Warnings: disturbing imagery, angst, end!verse and all that entails
Summary: Sam's injured, but determined to get the survivors at Camp Chitaqua what they need to celebrate the Holidays properly. Dean's worried there's something Sam's not telling him. And the Devil, of course, has plans of his own.
written for faege for spn_j2_xmas. Thank you for the wonderful end!verse prompt. I hope I've done it justice.
Many thanks to my lovely beta quickreaver
The shots rang out before the jeep came careening around the turn in the road. Dean cursed under his breath, wishing he'd assigned more than two outlooks at the far lookout towers— they would've been able to hit whatever was following Sam's supply run team far before it had gotten this close to the Camp's entrance. He expected Croats; it was always Croats. Barely any other type of monster was around much anymore these days, like they'd thought better of it and withdrawn, rather than challenge the demonically-tainted humans that tore everything apart in fits of rage.
Sam was hanging out the passenger side window, twisted awkwardly so he could fire a shot with his left hand. His right shoulder was still in a sling—would be for at least another month. He'd wrenched it bad a few weeks back during a raid on what they thought was one of Lucifer's strongholds, but ended up being a werewolf pack's hideout. One of the weres had thrown Sam through a wall, and his shoulder had taken the brunt of the impact. They were pretty sure his humerus had been fractured too. Either way, it put him out of commission, at least as far as real hunts were concerned.
But Sam wasn't satisfied tending the hearth-fire these days, not with the world gone to shit and a never-ending stream of Croats threatening the camp and all the survivors there. So Dean made sure to send him out on runs,easy ones for supplies, just to keep him from climbing the walls.
And now Sam'd come back to the camp with a half-dozen demons in tow. Two of them were hostless, streaming past the jeep in a dark cloud of smoke; the others were wearing humans, impossibly keeping pace with the vehicle, one to its left, one to its right and a third hanging from the rear.
Risa gave him a hurried wave from the east tower, then crouched down to load her weapons.
Shots fired from just outside the gate. Too damn close.
"Sonufa.." Dean clambered up to the front guard tower and grabbed his megaphone. He turned on the makeshift speaker system and ignored it's crackling protests. "All hands—code six at the main gate—fire everything you've got."
They'd had to improvise over the last few months, and luckily the bulk of the attacks they'd been under had been from Croats, so they'd had time to stockpile anti-demon ammo. It was Sam who'd suggested engraving the bullets with devil's traps. They hadn't had much chance to test them yet, but now was as good a time as any. Dean had made holy water pellets and mixed them in with the buckshot. Maybe together, they'd stand a chance at slowing them down. He took aim with his rifle and fired. At the east tower a shotgun sounded. Dean looked to his right quickly, and saw Risa reloading. She'd hit the demon hanging from the jeep—the holy water pellets were enough to loosen the thing's grip at any rate. It fell and rolled sloppily down the road, leaving a bloodied streak on the gravel.
Dean looked through his scope and saw Sam firing his pistol at the demon to his right. He grazed its leg, but it ignored the wound and kept running, staggering only briefly, then leapt inhumanly far and landed on the windshield. The jeep came screeching to a halt.
Three things happened at once: the other demon on foot lunged through the driver's side window and grabbed Ernie by the throat; Ernie fired his gun but missed terribly, shooting the side of the jeep instead, and Sam opened the passenger side door.
Silver glinted in the late afternoon sun as Sam pulled out Ruby's dagger. He rounded on the demon hanging from the windshield and slammed the blade into its thigh. The demon lit up inside and screamed as it poured out of its host, forming an angry dark cloud. The man the demon had been wearing went completely limp, eyes empty.
Dean aimed his rifle and fired into the cloud, cursing under his breath. "When are you gonna stop trying to save 'em, Sam." Bang. "There's nothing left to save." Bang. "There never is." The second shot hit the dark cloud smack in its thickest part. There was no way the bullet would do anything to the demon in incorporeal form, but Dean just needed to nudge it another foot to the left. And unbelievably, considering their luck lately, it worked. The cloud darted sharply away from Dean's shot, then stopped rising and started swirling out, dissipating, like a swarm fleeing in every direction…but its center was stuck. It was hovering right over the embedded iron devil's trap in the road. The camp had eight of them surrounding it, one near every entrance. They were all hidden by gravel, but no less effective.
The demon holding Ernie was using the man as a shield. He held his free hand up, other arm wrapped tightly around Ernie's throat. Dean couldn't make out what they were saying from this far away, but he'd gotten decent at lip-reading over the years. Enough to know that the demon had addressed Sam by name. It reached into its jacket.
Dean pulled the trigger and landed a shot neatly in the demon's shoulder. The demon started sparking and let go of Ernie, who collapsed, unconscious. After staggering back a few steps, the demon dropped what it had pulled from its jacket—something small, slim and white. An envelope.
Without lowering his scope, Dean reached down and pushed a button on the inside of the control tower, connected to the main speaker system. It crackled to life and the recording started to play. "Exorcizmus te, omnis imundus spiritus…" This type of crapfest was exactly why they kept a generator hooked up to the towers. Sam's perfectly enunciated Latin echoed through the air and the disembodied clouds began screaming as one. The demon in front of Sam fell to its knees and started shaking, but the engraved bullets had worked. The demon was trapped
Risa whistled sharply, indicating she was heading down. Dean kept watching through his scope until the cloud left, sucked up into the sky in an angry, lightning-flecked funnel. With practiced ease, he kicked open the trapdoor and made his way back down the guard ladder, sliding the last few feet. He jogged to catch up with Risa as she and Bobby started opening the gate.
Sam was crouched next to the possessed man, Ruby's blade held loosely in his grasp. Dean wasted no time, walked up and wrenched the dagger from Sam's hand, then drove it into the demon's throat. It sparked golden and died, then fell, head only an inch from the envelope it had dropped. Sam's name was written on the outside, in neat cursive. Dean snatched it up, shoved it at Sam. "It's for you."
Dean was angry for a whole host of reasons, but Sam's face was filled with just as much fury and something else. Fear. It wasn't easy to scare Sam these days. Risa ran past them to Ernie's side. Whatever Sam had seen would have to wait.
Sam tucked the envelope into his jacket and gave Dean a look that clearly said, "Later." Risa had her head down low, listening for Ernie's breath, when the older man started to cough.
"What the Hell was that?" Dean asked, as Sam turned his back on him and went back to the jeep.
"Demons came out of nowhere," Ernie said as he propped himself up on his arms.
Sam started to unload the back of the jeep—big brown paper bags. The kind common at grocery stores back before everything had gone under. They hadn't returned empty-handed, at least. He carried them over to the main gate, which was slowly sliding open. Rufus gave them a mock salute from the other side.
"Really? At a strip mall we'd been scoping out for weeks with zero demonic activity." Dean could smell a lie even in a group of skilled liars. Takes one to know one.
"They're not exactly stationary these days, Dean," Sam said, tone weary as he headed back to the car. Bobby followed him, rolling his chair over to the back of the jeep, and helped Sam with the bags.
Risa pulled Ernie to his feet. "We tried to shake 'em, but they wouldn't stop chasing us," he said.
"They followed you across Blue Springs, huh?" Dean said.
"We had to take a detour." Sam slammed the jeep door shut with his hip.
"But the important part," Risa said, peering into the bags as Sam walked past, "is that you got the goods."
"That you did," Chuck said, grinning as he reached into the bag Risa was holding and pulled out a large bottle of red wine.
"That's not even the good bag," Sam said with a smirk as he reached into his own and pulled out a slender box.
"Hilarious," Castiel said from the gate. "Where did you find that?"
"Turns out that particular strip mall had a Hallmark store, practically untouched." Sam carried the last two bags past Dean and into the camp.
The plastic angel flickered happily from yellow to green to pink on top of the small pine tree they'd cut down from the woods edging the camp. It was battery powered, luckily, as was the other electronic ornament they'd brought back. Dean turned the little plastic USS Enterprise ornament over in his fingers and threw Sam a grin. They were gonna have a talk later, but for now he could stow it. For the others, if nothing else. He stood up and hung it from the tree, then surreptitiously grabbed a strand of tinsel from a neighboring branch and dropped it on Sam's head as he walked back towards the beverage table. "Who else wants more spicy wine?" Dean asked as he refilled his cup.
"Mulled wine," Bobby corrected.
"What does mulled even mean?" Dean grumbled, but he knocked into the corner of the table by accident, and missed Bobby's answer as he struggled to keep the menorah from tipping over. All nine little candles were burning.
"Didn't we miss Hanukkah already?"
"Last night's tonight," Rufus said from the other corner of the room as he strummed a guitar. They'd accumulated a small collection of instruments over the last three years, and there was no better example of why they were worth saving than tonight. Between Chuck's surprisingly large repertoire of folk songs, Rufus's skill with the guitar and Risa's lovely voice, the night felt downright festive.
"Yeah? Well then mazel tov," Dean said, heading back to his seat next to Sam. They didn't have enough chairs or couches for everybody, but the thin blanket on the floor was plenty comfy now that he had three cups of wine in him.
"You did good, Sammy," Dean said, bumping his shoulder against his brother's.
Sam turned his head and gave him a tired smile. "Thanks."
"Feels like a real holiday. Minus the massive amounts of turkey and pie."
"Weirdest thing." Sam cocked an eyebrow. "Stores were all out."
"Important part is, they're all alive." Dean looked around the room. "And for tonight, they're all happy." Dean settled back against the wall and sipped at his wine. "Thanks to you."
Sam huffed a sound, half chuckle, half sigh. Regardless, Dean thought, Sam looked more at peace than he had in the weeks since his injury. Like he'd found purpose again.
The night went on. Chuck had a better voice with every passing song, and Rufus had started dancing in slow circles around Bobby's chair.
Another hour passed before things started to settle down. Sam hummed along with Risa as she sang 'Silent Night,' and then excused himself. "I'm beat," he said, but his look said, "I'll be up when you get back and we'll talk."
Dean had almost forgotten what it was they needed to talk about. And then he remembered the envelope. Sam pulling some kind of crazy stunt with his right arm out of commission, bringing demons back to the camp. Dean's cup crinkled in his grip as he squeezed it just a little too hard. He took a big swallow of the over-sweet wine, then another. The music wasn't relaxing anymore.
It had gotten even colder out, and ice cracked under his boots as Dean walked from the main cabin over to the one he shared with Sam.
Sam was already in his sleeping clothes and sitting on his bed with a book in his lap when Dean walked in, pulling the door shut behind him. The icy air lingered for a moment before being swallowed up by the heat of the room.
"We did take a detour," Sam said, by way of greeting. "After we raided the strip-mall."
Dean chewed on his lip and slipped out of his jacket. "Yeah?"
"Because I told Ernie we had to."
"I had a hunch."
"A vision." Sam cocked his head to the side and back, pursing his lips for a moment. "Like the ones I used to get.
"Visions? How long have you been having visions again?"
"Since Cas carved me up." He scratched at the back of his neck, where Castiel had used the last dying fumes of his mojo to brand Sam with a sigil strong enough to keep Lucifer out of his dreams."
"Thought that was supposed to keep the bad stuff out."
"It does. Lucifer can't get into my head." He shrugged and crossed his arms across his chest. I don't know, maybe—maybe Lucifer was keeping the visions from getting through."
"And you were gonna tell me this when?"
Sam ignored the question. "Anyway, earlier today, what I saw, was…bad. Really bad."
"We've seen a lot of really bad. Want to be more specific?"
"It was a ritual in the basement of the Kansas City courthouse. No clue what they were trying to raise or why, but something big was going down. Dozens of demons, and something… I don't know, something else. This heaviness in the air, like way back in River Pass."
"Maybe. Whatever it was, we stopped it. For now, anyway. Broke the altar, burned the scrolls they had, stopped the sacrifice. We trapped most of the demons inside, exorcized them, but a few slipped through. Followed us back."
"You should never have gone off course. Just the two of you, are you crazy?"
"We got them out, the ones they were trying to sacrifice. They were kids, Dean." He swallowed and smiled, weakly. "We dropped them off with Ellen. She'll get 'em home."
Ellen had taken over an old fallout shelter closer to the city border. A few months back, she'd split off with Jo and a few other survivors. Disagreement over how the camp should be run. Dean grabbed the edge of a table to to keep himself from punching something. He should've never let Sam out on his own. "You shouldn't have taken the risk."
"We had to. I made the right call. You know that. And now—"
Sam carded his fingers through his hair. "Look, can we just cut the crap?"
"What?" Dean feigned ignorance, because he knew what was coming and had no intention of indulging it.
"Lucifer knows where I am now." Sam's voice was tight with anger and barely hidden fear. "I can't stay here."
"'Course you can. Our wards worked, we proved that today."
"Yeah against a few low-level demons. You really think they're gonna keep the Devil out?"
"No. We're not having this conversation. Dean slammed his hand against the table. "We finally, finally get this place feeling a little less like a war-zone for one night and now you want us to all pack up and leave?"
"No, I don't." Sam sat up, and swung his legs over the edge of the bed.
"The only one that needs to leave is me."
"You're not going anywhere. Not by yourself."
"Yeah? What're you gonna do then? Come with me? You gonna what—relocate the whole damn group just to save my sorry ass?"
"If that's what it takes, then—"
"No. Damn it, Dean. You said it yourself: this place is finally starting to feel like home to these people."
"Yeah and it's been compromised. The demons know where we are now. They could come for the whole camp."
"But they won't. Not if I go somewhere else. They'll go after me. You know that."
"No, we don't know that."
"Yes we do. We've had demons tail us three times in the last year and each
time, who were they following?"
"If I go, nothing changes for the others. You can keep teaching them, and—"
"You seriously think I'm gonna just let you take off by yourself?"
Sam let out a huff. "No, I don't." He reached under his pillow and pulled out an envelope. The envelope from earlier. The one Dean had all but blocked form his memory thanks to the four glasses of wine. "But I'm hoping this'll change your mind."
The envelope had been opened. Dean reached in and pulled out the thick card-stock. The writing on the card was the same neat cursive as on the envelope. But the writing wasn't in English. He recognized the curvature enough to know it was Enochian, but couldn't make out more than a few letters. "What's it say?"
Sam grimaced. "Little pig, little pig, let me in. Or I'll huff and I'll puff…"
"And I'll blow your house down," Dean finished. "So then we relocate. We'll call a meeting tomorrow, start packing."
"No. He was addressing me, it was addressed to me," Sam grabbed the card from Dean's hand. "And I need to give him an answer."
A hard lump formed in Dean's throat. "And that answer's still 'no'
"Of course," Sam said. He shook his head. "Look, maybe you're right. Let's just sleep on it, and we'll tell the others in the morning. Okay?" He looked at Dean. His eyes were weary with lack of sleep and guilt. He'd never stopped blaming himself for the state of the world.
Part of Dean wanted to do whatever it took to get Sam to let go of the guilt. It wasn't Sam's fault alone—they'd both had a hand in freeing Lucifer, and it wasn't a one-man cleanup job. Sam needed to know that Dean still believed in him. He should say something encouraging like, 'You got it, Sammy. We'll tell the others tomorrow, and we'll figure this out together.' But he couldn't. Because his brother had always been a terrible liar, and he was hiding something. These days, hiding things cost lives and they couldn't afford to lose any more. So instead, Dean said,
"You expect me to believe that?"
"No." Sam met Dean's glare evenly. "Because you don't trust me."
"Of course I trust you."
"Dean. You've never trusted me. Not to take care of myself." Sam pulled back the curtain covering the window next to his bed and pointed at the East tower. "That's why you've got Jackson and Ernie watching me every damn night."
"It's their turn at guard duty."
"They're guarding me." Sam nodded. "Making sure I don't try to leave, or do something else stupid."
"It's okay. I get it."
Dean took a breath. "We can't afford to be reckless. Not us."
"No, we can't," Sam said with a look that told Dean he'd pushed too far.
"These people's lives, they depend on us," Dean said again
"Yeah, I know." Sam's jaw twitched as he ground his teeth so hard, Dean could hear them. "And we have to do whatever it takes to keep them safe, right?" Sam's gaze was heavy with unspoken words. Years of pain and sacrifice, and something else Dean couldn't quite place. He waited, eyes locked on Dean's, until Dean nodded a yes. Then Sam lay down on his pillow, turned his back towards Dean and wouldn't say another word.
Dean got changed, brushed his teeth with that paste Chuck had made that he swore was 'just as good as toothpaste,' but tasted like ass, and then turned off the lights. He stared at the ceiling a long time. "Night, Sammy," he said and then tried to get some sleep.
The sun was far too bright when Dean woke the next morning. He'd overslept.
Sam's bed was empty, which wasn't surprising, considering he was usually up at the crack of dawn doing yoga or some other kind of morning torture.
Dean changed into his jeans and was just slipping on a clean shirt when somebody knocked on the door. He'd barely pulled back the second lock when Castiel pushed the door open the rest of the way.
"Where's Sam?" Castiel asked, as he looked around the room.
"Good morning to you too." Dean yawned. "I don't know. What time is it?" He squinted out the window. "Nine?"
"Ten?" Dean's brain started to wake up and memories of his last conversation with Sam came rushing back, along with a healthy dose of dread. "Wait, you haven't seen Sam yet? Doesn't he always stop by for—"
"For tea, yes usually he does. But nobody's seen him."
Dean rubbed his hand against his temple. Dammit, why was his brain so slow this morning, wine didn't usually hit him this badly. Maybe it was something about it being mulled… "He uh—last night, after the party, we kinda had it out. The note that demon tossed him, it—"
"What note?" Castiel asked. "May I see it?"
The note was still on Sam's nightstand, back in its envelope. "Looks like Lucifer's moved on to taunting us with nursery rhymes." He handed the note to Castiel.
Castiel's brow furrowed as he read the note.
"It's this kids' story—the three little pigs, and there's a wolf—"
"There is no mention of pigs." Castiel narrowed his eyes and looked at the envelope. "Did Sam…translate this for you?"
Dean nodded, clutching at his tenuous anger. Anger was so much easier than fear. "What does it actually say?"
Castiel's voice softened, but his eyes stayed hard as glass. "It says:
'Ten-thousand a day will die.'" He set the note and envelope down on the bedspread. "This isn't just a threat, it's an ultimatum."
Dean ran his hand over his mouth. "So…that's it, then. Lucifer sends some lackey with a scrap of paper and Sam just gives up?" By the end of the sentence, he was shouting, and he didn't care.
"Sam's not a fool," Castiel said, looking at the floorboards. "Perhaps he plans on deceiving Lucifer somehow."
"Yeah, I'm sure that'll end well." Dean scoffed and then punched the wall, for lack of anything better to do.
"We should head back," Castiel said.
"Yeah! I know. I heard you the first five times," Dean snapped. And the worst part was, Castiel was right. Of course he was. The sun was about to go down, daylight short as it was, and they were still in the middle of Croat central. He'd sent out three search parties to look for Sam, positive that he himself would at least catch some sight of him. Sam had left on foot, with his duffel-bag and a bad shoulder. He couldn't have gone far.
And yet...they'd gone down every side road, run through chunks of the surrounding woods, and found nothing.
"We need to touch base with the others. You said sundown."
"I did. Want to remind me of everything else I said today?" Dean slammed his jaw shut before he could say anything else he'd regret.
He slowed as they neared the camp. Risa, Chuck, Ernie and Jeremy were all standing outside the gate along with two jeeps and a car he hadn't seen in months. An old junker Bobby had insisted they bring along when he first came to the camp. Bobby was arguing with Risa about something as Dean brought his jeep to a halt and flung open the door.
"…and I'm telling you I don't know!" Bobby said, hands out to his sides, glaring up at Risa.
"I get that, but you're the only one here who knew we even had this old hunk," she said.
"No he's not," Dean said. "Sam and I knew. Chuck too. We all went over to the junkyard a few months back when we were looking for scrap metal to fix the guard tower. Couldn't use this thing because it's forty percent plastic and sixty percent rust."
"Sam knew where it was," Risa said.
"Yeah, but how he got it to run at all…" Bobby started.
"Spent years watching the master," Dean said grimly. "Where'd you find it?"
"'Bout twenty miles away—right by the on-ramp to I-70." Rufus frowned. "No signs of Croats, or any kinda struggle. We're thinking he found himself a better ride and took it. Lotta abandoned cars on the highway."
Dean laced his fingers behind his head, trying to keep his thoughts calm, even though he was anything but. "So he's got what? A three hour lead on us, bare minimum?"
"Something like that," Bobby said. "But before you go out blind again, you need to look at the dash."
"He left us a note. Pretty sure it's for you." Bobby pointed towards the Charger.
Dean walked over to the rusty car, opened the door and slid into the driver's seat. He ran his fingers over the dash. Something was carved into it, tricky to see in the waning light of dusk. He took out his Zippo and flicked it on, holding it close to the plastic. Carved in Sam's normally neat lettering, jagged from the combination of left hand plus knife tip were a series of numbers. Coordinates. Dean read them again and again, memorized them, and then, on instinct, opened the glove compartment and curved his fingers up, feeling under the upper rim of the inside. Sure enough, there was a key shoved into the lining. He climbed out of the car but didn't take more than a step away from it.
"Get back to the camp. Folks are on edge, and I know I made things worse. I gotta check this out."
"I'll go with you," Castiel said, following Dean to the jeep.
"No." Dean held up his hand. "This won't take long. Two hours at most. I'll be back before dinner." He climbed back into the jeep to the sound of Bobby, Rufus and Risa all shouting at him. But he ignored them, turned on the ignition and pealed back out onto the road, sending gravel flying.
The coordinates took him to the middle of nowhere—a long-abandoned farm on a stretch of otherwise empty highway. The field leading to the farm was dotted with random sheaves of wheat. No crickets. Dean shuddered, less from the cold, more because of the silence. Insects were everywhere these days, now more than ever with humans dwindling; if they'd left this field, then something had driven them off.
The air smelled of ozone, but there were no other demonic omens. Dean slowed his steps as he neared the barn door. It shimmered with fresh paint, nearly the same shade of red as the barn itself, but still wet, still new.
A Devil's Trap, precise and drawn recently.
Dean pushed against the door, careful to avoid marring the trap. His flashlight flickered a bit. The batteries had been low for months, but it still worked every once in a while because he only used it on special occasions. The barn was empty, except for hay. Dean circled the inside, slowly, but it didn't take him long to find what he was looking for. There was a man in a suit, bound and gagged, lying in the center of the barn floor. Dean crouched down next to him and looked him over. The man squeezed his eyes shut against the flashlight. He smelled of piss and stale sweat. And the way he was whimpering made it clear he was human. Dean pulled the gag free and the man sputtered, catching his breath before he spoke.
"Get me the bloody hell out of here!"
"Sure. Just need some answers first."
"Answers?" His voice was strained, probably from screaming. The fine suit and dirt-caked shine of his shoes made it clear this man was completely out of his element. "I'd like some answers too! Like why I can't remember anything. Why I'm out here in the middle of a sodding barn! What state are we even in?"
"What state do you think we're in?" Dean thought for a minute. "Better question, what year do you think it is?"
The man narrowed his eyes. "What is this? Not bad enough some lunatic kidnaps me and I come to coughing black smoke and stinking of rotten eggs, you have to play twenty questions with me too?"
Dean tilted his head to the side. "Black smoke, huh?"
"Yeah. Must have been one hell of a drug, whatever that guy gave me. Haven't had a headache like this since eighty-six." He struggled to get to his knees. "You gonna untie me, or what?"
"What'd he look like?"
"The uh…the lunatic who brought you here."
"Tall as the devil, rocker hair, speaking in tongues half the time." The man's eyes darted to his right. "Pretty much ignored me once he took the gun."
"You had a gun?" Dean looked over to where the man had glanced. There was a small wooden box. He picked it up, and with a sinking feeling, reached into his pocket for the key Sam had left in the glove compartment of the Charger. The key fit perfectly. Inside the box was the Colt. He picked it up, felt its familiar weight in his hand and then aimed it at the bound man. "This is your gun?"
The man's eyes widened. "No! That's the crazy part—I don't even own a gun!"
"That's what I thought," Dean said. He tucked the gun into his belt, moved back to the man's side and started cutting through the ropes. "What's your name?"
"Edward Milton, literary agent."
"Well then, Mr. Milton, let's go for a ride."
After dropping Mr. Milton off at Ellen's bunker, Dean got back on I-70. He'd fully intended to head back to the camp, originally, well maybe not fully, but mostly, however, after finding what Sam had left for him, he knew what he had to do. Sam hadn't left him another note, or even another carving anywhere in the barn. Dean had searched every inch with his flickering flashlight and then his Zippo. But he'd left Dean the Colt. He'd found the Colt, somehow figured out which demon had it, summoned the thing and then exorcized it all before Dean had tracked him down.
Sam had been planning this. Which meant things were much worse than Dean had feared.
So Dean drove. For eleven solid hours, weaving around abandoned cars and trucks and plowing through Croats when they left him no choice. He drove on gut instinct at first—knew Sam had gone East as surely as he knew why Sam had led him to the Colt. His radio flickered to life when he crossed the border into Illinois and even though most radio stations had gone dead over two years ago, one of them was broadcasting clearly. A man with a wavering voice reading the Book of Revelation. "…saying come and see, and I saw, and behold a white horse…" The voice faded out but got stronger when Dean took the off-ramp onto I-55. He followed the signal, and it led him right up to Lake Michigan. Snow started falling, then turned into small grains of hail, pattering on his windshield like distant gunfire.
The signal was strongest in Detroit. The city had been abandoned, like most other cities these days, streets and buildings boarded up and dark from lack of electricity. All except for one ten-block radius in the middle, which Dean was slowly making his way towards. He'd seen it, coming down off the highway, and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that that's where he was going.
He turned off the radio, and rolled down his window as he drove into the light. The hail had stopped, but the air was cold—cold enough that he felt the stale sweat on his skin start to freeze. The streets were well lit here, and where the rest of the city had been empty—abandoned, this section wasn't. It was littered with bodies.
They were laid out like breadcrumbs, all of them with arms spread forwards, like they were prostrating themselves. Dean parked the car on the sidewalk, armed himself, and made his way on foot, following the grotesque arrows. At the end of the street was a hotel. A ratty one, with a sign that flickered on and off unevenly. It was the type of dive he and Sam had stayed in most of their adult lives.
The hotel was unlocked, but empty. No bodies, no clerk at the counter, and only one key missing from the hooks. This place was so old they still used keys, not cards.
Hook 6C was empty. Top floor. No elevator. Of course.
Dean jogged up the steps as fast as his lungs would allow and slowed to listen when he reached the sixth floor. An acrid odor lay heavy in the air, the stench of death. He followed it to 6C, door held open by a bloodied arm.
Nudging the door with his boot, Dean found the room filled with corpses. Exsanguinated corpses, he discovered, on closer inspection.
The room was remarkably empty otherwise. A bed with a worn mattress and no pillow. Two small, grimy windows, one of them cracked open. One desk with one chair and a pad of paper. Somebody had left a note behind.
No, not a note, Dean determined with mounting dread. A list. Sam had written a list.
Dean's name was the first one on the list but there were dozens of others: Bobby Singer, Ellen Harvelle, Joanna Harvelle, Rufus Turner, written in Sam's left-handed, block handwriting.
He read them all, turned the page and found the next page just as full, and the next, and the next.
The names grew less familiar as the pages went on. 'Tyson Brady, Philip Malleck…'
"What did you do, Sam?" Dean muttered to himself. "What'd you do?"
He flipped through to the end—unrecognizable names, handwriting rushed and sloppy. A gust of wind came in through the open window along with the sound of someone humming, 'Silent Night.'
It was Sam's voice.
The chair clattered to the floor as Dean bolted to the window and forced it up the rest of the way.
The corpses lining the street had vanished. And standing in the middle of the street, still humming, face turned up to Dean's window, was Sam. He smiled a very un-Sam-like smile.
Despair and rage warred inside Dean's mind, keeping him tongue-tied while a memory that wasn't his played in his mind in full Technicolor:
"No cheating, no tricks," said a voice.
He was sitting—no, Sam was sitting, and Dean was seeing through Sam's eyes—at the small table in the hotel room, writing on the notepad as fast as he could. "Not just people you've heard of. Only those you've met. Anyone whose life you've personally touched."
The voice got closer, cold breath near Sam's ear.
"Anyone you haven't met just isn't worth the effort, quite frankly."
Sam's pen never slowed, but he answered, "Not killing them is more effort than killing them?"
"Of course." The cold retreated somewhat as the man stood again. "Haven't you noticed, Sam? This isn't murder, it's the extinction of your species."
"The virus was your doing."
"I beg to differ. Your scientists created it."
"Not on their own."
"Jury's still out on that."
Sam ignored Lucifer and turned another page. Missouri Moseley, Sarah Blake, Cassie Robinson…
"I wouldn't do this for just anyone, you know. I want you to be happy. It's very brave, what you're doing."
"Stop," Sam said, voice choked.
"Stop," Dean echoed, and the vision vanished.
"So selfless, your brother," the voice said. Sam's voice, but not. He was standing in the room, less than two feet away.
Dean felt sick to his stomach. Even the body language was all wrong, shoulders back, chin lifted. The Devil was preening, wearing Sam's skin like an Armani suit.
"He was tailored to fit," Lucifer said, smiling indulgently.
"Get out of my head," Dean snarled. "And get out of my brother."
Lucifer laughed. "He came to me."
"Because you threatened him."
"That wasn't a threat, it was a statement of fact." Lucifer cocked his head. "You think he gave up, don't you?" He took a step forward, and Dean stepped back, a reflex. "Oh ye of little faith." His lips curved. "He plans to overthrow me from the inside. Thinks that if he waits for just the right moment he can overpower me."
"No, Sam wouldn't—"
"I'd expect nothing less from my true vessel. He believes in his cause, even more than he believes in his own power, and I won't rob him of that." He took another step forward, pinning Dean against the wall. "He's asleep right now. Dreaming." Lucifer's voice took on a sing-song quality. "In his dream he's fighting me. He's figured out a way to open my cage and he's waiting for just the right moment to overpower me, to throw me over the edge." Lucifer's smile widened. "And he's so sure that even if he fails, you'll be there to finish it."
"Sam," Dean said, looking into his brothers eyes. If he was still in there, and he had to be, then maybe he could still be reached. "Sam! Fight him."
"Oh, he is." The Devil grinned. "And he'll keep fighting, while I cleanse this planet of you filthy little things. It won't take much longer now. Not with Sam as my conduit."
"That's your big plan then? Kill everyone?" Dean scoffed. "What about the list?"
"The list." Lucifer chuckled. "Sam was determined to save everybody at first. He didn't realize how far the virus has already spread. So I showed him."
An image flashed into Dean's skull: a map of the world, billions and billions of tiny lights, each of them a human soul, and all of them flickering out of existence, millions at a time. A time-lapse of what the Croatoan virus had done in just over four years.
"I, generously, promised immunity and protection to everyone he could name." Lucifer's voice grew softer. "Three hundred and seventeen people. That's all Sam could remember."
"You promised to save them."
"And I keep my promises. They'll survive." Lucifer inclined his head. "You and your merry little band included. All of you will bear witness."
Dean couldn't stop himself from asking, "To what? Your big planet-wide redecorating spree?"
"Yes. Earth first. Then Heaven."
"We'll stop you," Dean said, struggling to keep his voice steady.
"I know you want to believe that." Lucifer put his hand on Dean's shoulder.
"Don't give up. You're brother won't. Not until he knows you've given up on him."
The air in the room grew even colder, a snap of frost that took Dean's breath away.
Lucifer was gone. Sam was gone.
And only then did Dean remember the Colt.