liptonrm_fic: (spn winchesters-marinarusalka)
liptonrm_fic ([personal profile] liptonrm_fic) wrote2010-07-19 02:04 pm
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Just Another Gin Joint - Part Four

Part Three


Part Four – Here’s Looking at You, Kid

Everything hurt.

Police lights flickered red and blue on the Roadhouse’s walls, vibrant against the deepening twilight. Jo huddled around herself in one of the only remaining chairs, her arms wrapped around her tucked-up legs and her chin resting on her knees. She felt cried out and dried up, the weight of sorrow in her chest bounced off of the blossoming bruise on her back. She hadn’t felt this awful since the day Mom told her, voice stuttering over unshed tears that Daddy would never be coming back home.

She couldn’t believe that Ash was dead. Not the easygoing guy who did everything she asked him to, who watched crappy movies with her in the middle of the night, who’d smiled like a loon when she’d made pot brownies for his birthday instead of cake. Guys like him deserved better than to be some kind of bullshit collateral damage. It wasn’t fair.

And she couldn’t help but feel that this was her fault. She’d brought Sam here, she’d been the one stuck up her own ass over all of that Resistance bullcrap; like she was goddamn Princess Leia, or something. Her mom had been right, she’d been playing with fire.

Out of the corner of her vision she saw the group of official-looking jackets stand up. She squeezed her eyes shut at the rattle of aluminum supports, involuntarily holding her breath until the stretcher with its black body bag had thumped out the front door. Ash was really gone.

When she finally opened her eyes Dean and Henricksen were standing by the door, talking too quietly for her to overhear. She watched Henricksen clap Dean on the shoulder before following the cops out the door. Dean stood there for a moment, staring out into the darkness. He rubbed a hand over his face and turned, heading straight for the bottle waiting on the counter. He didn’t bother to grab a glass, just chugged the Jim Beam straight from the container.

Jo’s mind strayed back to the chaos after the demon left, the sound of Henricksen yelling into the phone, the fierce, quiet debate that raged between Sam and Dean in the corner. Mostly she remembered the way Mom, her eyes rimmed in red, had carefully pulled her away from Ash’s body, how she’d wrapped Jo up into her arms and held her tight as Jo screamed out her grief into her mother’s steady shoulder.

The next thing she’d known someone was knocking by the door and Mom was setting her in the chair she still occupied. Jo didn’t know what story Mom and Henricksen had spun for the cops, how they could explain the lights and the damage and, most especially, the dead man in the corner with the broken neck. It didn’t really matter, though, because the cops had bought it, their faces twisted in “Shucks, ma’am, we’re real sorry” expressions that they wouldn’t have worn if they weren’t sincere.

It had taken forever for the photos to be snapped and the statements taken. They’d left Jo alone, an almost graceful accession to her grief. In fact, no one had come anywhere near her, like her puffy face and tangled hair was some kind of force field that locked the rest of the world away.

Sam hadn’t given a statement either, but then, he’d disappeared at some point before the cops showed up. Jo didn’t know what she’d want to say to him if he were there, but his absence still felt like a betrayal.

Her mom walked into the room, hair pulled up into a messy ponytail, hands fisted at her sides. Jo could see the energy jittering under her mom’s skin; if it were any other night she’d be scrubbing down the bathroom or carrying in stock from the shed, anything to wear herself out. Instead of doing any of that she grabbed the bottle out of Dean’s hands and took a long swallow. Then she closed the distance between herself and her daughter and held the liquor out, the light Dean’d replaced sparking off the liquid dark and amber.

Jo grabbed it and drank. She wanted the burn as it slid down her throat, wanted to feel something, anything, other than this dull grief.

She lowered it and wiped her mouth. She looked at her mom, saw her sorrow reflected in those dark eyes. Jo took a deep breath and looked across to Dean, his face shadowed in the gloom.

“Promise me something, Dean,” she said, voice scratchy and harsh. “Promise me that we’re going to make that bitch pay.”

Dean nodded, his gaze sharp and honest. “Yeah, I promise.”

Jo swallowed around the tears that threatened to reemerge. Her head dipped in tight confirmation. Finally she let her mom pull her up, draw her away, and lead her up the stairs to her room. She didn’t mind the way that Mom pulled up the covers and tucked her in, the kiss she left on her hair. Just for tonight she could do this, could be Mommy’s little girl again and pretend that nothing bad could ever happen.

But only for tonight.

~~~

The hard soles of Victor’s shoes clicked down the hospital corridors. He blindly maneuvered through the linoleum-clad hallway, mechanically dancing around anything that crossed his path, his mind spinning a mile a minute. He’d gotten the phone call just as they were wrapping things up at Harvelle’s, the bland voice informing him that his partner had been checked into the hospital. Dread had settled in the pit of Victor’s stomach as his brain threw up all of the things that Masters could have done, all of the awful things that could have happened. He’d been within a hair’s breadth of adding vomit to everything else that littered the Roadhouse’s floor.

The Great Plains Regional Medical Center wasn’t too busy, friends and family having cleared out when day slipped irrevocably into night. Staff still littered the floors, white-clad techs making their rounds and nurses in bright scrubs moving with purpose from one room to another. Victor kept a tight rein on his temper—he wanted to scream at everyone, insist that they tell him what had happened, make them fix Cal right the fuck now. He kept it all together, though, self-aware enough to know that in reality he was the one to blame, he hadn’t been there when his partner needed him. It was his fault.

He stood at the doorway to Cal’s room, his heart pounding in counterpoint to the throbbing in the shoulder that Masters had slammed into the Roadhouse’s wall. Before he could sink anymore into the selfish recriminations that floated inside his head, he grabbed the handle and pushed the door open, his steps light and careful as he made his way into the room.

The light beside the bed shone down onto Cal’s face, the harsh white light revealing new bruises and lacerations. His right arm was wrapped in a cast and his left leg was elevated. The steady up and down of his chest belied his corpse pallor.

Coughing sounded thick and moist beyond the thin curtain, the room’s other inhabitant gasping in the night. Victor’s attention caught on the noise, and when he looked back Cal’s eyes were open, quick and aware.

“Glad you could make it,” Cal scraped out of his throat.

“I’m—” Victor swallowed, words and emotions all trying to escape at once. He stepped closer, wanting to touch but not sure where would be safe. “What happened?”

Cal’s mouth twisted into something that was half bitter smile, half grimace. “It took me too long to back up that footage we took. After she left with Talbot my plan was to get out of there, but she got back sooner than I thought. She tossed me around a bit, wanted to find out what I knew, whether I knew where you were, what you were doing.” He coughed, dry hacks that pulled him up. “Whether that Resistance was involved.”

Victor held up the cup of water by the bed, letting Cal sip. Cal nodded and lay back down, breath coming in pants like he’d just run a marathon. He sighed. “She bought it, though, believed that I hadn’t been around, didn’t know anything about anything.” He chuckled, steel wool over stones. “She even called me an ambulance, right after she called someone else, made a report. Wasn’t there when the EMTs showed up, though.”

Cal closed his eyes, breathing evening toward sleep. Victor was just about to grab one of the wooden folding chairs hansing on the wall when Cal’s hand grabbed his wrist. Victor stood, frozen by Cal’s intensity. “You found it, right, figured out what all of this is about.”

“Yeah, yeah I did,” Victor replied, voice quiet but firm.

Cal nodded and sank back down again. “Good. That’s good.”

The chair squeaked as Victor unfolded it and shifted under his weight. He leaned forward and stood watch while his partner slept.

~~~

Dean walked the hall, two condensation-clad bottles clicking in his right hand. Ellen and Jo had finally gone to bed, wrapped up together in their shared grief and exhaustion. Dean felt it all, too, the emotions sunk deep into his bones and locked down tight in his chest. He craved the same thing, to faceplant onto a mattress, fall into sleep and never come back up. But he had one more thing to do before he could let himself forget, even for a little while.

He’d always known, somehow, that when Dad and Sam returned they’d burn through everything he’d found in their absence, raze it all to the ground. And he’d still wanted them to come back, needed his family with everything he had, the only way he knew how, the way his dad had taught him to.

He paused in front of the door, the sign telling him that Dr. Badass was in. Grief and anger stabbed hard in Dean’s solar plexus. That stupid son of a bitch, he wasn’t supposed to get himself killed.

Dean raised his hand and it clenched into a fist. He couldn’t make himself turn the sign to “Out,” didn’t have it in him to erase the illusion that Ash was only out on a weed run, that he’d be back any second and then they’d smoke up and watch shitty, badly dubbed samurai movies. He shifted it to the door instead, rapping three times, hard and precise, on the sturdy wood.

He went in before getting a response, hand steady as he turned the knob. Sam sat in the dimly-lit room, gigantic shoulders hunched in front of Ash’s cyborg computer built from whatever electronics Ash had felt like co-opting into his evil genius lair.

Somehow, in the years that Sam had spent away from him, his brother had grown into a friggin’ behemoth with shoulders wide enough for three big guys and enough hair for even more. Dean could still see little Sammy in him, though, that sweet, smart kid he used to be, who he maybe still was, down deep.

Just looking at him hurt like hell.

“Figure anything out?” Dean eventually asked the top of Sam’s head. “Got a lead on the Colt, or Bela?” Dean grimaced. She’d snuck out while everyone’s backs had been turned, during the chaos that’d descended when that demon flounced away. It stung that he’d let her get away.

“No, nothing.” Sam shoved at the laptop, hands stiff with frustration. His face twisted in that same annoyed look Dean remembered so well. “It’s all gibberish,” Sam continued, as if he took it personally that he couldn’t decipher Ash’s bizarre shorthand, even though it was more hackproof than government encryption. Sam always did get worked up about the strangest things.

“Don’t worry about it,” Dean said and held out one of the sweating bottles. “The man was a frigging redneck genius. We’ll figure something out.”

Sam took the bottle and twisted the cap off, flicking it towards the wall where it landed in a scattered pile of its discarded brethren. He took a long sip, throat gulping around the cold brew. “We need that gun, Dean. We all need that gun. And I need to figure out where Ash sent it before Meg does.”

“And maybe we’ll have to go hunt it down,” Dean said. “But it’s not like it’s the end of the goddamn world.” He sipped from his own bottle, eyes stuck to Sam like he was afraid Sam would disappear again if Dean blinked because, well, maybe he would.

Sam snorted, that same disbelieving, “my brother is an idiot” noise that Dean would never forget. “God, Dean. You have no idea, do you?” He shook his head. “This isn’t about you or me or even Dad’s quest. It’s bigger than our family, now. And there’s a lot more than revenge at stake. People are depending me to get this done.”

Dean nodded, eyebrows raised. “Oh yeah, that’s right. You and your plucky little band are going to save us from the evil Emperor. And maybe you can shoot down some Nazis while you’re at it.”

Sam flinched and his mouth twisted. He slammed his bottle down, the blow sending some of the foam fizzing out the top, and turned back to the computer. His shoulders curved forward, Sam’s way of protecting himself from his own anger, or maybe from the world, his frustration sounded out in every deliberate pound on the keys.

Dean closed his eyes for a long moment while his heart pounded. This isn’t what he’d meant to do. He knew better than to let his damn fool mouth runaway on him. He felt trapped, torn between the conflicting needs to pull Sam close and push him as far away as he possibly could.

Sometimes he hated his family.

“You seemed to know that demon chick pretty well,” Dean said breaking the silence, keeping the peace. “You tangle with her before?”

“Unfortunately.” Sam’s shoulders unclenched and he looked back up. “You’ve gotta be careful around her. She’s a lot more dangerous than she seems.”

“Got that memo, thanks. It’s not like this is my first time at the rodeo.” Dean rolled his eyes. The bitch had killed his friend, thanks. He didn’t need Sammy to tell him that she meant business.

“It’s not like digging up a grave or shooting a werewolf. Demons are dangerous and unpredictable and I know that you and Dad never handled one of those things when we were kids.” Sam stood up, shoulders stiff like he needed to pace but couldn’t find the room. “In fact, you and Jo and everyone should get out of here before she comes back, get to safety and let me handle her.”

A strangled, bitter laugh burst out of Dean’s chest. “And you and what army are gonna make us go? Hell, I’d like to see you try to make Ellen leave her place. It’d be the funniest thing I’ve seen all year.”

“This isn’t a joke.” Sam leaned into Dean’s space, spine rigid.

“You’re goddamn right it’s not a joke.” Dean could feel it rising again, that same old anger. “So, what, I’m just supposed to leave you here to get yourself killed? I should run away? Who do you think I am?”

“You’ll just get in the way. I have to handle this alone. It’s my responsibility,” Sam replied, as implacable as a mountain.

“Like. Hell.” Dean’s face twisted. “Do you have a plan, some super-secret scheme that you can’t share with the class? Do you know how to draw a devil’s trap? Have you ever even seen the fucking Key of Solomon?” Dean read the answer right off of Sam’s face. “I didn’t think so. I won’t let you commit suicide.”

“Why do you even care? You made your opinions on what we’re doing perfectly clear. Why can’t you just leave me alone and go back to playing ostrich, doing what you’re good at?” Sam’s words sharp with calculation. He always knew how to draw blood.

“Because you’re my brother,” Dean growled, the only reason there ever was. “You need my help, Sam. I’ve tracked demons with Bobby, I’ve been around the block a time or two.” He stepped back and took a swig of his beer, needed a second of space. He grinned, sharp around the bottle. “I want answers and I might have an idea about how to get some out of her.”

Sam’s face spread, unpinching and flattening, intrigued. “What’ve you got?”

~~~

Ellen stared down at where Dean painted a symbol in lurid orange spray paint on her bar’s dinged-up wood floor. “You’d better clean that up when we’re done,” she ordered in her best no nonsense tone.

Dean grinned up at her like he didn’t have a care in the world. “You betcha,” he promised. “Just as long as we make it out of this alive.”

“That’s comforting.” Ellen’s glare bounced off of Dean’s widened grin. She rolled her eyes and he winked at her before turning back to his art project, tongue caught between his teeth in concentration.

Ellen’s mouth twitched in involuntary amusement. Goddamn smartass Winchesters were gonna be the death of her. She headed back to where Jo and Henricksen were cleaning out and reloading an assortment of firearms at the bar. Their movements almost seemed choreographed, the same controlled, practiced movements, the same sharp focus on the task. Ellen imagined they also shared the same drive to strike back against the thing that had hurt their friends. She’d never seen her daughter as a hunter, had always turned a blind eye because the thought of her baby out there fighting, and maybe dying, like so many that Ellen had known filled her with terror. She wouldn’t lose Jo like that, not ever.

But she was beginning to realize that maybe the choice wasn’t hers to make, that evil would come knocking regardless. It might be time to trust that her little girl knew her own mind and could protect herself as well as anyone else.

Jo carefully set down a newly-loaded shotgun, her eyes flicking up to catch her mother watching. Jo’s mouth twitched in something that might, eventually, be a smile, her eyes still ringed in red. Ellen blinked and she saw pigtails tied in pink and eyes begging for just one more story before going to bed.

In her head she knew that Jo was a woman grown, she just couldn’t always make her eyes believe it. Ellen knew that all of that Resistance stuff was important to her daughter, was something she believed in with a kind of clear-eyed, hard-headed persistence that she’d gotten straight from her mother. Maybe it was time to trust Jo enough to let her find her own way.

Sam clodded in from the hallway, jarring Ellen out of her reverie. She moved around the bar and took up a place on Henricksen’s other side to start in on the last couple of guns. Something about Sam Winchester itched under her skin; that contrast between sweet little boy and tunnel vision obsession that must’ve come straight from his daddy. He might be Dean’s brother, but Ellen had a hard time trusting Sam the way she trusted his brother. She just wasn’t sure what he’d do to get what he wanted.

“Are we all set?” Sam asked Dean as he inspected the symbol on the floor.

“Just about,” Dean replied, sparing his brother a quick glance that might have been meant to be reassuring. He sprayed a few more lines and then stood up, brushing off his knees. “All right, we’re good to go.”

Sam nodded and laid a mat down on the floor, a thick, khaki-colored thing with the words “Go Away” printed in bold, dark text. Ellen guessed that he’d dug it out of Ash’s room, it was just the kind of thing Ash would’ve thought was hilarious. In the current context it was strangely appropriate.

Henricksen slammed a clip into the butt of his gun and put it securely in the holster at his waist, leaving the strap unclipped. Ellen thought it might be the first time she’d seen him out of his Fed uniform, instead wearing well-worn jeans and a faded polo. She guessed that he wasn’t here as an agent of the FBI, not today. He shared a loaded, silent look with Dean. Nope, he was here for blood and answers, not to serve and protect.

“All righty, then.” Dean clapped his hands together. “Places, people.”

Ellen stayed behind the bar, her natural place to be, shotgun within easy reach. Jo and Henricksen moved around to the front of the bar and took flanking positions, Jo with her shotgun and Henricksen with his handgun, jugs of holy water settled by their feet. Dean went and leaned in the corner only a few feet from the door, where the demon wouldn’t see him until she’d already walked into the room, and Sam stood right out in the middle of the room, hands empty but with a gun tucked into the back of his pants.

Long minutes stretched even longer. Time ticked by, and Ellen’s patience ticked with it. She could see the same frustrated need to just get it over with in the arrhythmic tapping of Jo’s foot and the way that Dean slouched even further into the corner and the quiet humming that he might not even know he was making. Only Henricksen and Sam stayed silent and still as if the passage of time was nothing at all.

Dean blew a loud puff out from between his lips. “Are you sure she’s coming?” he asked.

“She’ll be here,” Sam replied, tight and deep.

“Yeah, but when? ‘Cause eventually someone’s gonna have to use the bathroom. I’m just saying.”

Jo snorted a laugh as Sam cut a look at his brother, shoulders stiff. “Dean—” he began, all little brother irritation. He was cut off by the crunch of gravels under a car’s wheels as someone pulled a beige sedan into Roadhouse’s parking lot and stopped across from the Impala; late afternoon sunlight bounced off of the windshield, obscuring the driver from view. Ellen’s hand clamped onto the stock of her rifle.

Before the slam of the car door even registered, a familiar form stood shadowed in the doorway. It was go time.

“Howdy ya’ll,” Meg drawled, framed by the door. “Miss me?”

“Oh boy did we ever,” Sam snarked, rolling his shoulders with a crack.

“Come on, Sam, don’t be like that.” Meg tilted her head. “So, do you have my present or do I have to hurt more of your friends?” She looked at Henricksen and smiled at the way his hand twitched on the butt of his gun.

“Come and get it,” Sam said, and Ellen could hear the cocky grin in his voice.

Meg rolled her eyes. She squatted down and pulled the mat off of the devil’s trap that Dean had painstakingly drawn. She looked up at Sam. “Lackluster, man. Seriously.” She stood back up. “I expected better from you.”

Sam shrugged. “It was worth a try. Though I guess we’re at an impasse, seeing as the Colt’s in here and you’re stuck out there.”

“Please, as if I can’t hurt your little groupies from here.” She raised a hand and clenched into a fist. Jo started choking. She fell to her knees, head bent, gasping for air. Ellen’s heart jumped in her throat and she moved on instinct, running around the bar and landing hard on her knees by her daughter, her hands reaching uselessly with nothing that could make her baby breathe.

“Fine, fine. Just stop it,” she heard Sam say under Jo’s heaving panic. “Dean, break the trap.”

Ellen looked over in time to see Dean squat down by the door, gun in one hand and knife in the other, and scrape a line in the paint. He jumped back up, his gun immediately on target, as Meg daintily stepped over the broken trap.

“That’s better,” Meg said, and Jo took a pained, strangled breath and fell against her mother’s shoulder. Ellen tucked her daughter against her as Meg walked further into the room.

Sam backed up until he ran into the lip of the bar, his hands raised at his chest, and Dean circled around to flank the demon.

Meg stalked forward towards Sam. “I want the Colt, Sam. No more of these stupid games. Give it to me, now.”

“No,” Sam replied, voice hard.

“Why you stupid son of a bitch, I’ll—” Her voice cut off and her body bounced back as if she’d hit a wall. Ellen held her breath as Meg looked up and saw it, the elaborate trap painted on the ceiling.

Dean smiled, grim as death. “Gotcha.”

~~~

Victor pulled the thick rope’s knot tight around Masters’ wrist, securing her to what was, possibly, the last undamaged chair left in the Roadhouse, while Dean tied her left foot in the same way. Triumph bubbled in Victor’s chest. By God, he was going to get some answers, for Cal’s sake if nothing else.

“This really isn’t necessary,” Masters said to Sam, her attention on him as if they were alone in the room, as if Victor wasn’t close enough to put a bullet in her head.

“Maybe, but it sure does make us feel better,” Dean said with a twisted grin. He stood up from the floor, his gun a hard line at his side. “So start talking.”

“My Goldman Sachs stock fell two points this morning. I really have to remember to pay Wall Street a visit when I’m done here.” Meg’s grin choked into a scream as the holy water that Jo threw bubbled off of her. Jo smirked off of Meg’s dark look, more than happy to give back a little pain.

“Bzzzt!” Dean retorted. “Wrong answer. Let’s try again.” He leaned down until his face was level with hers. “Why do you want the Colt?”

“Didn’t Sam tell you?” Her mouth twisted and her eyes flicked over Dean’s shoulder at Sam and back again. “I guess he just doesn’t trust you all that much, big brother.”

Dean’s fingers clenched on his thigh, Meg’s dart hitting too close to home. But he didn’t turn to look at Sam, just leaned closer, his mouth stretched in a rictus. “You don’t get to talk about my brother that way.” He stepped back and Jo threw another volley of holy water.

Masters’ scream slowed to labored pants. She spit water on the floor and chuckled. “You’re all too stupid to live. Of course the demons want the gun that can, oh, I don’t know, kill demons. It’s safer than leaving it with you chuckleheads.”

“Then why dress up like a Fed? Why the charade?” Victor asked, anger thrumming through his veins. He didn’t know what was worse, the mockery she’d made of everything he’d spent his life doing or the fact that she’d fooled him while doing it.

“Who said I was pretending?” She threw her head back and laughed at the blank-faced looks that surrounded her. “Don’t you hicks even watch the news? We’re running your precious little country into the ground and you don’t even know!” Her shrieking laughs circled up through the rafters and shivered down Victor’s spine. He should’ve known.

“This is getting us nowhere,” Sam growled. He walked through the trap to the bar and grabbed a duffle leaning against it. “We’re ending this.” He pulled out a battered leather journal and flipped to a specific page.

“Love poetry? How sweet,” Masters sneered.

“Or something.” Sam’s face twisted into something not quite a grin. “Regna terrae, cantate deo, qui fertis super caelum—”

Masters screamed and the lights flickered. Ellen looked over from where she stood watch on the door, her eyes narrowed.

Dean grabbed Sam’s shoulder and pulled him away, silencing Sam and stilling the room. Masters panted and spit blood out of her mouth. Victor followed Dean across the room.

“Really, Sam, an exorcism?” Dean seethed. “We’re not going to get any answers from her when she’s back in Hell.”

“We’re not going to get any answers from her at all,” Sam hissed in Dean’s face. “This way we can get rid of the enemy at our back and throw the Feds off our tail in one fell swoop.”

“Is there a person still in there with the demon?” Victor asked, cutting the taut thread that stretched between the other men.

Dean rubbed his face. He looked like he hadn’t slept in a week; Victor knew the feeling. “Yeah, probably. And it’ll probably kill her.” He shrugged at Victor, the corner of his mouth stretched flat. “But it’s better than leaving her in there with that thing.” He looked back at his brother. “Fine, but let me try to get something out of her while you’re doing it.”

Sam nodded and the three of them turned back to the room, to where Jo stood guard over the demon, her knuckles white around the handle of the holy water jug. “Caeli ad Orientem, ecce dabit voce Suae, vocem virtutis, tribuite virtutem Deo.” Sam’s lips rounded around the crisp, unfamiliar words. The lights flared, the one over the shrieking demon burning out and shattering. Wind whipped around the room, Jo’s hair twirling in a corona around her head.

“What do you want? I’ll tell you anything!” Masters shrieked. Sam’s words stopped, and Masters took a sucking breath through her mouth.

“Who’s your boss and what does he want? What’s the big master plan?” Dean asked, voice harsh, from just behind her trembling shoulder.

“Power,” Masters gasped. “Why shouldn’t we run things? You’ve had this world for long enough and look at what you’ve done.” Hoarse giggles bubbled in her throat. “It didn’t take demons to come up with genocide and rape. That was all you special little humans.”

Dean shook his head, a deep line scored down his forehead. “I don’t buy it. All of a sudden you guys organize and decide to go kamikaze just to scare a bunch of humans? It doesn’t make sense.”

“It doesn’t matter if you understand it. He’s still coming.” Meg smiled, blood stark and red across her teeth. “And he’s going to eat you alive.”

Dean nodded at Sam who started again. Latin bubbled under the noise of Masters’ screams and the whistle of the rising wind. Victor put his hand on Jo’s shoulder, the turmoil and nausea on her face a mirror of what writhed in his stomach.

Sam and Dean watched impassively as Masters’ chair suddenly lurched across the floor, legs scraping as it jumped at right angles underneath the painted trap. Her voice stopped even though her throat was still rigid and her mouth hung open, her vocal chords blown.

Et fortitudinem plebi Suae. Benedictus Deus. Gloria Patri.” Sam finished and there was a moment of complete silence before a rushing and a groaning filled the room. Masters’ head fell back and black smoke streamed out of her mouth, the wails of damnation in the air, and disappeared into the heptagramal symbol on the ceiling.

Silence fell on the room. Masters’ body slumped in the chair, eyes open and lifeless, blood hanging from her mouth. Jo shuddered beside Victor and he squeezed her shoulder, trying to give what comfort he could when all he wanted to do was vomit.

Dean and Sam exchanged a long, charged stare, messages passed that Victor couldn’t decipher. Sam eventually nodded and his shoulders relaxed. He closed the book in his hands and moved to return it to its place.

Victor closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was over. They were all standing. A moment passed and then gravel shifted against gravel, the noise loud and right outside the door. Victor’s eyes flew open as Ellen yelled “Dean!” from across the room, her rifle already snug against her shoulder.

A broad, dark-haired man walked in, his face hidden behind days of overgrown scruff, the spitting image of the man on the wanted bulletin still sitting on Victor’s desk. He looked from Dean to the dead woman tied to the chair and then across to Sam.

“Hello boys,” John Winchester said.

~~~

Everything in the Roadhouse stopped, the entire room’s focus slamming into John like a car crash. Sam had seen it before—his entire life spent careening around his father’s orbit, the black hole pull that no one and nothing could escape.

“Dad.” The word scraped out of Dean’s throat, breaking the energy that held everyone else frozen in place. Jo flinched and rebounded away to her mother’s side but Henricksen moved closer to Dean, drawn by the shock and pain drawn across his friend’s face.

Sam didn’t move, too familiar to the thing that flared between father and eldest son, Dean’s desperate need for John’s approval grappling with John’s drill sergeant reserve. Sam finally let himself imagine what Dean must have experienced when his family disappeared, how his world must have fallen out from under him. Sam hadn’t meant to do that to his brother.

“Hey, dude,” John said. His mouth softened, smiling yet not. He glanced at the body still tied to the chair. “I take it she was the bad guy.”

“Yeah,” Dean rasped. He took a step forward, his eyes shining.

“I didn’t think I’d find you here,” John whispered on his own step closer.

Dean’s whole body froze. A laugh ground out of his throat, shot through with bitterness. “I bet not.” His face twisted and he turned away, head bent, needing space.

John took another step towards his son but Henricksen moved into his path, a scowling wall.

Sam’s face twisted into a frown at the way John’s shoulders stiffened, hackles going up. Someone was going to get it now, probably him.

The storm didn’t come; instead when John miraculously pulled himself back together. He turned and quirked a curious glance at Sam. “Did you get it from her, son?”

“There were some complications,” Sam dodged.

“I can see that,” John said in wry amusement, restlessly starting to pace around the room. “I sent you to North Platte to get a gun, not put on a show for the locals.” He reached the Harvelles and stopped. “Howdy, Ellen.”

Ellen slapped him across the face, the sound rung around the room. “You son of a bitch,” she seethed.

John rubbed at the side of his face. “I guess I deserved that.” He nodded at Jo, his eyes flickering in a way that made her lean back and pull her gun up across her chest. John’s mouth quirked and he cycled away continuing his slow circuit until he and Sam stood face-to-face. “I asked you a question,” he reminded his son, voice deceptively mild.

“No, I didn’t get it. It’s gone.” Sam’s face twisted. He hated failure almost more than he hated the way Dad always chewed him out after the fact.

“Did that thing get it?” John asked, glancing at the demon’s empty vessel again.

“No, someone snatched it out from under both our noses. I’m still trying to track down where he sent it.”

“Try harder,” John bit out. “Finding that gun, stopping the hell that monster’s trying to bring is more important than anything. You know that.” Then, in the blink of an eye, his entire posture changed and he grinned and slapped Sam on the shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll find it. I have faith in you.”

Sam stared at his father, too shocked to close his gaping mouth, all of the signals mixed. This wasn’t going the way he thought it would at all.

He hadn’t heard Dean move, didn’t feel the weight of his presence until he was there, the muzzle of his gun pressed against Dad’s head.

“Dean!” Sam shouted, reflexive.

“I don’t know what the fuck you are,” Dean growled. “But you’re not John Winchester.”

John stepped away, hands raised. Dean stood still, focused, gun following the trajectory of his father’s head.

“Dean, son, I know you’re hurt but it’s me, you know it’s me.” Genuine pain and confusion threaded his voice. “Sam, talk your brother down.”

Sam frowned and shook his head, senses pinging. He’d known, from the second he’d laid eyes on the thing in his father’s body his gut had yelled at him that this thing was not his dad. He didn’t need to see the way Dean’s mouth twisted in on itself, the rage and despair in his brother’s eyes, to know whose side he was on. Sam’s mouth flattened and his hand reached towards the gun shoved in the back of his pants.

As if on cue the lights flickered, the radio in the kitchen flaring to life in a shower of static. The sound of three hammers clicked simultaneously as Henricksen, Ellen, and Sam all pointed their guns straight at John.

John blinked and his eyes flared yellow. “Guess you caught me.” He smiled, all velvet and gravel. A beat passed and then the room erupted into chaos. Dean slammed backwards against the wall and hung there and the other three fired, but their bullets only hit air. Ellen and Jo were thrown hodgepodge across the room, a thick crack sounding on impact just before Ellen screamed. Sam was thrown over the bar, his head slapping against its lip, blood welling to the surface and down his face. He lay still for a moment, dizzy and disoriented.

“Look at Daddy’s good little soldier,” John whispered to Dean, his voice slipping through the haze around Sam’s brain, focusing him and bringing him back. “But you weren’t good enough, were you? He still threw you away.”

“And I just bet you were the apple of your dad’s eye.” The lilt of Dean’s voice, the humor pasted over the pain, pulled Sam back to himself. His hand reached for the knife strapped to his calf, hidden underneath his jeans. He had only brought it just in case, didn’t trust the hands he’d gotten it from, but that bastard had his brother.

He stood, slowly, and inched around the bar. Henricksen lay crumpled on the floor, dead or unconscious, and Ellen and Jo sat propped against the far wall, Ellen cradling her right arm in her left, pain creasing her face. Sam put all of that to the periphery and focused on the only two who mattered. The demon in his father’s body stood right in front of his brother, only a handbreadth between them. Sam would end this.

“Believe you, me,” the demon said, “I learned everything my daddy had to teach me, and more.” He leaned towards Dean’s ear. “I’m going to enjoy teaching you everything I know.” He stepped back and Dean gasped as blood dripped from his nose.

Sam was almost there, almost close enough to stick the knife, the weapon that was all he had left, whether he trusted it or not, between that thing’s ribs. He took a step and suddenly was flying across the room, slamming into the wall so hard that his ribs creaked and his hand opened. The knife streaked across the room and landed in John’s outstretched arm.

The demon in John’s body turned it over, inspected the blade and the sigils carved into it. He tsked lightly and shook his head. He sauntered over to Sam, leaving Dean pinned and bleeding on the wall. “Where did you get this, Sammy? You should be careful what you play with. You could get cut.”

“Or I could cut you, you son of a bitch,” Sam seethed.

“Temper, temper,” the demon remonstrated, shaking the knife in his face like a finger. “I have big plans for you, son, but that won’t stop me from teaching you the hard lessons.”

“I’m not your son,” Sam growled. He pushed with his mind, the elusive power slipping through his grip, still not sure about the things Ruby had shown him.

John only chuckled, unmoved. “You’re more my blood than you know.” He patted Sam’s cheek. “You keep on eating your Wheaties and maybe we’ll make something of you yet.”

Behind him, Henricksen groaned on the floor, his arms twitched. John frowned. “We need a little more privacy for this intimate family reunion.” And Henricksen spun across the floor, slamming into the Harvelles, Ellen’s breath knocked out in a noise beyond pain. The demon flipped its finger and a line of fire flared up, separating one group from the other.

Dean chuckled, a hoarse, painful noise, and spit blood on the floor. “Wow, look at you, big man on campus.”

John stepped back to Dean in a few loping strides. “You shouldn’t be so glib, boy.”

“Yeah, sure.” Dean cocked an eyebrow. “And you’re just gonna fuck my shit up, aren’t ya?”

“And that’ll just be the beginning,” the demon murmured. The fire crackled higher, washing them all in orange light. John smiled and Dean screamed.

The demon raised the knife and Sam shrieked, panic taking hold. He couldn’t lose his brother, not like this. Suddenly the piercing cries stopped and John’s shoulders slumped.

“No, I won’t let you,” John ground out and Sam knew that voice, couldn’t believe he’d been tricked by the demon’s facsimile.

Between one breath and the next John stabbed the knife into his own gut. He fell to the ground and shouted, black smoke pouring out of his mouth, body tense. Then, with a jolt, he stilled.

And then Sam was free. He moved, his mind focused on getting Dean out of there. His heart stuttered as Dean pulled himself to his feet, his face shuttered and his movements stiff with pain.

Dean grabbed at John’s shoulders and pulled, a grunt that was almost a groan spilling out of him. He looked at Sam but Sam was already there, hefting Dad up by the shoulders while Dean picked up his legs.

Together they fell out the door as the fire raged around them.

~~~

Dean couldn’t feel his body. He was in shock, all of the symptoms clicking through his jumbled brain. But louder than all of that was the mantra, his only prayer Dad can’t be dead, Dad can’t be dead, Dad can’t be dead, on a never-ending loop.

He and Sam made it across the Roadhouse’s parking lot, fire blowing out the windows behind them. Dean couldn’t think about the Harvelles or Victor. He hoped they were okay, but it was all he could do to hold onto Dad’s swaying legs and stay on his feet. He couldn’t save them, could hardly save himself.

They laid their dad down on the grass. Dean’s breath caught at the groan the movement pulled out of Dad’s chest. Dean fell to his knees beside him. “Dad?”

“Dean,” Dad breathed. Dean grabbed the hand that flopped towards him and held on tight. “You okay?”

“Yeah, Dad.” Dean looked up at his brother’s soot-streaked face. “Sam too.”

“Good.” John breathed a shuddering breath. Dean glanced at the dark stain that pooled across his father’s stomach. Sam kneeled down, pulled off his shirt and pressed it against the wound; heedless of the way Dad winced.

John’s grip tightened, and Dean looked back at his face. “I’m sorry,” John said. “I never should’ve done it, never should’ve gone away.”

“It’s okay,” Dean said because he could do this, could finally forgive his father. He always would.

“No it’s not.” John smiled around a wince. “You were right, what you said all those years ago. We are stronger as a family.”

“Okay, yeah, okay,” Dean babbled.

Dad jerked hard, hand almost pulling out of Dean’s hold. “Dean? Sammy?” He called, terrified.

“We’re right here, Dad,” Sam said, tears choking his words. He pulled a hand away from the makeshift bandage to grasp his father’s shoulder.

“We’ve got you,” Dean soothed.

Their father’s eyes widened in panic and then he smiled, relaxing. “Mary,” he breathed and looked, for a moment, like the dad Dean remembered from all those years ago, the one who thrown him footballs and snuck him cookies before bed. He rasped out another breath and then stilled, his grip loosening in his sons’ hands.

“No,” Sam gasped. “No, no, no, no, no.” Tears ran down his face.

Dean bowed his head over his dead father’s shoulder and let himself cry.

He didn’t know how long he sat like that, inferno burning behind him, but eventually a step sounded behind him and a hand landed on his shoulder. Dean looked up, but the will to fight whomever this was leached from him.

Victor gazed down, his face somber. “I’m so sorry, Dean.”

Relief spiked through Dean, pushing at the darkness that threatened to drown him. “Ellen? Jo?”

“Ellen’s arm is broken, but Jo is okay.” Victor nodded his head toward where the two women stood, arms around each other, watching their home burn.

Dean looked at Sam, who was wiping tears and snot off of his face, his emotions open and violent, just like they’d always been. Sam nodded at Dean’s silent question and they stood. They picked their father’s body up and carried him to the fire, his funeral pyre.

Afterwards they joined their friends. They stood together for a while and watched the blaze, something dying and something being born.

Eventually Sam turned to Dean and Dean could read the change, the firm resolve in the set of Sam’s jaw and the square of his shoulders. “We have to get out of here before the authorities show up.”

Understanding shone bright in Dean’s mind, clear for the first time in years. People depended on his little brother, followed him and believed in him. They needed the man that Sam had become. And maybe Dean was ready to have faith in something, too, to trust that Sam would always be his family regardless of where he was or whom he was with.

He could let him go.

“Yeah we do, but not together.” Dean laid a hand on Sam’s shoulder. “I get it now, I really do. I’ve been playing ostrich for too long.” He glanced at where Jo was watching them. “You have important work to do, people who need you, and I can’t be the reason you fail them.”

“But you’re my brother. I need you,” Sam demanded, forehead creased.

Dean squeezed his shoulder “I’ll always be your brother. But I can’t go with you, not right now. I think this is something you have to do on your own.” He took a deep breath, seeing that there was a place for him in all of this as well. “And, hell, maybe I’ve got a thing or two of my own to take care of.”

Sam grabbed Dean and wrapped him into a hug. Dean held on tight, the four-year-old that he would always be still needing to protect his baby brother, or be protected by him. “I don’t want to lose you,” Sam whispered against is neck.

“You’re not, I promise.” Dean swiped at his eyes and stepped back. “Now get out of here, before I change my mind. And this time pick up your goddamn phone every once in a while.”

Sam’s face broke into a tiny grin and he nodded. He finally had his brother back.

Sam turned to look at Jo. Jo’s eyes flicked to her mom and she shook her head, the refusal clear on her face. But Ellen pushed against her, using her shoulder to shove her daughter away.

“I’ll be fine. You go be the woman I taught you to be,” Ellen stated. “I’ll be fine,” she repeated more softly, the lines of her face gentling into a mother’s smile.

Jo nodded, eyes bright in the firelight. She grabbed Ellen and held her tight for a long moment before pulling away with a kiss on her mother’s cheek. Jo turned, and she and Sam walked off into the darkness.

Sirens sounded in the distance, a day late and a dollar short. Victor came over and stood by Dean.

“So what now?”

A part of Dean wanted to lie down on the ground and never get back up; a part of him wanted to pretend that none of this had ever happened—not Stanford, not the Roadhouse, none of it. But he’d never let himself take the easy way out before. And, anyway, a plan was starting to form. “Now we go looking for that gun.” Dean cocked an eyebrow at his friend. “That is, if you’re in.”

“Oh, I’m all in. I’m pretty sure my days at the Bureau are numbered.” Victor cocked his head towards Ellen. “And Ellen said she’d look after Cal for me, make sure he doesn’t take anymore stupid risks.”

“Okay.” Warmth spread in Dean’s chest and he wanted to smile, though he wasn’t quite ready. “Let’s hit the road. We’ve got work to do.”

Together they walked deeper into the shadows cast by the setting sun. Dean ran his hand up his car’s side, still firm and steady after all these years. The Impala’s doors squeaked and her engine rumbled beneath them, happy to be back on the hunt. They peeled out and sped off down the road.


~~~

Epilogue

Master Post

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