They both went quiet then, and Dean thought Sam had fallen asleep until he was suddenly being wrapped up in his brother’s arms. Dean let himself enjoy the new feelings that surged up in his whole body as it responded to Sam’s. Recharging, he just needs to recharge, that’s all this is, he tried to tell himself.
“Why were you even looking in Kevin’s notes about the tablets?” Dean asked the question that had been niggling at him. He wasn’t sure why it seemed important to ask at that moment, but for some reason it was.
“You mean instead of out driving around looking for you?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, I know you found the car, and thank god you saved the steaks, but what else?” Dean asked.
“After I found the car, and yes, put the steaks in the freezer, I was stuck for any more clues. There was just some sulfur left behind where I found the car, so I knew a demon probably had you. But she didn’t contact me or try to bargain or anything.”
“Raya was asking me over and over again about the Trials, but she’d taken away so much of me from myself that I couldn’t answer. It wasn’t until right before you got there that she finally let me think for myself again and I could answer her,” Dean remembered.
“She’s not much of a strategic thinker, huh?” Sam chuckled into the top of Dean’s head.
“Nope, not so much. But you didn’t answer my question, why were you looking at the tablets stuff?” Dean persisted, somehow just knowing that he needed to push a bit more to get the whole story.
“I kept having this dream, and I think I was maybe seeing what you were seeing or dreaming or connecting with you somehow, but it showed me what she was asking you over and over again. That made me want to see whether the trials could even be attempted again, or if a demon could do them. So I dug out Kevin’s notes and started reading.”
Dean tried to remember what he’d dreamed but it was all a blinding haze of pain. “And that’s when you found the power-up stuff?”
“Yeah, it was in this transition section between the demon tablet and the angel tablet. About prophecies that might come to pass, and what the angels were to do about them if they did. You and me ending up being the guardians of the world or whatever the hell we are was way down on the list of possibilities.”
“Sweet,” Dean snarked. “Nice to know they were counting on us.”
“It was a complicated plan, eons in the making, so there were a lot of variables. Turns out that Chuck giving us free will was a real wild card, tough to plan for, even for God,” Sam trailed off, going quiet, but ending the conversation by nuzzling his face into Dean’s hair.
There was nothing more to say about that tender subject, whenever either of them brought up Chuck or the many near-apocalypses they’d had a ringside seat to, there were too many hurtful things it could bring up. It was one of those minefields they had made an unspoken agreement to stay out of as much as possible.
Dean settled in against Sam and tried to fall asleep using the tried and true method of counting his blessings. He finally had gotten his own mind and body back under his control, he didn’t have many memories of the month spent with Raya, Sam was still Sam (well mostly), and they were maybe helping Raya close the Gates. All in all, not such a bad Wednesday.
Dean found himself awakening in Sam’s arms, which shouldn’t have been a surprise considering where he’d fallen asleep. But somehow, the dream-like quality of the whole thing had bled over into him through the night, convincing him that it was just another dream and he’d wake up chained to that damn cat statue. His eyes opened wider—Raya. She was down there in their dungeon. He carefully slid himself out of Sam’s embrace, hoping he wouldn’t wake up. He needed to get a few things straight with her before they started telling her about the Trials.
Once he was out of the bed and into his slippers and robe, Dean looked back at what he was leaving behind: Sam all warm and cuddled up in Dean’s bed, still completely asleep, a peaceful look on his face that Dean never wanted to disturb. He hoped what they started today would keep that peaceful look there for the rest of Sam’s mornings, and he more secretly hoped that it would be the first thing he’d get to see every damn day.
“You promised, Dean, that you’d give me the Trials,” Raya said as he opened the door to the dungeon.
“Yeah, and you promised you wouldn’t hurt Sam,” Dean said, closing the door behind him. “I don’t care about what you did to me, but you almost killed him yesterday.”
“He was trying to kill me! Ever heard of self-defense?” Raya yelled.
Dean realized he had to get through to Raya, older sibling to older sibling. “Listen, Raya, your sister, Sakina, you woulda done anything for her, right?’
“Yeah, of course,” Raya answered, glaring up at him.
“And Sakina would have done anything for you, right?” Dean asked.
“Uh huh,” Raya said with a nod.
“That’s what happened yesterday, Sam was just trying to save me,” Dean said.
Raya paused, and seemed to consider Dean’s explanation. “Fine, I get it, but what about the Trials, why didn’t he finish them? What was the real reason?” Raya asked.
“He was going to, he was so damn close to doing it,” Dean stopped himself, and leaned against the dungeon wall for support at the memory, how close he’d come to losing Sam that day.
“So what happened?” Raya asked, tilting her head like she was trying to figure out what Dean’s hesitation was about.
“Uh…he stopped the final Trial because I asked him to. He almost didn’t, but he saw the light at the very last second, thank god. If he hadn’t, I honestly don’t know what the fuck would have happened to me. If I had to guess, I’d say I’d have been dead within a couple weeks, a month tops,” Dean said in a heated rush, needing the words and the thoughts to be out of his head.
“You’re not meant to live without each other, you’re soulmates, right?” Raya asked with a wide grin.
“How’d you know something like that?” Dean asked, hand going up to the back of his own neck and rubbing gently. He should be used to it by now, demons knowing this kind of shit about him and Sam. Usually they didn’t bother to bring up the soulmate thing.
“Told you I know everything about you guys that’s worth knowing,” Raya said in that smug demon voice that they all seemed to have.
“Yeah, me and Sam, we’re soulmates, we’re like cosmically made for each other according to God himself. That means we have a harder time than most letting go of each other even though we oughta know better. Usually things end up working out,” Dean tried to sound nonchalant about it, but honestly it was one of those bedrock things about them that he had never stopped being thankful to the angels for getting the chance to know. He paced back and forth in front of her, just outside of the devil’s trap on the floor.
“For you they work out maybe. Not for me and my sister,” Raya spat at him, her eyes flashing with anger.
Dean stopped pacing and stood in front of her with his arms crossed. “Your beef is that you two ended up in actual Hell, and if Sam had finished the Trial then the Gates would have been closed. Where do you think you’d have gone then?”
“Never thought about it, too busy getting tortured and watching Crowley snap my sister’s neck for no damn reason.”
“He does tend to do that,” Dean said. “If the gate had been closed then, at the same time Heaven got shut down. It’s possible you’d have been stuck in the Veil as ghosts with all the other souls, just wandering around getting angrier and angrier until a hunter came along and dispatched you.”
“Ghosts, huh? Well, at least we wouldn’t have been in Hell,” Raya said.
Dean sat down in one of the chairs outside the devil’s trap. “Our friend who was stuck for a while, the way he described the Veil to us, the place sounded a lot worse than Hell. And if you know our story at all, you know I’ve been to Hell myself.”
“Don’t know if I buy it or not about the Veil business, but let’s just say I do. How does that change things?” Raya asked with a calculating expression that made a tingle of fear run down Dean’s spine.
“I don’t know if it does, but I hope it explains things to you a little, big sibling to big sibling. We get that big sibling privilege to call the life or death shots. Like it or not. Back then, I knew it was selfish to ask him to stop that last Trial. Hell, I think about it every damn time we come across a human that’s been killed by a demon. That’s all on me, forever,” Dean admitted.
Raya started to ask something, but then her expression changed to something approaching human compassion. “How do you carry that weight, Dean?”
“Uh…honestly, I don’t do it very well, I mostly try to not think about it, stuff it down, drink too much, that kind of thing,” Dean said.
“That’s how it went with me and Sakina. A lot of times, I did things for her that needlessly hurt other people, and she hated it. Together, we killed a lot of people too. For each other, we chose to do that, and Hell was our just reward. But Sakina getting killed by Crowley, for good, for forever? That’s on you,” Raya said.
Dean crossed his arms and stood up, pacing while he thought. “No, it’s on Crowley, he’s the one that did the neck snapping, not me. And besides at that point you were both legit demons, all rules are off down in the Pit, we both know that.”
“Yeah, maybe, but you weren’t there, you didn’t hear her neck snap, see her actually die for the last time.”
“I’ve held my dead brother in my own arms, more than once, and he’s held me,” Dean said, lifting his chin in challenge and tightening his arms around himself at the memory of those awful times.
“Touche’, you’ve got me there,” Raya said with a slight nod of acknowledgment.
“Listen, I gotta be honest here with you, Raya. I’ll give you the whole deal, what the Trials are, the words you gotta say, just like I promised. But you can’t close the Gates as you are now, it has to be a human doing it. Human sacrifice required, says right there on the tablet, the actual word of God. Sorry,” Dean said. He crossed the room and picked up one of the binders off the shelves near the door.
“Then you shall do it for me,” Raya said watching him closely as he walked back to stand in front of her.
“No, I can’t, it has to be a person who wants to sacrifice themselves, it says right here,” Dean searched through the binder for the first page.
“’Whosever undertakes this set of Trials must give themselves freely and without reservation’ is what it says,” Dean said closing the binder with a click.
“So?” Raya drawled.
“So—that means I can’t do it because of the soulmate thing that we just covered.” He heard the noise of Sam’s indrawn breath at the mention of soulmates and smiled to himself. “Yeah, I was listening last night, Sammy.”
Sam stepped in the room, filling the doorway, seeming larger than normal when Dean looked at him the right way. Dean blinked and tried to concentrate on convincing Raya.
“Raya, I shouldn’t tell you this in front of him, but I don’t really think the final Trial would have worked for Sam either,” Dean said.
“She can probably do it if she’s cured herself, but not if she’s the demon being cured in the third Trial. She’d have to cure some other demon after she’s human again,” Sam interrupted from just inside the dungeon doorway.
“Well how the hell do we do that? Don’t the Trials have to be done in the right order to work?” Dean asked.
“No, they’re not really meant to be sequential like a list. You can start anywhere on the list, we just got them one at a time because Kevin was translating them for us as we went.”
“The main thing is that we have to do the demon-cure ritual on her before she can do the third Trial, right?”
“Yeah, she has to be back to a human state, so she can confess her sins, purify her blood and then inject it into another demon.”
“But killing a hell-hound and releasing a soul from Hell would be okay to do while she’s still a demon? I mean it sure would be easier to get the job done, still having demon powers,” Dean said.
“Maybe, it depends on whether she can say the Enochian spell and survive what happens afterwards if she’s still a demon.”
“Remember when Cas checked you out and told us that you were being re-made at a cellular level?”
“It’d be easier to do all the Trials as a demon, but the transformation of the body and soul that happens after each Trial is probably meant for a human to bear,” Sam said.
“So get on with the un-demon-ifying me then,” Raya said.
“Should we take her to that church or is it still consecrated down in here from the last time?” Dean asked, not wanting to name names or remember that awful day or any of the horrifying things he’d said to Sam as he’d been stuck in those long eight endless hours of being cured from being a demon.
“Once consecrated, it’s forever, far as I know,” Sam said, smiling with this placid reassurance that made something curl up and die in Dean’s belly. He’d never ever really apologized for all that, for what Sam had had to do back then. And he was still here. Sam was still here smiling and at his side. How and more importantly, why? He wasn’t worth it, why didn’t Sam know that?
“Raya, you know that the final Trial, whichever it is, requires the ultimate sacrifice, right? And you’ll be back to being a human at that point, I don’t know if you’d end up going to Heaven or not. Either way, you know it’s a certain death sentence, right?” Sam asked.
“Yes, my life, my human life, my eternal soul, all of that, I know,” Raya said, shaking her head, fierce and certain. “It’s not worth anything to me without my sister.”
Sam and Dean looked at each other over Raya’s head for a long moment. They nodded to each other, acknowledging the universal truth of what she’d said. Their unspoken agreement to take a chance on Raya’s love for her sister being enough to sustain her all the way through to end of the Trials was based on their own experiences with that sort of sacrifice.
“Okay, we’ll be back in a while with the blood and other stuff for the cure,” Sam said, moving towards the doorway.
“Hey! You’re not letting me out until then? You can’t keep me down here! I need to get out, now!” Raya demanded.
“Hell no, why should we trust you to wander freely around our home? After you just almost killed Sam and made me into some mindless slave for a whole fucking month?” Dean asked.
Raya didn’t try to argue the point, she just sagged in the chair and let the demon cuffs clank noisily around her wrists and ankles.
To Chapter Five