Though the burning had stopped, Sam still paced the cell, coat open, his boots loudly crunching in the decades of dirt accumulated on the stone floor.
"This is taking- too- LONG!"
Half an hour ago his hands had stopped shaking. He'd tried to pick the lock with tools Abby supplied from her pack. Sam was very, very good with locks. He'd been able to pick a lock faster than Dean since he was ten years old. The antique mechanism should've been a piece of cake. Sam slapped his palm against the door above Abby's head.
She didn't jump, just gritted her teeth. "You're not helping, Sam." She swiped a hand across the sheen of sweat on her forehead and jerked the zipper of her parka down.
Crouched in front of the lock, Abby was on her third spell. First she'd tried the direct approach. She'd spoken to the lock just as she had to the lamp; tried to get it to remember being open. It ignored her. Next she'd tried speeding up the natural corrosion process; the lock should have flaked away to rust. It didn't. Now, if Sam would stop stomping around and let her concentrate, she'd attempt a very complicated process of freezing and thawing water in the lock; the next best thing to sticking a cherry bomb in the mechanism.
She focused, muttering her spell and watched lacy frost form around the key hole. The water she'd asked to stand in the hole turned to ice for the tenth time. Nothing happened…again.
"Damn, damn, damn!" Abby pounded the lock with her fist wishing desperately for extremely non-magical plastic explosives. She pushed herself up and away with another curse. The wind outside howled its sympathy.
Sam and Abby circled each other, both too strung-out to settle in one spot. Sam dragged his fingers through his hair; the wool cap dropped, forgotten again.
"We have to get out of here!"
"You know what they're doing to him!"
"Better than you, Sam!" Abby glared.
"Ahhhhhg!" Sam threw his arms open wide. "Abby, I can pick any lock. Hell, this one's a damned antique! I should be able to kick it to pieces!" To demonstrate he applied his boot heel with force, the boom echoed like another gunshot in the tiny room.
"You think I don't know that?" Abby yelled. "My spells should have worked too. I don't understand!"
"Why are we still stuck in here?"
"I don't KNOW!"
They stood glaring at each other panting.
Suddenly Abby reached up and grabbed a fist full of Sam's jacket at each shoulder. She jerked him down to her, sliding her arms inside his coat, around his waist and squeezed him in a desperate, crushing hug. She buried her face against his chest and refused to let him go when he tried to step back.
He stood rigid for a moment, startled. Then his breath hitched in his chest. Abby's head gave a little bounce. The warmth of her body began to soak into tensed muscles. The place where her sharp exhalations hit his chest made a hot spot right over his heart. Finally of their own volition, his arms curved around her. With an explosive sigh, Sam unwound and let his chin rest on the top of her head.
Abby and Sam stood together letting the pounding of their hearts subside; each one's slower, deeper breaths coaxing the other's down.
Finally, after several silent moments, she spoke against his chest. "It'll take them time; preparing him."
"Torturing him, you mean."
She didn't answer, but he felt her nod. "They worked on me for days before they started the ritual."
"They don't have that kind of time."
"I know. They must be…I can't imagine…"
Sam tightened his arms around her; whether to comfort her or just stop her from going on he didn't know. "Dean'll fight him. That'll give us some time," Sam said. He loosened his hold and stepped away from her. His brain had the upper hand again and a new thought had emerged that he wanted to follow.
"We saw the demon before, at your house."
Abby's eyes went wide. "My house? In my yard?"
"No, no; at the curb. He said he was your neighbor. That's how we knew to come to the station."
"He knew where I'd be?"
She swallowed. "That's disturbing."
"He's changed though…like the life's drained out of him in the past few days."
"He's using the last of his resources keeping that body going. He's about six years past his 'sell by' date."
"Can that help us?"
"Maybe." She started to pace, but stopped almost immediately, looking thoughtfully at the lock. "He shouldn't have enough power to waste on this door. It takes a lot of energy to wrap something with a spell adaptive enough to counter everything we've thrown at it. I'm not sure demons even do magic like that. They're all about illusion and deception."
"We've missed something," Sam said.
"Illusion and deception,” Sam mused, taking a turn around the cell. "Like your bomb-pop. Could we be dreaming? Could our bodies be lying on the floor? All the lock picking just an illusion?"
"No." She shook her head still studying the door. "That'd take way too much effort. He'd need to focus the whole coven on us like he probably did to send the nightmare to you. Right now they'll be focused on…" She stopped with a grimace.
"Yeah. It’s something else."
Abby made a squeaky, little gasp and looked up. Her eyes were huge, her lips parted. "Oh my God." She took one giant step to the door and starting at the top, began to run her hands over its surface, tapping and probing the wood with her fingers every few inches.
"What?" Sam joined her; no idea yet what they were doing.
"The bastard stole my idea! This lock is a bomb-pop!"
"The lock is the illusion. That's why my spells won't work. That's why you couldn't pick it or kick it to pieces. It's not real, which means it's not what's holding the door closed."
Sam's brows shot up; he got it and his heart leapt. He pressed his fingertips into the top left side of the door and began to work his way down heedless of the splinters that nipped at his skin from the old weathered oak. "What are we looking for?"
"We'll know it when we feel it…. Ahh!" Abby jerked her hand back from the door with a yelp. She flung her fingers out as if something nasty clung to them and looked a little sick.
"Did you find something?"
"Where?" He already had his fingers near the spot hers had leapt from.
"Center, near the top. Be careful there's a nasty aversion charm on that spot."
"Oh. God." Sam grimaced and fought down a surge of bile in his throat. "I think I found it." He forced his fingers back to the spot and explored the boundaries of the charm.
"It's just another illusion," Abby said trying to offer some comfort while she screwed her face up in sympathy for every moment he had his fingers in that charm. "It won't actually hurt us."
Sam breathed through his open mouth, saliva pooling as he fought down nausea. "I think it's an opening; a window in the door."
"Will my arm fit through it?"
"Mine will." He shook his head when Abby started to protest. "My arms are longer. I'll be able to reach further down the other side."
Sam tentatively pressed his hand against the center of the charmed spot. There was resistance, the sensation of sticking his hand in raw sewage made his stomach spasm. His arm seemed to be disappearing into solid wood as he pressed it on through.
Sam turned a triumphant, if sickly grin to Abby when his hand reached something protruding from the door on the outside. "It feels like a plank set in brackets across the door."
"Can you move it?"
"It's heavy." Sam set his teeth, rose up onto his toes to give his arm as much reach as possible and hooked his fingers on the underside of what felt like a broad oak beam. "Damn. The brackets must be complete loops. I'm gonna have to move it sideways." He yanked. It moved, barely.
"Sam, let me take a shot," Abby said, shifting from foot to foot, ringing her hands.
He shook his head both to clear it and to warn her away. "You're too short." He was concentrating too hard to be anything but blunt.
Abby ground her teeth and turned to the pack on the floor. Their arsenal, tiny and insignificant as it appeared to her at the moment, awaited deployment. She dropped a perfume bottle into her pocket and stood to put one in Sam's too. He frowned down at her looking green around the eyes. "The sleeping potion's in your pocket," Abby told him then reached up and wiped a drop of sweat off his forehead before going back to the pack.
"Almost…got it," Sam panted.
Abby held the day-glow orange holy-water guns up to the dim lamp light to check that both were topped off with about of pint of holy-water. She winced when she realized that Dean had the exorcism book in his pocket. No help for it. They'd just have to come up with something else. Lastly, she felt the familiar, comforting weight of the bracelet on her wrist; her father's gift to her on her tenth birthday. It had been useless to her the first time she'd met Vetis; a trinket not a talisman. This time would be different.
She whirled around when a muffled scrape then the hollow, reverberating thump of a heavy plank hitting stone came through the door. Sam did it!
He jerked his arm back through the door then collapsed against it. Sam braced his hands on his knees, his head hanging and drew in slow, deliberate breaths through his mouth. Abby patted his shoulder.
Sam swallowed and held up a finger. He didn't quite trust himself to speak without throwing up on her shoes. When he finally nodded and straightened, she handed him the water gun.
"Ready? I'm gonna switch off the lamp and go to the flash light."
With a quiet word of thanks to the lamp, they were plunged into darkness. Abby flipped on the flashlight and shone it on the door. Sam's hand was already there ready to push it open.
"Go," she whispered. The screech of the hinges and scrape of the fallen plank announced, in case anyone guarding them hadn't already heard, that they'd escaped. It didn't matter. Sam swung around to the left, Abby to the right. The long dark hallway was empty.
The chant a background rumble till that moment surged up. It hit them like a physical thing echoing menacingly down the stone hall. Adrenalin propelled them both into the dark at a run.
Midnight was bearing down. Dean knew he'd lost consciousness. The slug had crawled languorously up his torso leaving a blackened gouge in its wake to finally lay across his neck. He'd screamed his throat raw and died, or thought he must.
He'd woken abruptly to the demon hissing in his ear, "Submit to me of your own free will!"
Dean rasped out a short but caustic reply that he'd been rather proud of for the few seconds before the demon's sick parody of Abby's call to the four elements had continued.
The stone at Earth's corner had grown huge and crushed him till he'd heard the cracking pop of his ribs and hip bones. Air became so foul and toxic to breathe that he'd retched his guts out; maybe literally, he didn't remember. The demon inflicted the wounds then healed them all; destroying and repairing the precious vessel over and over.
Each time he passed out, he escaped into a hallucination. His father walked up to the altar in his rough denim jacket and jeans, thick black hair startling, as if he'd just raked his fingers through it; a gesture he'd passed on to Sam.
He looked down with the gentlest look Dean had ever seen on his face and said, "Take a break son. You've done enough for now." And Dean, ever the obedient son, would let the terror fall away; let cramping muscles go loose… and rest. It wasn't much; barely enough, but it was keeping him sane.
His body felt raw; intensely sore deep into the bones, but he could move and breathe. He existed in a gray semiconscious world, clinging to the comfort of the hallucination as long as he could.
But the chant always wrestled him away from his father. When he could drag his eyes open, he squinted against the yellow glare of the bonfire and saw that the black mist had subsided to reveal the coven kneeling around the slowly growing blaze. They swayed precariously as if each was buffeted by his own private wind storm. Heads thrown back, eyes wide and vacant, the chant erupted directly from their chests; words barely sculpted by cracked, peeling lips. Vetis stood with them, shoulders hunched, arms spread like vultures wings, facing the burning cross.
The priests approached Dean again slowly, feet dragging like they were near exhaustion or death. They each carried a bowl and stirred the bloody contents with stiff bristled brushes.
Dean flinched away when they brought the dripping things to his skin and began to trace symbols across his chest. His skin crawled with each stroke. Down the midline of his chest, past his navel and up the sides of his throat they traced the runes. A shudder racked him from head to foot. This was the beacon, he groggily recalled, that would guide Vetis's damned soul to its new vessel.
The priests finished. His chest was covered in the bloody symbols. Dean had the strange, schizophrenic sensation of recoiling from his own body.
Vetis whirled on him. "Your defiance is useless!" he spat, breathing hard, sweat plastering his dull, gray hair to his head. He looked more like a soggy, crumpled piece of paper than demon spawn from hell. "I can tear your soul from you whether you will or no!" Vetis shrieked, fist raised and shaking.
Dean whispered, "Liar." He managed a weak grin. "Killin' me…is killin' you, old man."
The demon snarled then spun back to the fire grumbling and whining. Dean closed his eyes, wishing for another hallucination.
Slowly the demon's whining subsided into muttering. A weak, but gleeful cackle grated on Dean's ears. Dean strained to lift his head and blinked several times to force his adversary back into focus. The old goat approached, lips set in a thin, wrinkled line. He tottered to Dean's side and bent close.
"Let's change the game shall we?” he sneered. "I'll bring your brother here." He gestured down Dean's bloodied body. "Let him see what has befallen his dear guardian. I'll ask him if he will willingly submit…to take your place."
"No!" Dean shouted, surprising them both at the volume he managed. "You said…your father's got plans. You can't…."
"Oh, I'll deal with my father's disappointment. Perhaps after all this, his wrath will be worth enduring to let you watch me take your brother and ride him. Could you bear it, I wonder? Could you bear to watch your angel-touched brother rape and murder knowing he'd sacrificed himself for you?"
Dean struggled uselessly against the ropes he'd already tried so many times to escape. Gasping, he stopped fighting. It was no use. He was too tired, his mind too brutalized to figure a way out of this. He had only one clear thought. He knew exactly what Sam would do, given that choice.
With eyes closed, Dean slowly, heavily nodded.
"No, you must say it. Say it!" the demon hissed, his clawed fingers twitching as if he'd snatch up the words the moment they left Dean's throat.
God, I can't do it. Tears, squeezed from the corners of his eyes slid down the sides of his face. Dean swallowed hard and whispered, "Of my own free will."
Vetis threw back his head and howled.
Startled into action, the priests leapt. Dean gasped as pain lanced up his arm again. CrookNose rose holding a large, clear crystal glazed with Dean's blood.
Vetis's voice crackled like the fire. "Lay the crystal in virgin snow well away from our influence." Crook Nose hurried into the dark. He returned empty-handed few heartbeats later and join the others in the circle.
Vetis turned to the fire and shrieked, egging the chant to an excruciating crescendo. It thundered and echoed off the stone walls.
The demon raised his gnarled hands. As if he was cracking twin whips he thrust his fingers out, then sketched a sequence of ritual gestures too quick for Dean's wearied eyes to catch.
In the sinking space between one heartbeat and the next a spot of darkness appeared in the center of the fire directly above the demon's bent body. It blinked once then expanded with explosive force into a cat's eye of black the size of a doorway. The coven wailed.
Dean felt dread grip him as a wave, invisible but palpable and far worse than the demon and his coven roared out of the gateway.
It hit Vetis first; his body went rigid, trembled violently then collapsed, lifeless, to the floor.
Before he could react, the invisible wave slammed into Dean. The instant of penetration was more brutal than all the previous violations; intolerable agony. In a vain attempt to throw off the attack his body arched up.
Lightening quick, the hell-force set Dean’s soul adrift.