Title:I don't think the world is sold (I'm just doing what we're told)
Rating: R for language
Warnings: Language you can't use on the CW, show-level darkness, overuse of run-on sentences
Word Count: 11,400
Summary: After Sam jumps into the cage with Lucifer, Dean would do anything to undo it. What happens when he is given that opportunity? Written for the 2014 spn_gen_bigbang, and also fills the "dark" square on my bingo card for spnspiration
Notes: Massive thanks to two writers who are much better than me - indiachick, who gave some much-needed advice very early on in the writing process (Look! I'm finally posting it!), and balder12, my wonderful beta, who was also full of good advice, and if you don't find yourself saying "that makes no sense," thank them. Getting help on Supernatural fic from these two is like asking Jane Austen for advice on your Regency romance.
The title is from the song "Counting Stars" by One Republic.
The road stretches out in front of the Impala, dark and empty, and Dean thinks it's a pretty good metaphor for the rest of his life. Sam would have grinned at him for using the word "metaphor," but that's a train of thought he's not willing to follow right now, because it leads to thinking of Sam in the past tense and he's not ready to do that yet. Won't ever be ready to do that. All Dean wants to do is put as many miles between him and Kansas as possible. He doesn't want to talk, but he's afraid if he doesn't, Cas will leave. And if he has to drive down this road with an empty passenger seat right now he thinks he'll just blow his fucking brains out (and honestly, the only bad thing about that plan is that he told Sam he wouldn't).
Castiel's words hang in the air. "You got what you asked for, Dean. No Paradise. No Hell. Just more of the same. I mean it Dean. What would you rather have? Peace - or freedom?"
But this isn't what Dean asked for. Freedom was supposed to be Dean and Sam on the road, saving people, hunting things. It wasn't supposed to be Sam trapped in Hell, and Dean left to live with his inability to save him. It wasn't supposed to be Sam having the freedom to sacrifice himself, and Dean not trying to stop him. It was never, ever supposed to be that.
"This isn't what I wanted," Dean says quietly. "This was Sam's choice, not mine. I can't believe he thought this was the way to fix it. I can't believe he thought this was the only answer."
"Even though you made the same choice? When you sacrificed yourself to save Sam?"
"That was different."
"How was it different?" asks the angel.
Dean eases the Impala over to the side of the road and switches off the ignition. "I don't know," he says. "It just was." They sit there silently for a minute, listening to the cooling engine clicking in the darkness, and Dean remembers the cold despair he felt that night. Back when the worst possible thing that could happen to Sam was that he would simply die. Back before he knew there were other, worse things that could happen to his brother.
"I didn't have a choice back then," he finally says. "Sam was dead, and it was my fault, and I had to bring him back." He ignores Castiel's raised brow, ignores the unspoken no you didn't. Because he did. "But this, this Lucifer thing... if he'd given me more time, we would have figured it out. I know we would have." He smacks the steering wheel. "Shit! I did everything wrong. Everything. If I had asked him not to..." Dean's voice trails off. Indulging in "what-ifs" won't help right now, but he can't stop. "We would have figured something out. If I could go back in time, I'd do everything different."
Castiel stares at him, that intense blue laser-focused stare that's disconcerting even on a good day. And today is not a good day. "What?" Dean snaps.
"You can go back in time," says Cas. "I can do that for you."
"Send me back in time? Yeah, I know you can do that," he growls. "I can go back in time and watch Sam jump into the Pit again. Awesome. Remember, you're the one who told me I couldn't change the past. When you sent me back to 1973, you said I couldn't have changed anything." Dean would give anything to undo the last 48 hours (even though he knows, better than anyone, the risks of being willing to give anything), and having Cas offer to let him watch it unfold again feels unspeakably cruel.
Castiel looks out the window. Well, he faces the window. God only knows what he's looking at. Probably something Dean would never be able to see. "That was then," he says, finally. "But things are different now. You and Sam have already changed destiny. Your fate was to battle each other in that cemetery, and you were able to change it. Other changes might be possible. I think... I think God brought me back for a reason. I know I'm more powerful. Maybe He gave me that power for a reason. Maybe He's letting me know He wants me to continue to help you. To do even more." The angel turns to Dean. "It's risky. But I think we could do this. I think you could try to do things differently, if you want to."
Dean's heart catches in his throat and he replays Castiel's words in his head, thinks he must have surely misunderstood, because what Cas seems to be offering is... exactly what he would wish for, which means there's no way he can have it. "Wait, Cas," he stammers. "You're saying... if I go back in time, I can start over? I can stop Sam from saying yes? Is that what you're telling me? We can really do this?"
"We can try," the angel replies.
God, we can try. In his head, Dean knows this must be wrong. That he can't undo what's been done, and it's dangerous to attempt it. That this is the type of deal that always, always fucks them over in the end. But he can barely hear his head over the sound of his heart screaming yes, yes, YES, change the past, save Sam.
"What do you mean by risky?" he asks, although he's not even sure if he cares about the answer. He's already lost everything that matters. What is left to risk?
Castiel shrugs. "Anything could happen. Time travel is not foolproof - the attempt alone could kill you. You could change something that has serious consequences. Or some unforeseen danger could be waiting for you."
Dean laughs at the threat of unforeseen danger. The known present, the known future, are so much worse than any unforeseen danger that could be waiting for him in the past. "Would this be like Zachariah's future, where I run into future me?"
"No. You'll be the only you. But you'll have the knowledge and memories you have now." Castiel stares at him with his typical inscrutable expression. "Do you want to try?"
But something isn't right. "I don't understand, Cas," he says. (Dammit, Winchester. Just do it. Just say yes.) "If we go back in time, Lucifer will be out of the Cage. Why are you willing to risk that? What if I screw up and we don't get him locked back up?"
Castiel looks at Dean for an uncomfortably long moment, as if he's carefully considering what to say next, and Dean knows he's blown it, he knows Cas is going to come to his senses and rescind the offer. But he doesn't. He finally sighs and says "It's because I owe it to you. I owe it to you and to Sam. If I had been honest earlier, Sam might not have killed Lilith. We might have avoided all of this."
He looks down at his hands, as if wanting to undo what they have done. "The night Sam escaped from the panic room," he says slowly. "I am the one who let him out. I unlocked the door." Cas faces Dean again, and the words come more quickly now. "I was following Zachariah's orders. I still thought we were trying to avert the Apocalypse. I didn't know what would happen. I didn't know Lilith was the final seal. Please believe me, I never would have done it, if I had known. But I should have - I should have known, I should have suspected. I'm sorry, Dean."
Cas did it. Cas let him out. Dean stares at him in disbelief as the world shifts out of focus. Everything could have been different. If he'd had that one more day, if he'd been able to hold onto Sam until they learned the truth about Lilith, everything could have been different.
"I owe this to Sam," Cas repeats. "I owe it to you. And maybe that's why God brought me back. Maybe this is what He intends for me to do. Do you want to try?"
Do you want to try? Dean's pretty sure it's not what God wants, because God obviously doesn't give a rat's ass about the Winchesters. But Dean wants it. He wants it more than he's ever wanted anything in his life. He wants it like a junkie wants a fix, like a drowning man wants a breath. He knows it's wrong, that it's bound to screw them all somehow, but he can't stop himself. The mantra is still pounding through his head. Save Sam. You can go back and save Sam.
He is afraid he'll break down sobbing if he speaks, so he simply nods and closes his eyes. The angel puts two fingers on Dean's forehead. There is an uncomfortable rushing sensation and...
Dean is outside Bobby's house. He knows this day well; too well. It feels like a bruise on his soul. It's the day he gives up his most important job and hands Sam his own fate, the day he agrees to the plan to try to lock Lucifer back in the cage. But this time, instead of the dark, squirming feeling in the pit of his stomach, he feels a rush of joy at seeing Sam alive and whole and himself, lounging on the hood of the Impala. He longs to hug his brother, to feel him warm and breathing, but he forces himself to walk casually over to the car and pick a beer out of the cooler.
"Look," Dean says, as he leans against the car. He pauses, thinks. His heart thumps wildly in his chest. He has one chance to set them on a different path. One chance to save Sam from Hell. "This thing you want to do, trapping Lucifer in the cage. I know you're an adult and you can make your own decisions. But I'm asking you. Please. Please don't do this. We can find another way."
Sam doesn't turn to face him. "Dean, I know you don't trust me. I know you don't think I can do it -"
"No," Dean interrupts. "I know you can do it. I do have faith in you, Sam. That's why I'm asking you not to do it. I'm not worried about you failing, I'm worried about you succeeding." Sam turns to stare at him in surprise, and Dean feels a twinge of guilt for claiming to have faith instead of foreknowledge, but it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is stopping Sam from sacrificing himself, from locking himself in the Cage with Lucifer, and Dean will lie to him for the rest of his life if that's what it takes.
"But what other way is there? We can't kill him. We can't let him fight Michael. What else can we do? I'm the one who let him out; don't you think I should be the one to put him back?"
"No! Don't put that on yourself. I know you feel guilty about breaking the last seal, but remember, I broke the first one. I have a part in this too. Please, Sammy. Give me some time. I'll think of something else. We'll think of something."
Sam silently stares at Dean, as if trying to gauge whether he's telling the truth. Dean holds his gaze, holds his breath. (Please believe me. Please, God, believe me.) Sam finally turns his eyes to the empty grey sky and says, "Sure. We'll think of something else."
He obviously doesn't believe his own words, but Dean doesn't care, because he's alive. Now all he has to do is keep him alive.
They spend the rest of the day in an uncomfortable silence, buried in books and whiskey. Bobby brings up Sam's plan, but wisely keeps his distance after a snarling Dean informs him it is not an option.
Sam is twitchy and surly, and Dean tries not to let him notice how carefully he's keeping him in his sights. The TV interrupts with reports of bizarre tragedies around the world - a schoolbus exploding in Palo Alto, a heretofore undiscovered volcano erupting in Bangladesh, hundreds of cruise ship passengers jumping into the ocean near Acapulco. Each story earns Dean a pointed look from Sam. When a man named Samuels takes an AK-47 and kills a hundred people in Winchester, Virginia, Dean finally snaps the TV off.
"Ignoring it won't make it go away, Dean," Sam sighs. "You get what's going on here, right?"
"Yeah, I get it. Doesn't mean we gotta dance to his tune. Trust me. We're gonna find a way to stop him."
Sam huffs in frustration and retreats to the couch with a small pile of books. As the sky darkens and the whiskey bottle gets lighter, Dean's books, and his thoughts, begin to blur. He looks across Bobby's study and sees Sam has fallen asleep on the couch, book on his chest, long legs curled into the tiny space. Safe. Uncomfortable and unhappy but safe, and nothing else matters. For the first time in recent memory, Dean feels like he can just stop worrying and catch his breath. He closes his eyes and rests his head on the table for a moment.
In his dreams, Sam is screaming.
Dean is awake in a second and leaps to his feet in a panic, book and whiskey glass clattering to the floor. Sam isn't on the couch and the front door is hanging open. This is not right, this is very not right. (Fuck, fuck, fuck. You let your guard down and now Sam is gone.) Dean sprints outside, past the rusting corpses of cars, and feels his heart start to beat again as he finds Sam sitting on the Impala once more. But this time he is hunched over, elbows on his knees, face hidden by shadows and a curtain of long hair.
Dean leans against the broken-down car in front of the Impala. "Sam?" he says. "You okay, man?"
Sam lifts his head, and even in the dim light of the moonlit yard he looks completely wrecked. He studies his brother with red, glazed eyes. "Hey, Dean." His voice is hoarse. His head drops again, his fingers worrying at a worn patch on his jeans.
"What the fuck, Sam? What's going on?"
"Lucifer." Sam runs a hand over his face. "Lucifer was here."
Dean feels a cold lump of dread forming deep inside him. "Here here?"
"Here at Bobby's, here in my head, what's the difference?" Sam laughs bitterly. "He was here, and he talked to me, and he showed me what's going to happen if I don't say yes. What he's going to do to the planet. He says he won't fight Michael without his true vessel," and Sam grimaces at the taste of those words, "so he's just going to take it out on the world until I give in."
"But you're not going to give in," says Dean cautiously.
Sam looks silently at Dean, and fuck, Dean does not like the look on his face. Does not like the fact that he hasn't answered. He picks at the hole in his jeans. "You've seen what he can do, Dean," he says, finally. "There's so much more to come. It's going to be Hell on Earth. God, you can't even imagine. Fear and pain and death and... dammit, what's the point?" Sam throws up his hands. "What's the point of saving all those people if we're just going to let their lives become a living Hell? I just, I can't, Dean. I can't."
"Yes you can," Dean says. Firmly, carefully. "Because if you say yes, Michael and Lucifer will destroy half the planet. You know that."
Sam shakes his head. "You don't get it. It's either half the planet or all of it! He's already destroying the world, a piece at a time. He's not going to stop, Dean. How many people did he kill today? How many people died just so he could make a fucking point?"
"I know, Sam, I know," Dean says. "But we'll figure something out."
"No, we won't," Sam sighs. "My plan to put him back in the Cage won't work, and we're never going to figure out anything else." He pulls a thread from the hole in his jeans, releases it, and watches it float away. "Michael's the only one who can stop him, and you know Michael doesn't give a fuck about humans. He just wants his big showdown, and he'll sit back and wait until there's no one left to save." Sam looks up briefly, as if to gauge his reaction. Dean manages to maintain a calm facade, and Sam continues. "But if I let them fight, Lucifer will be destroyed, or caged. People will live. Not all of them, I know, but more of them. If I don't say yes, he'll just pick away at the world until there's nothing left. Everyone will die. This is the only way I can save some of them."
Oh. Of course. When Dean imagined Sam saying yes (and he did, countless times, on countless sleepless nights) he pictured it coming from despair, or fear, or even anger. It never occurred to him that Lucifer would be able to position it as a way to save people. Of course, the way to get Sam Winchester to walk with the Devil is to convince him it's going to help people. Dean wants to scream, wants to knock Sam unconscious and drag him into the panic room, wants to set himself on fire as a distraction. Anything to stop this runaway train. He remembers the bleak future Zachariah showed him, and he knows any vision Lucifer came up with would be so much worse. If his own version of the future was almost enough to make him consent to be Michael's vessel, he can imagine how compelling Lucifer's must have been. (Why didn't I think of that? Why did I think it was as easy as saying "no?" Fucking Devil knows my brother better than I do.)
"Angels lie," Dean points out. "You know that!" He pushes himself off the car, steps closer to Sam. "He's just another fucking angel, and he lies as well as any of them!"
"I don't think so. He's... he's told me a lot of things. Things I haven't told you. Things that came true. I think he tells me the truth." (Oh God, what has he been feeding him? How long has this been going on? Why didn't he tell me?) Sam looks up now, looks Dean straight in the eyes, and Dean has never seen him look more broken or more determined. "Listen," he says resolutely. "I got him to make me a promise. You'll be okay. Bobby will be okay. He's going to put a protection on this house, and if you stay here until the battle is over, you'll survive. He promised, and I believe him."
No, no, no. Dean feels the ground slip out from underneath him. His chance to save Sam is lost. All he can do now is minimize the damage. Go back to where they were, hand Sam's fate back to him, let him make the sacrifice. He swallows hard and says "Sam, you can't do this. We'll go with your plan. With the rings. It will work. You can lock him in the cage."
"It won't work, Dean!" Sam's voice breaks, and when he speaks again, the determined look is gone; all Dean can see is despair. "He knows. He knows about the rings. He knows the plan."
"So? That doesn't mean it won't work!" Dean remembers Sam in Detroit, strong, brave, and stubborn, determined to take on Lucifer even though he knew everything. And it may have seemed like the worst day of Dean's life (and isn't it funny that every time Dean thinks he's lived through the worst day of his life, some new level of awful comes along to prove him wrong), but now he's scrambling to get it back. "It doesn't matter if he knows. You can do this."
But Sam just shakes his head. "He showed me." Sam's voice hitches, and he draws a deep shuddering breath. "He showed me what Hell was like for you. And he said if we try anything with the rings, he'll send you back. He'll send you back to Hell, Dean."
Son of a bitch. Dean staggers back against the broken-down car. Son of a fucking bitch. It's not the threat of returning to Hell that's left him reeling. He would do it. He would jump into the Pit himself if it meant keeping Sam out of it. No, what's knocking Dean sideways is the way Lucifer crafted a scenario in which the only way Sam can save the people he loves, and half the world, is to say yes. And Dean took him by the hand and led him into it.
"Fine, forget the rings," he stammers. "We'll think of something else."
"No, dammit!" Sam slams the Impala's hood with both fists. "There is nothing else! We are out of options! He is going to kill more people every day. He told me it's not going to be hundreds tomorrow, it's going to be thousands! So either we try a crazy plan that probably sends you back to Hell, or we sit here twiddling our thumbs while thousands of people die. I can't do that to you. I can't do it to them!" He flings out his arms to indicate the rest of the world, as if Dean cares about the rest of the world. As if the whole fucking world matters half as much as the little brother who is willing to sacrifice himself to save it. Let the world burn. Dean doesn't care. Take care of Sammy was always first, always more important than saving people hunting things, and Dean is losing him. Again.
"My way," Sam says, "whether he wins or loses, you'll be okay. Lucifer will keep you safe until he dies. And once he dies, it will all be over and everyone else will be safe."
"No, Sammy, please. Don't do this." Dean wants to scream but his voice is a whisper. The world is collapsing around him and he can't do anything to stop it. (I don't want to be safe. I don't want to live through this. Please, don't ask me to. You know I can't.)
Sam slides off the Impala. His face is full of determination again, and Dean knows it's too late. "It's going to be okay," he says evenly. "For once in your life - for once in my life - let me fix it. We both know locking him in the Cage was a long shot anyway." And somehow, this is the worst part. That Sam doesn't know how strong he is, that he doesn't know he has the strength to overcome Lucifer and throw himself into Hell, that he'll never know his true worth just because Dean once expressed doubt and Sam believed him. "But this I can do. I can save you and Bobby, and half the world, and I think... I think maybe I can make it harder on him, make it a little easier for Michael to beat him quickly." Sam smiles a small, hopeful, smile, and Dean realizes it's the first time he's seen him smile since Cas sent him back. Because a plan to make it a little easier to kill himself and the angel-from-hell riding him is the only thing that can make his brother smile now. That's how fucked they are.
Sam puts his hands on Dean's shoulders. "It's okay. Promise me, Dean. Promise you and Bobby will stay in the house. Stay in the panic room until it's over. Try to warn Cas." Dean can't breathe, can't speak, but it wouldn't matter if he could. Sam doesn't wait for a response, but squeezes Dean's shoulders, spins around and strides into the yard. Spreading his arms wide, he looks up at the sky and yells "All right, you son of a bitch! Are you listening? If you'll do what you promised, if you swear to protect this house and everyone in it, then yes! I give my consent!"
Within seconds the air is incandescent with power, and Dean feels it thrumming through the earth under him. He collapses to his knees and covers his ears as the night is shattered by a mind-rending shriek. Sam looks at him and mouths the words It's okay; then he is engulfed in an unbearable, unholy light and he is beautiful and horrible and absolutely not Sam. The light grows brighter, creeping behind Dean's eyeballs as the world breaks into a thousand pieces and the ground rushes up to meet him.
It's not okay. It's so very, very far from okay.
When he wakes up, Dean sees a familiar, concerned face hovering above him. Castiel extends a hand to help him up. "Are you all right?"
Dean stands, balancing carefully on trembling legs, and rubs his hand over his face. "Oh, God, Cas, I'm sorry. I really fucked it up." He slams his fist against the Impala. "Dammit! I just made things worse! How the fuck did I come up with the one thing worse than Sam trapping himself in the Cage with Lucifer? What do I do now?" Dean leans against the car, buries his face in his hands, and wishes someone - God, Lucifer, anyone - would wipe him off the face of earth.
"I was afraid that might happen," the angel says thoughtfully. "We should have gone back further, before Lucifer was freed from the cage."
That was an option? "Are you shitting me, Cas?" Dean lowers his hands, fixes Castiel with a dumbfounded stare. "You could have gone back that far? And you're just now telling me?"
Castiel shrugs. "I need to keep you as recent as possible. Everything you do differently when you go back causes changes, changes we can't control or predict. The further you go, the more you're changing, so it's more dangerous. But I need to send you back a little farther," he says, raising his hand to Dean's forehead.
"Wait!" cries Dean. "Where are you - " But it's too late; he is already on his way.
Dean is outside Bobby's panic room. He can hear Sam screaming inside, and he immediately recognizes that his brother is detoxing from demon blood. Tonight, Sam is going to escape. Tomorrow, he is going to break the last seal and release Lucifer from the cage.
No he's not. Not in this lifetime.
He hears Bobby treading cautiously down the stairs. Bobby stops halfway down and looks at Dean anxiously, as if he's afraid to set him off, and Dean tries to remember if they'd fought about something that night. "Dean?" Bobby says quietly. "I'm sorry, I know it's the last thing you want to do, but we have to consider it. Letting Sam have some... you know... it would let him fight with us. And making him go cold turkey might kill him."
Oh. That. Not going to happen. "I can't do it, Bobby," Dean says. And yeah, maybe it's unfair that Dean has the benefit of - hindsight? foresight? Whatever it is, he knows Sam can survive the detox, and he's going to make it happen. "He can get past this. He will. But it's going to suck, and you don't need to be here for it. Why don't you go make a supply run or something, and I'll stay here with Sam. I'll call you when it's over."
"Okay." Bobby is a little too easily convinced, a little too eager to leave. Dean can't blame him. "But you need anything, you call me. Understand?"
"Yeah. I'll keep you updated." Bobby heads back upstairs, and Dean stares at the heavy iron door. Its new exterior lock stares accusingly back at him. (You did this. This room was supposed to be a shelter, not a prison. But you called Bobby and told him to put a fucking lock on the outside so you could lock your brother in here.) He slowly opens the door and slips into the panic room.
Sam is sitting on the cot, his head in his hands. His screams have turned to low moans. The only light in the room is a shaft of sunlight from the air vent, dancing with dust motes. Sitting in the beam of light, dappled with shadows from the pentagram grate, he looks so young and fragile and helpless, and Dean wishes he could pick him up and carry him out of this fire.
"Sammy?" he asks. "How you doing?"
Sam looks up but doesn't look at him. "Dean." His voice cracks. "Alastair was here. How did Alastair get in here?"
"He didn't. No one has been in here." Dean sits next to him on the cot. If he looks straight ahead, stares at the same salt-encrusted wall Sam's staring at, he can avoid looking at Sam's broken expression.
"But I saw him. I felt him."
"He's not real, Sam. You killed him, remember?"
"Did I? But it felt so real," Sam whispers weakly.
Oh, fuck. "I'm sorry, Sammy. I'm so sorry. I know it felt real, but it wasn't." But it felt real, whatever the hallucination did to him, and Dean left him alone with it, locked in the panic room, cuffed to the cot, for Christ's sake, at the mercy of all his internal demons. No wonder he ran when he had the chance.
This time it's going to be different. "It's just your mind, clearing out all that demon shit," he says. "I promise, no one is here but you and me." Dean gets up, pats Sam on the shoulder, and tries to ignore that it makes his brother flinch. "I'm locking the door right now," he says, sliding the bolt. "No one can get in. And if you see anyone other than me, they're not real, okay? You believe me?"
"No, don't lock me in here," pleads Sam. "Let me go. I can stop it, Dean. Ruby knows where Lilith is. I can stop her. I can kill her. Please."
"I believe you, buddy," says Dean, sitting next to Sam again, carefully not touching him this time. "But, see, there's a problem."
But Sam isn't listening. He's staring at the corner of the panic room. "You're not real," he says quietly, to someone Dean can't see.
Fuck. Another hallucination. Dean grabs Sam's hand, squeezes it tight. "Sam? Whoever you see? You're right, they're not real. I can't see them. But you see me, right? You feel me? You know I'm here?" Sam stares at Dean, then nods. "Okay then. You saw me walk through the door, and you saw me lock it. No one else can come in here. Anyone who comes in after I locked that door, they're a hallucination. So just ride it out. I'll be here with you. Just me. No one else, I promise. Okay?"
And they ride it out. Sam screams, shakes, whispers, sobs. Sometimes it sounds like he's praying, though Dean doesn't know who he'd pray to, and he's sure they wouldn't listen. When the powers start to fling his body around the room, Dean lies him down on the cot and ties a rope around his waist. "Just like a seatbelt, okay?" he says reassuringly. "The knot's right here where you can reach it. We can untie it when you want."
Hours later, when Sam unties the knot with shaky hands and asks for a drink, Dean decides he's ready to hear the truth. He opens the panic room door, hands Sam a bottle of water and a protein bar, and sits on the floor in front of him, leaning against the cold iron wall. He extends his legs until his feet nudge Sam's, desperate for any kind of connection.
"Sam, hear me out," he says, peering up at his brother in the room's dim light. "I'm sorry. I blamed you for not keeping it together after I died, and that wasn't fair to you. Compared to what I did after you died, trusting a demon probably wasn't the worst thing in the world. Hell, I used to trust her too. Kinda." (I thanked her for saving you. I just didn't realize what she was saving you for.) There is no response from Sam, but Dean continues. "Listen, I know you've got no reason to believe me, but please, if you ever trusted me, trust me now. Cas told me something we didn't know. Turns out Lilith isn't trying to break the final seal. Lilith is the final seal. You kill her, you break the seal."
Sam stares at Dean, brow furrowed. "Wait. What the. What? Lilith?" He sits up and draws his feet away from Dean's. "And you. You think Ruby's lying to me. What, she's trying to trick me into breaking the last seal? Why should I believe angels over Ruby? It's not like angels never lie."
Shit. Even when he's not strung out on demon blood, that bitch's claws are sunk deep into Sam. "No," Dean says, "I know, you're right. I don't trust angels either. But I trust Cas. He says the angels are pushing for Armageddon just as hard as the demons are, and he's trying to stop it. You've gotta trust him." (Trust me. Please.) Sam's eyes narrow, and Dean can tell he's losing him. He longs for 4-year-old Sammy, who believed in him completely, without doubt, without limits.
Sam lies back on the cot and throws his arm over his eyes, remaining silent for so long that Dean starts to wonder if he's fallen asleep. And whether he's sleeping or just pretending to sleep doesn't matter, because Dean can't say anything. It's not that there's nothing to say - there's so much to say. He wants to warn Sam that Ruby has a leash around his neck and is literally leading him to Hell. He wants to apologize for assuming Sam would be able to pick up and carry on after he died. But he can't think of anything to say that wouldn't threaten the fragile balance they have right now. So he sits and watches Sam maybe-sleep and finds himself repeating please, please in his head. As if that has ever helped.
Suddenly Sam mutters "Oh, fuck."
"I know, Sam, I know, it's hard - "
"No," Sam interrupts. "I mean, fuck, this is starting to make sense." He sits up and rubs his hand down his face. "I told her I was ready to take on Lilith weeks ago. And she kept saying no, no, I needed to get stronger. But she's not helping me get stronger. She's blowing me off. She's not even answering my calls. It's like... she's stalling."
"Like she's waiting," Dean says cautiously. "Waiting for the rest of the seals to be broken."
"Goddammit!" Sam hurls his water bottle across the room. "She wouldn't tell me how she got out of Hell. I kept asking her and she kept saying it didn't matter, all that mattered was - fuck!" His head drops into his hands again. "God, Dean. What if Cas is right? What the fuck? What did I do?"
Oh, there it is. That warm feeling of relief lightening the dread that's been squeezed around Dean's heart. It's going to be okay. "You haven't done anything that can't be undone," he says. (Nothing you'd have to sacrifice yourself to undo.) He reaches out to touch Sam's foot with his own, and if Sam notices, he doesn't respond. But he doesn't withdraw his own foot either.
"I'm going to kill her," he says quietly, brokenly. "If this is true, I swear to God I'm going to fucking kill her."
"You know what?" Dean smiles. "If this is true, I am completely in favor of that plan." The if tastes like blood and bile at the back of his throat, but he can't push it. He's got to let Sam get there on his own. Everything is going to be okay.
"But what are we going to do about Lilith?" Sam's expression is pained. It's too much, Dean knows. Too much for him to handle right now, on top of Ruby's betrayal.
"We'll just have to exorcise the bitch," he sighs. "That's all we can do. We can't kill her, so we have to send her ass back to Hell."
Sam huffs. "Oh, that's all? No problem then."
"Sam, look at me." Their eyes lock. "We can take care of Lilith. We can do this. You believe me? You with me?" Sam stares at Dean for a heartbeat, then gives him that tight little nod that means actually I'm pretty sure we're both going to get killed, but I'm with you, because I'd follow you into Hell.
No. No one is following Dean into Hell today.
"Okay. Give Ruby a call, tell her to zap on over here. We've gotta take care of her before she figures out we're on to her. Assuming, you know, that Cas is telling the truth."
"Yeah. Pretty good assumption, probably," Sam says sadly. "God, I've been such a fucking moron." He grimaces and rubs a hand through dirty hair. "Anyway, I've been calling her. I told you, she's not answering. I haven't heard from her in days."
Dean's pretty sure he knows exactly why she's been avoiding Sam. And as much as he hates the thought of his brother sucking down demon blood, knowing that she deliberately got him hooked and then withheld it when he needed it... it's just one more reason to stab her in the face. "Call her again," he growls. "Tell her Dean learned something about Lilith and the seals. I think she'll get back to you." Sam leaves the message, and they wait. Sam dozes off but Dean stays awake, listening, twirling the demon blade between his fingers.
Maybe it's one hour later, maybe it's ten, but he finally hears Ruby's light footsteps on the stairs. He nudges Sam awake, then slips the knife into his pocket and moves quietly to stand next to the door so she won't be able to see him until she gets closer.
"Sam?" she says anxiously, at the base of the steps. "You in there?"
Sam stands slowly, still a little shaky, and moves to the door. "Ruby," he says. "We need to talk."
"Hey, Sam," she says. "Come on out." Dean can't see her, but he can hear the smile in her voice. That big, fake, "you can trust me" smile. Yeah, this time he's definitely going to stab her in the face.
Sam stands in the doorway. "No," he says, and he's pale and trembling, but his voice is surprisingly firm. "You come over here. Please."
"You know I can't go in there," Ruby pouts. But she steps closer; close enough to see Dean. "So. What's going on? Why are you boys hiding in your little no-demons-allowed clubhouse?"
"We're just talking," Sam smiles, and God, the way he looks at her. Dean hopes Sam really is that good of an actor. Because he's beaming down on her like he trusts her, like she's still the answer to everything. "I'm hearing Dean's side of some things. Now I want to hear your side."
"Fine," she says, crossing her arms and leaning casually against the door. "What's Dean's side?"
Sam's smile turns to a focused stare, but Ruby stares back, unafraid. "Dean heard Lilith is actually the final seal," he says. "If I kill her, I break the seal."
Ruby raises an eyebrow and flicks her eyes to Dean. "And where did Dean get this information?"
"From a reliable source," says Dean. He quickly reaches out and grabs her wrist, yanking her into the panic room. Ruby yelps and swats his hand away, but it's too late; she's already inside the painted devil's trap, right where Dean wants her. "Now, if you ever want out of here, tell him the truth." He draws the demon blade out of his pocket.
"Sam?" she cries, throwing up her hands in frustration. "After all I've done for you? You're just going to let him do this to me?"
"Kinda hard to stop him," Sam shrugs. "But I won't let him hurt you if you just tell the truth. Dean, give me the knife." He holds out his hand, and Dean places it in his palm. "Now, if you don't mind." He motions with his head toward the door of the panic room, and Dean realizes with a start that he's being dismissed.
"Seriously, Sam? You don't trust me?"
"She's caught in the devil's trap. I don't want her to feel any more threatened."
That makes Dean laugh, because the bitch doesn't look scared, just really pissed off. Then Sam smiles down on her again and something clenches in Dean's throat, but he moves to the doorway. "Now," Sam says softly. "Dean isn't going to hurt you. Tell me the truth about Lilith."
Ruby sighs. "Sam, I've been looking out for you since before Dean went to Hell. I've saved your life more than once. Do you trust me? Do you trust me to do what's best for you? Do you believe me when I say I've always had your best interests at heart?" Sam gives her a puzzled look, and she continues. "The truth. You want the truth. The truth is, you are very important. You've always had a special mission. A greater purpose." She moves closer to Sam and puts her hand on his arm. She looks tiny and helpless. Dean knows, better than anyone, that she's not.
"You and Azazel were always Plan B. With Lucifer trapped in the cage, you were supposed to be the one to lead his army and set him free. But your brother here, he was kind enough to put Plan A back on the table." She grins at Dean, and God, he wants to slice that grin off her face. "Did you think Dean being involved was a coincidence? It was meant to be, Sam. One brother begins it, the other completes it. Once he broke the first seal, he made it all possible. Now things can happen the way they were meant to happen. You and Lucifer as one."
"As one?" says Sam. "What the fuck are you talking about?" And Dean suddenly remembers that Sam doesn't know about this part. Doesn't know he was intended to be Lucifer's meatsuit.
Ruby peers up at Sam through dark lashes. "Sam Winchester, you are a lucky man," she says reverently. "An angel needs a vessel, and you are destined to be Lucifer's vessel. Lilith will be resurrected to serve as his second in command. And me," she says, running a finger down his chest, "I get to be your consort."
Dean watches his brother's face twist in horror as he realizes what the demon has been pushing him toward. Right now, at this moment, Dean has never wanted to kill anything - human or supernatural - as much as he wants to kill this bitch. But Ruby isn't watching Sam's reaction, and she's still trying to wind him around her finger. "It's all going to be yours, Sam," she purrs into his chest. "No more fear, no more guilt, no one will ever hurt you again. Infinite power, infinite love. All you have to do is break the final seal."
Sam stands perfectly still, eyes closed, lips compressed into a tight line. Then he sighs and puts his arms around Ruby, resting his chin on the top of her head in a way that makes Dean's heart leap into his throat, because this, this isn't righteous anger. Sam needs to be mad right now. He needs to be fucking furious. But he just looks over her head and meets Dean's eyes, and all Dean can see in his expression is anguish. "Thank you, Ruby," he says sadly. "Thank you for saving my life. And thank you for telling me the truth." Still in Sam's arms, Ruby turns toward Dean with a triumphant smile.
Then Sam takes the blade and plunges it between her ribs.
Ruby slumps in Sam's arms, but the triumphant smile doesn't flinch. And as her blood flows into a familiar pattern on the floor, Dean sees that her eyes have flipped completely white.
Oh God no, please, no.
"Sam!" he screams. "It's not Ruby! It's Lilith!"
Sam stares in confused horror at the figure in his arms as light begins to pour from her eyes and mouth, and from the gaping wound in her back. "Sam!" Dean cries. "Come on! We need to get out of here!" He stumbles back into the panic room as Lilith's blood flows into a circular pattern on the floor, but he can't get close enough to grab Sam. As the bloody pattern grows and begins to glow, a loud roaring, whining sound fills the room. The sound and the light are like a wall, pushing him away from Sam. Dean tries to reach him but is only able to brush his fingertips against Sam's jacket before Sam is pulled in the opposite direction and Dean is forced out of the room. He scrabbles for the door and struggles to push his way back into the room, back to Sam, but the door slams shut between them with a loud metallic crash. Dean grabs the handle, pulls until his hands are bloody, but nothing happens, and all he can do is stand there screaming Sam's name as light roars out through the cracks around the door. Then a pair of hands grab his shoulders and fling him back, and he's face to face with Castiel.
"Dean! We have to go!" Cas places his fingers on Dean's forehead, but Dean shoves his hand away.
"Cas!" he screams. "Open the door! Sam is still in there! We have to get him out!"
The angel yells louder above the climbing shriek. "It's too late! Lucifer is rising here and now! There's nothing I can do!" He reaches for Dean's forehead again, and Dean tries to disconnect, to stay here, but it's too late, and he hits the ground. Somewhere, anywhere, he doesn't know and it doesn't matter. It's cold and it's dark and it's too far away to save Sam.
He clenches Cas's coat in both fists. "Cas, you've got to take me back further! You've got to take me back to before I went to Hell. That's the only way I can stop any of this!"
Castiel is out of breath, and Dean briefly wonders what the time travel is taking out of him. But it doesn't matter. Nothing else matters. "You need to understand the implications of this," Cas pants, raising his eyebrows. "This changes many events. Your decisions are going to be crucial. Do you understand? It is extremely important that you consider the ramifications of everything you do."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Butterfly effect, whatever, it doesn't matter! Just, please, Cas. Please! Send me back!"
The angel places his fingers on Dean's forehead.
Cold Oak. Dean and Bobby have just stopped the Impala at the end of the road at Cold Oak.
(Shit, you're not giving me a lot to work with here, Cas.) But Dean only needs an extra minute or two to save Sam's life. He leaps out of the car, flings open the trunk, and thrusts a gun into Bobby's hands. "Hurry up, dammit, we've got to run." He ignores Bobby's confused protests and runs up the slope toward the abandoned village, calling Sam's name.
"Dean!" comes the faint reply, and now Dean can see him, and just like before, he sees Jake coming up behind him, knife ready to strike. "Turn around, Sam!" he shouts. "Behind you!" Sam spins around and instinctively falls into a defensive position just before Jake is in striking range, but he's hurt and Jake is inhumanly strong and neither Dean nor Sam can do anything as Jake sinks the knife into Sam's chest (no no no no no) and suddenly Dean is reliving the whole thing - skidding to his knees in the mud, catching his brother as he slumps bonelessly to the ground, clutching Sam desperately and telling him it's going to be all right, as if saying it often enough makes it true, and oh, God, is this what Cas meant? Is this the decision he was supposed to make? To just let Sam die? Dean grips his brother and screams "Cas! I can't do this! Don't make me do this!"
But something is different. Sam is breathing - ragged, shallow breaths, but he's breathing. And Bobby is there, pulling Dean's arms away (oh no you don't, I'm not letting go of him) and yelling "Dean, loosen up! Let me check his injury!" And Jake isn't running off into the woods; he's crumpled behind Sam with a bullet wound in his forehead, bleeding out into the mud.
And Sam is still breathing.
"We did it, Bobby," Dean gasps. "We got here in time. Sam's okay."
"In time?" Bobby cries. "Did you not notice that your brother has been stabbed? He's not okay! Let me see how deep this is." Bobby pulls Dean's arm down enough to see Sam's wound. "Shit, we're going to have to get him to a hospital!"
But Dean, hauling a warm and breathing (alive, God, he's alive) Sam onto his feet, knows his brother is very, very okay. Considering. He slips under Sam's arm, pressing one hand against his wound. "Grab his other arm. I can't carry his ass all that way myself." (I can. I did it last time. But this time is going to be different.) Sam's feet suddenly jerk, seeking traction as Dean and Bobby carry him forward. "No, Sam, hold still," says Dean. "Let us do the work.'
Sam turns his head to peer at Dean through glassy eyes. "Dean?" he mumbles. "That really you?"
"Yeah, it's me." His face breaks into a grin that he can't wipe off, even as Sam groans in pain, even though Bobby's staring at him as if he's finally lost his shit. (You don't know, Bobby. You don't know this one is the happy ending.) "Who else would it be?"
"I didn't know," Sam hisses through clenched teeth. "I didn't know where you were. I thought maybe you were dead." Then his eyes close and his head lolls limply on his chest, but Dean's palm is pressed against his wound and he can still feel the beat of his heart.
"No, Sammy," he says. "No one's dead this time."
Dean is curled into a too-hard hospital chair when he hears Sam stir and mumble his name. "Sam?" he says quickly, leaning into his brother's line of sight. "I'm right here. You're going to be okay. You got stabbed, and they're keeping you for observation, but you're going to be okay."
Sam blinks a few times, closes his eyes, nods silently. Suddenly his eyes snap open. "Dean? You're okay? What happened to Jake? And where's Bobby?"
"Don't worry. Jake's dead. Bobby's fine. And you need to sleep."
"God, Dean, it was the yellow-eyed demon. He brought us all together. He wanted..."
"It's okay. We can talk about it tomorrow. Right now you need to sleep."
"It's okay? You're okay?"
"I'm fine. Everything is fine now. Go to sleep."
Sam stops fighting and closes his eyes. "Hey, Dean," he says sleepily, "who's Cas?"
"What do you mean?"
"Cas. I heard you telling someone named Cas that you couldn't do something."
"Who's Cas?" Dean laughs. "You're on some good meds, kid." Sammy knows Castiel. The angel who raised Dean from Hell. The angel who's trying to help him rewrite history, save his brother, save the world. The angel who lost his powers and (briefly) his life because he became Dean's ally. The angel who took Sam's hand when others sneered at him as an abomination. The angel... the one Sam hasn't met yet, the one Sam will never meet, because Cas will never need to rescue Dean from Hell. Oh, fuck. Cas.
"You must have heard me wrong, or been hallucinating or something," Dean says quietly. "Go back to sleep."
"M'kay," Sam mumbles, already halfway there.
Later, when he's sure Sam is asleep, Dean squirms in the uncomfortable chair and whispers a prayer. "Cas? Can you hear me? I don't know if you're around or if you're listening or what." He pauses, as if he's waiting for a confirmation that the angel is listening, but this thing has always been one-way and it's not going to change now. "Figures," he sighs. "The one good thing to come out of my trip to Hell and now it's not going to happen, is it? Are you even out there?" Dean stops and listens for the flutter of angel wings, but all he can hear is the soft undercurrent of hospital noises, so he continues. "I don't know if you're going to be walking around on Earth again, or if you were only here because of me, but. Anyway. If you can hear me, I think it worked. I think we're going to be okay. So... thank you. Thank you for everything. And I know I told you it was creepy when you were in my dreams, but if you want to come visit that way, if that's the only way you can do it, I'm cool with that."
Dean eventually falls asleep, but he doesn't dream of Castiel. He dreams of yellow eyes and the smell of sulphur and a cloud of swirling dark smoke.
In his dreams, he watches through a veil as Bobby enters the room, bringing coffee and a map that shows a pentagram formed from old churches and railroads. "Something big is coming," Bobby says, his voice strangely muffled. "End of the world big." In his dreams, Dean hears himself saying they need to get on this now, instead of taking Sam back to Bobby's to rest and recover. Then he's up and moving, grabbing his gear, and he sees the Colt inside his duffle bag, and that's weird, that he's dreaming about the lost Colt right now. And suddenly he realizes he's not dreaming at all. He's simply not in control of his own body. Someone else is - something else is. And then he hears laughing and it's coming from inside his head, it's inside his own fucking head, and that's when he knows. That's right, Deano, says an icy voice, deep inside his own consciousness, and how? How is this possible? Oh, God, the tattoo. There is no tattoo at this point, just those damn anti-possession charms, those tiny little charms that were so fucking easy to lose, and his is probably trampled into the mud in Cold Oak, leaving Dean wide open for any demon who wants to take a ride. I'm going to run the show for a bit, the voice says. Why don't you go bye bye for now. Then everything goes dark.
Eventually, there is another misty flicker of reality. Dean is driving the Impala (no, Dean's body is driving the Impala, but someone else is driving Dean); Sam is slumped in the passenger seat, looking grey and clammy. "Dean?" he says quietly. "You need a break? Want to stop for a minute? I could use some water."
God, of course he needs some water. How much blood did he lose? How long was he in the hospital before they snuck him out? What was Bobby thinking, letting Dean take him on the road looking like this? (Bobby was thinking Dean would take care of him, of course. Because that's what Dean does, when Dean is really Dean.) Dean struggles to hit the brakes, to turn the wheel, but he can only watch and listen as the car speeds down the highway and his voice says "We're almost there, kid. Think you can hold on another hour or so?"
"Yeah, sure," Sam says warily, his eyes narrowing. (Yes, Sam, something is weird. Please, God, see this. Feel this. Figure this out.)
The next time Dean fades back into misty reality, he is standing in a wooded area, facing Sam. Facing Sam's gun, which is pointed straight at him. And the barrel of that gun is the most beautiful thing he's ever seen, because it means Sam knows, and if Dean were in control of his own body his knees would have buckled in relief. But someone else holds him ramrod straight, facing down Sam's gun. Sam's face is still pale and drawn, and his hands are shaky, but his voice is rock steady as he points the gun at Dean and growls, "You're not my brother. I figured out a long time ago that you aren't my brother. I just haven't decided what you are."
"You got me," says Dean's voice. "Put the peashooter away. Might accidentally hurt big brother, and you know it won't hurt me." Sam steps back, his expression changing from anxiety-tinged anger to outright terror, and Dean knows his eyes have flashed yellow. "Yeah, it's me. And I've got a deal for you, Sammy. I have a little... project for you. You're gonna take this gun" he says, as Dean's hands pull the Colt from his duffle bag, "and you're going to do one little thing for me. That's all. You do that for me, I give Dean back. You don't, and I ride this bag of bones for the rest of Dean's short, unhappy life. And believe me," he laughs, "it will be very short and very unhappy."
Sam slowly shakes his head, but he's obviously wavering, because of course the big moron is going to sacrifice himself to save his brother. And that's Dean's job, not Sam's, so he's got to stop him. (You can do this. Dad did it. Bobby did it. Sam did it. You can do it.) Dean takes all of his love and fear and despair and anger, pulls them together, gathers it all into himself and pushes his way out. The world flips from misty to brutally sharp and he's there, right there, swaying on his feet but in control.
"Sam," he gasps. "It's me. I've got him. We're gonna end this now."
Sam's face flashes from fear to determination, and he nods. "Exorcizamus te..." he begins.
"Stop!" yells Dean. "Not that way." But Sam is never going to agree to the other way. It's up to Dean to end it. "Dad was right, Sam. I stopped you from killing the demon before, and I shouldn't have."
"No," says Sam. "You were right."
"No, dammit, I wasn't!" Dean is already weak and shaky from the effort of containing Azazel, and shouting at Sam's bewildered face is like running a razor over his own heart, but he has to. He's running out of time and he's going to lose control or lose his nerve if he doesn't finish this now. "I was wrong, and it's going to fuck us up for the rest of our lives!" He stops, gathers himself, takes a breath. "Just let it go, Sammy. Let it end here. Stop hunting. Go back to Stanford. Please. Let it all end right here. This is the only way. Trust me."
He shifts the Colt in his hand. It feels as heavy as the Impala, as heavy as his own responsibility, as heavy as his own failures as he rests his finger on the trigger and turns it toward himself. Then Sam is lunging for him screaming No Dean no and for some reason Azazel is laughing and Dean knows it's now or never, so he pushes the gun under his jaw with shaking hands and squeezes the trigger. There is a brief flash of pain and a longer burst of blinding white light and the stench of blood and burning flesh and now, now Dean realizes why Azazel was laughing - it's because he knows something about the Colt that Dean didn't know. He knows it sends its human victims to Hell.
In the occasional lull between screams, when skin isn't being peeled from flesh, or flesh torn from bone, Dean thinks he can handle Hell this time. For Sam's sake. All he has to do is not break the first seal, and everything will be okay.
But everything is not okay. Because Dean knows not to break the first seal, but he also knows that while he is in Hell, Ruby is going to find Sam and use his grief and guilt to twist him inside out. And he knows that if he stays in Hell long enough, he will become a demon (and now that he knows time runs differently in Hell, he thinks this could happen during Sam's lifetime). And he knows how good (horrible and monstrous and unspeakable and good, so fucking good) it feels to be on the other end of the knife. And this time, God help him, he knows it earns him a Get Out of Hell Free card. So he accepts Alastair's offer, steps boldly up to the woman on the rack, and with each scream he draws from his victim's lips, he thinks Sorry, but it's either you or Sam, and it's always going to be Sam. And this time, when the angel comes and grips him tight, he is ready, and his last thought in Hell is I hope Sam buried me in a shallow grave.
It's a shroud this time, Dean realizes, as he comes into his body with a gasp. Mostly he's relieved (little shit did it right this time, wrapped me up and burned me before he buried me, just like he's supposed to), but a tiny part of him remembers the Sam who insisted on keeping his body intact because he'd need it again, and desperately wants that Sam back, the Sam who would never let him go without a fight. But that's what broke Sam in the first place, and Dean's got no right to want it.
Right now, the more pressing issue is that the shroud was resurrected just as his body and clothes were, and he's wrapped too tightly to move. Panic rises in his throat, but he's not alone - strong hands are pushing through the dirt, lifting Dean onto the ground, tearing open the shroud.
Dean's eyes brim with tears from the irritation of dirt and embers, and his nose and mouth are full of the smell of smoke and burning flesh - from Hell or from his own immolation. He rolls onto his stomach and then rises to his hands and knees, spasmodically retching and coughing, eyes streaming. His resurrected stomach is empty and eventually his dry heaves and coughs subside. He stays on all fours, staring at shredded linen and dead grass, unable to make eye contact with Castiel in the face of his own failure.
"Dammit, Cas," he mutters at the ground. His throat feels like he's swallowed ground glass, but he raises his voice anyway. "You knew I was gonna do it, you son of a bitch! You knew I'd fail. You knew all along that I couldn't change anything!" He swallows a sob. "What was the point of all this? Was it just some big lesson? Did you just want me to see that Sam was fucked, no matter what I did? Is that supposed to make me feel better about it? Because I've gotta tell you, it doesn't. It really fucking doesn't!"
The voice is calm and familiar and beloved, but it's not Castiel, and it makes Dean's blood run cold. He rises to a kneeling position and looks up into his brother's face. (It's not Sam it's not Sam oh jesus fuck it looks like Sam but it's not Sam.)
"How?" he gasps. "The seals. How?" (I just got out. There wasn't time for all the seals to be broken. There wasn't time. I was supposed to have time to stop you.)
"The seals?" Sam's face smiles. Sam's voice (not Sam not Sam) chuckles. "So, you know about the seals. Good for you. But did you know they're not the only way to open the cage? There are other ways. And your brother is smart and determined enough to find them."
Well, this is perfect. Dean has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory before, but never on a scale like this. Sam had it. He had Lucifer locked up in a fucking cage, and Dean undid it.
And Dean needs to get up, needs to stand up to face this (get off your fucking KNEES, Winchester) but his legs are water and he can't, he can't, because Sam. Because Sam said yes. Because he left Sam alone (I blew my own fucking head off and oh god I made him watch) and this is what happened. Because Dean couldn't do it, couldn't watch his brother die and then get up and walk away and live his life, and what made him think Sam could? So Dean can't stand, all he can do is kneel there in front of fucking Lucifer and stammer "Sam? Sam let you out?"
Lucifer smiles, a parody of Sam's smile, and Dean feels all the anger of Hell surging through him, and now he's on his feet. "Bullshit," he growls. "Sam wouldn't do that. Sam would never do that. You're lying."
"Well, he didn't mean to," Lucifer says, raising his eyebrows like he's sharing a private joke with Dean. "He had a pretty little demon on his shoulder who told him you were in Hell and how he could get you out. He thought he could make a deal with me, get big brother out of Hell, and then kill me with his magic gun. Turns out he was wrong." His brother's face (not Sam not Sam) drips with faux sympathy. "Sorry."
"No!" Dean shouts. "If Sam let you out, why am I here? I know you wouldn't pull me out of Hell. Where is Castiel?"
"Dean, Dean, Dean," Lucifer murmurs patiently. "I raised you from Hell because I promised Sam I would. It was part of our deal, and I've never lied to him. And I think we both know I'm the only person in his life who can say that. As for Castiel..." Lucifer shrugs. "I don't know where he is. Am I my brother's keeper?"
And Dean knows it's over, it's all over. No magic rings, no guardian angel riding in to save the day, no clicking his heels together and saying "there's no place like home." It's just him and Sam and the Devil, here at the end of the world, and there's nothing he can do about it.
Lucifer steps toward him. He wears Sam's form more comfortably than Sam ever did - standing straight and tall, gracefully moving those ridiculously long arms and legs as if this were his body all along, as if Sam spent twenty-odd years simply growing it for him like a gardener. Dean flinches as Sam's hand (not Sam not Sam) reaches out to rest on his shoulder. "Michael's on his way, and I know you two will want some alone time, so goodbye for now. We'll meet again soon. It was good to see you, Dean. I know Sam appreciated it, one last time."
Sam. Dean forces himself to look Lucifer in the eyes, to stare as hard as he can, because Sam's in there somewhere, and if he looks deep enough, if he can get past the glossy putrid veneer of Not Sam, he might find him.
"Are you there, Sammy?" he says quietly. "If you can hear me, I'm sorry. I'm so, so, sorry. I tried to stop all of this."
"Stop all of this?" The smile on his (not) brother's face is almost kind. Almost. "You couldn't have stopped it. There's nothing you could have done. No matter what choices you made, no matter what details you altered, we would always have ended up... here." He pats Dean on the shoulder again. "I'll see you soon, Dean."
And as Lucifer disappears, taking Sam and everything that matters with him, Dean feels Michael approaching, and he turns to face his fate.