maychorian: (TEAM FREE WILL)
[personal profile] maychorian
Fandom: Supernatural
Title: Part 1: Who Pulls the Levers (Coming Down Book 4)
Author: Maychorian
Characters: Winchester Ensemble
Category: Gen, AU, Family
Rating: T/PG13
Warning: (skip) Language. Allusions to child abuse
Spoilers: S4, previous stories in 'verse.
Summary: John Winchester has four sons, but to an outside observer, he appears to have only three. Their mission is to stop the Apocalypse before it starts.
Word Count: ~6350 (this part)
 Author’s Note: Coming Down on a Sunny Day master list, and YouTube Playlist, from whence came the titles. Suggested mood music for this part: "Giants" by Five Iron Frenzy.

Coming Down on a Sunny Day
Book 4: The Name of the Demon



Prologue: The Mystery of the Quotient

So this was Colorado Springs.

A squalid mountain village growing within the arms of rock like moss on a log, unnecessary and unsightly, teeming with tiny creatures all engrossed completely in their own lives, convinced of their own worth and importance and heedless of the immensity of the universe. Most of them were unaware of the existence of the powers that undergirded their dimension, of the cosmic forces that flew and spun and shimmered just outside the bounds of their pitiful, primitive senses. The vast majority of them had no idea of the vastness of their ignorance, and worse than that, they didn’t even know that they didn’t know. They were oblivious to their own insignificance.

The being, the entity who had deigned to visit Colorado Springs, hovered over this blemish on the face of nature and found it more amusing than anything else. So many thousands of them, witless, blind. And they were the most advanced animals on the planet! Absolutely hilarious.

Not to mention the corruption. So much of it that it was frankly astonishing, even to a being who had existed for time out of mind and witnessed thousands of civilizations rise and fall on the face of this blue and green planet. They even made themselves into monsters, removing their bodies and spirits so far from the norm that only a few even realized the depths of corruption possible, and hunted the diseased members of their own race to protect those still slightly more innocent.

The entity really didn’t know why God had made them in the first place and delighted in them so greatly. But then, God was a strange being in Himself, and His ways were mysterious, even to His first sons. The entity was only moderately annoyed that God had not seen fit to share precisely why He enjoyed these dust mites so indiscriminately.

But the entity was not here to ponder the motives and purposes of a vanished God. The entity was here for reasons unrelated. Plans were in motion that involved this city, and the small, fading point of light that had exiled itself here. That foolish little point of light must be snuffed out, and the entity had arrived to ensure that it happened.

An atmospheric disturbance had erupted when the being arrived on this plane, creating a storm that swept over the little city with sudden force, blocking the feeble rays of the sun and casting dark shadow over streets and buildings and all. The entity watched the storm’s progress with jaded curiosity, finding amusement in watching the dust mites run to escape the rain and the cold. They were only delaying the inevitable. Soon darkness and cold would devour them whole, and their entire pointless dust-heap of a civilization with them.

That, the cosmic visitor who watched above found the most amusing of all.




Chapter 1: Who Pulls the Levers

Colorado Springs, Colorado
May 1997

"Somebody help me! Please somebody help!"

It was a little girl's voice. Jimmy and Sammy both darted out of the Impala before they'd made the conscious decision to move, staring at each other and the surrounding park in alarm. The kids they could see were perking up and looking around, too, trying to find the source of the cry.

"There."

Sammy pointed across the park. A little girl in a white shirt and a blue skirt, racing across the wet grass. Jimmy squinted and shaded his eyes. She was running toward them from the far side of the park, where the manicured grass gave way to a wooded hillside, crowded and wild.

The Winchesters weren't the only youngsters who immediately moved forward to meet her, but they got there first. She practically fell into Sammy's arms, panting and sobbing. "Help me, please help me?"

"What's wrong? What is it?"

The questions were coming from several teenagers gathered around, but she didn't calm until Cas knelt down her level, put a hand on her back, and looked her in the eyes. "What do you need us to do?"

The girl sniffed and rubbed her snotty nose on Sammy's shoulder, then looked straight back at Cas, hiccuping. "My doggy ran away! Please help me find him?"

Sammy and Cas shared a look. "We'll do everything we can," Castiel said.

"Where did your puppy go?" Sammy asked, patting her awkwardly on the back.

She straightened up, pushing off his chest, the tears abruptly gone. Apparently their promises were enough to reassure her. The little girl pointed away into the wilderness beyond the park. Of course.

Castiel's shoulders slumped as he stared off into the wooded hillside. Sammy snickered to himself. Cas and Jimmy didn't get along great with woods for any extended period. They both enjoyed nature, sure; they were very appreciative of beauty. But neither of them liked pooping behind a bush.

"He ran away when the storm started," the little girl said, sniffing back the last of her tears. "It was scary."

"Yes, it was," Cas said with his customary solemnity, his eyes round and sympathetic.

"Okay, okay." Sammy patted her shoulder, the one Cas wasn't holding. "We'll all look for your doggy. He couldn't have gone far. I'm sure we'll find him in no time. Won't we, guys?"

He looked at the teenagers gathered around, about a dozen young guys. They all nodded with varying degrees of enthusiasm, some still squeezing out their wet shirts, others pushing damp hair out of their eyes.

"Yeah, we'll find him," Jake said, giving the girl his most cheerful, confident grin. "No worries."

"Does your puppy have a name?" Cas asked. "We will call him until he answers."

"Maxxie." She started to smile, watery and uncertain, but bolstered by their confidence.

"And what is your name?"

"I'm Tilly."

"Okay, Tilly. We'll find Maxxie." Cas stood from his kneeling position and held out his hand. "Come, let's go to that picnic pavilion over there." He pointed the way. "You should wait in safety while we search. We'll return with your dog, don't worry."

"Okay." She nodded eagerly, following his lead.

The teens began splitting up into groups of two and three to comb the woods. Sammy wasn’t surprised when Jake chose to go off with Tyler and Garrett. Jake needed some space from them to process everything.

Instead Sammy partnered with Castiel, once he came back from the depositing Tilly at the pavilion. Cas’s eyes were tired and far away. They trekked up the hill without a word, heading off on a vector away from the other groups. They could hear the calls from the searchers all around them, though after a few minutes they could no longer see anyone else through the trees.

“Um, sorry I basically called you a liar, earlier,” Sammy said after a while.

Cas shrugged. “I’m not above using deception in our struggle, though I would not choose to use it against allies. You’re right, it would have been a clever plan. Though it would have been just as effective to tell Jake that I could change the weather and then do it before his eyes, if I was capable of that much power.”

Sammy blushed. “Yeah, I didn’t think of that.”

“It’s fine. Don’t concern yourself with it.”

The moved on in silence. Sammy stepped over a tangle of fallen branches, and Cas almost tripped, his foot getting caught in a mess of ground-covering vegetation. Sammy paused to grab his hand and haul him out. He couldn’t help noticing that Castiel still looked troubled and distant.

“Hey, what’s bugging you?” he asked once they were both free.

“It’s nothing.”

Sammy snorted. “Come on. It’s just me. You don’t have to pretend like nothing ever bothers you.”

Cas drew a deep breath, then let it out. “It truly is nothing, but…”

“Yeah?”

“It’s only… Jake first began to like me, to trust us, because he thought that I had some sort of mental impairment like his brother.”

Sammy chuckled. “Yeah, that was hilarious. He thought you were special needs.”

“Yes, very amusing.”

Castiel did not sound at all amused. Sammy closed his mouth, the smile fading. He tried to understand what Cas was saying. “You’re not, though. You’re not…slow. Mentally.”

“No. But I have been compelled to notice that sometimes…you treat me as if I am. Even Jimmy does, on occasion.”

“Oh.” Sammy blinked. “Do we really?”

“Yes. Not…constantly. But now and then. I didn’t become aware of it until I saw the parallels. Jake was blatant, but you’ve all sometimes looked at me as if I’m…special needs.”

Sammy paused at a relatively clear spot between two trees, turning to look at Castiel. Cas stopped too, looking back at him with clear, guileless vision. “Well,” Sammy began slowly. “You kind of are.”

Cas’s forehead wrinkled.

“Not that you’re a mental case,” Sammy hastened to clarify. “But…you know…you’re special. In a way.”

“I’m not sure I follow you.” Castiel’s voice was completely flat.

“You’re…you know…” Sammy flapped a hand in the air. “You’re like a foreign exchange student. From really, really far away. Sometimes there are things you just don’t get. Cultural differences, nuances of language. So sometimes we try to…smooth things over for you, if we can.”

Cas tilted his head. “I’ve now been living on Earth in Jimmy’s body for over thirteen years.”

“Yes, but you’re, like, really set in your ways.” Sammy grinned. “Not surprising, considering how tiny a percentage of your life those thirteen years have been. You’ve had way, way longer being an angel than you have being an angel stuck in a human boy.”

Cas stared at him for a few seconds longer, then uttered a short, “Hm,” in a tone of surprised approval, and turned to head up the hillside.

Sammy watched him go for a moment, then hurried to catch up, crashing through the undergrowth behind him. “So it doesn’t bother you now?”

“When you couch it in those terms, no. I suppose I am ‘special needs,’ in a way, just as you say. I am very grateful for the kindnesses you all have shown me.”

“Well, of course, man. You’re our brother.”

“Yes. As long as I am a Winchester, it doesn’t trouble me much what others may think of me.”

“Cool.” Sammy grinned at Cas’s back, though he couldn’t resist one final jab. “You have to admit that you do come off like Rain Man sometimes.”

“Ah, there’s a cultural reference I understand. I quite liked that movie.”

Sammy laughed. If he’d been tall enough, he would have reached over and ruffled his hair. Or given him a noogie.

Cas looked back long enough to give him his version of a smile, corners of his mouth lightly turned up, eyes content and satisfied. “Jimmy is going to come forward now. He thinks I’m not doing a good job of looking for this dog.”

“We’ve been a bit distracted, yeah.”

A second later Jimmy turned back up the hill, yelling the dog’s name at the top of his lungs. “Maxxie! Maxxie!” Sammy trotted after him, grinning.

They continued on, calling and searching. Sammy noted with some concern that they could no longer hear any of the other searchers yelling. Gradually the rise tapered out and came to a plateau, though the trees prevented them from getting any kind of view from the top of the hill they’d scaled. Sammy touched Jimmy’s arm.

“Hey, maybe we should head back. Somebody else might have found him by now.”

Jimmy nodded. “Yeah, any farther than this, it’s not really a job for a bunch of kids, anyway.”

They turned back and started heading downhill, picking and choosing an easier path that avoided all the heavy undergrowth. They continued to call, but with less enthusiasm and volume. Jimmy led the way into another small clearing, a grassy meadow about the size of a tennis court. Sammy stepped up beside him, no longer constrained by the narrow paths between trees.

Then Jimmy doubled over, yelling in shock. Sammy grabbed his elbow but couldn't prevent him from hitting the dirt. Sammy stared, breath stuttering in his throat. Jimmy's hands were pressed to his ears as if to block out some terrible sound, and blood spurted from his nose in a sudden stream, brilliant and jewel-like against the green and brown of the surrounding wilderness.

"Jimmy, Jimmy!" Sammy's voice was breathless and high, much younger than his actual years. He was frightened almost beyond the ability to speak. "Jimmy, what's happening?"

Jimmy bent in the tall grass, folded onto himself, tight, tight, tight, like a coil of metal pressed to the edge of its capacity for strain. His breath rushed in and out of his mouth in a desperate wheeze. Sammy knew at a glance that this was Jimmy hurting, not Castiel, and the sight was so alien and unexpected that he didn't know what to do with it. He stood there by his brother, both hands wrapped around his upper arm, as if he could haul him up and lead him away just by the dint of desperately wanting to be able to.

"Jimmy, talk to me," he demanded, and that seemed to jolt something loose in Jimmy's tense stance. He looked up, eyes wide and blue and almost blank with the shock of sudden pain.

"Not me," he forced out between desperate gasps of air. "I'm okay."

"You don't look okay!"

But Jimmy shook his head, not allowing himself to be distracted. "Not me," he said again, insistent. "Castiel. Something's wrong. Something's really, really wrong."

Sammy froze. His fingers tightened around Jimmy's arm, hard. He didn't realize he was doing it until Jimmy winced, and then he let go instantly and took a step back. He felt like he was drowning.

"Cas? Something's wrong with Cas?"

Jimmy nodded, and the movement almost sent him sprawling in the grass. He reeled on his knees, face draining of all color. He looked like he was about to throw up.

Sammy wrapped his hands around his arm, pulling with all his strength. "Get up. Get up! We have to go back."

Jimmy struggled to rise, getting up on one foot and one knee. He was breathing hard and fast, in terror more than pain. “We’re too far out,” he told Sammy, voice deceptively calm. “We’re too far away.”

“I know,” Sammy said, hauling on his arm. “I know, I figured it out. We gotta go. Come on, you can do it.”

“We warded the park. We didn’t ward the forest.”

With Sammy pushing and pulling, Jimmy climbed up onto his shaky, wavering feet. Sammy put an arm around his back, and they walked unsteadily downhill. The grass seemed like thousands of tiny hands, grabbing at their feet, trying to trap them. They fought through it, clutching each other like drunkards stumbling home.

Then she appeared at the edge of the trees downhill, smiling with white teeth and eyes so black they all but glowed. Tilly, sharp and bright, standing out in their vision while all the surrounding scenery blurred to insignificance. Sammy and Jimmy pulled up short, holding each other with whitening knuckles.

“You.” Jimmy spat the word, spittle flying from his pale lips. Sammy darted a look to his face. He’d never heard hatred in that normally gentle voice before.

“Me,” Tilly said, gliding forward over the grass. Her white t-shirt, innocuous in the park, here seemed blasphemous and obscene. No demon should be allowed to wear white, Sammy thought incoherently.

“Get out of her,” Jimmy ordered, his voice deep and resonant, almost as powerful as Castiel’s or Dad’s. He’d found the strength to stand upright, leaning on Sammy only slightly. He held Sammy’s shoulder in a hard grip.

“Make me.”

The creature began to move sideways along the edge of the clearing, circling them. It was a move Sammy remembered with a sudden clarity, like a wrench of his brain. The church gym in Pontiac, Illinois. The demon in the body of the man who had once beaten and abused Jimmy Novak on a daily basis.

Jimmy shook with rage. “How did you get inside the wards of the park? Why didn’t Castiel see you instantly for the fiend you are?”

“Oh, you don’t know?” Tilly smiled. She still had all of her baby teeth, white and lovely against the pale red of her lips. Sammy wanted to be sick. “Guess your oh-so-highly vaunted protections aren’t that powerful, after all.”

It had been Dean and Castiel who stood against this demon before. They held it off with courage and tenacity and a bottle of holy water until Dad arrived and scared it away with the Colt. None of those three were here now. Jimmy and Sammy were alone in the woods, only air between them and the beast that wanted to destroy them more than any other thing in the universe.

“Oh, don’t be so melodramatic.” Tilly came to a halt and bounced on her toes like a little girl. Jimmy and Sammy turned to face her, not entirely gracefully. “I want you to live, little Sammy. And I don’t care one way or another about that pathetic vessel you call your big brother. No, this is about someone else.”

Her slender white hand sneaked into the pocket of her skirt, like a snake slithering into the burrow of a prey animal, and withdrew holding a vial.

“Cas,” Jimmy hissed. “Leave him alone, you horrible, unbelievable bastard.”

“Oh, I don’t think so.”

The light in the vial wasn’t quite right, not the blinding, penetrating purity Sammy remembered from the gym. Now the demon shook the vial, and Jimmy yelled and clutched his chest, stumbling backward. Sammy kept him upright, somehow, muscles screaming with the effort.

“What did you do?” Sammy cried, voice almost shrill.

“Just a little spell. Just a tiny, insignificant little piece of…” She raised the vial, holding it in front of her face with both hands in a ritualistic gesture. “…Hell…” The liquid light inside the vial frothed and swirled, unaffected by outside motion, and a dark spot of some other color began to grow inside the white. “…magic.”

She said some words in a language Sammy didn’t know, her voice low and garbled and terrible. It was awful, making all the hair on his neck stand up, as if the demon were no longer speaking with the tongue of a little girl but had pushed through fully to say the lines with its own mouth. The sun went gray, darkness descending in an instant upon the tiny meadow, and cold air swept around them with a stench like a rotting bog.

The bright white light of Castiel’s stolen grace morphed into a dark and glowing red, like blood, viscous and corrupted and old, so strong that Sammy thought he could smell it. Jimmy fell to the grass, sliding out of Sammy’s slack grip, screaming and grabbing at his head. The demon smiled and vanished in a noxious breeze.

They were alone in the woods once more, the sky blue and the sun bright above them.

X~*~X

Castiel, Castiel, talk to me. Please talk to me.

Trees and bushes moved by in a blur of green and brown and gray. Undergrowth snatched at his feet, threatening to trip him up, and he stumbled through it, bouncing off tree trunks in a heedless rush down the slope. The hands holding his arm tightening, propping him upright when his legs threatened to give out. A young voice uttered breathless curses.

Castiel, Castiel. Castiel! Can you hear me? Oh, please, can you hear me?

Blood, sticky and viscous, leaked endlessly from his nose. He swiped at it with a clumsy paw, dimly aware that it was too late. He was already covered in it, his face, his chest, his t-shirt. The kids were going to be freaked out. The kid with him was already freaked out.

Castiel, please. Sammy's so scared. I'm so scared. Please tell me you're okay.

"Jimmy, look out!"

Sammy's high voice jerked Jimmy's head up, eyes blinking open, just in time to swerve around another tree. His head hurt. His eyes hurt. His throat was burning.

Castiel. Cas! Cas! Listen to me! Hear me!

Nothing worked. Jimmy was bellowing internally, just as he'd been doing out loud for what felt like minutes on end, before Sammy dragged him to his feet and they began this reckless run down the wooded hill. But it wasn't working. Castiel couldn't hear him.

But Jimmy could hear Cas. He could hear him screaming in agony, on and on and on, a high-pitched angel scream beyond the realm of human understanding. Even if it were aloud, it would be inaudible to the vast majority of humans.

But Jimmy heard it. He couldn't stop hearing it.

X~*~X

Sammy stumbled out of the trees, dragging Jimmy with him, and kept going across the grass. Jimmy kept up, barely. Sammy didn't know how. His legs and lungs were afire from the run, his arms aching with the effort of keeping his brother upright and not hitting every tree trunk in their path. But they had farther to go.

"C'mon, Jimmy," he got out, more gasps than words. "We gotta go."

Classmates and friends shouted when they emerged into the park, shocked by the blood, by their desperate sprint still continuing past the pavilion, into the field where not long ago they'd been playing a simple adolescent game. Sammy couldn't spare the time to talk to them, to reassure them. They couldn't help. He didn't need them, so they meant nothing.

But one figure split off from the milling teenagers and ran across the wet grass to intercept them, gray water flying up from every impact of his sneakers. Jake, athletic and strong, catching up to run alongside them, holding Jimmy up by his other arm. Sammy gave him a nod and let go of his brother, racing ahead to the parking lot.

He crossed the black pavement, through shallow puddles and fallen leaves and petals, though he did not go far enough to leave the wards again. His destination was inside the circle of protection, thankfully. They'd had that much foresight when they set the wards earlier this month.

The payphone. Sammy slammed into the white metal kiosk with both hands against the painted side to halt his run, unwilling to slow down even for the final split second of his sprint. He fumbled in his pocket for a coin. His fingers shook as he dropped it in the slot and dialed.

"Please be home, please pick up, please be home, please pick up." He pressed the cold black plastic to his ear hard enough to hurt.

Jake and Jimmy arrived behind him just as the jangling ring cut off and the click of the phone being lifted ran down the line. Sammy looked up to the sky, eyes closing in relief.

"Hello?" Dad's voice, deep and familiar, a haven Sammy could have let himself fall into if urgency didn't thrum through every limb, making him bounce in place, heart pounding.

"Dad." And he had to stop for breath, for words. His mind was blank. He didn't know what to say.

"Sammy?" Dad's voice was still calm, more amused than alarmed. "You sound out of breath. Having fun at your game?"

Sammy panted into the phone, chest heaving, eyes wide and rolling. He looked to Jake and Jimmy as if they could tell him what to say. They just stared back at him, Jake with confusion, Jimmy with speechless panic.

"Son?" Now Dad sounded a little concerned, but not near enough. Not even close to what the situation warranted.

"Dad." Sammy's hand snatched at the edge of the kiosk, hard, necessary. His knees felt like water. "Dad, we were attacked."

"Attacked?"

There was the urgency Sammy had been looking for. He heard movement on the other end of the line, Dad moving from zero to sixty in less than a second, rushing around the apartment to gather items, carrying the phone only long enough to get the information he needed. That single word had carried instant rage and power, and Sammy knew his father was on the way. He closed his eyes, leaning on the kiosk with his entire upper body.

"What was it? What do you need?" Rapped out, commands. Tell me what I need to know, soldier. Just the facts. Do it fast.

"Demon. I don't know. It lured us out beyond the wards, but...it came inside them. It came inside the wards."

"Are you safe? Are you and Jimmy okay?"

"I don't know. I...yes. Reasonably."

"What does Cas say? Does he think he can hold it off until I get there?" Drawers opening, Dad rustling around, probably for a favorite knife or pistol.

"I... That's the thing, Dad. Jimmy and I are okay, mostly. But Cas...Cas isn't."

Silence. Dad had quit moving. Sammy held his breath and felt the tears start to well up, despite his best efforts to hold them back.

Dad was scared, too.

"What do you mean?" Dad's voice was completely calm, which meant that he was making it be.

"The demon wasn't after us. It was after Cas, and...and it got to him. I think... Dad, I think it was the same one we met in Pontiac."

The drawer slammed, and the phone jangled as Dad dropped it on the nearest hard surface. "I'll be there in ten minutes."

Sammy knew very well that the trip between their apartment and the park took at least twice that.

"Okay," he whispered.

He hung up. Then he sank down to sit on the wet pavement and let the tears come.

X~*~X

John shrieked into the parking lot with a squeal of tires, parked crookedly along the curb, and threw himself down out of the truck toward his sons. They were both sitting on the pavement next to the phone kiosk, exhausted and wary and scared. Jimmy had taken off his bloody t-shirt and was holding it to his face, but Sammy watched his father approach with relief and terror warring on his open expression.

The kid who was the entire reason they were here—in Colorado, in this park—Jake Talley, was warding off a group of curious teens, keeping them back from bothering the Winchesters. John would have to thank him later. Right now his boys mattered more.

Sammy dragged himself to his feet as John neared, chest heaving, eyes wide and panicked, but he was holding himself together admirably. John reached out to him, a large hand cupping his youngest's jaw and neck. "You okay?"

Sammy nodded, leaning into John's touch for a bare moment. He swallowed, Adam's apple bouncing in his slender throat. "But Cas... Jimmy..."

John squeezed the back of his neck in support, then bent down to his other son. "Jimmy?"

Jimmy's face was whiter than his shirt. He pulled the cloth away, revealing streaks of dried blood caked over his upper lip and chin. At least his nose had stopped bleeding. His eyes, though, were even more frantic than Sammy's. He opened his mouth, but no words came out.

John pulled him to his feet and wrapped his arms around him. Jimmy felt frail in his arms, shaking like an injured child, like a frightened animal, like a fallen leaf, dry and empty and curled around a void. John saw Jake gaping at Jimmy's bare torso, knew that he was seeing the scars. John closed his eyes and pressed his nose to his son's dark hair.

"Okay," he murmured. "We're okay."

Jimmy shook his head. "We're not, Dad. We're really not." His hands clenched in the back of John's jacket, tight and hard, and he seemed intent on squeezing every molecule of air out of John's lungs.

John hugged him close and looked out over the parking lot, toward the field, the play equipment and pavilions, the woods beyond. A demon. Not just a demon, but the demon. The one that had traveled with Castiel back to 1984, killed Jimmy's parents, possessed Jimmy's abuser and attacked them in Pontiac.

They had always been careful. Everywhere they went, they warded buildings and areas, drew Devil's Traps, laid salt and goofer dust. They carried holy water and anti-possession wards and consecrated weapons. Castiel painted the symbols of ancient religion and protection; Jimmy prayed over them and blessed them. They had all exorcised demons, even Sammy when he got trapped alone in an alley a few months ago, though Castiel was the best at it and usually took the lead.

And none of it had been enough.

Eventually Jimmy's shaking slackened enough that John felt okay leaning back and taking his shoulders in his hands. He looked the boy in the face, searching for the soldier he knew was in there. Jimmy had never been required to fight before, not like this, but John had always known he was capable if the time ever came.

"Do you know where it is? Any sign of it since the first attack?"

Jimmy shook his head. He met John's eyes, strong and steady, that deep core of steel John had known he'd find. "No sign of it. I believe it got what it came for."

"How sure are you?"

"Ninety-five percent. It was after Castiel. It got him."

John nodded. He let up on the majority of his habitual scanning of the environment, focusing on Jimmy. "What's Cas's status?"

Jimmy's chin shook and his face twisted. He came within a hair's breadth of falling apart again. "Not good, Dad. Not good."

"Specifics, kiddo."

"I can hear him screaming. That's all I can hear. He can't hear me. He seems to be isolated, completely cut off. No connection to me, though he's still...still in the vessel of my mind."

"Is he in pain?"

This time Jimmy didn't flinch. "Yes."

A simple response that didn't begin to cover the complexity of the situation, but it was enough to be going on with.

"You've tried to contact him?"

"Constantly."

Yes, of course. John let go of Jimmy with one hand so he could grab Sammy and pull him into the discussion. "Tell me what happened."

It didn't take long. John was aware of the Talley kid listening from the sidelines, but it barely mattered. The kid believed it or he didn't. That mission had fallen to far, far second in priority. When the boys were done, John raised his head, looking to the wooded hillside where they'd met the demon. Nothing to see, but he felt better keeping an eye on it.

"So the demon got inside Cas's wards around the park in order to lure you out."

Sammy nodded. "Yeah."

"But it still needed to lure you out. Whatever it did, it couldn't do it inside the circle of protection. In fact, it waited till you were pretty far beyond the border, didn't it?"

The boys nodded, and their shoulders, still held in John's hands, slowly released some of their wire-strung tension. They got what he was getting at it.

"We're...we're probably safe," Jimmy said. "For the moment."

"However it got inside the wards, it must have been a pretty shallow disguise," Sammy said.

John nodded, satisfied with that reasoning. "Just enough to bypass a three-week old line of wards and fool a passively observing angel."

"Still troubling," Jimmy said.

"Yes. Cas's wards have never failed before, and even watching passively, he's always been able to see demons coming. It's a bad sign. But it's not the end of the world."

And here John had to smile. "Not yet."

Jimmy replied with a shaky smile, even though the joke was too morbid, too close to reality, to really be funny. Then he winced, his hands flying to his head, the bloody t-shirt still clenched in his fist waving like a grotesque flag. John sobered instantly. It was time to go.

He looked between the pickup and the Impala for second, but it wasn’t really a contest. The truck was nice, but the Impala had been their home for over a decade, and the wards and protections laid into it were deep and thick and strong. He held out his hand to Jimmy for the keys, and Jimmy passed them over without a murmur.

“Jimmy, lie down in the back. Sammy, shotgun.” John strode toward the car, then turned back to the kid who’d been standing on the edge of their family circle, quietly listening. “Jake, can you get a ride with another friend? We need to get Jimmy home ASAP.”

Jake’s eyes were wide, but not as panicked as John might have expected. “Yes, sir.”

John nodded briskly and turned to go, but Jake’s voice called him back. “Sir?”

John paused and turned around again, raising his eyebrows.

“Is…um…” Jake fidgeted, kicking the ground with one toe, then looked back to John, eyes clear and steady. “Is Castiel gonna be okay?”

He knew. John should have figured his boys would have cracked this kid by now. “We’ll make him be.”

“And…and my family? Will that demon come after us?”

Behind him, Sammy gasped. He’d been so focused on Jimmy and Castiel that it hadn’t occurred to him that the demon could be going after the special kids, too. John gave Jake the respect of serious consideration.

“I don’t think so,” he said after a moment. “Like Jimmy said, this demon seems to be after Cas, and Cas alone. But you have every right to be worried, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. If I were you, I’d lay a line of salt at all of your doors and windows tonight. And wear this.” He dug in his pocket and pulled out a spare anti-possession charm. He tossed it to Jake with an underhand throw, and the boy caught it effortlessly. “One of us will come by later to ward your house more permanently. You might want to talk to your mom, too. About whether she remembers making a deal with a demon sometime before you were born. She can help you convince the rest of your family.”

Jake’s breath caught, but he nodded. “Yes, sir.”

"You'll be fine. Better to know what's coming, even if you're not sure how to fight it."

"Forewarned is forearmed."

"That's right." John gave him a tight smile, then turned back to his car and his sons. They'd already followed instructions, Jimmy lying in the back with his t-shirt under his head, eyes shut, nose swollen, face and torso speckled with blood dried and drying and fresh. Sammy sat in the front, the shotgun with salt rounds across his lap, his hands loose on the stock and barrel. In the Winchester family, the "shotgun" seat was more often literal than figurative.

John got in and turned on the car. It rumbled around them, close and comforting, and Peter, Paul & Mary starting singing from the speakers. The sound roused Sammy out of his daze, looking to his father. "Where's Dean? Can we go get him?"

"He's out studying." John threw the car into gear and roared onto the street.

Sammy goggled, momentarily thrown. "Dean? Is studying?"

"With a girl," John clarified. "Quote 'studying' unquote."

"Oh." Sammy leaned back in his seat. "I just thought... you know..."

"That having him with us would help?"

"Yeah."

Jimmy's voice in the backseat was muffled. "I'm sure it would. If Castiel could hear us."

"We'll find a way," John said. He looked at Sammy. "We'll call him when we get back to the apartment. He'll come home."

"Yeah, okay. I just..." Sammy bounced his head back against the seat, at a loss for words.

"You want him now," John said. "I get it. Dean's a jackass, but he's also reassuring in a crisis."

Jimmy made a sound halfway between laughing and choking. "Truer words..."

"Relax, kiddo. Save your strength." John barreled through an intersection, heedless of the lights.

"How many times do I gotta tell you, I'm fine. It's Castiel who's in trouble. It's Castiel who's screaming in agony as we speak."

"Yeah? Is that easy to listen to? Does it make you feel comfortable and strong?"

"What? No!" Jimmy half-rose from the backseat, furious eyes appearing in the rear-view mirror to glare at John.

"Then this is hard on you, too. Take it easy."

Jimmy subsided, falling back down. His nose was bleeding again, and he held it with one hand. "Point made. But, Dad, there's something I gotta tell you..."

"We're almost home. Tell me then."

"It's about the demon..."

"Then you should definitely tell me at home. I gotta concentrate on driving."

Jimmy fell silent, which had been John's goal. He shared a look with Sammy. Over the past few years John Winchester and sons had gradually evolved into an effective fighting unit. John and Dean took point on most cases, letting Sammy run support. Castiel led whenever it was something to do with demons or another subject in his wheelhouse. Cas was also damn handy in a fight and knew a lot of lore that wasn't in any of the books and never had been.

But they'd never fought alongside Jimmy before. They didn't know his style. They didn't know if he had one. It was a wrench in the works, one they weren't sure how to deal with.

The fact was that Jimmy was more of a victim and witness in this case than anything, and John and Sammy had already fallen into dealing with him as one. It felt like the most natural way to approach it. Jimmy, though, probably wouldn't see it like that. It was another complication in an already complicated situation.

“We gotta get home,” Sammy said, with the breathless urgency of one who could not think of anything else to do.

John couldn’t have agreed more.

Previous: Third Interlude
Next: Book 4 Chapter 2

August 2015

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