“Little snot-wipe shot me!” Azazel grouched. He turned to John, shoved against his shoulder and repeated, “Your irritating brat shot me.” He wiped at his chest. “This hurts you know. Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep this old body in tip top shape?”
Dean quirked an eyebrow and shrugged. “Not my problem.” Dean finally had to look away from the image of his dead brother. Turning on his heels he took a few steps around the circle and away from Sam. “But, Sam and what happens to both of us is.” Snickering, Dean waved his gun in the air in front of him. “Guess I haven’t done a bang up job of that watch out for Sammy thing lately. Oh well.”
John ripped his gaze from Sam and landed it on Dean, his hand barely brushed the spot on his shoulder where Dean had shot him. “You killed Sam.” His voice was hollow, his expression confused.
“Yep. I did. It was the only way to keep Lucifer where he belongs. So, we’re off the hook, right? Sam, wherever he is, won’t have to suffer in Hell and neither will I. Right?”
When neither John nor Azazel answered and John simply stared at the body on the floor, Dean took a few more steps away. Keep control, keep their attention. “Hey, boys.” Snapping his fingers, Dean pointed to himself. “Talking here. Sam sure ain’t gonna say much now. And he never was one to listen to anyone—well you, Dad.”
Two sets of yellow eyes focused on him making Dean’s skin crawl.
“Without Sam we can’t carry through on the plan.” Azazel smirked. “At least not right now.”
“So, we’re off the hook, right? That’s the deal, no Sam, no Lucifer out of his cage, no need for me?”
Azazel nodded and John mumbled a “yes.”
“I think you pushed him too hard, your kid has cracked in two.”
“Yeah, sorry, Dad, no father, son and…” Dean snickered and waved in the general direction of where Sam lay. “…unholy ghost with the three of us playing our respective parts. I want to make sure that is the deal. Oh, and if either of you have any stupid idea I’m going to do some smooching with you, forget it.”
Snorting, Azazel rocked back and forth on his heels and crossed both arms over his chest. “You and Sam’s soul are off the hook. It’s a deal. Minor set back really. I have hundreds of children and more being born every day I can use. Isn’t that right, Johnny? So, the question now is, to let you go or not?” He nudged at John. “What do you say?”
John shrugged, eyes narrowing on Dean for a few seconds. “You’re the boss, I’m just the hired muscle, remember? You want to let him go, it’s up to you.” He glared at Dean. “You killed your brother.”
“Sheesh, Dad, get with it. That’s old news.” Dean giggled, “Been there, done that.” Looking down at his chest, he let his fingertips skim the material. “Like my shirt? Oh, yeah, you never did get into Star Trek, did you, Dad? Sammy bought me this not too long ago. I love it. I loved him too much to let him be responsible for the end of the world.” He met John’s gaze unwaveringly. For a split second John’s gaze slipped to Azazel then was back on Dean again with an eerie, apprising sort of feeling radiating off him. “Oh, and before you go and set this up again, I’d consider it a personal favor if you waited a few hundred years, make sure I’m good and gone. Once is more than enough.”
Dean resisted the urge to back away; instead he stared up for a few seconds and whistled a low tune. He worked to keep his face completely without emotion, his breathing steady and his limbs under control, no random twitches—his father would hone in on those things like a hawk to a rabbit.
“Definitely, deep end.” Azazel made a diving motion with his hand and shook his head. “Let me out. Now.”
Tucking his hands behind his back, Dean walked even farther around the circle until John and Azazel had to turn so their backs were to Sam, Dean stopped and scratched at the back of his head. Plucking at his shirt a few times, Dean sighed. “Bet you don’t get a lot of television down in Hell, huh? I love TV, really love Star Trek, it’s cool and like the shirt says, everything I know…”
Azazel threw both hands in the air and turned to John. “You raised a lunatic. This is not helpful.”
“I did my best,” John talked to Azazel, but he kept his gaze firmly on Dean.
“See there’s this thing on Star Trek, called the Kobyiashi Maru,” Dean went on, pacing a few steps back the way he’d come, ensuring both demons were completely focused on him.
“What’s that and why do I care?” Azazel snapped. Looking down at the ground he closed his eyes and held his hands out, palms down. Dean felt energy surge along the floor and a low rumble began at Azazel’s feet, oozing out to the perimeter of the circle making the stone floor shiver and the walls tremble.
John’s lips twitched up ever so slightly. He tapped on Azazel’s shoulder. “Before you do that, let’s hear him out. Maybe we can salvage this operation. Or get something useful to us.”
Sighing dramatically, Azazel opened his eyes and bunched his hands to fists, opening them at once and repeating the movement. “Fine. What do you think you could possibly tell me?” he snapped at Dean.
“Kobyiashi Maru, it’s pretty simple actually, best cons are. See, when you’ve lost all hope, all the odds are against you and there is no way out and no way to win, you only have one course of action left.”
“Shoot your brother?” Azazel asked.
“Good one,” Dean chuckled and shook his head. “No. Cheat.” He folded his hands in front of his thighs and rocked back and forth on his heels. “See, it’s what my Dad taught me, how to hustle, cheat, never lose and always…always put family first.”
Azazel cocked his head to one side. John shuffled back a step, dipping his head ever so slightly in a nod. Dean pretended he didn’t notice, but he knew the gesture for what it was, admiration, maybe even pride. John knew. John knew and was standing there pretending he didn’t. Dean concentrated on how his heart thundered in his chest, sure both Azazel and John could hear it as plainly as Dean felt it.
Moving closer to the countertop covered with coins, Dean spared a glance at them. One at a time, each coin transformed from tarnished and broken, restored to its original luster, whole and perfect. Putting the few extra feet between himself and the Devil’s Trap helped ground him and steady his nerves.
Step one accomplished.
On to step two.
“Cheat?” Azazel really did look confused, Dean almost felt sorry for him.
“You didn’t think I was going to let you get away with this, did you? Let you bring Lucifer out? Kill my brother? No body kills my kid brother but me.”
“Dean always was a natural con. He took what I taught him, which was minor compared to what he’s since learned to do.” John looked down at his foot, scuffed one toe over the floor and raised his chin high enough to look at Azazel. “I don’t know how, haven’t figured it out, but looks like my boy beat you at your own game.”
“You sound almost pleased, Johnny. If I didn’t know better I’d think you were.”
John shrugged. “Dean is my son.”
“A son who I am going to be sure burns in Hell forever,” Azazel snarled.
“No, actually you won’t,” a soft voice said from somewhere behind Dean. Sam stepped from behind one of the pillars and onto the walkway, not stopping until he stood beside Dean.
Azazel growled, “How did you—?”
John’s eyes widened. “Sam?” He breathed the word out.
“Let’s not forget, boys, a deal is a deal,” Dean let himself relax a small amount. He felt better with Sam’s solid presence at his side.
Azazel narrowed his gaze, glowering at them
Sam’s gaze flicked to John’s face and away almost at once. Dipping his head he turned enough to peer at Dean from under his bangs. Turning one corner of his mouth up, Dean winked.
“Dean was always good with the cons, but Sammy? His thing was the languages,” John said and took another step away from Azazel. “Isn’t that right, Sam?”
“Yes sir,” Sam said quietly.
Azazel laughed, his booming filled the entire space. “You two dolts think a few ancient words and musty rituals will affect me? Hardly. I would like to know how you did that?” He pointed at Sam.
“Cheat, remember?” Dean waved grandly at the spot ‘Sam’ lay dead.
When John and Azazel turned to look, the body of the youngest Winchester faded away and another form resolved. Bob stood up, grumbling and brushing his pants off. “That floor is cold.” He pointed at Azazel and grouched, “As much as I hate to admit it, he’s right. Getting shot hurts. Oh, and look, yet another shirt ruined. That’s two you owe me, Winchester.”
“You?” Azazel’s yellow eyes flashed and his face hardened.
“Howdy, Azazel, sucks to be you.”
Sam walked around the circle until he stood beside Bob. Taking a small knife from his jacket pocket, Sam sliced his finger and dipped it in the pool of blood left by the angel. Taking a few steps closer to the circle, Sam flicked the blood from his finger, a few drops landed on the circle, intermingling with the oil. Sparks slithered along the circle, lighting up the design of the trap. A second later it ignited, small flames lapped steadily at the air. He sidestepped around it until he was once again beside Dean. Bob flickered out of sight.
“Oh no. No…no…no…” Azazel said, holding his hands out, palms down again. This time the floor shook, cracks formed a ring around the trap threatening to move through and break the trap.
Grabbing Sam’s collar, Dean stepped back, forcing Sam farther from the circle. “Crap.”
Sam sucked in a breath, shot Dean a look, squared his shoulders and began reciting the exorcism. Azazel inhaled deeply and laughed again. The pressure in the room dropped, every inanimate object not nailed down took flight as wind swirled around, going fast enough it was creating a vortex.
This was the really dangerous part, demons actually gained power before they were exorcised. Fist tightening on Sam’s collar, Dean dug in his pocket for the vial of sacrosanct oil and salt he had as a back up.
“Not this time,” John said in a low voice and with a jerk of his chin Azazel was hit with an unseen force from behind, sending him sprawling face first onto the ground.
Rolling to his feet, Azazel never even flinched. Glowing ember like points of light erupted around John and he was flung full force off the ground until he connected with the Devil’s Trap, smashed into the barrier and bounced off, landing on all fours in the center of the circle. Lifting his head, John glared at Azazel, spit dripping from his lower lip.
“Screw this.” John stood to his full height. “I always liked the old fashioned way better.” Closing the distance between himself and Azazel, John grabbed Azazel’s shirt, lifting him off his feet, shoved him backwards, let go and landed a solid, audible punch to the demon’s jaw. “Never shoulda quit working out, Sparky!”
Azazel hit the ground with a dull thud. Sparks flew, literally, making Sam’s words falter. Dean jostled him back into reciting the rituals.
“Seriously? SERIOUSLY?” Azazel bellowed. “You should have kept up on your demon power studies.”
The ground shaking increased to the point Dean and Sam stumbled. Dean threw his weight against Sam, keeping them both on their feet. The small flames encircling the trap grew and spread along the inner symbols.
A loud boom and a splash of light flared between John and Azazel, blasting them away from each other, both landing on their asses a few feet apart. John was up first, crossing to Azazel again, throwing himself onto the demon.
It was the distraction they needed. Azazel couldn’t fight the ritual words Sam was reciting and John at the same time. The flames reached the center of the circle and swirled into a bullseye dead center of the Devil’s Trap. The floor split open, bits of it dropping down into some abyss, creating a perfect round eye of glowing red. In the next second a black column of flame burst out, winding around Azazel’s ankles and began pulling him at the hole.
Simultaneously the ceiling above them glowed then ignited in a brilliant wave of blue, silver and white. John staggered away from Azazel as the wave from above flowed over him, spinning faster and faster until his body distorted. What looked to Dean to be thousands of tiny wings fluttered out of the eddy of light, flapping around, some seemed to actually slip inside John.
The yellow of John’s eyes vanished, replaced by their normal color. He looked at Dean and Sam for a few seconds, smiled, nodded and whispered, “Get him boys.” John’s body glowed, blues and silvers, purples and brilliant whites spun faster, weaving into and out of his legs and torso. The spinning increased and the wings coalesced around John, drawing him in before pulling toward one another until they and John were a singular opalescent ball of light.
The entire sky lit up for a few seconds in the same pearly light and the ball shot skyward into the larger light. An instant later it was gone.
Step two, accomplished. John might never be human again, but he’d never be a demon either. Hunters in Hell might be like cops in prison, but hunters in Heaven had to be heroes. There was simply no other way.
Sam yanking Dean away from the Trap and throwing his arm across his face at the same time drew Dean’s attention back to the room around them. Rocks, paper, pens, books, everything was a monstrous tornado and they were in its path. The floor beneath their feet split and crumbled, stone tiles becoming rubble. “Dean, we’ve got to—”
“Finish it,” Dean shouted, using his own body to shield Sam. “Talk faster.”
The maelstrom in the room forced them to hunker down on their knees while Sam finished the ritual. The floor exploded upward with his final word and Azazel shrieked as he was dragged through the glowing red opening in the ground. Reaching out, he scrabbled with both hands at the disintegrating floor, leaving scratches as he sank farther down.
Dean grabbed Sam under the arms and hoisted them both up, shoving his brother ahead as they ran at the walkway. The fissure dipped inward and without warning everything stopped. As they made their way to the building entrance, they both turned and looked back in time to see Azazel sucked down, stone from the floor falling in after him.
Then there was silence. The flames along the Devil’s Trap lines died down and went out, leaving nothing but smudgy marks on the chunks of floor that remained. A spider web of cracks covered the entire floor sprawling out from the hole Azazel had dropped down. Dust swirled in the stilling air and things that had been flying around seconds ago fell harmlessly to the ground.
Sam’s fingers curled in his jacket sleeve, tugging at him insistently, demanding they leave.
“Big mistake, making me choose. Should’ve never made me choose,” Dean said to the empty Devil’s Trap and let Sam pull him from the building to the safety of outside world, new and uncertain.