The Winchesters and Cas get caught in a less than ideal situation, as the culprit of their case turns out to be something Sam is infinitely familiar with.
"I swear, if you even think the word 'Midol' I will end you."
Friday 4 June 2010
The Tobin family lived in a picturesque bungalow just outside the city. Other than the fact that it had been retrofitted with ramps and a slightly wider driveway than the others in the neighborhood, it looked like every other house.
Dean yawned as he waited for Nicki's mother to finally leave the building. He had been watching the place since that morning when Nicki's father drove her to work. He hadn't returned, which Dean decided meant he was the breadwinner in the family while the wife stayed at home. In fact, she hadn't shown any signs of actually leaving until Dean got tired of waiting and placed a bogus call to the house pretending to be the local radio DJ giving away free gas gift cards.
The woman still took forever to leave the place, though.
If Mrs. Tobin had been home to vouch for her daughter's whereabouts, it was no wonder the police had crossed her off the suspect list. Even Ryder might not have done more than a cursory check of the wheelchair bound, always watched young woman.
According to the police database that Sam had hacked into the day before, the investigating officers had come to the Tobin home just after Caitlin Robinson's murder. It was protocol to check in with people who had been on bad terms with the victim, Dean knew. According to Richard and Linda Tobin, though, their daughter had been asleep in her bed at the time of the murder, and given the tricked out van Dean had seen in the driveway, there wasn't really any other way Nicki could have left the house to rip apart her former best friend.
'Or any of the other vics,' he mused.
If Ryder's notes on the subject were to be believed – and they were pretty extensive and written in such minute script that Dean figured the guy must have been a teacher or a secretary before he fell into the life – the other hunter had done some surveillance on her home and looked around the place, but found nothing.
"It doesn't hurt to be thorough, though," Sam had said that morning over breakfast. Sitting beside Dean, Cas was eating his first plate of pancakes with a look of such bemused enjoyment that Dean almost didn't hear his brother continue, "That way when we finally leave, we can at least know we tried everything."
Dean had nodded wordlessly. He knew Sam still wasn't too happy about the detour they had made and the apparent lack of direction the case was taking. Still, if it somehow led them to a witch, it would be worth it.
Though what they'd do when they did finally find the witch, Dean still wasn't exactly clear on. Demons he could deal with, no problem; demons had a single-minded commitment to a master plan of evil and suffering, which made them easy to figure out. Witches on the other hand, never had really clear motives. There were the ones that loved their bit of chaos, but the run-of-the-mill witch was usually just in it for their own personal gain. It was usually hard to find those ones because they were so good at keeping under the radar.
'Still hate witches,' Dean thought with a frown, glancing back at the house. The expression turned to a triumphant smirk as Mrs. Tobin headed for her sedan and climbed in. He doubted he would need much time to go through the house, especially considering he was alone.
Initially he had argued with Sam that it was important that Cas come along with him to learn how to properly break and enter a house, but as he got out of the car, he was actually a little relieved that he was doing this on his own. He was all for teaching Cas the ropes – it was actually a hell of a lot of fun schooling the guy in how to hunt evil as a mortal instead of a bad-ass angel of the Lord, but considering this job was already looking like a lost cause, the sooner he got in and out of the house, the better.
Besides, there was a better chance of Cas being of use when they checked out the bookstore. From what Sam had said, there were quite a few titles in other languages, and if they were dealing with a witch and she was working from a grimoire, it wasn't likely going to be in English; while Sam's ancient language skills were better than Dean's, Cas had probably forgotten more languages than humans knew existed.
'Next time,' Dean thought jovially as he heaved himself over the fence in the yard and headed for the backdoor entrance. There was a windowed door with muslin curtains and a key lock, which he smirked at and brought his tools out. 'Gonna have to teach him to do this, too. It's like Sammy all over again.'
It really did feel like it, sometimes; being around Cas so much felt a little like being back on the road with Dad and having to teach Sam the ropes. The only difference was, the constantly hovering sense of duty wasn't as present with Cas as it was and always would be with Sam. That wasn't to say that he resented Sam, or that he didn't care about Cas. If anything, the two weeks when he thought the angel was dead had proven the opposite. But where his relationship with Sam was born of something desperate and ingrained, his relationship with Cas was…complicated.
Sam had once joked to him that Dean was so socially retarded that he'd had to go to Hell before he made his first friend. Dean had slugged him and called him a bitch, instead of saying that 'friend' was somehow an insufficient explanation for having a guy pull you out of Hell.
As was usual when his feelings wandered into that particular territory, Dean forcibly shook them off and thought about something else. Like the alarm that he managed to disarm in about twenty-five seconds.
'Why people still fork over so much money on these things is a mystery,' he thought, rolling his eyes disdainfully at the number pad. 'A dog would have been cheaper and more useful.'
A first glance of the main floor of the Tobin household showed a home as low-key and non-threatening as any other suburban house he had ever been in. As with the exterior, the stairs in the home had been replaced with ramps. The hardwood floors were covered in plush rugs, and the furniture buried under more throw pillows than anyone could ever need. The place smelled like potpourri and home cooking, and was brightly lit by windows in every room. Curios lined the window ledges and fireplaces, and family portraits and pictures covered the walls. In the background, he could hear Josh Groban playing over a tinny sound system someone had forgotten to turn off.
'These people are clearly evil,' he told himself sarcastically.
Wandering through the linoleum floored kitchen, with its polished cupboards and stainless steel appliances, he had to duck a few hanging plants and herbs. These he checked through quickly for anything with magical properties, but the only thing that would have been of use in a spell was the white sage and that he knew was for purification. It was highly unlikely that it would be used to conjure evil spirits or harm people.
He studied a few photos on the living room coffee table, noticing that most of the oldest pictures showed a pale, overweight young girl with braces and glasses, while the more recent ones showed a slim, blond athlete. Some of them looked like they had been cropped from the side, clearly cutting one or two people out of the photograph.
'Probably Caitlin and Joe,' he figured.
Once he got upstairs, it was easy to suss out which room belonged to Nicki. Even though it didn't look very different from the décor of the rest of the house, it had a lived in quality that was conspicuously absent of any place the Winchesters had ever resided. The room was painted off-white and smelled of the same potpourri smell. The bed and desk were kept neat, and there wasn't any clutter on the floor. Stained glass ornaments were hung in the windows, and there was a dream catcher over her bed; kitschy ornamental bottles of perfume lined the bureau beneath a round mirror. In the corner, looking like it hadn't been touched in ages, was a rolled up yoga mat and block.
Dean raised his eyes at the Precious Moments crucifix over the doorway, and then set to work, methodically going through every corner of the room. He mentally catalogued everything's proper place in order to avoid leaving a trace of himself.
After a half hour of searching, he had yet to find anything to suggest she was more than a bookworm with an obsessive collection of Self-Help books.
Dean crouched in front of the desk by the window and booted up her laptop. Nicki Tobin didn't seem to have anything to hide, if the lack of password on her personal computer was any indication.
Her desktop was lined with colorful, weirdly named icons, and when his eyes lingered on one called WitchingHour he couldn't help but check it out. It turned out it was one of those online games that charged money just to play. Apparently Nicki hadn't been satisfied with it either, because she hadn't accessed it in about a year.
'Another dead end,' he decided, clicking through her browser and her favorites. It seemed she was part of several forums that discussed contemporary literature ranging from several Russian titles whose names he couldn't pronounce to freakin' Harry Potter.
'Guess when you lose your mobility, your imagination's the best way to escape,' he thought, opening up some of her chat logs. Not that he would know, personally. He was a much more visually stimulated guy himself, but he remembered how Sam had been growing up: so desperate to pretend their constantly-on-the-go-lifestyle was just a dream.
As he scanned through some of her chat history, most of which concerned online book clubs and what looked to be support groups for people permanently injured in accidents, Dean decided that Ryder and the police must have been right.
He flipped open his cellphone and pressed the speed dial. As it rang, he lazily read through some of the emails from Nicki's primary contact, a QueenBeeStark according to her username.
"Find anything?" Sam asked when he picked up.
"No sign of anything to do with witches on this end," Dean replied. "No suspicious herbs, no bodily fluids – and if she's summoning the spirit, there's no bones around here for her to do it. I think she's clean."
"Or maybe she's just good at hiding stuff."
Sam sounded suspicious, and Dean raised an eyebrow; usually he was the one who thought the worst of people, not Sam. "Meaning?"
"Meaning Cas and I just called back a few of the witnesses to see if Nicki knew any of them."
"And she didn't – personally, anyway. But one of the victim's sister's said she bought her wedding gift at Pyewacket's."
"That's Nicki's store, right?"
"Exactly. It turns out that all of those other weddings, the bride and groom registered for gifts at Pyewacket's."
"So every bride who died was one who was registered at the store," Dean mused. "Other than the first vic, she had no real, personal connection to the other guests, though. What, she just up and decided to ruin their lives on a lark?" Dean stood up and shook the kinks from his knees, closing down the computer. "I dunno, Sam, that's kind of a big leap to make, even for us."
"Well, we're across the street from the bookstore now, so we'll find out," Sam said. "You gonna meet us back here or back at the motel?"
"Motel, I guess," Dean said, getting up. He rummaged absently through the knick-knacks on Nicki's bureau. "How's Cas doing?"
"Aw, is Mommy worried about her little angel?" Sam cooed over the line, in such a loud and obvious way that Dean knew Cas was probably not within earshot. Sam may not have had a problem mocking Dean, but he still hadn't entered the comfort zone where he was okay with teasing Cas.
"More worried about your influence on him," Dean retorted. He fiddled with a small, ornamental bottle on the dresser. "You've already got him eating like a bird, next thing you know you'll be trying to get him to grow his hair out like some kind of freak."
"You're just jealous I got the good genes."
"If you were the son of Andre the Giant, I'd agree with you," Dean retorted. "Seriously, though, keep an eye on him. Just because he put me on my ass yesterday doesn't mean he's ready for the big leagues."
He could practically hear Sam's eyes rolling. "Weren't you the one who was telling me he's not a three-year old?"
"No, but he is a millennia-old angel whose way of dealing with things didn't really boil down to fistfights and a .45. I'd kind of like him to survive long enough for us to get his wings back in a way that doesn't put you back in the Cage," Dean grumbled. "Or did you forget we could kind of use someone on our side up top?"
"Of course not," Sam sighed, "Still, Cas was pretty clear on not wanting us to do that."
"No, he was clear on not wanting to invalidate the deal – which I'm on board with," Dean replied. "We're going to find a way to get him back his wings. He shouldn't be stuck down here because he was unlucky enough to take a liking to us."
Dean paused, the bottle in his hands. "Huh?"
"Oh, come on, Dean, you're really sticking to the story that he gave up his grace because me and him are friends?" Sam pointed out. "We both know that's not true."
"Are we seriously having this conversation now? Because I gotta say, your timing s – shit!" Dean cursed loudly as the bottle, which he had put down rather harshly onto the dresser, suddenly cracked into two chunks.
"What?" Sam demanded over the line as Dean automatically reached for some nearby Kleenex to mop up the liquid he had spilled.
"I just knocked over…" he trailed off, pausing as he waited to inhale a waft of cloying perfume that most women liked to douse themselves in. Instead, he stared down at the dark stain spreading over the wood and cloth of the bureau. The shiny, dark red tint was more than familiar to him, as was the sudden metallic smell in the air. "Hey Sammy…you might want to wait for me to get there."
"I think there might be more to this Nicki chick than I thought," Dean said, his tone neutral. "Unless every successful twenty-something woman likes to keep bottles of blood in her bedroom –"
The phone was out of his hands and he was across the room before his mind caught up with him. Dean groaned as his back connected with a picture laden wall.
Swearing as he tried to get his breath back, Dean glanced up to see what had thrown him.
The young woman standing above him was blond and athletic looking, staring down at Dean with an expression of anger. From the pictures around the room, there was only one guess as to who she was.
"You're kinda spry for a cripple," he pointed out, struggling to his feet.
Her eyes blazed, and before he could react, she launched herself at him.
"Dean?" There was a commotion on the other line and Sam pressed the phone to his ear with more force. The sound of a dial tone blared in Sam's ear and he stared at it for several seconds in disbelief. "This is becoming a thing, isn't it?"
"What is becoming a thing?" Castiel asked, coming up behind him. He was dressed in some of Dean's casual clothing and carrying a newspaper that he had likely not even been reading; Sam had figured it was time to give the guy lessons in observing people without being creepy and stalkerish. Watching the bookstore seemed to have been a good job to start with.
"Is she still in there?" Sam demanded, already starting toward the bookstore.
"I was just coming to tell you she placed a sign on the door suggesting that she will return in fifteen minutes," Castiel reported. "Yet, I have been watching the building since the woman was dropped off this morning and she never left."
"Is there a back entrance she could have gone through?"
Castiel looked confused. "You asked me to watch the front."
Sam held back an aggravated sigh, "Come on, let's check it out. Even if she didn't have a back entrance, she probably couldn't get very far."
They hurried around the building, which housed several other businesses, and as soon as Sam was sure there was no one around to see them, entered the alleyway behind Pyewacket's. As it turned out, there was a backdoor, and after making sure there were no cameras to watch them, Sam quickly got to work on jimmying it open.
"Does it always take so long?" Castiel wanted to know, eying Sam's fingers at work.
"Mere mortals don't have the power to open doors with their mind, Cas," Sam replied, tongue between his teeth. "Don't sweat it, when we get a minute we'll teach you how to do this too." He grunted in triumph as the door finally clicked open, and straightened up, noticing the ex-angel was frowning thoughtfully. "What's up?"
"There is something I should tell you that I never got a chance to," Castiel told him, still staring at the door and sounding unsure.
Sam made a face as he reached into his jacket for the spare gun. "This really the time?"
"Given my mortality and the probability of getting killed on any given hunt, it would be foolish not to take advantage of every moment," Castiel answered flatly. "And it had not occurred to me to tell you this while we were preoccupied with the Apocalypse."
"– Cas –"
"When I was under Heaven's orders, I was the one who released you from Bobby's panic room," the former angel ploughed ahead. "For that, I am truly sorry."
Sam was frozen for a moment, staring blankly at the door which had prompted the confession, and then over at Castiel who was eyeing him uncertainly. A sharp, angry realization that his role in the Apocalypse – which he had always just blamed on the faceless denizens of Heaven – could be partially attributed to the one angel they had come to trust, flared up within him. His hand briefly tensed around the handle of the Beretta he was about to hand to Castiel, but at the naked sincerity in the angel's face, he relaxed.
It wasn't Castiel's fault that he'd been manipulated by Heaven, and regardless of how crappy things had gone done after, his sin still wasn't quite as bad as willingly letting a demon call the shots. Angels were supposed to be the good guys, but Sam had followed Ruby even knowing she was a demon and that it was in her nature to lie.
"Dude, we're going to have to work on your timing," he sighed, methodically pressing the spare gun into Castiel's hands. "Like, not saying stuff like that when someone's got a gun in their hand."
"Should I have waited until your hands were unoccupied?" Castiel asked, taking the firearm carefully.
"Uh, we'll talk about it later," Sam said, and gestured to the gun. "You remember what Dean taught you about the safety?" Castiel nodded, his expression taking on the same business-like quality that Sam was used to seeing when the former angel had gotten ready to kick some ass. He clicked and unclicked the mechanism to prove he could. "Okay, cool. That one's filled with rocksalt rounds, mine's actually loaded, just in case. Stay behind me for now."
'And don't shoot me, that stuff hurts,' he added silently as they crept in through the door and into the back of the store.
The place was completely silent, devoid even of the easy listening music Sam had noticed when he was in here the day before. He and Castiel made their way slowly through the cramped passage of the store and out into the stacks, both checking through the shelves to make sure no one was about to jump out at them. Titles in different languages caught Sam's eye; the ones in languages he knew seemed to be nothing more threatening than classical literature. Off Castiel's expression, it seemed he hadn't noticed anything amiss either.
They did a cursory check of the front desk and front of store area, but couldn't find anyone. It wasn't until they made their way to the office off to the side of the store that they made a discovery. The door to the office was partially closed, but as they came closer, Sam caught sight of her.
He slowly opened the door. "Nicki?"
When there was no response, he threw the door open and marched into the room, taking in her still form and the way her head lolled forward. He could see a line of red trickling down the corner of her mouth.
'It wasn't her?' he thought as he crouched down in front of her, checking for a pulse with one hand and trying to see if she had any other wounds with another.
Castiel lingered in the doorway. "Is she alright?"
"Yeah, I think she's still alive, but –" Sam's voice caught in his throat, his eyes falling on the track of blood running down her chin. It dripped onto a small ornamental vial that was clasped in her hands. A familiar scent filled his nostrils, and for a moment Sam felt something shudder through him. He could smell metal, iron and sulfur, and his mind transported him back to a time when he had felt powerful, when the strength of Hell had coursed through his veins –
Sam threw himself away from the unconscious woman, the action as violent as his panic.
"Sam?" Castiel asked, taking a step forward and lowering his gun.
"It's demon blood," Sam choked, forcing himself to breathe through his mouth even though it didn't help quell the nostalgic alluring quality of the substance. If anything, it made it worse, and so he had to stop. He hadn't craved the stuff since before the Apocalypse, but the smell was intoxicating. "But why would she have – ?"
His mind suddenly began to whir to life, a crazy idea blossoming. He knew better than anyone how demon blood amplified natural strengths and abilities. What if she had gotten her hands on the stuff in an attempt to cure her legs? It would have taken more than a few draughts to make any significant change, especially to someone who wasn't already mentally gifted. But what if while she was drinking the stuff to make herself stronger, she somehow managed to find a psychic solution to her problem?
And right on the tail of that thought was the question of where a handicapped bookstore owner had managed to procure the stuff…
He stared at her quiet face, remembering that Nicki had been asleep during the first homicide – possibly during every homicide.
Panic seized him and he started for the door. "Cas, we have to get out of here – Dean's in trouble – !"
His words cut off as he watched the air between himself and Castiel waver, before swirling into the upright and very angry looking form of Nicki Tobin.
"Jane," she said, her voice the breathy, quavering echo that Sam always associated with spirits. Before he could respond, she moved in the same lighting quick, flickering motion that ghosts did and shoved her hand hard against Castiel's chest, sending him clear out of the room. In another blink, she was in front of Sam, leaning down at him with eyes that shone preternaturally. "Trespassing is illegal."
The next thing he knew, Sam was sent flying through the open doorway as well.
Dean was really glad that the house was filled with ramps, because if this thing had decided to toss him down a flight of stairs, he probably would have a few broken ribs. As it was, he was pretty sure he was going to have some spectacular bruising if he lived through this encounter.
The apparition or spirit was coming for him again, flicking in and out of existence in the same spastic way that ghosts did. Her every movement, even when she reached for him, was like the jerky, disconnected movement of a flipbook animation, only a hell of a lot less fun.
'I thought this chick was alive,' he thought as he desperately picked himself up from the ruins of an end table the Nicki apparition had decided to chuck him at. Considering he had tried to grab hold of her a few times while she was kicking his ass, and failed, that story was obviously not completely true.
For the moment he couldn't see her, but that rarely meant anything when dealing with ghosts.
He hauled his gun out of its holster, glad that he had had the foresight to load it with rock salt that morning even if they had been looking for a witch and not a ghost. He hated cases where they never figured out what they were hunting until it was too late – and even now, he still had no idea what the hell Nicki was. Thinking back to the fact that she'd committed her killings within protection of sanctified ground, she was obviously not the run of the mill spirit.
Still, it was best to try every venue while he tried to come up with a plan.
When she appeared before him again, he noticed that she looked a little less solid, and there was an expression of concentration on her face, which was odd – ghosts usually didn't express much beside rage, if they expressed anything at all.
She reached for his throat, and he brought up the gun, emptying a few rounds into her spectral face. There was a clatter of glass as several hanging pictures were hit, falling to the ground.
She jerked back, although whether it was from surprise or pain, he wasn't sure. What was clear, he realized with a sinking feeling, was that the rock salt was having about the same effect as it had had against that Tulpa he and Sam had fought in Texas.
He swore inwardly as she looked back at him, her expression dark. "That was my favorite picture."
And then she was in his face again, hauling him up by the collar as though he weighed nothing. Her eyes were shining with the same otherworldly gleam as he had seen in ghosts, but they seemed more focused than the average spirit. He also noticed that she lacked quite a few of the attributes that ghosts tended to mimic, like the decaying, rotting smell of dust and cold.
'Not a ghost, something else – some kind of deva? No, she's pretty damn visible – might say shtriga, they don't necessarily go after kids,' he thought urgently. The idea sparked something in his memory, and he almost remembered it before she gave an angry snarl and threw him once again.
He slid to a halt in the kitchen, his face skidding painfully against the floor before his head knocked into the bottom of the stove.
With the amount of times he'd been hit on his head, Dean wondered why he hadn't fallen into some kind of a coma yet.
There had been that girl in New York. She had been manifesting as a spirit, but she hadn't actually been dead yet. She had been in a persistent, vegetative coma but her frustration had caused her to lash out, causing deaths all over her small town. In her case, she had been psychically influencing people around her to commit terrible, violent acts, but who said this type of thing manifested the same way all over?
'Maybe this Nicki chick is doing the same thing,' he thought, staggering to his feet and looking around for a sign of her. She had disappeared again. 'Instead of lashing out psychically, though, she's projected herself with her mind to escape her chair.'
It made more sense than anything else he had come up with.
"You're all the same," a voice said quietly in his ear, and then he was sent crashing into the island in the kitchen. "What is it about girls like you? You have no respect for other people's belongings?"
Dean barely had time to recover before a set of steak knives came flying at him, and he rolled back over onto the floor to avoid them.
'Of course, the theory doesn't explain how she did it or why she's such a bitch,' he thought grimly, crawling away on his hands and knees. He ducked out of the way as the kitchen table flung itself across the room at him, followed by several wooden chairs.
He had no idea how long he could keep up outrunning Nicki. Considering she wasn't a real spirit, none of the usual defences worked against her, and he had no idea when she was going to get tired. There was only one way he could think of getting rid of her, and it wasn't pleasant, nor was it anything he could do where he was.
'Gotta tell Sam,' Dean thought desperately, casting his eyes about for a phone; his was still in pieces up in Nicki's room.
He knew his brother wasn't going to like this – exorcising something and killing someone still alive were two very different things – but if they didn't stop Nicki, more people were going to die. Cas was with him, though, and he knew the former angel was the more practical minded of the two. All that time as an angel meant Cas wouldn't hesitate to carry out what needed to be done –
Dean yelled in pain as the projection of Nicki was in front of him again and he felt her rake nails down his front, tearing through his shirt and into his flesh.
Sam shook off a bout of dizziness caused by several rather large tomes falling on his head, and automatically cast his eyes about for both Nicki and Castiel. The former was nowhere to be seen, but the ex-angel was crumpled several feet away across a fallen bookshelf, his left arm wrenched into a painful looking position and his eyes staring up at the ceiling in a dazed manner.
As Sam struggled to his feet, the projection of Nicki shimmered back into view. She was less distinct than before, but still too threatening for comfort. He briefly glanced back at the office where her body remained slumped, wondering if he could maybe wake her up somehow and if that would stop the attack. It wasn't the best plan, but he couldn't think of anything else off the top of his head. If all else failed, he could shoot her, he supposed, but his gun had fallen out of his hands somewhere…
"I've never killed a man before," Nicki's echoing voice remarked quietly as she advanced on Castiel. "Do they make the same noises, I wonder?"
Sam had the sudden, sharp thought that Dean would never forgive him if he let Castiel die, and for a moment he abandoned any half-formed thoughts of waking Nicki in favor of at least distracting her.
"Nicki! Stop!" he called out, taking a step forward. "Why are you doing this?"
The projection of Nicki halted, and then turned around to face Sam in the same flickering manner that characterized all of her movements. It was almost like she was constantly being hit by a strobe light. She eyed him coolly, cocking her head to one side and then before he could react, she was up close, her nose inches away from his.
"You wouldn't understand," she whispered quietly, eyes roving over him. "You've probably never felt powerless in your life…travelling around whenever you want, looking the way you do…you never had to work for anything, did you?"
Sam held his tongue, knowing that chatting with an angry spirit about how he had spent most of his life feeling powerless against other people's plans for him wasn't going to mean anything to her.
"I spent my whole life being mocked and picked on for not looking right, for not being the popular, cheerful one – everyone wanted to know why I couldn't be more like my best friend. Caitlin, the perfect daughter – a freakin' veterinarian," she hissed at him, wrath dripping from every word. Her form wavered again in anger. "So I changed. I did everything I could to become what people wanted me to be – pretty, sporty, successful, social – and it worked. I got everything I wanted. I got Joe." Her expression turned pained. "Too bad he didn't want me either." The lights in the store sputtered with the weight of her fury. "Even after that, I was trapped. Trapped in that damned chair, trapped with my parents, forever."
"But there are other ways," Sam reasoned gently. "Demon blood's not the answer."
She seemed surprised and peered at him searchingly. The mad gleam in her eyes faded somewhat. "You knew what it was. You're not just someone on vacation, are you, Jane?" Before he could respond, her eyes hardened again and he was pinned back against the wall behind the cash register. "Another liar."
"I can offer you truth."
Sam's eyes flitted over to where Castiel had managed to get up. He was watching Nicki's spirit with a carefully blank expression. She too eyed him speculatively.
"Every drop of demon blood that you drink consigns your soul farther into Hell," Castiel told her, eyes intent on her. "Even before you took innocent lives, partaking of that sin condemned you. But there remains hope."
Sam felt the power holding him to the wall ease a little, as Nicki's attention turned to Castiel.
"You have not fallen into damnation as far as some," Castiel continued. "If you stop now – if you ask forgiveness, God will listen."
Sam winced, as on the word 'forgiveness', Nicki's hold on him tightened painfully.
"'Forgiveness'?" she repeated, voice ringing cold in the empty store. "I'm not the one that needs forgiveness! They should all have been asking me – begging me for it, after ruining my life!" She waved a hand and several other stacks of books fell on top of Castiel.
"You're the one drinking demon blood," Sam pointed out, trying to pull himself away from the wall. "That's your choice."
Her expression changed from mad rage to uncertainty for a moment. "She said it would help. She said I could use it to get out of the chair again."
"Who?" Sam prompted. "Who told you about all of that?"
But Nicki wasn't listening any longer, and Sam made the difficult realization that the woman they were dealing with was no longer completely sane. Whether she had been before the accident or before she took the demon blood was one thing, but whatever sanity she had had before had been eradicated by the sinister drug.
'Why do you think so many flamed out already? They weren't strong enough,' a chilling voice murmured in his mind, and he could practically hear Azazel's voice in his head, see his yellow eyes gleam with terrible mirth.
'We aren't going to be able to save her,' Sam realized.
"They don't deserve to be happy," Nicki was murmuring. "And I can make it right. Who's going to suspect poor little paraplegic Nicki asleep in her parents' house?" She smiled at Sam in an ominous way. "Don't you see?"
"Nicki, come on, it doesn't have to be this way," Sam pleaded with her.
"Yes it does," Nicki told him, a look of concentration on her face. "But don't worry, I won't make it too messy. I don't want to have to clean blood off my floors. You and that bitch in my house will be able to have closed caskets at your funeral, okay?"
'Dean,' Sam thought blankly, realizing with dismay that Nicki wasn't just projecting herself to him and Castiel, but that she was also projecting herself to Dean halfway across the town. The demon blood hadn't just amplified her craziness, and he could only wonder with mounting horror just how much she had been chugging over the past few months to get strong enough to do that.
She was wrapping her fingers around his throat, and he could already feel the pressure cutting off his airway –
For a moment, they were both frozen in surprise.
Sam looked over her translucent shoulder and saw Castiel, Sam's gun in his raised functioning hand, glaring over at them.
Nicki stared at him for a moment, before saying quietly, "You're really stupid, you know? Guns don't work on me."
"They work very well on your human body, though," Castiel told her stiffly.
Nicki's eyes went wide, and she whipped her head around, staring into the open office in horror. Sam wrenched his own gaze toward the door, and saw with startling clarity that Castiel's shot had indeed hit Nicki – there was an entry wound on the side of her head and bloods-spatter all across the walls of the office.
"I would say you have a few seconds left before death finally sets in," Castiel continued quietly. "Now would be the time to ask God's forgiveness."
Nicki let out a shriek of rage and threw herself at Castiel, releasing Sam as the last of her thrall over him broke. He saw the former angel go down hard and Nicki loom over him, laying into him with fists and clawed fingers.
Sam stared in shock, looking around in vain for the rock salt loaded gun Castiel had been carrying with him. If she was actually dead now, likely it could work as a repellant to get her away from Castiel until they –
He tensed up when he realized what they were going to have to do to ensure Nicki's spirit finally went to rest.
His hesitation lasted barely a second when Castiel let out a pained sounding cry, and Sam hurried into the office, digging through his pockets for the extra salt rounds he had brought with him. Ignoring the sight of the plum-sized exit wound in the side of Nicki's head, he let the open salt rounds spill over her body and dumped some of the lighter fluid on her before setting the flame.
There was a shriek from the other room as the fire surged to life, and he added as much flammable material that he could find in the office to the blaze as he could. He was once more thrown from the room as Nicki made a last desperate attempt to take him out, but a second later her spiritual body disintegrated into embers before him.
There was silence in the store.
Sure that she was gone now, Sam picked himself up and went looking for Castiel. The former angel was huddled in a heap, bloody scratches down the side of his face and soaking his shirt. "You okay, Cas?"
"I dislike pain," the ex-angel mumbled as he tried to get to his feet. Sam reached over to help him, earning a wordless yell as Castiel's left arm jostled. Sam winced at the sight of his shoulder, which had looked slightly dislocated before and now looked like it actually belonged to someone else.
"Yeah, well, no one does," he pointed out. "Let me fix that for you. You can't walk out of here looking like that."
"Get it over with, then," Castiel told him through gritted teeth.
"This isn't like using angel mojo to heal things, Cas, it's gonna hurt," Sam told him. "Even more so if you don't relax."
Castiel grumbled, but visibly loosened up somewhat.
Sam braced himself. "Okay, so I'm going to count to three and I'll pop it back into place, okay?"
Sam shoved the former angel's shoulder back into its socket, and Castiel let out a stream of Enochian that Sam could only imagine was some rather impressive cursing. He glared up at Sam. "You lied. You did not count to three."
"That's the point," Sam said, hauling Castiel to his feet. "You can't be tense, so I had to catch you off guard."
Castiel opened his mouth, possibly to argue, and then blinked. "That makes sense."
Sam snorted. "Yeah, well, stick with me, kid and you'll go places. For now, we just have to go find Dean."
Castiel's face clouded over instantly. "Yes."
They left the bookstore in a hurry, knowing that it wouldn't be long before someone came to investigate the sound of gunshots and the smell of burning flesh. Sam drove them as quickly across town as he could, a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach that wasn't just caused by his worry over Dean. He hated cases where he was forced to kill people who had become corrupted by circumstance. Now it was Nicki joining more names of once innocent people – like Madison and Jack – that he had been forced to take out.
"What happens to them?" Sam asked quietly as they pulled onto the street where Nicki lived – had lived. "They don't just…get sent to Hell, do they? Is she going to…?"
"The demon blood makes a strong case for her eventual resting place," Castiel told him earnestly. "Her sins were…not forgiven as yours were. And even if they had been, she would not enter Heaven immediately. She would need time for penitence. Purgatory, most likely."
Sam blinked, staring at Castiel. "That actually exists?"
Castiel cocked his head to one side. "Of course."
Sam forcibly stifled his curiosity, recognizing that now was not the most opportune time to exercise it. They parked a ways away from the Tobin house and went in the back way, which was still open.
Dean was lying on his back in the kitchen, covered in blood from deep wounds down his front.
"Dean!" Sam yelled, running forward with Castiel on his heels. Had they been too late?
Leaning over his brother, he saw Dean's eyes – one of which was swollen shut – spring open and he groaned. "I think I might have pulled a muscle."
Sam let out a harsh chuckle. "You think?"
"Job's done?" Dean asked as Sam leaned over him.
"Yeah, she's gone. Still a few things left unanswered, but I don't think any more brides are going to be ripped apart in this town," Sam replied as he helped his brother to his feet. He made a face at the ripped cloths and shiny red scrapes down over Dean's sternum and one breast. Nothing fatal, thankfully. "You good?"
"I am glad you are unharmed," Castiel said tightly, as Sam pulled away from his brother.
"Yeah, me too – it'd suck if I got schooled by a chick in a wheelchair," Dean replied with an easy grin at Sam, who rolled his eyes.
Castiel seemed to hesitate a moment, and then reached out tentatively, patting Dean's left shoulder in an awkward approximation of a friendly tap. His hand rested there a bit longer than was a standard comforting touch.
Sam raised an eyebrow, waiting expectantly for Dean to go rigid and tell Castiel off about personal space. To his surprise, Dean simply shook his head at Castiel as though to say, 'you're something else, you know that?'. For an even bigger wonder, Castiel seemed to get it because there was subtle quirk to his lips as he pulled back his hand.
There was a brief instance where they were both watching each other, and for the first time in years, Sam felt like an interloper in a private moment.
That moment passed just as quickly as it had come, leaving Sam to think he had imagined the entire thing, and Dean was looking up at him again.
"So, what was her deal, anyway?"
"You aren't going to believe it," Sam warned him. Off Dean's curious look, he added, "Demon blood."
Dean's eyes widened in surprise. "That's what that was? You sure?"
"Uh, yeah, pretty sure."
Surprise turned to worried suspicion. "Are you…?"
"I'm good – zero cravings," Sam assured him. "But I'm kind of confused as to how some girl in Decatur gets a hold of the stuff. She said someone gave it to her, but…well, there wasn't much time to ask her the particulars."
"She had already begun to exhibit signs of insanity," Castiel put in helpfully. "It was imperative to stop her."
"You think someone's handing out DB to desperate folks, then?" Dean asked. "Could be a demon."
"Maybe. Not like we have a clue."
Dean frowned. "You know, we might. I was up in her room before, and checked out her laptop. Some of the forums she was active on were really weird. Maybe she found someone selling the stuff online?"
Sam raised an eyebrow. "That's kind of farfetched."
In the distance, they could hear sirens. "It's our only lead right now."
"Okay, fine, go grab it and we'll split," Sam said. "I don't think we're going to be getting off scot-free with stuff anymore, either. Our blood is all over Nicki's store…" He eyed the trails of red across the floor. "And here. They might not know our identities, but the authorities are going to start compiling info on us again."
Instead of looking chagrined, though, Dean appeared hopeful. "Does that mean we can head back to New York?"
Sam knew what his brother was getting at, and sighed. "Dean –"
"No way, Sam, we said two weeks," Dean stated, voice firm. "If the universe is out to get me, it's gonna take its issues out on the ass that actually belongs to me. Besides, there's no point in keeping the boobs if they're about to lose their effectiveness anyway."
Sam watched his brother practically bound up the stairs despite his injuries, sure that his annoyance over the latest job was clouding his judgement. Sam didn't like being trapped in a female body any more than Dean did, but he'd be stupid to say it wasn't useful.
Sam supposed New York was as good a next destination as any, and they did need to check in with Yong. Perhaps along the way there Sam could appeal to Dean's common sense and try to wheedle some more time out of him. All they needed was to stay off the radar long enough to figure out how to enter Hell.
Because after that, no spell in the universe was going to hide them long.