Characters: Sam, Dean
Spoilers: S4 spoilers all the way through 4X22
Rating: pg, gen
Word Count: 8490
Disclaimer: not mine, not at all
A/N: Thanks so much to callistosh65 for the wonderful beta read and for all her encouragement.
Summary: “So now I’ll tell you what I told Cas. You could be the bride of Lucifer, but guess what? I don’t care.”
Dean was going to save Sam first. The rest of the world would have to wait its turn.
So there was light, and the light was not good, but Dean kept a hold of his brother’s stupid green jacket.
“Dean. He’s coming,” Sam said, and Dean could feel the truth of it under his skin. Sam was hanging onto him, Dean was doing the same, and they clung to each other like two scared kids in this place that had been stripped and plundered of everything holy. It reeked of sulfur.
But the light was ancient and beautiful and damning. It demanded worship. It wanted him to bow before it.
More than anything, Dean wanted to grab his brother and run. He reached for Sam’s hand and pulled, but there was resistance, and it wasn’t Sam this time. Whatever had staked its claim wasn’t letting go. Playing tug-of-war with hell was not going to work, not with his brother’s soul up for grabs. Castiel had promised Dean paradise but he wasn’t banking on that eternity including Sam. And Dean was never going to leave Sam behind again.
“Sam? Sammy! Close your eyes!” Dean put his hands on both sides of Sam’s face, trying to divert his attention away from whatever was coming. “Don’t keep looking!”
It was so loud. Sam couldn’t hear him, wouldn’t hear him, so Dean covered his brother’s eyes before shutting his own as tightly as he could. They were so out of time. Perdition was howling, a demon chorus all around them.
Ridiculously too late, Dean knew where he’d gone wrong. He’d been an easy mark, persuaded that he could have a destiny apart from his brother. Zachariah was a born salesman and had known exactly how to play him.
Dean would never be a man of faith, but neither angels nor demons seemed able to resist a desperate man. It was the only card he had left to play.
As loudly as he could, he screamed, “If you want me, take us now!”
Dean threw his arms around Sam and buried his face against his brother’s neck. The ground was shaking under their feet, starting to crumble. This was it. They weren’t going to make it.
Then there was a change. It was thunder and a voice like the wind over dry plains, but it was also a gentle whisper. Sometimes a burning bush was only a bush, yet this time, the fire didn’t burn them.
Dean whispered back, “Please save us.”
Dean clung to Sam and braced for the other side.
When Dean opened his eyes, birds were singing, a warm breeze was blowing, and overhead, a squirrel made an impossible leap from one branch to another. He was in a forest, a freaking Disneyland forest, possibly inhabited by bunnies along with the birds and squirrels, and with sunlight streaming through the branches of the redwoods. It was kind of terrifying because redwoods didn’t grow in Maryland and – and he was lying on something hard, some sort of rock or tree root, and he reached underneath to feel his Colt revolver still tucked under his belt.
That was when Dean remembered. He remembered the defiled convent, death and demons all around, and the beautiful light rising up from Lilith’s blood...
… and Sam. There had always been Sam, and for an unforgivable moment, Dean had forgotten. But it was only a moment because thank God, Sam was lying flat on the ground next to him, looking like absolute crap but gloriously alive.
Not even trying to be gentle about it, Dean shook his brother as hard as he could. “Sam. Sam!”
Sam moaned and wrapped his arms tightly against his chest, instinctively protecting himself. To Dean, it meant that Dad’s teaching was in there somewhere, and Sam was still Sam. Kid had always hated waking up. Always wanted to keep the real world away a little bit longer.
“C’mon Sammy, wake up.”
“Right here, c’mon Sam, you’re all right. Shake it off.”
Sam groaned and pushed himself up, shaking his head as if to clear it. His eyes weren’t focusing, but they were still swamp-green, the color Dean had dubbed them when Sam was a kid. Eyes that were not-black were a good thing.
“Where are we?”
“Somewhere, hundred acre wood, I don’t know. Northern California maybe.”
“How did you…? I don’t know… don’t remember.”
When he was confused, Sam looked like he was all of ten years old, and somehow that was also reassuring. It was another source of hope that maybe Sam was still Sammy… that maybe this was something that Dean could still fix.
“Touched by an angel’s my best guess. C’mon, Sam, you gotta sit up.”
Sam was either in shock or hyperventilating or both, but they didn’t have time for it. Dean tried to keep his own breathing calm and steady, but he could feel his heart pounding in his chest.
“Breathe, Sam. Man up, dude, you’re just making it worse.”
Sam clutched Dean’s jacket, and just like that, it felt like they were back in the convent again. “He’s coming! You gotta get out of here, Dean, he’s coming because of me.”
“It’s okay. We got out of there. It’s all right, we made it.”
“I did it. I did it. I killed her. It’s me.” And damnit, Sam was scrabbling away from him, and this was not the way this was going down. Dean had been given this second chance, and he was damn well going to make the most of it.
“Sam!” Dean used his command voice, the one he’d learned from Dad, even though it hadn’t worked out so well last time he’d tried it out.
If you walk out that door…
“Calm down or I’m gonna have to knock you out.”
Sam froze and nodded, still breathing weird, but that was good - it was okay. Dean could work with that. They’d made it. Against all the odds, they’d survived, and Sam was alive and hyperventilating next to him. Sure, they’d screwed up in the biggest screw-up in the history of the world, but it was a new day, and Dean wanted to stretch out with the warm earth against his back and listen to the birds sing.
“I won’t stop you,” Sam said quietly.
Startled, Dean wondered if Sam could mind-read now on top of everything else. He forced himself to stop thinking about the ridiculously loud birds.
“Stop me from what?”
“You still have your gun.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Yeah. How come?”
“Just get it over with. I won’t fight you.”
“What the hell, Sammy?” Dean couldn’t believe it. He would have appreciated at least a couple minutes to enjoy their miraculous deliverance, but Sam was already starting with the crazy.
“You were right, what you said on the phone. You were right about all of it. I don’t blame you, Dean. I won’t try and stop you.”
Dean was about to tell Sam to starting making sense, but something nagged at him.
“What do you mean, what I said on the phone?”
Sam was starting to cry, tears welling up even as he swiped them away.
“We killed her,” he said. “She was awake, she was watching me, and I drank her blood, and she… I don’t know if she was who she was…she was screaming. Dad said to do it, and you have to. If it’s too hard, I can do it myself. I will, Dean. You don’t have to do it…”
Sam wasn’t exactly expressing himself all that clearly, but Dean was getting it anyway. Something bad had happened and not just the part about killing Lilith and letting Lucifer loose. Dean remembered the look of smarmy satisfaction on Zachariah’s face when he’d talked about their plans, and he felt like screaming. They used his brother. They used Sam. They’d both been played and manipulated from the beginning, but Sam was broken in ways that Dean didn’t understand.
“Okay Sammy, I get that you did some bad things, and I don’t know the half of it. You can fess up all you want, but do it later. I’ve had about all the emo I can take right now.”
Sam shook his head. “I can never make this right again.”
“Shut up and listen to me. I’m not letting anything bad happen to you. We’re not going to worry about things we can’t fix until we know what we’re up against. And I don’t know about you, but all this nature crap is freaking the hell out of me. Have you ever heard birds this loud? I’m out of here.”
Dean stomped off through the undergrowth, feeling sticks and twigs rip right through his jeans, but he didn’t care. Without looking over his shoulder, Dean knew that Sam had gotten up and was following him. Dean had always known the sound his brother made when he was trying not to cry.
In the honeymoon suite, after the fight that Dean never wanted to think about again, Sam had said that Dean would never know him, had never known him, but that wasn’t true at all. Dean knew his brother. It wasn’t a lot, but it was better than nothing. And all things considered, that was the most Dean could ask for.
Dean’s feet hurt. He’d been wearing his work boots when the angels had snatched him at Bobby’s, and they had always been better at kicking demon ass than for going on day hikes. They’d been walking for hours, and he was feeling every mile of it. There was something humiliating about surviving a face-off with the heavenly host and Lucifer but being stopped in his tracks by a couple of blood blisters.
Sam had been lagging behind, not saying much, but Dean kind of expected that. It was enough that Sam was still with him.
“We’re almost there,” Dean said because someone needed to say something every now and then, even though he had no idea where “there” even was. They’d been following a footpath that twisted along the river. Dad had taught them that civilization goes where water flows. A river would always take you somewhere. But Dean felt lost without a highway to guide him.
Dean had stopped for a minute and was trying to pick a rock out of his boot, when he felt something brush against his lower back. Sam was going for his gun. Instinct and training kicked in before he had a chance to think about what was happening. Sam had been brought up with the same training. They knew each other too well.
But Sam wasn’t at the top of his game. Dean drove his elbow back, hitting his brother hard between the ribs. Sam doubled over, and Dean took the opportunity to throw his full body weight against his brother, knocking them both to the ground.
“Damnit Sam, stop it!”
Dean had him pinned, but Sam was still fighting, trying to reach around for the Colt tucked under his belt, but there was no way in hell Dean was going to let him get at it. Dean would bet his life that he wasn’t in any danger from Sam.
Sam’s stamina had taken a hit, and Dean could feel his struggling start to ease up. Dean didn’t like the way Sam was wheezing, like he’d cracked a rib. Shoving him back, Dean scrabbled out of Sam’s reach toward the riverbank and pulled out the gun.
Dean held the gun over his head. “Be cool!” he demanded. “What the hell are you trying to do, Sam?”
Sam wasn’t going to give up. Dad had given him the nickel-plated Colt when he’d turned sixteen and it went against all his instincts to go unarmed, so Dean swore under his breath as he hurled the gun into the river.
Panting hard, Sam collapsed, lying flat on the ground. “I was trying to keep you from having to do it. Damnit Dean…”
Dean wanted nothing more than to punch him again.
Furiously, he said, “Okay, maybe I wasn’t clear before. I’m not killing you, Sam, and you’re not killing you, not today, not ever.” Dean wiped sweat out of his eyes, suddenly exhausted. “I let you go your own way before, and that was my mistake. I’m not making that mistake again, so I guess you’re stuck with me.”
Sam was desperate – Dean could see that, but there was something else in his expression, something he couldn’t so easily identify.
“You were right before. I’m a monster, a freak. I can’t go back. Let me end this now. Please let me go.”
“Bite me, Sam.”
And then there was only the pissed off Sam that Dean knew so very well. For some reason, Dean found it comforting.
“You’re full of shit, Dean.”
Sam threw an arm over his face, but Dean could see that he was crying again.
When it came to signs and wonders, an earthquake was pretty much routine. All the same, it knocked them both off their feet while the ground thrashed for what felt like an hour.
It was most likely only a couple of minutes.
When it was over, they were all right. They’d seen worse, and it was a hell of a lot better to be caught in an earthquake outdoors than in a building. Besides, Sam shoved Dean out of the way of the giant chasm that had yawned open right underneath him, and the landslide had missed them by at least ten feet. It had been more than a little bit awesome to watch the entire side of a cliff groan and convulse before it crumbled to the ground. It would have been epic if Dean had been in any kind of mood to enjoy it.
But with Sam gone all sulky and bleak, it was kind of hard to get excited about anything.
“Hey, Sam. Am I gonna be talking to myself all the way to South Dakota or are you gonna help me out a little?”
“Why are we going to South Dakota?”
Dean was surprised that Sam actually answered. “Gotta pick up the car. I left it at Bobby’s.”
Sam’s eyes widened. “You left without the Impala?”
“Not of my own free will, trust me. Kind of a divine appointment.”
Sam didn’t ask. Dean was grateful for that. He didn’t feel like explaining about the green room and all Zachariah’s revelations about the upcoming showdown unless he had to. There were lots of things he’d gladly never talk about again.
“You’d think we’d have run into someone by now.”
It was eerily quiet. Whoever had snatched them out of the convent had deposited them in the middle of nowhere. They’d finally found their way to a road, but in the several hours they’d been walking, not one car had passed them by. Dean had often thought he’d be fine in a world without people to screw it up, but this was the kind of quiet that made his teeth ache.
There were other things that just didn’t feel right. Dean could swear the temperature kept going up and down by a good thirty degrees. Dean knew his portents better than anyone, and temperature fluctuations were a sure sign that something was wrong. Normally, he’d have asked Sam what he thought was going on. But this Sam he’d gotten back was anything but normal.
Dean reminded himself that he’d told Cas that he’d take Sam back “as is.” Be careful what you swear to an angel. Dean of all people knew that.
They needed a way to get back to Bobby’s. He’d been trying his cell phone every couple miles, but there still wasn’t any reception. Dean had no idea what he’d do if Sam needed a fix before he could get him somewhere safe. Even though he was willing to admit that the cold turkey thing hadn’t gone all that well, he wasn’t sure what he could do this time that would work out any better. It wasn’t exactly like you could score a hit of demon blood on any old street corner.
“What’s that? Do you hear that?” Sam asked suddenly, startling Dean out of his reverie. He didn’t hear a thing.
“That noise. God, it’s so loud.”
Dean was about to tell Sam he was hearing things, when he heard it too. It was a distant rumble first, a little like the Impala on a cold morning, but then it intensified into a roar like thunder. For a wild, panicked moment, Dean believed Lucifer had found them.
“What is it?” he shouted at Sam.
Sam stood so close beside him that their shoulders were touching. “Sulfur.” He turned to Dean, clearly terrified. “Dean, I think it’s sulfur.”
Smoke was billowing across the sky, turning the sun into a red-glazed sphere. He couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Holy crap, this was it. Dean started looking wildly around for some place to hide his brother. And he didn’t even have his gun, not that it would be any help against Lucifer and his minions.
Sam grabbed his arm. “Over there.”
Then Dean saw it – lightening was cracking and flashing around the peak of a nearby mountain.
“Man, this can’t be good.”
“I think it’s Mount Shasta. I spent a summer at the lake on my friend’s houseboat.”
There’d been a time when it would have irritated Dean to think about his brother having a life without him. It seemed so incredibly naïve that he’d once believed he’d lost Sam to Stanford.
Sam rolled his eyes. “It’s a volcano, Dean. It’s erupting.” Dean could almost hear the words, you idiot that Sam didn’t say out loud.
“I know that, smartass. Why’s it happening now?”
“I think the wind’s blowing the other way, but this isn’t good. We gotta get out of here.”
“No kidding genius. Where do we go?”
“I know where we can find a car.”
“And you’re telling me this now?”
Dean pulled his jacket over his face to try and protect his lungs from the hot, choking ash, and he insisted that Sam do the same.
He hardly could make out Sam’s reply. “The car belonged to someone else before.”
Dean really, really didn’t want to know how Sam knew that.
And wouldn’t you know that the car turned out to not be a car at all…? Sam, who had never cared about those kinds of details, hadn’t mentioned that little fact on the long hike to the abandoned state park where they found the minivan covered in ash.
“How’d you know it was here?” Dean had asked once they’d hot-wired the thing and were back on the road.
Sam had just shrugged but Dean could see that he was one shrug away from breaking down. “It belonged to a family. A mom, a dad, two kids. They were hiking around the cinder cones when Shasta erupted. They didn’t have a chance to get away.”
Another shrug, and Dean felt cold all of a sudden, even in the molten air.
There’d been a time when Dean wondered how far he would go for his brother. The truth was that there really was no limit to what he would do for Sam, which was the reason he’d agreed to drive a Honda Freaking Odyssey. In theory, it should’ve been a step up from the rusted out van Bobby had lent them years ago when the Impala’d been totaled. In truth, it was maybe even a little worse. Dean wasn’t sure his dignity would ever recover.
And to make his day even better, Sam wasn’t talking.
So there they were - driving down the highway, well away from the fire and brimstone, and yet they both reeked of it. It had been a huge relief when they’d passed cars on the road. For a while, Dean had been freaked that they were the last ones left on the planet, what with Armageddon and all. For someone who’d lived his whole life on the outskirts of normal, Dean’s life had deteriorated to a whole new level of crazy.
“Helluva lot of rain for May,” Dean muttered to himself.
The wiper blades were stiff and needed to be replaced. It figured that he would get a minivan that hadn’t even been decently maintained, but then he remembered the family caught in the cinder cones, and he stopped griping. Dean knew enough to count his own blessings, and he let himself sneak another look at Sam, slumped in the passenger seat.
The weather was weird though. Ever since they’d been on the road, a cold rain had been coming down hard. California wasn’t exactly known for its wild weather at the tail end of spring. Dean had tried the radio to check road conditions, but the reception had been all wonky.
Then he’d checked to see if there was any decent music anywhere in the van, but all he could find was a couple audiobooks on CDs. He listened to one for a while, desperate for something to keep his mind off Sam’s silence, the efficient hum of the engine, and the practical beige velour interior of the van.
Dean was actually gaining a new respect for soccer moms. He had no idea how they handled spending their lives in these shtrigas on wheels – after just a couple hours of this, the damn thing was going to suck the life out of him.
Dean sighed deeply. “Hungry?”
Eyes closed, Sam shook his head. Dean rolled his eyes. He was hungry, even if the demonic wonder boy was determined to starve himself to death.
He’d found a box of graham crackers in the back, along with an entire case of fruit punch juice boxes. He’d made Sam drink two of them and had handed him a graham cracker for good measure. Sam had always loved them when he was a kid, the cinnamon ones especially. Dean bought them when Dad was out of town and couldn’t tell him not to spend good money on crap food that wouldn’t fill them up.
“You okay, Sammy?” he asked, not really expecting an answer.
Sam opened his eyes. “You have to kill me, Dean.”
“Damnit, not again. I thought we’d been over that already.”
“You don’t know what I’ve done. It’s…it’s the only way, Dean.” And wouldn’t you know that Sam was going all teary again.
“Look dude, the demons are never going to make you their boy king if you keep going emo like this. It’d ruin their reputation, and let me tell you that you’re pretty much ruining mine.”
Sam wasn’t rising to the bait. “You have to kill me.”
“For all the times I could’ve killed you, is it starting to dawn on you that it’s just not going to happen?”
“You promised you’d kill me if I turned into a monster.”
“Guess what. I lied.”
“I’ll find a way. It’s only a matter of time. I’m going to need a hit soon anyway. If you don’t kill me, withdrawal will.”
“I thought you said you weren’t addicted.” Dean gave Sam a sharp look.
Nobody knew how to piss Dean off like Sam.
“All right, you want me to say you screwed up. Fine. I’ll say it. You screwed up. You were wrong. Very, very, very, very wrong. You sprung Lucifer, and you totally blew me off when I warned you about your skank ex. You get the biggest I told you so in the history of the world. You fail at life. We agreed?”
Sam didn’t answer, but Dean was awfully glad that the Impala, with its cache of weapons, was safe with Bobby.
“So now I’ll tell you what I told Cas. You could be the bride of Lucifer, but guess what? I don’t care.”
Sam looked baffled. “You don’t care? Lucifer is loose, Dean. It’s my fault and six billion people are going to pay for it.”
“Did you try to let him out?”
“That’s not what matters.”
“Answer the question, dumbass. Did you want to spring Lucifer? Were you trying to start Armageddon?”
Sam shook his head.
“Okay then. You fucked up, so we’re even. You broke the last seal, I broke the first one. You ended it, I started it. That means we’ve got to figure out together what we’re gonna do about it.”
Sam stared. “What do you mean - you broke a seal?”
“What, you think you’re special or something?”
“I don’t understand.”
Dean drummed his fingers on the wheel, watching the wipers smear the rain on the windshield. “It was the first seal. A righteous man in hell goes bad, yada, yada. You just gotta know, Sammy, you’re not the only one they played for a fool.”
“Dean, are you saying you had something to do with this?”
“I got the party started, Sammy. Now they’re saying I’m gonna be the one to end it. Last one to leave, turn out the lights, that sort of thing.”
Sam looked bewildered. Finally, he asked, “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
Dean shrugged, but he didn’t have an easy answer. “I thought it was something I had to deal with on my own. Sound familiar?”
Sam bit his lip, the way he always did when he was trying to hold back. He was quiet for a while before he said, “I believed Ruby. She told me I was going to save the world.”
“Yeah, that’s what all the demon chicks say.” Dean scrubbed at his face, wishing he’d taken a hard line against Ruby from the start. “Okay, I want you to listen to me. She knew how to play you. They played both of us with all that saving the world crap. And you know what? I’m getting sick of being screwed by every angel and demon who’s trying to climb the corporate ladder.”
“But, Dean –“
“No Sammy. I don’t want to hear it. I’ve spent the last year being told that I’m some sort of friggin messiah, and God help me, I believed them. They kept my mind off my real job, and I don’t think that was an accident.”
“That doesn’t change anything.”
“It changes everything. Now shut up and take a nap or something. How long’s it been since you got any sleep?”
“I don’t need to sleep much any more,” Sam said, which was really not what Dean wanted to hear.
“Do me a favor. Pretend.”
Ely, Nevada wasn’t much to look at in the rain. It probably wasn’t much in the sun either, but it was all there was for miles around, and any town with three whorehouses was all right by Dean. Not that he’d be bringing them any business. Not with Sam hunched in the passenger seat, practically coming out of his skin since he’d found out that Dean was making the stop.
Sam didn’t want to get out of the car. Didn’t want to be with people… said something about not trusting himself, but Dean didn’t really want to know what that meant. He knew that Sam was worrying that the constant rain and storms - not to mention the earthquake, volcano, and multiple landslides they witnessed as they drove through the mountains – was the sound and fury of heaven turning on him.
But they were out of gas. Dean was hungry, and he was sick of graham crackers. He wanted to try calling Bobby in a place that might actually have cell coverage. He wanted to look at a newspaper to reassure himself that the world hadn’t really come to an end while he was behind the wheel of a Honda.
Sam wouldn’t even get out of the van to take a leak. Not here in the middle of town. So Dean left him brooding in the van, but that didn’t stop him from keeping Sam constantly in his sight. It was going to be a long time before Dean trusted his brother again.
First thing he did after filling up the tank was to try Bobby again, but there was no answer, and God forbid Bobby break down and buy an answering machine, even if the apocalypse was nigh. So Dean went to the mini-mart attached to the gas station and bought two cups of coffee that looked like they could corrode the Styrofoam cups they came in. Thinking it over, he also bought two toothbrushes and toothpaste, a six-pack of Coors Light since it was all they had, three jars of peanut butter and a couple loaves of bread, two packages of mini powdered donuts, and a newspaper.
As the teenage cashier struggled to enter the numbers on his fake credit card, Dean grudgingly scanned the headlines of the paper. It wasn’t his job, and he was about to lose interest when he noticed something very strange about the news.
Dean slid into the van, handing over a cup of coffee and a pack of donuts to his brother.
“Drink. It doesn’t have any of your foamed milk crap on it, but it’ll make you feel better.” Dean waited. “Now eat your donuts. Glare all you want, I’m not leaving until you get something in your stomach.”
Sam almost looked like his old pissy self as he scowled and bit open the package of donuts. He swigged a gulp of coffee that had to be scalding hot and took a bite of a donut.
“Good. Eat more.”
“Dean, I’m not hungry -”
“Eat it, and I’ll tell you what’s been going on in the world since you let out Lucifer out of his cage.”
“Tell me.” Sam looked so woebegone, even with his lips dusted with powdered sugar.
Dean stuffed two donuts into his own mouth, figuring he might as well eat foods he liked…. he doubted anyone would bother with making donuts during Armageddon.
“Okay, okay. You won’t believe what’s going on. Nothing. Nothing is going on. No signs, no wonders. Nothing.”
“I don’t get it.”
“There’s nothing to get because there’s nothing happening. Check this out. The stock market’s up, gas prices are down. Congress passed a balanced budget. But that’s not all.”
Dean pointed at the front-page headline, and Sam’s eyes widened.
“Peace in the Middle East? Dean, I don’t think that’s even possible.”
“Creepy isn’t it? You ever see a newspaper full of good news? Something’s going down. I can feel it.”
Sam kept reading. “What about the earthquake and volcano? All this rain?”
“Turn to Weather. Take a look at where all the bad weather’s been centered.”
Sam ruffled through the paper. “It says the earthquake wasn’t very big, and only a family from Oregon was killed when it triggered the eruption at Shasta.”
Dean stuffed another donut in his mouth. “I’m figuring the epicenter was right underneath us. That’s why it felt as big as it did. There’s also been freaky weather in Northern California and Nevada. Record-setting awesome everywhere else.”
“So nature’s out to get us?”
“Looks that way.”
“What do we do, Dean?”
There’d been a time, not so long ago, when Dean would have given anything to have Sam ask him what they should do. Times had changed. Dean wished Bobby would pick up. It wasn’t a lot of fun, trying to navigate around acts of God with the weight of the world and his kid brother on his shoulders.
Dean twisted the wires under the steering wheel and revved the engine. “Buckle up.”
Sam looked at him incredulously. “Since when do we wear seatbelts?”
“Since this got personal.”
“Well this sucks.”
Dean stared at the washed out road and shoved his dripping hair out of his eyes. He’d been glad that Impala was safely stored at Bobby’s once the fist-sized balls of hail had started coming down. The hail had stopped, but the resulting downpour had washed away significant portions of the road, including the part they needed to cross.
Sam stood next to him, not even messing with his own hair. “We could try to drive through it.”
“In this thing? Probably float us back to Ely. Friggin tuna boat.”
Sam swallowed. “You need to leave me here.”
“We’ve been through this already. No way.”
“You’ll be okay if you’re away from me. I’m like Jonah.”
“What the hell are you talking about? You mean Jonah, as in Bible Jonah? Jonah and the whale?”
“The storm stopped after the fishermen threw Jonah overboard. Everyone onboard was saved.”
“That’s a kids’ story, Sam.”
“So we accept lore from ancient Incan folktales and not from Judeo-Christian ones? That makes no sense, given what we’re up against.” Sam rubbed at his forehead the way he always did when a bad headache was coming on.
“I’m not feeding you to any damn whale.”
“It was a big fish.”
“The Bible never said Jonah was swallowed by a whale. It was actually a big fish.”
“Who’d have made the anti-Christ for a Bible geek?” Dean muttered, watching the muddy torrent flow across the road.
“This is serious, Dean.”
Dean was sick of arguing with Sam. He knew this was serious. He’d gotten that message, thank you very much. It would only take a swarm of locusts to make this day complete.
Dean leaned heavily against the van. “Okay, listen up because I’m not gonna keep saying this. You’re not getting rid of me, unless you’re gonna kill me for real, so you better shut your pie-hole and get used to me being around. I can promise you this, Sammy. I’m not going anywhere.”
“But on the phone, you said-“
“Yeah, and that’s another thing. Me apologizing ain’t some little thing, and I’d like some credit for it. Okay, I might not have said I was sorry, but I did say I was wrong telling you not to come back. That’s practically the same thing as apologizing, and don’t give me your technicality lawyer crap and say it’s not!”
Sam was staring at him with a confused look on his face. “But the message you left…you…you said I was a monster. You said you were going to track me down.”
“The hell I did!”
“It was you. My phone ID’d you as the caller.”
“Let me see your phone.”
Sam shook his head. “I don’t have it. I…I left it in the car when I went into St. Mary’s.”
“Your demon girlfriend screwed with my voicemail!”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well I do. Damnit, I’ve had about enough of this.”
“You weren’t wrong, Dean. I should’ve- ”
“Dude. It was not my message.”
Sam was about to answer, but Dean saw something strange happening to the water on the road. Sam noticed too. “It’s receding.”
“Guess I didn’t have to feed you to the whale after all, huh Sammy?”
“It was a big fish,” Sam grumbled, but he did get back in the van. Dean would take every victory he could get.
The demon found them at a rest stop in Wyoming.
Dean should have been prepared for it happening, but the vessel this demon chose took him by surprise.
Demons were usually predictable. They liked routine and tended to follow a certain pattern when it came to choosing a vessel. Dean had long since noticed that they liked to choose the most ordinary, harmless looking men they could find to possess, Sam being a notable exception. On the other hand, they almost always chose drop-dead beautiful women to possess, the more stunning the better. Dean figured they got their kicks ruining beauty where they could find it.
The woman who approached Dean could’ve been a grandmother with her close-set eyes and weathered skin, absurdly clutching a quilted handbag to her chest. Sam had been at the other end of the rest stop, walking off some of the early shakes of withdrawal, and when she asked for help with her car, Dean figured there must be something about him that just exuded mechanical competence. He was leaning over her engine when a blast of something furiously cold hit him from behind.
Dean instinctively reached for his missing Colt, but when he turned around, Sam was already there. Dean could feel that his brother was somehow wrong even before the demon hissed like she’d been burned alive.
Sam’s face was taut with pain, his hand outstretched and trembling. More terrifying, his eyes were every bit as black and soulless as the demonic grandmother who was frozen in her place.
“Stay back, Dean.”
“No! There’s gotta be another way.”
“No other way. Just me.”
“Sam Winchester.” Even in Sam’s thrall, the demon’s tremulous voice almost sounded flirtatious. “It’s an honor.”
“What the hell is this crap? Let’s get out of here, Sammy.”
“No!” Sam waved his hand distractedly, and Dean found himself stuck. The paralysis was an unpleasant tingle, like a direct hit to his funny bone but all over his body. Sam asked the demon, “What do you want from me?”
“I made a special trip to thank you. You’ve done a wonderful thing, and we’re all so grateful.”
“Like hell, lady! You got what you wanted, now just leave my brother alone.” Dean couldn’t even move his fingers, but he wanted to kill something so badly, it wasn’t even funny.
But Sam wasn’t backing down. “You want to thank me? Okay, I want answers. Why all the storms, the earthquake, the volcano? Who’s trying to kill us?”
She flashed an indulgent smile. “Oh sweetie, why would we be trying to kill you? We’re having a party. The victory is won, dear. We’re celebrating with you.”
“Okay I’ve had enough. Screw this. Waste her, Sam.”
Sam stared at Dean. “You want me to exorcise the demon?”
“Sure. Might as well use your freaky superpowers for something productive.”
But the demon told Sam, “Oh no, save your powers, dear, for when they’re really needed. I just wanted to thank you. We’re not going to forget you, Sam Winchester.”
The woman’s eyes flashed black, and she tipped her head back, spewing a demonic gray cloud. Sam gasped and folded to his knees, just as the woman started to go down. Sam’s mojo disappeared in time for Dean to catch the elderly woman before she collapsed completely. Dean could feel human warmth flooding back underneath her skin, even as Sam retched again and again on the muddy ground, blood and bile coming out of his nose and mouth. Dean set the woman down, and crouched next to his brother, feeling more helpless than he’d ever been before.
“It’s okay. You’re all right now, it’s over.” Dean kept his hand on Sam’s back and didn’t stop talking until the vomiting stopped.
The woman just sat on the muddy ground. She said, “But I don’t understand. I was on my way to Wall-mart…”
“This isn’t working, Dean.”
Damn straight it wasn’t working, but there wasn’t much Dean could do about it. They’d been driving through the night, the darkness interrupted only by an occasional pair of headlights coming from the other direction. Standing down the demon had taken its toll on Sam, making his symptoms even worse. Slumped against the window, he was drenched in sweat and overwhelmed by violent shivering. His shirt was wet and dappled in blood, but he was too cold to take it off, so Dean didn’t push it.
“Bobby’s had a couple days to work on this. He’ll have some ideas by now. Maybe, we can figure out a way to dry you out so you won’t have to go cold turkey again.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Sam said, his teeth chattering even though Dean had the heater on full blast.
“Yeah well. At least the rain’s stopped. You think that demon told your other groupies that natural disasters weren’t the way to win you over?”
“It’s not the blood. It’s me.”
“A little random, dude.”
“Ruby said I never needed the demon blood. This thing was already in me. The whole demon blood thing was some screwed up way of helping me believe in myself, I guess.”
“And you believe her?”
Dean set his jaw, looking straight ahead at the road while trying to control his rising anger. “Ruby lied to you about everything, and you’re willing to take her word on this?”
“She had no reason to lie about this. She was bragging. Dean, I think… she was excited for me. It was like she was proud of me.”
“She practically killed you, Sammy. She strung you out, so you’d have no choice but follow her for your next fix. Demons don’t care about people. They don’t love. They can’t. That’s why they’re demons.”
Dean glanced over, and Sam’s eyes were full again, his nose leaking more blood.
Sam said quietly, “I…I can love. Sort of disproves your theory.”
Dean’s eyes filled up with tears, and he swallowed, trying to hold it together.
“You’re not a demon.”
“But I’m not human either. I’m a freak – you said it yourself.”
“You’re you. You’re my brother, and you can join the circus for all I care.”
They were quiet for a while. The waning moon was high in the night sky, dark shadows on either side of the road. There had never been any guarantees in this life, and Dean knew how quickly things could change. He wished he could promise Sam that everything would be okay, but he was finished with lying to his brother.
That was when Sam said, “I don’t know if I can stop.”
“You can. I’ll help you.”
“I’m not sure I want to stop.”
And that was something else altogether. Dean swore and turned the wheel, bringing them to a hard stop on the shoulder of the road.
“What the hell, Sam? You better not be telling me you want this!”
“I don’t! I never did. But I can feel it in me, Dean. This is me. It’s who I am.”
“Oh well that’s just awesome, Sam. Good for you. And the blood? Do I get to be your dealer now, go around ganking poor possessed sons of bitches so you can get your fix?”
Sam flinched. “I’m going to quit.”
“Fine. That’s all that matters.”
“It’s not that simple.”
Yeah, it really was that simple. Dean had to get out of the damn van and give himself a chance to breathe again.
The air was viciously cold, but it felt good; it helped him clear his head. Dean stared at the sky, hoping to find some kind of answer there. The stars were awesome, vast, and eternal. They made him feel small like they always had, but knowing there was something or someone up there who’d taken a personal interest in him and Sam scared the hell out of Dean. It made no sense. He and Sam were nothing, just a couple of brothers from Kansas, and yet he’d been told that they were the key to the fate of everything.
Dean was sick to death of being so damn important. And he was pissed. This had gone on long enough, and he’d had enough of being screwed around for the benefit of immortal creatures who would never, ever understand what it was like to take care of a kid brother.
Dean shouted to the heavens, “Stop screwing with us! What do you want from us anyway?”
Sam opened the door, getting out of the van. “Who the hell are you yelling at, Dean?”
“My keepers. I figure they owe me an explanation.”
Sam leaned against the van, and Dean was about to tell him to get back inside, when all of a sudden, the truth came to him. The revelation was so unexpectedly simple, it made him laugh out loud. Sam was looking at him like he’d lost his mind.
“Thank you,” he called out to whoever had been listening. To Sam he said, “I understand now.”
“Dude, I think you need to get some sleep.”
“Think about it Sam. What are they afraid of? Why’d they try so hard to keep us away from each other? All that time they had me stuck in that freaking green room, they offered me anything I wanted except for the one thing I did want.”
“What did you want?”
“You, dumbass. And that’s what scares them. It’s us, Sammy, me and you together.”
“Ruby…she tried to keep me away from you. I didn’t see it when it was happening.”
Dean smiled and cuffed his brother on the back of his head. “If we’re scaring the crap out of angels and demons, then I’d say we’re on the right track. We own this apocalypse thing, Sammy.”
“I tried to kill you.”
“Yeah, that was a shitty thing to do, and I’ll beat the hell out of you once you’re up for it. No offense dude, but you fail at this arch-nemesis stuff.”
Sam might have smiled, but it was hard to tell in the moonlight. “What now?”
“We get you to Bobby’s. We dry you out, and stick together.”
“Okay Dean,” Sam said and got back into the van. Okay. Now that was a start.
He stood for a minute all by himself underneath the brackish night sky. It was so elemental and so absurd, Dean couldn’t figure out how he’d missed it.
Dean was going to defeat Lucifer, just like the angels said. He was going to save the world. But first, he was going to save Sam, destiny be damned. It would start with Sam. The world would have to wait its turn.
Bobby’s place was a desolation of weeds, rusted hulls of old cars, and broken glass, but it was the closest thing they had to a home, and Dean was awfully glad to see it again. All the same, he’d stopped at the bottom of the hill that led up to the house. Bobby tended to shoot first, and there wasn’t much that would spook him more than a freaking Honda Odyssey pulling into the salvage yard.
“Are we there yet?”
Startled, Dean turned to find Sam awake. He’d finally given in to an unsettled sleep, but only after hours of hallucinations and waking dreams. They’d had to stop a few times during the night so Sam could dry heave by the side of the road. There was no doubt about it. His little brother was absolutely and utterly fucked up. It made Dean ache inside.
“Yeah, we’re there, kiddo. Just trying to figure out how to break the news to Bobby.”
Sam was quiet for a while, staring out the window. He looked just awful, pale and bruised all over like he’d been on a month-long bender.
But Sam’s voice was surprisingly steady when he said, "Dean, tell me what you swore to them."
"What you promised the angels. Tell me exactly, word for word."
"I don't remember exactly. How come?"
"Dude, the most important conversation of your life and you don't remember what you said?"
"Cut me some slack. I had other things on my mind. You and your demon DTs for one."
"Try and remember."
"Why? What does it matter?"
“I couldn’t get you out of the first deal. Maybe I can get you out of this one.”
It was so very like his Sam to reason his way through a problem that Dean leaned over and ruffled his kid brother’s hair for old time’s sake.
Sam swatted at him, frowning. “Cut it out, Dean, I’m trying to think.”
“Knock yourself out, Sammy.”
“Angels and demons…they're legalistic right? They follow their contracts to the letter."
Dean couldn’t help grinning. "You're looking for a loophole, aren’t you? Damnit Sammy, you’d make an awesome lawyer."
"Tell me what you swore, Dean. Word for word.”
"Okay, okay. I said something like ‘I give myself wholly to serve God and those dicks.’"
“Yeah. Wait – no, there was more. Cas asked if I promised to follow their orders the same way I followed Dad’s.”
"You promised to obey them like you obeyed Dad?”
“Yeah, what about it?”
Sam was getting worse, and he’d pulled Dean’s jacket up to his chin to keep warm, but he had that look on his face that Dean hadn’t seen for so long. Sammy had an answer.
“It’s our loophole. Think about it, Dean. How often did you ever do exactly what Dad told you to do?”
“All the time. You were the screw-up, not me.”
“That’s not true…I…I just wasn’t trying to hide it. Look Dean, if you’d obeyed Dad, I wouldn’t be here. Dad told you to kill me if you couldn’t save me. You wouldn’t do it.”
“Dude, I saved you,” Dean said, scowling at him. “Stop complaining.”
“But you didn’t stop me.”
“You are such a control freak.”
Sam groaned out loud, banging his head softly against the window. “Yeah, I guess I am. But kill me next time, okay?”
Dean snorted. “Sure thing. Remind me if I forget.”
They sat there for a while, both looking out the window at the last stretch of road. Dean knew he had to put it in gear and see this thing through, but there was a part of him that just wanted to stay with his brother a little bit longer.
Sam was the one to break the silence. “Hey Dean, I wanted to tell you…”
“I know, Sammy. I already know.”
They never did have to say everything out loud.
Then Sam cried out and doubled over, breathing raggedly through what had to be one godawful cramp. “It hurts, it’s bad, Dean. I don’t know if I can do this again.”
Dean kept his hand on the back of Sam’s neck, rubbing it gently until the worst of it passed. “Don’t worry, Sammy. When Bobby’s done reaming our asses, I betcha facing Lucifer won’t look so bad.”
But Sam let his head sag back against the door, and he shut his eyes tight, withdrawing into a dark place where Dean couldn’t follow. Grimly, Dean put the van in drive and started up the steep hill that led to Bobby’s.
Dean knew this much. The little brother he’d raised was gone for good, and Dean was going to miss him bitterly. But Sam was still the best thing in Dean’s whole world, and he wasn’t going to forget it. If they were going to kick this, he was going to have lock up Sam in that damn pit again, and it was going to be a nightmare just like before.
But this time, it was going to be different. This time, Sam wasn’t going to be alone. Not ever again. Sic transit gloria mundi. Thus passes the glory of the world. This Dean swore wholly.
Let heaven and hell try to get between them.