"You know," Dean says, "it doesn't have to be like this. You and I could still make a pretty good team. The King of Hell, with your own endless supply of demon blood? Not a bad deal, Sammy. Just uncuff me and you and I can kick Crowley's ass together."
Sam tenses. "Yeah, we should absolutely do that. Sounds awesome." He gets up stiffly, wincing and putting a hand to his side, as he reaches for the black case of syringes.
Funny thing is, it's true. Dean would do it. It would work. Anything would be better than Crowley. And Sam's easy enough to manipulate, giving Dean all the fun of running things without the responsibility. "They still talk about you down there. Some of 'em still think the Boy King is going to come and lead them. You'd have an army, Sam. Think of what you could do. What we could do."
Sam puts one hand on the side of Dean's head, roughly extending his neck, and injects the blood. As he snaps the case shut and stalks out of the office, Dean calls after him. "You're the one who wanted to be partners! Waste of a good partnership, that's all I'm saying."
"Hey, Sam?" Dean says quietly.
Sam stretches and runs a hand through his hair. He's so tired, so goddamn tired, his probably-cracked rib is screaming, and he's not sure he can take any more of Dean's crap right now. But Dean doesn't wait for him to respond. "You know how Alastair told me Dad never cracked in Hell?" he asks. "Never took their offer to get off the rack?"
That's something they hadn't talked about much, for obvious reasons. Hey, Dean, tell me again how you weren't as strong as Dad. Good times. "Yeah," he says carefully, wondering what time bomb is waiting for him. "You told me about that."
Dean's silent for a moment. "You know he was lying? Turns out they never even offered. They just threw him on the rack and let him stay there."
Sam's stomach lurches. "How do you even know that?"
Dean shrugs. "Demons talk."
"Demons are liars," Sam points out.
"Yeah, but they tell the truth, too. When they know it's going to fuck you up." Dean sighs. "Pisses me off, man. I wish you hadn't killed the son of a bitch, so I could do it."
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Sam administers another injection. "I'm sorry," he says "I know that was hard on you."
"What? Your little shot in the neck?"
"No. Thinking you broke when Dad didn't. I know that was hard."
Dean smiles, and for the first time since Sam found him, it's not a sarcastic smirk or a sadistic grin. "Nah," he says, "it's okay." He lifts a cuffed arm. "But, you know, if you wanna let me out, it might make me feel better."
Hope is an awful, awful thing. Hope leads to expectations, and expectations pretty much always lead to disappointment. And right now, God help him, Sam has hope.
Sam disappearances give Dean an uncomfortable feeling. A familiar, unpleasant feeling. When he comes back and slides carefully back into the chair in front of Dean, he looks wrecked. Not trials-wrecked, but pale and bruised and tired and hurt. And Dean remember the conversation between Sam and Castiel.
"Sam? What did you mean when you told Cas not to fix anything else he found?"
"What else did you think he was going to find? You're not trying to kill yourself again, are you?"
"What the fuck?" Sam squints at him in confusion. "Why would you even go there? I'm not trying to kill myself. And what do you mean, again? I was never trying to kill myself."
"Shit, Sam, I was there. The trials. You're not trying to kill yourself again, are you?"
"I wasn't trying to kill myself then."
"Sure looked like it to me."
"Well, being willing to die to achieve something is not the same as wanting to kill yourself. You of all people should understand that."
"Jesus, Dean." Sam gets up quickly, flinching in pain. "Accepting death if it's coming is not the same as wanting to die. Refusing to make a deal to live is not the same thing as committing suicide."
"Felt the same on my end. You still end up dead. Are you going to finish the trials after you cure me?"
"Am I planning to say the magic words and close Hell after I cure you? No. What, you care now?" Sam says flippantly as he retrieves the black case.
No, of course Dean doesn't care, it's just that the thought of something happening to Sam makes him feel uncomfortable. Not knowing where Sam is, when he disappears into the gloom of the warehouse, makes him - fuck. Fuck. Dean's heart accelerates and his vision fades to a red haze as he realizes what Sam has done, what Sam is doing, because it's working, it's fucking working. He's starting to care, goddammit. He's starting to worry about the little shit and it's like he's tumbling down a dark hole of need and despair and futility and it's all coming back and the best thing that ever happened to him, the only way out that he was ever offered, that wonderful lack of any feeling at all about Sam, it's slipping away, and he's completely fucked.
And if he could get out of these cuffs right now, he'd kill the son of a bitch, before it's too late.
The Mark flares up as it always does when Sam injects his blood, but the burn doesn't last, and when did it stop burning? How did Dean miss that?
And when did the Mark's voice go quiet?
"Sam?" he says.
I will kill you if I get a chance. If you take this away from me, I will fucking kill you.
"Don't. Don't uncuff me, okay? No matter what I say, don't uncuff me."
Sam smiles. "Don't worry, I won't."
"I, uh, I did things. Some really horrible things."
Sam sighs and puts a hand over his eyes and it's obvious he doesn't want to deal with this right now. "I know. It's okay, Dean. It wasn't you."
But Dean has to deal with it right now. "No, it was. It really was. I can't blame the Mark. I can't blame Crowley. It was all me. It was all what I wanted to do."
"The Mark changed you. It made you want to do those things. Don't blame yourself."
"There's no one else to blame, Sam."
"Listen. I know you feel like you're drowning in it right now, but trust me. It won't be like this forever," Sam says reassuringly. Or at least it's supposed to be reassuring. But the truth is, it's horrifying. Because it reminds him that Sam knows, that Sam has lived through this. That Sam has, more than once, stood up and taken his body back and looked back at the trail of death and destruction it left and somehow carried on with his life. And Dean doesn't know how Sam does this, the carrying on part. Doesn't know why he does it.
"Jesus, Sammy, I did that to you." Dean stares at his brother, suddenly lost in guilt and shame.
"What? The black eye? The broken rib? Yeah, you did that."
"No, not that. The angel. I did that to you."
Sam raises his eyebrows. "Oh, that. Yeah, you did."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know." I didn't know what it feels like, to lose control of yourself like that. I thought it would be okay. I thought the ends justified the means.
"What do you mean, you didn't know?" Sam's voice sounds like broken glass, and Dean knows he should stop, should back off, but he's got to do this.
"I mean, I knew what I was doing. But I didn't know what it's like for you."
"And you think you do now?" Sam stands up and throws his arms wide, encompassing every dumbass thing Dean has ever done. "You still don't know, Dean. You don't know shit. You made a stupid decision and you suffered the consequences. But it was still something you did. You don't know what it's like to be completely out of control, and not be the one who threw that control away. And you sure as hell don't know what it's like to be in that position because the one person you thought you could trust, the one person you thought would always have your back, put you there. And yeah, I know you did some bad shit. And I know you regret it. But you have no idea what it's like having someone else use you like a goddamn puppet."
Sam's shaking with anger and Dean wants to take it all back, not just this conversation but the last couple of years, wants to beg Cas to send them back and let him do it all over, undo everything he fucked up.
"You're right, Sam. I'm sorry. I don't know what it feels like. But I know how much it sucked, and I'm the one who did it to you, and for that, I'm sorry."
Sam takes a deep breath, compresses his lips into a tight line. "Sorry enough that you won't ever do it again?"
His brother's staring him down the way he stares a monster down and well, okay, that's fair. "Sorry enough that you won't ever do it again?" he repeats.
But Dean is never going to be sorry enough to make that promise. "Dammit, I can't tell you I won't do some really stupid shit to save your life. Because you dying is just not an option, okay? I'm sorry. But I won't lie to you about it. If it ever happens again, I'll make sure you know what's going on."
"Even if I decide to undo it?"
Again with the stare. "Even if I decide to undo it?"
"Fine, yes, even if you decide to undo it. But you gotta promise me something too, okay? You gotta promise to try to stay alive. To not give up. To not be so goddamn willing to sacrifice yourself."
"Okay. I'll promise if you will."
"You gonna believe a demon's promise?"
"You can promise me again later." Sam wraps the tourniquet around his arm and prepares another injection. This time, the Mark doesn't burn at all.
"Hey, Sam? Don't uncuff me."
Castiel flaps into the office before Sam's alarm goes off. "Sam?" he says. "You look... unwell."
"I'm okay," Sam says. It's not exactly a lie. He's probably as close to okay as he's going to be.
Dean swallows nervously. "So, um. The last dose."
"Yeah, but we need to talk first," Sam says. Because he didn't get to make an informed decision, but Dean will. "Here's the deal, Dean. You died. Your body died. The Mark was supposed to make you immortal, but it didn't. So how did Metatron kill you?"
Dean squints in confusion. "I, uh. I don't know. That's a good question." He turns to Cas. "Cain was immortal; why wasn't I?"
"It's possible that the Mark just stops you from aging," Cas says, "and stops humans from killing you. Maybe demons. But I don't believe God would have wanted anyone immune from angels. There would be some kind of fail-safe. So my best guess is that it doesn't protect you from being killed by an angel, which is why Metatron was able to kill you. Either that, or the Mark hadn't achieved its full power yet."
"Okay, so what does that mean?"
"It means your vessel, your body, is being animated by the demon. And once we make you human again, you'll probably be dead."
Dean swallows again and looks away. "So that's the plan. I get it. You're right. A dead Dean is better than a demon Dean."
"No, no, that's not the plan at all," Sam interjects. "That's why Cas is here. He got most of his grace back. He thinks he can heal your body, once you're human. But he can't heal you as a demon. He can't even try until you're human."
"Okay. He thinks he can heal me. So maybe he can't heal my body, and that means I might end up human, but dead." Sam must not hide his emotions as well as he thinks, because Dean leans forward and says "No, Sammy, don't. It's okay. It's what I would have done. I don't want to be a demon. I'd rather be a dead human than a live demon. It's a good call, Sam." But Sam knows Dean isn't going to agree to the rest of the plan.
"But the thing is -"
"Jesus Christ," Dean interrupts. "Can you just stop talking and get this over with?"
"This is serious, Dean," Castiel says. "There are many things to consider. The last time you just tried to cure someone without thinking it through -"
"Yeah, yeah, I know. I stuffed an angel down Sammy's gullet and everything went to Hell. I get it. So, Sam, what has your panties in a twist?" Flippant, hiding his feelings, classic Dean defense mechanisms. It's good to have you back, Sam thinks, even if this is all I ever get.
"Well, the thing is, you'll still have the Mark. We haven't figured out what to do about that yet. And you remember what it was like being a human with the Mark."
And oh, yes, Dean obviously remembers - his carefree mask cracks. "It's still going to fuck with me unless we figure out how to get rid of it. I don't... Sam, I don't know if I can do that again."
"We can keep you separated from the Blade, and hopefully that will help. But it's not going to be easy. I'll understand if you don't want to do it. It's your choice."
"But if you don't cure me, and I stay a demon..."
Sam sighs. "Yeah, I know. I didn't finish curing Crowley and he went right back to his old self, even without the Mark. If we don't cure you, and you have the Mark, it's just going to happen that much faster, I think. So we'd have to keep you locked up until we figure how to get rid of the Mark."
"And there's the other thing," says Cas. "We're not really sure this will cure you."
"Come again?" says Dean. "This whole damn thing, you don't even know if it's going to work?"
Sam glares at Cas, because he didn't want to bring that up, not like this, not unless they had to. On the other hand, informed decision. Dammit. "We think the demon cure will work. Obviously it's already had an effect. But you're not a typical demon. You've got the Mark. We just don't know. So, yeah, there's a slight chance it won't work. And we'd have to keep you locked up."
Dean turns to the wall and Sam watches the wheels turning in his head, knows he's picturing Crowley, handcuffed to a chair in the dungeon. "You know what you have to do if I can't ever be cured," he says quietly. "You can't let me live as a demon."
"No, Dean, we don't have to do that," Sam says. "We'll keep you locked up until we figure out - "
"Figure out what, Sam? You think there's some other, better demon cure we don't know about? No. I'm not going to spend the rest of my life as a demon in your goddamn dungeon." He turns to Cas. "Cas, you've got to promise me. If the cure doesn't work, you. You know. Smite me."
Sam catches Castiel's eye. See? I told you he'd do this. "Dean," he says, rubbing a hand down his face, "don't give up. We'll find something."
"No, Sam, we won't. And it's okay. It's my choice. I don't want to be a demon. You've gotta know that. I just wasn't looking forward to going back to Hell, you know? But it will be better if I'm an actual demon. It will be okay."
Sam stares at his hands, because he can't look at Dean right now. "First, I know you're lying. You told me what Meg said. Even for demons, Hell is Hell. And second, you don't need to worry about that. You won't be going back to Hell."
Dean chuckles. "Sam, trust me, I'm pretty sure that if I die as a demon, I'm going back to Hell. I know a little more about this than you do."
"Yeah, but..." Sam looks up, but Dean is facing the wall. Again, the patented Dean Winchester defense. If I don't admit it, it can't be true. "If you die as a demon," Sam says softly, "the door to Hell will already be closed. You won't be able to go back."
Dean whips his head around to face Sam. "And why is that, Sam? Why is the door to Hell going to be closed? What the fuck are you up to?"
Sam can't speak. He looks away, and Castiel answers. "Sam is curing another demon. If you cannot be cured, he will complete the trials and close the gates of Hell before I destroy you."
"Jesus fucking Christ!" Dean explodes, his hands clenching into fists. "That's what you've been doing off in the warehouse? Injecting another demon, so you can finish the trials? You lied to me, Sam! You told me you weren't trying to kill yourself!"
"I'm not trying to kill myself, dammit! I'm trying to save you!"
"What's the difference? You still end up dead!"
"Well, maybe it's worth it. Maybe I'd rather be dead than see you in Hell. Maybe if you had accepted that the first time, we wouldn't be here today!"
"No, wait, Dean." Sam holds up a hand. "Just listen. Yes, if I have to close Hell to keep you out of it, I'll be dead. And Hell will be closed. And Cas will get you into Heaven. And we'll be done."
Dean frowns in confusion and turns to Cas. "You seriously think you can get me into Heaven. Even if I die as a demon."
Cas inclines his head and studies Dean. "Your soul wasn't twisted into demonhood like a normal demon. The Mark is a physical thing, but once your soul is separated from your physical body, it may not have any affect. And I have influence in Heaven. If you're truly repentant for your sins - and I believe you are - I'm fairly sure I can do it."
Dean slumps in the chair. "So, curtain number one, I let you finish the cure, it works, Cas saves my body, I'm dealing with the Mark again. And that, as awful as it is, that's the best case scenario. Curtain number two, you try to cure me, it doesn't work, and I'm chained up in the fucking dungeon for God knows how long. And curtain number three, the cure doesn't work, Cas ganks me after you kill yourself closing the door to Hell, and I probably go to Heaven. So if I'm not willing to live as a human with the Mark, or live in the dungeon, you die." He sighs. "That's some pretty fucked up blackmail, Sam."
"I learned from the best," Sam says, with a bitter smile. "If it makes a difference, if the demon cure works but Cas can't save your life, I'm going to close the gates of Hell anyway."
"Fuck you, Sam. Is that supposed to make it better?" He turns to Castiel. "You're really gonna let him do this? You're plotting with him?"
Cas glares at Sam. "I tried to talk him out of it. But your brother is very stubborn where you're concerned. Also, you've forgotten the fourth possibility - that the demon cure works, but I cannot heal your body, and you die."
"Jesus," Dean moans. "Thanks, Cas. You're right, I forgot that one. Oh, and how about this one? How about I just say fuck all of it and you kill me now, before Sam has a chance to cure that other demon and kill himself?"
Castiel frowns. "No, Dean. I will not do that. I don't want Sam to die either, but I saw you in Hell. I will not allow that to happen to you."
Dean stares at the ceiling. "Godammit. God fucking dammit. You two are just. Godammit. This is bullshit."
No, this is me saving you.
"I'm sorry, Dean," Sam says. And he is sorry. He's sorry he couldn't find a foolproof solution. He's sorry he can't figure out how to cleanse Dean of the Mark. He's sorry for everything. "It's your decision. But look at it this way. Either we're both alive, or we're both in Heaven. Could be a lot worse."
"Could be a lot better, too."
"That's the Winchester family motto, isn't it?" And now he thinks he probably knows how Dean felt in the church. It's different, of course. Sam's death would have had a purpose, would have righted many wrongs. Dean's death would just be a tragic waste. But it still comes down to one of them begging please, please try to live, for me.
Sam draws the handcuff key out of his pocket.
"You sure you wanna do that?"
"Yeah, I'm sure." Sam's not going to let his brother be handcuffed to a chair the last time he sees him. He opens the cuffs and offers Dean a hand, pulling him to his feet and then wrapping him in an embrace. "So, what's it going to be?" he says, not releasing Dean, because he kind of doesn't think he'll survive if he has to look at his face when he answers.
"Do it. Finish the cure."
"You sure?" Sam pulls away, his hands on Dean's shoulders.
"I'm sure. Save me."
"I am. I am going to save you." Or die trying. And that's a deal Sam's willing to make. "Okay. Okay. Cas, you ready? You're going to have to be quick." The angel nods and Sam pulls out his knife and makes a gash across his palm, smiles at his brother, because this time Sam's going to fix it. This time it's going to be okay. "See you on the other side."
A/N: Unbetaed and probably full of errors (logic and otherwise) but I needed to post it before 10.03 because reasons.
Now there's a sequel:
But if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all