It took hours of lying totally still – eyes wide open to keep awake – for Mel’s breathing to even out and steady into deep sleep. Sammi slid carefully out of the bed they were sharing, pulling her pillow down into the space she’d just vacated, and tiptoed over to the bunks where the twins were supposed to be lying awake, waiting for her. She froze as Mel sighed loudly and whacked Sammi’s side of the bed, but a loud snore a moment later reassured her that it was a false alarm. Sammi was very glad to be leaving the flailing limbs of her cousin.
Chris was snoring gently in the bottom bed, so Sammi put her hand over his mouth and gently pinched his nose until he stopped struggling and opened his eyes to look at her. Grandpa had always taught them that a low voice carried less than a whisper, so she spoke quietly into Chris’ ear. “You were supposed to stay awake! Come on, it’s time to go. Dan’s fallen asleep too.”
She left Chris to retrieve his brother from the top bunk and place pillows carefully to disguise the fact that their beds were empty; she gathered up their shoes and the pack full of supplies and clothes that she’d hidden earlier. The twins joined her at the front door and they all held their breath as she carefully turned the handle and silently swung the door open wide enough for them to slip through.
Pulling on jeans and sweaters over their pajamas and making their way unseen around the edge of the dimly lit campground was far easier than any of the games of sneak and capture that Grandpa had been playing with them since they were old enough to walk. Barely five minutes passed before they were out on the highway and Dan was scrabbling in her pack for the flashlight.
They were really doing this, really being Winchesters! Sammi couldn’t stop giggling, and nearly choked trying to keep quiet when Dan started bitching that she needed to wait for him and the flashlight.
The air in the basement room of the church was stale, but Archie could taste the tang of blood, and control. The Altar was perfect, each member of his book group, his perfect little army, represented. Taking the ‘getting to know you’ photographs had been an act of genius.
He opened his briefcase and removed a silk-wrapped bundle from within, kneeling reverentially on the floor as he unwrapped his family knife; retrieved from the back of his father’s desk. Archie admired the gleaming edge of the blade; it had taken so much time to remove the tarnish and work the blunt, mistreated, metal back to this state. He placed it gently on the Altar before carefully folding up the silk and replacing it in his briefcase.
Archie stood again and took the knife in his right hand, closing his eyes and breathing deeply through his nose as he drew the sharp blade across his left palm. He could feel blood beginning to well up, so he opened his eyes to position his half-clenched fist over the special, bronze, bowl to collect the precious drops. A little pain was worth it – there were things he needed his army to do – and this was much better than trying to persuade them with words.
Sammi was glad that Great Uncle Sam had insisted that they all break in their boots at the beginning of summer vacation. The walk to Canfield was longer than it had seemed in the car and new boots would have rubbed her feet to shreds by now.
Dan had settled down from his bitching and had taken to swinging the flashlight around and over the road just like Grandpa did, causing rapid scrabbling and highlighting flashing eyes in the bushes at the edge of the pavement. It was very quiet here, the little country road deserted except for them and the local wildlife. Chris had insisted on taking her pack and hefting it up on his own shoulder and, as much as she’d protested that she was just as able as him, she was glad of it as each new corner failed to reveal the deserted little town.
It took them just over an hour to get to Canfield, and she just wanted to go marching in and take care of business – but when she saw the dark outline of the church building, she had to stop for a moment and take a deep breath. She tugged at Chris’ arm, making him stop, and took the pack from him; there were things in there that they would need if they were going into battle.
There was a whole bag of charms from Earthfriend that she split evenly between the three of them, little bags of rock salt, and some old Tang bottles filled with holy water. Dan had even brought a silver letter opener from Great Uncle Sam’s study.
They were set.
Archie used his handkerchief to clean off the blade and bind his hand. The wound ached but it wasn’t enough to distract him from drawing the fresh rune-symbols on each of the pictures propped up on his Altar.
The still quiet of the basement was soothing, and as he worked Archie could feel the slick, powerful, draw of the magic he was strengthening. While completing the last symbol, though, he felt a twinge of irritation, as if there were a fly buzzing round his head. He finished his drawing and pulled himself bodily back from the Altar.
There were people in his church; he could hear footsteps overhead, and the murmur of low voices. It was probably just some stupid kids, boys showing off to their girlfriends in the ‘scary’ church; there was no way they’d come down here.
He stood, stock still, in the middle of the room with his head cocked towards the noise, so attuned to it that he nearly jumped out his skin when the metallic scrape-click started at the door. They were trying to pick the lock.
He felt as if time were moving at double speed as he grabbed his briefcase and fled to the tiny broom closet in the far corner of the room.
“Hurry up Dan! It’s an easy one – even Mel would have got it by now.” Chris poked teasingly at his twin and Sammi stifled another giggle.
Her insides felt like she’d had a whole bottle of that champagne stuff that they’d toasted with at Grandma’s funeral. She’d spent the whole day wanting to run and tell her about the funny bubble-sting on her tongue after Grandpa had let her take a sip.
Dan just glared at them both, trying to silence them with the Winchester bitchface, but the effect was kind of spoiled as a surprised grin broke through when the last bit of the lock clicked open.
She bit her lip as Dan tried to twist his face into a more serious expression. “Okay guys; let’s see what’s in here.” He seemed to be speaking more to the door than to them.
A delicious shiver ran down Sammi’s spine as the door creaked open, making a perfect horror movie noise. If she was a bad guy, intent on taking over the world, this is where she’d do it from.
She could see the same excited horror reflected in her cousins’ faces as the door swung open and exposed a table covered in scraps and pictures and guttering candles.
“Oh, wow.” She could barely breathe the words; her voice seemed to be stuck in her throat. “It’s an Altar.”
Sammy mumbled something in his sleep and rolled to the edge of the bed, taking most of the covers with him. Dean had half-woken at the noise of his little brother, alert to any possible distress even after all these years, and woke up fully as he was left lying in the cold night air; protected only by the flannel pajamas that Molly had insisted he wear when the grandkids started staying over.
He tried grabbing the edge of the lightweight, warm quilt and rolling back before he got too cold to fall back asleep, but Sam was never a very settled sleeper and tonight it seemed he was in a kicking mood. Dean groaned quietly; his shins were already black and blue and why on earth had he agreed to sharing a bed with his freakishly enormous baby brother? Sam had argued that the kids would probably talk all night and keep them awake, but seriously? Anything would be better than this. And now he needed to piss.
He fumbled a little at the top of the cabinet next to the bed before he finally managed to snag his stupid glasses, with their stupid split lenses that meant he had to tilt his head to some crazy angle to get anything he actually wanted to look at in focus. Dad had never needed glasses and it felt like weakness that he had to use them – and if someone hid the damn things he couldn’t even see to find them. Hell, the last time they had to go shoot vermin in the garden, Sam had bagged more than Dean.
They did make seeing in the dark easier though, and he didn’t want to bang around the cabin on the way to the john.
Dean stood in the bathroom, pleased that the moonlight meant it was bright enough that he didn’t need to click on the light. His midnight visits to the can were taking longer these days but he was humming slightly under his breath, physical comfort combining with his content at being surrounded by his family. Finally finished, he rolled his shoulders and quietly went back out into the main room to check on the kids before he returned to bed.
The twins seemed to be sleeping peacefully enough, but Mel was thrashing about almost as much as her Grandpa did – Hulsu had been the same, probably still was, and Dean suspected that all of Sammy’s progeny for generations to come would be flaily sleepers. Poor Sammi would be black and blue like herGrandpa come the morning. He quietly moved over to where the girls were sleeping; maybe once he’d soothed Mel back to a more peaceful sleep, he could go for a moonlight walk with his girl.
As he got closer, he could see that Mel seemed to be pummeling the crap out of Sammi.
“Sammi.” He hissed, “hey!”
The lump next to Mel didn’t move and his heart leapt into his mouth – had her cousin accidentally knocked his baby girl out? He flung the covers back without much concern for Mel, desperate to see that Sammi was okay. Her pillow lay in the nest of a bed, her bear lying abandoned next to it, mocking him.
Dean hadn’t felt so sick in years, not since the last time his other Sammy left him. He barely remembered moving to the front door of the cabin, hauling it open and checking outside. She knew not to go outside in the dark on her own. A nagging thought distracted him from the whirl inside his head.
The cabin door hadn’t been locked.
Sam woke with a start when he heard Dean shouting in the main room and limped quickly through to see what was going on, not even pausing to get his stick.
Mel was sitting up in the on the edge of her futon bed, hair sticking up at crazy angles, and Dean was standing in the middle of the room, yelling.
“Then where the fuck are they, Mel? The big flashlight’s gone and…”
Sam made his way over to his granddaughter and sat next to her, slipping his arm round her back protectively. “Dean.” He spoke quietly, cutting through his brother’s shout. “Dean, stop yelling and tell me what’s going on.” Mel was shivering slightly and he pulled her closer.
Dean sank down onto one of the arm chairs, the anger in his face subsiding only to be replaced with worry. “The kids’ve gone somewhere, Sammy. They’re out there.” He gestured out the half-open door. “By themselves, with no weapons. I knew camping was a fucking stupid idea.”
“I think they’ve gone to Canfield, Granddad,” Mel murmured, biting her lip when she glanced across the bed at Dean, but then she drew up her shoulders. “I knew this wasn’t about a paper. Public schools don’t give out projects for the summer. And…they’ve been researching weird stuff on the computer.”
Dean sat forward, face already harder. Sharp.
Mel swallowed. “I think they’re going to check out the church.”
Sam rubbed his hand in soothing circles on her back. She looked so young. “Why, baby? I know we were only there today, but…”
“Because it’s deconsecrated,” Dean spat. “All your lectures put fucking stupid ideas in their heads!” Sam watched as his brother started going through the pile of guides and map books on the coffee table. “And they’ve got the map for Canfield and the damn guide book.” Hazel eyes glittered. “Sammy, get dressed. We’re going to get them.”
Mel stood up with Sam, holding tight round his waist and walking back with him as far as the bathroom. “I’m coming too, Granddad. It’s my fault for not waking up when they left.”
Dean’s blood was racing and if he hadn’t been trying to stop his stupid grandkids from getting hurt he would’ve admitted to being excited. He and Sam didn’t hunt much any more, nothing more than the occasional backup for younger, faster, hunters really, and this trip – fast along dark roads – felt like coming home.
It took far less time to get to Canfield than it had during the afternoon and when Dean looked at his watch, he realized that it had been less than half an hour from Sam waking him up to hauling the gun duffle out the trunk. The kids had taken the best of the flashlights, but the one they kept in the car was bright enough for Mel to carry and light the way for him and Sam.
The old town was quiet and peaceful at night and the church looked solid and safe. There was no sign of the kids and he hoped they’d got here okay, that the worst they’d get from their little midnight adventure was the fright of their lives from him. They just needed to be safe and then he would breathe again.
When they got to the side door of the church, Dean raised his leg, ready to kick it off its hinges, but Sam put his hand out warningly and turned the handle slowly. The door swung open. The inside of the church was still as Dean moved slowly inside, adrenaline turning sour. What if they weren’t here at all? Then, from the far side of the building he heard Sammi, her voice shaking but filled with awe.
“Oh, wow. It’s an altar.”
Dean didn’t wait to see if Sam and Mel had heard his granddaughter, he just ran; gun up and ready. Any extra altars in old, deconsecrated churches tended to be Very Bad Things.
Sammi pushed past her cousins to get to the Altar, holding her bottle of holy water up in front of her like a shield. It was silly, but the bottle made her feel safer, gave her the feeling like there was something she could do to counter the guttering black candles on the Altar at least. She was a Winchester damnit; she wasn’t going to turn tail and run, even if the smell was making her stomach roll. She took a deep breath and nearly jumped out of her skin when Dan put his hand on her shoulder.
“You catching flies, Sammi?” His words were teasing, but his tone was shaky, and she didn’t think he’d be moving his hand any time soon. It was warm, and comforting, and she suddenly realized that her mouth was hanging open. She shut it with an audible snap and drew her hands back from where they’d been unconsciously reaching towards the ritual objects. She closed her eyes briefly and took another steadying breath. She needed to see what was on the Altar, find out what was going on. Then get out as quickly as possible.
The candles were situated at the compass points of the table and in the middle there were six pictures of different people arranged in a circle. There was some kind of symbol drawn on each of the pictures and, in the very center, there was a bowl full of blood.
Chris had picked up one of the pictures and was holding it in the beam of the flashlight. “Hey, this is one of the symbols from the dead animals, isn’t it? Looks like you were right, Sammi…”
Whatever else Chris was going to say was cut off because Grandpa barreled into the room, a handgun at the ready. “Kids! Get over here!”
Chris dropped the picture back onto the Altar like he’d been stung and they all slunk over to Grandpa. He looked furious, his mouth pressed tightly shut and his breathing heavy as he gestured for them to get behind him, next to the door.
“Dean, are they all okay?” Great Uncle Sam’s voice came from outside the door.
“They’ve found a damn binding altar, Sammy.”
“A real one? Not just some kids messing about?”
“Looks about as real as the one back in Georgia, yeah.”
Sammi felt her knees shaking, It was hot, and dark, and smelly in here, and Grandpa was so angry. Chris caught her eye behind Grandpa’s back and raised a quizzical brow and she had to bite back a smile as what Grandpa’s had said sank in. Now the twins couldn’t say that the journals were just research for Great Uncle Sam’s books.
Great Uncle Sam pushed past Grandpa and made his way over to the Altar, snagging Chris’ flashlight on the way. His face took on an excited expression as he examined the things laid out on it. Mel followed him into the room, but stayed behind Grandpa, just at the door.
“Ohhh. Dean, it’s the real deal alright, and it’s old stuff too. Norse runes, blood binding, the whole nine yards.”
“Sammy, now is not the time to geek out over an altar.” Grandpa rolled his eyes and turned back towards Sammi and the twins, speaking in that low, dangerous tone that meant they were in real trouble. “So, would one of you like to explain what in the hell you thought you were doing?”
Sammi hated it when Grandpa got angry at her – it was supposed to be them, him and her, against the world, Winchesters standing together. She felt a flush creep up her face and tears well in her eyes and she scrubbed her hand over her face, speaking more into her hand than anything. “Being Winchesters Grandpa - you know? Saving people, Hunting things, The Family Business.”
Grandpa rocked back on his heels as if she’d slapped him and Mel put out her hand to steady him. Mel’s face was white. “What does she mean, Great Uncle Dean?” Grandpa didn’t say anything, just kept staring at Sammi, and Mel pushed past him into the room. “Granddad, what is this? Those symbols look like the runes in your book… and is that blood?”
Finally, Grandpa seemed to snap out of the daze he was in. “Don’t think this is over. I want you to think about what possible reason could ever be good enough for you to break my rules. Understood?”
Sammi flinched, he sounded so cold, but she joined in the twins’ chorus of “Yes, Grandpa.”
Dean’s heart was trying to beat its way right out of his chest. How on earth had his beautiful baby found out about the Family fucking Business? And the twins too, his tow-headed little boys? Katie and Jack didn’t know, he’d kept them safe; so how on earth had their kids found out about it?
He swallowed down the sharp sting of acid from his mouth. He had a job to do, him and Sammy, just like always.
Sam took the photographs from the altar and, after using his cell to record the blood runes inscribed on them, he wiped them off; breaking the power symbols. Then he stood back and started shepherding the kids out of the room with his stick. The next part was Dean’s job.
Dean swept the remainder of the ritual objects to the center of the altar and then took a can of salt and a can of gas from the gun duffle. He doused the altar liberally with both, wanting to obliterate the darkness which had dared to invade his family’s lives. He took the Zippo from his jacket pocket and sparked it into life with his thumb, took a deep breath, enjoying the tang of the gasoline in his nostrils and threw the flame down onto the mess of salt and blood.
He’d always taken a deep satisfaction from burning evil and, despite the circumstances this time, he couldn’t quite pull himself away. Just making sure it’s all burning. He felt sweat beading at his hairline and brought his hand up to wipe it away, distracted by thoughts of other hunts and keeping his family safe.
There was a loud clattering noise as he knocked his glasses from his nose and a hand came down on his shoulder, pulling him back.
“Dean, come on, this is getting dangerous and we need to get the kids out of here before we’re all up on arson charges.”
Dean shrugged out of his brother’s grip. “My glasses...” He gestured towards the blazing altar, his spectacles glinting with the reflection from the flames.
“You hate them, and this’ll give you another excuse to flirt with the optometrist.”
Dean smiled slightly; he never really flirted so much as passed the time – anything else would be disrespectful to Molly – but his glasses had been stupid. Maybe some new ones were about due. He turned on his heel and followed his family out of the flaming cellar.