Chapter 22

Abby and Sam bolted down the hallway clambering over debris in the dark only to be frustrated as the passage hair-pinned back on itself. They were forced to move agonizingly slowly pushing through drifts of snow where the roof was open to the sky. The chant taunted them, growing more urgent as their progress slowed.

A long, grating howl rent the air. They both clamped their hands over their ears. An answering chorus of barely human wails erupted and echoed down the stone hallway.

"We've gotta move!" Sam dropped the water gun into his pocket and started dragging large stones out of their way with his bare hands. Abby followed his lead, heart hammering in her throat.

"There's a light. This is it!" Sam said.

Not ten feet ahead through a tangle of fallen beams Abby could see a doorway. Light barely flickered beneath it. She stepped back to take a vital centering breath and open her Sight.

The passage teemed with shadows. Abby stumbled back against the wall, arms raised to defend herself.

The genizaros. Decades of torment in the name of piety had come to this. They were trapped, unable to cross into heaven or hell. Abby pushed away from the wall and forced herself to walk among them, through them. She was grateful that she only had Sight so she couldn't Hear the shrieks the genizaros mimed as they walked.

Ahead of her Sam’s living aura blazed among the dead, leading her to the doorway, until he disappeared through the it.

"Sam wait!" Abby caught up with him in a large chamber larger. Footprints and scuff marks crisscrossed the floor. The sharp, acrid smell of old urine and sweat hung beneath the smell of sulfurous smoke. Her nostrils flared with disgust. Sam had already crossed to another low door. He jerked it open.

Brilliant light and a blast of heat rocked them both back. The chant vibrated across Abby’s skin. Dark magic built in the air.

She ran up beside Sam. A bonfire crackled in the chamber beyond. As her eyes adjusted to the glare she could pick out objects in the flames. Leftovers from a church rummage sale set alight on an expanse of stone floor directly in front of them.

Sam jabbed a thumb at his chest. Pointed around the left side of the fire. He’d lead out. Abby nodded. Water guns braced ahead of them like Dean's Berretta, they kept low hugging the wall that curved around the back side of the fire. Their view cleared past the blaze.

The coven swayed like drunks. On their knees arcing around both sides of Vetis and his priests. The faces Abby could see above dark, filthy robes were gaunt, but ruddy with the heat and slicked with sweat, their voices raw. Vetis's arms flew, finishing some violent gesture.

A slit of night hanging in the air, just below the cross winked and grew. Abby gasped. The Hell Gate!

The genizaro spirits rushed toward it, compelled by its magnatism. The coven's auras bent toward it too like candle flames in a steady wind, maintaining it for whatever terror would come through.

Sam moved. Abby lunged for him frantically and caught him by the arm pulling him back. He wasn't looking at Vetis or the Hell Gate. She followed his horrified gaze to a stone altar. To Dean.

Her own horror speared her. Then a biting relief. Thank God, Sam didn't have her gift.

Dean's aura sputtered weakly from his head and limbs, but not a flicker escaped the roiling mass of symbols that crawled over his torso. His soul was almost crowded out already by the desecration Abby Saw on his chest.

The chant peaked into a riot of agonized screams.

Abby's eyes snapped back to the gate. A viscous, putrid bubble bulged out of it. Its membrane thinned then burst, violently expelling two huge tear-shaped blasts. The first splattered against the demon, penetrating his body, filling it like molten lead in a mold, squeezing out his true form. Vetis's used up shell crumpled to the stone floor; both priests followed, deflating like leaky balloons.

“Dean!!” Sam screamed as the second tear drop struck his brother. Dean's body convulsed. For three fluttering heartbeats Dean held on to his soul then Abby Saw a bloody tear open in his chest.

Dean’s soul, a silvery green ribbon, erupted from him, brilliantly pulsing with terror. It hovered above the wound, would have dipped back, but the bloody markings leapt at him like a hundred needle toothed serpents and drove him off.

Sam tore out of her grip. He hadn't been able to see what attacked his brother, but he'd seen the results; Dean in agony, his bother's lifeless body dropping to the cold stone. Abby leapt after him. Clamped both hands on his arm. She hauled him up and yelled in his face.

"He's not there, Sam! The ritual worked."

"No!" Sam choked out the word as he twisted to look back at his brother.

Abby grabbed his chin, jerked it back around. "You've got to find the crystal, that's where Dean will be drawn. It'll be somewhere clean." She squeezed his shoulders hard and shoved him in the direction she'd seen Dean's soul moving. "Find it!"

Abby didn't wait to see if Sam obeyed her. She knew that a worse threat stalked Dean's empty shell. She ran to the altar.

Vetis in his wretched true form, not a soul like a living human, but an essence, an evil tobacco stain on the air, seemed to sniff, trying to pinpoint the noxious vapors of the markings on Dean’s body.

Abby shook the bracelet out of her right sleeve. The priests had stayed down. The coven was still trapped in the chant holding the rift open.

Abby gathered her power. She knew it as sunlight coalescing between her heart and womb. She opened her mind and gentle as a prayer sent a wave of energy along her arm. The coiled silver bracelet, her talisman, began to glow.

Keeping her eyes on Vetis, she reached Dean’s side and flipped the water gun upside down. With her left thumb, she popped open the stopper in the butt and dumped the pint of holy water onto Dean's chest. The bloody marks roiled. Steam billowed up making her eyes sting. With the sleeve of her parka she spread the holy-water across his belly and up the sides of his neck smearing the steaming patterns into nothing but a pink, oily mess.

Above Dean’s body, Vetis jerked to a stop. He swayed back and forth blind and confuse. He’d lost the scent that beckoned him Abby smiled thinly.

"Hey Vetis, come find me, you slimy son of a bitch."

The demon’s essence churned. A slender gray line spun off of it connecting the demon essence to the Hell Gate. Vetis drew back. His shape turned to something part snake, part man, ready to strike.

Abby raised her fist and shouted. "Defendé!" A dome of light sprang out, its apex at her fist. It encased first her then the altar and Dean's body.

Vetis struck, throwing himself against the glittering shield.

The blow was an electric shock. Abby gritted her teeth. "That all you got?!"

Sam didn’t turn back at the sound of Abby’s warrior yell. Dean wasn't dead. Dean was lost. Firelight barely penetrated into the cavernous chapel. Sam scanned the shadows frantically looking for a sparkle of crystal. Somewhere clean? What the hell did Abby mean?

A velvety white glow about three feet above the floor at the far end of the chapel caught his attention. Sam jogged toward it.

High on the wall beside the wide chapel doors, a slotted window oozed moonlight. The snow storm had passed. Under the window the holy water font was attached to the wall. It was filled with snow blown in through the window above, heaped into a perfect glittering dome in the moonlight.

Somewhere clean. Sam ran to the font. "Oh God!" He hadn't expected the blood; his brother's blood, staining the snow, sticky on the clear geometric sides of the crystal. Sam snatched up the crystal and ran back toward the altar.

"Abby! I've got the crystal!"

Abby risked a glance over her shoulder and her heart leapt into her throat. She Saw Dean…Dean too close; too close to the crystal. "Crush it, Sam! Destroy the crystal!"

Bless him, Sam didn't hesitate. The crystal shatter with a tinkling crash. Sam's boot ground it into the floor.

Abby glanced at Dean's body then up through the dome to Vetis. They didn't have time for this standoff.

"Vetis Izar Garanth, fugeré in inferi! Go to hell!" Abby roared.

The demon mass shuddered, but didn't retreat. Nostrils flaring she drew herself up. "There's no fucking way you're touching Dean again!" Abby dropped her fist. The shield collapsed. She drew her focus to a pinpoint and channeled every ounce of her power into her voice. Sun, mother earth, rocky streams, summer winds coalesced in her words.

"Vetis Izar Garanth! Fugeré in inferi! Go back to hell where you were spawned, you butt-ugly bastard!"

It wasn't the exorcism they'd planned. Just her deepest, heartfelt wish backed up with the lash ofa magical command. For a desperate moment, Vetis hung there, his serpent's body quivering taut as a bow string and she thought she’d failed.

But then the demon’s eyes went wide with shock.

Genizaro spirits materialized all around the serpent vapor. The force of her spell, her voice, had wakened them from their nightmare limbo. Vetis's form began to tremble and jerk. Spirit hands and spirit teeth gripped the black fog and dragged it toward the Hell Gate. The gray line that coiled from Vetis into the Hell Gate jerked taught. With a look of horror, the smoggy eyes turned to the rift. What he saw in that blackness, Abby didn't know, but his struggle turned wild. The writhing smudge moved faster and faster, pressed by the genizaros and pulled inexorably by whatever or whoever had clamped a hold on him from the other side. Vetis shrank to a fist-sized blob. The last things to wink out at the rift were two terrified, yellow eyes.

Abby expelled a breath and caught herself on the altar before her knees could give out. "Sam!” she yelled. “We have to close the rift. Put the coven down!"

She needn't have wasted her breath, he was already there. Sam sprayed the potion into unseeing faces. The chant lost its power and the rift closed with a deep clanging boom. Sam felt the difference as a change in air pressure that left his ears ringing. "Is Vetis dead? We have to find Dean!"

Abby didn't answer, but bent immediately to Dean's body, tipped his head back, pinched her fingers around his nostrils and pressed her mouth over his. She blew in two breaths then almost lost her nerve. There was no magic here, only flesh and blood. The soft moist feel of his lips, the pressure it took to fill his lungs.

Abby took vicious hold of her feelings. Remember what you were taught. Without breath, a person loses consciousness in three minutes; after six minutes the brain begins to die. How long had it taken her and the genizaro spirits to push Vetis back to Hell?

No time to guess. With the heel of her hands, one on top of the other, she pressed sharply down on the center of Dean's chest massaging his heart into a clumsy but effective beat. Two breaths, fifteen compressions, repeat till help arrives.

Sam ran up beside her. "What should I do?"

She answered as she counted out compressions. "Go get your brother." Five, one thousand, six, one thousand. "Show him…the way back."

"How? Where is he?"

Eleven, one thousand. "He’ll be close to where you crushed the crystal." Thirteen, one thousand... "He won't want to…come back here, near this altar." Fifteen, one thousand…

"How can make him?"

"Just do it, Sam! Open up. He'll come to you." Abby prayed that he would. They couldn't let Dean get sucked in by the other spirits wandering around this cursed place. Everything depended on Sam now; on the strength of their bond.

Before Sam turned away she grabbed his elbow. "Give me your gun." He handed it to her without looking back, his eyes already scanning the dark in the cavernous chapel. Abby popped open the plug and poured more holy-water over Dean's body, scrubbing away the last of the filth with her sleeve. She bent to press her mouth to his.

Sam left Dean to find Dean, again. He felt his shoulder muscles tightening. Wrong approach. Open up. He made himself unclenched his fists and spread his hands open at his sides. Open up.

Standing on the crystal shards he'd ground into the stone floor, Sam closed his eyes. He imagined open windows, open doors, open books, open hearts, open minds. He let his feelings for Dean flood through all those open spaces. Love at the top, friendship reawakening, bone-deep trust, absolute faith.

"Dean, I'm here," Sam whispered to the dark. “Come on, brother. I’m here.”

Dean answered. A giant, rogue wave, Dean engulfed him forcing a groan from Sam’s throat. Terror, Dean’s, distilled, intense, brought Sam to his knees.

"Oh God." Sam clutched his arms around his ribs and folded his brother in. Struggling desperately not to let Dean's panic overwhelm him, he willed his shallow panting back into a steady rhythm. We're safe. I've got you. We're safe. He repeated it over and over.

Abby watched Sam approach through eyes stinging with sweat. She'd discovered something they don't teach you in CPR class; the rescuer dropping from exhaustion before help arrives is a very real possibility.

Tears glistened on Sam's cheeks. His aura and Dean's were barely visible to her. Sam had burrowed them both in deeply. He walked haltingly, stopping every few feet.

"God, Abby, he's so scared." Sam whispered as he drew up to the altar. He swallowed hard. "What should I do?"

"Show him he can go back. Convince him its safe."

"How?" Sam looked bleakly at Dean's bruised body.

"I don't know, Sam. But do it now." She gave Dean's chest one last compression and backed away swiping sweat off her forehead with a holy water and blood-soaked sleeve.

Sam opened trembling hands and laid them gently on Dean's chest. "Abby, get the ropes. I don't want him to come back tied down again." Sam felt a moment of vertigo as he looked down. It was odd feeling Dean a part of him so intensely, and seeing Dean lying here, separate parts of something that should be whole. Dean's skin was bruised and blotchy. A red circle over his breast bone would bruise later where Abby had pumped on his heart.

As Sam's eyes traced the raw puckered skin on Dean's throat he noticed the pendant, still on its leather string dropped beside Dean's shoulder. He picked it up and pressed it between his palm and his brother's chest. Sam closed his eyes.

I can't hunt alone, Dean. Dad and I…Don't make me have to find him just to tell him I lost you. And my dreams, or visions, whatever they are. They're gonna get worse, man. I don't want to face that…I don't know if I can deal with that without…

The pendant warmed under his hand. With a rush that sucked the air out of his lungs and left him clinging to the altar, Dean left him. Sam's eyes went to his brother's face. For a heartbeat that lasted weeks, nothing happened.

Finally, Dean's head jerked back, his eyes flew open.

"Dean!" Sam pressed the angel harder against his brother's chest. "Breathe, man!"

Dean's eyes locked on to Sam's. He heaved in one long, ragged breath. Another. On the next, he choked on a deep, painful sob.

Sam slid his hand around the back of Dean's neck and pressed his forehead against his brother's. "I gotcha', I gotcha," he whispered roughly.

Abby joined him and they both gathered Dean up in a tangle of arms. They held him cocooned between. Dean's face buried in Sam's shoulder. Abby's lips against his ear murmuring.

The three clung to each other until they felt Dean's body slowly relax and the convulsion of sobs subside.

The first time Dean tried to speak his voice came out a reedy whistle. He cleared his throat and tried again.

"Guys," Dean breathed. “The roof’s catching fire."

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