Season Three

Episode One: Ashes To Ashes

By Kittsbud & Tree

Part One

Devils Tower, Wyoming

Neither moved, neither responded, neither seemed to be alive as John knelt between them, one hand reaching out to grasp, to cling to each son, as though his physical touch might anchor them to this life.

“You know, your sons were a royal pain in my ass,” Ferinacci - Lucifer admitted ruefully, looking down at the still forms of the young men at John’s feet. “But, I gotta respect them. Tenacious damn bastards, right to the end. That little stunt they pulled in New Jersey, I would have killed them if it wasn’t for the fact that I needed them. I guess it was good thing I kept them around, huh? But take pride in the fact that you raised them right, John, trained them real well.”

John’s head rose slowly, tears uncontrolled streaming down, cutting furrows in the dried blood and dirt that stained his haggard face. He made no move to wipe them away, but instead chose to display the tears as an external symbol of the wound that was hemorrhaging within his chest.

“I failed them. I raised them only to lose them. All I ever wanted to do was protect them, to save them…” he replied, his voice trailing off as he verbalized his grief to the demon.

Lucifer laughed, his voice booming across the open field, bouncing off the rock of the daunting tower that seemed to be carved by his very hand for some evil purpose. Eyes glowing like flares on a pitch black night, he leered down at the hunter, reveling in the anguish, absorbing it like it was ambrosia.

“Oh John, they were never yours to protect or save. They were never yours at all.”

“Well, they aren’t yours either you sonofabitch! I’ll be damned if I saved them from that yellow-eyed bastard all this time to lose them to you,” John hissed in defiance, rising up to stand before the still forms of his sons protectively.

“Such pathetic posturing. What do you seriously think you could do to stop me? I could crush what’s left of their pitiable little hearts with nothing more than a snap of my fingers should I chose to, RIGHT NOW!” Lucifer’s voice exploded, his eyes firing red as he reared toward the tormented hunter.

John met him defiantly, standing his ground and even taking a half step forward as he positioned himself between the Prince of Hell and his boys. Lucifer leaned back against the rocks, arms folded across his chest as he smiled again.

“Although really, why should I waste my time with any of you? I have much more important things to do. But, I must admit, it would be fun watching you suffer as the vultures rip those two whelps of yours apart piece by piece.”

From the hard-packed soil beneath his father, Sam stirred alert to the sound of voices. He would have groaned had not the effort to make the noise been as painful as every other miniscule movement of his body. Even the feel of the dirt against the skin of his crushed hand and arm was nearly unbearable.

Unable to find the strength to rise up from the ground, Sam concentrated his remaining energy on forcing open both eyes and then getting them to work in unison. From beyond the legs of his dad’s dust-covered jeans, he spotted the red-eyed demon, his mind struggling through the haze of confusion to understand why the creature looked so familiar.

“But really, John, if you ever get to New Jersey, feel free to look me up for old times sake…”

New Jersey? Luciano Ferinacci… Lucifer…

It seemed so simple, how could he not have seen the connection between the sadistic mobster and the demonic lord. But why? Revenge for his and Dean’s little escapade against the gangster? Or was this part of some larger evil plan?

Sam’s attention was drawn back again to the demon and the hunter as his father spoke.

“Look, kill me, kill my sons, but get it over with and quit boring me with the wiseguy taunts,” John threw back.

“Hmmm, I see where Dean’s smart mouth and defiance came from. But that would be too easy wouldn’t it, letting you off the hook like that? No, John, like I said, it’s more my style to let you suffer. You know, if I were you, I’d quit wasting my time trading smart-ass snipes with me and maybe say your goodbyes to your boys. As for me, I’ve got places to go, souls to torment,” Lucifer jeered, breaking into near-maniacal laughter. “Have a nice life, Winchester. I’ll be seeing you around.”

Through pain-fogged eyes, Sam watched as the demon blinked out, disappearing in a flash of fire straight out of the pits of Hell itself. He raised a shaking hand to block the glare from his eyes, the motion bringing forth a grunt of pain.

John spun around at the noise, instantly dropping down to one knee and quickly wrapping an arm around his youngest’s back to support him.

“Sam… Sam, just sit still. I gotcha,” he said softly.

“Dad, that demon, it was…” Sam began,

“Yeah, it was,” John affirmed.

“And Haris?”

“Dead. He’s gone, Sam. Dean killed him.”

Dean!

Sam twisted around; despite the vertigo, the blood loss and the absolute agony of his abused body that threatened to plant him on his face. He fought the darkness that sought to drag him under, forcing his eyes to find the all-too-still form of his brother.

On his knees, Sam began to crawl over toward Dean, not cognizant of the patches of dirt that turned into mini blood-pies as the gunshot wound in his side continued to leak. Within inches of reaching him, Sam felt a gentle tug at his shoulder and the strong grip of his father’s hand pulling him back.

“Son, no,” John cautioned, his voice cracking as he fought to spare Sam from seeing his older sibling, not wanting him scarred by the memory of Dean dying in his arms.

Heart-crushing pain, more primal than any of the physical wounds scouring his body, ripped through Sam as he tore away from John’s grasp and closed the final distance to Dean. His uninjured hand made contact with the flesh at his brother’s neck, desperately seeking some glimmer of hope there.

“NO! Dammit, you don’t get to do this. Not for me!” Sam wailed, shaking the cold, limp form.

“Sam… please… don’t…” John pleaded softly, coming to pull the grieving young man away once again.

The young hunter turned toward his father sharply, lashing out verbally. “How could you let him do this? You knew what would happen to him without the amulet. You selfish sonofabitch, you cared more about killing that yellow-eyed bastard than your own son?”

“Sam, it wasn’t like that…”

“No? That’s what all the secrecy was about wasn’t it? Even back in Minnesota? Damn you both!” Sam cried out.

“Sam, it was Dean’s decision. He wanted to do this. Don’t you think that if there had been any other way to destroy that bastard without the amulet I would have done it? I looked high and low. Hell, I looked for every way possible to see if there was a way to break the binding between Dean and that damn amulet, even Bobby went to look…”

The amulet! Desperation clicked the gears into working in Sam’s brain. Could it really be that simple?

Ignoring every nerve ending that screamed out in a unified chorus of misery, Sam pulled himself over to Dean’s outstretched leg. Yanking up the frayed bottom of the jeans, he fumbled for the knife that he knew his older brother always kept tucked into the top of his boot.

Sam pushed up to his feet, swaying precariously until John caught him under the arm. He cast a quick glance back down at Dean’s still body, his mind racing. He couldn’t accept losing his brother now, not after everything they’d been through, not after everything they’d survived. And now, after finally killing Haris, losing Dean would make the entire crusade a catastrophic failure.

Stumbling across the hard Wyoming soil, Sam pulled away from John, too focused on the task at hand to let his father slow him down, especially now, when Dean had precious little time to spare. His steps faltered but he forced himself to remain upright as he made his way over to the still smoldering corpse of the demon.

Dropping to his knees beside the remains, Sam fought down the urge to gag, the smell emanating from the charred husk overpowering his empty stomach. Despite the pieces of burned clothing that stuck to bits of blackened and cracked tissue, Sam couldn’t help but notice the yellow irises that still gazed upward at him. Ignoring the flies that were already buzzing about the body seeking out a place for their larvae, Sam moved with exactness to the scorched area of the creature’s chest.

Using the edge of the knife, he picked away at a large piece of eschar, exposing violently raw meat underneath. With as much skill and care as a starving man cutting into a well-done steak, Sam dug into the tissue of the dead demon, plunging the tip of the blade deep into the remains. Twisting the metal around, the edge grated against bone as Sam frantically continued his bizarre surgery.

His heart pounding from desperation, Sam continued the probing until the reverberation of the tip striking another piece of metal echoed back to his hand. He anxiously dug a second longer, but when the action didn’t produce the desired result, Sam tossed the knife down to the dirt and plunged his fingers into the gaping wound.

The sucking sound of blood and pulp being squished between his fingers assaulted Sam’s ears, but despite the sickening noise and the constant attack of the now-swarming flies, Sam continued his gruesome task. Just when he thought he had nearly dug through the entire chest cavity of their former nemesis, his fingertip grazed something solid.

From above him, John watched in disbelief as Sam triumphantly withdrew the amulet bullet, raising it between a bloody index finger and thumb. “Sam… what are you…” the elder hunter began, torn between going back to keep his promise to Dean the he would not let the young man die alone and curiosity as to what Sam could possibly hope to gain by obtaining the bullet.

Sam ignored him once again. He didn’t care what his dad thought anymore, he didn’t care about anything except the single-minded purpose laying on the ground before him.

Stumbling back to Dean’s side, he nearly fell to the dirt, his body betraying him even though his heart had not given up. Reaching out, he gently took Dean’s hand, trying to pretend the coldness that ebbed from his brother’s flesh was nothing more than the result of the chilling Wyoming night. Almost reverently, he placed what remained of the amulet into Dean’s palm and closed his fingers around it. Sam finished by wrapping his own undamaged hand around his brother’s as though the connection might convey warmth, strength, and life.

“Come on, Dean, please,” he whispered, the words coming out as a breathy prayer. “You can’t give in to that bastard reaper, you just can’t.”

Precious seconds ticked by, but Dean didn’t respond as Sam became more frantic. Letting go of his brother’s hand, he grabbed a handful of Dean’s jacket and shook him, pouring all the heart-wrenching agony pent up inside into the action.

“Dammit, Dean. Open your damn eyes now and look at me!” Sam ordered, the words leaving his mouth and eerily reminding him of another time when he held his bleeding brother in his arms and fought to keep the reapers at bay. That night, like this one, before the crash of the Impala, Dean had put himself between the yellow-eyed demon possessing their father and Sam, trying to distract the thing’s attention away but ultimately paying for it as the hellspawn ripped him apart from the inside. History seemed determined to repeat itself and Dean seemed determined to help it along.

Tears flowing freely down his bruised and bloodied face, Sam’s effort to rouse his brother became weaker. His own battered body forgotten, he pulled Dean closer to him, his brother’s short hair coming to rest against his leg as he ran a trembling hand through the sandy spikes.

“Please… Dean…” he begged, watching as his brother’s chest rose in one exaggerated gasping breath.

Sam screamed out in denial, burying his head against his brother’s body, his good hand pounding against Dean’s shoulder. John moved in, kneeling beside his sons, placing a hand on Sam’s shoulder even as he reached out to touch Dean’s still body.

“Sam, come on,” he somberly spoke. “This isn’t what he would have wanted.”

“BACK OFF!” Sam snapped in return, spit flying from his mouth as he clung to his brother like a child clinging to a security blanket.

“I know you can’t understand this right now, but it was what he wanted to do…”

“What? You expect me to believe that he wanted to die? Why don’t you feed that line of bullshit to someone who doesn’t know any better ’cause I ain’t biting. Really, what did you expect, Dad, he always did every damn thing you wanted, anything to please you. What did you have to tell him? Huh? Sacrifice yourself to save Sam? Or was it some larger, grander carrot that you dangled in front of him?” Sam challenged, his eyes reddened by free-flowing tears and unrestricted rage.

John remained silent, knowing the vehement words were spoken out of grief and on a certain level knowing he deserved them. He took the verbal assault as he would have a physical one, allowing the attack to continue until the energy was expended so he could console his son.

Sam waited for his father’s response, wanting him to try to defend his actions, needing him to say something so he could lash out again. Deep down, he knew his dad hadn’t coerced Dean into anything, knowing full well that his brother had likely jumped on the opportunity to kill Haris, despite the cost to him personally.

“I’m done with this, all of this. No more excuses, no more vendettas, it's all over, Dad, none of this was ever worth…” Sam’s words were cut off abruptly by a single, sighing breath emanating from the otherwise still body in front of him.

Sam’s eyes widened as the breath was followed by another, then an even deeper one as Dean’s chest began to rise and fall in something resembling a normal rhythm. John scrambled to the other side of his eldest as his breathing became punctuated by ragged coughing, supporting Dean’s head and back as the young man fought for air.

Father and son looked on in disbelief as a soft glow emanated from Dean’s open hand. The bullet that minutes ago had been deformed from firing and covered in blood and gore, was now before their very eyes liquefying into a golden pool within the hollow of Dean’s palm.

Within seconds, the radiance subsided and Sam stared in amazement as the golden-horned face of the amulet peered back at him from within Dean’s limp hold. His brother sputtered, eyes fluttering as fingers moved to grasp the amulet more tightly.

“The amulet, it recognizes its guardian,” Sam announced, a broad smile crossing his face as he took as much satisfaction in his theory being right as his brother still breathing.

Across from him, John grimaced slightly at the mention of Dean’s “guardianship.” As he watched his oldest son struggle to regain consciousness, he couldn’t help but despise the fact that the very thing that had apparently saved Dean’s life had been the thing that nearly killed him. Had he to do it all over again, he would have never taken Dean to meet the crazy Shadrack Mann all those years ago.

“Did I do it? Did I kill that yellow-eyed sonofabitch?” Dean’s voice rasped as he weakly attempted to sit up.

“Yeah, yeah you did,” Sam replied, his voice cracking with emotion as he nodded. “And you damn near killed me too,” he quipped a moment later, gingerly touching the still oozing wound at his side.

With his dad’s help, Dean’s pushed up from the dirt, teetering like a drunken sailor as his body refused any semblance of coordinated muscle movement.

“Ah, quit your whining, Sammy. It’s barely a scratch, I’m better than that,” he refuted.

“Dude, you shot me. Well, you shot through me. What the hell were you thinking anyway?”

Dean shrugged. “I, um, it probably wouldn’t make any sense,” he replied, fumbling to make the thoughts that still rambled through his head coherent. The Guardian and the Quatre Yeux … you’re stronger together than apart… It was always in Sam’s blood to either join me or destroy me…

“It doesn’t matter. I mean, Haris is really dead, right?” Dean asked, his eyes peering past Sam’s shoulder to the charred remains of the demon.

“He’s definitely dead, son,” John assured, lightly patting Dean on the shoulder. “You really did it.”

“I guess I can’t believe it,” the young hunter muttered back. “All these years, after everything we’ve been through, it seems almost anticlimactic.”

Sam huffed. “Anticlimactic? You should have been where I was sitting. You simple ass, you were almost dead.”

“Aw, stop being such a drama queen, Sammy…”

“Don’t even try that crap, Dean. If I had the energy right now, I’d take a pound out of your ass for what you and Dad did,” Sam threatened.

“Sam, look, I know you’re pissed, and maybe we shouldn’t have kept it from you, but it was the only way to put that bastard down. And honestly, Sam, had we told you, what would you have done?” Dean challenged.

“I would have told you it wasn’t worth it, Dean. Nothing was worth your life,” the younger sibling argued, not sparing his father a venomous glare.

Dean shook his head. “It wasn’t your call and besides, I’m hardly dead now am I? Which, by the way, not that I’m not grateful, but…”

“It was the amulet,” Sam replied simply, gesturing down to the talisman resting in his brother’s hand.

Dean opened his hand, his eyes widening in surprise as he took in the piece of golden jewelry. “What? How?” he asked, lifting the amulet for closer inspection.

“Sam figured it out,” John interjected. “Somehow he knew. Dug the damn thing out the demon.”

“But you melted it into a bullet. I saw it,” Dean insisted.

“And we watched it reform in your very hand, Dean. Granted, there’s a lot we don’t know about that damn amulet and however you’re tied to it. But, for whatever reason, it saved you again today, and I for one can just be happy enough with that for now,” John stated.

Dean’s eyebrows bobbed up in agreement as he considered the amulet a moment longer. He could feel the familiar tingle against the skin of his hand, the slight warmth the thing seemed to emit whenever it was near his flesh. Was he really so shocked by what his father and brother were telling him had happened? Hadn’t he seen the amulet resist every one of Haris’ attempts to remove it from him when he was held captive at the compound? Hadn’t it seemingly protected him from being fully possessed by the demon’s spawn? Was it so far-fetched to believe that the thing was able to reform itself after serving its purpose?

He reached up and rubbed at his temple, a dull throbbing begging to make itself known in response to the strain of trying to make sense of the whole “amulet-guardian” deal. Dean glanced back at Sam, seeing reassurance in his younger brother’s face and then something more.

Dean’s eyes scanned up and down Sam’s seated form, quickly cataloging the younger man’s condition. Beyond the bruises and dried blood, Sam carefully guarded his right hand and arm, tucking the extremity close to his side, but there was no mistaking the strange angulation or discoloration that marked the underlying fractures.

And then, just behind the injured arm, the steady ooze of blood as it seeped from the gunshot wound in Sam’s side caught Dean’s attention. Like a red cape to a bull, the blood demanded the older sibling’s action and Dean struggled against his own still weak body to peel away Sam’s shirt and assess the injury he’d created.

His brother groaned quietly, trying to flinch away from Dean’s inspection but knowing it was a losing battle. Sam feebly swatted at Dean’s hand, but even that miniscule movement jolted both his damaged hand and injured side, making him pale for the briefest instant.

“Sammy!” Dean’s voice rose in concern as he rolled over on his side, edging closer to his brother and sliding an arm up underneath him.

“I’m okay, I’m good. Like you said, just a scratch,” Sam insisted through clenched teeth.

“Yeah, right. Try that on someone who hasn’t perfected the line,” Dean shot back, trying to stand, but immediately dropping back down to the dirt as his knees collapsed underneath him.

“Enough, both of you,” John intervened, placing a firm hand on his still struggling to rise eldest. “You’ve both been through the wringer and I seriously doubt that between the two of you, you could get the upper hand on roadkill right now.”

John looked around the darkening landscape and then down at his sons. Sam was hurt; bleeding and with an arm that was definitely broken in one if not more places. And Dean, despite his best effort to appear recovered, had hovered far too close to the brink for John’s comfort.

…they were never yours to protect or save. They were never yours at all…

The seasoned hunter shuddered as the words echoed in his mind. What had the demon meant? He had thought that his sons would be safe now with Haris gone; Sam at the very least since he had resigned himself to Dean’s sacrifice. So now, with both of them alive and still drawing breath, he was more determined than ever to keep them that way, demon’s taunts be damned.

Rising to his full stature, John trotted over to the edge of the clearing. He returned just as quickly, pulling open a canvas backpack and handing both boys a bottle of water. Rummaging through the bag some more, he then retrieved a small first-aid kit and handed that to Dean.

“Can you patch up Sammy? I’ll go back down to get the Impala and bring it up this way,” John announced.

Dean nodded, instantly pulling out a wad of bandages from the box and carefully lifting aside Sam’s blood-soaked shirt. The younger man remained ominously silent while Dean tended to the various wounds covering his body. When the silence became overbearing, Dean bridged the stillness.

“Ya know, you scared the crap out of me, disappearing like that back in Phoenix,” he began, eyes still focused on the length of gauze he was wrapping around Sam’s side. “I mean, when I thought that mind-blasting bitch was back and had got you somehow, dude, that was bad enough, but then Haris showed up…”

“You had no right, Dean,” Sam interrupted.

Dean paused, sensing where the conversation was heading. “I’m not going to discuss that with you, Sammy…”

“Yeah, you are, you’re gonna listen to me, for once. After all the crap you gave me for what I did to get you free of Haris’ kid, and then you go and serve yourself up like that?”

“It wasn’t the same, you don’t understand,” Dean argued, trying to avoid making eye contact.

“Oh, I understand perfectly, Dean. It was Dad, and his goddamn vendetta and you bought into it hook, line and sinker. What did he sell you on Dean? Kill Haris, save Sam, be a good little soldier like always and obey orders?” Sam said mockingly, pain and anger filling his eyes.

Dean stopped his ministrations, tossing the remaining medical supplies back into the kit and glaring up at Sam. “He didn’t have to sell me on shit, Sam. He didn’t want me to do it at all, didn’t even want to tell me about the amulet or how it could kill the demon. I forced him. And do you know how hard it was for him to have to do that? To have to melt that friggin’ thing down, knowing that he might lose one son to save another? Do you think a parent ever wants to have to make THAT choice? Do you think he did?”

Sam shook his head, refusing to give in so easily and allow his brother the justification of his near-martyrdom.

“And what makes your life worth less than mine, Dean?” he asked finally.

“What makes it worth any more, Sam?”

Sam sat there, mouth gaped, speechless as he searched for the words to continue his argument. He knew it was futile, knew that Dean carried self-sacrifice for his family deep in his genetic code.

“Look, Sammy, Haris is dead. We’re finally done looking over our shoulder for that bastard. And… we’re alive to tell the tale. Let’s just be happy about that, okay?” Dean asked.

The younger hunter’s eyes narrowed as he glanced nervously over his shoulder to the mound of rocks just at the edge of the clearing.

“Dean, before you, well, while you were still out of it, I saw and heard something,” he began.

“Yeah?”

“Well, I was still kinda out of it too,” Sam paused, chewing his lower lip, unsure of how to tell his brother what he had witnessed.

“What Sammy?” Dean asked impatiently.

“Dean, I’m pretty sure I saw Luciano Ferinacci here.”

“The mob guy from Jersey?” Dean burst into laughter. “Dude, have you lost your mind?”

“I’m serious, Dean. He was here. Standing on top of that outcropping of rocks, right after Haris went down. It was like he was checking out what happened. Dean, he was talking to Dad.” Sam insisted.

“Sam, what in the hell would Ferinacci be doing out in the middle of Wyoming much less talking to Dad?”

“He told Dad he was Lucifer, Dean.”

“Lucifer? Are you for real?”

“Yeah, Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, the Keeper of Hell. I mean think about it, Luciano Ferinacci… LUCI… FER… it's not a stretch. And remember all that strange crap that was going on back at his mansion that night?” Sam explained. “Even Eli, the demon that held me here, said he was working for someone bigger than Haris, someone more powerful.”

“But Lucifer? Really Sammy?”

“It’s true, Dean.”

Both young men turned as John rejoined them, Dean looking up at his father in disbelief. John sighed, bowing his head slightly and running a hand through his hair stopping at the back of his neck to rub at the stress-induced knots that corded up the muscles there.

“I don’t know this Ferinacci character, but it was definitely Lucifer that appeared after Haris died. He used you both to get to Haris. Whatever plan old yellow-eyes had going on apparently wasn’t sanctioned in Hell and he managed to have Lucifer himself pissed off at him. But Sam is right, the big guy was here and he said…”

“What?” Dean demanded when John’s voice trailed off.

“Look, it’s not important. He’s gone, Haris is dead and I gotta get you boys back to civilization and patched up. That’s all that matters right now. I’ve brought the Impala up as close as I can get it. Can you make it with some help?” John asked looking between both young men.

Dean readily nodded, pushing off from the ground and managing to get to his feet. He turned to offer a hand down to Sam, preparing to help his younger brother up when his own still-weak muscles dictated otherwise. He swayed forward, trying to act as though the movement was planned, but both Sam and John knew better, with the Winchester patriarch reaching out a steadying arm.

“How ’bout you just work on getting yourself to the car. I’ll help, Sammy,” John ordered in a voice that left no opening for argument.

As they began to make their way towards the waiting Chevy, Sam couldn’t help but look back at the remains of the other young men and women. Their broken and mutilated bodies were scattered about the clearing, left behind like carelessly tossed litter. Despite his father’s strong grip, Sam pulled up short. He felt certain the others were all dead, had heard their screams of torment, their dying gasps of breath.

“Sam, come on. Let’s get out of here,” John quietly directed, following Sam’s gaze but trying to distract his son away from the carnage.

“Dad, wait, please, we gotta check.” Soulful eyes peeked out from under blood-encrusted bangs, beseeching the elder man.

“Let’s get you and Dean taken care of first. I promise I’ll come back and take proper care of these kids, okay Sammy?”

“Wait, Matt… Matt Teller. Over there,” Sam pointed excitedly. “He was still alive. Go check, please.”

John looked skeptically at his son, acquiescing only when Dean moved up and hooked his arm under Sam’s good elbow.

He slowly walked over to the first victims, grimacing at the mangled bodies, his stomach threatening to revolt from the sight and smell.

He came across the crushed remains of David Mitchum. The young man from Oxford, Nebraska was barely recognizable from what was left in front of him now. John felt for a pulse despite the futility of the maneuver, glancing back toward his sons and shaking his head sadly.

He continued on, coming finally to Matt Teller. The pyrokinetic lay deathly still, both legs splayed out at sickening angles, while white shards of bone burst out of his flesh like a bloated carcass left in the sun too long.

John was about to reach for the young man’s carotid when his eyes flashed open and he let out a loud gasp of pain, startling all three hunters.

“He’s alive,” John announced.

Pine Haven, Wyoming

The low rumble of the Impala did little to comfort Dean, especially since he was relegated to riding shotgun and since the only other noise in the interior of the car was the occasional groan from Sam when the Chevy struck a bump in the road. He had hoped to jump behind the wheel after they dropped Matt Teller off at the ER in Gillette, but his father had adamantly refused when he caught Dean nearly face-planting outside the hospital entrance.

Admittedly, the young hunter didn’t feel ready to tackle a wendigo, but he was reasonably certain that a few miles behind at the helm of his “baby” and a couple of hours of Zeppelin or Metallica, would go a long way to improving his health. Add in a cheeseburger and a couple cold beers and Dean was pretty sure that he’d be back in shape in no time.

Glancing over his shoulder as Sam groaned again, Dean knew it was going to take more than a hearty meal and a couple of Budweisers to get his brother back on his feet. Despite Dean’s best effort to staunch the flow of blood from the gunshot wound he’d inflicted, the torture suffered at the hands of Lucifer’s minion had taken its toll on Sam. His right hand and forearm, now crudely splinted, was purpled and swollen, misshapen and clutched tightly to Sam’s chest as the younger sibling lay huddled in the back seat of the Impala.

“Hang in there, Sammy. We’ll get you fixed up soon,” Dean promised, looking from his brother back to his dad expectantly.

“We’re here, actually,” John announced, slowing the car to a halt in front of a small, rustic building.

Dean looked up, eyes widening as he spotted the sign hanging from the post on the porch.

“You gotta be friggin’ kidding me? I know he’s a Sasquatch, but seriously, a veterinarian?” he asked in disbelief.

John killed the engine, turning to face Dean and throwing him a haggard look that silently warned the young man.

“Well, thanks to you, it’s not like we could take Sam to a real hospital. Not unless you think the cops will understand that you put a .45 slug through his side because you were killing a demon,” John snarked back as he stepped out of the car.

Dean quieted, the guilt for the pain he was causing his brother apparent in his downcast eyes. He moved to the back door, opening it and offering his hand to his brother. John came around from the other side, waiting at the foot of the steps as he stared up at the sign.

“Garrett Wade and I served together in the Corps. He was a medic back then but after a tour during the Gulf War, he got tired of seeing how people could blow each other apart,” he began. “I guess he decided that taking care of animals somewhere out in the middle of nowhere was more to his liking, so he became a vet and moved out here.”

“Does he know what you do now?” Dean asked.

“Yeah. He kinda had a bit of a run-in with a Yelandooshi a few years back when he thought he was taking care of an injured coyote. Turns out the damn thing was actually a skinwalker taking on that form. Damn thing came around, tore him up pretty good while it was going back and forth between shapes,” the elder hunter explained. “Anyway, he’s helped out hunters before, but I haven’t seen him in a while.”

“Just tell me he’s got something for pain,” Sam groaned.

“Hey, maybe we can get you groomed while you’re here, Sasquatch,” Dean teased. “Clip some of that fur you call hair, a little flea-dip, maybe even a couple of those cute bows they put in poodles ya know?”

Sam threw him a dirty look. “Yeah, and maybe they’ll even toss in neutering you for free, Dean. Save the women of the world all the grief of having you chasing them like a dog all the time?”

“Bitch…”

“Boys!” John interrupted, irritated as he knocked on the door. “Look, Garrett is a great guy, but I should warn you. He’s not quite… well, he’s used to being by himself a lot, so none of your nonsense, okay?”

“He’s not quite what, Dad?” Sam asked, suddenly curious about the man that his father had brought him to.

John was about to answer when the clinic door swung open revealing a man taller than even Sam. It was hard to tell much about the newcomer since the long hair that cascaded past his shoulders blended in with the scraggly beard obscuring nearly all his facial features. He hovered warily behind the edge of the door briefly, before a wide grin broke on his face.

“Winchester? Well I’ll be damned!” the shaggy man exclaimed, holding out his hand toward the seasoned hunter.

“Hello, Garrett,” John replied, taking the offered hand and shaking it eagerly. “I’m sorry to land on your doorstep, but I need a little help for my boy here.”

The ex-medic turned vet eyed Sam up and down, spotting the makeshift sling as well the bloodstains on his outer clothing. He looked out past the threesome suspiciously before nodding and motioning them inside. Once the door closed, Garrett immediately turned the deadbolt and pulled down the blind.

Dean watched the man curiously as he continued throughout the small office, pulling down the blinds and bolting any remaining locks. The young hunter could understand, even appreciate, the need for secrecy and discretion, but Wade was bordering on paranoia, especially with all the locks. For a moment, Dean wasn’t sure if his dad’s old friend was going through all the motions to lock something out or rather to lock them in. Unconsciously, his hand moved to the .45 in the interior pocket of his jacket and thumbed off of the safety.

“Son, you’d be dead long before that pistol would ever do you any good,” Garrett mumbled over his shoulder as he moved towards the large metal desk in the corner of the room.

“Dean!” John warned. “Stand down, dude. I told you, Garrett’s a friend.”

Dean raised his empty hands out of deference then leaned over towards Sam.

“I guess our overgrown Cousin It must have pretty damn good hearing underneath all that hair. I sure the hell hope his eyes are as good when he’s patching you up,” he whispered.

“Just shut up, Dean,” Sam hissed back.

“Okay, John. Bring your boy back to the treatment area,” Wade instructed, rising up and motioning to the door behind him. He turned toward the brothers and added, “And by the way, my eyesight’s even better than my hearing.”

Sam glared at his older brother as he followed the vet to the back room. Dean shrugged, but tagged along, still not comfortable with Garrett despite the man’s long-time association with his dad.

Garrett motioned Sam to sit on a raised exam table big enough to hold a small pony. The tall man then pulled a pair of scissors from a nearby cart and set about cutting the splint away from the injured arm.

“Wow, you broke the shit outta that arm,” he exclaimed, once the appendage was exposed. “I ’spose we should get a film of it before I take a crack at setting it.”

“You suppose?” Dean repeated, looking over to his father as if to say "seriously Dad, is this the best you could do for Sam?" Instead, what he got back was the patented, "Shut up now, Dean" glare from John.

“Oh and what’s this? A gunshot wound?” Wade asked as he peeled away the bandages from Sam’s side. “Let me guess, smart ass over there probably did this. He strikes me as a lousy shot.”

Dean lurched forward in retaliation, but John restrained him with an arm, pushing him toward the doorway even as Garrett chuckled.

Propelled toward one of the waiting room chairs, Dean half sat, half dropped into the worn naugahyde seat with a huff of air. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust his dad’s choice of friends, he just didn’t generally trust anyone when it came to providing medical care to his brother. Ultimately, he realized he’d screwed himself big time since not only was Sam at the mercy of the strange animal doc, but Dean had been kicked out of the room and couldn’t even watch over him.

Annoyed at being excluded, Dean fumbled through a stack of magazines on the table next to him. Never one to enjoy even the easiest reading, the current offerings in the vet’s office did little to entertain him. Electing to skip the latest article on housebreaking puppies in favor of the most recent trends in back country hunting, Dean tried to distract his attention away from the closed door.

The magazine worked for about ten minutes, until the sound of Sam’s yelp of pain seeped out from the treatment room. Dean was immediately on his feet, magazine dropping to the floor as he headed toward the door in a rush. He barely crossed the threshold when John met him, barring his entry and assuring him that Sam was okay before shutting the door again.

Grumbling and more than pissed, Dean paced the empty waiting room, casting glances toward the blocked entry while muttering curses under his breath. Time passed at a snail's pace as the hunter wore a path in the hardwood floor of the clinic.

As the half hour passed, he first considered putting his fist through the drywall once or twice, and then considered going outside and driving the Impala through the small office. In the end, it was a final pain-filled yell from Sam that made Dean pull the .45 from his pocket and storm towards the door.

Just as Dean’s free hand touched the doorknob, it swung open and Garrett strode out. The manic vet raised one eyebrow as he spotted the pistol in the young hunter’s hand.

“I bet you’ve been out here playing with that thing the whole time haven’t you?” Wade mocked. “Probably sleep with it under your pillow. I’ve known plenty of soldiers like you, all thinking they’re tough shit with a weapon in their hand.”

“You just better have taken care of my brother or you’ll find out how good I am with it, smart ass,” Dean threatened in return, straining to see past the older men and into the adjoining room.

With his back turned and his attention diverted, he didn’t see Garrett whirl back around. Instantly, the ex-Marine medic grabbed Dean’s right shoulder, spinning him around while he grabbed his wrist and twisted the entire arm up and behind his back.

Wade drew up close behind Dean’s head, never relinquishing his grip on the young man’s arm. “Your daddy should have taught you better, son. You pull a pistol out on a man, you damn sure better use it,” he whispered intently by Dean’s ear.

Dean glared at him over his shoulder. The pain in his arm was excruciating and his hand was nearly numb, but he refused to give in to the older man even as Wade forced the arm upward a millimeter more.

“I meant what I said about my brother. You might take the .45 off me, you might even break my arm right now, but I guarantee you, friend of my dad’s or not, if you’ve hurt my brother I swear I’ll find some way to plant your ass in the ground permanently,” Dean promised through clenched teeth.

Garrett laughed but still did not release his hold on Dean’s arm even as John reentered the room.

“Should I even ask?” the elder Winchester posed as he took in the scene.

The veterinarian laughed once again. “Your boy here doesn’t know how to respect his elders, much less his betters,” Garrett answered.

“Yeah, well you’ve already put one of my sons' arms back together. How ’bout if we don’t go for two?” John suggested, a hint of warning to his voice.

Garrett looked at his former comrade warily then slowly released his hold on Dean’s arm. He patted the young man’s shoulder good-naturedly, smiling back at John.

“No offense, Winchester,” he offered apologetically.

“None taken,” Dean shot back, swinging around and driving his still-numb fist squarely into Wade’s jaw, sending the vet sprawling to the floor.

Without looking back, Dean walked past his dad and into the treatment room to check on Sam. He found his brother lying flat on the oversized table, eyes closed and unmoving.

For the briefest moment, Dean panicked, his mind getting carried away with every negative thought even though he knew Sam was alive. He pulled up close to the exam table, careful not to touch his brother as he took in the swathe of bandages that covered Sam’s side and the massive white cast that encased the lower half of his right arm. In fact, lying against the sterile metal, his upper body exposed, Dean could finally see the total ravages his brother’s body had suffered at the hands of the demon.

Dean bit back another curse, his own fingernails digging into the flesh of his palm as he clenched his fist tightly in anger.

“I’ll survive.”

Dean startled alert, looking back up to Sam’s face as the younger man’s voice signaled that he was now awake.

“Of course you will. A couple broken bones and a few bruises, hell, that ain’t crap. I’ve had a lot worse,” Dean quipped.

Sam groaned and Dean immediately rushed to his side. The younger man waved him off, struggling to sit up, then realized that he wasn’t going to accomplish the maneuver without help. Without another word, Dean gently placed an arm behind his brother’s back while Sam swung his legs over and off the side of the table. Brows knitted closely together, Dean watched warily, hands ready to reach out and grab Sam if he tilted even the slightest towards the floor.

When several minutes passed and Sam appeared able to maintain an upright position, Dean relaxed and drew around to face the fatigued younger man. He carefully lifted Sam’s freshly casted arm and helped eased the appendage into the sling that had been left on the Mayo stand, grimacing sympathetically even as Sam loosed a soft grunt of his own.

“I’m sorry, Sammy,” he offered quietly.

“S’all right, Dean. Not your fault,” Sam returned.

Dean shrugged, “Yeah, but, what if…”

“Stop, Dean. You made the right call.”

“I know that I guess. But seeing you now, dude, I was supposed to be saving you, not shooting you. It happened so fast, I didn’t even think, I just pulled the trigger,” Dean stammered, absently fumbling with a leftover piece of cast padding.

Sam sighed shaking his head. “You said it yourself, Dean. Haris is dead. We’re still alive. Let’s just be happy about it. You’re the best damn shot I know, Dean. I’d trust you to hit anything you aim at.”

The younger Winchester dropped from the table to his feet, his face screwing up in pain as the impact reverberated through his side.

“Although, next time, can you maybe go for winging me instead?” Sam added teasingly.

Dean laughed nervously, looking up as John walked back into the room.

“Well, I take it you two are in good enough shape to get back on the road?” he asked. “Considering Garrett probably isn’t exactly out there thinking about asking Dean to stay for dinner.”

“Hell yeah,” Dean readily agreed. “Besides, even if he did, he’d probably serve up Kibbles and Bits or something.”

John chuckled, shaking his head. “He’s a good man, Dean, and beggars can’t be choosey. Just because you decided to get into a pissing contest with him, doesn’t make him all that bad.”

“Where we heading, Dad?” Sam interjected.

“Bobby called while I was out there trying to keep Wade from coming after Dean with a syringe full of animal tranquilizer,” John joked.

“Bobby? What’s up with him?” Dean asked, eager to hear about the junkyard owner slash covert demon hunter.

“Well, once he got over the initial idea that we were all dead, he was actually pretty damn happy to find out that the Winchester clan was still this side of Hell. He offered for us to hole up with him while you two get back on your feet.”

“Hey, I’m ready to go,” Dean insisted.

“Well, that’s debatable, but your brother isn’t,” John reminded adamantly.

“Uh Dad, where are we gonna stay at Bobby’s? His place is kinda nothing but ash?” Sam asked.

John chuckled, running a hand through his short beard. “Yeah, well, like I said, he was pretty happy about us being alive. Seems he figures the Winchesters owe him a new house. He’s got an old Airstream that will hold us till we help him get the new place built.”

“I don’t know how much help I’m gonna be with this,” Sam offered, raising his casted hand.

“Yeah, and Dad, I’m way better with burning things than building them,” Dean whined.

“Boys, we owe him, and we pay our debts. Besides, the beer is cold and you know there’ll be plenty of Bobby’s own version of holy water to fill the flasks,” John reminded.

Dean looked back at Sam and shrugged. “Well, what are we sitting here for? Hey, do you think we should ask Cousin It for one of those plastic cone things before we go? You know, to put over Sammy’s head so he doesn’t gnaw on his cast or stitches or something?”

Sam swung out to punch his brother in the arm but missed as Dean sidestepped. Still slightly off-balance, the older sibling stumbled over the legs of the Mayo stand before catching himself on the edge of the treatment table with a grunt.

John bit back a disapproving grumble and settled for a harsh glare, even though inwardly listening to the good-natured banter and the familiar physical exchange was a welcome sight.

“I’m still driving,” he insisted.

“Aw, Dad,” Dean whined as he righted himself. “It’s at least five hours to Bobby’s.”

“I call shotgun,” Sam quickly put in.

Dean looked back and forth between his father and brother, groaning in disgust as he followed them out and through the waiting room to the exit. “I so should have shot him through the ass instead,” Dean mumbled as he watched Sam head for the passenger’s side door of the waiting Chevy.

He fumed in the backseat, impatiently waiting while his dad finished talking with Garrett on the clinic’s small porch. The vet smiled and shook the elder hunter’s hand, nodding toward the car then scowling when he made eye contact with Dean. He handed John a small bag, then nodded once more before scanning the horizon and bee-lining back inside the small building.

It was just beginning to drizzle when John dropped into the driver’s side of the car. He paused for a moment, glancing into the rearview mirror at Dean and then over at Sam who had already begun to shimmy his long body into the corner of the front seat and door.

Turning the key, the low rumble of the powerful engine echoed through the metal framework of the car and up into the very muscle fibers and bones in Dean’s body. He closed his eyes, allowing the low hum to envelope him like the pounding bass and drums of a heavy metal band. It was soothing and electrifying both at the same time, but to Dean, ultimately it was lulling and despite his protests and assurances that he was quickly regaining his former vitality, he was swiftly following his brother into slumber as the Impala pulled out onto the back roads.

A short time later, John glanced once again across the seat. Sam, asleep, his casted arm stark-white in comparison to the bruises that marred a face that twitched in response to haunted dreams. He then stole a peek in the rear view at Dean. His older son lay against the back seat, arms wrapped protectively around himself as he snored softly. To the unknowing eye, he looked merely asleep, but on closer inspection, even his closed eyes were still too hollow, too dark.

John sighed. They were alive, what more could he ask for?

…they were never yours to protect or save… they were never yours at all…

The demon’s words still haunting him, John tried to focus on the road ahead of him, determined that the road behind them all was just that; the past. So preoccupied with Lucifer’s taunt, the experienced hunter didn’t noticed the black SUV that hung several hundred yards behind the Impala, always far enough away to be inconspicuous, but just close enough to keep the black car and the three men inside within sight or striking distance.


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The Winchester Chronicles

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