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“Dean, you feeling alright?” Dean was twirling his fork around the meringue of his chocolate pie. He hadn’t taken a single bite, which Sam knew meant trouble. If his brother wasn’t possessed or switched with some imitation, then the situation was much worse: something was bothering Dean and he had an idea on dealing with it.
“Just... keep thinking about Kevin. Then Bobby... Rufus... Jo and Ellen...”
Sam leaned back in the booth. Their lives did seem to be emptier each day. “Yeah.”
“All the people we save... never is it family.”
Sam took a drink of his bottled water. He was right, they had no more family of blood or bond any more. Even the distant cousins they had briefly hunted with had become casualties of this never-ending war.
“We need to change that,” Dean said, finally taking a bite of his pie.
“Ok, Dean. Next family we meet, we’ll do a better job,” said Sam.
From the way his brother wasn’t looking at him, Sam realized he just guessed incorrectly. “Dean we don’t... have enough souls to bargain everyone back to life.”
“Without their wings, it doesn’t seem like the angels are capable of time traveling.”
“Our luck with time isn’t the best anyway,” sighed Dean. “No, Sam, we need to help a brother that’s still in trouble.”
“Oh.” Sam knew now what Dean was thinking. It was something that haunted Sam’s thoughts on quiet nights when he couldn’t sleep and his mind wandered. He never told anyone but sometimes Sam felt that he wasn’t the one that should have been retrieved from Hell. “You want to rescue Adam.”
Dean nodded as he finished his slice of pie.
“How... do we do that?”
“Try binding Death? Make him get Adam out like he did you?”
Sam took the bottle of beer Dean was drinking and set it out of reach. “You’ve had way too much if you think that will work.”
“Sam, I spent over a year trying to figure out how to get you out without unleashing Lucifer. I talked to Crowley and even he didn’t have any idea. When Cas sprang you, he only ended up doing a half-ass job. We’ve got to do something but I don’t know what besides prayer which, last I checked, didn’t accomplish anything.”
“Well we might keep praying just in case,” said Sam. He leaned forward in the booth so he could talk quieter. “But given that I’ve been in and out of Hell one more time than you, I do have an idea.”
“Should we play the Mission Impossible theme?” Dean asked as he leaned forward so he could listen. Though despite his joking Sam could see an expression on Dean’s face that hadn’t been there in a long time: hope.
“Well we know there’s more than one way into Hell.”
“Are you thinking of the Devil’s Gate in Montana?”
“Better than the one in New York. Regardless, we don’t go in that way.”
“Break into Hell through the front door? How far do you think we’d make it?”
“How do we get in, then?”
“The hole in Purgatory that leads to Hell.”
Dean smiled. “Right. And Castiel’s opened up Purgatory enough he should know how to get us through that door you used once.”
“Exactly. We go in, get to the pit, get Adam.”
“One thing I do remember: Hell’s big and not an easy place to navigate.”
“We’ll need a guide or something.”
“Crowley!” they both said simultaneously.
“Still, once inside more than a few nasties are going to try and kill us,” said Dean.
“We’ve got Ruby’s knife and the First Blade,” noted Sam.
“But with the sheer numbers...”
“...we better have a distraction.”
Dean thought a moment. “Cas and some of the angels might be up for a fight.”
“We could also ask Benny if he and any other monsters want to help on our way through Purgatory,” said Sam.
“So we load up, head down. How do we get Adam out of the pit?”
Sam took a deep breath. “We open the door. Using the horsemen’s rings.”
“How do we keep Lucifer from getting out?”
Dean gave Sam a questioning look.
“Do you know why I had to jump in? The door the rings open is too small for an archangel to pass through, unless they are in a vessel. Now that I’m out...”
“Lucifer can’t fit through the door. But Micheal’s still in Adam—”
Sam finished Dean’s sentence. “—so he can.”
“You remember how to open and close it?”
Sam glared at Dean. “I can’t forget that time of my life.”
“Why go into Hell then? Let’s open the door topside here.”
“And let Micheal loose on Earth? At least if we screw up down there he’s stuck in Hell. Besides, how do you think we’re going to get the horsemen’s rings?”
Dean thought over it a moment. “We hid them at Bobby’s.”
“You sure? When’s the last time you checked?”
Dean had no answer.
“I had to go by there and clean up Bobby’s estate while you were stuck in Purgatory. Since someone else might be buying that property I worked at removing anything dangerous to Dad’s storage locker. Guess what was missing.”
Dean sighed as he rubbed his forehead. “How?”
“Judging from the sulfur around the spots, I’m guessing some demons were sent to retrieve them.”
“The horsemen live in Hell?”
Sam paused to find the right words. “Not sure the horsemen are really ‘alive.’ Hell is more like their... base of operations from where they wreak havoc on the world.”
“So we go down there, yank their rings off, crack the cage open and fish out Adam. What do we do about his passenger?”
“Crowley did cough up the angel exorcism spell before he took off. We can use that to force Michael out. So the three of us would just be stuck at the center of Hell with a pissed off archangel.”
“Maybe he’ll show a bit of gratitude for getting him out of the cage,” Dean said, a hopeful smile on his face.
“Um… Dean… Hell was designed as a prison for angels. Just being there is agony for them if they don’t have a vessel’s body shielding their essence.”
Dean just stared at Sam.
“I had a lot of time…” Sam trailed off as he decided to rephrase that sentence. “Lucifer liked to overshare.”
“So you’re saying that even if he was grateful, the agony of just being inside Hell would make Michael go Old Testament.”
Dean rubbed his chin as he stared out the diner window in thought. “Alright, we cram Michael inside me and I pull a Sammy.”
What little water remained in Sam’s bottle was tossed into Dean’s face. “No!” Sam scolded. “Nobody. Nobody left behind.”
Dean grabbed a napkin from the dispenser and wiped his face. “But you said without a vessel the archangels won’t fit through the door. Either one of us goes in or we get smited. Can we kick Mikey out while inside the cage?”
Sam rubbed his forehead. “Perform an exorcism while Lucifer’s in the room?”
“Could we stand by the door and shout in?”
“Sound is… weird in there. What you can and can’t hear from outside is… kind of random. Although…”
Dean leaned in listen.
“Maybe there is a way to do both…”
Sam and Dean gathered up their supplies, put their duffel bags back on, then stood Adam upright, supporting him between them. Everywhere they looked, the featureless wastes of the bottom of Hell’s pit stretched. Above them, the maw of Hell yawned, so close yet impossibly far.
“We’ve got Adam, now how do we get out of Hell?” asked Sam.
“To tell the truth, I didn’t think we’d make it this far,” said Dean. “Figured we could at least wreck some havoc before we died.”
“Death got me out of here once. Maybe he’ll do it again when he comes to get his ring.”
That made his older brother laugh. “Sammy, I think the guy’s just going to let us rot down here.”
“Well Michael said Lucifer’s cry would draw the legions of Hell. Maybe we can figure something out when they attack.”
“If they attack. Bastards might just decide to leave us down here themselves.”
“Guess you could taunt them into coming down here. That usually works.”
“Yeah, for us and Bill Murray. Although...”
Sam looked as Dean rolled up his right sleeve.
The eldest Winchester nodded at his brother’s shocked expression. “Yeah, sorry I didn’t mention it sooner. Michael took off the Mark of Cain when he took me over. I should send him a thank you card when we get back home.”
“Still, that means we’re down a weapon.”
“Who needs that when you have family?”
Sam and Dean turned around, shocked at the voice they had heard behind them.
Mary Winchester stood before them, radiant as the last day they had seen her, only she wasn’t glowing with flames, but love. “Grab your brothers and take my hand,” she said, holding out her right arm.
“Carry on my sons, there will be peace when you are done.” Behind her, John Winchester, the grizzled old warrior took his wife’s left hand. In his eyes was something Sam and Dean had never seen there before: joy.
“What would you do without me?” asked Jessica as she gave Sam a playful wink and took John’s hand.
“Let’s get ya idjits home.” Behind him, Bobby, grinning beneath his old trucker’s hat, clasped hands with Jessica.
“Don’t know what you boys would do without us.” Behind Bobby, stood Ellen Harvelle.
“There’s never a last mission with them, is there mom?” asked Jo Harvelle, standing behind Ellen.
“I gathered everybody I could,” said Ash as he took Jo’s hand. “Thought ya’ll were going to need the help.”
“Don’t expect much gratitude, though,” Kevin Tran said with a wink of sarcasm.
“To Hell and back. I shouldn’t have underestimated them,” said Samuel Campbell.
“They are fine Legacies,” Henry Winchester said as he took the other grandfather’s hand.
“I’m just glad it’s me saving them for once,” said Victor Henriksen.
By now the voices were starting to overwhelm Sam and Dean as they looked and saw another person they had known behind another and another, each joining hands with those in front and behind until there was a long chain of ghosts climbing up the maw of Hell and beyond their sight.
“We thought... maybe a dozen... just a distraction,” Dean said, unable to form coherent thoughts.
“Forget it,” said John, his voice, even though not raised, cutting through the clamor.
“Family doesn’t abandon family,” said Mary, holding out her hand again.
Dean and Sam held each other and Adam as tight as they could, then took their mother’s hand.
The sensation was like trying to water ski while being pulled by a jet. The winds of Hell whipped at them. The pain was intense as it felt like their clothes were shredded until they were naught but skin. Then that was torn away until only their muscles remained. Yet through it all they kept their eyes closed and trusted the hands of their mother, father, and all the rest of the family they had ever known. Though the fires of Hell buffeted and raged at them, the brothers never felt their mother’s grasp waiver.
Neither did their grip on each other.
The universe was laid out before Him. Upon trillions and trillions of worlds were trillions of billions of tiny beings. He knew each of their names. Of each game piece He could tell you the story of his/her/its life. Taking a step, He moved to examine the tiny blue marble that spun at the edge of an unremarkable galaxy.
“Why such interest in that tiny rock?” asked His ancient opponent, taking his seat across the universe/table. “So many other worlds. An entire multi-verse to play.”
He looked around. Yes, there were an infinite number of other universes they simultaneously played their game on. The Opponent was right. So many out there. Some that favored Him. Some that favored the Opponent. Some where they were evenly matched.
“I like the challenge,” He answered.
The Opponent gave that sigh he was so adept at. “Challenge? Fancy words for delaying your own defeat.”
He laughed. “Care to bet?”
The Opponent’s eyes narrowed. The only game they played as much as this one, was betting on it. This time it was the Opponent delaying. They never declined the bets. “I shall.”
He couldn’t help smiling at the thought of what was coming. “You will be asked something soon. Not bound. Not coerced. Just asked. Humor the request.”
The Opponent looked at Him. He never liked it when He laughed. “You’re betting they will succeed.”
“What do I get if they fail?”
“The capture of some of my best pieces on this rock,” He answered.
“Tempting. What do you get if they succeed?” asked Death.
“A great story.”
It was the most beautiful day Dean had ever seen. The sun was shining, the lake was peaceful, and the brunette sitting on his lap looked stunning in her floral print bikini.
“I think you got a bite,” she said before raising the beer bottle to his lips so he could take a sip.
“What?” he asked after swallowing the drink. “A fish hasn’t touched my tackle all day.”
“Are you sure they’re the ones you want doing that?” the girl asked in a sultry voice.
He bolted to his feet so fast the girl sailed into the water. “Dammit, Cas!” Dean shouted as he turned around to face the angel. “What did I say about invading dreams?”
“Sorry, but I don’t have time to wait,” said his friend.
“Why?” he said, straightening up and becoming serious. “You in trouble?”
“Abaddon and Metatron are both finished. Angels are... finding their wings again.”
“Heh, so the bells toll for thee. Congrats, Cas. You earned it.”
The angel sighed. “No, Dean I’m... not quite an angel anymore.”
“What are you then?”
“An angel... ghost?”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I know.” Castiel paused a moment to appreciate the scenic view of Dean’s mind. “With Metatron gone we’re hoping to right the Veil but... there’s still a lot of work for us to do.”
Castiel looked behind at the distant figure wearing a luchador mask and cape.
Dean couldn’t help laughing.
“I know he seems eccentric but he is a doctor and thinks we can fix this.”
Dean held up his hand to signal Cas to give him a moment until he could stop laughing. “I’m not laughing at you, man. He’s an old friend. And he’s right. Anything we can do to help?”
“That’s what I’m saying, Dean. You can’t. This could take awhile. I don’t know if we’ll ever see each other again,” said Cas.
Dean stood there a moment, absorbing the words. “But if you need help...”
“Doctor Badass and I know plenty of souls that can help.”
Dean couldn’t stop the second laughing fit that overtook him. “He tell you that was his name?”
Castiel, with a confused expression, nodded. “Did he... ‘punk’ me?”
“Not exactly,” said Dean, wiping his eyes. “But you’re right. If anyone can get Heaven fixed...”
Castiel smiled and after a moment to remember how, gave Dean a thumbs up.
“See ya around, Cas.”
“Go be with your family, Dean.”
Bright sunlight stung Sam’s eyes even though his eyelids were closed. He blinked, staring up at a gorgeous blue sky, grass tickling his ears. He sat up and looked around. It took a moment, the place looked so different in the daylight, but he finally recognized the cemetery in Wyoming. The mausoleum that served as the gate to Hell was just a few feet away, locked and chained shut.
“Alive, Dean,” Sam said.
His brother stumbled up next to him, and Sam saw the recognition cross Dean’s face as well. “We made it out?” he asked in disbelief.
Sam nodded with a bit of disbelief as well.
They both checked that their clothes and skin was still intact, neither being quite able to believe their escape. For the first time in their lives, they felt lucky… and blessed.
“Nah, this has to be a dream.”
Sam nodded for Dean to look behind him. “I don’t think so.”
Dean turned around and saw it too: Adam Milligan lay there face down on the grass.
Sam saw Dean’s big-brother instincts take over as he ran to the guy and started checking him for vital signs. “Dude, wake up! We did it. You’re out of Hell!” Dean said over and over again.
Adam sputtered and pushed Dean away saying, “Whoa, hey, personal space, man.”
Sam watched them both as Adam sat upright, blinking at the sight of the world. “Where am I?” he asked.
Dean jumped to his feet and let out a whoop that made the other two flinch. “You hear that?” he shouted at the sky. “We did it! We got him out of Hell! We! Are! The! Champions!”
“We’re in southern Wyoming,” Sam said as he helped Adam to his feet while Dean began singing the Queen song off key.
“How’d we get here?” asked Adam.
“That’s... a long story,” said Sam. “How about we talk about it over a beer?”
“Come on you two!” Dean said, grabbing their shoulders for attention. “We’ll keep on fighting – ‘til the end!”
Sam looked at Adam and shrugged. He had to admit that after seeing everyone – the whole family – he too felt like singing. “We are the champions!”
Adam shook his head at the sight but finally joined in singing, “We are the champions.”
And all three brothers sang to the heavens at the top of their lungs, “‘No time for losing ‘cause we are the champions. ...OF THE WORLD!’”