He waited for the walls to stop caving in and for the floorboards to stop rippling, for the creaking and cracking timbers and the howling wind and the growling thunder to quiet. When at last there was silence and he dared to raise his face from Jess' shoulder, he was for a few seconds at a loss as to how they had not been pummeled and crushed by the church's collapse. He could look up through a hole in the cave-in and see the solid black clouds; a few cold drops of rain landed in his hair and another lightning flash seared the edges of his vision as he screwed his eyes shut. Then he realized that it might've been him, his telekinesis instinctively shifting back against the walls being torn down around them. He looked at Jess, her face grey and mottled in the shadows, streaked with blood and dried tears, whether from the stinging wind and debris or from emotion. His body ached and throbbed and stung but his mind was numb to it; he couldn't know how bad it was until he started testing his limits. Couldn't be sure either how badly Jess had been hurt by the god choking her and throwing her down. Long fingers of shadow wrapped around her face and neck, blurring the edges of the bruising. He'd failed again to prevent what he'd seen in his vision.
They had to climb out through the hole over their heads and it wasn't deep but it was a precarious business to get a foot or a handhold on the wreckage without injuring themselves on the busted-up timbers and broken glass and long crooked nails. He boosted Jess up first and once she was securely balanced on a sheaf of corrugated roofing she helped him up by guiding him to the boards that would bear his weight. Luckily, close to the door as they'd been and despite the direction the wind had been driving down, they didn't have to crawl over much wreckage but could just slide right off the edge.
Their feet landed on solid earth again and the first thing he did was look Jess over to see if any of her bones had been fractured or her joints had been sprained and she gave him the same brisk pat down. They were back to being hesitant and strained when they made physical contact after their desperate huddling. When he was reassured on that score he turned around and looked out across the land. It took his breath away--the h-bomb testing site scale of the destruction, the oak trees that had been torn up by their roots and the scarred and twisted look of the scrubland after the toyon and manzanita and ferns and rocks had been ripped up and tangled together and snarled in clumps far gone from where their roots had been planted. He turned and looked up at the mountain where the storm clouds had built up in shelves before crashing down like an avalanche and he saw a horizon of calm ashen night. The massive storm clouds had torn themselves to ribbons in their fury and now their smoky remains were scudding away over the hills like robbers fleeing the scene of a stick up. The crescent moon peaking through a shifting chink in the clouds was all they had to see by.
He turned to look towards the lumber mill and his heart sank like a stone as he saw the shape it had shifted into, how the roof had half caved in and the windows had all been blown out into rows of black holes, and he thought about the children he was pretty sure had been in there, children he hadn't even tried to get out.
Then he saw the god and wondered how he could have overlooked him this long, with his striking height and horns and the energy that sizzled around him. Hadad was standing only a few yards outside the church, surveying the damage he had caused, still bleeding from the hole Jess had gored in his side, his blood oozing thick and black like tar under the dim moonlight.
Sam stepped in front of Jess in case she tried to rush him again and flung his arm up, palm open, then clenched his fist, trying to spear that nuclear core of radiating energy that was the god's real self, and with the gesture came a searing splash of memories, seething and spitting like boiling oil in his gut, visceral impressions of killing Alastair and Lilith with the power he held secure in his mind and in his hands. For a second he thought it was working. Then a splintering pain pierced his head and for a second he seemed to be floating outside his body. He came crashing back into himself with another jolt so painful that he lost the hook he'd had in the god and Hadad was turning towards him. Hadad's obsidian eyes were bleakly reflecting the ravaged landscape, mouth drooping in a rueful frown.
"Save your strength," he said. "I'm already dying."
"Could you hurry it up then," Jess snarled. "It's the least you deserve."
He looked away from them and tilted his face up towards the moon's wavery shimmer. "You don't understand. When they brought me back, I really did want to help these people. They thought to bind me, they were stupid and arrogant men, but still, I decided to stay and serve them and the greater good. I forsook the peace and the rest and the empty, and I tried to build them a sanctuary so this one corner of the world would know peace. But the less they had year after year the greedier they became--and not just the ones you were fighting. The ones who cast them out because they feared their magic. I gave them a second chance at life and they wasted it. They deserved to be punished."
So he had enough humanity in his ancient and terrible conscience that he felt the need to justify what he'd done. He had enough humanity and yet he'd done it anyway. Sam wanted to hurt him badly but he still had the sense of something lurking behind a wall at the back of his consciousness, waiting on the rift that yawned opened inside him when he tried to draw on his powers. Borrowed powers. He had to remember that.
"You sonofabitch!" Jess shouted and Sam flung his arm out to block her from charging forward again. He believed that the god was dying but a dying god could still be dangerous, especially considering she no longer had her stake. "There were innocent people--children--babies in there. You--"
"If I couldn't save them no one could," Hadad said. He turned towards them and he sank to his knees, his chin still raised, looking up at Sam almost in supplication. "You need to leave," he said. "This isn't your world. And there's two of you rattling the walls of that cage of meat and bone, trying to keep the reins on a power that only needs your self-control to slip once, like a half-broken horse being made to bear the weight of two riders."
It took Sam's mind a few seconds to digest the meaning of Hadad's words even though he had briefly chewed over the possibility before. So he was still here then, this other him, held prisoner in his own body--somehow Sam was the one holding him under. He didn't mean to do it. He didn't know how to stop doing it. He shuddered, sickened and guilty and afraid.
Hadad collapsed backwards in a gradual and deliberate arc, stretching out his long legs, settling on the cragged earth like it was a funeral pyre, and after a few rattling, chest-heaving breaths he fell utterly still.
They walked back to the lumber mill accompanied by the intermittent growl of distant thunder. His breathing was labored, the air still tasting ionized, his expanding lungs making his bruised ribcage feel painfully constricting. This body was a cage of flesh and blood and bone and he was both prisoner and jailor.
Sam was relieved to see one figure standing outside the mill, waving to them. A woman in camo. When they got closer he saw that it was Annabeth and she had a bad bruise on her jaw and a leg she was favoring, that was all. Except that her face was white and stricken and tear-streaked and as she raised her right hand to brush away the hair that had been whipped out of the tight braid she wore he saw the glint of a wedding band and he remembered Adam, who she'd looked at with spousal annoyance.
They asked her about the necromancers and she said the ones left standing, who'd gotten out of the mill before half the roof had been blown off, had fled over the hills on their dirt bikes. When the wind had started howling and the thunder had growled like a wendigo they'd seemed to know what was coming.
Sam and Jess and Annabeth went to the Jeeps, all of which had broken windows and taillights and three of which had their fenders and hubs ripped off, and looked in them for flashlights and med kits. Then they went into the mill through the cave-like mouth where front doors had been torn off their hinges. Annabeth still had a machete and she gave Sam her Taurus for all the good it would do him. Jess had retrieved her gun and still had whatever she carried in the duffle slung across her chest. The air was chokingly thick with smoke and dust and the shadows were barely penetrated by the feeble beams of their flashlights. The walkways had collapsed and broken at odd angles across the machinery and the steel struts and beams had fallen like javellins on a Roman battlefield and the wreckage was still settling and still liable to collapse in on itself even more. He knew that each step in here was another pull of the trigger in Russian Roulette but he also knew that nobody else was coming to look for survivors. Sam stumbled across a man who'd died with machete in hand and retrieved the blade. Heard Annabeth give a short tearful gasp as she recognized whoever's body it had been.
It only took a couple minutes before they heard a child crying. Sam hadn't been so relieved to hear that sound since Dean had been performing CPR on that kid they'd found passed out in a mausoleum coffin last February.
They found the children locked inside the foreman's corner office. Luckily, it had a window looking out on the main floor and once they pushed a pallet over so they could climb over the broken glass they found four kids, alive, huddled in the far corner. They ran the gamut from about two to about seven and from hysterical dry sobbing to nearly catatonic. The eldest put up a fight about being removed but Annabeth and Jess together were able to restrain the girl and eventually got her to quiet down.
They found three members of the militia and two civilian women alive. The women's primary concern was the safety of the children and so long as they got to stay with the children they seemed like they'd be compliant. He thought again about the woman who'd taken a bullet to the stomach. They gave them water and patched them up with the supplies in the med kits: trauma shears, tweezers, safety pins, iodine, irrigation syringe, benzoin swabs, rolls of tape and gauze. They made the walk back out with Annabeth and Jess supporting two men and Sam carrying one of the women whose black-and-blue ankle was twisted at an agonizing angle. They staggered their way back outside and got their patients loaded into two Jeeps. Annabeth took one, Sam and Jess the other, dividing up the survivors between them.
The torn-up trees had the highway barricaded and they had to drive off road for a while across the scrubland, trying to navigate foothills and more fallen trees and deep rents in the earth by the shine of the crescent moon and their Jeep's one intact headlight.
Jess behind the wheel, kids curled up on the seats behind them--aside from the gun resting on his thigh and the blood dripping on the seats and the bruises throbbing regular as a heartbeat with every bump of the rocky landscape this could be a family road trip in some other universe.
"I just don't get it," Sam said. "There's radio, there's national news broadcasting, there's still a society out there...Can't we try and get a chopper from somewhere."
"We're in a quarantined no-fly zone," Jess said. "There's people--private organizations we could get in contact with but it would come at a steep cost that we can't afford right now."
Sam thought about the bodies he'd seen piling up on the roads two towns over and the bodies they'd just left behind.
"Who's really responsible for this? Heaven, Hell? Gods, monsters?"
"A little of column A, a little of columns B through Z. Heaven and Hell had a war with forces lined up nice and neat, black against white, and they both lost. Their prize fighters had their Ali/Foreman showdown and neither was up to snuff. They opened the door to chaos. What you saw back there--that god with his biker gang turned black magic cult--that's pretty typical. A bunch of competing gangs trying to carve out their own Private Idaho."
"So neither Michael nor Lucifer was possessing their true vessel during the war?"
"And they're both dead?"
"Probably. There wasn't exactly a televised broadcast of the showdown and everyone knows someone who claims to have seen it with their own eyes, but rumor has it they're both dead and they haven't been heard from in so long it's probably true."
Probably wasn't good enough for him to have peace of mind on that score, but at least he could rule out one terrible thing that he might've done or that might've happened to this Dean.
"How did you learn that spell?" he asked, doing his best not to sound accusatory. He didn't have the right. It had just freaked him out, that was all.
She swallowed, jaw clenching and the bruises on her face shifting into a new mottled pattern. She did that a lot, clenched her jaw and physically bit back whatever she was thinking or feeling. It was both a deeply familiar attitude to be riding in a car with and still surreal coming from her. He wondered how long he'd have to stay with her before he got used to it and then stomped the imagining that it sparked out. He couldn't entertain thoughts that lead anywhere but how he was going to get home.
"The witch's Grand Coven--we took refuge with them for a while. After Missouri. We both learned some things. Stuff to only use when our backs are against the wall and there's no better option."
"Right," he said. He swallowed hard, with a rasp of his dry throat, and wished he had some water but the only water bottle he'd found in the Jeep he'd passed to the kids and he didn't want to take it back from them.
"I don't like it either," she said. "But the things we've been fighting--necromancers and worse--sometimes it's the only thing that works."
"What did Dean think about that? About us going to the Grand Coven for help, I mean?"
"Dean wasn't around at the time. You should understand, you didn't grow up with him here."
This revelation struck him like a roundhouse kick to the solar plexus. "What? How?"
"Your dad--the cops had something on him that connected him to your mom's death and he had to bail--Had to go completely underground when you were a kid. He took your brother but your great aunt had you at the time and she wouldn't...Well, you grew up with your mom's side of the family."
He felt like he'd been uprooted from his universe all over again. He stared at this other him's hands, resting half-clenched on his knees and then he squeezed his eyes shut, turned his mind as deeply inward as he could go, and asked who are you?
He got no reply.