Chapter 23

"The snow’s gonna buy us some time. And the wind's in our favor," Sam said, squinting up at the steaming rafters. The wind gusting in through the roof pushed the flames and most of the smoke toward the back of the chapel. Sam turned to look down at his brother.

Dean wasn't going anywhere fast. Just swinging his legs over the side of the altar and sitting up had left him breathless and trembling. Abby knelt in front him. Dean's wrists were raw and already purpling. The long cuts still oozed blood into his palms.

Sam took off his borrowed parka and draped it gently over his brother's bare shoulders. Dean winced. "What about you?" he croaked.

"I'm fine." Remnants of Abby's potion still burned in his system. Between that and the fire at their backs, warmth was the least of Sam's worries at the moment.

"We need the first aid kit. I don't have anything to bind these cuts." Abby frowned. "It's back in the cell."

“Let’s go." Dean shifted off the edge of the stone. When his feet touched the ground, he let out a soft grunt of pain just before his knees buckled. Abby and Sam each grabbed an arm. "Damn it. Just give me a sec," he growled as he shrugged them off.

Sam stepped back and glanced away from his brother. There was a line of bodies on the ground behind them. They looked like discarded piles of filthy, black rags.

"What about them?" Sam tipped his head toward the coven.

"Dean and Liz were right," Abby said her voice harder than Sam had ever heard it. "Those…idiots made their choices. We'll get Dean back to the cell, get him some water. We’ll take care of his wrists then if…"

"If they haven't already burned to death, we'll come back and see what we can do?" Sam asked. Abby wouldn't meet his eyes. "They’re helpless because of us. We can't just leave them to burn. Dean, I know you've been to hell and back."

"That's exactly where I've been, Sam."

The anguish in Dean's rough whisper shot an arrow of guilt through Sam. What could he say to that?

“After tonight, there are no innocents back there, Sam," Abby said.

"Maybe…probably." Sam dropped his chin. “Look, let’s move somewhere safer than right here under this section of the roof. But close. You can wait there while I pull them further from the fire. The potion’ll wear off. They'll have a chance to save themselves. If that's possible.”

Abby knew Sam wasn't just talking about saving the Coven’s lives. Maybe that's why the younger Winchester felt so compelled to do this. There was a lot more at stake. She nodded her agreement and turned to Dean.

“Fine,” he said, the hard anger still in his eyes. “Make it quick.”

Sam breathed a sigh of relief. "I know a clean place where you can wait for me."

They didn't make it all the way to the holy-water font. Dean was sore everywhere. It was dicey touching any part of his body to support him. They ended up about half way down the apse settling Dean on a hard, wooden pew against the wall. Sam tugged the edges of the big parka closer around his brother's torso.

"Stop fussin',” Dean said. “Do what you gotta do."

"I'll stay with him," Abby said; her face still wary and hard.

The heat hit Sam like he'd opened an oven door when he stepped up on the raised, stone floor beside the altar. Stinging smoke started an annoying itch in his throat. He bent low to avoid the worst of it. The coven was split up on two sides of the growing bonfire. Triage first. He’d only move the ones he could save. He hoped the others were fine with cremation.

Vetis's used up human body, lay with its feet smoldering on the fringe of the fire. Sam left it there. The priests’ robes contained nothing but dusty, black powder. They had completely decomposed when bereft of the demon's touch.

The next pile of filthy robes had a woman tangled in them. He quickly turned her over and pressed his fingers against her throat. A weak but steady pulse registered on his fingertips. “Be right back,” he whispered.

The next was a middle-aged, black man who looked… ordinary like somebody's dentist or barber. Sam felt for a pulse. Nothing."Sorry, man," he mumbled.

His eyes were streaming from the smoke when he found the last person on that side of the fire. It was a woman or a child; someone small. He had to pull the body half into his lap to unfold it. Tear stains had left clean streaks in the grime on the woman’s cheeks. As he put his fingers to the side of her neck her eyelids fluttered open.

They were pale blue, glassy and filled with such sadness that Sam felt an answering lump tighten his throat. He whispered roughly, "I'm here to help you."

Her face crumpled. Another tear streaked down her cheek. Sam lifted her as gently as he could and folded her over his shoulder. She weighed nothing at all. He hurried over to grab a fistful of robes at the back of the other woman's neck. Carrying one and dragging the other, he made his way to the front corner of the chapel. Safely away from the burning roof, but as far from Dean and Abby as he could get.

He laid the two women side by side then ran again. He felt his brother's eyes on his back. Hurry.

The wind had changed. Sam flinched as a tongue of flame whipped toward his face. Melting snow fell like rain from the roof, hissing and spattering, mixing steam with the smoke, super heating the air. Sam dropped to hands and knees and crawled up the step awkwardly, one arm across his mouth and nose, squinting against the heat.

He hauled the first man he came to a few feet from the blaze then hastily felt for a pulse. Alive. This guy was huge. Sam grabbed the robes at the back of big man’s head and throwing his weight into it dragged him backwards along the path he'd worn through the debris with the others.

He dropped Big Guy none too gently beside the women then dropped himself to one knee coughing. Sweat and steam soaked his shirt. It chilled in the icy cold away from the fire.

"Sam?" Abby's voice.

Sam forced himself to his feet, not daring to stop for fear of losing what little momentum he had. "I'm okay. Just two more." He started for the fire then turned back. "Abby, one of them woke up for a second. Watch them. Don't let them…"

"They won't get near him," Abby promised.

He nodded and half ran, half stumbled back to the flames.

Sam went in low again, crawling up the single stone step. He groped blindly for the last two bodies, closed both fists around cloth. These two were light-weights and both alive. Their faces glowed pale and waxy in the firelight. They had features as alike as a matched set of hunting knives and just as sharp. Only the man's whiskered chin and the woman's long, pale hair told him he had one of each sex. He'd only dragged them a couple of feet when he heard the woman’s voice.

Sam frowned. It sounded like gibberish, but her voice set his teeth on edge. He bent to see if she was conscious and she twisted around. Her hand whipped up. Her nails ripped into his cheek. Sam let out a yelp, fell back onto his butt. The pair rolled to all fours, their movements as uncannily matched as their faces and started crawling toward him; snarling the gibberish in unison.

Abby's head came up. She stopped tucking the parka around Dean.

"What is it?" Dean asked.

Abby held up a hand. She'd gotten a whiff of something.

"Black magic," she said under her breath turning toward Sam.

"Sam!” Dean yelled. “Abby, go! Sam's in trouble.”

"So are we." Abby straightened slowly. She’d heard something else. In the corner, two of Sam's refugees were upright. They moved like zombies, jerky, uncoordinated, but coming closer. Abby shook her bracelet out of her sleeve then realized it wouldn't help. Her shield worked against magical bad guys, not plain old human bastards. She put herself between them and Dean, crouched into her fighting stance and moved out to meet them.

The evil twins moved toward Sam like stalking panthers. He scrabbled away. They lunged, dug their claws into his ankles. Jerked him toward them and hissed a single word, "Graaavissss!"

Sam felt a million needles prick his skin in a roll that started at his feet and thundered up his body. His head flew back. Weight, like anvils on his chest crushed him flat against the cold stone. Sam could barely suck in tiny gasps of smoky air.

The twins crawled up his body.

Abby went for the big guy first. She figured to deck him fast with a spear hand strike to the throat, but he surprised her. He knocked her hand aside with a sweep of one massive arm. She countered with side-kick to the gut. Dean's bench tipped over behind her. The big guy crumpled. Abby spun toward Dean in time to watch him finish a sweeping kick along the floor that knocked the legs out from under the woman sneaking around her flank. The treacherous little twit landed on her back with a satisfying "woof".

Dean finished the move, curled into a fetal position on his side; his face a mask of pain. Abby dropped down beside him.

"Sam, help Sam.”

She would have, if the two in front of them weren't already struggling to their feet.

The female twin brought her face up to Sam's nose. The man's face rose next to hers. Their fetid breath made his eyes water though he was only pulling in thimbles full of air. Stupid halitosis barbs skittered across his brain, but he dismissed them. He didn't have Dean's gift in tight situations.

"Angel touched," the male twin rasped with a twisted smile. He smacked his lips then stuck out a long, quivering tongue and licked the blood oozing from the scratches on Sam's cheek.

Like they were sharing a meal, the twins kissed. Her tongue eagerly lapping Sam's blood from her twin's lips and chin. They were pressed so hard against his sides that Sam could feel the shivers of pleasure running down their bodies. He flinched. It was the biggest movement he could manage.

As one, they disappeared from his line of sight. Their hands latched onto his ankles again. Whatever they'd done to gravity snapped back to normal. As they dragged him back toward the now raging fire, all Sam could do was suck in a lung full of smoke-clogged air. He fell into a helpless fit of coughing.

His captors reached the stone step. They grabbed his arms, hauled him to his feet. Sam hauled back. They were trying to pitch him into the fire! Sam planted one boot on the edge of the step. The twins seemed oblivious to the backs of their robes beginning to smolder.

Abby crouched in front of Dean facing their attackers. She frowned as a rumble that had been on the fringe of her awareness grew louder. Abby flicked a glance to the front of the church. The rumble built to a skull rattling roar. The two in front of her lunged.

Abby drove her right shoulder into Big Guy's gut and locked her other arm around the woman's waist. A giant booming crash hit her. The whole building shook. They all went down in a tangle of flailing arms and legs.

Sam felt the building shake and thought he heard a cannon go off, but was too busy trying not to be launched into the inferno to process those bizarre pieces of information.

He didn't have the juice left to twist or kick his way free. Every muscle in his body burned with the sustained effort of just staying at the edge of the step. He only hoped that the smoldering wack-jobs trying to kill him would catch fire before his legs gave out.

Then they started their in-unison gibbering again.

Panic surged through him. If they hit him with another spell he was dead meat, well-done dead meat.

In quick succession, two gun-shots cracked above the fire's roar.

The twins jerked backward, crimson stars blooming in the middle of their foreheads. Sam's arms were free. The twins disappeared into a brilliant shower of sparks as Sam fell backwards. His head hit the stone floor with a crack. His vision filled with red stars, then faded to black.

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