Sam threw his duffel in the Impala's trunk and turned around to give his father a hug. They were standing in a motel parking lot on the outskirts of New Orleans, where they'd spent a week trying to undo some of the damage Hurricane Katrina and the U.S. government had created. It was the middle of summer and hot as hell, but he was glad he'd got to come; they'd done a lot of good. Dean had nixed the idea of a Christmas hunt, and Sam understood why his brother had been so adamant about not going so soon after Jess's death. The depressive atmosphere would've crushed him back then. It wasn't settling particularly well even now. "Good hunting with you, Dad. You, too, Bobby. Still can't get over there was a rougarou running around the French Quarter--and nobody noticed!"
"The people down here are used to looking the other way," Bobby said. "Too much can happen when you notice things in a society full of hoodoo." He turned around when he saw Dean coming out of the room with his bag. "Those arrows weren't tipped with just silver, were they?"
Dean grinned. "Had a little special juice added to make sure they did the job."
"Where the hell you learn that?" Bobby demanded. "I know the Army ain't taught something like that."
"A voodoo priestess gave me some pointers." Dean said it casually, as if voodoo priestesses always helped out hunters.
"When did you meet a priestess?" Sam asked.
"Last time I was down here. We sorta hooked up."
Sam's eyes weren't the only ones to stare at Dean. "You know safe sex means more than a condom, Dean," Dad berated with a frown. He stood at the back of his truck, the weapons cache open, all the metal gleaming in the bright sun.
Dean held his hands up in submission. "Hey, she propositioned me. Who knows what would've happened if I'd turned her down. Besides, she was hot."
"One of these days, Dean Junior's gonna get you into a whole lot of trouble, boy," Bobby warned. His truck was one space over, looking like an old wreck, but hiding an engine that made Dean grin when he heard it.
Dean just shrugged off Bobby's words. "We gotta hit the road, bro. Some of us have to be at work on Monday."
"And I've been selected to observe a Supreme Court Moot session being held this week." Only a few students were chosen to attend one of the Supreme Court Institute's moot courts for counsel preparing to argue before the Supreme Court. Sam felt doubly honored because he'd only been at Georgetown Law for one semester. The dean at Stanford Law had explained Sam's situation to his counterpart at Georgetown and had managed to get Sam enrolled for the semester. His continued education there was contingent on how well he did, and well, being selected to observe the moot indicated he was off probation.
"Aw, John, ain't you just so proud of 'em," Bobby cooed.
"My boys," Dad cracked, wiping at an imaginary tear. "So respectable when they aren't charging around a city with guns and crossbows or apparently doing the nasty with voodoo priestesses."
"And this is how I spent my vacation," Dean said with a sigh. "Next year--Miami Beach."
"Probably a water demon," Dad said dryly.
"In a bikini," Sam added.
"And male," Bobby said in agreement.
Dean threw his duffel beside Sam's and slammed the trunk. "You people are no fun."
Sam smirked and joined Dean in the car. They waved at the two older men as they took off. "I am so ready to blow this popsicle stand," he said, meaning every word.
"Did the big, bad rougarou scare lil' Sammy?" Dean teased as he headed for the I-10.
He flicked his hand toward the window. "No, it's just...This place is so sad, Dean."
His brother nodded. "The Quarter--it's coming back. It always comes back, but the other parts...haunted even where there aren't any ghosts. Nature can be a real bitch."
Sam laid his arm up in the open window, the sticky breeze cooling as the car picked up speed. "It's not just nature that did this. You know, sometimes I read all the conspiracy theories, and I wonder, man."
"Nah, Sammy. This wasn't something that was planned and plotted." Dean reached overhead and pulled his shades down from the visor. "This was arrogance and complacency and sheer laziness. Everybody was so sure somebody was going to do something, that nothing got done. This was being so sure that nothing could go wrong that when it did go wrong, nobody could tell their heads from their asses." He looked at the sunglasses, blew some dust off, then slipped them onto his face.
Sam tapped his fingers impatiently against the door. He should've known Dean wouldn't see a conspiracy. Dean didn't like to think humans planned evil. Sure, they committed it--it just wasn't planned. Which went a long way in explaining his intolerance of bullies. In Dean's mind, they were abominations, not the norm. Dark creatures planned to be dark; humans just stumbled into it. Yeah, right. "It's been nearly a year. What excuse are you going to give them now?"
"No excuse, bro. Now, they just need their collective asses kicked."
"Amen to that." Sam pulled out his own shades and slid them on. Should be a law against heading east in the morning. Except he'd never get to school or anything. "How'd you guys manage to get through last September? Pull your Army ID?"
Dean shook his head. "The Army wouldn't let me come. Said it was too dangerous for me." He snorted. "Too dangerous for a trained officer, yet new recruits and volunteers were running all over the place. And what about the civilians that were stuck here?"
"Maybe they were worried about your lungs, Dean. They weren't sure what was in the air," Sam said reasonably.
"Interested in buying a bridge in New York City?" Dean snarked.
"So you came down anyway with Dad and Bobby."
The Impala blew past a semi. Dean kept his favorite girl in excellent condition and had even recently switched out the cassette player for a CD one, reluctantly admitting she deserved only the best. The mullet rock, however, had not changed.
"They had some fake IDs. Got us to places we needed to be. Never seen so many recently dead too dazed to go where they were supposed to go. They weren't so much angry as they were confused. Some day down the road, the angry are gonna rise and that's gonna be a mess."
Sam shivered. New Orleans and the surrounding bayous were dark enough without a new group of pissed off spirits. "We'll definitely have to keep an eye on this place."
Sam slipped in a disc, and they both let it drown out the sorrow.
"I never wanted this for my boys," John said, slumping behind the wheel of his truck. "Never wanted one of them to live with the pain of losing someone like I lost Mary." He glanced over at the passenger's seat. "And don't give me that 'divine plan' crap."
"I was just going to say that Sam will go on just as you have," Jim Murphy commented softly. "You are an incredibly strong family."
John sniffed indifferently. "So, how'd it go with the Moores?"
"Very nice people. They were genuinely glad to hear that Sam was doing okay. There's no residual blame or resentment there at all."
"Good, 'cause I wouldn't wanna have to kick their asses." He cocked an eyebrow at his partner, waiting to see if he was going to call him on his language.
As he expected, Jim ignored him. "I explained to them that I was Sam's personal pastor and when I found myself in the area, I just thought I'd stop by to see how they were coping. I scanned the house. Jessica's not there."
"And hopefully, she's not here." They were parked in front of the apartment building Sam had shared with Jess. It was Halloween, the night when the veil between the natural and supernatural was the thinnest. If his almost daughter-in-law was still hanging around, she'd make an appearance tonight.
A door closed behind them and Bobby walked up to the window. "The lights just went off. They'll be down in a second." A couple of college guys had rented the apartment. John had arranged for them to "win" complimentary beer passes to a nearby bar that was having a Halloween "spooktacular."
John figured the bar should be haunted just for coming up with crap like that.
Two guys came out of the building's doors. "What the hell is he dressed as?"
"A character from Pirates of the Caribbean." Two pair of eyes stared at him. "The movie, not the ride," Jim clarified.
John just rolled his eyes. Of course the movie. Duh. (If he primed Sammy just right, he'd probably get an answer he understood. And probably a whole lot of information he didn't need.)
"Is the guy buzzed already? Looka the way he's walkin'," Bobby said.
"That's the way the character walks. Quite colorful, don't you think?"
John shook his head. "How do you know all of this?"
"Not all my parishioners are pensioners, John. There are still some youth who appreciate the church."
"Sometimes brainwashing works," John muttered.
"What was that?" Jim asked.
"Let's do this thing," John replied, getting out of the truck.
Two hours later, John pulled up in the unloading lane at the airport. "Sure you don't wanna head out to Iowa with me and Bobby?" he asked as Jim looked around, making sure he had all his belongings.
"Gotta make it back in time for the Women's League Spaghetti Dinner. Trust me, if anything needs prayer, it's Mrs. Hamrick's garlic bread. Good luck to you and Bobby on your demon hunt."
"Good luck to you on avoiding food poisoning."
John watched until he saw the pastor enter the airport, then took off for the motel. In the parking lot, he pulled out his phone. "Sam, it's Dad. Jessica wasn't--she wasn't like Mom, son. Your Jessica's resting in peace, Sammy. She's at peace."
Dean rubbed the back of his neck and threw down his pen in disgust. He was getting absolutely nothing done and wondered why he'd even bothered to show up for work. It was November second--a guaranteed "bad" day. He should've stayed home and blown up things in his lab. Or at least simulated it on the new computers the Defense Department had just added. But, no, he was at his office because he couldn't convince Sam to stay home, too.
"Dean, you know Georgetown did me a favor letting me in. So I have to show up, okay? I have to ace my courses. I can't be a slacker."
"No one would call you a slacker for taking the day off, Sam, not this day." No matter how much Sam denied it, the first year anniversary of Jessica's death had to be giving him hell. He knew for a fact Sam had had to interview with the school's Counseling and Psychiatric Services before they allowed him in. Dean also knew for a fact they would write him a medical leave of absence for the day. There'd been too many students going postal lately for them not to.
Sam had shook his head. "I need to do this, Dean. I need to have something else to focus on. I need to see something that isn't Jess on the ceiling."
Dean winced at the bluntness of that. "Okay, man, I get it. Let me grab my jacket and cap."
"I can drive myself in today."
Dean sighed. "And pay ten dollars just to park your car?"
"The Park and Ride lot is--"
"Just shut up and get your books."
Georgetown's Law School was located in downtown D.C. with very limited parking, except for the expensive deck nearby. Since the Pentagon Station for D.C. Metro Rail System was located directly below the Pentagon, Sam just drove in with Dean in the mornings and met him at the Impala at the end of the day. Since Sam had decided to major in Environmental Law, they joked it was the "green" thing to do.
But there had been no joking this morning. They'd listened to the traffic report all the way into Arlington, then he'd nodded goodbye to Sam and headed into his office--where he had accomplished nothing, except for some balls of paper in the trashcan. It wasn't like he enjoyed doing funding reports anyway. Briefly, he thought about calling his dad and seeing how he was faring on this Day of Days, but John was on his way from California to somewhere with Bobby. Who knew what time zone he was in; he didn't want to wake the man if he'd managed to get some sleep.
However, as he glanced at the clock, he realized Sam had just finished his morning class. Surely, a call would be a welcomed distraction--unless Sam had already made it to the Law Library where all things cell phone were forbidden. Nah, they never got out of class early and even Sam's long legs couldn't have carried him to the other building yet.
Just as he reached for the phone, it buzzed, signaling Evelyn was trying to contact him. "Yes?"
"Captain, Sam's on Line One. He doesn't sound too good."
"Thanks, Evelyn." Dean jabbed the correct button. "Sam, what's wrong?"
"You fell asleep?" Since Jessica's death, Sam had had a few prophetic dreams which had him waking up screaming. It had scared the shit out of him the first time, but they were learning to live with it.
"No, I was awake. Just walking down the hall and...ahhh."
"God, it hurts, Dean!"
"Where are you?"
"The bathroom. I had to throw up."
"Do you need help? Should I call someone to escort you to the infirmary?"
"I--I'll be okay. I think I'm having a migraine. I just wanna go home and crawl into bed."
"That's doable. I'm on my way. I'll call again when I get into the city, okay? Probably have to park at the Army Corps of Engineers building across the street. If you feel better, see if you can make it to the doors on that side of the school. Okay?"
Dean picked up his jacket and cap and flew out of his office. "Evelyn, Sam's had some kind of migraine attack. I need to go get him."
"Of course, sir."
Dean cursed the city traffic as he maneuvered the congested streets and waited on very slow moving pedestrians. Finally, he arrived at the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters and rolled down his window to flash his I.D. and explain his temporary mission.
"Captain Winchester," the corporal on duty said as he scanned Dean's I.D. "The Pentagon has already called and requested our assistance. If you leave me your keys, you can go get your brother while I move your car."
"Thank you." Dean added a silent thank you to Evelyn as well.
It didn't take long to find Sam and get him bundled into the car. As they made their way toward home, Sam seemed to get a little better. "It's the demon, Dean."
Dean's eyes widened. "The one who killed..."
"Yes. He's gonna do it again." Sam closed his eyes. "There's a nursery. The clock on the wall suddenly stops. There's a baby girl in her crib with a mobile that begins moving on its own. A shadow. It's a man walking towards the crib. He--he has yellow eyes, Dean. Then a woman comes into the room. The mother? She sees the demon standing over the crib. She questions the man and suddenly she's pinned against the wall. Then she moves up to the ceiling. She cries out a name. Rosie? The baby's name is Rosie. The mother... A pool of blood appears at her waist. The nursery goes up in flames."
"Damn. You saw all of that?"
Sam nodded, grimacing. "Jess...Jess died like that. Mom, too. It's him, Dean. He's back."
"Fuck. We have to call Dad. Any idea where--"
Sam shook his head and groaned at the action. "It's a nursery. There's only children's books and toys. Nothing to tell me where they are. Fuck it! What good is this if I can't--"
"You saw a clock," Dean interrupted quickly. "What time was on it?"
"You said the clock on the wall stopped. What time was it?"
Sam took a deep breath and concentrated. "Ten to nine."
"Then either it happened hours ago, and there's nothing we can do about it. Or we have hours to figure it out."
"Night because there's a window and it's dark outside. If he's using the same M.O. as Mom and Jess, it'll be tonight."
Dean smiled. "Then we have time. I'm going to call Dad. He and Bobby have this theory about weather patterns predicting demon attacks or some such shit. Maybe they can trace this thing."
"Pull over first."
"Why? You gonna hurl?" Dean asked in a panic.
"No, I'm not about to despoil your car," Sam said with a hint of amusement. "But you aren't just asking Dad what he wants for dinner. You need to concentrate, and I rather you not do it while traveling at eighty miles per hour down the I-66."
"You're such a girl," Dean complained as he signaled to take the next exit. In a vacant parking lot, he pulled out his cell and hit the speed dial. "Dad? Yeah, I'm sure you're doing fine, but that's not why I'm calling. Sam's just had a vision...No, he was awake this time. A demon in a nursery...No, nothing in the nursery gave him a clue about where it is. I thought your weather theory might...Really? The baby's name is Rosie, if that helps...Dad, you have until just about nine, at least that's when the clock stops...Okay, I'll tell Sam. Keep us informed...Yeah, you be careful, too. Bye."
"Well?" Sam asked anxiously.
"He and Bobby are already on their way to Salvation, Iowa, tracking some freak storm. They'll look for a Rosie there. When we get home, we can hit the computer, see if we can't find a Rosie born six months ago."
"Just like me. God, Dean, is this why this is happening to me? Did the demon do something to me before he killed Mom? Am I--"
"Just shut it, Sam!" Dean started the car with a vicious turn of the key. "There's nothing wrong with you, okay? I mean, look at me. I'm the one who's had the CYA alert for years. It's just a family thing. Nothing to do with demons, see?"
"Yeah, I guess so. But at least your freaky power doesn't give you a headache."
"Just sit over there and rest. We'll be home soon." He turned the radio on a soft jazz station and let the music do its work.
While Sam slept, Dean tried hard not to be scared. He'd told no one the full story of the voodoo woman in New Orleans. Yeah, he'd slept with her, but she'd also told him things, things that made no sense at the time, but were becoming clearer.
He'd been taking an easy jog through the largely undamaged French Quarter early in the morning, trying to burn off the excess energy that remained from a night of settling spooks. The emptiness of the Quarter unnerved him; the missing liveliness ominous, the unnatural quiet menacing. Although the waters from the collapsed levees hadn't inundated the area, the surrounding devastation made it an island in the middle of nowhere. Power was sporadic, fleeing vermin had settled in, and the only people were diehard residents, news reporters, a handful of government agents, and an ever-changing guard of hunters whose main goal was to get rid of the "things" hampering the rescue/recovery efforts. All other dark happenings could wait until the living were taken care of.
The woman leaning against old, smoke darkened brick had been all toffee curves and hazel eyes. She'd smiled and beckoned to him. He couldn't resist.
"The spirits, they tell me you'd be passing by," she said in a whiskey-rough drawl.
He grinned and looked her over appreciatively. "They tell you anything else?"
She held out her hand and pulled him toward an open door revealing steep stairs disappearing into darkness. "They tell me lots of things."
Dean thought a lot with his small brain, but his larger one also had a say. "Ma'am," he said respectfully, taking in all the symbols and sigils she was sporting and knowing she wasn't a person he wanted to offend, "I don't want to appear to be rejecting your hospitality, but this is awfully sudden."
She laughed. "My name is Lalah, Dean, and I've been waiting for you." He froze and his hand reached for the knife at the small of his back. She tsked and shook her head. "I'm no danger to you, hunter. We merely have gifts we must share, gifts that will benefit both of us along our respective journeys. You have the word of a conjure woman. You will not dispute that, will you?"
He shook his head. He was cautious but no fool.
She was talented, but he was no slouch either and the morning was passed quite energetically and satisfyingly. When he was dressed, she took him into the cellar and pointed at a box. "Take it. They will help you with your 'toys'." He saw the box was filled with bottles and packages of powders. "They are labeled, and instructions and suggestions are in a letter at the bottom."
He recognized a couple of labels as those poisonous to a variety of dark creatures. He knew he should be bothered by her knowledge of him, but there was nothing he could do about it. Hoodoo, voodoo, or whatever it was called, was to be respected at all times. For all its chicken blood and dancing with snakes, it was just too powerful to dismiss. "Thank you for the gift, Lalah. What do you want from me?"
"I have what I want, Dean. The Father Mother Spirits were worried; if the rumors from Hell are to be believed nature will soon to be unbalanced and that is not good for the living or the dead."
The short hairs on the back of his neck rose. "What?"
"Hell thinks it will have a new leader in the future, one who will tip the scale in favor of the dark. What I got from you is assurance that this is a future that will never come to pass. The Guardians will settle now. The rest will follow in time."
"I don't understand," he admitted uneasily. Hell was getting a new leader? What had happened, or would happen, to the old one? And what did any of that have to do with him? Assurance? What the fuck?
"You love your brother, Dean."
He flinched when she mentioned his brother, liking this conversation less and less. "We didn't have to break your bed for you to know that. All you had to do was ask."
"But I could not feel the depth of your love without brushing against your soul."
"Is that what you were doing?" he asked, flirting automatically although his mind was far from trying to get her in bed again.
"Among other things," she replied just as cheekily. Then she sobered and cupped his jaw with her hands. "Hell disavows the power of love, Dean. That has always been its downfall. It will be this time as well. Vous avez un grand coeur, un coeur puissant, un qui peut changer le destin simplement en battant. "
"Sorry, darlin'. My knowledge of French is kinda weak."
She smiled and gave him a soft kiss. "You have a big heart, a powerful heart, one that can change destiny merely by beating," she translated. "Love your brother, Dean. Show Sammy the power of love, of devotion. Anchor him in it, bathe him in its light, your light. Darkness cannot exist then. It will be banished and Hell will falter."
"What are you talking about?" Dean demanded. What did Sam have to do with Hell? Why did she know him by name?
Lalah looked at him, a long finger stroking his cheek before she stepped back. "You are not ready to listen. The storms are too far away, the path not yet muddied and messy. When you are ready--when you are weary and tried and tested, despair at your heels--you will hear, and you will know. But hear the hope as well. Love is the answer, Dean. You are the answer. Now, go. Your daddy and friend will be looking for you soon."
Dean looked over at his brother, asleep in the car he'd slept in while in his infant seat, still smoky-smelling and bruised with ash twenty-three years ago. So many things had changed since then. They were both grown men, self-sufficient, capable. He was an Army officer, influencing what a million troops used to defend themselves. Sam was a law student, all but married before being widowed. They'd both already lived through what most never did in a lifetime. Missouri had described them once as old hearts in young bodies. He tried hard not to be jaded, to rein himself in when cynicism sneered itself into conversation. But he'd lost his mother and his innocence in one flame-filled night and the world hadn't been a safe place since then (according to his therapist, who he only tolerated because the Army ordered him to--and yeah, because he might have some issues).
However, when he looked at Sam, none of that mattered. When he looked at his brother, Dean felt the same jolt in his heart he'd felt when his father had placed hours-old Sammy in his arms at the hospital while his mother looked on from her bed. The same jolt he'd felt when Dad put him in his arms and told him to get out of the burning house. Hell, the same jolt he felt whenever he saw his brother. There was nothing bitter in that jolt, nothing dark, nothing...scary. That jolt was love, simple and untainted. It was the one feeling associated with his mother that didn't come with pain and sadness.
Dean prayed that Lalah was right, that her Spirits knew what they were talking about. Because Hell was indeed planning something and, yes, it involved his brother. But if love was the answer, Sammy was safe no matter what Hell sent in their direction.
Sammy would always be safe.
Sam woke when he felt someone sit on his bed. "Dean?"
Sam looked quickly at the clock. One o'clock in the morning. Midnight in Iowa. Damn it! "Why didnít you wake me?"
"We'd done all we could do, Sam, by finding out the baby's full name and address. The rest was left up to Dad and Bobby." Dean turned on the bedside lamp. One click provided low light.
"And?" In the dim lighting, he noticed Dean had the portable phone in his hand.
"They saved Rosie and her mom."
"He got away."
Dean shook his head. "I think that's a good thing."
"I don't think we're ready, Sam." Dean looked down toward the phone. "This demon, Dad said wasn't affected by holy water, consecrated iron, or salt."
"So...Jess didn't...I thought maybe she'd broken the salt line and I wasn't there to..."
Dean's head flew up, his eyes glinting in the semi-dark room. "Goddamnit, Sam. I told you it wasn't your fault." He took a deep breath and rubbed his hand across his face. "This freak's apparently on the upper end of the demonic food scale, and I don't think we're ready to take him on."
Sam understood where Dean was coming from. All the tricks they knew about demons didn't seem to apply to this one. They would be fools to go up against it without any advantages at all. Still... "It took him twenty-two years to resurface, Dean! What if we have to wait twenty-two more?"
Dean patted his blanket covered leg. "I don't think we will, but if we have to, that's what we'll do."
"You don't think--CYA, man?"
"Something like that." Dean arched his back and Sam winced as it popped. "Here's the plan. We spend whatever down time the demon allows us getting ready. We go at him full strength, and we take him out. No drawn out battles. No peripheral casualties. One single strike is our best bet."
Sam nodded, then smiled. He always got a kick out of Dean in G.I. Joe-mode. "So says Captain Winchester?" He heard what his brother was saying, knew it was sound strategy, but waiting was going to be difficult. He'd never liked waiting.
"So says Captain Winchester," Dean confirmed as he stood. "Back to sleep, recruit. And, Sam?"
Dean was partially turned from him, leaning over the lamp as to cut it off. "You know, uh, you know I love you, right?"
Sam's eyebrows shot to the top of his head. Dean was not one to use the "L" word. What the hell? "Yeah, I know it, bro. What's going on?"
Dean shrugged and turned to face Sam fully. He looked uneasy, but determined. "It just felt like it needed saying, alright? And it's...sorta permanent, you know. Won't go away or anything. Won't change. Can't change. You get that, right?"
Sam shuddered, but nodded. "Yeah, okay. You know I love you, too, exactly like that?"
Dean gave a wistful smile and turned off the light. "Chill, dude, I wasn't trying for an Oprah moment. I just..."
Sam didn't know what had prompted Dean's declaration, and it scared the hell out of him, but decided to let his brother off the hook. For now. "Goodnight, Dean."
Dean walked to the door. "And, kid, the next time I tell you to take the day off..."
"Yeah, yeah. Good night, Dean." He hoped the darkness hid his smile. It didn't pay to let Dean know when he'd won. Or get away with calling him kid.
Sam snuggled down under his covers and thought about what Dean had told him. Rosie and her mom were okay. His freaky visions had saved them from the demon. That was good. The demon had escaped. That was sorta bad, but Dean said they needed the extra time, and the Army had taught Dean all about strategy and preparedness. Why they never used it themselves-- because Iraq was the fuck-all of fuck-ups--well, he guessed human war was more about politics, wasn't it?
And Dean had said he loved him. That had been scary, but...But he could feel the words burning in a little corner of his heart, a warmth that had always been there, but was now a bit more noticeable, shone a fraction brighter. It made him believe that one day, the demon would die and the Winchesters would prevail. Yeah. That definitely sounded like a plan, Captain Dean, sir.
"Bring it on, you yellow-eyed bastard," he murmured to the darkness of his room. "Give it your best shot. Because in the end, the Winchesters are gonna kick your ass."
He fell asleep with a smile on his face.
Onward to Infrangible Road 2011 (Epilogue)
U-Turn to 2005, 2004, 2003, 2001, 1997, 1995, 1993, 1991, 1984, or Infrangible Road On-Ramp
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