It had taken two months, but Sam had finally tracked Dean to the town of Lancaster in the Pennsylvania countryside. Two months since returning to Dean's room after failing to summon Crowley, expecting to see his brother's corpse, only to find Dean sitting up on his bed, eyes black and the fucking First Blade clutched tightly in his fist. Before he could do much besides register ALIVE?! Crowley had said, "Sorry, Moose. He's mine now," and they'd both disappeared.
In the end, it hadn't been Dean he'd been able to track, but Crowley. After combing through the equivalent of the bunker's junk drawer, Sam had found an iron sextant engraved with runes. It was a demon summoner that could be very specific if one had a piece of the particular demon one was needing to find. Luckily Sam had found bits of skin on Crowley's warded handcuffs. Instead of stars or the horizon, Sam only needed the map in the bunker's library. The sextant was somehow magnetically aligned with something in the table. When he put the bits of Crowley in the small receptacle in the handle and said the proper incantation, the sextant started moving and a precise location blinked on the map. Sam had only to overlay one of the table's detailed (as of 1957) transparent maps (in this case, the U.S.) to find the town where said demon was.
Every morning (well, not the first three, when Sam had been either too drunk or on his way to being too drunk) he'd searched out Crowley's whereabouts. Once he figured out the pattern (a series of towns on a straight-line from West to East whose first letters spelled out K-I-N-G O-F H-E-L-L in a repeating cycle) Sam had deduced Crowley was on a schedule of every-other-day check-ins with his lieutenants. He'd figured on Lancaster as the next meet up. He and Cas had gotten here early this morning. They'd easily found Crowley's two demon underlings. The fact that Cas was able to see demons in their true form took a lot of the leg work out of it. The lieutenants had given Crowley up with remarkably little fuss. They'd also provided the crucial information that Dean would indeed be with him. "He and his Blade will be at the Will O' Wisp restaurant at 6:00. We're to report on soul counts and angel activity, and any dissent we've heard in the demon ranks. We're also to report any word of you, Sam Winchester." Sam wasn't sure what to make of that, but before he could ask about it, the taller of the two smirked at him. "You used to be so feared among our kind. The demon-hunting Winchesters. Look at you now. Your brother has become our greatest ally. Daddy must be so proud." His eyes flashed black and he lost his half-smile. "It's a shame you be skewered on your brother's blade. He doesn't let hunters live."
Sam felt sick, knowing it was true. Dean was out there killing just about anything he came across, as far as Sam could tell. Crowley's new soldier. "The Blade." He wasn't always with Crowley, either. Sometimes he was just out there alone, leaving slashed up bodies with very distinctive wounds that the police didn't quite know how to classify. A jawbone as a weapon will confound, he supposed. To the demon before him, Sam only said, "Well, you're going to be skewered on my blade." He stabbed it through the heart and from the corner of his eye, saw Cas press his hand to the forehead of the other one. A harsh gold light crackled briefly as the demons died.
Sam was now inside the dilapidated restaurant waiting. He'd cleared the chairs and carpets away from the door and painted a ten-foot wide Devil's trap infused with iron ore and salt just inside. He'd even added a binding spell for good measure. He wasn't sure what would hold Dean. Was he fully demon; fully human with demon leanings; or something in between? Not knowing exactly how much of Dean, the real Dean, was in there was what was making him crazy. He had to see him face to face, figure out what he was supposed to do. Was he truly gone, killed in that warehouse by Metatron's blade? Or was he still alive in there, fighting to be free of that evil shell? Sam didn't know. He had to keep him in place long enough to find out.
While he waited the multitudes of 'what if's' grew louder inside his head. Sam could have prevented all this, had he done everything differently. But, he'd been so busy proving his point about brotherhood and trust that he'd left Dean alone too long. Hadn't seen clearly when the Mark started changing him. If Sam had gotten over himself sooner, he'd have been up in Dean's business like usual. He would have noticed Dean losing control, needing the blade and how scared it was making him. But, instead he'd been totally invested in punishing Dean for letting Gadreel possess him. Just so Sam wouldn't die. As if saving Sam's life hadn't already ended in years of disaster and ruin. Over and over again Sam saw his own hand killing Kevin, saw too the betrayal and shock in the boy's eyes as his friend Sam had turned on him. Murdered him. Sam wanted to punish Dean for that, plain and simple. So he had. And now, Dean was the killer. Because Sam had done nothing to help him. He'd just watched as the Blade whittled away at what made Dean Dean.
He had to let that go. Sam knew better than anyone how there was no changing the past. No, now he had to put aside his regret and fucking heartbreak and decide how to help his brother, how to free him. If that meant killing him outright, Sam was willing to do that. If it meant Sam dying to free him, Sam could do that, too. So far he had no real answers about exactly how this had happened to his brother (he still needed to find that bastard Cain) but regardless, he had to figure out what, if anything, was left of the human part of Dean. If he were in there in even the tiniest measurement, he would be begging Sam to end it any way he could. Sam would want the same. Of course Sam wanted to get him out, find a way to make him human again, and he would try his damnedest. But, if there was no hope of that, Sam would give his brother peace by whatever means necessary.
Dean was currently on a killing spree that Sam couldn't let continue. He'd killed seven hunters that Sam knew about. Cas had also pinned nine angels kills on Dean. Sam figured Crowley was using Dean to slaughter his enemies, human, angel or demon. Sam also figured Dean didn't really give a damn who he killed, as long as he could keep killing.
If Dean were to ever come back, and learn what he'd done, Sam didn't know how he'd put him together again. This was Dean's worst nightmare on steroids. His whole life he'd worked so hard to be a protector – of humanity, of Sam, of himself, even. Now, he was a power-drunk murderer. At this point, Sam and Cas certainly had no stones to throw, they just wanted to help him.
This whole thing had done one thing for Sam. It had given him a new understanding of Dad's final words to Dean: "You have to save your brother. And if you can't save him, you have to kill him." Sam been so hurt by that, resented that any father could want to kill his own son. But, now he understood too well why he'd said it. It made him feel a sad kinship with Dad. Death really wasn't the worst thing that could happen to someone you loved. Living as something evil, killing innocents, THAT was the worst thing.
At one minute past 6:00, the door to the lodge opened. Sam's heart clenched when he saw Dean stride in ahead of Crowley. His eyes scanned the large room, landing on Sam just as he sensed the trap he'd walked into. He and Crowley both stopped in their tracks, apparently well and truly snared. Sam was greatly relieved, enough to give himself a moment to assess his brother's appearance. It was pretty quickly apparent that this was not Dean. He looked good physically. He stood tall, held himself with confidence. But his face was all wrong. It was completely unanimated. So unlike Dean, who almost always had something going on with his face, his eyes, his body language. His Dean had been able to communicate clearly, without words. At least, to Sam he'd been clear. Their whole lives, no matter the situation, they told each other so much with the smallest of gestures and expressions. You okay? Hey, that chick is hot, huh? Don't let Dad get to you. Man, this thing is a badass! Be careful. You used all the hot water, bitch? Don't be scared, I'm right here. Let's take this fugly down!
There was just…nothing. Dean looked at Sam, his face dead and still. He simply folded his arms and stood there.
Crowley, opened his mouth, but Sam held up his hand. "Sorry, this conversation's private."
Cas materialized next to Crowley and before he could say a word, the angel and the demon disappeared.
He and Cas had agreed that the only one who had a chance of actually reaching Dean, if he still existed at all, was Sam. Cas had smiled when he'd promised to keep Crowley busy.
Sam couldn't smile, all he could do was stay calm, make sure he didn't arouse any demonic defense mechanisms. "Hey, Dean."
Dean's expression stayed the same. "What is this? What do you want, Sam?"
Sam walked closer, staying just outside the perimeter of the trap. "How are you?"
Dean didn't answer, and his face didn't move.
Sam sighed. "I want some answers, mostly."
"You're wasting your time."
Dean's stone-face was eerie. He followed Sam's slow pacing with dead eyes. "There's nothing I can tell you that you don't already know. What you hope to accomplish by trapping me, I can't begin to guess. You won't kill me, and I doubt you want to hear about my summer vacation, so it's pointless."
Sam nodded. "You don't have the urge to kill me? Even though I just trapped you?"
Dean stared and stayed silent.
"I just want to know a few things. I want to know how much of you is still in there, actually."
Dean's eyes flinched just slightly. "Is that what you're hoping for? That your brother will miraculously return to you?"
Sam gave him a sad smile. "That'd be nice. But, no. I don't expect that. I just want to know how much – if anything – of the real Dean Winchester is still inside you."
"The 'real' Dean Winchester, huh? Well, Sammy, I hate to break it to you, but this is the real me. I am here to stay. And guess what? I like it. I'm nothing but power. It's a rush like you could never imagine. No more wishing to be stronger or quicker. I will it, and it happens."
"Killing, you mean? You will killing and it happens?"
"Yes, Sam. I kill whatever I want to and get amazing satisfaction when I do. No guilt, no regret, no wondering if it was the right thing to do. It's hard to even remember what it was like, swimming around in all that sloppy emotion. Now I'm made of power and purpose. It's clean and clear."
Sam nodded, crestfallen. The only thing this creature seemed to have in common with his Dean was his face and wardrobe. But he wasn't ready to give up yet. He tried to sound understanding. "Yeah, I remember that. I remember the times I was powerful, full up on demon blood or soulless and not giving a damn. It was such a relief. To be able to do, and not feel. Kind of like being set free, isn't it?"
Dean scoffed. "That was nothing compared to this. Nothing. You were still human. Being full of demon blood didn't actually make you a demon. Being soulless made you a bastard, but you were still human. This is different. This is power like you can't imagine. The rush of being capable of killing anything, to see the fear in something's eyes as I come at it. To know I'm fulfilling my purpose and being damn effective. It's awesome. And you can't stop me now, Sam. You're not able to, and I wouldn't let you if you were."
"Yeah, no, I know. I'm still just a human, despite everything. I can't compete with your power. And I do remember the dark satisfaction in taking those bastards down. It was pretty damn intoxicating. But, you know what kept me human, Dean? What helped me get clear of all that dark shit I was under? You. You were what kept me from crossing over. You refused to let me go dark side. Do you remember why that was so important to you?"
Dean stared at him. "No."
Sam started walking the perimeter of the circle. "I think you're lying. I think you remember looking at me and seeing a powerful, unfeeling stranger and hating it. You never let me give in to the blood or being soulless. You made it your mission to get me back, even when I flat out didn't want you to. I think even if you can't feel it, you can remember it."
If Sam hoped to see some softening in Dean's expression but he was disappointed. His face stayed still and cold. All he needed was to see his eyes flash black and Sam would know what he had to do.
Dean let his arms fall to his sides but kept Sam's gaze. "What's the point of all this, Sam? This is what I am now. I thought you'd accepted it, since you've been so scarce all this time."
Sam's head came up at that. "What?" Was that…irritation? Was Dean pissed that Sam had not found him sooner? That was mighty interesting. "You think I'd abandoned you to this nightmare? Wow. Demon-you is an idiot." Feeling abandoned wasn't very demonic. But, it was vintage Dean. Sam's heart started thumping.
Dean's eyes darkened but he didn't say anything. He just continued to stare at Sam, his body still.
"I've been looking for you, Dean."
Dean shrugged. Sam was elated. On demon Dean it was practically a declaration of rage.
"I haven't slept more than an hour a two a night. Not only was I trying to track your demonic ass, I was looking for Cain, trying to find out ways to erase the Mark, looking up cures for demons not born in hell, investigating your killing spree, and still looking for you the whole time. Do you think I just stumbled upon this place? How do you think I found you? Luck?" Sam sees something, just the tiniest hitch in Dean's perfectly placid demeanor. It's just a quick clenching of his jaw, but it looks – for just that moment – like a piece of his Dean is leaking through.
Dean stares at him, then does something that adds to Sam's fragile hope. He actually checks his watch. It was such a fidgety, non-demon thing to do that Sam almost smiled. But Dean's voice when he speaks is still cold and hard. Easy, Sam. Your brother is still a demon. "Sam, I'll say it again. I'm not your brother anymore. Which, really, should be a relief for you. Since you weren't all that thrilled with Dean as a brother anyway." Again, such a Dean thing to say. Throwing Sam's own words back at him, burying his irritation in snark.
Sam was getting to him.
Dean glanced at the dusty windows, not meeting Sam's eyes for the first time. "Besides, I don't think you'd want him back. Because he is me. And I've been very busy, in case you haven't kept close track. I've killed hunters, and angels. My demon body count probably doesn't bother you much. But, face it, Sammy. Your beloved Dean is an assassin."
Sam nodded. "Yeah. I know. But, I looked into those hunter killings. They had all set traps for you, traps to kill, right? They came at you and you fought, killed them rather than be killed. Or did I read those crime scene photos wrong? They were all killed from the front. All of them holding weapons when they went down."
Dean glared at him steadily. "They wanted to end me, so I ended them. Simple as that."
Sam could hardly judge Dean for what he'd done since becoming a demon born from the Mark. God, he'd done some heinous things himself. But Dean had always found him in the midst. He could do no less now. Sam accepted that Dean was filled with supernatural power, an insatiable need to kill. Instead of focusing on the destruction Dean was wreaking, Sam thought about how much he loved his brother, how much he owed him, how much he wanted to believe they had a way out of this mess that didn't end with Dean dead. "You know what I want really? I want you to tell me what to do so I don't have to choose for you. But, I can't. So, here's what I think. I think there's a part of you that loves this power. That loves not having to feel, or to weigh the right and wrong. I mean, come on. Who wouldn't want to be free of so much crushing responsibility and disappointment? I get that. I sincerely do. I've had power. Not as strong as yours, but still. Part of me fucking loved it. Not feeling weak. Seeing demons afraid of me. It was pretty awesome. But there was a part of me that kept telling me it wasn't right. I tried not to listen to it. I was strong, smart, and could see with a kind of clarity that took away all the gray. I had a mission – kill evil – and whoever got in my way was disposed of. Simple. It was very freeing. But that damn voice kept poking at me, trying to remind me that killing indiscriminately, using all that power wasn't right. It wasn't me. That was you, Dean. My whole life you've been the voice in my head that tells me right from wrong. Even if I don't listen to it, it's always there. And, eventually, it shows me the way. I trust it like I don't trust anything else."
Sam can't tell if he's reaching Dean or not. The light is growing dim, and he can't see Dean's expression as well. He forges ahead, knowing this may be his only chance to have Dean in front of him before he's off the grid again. Crowley won't let them be caught twice.
He's surprised when Dean starts talking, voice low and controlled. "The Dean you knew is dead and gone. That voice in your head or whatever, he's dead. You should be relieved. No more big brother weighing you down. No more having to deal with someone you don't even want to be brothers with."
Sam doesn't let that go by. "Oh for fuck's sake. Let it go. I was hurt and wanted to hurt you back. I knew it would piss you off. I didn't mean we aren't brothers. I wanted you to realize that brothers have to trust each other, not trick each other into being possessed. I told you I lied. Forget that and think about the rest of the 29 years of words and actions. Remember all of it. Guess what? I've let you down and you've let me down. So what? What does that matter right now?"
"Sam, none of it matters anymore. You and I, we really aren't brothers anymore. Whether you meant it or not, it's true now. So, just let me go."
Sam laughed. And just like that, he knew what to do. "No, Dean. I'm not going to just let you go. We fight evil. That's us. That's our family. We are John and Mary's boys. That doesn't go away because one of us is soulless or in hell, or currently a demon." The absurdity of the whole things makes Sam roll his eyes. "Jesus. I've said it before but, our lives are weird, man."
Dean's eyes are on him, with a tiniest increment of softening at the corners that makes hope flare wildly in Sam. Dean has got to be in there somewhere, right? Or is he just clever enough to give Sam enough of a bone that will keep him hoping for his brother's return, ensuring Sam won't kill him? He decides to believe that Dean is still in there. That, if Sam can find a way to possibly get him out, Dean will meet him halfway. No more doubt. "Like father like son, Dean. I've either got to save you or kill you."
Dean doesn't react with anger, doesn't smirk or do any of the demon-like things Sam expects. He only looks at Sam with that cold stare. "You can try."
"That's not an answer."
"It's all I have to say."
"Well, I think my Dean is still in there. And I'm going to get him out. Even if I have to kill you to do it."
"Well, I think my Dean is still in there. And I'm going to get him out. Even if I have to kill you to do it."
The brother of his former self is standing just outside the trap that's making his skin itch and his innards burn. He is surprised that looking at that face doesn't fill him with rage, as looking at most things do. Dean has memories of his former self, the things he did, the places he went. But he's less clear on what it was like to be that man. Most of his capacity to exist is taken up with letting the power surge through him, feeding the need to kill, feeling the satisfaction when that need is met. But, looking at Sam, he doesn't feel it. Instead, he feels…vaguely warm, slightly charitable toward him. Sam is talking about fighting him, and it should have filled him with the familiar hunger by now. Kill. Kill. Kill.
The kid is standing here hoping the old Dean still exists. And Dean has told him that man is dead and gone. His memories of even being that man are dimmer with each day. But, in all this time, he hasn't seen Sam. And, now, being with the kid is causing a strange calming effect. Like Sam is a neutralizing power over his burning need to kill. But Dean is clear on who he is. He's a demon. He looks at the world differently than his former self. He feels nothing but the need for death and power.
Until right now.
Sam won't release his stare. He's watching Dean with attention, something he is totally unused to. No one looks at him for long in his current form. But, Sam. Sam is not cringing in fear or panting with hatred and anger. He's measuring, listening. It makes Dean wonder – uncharacteristically - what the kid sees? Does he have black eyes right now? He doesn't know. A part of him blinks into existence that doesn't want Sam to see that. It blooms into a wider feeling of wanting Sam to get away from him so he doesn't hurt him. And that is so far from what he's been these last couple of months that it takes Dean aback. "Sam, you need to get out of here."
Sam's head tilts to the side, and his gaze goes laser sharp. "Why?"
Dean feels tangled up inside, unable to put it into words. He needs the kid gone so he can resume his clarity. "You just do."
Sam keeps staring at him, like he knows something. "You're trying to get rid of me. Why?"
"It isn't productive. You're not able to kill me, Sam. And, right now, there's no reason for me to kill you. There's nothing to accomplish here."
But Sam's eyes are alive with emotion like he's just made an inspiring discovery. "But, there's every reason to kill me. I've just told you I'm thinking of killing you."
Or saving me. The thought echoes through Dean without his initiative. Could Sam possibly pull him from this existence? Would he want to let go of his newly found cold-blooded efficiency and power? How could the kid cause all of this confusion in the 20 minutes they'd been standing in front of each other? Dean didn't like it. "Enough. You won't kill me."
Sam's voice was soft but resolute. "Yes, Dean. I will. If I can't save you, I will kill you. And the Dean I know, my big brother, the guy who's been at my side for almost 30 years, he would beg me to end him before letting him stay like you are now."
Dean can feel the truth in what Sam is saying. Unbidden, he feels a fissure of relief go through him when Sam talks of ending him. But, how can that be? How can any part of him want to give up this power? Or the rush of a job well done when someone falls under his blade. "Well, like I said, you can try. Though, fair warning, me and my blade cut through demons and hunters alike if they stand in my way."
"And what is your 'way?' What are you after, Dean?"
"I'm after taking down anyone who gets in my way."
Sam is still focused on him with alarming single-mindedness. "And what are you doing that people are getting in your way? What is your mission, Dean? What are you trying to do?"
Dean wants to answer with something clear and intimidating. But as he stares at Sam he can't find words. He's just now realizing that he doesn't exactly have a purpose. Crowley tells him he understands what Dean needs and leads him to demons, hunters, angels, whatever. Dean uses his blade and feels immense satisfaction. He has never stopped to think up a damned mission statement. "I'm using my blade. That's enough, isn't it?"
Sam says, "It's not your blade. It's Cain's. You're not fulfilling your purpose because Dean Winchester is not a killer. He's a protector. You're really just following Crowley's orders, aren't you?"
Something about Sam's words finds traction inside Dean. He does follow Crowley's instructions. But, he is a killer. That much is true. But Sam and his flood of words is forcing Dean to remember, just for a moment, what it meant to be a protector. To stand between innocence and evil. To have Sam at his back and his side, putting evil sons of bitches like him down.
He looks at Sam, remembering all this, and Sam must see it on his face. His brother's eyes fill and his mouth trembles. "Dean?"
NO. That man died. He remembers what he's doing here. "Let me go. Now, Sam. I mean it."
Sam's shoulders slump, but his face becomes resolute. "Yeah. I know you do." He stands on the border of the trap and scrapes it once with his shoe. Dean feels the trap weaken, it's not enough yet to free him. "But, Dean?"
"I want you to know, I got my answer."
Dean feels a mixture of anger and trepidation. "Well good for you."
Sam rubs some more at the paint. It's thinning, but not quite totally gone. "I'm going to save you."
Dean shakes his head, panic and anger alight in his chest. "No. Leave it. Stay out of my way."
Sam smiles, breaks the trap. "Sorry. No can do."
Dean feels the trap release him. He is about to flee, blink out and off into the darkness, but something makes him pause. Sam is looking at him with that very familiar Sam Winchester Resolute Look. "I'm going to fight for you, Dean. I won't let you stay like this a moment longer than I can possibly help it. That's a promise."
Dean stares at Sam, remembers suddenly the fierce love he had for his brother, the intense need to keep him from harm. But it's a memory, not a feeling. The trouble is, if Sam feels even a small measure of the same thing toward his former self, he's in trouble. "Let Dean go, Sam. Or I will kill you."
Sam smiles at him. "Never."
Dean focuses his power and flees, something inside shaken loose and alive that wasn't there earlier. He can feel more than cold revenge and power. He doesn't like. He resolves to stay away from Sam. He senses that his former self's brother can threaten his power in a way nothing else has been able to.
The thought comes to him that Sam Winchester could break him, weaken him, without a weapon. And the most infuriating part of it is that a tiny, newly forming piece of Dean might want to let him do just that.
Yes, Sam Winchester is to be avoided at all costs.