new guy, or somebody who wants to stay under the radar.”
“Or maybe there’s a connection we aren’t seeing yet,” Sam said.
“That’s the angle I want your brother working on,” Bobby said, shifting his attention to Dean. “Grab Sam’s laptop, see if any of the reports describe the shooter. Sam, you take over the web searches on my machine, look for more deaths that fit the profile.”
“What are you gonna do?” Dean asked as he got up.
“Hit the books,” Bobby sighed. “See if I can figure out just what it is that’s being killed, and why it’s here in the first place.”
“Break seemed like a good idea,” Sam said as he sat on the steps next to Dean.
Dean just nodded and took another swig of beer.
“You’ve been awful quiet,” Sam said after another minute.
“Been busy researching, Sammy,” Dean replied evenly, looking out over the salvage yard.
“Yeah, but we usually shoot the shit while we do that,” Sam said, and Dean could practically feel his brother’s intense look. “You know this isn’t like you, right?”
“What, nose to the grindstone?” Dean joked, hoping Sam would take the hint.
But of course, Sam being Sam, he didn’t. “I mean, these people that are being shot… them coming back isn’t what you’re thinking.” He leaned and nudged Dean’s shoulder gently with his own. “You aren’t like them, Dean.”
Dean looked down at the bottle dangling from his hands. “How can you know that, Sam? Because from what we’ve found so far, it sure sounds familiar.”
“Dean, an angel brought you back. That’s a big deal.”
“You sure? Because I’m not.” He turned to face Sam. “I’m still not sure why I was brought back at all, Sam. Who’s to say there isn’t someone out there hunting people like me? And who’s to say they aren’t right to do it?” He held up a hand to stop Sam’s response. “I was dead, Sam. Dead and damned. You aren’t supposed to come back from that.”
“But you did, because Heaven wanted you alive,” Sam countered. “Come on, Dean. There can’t be anything wrong about that.”
Dean looked down again at the near-empty bottle in his hands. “You sure about that?” he asked again, voice quiet.
Sam stood up with a sigh. “If you don’t believe me, ask Castiel. And if he says there’s someone out there hunting you…” He paused until Dean was looking up at him. “We’ll find a way to stop the son of a bitch.”
Dean sat there for a few minutes more, but wouldn’t even let himself think of the angel. Because deny it as he might, a part of him really didn’t want to know whether or not Sam was right.
The reply he got was unexpected. Of course, that wasn’t so unusual, which was a weird paradox, one more oddity Zeke had learned to accept during his time as the Devil’s hunter.
“You were watched tonight, you know.”
Zeke shrugged as he opened the door. “This isn’t news. I’m always being watched. You’d think the Devil would have better things to do.”
The Devil grinned and shook his head. “Oh my dear Mr. Stone, you are amusing. I didn’t mean me. Because you’re absolutely right – I have many more important things on my plate than one dead policeman with an overdose of self-righteousness and a terrible sense of style.” He slithered around Zeke, always staying just a shade too close, making sure Zeke never felt at ease.
Zeke suppressed a sigh. “Okay, I’ll bite, so you don’t have to keep wasting your time here. Who’s watching me?”
“Hunters, dear boy.” He stopped in front of Zeke, face surprisingly serious. “You have found yourself under the radar of the Winchester brothers.”
Zeke frowned as he searched his memory. “Not ringing any bells, so I’m guessing they’re my next targets. Even though I’m already in the middle of a hunt.” The Devil was uncharacteristically silent. “They are escapees, right?”
“Oh, the older brother, Dean, most definitely is. Raised quite a stir when he left,” the Devil said, examining his fingernails, then buffing them on the lapel of his suit jacket. “It’s the topic of interest right now.”
“You said brothers, plural,” Zeke said. “What about the other one?”
“Sam is a… special case. Where one Winchester goes, the other invariably follows. And there’s very little those boys wouldn’t do for one another.”
Zeke read between the lines. He’d gotten very good at that since he’d started this job. “So Sam’s not one of the hundred and thirteen?”
The Devil waved his hand as he gave Zeke a slick smile. “Consider him a bonus.”
Zeke took off his coat and tossed it onto the bed. “For who – you? I don’t do you favors.”
The next thing Zeke knew, he was up against the wall, held there by an invisible wave of heat. The Devil was watching him, black flame flickering in his eyes as he spoke. “You do as I tell you to, Ezekiel Stone, unless you want to end up back in Hell, this time with no way out.” He cocked his head. “Do you understand me?”
When Zeke didn’t answer immediately, the temperature rose, and he could see smoke starting to rise from the edges of his clothes. “I understand,” he gritted out, wondering just what it was that was making the Devil so uneasy that he’d turn to a display of force. Taunts and threats were much more his style.
The heat disappeared as quickly as it had arrived, and Zeke had to catch himself from falling.
“Take care of both of the Winchesters,” The Devil said, cool and unruffled, as he turned and walked to the door. “Or there will be Hell to pay.”
He got a pass from the information desk and went to sit at a computer in the back. Pulling out a small notebook and a pen, he typed Sam and Dean Winchester into the search engine. He hit return and then sat back, a little shocked at the number of hits the names brought up, including several reports of Dean Winchester’s death.
The date listed disturbed him – it was much too recent, which meant Dean Winchester wasn’t part of his original deal. Zeke has suspected as much the night before; to have that suspicion confirmed was both satisfying and frustrating. What was it about this guy that made the Devil change the rules?
“Quite the popular subject, those Winchester boys,” came a voice next to his ear, and Zeke fought down a flinch of surprise. “Stalling for time, are we, Mr. Stone?”
“More like finding out what I’m up against,” he whispered. “It’ll be a lot easier to find them if I know what they look like.”
“I already told you, they’ve seen you. And considering the circumstances, I think perhaps you’d be better watching your back than peering at this screen.” When Zeke ignored him and went to click on a link, the Devil put a hand over his on the mouse, stopping him. Zeke fought a shiver at the mix of hot and cold that flickered through the Devil’s skin, making the back of his hand itch.
“You won’t find anything useful here,” the Devil said, voice all too reasonable. “I’m trying to save you hours of pointless research.”
Zeke pulled his hand away. “Why do you care how I spend my time?”
“Because that time isn’t yours,” the Devil said, straightening. “Haven’t I made that clear enough?”
“You want to just tell me where to find them, what their MO is?” Silence was all the reply he got. “Okay, then I’m doing this my way.”
He looked back at the screen and clicked on the link. After a moment, it brought up a blurred photo of two young men, one taller with longish dark hair, the other with a shorter, more militaristic cut, both with determined looks on their faces. He’d barely had time to read the caption, identifying the taller man as Sam, when the room went dark.
He growled in irritation. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said, turning, but there was no one there.
That feeling was strengthened by the fact that there was a possible connection. It turned out that each and every person, body found or not, had been a convicted criminal, and all had involved the death of innocent people. Which could point toward possession, or some kind of spirit they’d never faced. Or or or… all the unanswered questions were making Dean crazy.
His mood kept getting worse as the morning wore on, and the autopsy results didn’t make it any better. He drove back to Bobby’s without saying a word, and the few times Sam tried to speak, Dean just cranked up the stereo a little more until his brother got the point and shut up, glaring out the window.
“I take it the news wasn’t good,” Bobby observed dryly as the two men stalked into the house.
“You could say that,” Dean shot back, sitting heavily on the couch, then popping right back up to pace. “Bullets, Bobby. Normal, everyday bullets and this thing just dropped.”
“They ID him yet?”
“Yeah,” Sam said when Dean didn’t answer. “Looks like the same deal as the rest. Rap sheet a mile long, finally convicted of the rape and murder of a couple of teenagers about twelve years ago. Died in prison after serving around six months.”
“Anything new on cause of death?”
Sam shrugged off his suit jacket and loosened his tie. “Officially, they had to list the gunshot wounds. The ME still says he doesn’t quite buy it, but there was nothing else that could have caused it.”
“I’m with him,” Bobby said. “The more we find out, the less sense this all makes.” He pulled off his ball cap and ran a hand through his hair. “Whatever these things are, they aren’t in my books, and that’s saying something.”
“What about the guy?” Dean asks. “You find anything more than I did on him?”
“Unfortunately, no, or maybe it’s a good thing. Hell, I have no idea at this point. What I can say is that there’s no lore on him, so if he’s supernatural, he’s either new or so old he knows how to hide. Or else he’s human as the rest of us, and we just don’t know about him.” Bobby shrugged. “It does happen from time to time.”
“So we still don’t know if Dean…” Sam trailed off.
“We don’t know if I’m next on his list,” Dean finished with a frown.
“Well, he ain’t shown up here, and yes I know you boys know well enough not to be followed, but still, it’s something.”
“It’s not enough, Bobby!” Dean spat out. “I spent a year with a death sentence hanging over me – I don’t want to go through it again. If something’s after me, we find it, we take care of it. End of story.”
“Or we try my idea,” Sam ventured, and Dean turned his glare toward his brother.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Bobby nod. “Dean, maybe Sam’s right on this one.”
“No way, Bobby!” Dean near-yelled. “I am not gonna let my little brother go and talk to a demon! Or a rogue hunter, or whatever this guy is.”
That of course put a sullen look on Sam’s face. “Dean, I can take care of myself,” he told his brother.
“Yeah, I saw how well you did while I was in Hell.” Sam couldn’t hide the hurt look fast enough, and Dean slumped when he saw it. “Look, Sam. I just think there’s gotta be another way. This feels like a bad idea, especially if he’s not human. No way can we trust anything he says.”
Sam looked away, a stubborn set to his jaw. “I didn’t say I’d trust him. Just that I’d talk with him.”
Dean bit back mentioning Ruby, knowing it would just lead to a bigger blow up. “Which involves trusting that he won’t kill you when he sees you,” he ground out. “I’m gonna say it again, bad idea, Sam.”
“I gotta side with Sam on this one, Dean.” Bobby held his hands up to forestall Dean’s argument. “To a point, so don’t start. We need more intel, and we keep hitting walls. Whatever else he is, this guy’s our best source of information.” Sam started to smile, but a sharp look from Bobby stopped him. “So we need to find the guy, but keep our distance.”
They were right; Dean knew it. But he couldn’t shake his unease. “And you’re sure you’ve never read about anything like this?”
“Supernatural anything who’s vulnerable to plain old lead? At least when shot through the eyes?” Bobby snorted. “Nope. Not ringin’ any bells.”
Sam shot Dean a glance before saying, “We could still try-”
“I swear to God if you say her name I will hit you,” Dean interrupted, glaring.
“Try what?” Bobby asked, looking from one brother to the other.
Dean kept glaring, and Sam just glared back as he answered. “I was going to say Castiel. We could see if he knows anything about this.”
“Sounds like a better choice than a heart-to-heart with a demon-killing demon or a crazy hunter.” He turned to Dean, one eyebrow upraised.
“I don’t know if I trust him either,” Dean admitted.
“But at least you know he won’t try to kill you,” Sam said.
“Do I?” Dean countered.
Sam gave Dean an Are you kidding me? look. “He raised you from Hell, Dean.”
“And he could put me right back.” Dean turned away from Bobby and Sam, rubbing the back of his neck. “Okay, so he probably wouldn’t try to kill me on sight. But I don’t know how much we can believe what he tells us.”
Bobby looked at him incredulously. “You really think an angel would lie?”
“I have zero doubt that he’ll keep the full truth from us if he thinks he should,” Dean told him. “I think there are agendas going on that we have no clue about, that we don’t ‘need to know’ or ‘wouldn’t understand’,” he air-quoted as he spoke. “And that’s worse than lying, because he’s supposed to be on our side.”
That shut them both down for a minute, then Sam asked, “So what do we do?”
Dean sighed and wiped a hand over his face. “Looks like I have a call to make to an angel.”
But try as he might, Dean got no answer. He wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed.
“Idea’s got some merit,” Bobby said with a nod.
“And even if we don’t find our guy, maybe whatever’s he’s hunting can tell us something,” Sam said. “The police report did mention a partner.”
“I don’t like it,” Dean stated, then shrugged. “But seeing as we have no other leads, it looks like our best shot.” He flashed a quick, humorless smile. “If nothing else, maybe we’ll get to kill something.”
Course of action decided, research switched from their mystery hunter to his most recent quarry, and there, at least, they had better luck. By sundown Sam and Dean were stationed at a bar near the alley where the first altercation had taken place.
Dean was facing the bar when the guy walked in. He gave Sam a tiny nudge to grab his attention, then watched the mirror behind the bar as he casually took another drink of his beer. He got a good look, and was only a little surprised to see a normal reflection – no weird flashes of light in the eyes or facial distortions. He sighed and crossed a few more possibilities of monster type off his mental list.
Sam turned toward the bar, casually keeping an eye on their target as he waved to the bartender for another drink; Dean shifted to face the door.
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Dean told his brother. “Looks just like anybody else.”
“So we wait and see, make sure even if our guy doesn’t show that this one doesn’t hurt anyone.”
“You really think he will without his partner?”
“He’s here, isn’t he? And his record was about as bad as the other guy’s.”
Dean was about to respond when the door opened. He glanced over to see a small group enter the room. He started to swing back around, but something about the last man walking in caught his attention. He was nothing special – tallish, short brownish hair, okay looking, dressed in layers, including a coat that had seen better days. Someone totally forgettable, if you didn’t see the look on his face. Dean knew that expression; the man was hunting someone. Or something.
Sam must have picked up on it too. “That’s him, isn’t it?” he whispered as he leaned in.
Dean nodded and turned back to face the bar before they were spotted, taking in the man’s appearance in the mirror. Again, nothing to show he was anything but a normal guy. But Dean of all people knew better. After all, the mirror said the same thing about him.
Sam nudged him, tilting his head toward their original target. He’d apparently spotted the new guy too, and was making a not-so subtle retreat toward the back. That was their cue. Sam and Dean made their way toward the door, casually enough not to spark any interest. As soon as they were outside, they hustled toward the back alley exit they’d scoped out during their earlier recon.
They got to the edge of the alleyway in time to see the guy scaling up the fire escape, faster than humanly possible. The other man was right behind him, moving a little slower, but not by much. As they neared the roof, the hunter caught the other man by the ankle. He kicked out but couldn’t get the man to let go, and both ended up falling over two stories to the pavement below.
Sam started to move forward, but Dean’s hand on his arm stopped him. They both watched as the men jumped back up and started fighting.
Dean turned to Sam. “Guess we can rule human hunter out now,” he whispered. He started to move back, lowering his gun, and Sam frowned.
“What are you doing?” he hissed.
“Staying out of it. The way I see it, maybe they’ll take each other out, save us some work,” Dean explained. “Then we go in, take care of whatever’s left.”
Sam looked like he wanted to protest, but a loud clang drew their attention back to the alley. They watched as the two men fought, the smaller one finally shoving the one they’d thought was a hunter into a row of trash cans, then running down the street at the other end of the alley. The taller man was up in a flash and following, pulling a gun. Sam and Dean followed, keeping a fair distance between themselves and whatever it was they were trailing.
They stopped at the edge of a building, peering around the corner just in time to see that the shorter man had been cornered. He was saying something, but was too far away for Sam or Dean to make anything out.
As far as Dean could see, this was the best chance they were going to get. He pulled his gun back out, but before he could move, Sam blocked him, pushing him back.
“What? Now’s our chance, Sam!”
Sam’s eyes widened, like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Dude, he just fell from a building and got up to run and kill something. You really think we stand a chance?”
“I think we don’t move now, we lose him, and that’s not an option. He’s a monster, Sam.” Dean tried to shove past, but Sam blocked him.
“Yeah, maybe,” Sam allowed. “But if this guy’s a demon, why kill his own people?”
Dean shook his head. “He’s evil, Sammy. You think he needs a reason? Maybe he’s just taking out the competition.” Sam rolled his eyes, even though he had to know it would piss Dean off. “Really? Don’t tell me you want us to hold off taking this guy out now?”
“You were the one insisting we wait just a minute ago,” Sam pointed out far too reasonably.
“Because two against one is better odds, so we can gank him first try!” Dean hissed, most of his attention still on the fight.
“So we hold off a little longer.”
Dean pointed a finger at Sam. “You want to meet him.”
Sam blinked at that. “What? No.” he protested, but it wasn’t at all convincing, and they both knew it.
“Bull. I know that look, Sam – you want to compare notes, see what the guy knows.”
“Is that such a bad thing?” Sam sighed. “He took that first demon or whatever out with a gun, Dean. A regular gun.”
“We don’t know that.”
Sam looked at Dean in disbelief. “Well it sure as hell wasn’t the Colt. Don’t you think that would be good to know?”
“Or we kill the guy, because he’s a monster, and take the gun ourselves,” Dean countered.
“And if there’s more to it than that?” Sam asked.
“Then we’re no worse off than we were before,” Dean said.
Sam started to say something else, but just then, in a move almost too quick to be seen, the taller man drew a gun, firing two quick shots. Like before, there was a huge flash of light, and the man fell. That was all Dean needed to see; he darted past Sam and rounded the corner. If he was lucky, he’d take care of things before Sam got there; he didn’t like where his brother was going with this.
But no such luck. He’d just faced off with their target, guns drawn and pointed at each other when Sam caught up. Dean risked a quick a glance at him, and saw Sam moving toward them slowly.
“Whoa whoa whoa!” Sam said, raising his hands. “Both of you need to step back, before somebody gets hurt.”
“He’s a demon, Sam,” Dean huffed out. “No way I’m letting him go.”
The humorless laugh that elicited startled them both. “Look who’s talking. You just don’t want to go back, and believe me, I get it, but you don’t have any choice. You don’t belong here any more.”
“That’s not true,” Sam protested. And if you think I’m going to let you hurt my brother-”
The demon interrupted Sam before he could finish the sentence. “I already know I’ll have you to deal with, thanks.”
Dean kept his eye on the guy as he spoke to his brother. “You gonna keep talking or are you gonna actually help me out here, Sam?”
“Did you think about trying to exorcise him?”
Dean rolled his eyes. “Gee, Sam, I would have but I’ve been a little too busy trying not to get shot.”
Which just got Dean a bitchface, but whatever. “Fine, just, keep him covered.”
When Sam started chanting in Latin, the demon frowned. “What in the Hell is he doing?” he asked, sounding genuinely confused.
“What, you’ve never heard an exorcism before?” Dean asked, smiling coldly. “Well, you’re in for a treat then. Nice ride back down for you, and hopefully you haven’t damaged your victim too badly.”
Dean nodded toward him, more than happy to answer stupid questions if it bought Sam time to finish the ritual. “The meatsuit.”
The demon glanced down. “This is my body,” he said, looking at Dean like he wasn’t all there.
“Of course it is,” Dean responded, voice full of sarcasm as Sam finished the chant.
They all stood there a moment, waiting, but nothing happened.
“Did you do it wrong?” Dean asked.
That got him another bitchface. “Dean, I’ve done exorcisms a hundred times. I could do them in my sleep.”
“Obviously not,” Dean pointed out, “since this guy is still possessed.”
“I’m not possessed,” the hunter-demon-whatever-he-was protested.
“Yeah, right,” Dean huffed.
“If I’m a demon possessing this body, then why didn’t your brother’s ritual work?” he asked.
“He’s got a point, Dean.”
“He’s trying to get away, Sam,” Dean scoffed, tamping down irritation at Sam for not taking his side. “He’d say anything.”
“But he’s right,” Sam pressed. “It didn’t work, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t have.”
Dean couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “So what? We just believe him? Let him go?”
“Sounds good to me,” the maybe-demon chimed in.
“Shut up,” Dean growled. He glanced at Sam. “Get your gun out.”
“Why?” Sam asked as he pulled his gun.
“Because my arms are getting tired,” he said as he tucked his gun into the back of his pants. “Cover me.” Dean took a cautious step forward, wanting a better look at the guy. Maybe he was wearing some kind of charm or talisman that prevented the exorcism from working.
His eyes widened and he kept the gun trained on Dean as he moved closer. “I’ll shoot you if you touch me.”
“You do that and Sammy there will just shoot you. If that’s really your body, you don’t want it hurt, right?”
“Oh, and you’re not going to hurt me,” he responded, voice full of sarcasm.
“That’s right,” Dean replied, as if it had been a serious statement. “Right now, I’m just trying to figure you out.”
“So I’ll know how to send you back to Hell,” Dean replied with a mean smile. He stepped closer, and saw the maybe-demon’s finger tense on the trigger. The gun lifted, targeting Dean’s face, and he shifted back a hair, the move putting him into the light of a street lamp.
The guy’s gaze shifted to Dean’s shoulder, and his look went from determined to confused. “You’re bleeding,” he told Dean.
Dean flicked a glance over and saw blood soaking into his shirt, visible where his jacket was askew. Huh. He’d thought he’d felt something tear. “Pulled loose a couple of stitches,” he shrugged, yanking his jacket back into place. “So what?”
“Stitches? Why would you need stitches?”
Now Dean was confused. What did it matter? “You really want to know? I took a hit from a werewolf a couple of days ago. Nasty SOB, tried to rip my arm off.” He smiled again. “Didn’t stop me from putting a silver bullet in his brain.”
Dean figured that would get him a reaction. It did, but not the one he expected. The guy, who Dean was less and less convinced was actually a demon the longer they spoke, shook his head, looking more confused than before.
“You have a problem with that?” Dean asked.
“Besides the part where there’s no such thing as werewolves? How about the fact that you can’t bleed.”
That was just plain stupid. “Of course I can.”
“But you’re dead,” he insisted.
Dean snorted at that. “Last time I checked, I was alive and kicking.”
The guy shook his head. “You are Dean Winchester, right?”
Dean did his best to hide his reaction. He’d been pretty sure this whole thing was going to tie back to him somehow, but hearing the actual proof still sucked. “So?” he huffed.
“So this doesn’t make sense. If you’re Dean, then you’re dead. Dead and escaped from Hell, and you can’t be hurt by anything but another damned soul,” he said so matter-of-factly that it creeped Dean out.
“Yeah, well somebody out there forgot to tell all the evil sons of bitches I’ve been tangling with that. But then again, I’m not dead, so maybe your intel is wrong, ever think of that?”
“I think…” they guy stopped, took a deep breath, and much to Dean’s surprise, slowly lowered his gun. “I think we need to talk.”
Before Dean could respond, he heard sirens, close and getting closer. Dammit. “Fine,” he growled, reaching out and grabbing the man by the coat, jerking him so he was between himself and Sam. “But not here, unless you want to explain all this to the cops.”
“I’ll take care of Zeke,” Sam said. Dean made a face at the fact that Sam was already on a first-name basis with the thing, and Sam just rolled his eyes and pointed toward the bathroom. “Go get cleaned up, make sure you don’t need new stitches.”
Dean started to protest, but now that Sam had brought his attention back to the injury, his shoulder hurt like a motherfucker.
A quick once-over told Dean that the damage wasn’t too bad, though his shirt was pretty much ruined. He tossed it aside and went into the main room to grab a spare t-shirt out of their duffel.
Sam was just about done securing the guy, and while he wouldn’t say it aloud, Dean thought it was a decent job. Sam had him cuffed, tied to the chair, and settled on top of a devil’s trap they’d laid out when they’d first checked in. Because whatever the guy was, one thing Dean was sure of – he wasn’t human, so better safe than sorry. He gave Sam the briefest nod of approval, then glared at Sam’s new best friend Zeke when he noticed he was staring.
“Nice tattoo,” Zeke said.
“Does the job,” Dean shot back as he pulled the shirt over his head.
Sam tilted his head toward the door. “Dean, maybe it’s time you tried calling again.”
Dean scowled. “Why? He didn’t answer the first time.”
“But things have changed.” Sam stepped closer, careful to make sure they both still had an open line of sight to their captive. “Look, I get that you don’t trust Castiel,” he said, voice low, “but it’s worth a shot.”
The two stared at one another, neither backing down, until Dean threw his hands up, stepping toward the door. “Fine. I’ll call. You just keep an eye on Chuckles over there.” He did his best to project menace and promise. “You even try to hurt my brother, pain won’t begin to describe what you’ll feel when I get hold of you,” he promised as he turned and left the room.
Once outside, Dean looked up at the star-filled sky. After a minute, he spoke, his voice soft and hesitant. “Castiel… hey, you gonna answer me this time?” Making a face at how plaintive he sounded, he started again. “Cas! Seriously, get down here and talk to me.”
“Hello, Dean.” The voice came from behind, and Dean whirled around, hand halfway to his gun, to see Castiel standing behind him, as always a picture of calm.
Dean relaxed a smidge, straightening and walking closer to the angel. “You gotta learn to warn a guy. Or at least appear in front of him,” Dean said.
“I will try to remember that,” Castiel replied, unperturbed.
“Okay,” Dean said with a nod. “Okay, good. So, you too busy to answer me before?”
“You are not my only concern,” Castiel answered smoothly. “If it makes you feel better, I did hear your earlier calls.”
That was both interesting and annoying information to have. “Just decided not to answer me before? Better things to do, more important than the guy you brought back from Hell?”
If the barb hit home, Castiel didn’t let it show. “I was speaking with a, I suppose colleague would be as good a term as any.”
“About this new demon we found?” Dean guessed.
Castiel looked over Dean’s shoulder toward the motel room as he answered. “He isn’t a demon, but about Ezekiel Stone, yes.”
Dean waited, but of course Castiel didn’t say anything more. “So?” he pushed. “What is he then, ‘cause he sure isn’t human. And what makes this angel you had a powwow with such an expert?”
“I didn’t say it was an angel.”
Dean waved a hand dismissively. “Angel, colleague, whatever. I don’t care if it was a blue-assed baboon. You gonna keep me in suspense here?”
Castiel gave Dean that trust me look he didn’t know what to do with. “There are things I cannot tell you, Dean.”
“You mean won’t,” Dean countered angrily, unsurprised that Castiel wouldn’t tell him.
“I mean can’t,” the angel insisted.
“Come on, throw me a bone here! Or are you going to let Sam and I possibly get ourselves killed due to lack of communication?”
“All truths that are kept silent become poisonous.”
“Exactly!” Dean said, then shook his head, like that would help what he’d heard make sense. “Wait, what?”
“This isn’t your fight, Dean. You should leave Ezekiel Stone to his work, and go about doing yours.” He took a step closer, and did that thing he did where suddenly he seemed a lot bigger. Dean was pretty sure it was supposed to be intimidating, and yeah, the first few times the angel had done it, it totally was. Now it just pissed him off.
“Have you forgotten about the Seals we must stop Lilith from breaking?” Castiel asked, low and ominous.
“There’s no way we can stop her if we’re dead! You did know that was this guy’s job, right? To take Sam and me down? So just leaving him alone to do his work?” Dean shook his head. “Yeah, don’t think we can do that, but thanks for the advice.” He gave Castiel a considering look. “Unless there’s something you can do about him.”
Castiel looked uncomfortable at the suggestion. “Ezekiel Stone is… out of my jurisdiction.”
“You’re a freaking angel!” Dean said, throwing his hand in the air. “You’ve been to Hell. How can anything be out of your jurisdiction?”
“Please, Dean,” Castiel said, stepping closer to Dean. “This is difficult enough without you being stubborn.”
Dean couldn’t believe his ears. “Stubborn?” He took a deep breath and counted to ten. “Fine. Fine. I’ll try to be more open or whatever. Just, actually say something. All you’ve given me is he’s not a demon, and you can’t touch him. I need something I can actually work with here.”
Castiel was silent, looking so obviously torn that Dean was almost sorry he was pushing. Almost. He waited, and finally the angel seemed to reach some kind of decision.
“You need to think beyond anything you know of demons or angels or any supernatural beings you’ve encountered so far. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.”
“What does that even mean?” Dean asked, but Cas was gone before he’d gotten the question out. “Great,” he muttered as he went back to the room. “I knew that would be a bad idea.”
Sam just shrugged. “And he’s serious. Not that I need his help,” he added.
Zeke looked Sam up and down. “No, I don’t suppose you would.”
Sam tilted his head, considering, then pulled a chair over, keeping between Zeke and the door, and out of arm’s reach.
You have questions,” Zeke said. “Why aren’t you asking them? Not allowed to talk to the big bad demon hunter while your brother’s out of the room?”
“Like you’d actually answer them if I asked,” Sam shot back, voice full of skepticism.
“Okay,” Sam nodded. “Why did you think Dean was dead?”
“Because he is,” Zeke replied, all too matter-of-factly. “There’s more than one report of his death floating around on the internet. Besides, if he’s been in Hell, it wasn’t as a living being. Nobody takes a trip there unless they have to.”
“You were there, too,” Sam guessed. “But you’re here, which means you escaped. So why go after Dean?”
“He’s not supposed to be here.” Zeke said.
“Doesn’t that mean you aren’t supposed to be here either?” Sam pointed out, pleased that the question seemed to make Zeke uncomfortable. He gave Zeke an expectant look.
“I was sent here,” Zeke admitted.
Shit. That was not good. “By who?” he pressed.
“Does it matter?” Zeke snapped, then his face softened. “Look, I get that you want to help your brother, but you can’t. He’s got to go back.”
Sam shook his head. “I don’t believe that.”
Zeke raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”
“Because he didn’t deserve to go.” Sam made a face. “Don’t tell me, let me guess – neither did you. Maybe that’s true, maybe not. I don’t know you, but I do know my brother.”
“He was there for a reason.”
“He was there to save me,” Sam explained. “He made a deal that saved my life.”
“And I took down a killer who raped my wife. Maybe I should have let the law take care of it, but I didn’t. Do I deserve eternal torment for it?”
Sam looked down at his hands. “Doesn’t sound any worse than some of the stuff Dean and I have done,” he admitted. “Only, everything we’ve killed has been a monster.”
“Are you sure?”
“Sure we’re sure,” Dean answered as he opened the door. He went to the fridge, grabbing two beers and handing one to Sam before twisting the cap off of his own. He leaned on the edge of Sam’s chair as he took a long drink.
“Even if that’s true, it doesn’t change the facts,” Zeke told them. “Trust me, once you’re damned, you’re damned.”
“Well, aren’t you all puppies and rainbows,” Dean said, moving toward the door and gesturing for Sam to follow. “Don’t go anywhere,” he told Zeke with a smirk as he indicated the devil’s trap.
“So, you were gone long enough that I’m betting Castiel showed up, right?” Sam asked.
“Not that he actually helped,” Dean snorted, “but yeah, I saw him.”
“You mean he doesn’t know what’s going on either?”
“Oh, he knows something,” Dean said, scowling. “He just didn’t want to say. He did tell me that your old buddy Zeke in there isn’t a demon, but I have no idea what he actually is.”
“I told you he wouldn’t help!” Dean protested, annoyed that Sam sounded like he didn’t believe what Dean was saying. “He started off all evasive, and ended up talking about some sort weird-ass metaphors about poisonous truths and men being bridges. It was freaking annoying. Next time we have to have a higher being follow us around, he’s all yours.” He paused, considering. “Unless he’s hot. And a she.”
Dean expected some kind of bitchy retort to that, but instead Sam’s expression became thoughtful. “What?” Dean asked.
“What did Castiel say exactly, Dean?”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me – this actually means something to you?”
“Maybe, but I won’t know until you tell me what he said.”
Dean sighed, but closed his eyes as he tried to remember the angel’s exact words. “Something about truths that are kept silent being poison. And then…” He pressed his memory for the words. “What is great in man is that he is a bridge-”
“And not an end,” Sam joined in.
Dean’s eyes flashed open. “You recognize this?”
“Yeah, it’s Nietzsche,” Sam said, nodding. “Can’t remember from where, but that’s definitely who he was quoting.”
“Dude, why would he quote at me?”
“No idea,” Sam said, heading back to the door. “He’s your angel, not mine. Let’s go fire up the laptop and find out where it’s from. Maybe that will give us the why.”
Dean pretended to consider it, then shook his head. “I’m thinking you’re right where we need you to be.”
“How about some water then?”
Dean almost refused, then grinned and nodded. “Sure,” he said, pulling out a flask of holy water with a hidden wink at Sam. He held it to Zeke’s mouth and watched him swallow, waiting for smoke or screaming. But just like with the exorcism, nothing happened. Zeke drank for a minute, then pulled away with a nod of thanks, and Dean was convinced Castiel had been right, at least about Zeke not being a demon.
Sam just shrugged and went over to his laptop, obviously preoccupied with the crap the angel had been spouting, leaving Dean to deal with Zeke. He put the flask away and moved a chair over to basically equal distance between the door and Sam, so if Zeke had any ideas about somehow getting out or getting to his brother, he’d have Dean to contend with.
Zeke watched him with an amused expression, which did nothing to help Dean’s mood.
“So, you say you aren’t a demon,” Dean commented. “You really expect us to believe that, after what we saw back in that alley? No way anything human could’ve gotten up from that fall without a scratch.”
“I may not be quite human anymore,” Zeke replied. “But I’m no demon.”
“You sure about that?”
“You aren’t sure, and it’s making you nervous,” he countered. “You’ve been testing me since you caught me. That whole exorcism thing, this weird whatever it is on the floor… I’ll bet that was even holy water you gave me earlier, right?” He leaned back as best he could while tied to the chair. “So what makes me so special?”
“Why don’t you tell me?” Dean asked with a smarmy smile and a go-ahead gesture.
“I don’t know,” Zeke said tiredly, “and that’s the truth. I’d like to think I wasn’t ever meant to be in Hell, but circumstances say otherwise.”
“Okay, so you were in Hell, how is it you’re here now?” Sam asked, looking from Zeke to Dean from over the laptop screen.
“What does it matter?” Zeke looked over at Dean. “How did you get out?”
“It pays to have connections,” Dean told him, smile wide and insincere.
“Well, I don’t have your connections, whatever they are,” Zeke said. “So I came back the only way I could.”
“Which was what?”
Zeke sighed. “I made a deal.”
Dean gave him a dubious look. “You made a deal to get out of Hell?” He shook his head. “Hate to break it to you, but that’s not how it works. Not for humans, at least.”
“Please tell me we’re not back the demon thing,” Zeke said with a shake of his head.
“Not like you’re giving me anything else to choose,” Dean said.
“I told you,” Zeke took a deep breath, obviously trying to be patient, “I’m human, and yes, I was in Hell, but like I said, I made a deal to get out.”
“That deal include finding me and my brother?” Dean forced himself to stay casual. “Because even if we do buy your story, you and I meeting? Awfully big coincidence, all things considered.”
“He was sent here,” Sam chimed in. At Dean’s surprised look, he added, “What? Like we weren’t talking while you were outside? I do know how to ask questions, Dean.”
Dean ignored the challenge in Sam’s tone, turning back to Zeke to ask, “Here as in here specifically?”
“Here as in back up to the land of the living, even though I’m not really one of them,” Zeke clarified. “I’m supposed to send damned souls back to Hell.”
There’d been a time that Dean would have blown that off as crazy talk. But that was before he’d died and come back. Now, hearing those words made the blood in his veins run cold and he was sure he was pale as a sheet. Sam picking up the conversation again pretty much confirmed it.
“Damned souls?” Sam asked. “You mean, you just randomly go around looking for people that have sold their souls or something?”
“No, it isn’t random. I’ve got a kind of a list I use. And when I get all one hundred and thirteen off the list, I’m done.”
One hundred and thirteen? That was just weird, which meant it fit in with everything that had happened so far. “And done means what, exactly?” Dean wanted to know.
“My own version of a gold star,” Zeke answered, then looked down at himself. “You want to see what I’m talking about? It would be easier to show you, but you’ve kind of got me stuck here.”
“Please,” Dean scoffed. “You’ve been out of the cuffs for at least as long as I’ve been back in the room.” He shot Sam a withering look. “Nice job watching out for that, by the way.”
“If you knew that, why not do something about it?” Zeke asked, then answered his own question. “Still testing me.”
“Give the boy a kewpie doll.” Dean crossed his arms low over his chest, one hand very obviously positioned near his gun. “You were going to show us something?”
Zeke shrugged off the ropes as he stood up, then laid the cuffs on the table, and took off his trench coat. At Sam and Dean’s questioning look, he shrugged and said, “You’ll see.” He rolled up a sleeve, revealing skin covered with intricate tattoos. Unlike any sleeve of tats Dean had ever seen, these were each distinct images; not one touched another.
“Whoa,” Dean said, impressed despite himself. “That is some serious ink you have there.”
“There’s more where these came from. Each symbol represents a soul,” Zeke explained. “Every time I successfully send them back, it’s removed.” He turned his arm to show a patch of skin free of ink.
“So you have one hundred and thirteen tattoos on your body,” Sam said as he walked over for a closer look at Zeke’s forearm.
“Sixty two now,” he corrected. “I’ve been at this for a little while.”
“Which one’s supposed to be us?” Dean asked, giving Zeke a pointed look.
“I don’t know,” Zeke admitted, looking at his exposed skin with a frown. “I’m not sure you’re here at all.”
“But you still went after us,” Sam said, moving back a step.
Zeke kept his focus on pulling his sleeve back down as he answered. “You were kind of a special assignment.”
“So you take requests,” Dean said derisively.
“Trust me, it wasn’t a request,” Zeke insisted, looking up. “And I don’t know what he wants with you, but I don’t like having the rules changed on me. That’s why I’m telling you all this now.”
The words what he wants with you set Dean on edge. If someone in Hell wanted him back that bad, would they be able to get him back?
“So what are the rules?” Sam asked before Dean could say anything.
“It’s pretty simple. I hunt these things down and send them back, or I go back instead.”
“Sounds familiar,” Sam said. “How long have you been doing this?”
“Over a decade,” Zeke said as he sat back down. “My turn for a question. If you don’t know anything about me, why were you at the bar?”
“We saw what you did a couple of nights ago, the thing with the eyes?” Sam told him. “That kind of stands out, y’know?”
“Yeah, it would, though over the years I’ve seen people explain it away in the craziest ways.” He gave them both a considering look. “I’ve never met anyone like you two before.”
“So you back at the alley, that was the end of a hunt?” Dean asked, both because he wanted to know, and to keep questions away from him and Sam.
“Yeah. That guy and his partner – the one I took care of tonight – they were on my list.” He shifted in the chair. “Back still itches where they burned off.”
Sam shook his head. “I can’t believe you’ve been hunting for this long and we’ve never heard of you. That’s a pretty distinct MO.”
Zeke looked troubled as he answered. “It used to be a lot easier to hide my tracks.”
“Or you’re just getting sloppy,” Dean pointed out. “Started leaving evidence.”
“It isn’t that,” Zeke said, frown deepening. “Something’s changed. Used to be, I’d find a damned soul, take him out, and it was like he’d dissolve or something, sink back down into Hell. Never left a trace.”
“You’re leaving ‘em now,” Dean said. “Local ME’s pissed he had to write your guy off as a gunshot wound. Told us he was sure the guy was dead long before he took those bullets.”
“Like I said, something’s changed, and I have no idea what.” He started toying with the cuffs as he talked, snaking them across the table. “All I know is, about two months ago, I did a job and when I shot the guy, I saw his soul sink down, but the body stayed. I was sure I’d done something wrong, even shot him a couple more times for good measure.”
“But he was gone,” Sam confirmed.
“Far as I can tell,” Zeke replied with a shrug. “I stayed around a couple of weeks after it happened, just to make sure. Everything seemed to be fine, so I thought maybe it was a fluke.”
“And then it happened again,” Sam ventured.
“It happened again.” Zeke agreed. “Now the only way I know for sure that I got them back where they belong is when the tattoo disappears.” He sighed. “It’s making the job a lot harder. Lots more questions for the cops to try and answer.”
“Yeah, and a trail to follow,” Sam added. “We found enough cases to make a pattern.”
Zeke dropped his head and ran his hands through already mussed hair. “Great,” he intoned.
“Anything else?” Sam wondered.
“Actually, yeah. They’ve been too easy to find.”
“And you consider that a problem?” Dean asked, incredulous.
“No, but it’s weird,” Zeke said, sitting up and leaning back in his chair. “Some of the souls I’ve sent back have been centuries old. The longer they’ve been dead, the nastier and more powerful they become, so I’m used to going awhile before actually finding anyone. But these last couple of months, it’s all recently dead, complete with criminal records. Some have even been convicted, and a few were executed.”
“Do you think that’s why they aren’t disappearing?” Sam wondered. “Because they’re less powerful?”
“No. Up until a couple of months ago, it didn’t matter if they’d been gone a month or a millennia. The bodies just vanished. And they did that every time, no exceptions.”
Sam gave Dean a look. “Give us a second, Zeke,” Sam said, pulling Dean aside.
“Did you not hear him?” Sam said, low and intense. “Two months, Dean. And how long have you been back?” Dean’s eyes narrowed as Sam went on. “It can’t be coincidence.”
“You think I haven’t thought of that?” Dean countered angrily. Sam started to reply; Dean shut him down with a glare. “Not the time, Sammy.”
“Fine,” Sam said, obviously pissed. “But we aren’t done talking about this,” he said, going back to his laptop.
“Of course we aren’t,” Dean mumbled as he stalked back over to where Zeke was sitting, waiting patiently. “That devil’s trap doesn’t bother you in the slightest, does it?”
Zeke looked down. “I’m a little insulted at the misconception, but no. It isn’t stopping me from moving around any more than the rope or the handcuffs.”
“Then why aren’t you?” he asked, genuinely curious.
“Well, either this is all some insane game you two play with you vics before you kill them, and I’m wanting to see how it plays out, or it’s the most interesting conversation I’ve had in awhile. Take your pick.”
Dean rubbed a hand over his face. “Okay, so tell me this. Who inked you up and sent you on this quest? You some angel’s bitch?”
Zeke laughed. “Yeah, right. Like angels give a rat’s ass about me, or any of the souls I’m after. No, this is all about giving the Devil his due.”
“The Devil,” Dean deadpanned. “Are we talking the whole horns and pitchfork, red-skinned experience?” He seriously doubted it, but maybe Zeke was crazy on top of whatever else he had going on.
Zeke gave him an oh, please look. “Devil as in king of Hell, really powerful, don’t want to piss off the guy unless you want to be sent back. No horns that I saw, and I’m betting he’d say a pitchfork would offend his fashion sense.” At Dean’s incredulous look he added, “No lie, he’s a total clothes horse.”
“Well, who or whatever the guy is, he isn’t that big a deal,” Dean said, and it was Zeke’s turn to look incredulous. “There’s a lot of demons out there that want you to think they’re a bigger deal than they are. And if this one was your first supernatural experience, it’d be pretty easy to just take it at its word. Rookie mistake.”
“So you’re saying I’m not working for the Devil.” Zeke’s tone made it plain he disagreed.
“I’m saying there’s no such thing. Not that there aren’t worse things out there, but one head honcho? Not happening.”
Zeke leaned back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest. “And you know this because you’re an expert on demonic creatures.”
“I’ve been hunting my whole life,” Dean replied easily. “You tell me which one of us it the expert.”
“Didn’t stop you from taking a trip down though, did it?” Zeke said, and Dean’s mouth tightened as he did his best not to start a fight. Zeke might not be a demon, but all that meant was that Dean wasn’t sure how to kill him yet. And until he was, talking was the best option.
“Come on,” Zeke pushed. “I know you thought I was after you, and I know what I was told.”
“You escaped from Hell and need to go back. Now, I’m not saying he’s right about that last part, but why lie about you being in Hell? For that matter, why care about you at all, if you’re just a human?” He held up a hand. “And don’t give me the line about there being more things in Heaven and Earth.”
“All you need to know is you hunt me, you’re going down.” He flashed a quick grin at the unintentional pun. “Pretty much literally, in your case.”
“So you’re not gonna tell me anything, but you expect me to tell you everything I know.”
“Not like that’s much,” Dean scoffed and shook his head. “All this time working for the guy and you never even did any research on him.”
“What you mean like read the Bible or talk to priests? I did a lot of that. Didn’t help.”
“Which should have told you you were looking in the wrong place,” Dean replied. “You said you were a detective. Didn’t you even think about looking deeper into who this demon really is?”
“I told you, he’s the Devil,” Zeke said, the stubborn set of his jaw reminding Dean of Sam. “Pretty cut and dried.”
“He tell you that? ‘Cause hey, demons, they’re known for being all honest and aboveboard,” Dean taunted.
“He who cannot lie, doth not know what truth is,” Sam interjected from the other side of the room.
“What?” Dean and Zeke both said, turning to look at Sam.
Sam looked up, half-surprised, and Dean bet he hadn’t meant for anyone to hear him.
“It’s a quote,” Sam said, pointing at the laptop screen. “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” He gave Dean a significant look. “It’s the same place those other quotes came from.”
“You’re worried about someone quoting Nietzsche?” Zeke asked.
Sam didn’t answer, shifting in his chair to face Dean after cutting a quick look in Zeke’s direction. “I have a theory, but I need more resources than we have here, Dean. What do you think?”
Dean sighed. “I think we need to make a call first, but I’m betting we’re done here. Better places to work unobserved than this motel room.”
“So we’re goin’ somewhere?” Zeke asked.
“I can see why you made detective,” Dean shot back with a tight smile. “You don’t miss a thing.”
“Please tell me it’s at least as nice as this place,” Zeke replied, and Dean couldn’t help the chuckle that elicited.
“Oh yeah, classy place like this for sure. Nothing but the best for the monsters we catch.”
“This actually isn’t that bad,” Zeke said, looking around, and Dean was surprised at the sincerity he heard in the man’s voice. It must have shown, because Zeke went on. “Trust me, if you can leave anything unattended at all, even for a minute, it’s better than where I usually end up.”
“What, no five star hotels for the big bad soul hunter?”
“Not on $36.27 a day,” Zeke snorted.
Dean raised his eyebrow. “That’s pretty shitty pay there.”
“It’s what I had when I died, so it’s what I have every morning when I check my wallet.” He cocked his head. “It doesn’t work like that for you?”
“I’m nothing like you,” Dean said, shoving the last of their things in a bag and closing it so roughly the zipper almost broke.
“I don’t know. Sounds like maybe you are. I mean, you’re hunting like I am. Maybe the reasons are different, but the basic idea’s the same, right?”
Dean smiled, wide and obviously insincere. “I’m sorry, but caring and sharing time ended. Try again later.”
“Just trying to make conversation,” Zeke said, leaning back in his chair.
“My baby’s never let me down,” he said, running a hand over the hood. He turned to give Zeke a baleful look. “Don’t even think of doing anything stupid like trying to escape. You hurt her at your own risk.”
“Duly noted,” Zeke said, amused.
The trip was uneventful. Sam didn’t even complain about the music Dean chose, and Zeke seemed content to sit in the back and just watch the road. A few miles out, Dean pulled over and quirked an eyebrow at Sam.
Sam sighed, but turned to face the back seat. “Okay, so for the rest of the trip we kind of need you to be blindfolded,” he said. “And out of sight.”
“You expect me to go the rest of the way blind?”
“We could lock you in the trunk,” Dean offered brightly.
Zeke shook his head and shrugged. “Whatever,” he said, and let Sam blindfold him, then shift him so he was mostly on the floorboards.
“You know this is a really lame way to hide where we’re going,” Zeke said.
“Trunk,” Dean repeated, and Zeke shut up for the rest of the drive.
It was pretty lame; Dean knew that. Especially since Bobby’s place was pretty distinctive. Still, he couldn’t just show the guy the way to Bobby’s doorstep.
Once they’d gotten that out of the way, it was decided the best place to keep Zeke out of trouble was Bobby’s panic room. Zeke actually looked a little impressed by it, though he did give Bobby a very measured look, like he was judging the man’s sanity. Still, it wasn’t like he had a choice.
“So, that’s the hunter or whatever you’ve been tracking?” Bobby said after they locked Zeke in. “Don’t look like much.”
“You haven’t seen him in action,” Sam replied. “A two-story drop didn’t even faze the guy.”
“Try to sound a little less impressed,” Dean said with a scowl as he shoved past Sam to start up the stairs. “That’s the guy, and get this – he says he works for the Devil.”
Bobby’s eyebrows raised at that. “You’re kidding.”
“Nope,” Dean said with a short shake of his head. “Totally believes it too. Never even bothered to question it.”
“Takes all kinds, I guess,” Bobby shrugged. “You have any real intel on who his boss is?”
“Maybe,” Sam answered. “That’s why we’re here. I need to do some digging through your library.”
“Go right ahead,” Bobby said with a wave of his hand toward the nearest stack of books. “Mi library es su library. You want any help?”
“You know where your books on Zoroastrianism are?”
“I can narrow it down,” Bobby said, rubbing his chin as he thought. “You don’t think he’s a leftover from old Yellow Eyes, do you?”
“Well, we didn’t think so until you brought him up,” Dean replied, then shook his head. “No, I don’t think this has anything to do with that bastard.”
“Are we still thinking there’s a demon at work?” Sam wondered.
“Honestly?” Dean shrugged. “I have no clue. But it’s as good a guess as any, and it makes sense, especially if one was trying to gather more power. So until you find proof that shows me otherwise, it’s the theory I’m going with.”
Bobby led them to a side table covered in precariously stacked books, picking up the top one. “So if Azazel isn’t involved, any particular reason you’re wanting Zoroastrian stuff?”
Sam hesitated, shooting Dean a glance. Dean rolled his eyes. “Cas finally showed up, and was completely unhelpful. Only Sammy here thinks he was trying to tell us something in code.” Dean’s tone made it clear just how annoying he thought that was.
“He quoted Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” Sam said with a shrug as he leafed through a book. “I thought it was worth a shot.”
“Seems like as good as any a place to start,” Bobby agreed as he crossed the room to scan the shelves.
When he’d first imposed this sensory deprivation upon her she’d actually been relieved. It had been a respite from the intense pain he’d been casually inflicting. But the longer it lasted, the more panicked she’d become, until now, his voice was almost soothing. She started to relax the tiniest bit, and that’s when he spoke again.
“Your playthings are more resourceful than I thought,” he said. “They’ve hidden Ezekiel from me. And that just. Won’t. Do.” The last was a whisper, his lips brushing her ear; she trembled, her suddenly renewed sense of touch making the light contact almost overwhelmingly intense.
“So I’ve decided you might be useful after all,” he went on cheerily, and suddenly Ruby could see again. She squinted against the light burning her eyes, the tears running down her cheeks a mix of pain and relief. When her vision came into focus, she saw they were in her hotel room, or a facsimile of it. Her captor was watching her, a smug smile on his face.
“Better, my dear?” he asked mockingly solicitous, as if he hadn’t been the source of her sensory deprivation. “I hated keeping you like that, but I assure you it was for your own good. The less you know, the more likely you are to survive.”
Ruby took a deep, cleansing breath, then coughed, her throat horribly dry and raw. How long had she been here? “Why,” she rasped out, hoarse, then cleared her throat and tried again. “Why bring me back now?”
“I told you. I have need of you, assuming that your claim of a precious special bond with the younger Winchester wasn’t just an attempt at saving your pretty skin.”
“Sam trusts me,” she promised.
“He’d better. Because if you’re trying to play some kind of game, I promise you will lose. And that our time so far has been nothing compared to what I do to those who betray me.”
“I’m telling the truth,” she insisted.
He gave her a long, hard look, and she could practically feel him sifting through her essence. “Of course you are,” he said with a confident smile. “Just keep doing that, and we’ll get along famously.”
He moved to sit beside her, pulling her into a one-armed hug. “Now on to the good part. Would you like to know what you’re going to do for me?” he asked.
All Ruby could do was nod.
“I’m going to see if Zeke needs anything,” he announced. Bobby just waved him off, engrossed in some scroll he’d dug up. Dean gave Sam a long look, then nodded and went back to his own reading.
Sam opened the door to find Zeke examining symbols painted on the wall.
“See anything familiar?” he asked. Zeke shook his head.
“A couple look kind of similar to mine, but that could just be because they all look like scribbles to me,” he admitted. “Any luck figuring out who you think’s pretending to be my boss?”
“I know this sounds hard to believe, but you just have to go with it. After everything we’ve seen, there being just one Devil is pretty much impossible for us to buy.”
“After what you’ve seen, maybe,” Zeke countered. “But Dean’s been there. After everything he had to have gone through down there, how can he not think there’s a Devil?”
“You remember Hell?” Sam asked, surprised.
“Are you kidding me? I remember every second. That kind of thing… it stays with you.” Zeke chuckled humorlessly. “Besides, if the damned can’t remember, what’s the point of making it so horrible? Takes the fun out of it, you know?”
Sam frowned. “But you… your situation is different. I mean, whatever it is that dragged you out, it wants you to suffer.”
Zeke shrugged. “Even if he didn’t, I don’t think there’s anything out there that could wipe those memories away.”
Sam looked down at the floor for a long minute. “Dean says,” he cleared his throat, then kept going, his voice a near whisper. “He says he doesn’t remember.”
“If he’s telling you the truth, he’s a lucky son of a bitch.”
Sam was quiet for a long minute, then steeled himself and said, “Tell me what you remember.”
He wandered the salvage lot aimlessly, lost in thought. The ringing of his cell phone made him nearly jump out of his skin, and Sam pulled it from his back pocket quickly, wanting to end the shrill tone before someone in the house heard it and realized he was outside. He still wasn’t ready to face his brother, knowing what he now knew.
“Ruby? I thought you weren’t going to be around for awhile.”
“Change of plans,” she said. “I need to see you. Where are you?”
“You don’t know?”
“I’m tired, Sam. Humor me. I could track you down the hard way, or you could just tell me.”
She did sound tired, off somehow. “We’re at Bobby’s,” he told her. “But this probably isn’t the best place for us to meet. Where are you?”
“Not too far,” she said enigmatically, and Sam suppressed a sigh. He hated it when she got cagey like this. Demon or not, she needed to learn to trust him.
“So where are we meeting, Ruby?” he asked, feeling his patience slip away.
“You sure you can get away from big brother?” she taunted.
“Where are we meeting?” he repeated flatly.
“Ooh, touchy today. Fine. How about the crossroads about ten miles west of his place?”
Sam shook his head and chuckled humorlessly. “Crossroads? That’s original.”
“Just because it’s cliche doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing,” she countered. “One hour?”
He looked at his watch. “One hour. What’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you when I see you. Don’t be late,” she said, and the line went dead.
Sam pocketed the phone and rubbed a tired hand over his face. Maybe if he just didn’t go back in he’d be able to make the meet without a hassle. He could call Dean on the way, or better yet, call Bobby. Once he was gone, what could they do? Besides, it was Ruby and yeah, she was a demon, but she’d proven he could trust her, at least a little.
Decision made, he went to see if there was a junker running well enough to get him where he needed to go. Sneaking off was one thing; Dean would get over it. But if he took the Impala, he’d never hear the end of it.
When he got near the crossroads he pulled the car off to the side of the road, hoping it would look like just another abandoned car and not raise any suspicions. He made the rest of the way warily on foot. Ruby was in the center of the crossroads when he got there, mist swirling around her ankles. She looked tense, gaze darting around, and it immediately set Sam on edge.
He followed her gaze, but didn’t see anyone or anything else, so he moved into her line of sight, waving at her as he approached. She nodded in acknowledgement.
“What’s going on, Ruby?”
She gave him a sad smile. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. Before he could even register what she’d said, a flash of burning pain ripped through his skull, and his world went black.
“What?” Dean asked, brow furrowed. “He called from the panic room?”
“No, from the road. Apparently, he ‘needed a few minutes away’,” Bobby said complete with air quotes and a roll of his eyes.
“Did you remind him we’re in the middle of something kind of important here?” Dean asked, waving his hand to indicate the stacks of books and papers.
“No, that completely slipped my mind,” Bobby replied, voice full of sarcasm. “Of course I did, you idjit. He said he’d be back soon, and not to worry.”
“Which is the stupidest thing he could say,” Dean huffed. “Did he at least tell you where he was going?”
Bobby shook his head. “Just that it wasn’t far. Good thing, too. Whatever he was driving was making some god-awful noises.”
“At least he knew better than to take my baby,” Dean said, standing up.
“Where are you going?”
“Down to talk with Zeke. I want to know what he said to Sam that made him take off without telling us.”
“Ah, so you’re back with us, I see,” said an unknown voice. “Please don’t bother pretending otherwise. Deception is my specialty. I’d see through one as simple as that a mile away.”
Sam sighed and opened his eyes. He was in a dingy hotel room he didn’t recognize. He tried to move, but couldn’t despite the fact that he wasn’t bound in any way he could see. He heard a chuckle and found he was able to turn his head to see the source. His captor was an unassuming looking man, tall and thin, well-dressed. But Sam knew better than to base his judgment on appearances.
Further inspection found Ruby in a chair across the room, watching him. She met his gaze for a brief instant, then looked away, biting her lip. He could almost feel her fear from where he sat.
“Now, don’t blame poor Ruby for your situation, Sam,” the man said, giving him a slick smile. “You’re the talk of the town. Of course I wanted to meet you.” He looked Sam up and down, eyebrow raised. “Though I’m sorry to say I don’t quite see what all the fuss is about,” he went on with a shake of his head.
“If I’m not all that interesting, why not just let me go then?” Sam suggested.
The man laughed. “Oh, my dear boy, you are amusing, I’ll give you that. But you just got here. And I have to admit, I am curious about you.” He leaned in closer, eyes never leaving Sam’s. “There’s more to you than meets the eye.”
“You have no idea,” Sam said, reaching into himself to find the power. He’d barely touched it when he felt a searing pain, like a hot spike through his head.
“Oh, now that was just rude,” his captor chided. “And futile. Your little ability is completely ineffective against me. But you are more powerful than I’d expected.”
He kept staring at Sam, the intense scrutiny growing increasingly uncomfortable. He was guiltily relieved when the man shifted his attention, tilting his head towards Ruby. “Demon blood? You didn’t tell me just how closely you worked with him,” he accused lightly.
“That’s always been there,” Sam gritted out, the pain receding, but still nasty enough.
“Not in such quantities, though, Mr. Winchester. You two have been quite busy, your Ruby feeding you, making you stronger. Have you ever wondered why?”
“So I can take down demons like you.”
“Oh, there’s no one like me. I can assure you of that.” He cocked his head and smirked. “After all, I’ve got you stuck here, haven’t I? Not even Lilith could do that.”
Sam had been trying not to think about that little fact. “What do you want?” he asked.
“Now that is a question with a plethora of possible answers.” The man crossed his arms over his chest, tapping one finger against his chin. “Let’s start with a simple one. I want my hunter back. You’ve managed to hide him, which I must admit is an impressive trick. But it’s ultimately a foolish one - getting on my bad side is not in your best interests.”
So this was Zeke’s boss. “Can’t say my best interests have ever been a big concern.”
The man laughed again. “Too true, my boy, too true. But in this case, they are exactly what you need to think about. Or if considering your own safety is too much of a chore, what about your brother?” His eyes glinted darkly as he continued. “Dean just returned to the land of the living. Are you that eager to send him back to the Pit?”
“I don’t believe you’re the Devil,” Sam told him.
“Are you certain of that?” he asked, looking himself up and down. “You must admit, I am a man of wealth and taste,” he said, smiling charmingly.
“So you possessed someone with money,” Sam scoffed. “Big deal.”
The man waved a hand dismissively. “What you do or don’t believe about my identity is irrelevant. What you really need to ask yourself, Sam Winchester, is do you believe I can send your brother back to Hell?”
The man looked from Sam to Ruby. “I think I’ll leave you two to chat for a moment. Try not to miss me too much while I’m gone. Oh, and don’t bother trying to escape. Ruby can tell you how pointless an effort that is.”
There was a brief, hot flash of light, and the man was gone. Sam was still unable to move from where he sat, But Ruby got up and walked over to join him.
“What’s going on here, Ruby?” Sam demanded to know. “I trusted you!”
“You see what he can do,” she replied, waving a hand in the direction of where they’d last seen him. “Do you think I had any choice here?”
“Is he-” Sam swallowed hard, then asked. “He isn’t really the Devil, is he? I mean, there’s no such thing, right?”
Ruby shook her head. “I don’t know what he is, but if you mean all that stuff in the Bible, then no. But he’s major, and he’s got some kind of power play going that we’re caught in the middle of.”
“He isn’t going to let me go, is he?” Sam guessed, tone bleak. “Not even if Dean’s releases Zeke.”
Ruby looked down at her feet. “I don’t think so,” she answered quietly. “But if you don’t do what he says, he’ll kill Dean or worse.”
“Yeah,” Sam agreed with a sideways glance. “I got that feeling too. Maybe if we worked together we could free ourselves. Or take him down.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know who or what he is, but I can tell you there’s no way we’re powerful enough to do that. What you’ve seen so far is nothing, Sam. Nothing. Trust me.”
Sam could see the fear on her face, hear it in her voice. “How long has he had you?”
Ruby wrapped her arms around herself and started pacing the room. “Honestly? I have no idea. How long since I called you to say I wasn’t going to be around?”
“Just a few days.”
She looked shocked by that. “It felt like a lot longer. And it isn’t anything I want to go through again.” Ruby knelt down next to Sam, clutching his hands tightly in hers. “Sam, just go along with him. It’s our only chance of getting out of this alive.”
“Truer words were never spoken, my dear,” they heard as their captor reappeared. He held out a cell phone. “Now, I believe we have a call to make.”
He barely pushed the answer button when he heard his name.
“Dean. How good of you to answer so promptly. That’s one thing I can say about you Winchester boys – you’re quick to act.”
“Who is this?” Dean asked, even though he knew who it had to be. The voice on the other end of the line was oily, too smooth. And familiar, not in that he thought he knew the man, but in the sense that he’d heard that type of voice before, every day, while he was in Hell. He had no doubt this was Zeke’s boss.
“I’d think you’d be more interested in who’s with me. Say hello, Samuel.”
There were muffled noises as the phone got shuffled around, then Dean heard Sam’s voice, clear and strong. He nearly slumped with relief.
“Dean, whatever he says, don’t do it. It’s -” Sam’s voice cut off abruptly, and Dean yelled his brother’s name.
“Now now now, no need to shout,” the first voice said. “Your brother is fine. For the moment, at least.”
“You listen to me, you son of a bitch,” Dean spat out. “You hurt him and I swear I will kill you, if I have to follow you back down to Hell to do it.”
“Such righteous indignation! You were well chosen.” Amusement filled his voice, making Dean angrier. But the next words made his blood run cold. “If your brother comes to harm, it will be entirely your doing, I assure you.”
Dean took a deep breath. “What do you want?”
“I’d think that would be obvious. I want my hunter back.”
“So what, I bring Zeke to you and you’ll let Sam go, just like that?”
“Is that so hard to believe?”
Dean held back a laugh. “You sent Zeke to kill us, so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t think you’ll just leave us alone once you get him back.”
“But are you willing to take that chance? After all, Dean, you sold your soul once to save your brother’s life. What I’m asking is so much less.”
Dean took a deep breath before asking, “What’s the deal?”
“That’s better.” Dean could hear the satisfaction in the man’s tone, and it made him want to hit something. “The terms are simple – a fair trade. I won’t even ask where you’re keeping him now. I respect the value of hidden knowledge.”
Dean ignored the compliment. “Where and when?”
He named an address not too far from Bobby’s, though it was on the opposite edge of town. “One hour from now, Dean. And please don’t embarrass yourself by trying to convince me you can’t make it by then. I may not know where you are, but I do know how long it took for Sam to get here. You should have plenty of time.”
“I have to get your hunter first,” Dean bluffed.
A cold laugh threaded its way through the phone line. “Don’t insult my intelligence. I’m not one of those penny ante little minions you’re used to dealing with. We both know that you’re keeping Ezekiel close. One hour, or the deal’s off.” The line went dead, and Dean threw his phone across the room with a growl.
“I take it the news ain’t good,” Bobby commented dryly.
“It’s not even in the same time zone as good,” Dean told him. “An hour, Bobby. That’s all we have to get a plan together and get to Sam. I am done playing nice here.” He started toward the stairs.
Bobby grabbed his arm, stopping him mid-stride. “Dean, hold up. We can’t go into this half-cocked and mad.”
“You think I don’t know that? But that son of a bitch has Sam, and right now the only one who can tell me anything about the thing that has him is downstairs.” He shook off Bobby’s hold. “We need answers. You want to help – figure out what Sam was looking for, find us a way to take whatever it is that has him down.”
“Remember Zeke can’t help us if you kill him,” Bobby called out as Dean started down the darkened stairway.
“He’s already dead, remember?” Dean muttered, so distracted he didn’t he didn’t see Castiel standing a few steps down. He ran right into him, and nearly jumped out of his skin. The shriek he made, however, was nothing like a girl’s.
“I am sorry if I startled you, Dean,” Castiel said, a picture of calm as he kept Dean from tumbling down the stairs.
“Warn a guy next time,” Dean grumbled, shaking off Castiel’s hands and glaring at the angel. “What are you doing here? I thought helping us was off limits.”
“I was told not to interfere,” he agreed. “But the circumstances have changed, and I believe my role must change to reflect that.”
“So it takes Sam being kidnapped for you to jump in?” Dean said with a scowl. “Good to know.”
“There are rules, Dean,” Castiel reminded him.
“And you have to play by the rules. Whatever. Why are you here?”
If Castiel noticed Dean’s anger, he ignored it. “The creature Ezekiel Stone has been dealing with is more than just a demon.”
Dean rubbed a tired hand over his face. “Please don’t tell me this thing really is the Devil. He’s not, is he? I mean, there’s no such thing – that’s just a load of crap, right?”
“Not too long ago you would have said the existence of angels was a load of crap,” Castiel pointed out.
Dean’s eyes widened as an awful thought occurred to him. “You mean it’s true? This guy really is, like, Lucifer or something?”
Castiel hesitated before answering. “No Dean, he is not Lucifer.”
“Okay, so that’s good, right?” Dean asked, wondering at the reason for Castiel’s reticence.
“Yes and no. As I said, he is more than just a demon. And he has reasons for wanting you and your brother.” Castiel hesitated again, and Dean made a get on with it motion with his hand.
“You gonna share with the class, or am I supposed to guess?”
“His reasons don’t matter,” Castiel finally answered. “What’s important is that he cannot succeed.”
“Yeah, got that one on my own, thanks,” Dean growled, growing impatient. “So, you coming with me on this one?”
He was unsurprised when Castiel shook his head. “I am afraid that would make the situation worse.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I have information for you.”
Dean crossed his arms over his chest, waiting.
“As I said before, there are rules that we all must abide by. Treaties, if you will, though that term is wholly inadequate to describe the intricacies of celestial dealings.”
“Okay, so my tiny human vocabulary sucks,” Dean snapped. “Got it. Go on.”
“In this circumstance, direct interference is expressly forbidden.”
“So by taking Sam hostage-”
“He has broken that rule, yes. And there will be consequences, but that justice is not mine to mete out. Still, I can tell you that he knows he’s made a mistake, and will be reluctant to make another.”
“And just what would qualify as a mistake in this scenario?”
“Seriously harming you or your brother.”
“So Sammy’s safe?” Dean gave Castiel a doubtful look. “Sorry, but I can’t just take your word for that, Cas.”
“I did not expect you to. Given that he’s already taken direct action, I would suggest you consider your options carefully before proceeding.”
“You don’t think I should go after him,” Dean realized.
“I would never ask you to abandon your brother, Dean.”
“But you want me to,” he challenged.
“It isn’t a matter of what I want.”
“Damn straight it isn’t,” Dean told him decisively. “Not when it comes to Sam. There anything else you can do to help? Because I’m on kind of a tight schedule here.”
“Dean, please believe that I am doing what I can. Perhaps more than I should. But I believe it is only right to, I believe the term is level the playing field.” He paused, then said, “And while being here now is one way…there may also be someone I can contact who can help.”
“Then why haven’t you?” Dean demanded.
“It isn’t that simple, Dean. There are-”
Dean cut him off. “Rules, I know I get it. And you know what? I don’t care. If it’ll get Sam back here safe and sound, do it.” He shifted to move past Castiel. “I have shit to do.”
Zeke looked at him disbelievingly. “You don’t really believe he’ll just hand Sam over.”
“I don’t have much choice, do I?” Dean backed away, throwing his hands in the air as he started to pace. “Unless there’s something you haven’t told us, I have to work with what I know. And what I know is that I won’t sacrifice Sam. Not for you, not for anyone.”
Zeke slumped back in the chair. “I’ve told you everything,” he said tiredly.
“You sure? You absolutely sure?” Dean pushed. “Anything could help, doesn’t matter if you think it’s a big deal or not.”
“He lies, he’s manipulative, he’s more powerful than just about anything I’ve ever seen,” Zeke ticked off. “He could have taken care of all these souls I’m hunting years ago, but he prefers to sit back and let me handle it. He doesn’t like to get his hands dirty.”
“Doesn’t like to? Or can’t?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, no matter how powerful you think he is, he’s obviously playing by some set of rules. Have you ever seen him deal with one of those souls you hunted personally?”
Zeke gave the question some thought. “No, but I’ve been on his bad side a couple of times. He’s not bluffing.”
“Not when it comes to you, maybe. But he’s got limits. That’s why he’s so pissed right now – he can’t find you.” Dean gestured to the room. “Don’t know if it’s a particular ward or the whole enchilada, but this room is off limits to him, and unless he’s playing dumb for some reason, he can’t figure out where the dead spot is at all.”
“I’m invisible to him here?” Zeke grinned. “That’s got to be making him crazy.”
“Don’t get too comfortable, Dean warned. “That’s why he took Sam.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Zeke countered. “He’s wanted Sam and you from the start.”
“No, he wanted you to take care of us. It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s important. See, I don’t think he can go after Sam or me directly. And if that’s the case, then him having Sam right now is a big risk. Question is, why take it?” He looked at Zeke. “What is about you that he needs so bad?”
“I have no idea. And that’s the truth. I’m just a normal guy, or I was when I was alive. One who made a bad decision and got stuck paying for it for the rest of eternity.”
“My, but you two are quite the pair,” his captor laughed as he tossed the phone onto the bed. “I can see why you were chosen.”
Ruby caught Sam’s gaze and shook her head, but Sam was too curious. “Chosen for what?” he asked.
He looked from Ruby to Sam and back again. “Oh this gets better and better. But I’m afraid that particular tale isn’t mine to tell,” he said, voice full of sorrow, his face a caricature of sadness. “Suffice it to say that someone out there has big plans for you, ones that will make Azazel’s little gamble look like a mere pittance.”
He moved closer to Sam, looking at him almost hungrily. “You and your brother are quite the hot commodity, Mr. Winchester. I almost want to re-think destroying you both.”
His eyes filled with black flame, and Sam felt himself being drawn in. He found it, but there was something so compelling about the man… A sudden sound shook Sam out of his haze, and he came back to himself to find the man halfway across the room, clapping his hands and rubbing them together.
“All right, then. Time to go. Up up up!” He gestured, and suddenly Sam could move. He glanced at Ruby, and she gave him an uncertain look.
“Yes, she’s coming along too,” he told them. “You’re far too valuable to let drive the car, and I never got a license.” He gave them a bright, fake smile. “Wouldn’t do to get pulled over when we’re this close. I simply don’t have the time. Besides, I look terrible in orange.”
“Tell me again what the plan is,” Zeke whispered as they made their way around the side of the warehouse, keeping close to the wall.
“Find Sam, get him, and get the fuck out of here,” Dean told him once more while he double-checked that his gun was loaded. “Preferably all in one piece.”
“That’s a really crappy plan,” Zeke said.
“Didn’t hear you coming up with a better one on the way here,” Dean snapped.
“You do remember that the Devil wants you both dead?”
“Considering I’m talking to the assassin he sent? Yeah, little hard to forget,” Dean said as he stopped to peek into an open doorway. It looked clear; he motioned for Zeke to follow him inside.
“Is this how you normally do this hunting thing?” Zeke asked. “Because if so, I’m having a very hard time understanding how either of you made it this far without being killed.”
“Ah, but they have been killed, Mr. Stone,” a voice Dean recognized from the phone call rang out. It was Zeke’s Devil. “In your companion’s case, many, many times. More than he even remembers, isn’t that right, Samuel?”
Dean stopped, swearing as three figures appeared, stepping out of the shadows. He could make out Sam’s tall form, a tall, slender man next to him, and a short woman on Sam’s other side. Dean was only mildly surprised to see it was Ruby.
“Do come in, both of you,” the man went on. “I believe we have a trade to make.”
“I think we’re fine right here,” Dean said, standing his ground and aiming to Sam’s right. When Zeke started to move forward, Dean shook his head and shot him a glare he hoped got interpreted as don’t move.
“Really, Mr. Winchester, do you think the room is trapped? Do you really believe I need to stoop to such base measures to get what I want?”
“I didn’t realize kidnapping was so much higher on the charts,” Dean replied.
“Feisty!” he said, sounding far too pleased for Dean’s liking. “You know, normally I’d like that kind of devil-may-care attitude, but considering the circumstances, it just makes me wonder if perhaps your time in Hell left you with some permanent damage.” He took a step forward, waving them in. “Inside. Now. I won’t say it again.”
Zeke pushed Dean forward before he could protest, and as soon as they were inside, the door slammed shut behind them. Dean glanced back at the sound and made a face when he saw the door. “Whose side are you on?” he hissed.
“The only side there is, of course,” the Devil answered with a smug smile. “Thank you, detective. Nice to see that your time with Mr. Winchester here hasn’t made you forget who you work for.”
“Sam?” Dean called out, ignoring the exchange for the moment. “You good?”
“I’m fine, Dean,” Sam said with a tight nod, and now that they were closer, Dean couldn’t see any visible marks.
“Of course, he’s fine,” the Devil protested. “What kind of host do you think I am?”
“You really don’t want me to answer that,” Dean told him, smirking. “So what? Now I send Zeke forward and you send Sam my way, and we’re all good?”
“I’m afraid it isn’t that simple,” was the unsurprising reply. “We have something of a situation here. The path you and your brother are on is one I cannot let you continue to take. There are consequences you simply don’t understand.”
“All I need to understand is that Sam and I are getting out of here in one piece. We had no beef with you – you weren’t even on our freaking radar, and right now, far as I’m concerned things can go back to that way.”
“Brave words. How do you plan to back them up if I don’t go along with your plan? And please don’t tell me you think that little gun of yours will actually do me any harm.”
If that was supposed to make Dean lower his weapon, it had zero effect. “Word on the street is that you can’t touch us without there being, what was the word you used just now?” Dean pretended to consider it for a moment. “Oh yeah. Without there being consequences.”
“Ah, but I don’t have to do a thing, now do I? Not now that you’ve brought my detective back to me.” The Devil shook his head, tsking. “It’s sad, really. After all that time in Hell, learning the ropes. It’s like you’ve forgotten everything about how demons work.” He smiled, and black fire flickered in his eyes. “We’ll have plenty of time to rectify that, though, won’t we?”
Dean’s hands tightened on the grip of his gun, and he had to forcibly keep himself from pulling the trigger. The Devil cocked his head, giving Dean a considering look, the waved his hand and the gun flew out of Dean’s grasp.
“Pointing is just rude,” he chided. “Besides, you might get trigger-happy, and we can’t have that. You never knows who might be hurt.”
He shifted his gaze to Zeke. “Of course, we can’t just leave it lying about either, now can we? How irresponsible would that be? What if some innocent child were to wander in here and find it? They might think it was a toy, and then what might happen?” He closed his eyes with a sigh and a smile. “But enough happy thoughts. Detective, please retrieve Mr. Winchester’s firearm.”
Zeke started to move, and Dean ran to grab it too. But Zeke was closer and faster, and got there first.
Dean held out his hand. “Zeke, give me my gun.”
“Really, do you think he’s going to do what you say when it contradicts my wishes?” The Devil chuckled. “Of course, if you want the bullets back, that can be arranged, can’t it, detective?”
Zeke shot a troubled glance from Dean to the Devil and back again.
“Don’t do it,” Dean said as Zeke started to raise the gun. “This guy isn’t controlling you.”
“How can you of all people say that?” Zeke rasped out. “You’ve been to Hell – you know better.”
“We all have choices, man,” Dean replied. “You don’t have to make the wrong one.”
“He’s right, you know. You just need to have a little faith.” And suddenly there was a new player on the field. Other than the paint-stained white shirt and pants he wore, he was an exact duplicate of the Devil.
Zeke’s eyes went wide, and he lowered the half-raised gun, holding it out for Dean to take back. Dean let out a relieved sigh, and moved to stand next to Zeke.
The Devil turned toward the newcomer. “You!” he snarled. “What are you doing here?”
“Looking out for you, brother.” He smiled serenely, and suddenly the two men didn’t look alike at all. “You’re about to make a very big, very bad mistake.”
“Please,” the Devil scoffed. “You know who they are, what they’re supposed to do. You think letting things go on as they’re fated is a better choice?”
“I think it isn’t our decision to make. There are rules, brother. Skirting around them is one thing, ignoring them completely can only end badly for us all.”
“You can’t honestly believe that,” the Devil sneered.
His twin chuckled softly, looking genuinely amused. “Why would I lie?”
“You know both these guys?” Dean whispered, leaning toward Zeke without taking his eyes off the scene before him.
“I do,” Zeke replied.
“You knew there were two of them out there and didn’t bother to mention it?”
“I didn’t think there were two of them! It’s… complicated. And I have no idea what’s going on right now.”
“Of course you don’t,” Dean said, rolling his eyes. “I don’t suppose you can even tell me if they’re both demons?”
“I don’t think so,” Zeke said hesitantly. “Like I told you before, that one,” he said, pointing, “is the Devil, for lack of a better term. The other one claimed to be an angel.”
“Why do they look alike? That’s just freaky and wrong.”
“Because the human brain can’t comprehend their true forms. Or so they said.”
“Oh, does that attitude sound familiar,” Dean commented. “Nice to know the whole superior being thing isn’t limited to the dicks we deal with. So this isn’t some kind of weird twin possession thing?”
“No,” Zeke said, amused. “It’s not some weird twin possession thing. Where do you get this stuff?”
Dean gave Zeke a wink. “You don’t want to know.”
They watched the Devil and his doppelganger argue back and forth, their attention wholly on one another. Dean caught Sam’s eye and tilted his head in a gesture for Sam to try and join them. Sam bugged his eyes out like Dean was crazy and shook his head; Dean repeated the gesture more forcefully. He watched Sam lean over and whisper something to Ruby, who eyed Dean and Zeke for a long minute before tentatively nodding. Dean wasn’t happy about it, but maybe he’d get lucky and she’d use herself as a target so Sam could escape. If he was really lucky, she’d get hit, dead center.
Dean kept watching, splitting his attention between his brother and the conversation going on between the Devil and his twin.
“You cannot continue with this,” the angel? God? Demon? was saying. Dean decided to call him Thing Two, at least in his head.
“Who’s going to stop me? You?” the Devil sneered.
“If I have to. You know I can,” he replied with a calm certainty that Dean recognized. If it was an angel, maybe they all had to go to the same serenity school or something.
The Devil actually hesitated, looking uncertain; Dean’s estimation of Thing Two’s power went up a notch. “But this could mean the end of us, of the existence we know.”
“Our continued existence has never been a certainty. If it is our time, then we need to accept it.”
“No. That’s your way of thinking. If you want to sit back and let someone else decide your fate, that’s your choice. It doesn’t have to be mine.”
“Brother,” Thing Two said, smiling indulgently. “This is beyond what you or I, or any of the others might want. If it is meant to be, nothing you say or do will stop it. To attempt this is dangerous for us all.”
The Devil narrowed his eyes at his brother. “Who are you really worried about here?”
“You know the answer to that. Please,” he entreated, hands out and open. “Your ability to create long-term plans is unparalleled. Look ahead and see what this course of action will bring.” He looked at Sam and Dean. “And look at the possibilities ahead if you let things run their course. Which is the better alternative?”
There was a long pause, and then Dean’s mind was filled with flashed of light and images. People he didn’t know, people he did. Humans, demons, creatures he’d never even heard of all flashed through his mind, going so fast it hurt. Dean doubled over in pain, the heel of one hand pressing to his temple, the other still weakly clutching his gun.
They didn’t stop, but every so often an image would freeze, just long enough for Dean to make out a few details. He saw Sam, dressed in white. He saw himself, older, shooting someone in the back of the head. One was Bobby, hurt or worse in a cemetery; another was a chapel filled with light. Ashes spread across the floor like giant wings. Then, nothing.
The sudden stop of input made Dean gasp in relief. He looked around, eyes not-quite focused, to see Sam, Zeke and Ruby in similar shape. The Devil and his brother appeared to be unaffected.
As if he noticed Dean’s attention, the Devil swept his gaze over the group, ending with his twin. “If this goes badly, it’s on your head,” he finally said, and Dean was sure he actually heard petulance in his voice. It would be funny, if their lives weren’t at stake.
Thing Two gave a nod of acknowledgement. “It may not seem like it, but this is the best decision. Trust me, brother.”
“Now that is asking too much,” the Devil replied with a nasty smile, then disappeared in a huge flash of burning light.
“Always a flair for the dramatic,” Thing Two said with a sigh as Sam ran over to join them. Thing Two watched the three men with a look of concern. “You’re all well?”
“If by well you mean confused as fuck, then yeah, we’re good,” Dean answered, which weirdly enough earned him a smile.
Turning to Zeke, he said, “Ezekiel, I am sorry you were put in this position. I thought I’d kept a close enough eye on my brother’s doings, but it appears I was mistaken.”
Zeke seemed strangely calm. “Yeah, well, I didn’t get killed, got to talk with people who actually understand and believe what I’m talking about, and stayed somewhere even the Devil can’t find me. All in all, not a bad couple of days.”
“That’s the spirit,” he said approvingly. “And don’t you worry about there being any negative repercussions from this. I will make sure my brother knows exactly who was to blame here.”
“Thank you,” Zeke said, sounding surprised.
“I have always been here, ready to help.”
Dean chimed in before things could get any more woo-woo touchy-feely. “Well that’s all fine and dandy for your boy here, but what about Sam and me? We were on his hit list.”
Thing Two shifted his focus to Dean. “No longer. My brother overstepped his bounds. It’s a fault of his, one I’ve never been able to break him of,” he told them, voice laced with a mix of affection and indulgence. “But I can assure you that you are both off limits. You don’t need to worry about him any more.”
Dean didn’t believe that, but couldn’t see how pushing the issue would help. “Don’t suppose you’d like to clue us in as to why he was after us in the first place,” he tried instead.
Thing Two looked genuinely contrite. “I am sorry, but no. I can’t.” He turned his attention back to Zeke. “We will talk soon, Ezekiel. I think that you’re finally ready to listen.” And with a bright smile, he was gone.
Dean looked at the now empty space. “Well, that was a fun night. Let’s never do it again.” He started walking toward his car. “You guys coming?”
Sam looked around. “Dean, did you see what happened to Ruby?”
Dean stopped and scowled at his brother. “You really gonna ask me about her?”
“She didn’t want to help that guy. She had no choice.”
“You keep telling yourself that, Sammy,” he said as he started walking again. “As far as I’m concerned, I hope she got pulled back down to Hell for her part in this.”
“Yeah. Little headache from the mental Power Point, but other than that… it’s all good.”
“I’m fine, too,” Zeke chimed in from the backseat.
“You’re dead, whatever,” Dean replied with a snort. “You mind telling us what went on back there, Mr. I don’t know anything but I am not at all surprised by the second guy?”
“Your guess is as good as – no wait, it’s probably better than mine,” Zeke said. “If you’d asked me a couple of hours ago, I would have told you that those two… beings or whatever were one and the same.”
“I’m pretty sure I did ask you, and you didn’t say anything about there even being a possibility of another player in this game,” Dean said, glaring at Zeke via the rear-view mirror.
“Because I didn’t think there was one,” Zeke insisted. “I only saw him once, years ago, and to be honest I was pretty much convinced he was just the Devil messing with my head.”
“Does it even matter now?” Sam asked before Dean could take the argument any further. “I mean, other than what Cas- our contact was trying to tell us.”
Dean raised an eyebrow at that. “So that weird quote-y stuff makes sense now?”
Sam nodded slowly as he answered. “I think so, yeah. I can show you when we get back to Bobby’s.” He shot a glance backwards. “He going with us?”
“You can just drop me off in town if you want,” Zeke told them. “I have enough for a hotel, long as it isn’t as fancy as what you’re used to.”
It was probably the smartest thing they could do. But whatever else he was, in the end Zeke had been willing to give himself up for Sam, and that counted for a lot in Dean’s book.
“Nah, you can crash with us tonight, if you want. Bobby makes a mean burger, and even the cot in the panic room’s a lot better than that pissant allowance you get will buy you.” He flicked a glance at his brother as he went on. “Besides, whatever Sammy here found out is stuff you need to know.”
“Good to see you alive and kicking, boy, but you couldn’t bring back my car?” he asked Sam gruffly, who ducked his head.
“Sorry about that, Bobby. We’ll go get it tomorrow.”
Bobby smacked the back of Sam’s head. “Idjit. Next time, don’t go running off like that, you hear me?”
“We hear you, Bobby,” Dean answered for them both. “How about laying off the reprimands until tomorrow, huh? It’s been a long day.”
“Consider this a temporary reprieve,” he said with a nod. “Come on in, all of you. I’ll see what I can throw together.”
“Thanks, Bobby,” Sam said, heading toward the house.
“Leave it to you to make a Star Wars reference,” Dean teased, bumping shoulders with Sam. “So we were what? Going up against gods?”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Sam said with a shrug. “At least this time one of them was on our side.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Zeke asked. He looked at Sam and Dean, shaking his head. “There’s no way. I mean, you make it sound like this is no big deal, but you’re talking about gods. As in plural, more than one. As in, if they’re out there, what else is?”
“And now you know why we didn’t believe your guy was the Devil,” Dean said as he read over the page Sam had indicated. “Makes sense, especially now that we’ve seen both of them.” He held the book out to Zeke. “Might want to do some reading tonight.”
“Yeah,” Zeke said, taking the book, a thoughtful, and somewhat troubled look on his face. “Guess I might.”
“Cas, we have got to stop meeting like this,” Dean said, stifling a yawn. He sat on the steps, leaving enough room for the angel to join him. “Come on, take a load off.” Castiel’s brow furrowed and Dean patted the space next to him. “Would it kill you to sit down and relax for a minute?”
Castiel stared at Dean, then the steps before moving to sit, back straight and stiff. Dean shook his head and rubbed a hand through his sleep-mussed hair.
“You brought in that ringer, didn’t you?” he asked.
“I made certain entities aware of recent events, yes.”
Dean nudged the angel with his shoulder. “You gonna be in trouble for helping us?”
“Had he succeeded, things would have gone very badly.”
“Worse than Lilith breaking all the Seals?”
Castiel gave that a moment of consideration. “Possibly. It’s a matter of opinion, I suppose. But to answer your question, no. I will not be reprimanded for my actions today.”
“Good,” Dean said with a nod.
They sat there quietly, and Dean was sure Castiel would blink out any second. He was surprised when instead of leaving, the angel spoke. “The souls Ezekiel has been sent back to reclaim, they aren’t like you, Dean.”
Dean gave him a sideways glance. “You sure about that?”
“Of course I am.” And he was; Dean could hear it in his voice. “They’re more like the creatures that fled when the Devil’s Gate was opened.”
“So what, they’re Hell’s refugees?”
“If you like.”
He slammed his hand down hard on the stair. “No, damn it, I don’t like! Another kind of demon walking the Earth does not take me to my happy place.” Dean huffed out a breath as Castiel just watched him with that annoyingly endless patience of his. “Okay,” he finally said. “So, they’re different. Different how?”
“They do not possess bodies, not the way you’re used to. The bodies they are in are theirs, though they are no longer human. They are stronger, and impervious to pain or damage, unless it is given by another being like themselves.”
Dean hated to ask, but had to know. “What about me? Can I hurt them?”
“I don’t know,” Castiel admitted, giving Dean a troubled look. “You aren’t like them – your rescue was ordained by Heaven. But there is a chance, despite that, that you can harm them just as Ezekiel can. And vice versa.”
Dean frowned as Castiel went on. “Dean, these creatures, they are evil, every one of them. As they were in life, so are they now. And if left to their own devices, they will do nothing but bring harm to all they meet.”
He stopped, and Dean could feel him looking. He raised his head to meet Castiel’s peaceful gaze. “So even if there are some superficial similarities, truly, they are nothing like you. You must believe that.”
Dean wanted to believe the angel, he really did. But given what he’d done, he didn’t know if he could. He shrugged off that thought and quirked an eyebrow at Castiel. “So, Zeke says the only way to send these mothers back is shooting them in the eyes. That true?”
“There are other methods besides gunfire that work, but yes, the eyes are the key. Through them they are bound to their bodies, and if that bond is broken, they must return to Hell.”
“Too bad that whole must be from Hell to cause me damage thing doesn’t work that way for me. It’d save me a lot of aches and pains. I’d be like a hunter superhero.” He quirked a grin at Castiel, who obviously didn’t get the joke. “Just kidding. Trust me, I’d rather be back here alive than whatever Zeke and the rest are.”
“I am pleased to hear that.”
“What about you?” Dean wondered. “Would your angel mojo work on Zeke’s demons like they do the ones Sam and me fight?”
“Why are you so concerned with Ezekiel Stone?”
“I don’t know,” Dean said, scratching the back of his head. “It’s just, this whole hunt Zeke’s been forced into – it really rubs me the wrong way, y’know? I mean, he’s a pawn, Cas. They’re both just playing with him and he’s got no choice but to let them, with no guarantees he’ll even a happy ending or whatever it is he was promised at the end. He doesn’t even know if there’ll be an end.”
Castiel narrowed his eyes and cocked his head. “And this bothers you.”
Dean threw up his arms in frustration. “Of course it does! If it were me, I hope somebody’d get pissed seeing me stuck like that. That they’d do something about it.”
Castiel looked off into the distance. “That is… good to know.” He stood abruptly. “I must go.”
“Something I said?” Dean asked with a cheeky grin.
“I must deal with the consequences of today’s events.” He gave Dean a serious look. “I will remember what you said, Dean.”
“O-kay,” Dean said, and Castiel was gone. “I’m too tired for this,” he yawned, and went back to bed.
“Mighty generous of you there, Bobby,” Dean teased.
“Boy got a bum deal, and it ain’t getting any better,” he told them gruffly. “Not like it’s a great deal or nothin’, but it runs.”
“As much as I appreciate the offer, and I do, believe me, I can’t take it,” Zeke said. “There’s no way I could afford the gas, let alone any upkeep.”
“There are, uhm, ways around that money thing we could show you,” Sam offered.
Zeke shook his head. “Think I’d better try to do what I can to stay on the straight and narrow. But thanks.”
“You know, there’s still a lot about all this we don’t understand,” Sam said. “You sure you don’t want to hang around a little longer?”
“I can’t,” Zeke replied. “Much as I might like to. The longer I’m here, the longer I’m not out hunting. And I don’t want to give my boss an excuse to come back after you.” He looked out toward Bobby’s lot. “I would appreciate a ride back to town, though.”
“That we can do,” Dean said. “Sammy, you wanna stay here with Bobby while I drop Zeke off?”
Zeke pulled aside the collar of his shirt to reveal a tattoo. “Don’t think I have much of a choice,” he sighed. “But I think it’s safe to say you and your brother are permanently off my list.”
“We’d better be,” Dean replied. “I’d hate to have to kill you.”
“Trust me, divine intervention is a pretty big deterrent.”
“That it is,” Dean agreed. “So you read over that stuff Sam gave you?”
“Yeah,” Zeke nodded. “Not sure I understood half of it, and I plan on doing a lot more research. He gave me a list of sites to check out on the web.”
“That’s Sam all over. He give you our number? In case something changes?”
“Yeah. Got Bobby’s too.”
“Good. If anybody can find out demon info, it’s him. And if anything with your hunts gets any freakier, you should definitely call, let him know.”
It was quiet in the car for a few minutes, Zeke watching Dean, puzzling him out.
“What?” Dean finally asked as they got to town.
“You’re just being a lot nicer than I expected, considering the circumstances,” Zeke explained.
“Like Bobby said, you got a bum deal,” Dean said with a shrug as he stopped the car near the station. “And you’re just trying to keep yourself out of Hell. If anybody gets that, it’s me.”
He had a point. “Been a long time since I talked to someone who understood what I was talking about. Hell, it’s been a long time since I could talk about this stuff and have someone believe me.”
“Well, caring and sharing time is over, and don’t expect a hug or any kind of bonding moment,” Dean told him with a raised eyebrow. “Just, watch out for yourself. And be careful with that angel-light god-whatever he is. Angels can be just a big a dick as demons.”
“I’ll remember that,” Zeke said with a chuckle. “You know, I half expected you to take me somewhere and try to kill me.” He gave Dean a smug smile. “Not that it would have worked.”
“You keep telling yourself that,” Dean replied with a cocky grin. “If I’d wanted to kill you, I would have done that at Bobby’s, saved myself a drive.” He held out a hand, and Zeke took it, shaking it firmly. “I think we’re good.”
“Good,” Zeke echoed as he opened the car door. He watched Dean drive away, a thoughtful look on his face. “Well, trying our best, anyway.”