Fic: Never Say Die (6/16)
Title: Never Say Die (6/16)
NEVER SAY DIE
Ellen and John were in the back seat of the Jeep. She was sleeping. John was not. At some point during the night Ellen had moved sleepily into his arms; now John was holding her while she slept, her head pillowed on his chest.
Bobby was driving; David riding shotgun beside him. Outside, the sky had been slowly growing lighter for the past hour; now the first rays of a scarlet sun were reflected in the rear-view mirror.
Dawn meant Dean's time was ticking away. This was the last day of Dean's life...
Thoughts of what they needed to do were turning over and over in John's mind. He was very afraid that he wasn't going to be able to do this. Dean sold his soul; whatever demon he sold it to held all the cards. If it would stand still and negotiate, John was confident he could save Dean. The trouble was the demon didn't have to stand still for anything. It didn't even need to show up in person to claim a soul due to it...though John had an instinct that in this case, it might.
What John needed was leverage. The Colt, key to the gateway of Hell, would have been sufficient, with or without its bullets, but according to Bobby the Colt was gone. John needed something else to trade. If he couldn't find something to tempt this unknown demon to appear, John had no way to save his son.
That simply wasn't an option.
It did occur to John that he could offer himself - his own soul - in trade. He had done it once. Two things stopped him.
John now remembered Hell, and David hadn't been wrong when he said John was better off without those memories. Every horrific detail was sharp in his mind: torture and despair and the true faces of the demons. He was not anxious to return. But, more than that, John suspected his soul would be a poor trade for Dean's. David believed that Dean was the key to keeping the demons in Hell where they belonged. If he was right, then the opposite was also true: Dean's death was the key to the demons' victory. Would this unknown demon trade that for any other soul? It seemed unlikely.
John saw the lights of a gas station and diner ahead and was just about to suggest they should make a refuelling stop when Bobby slowed the Jeep and turned toward the gas station. It was an isolated place and there was no sign of anyone attending the pumps. Bobby stopped at a self-service pump and got out to fill the tank.
Ellen stirred and John looked down at her. "Hey, sleepyhead," he whispered.
Ellen sat up, rubbing her neck. "Where are we?"
David answered her. "A ways past North Platte. We're making good time."
Bobby opened the door. "Sign says pay in the diner. What do you say we stop for breakfast while we're here?"
"Could get take-out," John suggested. He was hungry, but time was crowding him. They didn't have long to find the boys.
Bobby gave him an exasperated look. "John, we're all tired. We should take a break."
John nodded, giving in. "Okay."
Bobby climbed in behind the wheel, drove across to the diner's parking lot and pocketed the Jeep's keys. They all climbed out. Bobby started toward the diner but John called him back.
"Wait." John opened the back of the truck. He was already carrying a gun, but he wanted holy water, too. "No one goes without protection," John insisted, handing Bobby a bottle.
Bobby took it. "Paranoid, John, even for you." It wasn't a question.
"Maybe so," John agreed. "Take a gun, Bobby."
Ellen gave John a look like she agreed with Bobby. She pulled out her hip flask, opened it, poured the remaining whiskey onto the asphalt and held it out for John to fill it with holy water. Like John, she was already armed.
David simply accepted a bottle and a gun from John, making no comment.
They walked into the diner together. Bobby headed to the counter to pay for the gas. John selected a table far enough from the counter and kitchen that they would be able to talk. The diner was well-kept, decorated in rustic style: a lot of polished wood and a stone-tiled floor. The tables were set in booths, affording some privacy. John waited for Ellen to take the window seat, and sat down beside her where he had a clear view of the diner. David, too, chose a seat that gave him a strategic view of the room and its exits.
A few minutes later they had coffee, with food on the way, and John was confident they and three others were the only people here. There was a young waitress, an older woman John guessed was her mother, who was the cook, and another man. No danger that John could see...which didn't mean it wasn't there.
"What's your plan, John?" Bobby asked.
John stopped watching the waitress and looked at Bobby.
"I'll go along, whatever it is," Bobby said. "But I want to know what you think you're gonna do."
John sipped coffee. He was reluctant to explain, but he recognised that reluctance as cowardice. He didn't want to admit weakness. John finished the coffee and started talking. He explained some of what he had been thinking and what he needed: some way to make the demon appear. "At this point, I'm open for suggestions."
"We've got everything we need to summon a demon," Bobby pointed out.
"Yeah, but which one?" John asked him. "You don't know who holds Dean's contract. None of us do."
Bobby hesitated, avoiding John's eyes. "I've got a suggestion." Bobby's voice had dropped low, as if he didn't want Ellen or David to hear. "It's a long shot, and you ain't gonna like it. But she's probably our best chance."
"She?" John repeated.
"There's a demon, one of those who came through the gate a year ago. She's been...working with Sam."
John could not hide his reaction. Sam. His Sammy working with some demon. Damn, he'd taught his boys better than that! What the hell was Sammy thinking? Especially now, with Dean... No. Nothing good could come of this.
Finally, John said slowly, "What. Demon?"
"Called herself Ruby, but I'm pretty damned sure of her real name. I can - "
John interrupted because the waitress was approaching with a laden tray, "Hold that thought, Bobby."
Bobby glanced back, saw the waitress, and nodded.
As she laid down plates of food, the implications of what Bobby had said crashed down on John. He stood, abruptly, muttered something about taking a leak and headed for the men's room and slammed the door behind him.
He did want to use the men's room, but that wasn't why he left the table. He needed a moment to get himself under control. John took a piss, washed his hands, and splashed cold water on his face.
He would never have accepted Sam co-operating with some demon. Not even before. But now John knew what demons really were. He had been in Hell. Moreover, John was acutely aware of how much danger Sam could be in, depending on just what he had done for this demon.
Was John about to save one son only to lose the other?
He slammed his fist into the tiled wall. No. No! He would not let this happen!
John swallowed, watching himself in the mirror above the sink. When he thought he had his poker face straight, he went to the door.
Something flew at him, a blur of movement. Before John could react it struck him in the chest, throwing him back into the bathroom. John fell on his butt and slid backward across the tiles. He flung out a hand to stop his momentum and looked up.
What he saw made no sense. It was the older woman from the kitchen, her eyes black coals. She was possessed. But John also saw the demon inside her, as if she had two faces: four eyes, two mouths. One image overlaid on the other. John hesitated for no more than half a second, caught by that weird sight. But the hesitation cost him. The demon gestured and John's body rose from the floor, flew across the room. His shoulders hit the mirror and it shattered. He fell, one knee painfully striking the sink. Broken glass rained down on him.
John grabbed for his holy water and rolled onto his back. The bottle was the kind designed for athletes: you squeeze the bottle and the liquid comes out in a jet. John flipped the seal open with his thumb and as the demon leaned over him, he was ready. He sprayed the water right into her face.
The demon screamed and recoiled, clawing at her smoking flesh. John scrambled to his feet. He ran at her, grabbed her by the throat and let his weight and momentum carry them both to the ground, with him on top of her. He sprayed more holy water over her chest. She writhed beneath him and John held her down firmly. The words of the exorcism spilled from his lips and suddenly she screamed again, a torrent of black smoke pouring from her mouth.
The whole encounter had taken less than a minute.
The woman stared up at him, her blouse soaked with water. She looked terrified. John released her, getting to his feet. He had no time to explain, no time to be gentle. He checked the bottle in his hand: it was still half-full.
"Stay here," he ordered, and strode to the door.
He found his friends in the middle of battle. David was struggling with a black-eyed man. Ellen was trying to help him. Bobby had a demon trapped under a chair, and was halfway through the exorcism. He seemed to have it under control, so John went to help the others. David was on his back, the demon's hand around his neck, choking him. Before John reached them, Ellen had doused it in holy water. John added his strength to hers, dragging the thing off David. He was already chanting in Latin as David sat up, coughing.
Ellen joined John in the Latin chant and he found himself surprised, though he shouldn't have been. When David joined his voice with theirs, the demon convulsed, the familiar black smoke flooding out of the body they held.
John turned away instantly to see if Bobby needed help. He didn't. It was all over. Bobby was helping the young waitress up and behind them, John saw the other woman stumbling out of the bathroom. The two women looked at each other, and the girl ran to her mom, hugging her. John watched them together. He hadn't even noticed the girl until that moment. Hadn't even registered that she was human. He had seen only the demon. What was wrong with him?
Ellen crouched beside the fallen man. "You'll be okay. Let me help you," she offered gently.
It was the older woman who seemed to recover first. "Who are you people? What did you do to us?" she demanded, still holding her daughter close.
The man rejected Ellen's offer of help with a gesture. "I'm calling the cops," he blustered.
John glanced at him with contempt. "Ellen, explain it to them. Tell them whatever you think makes sense. Bobby, I need you. David, get some salt down. They'll need it even if we're leaving."
Ellen had grabbed the man's arm as he headed for the phone. "We just saved your asses, you damned fool. Sit down and let us take care of your family."
John shot her a quick grin and left her to it. There weren't many men could stand up to Ellen Harvelle. No one was going to call the cops. He saw David head out of the door to the Jeep. He turned to Bobby. "Still think I'm paranoid? You should be asking if we're paranoid enough." It was a cheap shot, but John couldn't resist the I-told-you-so.
Bobby ignored the jibe. "What's troubling you, John?"
John sat down on the edge of a table. Speaking quietly, so the others would not hear, John told Bobby what happened to him in the men's room and how he had seen the demons. "Was there something...different about these demons?" he asked. "What did you see, Bobby?"
On demons, John trusted Bobby Singer more than he trusted anyone. It was Bobby who sought him out after Bill's death and taught him that hunting demons with guns is about as smart as hunting bear with a pea-shooter. Oh, John had known the tools of the trade before: salt, symbols, exorcism, but when under attack his instinct, his training, was always to go for the gun. It was a mistake that got Bill killed. It was a mistake John never made again. What Bobby Singer didn't know about demons probably wasn't worth knowing. After a couple of months under his tutelage, John understood just how badly he - and Bill as well - had screwed up. They were out of their league on that hunt, clueless as a pair of amateurs.
Bobby hesitated, looking back at the others. "I saw what I always see. A woman possessed by a demon." He shook his head, his gaze returning to John. "John, I didn't ask before, as it's none of my affair, but I need to ask now. How much do you remember? Of the time since you died, I mean?"
"Too much," John answered curtly. "I was in Hell. I'm guessin' you know that."
"I know it. And your boys know it. Why'd you think Dean's so screwed in the head?" There was a bitterness in Bobby's voice John hadn't heard before.
John bit back an angry retort. He did what he did because he believed it was the only way to keep both of his sons alive. He knew now that he failed in that: his decision led to Sam's death and was about to lead to Dean's.
"The demons we're dealing with now," Bobby went on, "are the ones that came out of the devil's gate. They're old, powerful. Some of them have tricks I've never seen before, nor even heard of. Scary sons of bitches. But they're still demons."
"What's your point?" John frowned, not sure he was following.
"Maybe it's not them that's different. Maybe it's you. You walked through Hell, John, and came out the other side. My guess is that left a mark on you. What you saw back there was a reality most of us can't see."
John thought that over. While any explanation that didn't boil down to You're seeing things, John was welcome, that one wasn't exactly a comfort. Could Bobby be right? Was John carrying more than just the memory of Hell? What did that even mean? John wasn't a demon. Ellen and Bobby both tested him, and even if they hadn't, John figured he'd know if he were something other than human. But what if he'd lost some part of himself in the pit? Did that make a difference?
He was about to answer Bobby when the lights in the diner flickered. John jumped up at once. More demons?
Ellen stood, immediately alert. On the other side of the diner, David looked up from his task. He'd been laying down salt, but he wasn't done.
The doors of the diner blasted open and a tornado-like wind whooshed in, carrying dust and leaves and crumpled newspaper into the diner. The wind flapped tablecloths and spilled salt and pepper. The young waitress screamed.
"Is there a store room here? A pantry you can hide in?" Ellen asked sharply.
The older woman pointed toward the rear of the building.
"Show me," Ellen snapped. She hurried the civilians away.
John moved toward the open doors. The wind had destroyed the line of salt David had lain down there. As he reached to close the door, John saw someone outside, stalking toward the diner. As before, he had the odd feeling of seeing double: a young woman in tight leather pants, her long blonde hair blowing in the wind. Overlaying her attractive human face, John saw something far more terrible. Something he recognised. Memories of Hell: agony and terror rose up in his mind. Fear fuelled his anger and he reached for the last of his holy water.
"John, wait!" Bobby urged.
John glanced his way, shocked that Bobby of all people would try to stop him. Bobby's eyes flickered to the new demon, then back to John. John understood. He turned back to the demon, feeling a familiar smile twist his features.
So, this was Ruby.
"Tell me about the girl it's possessing," John said to Bobby. He looked down at Ruby where she sat, temporarily powerless inside a devil's trap. She was being sullenly silent, which suited John just fine. She would talk when he was ready.
They were behind the gas station, in a walled yard that couldn't be seen from the road. John had no idea what Ellen had said to get the family's co-operation; possibly Ruby's over-dramatic entrance had helped. Four hunters against one demon: she put up a fight, and did some expensive damage to the diner, but here she was.
Bobby understood what John was asking. "She's been in that body a year. The girl's dead."
John allowed himself a smile. "Good," he said aloud, so Ruby would hear. "Then I don't need to hold back." He walked slowly around the circumference of the devil's trap, aware of Ruby's eyes following him. To Bobby he said, "Leave her to me. I'll join you when we're done."
Bobby nodded and began to turn away.
Ruby called after him. "Wait! Just tell me where they are! You owe me."
John grabbed a fistful of her hair and yanked her head around sharply. "You don't need to know, sweetheart. Where you're going, it won't matter."
"I'm on your side!" she protested. To Bobby, who was still walking away, she yelled, "Tell him!"
Bobby stopped walking then. He turned around. John shook his head, telling Bobby without words to just go. Bobby took the hint and left without another word.
"She's coming for Sam!" Ruby shouted after Bobby. John saw the other hunter's shoulders tense, but he kept moving until he was out of sight. Good man.
John reached beneath his jacket for the stake he'd concealed at his back. It was a long spike of Palo Santo wood. He still held Ruby's hair in his fist. He used it to wrench her head backward, forcing her to arch her back, exposing the front of her body. He drove the stake into her abdomen, just beneath her heart. Ruby screamed in agony. John smiled, satisfied.
Palo Santo was pretty rare. Centuries ago some South American shaman discovered that the wood of this certain tree, if prepared the right way, had properties anathema to demons. The holy wood didn't kill them, but even a small touch of it caused them pain. It weakened them, too: a little like dead man's blood to a vampire. Useful stuff.
With one hand holding the stake firmly, John held her down. With his free hand, he searched her, ignoring her cries of pain. She writhed around the wood. It would hold her forever if need be. He found the carved hilt of the knife Bobby had mentioned and took the knife from her. He stood, releasing his hold on the stake. He looked down at her, testing the point of the blade against his thumb. She wasn't screaming now, just making small whimpering pain-sounds. It took a lot to make a demon show pain. Ruby made no attempt to remove the stake from her body.
"Who," John asked, turning her knife over in his hands, "is coming for Sam Winchester?"
"I'm not..." Ruby gasped, "telling you...anything."
There was very little blood around the stake, John noted dispassionately. She was bleeding, but not nearly as much as such a wound usually produced. It supported Bobby's statement that the girl was dead already.
"You claim you want to help Sam," John said. "If that's true, sweetheart, think about this. In a very short time, I'm gonna put you on an expressway back to Hell. Might want to share your intel with someone who can use it."
"Go to Hell!"
"Been there, done that," John answered dryly. "Who is coming for Sam?"
Ruby stilled suddenly and looked up at him. John could see something of what might have taken in his son: those blue eyes still held some of the innocence of the girl she inhabited: the girl she killed. But the demon within was ugly. She stared up at him, her eyes searching. "Who are you?" she demanded.
She was getting used to the pain. Her question surprised John, a little. Demons usually knew who he was. He'd done his best to be a pain in the ass to their kind. John answered her, but not with his name. "I'm someone you can't manipulate. I'm someone who will see through every little deception you think you can try. I'm someone who knows exactly what you are, and what you used to be." He unscrewed the cap from a new bottle of holy water. "And, sweetheart, I'm the man who's gonna make you wish you were in Hell if you don't answer my question right the fuck now. Who. Is. Coming. For. Sam?"
She spat the word like venom. "Lilith."
"Good girl. Keep talking."
Ruby still lay on her back, pinned down by the Palo Santo stake in her middle. Her hand moved toward the stake, but she didn't touch it. "She knows he'll be vulnerable when Dean dies. That's when she'll strike. I'm trying to help, damn you!"
John sat down on the dusty floor beside the devil's trap. "Why would you want to help Sammy? What could you possibly have to gain?"
She merely looked at him, her eyes angry.
Demons. You never know when to give in, do you? John poured holy water into his palm and raised his hand above her face, letting the water drip down.
Ruby's skin smoked where the holy water touched her. She tried to move away from the dripping water and the movement made her scream. She grabbed for the stake in her body. Her fingers only brushed the wood and she screamed again. In his strange double vision John saw the demon's flesh blacken and peel back from her fingers, though her human hands showed no sign of injury. Oh, yeah. That had to hurt.
"What do you want with my Sam?" John asked again.
Ruby's eyes widened. John had dropped my Sam in there deliberately, to see if she would notice. But if she made the logic leap to John Winchester, she didn't say it. Instead she made a visible effort to keep still and looked up, meeting John's eyes. "Take this fucking thing out of me and I'll tell you anything you want."
John reached out, grasped the stake and ground it deeper into her body. When she opened her mouth to scream, he upended the bottle of holy water over her face, spilling it into her eyes, over her nose and into her mouth. When the bottle was empty he dropped it and covered her mouth with his hand, forcing her to swallow the water she hadn't had time to spit out. She struggled against him weakly, her cries of pain muffled by his hand. He let it go on for a long time. When John finally released her, Ruby curled onto her side in a ball around the stake, around her pain. She was gasping weakly, tears rolling down her cheeks.
John had no pity for demons and especially not for this demon. He got down there with her and grasped her chin with one hand, forcing her to look at him. "This isn't a negotiation, bitch. You can't trick me into making a deal with you. Now, what do you want with Sam Winchester?"
She looked at him, her eyes now black as night, as if searching his face for something. John let her see him. He let her see that he had no mercy in him, that he could keep this up for as long as he had to. He let her see her death in his eyes.
"Just tell me who you are," Ruby begged. "No deals, I swear. Just tell me."
There was an implied agreement in there no matter what she said. Not all demon deals involved selling a soul. If a person freely made any agreement with a demon, anything involving an exchange of value, the demon gained power over that person. Nevertheless, John accepted the compromise.
"I'm their father," he told her. Again, he didn't give his name. Names, too, sometimes held power.
She shook her head. "You're a liar."
"Suit yourself," John shrugged. He sat up, reaching for a fresh bottle. "Talk," he ordered. If she didn't start singing soon, John was going to bless the nearest swimming pool and drown the bitch in it.
Perhaps she picked up on his thought, because she answered. "Sam was supposed to lead Azazel's army. When Azazel got himself killed, Sam turned his back on us. He let Lilith take over. Now she's going to kill him. I'm just trying to keep him alive. That's all, I swear."
No it wasn't all. Sam turned his back on us. Good for Sammy!
Ruby's words made things clear to John for the first time. Hunter's prophecy about Dean: this was the key to it. It wasn't anything Dean was destined to do that was important; it was what Dean would be to Sam. John could not influence Sam; Sam didn't trust him enough for that. The thought took John back to the hospital room where Dean lay dying, to the decision he'd made to offer Azazel a deal. He had known then that only Dean could save Sam.
But this demonic bitch didn't care about that. She just wanted Sam to fulfil what she thought was his destiny.
John looked down at Ruby. "There's more. Why did you come here, to us? Why now?"
"Because I can't find Sam. He's done something to hide from me."
John was surprised. "You expected Bobby to tell you where Sam is?"
"Only shot I had."
John believed that. But there was still a piece missing. There was a question he hadn't asked and needed to, John thought. Then he remembered why Bobby mentioned Ruby to him in the first place. "Do you know who holds Dean's contract?"
Ruby's voice was strained. "Yes, but - "
"I can't say."
John reached again for the holy water and saw her eyes widen in fear.
There was genuine panic in Ruby's voice when she said, "Please, it's the truth. I can't say his name. No demon can. We can't tell!"
"You're talking about a demon?"
"Of course it's a demon. What, do you think anyone else collects souls?"
Holy shit. It can't be that easy...can it? His heart suddenly beating fast, John said carefully, "You can't say his name. Because his name summons him?"
Ruby nodded, her lips pressed tight together as if she couldn't even speak to confirm his guess. Maybe she couldn't.
John smiled grimly. That answered a number of questions. He looked down at Ruby, considering for a moment, before he took the Palo Santo stake and pulled it out of her.
Ruby yelled as it slid from her flesh, but pressed her hands over the wound, holding the flesh closed as it healed. She breathed slowly and deliberately. "I'm done. Send me back, you bastard."
John pushed her knife through his belt. "No. There's still something you haven't told me."
"I know you're holding something back, sweetheart." John wiped the stake on his shirt. "Do you really want to start over?" He raised the stake. He thought she would make him force her to talk, but he was wrong.
Ruby sat up, still trapped inside the circle, hugging herself. She gazed at him resentfully. "Alright! I made a deal with Sam."
John's hand closed over the knife in his belt. "You did what?"
"Not for his soul, idiot. What good would his soul do me? I made the deal. You moron, don't you know what he is?"
Ruby never meant to do it. It never occurred to her that she could.
It happened in Cicero.
Everything had gone perfectly to plan until that moment. She made contact in Lincoln, saved Sam's life and high-tailed it out of there fast. She found him again in Cicero, and knew she had him interested. He let her sit down and make her pitch, at least. She'd expected him to know about his mother. When it turned out he didn't, she changed her strategy, telling him to check it out and call her.
Damn if it didn't work like a charm. Sam called, and she was glad to show up.
That was when it all went wrong.
"So, what's your deal?" Sam asked her. "You show up wherever I am. You know all about me. You know all about my mom."
"I already told you," Ruby answered. "I'm..."
Sam interrupted. "Oh, right, right. Yeah. Just a hunter." His voice was heavy with scepticism. "Just some hunter who happens to know more about my own family than I do. Just tell me who you are."
She started to say, "Sam, it..."
He interrupted her again. "Just...tell me who you are."
She shrugged. "It doesn't matter."
Sam came close to her, yelling into her face. "Just tell me who you are!"
There was force behind his words, real power. Ruby struggled to maintain her composure. She'd known he had power, but this...this was compulsion.
She had no choice but to reveal herself to him.
It scared her, but she kept calm. She was still in control of this conversation. He called her. She had the power.
It worked, for a while. She got to tell him what she knew - which, really, wasn't much at all - and told him again that she was there to help. She'd always known it would be a tough sell. She didn't like the way he waved that holy water around. She'd felt his power once; if he tried to exorcise her she knew she wouldn't be able to resist it.
"Why would you want to help me?" Sam demanded.
Ruby shrugged. "I have my reasons. Not all demons are the same, Sam. Not all of us want the same thing. Me? I want to help you from time to time. That's all. And if you let me, there's something in it for you."
He still didn't believe her. "What could you possibly..."
"I can help you save your brother," Ruby said with a confident smile.
Sam stared at her. "I let you walk out of here; you help me save Dean. That's the deal?"
Was he really that naive? Ruby shrugged. "It'll take time. Can't do it all at once. But, yeah, I can help you save him."
Sam nodded curtly, and put the holy water away.
Ruby didn't realise until it was too late that it was she who had been naïve. She sealed her own fate with that agreement. She knew what Sam was; she hadn't understood what it meant. She was a demon, but she'd proposed the deal to him. He named the price. And damn if she wasn't dumb enough to take the deal.
Lucky she didn't have a soul left to trade. Luckier still that Sam didn't yet understand what he had done.
John stared at Ruby. If the bitch was lying, he was about to make a huge mistake. He looked into her eyes. He didn't think she was lying.
He'd been wrong before.
He had less than a day to save Dean's soul.
John got to his feet and offered Ruby his hand. "Sweetheart, you just saved yourself a one-way ticket to Hell. Get up. You're coming with us."
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