Sam watched in horror as Dean’s head fell forward, blood running from his mouth and staining the front of his shirt. He looked lifeless, held upright only by the chains on his wrists. Sam screamed his name until his voice cracked but Dean was unconscious or worse. The puddle of blood on the floor below him was still widening, which meant his heart was still pumping; but nobody could survive a wound like that.
Dennis Yates returned to the altar after sticking Dean but now he was back with an ornate golden bowl. He held it to Dean’s mouth, collecting the blood as it slowed to a trickle and Sam winced.
“You’ll pay for that, you sick bastard.”
His voice was hoarse and weak from yelling; Yates either didn’t hear or chose to ignore him. He took his position behind the altar and began adding ingredients to the bowl, intoning a complex spell as he did so. Sam saw hair, bone and various roots going in then Yates warmed the potion over a candle.
Sam’s head was throbbing and his vision was blurred. Mostly though, he felt numb. His brother was dead and unless some kind of miracle happened, damned quick, he was heading the same way. Dean always predicted they’d die bloody but this was worse than anything they’d imagined and for a moment Sam wished he hadn’t gotten his soul back. None of this would have troubled his old self; it would have registered only as a mildly worrying and inconvenient blip on his radar. That inability to feel emotion had its benefits but the old Sam wouldn’t have gone looking for Dean. The old Sam would have let his brother die alone and felt neither anguish nor loss. On balance, Sam figured he was better off complete and whole, however painful it might get.
He tore his eyes away from Dean and focussed on the ridiculously camp dude lounging on the throne. This had to be Dionysus and he sat up straight as the potion in the bowl threw off white smoke and a strident, coppery odour. He looked both arrogant and expectant. The crowd of people in the room set up a low chant, in a language which sounded like Greek and the smoke changed colour to red. Sam felt the air get thick and heavy as the magic took hold, then Yates placed the bowl on the altar and picked up a serrated knife with an eight inch blade.
Dionysus laughed merrily. “It’s show time, people.”
The chanting reached a crescendo as Yates approached and Sam struggled against the shackles; he knew it was useless but the instinct for survival just wouldn’t let go. He got a final look at Dean before Yates blocked his view. His brother was white as a sheet and had totally bled out; it knocked all the fight from him.
It came out more like a sob and Yates eyed him kindly. “You’ll be together soon enough, son.”
Grief turned to rage in a heartbeat and Sam spat on the floor. “We’ll both see you in Hell, you son of a bitch.”
Yates didn’t respond; his expression was blank as he raised the knife and Sam braced himself for impact and pain. He closed his eyes, murmured a brief prayer and nearly jumped out of his skin when the doors of the temple crashed open with force enough to splinter wood and rupture hinges. The chanting stopped abruptly and some of the worshippers screamed. Sam opened his eyes in a rush to discover Castiel standing before them; dreadful and forbidding in full-on power and glory mode. Candle light threw his colossal wings into relief on the walls and his presence dominated the room absolutely. His gaze roved round the temple, lingered on Sam for a moment and came to rest on Dean. If he looked imposing before, now he was monumentally pissed. Yates howled with pain and dropped the knife on the floor with a clang. Its hilt was glowing white.
The doors slammed shut of their own accord as Cas strode through the temple; the crowd parting for him like the Red Sea. He stopped in front of Dionysus, who had lost the majority of his swagger.
“Dionysus.” His tone was flat but accusing and Dionysus scrambled to his feet.
“Castiel? Oh crap.”
Castiel cocked his head to one side. “I remember what you did to Pentheus. I liked Pentheus...”
Dionysus looked about to shit himself and he glanced at his worshippers briefly. “Sorry to be a party pooper, but the sitter’s on overtime. Catch you on the flipside.”
Cas stared at him. “You can’t hide from me; you know that.”
“Can’t blame a girl for trying….”
The god vanished in a puff of red smoke and Cas turned to face the room. He made a gesture in Sam’s direction and the shackles on his wrists snapped open. Unprepared for freedom he staggered and almost lost his balance as Cas gestured at the other pillar. With nothing to support him Dean dropped to the floor with a thud, limp as a rag doll.
Sam raced over to him, almost skidding in the pool of blood. He fell to his knees and pulled his brother close, cradling him close against his body. He could feel the warmth of Dean’s blood soaking his shirt and clutched him tighter, trying to catch a heartbeat. He couldn’t feel one.
Something brushed his shoulder and he looked up with a start. Cas was beside him and his expression was terrifying. He was working up to something of Biblically epic proportions.
“Cover your eyes.”
Sam felt a subsonic rumble, the temple floor shuddered and most of the candles blew out, plunging the room into near darkness. He laid Dean gently on the floor and threw himself across his brother, face down, shielding them both from whatever was coming. He closed his eyes when the whole room began to shake. Things were breaking and people were screaming in pain and terror. A roaring started in his ears and pressure built inside his head as the screaming intensified. Just as he thought his skull was about to burst everything went dead quiet; as silent as the grave but Sam didn’t move. He clung to Dean’s lifeless body; shell shocked and heartbroken until Cas’s voice came from above him, stern and commanding.
“Let me see him.”
Sam moved away reluctantly and stared at the devastated room. The altar lay in ruins, there were wide, jagged cracks across the floor, walls and ceiling and it was a miracle in itself that the place was still standing. It was empty but, by the feeble light of the few candles still burning, he noticed a body with its eyes burned out. It was Dennis Yates and Sam didn’t feel a single drop of remorse. The fucker had gotten exactly what he deserved.
Cas squatted beside Dean and put a finger on his forehead. “I advise you not to watch this, Sam.”
Sam threw an arm across his eyes as intense white light filled the room. When it eventually dimmed he looked at Dean anxiously, heart pounding; hardly daring to hope. His brother was still limp on the floor but the blood was gone. His clothes were clean; the bruises on his face and gashes on his wrists healed and he looked like he was sleeping. He seemed at peace for probably the first time in his life but he wasn’t moving. Tears welled in Sam’s eyes as he knelt beside his brother and touched his face. Dean was cold as a glacier and Sam looked at Cas in despair
“You were too late.”
Cas shook his head slightly. “He’s had a shock. Give him time.”
Sam turned back to Dean and shook him gently. “Come on man, wake up. It’s all over.”
It took another five minutes of shaking and encouragement before he got a response. Dean shuddered and jerked then mumbled something incoherent. A moment later he opened his eyes. He was groggy, confused but then his vision snapped into focus and he stared at Sam’s tear-streaked face. A ghost of a smile pulled at his lips.
“They weren’t kidding about the Prom Queen.”
Sam was so relieved he laughed out loud.
“What you blubbing about, Sammy?”
Sam shook his head helplessly; where did he even begin to explain? Dean’s gaze shifted; he stared at the blood on Sam’s shirt then sat up fast.
“What the hell? What did those bastards do to you?”
Sam smiled gently. “It was you got hurt, Dean. They nearly killed you.”
Cas interjected. “That’s incorrect. Dean was technically…”
Sam cut him off quickly. Dean didn’t need to hear this right now. “We’ll talk about it later, okay?”
Cas nodded, though he clearly didn’t understand the need to delay that particular conversation. Dean was frowning as he pulled up his shirt and inspected himself for injury. He was clean as a whistle. Bewilderment gave way to understanding as he took in the ruined temple and Yates’ defiled body. Finally he looked at Cas; his expression inscrutable.
“Guess I owe you… Again.”
Cas deadpanned it beautifully. “You’re welcome... Again.”
Sarcasm from an angel; Sam was almost impressed. Dean tried to get up but he was exhausted and unsteady. When Sam tried to help, stubborn bastard that he was Dean pushed him away. Exasperated, Sam grabbed him by his shirt, hauled him upright then on impulse pulled him into a tight bear hug. This time he felt a strong heartbeat and his tears flowed freely. Dean hesitated for a moment then hugged back weakly. Sam didn’t let go until his brother grunted and squirmed.
“Get off me, man. You’re crushing my ribs.”
Sam released him and stepped back, wiping his face. “I missed you, Dean.”
“Pussy.” Dean stared at the body of Dennis Yates and poked it with his boot. “This bastard had it coming. What happened to the others?”
“I thought their priorities needed adjusting. Some re-programming is in order.”
Cas sounded evasive and Dean snorted. “Ain’t that the truth.”
He paused for a moment, considering something. His eyes flicked back and forth between Sam and Castiel.
“Don’t get me wrong, guys; I’m glad you’re here… But what took you so friggin’ long?”