The Long and Winding Road (amypond45) wrote,
The Long and Winding Road
amypond45

PART FOUR: Under Them Skies of Blue

“Why aren’t we using Castiel’s transportation magic to get us to Blue Earth again?”

Sam’s being such a bitch. He just got an earful of what a hero he is and now he can’t seem to stop trying to rush headlong into danger. It’s making Dean cranky.

They lie side-by-side on Bobby’s living room floor, tucked in for bed because they’ve got a helluva ride ahead of them tomorrow.

“Because if I never have to use that mode of transportation again, it’ll be too soon.” Dean scoots closer against Sam — for warmth, he tells himself. It’s freezing in Bobby’s house. He’s grateful to have a roof over their heads, but they could’ve used a fire.

But Bobby says the old wood stove in the jail is the only one he keeps running. He spends most of his time there, anyway, sleeps in one of the cells because the iron bars make him feel safer.

If the Winchesters freeze to death tonight, it’ll be on the old guy.

“I just think we should get there before Mary does,” Sam says. “We can figure out the lay of the land, get familiar with the territory, work out what we’re gonna do when she gets there. Preparation — “

“Is nine-tenths of the job, yeah,” Dean finishes. “And that’s why we’re gonna ride, so we’ll have plenty of time to plan.”

“Dean, have you ever been to Blue Earth before?”

Dean shakes his head. “And that’s why we’ll send Castiel ahead, let him scope out the area. He can come back and report.”

“Oh, because Castiel has so much hunting experience and would know the best layout when he sees it.” Sam’s voice drips with sarcasm.

“We’ll figure it out from what he tells us,” Dean insists. “How hard can it be? We need a lookout position, so we have the initial advantage when Mom arrives. We assume the demon is meeting her there, so we want to be there when that goes down.”

“In case he possesses her and it’s all over before it starts,” Sam suggests dryly.

“If that’s his game, why meet with her at all? Why negotiate?” Dean says.

Sam thinks for a moment. “Maybe he needs her help.”

Dean huffs out an exasperated breath. “What kind of help could a top-level demon need from a human? He’s got way more power than she does.”

“She’s a psychic, Dean, and a good one. Maybe she knows something.”

“Which he could read her mind to find out,” Dean says. “It’s not like there’s any information she could keep from a top-level demon. And if he can’t read her mind, he can possess her and find out all he needs that way.”

“Maybe he needs her to get something for him,” Sam suggests.

“Or do something,” Dean says, sucking in a breath.

“What are you thinking?”

Dean lets his breath out on a huff. “Maybe there’s something he needs a human to do, something the demon can’t manage because he’d be discovered.”

“So the demon needs a human to do his dirty work,” Sam muses. He shakes his head. “I just don’t see it. What’s demon work that Mary would ever agree to?”

“If he threatened her...”

“Yeah, I could see her doing something for him if the alternative was worse.” Sam nods.

“That would explain why she ran off without telling anybody what she was doing,” Dean says, gritting his teeth. “Leaving her journal behind. She doesn’t expect to come back.”

They lie quietly for a few moments, both lost in thought.

“She should’ve let us come with her,” Dean says finally. “She shouldn’t have gone alone.”

“She was trying to protect us,” Sam says.

“Getting herself killed isn’t protecting anybody,” Dean growls. “She shouldn’t have gone alone.”

“Mary Winchester does exactly what she thinks best, usually without back-up,” Sam says. “That’s just the way she is.”

“Idiot,” Dean mutters.

Sam sighs. “We better get some sleep,” he says, reaching for Dean’s hand under the blanket. He gives it a squeeze. “We got a long ride tomorrow.”

Dean can’t disagree, as much as he wishes Sam would cuddle with him, if only for warmth.

As soon as Sam’s breathing evens out, Dean rolls over, slides his arm across Sam’s chest, and worms his leg between Sam’s.

He drifts off to sleep to the comforting rise and fall of Sam’s chest, draped over Sam’s overheated body, with his face pressed against Sam’s warm shoulder.

It’s better than a wood stove, in all the ways that count.



The day dawns bright and cold, and the horses snort and paw at the hard ground, anxious to get back on the trail. Castiel suggests they stop by the saloon on the way out of town, and as they ride up they find Chuck standing in the doorway, hugging himself for warmth.

“Anything new you can tell us, Chuck?” Dean asks.

Chuck blinks. “Azazel’s not the worst of your troubles.”

“What are you talking about?” Dean glares.

Chuck turns his bleary gaze on Castiel. “It’s the angels,” he says.

Castiel frowns. “Explain.”

“The angels are taking human souls,” Chuck says. “They’re using them to make a powerful sealant around the Gates of Hell to prevent demons from getting out.” He shivers, hugs himself tighter. “They’re using a lot of souls.”

Dean has a flashback to the dream he had years ago, just after they first met Castiel. At the time, the dream felt like a vision, like something that would happen in the future.

“The angels are killing people?” Dean glares at Castiel. “Did you know about this?”

“They’re not killing them, exactly,” Chuck says. “They’re just taking their souls. But trust me, that’s worse. Killing them would be a mercy. Leaving a person without a soul...It’s brutal.” He shivers again.

“They can do that?” Sam and Dean share shocked glances, then turn accusingly to Castiel.

To his credit, Castiel seems as shocked as the Winchesters. “It is technically possible,” he answers. “But removing a soul from its human host is highly irregular. In all my time on Earth, I have never heard of such a thing.”

“So what does this have to do with the demon?” Dean demands.

“Azazel,” Sam breathes. “He called the demon Azazel.”

Chuck nods. “That’s his name. He’s very old, very powerful.”

“But he can be killed,” Dean confirms.

“He can,” Chuck nods. “I’ve seen it.” He glances at Sam, flinches, and Dean has a sudden flash vision of Sam standing tall and proud with his hair and his long coat flying around him as he fires the Colt.

“What does Azazel want with our mother?” Dean demands.

Chuck shakes his head. “He wants her to help him stop the angels,” he says. “He can’t just waltz into their camp on his own. He’s a demon. They’ll recognize him right away.”

“So he’s sending Mary,” Sam says. “She’s human. The angels won’t see her as a threat.”

“Then what is she supposed to do? Ask them politely to stop using human souls as gate sealant?” Dean rolls his eyes.

“This can’t be happening,” Castiel insists, shaking his head. “Angels would never behave this way. Human souls are precious. They’re powerful, yes, but angels would never use them like this.”

“Chuck’s a Prophet of the Lord,” Dean says with a shrug. “According to you, whatever he sees, happens, right?”

Castiel shakes his head, confusion radiating around him like a halo. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Angels behaving like monsters makes sense to me,” Dean growls. “Possessing people, using people’s souls, killing a few if it’s all for the greater good — sounds about right.”

“Dean, angels don’t interfere in human lives this way,” Castiel insists. “Angels see any human interference as beneath them.”

“Huh,” Dean nods. “Well, maybe they’re making an exception. Maybe the end justifies the means, in this case.”

“That’s not possible,” Castiel insists, but he’s obviously not so certain anymore.

Dean and Sam exchange exasperated looks. “You’re here, aren’t you?” Dean says. “Interfering with these human lives?” Dean gestures between himself, Sam, Chuck and Bobby.

“That’s different,” Castiel says. “I was sent here to assist your mission.”

“And the mission doesn’t have anything to do with sealing up Hell,” Dean clarifies.

“No,” Castiel says. “It’s not even clear to me why angels would want such a thing. A few demons getting out of Hell hasn’t bothered us before. It’s part of the way the world works. What demons do is beneath us, certainly not something worthy of so much effort.”

Dean shakes his head. “Well, I got nothin’. Bobby? Sam?”

“Sounds like it’s time to hit the road, boys,” Bobby says. “Figure out what you can about what the hell’s happening.”

Nobody can argue with that.

Chuck can’t give them any intel on where the angel camp is located.

“But I can guarantee that demon knows where it is,” Bobby mutters darkly. “Guess you’ll just have to get him to tell you.”

“Right before we kill him,” Sam says, grim and fierce.

//**//**//


Bobby sees them off at the town gates. Sam spends a few minutes weaving protection spells around the town perimeter while Dean watches admiringly.

“Your brother is highly skilled,” Castiel notes. “He would make a formidable ally for Azazel.”

Dean’s hackles go up. “Not gonna happen,” he growls menacingly.

“Azazel may try to seduce Sam,” Castiel warns. “If he finds out we’re coming.”

“Like I said, not gonna happen,” Dean insists. “Sam’s got too much sense for that.”

“He’s also got Azazel’s blood in his veins,” Castiel points out.

Dean turns and glares at the angel. “You said I have it, too.”

“Your blood is diluted,” Castiel says. “Sam and Mary were both directly infected as children.”

“Well, he can’t have any of us!” Dean snaps.

Castiel says nothing.

//**//**//


“I need to check in with Heaven,” Castiel announces after they’ve been on a road for less than an hour. He turns his horse off the trail abruptly and heads up the hillside without another word.

Sam and Dean exchange startled glances.

“Okay,” Dean mutters under his breath. “See ya later, maybe.” They watch until Castiel disappears over the crest of the hill, then head east again. “Think he’ll be back?”

“Yes,” Sam answers. He’s been short-tempered since shortly before they left Sioux Falls but Dean hasn’t dared to ask why.

Now he thinks he knows why.

“What Castiel said back there, about you being an ally of the demon.” Dean takes a deep breath, shakes his head. “You know I don’t believe that, don’t you?”

Sam shifts in the saddle, winces. “You don’t know, Dean,” he says after a moment. “You don’t know what he’s capable of. He’s been in my head. He obviously knew where I was when I was in Boston. He was planning to kill Jessica, probably set the fire that killed all those people in my building. He’s keeping tabs on me, probably knows we’re on our way right now.”

Dean recalls the vision of Jessica’s death that he read in Sam’s mind. He recalls the sense of familiarity as the flames rose around the terrified girl, realizing now that he was looking through Azazel’s eyes, as if he was in the demon’s head.

The psychic connection between Sam and Azazel worries Dean more than he wants to admit, but he’s damned if he’ll let Sam know that.

“He can’t have you, Sam,” Dean insists. “If we stick together, we’ll get through this. We’re stronger together, remember?”

Sam gives him a sad little smile that’s almost a grimace.

“I just don’t know how much of my abilities are because I’ve got his blood in me, you know? How much is really me.”

Dean shrugs. “Doesn’t matter. You had six years of on-the-job training, plus four years of top-notch schooling in the magic arts. No natural ability can touch that.”

“Yes, it can,” Sam argues. “Some of the students in my classes were natural born witches. I clearly acquired a little something extra along the way. I can even remember the night it happened.”

Dean shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter. What’s important is, you’re you, Sam. Ain’t nothin’ and nobody can take that away from you.”

But Sam remains unconvinced. Dean would do anything to change that, but he has his own doubts, although not about Sam.

The sooner they kill Azazel, the better.

//**//**//


Castiel returns that evening, sullen and glum. The Winchesters set up camp along a small stream, their campfire warded with Sam’s invisibility spells, and they’re just finishing dinner when Castiel rides up. Dean wonders vaguely how Castiel was able to find them, but decides that’s the least of their worries.

“So, how are things in Heaven?” Dean quips. “I can’t believe I just asked that.”

“Michael has issued orders to seal all the gates out of Hell,” Castiel explains. “He put Zachariah in charge of the operation. I believe it is he who came up with the plan to use human souls. Zachariah isn’t overly fond of humans.”

“Can’t you tell him to stop?” Sam asks hopefully.

“Zachariah outranks me,” Castiel says. “It is unlikely he would listen. It’s much more likely that he would send me back to Heaven, permanently.”

“So then we’ll just have to kill him,” Dean announces.

Castiel’s eyes grow wide. “Dean, you cannot simply kill an Angel of the Lord, especially one as high-ranking as Zachariah. Besides, he would know you were coming, and sense your intent, long before you ever got close enough.”

“So angels can be killed,” Sam clarifies.

Castiel peers at him for a long moment, eyes narrowed, and Dean thinks he won’t answer. Castiel doesn’t trust Sam, he’s made that more than clear. When he finally answers, it’s a surprise to both Winchesters.

“There is a blade,” he says. “A very special blade.”

“An angel-killing blade,” Sam confirms.

“Yes.” Castiel nods. “There are none on Earth, for obvious reasons. I had one with me when I first arrived, but...”

“But?” Dean prompts.

Castiel looks down, and if Dean didn’t know better, he’d swear the angel was embarrassed.

“It was stolen,” Castiel says finally.

“Stolen.” Dean repeats. “How exactly does somebody steal from an angel? You never sleep!”

Castiel’s jaw clenches. “I don’t know,” he admits. “I usually kept it very close. No human could have taken it.”

Dean’s eyebrows go up. “So somebody — some thing — knows you’re here. Besides us, that is.”

“Any idea who took it? Or where it is now?” Sam asks.

“No.” Castiel says, begrudging. Chagrined.

“So we use the Colt,” Dean says. “Sammy can shoot him.”

“You cannot shoot an Angel of the Lord!” Castiel exclaims, indignant.

“Why not? That gun’ll kill anything, right? So why not an angel?”

Castiel stares. His mouth opens, but no sound comes out.

“Anyway, Sam and me need some sleep,” Dean continues. “We’ll talk more about it in the morning.”

Castiel stands watch, and for the first time, Dean’s grateful. He might not trust the angel yet, and he doesn’t like Castiel’s attitude towards Sam, but he’s not averse to his help.

There’s worse things than having a guardian angel watching out for them.



The second night on the road to Blue Earth, they bed down in a empty log cabin. It’s Dean’s turn to take care of the horses, and when he returns Sam’s got a fire going in the fireplace, a pot of rabbit stew almost ready to eat.

After supper, Castiel stands guard while Sam lays the salt lines and warding. It’s been days since they’ve seen any sign of supernatural life, but experience has taught them always to be prepared, just in case.

“Ran into a nest of vampires on the road to Lawrence,” Sam tells Dean when they’re settled in for the night on their bed rolls, sharing Dean’s flask of whisky. “Two gals, five guys. All hungry.”

“Not much left out there for them to eat,” Dean comments, taking a sip of the whisky. “You handled them all by yourself?”

Sam nods. “Doesn’t take much when they’re so hungry,” he says. “They’re sloppy. Stupid. Charged at me like it never occurred to them that I had a blade in my hand and knew how to use it.”

Dean smiles, letting the whisky go down warm. The heat of the fire and Sam’s body next to him are making him sleepy. “I miss the days when we hunted together,” he says. “We were a good team.”

“Still are,” Sam says. His hand brushes Dean’s as he takes the flask. A shiver of lust shoots up Dean’s arm, across his chest.

“What do you think you’ll do when this is over?” Dean asks. “You reckon you’ll head back east again?”

Sam snorts out a laugh. “Nah. I’m a Westerner at heart. I’ll stay out here as long as I’m needed, help the settlers protect their farms, help keep the monsters off native land.”

“You’d always be welcome in Lawrence, Sam,” Dean says, trying not to hold his breath.

Sam smiles, but it’s wistful, rueful. “Yeah, probably not,” he says softly. “Too many bad memories. It’s not really my home like it is yours, Dean. Besides, I’m a gypsy at heart. Always was, even when I was little. I’m like Mary, I guess. Can’t stay in one place very long.”

“You think that’s really the way she is? Or is she that way because of what happened to her?” Dean muses.

“Doesn’t really matter anymore, does it?” Sam says. “It’s been a long time since Mary Winchester kept a permanent address, no matter the reason. Hard to imagine she’ll ever change.”

“I guess,” Dean agrees reluctantly. “Sometimes I just wish she’d slow down long enough so’s I could get to know her, is all.”

Sam rolls over, slides his big hand along Dean’s jaw and tips his chin up. “She’s so proud of you, Dean,” he murmurs softly. “All those years I lived with her, she talked about you all the time. You’re her pride and joy, the best thing in her life. Everything she did — everything she is — was to keep you safe.”

Before Dean can return the compliment, before he can insist that Mary loved Sam, too, that she took Sam away to keep him safe, just as she sent him home to Dean when he was four, Sam kisses him.

Sam doesn’t let him say how grateful he is that Mary sent him home to Dean all those years ago so they could grow up together. He doesn’t get to tell Sam how much it means to him that Mary sent him back to Dean when he was eighteen.

Sam’s got other uses for Dean’s mouth, and Dean’s all right with that.

It’s just fine with him.

//**//**//


They encounter a roving pack of werewolves the next day, take them out with minimal struggle. The creatures are weak, tired, hungry without enough human hearts to keep them well-fed. The Winchesters burn their bodies, casting an invisibility spell for the fire. It’s unlikely much else is alive out here, but they’re still careful.

That night they find another abandoned homestead, bed down in another empty log cabin. This one even has an old straw-filled mattress that’s only a little moldy, so the Winchesters sleep in luxury.

Dean’s starting to wonder if there’s something magical about the way they always stumble on an empty house, however rustic, just about the time they’re ready to get some rest for the night.

Either that, or these homesteads were literally spaced with a full-day’s ride between them, which is possible. The Homestead Act let settlers claim all the land they could pace across in a day and build on. Neighbors would be at least a day’s ride away by default.

“I was an accident,” Sam announces when they’re settled down side-by-side that night. “Mary never meant to have two sons. Then when she realized I was on the way, she made sure the demon knew about me. She figured it would keep him from finding out about you.”

Dean’s so shocked at this idea he doesn’t answer at first.

“That doesn’t make sense, Sam,” he protests. “You were the special one. She sent you to us to keep you safe.”

“The curse was passed down from generation to generation,” Sam says. “As long as the child of an infected child was infected by the time he was four, it didn’t matter if there were other children. The demon keeps tabs on his infected children. Mary, Mary’s mother before her, me.” He pauses. “When Jessica’s child is born, the demon will come for him or her. That’s what it does. That’s why I have to stop it.”

Dean’s confused. “But it planned to kill Jessica. How does that fit the pattern?”

“It doesn’t,” Sam admits with a shrug. “Maybe Azazel always had a plan B, you know?”

“And how the hell do you know Mary planned to sacrifice you that way?” Dean’s angry with Mary, protective of Sam at the mere idea.

Sam huffs out a breath. “I could read it in her mind,” he says. “I don’t think she planned consciously to sacrifice either of us, in the beginning. When she left you and your dad, her only thought was protecting you. What happened later was an accident. Afterwards, she saw the pattern for what it was.”

“And she’s been chasing Azazel ever since,” Dean suggests. “Out of vengeance for her parents’ deaths, and for what Azazel did to you.”

The brothers lie quietly for a moment, staring into the fire.

“I don’t know, Dean,” Sam says, shaking his head. “I just have a really bad feeling about this. Like we’re walking into a trap.”

“Well, if we are, then this might be our last night on Earth,” Dean teases, desperate to lighten Sam’s gloomy mood.

Sam rolls his eyes, and for a moment Dean thinks he’s going to keep going on about his super angsty relationship with the demon that infected him and killed his foster mother.

But when Dean rolls over and cautiously starts feeling him up under his clothes, Sam relaxes and goes with it.

By the sounds he’s making after a few minutes, Dean decides Sam’s probably forgotten his own name, not to mention the demon’s.

Dean counts that as a win.



The morning of the fourth day out of Sioux Falls dawns bright and cloudless again. The ground is frozen solid, and the horses’ hooves make a hollow sound on the hard dirt of the road.

Castiel lets his horse go and flies on ahead to check out the situation in Blue Earth, leaving Sam and Dean alone. There’s no talking now. They talked about everything that needed talking about over the past week, and Dean thinks they’re probably as close as they’ve ever been. Most of the old grudges and resentments have been worked out. They’re on the same page at last.

Just in time for whatever awaits them in Blue Earth.

Knowing there are possibly two battles to come makes them especially edgy. It won’t be enough to defeat the demon. They’ve also got the bad situation with the angels. It might feel a little overwhelming, if they let it, so they focus on what’s right in front of them. The cold road, the empty countryside, the occasional flock of birds flying south, the taste of coming winter on the air, even though it’s late May.

They’ve only been on the road an hour when Remus’ ears perk up. as if she can hear something Dean can’t.

Then he sees it. A lone woman, standing by the side of the road, watching them as they approach. She’s small, petite, blonde. She’s wearing far too few clothes for such a cold day.

“Hello boys,” she coos with a smile.

Her flirtatious vibe is way off the charts, especially given how out in the middle of nowhere they are at the moment.

“Well, hello there, little lady,” Dean drawls, tipping his hat respectfully. “What are you doing all the way out here?”

“My father sent me,” the woman says, smirking.

Sam and Dean exchange glances. Okay.

“I’m Meg,” she says, as if the name should mean something to them. “Sam knows me, don’t you, Sam?”

Dean looks at his brother, who frowns in confusion.

“Meg? What are you doing here?” Answering Dean’s obvious question, Sam says, “I met her in school last year. I thought she was a fellow student.”

“Guess again, Sammy,” Meg purrs. She blinks, and her eyes flash solid black, then back to normal again. It happens so fast, Dean isn’t sure he saw what he thought he saw.

A shiver creeps up his spine as Sam’s face falls.

“You’re a demon,” Sam hisses.

“See? That wasn’t so hard.” Meg smirks. “You’re not as stupid as you look.”

“What do you want?” Sam demands. “What were you doing at Harvard last year?”

“Just keeping an eye on you,” Meg says. “You and your whore. How’s she doing, by the way?”

Sam’s face clenches with anger. “That was you?” Dean doesn’t need to read Sam’s mind to see the memory of the fire flash through it.

“Not directly,” she says. “I had a little help from your old friend Brady.”

“Brady?”

“Oh, Sam, I’m disappointed in you,” Meg coos. “You’re usually so intuitive about your friends.”

“Brady’s a demon?” Sam’s horrified. “I don’t understand. He was a medical student. He swore an oath never to harm, just like I did.”

Meg shrugs. “Guess he lied.”

“What are you doing here?” Dean demands.

“And who are you again?” Meg glances at Dean dismissively. “Oh, you’re the brother. The unimportant one.”

Dean’s not sure whether to be insulted or not. “You’re unimportant,” he mumbles, too caught off-guard to come up with a coherent response.

“What are you doing here, Meg,” Sam repeats, teeth clenched.

“Oh, I’m just here to check on you,” Meg says. “Make sure you’re on your way. My father’s expecting you.”

“Azazel is your father,” Sam guesses.

Meg smiles broadly. “Oh, you are brighter than I thought you were. I’m impressed.”

“What does Azazel want with us?” Dean asks.

Meg gives him her bored, dismissive glance again. “Pretty sure he’s not interested in you, Dean-o,” she says. “It’s Sam here he’s looking forward to seeing again.”

“He can go to Hell,” Sam hisses fiercely.

Meg smiles. “Oh, we’re not planning to go back there any time soon. It’s too much fun up here. In fact, my father wants to get more of us up here to join the party. That’s why we need you, Sam.”

Sam huffs out a disgusted breath. “Right. He needs my help. Well, that’s not happening.”

“Pretty sure it is, if you want to see your mother again.”

Sam and Dean exchange glances.

“Azazel’s keeping our mother hostage?” Dean spits out.

“Oh she’s all right, don’t worry,” Meg assures him. “She’s a hero. She’s gonna save the world from soul-stealing monsters. She’s gonna fulfill her destiny.” Meg spits the words out as if they’re sour berries.

“Meg, do you know where they are?” Sam asks. “The soul-stealing monsters?”

“My father does,” she says, smirking. “You can help him. Just keep on this road, Sam, and all your questions will be answered.”

Before they can ask another question, Meg disappears. Wind rises momentarily in her wake, and the horses paw and snort nervously. Both Winchesters stroke and pat their horses reassuringly, steadying their own nerves in the process.

“Well, that was creepy,” Dean mutters.

Sam throws him a look of such genuine distress it takes Dean’s breath away. He’s about to suggest they dismount and sit down to talk when Castiel shows up, invisible wings fluttering and flapping.

All the teleporting makes Dean dizzy, and of course it spooks the horses. They start and snort as Sam and Dean struggle to settle them down again.

Castiel squints. “There was a demon here,” he notes by way of greeting.

“Yeah, you two just missed each other,” Dean growls. “All the popping in and out is spooking the horses.”

It occurs to Dean that Meg never mentioned Castiel. Maybe he’s beneath notice as much as Dean is.

But somehow Dean doubts that.

“Angels can sense demons, but not so much the other way around,” Castiel confirms. “My presence in Blue Earth was undetected.”

He reports that the town is deserted, leaving an empty church, some houses, an empty saloon, livery stables, and general store.

“My guess is the meeting will happen in the church,” Castiel says.

“Isn’t that hallowed ground?” Sam asks.

“Powerful demons like Azazel are immune to hallowed ground,” Castiel explains. “He’ll want to demonstrate his power by appearing there.”

“Any sign of Mom?” Dean asks.

Castiel shakes his head. “Not yet.”

“Okay, Cas, thanks. We’ll take it from here.” Dean dismisses the angel, anxious to get back on the road.

Since Castiel let his horse go this morning before flying off to Blue Earth, he’s now without a mount, and Dean’s damned if he’ll offer to let the angel share his horse. Or Sam’s.

Castiel can walk if he doesn’t want to fly.

//**//**//


“I think I should go in alone,” Sam announces when they’re on the trail again, just the two of them, since Castiel decided to fly.

“Oh, hell no.” Dean shakes his head vigorously. “Not gonna happen.”

“You heard what Meg said, Dean,” Sam protests. “Azazel doesn’t care about you. He probably won’t even ask about you. And that’s good, because that means you have a chance to sneak around behind him and get a shot off before he even notices you’re there.”

“Not a good plan, you going in by yourself,” Dean insists. “It’s not safe.”

“I won’t be alone, Dean, that’s the point. While I’m talking to Azazel in the church — on the altar, maybe — you can position yourself — say, in the choir loft — and get off a shot. It may be our only chance.”

Dean grinds his teeth, hating the idea of Sam going in alone. But Sam’s right. They can cover more ground if they split up, surround the demon.

“What about Mom?” Dean chokes out. “What do you think her game is?”

Sam shakes his head. “She’s always trying to be the hero. Meg’s right about that. If she thinks she can use Azazel to help her shut down the soul harvesting, she’ll go along with whatever he wants her to do.”

“What do you think he wants her to do?”

“I don’t know.” Sam takes a deep breath. “Open the Gates to Hell? The one the angels are trying to seal shut?”

“Azazel’s a powerful demon, Sam. Why can’t he open the Hell Gates himself?”

“You got me.” Sam shrugs. “Maybe they’re covered with something demons can’t touch, which would make sense, actually.”

“What can’t demons touch?” Dean wonders. “Iron? Salt?”

“Mary’s journal mentioned devil’s traps, but you have to draw them first, then lure the demon into it. Then it can be exorcised and sent back to Hell.”

“Did she ever do it?” Dean’s impressed that Sam remembers the journal so well. He’s read bits and pieces of it, but completely missed the part about demons.

“Not that I know of. Nobody I know has seen or heard of a real-life demon in years.” Sam shakes his head. “But you heard Meg. Demons walk among us and we don’t even know it.”

“Pretty much what we’d already guessed,” Dean comments. “Not really news.”

Sam bites his lip, obviously troubled. Dean wishes they had time to talk over Meg’s revelation. Learning he’d been watched while he was in school disturbs Sam. Makes him feel guilty, like there might have been something he could’ve done to prevent the deaths of the tenants in his building if he’d just known about the demons.

But Dean knows what Sam will say if he tries to reassure him that those deaths weren’t his fault. They’ve already been over it. Knowing demons were keeping tabs on him isn’t going to make Sam feel any less responsible for what happened.

No matter how much Dean wishes he could make it go away, Sam won’t stop feeling guilty for those deaths. It’s the way he is, and if Dean’s being honest, it’s one of the things he loves most about Sam.

The kid’s got a heart at least as big as the moon.

//**//**//


“Dean? What are you doing here?”

Dean jumps, twists around to bring his knife up, to defend himself from the intruder who managed to sneak up behind him in the choir loft of the abandoned church in Blue Earth.

He recognizes her voice even before he gets a good look at her, manages to stop himself from driving the knife into her chest.

“Mom?”

Mary Winchester emerges from the shadows in the corner of the loft, where she’d obviously been sleeping. Salt lines and the remnants of a meal of dried meat and bread lie next to the pallet that had served as her bed, unnoticed till this moment.

Invisibility spell, Dean reminds himself. Mary had always been a master of those.

Dean huffs out a breath. “Don’t creep up on a hunter that way. I could’ve stabbed you.”

Mary gives him a doubtful look, and he’s immediately reminded of how good she is. He wouldn’t even know she was here now unless she’d decided to show herself.

“Where’s Sam?”

“He’s down there, summoning the demon,” Dean says.

“He’s what?” Her horrified look makes him feel like a little boy. “He can’t! He doesn’t know what he’s doing. Azazel is too powerful for Sam to face alone.”

“Well, he’s not alone, is he?” Dean reminds her.

“No, Dean, you don’t understand.” Mary shakes her head. “I told Azazel I’d come alone. He’ll think I’m trying to wriggle out of our deal.”

“And what exactly is the deal?”

She stares at him blankly for a moment, and Dean thinks she may wriggle out of telling him.

Then she sighs. “Okay, since you’re here, this is what I need you to do.”

And just like that, Dean finds himself following Mary’s orders.

//**//**//


Of course it doesn’t go as planned. Dean’s supposed to wait in the choir loft until Azazel appears on the altar. He’s supposed to wait for Mary’s signal.

“Sam. So good to see you again.” The demon greets Dean’s brother. “Where’s your mother?”

“I’m right here.” Mary appears from behind the altar, and although Dean can’t see his face, he imagines the demon smiling. “Did you bring it?”

“I did.” Azazel slides a long blade from inside the sleeve of his coat, flips it in his hand. “But I’m not an idiot. I’m not giving it to you until you’re in position, at the camp.”

“Fine,” Mary snaps. “Let’s go.”

“Oh, not you, Mary,” Azazel says. “I’m taking little Sammy on this mission. He’s got all those brand new magic skills. Should be able to get us in and out without a hitch.”

“That wasn’t the deal.” Mary’s voice rises in panic. “I’ve got invisibility spells that can get us close to the right angel. You don’t need Sam.”

“Oh, but you see, I do,” Azazel says. “Little Sammy’s perfect for what I have in mind. When he’s done killing the angel, he can help me open the Gates of Hell. And that’s only the beginning. He’ll make a perfect vessel for my master.”

Dean takes aim, holds his gun steady. It’s killing him to wait. He’s got the demon’s head in his sights.

When Mary makes her move, Dean’s more than ready. He takes the shot, which of course only makes Azazel angry because it’s not the Colt. Sam’s got that.

Azazel looks over his shoulder, straight into Dean’s eyes, then Dean feels his neck snap, hears Mary scream as he drops the gun and crumples in a heap on the floor.

The last thing he hears is the sound of the Colt firing.



PART FIVE
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