“Cas said…” Dean swallowed hard as he watched his brother limp toward him through the barren courtyard of the apocalypse-world camp. “He said you were gone. You died.”
Sam crossed the remaining feet to where Dean stood with Cas, Jack, Gabriel, and Mary. “I did. He didn’t give me a choice, Dean. Not really.” Sam looked over to Jack, his face a mixture of regret and pain. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what? What did you do, Sammy?”
“It’s me, isn’t it?” Jack said.
“He wants a relationship with you,” Sam replied. “That’s why he brought me back. To help him get that.”
All eyes turned to Lucifer, as he stepped through the camp gates, giving a cutesy wave that belied what lay underneath.
“But I don’t want a relationship with him,” Jack said, glancing at Lucifer, now slowly strolling toward them with a victorious smirk on his face.
Cas stepped forward. “Jack, he’s the only other one with power right now. Gabriel and I…we can’t help.”
“I hope you’re all planning my reunion party with my son,” Lucifer called out. “Because I’d hate to have to kill all of you.” He frowned at Cas, Sam, and Gabriel. “Some of you again.”
“If you’ve got a way to get us out of this, kiddo,” Gabriel whispered urgently, “now’s the time.”
“I can take him,” Jack said.
“No,” Sam said. “You really can’t. He’s all juiced up right now. I mean, we can fight, but…we’ll lose.”
“And then he’ll just take you,” Dean added, hoping to hurry along the decision-making process.
“No!” Jack took a step back. “No, I won’t… NO!” Jack’s eyes began glowing yellow and with a sharp crack, a golden fissure in the universe opened right in front of them.
“Go, go, go!” Dean shouted, pushing Sam, then Cas through the rift. He grabbed his mother’s hand, but she pulled back.
“No, Dean. You go. I’m staying here.”
“What? Mom, no. We came here to rescue you. Not leave you behind.”
Mary glanced at the dozen or so remaining feet between them and Lucifer. “I’ll do more good here. I don’t belong back there. I’ll stay and help Bobby. Go now. Take care of Sam.”
“Whoops!” Gabriel said, catching Dean and Jack off-balance as he shoved them into the rift, following close behind. “Later, bro. Hopefully never.”
Dean tumbled out onto a flat, empty field next to a two-lane highway.
“Close it!” Gabriel yelled to Jack.
Eyes still blazing, Jack raised his hand and the rift shrank into a tiny point and disappeared. “I want nothing to do with him!”
“I don’t blame you, kid,” Gabriel said.
Dean stood up and took stock of their surroundings. A couple of short, brick buildings stood to one side of the field. A parking lot and another building surrounded by trees was on the other side. Across the highway was a farm. “Where are we?” he asked Jack, hearing his voice sound harsher than he intended it. “And how are we gonna get Mom back?”
“I tried to take us back to the bunker,” Jack said. “It’s in Lebanon, right? And we were in Dayton.”
“Oh, do not tell me you zapped us to Lebanon the country,” Dean muttered, trying to figure out how to tell Sam about their mom.
“These trees are indicative of the American Midwest,” Cas said, “not the Middle East.”
Dean ran a hand over his face. “Of course you would know that.”
“Welcome to New Lebanon,” Sam said.
“The sign, Dean.” Sam pointed to a utility pole with a vertical banner hanging from it. “It says ‘Welcome to New Lebanon.’” Sam looked around, then at Dean. “Uh… Where’s Mom?”
Dean sighed. This was it. “She wanted to stay. Help Bobby.”
“I know, Sam. She said she didn’t belong here anymore.” Dean looked down the road to the right, seeing nothing but road and trees and sky. To the left appeared to be the outskirts of a small town. “Wherever here is.”
“Did you even try?”
“Of course I did, Sam! You think I want her in that world? With Lucifer?”
“We have to go back.”
“Not a good idea, Sam,” Gabriel said. “If you thought it was a death trap before…”
“Our mom is there, Gabe!”
“I know.” Gabriel nodded. “I know. But it was her choice.”
“She’s very committed to helping people in the camp,” Jack said. “She’d already told me she was thinking of staying if the option were presented. Although she’d be safer if I was there to protect her.”
“Who’s going to protect her now?” Sam asked.
“Bobby will,” Cas said. “I am certain of it. He won’t let anything happen to her.”
“Yeah, but…” Sam trailed off, one hand running through his hair.
Dean couldn’t give words to what he was feeling, what Sam must be feeling. To be so close only to lose her. Again. It being her choice only twisted the knife in deeper. The rejection was palpable. So that was it. Just give up, knowing she was in harm’s way, in another universe. And it wasn’t like there was a revolving door to go visit her. Jack was powerful, but lacked finesse. Aiming for Lebanon, Kansas and winding up in New Lebanon…
“Where the hell are we, anyway?” Dean demanded. “New Lebanon, what? What state?”
“Ohio. We’re still just outside of Dayton,” Sam said, looking at his phone. “Looks like maybe we just jumped universes but stayed in the area?”
“I was aiming for the bunker,” Jack repeated.
“Practice makes perfect,” Gabriel said, clapping Jack on the shoulder. “We haven’t formally met. I’m Gabriel.”
“So you’re…” Jack squinted in concentration. “My uncle?”
“Sure. That works.” Gabriel cast a wide-eyed look toward Cas before focusing back on Jack. “How much control do you have there?”
“Not as much as I’d like. Sam tried to help me, but…” Jack sighed. “I seem to have more power when I experience emotions.”
“Great,” Dean said, still trying to process everything that had occurred just in the past hour. A damn grief counselor could be set up for life, treating them. Which was never going to happen. “A half-angel with nuclear temper tantrums.”
“Emotions affect us all that way, champ,” Gabriel said. “We’re not unemotional because we don’t care. We’re unemotional because we could destroy the world a few times over if we get too excited. Catch my drift?”
“What are you saying, Gabriel?”
“Guys,” Sam broke in, holding his phone up. “We need to get back to the bunker. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to walk eight-hundred miles.”
“Hell, no,” Dean agreed. He nodded over to the parking lot next to them. “Let’s go car shopping.”
As they made their way across the field, Dean could make out a sign in front of the building next to the parking lot. A library. If they were closed, there was a good chance no one would be missing their car until morning. “Sam, go see if the library’s closed, or if anyone’s inside.”
“It’s empty,” Jack said.
“There are no people inside,” Jack repeated, closing his eyes briefly. “But there is one ghost. An old woman who likes to sit with the children during story time.”
“Not ganking any ghosts today,” Dean said. He checked out the parking lot. Tucked into the far corner was a newer SUV covered in tree droppings, and not far from that, a dark minivan with a busted rear window, secured with plastic sheeting and duct tape. “Bingo.”
The minivan turned out to be unlocked—small town, older van, broken window; it was a good bet—and had a small toolkit in the back. Within five minutes, Dean had switched the van’s license plates with those of the SUV, intending to switch them again once they were out of town. If the van got reported stolen, it’d take the cops a while to track down all the plate switches, especially if they included a few out-of-state plates. He ripped the plastic sheeting off the window and stuffed it under one of the seats. The breeze would be nice, and they could always dump the van in Indiana.
He headed away from town—west, if he was reading the sun correctly—and settled in for the drive. “GPS work on that thing?” he asked Sam, who was riding shotgun.
“Yeah.” Sam shrugged. “Don’t know why it wouldn’t.”
“Can you get us to I-70?”
Sam tapped his phone a few more times. “You’re gonna need to head north about five miles.”
“’Kay. We got enough gas to get us to Indianapolis. We can switch plates or cars then.” Dean glanced at his brother. “I’m glad you’re back. No matter how it happened. Cas wouldn’t even let me—” He stared out the windshield and pushed all the emotions back down. “Wouldn’t let me go after you. I would’ve, you know. Even if they tore me to shreds.”
“I know, Dean. I’m glad he stopped you.”
“If we weren’t trying to save Mom…” His voice broke on the last word and he didn’t trust himself to continue.
“I get it, Dean. I do. We have to go back sometime anyway. We still need to defeat Michael. We’ll see her again, and we’ll convince her to come back with us. You, me, Mom, Jack, Cas, and Gabe. The bunker won’t feel so empty.”
“I wasn’t planning on Gabriel staying with us,” Dean muttered.
“I heard that!” Gabriel called out from the third row.
“Figures,” Dean said. “Stupid angel hearing.”
“Heard that too, Deano.”
“Great,” Dean called back. “Why don’t you three figure out how we’re going to defeat Michael? And for that matter, how we’re gonna get back to that giant ashtray of a universe?” He turned right on a county highway that looked like it would get them closer to the interstate.
“Rowena was successful before in banishing Lucifer,” Cas offered. “Perhaps she could do the same with Michael.”
“Maybe. But we still need to bring our A-game. How long will it take you and Gabriel to recharge?”
“Dean, it’s not that simple.” Cas let out a long sigh. “I may be more human than angel indefinitely.”
“What? Didn’t the Empty spit you back out at full power? You got the new duds. Much nicer coat, by the way. That short one didn’t suit you at all.”
“No.” Cas’ voice was laced with what sounded like disgust and anger.
“Well, wait, how did you get to Syria? I thought you got your wings back. You said on the phone that you flew to Syria.”
“I did. I got on an airplane—a cramped, smelly, noisy airplane—and flew to Lebanon. The country. From there, I convinced various travelers to get me to Damascus. After that, I talked at length to a belligerent camel, who eventually agreed to carry me to the location of the Tree of Life, where I encountered the Djinn who were guarding it.”
“Hold up, Cas. You—” Dean shook his head. “How did you get on an international flight? How did you pay for an international flight?”
“I retrieved Jimmy’s passport. It had expired, but I had enough grace to alter the dates. As for money, it is astonishing how many people leave their wallets unattended in the airport, even as the annoying voice keeps reminding them not to do so.”
“So you…” Dean couldn’t suppress a chuckle. “You forged a passport and stole a credit card?”
“Yes. I would have thought you’d have more to say about my arguing with the camel, especially when it insisted on speaking only ancient Akkadian.”
“Oh, no, that’s—” Dean laughed and shook his head. “That’s just par for the course with you, Cas.” When the reality of what Cas had said sank in, though, his mood sobered. “So, no wings?”
“Not usable ones.”
“Gabriel’s wings are just fine,” Gabriel called out. “But it’s going to take a while to…you know.”
“Erasing the Kentucky Fried asshat from existence took pretty much the rest of what I had. Because I totally would have been able to open that rift if it weren’t for him.”
“Yeah, I get that,” Dean said. “So how long?”
Gabriel mumbled something Dean couldn’t hear.
“Didn’t catch that. Human hearing. How long?”
“Weeks. Okay? Weeks. Maybe months.”
“We don’t have weeks, much less months,” Dean said. He started to ask Jack about his power when a painful twist in his abdomen caused him to wince and curl in on himself.
“What is it, Dean?” Cas asked.
“Hungry. Can’t remember the last time I ate.”
“Yeah, I could use some food too,” Sam said, already tapping on his phone. “There’s a mall up ahead on the outskirts of Richmond, just across the Indiana border. Could switch plates there as well.”
“Mall food? Really, Sam?”
“No, there’s this diner in the mall. Homemade, world-famous pies, it says on the website.”
Sam snorted. “How did I know?”