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And we don't.
I wake in darkness, no, more like Darkness, to someone prodding me in my side. I gasp and straighten, sit bolt upright, and dart my right hand out to grab whomever is poking me. "Who's there?"
"It's Sam." He sounds breathy, like he is recovering from sex, or running. I feel for his face, and he pushes my hand down. A light flickers before my eyes, and I wince away from it. "The hell d'you get a match?" I drawl, disoriented, and am ashamed. My vision clears, and I see a look of exasperation cross Sam's face. "Oh. Of course. Silly of me."
As it is, I'm not certain of my own name. I reach and feel the back of my head, trying to remember the last time I had a lump. Anger fuels me, and I can sense Sam backing away. "What?" I ask, irritably.
So, have I snapped back to Yellow Eyes now that I was in the pit? I wave Sam away. "Forget it. Play of the light."
"Do you seriously think I'd forget something like that?" He's against the wall, and for the first time I realize he's weaponless. He's one hundred percent on the defense, with only a tiny flame to save him, one that's about to burn his fingers.
"Hope you have a full box of those," I say as the fire flickers and dies.
"I don't. Dean!" He's shouting into the Dark, waiting for an answer. That sound is the only thing we can hope for from the Dark.
I stand. "Thomas?" I ask, not quite up to Sam's level of bellowing just yet. I clear my throat and raise my voice. "Thomas!"
"How did we get here?"
"The same way as last time. They just showed up and grabbed us."
"But I don't remember it. Why aren't we. . ."
"Prisoners? Good question." I pick a direction and pull Sam close to me, feeling his body tense. I sigh and look over my shoulder at him. "I could have killed you so many times, Sam. Can you just trust me for a minute?" I blink at the second match he's lit, and we look at the limitless passageway yawning ahead. "Okay," I amend. "You'll have to trust me for an hour. Maybe two." The Dark is swallowing the light, and there is no way to move at a speed that doesn't resemble a drugged snail.
We creep along the wall, lighting matches that seem to burn only seconds. Of course that means after about a minute we're in trouble, because Sam was correct about not having a full box on him. We resort to shuffling, plastered against the wall, his hand on my shoulder and my left hand reaching back for him, while our right hands scour the earthen wall. Roots snag us, making me wonder where the hell we are. It isn't the pit.
"Where are we?" Sam asks.
"Funny. I was just wondering that."
I hesitate. The Dark has answered Sam's call.
"Dean?" Filled with hope, Sam pushes by me.
I grab hold of his arm, grinding his movement to a halt. "Wait," I practically hiss at him. "It could be a trick."
"That's my brother!" Sam insists, yanking away from me. We can't see each other, but we can feel the anxiety flowing between us like molten lava.
I fumble in the Dark and manage to catch hold of his arm again. "Just wait! Let him come to you."
"Sam, you down here?"
"I'm over here!" Sam calls out, and to his credit he does as I say, and stays put. After several moments a red glow lights the end of the tunnel, and Dean, lo and behold it isDean, walks towards us carrying a lit torch.
He glances at me, but his face softens into relief for a moment when he sees Sam, before he snaps it back up to all-business-mode. "You okay?" It is a demand.
"I'm fine." Sam hovers around the light like a moth.
I huff and cross my arms. "I'm fine, too," I say.
I barely get a glance from him. "I can see that."
I don't care for his attitude. "Be careful, Dean. No telling what vile creatures may be lurking around here." It is a veiled threat.
"Oddly enough, the appearance of monsters is the one thing I can count on," Dean says, almost amiably.
"I hope that's not a personal remark," I say drily.
"Your call, not mine." And Dean dismisses me, looking around for a way out.
He dismisses me! I refuse to believe it. Even after what I've done, what I've told them, what I've shared with them, they do not trust me. So be it. I sigh heavily and lean back against the earthen wall.
Arms punch through it. Grey, flaking, putrid arms. They grab me, pull at me, so many limbs wrapping around my body. . .
"Zach!" Sam cries out, and I'm almost more stunned by his reaction than I am at being sucked into an earthen wall. Not Yellow-Eyes. Not Azazel.
Zach. He called me Zach.
I see both of them come for me, trying to peel away the decaying limbs. I'm being sucked back into the wall, and if I never really remembered before what fear feels like, I remember it now in startling, disturbing clarity. Panic overwhelms me, and I choke.
I turn frantic eyes to Dean, to Sam. "Don't let them take me!" I cry out. "Please!" Because once down there, I'm there for good. There will be no escape for me. I cry out as the splintered hands that tip the gruesome arms grab at my hair, pulling my head back into the dirt. "Sam! I'm begging you!"
Sam is yelling, pulling with all his might as Dean beats away the limbs, clawing at the dirt, trying his hardest to release me. He's actually trying to save me, they both are, and I've underestimated them so much. But it isn't enough. It never is. "Thank you," I whisper, looking at them like a wild mare, and hear my name screamed out as I vanish into Darkness.
This is the true lair. I don't know why I never realized it before. Everything before, the dark figures, even that pit, is a mere shadow of this. All around me the Earthbound watch me, their eyes like stunted moss, their limbs like gnarled roots. They are spirits forever trapped, their thoughts soiled, their very being nothing more than mere grains shifting from place to place.
I am bound, like them. Roots hold me down, and they come from the dirt walls and stand over me, hover, dripping on my face, chattering like cracked bark. They touch me, watch me, shift to stand over me from a different place, and they drip. And I realize the drip is sap, streaming down in long, amber lines, and it burns my skin. It hardens, paralyzing me.
I strain to rise. Roots are wrapped around my arms, my legs, thighs, neck. I can't raise my head to see the figure approaching me, I have to look down the bridge of my nose. The form emerges, and I stop breathing.
Never before has the phrase "Et tu, Brute" meant so much to me.
Thomas walks toward me slowly. His grip tightens on the machete. "You asked before if I resent you," he says in a low voice. "Always, Zach. I always resent you."
"Thomas! Get me out of here. Please. I can't do this again."
I frown at him, at his eyes, at the large blade. "What are you doing?"
He says nothing.
I pull at the roots binding me. "Look, if this is about what I've done to you, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." I don't know if the machete is meant to free me, or kill me. "I didn't mean to," I continue softly. "You know I would never hurt you."
"Oh, the things you'll say when you're in danger of being caught," Thomas says. "The many ways you'll twist and bend just to save your worthless ass. You did hurt me." He hovers, but such is his presence that I'm not certain if he's actually near me or not. His voice floats, then sinks into the walls. "You hurt me when we were young, with your eyes and lips and promises. You hurt me when you didn't know I was sick, when I practically died in your arms. And you hurt me when you brought me back to a living hell, because you couldn't bear to live without me. It never occurred to you that I could do without you."
He finally comes into full view. He looks drawn, haunted. "Do you think people want to live forever, Zach? Did you ask if I wanted this? Do you care? I will be around until the universe ends, and then I will live in empty limbo. I will be here when there is nothing left but God, and that thought scares the shit out of me because it bores me to tears. Did you think you were saving a good person, Zach? Did you love our friendship so much that it blinded you to who I am?"
"You are a good person, Thomas!" I strain against the roots, unable to understand what is happening. "You always have been."
"I watched you for centuries," he says. "Hovering just far enough behind you to get into your head. And I can tell you, you are not a good person, Zach. You never have been. And don't give me your 'levels of degree' speech. I heard that wasted on your wonderful Winchester friends."
I tug again at the restraints. "Thomas, fight it. It's the Earthbound," I insist. "They've got to you."
"Do you forget who put you in that pit in the first place?" he spits at me. "I didn't rescue you, Azazel. I merely grew tired of your company, and booted you back out."
"I am not Azazel!" I yell at him.
"You will always be Azazel, no matter how many times you try to redeem yourself, no matter what you rename yourself."
I shake my head slowly. "No." Images race back, memories that I had repressed started to flood my senses. A familiar figure hovering over me, reaching for me. "I was mad, delirious. It wasn't you."
"I put you down there. I watched you fall from a god to a human to nothing. I saw what you were doing, and I wanted to stop you. This was your torment, your punishment."
"It wasn't you!" I yelled. "The Earthbound aren't yours. They can't be."
"What? The beings of darkness, of despair, devised from a discarded need? Brought about from selfish desires that were lost? Do you think I can't understand that? My life was destroyed by you, Zachariah." He spat out my chosen name as one would spit out bile. "I became a monster. I had to leave everything I ever loved behind me."
"Don't say this."
"And you let that boy make a deal for his brother. You wanted that to happen, because once Dean is gone, Sam will fall into such despair that he will join us. And you wanted that. You want him to take your place."
"I leadthe Earthbound. I am Earthbound — and so are you."
"You can't die, Zach."
"You're stuck here in limbo, just like we are." And his eyes darken, turn black, and I suddenly see him for what he has become. "And after this limbo comes another. Death is the relief of life. It is the living that is to be feared."
I look around me. The shadowed Earthbound are coming for me, bleeding out from the walls in black wisps, long fingers curling around the rocks like lichen.
"Do you want to live forever, Zach?"
"I denounce you," I say, then yell as they converge on me, "I DENOUNCE YOU!"
"You and what god?" Thomas snarls, and shoves the huge blade through me.
A light explodes into the cavern. The roots shrink back and I fall to my knees.
I look up to see a pyrotechnic display. Flares bathe the area in blood. More lights burst on, halogen, blinding, each one with an explosion of sound that tears my eardrums. I hear a chant, no, two chants, two voices in unison, and see two shadows walk out from the whiteness, holding one large book.
All around me the Earthbound are screaming shrilly, and shriveling. They try to scatter, long, thin hands covering their faces, hiding their sensitive eyes. One by one they burst into flame and squeal in torment as they slowly burn alive. Everywhere, squeals, cries, shrieks, pure fear. And I suddenly feel pain, intense pain, unlike anything I've ever felt.
A hand grabs mine. I'm pulled to my feet, crying in pain, and look into the eyes of a friend I haven't seen for so long, that friend I'd so loved when we were young. I look up, tears of pain and ecstasy dripping over my cheeks. My One, only he never knew.
He grips me tightly. "I was only trying to save you," he insists. "I do love you."
"Thomas!" I cry out in anguish as his face alights. I try to pull my grip back, but he holds it firmly, his skin cracking and peeling from his skull, which blackens almost immediately. I'm frantic, yanking away, feeling the hot bone crush my fingers. His eyes are gone, the sockets glow into mine, his mouth is open in a gruesome smile, and he crumbles. His grip disappears, and I'm left holding dust.
The pain intensifies. I can't breathe, I can't see. The smell is unlike anything I've ever experienced. All motion freezes, and I collapse.
I — feel.
I look around, scared. Sam is holding me, Dean leaning over me. Everything looks so dark, so grey, so unnatural. My eyes desperately search for the vibrancy that I remember from a lifetime ago. "It looks so cold. I don't understand." I'm shivering.
"What does?" Sam asks with a frown, but I'm barely able to comprehend it.
"It's so dark. . ." I can't begin to explain it, "so dead. It isn't supposed to be like this." I gasp as pain wracks my body, but this time it isn't a memory. It is all too real.
I grasp Sam's shoulder, and feel his free hand clench around mine. He's telling me to be still. Dean's hands brace my shoulders, his face close. Sam's hovers beside his, so that their hair is mingling, and blocking the sight of all the ugliness in the world, everything that the world has become; treacherous, unloving, uncaring, self-centered.
Everything I was, and still am.
I am a part of this. It is my nature. But I had forgotten how truly awful it is.
"I'm so sorry you must live in this," I say, realizing that for centuries, I've been seeing things through the rose-colored glasses of memory, and what is memory but what we want it to be? When something is bad enough, we make it better, either through denial or fantasy. This realization comes to me in a flash, and I suddenly want to let it go. Let it all go. The fantasy, the thoughts. I no longer belong here.
It is all I can do to look at them now. I reach out and wrap my fingers around the back of Dean's neck, pulling him close. "Don't – mess up," I gasp. "You can fix this. The Earthbound – they're not gone. They're waiting. Don't let the greed control you. Sam was fine when he died. Your greed has killed your soul, and his." I feel Dean tense, and he's blinking rapidly. "Fix this, both of you," I demand. "I couldn't do it. Thomas is gone, I'm gone. . .they'll come for you. . .if you don't fix this."
And in the blissful darkness, I feel them. I see their frantic faces peering down at me, their heads almost touching.
This world – fades – finally – and I wish them well in it.