Sam and Dean leave Indiana, intent on discovering how Sam returned, but they are waylaid by unexpected problems.
"I swear, if you even think the word 'Midol' I will end you."
Dean always marveled at Bobby's ability to fit the perfect blend of condemnation and fondness into one word. Even over a phone line, the tone didn't lose any of its effectiveness. Dean exchanged a knowing look with Sam, who was taking measurements of the Braedens' front door, and replied, "That's what I said."
"Damn fool angel's been hangin' out with you boys too long," Bobby groused, more to himself than others.
"To be fair, we don't know that he's even involved," Sam remarked.
"What'd he say?" Bobby wanted to know.
"He said we can't prove Cas actually did anything," Dean repeated.
"Smack him upside the head for me and ask him if his stay down under rattled his common sense," Bobby ordered.
Dean grinned. Only Bobby could make a trip to Hell seem so casual.
Sam, who had no problem hearing Bobby, snorted and made a mark on the notepad Lisa had provided him with earlier; she hadn't been kidding about the door. She'd informed Sam that after she got home from dropping Ben off at baseball practice they would be making a trip to the local Home Depot to look at frames.
Dean made a mental note to remind Sam to look for iron door sills as well.
"Way I see it, whether your angel did anything or not, we've still got a mystery on our hands that I'd rather puzzle out before the other shoe drops," Bobby continued. "I'll get started with the lore I've got here, but you two best get here in the near future."
Although he didn't say it, Dean could hear the implicit, 'I want to see Sam with my own two eyes and put him through whatever tests you didn't think of.'
"Will do," Dean answered. "We just have some stuff to finish up here and we'll be on our way."
"Let me know if things change."
They disconnected and Dean turned to Sam. "Bobby says you've got a horseshoe up your ass."
"Maybe I do. It's still not getting me out of whatever he's going to throw at me when we get to his place."
Dean grinned, warmed by the idea that they were once again thinking along the same lines. "Probably not."
Sam studied the door. "This should only take me about an hour once we pick up the stuff. We can leave this evening, if you want. Sooner, if you do the actual restoring. You're Mr. Fix-It."
"Yeah, well, you're the one who broke it down," Dean retorted. "Besides, I've got other stuff to get done before we go."
Sam nodded, understanding.
Dean tended to be a little obsessive compulsive when it came to protecting the people he cared about. Considering they didn't know what brought Sam back, it was better to be careful; with their track record, it was only a matter of time before something targeted them.
So, while Sam busied himself with replacing Lisa's door – accompanying her to the hardware store once she and Ben returned – Dean went about warding the Braeden's home against any kind of evil that might try to get in. Whether it was the average kind of evil or the 'you-know-the-Winchesters-I'm-going-to-use-you-as-leverage' kind of evil.
With his mother gone, Ben idled around watching Dean work. He looked as though he was filled with questions but couldn't bring himself to actually ask them; it was rather incongruous with his outgoing nature. Dean suspected that the kid had been eavesdropping the night before and knew more about the current situation than his mother intended him to know. If he was anything like Dean, he wasn't asking because he figured that would out him.
Lisa obviously didn't want Ben getting involved in anything supernatural after their first experience. Privately, Dean agreed with her. He hoped Ben could have a nice, normal, ghost-free life.
But he also knew what ignorance could do to you.
"Here," he said, tossing Ben a tin of salt from his bag of tools and paint. "Make sure every window and door in the house is lined."
"Salt?" Ben asked, staring down at the box.
"Don't knock it. Most things can't cross a salt line. It's a pure substance, so it wards them off," Dean explained. "Plus, it's cheap, easy to get, and doesn't draw attention. If anyone ever asks about it, you can tell them you're trying to repel an ant infestation." He caught Ben's eye. "That's the most important part of all this. Not drawing attention to yourself. You get it?"
"Yeah," Ben said, setting his jaw. "It's like why Peter Parker wears a costume. So none of his enemies can find him when he's not being Spider-man."
"Something like that," Dean allowed, mentally adding, ‘Kid needs better taste in comics. DC’s where it’s at.’
Ben set off to accomplish his task with determined intent, while Dean painted a Devil's Trap on the underside of the rug in the front hallway.
Throughout the day, Dean taught Ben other important tips and tricks of the trade – nothing that would get him in trouble, either with his mother or with a casual passerby who might ask questions, but things that any hunter's kid would know. He had Ben help him paint symbols, and taught him some code words to give Dean in case he ever needed to reach him and it wasn't safe to do so.
If Sam were around he'd probably suggest Ben read one book or another, but Dean could imagine the uninterested look on the kid's face if he tried that avenue, and so he ended up talking about how heavy metal used a lot of pagan imagery. Ben's eyes lit up at that and Dean could guess what he'd be googling later that night.
When Lisa came home, Dean showed her how to load and use a gun while Sam distracted Ben with some of the more PG stories of things he and Dean had seen. Once they were both far out of earshot, Dean also walked Lisa through hex bags, exorcisms and banishing sigils.
"It's a last resort," he told her, drawing the required symbol on a piece of paper. "I really, really hope you'll never need this. In fact, I doubt you will, seeing as how this place is tighter than the Pentagon right now. But in case you do…"
"It's better to be prepared," Lisa agreed.
"And you might want to think about getting some more permanent protection," Dean remarked, handing her two anti-possession charms. "Always keep these on you. Ben's still a bit young for ink, butyou wouldn't lose anything by getting some."
"Except my self-respect," Lisa huffed, her eyes sparkling.
"Aw, come on – classy little tat, right here –" He grinned and reached around to brush the small of her back, and Lisa laughed and slapped his hand away. "In all seriousness, though, some body parts make it more effective – over your heart, your spleen, your solar plexus –"
"Sounds like the locations of the seven chakras."
Dean blinked. "Uh, yeah."
"Yoga instructor, remember?" Lisa grinned. "And as I recall, you and I had a conversation about chakra the night we met. Specifically the tantric aspects…"
Dean's eyes glazed over briefly and he leered. "Good times."
Sam and Ben appeared before Dean could suggest a re-enactment, which was probably for the best, considering the current Winchester situation.
They left the next day.
Dean spent the morning doing a precursory check of the Impala before they left, while Sam gave Lisa a few last minute instructions in case Dean had left anything out.
Ben was unhappy to see them go. He grunted out a sullen goodbye to Dean and Sam after breakfast, and then disappeared up to his room. AC/DC blared accusingly from his room for the remainder of Sam and Dean's sojourn at the Braeden's home.
Lisa shrugged, apologetic, while Sam loaded up the last of their things in the car. Lisa had given them a cooler of food for the trip. "He's just upset you're going."
"There are worse ways to throw a tantrum," Dean allowed. He faltered for a moment, and then cleared his voice. Half-joking, he went on, "I know I've asked before…but you'd tell me if he was…you know…right?"
Lisa smiled sadly. "Would you stay if he was?"
"Yes," Dean said without hesitation.
"Not about this," Dean replied.
"Then…and don't take this the wrong way –" Lisa bit her lip and looked away. "Yes, I'm sure he's not yours."
When she met his eyes again, there was a meaningful glint in them. Dean felt a lump appear in his throat. "Lis…"
"You've got important work to do," she told him, firmly, like she was telling herself as well. "And your job brings…risks with it. You understand?"
"Yeah," Dean swallowed, and nodded lowly. "Yeah, I do."
"I'm glad," she told him quietly, and then smiled again. "That being said, if you don't come around for a visit more than once every year, I'm going to do some hunting of my own. And you're not going to like it."
"Is that a fact?"
"That's a promise."
"Then I guess we've got no choice," Dean smirked. "We'll call you when we know more about what's going on."
"You'd better," she replied, leaning forward and brushing her lips against his. She pulled away before he could deepen it, and prompted, "And you're absolutely sure you can't stick around a little longer? It's only been a day –"
"If we knew what to expect from this whole thing with Sam and with Cas, I'd stay a month," Dean replied earnestly. "The past two years have been…retarded. Once we're sure we're in the clear, we'll be back."
"Then I'll keep a few cold ones in the fridge."
"Tell the kid we'll see him around."
Dean ducked into the car, giving a final wave to Lisa as he did so. The passenger door slammed shut, and Dean pretended he didn't notice the flutter of warmth in his chest at the sight of Sam riding shotgun. Still, he allowed a satisfied smile to break out on his face and slid the key into the ignition. The Impala hummed to life beneath him and he backed out of the driveway.
The smile left his face as he watched Lisa wave them on through the rear-view mirror as they started down the street. Sam already had his laptop out and open, but he was staring out the window with a preoccupied expression.
They drove in silence for a while.
There was an uncomfortable tension in the air that reeked of unspoken words and awkwardness. It was the first time they were completely alone without the possibility of someone walking in on them; that possibility had so far staved off Sam's tendency to emote uncontrollably and Dean's usual gruff brush off. Nevertheless, Dean was still expecting and half-dreading his brother's first foray into the chick-flick moment of the drive.
He swallowed heavily, thinking of the last time he had been in the car with Sam –
'Christ, it was only four days ago,' he realized in disbelief. It felt longer than that – that day without Sam had felt almost as terrible as Dean's first thirty years in Hell.
Every now and then, he felt Sam's eyes on him from the passenger seat. Maybe Sam was thinking about something and was just as reluctant to break the silence as Dean was, he thought.
After about fifteen minutes of the awkward quiet where Dean tried to decide whether he should be the one to broach the subject or not, he gave up with a snort. He wasn't going to worry about it right now. He had Sam, his car and a destination in mind. Everything else could wait.
Dean shoved a tape into the player, twirling the volume up, and the car filled with the familiar bass intro to 'Crazy Train'. Beside him, Sam snorted and shook his head.
"Not even the Apocalypse is going to make you broaden your musical horizons, is it?"
"If by 'broaden my musical horizons' you mean 'listen to hack musicians slitting their wrists to the sound of a synthesizer', then no," Dean replied automatically. He felt himself relax; this was familiar territory. Mysterious return from Hell or not, this kind of banter never changed.
Dean turned past a church and then took the exit for the IN-32 West.
"You actually think we'll go back and see them?" Sam asked.
Dean wouldn't risk putting Lisa and Ben in danger if there was something out there gunning for them again.
"They'll be okay."
"I know that. It's not them I'm worried about. Their place'll give Bobby's a run for security, for now. I just want to find out where Cas is."
There was an uncomfortable quiet, broken only by the sound of a few cars passing them. It was a mark of how distracted Dean was that he didn't give into his inner Mario Andretti and show exactly what the Impala could do.
“And Adam,” he agreed. He and Sam were both pretty sure they knew where Adam was, even if they hadn't voiced it yet. Even so, Dean struggled past the sudden lump in his throat. "There's no guarantee, but I figure if you're up here, Adam was brought back too. Maybe he just showed up in a different place. I mean, Windom's on the way, we could stop in…"
Sam pursed his lips. There was a long, heavy pause as they both tried hard not to voice all the problems with that theory. "Dean, I'm pretty sure we would have been brought up together."
The lump got more painful, and Dean gritted his teeth at the thought of yet another younger brother that he had failed to save.
"Then we definitely have to find Cas. He can help us help Adam."
Dean felt Sam gazing at him sideways, sensed the expectant question there and shrugged as he tried to find the right words.
"Cas did something," he finally murmured, frowning at the steering wheel. Sam didn't even ask him what he was talking about. "Or maybe something was done to him. I dunno. But the last two times he died, I never felt…"
Dean opened his mouth, and then shook his head dismissively. "Man, I couldn't even tell you what it was. I was, like, anchored to something, and now I'm just…cut loose. Or whatever."
Sam made a thoughtful noise. "So, we're sticking with the Castiel-angle on all this then?"
"Who else could have brought you back? We've already nixed God and Death."
"Yeah, but – Dean, I was in the Cage," Sam said him patiently, his voice low as though he really didn't want to remind either of them about that fact. "Another sixty-six Seals would have had to break in the one day that I was down there before it opened again. Considering the world is still intact –"
"– That didn't happen."
"Exactly. Also, the first and last Seal were kind of set. Unless another ‘righteous man’ broke in Hell or someone resurrected Lilith just to kill her again to break a Seal…I know Cas is a good guy and all, but I doubt he would have gone through all that trouble to bring me back."
Dean shifted uncomfortably at the unspoken, 'Though I'm sure he would have tried if it was you.'
"So he found another way," he deflected. "Cas is our kind of stupid – remember the box cutter stunt in Van Nuys?"
Sam grimaced. "I try not to remember that day, Dean."
Dean tried to avoid thinking about it too. He had sunk to a new low, letting Cas put his life on the line to pull off a plan that would probably see Dean becoming an archangel's sock puppet. He still didn't regret his decision at the time – making a deal to protect his loved ones trumped everything else. Having Cas finally lose faith in him, though, however briefly, had hurt more than he would have thought.
He blinked suddenly, running through that last thought in his head. An idea came to him. "You don't think…you don't think Cas could have maybe made a deal?"
"A deal. Cas might have – deals make things happen, right? Even the impossible – I mean, Bobby's deal with Crowley got us a meeting with Death, so who's to say maybe Cas didn't make a deal to bring you back?"
"Maybe…but he has no soul. What the hell would he have dealt with?"
"I don't know – maybe he convinced someone else we know to pony up the collateral."
"The only person who would even consider something like that is Bobby, and his soul's already in hock –"
" – Which is another thing we've got to worry about – making sure that demon douchebag doesn't try to keep it – "
"– and I seriously doubt that one human soul would be enough to power a deal like that," Sam finished.
"Or else it would have been done ages ago by some emo kid who was hot for Satan, you mean."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Right."
Dean frowned, and another idea occurred to him. This one made his stomach clench. "What about his grace? I mean, it'd be more powerful than a human soul, right?"
"I don't see how he could have," Sam mused. "Remember how Anna's burned up the demons when it manifested? Any demon who tried to take an angel's grace probably wouldn't get much time to enjoy it."
"You'd think," Dean remarked. "I dunno. That human soul we saw when we dealt with Famine looked a little bit like grace to me – you know, what little I saw without my eyes getting burned out. What if it's like that? What if being given grace by an angel somehow diffuses it?"
"Don't you think Cas would have mentioned something like that to us?"
"Why would he? It's not like we'd ever have a reason to consider an angel selling his grace to a demon."
They exchanged a meaningful look and lapsed back into a silence that was a hundred times tenser than it had been. Dean's hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles appeared bone white, his mind racing furiously as they passed through Lebanon and headed for Crawfordsville.
Because not only could he imagine Cas doing something monumentally stupid like sacrificing himself for Dean, but he was also fairly certain that it was exactly what had happened. As an angel, Cas didn't understand certain nuances in conversation and as Dean thought back to the last words he'd said to Cas, he knew how Cas might have taken his absolute frustration and anger at Sam's fate.
He had never asked Cas to do anything about it, though, because he'd known with certainty that nothing could be done. It was why he had promised Sam not to try to save him.
But it seemed Cas had taken Dean's scathing words and bitterness as an indication that he wouldn't be able to live without Sam. The fact that it was true to an extent didn't change the fact that Dean had never intended Cas to give any more of himself to the umpteenth-times-damned Winchester cause.
Dean wanted nothing more right then than to call the angel to his side and chew him out for his stupidity. If he really had traded his grace for Sam, though, then he wasn't going to be showing up any time soon.
Castiel would probably never show up again.
The idea that the angel was dead and gone forever hit Dean with an inexplicably strong wave of melancholy. It was almost on par with how he felt when he was separated from Sam, only different to a degree.
Dean blinked, an idea occurring to him as they passed yet another dirt path leading toward a farming community. Without completely thinking it through, he swerved around on the empty two-lane highway and headed for that trail.
Sam yelled in surprise, gripping at the dash to ground himself as the car headed down the lane.
"Dean, what the hell?!"
"One way to find out, right?" Dean said, his jaw clenched and his eyes trained determinedly in front of him, searching. He ignored the sound of rocks and debris hitting the undercarriage of the car. "Time to talk to a local."
Sam saw the sign for the crossroads before the car even stopped.
"Are you kidding me?" he demanded, immediately realizing what Dean's plan was.
"Do I look like I'm kidding?" Dean retorted, tuning off the motor and getting out of the Impala.
"Dean, we just survived the biggest celebrity death match since ever," Sam reminded him urgently, tripping as he too climbed out of the car and met his brother in back of it. Dean was already opening the trunk and propping it up with a shotgun. "You really want to go poke the hornet's nest again?"
"There'll be no poking unless they ask for it," Dean assured him, grabbing the demon-killing knife from amidst the rest of their armaments and sticking it through his belt. "Besides, it's not like I'm going to make a deal or anything. I just want some information."
"And what makes you think you'll get anything from a demon other than lies and a hard time?"
"Demons don't tell the truth unless they know it'll hurt, right? They got an angel down there, they'll probably want to gloat."
"And if they don't?"
"There'll be one less demon in the world when I'm through."
"What if it's Crowley? He's not exactly easy to kill."
"Way I see it, we've already got a bone to pick with him. He shows up here, bonus. I only wish we still had the damn Colt."
Sam opened his mouth again to come up with another argument, and then closed it again. He watched Dean dig around for the proper materials to summon the crossroads demon, and sighed. "I still think this is a bad idea."
"I never said it wasn't," Dean said, snapping closed the tin and heading for the middle of the crossroads. "But seein' as how neither of us has a better one right now..."
"All the more reason you shouldn't do it."
"Sammy, if you're gonna bitch, go wait in the car and turn on some Morrissey or something."
"Jerk," Sam scowled, but didn't move to leave. Instead, he reached into the trunk and grabbed one of the other shotguns.
Dean knelt in the mud at the dead center of the crossroads and dug through the moist earth with his bare hands. Once he made the hole a decent depth, he buried the tin and scraped the dirt back over it with his hands. Sam loitered warily by the side of the road, keeping his ear out for innocent passersby or the expected demon.
Except no demon came.
Several minutes passed in silence, and Dean looked expectantly left and right. "Come on, lady, it's not like you've got anything better to do with Satan locked up tight."
The crossroads remained empty but for the two of them, the only change being a brief pick up in the breeze.
"Why the hell isn't it working?" Dean fumed.
"Did you put everything into the tin?"
"Of course I did!"
"Were the ingredients fresh?"
"What? Sometimes it can affect the summoning –"
"It's not the ingredients, Sam."
"How do you know?"
"Because when I made my deal for you, half of the stuff was stale or broken and the demon still showed up," Dean grumbled. "There's something else wrong."
Sam wrinkled his brow, and after a moment's hesitation went back to the Impala. He returned several minutes later with a tin of his own and was folding one of his fake ideas into it.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Dean cried. "The hell are you doing?"
"I'm going to see if it's just you," Sam replied, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Dude, you just got back from Hell – no way am I letting you put your soul on the line just so we can find out if Cas is down there."
"I thought you said we were just trying to get information."
"I did –"
"Then shut up and watch my back."
Sam crouched to dig up Dean's tin, tossed it at him, and then replaced it with his own. He buried it quickly, dusted off his hands and surveyed the four routes of the crossroads cautiously.
They waited in tense silence for almost ten minutes before exchanging meaningful glances and returning to the Impala.
Much to Sam's discomfiture, Dean stopped at three more crossroads along various stretches of highway as they made their way to South Dakota. He seemed determined to prove the first one hadn't just been a fluke, but when each time yielded no result, he became tenser.
Sam knew better than to comment on it, and instead of rising to the bait as Dean speculated out loud about possible reasons for what was going on, Sam called Bobby. They carefully avoided talking about Sam's mysterious resurrection and Sam filled the older hunter in on the latest development.
"You'd think you two would be finished summonin' demons for kicks by now," Bobby's growl was grainy over the phone line.
"Hey, it was purely fact-finding," Dean protested loudly. "I'd rather not get caught with my pants down, thanks."
"Leave your pants out of it," Bobby replied. "Cause it ain't just you boys."
There was a ringing silence.
"What do you mean?" Sam asked. He already had a bad feeling he knew what Bobby was going to tell them.
"I mean, as soon as Dean left for Indiana, I tried to summon Crowley to get my soul back. Short story is, he never showed. Even though I did the summoning spell exactly the way I shoulda. I figured he was tryin' to welch, so I went to see if I could beat it outta the nearest crossroads demon. No go."
"Nope. And I ain't the only one. Spoke to Rufus and after he called me every name in the book, he tried it himself. It didn't take."
"Damn it," Sam murmured. "Why didn't you say anything before?"
"I figured you both had enough on your plate. Never figured you'd be stupid enough to go lookin' for demons right off the bat. I thought you'd be sick of their kind by now."
"More and more every day," Sam sighed. "So you're saying Hell's shut down?"
"Not exactly. Tamara exorcised some demons from a movie theater in Wisconsin yesterday, and I spoke to Garth this morning. String of Hellhound attacks up in Vermont, which means someone's still dealin’ in souls."
"So there are still demons around, we just can't summon them. Right when we need to."
"Just us, or all hunters?"
"I'm still waiting on some other contacts to let me know – it'll take a while, considering most aren't stupid enough to make a deal for themselves on a good day, let alone risk their soul just for some information on a bad one. But I get the feelin' it's just the people who don't spit on the name of Winchester."
Sam groaned again. "This just keeps getting weirder and weirder."
"We should go the psychic route," Dean spoke up. "We can't find out what we need to from the usual channels, might as well try that." He raised his voice so that Bobby could hear him on the other end. "Any psychics between Albert Lea and Sioux Falls?"
"None that I know of who'd help you. Word travelled fast about what happened to Pamela. Your best bet's probably Missouri Moseley out in Lawrence."
Sam and Dean frowned at each other. They weren't exactly keen on returning to Lawrence so soon after the Apocalypse That Wasn't. In fact, Sam was pretty sure that if he never again went to Lawrence it would be much too soon.
"Thanks Bobby, we'll keep that in mind," Sam said, deciding he and Dean needed to figure out the next step of the game plan first. "We should get to your place within the next three hours. Less if Dean keeps driving like Bo Duke."
"Please, the General Lee's got nothin' on my baby," Dean scoffed automatically, although Sam could hear the strained note in his brother's voice.
Stale jokes aside, their situation was yielding more questions by the hour, and even Sam couldn't blame Dean for his preoccupation with Castiel's disappearance. He was feeling his own brand of worry about their friend.
He gazed out the window, wondering idly if he and Dean would ever get to experience a normal day again. At this point, he wasn't even feeling picky – obviously 'apple pie' wasn't in the cards for either of them, but he had long since started yearning for the days of easy hunting when the most troubling choice he and Dean had to make was whether to take out a coven of witches or clean out a vampire infestation.
'We've survived the Apocalypse and we still don't get to take a breather,' Sam mused in angry resignation as they stopped at a rest stop to fill the tank.
The sun was just starting to go down when they pulled back on the road, Lisa's rations a distant memory.
It was another thing that Sam regretted. His return to Dean meant that his brother was once again denied a chance at normal. Standing outside the Braeden's home the night he had mysteriously showed up, Sam had struggled for a full ten minutes about whether or not he should even reveal his presence to Dean. Perhaps if his brother hadn't been about to collapse, he might have simply turned around and walked away. Maybe Dean wouldn't be as worked up as he was now.
'Or not,' Sam thought after a pause. Dean was as curious about Sam's return as he Sam was, but he was also just as intent on finding out what had happened to Castiel. Eventually Dean would have realized the angel wasn't around, and maybe that would have propelled him back to hunting.
Sam wasn't sure if Dean had admitted to himself just how much the angel meant to him. Castiel had been there for Dean when Sam hadn't – whether by choice or not. As much as Sam hated to entertain the thought, Dean had obviously transferred some of his protectiveness and affection for Sam to Castiel. In fact, Sam was pretty sure that Dean's priorities these days proceeded along the lines of 'Sam – Bobby – Castiel – Impala – Sex – Pie'.
Which made the situation that much worse if Castiel had actually sacrificed himself for Sam. Not only would Dean be depressed at losing one more thing he had grudgingly come to care about, Sam would have yet another thing to feel guilty over. Granted, nearly being responsible for ending the world was still high on the list of things Sam had to atone for, but being the reason for his brother's misery ran a close second.
"We should go to Lawrence, I think."
Sam glanced up when Dean's voice broke through his thoughts. It took a moment for him to catch up with where their last conversation had left off before he answered, "What about Bobby? We said we'd stop in there first."
"It's not like he's going to ground us for not showing up when we said we would," Dean evaded. "And he already said he's got no idea what's going on. We're saving time this way."
"I don't know…"
"Come on, Sam, first Cas isn't answering and now demons aren't even jumping at the chance to monologue at us?"
"I get that. But this is all way too specific to be small potatoes. This is obviously something big, and we should treat it like that," Sam reasoned. "I mean, it's almost like someone changed the laws of the universe on us when they brought me up."
Dean considered that thoughtfully, and then suggested, "Point. We already knew some serious mojo happened. You think you coming back was just a side effect of something bigger?"
"More than that, I think we're in some serious trouble. It's like we've been cut off from Hell – which, you know, normally I might think is a good thing –"
"Except it's really not," a voice piped up from the backseat.
Dean swore loudly and nearly swerved off of the road in surprise, and Sam whirled around, switchblade already open and in hand.
A familiar, shapely brunette in her mid-twenties sat in the back of the Impala, mouth twisted into a smirk and once-blue eyes flashing a bloody red. She waved cheekily.
"Bela!" Sam gaped, reaching for the knife under his seat.
"In the flesh – so to speak," she purred as Dean got himself and the car under control and flipped her hair. "This meat actually belongs to a rather distant cousin. My body was sadly shredded when you boys left me to die, but she had such a remarkable resemblance to me…"
Her smile widened.
"You're a…you're a demon," Sam murmured, craning around to stare at the woman who had caused so many headaches in the year after Dean made his deal.
"Very observant, Sam – did your stay in the Pit rattle your brains so much that you can only state the obvious now?"
"What the hell are you doing here?" Dean demanded.
Bela ran a finger along the upholstery. "Funny how you were so keen to ward your girlfriend's home with hex bags, but not your car."
"Goddamn it, I'm going to draw a devil's trap on the backseat if you sons of bitches keep popping in."
"Don't be dramatic, darling, we all know you'd never defile your beloved fossil," Bela retorted. "Besides, I was under the impression you've been trying to get our attention."
"'Our'?" Sam asked. "You rockin' the royal 'we' now?"
"Very funny, but no; at the moment I just happen to be the right hand of upper management. You should be honored."
"Screw honor," Dean snapped. "Do you know anything about Cas?"
"Who?" Bela blinked, sounding oblivious. The boys knew her too well to trust only that.
"A friend of ours. An angel," Sam said through gritted teeth. "Pretty sure he had something to do with me being topside."
"Well, I don't know about any angels in Hell other than the two down in the Cage," Bela shrugged. "I'm sure if your friend were down there, all of Hell would be lining up to take pot-shots."
"Shut up!" Dean snarled.
"Honestly, Dean? After all the fun times we had?" she purred. "Up here…down there…you'd think you'd be the slightest bit happy to see me."
Sam gaped at Dean in surprised, but his brother ignored him. "So help me, bitch, if you don't get out of here, I will end you."
"Oh, relax, I was teasing," she pouted. "Besides, as I said, I was sent here for business, not pleasure."
"What do you mean, 'sent'?" Sam asked, trying to reorient the direction of the conversation.
"A mutual friend of ours is in the middle of securing a very lucrative real estate deal," she pronounced, examining her nails. "Crowley's got quite a following, and seeing as how he still holds the top job in the Crossroads department, his word is pretty much law down under. He's put the order out that no one's allowed to deal with you boys."
"Why would he do that?"
"If he had a better side, I'd assume it was a kind of gratitude thing."
"Which it's not."
"Not likely. I figure he's got an agenda of some sort, but it's above my pay grade to ask about it."
"Bullshit. You always know every angle of something before you get in on it."
"Maybe before I spent over two hundred years choking down my own intestines," Bela replied coolly. Sam winced, and she went on, "My boss may have decided you boys are to be left alone, but there's still a decent amount of demons still gunning for you." Her coy smile returned. "You see, they haven't quite gotten over the massive fiasco that was Lucifer's not-quite debut. You may want to lay low for the foreseeable future."
"Great," Sam scowled.
Bela's smirk widened. "Oh, I can just imagine all the things they'll do to you when they find out you're up here." She crossed a leg and tilted her head at Sam. "How did you manage that, anyhow?"
Sam remained quiet, glaring at her furiously.
"Oh, that's precious. You have no idea," Bela trilled. "Too bad. I know demons who would sell their non-existent souls to know how to get in and out of the Cage. And considering you boys and your absolute stupidity when it comes to family, I would have thought you'd at least have shared the secret with your latchkey brother."
Both Sam and Dean froze.
"You mean…Adam's still down there?" Sam whispered, unable to keep the emotion out of his voice.
"Did you think he wasn't?" Bela smirked. "Of course he's still there. Funny how whatever got you out of the Cage thought he was so unimportant in the big scheme of things." Her eyes flashed red in mirth. "He has such a distinct voice, you know? And he keeps calling out to you, Dean. Seems absolutely positive that you can save him."
"Shoot her, Sam," Dean growled furiously, reaching for his own concealed gun even as he said it.
"Actually, you might want to brace yourself," Bela remarked conversationally.
Before Sam could make a move, there was a sudden explosion of sound and the world abruptly shifted.
Something careened into the side of the Impala in a way that was depressingly familiar. Sam had the impression of a grill and headlights as the passenger side of the car crushed inward. Dean was yelling, and the world became a swirl of color as the Impala flipped off of the road.