It’s Hell, Sam’s brain provides helpfully. He’s in Hell again.
“So, can you help?”
Sam glares at the woman. He’s had just about enough of all this Hell visiting. It’s nauseating. He hates how he remembers things when he’s here but forgets when he wakes up.
“I believe I can,” the witch says, her gaze shifting southward. “For a price.”
“Okay,” Sam says, nodding. It’s a dream, after all. Nothing promised here translates into the real world. “Name it.”
She pulls scissors from a pocket in her dress, offers them to him handle first.
“A lock of your hair,” she croons with a wink.
Sam grabs the scissors, yanks on his hair, cuts off a piece. He holds it out to her, still clutching the scissors in his right hand.
The witch smiles, batting her eyes at him, and nods at the cauldron. Sam drops the hair into the pot and the witch stirs.
“Good boy,” she murmurs approvingly. “When you wake up, you’ll have your spell.”
Sam knows a spell. He doesn’t know how he knows it, but he does. He thinks he learned it in a dream.
“It’ll make ordinary bullets into monster-killing bullets for the Colt,” Sam says.
Bobby and Dean stare at him, skeptical and a little freaked-out.
When Sam rescues Dean from Casey’s parents’ basement, he uses the Colt to kill both demons, shooting them clean between the eyes. Until that moment he’s not one-hundred-percent sure the magic will work, so he’s relieved. It gives him confidence.
Dean gives him a troubled look. He pulls Bobby aside later, and Sam has the feeling they’re talking about him.
“She said she would’ve followed you,” Dean tells Sam later, in the car.
“The demon possessing Casey,” Dean clarifies. “She confirmed that the demons split up into factions after Azazel died.”
Dean explains who Azazel is, making Sam feel like a fool for not knowing the Yellow-Eyed Demon’s name. It scares Sam to think that other demons planned to follow him, if he’d stepped up to the plate as Azazel’s second-in-command.
He hates it.
But part of him knows he could’ve done it, if it meant saving Dean.
He knows he should be worried about the lengths to which he’s willing to go to save Dean. He should be terrified.
But he’s not.
He adds the two possessed humans he killed today to his mirror number that night.
When Sam crawls into his own bed, Dean rolls away onto his other side.
Away from Sam.
They use the Colt and the demon-killing knife on at least a dozen demons over the next couple of months. Sam knows where to find them. He has a sixth sense about it, as Dean never ceases to remind him. Dean calls him Haley Joel almost every day now.
With each kill Sam’s dreams become more vivid. By the third month, he’s able to remember the dreams when he wakes up. He remembers the ones he had when he first came back from Hell, as well. He’s still not sure what they all amount to, but he’s confident they’re paving the way to fixing the mess he created when the demons got out of the Gate in the first place.
He’s sure he’s on the way to saving Dean.
Dean worries that they’re not making more of an effort to save the meatsuits — sorry, the humans — that the demons are possessing. He gets mad at Sam for notbeing more careful. But after a couple of routine exorcisms reveal that the demons are riding their human hosts to death anyway, he stops grumbling.
“We’re at war,” Sam insists whenever Dean suggests they might have tried exorcism before killing. “We don’t have the luxury of waiting to see if we can save the human hosts the way we could before.”
Dean peers at him. “That’s a little cold, don’t you think?”
Sam huffs out a breath. “No, Dean. It’s practical. There are too many of them now. We can’t waste time trying to perform exorcisms while they’re busy possessing and killing humans. We have to take out as many of them as we can before they start organizing themselves.”
Plus, Dean’s time is running out.
Sam has no compunction about shooting the crossroads demon who won’t tell him who holds Dean’s deal. He takes care of the body on his own, without Dean’s help.
Dean’s still sleeping when Sam gets back. He stands in front of the bathroom mirror for a long time after his shower, tallying the body count. Twenty-five, counting the hot chick the crossroads demon was possessing.
It’s getting easier.
“I need a name!”
Sam’s got a demon by the throat, suspended over a deep, dark ravine. The demon squirms and struggles in his grasp, but Sam’s hold is too strong. He shakes it as it grimaces in fear and pain. Its black eyes bulge.
“Tell me his name! Tell me!”
Sam’s voice sounds hoarse, wrecked, like he’s been overusing it, Like he’s been howling.
The demon can’t speak. Sam’s hold is too tight. He’s determined to shake the life out of this one and move on.
He looks up as the demon’s body goes limp. Across the ravine is a wall of dark glass. Sam can see himself in its mirrored surface.
In the flickering reddish glow of Hellfire, Sam’s eyes are coal black.
Sam insists they bypass ordinary hunts so they can focus on finding demons. They ditch a possible werewolf attack in New York, a ghost ship sighting in Massachusetts.
Dean finds a bullet missing from the Colt and confronts Sam, who confesses to shooting the crossroads demon.
“Why would you do that, Sam? After I told you not to. Why would you go behind my back like that?”
“I needed to know who holds your contract,” Sam answers smoothly.
“Oh yeah? And what exactly did you plan to do when you found out who does?”
“Kill him,” Sam growls.
Dean glares. “So? Did you get a name?”
Sam squirms uncomfortably. “She wouldn’t tell me.”
“Oh.” Dean rolls his eyes. “She wouldn’t tell you. So you shot her.”
“Pretty much,” Sam says. “She was a smart-ass.”
“So. You shot our only lead.” Dean slams a hand against the steering wheel, making Sam jump. “You shouldn’t have done it, Sam! It was a stupid fucking risk. You shouldn't have done it!”
Sam shakes his head, exasperated. “I shouldn't have done it? You're my brother, Dean. No matter what you do, I'm gonna try and save you, and I'm sure as hell not gonna apologize for it!”
Dean shakes his head. “You do something stupid like that again, I’m gonna whup your ass, you hear me?”
“Yeah?” Sam huffs out a laugh. “You can try!”
“Don’t push me, Sam,” Dean growls. “I am still your big brother, and as long as I’m walking this earth, you are going to follow my lead on this.”
“Yeah?” Sam’s furious now. Dean pulling out the big brother boss crap is always the last straw. “Even when your lead goes straight to Hell? Thanks but no thanks, Dean. I am gonna get you out of this deal, no matter what I have to do, and that’s all there is to it.”
“No, Sam, you’re not,” Dean insists, ever stubborn. “You are gonna let me go. Because if you try and stop it, you die, remember? And I can’t let that happen!”
Sam fumes and sulks, but at one level they both know it’s all for show.
Sam’s gonna succeed. He can feel it.
The Red Room doesn’t have a door.
Sam never noticed that detail before. In the corridor, moans rise and fall. Screams ricochet off stone slicked with blood. Sulfur fumes and copper singe Sam’s lungs.
Around the corner, the corridor opens into another room, small and cramped. A table pushed up against the far wall is the only furniture. On the table something writhes and moans, something strapped to the table and covered in blood.
Not Dean. It’s not Dean this time.
Dean emerges from the shadows in the corner of the room, a long, slender blade in his hand. He smirks at Sam as he approaches the table and raises his blade.
At the first cut of the knife, the body on the table screams. Dean lifts the blade and brings it down again and again in neat, rhythmic motions as the victim screams and screams.
“No! Dean! Stop!”
Sam’s mired in quicksand. He fights to move closer, to stop what’s happening, but he can barely move. Sweat breaks out under his arms, across the back of his neck and chest as he strains with the effort to reach his brother, to put an end to the torture.
Dean isn’t a torturer. He can’t be.
As Sam moves a step closer, the bloodied body on the table stares at him with wide, terrified eyes, and Sam gasps in shock. He knows that face, recognizes that voice, even shredded and strained with screaming.
Dean raises his eyes and smiles. Sam gasps again.
Dean’s eyes are solid black.
“Demons were human once,” he tells Dean in the diner the next day. “They’re human souls that have turned demonic in Hell.”
“Well, ain’t you a bucket of sunshine this morning,” Dean says, taking a big bite of his bacon, deliberately chewing with his mouth open.
Sam grimaces, pushes his plate away. He’s a nervous wreck lately. His dreams make it hard to sleep. They wake him up, keep him on edge. He can barely eat anymore.
Dean’s worried about him. He gives Sam little furtive glances while they’re in the car, frowns more than usual. Dean notices that Sam’s not eating and brings him his favorite coffee for breakfast with a yogurt parfait instead of breakfast sandwiches. He smiles nervously when Sam gives him a funny look.
Sam can’t tell Dean what’s happening to him. He tells himself that even he doesn’t understand it. He doesn’t remember half the dreams, anyway.
But he knows that’s not true. He remembers more and more each night. He’s growing stronger.
He may not even be human anymore.
They get pulled into a vampire case in Albany, New York because it’s personal. Gordon Walker is on the loose and looking for Sam, convinced that he’s the Antichrist
Sam’s not so sure Gordon’s wrong. His dreams are now almost entirely about the dark place with the flickering reddish lights and the air that stinks of sulfur.
There’s a demon in the dreams who looks like John Winchester, and he’s giving Sam instructions. Sam can see his mouth move but he can’t hear the words. He thinks maybe the demon knows who holds Dean’s contract. He thinks the demon might know how to kill him.
Sam wakes up with his heart pounding, sweat-soaked even though it’s cool in the room.
Killing Gordon is almost too easy. It’s as if Sam’s growing stronger while he sleeps, gaining supernatural strength during the time he spends in dream-Hell.
In the motel, Dean gives him that look again, the one Sam’s getting used to, the look that says he’s worried about Sam but he’s not going to admit it.
“What’s up with you?” Dean demands, glaring at him across the bed.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re jittery, you don’t eat, you kill a suped-up vampire with fuckin’ razor wire, man.” Dean shakes his head. “You’re like a Terminator on steroids. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were on something.”
Sam rolls his eyes. “I’m not on anything, Dean.”
“You still having those dreams?” Dean demands. “Those visions?”
“Yeah, but that’s not -- They’re not -- “
“What? Changing you? Because it sure feels that way, Sam. Something’s happening with you and it’s got me a little freaked out, if you want to know the truth.”
Sam takes a deep breath, clenches his fists, struggling to keep his annoyance in check.
“It’s okay, Dean,” he says through gritted teeth. “I can handle it.”
“Can you?” Dean’s practically shouting now. He stalks closer and Sam stands his ground. “Cuz from where I’m standing, it looks like you’re losing it. It’s like you’re not even my brother anymore.”
“That’s just stupid.” Sam huffs out a laugh. “Of course I’m still your brother.”
“Are you?” Dean peers at him, unconvinced. “What happened to you when you died, Sam? Did you go to Hell? Huh? Did something happen to you down there?”
“Nothing happened to me!” Sam insists, startled by Dean’s accusation, by how accurate it is. “I’m fine.”
Dean clenches his fists, and for a moment Sam thinks Dean’s going to slug him. He watches Dean warily, waiting for the punch.
“Talk to me, Sam,” Dean orders. He’s as angry as Sam’s ever seen him.
They’re standing close enough to touch, and Sam can count every freckle on Dean’s nose. He’d like to lick each one.
Dean’s gorgeous and fragile and Sam can’t lose him. He won’t.
Even if it means telling him the truth.
Sam takes a shaky breath. He needs the warm embrace of Dean’s trust and acceptance like a physical thing, although he’s not sure he’ll ever have it again once he reveals the truth.
Sam’s shoulders slump and his head hangs. He curls into himself and becomes Dean’s little brother again, small and penitent.
“There’s something wrong with me, Dean,” Sam confesses. “There’s always been something wrong. Gordon knew it. I know it. Since I was a baby. That’s why Azazel picked me. I’ve got this — this evil in me — It’s growing, Dean. Ever since I got back… It’s getting worse, and I don’t know how to stop it.” It’s such a relief, saying the words, pleading for Dean’s help. “I don’t know what to do, Dean. Tell me what to do!”
“No, no, no, no.” Dean interrupts. He grabs Sam’s shoulders and shakes him, backs him up against the wall and shakes him again, all big-brother protective. “Now you listen to me, okay? There is nothing wrong with you. You’re fine, you hear me?”
Sam nods. His lips quiver and his eyes smart.
“I killed that bastard,” Dean says, shaking Sam again. “You hear me? I killed him. He can’t have you. He doesn’t have any hold on you. You’re my brother, damn it! Mine!”
Dean stares up at Sam with his big beautiful eyes wild with fierce, protective love. Sam stares back, sees the moment Dean decides to trust Sam because he doesn’t have any other choice. He never did.
Dean needs Sam to be the little brother who looks up to him, and Sam can do that. Sam won’t let Dean down.
“It’s gonna be okay, Dean, I promise,” Sam assures him. His lip quivers. “I’m gonna save you.”
Dean’s eyes drop to Sam’s mouth, and for a split second Sam thinks he’s about to get kissed. His heart soars, his cheeks flush hot, and his lips tingle in anticipation.
Then Dean steps back, nodding. He pats Sam’s chest, licks his lips, and blinks like he’s waking up from a spell.
Like he’s stopping himself from doing something he knows he shouldn’t do.
“Okay, Sammy,” he breathes. “Okay.”
Later, in the bathroom, Sam stares at himself in the mirror for a long time. He doesn’t look any different, but something’s changed. Dean sees it, but Dean loves him too much to question it. Dean cleans up after Sam’s kills with barely a glance, just that worried look.
Dean could watch Sam turn into a monster in front of his eyes and accept it with nothing more than a little wide-eyed version of that look.
My brother the monster, Sam chuckles to himself in the car the next day. Laughter bubbles up out of his chest until he’s giggling hysterically.
“You all right?” Dean frowns.
“I’m fine,” Sam says. “Stop asking me that.”
They both know Sam’s lying.
At Christmas they go after a couple of pagan gods. Afterwards, Sam humors Dean with a convenience-store Christmas celebration in their motel room.
“It’s my final Christmas, Sam,” Dean pleads.
“It’s not your final anything, Dean,” Sam insists. “I’m gonna get you out of this, remember?”
But Dean just smiles at him and raises his glass of over-spiked eggnog in salute. Sam does the same, trying not to think about how beautiful Dean is in the light from the fake Christmas tree and the TV. Sam sits next to Dean on the couch as they watch the game, sipping eggnog and trying not to wish he could kiss Dean’s soft lips.
Monsters come in all varieties. Some of them are in love with their own brothers.
Sam knows exactly what kind of monster he is.
”I am the one you seek, Sam.”
A small demon with a high, childlike voice stands in a corner of the cell.
“Who are you?” Sam demands. “What’s your name?”
The small demon smiles, shakes its head. “First, you must do as I say.”
Sam listens, and learns. He knows he will remember every word of the little demon’s instructions when he wakes up.
Sam goes after the witch Tammi Benton with single-minded focus.
“She’s a demon,” he tells Dean. “She knows who holds your contract. She’s possessing a coven leader in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.”
“I hate witches,” Dean grouses as the car roars to life..
The three suburban witches are practicing black magic in the living room of one of their homes when the Winchesters burst in. They grab the Tammi demon before she has a chance to react, planning to trap her in the devil’s trap they’d made earlier.
When Sam thrusts the demon blade deep into her chest Dean’s eyes go wide with shock.
“Dude! I thought you said she knows who holds my contract,” he says as the witches scatter, screaming.
“Yeah, but she was too powerful,” Sam says, chest heaving with effort. “If we’d given her even a moment’s warning, she would’ve killed us both or smoked out to tell her boss. I couldn’t let that happen.”
“Okay,” Dean stares down at the body. “Now what, Van Damme?”
“Now we wait,” Sam says. “This demon was high up in the hierarchy, and her death will give notice to the other demons that we mean business.”
“Oh, so now the demons will come to us,” Dean says, tucking the Colt away in his jacket as Sam cleans the demon blade with a napkin from the witches’ refreshment table.
“That’s the idea.” Sam grits his teeth. He doesn’t tell Dean that the little demon in his dream wanted Tammi dead. She promised to tell him who holds Dean’s contract in exchange for this kill, but Sam’s not ready to explain that to Dean.
Making the demon who holds Dean’s contract show himself is the endgame. Sam just has to hope he’s strong enough to defeat the demon when the time comes.
He makes special hex bags they can use to hide themselves from demon detection when they need to, and they wait.
Body count: 29.
Sam’s dreams become more vivid and intense after they kill the Tammi demon. When he wakes up he feels powerful, his veins pulsing with something other than human blood.
Demon blood. Sam’s got demon blood in his veins.
While he sleeps, the dream-Hell feeds him, building his strength, preparing him for the final confrontation.
You’re turning into a demon, Sam, the voice in his dream says. It sounds like John. You keep going down this road, boy, you know where it leads.
Sam wakes up shivering in the January air. Even taking a long, hot shower doesn’t warm him up.
It’s cold in Hell, Sam, the voice reminds him. Bone cold.
When Bobby falls into a coma during a case in Pittsburgh, Sam knows what to do. They break into Professor Gregg’s sleep lab and steal his supply of African Dreamroot. Then they enter Bobby’s dream and save him.
That night, Sam goes back in and kills Jeremy Frost with a baseball bat. Obviously, it had to be done. The guy threatened his brother. Nobody does that and lives.
Afterwards, he can’t see himself in the mirror. He tells himself the steam is too intense in the cold bathroom, but he knows better. He’s disappearing. Changing.
“So you did a little dream-weaving of your own in here, huh?” Bobby says the next day when Sam tells him what happened.
Sam shrugs. “Yeah. I just sort of concentrated and it happened, you know?”
Bobby looks skeptical “Didn't have anything to do with... you know, your psychic stuff?”
“No,” Sam lies. “I mean, I don’t think so.”
“Huh.” Bobby nods. “Good. Good.”
Dean’s quiet in the car at first. When he finally says what’s on his mind, Sam can feel his fear.
“I've been doing some thinking,” he says, clearing his throat. “And well, the thing is... I don't wanna die.”
Sam’s chest tightens. He can feel tears tugging at the back of his throat.
“I don't wanna go to Hell,” Dean goes on.
Sam swallows, choking back his own sorrow and guilt before he trusts himself to speak.
“All right,” he nods. “Yeah. We'll find a way to save you.”
Dean glances over, then looks away, nodding. When he looks back at Sam again, there’s a little smile on his lips.
“Okay,” he says. “Good.”
Sam’s body count: 30.
”So here’s the deal.”
John Winchester crouches in a corner of the red room, looking up as Sam backs away till he hits the wall.
It can’t be John. It can’t be. It’s a demon.
“When you get topside, you’re gonna forget this. You won’t remember our talk.”
“I’m already topside,” Sam blurts, terrified because everything about this feels too goddamn familiar. He was here before, for real. “I’m dreaming.”
“Yes and no,” John says. “You’re remembering when you were actually here, Sam. When you died, you came here. We talked. I explained that you wouldn’t remember this, but you’d have dreams. Premonitions. Visions. Memory-dreams of another timeline, the one where you made other choices. Everything you needed to guide you so that you could save Dean.”
“This isn’t real,” Sam says. He’s shaking. “You aren’t my dad.”
“Use your instincts, Sam,” John admonishes. “You can tell the difference. You always could. You’ve got a sixth sense about monsters.”
“Because I am one.” Sam sucks in a breath. “You knew. You warned Dean about me. You told him he might have to kill me.”
“I was wrong,” John admits. “Truth is, you’re the only one who can save the two of you from a whole lot more than a little trip downstairs.”
“What are you talking about?” Hysteria rises in Sam’s chest. He’s starting to panic.
John closes his eyes. When he opens them again, they’re solid black.
“That’s for me to know and for you to find out, Sammy.”
Sam wakes up screaming.
“Sam! Sam! Wake up, man!”
Sam’s eyes snap open and he stops flailing. Dean leans over him, holding his shoulders down against the mattress. Sam pants and sweats and knows he’s been screaming because his throat feels sore and scratchy.
The dream’s already fading, something about Dean being dragged to Hell by hellhounds in a nice suburban home while Sam was pinned to the wall, the blonde chick with the demon knife holding him there...
“Lilith,” Sam gasps. “Her name’s Lilith.”
Dean’s confused expression makes Sam close his eyes, makes him take a deep breath and force himself to relax before he speaks again.
“The demon who holds your contract,” Sam breathes, meeting Dean’s gaze again.
Dean lets him go, stands up and stares down at Sam, then scrubs a hand over his face.
“How do you know that, Sam?”
Sam draws a deep breath, lets it out. “Because I do,” he says. “Because I just dreamed it.”
Dean sits down on his bed, rubs the back of his neck.
“What are the dreams about, Sam?”
Sam takes a deep breath and hugs himself.
“Hell,” he says honestly. It’s a relief to finally tell someone. “They’re about Hell, mostly.”
“Mostly?” Dean frowns.
“Well, this one was about you dying, actually,” Sam says.
“Another premonition,” Dean suggests.
Sam shakes his head. “No. Definitely not. It couldn’t be that.”
“Because that Ruby chick was there,” Sam says. “Well, her human host, anyway. It was possessed by Lilith.”
“We burned the bodies, Sam,” Dean reminds him.
“I know.” Sam nods. “That’s why it couldn’t have been her.”
“Sam, I swear to God, you gotta tell me what the hell’s going on with you,” Dean growls. “This shit is getting freakier by the minute!”
Sam rocks himself, bites his lower lip. “You were right, Dean,” he says. “When I died in Cold Oak, I went to Hell.”
Coming clean feels necessary. Feels right.
“Okay.” Dean’s eyes are wide, wary. “What happened there?”
Sam grimaces. “I think I talked to Dad.”
“Dad?” Dean’s shocked.
“Yeah, I think so.” Sam nods. “He told me things.”
“Yeah, like how I could get you out of your deal, ” Sam says, “but I had to do it one step at a time, so Lilith wouldn’t know I was on to her. That’s why I only learned her name tonight. I couldn’t know before I’d done all those other things.”
Dean stares at him. “And Dad told you all this.”
“I think so?” Sam rubs his own arms. He’s so cold.
John knew about the demon blood, too, but Dean doesn’t need to know about that.
“So you’re like the Manchurian Candidate,” Dean suggests. “Dad sent you back to take down the bitch who holds my contract.”
Sam can see he’s said the right thing. Dean thinks John planned the whole thing. All the pieces fall into place for Dean now. He’ll always follow their dad’s orders, even after his death. Especially after.
Sam takes a deep breath, lets it out slow. “Maybe,” he agrees. “The main thing is, we’ve got the demon’s name now. Right?”
Dean scrubs a hand over his face. “Let me call Bobby.”
Bobby tells them he can find Lilith’s location, so they head out for Sioux Falls the next morning, ignoring a case in Broward County, Florida. Bobby tells them he’ll send some other hunters to look into it.
They’re passing through Monument, Colorado, when they intercept a call for help from the local sheriff’s office. They arrive just in time to help deal with a demon siege, and by the end of it they’ve killed thirty demons.
Most of the human hosts survive, so this one feels like a win.
They stop in Wichita the next day and take out thirty more at a gym, where Sam blesses the swimming pool just before a swim meet.
“Pretty sure we got her attention,” Dean comments when they learn that an explosion killed several people in both places shortly after the Winchesters left town.
Sam sets his jaw and nods. The higher the body count, the angrier he becomes. The struggle against the demons felt personal from the beginning, especially because of Dean’s deal. But now that the Winchesters have a name, now that they know who holds Dean’s contract, Sam’s sense of purpose has grown exponentially.
There’s just one problem. The night of the explosions, Sam dreams about Lilith. In the dream he sees the human she was possessing when she went to the police station in Monument.
Sam worries that Dean won’t accept so easily what he has to do next. Killing a child isn’t something they do, even if the child is demon-possessed. Even if the demon is torturing and killing the family members of the child she’s possessing.
“It’s a little girl,” he tells Bobby and Dean as Bobby performs the location spell. “Lilith likes to possess children.”
Bobby’s eyes widen in surprise.
“He saw it in a dream,” Dean explains quickly. He rolls his eyes and shrugs when Bobby stares at him.
“Well, did you dream about how to kill her?” Bobby snaps. “Cuz if she’s the demon who’s been blowing up police stations and swimming pools, she might not be the easiest demon to take down.”
“We’ve got the knife,” Dean says. “And the Colt. One of them should do the trick.”
“She’s got serious telekinetic ability,” Sam says. “We’ll have to get close, hit her before she sees us coming.”
“Well, that’ll be easy,” Bobby says sarcastically. “I’m sure the town she’s in isn’t crawling with demons, Lilith being their new leader and all.”
“We can do it,” Sam insists. “We have to do it.” He holds up one of the special hex bags. “This will shield us from the demons so they won’t see us coming.”
Bobby takes the bag, turns it over, opens it, studies the contents, then looks up at Sam. “You learn how to make this in a dream, too?”
Sam nods shortly. “Pretty much.”
“Thought you said your psychic mojo died with the Yellow Eyed Demon,” Bobby remarks.
Sam shrugs. “Guess I was wrong.”
“Uh-huh.” Bobby’s expression is wary, suspicious. “Okay, what are we waiting for?”
“No, no, no,” Dean says, shaking his head. “Bobby, this is our fight. Sam’s and mine. You don’t need to risk your life on this.”
“The hell I don’t,” Bobby argues. “You’re not going without me, that’s for damn sure. Family don’t end with blood, boy!”
Lilith is possessing a little girl named Grace Miner. She’s hunkered down with the girl’s family in Pleasantville, Ohio, surrounded by her demon followers, who are possessing the neighbors, postal workers, and landscapers, just as Bobby had suggested.
Bobby turns the sprinkler system into holy water, distracting the neighbors, while Sam and Dean break into the girl’s home. When they find the little girl asleep in her bed, propped next to her dead mother, Sam doesn’t hesitate. He can’t.
As the knife sinks into the child’s chest to the hilt, Lilith wakes up long enough to understand what’s happening to her. Sam can’t help enjoying the look of shock as the demon realizes she’s dying.
As he pulls the knife free, he looks up to see Dean staring at him from the doorway, horror and dismay twisting his handsome features.
“It had to be done, Dean,” Sam says quietly. Killing a child is the most terrible thing either of them has ever done, and the fact that it was done to save Dean should probably make it worse.
But it doesn’t. He’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Now that it’s done, Sam’s shaking. Now that the worst is over, he’s exhausted. In shock.
There are still upwards of fifty demons outside the house, so they leave quietly. In the gathering gloom of early evening, they slip out the back door and across several back yards to a street on the other side of the housing development. When they reach the car, they find Bobby already there, waiting next to his own car. He looks shaken. Scared.
Of Sam maybe. Yeah, probably. Sam’s scared of Sam, so it would make sense.
“So, it’s done?” Bobby asks, looking from one to the other of the brothers.
“It’s done.” Sam nods. “We got her.”
“So... is that it?” Bobby asks. “Dean’s deal is broken?”
“Not so fast.”
A clipped British accent startles them. They whirl around to confront a short, balding man who slips out of the shadows across the street. He’s wearing a suit under a long, dark overcoat, his hands shoved into the pockets as he saunters towards them.
“Who are you?” Dean demands, drawing the Colt from his jacket pocket.
“Hello, boys,” the man says with a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “You may call me Crowley. King of Hell, as a matter of fact, thanks to you.”
“You’re a demon,” Dean accuses, raising the Colt to take aim at the man’s head.
“Smarter than you look, darling,” Crowley smirks.
“What do you want?” Sam demands, and Crowley smiles at him.
“Sam Winchester, as I live and breathe,” Crowley says. “I’d shake your hand but you’d probably stab me with your little pointy thing, am I right?” He smirks, letting his gaze sweep over Sam suggestively.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t shoot you right now,” Dean growls.
Crowley rolls his eyes. “Because I’m the only one who can release you from your contract,” he says. “Thought you would’ve figured that out by now.”
“I thought Lilith held my contract,” Dean says, glancing at Sam, who shrugs. He thought so, too.
“She did, until your Neanderthal of a brother here killed her,” Crowley says. “Now it’s mine. And killing me won’t release you from it, so don’t get all trigger-happy. Your deal is locked up tight in a safe, back home in my new office.”
“So what do you want?” Sam growls, furious that there appears to be yet another demon to deal with, after everything they’ve just been through.
“You’ve already given me what I wanted,” Crowley says. “The crown. Lilith’s death leaves the throne free for the taking, and I’ve claimed it as her next-of-kin and former lover.”
“Ugh. Too much information,” Bobby complains with a grimace.
Crowley turns his gaze on Bobby. “You’re lucky I don’t make deals anymore,” he says. “I can think of some delicious ones to offer you.”
“So Dean’s deal,” Sam interrupts, impatient. “What do I have to do to get him out of it?”
Crowley turns his gaze on Sam again. “Have I not made myself clear? You’ve already done it, Cro Magnon.”
“So what’s the problem?” Dean presses. “Why do you still have it?”
“Let’s just say, it’s an insurance policy,” Crowley says.
“Against what?” Sam snaps.
“Against any of you denim-and-plaid nightmares bothering me or my henchmen, ever again,” Crowley growls.
“Wait a minute. You want us to give up hunting?” Dean squints, like he’s trying to read the fine print.
“Oh, you can hunt all you like,” Crowley says. “Just not me or my demons. Leave us alone, we leave you alone. Win-win.”
“Let me get this straight,” Dean says. “You want us to ignore all demonic behavior. Just pretend your minions aren’t possessing people and riding ‘em hard, killing people, doing evil. Cuz I hate to tell you, but that ain’t gonna happen.”
“I’ll rein in my followers,” Crowley promises. “Keep their mischief to a minimum. Oh, they’ll do as I say, don’t worry. There’ll be nothing more disturbing than the occasional frat party gone wild. Nothing beyond the run-of-the-mill bad boy and girl letting loose for a little sin and debauchery. You know all about that, don’t you, Dean?”
Dean shifts uncomfortably, and Sam can’t help wondering what happened between him and the Casey demon. He wants to shoot her all over again.
Crowley goes on. “And in exchange, you stop shooting my people with your puny little pistol.”
“We’re not likely to shoot them if they’re not hurting people,” Sam says. He can’t help thinking there must be a catch. This all sounds too easy. “But if they do hurt people, the deal’s off. You can’t ask us to just sit around and let some demon torture and kill people.”
“Nor would I,” Crowley agrees. “I can assure you, I’m more interested in deal-making than murder and mayhem. Not that I wouldn’t get my hands dirty if the situation presented itself. Let’s just say I’m much less of a hands-on leader than my predecessor. I believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
“And if we’re not?” Dean growls.
“I still have your deal,” Crowley reminds him. “I’m willing to extend the term to cover your natural lifespan. But if you cause me more trouble than you’re worth, the deal comes due instantantly. No do-overs, no extensions. Just time’s up, off to Hell you go.”
Sam and Dean exchange glances. “So Dean gets to live out his life?” Sam’s incredulous.
Crowley nods. “Let me do what I do in peace, you stay topside.”
“And when my life is over, I go to Hell,” Dean says. “To become a demon.”
Crowley smiles. “Everybody dies sometime.”
“Wait a minute,” Bobby interrupts. “Are you saying, everybody who dies goes to Hell? And turns into demons? Demons were human once?”
Sam and Dean exchange glances again, then Dean takes a deep breath. “We didn’t want to tell you, Bobby. It just didn’t seem like very good news, you know?”
“It sure as hell doesn’t,” Bobby exclaims. “It doesn’t even make sense. I get why hunters go to Hell. We’re killers. But what about that innocent little girl we just killed? The one Lilith was possessing? Are you trying to tell me she goes to Hell, too?”
Crowley shrugs. “I don’t make the rules,” he says.
“Well then, who does?” Sam demands, and Crowley shrugs again.
“The answer to that question is so far above my paygrade it’s in the fuckin’ stratosphere,” he says. “Couldn’t give you an answer to save my life, even if I knew. Which I don’t. Next question?”
“Will Sam and I be together down there?” Dean asks. “They won’t put us in separate cells or nothing?”
Sam stares at him. It hadn’t even crossed his mind, being separated from Dean after they die, but as soon as Dean says it, Sam feels the same fear. Hell is anywhere the brothers are separated. Doesn’t have to be full of fire and brimstone. Doesn’t have to smell like sulfur.
“Arrangements can be made,” Crowley sneers. “I know how close you two are. Shouldn’t be a problem to guarantee a cell with double occupancy.”
Sam and Dean exchange glances. Sam’s cheeks flush hot, and Dean clears his throat as he looks away again.
“I guess we can promise not to follow up on every demonic omen,” Dean says reluctantly. “As long as nobody gets hurt.”
Crowley smiles again, looking like a cross between a snake and a hyena. Sam half expects a forked tongue to flicker out of his mouth.
“That’s my boy,” he says softly.
Sam jumps. He’s heard those words before, spoken to him in Hell, while he was dead. He thought they belonged to his father, or maybe Azazel, but now he’s not so sure.
“Hey, did we meet when I was down there?” he asks. “Did we have a conversation, while I was in Hell?”
“Why Sam, I’m flattered,” Crowley croons. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re flirting with me.”
“What? No!” Sam’s cheeks burn. He glances at Dean, who frowns and looks away. “I just have these vague...uh...memories of my time down there...and I thought maybe you were there.”
“When Sam Winchester died, Hell noticed, if that’s what you’re asking,” Crowley says. “You were Azazel’s favored child. You were expected to win.” He shrugs. “When that didn’t happen, we were all very interested, needless to say.”
Sam can feel Bobby’s eyes on him, suspicious and fearful. He shakes his head.
“When I was down there, I talked to a demon...”
Crowley’s face is a portrait of surprise for a moment before he masters it. “A demon, you say? Are you completely sure about that?”
“Well, I thought it was a demon,” Sam says. “I mean, I assumed...”
“You assumed,” Crowley repeats. “Because the word around town at the time was, the minute you checked in, your dad found you. You were always his favorite, you know.”
Sam huffs out a breath. He doesn’t bother to glance at Dean. “That’s not true,” he says. “Dad and I were like oil and water.”
“No, you are definitely your father’s son,” Crowley says. “Driven, stubborn, focused. Obsessed. You went after Lilith the way your dad went after Azazel. Because it’s in your blood, Sam. Winchesters always get their man. Or woman.”
“All I was trying to do was save Dean,” Sam says, shaking his head.
“Well, you succeeded, didn’t you?” Crowley says. “Congratulations. And now, I really must be going. It’s been real.”
The next minute, he’s gone.
Dean lowers the Colt, shoves it back inside his jacket. “Well, isn’t that something,” he mutters. “A demon with a conscience.”
Sam shakes his head. “More like a really sharp business sense,” he says. “I get the feeling he wrote the small print parts of the deal you made, and he doesn’t give up easily.”
“You think?” Dean glances between Sam and Bobby. “But it’s okay, right? I mean, even if I’m not totally out of the deal, I don’t go to Hell in three months after all? I guess that’s a win, right?”
Sam takes a deep breath, starts shaking again now that the stress of the evening is beginning to dissipate.
“Yeah, Dean. I guess that’s right.”
Later, after Bobby goes home, Dean and Sam drive west until they cross the Indiana border, uncomfortable with the idea of bedding down close to where a large group of demons had congregated.
Anywhere near that massacred family.
Harmony, Indiana seems like a nice town. The Comfort Inn has an available room with two queen-sized beds, and when they unload the car and pile into the room they’re both too tired to do much more than undress and fall into those beds face down.
Sometime in the night, Sam wakes up. He’s been dreaming, but not the kind of dreams he had before Lilith died. There’s no lingering reek of sulfur. He stares at the ceiling in the dark for a few seconds, listening to Dean’s breathing. Then he staggers out of bed into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.
After taking care of his bladder, he washes his hands and splashes water on his face, then peers into the mirror over the sink. The face that stares back at him is familiar, but not quite his own. Something’s changed. He can feel it. He’s not the man he was nine months ago, when all of this began. He’s not sure he’ll ever be that man again.
He’s killed thirty people, feels responsible for the deaths of thirty more. One of them was a little girl.
Dean stands in the doorway, clad only in the sleep shorts and t-shirt he usually wears to bed. His hair sticks up all over the top of his head in a way that makes him look young and vulnerable.
Sam loves his brother so much it hurts.
“Yeah.” Sam grabs a towel, dries his hands and face, and brushes past Dean without looking at him.
Dean grabs his bicep, forcing him to stop and turn.
“You did it, Sam,” Dean says, his voice soft. There’s almost no space between them, and Sam can see every eyelash as Dean looks down, obviously struggling with his emotions. “You saved me.”
“We did it together,” Sam says. His voice breaks on the last word, so he clears his throat.
Dean still has a hand on him. As he lets go, he strokes Sam’s bare arm. “Yeah.”
“I’m still going to kick your ass for making that deal in the first place,” Sam promises.
“Sure, tough guy.” Dean grins. “You can try.”
The air crackles with tension, with all the things Sam wants to say and can’t, all the things Sam wants to do but won’t.
He’s enough of a monster already.
“Are you okay with the whole going to Hell thing?” Sam shifts his feet. “I mean, eventually?”
Dean shrugs. “Yeah, I’m okay with it,” he says. “I always figured it’s what I deserve anyway.”
No, you don’t! Sam screams inside his head. You’re the Righteous Man they wanted downstairs, and now we’ll never know why.
“It’s just that — demons lie, you know?” Sam says. “And I feel like Crowley lied to us about Hell being the only place where everybody goes after they die.”
“Doesn’t matter, does it?” Dean shrugs. “Wherever we go, we’ll be together. That much I know. When we die, we’ll die together.”
“Yeah,” Sam nods, clenching his hands into fists to keep them at his sides, to keep from reaching for Dean. “I just — I always hoped that there was something more, you know? Like maybe if I did things the right way, I could be saved. And I could save you, too. Stop us both from going to Hell.”
“Guys like you and me, we don’t get to choose, Sam,” Dean says. “Like Crowley said, it’s above our pay grade. If somebody else is making the rules, we’ll never know, will we? And I’m fine with that. I’m okay with just knowing we can keep doing what we do for as long as can without a fixed deadline. We keep taking down evil things and maybe save some lives. That’s the most we can hope for. The rest of it — what really comes afterwards — well, that’s not the point, is it?”
Sam lifts his eyes, looks down into Dean’s beautiful face, and it occurs to him that this is his Heaven. If there is a God, he’s good simply because he’s given Sam this.
Which is more than a demon-blooded, brother-loving serial killer deserves.
“Yeah.” Sam nods. “Guess you’re right.”
They’re on the road the next morning, headed to Broward County to follow up on the still-unsolved case from a couple of months ago, when Dean drops a bomb.
“Casey said Lucifer’s real,” he says. “She believed in him.”
Sam frowns. “But I thought Crowley was the King of Hell,” he says, confused.
Dean shrugs. “Guess you were right. There’s something bigger than him making the rules.”
The case in Broward County takes two days. There’s a Trickster in town, taking out overstuffed, arrogant bastards who think they know everything.
On Tuesday, when Sam shoves his wooden stake into the monster, it feels good. Feels right. He doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t question.
Dean’s wide green eyes stare up at him with more love and devotion than Sam deserves.
They leave town on Wednesday and they never look back.